Posts filed under 'Treason'

1982: Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, revolutionary foreign minister

Add comment September 15th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1982, Iranian revolutionary politician Sadegh Ghotbzadeh was shot in Tehran’s Evin Prison for supposedly plotting to overthrow the Islamic Republic.

Ghotbzadeh had come by his revolutionary aspirations back in the 1950s and 1960s, after radicalizing as a teenager with the ouster of nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh; he’d be kicked out of Georgetown University for neglecting his studies in favor of protesting the U.S.-backed Shah and enter a twilight world of professional revolutionary exiles.


In Paris with the Ayatollah Khomeini.

He eventually joined the circle orbiting the Ayatollah Khomenei, returning to Iran with him on the famous Air France flight of February 1, 1979. Ghotbzadeh would serve as the frequent translator and spokesman of Khomeini, eventually becoming Foreign Minister amid the tumult of the Iranian students’ seizure of U.S. embassy hostages in late 1979.

In those fraught months, the urbane Ghotbzadeh became a familiar face on American televisions. He was notable advocate within Iran for quickly ending the hostage standoff, and spoke openly about Republican U.S. presidential candidate Ronald Reagan‘s ongoing behind-the-scenes project to prevent a hostage deal that might redound to his opponent’s electoral advantage.* His distaste for the hostage confrontation, as well as his westernized accoutrements, quickly set him at loggerheads with the revolution’s growing fundamentalist faction, and he was forced out of the foreign ministry in August 1980.

He was destined for the tragedy of revolutions devouring their own: arrested in April of 1982, his former associations with Khomeini availed him nothing in the face of a revolutionary tribunal that condemned him for “masterminding a plot to overthrow the Islamic Republic” and to assassinate Khomeini himself. Under torture, Ghotbzadeh confessed to planning a coup in a script right out of show trial central casting: “I am shamed before the nation. Free me or execute me.”

* This project succeeded so spectacularly that it’s still officially a kooky conspiracy theory in American political culture.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Iran,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Treason

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1569: Gaspard de Coligny, in effigy

Add comment September 13th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1569, the intrepid Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny was hanged in Paris and gibbeted at Montfaucon. Luckily for him, Coligny as these events unfolded was miles away from the executioner, at the head of a large armed host.

One of the towering figures of France’s bloody Wars of Religion, Coligny (English Wikipedia entry | French) hailed from one of the most illustrious families of the realm; his father was a Marshal of France; as a young man at court in the 1540s he had been fast friends with the Duke of Guise, the staunch Catholic who was eventually the target of the botched Huguenot kidnapping in 1560 that set spark to tinder for sectarian civil war.

An admired battlefield commander, Coligny’s conversion to Protestant put a high card in the Huguenot party’s hand, one whom Catholic ultras increasingly yearned to eliminate.

Coligny frustrated that aspiration over and over. Just in 1569, he had escaped from a Catholic battlefield victory that saw the capture and murder of Protestant France’s other great leader; then, he routed the Catholics at La Roche-l’Abeille; and, just days before the events in this post, repelled the Siege of Poitiers.

With sectarian hatred running high that season in Paris — and the dwindling treasury in need of the capital infusions only forfeiture can supply — the Parlement summoned Coligny to a trial it knew he would not attend, and there condemned him a traitor in absentia.

The sentence was declared, barbarously ignoring every principle of justice. It denounced him as an outlaw. It forbade him “all defence against the charges and conclusions.” It branded him as a traitor, a conspirator, the disturber of peace, the violator of treaties, the author of rebellion and the like hard names. “Therefore, the said Coligny is deprived of all honours, estates and dignities, and sentenced to be strangled upon the Place de Greve, either in person or effigy, and his body to be hung upon a gibbet at Montfaucon. His arms and effigies to be dragged at the tail of a horse through the towns and fauxbourgs, and then to be broken and destroyed by the public executioner, in token of everlasting infamy. His feudal possessions to revert to the crown, and all his property to be confiscated to the king. His children are declared ignoble villains, plebeians, detestable, infamous, incapable of holding estates, offices and goods in this kingdom … No one shall give to the said Coligny shelter, aid, comfort, food, water, fuel or fire.” And, lastly, a reward of fifty thousand crowns was put upon his head. This was offered to “any person who should deliver the admiral, live or dead, into the hands of justice, with a full pardon if he was concerned in the rebellion.”

This sentence of Tuesday the thirteenth of September was enforced immediately. Nor was the violence confined to Coligny’s escutcheons for a troop was dispatched to the Coligny estates to sack his mansion, root up his vineyard, and put the adjoining town to the torch “so effectually that hardly a trace of it was left.”

Coligny himself fought on … but the ridiculous sentence foreshadowed his real fate, right down to the horrible gibbet.


The gibbet of Montfaucon, from the Grandes Chronique de France by Jean Fouquet (c. 1460).

With both Catholics and Huguenots gathered in Paris for the tense celebration of an intersectarian royal wedding, a Catholic assassin unsuccessfully attempted the life of Coligny on August 22, 1572 — placing the entire city on edge. Fearing the prospect of the now-vigilant Huguenots achieving either escape or revenge, Catholics unleashed on the night of August 23-24 a general massacre of Protestants that will blacken the name of St. Bartholomew’s Day to the ends of recorded history. The injured Coligny was this butchery’s first and signal casualty, as we find from the historian Jacques Auguste de Thou, a witness to events as a young man in Paris —

The duke of Guise, who was put in full command of the enterprise, summoned by night several captains of the Catholic Swiss mercenaries from the five little cantons, and some commanders of French companies, and told them that it was the will of the king that, according to God’s will, they should take vengeance on the band of rebels while they had the beasts in the toils. Victory was easy and the booty great and to be obtained without danger. The signal to commence the massacre should be given by the bell of the palace, and the marks by which they should recognize each other in the darkness were a bit of white linen tied around the left arm and a white cross on the hat.

Meanwhile Coligny awoke and recognized from the noise that a riot was taking place. Nevertheless he remained assured of the king’s good will, being persuaded thereof either by his credulity or by Teligny, his son-in-law: he believed the populace had been stirred up by the Guises, and that quiet would be restored as soon as it was seen that soldiers of the guard, under the command of Cosseins, had been detailed to protect him and guard his property.

But when he perceived that the noise increased and that some one had fired an arquebus in the courtyard of his dwelling, then at length, conjecturing what it might be, but too late, he arose from his bed and having put on his dressing gown he said his prayers, leaning against the wall. Labonne held the key of the house, and when Cosseins commanded him, in the king’s name, to open the door he obeyed at once without fear and apprehending nothing. But scarcely had Cosseins entered when Labonne, who stood in his way, was killed with a dagger thrust. The Swiss who were in the courtyard, when they saw this, fled into the house and closed the door, piling against it tables and all the furniture they could find. It was in the first scrimmage that a Swiss was killed with a ball from an arquebus fired by one of Cosseins’ people. But finally the conspirators broke through the door and mounted the stairway, Cosseins, Attin, Corberan de Cordillac, Seigneur de Sarlabous, first captains of the regiment of the guards, Achilles Petrucci of Siena, all armed with cuirasses, and Besme the German, who had been brought up as a page in the house of Guise; for the duke of Guise was lodged at court, together with the great nobles and others who accompanied him.

After Coligny had said his prayers with Merlin the minister, he said, without any appearance of alarm, to those who were present (and almost all were surgeons, for few of them were of his retinue): “I see clearly that which they seek, and I am ready steadfastly to suffer that death which I have never feared and which for a long time past I have pictured to myself. I consider myself happy in feeling the approach of death and in being ready to die in God, by whose grace I hope for the life everlasting. I have no further need of human succor. Go then from this place, my friends, as quickly as you may, for fear lest you shall be involved in my misfortune, and that some day your wives shall curse me as the author of your loss. For me it is enough that God is here, to whose goodness I commend my soul, which is so soon to issue from my body.” After these words they ascended to an upper room, whence they sought safety in flight here and there over the roofs.

Meanwhile the conspirators, having burst through the door of the chamber, entered, and when Besme, sword in hand, had demanded of Coligny, who stood near the door, “Are you Coligny?” Coligny replied, “Yes, I am he,” with fearless countenance. “But you, young man, respect these white hairs. What is it you would do? You cannot shorten by many days this life of mine.” As he spoke, Besme gave him a sword thrust through the body, and having withdrawn his sword, another thrust in the mouth, by which his face was disfigured. So Coligny fell, killed with many thrusts. Others have written that Coligny in dying pronounced as though in anger these words: “Would that I might at least die at the hands of a soldier and not of a valet.” But Attin, one of the murderers, has reported as I have written, and added that he never saw any one less afraid in so great a peril, nor die more steadfastly.

Then the duke of Guise inquired of Besme from the courtyard if the thing were done, and when Besme answered him that it was, the duke replied that the Chevalier d’Angouleme was unable to believe it unless he saw it; and at the same time that he made the inquiry they threw the body through the window into the courtyard, disfigured as it was with blood. When the Chevalier d’Angouleme, who could scarcely believe his eyes, had wiped away with a cloth the blood which overran the face and finally had recognized him, some say that he spurned the body with his foot. However this may be, when he left the house with his followers he said: “Cheer up, my friends! Let us do thoroughly that which we have begun. The king commands it.” He frequently repeated these words, and as soon as they had caused the bell of the palace clock to ring, on every side arose the cry, “To arms!” and the people ran to the house of Coligny. After his body had been treated to all sorts of insults, they threw it into a neighboring stable, and finally cut off his head, which they sent to Rome. They also shamefully mutilated him, and dragged his body through the streets to the bank of the Seine, a thing which he had formerly almost prophesied, although he did not think of anything like this.

As some children were in the act of throwing the body into the river, it was dragged out and placed upon the gibbet of Montfaucon, where it hung by the feet in chains of iron; and then they built a fire beneath, by which he was burned without being consumed; so that he was, so to speak, tortured with all the elements, since he was killed upon the earth, thrown into the water, placed upon the fire, and finally put to hang in the air. After he had served for several days as a spectacle to gratify the hate of many and arouse the just indignation of many others, who reckoned that this fury of the people would cost the king and France many a sorrowful day, Francois de Montmorency, who was nearly related to the dead man, and still more his friend, and who moreover had escaped the danger in time, had him taken by night from the gibbet by trusty men and carried to Chantilly, where he was buried in the chapel.


Print by Flemish-German artist Frans Hogenberg depicts on the lower left the assassination attempt on Coligny of August 22, 1573, and on the right the next night’s bedroom attack upon the wounded man, with the murderers spilling his body out the window. (Click for a larger image)

(Belatedly) part of the Themed Set: Executions in Effigy.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Disfavored Minorities,Executed in Effigy,Execution,France,God,Hanged,History,Nobility,Not Executed,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1306: Simon Fraser, William Wallace comrade in arms

Add comment September 8th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1306, Scottish patriot Simon Fraser was drawn and quartered in London.

This Norman-descended lord was one of the side-switching nobles during the wars of William Wallace, but after completing the full circuit from Wallace to Edward I and back again, he unexpectedly decided to lash himself to St. Andrew‘s cross for good.

Perhaps he could tell where the wind was blowing, and not just for his historical reputation: Fraser’s former ally, “Red” Comyn, went down the other fork in the road, submitting himself to an irresistible English invasion the better to devote his energies to his longshot horse in the confusing Scottish regnal derby.

Comyn’s reward was to be personally daggered to death at the altar of Greyfriars Church by Robert the Bruce.


The murder of John Comyn.

But no amount of royal sacrilege could arrest the popular fad for cutting a deal, and as celebrated in this History of the Frasers,

Every man of influence in the Kingdom, except Sir Simon Fraser, Sir William Wallace, and the band of patriots who comprised the garrison of Stirling, followed the example of Cumming [Comyn] … The patriots were proclaimed outlaws and their estates forfeited, and they ultimately sacrificed their noble lives in the undying service of their country. The redoubted Sir William Wallace continued most deservedly to be the idol of his countrymen for the glorious part which he took in establishing the independence of his fatherland, but “if to him be due the glory of being the first to awaken Scotland from her ignominious slumber, his efforts were nobly seconded by Sir Simon Fraser, who alone of the aristocracy was disposed to view with envy the merit which called his hero to command.”

Fraser outlived Wallace by a year, persisting in the field “bold as Caesar” which supposedly led a couple of Scottish knights imprisoned in the Tower to cockily wager their heads that the English would never corral him.*

Fraser suffered the torment of being hanged and cut down still alive for beheading, the spectacle of a double death (with the disemboweling part mercifully saved for posthumous application). His head was set on a spike on London Bridge beside Wallace’s, and his mangled trunk hung in chains under guard lest any soul sensitive to Scotch nationalism or mephitis should undertake to cut it down.

For all that he’s not even the most famous Simon Fraser to be executed by the English.

* Edward collected his prize; you can read all about it as an aside in this ballad on the execution of Fraser.

Sire Herbert of Morham, feyr knyht ant bold,
For the love of Frysel ys lyf wes ysold.
A wajour he made, so hit wes ytold,
Ys heued of to smhyte yef me him brohte in hold,
Wat so bytyde.
Sory wes he thenne,
Tho he myhte him kenne
Thourh the toun ryde.

Thenne seide ys scwyer a word anon-ryht:
“Sire, we beth dede; ne helpeth hit no wyht!”
(Thomas de Boys the scwyer wes to nome.)
“Nou Ychot oure wajour turneth ous to grome,
So Y bate!”
Y do ou to wyte,
Here heued was ofsmyte
Byfore the Tour gate.

Sir Herbert of Morham, a fair and bold knight,
For the love of Fraser his life was sold.
A wager he made, as it was told,
To have his head cut off if they captured Fraser,
Whatever betide.
Sorry was he then,
When he might see him
Ride through the town.

Then his squire spoke a word immediately:
“Sir, we’re dead; there’s no creature to help us!”
(Thomas de Bois was the squire’s name.)
“Now I know that our wager brings us to harm,
So my courage ends!”
I give you to know,
Their heads were cut off
Before the Tower gate.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Scotland,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1741: John Ury, schoolmaster

Add comment August 29th, 2017 Headsman

Colonial New York’s summer 1741 slave rebellion panic* drew to a close on this date with the execution of the alleged Catholic priest John Ury.

The supposed plot to fire the city, whose reality and extent have been questioned ever since, had seen some 30 souls to the gallows and stakes these past four months after a suspicious series of fires hit the city in the spring.

The original supposed spider at the center of the web of was a white innkeep called John Hughson, who kept a raucous tavern frequented by blacks — and also kept a serving-girl named Mary Burton, the “eyewitness” who would become the inquisitor-judge Daniel Horsmanden‘s faithful familiar throughout the trials, conjuring every new accusation required of the next plot twist.

But even as Hughson was executed in June, the compounding accusations of people in fear of their lives had driven the story past the confines of his humble tavern, all the way to the capitals of the European powers against whom England was fighting a New World naval war. Jill LePore in New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan characterizes four Venn-patterned seditions that investigators perceived over the course of these months:

  • Hughson’s Plot, centered on the publican and his establishment;
  • The Negro Plot, extending well beyond Hughson’s circle to compass perhaps the majority of black people in New York;
  • The Spanish Plot, a foreign plan — possibly coordinated with an internal slave rising — to destroy New York or seize her for Spain; and,
  • The Catholic Plot.

It was the last of these, perfectly calibrated for the Anglo id, that would gather all the other strands together. What hand could unite the threats within and without? The priest. Who moved conspiratorially among Englishmen while obeying the dictates of a foreign potentate? The priest. Who gave men the boldness to murder their masters through his promise of absolving worldly sin? The priest.

The confusing — the incoherent — unfolding of trials that summer became marvelously clarified once apprehended as a Catholic intrigue; maybe the only wonder was that this decisive reveal emerged so late. The prosecutor of the trial that concerns us in this post would say as much in his summation:

Though this work of darkness, in the contrivance of a horrible plot, to burn and destroy this city, has manifested itself in many blazing effects, to the terror and amazement of us all; yet the secret springs of this mischief lay long concealed: this destructive scene has opened by slow degrees: but now, gentlemen, we have at length great reason to conclude, that it took its rise from a foreign influence; and that it originally depended upon causes, that we ourselves little thought of, and which, perhaps, very few of the inferior and subordinate agents were intimately acquainted with.

Gentlemen, if the evidence you have heard is sufficient to produce a general conviction that the late fires in this city, and the murderous design against its inhabitants, are the effects of a Spanish and popish plot, then the mystery of this iniquity, which has so much puzzled us, is unveiled, and our admiration ceases: all the mischiefs we have suffered or been threatened with, are but a sprout from that evil root, a small stream from that overflowing fountain of destruction, that has often deluged the earth with slaughter and blood, and spread ruin and desolation far and wide.

It might have been a warning letter sent by governor of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, that prepared this popish cast to events. “Some intelligence I had of a villainous design of a very extraordinary nature, if true, very important, viz. that the Spaniards had employed emissaries to burn all the magazines and considerable towns in the English North-America,” Oglethorpe wrote in May of 1741. And who were these “emissaries”? “Many priests were employed, who pretended to be physicians, dancing-masters, and other such kinds of occupations; and under that pretence to get admittance and confidence in families.”

These few words would prove a death warrant.

Days after Oglethorpe’s letter arrived to New York, a Manhattan newcomer named John Ury was taken up as a suspected undercover priest — appearing to fit Oglethorpe’s description for he had advertised himself a schoolmaster “pretending to teach Greek and Latin.” Latin!

Mary Burton, the Hughsons’ servant turned stool pigeon for all seasons, revised her original depositions averring that she had never seen white people besides her own household at Hughson’s nefarious negro gatherings and now conveniently remembered that this guy named Ury or Jury “used to come there almost every night, and sometimes used to lie there.” And he was Catholicizing the slaves as he inducted them into a spectacular conspiracy. How could I have forgotten to mention it?!

“Corroborating” testimony to this same effect would also be wrenched from the white soldier William Kane … when Mary’s fabrications against Kane forced him to choose between joining his accuser in perjury or joining slaves at the gallows. And the case was cinched by John Hughson’s miserable daughter Sarah, who spent that entire summer suspended between life and death before she was finally pardoned on the very morning of John Ury’s trial — an expedient necessary to clear the reluctant but desperate young woman to provide evidence against the “priest.”

Ury denied being Catholic at all; he defended himself vigorously in a nine-hour trial and clowned his accuser on cross-examination:

Prisoner: You say you have seen me several times at Hughson’s, what clothes did I usually wear?

Mary Burton: I cannot tell what clothes you wore particularly.

Prisoner: That is strange, and [k]now me so well.

Furthermore, Ury noted, he had been forewarned of the suspicions against him but not attempted to flee. Plus, what about all those people who had been executed since May? “The negro who confessed as it is said that he set fire to the fort did not mention me in all his confession doubtless he would not have neglected and passed over such a person as I am said to be … neither Huson his wife nor the creature that was hanged with them and all that have been put to death since did not once name me.”

Show trials are not proper venues for defenses, of course. If anything can be said on behalf of Ury’s appalling prosecution, it is that the production of an arch-villain permitted the final closure of a terrorist-hunt that weeks before had seemed on the verge of becoming a literal hecatomb. Horsmanden’s senior colleague on the bench, James De Lancey, had shown keen to wrap things up; at the same time, as an Atlantic oligarch, he likely viewed the foreign threat of the Spanish and/or Catholic plot far more gravely. From either perspective, Ury’s death was a fit end to the scene.

Ury was hanged on August 29, 1741, a month to the day after his trial. (He was originally to have shared his gallows with the Spaniard Juan de la Silva on August 15, but had been respited.) The freelance teacher turned infernal mastermind prepared a written vindication of himself for a friend, and at the gallows he “repeated somewhat of the substance of it before he was turned of.” Here it is:

Fellow Christians —

I am now going to suffer a death attended with ignominy and pain; but it is the cup that my heavenly father has put into my hand, and I drink it with pleasure; it is the cross of my dear redeemer, I bear it with alacrity; knowing that all that live godly in Christ Jesus, must suffer persecution; and we must be made in some degree partakers of his sufferings before we can share in the glories of his resurrection: for he went not up to glory before he ascended Mount Calvary; did not wear the crown of glory before the crown of thorns.

And I am to appear before an awful and tremendous God, a being of infinite purity and unerring justice, a God who by no means will clear the guilty, that cannot be reconciled either to sin or sinners; now this is the being at whose bar I am to stand, in the presence of this God, the possessor of heaven and earth, I lift up my hands and solemnly protest I am innocent of what is laid to my charge: I appeal to the great God for my non-knowledge of Hewson [sic], his wife, or the creature that was hanged with them, I never saw them living, dying, or dead; nor never had I any knowledge or confederacy with white or black as to any plot; and upon the memorials of the body and blood of my dearest lord, in the creatures of bread and wine, in which I have commemorated the love of my dying lord, I protest that the witnesses are perjured; I never knew the perjured witnesses but at my trial.

But for the removal of all scruples that may arise after my death I shall give my thoughts on some points.

First — I firmly believe and attest, that it is not in the power of man to forgive sin; that it is the prerogative only of the great God to dispense pardon for sins; and that those who dare pretend to such a power, do in some degree commit that great and unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit, because they pretend to that power which their own consciences proclaim to be a lie.

Again, I solemnly attest and believe, that a person having committed crimes that have or might have proved hurtful or destructive to the peace of society, and does not discover the whole scheme, and all the persons concerned with them, cannot obtain pardon from God: and it is not the taking any oath or oaths that ought to hinder him from confessing his guilt, and all that he knows about it; for such obligations are not only sinful, but unpardonable, if not broken: now a person firmly believing this, and knowing that an eternal state of happiness or misery depends upon the performance or non-performance of the above-mentioned things, cannot, will not trifle with such important affairs.

I have not more to say by way of clearing my innocence, knowing that to a true Christian unprejudiced mind, I must appear guiltless; but however, I am not very solicitous about it. I rejoice, and it is now my comfort (and that will support me and protect me from the crowd of evil spirits that I must meet with in my flight to the region of bliss assigned me) that my conscience speaks peace to me.

Indeed, it may be shocking to some serious Christians, that the holy God should suffer innocence to be slain by the hands of cruel and bloody persons; (I mean the witnesses who swore against me at my trial), indeed, there may be reasons assigned for it; but, as they may be liable to objections, I decline them; and shall only say, that this is one of the dark providences of the great God, in his wise, just and good government of this lower earth.

In fine, I depart this waste, this howling wilderness, with a mind serene, free from all malice, with a forgiving spirit, so far as the gospel of my dear and only redeemer obliges and enjoins me to, hoping and praying, that Jesus, who alone is the giver of repentance, will convince, conquer and enlighten my murderers’ souls, that they may publicly confess their horrid wickedness before God and the world, so that their souls may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

And now, a word of advice to you, spectators: behold me launching into eternity; seriously, solemnly view me, and ask yourselves severally, how stands the case with me? die I must: am I prepared to meet my Lord when the midnight cry is echoed forth? shall I then have the wedding garment on? Oh, sinners! trifle no longer; consider life hangs on a thread; here to-day and gone to-morrow; forsake your sins ere ye be forsaken forever: hearken, now is God awfully calling you to repent, warning you by me, his minister and prisoner, to embrace Jesus, to take, to lay hold on him for your alone savior, in order to escape the wrath to come; no longer delay, seeing the summons may come before ye are aware, and you standing before the bar of a God who is consuming fire out of the Lord Jesus Christ, should be hurled, be doomed to that place, where their worm dies not, and their fire is never to be quenched.

* Longtime readers may recall that the series to which this post belongs ran last year. Embarrassingly I lost track of the date, and in the almanac form the calendar is unforgiving.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arson,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,New York,Public Executions,Terrorists,Treason,USA,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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388: Magnus Maximus, minimized

Add comment August 28th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 388, Magnus Maximus, partially successful usurper of the western Roman Empire, was put to death by Emperor Theodosius.

The late centuries of Rome witness many a rebellious general but the smart money in a civil war rarely fancied the guy whose power base was distant Britannia. With his bombastic name and balls to back it, Magnus bigly bucked those odds, defeating and murdering the western Augustus Gratian in Gaul in 383. From there he bossed Africa, Britain, and his native Spain for several years.

The departure from Britain of this local chancer made good would prove to correspond approximately with the empire’s crumbling foothold on on the island, with the sandal-shorn Roman feet in ancient times last walking upon England’s mountains green in 410. As the last, most scintillating representative of Roman Britain, Magnus Maximus has survived into legend — extolled for example by Geoffrey of Monmouth as the title hero of “The Dream of Macsen Wledig”. In it, “Macsen”/Maximus weds a Welsh princess and sires a native dynasty, granting Brittany to the Britons in gratitude for their aid as he conquers Rome.

But forget living in legend. The real Magnus Maximus, like every aspirant to the dangerous purple, mostly just worried about living out the next campaign season.

He had a spell of tense peace with his eastern opposite number, during which time Maximus — a staunch Nicene Christian — had the distinction in 385 of decreeing the trial on trumped-up sorcery charges of the dissident bishop Priscillian. It’s widely, if loosely, accounted the very first intra-Christian heresy execution. (Saint Ambrose of Milan and St. Martin of Tours both intervened strongly to oppose this precedent which has spawned so very imitations.)

Meanwhile Maximus and Theodosius maneuvered toward inevitable civil war and it is obvious from his presence on this here blog that Maximus on this occasion did not rise to his nomens. As Zosimus describes,

Theodosius, having passed through Pannonia [routing Maximus in the process -ed.] and the defiles of the Appennines, attacked unawares the forces of Maximus before they were prepared for him. A part of his army, having pursued them with the utmost speed, forced their way through the gates of Aquileia, the guards being too few to resist them. Maximus was torn from his imperial throne while in the act of distributing money to his soldiers, and being stripped of his imperial robes, was brought to Theodosius, who, having in reproach enumerated some of his crimes against the commonwealth, delivered him to the common executioner to receive due punishment.

Such was the end of Maximus and of his usurpation.*

The poet Pacatus thereafter paid the conquering Theodosius homage for this victory in one of antiquity’s great panegyrics. (Enjoy it in the original Latin here.) Sure he lost the war, but how many figures are both magnus and maximus in fields as disparate as Celtic mythology and classical rhetoric?

Audiophiles might enjoy history podcasters’ take on Magnus Maximus: he’s been covered by both the British History Podcast (episode 31) and the History of Rome Podcast (episodes 156 and 157).

* After the post-Maximus arrangements Theodosius made in the west also went pear-shaped, necessitating yet another conquest and execution, Theodosius established himself as the emperor of both the eastern and western halves of the Roman world in 392. He was last man ever destined to enjoy that distinction.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Italy,Myths,Power,Put to the Sword,Roman Empire,Soldiers,Treason,Wales,Wartime Executions

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1746: Lords Kilmarnock and Balmerino, Jacobites

Add comment August 18th, 2017 Horace Walpole

(Thanks to prolific litterateur and Whig M.P. Horace Walpole for the correspondence we repurpose here as a guest post on the beheadings of Lords Kilmarnock and Balmerino. Both men were captured upon the great wreck at Culloden of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. In the service of readability we’ve taken the liberty of adding line breaks and eliding Walpole’s observations on general news and society gossip not touching the Jacobite trials.)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Arlington Street, Aug. 1, 1746.

I am this moment come from the conclusion of the greatest and most melancholy scene I ever yet saw you will easily guess it was the trials of the rebel Lords. As it was the most interesting sight, it was the most solemn and fine: a coronation is a puppet-show, and all the splendour of it idle; but this sight at once feasted one’s eyes and engaged all one’s passions.

It began last Monday; three parts of Westminster-hall were inclosed with galleries, and hung with scarlet; and the whole ceremony was conducted with the most awful solemnity and decency, except in the one point of leaving the prisoners at the bar, amidst the idle curiosity of some crowd, and even with the witnesses who had sworn against them, while the Lords adjourned to their own House to consult.

No part of the royal family was there, which was a proper regard to the unhappy men, who were become their victims.

One hundred and thirty-nine Lords were present, and made a noble sight on their benches frequent and full! The Chancellor was Lord High Steward; but though a most comely personage with a fine voice, his behaviour was mean, curiously searching for occasion to bow to the minister that is no peer, and consequently applying to the other ministers, in a manner, for their orders; and not even ready at the ceremonial. To the prisoners he was peevish; and instead of keeping up to the humane dignity of the law of England, whose character it is to point out favour to the criminal, he crossed them, and almost scolded at any offer they made towards defence.

I had armed myself with all the resolution I could, with the thought of their crimes and of the danger past, and was assisted by the sight of the Marquis of Lothian in weepers for his son who fell at Culloden — but the first appearance of the prisoners shocked me! their behaviour melted me!

Lord Kilmarnock and Lord Cromartie are both past forty, but look younger.

Lord Kilmarnock is tall and slender, with an extreme fine person: his behaviour a most just mixture between dignity and submission; if in any thing to be reprehended, a little affected, and his hair too exactly dressed for a man in his situation; but when I say this, it is not to find fault with him, but to show how little fault there was to be found.

Lord Cromartie is an indifferent figure, appeared much dejected, and rather sullen: he dropped a few tears the first day, and swooned as soon as he got back to his cell.

For Lord Balmerino, he is the most natural brave old fellow I ever saw: the highest intrepidity, even to indifference. At the bar he behaved like a soldier and a man; in the intervals of form, with carelessness and humour.

He pressed extremely to have his wife, his pretty Peggy, with him in the Tower. Lady Cromartie only sees her husband through the grate, not choosing to be shut up with him, as she thinks she can serve him better by her intercession without: she is big with child and very handsome; so are their daughters.

When they were to be brought from the Tower in separate coaches, there was some dispute in which the axe must go — old Balmerino cried, “Come, come, put it with me.” At the bar, he plays with his fingers upon the axe, while he talks to the gentleman-gaoler; and one day somebody coming up to listen, he took the blade and held it like a fan between their faces. During the trial, a little boy was near him, but not tall enough to see; he made room for the child and placed him near himself.

When the trial began, the two Earls pleaded guilty; Balmerino not guilty, saying he could prove his not being at the taking of the castle of Carlisle, as was laid in the indictment.

Then the King’s counsel opened, and Serjeant Skinner pronounced the most absurd speech imaginable; and mentioned the Duke of Perth, “who,” said he, “I see by the papers is dead.”

Then some witnesses were examined, whom afterwards the old hero shook cordially by the hand.

The Lords withdrew to their House, and returning demanded, of the judges, whether one point not being proved, though all the rest were, the indictment was false? to which they unanimously answered in the negative. Then the Lord High Steward asked the Peers severally, whether Lord Balmerino was guilty! All said, “guilty upon honour,” and then adjourned, the prisoner having begged pardon for giving them so much trouble.

While the lords were withdrawn, the Solicitor-General Murray (brother of the Pretender‘s minister) officiously and insolently went up to Lord Balmerino, and asked him, how he could give the Lords so much trouble, when his solicitor had informed him that his plea could be of no use to him Balmerino asked the bystanders who this person was and being told, he said, “Oh, Mr. Murray! I am extremely glad to see you; I have been with several of your relations; the good lady, your mother, was of great use to us at Perth.”

Are not you charmed with this speech? how just it was as he went away, he said, “They call me Jacobite; I am no more a Jacobite than any that tried me: but if the Great Mogul had set up his standard, I should have followed it, for I could not starve.” The worst of his case is, that after the battle of Dumblain, having a company in the Duke of Argyll‘s regiment, he deserted with it to the rebels, and has since been pardoned. Lord Kilmarnock is a presbyterian, with four earldoms in him, but so poor since Lord Wilmington’s stopping a pension that my father had given him, that he often wanted a dinner.

Cromartie was receiver of the rents of the King’s second son in Scotland, which, it was understood, he should not account for; and by that means had six hundred a-year from the Government: Lord Elibank, a very prating, impertinent Jacobite, was bound for him in nine thousand pounds, for which the Duke is determined to sue him.

When the Peers were going to vote, Lord Foley withdrew, as too well a wisher; Lord Moray, as nephew of Lord Balmerino — and Lord Stair — as, I believe, uncle to his great-grandfather. Lord Windsor, very affectedly, said, “I am sorry I must say, guilty upon my honour.” Lord Stamford would not answer to the name of Henry, having been christened Harry — what a great way of thinking on such an occasion! I was diverted too with old Norsa, the father of my brother’s concubine, an old Jew that kept a tavern; my brother, as auditor of the exchequer, has a gallery along one whole side of the court: I said, “I really feel for the prisoners!” old Issachar replied, “Feel for them! pray, if they had succeeded, what would have become of all us?”

When my Lady Townshend heard her husband vote, she said, “I always knew my Lord was guilty, but I never thought he would own it upon his honour.” Lord Balmerino said, that one of his reasons for pleading not guilty, was, that so many ladies might not be disappointed of their show.

On Wednesday they were again brought to Westminster-hall, to receive sentence; and being asked what they had to say, Lord Kilmarnock, with a very fine voice, read a very fine speech, confessing the extent of his crime, but offering his principles as some alleviation, having his eldest son (his second unluckily was with him,) in the Duke’s army, fighting for the liberties of his country at Culloden, where his unhappy father was in arms to destroy them.

He insisted much on his tenderness to the English prisoners, which some deny, and say that he was the man who proposed their being put to death, when General Stapleton urged that he was come to fight, and not to butcher; and that if they acted any such barbarity, he would leave them with all his men. He very artfully mentioned Van Hoey’s letter, and said how much he should scorn to owe his life to such intercession.

Lord Cromartie spoke much shorter, and so low, that he was not heard but by those who sat very near him; but they prefer his speech to the other. He mentioned his misfortune in having drawn in his eldest son, who is prisoner with him; and concluded with saying, “If no part of this bitter cup must pass from me, not mine, O God, but thy will be done!” If he had pleaded not guilty, there was ready to be produced against him a paper signed with his own hand, for putting the English prisoners to death. Lord Leicester went up to the Duke of Newcastle, and said, “I never heard so great an orator as Lord Kilmarnock; if I was your grace, I would pardon him, and make him paymaster.”

That morning a paper had been sent to the lieutenant of the Tower for the prisoners; he gave it to Lord Cornwallis, the governor, who carried it to the House of Lords. It was a plea for the prisoners, objecting that the late act for regulating the trial of rebels did not take place till after their crime was committed. The Lords very tenderly and rightly sent this plea to them, of which, as you have seen, the two Earls did not make use; but old Balmerino did, and demanded council on it. The High Steward, almost in a passion, told him, that when he had been offered council, he did not accept it. Do but think on the ridicule of sending them the plea, and then denying them council on it! The Duke of Newcastle, who never lets slip an opportunity of being absurd, took it up as a ministerial point, in defence of his creature the Chancellor; but Lord Granville moved, according to order, to adjourn to debate in the chamber of Parliament, where the Duke of Bedford and many others spoke warmly for their having council; and it was granted. I said their, because the plea would have saved them all, and affected nine rebels who had been hanged that very morning; particularly one Morgan, a poetical lawyer.

Lord Balmerino asked for Forester and Wilbraham; the latter a very able lawyer in the House of Commons, who, the Chancellor said privately, he was sure would as soon be hanged as plead such a cause. But he came as council to-day (the third day), when Lord Balmerino gave up his plea as invalid, and submitted, without any speech.

The High Steward then made his, very long and very poor, with only one or two good passages; and then pronounced sentence!

Great intercession is made for the two Earls: Duke Hamilton, who has never been at court, designs to kiss the King’s hand, and ask Lord Kilmarnock’s life. The King is much inclined to some mercy; but the Duke, who has not so much of Caesar after a victory, as in gaining it, is for the utmost severity.

It was lately proposed in the city to present him with the freedom of some company; one of the aldermen said aloud, “Then let it be of the Butchers!” (…)

TO GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 5, 1746.

DEAR GEORGE,

(…) Lady Cromartie presented her petition to the King last Sunday. He was very civil to her, but would not at all give her any hopes. She swooned away as soon as he was gone.

Lord Cornwallis told me that her lord weeps every time any thing of his fate is mentioned to him. Old Balmerino keeps up his spirits to the same pitch of gaiety. In the cell at Westminster he showed Lord Kilmarnock how he must lay his head; bid him not wince, lest the stroke should cut his skull or his shoulders, and advised him to bite his lips.

As they were to return, he begged they might have another bottle together, as they should never meet any more till –, and then pointed to his neck. At getting into the coach, he said to the gaoler, “Take care, or you will break my shins with this damned axe.”

I must tell you a bon-mot of George Selwyn‘s at the trial. He saw [Anne] Bethel’s sharp visage looking wistfully at the rebel lords; he said, “What a shame it is to turn her face to the prisoners till they are condemned.” If you have a mind for a true foreign idea, one of the foreign ministers said at the trial to another, “Vraiment cela est auguste.” “Oui,” replied the other, “cela est vrai, mais cela n’est pas royale.”

I am assured that the old Countess of Errol made her son Lord Kilmarnock go into the rebellion on pain of disinheriting him. I don’t know whether I told you that the man at the tennis-court protests that he has known him dine at the man that sells pamphlets at Storey’s Gate; “and,” says he, “he would often have been glad if I would have taken him home to dinner.” He was certainly so poor, that in one of his wife’s intercepted letters she tells him she has plagued their steward for a fortnight for money, and can get but three shillings.

Can any one help pitying such distress? I am vastly softened, too, about Balmerino’s relapse, for his pardon was only granted him to engage his brother’s vote at the election of Scotch peers. My Lord Chancellor has got a thousand pounds in present for his high stewardship, and has got the reversion of clerk of the crown (twelve hundred a-year) for his second son. What a long time it will be before his posterity are drove into rebellion for want, like Lord Kilmarnock! (…)

To GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 11, 1746.

DEAR GEORGE,

I have seen Mr. Jordan, and have taken his house at forty guineas a-year, but I am to pay taxes. Shall I now accept your offer of being at the trouble of giving orders for the airing of it? I have desire the landlord will order the key to be delivered to you, and Asheton will assist you. Furniture, I find, I have in abundance, which I shall send down immediately; but shall not be able to be at Windsor at the quivering dame’s before to-morrow se’nnight, as the rebel Lords are not to be executed till Monday. I shall stay till that is over, though I don’t believe I shall see it. Lord Cromartie is reprieved for a pardon. If wives and children become an argument for saving rebels, there will cease to be a reason against their going into rebellion. Lady Caroline Fitzroy’s execution is certainly to-night. I dare say she will follow Lord Balmerino’s advice to Lord Kilmarnock, and not wince. [The wag refers to Caroline‘s Aug. 11 wedding night, with the Lord Petersham -ed.]

(…)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Arlington Street, Aug. 12, 1746.

(…)

We know nothing certainly of the young Pretender, but that he is concealed in Scotland, and devoured with distempers: I really wonder how an Italian constitution can have supported such rigours! He has said, that “he did not see what he had to be ashamed of; and that if he had lost one battle, he had gained two.” Old Lovat curses Cope and Hawley for the loss of those two, and says, if they had done their duty, he had never been in this scrape. Cope is actually going to be tried; but Hawley, who is fifty times more culpable, is saved by partiality: Cope miscarried by incapacity; Hawley, by insolence and carelessness.

Lord Cromartie is reprieved; the Prince asked his life, and his wife made great intercession. Duke Hamilton’s intercession for Lord Kilmarnock has rather hurried him to the block: he and Lord Balmerino are to die next Monday. Lord Kilmarnock, with the greatest nobleness of soul, desired to have Lord Cromartie preferred to himself for pardon, if there could be but one saved; and Lord Balmerino laments that himself and Lord Lovat were not taken at the same time; “For then,” says he, “we might have been sacrificed, and those other two brave men escaped.”

Indeed Lord Cromartie does not much deserve the epithet; for he wept whenever his execution was mentioned. Balmerino is jolly with his pretty Peggy. There is a remarkable story of him at the battle of Dunblain, where the Duke of Argyll, his colonel, answered for him, on his being suspected. He behaved well; but as soon as we had gained the victory, went off with his troop to the Pretender; protesting that he had never feared death but that day, as he had been fighting against his conscience.

Popularity has changed sides since the year ’15, for now the city and the generality are very angry that so many rebels have been pardoned. Some of those taken at Carlisle dispersed papers at their execution, saying they forgave all men but three, the Elector of Hanover [i.e., King George II], the pretended Duke of Cumberland, and the Duke of Richmond, who signed the capitulation at Carlisle.

(…)

TO GEORGE MONTAGU, ESQ.

Arlington Street, Aug. 16, 1746.

(…) I have been this morning at the Tower, and passed under the new heads at Temple Bar, where people make a trade of letting spying-glasses at a halfpenny a look. Old Lovat arrived last night. I saw Murray, Lord Derwentwater, Lord Traquair, Lord Cromartie and his son, and the Lord Provost, at their respective windows.

The other two wretched Lords are in dismal towers, and they have stopped up one of old Balmerino’s windows because he talked to the populace; and now he has only one, which looks directly upon all the scaffolding. They brought in the death-warrant at his dinner. His wife fainted. He said, “Lieutenant, with your damned warrant you have spoiled my lady’s stomach.” He has written a sensible letter to the Duke to beg his intercession, and the Duke has given it to the King; but gave a much colder answer to Duke Hamilton, who went to beg it for Lord Kilmarnock: he told him the affair was in the King’s hands, and that he had nothing to do with it. Lord Kilmarnock, who has hitherto kept up his spirits, grows extremely terrified.

It will be difficult to make you believe to what heights of affectation or extravagance my Lady Townshend carries her passion for my Lord Kilmarnock, whom she never saw but at the bar of his trial, and was smitten with his falling shoulders. She has been under his windows; sends messages to him; has got his dog and his snuff-box; has taken lodgings out of town for to-morrow and Monday night, and then goes to Greenwich; forswears conversing with the bloody English, and has taken a French master. She insisted on Lord Hervey’s promising her he would not sleep a whole night for my Lord Kilmarnock, “and in return,” says she, “never trust me more if I am not as yellow as a jonquil for him.” She said gravely t’other day, “Since I saw my Lord Kilmarnock, I really think no more of Sir Harry Nisbett than if there was no such man in the world.”

But of all her flights, yesterday was the strongest. George Selwyn dined with her, and not thinking her affliction so serious as she pretends, talked rather jokingly of the execution. She burst into a flood of tears and rage; told him she now believed all his father and mother had said of him; and with a thousand other reproaches flung upstairs. George coolly took Mrs. Dorcas, her woman, and made her sit down to finish the bottle: “And pray, sir,” said Dorcas, “do you think my lady will be prevailed upon to let me go see the execution? I have a friend that has promised to take care of me, and I can lie in the Tower the night before.”

My lady has quarrelled with Sir Charles Windham for calling the two Lords malefactors. The idea seems to be general; for ’tis said Lord Cromartie is to be transported, which diverts me for the dignity of the peerage. The ministry really gave it as a reason against their casting lots for pardon, that it was below their dignity. I did not know but that might proceed from Balmerino’s not being an earl; and therefore, now their hand is in, would have them make him one. (…)

TO SIR HORACE MANN.

Windsor, Aug. 21, 1746.

(…)

I came from town (for take notice, I put this place upon myself for the country) the day after the execution of the rebel Lords: I was not at it, but had two persons come to me directly who were at the next house to the scaffold; and I saw another who was upon it, so that you may depend upon my accounts.

Just before they came out of the Tower, Lord Balmerino drank a bumper to King James’s health. As the clock struck ten they came forth on foot, Lord Kilmarnock all in black, his hair unpowdered in a bag, supported by Forster, the great Presbyterian, and by Mr. Home, a young clergyman, his friend. Lord Balmerino followed, alone, in a blue coat turned up with red, his rebellious regimentals, a flannel waistcoat, and his shroud beneath; their hearses following.

They were conducted to a house near the scaffold; the room forwards had benches for spectators; in the second Lord Kilmarnock was put, and in the third backwards Lord Balmerino; all three chambers hung with black. Here they parted! Balmerino embraced the other, and said, “My lord, I wish I could suffer for both!” He had scarce left him, before he desired again to see him, and then asked him, “My Lord Kilmarnock, do you know any thing of the resolution taken in our army, the day before the battle of Culloden, to put the English prisoners to death?” He replied, “My lord, I was not present; but since I came hither, I have had all the reason in the world to believe that there was such order taken; and I hear the Duke has the pocketbook with the order.” Balmerino answered, “It was a lie raised to excuse their barbarity to us.” –Take notice, that the Duke’s charging this on Lord Kilmarnock (certainly on misinformation) decided this unhappy man’s fate! The most now pretended is, that it would have come to Lord Kilmarnock’s turn to have given the word for the slaughter, as lieutenant-general, with the patent for which he was immediately drawn into the rebellion, after having been staggered by his wife, her mother, his own poverty, and the defeat of Cope.

He remained an hour and a half in the house, and shed tears. At last he came to the scaffold, certainly much terrified, but with a resolution that prevented his behaving in the least meanly or unlike a gentleman. He took no notice of the crowd, only to desire that the baize might be lifted up from the rails, that the mob might see the spectacle.

He stood and prayed some time with Forster, who wept over him, exhorted and encouraged him. He delivered a long speech to the Sheriff, and with a noble manliness stuck to the recantation he had made at his trial; declaring he wished that all who embarked in the same cause might meet the same fate.

He then took off his bag, coat and waistcoat with great composure, and after some trouble put on a napkin-cap, and then several times tried the block; the executioner, who was in white with a white apron, out of tenderness concealing the axe behind himself. At last the Earl knelt down, with a visible unwillingness to depart, and after five minutes dropped his handkerchief, the signal, and his head was cut off at once, only hanging by a bit of skin, and was received in a scarlet cloth by four of the undertaker’s men kneeling, who wrapped it up and put it into the coffin with the body; orders having been given not to expose the heads, as used to be the custom.

The scaffold was immediately new-strewed with saw-dust, the block new-covered, the executioner new-dressed, and a new axe brought. Then came old Balmerino, treading with the air of a general. As soon as he mounted the scaffold, he read the inscription on his coffin, as he did again afterwards: he then surveyed the spectators, who were in amazing numbers, even upon masts of ships in the river; and pulling out his spectacles, read a treasonable speech, which he delivered to the Sheriff, and said, the young Pretender was so sweet a Prince that flesh and blood could not resist following him; and lying down to try the block, he said, “If I had a thousand lives, I would lay them all down here in the same cause.”

He said, if he had not taken the sacrament the day before, he would have knocked down Williamson, the lieutenant of the Tower, for his ill usage of him. He took the axe and felt it, and asked the headsman how many blows he had given Lord Kilmarnock; and gave him three guineas. Two clergymen, who attended him, coming up, he said, “No, gentlemen, I believe you have already done me all the service you can.” Then he went to the corner of the scaffold, and called very loud for the warder, to give him his periwig, which he took off, and put on a nightcap of Scotch plaid, and then pulled off his coat and waistcoat and lay down; but being told he was on the wrong side, vaulted round, and immediately gave the sign by tossing up his arm, as if he were giving the signal for battle. He received three blows, but the first certainly took away all sensation. He was not a quarter of an hour on the scaffold; Lord Kilmarnock above half a one. Balmerino certainly died with the intrepidity of a hero, but with the insensibility of one too.


Detail view (click for the full image) shows London crowds thronging the twin beheading of Jacobite lords on August 18, 1746.

As he walked from his prison to execution, seeing every window and top of house filled with spectators, he cried out, “Look, look, how they are all piled up like rotten oranges.” My Lady Townshend, who fell in love with Lord Kilmarnock at his trial, will go nowhere to dinner, for fear of meeting with a rebel-pie; she says, every body is so bloody-minded, that they eat rebels! The Prince of Wales, whose intercession saved Lord Cromartie, says he did it in return for old Sir William Gordon, Lady Cromartie’s father, coming down out of his death-bed to vote against my father in the Chippenham election. (…)

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1849: Ernst Elsenhans, Rastatt revolutionary

2 comments August 7th, 2017 Headsman

Swabian revolutionary Ernst Elsenhans was shot at fortress Rastatt on this date in 1849 for his role in the revolutions of 1848-49.

Elsenhans — that’s a German link, which is the case for almost everything readily available about this gentleman — was a democratic journalist who was already serving a prison sentence for inciting treason in the Baden installation of Germany’s 1848 revolutions when he was liberated by the May 1849 republican recrudescence. He of course went right back to inciting treason, as secretary to the revolutionary government’s War Ministry for its short interim before Prussian boots stamped out the rebellion.

Elsenhans and other revolutionaries shot in the course of this suppression are honored at a memorial slab unveiled for the sesquicentennial of their martyrdoms.

German speakers can peruse editions of the Fortress Messenger published by Elsenhans in July 1849 here.

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1952: Johann Burianek, East German saboteur

Add comment August 2nd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1952, Johann Burianek became the first person executed by East Germany.

A machinist and a World War II Wehrmacht soldier, Burianek (English Wikipedia entry | German) caught a one-year sentence in the postwar Communist East Germany for having the misbegotten initiative in the dying days of the war to go out of his way to arrest a deserter who was nearly executed as a result.

From about 1950 he became affiliated with the western-back anti-communist resistance network Kampfgruppe gegen Unmenschlichkeit (KgU) — Strike Force Against Inhumanity. Crossing liberally between East and West Berlin, which easy movement East German authorities were fretting, Burianek had a two-year stint irritating the German Democratic Republic with graffiti, subversive posters, and eventually, sabotage.

He was arrested in March 1952 shortly ahead of what would have been his derringest do, the bombing of a rail bridge; a judge named Hilde Benjamin, who in the course of 1950s show trials made her name synonymous with politically motivated severity,* hammered him with a demonstrative sentence** — the very first judicial execution meted out by the DDR, in fact. It was administered in Dresden by beheading with a fallbeil.

* Benjamin, who died on the eve of the Berlin Wall‘s fall, enjoys a poor reputation in the post-Cold War state with a variety of uncomplimentary sobriquets to prove it — such as the “Red Guillotine” and “Red Freisler“.

** She would also impose the death sentence against a fellow KgU operative, Wolfgang Kaiser, who went under the fallbeil five weeks after Burianek.

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1934: Otto Planetta and Franz Holzweber, for the Juliputsch

Add comment July 31st, 2017 Headsman

German-Austria must return to the great German mother country, and not because of any economic considerations. No, and again no: even if such a union were unimportant from an economic point of view; yes, even if it were harmful, it must nevertheless take place. One blood demands one Reich. Never will the German nation possess the moral right to engage in colonial politics until, at least, it embraces its own sons within a single state …

The elemental cry of the German-Austrian people for union with the German mother country, that arose in the days when the Habsburg state was collapsing, was the result of a longing that slumbered in the heart of the entire people — a longing to return to the never-forgotten ancestral home. But this would be inexplicable if the historical education of the individual German-Austrian had not given rise to so general a longing. In it lies a well which never grows dry; which, especially in times of forgetfulness, transcends all momentary prosperity and by constant reminders of the past whispers softly of a new future

-Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

On this date in 1934, two Nazis were hanged for their part in a failed Austrian coup.

From his political ascent in 1933 — and well before, as the quote above indicates — the Reich’s unification with his native land of Austria had been a cherished goal for Adolf Hitler. To that end, Berlin had fostered a clandestine network of Austrian Nazis branded as “SS Standarte 89″ and allowed exiles to broadcast seditious propaganda from German soil.

Their “July Putsch” (English Wikipedia entry | German) was a year or so in the making, and commenced when four truckloads of SS Standarte 89 men in military attire suddenly stormed the federal chancellery in Vienna, murdering chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in the process.

“Hitler received the tidings while listening to a performance of Das Rheingold at the annal Wagner Festival at Bayreuth,” Shirer noted in The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich — and Wagner’s granddaughter, also in attendance, could not help observing his “excitement” and “delight” and simultaneous anxiety to feign uninvolvement.

The last of these impulses showed the emerging tyrant’s wisdom, for the coup swiftly collapsed — exposing, to Hitler’s fury, the inept organization of the plot. Basically no other coordinated actions took place to complete the coup and the Austrian army remained loyal to the existing government, leaving to the lonely SS Standarte 89 nothing but a feeble surrender.

The first targets of the resulting courts-martial were Otto Planetta (cursory English Wikipedia entry | more detailed German), who actually pulled the trigger to kill the chancellor, and Franz Holzweber, the apparent leader of the attack on the chancellery. They would be tried and condemned in a two-day hearing July 30-31 and hanged within three hours of conviction. In time, both the Planetta and the Holzweber name would adorn many city streets in the Third Reich as patriot-martyrs.

Both prisoners, when asked whether they had anything to say before hearing their sentences, addressed the Court. Planetta said: —

I do not know how many hours I have to live. But one thing I would like to say, I am no cowardly murderer. It was not my intention to kill. One thing more. As a human being I am sorry for my deed, and I beg the wife of the late Chancellor to forgive me.

Holzweber said: —

I was assured that there would be no bloodshed. I was told also that I should find Herr Rintelen at the Chancery,, that the new Government was already formed. Not meeting the leader of the operation at the Chancery, I disclosed myself at once to Major Fey. I told him, here I stand, and I do not know what I should do. More or less spontaneously I took over the responsibility for our men because no one was there to take charge of the matter.

Holzweber, who was executed first, cried out on the gallows: “We die for Germany. Heil Hitler.” Planetta said simply, “Heil Hitler.”

-London Times, Aug. 1, 1934

The time was not yet ripe — and Hitler, no matter how heiled by his would-be subjects, was required by the diplomatic blowback to forswear ambitions on unifying with Austria.

But the Fuhrer’s soft whispers of a new future would grow ever more insistent in the months to come, and not four years later the Reich accomplished the Anschluss.

That July 25, in 1938, in a Vienna now successfully absorbed to greater Germany,

the fourth anniversary [of the Juliputsch] was celebrated as an heroic act comparable with the Rathenau and Erzberger murders. The survivors of ‘SS Standarte 89′ marched to the federal Austrian Chancellery, which had been renamed the Reichstatthalterei. Here the bereaved families of thirteen men were addressed by Rudolf Hess. A tablet was unveiled which proclaimed that:

154 German men of the 89th SS Standarte stood up here for Germany on 25 July, 1934. Seven found death at the hands of the hangman.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Soldiers,Terrorists,Treason

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1795: Charles de Virot, after the Quiberon debacle

Add comment July 28th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1795, general Charles de Virot, marquis de Sombreuil was shot for leading the royalist invasion of Quiberon in the west of France.

It was not even a year since the end of the Paris Terror — indeed, Sombreuil would have the honor of dying on the anniversary of Robespierre’s beheading — when 5,000 emigres backed by British ships crowded like sardines onto a peninsula famous for canning them, intending to join and lead the domestic Chouan resistance.

Amid the uncertain interim of the Directory a yet-Republican France wracked by war, economic crisis, and political uncertainty looked ripe for the overthrow. And true enough, the Directory in time would give way to a king of sorts.

The west of France, in Brittany adjacent the Vendee which had long troubled Jacobin rule, ought to have been the place to raise the fleur-de-lis but the expedition as cogitated from London was plagued from the start by disorganization and came to a speedy grief in June and July of 1795, remembered only in the dourest of palettes.


An episode in the affair of Quiberon, by Paul-Camile Boutigny.


An episode in the rout of Quiberon, by Pierre Outin.

A mere pup of 25, Gen. Sombreuil had already lived long enough to quaff the Revolution’s horrors: his father and brother had fallen under the sans-culotte blade in Paris in 1794, while his sister is famous for literally quaffing the blood of the guillotined to prove her loyalty and thereby save her family from the September Massacres.

Our man Charles shared the ill fruit of Quiberon with 747 other captured prisoners as the Republicans made policy of showing no mercy to invading emigrants. They were shot over a period of weeks at Quiberon and nearby Vannes and Auray; a nearby grounds would become hallowed of the Bourbon restoration as the Champ des martyrs with the burial of these martyrs’ remains. A expiatory chapel to their memory still stands there to this day.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Mass Executions,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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