1857: Dedea Redanies, immigrant soldier

Add comment January 1st, 2018 Headsman

On New Year’s Day of 1857, Serbian Dedea Redanies was hanged in front of the Maidstone gaol for the shocking, out-of-nowhere murder of two English sisters he was close with.

Hailing from Belgrade, capital to the autonomous Serbian proto-state at the fraying fringes of Ottoman Europe, Redanies numbered among the thousands of subjects of central and southern European polities recruited by England as Crimean War cannon fodder. Relocated to England for training, a great many of these Germans, Italians, and Swiss were never deployed before the war ended in March 1856.

Though empires seek young men for their trigger-fingers they obtain also their passions and dreams so it is no surprise that a number of these import soldiers made time with the women near their posts. Our man Dedea Redanies was one of these; he became intimate with a Dover family near his garrison at Shorncliffe Camp and began to pay court to its eldest daughter, Caroline Back. Caroline liked Dedea too. Some of the young soldier’s letters to his inamorata, in touchingly fractured English, were published. (This is from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Aug. 23, 1856)

My dear Caroline, —

I receive your portress and letter. I am glad and happy unto death. I am glad that you me not forgotten, and I beg you rit me every week one letters.

I have since that time than I from you to depart must, no happy hour to live to see can, and I thanks you for yours truth love.

I hoppe next month to see you. I do wish God spead you well. Me complaments on all familie 6000 tousend kisses.

Good bie mi dear Caroline, you truth,

Mi not forgotten.

Dedea Redanies

That letter was dated the 28th of June.

Barely a month later a passerby would find Caroline and her sister Maria (ages 18 and 16, respectively) stabbed to death on the road to Folkstone. They’d been last seen by their family gaily conversing with Dedea as he escorted them on the nine-mile walk; some others would describe noticing them on their way that morning, all of them in apparent high spirits.

Dedea Redanies said little after his arrest other than to embrace his (already obvious) responsibility for the murders but as could be best understood from a German letter* that he posted to the victims’ mother shortly before his capture, he had perceived a slip in Caroline’s affections and decided to do the whole tragic murder-suicide thing rather than live another day without her. Attaining a secluded glen facing the sea, he effected his plan in the most mawkish fashion imaginable. (This is from Jackson’s Oxford Journal, Aug. 23, 1857)

To Mother Back, —

On the first lines I pray to forgive the awful accident to the unlucky Dedea Redanies, which I committed on my very dear Caroline and Maria Back yesterday morning at five o’clock. Scarcely I am able to write; my heart break for my ever memorable Caroline and Maria. The cause of my deed is — 1, As I heard that Caroline is not in the family way, as I first believed; 2, because Caroline intends to go to Woolwich; 3, as I cannot stay with my very dear Caroline it made my heart so scattered that I put into my mind at last that Caroline rather may die from my hands than to allow Caroline’s love being bestowed upon others. However, I did not intend to murder also Maria, her sister, but, not having other opportunity, and as she was in my way, I could not do otherwise. I must stab her, too.

Dear Mother, — Saturday evening, when I came, I had not at least any intention to commit this awful act; but as I learned that my dear Caroline gave me back my likeness, and as she told me she would leave, I did not know any other way than that leading to the cutler, where I bought a poignard which divided the hearty lovers.

Sketch of Dedea Redanies committing murder by … Dedea Redanies. (Some stories indicate this was a repeated hobby of his as he awaited hanging.)

Arm by arm I brought my dearest souls in the world over to the unlucky place, neear the road before Folkestone, and requested them to sit down. But the grass being wet, they refused to do so, and I directed then Caroline to go forward, and I went behind Maria, into whose breast I ran the dagger. With a dull cry she sank down. With a most broken heart I rushed then after Caroline, lifting the poignard in my hand towards her. ‘Dear Dedea,’ cried she, with a half-dead voice, and fell down with weeping eyes. Then I rushed over her, and gave her the last kisses as an everlasting remembrance.

I could not live a more dreadful hour in my life than that was, and my broken heart could not feel when my senses were gone. And I took both the black capes of Maria and dear Caroline, as a mourning suit for me, leaving the awful spot with weeping eyes and a broken heart. Never I shall forget my dear Caroline and Maria, and the poignard will be covered with blood until it will be put in my own breast, and I shall see again my dear Maria and Caroline in the eternal life.

Farewell, and be not unhappy about the blissful deceased; they are angels of God, and forget the unhappy ever-weeping

Dedea Redanies

Wandering onward toward Canterbury, Redanies self-inflicted three stab wounds (one of them tearing into his left lung) that would have been fatal but for the timely arrival of a party of laborers and a surgeon they were able to summon. That enabled the crown to do the inflicting for him. Impassive in the face of his approaching death, he kept on roleplaying the romance in his head to the very end — “In a few moments I shall be in the arms of my dear Caroline; I care not for death” — “Now I write no more — I prepare myself to go meet my dear Caroline” — etc.

There’s more detail about this case as well as a hanging ballad to be found at PlanetSlade.com; the crime also inspired a folk tune, “The Folkestone Murder”

One final senseless death remained to the tragedy: according to the London Morning Chronicle (Jan. 2, 1857), one of the workmen disassembling the scaffold after it had served its turn “fell from a considerable height upon his head, and was killed upon the spot.”

* The quoted text is the English as it was originally published; I’m not positive whether to attribute its clunky prose more to the writer or the translator.

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1912: Sikat-ul-Islam, by the Russians occupying Tabriz

2 comments January 1st, 2017 Headsman

On or very near this date in 1912,* Russian troops in the northern Iran city of Tabriz publicly hanged eight men for resisting the tsarist occupation — including the city’s highest mullah, Sikat-ul-Islam.

Russia’s invasion of Tabriz the previous month brought a bloody curtain down on the Persian constitutional revolution of 1905-1911.

Persia shook in those years with a brave but doomed movement that was simultaneously constitutionalist and parliamentarian against the rotting Qajar dynasty, and nationalist against foreign intervention (specifically by Russia and Great Britain) — and thus was resisted by monarchists and foreign powers alike.

Constitutionalists had been able to march on Tehran in 1909 and chase the hated Shah Mohammad Ali into Russian exile, leaving the Qajar throne in the hands of his 11-year-old son.** But it was the imperial powers who maintained the true vigor of reaction. At this same time, Russia — which had throughout the 19th century periodically peeled Caucasus real estate away from the Qajars — occupied Tabriz in 1909 to force that capital of Iranian Azerbaijan to submit to a monarchist siege. Its troops were only ever withdrawn to the outskirts, poised for the next two years to intervene again against the precarious constitutionalist state at a moment’s notice.

That moment arrived in 1911 when Tehran, advised by American Morgan Shuster, provoked St. Petersburg by attempting to collect taxes in the northern Russian sphere and to expropriate the property of the Shah’s brother. The Russians struck back by seizing Tabriz to install the rule of a pro-Russian warlord, also exploiting the occasion for a wide purge of constitutionalists who were invariably slated with the crime of attempting or advocating resistance — or as Russia preferred to phrase it, “extermination of the Russians,” as if the tsar’s military interposed in a foreign city constituted a put-upon minority enclave.

Shuster, whose ouster the Russians demanded (and by their intervention effected), later wrote a book about his experience that’s now in the public domain, The Strangling of Persia.

Serious street fighting commenced [December 21st], and continued for several days. The Acting Governor reported that the Russian troops indulged in terrible brutality, killing women and children in the streets and hundreds of other non-combatants … The superior numbers and the artillery of the Eussians finally conquered, and there then ensued a period of terrorism during which no Persian’s life or honor was safe …

On New Year’s Day, which was the 10th of Muharram, a day of great mourning and held sacred in the Persian religious calendar, the Russian Military Governor, who had hoisted Russian flags over the Government buildings at Tabriz, hung the Sikutu’l-Islam, who was the chief priest of Tabriz, two other priests, and five others, among them several high officials of the Provincial Government. As one British journalist put it, the effect of this outrage on the Persians was that which would be produced on the English people by the hanging of the Archbishop of Canterbury on Good Friday. From this time on the Russians at Tabriz continued to hang or shoot any Persian whom they chose to consider guilty of the crime of being a “Constitutionalist.” When the fighting there was first reported a prominent official of the Foreign Office at St. Petersburg, in an interview to the press, made the statement that Russia would take vengeance into her own hands until the “revolutionary dregs” had been exterminated.

“True humanity requires cruelty,” Russia explained, Orwellianly.



Two views of the Jan. 1, 1912 hanging of eight Persian constitutionalists in Tabriz. The gallows is gaily painted with Russian white, blue and red stripes.

As Shuster indicates, the shocking eightfold hanging this date would be followed by many more executions in the weeks to come as Russia (together with Britain in the south) buried the constitutional era for good. Our Sikat-ul-Islam’s “crime” set the tone: he acknowledged writing a letter to a friend in another northern city noting with approval that Tabriz was resisting the Russians and others ought to do likewise.

Another western friend of the Persian constitutionalists, British Orientalist Edward Granville Browne, published a volume with photographs of many such atrocities, The Reign of Terror at Tabriz. Browne’s pamphlet identifies all eight executed people by name; besides the headline cleric, they were:†

  • Ziya-ul-Ulama, a scientist who was also the son-in-law of a prominent constitutionalist judge
  • Muhammad-Kuli Khan, Ziya-ul-Ulama’s uncle who was seized when he attempted to plead for his nephew
  • Sadiq-ul-Mulk, a military engineer
  • Agha Muhammad Ibrahim
  • Shaikh Salim, a cleric known for fighting for the poor
  • Hasan and Kadir, two teenage brothers whose crime was that their father (already deceased) had been a prominent constitutionalist

* Multiple western newspaper reports of the time (e.g., London Times, Jan. 4, 1912) place the event on January 1 per the Gregorian calendar. It’s also noted and denounced) for its impolitic occurrence on the Shi’ite sacred day of Ashura, the 10th day of the month of Muharram on the Islamic lunar calendar; unfortunately, this complicates rather than clarifies the chronology, as different Hijri calendar converters translate 10 Muharram to different Gregorian dates.

I’m going here with January 1 based on the period’s reportage as supported by Shuster (in an excerpt in the post) as well as by Browne in Letters from Tabriz: The Suppression of the Iranian Constitutional Movement. (e.g., the chapter title equating 3 January 1912 with 12 Muharram) However, one can also find knowledgeable citations attributing the executions to December 31 or January 2.

** The refugee Shah would try and fail to return with Russian backing in 1910-11. He ended up dying in exile in Italy.

† Some additional details about these people is drawn from The Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1906-1911, by Janet Afary.

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1831: Edmund Bushby, Swing rioter

Add comment January 1st, 2016 Headsman

On New Year’s Day of 1831, Edmund Bushby was hanged in Horsham for arson committed during southern England’s great agricultural labor rising, the Swing Riots.

“Captain Swing” was the rebellion’s namesake, a Ned Ludd-like legendary archetype, a figurehead who could never swing from the gallows. Swing was a long-suffering tenant farmer fallen desperately below subsistence and ready to fight back, and it goes without saying that in this the fictional “captain” mirrored his very real cohort — who were known to sign the captain’s anonymizing name to their letters threatening prosperous farmers: “work, money, or fire”.

Wages in Britain, which perhaps were mired in a generations-long slide to begin with, had cratered painfully following the Napoleonic Wars. And few felt the pinch more sharply than the working class in the rural economies of England’s southern half from East Anglia, Essex and Kent clear across to Somerset and Devon. Here, without the wage prop that coal mining was already beginning to confer in the north, the situation in the fields grew desperate.*

Years later, in 1851, James Caird would draw an east-west line through the English countryside — a wages line, he called it. North of that line, Caird noticed, agricultural workers were still being paid better than their brethren to the south by an enormous margin, 30% or more.

And so with the onset of harder times, like a devastating financial crash in the 1820s, this was also the line below which every farmhand existed at the edge of utter destitution — mitigated only by a niggardly allotment of poor relief forever squeezed smaller by its donors, the local landowners.** This zone of rural immiseration was the home of Captain Swing.


From Stuart Macdonald, “The progress of the early threshing machine”, Agricultural History Review, 23:1 (1975). It’s available online in pdf form here.

In 1830, following two consecutive years of crop failures, English radical William Cobbett published his survey of the countryside’s growing want in his Rural Rides. Written over the course of several years previous, it was a prescient appraisal.

As far as I had an opportunity of ascertaining the facts, the farmers feel all the pinchings of distress, and the still harsher pinchings of anxiety for the future; and the labouring people are suffering in a degree not to be described. The shutting of the male paupers up in pounds is common through Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Left at large during the day, they roam about and maraud. What are the farmers to do with them? God knows how long the peace is to be kept, if this state of things be not put a stop to.

Those words Cobbett set down late in 1829. By the summer of the following year, labor rebellions began breaking out in these counties.

This wave of mutually inspired resistance saw villages’ working classes take the offensive against their local grandees. Beginning that summer, farmers’ hay ricks were set ablaze by secret arsonists; resistance rapidly metastasized from that point. (See this pdf.) “Burnings were necessary to bring people to their senses,” one Swing radical proclaimed — to force the rural gentry to come to terms with the plight of their neighbors.


1844 Punch magazine cartoon. (Source)

Following a long tradition of English machine-wrecking, Swing rioters also turned their fury on hated threshing machines, which were popping up by the hundreds and promising to displace still more of the shrinking wage share available in the countryside. (A very cheap portable machine invented in 1829 augured especially ill for the workers whose labor it would obviate; see N.E. Fox, “The Spread of the Threshing Machine in Central Southern England”, The Agricultural History Review, Vol. 26, No. 1 (1978).)

Nearly 400 were reportedly destroyed from 1830-1832 — and typically the owner of the machine would then be mulcted £2 per thresher for the dismantling labor. (In the subsequent assizes, these forcibly exactions were prosecuted as highway robbery.)

A countryside threatening to go up in flames like the farmers’ ricks inspired the requisite shock and exercise of state suppression, beginning with an aggressive investigation with widespread prosecutions in the last weeks of 1830. By the time it was all said and done, 252 people were sentenced to die and although all save 19 of those were commuted to transportation, the effect of a few very public examples would scarcely be neglected. Thomas Hardy,† born in 1840 the son of rural Dorset stonemason, would later describe his father’s recollection of the Swing days:

My father saw four men hung for being with some others who had set fire to a rick. Among them was a stripling boy of eighteen … with youth’s excitement he had rushed to the scene to see the blaze … Nothing my father ever said to me drove the tragedy of life so deeply into mind.

Edmund Bushby was one of these misfortunate souls marked for the scaffold instead of Australia. (Another Swing arsonist, Thomas Goodman, was to have hanged immediately after Bushby. Goodman was reprieved but was not told of it until after Bushby died.)

Convicted at the busy Lewes assizes of torching farmer George Oliver’s wheat in East Preston, Bushby hanged firmly‡ before a crowd of “eight to nine hundred persons,” according to the January 4 Morning Chronicle reprint of a Sussex Advertiser report,

three parts out of four of whom appeared to be agricultural labourers, who seemed deeply affected at the awful scene, and the most profound silence prevailed amongst them. The Sheriff’s javelin men surrounded the gallows, and two companies of foot guards were drawn up on the square, in the centre of the town, a considerable distance from the jail, and not within sight of the populace. Every thing passed off with the utmost order and decorum.

After the body had been suspended the usual time, it was cut down and delivered to the friends of the deceased for interment, who were waiting with a cart to receive it.

* The southern counties, nearest London, were also the areas where enclosure was most advanced and the rural labor force most thoroughly proletarianized.

** To add to the woes, comfortable parish parsons also had a customary right to exact a cash tithe that their flock could scarcely afford in bad times.

† We have met Thomas Hardy several times in these pages; his was surely a soul sensitive to the plight of the condemned. Hardy [probably] set the action of his short story “The Withered Arm” (with its gallows climax) in the Swing Riots period.

‡ His reported last words on the scaffold: “I hope you will take warning from my fate; and, my dear fellows, always attend to the Sabbath-day.” If accurately reported — and unironically uttered — this ageless gallows formula so irrelevant to Bushby’s situation surely attests to the power of a cliche. There is a good chance that Bushby heard these words spoken by some other hanged fellow in his lifetime, and knew them described more widely than that as the sort of thing everyone ought to say before turning off.

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1926: Melton Carr

2 comments January 1st, 2015 Headsman

In contemporary America, it would be next to unthinkable to schedule an execution for New Year’s Day — and asking the associated team of wardens, guards, executioners, witnesses, lawyers, and journalists to ditch New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and do a ball drop to a lethal chemical injection would be a complete nonstarter.

But the First of January, especially prior to the age of widespread telecommunication, was not always so sentimentally held. The Espy File of historical American executions records none whatsoever for Christmas Day, but several have occurred on New Year’s. We’ve previously profiled some of them in these grim annals, like Sylvester Henry Bell and Archilla Smith.

January 1 of 1926, “just 15 minutes after the arrival of the New Year” in the words of the Associated Press report, was the occasion in Huntsville, Texas for electrocuting African-American Melton Carr for raping a white woman in Walker County.

I have found hardly any information pertaining to this case online, but the detail that Carr was reprieved from an earlier execution date “on a petition from officials and citizens of Walker county” — implicitly, white citizens — might be a suggestive indicator for a crime so incendiary under other circumstances. We have seen that detail before in the case of Tom Joyner’s ancestors, who had broad clemency support because the racial politics of the time made an open judicial exploration of their actual innocence impossible.

Hours later, the first-ever radio broadcast of the Rose Bowl introduced another New Year’s Day tradition to the national consciousness — and just by the by, changed the South forever.

After that game, there would be only more January 1 execution date in American history: the 1943 double gassing of Rosanna and Daniel Phillips.

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404: St. Telemachus, gladiator-slayer

1 comment January 1st, 2014 Headsman

January 1, 404 is the date of the last known gladiatorial combat in Rome, and therefore also the traditional martyrdom date of St. Telemachus — who gave his life to end the games.

Rome’s infamous bloodsport dated to the foggy natal days of the Republic, perhaps beginning as funerary rituals borrowed from the Etruscans or Campanians. Its efflorescence into ubiquitous public entertainment diversified for special occasions by stupefyingly wasteful grotesques like naval battles in a flooded stadium or exotic animal fights marks — moralistically if not materially — the empire’s decadence and decline. Fitting indeed that Rome’s most impressive lower-class rebellion originated with a gladiator, Spartacus.

The spectacle was as popular as it was dangerous. For trainers and recruiters, it was also enormously lucrative, yet it was simultaneously distasteful in its own time and gladiators (for their brief lives) were a stigmatized caste.

No public crime scandalized Rome’s Senatorial class historians like an emperor who showed genuine relish for the games. Cassius Dio had to personally sit in the stands and applaud the notorious tyrant Commodus who styled himself Hercules and fought personally on the blood-drunk sands of the Colosseum; he revenges himself in his history expanding sneeringly on his former sovereign’s degrading exploits — Commodus “took great pride in the fact that he was left-handed. His antagonist would be some athlete or perchance a gladiator armed with a wand; sometimes it was a man that he himself had challenged, sometimes one chosen by the people, for in this as well as in other matters he put himself on an equal footing with the other gladiators, except for the fact that they enter the lists for a very small sum, whereas Commodus received a million sesterces from the gladiatorial fund each day.” Commodus “of course won” his fights against opponents who had no choice but to yield to the emperor; the bouts were “like child’s play.”

Gladiatorial games’ long-term decline might have set in motion because they were so godawful expensive and a Rome gradually less vast and omnipotent just didn’t have the resources to burn on a new Super Bowl every time some frontier general marched into town to proclaim himself emperor for the next six months.

But Christians especially lodged early and vociferous critiques of the games and curtailing — and finally eliminating — gladiatorial combat is a signal contribution to humanity by the early faith. Tertullian composed a letter, On Spectacles, dedicated to proving to Christians with a weakness for low pleasures that men slaying one another for sport are idolatry and murder.

Christianity’s growing strength in the empire would eventually position it to put a stop to the evil show. The upstart faith’s first regnant champion, Constantine, laid down the first imperial ban on gladiator fights (“Those who were condemned to become gladiators for their crimes are to work from now on in the mines. Thus they pay for their crimes without having to pour their blood.”). As was his wont, Constantine was less than constant about following his own directive, intermittent directives by emperors over the decades to come testify to the ancient sport’s deep-rooted popularity but also to the steady pressure that ascendant Christianity continued to apply against it.

Its fade was gradual, but the closest thing we have to a specific end point is January 1, 404, games sponsored by the teenage Western Roman emperor Honorius to celebrate Stilicho‘s parrying the latest Gothic thrust.

Into this carnage, it is said, strode a Greek monk, Telemachus who publicly objected to the unfolding spectacle. For his trouble he was killed by mob action or official order. The story of what exactly happened has evolved over time but its upshot was that Honorius proceeded to ban the ungodly exhibition. It never again resumed (at least in the West), leaving the field clear in future centuries for Rome’s other degenerate sport, charioteering.

In these games of Honorius, the inhuman combats of gladiators polluted for the last time the amphitheatre of Rome. The first Christian emperor may claim the honour of the first edict which condemned the art and amusement of shedding human blood; but this benevolent law expressed the wishes of the prince, without reforming an inveterate abuse which degraded a civilised nation below the condition of savage cannibals. Several hundred, perhaps several thousand, victims were annually slaughtered in the great cities of the empire; and the month of December, more peculiarly devoted to the combats of gladiators, still exhibited to the eyes of the Roman people a grateful spectacle of blood and cruelty. Amidst the general joy of the victory of Pollentia, a Christian poet exhorted the emperor to extirpate, by his authority, the horrid custom which had so long resisted the voice of humanity and religion. The pathetic representations of Prudentius were less effectual than the generous boldness of Telemachus, an Asiatic monk, whose death was more useful to mankind than his life. The Romans were provoked by the interruption of their pleasures; and the rash monk, who had descended into the arena, to separate the gladiators, was overwhelmed under a shower of stones. But the madness of the people soon subsided: they respected the memory of Telemachus, who had deserved the honours of martyrdom; and they submitted, without a murmur, to the laws of Honorius, which abolished for ever the human sacrifices of the amphitheatre. The citizens, who adhered to the manners of their ancestors, might perhaps insinuate that the last remains of a martial spirit were preserved in this school of fortitude, which accustomed the Romans to the sight of blood, and to the contempt of death: a vain and cruel prejudice, so nobly confuted by the valour of ancient Greece and of modern Europe! (Gibbon)

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1535: Six Protestants for the Affair of the Placards

Add comment January 21st, 2013 Headsman

The Affair of the Placards was the September 11 of the early French Reformation when the overnight posting of anti-Catholic placards sent the polity off the rails, claimed six victims on this date in 1535.

The formerly indulgent Renaissance-king Francis I was obliged by this late-1534 effusion of propagandizing to dissociate violently from heretical tolerance.

And maybe that would have been that. But the first placard incident was repeated by a follow-up posting on the night of Jan. 12-13 of an anti-sacramental pamphlet by Antoine Marcourt — the anthrax mailings to the hijacked planes, as it were — charging (French) that the Catholic “Mass has plunged half the world into an abyss of public idolatry.”

Francis flipped out. He closed bookstores and suppressed publishing. “One does not argue with heretics,” the Sorbonne agreed. What, do you want the terrorists to win?

So on this date in 1535, a grand Catholic procession — representing all the city’s guilds, all its religious orders, all its holy relics, and all its princes of the blood, with Francis himself modestly carrying a penitential taper to absolve his capital — wound through the city, punctuated by the torching of six accused Protestants.

At the ensuing feast, the king announced his intention to destroy heresy.

The procession of January 1535, with the inclusion of the sacrament, the number of holy objects transported, and the involvement of so many notables, was unprecedented. The elaborate character of the ritual is a good indication of the seriousness with which the authorities viewed this most recent evidence of the inclusion of heresy into French territory. The posting of the placards was regarded as a pollution of the king’s realm, the perceived danger being that the disease contaminating and “infecting some of his subjects” would multiply, undermining the very constitution of the social body … An attack upon the holy sacrament, according to the logic of the symbolism employed in the procession, presents a direct threat to the sacral character of the community, to the nation’s well-being, and hence amounts to an oblique attack on the person of the sovereign. Given the close association established between the sacrament and the monarch, it is no wonder that those implicated in the affair of the placards were regarded as being guilty not only of heresy but also of lese-majeste. (Source)

And maybe early modern France had a point with that weird old sacred-monarch stuff. The very same date two and a half centuries later saw a Parisian mob which had clearly lost any sense of the sacral sovereign behead the king himself.

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1943: Rosanna and Daniel Phillips

1 comment January 1st, 2012 Headsman

Executions on New Year’s Day have not been unheard-of in U.S. history, but it’s been Auld Lang Syne since the last such event — a North Carolina double-gassing on this date in 1943.

The previous year, January 1, 1942, had seen the Tar Heel state host the Rose Bowl at Duke University’s stadium: that was just 25 days after Pearl Harbor, and the California coast was considered a potential target. With war in the Pacific trending America’s way, however, the tournament of Roses — although still not the associated parade — was back in Pasadena on New Year’s 1943. So instead, North Carolina did this.*

Daniel and Rosanna Phillips, black sharecroppers, died consecutively in the Raleigh Central Prison gas chamber for the ax murder of their farm owner a mere five months before.

This laboring couple, lovers living out of wedlock (they married after the murder), seem to have had a violent relationship with one another; their 13-hour trial would feature the defendants’ mutual recriminations of black magic, and allegations by each that the other one was the real killer. (Theft appears to have been the motive.)

(The lengthiest accessible summary of this case that I’ve been able to find is in this pdf of a lengthy journal article, “Black Female Executions in Historical Context” (scroll all the way to p. 77).)

The U.P. wire report (as run in the New York Times, Jan. 2, 1943) says that the pair forgave each other by the end. Still, Daniel was gassed first “at the request of the State Parole Commission, on the possibility that he might make a last-minute statement exonerating his wife,” which would have spared Rosanna. One wonders if she was still in a forgiving mood when she found out that he hadn’t breathed the word that might save her.

At least some newsmen also reported a malfunction in the chair’s cyanide-dropping rack for Rosanna’s execution, which required guards to re-open the chamber after its strapped and hooded subject had been sealed in, and putz about the mechanism while she waited.

* Actual reason to do this on New Year’s Day: the mere happenstance of automatically scheduling execution dates a set number of days after the defendants’ last appeal failed.

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1943: Lojze Grozde, beatified Slovenian

3 comments January 1st, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1943, Slovenian student Lojze Grozde was executed by communist partisans.

An ardent young Catholic, the 19-year-old Grozde was on his way from boarding school in Ljubljana in Italian-occupied Slovenia* to visit some relatives when he was stopped at a roadblock.

Partisans who found the devotional book The Imitation of Christ on his person were a mite hostile, since the Holy See was not exactly at loggerheads with fascism.

All of Yugoslavia had become one gigantic dirty war, and though individual Catholics might fall anywhere on the political spectrum, the institutional church did not shy from working with fascists, who had the virtue of sharing the See’s hatred of communism.

Catholic Action, to which our day’s victim belonged, was among the many entities supplying volunteer paramilitaries that partnered with the Italian occupation.

We’ve seen this dynamic elsewhere in Eastern Europe; it may be too pat to say that all these paramilitaries were fascists, but it’s much too little to characterize them as unwilling about the partnership.** The headsman does not issue verdicts; he only carries them out.

The Archbishop of Ljubljana, Gregorij Rozman, an “enthusiastic Nazi collaborator,”† had only weeks before enthused over the Italians’ growing openness to their Slovenian partners:

We should be allowed to establish protective armed units under Slovene command in all rural areas … from men worthy of trust, to fully guarantee that the arms will be used exclusively against rebellious elements that endanger the land either with arms or revolutionary propaganda.

The soldiers have already dispersed the camps and groups of the rebels, but many of them are still in the woods and in villages, where they are camouflaged as peace-loving citizens. Such persons are not known to the Italian armed forces. Because of their unfamiliarity with the language and the difficulty of finding those who help those who hide in the woods, it will be very difficult to find the culprits. But for the local young men such difficulties are nonexistent or can easily be overcome…

His Excellence, General Roatta, has said that the people must now choose between order and Bolshevism. We have chosen order, and propose the only way that in our humble opinion will be effective and certain to achieve complete order in active collaboration with the authorities.

(Quoted here)

The partisans who caught our day’s principal apparently jumped to the conclusion that Grozde was an anti-communist paramilitary based on his Catholic Action association and the Italian passes he was carrying for his visit; his body, when recovered, bore the marks of torture.

Even the partisans had to cop to an over-hasty judgment in this instance, and while there’s been some dispute over the years about whether Grozde might not have been up to something more political than “visiting relatives,” Rome has been energetic about rehabilitating its man — perhaps as the thin edge of the wedge for vindicating more controversial Slovene Catholic “collaborators”.

Lojze Grozde was beatified in 2010.

* Slovenia was partitioned between the Italians and the Germans early in the war; the German occupation was the more heavy-handed, but both countries designed ethnic cleansing policies. (pdf)

** Some representative slants on the matter, from different angles both sympathetic to Slovenian Catholics’ predicament:

the communists, who were in complete command of the Partisan movement, were concerned not so much about national liberation as such, as about eliminating their political rivals, carrying out their “social revolution”, and seizing power … [anti-communist Slovenes’] great disadvantage was that they had to carry out their struggle on the side of the Germans, who, on the other hand, did not hesitate to force them into compromising actions, for example, to take an oath to Hitler. As a result, they and their political exponents were branded as collaborators.

Yugoslavia: A History of Its Demise

And:

If the Partisans had not been set on seizing power by revolution, one could speculate that the Catholics, who had dominated Slovenian politics before the war, could have conceivably regained power and run a government little different from that in Italy. The only difference was that, whereas Italian Christian Democrat leader Alcide de Gasperi had kept clear of the Fascists during the war, the Slovene Catholics collaborated … the Communist threat was real and life-threatening, and the Catholics can claim credit for opposing it consistently. However, Catholic writings of the time caricature Communists as devils and anti-Christs. Today such virulence seems overdone … the Communists equated collaboration with treason. However, this seems unfounded. The Catholics who opposed them loved their country as much as anybody else … They just wanted a different regime from the Communists to take power at the end of the war.

Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death and Survival after World War II

† “We are thankful to God,” Rozman wrote in a 1941 pastoral letter, “who inspired the leader of Greater Italy with the thoughts of generous rightfulness and considerate wisdom … [to establish] the Ljubljana province.” (From Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death and Survival after World War II)

Not everyone is so harsh Archbishop Rozman.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Espionage,Execution,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Religious Figures,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Slovenia,Torture,Wartime Executions

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104 B.C.E.: Jugurtha

1 comment January 1st, 2010 emperorhadrian

(Thanks to Daily Kos diarist “emperorhadrian” for licensing this guest post, originally published on that site June 24, 2007. -ed.)

The Jugurthine War was a key war in the final century of the Roman Republic.

Like the Americans in Iraq, Rome assumed that their war against Jugurtha, King of Numidia (a nation in north Africa), would be a cakewalk. They believed that Numidia was a nation of savages with a bizarre religion. They assumed that their own “shock and awe” attacks by the superior legions would decapitate and destroy the “evil doer” Jugurtha. They believed that in order to liberate the Numidians of their primitive ways, they had to impose the civilized will of the Roman state on this backward nation. Rome never expected that the Numidians would wage an insurgent war against their Roman occupiers. This war ended up dragging on for almost a decade. And in the end, it showed the depravity of the ruling party (the ultra-conservative republican Optimate party), which was sending the Roman Republic on its way to tyranny, empire and ruin.

In 148 BC, the King of Numidia, Masinissa, died. The Roman proconsul, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, had been given authority by Masinissa to divide Masinissa’s estate. He divided it between Masinissa’s three sons, Micipsa, Gulussa, and Mastarnable. Soon after, Gulussa and Mastarnable died, leaving Micipsa as the sole King of Numidia. Around the year 134 BC, Micipsa sent Jugurtha (who was Masinissa’s grandson, but the son of another Numidian) to Spain with Scipio Aemilianius. Scipio was fighting the Celtiberians, who lived in a part of what is now Spain. Jugurtha was able to raise an army to help Scipio. Because of the valor of Jugurtha and his army at the Siege of Numantia, Scipio was able to win his war against the Celtiberians.

While fighting for Rome, Jugurtha worked alongside his future enemy, Gaius Marius. Jugurtha not only learned the superior Roman style of fighting, but he also learned of Rome’s weakness for money and thus bribery. Jugurtha described Rome as “urbem venalem et mature perituram, si emptorem invenerit” (“a city for sale and doomed to quick destruction, if it should ever find a buyer”). When Jugurtha returned to Numidia, Micipsa adopted Jugurtha, and decided to include Jugurtha in his will.

After the fall of Numantia, Jugurtha returned home with a letter from Scipio addressed to his uncle; in it, the commander praised Jugurtha’s exploits and congratulated Micipsa for having “a kinsman worthy of yourself, and of his grandfather Masinissa” (Sallust Iug. 9). On this recommendation the king formally adopted Jugurtha and made him co-heir with his own children

In 118, Micipsa died. He left his kingdom to Jugurtha and his two natural sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal. Shortly after Micipsa’s death, Jugurtha had Hiempsal killed. Adherbal fled to Rome. The Roman Senate sent a commission to Numidia to make peace. Jugurtha bribed the Romans on the commission, and thus the commission gave the better regions of the kingdom to Jugurtha.

In 113 BC, Jugurtha took his army and cornered Adherbal in his capital city of Citra. According to Sallust, Adherbal had the support of the people, but Jugurtha had the support of the best soldiers. A Roman Commission was sent to Numidia to forge a new peace. Jugurtha then bribed the Romans on this commission. The Romans thus allowed Jugurtha to storm Citra, and slaughter Adherbal and his supporters. Because Jugurtha slaughtered a number of Italian business people (including Roman Equites, or “Knights“), the Roman senate declared war on Jugurtha.

The Roman Senate sent an army under the command of the consul Lucius Calpurnius Bestia to fight Jugurtha. Bestia decisively defeated Jugurtha. But Jugurtha bribed Bestia, and thus was given unusually favorable terms. The Roman Senate viewed the favorable terms with suspicion, so it summoned Jugurtha to Rome. When Jugurtha arrived in Rome, he bribed two Tribunes, who thus prevented him from testifying. While in Rome, Jugurtha attempted to have his cousin and rival Massiva assassinated. Because of this, he was expelled from the city and returned to Numidia.

In 110 BC, the Roman Senate sent the praetor Aulus Postumus Albinus (who was the cousin of a consul for that year) to defeat Jugurtha. Because Jugurtha bribed key Romans involved in Albinus’ army (who then betrayed Albinus), Albinus was defeated.

The Roman Senate then sent the consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus to fight Jugurtha. At the Battle of the Muthul, a young Roman officer named Gaius Marius helped to reorganize Metellus’ legions, which then defeated Jugurtha. But Jugurtha was defeated because he forced his army to retreat before it could suffer heavy losses. The Romans did suffer their own heavy losses. Jugurtha disbanded his army, and had his soliders mount an insurgency to fight the Roman occupiers.

Marius returned to Rome. Dissatisfied with the slow pace of the war under Metellus, the Roman Military Assembly (one of the two Roman legislative assemblies, similar to the US Senate) appointed Marius consul (the Military Assembly, not the senate, appointed consuls). The Roman consuls had similar powers as the US President. The consulship was the highest constitutional office, and the consuls had imperium powers, which allowed them to command armies and conduct wars. The senate didn’t want Marius to be consul, because at this time it was dominated by an ultra-conservative republican party of aristocratic elites known as the Optimates. Marius belonged to the party that opposed the Optimates, the Populares. Partly because the senate didn’t like Marius, and partly because of the increasing difficulty Rome was having in recruiting armies, Marius was forced to raise his own army.

The capture of Jugurtha, from this French history of the Jugurthine War.

Marius took his army to Numidia to fight Jugurtha. But while Marius had been raising his army, Jugurtha allied with his father-in-law, Bocchus, the King of Mauretania. Marius defeated Jugurtha and Bocchus in several key battles. But much like with the American occupation in Iraq, Jugurtha’s strategy of insurgency warfare against the occupiers rendered all conventional victories irrelevant. Marius was playing a game of whack-a-mole. No matter how many times the Numidians were defeated, Jugurtha’s insurgents would regroup and keep fighting. It became clear that because of this, Rome could not defeat Jugurtha.

Marius sent his young Quaestor, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, to Bocchus. Sulla bribed Bocchus, and told him that Bocchus would be given a part of Numidia if he would betray Jugurtha. Bocchus then decided to give Jugurtha to Sulla. Sulla took Jugurtha to Rome, where Jugurtha was strangled in the Tullianum in Rome after marching in Marius’ January 1, 104 B.C. Triumph.


The Triumph of Marius (1729) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The inscription in Latin reads “The Roman people behold Jugurtha laden with chains”.

The Jugurthine War was over. But in the process, several problems were exposed that would cause Rome serious pain in the future. Republicans in this country love to tell us that money in politics is harmless free speech. But as we saw in the Roman Republic during the Jugurthine War, money can be very corrupting. Rome almost lost the war because of money in politics, and the susceptibility of public officials to bribery.

In addition, this war saw the rise of two Romans who would play a key role in the events that directly preceded the fall of the Roman Republic. The first Roman made famous through this war was Gaius Marius. Gaius Marius would later hold the Roman Consulship an unconstitutional 7 times in 21 years (constitutionally, a Roman had to wait 10 years before being reelected consul).

The second Roman made famous through this war was Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Sulla and Marius would fight an unconstitutional civil war with each other several years after this war had ended. Sulla would illegally march his troops on Rome, and unconstitutionally legalize the mass killing of Marius’ supporters. Marius’ supporters in the senate would unconstitutionally prevent Sulla from fighting a war during one of Sulla’s consulships. Sulla would eventually seize absolute power for himself. Sulla would be the first Roman to be Dictator in almost 150 years. He would also be the first Roman in history to hold the dictatorship without the traditional six month term limit.

As dictator, Sulla would illegally change the Roman constitution to make himself and his party (the ultra-conservative republican Optimates) even more powerful. And most importantly, Sulla would set the example (of civil war on Romans, and then the seizing of absolute power) that the future tyrant Gaius Julius Caesar would follow.

In the end, the actions taken by key players in the war against Jugurtha would be repeated in the final destruction of the Roman Republic. The future triumvir Pompey would unconstitutionally hold multiple consulships in a short period of time. Crassus, another future triumvir, would illegally bribe politicians to get his way. And the future tyrant Julius Caesar would bribe, unconstitutionally hold the consulship, and become dictator for life (as Sulla had done). It was Caesar’s actions in this regard, as well as the similar actions of his adopted son and heir, Gaius Octavius (later Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, the Emperor Augustus) that would once and for all destroy the Roman Republic, and create the Roman Empire.

1. When when, and whenever death closes our eyelids,
2. Moving naked over Acheron
3. Upon the one raft, victor and conquered together,
4. Marius and Jugurtha together,
5. one tangle of shadows.

6. Caesar plots against India,
7. Tigris and Euphrates shall, from now on, flow at his bidding,
8. Tibet shall be full of Roman policemen,
9. And the Parthians shall get used to our statuary
10. and acquire a Roman religion;

11. One raft on the veiled flood of Acheron,
12. Marius and Jagurtha together.
13. Nor at my funeral either will there be any long trail,
14. bearing ancestral lares and images;
15. No trumpets filled with my emptiness,
16. Nor shall it be on an Atalic bed;
17. The perfumed cloths shall be absent.
18. A small plebeian procession.
19. Enough, enough and in plenty
20. There will be three books at my obsequies
21. Which I take, my not unworthy gift, to Persephone.

From Homage to Sextus Propertius, Canto VI by Ezra Pound

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Entry Filed under: Algeria,Ancient,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Heads of State,History,Italy,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Politicians,Power,Roman Empire,Strangled,Treason

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1892: Sylvester Henry Bell

1 comment January 1st, 2009 Headsman

The state of Vermont has long since dispensed with the death penalty; it hasn’t had a death penalty law on the books since 1964, and its last execution was a decade before that. (Source)

But back when the traps were dropping on Green Mountain State scaffolds, no consideration of sentiment (or holiday pay) barred hanging a man on New Year’s Day, as occurred in 1892.

You could call Sylvester Bell a ladykiller.

According to family genealogists familiar with the case, the Canadian-born farmer used two of his wife’s relatives as character witnesses in his naturalization proceedings … and eight months later, shot said wife, the mother of his five children. Not only did Sylvester win acquittal for this non-fatal attack, Marcia Farnsworth Bell actually had to fight to get a divorce on the grounds of “intolerable severity”.

Marcia and her unmarried children moved to Randolph, Vt., where the kids opened a major department store.

Nothing daunted, a then-54-year-old Sylvester remarried the decades-younger Emma Lock (or Locke) in 1887.


‘Til death do us part: Sylvester and Emma’s marriage certificate.

We may imagine an ensuing union not altogether free of discord,* as we rejoin the public record of their lives with the Jan. 2, 1890 Burlington Clipper.

It appears that Mrs. Bell had left her husband and applied for a divorce. Thursday she, in company with Deputy Sheriff Hall, went to the house to remove her things. Bell met them very pleasantly and permitted her to pick up her goods. As she was about ready to leave she went up stairs and he followed her. Soon afterward a pistol shot was heard and Officer Hall rushed up, and Bell met him at the door of the room into which Mrs. Bell had gone and handed him the pistol, saying, “Take this. I have done the deed.” The ball entered the head of the unfortunate woman, just back of the ear, and she lived about thirty minutes, unconscious.

Bell was put under arrest and for a time the excitement, and sympathy was so strong for the murdered woman that it looked as if Bell would be lynched, but the law will now be allowed to take its course.

The article understatedly observed, “Bell’s reputation with his wives is bad.”

The course of the law will not hold much suspense for readers of this blog.

The novelty of the eventual New Year’s execution attracted the New York Times which (botching the hanged man’s name and the date of his crime) reported the scene from the scaffold, where “Stephen” Bell bought himself an extra 34 minutes in this vale of tears with the verbosity of his last statement.

WINDSOR, Vt., Jan. 1. — Stephen H. Bell was hanged here this afternoon for the murder of his wife, in the town of Fairfax, Dec. 26, 1880. At 1:40 the door of the west wing of the prison was closed and at 1:44 the prisoner was taken from his cell, where he was holding an earnest conversation with Chaplain Wassall.

The prisoner was somewhat pale from long confinement. He boldly ascended the steps and, although assisted, appeared to be nerved up for the occasion. Chaplain Wassall offered a fervent prayer, during which Bell bowed and covered his face with his hand. Sheriff Lovell, as soon as the Chaplain had finished, stepped forward and said: “Stephen H. Bell, have you anything to say why the penalty of the law should not be executed on you?”

Bell, rather pale and tremulous, stood erect, and after addressing the Sheriff and officers in charge, asking for all the time he wanted in which to speak, began a talk which lasted thirty-four minutes. It was a rambling statement, in which he declared his innocence. When he had finished, Bell stepped back to his chair.

Sheriff Lovell took him by the arm, and the condemned man stood up bravely. When Deputies How and Randall had pinioned his wrists, arms, and legs Bell stepped on the drop and said: “Gentlemen, I am a dying man; good-bye.” Instantly the Sheriff touched the spring and the drop fell. In fourteen minutes he was pronounced dead. The body was buried in Windsor Cemetery.

Interestingly, Bell was the only person executed in his state during a 22-year period from 1883 to 1905. That span is bookended in Vermont’s death penalty annals by the first woman hanged in Vermont and the last woman hanged in Vermont.

Bell’s descendants continue to seek information on Sylvester; anyone who may know more can get in contact via this author.

* Another report of the murder describes Emma fleeing to live with her parents on account of Sylvester’s repeatedly menacing her with a butcher knife and a gun, until the “overseer of the poor, after a time succeeded in getting them together again, he giving up his pistol and agreeing to behave himself.” Clearly, it was a different time for domestic violence victims.

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

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