1793: Francois de Laverdy, former Controller-General

Add comment November 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Clément Charles François de Laverdy, Marquis of Gambais and the ancien regime‘s former Controller-General of Finances, was guillotined in Paris.

“Un financier erudit,” Laverdy (English Wikipedia entry | French) was a member of the Paris Parlement and a scholar who at one point unearthed previously unknown manuscripts about the trial of Joan of Arc — but became a bit overmatched when political machinations situated him at Louis XV’s treasury.

A physiocrat, Laverdy made a go in the 1760s at liberalizing the grain trade by authorizing via a July 1764 edict the free export of grain, then reaped the whirlwind when grain prices spiked. In the 1760s, the whirlwind just meant losing his job: by the 1790s, the loss was very much more dear.

Laverdy labored in a pre-industrial kingdom, at a time when the field of economics still lay in its infancy. Nevertheless, he is a recognizably modern character, both in his principles and his disposition, as Steven L. Kaplan describes him in Bread, Politics and Political Economy in the Reign of Louis XV:

Laverdy correctly believed that traditional attitudes toward subsistence constituted the single greatest barrier to change. But, like many self-consciously enlightened ministers and reformers, he neither understood nor sympathized with it. Diffusing light, to be sure, was no easy matter; since all men were not equally equipped to seize the truth, often it was necessary to force them to accept it. To re-educate the public, Laverdy saw no alternative to brutal and relentless reconditioning.

Impetuously, the people believed that their right to subsist took precedence over all the rights prescribed by natural law as the basis of social organization. They assumed that it was the solemn duty of the state to intervene when necessary to guarantee their subsistence without regard for so-called natural rights. Such views, in Laverdy’s estimation, were erroneous and pernicious; they misconceived the role of the government and its relation to the citizenry and did violence to the soundest principles of political economy. In a word, they were irrational; the Controller-General refused a dialogue with unreason. “The people,” he lamented, “hardly used their reason in matters of subsistence.” …

To combat and discredit this mentality, Laverdy chose to belittle and insult it with all the sophistry of progressive thinking. It consisted of nothing more than a crazy quilt of “prejudices.” “Prejudice” was one of the harshest epithets in the political vocabulary of the Enlightenment; it acquired added force when accompanied by Laverdy’s favorite metaphors, light and sight. Their prejudices “blinded the people,” not only to the “veritable principles of things,” but also to “their true interests.” (A decade later, in similar fashion, Turgot explained popular resistance to his liberal program on the grounds that the people are “too little enlightened on their real interests.”) In letter after letter, the Controller-General railed against the “old prejudices which still subsist against liberty of the grain trade.” He hated “ignorance” and “prejudice” en philosophe for the “obstacles … always contrary to all sorts of good [which they] opposed to progress.” …

Only a tough, unbending stance would produce results. “By stiffening against the prejudices of the people,” he predicted, “they will gradually weaken and we will succeed in accustoming them to a bien,” though, he conceded, “they will continue to misjudge [it] for still some time to come.” Misjudging it, however, was one thing, and actively opposing it, quite another. The threat of bludgeoning them into submission was the only real incentive the Controller-General offered the people to embrace the liberal program.

The bread riots that afflicted the remainder of his term he could not but ascribe to this unreason; proceeding from the certainty that his policies were objectively correct, “Laverdy claimed that grain was abundant and prices moderate” and riots “could only have resulted from ‘the prejudice which exists against the liberty of the grain trade.'”

Or, as a liberal journal serenely put it, the riots “are not and cannot be the effect of real need” because in a regime of liberty, “the dearth that the enraged minds fear, or feign to fear, is manifestly impossible.” …

Two assumptions, in Laverdy’s view, seemed to have emboldened the people. First, that they could riot with “impunity,” an expectation encouraged by many police authorities — those at Rouen, for example — who fail to put down popular movements swiftly and mercilessly and who in some instances even seem to sympathize with the insurgents. Second, “the persuasion which the populace of the cities ordinarily shares that the fear of the riots which it might excite will force the King to modify the laws which established liberty.” Nothing was “more essential,” according to the Controller-General, than to “destroy” these aberrant opinions.

To dispel the idea that consumers could riot without risk, Laverdy instructed and exhorted the police after every episode to repress with dispatch and pitilessness. Repeatedly, he asked for “a few examples of severity,” which would serve not only to “contain the people,” but also to “destroy those prejudices” which motivated them, presumably by revealing the futility of following their lead. If the repression were to be delayed, the didactic advantages would be lost. “Nothing is more important,” Laverdy wrote Joly de Fleury in reference to a riot which took place in the fall of 1766, “than to accelerate the procedures instituted against the principal authors … examples in such circumstances are of the greatest necessity and when they are deferred, they do not produce nearly the same effect.” … Impatient with “the slowness of the official inquiries, the appeals, the forms to which the [ordinary] tribunals are subjected,” the Controller-General considered resuscitating a draconian repressive law which had been used before to bypass local jurisdictions …

Soft sentences annoyed Laverdy as much as dilatory ones. Even as he urged the police to show rigor in the streets and marketplaces, so he goaded prosecutors to demand heavy penalties and judges to pronounce them. He followed cases eagerly in all their details, made his expectations clearly known, and bristled with indignation when the results displeased him. In the wake of a massive riot at Troyes, for example, in which the police had failed to deal harshly with the insurgents, Laverdy pressed for a stern judicial reckoning. He was satisfied to learn that the royal procurator and the rapporteur would ask the death penalty for three of the putative leaders and stringent punishment for the others. In anticipation of such a verdict and a hostile popular reaction, extra brigades were sent to reinforce the constabulary. To virtually everyone’s surprise, the presidial rendered a stunningly mild provisional sentence which could lead to the release of all the prisoners in three months. The Controller-General angrily denounced the verdict and demanded an explanation; “the excesses to which the people have given themselves in this circumstance,” he wrote, “require a much more severe punishment.”

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1883: The martyrs of Quequeña and Yarabamba

Add comment November 24th, 2017 Headsman

This date in 1883 saw the deaths of six Peruvian patriotic martyrs.

These executions blackened the War of the Pacific, a conflict between Chile and an alliance of Bolivia plus Peru which we have previously featured on this site. Its stakes were a resource-rich borderlands but by this point in the war, Chile had already conquered all the way to Lima. Now it was a war of occupation, a war of resistance.

The inland city of Arequipa — Peru’s capital up until this very juncture — had been captured by Chile in September 1883, setting up a chaotic situation.

Come November 22, three Chilean soldiers engaging the occupier’s prerogative to brutalize the locals were set upon by civilians in Quequeña, just outside Arequipa. Two of the Chileans were kied in the fray.

An immediate dragnet in Quequeña and neighboring Yarabamba hung dozens of severe convictions on various Peruvians, headlined by a staggering 26 condemned to execution for participating in the brawl. Our six — by names, Liborio Linares, Manuel Linares, Angel Figuerioa, Juan de Dios Costa, Jose Mariano, and Luciano Ruiz — were the “only” ones ultimately put to death; they remain national heroes in Peru to this day.

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1440: The Black Dinner

Add comment November 24th, 2016 Headsman

Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e’en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein.

-Sir Walter Scott

On this date in 1440, 10-year-old King James II of Scotland celebrated the Black Dinner and saw two Clan Douglas rivals sent straight to the block.

Scotland in the early 15th century was a fractious kingdom that was often governed by rivalrous regency councils ruling in the stead of absent or enfeebled kings. That was the case after the 1437 assassination of King James I passed the crown to his young son.

On these councils, the clan Douglas always swung a very large claymore. Elevated to the first rank of lowland families by their early support of Robert the Bruce a century before, the Earls of Douglas had become perhaps the realm’s preeminent noblemen — the sort of overweening powers-behind-the-throne that everyone starts thinking about how to topple. No surprise, James II’s regent was this very Earl of Douglas, Archibald Douglas — until the latter died in 1439 and passed the title to a young heir of his own.

Only about 16 years old, the new Earl, William Douglas, wasn’t exactly a child by the standards of the time. (He already had a wife.) But he was no match for the grizzled schemers he was pitted against among James II’s other guardians, Crichton and Livingston. These two perversely connived with William’s own uncle James to be rid of the whelp before he could grow into another overmighty Earl of Douglas.

This day’s infamous meal accomplished the plot.

Caledonia’s answer to the Red Wedding — and an actual inspiration for that literary slaughter in the Game of Thrones universe* — the Black Dinner of folklore is supposed to have featured both William and his little brother David naively accepting an invitation to Edinburgh Castle for noshes with the king.** Having left their own strongholds, they were vulnerable here.

After their feast on this date, it is said — though this excessive detail was undoubtedly concocted by generations of folklore — that a severed black bull’s head was plopped onto the table, to symbolize the imminent decapitation of the Douglas alpha males.† Then the Douglas lads were subjected to a mock trial as traitors and instantly dragged outside for beheading. That devious uncle James happily inherited as the seventh Earl of Douglas.‡

* The Massacre of Glencoe, another great Scottish bloodbath, also figures in the Red Wedding’s source material. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” said Thrones author George R.R. Martin. Amen to that.

** Along with Sir Malcolm Fleming of Cumbernauld, who was seized along with the Douglas boys but seemingly only killed a few days later.

† Still, not as terrifying as a Thanksgiving Cthurkey.

‡ While the child king was more prop than participant in the events of the Black Dinner, he would have the privilege little more than a decade later of personally stabbing to death the eighth Earl of Douglas, James’s son William.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Scotland,Summary Executions

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1950: Norman Goldthorpe, knot botch

Add comment November 24th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1950, Norman Goldthorpe hanged at Norwich prison.

Goldthorpe’s was an open-and-shut case. In a drunken fury when his married lover ditched him for the hubby, Goldthorpe tracked down a 66-year-old prostitute he knew and strangled her to death. Neighbors had seen him coming and going.

Because the realm’s veteran lead hangmen, Albert Pierrepoint and Stephen Wade, had been engaged for an execution in Scotland, the job fell to Harry Kirk. Kirk had been an assistant executioner, a job that entailed helping measure the drop of the rope and set up the gallows, but he had never been the head executioner. That job required actually noosing the prisoner and throwing the lever to drop the trap. The difference wasn’t merely one of degree, but of kind … as Kirk (and Goldthorpe) unpleasantly discovered.

Syd Dernley, the assistant executioner turned memoirist whose career we’ve touched on before, was Kirk’s number two. As he recalled, the whole engagement started off in, er, mortifying fashion.

Having checked into Norwich prison and completed their pre-hanging walk-through, Dernley and Kirk were killing time on the eve of the hanging with a prison guard. Dernley had brought along a book of dirty jokes and before long it had the three of them in uproarious laughter. That is, until “there was a loud pounding on the floor.”

The young screw stiffened, and the smile frozen on his face for an instant before it was wiped away by a sick look of understanding. “Oh Christ!” he exclaimed. “Oh bloody hell!”

A feeling of apprehension hit me in the stomach.

“Don’t make any more noise,” said the screw, now white-faced, in a whisper. “It’s the condemned cell down below … they must be knocking on the ceiling with something.”

Think about that one the next time you recollect your worst faux pas.

Well, this wasn’t even Kirky and Dernley’s worst of the Goldthorpe job.

Moments after Goldthorpe dropped 7 feet, 8 inches down through the Norwich jail trap, Dernley remembered, “I heard the most spine-chilling sound I ever heard in an execution chamber. From the pit came a snort … and then another snort … and another and another! The rope was still, the head seemed to be over … but there were noises coming from under the hood!”

Blessedly for all concerned, the wheezing stopped within a few moments. Dernley maintains in his book that Goldthorpe’s neck was actually broken, the snorts an involuntary muscular contraction. But he admitted otherwise in a subsequent interview: “I feel that it was a bad job — the man was dying on the rope. It had not broken his neck, but he was dead a couple of minutes afterwards.”

After fretting a nervous hour away while the body dangled for the regulation time, the hangmen finally got a look at what went wrong: the linen hood tucked over the man’s head in his last instant of life had snagged in the eye of the noose, and jammed it up before it could tighten all the way.

In Dernley’s estimation, the rookie hangman botched it by going too fast. Pierrepoint, who had hundreds of executions to his credit, was famous for his lightning-quick hangings, with nary a wasted motion. Dernley relates one instance where the master, in a showoff mode, lit a cigar and set it down before commencing the hanging procedure, and was in time to pick it back up for a puff before it went out while his prey twisted at the bottom of a taut rope. But Pierrepoint’s speed, which helped define the Platonic ideal of an execution for Britain’s last generation of hangmen, was not an end unto itself but a product of the master’s expertise.

Kirk “had been trying to go too fast,” Dernley wrote. “He was trying to show that he was as quick as Pierrepoint. When he put the noose round Goldthorpe’s neck he should have seen that the bag was not properly down; maybe he did, maybe he thought it was near enough, and let it go.”

It was the last hanging Harry Kirk ever worked.

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1964: Glen Sabre Valance, the last hanged in South Australia

3 comments November 24th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1964, Glen Sabre Valance became the last person hanged in South Australia.

Born Paul Fraser, he jazzed up the handle by cribbing the surname of the title outlaw from the 1962 John Ford Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Like that Lee Marvin cutthroat, “Glen Valance” was destined to live a brutal life with a violent end.

In the early morning of 16 June 1964, the 21-year-old Valance broke into the home of his former employer, Richard Strang. He had a standing dispute with the Bordertown farmer over wages but his real grudge ran deeper than that. Strang had bemusedly read the sensitive youth’s diary to other farmhands weeks before, resulting in an altercation — and, after Valance drove off with some of his effects, a police report and an arrest.

Valance nursed “bad thoughts” against his tormenter, he muttered to his family. They turned out worse than anyone could have expected: bad enough to justify his adopted alias.

As Strang and his wife dozed in bed, Valance leveled his rifle at the hated ex-boss, and leveled the score. Then he seized the waking Suzanne Strang and raped her there in the bed sodden with the gore of her husband’s warm corpse.

As Valance hightailed it out of Kooroon Station, Suzanne Strang phoned police — and the resulting roadblocks snared the murderer that very day, with the murder weapon right there in the passenger seat … actually riding shotgun. Valance mounted an unsuccessful insanity defense.

In 2011, Lillian Clavell — ten years old at the time of her half-brother’s execution — published a book, A Tormented Soul: The Tragic Life of Glen Sabre Valance, the Last Man to be Hanged in South Australia.

In it, a Clavell still affectionate for her big brother points to their savagely abusive mother as the root cause of the adult Paul/Glen’s horrific crime. (Lillian says that her father shielded her from the worst of any domestic violence, but Paul had no father in his life and no such protection.)

I know she burnt his hands on the stove. I know she put his face through a window. Once she held a knife to his throat and said she’d kill him if he ever stole anything from the cupboard again. I believe that (abuse) led very much to his crime.

Valance was hanged in an unused guard tower (the “Hanging Tower”) of Adelaide Gaol. The facility is unused today, but the date November 24, 1964 and the letters GSV still remain printed on the brick wall.

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1879: Phra Pricha

Add comment November 24th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1879, the British Consul General in Bangkok lost his son-in-law to the headsman.

Fanny Knox was the multiracial daughter of Consul Thomas Knox and a Siamese noblewoman named Prang Yen.

R.J. Minney (who also popularized Violetta Szabo in Carve Her Name With Pride) novelized her intriguing story for a popular audience in the 1960s, following up on the Victorian-ingenue-in-Indochina interest created by Anna and the King of Siam. His Fanny and the Regent of Siam didn’t quite enter the canon, but 50-year-old used copies can still be scared up for a few pennies.

Anna of Anna and the King and Fanny of Fanny and the Regent had a link besides the publishing industry: Anna Leonowens‘s son Louis actually paid court to Fanny Knox. He wound up settling for Fanny’s sister Caroline when Fanny went for the Siamese aristocrat Phra Pricha (or Preecha) Kon-la-Karn. (“Phra” is an honorific for Pricha’s rank. Fanny would later be known as the Baroness Pricha Kon-la-Karn.)

But just weeks after their marriage — and while Fanny was pregnant with their first (only!) child — the new groom was accused of peculation and treachery, leading to his shocking Nov. 24 beheading.

The New York Times marveled in a sketchy April 12, 1880 recap:

Nothing so startling has happened here in a quarter of a century. You can only understand its effect by imagining John Sherman, Secretary of the Treasury, to be suddenly arrested, carried off mysteriously to Richmond or Petersburg, Va., and as mysteriously hanged. You may say that you do not hang high officers in the United States. Neither do they behead high officers in Siam. The instance of Pra Preecah [another alternate spelling] can hardly be paralleled here, at least in this generation.

The unparalleled and opaque tragedy transpired in the first few years of the majority of Siam’s King Chulalongkorn (or Rama V) — one of the royal princes tutored by the aforementioned Anna Leonowens.

In time, Chulalongkorn would be known as Rama the Great, the brilliant modernizer in his country’s history … but at this time those aspirations were constrained by much more conservative Siamese elites, most especially personified in the man who had been Chulalongkorn’s regent during his minority, Si Suriyawongse. The Times article just quoted ungenerously judges the king “a weak, cruel, cowardly despot” who “cannot much longer retain his power.”

Prominent among the king’s “Young Siam” party was the Amatayakun family, and the most prominent among that clan was Phra Pricha. Pricha was the governor of Prachinburi.

The substance of the formal accusation was that our man abused his control of Prachinburi’s lucrative Kabin gold mine to embezzle revenues that rightly belonged to the crown while grotesquely oppressing, even outright murdering, laborers under his jurisdiction there. The baron even confessed to the charge, though it’s difficult to know what weight to put upon that.

The probable subtext is political enmity between the Amatayakun family and the Bunnag family of the “Old Siam” ex-regent. Indeed, it’s been speculated that it was precisely because Phra Pricha detected the imminent accusations against him that he married Fanny Knox — so that he could give the money to his wife to protect it.

The British consul, meanwhile, quite overreached himself to intervene on behalf of his new son-in-law.

In a personal visit to Chulalongkorn, he urged the king that Pricha’s political enemies had concocted the charges — and that British gunships would back the sovereign if he should use the occasion to reverse the power of the old guard who intended to prosecute the former governor. (Source)

Chulalongkorn declined to upset the apple cart. Phra Pricha was handled by his enemies, and his family fell from power with his execution

Was the king’s reticence timidity or sagacity? 1879-1880 proved to be the nadir of Chulalongkorn’s power. Within months after Phra Pricha’s execution, team Young Siam was wresting its influence back. As the 1880s unfolded, Old Siam was literally dying off, and loyalists of the young king began filling their ministries.

Chulalongkorn’s reluctance to invite foreign intervention would foreshadow perhaps his essential accomplishment: although entirely surrounded by British and French colonies and certainly subject to those empires’ pressures, Rama the Great maintained the independence of Siam/Thailand.

Consul General Thomas Knox, meanwhile, was recalled over his impolitic meddling. Millions of tourists to Thailand’s unofficial northern capital might be interested in this side note: Nigel Brailey suggests that “It could be said that Siam’s role in Chiengmai,” which was then a distinct tributary kingdom of Siam’s subject to the growing influence of the neighboring British, “was saved by the … Phra Pricha affair.” The ambassador swap caused a year-long gap in British-Siamese diplomatic negotiations thereto which had been intensifying in early 1879.

* “Chiengmai and the Inception of an Administrative Centralization Policy in Siam (II),” Southeast Asian Studies, March 1974. (pdf cached here)

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1868: Giuseppe Monti and Gaetano Tognetti, by the Papal guillotine

1 comment November 24th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1868, Italian revolutionaries Giuseppe Monti and Gaetano Tognetti were guillotined in Rome.

Theirs was a passion of the Risorgimento, the 19th century drive to unify as a single nation the peninsula’s quiltwork of minor kingdoms, duchies, and city-states.

Following the Third Italian War of Independence, this had largely been accomplished … with the notable exception of the Papal States surrounding Rome. You can hardly have Italy without the Eternal City.

So national liberator Giuseppe Garibaldi gathered a force under the slogan Roma o morte and prepared to march … while Pope Pius IX began receiving reinforcements from the sympathetic French emperor Napoleon III.

Inside Rome, Monti and Tognetti prepared a little morte of their own. Intending to mount a fifth-column uprising to coincide with the arrival of Garibaldi’s army, the two detonated a couple barrels of gunpowder under the Serristori barracks, killing 23 French zouaves and four Roman civilians. (All links in this paragraph are Italian.)


Kablamo.

Unfortunately for the bombers, no general rising ensued, and the Papal and French armies subsequently repulsed Garibaldi at the Battle of Mentana on Nov. 3, 1867 — extending the papal enclave’s lease on life only slightly, but just enough to deal with Monti and Tognetti.

Their fate at the hands of the civil and religious authorities (one and the same, at this time), is dramatized in the 1977 Italian film In Nome Del Pap Re. (This Google books freebie purports to relate their final days.)

The triumph, such as it was, was short-lived for the Papal States: these were the very last executions by guillotine in Rome; the Papal States polity as a whole had time for only two more executions in its history before the Italian nationalist army completed the risorgimento by capturing Rome in 1870.

The two are memorialized in a celebratory ode by Giosue Carducci.

PER GIUSEPPE MONTI E GAETANO TOGNETTI
MARTIRI DEL DIRITTO ITALIANO

I
Torpido fra la nebbia ed increscioso
Esce su Roma il giorno:
Fiochi i suon de la vita, un pauroso
Silenzio è d’ogn’intorno.

Novembre sta del Vatican su gli orti
Come di piombo un velo:
Senza canti gli augei da’ tronchi morti
Fuggon pe ‘l morto cielo.

Fioccano d’un cader lento le fronde
Gialle, cineree, bianche;
E sotto il fioccar tristo che le asconde
Paion di vita stanche

Fin quelle, che d’etadi e genti sparte
Mirar tanta ruina
In calma gioventù, forme de l’arte
Argolica e latina.

Il gran prete quel dì svegliossi allegro,
Guardò pe’ vaticani
Vetri dorati il cielo umido e negro,
E si fregò le mani.

Natura par che di deforme orrore
Tremi innanzi a la morte:
Ei sente de le piume anco il tepore
E dice – Ecco, io son forte.

Antecessor mio santo, anni parecchi
Corser da la tua gesta:
A te, Piero, bastarono gli orecchi;
Io taglierò la testa.

A questa volta son con noi le squadre,
Né Gesù ci scompiglia:
Egli è in collegio al Sacro Cuore, e il padre
Curci lo tiene in briglia.

Un forte vecchio io son; l’ardor de i belli
Anni in cuor mi ritrovo:
La scure che aprì ‘l cielo al Locatelli
Arrotatela a novo.

Sottil, lucida, acuta, in alto splenda
Ella come un’idea:
Bello il patibol sia: l’oro si spenda
Che mandò Il Menabrea.

I francesi, posato il Maometto
Del Voltèr da l’un canto,
Diano una man, per compiere il gibetto,
Al tribunal mio santo.

Si esponga il sacramento a San Niccola
Con le indulgenze usate,
Ed in faccia a l’Italia mia figliuola
Due teste insanguinate. –

II
E pur tu sei canuto: e pur la vita
Ti rifugge dal corpo inerte al cuor,
E dal cuore al cervel, come smarrita
Nube per l’alpi solvesi in vapor.

Deh, perdona a la vita! A l’un vent’anni
Schiudon, superbi araldi, l’avvenir;
E in sen, del carcer tuo pur tra gli affanni.
La speme gli fiorisce et il desir.

Crescean tre fanciulletti a l’altro intorno,
Come novelli del castagno al piè;
Or giaccion tristi, e nel morente giorno
La madre lor pensa tremando a te.

Oh, allor che del Giordano a i freschi rivi
Traea le turbe una gentil virtù
E ascese a le città liete d’ulivi
Giovin messia del popolo Gesù,

Non tremavan le madri; e Naim in festa
Vide la morte a un suo cenno fuggir
E la piangente vedovella onesta
Tra il figlio e Cristo i baci suoi partir.

Sorridean da i cilestri occhi profondi
I pargoletti al bel profeta umìl;
Ei lacrimando entro i lor ricci biondi
La mano ravvolgea pura e sottil.

Ma tu co ‘l pugno di peccati onusto
Calchi a terra quei capi, empio signor,
E sotto al sangue del paterno busto
De le tenere vite affoghi il fior.

Tu su gli occhi de i miseri parenti
(E son tremuli vegli al par di te)
Scavi le fosse a i figli ancor viventi,
Chierico sanguinoso e imbelle re.

Deh, prete, non sia ver che dal tuo nero
Antro niun salvo a l’aure pure uscì;
Polifemo cristian, deh non sia vero
Che tu nudri la morte in trenta dì.

Stringili al petto, grida – Io del ciel messo
Sono a portar la pace, a benedir –
E sentirai dal giovanile amplesso
Nuovo sangue a le tue vene fluir…

In sua mente crudel (volgonsi inani
Le lacrime ed i prieghi) egli si sta:
Come un fallo gittò gli affetti umani
Ei solitario ne l’antica età.

III
Meglio così! Sangue dei morti, affretta
I rivi tuoi vermigli
E i fati; al ciel vapora, e di vendetta
Inebria i nostri figli.

Essi, nati a l’amore, a cui l’aurora
De l’avvenir sorride
Ne le limpide fronti, odiino ancora,
Come chi molto vide.

Mirate, udite, o avversi continenti.
O monti al ciel ribelli,
Isole e voi ne l’oceàn fiorenti
Di boschi e di vascelli;

E tu che inciampi, faticosa ancella,
Europa, in su la via;
E tu che segui pe’ i gran mar la stella
Che al Penn si discovria;

E voi che sotto i furiosi raggi
Serpenti e re nutrite,
Africa ed Asia, immani, e voi selvaggi,
Voi, pelli colorite;

E tu, sole divino: ecco l’onesto
Veglio, rosso le mani
Di sangue e ‘l viso di salute: è questo
L’angel de gli Sciuani.

Ei, prima che il fatale esecutore
Lo spazzo abbia lavato,
Esce raggiante a delibar l’orrore
Del popolo indignato.

Ei, di demenza orribile percosso,
Com’ebbro il capo scuote,
E vorria pur vedere un po’ di rosso
Ne l’òr de le sue ruote.

Veglio! son pompe di ferocie vane
In che il tuo cor si esala,
E in van t’afforza a troncar teste umane
Quei che salvò i La Gala.

Due tu spegnesti; e a la chiamata pronti
Son mille, ancor più mille.
I nostri padiglion splendon su i monti,
Ne’ piani e per le ville,

Dovunque s’apre un’alta vita umana
A la luce a l’amore:
Noi siam la sacra legion tebana,
Veglio, che mai non muore.

Sparsa è la via di tombe, ma com’ara
Ogni tomba si mostra:
La memoria de i morti arde e rischiara
La grande opera nostra.

Savi, guerrier, poeti ed operai,
Tutti ci diam la mano:
Duro lavor ne gli anni, e lieve omai
Minammo il Vaticano.

Splende la face, e il sangue pio l’avviva;
Splende siccome un sole:
Sospiri il vento, e su l’antica riva
Cadrà l’orrenda mole.

E tra i ruderi in fior la tiberina
Vergin di nere chiome
Al peregrin dirà: Son la ruina
D’un’onta senza nome.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Italy,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Papal States,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Terrorists

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1933: Earl Quinn, forgiver

2 comments November 24th, 2011 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. This post originally appeared on the Last Words blog. Fans of this here site are highly likely to enjoy following Elder’s own pithy, almanac-style collection of last words on the scaffold. -ed.)

I don’t hold it against all you folks because you have condemned me without a fair trial. I don’t even hold it against the jury. Ignorance is not the fault of the ignorant. I don’t even have any malice for the courts although they defied all laws in affirming my case. I forgive all of you. You loved the girls. You let your desire for revenge overshadow your sense of justice.

-Earl Quinn, convicted of murder, Oklahoma. Executed November 24, 1933.

Quinn was described as a “one-time alcohol runner” by the Associated Press, but few other details survive except the names of his victims: schoolteacher sisters Jessie and Zexia Griffith.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Murder,Oklahoma,Other Voices,USA

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2009: Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping, for tainted milk

6 comments November 24th, 2010 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this day in 2009, Chinese citizens Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping were shot to death in connection with China’s tainted milk scandal.

The affair caused some 300,000 infants to became sick, six of them fatally. They were killed by powdered milk tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical used in plastics and fertilizer. Zhang, a dairy farmer from the province of Hebei, sold hundreds of tons of tainted milk powder in 2007 and 2008; he was the largest supplier. Geng supplied toxic milk to dairy companies.

The scandal was stupendous and made headlines all over the world. According to Time magazine, the tainted milk found its way to Taiwan, Singapore and Japan. China’s $232 million dairy export industry cratered as the European Union and a dozen nations in Asia and Africa banned Chinese milk and milk products. The farmers who depended on milk sales for their livelihood were reduced to simply pouring their surplus stock down the drain, and since nobody wanted to buy dairy cows under these conditions, some farmers just slaughtered their animals.

Top: Chinese farmers destroy tainted milk. Bottom: Zhang Yujun (left) and a supplicating Geng Jinping (right).

Nor was milk wasn’t the only export product with this problem; Wikipedia’s timeline of the scandal states melamine was subsequently discovered in Chinese eggs, egg powder, baking ammonia, chicken, crackers and animal food.

Melamine was added to the milk to fool government protein tests, which would show whether the milk had been diluted or not. (Watered-down milk had been a problem in the past; in 2004 thirteen Chinese babies died of malnutrition after being fed milk that was so watery it had almost zero nutritional value.) Melamine, like protein, is high in nitrogen, so the presence of melamine in food would cause the protein content to appear higher than it really was.

It isn’t clear whether the people who altered the milk knew — or cared — that it was poisonous. Very poisonous. Melamine is never supposed to be used in food; it causes kidney stones and in some cases complete renal failure, especially in young children. A child can take over six months to recover from exposure.

Some blame must be attached to the (suspect) Chinese food safety administration, which in May 2008 reported that over 99% of baby milk powders had been deemed safe. (In fact, one major dairy company had begun hearing complaints about its baby milk as far back as the previous December.) The Ministry of Health was informed about the sick infants in July. There are strong suspicions that the government tried to suppress the reports to avoid embarrassment; the Olympics were in Beijing that summer and the world’s eye was on China. The scandal was only made public in September, after the Games.

Twenty-one people involved in the scandal were brought to trial on various charges in December 2008, and convicted in January.

Tian Wenhua, the general manager of the Chinese dairy giant Sanlu, pleaded guilty to producing substandard goods and was sentenced to life in prison. She admitted she’d known the milk was bad for four months before she reported this fact to the authorities. Sanlu tried to keep complaining parents quiet by giving them free milk, which was also tainted. Tien was widely perceived as being the person most responsible for the scandal, and many were disappointed that she didn’t get the death sentence.

Other defendants received various prison terms. One of them was given a suspended death sentence, but only Zhang (guilty of endangering public safety) and Geng (guilty of producing and selling toxic food) were actually executed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,China,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Pelf,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Shot

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