Posts filed under 'Power'

1684: Sir Thomas Armstrong, Whig plotter

Add comment June 20th, 2017 Headsman

Whig knight Sir Thomas Armstrong was hanged, drawn, and quartered on this date in 1684, for adhering to Lord Russell‘s treasonable Rye House Plot.

Armstrong had been tempting the executioner for some years: he fell foul of the Cromwell protectorate for shuttling funds to the exiled Charles II, and in 1675 he slew a Mr. Scroope at a theater brawl. Both times he kept his head.

He would not be so lucky when conniving to kidnap the king.

Armstrong was shut out of the leadership clique of the Rye House Plot but he was active scheming with Monmouth and others about “how to surprize the Kings Guards” to get at the royal person, with Armstrong observing that “the Guards were very remiss in their places, and not like Souldiers, and the thing was feasible if they had strength to do it.”*

Briefly escaped to the Low Countries along with a number of other fellow-travelers,** Armstrong was arrested in Leiden and repatriated to face royal justice.


Detail view (click for a larger image) of the dismembering of Thomas Armstrong. Condemned to drawing and quartering, Armstrong was hanged to death and only “after such time the Sufferer had hung about half an Hour, and the Executioner had divested him of his Aparrel, he was cut down according to his Sentence; his Privy Members dissected from his Body, and Burnt; his Head cut off, and shewed to the People as that of a Traytor; his Heart and Bowels taken out, and committed to the Flames; and his Body Quartered into four Parts, which, with his Head, was conveyed back to Newgate, to be disposed of according to his Majesties Pleasure, and Order.” (

In an era of bitter factional politics spiced by burgeoning print culture, Armstrong’s delayed handling gave Tory squibs ample space to gleefully taunt the Whigs through him, and savor in doggerel (via repeat reference to executioner Jack Ketch) the inevitable rending of flesh that ensued.

The Bully WHIG: OR, The Poor Whores Lamentation for the Apprehending OF Sir THOMAS ARMSTRONG.

To the Tune of, Ah! Cruel Bloody Fate! &c.

I.

AH! Cruel Bloody Tom!
What canst thou hope for more,
Than to receive the Doom
Of all thy Crimes before?
For all thy bold Conspiracies
Thy Head must pay the score;
Thy Cheats and Lies,
Thy Box and Dice,
Will serve thy turn no more.

II.

Ungrateful thankless Wretch!
How could’st thou hope in vain
(Without the reach of Ketch)
Thy Treasons to maintain?
For Murders long since done and past,
Thou Pardons hast had store,
And yet would’st still
Stab on, and kill,
As if thou hop’dst for more.

III.

Yet Tom, e’r he would starve,
More Blood resolv’d to’ve spilt;
Thy flight did only serve
To justifie thy Guilt:
While They whose harmless Innocence
Submit to Chains at home,
Are each day freed,
While Traytors bleed,
And suffer in their room.

IV.

When Whigs a PLOT did Vote,
What Peer Justice fled?
In the FANATICK PLOT
Tom durst not shew his head.
Now Sacred Justice rules above,
The Guiltless are set free,
And the Napper’s napt,
And Clapper clapt
In his CONSPIRACY.

V.

Like Cain, thou hast a Mark
Of Murder on thy Brow;
Remote, and in the dark,
Black Guilt did still pursue:
Nor England, Holland, France, or Spain,
The Traytor can defend;
He will be found
In Fetters bound,
To pay for’t in the end.

VI.

Tom might about the Town
Have bully’d, huff’d and roar’d,
By every Venus known,
Been for a Mars ador’d:
By friendly Pimping and false Dice
Thou might’st have longer liv’d,
Hector’d and shamm’d,
And swore and gam’d,
Hadst thou no Plots contriv’d.

VII.

Tom once was Cock-a-hoop
Of all the Huffs in Town;
But now his Pride must stoop,
His Courage is pull’d down:
So long his Spurs are grown, poor Tom
Can neither fly nor fight;
Ah Cruel Fate!
That at this rate
The ‘Squire shou’d foil the Knight!

VIII.

But now no remedy,
It being his just Reward;
In his own Trap, you see,
The Tygre is ensnar’d:
So may all Traytors fare, till all
Who for their Guilt did fly,
With Bully Tom
By timely Doom
Like him, unpity’d die.


Sr. Thomas Armstrongs Last Farewell to the WORLD: He being Condemned for HIGH-TREASON, and Conspiring the Death of the KING and the DUKE, and subverting the Government of these three Kingdoms A SONG.

To the Tune STATE and AMBITION [no embeddable sound file, alas, but for the arrangement see here and here]

A Due to the pleasure of murther and whoring,
Of plotting conspiring the death of a King:
Confound the temptation of Bastard Adoring,
For which I confess I deserve for to Swing.
Poor Monmouth may Curse me, ’twas I over Ruled
In all his Intreagues by Tony’s black spell,
His timerous contrivance I constantly Schooled;
And told him how safe it was then to rebell.
I shew’d him the glimps of a Crown and a Scepter,
The strength of the Crow’d, and applause of the Town
Till glory did dazle his Soul in a Rapture;
That all things inferior appear’d but a Crown:
Then I was in hopes to be second Assistant;
Therefore to unKing him our party would bring:
But now as the Devil wou’d have it I mist on’t,
For which I before the damn’d Doctor must swing.
The Doctor confused three parts of the Nation;
He murthered thirty; I murthered but two,
With long sword and Codpiss I made it the fashion
Rogues Whores to advance, and the Kingdom subdue:
Brave Monmouth I shew’d him all ways of debauching,
And ne’r let him want procurer nor Whore;
Some Aldermens Wives they were proud to approach him,
I often as Grey have stood Pimp at the door.
Nay, many were sure, that their souls would be sainted
Had they but one hour his sweet grace to enjoy
How oft in my Arms they have sighed and panted,
Untill I conveyed ‘em to their Princely Boy
But now all those pleasures are faded with glory,
His Grace in Disgrace and Tom is Condemn’d;
Jack Ketch now looks sharp for to shorten my story,
And leaves me no time to murder or mend.
Yet I must confess, I was oft Monmouths taster,
For fear, least some fire-ship might blow up her Prince,
Which caused our party to flock in much faster,
All Officers from the Plot Office advance.
Old Tony took Care too, that nothing was wanting,
In Wapping, the Square, and Algers-gate-street,
I brought in Bess Mackrel, to help out the taping,
And Tony swore damn him, theres nothing so sweet.
Sweet Betty farewell, ’twas for thee I abjured,
My Lady and Children, this fourteen long years;
They always were kind, but I still was obdured,
Seeking the Destruction of King, Church, & Peers
Had I Grey and Mellvin now here to condole with
And their Recommendations to’th’ Cabals below –,
I might have Commissions in Hell to controle with
But sure I shall find some Friends where I go.


The WHIGS laid open, OR, An Honest Ballad of these sad Times.

To a Mery Tune, called Old Symon the King.

Now the Plotters & Plots are confounded,
And all their Designs are made known
Which smellt so strong of the Round-head,
And Treason of Forty One.
And all the Pious Intentions
For Property, Liberty, Laws,
Are found to be only Inventions,
To bring in their Good Old Cause.
And all the Pious, &c.

II.

By their delicate Bill of Exclusion,
So hotly pursu’d by the Rabble;
They hop’d to have made such Confusion,
As never was seen at Old Babel.
The Shaftsbury’s brave City Boys,
And M—ths Countrey Relations,
Were ready to second the Noise,
And send it throughout the 3 Nations.
Then Shaftsbury’s, &c.

III.

No more of the 5th of November,
That Dangerous Desperate Plot;
But ever with horruor remember
Old Tony, Armstrong, and Scot.
For Tony shou’d ne’re be forgotten,
Nor Ferguson’s Popular Rules;
Nor M—th, or G—y, when they’re rotten,
For Popular, Politick Fools.
For Tony shou’d, &c.

IV.

The Murder of Father and King,
And Extinguishing all the right Line,
Was a Good and a Godly thing;
And worthy the Whigs Design:
The Hanging of Prelate, and Peer,
And putting the Guards to the Sword,
And Fleying, and Slashing Lord Mayors,
Was to do the Work o’the Lord.
The Hanging of, &c.

V.

But I hope they will have their Desert,
And the Gallows will have its due,
And Jack Ketch will be more Expert,
And in time be as Rich as a Jew,
Whilst now in the Tavern we Sing,
All Joy to great York and his Right,
A Glorious long Reign to our King;
But when They’ve occasion we’ll Fight.
Whilst now in the Tavern, &c.

VI.

The name of a Whig and a Tory,
No more shall Disquiet the Nation;
We’ll Fight for the Church and her Glory,
And Pray for this Reformation.
That ev’ry Factious Professor,
And ev’ry Zealous Pretender
May humble ‘em, to the Successor
Of Charles, our Nations Defender.
That every Faction &c.


An Elegie On the never to be forgotten Sir Thomas Armstrong Knight; Executed for Conspiring the Death of His most Sacred Majesty, and Royal Brother, June 20. 1684. With some Satyrical Reflections on the whole Faction.

Stand forth ye damn’d deluding Priests of Baal,
And found from out each Trumpet Mouth a Call
Let it be loud and shrill, that ev’ry Man
May hear the noise, from Beersheba to Dan;
To summon all the Faction, that they may
In doleful Hums and Haws, bewail this day,
And to their Just Confusion howl and roar,
For the great Bully of their Cause, is now no more.

But now methinks I hear the Faction cry,
Ohone! Where’s all thy Pomp and Gallantry?
Thy Great Commands, thy Interest and thy State?
The many Crouds which did upon thee wait?

When thou like Atlas on thy shoulders bore,
That mighty World which we so much adore
(That Pageant Heroe, Off-spring of a Whore.)

Behold ye stubborn Crew, the certain Fate
That waits upon the hardened Reprobate.
See; the effects of Treason’s Terrible,
In this life Infamy, and i’th’ next a Hell,
While Heav’n attends on Kings with special Care,
The Traitor to himself becomes a snare:
Drove out like Cain, to wander through the World,
By his own thoughts into Distraction hurl’d,
Despis’d by all, perplext with hourly fear,
And by his Friends push’t like the hunted Deer,
Like a mad Dog, still houted as he ran,
A just Reward for th’ base Rebellious man.

How often has kind Heaven preserv’d the Crown,
And tumbled the Audacious Rebel down?
How many Warnings have they had of late?
How often read their own impending Fate?
That still they dare their wicked Acts pursue,
And know what Heaven has ordain’d their due?
That man who cou’d not reas’nably desire
To raise his Fortunes, and his Glories higher,
Who did enjoy, unto a wish, such store,
That all his Ancestors scarce heard of more,
Shou’d by his own procuring fall so low,
As if he’d study’d his own overthrow,
Looks like a story yet without a Name,
And may be stil’d the first Novel in Fame?
So the fam’d Angels, Turbulent as Great,
Who always waited ’bout the Mercy-Seat,
Desiring to be something yet unknown,
Blunder’d at all, and would have graspt the Crown,
Till Heaven’s Great Monarch, saw they wou’d Rebel,
Then dasht their Hopes, and damn’d them down to Hell.

And now methinks I see to th’fatal place
A Troop of Whiggs with Faction in each Face,
And Red-swoln Eyes, moving with mournful pace,

Pitying the Mighty Sampson of their Cause,
Curse their Fates, and Railing at the Laws.
The Sisters too appear, with sniveling Cryes
To celebrate their Stallions Obsequies;
From th’ Play-house and from Change, how they resort,
From Country, City, nay, there’s some from Court,
From the Old C—ss wither’d and decay’d,
To a Whigg Brewers Youthful Lovely Maid.
Gods! What a Troop is here? sure Hercules
Had found enough so many Whores to please.

Repent, ye Factious Rout, Repent and be
Forewarn’d by this bold Traytors Destiny.
Go home ye Factious Dogs, and mend your Lives;
Be Loyal, and make honest all your Wives.
You keep from Conventicles first, and then
Keep all your Wives from Conventicling Men.
Leave off your Railing ‘gainst the King and State,
Your foolish Prating, and more foolish Hate.
Obey the Laws, and bravely act your parts,
And to the Church unite in Tongues and Hearts;
Be sudden too, before it proves too late,
Lest you partake of this bold Traytors Fate.

And if the Faction thinks it worth the Cost,
(To keep this Bully’s Name from being lost)
To raise a Pillar, to perpetuate
His Wond’rous Actions, and Ignoble Fate,
Let’em about it streight, and when ’tis done,
I’le Crown the Work with this Inscription.

Bold Fame thou Ly’st! Read here all you
That wou’d this Mighty Mortal know;
First, he was one of low degree,
But rose to an Hyperbole.
Famous t’ excess in ev’ry thing,
But duty to his God, and King;
In Oaths as Great as any He,
That ever Grac’d the Tripple Tree;
So Absolute, when Drencht in Wine,
He might have been the God o’th’ Vine.
His Brutal Lust was still so strong,
He never spar’d, or old, or young;
In Cards and Dice he was well known,
T’ out-cheat the Cheaters of the Town.

These were his Virtues, if you’d know
His Vices too pray read below.

Not wholly Whig, nor Atheist neither,
But something form’d of both together,
Famous in horrid Blasphemies,
Practic’d in base Adulteries.
In Murders vers’d as black, and foul
As his Degenerated Soul.
In’s Maxims too, as great a Beast,
As those his honest Father drest. [his father was a groom -ed.]
The Factions Bully, Sisters Stallion:
Now Hang’d, and Damn’d, for his Rebellion.

* Per “An impartial and full account of the life & death of the late unhappy William Lord Russel eldest son and heir of the present Earl of Bedford, who was executed for high treason July 21, 1683, in Lincolns-Inn-Fields: together with the original and rise of the earls of Bedford, giving a brief account of each of them.” (1684)

** Notably joining Armstrong in continental refuge — and narrowly escaping recapture with him — were fellow plotters Lord Thomas Grey and Robert Ferguson. Both these worthies returned in power with the rest of the Whig party come the Glorious Revolution … an event for which Ferguson, a prolific pamphleteer, wrote the definitive justification.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Gruesome Methods,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Terrorists,Treason

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Feast Day of St. Cetteus

Add comment June 13th, 2017 Headsman

June 13 is the feast of St. Cetteus, patron of the Adriatic port city of Pescara.

This saint’s legends the line between just-so story and real historical events, illustrating the Church martyrology’s great strengths as a read-made memorial of Christians’ trials down the years. That in this case the suffering was less a religious persecution per se than the shame of being trod over by conquerors who installed themselves almost without opposition in the hollowed husk of Roman greatness and did as they pleased.

The Lombard incursion beginning in 568 in some ways signals the permanent sundering of east from west in the Roman world, for the Germanic invaders — a mixture of pagans and Arian heretics, no less — in time ousted Byzantium from the latter’s Italian holdings and meanwhile underscored the Roman Empire’s near-impotence in its ancestral homelands. “From Italy the emperors were incessantly tormented by tales of misery and demands of succor, which extorted the humiliating confession of their own weakness,” writes Gibbon. “The expiring dignity of Rome was only marked by the freedom and energy of her complaints: ‘If you are incapable,’ she said, ‘of delivering us from the sword of the Lombards, save us at least from the calamity of famine.'”

For the near term, it was a violent and unstable period; Lombard rulers assassinated and warred with one another as their hegemony devolved into a patchwork of feuding duchies, helping set the scene for the fractured medieval peninsula.

The perils of internal strife manifest in our martyr’s story; despite his eventual association with Pescara, his bishopric was inland at Amiternum and it was there, the story goes, that he was ordered drowned in 597 by a tyrannous Lombard warlord who mistakenly thought him a crony of his rival.

Tossed into the drink, the bish floated downstream to Pescara where a fisherman, recognizing the corpse’s ecclesiastical raiments without knowing exactly who wore them, buried him under the whimsical name “Peregrino”.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Borderline "Executions",Drowned,Early Middle Ages,Execution,History,Italy,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Summary Executions,Uncertain Dates

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1658: John Hewett and Henry Slingsby, royalists

Add comment June 8th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1658, two royalist conspirators were beheaded at Tower Hill for plotting against Oliver Cromwell‘s Protectorate.

At this very late date, conflicts within the Lord Protector’s state raised the hopes of the exiled royal claimant Charles Stuart for a successful invasion. (Little did the imminent King Charles II suspect that Cromwell himself would die suddenly three months hence, collapsing the revolutionary government.) Plots and counterplots, spying and betrayal, were the order of the day; it was the bad luck of our men to set theirs in motion just a shade too early, but perhaps it was Charles Stuart’s good luck that Team Cromwell smashed it before it could ripen into a premature commitment of forces.

For the particulars, we turn to parliamentarian cavalryman and politician Edmund Ludlow, a regicide who had thirty-odd years cooling his spurs in continental exile during which to scribble his memoir of the grand experiment.

Another plot much more dangerous was about the same time carried on by the Royalists, and discovered to him by his spies. The persons concerned in it he used with more severity, because he accounted them to be of a more formidable party, and therefore referred them to be tried by those persons whom his last Assembly had nominated to be a High Court of Justice.

The prisoners were Dr. Hewet [John Hewett, onetime chaplain to King Charles I and an open royalist], Sir Henry Slingsby [a Yorkshire politician and Royalist veteran of the civil wars], and Mr. Mordaunt [eventually made a viscount by Charles II in recognition of his efforts on behalf of restoration], with some others of the meaner sort. The general charge against them was for endeavouring to levy war against the Government on the behalf of Charles Stuart.

The particular charge against Dr. Hewet was for dispersing commissions from the son of the late King, and perswading divers to raise forces by virtue of the same. That against Sir Henry Slingsby was for attempting to debauch some of the garison of Hull to the service of Charles Stuart, and delivering a commission from him to them. The prisoners of less note were charged with a design of firing the city in several places, at the time appointed for their party to be in arms.

Dr. Hewet being brought before the Court, moved that he might be tried by a jury, and demurred to the jurisdiction of the Court. But the Court over-ruled his demurrer, and told him, that unless he would plead to his charge, they would cause his refusal to be entred, and proceed against him as if the fact were confessed. This being twice said to him, he was required the third time to plead: to which he answered, that if the Judges would declare it to be according to law for him to plead, he would obey: but he was told that the gentlemen then present were his Judges, and that if he would not plead they would register his contempt the third time, and upon his refusal did so.

Mr. Mordaunt admonished by his example, pleaded not guilty; and after a full hearing of the witnesses on both sides, the Court acquitted him by one voice. Then Sir Henry Slingsby was called to the bar, and the witnesses on each side being heard, he was pronounced guilty, tho in the opinion of many men he had very hard measure. For it appeared that he was a prisoner at the time when he was charged to have practised against the Government; that he was a declared enemy, and therefore by the laws of war free to make any such attempt; besides it was alledged that the persons, whom he was accused to have endeavoured to corrupt, had trapan’d him by their promises to serve the king in delivering Hull, if he would give them a commission to act for him, which commission was an old one that had long lain by him. But all this being not thought sufficient to excuse him, he was adjudged to die.

The rest of the prisoners were also condemned, and sentence of death being pronounced, Sir Henry Slingsby and Dr. Hewet had the favour of being [June 8] 1658 beheaded; and the others, being men of a lesser figure, were hanged.

Cromwel’s daughter and favourite Mrs. Cleypole [Elizabeth Claypole, who was reputed to intercede frequently with her father on behalf of royalists], laboured earnestly with her father to save the life of Dr. Hewet, but without success: which denial so afflicted her, that it was reported to have been one cause of her death, which happened soon after with the concurrence Aug. 6. of an ulcer in her womb.

We have also an account of the dying behavior of both Slingsby and — much more detailed — Hewitt, each of whom slated the injustice of their sentence as having greatly exaggerated their “treasonable” designs.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Martyrs,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Treason

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1942: Jacques Decour

Add comment May 30th, 2017 Headsman

The last letter of French Resistance fighter Jacques Decour (an alias for Daniel Decourdemanche) to his family on the morning of his execution, May 30, 1942. (From here.)

Saturday, May 30, 1942 — 6:45 am

My dear parents,

You have been expecting a letter from me for a long time. You did not expect to receive this one. I, too, hoped I would not cause you this grief. Say that I have remained up to the very end worthy of you, of our country, which we love.

You see, I might very well have died in war, or even in the bombardment of that night. So I do not regret having given meaning to this end. You know very well that I have committed no crime, you have no reason to blush at me, I have done my duty as a Frenchman. I do not think that my death is a catastrophe; remember that at this moment thousands of soldiers from all countries die every day, swept along, in a great wind that carries me away too. You know that I had been expecting this morning for two months, so I had time to prepare myself, but since I have no religion, I did not fall into the Meditation of death; I consider myself a little like a leaf that falls from the tree to make potting soil. The quality of the soil will depend on the quality of the leaves. I speak of the French youth, in whom I place all my hope.

My beloved parents, I shall doubtless be at Suresnes; you can if you wish request my transfer to Montmartre. You must forgive me for this sorrow. My only concern for three months has been your anxiety. At this moment, it is to leave you thus without your son, who has caused you more sorrows than joys. You see he is content, however, with the life he has lived, which has been very beautiful.

And now here are some commissions. I would send word to the one I love. If you see her, soon I hope, give her your affection, it is my dearest wish. I would also like you to take care of her parents who are in trouble. Excuse me for leaving them thus; I console myself by thinking that you will want to replace their “guardian angel”. Give them things that belong to me and belong to their daughter: the Pleiades editions, the Fables of La Fontaine, Tristan, the 4 Seasons, the little chickens, the two watercolors (Vernon and Issoire) the map of the 4 Paves du Roy. I would like my friend Michel to have my personal belongings (pen, pencil, wallets, watch, lighter). Embrace them all for me.

I have imagined, lately, the good meals we would share when I was released. You will have them without me, as a family, but not sadly, I beg of you. I do not want your thoughts to dwell on the beautiful things that could have happened, but on all those we have experienced. I have been reborn during these two months of isolation, without reading, without all my travels, all my experiences, all my meals. I even planned a novel. Thoughts of you have not left me, and I wish you much patience and courage, and especially no rancor. Give all my affection to my sisters, to the indefatigable Denise, who has devoted herself so much to me, and to the pretty mother of Michael and Denis. I had a great dinner with Sylvain on February 17, I often thought of it with pleasure as well as the famous meal of New Year’s Eve with Pierre and Renée. It was because the question of food had become more important! Give Sylvain and Pierre all my affection and also to Jean Bailly, my best comrade, say that I thank him very much for all the good times I have spent with him. If I had gone home on the evening of the 17th, I would have ended up arriving here, so there is no regret. I will write a note for Brigitte at the end of this letter, you will copy it to her. God knows how I thought of her. She has not seen her dad for two years …

That I thank him very much for all the good times I have spent with him. If I had gone home on the evening of the 17th, I would have ended up arriving here, so there is no regret. I will write a note for Brigitte at the end of this letter, you will copy it to her. God knows if I thought of her. She has not seen her dad for two years … That I thank him very much for all the good times I have spent with him. If I had gone home on the evening of the 17th, I would have ended up arriving here, so there is no regret. I will write a note for Brigitte at the end of this letter, you will copy it to her. God knows if I thought of her. She has not seen her dad for two years …

If you have the opportunity, have my students in Première* tell my substitute that I thought of the last scene of Egmont and the letter of Th. Körner to his father under any reserve of modesty. .. All my friendships to my colleagues and friend for whom I translated Goethe without betraying.

It is eight o’clock, it will be time to leave. I ate, smoked, drank coffee. I do not see any business to settle. If there are objects belonging to Madame Politzer, 170 bis, rue de Grenelle, (books, especially those of the lycee, phono, etc.) try to recover them. There is also your Memorial of St. Helena.

My dear parents, I embrace you with all my heart. I am near you and thoughts of you do not leave me.

Your Daniel

My beloved little Brigitte

Your daddy has not seen you much for some time but he has thought of you. Tell your mom that I trust her to make you a good, firm, cheerful girl who stands strong on her own two legs. Work hard and try to become a good pianist. Often think of your father and friend and all the good times we have shared together.

I embrace you with all my heart as I love you and embrace your mother.

Your Daniel

* The school he taught at — which, after the war, was renamed College-lycee Jacques-Decour.

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

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1521: Xicotencatl Axayacatl, Cortes fighter

Add comment May 21st, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1521, the Tlaxcallan warrior Xicotencatl Axayacatl (or Xicotencatl the Younger) was hanged by Hernan Cortes on the eve of his conquest of Tenochtitlan.

In an alternate history of Spain’s New World encounter it is Xicotencatl who has the glory of putting Cortes and his adventure to execution: the Tlaxcallans mounted a ferocious resistance when the conquistadors penetrated their territory, with Xicotencatl’s huge armies placing the Spanish in mortal peril despite the latter’s advantages of firearms and cavalry. Spanish soldier and diarist Bernal Diaz del Castillo would record of one engagement in September 1519

a battle of as fearful and dubious an issue as well could be. In an instant we were surrounded on all sides by such vast numbers of Indians, that the plain, here six miles in breadth, seemed as if it contained but one vast body of the enemy, in the midst of which stood our small army of 400 men, the greater part wounded and knocked up with fatigue. We were also aware that the enemy had marched out to battle with the determination to spare none of us, excepting those who were to be sacrificed to their idols.

When, therefore, the attack commenced, a real shower of arrows and stones was poured upon us; the whole ground was immediately covered with heaps of lances, whose points were provided with two edges, so very sharp that they pierced through every species of cuirass, and were particularly dangerous to the lower part of the body, which was in no way protected. They fell upon us like the very furies themselves, with the most horrible yells; we employed, however, our heavy guns, muskets, and crossbows, with so much effect, and received those who pressed eagerly upon us with such well-directed blows and thrusts, that considerable destruction was made among their ranks, nor did they allow us to approach so near to them as in the previous battle: our cavalry, in particular, showed great skill and bravery, so that they, next to the Almighty, were the principal means of saving us.

Indeed our line was already half broken; all the commands of Cortes and our other officers to restore order and form again were fruitless, the Indians continually rushing upon us in such vast crowds that we could only make place with sword in hand to save our line from being broken. …

Cortes (and the Almighty) made it out of that scrap but their small force was severely taxed by repeated engagements, including a destructive nighttime raid launched by Xicotencatl. The Spanish never conquered the Tlaxcallans — turning instead to diplomacy to attract them as allies against their rivals, the Aztecs.

So far was the victorious Xicotencatl from embracing this decision that he repeatedly ignored Tlaxcallan chiefs’ orders to stop fighting. His refusal to accommodate has inevitably been read retrospectively in view of indigenous anti-colonialism, but in the moment it was probably had a more prosaic cause: had he been suffered to complete Cortes’s destruction, he would have figured to gain a whip hand in domestic Tlaxcallan politics.

Still, the Indians were taking fearsome casualties from the Spanish and this combined with the prospect of turning Cortes’s invaders against their own enemies carried the decision. For many generations this timely alliance privileged the Tlaxcala nation, whose peoples ranked higher than other natives long into the Spanish sovereignty.

But it seems to have been intolerable for Xicotencatl Axayacatl.


The Last Days of Tenochtitlan — Conquest of Mexico by Cortez, by William de Leftwich Dodge (1899).

Cortes and his Tlaxcallan and other allies launched the final march that would conquer Tenochtitlan on May 22, 1521, but the day before setting out it was discovered that Xicotencatl had abandoned the camp. Diaz, again:

After considerable inquiries, it was found that he had secretly returned to Tlascalla on the previous night to take forcible possession of the caziquedom and territory of Chichimeclatecl. It appears, according to the accounts of the Tlascallans, that he wished to avail himself of this favorable opportunity of raising himself to supreme power in his own country, which the absence of Chichimeclatecl offered to him, who, in his opinion, was the only person that stood in his way since the death [by smallpox -ed.] of Maxixcatzin, as he did not fear any opposition from his old blind father. This Xicotencatl, the Tlascallans further added, had never felt any real inclination to join us in the war against Mexico, but had frequently assured them it would terminate in the destruction of us all.

When Chichimeclatecl received information of this, he instantly returned to Tezcuco in order to apprize Cortes of it. Our general, on hearing this, despatched five distinguished personages of Tezcuco, and two Tlascallans, who were his particular friends, after Xicotencatl, to request his immediate return to his troops, in Cortes’ name. They were to remind him that his father Lorenzo de Vargas would certainly have marched out against Mexico in person, if blindness and old age had not prevented him; that the whole population of Tlascalla continued loyal to his majesty, and that the revolt he wished to excite would throw dishonour on his own country. These representations Cortes desired should be accompanied by large promises, to induce him to return to obedience. Xicotencatl, however, haughtily replied, that he was determined to abide by his resolve, and our dominion in this country would not have continued thus long if his father and Maxixcatzin had followed his advice.

Upon this our general ordered an alguacil to repair in all haste with four of our horse and five distinguished men of Tezcuco to Xicotencatl’s abode, to take him prisoner, and hang him without any further ceremony. “All kindness,” added Cortes, “is thrown away upon this cazique. His whole time is spent in devising plots and creating mischief. I cannot suffer this to continue any longer; the matter has now come to a crisis.”

As soon as [conquistador Pedro de] Alvarado received information of these commands, he urgently begged of Cortes to pardon Xicotencatl. Our general replied that he would consider about it, though he secretly gave the alguacil peremptory orders to put him to death, which was accordingly done. Xicotencatl was hung in a town subject to Tezcuco, and thus an end was put to all his plottings. Many Tlascallans assured us that the elder Xicotencatl himself had cautioned Cortes against his son, and had advised him to put him to death.

This, at least, is the story. We lack Xicotencatl’s own voice here, and we must guess at the forces at work via the few and partisan narratives of the conquistadors. Anthropologist Ross Hassig speculates here that the “desertion” accusation — given that other similar “desertions” occur with unpunished regularity among both Spanish and natives — might have been merely pretextual on the part of Cortes, to eliminate a man he still considered a dangerous foe.

Either way, with the passage of years Xicotencatl has become a Mesoamerican symbol of indigenous valor and imperial resistance. His martial statue graces Plaza Xicohtencatl in the present-day city of Tlaxcala.

* Diaz’s narrative dates the Spanish departure from Tezcuco to May 13, instead of May 22 but he is extremely slipshod with chronology. Diaz is also a key primary source for the most lurid accounts of Aztec human sacrifice, and his reliability in that quarter has been challenged, too.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,Hanged,History,Mexico,Military Crimes,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Power,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1917: Otilio Montaño, Zapatista

Add comment May 18th, 2017 Headsman

One hundred years ago today, Otilio Montaño Sánchez was shot as a traitor to the Mexican Revolution.

Montaño was a rural schoolteacher who came to mentor Emiliano Zapata via Zapata’s cousin.

Montaño had the distinct of helping Zapata draw up his movement’s “sacred scripture,” the egalitarian Plan of Ayala, and rose with his protege to become Secretary of Public Instructions in the Zapatista governing junta.

This association was destined to be displaced by a different (ex-)revolutionary, Venustiano Carranza, who would break with Zapata and emerge from the Revolution as Mexico’s president. Montaño suffered the fate Carranza’s former allies would have wished to impose upon him: being accused of supporting a pro-Carranza revolt, a revolutionary tribunal had him shot (dishonorably, shot in the back) wearing a defamatory sign reading “So die all traitors to the fatherland.”

A small town in Morelos is named for Montaño.

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1919: Rudolf Egelhofer, Bavarian Soviet commandante

Add comment May 3rd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1919, the commandante of the “Red Army” of the short-lived Bavarian Soviet Republic was shot by the German soldiers and Freikorps that had just overrun the revolutionary republic.

The son of a pauper basketweaver, Rudolf Egelhofer enlisted in the navy in World War I and was involved in a naval revolt in the war’s closing days. Transplanting to Munich in the chaotic postwar environment, Egelhofer joined the Communist Party and became a fixture of the revolutionary movement; the socialist writer Oskar Maria Graf would record of Egelhofer’s stature at a parade that he stood “determined and sincere, in a sailor’s uniform, sometimes raising his fist. Those who heard him, had to believe in him.”

After a left-wing coup claimed Bavaria in early April, Egelhofer’s magnetism was entrusted with the impossible task of organizing an armed forces for the Soviet before Munich went the way of the Paris Commune. But the Bavarian Soviet was overwhelmed in less than a month.

In the first days of May, Egelhofer’s fate was shared by something like 700 supporters of the defeated Soviet.


The fierce “victim” dominates his executioner in Execution by Firing Squad of the Sailor Egelhofer, by Heinrich Ehmsen (1931). This is only the central panel of a triptych depicting the White storming of Red Munich; the piece is described in this post.

Ehmsen has a similar idea about relative stature at work in Execution by Firing Squad (Red Jacket) (1919).

Though little memorialized at the place of his glory and martyrdom — which fell on the western side of the Iron Curtain — numerous East Germany streets, public buildings, and naval vessels bore Egelhofer’s name in tribute during the Cold War.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Germany,History,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1857: The mutineer Jemadar Issuree Pandy

Add comment April 21st, 2017 Headsman

From the Annals of the Indian Rebellion, 1857-58:

THE MUTINEER JEMADAR ISSUREE PANDY.

This Jemadar of the 34th Regiment N.I. was brought to trial on the following charges: —

1st. For having at Barrackpore on the 29th March 1857, he being then in command of the quarter-guard of his regiment, not used his utmost or any endeavours to suppress a mutiny begun by Mungul Pandy, the said sepoy having on the afternoon of the day above mentioned, gone out into the parade ground in front of and near to the quarter-guard of the regiment armed with a sword and musket; and then and there used words to excite the men of the reigment to come forth and join him in resistance to lawful authority; and having then and there on the parade ground, and near to the quarter-guard of the regiment, discharged his loaded musket at Serjeant Major James Thornton Hewson, and Lieutenant Bempole Henry Baugh, of the 34th Regiment N.I., and then and there with a sword struck, and severely wounded, the said Lieutenant Baugh and Serjeant Major Hewson, and the said Jemadar not having taken any measures to arrest and confine the said sepoy throughout the aforesaid occurrences, nor to assist the said Lieutenant Baugh and Serjenat Major Hewson, and he [sic] the said Jemadar having, moreover, then and there discouraged and interfered to prevent any sepoys of his guard from going to their assistance.

2nd. For disobedience to the lawful command of his superior officers in not having advanced with his guard to rescue the Serjeant and capture the aforesaid sepoy, Mungul Pandy, when shortly after the occurrences, set forth in the first charge, he was ordered to do so by Brevet Colonel S.G. Wheler, commanding the 34th Regiment N.I.

The Court found the prisoner, Jemadar Issurree Pandy, guilty of both charges preferred against him, and sentenced him to suffer death. On the 21st April 1857 Major General Hearsey reported as follows: —

Jemadar Issuree Pandy was duly hanged by the neck this afternoon at 6 o’clock in presence of all the troops at the station; the crimes, finding, and sentence of the General Court Martial before which he was arraigned, approved and confirmed by His Excellency the Commander-in-Chief, having been first carefully explained to all the native corps.

It may be perhaps satisfactory to the Government to know that when on the scaffold the Jemadar made a voluntary confession of his guilt, and admitted the justice of the sentence which had been passed on him, at the same time imploring all his fellow soldiers who were present to take warning by his untimely fate.

They didn’t.

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1374: Tile von Damm, Braunschweig mayor

Add comment April 19th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1374, mayor Tile von Damm was beheaded by rebel populares in his home city of Braunschweig (Brunswick).

One of northern Europe’s great Hanseatic merchant cities, Braunschweig enjoyed a rich history of civic unrest — the Braunschweiger Schichten. (Literally shift, but also carrying the sense of rebellion.)


The Great Rebellion in Braunschweig, by Alfred von Schüssler (mid-19th century).

One of its most outstanding installments — the one recalled as the Große Schicht — kicked off on April 17, 1374. (Most of the information about this incident is in German, as are most of the links in this post.) On that evening, a meeting of the ruling council of merchant magnates with its guild chiefs on how to deal with Braunschweig’s crippling debt turned tetchy and spilled into a popular protest. Within hours, as a chronicler would later put it, the devil was set loose in Braunschweig.

Guild protests carried to the “House of the Seven Towers” where Tile von Damm(e) resplended in the manner fitting the city’s mayor and its wealthiest patrician. That house still exists to this day, but the mayor’s thread was measured in mere hours: he was soon hauled out and beheaded on the Hagenmarkt.

Either eight or ten magnates (sources seem to be split on the figure) were slain during these April disturbances with others fleeing as guild rebels took full control of the city, not to be fully restored until 1386 — although in a show of transnational oligarch solidarity, Braunschweig was booted out of the Hanseatic League while the lower orders had the run of the place.


Allegory of the Great Rebellion (1514).

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions

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1730: A Natchez woman tortured to death at New Orleans

Add comment April 11th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1730, French-allied Tunica Indians put a captured Natchez woman to grisly public death under the walls of New Orleans.

This is the English translation of Marc-Antoine Caillot’s Relation du voyage de la Louisianne ou Nouvelle France fait par le Sr. Caillot en l’année 1730, a key firsthand source for the incident in this post.

Months earlier the Natchez had risen in rebellion against the colonists in Louisiana — a bloody settling of accounts the that answered a French push to colonize more land with an attack meant to drive them out of Louisiana altogether. The initial, surprise attacks slew 237 French subjects, many in stomach-turning fashion. Friend of the site Dr. Beachcombing details a particularly atrocious murder in his post on the affair at Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog.

So the French were in a state of rage and fright on April 10 — the day after Easter — when an allied tribe, the Tunica, showed up at the Big Easy with six Natchez captives in tow, three women and three children. Chief among them was a woman readily recognized by the French as the wife of a once-friendly Natchez chief now “known for being an enemy of the French.” Indeed, escapees from Natchez captivity slated her with having given the go-ahead for the torture-murder of three of their countrymen.

And this hated foe the Tunica proceeded to offer to the French, as a gesture of goodwill.

As Sophie White explains in her “Massacre, Mardi Gras, and Torture in Early New Orleans” (The William and Mary Quarterly, July 2013),* Louisiana territory governor Etienne Perier in slyly declining the prisoner intentionally condemned her to a speedy and spectacular death. Rather than taking her into official custody for disposal by the French judiciary or diplomatic organs, Perier put her up for a night in the French jail while her captors prepared a performance for the morrow calculated to slake the bloodlust of French and native alike.

White’s narrative is worth excerpting at length here; all the parentheticals come from White’s original text.

Officially, Governor Perier could claim that he had maintained French notions of justice by rejecting the Tunica offer of the prisoner of war (even though at a later date he would openly write of another four male and two female Natchez having “been burnt here”). Yet he allotted a space for the Tunica to torture her and arranged for her to be kept in jail overnight while the Tunica danced the black “calumet of death” in preparation for her execution. In the morning, after gathering firewood, erecting a frame, and painting their faces and bodies, the Tunica “began to run as if possessed by the devil and, while yelling (it is their custom), they ran to the jail where she was in chains”; she was engaged in a final assertion of sartorial self-preservation, “fixing a ribbon to her braided hair,” hair that she knew would soon be scalped.

Like Perier, the colonial populace also became involved in exacting revenge on this member of the Natchez nation. Not only were “all the Sauvages who were in New Orleans” present at the torture ritual but colonists also attended the performance as spectators, as they might in France attend a public execution. They watched as the Tunica tied her to a frame and as a Natchez man who had abandoned his kin and been adopted by the Tunica stepped forward to burn her, starting with “the hair [poil, or body hair] of her … then one breast, then the buttocks, then the left breast” (the ellipses represent a deliberate authorial omission on the part of Caillot). Commentators described the methodical burning of torture victims as a form of slow-cooking (“a petit feu”). For Caillot, the ritual burning of the victim’s genitals, breasts, and buttocks was marked by the carefully observed but gruesome sight of “the abundance of grease mixed with blood that ran onto the ground.” His description evoked the cooking of meat basted in fat, with the frame simulating a spit on which the victim was roasted; if this frame/spit did not physically turn its meat, the torturers made sure that she was evenly roasted on all sides by their methodical movement across her body. This food preparation imagery was followed by other cooking analogies. As they were about to kill her (in contrast to the procedure in France, where spectators waited for the execution to be complete before grabbing souvenir pieces of the criminal’s body), “the French women who had suffered at her hands at the Natchez [settlement] each took a sharpened cane and larded her,” just as French culinary techniques called for piercing meat with a sharp stick prior to the insertion of thin strips of lard.

The Natchez woman was not impressed, but “during that long and cruel torture never shed a tear. On the contrary, she seemed to deride the unskilfulness of her tormenters, insulting them, and threatening that her death would soon be avenged by her tribe.”


Detail view (click for the full image) of a generic depiction of the torture frame, from Jean-Francois-Benjamin Dumont de Montigny’s memoir. Sophie White notes that this figure is identifiably female based on her genitalia and the long scalped hair mounted on the adjacent pole.

Over the next several years, the French not only turned back the attack but largely shattered and Natchez peoples, dispersing their remnants to fragmented communities throughout the U.S. South. Today only a few thousand Natchez souls remain, and their interesting language has died out entirely.

* Though it’s a bit tangential to the subject of this post, readers interested in this milieu might cotton to White’s Wild Frenchmen and Frenchified Indians: Material Culture and Race in Colonial Louisiana.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Flayed,France,Gruesome Methods,History,Louisiana,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Torture,USA,Wartime Executions,Women

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