Posts filed under 'Put to the Sword'

1568: Ivan Fedorov, zemshchina boyar

Add comment September 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1568, the Russian boyar Ivan Petrovich Fedorov-Chelyadnin was personally “executed” by Ivan the Terrible.

The vengeful tsar suspecting this man of aspiring to his position had him dressed in royal robes and sat him on the throne, then mockingly paid obeisance before stabbing him to death. It’s unclear whether this great lord had the benefit beforehand of any semblance of judicial process.


Detail view (click for the full image) of Nikolai Nevrev‘s painting of Ivan the Terrible, coiled in fury with dagger drawn, about to “depose” Ivan Fedorov.

The poet A.K. Tolstoy* (cousin of the Tolstoy) sketched the scene in an 1858 verse, “The Staritsky Voivode”:

When the old governor was accused,
That, proud of the nobility and antiquity of the family,
He dreamt of assigning himself a royal dignity,
Ivan ordered him to appear before his eyes.
And to the condemned he brought a rich crown,
And a garment of pearls and gold,
And he laid on the barmi,** and seated him on his own throne
He raised the guilty one on silk carpets.
And, dropping his gaze before him, he fell in the middle of the chamber,
And, bowing to the ground in mock obedience,
Said: “Satisfied in your majesty,
Behold, your slave smites your brow!”
And, having risen with merciless malice,
Plunged a knife into his heart with a greedy hand.
And, bending his face over the overthrown enemy,
He stepped on the corpse with a patterned boot
And he looked into the eyes of the dead, and with trembling unsteady
Sovereign lips snaked a smile.

The late 1560s bring us to the crescendo of Ivan’s oprichnina, years of terror and purging visited by the paranoid sovereign on his internal foes — actual, potential, or imagined.

Although remembered as the name for Ivan’s policy, the oprichnina was also a literal physical territory — created in 1565 when Ivan successfully forced his nobles to give him absolute power over life and death in the appanage of the oprichnina.† Over the succeeding years, Ivan extended both the physical reach of that realm, and the reach of the dictatorial authority that it embodied — threatening the zemschina, a distinct geographical area where terrified boyars administered the incumbent, non-Ivan Russian state.

“Ivan’s open hostility towards the zemshchina could not fail to alarm its leaders,” not Maureen Perrie and Andrei Pavlov in this biography of Ivan the Terrible … and this fact could not fail to catalyze those much-feared internal foes.

It is quite probable in the circumstances that the idea of removing the tsar and transferring the throne to his cousin Prince Vladimir Staritskii might have been discussed among zemshchina boyars. Two foreign observers — the Germans Heinrich von Staden and Albert Schlichting, who both served in the oprichnina — refer to a conspiracy of the zemshchina boyars in favour of Vladimir. An unofficial Russian chronicle also mentions the ‘inclination’ of the opposition to promote Vladimir’s candidature for the Russian throne. But according to a chronicle account there was no overt conspiracy, only discussions (‘words’), for which the boyars who opposed the oprichnina paid a heavy price.

Our date’s principal, Ivan Fedorov, attracted Ivan’s attention in the ensuing investigation. A prince from a venerable noble family, Fedorov had been a pillar of the state, an important governor and military commander, for three-plus decades. It availed him little under Ivan’s suspicion.

Fedorov was placed in disgrace and exiled to Kolomna. Nobles and officials among his supporters were arrested and executed, and many of the equerry’s armed servants were exterminated. The oprichniki [Ivan’s personal army, the enforcers of the oprichnina -ed.] carried out several punitive raids against Fedorov’s lands. Many of the inhabitants were slaughtered (some were put to the sword, while others were herded into their cottages and burned alive). According to Staden, women and girls were stripped naked ‘and forced in that state to catch chickens in the fields’. Buildings were demolished, livestock was slaughtered and chancellery officials were put to death, along with about 300 boyars’ servants.

* A.K. Tolstoy also wrote a tragedy for the stage (banned in tsarist Russia), The Death of Ivan the Terrible.

** Barmi: an ornamental mantle or collar that comprised part of the royal regalia.


It’s the semicircle between Tsar Alexis‘s beard and his crucifix.

The term, now so dreadful in Russian historiography, originally denoted an inheritance of land left to a widow, as distinct from that left to her children.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Power,Put to the Sword,Russia,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason

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1644: Andrew of Phu Yen, Christian protomartyr of Vietnam

Add comment July 26th, 2020 Headsman

Andrew of Phu Yen, the Catholic protomartyr of Vietnam, was executed on this date in 1644 at Ke Cham.

Baptized with his mother in 1641 by French missionary Alexandre de Rhodes, our man Andrew was only 19 years old at the time of his protomartyrdom.

Vietnam in this period was amid a long-running civil war that divided the country north and south; according to de Rhodes’s memoirs — Francophones can read it from chapter XXXII of his Voyages et missions du père Alexandre de Rhodes de la Compagnie de Jésus en la Chine et autres royaumes de l’Orient — a mandarin named Ong Nghe Bo showed up intent on suppressing Christian proselytization after (so he says) de Rhodes owned the local Buddhist monks in scholarly debate. This guy basically grabbed Andrew as the first available Christian convert to make an example of — right or wrong place at right or wrong time, depending on your perspective on eternal salvation. The French Jesuit would soon be expelled from the country but he was able to minister to his young charge in prison and accompany him to the execution grounds.

The soldiers surrounded him; they had put me out of their circle, but the captain allowed me to enter and stand beside him. He was thus on his knees on the ground, his eyes raised to the sky, his mouth still open, and pronouncing the name of Jesus. A soldier coming from behind pierced him with his spear which came out his front by the distance of at least two palms’ breadth; when the good André looked at me peacefully, as if saying goodbye; I told him to look at the sky, where he was going to enter. Our Lord Jesus Christ was waiting for him. He lifted up his eyes and did not turn them aside; the same soldier, having withdrawn his spear, transfixed him a second time, seeking the heart. This scarcely shook the poor innocent, which seemed to me quite admirable. Finally, another soldier seeing these blows had not knocked him down to the ground, attempted a death-stroke against his neck, but still not having killed him, he assailed him again at his throat. I heard very clearly that at the same time as the head was separated from the neck, the sacred name of Jesus which could no longer come out of his mouth, came out through his wound, and at the same time that the soul flew to the sky the body fell to the ground.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Spearing,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

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1942: Wenceslao Vinzons

Add comment July 15th, 2020 Headsman

Filipino politician/guerrilla/national hero Wenceslao Vinzons was executed by the occupying Japanese on this date in 1942.

He gained prominence as a Manila university activist under U.S. administration for Malaysian-Indonesian-Philippines unification, then went on to co-found the Young Philippines party and become a delegate – at the tender age of 24 — to the 1935 Constitutional Convention that set the framework for his homeland’s independence. He’s the youngest signer of that constitution.

Subsequently governor of Camarines Norte and then a legislator in the National Assembly, Vinzons found his political trajectory interrupted by Japan’s December 1941-January 1942 takeover. Vinzons wasted no time trying to work within the system: he immediately began organizing armed resistance, building a guerrilla army some 2,800 strong over the course of the next months.

An informer betrayed him to the occupiers and after refusing every blandishment to collaborate, Vinzons was bayoneted to death at a Japanese garrison at Daet on July 15, 1942. Several of his family members also executed afterwards, although other surviving descendants have remained fixtures of public life down to the present day.

His hometown — formerly “Indan” — is now named “Vinzons” in his honor, and he’s renowned as the “Father of Student Activism in the Philippines”. A number of buildings and institutions connected to education are named for him.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Japan,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Philippines,Politicians,Power,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1754: Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, the first Washington atrocity

Add comment May 28th, 2020 Headsman

A volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.

Horace Walpole (Source)

On the 28th of May in 1754, a wilderness skirmish in colonial Pennsylvania set spark to the Seven Years’ War — thanks to a battlefield execution under the auspices of the future United States founding father George Washington.

The backdrop to what pro-French partisans would call the “Jumonville Affair” was the rivalrous jockeying of French and British flags in contested North American territory. Looking to check French raiding in Ohio that was feared prelude to an attempt to effect control of that valuable and disputed tract, Washington — here a 22-year-old British lieutenant colonel, many years away yet from his future glory as the American Revolution’s great general — had engaged the French 11 miles from present-day Uniontown, Pa..

It was a short fight: Washington got the drop on the French encampment and efficiently flanked them with his Iroquois allies. Fifteen minutes, and about 10 to 14 French killed, told the tale.

It’s remembered now as the Battle of Jumonville Glen, but its namesake wasn’t around to enjoy the distinction. Instead, that defeated French commander, one Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, was allegedly taken prisoner by his opposite number but then killed out of hand by the Iroquois leader Tanacharison or Tanaghrisson (known as “Half-King” to Europeans).

There are differing accounts of exactly what happened and only speculative surmises as to why; in the most cinematically catchy version, Jumonville is attempting to communicate his mission to the victorious Washington — the two men do not share a language — when Tanaghrisson steps up to the captive and “cries out ‘Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père’ (‘Thou art not yet dead, my father’), raises his hatchet over Jumonville’s head, and crashes it into his skull. Reaching into the skull, he extracts a handful of Jumonville’s brains and washes his hands in the pulpy gore.”* According to historian Fred Anderson, this was the native chief making a declaration of war against the French, rejecting their asserted “paternity” over Indians.

Now caught out with a small force of militiamen against a rival state that was sure to be incensed when it caught word Jumonville’s killing, Washington hastily dug in behind improvised palisades, a bunker unassumingly christened “Fort Necessity”. The Iroquois did not stick around, correctly urging Washington that he’d do best to abandon the field as he’d have no prospect of withstanding the large force of French regulars that was sure to answer Jumonville Glen. Just so: on July 3, the French reached the fort and forced its surrender after a few hours’ fighting.

The French-language capitulation that Washington signed on this signal occasion — the only surrender of his military career — characterized the slaying of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville as an “assassination”. This word would be grist for years of competing propaganda between the contending empires, especially since the flying musket-balls from these two engagements would spiral into the French and Indian War (within the North American theater) and the Seven Years’ War (the larger European and global great powers war). Proving himself even at this moment to be every bit the American, Washington would spend the rest of his career attributing his assent to this incendiary word to his infelicity with French.

Despite slinking out of Pennsylvania with an L and a grudge against his translator, this frontier Gavrilo Princip did great service for his future country. Great Britain won the big war he’d started; her attempt in the 1760s and 1770s to settle the terms of her resulting domination of North America — like restricting colonization past the Appalachian Mountains, in deference to native allies like the Iroquois, or ratcheting up taxes to service gigantic war debts — only inflamed the colonists into the rebellion that put George Washington’s name onto his own imperial capital, and George Washington’s face on the world’s reserve currency. Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père, indeed.

* Other accounts have the murder effected by musket shot, or even have Jumonville killed during the battle.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Pennsylvania,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Tomahawked,USA

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3rd Century BCE: Grauballe Man

Add comment April 26th, 2020 Headsman

We’ll never have the actual execution date, of course, but April 26 in 1952 was the date that researchers in Jutland hauled out of a peat bog the 3rd century BCE body of Grauballe Man, so spectacularly preserved that his fingerprints could still be taken. His throat slashed, Grauballe Man is thought to have been subjected to either an execution or a ritual sacrifice, and his body dumped into this oxygen-sparse slough so congenial to natural mummification.

The Grauballe Man
By Seamus Heaney

As if he had been poured
in tar, he lies
on a pillow of turf
and seems to weep

the black river of himself.
The grain of his wrists
is like bog oak,
the ball of his heel

like a basalt egg.
His instep has shrunk
cold as a swan’s foot
or a wet swamp root.

His hips are the ridge
and purse of a mussel,
his spine an eel arrested
under a glisten of mud.


Grauballe Man on display at Denmark’s Moesgaard Museum. (cc) image from Colin.

The head lifts,
the chin is a visor
raised above the vent
of his slashed throat

that has tanned and toughened.
The cured wound
opens inwards to a dark
elderberry place.

Who will say ‘corpse’
to his vivid cast?
Who will say ‘body’
to his opaque repose?

And his rusted hair,
a mat unlikely
as a foetus’s.
I first saw his twisted face

in a photograph,
a head and shoulder
out of the peat,
bruised like a forceps baby,

but now he lies
perfected in my memory,
down to the red horn
of his nails,

hung in the scales
with beauty and atrocity:
with the Dying Gaul
too strictly compassed

on his shield,
with the actual weight
of each hooded victim,
slashed and dumped.

These same bogs have yielded other eerily well-preserved time-travelers from antiquity, including Tollund Man (believed to have been hanged in the 4th century BCE) and Elling Woman (believed to have been hanged in the 3rd century BCE). Peat bogs ranging from Ireland and England to Germany and the Low Countries have overall yielded numerous other specimens, ranging up to 10,000 years old — quite a few of them victims of evident violence.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Denmark,Execution,Known But To God,Put to the Sword,Uncertain Dates

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Feast Day of St. Polycarp of Smyrna

1 comment February 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Second-century Christian bishop and martyr St. Polycarp of Smyrna has his feast day on February 23. Be sure to shout supplications loudly, as he’s the patron for earaches.

Reputedly inducted into the mysteries by the Apostle John himself in the late first century, Polycarp was a consequential clergyman in the early church and a living link between the early church fathers and the literal companions of Christ.

As the bishop of the Christian community in Smyrna — these days it’s the Turkish city of Izmir; pilgrims can visit a cave where Polycarp was supposedly tortured, but the ruins of the old Roman amphitheater where he was martyred have been buried by urban development — he’s credited with an important epistle to the Philippians.* Likewise, he’s the addressee of the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans (c. 110).**

Less pleasantly, a mid-second century century document titled Martyrdom of Polycarp is the earliest account of a Christian martyrdom outside the of actual scripture, and unsurprisingly casts its subject in a bold and eloquent mold.

On his being led to the tribunal, there was immense clamour at the news that Polycarp had been apprehended. At last, when he was brought near, the Proconsul asked him, if he were Polycarp; and, on his acknowledging it, he began to persuade him to deny the faith, saying, “Compassionate thine years;” and other similar expressions, which it is their wont to use. “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; think better of the matter; say, Away with the godless men.” But Polycarp regarded with a sad countenance the whole multitude of lawless heathen in the theatre; and waving his hand towards them, groaned, and looking up to Heaven said, “Away with the godless men.” And when the Governor urged him further, and said, “Swear, and I will dismiss thee; revile Christ;” Polycarp replied; “Eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he hath wronged me in nothing, and how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour.” And on his pressing him again, saying, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” Polycarp replied; “If ye vainly suppose that I shall swear by Caesar’s fortune, as ye call it, pretending to be ignorant of my real character, let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian; and if ye wish to hear the Christian doctrine, appoint me a time, and hear me.” The Proconsul answered, “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied, “To you I thought it right to give account, for we have been taught to give to rulers and the powers ordained of God such fitting honour as hurteth not our souls; but them I deem not worthy, that I should defend myself before them.” The Proconsul said unto him, “I have wild beasts in readiness, to them will I throw thee, if thou wilt not change thy mind.” But he said, “Bring them forth then, for the change of mind from better to worse I will never make. From cruelty to righteousness it were good to change.” Again he said unto him, “I will have thee consumed by fire, since thou despisest the wild beasts, except thou change thy mind.” Polycarp answered; “Thou threatenest me with a fire that burneth for an hour, and is speedily quenched; for thou knowest not of the fire of future judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring what thou wilt.” (an 1833 translation)

* Prevailing scholarship holds Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians to be a concatenation of two distinct epistles.

** Polycarp probably appreciated that this letter featured sections admonishing congregants “Let nothing be done without the bishop” and “Honour the bishop”.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

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1892: Jozef Lippens and Henri De Bruyne, Congo Free State hostages

Add comment December 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1892,* Belgian colonial agents Jozef Lippens and Henri De Bruyne were executed by the rebelling native king who had taken them hostage.

The gentlemen were a lieutenant (Lippens) and sergeant (De Bruyne) of the Force Publique colonial deployment in Belgian Congo.

Their misfortune was proximity when in 1892, rivalry over control of the eastern Congo ivory trade brought the European power into war with its erstwhile Zanzibar “Arab”** allies. (The Arabs were slave-traders, affording a classic humanitarian intervention pretext … which obviously is pretty rich coming from Belgium.)

The Congo-Arab War — which in practice was fought on both sides mostly by black Congolese troops — saw in its opening months the defection of one of the Arabs’ best commanders, Gongo Lutete,† a manumitted former slave who had risen to leadership of the Batetela and Bakussu tribes. In revenge when he switched sides to join the Europeans, the Arab leader Sefu bin Hamid seized Lippens, Belgium’s representative Resident at Kasongo, and De Bruyne, Lippens’s aide — demanding the return of his disloyal general and a settlement of hostilities as the price for these European envoys’ lives.

In fact, it was De Bruyne himself who had the honor of delivering the demand. Escorted by his captors to the eastern bank of the Lomami River on November 15, the emaciated De Bruyne shouted across to Belgian officers on the western side the terms of his captivity. The Belgians, who had the river covered by gunners, urged their countryman to leap into the water and swim for it; De Bruyne declined to abandon his comrade. “By this act of self-abnegation he was to go down in the Belgian folklore as a national hero.” (European Atrocity, African Catastrophe: Leopold II, the Congo Free State and its Aftermath)

His flight would have meant certain death for Lippens; instead, both paid the forfeit together after the Belgian commander Francis Dhanis repelled Sefu bin Hamid’s attack and smashed across the Lomani. According to the account of the war by Sidney Langford Hinde, one of many British officers employed by the Force Publique,

News also reached us here of the murder of Lippens and Debruyne, two officers representing the Free State Government, resident at Sefu’s court in Kasongo. We found out later that, after the defeat of Sefu on the Lomami (which resulted in the death of his cousin and several other noted chiefs), an advance party of the retreating Arabs arrived at Kasongo, and, by way of individual revenge, murdered the two Residents. It is probable, since we have no actual proof to the contrary, that this was done without Sefu’s orders. Twelve of these people, armed with knives hidden in their clothing, made some trivial pretext for visiting Lippens at the Residency, who, however, refused to come out and interview them. They then said that news of a big battle had come to them from Sefu; on hearing which Lippens came out, and, while talking in the verandah, was promptly and silently stabbed. Some of the murderers entering the adjoining room, found Debruyne writing, and killed him before he had learned the fate of his chief. When Sefu returned to Kasongo, a day or two afterwards, he gave orders that the pieces of Debruyne’s body should be collected and buried with Lippens, whose body, with the exception of the hands (which had been sent to Sefu and Mohara of Nyangwe as tokens), was otherwise unmutilated. The strong innate respect for a chief had protected Lippens’ body, while that of his subordinate had been hacked to pieces.

A curious fatality followed these twelve murderers. The chief of the band, Kabwarri by name, was killed by us in the battle of the 26th of February with Lippens’ Martini express in his hand. Of the others — all of whom were the sons of chiefs, and some of them important men on their own account — four died of smallpox, one was killed at Nyangwe, one in the storming of Kasongo, and the remaining six we took prisoners at Kasongo. During the trial they one day, though in a chained gang, succeeded in overpowering the sentry, and thus escaped. One was drowned in crossing a river; three more were killed, either fighting or by accident, within a month or two of their escape; and the two remaining we retook and hanged; — which brings to me a curious point. Of the many men I have seen hanged nearly all died by strangulation, and not by having the neck broken. As compared with shooting, hanging seems to me the less painful death; the wretched being becomes insensible in a very few seconds, whereas a man shot will often require a coup de grace, no matter how carefully the firing party is placed.


Monument to De Bruyne and Lippens in Blankenberge. (cc) image from Zeisterre.

* December 1 is the commonly attributed date for the hostages’ butchery but it can’t be documented with certainty.

** As we’ve noted elsewhere, the term “Arabs” as used for eastern Congo by European sources in this period denotes Muslim bantus. We’re following the prevailing term here, whatever its imprecision.

† As a reward for his services, Gongo Lutete was spuriously accused of treason by a Belgian officer in September 1893 and speedily executed without any form of superior approval.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Belgium,Borderline "Executions",Congo (Kinshasa),History,Hostages,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1863: Angel Vicente Peñaloza, “Chacho”

Add comment November 12th, 2019 Headsman

Angel Vicente Peñaloza — “Chacho” to friends and to history — was stabbed and shot to death on this date in 1863.

This caudillo was a casualty of Argentina’s long, long conflict between unitarians looking to centralize the state and federalists looking to hold power devolved to their own provinces. Chacho (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) stood in the latter camp.

A career officer from a prosperous ranching family, Peñaloza had become the caudillo of his native La Rioja province by the 1850s — meaning he was also its key military leader when unitarian-federalist hostilities turned kinetic from 1858.

His skirmishes with the unitarian president Bartolome Mitre saw Chacho hopelessly outgunned, but an attempt between the rivals to conclude a peace treaty turned sour over a prisoner exchange — whose quota Mitre allegedly met with corpses rather than living fighters. Chacho rose again, for the last time, in March 1863, writing angrily to Mitre that his

governors are become the executioners of the provinces … they banish and kill respectable citizens without trial solely because they belong to the federal party.

That is why, Mr. President, that the people, tired of a despotic and arbitrary domination, have proposed justice, and all men who have nothing to lose would rather sacrifice their existence on the battlefield, defending their liberties and their laws and their most precious interests trampled by vile perjurers.

It was just the invitation Mitre needed to crush him: Peñaloza’s several thousand followers were simply outlawed, giving soldiers and militia carte blanche to murder them at discretion. Captured at the village of Olta, he was summarily killed later that same day by the commander in the field and they didn’t stop there: Chacho’s head was nailed up in the town square, and his widow made to sweep the streets of San Juan, manacled in disgrace.

His doomed rebellion has seen him to a heroic posthumous reputation, buttressed by the verse homage of poet Olegario Victor Andrade. There’s also a rampant equestrian monument to the martir del pueblo near Olta.


(cc) image by masterrp.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Argentina,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Power,Put to the Sword,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1657: Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi, Queen Christina betrayer

Add comment November 10th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1657, the Italian marchese Gian Rinaldo Monaldeschi was put to summary death by the command of Queen Christina of Sweden, at her court in Fontainebleau.

Make that ex-Queen, for the singular sovereign had abdicated in 1654 so that she could convert to Catholicism and go gallivanting about Europe.

After a spell in Rome, 1656 finds her turning up in Paris to astonish high society by her forward, masculine presentation; the king’s cousin took Christina to the ballet where the visiting dignitary “surprised me very much — applauding the parts which pleased her, taking God to witness, throwing herself back in her chair, crossing her legs, resting them on the arms of her chair, and assuming other postures, such as I had never seen taken but by Travelin and Jodelet, two famous buffoons … She was in all respects a most extraordinary creature.”

She kept her own court here, which was both a tribute to her stature and a court in waiting for her intended installation by French arms upon the Neapolitan throne. This rethronement never came to pass, and one reason among several was that the event marked in this post destroyed her stature in Italy.

Our man the Marquis Monaldeschi was Christina’s master of horse but to the eyes of the queen better resembled a snake. Why? That part, we don’t quite know.

The details of Monaldeschi’s treason are tangled and obscure. One knows that he confessed; but one does not know what he confessed. One knows that he forged letters; but one does not know what was in the letters. One knows that he tried to throw the blame for his own misconduct on Francesco Santinelli; but the precise nature of that misconduct is wrapped in mystery, as are also the precise grounds of Santinelli’s quarrel with him. All that is clear is that neither of the two men merits much sympathy, and that the proceedings of both of them were tortuous …

[Seeking to implicate his rival Santinelli in some malfeasance, Monaldeschi] tried to make out too good a case by forging Santinelli’s handwriting, and offering the letters as proofs that Santinelli was a “traitor.” … What first led her to suspect Monaldeschi is uncertain. In any case, “information received” induced her to intercept and open his letters; and their contents seemed to her to furnish full proofs of his perfidy. The nature of that perfidy is not disclosed in her own account. (Source)

What is not obscure, for it shocked all of Europe, is the punishment she visited for said perfidy — for Christina gave it over to that very Francesco Santinelli, Monaldeschi’s greatest rival in the court whom he had intended to stitch up, to deliver the penalty on the spot and with his own hand. She had the entire right to pronounce such a sentence in her court, but the Game of Thrones-like barbarism of being summarily put to an adversary’s blade right on the palace stones was widely abhorred. When she returned to Rome the following year, the French were quite done with her and the Italians who would be her grudging hosts for most of her remaining years nowise pleased to welcome her.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Power,Put to the Sword,Summary Executions,Treason

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1937: The Parsley Massacre begins

Add comment October 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Dominican Republic soldiers commenced the dayslong “Parsley Massacre” of Haitians.

Cooperstown-worthy evil dictator Rafael Trujillo hailed on his mother’s side from Haiti’s privileged French caste and espoused a virulent form of DR’s rife anti-Haitian racism. “As if personifying the antiblack myth of Dominicans,” Robert Lawless noted, “‘Trujillo used cosmetics to disguise the phenotypical features that he inherited from his [black] Haitian grandmother.'” (Source)

Taking power in a military coup in 1930, Trujillo had spent those early years building up a cult of personality, as was the style at the time — and he put it to use conjuring a bloodbath that some shamefaced soldiers confessed they could only conduct with the numbing aid of alcohol. The hypothesized underlying reasons range from El Jefe‘s particular virulent bigotry to prerogatives of statecraft for a zone that had tended towards sympathy for Trujillo’s opponents.

The massacre followed an extensive tour of the frontier region by Trujillo that commenced in August 1937. Trujillo traveled by horse and mule through the entire northern half of the country, both the rich central Cibao region and the northern frontier areas. Touring these provinces, traditionally the most resistant to political centralization, reflected Trujillo’s concerns with shoring up control in the region at the time. The Cibao was the locus of elite rivalry with Trujillo in those years. And because the northern frontier had been a traditional area of autonomy and refuge for local caudillos, the U.S. legation in Santo Domingo assumed that the August 1937 tour was intended to “cowe [sic] opposition.” Much like earlier frontier tours and his travels in other rural areas, Trujillo shook hands and distributed food and money; attended dances and parties in his honor; and made concerted efforts to secure political loyalty in many heretofore intractable lands. Yet the conclusion of this tour was entirely unexpected. During a dance in Trujillo’s honor on Saturday, October 2, 1937, in Dajabon, Trujillo proclaimed:

For some months, I have traveled and traversed the frontier in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, “I will fix this.” And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Banica. This remedy will continue.

Drawing on the regime’s prevailing antivagrancy discourse and support for peasant production, Trujillo explained his ordering of the massacre as a response to alleged cattle rustling and crop raiding by Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. This was the first of a series of shifting rationalizations that misrepresented the massacre as stemming from local conflicts between Dominicans and Haitians in the frontier.

Some Haitians heard Trujillo’s words and decided to flee. Others had already left following news of the first killings, which occurred at the end of September. A few recalled clues that something ominous was brewing. Most were incredulous, however, and had too much at stake to abandon their homes, communities, and crops — established over decades or even generations — for what sounded, however horrible, like preposterous rumors …

A few Dominicans from the northern frontier recalled that at first Haitians were given twenty-four hours to leave, and that in some cases Haitian corpses were hung in prominent locations, such as at the entrance of towns, as a warning to others. And during the first days of the massacre, Haitians who reached the border were permitted to cross to Haiti over the bridge at the official checkpoint [at the border city of Dajabon]. But the border was closed on October 5. After that, those fleeing had to wade across the Massacre [River]* while trying to avoid areas where the military was systematically slaughtering Haitians on the river’s eastern bank.

In the towns, victims were generally led away before being assassinated. In the countryside, they were killed in plain view. Few Haitians were shot, except some of those killed while trying to escape. Instead, machetes, bayonets, and clubs were used. This suggests again that Trujillo sought to simulate a popular conflict, or at least to maintain some measure of plausible deniability of the state’s perpetration of this genocide. (From Foundations of Despotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History)

“Haitian” in this context meant a question of ethnicity rather than simply one of citizenship, for like many border regions the world over that of the Massacre River was (and is) locally permeable. Some Haitians lived in Haiti but crossed into the Dominican Republic routinely for school, work, life; others had border-straddling families and DR birth certificates and citizenship. But even the firmest of bureaucratic documentation meant nothing to the death squads, who bequeathed the distinctive sobriquet “Parsley Massacre” by demanding potential victims buy their lives by pronouncing the word for that garnish, perejil … as an infelicity with the trilled Spanish “r” denoted a Francophone.** (It’s also sometimes known simply as the Haitian Massacre.)

The slaughter raged on until about October 8, give or take; estimates of the number of victims run from 12,000 to north of 30,000. The affair remains a source of tension to this day.

The massacre has literary treatment in the 1998 Edwidge Danticat historical novel The Farming of Bones.

* The river’s shocking name was not obtained from this slaughter, but from a Spanish-on-French bloodbath in colonial times.

** The term “shibboleth”, originally a Hebrew word for grain, was borrowed to English thanks to a similar test imposed in the Book of Judges (12:5-6):

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Dominican Republic,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Put to the Sword,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions

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