Posts filed under 'Attempted Murder'

1620: Michal Piekarski, warhammer wielder

Add comment November 27th, 2019 Headsman

Calvinist nobleman Michal Piekarski was spectacularly executed in Warsaw on this date in 1620 for attempting the life of the Polish-Lithuanian king.

The lengthy reign of Sigismund III Vasa marks Poland’s downward slide out of her golden age, although how much of this trendline is personally attributable to Sigismund embarks scholarly debates well beyond this writer’s ken.

Sigismund III Vasa held both the Polish-Lithuanian and the Swedish thrones in a personal union but he lost the latter realm to rebellion; he meddled unsuccessfully in Russia’s Time of Troubles interregnum; and he faced a rebellion of nobility in 1606-1608 that, although it failed to overthrow him, permanently curtailed the power Polish monarchy.

That conflict with the aristocracy overlapped with a sectarian schism common throughout Europe in the train of the Protestant Reformation — for Sigismund was very Catholic and his nobility divided.

It’s the latter fissure that’s thought to have supplied the proximate motivation for our date’s principal. Piekarski (English Wikipedia entry | Polish), a petty noble, had long been noted as a moody, melancholic man too unstable even to be entrusted with the management of his own estates — the consequence of a childhood head injury.

He was also a staunch Calvinist, but broad-minded enough to find virtue in his opponents’ tactics. In 1610, Catholic ultra Francois Ravaillac had assassinated France’s Henri IV, and it’s thought that Ravaillac’s boldness put the bee into Piekarski’s bonnet.

A decade later, the Pole stung with cinematic flair: he jumped Sigismund in a narrow corridor while the latter was en route to Mass and dealt 1d8 bludgeoning damage by thumping the king in the back with a warhammer; after a second attempted blow only grazed the sovereign’s cheek, the royal entourage subdued Piekarski and started looking up chiropractors.


It’s only a model: replica of the would-be assassin’s instrument on display in Warsaw.

Torture failed to elucidate a coherent motivation from a muddled mind. Reports had him only babbling nonsense, so attribution of the attack to religious grievance remains no more than partially satisfying; there were rumors of other more determined instigators to steer Piekarski’s mind towards regicide for their own ends. (Although he didn’t get the king, he did confer upon the Polish tongue the idiom “plesc jak Piekarski na mekach” — “to mumble like Piekarski under torture”.)

In the end, for Ravaillac’s crime, he took Ravaillac’s suffering: the Sejm condemned him to an elaborate public execution which comprised having his flesh torn by red-hot pincers as he was carted around Warsaw, until reaching a place called Piekielko (“Devil’s Den”) where the hand he had dared to raise against the king was struck off, and then what was left of his ruined flesh was torn into quarters with the aid of four straining horses.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,By Animals,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Poland,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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1861: Martin Doyle, the last hanged for attempted murder

Add comment August 27th, 2019 Headsman

Outside Chester Prison in Cheshire on this date in 1861, Martin Doyle became the last hanged in Britain for “mere” attempted murder.

He’d battered his lover, Jane Brogine, nearly to death — but not all the way to death — on May 30th. “Jane, say no more, I intend to have your life; I came for it, and I will have it,” he incriminatingly declared during the assault, just to leave no possible doubt. If his intent was clear enough, it turned out that 21 blows from a heavy rock were not so sufficient as Doyle supposed to the execution of the deed. Brogine survived, creeping away to the aid of a passing Good Samaritan once Doyle departed the scene thinking her dead.

Great Britain in 1861 thoroughly overhauled its criminal statutes, including an Offences Against the Person Act that rejiggered a variety of punishments, setting the punishment for attempted murder at a prison sentence:

Whosoever shall administer to or cause to be administered to or to be taken by any Person any Poison or other destructive Thing, or shall by any Means whatsoever wound or cause any grievous bodily Harm to any Person, with Intent in any of the Cases aforesaid to commit Murder, shall be guilty of Felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the Discretion of the Court, to be kept in Penal Servitude for Life or for any Term not less than Three Years, or to be imprisoned for any Term not exceeding Two Years, with or without Hard Labour, and with or without Solitary Confinement.

The above, in Section 11, and similar language in Sections 12, 13, 14, and 15, replaced the attempted murder language of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1837:

Whosoever shall administer to or cause to be taken by any Person any Poison or other destructive Thing, or shall stab, cut, or wound any Person, or shall by any Means whatsoever cause to any Person any bodily Injury dangerous to Life, with Intent in any of the Cases aforesaid to commit Murder, shall be guilty of Felony, and being convicted thereof shall suffer Death.

Unfortunately for Mr. Doyle, the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 did not receive royal assent until August 6 … which meant that what he’d done to Jane Brogine in May still was a capital felony back when he’d done it.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Public Executions

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1623: Claes Michielsz Bontebal, Maurice murder moneybags

Add comment July 3rd, 2019 Headsman

We’ve previously addressed in these pages the 1623 execution of Reinier van Oldenbarnevelt for attempting to assassinate Maurice, Prince of Orange in revenge for his, Maurice’s, 1619 execution of Oldenbarnevelt’s father.

Well, the scheme here was to hire a number of assassins for the attack, a plan which guaranteed that someone would blab and blow the whole deal. But before the blabbing and the blowing, the hiring required a vast cash outlay — 6,000 guilders to be precise.

Claes Michielsz Bontebal (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was one of the financiers who did the hiring, and got caught in the blowback after the blabbing. He was executed with three other conspirators


Detail view of a 1623 print reporting the beheading (click for a larger view with portraits of Bontebal and his collaborators).

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Netherlands,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,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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1623: Reinier van Oldenbarnevelt, family tradition

Add comment March 29th, 2019 Headsman

Reinier van Oldenbarnevelt was a chip off the old headsman’s block on this date in 1623, beheaded in The Hague for plotting to avenge the beheading of his father.

The old man, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt by name, had lost a power struggle to Maurice of Orange and gone to the scaffold in 1619.

Full of murderous filial piety, our man Reinier (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) conspired with his brother Willem and others of their faction to return the favor on Maurice by having a gang of toughs ambush him in early February.

Word leaked early; the plot fizzled and Reinier was captured to face the vengeance Maurice had once once designed for his father. (Willem escaped to Belgium, but two of their accomplices were dismembered with Reinier.)


Dutch illustrator Claes Janszoon Visscher depicted the son’s execution, as he had once depicted the father’s. For an analysis of the scene, see John Decker’s Death, Torture and the Broken Body in European Art, 1300-1650.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Netherlands,Power,Public Executions

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1696: Charnock, King, and Keyes, frustrated of regicide

Add comment March 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1696, a trio of Jacobite conspirators were hanged for their failed assassination plot against King William.

An exiled loyalist to the deposed King James II, the onetime Oxford don Robert Charnock conceived what the propagandists would call “the late Hellish and Barbarous Plott” along with fellow Stuart loyalist George Barclay. Their mission in murdering William III was to catalyze a general Jacobite rising that would reverse the Glorious Revolution and restore James to the throne: it was a recurring campaign against the Dutch usurper throughout the 1690s.

Ambush was the gambit proposed by the worthies in this case, for William.

was in the habit of going every Saturday from Kensington to hunt in Richmond Park. There was then no bridge over the Thames between London and Kingston. The King therefore went, in a coach escorted by some of his body guards, through Turnham Green to the river. There he took boat, crossed the water, and found another coach and another set of guards ready to receive him on the Surrey side. The first coach and the first set of guards awaited his return on the northern bank. The conspirators ascertained with great precision the whole order of these journeys, and carefully examined the ground on both sides of the Thames. They thought that they should attack the King with more advantage on the Middlesex than on the Surrey bank, and when he was returning than when he was going … The place was to be a narrow and winding lane leading from the landing place on the north of the river to Turnham Green … a quagmire, through which the royal coach was with difficulty tugged at a foot’s pace. The time was to be the afternoon of Saturday the fifteenth of February. (Macaulay)

Some 40 assassins had been marshaled for the purpose of surprising the royal party on that occasion but as they nursed their cups in the vicinity’s public houses they received the disquieting intelligence that the king had skipped the hunt that day.

Although the inclement weather was the reason given out, the truth of the matter was that they were betrayed. In a week’s time, most of the conspirators would be in custody* and the country on a virtual war footing against prospective invasion by France. On March 11, the first three prospective assassins stood at the bar: Charnock, Edward King, and Thomas Keyes. They were plainly guilty and condemned accordingly.

King died firmly; Keyes, in “an agony of terror … [that] moved the pity of some of the spectators”; and Charnock, being repelled in his bid to turn songbird in exchange for his life, went out with a missive bitterly defending his project, for “if an army of twenty thousand men had suddenly landed in England and surprised the usurper, this would have been called legitimate war. Did the difference between war and assassination depend merely on the number of persons engaged?” (both quotes from Macaulay) Several additional conspirators would follow them to the scaffold in the weeks to come.


“The Triumphs of Providence over Hell, France & Rome”: Broadside celebrating and satirizing the deliverance of the realm from the Jacobite plot, via the British Museum.

* George Barclay, however, successfully escaped to the continent.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Notable for their Victims,Power,Public Executions,Treason

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1856: Agesilao Milano, near-assassin

Add comment December 13th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1856, the Bourbon monarchy of Naples avenged the near-murder of its king … but neither sovereign nor state would much outlive the assassin.

Giuseppe Garibaldi had returned two years prior from exile, and the decades-long stirring of patriots whose loyalties eschewed their peninsula’s various sordid rival kingdoms to glory in a shared dream of the future unified Italy — the era of the Risorgimento — was about to draw towards a first culmination.*

The soldier Agesilao Milano (Italian link) shared the dream too. He determined to speed it by removing the man who ruled the Kingdom of the Two Siciliies, Ferdinand II — and so after mass on December 8, he hurled himself upon his sovereign and bayoneted him. The one wound he inflicted before he was subdued was deep, but not fatal, or at least not immediately so: Ferdinand would die three years later at the age of 49 and he morbidly nagged his deathbed doctors to investigate his old bayonet scar for signs of inflammation. (They found none.)

Ferdinand’s son Francis was the last ruler the Kingdom of the Two Silicies would ever have, for in 1860 Garibaldi’s Expedition of the Thousand marched upon that realm and its polity speedily collapsed, becoming absorbed into the newly forged Kingdom of Italy

Milano shared the triumph only from the plane of spirits, for he had been hanged five days after his treasonable attack at the Piazza del Mercato, bearing a placard dishonoring him a “parricide” and crying out, “I die a martyr … Long live Italy! .. Long live the independence of the peoples …”

The Risorgimento cosigned his martyr’s credentials, with Garibaldi creating a diplomatic furor by awarding pension and dowries to the late parricide’s mother and sisters, respectively.

* The Risorgimento truly triumphed (and concluded) only in 1871 after swallowing up the holdout Papal States.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Italy,Murder,Naples,Notable for their Victims,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers

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1926: Anteo Zamboni, Mussolini near-assassin, lynched

Add comment October 31st, 2018 Headsman

Halloween of 1926 was a festival of triumph for the Italian fascists … and they crowned it in a festival of blood.

The occasion marked (not exactly to the day) the fourth anniversary of Benito Mussolini‘s bloodless coup via the October 1922 March on Rome. And as a gift for himself and his populace, Benito Mussolini on that date inaugurated Bologna’s Stadio Littoriale by riding a charger into the arena and delivering a harangue.


Fascist-built and still in service, it’s now known as the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara and it’s home to Bologna F.C. 1909. (cc) image by Udb.

After another address to a medical conference later that afternoon, Mussolini was motorcading down via Rizzoli in an Alfa Romeo when a gunshot whizzed through his collar.*

It had been fired by a 15-year-old anarchist named Anteo Zamboni, vainly and sacrificially hoping to turn history’s tide with a well-placed bullet.

Instead, his act would offer Il Duce a Reichstag Fire-like pretext — there was always bound to be one, sooner or later — for a raft of repressive legislation including the creation of a nasty secret police, the dissolution of political opposition, and (of interest to this here site) reintroduction of the death penalty.**

But Anteo Zamboni would see his penalty delivered summarily after the crowd seized him.†

Zamboni was done to death with blows and blades by Mussolini’s fascist admirers right on the spot. In a turn of heart, Bologna — by tradition a leftist stronghold — now has a street named for the young would-be assassin. (Here is the source for the ghastly Mature Content images below of Zamboni’s brutalized corpse.)

The incident is the subject of the 1978 film Gli Ultimi Tre Giorni.

* Zamboni’s was only one of three assassination attempts on Mussolini in 1926 alone.

** Just days afterwards during the post-Zamboni repressive pall, the great Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci was tossed into prison, never to emerge. Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks issued out of his dungeon, before his health succumbed in 1937 to the intentional neglect of his captors.

† It’s reportedly cavalry officer Carlo Alberto Pasolini who first detained the youth: the father of postwar film director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Children,History,Italy,Lynching,Martyrs,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Revolutionaries,Summary Executions,Torture

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1885: August Reinsdorf and Emil Kuchler, Kaiser Wilhelm I bombers

Add comment February 7th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1885, anarchists August Reinsdorf and Emil Küchler were guillotined for a failed attempt on the life of Kaiser Wilhelm I.

The King of Prussia turned Emperor of the newborn (in 1871) Deutsches Reich, Wilhelm was honored by assassins equal in enthusiasm to his distinctive whiskers.* The versions distinguished by this post had the cheek to contemplate exploding the Kartätschenprinz** just as he ceremonially inaugurated an important national monument.


The Niederwalddenkmal still stands to this day. (cc) image from Philipp35466

The day was wet, and the dynamite fizzled. Everybody departed none the wiser but police spies later caught wind of the attempt, apparently when the would-be bombers Emil Küchler and Franz Reinhold Rupsch asked reimbursement from leftist typesetter August Reinsdorf, the plot’s mastermind.

Eight were eventually rounded up, secretly at first but later publicized to the prejudice of leftist parties.

Reinsdorf, Küchler and Rupsch all received death sentences; Rupsch’s was commuted in consideration of his youth.

The workers build palaces and live in miserable huts; they produce everything and maintain the whole machinery of state, and yet nothing is done for them; they produce all industrial products, and yet they have little and bad to eat; they are always a despised, raw and superstitious mass of servile minds. Everything the state does tends toward perpetuating these conditions forever. The upper ten thousand rest on the shoulders of the great mass. Is this really going to last? Is not a change our duty? Shall we keep our hands in our laps forever?

-Reinsdorf at trial

* We have in these pages already met one such predecessor who went under the fallbeil in 1878; the zeal of such men had given the Reich pretext to ban the Social Democrats.

** “Prince of Grapeshot”, a bygone nickname that paid derisive tribute to Wilhelm’s mailed fist in the Revolutions of 1848.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Notable for their Victims,Power,Revolutionaries,Terrorists

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1880: Alexander Kvyatkovsky and Andrei Presnyakov, Narodnaya Volya terrorists

Add comment November 16th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1880,* Russian revolutionaries Alexander Kvyatkovsky and Andrei Presnyakov were hanged at St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress.


Kvyatkovsky (left) and Presnyakov.

Kvyatkovsky, 28, and Presnyakov, 24, had each spent the whole of their brief adulthoods agitating, police ever at their heels. As Russia’s “season of terror” opened in the late 1870s, both immediately cast their lot with the violent Narodnaya Volya movement. They were found by police at their respective arrests to have each had more than a passing interest in Narodnaya Volya’s ongoing project to assassinate Tsar Alexander II — an objective that it would indeed achieve a few months later.

Their fellow-traveler Mikhail Frolenko would remember the mass trial they featured at not for any glorious martyr-making but as a propaganda debacle for his movement.

The Trial of the Sixteen** in October 1880 was a model of judicial procedure — the government had learned, planned carefully and conducted the trial with absolute decorum. The sixteen accused included three of the most important figures in the Movement: Shiraev, who had been arrested in Moscow a year before with two suitcases of dynamite, Presnyakov and Kvyatkovsky. The last two were old friends of Andrei Zhelyabov. The evidence against the accused was provided by Grigory Goldenberg; the prosecution’s case was unanswerable. The sixteen were allowed to address the court and their speeches were reported. The prosecutors questioned them with a mix of deliberate courtesy and provocation: the sixteen were given enough rope to hang themselves. They followed no clear line and contradicted each other on endless details. They improvised counter-accusations, became mired in irrelevancies, and exploded in fits of petulance. They made a miserable impression, highlighted at every stage by the correctness of the proceedings. In its sentence the court was lenient, another propaganda victory: fourteen were sentenced to hard labor; two, Presnyakov and Kvyatkovsky, were sentenced to be hanged. We lost sixteen good people, which was bad enough. But worse was our irreparable loss of public esteem. One small sign of this was the fate of the word terror. Hitherto we had freely called ourselves terrorists; it had much the same ring as revolutionary. Terror was simply the first phase of the revolution. Overnight the word became a term of abuse and the exclusive property of the government. That alone might have told us we were following the wrong path. (Excerpted from Saturn’s Daughters: The Birth of Terrorism

Kvyatkovsky’s son, also named Alexander, was a Bolshevik close to Lenin in the early Soviet years.

* November 16 by the Gregorian calendar; it was still November 4 by the archaic Julian calendar still then in use in the Russian Empire.

** Not to be confused with at least two distinct Soviet-era mass trials also respectively designated the “Trial of the Sixteen”.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Power,Russia,Terrorists,Treason

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