Posts filed under 'Italy'

1799: Domenico Cirillo

Add comment October 29th, 2020 Headsman

Neapolitan physician and scientist Domenico Cirillo was hanged on this date in 1799, for joining the abortive Parthenopean Republic.


Statue of Cirillo at his hometown of Grumo Nevano, where a school and library also bear his name. (cc) image by Nicpac.

Cirillo (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a gifted botanist and entomologist with a raft of scholarly papers to his name; he introduced smallpox inoculation in Naples.

For a time he was also the personal physician to the royal family, but as a Jacbobin-curious Freemason he also partook of the era’s emerging egalitarianism. An urban myth-sounding anecdote holds that when a faced with competing calls for his attentions he preferred to first visit a poor man rather than a rich man who would pay him, saying “the art of healing must be practiced to relieve human misery and not to procure health.”

Despite all that he was only a tardy participant when Naples made its abortive Republican turn in 1799, only reluctantly acceding to urgings to join the Parthenopean Republic.

Perhaps he anticipated the fury of the counterrevolution — or, as he represented matters later, that his cooperation was no more than apolitical civic engagement. In an appeal that he had the weakness to dispatch to Lady Hamilton, the lover of Lord Nelson who was even then anchored in harbor applying British intervention against the Jacobins,

The conduct of my life, before and after the French Revolution, was always honest, pure and loyal. I was often called to care for the French, who were sick, but I never had any intimacy with them, I had correspondence with them of any kind … For three months, I did nothing but help with my own money and that of some charitable friends the large number of [poor people] existing in the city. I induced all the doctors, surgeons and associations to go around visiting the impoverished, who had no way to cure their ailments. After this period, Abrial came to establish the new government, and insisted that I accept a seat on the Legislative Commission. I refused two or three times: in the end I was threatened and forced. What could I do? However, in the short time of this administration, I never took an oath against the king, I never wrote or spoke a single word offensive against any of the Royal Family, nor appeared in their public ceremonies, nor donned their uniform. I didn’t handle public money, and the only paper ducats they gave me were distributed to the poor …

Your Ladyship now knows the true story, not of my crimes, but of the involuntary errors to which I was driven by the strength of the French army. Now, m’lady, in the name of God, don’t abandon your unfortunate friend. Remember that by saving my life you will have the eternal gratitude of an honest family. Your generosity, that of your husband and the great Nelson are my only hopes. Obtain for me a pardon from our merciful king, and the public will benefit by my medical observations, collected in the space of forty years. Remember that I did all I could to save the Botanical Garden of Caserta, and I did my best to be of the best use to Mrs. Greffer’s [a widow whom Lord Nelson had aided -ed.] children. (Source)

No sale for Lord Nelson, who did indeed have the practical power to make decisive intercession, but refused.

Domenico Cirillo, who had been the King’s physician, might have been saved, but that he chose to play the fool and lie, denying that he had ever made any speeches against the government, and saying that he only took care of the poor in the hospitals.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Martyrs,Naples,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1647: Francesco Toraldo

Add comment October 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1647, Francesco Toraldo was put to summary death by rebelling Neapolitans.

Toraldo was a decorated commander during the Thirty Years’ War who was all set up to enjoy retirement as the Duke of Palata, a dignity conjured for him by the grateful Spanish.

This title persists in the Spanish peerage to this day, even though the namesake “duchy”, Palata, is a town in Italy — which is where Toraldo had some family holdings.

That meant he was in the neighborhood to get pulled into the action when Naples in 1647 rebelled against the King of Spain, the neglectful overlord of the City of the Sun.

In July 1647 a tax revolt led by a fisherman named Masaniello briefly gained control of the city.*


The Anti-Spanish Revolt of Masaniello in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples on 7 July 1648, by Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Viviano Codazzi, the latter of whom fled Naples because of this very event.

After the city’s merchants murdered Masaniello, Toraldo was called on as governor-general. He enjoyed widespread support among the still-restive populace, and when the Spanish royal house attempted a show of force under John of Austria to decisively quell the disturbance, Toraldo’s defense of the city might have led a more ambitious soul to declare himself the master of Naples. Indeed, many Neapolitans urged this course upon him — but Toraldo hewed to an increasingly untenable middle way of simultaneous fidelity to Spain and the Neapolitan masses that did for him in the end. (In fairness, the bolder attempt would surely have done for him just the same; his safety would have been in retiring.)

Hitherto the people had at least recognised the external sovereignty of Spain. Whilst they fought against the Spaniards, they professed their allegiance to the king of Spain; they rejected the accusation of rebellion, decidedly as well as vehemently; they had respected the pictures and arms of Philip IV and his ancestors, and always called themselves his most faithful people. But by degrees this had changed, and the unsuccessful expedition of Don John had given the last blow to this feeling of attachment to the royal family …A manifesto of the people on the 17th of October, 1647, set forth the grievance of the nation against their rulers, and invoked the aid of the Pope and the Emperor of kings and of princes. Political parties were formed; the most active at first were those who cried “Long life to the Pope! were he but our liege lord.” The Cardinal-Archbishop leaned to this side; the Nuncio Altieri was familiar with intrigues, and his brother was mixed up in it … Others, and amongst them some of the nobility, inclined towards France, and intriguers were not wanting who laboured in behalf of this power … Others again, considered a republic as feasible; but the great mass of the middle class began to perceive the danger into which they had fallen by the last steps taken in the revolution. They had been desirous of the abolition of burdens which were too oppressive, but not of a change in the government and dynasty. They had allowed the populace to have its own way about the gabelles. But when the populace prevailed, they changed their minds, as one insurrection followed upon another, when all commerce was at a stand-still, when all security was at an end, when the town was threatened with being turned into a heap of ruins, and that they were on the point of losing every thing, because they wanted too much. It was this middle class which later gave Spain an easy and bloodless victory.

But till this happened, Naples continued the theatre of horrible scenes. As the negotiations with Don John of Austria led to no results, the people tried to drive away the troops from the posts which they still occupied within the town. Thus Michele de Santis, the butcher who had murdered Don Giuseppe Carafa, led six hundred men against the Spanish post at Porta Meina. The Viceroy, after whom it was called, as has already been mentioned, had built this gate in the wall of Charles Vth, upon the heights of Montesanto, on the slope of the mountain upon which is situated the Carthusian convent and Sant’Elmo. Here stood fifteen Spaniards, armed only with pike and swords; they drove back six hundred men. The leaders perceived that, without the advantage of a commanding position, all individual detached successes were of no avail. Santa Chiara had resisted all their attacks. On the 21st of October a mine was sprung under the tower. Don Francesco Toraldo, who had been too weak to extricate himself, as he might possibly have succeeded in doing from his false position, and who now acted as a sort of check upon the people, commanded the attack in person. The mine was sprung, but being improperly laid, it only injured the neighbouring buildings, which buried numbers of the champions of the people under the ruins. The garrison of the convent made a sally at the same time, and the bands of the assailants withdrew, with the cry of treason. Their unfortunate leader was to atone for the treason; they seized him and dragged him to the market-place. In vain did Don Francesco Toraldo attempt to speak, in vain did his adherents try to silence the mad men. He sank down at the fish-market; they cut off his noble head upon a stone fish-stall. They stuck it upon a speak; thus had first [Don Giuseppe] Carafa’s head been carried in triumph, then that of Masaniello. They tore the still warm heart from the mangled corpse, and carried it in a silver dish to the convent, where Donna Alvina Frezza, the very beautiful wife of the unfortunate man, was staying. The savage murderers desired that the princess would show herself at the gate of the convent to receive the heart of her husband. The nuns, horror-struck, refused to deliver the message: then these savages collected the wood and faggots that were about to set fire to the convent. Toraldo’s widow, informed of the danger appeared at the threshold, and was obliged to receive from the hands of the barbarians this dreadful though beloved present. Many even of the mob wept at this sight. The corpse remained hanging on the gallows for two days, then they took it down, and in one of those sudden revulsions of mind that so often take place amongst the rude masses, they buried their murdered Captain-General with great pomp. (Source)

This fresh detonation of the powder keg led to the populace declaring itself the Neapolitan Republic; as the passage above hints, that project did not long survive the Spaniards’ pressure.

* Masaniello’s populist revolt left a wide literary footprint. Of special note is the opera La Muette de Portici, whose performance in Brussels in 1830 helped catalyze the Belgian Revolution.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Gibbeted,History,Italy,Lynching,Naples,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1526: Bianca Maria Gaspardone, the Insatiate Countess

Add comment October 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1526, Bianca Maria Gaspardone was beheaded at Milan’s Castello di Porta Giova, the present-day Castello Sforzesco.

She was only about 26 years old, but onto her second* dynastic marriage — this to Renato di Challant.

As the story was later recorded in Matteo Bandello‘s Novelle,** the young woman had wealth and options, and with her husband off fighting in Milan’s war against France, she indulged a series of boudoir intrigues — critically for our purposes, one Ardizzino Valperga, Count of Masino.

Per Bandello, the Lady of Challant grew annoyed by him and tried to dispose of him by provoking a quarrel between he and another of her lovers, the Count of Gaiazzo — but the two men compared notes and simply arrived at a mutual contempt for her.

The count made the sign of the cross, and all full of wonder said: Fie, shameless slut that she is. If it weren’t a dishonor for a knight to imbrue his hands in the blood of a woman, I would gouge out her tongue through the back of her neck; but first I would like her to confess how many times she begged me with her arms on the cross, that I have you killed! And so they repeated in public and private the crimes of this dishonest woman until they were on every person’s lips. She, hearing what these gentlemen said about her, even if she pretended no concern for it, was angry with indignation and thought of nothing else but to be highly avenged.

It was in those days in Milan there was one Don Pietro di Cardona, a Sicilian, who governed the company of his legitimate brother Don Artale. This Don Pietro was a young man of twenty-two, dark-faced but proportionate in body and melancholy appearance, who one day seeing Mrs. Bianca Maria fell wildly in love with her. She judging him to be a pigeon of first feather and instrument capable of doing what she so longed for, lured him to better ensnare and dazzle him. He, who had never before loved a woman of account, considering her to be one of the first in Milan, pined miserably for her sake. In the end she made it one night to go and sleep with him, and took such loving pleasure together that he believed himself to be the happiest lover in the world, and not long after asked the young man to kill the Count of Gaiazzo and Signor Ardizzino.

Don Pietro obligingly ambushed Signor Ardizzino and did him to death. Arrested thereafter, he was equally obliging in giving up his paramour as the moving spirit, and she foolishly admitted as much by trying to bribe her way out of trouble.

Don Pietro was permitted to flee from prison. But the unfortunate young woman, having confirmed her lover’s confession with her own mouth, was condemned to have her head cut off. She, having heard this sentence, and not knowing that Don Pietro had run away, could not be prepared to die. At the end, being led onto the ravelin of the castle facing the square and seeing the block, she began to cry in despair and beg for the grace that, if they wanted her to die happy, they would let her see her Don Pietro; but she sang to the deaf. So the poor woman was beheaded. And whoever longs to see her face portrayed in life, should go to the Chiesa del Monastero Maggiore, and there he will see her painted.


Bandello’s closing remark about her painting has commonly been understood to claim her as the model for this fresco of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Leonardo da Vinci follower Bernardino Luini (1530). More recent research has cast doubt on that notion: scholars now prefer to reckon her image as that of a kneeling patron (along with her first husband) in a different image.

This tale made its way from Bandello’s pen into subsequent literature, notably a Jacobean English sex-romp tragedy called The Insatiate Countess, and a 19th century Italian play, La Signora di Challant; the whole thing appears overall to have unrealized potential for digital-age revival as sultry costume drama for prestige television.

* First hubby Ermes Visconti was beheaded in 1519.

** Bandello’s Novelle stories, which mix history and folklore, also include a version of the pre-Shakespeare Italian Romeo and Juliet drama.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milan,Murder,Nobility,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Women

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1599: Celestino da Verona

Add comment September 16th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1599, a heretical Franciscan named Fra Celestino of Verona burned at the stake at Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori.

For posterity he is a secondary character in the passion play of Giordano Bruno, who followed him to the same stake just a few months later.

Celestino had been imprisoned with Bruno in the early 1590s — the Inquisition’s legal gears took years to spin — and wrote up for his jailers a denunciation of his Bruno’s deviant doctrines. This might have been precisely what was hoped or demanded: turn the man’s fear of the fagot into an engine for incriminating the heresiarch.

It’s purely speculative whether this viperous intervention really made any difference in Bruno’s case. The rat vanishes from the documentary trail, only resurfacing in early 1599 when the Inquisition takes a sudden and intense look at this loose end. No record remains of Celestino’s specific doctrines, only that interrogators operated under a pall of silence mandated by the Pope himself.

He was condemned as a relapsed heretic, although we can only guess at his heresies. A few days later, an ambassador’s letter made reference to the burned man “who insisted that Christ Our Lord did not redeem mankind.”

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1497: Lorenzo Tornabuoni, Florentine nobleman

Add comment August 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1497, five Florentines were beheaded for a seditious conspiracy, headlined by the scion of one of the city’s leading families.

Our scene is the Italian city-state of Florence, during the 20-year intrregnum with the Medici family out of power. Lorenzo the Magnificent had died in 1492; his much less magnificent son and successor Piero the Unfortunate was expelled in 1494. For the time being the Dominican cleric Savonarola holds sway; after his fall a few months hence, it would briefly be Machiavelli’s humanist republic.

For these years the Medici schemed from exile, and Florentines guarded warily against their prospective restoration … the circumstance that will bring five heads to the block here. Earlier that same month of August 1497, the Florentine apothecary Luca Landucci noted the arrest of a man who “when flogged … confessed to a certain plot with Piero de’ Medici, and accused many, who were sent for and detained n the Palagio and the Bargello, and put to the rack. Amongst these were Lorenzo Tornabuoni, Gianozzo Pucci, Bernardo Del Nero, Niccolo Ridolfi, and others who fled.”

Landucci’s diary records the speedy progress of this investigation.

6th August. Signore Rinuccio and other leaders were sent for, and soldiers were hired in the Piazza.

10th August. There was much talk in the city as to what would be done with them (these prisoners); some said they were not guilty, and some said they were.

13th August. It was said that the Tornabuoni had despatched an estafette to the King of France, to beg that he should request the liberation of Lorenzo.

This Tornabuoni family were powerful bankers and their name is preserved to this day on one of Florence’s major city streets. The elderly patriarch Giovanni Tornabuoni was Piero de’ Medici’s great-uncle and had long been tight with that family — and it’s due to their prominence as well as the unexpected extremity of political execution that we’re drawn to gawk in particular here at Giovanni’s son Lorenzo.

As a matter of fact, art lovers can still gawk at him thanks to his doting wealthy dad.

Look for Lorenzo mugging for the viewer as he beholds the expulsion of Joachim in a Domenico Ghirlandaio fresco at the Tornabuoni Chapel at the church of Santa Maria Novella.


Detail view; click for the full image

And a pair of Botticelli frescos now held at the Louvre are thought to model bride and groom on the occasion of Lorenzo’s sensational marriage to the beautiful daughter of a rival noble house, Giovanna degli Albizzi.


A Young Man Being Introduced to the Seven Liberal Arts (likely modeled on Lorenzo Tornabuoni)


Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman (likely modeled on Giovanna degli Albizzi)

All the brushwork in the world couldn’t save even this strapling oligarch when events tied him to a prospective Medici restoration, even though it broke soft republican hearts. Our apothecary Luca Landucci “could not refrain from weeping when I saw that young Lorenzo carried past the Canto d’ Tornaquinci on a bier” and if his diary is to be believed the dry eyes were few and far between.

17th August. The Practica [Court] met and sat in the Palagio from the morning till midnight. There were more than 180 men. And the five prisoners were condemned by word of mouth to be put to death and their property to be confiscated according to law. The five men condemned were Bernardo Del Nero, Niccolo Ridolfi, Giovanni Canbi, Gianozzo Pucci, and Lorenzo Tornabuoni, for whom all Florence was sorry.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Florence,History,Italy,Mass Executions,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Torture,Treason

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1469: Andrea Viarani

1 comment August 12th, 2020 Headsman

The August 12, 1469 beheading of a Ferrara nobleman named Andrea Viarani is the subject of a chapter in the very fine volume The Art of Executing Well: Rituals of Execution in Renaissance Italy.

This scholarly tome explores via six chapters with different authors and several translated texts the spiritual and ritual experience of execution, particularly as mediated by confraternities of lay comforters who worked to steady the condemned for their ordeal and — as they prayed — their salvation.

Notably, The Art of Executing Well favors the reader with a 100-page translation of a Bolognese Comforters’ Manual and its associated hymnal. This resource was used by the Compagnia di Santa Maria della Morte to train its brethren for their weighty task of counseling the doomed.

This manual is, in the first place, a philosophical text for the counselor — to get his mind right, fully versed in Church doctrine concerning the afterlife and approaching his somber task full of contrition, humility, and piety.

Those doing this work must put their heart in it and act only out of love for God, and also out of charity for and the salvation of the neighbor. And they must make a great effort to do this, otherwise it would be displeasing to God. And take note that it will not gain you anything for eternal life if it is done for any vain reasons: any aspect of glory or mundane pomp, or to be held in high esteem by the people of this world, or to avoid disrespect of your fellow man, or for any worldly gain, or to be on everyone’s lips, or to be praised, or to be able to learn the secrets or the deeds of those people, or out of revenge, or out of ill will, or for faction, or for reward. But you should only do it out of reverence for God and to observe his commandment.

And in the second place, it’s a practical handbook for navigating the many reactions and considerations that people in their last hours might have, as part of guiding the sufferer towards reconciliation with God. “You must not tire of speaking” to those who wish to listen and pray with you, but also bring several enumerated volumes for those who prefer to read; in many other cases, “you will find those who do not willingly accept their death and for whom it is a very big thing” and who must be guided empathetically when their thoughts are preoccupied by concern for their family, or by writing their will, or by their raw resistance to death. At times the guidance reads strikingly modern; set aside the figure of the executioner and words like these would not be amiss to aid you or I in a 21st century personal crisis:

There are those whom you will find hard-hearted in the beginning and who do not want to hear anything you say … Be very careful not to unsettle him with words or harshness. Because sometimes those who are so hardened and miserable may react quite violently against one word they don’t like, with the result that you risk never being able to say anything that they do like, and this leads to worse. And if you see that in spite of your words he doesn’t wish to repent and remains hard-hearted, let it be and say nothing to him. Rather, let him say what he wants. And then tell some appropriate story or some example to your companion [i.e., a brother emissary from the confraternity -ed.] or with whoever is around, and tell in such a way that he who is to die hears you. And when his anger subsides and he is just there not doing anything, then go and put your hand on his back and ever so gently reprove him for his folly and place him on the proper road.

We’ve previously seen in these annals an example of lay brother and condemned prisoner working together to ready a soul for the block, in the person of Niccolo Machiavelli associate Pietro Boscoli, who was involved in (or perhaps merely adjacent to) an anti-Medici plot.

That’s not dissimilar from the situation of our day’s principal. Andrea Viarani came from a cultured noble family numbering diplomats, doctors, and astrologers among its ranks — and he came to his grief by his involvement in a conspiracy against the local tyrant, Borso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara.*

Not much is really known about this man’s life, but he comes alive in Alfredo Troiano’s examination of three poems that the man wrote while awaiting execution. These poems later made their way to Bologna, where the aforementioned Compagnia di Santa Maria della Morte incorporated them into its own corpus and for Troiano, that’s no coincidence: they exhort the reader to attitudes characteristic of confraternities, revealing the unrecorded exertions these lay brethren must have made in Viarani’s cell.

If the blind, false, and treasonous world,
full of injustice, betrayal, and deception
has held you many years
far from your Maker and the Supreme Good,

Shows now both the shadowy and the fleeting nature
of hoping for vain pleasures, which
that foolish desire inclines towards
never thinking of its true salvation:

Now that heaven has given you much grace
and you are brought back to the point,
Andrea, that God has made you
repentant of the wrong committed.

Lift your mind to God, move your hard heart
and do not be so obstinate with him
but with devout tears,
repentant of having erred, ask for forgiveness.

Ah! Don’t wish to abandon your soul,
being diffident of eternal grace,
for it never is tired of gathering
he who, repentant, so asks.

This sirvente runs to 35 stanzas, and the translation is original to The Art of Executing Well where the reader may peruse it at length; Viarani also wrote two sonnets, one addressed to the Eternal Father and the other the Eternal Queen (that is, to God and to the Virgin Mary), which also appear in that book.

* The son of Niccolo d’Este, a name distinguished in execution annals by meting that fate out to his young wife and his son for their shocking affair. (The lovers weren’t kin themselves.)

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Ferrara,History,Italy,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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1945: Harold Pringle, the last Canadian military execution

Add comment July 5th, 2020 Headsman

The only Canadian soldier to be executed during (… actually well after!) World War II, Harold Pringle, caught a fusillade in Italy on this date in 1945.

A 16-year-old — he fibbed about his age — enlistee from small-town Ontario, Pringle joined the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

Pringle and a mate in the Hasty P’s name of “Lucky” MacGillivray linked up with some British deserters to form a black market outfit in conquered Rome. The “Sailor Gang”* enjoyed several weeks of picaresque living in the lawless city. Unsurprisingly, as Allied military authorities got control of the place they were eager to make examples of these minor gangsters. (Major gangsters were a different matter.)

The shooting death of that mate MacGillivray gave military prosecutors the means to sink the Sailors. One of their number was induced by a sweetheart deal to finger Pringle as for murdering him. Pringle and his comrades all contended that “Lucky” had been shot by mischance during one of the outlaws’ frequent drunken bouts, and having died en route to the hospital, Pringle shot him up posthumously in hopes of making the body look like it had been prey to a gang hit.

Despite all the trouble taken to secure a very dubious conviction, the execution itself was carried out in great secrecy by a tiny rump contingent of Canadians — all their fellows had already been withdrawn from Italy — who were not to speak of it afterwards.

According to Andrew Clark, the author whose research revealed the event to the wider public in A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, it all came down a political balancing act. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King faced a June 1945 election (followed by formation of a coalition government) that a controversial execution might complicate.

However, the British had executed two of their guys in the Sailor Gang case, and reciprocity was expected on a diplomatic level. So the solution was to do it as quietly as possible, and cover it with an official secret designation. Even Pringle himself didn’t find out his sentence was confirmed until the morning of the execution.

Book CoverBook Cover
Left: The classic antiwar novel inspired by the Pringle case, which was the only novel published by Colin McDougall. Right: The 2002 nonfiction treatment that brought the affair to the public eye. Below: A 1955 episode of Four Star Playhouse also seems to be based on the Pringle case, and Colin McDougall is credited with the story.**

There’s a riveting audio interview here with a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment who had guard duty on the condemned youth on the last night of his life. “Just as brave as could be,” Orville Marshall reports.

* There’s another infamous troupe of deserter-gangsters operating in Rome in this same period, the Lane Gang. The said “Lane” — whose real name was Werner Schmiedel — was hanged by American authorities in June 1945.

** McDougall served in Italy up to the end of Canada’s involvement there, and that is surely how he came to know about the secret execution in a general sense; any more specific vector of information appears to be unknown. However discovered, Pringle clearly haunted McDougall: he took several years to write his magnum opus, and also published a short story in McLean’s in the early 1950s called “The Firing Squad”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1855: Pietro Fortunato Calvi, the last Belfiore Martyr

Add comment July 4th, 2020 Headsman

Italian Risorgimento martyr Pietro Fortunato Calvi was hanged on this date in 1855 in Mantua.

The son of a Paduan police commissioner when that province rested in Austrian hands, Calvi — that’s an Italian link, as are almost all in this post — was an army lieutenant who was drawn by the swirl of patriotism into the Revolutions of 1848. He commanded a 4,600-strong militia in Venice where the abortive proclamation of a republic was suppressed by Austria.

He fled to exile in Turin, then part of the mainland remit of the independent Kingdom of Sardinia. But his sympathy for an attempted Milanese insurrection in those parts wore out his welcome with his new hosts, and he was obliged to find refuge in Switzerland.

From there, he and four companions launched a romantic, doomed expedition to sound out the alpine north for patriotism that might be stirred into revolution anew. Their mission was compromised by a spy, however, and the quintet was soon arrested.

Transported to Mantua for trial, Calvi successfully protected his companions by throwing all the responsibility upon himself and went to the gallows with a stirring declaration as he ought.

what I have done I have done of my own free will, that I would do it again, in order to expel Austria from the States it so infamously usurped … Pietro Fortunato Calvi, rather than betraying his homeland, offers his corpse.

The place of his execution, the valley of Belfiore, has conferred its name upon a host of Italian patriots who hanged there in the 1850s. Our guy Calvi was the last of these Belfiore martyrs.

Belfiore, Mantua, Padua, Venice, Turin, and all the rest were part of a united Italy within a generation.

Italian speakers might enjoy this biography of Pietro.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Italy,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason

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1790: Seven officers of Papal Avignon

Add comment June 11th, 2020 Headsman

Charles Souvay in “The French Papal States during the Revolution” (The Catholic Historical Review, January 1923) describes the violent reunion to the French nation of the Papal States enclave around Avignon where popes had formerly reigned. This June 11 lynching was as nothing for mob violence compared to the Massacres of La Glacière later in 1790.

In 1789 the French Papal possessions included the two Counties respectively called in Roman Chancery style the Comitatus Avennicinus, or High County, the principal city of which was Carpentras, and the Comitatus Avenionensis, or Low County, named after its capital Avignon; both together having in all an area of less than a thousand square miles. Since 1274, by donation of King Philip III to Pope Gregory X, they belonged to the Popes; and even though several times (1663, 1688 and 1768) the French kings attempted to wrest them from their legitimate sovereign, there was, in 1789, no question of disputing the Papacy’s rights. A Legate administered the two Counties, continuing in the old Papal Castle the moral presence of the popes who had resided there from 1309 to 1378.

The Counties were comparatively an earthly paradise: taxes insignificant; no imposts; living wonderfully cheap — “for one or two sous one could hve a meal of bread, meat and wine”; no militia, scarcely any privileges of nobility; no restrictions on fishing and hunting and to cap it all a miniature representative Assembly. However, the rank and file of the population had a bad name, and it deserved it. In the course of time the country had become the secure haven of all the scoundrels of France, Italy and Genoa: smugglers, fences, vagabonds, swindlers, crooks, convicts escaped from the galleys of Toulon and Marseilles, all flocked there and soon fraternized in debauchery and crime.

Such ingredients constituted a soil admirably adapted for the rapid growth of the revolutionary seed. No wonder, therefore, that towards the end of 1789 rebellion broke out in Avignon, where minds were easily wrought up. Before long it spread beyond the ramparts of the City of the Popes. The high County, however, remained loyal; hence timid: fear of the violence of the demagogues — a fear but too well founded — increased the numbers of the anti-papal faction; and soon the noise they raised was such that the Pope had to intervene. He did it in a fatherly way, promised all the reforms deemed opportune (Briefs of February and April 1790) and sent a Commissary with the charge of trying every possible way to restore order and peace. At Carpentras the pontifical Commissary was shown he was unwelcome; at Avignon he was positively refused admittance.

Then in the papal city Jacobinism, preached by ranting advocates like Tournal, Rovere, the two Duprats, the two Mainvielles, Lecuyer, multiplied its proselytes and stopped at no violence. Within a short while seven or eight riots broke out. On June 10, 1790, at the instigation of the leaders, all the rabble of the city and the suburbs, churls adverse to excise, rapscallions adverse to order, stevedores and longshoremen, armed with scythes, pikes and cudgels, rose up tumultuously, served on the Vice-Legate Casoni notice to quit, turned out of the city the Archbishop Giovio, ousted the Italian officials, obliged the Consuls to resign, hanged the officers of the National Guard and the principal loyalists (June 11)* and possessed themselves of the town hall. For efficiency trust the preachers of the revolutionary gospel.

* Seven men were murdered that day; some were nobles, others priests and others artisans.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,France,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Papal States,Public Executions,Summary Executions

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1571: Sigismondo Arquer, Sardinian scholar

Add comment June 4th, 2020 Headsman

Sardinian scholar Sigismondo Arquer was burned at the stake in Toledo, Spain, on this date in 1571.

Born in the capital of Spanish-governed Sardinia, this gentleman had a hereditary imperial knighthood but also an interest in humanism and religious heterodoxy well-calculated to annoy in Counter-Reformation Spain.


Arquer’s map of his native city of Cagliari, for the Cosmographia universalis, for which compendium he also composed an entry on “dark Sardinia” that “in its blend of ancient sources, personal observations and original narrative structure … played a critical role, even when not explicitly acknowledged, in the development of the image of Sardinia in European culture.” (Source) Today, one of the streets in this very historical core the man once sketched is called Via Sigismondo Arquer.

Exploiting Arquer’s associations with Swiss Protestants as well as his talent for making powerful enemies — skewering clergy in the Cosmographia, nettlesome lawsuits against Spanish oligarchs — the Inquisition bagged him for heresy in 1563. He was 33.

In between bouts of interrogation, Arquer used his long confinement to knock out a Passion in Catalan, heavy with personal resonance. The Christ parallels ran all the way to the Plaza de Zocodover, where a soldier — motivated by anger at the heretic or pity for the sufferer, only God can say — speared him through the side during his death throes.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Public Executions,Spain,Torture

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