1723: Thomas Athoe the Elder, and Thomas Athoe the Younger

Add comment July 5th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1723, the 58-year-old former mayor of the Pembrokeshire town of Tenby was hanged along with his quarrelsome 23-year-old son.

This classic from the Select Trials annals finds Thomas Athoes Elder and Younger out at market-day when the young hothead picked a fight with, and got his ass kicked by, George Merchant. Merchant was Athoe the Younger’s own cousin, for his mother was Athoe the Elder’s sister; not only this, but in explaining their conduct to the chaplain endeavoring to save their souls, the Athoes would allege that Merchant had also swiped young Athoe’s girl.

The Athoes bided their time for the rest of that day, November 23 of 1722, and “advised by some Pettifogger, to bring an Action against the Deceased .. .answered, No, no, we won’t take the Law, but we’ll pay them in their own Coin.” And so when night fell, they followed Merchant and his brother Thomas (that’s the third Thomas on the pitch here, for those keeping count) to Holloway’s Water, the estuary of the river Ritec that in the 18th century swelled so high when the tide came in that the river became navigable four miles inland. The road that traversed it could only be crossed at low tide.

So it was in this muddy coastal defile, on a nigh-moonless night,* that father and son rounded on brother and brother as the latter watered their mounts.

The evidence in the case was given by Thomas Merchant, who survived the attack so narrowly that “at the Time of the Trial, tho’ it was four Months afterwards, he was in so weak a Condition that he could not stand, and therefore the Court permitted him to give his Evidence sitting.” Squeamish readers might wish to do likewise before proceeding to the rending of flesh he developed for the court.

The Prisoners coming up with great Sticks, I owe thee a Pass, and now thou shalt have it, said young Athoe to the Deceased, and knock’d him off his Horse. Thomas Merchant was serv’d in the like Manner by old Athoe, who, at the same Time cry’d out, Kill the Dogs! Kill the Dogs!

The Brothers begg’d ‘em for God’s Sake to spare their Lives; but the Prisoners had no Regard to their Cries. Old Athoe fell upon Thomas Merchant, beating him in a terrible Manner, and taking fast hold of his Privities, pulled and squeezed him to such a violent Degree, that, had he continued so doing a few Minutes longer, it had been impossible for the poor Man to have survived it. The Pain he suffered, is past Expression, and yet it fell short of what his Brother endured.

Young Athoe, when he had tired himself with beating him, seized him by the Privy Members, and his Yard being extended, he broke the Muscles of it, and tore out one of his Testicles; and calling to his Father, said, Now I have done George Merchant’s Business! This horrible Action occasioned a vast Effusion of Blood: But young Athoe’s Revenge was not yet glutted, — for catching hold of the Deceased’s Nose with his Teeth, he bit it quite off, and afterwards tied a Handkerchief so tight about his Neck, that the Flesh almost covered it.

The last Words the Deceased was heard to say were, Don’t bite my Nose off. He lived a few Hours in the most grievous Agony imaginable, and then expired.

Although the younger Athoe briefly took refuge in Ireland, father and son were remanded to London for trial, convicted with ease, and doomed to hang at St. Thomas’s Watering on Old Kent Road in Surrey.

When they came to the fatal Tree, they behaved themselves in a very decent Manner, embracing each other in the most tender and affectionate Manner; and indeed the Son’s hiding his Face, bedewed with Tears, in his Father’s Bosom, was, notwithstanding the barbarous Action they had committed, a very moving Spectacle.

* November 23 maps as a full moon … but recall that England at this time was still on the Julian calendar, so the local date corresponds instead to December 4, at nearly the opposite end of the lunar cycle.

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1453: The garrison of Poucques, Jacques de Lalaing’s cannonball killers

Add comment July 5th, 2016 Headsman

On or about this date* in 1453, the Burgundians captured the fortress of Poucques (Poeke) during the revolt of Ghent, and put its entire garrison to summary death.

It was merely one of the appetizers the Burgundians had to chew off en route to devouring the main course at the Battle of Gavere, where the revolt was decisively crushed.**

While the battle itself was a footnote — sorry, slaughtered garrison! — it’s remembered for claiming the life of the Burgundian lord Jacques de Lalaing (English Wikipedia entry | French) — the Michael Jordan of 15th century tournament combat, “le chevalier sans reproche.”

About 32 at his death, the “Bon Chevalier” was a member of the prestigious (and still-extant) Order of the Golden Fleece on the strength of a remarkable 1440s ramble around European where he would theatrically stage combats with local knights and never fail to win them. Celebrity and emoluments followed in their turn.

“Above all else, he knew the business of arms,” sighs a chronicle detailing his feats, and on its evidence it would be difficult to disagree.

He achieved his fame besting great champions in Aragon, Castile, Scotland, and Flanders, then set up a pas d’armes — the Monty Python-esque open challenge/invitation to battle all comers who dared him at a set location. In Jacques’s case the challenge lasted a full year at a statue of a weeping woman from which our pugilist derived the brand the Passage of the Fountain of Tears.

These were not intended to be fatal bouts but they featured expert fighters with real weapons so life and limb certainly stood in peril; occasionally our protagonist even deliberately courted danger by suiting up in only partial armor. Some challengers managed to emerge with a satisfying draw, but none could defeat him. At his last tournament in 1452, he even jousted the young future Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold. (There’s an enjoyable detailed recap of Jacques’s career here.)

As this warrior par excellence was simultaneously noted for the perfection of his outside-of-armor knightly conduct — fidelity, generosity, piety, swooning ladies — Jacques de Lalaing had a fair claim on his contemporaries’ admiration as the very apex of the age of chivalry.

And his own fate poignantly embodied that of his era.

Studying the Burgundian court to which our Walloon nobleman adhered when not doing his gladiator road show, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga reckoned this 15th century the “autumn of the middle ages” — a decadence flowering in decay.

“This hero-worship of the declining Middle Ages finds its literary expression in the biography of the perfect knight,” Huizinga wrote — like our Jacques de Lalaing, “that anachronistic knight-errant” of “fantastic and useless projects.”

The realities of court life or a military career offered too little opportunity for the fine make-belief of heroism and love, which filled the soul. So they had to be acted. The staging of the tournament, therefore, had to be that of romance; that is to say, the imaginary world of Arthur,† where the fancy of a fairy-tale was enhanced by the sentimentality of courtly love.

A Passage of Arms of the fifteenth century is based on a fictitious case of chivalrous adventure, connected with an artificial scene called by a romantic name, as, for instance, the Fountain of Tears or the Tree of Charlemagne. [the latter was another famous pas d’armes defended in 1443 by another Burgundian knight, Pierre de Bauffremont -ed.] … There is an unmistakable connection between these primitive forms of warlike and erotic sport and the children’s play of forfeits. One of the rules of the “Chapters” of the Fountain of Tears runs thus: he who, in a combat, is unhorsed, will during a year wear a gold bracelet, until he finds the lady who holds the key to it and who can free him, on condition that he shall serve her.

Jacques de Lalaing and his ritual delights came to a savage end at the siege of Poucques when he had the apt misfortune to be struck by a ball from a defending veuglaire. The romantic master of the lists thereby became one of the first European elites slain by a cannon: for a junction to modernity one could do a lot worse than this moment.‡

The untimely end of Jacques happens to have hit the news in recent months when the Getty Museum acquired a precious Renaissance manuscript illustration of the event by Simon Bening, never previously exhibited.

In this extraordinarily bright and detailed miniature, our courteous doomed glances upward at the citadel, forming a sharp compositional diagonal with the fatal cannonball speeding towards him … and the fiery plume belched by the chivalry-smashing device that has hurled it.


Detail view (click for the full image) of the Bening miniature.

* The precise date on which this minor siege concluded is elusive and perhaps ambiguous; I’m basing Executed Today‘s dating on the July 13, 1453 correspondence in this archive reporting that “Poucques est tombée en son pouvoir le 5 courant; qu’il a fait démanteler ce deux places fortes et livrer au dernier supplice leurs défenseurs.”

** Maybe so, but Ghent is still with us today whereas independent Burgundy would vanish within 30 years.

† The late 15th century also gives us the apotheosis of the Arthurian legend, Le Morte d’Arthur.

‡ Periodization fans should note that 1453 also marks the Ottoman capture of Constantinople.

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2007: Jafar Kiani, stoned

Add comment July 5th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 2007, Jafar Kiani was stoned to death in Iran for committing “adultery while married” with Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, by whom Kiani had two children. She was condemned to the same death, for the same crime.

Ma’iz b. Malik al-Aslami came to Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) and said: Allah’s Messenger, I have wronged myself; I have committed adultery and I earnestly desire that you should purify me … a ditch was dug for him and he (the Holy Prophet) pronounced judgment about him and he was stoned.

… There came to him (the Holy Prophet) a woman from Ghamid and said: Allah’s Messenger, I have committed adultery, so purify me. … He said: Well, if you insist upon it, then go away until you give birth to (the child). When she was delivered she came with the child (wrapped) in a rag and said: Here is the child whom I have given birth to. He said: Go away and suckle him until you wean him. When she had weaned him, she came to him (the Holy Prophet) with the child who was holding a piece of bread in his hand. She said: Allah’s Apostle, here is he as I have weaned him and he eats food. He (the Holy Prophet) entrusted the child to one of the Muslims and then pronounced punishment. And she was put in a ditch up to her chest and he commanded people and they stoned her. Khalid b Walid came forward with a stone which he flung at her head and there spurted blood on the face of Khalid and so he abused her. Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) heard his (Khalid’s) curse that he had huried upon her. Thereupon he (the Holy Prophet) said: Khalid, be gentle. By Him in Whose Hand is my life, she has made such a repentance that even if a wrongful tax-collector were to repent, he would have been forgiven. Then giving command regarding her, he prayed over her and she was buried.

-one of many hadiths to sanction stoning (the Quran does not do so explicitly)

A frighteningly primitive form of execution, stoning is a legally prescribed form of execution for extramarital concupiscience in Iran.

“Article 102 — An adulterous man shall be buried in a ditch up to near his waist and an adulterous woman up to near her chest and then stoned to death.” (

Such sentences were implemented fairly widely in the immediate aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, when sharia strictures were inscribed in law. (Human Rights Watch estimates that the Islamic Republic has conducted at least 70 executions by stoning since its birth in 1979, though reckonings of double that figure or more can also be had. Iran has not exactly prioritized transparency in this area.)

In the 21st century, however, Iran has distinctly toned down stoning executions.

The head of Iran’s judiciary announced in 2002 what was widely reported as a “moratorium” or even a “ban” on stonings.

It is obvious from Kiani’s execution that this directive did not carry absolute authority; with a pair of 2009 stonings, a judiciary spokesman explained that the so-called moratorium was merely an “advisory”, and that “judges are independent.” Kiani’s execution was justified on the grounds that the Supreme Court had approved the sentence.

Amnesty International reported at least six stonings from 2006 to 2009, but the independence of local judges has not since that time sufficed to overcome Tehran’s growing reservations about the controversial punishment. It appears that Iran has not carried out any known stonings from 2010 onward, which was right around the time worldwide outcry saved adulteress Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani from death by stoning. (She was eventually released altogether.)

Nevertheless, the stoning laws have remained on the books, and people are still being sentenced to be buried in a hole and lethally pelted with rocks. Iran explored removing stoning from its penal codes altogether in 2012, but the Guardian Council reportedly rescued stoning and the final version of that legislation in 2013 retained the option.

Jafar Kiani’s lover Mokarrameh Ebrahimi, who had also been languishing under the same sentence for 11 long years at the time of Kiani’s execution, was, at least, a beneficiary of Iran’s growing reticence to implement such sentences. Campaigners were able to win her release in March 2008.

Elahe Amani discusses stoning in Iran in a 2013 podcast here.

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1731: Jose de Antequera, Paraguayan comunero rebel

Add comment July 5th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1731, Jose de Antequera had his head cut off in Lima for leading a comunero rebellion against the Spanish crown in Paraguay.

Antequera, a judge, began his revolution legally in 1721 by affirming an impeachment the city council of Asuncion (Paraguay’s present-day capital) against the unpopular Spanish governor. Antequera, conveniently, also happened to be the guy who would succeed the unpopular territorial governor.

The conflict between the two would-be governors spiraled into a wider revolt for local autonomy pitting criollo settlers against the crown, though it would likely be overstating matters to call this a true bid for independence. One notable sore spot between the two parties was the prerogatives of Jesuit Reductions: these mission settlements for Christianizing natives (particularly prominent in Paraguay for the Guarani people) had originally been placed at the far fringes of Spain’s New World reach, and they enjoyed a wide autonomy, sustaining themselves economically with the yerba mate trade. For the Guarani, these were also welcome refuges from the brutal encomiendas; Guarani militias stoutly repelled slave raiders.

For these prerogatives, the Jesuits and the Guarani were loyal to the Spanish crown as against the local settlers better inclined to view the Reductions (and the potential slaves who inhabited them) as assets they’d like to get their own hands around. Antequera accordingly expelled the Jesuits near Asuncio and for a few years his word was law in Paraguay. Guarani troops mustered by the crown helped put the rebellion down, taking Antequera into custody and forwarding him to the notoriously severe Marquis of Castelfuerte, the Peruvian viceroy.

Society at Lima was in [Antequera’s] favor. Great efforts were made to delay his trial. But the viceroy was resolved to punish him, and sentence of death was passed. The judges, the university, the municipality, petitioned for pardon, as well as the people of all classes. The stern old marquis refused to listen, and Antequera was brought out for execution in the great square of Lima on July 5, 1731. There were cries for pardon, and the mob began to throw stones. Hearing the tumult, the viceroy came out on horseback and ordered his guards to fire. Antequera fell dead, as well as the two priests by his side, and several others. The viceroy then ordered the body to be taken to the scaffold and beheaded. His conduct received the approval of the king by decree of September, 1733. (Source)

The Spanish had not heard the end of Antequera.

During his imprisonment, Antequera befriended and inspired a fellow-prisoner named Fernando Mompo. After Antequera’s execution, Mompo returned to Paraguay brandishing the late rebel governor’s banner: “The authority of the commune is superior to that of the King himself!” Mompo launched a recrudescence of the comunero rebellion in the early 1730s. Mompo too shared Antequera’s fate.

A change in the political winds decades later led to the Spanish king Charles III himself expelling the Jesuits — and posthumously exonerating Jose de Antequera.

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1655: Grete Adrian, Ruethen witch

Add comment July 5th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1655, Grete Adrian heard her final condemnation as a witch, then was ushered to the marketplace of Ruethen where she was beheaded and burned.

A remarried widow, Grete was the daughter of a woman who in her own day had been suspected of witchcraft; Grete had lost siblings to witch-hunts during the recent Thirty Years War.

The family history with devilry would help to implicate her when allegations arose that she had produced milk by conjuration and turned into a wolf to kill a neighbor’s horse. Grete didn’t stand up to the torture very long; within a couple of days she agreed that she had taken the devil as a lover, cast malevolent spells, attended witches’ covens, and all the usual Hexenprozesse stuff. All she asked was for quick execution.

In 2011, schoolchildren from Ruethen’s Friedrich-Spee-School — its namesake was a noted critic of torture and witch trials in the 17th century — successfully petitioned local authorities to issue a blanket posthumous pardon for 169 men, women and children executed for witchcraft between 1573 and 1660 … Grete Adrian included.

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1691: Jack Collet, sacrilegious burglar

Add comment July 5th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1691, Jack Collet was hanged for “sacrilegious burglary.”

This little-known highwayman ditched an apprenticeship with a Cheapside upholsterer to take the road, and carved a niche as the guy what robbed while dressed up as a bishop. (Once having lost his ecclesiastical garb at dice, he re-robed by sticking up a churchman on the road and forcing his victim to dis-.)

“As if he had been determined to live by the Church,” clucks the Newgate calndar, “he was at last apprehended for sacrilege and burglary, in breaking open the vestry of Great St Bartholomew’s, in London, in company with one Christopher Ashley, alias Brown, and stealing from thence the pulpit cloth and all the communion plate.”

For this bid to render un-from God, Caesar rendered Collet unto Tyburn.

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1983: Aleksandr Kravchenko, in Chikatilo’s place

1 comment July 5th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1983, Aleksandr Kravchenko was executed in the Soviet Union.

Kravchenko attempted to rape and then brutally strangled to death nine-year-old Lena Zakotnova in December 1978, dumping her body in a nearby river.

Oh … wait, no. That turned out to have been done by later-infamous serial killer Andrei Chikatilo: actually, Zakotnova was Chikatilo’s very first victim.

Sorry about beating that confession out of you, Sasha.

As for Russia’s present-day criminal justice system, there’s no more death penalty. But, “if a person ends up in a police cell as a suspect, he will find himself in court no matter what, and the court will find him guilty, guaranteed. And everyone knows it … you’ll end up in court, then straight to jail. The machine works automatically. It happens all the time.”

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1917: Gasim, by Lawrence of Arabia

2 comments July 5th, 2010 Headsman

“With Major Lawrence, mercy is a passion. With me, it is merely good manners. You may judge which motive is the more reliable.”

-Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia

This date in 1917 was the eve of the Battle of Aqaba, wherein a force of Arabs with famous British officer T.E. Lawrence emerged from the desert to surprise and capture the Ottoman Red Sea port today located in Jordan.*

And that makes this, in the cinematic masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia, the date on which the titular character kept the peace within his fragile coalition by personally executing a malefactor to prevent a tribal blood feud.

The victim, Gasim, is a real figure described in the real T.E. Lawrence’s memoirs

a gap-toothed, grumbling fellow, skrimshank in all our marches, bad-tempered, suspicious, brutal, a man whose engagement I regretted, and of whom I had promised to rid myself as soon as we reached a discharging-place.

Gasim is most famous as the beneficiary of the movie scene in which Lawrence boldly turns back into the desert to rescue this worthless retainer when Gasim’s camel is found riderless in the caravan. This, too, is based on an actual incident in Lawrence’s memoir, albeit heavily dramatized on celluloid.

In the film, Lawrence’s godlike power to give Gasim life is soon mirrored by the godlike power to deprive it.

Effectively exploiting dramatic license, Lawrence of Arabia portrays the Englishman surveying the scene of the coming triumph when a disturbance breaks out in his camp. Hastening thither, he discovers clan lining up against clan over the destructive right of blood vengeance because of a murder in the camp — a murder committed by the man he has saved.

To forestall a “tribal bloodbath” on the very eve of victory, Lawrence himself volunteers to execute the culprit. Having once risked everything to save Gasim, Lawrence sacrifices him ruthlessly when the occasion demands.** This act underscores the chameleon-like other-ness of the character, one of the film’s principal leitmotifs: “I have no tribe, and no one is offended!”

Though the real Lawrence did no such thing to the real Gasim, this astonishing scene is also related in the memoirs — just at an earlier point, and with a different, less dramatically integral character.

My followers had been quarrelling all day; and while I was lying near the rocks a shot was fired. I paid no attention; for there were hares and birds in the valley; but a little later Suleiman roused me and made me follow him across the valley to an opposite bay in the rocks, where one of the Ageyl, a Boreida man, was lying stone dead with a bullet through his temples. The shot must have been fired from close by; because the skin was burnt about one wound. The remaining Ageyl were running frantically about; and when I asked what it was Ali, their head man, said that Hamed the Moor had done the murder. I suspected Suleiman, because of the feud between the Atban and Ageyl which had burned up in Yenbo and Wejh; but Ali assured me that Suleiman had been with him three hundred yards further up the valley gathering sticks when the shot was fired. I sent all out to search for Hamed, and crawled back to the baggage, feeling that it need not have happened this day of all days when I was in pain.

As I lay there I heard a rustle, and opened my eyes slowly upon Hamed’s back as he stooped over his saddle-bags, which lay just beyond my rock. I covered him with a pistol and then spoke. He had put down his rifle to lift the gear; and was at my mercy till the others came. We held a court at once; and after a while Hamed confessed that, he and Salem having had words, he had seen red and shot him suddenly. Our inquiry ended. The Ageyl, as relatives of the dead man, demanded blood for blood. The others supported them; and I tried vainly to talk the gentle Ali round. My head was aching with fever and I could not think; but hardly even in health, with all eloquence, could I have begged Hamed off; for Salem had been a friendly fellow and his sudden murder a wanton crime.

Then rose up the horror which would make civilized man shun justice like a plague if he had not the needy to serve him as hangmen for wages. There were other Moroccans in our army; and to let the Ageyl kill one in feud meant reprisals by which our unity would have been endangered. It must be a formal execution, and at last, desperately, I told Hamed that he must die for punishment, and laid the burden of his killing on myself. Perhaps they would count me not qualified for feud. At least no revenge could lie against my followers; for I was a stranger and kinless.

I made him enter a narrow gully of the spur, a dank twilight place overgrown with weeds. Its sandy bed had been pitted by trickles of water down the cliffs in the late rain. At the end it shrank to a crack a few inches wide. The walls were vertical. I stood in the entrance and gave him a few moments’ delay which he spent crying on the ground. Then I made him rise and shot him through the chest. He fell down on the weeds shrieking, with the blood coming out in spurts over his clothes, and jerked about till he rolled nearly to where I was. I fired again, but was shaking so that I only broke his wrist. He went on calling out, less loudly, now lying on his back with his feet towards me, and I leant forward and shot him for the last time in the thick of his neck under the jaw. His body shivered a little, and I called the Ageyl, who buried him in the gully where he was. Afterwards the wakeful night dragged over me, till, hours before dawn, I had the men up and made them load, in my longing to be set free of Wadi Kitan. They had to lift me into the saddle.

Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence almost palpably manifests the conflicting aspects of his character as he shoots Gasim to death — and he confirms the transformative effect of his first homicide in subsequent dialogue with Gen. Edmund Allenby.

Lawrence: I killed two people. One was … yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was … well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn’t like.
Allenby: That’s to be expected.
Lawrence: No, something else.
Allenby: Well, then let it be a lesson.
Lawrence: No … something else.
Allenby: What then?
Lawrence: I enjoyed it.

* Actually, Aqaba is Jordan’s only port. This battle was not so epic as the film depicts.

** In a bit of complex foreshadowing, the cinematic Gasim has told Lawrence at the outset of the expedition that “Allah favors the compassionate.”

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1600: Jean Livingston, Lady Waristoun

3 comments July 5th, 2009 Headsman

At 4 o’clock in the morning this day — as a favor to her powerful father to limit the public spectacle — Jean Livingston lost her head for arranging the murder of her husband just three days before.

Provoked by one beating too many, Lady Waristoun (or Lady Warriston) got a servant to murder him in his bed on the night of July 1.

Robert Weir blew town — he wouldn’t be apprehended until 1604, whereupon he suffered one of the very few instances of execution on the breaking-wheel to occur in the British Isles — but the Lady and her nurse Janet Murdo were “caught red-handed”, an actual juridical concept in Scottish law which means what it says on the tin.

They were condemned to death by burning, which dad’s pull was able to mitigate for his daughter (but not the nurse), so

scho wes tare to the Girth Crosse upon the 5 day of Julii, and her heid struk fra her bodie at the Cannagait fit; quha diet verie patiently. Her nurische wes brunt at the same tyme, at 4 houres in the morneing, the 5 of Julii.

In the exceedingly brief time — about a day and a half — between sentence and execution, Lady Waristoun was reported to have undergone a wonderous transformation. The not-uninterested report* of her confessor offers these mournful final words, a stark contrast to her defiant state just after condemnation.

The occasion of my coming here is to show that I am, and have been, a great sinner, and hath offended the Lord’s Majesty; especially, of the cruel murdering of mine own husband, which, albeit I did not with mine own hands, for I never laid mine hands upon him all the time that he was murdering, yet I was the deviser of it, and so the committer. But my God hath been always merciful to me, and hath given me repentance for my sins; and I hope for mercy and grace at his Majesty’s hands, for his dear son Jesus Christ’s sake. And the Lord hath brought me hither to be an example to you, that you may not fall into the like sin as I have done. And I pray God, for his mercy, to keep all his faithful people from falling into the like inconvenient as I have done! And therefore I desire you all to pray to God for me, that he would be merciful to me!

Then, she had her head lopped off by the maiden while at the same hour Janet Murdo, much less wept for, was burnt alive at Castlehill.

This sudden and sensational fall of an elite, and allegedly beautiful, woman obviously made quite a splash, with printed accounts feeding almost inevitably into the Scots ballad tradition.

My mother was an ill woman,
In fifteen years she married me ;
I hadna wit to guide a man,
Alas! ill counsel guided me.

O Warriston, O Warriston,
I wish that ye may sink for sin;
I was but bare fifteen years auld,
When first I enter’d your yates within.

I hadna been a month married,
Till my gude Lord went to the sea;
I bare a bairn ere he came hame,
And set it on the nourice knee.

But it fell ance upon a day,
That my gude lord return’d from sea;
Then I did dress in the best array,
As blythe as ony bird on tree.

I took my young son in my arms,
Likewise my nourice me forebye;
And I went down to yon shore side,
My gude lord’s vessel I might spy.

My lord he stood upon the deck,
I wyte he hail’d me courteouslie;
“Ye are thrice welcome, my lady gay,
Wha’se aught that bairn on your knee?”

She turn’d her right and round about,
Says, “Why take ye sic dreads o’ me?
Alas! I was too young married,
To love another man but thee.”

“Now hold your tongue, my lady gay,
Nae mair falsehoods ye’ll tell to me;
This bonny bairn is not mine,
You’ve loved another while I was on sea.”

In discontent then hame she went,
And aye the tear did blin’ her e’e;
Says, “Of this wretch I’ll be revenged,
For these harsh words he’s said to me.”

She’s counsell’d wi’ her father’s steward,
What way she cou’d revenged be;
Bad was the counsel then he gave, —
It was to gar her gude lord dee.

The nourice took the deed in hand,
I wat she was well paid her fee;
She kiest the knot, and the loop she ran,
Which soon did gar this young lord dee.

His brother lay in a room hard by,
Alas! that night he slept too soun';
But then he waken’d wi’ a cry,
I fear my brother’s putten down.

O get me coal and candle-light,
And get me some gude companie;
But before the light was brought,
Warriston he was gart dee.

They’ve ta’en the lady and fause nouriee,
In prison strang they hae them boun';
The nouriee she was hard o’ heart,
But the bonny lady fell in swoon.

In it came her brother dear,
And aye a sorry man was he;
“I wou’d gie a’ the lands I heir,
O bonny Jean, .to borrow thee.”

“O borrow me, brother, borrow me–
O borrow’d shall I never be;
For I gart kill my ain gude lord,
And life is nae pleasure to me.”

In it came her mother dear,
I wyte a sorry woman was she;
“I wou’d gie my white monie and gowd,
O bonny Jean, to borrow thee.”

“Borrow me, mother, borrow me,–
O borrow’d shall I never be;
For I gart kill my ain gude lord,
And life’s now nae pleasure to me.”

Then in it came her father dear,
I wyte a sorry man was he;
Says, “Ohon! alas! my bonny Jean,
If I had you at hame wi’ me.

“Seven daughters I ha’e left at hame,
As fair women as fair can be;
But I would gie them ane by ane,
O bonny Jean, to borrow thee.”

“O borrow me, father, borrow me,–
O borrow’d shall I never be;
I that is worthy o’ the death,
It is but right that I shou’d dee.”

Than out it speaks the king himsell,
And aye as he steps in the fleer,
Says, “I grant you your life, lady,
Because you are of tender year.”

“A boon, a boon, my liege the king,
The boon I ask, ye’ll grant to me.”
“Ask on, ask on, my bonny Jean,
Whate’er ye ask, it’s granted be.”

Cause take me out at night, at night,
Lat not the sun upon me shine;
And take me to yon heading hill,
Strike aff this dowie head o’ mine.

Ye’ll take me out at night, at night,
When there are nane to gaze and see;
And ha’e me to yon heading hill,
And ye’ll gar head me speedilie.

They’ve ta’en her out at nine at night,
Loot not the sun upon her shine;
And had her to yon heading hill,
And headed her baith neat and fine.

Then out it speaks the king himsell,
I wyte a sorry man was he;
“I’ve travell’d east, I’ve travell’d west,
And sailed far beyond the sea,
But I never saw a woman’s face
I was sae sorry to see dee.

“But Warriston was sair to blame,
For slighting o’ his lady so;
He had the wyte o’ his ain death,
And his bonny lady’s overthrow.”

* Snappily titled, “A Worthy and Notable Memorial of the Great Work of Mercy which God wrought in the Conversion of Jean Livingstone Lady Warristoun, who was apprehended for the Vile and Horrible Murder of her own Husband, John Kincaid, committed on Tuesday, July 1, 1600, for which she was execute on Saturday following; Containing an Account of her Obstinacy, Earnest Repentance, and her Turning to God; of the Odd Speeches she used during her Imprisonment; of her Great and Marvellous Constancy; and of her Behaviour and Manner of Death: Observed by One who was both a Seer and Hearer of what was spoken.”

Part of the Themed Set: The Ballad.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Maiden,Murder,Public Executions,Scotland,Women

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1947: Ding Mocun, not as hot a lay in real life

Add comment July 5th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Ding Mocun was shot for “conspiring with a foreign government to overthrow China” in Shanghai by the Kuomintang.

This former Communist turned right-wing radical may be most readily recognizable outside China as the real-life inspiration behind Ang Lee’s steamy 2007 art-house menace to undergarments Lust, Caution.

Based on a story by Eileen Chang (or Zhang Ailing), Lust, Caution fictionalizes Mocun’s real-life escape from an attempted assassination in 1939.

That incident was authored by Ding’s young plaything, who turned out to have a very serious side indeed. (Ding had her shot.)

While the attempt on the turncoat spy’s life really happened, there’s some dispute over whether Chang really had this particular woman strongly in mind over the twenty-plus years she composed her story. There’s more about the evolution of the fictional story here, but you’ll need Chinese skills to follow the links to Chang’s evolving text.

At any rate, Ding’s actual death would come by order of a more august character: Chiang Kai-shek.

Why so many people out to get him?

Despite his nationalist credentials, when Ding lost a party struggle in 1938, he found a gig with the collaborationist government of Japanese-occupied China running a nasty intelligence unit that made nationalists and Communists disappear. That’s the sort of resume anyone would be touching up come the mid-1940’s, and Ding went with a revision (not widely credited, though it has its advocates) that he was secretly passing information to the nationalist resistance all along. And as the nationalists and Communists turned on one another in the postwar power vacuum, it looked like his usefulness to the Kuomintang might get him off the hook after all.

It worked for a while, but Chiang — or so goes the story — caught a tabloid expose about Ding catching R&R at a lake when he’d used a medical pass to get out of prison, and impulsively ordered him shot.

Perhaps Ding’s status as official evildoer vis-a-vis a China whose messy birth many are old enough to remember helps account for the resonance of literary works that engage him as a human being. In a nonfiction vein, Konrad Lawson’s layered critique of the pro-Ding apologia linked above thoughtfully evokes the complexity of Ding’s era and the challenges it poses for historiography.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Treason

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