Posts filed under 'Beheaded'

1647: Francesco Toraldo

Add comment October 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1647, Francesco Toraldo was put to summary death by rebelling Neapolitans.

Toraldo was a decorated commander during the Thirty Years’ War who was all set up to enjoy retirement as the Duke of Palata, a dignity conjured for him by the grateful Spanish.

This title persists in the Spanish peerage to this day, even though the namesake “duchy”, Palata, is a town in Italy — which is where Toraldo had some family holdings.

That meant he was in the neighborhood to get pulled into the action when Naples in 1647 rebelled against the King of Spain, the neglectful overlord of the City of the Sun.

In July 1647 a tax revolt led by a fisherman named Masaniello briefly gained control of the city.*


The Anti-Spanish Revolt of Masaniello in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples on 7 July 1648, by Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Viviano Codazzi, the latter of whom fled Naples because of this very event.

After the city’s merchants murdered Masaniello, Toraldo was called on as governor-general. He enjoyed widespread support among the still-restive populace, and when the Spanish royal house attempted a show of force under John of Austria to decisively quell the disturbance, Toraldo’s defense of the city might have led a more ambitious soul to declare himself the master of Naples. Indeed, many Neapolitans urged this course upon him — but Toraldo hewed to an increasingly untenable middle way of simultaneous fidelity to Spain and the Neapolitan masses that did for him in the end. (In fairness, the bolder attempt would surely have done for him just the same; his safety would have been in retiring.)

Hitherto the people had at least recognised the external sovereignty of Spain. Whilst they fought against the Spaniards, they professed their allegiance to the king of Spain; they rejected the accusation of rebellion, decidedly as well as vehemently; they had respected the pictures and arms of Philip IV and his ancestors, and always called themselves his most faithful people. But by degrees this had changed, and the unsuccessful expedition of Don John had given the last blow to this feeling of attachment to the royal family …A manifesto of the people on the 17th of October, 1647, set forth the grievance of the nation against their rulers, and invoked the aid of the Pope and the Emperor of kings and of princes. Political parties were formed; the most active at first were those who cried “Long life to the Pope! were he but our liege lord.” The Cardinal-Archbishop leaned to this side; the Nuncio Altieri was familiar with intrigues, and his brother was mixed up in it … Others, and amongst them some of the nobility, inclined towards France, and intriguers were not wanting who laboured in behalf of this power … Others again, considered a republic as feasible; but the great mass of the middle class began to perceive the danger into which they had fallen by the last steps taken in the revolution. They had been desirous of the abolition of burdens which were too oppressive, but not of a change in the government and dynasty. They had allowed the populace to have its own way about the gabelles. But when the populace prevailed, they changed their minds, as one insurrection followed upon another, when all commerce was at a stand-still, when all security was at an end, when the town was threatened with being turned into a heap of ruins, and that they were on the point of losing every thing, because they wanted too much. It was this middle class which later gave Spain an easy and bloodless victory.

But till this happened, Naples continued the theatre of horrible scenes. As the negotiations with Don John of Austria led to no results, the people tried to drive away the troops from the posts which they still occupied within the town. Thus Michele de Santis, the butcher who had murdered Don Giuseppe Carafa, led six hundred men against the Spanish post at Porta Meina. The Viceroy, after whom it was called, as has already been mentioned, had built this gate in the wall of Charles Vth, upon the heights of Montesanto, on the slope of the mountain upon which is situated the Carthusian convent and Sant’Elmo. Here stood fifteen Spaniards, armed only with pike and swords; they drove back six hundred men. The leaders perceived that, without the advantage of a commanding position, all individual detached successes were of no avail. Santa Chiara had resisted all their attacks. On the 21st of October a mine was sprung under the tower. Don Francesco Toraldo, who had been too weak to extricate himself, as he might possibly have succeeded in doing from his false position, and who now acted as a sort of check upon the people, commanded the attack in person. The mine was sprung, but being improperly laid, it only injured the neighbouring buildings, which buried numbers of the champions of the people under the ruins. The garrison of the convent made a sally at the same time, and the bands of the assailants withdrew, with the cry of treason. Their unfortunate leader was to atone for the treason; they seized him and dragged him to the market-place. In vain did Don Francesco Toraldo attempt to speak, in vain did his adherents try to silence the mad men. He sank down at the fish-market; they cut off his noble head upon a stone fish-stall. They stuck it upon a speak; thus had first [Don Giuseppe] Carafa’s head been carried in triumph, then that of Masaniello. They tore the still warm heart from the mangled corpse, and carried it in a silver dish to the convent, where Donna Alvina Frezza, the very beautiful wife of the unfortunate man, was staying. The savage murderers desired that the princess would show herself at the gate of the convent to receive the heart of her husband. The nuns, horror-struck, refused to deliver the message: then these savages collected the wood and faggots that were about to set fire to the convent. Toraldo’s widow, informed of the danger appeared at the threshold, and was obliged to receive from the hands of the barbarians this dreadful though beloved present. Many even of the mob wept at this sight. The corpse remained hanging on the gallows for two days, then they took it down, and in one of those sudden revulsions of mind that so often take place amongst the rude masses, they buried their murdered Captain-General with great pomp. (Source)

This fresh detonation of the powder keg led to the populace declaring itself the Neapolitan Republic; as the passage above hints, that project did not long survive the Spaniards’ pressure.

* Masaniello’s populist revolt left a wide literary footprint. Of special note is the opera La Muette de Portici, whose performance in Brussels in 1830 helped catalyze the Belgian Revolution.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Gibbeted,History,Italy,Lynching,Naples,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1526: Bianca Maria Gaspardone, the Insatiate Countess

Add comment October 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1526, Bianca Maria Gaspardone was beheaded at Milan’s Castello di Porta Giova, the present-day Castello Sforzesco.

She was only about 26 years old, but onto her second* dynastic marriage — this to Renato di Challant.

As the story was later recorded in Matteo Bandello‘s Novelle,** the young woman had wealth and options, and with her husband off fighting in Milan’s war against France, she indulged a series of boudoir intrigues — critically for our purposes, one Ardizzino Valperga, Count of Masino.

Per Bandello, the Lady of Challant grew annoyed by him and tried to dispose of him by provoking a quarrel between he and another of her lovers, the Count of Gaiazzo — but the two men compared notes and simply arrived at a mutual contempt for her.

The count made the sign of the cross, and all full of wonder said: Fie, shameless slut that she is. If it weren’t a dishonor for a knight to imbrue his hands in the blood of a woman, I would gouge out her tongue through the back of her neck; but first I would like her to confess how many times she begged me with her arms on the cross, that I have you killed! And so they repeated in public and private the crimes of this dishonest woman until they were on every person’s lips. She, hearing what these gentlemen said about her, even if she pretended no concern for it, was angry with indignation and thought of nothing else but to be highly avenged.

It was in those days in Milan there was one Don Pietro di Cardona, a Sicilian, who governed the company of his legitimate brother Don Artale. This Don Pietro was a young man of twenty-two, dark-faced but proportionate in body and melancholy appearance, who one day seeing Mrs. Bianca Maria fell wildly in love with her. She judging him to be a pigeon of first feather and instrument capable of doing what she so longed for, lured him to better ensnare and dazzle him. He, who had never before loved a woman of account, considering her to be one of the first in Milan, pined miserably for her sake. In the end she made it one night to go and sleep with him, and took such loving pleasure together that he believed himself to be the happiest lover in the world, and not long after asked the young man to kill the Count of Gaiazzo and Signor Ardizzino.

Don Pietro obligingly ambushed Signor Ardizzino and did him to death. Arrested thereafter, he was equally obliging in giving up his paramour as the moving spirit, and she foolishly admitted as much by trying to bribe her way out of trouble.

Don Pietro was permitted to flee from prison. But the unfortunate young woman, having confirmed her lover’s confession with her own mouth, was condemned to have her head cut off. She, having heard this sentence, and not knowing that Don Pietro had run away, could not be prepared to die. At the end, being led onto the ravelin of the castle facing the square and seeing the block, she began to cry in despair and beg for the grace that, if they wanted her to die happy, they would let her see her Don Pietro; but she sang to the deaf. So the poor woman was beheaded. And whoever longs to see her face portrayed in life, should go to the Chiesa del Monastero Maggiore, and there he will see her painted.


Bandello’s closing remark about her painting has commonly been understood to claim her as the model for this fresco of Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Leonardo da Vinci follower Bernardino Luini (1530). More recent research has cast doubt on that notion: scholars now prefer to reckon her image as that of a kneeling patron (along with her first husband) in a different image.

This tale made its way from Bandello’s pen into subsequent literature, notably a Jacobean English sex-romp tragedy called The Insatiate Countess, and a 19th century Italian play, La Signora di Challant; the whole thing appears overall to have unrealized potential for digital-age revival as sultry costume drama for prestige television.

* First hubby Ermes Visconti was beheaded in 1519.

** Bandello’s Novelle stories, which mix history and folklore, also include a version of the pre-Shakespeare Italian Romeo and Juliet drama.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milan,Murder,Nobility,Public Executions,Scandal,Sex,Women

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Feast Day of Saint Justus

Add comment October 18th, 2020 Headsman

October 18 is the feast date of early Christian (and possibly legendary) martyr-saint Justus of Beauvais.

He’s supposed to have been decapitated for the faith in Amiens, France, around 287, and thereafter scooped up his head in his arms to join the cephalophore club.


The Miracle of Saint Justus, by Peter Paul Rubens (1630s).

Widely venerated in France, he bequeathed the place-name of Saint-Just on a number of villages, which of course makes him by indirect means* the namesake of the French Revolution figure Louis Antoine de Saint-Just — Robespierre’s ferociously irreligious “angel of death” and a great enthusiast of (and eventual prey to) the guillotine.

* As his ancestors come from Oise, the specific “de Saint-Just” in their names might refer to Saint-Just-en-Chaussee.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,Martyrs,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Uncertain Dates

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1271: Not Nichiren, at the Tatsunokuchi Persecution

Add comment October 17th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1271, the Japanese Buddhist priest Nichiren was taken away to be executed by his political foes … only to find them spooked off completing their mission by terrifying heavenly signs.

He’s the founder of the still-extant school of Nichiren Buddhism, his name concatenating the words for Sun (Nichi) and Lotus (Ren) — for he centered his philosophy on the Lotus Sutra.

Nichiren (English Wikipedia entry | Japanese) was a major, and controversial, teacher in the mid-13th century: attributing a series of devastating natural disasters in the 1250s to the enervated spiritual condition of the populace owing to non-Lotus Sutra strains of Buddhism attracted enough enmity that he faced multiple assassination attempts, and was exiled to the Izu Peninsula in 1261. (He was suffered to return a couple of years later.)

Nichiren’s doomsaying got a lot more credible — a lot more dangerous — by the end of that decade when the expanding Mongols reached the coasts of China and Korea and started threatening Japan. He’d literally forecast foreign invasion as a consequence for failing to get your lotus right and the arrival of that very prospect drew followers to Nichiren. He intensified his preaching against the rival, but state-favored, varietals of Buddhism.

Summoned to court for questioning, Nichiren remonstrated effectively with his opponent Hei no Saemon. By the prophet’s own account, “on the twelfth day of the ninth month” of Japan’s lunisolar calendar — corresponding, per this calendar converter, to the 17th of October of 1271 by the Julian calendar — an armed host abducted Nichiren and carried him to Tatsunokuchi for beheading.

Instead the would-be executioners were shaken to their core, as Nichiren described in his autobiographical The Actions of the Votary of the Lotus Sutra.

That night of the twelfth, I was placed under the custody of the lord of the province of Musashi and around midnight was taken out of Kamakura to be executed. As we set out on Wakamiya Avenue, I looked at the crowd of warriors surrounding me and said, “Don’t make a fuss. I won’t cause any trouble. I merely wish to say my last words to Great Bodhisattva Hachiman.” I got down from my horsee and called out in a loud voice, “Great Bodhisattva Hachiman, are you truly a god? When Wake no Kiyomaro was about to be beheaded, you appeared as a moon ten feet wide. When the Great Teacher Dengyo lectured on the Lotus Sutra, you bestowed upon him a purple surplice as an offering … If I am executed tonight and go to the pure land of Eagle Peak, I will dare to report to Shakyamuni Buddha, the lord of teachings, that the Sun Goddess and Great Bodhisattva Hachiman are the deities who have broken their oath to him. If you feel this will go hard with you, you had better do something about it right away!” Then I remounted my horse.

Finally we came to a place that I knew must be the site of my execution. Indeed, the soldiers stopped and began to mill around in excitement. Saemon-no-jo, in tears, said, “These are your last moments!” I replied, “You don’t understand! What greater joy could there be? Don’t you remember what you have promised?” I had no sooner said this when a brilliant orb as bright as the moon burst forth from the direction of Enoshima, shooting across the sky from southeast to northwest. It was shortly before dawn and still too dark to see anyone’s face, but the radiant object clearly illuminated everyone like bright moonlight. The executioner fell on his face, his eyes blinded. The soldiers were filled with panic. Some ran off into the distance, some jumped down from their horses and huddled on the ground, while others crouched in their saddles. I called out, “Here, why do you shrink from this vile prisoner? Come closer! Come closer!” But no one would approach me. “What if the dawn should come? You must hurry up and execute me — once the day breaks, it will be too ugly a job.” I urged them on, but they made no response.

The warriors could by no means be persuaded to do their duty in the face of this dread omen. Eventually the lot of them — executioners and former prisoner alike — wandered off together and drank some well-earned sake as comrades. Nichiren’s official pardon arrived the next morning.

The incredible event is known as the Tatsunokuchi Persecution, and (obviously) remembered as a watershed moment in Nichiren’s life.

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Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Japan,Last Minute Reprieve,Lucky to be Alive,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Power,Religious Figures

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1546: Jorge Robledo, Popayan conquistador

2 comments October 5th, 2020 Headsman

Spanish conquistador Jorge Robledo was beheaded on this date in 1546

Robedo (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Spanish) emerges onto history’s stage as a marshal from the train of Francisco Pizarro, dispatched to the new Spanish colony of Popayan in the Colombian Andes.

There he founded several still-extant cities, like Santa Fe de Antioquia.

After a few years back in the mother country, Robledo returned to Popayan intending to install himself as an authority in those cities or still better, the province as a whole — a project that necessarily pitted him against the incumbent boss Sebastian de Belalcazar. Several months’ skirmishing produced a verdict for the latter, who had his rival publicly executed with several aides-de-camp.

Belalcazar himself was in 1550 condemned to death for this severity. He died of natural causes while preparing to sail for Spain to appeal it. Belalcazar has been in the news recently because a statue of him was torn down in 2020 in protest of centuries of brutality towards indigenous peoples.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1953: Erna Dorn, June 17 rising patsy

Add comment October 1st, 2020 Headsman

Erna Dorn was executed in secret in Dresden, East Germany on this date in 1953.

Dorn (English Wikipedia entry | German) had been a typist in Gestapo headquarters — real banality of evil stuff — before going to work at Ravensbruck, which was a bit less banal. This is the setup to a fair few executions of Nazi personnel but Frau Dorn got there by a very unusual path.

After the war she was able to pass for several years as a concentration camp survivor rather than a camp staffer, but her cover persona fell apart by the end of the 1940s resulting in her divorce, her expulsion from the Communist party, and her prosecution — first for theft and eventually for the Nazi stuff. However, her sentence was a term of years, not death.

Virtually everything known about her comes from her interrogations over this period and Erna Dorn was your basic unreliable narrator. You’ve got her opportunistically evolving cover stories, and then her swinging into possibly exaggerated claims of responsibility for great abuses, all intermediated by the Stasi with its own interests. “It turns out that everything from Dorn is a fabrication, with zero correlation to truth,” a frustrated interrogator noted after following her tales down one too many blind alleys.

Dorn might have served out her 15 years and been released to take her shifting secrets to an obscure grave. But the June 17, 1953 protests against the East German government threw open the doors of the Halle detention center where she was held, allowing some 250 prisoners a very brief escape (in Dorn’s case, she was out for a single day) before Soviet intervention crushed the rebellion.

As goes the June 17 uprising Dorn was merely a bystander swept into events: it might as well have been the weather that popped open her cell door, and what would anyone do but walk right out?

Save that in the crackdown that followed there was a keen interest in painting the whole embarrassing affair in the scarlet colors of Hitlerism. The camp guard liberated by anti-government protesters made a perfect foil and the unbalanced Dorn was entirely willing to play along at her subsequent snap show trial by doubtfully claiming to have addressed the Halle protesters with an anti-German Democratic Republic harangue.

Dorn was condemned to death as a fascist ringleader by June 22, just five days after her unexpected furlough. The sentence was overturned in the 1990s by the post-GDR, reunified Germany.

* She had to carefully duck a summons to testify at trials of Ravensbruck guards, lest her true role at the camp be dramatically unveiled.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Treason,Women,Wrongful Executions

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1691: Johannes Fatio and the leaders of the 1691er-Wesen

Add comment September 28th, 2020 Headsman

Swiss physician Johannes Fatio was beheaded as a rebel on this date in 1691.

A bit of an outsider to the medical establishment of his native Basel — which refused for a time to recognize credentials he’d earned studying in France — Fatio (English Wikipedia entry | German) posterized the lot of them by performing the first successful surgical separation of conjoined twins in 1689.

Baslerin knew quality even if their scholars didn’t, and flocked to his medical practice, a pioneer in pediatric surgery. With medicine still at this point coalescing out of the craft guild system as a distinct professional category, Fatio’s affiliation was with the Shearer’s Guild — that is, barbers.

Guilds dominated the economic structure of Basel, layered beneath the city’s handful of oligarch clans known as the “Daig”, but as was true in other Swiss cantons a political administration of superrich patricians plus favored guild bosses sowed discontent further down the chain.*

No matter the dexterity of his knife-wielding, our outsider-doctor was firmly in his guild’s rank and file and participated in an abortive 1691 revolution, the so-called 1691er-Wesen, that briefly seized control of the city — deposing and even prosecuting and executing some of the hated masters. The multitalented doctor tried his hand with a progressive constitutional rewrite, but the rising didn’t have the legs to see it into effect.

When the counter-coup prevailed, Fatio and his brother-in-law Hans Konrad Mosis were beheaded in the marketplace along with another prominent revolutionary, Johannes Müller.**

His textbook Der Arzney Doctor, Helvetisch-Vernünftiche Wehe-Mutter, was only published many decades afterward, in 1752.

* The rural outlands that fed these cities had their own basket of grievances.

** Other revolutionaries fled to exile.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,History,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Switzerland,Treason

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1547: Jan Olivetsky, Moravian publisher

Add comment September 20th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1547, the anti-Catholic publisher Jan Olivetsky was beheaded in the town square of Olomouc. Links in this post are predominantly Czech.

Part of a whole family of pioneers in early Bohemian and Moravian printing — his father Pavel stamped out the first printed editions of Jan Hus‘s writings in Czech — Jan skirted even closer to the lines proscribing subversive and heretical propaganda. Too close.

Jan set up shop a couple miles down the road from Olomouc in Drozdovice where — in addition to ponderous legal compendiums and popular folk stories that comprised his daily bread — he dared to run the presses for a variety of Lutheran sermons and manifestos against the pope.

The outbreak of, and the decisive Catholic triumph in, the Schmalkaldic War of 1546-1547 came a sharp imperial crackdown on this sects trafficking.

He’s regarded as the protomartyr among Moravian publishers, a professional distinction rather than a confessional one.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Habsburg Realm,History,Holy Roman Empire,Martyrs,Milestones,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1829: Helena Katarina Löv

Add comment September 19th, 2020 Headsman

Helena Katarina Löv was beheaded with an ax on this date in 1829 at Skanstull — now just a part of Stockholm but at the time, the city’s southerly toll gate and a traditional execution site — for murdering her master’s children.

Löv was not the last woman executed in Sweden, but she does have the distinction of being the last woman publicly executed. (Executions were moved behind prison walls in the 1870s, so we have some photos of the last public beheadings.) She was also the last Swede, man or woman, whose body was burned at the stake after decapitation.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Sweden,Women

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906: Adalbert of Badenberg

Add comment September 9th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 906, Frankish noble Adalbert of Babenberg was done in by a feud.

Our setting is the German duchy of Franconia, in the remains of Charlemagne’s Carolingian Empire. That mighty polity had been dismembered by subdivisions split among rivalrous sons, so Franconia here falls within a third part of a third part — the Kingdom of Saxony.

This decomposition summoned all manner of scavengers to squabble over the meat, and Franconia “was divided into counties, or gauen, which were ruled by counts, prominent among whom were members of the families of Conradine and Babenberg, by whose feuds it was frequently devastated.”

The latter of these houses, Babenberg, was sired by one of the last great Carolingian commanders. Descendants of this notable line would become in time dukes in their own right, and the red-white-red triband of their family arms are the basis for the flag of modern Austria. The city of Bamberg grew up around their family stronghold of Babenberg Castle.

Around the turn into the 10th century, however, they were getting the rough end of the pineapple from the Conradines — who waxed in royal favor and regional power while the Babenbergs waned.

Adalhard of Babenberg, the older brother of this post’s principal, had been seized and beheaded by the Conradines in 903. Not to be out-feuded, our guy Adalbert gave battle to his rivals in 906, killing the enemy family silverback.*

He was in his own turn besieged in Theres until he surrendered to a safe conduct promised by Saxon King Otto the Illustrious — who was his own brother-in-law thanks to Otto’s marrying Adalbert’s sister back when the Babenbergs stood higher in the pecking order. So much for sentiment: as soon as Adalbert gave up the protection of his city walls, Otto had his head cut off.

* A guy named Conrad: hence, the Conradines.

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Entry Filed under: Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Early Middle Ages,Execution,Germany,History,Nobility,Power,Wartime Executions

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