1582: Philippe Strozzi, corsair

2 comments July 27th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1582, Philippe Strozzi, the Florentine-born commander of a French naval expedition against the Spanish was summarily executed as a pirate.

The Strozzi were long one of Florence’s wealthy and powerful families, as evidenced by, say, the Strozzi Palace, or the Strozzi coat of arms on Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo.

That made the Strozzi sometime-allies, sometime-rivals* of Florence’s more famous powerbrokers, the Medici. It is in both capacities that we meet Philippe (English Wikipedia entry | Italian | French).

To cut a centuries-long story short, the Strozzi had basically come out on the wrong side of the power struggle in the 16th century.

Philippe’s father, Piero Strozzi, was the child of a Strozzi-Medici union, and Piero too married a Medici. He also fought the Medici for power and ended up in exile whereupon he gravitated to the French court of … Catherine de’ Medici. (Catherine had been educated at the home of Philippe’s grandfather, Filippo Strozzi.) Catherine then turned around and used Piero as a French Marshal, including sending him to back Tuscan city-state Siena in opposition to its (and France’s) rival, Florence.**

Your basic tangled geopolitical-genealogical web.

Bottom line, Piero’s son Philippe was born in Florence but grew up Gallic, and fought in the French army all over the continent from the time he was a teenager.

When France got involved in the War of Portuguese Succession, they put this warlike fellow aboard a boat and sent him to dispute Spanish King Philip II‘s attempt to claim the Portuguese throne and unify the Iberian peninsula.

Strozzi’s armada got its clock cleaned at the naval Battle of Ponta Delgada near the Azores, with devastating loss of life.


The Spanish galleon San Mateo, which did yeoman service at this battle.

Since Spain and France were putatively at peace, Spain treated its captives not as prisoners of war but as pirates, and proceeded to execute several hundred in Vila Franca do Campo. Strozzi didn’t even get that much ceremony, however; the day after the battle, he was mortally stabbed, then tossed into the waves.

Happily, the name and the fame of the Strozzi outlived Spanish justice. In the next century, a distant relative by the handle of Barbara Strozzi became one of the most renowned composers of Baroque vocal music. (As befits wealthy Italians of the Renaissance, the Strozzi were big on the arts; Philippe was supposed to be a fine musician himself.)

* The Strozzi-Medici conflict frames the action in the play Lorenzaccio, in which the titular Brutus-like character mulls assassinating the Medici dictator in order to restore the Republic, only to find no such restoration in the offing once he actually does the deed; the father and grandfather of our day’s protagonists are both principal characters.

** That didn’t work. Strozzi was trounced at the Battle of Marciano, which signaled the permanent demise of the ancient city-state‘s independence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,At Sea,Borderline "Executions",Drowned,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Piracy,Pirates,Portugal,Power,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1582: John Payne, snitched out

2 comments April 2nd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1582, the Jesuit priest John Payne suffered drawing and quartering at Chelmsford for his forbidden faith.

This blog tips its cap to any fellow who prefers that awful punishment to a timely change of doctrine. Payne (or Paine) is accordingly one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales recognized by the Catholic church.

But at our present distance, Payne hardly stands out from the slew of 16th century Catholic martyrs in the way an Edmund Campion does.

We pause instead to take note of a small continuity between Payne and Campion, a secondary character whose shadow we observe but fleetingly, but whose presence suggests the condition of a community under siege — and whose character seems not unknown to our time.

Campion was apprehended by a police informant named George Eliot (“Judas Eliot”, Protestants as well as Catholics would call him).* A Catholic himself, Eliot took to collecting bounties on fugitive priests — to relieve himself, the Catholics said, of a murder charge pending against him. Eliot attended Campion’s last service, excused himself, and returned with a posse.

Later, he would meet his prize in prison:

“If I had thought that you would have had to suffer aught but imprisonment through my accusing of you, I would never have done it,” [Eliot] said, “however I might have lost by it.”

“If that is the case,” replied Campion, “I beseech you, in God’s name, to do penance, and confess your crime, to God’s glory and your own salvation.”

But it was fear for his life rather than for his soul that had brought the informer to the Tower; ever since the journey from Lyford,** when the people had called him “Judas,” he had been haunted by the specter of Catholic reprisal.

“You are much deceived,” said Campion, “if you think the Catholics push their detestation and wrath as far as revenge; yet to make you quite safe, I will, if you please, recommend you to a Catholic duke in Germany, where you may live in perfect security.”

But it was another man who was saved by the offer. Eliot went back to his trade of spy; Delahays, Campion’s jailer, who was present at the interview, was so moved by Campion’s generosity that he became a Catholic.

In fact, not long after Campion met his death, Eliot testified against Payne:

The said priest Payne went about once to persuade me to kill (Jesus preserve her) the Queen’s Majesty, and said that there were divers matters from the Pope published against her, that it was lawful to kill her Highness without any offence to Godward … the Pope would yield as much allowance of money as would fully furnish fifty men, to every man a good horse, an arming sword, a privy coat, and a pocket-dagge.

Which Payne answered:

For Eliot I forgive his monstrous wickedness and defy his malicious inventions; wishing that his former behaviour towards others being well known, as hereafter it will, were not a sufficient reproof of these devised slanders.

Reviled to posterity — to the extent he is not utterly obscure — Eliot enjoyed the material rewards of his labors. The Catholic source we have been citing reports that “he had been made a yeoman of her Majesty’s guard, and had come flaunting into court with his red coat.”

On this date, when John Payne was hanged, drawn and quartered still professing his innocence of treason and adherence to the Roman church, Eliot pocketed £4 for his service.

* The informants themselves became public figures who not only had to defend their integrity from the impeachments of their victims but contend with one another for pride of place. Eliot and fellow-informant Anthony Munday, later to make himself a name less blackened as a minor playwright, wrote competing pamphlets each asserting (and justifying) their own contributions to Campion’s arrest. (Source)

** Eliot arrested Campion at Lyford; on the journey to prison, Catholic tradition has it that Campion was supported by the crowd and Eliot openly jeered.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Notable Sleuthing,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture,Treason

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