Posts filed under '17th Century'

1620: Sidonia von Borcke, the sorceress

Add comment September 28th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1620, Sidonia von Borcke was beheaded and then immolated in Stettin (Szczecin) — one of the most notorious witch executions in German history.

The Pre-Raphaelites quite fancied the Sidonia story: this is Edward Burne-Jones‘s 1860 watercolor Sidonia von Bork.

This Pomeranian noblewoman (English Wikipedia entry | German), aging and penniless, resided from 1604 in a Lutheran Stift, a secular convent for unmarried ladies. There she busied herself and the courts of the Holy Roman Empire with numerous lawsuits against the convent’s prioresses, other women in the cloister, and inheritance disputes with members of her family.

According to Gerda Riedl’s “‘Alles von rechts wegen!’ Frühneuzeitliches Hexenprozeß-(un-)wesen am Beispiel des Falles der Sidonia von Borcke” in Hexen: Historische Faktizität und fiktive Bildlichkeit, the frayed nerves around Sidonia finally snapped at a church service where she and the sub-prioress got into an altercation and were both arrested.

It was July of 1619. Sidonia von Borcke was a cranky 71-year-old spinster with a knack for making enemies. And then the sub-prioress accused her of witchcraft.

The ordeals of the next year occupy over a thousand pages in the archives. A wandering fortune-teller named Wolde Albrechts was slated with channeling the infernal powers for Sidonia: when put to torture, that poor creature soon admitted all, complete with the obliging accusation of Sidonia.

Wolde Albrechts went to the stake on October 9, 1619. By December, 72 impressive charges were preferred against Sidonia von Borcke, by now transferred from confinement in her abbey (where she had attempted suicide) to the public prison. These included the murder by sorcery of every consequential person who had died in her vicinity in recent memory, from the previous prioress all the way up to the Duke of Pomerania, whose childless death at the tender age of 44 the previous year had thrown the political situation in Pomerania into confusion.* (Not to mention sexual contact with her loyal kitty Chim, in the latter’s guise as demonic familiar.)

Her ashes were barely cold when Sidonia passed into folklore and thence to legend, eventually to be seized and considerably embellished by Gothic poets in the 18th century. Her countryman Wilhelm Meinhold‘s Sidonia von Bork, die Klosterhexe situates her as a beautiful young woman balked of her dynastic marriages who goes on a midlife jag as a picaresque outlaw before repairing in her dotage to the abbey heavy with grievances. English translations of it were wildly popular, including one rendered by Oscar Wilde‘s mum.

* Succession started passing to the late duke’s brothers, and the Harry Potter-esque House of Griffin which had ruled Pomerania back to the 12th century was done by 1637. Their destruction juxtaposed to Sidonia’s own would help cement the latter’s immortality.

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1685: Krystof Alois Lautner, Witch Hammer victim

Add comment September 18th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1685, Catholic priest Kryštof* Alois Lautner was degraded from the clergy and burnt at the stake as a sorcer — but his real crime was standing athwart a witch hunt.

The term “witch craze” doesn’t quite seem the just one for the Northern Moravian witch trials since they spanned 18 terribly systematic years until the gouty main inquisitor mercifully retired in 1696, having put about 100 people to the sword and stake.

Generally understood in the context of Catholic hostility to reform denominations on the soil of the present-day Czech Republic, this dreadful affair started when a Vernirovice woman was caught sneaking the Host out of Easter Mass in 1678, intending to use it as a charm for a folk spell to enhance the fertility of her cows.

By 1679, that woman was burned at the stake — along with two others whom she was induced to accuse by the threat of torture.

These executions were the fruit of a witchcraft commission that had been empaneled to pursue the original desecration of the communion bread, but now that the witch team was an institution it began finding more and more necromancers, in a self-justifying spiral of accusations.

Lautner, a well-liked deacon of Sumperk, spoke against the witch hunt when it came to that city and for his pains he was arrested there in 1680 … then leisurely broken by torture over a period of four years until he was at last undone by accusations wrenched from the torture of the wealthy Sattler family. (Whose valuables the commission did not neglect to appropriate.) It was standard witchcraft fare: black sabbaths, incestuous orgies, pacts with Satan.

Milder tortures were used against him initially” the records say. “But those he admirably resisted, and remained obdurate. Then came harsher steps. Lautner began to confess, but when he was removed from the devices he recanted his admissions. So he was put to torture again and again, to defeat the devil’s secrecy. He was interrogated in June 1684 — twelve days in a row, except Sunday.” The case progressed so deliberately in part because the prosecution of a clergyman required the signoff of church heirarchy** … and in part because Lautner’s own friends intervened to try to free him. (One such ally, the priest Tomáš König, wrote a letter to the bishop on Lautner’s behalf and thereby became an object for investigation himself; it’s thought that he was about to be arrested by the witchsmellers when he fortuitously died in 1682.)

In the end the cleric could not hope to withstand the pressure. 20,000 people are reported to have swelled Sumperk for his execution by fire.

His case — which has latterly been commemorated by public monuments celebrating Lautner as a hero of conscience — was dramatized in the historical novel Witch Hammer by Vaclav Kaplicki. Otakar Vavry adapted the story for the silver screen; Kladivo na Carodejnice is available online in its entirety, but you’ll need to be up on your Czech.

* Hacek courtesy of Jan Hus!

** Pope Innocent XI ultimately signed off on proceedings, on the sententious grounds that clergy can’t be above the law when they traffic with devils.

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1648: Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, royalists

2 comments August 28th, 2015 Headsman

The Death of Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, Monday, Aug. 28, 1648

By the old wall at Colchester,
With moss and grass o’ergrown,
The curious, thoughtful wanderer
Will note a small, white stone.
Tis sunken now — yet slight it not;
That stone can speak, and tell
A tale of blood; it marks the spot
Where Lisle and Lucas fell.

On earth there is no abject thing
So abject as a fallen king.
And Charles, despoiled, cashiered, discrowned,
In his own halls a captive bound,
Spurned, crushed by countless ills forlorn,
Drinks to the dregs the cup of scorn.

Yet in that hour of blank despair,
Lisle, Lucas, Capel, Compton dare
Their wrecks of shattered strength to call
To Colchester’s beleaguered wall;
Round Charles, in hope ‘gainst hope to cling
Proclaim, e’en yet, that Charles is king;
And one more mighty effort try
For honour, love, and loyalty.

Vain all the dauntless venture — vain
Their valour, piety, and pain.
Who in the field the foe repels
Grim Famine in the city quells.
The soldier, gaunt and staggering, crawls
From post to post along the walls;
With leaden eyes the townsmen meet,
Like spectres, in the howling street.
No bread within — without, the foe —
No friend, no succour nigh —
The leaguer closer drawn — they know
They needs must yield, or die.

They yield — and Fairfax, bloody heart!
Ere yet the shades of evening part,
Dooms to a sudden, felon grave
Lisle, Lucas, bravest of the brave;
And Ireton, in exultant glee,
Hastes on the murderous tragedy.

“Haste on the murderous tragedy!
Nor let them live another night,
Nor mother, sister, brother see;
Nor give them space to order right
Their souls to meet their Maker’s sight!”

One hour — brief respite! So to prayer,
Last refuge of the soul, they went —
To prayer, and blessed Sacrament;
And then rose up, refreshed, to bear
Whate’er of added scorn or sting
The circumstance of death might bring.

“Lead Lucas forth!” Forth Lucas came,
And on the files of musqueteers
Smiled as in scorn; in step and frame
No trembling, and in soul no fears.
But, as from fields of carnage wet,
He oft had marched to victory,
Though vanquished, fettered, doomed to die,
He stands the victor-hero yet;
And cried, “In battle’s stern embrace
Oft I and death met face to face;
See now in death I death defy,
And mark how Lucas dares to die.”

He bowed his knees a little space,
With clasped hands, and eyes lift up;
And craved of Jesu parting grace
To sweeten pain’s last bitter cup;
Then laid his bosom bare, and cried,
“I’m ready: rebels, do your worst;”
Fell on his face, and groaned, and died,
Pierced with four savage wounds accurst.

“Haste on the murderous tragedy!
Yea, howl aloud for victims more;
And with remorseless butchery,
Let Lisle be bathed in Lucas’ gore.”

He treads the stage of death, his eye
Glancing defiance round —
He sees his brother’s body lie
Stretched on the bloody ground.
Tis more than e’en a Lisle can bear —
The mighty heart gives way;
He weeps amain, and kneeling there
Beside his dead, in love’s despair
Kisses the lifeless clay;
And sobs his requiem: “Oh, my friend,
My brother, thou hast reached thy goal!
Christ is thy rest — Christ me defend;
My spirit with thy spirit blend,
Thou peerless and unspotted soul!”

Then stands erect, the anguish past;
And marks in lines the levelled gun —
“Come nearer, men.” “Nay,” answered one,
“Fear not, good Sir, we’ll hit you fast.”
“Ah!” cried the warrior, “oft in fight
Nearer to me than now ye came;
In field and fort, by day and night
I met you, and ye missed your aim.
And oh, how oft as well ye know,
In hottest blood and deadliest strife,
I checked my hand, and spared the blow,
And sheathed my sword, and gave you life.
I die content; my God shall bring
Grace for my soul’s anneal;
I die for faith, for Charles my King,
And for my country’s weal.”

With invocations loud and deep
On Jesu’s blessed name.
E’en as he prayed, he fell asleep
When the death-volley came.
Where Lucas fell, there Lisle lay dead —
They slept on one same gory bed.
One in their common death; in life
One in the same dread, glorious strife;
As one to live in honour high,
So one in mighty heart to die.
One grave contains the sacred dead —
Go, ponder there awhile;
Then say with pride, “My country bred
A Lucas and a Lisle.”

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1679: John King and John Kid, Covenanters

Add comment August 14th, 2015 Headsman

At Edinburgh’s Tolbooth on this date in 1679, two Covenanter ministers hanged as rebels.

The widely recorded gallows-humor bon mot of Kid to his fellow-sufferer — “I have often heard and read of a kid sacrificed, but I seldom or never heard of a king made a sacrifice” — might be pure bunk. Certainly both ministers took pains to vindicate their scruples both religious and political (but I repeat myself) in great detail in the printed records that survive of their scaffold address. “The last speeches of the two ministers Mr. John King, and Mr. John Kid, at the place of execution at Edinburgh on the 14th day of August, 1679″ does (so we presume) what it says on the tin.

The Publisher to the Reader.

Having observed that of late years it is become Customary to publish the dying Speeches of such as have been in a Publick manner Executed as Criminals, I thought the sight of these Speeches (not as Speeches or Discourses only, but) as the Speeches of these two (so much talk’d of) Men, would to most be very acceptable, all persons I believe being curious to know what they would say in their Circumstances, I did not think it necessary to make any Animadversions upon them, but leave it to the [illegible] of every Reader to make his own Remarks, (it being as easie to animadvert in this Case as to read) I would as unwillingly impose my Comment upon others, as I would be imposed upon my self.


The Speech of Mr. John King.

I do not doubt but that many that are Spectators here, have some other end, than to be edified by what they may see and hear in the last words of one going to Eternity, but if any one of you have Ears to hear, (which I nothing doubt but some of this great gathering have) I desire your Ears and Attention, if the Lord shall help and permit me to speak, to a few things.

I bless the Lord, since infinite Wisdom and holy Providence has so carved out my Lot to dye after the manner that I do, not unwillingly, neither by force: It’s true, I could not do this of my self, Nature always having an Inclination to put the evil day far off, but through Grace I have been helped, and by this Grace yet hope I shall: ‘Tis true, through Policy I might have shunned such a hard Sentence, if I had done some things, but though I could I durst not, God knows, redeem my life with the loss of my Integrity and Honesty. I bless the Lord that since I have been apprehended and made a Prisoner, God hath very wonderfully upholden me, and made out that comfortable word, Fear not, be not dismayed, I am with thee, I will strengthen thee, I will uphold thee by the right hand of my Righteousness, Isaiah 42.10. [sic – the correct cite is Isaiah 41:10 -ed.] I thank the Lord he never yet gave me leave so much as to have a thought, much less to seek after any [illegible] that might be the least sinful: I did always, and yet do judge it better to suffer Affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of Sin for a Season; therefore I am come hither to lay down my life; I bless the Lord I dye not as a Fool dyeth, though I acknowledge I have nothing to boast of in myself: yea I acknowledge I am a Sinner, and one of the chiefest that hath gone under the name of a Professor of Religion; yea amongst the unworthiest of those that have Preached the Gospel; my Sins and Corruptions have been many, and have defiled me in all things; and even in following and doing of my Duty, I have not wanted my own sinful Infirmities and Weaknesses, so that I may truly say, I have no Righteousness of my own, all is evil and like filthy Rags; but blessed be God that there is a Saviour and an Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and I do believe that Jesus Christ is come into the World to save Sinners, of whom I am the chief, and that through Faith and his Righteousness I have obtained Mercy; and that through him, and him alone, I desire and hope to have a happy and glorious Victory over Sin, Satan, Hell, and Death; and that I shall attain unto the Resurrection of the just, and be made Partaker of Eternal Life. I know in whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. I have, according to my poor Capacity, preached Slavation in his name; and as I have preached, so do I believe, and withal my Soul have commended it, and still do commend to all of you the riches of his Grace, and faith in his Name, as the alone and only way whereby to come to be saved.

It may be many may think (but I bless the Lord without any solid ground) that I suffer as an Evil-Doer, and as a busie body in other mens matters; but I reckon not much upon that, having the Testimony of my own Conscience for me. It was the lot of our blessed Saviour himself, and also the lot of many of his eminent precious Servants and People to suffer by the World as Evil-doers: Yea I think I have so good ground not to be fear’d as such a lot, that I count it my non-such-honour; and Oh what am I that I should be honoured so, when so many Worthies have panted after the like, and have not come at it: My Soul rejoyceth in being brought into Conformity with my Blessed Lord, and Head, and so Blessed a Company in this way and lot; and I desire to pray that I may be to none of you this day upon this account a Stone of stumbling, and a Rock of Offence: and blessed is he that shall not be offended in Christ and his poor Followers and Members, because of their being Condemned as Evil doers by the World.

As for these things for which Sentence of Death hath past against me, I bless the Lord my Conscience doth not condemn me, I have not been Rebellious, nor do I judge it Rebellion for me to have endeavoured in my Capacity what possibly I could for the born-down and ruined Interest of my Lord and Master, and for the Relief of my poor Brethren afflicted and persecuted, not only in their Liberties, Priviledges, and Persons, but also in their Lives; therefore it was that I joyned with that poor handful; the Lord knows, who is the searcher of hearts, that neither my design nor practice was against his Majesty’s person and just Government, but I always studyed to be Loyal to lawful Authority in the Lord, and I thank God my heart doth not condemn me of any Disloyalty; I have been Loyal, and I do recommend it to all to be obedient to higher Powers in the Lord.

And that I preached at Field-Meetings, which is the ground of my Sentence, I am so far from acknowledging that the Gospel preached that way was a Rendezvous of Rebellion, as it is so tearmed, that I bless the Lord that ever he counted me worthy to be Witness of such Meetings; which have been so undoubtedly countenanced and owned, not only to the conviction, but even to the Conversion of many; therefore I do assert, That if the Lord hath had any purer Church in the Land than other, it hath been in and amonst these Meetings in Fields and Houses, so much now despised by some, and persecuted by others.

That [illegible] up Rebellion, and taking up Arms [illegible] authority is untrue, I bless the Lord my Conscience doth not condemn me for that; this never being my design; if I could have preached Christ, and Salvation through his name, it was my work; and herein have I walked according to the Light and Rule of the Word of God, as it did become me, though one of the meanest of the Ministers of the Gospel.

I have been looked upon by some, and represented by others to be of a divisive, and Factious Humor, and one that stirred up division in the Church, but I am hopeful that they will all now give me their Charity, being within a little to stand before my Judge, and I pray the Lord forgive them that did so misrepresent me; but I thank the Lord what-ever men have said against me concerning this, that on the contrary, I have often disswaded from such ways and practices, as contrary to the Word of God, and of our Covenanted and reformed Religion; and as I ever Abhorred division, and Faction in the Church, as that which tends to its utter Ruine, if the Lord prevent it not. So I would in the bowels of my lord and Master, if such an one as I am may presume to perswade, and Exhort both Ministers and Professors; if there be any Consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love; if any Fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies that you be like minded, having the same Love, being of one accord, of one mind the Lowliness of mind; let each esteem other better than themselves, Phil. 1.12. [again, sic; I believe Philippians 2:3 is the citation] Harmoniousness and Honesty in the things of God, can never enough be south after, and [illegible] tend to the prejudice and hurt of Christians [illegible] can never enough be fled from and avoided.

And as I am come hither willingly to lay down my Tabernacle, so also I die in the belief, and faith of the Holy Scriptures, and in the faith of the Apostles, and primitives Christians, and Protestant Reformed Churches, and particularly the Church of Scotland, whereof I am a poor member: That have been so wonderfully carried on against so many Oppositions, by the mighty Power and goodness and Wisdome of God, I bear my Witness and Testimony to the Doctrine and worship, Discipline and Government of the Church of Scotland, by Kirk Sessions, Presbyters, Synods with Assembles.

Here he also bore his Testimony to the Solemn League and Covenant.

Also I bear Testimony to our publick confessing of sins, and Ingagements to duties, and that either as to what concerns the reformation of the whole Church in general, as also the causes of Gods wrath, the neglecting of which is feared, to be one of the greatest causes of Gods wrath this day against the Land: I also give witness and Testimony unto the protestation, given in against the Receiving the Malignant party into places of power and trust, contrary to our Solemn Ingagements, and Obligations to God, also I adhere unto our Confession of Faith, Larger and shorter Catechisms. I witness my Testimony against Popery, which is so greatly increased, yea so much Countenanced, and professed openly by many, and that without the least punishment; I bear witness against the Antichristian Prelacy now — established by a Law contrary to our Vows to Almighty God, and against defending all our Solemn Oaths, and ingagements, as a thing that Calls for Divine Vengeance.

Here he bore witness against all Oaths contrary to the Covenant: and then proceeded thus.

Also I bear my Testimony against all Error, Schisme, Heresie, contrary to our ingagements to God, and especially against that Reviving again, and Soul deluding evil or rather Devilry Quakerisme so much Connived at, if not allowed and Countenanced by many, whose Office it is to restrain it, as also against all the Steps and Courses of Backslidings, defections, which have been and now are on Foot in the Land, and against all branches and parties thereof, under whatsoever name or Notion; moreover, I bear my Testimony to all the Testimonys both formerly and of late, by suffering and banished witnesses, and to all the Testimonies by our first suffering Gentlemen, Noble-men, and others, that have suffered in this City and Kingdome, who Chearfully laid down their lives with admirable Divine Assistance, and all those who have laid down their lives, as also to those who have Sealed their Testimony, either with suffering imprisonment or Banishment upon this account, Score, and quarrel.

Here he bore his Testimony against their Act of Supremacy.

As also I bear my Testimony against the Cess imposed by the late Convention of Estates, whereby the Enemies of Christ, and his Church, are supplyed with all necessaries, for the utter extirpating of the interest of Christ in this Church.

And there is one thing more I would say, that the Lord seems to be very wroth with the Land. The causes are many, first the dreadful sleights our Lord Jesus Christ, has received in the Offers of his Gospel.

Secondly, The Horrid profanity that has overspread the whole Land, That not only Religion in its Exercise, but even Common Civility is gone.

Thirdly, there is the Horrid perjury in the matters of our vows and ingagements, its to be feared will provoke the Lord to bring his Sword upon these Lands.

Fourthly, The dreadful formality and stupidity in the duties of Religion, which is introduced, like that which came upon the Carless Daughters.

Fifthly, Horrid ingratitude, what do we render to him for his goodness? is not the most of all that we do, to work wickedness, and to strengthen our selves to do evil, and want of Humility under all all [sic] our Breaches? We are brought Low, and yet we are not Low in the sight of God, what a dreadful Covetousness, and minding our own things more than the things of God, and that amonst all Ranks? would to God that there were not too much of this among many, who are Enemies of the Cross of Christ, and mind earthly things.

And yet I dare not say, but there are many faithful and precious to him in Scotland, both of Ministers, and Professors, whom I trust God will keep stedfast, and who will Labour to be found faithful to their Lord and Master, and whom I hope he will make a brazen wall and Iron Pillars, and as a strong defenced City, in the following of their duties in these sad evil times, but it were to be wished, That there were not too many to strengthen the hands of the evil-doers, and make themselves Transgressors, by endeavouring to buidl again that which formerly they did estroy, but let such take heed of the flying Roll, Zach. 5. And let all the Lords Servants and Ministers take heed that they watch, and be stedfast in the faith, and quit themselves like men, and be strong, and set the Trumpet to the mouth, and give Seasonable and faithful warning to all Ranks Concerning sins, and duties, especially against the sins of this sinful time: it is to be Lamented and sadly Regretted by many of the Lords people, that there has been so much silence and fainting, even amongst Ministers of how great Concernment it is; now in this sad Juncture, let Ministers consider well, what it is that God calls for at their hands. To be silent now, especially when so many Cruel and Horrid things are [illegible], when they are so much called, and ought to be concerned to speak even upon the Peril of their lives, certainly a dreadful sin in the sight of God, their silence must be. I shall only desire that the Lord would open the mouths of his faithful servants, that with all boldness, they may speak out the mind of their Master, that so the work, interest, Crown and Kingdome of our Lord Jesus Christ, may not be destroyed, and that the troubles of his poor people, which are precious to him, may not without a Testimony be ruined. I shall but say a few words.

First, All you that are profane, I would seriously Exhort you that you return to the Lord by serious Repentance; if you do, iniquity shall not be your Ruine; if you do not, know that the day of the Lords Vengeance is near and hastneth on. Oh know for your comfort, there is a door of mercy yet open, if you be not despisers of the day of Salvation. And you that have been, and yet are, Reproachers and persecutors of Godliness, and of such as live Godly; take heed, Oh take heed, sad will be your day, when God arises to scatter his Enemies, if you repent not for your ungodly deeds.

Secondly, All those who are taken up with their own private interests, and if that go well they Care the less for the interests of Christ, take heed and be zealous, and repent, lest the Lord pass the Sentence I will spew you out of my mouth.

Thirdly, For the truly Godly, and such as are Lamenting after the Lord, and are mourning for all the abominations of this City, and are taking pleasure in the very Rubbish and Stones of Zion, be of good Courage, and Cast not away your Confidence, I dare not say any thing to future things, but surely the Lord has a handful that are precious to him, to whom he will be Gracious; to these is a dark night at present, how long it will last the Lord knows. Oh let not the sad disasters, that his poor people meet with, though very astonishing, Terrifie you, beware of snares that abound, Cleave fast to your Reformed Religion, do not Shift the Cross of Christ, if you be called to it, it is better to suffer than sin, account the reproaches of Christ greater Riches than all the Treasures of the World.

In the last place, let not my Death be Grievous to any of you, I hope it will be more profitable both for you and me, and for the Church and interest of God, than my life could have been. I bless the Lord, I can freely and Frankly forgive all men, even as I desire to be forgiven of God, pray for them that persecute you, bless them that Curse you. As to the cause of Christ, I bless the Lord I never had cause, to this day, to repent for any thing I have suffered, or can now suffer for his name. I thank the Lord who has shewed mercy to such a vile sinner as I am, and that ever he should advance me to so High a dignity, as to be made a Minister of his blessed and everlasting Gospel, and that ever I should have a Seal set to my Ministry, upon the hearts of some in several places and Corners of this Land: the Lord visit Scotland with more and more faithful Pasters, and send a Reviving day unto the people of God; in the mean time be patient, be stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; and live in Love and peace one with another, and the Lord be with his poor Afflicted Groaning people, that yet remain.

Now I bid farewell to all my friends, and dear Relations; Farewell my poor Wife and Children, whom I leave in the good hand of him who is better than seven Husbands, and who will be a Father to the fatherless. Farewell all Creature comforts, Welcome everlasting life, everlasting glory, Welcome everlasting love, everlasting praise; bless the Lord, O my Soul, and all that is within me.

Sic Subscrib.

John ing.

August, 14th. 1679.
Tolbooth, Circa boram Septimam.

The Speech of Mr. John Kid.

Right Worthy and well beloved Spectators and Auditors.

Considering what bodily distempers I have been exercised with since I came out of the Torture, (viz.) Scarce two hours out of my naked bed in one day, it cannot be expected, that I should be in Case to say any thing to purpose at this Juncture, especially seeing I am not as yet free of it, however I cannot but Reverence the good hand of God upon me, and desires with all my Soul to bless him for this my present Lot.

It may be there are a great many here that Judge my Lot very sad and deplorable. I must confess death it self, is very Terrible to Flesh and blood, but as it is an out-let to sin, and an in-let to righteousness, it is the Christians great and inexpressible priviledge, and give me leave to say this, that there is somthing in a Christians Condition, that can never put him without the reach of insufferableness, even shame, death, and the Cross being included.

And then if there be peace betwixt God and the Soul, nothing can damp peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, this is a most supporting ingredient in the bitterest Cup, and under the sharpest, and firiest Tryal he can be exposed unto. This is my mercy, That I have somthing of this to lay Claim unto, viz., The intimacies of pardon, and peace betwixt God and my Soul.

And as concerning that, for which I am condemned, I magnifie his grace, that I never had the least challenge for it, but on the contrary, I Judge it my Honour, that ever I was counted worthy to come upon the Stage upon such a consideration; another thing that renders the most despicable Lot of the Christian, and mine insufferable, is a felt and sensible presence from the Lord, strengthening the Soul when most put to it, and if I could have this for my Allowance this day, I could be bold to say, Oh death where is thy sting, and could not but cry out Welcome to it, and all that follows upon it: I grant the Lord from an Act of Soveraignity may come, and go as he pleases, but yet he will never forsake his people, and this is a Cordial to me in the Case I am now exposed unto.

Thirdly, The exercising and puting forth his glorious power, is able to Transport the Soul of the believer, and mine, above the reach of all Sublunary difficulties, and therefore seeing I have hope to be kept up by this power, I would not have you to look upon my Lot, or any other that is or may be in my Cafe, in the least deplorable, seeing we have ground to believe, that in more or less he will perfect his power and strength in weakness.

Fourthly, That I may come a little nearer to the purpose in hand, I declare before you all, in the sight of God, Angels and men, and in the sight of that Son and all that he has Created, that I am a most miserable sinner, in regard of my Original and Actual Transgressions. I must confess they are more in number than the Haires of my Head. They are gone up above my Head, and are past numbering, I cannot but say as Jacob said, I am less than the least of all Gods mercies, yet I must declare to the exalting of his free grace, That to me who am the least of all Saints is this grace made known, and that by a strong hand, and I dare not but say he has loved me, and washed me in his own blood from all iniquities, and well is it for me this day, That ever I heard or read that faithful saying, that Jesus Christ, came into the World to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Fifthly, I must also declare in his sight, I am the most unworthiest that ever opened his mouth to preach the unsearchable Riches of Christ in the Gospel. yea the sense of this made me altogether unwilling to fall about so great a work, until by the importunity of some whose names are precious and savoury to me and many others, I was prevailed with to fall about it, and yet I am hopeful not altogether without some fruit, and if I durst say it without vanity, I never found so much of the presence of God upon my Spirit, as I have found in exercises of that nature, though I must still confess attended with inexpressible weakness, and this is the main thing for which I must lay down my Tabernacle this day, viz. That I did preach Christ and the Gospel in several places of this Nation; for which I bless him (as I can), That ever such a poor obscure person as I am, have been thus priviledged by him, for making mention of his grace as I was able.

Sixthly, Give me leave to add this word farther, that though there be great appearances, for spreading and preaching this Glorious Gospel, yet I fear there is a snare at the bottom, and poyson in that dish which may gender, and be productive, of not only greater Scarcity of Honest preaching and preachers, but a Real Famine of the Word, this I say is my fear, and I hope God will keep his servants and people from fomenting any thing to the detriment of the Gospel.

Seventhly, I am also afraid that the Lord is tending to multiply his stroaks upon the Land, we have walked seven times contrary to him, and therefore we may lay our account (unless Repentance prevent it) that he will walk seven times contrary to us, there is more and more grounds to fear that a Sword is Brandished in Heaven, a Glittering Sword, sharpned and forbished against the Guilty and Harlot Scotland.

Eightly, As for the Fifth Cause in my indictment, upon which my sentence of death is founded, (viz.) Presonal preference, Twice or thrice, with that party whom they call the Rebels; for my own part I never Judged them such: I Acknowledge and do believe there were many there that came in the simplicity of their hearts, like those that followed Absolom long ago, and I am as sure on the other hand there were a great party there that had nothing before them but the repairing of the Fallen work, and the restoring of the breach, which is wide as the Sea, and I am apt to think that such of these who were most branded with mistake, will be found to be most single: but for Rebellion against his Majesties person or Lawful Authority, the Lord knows my Soul Abhorreth the name and thing; Loyal I have been, and I wish every Christian to be so, and I was ever of this Judgment, To give to Caesar the things that are caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.

Ninthly, Since I came to prison, I have been much branded with many that I must call Aspersons whereof Jesuitisme is one, I am hopeful there was never one that did converse with me that had the least ground for laying this to my Charge, I know not how it comes to pass it is laid upon me now, except implacable prejudice that some have been prepossest with against me. I am not Ignorant that near two years ago, a person of some note in this Church while Living, was pleased to say, I was dyed in that Judgment: after he was better informed, he Changed his Note, and said it was misinformation: but now the Lord, before whom I must stand, and be Judged by and by, knows I have a perfect Abhorrence of that thing. And that it was never my Temptation directly nor indirectly. Though I must confess, some few years ago, some were very pressing upon me that I would conform, and imbrace Prelacy? But for Popery, and that Truth, it never came nearer my heart than the Popes Conclave, and the Alcoran, which my Soul Abhors.

Tenthly, I Have also been branded with factiousness, divisive, and seditious preaching, and practices. I must confess if it be so, it was more than ever I was aware of: according to the measure that God has given me, it was my endeavor to commend Christ to the hearts and Souls of the people, even repentance towards God and Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the word of God, confession of faith, and Catechismes Larger and Shorter, yea I did press them, when God did cast it in my way to remember their former Obligations in Doctrine, worship, Discipline and Government, and that they would make it their work to stand to it, in substance and Circumstance, seeing it is so Cryed down in this day, and if this be divisive preaching, I cannot deny it.

Eleventhly, I am prest in Conscience to bear my Testimony to and Abhorrence of every Invasion, Usurpation, and incroachment that is made or has been made against Christs Royal prerogative, Crown, and Kingdome, Originate upon and derivate from that which they call the Supremacy. I was never free to say a Confederacy with those that I judge have in a great part said a Confederacy with that thing, and the Lord is my record, I was never free in my Conscience for that that is called indulgence, neither first nor second, as it was rendered by the Counsel, and as it was imbraced by a great many Godly men in this Land, yea it was never Laudable nor expedient to me, and in effect this is one of the main grounds, why I am rendred so Obnoxious to so many imputations, that I have been all along contrary to that indulgence in my Judgment. I confess I have been so, and I die in my Judgment contrary to it, and this I crave Leave to say without any Offence given to the many Godly and Learned, that are of another Judgment.

Twelfthly, I Judge it fit likewise in this Cafe to leave my Testimony against that Stent, Taxation and Cess, that has been so injustly imposed, so frivolently founded, and vigorously carried on by the Abettors of that contention, and meerly upon no other account imaginable, but to make a Final Extirpation of Christ, and his Gospel Ordinances out of the Land, and how Lamentable it is to consider how many professors did willingly pay it, and were most forward for inciting others to do the same.

In the next place, though to many I die desired, yet I know to not a few my death is not desired, and it is the rejoycing of my heart, that I die in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has loved me, and given himself for me, and in the faith of the Prophets and Apostles, and in this faith that there’s not a name under heaven by which men can be saved, but the name of Jesus, and in the Faith of the Doctrine and Worship of the Kirke of Scotland, as it is now established according to the word of God, Confession of faith, Catechisms Larger and shorter, and likewise I joyn my Testimony against Popery, Perjury, Profanity, Heresie, and every thing contrary to sound Doctrine.

In the Close, as a dying person, and as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful, I would Humbly leave it upon godly Ministers to be faithful for their Lord and Master, and not to hold their peace in such a day, when so many ways are taken for injuring of him, his name, way, Sanctuary, Ordinances, Crown and Kingdome, I hope there will be found a party in this Land, that will continue for him, and his Matters, in all Hazzards, and as faithfulness is called for in Ministers, so professors would concern themselves that they Countenance not, nor abet any thing inconsistent with former Principles and practices. Let the Land consider how Neuteral and indifferent we are grown in the matters of God, even like Ephraim long ago, a Cake not turned.

Next how far we are fallen from our first love, how far we are degenerated from the noble Vine into which the Lord did once plant us; Lamentable it is how far we are gone in the way of Egypt, drinking the Waters of Sichar, &c. [i.e., drunkenness -ed.]

Again, What a woeful Spirit of bitterness is predominate in this Land, in this our Age, Ephraim vexing Judah, and Judah Ephraim, Manasseth Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseth, the growing dogedness of this temper almost amongst us all, portends terrible things from the Lord against Scotland.

Fourthly, Reformation neither designed nor practiced, what means all this deformity that is come to pass in these days, instead of the contrary? how many of us are pulling down that which we have been building up; how many of us calling good evil, and evil good, dis-owning and dis-favouring that which sometime we judged our honour to testifie for and to avouch.

Fifthly, A Publick Spirit in contending for God in his matters, in substance and circumstance, according to our Vows and Obligations, is much wanting amonst us at this day.

Farther I am prest in Conscience to make honourable mention of all those glorious things that God has done in Scot. since the year 1638. the abundant measure of his spirit that has been power’d out upon his people.

Here he spoke much concerning the Solemn League and Convenant; and afterwards proceeded as followeth.

And moreover I bear my Testimonies against all other Confusions, Imprisonment and Blood, that is or may be intended against those of the Land that desire to keep their Garments clean, whether in Prison or out of Prison.

6thly, As concerning that which is the ground of my death, viz. Preaching here and there in some Corners, I bless my God I have not the least challenge for it, and though those that Condemned me are pleased to call such Preachings Rendezvouses of Rebellion, yet I must say this of them, they were so far from being reputed such in my Eyes, that if ever Christ had a People or party wherein his Soul took pleasure, I am bold to say these Meetings were a great part of them; the shineing and Glory of God was eminently seen amonst these Meetings, the convincing Power and Authority of our Lord went out with his Servants in those blasphemously nick-named Conventicles; this I say without reflection upon any. I have a word to say farther, that God is calling persons to Repentance, and to do their first work; Oh that Scotland were a mourning Land, and that Reformation were our practice, according as we are sworn in the Covenant.

Again, that Christians of Grace and Experience would study more streightness and stability in this day, when so many are turning to the right hand, and many to the left; he that endureth to the end shall be saved; he has appointed the Kingdom for such as continue with him in his Temptations.

Next, if ever you expect to have the Form of the House shewed you in all the Laws thereof, goings on thereof, and comings in thereof, then think it no shame to take shame to you for all that has been done, sitting down on this side Jordan is like to be our bane. Oh when shall we get up and run after him till he bring us into the promised Land, let us up and after him with all our heart, and never rest till he return.

I recommend my Wife and young one to the care and faithfulness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God that has fed me to this day, and who is the God of my Salvation, their God and my God, their Father and my Father, I am also hopeful, that Christians, Friends, and Relations, will not be unmindful of them when I am gone.

Lastly, I do further bear my Testimony to the Cross of Christ, and bless him that ever he counted me worthy to appear for him in such a lot as this: Glory to him that ever I heard tell of him, and that ever he fell upon such a method of dealing with me as this, and therefore let none that loves Christ and his Righteous Cause be offended in me.

And as I have lived in the faith of this, that the three Kingdoms are married Lands, so I dye in the faith of it, that there will be a resurrection of his Name, Word, Cause, and of all his Interest therein, though I dare not determine the time when, nor the manner how, but leave all these things to the infinitely wise God, who has done, and will do all things well. Oh that he would return to this Land again, to repair our breaches, and take away our back sliding, and appear for his work: Oh that he were pacified towards us; Oh that he would pass by Scotland once again, and make our time a time of Love, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Himself hasten it in his own time and way. The Lord is my light and life, my joy, my song, and my salvation; the God of his chosen be my Mercy this day, and the inriching comforts of the holy Ghost keep up and carry me fair through, to the Glory of his Grace, to the edification of his people, and my own eternal advantage. Amen.

Sic Subferib.

John Kid.

August, 14th. 1679.
Tolbooth, Ante horam Septimam.


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1629: Louis Bertran, martyr in Japan

Add comment July 29th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1629, Spanish Dominican Louis Bertran was burned at Omura, Japan for evangelizing, along with two Japanese-born converts known as Mancius of the Holy Cross and Peter of the Holy Mother of God.

Bearing the Gospel to the far-flung corners of the globe was sort of the family business: Bertran’s more famous relative and namesake, Louis Bertran(d), ministered to the New World so tirelessly that he’s been unofficially known as the Apostle of South America.

For two generations by this point, Christianity had struggled under intensifying official persecution — the shogunate deeply suspicious of the infiltration of western clerics who so often it seemed from Japan’s neighbors to bring along with them some patron king’s overweening navy.

Just a few years on from these martyrdoms, Japan closed itself to outside interference altogether. (More or less.)

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1676: Matoonas, a Nipmuc shot on Boston Common

Add comment July 27th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1676, an indigenous Nipmuc named Matoonas was marched into Boston, condemned by a summary judicial proceeding, and immediately shot on Boston Common.

Though he was a so-called “Jesus Indian” — a converted Christian — Matoonas had become a principal adversary of the European colonists once long-building tensions exploded into King Philip’s War.

To the communal grievances that made up this war, Matoonas brought a very personal injury: back in 1671, his son Nehemiah had been accused by English colonists of murder and executed on that basis. And not just executed, but his rotting head set up on a pike at the gallows, to really rub it in.

Matoonas bided his time, but joined King Philip (Metacomet) with gusto. On July 14, 1675, Nipmuc warriors under his command raided the town of Mendon, Massachusetts, leaving five dead — the very first Anglo casualties of the war.

“A dark cloud of anxiety and fear now settled down upon the place,” a bicentennial a Rev. Carlton Staples recalled in a bicentennial address on Mendon’s history 1867. “With tears and lamentations they tenderly gathered the bodies of the slain and laid them away in some pleasant spot, we know not where. The houses and farms remote from this central point were abandoned, and the people fled to other places, or gathered here to save their flocks and growing crops. All sense of security was gone. They only dared to go abroad in companies. While some worked in the fields and gardens, others watched for the lurking foe.” A few months later, the settlers had to abandon Mendon altogether, and the Nipmuc burned the ghost town to the ground.

But the tide of the war soon turned against the natives, and Matoonas would find that he had his own lurking foe.

Sagamore John comes in, brings Mattoonus and his sonne prisoner. Mattoonus shot to death the same day by John’s men.

-diary of Samuel Sewall

A mysterious Nipmuc leader known as Sagamore John (“Sagamore” designates a sachem or chief) betrayed Matoonas in exchange for a pardon from the Massachusetts colony, marching Matoonas and his son right into Boston on the 27th of July.

After an improvised tribunal set down the inevitable punishment, Matoonas was lashed to a tree on Boston Common. Sagamore John himself performed the execution himself — although whether he volunteered or “volunteered” is not quite clear. The late Nipmuc raider’s head, too, was set on a pole — just opposite Nehemiah’s.

Memorial to Sagamore John in Medford, Mass. (cc) image from David Bruce.

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1621: Christenze Kruckow, philanthropic witch

2 comments June 26th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1621, Christenze (or Christence) Kruckow was beheaded as a witch — the only known noblewoman to suffer that fate in Danish history.

Kruckow first came under the witchsmeller’s nose in the 1590s. As a young woman, she lived in the household of a man named Eiler Brockenhuus — common practice at the time in Danish high society. The supposition is that when the lady of the house died in 1582, Kruckow might have aspired to make a permanent move. Instead, the position of wife no. 2 went to another woman named Anne Brille.

From the sound of it, Anne Brille spent the ensuing decade-plus in a state of continual pregnancy, punctuated only by periods of mourning as all 15* of her prospective progeny miscarried or died in infancy. Pick your environmental toxin or genetic abnormality of choice, but it’s no surprise this started to give the poor would-be mother the heebie-jeebies. Eventually, two of the estate’s servants got caught up in a 1596 witchcraft interrogation and were burned at the stake — but not before implicating Christenze Kruckow as part of the coven.

On that occasion, the usual reticence to visit on elites the sanctions intended for their lessers prevailed, and Christenze simply had to relocate to a sister’s household in Alborg.

But a reputation for black magic wasn’t the best thing to have to one’s name in early 17th century Europe, when witch-hunting reached a horrifying acme. Like his brother-in-law James VI of Scotland (also James I of England), the long-reigning Danish king Christian IV developed a personal obsession with the diabolical, leading to an effusion of witchcraft trials in the 1610s and early 1620s.

Now, Kruckow’s elite status served to attract instead of deflect attention; it didn’t help that she was become a never-married hexagenarian. When a neighbor’s wife fell ill in witch-spooked Alborg, the accusations against her snowballed into their customary colorful forms, such as that she’d been seen delivering a pregnant woman (Danish link) of a troll or ogre at some fell sabbath. King Christian took a personal interest in seeing her case prosecuted, and in the end it was his own Privy Council that tried her, and then sentenced her to the privileged death by the sword instead of the stake: the last deferences to her social rank. She confessed at that time to having attempted to lay a curse on the wedding-bed of her long-ago rival, Anne Brille.

In between her witch episodes, Christenze Kruckow had taken an interest in education for poor children in Alborg. She carried her philanthropy (more Danish) even beyond the scaffold, bequeathing 1,000 rigsdalers to a university scholarship that the University of Copenhagen was still awarding into the 20th century — popularly known as the “beheaded virgin grant”.

* Or 17. Sources vary, but you’d lose count too.

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1660: Jan Quisthout van der Linde condemned to drown in New Amsterdam

Add comment June 17th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1660, in the Netherlands’ little settlement on the tip of Manhattan Island, New Amsterdam, Jan Quisthout van der Linde was sentenced “to be taken to the place of execution and there stripped of his arms, his sword to be broken at his feet, and he to be then tied in a sack and cast into the river and drowned until dead.”

We do not have an indication of the date this sentence was carried out, if it were not immediate.

It was an unusual execution for an unnatural crime: Quisthout had been found guilty of sodomizing his servant.

New Amsterdam is here just four years away from its seizure by the English, who rechristened it New York;* dour, peg-legged Calvinist Peter Stuyvesant had been hustling for 13 years to put the tenuous little settlement on some sort of sustainable, defensible footing even as its neighbor English colonies in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island grew to dwarf little Manhattan.

Stuyvesant was a crusty boss.** He’d been crestfallen on arrival to his new assignment to find New Amsterdam a rough-edged melting pot city with livestock roaming the streets, a slurry of languages (and religions), and dockside brawls spilling out of seedy taverns.†

The “Castello Plan” map from 1660 shows the germ of Manhattan’s present-day layout. The defensive wall spanning the island on the right gives us Wall Street.

His horror was practical as well as moral: the little colony, a few hundred souls when he took over and perhaps 1,500 when the English finally deposed him, was in danger on all sides and the cash-strapped West India Company was both slow and miserly in response to Stuyvesant’s desperate pleas for men and material. But the horror was also moral. Stuyvesant enforced a whole slew of unpopular injunctions against drunkenness, fisticuffs, and fouling public streets with refuse, and actually had to be reined in by the West India Company board when he got so overbearing as to try shouldering out Jews and prying into the devotional habits of suspected Quakers.

A paragon of rectitude like Stuyvesant was in no way about to turn a blind eye to casual Atlantic-world buggery.

Even his lax predecessor had come down hard on a previous sodomy case, viewing that sin as an existential threat to their depraved port: “such a man is not worthy to associate with mankind and the crime on account of its heinousness may not be tolerated or suffered, in order that the wrath of God may not descend upon us as it did upon Sodom.”

The crime that we might see here with modern eyes, rape, was in no way foremost to Stuyvesant et al. The boy, an Amsterdam orphan named Hendrick Harmensen, stayed out of the drowning-sack — but he was whipped for same-sex contact and ordered “sent to some other place by the first opportunity” even though that very sentence acknowledged that it was Quisthout who had “committed by force the above crime” on the lad.

View of Dutch Manhattan … and its gallows.

* In honor of the then-Duke of York, the future King James II.

** Try a web search on “Peter Stuyvesant martinet” to see what we mean.

† And slavery.

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1662: Sir Henry Vane, Commonwealth parliamentarian

3 comments June 14th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1662, Parliamentarian Sir Henry Vane the Younger was beheaded on Tower Hill for his service of Oliver Cromwell‘s Protectorate.

Adopting Puritan beliefs to the irritation of his politically connected father,* Vane emigrated to that sect’s Massachusetts colony and was elected governor at the ripe old age of 23, backed by the faction forming around religious dissident Anne Hutchinson.

He served for less than a year before the anti-Hutchinson side took the office from him and he, Vane, sailed for the mother country — but even in his short tenure the young gentleman left a mark in New England sufficient for a statue in the Boston Public Library:

  • He was “an instrument in the hand of God for procuring” Rhode Island from Indians;
  • He signed the legislation creating the “New College” eventually to become Harvard;
  • And, he launched the Pequot War

Back in Old England, the Young Vane’s energy served the Roundheads well during the English Civil War. Though never a soldier, he rose to the Republicans’ statum of political leadership, and moved the money and legislation that loosed Cromwell’s armies.

Vane served on the Parliament’s wartime military counsel, the Committee of Safety and — after Vane himself played a crucial diplomatic role bringing the Scots into the fight** — on its successor body, the Committee of Both Kingdoms. Vane’s experience in the New World also gave him a bent for religious liberty that was unusually staunch for his time, and made him a key figure of the church “Independents”, one of the Interregnum’s dominant factions.

John Milton, the great literary champion of the Commonwealth, celebrated Vane in verse (1652):

VANE, young in years, but in sage counsel old,
Than whom a better senator ne’er held
The helm of Rome, when gowns, not arms, repelled
he fierce Epirot and the African bold,
Whether to settle peace, or to unfold
The drift of hollow states hard to be spelled;
Then to advise how war may best, upheld,
Move by her two main nerves, iron and gold,
In all her equipage; besides, to know;
Both spiritual power and civil, what each means,
What severs each, thou hast learned, which few have done.
he bounds of either sword to thee we owe:
Therefore on thy firm hand Religion leans
In peace, and reckons thee her eldest son.

Vane’s sage counsel — and what he would later describe as “my tenderness of blood”† — made him unwilling to participate in the execution of King Charles: it was as a spectator and not an M.P. that he watched Parliament try the deposed sovereign. But whatever his scruples on regicide he remained an enthusiastic legate of the state and wheeler-dealer of the Rump Parliament.

This parliament had an active‡ four-year run. Few were more active in it than Vane, one of its leading figures until the very day Oliver Cromwell forcibly dissolved the body — an act, Vane protested, “against morality and common sense,” prompting the exasperated Lord Protector to sputter, “Sir Harry Vane, sir Harry Vane — the Lord deliver me from sir Harry Vane!” Vane, aware that the increasingly disaffected army might strike Parliament at any time, had before Cromwell’s intervention been attempting to enact electoral legislation whose intended correction of misrepresentative parliamentary allotments anticipated the Great Reform Act by 180 years.

After April 20 1653, Vane’s political career was essentially done bar a momentary recrudescence when the old Rump Parliament was briefly retrieved from mothballs after Cromwell’s death. He diverted himself with the retired statesman’s traditional amusement, the creation of manifestos.

He might have been better served to resume his association with the colonies. When the Stuarts returned in 1660, and notwithstanding our man’s distaste for the regicide, Vane was exempted by name from the amnesty of the Indemnity and Oblivion Act.

His was a close case; the “Convention Parliament” tasked with re-inviting the exiled king initially sought, and Charles granted, clemency for Vane. But the successor “Cavalier Parliament”, more ultra-royalist than its antecedent, decided it had not had done with Sir Henry Vane the Younger, who had not allowed house arrest to deter him from continuing to pop off on the political primacy of Parliament and the validity of the late beheaded ex-king’s overthrow. In his pamphlet “The People’s Case Stated”, Vane avers,

The Coercive, or, Executive Power is placed in one Person, under the Name and Style of a King, to be put forth not by his own, single, personal command, but by the signification of his Will and Pleasure, as the Will of the whole State, in and by his Courts and Justice, and stated publick Councils and Judicatures, agreed on for that purpose, between him and his People, in their Parliamentary Assemblies.

The Will of the whole State, thus signified, the law itself prefers before the personal Will of the King, in distinction from the law, and makes the one binding, the other not.

This idea had legs, even though Charles I (“a subject and a sovereign are clean different things”) had given his head to reject it. The Cavalier Parliament made him answer charges of treason “for compassing the death of King Charles the 2nd, and intending to change the kingly government of this nation”: like most such cases, the verdict was ordained by the charge, no matter how eloquently Vane sustained himself.

He was granted the gentleman’s favor of beheading rather than the drawing-and-quartering torture that true regicides endured.

Rightly anticipating that the Will of the King would not permit him to address the crowd from the scaffold — a battery of drummers and trumpeters repeatedly interrupted his intended address, and finally the sheriff tore the notes from Vane’s hands§ — Vane had wisely given to friends some copies of the speech he intended to deliver. They saw it posthumously published.

There are freely available public-domain biographies of Henry Vane here, here, and here.

* Vane’s father, Henry the Elder, was noted among other things for the damning evidence given against the Earl of Strafford by Henry the Elder’s personal notes, which were communicated to Strafford’s enemies by Henry the Younger and proved instrumental in causing Strafford’s execution. Upon attaining that Earldom, Strafford “would needs in that patent have a new creation of a barony, and was made baron of Raby, a house belonging to sir Henry Vane, and an honour he made account should belong to him too; which was an act of the most unnecessary provocation (though he contemned the man with marvellous scorn) that I have known, and I believe was the loss of his head.”

** The “Solemn League and Covenant” that in the 1640s sealed the alliance between English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians with an (apparent) pledge to privilege Presbyterianism on the entire island, north and south. Cromwell failed to do this after the Civil War, driving Presbyterians into the arms of the royalists; then, Charles II also failed to do it after the Restoration, driving the truest believers to embrace martyrdom. It was the Solemn League and Covenant that gave these martyrs their appellation: the Covenanters.

† In a parliamentary speech that nevertheless vindicates the regicide: “If you be not now satisfied with this business, you will put a strange construction upon that action, and upon all that has been done by the generals and soldiers. If you, here, will now doubt this right to be in you, you draw the guilt upon the body of the whole nation … It will be questioned whether that was an act of justice or murder.”

“If you be minded to resort to the old government, you are not too many steps from the old family,” Vane presciently observed in this same address for the benefit of those who still pined for a return to monarchy. “They will be too hard for you, if that government be restored.

‡ One product of the Rump Parliament of interest for these pages was the Adultery Act of 1650: “in case any married woman shall … be carnally known by any man (other them her Husband) (except in Case of Ravishment) and of such offence or offences shall be convicted as aforesaid by confession or otherwise, every such Offence and Offences shall be and is hereby adjudged Felony: and every person, as well the man as the woman, offending therein, and confessing the same, or being thereof convicted by verdict upon Indictment or Presentment as aforesaid, shall suffer death as in case of Felony, without benefit of Clergy.”

§ Vane handled his executioners’ “very indecent” nastiness with such grace that Bishop Gilbert Burnet later remarked that “it was generally thought, the government had lost more than it had gained by his death.”

Indeed, Burnet wrote, this had become true of executing regicides in general.

tho’ the Regicides were at that time odious beyond all expression, and the trials and executions of the first that suffered were run to by vast crouds, and all people seemed pleased with the sight, yet the odiousness of the crime grew at last to be so much flatten’d by the frequent executions, and most of those who suffered dying with much firmness and shew of piety, justifying all they had done, not without a seeming joy for their suffering on that account, that the King was advised not to proceed farther.

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1688: Constantine Gerachi, the Siamese Falcon

1 comment June 5th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1688, the astonishing Constantine Gerachi — the Greek cabin-boy turned virtual prince of Siam — plummeted to earth.

The son of a Cephalonian innkeeper, Gerachi ran away to sea in 1660 and soon caught on with the English East India Company ships who plied the Mediterranean and all the Seven Seas. Though little-educated, Gerachi proved himself frightfully clever and picked up his crewmates’ English. In time he also mastered French, Portuguese, Malay, and of course Siamese.

The word gerachi is Greek for falcon, and no name was ever more aptly conferred. From the humblest beginnings, Constantine Phaulkon soared higher than all.

By the late 1670s, Constantine had segued from hauling East Indies cargo to trading it, and this brought him to the attention of the Siamese king Narai. For Siam, the growing influence of European traders, diplomats, and arms was the prevailing issue of the late 17th century; Narai engaged fully with those interlopers and most especially with the French, who provided architects, mathematicians,* missionaries, and military engineers to the Siamese kingdom and received lucrative commercial concessions in return.

The king appreciated our polyglot adventurer’s many talents and attracted him to the Siamese court, where the pro-French Constantine quickly rose to become Narai’s indispensable chief counselor — basically the equivalent of the Siamese Prime Minister, the power in the kingdom.

But Gerachi’s close association with Narai, and with a French relationship that Siamese grandees increasingly feared might convert insensibly into domination, finally felled the Falcon.

In 1688, the ailing king tried to arrange for the succession of his daughter. Instead, he triggered a revolt by his foster brother Phetracha, backed by a “broad coalition of anti-foreigners, including Buddhist monks, the nobility and low-ranking officers.”**

This Chief of the Royal Elephant Corps seized power, murdering a number of royal relatives (and possibly hastening along the dying Narai himself). Monsieur Constantine of such discreditable familiarity to the French naturally went in his own turn, unsuccessfully trying to rally the realm’s French garrisons to defense of the mutual benefits of the ancien regime.

Nor was this merely a palace coup: Petracha’s takeover became the Siamese Revolution of 1688, “one of the most famous events of our times, whether it is considered from the point of view of politics or religion” in the judgment of a European contemporary. Thais who had resented the growing prominence of the farang now expelled most Europeans, or worse: though not a Japan-like closure (Siam maintained active intercourse with its neighbors), the country would remain essentially dark to Europeans until the 19th century.

Historical Fiction Series by Axel Aylwen

* The relationship gave to European mathematics the “Siamese method”.

** Thanet Aphornsuvan, “The West and Siam’s quest for modernity: Siamese responses to nineteenth century American missionaries”, East Asia Research, vol. 17, no. 3. (Nov. 2009)

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