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1736: Captain John Porteous, riotously lynched

Add comment September 7th, 2016 Headsman

Hated Edinburgh gendarme Captain John Porteous was lynched on this date in 1736.

September 7 was the date of Porteous’s own scheduled hanging, for triggering a mob scene at a previous execution we have already visited: Porteous, commanding the guard detail at that hanging, reacted insaley when

some unlucky boys threw a stone or two at the hangman, which is very common, on which the brutal Porteous (who it seems had ordered his party to load their guns with ball) let drive first himself amongst the inocent mob and commanded his men to folow his example which quickly cleansed the street but left three men, a boy and a woman dead upon the spot, besides several others wounded, some of whom are dead since. After this first fire he took it in his head when half up the Bow to order annother voly & kill’d a taylor in a window three storys high, a young gentleman & a son of Mr Matheson the minister’s and several more were dangerously wounded and all this from no more provocation than what I told you before, the throwing of a stone or two that hurt no body.

Nowadays Porteous might cite officer safety and be back on the job in a week’s time. Edinburghers in 1736 gave their law enforcement a bit less latitude, and the city magistrates were obliged to box Porteous up in the Tolbooth lest a baying mob “would have torn him, Council and Guard all in pices.”

Five months remained to Mr. Porteous, a span in which he must have died a thousand deaths as he watched fortune toss his prospects to and fro from within his dungeon. The temper of the city would admit no other result than his conviction and death sentence but officers of the law have strings to pull with the state their muskets uphold. With King George II out of hand,* Queen Caroline granted Porteous a reprieve (not yet an outright clemency) from an intended September 8 date with his own hangman. That intervention was soon overruled by a higher sovereign, for as the Newgate Calendar puts it, “when the populace were informed, such a scheme of revenge was meditated as is perhaps unprecedented.” This was no sudden spasm of public rage; five calculating days had elapsed from the arrival to Edinburgh of the queen’s mercy when

On the 7th of September, 1736, between nine and ten in the evening, a large body of men entered the city of Edinburgh, and seized the arms belonging to the guard; they then patrolled the streets, crying out, ‘All those who dare avenge innocent blood, let them come here.’ They then shut the gates and placed guards at each.


Illustration of the Porteous mob, from Sir Walter Scott’s Heart of Midlothian — which dramatizes the lynching.

The main body of the mob, all disguised, marched in the mean time to the prison; when finding some difficulty in breaking open the doors with hammers, they immediately set fire to it; taking great care that the flames should not spread beyond their proper bounds. The outer door was hardly consumed before they rushed in, and, ordering the keeper to open the door of the captain’s apartment, cried out, ‘Where is the villain, Porteous?’ He replied, ‘Here I am, what do you want with me?’ To which they answered, that they meant to hang him in the Grass Market, the place where he had shed so much innocent blood.

His expostulations were all in vain, they seized him by the legs and arms, and dragged him instantly to the place of execution.

On their arrival, they broke open a shop to find a rope suitable to their purpose, which they immediately fixed round his neck, then throwing the other end over a dyer’s pole, hoisted him up; when he, endeavouring to save himself, fixed his hands between the halter and his neck, which being observed by some of the mob, one of them struck him with an axe, which obliging him to quit his hold, they soon put an end to his life.

When they were satisfied he was dead they immediately dispersed to their several habitations, unmolested themselves, and without molesting anyone else.

Such was the fate of Captain John Porteous, a man possessed of qualifications which, had they been properly applied, might have rendered him an honourable and useful servant of his country. His undaunted spirit and invincible courage would have done honour to the greatest hero of antiquity. But being advanced to power, he became intoxicated with pride, and instead of being the admiration of his fellow citizens, he was detested and hated by all who knew him. The fate of this unhappy man, it is hoped, will he a caution to those who are in power not to abuse it; but, by a humane as well as diligent discharge of their duty, to render themselves worthy members of society.

Porteous did get a solemn memorial stone in Greyfriars Kirkyard once passions cooled … 237 years later.


(cc) image from Kio Stark.

* The Hanoverian king spent most of 1736 away taking a visit (quite unpopular with his English subjects) back to the family’s namesake German principality, which George II also ruled in a personal union.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Murder,Pardons and Clemencies,Public Executions,Rioting,Scotland

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1952: Wolfgang Kaiser

Add comment September 6th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1952, chemistry student Wolfgang Kaiser was guillotined at Dresden as a saboteur.

Back in the years before the Berlin Wall closed East Berlin the Communist half-city’s accessibility to its NATO-aligned western half constantly nettled the security state.

Our man Wolfgang Kaiser (English Wikipedia entry | German) lived in West Berlin but studied in East Berlin — or he did until he lost the spot when trying and failing to transfer to a West Berlin university.

That left Kaiser plenty of time on his hand to vent his political disaffection by working for the anti-communist resistance organization Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit — the “Combat Group Against Inhumanity”. When all was said and done, inhumanity got the best of its combat with Kaiser.

His chemistry background was a welcome skill set for the KgU activists, who put Kaiser to work building fuses for balloons that rained anti-Soviet propaganda leaflets in the east, as well as putting together incendiaries and the like with which to perpetrate nuisance-level harassment. The Stasi had him under surveillance immediately, although his old college buddy was such an amateurish snoop that he flat-out told Kaiser that he was watching him for the East Germans.

Eventually, however, that buddy persuaded Kaiser to turn himself in and become a collaborator himself — with a chance to resume his university career as one of the plums. Instead Kaiser found himself charged up as a saboteur “endangering the peace of the world.” The young man’s fighting spirit was also sabotaged by some sort of misleading representations made to him in his detention, because he entered the show trial believing it to be exactly that: just a show. So mistakenly confident was he that his death sentence was strictly ceremonial that he reportedly bragged about his penthouse accommodations behind bars.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Terrorists

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1553: Giovanni Mollio, Italian reformer

Add comment September 5th, 2016 Headsman

Franciscan reformer and theologian Giovanni Mollio was burned in Rome as a heretic on this date in 1553.

We have a tricky job to get a fix on Protestants in Italy during the 16th century, but it’s still peculiar that Mollio enjoys a lengthy entry on the German Wikipedia page and none whatsoever on its Italian sister.

A professor most recently at Bologna, Mollio appears to have taken interest in reforming ideas from his earliest appointments in the 1520s at Brescia and Milan — which makes the fact that he survived so long in the environs of Catholicism’s Caput Mundi a remarkable circumstance in itself. He spurned friends’ entreaties to flee into exile in the 1530s and instead obeyed a summons to Rome to justify the dangerous doctrines he espoused, like justification by good works and not venerating holy images.

“I am ready and willing to suffer not only torment and torture, but also for my Lord Jesus Christ’s sake to be burnt alive,” he declared on that occasion. Fortunately for Mollio, Pope Paul III was at this point only beginning to feel out the Vatican’s response to Luther and Calvin, and the Counter-Reformation had not yet begun in earnest; Mollio was gave an erudite defense to much curial chin-stroking, was admonished on some points, and booted from the Bolognese faculty. He retired to Naples where he joined the circles of heretical elites orbiting Juan de Valdes, whose number would in time contribute several martyrs.

Valdes was more a humanist interested in reforming the Church than a schismatic looking to break for it but the space for such distinctions was rapidly narrowing. Valdes died (no martyrdom) in 1541, and tolerance for his friends’ subversive salons did not long outlive him.

By 1543 Mollio really did go on the run. But he never made it out of Italy, which would probably have been the necessary condition for dying in bed at an advanced age.

Florence clapped him in its castle dungeon for four years until influential friends finally got him released to the custody of a Ravenna abbot; once that sanctuary lapsed he was detained by the papal legate for a time, although again released and watchfully permitted to continue teaching and preaching.

This outsized toleration came to an abrupt end with the death of Pope Paul III in 1549. Paul’s successor Julius III meant to be the hammer of the heretics, and soon had Mollio brought in chains to Rome. He could not be moved to recant during many months’ imprisonment.

On September 5, 1553, Mollio, a Perugian named Giovanni Teodori (also known as Tisserano), and a number of others accused of heresy faced public trial by the Inquisition in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Only Mollio and Teodori refused to recant.

Permitted to defend himself, Mollio scalded the cardinals seated to judge him — and in Italian, so that everyone present would understand it.

As for you, cardinals and bishops, if I were satisfied that you justly obtained that power which you assume to yourselves, and that you had risen to your eminence by virtuous deeds, and not by blind ambition and the arts of profligacy, I would not say a word to you.

But since I see and know on the best grounds, that you have set moderation, and honesty, and honour, and virtue at defiance, I am constrained to treat you without ceremony, and to declare that your power is not from God but the devil.

If it were apostolical, as you would make the poor world believe, then your doctrine and life would resemble those of the apostles. When I perceive the filth and falsehood and profaneness with which it is overspread, what can I think or say of your church, but that it is a receptacle of thieves and a den of robbers?

What is your doctrine but a dream, — a lie forged by hypocrites?

Your very countenances prolaim that your belly is your god. Your great object is to seize and amass wealth by every species of injustice and cruelty. You thirst without ceasing for the blood of the saints.

Can you be the successors of the holy apostles, and vicars of Jesus Christ — you who despise Christ and his word, who act a if you did not believe that there is a God in heaven, who persecute to the death his faithful ministers, make his commandments of no effect, and tyrannize over the consciences of his saints?

Wherefore I appeal from your sentence, and summon you, O cruel tyrants and murderers, to answer before the judgment seat of Christ at the last day, where your pompous titles and gorgeous trappings will not dazzle, nor your guards and torturing apparatus terrify us. And in testimony of this, take back that which you have given me!

And so saying, Mollio flung across the flagstones the penitential candle that he had been made to bear with the rest of the accused.

The furious judges ordered Mollio and Teodori too put to immediate death, and they were promptly dragged from the church to the Campo de’ Fiori and consumed at the stake.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Martyrs,Papal States,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1821: Jose Miguel Carrera, Chilean patriot

Add comment September 4th, 2016 Headsman

Mercurial Chilean patriot Jose Miguel Carrera was shot on this date in 1821.

Born in a Santiago that was then a part of Spain’s Captaincy General of Chile, Jose (English Wikipedia entry | the far more detailed Spanish) was an officer in the mother country fighting Napoleon when the latter deposed the Spanish king. As the collapse of the Spanish monarchy nicely dovetailed with the scandal-plagued collapse of its Chilean viceroy, there was soon a semi-independent junta government directing the Captaincy.*

Carrera hurried home to join it … and in 1811, he seized control of it in a coup d’etat.** As a progressive dictator type, Carrera would go on to promulgate a constitution, set the stage for slavery abolition by declaring “freedom of the womb”, introduce the country’s first printing press, and establish diplomatic relations with the United States. Carrera’s sister Javiera even sewed the first Chilean flag.

The entire Carrera family would play a leading part in their nation’s birth throes, although whether for good or for ill history has hotly disputed. Our man Jose put himself at the head of the army to meet the Spanish reconquista force in the field — leaving his brother Juan Jose at the head of an unstable government — and by 1814 was mired in a virtual civil war against his former subordinate turned rival Bernardo O’Higgins. Spain (temporarily) recaptured Chile from its divided patriots, who by and large fled into exile.

Never a soul to eschew adventure, Carrera spent the next several years in derring-do plots. He finagled a flotilla from the Yankees, sailed it back to Argentina where he was arrested, and escaped captivity to Montevideo from which perch he waged a propaganda campaign against the Argentine government. By that time his enmity with Argentine revolutionary Jose de San Martin was quite personal: the O’Higgins-aligned San Martin had captured Carrera’s brothers Juan Jose and Luis and had them shot in Mendoza in 1818.

Carrera threw himself into the federalist war against San Martin’s unitary government in Argentina. The hated O’Higgins — who had by now declared Chilean independence and made it stick — routed aid to his longtime rival’s enemies. He was at last betrayed to his death after a defeat at Punta del Medano, and like his siblings, given over to a firing squad in Mendoza.


The Last Moments of J.M. Carrera.

* Present-day Chile’s independence day, September 18, marks the founding of this junta in 1810. It was Carrera who established the holiday.

** Actually Carrera authored two distinct coups in 1811: one to replace the junta with a new council, in September 1811 — and a second to replace that new council with himself that November. In January of 1812, he then replaced his November governing council in a move that essentially made him the dictator. Let’s say that institution-building wasn’t Carrera’s thing.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Argentina,Capital Punishment,Chile,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1806: John Docke Rouvelett, malicious prosecutor

1 comment September 3rd, 2016 Headsman

From the Newgate Calendar:

John Docke Rouvelett, alias Romney

After maliciously prosecuting a Woman he was executed at Ilchester, at the Summer Assizes, 1806, in Somersetshire, for Forgery

JOHN DOCKE ROUVELETT, a notorious swindler, was well known at Bath, where he passed for a West Indian of considerable fortune and family. He was about forty years of age, and had the appearance of a creole. He lived with a woman of the name of Elizabeth Barnet, who passed for his wife. Having been arrested for debt, he was occasionally visited by this woman in the Fleet Prison, and was afterwards removed, by habeas corpus, into Somersetshire, on a charge of forgery.

Conscious that Elizabeth Barnet was the only witness against him, by whose evidence he could be convicted of the forgery, as well as of perjury, another case also pending — Rouvelett having falsely sworn a debt against Mr Dorant, of the York Hotel, Albemarle Street — he had her taken up for a supposed robbery, and charged her with stealing his purse in the Fleet Prison, containing forty guineas, half-a-guinea, and a valuable diamond.

This case of singular atrocity came on at the Old Bailey, Saturday, 5th of July, 1806. The young woman was fashionably attired, and her appearance excited universal sympathy. Rouvelett was brought up from Ilchester jail, ironed, to prosecute on his indictment. An application was made to put off the trial, on the affidavit of the prosecutor, which stated that some material witnesses at Liverpool had not had sufficient notice to attend. The object of this attempt was to prevent the woman appearing against him on his trial for forgery, and also to prevent her becoming a witness against him in the case of perjury, as already mentioned. The recorder saw through the transactions, which he described as the most foul and audacious that ever were attempted. He ordered the trial to proceed.

Rouvelett, who called himself a gentleman, stated that the prisoner was with him on the 11th of June, 1805, when he drew half-a-guinea from his purse and gave it to a messenger; after which he put the purse containing the property as stated in the indictment into the pocket of a surtout coat, which was hanging up in the room, in which was the ring, worth thirty pounds. There were no other persons in the room but the prisoner and himself, and in twenty minutes after she was gone he missed his property from the greatcoat pocket. He concluded that the money was safe, as the prisoner had gone to Dorant’s hotel, Albemarle Street, and he did not suppose her capable of robbing him. She, however, absconded, and he never saw her again until she was arrested at his suit, jointly with Dorant, in an action of trover for twenty thousand pounds for deeds, mortgages and bonds, bearing interest, for which bail was given. He had no opportunity of bringing her to justice for the alleged robbery, being himself a prisoner. (The recorder here remarked that the prosecutor could find the prisoner for a civil suit, although he could not find her for the criminal act.)

On the cross-examination of the prosecutor he said he was born at St Martin’s, in the West Indies, and had been at most of the islands in that quarter. His uncle was a planter in the West Indies, and he lived on such means, whilst in England, as his family afforded him. He was brought up in Amsterdam, at the house of Mr Hope, banker; after which he became a lieutenant in the British Army (the 87th Regiment). He knew Mr Hope, of Harley Street, Cavendish Square, and Mr Hope knew him to be Mr Rouvelett, of St Martin’s, for the two families had been closely connected for a hundred years. He lived in England on remittances from his uncle, in goods or bills, but he had no property of his own. Messrs Stephens & Boulton used to pay witness his remittances at Liverpool, but he could not tell who paid them in London. The recorder observed that the witness should not be pressed too far to give an account of himself, as he (the prisoner) stood charged with forgery. Being asked if he, the witness, had not said he would be revenged on the prisoner, as she was intimate with Dorant, and charge her with a felony, he answered that he did not recollect having said so; but the question being pressed, he partly acknowledged it. The purse, which was empty, witness acknowledged was found under the pillow, on the 12th of June, the day after the alleged robbery, by his room chum, a man of the name of Cummings. The prisoner was with him in prison after the 12th of June, although he had said she had absconded.

The recorder did not suffer the cause to be further proceeded in, and directed the jury to acquit the prisoner; he also observed this was the most foul charge he had ever heard of.

The disgust of the persons in court as the fellow retired was manifested by hisses and groans in such a manner as baffled the efforts of the officers of justice for some time to suppress.

The trial of this malicious offender, who was thus happily disappointed in his views, came on at Wells, on Tuesday, 12th of August, 1806, before Baron Thompson, and excited uncommon interest throughout the county of Somerset.

The prisoner, John Docke Romney alias Rouvelett, was indicted for having feloniously and knowingly forged a certain bill of exchange, dated Grenada, 10th of November, 1804, for four hundred and twenty pounds sterling, payable at nine months’ sight to the order of George Danley, Esq., and drawn by Willis & Co. on Messrs Child & Co. in London, with the forged acceptance of Messrs Child & Co. on the face thereof, with intent to defraud Mary Simeon.

Mr Burrough entered into the details of the case, which were afterwards substantiated by the evidence.

Mr Philip George, the younger clerk to the Mayor of Bath, stated that the bill in question was delivered to him by the Mayor of Bath, and that he had ever since kept the bill in his own custody.

Mrs Mary Simeon, dealer in laces, at Bath, deposed that in April, 1805, she lived at Bath. The prisoner came to her house on or about the 16th of March 1805; he looked at several articles in which she dealt, bought a fan, paid for it, and said he should bring his wife with him in the afternoon. He accordingly did so, and brought Elizabeth Barnet as his wife, Mrs Romney. He asked whether Mrs Simeon had a Brussels veil of a hundred and fifty guineas’ value. The witness answered she had not. He then bought two yards of lace, at four guineas a yard, and went away. This happened on a Saturday. The following Monday he came again, accompanied by his wife, looked at a lace cloak, at veils worth five and twenty guineas, and other goods, but did not buy any. In the course of the week he called again, and proposed to purchase a quantity of goods from the witness, if she would take a bill of a long date, accepted by Messrs Child & Co., bankers, in London. Witness answered she had no objections to take a bill accepted by such a house. He returned in two or three days and purchased articles to the value of about one hundred and forty pounds, which, with other goods afterwards bought, and with money advanced by her, made the prisoner her debtor to the amount of two hundred and ninety-nine pounds. He bought all the articles himself, unaccompanied by his wife. In the month of April, between the 20th and 24th, the prisoner proposed paying for the different articles, and he brought his wife to the house, when a meeting took place between them and the witness, and her brother, Mr Du Hamel. He said: “I am going to London, and I should like to settle with you. This is the bill I proposed to you to take; it is accepted by Child & Co., bankers, in London”; and, turning over the bill, he added: “The endorser is as good as the acceptors.”

The bill was here produced, and proved by Mrs Simeon to be the same which the prisoner gave to her in April, 1805.

The witness then took the bill, and her brother, Mr Du Hamel, paid to him, for her, thirty-five pounds, which, with the articles previously bought, made the whole of the prisoner’s debt to her two hundred and ninety-nine pounds. In her presence he wrote on the bill the name of John Romney, as his name. He afterwards went to London by the mail. She sent the bill to London the next day.

The conversation which passed between her and the prisoner, in the presence of her brother and Elizabeth Barnet, was entirely in the French language. He left his wife at her house, where she slept. While he was absent the witness received intelligence from London that the bill was a forgery, and she instantly wrote a letter to the prisoner, informing him of it. He came to Bath in consequence of the letter, late on a Sunday night, and a meeting took place then at her house with him, his wife, herself, her brother, and her solicitor, Mr Luke Evill, of Bath. The conversation then passed in English. Several questions were put to the prisoner by herself and by Mr Evill. Mr Evill asked him whether he had any business with W. A. Bailey, the endorser, which induced him to take the bill. He said Mr Bailey had sold some sugar for him. She asked him if Bailey lived in London; he replied at some inn or coffee-house, the name of which she did not recollect. He was then asked in what island or islands Mr Bailey’s property was situated. He mentioned two or three islands in the West Indies, but he did not know in which of them Mr Bailey was at that time. The prisoner then inquired where the bill was. Being informed by the witness that it was in London, he said she must write to get it sent back. She, however, declared that such an application would be unavailing, and the prisoner pressed her to go to London herself. She refused to go alone, and he entreated Mr Evill to accompany her, saying that he would give Mr Evill twenty pounds to defray the expenses of the journey, which he accordingly did. She set out at ten o’clock that night, accompanied by Mr Evill, and obtained the bill from Messrs Sloper & Allen, in whose custody it was, by paying three hundred guineas, which was all the money she then had at her bankers’. She brought the bill back to Bath, having stopped but one day in London; but the prisoner was not at Bath when she returned. He had left some property at her house with his wife, who had removed from Sidney House, with his clothes, etc. The bill remained after this in her custody about a twelvemonth, and was given up to Mr Evill by her brother. Mr Dorant paid the whole of the debt due by the prisoner on the 6th of May, 1805, a few days after the prisoner finally left Bath.

Upon the cross-examination of Mrs Simeon, it appeared that she considered the prisoner and Elizabeth Barnet as man and wife. It was not until May, 1806, that she appeared before the Mayor of Bath against the prisoner, whom she knew to have been in the Fleet Prison. She did not go before the magistrate at the solicitation of Mr Dorant, nor did she at any time, nor on any account, receive any money from Dorant, but what was actually and fairly due to her by the prisoner.

Mr Du Hamel, brother of Mrs Simeon, corroborated all the principal facts stated by his sister.

Mr Whelan deposed that he was a clerk in the house of Messrs Child & Co. He had filled that situation for about nine years, and, from his knowledge of the business, was enabled to state their manner of accepting bills. The house had no correspondence whatever at Grenada by the name of Willis & Co., and the acceptance which appeared on the face of the bill was not the acceptance of Messrs Child & Co.

Elizabeth Barnet was next called. She deposed that she became acquainted with the prisoner in the month of September, 1804, when at Liverpool. About a fortnight after she first saw him she began to live with him, and continued till the 6th of June, 1805; during all that period she passed under the name of Mrs Romney. She left Liverpool in the month of January, 1805, and came to London with the prisoner. They then took lodgings at Mr Dorant’s hotel, in Albemarle Street. The account he gave of himself to her was that he was a West Indian planter, and that he had estates in Martinique and St Kitts. They remained between two and three months at Mr Dorant’s hotel, during which time they were not visited by anybody except a Mr Hope, whom she remembered seeing with the prisoner. This Mr Hope was not represented to her as coming from Holland. She accompanied Mr Romney to Bath, and on their arrival there they lodged at the White Hart Inn for about a fortnight previous to her lodging at Madame Simeon’s. Soon after their arrival at the White Hart she went along with the prisoner to Madame Simeon’s to look at some laces and a black cloak. None of these articles, however, was purchased at that time by the prisoner, they being afterwards bought when she was not present. She heard the prisoner state to Madame Simeon that he would give her a bill of exchange, accepted by Child & Co. of London. She did not then see any bill in his possession, but saw him writing one three days afterwards, when he sent the witness for some red ink. Two or three days after the prisoner gave the bill to Madame Simeon he was much disturbed, and on being asked the reason he said he would be hanged. He asked her to fetch him his writing-desk, which she did. He then took out a large parcel of papers and burned them. She had no opportunity of seeing what those papers were. She said to him: “Were the papers any harm?” He said: “Yes; and there was a paper which must not be seen.” She never lived with the prisoner after the 6th of June, 1805. She, however, remembered visiting him in the Fleet Prison. She was soon afterwards arrested at Bath, at the prisoner’s instance, for the sum of twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds, and carried to Winchester jail, and afterwards removed to the King’s Bench. She saw the prisoner on this occasion, and again at the Old Bailey, when he was examined as a witness against her on her trial. He then charged her with having robbed him on the 11th of June, 1805, of forty guineas and a diamond ring, when he was in the Fleet Prison. This charge was totally without foundation, as was also the alleged debt of twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds. She never had any transactions in her life to which such a charge could refer.

On her cross-examination she deposed that her real name was Elizabeth Barnet. She was the daughter of a farmer in Shropshire, from whom she had had a plain education. She left her father when nineteen years of age and went to Liverpool, where she lodged with a Mrs Barns. She lived in Liverpool about nine or ten months. After she had left off seeing Mr Rouvelett in the Fleet she lodged at a Mr Fox’s, in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, for seven or eight weeks. She afterwards went to Berry Street.

To some additional interrogatories by Mr Burrough this witness further deposed that the prisoner Romney sued out a writ against her for twelve hundred pounds, exclusive of the sum before mentioned. This was after she had ceased to visit him in prison and had gone to reside at her father’s, and it was also previous to the arrest for the twenty thousand, three hundred and twenty pounds already taken notice of. No demand was made against her by the prisoner when she visited him in the jail.

The jury, having consulted for a few minutes, returned a verdict of guilty of forging the acceptance, and of uttering it knowing it to be forged.

The trial lasted nearly twelve hours, and the court was filled in every part. Among the audience were the first characters in the country. This notorious offender was executed at Ilchester, pursuant to his sentence, on the 3rd of September, 1806. He was dressed in a blue coat with metal buttons, striped trousers, green slippers, and a fur cap.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Pelf,Public Executions,The Worm Turns

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1778: Samuel Lyons and Samuel Ford, Fort Mifflin deserters

Add comment September 2nd, 2016 Headsman

In Philadelphia this date in 1778, “Lyons, Ford and Wilson, late Lieutenants, and John Lawrence, late gunner, in the navy of this State, were taken from the gaol to one of the gallies lying off Market Street wharf, where the two former were shot agreeable to their sentence, but the two latter reprieved.” (Pennsylvania Evening Post, September 2, 1778)

Samuel Lyons, Samuel Ford, John Wilson and John Lawrence all served on various of the American “row galley” fleet that gave the American revolutionaries at least some seaborne presence in their fight against the world’s preeminent naval power.

The four, executed and pardoned alike, had deserted the American garrison when that preeminent power put Fort Mifflin in the Delaware River under siege the previous autumn. (There’s a very detailed account of this operation here; the British eventually captured the fort from its badly outnumbered defenders.)

While desertion between the antagonists was a common phenomenon in the American Revolution, this made for an especially bad look a year later once the British abandoned Philadelphia to the aggressively triumphalist Patriots.

Even so, the last-minute clemencies alongside the actual shootings were also very much a part of the Continental Army’s delicate enforcement of discipline, in an environment where it feared that being either too lenient or too harsh could fatally undermine the tenuous morale of the rank and file. Every enforcement was considered in the light of its public impression.

“The number of spectators was very great,” our short report in the Evening Post concluded. “And it is hoped the melancholy scene will have a proper effect upon the profligate and thoughtless, who do not seriously consider that the crime of desertion is attended with the dreadful consequences of wilful perjury.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,England,Execution,History,Last Minute Reprieve,Military Crimes,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pardons and Clemencies,Pennsylvania,Public Executions,Shot,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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1876: Hillary Page, the Chesterfield fire fiend

Add comment September 1st, 2016 Headsman

Hillary Page, “the Chesterfield fire fiend”, went to Virginia’s gallows on this date in 1876.

Born a slave, Page by 1874 was a mere servant at the Ruffin family’s “Summer Hill” estate off the Richmond and Petersburg Turnpike. He had lived there all his life. That year, a series of attempted arsons ravaged the area, including one that devastated Summer Hill.

Eventually, a black youth named Wesley betrayed Page as their author, though contemporaries thought the spree, which claimed no fatalities, arose less from viciousness than simpleminded pyromania.

“The Richmond correspondent of the Petersburg Index” (as quoted by the Alexandria Gazette, Feb. 7, 1876), ventured a bit of compassion for the young man.

I think he ought to be sent to the penitentiary for life [rather than hanged]. He is too dangerous to be allowed to go at liberty, and justice wil be satisfied without taking his life. He is only 19 or 20; he lived on the place with his mother and father, and had no great malice in his misdeeds. He merely kindled the fire to see it burning. Sometimes he was the first to give the alarm; he always helped to put it out. He either did the firing to see the houses burn, or compel his parents to remove to Richmond, which he desired and they refused to do. A few years ago a young lady, who was being educated at a Richmond boarding school, fired the house a dozen times. Once it came near burning down. It was said she had a mania on the subject. Nobody is so charitable to Hillary.

Perhaps there was a bit of charity after all in the air, for it took an inordinate (for the time) 19 months for the case to proceed from arrest to gallows: Page’s first death sentence was overturned on appeal and his eventual hanging-date was pushed back by the governor so that the condemned could be examined for lunacy.

By the end of it the fire fiend was quite a celebrity. At a stopover in the courthouse jail en route to a gallows,* Page was besieged by journalists shouting questions at him until his ministers arrived and shooed them away.

“Hillary, do you feel any better prepared to die than you did yesterday?”

“Yes, sir. I feel a heap better.”

“Do you acknowledge yourself guilty of everything that has been charged against you?”

“Yes, sir, all but one thing, and that is young Mr. Ruffin’s house. I didn’t burn that. It caught fire by itself. I didn’t burn that.”

“Hillary, why did you say that Colonel Ruffin and his son came to you and desired you to make statements implicating other parties?”

“All that was false. I just said so because I thought it would do me good. I was put up to it. It’s natural that I should try to save my life.”

(Source: Richmond Dispatch report in the very topical Public Executions in Richmond, Virginia: A History, 1782-1907)

The road, our correspondent noted, “was lined with vehicles of all descriptions” for “it seemed that all the whites and blacks of the county were going to witness the saddest act of a poor unfortunate career.”

* “It was by a general verdict accorded to be as mean a scaffold as was ever erected for the execution of a human being,” the Dispatch reported (again, via Ward’s Public Executions in Richmond, Virginia). “The sheriff of the county was even more nervous than the condemned.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,USA,Virginia

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1767: Thomas Nicholson, hung in chains

Add comment August 31st, 2016 Headsman

On August 31, 1767, Thomas Nicholson hung in chains at Carleton for murdering his godfather Thomas Parker — a sort of god-parricide.

And we would tell you all about this (rather banal) crime and the (extremely interesting) lineage of the hanging-in-chains punishment that has decorated our pages as it once did the English (and American) byways with gibbets … but Stephen Lewis at the interesting blog The Wild Peak has already taken care of all that. Read his post on Nicholson here.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions

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1721: Janet Hutchie, repentant infanticide

Add comment August 30th, 2016 Headsman

The reader can peruse only the first page of the two-page Edinburgh gallows broadside that comprises this post here; the full pamphlet appears to be available only in proprietary databases.

The Last Speech and Dying Words

Of Janet Hutchie, who was Execute in the Grass-market of Edinburgh, upon the 30th of August 1721, for the Murder of her own Child.

JUSTLY now may I to my sad Experience append my Seal with the Holy Man, Job 14.1. Man that is Born of a Woman, is of few Days, and full of Troubles, Psalm 51.5. I was conceived in Sin, and brought forth in Iniquity, and from that Mass of Original Guilt has arrived to such an Height and Pitch of actual Transgressions, that I am hardly to be reckoned among the Society of Christians, but am sentenced and adjudged justly to be cut off from the Body thereof, as an Infectious Member, least it should endanger the whole Body, and justly with the Holy Psalmist to my Bitter Experience, cry out, Iniquities, Iniquities have prevailed, but O purge away my Sin, Psalm 65.3. And as a Bullock unaccustomed to the Yoke, ran on in a Course of Sin, not thinking that God would lay them before my Face, for Reprove me therefore; till at last that Holy Judge of Heaven and Earth, before whom all Things are naked and bare, has in his Holy Providence found me out at last in this my Brutal Wickedness, and am now in a little to lay down my Life for the Unnatural Crime of taking away the Life of the Innocent Fruit of my own Body, and now stands a Monument to Men and Angels upon a Gibbet, ready Erect for that Effect, to receive the Fatal Blow as a Visible Judgment of the Divine Displeasure and Indignation of the Almighty God, against such a Monstruous and Horrid Crime as I have been Guilty of. Oh that now I may be made a singular Monument of the unsearchable Riches and Free Mercy, and Grace of God, through Jesus Chris his only Son my Lord; not having my own Righteousness, which is nothing, but that of his imputed to me, which yet can make me clean before that great Tribunal, for as black as the Devil, Hell and my own Corruptions have made me.

It would be expected I should give some Account of my self, and satisfie the World, as to several Aspersions that passed upon me , and as I am a dying Woman, I shall declare to the World the naked Truth, and it only, so far as my Memory can serve me, and do Justice to Peter Vallance whom I horridly wronged by leasing making on him.

I was Born in the Weems, my Parents coming over to Preston grange while I was a Child, where they lived till they died, which was several Years agoe, and were not wanting to me in my Education, conform to (rather beyond) their Station and Abilities.

I am now going in 30 Years of Age, and declares, I never knew a Man in the World but John Williamson to whom the Child was, alace a married Man, his Wife being my own Commerad while she was unmarried. I intirely free him of the Act of Murder it self, as was alledged; But acknowledges, it was by his Advice and Direction,and he desired me earnestly to do it; and when it was done to put it in some Hole or another, that it might be hid from the Eyes of the World. But Oh! who can hide from the Eye of an All-seeing God, to whom all Things are naked and bare.

I likewise further own, I never knew the said Williamson but once in an Morning, when my Brother and Family were at the Coal-pit, but he has frequently attempted it, but never got his Design perpetuate but that Time, by which I was got with Child by him, and when I found my self with Child, I told him, and he gave me several Things to Cause me Miscarry, but I never took them. I did not Reveal my being with Child to any but to him and one Isobel Guthry, who in a little after died in Child-bed.

I truly own my Guilt in destroying the Child, but not directly, for it was alive when I was delivered, but for want of Help and my Unnaturality in the Birth it soon died, which if it had not, I was resolved to have strangled it, which makes me equally Guilty in the Sight of GOD, as if I had actually done it, and thereafter tyed it in a Codwair, and keeped it three Days in my Chest, into which Codwair I put an big Stone, and threw it in a Mill-dam, where it lay 18 Days before it was found, and knows nothing of its having a Cord about its Neck, as the Witnesses declared, unless it had been the Knitting of the said Codwair, and what Stories Janet Ritchie and Isobel Vint said of my having a Child before is intirely false. I own I was among the Crowd when an Highland Boy found the Child when the Dam was run out, by seing the white Codwair, as I told before; and upon its being found, The Minister and Elders made search through the Town, and I was found to have Milk in my Breast, and said I had lately parted with Child before Mr. Horsburgh and an other Minister, and said it was to Peter Vallance. God forgive me for wronging him, for I never knew him, only he convoyed me one night from Tramant Home, from which I took Occasion to say the Child was to him, and owned it in his Face before the two Ministers aforsaid. I beg God Pardon for that Sin, for I added one Sin to cover another. Oh that I was so brutally Blind-folded.

I had several Offers of Marriage even beyond my Station, and did in a solemn Manner Promise to one William Stewart, but basely broke, and was disingenous, he is now Abroad, and sent me several Tokens, and that even since I came to the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. God Bless him, and forgive me for so rashly making, and thereafter basely breaking such a solemn Vow, as I ingaged my self with to him.

I own the Justness of my sentence, and the Return of the Verdict, and the Witnesses Depositions, only they wronged me as to the Cord being about its Neck, as aforsaid, the Reflection of which makes me now Shrink and Tremble, to think I could hide from an All-seeing God, to whom being the very inward Thoughts and Imaginations of the Heart ly naked and bare, and that one of his Prerogatives, To search the Heart, and try the Reins, and Jerusalem as with light Candles.

I likewise ow, I was much addicted to the horrid Sin of Lying and Profanation of the Lord’s Holy Day, and neglect of his Ordinances, letting light of them and the Offers of Peace and Salvation through Jesus Christ made to them therein, the Contempt of which, and neglect thereof, now lyes Heavy on me and Grieves me, now to the Soul to think how light I left of that which now I see to be so valuable and precious, and that I then trampled upon, now to be the only Sanctuary and City of Refuge, that I must run unto, least the Avenger of Blood overtake me in the Way, and I perish, which Blood, and whose Offers, if rightly applied, can yet make me clean from all my others Sins, and even from that of Blood Guiltiness. O! monstrous Wickedness, not to be named; and I believe scarcely known to the Heathen World it self.

I likewise own, I was adicted to the Sin of Tipling and Drunkenness, which is an inlet to all Vice, for what Sin is in a Drunk Man, yea rather in a Woman, capable of Refuse, yea ready to fall into. The Head full of Fumes Nature overcharged, and out of its ordinary Course, and the Hands ready to commit. But alace! I cannot say that of my self, for what I did was deliberate, and of a long Time premeditate, and resolved upon by the Advice of that Wretch Williamson, to whose Measures I too too easily condescended unto. God forgive him for advising, and me for consenting to that Unnatural, yea worse than Brutal Wickedness, for the Brutes themselves endanger their own Lives for the Preservation of their own young, as we daily see. Oh that I should be more Brutish than a Brute; I whom God has created a Rational Creature after his own Image, and indowed with a reasonable Soul to Act, as if I had no Soul at all, and to be Guilty of a Crime, that the Brutes themselves are not Guilty of, who are under no Law or Government, and knows nothing of a future State or a World to come.

I likewise own, very much Ignorance of God and the Way of Salvation, through Jesus Christ his Son, who came to save that which was lost, which yet I think intitles and gives me Ground to apply to him and his Righteousness, that the Shame of my Nakedness may not appear in that Day.

I own, I have been much obliged to the Ministers of Edinburgh, who were not wanting to me in their Visits, their praying with me and for me, shewing me the dreadful Nature of Sin and Way of Salvation. God reward them for their Pains.

I desire the Help of the Prayers of all the Spectators here, to join with me in this my last and greatest Extremity, now when I am ready to drop into a World of Spirits, from whence there is no returning, and as the Tree falls so it must ly; let me be a Warning to you all to take Care of Sin, and the fatal Consequences thereof, and Dedicate and Devote your selves to God in your younger Days, which is a noble Season, and give not louse Reins to your selves, but Check Sin in its Bud, least it break forth to a Cockatrice, and be much in Prayer, to the Exercise of which I have been an intire Stranger, hardly knowing what it was to Bow an Knee, and beware of Sabbath-breaking, the Contempt of God’s Holy Ordinances, the Sin of Lying and Drunkenness, and that of Uncleanness, which has at last crowned the Work with me to all, which I have been too much adicted. I die in Peace with all Men, and forgives as I Expect to be forgiven at the Hands of a Merciful God, who Rejoices in Mercy, and whose Mercies are above all his other Works; God Sanctifie this Dispensation to my Poor afflicted Brother and his Family, and support them under it, and grant them Grace to improve it to the best Advantage, and unto that Trinity in Unity, Unity in Trinity. God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, I recommend my Spirit.

O Save me my Redeemer.

EDINBURGH: Printed by Robert Brown in the middle of Forrester’s-Wynd. 1721.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Public Executions,Scotland,Women

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1354: Fra Moriale, condottiero entrepreneur

1 comment August 29th, 2016 Headsman

On this date 1354, the Provencal mercenary Montreal d’Albarno was beheaded in Rome by order of the tribune Cola di Rienzi.

Known locally as Fra Moriale (English Wikipedia entry | Italian), our man was a former Knight Hospitaller who turned his knack for violence into an entrepreneurial career — for he led one of the very first of those condottiero companies whose profitable ravaging the peninsula would pave the way for generations of unscrupulous mercenaries.

It was really Moriale’s predecessor, a Swabian knight named Werner von Urslingen, who first perceived that Italy’s wars had potential for such lucrative disruption. Reputed to have rode into battle with a breastplate blazoned with his Thielesque motto “The enemy of God, of pity and of mercy”, Urslingen had about 1342 founded a swords-for-hire business known as “The Great Company”.

While not literally the first gang of condottieri, it was the gang that changed the way Italians fought. By 1385 one pact between city-states cursed Werner in its preamble as the man who “first devised this plague of societies.”*

Fielding a massive army of some 3,000 cavalrymen at the outset — its fighting strength was north of 10,000 by Moriale’s day — the Great Company could put more muscle in the field than Italy’s little principalities could readily deal with, and Werner et al were soon realizing dividends hand over mailed fist by alternately hiring themselves out to this or that city, or squeezing them for tributary payoffs by the threat of pillage.

As the inability of the squabbling communes to suppress this racket became manifest, mercenaries fast multiplied into “a multitude of villains of various nations associated in arms by the greed to appropriate the fruits of labor of innocent and unarmed people, let loose to every cruelty, to extort money, methodically devastating the countryside.”** Condottieri would plague, and often dominate, Italy into the 16th century, with some of their more illustrious number ascending ducal palaces and others the scaffold.

By the time we reach events in this post, Werner von Urslingen is several years into comfortable retirement. But like any successful startup, the firm he launched still thrived.

Indeed, the Great Company had a stable, nigh-professional organization to match its bottom-line objectives. “Structurally, [the Great Company] resembled a corporation,” according to William Caferro. It had “a well-articulated hierarchy” which a governing board comprised “of Werner and a council made up of the leaders (corporals) of the various contingents.”

The booty derived from pillage and plunder was carefully divided by the leader and the council among the company’s rank and file. The company drew to its service lawyers and notaries to deal with legal issues and make contracts (condotte), treasurers and bankers to handle money, priests and prostitutes to cater respectively to spiritual and carnal needs.

In the early 1350s, Moriale delighted all these vendors by banking record profits in central Italy. And in the freebooting business, the balance sheets pleasingly compounding the success: “Because of the enormous booty which the company was taking, many soldiers, having completed their terms of service, without wanting further pay, went off to join Fra Moriale,” the Florentine chronicler Matteo Villani wrote in 1354. “Sometimes they had themselves dismissed in order to join him.” Matteo also notes that the businesslike Moriale “guaranteed safety to the purchasers [of his pillage] and treated them correctly in order to facilitate his commercial dealings [and] set up councillors and secretaries through whom he directed everything.” (Via Michael Mallett’s Mercenaries and their Masters: Warfare in Renaissance Italy)

A few books about the emergent mercenary business

In August of 1354, this captain of industry rode to Rome to collect on a debt: his brothers’ loan to Cola di Rienzi which had helped the latter re-establish his power in Rome after a spell in exile.

But Rienzi, who was short on cash himself (the exhausted treasury would in a few weeks’ time cost the tribune his life) resolved the debt and did a little opportunistic expropriation of his own by having his wealthy creditor seized and condemned to death. This strangely attracted the opprobrium of treachery among contemporaries, as if its victim were not a man who had founded his devastating career on infidelity. But the definitions of honor and knightly conduct at this juncture were flexible enough to admit the legitimacy of Moriale’s operation: indeed, Caferro even gives us the priceless scene of the buccaneering Hospitaller being dragged to his Roman executioner as he howls, “Don’t you see that I’m a knight? How can you be so despicable?”

After the beheading, a fighter named Konrad von Landau took leadership of the Great Company. The cutthroat business continued profitably shaking down city-states until 1363, when a burgeoning new rival startup, John Hawksood‘s White Company,† thrashed its predecessor into irrelevance at the Battle of Canturino.

* Cited in Caferro’s Mercenary Companies and the Decline of Siena; the book argues (pdf review) that its titular commune slipped into its spiral towards political irrelevance and eventual absorption due largely to the military and financial ravages imposed by the condottieri. From a historical perspective safely distant from the companies’ day-to-day predations, the condottieri arguably helped to drive the slow consolidation of Italy’s many micro-states into a handful of larger polities.

** The words are those of Pope Urban V in a 1364 bull, cited by Caferro’s “Italy and the Companies of Adventure in the Fourteenth Century” in The Historian, June 1996.

† The Englishman Hawkwood formed the core of his team out of veterans availing a pause in the Hundred Years’ War.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Mercenaries,Nobility,Soldiers,Wrongful Executions

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