1657: Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi, Queen Christina betrayer

Add comment November 10th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1657, the Italian marchese Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi was put to summary death by the command of Queen Christina of Sweden, at her court in Fontainebleau.

Make that ex-Queen, for the singular sovereign had abdicated in 1654 so that she could convert to Catholicism and go gallivanting about Europe.

After a spell in Rome, 1656 finds her turning up in Paris to astonish high society by her forward, masculine presentation; the king’s cousin took Christina to the ballet where the visiting dignitary “surprised me very much — applauding the parts which pleased her, taking God to witness, throwing herself back in her chair, crossing her legs, resting them on the arms of her chair, and assuming other postures, such as I had never seen taken but by Travelin and Jodelet, two famous buffoons … She was in all respects a most extraordinary creature.”

She kept her own court here, which was both a tribute to her stature and a court in waiting for her intended installation by French arms upon the Neapolitan throne. This rethronement never came to pass, and one reason among several was that the event marked in this post destroyed her stature in Italy.

Our man the Marquis Monaldeschi was Christina’s master of horse but to the eyes of the queen better resembled a snake. Why? That part, we don’t quite know.

The details of Monaldeschi’s treason are tangled and obscure. One knows that he confessed; but one does not know what he confessed. One knows that he forged letters; but one does not know what was in the letters. One knows that he tried to throw the blame for his own misconduct on Francesco Santinelli; but the precise nature of that misconduct is wrapped in mystery, as are also the precise grounds of Santinelli’s quarrel with him. All that is clear is that neither of the two men merits much sympathy, and that the proceedings of both of them were tortuous …

[Seeking to implicate his rival Santinelli in some malfeasance, Monaldeschi] tried to make out too good a case by forging Santinelli’s handwriting, and offering the letters as proofs that Santinelli was a “traitor.” … What first led her to suspect Monaldeschi is uncertain. In any case, “information received” induced her to intercept and open his letters; and their contents seemed to her to furnish full proofs of his perfidy. The nature of that perfidy is not disclosed in her own account. (Source)

What is not obscure, for it shocked all of Europe, is the punishment she visited for said perfidy — for Christina gave it over to that very Francesco Santinelli, Monaldeschi’s greatest rival in the court whom he had intended to stitch up, to deliver the penalty on the spot and with his own hand. She had the entire right to pronounce such a sentence in her court, but the Game of Thrones-like barbarism of being summarily put to an adversary’s blade right on the palace stones was widely abhorred. When she returned to Rome the following year, the French were quite done with her and the Italians who would be her grudging hosts for most of her remaining years nowise pleased to welcome her.

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1651: Christopher Love

Add comment August 22nd, 2019 Robert Wild

(Thanks to English Presbyterian poet Robert Wild for the guest post in verse, celebrating the martyrdom of his coreligionist Christopher Love. Love died for seditious correspondence with the exiled Stuart then-pretender Charles II. Days after Love lost his head, Charles very nearly did likewise when he lost the decisive Battle of Worcester to Oliver Cromwell — famously escaping the rout by a harrowing, six-week flight that repeatedly came within an ace of landing him with his father in our deck of execution playing cards. -ed.)

THE TRAGEDY OF CHRISTOPHER LOVE AT TOWER HILL August 22. 1651.

Prologue.
New from a slaughtred Monarchs Herse I come,
A mourner to a Murthr’d Prophet’s Tombe:
Pardon, Great Charles his Ghost, my Muse had stood
Yet three years longer, till sh’had wept a flood;
Too mean a Sacrifice for Royall Blood.
But Heaven doe by Thunder call
For her attendance at Love’s Funerall.
Forgive Great Sir, this Sacriledge in me,
The Tear he must have, it is his Fee;
‘Tis due to him, and yet ’tis stol’n from Thee.

ARGUMENT.
‘Twas when the raging Dog did rule the Skies,
And with his Scorching face did tyrannize,
When cruell Cromwell, whelp of that mad Star,
But sure more firery than his Syre by far;
Had dryed the Northern Fife, and with his heat
Put frozen Scotland in a Bloody sweat:
When he had Conquered, and his furious Traine
Had chas’d the North-Bear, and pursu’d Charle’s waine
Into the English Orb; then ’twas thy Fate
(Sweet Love) to be a present for our State.
A greater Sacrifice there could not come,
Then a Divine to bleed his welcome home
For He, and Herod, think no dish so good,
As a Iohn Baptists Head serv’d up in blood.

ACT I.
The Philistins are set in their High Court,
And Love, like Sampsons, fetch’d to make them sport:
Unto the Stake the smiling Prisoner’s brought,
Not to be Try’d, but baited, most men thought;
Monsters, like men, must worry him: and thus
He fights with Beasts, like Paul at Ephesus.
Adams, Far and Huntington, with all the pack
Of foysting Hounds were set upon his back.
Prideaux and Keeble stands and cries A’loe;
It was a full Cry, and it would not doe.
Oh how he foyl’d them, Standers-by did swear,
That he the Judge, and they the Traytors were:
For there he prov’d, although he seem’d a Lambe,
Stout, like a Lyon, from whose Den he came!

ACT II.
It is Decreed; nor shall thy Worth, dear Love,
Resist their Vows, nor their revenge remove.
Though prayers were joyn’d to prayers, & tears to tears,
No softnesse in their Rocky hearts appears;
Nor Heaven nor Earth abate their fury can,
But they will have thy Head, thy Head, good Man.
Sure some She sectary longed, and in hast
Must try how Presbyterian Blood did tast.
‘Tis fit she have the best, and therefore thine,
Thine must be broach’d, blest Saint, its drink Divine.
No sooner was the dreadfull Sentence read,
The Prisoner straight bow’d his condemned Head:
And by that humble posture told them all,
It was an Head that did not fear a fall.

ACT III.
And now I wish the fatall stroke were given;
I’m sure our Martyr longs to be in Heaven,
And Heaven to have him there; one moments blow
Makes him tryumphant; but here comes his woe,
His enemies will grant a months suspence
If’t be but for the nonce to keep him thence:
And that he may tread in his Saviours wayes,
He shall be tempted too, his forty dayes:
And with such baits too, cast thy self but down,
Fall, and but worship, and your life’s your own.
Thus cry’d his Enemies, and ’twas their pride
To wound his Body, and his Soul beside.
One plot they have more, when their other fail,
If Devils cannot, disciples may prevail.
Lets tempt him by his friends, make Peter cry
Good Master spare thy self, and do not die.
One friend intreats, a second weeps, a third
Cries your Petition wants the other word:
I’le write it for you, saith a fourth; your life,
Your life Sir, cries a fift; pity your wife,
And the Babe in her: Thus this Diamond’s cut,
By Diamonds onely, and to terrour put.
Me thinks I hear him still, you wounding heart;
Good friends forbear, for every word’s a dart:
‘Tis cruell pity, this I do professe,
You’ld love me more, if you did love me lesse:
Friends, Children, Wife, Life, all are dear I know,
But all’s too dear, if I should buy them so.
Thus like a Rock that routs the waves he stands,
And snaps a sunder, Sampson-like these bands.

ACT IV.
The day is come, the Prisoner longs to go,
And chides the lingring Sun for tarrying so.
Which blushing seemes to answer from the skie,
That it was loath to see a Martyr die.
Me thinks I heard beheaded Saints above
Call to each other, Sirs, make room for Love.
Who, when he came to tread the fatall Stage,
Which prov’d his glory, and his Enemies rage.
His bloud ne’re run to his Heart, Christs Blood was there
Reviving it, his own was all to spare:
Which rising in his Cheeks, did seem to say,
Is this the bloud you thirst for? Tak’t I pray.
Spectators in his looks such life did see,
That they appear’d more like to die than he.
But oh his speech, me thinks I hear it still;
It ravish’d Friends, and did his enemies kill:
His keener words did their sharp Axe exceed,
That made his head, but he their hearts to bleed:
Which he concludes with gracious prayer, and so
The Lamb lay down, and took the butchers blow:
His Soul makes Heaven shine brighter by a Star,
And now we’re sure there’s one Saint Christopher.*

ACT V.
Love lyes a bleeding, and the world shall see
Heaven Act a part in this black Tragedie.
The Sun no sooner spide the Head o’th’ floore,
But he pull’d in his own, and look’d no more:
The Clouds which scattered, and in colours were,
Met all together, and in black appear:
Lightnings, which fill’d the air with Blazing light,
Did serve for Torches all that dismall night:
In which, and all next day for many howers,
Heaven groan’d in Thunder, and did weep in showers.
Nor doe I wonder that God Thundred so
When his Bonarges murthered lay below:
Witnesses trembled, Prideaux, Bradshaw, Keeble,
And all the guilty Court look’d pale and feeble.
Timerous Ienkins, and cold-hearted Drake
Hold out, you need no base Petitions make:
Your enemies thus Thunder-struck no doubt,
Will be beholding to you to goe out.
But if you will Recant, now thundring Heaven
Such approbation to Loves Cause hath given.
I’le adde but this; Your Consciences, perhaps,
Ere long, shall feele far greater Thunder-claps.

Epilogue.
But stay, my Muse growes fearfull too, and must
Beg that these Lines be buried with thy dust:
Shelter, blessed Love, this Verse within thy shroud,
For none but Heaven dares takes thy part aloud.
The Author begs this, least if he be known,
Whilst he bewailes thy Head, he loose his own.**

FINIS.

* A little wink by the author. The Saint Christopher was a supposed early Christian martyr depicted as either or both of a Canaanite giant or a dog-headed man — real tall-tale stuff. His historicity came under fire from iconoclastic critics of the Humanist and Reformation traditions; for example, Erasmus pooh-poohed this folklore in his In Praise of Folly.

** Wild usually worked anonymously in his time, for obvious reasons.

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1650: Four condemned and one reprieved on appeal from the Wiltshire Assizes

Add comment August 21st, 2018 Headsman

From the Journals of the House of Commons

Die Mercurii, 21 Augusti, 1650

PRAYERS.

A LETTER from Henry Roll, Lord Chief Justice, and Robert Nicholas, one of the Justices of the Upper Bench, from Taunton, of the Fourteenth of August 1650; and a Certificate from them of the whole State of the Matter, and Cause of Condemning of Nicholas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goff, at the last Assizes, in the County of Wiltes, were this Day read; viz.

In Obedience to the Vote of the honourable Parliament, on Thursday the Twenty-fifth of July last; whereby we were required to certify the whole State of the Matter concerning the Condemning of Nicolas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goffe, at the last Assizes held in the County of Wiltes, for the Murdering of one Joel Swettingham (a very honest Man, and had been a Soldier and Drummer in the Service of the Parliament), at the Town of the Devises, in the said County of Wiltes, and continued faithful unto the Parliament until his Death;

We humbly certify, that the Evidence appeared before us to be thus:

That the said Westwood, Cowdry, and Goff, amonst divers other Soldiers, and new-raised Men, for Ireland, were quartered at Cannyngs, some Two Miles from the Devises: And some of the said Soldiers coming to the Devises, some Three Days before the said Murder committed, and offering some Incivilities unto the People of the Town, they were questioned for it by the Constable and Officers of the said Town; and were detained in Custody for some time; but were the same Day released; and so went back to their Quarters at Cannyngs; and from thence, within a Day or two after, the said Soldiers removed their Quarters to Bromham, about Two Miles likewise distant from the said Town of the Devizes: And, the next Day, being the Day when the Murder was committed, the said Westwood, Cowdry, and Goff, amonst divers other Soldiers, came to the said Town of the Devises, and expressed some Dislike against the said Townsmen, for Imprisoning of some of their Company, the Day or Two before: And the said Goff, coming into the Mayor’s Shop of the Devises, and talking with John Imber his Apprentice, cast out some Words of Dislie concerning the Imprisoning of the Soldiers a Day or Two before; and then asked of the said Apprentice, whether there were not a fat Constable in the Town; meaning one Fitzell, a very honest Man and who had been ever faithful to the Parliament: And the said Goff expressed himself to be much discontented with the said Constable, for Imprisoning of the Soldiers some Two Days before: Then, saying, That he would be revenged to the Death of the said Constable, calling the said Constable Rogue: And, shortly after, the same Day, the said Goff, meeting with one Thomas Street, a Youth of the Devises, asked the way to some Place in the Town: The said Street told him, He might go which way he would: And the said Goff presently drew his Sword, and run the said Street into the Thigh: Whereupon the said Street’s Brother took the said Goff’s Sword, and endeavoured to break it; but, could not: Yet he bended it very muh: Whereupon the said Goff run after the said Street’s Brother, with his Sword in his Hand: And, the said Street’s Foot slipping, he fell: And the said Goff laid on the said Street with his Sword very much: Which some of the Townsmen seeing, came to rescue the said Street from Goff: Whereupon the said Goff, Westwood, and Cowdry, and Two or Three Soldiers more unknown, fell on the said Swettingham, who had nothing to do with them, being then Gathering up of Monies for the Rent of the Butcher’s Shambles; and, having only a wooden Hilt of a Hatchet in his Hand, defended himself as well as he could; but, in short Space, he was run into the Groin by the said Goffe; and received another Wound in the Buttock, by the said Cowdry: And, feeling himself so wounded, run away very feebly, from them, into a House: And they all Three followed him: And there the said Westwood gave the said Swettingham a great Wound on the Shoulder: But Swettingham got into the House, and shut the Door, to keep out the said Westwood, Goff and Cowdry; for that they thrust very hard at the Door, to come in after him: But the said Swettingham, and some others, which were in the House, kept the Door fast, and kept them out: But the said Swettingham was so mortally wounded by them, that, within a short Time after, the same Night, he died. Upon which Evidence the Jury found them all guilty of the Murder: Upon which, Sentence of Death was given on all Three, in regard they were all Three present and Actors in the said Murder.

All which we humbly submit to the Consideration of the Honourable Parliament.

Taunton, 14 Augusti 1650.
Hon. Rolle, Robert Nicholas

Resolved, by the Parliament, That the Sheriff of the County of Wiltes be, and is hereby, required to proceed to the Execution of Nicholas Westwood, Samuel Cowdry, and Walter Goff, according to Law; notwithstanding the Order of Parliament of the Twenty-fifth of July last, for respiting their Execution.

A Certificate from Henry Rolle, Lord Chief Justice, and Robert Nicholas, one of the Justices of the Upper Bench, of the whole State of the Matter, and Cause of Condemning of Thomas Dirdo, at the Assizes for the County of Wiltes, was this Day read; viz.

In Obedience to the Vote of the Honourable Parliament, dated the Twenty-fifth of July last; whereby we were required to certify the whole State of the Matter concerning the Condemning of one Thomas Dirdo, at the last Assizes held in the County of Wiltes;

We humbly certify, that the Evidence appeared to be thus:

That the said Dyrdo, with some other Persons, came to the House of one John Pitt, an Innkeeper in Wiltes, somewhat late in the Night: and desired Entertainment; and, having set up their Horses, and prepared something for their Suppers, finding most Part of the People gone to Bed, set on the rest of the People of the House, and bound them: And then the said Dirdo, as the said Pitt affirmed, on his Oath, to be one of the said Robbers, took, of the Goods of the said Pitt, a Sack and Three Shillings Eight-pence in Money: And the said Pitt affirmed further, That the said Dyrdoe, and the rest of the Company, went into a Chamber in the said House, where one Matthew Kynton, a Carrier then lay, with their Swords drawn; and demanded of the said Kynton his Money: And thereupon the said Kynton delivered them a Bag of Money, wherein, he said, was Ten Pounds: And then the said Dirdoe, and the rest of the said Company, cut the Packs of the said Carrier, and took thence certain Broad Cloths; a Part of which said Cloth one Coombes sold to one Blake, who shewed the said Cloth, in a Suit on his Back, at the Tryal of the said Dirdoe, and the said Coombe, and one Hussey; and also took his oath, That the said Coombes affirmed he had the said Cloth, at the time of the said Robbery: And he also affirmed, on his Oath, That the said Coombes and Hussey told him, That they did the said Robbery: Upon which Evidence, the Jury found them all Three guilty of the said Robbery: And thereupon, Sentence of Death was given against the said Dirdoe and the said Coombes and Hussey: And we further certify, That we were credibly informed, That the said Dirdoe was burnt in the Hand, at the Sessions at Newgate, for a Felony by one Levendon Blisse and him committed.

All which we humbly submit to the Consideration of the Honourable Parliament.

Taunton, 14 Augusti 1650.
Hon. Rolle, Robert Nicholas

Resolved, That the Sheriff of the County of Wiltes be, and is hereby, required to proceed to the Execution of Thomas Dirdo, according to Law, notwithstanding the Order of Parliament of the Twenty-fifth of July last, for respiting his Execution.

The humble Petition of Edward Hussey, now a condemned Prisoner in the Gaol at Sarum, lately a Soldier in the Service of the Parliament, was this Day read.

The Certificate from the Justices of Assizes, upon the former Order, touching Thomas Dirdo, was again read.

Resolved, that Edward Hussey, who stands condemned at the Assizes for the County of Wiltes, be reprieved, until the Parliament take further Order: And that Mr. Speaker do issue a Warrant to the Sheriff for that Purpose.

Ordered, that the Judges of Assizes for the County of Wiltes be required and enjoined to make Certificate to the Parliament of the whole State of the Matter of Fact touching Edward Hussey, who was condemned at the last Assizes in the County of Wiltes.

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1650: Not Anne Greene, miraculously delivered

Add comment December 14th, 2017 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1650, 22-year-old Anne Greene was hanged for infanticide.

A maidservant, she had been seduced by her master’s teenage grandson and became pregnant. Anne stated stated she had no idea she was pregnant until the baby suddenly fell out of her while she was “in the house of office” — that is, the outhouse. But when the body was found she was arrested for murder.

Medical evidence supported Anne’s claim that the baby was stillborn. It was premature, born at only 17 weeks gestation, and only nine inches long, and the midwife said she “did not believe that it ever had life.” Nevertheless, Anne was convicted of murder and condemned to death.

After Anne was hanged, she dangled for half an hour while her friends pulled down on her body and thumped on her chest with a musket butt, trying to hasten her death. After half an hour she was cut down, put in a coffin and carted off to the anatomist, Dr. William Petty.

The good Dr. Petty soon realized she wasn’t quite dead.

The story is told in a 1982 article in the British Medical Journal, titled “Miraculous deliverance of Anne Green: an Oxford case of resuscitation in the seventeenth century.” Petty and his assistant immediately set about reviving his patient through various means:

William Petty and Thomas Willis abandoned all thoughts of a dissection and proceeded to revive their patient. They caused her to be held up in the coffin and then by wrenching open her teeth they poured in her mouth some hot cordial which caused her more coughing. They then rubbed and chafed her fingers, hands, arms, and feet, and, after a quarter of an hour of this with more cordial into her mouth and the tickling of her throat with a feather, she opened her eyes momentarily. At this stage the doctors opened a vein and bled her of five ounces of blood. They then continued administering the cordial and rubbing her arms and legs. Ligatures, presumably compressing bandages, were applied to her arms and legs. Heating plasters were put to her chest and another apparently inserted as an enema, “ordered an heating odoriferous Clyster to be cast up in her body, to give heat and warmth to her bowels.”

When Anne regained consciousness, she was unable to speak for twelve hours, but after 24 hours she was speaking freely and answering questions, although her throat was bruised and hurt her. Dr. Petty put a plaster on the bruises and ordered soothing drinks.

Anne’s memory was spotty at first; it was observed that it was “was like a clock whose weights had been taken off a while and afterwards hung on again.” Within two days the amnesia disappeared, although — perhaps mercifully — she still had no memory of being hanged. Within four days she could eat solid food again, and within a month she had made a full recovery.

The Journal of Medical Biography also has an article about Anne Greene, titled “Intensive care 1650: the revival of Anne Greene”. The abstract notes,

A combination of low-body temperature and external (pedal) cardiac massage after her failed execution, it is suggested, helped to keep her alive until the arrival of the physicians who had come to make an anatomical dissection but serendipitously won golden opinions.

Anne Greene was subsequently pardoned; the authorities said God had made His will clear on the matter, and furthermore, her dead baby “was not onely abortive or stillborne but also so imperfect, that it is impossible it should have been otherwise.” She became a celebrity, and tributary poems in her honor circulated widely.


This 1651 pamphlet contains 20-odd poems about Anne Greene’s remarkable survival, ranging in style from very reverent (“Thou Paradox of fate, whom ropes reprieve, / To whom the hangman proves a gentele Shrieve”) to very not (“Now we have seen a stranger sight; / Whether it was by Physick’s might, / Or that (it seems) the Wench was Light”). One of them was a classics-heavy number submitted by 18-year-old Oxford student Christopher Wren, later to set his stamp upon the city’s architecture after the Great Fire.

Wonder of highest Art! He that will reach
A Streine for thee, had need his Muse should stretch,
Till flying to the Shades, she learne what Veine
Of Orpheus call’d Eurydice againe;
Or learne of her Apollo, ’till she can
As well, as Singer, prove Physitian.
And then she may without Suspension sing,
And, authorized, harp upon thy String.
Discordant string! for sure thy foule (unkinde
To its own Bowels’ Issue) could not finde
One Breast in Consort to its jarring stroake
‘Mongst piteous Femall Organs, therefore broke
Translations due Law, from fate repriev’d,
And struck a Unison to her selfe, and liv’d.
Was’t this? or was it, that the Goatish Flow
Of thy Adulterous veines (from thence let goe
By second Aesculapius his hand)
Dissolv’d the Parcae‘s Adamantine Band,
And made Thee Artist’s Glory, Shame of Fate,
Triumph of Nature, Virbius his Mate

She left the area for awhile to stay with friends in the country, taking her coffin with her, “as a Trophy of her wonderful preservation.” She subsequently married and bore three children before dying in 1659, nine years after her hanging.

In 2009, author Mary Hooper wrote a novel based on Anne Greene, titled Newes From the Dead.

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1654: Hieronymus Duquesnoy the Younger, sculptor

Add comment September 28th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1654, Flemish sculptor Hieronymus Duquesnoy the Younger was strangled and burned in Ghent for sodomy (sodomy in a church, no less).

As an artist, the man’s legacy is forever overshadowed by his father’s Brussels tourist essential Manneken Pis; Hieronymus (or Jerome) the Younger learned his craft from dad as a studio apprentice. (We here dismiss Hieronymus the Elder from our narrative; Hieronymus the Younger is meant by all subsequent references in this post.)

This was not to be the end of the story when it came to Hieronymus and naked young boys, but in 1621 he upped stakes for Italy and proceeded to spend the next two decades honing his craft in Mediterranean climes. Or at least, this is the necessary assumption, as very little direct evidence traces his movements in that period.

Returning to the Low Counties in the early 1640s, Duquesnoy earned a number of baroque commissions as “architecte, statuaire et sculpteur de la Cour.” (For a taste of his work: The Infant Hercules | Ganymede.)

The last of his projects was this tomb for Bishop Antonius Triest in Ghent; “he set himself up with his assistants in one of the cathedral‘s chapels, to lay out and prepare the sections of this tomb, which could have been for the master the finest jewel in a new sculptural crown, had he not come to a sad end,” according to Edmond de Busscher.


This monumental tomb would also prove the death of its sculptor. (cc) image by www.pmrmaeyaert.com — Self-photographed, CC BY-SA 3.0.

He was arrested when 8- and 11-year-old boys accused him of molestation in the church during his work on the bishop’s shrine. Duquesnoy vigorously denied the charges and tried to call in favors from his patrons to squelch the case, but Ghent’s council decided otherwise and had him executed in the city’s Koornmarkt (Grain Market).

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1659: Dara Shikoh, deposed Mughal heir

Add comment September 9th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1659,* the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb disposed of his primary competition … his older brother Dara Shukoh or Shikoh.

These two sons of Taj Mahal builder Shah Jahan were the principal contenders in a fratricidal four-way civil war for the Peacock Throne. We’ve previously covered this time of troubles via the execution of yet another of the brothers here.

But if the old man had had his way, Dara would have been the winner. For many years it was the firstborn who had been painstakingly positioned as the heir, not excluding possession of the Mughal capital — a circumstance which helped to goad the envious brothers into rebellion when Shah Jahan’s illness threatened to make Dara’s succession a fait accompli.

It turned out, when Aurangzeb emerged victorious, that Shah Jahan had survived just fine: it’s just that it would be his to contemplate in his enforced retirement the destruction of his former favorite. According to the account of Dara’s French physician, when Aurangzeb captured Dara in battle, he had him humiliatingly

secured on an elephant; his young son, Sipah Shikoh, placed at his side, and behind them, instead of the executioner, was seated Bahadur Khan [one of the royal generals]. This was not one of the majestic elephants of Pegu or Ceylon, which Dara had been in the habit of mounting, pompously caparisoned, the harness gilt, and trappings decorated with figured work; and carrying a beautifully painted howdah inlaid with gold, and a magnificent canopy to shelter the Prince from the sun: Dara was now seen seated on a miserable and worn-out animal, covered with filth; he no longer wore the necklace of large pearls which distinguish the princes of Hindoustan, nor the rich turban and embroidered coat; he and his son were now habited in dirty cloth of the coarsest texture, and his sorry turban was wrapt round with a Kashmir shawl or scarf, resembling that worn by the meanest of the people.

Such was the appearance of Dara when led through the Bazars and every quarter of the city [of Delhi]. I could not divest myself of the idea that some dreadful execution was about to take place, and felt surprise that government should have the hardihood to commit all these indignities upon a Prince confessedly popular among the lower orders, especially as I saw scarcely any armed force. The people had for some time inveighed bitterly against the unnatural conduct of Aureng-Zebe: the imprisonment of his father, of his son Sultan Mahmud, and of his brother Murad Bakhsh, filled every bosom with horror and disgust. The crowd assembled upon this disgraceful occasion was immense; and everywhere I observed the people weeping, and lamenting the fate of Dara in the most touching language. I took my station in one of the most conspicuous parts of the city, in the midst of the largest bazar; was mounted on a good horse, and accompanied by two servants and two intimate friends. From every quarter I heard piercing and distressing shrieks, for the Indian people have a very tender heart; men, women, and children wailing as if some mighty calamity had happened to themselves. Javan Khan [a Pathan who betrayed Dara into Aurangzeb’s hands] rode near the wretched Dara; and the abusive and indignant cries vociferated as the traitor moved along were absolutely deafening. I observed some faqirs and several poor people throw stones at the infamous Pathan; but not a single movement was made, no one offered to draw his sword, with a view of delivering the beloved and compassionated Prince. When this disgraceful procession had passed through every part of Dehli, the poor prisoner was shut up in one of his own gardens, called Haidarabad.

Aureng-Zebe was immediately made acquainted with the impression which this spectacle produced upon the public mind, the indignation manifested by the populace against the Pathan, the threats held out to stone the perfidious man, and with the fears entertained of a general insurrection. A second council was consequently convened, and the question discussed, whether it were more expedient to conduct Dara to Gwalior, agreeably to the original intention, or to put him to death without further delay … it was ultimately decided that Dara should die, and that Sipah-Shikoh should be confined in Gwalior. At this meeting Raushanara Begam [Dara and Aurangzeb’s sister] betrayed all her enmity against her hapless brother, combating the arguments of Danishmand Khan, and exciting Aureng-Zebe to this foul and unnatural murder….

The charge of this atrocious murder was intrusted to a slave of the name of Nazir, who had been educated by Shah-Jahan, but experienced some ill-treatment from Dara. The Prince, apprehensive that poison would be administered to him, was employed with Sipah Shikoh in boiling lentils, when Nazir and four other ruffians entered his apartment. ‘My dear son,’ he cried out, ‘these men are come to murder us!’ He then seized a small kitchen knife, the only weapon in his possession. One of the murderers having secured Sipah Shikoh, the rest fell upon Dara, threw him down, and while three of the assassins held him, Nazir decapitated his wretched victim. The head was instantly carried to Aureng-Zebe, who commanded that it should be placed in a dish, and that water should be brought. The blood was then washed from the face, and when it could no longer be doubted that it was indeed the head of Dara, he shed tears, and said, ‘Ai Bad-bakht! Ah wretched one! let this shocking sight no more offend my eyes, but take away the head, and let it be buried in Humayun’s tomb.’


That’s not the way to get a-head! Aurangzeb contemplates his fratricidal trophy. Via dara-shikoh.blogspot.com, which has many other illustrations of Dara’s career.

Dara’s daughter was taken that same evening to the saraglio, but afterwards sent to Shah-Jahan and Begam-Sahib; who begged of Aureng-Zebe to commit the young Princess to their care. Dara’s wife, foreseeing the calamities which awaited her and her husband, had already put a period to her existence, by swallowing poison at Lahor. Sipah Shikoh was immured in the fortress of Gwalior; and soon after these tragical events Javan Khan was summoned before the council, and then dismissed from Dehli with a few presents. He did not escape the fate, however, which he merited, being waylaid and assassinated in a forest, within a few leagues of his own territory. This barbarian had not sufficiently reflected, that though tyrants appear to countenance the blackest crimes while they conduce to their interest, or promote a favourite object, they yet hold the perpetrators in abhorrence, and will not scruple to punish them when they can no longer be rendered subservient to any iniquitous project.

The cultured Dara cuts a charismatic figure for posterity, and given that the Mughal Empire fell into precipitous decline after Aurangzeb — opening the way for British colonization — some can’t help wondering whether India’s destiny could have been entirely different had Dara successfully followed his father to the throne.

* September 9 on the Gregorian calendar; the equivalent Julian date of August 30 is also commonly reported.

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1653: Sakura Sogoro, righteous peasant

Add comment September 3rd, 2017 Headsman

Perhaps on this date in 1653 — it is, at any rate, the date saluted by a festival that honors him — the peasant Sakura Sogoro was crucified for protesting the oppressive taxation of his local lord.

Sogoro — familiarly known as Sogo-sama — was a village head man who dared to take his complaints about his daimyo‘s heavy hand right to the shogun himself. As punishment for this effrontery, the daimyo had the peasant executed (which punishment the sacrificial Sogoro anticipated in making his appeal) along with his wife and sons (which was an outrage).

As classically described, Sogoro from the cross damns the cruelty of the punishment and promises to revenge himself as a ghost, destroying the daimyo‘s house within three years. A century or so after his death, a shrine was erected to his memory which attracted pilgrims throughout the realm and made Sakura Sogoro “the patron saint of protest” (Anne Walthall, whom we shall hear more from later.) The tale has earned popular staging in Japanese culture from the kabuki stage to television.


The great 19th century kabuki actor Ichikawa Kodanji as the avenging specter of “Asakura Togo”, the Kabuki character based on Sakura Sogoro. Image from this gorgeous collection.

As one might infer from the sketchy account here, the story’s historicity is shaky despite its popularity down the centuries in Japan. According to an academic paper by Walthall,*

The archetype of the peasant martyr, a man who deliberately sacrificed himself on behalf of his community.”

More has been written about Sakura Sogoro than about any other peasant hero, but the evidence of his existence is extremely circumstantial. Written accounts of him remain fragmentary until the 1770s …

The first mention of the Sogoro legend appears in Sakura fudoki (a record of provincial lore on Sakura), compiled by a Sakura domain bureaucrat, Isobe Shogen. He recounts how an old man had told him that Sogoro’s vengeful spirit caused the downfall of a seventeenth-century lord. This emphasis on revenge after death is common to many Japanese folktales. Its constant recurrence as a theme in Japanese history reflects a widely held belief in the power of strong emotions to wreak havoc after a person has died. At this point Sogoro was hardly a martyr for the peasants — they remembered not his own deeds, if any, but what had happened to the lord.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, the story gains more detail. After the death of the just lord, Hotta Masamori, his retainers take control of domanial administration, treat the peasants unjustly, and increase the land tax. To save the people, Sogoro makes a direct appeal to the shogun … becom[ing] an exemplar of righteous action, a man who placed community welfare above individual self-interest …

In narratives from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the plot becomes still more elaborate. Sogoro is described as a man of scholarship, deeply religious, respectful of his superiors, mindful of his subordinates, esteemed by his neighbors. “He was intelligent, tactful, and did not look like he was peasant born. Everyone said he must be the descendant of a warrior” … As the savior of his village, he represented the peasants’ aspirations; as an angry spirit, he reflected their resentment of those in authority.

The most modern version of the legend omits all reference to revenge by angry spirits. Now the story depicts the courage of Sogoro and his supporters among the peasants and his heartrending renunciation of his family when he resolves to sacrifice himself for the community. He still puts his appeal directly in the hands of the shogun, even though modern historians have long argued that a meeting with the shogun was impossible for a peasant. In contrast to the “good king,” (the shogun Ietsuna) the villain, Hotta Masanobu, executes not merely Sogoro, but his four children. Even the cruelty of this command has become further elaborated. To evade the bakufu prohibition on the execution of women, officials pretend that Sogoro’s three daughters are actually sons and cut off their heads. In short, today people know only a lachrymose tale of tyranny and heroism.

English speakers can grab a couple renderings of this story in the public domain:

* Walthall, “Narratives of Peasant Uprisings in Japan,” The Journal of Asian Studies, May 1983.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Children,Crucifixion,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Gruesome Methods,History,Japan,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Myths,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Uncertain Dates,Women

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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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1651: Arnold Johan Messenius and his son

2 comments December 22nd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1651, Sweden’s Queen Christina revenged a libel on the head of Arnold Johan Messenius and his 17-year-old son.

The educated and determinedly unmarried Christina ranks among history’s most remarkable monarchs; her disinterest in marriage, her masculine dress, and her intimate friendship with Countess Ebba Spare have led her to be speculatively identified as lesbian, hermaphroditic, or otherwise subversive of gender — as in the recent film The Girl King.

However, for the matter at hand the relevant fact about Christina was her lineage: she was the daughter of the great Lutheran king Gustavus Adolphus, whose father had expelled the Catholic king, Sigismund Vasa. The Vasas still ruled Poland and gazed rivalrously across the Baltic dreaming of a return of their Nordic estates — and became a natural focal point for schemers in Sweden.

One such schemer was a brilliant and cantankerous historian, Johannes Messenius, who was father and grandfather of the men whose eventual execution occasions this post. After serving Sigismund Vasa’s Polish court some years, this most senior Messenius returned in 1608 to Sweden for career reasons, pretending an expedient Lutheran conversion into the bargain. But the quarrelsome intellectual “could hardly breathe except in an atmosphere of strife” (per this public domain volume) and after making himself unwelcome at a university continued picking fights at the Stockholm archives until

he was accused of carrying on a traitorous correspondence with the Polish Vasas, in which he urged them to attack Sweden. It does not appear that the proofs of this treason are now in existence, but its probability has been shown by a letter from Messenius, in which he owned his undiminished attachment to the Roman Church, and said that he only conformed to the Lutheran rites outwardly and by compulsion.

Gustavus Adolphus had him clapped the dungeons of an Arctic fortress which is where his son Arnold Johan Messenius (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) grew up — understandably absorbing the grudges of his frostbitten hereditary imprisonment, until he was ripped away to a Lutheran education against which he sturdily rebelled by killing a classmate and fleeing into exile. By the time he was all of 17 he had been re-taken and locked away as a Polish agent in his own right. He’d be 33 before he regained liberty.

The liberal Christina and Count Per Brahe the Younger attempted in the 1640s to atone for Arnold Johan’s mistreatment by detailing him for a (successful) mission to Poland to retrieve his father’s magnum opus, a history of Sweden all the way back to Noah’s flood that the late father had written in prison and taken pleasure in denying to his jailers.

But Arnold Johan’s subsequent reintroduction into polite society as a nobleman with a state pension to continue the father’s histories just didn’t come with a happy ending. The boy had his father’s knack for playing both sides of the Baltic, but less so his craft with a quill: Arnold’s Swedish commission to write some histories of his own foundered on the prospective scribe’s authorial torpor. Meanwhile,

Messenius was neither softened by adversity nor improved by prosperity. He was harsh to his inferiors, insolent to his equals, and ungrateful to his benefactress. The peasants on his estate complained of his injustice and cruelty, and he was on bad terms with all his neighbours. He resisted some just claims of his own sister’s, and … a judgment given against him, Christina obliged him to make restitution to his sister. From that time he became an agitator against the government.

Now “the elder Messenius invented the most absurd and contradictory accusations against the Queen and her Ministers, which were exaggerated by the heated imagination of his son,” Arnold Messenius, our source avers, and the boy bursting with the family bile proceed to circulate “a virulent squib against the queen and the nobility, and, in the frankest language invited the heir to the throne to place himself at the head of a rebellion.” This is the so-called “Messenian conspiracy,” after the surname of father and son who both soon found themselves under Christina’s personal interrogation for this incitement, the father first denying any part in the affair and subsequently claiming the letter as his own inspiration in an apparent effort to shield the boy.

Humane Christina was rigorous with this third-generation treason, and had both beheaded without delay — although she also confined the punishment to these two rather than others they accused of collaborating on a general rising.

For her part, Christina by this time had grown weary of rule and interested in Roman Catholicism to which she perceived she could not convert without splinterizing her kingdom. She had already set in motion her own abdication, which she effected in 1654. Christina would play out the string in Rome, as the guest of the papacy and the friend of intellectuals, artists and eccentrics — while that heir the Messenians had sought to incite peacably ascended to her place as Charles X Gustav.

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1659: William Lamport, the real Zorro?

Add comment November 19th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1659, an Irish adventurer named Don Guillen Lombardo went to the stake in Mexico City as a heretic — en route to a destiny as a romantic swordsman

William Lamport was born in Wexford, by blood the descendant of English aristocracy and by conviction kin to Ireland’s Gaelic resistance to English incursion. His grandfather Patrick fought for Irish rebels at the Battle of Kinsale.

This was years before Lamport’s own birth but the youth must have been a chip off the old block: by the 1620s, as a student, William got himself run out of London for his aggressive Catholic proselytizing. Or at least, this is what William would say of himself: for his early years, we have mostly just his own word to go by.

Lamport took exile in Spain and there found his niche as a soldier and ladies’ man under a Hispanicized name: “Guillen Lombardo de Guzman” — that last nombre taken in tribute to his patron, the Count of Olivares. Guillen Lombardo de Guzman was a considerable enough figure in the Spanish court to have his portrait painted by Rubens.

These were formative years for the young man, but the crucial formative events we can only guess at: how did his thought evolve to the seditious or heretical form that set him against the Inquisition? Why did he cross the Atlantic to New Spain with the Marques of Villena in his late twenties?

This undergraduate thesis (pdf) tries to unravel the mystery of the man. What we know is that he was denounced to the Inquisition in October 1642 after attempting to enlist a friend in a subversive plot. The records here come via the Inquisition and are colored accordingly, but they indicate that Don Guillen aspired to cleave off New Spain with himself as the king of a radically egalitarian new state that would abolish all race and caste divisions. Among the papers he prepared for this visionary future was the first known declaration of independence in the Indies.

He spent the next 17 years in dungeons — less a few days when he escaped prison on the morrow of Christmas in 1650 and quixotically proceeded to nail up revolutionary manifestos on the cathedral door and around town denouncing the Inquisition. He was quickly recaptured, having now assumed the character of a determined rebel against powers both spiritual and temporal and consigned to an auto de fe in Mexico City’s main square. He was supposed to burn alive, but is said to have effected a cleverly merciful self-strangulation on the iron collar that staked him to his pyre.

It has been postulated that Johnston McCulley borrowed from a 19th century historical romance starring Lamport and his underground circle in McCulley’s The Curse of Capistrano — the serialized novel that introduced the dashing Mexican nobleman with a double life as champion of the little guy, Zorro. Lamport’s native Wexford — the one in Ireland — has consequently celebrated him in a “Wexford Zorrofest”.

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