1798: Father John Murphy, Wexford Rebellion leader

Add comment July 2nd, 2018 Headsman

Catholic priest John Murphy was executed on this date in 1798 for his part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.


The Black 47 jam “Vinegar Hill” celebrates Father Murphy, imagining him confronting and embracing the choice to rebel …

I return to my prayers
And reflect upon Your tortured lips
But not a word do I hear
Just a veil of silence around the crucifix
And I remember the Bishop’s words
“When faith is gone, all hope is lost”
Well, so be it
I will rise up with my people
And to hell with the eternal cost!

An exemplar of that rare type persuadable to follow his moral commitments all the way out of the safety of a status quo sinecure, Father Murphy initially eschewed the trend towards armed rebellion in 1798.

This outbreak was itself a response to a violent martial law-backed campaign of repression to crush Ireland’s growing United Irishmen movement for self-rule, republicanism, and Catholic emancipation — each of them scarlet fighting words to the Crown. The risings that finally broke out had only scanty success, weakened as they were by months of arrests.

By far the strongest rising occurred in Wexford, so much so that the Wexford Rebellion is nearly metonymous for the Irish Rebellion as a whole. And our man, John Murphy, was a priest in Wexford Town.

Giving due heed to Ecclesiastes, Murphy pivoted quickly from his previous counsel that prospective rebels surrender their arms once he saw an enemy patrol gratuitously torch some homes, a decision that would immortalize his name at the cost of greatly shortening his life.

During the brief existence of the Wexford Republic, the padre surprisingly became one of its prominent combat commanders, and also one of the signal martyrs after the rebels were shattered at the Battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21, 1798.*

Murphy escaped that tragic battlefield only to have his remnant definitively routed a few days later.

He had only a few days remaining him at that point, days of hiding out with his bodyguard, James Gallagher. At last they were captured at a farm on July 2, and subjected that same day to a snap military tribunal and execution delayed only by the hours required to torture him.

After hanging to death, Murphy was decapitated so that the British could mount his head on a pike as a warning.

This 1798 rebellion they were able to crush, but Murphy has survived into legend. He flashes for only an instant in the sweep of history, springing almost out of the very soil into the firmament as an allegory of revolutionary redemption, brandishing together (as Black 47 puts it above) both his missal and his gun.


The ballad “Boolvague” by Patrick Joseph McCall for the 1898 centennial of the rebellion pays tribute to Father Murphy:

At Vinegar Hill o’er the River Slaney
our heroes vainly stood back to back
And the yeos of Tullow took Father Murphy
and burned his body upon the rack
God grant you glory brave Father Murphy
and open heaven to all your men
The cause that called you may call tomorrow
in another fight for the Green again.

* There was a “Second Battle of Vinegar Hill” … comprising Irishmen but not in Ireland, for it was a convict rebellion in Australia in 1804. One of its leaders, Phillip Cunningham, was a survivor of the 1798 Irish Rebellion.

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1797: Richard Parker, for the Nore mutiny

Add comment June 30th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1797, a president of the floating republic was put to death by an empire of the lash.

The occasion brings us to the era of Great Britain’s protracted war with Revolutionary France. That war’s essential factor from the British point of view was the navy — crewed in its turn by an immiserated working class, sometimes forcibly impressed, and drawing pay on a schedule that had been set in 1658.

In April 1797, after a wage grievance was dismissed out of hand by the Admiralty, the crew of the Channel Fleet mutinied at Spithead, near Portsmouth. For “mutiny” here, think less H.M.S. Bounty* and more labor strike: keeping discipline within their ranks, they used the leverage of refusing to put out to sea to successfully negotiate that pay rise, as well as the transfer of some distasteful officers who went otherwise unharmed. The Spithead mutiny contributes no execution to our pages.


This hostile caricature of the Spithead mutineers nevertheless depicts — however incredulously — the common sailors’ degree of organization.

However, in its waning days in May, a sympathy mutiny ensued at the fleet lying at an anchorage at the mouth of the Thames, called the Nore. These Spithead and Nore mutinies are generally taken together since they had the same grievances … but their resolutions were very different.

The Nore mutiny, less united and disciplined than that at Spithead, saw several ships at Nore mutiny and elect as their leader this post’s principle character, Richard Parker. Parker was an intelligent, veteran sailor with some history of sticking his neck out for better working conditions. He would always insist that he had no part of the mutiny’s planning and was appointed its leader by surprise; whether or not this was so, he exercised his newfound office, President of the Delegates of the Fleet, as best he could. It was a fraught situation; each ship had its own delegates (hence Parker’s title) who did not always agree, and there were radical and moderate factions, and a proclivity among ships inclining to the latter to slip away from the mutinied fleet even as their erstwhile comrades fired upon them.

But the most perilous function demanded of Parker was to present mutineers’ demands to the Admiralty, whose perspective was that the fleet’s complaints had already been disposed of via Spithead — especially when the Nore demands expanded to include peace with France. The mutiny collapsed, and Parker was marched to Maidstone Prison to the jeers of Londoners.

Even the Newgate Calendar, scold for the status quo, could not resist admiring Parker’s bearing, “throughout the whole of his trial … firm and manly; while he was before the Court, decent and respectful, and from the time he received his sentence, till his execution, resigned and penitent” even while abhorring his “wretched existence.”

After a solemn pause of nearly ten minutes the Lord Advocate rose and, with his head uncovered, read the awful sentence — viz. “The Court judges Richard Parker to suffer death, and to be hanged by the neck, on board any one of his Majesty’s ships, and at such time as the Lords of the Admiralty may think proper to appoint.”

The prisoner listened to the sentence without emotion, and addressed the Court as follows: — “I have heard your sentence; I shall submit to it without a struggle. I feel thus, because I am sensible of the rectitude of my intentions. Whatever offences may have been committed, I hope my life will be the only sacrifice. I trust it will be thought a sufficient atonement. Pardon, I beseech you, the other men; I know they will return with alacrity to their duty.”

The president then briefly addressed himself to the prisoner. He said that, notwithstanding the enormity of the crimes of which he had been found guilty, on the fullest and clearest evidence, yet the Court, in order to afford him the necessary time to expiate his offences, and to make his peace with God, would then not name any day for his execution, but leave that point to the determination of the lords of the admiralty. The prisoner then withdrew, and was soon put in irons.

The time of his execution was fixed for Friday, the 30th of June. 1797. At eight o’clock in the morning a gun was fired on board his Majesty’s ship L’Espion, lying off Sheerness garrison, Vice-Admiral Lutwidge‘s flagship, and the yellow flag, the signal of capital punishment, was hoisted, which was immediately repeated by the Sandwich hoisting the same colour on her foretop.

The prisoner was awakened a little after six o’clock, from a sound sleep, by the provost-marshal, who, with a file of marines, composed his guard; he arose with cheerfulness, and requested permission might be asked for a barber to attend him, which was granted. He soon dressed himself in a neat suit of mourning (waistcoat excepted), wearing his half-boots over a pair of black silk stockings. He then took his breakfast, talked of a will he had written, in which he had bequeathed to his wife a little estate he said he was heir to, and after that lamented the misfortune that had been brought on the country by the mutiny, but solemnly denied having the least connection or correspondence with any disaffected persons ashore; and declared that it was chiefly owing to him that the ships had not been carried into the enemy’s ports. [a threat to sail to France was part of Nore mutiny negotiations]

At half past eight he was told the chaplain of the ship was ready to attend him to prayers upon the quarter-deck, which he immediately ascended, uncovered: at his first entrance on the deck he looked a little paler than corn mon, but soon recovered his usual complexion; he bowed to t lie officers, and, a chair being allowed him, he sat down for a few moments: he then arose, and told the clergyman he wished to attend him: the chaplain informed him he had selected two psalms appropriate to his situation; to which the pris oner, assenting, said, “And with your permission, sir, I will add a third,” and named the 51st. He then recited each alternate verse in a manner peculiarly impressive.

At nine o’clock the preparatory gun was fired from L’Espion, which he heard without the smallest emotion. Prayers being soon after closed, he rose, and asked Captain Moss “if he might be indulged with a glass of white wine”: which being granted, he took it, and, lifting up his eyes, exclaimed, “I drink first to the salvation of my soul! and next to the forgiveness of my enemies!” Addressing him self to Captain Moss, he said, “he hoped he would shake hands with him”; which the captain did: he then desired “that he might be remembered to his companions on board the Neptune; with his last breath sent an entreaty to them to prepare for their destiny, and refrain from unbecoming levity.” His arms were now bound, and the procession moved from the quarterdeck to the forecastle, passing through a double file of marines on the starboard side, to a platform erected on the cat-head, with an elevated projection. Arriving there, he knelt with the chaplain, and joined in some devout ejaculations, to all of which he repeated loudly, “Amen.” Rising again, the Admiral’s warrant of execution, addressed to Captain Moss, was now read by the clerk, in which the sentence of the court martial, the order of the Board of Admiralty and his Majesty’s approbation of the whole proceedings were fully recited, which the prisoner heard with great attention, and bowed his head, as if in assent, at the close of it. He now asked the captain whether he might be allowed to speak, and immediately apprehending his intention might be misconceived he added: “I am not going, sir, to address the ship’s company. I wish only to declare that I acknowledge the justice of the sentence under which I suffer; and I hope my death may be deemed a sufficient atonement, and save the lives of others.”

He then requested a minute to collect himself, and knelt down alone, about that space of time; then rose up and said: “I am ready.” Holding his head up, he said to the boatswain’s mate: “Take off my handkerchief (of black silk); which was done, and the provost-marshal placed the halter over his head (which had been prepared with grease,) but, doing it awkwardly, the prisoner said rather pettishly to the boatswain’s mate, “Do you do it, for he seems to know nothing about it.” The halter was then spliced to the reeve-rope: all this being adjusted, the marshal attempted to put a cap on, which he refused; but, on being told that it was indispensable, he submitted, requesting it might not be pulled over his eyes till he desired it. He then turned round, for the first time, and gave a steady look at his shipmates on the forecastle, and, with an affectionate kind of smile, nodded his head, and said “Good-by to you!” He now said, “Captain Moss, is the gun primed?” — “It is.” — “Is the match alight?” — “All is ready.”– On this he advanced a little, and said, “Will any gentleman be so good as to lend me a white handkerchief for the signal?” After some little pause, a gentleman stepped forward and gave him one; to whom bowing, he returned thanks. He now ascended the platform, and repeated the same questions about the gun. He now ascended the platform. The cap was then drawn over his face, and he walked by firm degrees up to the extremity of the scaffold, and dropped a white handkerchief, which he had borrowed from one of the gentlemen present, and put his hands in his coat-pockets with great rapidity. At the moment he sprang off, the fatal bow-gun fired, and the reeve-rope, catching him, ran him up, though not with great velocity, to the yardarm. When suspended about midway his body appeared extremely convulsed for a few seconds, immediately after which no appearance of life remained.

It being ebb of tide, the starboard yard-arm pointed to the Isle of Grain, where scaffolding was erected for the spectators on shore; a considerable number of yachts, cutters, and other craft, surrounded the Sandwich. The last time the prisoner knelt with the chaplain at the cat-head, though he made his responses regularly, his attention was particularly directed the whole time to the armed boats of the fleet, which were plying round on duty. The whole conduct of this awful ceremony was extremely decorous and impressive; it was evident, from the countenances of the crew of the Sandwich, that the general feeling for the fate of their mutinous conductor was such as might be wished: not a word, and scarce a whisper, was heard among them.


The Newgate Calendar’s illustration of Parker’s execution.

Parker was not mistaken to warn his compatriots to brace for punishment, and his hope that his would be the only life paid in forfeit was sorely disappointed. Twenty-nine more men were hanged as Nore mutineers, in addition to a number of others imprisoned, flogged, or transported. (The Sydney, Australia suburb of Redfern is named for the transported Nore mutineer who once owned the land.)

* Speaking of the Bounty, its old notorious captain William Bligh in 1797 captained one of the mutinied ships at the Nore, on which occasion Bligh discovered “that his common nickname among men in the fleet was ‘that Bounty Bastard’.”

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1797: Thomas Starr, penknife murderer

Add comment June 14th, 2018 Headsman

“Sermon preached at Haddam [Connecticut], June 14, 1797. On the day of the Execution of Thomas Starr, condemned for the murder of his kinsman Samuel Cornwell by seven wounds given him, by a penknife, in the trunk of his body, July 26th, 1796, of which he languished a few days and died; with a sketch of the life and character of said Starr,” by Enoch Huntington, pastor of the First Church of Christ of Middletown, Connecticut.


Also available online here.

The good minister was brother to the late governor of the state, and (eventually) maternal grandfather to abolitionist William Huntington Russell, co-founder of famed Yale secret society Skull and Bones. Russell was a personal friend of anti-slavery militant John Brown and received the honorary rank of Major General for his service organizing the Connecticut militia for the Civil War.

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1794: Madame Lavergne and Monsieur Lavergne, united in love

Add comment March 31st, 2018 Headsman

The below will be found in Elizabet Starling’s Noble Deeds of Woman, Or, Examples of Female Courage and Virtue; similar glosses on the same narrative are afoot in several other public domain volumes.

As will be affirmed by a glance at a converter for France’s revolutionary calendar, this text badly botches its translation of the date of “11 Germinal” — another reminder that nobody cares about the dates. “Germinal” means “seed” and so is of course a spring month; there are rosters of the Paris Terror victims available which confirm that March 31 is the correct execution date for both Monsieur and Madame Lavergne.

CONSTANCY OF MADAME LAVERGNE.

Mightier far
Than strength of nerve or sinew, or the sway
Of magic potent over sun and star,
Is love, though oft to agony distrest,
And though his favorite seat be feeble woman’s breast.

-WORDSWORTH.

Madame Lavergne had not long been married when her husband, who was governor of Longwy, was obliged to surrender that fort to the Prussians. The French however, succeeded in regaining possession of the place, when M. Lavergne was arrested and conducted to one of the prisons in Paris. His wife followed him to the capital: she was then scarcely twenty years of age, and one of the loveliest women of France. Her husband was more than sixty, yet his amiable qualities first won her esteem, and his tenderness succeeded to inspire her with an affection as sincere and fervent as that which he possessed for her. While the unfortunate Lavergne expected every hour to be summoned before the dreaded tribunal, he was attacked with illness in his dungeon. At any other moment this affliction would have been a subject of grief and inquietude to Madame Lavergne; under her present circumstances, it was a source of hope and consolation. She could not believe there existed a tribunal so barbarous as to bring a man before the judgment-seat who was suffering under a burning fever. A perilous disease, she imagined, was the present safeguard of her husband’s life; and she flattered herself that the fluctuation of events would change his destiny, and finish in his favor that which nature had so opportunely begun. Vain expectation! The name of Lavergne had been irrevocably inscribed on the fatal list of the 11th Germinal, of the second year of the republic, (June 25th, 1794,) [sic; see above -ed.] and he must on that day submit to his fate.

Madame Lavergne, informed of this decision, had recourse to tears and supplications. Persuaded that she could soften the hearts of the representatives of the people by a faithful picture of Lavergne’s situation, she presented herself before the Committee of General Safety: she demanded that her husband’s trial should be delayed, whom she represented as a prey to a dangerous and afflicting disease, deprived of the strength of his faculties, and of all those powers, either of body or mind, which could enable him to confront his intrepid and arbitrary accusers. ‘Imagine, oh citizens!’ said the agonized wife of Lavergne, ‘such an unfortunate being as I have described dragged before a tribunal about to decide upon his life, while reason abandons him, while he cannot understand the charges brought against him, nor has sufficient power of utterance to declare his innocence. His accusers, in full possession of their moral and physical strength, and already inflamed with hatred against him, are instigated even by his helplessness to more than ordinary exertions of malice: while the accused, subdued by bodily suffering and mental infirmity, is appalled or stupefied, and barely sustains the dregs of his miserable existence. Will you, oh citizens of France! call a man to trial while in the phrensy of delirium? Will you summon him, who perhaps at this moment expires upon the bed of pain, to hear that irrevocable sentence, which admits of no medium between liberty or the scaffold? and, if you unite humanity with justice, can you suffer in old man — ?’ At these words, every eye was turned on Madame Lavergne, whose youth and beauty, contrasted with the idea of an aged and infirm husband, gave rise to very different emotions in the breasts of the members of the committee from those with which she had so eloquently sought to inspire them. They interrupted her with coarse jests and indecent raillery. One of the members assured her, with a scornful smile, that, young and handsome as she was, it would not be so difficult as she appeared to imagine to find means of consolation for the loss of a husband, who, in the common course of nature, had lived already long enough. Another of them, equally brutal and still more ferocious, added, that the fervor with which she had pleaded the cause of such a husband was an unnatural excess, and therefore the committee could not attend to her petition.

Horror, indignation, and despair, took possession of the soul of Madame Lavergne; she had heard the purest and most exalted affection for one of the worthiest of men condemned as a degraded passion; she had been wantonly insulted, while demanding justice, by the administrators of the laws of a nation; and she rushed in silence from the presence of these inhuman men, to hide the bursting agony of her sorrows.

One faint ray of hope yet arose to cheer the gloom of Madame Lavergne’s despondency. Dumas was one of the judges of the tribunal, and him she had known previous to the Revolution. Her repugnance to seek this man, in his new career, was subdued by a knowledge of his power and her hopes of his influence. She threw heiself at his feet, bathed them with her tears, and conjured him, by all the claims of mercy and humanity, to prevail on the tribunal to delay the trial of her husband till the our of his recovery. Dumas replied, coldly, that it did not belong to him to grant the favor she solicited, nor should he choose to make such a request of the tribunal; then, in a tone somewhat animated by insolence and sarcasm, he added, ‘And is it, then, so great a misfortune, madame, to be delivered from a troublesome husband of sixty, whose death will leave you at liberty to employ your youth and charms more usefully?’

Such a reiteration of insult roused the unfortunate wife of Lavergne to desperation; she shrieked with insupportable anguish, and, rising from her humble posture, she extended her arms towards Heaven, and exclaimed, ‘Just God! will not the crimes of these atrocious men awaken Thy vengeance? Go, monster!’ she cried to Dumas; ‘I no longer want thy aid, — I no longer need to supplicate thy pity; away to the tribunal! — there will I also appear; then shall it be known whether I deserve the outrages which thou and thy base associates have heaped upon me.’ From the presence of Dumas, Madame Lavergne repaired to the hall of the tribunal, and mixing with the crowd, waited in silence for the hour of trial. The barbarous proceedings of the day commenced, and on M. Lavergne being called for, the unfortunate man was carried into the hall by the gaolers, supported on a mattress. To the few questions which were proposed to him, he replied in a feeble and dying voice, and the fatal sentence of death was pronounced upon him.

“Scarcely had the sentence passed the lips of the judge, when Madame Lavergne cried, with a loud voice, ‘Vive le roi!’ The persons nearest the place whereon she stood eagerly surrounded, and endeavored to silence her; but the more the astonishment and alarm of the multitude augmented, the more loud and vehement became her cries of ‘Vive le roi!’ The guard was called, and directed to lead her away. She was followed by a numerous crowd, mute with consternation and pity; but the passages and staircases still resounded every instant with ‘Vive le roi!’ till she was conducted into one of the rooms belonging to the court of justice, into which the public accuser came to interrogate her on the motives of her extraordinary conduct.

‘I am not actuated,’ she answered, ‘by any sudden impulse of despair or revenge for the condemnation of M. Lavergne, but from the love of royalty, which is rooted in my heart. I adore the system that you have destroyed. I do not expect any mercy from you, for I am your enemy; I abhor your republic, and will persist in the confession I have publicly made, as long as I live.’

Such a declaration was without reply, and the name of Madame Lavergne was instantly added to the list of suspected persons: a few minutes afterwards, she was brought before the tribunal, where she again uttered her own accusation, and was condemned to die. From that instant, the agitation of her spirits subsided, serenity took possession of her mind, and her beautiful countenance announced only the peace and satisfaction of her soul.

On the day of execution, Madame Lavergne first ascended the cart, and desired to be so placed that she might behold her husband. The unfortunate Lavergne had fallen into a swoon, and was in that condition extended upon straw in the cart, at the feet of his wife, without any signs of life. On the way to the place of execution, the motion of the cart had loosened the bosom of Lavergne’s shirt, and exposed his breast to the scorching rays of the sun, till his wife entreated the executioner to take a pin from her handkerchief and fasten his shirt. Shortly afterwards, Madame Lavergne, whose attention never wandered from her husband for a single instant, perceived that his senses returned, and called him by his name; at the sound of that voice, whose melody had been so long withheld from him, Lavergne raised his eyes, and fixed them on her with a look at once expressive of terror and affection. ‘Do not be alarmed,’ she said; ‘it is your faithful wife who called you; you know I could not live without you, and we are going to die together.’ Lavergne burst into tears of gratitude, which relieved the oppression of his heart, and he became once more able to express his love and admiration of his virtuous wife. The scaffold, which was intended to separate, united them forever.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Soldiers,Women

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1799: Andrea Serrao, Bishop of Potenza

1 comment February 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1799, the Bishop of Potenza was lynched by the faithful.

Andrea Serrao English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a late disciple of the reformist Jansenist movement which tended among many other things to such Enlightenment-friendly notions as liberty of conscience, the reduction of the papal authority, and “regalism” — the doctrine of secular supremacy over ecclesiastical.

According to Owen Chadwick’s The Popes and European Revolution, Serrao as Bishop of the southern Italian city of Potenza

found a cathedral in disrepair, a seminary closed for the last eleven years. He raised the money for a rebuilding of the cathedral, reopened the seminary, of which the products were suspect for their ideas of liberty. He was as strong a reformer as [fellow Jansenist Bishop Scipione de’]Ricci,* and with many of the same ideas. He held a diocesan synod which is unknown because the acts were afterwards destroyed by government; but evidently its conclusions resembled those of Ricci’s Synod of Pistoia. He may have been more radical than Ricci, for he wanted clergy to be allowed to marry.

In December of 1798, Bourbon authority collapsed in the Kingdom of Naples — which ruled all of southern Italy, including Potenza — leading to the formation of the Parthenopean Republic. Serrao fully embraced it, “and urged them to obey the new government; and at the end of his address the people cried ‘Long live the French government. Long live liberty!’ and rushed out into the piazza to plant a tree of liberty. Bishop Serrao then accepted the office of civil commissioner of Potenza.” (Chadwick again)

But this Republic was destined for an imminent and bloody conclusion.

The most immediate reaction, and the one that led to Serrao’s abrupt death, was the summons of Fabrizio Cardinal Ruffo to a popular anti-Republican movement, called Sanfedismo (“Holy Faith”). In early February, a bare two weeks after the Parthenopean Republic’s establishment, Ruffo ventured from the royal refuge on Sicily and landed at his native Calabria like Che Guevara, with nothing but a handful of companions.

“Brave and courageous Calabrians, unite now under the standard of the Holy Cross and of our beloved sovereign,” Ruffo’s summons to a resistance implored. “Do not wait for the enemy to come and contaminate our home neighbourhoods. Let us march to confront him, to repel him, to hunt him out of our kingdom and out of Italy and to break the barbarous chains of our holy Pontiff. May the banner of the Holy Cross secure you total victory.”

Ruffo’s message was a winner and almost instantly began attracting holy guerrillas by the hundreds; in a few months’ time, Ruffo secured the surrender of the Republicans in Naples itself, by which time his army is reputed to have numbered 17,000.

And even in its earliest promulgation, it attained — seemingly to Andrea Serrao’s surprise — strength enough to overwhelm that tree of liberty stuff in Potenza within days of Ruffo’s landing. Back to Chadwick:

When Ruffo’s bands drew near to Potenza, many peasants and some priests regarded Bishop Serrao as ‘the enemy of the Pope, the king, and God’. Warned to escape, he said that he trusted his fellow-citizens. When the professors and students at the seminary wanted to make a bodyguard, he forbade them to arm.

Very early on 24 February 1799 soldiers of the Potenza guard smashed the tree of liberty, and raided the bishop’s palace. They came upon Serrao still in bed, and killed him with two shots of a pistol. Bleeding to death, he uttered the words ‘Long live the faith of Jesus Christ! Long live the Republic!’ The guards broke into the seminary next door, and murdered the rector as his students fled. After sacking palace and seminary they cut off the heads of bishop and rector and carried them in triumph round the city on pikes.

* There’s an interesting public domain biography of Ricci which, without any direct reference to Serrao, delves into the theological and political conflicts of the age that would have been of interest to our principal.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,God,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Lynching,Naples,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Religious Figures,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1794: The Comte de Feuillide, Jane Austen in-law

Add comment February 22nd, 2018 Headsman

To Madame la Comtesse de Feuillide this novel is inscribed by her obliged humble servant The Author.

-Jane Austen’s author’s dedication in Love and Freindship

On this date in 1794, the guillotine brought tragedy to Jane Austen’s family.

The blade’s more immediate victim was Jean Gabriel Capotte, the Comte de Feuillide and the husband of Eliza de Feuillide (nee Hancock), Jane Austen’s “outlandish cousin.”

Fourteen years the novelist’s senior, Eliza was born in India to Jane’s Aunt Philadelphia who went abroad seeking a mercenary marriage and landed an unhappy one to a surgeon twice her age, Tysoe Saul Hancock. Eliza Hancock might possibly have been the illegitimate daughter of colonial administrator Warren Hastings, who stoked rumors by establishing a trust for the young woman. (Eliza also later named her only son “Hastings”.)

Either way, she didn’t grow up in the colonies but in England and France, where her vivacity conquered the heart of a prosperous French officer on the make, a barrister’s son who self-aggrandized his rank of Comte de Feuillide. As a gadabout exile “French countess” during the French Revolution, the charming Eliza de Feuillide was a hit both with London society and with her debutante cousin Jane, “whose kind partiality to me” Eliza would write in a letter “indeed requires a return of the same nature.”

Eliza exerted a magnetic influence on her kinswoman, and she’s popularly suspected to be the model for the Mansfield Park character Mary Crawford.* There’s even a book theorizing that this peripatetic polyglot was the true author of Jane Austen’s canon.


Lucy Cohu as Eliza de Feuillide makes some guillotine banter in Becoming Jane.

Back in France, where he served in the army, the hubby with an emigre wife and an aristocratic pretension made a decidedly poorer impression upon the Jacobins, as Maggie Lane observes in Jane Austen’s Family:

On 22 February 1794 the Comte de Feuillide fell victim to the guillotine. He had foolishly, if gallantly, tried to bribe one of the Secretaries of the Committee of Safety to secure the liberty of the widow of an army colleague, Jacques Marboeuf, Marquis and Marechal-de-camp. The fifty-five-year-old Marquise stood accused of laying down certain arable lands on her estate to fodder crops, with the idea of producing a famine in an effort to undermine the Republic.

De Feuillide was double-crossed by the Secretary and arrested at his lodging in the rue Grenelle et St Honore, where incriminating documents and sums of money parcelled up for the bribery were seized. The Marquise, the Comte and the Marquise’s man of business who had acted as a go-between in the attempt, all were sentenced to death.

After a few years as a merry widow, Eliza wed her cousin Henry Austen — Jane’s brother and Eliza’s “perpetual sunshine”. Eliza Austen died in 1813, with Jane Austen at her bedside.

* In Jane Austen and the French Revolution, Warren Roberts argues that the Comte de Feuillide has his own literary doppelganger in the unfinished Austen novel Catherine, in the form of Edward Stanley.

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1792: John Philips, a wretch robbed of life for so trivial a robbery

Add comment January 14th, 2018 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1792, sailor John Philips was hanged in Dublin, Ireland after being convicted of robbing a man of his hat and coat.

Philips, a 50-year-old sailor with a wife and five children back home, was based in London and knew no one in Dublin. He was unable to retain counsel for lack of funds, and the government was not required to provide him with one.

The jury who convicted him recommended mercy “in consideration of the apparent severity of robbing a wretch of life for so trivial a robbery,” but the Recorder of the Dublin, Denis George, sentenced him to death.

While awaiting his execution, Philips had a petition drawn up and sent to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, asking for a commutation on the grounds that he was drunk at the time of the robbery.

As Brian Henry says, in his book Dublin Hanged: Crime, Law Enforcement and Punishment in Late Eighteenth-Century Dublin,

The Lord Lieutenant would in all probability have respited his hanging if he had received it in time. On the back of the petition was written, “has anything been done in this?” A stark answer followed: “was executed the 14th — Received 31st Jan 1792.” Philips was hanged at the front of Newgate on Saturday 14 January 1792.

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1793: Armand Louis de Gontaut

Add comment December 31st, 2017 Headsman

Armand Louis de Gontaut, duc de Lauzun and later duc de Biron, an officer in the American Revolution and and the French Revolution, was guillotined during the Paris Terror on this date in 1793.

Born in 1747, Lauzun had some youthful finding-himself years “wasting his fortune in dissipation in various parts of Europe” before he got serious about being an Enlightenment Man, penned an essay on British colonial defenses, and went and fought them in a colonial skirmish.

Satisfactory performance in West Africa qualified him to twist the lion’s tail again by raising a legion of hussars for the American Revolution. Lauzun fought at the independence-clinching upset of Yorktown, winning promotion back in the home country to marechal de camp.

That Lafayette-like package of liberal sensibility, blue blood, and battlefield competence was just the thing for the more moderate early years of the French Revolution, and just the thing to cost his head by the time of the Terror. Our man found himself by 1793 transferred from the French army on the Rhine to the against War in the Vendee where he arrived already too milquetoast for the extreme violence being demanded for pacification. The Jacobin firebrand Marat had already petitioned for the ex-nobleman’s removal; it was effected by Jean-Baptiste Carrier who in 1793 was busily blackening his name by pacifying the Vendee with indiscriminate slaughter.

Lauzun/Biron/Gontaut was arrested at Carrier’s behest for incivisme, that want of revolutionary ardor that in this moment stood tantamount to treason. Vainly he protested (pdf) from his confinement that “my conscience reproaches me for nothing.” Still, he met the inevitable fate at the Revolutionary Tribunal’s hands with peace and was reported to have gone calmly to the guillotine, the last words upon his lips a self-recrimination:

“I die punished for having been false to my God, my King and my order.”

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1799: Francesco Conforti, regalist and republican

1 comment December 7th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1799, the subversive priest Francesco Conforti was hanged in the Piazza Mercato for his role in the Naples Parthenopean Republic.

This scholar came on the scene in the 1770s penning apologias for the Enlightenment trend towards the secular authority supplanting the ecclesiastic. For Conforti, Christ had not claimed, and the Vatican ought not wield, civil power.

This was quite an annoyance to the church that had ordained him but Conforti was no red priest. His doctrine was so far from antithetical to sovereigns in the Age of Absolutism that it was known as regalism, and a notable 1771 work was dedicated to the Bourbons’ secular strongman in southern Italy and Sicily.

But clerical reaction after the French Revolution got Conforti run out of his university appointment and even thrown in prison which would drive him into the republican camp — and when those republicans took power in Naples in early 1799 he joined their government as Interior Minister, his duty to shape civil society for “the democratic and republican regime [which] is the most consistent with the Gospel.”

“Democracy is the greatest benefit God has given the human race,” Conforti once intoned. But in 1799 it was a gift to enjoy in small doses: after the Bourbons reconquered Naples that summer, executing 122 republican patriots into the bargain, the human race reverted to the second greatest benefit.

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1795: Sayat-Nova

1 comment September 22nd, 2017 Headsman

The Armenian poet Sayat-Nova (“King of Songs”) was martyred on this date in 1795 by the invading Qajar army.

Poet, singer, and legendary wielder of the kamancheh in the court of the Georgian king,* Sayat-Nova was also an ordained priest in the Armenian Church.

This last point would figure crucially upon the invasion of the Qajar Shah seized the Caucasus in a 1795 bloodbath:** trapped in a monastery, Sayat-Nova faced the ritual Islamic offer of conversion or death. He chose immortality.

His legendary name and likeness adorn many public places in Armenia (not to mention an Armenian cognac), as well as places touched by the Armenian diaspora like a Boston dance company.

YouTube searches on the man’s name yield a rich trove of songs and movies about the man, but the best commemoration for these pages is surely his own music.

* Until he got ejected for scandalously falling in love with the king’s sister and became a wandering bard. Poets!

** The Shah was assassinated two years later, and the Qajars lost their grip on the Caucasus as a result.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Armenia,Artists,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Famous,God,History,Iran,Martyrs,Myths,Occupation and Colonialism,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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