Posts filed under 'France'

1793: Francois de Laverdy, former Controller-General

Add comment November 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Clément Charles François de Laverdy, Marquis of Gambais and the ancien regime‘s former Controller-General of Finances, was guillotined in Paris.

“Un financier erudit,” Laverdy (English Wikipedia entry | French) was a member of the Paris Parlement and a scholar who at one point unearthed previously unknown manuscripts about the trial of Joan of Arc — but became a bit overmatched when political machinations situated him at Louis XV’s treasury.

A physiocrat, Laverdy made a go in the 1760s at liberalizing the grain trade by authorizing via a July 1764 edict the free export of grain, then reaped the whirlwind when grain prices spiked. In the 1760s, the whirlwind just meant losing his job: by the 1790s, the loss was very much more dear.

Laverdy labored in a pre-industrial kingdom, at a time when the field of economics still lay in its infancy. Nevertheless, he is a recognizably modern character, both in his principles and his disposition, as Steven L. Kaplan describes him in Bread, Politics and Political Economy in the Reign of Louis XV:

Laverdy correctly believed that traditional attitudes toward subsistence constituted the single greatest barrier to change. But, like many self-consciously enlightened ministers and reformers, he neither understood nor sympathized with it. Diffusing light, to be sure, was no easy matter; since all men were not equally equipped to seize the truth, often it was necessary to force them to accept it. To re-educate the public, Laverdy saw no alternative to brutal and relentless reconditioning.

Impetuously, the people believed that their right to subsist took precedence over all the rights prescribed by natural law as the basis of social organization. They assumed that it was the solemn duty of the state to intervene when necessary to guarantee their subsistence without regard for so-called natural rights. Such views, in Laverdy’s estimation, were erroneous and pernicious; they misconceived the role of the government and its relation to the citizenry and did violence to the soundest principles of political economy. In a word, they were irrational; the Controller-General refused a dialogue with unreason. “The people,” he lamented, “hardly used their reason in matters of subsistence.” …

To combat and discredit this mentality, Laverdy chose to belittle and insult it with all the sophistry of progressive thinking. It consisted of nothing more than a crazy quilt of “prejudices.” “Prejudice” was one of the harshest epithets in the political vocabulary of the Enlightenment; it acquired added force when accompanied by Laverdy’s favorite metaphors, light and sight. Their prejudices “blinded the people,” not only to the “veritable principles of things,” but also to “their true interests.” (A decade later, in similar fashion, Turgot explained popular resistance to his liberal program on the grounds that the people are “too little enlightened on their real interests.”) In letter after letter, the Controller-General railed against the “old prejudices which still subsist against liberty of the grain trade.” He hated “ignorance” and “prejudice” en philosophe for the “obstacles … always contrary to all sorts of good [which they] opposed to progress.” …

Only a tough, unbending stance would produce results. “By stiffening against the prejudices of the people,” he predicted, “they will gradually weaken and we will succeed in accustoming them to a bien,” though, he conceded, “they will continue to misjudge [it] for still some time to come.” Misjudging it, however, was one thing, and actively opposing it, quite another. The threat of bludgeoning them into submission was the only real incentive the Controller-General offered the people to embrace the liberal program.

The bread riots that afflicted the remainder of his term he could not but ascribe to this unreason; proceeding from the certainty that his policies were objectively correct, “Laverdy claimed that grain was abundant and prices moderate” and riots “could only have resulted from ‘the prejudice which exists against the liberty of the grain trade.'”

Or, as a liberal journal serenely put it, the riots “are not and cannot be the effect of real need” because in a regime of liberty, “the dearth that the enraged minds fear, or feign to fear, is manifestly impossible.” …

Two assumptions, in Laverdy’s view, seemed to have emboldened the people. First, that they could riot with “impunity,” an expectation encouraged by many police authorities — those at Rouen, for example — who fail to put down popular movements swiftly and mercilessly and who in some instances even seem to sympathize with the insurgents. Second, “the persuasion which the populace of the cities ordinarily shares that the fear of the riots which it might excite will force the King to modify the laws which established liberty.” Nothing was “more essential,” according to the Controller-General, than to “destroy” these aberrant opinions.

To dispel the idea that consumers could riot without risk, Laverdy instructed and exhorted the police after every episode to repress with dispatch and pitilessness. Repeatedly, he asked for “a few examples of severity,” which would serve not only to “contain the people,” but also to “destroy those prejudices” which motivated them, presumably by revealing the futility of following their lead. If the repression were to be delayed, the didactic advantages would be lost. “Nothing is more important,” Laverdy wrote Joly de Fleury in reference to a riot which took place in the fall of 1766, “than to accelerate the procedures instituted against the principal authors … examples in such circumstances are of the greatest necessity and when they are deferred, they do not produce nearly the same effect.” … Impatient with “the slowness of the official inquiries, the appeals, the forms to which the [ordinary] tribunals are subjected,” the Controller-General considered resuscitating a draconian repressive law which had been used before to bypass local jurisdictions …

Soft sentences annoyed Laverdy as much as dilatory ones. Even as he urged the police to show rigor in the streets and marketplaces, so he goaded prosecutors to demand heavy penalties and judges to pronounce them. He followed cases eagerly in all their details, made his expectations clearly known, and bristled with indignation when the results displeased him. In the wake of a massive riot at Troyes, for example, in which the police had failed to deal harshly with the insurgents, Laverdy pressed for a stern judicial reckoning. He was satisfied to learn that the royal procurator and the rapporteur would ask the death penalty for three of the putative leaders and stringent punishment for the others. In anticipation of such a verdict and a hostile popular reaction, extra brigades were sent to reinforce the constabulary. To virtually everyone’s surprise, the presidial rendered a stunningly mild provisional sentence which could lead to the release of all the prisoners in three months. The Controller-General angrily denounced the verdict and demanded an explanation; “the excesses to which the people have given themselves in this circumstance,” he wrote, “require a much more severe punishment.”

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Politicians,Power,Public Executions

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1541: Claude Le Painctre, giving himself willingly to be burned

Add comment November 17th, 2018 Headsman

A French evangelical named Claude Le Painctre — on mission evangelizing back in his dangerous homeland after previously escaping to exile in Geneva — was burned at the stake in Paris on this date in 1541, after having his tongue torn out.

A Prussian-born student resident in Paris in those years, named Eustache Knobelsdorf, witnessed this execution and recorded the event in his memoir.

His striking impression of a joyous martyrdom captures not only the agonies of a 16th century heretic’s execution, but the ecstasies by which those same heretics turned the whole spectacle to evangelizing effect.

This translation of Knobelsdorf comes via
Bruce Gordon’s 2009 biography Calvin

I saw two burnt there. Their death inspired in me differing sentiments. If you had been there, you would have hoped for a less severe punishment for these poor unfortunates … The first [Claude Le Painctre] was a very young man, not yet with a beard … he was the son of a cobbler. He was brought in front of the judges and condemned to have his tongue cut out and burned straight afterward. Without changing the expression of his face, the young man presented his tongue to the executioner’s knife, sticking it out as far as he could. The executioner pulled it out even further with pincers, cut it off, and hit the sufferer several times on the tongue and threw it in the young man’s face. Then he was put into a tipcart, which was driven to the place of execution, but, to see him, one would think that he was going to a feast … When the chain had been placed around his body, I could not describe to you with what equanimity of soul and with what expression in his features he endured the cries of elation and the insults of the crowd that were directed towards him. He did not make a sound, but from time to time he spat out the blood that was filling his mouth, and he lifted his eyes to heaven, as if he was waiting for some miraculous rescue. When his head was covered in sulphur, the executioner showed him the fire with a menacing air; but the young man, without being scared, let it be known, by a movement of his body, that he was giving himself willingly to be burned.

Such spectacles had palpable effect for snowballing the evangelical project. Another onlooker in the crowd was a 21-year-old just out of university named Jean Crespin … present with some “several who had a stirring sense of truth.” We can’t draw anything so dramatic as a direct causal line to Claude Le Painctre, but sometime during Crespin’s stay in Paris in the early 1540s he converted to the reformed faith — and in this guise he would in time become a notable Protestant publisher. (Of interest to these grim annals, he Le Livre des Martyrs.)

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1707: Bartellemy Pichon dit La Roze, the first executed in Fort Detroit

Add comment November 7th, 2018 Headsman

The execution hook for today’s post does not arrive until the end of the excerpt below

Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac* … the French explorer who founded Fort Pontchartrain** du Detroit, the germ of the present-day U.S. Motor City.

How did Monsieur Cadillac administer criminal justice in his frontier fortress? Read on …

Cadillac’s Autocratic Rule

The next step, and a step that was very early taken, was the enforced obedience to the will of the first commandant, Cadillac. The troubles he had with the Company of the Colony of Canada forced him to be arbitrary with the servants of that company, and he was arrested and sent to Montreal for putting one of these disobedient servants in prison. This was an attack on the government itself, and could not be overlooked by the governor-general. Cadillac kept away from Detroit for a long time, but eventually returned with his powers confirmed by the king. During his absence his little village came near being sacked and destroyed by turbulent Indians, and it was partly on this account that the home government looked with favor upon his attempt at arbitrary rule.

In 1711 Cadillac left Detroit for good and his successor got into trouble with the village priest and with many of the foremost citizens without unnecessary delay. Although the commandant was always very powerful, there were some matters that appeared to be beyond his authority to try. He could not try any cases in which he was personally interested. He could not try any capital cases or cases in which the life or liberty of the defendant was involved. He could not try these cases, but yet we find that Cadillac asserted that his authority reached to the taking of the life of any person who refused to submit to his orders. Cadillac himself was defendant in a civil suit in 1694, which was protracted until 1703, arising out of the seizure of the goods of a trader of Michilimackinac, when Cadillac was commandant there.

The goods were seized for infraction of the laws which prohibited the sale of brandy to the Indians. The suit was for the recovery of the value of these goods, which were destroyed. The trial was held at Montreal and was decided in favor of Cadillac.

INCENDIARISM

In 1703 some one set fire to the buildings in the village of Detroit and the church was burned, as well as a large warehouse filled with furs, and several other buildings. Cadillac himself was severely burned in attempting to stem the conflagration. There was much speculation as to who set the fire. Cadillac accused the Jesuits of instigating the work. There were no Jesuits in Detroit, but he accused them of sending an Indian from Mackinac to do the work for them. There were some very bitter letters written on the subject between Cadillac and the Jesuit priests at Mackinac and Montreal, but the matter, with them, ended with the letter writing. This did not disclose the incendiary and others were suspected or accused of setting the fire. Shortly after this, in 1706, Jacques Campau accused Pierre Roquant dit la Ville of the crime. Canadian or French justice was administered in the manner that appears odd at this distance. In this case La Ville was arrested and taken to Quebec and lodged in prison. Campau was also summoned to attend the investigation as the complaining witness and most important person. The trial, or investigation, was held at Quebec December 2, 1706 before le conseil extraordinairment and resulted in an apparently extraordinary verdict, for not only was the defendant acquitted, but the complaining witness, Campau, was compelled to pay five hundred livres for the trouble and expense he had caused.

CRIMINAL ASSAULT

In 1705 Pierre Berge (or Boucher) dit La Tulipe, a drummer (tambour) in the company of Cadillac, committed a criminal assault upon Susanne Capelle, a little girl twelve years of age. He was convicted before the conseil superieur of Quebec and was sentenced to make a public confession of his crime and on his knees in the church he was compelled to ask pardon for his sins — he was then to be executed. It was almost impossible to carry out the last part of the sentence, for no one appeared willing to act as executioner. In the jail at Quebec was a man named Jacques Elie, who had been condemned to death for some offense committed at the siege of Port Royal in Acadia. Elie was promised a pardon for his crime if he would act as executioner of Tulipe and the latter was thus duly hanged on November 26, 1705. These were some of the cases the commandants were unable to deal with at home and sent to the higher courts at Montreal and Quebec for trial and disposition.

MILITARY LAWS

Another class of cases, those involving the military laws — disobedience to military orders, desertions and that class of cases [–] were attended to by the soldiers themselves and came before the commandant in his capacity of military officer and not as a civilian.

There is a record of one of these early trials by court-martial. During the absence of Cadillac from the village in 1705, Bourgmont had charge of the post for a time. He misbehaved himself in various ways to such an extent that the citizens nearly rose in rebellion and the public indignation was so great that Bourgmont sought safety in flight. After Cadillac’s return, he set about investigating the matter and in 1707 sent an officer named Desane, with fifteen men, to hunt up and capture Bourgmont, Jolicoeur, and Bartellemy Pichon dit La Roze, all of whom were deserters, and who were then leading an abandoned life on the shores of Lake Erie. They were also commanded to bring with them a woman named Tichenet, who was then living a scandalous life with Bourgmont and who was, in part, the cause of Bourgmont’s desertion.

Apparently La Roze was the only deserter who was captured and he was tried by a court consisting of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Francois LeGautier, Sieur de la Vallee Derasie, Pierre D’Argenteuil, Guignolet Lafleudor and Francouer Brindamour. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced “a avoir la teste cassee jusque a se que mort sensuive,” meaning that he should have his neck stretched until he was dead. The word “teste” in old French, for modern “tete,” meaning the head, was applied in this case to the neck. This sentence was duly carried out in the garrison of the Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit November 7, 1707. No appeal was taken, nor was it possible that any could be. This was the first capital case in Detroit, but not the last one, for there were several others in later years.

* Cadillac’s adoptive title is of course the inspiration for the automobile manufacturer of that name. The name sources to a town in the Gironde, and has now gone international.

** U.S. readers might better recognize Lake Pontchartrain, the enormous, flood-prone estuary jutting into present-day New Orleans. Post-Detroit, our man Cadillac became the governor of French Louisiana, and between the two tributes left him in the New World it is no surprise to find that the comte de Pontchartrain was Cadillac’s patron.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Michigan,Milestones,Military Crimes,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,USA

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1799: Egyptians after the Revolt of Cairo

Add comment October 27th, 2018 Headsman

Every night we cut off thirty heads, and those of several chiefs; that will teach them, I think, a good lesson.”

-Napoleon to the Directory on October 27, 1799, after crushing the Revolt of Cairo

Napoleon’s private secretary on the adventure in Egypt, Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, claimed that Napoleon exaggerated for effect, and the executions were more in the neighborhood of a dozen per night. The beheaded corpses were stuffed in sacks and tossed into the Nile.

Bourrienne’s biography of Napoleon also relates (albeit without a date)

Some time after the revolt of Cairo, the necessity of ensuring our own safety urged the commission of a horrible act of cruelty. A tribe of Arabs in the neighbourhood of Cairo had surprised and massacred a party of French. The general-in-chief ordered his aide-de-camp, Croisier, to proceed to the spot, surround the tribe, destroy their huts, kill all the men, and conduct the rest of the population to Cairo. The order was to decapitate the victims, to bring their heads in sacks to Cairo, to be exhibited to the people. Eugene Beauharnais accompanied Croisier, who joyfully set out on this horrible expedition, in the hope of obliterating all recollection of the affair of Damanhour.

Next day the party returned. Many of the poor Arab women had been delivered on the road, and the children had perished of hunger, heat, and fatigue. About four o’clock, a troop of asses arrived in Ezbekyeh Place, laden with sacks. The sacks were opened and the heads rolled out before the assembled populace. I cannot describe the horror I experienced; but, at the same time, I must acknowledge that this butchery ensured for a considerable time the tranquility and even the existence of the little caravans which were obliged to travel in all directions for the service of the army.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Egypt,Execution,France,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Ottoman Empire,Power,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1796: Claude Javogues

Add comment October 10th, 2018 Headsman

French Revolutionary Claude Javogues was shot on this date in 1796.

The son of an ancien regime royal castellan, the barrister Javogues would have the opportunity in the revolutionary Convention to vote the death of the old man’s boss, and he did not miss his chance.

Pour préserver les âmes pusillanimes de l’amour de la tyrannie, je vote pour la mort dans les vingt-quatre heures. (“To preserve pusillanimous souls from the love of tyranny, I vote for death within twenty-four hours.”)

The guy wasn’t above getting his own hands dirty in the bloody work of revolution, either, and ran his own local revolutionary terror in his home town of Feurs. (A Chapel of the Martyrs in Feurs pays homage to the 80 victims of Javogues’s Terror.) Even so, he had his own brush with the Committee of Public Safety and stood in some danger for a time of being one of the children devoured by the revolution.

Instead, it was the subsequent Thermidorean Reaction that did for Javogues when he was suspected of complicity in the radicals’ Conspiracy of Equals.

He had the distinction in parting to be shot by a firing detail commanded by one Leopold Hugo — eventually (come 1802) the father of one Victor Hugo.

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1822: General Berton

Add comment October 5th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1822,* General Jean Baptiste Berton (sometimes Breton) was guillotined in Poitiers.

A young junior officer during the French Revolutionary Wars, Breton/Berton scaled the Napoleonic ranks in the early 19th century and was elevated by the Corsican’s own hand to Brigadier General.

Upon Napoleon’s 1815 return from exile Breton rallied to the ex-emperor’s cause but he did not suffer the worst of it after Waterloo, instead scribbling his memoirs in enforced half-pay retirement.

This situation permitted the ex-marechal-de-camp both the time and the liberty to dabble in that era’s rife conspiracies intending the overthrow of the Bourbons — a fact which was exposed by mischance when one of the young cavalrymen he had recruited was killed in an accident with incriminating documents in his pockets. Agents provocateur baited him thereafter into a treasonable and doomed rebellion.

* Some sources give October 6, which was a Sunday. Primary documentation prefers October 5.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason

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1894: Abbe Albert Bruneau

Add comment August 30th, 2018 Headsman

French priest Albert Bruneau was guillotined on this date in 1894 for murder. (Most of the available information about this case is in French, as are most of the links in this post.)

The Abbe‘s protests of innocence fell on deaf ears considering his history of degeneracy — thefts, seductions, even firing his own parsonage for the insurance money — stretching back to his seminarian days.

He’d been condemned for killing that January at Entrammes another priest, Abbe Fricot — whose body had wound up plundered of valuables and dropped down a well. This epidemic of priest-on-priest violence made for a tremendous public sensation that certainly was not conducive to Bruneau’s efforts to defend himself. Once he became suspected of Fricot’s murder, he was also baselessly implicated in (though never charged with) the unsolved killing of a Laval florist from the previous year.

A thread on guillotine.cultureforum.net draws our attention not only to some wonderful original reportage but to the riveting first-person account of Henri Massonneau in his Devant l’Echafaud (In Front of the Scaffold, available free online from Google Books or Gallica). Massonneau recounts the fury in Laval, where crowds expecting the execution a couple of days previously pelted the prison with taunts for the condemned man.

Bruneau’s cell, very tall in the tower of the Vieux Château, was illuminated. The mobs were screaming:

“Bruneau! It’s for this night! You will dance!”

In the night spots around the city, Massonneau even heard patrons grumbling for the head of Bruneau’s barrister, for having dared to defend the monster.

The magistrate and energetic proto-true crime scribbler Pierre Bouchardon* took up l’Affaire de l’Abbe Bruneau in 1942 and thought the legal proceedings inexcusably slipshod owing to the prejudicial atmosphere. (Unfortunately his Le Puits du Presbytere d’Entrammes (The Well of the Presbytery of Entrammes) falls under the pall of copyright and must be hunted among sellers of antique francophone titles.) Many other retrospectives have reached a similar conclusion.

We return to Massonneau, who has caught wind on the evening of August 29 that the beheading will take place early the next day, and even secured for himself entry into the prison to observe Bruneau’s last hours:

At half-past two in the morning, the van carrying the guillotine arrives, escorted by six gendarmes, at the Place de la Justice. This square is planted with tall trees and surrounded by stone terminals connected by chains. To allow the van to enter the square, the chains at the extreme angles had to be sawed. The square has been evacuated, but the windows of the neighboring houses are full of curiosity, and the square of the Cathedral which opens directly on the place du Palais de Justice, following it, is black with people.

We will attend the spectacle. But there will not be gladiators fighting wild beasts, nor bullfights, nor athletes measuring themselves: it will be the law that will kill an unarmed man. There are men, women, children, bourgeois, farmers, workers, many priests. Kids have climbed into the trees. We can not dislodge them. There are six thousand people around the guillotine. It’s a grand success. The weather is superb, the night is even hot.

From a distance, the crowd follows the assembly of the guillotine. When the sinister machine stands up, erect in the night, joy breaks out. We are finally quiet: Bruneau will be executed. The hour passes. My colleagues and I are entering the prison, but we are numerous and the Prosecutor of the Republic informs us that we will not be able to enter the cell of the convict. We will have to wait for him in the chapel where he will come to hear his last mass. From that moment, we will not leave him.

The magistrates entered his cell at 4 o’clock. Bruneau did not sleep. The Public Prosecutor said to him:

“Bruneau, courage. The time has arrived.”

Bruneau looked around, haggard. Then he said:

“Can I get up?”

“Yes, dress up.”

He put on his pants. The prosecutor asked him if he had a confession to make.

“No,” he replied, “I am innocent, not only of the crimes for which I was acquitted, but also of the one for which I was condemned. I only committed indecent assaults. I am innocent.” He delivered a letter to the Prosecutor.

“You will read it,” he said, “at the same time as my advocate, and you will deliver it to the public.”

In this letter, Bruneau again protests his innocence and says he forgives those who have hurt him. The letter was not published. Despite claiming to forgive them, Bruneau leveled slanderous accusations against some witnesses of the trial.

I go down to the chapel. It is located in a basement. From the chandeliers, a dozen candles flicker a dim light. Soon the chapel is full of people … I have never seen a scene more moving than the appearance of Bruneau in the chapel. He has come down at a brisk pace the twenty steps that lead to it. He wears his beard, very black, which gives him a remarkably energetic appearance. His foot scarcely leaving the last step, the condemned stiffens, and with a sudden movement turns towards the holy water font. His arms are shackled and he must make an incredible effort to take holy water. He looks like an automaton. He crosses himself, not without difficulty, then with a sure step approaches the high altar. There, he drops to his knees. A thump sounds. Bruneau seems lost in a chasm of prayer.

The chaplain approaches him and speaks to him in a low voice; Bruneau resumes his prayer; the chaplain comes to ask the prosecutor for permission to isolate himself with the condemned man to hear his confession. The prosecutor hesitates, but consents in the end. The chaplain returns near Bruneau, helps him get up, and they both head for a corner of the chapel hidden by a curtain. They disappear behind it. Two guards come to stand near the curtain.

The confession lasts ten endless minutes. Finally, Bruneau comes to take his place, on his knees, in front of the maître-hôtel. And the mass begins. Another twenty minutes pass. The assistants suffer visibly for the convict throughout; Bruneau communes. Finally the ceremony is over. Bruneau, before going out, again takes holy water, and he has the same difficulties as before. He is very calm. He climbs the stairs without weakness. It feels like a man walking in a dream. From the chapel, one goes into the courtyard to go to the registry where the last toilette is to be made. It is a small room on the ground floor. Through the door, left open, I attend these funereal preparations. Quietly, without affectation, he says he is hungry. It’s a new delay. Priests usually eat immediately after communion. It is habit that he is hungry.

He leaves the registry. I run forward and I come near the scaffold. The police commissioner who is there says to me: “It’s not him already?”

“Yes, yes, here he is.”

“But it’s impossible! It is not legal time. I cannot yet permit the execution.”

Then all that I thought during the Mass about the mental state of the condemned returns to me, and I say to the commissioner:

“Well! Have a chair brought there, near the guillotine, and sit down until it is legal time. I’m sure he will not protest … ”

“No, no, it’s not possible,” he said. “We have to wait for the hour.”

And he makes as if to go to the prison, just as the procession emerges. I stop him:

“Do not worry for so little. In Paris, we always guillotine before the hour.”

“You think?”

“I’m sure.”

“Ah! so …”

Bruneau is near the scaffold. It is exactly 4:47. Legally, indeed, it is at 5:15 that the execution should have taken place. We are half an hour ahead. Bruneau has crossed without faltering the two hundred meters that separate the prison from the scaffold. Contrary to all the condemned, he does not want to see the guillotine. Two meters from the bascule he turns his head with affectation so as not to behold it. The chaplain presents him a crucifix. Bruneau kisses it twice, then he drops into the arms of the chaplain and kisses it for a long time.

The executioner’s assistants seize him but he tears free with a sudden movement and turns to the chaplain begging again to kiss the cross. He can not take his lips off the crucifix. The chaplain speaks to him, exhorts him to courage, and with a movement of exquisite gentleness pushes him towards the assistants who seize him and precipitate him onto the bascule.

When Bruneau entered the Palace Square, a huge “Ah!” came out of the crowd. But once he is here, we hear no sound; no word is uttered; nobody budges. Bruneau’s struggle against death at the foot of the scaffold lasted two minutes, two centuries.

The knife falls. Society is avenged. Its representatives on the Cathedral Square record this victory by frantic applause. It is interminable, already, the head is thrown in the basket with the body, the basket in the van, and the van rolls towards the cemetery. The crowd is still clapping. By the Place du Pilier-Vert, the Place des Arts, the Rue Neuve, the Pont-Neuf, the Rue de la Paix, in ten minutes the convoy arrives at the cemetery, between two curious hedges. Since three before days the pit was dug and the coffin was waiting.

Bruneau is buried at the end of an alley on the right, in the section of mass graves. The following year, passing Laval, I went to the cemetery. I found in front of the tomb two kneeling nuns who were praying. Many people, indeed, in the religious world, did not believe the culpability of Bruneau. But it is incorrect, as has been said, as I myself reported then, that the bishop of Laval made every effort to obtain pardon for the condemned. The bishop of Laval was stricken with immense sadness when Bruneau’s crimes were discovered. He cried, remained silent, and died of sorrow.

Wikipedia claims that the scandal of the murderer-priest inspired the French journalist Paul Bourde‘s 1902 play Nos deux consciences (Our Two Consciences), a piece adapted to cinema by Alfred Hitchcock in 1953 as I Confess. (review)

* Most famously, Bouchardon prosecuted Mata Hari.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Theft

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1941: Henri Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, the first martyr of Free France

Add comment August 29th, 2018 Headsman

Henri Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, the “first martyr of Free France”, fell to German guns at the Fort du Mont Valerien on this date in 1941, along with two companions.

A Catholic nationalist naval officer, d’Estienne d’Orves found himself in Egypt in June 1940, when his government capitulated to the devastating German blitz.

Eschewing the accommodationist crowd, d’Estienne d’Orves made his way first to a fleet in Somaliland, and then around the Cape of Good Hope and up to London, to link arms with de Gaulle’s Free French government-in-exile. By December of 1940, he’d infiltrated himself into German-occupied France to set up a spy network. By January of 1941, most of the network had been arrested by the Gestapo.

He and eight others were death-sentenced on May 13 and although the German brass entertained the possibility of clemency as their tribute to an honorable fellow-troop, the growth of partisan attacks against the Reich throughout that summer* eventually dictated a more punitive course. D’Estienne d’Orves, Maurice Barlier, and Jan Doornik were fusilladed together, disdaining blindfolds.


Proclamation in German and French announcing the August 29, 1941 executions of Henri Louis Honore d’Estiennes d’Orves, Maurice Charles Emile Barlier, and Jan Louis-Guilleaume Doornik.

* Germany’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941 forced European Communist parties — and very notably the formerly reticent French Communists — into violent anti-Nazi resistance.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,France,Germany,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1704: Roland Laporte, posthumously, and five aides, humously

1 comment August 16th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1704, the great Camisard commander Pierre Laporte was publicly burned. He was already two days dead, but the same could not be said by five comrades-in-rebellion who were quite alive as they were broken on the wheel.

Familiarly known by the nom de guerre “Roland”, Laporte (English Wikipedia entry | the far more detailed French) was a whelp of 22 when entrusted with command of about 400 Protestant guerrillas operating around Lassalle, and his native Mialet.

These were rebels in a very dirty regional civil war in France’s heavily Protestant southeast, following the crown’s revocation of tolerance for the heretics. Roland proved himself one of its ablest prosecutors, putting Catholics to fire and sword be they enemy troops or wrongthinking neighbors.

By 1704 the insurgency was circling the drain as Camisard officers were either killed off or bought off. Our self-proclaimed “general of the children of god” was not the type to be had for 30 pieces of silver plus an army commission,* and so only violence would do for him. On August 14, betrayed by an informer who was amenable to purchase, Roland was slain in a Catholic ambush at Castelnau-les-Valence. Five officers escorting him opted not to go down fighting and surrendered instead, which proved a regrettable decision.

But even death could not slake the vengeance of his foes. “On the 16th August, 1704, the body of Roland Laporte, general of the Camisards … was dragged into Nimes at the tail of a cart and burnt, while 5 of his companions were broken on the wheel around his funeral pyre.”

For the unusually interested reader, there’s a 1954 French biography by Henri Bosc — who also authored a multi-volume history of the Camisard war — titled Un Grand Chef Camisard Pierre Laporte dit Roland, 1680-1704. It’s long out of print and appears to be difficult to come by.

* Not long before Roland’s defeat, just such a deal had shockingly induced fellow Camisard commander Jean Cavalier to turn coat.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,Gruesome Methods,Guerrillas,History,Mass Executions,Posthumous Executions,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Terrorists,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1866: Barthelemy Cellier, true sangfroid

Add comment June 16th, 2018 Headsman

Dying graciously is a — in that blessed space of unfeigned equanimity, in between fright and bluster — is a difficult art. On this date in 1866, the central France town of Riom guillotined an otherwise forgettable criminal who attained that Stoical condition.

By the account of La Petit Journal (French, obviously), double murderer Barthelemy Cellier was awoken at 3 a.m. on the morning of his beheading, with news of the rejection of his appeals. “Ah, ah,” said Cellier calmly, “it’s today!” Well, it’s as good today as it is tomorrow!”

Cellier listened to the curé “avec beaucoup de calme”, called for a glass of Bourdeaux wine and a cigarette, and then,

bare-headed, dressed in the prison outfit: gray trousers, white clogs, a gray jacket thrown over his shoulders, smoking his cigarette, walked with a firm step between the two ecclesiastics … Behind came the executioners and mounted gendarmes.

The course was about two hundred meters. Throughout this journey, Cellier’s face was marked by the most perfect serenity; a gracious smile wandering in his eyes and on his lips gave him rather the countenance of a man walking towards his deliverance than of a criminal going to execution.

The scaffold was surrounded by a large number of people from Riom and the surrounding area; but, thanks to excellent preparation, the dismal machine was separated from the crowd by fifty yards at least. Detachments of soldiers rigorously maintained this perimeter.

Arriving at the foot of the scaffold, Cellier raised his head and looked, without pallor, the fatal cleaver.

He threw out his cigarette and crushed it with his foot.

Then, turning to the honorable priests, he spoke for a few seconds with them, kissed both effusively and climbed alone with a sure stride the steps separating him from the platform.

There, with a sudden movement, he dropped the jacket which hid his shoulders, and having with a glance examined the crowd, without bravado, without affectation, always with the same calm and the same smile, he twice graciously greeted the apparatus. Not a single word was spoken. The hour had just tolled. A sudden noise, immediately accompanied by a few women’s comments and a shriek from the crowd, announced that the supreme act had been accomplished. Cellier’s spirit had not been broken for a moment. He died demonstrating true sangfroid. The crowd slowly went away, deeply moved by the dreadful drama which had just been broken up in a few seconds.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,Murder,Public Executions

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