Posts filed under 'Nobility'

1537: Baccio Valori, Michelangelo patron

Add comment August 20th, 2019 Headsman

The Michelangelo sculpture variously known as Apollo, Apollo-David, or Apollino* was commissioned by Baccio Valori, who met his end on the scaffold on this date in 1537.

Photo of the sculpture at Florence’s Bargello.

By way of background, Florence in 1530 had succumbed to the joint siege of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Pope Clement VII.**

The republican Michelangelo directed Florence’s fortifications during the siege, and maybe in some alternate timeline he enjoys his own entry on this very execution site: it seems that the papal governor, our guy Baccio Valori, had him on an enemies list once città Gigliata fell into his hands. In the words of Michelangelo’s contemporary and biographer Ascanio Condivi:

But then after the enemy were let in by consent and many citizens were seized and killed, the court sent to Michelangelo’s house to have him seized as well; and all the rooms and chests were searched, including even the chimney and the privy. However, fearing what was to happen, Michelangelo had fled to the house of a great friend of his where he stayed hidden for many days, without anyone except his friend knowing he was there. So he saved himself; for when the fury passed Pope Clement wrote to Florence that Michelangelo should be sought for …

Those last words elide a period of several years, when Michelangelo made a peace offering to the new regime by forming the melancholy Apollo-David for Valori — a side project for the genius while he also worked on the New Sacristy of Florence’s Medici Chapel.

Both projects gave way to papal prerogatives before their completion. Valori was reduced from preeminence in the city when the young Alessandro de’Medici became duke, and Michelangelo was summoned to Rome to paint The Last Judgment on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

And he was still working on that in 1537, when Alessandro de’ Medici was assassinated by his republican cousin. Alessandro’s murder brought 17-year-old Cosimo de’ Medici to power in Florence, a moment of political uncertainty that stoked the ambitions of the various anti-Medici factions. Thus,

[o]n learning the death of Alessandro and the election of Cosimo, the exiles appreciated the necessity for prompt action, as all delay would be fatal to the overthrow of Medicean rule. They had received money and promises from France; they were strengthened by the adhesion of Filippo Strozzi and Baccio Valori, who had both become hostile to the Medici through the infamous conduct and mad tyranny of Alessandro … The exiles accordingly met, and assembled their forces at Mirandola. They had about four thousand infantry and three hundred horse; among them were members of all the principal Florentine families … They marched rapidly, and entered Tuscany towards the end of July 1537.

The young Cosimo “displayed signal capacity and presence of mind,” infiltrating the rebel army with spies and smashing it in battle at the start of August.

All the prisoners, who were members of great families, were brought before Cosimo, and were received by him with courteous coldness. Soon, however, a scaffold was erected in the Piazza, and on four mornings in succession four of the prisoners were beheaded. Then the duke saw fit to stay the executions. Baccio Valori, however, and his son and nephew were beheaded on the 20th of August in the courtyard of the Bargello. Filippo Strozzi still survived, confined in the Fortezza da Basso, that had been built at his expense … On December 18th he was found dead in his prison, with a blood-stained sword by his side, and a slip of paper bearing these words: exoriare aliquis nostris ex ossibus ultor. It was believed that, having renounced all hope of his life being spared, Strozzi had preferred suicide to death at the hands of the executioner.

* As to the subject of the male nude, there’s a difference of opinion between Michelangelo catalogues of the 1550s — one calling it “an Apollo who draws an arrow from his quiver” and another “an incomplete David.”

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Florence,History,Italy,Nobility,Power,Torture

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1151: Konrad von Freistritz, ruined

Add comment August 3rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1151, Konrad von Freistritz, the nobleman who built Henneburg castle, was beheaded for treason along with his brother Adalram.

The few Germanic sources for this event do not appear to preserve the particulars of his misbehavior, although his situation as a descendant of the recently diminished Aribonen dynasty suggests a probability.

Ruins of his former fortress persist in Styria (present-day Austria), not to be confused with the far more picturesque Bavarian Henneburg castle, adjacent to Stadtprozelten — nor with the Henneberg ruin in Thüringen.

As with its builder’s biography, not a whole hell of a lot of the castle remains, but some photos of mossy rubble can be perused here.

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Entry Filed under: 12th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Treason

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1450: James Fiennes, Baron Saye and Sele

Add comment July 4th, 2019 Headsman

Messenger. My lord, a prize, a prize! here’s the lord Say, which sold the towns in France; he that made us pay one and twenty fifteens, and one shilling to the pound, the last subsidy.

Cade. Well, he shall be beheaded for it ten times. — Ah, thou say, thou serge, nay, thou buckram lord! now art thou within point blank of our jurisdiction regal. What canst thou answer to my majesty, for giving up of Normandy unto monsieur Basimecu, the dauphin of France? Be it known unto thee, by these presence, even the presence of lord Mortimer, that I am the besom that must sweep the court clean of such filth as thou art. Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm, in erecting a grammar-school: and whereas, before, our forefathers had no other books but the score and the tally, thou hast caused printing to be used; and, contrary to the king, his crown and dignity, thou hast built a paper-mill. It will be proved to thy face, that thou hast men about thee that usually talk of a noun, and a verb; and such abominable words as no Christian ear can endure to hear. Thou hast appointed justices of peace, to call poor men before them about matters they were not able to answer. Moreover, thou hast put them in prison: and because they could not read, thou hast hanged them; when, indeed, only for that cause they have been most worthy to live.

Cade. Ye shall have a hempen caudle then, and the pap of hatchet.

Dick. Why dost thou quiver, man?

Say. The palsy, and not fear, provokes me.

Cade. Nay, he nods at us; as who should say, I’ll be even with you. I’ll see if his head will stand steadier on a pole, or no: Take him away, and behead him.

Say. Tell me, wherein have I offended most?
Have I affected wealth, or honour; speak?
Are my chests fill’d up with extorted gold?
Is my apparel sumptuous to behold?
Whom have I injur’d, that ye seek my death?
These hands are free from guiltless blood-shedding,
This breast from harbouring foul deceitful thoughts.
O, let me live:

Cade. I feel remorse in myself with his words: but I’ll bridle it; he shall die, an it be but for pleading so well for his life. Away with him! he has a familiar under his tongue; he speaks not o’ God’s name. Go, take him away, I say, and strike off his head presently; and then break into his son-in-law’s house, sir James Cromer, and strike off his head, and bring them both upon two poles hither.

All. It shall be done.

Say. Ah, countrymen! if when you make your prayers
God should be so obdurate as yourselves,
How would it fare with your departed souls?
And therefore yet relent, and save my life.

Cade. Away with him, and do as I command ye. [Exuent some, with Lord Say.] The proudest peer in the realm shall not wear a head on his shoulders, unless he pay me tribute…

-Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2

On this date in 1450, Jack Cade’s rebellion — momentarily in full control of London — visited popular justice on James Fiennes, Baron Saye and Sele.

Distant ancestor of the Amon Göth actor, our ancient Fiennes was the Lord High Treasurer and one of the principal supports of King Henry VI‘s increasingly shaky throne.

The men of Kent who had marched on London had experienced from these years the material and psychological injuries of the realm’s reversals. Their Proclamation of Grievances assailed not the sovereign himself but “the traitors about him.”

Item. They ask gentlemen’s goods and lands in Kent and call them rioters, and traitors and the king’s enemies, but they shall be found the king’s true liege men and best friends with the help of Jesus, to whom we cry day and night with many thousand more that God of His grace and righteousness shall take vengeance and destroy the false governors of his realm that has brought us to naught and into much sorrow and misery.

Item. We will that all men know we blame not all the lords, nor all those that are about the king’s person, nor all gentlemen nor yeomen, nor all men of law, nor all bishops, nor all priests, but all such as may be found guilty by just and true inquiry and by the law.

#Notalllords

The baddies are not named in the proclamation but it’s a sure bet that Lord Saye knew he wouldn’t be in the rebels’ good graces, given their demand for the expulsion from royal favor of “all the false progeny and affinity of the Duke of Suffolk.” Suffolk was one of Saye’s closest allies, or had been until Suffolk had been butchered at sea a few weeks prior. And so

the said captain again entered the citie, and caused the Lord Say to be fet [fetched] from the Tower to Guildhall, where he was arraigned before the maior, and other the king’s justices; and Robert Horne, Alderman before-named, should have been likewise arraigned, but that his wife, and other friends, for five hundred marks, got him restored to his libertie. The Lord Say desiring he might be tried by his peeres, was by the rebels forceably taken from the officers, and brought to the standard in Cheape, where they strake off his head, pight it on a pole, and bare it before them; and his body they caused to be drawne naked at a horse taile, upon the pavement, from Cheape into Southwarke, to the said captaines inne.

Also a squire, called Crowmer, that was then sherife of Kent, that had wedded the said Lord Saies daughter, by commandement of the captain, was brought out of the Fleete, that was committed thither for certain extortions that he had done in his office, and led to Mile-end without London, and there, without any iudgement, his head was smit off; and the Lord Saies head and his were borne upon two long poles unto London-bridge, and there set up; and the Lord Saies body was quartered.


Lord Saye and Sele brought before Jack Cade 4th July 1450, by Charles Lucy.

Jack Cade himself would be expelled from London within days, and dead by July 12.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions

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1685: Archibald Campbell

Add comment June 30th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1685, the 9th Earl of Argyll went the same way as the 8th.

We’ve addressed in these pages the travails borne by Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, whose once considerable power was overwhelmed by the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and came to an end under the blade of the Edinburgh maiden.

While imprisoned awaiting the chop, the 8th Earl composed for his much-reduced heir, also named Archibald Campbell, composed a volume titled Instructions to a son with a variety of foreshadowing maxims.

You have a great task to do, you must from the bottome climb up to the mount of Honour, a very abrupt and difficult ascent; which yet, nevertheless by observing the sure footings of some of your progenitors, and the slips of others, particu?larly those recent slidings of mine own, (for other they are not) you may at last attain the top, and by your own merit and your Princes favour, your House may be Culminant again.

If it shall so happen … have a care then of that Precipice; let no revenge or ambition blind you into destruction; you may poise your self with your wings of Honour and Greatness, but venture not, nor presume to fly.

Covet not with immoderate hast Lands, Riches, Honour, for it is seldom that men whose rash desires and designs are laid out that way, compass their full content, and for the most part meet with a destiny far other then they expected; and when they are once so disappointed, Fortune or rather Providence so much amazeth the judgment even of wise men, as in time of danger they know not what resolution is best to be taken. You will not be necessitated through the want of these three, so as to reach at them unlawfully, and endanger what you have in possession, and your self together

‘Tis folly to complain of life, more to be troubled at the end of it, by the reason we ought more to complain of our birth, that made and produced us mortal, then of our death, which will render us immortal.
To be long or short lived is no more then this, we come either sooner or later (no great choice) to our grave. He is very desirous of life, who is un?willing to dye when all the world is weary of him.

The kid did his late dad proud in the 1660s, regaining the attainted earldom and re-establishing the rank and wealth of their house. Argyll — and by this name henceforth we refer to Argyll fils — nurtured Presbyterian sympathies which told strongly against him when a failed Presbyterian rebellion touched off the fruitful-for-this-site era of the Killing Time.

From this point his position speedily eroded and his evasion of an oath of loyalty to Protestantism — when he finally took it he added his own unauthorized disclaimer, “only in as far as it is consistent with itself” — got him arrested, and a dubious charge of libeling the king was questionably stretched to compass a death sentence. That was around the end of 1681; on December 20 of that year, his daughter Sophia Lindsay visited him, accompanied by their page. When secluded in the dungeon, the page and the doomed man swapped clothes, and Argyll clattered away in servants’ livery to hiding in London safehouses and continental refuges.

Having already been taken for a traitor, this Argyll on the lam went all-in for unambiguous sedition. Ciphered communications of his were among the papers seized from Baillie of Jerviswood after the exposure of the Rye House Plot.

With the passing of King Charles II in 1685 and the long-feared succession of his Catholic brother James II, Scots in Holland mounted an invasion of their home country in an attempt to topple the government. Our man lent it both leadership and title: it’s known as Argyll’s Rising and was intended to complement/support the English Whig rising under the Duke of Monmouth.

Argyll’s expedition turned up in Scotland in May 1685 and instantly went sideways. Amid leadership conflicts and lukewarm recruitment, the rebellion collapsed. Argyll was captured by a militia who “would fain have concealed his rank, as they durst not release him; but he was recognised by their officer. He was led to Edinburgh, where he was treated with the same indignities as had formerly been the lot of Montrose. As the king had ordered him if taken to be put to death within three days, he was executed on his former iniquitous sentence (30th). He met his fate with piety and fortitude; embracing the instrument of death, he called it (in allusion to its name) the sweetest maiden he had ever kissed.”


The Last Sleep of Argyle (1860s) by Edward Matthew Ward: the man was reported to have slept so serenely on his last night on earth that he had to be awakened for execution.

The next generation of Campbell chiefs finally got the political calibration right, supporting the invasion of William and Mary to overthrow James II which elevated the Argylls to the dukedom which their heirs maintain to this day.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Maiden,Nobility,Public Executions,Scotland,Treason

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1497: Nicholas II of Niemodlin

Add comment June 27th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1497, the Polish Duke Nicholas II of Niemodlin was executed in Nysa.

During a summit to dispel tensions with Casimir II, Duke of Cieszyn, our Nicholas tried to murder both Casimir and a mediator bishop.

After a failed attempt to claim sanctuary, the grandees in attendance decided to have him speedily beheaded rather than accept his large gold bribe in settlement.

This very nearly triggered a wider war when Nicholas’s brother, also a duke, began preparing for a retaliatory military expedition; deft diplomacy by the king of Bohemia defused the crisis.


(cc) image from Jacek Halicki.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Holy Roman Empire,Nobility,Poland,Power,Public Executions

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1567: Captain William Blackadder, Darnley patsy

Add comment June 24th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1567, the Scottish soldier Captain William Blackadder (or “Blacketer”) died a scapegoat at Edinburgh.

Being dragged on a hurdle to Mercat Cross where he was hanged and quartered, and his remains nailed up in Scotland’s principal cities, was undoubtedly the worst thing that ever happened to Captain Blackadder but posterity finds his severed tendons and ruined viscera only a lesser subplot in the psychodrama of that august future Executed Today fixture Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary’s famously terrible marriage to the monstrous Lord Darnley produced the eventual King James VI and I, at the cost of utterly ruining Mary’s reign. Please reference the great many more learned and erudite sources that will dwell on the innumerable faults of this grasping English lord who immediately upon achieving wedlock began maneuvering against his wife for power in Scotland. He’s notorious as a drunk, a lech, a murderer, and in general an obnoxious and arrogant shit.

Until, 18 months and change into the marriage, a huge explosion rocked Kirk o’ Field, Edinburgh … and when the debris cleared, there lay the bodies of the obnoxious consort and his servant. Strangely they were dead in a nearby orchard, suspiciously unsinged by the Gunpowder Plot-like pyrotechnics.


Drawing of the crime scene made for the English Secretary of State William Cecil

The particulars of Darnley’s murder have puzzled posterity for the ensuing 450 years, precipitating as it did Mary’s own fall from her throne — a moment manifested by Mary’s humiliating surrender when her dwindling and dispirited supporters melted away instead of fighting at the “Battle” of Carberry Hill. Mary had the humiliation in that June of 1567 of being led through Edinburgh by rebel lords to imprisonment, under the jeers of a hostile crowd.

But since these rebels were rising against Mary’s post-Darnley fling, putatively in the name of Mary herself, they also proceeded to conduct a disingenuous search for Darnley’s assassins in these days, landing on this luckless son of a declining house who had presented himself under Mary’s colors at Carberry Hill. Nobody since and probably nobody then really thought he had “art and part” in Darnley’s death; nevertheless, the diarist Birrel noted, “the 24 day of Junij Captane Villiam Blacketer was drawn backward, in ane cairte, from ie Tolbuith to the Crosse, and ther wes hangit and quartred, for being on the King’s Murther.”

We could not in good conscience miss the opportunity afforded by this distinctive name to cite topical-to-us content from the BBC sitcom Blackadder.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Murder,Nobility,Public Executions,Scotland,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1483: Fernando II, Duke of Braganza

Add comment June 20th, 2019 Headsman

Fernando II, Duke of Braganza, was beheaded as a traitor on this date in 1483.

This lord (English Wikipedia entry | Portuguese) represented perhaps the mightiest noble house in Portugal. Fernando’s grandfather, Duke Afonso I, had made himself the power behind the throne of the young King Afonso V; Fernando’s father, Duke Fernando I, had sat as regent in Portugal while the king went off to war in Morocco.

Fernando II likewise luxuriated in the honors of royal proximity … while Afonso V kept the throne.

In the early 1480s, the ailing Afonso abdicated in favor of his son. The young King John II was an aspiring absolutist who keenly grasped the danger posed to him by overmighty aristocrats, and systematically set about reducing their privileges.

As Portugal’s largest landholder, nobody had more to lose from this project than Braganza, and he boldly appealed in secret correspondence to Queen Isabella* of neighboring Castile — a realm against which the Portuguese state, and Fernando personally, had been at war just a couple of years before.

As one will suppose from Fernando’s presence on this here blog, John caught wind of the conspiring.

This bad behavior got the Braganzas proscribed, briefly, but the house was soon restored to its station and has written an illustrious history. Indeed, the Braganzas came to the Portuguese throne in 1640 and their Bragantine lasted as long as the institution of monarchy did in that country. There’s still a Duke of Braganza to this day.

* Of Christopher Columbus-sponsoring, Isabella-and-Ferdinand fame.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Portugal,Treason

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1441: Henrik Reventlow

Add comment June 12th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1441, North Jutland peasant leader Henrik Reventlow was executed.

Reventlow was a nobleman who came to the fore of a 25,000-strong peasant army in rebellion over rising taxes.

The uprising threatened to derail the months-old reign of the young King Christian III … but he successfully defeated it by adroitly offering some pardons and leaving the remnants to be crushed.

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Entry Filed under: Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,History,Nobility,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1388: Sir Simon Burley

Add comment May 5th, 2019 Headsman

Sir Simon Burley lost his head on this date in 1388 to the fury of the Lords Appellant.

The childhood tutor of the young King Richard II, Burley had come up in the world as a bosom friend and comrade in arms to Richard’s uncle, Edward the Black Prince. A few years prior it had been entrusted to Burley to sojourn on the continent and arrange Richard’s wife, Anne of Bohemia — and a good job it was for him too since he was away when his head might have wound up on a pike during the 1381 peasants’ rebellion.

Instead, it would be peers in the court who dished out that treatment.

Over the course of the 1380s, Richard’s relationship with the top nobility progressively worsened and finally came to civil war in 1386-1388. The king’s foes, the Lords Appellant prevailed in that fight and with the young king in their power forced him to seat a parliament at which the Lords Appellant would scourge the king’s former allies. It’s called the Merciless Parliament; the reader may judge the reason.

We have already in these pages met several casualties of this purge; even within the context of the bloody intra-elite purge, Burley’s persecution struck a painful chord; two of the Lords Appellants’ junior affiliates, Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and Henry Bolingbroke, who in time would depose Richard and seat himself on the throne as King Henry IV, both opposed killing Burley.* The queen, as powerless as her husband, prostrated herself before the implacable senior magnates on behalf of the old man who had escorted her from Bohemia.


Nineteenth century illustration of Queen Anne begging the Earl of Arundel to spare Simon Burley. Arundel refused her entreaties; a decade later, it was he who got no mercy.

All was for naught. Chronicler Jean Froissart, confesses himself “exceedingly vexed” at Burley’s execution, “and personally much grieved; for in my youth I had found him a gentle knight, and, according to my understanding, of great good sense.”

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions

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1230: William de Braose, bold paramour

Add comment May 2nd, 2019 Headsman

In this year William de Breos the Younger, lord of Brycheiniog, was hanged by the Lord Llywelyn in Gwynedd, after he had been caught in Llywelyn’s chamber with the king of England’s daughter, Llywelyn’s wife.

-Chronicle of Ystrad Fflur

The Welsh king Llywelyn the Great had William de Braose hanged on this date in 1230 near Bala for — well, the aforesaid.

The lords of his Norman house patrolled the Welsh marches, and our man — Gwilym Ddu (“Black William”) to the Welsh — was Llywelyn’s prisoner from 1228 via capture in some skirmish. All in a day’s work for the feudal nobility, for whom “captivity” meant honored hospitality while waiting around for their relatives to raise the ransom for their relief.

Black William made time in more ways during this spell, not only seducing Llewelyn’s wife Joan, Lady of Wales, but playing matchmaker between Llywelyn’s son and his, da Braose’s, daughter. This marriage still went off notwithstanding Llywelyn’s discovery that his own had been violated, something the Welsh prince allegedly found out by walking in on the two in the middle of the night, when an already-ransomed Black William had gone back to pay an Easter visit to his future in-laws.

In the record of the Abbott of Vaudey, “On 2nd of May, at a certain manor called ‘Crokein’, he was made ‘Crogyn’, i.e. hanged on a tree, and this not privily or in the night time, but openly and in the broad daylight, in the presence of more than 800 men assembled to behold the piteous and melancholy spectacle.”

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Nobility,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Wales

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