1578: Nicolas Gosson, counterrevolved

Add comment October 26th, 2020 Headsman


Beheading of barrister Nicolas Gosson at Arras on October 26, 1578.

Presently in France, this town at the time was in the Spanish Low Countries during the unfolding Calvinist Dutch Revolt.

Gosson, “a man of great wealth, one of the most distinguished advocates in the Netherlands, and possessing the gift of popular eloquence to a remarkable degree, was the leader of this burgess faction” according to this public domain history. He mounted an urban coup in favor of the Orangist — one of several similar coups in the southern Low Countries, where ultras tried to force events upon less favorable terrain. “Inflamed by the harangues of Gosson, and supported by five hundred foot soldiers and fifty troopers under one Captain Ambrose, they rose against the city magistracy, whose sentiments were unequivocally for Parma, and thrust them all into prison. They then constituted a new board of fifteen, some Catholics and some Protetants, but all patriots, of whom Gosson was chief.”

The not-so-patriotic faction — the so-called “Malcontents”, noblemen and their supporters who were either repelled by Calvinist excesses or simply pleased to seek their advantage allying with Spain — turned back Gosson’s revolution within days.

Baron Capres, the great Malcontent seignior, who was stationed with his regiment in the neighbourhood … marched into the city at the head of a strong detachment, and straightway proceeded to erect a very tall gibbet in front of the Hotel de Ville. This looked practical in the eyes of the liberated and reinstated magistrates, and Gosson, Crugeot, and the rest were summoned at once before them. The advocate thought, perhaps, with a sigh, that his judges, so recently his prisoners, might have been the fruit for another gallows-tree, had he planted it when the ground was his own …

The process was rapid. A summons from Brussels was expected every hour from the general government, ordering the cases be brought before the federal tribunal, and as the Walloon provinces were not yet ready for open revolt, the order would be an inconvenient one. Hence the necessity for haste … Bertoul, Crugeot, Mordacq, with several others, were condemned in a few hours to the gibbet. They were invited to appeal, if they chose, to the council of Artois, but hearing that the court was sitting next door, so that there was no chance of a rescue in the streets, they declared themselves satisfied with the sentence. Gosson had not been tried, his case being reserved for the morrow.

Meanwhile, the short autumnal day had drawn to a cloe. A wild, stormy, rainy night then set in, but still the royalist party — citizens and soldiers intermingled — all armed to the teeth, and uttering fierce cries, while the whole scene was fitfully illuminated with the glare of flambeaux and blazing tar-barrels, kept watch in the open square around the city hall. A series of terrible Rembrandt-like night-pieces succeeded — grim, fantastic, and gory. [Pierre] Bertoul, an old man, who for years had so surely felt himself predestined to his present doom that he had kept a gibbet in his own house to accustom himself to the sight of the machine, was led forth the first, and hanged at ten in the evening. He was a good man, of perfectly blameless life, a sincere Catholic, but a warm partisan of Orange.

Valentine de Mordacq, an old soldier, came from the Hotel de Ville to the gallows at midnight. As he stood on the ladder, amid the flaming torches, he broke forth into furious execrations, wagging his long white beard to and fro, making hideous grimaces, and cursing the hard fate which, after many dangers on the battle-field and in beleaguered cities, had left him to such a death. The cord strangled his curses. Crugeot was executed at three in the morning, having obtained a few hours’ respite in order to make his preparations, which he accordingly occupied himslf in doing as tranquilly as if he had been setting forth upon an agreeable journey. He looked like a phantom, according to eye-witnesses, as he stood under the gibbet, making a most pious and Catholic address to the crowd.

The whole of the following day was devoted to the trial of Gosson. He was condemned at nightfall, and heard by appeal before the superior court directly afterwards. At midnight of the 25th of October 1578, he was condemned to lose his head, the execution to take place without delay. The city guards and the infantry under Capres still bivouacked upon the square; the howling storm still continued, but the glare of fagots and torches made the place as light as day. The ancient advocate, with haggard eye and features distorted by wrath, walking between the sheriff and a Franciscan monk, advanced through the long lane of halberdiers, in the grand hall of the Town House, and thence emerged upon the scaffold erected before the door. He shook his fists with rage at the released magistrates, so lately his prisoners, exclaiming that to his miplaced mercy it was owing that his head, instead of their own, was to be placed upon the block. He bitterly reproached the citizens for their cowardice in shrinking from dealing a blow for their fatherland, and in behalf of one who had so faithfully srved them. The clerk of the court then read the sentence amid silence so profound that every syllable he uttered, and every sigh and ejaculation of the victim, were distinctly heard in the most remote corner of the square. Gosson then, exclaiming that he was murdered without cause, knelt upon the scaffold. His head fell while an angry imprection was still upon hi lips.

This municipal revolution and counter-revolution, obscure though they seem, were in reality of very grave importance. This was the last blow struck for freedom in the Walloon country. The failure of the movement made that scission of the Netherlands certain, which has endured till our days.

A few months afterward, Malcontents, Catholics, and pro-Spain types sealed their alliance (maybe at breaks in their negotiations clapping shoulders as they reminisced about cutting down old Nicolas Gosson) with a pact called the Union of Arras.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Lawyers,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Spain,The Worm Turns,Treason,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1944: Jean Cavailles, philosopher-mathematician

Add comment February 17th, 2011 Headsman

“A philosopher-mathematician loaded with explosives, lucid and reckless, resolute without optimism. If that’s not a hero, what is a hero?”

Georges Canguilhem

On this date in 1944, French intellectual Jean Cavaillès was shot at Arras for his role in the French Resistance.

The university lecturer had been called up as France mobilized against Germany, and captured in the ensuing German blitz.

Escaping, he started a subversive newspaper, was appointed to the Sorbonne, got captured again, escaped again, made it to London, and returned to occupied France to direct a sabotage campaign.

This “intellectual who loved explosives” was finally captured for good in the summer of 1943 along with his handler (and future French Foreign Minister) Christian Pineau.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Intellectuals,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Terrorists,Torture,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

1869: Charles Carpentier

Add comment October 21st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1869, an impressive crowd packed Arras’s Grande Place for the beheading of Charles Carpentier.*


Photo believed to have been taken shortly before Carpentier’s execution.

According to Bois de Justice, whose collection of guillotine arcana is second to none, this is one of the rare photographs extant of the guillotine in its more classically inspired public-scaffold setup.

Its construction is lovingly detailed in this New York Times report on the following year’s execution of Jean Baptiste Troppmann:

… a square-shaped scaffold, thirteen feet long by about twelve feet six inches wide, supported on four posts six feet in height, and reached by a flight of ten steps. This scaffold is railed in on all sides, with an open balustrade, and at two-thirds of its length are fixed two upright parallel posts, surmounted by a cross-beam which goes by the name of the “chapeau.” They are thirteen feet high, and have a space of about fifteen inches between them. The knife, which is attached to the chapeau, is composed of a triangular blade of steel, fixed by means of three iron pins into a leaden haft, called the “mouton,” which gives it great weight. This mouton is nearly fourteen inches broad and the blade at its greatest width hardly a foot … The criminal, having mounted the scaffold, finds himself in front of the vertical bascule, which extends from just above his ankles to the middle of his breat, and facing him also is the lunette, with its movable portion raised. The executioner pushes the bascule, which falls into the horizontal position, and then pushes it along the table; the head of the victim seems, as it were, to throw itself into the semi-circular opening of the lunette, and an assistant immediately seizes hold of the hair. Two things now remain to be done — one is to press the button which acts upon the mechanism of the upper portion of the lunette, causing it to fall and secure the head of the criminal — the other is to set loose the knife which is to cut the head off. On decapitation taking place the head is thrown into the basket while the executioner, by a single motion slides the body down the inclined plane. The rapidity of the motion is almost inconceivable …

With the best part of a century under its lunette, the guillotine at this point had been improved from the revolutionary original that Marie Antoinette or Robespierre died upon. But it had the same theatrical concept.

However, an assistant executioner and carpenter by the name of Leon Berger was even then in the process of designing a more compact, less monumental version of the device. This technical advance met evolving French social mores with the 1870 abolition of the scaffold and its towering thirteen-foot chapeau in favor of “the Algerian model.”

From then on, the business was to be conducted by a traveling executioner with a portable guillotine at ground level, meant to reduce the carnival atmosphere and centralize administration of justice.

This concession to an age’s liberalism might well have led to an abolition on public executions full stop, had the French state not simultaneously fallen apart.

The upshot was that the French public beheading — sans scaffold — would persist for seven more decades, long enough not only for photography but for film.

* For murder and robbery on the highway, as reported by the September 16, 1869 Le Figaro. Noting the contrast with some recent acquittals of other criminals, the paper remarked apropos its skeptical stand on the death penalty that “though Carpentier is very unattractive at least from what we know of his case, we confess sincerely that his conviction was not sufficient to convince us [of capital punishment], because it proves once again how juries in different places arrive at different verdicts for the same types of crimes.” Le Figaro anticipated that regional inconsistencies in sentencing would contribute to ending the death penalty.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , , , , ,


Calendar

December 2020
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!