1757: Father Andreas Faulhaber, seal of the confessional martyr

Add comment December 30th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1757, Catholic priest Andreas Faulhaber was hanged at the order of Frederick the Great to defend the seal of the confessional.

Frederick had been appointed by the Heavenly Father, and a cruel earthly one, to a task far too monumental to tarry with theology: lifting the Kingdom of Prussia from the morass of German principalities and into the ranks of Europe’s great powers. Frederick was nominally a Protestant, as was the bulk of his domain, and der Alte Fritz once remarked that this profession pleasingly liberated his sovereignty from papal interference; his real doctrine was nothing but pragmatism.

Accordingly, the great enlightened absolutist sponsored Jesuit educators where schools were needed and Jewish merchants where trade was needed.

Disgusted at Frederick’s aggressive war on Austria, Voltaire scribbled to a friend,

I’ve seen his good intentions dropped
At the first trumpet blast.
They are nothing more than kings;
And live their lives with bloody things,
They take or rape a few provinces
To suit their ambitious ends
I give up, say goodbye princes
I want no one now but friends.

(Source)

But Voltaire did not in fact break with his royal admirer and correspondent over Silesia.

Frederick christened his new reign in 1740-42 by ripping the wealthy* province of Silesia away from the Habsburgs.

The Habsburgs were Prussia’s Catholic rivals for preeminence in central Europe and Silesia too was heavily Catholic, so Frederick extended over that province as liberal a grant of religious toleration as he might.

But the attachments of men for the kings of their forefathers are not always so easily displaced, and neither are those of kings for the most lucrative soil of their patrimony. Austria made two subsequent attempts to retrieve Silesia; together with Frederick’s initial invasion, these are the Silesian Wars.

The last of the three was itself just one theater of the gigantic Seven Years’ War. The conflict between Prussia and Austria over Silesia, and the complex continental diplomatic entanglements** each power effected in its pursuit, were among the root causes of that entire globe-spanning conflict.

Prussia won the first two Silesian Wars handily, but the third was a much more doubtful affair — indeed, Prussia was well on its way to defeat before the shock death of the Russian empress delivered that country into the hands of an unabashed Germanophile who pulled Russia out of the war.

But in view of Frederick the Great’s strained situation prior to this providential deliverance, some of his Silesian subjects made free to prefer their prospective Catholic/Austrian allegiance to that of their recent conqueror.

Desertions among Silesian conscripts, some of them even escaping to Austrian lines, called down the dark side of the religious toleration policy. Frederick let people pray as they liked so that he could rule as he liked; here, when he suspected the Silesian Catholic clergy of countenancing wartime disloyalty among their flock, those religious scruples had overstepped their proper sphere.

And so at last we come to our day’s execution.

One young man caught attempting to desert Frederick’s army was captured and interrogated by his commanders. He allowed that he had undertaken the sacrament of confession before escaping, and expressed to the priest his intention to abandon the army.

The priest, Father Andreas Faulhaber, was arrested on this basis, but between his calm defense of himself and the deserter’s shifting, unreliable story, the military court found little basis to proceed. The impression one gets is that the contemplated desertion was not the main thrust of the confession and that Father Faulhaber accordingly discouraged the sin in passing but didn’t bother to dwell on the point.

The impression is difficult to substantiate because the padre rigorously kept the seal of the confessional — another imposition demanded by faith that secular authorities who had armies to field preferred not to honor.

But evidently looking to serve notice that the monarch’s religious indifference could not be used to abrogate subjects’ responsibility to the state, Frederick himself ordered Faulhaber’s sudden execution for the morning of December 30.

The unfortunate priest only discovered his impending fate moments before it was enacted, but still refused under the makeshift gallows to give up anything incriminating about his parishioner. “Hang up the Jesuit Faulhaber, but let him not have a confessor,” read the order, according to this decidedly Catholic account, which adds that Faulhaber was not actually a Jesuit at all, and the word only added to invoke the going 18th century prejudice against that order.

Prussia won this war, too. It kept Silesia in Prussian hands, and then German hands, for two centuries. The bulk of Silesia was transferred to Poland after World War II.

* Silesia provided one-quarter of all the Habsburgs’ tax revenue, according to Frederick the Great: A Life in Deed and Letters.

** For the Seven Years’ War, Austria made common cause with its traditional foe, France: one consequence of this arrangement was the betrothal of the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette to the future French king Louis XVI.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Desertion,Execution,Germany,God,Hanged,History,Military Crimes,Poland,Power,Prussia,Religious Figures,Wartime Executions

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1756: Four members of the Swedish Hovpartiet

Add comment July 23rd, 2010 Headsman

This date in 1756 saw the decapitation in Stockholm of four nobles tight with Queen Louisa Ulrika for an attempted coup d’etat.

Louisa Ulrika was a sister to Prussia’s Frederick the Great, married off to the Swedish crown for reasons of statecraft. Old Fritz had, all the same, suggested a different sibling to the Scandinavians inasmuch as Louisa was “an arrogant, temperamental intriguer.”

They probably should have taken the hint. Instead, they were taken with the beauty and the brains.

As Frederick predicted, Louisa found the Swedish setup during its 18th century Age of Liberty quite unsatisfactory: the monarchy played second fiddle to a powerful parliament, the Riksdag.

Before long, she commenced her temperamental intriguing.

Some well-placed bakhsheesh among the parliamentarians enabled Louisa to exercise some pull behind the scenes. But overall, the Queen thought much better of that Prussian system she had left behind: enlightened despotism, with an accent on the despotism. Wasn’t this supposed to be the Age of Absolutism?

Comely and charismatic, she soon began gathering supporters of this idea around her court, the so-called Hovpartiet (Swedish link) of strong-monarchy types. And eventually, Louisa felt strong enough herself to throw off the shackles of the estates — dragging along in this scheme the king, Adolf Frederick.

To finance this ambitious project, Louisa literally pawned the crown jewels.

Naturally, putting the crown jewels in hock is a slightly different matter from fencing a hot Rolex. The bankers who obtained this impressive debt security started making their own inquiries, and diplomatic rumors started circulating. That obnoxious Riksdag started demanding to see and inventory the royal hoard on the presumptuous grounds that it was state property.

Stalling for time against these persistent auditors, Louisa managed to gather some of the armaments intended for her project and set about hiring Stockholm criminals for a false flag operation which would enable the crown to restore order against some manufactured civic disturbances and thereby seize state power.

Erik Brahe (the one who was executed on this date). Image from this public domain German text; German speakers can get more on this day’s doing here.

These henchmen, notably bastard noble son Ernst Angel, indiscreetly boasted about the coming royal putsch down at the local watering-hole, and pretty soon the whole embarrassing thing had been blown wide open.

Embarrassing to Louisa, that is. The royals got to keep their jobs — though Adolf Frederick had feared he might go the way of Charles Stuart.

But for the less pedigreed members of the plot, there was a heavier price to pay than shame: eight men in the Hovpartiet lost their heads.

This date saw the end of Erik Brahe (Swedish Wikipedia link), Johan Puke (and his), Jakob Gustav Horn and Magnus Stålsvärd.

Three days later, the loose-lipped Ernst Angel joined them, along with Gabriel Mozelius, Per Christernin and Israel Escholin. (Names-to-dates associations from this Swedish article.)

A Genealogical Digression…

One is caught up by the distinguished name “Brahe”, one of those among the first batch of beheadings on July 23, 1756. This aristocratic cavalryman was indeed a member of the redoubtable Brahe family (more Swedish) whose most illustrious offspring was Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. (Although there was also a Brahe among the casualties of the Stockholm Bloodbath: they go way back.)

At any rate, this date’s Erik was a distant relative to Tycho, and a relative as well of Tycho’s Swedish cousin also named Erik Brahe, who was at Tycho Brahe’s deathbed in 1601. That other, older Erik Brahe has lately come in for some suspicion as a guy who might have murdered Tycho Brahe. Growing misgivings about the circumstances of the astronomer’s sudden death have just this year caused Tycho Brahe’s remains to be exhumed for further study. (But so far, no smoking gun.)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Scandal,Sweden,Torture,Treason

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