Posts filed under '16th Century'

1578: Jacob Hessels, “to the gallows, to the gallows!”

Add comment October 4th, 2019 Headsman

Flanders magistrate Jacob Hessels (Dutch link, as are most that follow) was hanged on this date in 1578.

He was a feared hanging judge — the story about him is that he would drift to sleep at the bench and awake with a start exclaiming, “to the gallows, to the gallows!” — who by profession and disposition was ideally suited for the so-called “Council of Blood” that would be seated in 1567 to help the Spanish Duke of Alba suppress the emerging revolt of the Low Countries against Habsburg sovereignty.


In this 1616 engraving by Simon Frisius, the cadaverous Duke of Alba presides over his Council of Troubles or Council of Blood.

He’s credited in particular with drafting the infamous sentence against Counts Egmont and Hoorn, but these were only highlights among a prolific career that earned him the hatred of the parties that chafed under imperial domination.

This was bad news for Hessels when one of those parties, Calvinists, mounted a coup d’etat that took control of Ghent in late 1577. We have in these pages previously encountered this period, in the form of the Calvinists’ persecution of Catholic monks; they also in the course of things imprisoned a number of secular officials associated with Habsburg/Catholic rule. Most of these would in time be ransomed unharmed; however, one of the principal leaders of the short-lived Calvinist Republic was Francois van Ryhove, who considered Hessels and another captive state’s attorney named Visch to be personal enemies and resolved upon their destruction.

Without color of any law or juridical proceeding, according to this Dutch-language history,

On October 4, 1578, he took the two prisoners out of their dungeon and had them carried outside of the gate in an armed carriage. Not far from town, the carriage stopped at Ryhove’s order, the prisoners were made to climb down, and Ryhove announced that they would be hung on a nearby tree immediately. He then mocked the old Hessels in a shameful way, and he went so far as to mistreat him viciously by grabbing his beard and pulling out a fistful of gray hair, which he put on his hat like a feather as an insignia of his revenge! His companions followed the mocking example of their unworthy leader; then the two unfortunates were hung to the tree.

Hessels and Visch, but especially the former, undoubtedly deserved death, and if that punishment had been imposed on them as a result of a legal judgment, few would have complained. But now they fell as the victims of a shameful, personal vengeance. Ryhove, the head of the Ghent party of revolution, the friend of Orange, had killed them without trial and his crime remained unpunished, for the prince had not power enough to make him feel his displeasure. Was it a miracle that the malcontents were crying out for revenge, that they were using the horrific crime committed by that one man as a pretext to also justify on their part to such atrocities against the Protestants, and that the angry Gentenaars in their turn again took revenge by assaulting the Catholic priests and looting the monasteries?

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1525: Jan de Bakker

Add comment September 15th, 2019 Headsman

Heretical prelate Jan de Bakker went to The Stake at The Hague on this date in 1525.


Stained glass dedicated to Jan de Bakker at Sint-Jacobskerk in The Hague. (cc) image from Roel Wijnants.

A young ordained priest, Bakker (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), Bakker got interested in early Sacramentarianism and learned at the foot of that Reformation-proximate scholar Erasmus.

His preaching veering outside the bounds of orthodoxy he was imprisoned briefly and soon set aside his holy orders for the baking trade, itinerant evangelizing, and marriage.

After the Inquisition had a go at menacing him into compliance, Bakker had the honor of submitting his living flesh to the flame under the eyes of the Hapsburg governor, Margaret of Austria. “O death, where is thy victory?” were his last words, quoting Corinthians. “O death, where is they sting?” Not so sanguine as he about the pains of the stake, his illicit wife preferred strategic repudiation to scriptural owns.

As he’s remembered as the Protestant protomartyr in the northern Netherlands he’s had a purchase on subsequent generations’ remembrance, and there are some streets and schools named for him.

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1588: Eight Catholics after the defeat of the Spanish Armada

Add comment August 28th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1588, Elizabethan England celebrated the defeat of the Spanish Armada with Catholic gallows spread throughout London, claiming eight souls in all.

It was earlier that August that English pluck, Dutch reinforcements, and the Protestant Wind had connived to see off that great Spanish fleet and the prospect of Catholic and continental domination.

Although Catholics were liable for life and limb throughout these years it’s hard to put down the large-scale public hangings (some with full drawing-and-quartering pains) of priests and laymen down to coincidental timing, particularly given the unusual choice to distribute them to several gallows all around London. Here, surely, was a triumphant gloat for the furtive adherents of the old faith to ponder.

The Catholic Encylcopedia’s entry on the Venerable Robert Morton, a priest who was put to death at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, surveys the carnage:

At the same time and place suffered Hugh Moor, a layman, aged 25, of Grantham, Lincolnshire, and Gray’s Inn, London, for having been reconciled to the Church by Fr. Thomas Stephenson, S.J. On the same day suffered (1) at Mile End, William Dean, a priest (q. v.); and Henry Webley, a layman, born in the city of Gloucester; (2) near the Theatre, William Gunter, a priest, born at Raglan, Monmouthshire, educated at Reims; (3) at Clerkenwell, Thomas Holford, a priest, born at Aston, in Acton, Cheshire, educated at Reims, who was hanged only; and (4) between Brentford and Hounslow, Middlesex, James Claxton or Clarkson, a priest, born in Yorkshire and educated at Reims; and Thomas Felton, born at Bermondsey Abbey in 1567, son of B. John Felton,* tonsured 1583 and about to be professed a Minim, who had suffered terrible tortures in prison.

Another priest, plus four additional lay Catholics, quaffed the same bitter cup on August 30.

* No relation, however, to the executed assassin John Felton forty years on: that man’s father made his way in the world hunting Catholic recusants to inform upon.

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1537: Baccio Valori, Michelangelo patron

Add comment August 20th, 2019 Headsman

The Michelangelo sculpture variously known as Apollo, Apollo-David, or Apollino* was commissioned by Baccio Valori, who met his end on the scaffold on this date in 1537.

Photo of the sculpture at Florence’s Bargello.

By way of background, Florence in 1530 had succumbed to the joint siege of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII.**

The republican Michelangelo directed Florence’s fortifications during the siege, and maybe in some alternate timeline he enjoys his own entry on this very execution site: it seems that the papal governor, our guy Baccio Valori, had him on an enemies list once città Gigliata fell into his hands. In the words of Michelangelo’s contemporary and biographer Ascanio Condivi:

But then after the enemy were let in by consent and many citizens were seized and killed, the court sent to Michelangelo’s house to have him seized as well; and all the rooms and chests were searched, including even the chimney and the privy. However, fearing what was to happen, Michelangelo had fled to the house of a great friend of his where he stayed hidden for many days, without anyone except his friend knowing he was there. So he saved himself; for when the fury passed Pope Clement wrote to Florence that Michelangelo should be sought for …

Those last words elide a period of several years, when Michelangelo made a peace offering to the new regime by forming the melancholy Apollo-David for Valori — a side project for the genius while he also worked on the New Sacristy of Florence’s Medici Chapel.

Both projects gave way to papal prerogatives before their completion. Valori was reduced from preeminence in the city when the young Alessandro de’Medici became duke, and Michelangelo was summoned to Rome to paint The Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

And he was still working on that in 1537, when Alessandro de’ Medici was assassinated by his republican cousin. Alessandro’s murder brought 17-year-old Cosimo de’ Medici to power in Florence, a moment of political uncertainty that stoked the ambitions of the various anti-Medici factions. Thus,

[o]n learning the death of Alessandro and the election of Cosimo, the exiles appreciated the necessity for prompt action, as all delay would be fatal to the overthrow of Medicean rule. They had received money and promises from France; they were strengthened by the adhesion of Filippo Strozzi and Baccio Valori, who had both become hostile to the Medici through the infamous conduct and mad tyranny of Alessandro … The exiles accordingly met, and assembled their forces at Mirandola. They had about four thousand infantry and three hundred horse; among them were members of all the principal Florentine families … They marched rapidly, and entered Tuscany towards the end of July 1537.

The young Cosimo “displayed signal capacity and presence of mind,” infiltrating the rebel army with spies and smashing it in battle at the start of August.

All the prisoners, who were members of great families, were brought before Cosimo, and were received by him with courteous coldness. Soon, however, a scaffold was erected in the Piazza, and on four mornings in succession four of the prisoners were beheaded. Then the duke saw fit to stay the executions. Baccio Valori, however, and his son and nephew were beheaded on the 20th of August in the courtyard of the Bargello. Filippo Strozzi still survived, confined in the Fortezza da Basso, that had been built at his expense … On December 18th he was found dead in his prison, with a blood-stained sword by his side, and a slip of paper bearing these words: exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor. It was believed that, having renounced all hope of his life being spared, Strozzi had preferred suicide to death at the hands of the executioner.

* As to the subject of the male nude, there’s a difference of opinion between Michelangelo catalogues of the 1550s — one calling it “an Apollo who draws an arrow from his quiver” and another “an incomplete David.”

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1597: Anneke van den Hove, buried alive

Add comment July 19th, 2019 Thieleman Janszoon van Braght

(Thanks to 17th century Dutch Anabaptist Thieleman Janszoon van Braght for the guest post. It was originally an entry in his Anabaptist martyrology Martyrs Mirror, but although this doctrine did not emerge until the 1520s, van Braght was keen to deploy his hagiographies to connect his movement to a longer tradition of pre-Lutheran dissidents, and thus claims post facto for proto-anabaptism such figures as Waldensians, Albigensians, and Gerard Segarelli. -ed.)

At Brussels, under the reign of the archduke Albert, there was apprehended for her faith and following Christ, a young maiden named Anneken van den Hove (being the servant maid of Nicolaes Rampaert’s sister), having been betrayed, as it was said, by the pastor of the Savel church at Brussels.

This Anneken was imprisoned two years and seven months, in which time she suffered much temptation, from priests, monks, Jesuits and others, who thereby sought to make her apostatize from the faith she had accepted; but however great pains they took with her, in the way of examining, tormenting, fair promises, threats, long imprisonment, and otherwise, she nevertheless constantly remained steadfast in the faith in her Lord and Bridegroom, so that finally, on the nin[eteen]th of July, 1597,* certain Jesuits came and asked her whether she would suffer herself to be converted, for in that case she should be released and set at liberty. Thereupon she replied, “No.” They then offered to give her six months more time for consideration; but she desired neither day nor time, but said that they might do what seemed good to them, for she longed to get to the place where she might offer up unto the Lord a sacrifice acceptable unto Him. This answer having been conveyed to the judges, information was brought her about two hours afterwards, that if she wanted to die, prepare herself, unless she wished to turn.

Hence the justice of the court, and also a few Jesuits, went out with her about eight o’clock, half a mile without the city of Brussels, where a pit or grave was made, while in the meantime she fearlessly undressed herself, and was thus put alive into the pit, and the lower limbs having first been covered with earth, the Jesuits who were present asked her whether she would not yet turn and recant? She said, “No;” but that she was glad that the time of her departure was so near fulfilled. When the Jesuits then laid before her, that she had to expect not only this burying alive of the body into the earth, but also the eternal pain of the fire in her soul, in hell. She answered that she had peace in her conscience, being well assured that she died saved, and had to expect the eternal, imperishable life, full of joy and gladness in heaven, with God and all His saints.

In the meantime they continued to throw earth and (as has been stated to us) thick sods of heath ground upon her body, up to her throat; but notwithstanding all their asking, threatening, or promising to release her and take her out of the pit, if she would recant, it was all in vain, and she would not hearken to it.

Hence they at last threw much additional earth and sods upon her face and whole body, and stamped with their feet upon it, in order that she should die the sooner.

This was the end of this pious heroine of Jesus Christ, who gave her body to the earth, that her soul might obtain heaven; thus she fought a good fight, finished her course, kept the faith, and valiantly confirmed the truth unto death.

Since she then so loved her dear leader, Christ Jesus, that she followed Him not only to the marriage at Cana, but also, so to speak, even to the gallows-hill, there cannot be withheld from her the honor and name of a faithful martyress, who suffered all this for His name’s sake.

Hence she will also afterwards, when going forth as a wise virgin, yea, as a dear friend of the Lord, to meet her heavenly Bridegroom, be joyfully welcomed and received in the heavenly halls of immortal glory, together with all steadfast servants of God.

O God, be merciful also unto us that are still living, that continuing faithful unto the end, we may with her, and all the saints receive Thy blessed inheritance.

* July 9th by the old Julian calendar preferred by Protestants; July 19th by the updated Gregorian calendar preferred by Catholics.

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1507: Paolo da Novi, Doge of the people

Add comment July 10th, 2019 Headsman

Paolo da Novi, the Doge of Genoa for a few days that spring, was beheaded on this date in 1507.

The silk dyer was borne to the apex of power in his French-dominated Mediterranean city-state by a popular anti-oligarch revolt dating to 1506, “goaded to fury by the impertinence of the young nobles, and weary of the rapacity of the French governor.” (And also backed by the Holy Roman Empire, France’s great peninsular opponent of the Italian Wars.)

Mindful of losing his precious beachhead in the north, the French king Louis XII promptly set out to chastise the rebels: in fact, that’s just what he’s on his way to do in this Jean Bourdichon miniature:

The horseman’s cocksure pose here would be fully justified by events, for he quickly brought Genoa to a total surrender. Later on in the same series by the same illustrator — all for Jean Marot‘s* history in verse La Voyage de Genes — we find the Genoese imploringly at Louis’s mercy.

Louis had little mercy for these disobedient subjects, least of all for the “Doge of the people” who had fled by sea only to be betrayed by his ship’s captain for a cash reward. He was beheaded before the Ducal Palace (present-day Piazza Matteotti) on July 10; thereafter his severed head surmounted Grimaldina tower and his quartered corpse adorned the gates of the city.

La Superba today decorates a piazza with the name of this artisan-martyr.

* This poet was eclipsed in his own field by his son, Clement Marot.

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1591: Ralph Milner, Roger Dickenson, and Laurence Humphrey

Add comment July 7th, 2019 Alban Butler

(Thanks to the English Catholic Alban Butler for the guest post on three martyrs during Elizabethan England. This entry originally appeared in Butler’s hagiographical magnum opus Lives of the Saints which is in the public domain, although updated recent editions are also to be had from the usual booksellers. July 7 is the feast date for all three men described in this post; Dickenson and Milner were actually put to death on that date, while Humphrey’s execution date appears to be unrecorded. -ed.)

In this year [1591] there suffered at Winchester, on July 7, BB. Roger Dickenson and Ralph Milner, and on a date unknown Bd Laurence Humphrey.

Milner was a small farmer, or even a farm-labourer, and brought up a Protestant. Upon contrasting the lives led by his Protestant and Catholic neighbours, to the great disadvantage of the first, he put himself under instruction and was received into the Church; but on the very day of his first communion he was committed to prison for the change of religion. Here he was kept for a number of years, but his confinement was not strict and he was often released on parole, when he would obtain alms and spiritual ministrations for his fellow prisoners, and also use his knowledge of the country to facilitate the movements and work of missionary priests. In this way he made the acquaintance of Father [Thomas] Stanney, s.j., who afterwards wrote a memoir of him in Latin, and with the same priests assistance a secular priest, Mr Roger Dickenson, came to live in Winchester. He was a Lincoln man, who had made his studies at Rheims, and for several years he worked in the Winchester district, helped by Milner.

The first time Mr Dickenson was arrested his guards got so drunk that he was able to escape, but the second time, Milner being with him, they were both committed for trial: Dickenson for being a priest, Milner for “relieving” him. At the trial the judge, being somewhat pitiful for Blessed Ralph, who was old and had a wife and eight children looking to him, recommended him to make one visit as a matter of form to the Protestant parish church, and so secure his release. But, says [Richard] Challoner, Milner answered, “Would your lordship then advise me, for the perishable trifles of this world, or for a wife and children, to lose my God? No, my lord, I cannot approve or embrace a counsel so disagreeable to the maxims of the gospel.” As Father Stanney states that Milner was entirely illiterate, we must assume that this is a paraphrase of his reply. These two suffered together, one of the most moving couples in the whole gallery of English martyrs.

At the same assizes seven maiden gentlewomen were sentenced to death for allowing Bd Roger to celebrate Mass in their houses, but were immediately reprieved; whereupon they asked that they might die with their pastor, seeing that they undoubtedly shared his supposed guilt and should share also in his punishment: but they were returned to prison.

Laurence Humphrey was a young man of Protestant upbringing and good life who, having undertaken to dispute with Father Stanney (referred to above), was instead himself converted. Father Stanney in a brief memoir speaks very highly of the virtues of his neophyte and his energy in instructing the ignorant and relieving the needs of those in prison for their faith. But Humphrey being taken seriously ill, he was heard to say in delirium that “the queen was a whore and a heretic”; his words were reported to the authorities, and before he was well recovered he was committed to Winchester gaol. At his trial he confessed his religion, but denied memory of ever having spoken disrespectfully of the queen; he was nevertheless condemned, and hanged, drawn, and quartered in his twenty-first year.

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1567: Captain William Blackadder, Darnley patsy

Add comment June 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1567, the Scottish soldier Captain William Blackadder (or “Blacketer”) died a scapegoat at Edinburgh.

Being dragged on a hurdle to Mercat Cross where he was hanged and quartered, and his remains nailed up in Scotland’s principal cities, was undoubtedly the worst thing that ever happened to Captain Blackadder but posterity finds his severed tendons and ruined viscera only a lesser subplot in the psychodrama of that august future Executed Today fixture Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary’s famously terrible marriage to the monstrous Lord Darnley produced the eventual King James VI and I, at the cost of utterly ruining Mary’s reign. Please reference the great many more learned and erudite sources that will dwell on the innumerable faults of this grasping English lord who immediately upon achieving wedlock began maneuvering against his wife for power in Scotland. He’s notorious as a drunk, a lech, a murderer, and in general an obnoxious and arrogant shit.

Until, 18 months and change into the marriage, a huge explosion rocked Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh … and when the debris cleared, there lay the bodies of the obnoxious consort and his servant. Strangely they were dead in a nearby orchard, suspiciously unsinged by the Gunpowder Plot-like pyrotechnics.


Drawing of the crime scene made for the English Secretary of State William Cecil

The particulars of Darnley’s murder have puzzled posterity for the ensuing 450 years, precipitating as it did Mary’s own fall from her throne — a moment manifested by Mary’s humiliating surrender when her dwindling and dispirited supporters melted away instead of fighting at the “Battle” of Carberry Hill. Mary had the humiliation in that June of 1567 of being led through Edinburgh by rebel lords to imprisonment, under the jeers of a hostile crowd.

But since these rebels were rising against Mary’s post-Darnley fling, putatively in the name of Mary herself, they also proceeded to conduct a disingenuous search for Darnley’s assassins in these days, landing on this luckless son of a declining house who had presented himself under Mary’s colors at Carberry Hill. Nobody since and probably nobody then really thought he had “art and part” in Darnley’s death; nevertheless, the diarist Birrel noted, “the 24 day of Junij Captane Villiam Blacketer was drawn backward, in ane cairte, from ie Tolbuith to the Crosse, and ther wes hangit and quartred, for being on the King’s Murther.”

We could not in good conscience miss the opportunity afforded by this distinctive name to cite topical-to-us content from the BBC sitcom Blackadder.

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1568: Weyn Ockers, slipper slinger

Add comment June 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1568 the Dutch Protestant Weyn Ockers was drowned with her maid Trijn Hendricks.

Both were condemned for having taken part in the paroxysm of Calvinist anti-icon riots known as the Beeldenstorm (“icon-fury”) — specifically the 1566 sack of the then-Catholic Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. The Netherlands’ Spanish Catholic overlords were in these months of 1568 busily meting out revenge for the sacrilege.

In a somewhat iconic event of the iconoclasm, Ockers was alleged to have chucked her slipper* at an image of the Virgin Mary perched on the altar — one particularly resented by the reform-minded since the priest encouraged lucrative offerings of parishioners’ valuables to be presented to this icon. One might well doubt the fact of it; Ockers had not been arrested for this offense, but the accusation emerged from the interrogation under torture of other Protestants. Ockers copped to it under torture herself; Hendricks, made of tougher stuff, withstood torture twice and never admitted anything, but still shared her mistress’s fate.

* Not the worst missile that Marian statuary has endured.

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1566: Bartholome Tecia, Geneva sodomite

2 comments June 10th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1566, student Bartholome Tecia was drowned in Geneva as a sodomite.

Trial documents make him a youth from the valleys of northwest Italy’s Piedmont, where pockets maintained loyalty to the Evangelical Church of Vaud — Vaud being an adjacent Swiss canton that had been annexed by Calvinist Geneva. He was in the big city to study under Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in theological preeminence.

He’s been rediscovered by a more queer-friendly posterity. An eponymous play by Jean-Claude Humbert received a Geneva municipal literary prize in 2005, and the present-day Geneva visitor will see a commemorative marker for Tecia unveiled in 2013.


Plaque in Geneva honoring Bartholome Tecia, which reads “BARTHOLOME TECIA. Piedmontese student aged 15, denounced, tortured and sentenced on June 10, 1566 to be drowned in this place, for crime of homosexuality. Today, sexual orientation and gender identity must be universally recognized as basic human rights. Around the world, people continue to be discriminated against, persecuted and sentenced simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” (cc) image by MHM55.

There’s been a bit of pushback against this memorialization in view of the coercion alleged against him by two younger students. Executed Today would be the last to disclaim adolescents’ capacity for sexual predation, but it’s also the case that all three boys as participants in same-sex rendezvous would have feared themselves under the pall of the executioner: Geneva had drowned a similar trio for sodomy in 1554. While it’s obviously impossible at our remove to have anything better than a guess at the motivations and perspectives of the people involved, it does bear consideration that the accusers were powerfully incentivized to put the entire onus on someone other than themselves. For what it’s worth, Tecia militantly refused to confess, even when put to torture.

It happens that one of Tecia’s accusers was Theodore Agrippa d’Aubigne, the son of a participant in the Huguenot Amboise conspiracy to depose King Francis II. Agrippa d’Aubigne would go on to a scintillating military career during the French Wars of Religion, eventually settling in as Governor of Maillezais when his guy Henri IV won that war. That would have been a nice capstone to his career, except that France’s anti-Reformation turn following Henri’s assassination obliged him to flee a French death sentence for exile … to Geneva. He left an impressive literary legacy containing, to the best of my knowledge, no comment on l’affaire Tecia.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drowned,Execution,History,Homosexuals,Notable Participants,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Sex,Switzerland,Torture

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