1793: Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine

Add comment August 28th, 2010 Headsman

The best defense would have been a good offense for French General Adam Philippe, Comte de Custine — guillotined in Paris this date in 1793 for inadequacy in command of the French revolutionary armies fighting continental monarchist armies.

You must be this tall to go on the General Moustache* ride, and poor results in the field at this time could leave you shorter. Losing to the enemy looked an awful lot like conspiring with the enemy, especially when there was a “Comte” in your name.

Custine spent the winter of 1792-1793 coughing up French conquests across the Rhine. (In his defense, several of them were things that he’d previously conquered himself.)

Recalled once to Paris to justify himself, the bewhiskered general was defended by no less than Robespierre, and thereafter returned to the field. Given this background, it was not wise of him to resume the losing streak — but he did.*

The resultant second recall saw the moustache — and its associated head — permanently shaved for treacherously throwing battles like the 1919 White Sox. This met with the great approval** of Hebert‘s Pere Duchesne :

“Epitaph on General Custine”

Here lies an headless General—(I’ll say dead)
As many living Generals want an head.

You have just done something worthy of me by denouncing Custine. You have brought into broad daylight his plots and his treason. If we had waited a few more days to recall him freedom would have been fucked. This infamous rascal, after having had the French in Frankfurt massacred, after having abandoned Mainz, after having allowed Valenciennes to be encircled, after having delivered Condé, only awaited the right moment to lead his army into a slaughter and to deliver the coup de grace to the republic by sacrificing its last resources. Fortunately, the bugger has been put to the side. His crimes have been proved, let his head promptly fall under the national razor, but let his not be the only one! Let all the scoundrels who compose his headquarters also be shortened. Pursue, denounce without rest the infamous Tourville, who was the right arm of Lameth, and who will deliver Maubeuge if we leave him in command. Make known the swindler Lapallière, and especially the ci-devant marquis de Verigni, known in all the gaming houses under the name of Debrulis. Tell the Sans Culottes in the army that this rat has emigrated twice. Don’t forget Leveneur, the intimate friend of Lafayette, and the henchman of Custine. Don’t allow these bandits a moments rest until they’ve been chased and punished as traitors.

Custine’s son also got the chop for defending his old man.

Surviving the purge: Adam Philippe’s then-three-year-old grandson, Astolphe Custine. Custine would become famous as “the de Tocqueville of Russia,” and for his aphoristic and still-current travelogue La Russie en 1839.

* Actual nickname.

** And characteristically profane. Pere Duchesne would not have had a lot of patience for coy little cunnilingus references where a salty sans-culotte f-bomb would do instead.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Military Crimes,Nobility,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1807: James McLean, twice

1 comment August 28th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1807, James McLean survived one hanging but not a second at Batavia, N.Y.

Subject of the first public execution in Genesee County, the drunken Scottish immigrant had axed to death a fellow squatter in an argument … and then a second man who ran to his victim’s aid … and then almost a third who was saved by flight.

This minor execution is the subject of an extensive historical inquiry* by a descendant of one of the victims full of period color: the defendant claiming the (then-recognized) right to a jury consisting of half non-citizen aliens as a “jury of his peers”; the billing receipts for the manhunt and the gallows construction (including gallons of brandy for the guards); and the indeterminate legends about what happened when the rope broke the first time.

The story has been told and retold that during the hanging the rope broke and McLean fell to the ground, shaken and stunned but alive. While another rope was being secured, McLean was reputed to remark, “As I killed two men, I deserve two hangings.” Another version has McLean protesting a second hanging since he had been convicted of only the one murder and had already been hung for that.

However, a historian’s recounting of the era’s newspaper accounts claims

that when the weight fell, the rope broke and McClean fell to the ground. He soon recovered from the shock and rising to his feet, expressed a strong desire not to be “hung again.” Some insisted that one hanging was a fulfillment of the law. Others, however, thought differently and informed McClean that “as he had killed two men, he ought to be hung twice.”

* The writer’s use of “gibbet” to mean an apparatus for a “sudden suspension” hanging, where the prisoner is not dropped but jerked into the air by a countervailing weight, is non-standard; “gibbet” means a gallows (or certain types of gallows structures, if you’re persnickety about it), and became a verb signifying the salutary posthumous display upon such a structure of an executed prisoner’s remains.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,New York,Notable Jurisprudence,Public Executions,USA

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