Posts filed under 'France'

1952: Võ Thị Sáu

Add comment January 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Eighteen- or nineteen-year-old student and revolutionary Võ Thị Sáu was shot by the French on this date in 1952.

(cc) image from Michal Manas.

A Viet Minh activist from childhood, Sáu (English Wikipedia entry | the more extensive Vietnamese) got her start in revolutionary praxis chucking a grenade at a group of French soldiers when she was 14.

She did three different turns in French custody over the very few years remaining her, the last of which was at Côn Đảo Prison* awaiting execution for murdering a French officer and a number of Vietnamese collaborators — “crimes” committed before she had attained majority. She poured invective upon the court that condemned her, correctly prophesying that Vietnamese resistance would defeat it.

Today Sáu is well-represented in monuments around Vietnam where she is of course honored as a patriotic hero; her tomb in Côn Đảo receives a steady tribute of offerings from admirers. She’s valorized in the 1994 film Daughter of the Red Earth:

* Later infamous as the location where the next imperial power kept its political prisoners in tiny “tiger cages”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Martyrs,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Terrorists,Vietnam,Wartime Executions,Women

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1836: Pierre François Lacenaire, Manfred of the gutter

Add comment January 9th, 2020 Headsman

The French murderer Pierre François Lacenaire, guillotined on this date in 1836, aspired to be a man of letters … and at least ended up a man in letters.

Lacenaire (English Wikipedia entry | the more considerable French) was a respectable merchants’ son turned ne’er-do-well, dipping in and out of prison after deserting the army in 1829 to wallow in the vices of crime and poetry.

The ensuing years alternate prison stints for various thefts with scrabbling attempts to make a go of it with his quill on the outside that invariably collapse into more thefts. As criminal biographies go, his silverware-robberies and such scarcely leap off the page but his writings in prison flashed even before his homicidal infamy — notably his Villonesque “Petition d’un Voleur a un Roi Voisin” (“Petition of a Thief to his Neighbor, the King”)

Sire, de grâce, écoutez-moi!
Sire, je reviens des galères …
Je suis voleur, vous êtes roi,
Agissons ensemble en bons frères …
Les gens de bien me font horreur,
J’ai le coeur dur et l’âme vile,
Je suis sans pitié, sans honneur,
Ah! faites-moi sergent de ville.

Bon, je me vois déjà sergent,
Mais, sire, c’est bien peu, je pense,
L’appétit me vient en mangeant,
Allons, sire, un peu d’indulgence.
Je suis hargneux comme un roquet,
D’un vieux singe j’ai la malice;
En France, je vaudrais Gisquet,
Faites-moi préfet de police.

Grands dieux! que je suis bon préfet!
Toute prison est trop petite.
Ce métier pourtant n’est pas fait
Pour un homme de mon mérite;
Je sais dévirer un budget,
Je sais embrouiller un registre,
Je signerai “Votre sujet”
Ah! Sire, faites-moi ministre.

Sire! que Votre Majesté
No se mette pas en colére!
Je compte sur votre bonté,
Car ma demande est téméraire.
Je suis hypocrite et vilain,
Ma douceur n’est qu’une grimace;
J’ai fait… se pendre mon cousin,
Sire, cédez-moi votre place.n

Sire, please, listen to me!
Sire, I return from the galleys
I am a thief, you are king,
Let’s act together like brothers …
Good people abhor me,
I have a hard heart and a vile soul,
I am without pity, without honor,
Ah! make me a city sergeant.

Well, I already see myself as a sergeant,
But, sire, it’s very little, I think,
Appetite comes to me while eating,
Come, sire, a little indulgence.
I’m snarling like a pug,
As malicious as a monkey;
In France, I would be worth Gisquet,
Make me the prefect of police.

Great gods! such a good prefect am I!
Any prison is too small.
However, this job is not done
For a man of my merit;
I know how to divert a budget,
I know how to confuse a register,
I will sign myself “Your subject”
Ah! Sire, make me minister.

Sire! that your majesty
Does not anger!
I count on your kindness,
Because my request is reckless.
I’m hypocritical and naughty,
My sweetness is only a grimace;
I made … hang my cousin,
Sire, cede me your place.

His cells, he said, were his “university of crime” although they scarcely turned him into a mastermind. He earned the valedictory hood in December 1834 when with an accomplice named Victor Avril he ax-butchered a transvestite pauper and his mother in Passage du Cheval-Rouge. Lacenaire and Avril had the mistaken belief that the victims were flush with cash.

What he lacked in criminal chops he atoned for in theatrical flair. At the men’s trial in November 1835, Lacenaire made the courtroom the anteroom of a society salon where he delighted fashionable intellectuals, taking “command of the proceedings by confessing all of his crimes in detail and stunned the courtroom with an improvised closing soliloquoy. Rumors circulated that he was to be pardoned after conviction and be made chief of a special branch of police. This sounded much like the familiar case of the bandit, Vidocq. In fact, Lacenaire claimed to have been inspired by Vidocq’s memoirs.”

“I kill a man like I drink a glass of wine,” he exaggeratedly memed to the journalist Jacques Arago — one of numerous philosophical bon mots. (“Whilst I had the capacity to write a play, I had also the capacity to kill. I chose the easiest.” “I love life and its pleasures, but if it ends, what does it matter? The punishment of death? A contradiction in terms: it is no punishment to send a being back again to insensibility and nothingness.”)

He occupied his last weeks producing poems and memoirs that were published after his death but the true success of his performance lay in its echoes through 19th century literature: Baudelaire would call him “one of the heroes of modern life,” and no wonder — in the judgment of Executed Today guest-blogger Henry Brodribb Irving, “no French criminal, except perhaps Cartouche, has left so distinct an impression on the minds of his countrymen.”

Gautier wrote a poem about his hand, which although uncomplimentary also salutes its owner the “Manfred of the gutter”; Balzac made room for this Manfred in La Muse du Departement; Stendahl modeled the brigand Valbayre in Lamiel upon him. Victor Hugo, apparently unimpressed with the guy’s literary pretensions, worked him into Les Miserables as the crowning monster of society’s underbelly, “what is called in theaters a third sub-stage. It is the grave of the depths. It is the cave of the blind.”

The savage outlines which prowl over this grave, half brute, half phantom, have no thought for universal progress, they ignore ideas and words, they have no care but for individual glut. They are almost unconscious, and there is in them a horrible defacement. They have two mothers, both step-mothers, ignorance and misery. They have one guide, want; and their only form of satisfaction is appetite. They are voracious as beasts, that is to say ferocious, not like the tyrant, but like the tiger. From suffering these goblins pass to crime; fated filiation, giddy procreation the logic of darkness. What crawls in the third sub-stage is no longer the stifled demand for the absolute, it is the protest of matter. Man there becomes a dragon. Hunger and thirst are the point of departure: Satan is the point of arrival. From this cave comes Lacenaire.

Nor in the 19th century could a touchstone of French literature remain confined within the Republic’s borders. Oscar Wilde referenced Lacenaire in The Picture of Dorian Gray; and Dostoyevsky mentioned Lacenaire in The Idiot and perhaps modeled the famous axe murder in Crime and Punishment upon the same.

Although his fame has faded somewhat this curious figure remains of interest to more contemporary eyes. Michel Foucault juxtaposed him against the Vidocq — an underworld creature who becomes an agent of law, the opposite of Lacenaire’s path from respectability to gutter — and perhaps captured the man’s appeal to his era’s novelists.

As for Lacenaire, he is the token of another phenomenon, different from but related to the first — that of the aesthetic and literary interest beginning to be felt in crime: the aesthetic cult of crime.

Up to the eighteenth century crimes were only heroised in two modes: a literary mode when, and because, they were the crimes of a king, and a popular mode found in the broadsheets which narrate the exploits of Mandrin, or of a great murderer. Two genres which absolutely do not communicate with each other.

Around 1840 there appears the figure of the criminal hero, a hero because a criminal, and neither aristocratic nor plebeian. The bourgeoisie produces its own criminal heroes. This is the same moment when the separation is effected between criminals and the popular classes: the criminal cannot be allowed to be a popular hero, he must be an enemy of the poor. The bourgeoisie constitutes for itself an aesthetic in which crime no longer belongs to the people, but is one of those fine arts of which the bourgeoisie alone is capable.

Lacenaire is the model for this new kind of criminal. His origins are bourgeois or petit-bourgeois.

His parents have done some bad things, but he has been properly brought up, he has been to school, he can read and write. This enabled him to act the leader in his milieu. The way he speaks of other criminals is typical: they are brutal animals, cowards and incompetents. He, Lacenaire, is the cold, lucid brain. Thus the new hero is created, displaying all the signs and tokens of the bourgeoisie. That brings us in turn to Gaboriau and the detective novel, in which the criminal is always of bourgeois origins. You never find a working class criminal in nineteenth-century detective novels.

Cinemaphiles should look to Lacenaire in the 1945 classic film Les Enfants du Paradis (clip below) as well as a 1990 biopic, Lacenaire.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Murder,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Theft

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1661: Jacques Chausson, “Great Gods, where is your justice?”

Add comment December 29th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1661, the French customs officer and writer Jacques Chausson (English Wikipedia entry | French) was burned at Paris’s Place de Greve for sodomy.

Chausson with another man, Jacques Paulmier, forced themselves upon a handsome 17-year-old aristocratic youth, “and [Chausson] while embracing him [the victim] undid the button of his pants at the same time, and then Paulmier began knowing him carnally, and committing with him the crime of sodomy. Having felt this, he began to shout and struggle, and then an old woman, working that day at the home of Mr. Petit, merchant and head of the house, came running.”

As we’ve noted before in these pages, Chausson entered French letters as the subject of verse by Claude le Petit, himself later executed, disdaining the hypocrisy of executing for a diversion widely practiced among the elites.

If we burned all those
Who do like them
In a very short time alas
Several lords of France
Great prelates of importance
Would suffer death.
Do you know the storm that rises
Against all good people?
If Chausson loses his case,
The arse (“le cu“) will not serve any more.
If Chausson loses his case,
The cunt (“le con”) will prevail.
I am this poor boy
Named Chausson
If I was roasted
At the flower of my age
It’s for the sake of a page
Of the Prince of Conde. [a bisexual lord -ed.]
If the bastard D’Assouci. [a raunchy poet who was possibly the lover of Cyrano de Bergerac -ed.]
Had been taken
He would have been roasted
In the flames
Like these infamous two
Chausson and Fabri.

That was written in the weeks between Chausson’s condemnation and his execution. Le Petit returned to the subject in evident disgust once the deed was done.

Friends, we burned the unfortunate Chausson,
That rascal so famous, with a curly head;
His death immortalized his virtue:
Never will we expire in a more noble way.
He sang cheerfully the lugubrious song
And bore without blanching the starched shirt,
And the hot fagots at the fiery stake,
He looked at death without fear or shudder.
In vain his confessor exhorted him in the flame,
The crucifix in hand, to think of his soul;
Then lying under the stake, when the fire had conquered him,
The infamous one towards the sky turned his foul rump,
And, to die finally as he had lived,
He showed his naughty ass to everyone.

Nor was this the only poet incensed by events. Taking note that yet another sexually flexible nobleman Guillaume de Guitaut was to be elevated on the subsequent New Year’s Day to the Order of the Holy Spirit, the poet Charles de Saint-Gilles Lenfant mused,

Grands Dieux! Quelle est vôtre justice?
Chausson va périr par le feu;
Et Guitaut par le même vice
A mérité le Cordon bleu.

Meaning …

Great Gods! Where is your justice?
Chausson is about to die in the fire;
And Guitaut for the same vice
Has deserved the Cordon bleu.

This quatrain can be heard in vocal recital in a brief Soundcloud clip here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,History,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Sex

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1917: Private Joseph Bateman, shot at dawn

Add comment December 3rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1917, Black Country volunteer Joseph Bateman was shot for desertion.

The 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment private was among the earliest wave of young Britons to sign up, in late 1914 — but his three years of service were marked by intermittent AWOL episodes, including when the unit was on home soil, far from the front lines. It’s not clear the reason for this eventually fatal pattern.

For ninety years, Bateman was, like most “shot at dawn” soldiers, persona non grata for official war commemorations. His name was finally added to Wordsley‘s Great War cenotaph in 2007, thanks to the tireless campaigning of an interested teacher/historian named Graham Hodgson.*

Press reporting on Hodgson’s campaign subsequently turned up Bateman’s relations, including a grateful granddaughter whose only photo of Joseph Bateman was “marked by lipstick where her grandmother kissed it after learning of his death.” (BBC)

He’s buried at Rocquigny-Equancourt British Cemetery in the Somme.

* Unfortunately, Mr. Hodgson was killed in a car accident on Cyprus shortly afterwards. At the time he apparently had a historical novel about Private Bateman in progress, but I can find no indication that it’s been posthumously published; however, Bateman does figure in To War with God: The Army Chaplain who Lost his Faith by Peter Fiennes. Fiennes’s grandfather, the titular army chaplain, stayed up all night consoling Joseph Bateman in the hours ahead of his execution.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,England,Execution,France,History,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1951: Marcel Ythier, Andre Obrecht’s first

Add comment November 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1951, Marcel Ythier lost his head as France gained a headsman.

Ythier escaped a life sentence at hard labor and fled to Aix-en-Provence to build a burglary career, which improved to a murder career when he shot dead the constable who surprised him in the act in May 1950.

Ythier’s was the first execution conducted by Andre Obrecht, nephew to the great head-chopper Anatole Deibler and the latter’s heir as France’s chief executioner. Indeed, Obrecht would be the last chief executioner in every sense but literally, carrying the title from 1951 to 1976, when he beheaded Christian Ranucci, the third-last fall of the guillotine. (Francophone specialists might go for Obrecht’s memoirs.)

Obrecht resigned the post a few weeks after Ranucci’s controversial death, leaving his own nephew (and longtime assistant executioner) Marcel Chevalier to write the illustrious profession‘s Gallic finale with the two last executions in French history.

Not to worry: the classic bourreau lives on as one of the jokers in Executed Today’s pack of custom playing cards.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder

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1657: Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi, Queen Christina betrayer

Add comment November 10th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1657, the Italian marchese Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi was put to summary death by the command of Queen Christina of Sweden, at her court in Fontainebleau.

Make that ex-Queen, for the singular sovereign had abdicated in 1654 so that she could convert to Catholicism and go gallivanting about Europe.

After a spell in Rome, 1656 finds her turning up in Paris to astonish high society by her forward, masculine presentation; the king’s cousin took Christina to the ballet where the visiting dignitary “surprised me very much — applauding the parts which pleased her, taking God to witness, throwing herself back in her chair, crossing her legs, resting them on the arms of her chair, and assuming other postures, such as I had never seen taken but by Travelin and Jodelet, two famous buffoons … She was in all respects a most extraordinary creature.”

She kept her own court here, which was both a tribute to her stature and a court in waiting for her intended installation by French arms upon the Neapolitan throne. This rethronement never came to pass, and one reason among several was that the event marked in this post destroyed her stature in Italy.

Our man the Marquis Monaldeschi was Christina’s master of horse but to the eyes of the queen better resembled a snake. Why? That part, we don’t quite know.

The details of Monaldeschi’s treason are tangled and obscure. One knows that he confessed; but one does not know what he confessed. One knows that he forged letters; but one does not know what was in the letters. One knows that he tried to throw the blame for his own misconduct on Francesco Santinelli; but the precise nature of that misconduct is wrapped in mystery, as are also the precise grounds of Santinelli’s quarrel with him. All that is clear is that neither of the two men merits much sympathy, and that the proceedings of both of them were tortuous …

[Seeking to implicate his rival Santinelli in some malfeasance, Monaldeschi] tried to make out too good a case by forging Santinelli’s handwriting, and offering the letters as proofs that Santinelli was a “traitor.” … What first led her to suspect Monaldeschi is uncertain. In any case, “information received” induced her to intercept and open his letters; and their contents seemed to her to furnish full proofs of his perfidy. The nature of that perfidy is not disclosed in her own account. (Source)

What is not obscure, for it shocked all of Europe, is the punishment she visited for said perfidy — for Christina gave it over to that very Francesco Santinelli, Monaldeschi’s greatest rival in the court whom he had intended to stitch up, to deliver the penalty on the spot and with his own hand. She had the entire right to pronounce such a sentence in her court, but the Game of Thrones-like barbarism of being summarily put to an adversary’s blade right on the palace stones was widely abhorred. When she returned to Rome the following year, the French were quite done with her and the Italians who would be her grudging hosts for most of her remaining years nowise pleased to welcome her.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Power,Put to the Sword,Summary Executions,Treason

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1849: Pierre Dudragne, avarice

Add comment November 5th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1849, Pierre Dudragne was guillotined at Chalon-sur-Saone.

He’d done a doubly dirty deed, choking out the 85-year-old widow Marechal in the course of burgling her Montmort home … and then also murdering the old lady’s servant, Claudine Bray. No honor among thieves: Bray was Dudragne’s own lover and accomplice in the heist, and his motive was the firm preference not to split the boodle with her.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder,Pelf,Theft

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1943: Désiré Pioge, abortionist

Add comment October 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1943, French abortionist Désiré Pioge was guillotined in Paris by the family-values Vichy regime.

Very much overshadowed by the like fate shared by Marie-Louise Giraud a few weeks before, Pioge doesn’t even boast his own French Wikipedia entry — just a passing mention on Giraud’s. (Many other Giraud posts aver that she was the last or only abortionist executed by Vichy France, glossing over Pioge entirely.)

According to the scanty available notes collected by this site, this 46-year-old horse-gelder from Saint-Ouen-en-Belin already had two prewar convictions for abortion, in 1935 and 1939. He’d served 18 months for manslaughter in the latter case, when his services caused the death of the mother.

Abortion had been criminalized in some form in France since the Napoleonic era (after being legalized during the French Revolution), but the wartime Vichy government escalated it to a capital crime. As best I can determine, Giraud and Pioge appear to be the only people who actually suffered the full extent of the law.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Milestones,Murder,Wartime Executions

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Feast Day of St. Maurice

Add comment September 22nd, 2019 Headsman

September 22 is the feast date of early Christian martyr Saint Maurice, and of the legendary all-Christian Theban Legion which he commanded.

This legion raised from Egypt is supposed to have converted en masse to Christianity, and suffered the persecution of Diocletian when it was deployed to Gaul and there refused to sacrifice to pagan gods or harass local Christians. The hagiography — and the earliest source is Eucherius of Lyon, a century and a half after the supposed events — holds that the legion stood a decimation to punish its fidelity, and then another, and then another … and then finally they dispensed with the fractional increments and killed the entire remaining 72.9% of them.

Ancient Christian martyrologies of course boast quite a few soldiers but in their day, from late antiquity all the way to Early Modern Europe, Maurice and the Theban Legion had star treatment on the relic-and-pilgrimage circuit. Many bygone political concerns adopted Maurice as a patron: Burgundy, the French Merovingian and Carolingian dynasties, and their successors the Holy Roman Emperors; the House of Savoy; the Lombard kingdom; and of course such cities as Saint-Maurice, Switzerland, St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Notably, Maurice has been depicted as black since the refurbishment of the Magdeburg cathedral in the mid-1200s, when a piece of statuary (still surviving today) marks an apparent pivot from previous white Maurices perhaps reflecting Europe’s contact with Ethiopian Christians facilitated by the Crusades.

Whatever the reason, the black Maurice quickly became the dominant image in Germanic central Europe, which in turn redounded to a reputation as “the first black saint”. For that reason, Maurice is a seminal figure in European artistic representation of black Africans.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Egypt,Execution,France,God,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Put to the Sword,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Soldiers,Uncertain Dates

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1917: Private John Abigail

Add comment September 12th, 2019 Headsman

Private John Abigail of the Royal Norfolk Regiment was shot on this date in 1917 for World War I desertion, at the village of Esquelbecq on the French-Belgian border.

He was a four-time offender, the last occasion judiciously ditching his post just before he was ordered over the top into the Passchendaele bloodbath.

Abigail’s name surprisingly appears carved on a war memorial plaque at St. Augustine’s Church in Norwich that long predates the humane 21st century rehabilitation of those shot at dawn. (See it here, at the very top of the right panel.)

The BBC has a short program about him available here.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,England,Execution,France,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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