Posts filed under '16th Century'

1573: Lancelot van Brederode, sea beggar

Add comment July 20th, 2020 Headsman

Dutch revolt general Lancelot van Brederode was beheaded on this date in 1573, bequeathing posterity the gorgeous ruin of his sacked castle.

Lancelot van Bredrode, detail from an illustration of him alongside fellow ‘sea beggar’ Jan van Duivenvoorde, by Johannes Hilverdink.

Lancelot van Brederode (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was the bastard half-brother of Hendrick, Lord of Broderode, and both men numbered among the ranks of Calvinist Low Countries nobles determined to break away from Spanish Catholic domination.

This faction became known as the Geuzen, meaning “Beggars”; so prominent was Hendrick that he was the Grote Greus, or “Big Beggar”. Alas, he was chased into exile by the Spanish crackdown and became the Died Young Beggar.

Lancelot’s talents were on the waves, and it’s no surprise that seafaring Watergeuzen were the most prominently successful Beggars of all in the unfolding Dutch Revolt. Unfortunately he was not successful at supporting the defense of Haarlem against Spanish siege: when the Spanish took the city, Lancelot lost his head. To add insult to injury, they destroyed Brederode Castle; the gorgeous ruins were protected as a national monument and partly restored in the 19th century.


The Ruins of Brederode Caste, by Meindert Hobbema. For a more present-day view of the shattered citadel, see here.

Lancelot’s young (at the time of dad’s beheading) son Reinoud van Brederode went on to become a powerful lawyer and diplomat in the Dutch Republic. But not so powerful that he could save his father-in-law, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, from his own date with Executed Today.

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

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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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1558: Toqui Caupolicán

Add comment June 27th, 2020 Headsman

Es algo formidable que vio la vieja raza:
robusto tronco de árbol al hombro de un campeón
salvaje y aguerrido, cuya fornida maza
blandiera el brazo de Hércules, o el brazo de Sansón.
Por casco sus cabellos, su pecho por coraza,
pudiera tal guerrero, de Arauco en la región,
lancero de los bosques, Nemrod que todo caza,
desjarretar un toro, o estrangular un león.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. Le vio la luz del día,
le vio la tarde pálida, le vio la noche fría,
y siempre el tronco de árbol a cuestas del titán.
«¡El Toqui, el Toqui!» clama la conmovida casta.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. La aurora dijo: «Basta»,
e irguióse la alta frente del gran Caupolicán.

-“Caupolican” by Ruben Dario

On this date in 1558, the Spanish executed Mapuche revolutionary Caupolicán by impalement.

A toqui (war chief) for the Mapuche as they launched in 1553 their decades-long insurrection against Spanish domination, Caupolican (English Wikipedia entry | the well-illustrated Spanish). It is he who had the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia put to death after one early Mapuche victory.

The Spanish were able to recover and throw back the indigenous rebels. Caupolicán’s force was destroyed, and he shortly after taken prisoner, when whilst besieging a Spanish fort called Cañete a Spanish double agent lured the Mapuche into a devastating ambush.

His end verges into the mythic thanks to Alonso de Ercilla‘s lengthy epic poem from a decade after Caupolicán’s death, La Araucana. (Full text at archive.org.) Two key events stand out.

In the first, the bound Caupolicán is reviled by his wife, Fresia, for permitting himself to be captured alive. Her gesture of scornfully abandoning their infant child in at Caupolicán’s feet has been captured on canvas numerous times, although Fresia’s historicity outside of Ercilla’s pen is quite dubious.


The prisoner Caupolicán and Fresia, by Raymond Monvoisin.

However, the conquered toqui redeems his valor at the last by kicking away the executioner and hurling himself upon the spike meant to impale him.

Eslo dicho, y alzando el pié derecho
aunque de las cadenas impedido,
dió tal coz al verdugo, que gran trecho
Je echó rodando abajo mal herido;
reprehendido el impaciente hecho,
y del súbito enojo reducido,

Je sentaron después con poca ayuda,
sobre la punta de la estaca aguda.

It is said that, raising his right foot
although impeded by the chains,
he dealt the hangman such a mighty kick
that the man was thrown from the scaffold;
that impatient reprimand delivered,
his fury abated
and he sat himself unaided
upon the tip of the sharp stake.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Chile,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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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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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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1559: Spanish Protestants at Valladolid

Add comment May 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1559, an auto de fe in Valladolid marked the onset of an Inquisition purge of nascent Lutheranism in Spain.

Now you’d expect to find the Spanish Inquisition policing spiritual disloyalties of the realm’s backsliding Jewish and Muslim conversos

… but of course the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition had a broad remit to defend orthodoxy and considering that Spain is still a predominantly Catholic country they’d be entitled to point at the scoreboard.

In 1558, it caught wind of an actual Lutheran movements, heretofore rarely seen on the peninsula — and as Joseph Perez notes, it alarmingly penetrated clerical and aristocratic circles. “A blast of hysteria struck Castile. Suspects filled the prisons, where there was soon no room for newcomers. Nor were there enough inquisitors to conduct the trials. Others had to be brought in from Cuenca and Murcia … It proved necessary to provide special protection for the detainees, to prevent them being lynched by the infuriated populace.”

A series of autos collectively comprising scores of defendants unfolded over 1559-1560, beginning in Valladolid — where the Lutheran cadre seemingly numbered close to 100 literate and influential souls.

Underscoring how deeply this heretical sect reached into the Spanish state’s heart, the star attraction among the 14 Protestants burned that day was Augustino de Cazalla, a chaplain to Emperor Charles V. Others joining him included:

  • Two siblings of Augustino de Cazalla: Francisco de Buiero [Vivero], a priest, and Beatriz de Buiero
  • Alfonso Perez, another priest
  • Juan Garcia, a goldsmith
  • Antonio Herrezuelo,** a lawyer
  • Christoforo de Ocampo de Zamoza
  • Christoforo de Padilla de Zamoza
  • Caterina Roman
  • Doña Caterina de Ortega, daughter of the Treasurer
  • Francisco de Herrera
  • Isabella de Strada de Pedrosa
  • Juana Velasquez de Pedrosa
  • Gonzalo Vaiz

The Lutheran crackdown was only getting started. As our chronicler Joseph Perez observes, “On 24 September, over 100 individuals were sentenced in Seville; twenty-one received the death penalty. Among them was a son of the count of Bailen, first cousin to the duke of Arcos. Here too, one man was burnt alive for having remained true to his convictions to the end. On 8 October, Philip II presided over the second auto da fe of Valladolid in the course of which fourteen individuals were sentenced to death, among them Carlos de Seso, who was burnt alive for persisting in his errors. Then, on 22 December 1560, another auto da fe took place in Seville: seventeen of the accused were sent to the stake, three of them in effigy, one of whom was Doctor Constantino Ponce de la Fuente.”

* The whole family received the fury of the Inquisition: two other siblings caught non-capital sentences, an the already-deceased mother Doña Leonora de Buiero was exhumed for burning along with the living heretics. Not only that, the family house was razed and a marker disgracing the family was erected in its place.

** Herrezuelo’s wife, Leonor de Cisneros, recanted to avoid the stake but the resulting reproach from her martyr-husband stung her so deeply that she followed his fate in 1568. Herrezuelo was the militant of the crowd: all of the other 13 disavowed their errors to obtain the mercy of strangulation prior to incineration; Herrezuelo died gloriously obstinate, suffering burning alive to spite his persecutors.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Auto de Fe,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Spain

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1527: Hans Hergot, immovable type

Add comment May 20th, 2020 Headsman

Nuremberg printer Hans Hergot was beheaded in Leipzig on this date in 1527.*

He’d previously published work of revolutionary Thomas Müntzer and he proved his simpatico with that fellow’s millenarian vision by publishing his own tract, Von der newen Wandlung Eynes Christlichen (The New Transformation of Christian Living). It was for this utopian sedition that Hergot lost his life, and no wonder.

The vision is of an egalitarian, agrarian society organized on a parochial basis in which goods are held in common for the use of all, habitation is after the Carthusian pattern, farming and crafts operate harmoniously, and every invidious ground and sign of social distinction has disappeared …

The enemies of Hergot’s revelation on whom he pronounces God’s imminent wrath are the ruling nobility and the Lutheran “scripture wizards” who theologically collude with them, the unjust acquitting the unjust …

It is precisely the eclecticism of Hergot’s prophetic voice that underlies its importance. For it suggests how a far-flung outburst of enthusiasm for divine or evangelical law, as opposed to corrupt and compromised human ordinances, was a connecting thread among myriad reforming orientations int he early sixteenth century — humanist, Lutheran, mystical, and apocalyptic — all of which intersected with the German Peasants’ War and the development of Anabaptism and other strands of Christian social radicalism.

From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought

There’s a “Hans Hergot Tower” in the Saxon town of Uelzen.

* Overshadowed, on the Reformation martyrology, by Anabaptist Michael Sattler, who burned at Rottenburg on the same date.

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1506: James Tyrrell, Princes in the Tower murderer?

Add comment May 6th, 2020 Thomas More

(Thanks to Sir Thomas More, himself an eventual Executed Today client, for the guest post on the knight Sir James Tyr(r)ell — originally from More’s The History of King Richard the Third. Tyrrell was executed on May 6, 1506, for treason, for supporting the exiled royal pretender Edmund de la Pole; according to More, Tyrrell had previously proved his loyalty to the Yorkist house to the extent of orchestrating the murder of the Princes in the Tower. All-in-the-family detail for House Tyrell: the man’s father had been executed in 1462 with John de Vere, Earl of Oxford. -ed.)

I shall rehearse you the dolorous end of those babes, not after every way that I have heard, but after that way thay I have so hard by such men & by such meanes, as me thinketh it wer hard but it should be true. King Richarde after his coronacion, takyng his way to Gloucester to visit in his newe honor, the towne of which he bare the name of his old, devised as he roode, to fulfil that thing which he before had intended. And forasmuch as his minde gave him, that his nephewes living, men woulde not recken that hee could have right to the realm, he thought therfore without delay to rid them, as though the killing of his kinsmen, could amend his cause, and make him a kindly king. Whereuppon he sent one John Grene whom he specially trusted, unto sir Robert Brakenbury constable of the Tower, with a letter and credence also, that the same sir Robert shoulde in any wise put the two children to death. This John Grene did his errande unto Brakenbery kneling before our Lady in the Tower, who plainely answered that he would never putte them to death to dye therfore, with which answer Jhon Grene returning recounted the same to Kynge Richarde at Warwick yet in his way. Wherwith he toke such displeasure and thought, that the same night, he said unto a secret page of his: Ah whome shall a man trust? those that I have brought up my selfe, those that I had went would most surely serve me, even those fayle me, and at my commaundemente wyll do nothyng for me. Sir quod his page there lyeth one on your paylet without, that I dare well say to do your grace pleasure, the thyng were right harde that he wold refuse, meaning this by sir James Tyrell, which was a man of right goodlye parsonage, and for natures gyftes, woorthy to have served a muche better prince, if he had well served god, and by grace obtayned asmuche trouthe & good will as he had strength and witte. The man had an high heart, and sore longed upwarde, not rising yet so fast as he had hoped, being hindered and kept under by the meanes of sir Richard Ratcliffe and sir William Catesby, which longing for no moo parteners of the princes favour, and namely not for hym, whose pride thei wist would beare no pere, kept him by secrete driftes out of all secrete trust. Whiche thyng this page wel had marked and knowen. Wherefore thys occasion offered, of very speciall frendship he toke his time to put him forward, & by such wise doe him good, that al the enemies he had except the devil, could never have done him so muche hurte. For upon this pages wordes king Richard arose. (For this communicacion had he sitting at the draught, a convenient carpet for such a counsaile) and came out in to the pailet chamber, on which he found in bed sir James and sir Thomas Tyrels, of parson like and brethren of blood, but nothing of kin in condicions. Then said the king merely to them: What sirs be ye in bed so soone, and calling up syr James, brake to him secretely his mind in this mischievous matter. In whiche he founde him nothing strange. Wherfore on the morrow he sente him to Brakenbury with a letter, by which he was commaunded to deliver sir James all the kayes of the Tower for one nyght, to the ende he might there accomplish the kinges pleasure, in such thing as he had geuen him commaundement. After which letter delivered and the kayes received, sir James appointed the night nexte ensuing to destroy them, devysing before and preparing the meanes. The prince as soone as the protector left that name and toke himself as king, had it shewed unto him, that he should not reigne, but his uncle should have the crowne. At which worde the prince sore abashed, began to sigh and said: Alas I woulde my uncle woulde lette me have my lyfe yet, though I lese my kingdome. Then he that tolde him the tale, used him with good wordes, and put him in the best comfort he could. But forthwith was the prince and his brother bothe shet up, and all other removed from them, onely one called black wil or William slaughter except, set to serve them and see them sure. After whiche time the prince never tyed his pointes, nor ought rought of himselfe, but with that young babe hys brother, lingered in thought and heavines til this tratorous death, delivered them of that wretchednes. For Sir James Tirel devised that thei shold be murthered in their beddes. To the execucion wherof, he appointed Miles Forest one of the foure that kept them, a felowe fleshed in murther before time. To him he joyned one John Dighton his own horsekeper, a big brode square strong knave. Then al the other beeing removed from them, thys Miles Forest and John Dighton, about midnight (the sely children lying in their beddes) came into the chamber, and sodainly lapped them up among the clothes so be wrapped them and entangled them keping down by force the fetherbed and pillowes hard unto their mouthes, that within a while smored and stifled, theyr breath failing, thei gave up to god their innocent soules into the joyes of heaven, leaving to the tormentors their bodyes dead in the bed.

Whiche after that the wretches parceived, first by the strugling with the paines of death, and after long lying styll, to be throughly dead: they laide their bodies naked out uppon the bed, and fetched sir James to see them. Which upon the sight of them, caused those murtherers to burye them at the stayre foote, metely depe in the grounde under a great heape of stones. Than rode sir James in geat haste to king Richarde, and shewed him al the maner of the murther, who gave hym gret thanks, and as som say there made him knight. But he allowed not as I have heard, the burying in so vile a corner, saying that he woulde have them buried in a better place, because thei wer a kinges sonnes. Wherupon thei say that a prieste of syr Robert Brakenbury toke up the bodyes again, and secretely entered them in such place, as by the occasion of his deathe, whiche onely knew it could never synce come to light. Very trouthe is it & well knowen, that at such time as syr James Tirell was in the Tower, for Treason committed agaynste the moste famous prince king Henry the seventh, bothe Dighton an he were examined, & confessed the murther in maner above writen, but whither the bodies were removed thei could nothing tel. And thus as I have learned of them that much knew and litle cause had to lye, wer these two noble princes, these innocent tender children, borne of moste royall bloode, brought up in great wealth, likely long to live to reigne and rule in the realme, by traitorous tiranny taken, depryved of their estate, shortly shitte up in prison, and privily slaine and murthered, theyr bodies cast god wote where by the cruel ambicion of their unnaturall uncle and his dispiteous tormentors. Which thinges on every part wel pondered: god never gave this world a more notable example, neither in what unsuretie standeth this worldy wel, or what mischief worketh the prowde enterprise of an hyghe heart, or finally what wretched end ensueth such dispiteous crueltie. For first to beginne with the ministers, Miles Forest at sainct Martens pecemele rotted away. Dighton in ded walketh on a live in good possibilitie to bee hanged ere he dye. But sir James Tirel dyed at Tower hill, beheaded for treason.


Although the veracity of More’s account cannot be proven — the purported original confessions do not survive and are not attested elsewhere — Tyrrell’s reputation as the agent of this notorious outrage earned him a bit part in Shakespeare’s Richard III.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Assassins,Beheaded,England,Guest Writers,Nobility,Other Voices,Public Executions,Treason

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1577: Eight English Gypsies condemned

Add comment April 18th, 2020 Headsman

The influx into Great Britain from the start of the 16th century of itinerant Romani — also known as Romanichal, English Travellers,* or (for their supposed Egyptian ancestry**) Gypsies — began the outbreaks of racism and moral panic that continue to this day.

April 18, 1577 marks the condemnation of six Gypsies: the date that sentence was executed — there’s little reason to suppose it would have been stayed — is not specifically recorded.. They’d forged official documents, which made them liable to a treason charge; but, merely being a Gypsy in England had been criminalized by a 1530 Act and the penalty of this crime upgraded to death in 1554.

“[A]n outlandish people, calling themselves Egyptians, using no craft nor feat of merchandise, who have come into this realm, and gone from shire to shire, and place to place, in great company; and used great subtlety and crafty means to deceive the people — bearing them in hand that they, by palmistry, could tell men’s and women’s fortunes; and so, many times, by craft and subtlety, have deceived the people for their money; and also have committed many heinous felonies and robberies, to the great hurt and deceit of the people that they have come among,” runs the description of the 1530 Act. Similar legislation was being promulgated all around continental Europe in this same period.

In practice neither law triggered wholesale genocide or expulsion, but lurking at the fringes of settled English habitation and bearing the stigma of crime and deviance, Romani stood in perpetual precarity. Little wonder that many became buyers in a black market of forged documents confirming their legitimate occupation. In this case, six Gypsies were apprehended in Berkshires in March 1577 making use of the counterfeit products of a Cheshire schoolmaster named Richard Massey.

Massey was lucky himself not to swing for this offense. The Gypsies, less so; according to David Cressy

Their leaders were tried to Aylesbury for high treason, for falsifying warrants under the Great Seal, though one, Philip Bastien, was set aside ‘because he may give evidence against others’. Roland Gabriel, Thomas Gabriel, William Gabriel, Lawrence Bannister, Christopher Jackson, George Jackson, Richard Jackson, and the widow Katherine Deago were all found guilty of ‘counterfeiting, transferring, and altering themselves in dress, language, and behaviour to such vagabonds called Egyptians, contrary to statute’. All were sentenced to be hanged, though whether all went to the gallows is uncertain. Katherine Deago was most likely reprieved, for a Gypsy with that name appeared in Essex a year later.

* Not to be conflated with Irish Travellers, who are of different heritage. The distinction is fraught political terrain in the U.K.

** Actually, this ethnic group hails from India, migrating thence around the 11th century.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Uncertain Dates

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1560: Giambatista Cardano, “crowning misfortune”

Add comment April 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1560, the son of Renaissance polymath Gerolamo Cardano was beheaded for murdering his — the son’s — wife.

While Cardano pere was one of the great intellectuals of his era, and has been covered in these grim annals via his interest in a genius composer executed for sodomy, the fils earns notice merely for his famous relations.

The latter, Giambatista Cardano by name, committed nothing but a shabby domestic murder, dosing his wife Brandonia di Seroni — “a worthless, shameless woman” in Gerolamo’s estimation — with arsenic when he had tired of her infidelities.

Still, it is the burden of a father to love his firstborn no matter how undistinguished and homicidal. Cardano poured his sorrow into a long funerary verse, not neglecting therein to defend the prerogatives of a jealous husband’s “avenging right hand”; we obtain it from the old man’s autobiography.

A Lament on the Death of My Son

Who has snatched thee away from me —
O, my son, my sweetest son?
Who had the power to bring to my age
Sorrows more than I can count?
Wrath in whose soul or what stern fate
Willed to reap thy youth’s fair flower?
Not Calliope, not Apollo,
Served thee in thine hour of need!
Cithara, now, and all song be still;
Measures of threnodies shall renew
Mourning and sighs for my dear son.
— Strains of his singing haunt me still —
Laurels, alas, in the healing art,
Knowledge of things, and a facile gift
Of Latin tongue—what profit these
Labors long if they swiftly die?
Service rendered Spanish prince,
Duty done to the noblest of men
Help thee naught if with these for thy judge
Death with his scythe doth seek thy blood.

What, ah me, shall I do? My soul
Swoons to remember thee, gentle son;
Silent, I brood on thy destiny grim;
Tears that I dare not give to words,
Shall I not shed for my stricken son?
Lasting encomium had I reserved,
Fitting reward to thine ashes paid;
Silence — O shame — must my tongue now guard,
Death unjust nor its cause announce.
Grave are the ills thou hast borne, mild son.
Prince and Senate and ancient law
Ordered thy doom whilst thou in rash haste,
Brought an adultress the wage of her crime.
Safely adultery now in our homes
Mocks and insults when punishment swift
Stays the avenging right hand of the youth.

Son — the reflection true of the good
Strong in my father — worthy to live
Long through the years — Alas, my beloved!
Fates have forbidden and swept all that good
Far past the stars, and removed from gray earth
Every bright and illustrious thing.
Hail thee, child, for thy spirit high!
Clear is thy blood from ignoble stain;
Honor of forefather’s hast thou sought.
Far stands the king, and hope of safety,
Phoebus denies the lands his beams,
Light from Diana passes and dies,
Stars in the calm sky glance no more
Lest they look down on a palace foul,
Stained with the reeking blood of the slain.

Where lies my way? What land now claims
Body and limbs disfigured by death?
Son, is there naught but this to return?
Thee have I followed on sea and on land!
Fix me — if mercy is anywhere found —
Pierce me with weapons, O ye mad Gods!
Take with thy first blow my dreary life.
Pity me thou, oh great father of Gods,
Thrust with thy spear my hated head
Deep into Tartara; else am I bound
Hardly to burst this life’s bitter chains.
This, O my son, was not pledged to thy sire,
Love so unholy to trust with thine all —
Love that has ruined thee, son of my heart!

Wife of a memory blessed and true,
Happy thy death, nor spared for this grief!
I, through this crime, have myself brought disgrace,
O son to our name, for by envy compelled,
Homeland and Lares paternal I left.
Death had I sought for my innocent soul,
But surviving and living I vanquished my fate.

Ages to come will know, son, thy name,
Orient lands will hear of thy fame;
Dead to us thou art indeed —
Life hast thou won through all the earth!

It would be fair to say that this last vow of the grieving father was not kept. Indeed, the misery of losing his son to the executioner cast an enervating pall over the elder Cardano’s remaining years. “My supreme, my crowning misfortune,” he bewailed. “Because of this, it was neither becoming for me to be retained in my office [a professor of medicine at Pavia], nor could I justly be dismissed. I could neither continue to live in my native city with any peace, nor in security move elsewhere. I walked abroad an object of scorn; I conversed with my fellows abjectly, as one despised, and, as one of unwelcome presence, avoided my friends.”

A couple of years on and the unwelcomeness had become overwhelming; he relocated to a professorship in Bologna — nowise happy but at least clear of the omnipresent, suffocating shame associated with his name. The man’s woes were in no way alleviated by his surviving son Aldo, a thief and all-around lowlife whom Cardano ended up disinheriting. (Lone daughter Chiara was A-OK by pops apart from being unable to bear him grandchildren: “from my daughter alone have I suffered no vexations beyond the getting together of her dowry.”)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Murder,Sex,Torture

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