Archive for December, 2009

1624: Marco Antonio de Dominis, posthumously

5 comments December 21st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1624, the recently-deceased body of unscrupulous Croatian prelate Marco Antonio de Dominis was burned at Rome’s Campo dei Fiori, along with all his manuscripts.

Hypothesizing

As a precocious young man Dominis taught mathematics, rhetoric and philosophy; in 1611, he produced a scientific treatise on the formation of rainbows through light refraction, De radiis visus et lucis. A century later, Isaac Newton would write* in Opticks that

it is now agreed upon, that this Bow is made by Refraction of the Sun’s Light in drops of falling rain. This was understood by some of the Antients, and of late more fully discover’d and explain’d by the famous ANTONIUS DE DOMINIS Archbishop of Spalato.**

More opportune was his advocacy of a moon-induced tide, which idea his contemporary Galileo erroneously scorned.†

Though he makes a “great men of Croatian science” list, the scientific dabblings are not what the man was chiefly known for.

Apostatizing

A caricature of Dominis made an appearance, around the time of the man’s bodily demise, in Thomas Middleton’s play A Game at Chess, as the “fat bishop” who switches sides from black to white and back.

And that’s the man’s legacy, in a nutshell.

Elevated to Bishop of Senj, and then Spalato, he got the Inquisition after him and raised dust for England and the Anglican church in 1616.

They called you great-bellied-Doctour, made fat under Antichrist; and some there were also that sayd, that before you ranne away from the Pope, you got your owne Neece with child, and that feare to be punished for it, made you trudge away with your great load of flesh in such hast.

John Floyd

In Albion the absconded archbishop settled into a fine tenured appointment on the king’s dole to denounce the papists like only a convert can do. As A Game at Chess would indicate, he also earned fame for his avarice and gluttony, and who knows how many other deadly sins.

The rep for opportunism grew when Dominis defected back to Holy Mother Church upon the election of an old intimate as Pope Gregory XV. His well-worn welcome in England as anti-papal vituperator had, too, become complicated by the progress of the proposed Spanish Match to wed Prince Charles to Europe’s leading Catholic monarchy — an ultimately abortive project, but nearing the acme of its fortunes at the time Dominis returned to Italy.

(The Spanish Match is the protracted political and diplomatic dance whose progress A Game at Chess allegorically tells. Dominis arranged his return to the Catholic fold through the Spanish ambassador in England, making the former a fit character for the playwright to project the double-dealing and skullduggery of the rivals’ negotiations.)

Theosophizing

Unfortunately for our unprincipled Renaissance man, Gregory himself yielded up the ghost almost immediately and left the Church in the hands of the aggressive Urban VIII. (Urban is the guy who forced Dominis’s old tidal rival Galileo to retract heliocentrism.)

Dominis — who seems to have been an ecumenical guy, maybe just a fancy way of saying he could accommodate any doctrine amenable to his ambition‡ — was evidently still trafficking with the unorthodox even after he returned, recanted, and renounced. (Renunciation in English | Latin).§

One contemporary reportedly said of Dominis

he was a malecontent knave when he fled from us, a railing knave while he lived with you, and a motley parti-coloured knave now he is come back.

The Inquisition imprisoned Dominis, and his death in Castel Sant’Angelo was not sufficient to end heresy proceedings against such as he left behind.

[H]is body was put into a well-pitched coffin, and that into another greater than it … until such time as the cause of the said Archbishop, still depending, should be determined by the Sacred Congregation; that according to their sentence, whatever justice did require, might be done upon him.

The sentence being framed and ready to be put in execution, the said body was … taken the twentieth of this present month of December, forth from the convent where it was left, and carried to the church of Minerva, and there laid upon a table in an eminent place, together with his picture and a little sack of books which he had printed; and where it stood all the night.

The next morning … the most illustrious and most reverend lods cardinals, supreme inquisitors, with many others … proceeded unto a definitive sentence, which was, to declare him unworthy of the favour of the Holy See apostolic, to deprive him of all his honour, benefit, or dignity, confiscate his goods, and give him over to the secular powers, as de facto they then gave him over, that he and his picture, together with the books he had written, should be burned …

INSCRIPTIO

MARCUS ANTONIUS DE DOMINIS,

LATE ARCHBISHOP OF SPALATRO,

Most impiously bent his style against the Church of God, which had extraordinarily well deserved of him; having wounded her and stabbed her through, he so left her without cure, and wretchedly betook himself to the English altars, that thence the swine might the more securely gruntle against the Pope and Catholics. Returning home again, but no convert, his apostatic spirit he forsook not. He died (and the voice of a penitent man would he had not uttered) impenitent. (Source)

* Dominis is still today sometimes credited as the first to explain both primary and secondary rainbows, in preference to Descartes, who nailed them 20 years later. According to The Rainbow Bridge: Rainbows in Art, Myth, and Science, that gave far too much credit to Dominis for either originality or accuracy, and may have been written intentionally to undercut Descartes. (R.E. Ockenden made the same claim about Newton’s exaggeration in “Marco Antonio de Dominis and His Explanation of the Rainbow” in the not-exactly-current Dec. 1936 Isis).

Maybe Newton explicator and Executed Today guest blogger Thomas Levenson of the Inverse Square blog could refract some light on this.

** Spalato, i.e., Split, the scenic Dalmatian city where the great Roman Emperor Diocletian famously retired to tend his cabbages.

† “Lately,” Galileo sniffed, “a certain prelate has published a little tract wherein he says that the Moon, wandering through the sky, attracts and draws up toward itself a heap of water which goes along following it.” As cited in Understanding the Heavens: Thirty Centuries of Astronomical Ideas from Ancient Thinking to Modern Cosmology.

There’s an interesting treatment of Galileo’s stubborn adherence to a wrong idea about the tides in a history-of-ideas context in “Galileo’s Claim to Fame: The Proof That the Earth Moves from the Evidence of the Tides,” by W. R. J. Shea in The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Dec., 1970)

‡ Though he’s frequently read as a mere trimmer, it’s possible to give Dominis a much more sympathetic take. King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom argues that

it is difficult to explain his movements on this basis alone. Both in his journey to England and in his journey to Rome he took great risks, and in both cases gave up a reasonably secure position for one much less certain. Hacket, in the late seventeenth century, saw him not only as a place-seeker but as a man obsessed with an idea: “He lived and died with General Councils in his Pate, with Wind-Mills of Union to concord Rome and England, England and Rome, Germany with them both, and all other Sister-Churches with the rest, without asking leave of the Tridentine Council.” … [he] died for an ecumenical ideal which is only now, perhaps, beginning to be understood and appreciated … [and his] move [back to Rome] was the desperate attempt of a lonely, egotistical, and gifted man to find personal and spiritual fulfillment and, at the same time, to help to restore unity and coherence to a Europe being torn apart by religious conflict and war.

§ The Catholic Encyclopedia has Dominis re-relapsing when his pension expired along with Pope Gregory.

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1974: Mun Segwang, errant assassin

1 comment December 20th, 2009 Headsman

This morning in Seoul, Mun Segwang (various similar transliterations possible) was hanged for an assassination attempt four months earlier.

Mun, a Japanese-reared Korean who needed a translator for his subsequent trial, tried to gun down dictator Park Chung-hee at a Independence Day speech Aug. 15.

Mun missed Park, but he did kill two others: a high school student; and, Park’s wife Yuk Yeong-su, the seated white-clad figure in the middle of the assassination footage who can be seen beginning to crumple on stage as the camera pans away.

South Korea figured him as the agent of a North Korean/Communist plot, which conclusion Japan and the North rejected vehemently. (Trial evidence also indicated that he read The Day of the Jackal.)

Park got lucky this time, but the autocrat was successfully iced five years later by his own intelligence chief. (Guess what happened to him.)

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1862: An unknown Confederate deserter

1 comment December 19th, 2009 Headsman

From a letter written by one Private Thomas Warrick of Alabama, cited in The Life of Johnny Reb: The Common Soldier of the Confederacy by Bell Irvin Wiley:

I saw a site today that made me feel mity Bad I saw a man shot for deserting there was twenty fore Guns shot at him thay shot him all to pease … he went home and thay Brote him Back and then he went home again and so they shot him for that Martha it was one site that I did hate to see it But I could not helpe my self I had to do Jest as thay sed for me to doo.

This unknown soldier shot “all to pease” had just run afoul of Gen. Braxton Bragg‘s draconian anti-desertion policy meant to crack down on soldiers going AWOL for casual leave, often to help the families they had left behind keep up the farm.

As Wiley points out, our letter-writer Private Warrick was himself planning to do just that.

Bragg’s little salutary bloodbath evidently had its effect, because he didn’t go AWOL. Wiley quotes Warrick, now in a more Joe Friday mode than when he had promised to “come home Eny how”, writing his parents in 1864,

I would be glad to see you all now but I recon that I have bin home my last time till this war closes.

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1609: Vicente Turixi, King of the Moriscos

Add comment December 18th, 2009 Headsman

La Expulsión de los Moriscos, by Vincenzo Carducci (Vicente Carducho).

Having taken the trouble over the preceding century to eliminate (or force underground) its substantial Muslim population by forcibly converting it to Christianity, Spain in the early 1600s bethought itself to complete the operation upon its recently minted fellow-Christians by ejecting these Moriscos from Spain altogether.

When the edict for this radical act of expulsion first came down in the heavily Morisco area of Valencia, some of its victims reportedly embraced the prospect of deportation to a land where their dress, language, and religion were no longer forbidden.

Others were less sanguine.

Armed resistance broke out in two wilderness fastnesses, the mountainous Vall de Laguar (Spanish link) and — as narrated by Henry Charles Lea in his freely available The Moriscos of Spain; their conversion and expulsion

the Muela de Cortes (Spanish link), an almost inexpugnable spot, being a deep valley surrounded by precipitous heights, of which the passes were easily defensible. The Moriscoes of that region … were in a state of excitement and were readily persuaded to rise by an outlaw named Pablillo Ubcar. They elected as king Vicente Turixi, who sent a proclamation through the sierra for all to join him under pain of treason. From their strongholds they made raids on the surrounding country, gathering cattle and provisions, burning villages, and desecrating churches.

[Ethnic cleansing coordinator Don Agustin] Mexia, absorbed in the work of embarkation and fearing to interrupt it, for awhile paid no attention to these movements … who could readily be reduced when the time came.

His provisions were justified … those of the Muela de Cortes … lost heart when they heard of the defeat of those of Aguar, and were disappointed as to the appearance of the Moor Alfatami on his green horse, whom tradition reported to be concealed under the mountain since the days of King Jayme … It was agreed that they [the rebels, surrendering] should be safe in person and property, provided they would go to embark within three days.

The rapacious soldiery, who had promised themselves abundant plunder, in their disappointment threw off all discipline; they sacked the village of Royaya, outraged the women and seized numbers of children as slaves. Only three thousand Moriscoes were brought to the port of embarkation, the rest having scattered and taken to the mountains to escape the fury of the soldiers.

These, estimated at two thousand in number, for several years gave infinite trouble, killing all the Christians they met and committing constant depredations. At one time the Governor of Jativa induced many of them to come down, but finding that they were to be enslaved they fled back to the mountains.

A reward was offered for King Turixi, dead or alive; he was tracked to a cave, captured, and brought to the city, when he was sentenced to have hands and ears cut off, to be drawn, torn with pincers, hanged and quartered; but at the execution, December 18th, the cutting of hands and ears was omitted. He had been confessed twice and reconciled twice, and died as a good Christian, making a most edifying end, for we are told that he had been a liberal almsgiver and devoted to the Virgin and the religious Orders.

The miserable remnants were hunted down gradually, the viceroy paying twenty ducats a head for them as galley-slaves.

The armed resistance in Valencia — where Moriscos were most numerous, and the expulsion was first decreed — was actually much less than had been feared, which gave the Spanish authorities all the encouragement they would need to enforce it elsewhere, too.

“Seeing that the whole body of our nation is tainted and corrupt, he applies to it the cautery that burns rather than the salve that soothes; and thus, by prudence, sagacity, care and the fear he inspires, he has borne on his mighty shoulders the weight of this great policy and carried it into effect, all our schemes and plots, importunities and wiles, being ineffectual to blind his Argus eyes, ever on the watch lest one of us should remain behind in concealment, and like a hidden root come in course of time to sprout and bear poisonous fruit in Spain, now cleansed, and relieved of the fear in which our vast numbers kept it.”

-Cervantes, Don Quixote

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1818: Abdullah ibn Saud, last ruler of the first Saudi state

3 comments December 17th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1818, the last ruler of the first state established by the Al Saud who rule the modern state of Saudi Arabia lost his head to the Ottoman Sultan.

The Ottoman state and its (largely independent) vassal Egypt begged to dispute the Wahhabi tribe’s authority in the Arabian peninsula (and its proclivity for raiding Ottoman caravans) and made war on the House of Saud throughout the 1810’s.

The Battle of ad-Dir’iyah in 1818 settled the matter, with our day’s principal Abdullah I surrendering to the Egyptian general Ibrahim Pasha.

We pick up the action from the third-hand, well-after-the-fact reports of the London Times. This, printed on Jan. 16 1819 under the “German Papers” heading:

FROM THE TURKISH FRONTIERS, DEC. 16.

The last victory over the Wechabites puts an end to the war at once. Ibrahim Pacha, who commanded the Turkish army, sends the captive Abdallah to Constantinople, but he first had his head shaved, and all his teeth pulled out.

On Feb. 6, the Times channeled the Dutch and Flanders mail:

Intelligence from Constantinople, dated the 24th December, states, that the Chief of the Wechabites, Abdallah, and his Iman, were brought prisoners into that capital on the 16th of the same month. After being led, in chains, through the principal streets, they were taken to prison and put to the torture. On the following morning, they were brought before the Sultan and beheaded. Their naked bodies were exposed during three days, and then delivered to the populace.

In addition to Abdullah himself, this affair finished off the city of Diriyah as a Saudi capital.

But of course, the Saud and their state were just getting started.

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1520: Hemming Gadh

Add comment December 16th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1520, Hemming Gadh was beheaded at Raseborg Castle, Finland for his support of Swedish independence from Denmark.

Gadh (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish | free Swedish biography), around 70 by this time, had had a colorful, opportunistic career in Swedish politics. And religion: he was once temporarily Bishop of Linkoping, but could not win papal approval for the post and got excommunicated a few years later.

A Gadh-fly to the Danish-run Kalmar Union, he was a longtime supporter of Swedish independence agitator Sten Sture the Elder — so much so that when Sten kicked the bucket in 1503, it was Gadh who spiked the story and sent a squire disguised as the late statesman running off to Stockholm to rally his successors before the opposition could capitalize on the situation. (Sweden: The Nation’s History, by Franklin D. Scott)

Gadh was a key figure holding the Swedish party together in a decade-long interregnum until Sten Sture the Younger was up to the task.

And young Sten’s arrival was just in time, because around 1518, Gadh got captured, went over to the Unionist party, and helped it capture Stockholm … precipitating an infamous bloodbath.

Danish King Christian II evidently didn’t trust this turncoat any further than he could throw him, however, which was quite a bit further when he was cut in two. The opportunism that had served Gadh so well for so long this time cost him his head. (Swedish link.)

When in Finland, you can still see the dramatic former island keep where it all went down:


Raseborg Castle (Finnish: Raaseporin linna, Swedish: Raseborgs slott) in Ekenas.

(More information here)

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1983: John Eldon Smith, mafioso Willy Loman

3 comments December 15th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1983, Georgia’s electric chair* got its first use in 19 years.

The Headsman is not a theologian, but does believe John Eldon Smith’s quotable last words

Well, the Lord is going to get another one.

— would be conditioned on the Lord’s policy on crimes like this:

Joseph [Ronald] Akins’ former wife, appellant Rebecca Akins Smith Machetti, together with her husband, appellant John Eldon Smith, a/k/a Anthony Isalldo Machetti, a/k/a Tony Machetti** … plotted the death of Joseph Akins with the intent of redeeming the proceeds of Akins’ insurance policies, and other benefits, the beneficiaries of which were Mrs. Machetti and her three daughters by her marriage to Akins … appellant Tony Machetti drove to Macon, Georgia … contacted Ronald Akins and lured him into the area of the crime, ostensibly to install a television antenna … when he and his wife arrived at the appointed time the appellant Tony Machetti killed both of them with a shotgun.

Trial testimony against Smith said that the insurance salesman was hoping with his shotgun-slaying prowess to become a made man.

And the supposed last words, it should be noted, are not apparent on the secret audio recording of the execution, available here, although the religious theme presents itself in the form of a Catholic benediction. The rest is all clinical efficiency, a far cry from the next year’s dreadful botch.

The Dec. 16, 1983 New York Times report — executions were still oddities that drew national coverage at this time — quoted a witness remarking on the “antiseptic and sterile” process, which the Times writer described thus:

A square of material was draped over Mr. Smith’s face and a leather-strapped cap containing an electrode was placed over his head.

So tightly was he strapped to the chair, witnesses said, it was difficult to tell when the three unidentified executioners pressed three small buttons, one of which sent 2,000 volts of electricity through the condemned man’s body for two minutes. According to prison tradition, none of the executioners knew if his was the lethal button.

Far more noteworthy than either the day’s procedure or its subject was the context of a noticeably accelerating execution pace.

From resumption of executions in 1977 through 1982, there had been only six people put to death in the U.S.; Smith capped a year with five more, including back-to-back days (Robert Wayne Williams had been electrocuted in Louisiana on December 14).

Anti-death penalty lawyer and activist Henry Schwarzschild was quoted in the article bemoaning “a new period where executions are utterly likely” and prophesying 30 to 50 in the year ahead thanks to prisoners’ appeals expiring.

There were, in the event, 21 American executions during the ensuing twelvemonth, almost tripling the country’s total up to that time; the annual total has never since 1983 returned to single digits.

* One of several electric chairs named “Old Sparky”

** The non-wiseguy name’s similarity to a John McCain alias is presumably pure coincidence.

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10 executions that defined the 2000s

26 comments December 14th, 2009 Headsman

With the turn of the tide to the 2010s, we bid farewell to a decade that never did get a consensus moniker.

Like every decade known to the historian’s annals, however, the Aughties found plenty of work for the world’s hangmen.

As we prepare to flip over the calendar, Executed Today remembers ten executions that most palpably captured the decade’s Zeitgeist.

10. Dhananjoy Chatterjee, 2004

Although the world’s second-most populous country retains the death penalty and has dozens of death row denizens, an entire generation of Indians has come of age having never known an actual execution … never, except for the 2004 hanging of Dhananjoy Chatterjee (Update: Not any more). That made this otherwise ordinary criminal a worldwide controversy, and his archaic colonial-era hangman a temporary celebrity.

9. Aileen Wuornos, 2002

Two years after the magnetic prostitute/serial killer was given a lethal injection in Florida, Charlize Theron won an Oscar for portraying her in Monster.

8. Wang Binyu, 2005

This migrant laborer was just grist for the mill of China’s helter-skelter industrialization in the neoliberal economic machine … until, in a fury over wages stolen by his employer, he slew a foreman. Chinese media that picked up his story inadvertently made him an emblematic figure for the untold millions of his countrymen and -women who could sympathize with his sentiment: “I want to die. When I am dead, nobody can exploit me anymore. Right?” Internet buzz about Wang had to be forcibly squelched.

7. Timothy McVeigh, 2001

The Gulf War veteran was the face of terrorism in the U.S. from the time of his arrest for the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s Murrah Federal Building, until three months after his June 11, 2001, execution.

6. Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, 2005

Heart-rending photos of these teenagers hanging in Iran were a worldwide Internet sensation and made them an instant symbol of Iranian anti-gay persecution.

5. Mamoru Takuma, 2004

“I want others to know the unreasonableness that high-achieving children could be killed at any time,” said the author of perhaps the most infamous crime spree in modern Japanese history. The usually glacial Japanese capital system got the former janitor into a noose barely three years after he’d knifed eight children to death in the “Osaka school massacre”.

4. Cameron Todd Willingham, 2004

Something tells us that the ornery Texan — he took his leave of the world throwing an obscene gesture at his former wife from his execution gurney — would have been but pleasantly surprised to discover himself a major posthumous headache for Gov. Rick Perry (who signed his death warrant) and like-minded partisans of pseudoscience arson convictions. The sad part is that the evidence of Willingham’s potential innocence in the recent bombshell New Yorker article was basically all available at the time of his execution.

Rediscovery (with touching, or feigned, naivete) of the timeless problematic of executing innocents has characterized the 2000s not only in the U.S. but around the world.

3. The Bali Bombers, 2008

These grinning Islamic militants orchestrated the 2002 coordinated triple bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali that killed 202, most of them western tourists. (88 were Australians, the predominant nationality affected, as against only 38 Indonesians.) Then they spent six years gleefully milking their notoriety.

2. Zheng Xiaoyu, 2007

Zheng Xiaoyu hears his death sentence.

While proletarians like Wang Binyu died for pennies and many like Fu Xinrong died for their organs, the more privileged in China’s gangster capitalism played for higher stakes. For a decade the state’s Food and Drugs Minister, Zheng Xiaoyu took payola to rubber-stamp products that turned out to be dangerous to man and beast. His high-profile execution was Beijing’s response to a wave of concern about the safety of Chinese exports abroad … and a pledge, one year in advance of the 2008 Olympics, of China’s readiness for the world stage.

Zheng aside, elites behaving as gangsters (and vice versa) have been a recurring phenomenon on China’s execution grounds of late.

1. Saddam Hussein, 2006

Undoubtedly the decade’s signature execution, the 2006 hanging by America’s Iraqi puppet government of America’s longtime foreign policy bete noir was purchased for trillions that would have been better spent just buying the guy off … especially since cell phone video soon to circle the globe revealed the old rattlesnake taking command of a distinctly undignified scene.


Honorable Mentions

Some other notable executions to remember the 2000s by:

  • Creepy Malaysian pop singer Mona Fandey
  • Anti-abortion terrorist/martyr Paul Hill
  • Dmitry Chikunov, whose secret execution launched his mother on the crusade that would abolish Uzbekistan’s death penalty
  • Draconian anti-drug laws ensnaring foreign drug mules, like Australian national Nguyen Van Van and Nigerian footballer Iwuchukwu Amara Tochi in Singapore, and mentally ill Briton Akmal Shaikh in China
  • Vietnamese crime lord Nam Cam
  • Han Bok-nam, whose public shooting in North Korea was filmed and smuggled out of the country
  • The filmed stoning of Du’a Khalil Aswad in Iraq
  • Many people, such as Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, taken hostage in Iraq and demonstratively “executed”

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Entry Filed under: Essays

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1971: Martyred Intellectuals’ Day in Bangladesh

3 comments December 14th, 2009 Headsman

This date’s observance marks the systematic execution by (West) Pakistani forces of the intellectual class of East Pakistan at the end of the civil war which would detach the east as the independent nation Bangladesh — an unavenged war crime as cynical as it was brutal.


Executed intellectuals in the Dhaka Rayerbazar, 1971.

This was not a single discrete massacre, but a continuing policy during the March-December 1971 war. December 14, just two days before the Pakistani army surrendered, was the peak date of a dreadful endgame paroxysm that saw hundreds of scholars, teachers, lawyers, doctors, artists, writers, engineers, and the like rounded up and summarily executed in a bid to decapitate the new Bengali state’s intelligentsia.

Though the martyrs were subsequently venerated in Bangladesh, the higher-stakes regional geopolitics have always made effective redress a nonstarter.

Gorgeous pictures of another memorial.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Bangladesh,Borderline "Executions",Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Famous,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Lawyers,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Pakistan,Popular Culture,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1532: Solomon Molcho

2 comments December 13th, 2009 Jonathan Shipley

(Thanks to Jonathan Shipley of A Writer’s Desk for the guest post. -ed.)

Solomon Molcho, a Portuguese mystic, burned at the stake on this date in 1532 for apostasy.

Solomon Molcho’s Shel Silverstein-esque stylized signature. You can see his robe in Prague, or here.

He was in Regensberg, Germany with Jewish messianic adventurer David Reubeni meeting with Emperor Charles V hoping to persuade the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire to arm Marranos (Sephardic Jews forced to adopt Christianity) against the Turkish onslaught.

Charles imprisoned them both, turning them over to the Inquisition in Mantau, Italy. Reubeni died in prison, possibly poisoned. Molcho, who chose at the stake not to return to Christianity, burned.

Molcho’s life ended in flame but started in the warm bosom of the high echelons of Portuguese society. Born Christian to Marrano parents around 1500, Molcho held the post of royal secretary in the high court of Portuguese justice.

That is, until Reubeni visited Portugal on a political mission.

Enamored with Reubeni, who claimed to be a prince descended from the tribe of Reuben, and who had gained favor with Pope Clement VII, Molcho wanted to join Reubeni in the adventurer’s travels. Reubeni refused. Molcho circumcised himself in hopes of gaining Reubeni’s favor. It was all for naught, and so Reubeni emigrated to Turkey.

Soon Molcho was wandering through the Land of Israel, a preacher who predicted the Messianic Kingdom would come in 1540. He, too, gained favor with Pope Clement VII and, after studying the Kabbalah, predicted natural disasters like a flood in Rome in 1530 and an earthquake in Portugal in 1531. After those predictions, and dabbling in strange experiments, Molcho claimed himself to be a precursor to the coming Messiah, if not the Messiah himself.

This troubled many. Now traveling with Reubeni — one a Kabbalist mystical messianic preacher, the other a peripatetic Jewish dwarf — they sermonized, and allied themselves, where they could.

But not with the emperor.

Molcho, in the provincial capital of Mantua, south of Lake Garda in the Po plain, was given one last opportunity to convert back to Catholicism. Asking instead for a martyr’s death, Molcho got it.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,God,Habsburg Realm,History,Holy Roman Empire,Italy,Jews,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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