Posts filed under 'Burned'

1614: Magdalena Weixler, “my innocence will come to light”

Add comment October 10th, 2020 Headsman

From Servants of Satan: The Age of the Witch Hunts:

Another surviving letter from a condemned witch to her husband comes from Ellwangen in 1614. Magdalena Weixler wife of the chapter scribe Georg, wrote shortly before her execution: “I know that my innocence will come to light, even if I do not live to see it. I would not be concerned that I must die, if it were not for my poor children; but if it must be so, may God give me the grace that I may endure it with patience.”

Weixler’s case was especially horrible because her jailer had tricked her into turning over her jewelry and granting him sexual favors in return for a false promise to spare her from torture. Soon afterward, the jailer was caught and tried for bribery and breaking the secrecy of court proceedings. His trial revealed widespread rape of imprisoned women and the existence of an extortion racket whereby guards sold names to torture victims who desperately needed people to accuse of complicity in witchcraft. Such corruption among jailers must have been common when prisons themselves were a kind of torture [“when” -ed.], especially for those too poor to buy food and warm clothing from the turnkey.

The October 10 execution date comes from this pdf roster of German witchcraft executions.

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

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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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1599: Celestino da Verona

Add comment September 16th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1599, a heretical Franciscan named Fra Celestino of Verona burned at the stake at Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori.

For posterity he is a secondary character in the passion play of Giordano Bruno, who followed him to the same stake just a few months later.

Celestino had been imprisoned with Bruno in the early 1590s — the Inquisition’s legal gears took years to spin — and wrote up for his jailers a denunciation of his Bruno’s deviant doctrines. This might have been precisely what was hoped or demanded: turn the man’s fear of the fagot into an engine for incriminating the heresiarch.

It’s purely speculative whether this viperous intervention really made any difference in Bruno’s case. The rat vanishes from the documentary trail, only resurfacing in early 1599 when the Inquisition takes a sudden and intense look at this loose end. No record remains of Celestino’s specific doctrines, only that interrogators operated under a pall of silence mandated by the Pope himself.

He was condemned as a relapsed heretic, although we can only guess at his heresies. A few days later, an ambassador’s letter made reference to the burned man “who insisted that Christ Our Lord did not redeem mankind.”

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Italy,Papal States,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1523: Jan van Essen and Hendrik Vos, the first Lutheran martyrs

Add comment July 1st, 2020 Headsman


Christian reformer Martin Luther composed his hymn “Ein neues Lied wir heben an” (literally “A new song we raise” but commonly titled in English “Flung to the Heedless Winds”) in response to a major milestone for his movement: the first evangelicals executed for the faith, namely defrocked Augustinian monks Jan van Essen and Hendrik Vos (or Voes), who were burned on July 1, 1523 in Brussels. “How welcome must that fire have been which hurried them from this sinful life to eternal life yonder,” Luther wrote in a missive to the Low Countries. But it wasn’t that welcome: their entire Antwerp monastery had been suppressed as a heretical nest with all its denizens save these two fleeing the stake, many by way of recantation. Nevertheless, Jan and Hendrik would not be the last of the former Antwerp Augustinians to achieve the martyr’s crown and Luther’s tribute.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Belgium,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Habsburg Realm,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Netherlands,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries

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1919: John Hartfield lynched

Add comment June 26th, 2020 Headsman

John Hartfield (sometimes given as “Hartsfield”) was lynched on this date in 1919 in Ellisville, Mississippi.

“[U.S. President Woodrow Wilson] said the American negro returning from abroad would be our greatest medium in conveying bolshevism to America. For example, a friend recently related the experience of a lady friend wanting to employ a negro laundress offering to pay the usual wage in that community. The negress demands that she be given more money than was offered for the reason that ‘money is as much mine as it is yours.’ Furthermore, he called attention to the fact that the French people have placed the negro soldier in France on an equality with the white men, and ‘it has gone to their heads.'”

-Diary of Wilson’s personal doctor Cary Grayson (Source)

This summer of 1919 was fraught and violent moment in America — later christened the “Red Summer” for the quantity and ferocity of racially motivated outrages.

With the end of the Great War, domestic guardians of order bristled alike at proud and armed black soldiers returning from France’s trenches and at the post-Bolshevik Revolution prospect of subversive agitation — fears that were intimately linked for elites, as the pull quote in this post indicates. Plus, as readers in 2020 surely recollect from the news, everyone was also laboring under the Spanish flu pandemic. Large riots or pogroms with multiple casualties occurred in several U.S. cities, including a five-day street battle in Washington D.C. in July that left 15 or more dead.

Likewise, lynchings surged in 1919 — from 38 and 64 in the preceding two years, to 83, a figure which hadn’t been recorded in more than a decade and has never been approached since.

James Hartfield was one* mark upon this near-hecatomb, a mark underscoring the strength of lynch law in this moment. The mob was disciplined and organized, confident that its actions had the blessing of the state. It acted deliberately, responsive to its own authorities. Nobody got his blood up to string up the man promptly upon capture; instead, Hartfield was delivered to private custody — not jail — and given him medical attention so that he’d be fit for his murder.


The Greenwood (Miss.) Commonwealth ran this headline on the day that Hartfield was killed — one of many newspapers to report the planned lynching ahead of time.

The schedule (Hartfield to be burnt at 5 p.m.) was publicized in advance in the press; even the state’s governor, literal Klansman Theodore Bilbo, issued a sort of official denial of clemency with a public announcement that he couldn’t intervene if he wanted to and he also didn’t want to.

I am utterly powerless. The state has no troops and if the civil authorities at Ellisville are helpless, the state is equally so. Furthermore excitement is at such a high pitch thruout [sic] south Mississippi and if armed troops interfered with the mob it would prove a riot among the citizens.

The negro says he is ready to die and nobody can keep the inevitable from happening. (Huntsville (Ala.) Times, June 26, 1919, under the headline “Governor Will Not Interfere With Lynching”)

And indeed, nobody did interfere.

The below from the next day’s Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser is one of several versions that saw wide distribution in the republic. Although these reports differ on some details — for example, whether Hartfield was or was not already mortally wounded by the gunshots he’d received from the posse — all unite in noticing the orderliness of this off-book execution.

ELLISVILLE, MISS. June 25 [sic] — Trailed for ten days through three South Mississippi counties by posses which included several hundred members of his own race, John Hartfield, negro, confessed assailant of an Ellisville young woman,** was captured desperately wounded near Collins, at daybreak this morning, rushed by automobile to the scene of his crime, hanged to a gum tree and then burned to ashes. His victim witnessed the lynching.

While negroes took no part in the actual lynching of Hartfield, posse leaders freely admitted they rendered valuable assistance during the chase knowing when they enlisted that it was intended to lynch the fugitive when he was captured. Many of them witnessed the execution.

The lynching was conducted in a manner which the authorities characterized as “orderly.” Guarded by a committee of citizens of Ellisvlle, Hartfield was taken first to the office of Dr. A.J. Carter, who after examination of gun shot wounds received when the fugitive made his fight against capture, declared the negro could not live more than twenty-four hours. In the meantime a group of silent men were piling cross ties and brush in a depression in ground near the railroad trestle. There was no shouting. Arrangements apparently had been made days ago.

The victim of Hartfield’s crime was escorted into the physicians’ office after the wounds had been examined. She positively identified him as her assailant. When she left the negro said to the committee: “You have the right man.”

Then there were quiet conferences. Members of the committee circulated in the crowd. Reports that there would be a “burning” at 5 o’clock gave way to statements that there would be a “hanging at the big gum tree.” Hartfield was told what the crowd itended [sic] doing with him, but only repeated “you have the man.” Later he said he knew he was going to die and declared he wished to “warn all men, white and colored, to think before doing wrong.”

Hartfield was not taken to jail, although earlier reports were that he had been lodged there. From the doctor’s office he was taken to the street and faced the crowd. “You have the right man,” he reiterated. Then a noose found its way around his neck and the trip to the big gum tree was started, the crowd still ominously silent.

Under the big gum tree Hartfield forcibly detained his victim all of the night of Sunday, June 15th. It was under a limb of the same tree that Hartfield was hanged as soon as the rope could be pulled up by hundreds of hands. Then occurred the first demonstration. While the body was in its death struggles pistols were produced by men in the crowd and fired point blank at the swinging form. Before the rope had been cut by bullets, burning fagots were thrown under the body and an hour later there was only a pile of ashes.

The victim with her aged mother witnessed the execution. When she reached her home two hundred yards away, she was informed that more than a thousand dollars had been subscribed for her use by persons in the crowd.

No arrests were made after the lynching and tonight the little town was quiet. Most of the visitors from the surrounding country left for their homes.

The future Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh, who lived and worked in the U.S. intermittently in the 1910s where he was influenced by black radicals including Marcus Garvey, also made note of the Hartield outrage in his 1924 essay “Lynching” (see the numbered p. 53 of this large pdf):

When a lynching was to take place or had taken place, the press seized upon it as a good occasion to increase the number of copies printed. It related the affair with a wealth of detail. Not the slightest reproach to the criminals. Not a word of pity for the victims. Not a commentary.

The New Orleans States of June 26, 1919, published a headline running right across the front page in letters five inches high: “Today a Negro Will Be Burned by 3,000 Citizens.” And immediately underneath, in very small print: “Under a strong escort, the Kaiser has taken flight with the Crown Prince.”

The Jackson Daily News of the same date published across the first two columns of its front page in big letters: “Negro J.H. to Be Burned by the Crowd at Ellistown This Afternoon at 5 p.m.”

The newspaper only neglected to add: “The whole population is earnestly invited to attend.” But the spirit is there.

* Although lynched alone, he wasn’t quite the only victim. A white man who misunderstood or defied the commands of the vigilantes during the manhunt was also killed. And reportedly (although I haven’t verified this to my satisfaction) another black man elsewhere in Mississippi was lynched in the subsequent weeks merely for mentioning the Hartfield assassination.

** Family lore from a friend who survived by fleeing Ellisville characterizes Hartfield’s true offense as simply having a white girlfriend.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Common Criminals,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Lynching,Mature Content,Mississippi,No Formal Charge,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Sex,USA

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1786: Phoebe Harris, coiner

Add comment June 21st, 2020 Richard Clark

(Thanks to Richard Clark of Capital Punishment U.K. for the guest post, a reprint of an article originally published on that site with some explanatory links added by Executed Today. CapitalPunishmentUK.org features a trove of research and feature articles on the death penalty in England and elsewhere. -ed.)

Up to 1790, women convicted of High Treason and Petty Treason were burned at the stake. Although I am sure you have a perception of what High Treason is, as a crime in those days, it also encompassed several other offences, notably coining. Coining covered several individual offences relating only to gold and silver coins, e.g. clipping coins to provide coin metal for forgeries, colouring coins to make them appear of higher value, making counterfeit coins and having the equipment to do any of the above. Coining was considered treasonable because it directly affected the State and confidence in the currency.

The crime.

Under the name of Mrs. Brown, Phoebe Harris had rented a room from one Joel Sparkes at a house in Drury Lane, London (No. 19, in Swan-yard) before Christmas 1785. A friend of hers, Francis Hardy, had recommended her to Sparkes, describing her as a captain’s widow with a private income. In reality, it seems that Phoebe had been separated from her husband for two or three years. Whilst Phoebe lived at this address she was regularly engaged in filing and clipping coins and then using the metal to make new counterfeit coins in sand moulds. Francis Hardy was the person who was later to inform the police of the goings on at No. 19. There was a suggestion, flatly denied by him in court, that Francis Hardy had had a relationship with Phoebe. He did, however, take her teenage daughter in as a servant on the day of her mother’s arrest.

Arrest.

At about 5 o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, the 11th of February 1786, John Clarke (a constable) went to No. 19 in consequence of the information he had received and found Phoebe Harris and Elizabeth Yelland in the first floor room. He and his assistants, George Meecham, Patrick Macmanus, and William Andrews, broke down the locked door and arrested the two female occupants. They then searched the room in which they found some counterfeit coins and the necessary equipment for coining in an adjoining closet.

When John Clarke compared the counterfeit shillings to genuine ones, it was clear that they had been cast from a mould made from a genuine shilling. In all, some 12 counterfeit coins were discovered, both shillings and sixpences. One of the genuine sixpences had a hole in it and this was evident in the counterfeits.

A little later, after the rooms had been searched, Elizabeth’s brother, Joseph Yelland, returned home and was also arrested. All three were taken to Bow Street to appear before a magistrate. They were remanded in custody at Newgate to stand trial at the next Sessions of the Old Bailey.

The trial.

Capital trials at this period took up very little time with a number being conducted during a single day. The April Sessions of the Old Bailey in 1786 were held on Wednesday, the 26th of that month, before Mr. Baron Eyre. Among those indicted were Joseph Yelland, otherwise known as Holman, Phebe Harris (spelling of Phoebe as given in the original indictment) and Elizabeth Yelland, who were jointly charged with two specimen counts, as follows: “for that they, on the 11th of February last, one piece of false, feigned, and counterfeit money and coin, to the likeness and similitude of the good, legal, and silver coin of this realm, called a shilling, falsely, deceitfully, feloniously, and traiterously did counterfeit and coin, against the duty of their allegiance, and against the statute.” There was also a second count of coining a sixpence. The shilling is the equivalent of the current 5p coin, whilst a sixpence is the equivalent of 2.5p. Although in 1786, these two coins had much greater purchasing power they were still coins of small denomination.

The prosecution was opened by Mr. Silvester, assisted by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Garrow led the defence. [Silvester and Garrow were famous combatants at the bar. See this post for another instance. -ed.]

The case was heard before the 2nd Middlesex jury, consisting of twelve men. Both sides were able to call witnesses and cross examine those for the other side. In this case, the Crown called the constables involved in the raid, together with the landlord and his son. They also called Francis Hardy, who gave direct eyewitness evidence of the manufacture and colouring of the counterfeit coins. The coining equipment found in the rooms was produced in court as evidence. Hardy also suggested that the group had bought forged coins from other criminals to pass off as good — also a capital crime then, known as uttering. He stated in his testimony that she continued with the coining business even though she knew that Hardy was fully aware of what she was doing. It appears that there had been some disagreement between Hardy and Phoebe and this may have led to him informing on her.

The defence was principally based upon the testimony of character witnesses for each of the defendants who averred them to be people of good character. Phoebe addressed the court as follows: “My Lord and Gentlemen of the Jury, I am an unhappy woman; I was desired by a young man of the name of John Brown, to take the room, which I did, and he brought the things found in the room; and desired me to secrete them, and I not knowing the nature of them, or for what purpose they were intended, did do so, and so I told the gentleman when they came and took me: as to my sister-in-law, I being very ill, she came to clean the room for me, and the gentleman found her cleaning it on her knees: and my brother-in-law came some time after the gentlemen had been in the room.”

She also called two character witnesses.

The jury took some time in their deliberations before finding Phoebe guilty and, despite Francis Hardy’s evidence against them, acquitting Elizabeth and Joseph Yelland. As was normal sentencing of all those convicted, took place at the end of the Sessions. Nine prisoners were condemned to death, these being: Hannah Mullins, William Smith, Edward Griffiths, James May, George Woodward, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Watts, who were sentenced to be hanged while Phoebe was condemned to be burned at the stake. Many other prisoners were sentenced to transportation or imprisonment. Hannah Mullins and James May were subsequently reprieved to transportation. The condemned were returned to Newgate prison to await their fates.

Execution.

Phoebe Harris was to be the first woman burnt at Newgate, as distinct from Tyburn or Smithfield, and her execution was carried out just after 8.00 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday the 21st of June 1786. A huge crowd, estimated at some 20,000 people, had turned out to watch this gruesome spectacle.

At 7.30 a.m. six men, Edward Griffiths, George Woodward, William Watts, Daniel Keefe, Jonathan Harwood and William Smith were brought out through Newgate’s Debtor’s Door and led up onto the “New Drop” gallows. They were prepared in the usual way and the drop reportedly fell around 8.00 a.m.

After they were suspended, Phoebe was led from the Debtor’s Door of Newgate by two sheriff’s officers to a stake that had been erected halfway between the gallows and Newgate Street. The stake was some 11 feet high and had a metal bracket at the top from which a noose dangled. Phoebe was described as, “a well made little woman of something more than thirty years of age, with a pale complexion and not disagreeable features.” She was reported to be terrified and trembling as she was led out. She mounted a stool and the noose was placed around her neck and was allowed a few moments to pray with the Ordinary before her support was removed and she was left suspended. According to V. A. C. Gatrell’s book The Hanging Tree she died hard, he reported that she choked noisily to death over several minutes.

After hanging for half an hour, the executioner put an iron chain around her upper body and fastened it to the stake with nails. Two cart loads of faggots were now piled around the stake and then lit. It is reasonable to assume that she would have been quite dead by this time. After a while, the fire burnt through the rope and Phoebe’s body dropped, remaining attached to the stake by the chain. It took over two hours to be completely consumed by the fire, which continued to burn until midday.

Comment.

Only two more women were to suffer Phoebe’s fate. These were Margaret Sullivan on the 25th of June 1788 and Catherine Murphy on the 18th of March 1789, both for coining. At the April Sessions of 1790, Sophia Girton was also convicted of this offence but her execution was delayed until after Parliament had passed an Act (Act 30 Geo. III, c.48) substituting ordinary hanging for coining offences on the 5th of June 1790. In fact, Sophia was ultimately pardoned, on condition of transportation for life to New South Wales, on the 12th of June 1790.

Executions by burning at Newgate were distinctly unpopular with the local residents of what was a respectable business area of the City. They had sent a petition to the Lord Mayor requesting that Phoebe’s execution be carried out elsewhere. This was an early version of “not in my back yard” rather than a protest against the severity of her punishment. It was later reported that some locals became ill from the smoke from her body. There were similar protests over the Sullivan and Murphy executions and a great feeling of relief when Sophia Girton was reprieved, and the whole ghastly business passed into history in 1790.

The Sheriffs were also becoming increasingly unhappy about attending burnings, and it was they who brought forward the Bill to end this practice. Even though by this time the condemned woman was dead before the faggots were lit, it must have still been a gruesome and revolting spectacle and one which conveyed a feeling of injustice. Men convicted of coining offences were hanged in the same way as other condemned males. The Times newspaper took up this theme after Phoebe’s burning and printed the following article: “The execution of a woman for coining on Wednesday morning, reflects a scandal upon the law and was not only inhuman, but shamefully indelicate and shocking. Why should the law in this species of offence inflict a severer punishment upon a woman, than a man. It is not an offence which she can perpetrate alone — in every such case the insistence of a man has been found the operating motive upon the woman; yet the man is but hanged, and the woman burned.” One can only agree with the “Thunderer’s” sentiments as the Times came to be known. Other London newspapers carried similar articles. Again similar outrage was expressed two years later at the burning of Margaret Sullivan, although strangely there was little media interest at the burning of Catherine Murphy.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Public Executions,Women

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1571: Sigismondo Arquer, Sardinian scholar

Add comment June 4th, 2020 Headsman

Sardinian scholar Sigismondo Arquer was burned at the stake in Toledo, Spain, on this date in 1571.

Born in the capital of Spanish-governed Sardinia, this gentleman had a hereditary imperial knighthood but also an interest in humanism and religious heterodoxy well-calculated to annoy in Counter-Reformation Spain.


Arquer’s map of his native city of Cagliari, for the Cosmographia universalis, for which compendium he also composed an entry on “dark Sardinia” that “in its blend of ancient sources, personal observations and original narrative structure … played a critical role, even when not explicitly acknowledged, in the development of the image of Sardinia in European culture.” (Source) Today, one of the streets in this very historical core the man once sketched is called Via Sigismondo Arquer.

Exploiting Arquer’s associations with Swiss Protestants as well as his talent for making powerful enemies — skewering clergy in the Cosmographia, nettlesome lawsuits against Spanish oligarchs — the Inquisition bagged him for heresy in 1563. He was 33.

In between bouts of interrogation, Arquer used his long confinement to knock out a Passion in Catalan, heavy with personal resonance. The Christ parallels ran all the way to the Plaza de Zocodover, where a soldier — motivated by anger at the heretic or pity for the sufferer, only God can say — speared him through the side during his death throes.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Artists,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Italy,Public Executions,Spain,Torture

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1629: Thomas Schreiber, “thistles, thorns, and strife”

Add comment May 30th, 2020 Headsman

The heartrending and entirely timeless story of a man destroyed for during the three-year witch hunt paroxysm in Mergentheim for having more wisdom and decency than the duly constituted authorities is excerpted from Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562-1684: The Social and Intellectual Foundations.


Book CoverThomas Schreiber had a strong sense of justice. When the trials in Mergentheim had run only two months, he had already lost faith in the judicial procedure. On December 1, 1628, when Martha, wife of Bürgermeister Hans Georg Braun, was executed, Schreiber was heard by many persons exclaiming that she had been done a gross injustice. Schreiber even let slip that “King Nero” had also conducted such bloodbaths. Six weeks later Schreiber was again appalled when the extremely wealthy widow of Lorenz Gurren was convicted of witchcraft, and executed on January 12, 1629. When attending the execution of the lady, he had the temerity to express amazement over her confession. The Amtmann Max Waltzen turned to him and said pointedly, “Ha, ha, those who know the devil should not be so amazed.” That kind of talk perturbed Schreiber, and when magistrates began avoiding him, he prepared to flee. During this time he repeatedly denounced the court for its unjust trials and declared that “if anything happens to me, let every pious Christian fear for himself.” He also prayed that “God might preserve everyone from Neuenhaus [the jail and torture chamber], for even the most pious if put in there would be found to be a witch.” The trials, he insisted, were bloodbaths, and the magistrates were out to “wash their hands in my blood.”

Other records show some of the reasons for the behavior of the magistrates toward Schreiber. On December 12, 1628, Martha Dökherin claimed to have seen Schreiber at a witches’ dance. On January 29, 1629, a second woman denounced him. Schreiber’s terror grew as he sensed that things were closing in on him. Schreiber’s terror grew as he sensed that things were closing in on him. He arranged to have money sent out of town to a place where he could later pick it up. On February 1, 1629, he left town, and fled to Ansbach, and later to Hohenlohe. He left in such a hurry that he later had to write his wife to send him his cloak, shoes, black hat, and a pair of green trousers. He wrote also to his friend, the Latin teacher George Allemahn, asking him to examine the case secretly to see whether it was safe to return. In a letter to Bürgermeister Paul Nachtraben [whose own wife had also been executed as a witch -ed.], Schreiber again explained why he had left and protested his innocence. He noted that he feared trial because torture led people to confess lies. In yet another letter to his wife he comforted her with the thought, “Oh what pains these unjust judges will have to suffer in hell!” Finally in a tiny note no larger than three inches by four, he told his wife to meet him at Ebersheim in Hohenlohe.

Unfortunately this note and perhaps the other letters were intercepted by the magistrates in Mergentheim. On February 9, 1629, they wrote to Hohenlohe that Schreiber was staying in Ebersheim, and to kindly detain him until extradition papers could be prepared. By February 10, Schreiber was back in Mergentheim answering questions. He admitted at once that the trials seemed like bloodbaths to him but he could not be sure that anyone had been done an injustice. When asked if he had not defended the witches “and held that witchcraft was mere fantasy,” Schreiber replied that “he had always said [that witch trials were legitimate] only if no one is done an injustice.” At this point the authorities in Mergentheim were apparently confused. There were only two denunciations of Schreiber as a witch, not enough for torture, and Schreiber was too important a man to be dealt with lightly. The first deficiency was remedied on February 13, when Catharina, Georg Reissen’s wife, denounced Schreiber. We may suspect that Schreiber’s name had been suggested to her, as indeed it may have been to the preceding two women.

Schreiber’s friends were another matter. On April 10, the authorities in Mergentheim received a supplication from friends and relatives in Heidenheim, Langenau, Ellwangen, Dinkelsbühl, and Aalen. They protested the lengthy incarceration of Schreiber without specific charges, admitted that he might have sinned against the magistracy set up by God, but pleaded that his youth and his four little children be mitigating factors.

Instead of considering Schreiber’s children, the court wrote to Würzburg for advice. On May 6, 1629, the authorities at Würzburg replied that (1) because three persons had denounced him, (2) because he had fled, (3) because he had attacked the judicial system, Thomas Schreiber might be tortured. The court in Mergentheim proceeded to this step on May 19. Once again Schreiber called the ever mounting trials a bloodbath, [the author here footnotes that 33 more persons had been executed since Schreiber’s capture] but claimed to be glad that God was letting him suffer. Dr. Baumann interrupted to insist “as surely as God is in heaven, this is justice.” Schreiber countered by swearing “as truly as Christ died on the cross, and God created me, I am innocent.” He also asked, “Cannot the learned make mistakes in this matter too?” That ws the last straw; he was given over to torture. After hanging for the length of a Pater noster, he admitted that he had committed adultery three years ago with a woman who turned out to be the devil. In addition he had denied God and said that “men die like cattle.” The rest of his confession proceeded readily as he admitted attending witches’ dances and named those whom he had seen there. He claimed that he had never harmed anyone by magic, since his only reason for giving himself to the devil was Pullschafft (sexual intercourse). He confessed that he had stolen the host from the Eucharist, and proved to be incapable of repeating his rosary. For a man with so many relatives in Protestant Heidenheim, this incapacity must have seemed particularly significant. He confirmed this confession on May 22, naming seven complices, and ratified these confessions and denunciations again on May 25, 26 and 28. Clearly the authorities wanted to establish beyond all doubt the voluntary nature of his confession.

In letters to his wife during this time, Schreiber continued to protest his innocence and with great emotion took leave of his family. Fortunately he could look forward to meeting them again in heaven, but even this did not create resignation. He urged his wife to marry again and noted that she had always repeated an axiom that now had especially bitter relevance: “Whoever is chosen for eternal life must undergo thistles, thorns, and strife.” In the only note we have from Anna Schreiber, written in a very crude hand, she begs pardon for ever giving him the idea that she thought him guilty of witchcraft, and wishes she were dead. The letters are certainly as touching and revealing as the famous one of Mayor Junius in Bamberg, or that of [Magdalena] Weixler in Ellwangen.

The case of Thomas Schreiber is better documented than most, but it reveals the shock and fear that pervaded a town in the grip of panic. Friendships broke down as men lost confidence in one another; families were rent with grief and self-accusation. This case reveals most clearly the danger of attacking the judicial system in the midst of spasms of witch hunting. Doubts, if any, were for the judges, not the populace. Theoretical statements, especially in Latin, were also tolerable. But specific attacks on men and policies were contempt of court and brought swift retribution. On May 30, 1629, Thomas Schreiber was beheaded and burned. Yet how can one measure his contribution to the crisis of confidence in Mergentheim?

The fires continued to burn after the protest of this innkeeper “zum Hirsch.” But the growing awareness that he had been right after all brought witch hunting to a close in Mergentheim before the Swedes arrived to enforce such a policy. The panic had lasted two and a half years, had cost 126 lives, and had disrupted the lives of hundreds more. If this was social catharsis, it nearly killed the patient.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Public Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions,Witchcraft

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1537: John and Margaret Bulmer, Bigod’s rebels

Add comment May 25th, 2020 Headsman

And on the 25 day of May, being the Friday in Whitsun week, Sir John Bulmer, Sir Stephen Hamerton, knights, were hanged and headed; Nicholas Tempest, esquire; Doctor Cockerell, priest; Abbot quondam of Fountains; and Doctor Pickering, friar, were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered, and their heads set on London Bridge and divers gates in London.

And the same day Margaret Cheney, ‘other wife to Bulmer called’, was drawn after them from the Tower of London into Smithfield, and there burned according to her judgment, God pardon her soul, being the Friday in Whitsun week; she was a very fair creature, and a beautiful.

Wriothesley’s Chronicle

This date’s prey were casualties of Bigod’s Rebellion, the lesser-known sister rising to the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The Pilgrimage, a rising of the northern Commons against Henry VIII’s dissolution of Catholic monasteries, had indeed been settled rather bloodlessly by the end of 1536, with the king hosting its leader, Robert Aske, for Christmas at Greenwich Palace where holiday sweetmeats mingled with insincere concessions.

The naive Aske was probably doomed no matter what for seeking the overthrow of the mighty Thomas Cromwell, but his nearly direct path from the royal apartments to Tyburn was directed by the onset of Bigod’s Rebellion in January 1537. Aske strove in vain to dissuade this rising as ruinous to the arrangement he thought he had negotiated, which indeed it was: Bigod was crushed in a matter of days, and the disturbance furnished Henry with his pretext for arresting Pilgrimage leaders like Aske.

We’re drawn in particular here to a power couple implicated in both risings, Sir John Bulmer and his wife Margaret Bulmer (formerly or also Margaret Cheyne*).

These executions had, on the whole, a settling effect on the country. The reformers [i.e., English Reformation enthusiasts, like Cromwell] were delighted. The large and powerful class who desired peace above everything were reassured. Most of the conservatives were frightened into silence …

Lady Bulmer, or Margaret Cheyne as she was called, was drawn after the other prisoners from the Tower to Smithfield and there burnt. Burning was the ancient penalty for treason in the case of a woman, but it was seldom exacted. The poor women in Somersetshire, for instance, suffered the same fate as the men. The death of Margaret caused some sensation at the time … At Thame in Oxfordshire her fate was discussed on the Sunday before she died. Robert Jons said that it was a pity she should suffer. John Strebilhill, the informer, answered, “It is no pity, if she be a traitor to her prince, but that she should have after her deserving.” This warned Jons to be careful, and he merely replied, “Let us speak no more of this matter, for men may be blamed for speaking the truth.”

Froude says, “Lady Bulmer seems from the depositions to have deserved as serious punishment as any woman for the crime of high treason can be said to have deserved.” The depositions show only that she believed the commons were ready to rebel again, and that the Duke of Norfolk alone could prevent the new rebellion. In addition to this she kept her husband’s secrets and tried to save his life. She committed no overt act of treason; her offences were merely words and silence. The reason for her execution does not lie in the heinous nature of her offence, but Henry was not gratuitously cruel, and her punishment had an object. It was intended as an example to others. There can be no doubt that many women were ardent supporters of the Pilgrimage. Lady Hussey and the dowager Countess of Northumberland were both more guilty than Lady Bulmer. Other names have occurred from time to time, Mistress Stapleton, old Sir Marmaduke Constable’s wife, who sheltered Levening, and young Lady Evers. But these were all ladies of blameless character and of respectable, sometimes powerful, families. Henry knew that in the excited state of public opinion it would be dangerous to meddle with them. His reign was not by any means an age of chivalry, but there still remained a good deal of the old tribal feeling about women, that they were the most valuable possessions of the clan, and that if any stranger, even the King, touched them all the men of the clan were disgraced. An illustration of this occurred in Scotland during the same year (1537). James V brought to trial, condemned, and burnt Lady Glamis on a charge of high treason. She was a lady of great family and James brought upon himself and his descendants a feud which lasted for more than sixty years.

James’ uncle Henry VIII was more politic. He selected as the demonstration of his object-lesson to husbands, which should teach them to distrust their wives, and to wives, which should teach them to dread their husbands’ confidence, a woman of no family and irregular life, dependent on the head of a falling house. This insignificance, which might have saved a man, was in her case an additional danger. She had no avenger but her baby son, and we only hear of one friendly voice raised to pity her death. The King’s object-lesson was most satisfactorily accomplished.

-Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1526-1537, and The Exeter Conspiracy, 1538: Volume 2

* She’d been passed from her first husband, William Cheyne, via a wife sale to John Bulmer. This odd and sub-legal custom was exactly what it sounded like, and while that sounds horrible, in practice wife sales negotiated the effective impossibility of securing a regular divorce. They were often — as it seems to have been true here, given the reported comity of the Bulmer household — an arrangement in which all three parties were willing participants. However, in the context of the post-Bigod crackdown, prosecutors did not fail to bludgeon the Bulmers, especially the wife, with moral turpitude for this illicit remarriage business, and they made sure to call her “Margaret Cheyne” for that reason.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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1726: Étienne-Benjamin Deschauffours

Add comment May 24th, 2020 Headsman

Etienne-Benjamin Deschauffours (or Duchauffour) was burned at Paris’s Place de Greve on this date in 1726.

Although executed on a sodomy conviction, it wasn’t mere same-sex indulgence but a monstrous, Jeffrey Epstein-like project of elite sexual depravity that cinched his fate, at least if the trial records are to be believed.

“Under a variety of pseudonyms, and in various lodgings, Deschauffours earned a living by spotting ‘likely lads’ and supplying them on payment of commission to wealthy clients, both French and foreign (perhaps some 200 in all),” quoth Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II.

Deschaffours frequently tried out his finds (young and very young), and found his pleasure in their pain (it is difficult not to think forward to the Marquise de Sade, or backward to Gilles de Rais). He castrated a young Italian whose admirer hoped this might render him more compliant.

Reportedly, he procured these semi- or unwilling charges for overmighty magnates who were — as with the previous century’s Affair of the Poisons — far too powerful and numerous to bring to book without inviting systemic crisis. Their vices thus remain mere rumors even down to our remove of posterity, for whom shadowy and redacted documentation yet conceals god knows what monstrosities.

Jim Chevallier, in The Old Regime Police Blotter II: Sodomites, Tribads and “Crimes Against Nature”, notes a 1734 doggerel capturing the scandal-mongering that became as the popular impression of the affair.

Du Chauffour and d’Oswal
are two unparalleled buggers,

There’s the resemblance.

One burned for his crime,
The other was made cardinal,

There’s the difference.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,History,Homosexuals,Murder,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Rape,Scandal,Sex

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