1689: Quirinus Kuhlmann, mystic poet

1 comment October 4th, 2010 Headsman

“Seldom is a poet burned alive, no matter how critics may roast his work!”

-Robert Beale

On this date in 1689, German poet and mystic Quirinus Kuhlmann was roasted in Moscow for heresy.

This Silesian millenarian (English Wikipedia entry | German) experienced a mystical conversion and spent his law school hours instead scribbling visionary poetry and devouring visionary texts.

Inflamed with Bohmian fire, I read Bohme with fiery eagerness and capacity. I did not know the Bohmian texts and I knew them the same day. What an admiration (o Jesus!) overcame me when I heard Bohme tell his revelations which I had learned from the universe of nature, with God as my teacher, it were the revelations the first outlines of which I just had begun to delineate in my own works.

-Quoted in Toward the Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco

Quirinus’s particular vibe was an end-times kingdom of Jesus thing with the Catholic Church as the Antichrist. He cast about Europe vainly imploring princes to ally — Protestants with Orthodox with Mussulmen — to destroy the papal whore of Babylon. This

Prince of Fanatics … wrote a book, entitled Prodromus Quinquennii Mirabilis, and published at Leyden in 1674, in which he set forth his peculiar views. He stated that in that same year the Fifth Monarchy or the Christian Kingdom was about to commence, that he himself would bring forth a son from his own wife, that this son by many miracles would found the kingdom, and that he himself was the Son of God. On account of these mad ravings he was exiled by the Chief of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and expelled with infamy from the University of Leyden. But his strange mission did not cease. He wandered for some time in France and England … He then proceeded to Turkey on his mission, and presented himself to the Sultan. Although ignorant of the language of the country, he persuaded himself that he could speak in any tongue; but when they led him into the presence of the Sultan he waited in vain for the burning words of eloquence to flow. The Turks dealt with him according to his folly, and bestowed on him a sound thrashing. Thence he proceeded to Russia …

Kuhlmann could have picked a better time to evangelize Russia than the reign of Peter the Great. This progressive despot did indeed look west for Russia’s future: in industry, in law, in war, even in fashion. But certainly not in holy alliances.

It was a fellow-German in Moscow, a Lutheran pastor, who denounced Kuhlmann as a dangerous heretic. He and a follower were duly burned as such.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Activists,Artists,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Russia,Torture

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1917: Jesse Robart Short, Etaples mutineer

Add comment October 4th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1917, Jesse Robart Short was shot in Etaples, France, for mutiny.


Jesse Robart Short’s sentence, as confirmed by General Haig, from the UK National Archives. (Transcribed more legibly.)

The fraught relationship between the enlisted and the officers had boiled over in the Etaples Mutiny just a few weeks before, which saw military police fire into a crowd of troops protesting the heavy-handed arrest of a fellow for slipping into the town of Etaples for a little (unauthorized, but widely practiced) R&R.

The shooting left a man dead and the camp in an uproar for several days, with some enraged rank-and-file men trying to break into army facilities hunting for MPs.

The excellent, but now defunct, site Shot At Dawn had a thorough recounting of the Etaples mutiny, still archived at the Wayback Machine.

Short, whose disciplinary record was otherwise clean, was picked out seemingly more or less arbitrarily to be the demonstration execution for this affair. He was doomed for an (unsuccessful) incident of incitement to mutiny, described by the officer thus:

“The picket was armed as regards 150 & the remainder were unarmed. At about 9.10 pm a lot of men, about 70 or 80 with notice boards torn away from the camps and waving flags which were handkerchiefs of all colours including red attached to sticks approached me. These men pushed through, the picket practically standing on one side … officers who stood out were also pushed aside. The picquet was absolutely unreliable at that moment so I called the officers together & made them fall their men in by Regts. I then addressed the picket & whilst doing so … [Short] came back from the crowd of men who had just broken through & told the men they were not to listen to men. ‘What you want to do to the Bugger is to put a stone round his neck & throw him into the river’… he told the men to fall out & join the mob who had just broken through.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,England,Execution,France,History,Military Crimes,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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1621: Not Katharina Kepler, thanks to her son Johannes

3 comments October 4th, 2008 Headsman

On October 4, 1621, the Duke of Württemberg declared Katharina Kepler free of a witchcraft charge for which she had barely avoided execution … with the help of her son, the astronomer Johannes Kepler.

The famous scientist was very well along his career, and his mother (German Wikipedia link) a too-old-for-this-crap 69, when authorities in her native town of Leonberg initiated proceedings in 1615.

It says here she was an eccentric, cantankerous old dame, just the sort liable to face a gossip campaign that would promote her into partnership with the Evil One. She was only one of a number of people targeted in the town’s witch-spasm, noticeably occurring as the Catholic-Protestant conflict was stoking that crucible of modernity, the Thirty Years’ War — a fine time and place for infernal superstition.

Several of the suspected were put to death.*

Kepler, whose heterodoxy and heliocentrism made him a touchy figure in a fraught time for scientists, might have done her no favors with his trippy Dream, whose overt musings on “daemons” and the like might have drawn suspicion onto the family. Johannes made six years of atonement struggling — ultimately successfully — to keep his mother alive and untortured.

Commuting back and forth from his work in Linz (showing an admirable capacity for keeping his head while others about him were in danger of losing theirs, Kepler discovered his third law of planetary motion in 1618; apparently he also read Galileo’s father on one of the trips between Linz and Leonberg), he organized his mother’s defense and wrote her briefs in his own hand.

It finally paid off.

The judicial college at the University of Tübingen — Kepler had matriculated there as a younger man — opened the door to Katharina’s release by declaring the evidence insufficient either way, and issuing a split-the-baby conviction directing that she be shown but not subjected to the instruments of torture.

On September 28, 1620, the Feast of St. Wenceslas, the executioner showed Katharina Kepler the instruments of torture, the pricking needles, the rack, the branding irons. Her son Johannes Kepler was nearby, fuming, praying for it to be over. He was forty-nine and, with Galileo Galilei, one of the greatest astronomers of the age — the emperor’s mathematician, the genius who had calculated the true orbits of the planets and revealed the laws of optics to the world. Dukes listened to him. Barons asked his advice. And yet when the town gossips of Leonberg set their will against him, determined to take the life of his mother on trumped-up charges of witchcraft, he could not stop them.

There were tidal forces at work in this little town. The events around the duchy of Württemberg would gather into themselves all the violent changes of the day, for by their conviction of Katharina, the consistory (the duke’s council), the magistrates, and the Lutheran church authorities had bundled together their fear of Copernicus and their anger against Johannes, a man they had already convicted of heresy. The Reformation, like an earthquake, had cracked Western Christianity, stable since the fifth century, into Catholics and Protestants, and the Protestants into Lutherans, Zwinglians, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Anabaptists, with the many camps drifting apart like tectonic plates. Even the heavens had begun changing, and Kepler had been a part of that change. … Fear ruled Europe — fear of difference, fear of change.

And there, in one corner of Swabia in southern Germany, the mother of a famous man, a mathematician and scientist, a respected, pious Lutheran, nearly paid with her life.

Early that morning, she was led to the torturer by Aulber, the bailiff of Güglingen, who was accompanied by a scribe for recording her confession, and three court representatives. The torturer, with the bailiff standing to one side, then shouted at her for a long time, commanding her to repent and tell the truth and threatening her if she didn’t. He showed her each instrument and described in detail all that it would do to her body — the prickers, the long needles for picking at the flesh; the hot irons for branding; the pincers for pulling and tearing at the body; the rack; the garrote; and the gallows for hanging, drawing, and quartering. He adjured her to repent, to confess her crimes, so that even if she would not survive in this world, she could at least go to God with a clear conscience.

Stubborn Katharina was having none of it.

Do with me what you want. Even if you were to pull one vein after another out of my body, I would have nothing to admit. (Source)

Having survived the “torture,” she was in the clear; at her son’s relentless insistence, the Duke ordered her released six days later.

Katharina Kepler died naturally the following April. There’s a school named for her (German link) in nearby Güglingen, Germany, where ma Kepler spent 14 months in prison. (German again)

* This German timeline of Leonberg says the witchsmeller got nine out of 10 targets. Other versions have slightly different head counts for the persecution; at any rate, Katharina wasn’t alone.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Habsburg Realm,History,Not Executed,Notable Participants,Notably Survived By,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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