1821: Athanasios Diakos, Greek War of Independence hero

Add comment April 24th, 2019 Headsman

Greek independence hero Athanasios Diakos died by Ottoman impalement on this date in 1821.*

Though he acquired his nickname Diakos (“deacon”) from a youthful spell in a monastery, this fellow Athanasios (English Wikipedia entry | Greek) while the Turks still governed Greece made his way as a klepht — Greece’s version of the Balkan hybrid outlaw/guerrilla archetype, similar to the hajduk figures among the South Slavs. All of these outlaw types took to the mountains where they could subsist as brigands and mercenaries beyond the reach of the Porte, and seek opportunities where they might to strike at Ottomans. Many of the Greek persuasion, Diakos included, adhered to the Filiki Eteria secret society that aspired to liberate Greece.

With the onset of the Greek War of Independence in early 1821, Diakos jumped right into the fight. Picturesquely, he met a much larger Turkish detachment in battle at Thermopylae where he made like Leonidas and with a handful of companions heroically held out against impossible odds at the Alamana Bridge.

Captured wounded, Diakos spurned the temptation of an officer’s commission in the Turkish army should he but switch sides with words that remain legendary in his homeland to this day: “I was born a Greek, I shall die a Greek.” He was impaled at the city of Lamia, fearlessly musing, “Look at the time Charon chose to take me, now that the branches are flowering, and the earth sends forth grass.”


The Apotheosis of Athanasios Diakos, by Konstantinos Parthenis (1933).

He’s a very famous and beloved figure in Greece, albeit much less so in parts beyond. The village where Diakos was allegedly born has been renamed for him full stop.

* The narratives I’ve seen run a bit hinkie between the Battle of Alamana on April 22 and the great klepht’s death on April 24 since there’s a two-day gap and everyone seems to agree that he was ordered for execution “the next day”. I’m sticking to the agreed death date here, which is universal, but as best I can discern the timeline alternatives for accounting the missing day appear to break down between the notion that Diakos was impaled on the 23rd and lingered on his spike overnight before death, and that it was not until the 23rd that the Ottoman commander had the opportunity to interrogate him and decide his fate and thus “the next day” was the 24th. I haven’t located a source that appears dispositive on this issue.

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1752: Nicholas Mooney, penitent thief

Add comment April 24th, 2018 Headsman

From the Boston Gazette, Aug. 4, 1752:


BRISTOL, April 18.

Last Saturday about 4 o’Clock in the Afternoon ended the Assizes for this City and County, when Nicholas Mooney, and John Jones, for robbing Mr. Rich, William Cudmore, for returning from Transportation, and Mary Hoar for stealing six Gold Rings and a Sum of Money out of the Dwelling-house of William Wats, at the Henroost on the Back, received Sentence of Death. — When the Prisoners stood at the Bar to receive their Sentence, Mooney address’d the Judge to the following Effect:

My Lord,

Permit me again to entreat for John Jones, whom I have enveigled and brought into this Trouble, (as I have done several others before) that your Lordship would be pleased to spare his Life. — As for my own Part, I have committed many Robberies, and have been a Rebel against my King, and have wronged my Country by Coining Money, for which I can never make the Publick Restitution, and therefore I am content to die as I deserve. — And I pray GOD to bless every one to whom I have done any Wrong. And if there be any Gentlemen of Bristol here whom I have injur’d, I ask them Forgiveness, and especially Mr. Wasborough, (who then stood near him) whom I attempted to Murder, but God sav’d him, for which I can never praise him enough. — My Lord, I only desire three Sundays, and then I am willing to launch into Eternity. And I hope when I come to the Place of Execution, that GOD will open my Mouth to warn all to flee their wicked Course of Life. — I pray GOD bless your Lordship, and the honourable Court, and may the Lord Jesus receive my Sou.

Bristol, April 25. Yesterday about one o’clock in the Afternoon, Nicholas Mooney, John Jones and William Cudmore, were executed on St. Michael’s Hill, pursuant to their sentences. — During the Time they were under Sentence of Death, they were visited by several Clergymen of the Church of England, and by many other religious People. Mooney behaved in a very becoming Manner all the Time, shewing the most evident Tokens of a sincere Repentance, to all who either came to see or converse with him; informing all, what a wicked Man he had been; but that, thro’ the Merits of his Saviour, he had found the Forgiveness of his Sins, and was not afraid to die. — In this State he continued to the End, declaring at the Tree, That he knew that as soon as his Breath was out of his Body, his Soul would go immediately to Heaven. — After Prayer and Singing were over, he deliver’d to the Sheriff the printed Copy of his Life, signed with his own Hand; declaring as the Words of a dying Man, That it contained nothing but what was true, and which he would have published for the Benefit of Mankind.

When he had done speaking, and the Cart drew under the Gallows, he assisted in pulling the Halter over the Tree to himself, as also to Jones; and after a few Moments Ejaculations, they all launch’d into Eternity. — Jones made no Confession publickly; but we hear he privately confessed to a Gentleman that attended him, That he had such a natural Propensity to Thieving, that he had followed that Practice even from his Youth — Cudmore persisted to the last, that his Father was hang’d, & he transported wrongfully: But notwithstanding this, there are Ltters of Credit in Town, which certify, that both him and his Father were notorious for Horse-stealing. It is remarkable, that while Mooney’s [obscured] was knocking off in Newgate, he pray’d & [obscured] said, Death has no Sting for me: When they were off, he said, Blessed be GOD, I am got rid of the Chains of My Sins; and appeared with such Chearfulness, as though he was going to a Wedding. — When the Hangman put the Halter round his Neck in the Parlour of the Prison, he said, Welcome, Halter, I am saved as the Thief upon the Cross. — And when he came to the Gallows, he also said, Welcome Gallows, for I have deserved thee these many Years. — When the Hangman was going to tie up Jones, Mooney said, Tie me up first, for I am the greatest Offender.

After the Cart drew away, the Hangman very deservedly had his Head broke, for endeavouring to pull off Mooney’s Shoes; and a Fellow had like to have been kill’d in mounting the Gallows to take away the Ropes that were left after the Malefactors were cut down. — A young Woman came 15 Miles for the Sake of the Rope from Mooneys Neck, which was given to her; it being by many apprehended, that the Halter of an executed Person will charm away the Ague, and perform many other Cures.

A little Time before the Criminals went to the Execution, a Person came to Mooney from a Gentleman in the West, from whom he had received great Favours, to tell him he had received a handsome Letter from him, and that he had sent him to condole him in his unhappy Circumstances: He replied, I am happy, — My Time is short. — GOD bless Mr. M–w. — The Letter was this.

Bristol, April 14, 1752.

SIR,

Before I die, I take this Opportunity to acknowledge your Kindness to me in Time past. — Oh! that I had deserved it, for then I had not brought myself into these Circumstances: But GOD is wise, and seeing I would not hear his Voice and turn from any wicked Life, he gave me up to my own Heart’s Lust, and permitted me to fill up the Measure of mine Iniquity, that in me at last might be shewn the Severity of his Justice, and the Riches of his Mercy. — You took me, the most abandon’d Wretch to be an honest Man and as such you kindly and generously recommended me where I might have done well. It is my own Fault I did not. — On Friday 7-night I am to meet the Fate my Crimes have too justly deserved. — I deserve not only Death, but Hell: To the former Man hath doomed me; from the latter Christ will save me. — Of this I have such a firm Hope in myself, being assured that GOD is reconciled to me, (oh! the Riches of his Mercy in Christ Jesus) that my Prison is a Palace, my Chains are Ornaments, and I am quite happy. — I hope every one will pray for me, that my Faith fail not. — I am longing for Death, and in firm Expectation of a glorious Resurrection to eternal Life.

Your much obliged and dying Servant,
Nic. Mooney.

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1852: Nathaniel Bowman, William Ide inspiration

Add comment April 24th, 2017 Headsman

This date’s anecdote, from a public domain local history, concerns the April 24, 1852 hanging of Nathaniel Bowman. Bowman has the minor distinction of being the first person executed in California’s Colusa County.

Bowman would not escape his execution but his attempt to do so summoned the offices of William B. Ide, a pioneer who had led a revolt in Mexico’s Alta California and thereafter headed the very short-lived California Republic — an affair sometimes remembered as the “Bear Flag Revolt” for the sigil still used today by the state.


The present-day California flag.

The service Ide would render his countrymen in this post was among the last of his life: he died of smallpox later in 1852.

The first legal execution in Colusa County occurred in the spring of 1852. Nathaniel Bowman was convicted of murder in the first degree for killing Levi Seigler by beating him over the head with a bottle.*

There was no jail then, and during the trial Bowman was placed under guard at Monroeville. After his conviction he nearly made good his escape. In some manner he eluded the vigilance of his guard and, still shackled, hobbled to the home of Jesse Sheppard, where he begged piteously to have his irons filed off. Sheppard, however, took him back and turned him over to the authorities at Monroeville, where he was executed soon afterwards.

This episode clearly showed the necessity of having some safe place of detention for prisoners.

With his characteristic resourcefulness in emergencies, William B. Ide met this situation also. He obtained some bar iron and bolts from San Francisco and fashioned a cage. This he placed in the shade of a great oak in front of the hotel in Monroeville, which did duty at that time as the county courthouse also. This simple expedient solved the problem until the seat of government was transferred to Colusa in 1854, whereupon Ide’s cage was removed also, to continue duty as a cell in the county jail in Colusa.

* The Sacramento News (April 27, 1852) advises that Bowman “addressed the assembled crowd, from the scaffold, and stated that it was not his intention to kill Seigler, but to beat him badly.”

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1889: William Henry Bury, Jack the Ripper suspect

4 comments April 24th, 2016 Headsman

The last execution in Dundee, Scotland occurred on this date in 1889 — and some folk suspect that the fellow that fell through the gallows-trap might have been the great bogeyman of a different place: Whitechapel.

Orphaned son to a fishmonger who was broken when he fell under the wheels of his own laden cart and a mother who expired in a lunatic asylum, William Henry Bury just so happened to be resident of Whitechapel’s adjacent East End neighborhood of Bow when the former experienced a notorious spate of murders in 1888. Bury marked his time as an unsuccessful sawdust merchant vending to Whitechapel taverns, and as a downright atrocious husband drinking and whoring away the modest inheritance of his wife Ellen, then returning home to thrash her for it.

Proximity and misogyny begin the case for William Bury as a possible Jack the Ripper candidate, but it was a host of more specific circumstances that really interested posterity and contemporaries alike.

The Ripper killings abated in the autumn of 1888; nobody really knows why, though in making the case for Bury as the murderer, William Beadle has suggested that heavy fog that season complicated Bury’s post-slaughter escape routes back to Bow. By January, Bury had moved away to Dundee dragging along his reluctant, and now penniless, wife. Other Whitechapel homicides extending up to 1891 might be copycat crimes or coincidences, but all of the so-called “canonical five” consensus victims of Jack the Ripper were in their graves by the time Bury left town. Ripper or no, Bury is known to have committed knife attacks on at least two women (and threatened his wife with same); he’s also a likely suspect for the December 1888 strangulation murder (sans mutilation) of Rose Mylett, one of the several possible Ripper crimes outside the canonical five.

Days after moving to Dundee, Bury strangled his wife with a rope … and gashed open her abdomen, eerily mirroring the Whitechapel killer’s horrific attacks. (Although Bury’s slashes of Ellen were not as deep or ferocious as those associated with the Whitechapel killer.)

Finding he could not get the body out of the apartment, and recollecting that people were bound to notice that his wife had vanished, Bury eventually went to police with a preposterous story that he had awoken to find his wife a suicide several days before and then — strange topic to bring up — hid the body for fear that this Whitechapel emigre would be taken for Jack. Someone clearly did so, for when police investigated they found strange chalk graffiti: “Jack Ripper is at the back of this door”, “Jack Ripper is in this seller”. The operative assumption is that Bury himself scratched them but these creepy notices at a crime scene have a whiff of street vigilantes tagging the murderer as in Fritz Lang’s M. Then again, the Burys were strangers who had just arrived from the epicenter of a notorious crime spree, and Dundee probably had prankster schoolboys in abundance.

London police and Scotland Yard sniffed around Bury and didn’t find enough whiff of the Ripper to charge him up as the Whitechapel murderer, but not all were persuaded. Executioner James Berry was reportedly convinced that in Bury he had noosed England’s legendary monster, and a Scotland Yard detective — despite failing to get anything but denials out of his interrogations — allegedly agreed, telling the hangman, “We are quite satisfied that you have hanged Jack the Ripper. There will be no more Whitechapel crimes.” We have suggestive — nothing is dispositive with Jack, much to the profit of amateur sleuths down the years — hints that Ellen too believed this, as she is said to have remarked to Dundee acquaintances who quizzed her about the killings in her former neighborhood things like “Jack the Ripper is taking a rest.” Meaningless conversational nicety, or clue from the bedmate of the monster?

There are of course dozens of Jack the Ripper suspects from then and now; Bury isn’t even the only one who ultimately got executed. And there are reasons to doubt Bury beginning most obviously with his clumsy performance for the Dundee police: seemingly very far from the cool and shrewd sociopath we commonly suppose for the Whitechapel Ripper.

But there’s a lot that fits, too, and even though Bury always denied the charge, some part of him — be it a confessional mode, or a starfucking one — couldn’t resist hinting. When that hangman Berry implied in the last moments that Bury should unburden himself of the Whitechapel crimes, his mark repelled the attempt with tantalizing non-denials, e.g. “I suppose you think you are clever to hang me … but because you are going to hang me you are not going to get anything out of me.”

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1751: Anna Schnidenwind, the last witch in Baden-Württemberg

Add comment April 24th, 2015 Headsman

Anna Schnidenwind, nee Trutt, was burned at the stake in Endingen am Kaiserstuhl on this date in 1751 — the last “witch” executed in Baden-Württemberg.

There is next to no archival information surviving that would give us insight into this remarkably late Hexenprozess. However, it seems that Schnidenwind got Willinghamed: when a fire destroyed the village of Wyhl, local grandees immediately assumed that the cause of such a devastating event ware eine Zauberin (“would have been a sorceress,” as an abbot wrote in his diary).

Having begun from the conclusion it was simply a matter of finding the witchiest character in the vicinity to fit as the Zauberin. Schnidenwind, a 63-year-old peasant, probably had some pre-existing reputation as a possible witch — a reputation that a visit to the rack obligingly confirmed.

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1922: Colin Campbell Ross, for the Gun Alley Murder

2 comments April 24th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1922, Colin Campbell Ross was hanged for the rape-murder of a little girl, still on the scaffold vainly protesting his innocence.

I am now face to face with my Maker, and I swear by Almighty God that I am an innocent man. I never saw the child. I never committed the crime, and I don’t know who did. I never confessed to anyone. I ask God to forgive those who have sworn my life away, and I pray God to have mercy on my poor darling mother, and my family.

Ninety-odd years later, folks finally believe him.

Ross had a couple of brushes with the law already to his rap sheet when 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke went missing in the vicinity of Ross’s Melbourne dive bar on December 30, 1921.

In a classic instance of police tunnel vision, the proximity of a violent felon to the murdered girl — for Alma’s body was found the next morning in nearby Gun Alley, which bestowed a popular moniker upon the case — soon formed the theory of the crime, the predetermined conclusion into which incoming evidence was read.

(It certainly catalyzed the investigation that the case became a media sensation. Rupert Murdoch’s father through the Melbourne Herald shamelessly hounded the Crown for each day’s delay, and jacked up the reward purse.)

Witnesses established that Ross had been tending bar all that afternoon; to account for that, it was necessary to posit that Ross had plied his prey with wine for several hours until he could finish her off after his shift.

Once arrested, despite continuing to assert his innocence to all and sundry, Ross proved to suffer from that universal tendency accused men have to senselessly unburden themselves to a random cellmate. The Crown could scarce shirk its public duty by omitting the incriminating evidence merely because it was related by a convicted perjurer. Ross, his accuser claimed, “said he was simply burning to tell someone.”

Still more damningly, a blanket from Ross’s home proved to have some strands of auburn hair glancingly similar to Alma Tirtschke’s — or possibly Ross’s girlfriend.

A Crown analyst from ventured to compare these under a microscope, and would later put it to the court that they looked like Alma’s. This would be the first time hair forensics were deployed in an Australian courtroom.

Was it not possible, asked Ross’s counsel — who genuinely believed his client’s innocence and fought the corner until the very last — that it might be almost literally anyone else’s auburn hair?

“Yes; quite possible, but not probable,” was the reply from the witness. “Because of the general similarity of hair.” Oh.

Even decades later this gotcha was being celebrated as a triumph of forensic science, for the blanket’s locks “corresponded exactly” with those of the victim.

But they didn’t correspond.

“The day is coming when my innocence will be proved,” Ross wrote in a farewell letter to his family.

That day took 85 years in coming.

In the 1990s, author Kevin Morgan stumbled somewhat miraculously upon preserved hair samples from the case and began an odyssey that would see him to officially exonerating Colin Campbell Ross.

Tests Morgan was able to arrange with the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and then with police both agreed that under modern microscopic examination the hairs in question did not bear even a surface resemblance. With the support of the Victorian Attorney General and the Australian Supreme Court, Ross was granted a posthumous pardon on May 27, 2008 — the first person ever so distinguished in Victoria’s history.

Tirtschke’s own family, too, supported this result: they had long harbored their own doubts about the verdict. “She didn’t say who was the right man but she said the wrong man was hung,”* one descendant said of her grandmother’s recollections.

* Though a lesser horror compared to being railroaded in the first place, Ross’s hanging was also badly botched. An experimental four-strand rope failed to sever his spinal cord, leaving his dangling body to convulse as Ross wheezed his last breaths through a torn windpipe.

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1998: 22 for the Rwanda genocide

Add comment April 24th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1998, 22 people were tied to wooden stakes in five different cities around Rwanda, then shot dead for their participation in the horrific 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Rwanda had, only shortly before, reversed a ban on public executions — clearly with this date’s spectacle in mind.

A Washington Post reporter described the scene in the capital city of Kigali, where 7,000 to 10,000 witnesses saw the three men and a woman put to death on Nyamirambo Stadium‘s red clay football pitch.

dressed in pale pink uniforms, under a sun that had just driven away a covering of gray clouds.

Four masked police officers leaped from a truck and sprinted to within feet of the black-square targets on the criminals’ chests.

As bullets from AK-47s shredded the prisoners, a sudden sharp silence descended on the crowd. Then a fifth marksman shot each prisoner in the head at point-blank range. Twice.

One man sprinted and danced when the shooting stopped. Women ululated.

A man named Andrew, 45, clapped lustily. “God is great!” he cried.

(Here’s another first-person account of the same execution.)

Among those dying before their eyes that day was the politician Froduald Karamira, once the vice president of the Rwandan Republican Democratic Movement and a prime mover in the 1994 genocide.

Although Karamira was actually born a Tutsi, he “converted” into a Hutu* and how. He established himself as a leading exponent of “Hutu Power” — the chilling banner under which upwards of a million Rwandans were slaughtered — and had control of two of the radio stations inciting Hutu death squads to their bloody work.

According to Hands Off Cain, these are the last executions ever carried out in Rwanda before it abolished the death penalty in 2007.

“Our experience in Rwanda has demonstrated that abolishing the death penalty gave new lease on life and this has contributed to the healing of our society,” said long-serving Rwanda President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi. “Rwandans have achieved a degree of unity and reconciliation, unimagina­ble just a decade and a half ago because a culture of forgiveness — not vengeance — has taken root.”

* Rwanda’s ethnic categories are notoriously artificial.

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1945: A day in the death penalty around the Reich

1 comment April 24th, 2012 Headsman

April 24, 1945 —

Lehrter Street Prison, Berlin. Bavarian Social Democratic politician and trade union activist Ernst Schneppenhorst — who spent most of the war years under detention — was executed by the SS.


Moritz Police Barracks, Berlin. While most petty criminals being held by the police were released as the war’s conclusion drew near, an exception was made for four gay policemen.

Otto Jordan, Reinhard Höpfner, Willi Jenoch and a man named Bautz were, instead, summarily shot at Berlin’s Moritz police barracks. In 2011, a memorial plaque honoring the four was installed near the place of their execution.


Regensburg. The pastor of Regensburg Cathedral, Dr. Johann Maier, was hanged here for participating in the previous day’s public demonstration begging the Nazi government to surrender to approaching American forces in order to minimize destruction.

When the government responded by turning water cannons on the crowd, Maier began to protest:

We have not come here to make a disturbance; we Christians do not register any indignation against divinely ordained authority. We have come simply with a request: we ask that the city be surrendered for the following reasons … (Source)

Rather than let him enumerate his reasons, the divinely ordained authority seized him on the spot and hauled him away for a summary trial that night, followed by a hanging and gibbeting the following morning. A pensioner who protested Maier’s arrest was hanged alongside him, while a policeman who argued the point at the foot of the gallows was promptly shot there and demonstratively laid out to make the group a trio.

When the Americans entered Regensburg on April 27, Maier’s corpse was still strung up in the town marketplace, bearing a placard denouncing him as a “saboteur.”

Today, however, the memorial plaque for him in the cathedral salutes him for “giving his life for the preservation of Regensburg.”


Johann Maier’s grave market in the city cathedral. Image (c) Adam Maroney, and used with permission.

Somewhere in Southern Germany. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a story on this date attributed to no exact date or locale reporting on the recent, routine execution by the U.S. army of a German civilian believed to be a spy.

It seemed like an innocent enough offer at the time. A friendly German civilian approached soldiers from the U.S. 7th Army, offering to help set up a civilian government. But he broke down after being questioned, admitting he was a spy bent on sabotage. The spy was executed, but that wasn’t the end of trouble for the advancing U.S. army, says CBC correspondent Sam Ross, reporting on developments for the U.S. troops.

Remaining pockets of German soldiers are now attempting to ambush the Americans. Nevertheless, the U.S. 7th has managed to take some prisoners from the German People’s Army, the Nazis’ last-ditch militia composed of very young and very old men. And there are other people to contend with on the roads behind Allied lines; German civilians are returning home after fleeing from war, and displaced persons freed from forced-labour camps are heading home on foot to Russia, Belgium, Poland and France.

From the Themed Set: The Death Rattle of the Third Reich.

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1655: Massacre of Waldensians

8 comments April 24th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1655, Catholic forces under the Duke of Savoy carried out a notorious massacre of Waldensians* in the Piedmont.

This interesting, excommunicate sect had persisted for centuries in those hard-to-reach places in Alpine foothills, intermittently ignored and hunted. After Martin Luther, many Protestants inclined to see them as a proto-Reformation movement, or even a counter-papal apostolic succession reaching back to ancient Christianity.

At any rate, they sure weren’t Catholic.

And our friend the Duke decided — perhaps piqued by the murder of a missionary Catholic priest, or for whatever other reason — to mount one of those heresy-extirpating sorties and make them Catholic in 1655.

On April 17, the Marquis of Pianezza appeared with an overwhelming force of mixed Piedmontese, French, and Irish** troops. They conducted a few skirmishes, then made nice with the Waldensian civic leaders and induced them to quartering their troops temporarily further to some expedient pretext.

Alas! alas! these poor people were undone. They had received under their roof the executioners of themselves and their families. The first two days, the 22d and 23d of April, passed in peace, the soldiers sitting at the same table, sleeping under the same roof, and conversing freely with their destined victims …

At last the blow fell like a thunderbolt. At four of the clock on the morning of the 24th April the signal was given from the Castle of La Torre. But who shall describe the scenes that followed? On the instant a thousand assassins began the work of death …

Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, and dashed against the rocks; or, more horrible still, they were held betwixt two soldiers, who, unmoved by their piteous cries and the sight of their quivering limbs, tore them up into two halves. Their bodies were then thrown on the highways and the fields. Sick persons and old people, men and women, were burned alive in their own houses; some were hacked in pieces; some were bound up in the form of a ball, and precipitated over the rocks or rolled down the mountains … Some were slowly dismembered, and fire applied to the wounds to staunch the bleeding and prolong their sufferings; some were flayed alive; some roasted alive; others were disembowelled; some were horribly and shamefully mutilated, and of others the flesh and brains were boiled and actually eaten by these cannibals.

Source, whose atrocity accounts channel those in this French tome

Without doubting the capacity of man’s inhumanity to man, the cannibalism charge reminds that we’re dealing with propaganda alongside historiography. And what great propaganda — like, babies-torn-from-incubators great.

Thumbnails (click for a larger, disturbing view) of selected images of this date’s atrocities from Samuel Morland’s The History of the Evangelical Churches of the Valleys of Piedmont

And there’s little doubt as to the overall savagery of the affair, which could well have become the opening salvo in a full-scale sectarian cleansing campaign. (A later addendum to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs narrates the ensuing Piedmontese armed struggle, petering out before any definitive resolution in the field.)

Outrage at this hecatomb spread in Protestant Europe — which would also refer to the day’s doings as the “Bloody Easter,” since it corresponded with the eve of that celebration as reckoned by the Julian Calendar (source).

It was felt especially in Protectorate England, which intervened diplomatically.

A “day of solemn fasting and humiliation” was promulgated in Albion, along with collections for the relief of the survivors. Oliver Cromwell personally put £2,000 into the kitty.

More importantly, he dispatched diplomat Samuel Morland† to force the House of Savoy to lay off the persecution; in fact, he threatened to disrupt high statecraft between England and France unless the French twisted arms on behalf of the Waldensians.

Written correspondence for Morland’s diplomatic tour addressed to Louis XIV of France and various other continental potentates, as well as a fiery bit of oratory that Morland delivered to Savoy, all seem to have originated from the pen of Republican scribbler John Milton — the future author of Paradise Lost.‡

Milton, for whom the whole thing was more than just a day job, was further moved to put his umbrage at the slaughter into sonnet form:

Avenge O Lord thy slaughter’d Saints, whose bones
Lie scatter’d on the Alpine mountains cold,
Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old
When all our Fathers worship’t Stocks and Stones,

Forget not: in thy book record their groanes
Who were thy Sheep and in their antient Fold
Slayn by the bloody Piemontese that roll’d
Mother with Infant down the Rocks. Their moans

The Vales redoubl’d to the Hills, and they
To Heav’n. Their martyr’d blood and ashes sow
O’re all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway

The triple Tyrant: that from these may grow
A hunder’d-fold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian wo.

* The Waldensians in question here are interchangeably known as the Vaudois for their geographic region, actually above the Piedmont and abutting the Swiss region also known as Vaud. (These pages have visited the latter.)

** Fresh from being on the receiving end of another infamous massacre.

† Morland is more regarded for his post-Restoration labors as an inventor; he created an early calculator and internal combustion engine.

‡ The speech in particular is not definitively attributed; see Robert Fallon, “Milton in Government: Denmark and Savoy,” Milton Quarterly, May 1989.

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1723: Major Jean Abram Davel

2 comments April 24th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1723, Major Jean Davel was beheaded for an abortive separatist bid in Vaud.

The French-speaking Swiss Canton was at this time under the heavy-handed domination of neighboring Bern(e), part of an oligarchic arrangement of power in Switzerland that would provoke regular unrest.

Davel (German Wikipedia page), a notary turned soldier who had fought at Villmergen, identified with the underdog.

On March 31, 1723, Davel took advantage of a general absence of bailiffs gone to Berne for government sinecures, and marched 600 men to the Vaud capital of Lausanne to pitch the town on breaking away from its Teutonic overlords.

Instead, the city worthies paid him lip service just long enough to betray him.*

“I see well enough,” Davel observed, “I will be the first victim in this affair.”

Yup.

But he held firm under torture to his insistence that the revolt was his doing alone (well, his and God’s), and perhaps thereby saved others from sharing his fate.


The Execution of Major Davel, by Charles Gleyre. A very in-depth analysis of this work by Michel Thevoz titled “Painting and Ideology: A Commentary on a Painting by Charles Gleyre” is available in pdf form here.

Davel is noted for checking out with a unique scaffold speech, discoursing on a topic rarely explored on that platform: the role of music in worship.**

As concerns the praise of God, in what manner is it sung? Is there any sense of orderliness, any real music, anything whatever calculated to excite and sustain the devotion? Yet this part of divine service is one of the most considerable and the one by which is the most effectively demonstrated the lifting up of our hearts to God … Such being the importance of this part of Christian worship, I cannot too much emphasize my exhortation to you to give it a new and serious attention, in order to correct the faults of which you are at present guilty in connection with it.

In a similar vein, the 52-year-old groused at the kids these days, to wit, young divinity students in attendance who, in the immortal tradition of kids these days throughout all days,

neglect your studies for worldly pleasure. You take no pains to learn music, which is so necessary for the singing of God’s praises. The songs of the church form an essential part of divine worship, and have an infinite value in helping us to lift our hearts to God. I pray you, then, to apply yourselves with all possible zeal to your preparation for the holy ministry.

Music in worship was in the Zeitgeist, and 1723 in liturgical composition suggests the (otherwise wholly unrelated to Davel) move by Johann Sebastian Bach that very year to Leipzig. Bach took up his post there just weeks after Davel lost his head, and would spend the remaining 27 years of his life in Leipzig. But it only took him until the very next Easter to lift up his congregation’s heart to God with the Johannes-Passion.

* Better late than never, Lausanne gave Davel a statue.

** According to Percy A. Scholes, “Church Music: A Plea from the Scaffold,” The Musical Times, vol. 78, no. 1136 (Oct. 1937).

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