1477: Hugonet and Humbercourt, in the wreck of Burgundy

Add comment April 3rd, 2019 Headsman

Willem Hugonet and Guy van Brimeu, officials of the collapsing Burgundian polity, were executed in Ghent on this date in 1477 for their failed diplomatic intrigue.

This moment fell just weeks after Burgundy itself had received her own fatal blow, at least as far as independent political standing goes: the death in battle on January 5 of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Charles had proven himself an energetically expansionist prince.

Charles’s dominions compassed not only Burgundy itself, but a swath of territory running up to Flanders and the Low Countries, a strip that was being squeezed by the rising powers of France to the west and Austria to the east. He had no male heir, so his 19-year-old daughter Mary succeeded him in title — but not in power. France and Austria immediately began sizing up Burgundy for dismemberment, a mission they accomplished within a few short years. And while both dynasties sought Mary’s inheritance via matrimony, more direct methods were also employed.

Before January was out, the French king Louis XI had already pressed into Picardy and Artois* with a scheming mix of armed intimidation and invocation of feudal rights — seeking Flanders and its rich trading cities like Ghent, where our executions will take place. These places, too, saw their opportunity to seek their own advantage; Burgundy had enforced its authority in Ghent at the point of the sword, bloodily crushing a revolt not 30 years before. In Flanders and Brabant, “the confirmation of the tidings of [Charles the Bold’s] death had been received with general feelings of relief and joy,” according to the Cambridge Modern History. “And throughout the Netherlands it was resolved to make the most of the opportunity.” There was no love lost between these locales and their Burgundian overlords, yet these places also feared the potential domination of Burgundy’s rivals. As a first step, the principal cities of the Low Countries immediately forced the weakened sovereign — who was personally stuck in Ghent when the dread news of her father’s fate arrived — to cede them a wide grant of privileges.

Meanwhile, Mary herself extended feelers to the neighboring empires, and it is here that our principal characters enter the story. Charles’s old chancellor, Willem Hugonet and the Picardy-born knight Guy of Brimeu, Sire of Humbercourt** — French-friendly Burgundians both reviled of Ghent — prevailed on Mary to seek what terms they could France. Returning to the Cambridge Modern History,

Louis seems to have, by private communications with Hugonet and d’Himbercourt, secured their adherence to the marriage-scheme [between Mary of Burgundy and the six-year-old French Dauphin]. At Arras, of which he took possession in March, 1477, he received a deputation from Ghent, and — playing the kind of double game which his soul loved — revealed to them the confidence reposed by Mary in the privy councillors detested by the city.

Thus, on the return of the civic deputies to Ghent, the storm broke out. The city was already in a condition of ferment; some of the partisans of the old regime had been put to death; and the agitation, which had spread to Ypres and as far as Mons, was increased by the claims put forward at Ghent on behalf of the restoration of Liegeois independence by the Bishop of Liege … distracted by her fears, Mary seems actually to have countenanced Hugonet’s final proposal that she should quit Flanders and place herself under the protection of the French King, when at the last moment Ravenstein induced her to reveal the design. He immediately informed the representative of the vier landen, and the deans of the trades of Ghent, and on the same night (March 4) Hugonet, d’Himbercourt and de Clugny were placed under arrest. A rumour having been spread that their liberation was to be attempted, and news having arrived of the resolute advance of the French forces, new disturbances followed; and Mary issued an ordinance naming a mixed commission of nobles and civic officials to try the accused with all due expedition (March 28). She afterwards interceded in favour of one or both of the lay prisoners (for de Clugny was saved by his benefit of clergy), and at a later date expressed her sympathy with the widow and orphans of d’Himbercourt, the extent of whose share in the Chancellor’s schemes remains unknown. After being subjected to torture, both were executed on April 3. They met with short shrift at the hands of their judges; but they cannot be said to have been sacrificed to a mere gust of democratic passion; and Mary and her Council, and the other Estates of the Netherlands assembled at Ghent, were with the city itself and the sister Flemish towns one and all involved in the responsibility of the deed.

This backlash closed all avenues to French nuptials; within weeks, Mary was engaged to the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian (they wed that August) and France and Austria fell into outright war over the Burgundian patrimonies, the resolution of which boiled down to Habsburg authority in the Low Countries and French absorption of most of the rest, including Burgundy proper.

* As well as, further inland, Franche-Comte, bordering the Duchy of Burgundy itself.

** Two years before this, Guy had personally extradited the rebellious Louis of Luxembourg to France for execution.

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1951: William Watkins, one man’s life and death

Add comment April 3rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1951, William Watkins hanged for drowning his eleventh child.

An execution that was barely noticed in its time and would be nigh-forgotten today, it’s revived in all its messy humanity in a book titled Execution: One Man’s Life and Death. John Mervy Pugh, the son of one of Watkins’s prosecuting barristers, watched Watkins’s two-day trial as a young man and was still so troubled by it many years later that once “it all came tumbling back into my mind” he decided that he “could not let it rest.” Pugh’s empathetic book plumbs the trial and police records, supplemented by interviews with Watkins’s surviving family and even Watkins’s executioner, the ubiquitous Albert Pierrepoint.

“This was one case I never expected would have taken place,” Pierrepoint told Pugh. “In my opinion many men have been reprieved for a lot worse crime than this.” According to Pugh, many others involved the case, from prison warders to court officials, were equally shaken by the unexpected denial of clemency. Watkins’s guards, who had a good feel for how these things played out, had confidently reassured the convict that he would surely never hang.

Forty-nine years old at his death, which was barely ten weeks after the death of the infant for which he was condemned, Watkins was a factory worker who scrabbled an honest if impecunious living with his second family. Once he was charming and gregarious, but an advancing congenital deafness and the strains of Britain’s hard years through Depression and war had left him taciturn and “prematurely old; his once black hair was now steel grey and his face permanently looked as though he needed a shave.” (His vanishing hearing also robbed him of his longtime driving profession.) He’d had nine children with his first wife but had left her for their former boarder whom Pugh anonymizes as “Maisie”. Though never married, the two lived as man and wife in a run-down home at the back of 79 Clifford Lane in Birmingham. They had a four-year-old son together. Then Maisie got pregnant again.

By both parents’ own admissions it was a child that they did not want and could not afford. (Bill still continued dutiful maintenance payments to the family he had deserted; the last one arrived after his arrest.) Maisie gave birth at home — she’d had no medical attention at all during her pregnancy — on the night of January 20, 1951. Minutes after she delivered, the baby was drowned, and Watkins’s fate was sealed.

Bill and Maisie lived cheek by jowl with their neighbors and Maisie’s condition had been obvious; it was no more than a couple of days before their observable comings and goings (specifically, Maisie’s not coming and going) had generated the inference of a birth … and Bill’s evasiveness generated rumors that demanded investigation.

When men arrived bearing papers and sharp questions, Bill’s answers were not very coherent or consistent. His excuses for that — panic in the moment, and the weariness of repeated police questioning later on — did not quite seem equal to the gravity of a dead infant, which he made no effort to hide when pressed. Minutes after the birth, the father said, he was washing the bloody newborn off and “it fell in the bowl.” So … scoop it out? He didn’t, and even said he couldn’t, for no satisfactory reason: alternately because his wife was shouting or, as he once allowed, “I suppose I panicked and we did not want the child.” It’s a disordered story for what in that moment seems for all the world a disordered soul. Quite disturbingly, the child was also found stuffed head-first in a pillow slip; was this because Bill had socked away the corpse in a vain attempt at concealment, or was it because he had callously stuffed the still-living creature inside the sack before “bathing,” intending all along to asphyxiate it?

This last interpretation surely carries an outrage beyond “mere” infanticide, perhaps the very margin by which Watkins swung. In notes before he recommended Home Secretary Chuter Ede against a reprieve (in effect, this recommendation was the decision) Permanent Under-Secretary of State Frank Newsam recorded the view that “this is a shocking case of the massacre of an unwanted infant by drowning as if the infant were a kitten.”

To Pugh’s eye, it seemed Watkins barely helped his own attorneys at all; he remarks that in revisiting the transcripts years later it is obvious how fragmentary was Watkins’s understanding of events, so hard of hearing was he. His near-deafness led others to take him for vacant and stupid; he’s repeatedly referred to as simple-minded by figures who encounter him, even his own barrister, although he was nothing of the sort. Yet Pugh also wonders whether the “prematurely old” Watkins had not indeed simply given up, somewhere along the line. The hangman Pierrepoint shared the same impression when he first spied the prisoner, as he later told Pugh: “he looked so dejected and slightly stooped, as though he couldn’t care less; suddenly I felt sorry seeing a man looking so sad and just waiting to die.”

At 8.00 a.m. the Chaplain arrived and gave Bill communion. Together they said the Lord’s Prayer and in the name of the Christ he served, the Chaplain forgave Bill for what he had done. The two prison officers found themselves affected by the scene and wished that time would not linger; the last hour always seemed the longest.

At 8.40 a.m. Mr Blenkinsop (the Undersheriff) arrived, and was quickly taken to the Governor’s office. Dr John Humphrey (the Prison Doctor) was already there. At 8.55 a.m., Pierrepoint and his assistant stood outside the door of the condemned cell and were joined within a minute by the Governor, the doctor and the Chief Prison Officer.

Within the cell Watkins was now seated with his back to the door, and seconds before the door opened, looked up, sobbing, and said to the Chaplain, “I have never met so many kind people in my life as I have met since I have been here. Why did I have to come to prison before people are so kind?” The Chaplain had to turn away for fear of showing his own emotion. Already the Under-Sheriff had given the signal: it was 30 seconds past 8.59 a.m. The door opened; Pierrepoint was behind Watkins: “Come on, old fellow,” he said in his soft northern voice. He pinioned his arms, and with an officer either side, Bill was escorted through the now opened doors to the scaffold and Pierrepoint remembers that he walked steadily into the chamber. The assistant was down on his knees pinioning his legs, Pierrepoint put a hand under his drooping chin, placed a white hood over his head and then the noose, stepped back and pulled the lever. Since Pierrepoint had entered the room, twelve seconds had passed: William Arthur Watkins was dead.

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1946: Masaharu Homma, for the Bataan Death March

Add comment April 3rd, 2017 Headsman

Laid down on the altar I am
Offered as a victim to God
For the sake of
My newly born country

-Verse written by Masaharu Homma awaiting execution (Source)

Imperial Japanese Lt. Gen. Masaharu Homma was shot by a firing squad outside Manila on this date in 1946 for the notorious Bataan Death March.

Homma commanded the 14th Area Army tasked with occupying the Philippines immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor opened a Pacific War against the U.S.

Retreating from the Philippines in early 1942, U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur famously vowed, “I shall return.” To Homma’s grief, he did just that.

While MacArthur cogitated his revenge, Homma was finishing off the remnants of his last great stand in the Battle of Bataan. Bataan was a victory for Japan, but a bloody and protracted one; it cost the lives of some 7,000 Japanese, and the three-month battle has sometimes been credited with slowing the Japanese advance sufficiently to safeguard Australia; it also left the occupiers with an unexpectedly huge complement of POWs.

On April 9, 1942, the very day fighting ended at Bataan, transfers began for these prisoners, who would be driven by train and then marched overland some 60+ miles to Camp O’Donnell. More than 60,000 Filipinos and about 15,000 Americans endured this harrowing five- or six-day slog — the Bataan Death March.

A few books about the Bataah Death March

Early reports of the death march made grist for this wartime propaganda poster in the U.S.

This crucible of endurance, both physical and spiritual, came by its evil repute honestly; in the age of the Internet, numerous appalling testimonials are within easy reach of a web search. They recount battle-wearied men enervated by hunger and thirst, liable to be summarily shot or bayoneted for making themselves the least bit conspicuous to captors who already disdained them for having the weakness to surrender in the first place.

Some were murdered at the outset: having any Japanese “trophies” on one’s person when captured was liable to be worth a summary bullet, or a quick flash of an officer’s katana. An even more certain death sentence was falling behind on the march, and wounded prisoners could expect no quarter: they had to keep up with their compatriots or the Japanese “buzzard squad” trailing a few score meters behind every marching peloton would finish them off with any other stragglers. In different groups POWs might be thrashed or killed over any trifling annoyance; meanwhile, those suffered to live trudged under a wasting sun, nearly unnourished but for fetid handfuls scooped from mud puddles, dying on their feet hour by hour. Dehydrated to the point of madness, some snapped and ran suicidally for the tantalizing nearby village wells that marchers were prohibited from accessing.

Something like a quarter, and maybe nearer to a third, of the souls who set out on the Bataan Death March never reached Camp O’Donnell. Those who did entered new portals of torment: rent by dysentery and crowded cheek to sunken jowl, prisoners died off daily by the dozens until they were finally dispatched — often crammed like sardines into the bowels of “hell ships” — to different Japanese work camps.

The Bataan Death March was a no-question basket of war crimes, egregiously flouting existing POW treatment accords.* It’s far more questionable whether our man Gen. Homma was the right person to answer for it.

Homma had segued directly from the Battle of Bataan to the succeeding Battle of Corregidor after which he had been cashiered for a homeland desk job.

Ironically, it was an excess of leniency that helped earn Homma his enemies among the brass — the opposite of the thing that hanged him. For many who observed the postwar trial slating him with 48 war crimes violations related to the Death March, Homma was a figure more tragic than wicked, prey to returning victor MacArthur’s pique at the defeat Homma had once inflicted upon him.

Little reliable evidence could show that Homma blessed or even knew of the atrocities committed in the march, but he himself allowed during trial that “I am morally responsible for whatever happened in anything under my command.” According to Homma’s American defense attorney Robert Pelz — a biased source to be sure — the general slipped into genuine disgust and remorse during the trial as a parade of witnesses remembered their ordeals. “I am horrified to learn these things happened under my command,” Homma wrote in a note passed to Pelz at one point. “I am ashamed of our troops.”

The hanging verdict was controversial then and remains so now. “If the defendant does not deserve his judicial fate, none in jurisdictional history ever did,” MacArthur complained. He honored the mercy application of Homma’s wife Fujiko only insofar as to permit the general a more honorable execution by musketry, instead of hanging.

The bulk of the U.S. Supreme Court okayed the procedure by which the U.S. military brought that fate about, although Justice Frank Murphy issued a scorching dissent urging that in the haste and partiality of the proceedings against both Homma and General Tomoyuki Yamashita “we abandon all pretense to justice, let the ages slip away and descend to the level of revengeful blood purges.”

One who would share that sentiment was an 18-year-old Navy man who observed the trial, Bob Perske. Perske would remember this his experiences on the Philippines at the end of World War II “sharpened his sensitivies toward vulnerable persons” and influenced a subsequent career advocating for people with disabilities as well as those caught in the toils of the criminal justice system. Executed Today formerly interviewed Mr. Perske in connection with the wrongful execution of a mentally disabled man in Colorado, Joe Arridy.

* It’s worth noting that Japan was not party to the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of POWs.

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1721: Five for returning from transportation

Add comment April 3rd, 2016 Meaghan

On this date in 1721, six men hanged at Tyburn. One, John Cobige, was condemned for highway robbery. The other five were all sent to the gallows for returning from convict transportation.

Although forms of penal transportation dated back as much as a century before this time, 1721 was early years for the regime of systematically shipping convicted criminals to the New World.* The enabling legislation had been implemented only three years before.

Convict transportation allowed condemned prisoners’ death sentences to be remitted for labor service in the British colonies, typically 14 years. One could argue that this second chance at life was a mercy, even if the convicts themselves didn’t always see it that way.

But there was a distinct second category of transported convicts, besides the death-sentenced ones: petty crooks, whose crimes were not capital, who now could be directly sentenced to transportation for a term of 7 years. This was an essential innovation of the Transportation Act, one begged after by London magistrates who perceived a crime wave in the 1710s and wanted tougher measures to purge even minor criminals from the city.

In effect it was an interval of civic death, enforced by the threat of bodily death; its design bears some resemblance to the condition of prisoners in Thomas More‘s Utopia. Returning to England before the full term meant the noose — for both classes of transported convicts, including those whose initial crime was so petty that it didn’t merit execution even in Bloody Code England. This circumstance describes four of the Tyburn hangings on the third of April, 1721:

Of our date’s group, only John Filewood, who had posed as a porter to steal a valuable portmanteau, slashing its owner’s hand in the process, had received an initial death sentence commuted to transportation.

The prospect that a body could be shipped to the New World’s frontier for indentured labor over a handkerchief and executed for the “crime” of returning to hearth and home naturally chafed at the sense of justice. In 1721, the whole convict transportation arrangement was still so new that nobody had become inured to the horror of it. It’s plain from the sermon the Ordinary preached at them that the prisoners in question took their fates quite hard.

I took Occasion to mention to the Malefactors, the Returning from Transportation, which not one of them could be made to believe was sinful. I endeavour’d, to the best of my Capacity, to convince them that they were not faultless and unblameable in the following Manner: If the disobeying the higher Powers, even every Ordinance of Man, be sinful, as forbidden, (1 Pet. 2. 13, 14, and 17, &c.) Then their particular Offence, which is disobeying the Orninence of Man, must be forbidden in Scripture and be sinful.

Another way, that it may be shown is thus. Not only Robbing and Stealing, but whatsoever else is detrimental to the Society we are Members of, is a Sin: Now this particular Action is detrimental to the Nation, (both in the Practice, and also in the Example); and therefore is sinful.

I told them, if they could not be convinc’d that they had sinned, because they were possest of the Notion that the Legislative Power was in this particular too severe; they might read, 1 Pet. 2. 18. Be subject to your Masters, not only to the Gentle, but also to the Froward: But that this was not their Case.

Struggling to supercharge their repentance, the Ordinary arranged to have his resentful charges “carry’d constantly to the Chapel” — twice a day. But

they could not be convinc’d they had done any Harm in Returning from Transportation, [and] scarce any one of them could believe he should dye for it. Henry Woodford in particular undertook (as he had declared in Chapel he would) to demonstrate to me, That the returning to his Wife and young Children, in order to keep them from Starving in his Absence, was so far from being a Crime, that it was his Duty so to act; and that no Law could disingage him, or any thing but Death, from the great Duty of providing for his Family.

Out of all the doomed, Henry “seem’d most to resent his Dying” and complained that they ought better to have been overtly sold as slaves if this was their condition.

Still other terrors stalked these men. The highwayman Cobige, who at age 50 was the only one among them not in the spring of youth, “was in very great Passions of Grief some Days before his Death, because his second Wife, as he told me, was gone away from his Children.” His hanging would thus orphan a 14-year-old daughter and her three siblings all under 10 years of age. John Filewood, an admitted career criminal, regretted “having brought so much Disgrace to his good Mother and Sister, and not taking Warning at the untimely Death of his Brother, who was taken off much earlier in his Sins.”** And Martin Gray, a 22-year-old illiterate fisherman,

was greatly frighted, least his Body should be cut, and torn, and mangled after Death, and had sent his Wife to his Uncle to obtain some Money to prevent it. I cannot mention much of his good Behaviour; but before he died, he seem’d very much concerned; and told me, he had taken all Opportunities to hear his Fellow Prisoners read, and to pray with them; and that he hoped God would take Pity on him, a poor ignorant and foolish Fellow, and not throw him into Hell.

* Australia only became the convict destination of choice after the American Revolution closed those ex-colonies to the human traffic.

** James Filewood, who was hanged on Halloween 1718.

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Feast Day of Saints Agape, Chionia, and Irene

Add comment April 3rd, 2015 Headsman

In honor of Good Friday (in 2015), we pay tribute today to the Diocletian-era Christian martyrs Agape, Chionia and Irene.

The three virgin sisters whose names mean Love, Purity, and Peace in Greek were not, per tradition, actually martyred all together. However, they do share an April 3 feast date.

They are said to have made their illicit faith conspicuous to the governor of Macedonia by refusing to eat meat that had been burned as a pagan sacrificial offering. Agape and Chionia suffered immediate martyrdom, while Irene escaped to the mountains only to be captured and burned later with her Christian books.

The remarkable medieval canoness and playwright Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim — by some reckonings the West’s first known dramatist since antiquity — made the women the focus of her 10th century play Dulcitius, which is available online in English here:

IRENA. You wretched Sisinnius! Do you not blush for your shameful defeat? Are you not ashamed that you could not overcome the resolution of a little child without resorting to force of arms?

SISINNIUS. I accept the shame gladly, since now I am sure of your death.

IRENA. To me my death means joy, but to you calamity. For your cruelty you will be damned in Tartarus. But I shall receive the martyr’s palm, and adorned with the crown of virginity, I shall enter the azure palace of the Eternal King, to Whom be glory and honour for ever and ever!

Bad Gandersheim‘s Roswitha Prize is awarded (nearly) annually in Hrosvita’s honor. It’s the oldest German literary laurel that’s conferred exclusively upon women.

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2003: Scott Hain, the last juvenile offender executed in the United States

10 comments April 3rd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 2003, the state of Oklahoma executed Scott Hain for a Tulsa carjacking that netted $565 and two dead bodies.

The Hain that was strapped down on the gurney that evening was a 32-year-old with a nebbishy middle manager look, high forehead pursuing his hairline to the scalp’s horizon where it had drawn up a wilting rearguard picket fringing an egg-bald pate.

But back in 1987 when he stuffed Laura Lee Sanders and Michael Houghton into the boot of their own car and set it ablaze, Scott Hain was 17 years, 4 months, and 4 days of age.

American jurisprudence through the ages has regularly compassed the execution of minors, sometimes astonishingly young ones. But come the late 20th century the still-ongoing execution of a few men (they were all men) for crimes they had committed when still only boys was a deeply contentious subplot of the death penalty drama.

Because of the protracted judicial processes, there was no longer any question at this point of boosting wispy teenagers into electric chairs as South Carolina had done in 1944. The Scott Hains of the world were grown men by the time they died: grown up on death row.

They were, to be sure, nearly men when they killed as well.

The prevailing jurisprudence at this point was the 1989 Supreme Court decision Stanford v. Kentucky, which set the minimum age for death penalty eligibility at 16.*

And so 17- and even sometimes 16-year-old offenders not considered equal to adult responsibility** in most other spheres of life continued to face the executioner through the 1990s and into the 21st century, a period when the death penalty itself picked up steam.

This became an increasingly awkward situation. For one thing, it placed the United States internationally among a very small handful of countries with unsavory human rights records. Maybe it was a matter of the raw numbers; on the day Stanford came down, the United States had executed only 114 people in its “modern” era, and just three of them were juvenile offenders. For the 1990s, there would be an average of 48 executions every single year, and (again on average) one of those would be a juvenile offender.

But even as the numbers grew, only 20 of the 38 death penalty states permitted such executions, and only three states — Virginia, Texas, and Hain’s Oklahoma — actually conducted any such executions at all after 1993.

Foes argued over those years that the diminishing scope of the juvenile death penalty reflected an emerging national consensus against it — which could in turn be held to create a constitutional prohibition under the 8th Amendment’s proscription of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Most of the death-sentenced juveniles made similar arguments in the course of their appeals, hoping to be the case that would catch the conscience of the court. Hain’s appellate team made this argument, too. It didn’t take, like it didn’t for any of the others who tried it.

Except, it was taking. Those evolving standards of decency were about to evolve right past a tipping point: in 2004, the justices accepted a new case from Missouri that placed the juvenile death penalty question before it once more.

The nine-member high court’s inconstant swing vote Anthony Kennedy — who had once upon a time (call it a youthful indiscretion) voted with the majority in Stanford to permit juvenile executions — wrote the resulting 2005 decision Roper v. Simmons, barring the execution of juvenile offenders in the United States.†

Scott Hain remains the last person executed in the United States for a crime committed in his childhood.

* The bright-line court ruling was necessary because states had indeed death-sentenced even younger teenagers. For example, Paula Cooper was condemned to death by an Indiana jury for a murder committed at age 15; her sentence was commuted to a prison term, and she was eventually released in 2013. The victim’s grandson, Bill Pelke, notably supported Cooper and has become a leading anti-death penalty activist in the intervening years.

** The notion of age 18 as the age of majority predominates worldwide, but is of course as arbitrary as any other, and has not been the threshold selected in all times and places. The Austrian empire declined to execute Gavrilo Princip for assassinating Archduke Ferdinand in 1914 and precipitating World War I because it could not establish that he had reached the age of 20 when he did so.

† Among the notable cases affected was that of Lee Boyd Malvo, the underaged collaborator of Beltway sniper John Muhammad. Malvo was being considered for capital charges in Virginia at the time Roper came down.

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1882: Stepan Khalturin, Winter Palace bomber

Add comment April 3rd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1882* Stepan Khalturin** was hanged in Odessa, Ukraine … but not for his most (in)famous crime.

Khalturin (English Wikipedia entry | Russian) came from a well-off peasant family near the city of Vyatka (today, Kirov; it was renamed for an assassinated Bolshevik). As a young carpenter in 1870s St. Petersburg, he fell in with revolutionary circles and became a distinguished propagandist and organizer. Khalturin helped found the first political labor labor organization in Russia, the “Northern Russian Workers’ Union”.

He’s said by other leftist agitators who knew him to have “persuaded his student workers with tears in his eyes to continue propagandizing, but in no event go down the path of terror. From this, there is no return.”

If that used to be his sentiment, Khalturin’s thinking … evolved.

By February 1880, Khalturin was for all intents and purposes in on the terrorism strategy. He took advantage of a workman’s gig at the Winter Palace to pack the cellar full of dynamite,† two floors below the imperial dining room.

But Tsar Alexander II and party had not yet returned when it blew. Eleven people, mostly guardsmen in the intervening room below the dining hall, died in the blast; dozens of others were injured.

Khalturin watched in frustration from the iron gates of the Winter Palace, and slipped away — never detected. His co-conspirator Zhelyabov consoled him with the prospects of mass recruitment sure to be unleashed by this spectacular propaganda of the deed. “An explosion in the king’s lair — the first attack on the autocracy! Your deed will live forever.” (Russian source)

The tsar, at any rate, was running out of luck.

A year later, Narodnaya Volya finally succeeded in assassinating Alexander II in St. Petersburg. Zhelyabov and five others hanged for that.

Khalturin wasn’t involved in that plot: he had escaped to Odessa.

There, he shot a police officer named Strelnikov. He was captured and hanged under a bogus alias, nobody realizing that they were also executing the mysterious Winter Palace bomber.

Unusually considering Lenin’s distaste for terrorism and Narodnaya Volya, Khalturin was elevated in post-Soviet times into an officially-approved revolutionary exemplar. The street Millionnaya running to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg was cheekily renamed for him (it’s subsequently been changed back). Public monuments went up for the bomber, especially in the environs of his native soil around Kirov.


(cc) image from Zeder.

* April 3 by the Gregorian calendar; March 22 by the Julian calendar still in use in 19th century Russia.

** Appropriately given Khalturin’s Winter Palace work, khaltura is Russian for an item of shoddy construction. The word has no etymological connection to our man, however. (Linguistic tip courtesy of Sonechka.)

† He was able to manage the feat by bringing in explosives little by little and secreting them in the room where he bunked on-site.

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1098: Rainald Porchet, martyr Crusader

Add comment April 3rd, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1098, Antioch’s besieged Muslim defenders martyred a Crusader knight who refused to secure a ransom for himself.

The armies of the First Crusade had pressed their way through Anatolia and had laid to siege these past five months the ancient Syrian city of Antioch. (It’s in modern Turkey now, where it’s known as Antakya.)

On April 3, 1098, by the account of the priest Peter Tudebode, an eyewitness to the event,

the Turks led to the top of an Antiochian wall a noble knight, Rainald Porchet [alternatively, Rainaud or Reynaud Porquet], whom they had imprisoned in a foul dungeon. They then told him that he should inquire from the Christian pilgrims how much they would pay for his ransom before he lost his head.

According to Encounter Between Enemies: Captivity and Ransom in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem — a source which ought to know, if any would — marching a guy out to appeal to his comrades was little to the Antiochians but the time-honored practice of ransoming captured VIPs, “the usual diplomatic method of starting a peaceful encounter with the enemy, in the between-fighting interlude.” It’s not like this sort of hostage-hocking was unknown to Europeans; even hundreds of years later, France cratered its economy by ransoming its captured king from the English.

To the shock of the garrison, Porchet went all clash-of-civilizations on this routine diplomacy.

From the heights of the wall Rainald addressed the leaders: “My lords, it matters not if I die, and I pray you, my brothers, that you pay no ransom for me. But be certain in the faith of Christ and the Holy Sepulchre that God is with you and shall be forever. You have slain all the leaders and the bravest men of Antioch; namely, twelve emirs and fifteen thousand noblemen, and no one remains to give battle with you or to defend the city.”

The Turks asked what Rainald had said. The interpreter replied: “Nothing good concerning you was said.”

The emir, Yaghi Siyan, immediately ordered him to descend from the wall and spoke to him through an interpreter: “Rainald, do you wish to enjoy life honorably with us?”

Rainald replied: “How can I live honorably with you without sinning?”

The emir answered: “Deny your God, whom you worship and believe, and accept Mohammed and our other gods. If you do so we shall give to you all that you desire such as gold, horses, mules, and many other worldly goods which you wish, as well as wives and inheritances; and we shall enrich you with great lands.”

Yaghi Siyan was obliged to make this proposition of apostasy to his prisoner as a prelude to executing him.

Rainald replied to the emir: “Give me time for consideration;” and the emir gladly agreed. Rainald with clasped hands knelt in prayer to the east; humbly he asked God that He come to his aid and transport with dignity his soul to the bosom of Abraham.

When the emir saw Rainald in prayer, he called his interpreter and said to him: “What was Rainald’s answer?”

The interpreter then said: “He completely denies your god. He also refuses your worldly goods and your gods.”

After hearing this report, the emir was extremely irritated and ordered the immediate beheading of Rainald, and so the Turks with great pleasure chopped off his head: Swiftly the angels, joyfully singing the Psalms of David, bore his soul and lifted it before the sight of God for Whose love he had undergone martyrdom.

Rainald got himself a starring role in the Chanson d’Antioche, an epic poem celebrating the Crusade, for this pious self-sacrifice. We can only presume that his name- and numberless compatriots in the dungeons, who also paid the price for Rainald’s obstinacy, were satisfied with suffering the same fate but only getting a role in the chorus.

Then the emir, in a towering rage because he could not make Rainald turn apostate, at once ordered all the pilgrims in Antioch to be brought before him with their hands bound bend their backs. When they had come before him; he ordered them stripped stark naked, and as they stood in the nude he commanded that they be bound with ropes in a circle. He then had chaff, firewood, and hay piled around them, and finally as enemies of God he ordered them put to the torch.

The Christians, those knights of Christ, shrieked and screamed so that their voices resounded in heaven to God for whose love their flesh and bones were cremated; and so they all entered martyrdom on this day wearing in heaven their white stoles before the Lord, for Whom they had so loyally suffered in the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom is the honor and glory now and throughout eternity. Amen.

In these heady early months of the Crusades, when the enterprise stumbled from near-disaster to miraculous success, the renown of Porchet et al was clinched by the siege’s success in early June — just days ahead of the arrival of a Turkish relief force which thereafter had to content itself with besieging the now-Crusader-held city.

When this second siege was repelled with the help of the Christians’ convenient — staged, one might think — “discovery” of the Holy Lance of Antioch, everyone had to know that the Big Guy was truly on their side.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Burned,Caliphate,Crusader Kingdom,Cycle of Violence,Execution,God,History,Hostages,Known But To God,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Myths,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Seljuk Empire,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Syria,Turkey,Wartime Executions

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1789: Skitch, amidst the tears of thousands

Add comment April 3rd, 2011 Headsman

London Times, April 14, 1789:

Exeter, April 8. Friday last were executed at Heavitree-gallows, William Snow, alias Skitch, for breaking the house of Richard Adams, in the parish of Romansleigh, and stealing a quantity of plate thereout; and James Waybourn, for robbing farmer Stokes, near Bickley-wood. They were perfectly resigned to their fate; yet it was with difficulty that Waybourn was induced to answer any questions respecting his guilt.

The behaviour of Skitch manifested how little there is in the approach of death, when the human mind is brought into a calm and pious disposition, by serious meditation on the attributes of an all powerful and gracious Deity. He declared that day to be the happiest of his life; and exhorted the spectators to avoid his errors. He had hung but a few seconds, when the rope slipped from the gallows, and he fell to the ground. It is impossible to describe the feelings of the multitude at the thought of his being again suspended; yet was this painful interval less afflicting to the magnanimous sufferer than to the spectators. Skitch heard their sorrowful exclamations, and said, with an air of compassion, “Good people, be not hurried; I can wait a little:” and the executioner wishing to lengthen the rope, which had slipped, Skitch calmly waited till Waybourn was quite dead, when the rope was taken from the deceased’s arms, in order to compleat the execution of Skitch, who was a second time launched from the cart amidst the tears of thousands.


An overgrown gravestone in a Heavitree church cemetery. (cc) image from HayneZ.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gallows Humor,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Theft

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1689: John Chiesly, for alimony

3 comments April 3rd, 2010 Headsman

Q. Why is divorce so expensive?
A. Because it’s worth it!

This date brings us a cautionary parable of the dangers of wedlock.

John Chiesly (or Chiesley, or Cheisly), an ill-tempered bloke with a wife he’d wished to put aside, had been ordered in arbitration to support her (and their 11-strong brood) to the tune of a £93 annuity.

Chiesly had a counteroffer to this liberal award: he shot dead the magistrate, Sir George Lockhart, the highest-ranking judicial officer in Scotland.* And he did it in broad daylight, making no attempt to fly.

“I have taught the President how to do justice,” Chiesly boasted as he was arrested.

That was on March 31, 1689.

On April 1, he was tried and convicted (torture was authorized “for discovering if ther were any accomplices, advysers, or assisters to him in that horrid and most inhumane act … yet the samen shall be no preparative or warrand to proceed to torture at any tyme hereafter, nor homologatione of what hes bein done at any tyme bypast”).

On April 3, he was drawn to execution at either Drumsheugh or at the Gallowlee, had the offending right hand cut off while still alive, then was hanged in chains with the murder weapon around his neck.

Then his spirit went on to haunt Dalry as “One-Armed Johnny,” until his remains were discovered and properly buried in 1965.

Still.

If you think this guy had relationship issues, consider the fate of his daughter, Rachel.

She inherited dad’s hot temper and took it to her own marriage.

When her husband tried to ditch her, the woman now known as Lady Grange stalked him so relentlessly that Lord Grange kidnapped her, faked her death, and held her secretly imprisoned in the Hebrides for 15 years. (More in this pdf)

Now that is an expensive divorce.

* Chiesly’s murder orphaned George Lockhart, later a notable anti-union politician; George’s brother Philip Lockhart was himself executed for the 1715 anti-Hanoverian Jacobite rising.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,Public Executions,Scotland,Sex,The Supernatural,Torture

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