1505: The Val Camonica witches

Add comment June 23rd, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1505, seven women and a man were burned in the town of Cemmo in Lombardy’s Val Camonica — the first victims of that region’s outbreak of witch-hunting that would claim over 100 lives all told.

This alpine valley fell in the remit of the city of Brescia which meant that (since the 1420s) it answered ultimately to the Most Serene Republic of Venice. But in the hinterlands of the fragmented Italian peninsula were

Remotenesses like Val Camonica are among the focal points for the fancy or hope that pockets of paganism held on from antiquity even in the heart of Christendom. Brescia lay in the belt spawning doctrinal and political challenges to the medieval church — the very zone that gave rise to the Inquisition.

During two distinct periods — 1505 to 1510, and again from 1518 to 1521 — that Inquisition fastened on folk in this region who constituted “a most pernicious kind of people … utterly damned by the stain of heresy, which was causing them to renounce the sacrament of the baptism they had received, denying their Lord and giving their bodies and souls to Satan whose advice was leading them astray.” (1521 communique of Pope Leo X, quoted here)

The circumstances for these purges can only be guessed at, as most of the primary documentation, particularly of the earlier episode, is lost. But the context of Papal-Venetian rivalry all but insists upon itself. Indeed, Venice’s ruling oligarchy is known during the 1518-1521 Inquisition to have interceded to prevent the Pope’s delegate from putting torch to flesh, provoking one of the innumerable jurisdictional imbroglios between the rival city-states.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Venice,Witchcraft,Women

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1784: Fifteen crooks hanged at Newgate

Add comment June 23rd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1784, no fewer than 15 men hanged on the public scaffold outside London’s Newgate Gaol. Per the next day’s Parker’s General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer,

William Smith, Isaac Torres, Charles Barton, Patrick Burne, Patrick Birmingham, John Lynch, James Farrel, James Davis, Daniel Bean, Archibald Burridge, Robert Ganley, and Thomas Randal, for burglary; Peter Haslet alias Edward Verily, for personating and assuming the name of Thomas Howard, of his Majesty’s ship the Pallas, with intent to receive his wages; and Joseph Haws and James Hawkins for a street robbery. The above unhappy men came upon the scaffold a little before seven o’clock; they all seemed devout and penitent, and behaved in every respect as became their miserable situation. The plat-form dropped about a quarter before eight, and at the same moment they were all launched into eternity. The concourse was immense; the windows and roofs of the houses commanding a view of the fatal spot, were crowded, and many thousands of people were assembled in the Old-Bailey before six o’clock.

Despite the immense concourse, this gigantic hanging of miscellaneous thieves rates little better than footnote mention in the period’s press. England was gallows-mad; CapitalPunishmentUK.org makes it 56 hangings in 1784 in London alone. There would be an even larger mass execution (20 people) the next February!

Even by the standards of the Bad Old Days, Old Blighty set a terrific pace. “The frequency of English executions was widely noted by foreign observers,” V.A.C. Gatrell writes in The Hanging Tree: Execution and the English People 1770-1868

The Prussian code had restricted capital punishment as early as 1743, and after 1794 only murderers were executed. Catherine‘s reforms to similar effect followed in Russia in 1767 and Joseph II‘s in Austria in 1787. Philadelphia Quakers dispensed with capital punishment after the American Revolution. In Amsterdam in the 1780s less than 1 a year were killed; barely 15 were executed annually in Prussia in the 1770s, and a little over 10 in Sweden in the 1780s. Towards 1770 about 300 people a year were condemned in the whole of France; over twice that number were condemned annually between 1781 and 1785 in London alone. [most were reprieved -ed.] Before the guillotine’s invention French punishments were crueller than English … even so, only 32 people were executed in Paris in 1774-7, against 139 in London.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Theft

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1977: Jerome Carrein, the second-last in France

Add comment June 23rd, 2014 Headsman

At dawn this date in 1977, child murderer Jerome Carrein was guillotined in the courtyard of Douai prison. He was the second-last person executed in France’s history.*

A vagabond ex-convict who slept most nights in the slough of rural Arleux, cadging food enough off relatives and a pitying local barkeep.


The Marsh at Arleux by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1871)

It was a more bestial appetite that saw him into the guillotine’s annals: on October 27, he pursuaded an eight-year-old schoolgirl, the daughter of his benefactor publican, to come along with him. Once he had her in the swamps, Carrein attempted to ravish little Cathy Petit. As Cathy struggled, Carrein later explained — he confessed almost immediately — “I saw red. I felt lost in the idea that she would denounce me, so I threw her in the pond.”

Her drowned corpse was discovered the next day.

The growing reluctance of the French state to slice off heads in the 1970s did not express itself in interminable wait times on death row. Carrein was condemned to death on July 12, 1976, during the run-up to Christian Ranucci‘s execution for a similar abduction/child murder.

That conviction was vacated a few months later for a trial irregularity, but the retrial took place in the wake of another high-profile trial: anti-death penalty crusader Robert Badinter had successfully defended a man named Patrick Henry from the guillotine in yet another nationally known child murder case, winning a life sentence instead. There was no small public outcry over this outcome, and Carrein’s prosecutor explicitly called on the jury in his second case to avenge with severity to Carrein the “rape of public conscience” perpetrated by leniency to Henry. (London Times, June 24, 1977)

Pierre Lefrance, speaking for Carrein’s defense, ventured his own appeal to the jurors’ wider sensibilities — in this case, of the growing likelihood that capital punishment was nearing the end of the line in France: “Were the death penalty to be abolished at last in the next year or two, would you wish that Carrein was the last man guillotined in France?”

The invaluable French-language guillotine.cultureforum.net has a forum thread on this case; be sure to note the appearance on page 3 of a poster claiming to be the daughter of Jerome Carrein’s first wife.

* It was also the first execution of France’s last official chief executioner, Marcel Chevalier.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Murder,Rape,Sex

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1608: St. Thomas Garnet, protomartyr of Stonyhurst

1 comment June 23rd, 2013 Headsman

June 23, alas, was the end of the line for Jesuit Thomas Garnet, martyred on that date in 1608 for Catholic proselytizing in England.

Now accounted a saint and one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, Garnet was the nephew of Henry Garnet, a priest executed in 1606 for complicity in the November 5, 1605 Gunpowder Plot.

Thomas, too — then about 30 years old — was arrested during this same backlash, and put to torture for evidence against uncle Henry. Thomas had been exercising his covert ministry in England since 1599, after slipping English custody once before.

As a result of the Gunpowder Plot hubbub, Thomas Garnet was among 47 Catholic clerics shipped across the English Channel to Flanders in July 1606, where they were warned that they faced execution should they ever again be caught in England.

Thomas Garnet returned, of course. He was betrayed within weeks by another priest named Rouse — whom Garnet publicly forgave while being drawn, hanged, and quartered on this date in 1608. (His faith was treasonable because he refused to swear an oath of allegiance demanded of Catholics post-5.11.)

Garnet’s remains were translated back to his Catholic school on the continent. In more tolerant times, long after Garnet’s death, this English Jesuit school finally had liberty to relocate back to England proper. While Garnet’s relics were destroyed in the French Revolution, he remains the protomartyr (the first martyr associated with a place) of the venerable Stonyhurst College, now in Lancashire.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture

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1954: George Robertson, the last hanged in Edinburgh

Add comment June 23rd, 2012 Headsman

This date in 1954 marked the last execution in the city of Edinburgh.

By the jaw-droppingly horrific murder he committed, George Robertson certainly earned the distinction.

Not actually topical save to George Robertson’s milestone as Edinburgh’s literal last drop; this Last Drop Pub is at the city’s Grassmarket where historic public hangings (long gone by Robertson’s day) were conducted. Image (c) Sh0rty and used with permission.

His ex-wife, Elizabeth McGarry, had recently kicked him out of the house after an attempted reunion led right back to the prolific domestic abuse that had ended their marriage in the first place. She was an unwed, unemployed mother of two teenage children, but anything beats being tied up and threatened with a hatchet.

Mother and children — 18-year-old son George Jr., and 16-year-old daughter Jean — lived in waking terror of the vengeful ex-patriarch; in the days before restraining orders, they kept doors constantly bolted and jammed with chairs under the doorknobs, and a poker within reach whenever possible.

According to this retrospective — and read the whole thing for a slasher film in prose — the estranged George managed to get into the house on the night of February 28, 1954, while everyone was asleep.

He summoned his former spouse to the kitchen and knifed her to death, then attacked young George Jr. when he arrived, too. Then he mounted the stairs — where Jean was desperately trying to escape out a window — carrying

the blood-drenched body of his ex-wife, a gaping hole in her stomach and a white handkerchief stuffed in her mouth, hands bound together.

George Alexander Robertson was just in the midst of trussing up Jean and stabbing her to death when the mangled George Jr. distracted the killer by reviving well enough to burst out onto the balcony and into the public quadrangle below. There, he

threw himself through a neighbour’s kitchen window, where he begged for help.

Following him, just yards behind, enraged and still clutching his knife, came his father.

The Hay family, whose quiet home was now about to become a murder scene, cowered in terror as blow after blow rained down on the terrified teen as he screamed for help.

Defenceless against his father’s brutality, young George finally slumped to the floor, dying.

Job done, his father threw his body over his shoulder and strolled home leaving a bloody trail across Tron Square.


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The savage “brainstorm” to which he would later attribute this wild spree must have been abating. As he returned to his former domicile, he didn’t bother finishing off Jean, but stuck his head in the kitchen gas oven, where responding police found him.

The obviously unbalanced paterfamilias attempted to plead guilty to avoid the spectacle of the trial (no dice: two days of horror from the witness box riveted the city) and did not attempt to fight the inevitable sentence once imposed. He was dead within 15 weeks of the bloodbath, at the skillful hands of Albert Pierrepoint.

Only three other Scottish executions anywhere — two in Glasgow, and one final hanging in Aberdeen — followed it before death penalty abolition.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Scotland,Volunteers

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1786: David Nelson, but not William Horbord

Add comment June 23rd, 2011 Headsman

This date in 1786 offers us the fine legal salami-slicing of how to stanch a race war with a noose.

Our salami’s name is David Nelson, a furloughed veteran of the Queen’s Rangers in the late American Revolution relocated to the environs of Fredericton, New Brunswick.

There, he and a fellow veteran named William Horbord or Horboard shot dead a native Maliseet for stealing their hog.

This brought neighboring peoples to a deadly tense standoff. The Maliseet demanded justice for their victim; white Canadians demanded … well, the right to shoot Maliseet without fear of their own neck.

Nelson and Horbord went right on trial, but how to finesse the situation?

According to an exhibit that unfortunately seems to have vanished from the Virtual Museum of Canada, natives “camped out around the presiding Judge Kingsclear’s home.” That must have got his commute off to an awkward start each day.

So a Solomonic compromise obtained: after the two were duly convicted and doomed to hang, Nelson, the principal offender, was measured for his coffin … while Horbord, deemed less culpable, received a pardon.

Now that’s gallows diplomacy.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pardons and Clemencies,Political Expedience,Public Executions,Soldiers

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1989: Sean Patrick Flanagan, self-hating gay man

8 comments June 23rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1989, Sean Patrick Flanagan was executed for murdering two gay men in Nevada.

The ex-Marine been picked up for jaywalking in California, when he went and confessed to the slightly more problematic offense of murder. This is why you should never say anything to police when arrested.

But Flanagan had a whole confessional, expiation thing going on. Besides admitting to strangling two older men with “the thought that I would be doing some good for our society,” he dropped his appeals and volunteered for execution.

I’m just as wicked and nasty as Ted Bundy. I believe if I had not been arrested, I would have ended up being another Ted Bundy against homosexuals.

-Flanagan

As is so often the case, the hatred that drove Flanagan to murder was actually directed inward — since the killer himself was also gay. Characterizing his own execution as “proper and just” and staying nose-deep in the Bible until injection time was all part of his uncertain journey of redeeming or defining or accepting himself.

The subsequent headlines were all about how Flanagan checked out of this world telling prosecutor and execution witness Dan Seaton, “I love you.”

“‘He means it in terms of Christian love and forgiveness,” Seaton explained later. No gay stuff.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Homosexuals,Lethal Injection,Murder,Nevada,USA,Volunteers

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1592: Roger Ashton

Add comment June 23rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1592, Roger Ashton was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

Ashton is a minor martyr on the Catholic rolls, one of many in the age who (as Edmund Campion put it) were called by determinedly Protestant English crown to “enjoy your Tyburn.”

We’ll let the Catholic Encyclopedia take it from here.

He was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, 23 June, 1592. His indictment is not preserved. Challoner says it was for procuring a dispensation from Rome to marry his second cousin. Later evidence, while confirming this, shows that it was not the only cause.

In 1585 he had gone to serve in the under the Earl of Leicester against the Spaniards. Sir William Stanley having been placed on guard over the town of Deventer, which had revolted from the Spaniards, he, with the assistance of Ashton, gave the town back to Spain and went over to their side (29 January, 1587).*

Cardinal Allen published a “Defence” of this act** in the form of a letter addressed to one “R.A.”, whose letter to the Cardinal prefixed and under these initials it seems natural to recognize our martyr. Stanley next entrusted to Ashton the difficult task of bringing over his wife from Ireland, but she was already under arrest, and he is said to have been sent Ashton to Rome. At the close of the year 1587 he returned to England and was apprehended in Kent with the marriage dispensation already mentioned. In January, 1588, he was in the Tower, where he lay ill towards the close of the year, when he was transferred to easier confinement in the Marshalsea. From this he managed to escape and fled to his brothers in Lancashire.

He was seized later, at Shields near Newcastle, while trying to escape over the seas. Transferred thence to Durham and York, he was tried and sentenced at Canterbury, and died “very resolute”, making profession of his faith and “… pitied of the people”, though the infamous Topcliffe tried to stir up ill-feeling against him by enlarging on his services to Spain.


Executions at Tyburn in the time of Elizabeth. From Tyburn Tree.

* This event — an English commander betraying a city to the enemy during wartime (in fact, two English commanders, as Rowland York (or Yorke) handed the Spanish the fortress of Zutphen on the same day) — naturally raised a scandal in 1587.

Although this treacherous William Stanley is not to be confused with the contemporaneous fellow-noble of the same name who has a horse in the “who really wrote Shakespeare?” race, Lily Bess Campbell argues that the imprint of events in Deventer and the subsequent volley of pamphleteering informs a discourse of royal prerogative in the Bard’s Henry V, when the disguised monarch goes slumming with the common soldiery on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt.

BATES

… wee
know enough, if wee know wee are the Kings Subiects:
if his Cause be wrong, our obedience to the King wipes
the Cryme of it out of vs

WILLIAMS

But if the Cause be not good, the King himselfe
hath a heauie Reckoning to make, when all those
Legges, and Armes, and Heads, chopt off in a Battaile,
shall ioyne together at the latter day, and cry all, Wee dyed
at such a place, some swearing, some crying for a Surgean;
some vpon their Wiues, left poore behind them;
some vpon the Debts they owe, some vpon their Children
rawly left: I am afear’d, there are few dye well, that dye
in a Battaile: for how can they charitably dispose of any
thing, when Blood is their argument? Now, if these men
doe not dye well, it will be a black matter for the King,
that led them to it; who to disobey, were against all proportion
of subiection

Henry replies that soldiers should look after their conscience on their own time and obey the prince of the realm in wartime. No doubt Queen Elizabeth approved.

if they dye vnprouided, no more
is the King guiltie of their damnation, then hee was before
guiltie of those Impieties, for the which they are
now visited. Euery Subiects Dutie is the Kings, but
euery Subiects Soule is his owne.

(As long as we’re digressing with Shakespeare and anti-Stratfordian candidates, here’s an argument that the jittery national mood post-Deventer and pre-routing the Spanish Armada — the time when Mary, Queen of Scots lost her head — makes a case for dating the Henry plays to that period, which in turn makes a case for Edward de Vere as their true author. Make of that what you will.)

** The obedience due a sovereign as opposed to the obedience due to an abstract standard of Right is a lasting modern question, so it’s no surprise that Cardinal Allen’s justification has a modern ring.

For that to revolt, is of itselfe, lawful or unlawful, honorable or otherwise, according to the justice, or injustice of the cause, or difference of the person, from or to whom the revolt is made … Whensoever thou art armed, & in readinesse for battayle, let this be thy first cogitation, that thy very corporal streingth itselfe, is the gift of God: whereby thou shalt stil be put in minde, never to use the gift of God, against God him selfe, that gave it thee.

Presumably he wouldn’t have supported the “only following orders” defense.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Soldiers

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