A day in the executions of Franz Schmidt

Add comment August 4th, 2017 Headsman

The free imperial city of Nuremberg has been a regular feature on this site thanks to the detailed journal of executions kept by its legendary executioner Franz Schmidt.

We have profiled many of the more remarkable cases individually. Today, we’ll pause for a few of central Europe’s lesser criminals whose deaths at Schmidt’s hand on various August Fourths were more representative of the everyday malefactors who paid the last penalty on early modern scaffolds. All block text records Schmidt’s own words.


August 4, 1586: Hans Weber and Lienhardt Hagen

Hans Weber, of the New Town, a potter and thief, whom I whipped out of Neunkirchen ten years ago; Lienhardt Hagen, of Teusslen, a bath-keeper, alias der Kaltbader, a thief and robber, who with his companion helped to attack people by night, tortured them, burnt them with fire, poured hot grease on them and wounded them grievously; also tortured pregnant women, so that one died at Schwertzenbach; stole all manner of things everywhere. The potter was hanged, the bath-keeper executed on the wheel. The bath-keeper had broken into the church at Lohndorff and stolen the chalice, also helped once to steal 500 florins. (a list of many other small sums follows.)


August 4, 1607: Margaret Marranti

Margaret Marranti, a country girl from the knackers’ sheds, who was in service with the innkeeper there, had intercourse with a carrier whom she did not know, and became pregnant. Took service with the farmer at Dorrenhof at Candlemas, concealing her pregnancy. When she was haymaking in the meadows, was seized with pains and contortions, and when the farmer’s wife said she would send for the midwife, the girl made an excuse, and remaining behind at night, gave birth to a child near a shed by the river Pegnitz. She immediately threw the child into the water and drowned it, though it stirred and struggled. Beheaded with the sword here on this account.


August 4, 1613: Matthew Werdtfritzn

Matthew Werdtfritzn of Furth, a Landzknecht, alias ‘Eightfingers,’ a robber. With the help of a companion he attacked the carrier from Regensburg in the Neuenwald, wounded him and his son mortally, and took about 800 florins’ worth of money and goods. Took 84 florins from the baker woman of Lauff, and wounded her lad in the same way, so that he was thought likely to die. Took 40 florins from a carter and 18 florins from the fisherman of Fach; in all twelve highway roberies. For these crimes he was executed on the wheel as a robber.

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1893: Frank Van Loon, via a mother-in-law’s vengeance

Add comment August 4th, 2016 H.M. Fogle

From the out-of-print The palace of death, or, the Ohio Penitentiary Annex: A human-interest story of incarceration and execution of Ohio’s murderers, with a detailed review of the incidents connected with each case by H.M. Fogle (1908):


A Youthful Bank Robber’s Fate

“Truth is stranger than fiction.” In how many ways is this aphorism verified! Nowhere is it more strangely true than in the dark and mysterious records of crime. That a perilous sea, only occasionally visited by the ships of commerce and civilization, should witness the development of bands of pirates whose bold and cruel deeds have terrified the voyagers, and furnished themes with which the romancer could charm the morbid tastes of the lovers of the gruesome, is a thing to be expected. That a wild and sparsely settled region, abounding in fastnesses and hiding places, yet crossed by trains bearing rich treasures, should be the field in which a drove of dehumanized desperadoes carried on their nefarious trade, is in no way surprising. Storm-tossed, wreck-strewn seas and hurricane-swept prairies, nurture, or at least harbor, such characters as their appropriate children. There is nothing strange in the fact that wild regions should be the home of wilder men. The romancer can make his story as wild and improbable as he chooses; there is no one who will rise to contradict him.

It is strange, however, that such men should spring up amid peaceful surroundings. It is stranger still that a penchant for crime, carried out into deeds of more reckless daring than those of the wild and unrestrained West, should be nurtured in the quiet rural districts of Northwestern Ohio. Yet, strange to say, in this almost Arcadian corner of a great civilized state, a corner whose agrarian peacefulness was never broken by harsher sounds than the melody of church bells, or the cheerful call of the locomotive, there have been conceived and carried into execution crimes that would stand out boldly even on the pages of the wildest fiction. This corner of the state was the home of the now famous “Jack Page” band of arsonists, who terrorized the country a quarter of a century ago. Here, also, lived the man who furnished the occasion of this sketch, Frank Van Loon. Of his dare-devil deed let the reader judge.

The Supremacy of Nerve

On the seventh day of August, 1891, the village of Columbus Grove, Putnam County, Ohio, was startled out of its quiet, humdrum routine by a daring daylight robbery and murder. A young man, unknown to the few chance stragglers about the streets of the quiet village, entered a hardware store. By sheer force he compelled the person in charge to give him two loaded .38-caliber revolvers. With the dash of a true desperado, he rushed across the street to the bank. He entered the bank, broke the glass in front of the cashier’s desk, reached through and secured $1,365. The bank officials, terrified by the suddenness of the attack, dropped through a trap-door into the cellar. One of them, by venturing to look out of his hiding place, was shot by the nervy robber. The ball took effect in the shoulder, producing a painful, though not fatal wound. While the desperado was holding the bank employees at bay, an old man by the name of William Vandemark entered the bank to transact some business. Vandemark was ignorant of the fact that a desperate robbery was at that moment being committed. The robber, hearing some one enter, turned quickly and fired at the innocent intruder. The shot was fatal and Vandemark was instantly killed. As the desperate man rushed out of the bank, he shot at a man who was peacefully driving along the street. The daring young man made his escape across the fields without being recognized.

A Mother-in-Law’s Vengeance

Who this daring robber and murderer was might have remained an undiscovered fact, had it not been that a certain young farmer by the name of Frank Van Loon had, by his innate meanness, incurred the implacable hatred of his wife’s mother. Ever suspicious of her son-in-law, the woman entered his room on the morning of the day following his crime, noted that his boots were muddy, and found in his pockets the guns and the stolen money. This woman, having heard in the intervening time of the crime committed in Columbus Grove, reported her findings to the officers. The officers, knowing of the unhappy condition of things in the Van Loon home, for a time paid no heed to the advices which they received, thinking it was only a mother-in-law’s spite [at] work. But when the information had been several times repeated they concluded to investigate, and found things as the mother-in-law had reported. Van Loon was arrested. He was given a speedy trial, convicted of murder in the first degree, and sentenced to be hanged.

In the Palace of Death

Frank Van Loon, serial number 23,313, on the twelfth day of May, 1892, entered the Annex of the Ohio Penitentiary. It was his final leave-taking of God’s beautiful world of sunshine and fragrance. Never again was he to see the earth and sky meet. When he left that Place of Doom it would be as a lifeless body.

Through the law’s delay Van Loon was permitted to drag on a miserable existence between hope and despair for fifteen months. In these months of waiting he employed a part of the time in writing a history of his life. In this composition the natural selfishness and brutality of his nature were plainly manifest. It was evident from the underlying tone of his autobiography that he did not recognize that his fellow-man had any rights which he was bound to respect, especially if those rights stood in the way of his wishes being attained. His towering egotism was undoubtedly the soil which nurtured and brought to maturity the disposition which made possible his cruel crime. [editor’s note: my researches have failed to locate this interesting artifact for the modern reader’s edification.]

This egotism was constantly being made evident by his actions during his stay in the Annex. Much of the time during his waking hours was passed in quarreling with his keeper. These contentions one day led to a desperate struggle between Van Loon and Guard Bowman for the possession of an ice pick. When Van Loon had been let out of the cage for some purpose, he endeavored to get possession of an ice pick, as the only available weapon with which to kill the Guard. Both men being well developed and powerful, a desperate struggle ensued, in which the superior skill and greater endurance attained by careful training gave the victory to Guard Bowman.

The Deepening Shadows

Frank Van Loon’s long stay in the Annex was drawing to a close. The brief day of his earthly career was rapidly nearing the end. The shadows were growing deeper. Soon his sun would set in utter darkness. Van Loon had lived but twenty-three years of mortal life. They had, however, been years fruitful of enormous results in crime and meanness.

August 4, 1895, was his last day on earth. It was a dark and stormy night which preceded that day, but not more dark or more stormy than had been the young life that was that night to be taken as a forfeit to the State. Frank Van Loon’s life had been a rebellion against the laws of God and man. While the officers of human law were preparing to take satisfaction for the outrage that had been committed against it, the artillery of heaven was flashing defiance and thundering menaces and pouring down torrents of rain, as if to make it known to the universe that the sin-scorched soul which the laws of man had decreed should no longer dwell among the habitations of earth, should not rise into that world where “no wicked thing cometh,” but must turn away from heaven and wander forever in the “outer darkness.”

When the midnight hour had come, the march from the Guard Room began. Noiselessly the guards moved over the sawdust covered corridors to the Annex. The Warden, Hon. C.C. James, read the warrant to the condemned man. The same nerve that characterized the attack on the bank was manifest in this last and closing ordeal of his life. Unassisted and unfalteringly he mounted the steps to the gallows and and took his place on the trap.

While standing on the trap Van Loon sang in a strong, clear voice, “Nearer My God to Thee.”

There was no tremor in his voice, nor quaking in his limbs. Apparently without fear he gave voice to the familiar hymn. Strangely the music floated out on the midnight air, while the terrific electrical storm, raging without, seemed playing the accompaniment. The deep diapason of Nature’s orchestra, blending with the stentorian voice of the singer, echoed and reverberated through the adjoining corridors of the prison until many of the prisoners were startled from their slumbers. On hearing the hymn and its wild accompaniment, and remembering that it was the night of Van Loon’s execution, they listened with bated breath, scarcely knowing whether to attribute the unwonted disturbance to earth, heaven or hell; wondering whether the voice was that of man, angel or demon.

At the close of this strange oratorio, the trap was sprung; the body shot downward. The execution was a success. Frank Van Loon was no more.

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2015: Shafqat Hussain

2 comments August 4th, 2015 Headsman

Minutes before dawn prayers today, Pakistan hanged Shafqat Hussain in Karachi Central Jail.*

He’s the latest casualty of Pakistan’s wild death penalty resurgence following last December’s bloody terrorist attack on a Peshawar school — leading Islamabad to break a moratorium on carrying out the death sentences that it was continuing to hand down.

And how! According to the BBC, today’s hanging brings to 193 the total of people put to death in the little more than half-year since; Pakistan could stop hanging today (it won’t) and easily rank among 2015’s execution leaders by the end of the year.

Though the first victims of the new policy were people previously death-sentenced for terrorism, and thereby at least thematically linked to the Peshawar massacre, Pakistan by March had dropped the distinction and commenced hanging prisoners by the fistful for ordinary crimes, too.

Shafqat Hussain’s name has repeatedly entered the news cycle during that time, as he has faced and then avoided multiple execution dates, most recently this past June 9. Some have gone to the very brink, and seen the young man reprieved moments from donning his hanging-shroud.

Hussain denied committing the crime laid at his door — the abduction and murder of a 7-year-old boy in the area where he worked as a watchman — but a confession “allegedly” obtained by torture doomed him. Guilt aside, the matter garnered worldwide headlines (and advocacy) largely on account of his youth: Hussain and his advocates say he was a minor of age 14 or 15 when arrested; Pakistani courts have found him to have been 23. (!) It is this dispute about the age that has been at the center of Shafqat Hussain’s recent heart-stopping cycle of appeals and stays.

Shortly before his execution, Shafqat Hussain put his byline to a compelling first-person testimonial for CNN about life on Pakistan’s death row and the experience of nearing an imminent execution date.

When the jailer tells me that my execution date has been set, he separates me immediately from the other prisoners. I spend all seven days by myself in a cell in the barracks for prisoners about to be executed. They conduct a physical exam every one of those seven days. They weigh me every day, take my blood pressure and temperature as well.

On the last two days they also measure my height, my neck and my body for the clothes I am to wear when they hang me.

One day before my hanging, they tell me about my final visit with my family and that I need to execute my will. I cannot really say what I am thinking in those last seven days. My brain is thinking all sorts of things.

* According to a brother, who told AFP that “there is a cut mark on his neck and half of his neck is separated from his body,” they did not hang him very well.

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1743: Gen. Charles Emil Lewenhaupt, scapegoat

Add comment August 4th, 2014 Headsman

There’s a good chance that you experience an unpleasant degree of performance pressure from time to time in your environs, whatever they might be. Lord knows even the executioner is not immune to it.

But it’s doubtful very many are under the sort of professional pressure that Swedish general Charles Emil Lewenhaupt succumbed to on this date in 1743, when he was beheaded for command incompetence thanks to his country’s defeat in the 1741-1743 Russo-Swedish War.

An aggressive political faction of “Young Turks” — er, Young Swedes — known as the Hats had kicked the country’s cautious former president to the curb and aimed to restore the great power status Sweden had coughed up to Russia decades prior. In Sweden, their engagement with Russia would become known as the Hats’ War.

Lewenhaupt himself was elevated to command of Sweden’s Finland forces — for Finland was Swedish territory at this point, although it had been brutally occupied by Russia from 1714 to 1721 and only returned when Sweden ceded its Baltic possessions to Peter the Great — over a general who opposed the adventurous scheme. Ironically, the whole thing would ultimately redound to the benefit of Peter the Great’s daughter.

In 1741 as the War of Austrian Succession consumed the rest of Europe, Lewenhaupt was placed in charge of the opening gambit, an invasion of Karelia. Russia’s autocratic Empress Anna had just died in 1740, leaving her niece Anna Leopoldovna in charge as regent for the the infant Ivan VI. The idea from the Swedish side was to pair the invasion (with a short line to St. Petersburg, then the capital) with an internal coup against the shaky monarch; further to that latter end, Swedish diplomats* maneuvered behind the scenes to position Peter the Great’s popular daughter Elizaveta to seize power, whereupon she would cede back to Sweden (either out of gratitude or by compulsion of the arriving Swedish armies) the Baltic lands recently torn from Stockholm’s hands.

Make sense?

The entire project was a fiasco for Sweden.

Sweden’s Hats-dominated Riksdag declared war on Russia in July of 1741, but the joint land and naval attack that was supposed to ensue completely failed to materialize: the Swedish fleet had been ravaged by an epidemic while awaiting the action, and the Swedish army massing at Villmanstrand had not yet finished assembling. So having thrown down the gauntlet, the Swedes just stood flat-footed, and it was the Russians who launched the invasion by routing the army at Villmanstrand. Our Gen. Lewenhaupt only arrived at that army two weeks after the battle.

Things went pear-shaped from that point for Sweden, but back in St. Petersburg the invasion’s prospective beneficiary was doing just fine.

Elizaveta had cagily accepted the aid of her French and Swedish “benefactors” but without committing any reciprocal promise to paper. Far from being a catspaw of foreign interests, this daughter of Russia’s conquering tsar was a popular figure in her own right, especially with the elite Preobrazhensky Regiment; on the evening of November 24, 1741, Elizaveta displayed herself at the regimental barracks dramatically clad in a breastplate and wielding a silver cross, summoning her supporters to mount a coup that the guards themselves had long sought. It was achieved (by Elizaveta’s own insistence) without bloodshed** that very night.

Duly installed, Elizaveta simply continued prosecuting a war that was going quite nicely for her side thank you very much, eventually forcing Sweden to conclude the war with a treaty ceding yet more territory to Russia.

The tribulations of this embarrassing (and costly) war led for Sweden to an internal rebellion — but the Hats were able to crush it and hold onto power by farming out blame for their failed war of choice onto the generals in the field. In 1743, Gen. Lewenhaupt and Gen. Henrik Magnus von Buddenbrock were sentenced to death for command negligence. Buddenrock was executed on schedule on July 27, but Lewenhaupt managed to escape — briefly. He was recaptured aboard a ship fleeing for Gdansk and beheaded on August 4.

Needless to say the great classical tradition of “with your shield or on it” did not extend to the Hats’ civilian leadership. These fellows maintained their hold in the Riksdag long enough to fling Sweden into yet another costly war of choice with Prussia in 1757, where they got their ass kicked again by Frederick the Great.

* Joined by French diplomats, whose interest in Elizaveta’s takeover was to abort Russia’s alliance with Austria and England in the continental war. The Hats had aligned Sweden with France; the latter helpfully supplied the cash Elizaveta needed as the intrigue unfolded over 1741.

** Never the violent type, Elizaveta is especially notable in these pages for her pledge never to approve a death warrant under her reign. Russia would not see another execution until 1764, under Catherine the Great.

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1899: Three in the Klondike Gold Rush

Add comment August 4th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1899, the gallows of gold rush boom down Dawson City, Yukon strained for three murderers.

The 1896 gold strike in the Klondike triggered a huge rush of prospectors warming sub-Arctic climes with visions of sudden wealth. “When the world rang with the tale of Arctic gold, and the lure of the North gripped the heartstrings of men,” as put by that lure’s great muse Jack London, who himself had already come and gone from the Dawson City by this time, and struck his own variety of fortune in the process.

Miners pouring into the Yukon did not, of course, enter virgin territory. Native peoples had occupied it for thousands of years.

In May 1898, two prospectors, Christian Fox and William Meehan, camped near the mouth of McClintock Creek were only mildly uneasy about the arrival of the Nantucks, Tagish brothers who set up an adjacent camp. Relations were amicable for a while, but when returning one afternoon from the day’s work the prospectors were suddenly fired upon from ambush by their neighbors.

Meehan was slain in the fusillade. The injured Christian Fox managed to float away, get to land, and reach a miners’ settlement. He described the attack thus:

I was lying on the sacks against the side of the boat … and I saw Joe standing with his gun like this … and all the boys went into the brush, and I says to myself “Now they have shot us for our outfit, and are hurrying down to the next bend in the river to catch the boat … My only show is to get to the opposite side of the river and try to make for a white habitation” … I took the paddle in my hand and tried to paddle the boat but I was too weak, so I … used it as a pry … The boat ran up to a nice little level place where it was grassy and as I stepped out I stepped over the leg of my partner as he was stretched out over the boat with his head back and his mouth open and I saw that he was dead, and I said “Good by Billy old boy, I can do nothing for you here.”

By Fox’s report, the four Nantucks were soon taken into custody.


The four Nantuck brothers, shackled after arrest.

The trial unfolded in a court at the territorial capital of Dawson City. A compelling chapter in Strange Things Done: Murder in Yukon History does wonderful work with the cultural disconnections, including a two-page exchange between judge and interpreter (and, off-camera, Frank Nantuck) in which the court struggles to get the accused sworn “so help me God” since Frank’s cosmology has no idea of an afterlife. “He says, when he is dead he is dead — that is all I can get out of him,” the helpless middleman reports.

Q Has he any knowledge of God at all or any idea about a future state of rewards and punishments?

A No sir.

Q Or any clear belief in religion of any kind?

A No sir.

Q Will you say to him that we want him to tell us the truth and not to tell us anything that is not the truth; that he may be punished if he tells us anything that is not the truth; that we are going to ask him some questions and that he must tell us just the truth; ask him if he will agree to do that.

The outcome of the trial will not surprise and there was no question but that the Nantucks had done the shooting. What the Dawson court only barely noted was that brothers had been detailed to avenge two Tagish deaths. An old woman had previously been given or found some “baking powder” and proceeded to make bread with it: in fact, it was arsenic, which was used in mining. Here again is the cultural dislocation; the Nantucks living next to Fox and Meehan were trying to feel out whether those two prospectors were of the tribe that had provided this poison, and of equivalent social rank to the two men who died eating the arsenic-bread. Basically, neither side in this subarctic tragedy had any concept of what the other was on about.

There’s a play about this case, Justice. Peruse the play’s pdf companion study guide on the real historical case here.

In the end, all four Nantucks were condemned to die; Frank was probably still a minor, and he had cooperated with the investigation, so his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment … which did not turn out to be very long at all, since Frank and his condemned brother Joe both died in jail of tuberculosis during the 1898-99 winter.

Dawson Nantuck and Jim Nantuck remained to hang.

Momentarily sensational, the case was long forgotten among whites; it has, however, remained in the oral tradition of Yukon First Peoples. Both communities, however, saw the case brought to the fore when excavations accidentally turned up their remains — along with those of two other hanged men.

One of the other two was the third man to hang this date, a fellow by the name of Ed Henderson. Henderson was an American prospector whose fate might be a bit less instructive for posterity. He suffered from a horrible bladder infection that caused him to pass bloody water every 15 or 20 minutes. “The tortures of the damned,” he described it to court. Wincing yet?

The fact that Henderson suffered from it meant his two prospector-mates suffered from it as well — call it purgatory-level suffering; a member of their party had to relieve himself constantly and thrashed about in his sleeping bag all night for the agony it caused him.

Their empathy for his situation was overturned along with Ed Henderson’s inside-the-tent piss-bowl one night. The drenched and vengeful Tomberg Peterson started an immediate brawl, but Henderson’s leaky plumbing didn’t impair his ability to shoot Peterson dead. Henderson himself reported the incident when the prospectors reached their destination, possibly thinking that no jury would convict him.

The trio comprises the first men hanged by the Yukon Territory, which was only separated from the Northwest Territory in 1898. In fact, there was a bizarre procedural deficiency for the Nantucks (but not for Henderson): they were condemned by the court of the wrong, former territory since word of the territories’ separation had not reached Dawson City at the time of the trial. Nobody saw fit to remedy this blunder, however.

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1347: Not the Six Burghers of Calais

1 comment August 4th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1347, the city of Calais yielded to an English siege.


The siege of Calais, from Jean de Wavrin‘s Chroniques d’Angleterre. (More images)

Edward III had proceeded to invest Calais directly after the previous year’s staggering win at Crecy. The crippled French leadership could not relieve the city, and after fruitlessly probing for an opening, the relief army marched away at the start of August 1347.

By this time reduced to eating vermin and ordure, the starved city had little choice but to capitulate. According to Froissart’s account, the king declared that “the Calesians have done him so much mischief, and have, by their obstinate defence, cost him so many lives and so much money, that he is mightily enraged.” He wasn’t only sore about the city’s holding out over the preceding year: Calais was notorious as a refuge for English Channel pirates who had long bedeviled the commerce of Edward’s realm.

As a condition for sparing the rest of the town, Edward demanded that six of its leading citizens present themselves to him, “with bare heads and feet, with ropes round their necks, and the keys of the town and castle in their hands.” Edward seems truly to have meant (much against the conscience of his own nobles) to put these men to death “for that the Calesians had done him so much damage, it was proper they should suffer for it.”

This information caused the greatest lamentations and despair [in Calais]; so that the hardest heart would have had compassion on them; even the lord de Vienne wept bitterly.

After a short time, the most wealthy citizen of the town, by name Eustace de St. Pierre, rose up and said: “Gentlemen, both high and low, it would be a very great pity to suffer so many people to die through famine, if any means could be found to prevent it; and it would be highly meritorious in the eyes of our Saviour, if such misery could be averted. I have such faith and trust in finding grace before God, if I die to save my townsmen, that I name myself as first of the six.” When Eustace had done speaking, they all rose up and almost worshipped him: many cast themselves at his feet with tears and groans Another citizen, very rich and respected, rose up and said, he would be the second to his companion, Eustace; his name was John Daire. After him, James Wisant, who was very rich in merchandise and lands, offered himself, as companion to his two cousins; as did Peter Wisant, his brother. Two others then named themselves, which completed the number demanded by the king of England.

Wealthy elites sacrificing themselves for the greater good? The past really is a different country.

These six duly presented themselves, nearly naked and haltered and braced to bear the brunt of Edward’s vengeance. The English king had the executioner summoned … and then, Edward’s (very pregnant) queen Philippa dramatically fell to her knees

and with tears said, “Ah, gentle sir, since I have crossed the sea with great danger to see you, I have never asked you one favour: now, I most humbly ask as a gift, for the sake of the Son of the blessed Mary, and for your love to me, that you will be merciful to these six men.”

The king looked at her for some time in silence, and then said; “Ah, lady, I wish you had been anywhere else than here: you have entreated in such a manner that I cannot refuse you; I therefore give them to you, to do as you please with them.” The queen conducted the six citizens to her apartments, and had the halters taken from round their necks, after which she new clothed them, and served them with a plentiful dinner: she then presented each with six nobles, and had them escorted out of the camp in safety.

Edward still had the last laugh when it came to Calesian carnage.

This nigh-unconquerable foothold on the French coast would persist in English hands for two centuries: the first century spanned the Hundred Years’ War, which England was licensed to protract by dint of (and France would not settle because of) the menacing northern base England won this day. “Each will have to take up his shield,” ran a French verse cited in Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, “For we’ll have no peace till they give back Calais.”


The Six Burghers persisted even longer than that.

George Bernard Shaw wrote a one-act play standing the story on its head, in which a henpecked Edward exasperatedly yields to his nagging wife’s merciful caprice, to the open derision of the burghers themselves.

A bit more exalted of spirited is Rodin‘s sculpture group Les Bourgeois de Calais — rendering six emaciated, suffering, and courageous figures.

I have, as it were, threaded them one behind the other, because in the indecision of the last inner combat which ensues, between their devotion to their cause and their fear of dying, each of them is isolated in front of his conscience. They are still questioning themselves to know if they have the strength to accomplish the supreme sacrifice–their soul pushes them onward, but their feet refuse to walk.


(cc) image from The Good Life France

They drag themselves along painfully, as much because of the feebleness to which famine has reduced them as because of the terrifying nature of the sacrifice … And certainly, if I have succeeded in showing how much the body, weakened by the most cruel sufferings, still holds on to life, how much power it still has over the spirit that is consumed with bravery, I can congratulate myself on not having remained beneath the noble theme I dealt with.

-Rodin

The discriminating connoisseur of Middle English may also enjoy Laurence Minot‘s poetic celebration of the siege of Calais. (Helpful explanatory annotations.)

Part of the Themed Set: Scary Escapes.

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1882: Ham Yeatts

Add comment August 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1882, William Hamilton “Ham” Yeatts was hanged in Chatham, Va., for the murder of his friend Pressley Adkerson.

When a fellow lures you to a deserted stretch of rural train-track and pops a cap in your head, it’s a given that he’s nursing some manner of grievance.

In the case of Ham Yeatts, that grievance is said to have been a rivalry with Pressley Adkerson — really, we couldn’t make these names up — over the affections of the local knockout, Fanny Rorer. This here page claims that Yeatts, having just wed the girl, was aghast to discover that his friend had deflowered her premaritally.

But we take note of this report of the hanging in the Richmond Daily Dispatch to the effect that the provocation was merely the victim’s nasty prophecy that Yeatts was liable to end up in a penitentiary, the stronger cuckolding allegation arising as the doomed youth made a desperate play for clemency.

Yeatts’s hanging was delayed by a week when he raised these claims of offended manhood — resulting in a bid on his life by a lynch mob, “defeated of their laudable ambition by the alertness of the guards”* — but it was all to no avail.

He requested that he be executed in a blue flannel suit, and that his body be encased in a metallic coffin with a glass face and be placed in an upright position in a cemented grave with steps leading down into it so that those who wished to see him “lying in state” could do so.

So … add vanity to wrath, envy, and lust on Ham’s cardinal sins register.

After the execution the crowd turned their attention to the circus, which had just entered the town, and Yeatts and his crime were for the time forgotten.

Oh.

Though sometimes described as the last hanging in Pittsylvania County, it apparently wasn’t.

Yeatts was only one of four men hanged in various places around the U.S. that August 4, as the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle described in its next day’s edition …

FERNANDINA, Fla., August 4. — Merrick Jackson, colored, was hanged here to-day, at 1 o’clock, p.m. He murdered a colored boy, named John Thomas, near King’s Ferry, on November 19, 1881. On the scaffold he offered up a prayer, and thanked the Sisters of Charity for their kindness to him. He met his fate with composure. He died by strangulation.


JACKSONVILLE, Fla., August 4. — Harrison Carter, colored, who murdered Lewis Adams, colored, at Baldwin, in this county, on January 6, 1882, was executed in the ail hard here to-day.


MOBILE [Ala.], August 4. — Armand Coleman, colored, was hanged, to-day, at West Point, Miss., for the murder of Georgia Bright, on May 13, 1880. He was sentenced to be hanged on May 4, 1881, and the case was carried to the Supreme Court, where he was resentenced, but respited by the Governor till to-day. Three thousand persons were present, a large number of whom were negro women. The prisoner ascended the scaffold with a firm step, smiling pleasantly. He said he was willing to go and trusted in God. He denied his guilt to the last.


It was not all the hangman’s day, however. Louisiana Gov. John McEnery respited the scheduled August 4 execution of Jack Chapman in Bossier parish. (Chapman still hanged, on September 22.)

* The Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago, Ill.), July 31, 1882.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Sex,USA,Virginia

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1781: Isaac Hayne, paroled prisoner of war

2 comments August 4th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1781, South Carolina patriot Isaac Hayne was hanged for breaking his conditional British parole and re-enlisting in the American Revolution.

Though Hayne is not, to us, the most famous revolutionary executed by the British, he might have been considered by his contemporaries as the most prominent individual to go to the scaffold for the cause.

A wealthy planter (lots of slaves!) whose home and grave can still be toured in Jacksonboro, Hayne was among 5,000 to surrender to the British when the latter captured Charleston in 1780.

These prisoners were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the crown in exchange for their parole, which Hayne reluctantly agreed to do because his family had been hit with smallpox.

He declared to a friend that,

as they [the British] allow no other alternative than submission, or confinement in the capital, at a distance from my wife and family, at a time when they are in the most pressing need of my presence and support, I must, for the present, yield to the demands of the conquerors. I request you to bear in mind, that previous to my taking this step, I declare that it is contrary to my inclination, and forced on me by hard necessity. I will never bear arms against my country … I do not mean to desert the cause of America.

But as the British southern campaign foundered over the year ahead, the mother country eventually attempted to call him up to do just that: bear arms against his country.

Hayne thought his parole terms protected him from ever having to serve against the colonies, so he simply got back into the fight on the revolutionary side instead. He was captured in that capacity.

The British commander Francis Rawdon handled his relapsed prisoner with uncommon severity, putting him to a drumhead military tribunal with a preordained outcome and refusing the many public pleas for leniency.

The irregular and vengeful nature of these proceedings, and Hayne’s seemingly honorable conduct, raised hackles on both sides of the Atlantic; shortly after hanging Hayne, Rawdon returned to the British Isles to find a good deal of pointed criticism of his behavior. (Parliament quashed any damaging official inquiry, and Lord Rawdon actually extracted an apology from the peer who had the temerity to motion the investigation — an intolerable impeachment on Rawdon’s honor.)

The Hayne incident was widely understood to have been conditioned by British frustration at its failing fortunes in the war. By the time of the execution, the redcoats held nothing of South Carolina save Charleston itself. General Cornwallis had recently marched north from the Palmetto State; in a few weeks’ time, he would surrender his sword and the British cause alike after the decisive British defeat at Yorktown, Virginia.

And though the commandants at Charleston scarcely anticipated that stunning reversal, they had only a few months before suffered the upsetting (but more legally tenable) hanging of the honorable British Major John Andre as a result of the Benedict Arnold affair. British forces were reputedly on the lookout for any opportunity to trade tit for tat.

Continental Gen. Nathaniel Greene alleged that the British officer who received the petition for Hayne’s life simply wrote on it John Andre — and sent it back.


Isaac Hayne was the great-uncle of South Carolina pol Robert Y. Hayne, best remembered for a hot sectional debate with Massachusetts Sen. Daniel Webster. (Read it all here, if you must.)

It was during this exchange of Senatorial disquisitions that Webster delivered one of the noted orations of the antebellum era, the aptly-named Second Reply to Hayne:

I have not allowed myself, Sir, to look beyond the Union, to see what might lie hidden in the dark recess behind. I have not coolly weighed the chances of preserving liberty when the bonds that unite us together shall be broken asunder. I have not accustomed myself to hang over the precipice of disunion, to see whether, with my short sight, I can fathom the depth of the abyss below; nor could I regard him as a safe counselor in the affairs of this government, whose thoughts should be mainly bent on considering, not how the Union may be best preserved, but how tolerable might be the condition of the people when it should be broken up and destroyed. While the Union lasts, we have high, exciting, gratifying prospects spread out before us and our children. Beyond that I seek not to penetrate the veil. God grant that in my day, at least, that curtain may not rise! God grant that on my vision never may be opened what lies behind! When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shine on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood! Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original lustre, not a stripe erased or polluted, not a single star obscured, bearing for its motto, no such miserable interrogatory as “What is all this worth?” nor those other words of delusion and folly, “Liberty first and Union afterwards”; but everywhere, spread all over in characters of living light, blazing on all it sample folds, as they float over the sea and over the land, and in every wind under the whole heavens, that other sentiment, dear to every true American heart, – Liberty and Union, now and for ever, one and inseperable!

When not being rhetorically posterized by New England gasbags, Robert Hayne made time to pen a justification for his famous forebear’s conduct for the Southern Review in 1828 — comparing the British behavior of executing rather than detaining a prisoner who broke parole to the massacre at Jaffa Napoleon notoriously ordered in 1799.

(Actually, Isaac Hayne’s old nemesis Francis Rawdon had only died in 1826; Robert Hayne wrote his piece to confute a vindication of himself that Lord Rawdon — also recognized by his subsequent titles, Earl of Moira and Marquess of Hastings — had authored, decades after the fact, of his conduct in the Hayne matter.)

Though this 37-page slog of Robert Hayne’s is obviously in the public domain by now, it appears it is not yet freely available online. However, it’s the source of the otherwise unattributed quotes in this article.

Part of the Themed Set: The Empire Strikes Back.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,South Carolina,Treason,USA,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1474: A cock and its eggs

Add comment August 4th, 2009 Headsman

“On the Thursday before St. Lawrence’s Day,” writes Gross in his Kurtze Basler Kronik, “they burned a cock on the Kolenberg, together with an egg which he had laid,* for they feared that a dragon might be hatched therefrom. The executioner cut open the cock and found three more eggs in him. For, as Vicentius saith in the sixth book of his Speculum Naturale, it hath always been held that a cock in his old age may lay an egg, whence ariseth a basilisk, if it be hatched out on a dungheap by the serpent called coluber. Wherefore the basilisk is half cock and half serpent. He saith also that certain persons declare they have seen basilisks hatched from such eggs. (Source)

* “The cock,” George Ives reassures, “was possibly an hermaphrodite or, more likely, a crowing hen.”

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Animals,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Notable Jurisprudence,Public Executions,Switzerland,The Supernatural

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2006: Mohamed Amin Mohamed Razali, mystical Malaysian militant

Add comment August 4th, 2008 Headsman

Two years ago today, the strange leader of a mystical Islamic fight club was hanged at Malaysia’s Sungai Buloh prison for waging war on the king.

Caption Contest?: The Headsman could be mistaken, but based on an altogether amateur comparison to the Razali shot on this BBC story, I believe that’s him in the white. Photo from the sect website.

The heretofore obscure Al Ma’unah — just a couple dozen guys — had descended on an army camp in July 2000 and made off with a handsome cache of weapons and a few hostages, apparently the opening gambit in a bid to launch an Islamic fundamentalist revolution in Malaysia.

What actually happened was the army hunted them down and engulfed them a couple of days later.

You’d never know the ambitious designs of this clique from its web site (still online as of this writing), whose English “about us” page rings harmlessly loopy (all grammatical manglings [sic]):

Al-Ma’unah … is a Non-Govermental Organisation (NGO) … involved in the teaching of martial arts particularly the development of one’s inner power and the practice of Islamic traditional medicine.

Literary, the term “Ma’unah” is an Arabic word which means, something extraordinary that happens to an ordinary Muslim individual, for example extra sensory perception or the ability to see “things” in another dimension (paranormal).

“Al-Ma’unah Inner Power” can be defined as “something extraordinary bestowed to a righteous Muslim (in the form of assistance from Allah) in accordance with specific adherence to tradition and proper sequence emphasising on the Islamic principles and Allah’s commandments as stipulated in the holy Quran”.

In teaching the martial art and traditional medicine, the brotherhood placed more emphasis on spiritual development and enlightenment of its members or “ikhwan” as it is known in Al-Maunah, in order to achieve the highest level of proficiency in the art and to attain great healing powers.

… although a section entitled “The Usage of the Inner Power” suggests the training achieves the sorts of useful martial superpowers more commonly found on a Dungeons & Dragons treasure table:

Among the benefit of Al-Ma’unah Inner Power can be listed as follows:

o For health and vitality, both physically and spiritually.
o Making an enemy/attacker to freeze on the spot and to be hurled sprawling backwards without being touch.
o Invincible from sharp objects, weapons, boiling water, fire etc.
o To transfer temporarily the inner energy to another object.
o Able to attain healing powers.
o Able to tie enemies without using rope.
o Able to hypnotise a violent aggressor to sleep or forget his intention.
o Able to pull back a fleeing snatch thief or robber from great distance (without physical body contact).
o Able to make attackers to drop to their knees or fall down with the blink of an eye.
o For marital bliss.
o Able to increase influence over others.

Too bad it didn’t protect against hemp.

Most of the 19 who survived the manhunt and went on trial eagerly cut deals, groveled (“Please don’t send us to the gallows!” one said during the hearing), and pointed the finger at the former army private. Razali didn’t say boo at trial and died stoically at about 6 a.m. this morning.

Although there were 359 executions in Malaysia from 1970 to 2001, the practice has dropped into disuse in this decade; Razali appears to be the last person executed in Malaysia as of this post’s publication. Amnesty International has suggested that Malaysia’s zero figure might conceal some secret (presumably extrajudicial) executions. While the government angrily denied that suggestion, the death penalty has come under growing scrutiny in Malaysia.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,Malaysia,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Soldiers,Treason

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