2011: Muammar Gaddafi

Add comment October 20th, 2019 Headsman

Dictator Muammar Gaddafi (several alternate transliterations are familiar, such as Qaddafi and Gadhafi) was killed by his captors during the Libyan civil war on this date in 2011 — an act very much on the extrajudicial and summary side of the foggy borderlands defining an “execution”.

Libya’s despot since ejecting the British-supported King Idris way back in 1969, the wily colonel steered his state for 40-odd years; his blend of pan-Arabism, Islamic socialism, pan-Africanism, and direct democracy is known as the Third International Theory and expounded in Gaddafi’s own manual of political theory, The Green Book — which became required reading for generations of his subjects.

Eventually a figure of western vilification and a fixture in the United States’s enemy-of-the-month rotation, Gaddafi’s anti-imperialist credentials earned him respectful eulogies from Palestinians, black South Africans, and Latin American revolutionaries, all of whom he had at times aided. Whatever measure of genuine popular support he earned by measures like land distribution, Gaddafi did not hesitate to buttress with brutality. Internal regime opponents and dissident exiles alike had cause to fear him, and it’s not as if innocent bystanders could sleep easily either: a London constable was shot from the Libyan embassy during demonstrations in 1984, and only worldwide outcry prevented the execution of six foreign doctors who were scapegoated for an HIV outbreak in the early 2000s. Gaddafi’s government in 2008 paid $1.5 billion in compensation to settle a bundle of international terrorism incidents, including the 1986 West Berlin discotheque bombing and the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Fitting that his own savage end might enter periodization historiography as the fin de siècle américain.

The ham-fisted NATO intervention into Libya’s Arab Spring-era civil war that brought about Gaddafi’s death might be the last that Washington will have undertaken in its purported “hyperpower” era, accountable to none but its own intentions; certainly it was (in the words of James Mann) “the apotheosis of the Obamian approach to the world.”

The aftermath did not flatter the Obamians: post-Gaddafi Libya speedily descended into failed-state status and has spent most of the 2010s cursed by still-continuing civil war, human rights horror, Islamic terrorism, and even open slave markets, with knock-on effects stoking the refugee crisis in Europe.*

The chief advocate of the intervention within the Obama administration, Samantha Power of Strangelovian nomen and Bosnian war dreams, recently published her memoir, The Education of an Idealist and issued the enraging auto-exoneration, “We could hardly expect to have a crystal ball when it came to accurately predicting outcomes in places where the culture was not our own.” Merely being alive for the aftermath of the Iraq omnishambles might have done her the job of scrying; Power’s boss, at least, learned the lesson well enough to shy from the reckless regime-change commitments demanded (including by Power herself) for the Syria conflict that might have brought not only similar catastrophe to its immediate “beneficiaries” but the prospect of nuclear confrontation with Russia. More warfare is surely on humanity’s horizon as the 2020s approach, but with great power competition rising alongside the seas, the prospect that it will be undertaken with such careless self-regard in such a large and consequential state seems remote.

Nor will future Libyas be so vulnerable as Libya, if they can help it. In the years prior, Gaddafi had ostentatiously surrendered his nuclear ambitions in exchange for aid and diplomatic normalization. Other observers like North Korea have justifiably concluded that states armed with nukes don’t get invaded while those armed with Foggy Bottom IOUs are just the next Melos in waiting. They’ll have the horrific viral videos of a bloodied and pleading Gaddafi being brutalized by his captors to remind them.

The dry narrative of his fate, from a UN investigation:

On 19 October 2011, Qadhafi’s son Mutassim decided they should leave Sirte because the thuwar had encircled and entered the city, trapping Muammar Qadhafi and his men in District 2. On the morning of 20 October they set off in a heavily armed convoy of approximately 50 vehicles. The convoy consisted of Muammar Qadhafi; his son Mutassim who was already wounded; Defence Minister Abubakr Younis … and approximately 200 armed men. There were also women and children in the convoy. Some of the armed men evacuated their wounded colleagues from the hospital and these unarmed men were placed in cars with their bandages still on; some still had tubes in their bodies.

The convoy headed east on the main road but ran into a rebel ambush. Numerous cars were badly damaged in the ambush and a number of people were injured. They circled to the sea road and headed west. The convoy split up. At this point a Toyota Corolla in front of Muammar Qadhafi’s green Landcruiser was hit by a NATO airstrike, probably by a Predator drone, and exploded. The explosion set off the airbags in Qadhafi’s car. Muammar Qadhafi and switched cars. The front of the convoy started taking fire from thuwar positions near the power plant and so Muammar Qadhafi, and others took refuge in a house as some of their bodyguards engaged in a fire fight with the rebel positions.

Moments after Muammar Qadhafi entered the house, an airstrike hit the vehicles, setting off secondary explosions. The strike and subsequent explosions left many wounded lying on the ground. At this point the thuwar began shelling the house where Muammar Qadhafi was hiding. Mutassim Qadhafi took approximately 20 fighters and left to look for vehicles. Muammar Qadhafi reportedly wanted to stay and fight but was persuaded to escape. The group belly-crawled to a sand berm. On the way an electrical transformer was struck and electrical wires fell on Qadhafi, striking his head, but he was saved by his blue flak jacket and a Kevlar helmet which was knocked off. The group reached the berm and ran behind it to the road where there were two drainage pipes. The group crawled through the pipes and took up a defensive position on the west side of the road where the pipes terminated.

Muammar Qadhafi crouched outside and between the two pipes. Abubakr Younis was in the right pipe and two fighters took up a position by a berm facing south and the other fighters faced north. The group was sheltered from the road and was unseen by the rebels … [until it] decided the group would make a stand and opened fire on a passing rebel vehicle. There was a fire fight. One of the guards threw a grenade. The grenade hit the top of the cement wall above the pipes and fell in front of Muammar Qadhafi. The guard tried to pick up the grenade but it exploded, killing him … Qadhafi was wounded in the blast by grenade shrapnel that hit and shredded his flak jacket. He sat on the floor dazed and in shock, bleeding from a wound in the left temple.

At that point, one of the party fashioned a white flag from his turban and waved in surrender to the thuwar from the 501st Brigade. The thuwar laid the men on their faces and bound their wrists. Muammar Qadhafi was immediately surrounded by thuwar and beaten. Muammar Qadhafi was heard to ask, “What is going on?” The survivors were placed into vehicles and taken away. [Mutassim Gaddafi and Abu-Bakr Yunis were also killed that same day by their captors. -ed.]

This is where the eyewitness evidence received by the Commission ends. Videos of the scene show Muammar Qadhafi being roughly handled by the thuwar, many screaming “We are Misrata” to identify where they are from. He is apparently stabbed with a bayonet in the buttocks. He is placed on the hood of a vehicle, bloody but alive, before being placed in an ambulance. He clearly has one head wound from the grenade shrapnel, but is otherwise not wounded. This is the last time Muammar Qadhafi is seen alive.

A televised interview of one of those who accompanied Muammar Qadhafi in the ambulance gave an account of what happened next. The young man, who states he is from Benghazi but was travelling with men from the Misrata thuwar when the Qadhafi convoy was attacked, claims he was the one that found Muammar Qadhafi and got into the back of the ambulance with him and two men from the Misrata thuwar. The ambulance started to drive to Misrata. The young man claims there was an argument between himself and the men from Misrata on what to do with Muammar Qadhafi, with him wanting to bring Qadhafi back to Bengazi. He claims he shot Qadhafi in the head and abdomen.

The Commission is unable to verify his claims. Video shows he was in the ambulance when Muammar Qadhafi was placed in it. What is clear is that Qadhafi was alive when he was taken into custody and placed in an ambulance in Sirte by members of the Misrata thuwar and was seemingly dead when the ambulance arrived in Misrata …

According to news reports, the official autopsy states Qadhafi was killed by a gunshot to the head. The Commission was not provided access to the autopsy report despite numerous requests to the NTC. Photos of Muammar Qadhafi’s body were provided to the Commission by members of the medical committee of Misrata who participated in the external examination of Qadhafi’s body … Analysis of the photos of the abdominal wounds by the Commission’s forensic pathologist determined they were penetrating wounds in the epigastric area, the nature of which was difficult to determine from photographs. Interviews with journalists who saw the body indicate Qadhafi was shot once in the head and twice in the abdomen.

* Just months ago as of this writing, the German sea captain Carola Rackete was arrested for breaking an Italian blockade to dock in Sicily with some 40 migrants: they’d been rescued off the coast of Libya.

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1928: Chen Jue

Add comment October 14th, 2019 Headsman

China Communist revolutionary hero Chen Jue was executed on this date in 1928 by the nationalist Kuomintang.

Chen Jue with his wife Zhao Yunxiao or Yunqi are celebrated revolutionary martyrs for their respective sacrifices of life for the cause in Changsha.

They met pursuing studies of revolutionary praxis in Moscow in the mid-1920s, and returned as revolutionary cadres at just the moment that China fell to open civil war.

In April 1928 both were betrayed to the KMT. Zhao Yunxiao was pregnant; she would be suffered to carry her daughter Qiming to term before quaffing the same cup as her husband. The two swapped red tear-jerking missives before their death, that are preserved at an exhibit at the People’s Revolutionary Military Museum.

“We didn’t believe in ghosts before. Now I am willing to become a ghost,” the man wrote the wife before his execution. “We are here to save the parents, wives and children of the entire Chinese people, so we sacrificed everything. Although we die, our spirits remain with the comrades who yet live.”

“Little baby, your mother will be taken from you when you have no more than a month and a dozen days,” the wife wrote the child months later. “Little baby, I tell you very clearly that your parents were Communists … I hope that when you grow up, you read well and know how your parents died.”*

Their cause, of course, was destined for victory. If history records the destiny of their child, I have not located it.

* Both of these are my amateur-hour translations via online tours, unaided by any actual expertise in Chinese. Caveat emptor.

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1885: Pedro Prestan, isthmus rebel

Add comment August 18th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1885, the Colombian rebel Pedro Prestan hanged at a railroad at the town of Colon, on the isthmus of Panama that was then still a part of Colombia.

The Caragena-born Prestan was part of a liberal rebellion against the government of Rafael Nunez; in the end, Nunez is going to author Colombia’s 1886 constitution and write the words to its national anthem, so it would be fair to say that said rebellion was not crowned with victory.

Nevertheless, in his moment Prestan shook imperial capitals around the globe in the spring of 1885 when his attempt to receive a shipment of weapons at Colón during Ferdinand de Lesseps‘s initial attempt at canal construction was underway. This shipment was interdicted in port with the aid of an American warship, leading Prestan to seize four American hostages as a guarantee for his product. “At the first gun you hear fired from the vessel, shoot these men!” Prestan ordered.

The resulting crisis brought a landing by American marines (operating gingerly lest they provoke the execution of their countrymen), an incursion of Colombian troops, the wholesale burning of Colon, and a brush with war between the U.S. and Chile — the latter also dispatching its navy to the region as a precaution against the United States seizing Panama outright.

In the end, the hostages weren’t shot, Prestan didn’t get his guns, and the foreign interlopers all withdrew to settle the isthmus some other day.

The destruction of Colon was laid at Prestan’s feet once they caught him. A court-martial condemned him on the evening of August 17th; he was hanged the very next day before a large crowd, with a rail car (pulled from under his feet when the moment came to drop him) serving as his scaffold. Prestan protested his innocence of incendiarism to the last.

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1861: Melchor Ocampo, liberal statesman

Add comment June 3rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1861, the Mexican statesman Melchor Ocampo was summarily executed by right-wing guerrillas.

Once a seminarian, Ocampo (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) turned his face towards public life, becoming a most eloquent exponent of the era’s movement of liberalism and anticlericalism.

He was among the faction who rebelled in 1854 against recurrent strongman Santa Anna; he served in the ensuing epochal presidency of Benito Juarez and helped to draft the liberal constitution that governed Mexico until 1917. Secular, egalitarian marriage vows promulgated in 1859 by Ocampo are still used in many marriage ceremonies to this day.

The revolutionary social reordering of these years was achieved only by civil war, a conflict remembered as the Reform War which ended only when the conservatives surrendered Mexico City on New Year’s Day of 1861.* Ocampo, who had the stature to stand for president himself, preferred to consolidate the victory by throwing his support to Benito Juarez in the ensuing elections.

Retiring thereafter to private life, he was targeted by one of the numerous remnant right-wing militias that still persisted in the countryside months after the putative conclusion of the Reform War. These abducted him from his home in Michoacan on May 30 and held him for some days, permitting him to write his last letters, before having him shot and strung up on June 3. His remains currently repose in honor at Mexico City’s Rotunda of the Illustrious … as are those of Ocampo’s longtime comrade Santos Degollado, who undertook to hunt down and revenge himself upon his friend’s killers but instead became their prey.

The town of Melchor Ocampo is, quite obviously, named for the man; his surname has been attached as an honorific to his home region of Michoacan, one of Mexico’s 32 states (officially called Michoacan de Ocampo) and to Tepeji del Rio de Ocampo, the place where he was executed.

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1870: Sylvain Salnave, deposed Haitian president

Add comment January 15th, 2019 Headsman

Former Haitian president Sylvain Salnave was executed on this date in 1870.

Salnave was a general who in 1866 overthrew and replaced president Fabre Geffrard — an act which “profoundly unsettled the country.”

Salnave stood at the head of a triumvirate that promulgated a new and more democratic constitution in 1867, abolishing the president-for-life position that his predecessors had asserted — but the political rearrangement collapsed within months and saw the the president and legislature at loggerheads, and then at outright civil war as regional risings multiplied against Salnave.

The president held out under bombardment in the capital of Port-au-Prince until the last days of 1869, when he fled to what he believed was the safety in the Dominican Republic — only to be arrested by the Dominican general Jose Maria Cabral and handed back over to the now-triumphant Haitian rebels. They had Salnave tried on January 15 and immediately executed that same day.

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2016: Mir Quasem Ali

Add comment September 3rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 2016, Bangladesh hanged tycoon Mir Quasem Ali for crimes against humanity committed during that country’s 1971 War of Independence from Pakistan.

Known at the time of his death as the wealthiest patron of the party Jamaat-e-Islami, Mir Quasem Ali was in 1971 a first-year physics student at Chittagong College.

This cataclysmic year saw “East Pakistan” — as it was then known — separated from Pakistan amid an infamous bloodbath, and it was for this bloodbath that Ali hanged 45 years later. At the time, he was a member of the Islamist student organization Islami Chattra Shangha;* in the autumn of 1971, that organ was tapped for recruits to the pro-Pakistan paramilitary Al-Badr which helped carry out wholesale massacres. Some three million people are thought to have died during this war.

The court that noosed him found that Ali helped to orchestrate the abductions of pro-independence activists to a three-story hotel in Chittagong commandeered from a Hindu family. Victims there were tortured and some murdered, although others survived to tell of Al-Badr guards announcing the defendant’s arrival with the words “Mr Quasem is here. Mr Commander is here,” seemingly establishing quite a high degree of responsibility for events under that roof.

After a bad result in the war, he fled to Saudi Arabia and embarked on the business career that would see him into the global oligarchy as a billionaire media mogul and (once back in Bangladesh) the chief financier of the chief Islamist party. When a score-settling Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed initiated a tribunal to try human rights crimes from the 1971 war, Mir Quasem Ali immediately started spreading millions around Washington D.C. lobby shops in an unsuccessful bid to use international pressure to shut down the proceedings.

He maintained his innocence to the last, even refusing to seek a presidential clemency since that would have entailed an admission of guilt. These trials, several of which have ended at the gallows, have been intensely controversial within Bangladesh, and without.

* Its present-day successor organization is Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir … which was founded in 1977, by Mir Quasem Ali.

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1936: Melquiades Alvarez, a liberal in a revolutionary time

1 comment August 22nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1936, the Spanish politician Melquíades Álvarez was shot by the Republicans.

A centrist who disdained “two equally despicable fanaticisms … red fanaticism and black bigotry,” Alvarez (English Wikipedia entry | the more comprehensive Spanish) fell into the chasm torn by the Spanish Civil War.

The Gijon-born former barrister noted for his oratory had been in public life as a liberal back to the last years of the 19th century and in 1912 co-founded the Reform or Reformist Party. Although sympathetic to the democratic aspirations of the Republican movement, the Reform Party was cool to forcing a confrontation with Spain’s monarchy. He was briefly president of the Congress of Deputies before the military coup of Primo de Rivera. Alvarez opposed Primo, judiciously.

I recalled many years ago going to see another vacillating Liberal, the unfortunate Melquiades Alvarez, after he had ventured to criticise Primo at a public dinner. He was shivering in a travelling rug waiting to be arrested while he told with pride that he had made his speech in such guarded, euphemistic and even allegorical terms that no one would have been quite sure what he meant. He vacillated to the end and now the militia have shot him in the Carcel Modelo.

V.S. Pritchett

By the onset of the Republic in the 1930s, Alvarez’s institutionalism and anti-Marxism had his political tendency drifting rightwards in a revolutionary era, to the extent of actually joining the conservative coalition known as CEDA. Alvarez would surely have said that the Republic left him; a liberal to a fault, he even in these years defended the son of Primo de Rivera when this founder of the fascist Falange was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the Republic.

So the start of General Francisco Franco’s rebellion in 1936 found Alvarez in Madrid as a center-right parliamentarian — right in the path of a sharp political repression immediately leveled by the Republicans against perceived internal enemies. Alvarez and other right-leaning politicians were arrested in early August. Many, like Alvarez, were eventually shot by Republican militias after the barest of legal proceedings.

“You kill a man who only did you good,” Alvarez spat at his executioners before they opened up on him. “You slaughter in the worst way any idea of freedom and democracy, you pack of cowards and scoundrels!” (Quote translated from this Spanish-language pdf account of Alvarez’s last days.)


In this 1917 cartoon, Alvarez, a key political player during Spain’s crisis and near-revolution that year, swaps the caps of monarchism and republicanism in an “illusion” … for “everything remains the same”

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1862: Frisby McCullough, Missouri bushwhacker

Add comment August 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1862, Confederate soldier Frisby McCullough was shot as a terrorist during the U.S. Civil War’s guerrilla Missouri campaign.

McCullough had a youthful stint in the California gold rush to his back when he returned to Missouri in the mid-1850s to practice law. (He also served in the Missouri State Guard, a pro-slavery militia that had been established in 1861 by the since-exiled secessionist governor.)

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, McCullough signed up for the pro-slavery Southern army and after a few different assignments became detailed to aid Confederate Col. James Porter in the hasty bush war raging in that frontier state.

We’ve previously detailed that conflict here. For purposes of this post it will suffice to say that the border state of Missouri was fiercely contested during this war, and claimed by North and South alike.

The Union commander John McNeil was not very inclined to charitably reading the treasonable secessionist irregulars who opposed him in the state, whom the Union considered to be operating illicitly behind its lines — in the character of spies and saboteurs, like the British agent John Andre during the Revolutionary War. This very much applied to our man, since McCullough’s particular gift was recruitment — you know, luring loyal citizens into sedition and rebellion.

On August 6, 1862, McNeil’s forces routed Porter’s at the Battle of Kirksville, and they pressed their victory. The very next day after, McNeil had 15 Confederate prisoners taken at Kirksville executed as former POWs who had violated their paroles by returning to the field: “I enforce the penalty of the bond,” McNeil icily reported to Washington.

Not long after, northern sentries also captured the ailing McCullough riding alone near Edina. He wasn’t a parolee — but “he had no commission except a printed paper authorizing the bearer to recruit for the Confederate army,” McNeil would write of him later in a missive to a comrade. At a snap trial on the 8th, “he was found guilty of bushwhacking and of being a guerilla. He was a brave fellow and a splendid specimen of manhood. I would gladly have spared him had duty permitted. As it was he suffered the same fate that would have fallen to you or me if we had been found recruiting within the Confederate lines. He met a soldier’s death as became a soldier.”

A memoir of the southern travails during this conflict titled With Porter in North Missouri; a chapter in the history of the war between the states is in the public domain; chapter XXII relates with umbrage the fate of McCullough whom the author Dr. Joseph Mudd* greatly admired:

Leaning against a fence he wrote a few lines to his wife, and these, with his watch and one or two other articles, he delivered to an officer to be given her, with assurance of his devoted affection in the hour of death. Upon the way to the place of his execution he requested the privilege of giving the order to fire, which was granted to him. All being ready, he stood bravely up, and without a tremor in his manly frame or a quiver in his clarion voice, he called out, ‘What I have done, I have done as a principle of right. Aim at the heart. Fire!’

… He was a good citizen, a high-minded gentleman, of fine presence, brave as a lion, gentle as a woman. Even in his death the strongest Unionists who knew him respected and admired his virtues and entertained the most bitter regrets that what they considered his misconceptions of duty had led him to his fearful fate. At the time of his death he was thirty-three years of age.

* Dr. Joseph Anthony Mudd hailed from Maryland: he was the brother of the Maryland Dr. Samuel Mudd who narrowly avoided execution as a conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

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1931: Xiang Zhongfa, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party

Add comment June 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1931, Chiang Kai-shek had the former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party executed.

Xiang Zhongfa was a dock worker unionist from Hanchuan who came to the fore of the workers’ movement within the CCP during the 1920s.

The Party at that time was united in a common front with the nationalist Kuomintang — an alliance that was destroyed suddenly in April 1927 when the KMT leader Chiang suddenly purged the Communists. This split precipitated the generation-long Chinese Civil War through which the Communists would eventually come to master China.

Soviet sponsorship had been essential to the CCP’s early growth. In the months after the KMT arrangement went by the boards, Chinese Communist leaders were summoned by the Comintern to Moscow where Xiang made a good impression on a hodgepodge Sixth Congress held “in the absence of key Party figures, such as Mao, Peng Pai and Li Weihan; and packed with Chinese students from Soviet universities to make up the delegate count.” (Phillip Short) Though he wound up the titular General Secretary, party leadership at the top level remained in the hands of other men, like Zhou Enlai and Qu Qiubai … while effective leadership in the field was largely in the hands of unit commanders themselves, like Mao.

A rocky early trail along the party’s long march to leadership of China and beyond … but Xiang was not made to enjoy it. During the war, he was arrested in Shanghai by the nationalists, interrogated, and delivered to the KMT’s executioners in the early hours of June 24. Orthodox party historiography holds him in disgrace for allegedly betraying the cause to his captors, speedily and cravenly (his Wikipedia entry reflects this); there are historians who dispute this belief, however.

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1661: Archibald Campbell

Add comment May 27th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1661, Presbyterian lord Archibald Campbell, the first Marquess of Argyll, lost his head at Edinburgh.

Once a privy councilor to King Charles I, “Red Argyll” had been in the 1640s a great champion of Scottish national liberty and a leader of the Presbyterians in the many-sided wars that tore apart the British Isles.

Scotland’s Presbyterians — who favored bottom-up church governance as opposed to the crown-controlled selection of bishops that’s known as episcopacy — made an initial alliance with English Parliamentarians to support one another in their mutual hostilities with King Charles I. And in Scotland’s civil war in the mid-1640s, Argyll’s Presbyterians defeated the Earl of Montrose‘s royalists.

But the failure of Oliver Cromwell‘s similarly victorious Parliament to deliver on its covenant fractured the Presbyterian party and drove Argyll to the political sideline.

Argyll’s own opposition to other Presbyterians’ attempted engagement with the imprisoned Charles I became untenable when, to the horror of his countrymen, Charles was beheaded by Parliament. As his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography notes, Charles’s execution “completely upset his calculations, which had all along been founded on a close union between the parliaments of Scotland and of England … the results of his safe and prudent policy were ruthlessly annihilated … [and] Argyll lost his presence of mind, and therefore his control of events in this stupendous conjuncture, and became as much a puppet in the hands of contending factions as was Charles II.” His growing ranks of foes derisively nicknamed him the “Glaed-Eyed Marquis”, attributing an obvious metaphorical import to his imperfect eyesight.

“Myself encountered so many difficulties that all remedies that were applied had the quite contrary operation,” he later wrote of those years when his influence waned. “[I was] a distracted man of a distracted subject in a distracted time wherein I lived.” It did not wane all at once: Argyll had the honor of crowning King Charles II at Scone on the first of January, 1651, and even tested the king with dynastic marriage inquiries for his daughter. (No dice.)

But as events ran away from him he fell into debt, disgrace, and irrelevancy.

When Charles II resumed the throne in 1660, Argyll presented himself at the court of his would-be father-in-law, and was surprised to find himself immediately thrown in the Tower. Like the Presbyterian cause itself, he was permanently and tragically alienated from both factions of the English Civil War: Cromwell always suspected Argyll a royalist for that whole crowning-the-king thing, and Charles always resented Argyll for his part in the destruction of his father.

The Glaed-Eyed Marquis found himself shipped off to Edinburgh to stand trial for treason. Although records of the trial are lost, it’s said that he was on the verge of total acquittal when Cromwell’s former commander in Scotland, George Monck, delivered a packet of incriminating letters. This story might be apocryphal but Argyll lost his head all the same, on Edinburgh’s distinctive Maiden.

Peruse here Argyll’s tart and downright comical last will and testament, satirizing many of the surviving figures of the day and bidding his heirs to lay his body “so shallow, that at the next trump of sedition, it may by the same raise-devil directory [i.e., Parliament] be conjured up again, and meet my exalted head, that bound-mark of Presbytery, its ne plus ultra, ‘Hitherto shall you go and no further.'”


Memorial to Archibald Campbell in Edinburgh’s St Giles’ Cathedral with the epitaph “I set the Crown on the King’s Head. He hastens me to a better Crown than his own.” (cc) image from Kim Traynor.

Argyll’s son and heir, also named Archibald Campbell, was himself executed in 1685 for organizing a Scottish “Argyll’s Rising” against King James II in alliance with the Duke of Monmouth. Their descendants still maintain the rank of Duke of Argyll to this day.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Gallows Humor,History,Maiden,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland,Treason

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