2009: Two Somali spies

Add comment October 25th, 2018 Headsman

MOGADISHU, Oct. 25 (Xinhua) — Somalia’s Al Shabaab Islamist movement on Sunday executed two young men for alleged spying for the Somali government in the southern town of Marka.

The radical group has been waging insurgency for two years against the Somali government and the African Union peacekeeping forces in the capital Mogadishu.

After the execution was carried out in central Marka town, an official from the group told crowds of local people who gathered to watch the punishment that the men were convicted of spying for the Somali government after “they confessed to the crime.”

“The men were executed because of apostasy and for spying for the apostate government. After three months of investigation and their confession to the crime they were executed in accordance with the Islamic law,” said Sheikh Sultan, an Al Shabaab official in Marka.

Residents said that the young men were executed by firing squad of Al Shabaab fighters as crowds, mainly women and children, looked on the capital punishment.

The hardline Islamist group of Al Shabaab controls much of southern and central Somalia and usually carries out amputations, executions, and floggings of criminals and opposition individuals in areas under their control, including parts of the Somali capital. The Islamist group, which is considered by the Somali government and the United States as a terrorist organization, declares a fight to establish an Islamic State in Somalia.

The Reuters report on this same incident adds a witness describing that “One of the boys did not die easily, so about eight masked al Shabaab men went close and opened fire on him. Soon his body looked like chopped-up meat because of the many gunshots.”

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1704: “French Peter”

Add comment October 25th, 2017 Headsman

A thief named Peter Bennet was hanged at Tyburn on this date in 1704 — alone since “Two Men and Seven Women were try’d for several Felonies and Burglaries; and being found Guilty, they did all of them receive Sentence of Death accordingly. But Four of the Women, who were found with Quick Child, and the other Three, with one of the Men, through the QUEEN’s especial Mercy being Reprieved; One only, viz. Peter Bennet, is now order’d for Execution.”

That’s from the hang-day tract by Newgate Ordinary Paul Lorrain, who having leave to focus both his ministrations and his column-inches on the one soul and exulted at some length in one of his celebrated (albeit not uncontroversial) conversions.

While the patchy Old Bailey documentation of this early date doesn’t appear from a search of oldbaileyonline.org to preserve the record of Bennet’s trial, there’s a man of the same name and nickname (“French Peter”) sentenced to branding in 1698 — and although Lorrain does not comment on any such mark, it would seem to corroborate our fellow’s confession to a life of viciousness.

Peter Bennet, alias French Peter, alias Peter Flower, the only Person now order’d for Execution, said that he was about 25 Years of Age, born of honest Parents at Niort in the Province of Poictou in France, and brought up in England, whereinto he came very young;* and that his first Employment was the Silk-Weavers Trade, of which he work’d about two Years in Spittlefields, and then went into the late King William‘s Service; in which, and in Her present Majesty’s, he had been (both at Sea and Land) for these several Years past, and was actually in the Second Regiment of Foot-Guards, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel Bradocke,** when he was apprehended. He own’d himself to have been a very ill Liver, and formerly one of Moll Raby‘s Gang; and he did (with bitter Reflection upon his vicious Conversation, almost through the whole Course of his past Life) freely declare, that he had committed all manner of Sins that cou’d be nam’d or thought on, Murther only excepted; and said that though he earnestly desired to live, that he might lead a new Life, and give sensible Tokens of his Change and Reformation to the World; yet he was willing to submit to the Will of God, and the Stroke of Justice, by which he was appointed to be cut off from the Land of the Living: wherein he had done so little Good, but so much Harm. He confess’d, that he was justly brought to this Condemnation, who had no better improved the Mercy he receiv’d before, when under such another; and that he was guilty not only of the two Facts lately proved, but of all the Seven Indictments then preferr’d against him in the Old-Baily: And 1st, That he, together with Thomas Hunter, (who not long since was executed at Tyburn) and another, whom I shall forbear to name here (because I desire not his Confusion, but his Conversion) broke open, and robb’d the House of Mr. Annis, on the 19th of April last, taking thence 60 Yards of Crape, 90 Yards of Serge, 66 Yards of Holland, and 12 pair of Stockings; which Holland and Stockings they divided among them three; and as to the Crape and Serge, his Companions dispos’d thereof, he does not well know to whom; but he remembers, they had Nine pound for them, and he Three pounds for his Share out of that Nine pound. 2dly, That he, with the other two beforemention’d, and one Sebastian Reis, a German, that was hang’d with Hunter in June last, did likewise in the said month of April, break the House of Thomas Abbot, a Quaker, and took from thence 25 Dozen of Handkerchiefs, and an old Scarf, which they sold for Four Pounds to a Woman that keeps a Brokers Shop at the Golden Ball in High Holbourn: but as for the Guinea mention’d in that Indictment, to have been at the same time with the other Goods, taken out of the forenamed Abbot’s House, he said, he knew nothing of it. 3dly, That they did, in May last, break the House of Mrs. Margaret Christian, and take thence a Cheshire-Cheese, about two or three Quarts of Brandy, and some Sugar Cakes; which Cakes and Brandy, they did eat and drink among them; and for the Cheese, himself, who was carrying it away, when pursu’d, threw it down, and left it to whomsoever would take it. 4thly, That they in April last, broke another House, which he supposes might be Mr. Sapford’s, mention’d in the fourth Indictment, but had not an Opportunity of carrying any thing out of it, being prevented therein by the Watchman that was then going the Rounds, 5thly, That in the same Month of April, they broke the House of Mr. Palmer, and took from thence four Silver-Spoons, a Napkin, an Old-Sword, and a Spice-Box, with a small Silver-Spoon in it, & some other things, of little or no Value. The 4 Silver-Spoons, he said, Mr. Palmer had again; the Napkin he took to himself, and the Box they left in the Fields; but what was in it, and the Sword with the small spoon, he can’t well tell what his two Companions did therewith. 6thly, That towards the end of the said Month of April, he, and the other two first mention’d, broke the House of Mr. Gibbs, and took from thence 8 India-Curtains, 4 Vallance, a Squob, and a pair of Sheets; which Sheets he kept for himself, and one of them took the Curtains, Vallance, and Squob to his own Use, and gave him three half Crowns in Consideration thereof, and their other Companion had also some Money given him upon that account, by him that kept those Curtains, Vallance, and Squob. 7thly, and lastly, That they three went and broke open the House of Mr. Bird, and took thence a Ham of Bacon, (which the Owner had again) and 5 Bottles of Cyder, and two Papers of Tobacco, which they spent among themselves. He added, that he (as he does in general remember, but has forgot the Particulars) had committed several other Robberies and Burglaries, in company with the forenamed Tho. Hunter, and Sebastian Reis, and the other Person whose Name (as I said before) I will now spare; and that this last, in particular, did with him one Night (he can’t well tell how long since) break and enter by the Backside, into a certain House in a pav’d Court in Fetter-Lane, and robb’d it, taking thence 24 or 25 Guinea’s, about 5l- in Money, a Silver-hilted Sword, a Long-Perriwig, a Silver-Salt Seller, with some Silver-Spoons and Forks, and a Hat; which Hat, he said, he wore now, and was not worth restoring. As for the Sword, they flung it into a Cellar, in Fee-Lane, and for the Plate and Perriwig, his Companion sold them to one William Buxton (an Harbourer of ill People, and a Buyer of stoln Goods) living in Church-Lane between White-Chappel and Gravel-lane. This is the ample Confession he made to me, and declared, that (to his Grief) he was not able to make any Restitution or other Reparation to the Persons he had thus wrong’d; but heartily pray’d that God would bless them, and they would forgive him. He freely acknowledg’d himself a grievous Offender, and repeated again, that he had committed all manner of Wickedness, but Murther; that he was the vilest and the worst of Sinners, and had exceeded in Sin, even those that had first brought him into it: some whereof, he said, had deservedly suffer’d a shameful Death, and others are still living; and these he earnestly intreats to be wiser than himself had been, and take due Warning by him, who now finds his Folly in not having done so by others, that is, by the Punishment of those that went this way out of the World before him. He seem’d to be very sensible that his Neglect of God’s Service, prophaning the Lord’s Day and Name, Swearing, Drinking, Gaming, Whoring, &c. were the great Causes of his Ruine; and therefore out of that Charity which he owes, and now has for all Mankind, he (in the Words of a Dying Man, that has done with the World, and now speaks without Disguise, by his own woful Experience) admonishes all to avoid those, and all other Vices; that they may prevent their own Destruction both of Body and Soul. Thus he appear’d as one who had great Reason to abhor Sin, and who wou’d fain perswade others to abhor it too.

The Day of his Execution being come, he was carry’d in a Cart to Tyburn, where I assisted him to the last; earnestly exhorting him to clear his Conscience by a further Confession, if he had any thing more to say, and stir up his Heart and all the Affections of his Soul to God. Upon which he said, he had nothing more to discover, but heartily pray’d God to forgive him his Sins, and be merciful to him for Christ’s sake. Then I pray’d and sung a penetential Psalm with him; and afterwards he spoke to the People to this Effect, I suppose there are some here that have been engag’d in ill things. I know there are. I beseech them to amend their Lives, and I beg that all that see me here, would take Warning by me. I am a very young Man, but a Lad, not above 24 or 25 Years of Age, but a grievous Sinner, and I am now to die for my wicked Life. Pray Gentlemen, take Warning by me, and pray for me, that God would have Mercy upon my poor Soul. And the Lord bless you all and prosper you. Then he lifted up his Eyes to Heaven, and said, Lord have Mercy upon a miserable Sinner. O call me not to mine account. I am not capable of answering thee. Sweet Jesus have Mercy upon me! Lord, open me thy Gates, and let me enter in! When he had done speaking, I discours’d him again, and made him rehearse the Articles of our Christian Faith, and I pray’d again, and sung another Psalm; and having commended his Soul to God, I left him to his private Devotions, for which he had some time allotted him. Then the Cart drew away, and he was turn’d off, whilst he was calling upon God in these and the like Ejaculations, Lord forgive me all my Sins! O God, I come, I come: Reject me not. O do not abhor my Soul! Lord, save me, Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.

* French Huguenots escaping a religious crackdown in the late 17th and early 18th centuries bolstered London’s emerging Spitalfields weaving industry.

** Bennet/Lorrain appears to refer here to the Coldstream Guards; if so, his c.o. “Bradocke” was the father of General Edward Braddock, notable for his New World command (and death) during the French and Indian War. That later Gen. Braddock’s aide, 23-year-old colonel and future American Revolution leader George Washington, made some fame for himself during the disastrous engagement that killed Braddock as the “Hero of Monongahela“, for helping to orchestrate the retreat.

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1770: William Linsey, resolutely bent upon working wickedness

Add comment October 25th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1770, inveterate burglar William Linsey was hanged in Worcester, Mass.

Linsey never killed anyone but just couldn’t lay off the thieving — as he owned himself in a gallows broadsheet: “Having so often escaped with impunity, for my wretched crimes, I was under no awe or restraint, neither learning God nor regarding man, resolutely bent upon working wickedness.” That didn’t mean he didn’t get caught: he frequently did, and once was pilloried, flogged, and branded all in the same day as punishment for fraud.

The quote is courtesy of a Linsey profile by friend of the blog and occasional guest poster Anthony Vaver, on his site Early American Crime — which notes that Linsey ultimately fell foul of a sort of colonial three-strikes law escalating penalties for mere property crimes all the way to the gallows in the case of repeat offenders.

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1781: Gaspard de Besse, social bandit

Add comment October 25th, 2015 Headsman

The French robber Gaspard de Besse was broken on the wheel in Aix-en-Provence on this date in 1781.

From a cave in the Esterel Mountains looming over the French Riviera, Gaspard raided the ample traffic wealthy merchants sent to and from the Mediterranean and Italy. He established a Robin Hood-esque “social bandit” profile by dint of his targets and populist provocations like, “the two scourges of Provence are the mistral and the parliament!”

Legend holds that he was unfailingly courteous in his raids and never killed those he preyed upon.

No surprise, he did not enjoy a like deference once one of his gang betrayed him. Hopefully amid the limb-shattering blows of the executioner he could console himself with the prospect of posterity’s renown.

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2014: Reyhaneh Jabbari

3 comments October 25th, 2014 Headsman

At dawn today in Tehran’s Shahr-e Ray prison, Iran hanged Reyhaneh Jabbari despite a worldwide campaign to save her life.

Jabbari, 19 years old when her life went awry in September 2007, was a designer in the capital convicted of stabbing to death Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi — a former Ministry of Intelligence employee whom Jabbari said had attempted to rape her.

According to Jabbari, Sarbandi contracted her to redecorate his office. On the agreed day, Sarbandi and another man picked her up in their car and drove her to an unfamiliar location, stopping en route at a pharmacy to pick up some unknown articles later shown in court to be condoms and a sedative.

The room Sarbandi escorted her to looked filthy and uninhabited. When a suspicious Jabbari refused to close the door or doff her shawl for her “client”, Sarbandi grappled with her.

The young woman managed to get her hands on a knife,* she said, and stick it in his back, then fled the building back to the city. She was arrested late that night at her home. According to Jabbari, Sarbandi was still quite alive as she left, and the last thing she saw at the scene was his never-identified companion — who had stayed in the car initially — bursting into the room to fight with Sarbandi himself for some reason she could not comprehend.

Jabbari was condemned in 2009 and even as her sentence was re-confirmed in the ensuing years by court after court, it became an international cause celebre — executing a woman for stopping her would-be rapist. Hundreds of thousands of sympathizers tweeted, Facebooked and signed petitions; so small as such outcry can seem against an implacable state, they did at least give the impression of factoring into a last-minute reprieve Jabbari received ahead of her previous hanging-date four weeks ago. Iranian celebrities too joined in the reprieve campaign along with usual suspects like Amnesty International.

Unfortunately, Jabbari’s accusing her victim of sexual assault did not position her very well for obtaining a reprieve from Sarbandi’s family — which has the power under Iranian law to pardon offenders, right up to and even during the hanging. Sarbandi’s eldest son accused her of lying and of hiding the identity of the second man, the one whom Jabbari suggested might have been the true murderer.

“Only when her true intentions are exposed and she tells the truth about her accomplice and what really went down will we be prepared to grant mercy,” Jalal Sarbandi insisted.

Today, her lips are sealed.

I don’t want you to wear black clothing for me. Do your best to forget my difficult days. Give me to the wind to take away.

-From a last will Jabbari left as voice mail for her mother

* This was Jabbari’s own knife, one she had purchased two days before the incident.

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Feast Day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian

Add comment October 25th, 2013 Headsman

This day is called the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home,
Will stand o’ tiptoe when the day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day, and live old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors
And say, “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”

…And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

Though the band of brothers is much better-known than Crispin and Crispinian themselves, Shakespeare’s immortal verse alludes to a pair of questionable third-century martyrs whose feast date this is.

They were supposedly Christian missionaries proselytizing in Gaul, or possibly Britain,* and there made to suffer for the faith under Diocletian‘s persecutions: Crispin Crispian’s version of the period’s characteristic “execution survived” story has them being pitched into the drink with millstones, but failing to drown. As usual, the Romans had more methods in reserve than God had escapes.

Somewhat derogated latterly since their historicity is so shaky, C+C are the patrons of leather workers and related professions including tanners, saddlers and cobblers.

And in the great spirit of reappropriating ancient martyrs, fellows this handy with thongs and harnesses were claimed by one Toronto church as patrons of leather fetishists.

“These wounds I had on Crispin’s Day” indeed.

Oh, and speaking of St. Crispin’s Day and war and literature, October 25 is the anniversary not only of Agincourt but also of the Crimean War battle that inspired Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.

* There’s a Crispin and Crispianus pub in England dating all the way to Templar times and later frequented by novelist and public hanging scold Charles Dickens.

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2006: Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

11 comments October 25th, 2012 Headsman

During the first week of classes in August 1990 at the University of Florida’s city of Gainesville, five college students were brutally murdered during a terrifying burglary-rape-murder spree.

On this date in 2006, serial killer Danny Rolling finally paid for the murders.

The face of evil in our community” and Florida college towns’ most infamous serial killer since Ted Bundy made the FSU Chi Omega sorority his last port of call, Rolling was a 26-year-old with sociopathy born of an abusive home life. (Here’s a pdf profile of the guy.)

After shooting his hated father in the face — the Shreveport, La., policeman lost an eye but lived — Rolling headed east to Florida. He would later say that he aspired to become a “superstar” criminal — just like Bundy.*

Little did anyone know that Rolling was already a murderer. Only after his grisly turn in Gainesville was he linked back to a theretofore unsolved 1989 Shreveport triple homicide that saw a man, his daughter, and his son stabbed to death. Rolling had posed young Julie Grissom for investigators.

It was a signature behavior the Gainesville police were about to know all too well.

Out of nowhere, the horror murders leaped onto Florida front pages: 18-year-old Sonja Larson and 17-year-old Christina Powell, stabbed to death on August 24, 1990 (Larson was raped, too): both girls’ bodies theatrically posed.

The very next day, 18-year-old Christina Hoyt raped, stabbed to death, and decapitated — the severed head positioned as if scrutinizing its former torso.

Terrified students began taking what protective measures they could against the hunter in their midst, but just two days later 23-year-old Tracy Paules was raped, knifed, and posed … after Rolling also killed the boyfriend that she had staying over for safety.

Arrested soon thereafter on an unrelated burglary, Rolling’s campsite turned up the evidence linking him to the Gainesville Ripper’s predations. Superstardom was on the way: Rolling’s murders helped inspire the Wes Craven slasher classic Scream.**

When the much-delayed case finally came to trial in 1994, Rolling unexpectedly pleaded guilty without any deal to avoid the death penalty. Why dilute his infamy by denying it? “There are some things you just can’t run from, this being one of those,” Rolling told the judge in his singsong drawl.

Maybe had he come of age just a few years later, the Gainesville Ripper might have scratched that itch for notoriety holding forth on the coming age of new media channels instead of butchering humans.

Certainly Danny Rolling, arranger of mutilated corpses, had the character of a performer; recordings of his own renditions of folk songs were among the artifacts police recovered from the killer’s campsite. Later, in prison, Rolling became a prolific death row artist and his “murderabilia” art can be found for sale on the Internet.

He also personally illustrated The Making of a Serial Killer, a book about his crime spree that Rolling co-authored with Sondra London — a true crime author who fell in love with her subject.

A few books about (and by) Danny Rolling

Whatever charms people perceived in Danny Rolling have understandably been lost on those who survived the victims. And Rolling’s wicked “superstardom” remains yet a sensitive subject in Gainesville, where many residents still remember those days of panic the Gainesville Ripper sowed in 1990.


Memorial to Danny Rolling’s victims painted on Gainesville’s 34th Street Wall. Image (c) hecht 801 and used with permission.

* There was a more direct link between Bundy and Rolling as well: (non-death-row) murderer Bobby Lewis, who became Bundy’s friend while the latter was in prison, later also befriended Danny Rolling, even acting as a go-between for Rolling’s dealings with investigators.

** There’s also a 2007 (posthumous to Danny) horror film directly about the Gainesville murders.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Florida,History,Lethal Injection,Murder,Rape,Serial Killers,Sex,USA

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1769: Nicolas de Lafreniere and four others for the Louisiana Rebellion

3 comments October 25th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1769, five French Creoles were shot in New Orleans for a revolt the previous year against a Spanish takeover.

This date’s story begins with the French King Louis XV getting his French clock cleaned in the French and Indian War. This conflict blew an ill wind all over Francophone North America, much of which was taken by the British. Result: a quarter-millennium later, this blog is in English.

Even what France kept, she did not keep. In a secret pact, France ceded to wartime ally Spain “the country known as Louisiana, as well as New Orleans and the island in which the city is situated.”

This projection onto New World colonists of Old World diplomatic horse-trading was rife with potential hostility among the traded horses. In this instance, Louisianans were widely dismayed when they were finally informed that they’d become Spaniards.

When they did get the memo — and Louis XV declined to reconsider — they launched the Louisiana Rebellion of 1768, expelling the new Spanish govenror Antonio de Ulloa.*

These weren’t mere rabble who showed Ulloa “insubordination … a sense of liberty and independence,” but elites of French New Orleans. Nicolas de Lafreniere was the attorney general.

“The name of Lafreniere deserves rank with those of foremost American patriots,” Americans later reckoned. O’Reilly’s reputation did not fare as well in the patriotic literature, but he perhaps had the best of the law.

Between a rock and a hard place, the leftover French adjutant Charles-Philippe Aubry refused to support the rebels, but also refused to fire on fellow Frenchmen. Meanwhile, Ulloa refused to provide his credentials to the uppity colonists. Louis XV refused to receive the delegations sent to implore him to keep Louisiana.

All these refuseniks found the matter adjudicated by immigrant Irish officer Alejandro O’Reilly, plucked out of Cuba to replace Ulloa and lay down the law. He spoke softly when he landed, but the amnesty he offered was followed a few months later by the surprise arrest of the chief rebels.

Lafreniere, Joseph Milhet, Jean-Baptiste Noyan, Pierre Caresse, and Pierre Marquis were ordered hanged on this date. Noyan, nephew of the city’s founder and a young man just married, was offered his pardon, but melodramatically refused.

It was found that there was no hangman in the colony, so the condemned prisoners were ordered to be shot. When the day of execution came, hundreds of people left the city. Those who could not leave went into their houses, closed the doors and windows and waited in an agony of sickening dread to hear the fatal shots. Only the tramping of soldiers broke the deathlike stillness which brooded over the crushed and helpless city. At three o’clock on a perfect October afternoon in 1769, the condemned men were led to the Spanish barracks. Lafreniere, it is said, gave the order to fire. A volley of muskets broke out on the still air, and five patriots went to their death, — the first Louisianians to give their blood for the cause of freedom.

A History of Louisiana

The details and historiography of this event are the subject of this 146-page master’s thesis. (pdf)

Whether or not all that stuff about Louisiana planters as freedom-loving patriots trod down by the barbarous Spanish has any real merit to it, that’s the way they’ve been memorialized.

Lafreniere Park in Metairie, La. — home of anti-death penalty VIP Sister Helen Prejean — is named for Nick Lafreniere.

When next visiting the Louisiana State House, keep an eye out for this day’s victims on the frieze to the right of the main entrance. And when next visiting New Orleans, keep an ear out for the ghost of the priest that buried them.

* Ulloa was also a scientist and gave his name to the Ulloa Halo, a “physical illusion consisting of a white luminous ring or arch that can sometimes be seen in mountainous regions, typically in foggy weather, while facing an area opposite the Sun.”

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1415: French prisoners at the Battle of Agincourt

4 comments October 25th, 2009 dogboy

This day is called the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home,
Will stand o’ tiptoe when the day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day, and live old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors
And say, “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”

…And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Henry V, Act 4, Scene 3

In the world of Henry V, the Battle of Agincourt is a source of bursting pride for the English, a wellspring of superiority over the French and proof of the soul of those from the Isle. In spite of the inspiring speeches, the battle has passed into history as one of the enduring examples of a well-positioned army besting a much larger force.

Were it not for the story of the triumphant underdog, Agincourt would have fallen into international obscurity with much of the Hundred Years’ War, a simmering conflict for the French throne that spanned from 1337 to 1453. The notoriety of the Hundred Years’ War comes not from its intensity but from its longevity and breadth: an international conflict that swept up hundreds of wealthy European houses, it featured the first significant post-Roman standing armies, organized cavalry, and formative nationalism in both France and England.

The interminable war centered around the English crown’s claim to succession of the French throne — a claim events had overtaken by the end of the conflict in 1453 — and had already been going off and on for nearly eighty years as we lay our scene in 1415, with King Henry V of England initiating what would be known as the Lancastrian War.

Henry’s English and Welsh forces battered the French port of Harfleur starting in August 1415, which was the first holding to fall to the invading army. Almost immediately after taking control in late September of that year, the English king made a curious decision to march across Northern France from Harfleur to Calais, approximately 100 miles away.

As he tromped northeast, French troops shadowed his movements, and Henry made several attempts to shake them. After passing through Frévent, Henry turned his men north. He crossed the last major tributary of the Canche River south of Maisoncelle, hopeful that the exhausting trip was nearly through. His scouts, however, had hairy news for their king: the French force had cut the corner and was amassing north of their position. The way was blocked.

Archer? I Hardly Knew Her!

Agincourt (now spelled Azincourt) lay across a ploughed field from Tramecourt, making for a narrow defile not suited to maximizing the French force’s advantage in numbers and heavy cavalry.

Nevertheless, that advantage was considerable, or at least has conventionally been thought so, and it was in the face of desperately dwindling supplies that Henry was forced to initiate battle. The opposing French forces, ostensibly commanded by Constable Charles d’Albret, Comte de Dreux, and Marshal Boucicaut, Jean Le Maingre, allegedly outnumbered the British by at least 2 to 1 (estimates range as high as 6 to 1*).

The English drew up longbowmen in a wedge along the woods adjacent the field (map), and it was these positions that provided the decisive turn.

When the Gallic banners advanced, the English archers moved into firing range and dug in palings they had hastily manufactured from the local forest; this made a direct assault problematic while the woods prevented a flanking maneuver. French cavalry attempted to dislodge them with a concerted assault, but the defensive postures held, and the cavalry was turned away. All the while, the hail of arrows mowed down the flower of French chivalry, whose lines crumbled in panic and disorder.

As one contemporaneous account states**:

Before, however, the general attack commenced, numbers of the French were slain and severely wounded by the English bowmen. At length the English gained on them so much, and were so close, that excepting the front line, and such as had shortened their lances, the enemy could not raise their hands against them. The division under sir Clugnet de Brabant, of eight hundred men-at-arms, who were intended to break through the English archers, were reduced to seven score, who vainly attempted it. True it is, that sir William de Saveuses, who had been also ordered on this service, quitted his troop, thinking they would follow him, to attack the English, but he was shot dead from off his horse. The others had their horses so severely handled by the archers, that, smarting from pain, they galloped on the van division and threw it into the utmost confusion, breaking the line in many places. The horses were become unmanageable, so that horses and riders were tumbling on the ground, and the whole army was thrown into disorder, and forced back on some lands that had been just sown with corn. Others, from fear of death, fled; and this caused so universal a panic in the army that great part followed the example.

A confused chain of command in the French camp (the English, of course, were personally commanded by their sovereign) facilitated the rout.

Despite their military status, d’Albret and Boucicaut were outranked by several of the nobles heading the lines behind them, said nobles being prone to glory-seeking freelance charges as chivalrous as they were tactically unavailing. The Constable led the front line, followed by the Duke of Bar and the Duke of d’Alençon.

After the disastrous first charge, what remained of the second line moved in to join the fray. The French peasantry was massacred during the fight, and Constable d’Albret and the Duke of d’Alençon, along with the Duke of Orleans and Duke of Barant, along with several other nobles, fell during the assault, further disorganizing the French. (The highest-ranking English casualty was the Duke of York.)

With thousands of French dead, the third line, headed by the Count of Merle and Count of Falconberg, fell away before they entered the battle. While England’s longbows dominated the field, France’s bowmen never even participated in the battle, squeezed to the back by too many bluebloods demanding the right to charge.

Only 100-200 English are thought to have died this day; the death toll for the French was in the thousands, with hundreds more taken prisoner.


Uh-oh.

It is a portion of this lot summarily executed during the battle who offer this blog an excuse to survey the battlefield.

After a successful raid on the English supply van — the signal French achievement in the battle, and one that briefly threatened to knock out the monarch himself and turn the tide — Henry got worried that his oversized contingent of French prisoners was liable to get loose and wreak havoc in his rear. He issued the expedient but decidedly unseemly order to put his captives to death.†

Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of this documentary, which among other things unpacks the longbow’s actual role in the victory, given that English arrows could not penetrate French knights’ plate armor.

The Battle of Agincourt has inspired innumerable interpreters, from Shakespeare to Star Trek.

Shakespeare’s classic Henry V is frequently staged, and has hit the silver screen multiply — here’s Laurence Olivier’s version of the stirring St. Crispin’s Day speech followed by the start of battle from the 1944 production addressed to the martial fervor of World War II.

There are plans to adapt Bernard Cornwell’s Agincourt to film as well.

In the nonfiction world, Lt. Col Alfred Burne’s The Agincourt War focuses on the military side of the battle while Juliet Barker’s Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle and Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England.

The year after Agincourt, Henry V claimed all of Normandy, and in subsequent years forced the French to sign the Treaty of Troyes in 1420, which established the line of succession for Henry’s heirs to unify the crowns of the adversaries. Henry’s grand plan was foiled by his untimely death just two months after the death of King Charles VI of France, which left Henry VI — then less than a year old — as the heir to both English and French thrones.

The Dauphin Charles of France, officially disinherited by Troyes but still widely supported in France, swooped in to claim power in France, but internal dissent made his rule difficult; 30 years later (and after the intervention of Joan of Arc), Charles finally expelled the English from Aquitaine, and brought all France together not under the House of Lancaster but under the House of Valois.

* Accounts are sketchy in this regard. Some modern analysis puts the values at 4:3 for the French. However, contemporaneous accounts suggest a much heavier French advantage. Of course, people are notoriously bad at crowd estimation.

** Translation by Thomas Johnes.

† Shakespeare covers this notorious massacre as well, in Act 4, Scene 6 (the next scene opens with Englishmen horrified at the order, but the matter drops as they realize they’ve won the battle)

Alarum
But, hark! what new alarum is this same?
The French have reinforced their scatter’d men:
Then every soldier kill his prisoners:
Give the word through.

Part of the Daily Double: Agincourt.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Burned,England,Execution,France,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Notable Participants,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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2007: Five young men

1 comment October 25th, 2008 Headsman

Last year on this date, according to a Deutsche Presse-Agentur report of the Syrian news service, five youths were publicly hanged in Aleppo, Syria.

Syria executed five youths by hanging in a public square on Thursday after they were convicted of murder and robbery, the Syrian news agency reported.

The hanging was carried out in Bab al-Faraj, a public square in the centre of the city of Aleppo, 350 kilometres north of Damascus, in the early hours on Thursday, according to the agency.


Bab al-Faraj square.

A military court had convicted the men, aged between 18 and 23, of premeditated murder for the purpose of committing robbery, according to the online news service, Syriano.

Syrian human rights groups have called for the abolition of military courts, which were installed under emergency law in 1963.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions,Ripped from the Headlines,Syria,Theft

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