1721: Catharaina Margaratha Linck, lesbian

1 comment November 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1721, a woman named Catharina Margaretha Linck was beheaded with a sword in the Halberstadt fishmarket for homosexuality.

One projects modern sexualities into the past at peril but as Rictor Norton concludes, “there seems no reason why we should not agree with the lawyers at the trial, who defined her as a fricatrice, a ‘rubbing woman’ — in other words, a lesbian.”

Linck (English Wikipedia entry | German) busted out of the anonymous drudgery due an orphan seamstress and into historical monographs by joining an itinerant Quaker movement called the “Inspirants”.

Under those circumstances her habit of going about in men’s clothing might really have been an expedient to elude the male gaze just like Joan of Arc.

It was also a door into the male world: the gender-bending “Anastasius Rosenstengel”, as she called herself, proceeded to enlist herself by turns in the Hanoverian, Prussian, and Polish armies and fight in the War of Spanish Succession.

By 1717 a demobilized Linck was in Halberstadt, several years gone from the martial life but again passing as “Anastasius” in masculine attire … which was also the case when she married 18-year-old Catharina Margaretha Mühlhahn in St. Paul’s church. Who knows how quickly or slowly the young wife grasped the true situation: Anastasius used a homemade leather strapon dildo in the marital bed to such effect that “whenever she [Linck] was at the height of her passion, she felt tingling in her veins, arms, and legs.” (Source)

According to surviving court records, “Anastasius” during soldiering days had delighted in the habit of seducing or hiring women for the same usage. But seemingly the younger Catharina experienced enough physical discomfort from the object that she mentioned it to her mother, who blew the whistle on the whole arrangement after a dramatic domestic confrontation wherein she ripped off her “son”-in-law’s clothes to reveal the artificial cock.

There needs to be a movie made about Catharina Linck. In the meantime, German speakers have access to a 2004 biography, In Männerkleidern. Das verwegene Leben der Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Rosenstengel, hingerichtet 1721 or the 2015 historical novel Rosenstengel (review).

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,History,Homosexuals,Prussia,Public Executions,Sex,Soldiers,Women

Tags: , , , ,

1873: Twelve Cuban revolutionaries

Add comment November 8th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1873, twelve more Cuban revolutionaries condemned by the Spanish military were shot in Santiago de Cuba, raising the overall November 7-8 butcher’s bill to 49 and seeming to auger the massacre of the entire 100-strong crew of the captured American blockade runner Virginius, and the prospect of outright war.


Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, Nov. 13, 1873.

But instead, they were the last of the executions, thanks to the bold action of a British officer.

Sir Lambton Loraine, skipper of the HMS Niobe anchored at Santiago de Cuba, dashed off a demand/threat to General Juan Burriel insisting upon an immediate cessation of executions … which he delivered personally.

Military Commander of Santiago —

Sir: I have no orders from my government, because they are not aware of what is happening; but I assume the responsibility and I am convinced that my conduct will be approved by Her Britannic Majesty, because my actions are pro-humanity and pro-civilisation, I demand that you stop this dreadful butchery that is taking place here. I do not believe that I need explain what my actions will be in case my demand is not heeded.

Communiques back to the American and British governments were running days behind events; had Loraine waited on those orders from his government, many more rebels would likely have been shot over the subsequent days. Instead, the executions ceased, clearing a path to the resolution of the crisis.

Loraine was celebrated as a hero in the United States, a number of whose nationals were aboard the Virginius. When Cuba attained independence from Spain at the end of the century, a wide boulevard in Santiago de Cuba was renamed Lambton Loraine street.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Spain,Treason,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1866: Robert Dodge, haunter

Add comment November 8th, 2016 Robert Elder

(Thanks to Robert Elder of Last Words of the Executed — the blog, and the book — for the guest post. 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.)

“The time will come when my innocence will be proven, and then Bob Dodge will haunt you for his murder.”

— Robert S. Dodge, convicted of murder, hanging, California.
Executed November 8, 1866

Borrowing a double-barrel shotgun, ostensibly to hunt quail, Dodge could not account for his whereabouts when a man who was quarreling with his brother was shot. Dodge went through two trials and during the second was found guilty of first-degree murder. In prison, he attempted suicide by taking opium.


To Elder’s hanging-day sketch (and since blog column-inches are free) we add the report of the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, Nov. 10, 1866 — itself channeling the Nevada Transcript. (Meaning Nevada City, Calif., not the state of Nevada.)

[Dodge] was twice tried and convicted of the murder of Mark P. Hammock, and after both trials the case was taken to the Supreme Court, whence the case was once sent back.

The verdict after the second conviction was sustained and the District Court ordered to fix a day for the execution.

The testimony against Dodge was entirely circumstantial.

Sheriff Gentry read the death-warrant, after which Dodge stepped to the rail in front and addressed those in the yard in a speech of ten minutes. He said he had once more the privilege of addressing them in this dark and gloomy world. He alluded to his home, his mother and friends, speaking of them in affectionate terms, and picturing the grief they would feel on hearing that their youngest son had died upon the gallows.

He spoke of the anxiety manifested to witness his death, and warned those present that the time would come when they would repent having seen it, and that when they discovered, as they surely would, that he was innocent, remorse would forever follow them.

He declared that he suffered on account of false testimony offered against him. He alluded to the future, saying that in “eternity Bob Dodge would be seen coming in glory.”

At the conclusion of the speech he turned to Sheriff Gentry and requested him to finish the work quickly. When asked if he had anything further to say by the Sheriff, he replied only “I am innocent.”

He then bid those on the platform good-bye, shaking hands with them, and then stepped upon the trap. His limbs were lashed with cords and the black cap placed over his head.

He then said, in a loud voice, “Boys, I want you all to hear, I am innocent.”

A prayer was read by Mr. Anderson, and at 18 minutes past 1 o’clock the trap fell, and the soul of Dodge was sent to a higher court for judgment.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,USA,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , ,

1944: Joseph Watson and Willie Wimberly Jr.

Add comment November 8th, 2015 Meaghan

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

On this date in 1944, Private Joseph Watson and Technician Fifth Grade Willie Wimberly Jr. of the U.S. Army were executed for a brutal attack on two French civilians.

They broke into a farmhouse only a few hundred yards from their company bivouac area, shot the elderly farmer and his unmarried daughter, and raped the woman. Their crimes and deaths are described in French L. MacLean’s book The Fifth Field: The Story of the 96 American Soldiers Sentenced to Death and Executed in Europe and North Africa in World War II.

At 8:00 p.m. on the evening of August 8, 1944, Watson and Wimberly, both of them already drunk, arrived at the farmhouse and bartered for a liter of apple cider. They spoke no French but were able to get their point across. The farmer and his daughter were wary of the inebriated pair and, after they left, barricaded the door.

Five minutes later, the two soldiers returned and battered it down.

Wimberly hit the man on the head with his Tommy gun and Watson forced the woman into a chair. Then, just like that, they left again. The two victims went upstairs, barricaded themselves into another room and double-locked it.

A few hours later the two soldiers returned and fired at least twenty .45 submachine gun rounds through the upstairs door, wounding both of the French civilians.

The farmer staggered downstairs and went to get help, but his daughter’s tibia was fractured and she was unable to flee. She was raped in turn by each of the men while the other held her at gunpoint.

At trial she couldn’t identify either of her attackers. The farmer identified Wimberly out of a lineup of six black soldiers, but wasn’t sure about Watson.

Their identification wasn’t really needed, however. Watson was found passed out at the crime scene in the morning, still wearing his bloodstained pants, with the fly unzipped. Wimberly had left, but he left his helmet liner (marked with a unique serial number) on the steps of the farmhouse.

When questioned, Wimberly blamed the entire thing on Watson. Watson made several contradictory statements about the night of the crime before pulling the old amnesia gag. He admitted he’d gone to the farmhouse with Wimberly and added, “I must have gotten drunk because the next thing I knew I was in the yard with a Colonel, two Lieutenants and two MPs.”

Given the circumstances, there wasn’t much either man could say to show why he should not be convicted and executed.

Justice was quick: they were hanged less than three months after their crime. Wimberly went first and was pronounced dead at 10:29 p.m. Watson followed and was dead by 10:48. Eight days later, General George S. Patton had a letter sent to the rape victim, apologizing for what she’d been through and for the soldiers’ part in it.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

1793: Madame Roland, éminence grise

Add comment November 8th, 2014 Amelia Fedo

(Thanks to Amelia Fedo, a graduate student in French literature, for the guest post.)

On this date in 1793, Manon Roland (née Phlipon)* was guillotined as part of the Girondist purges in the Paris Terror.

As Olympe de Gouges — who preceded her to the guillotine by only a few days — observed, being a woman may have prevented her from holding political power under her own name, but it didn’t stop her from losing her own head.

Born in Paris to a bourgeois engraver, she married up through her alliance with quasi-aristocrat Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière. Twenty years her senior, he was chosen by her for his class status and intellect rather than for the love he inspired.

Ambitious from the start, Madame Roland took advantage of her husband’s (and later, her Girondin not-quite-lover François Buzot‘s) engagement in civic life to catapult herself into the role of behind-the-scenes stateswoman. She had been prepared for this role since childhood, when she had voraciously read Rousseau and Plutarch. Unlike Olympe de Gouges, she internalized the idea that women did not belong in politics — yet still she yearned to have an influence on the Republic.

And she did indeed succeed in wielding political power, with enough competence that Robespierre wanted her guillotined at least as much as her husband: everyone knew that she was the real force to be reckoned with.

Her political career was inextricably tied to her husband’s. Unable to hold political office herself, she lived vicariously through him. At first he was a bureaucrat, and she his secretary and personal assistant; but then he became involved in Parisian politics and was eventually appointed Minister of the Interior.

It was his wife who encouraged him to accept the position; for a year now she had been hosting salons frequented by a wide range of political movers and shakers, and she was itching to get in the game.

Monsieur Roland did not have a brilliant career as minister. His wife was the one with the vision and energy (the historian Lucy Moore claims that every good idea he had was hers); although devoted to Republican ideals he remained something of a milquetoast, and was attacked both by the snobby old guard (the lack of buckles on his shoes caused a scandal) and by the extreme left.

Although Madame Roland identified with Robespierre and was a good deal more radical than the Girondins (especially in her feelings about the monarchy), she and her husband were still officially associated with them. As such, they were swept up in Robespierre’s purges.

There were a few pre-Terror false alarms: a warrant was issued for Monsieur Roland’s arrest after the September Massacres, which Danton put the kibosh on; and in 1792, Madame Roland was dragged into court on trumped-up charges of corresponding with émigrés, but was able to use her oratorical skills to get herself acquitted.

When the Terror began, Monsieur Roland opted to keep his head down in the hopes of keeping it on, and resigned from his post as minister.

It was too late. In May 1793 Madame Roland was arrested again — unaccompanied by her husband, who had managed to escape into hiding.

She was subjected to a show trial like so many before and after her; although she had prepared a defense, she was not allowed to read it. Given that she was accused of “conspiring against the unity and the indivisibility of the Republic and attempting to introduce civil war,” neither her verdict nor her sentence are much of a surprise.

She was preoccupied with her husband (whom she declared would be driven to suicide by her execution), with Buzot (who was in grave danger of suffering her same fate), and with her own legacy. She seized the opportunity to be a martyr like the men she so admired — men who had been able to act in the open, rather than behind the scenes — and took advantage of the free time she had in prison to write her memoirs.

Most sources give similar accounts of her behavior before and during the execution. Content to die for her principles — or, perhaps, simply resolved to make a show of contentment — she maintained great calm and resignation in her final hours. The only favor she asked of anyone was that her childhood friend Sophie Grandchamp wait for her on the Pont-Neuf so that they could see each other when the tumbrel passed.

Influencing people up to the very end, Roland’s last political act was an attempt to impart some of her courage to the man who would share her tumbrel, a forger of assignats named Lamarche.

Lacking the sort of great social narrative that would give meaning to his death (such as a personal feud with Robespierre), Lamarche did not share Roland’s sanguine attitude; he thus found himself the recipient of a performance designed to alter his mood, consisting mostly of jokes, distractions, and modeled behavior. The events surrounding her execution have passed into legend, but various sources agree that she quipped to Lamarche after his hair was cut, “It suits you wonderfully. You have the head of a Roman.”

She also urged the executioner to leave her own hair long enough to serve as a suitable handle — for him to show her head to the crowd, of course.

As much as she detested Danton, it appears she had a few things in common with him after all.

Counterintuitively, it was considered a privilege to be guillotined first; it was merciful, the reasoning went, to kill someone before they could see others die. Roland chose to pass up this “privilege”; most attribute this to her desire to spare Lamarche the sight of her death, but Lucy Moore points out in Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France that she may have rejected the logic of such a “mercy” altogether and wished to live — like Madame du Barry — even a few moments longer.

After mounting the scaffold, she addressed a statue of Marianne, left over from a festival held in the Place de la Révolution; she is traditionally said to have exclaimed, “O liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!”, although a less reputable source (i.e., the apocryphal Sanson memoirs) assigns her the more prosaic last words, “Oh! Liberty, how they’ve tricked you!”

As she had predicted, her husband committed suicide two days later, falling on his sword as soon as he learned of her fate.

*This is only one of many names she has been called; Siân Reynolds explains in Marriage and Revolution: Monsieur and Madame Roland that “Manon” is a childhood name, and her adult name remains mysterious; it was either “Marie,” “Jeanne,” or “Marie-Jeanne.”

A few books about Madame Roland

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guest Writers,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Politicians,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Treason,Women

Tags: , , , , ,

1752: James of the Glen

Add comment November 8th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1752, the Scotsman Seamus a’ Ghlinne mounted a gallows above the narrows at Ballaculish with the reproach of Psalm 35 for his persecutors:

False witnesses rose; to my charge things I not knew they laid.
They, to the spoiling of my soul, me ill for good repaid.

Seamus a’Ghlinne — James of the Glen, or just James Stewart — had come there that day to die for the ambush murder of Colin Roy Campbell.

The victim was stock of Clan Campbell, one of the largest Highland clans and one whose loyalties to England’s Hanoverian kings were being richly rewarded.

The Stewarts, who had backed the recent ill-fated Jacobite rebellion in favor of the exiled pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie, were in the opposite predicament.

Colin Campbell was said on that fatal May 14 to be en route to expel the Stewarts from the village of Duror so that Campbells could move in. But even Campbell’s everyday job of extracting resentful rents from estates repossessed from Jacobite sympathizers would have turned many a murderous eye his way.

Someone that day shot Colin Campbell in the back from wooded cover, then vanished, murderous eye and trigger finger and all, never to be never apprehended. So they got James Stewart to answer for it instead.

This wasn’t a tragic case of well-intentioned police developing tunnel vision on the wrong suspect so much as repaying tit for tat in a family feud. The trial was held at the Campbells’ Inverary Castle. Its presiding judge was the Campbell alpha male, the Duke of Argyll. Eleven more Campbells sat on Stewart’s jury. But then, from the Campbells’ side, or London’s for that matter, what was to say that this one murder might not be the germ of a new rebellion if not ruthlessly answered?

Still, there was “not a shred of evidence,” says present-day Glasgow barrister John Macauley, who is pushing for an official reversal of the verdict. “The whole thing from start to finish was a farce.” (Judge for yourself here.)

James Stewart was, however, the foster father of a man who actually was suspected of firing the shot, Allan Breck Stewart, a former Jacobite fighter who had returned from exile in France to collect rents for the Stewarts. Known to have threatened the Campbells previously, Allan was also tried and condemned to death — but only in absentia, since he suspiciously fled to France immediately after the so-called Appin Murder.

Many years later, Robert Louis Stevenson would use this dramatic crime, and Al(l)an Breck’s flight to safety, in Kidnapped. “I swear upon the Holy Iron I had neither art nor part, act nor thought in it,” Stevenson’s Alan says to the fictional protagonist in the novel, just after both have witnessed the murder.

And in reality, Alan too is thought by those who know the case to be clear of guilt in the matter. The Stewart family reputedly knew all along which of their number was Campbell’s real killer, but refused to give him up and kept the family secret for generations. It’s even said that that man had to be forcibly held down on execution day to prevent him giving himself up.

To judge by the most recent research, that man was likely Donald Stewart, the son of Stewart of Ballachulish and the best shot among a group of several young hotheads who resolved together to slay the Campbells’ hated Factor. The conspiracy also goes as the reason — or at least excuse — for keeping Donald silent, since in giving himself up he might see all four of them to the gallows. The late Lee Holcombe makes a comprehensive case for Donald Stewart as the gunman in the 2004 book Ancient Animosity: The Appin Murder and the End of Scottish Rebellion; Donald Stewart was also fingered publicly in 2001 by a matriarch of the Stewarts of Appin, though others of her family have not publicly confirmed that that’s the secret name.

James Stewart’s decaying corpse remained gibbeted on the spot of his execution for 18 months after, a rotting warning to the Stewarts or any late Jacobites. In 1754, a local halfwit called “Daft Macphee” finally tore down the gallows and threw it into Loch Linnhe … but its former position overlooking the modern Ballachulish Bridge is still marked by a mossy stone monument to James of the Glen, “executed on this spot Nov. 8th 1752 for a crime of which he was not guilty.”

A Few Books About the Appin Murder

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Murder,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1676: Anna Schmieg and Barbara Schleicher, Langenburg witches

Add comment November 8th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1676, the tiny German principality of Hohenlohe strangled and burned to death its last convicted “witches”.

This story is the subject of the recent book The Last Witch of Langenburg: Murder in a German Village by Thomas Robisheaux. (Interview with the author.)

Almost a full year had elapsed since Anna Fessler had received a few shrovetide cakes from the daughter of the neighboring millers.* Hours later, Fessler (who had delivered a child just a week before) took painfully ill and died in her bed.

The cakes led back to the miller’s wife Anna Schmieg, of course. But decades after the Thirty Years’ War, the whole witchcraft construct was on its way out. Robisheaux builds a powerful micro-history of the local magistrate’s painstaking effort to satisfy the era’s rigorous legal standards for witch-persecution.

These standards would soon break down entirely, but in the here and now (or there and then), the authorities had to establish Schmieg’s malevolent reputation, and figure out if there was sufficient evidence to license torture. There wasn’t, the legal doctors whom Hohenlohe consulted advised; Hohenlohe made up a justification to do it anyway.

Hey, times hadn’t changed that much. Maybe still haven’t.

Anyway, the torture did to a co-accused what torture usually does. That luckless itinerant local woman was named Barbara Schleicher: she’d been under a pall from the accusation of a previously-tortured “witch” in a nearby village a few years before, and with the requisite pressure she soon copped to everything. Schmieg denied and fought and repelled, but eventually she too broke down and made the fatal confession. So, on November 8, 1676, before a court constituted of local grandees,

Anna Elisabeth Schmieg and Barbara Schleicher had to confess one more time, openly and publicly.

This was the moment of danger. Were Anna now to curse the judges as she had cursed the executioner before she was tortured, “asking them to join her for God’s Judgment in the Valley of Jehosaphat,” the proceedings might break up. She could be tortured again, but the curse would have had a shocking effect and raised the question about whether an injustice was about to be committed.

Because of these dangers, instead of asking the women to speak for themselves, the county’s officer spoke for them, saying that the two poor sinners had freely confessed their crimes and were ready to be given over to justice. The scribe read of Anna’s use of witchcraft and murder, as well as her seduction by Satan. He pronounced that she had done so many evil things that she could not even remember them all. He then read out a list of Schleicher’s crimes, which included witchcraft, murdering two husbands, turning herself into a wolf, and attempting to commit suicide. Whoever these two poor sinners had been before that day, they were now publicly branded as witches, poisoners, and murderers.

Talk about speak now or forever hold your peace. For not raising a ruckus, the court threw a bone to the wicked and now-confessed hags and mitigated the sentence of tearing at their flesh with iron tongs followed by burning at the stake to tearing at their flesh with iron tongs followed by strangulation followed by burning at the stake.

Chief Justice Assum turned to the court assessors and asked them whether the sentence had been decided as the court scribe had read it. Together they replied yes. Assum then rose, broke the ceremonial staff in two, and threw the pieces to the floor. With this old legal gesture, the blood court was symbolically breaking its staff over the lives of the prisoners. Then he said, “God help their poor souls.” [Local Count] Heinrich Friedrich’s representative then asked that the executioner carry out the sentence. According to prescription, the command to the executioner was repeated three times. At the close the chief justice forbade everyone present, on penalty of bodily punishment, from seeking revenge for this act of justice. No one was to take up violence against the law or question what was being done. The court scribe repeated his admonition.

The executioner then led the women out of the court, across the drawbridge, and over into the market square, where they joined the procession that had assembled. Drummers beat out a cadence, schoolboys sang hymns, and the sober procession marched down Langenburg’s long main street and out the gate at the east end of the town.

Once past the town gate, Anna’s and Barbara’s expulsion from the community was complete. From many perspectives, as we have seen, Anna’s emotional world was not like our own. It would be wrong to assume that Anna and Barbara felt the same anxiety and fear that we would today as they climbed the “Path of Straw” to Gallows Hill. The belief that someone who received absolution before an execution, and who did not sin again by resisting, would go right to heaven may help explain why prisoners rarely resisted at this point. Most tried to meet their fate as best as they could. Considering the suffering of the last ten months, Anna may have welcomed her end. She and Schleicher may also have been fortified for the ordeal by wine. Prayer may have brought them solace. However she felt about her fate, no record mentions her resisting or cursing the executioner or members of the court.

The scene at the gallows must have been crowded. The execution was seen as an example, and it was considered essential that the Langenburg schoolchildren be let out of school to join the procession. There, with the rest of their neighbors, they would have watched Anna and Barbara torn with hot irons and then strangled with a rope. After the bodies were burned to ashes, the last ritual gesture was made. “Lord Chief Justice,” Master Endris asked, “Have I carried out the law?” To which Assum would have replied, “If you have executed what the law and the sentence require, then the law has been fulfilled.”

This verbal exchange was critical for the execution to have fulfilled its purpose. At this moment the law, formally in suspense since Anna’s arrest, had been restored. The breach in public order that had opened on Shrove Tuesday was now mended. Count Heinrich Friedrich had seen to it. The chief justice and the assessors filed back into town and into the courtroom. Once they took their seats, it was announced that justice had been done. A lavish feast awaited them.

Just stay away from the cakes.

* A delicious tradition. Here’s a recipe for vanilla-frosted custard-filled shrovetide buns, from Denmark. Deadly deadly Satanpoison is optional.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Innocent Bystanders,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1861: Sushun, by Empress Dowager Cixi

1 comment November 8th, 2011 Headsman

One hundred fifty years ago today, Qing China’s last great ruler, the Empress Dowager Cixi, having seized the helm of the state she would drive for 47 years, had her deposed predecessor executed.

Formally, China was being “ruled” at this time by the illustrious Tongzhi Emperor, age five.

This child’s old man, depressively self-medicating at the drubbing China was taking in the Second Opium War, had died young, leaving his only son the throne, in care of a council of regents.

As one of the late monarch’s key advisors, Sushun was among that eight-strong panel, and he was popularly regarded as the worst of the lot — vicious, drunken, spendthrift, and just the guy to blame (along with co-regents Zaiyuan and Duanhua) for all the vicious, drunken, and spendthrift stuff the deceased emperor had put his seal to. Or, just the sort of stories trumped up by the rivals of the man really steering the state. Either way is good.

The Empress Dowager Cixi (1905 photograph)

More perilous for Sushun was his burgeoning rivalry with “the Concubine Yi,” the master of harem politics and mother of the new boy-emperor. She had long distrusted the courtier.

Recast in both title and name with her lover’s passing, the woman now known as “Empress Dowager Cixi” was able to obstruct the regency’s policies. And she did one better than that, intrepidly allying with disgruntled princes to engineer a coup d’etat against Sushun’s faction.

The end of Sushun’s regency arrived within months, and transpired within days: less than a week separated Sushun’s liberty from his beheading in a vegetable market. (Striking a liberal pose, Cixi declined to have him put to death by lingchi.) Cixi’s side simply took him into custody, decreed his execution on the attainder of a secret committee, and speedily carried it out. Zaiyuan and Duanhua were ordered to commit suicide the same day.

“Surely,” wrote a British diplomat who had only barely avoided execution at the hands of the lately toppled regime, “we may trace the finger of God in these events, and trust that they augur well for the future of China … we yet may see peace or order return to this poor torn country.” Peace and order and a robust opium market, he meant.

But whatever the form, the poor torn country was in the hands of the Empress Dowager Cixi from here on in.

For a half-century, she would be the consummate survivor — but it was survival during an epoch of terminal decline for the Qing. Riven by conflicts within and without, the imperial system simply couldn’t adapt.

And when the cagey Empress Dowager finally died in her 73rd year, the whole enterprise came apart.

On her deathbed in 1908, Cixi named as emperor the toddler Puyi. A few years later, revolution ensured that Puyi would be the last person ever to hold that title.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1969: Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge, assassin of Tom Mboya

7 comments November 8th, 2010 Headsman

At 3 a.m. this date in 1969 at a Nairobi prison that Nahashon Isaac Njenga Njoroge swung for assassinating Kenyan Luo politician Tom Mboya earlier that year … never clarifying the cryptic question he uttered to the authorities, “Why don’t you go after the big man?”

“No African leader has an abler brain or a stronger will,” wrote one Englishwoman who knew Mboya during his lifetime.*

A trade unionist during the waning days of British authority, the ethnically Luo Mboya had become a leading anti-colonial figure as the ethnically Kikuyu Mau Mau were suppressed.

During Kenya’s last years as a British possession, Mboya organized the African American Students Foundation, to provide scholarships for students from British East Africa to study in the United States.

(It was on Mboya’s AASF program — funded by John F. Kennedy — that a promising young Kenyan economics student named Barack Obama studied at the University of Hawaii in the 1960-61 academic year, and got an American girl pregnant. The reader will be familiar with those semesters’ legacy.)

Upon Kenyan independence, Mboya became a Member of Parliament and a cabinet officer, holding the Economic Planning and Development portfolio until he was gunned down on the streets outside a pharmacy on July 5, 1969.

Mboya’s murder by Njoroge,** a youth activist for the Kikuyu-dominated Kenya African National Union party (KANU) that Mboya himself had also joined, was widely read as President Jomo Kenyatta consolidating his own grip on the country and eliminating potential rivals.†

Mboya certainly had the talent and ambition to aspire to leadership in Kenya; little wonder that anger among his Luo people boiled over when Mboya was laid to rest.

Njoroge’s hanging during the pre-dawn hours this date — just days after Kenyatta banned the Luo-based opposition party, making Kenya into a one-party state — was conducted in secret; word only got out in late November, and even then it was not through an official announcement.

Njoroge remains the official lone gunman in this case, the only person ever held to judicial account for Tom Mboya’s convenient elimination. Decades later, however, many are still searching for the real story.

* From the London Times‘ unsigned July 7, 1969 obituary of Mboya.

** Allegedly by Njoroge; the assassin was not caught on the scene and Njoroge denied pulling the trigger, telling the court that Mboya was his longtime friend. (London Times, September 10, 1969) There are plenty who consider Njoroge a fall guy.

Pio Gama Pinto (1965) and Josiah Mwangi Kariuki (1975) were similar

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Kenya,Murder,Notable for their Victims

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1845: Lavinia Burnett and Crawford Burnett

Add comment November 8th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1845, husband-and-wife murderers Crawford and Lavinia Burnett (nee Sharp) danced a gallows jig built for two in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

The duo contrived with their son, John, to rob and murder a nearby recluse, Jonathan Selby, for the money he was thought to be hoarding.

The family the slays together, pays together.

Alas for mom, dad, and big brother, 15-year-old daughter Minerva shopped them.

John-boy was still on the lam at this time — he’d be caught soon, and hanged December 26 — but Lavinia and Crawford hanged together before a large crowd in the vicinity of the present-day Fayetteville National Cemetery.

It was the first recorded execution of a woman in Arkansas history, and would be the only such until the year 2000.

Among the ranks of the Burnetts’ illustrious if unsuccessful defense team was Isaac Murphy, who would go on to become a notable pro-Union pol during the Civil War (with a murky part in an infamous massacre of Confederate sympathizers), and subsequently became governor of the state during Reconstruction.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arkansas,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,Notable Participants,Pelf,USA,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Previous Posts


Calendar

July 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!