1584: Samuel Zborowski, dangerous precedent

Add comment May 26th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1584, Samuel Zborowski was beheaded at Krakow’s Wawel Hill for treason and murder committed ten years before.

A monument to the timeless abuse of the prosecutor’s discretion, Zborowski (English Wikipedia entry | Polish) was a powerful nobleman who got into a snit when nobody of equal stature would enter the lists with him at a tournament.

Instead, his challenge was answered by a common trooper in the retinue of the castellan of Wojnice,* one Jan Teczynski. Pissed at the affront, and doubly so when his own retainer was defeated by Teczynski’s, Zborowski went right after Teczynski right there in the presence of the newly elected Polish king, Henry de Valois.** The affront of lese-majeste was compounded when Zborowski’s flailing mace mortally wounded another castellan who attempted to intervene.

The outlawed Zborowski fled to the protection of Stephen Bathory,† Voivode of Transylvania.

That might have been that, and left Zborowski to join Europe’s forgettable ranks of exiles, adventurers, and pretenders playing out the string under the patronage of some foreign prince.

But when the elective throne of mighty Poland came open soon thereafter, Zborowski’s patron decided that he liked the look of it — and he obtained the result, with the help of a dynastic marriage into Poland’s Jagiellon dynasty of illustrious memory.

Since the Zborowskis had been big supporters of Stephen Bathory, Samuel returned as well, justifiably anticipating not merely pardon but elevation. To their dismay, they found themselves frozen out … and they responded with a series of insubordinations: plotting with the invading Russians, fomenting an unwanted diplomatic crisis with freelance attacks upon the Ottomans.

In the end, our man was undone by the same violent highhandedness that had forced his flight from Poland in the first place. Zborowski’s ill treatment of the young lute composer Wojciech Dlugoraj left the latter so desperate to escape Zborowski’s court that Dlugoraj stole some treasonable correspondence between Zborowski and his brothers and sent it to Zborowski’s enemy, Jan Zamoyski.‡ Those letters indicated that Samuel was contemplating assassinating the king.

Zamoyski found, and Bathory agreed, that the most expedient way to remove this troublemaker was simply to execute the 1574 sentence, from that bludgeoned castellan. The new regime had conveniently never bothered to lift it.

Although legal, Zborowski’s execution was obviously quite irregular and it outraged many in the nobility who perceived it a potential precedent for absolutism; recrimination over the action tore apart the 1585 meeting of the Polish Sejm. (In later years, this body formally endorsed Zamoyski’s actions but only after enacting a Lex Zborowski to better govern the handling of treason cases.)


Jan Matejko‘s 19th century rendering of Samuel Zborowski en route to beheading.

* At the time an important fortified city, Wojnice or Wojnicz was ravaged by a Swedish army in the 1650s and never recovered; today, it’s a town — having only re-promoted itself from “village” status in 2007 — of fewer than four thousand souls.

** This youngest son in the French royal house had seemed to the Valois safe to make available on the transfer market for foreign sovereigns. However, his brothers’ uncanny talent for dying young without issue very soon required his return to his homeland to take up the throne of France as Henri III during that country’s Wars of Religion. There Henri proved not to be exempt from the family curse: we have previously explored the circumstances of his own violent death — which was also the end of the House of Valois — during the War of the Three Henrys.

† A legendary surname in the annals of horror. This Stephen Bathory was the maternal uncle of the infamous “Countess of Blood”.

‡ The gambit did indeed get the scared lutenist free from Zborowski’s control, but he had to flee to Germany for fear of Zborowski kinsmen’s vengeance.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Nobility,Notable Jurisprudence,Poland,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1755: Louis Mandrin

Add comment May 26th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1755, the French outlaw Louis Mandrin was broken on the wheel.

In common with the whole French populace, Mandrin had a beef with the Ferme general — the country’s tax-farming concern — but Mandrin was the one who did something about it.

Specifically, he built a vast smuggling network in the 1750s that all along a vast north-south corridor from Burgundy to Savoy moved tobacco, cotton, and everything else the farm wanted to harvest — scoring political points along the way by thrashing the tax collectors whenever possible. It’s said that he took pains to have his merry contrabanders stay out of the violence business, unless they had the opportunity to direct it at the revenue men.

In the end, the Farmers General — a wealthy consortium that would one day soon commission a chunk of Paris’s city walls — provoked an international incident by illegally raiding Savoy to capture him, then having him tried and executed with speed to forestall any possibility of his return being negotiated.

But the popular bandit entered the popular culture where he has long outlived the rapacious Farmers; he’s been the subject of multiple film treatments, most recently in 2011, and the pensive folk song “La complainte de Mandrin” still today maintains its currency.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Gruesome Methods,History,Organized Crime,Pelf,Public Executions,Theft

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2011: Mehdi Farahj, photographed by Ebrahim Noroozi

1 comment May 26th, 2016 Headsman

Mehdi Farahj was hanged in Qazvin on this date in 2011 for a rape-murder spree that claimed five women’s lives.

Iranian photographer Ebrahim Noroozi shot scenes of this hanging as part of a stunning black-and-white series on public executions in Iran.

Noroozi gave an interview explaining his motivation and process — and allowing that the executions he attends “disgust me.”

Part of the Themed Set: The 2010s.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Iran,Murder,Public Executions,Rape,Serial Killers

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1868: Michael Barrett, the last public hanging in England

4 comments May 26th, 2015 Headsman

England held its last-ever public execution on this date in 1868, and made it big game indeed: Fenian Michael Barrett, whose Clerkenwell Prison bombing long remained one of the most infamous atrocities of the Irish nationalist cause.

The bill certifying the end of that distinctive institution, the public hanging, would be finalized three days hence, so the occasion’s milestone was anticipated in advance. Elites increasingly disdained the boorish carnivals that unfolded under the gallows, like Dickens who complained that “no sorrow, no salutary terror, no abhorrence, no seriousness; nothing but ribaldry, debauchery, levity, drunkenness, and flaunting vice in fifty other shapes” redeemed the 1840 hanging of Courvoisier.


“The Great Moral Lesson at Horsemonger Lane Gaol”, Punch magazine’s view of the notoriously rowdy mob at Frederick and Marie Manning execution.

“The crowd was most unusually orderly,” ran the Times‘ report of Barrett’s death — a sort of dual eulogy — “but it was not a crowd in which one would like to trust.”

It is said that one sees on the road to the Derby such animals as are never seen elsewhere; so on an execution morning one see faces that are never seen save round the gallows or near a great fire. Some laughed, some fought, some preached, some gave tracts, and some sang hymns; but what may be called the general good-humoured disorder of the crowd remained the same, and there was laughter at the preacher or silence when an open robbery was going on. None could look on the scene, with all its exceptional quietness, without a thankful feeling that this was to be the last public execution in England. Towards 7 o’clock the mass of people was immense. A very wide open space was kept round the gallows by the police, but beyond this the concourse was dense, stretching up beyond St. Sepulchre’s Church, and far back almost, into Smithfield — a great surging mass of people which, in spite of the barriers, kept swaying to and from like waving corn. Now and then there was a great laughter as a girl fainted, and was passed out hand over hand above the heads of the mob, and then there came a scuffle and a fight, and then a hymn, and then a sermon, and then a comic song, and so on from hour to hour, the crowd thickening as the day brightened, and the sun shone out with such a glare as to extinguish the very feeble light which showed itself faintly through the glass roof above where the culprit lay. It was a wild, rough crowd, not so numerous nor nearly so violent as that which thronged to see Muller or the pirates die. In one way they showed their feeling by loudly hooting a magnificently-attired woman, who, accompanied by two gentlemen, swept down the avenue kept open by the police, and occupied a window afterwards right in front of the gallows. This temporary exhibition of feeling was, however, soon allayed by coppers being thrown from the window for the roughs to scramble for. It is not right, perhaps, that a murderer’s death should be surrounded by all the pious and tender accessories which accompany the departure of a good man to a better world, but most assuredly the sight of public executions to those who have to witness them is as disgusting as it must be demoralizing even to all the hordes of thieves and prostitutes it draws together. Yesterday the assembly was of its kind an orderly one, yet it was such as we feel grateful to think will under the new law never be drawn together again in England.

Michael Barrett’s ticket to this last assembly was punched by a different execution six months previous — the hanging of the Manchester Martyrs. This trio of Irish patriots were part of a mob who liberated some comrades from a police van, shooting a policeman in the process — though it was far from certain that any of these three actually fired shots.

Of importance for our purposes today was the crackdown on other Fenians occasioned by the Manchester affair. In November of 1867, a Fenian agent named Richard O’Sullivan Burke was arrested with his companion Joseph Casey in London purchasing weapons for the movement. They were clapped in Clerkenwell Prison pending trial.

The bombing that brought Michael Barrett to the gallows was a bid to liberate these men … and it did not pause for subtlety. The conspirators simply wheeled a barrel of gunpowder up to the wall of the facility when they expected the inmates to be at exercise in the adjacent yard. The explosion blasted a 60-foot gap in the wall; the inward-collapsing rubble might easily have been the death rather than the salvation of the prospective beneficiaries, except that they weren’t actually in the yard at all — nobody was there, and nobody escaped Clerkenwell.

But numerous working-class families lived in little tenements opposite the prison and were there, and in fact Clerkenwell had a reputation for political radicalism and Fenian sympathy. This monstrous new “infernal machine” tore through Clerkenwell homes, leaving 12 people dead and numerous buildings near to collapse, while windows and chimneys shivered to pieces all up and down the block.


Improvised struts shore up damaged buildings opposite the wall of Clerkenwell Prison reduced to rubble by the December 13, 1867 Fenian bombing.

Karl Marx, a strong supporter of the Irish cause, despaired this counterproductive turn towards terrorism: “The London masses, who have shown great sympathy towards Ireland, will be made wild and driven into the arms of a reactionary government. One cannot expect the London proletarians to allow themselves to be blown up in honour of Fenian emissaries.”

English reformer Charles Bradlaugh agreed. “The worst enemy of the Irish people could not have devised a scheme better calculated to destroy all sympathy,” he wrote.


Punch magazine depicts the Clerkenwell bomber(s) as the “Fenian Guy Fawkes“.

Considering the magnitude of the crime, someone would have to pay for it. That Barrett was that someone did not sit well for many.

Five men and a woman stood trial at the Old Bailey in April for the Clerkenwell outrage, but Barrett was the only one of them convicted, a terribly inadequate investigation/prosecution outcome given the infamy of the crime.

That conviction stood on the basis of disputed eyewitness identifications: Barrett produced witnesses who said he was in Glasgow when the bomb went off, while the crown found others who would swear he was actually in London. (The length of Barrett’s whiskers on specific dates in late November and early December forms a running subplot of the dueling testimonies.)

The reliability and even the good faith of all such winesses might well be impugned. A highly questionable stool pigeon named Patrick Mullany who ducked prosecution by turning crown’s evidence, charged that Barrett personally set off the ordnance.

Despite his certain doom, Barrett eloquently vindicated himself at his sentencing

To give me credit for such an undertaking is utterly absurd; being, as I am, a total stranger to acts of daring, and without any experience which would in any way fit me for engaging in such an enterprise. Is it not ridiculous to suppose that in the City of London, where … there are ten thousand armed Fenians, they would have sent to Glasgow for a party to do this work, and then select a person of no higher standing and no greater abilities than the humble individual who now stands convicted before you? To suppose such a thing is a stretch of imagination that the disordered minds of the frightened officials of this country could alone be capable of entertaining.

If it is murder to love Ireland more dearly than life, then indeed I am a murderer. If I could in any way remove the miseries or redress the grievances of that land by the sacrifice of my own life I would willingly, nay, gladly, do so. if it should please the God of Justice to turn to some account, for the benefit of my suffering country, the sacrifice of my poor, worthless life, I could, by the grace of God, ascend the scaffold with firmness, strengthened by the consoling reflection that the stain of murder did not rest upon me, and mingling my prayers for the salvation of my immortal soul with those for the regeneration of my native land.

Benjamin Disraeli’s government could not in the end realistically entertain the agitation from liberal and radical circles for sparing Barrett, because that would mean that nobody would hang for Clerkenwell. But as the next day’s edition of Reynold’s News noted, “Millions will continue to doubt that a guilty man has been hanged at all; and the future historian of the Fenian panic may declare that Michael Barrett was sacrificed to the exigencies of the police, and the vindication of the good Tory principle, that there is nothing like blood.”

Three months after Barrett made that expiation, England officially began its era of fully private hangings behind prison walls.

* James Joyce hung out with a (much-older) Joseph Casey in Paris in the early 20th century. Yes, that’s in Ulysses too: “He prowled with Colonel Richard Burk, tanist of his sept, under the walls of Clerkenwell and crouching saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry. In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me.”

Part of the Themed Set: Terrorism.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Ireland,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Terrorists,Wrongful Executions

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1651: Jeane Gardiner, Bermuda witch

1 comment May 26th, 2014 Headsman

From Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda, 1616-1782:

The witchcraft trouble [in Bermuda in 1651-55] began in May 1651, when Goodwife Jeane Gardiner, the wife of Ralph Gardiner of Hamilton Tribe, was accused of bewitching a mulatto woman named Tomasin. Jeane Gardiner was heard to say “that she would crampe Tomasin” and reportedly “used many other threatenninge words tending to the hurt and injurie of the said mullatto woman.” Gardiner’s victim was then “very much tormented, and struck blind and dumb for the space of twoe houres or thereabouts.” Jeane Gardiner may have been known in her neighborhood as the wife of Ralph Gardiner, a laborer who had come to Bermuda in 1612. A contentious man, he twice accused neighbors of stealing his poultry and was himself found guilty of stealing a fish gig. The assize record mentions that Jeane Gardiner, in addition to practicing witchcraft on Tomasin, “at divers tymes in other places … did practice the said devilish craft of witchcraft on severall persons in the hurt and damage of their bodyes and goods.” A panel of 12 women, including the wives of several men who possessed black, Inian, or mulatto servants or slaves, found a witch mark, a suspicious “blewe spott” in Gardiner’s mouth. As a further test, Gardiner was “throwne twice in the sea” where she was found to “swyme like a corke and could not sinke” — according to the lore of witchcraft, a sure sign of guilt.


/mandatory

A white, middle-aged woman, wife of a laborer, Goodwife Gardiner was a typical candidate for witchcraft charges in Bermuda.

Of Tomasin, the mulatto woman who was Jeane Gardiner’s alleged victim, nothing is known except her name. Since she is not identified as belonging to any master, it is possible that Tomasin was a free woman. Perhaps she was a neighbor of Gardine’s. Jeane Gardiner and Tomasin may have lived near each other, but nothing is known of their relationship. Did Tomasin, in word or action, offend Jeane Gardiner? Did Gardiner, the wife of a laborer, feel threatened by, or jealous of, Tomasin? On the connection between this white woman and her mulatto neighbor the record is silent, but Bermuda’s legal system inflicted the full measure of punishment upon the mulatto woman’s malefactor: Jeane Gardiner was hanged “before many spectators” on May 26, 1651.

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1884: Mary Lefley, exonerated by a deathbed confession

5 comments May 26th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1884, Mary Lefley was hanged at Lincoln County Gaol for lacing her husband’s pudding with a lethal dose of arsenic.*

It was less than four months since William Lefley ate the rice pudding his wife Mary had left him in the oven while she called at a nearby town. This strange poisoning case is admirably covered by Capital Punishment UK, whose work we’ve featured here before. It’s one of the essential online sources on British execution history.

Shrieking in terror, Lefley had to be dragged to the gallows — still protesting her innocence. She’d never admitted to the crime, and they’d never been able to show that she purchased any arsenic.

There was some thought that William may have committed suicide: he’s known to have attempted it once before. But the more outlandish defense hypothesis that some unknown third party might have snuck in and poisoned the morsel gained unexpected credence in 1893 when a farmer made a deathbed confession to having done just that … over a wholly unrelated-to-Mary financial grudge.

* Mary Lefley knew the last notorious Lincolnshire poisoner, Priscilla Biggadyke — who hanged for poisoning off her husband in 1868. “They are hanging me for my past!” Lefley exclaimed when she was convicted. (Priscilla turned out to be innocent, too.)

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1647: Alse Young, the first witchcraft execution in New England

Add comment May 26th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1647, the state of Connecticut carried out the first recorded execution of a witch in the American colonies.

A good half-century before the more renowned Salem witch trials, Alse Young — about whom little is recorded safe her infernal affiliations — hanged at Windsor for her devilry.

She was the first of several in Connecticut to suffer that penalty over the generation to come.

And though we’d be happy to blather on about it, we think you’ll find that Tim Abbott’s peripatetic Walking the Berkshires blog — still a font of compelling and original content in its sixth year on the beat — has Alse Young (and early Connecticut witchery) covered.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Connecticut,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,USA,Witchcraft,Women

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1871: Hostages of the Paris Commune

Add comment May 26th, 2010 Headsman

The fall of the Paris Commune on May 28, 1871 launched many a leftist insurrectionary into the martyrs’ firmament.

But the last semaine sanglante that engulfed the Commune there was blood enough for many martyrdoms.

On this date in 1871, just days before the Commune gave way, it executed a clutch of hostages (French link) in desperate reprisal for the Versailles army’s cruelties. For the Commune, it was too little ruthlessness and much too late. For the 52 who stood up against the wall this date, they were just as dead.

These unfortunates were marched from La Roquette prison — whose inmates by dint of timely resistance only narrowly avoided a more extensive massacre — to Rue Haxo and slaughtered.

A number of them were men of the cloth. In 1938, the Catholic church of Notre Dame des Otages was erected on the site and dedicated to the victims’ memory.


A crucifix at Notre Dame des Otages. Copyrighted image used with permission.

(The markers on the spot have settled on 52 as the number of the victims, which might be the historically authoritative count; different sources, however, provide slightly different numbers.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Cycle of Violence,Execution,France,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1831: Mariana de Pineda Muñoz, Spanish liberal

2 comments May 26th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1831, Mariana Pineda died for her flag.

The problem, in the eyes of feckless royal troglodyte Ferdinand VII, was that Pineda’s flag stood for “Equality, Freedom and Law.”

The widowed 27-year-old (English Wikipedia page | the much more detailed Spanish) had become a devotee of the liberal Zeitgeist that contended in post-Napoleonic Europe with absolutism.

Spain had had the briefest of flings with liberal government in 1812, only to have Ferdinand reverse Spain from one of the most progressive governments in Europe to one of its most backward. The man even reintroduced the Spanish Inquisition.

By the 1830’s, tensions between constitutional liberals and unreconstructed royalists had Spain on the point of civil war, which would in fact erupt upon Ferdinand’s death two years hence.

Mariana Pineda swam with liberal circles, even helping a death-sentenced cousin escape prison. In 1831, the authorities found a flag in her home embroidered with the “Equality, Freedom and Law” slogan.

Pineda refused to name accomplices, and Ferdinand threw the book at her. Pineda remained adamant.

Before suffering public garrotting in her native Granada (while the offending flag was burnt before her), Pineda declared,

“The memory of my ordeal will do more for our cause than all the flags in the world.”

Her prediction wasn’t so far off.

Pineda’s posthumous repute as heroine has migrated from the particular cause of her day to the general pantheon of Spain. These days, a Granada public holiday (festivities held in the square named in Pineda’s honor) commemorates her sacrifice. Her name is also a byword for the struggle of women to win full political participation (there’s a Centro Europeo de Las Mujeres “Mariana de Pineda”). And martyred playwright Federico García Lorca turned her story into a theatrical classic — his first successful play.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Garrote,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Spain,Strangled,Treason,Women

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