Posts filed under 'Treason'

1578: Nicolas Gosson, counterrevolved

Add comment October 26th, 2020 Headsman


Beheading of barrister Nicolas Gosson at Arras on October 26, 1578.

Presently in France, this town at the time was in the Spanish Low Countries during the unfolding Calvinist Dutch Revolt.

Gosson, “a man of great wealth, one of the most distinguished advocates in the Netherlands, and possessing the gift of popular eloquence to a remarkable degree, was the leader of this burgess faction” according to this public domain history. He mounted an urban coup in favor of the Orangist — one of several similar coups in the southern Low Countries, where ultras tried to force events upon less favorable terrain. “Inflamed by the harangues of Gosson, and supported by five hundred foot soldiers and fifty troopers under one Captain Ambrose, they rose against the city magistracy, whose sentiments were unequivocally for Parma, and thrust them all into prison. They then constituted a new board of fifteen, some Catholics and some Protetants, but all patriots, of whom Gosson was chief.”

The not-so-patriotic faction — the so-called “Malcontents”, noblemen and their supporters who were either repelled by Calvinist excesses or simply pleased to seek their advantage allying with Spain — turned back Gosson’s revolution within days.

Baron Capres, the great Malcontent seignior, who was stationed with his regiment in the neighbourhood … marched into the city at the head of a strong detachment, and straightway proceeded to erect a very tall gibbet in front of the Hotel de Ville. This looked practical in the eyes of the liberated and reinstated magistrates, and Gosson, Crugeot, and the rest were summoned at once before them. The advocate thought, perhaps, with a sigh, that his judges, so recently his prisoners, might have been the fruit for another gallows-tree, had he planted it when the ground was his own …

The process was rapid. A summons from Brussels was expected every hour from the general government, ordering the cases be brought before the federal tribunal, and as the Walloon provinces were not yet ready for open revolt, the order would be an inconvenient one. Hence the necessity for haste … Bertoul, Crugeot, Mordacq, with several others, were condemned in a few hours to the gibbet. They were invited to appeal, if they chose, to the council of Artois, but hearing that the court was sitting next door, so that there was no chance of a rescue in the streets, they declared themselves satisfied with the sentence. Gosson had not been tried, his case being reserved for the morrow.

Meanwhile, the short autumnal day had drawn to a cloe. A wild, stormy, rainy night then set in, but still the royalist party — citizens and soldiers intermingled — all armed to the teeth, and uttering fierce cries, while the whole scene was fitfully illuminated with the glare of flambeaux and blazing tar-barrels, kept watch in the open square around the city hall. A series of terrible Rembrandt-like night-pieces succeeded — grim, fantastic, and gory. [Pierre] Bertoul, an old man, who for years had so surely felt himself predestined to his present doom that he had kept a gibbet in his own house to accustom himself to the sight of the machine, was led forth the first, and hanged at ten in the evening. He was a good man, of perfectly blameless life, a sincere Catholic, but a warm partisan of Orange.

Valentine de Mordacq, an old soldier, came from the Hotel de Ville to the gallows at midnight. As he stood on the ladder, amid the flaming torches, he broke forth into furious execrations, wagging his long white beard to and fro, making hideous grimaces, and cursing the hard fate which, after many dangers on the battle-field and in beleaguered cities, had left him to such a death. The cord strangled his curses. Crugeot was executed at three in the morning, having obtained a few hours’ respite in order to make his preparations, which he accordingly occupied himslf in doing as tranquilly as if he had been setting forth upon an agreeable journey. He looked like a phantom, according to eye-witnesses, as he stood under the gibbet, making a most pious and Catholic address to the crowd.

The whole of the following day was devoted to the trial of Gosson. He was condemned at nightfall, and heard by appeal before the superior court directly afterwards. At midnight of the 25th of October 1578, he was condemned to lose his head, the execution to take place without delay. The city guards and the infantry under Capres still bivouacked upon the square; the howling storm still continued, but the glare of fagots and torches made the place as light as day. The ancient advocate, with haggard eye and features distorted by wrath, walking between the sheriff and a Franciscan monk, advanced through the long lane of halberdiers, in the grand hall of the Town House, and thence emerged upon the scaffold erected before the door. He shook his fists with rage at the released magistrates, so lately his prisoners, exclaiming that to his miplaced mercy it was owing that his head, instead of their own, was to be placed upon the block. He bitterly reproached the citizens for their cowardice in shrinking from dealing a blow for their fatherland, and in behalf of one who had so faithfully srved them. The clerk of the court then read the sentence amid silence so profound that every syllable he uttered, and every sigh and ejaculation of the victim, were distinctly heard in the most remote corner of the square. Gosson then, exclaiming that he was murdered without cause, knelt upon the scaffold. His head fell while an angry imprection was still upon hi lips.

This municipal revolution and counter-revolution, obscure though they seem, were in reality of very grave importance. This was the last blow struck for freedom in the Walloon country. The failure of the movement made that scission of the Netherlands certain, which has endured till our days.

A few months afterward, Malcontents, Catholics, and pro-Spain types sealed their alliance (maybe at breaks in their negotiations clapping shoulders as they reminisced about cutting down old Nicolas Gosson) with a pact called the Union of Arras.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,History,Lawyers,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Spain,The Worm Turns,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1817: Manuel Piar, Bolivarian general

Add comment October 16th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1817, the Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar stained his hands with the execution of one of his great generals.

Bust of Piar in Maturin, Venezuela. (cc) image from Cesar Perez.

A mestizo of mixed Spanish-Dutch-African, Manuel Piar (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was a self-taught and self-made man and a true revolutionary spirit. By the time he joined Bolivar’s rising against Spanish rule in Venezuela, he had already fought in similar campaigns in Haiti (against France) and his native Curacao (against the British).

His prowess in arms saw him rise all the way to General-in-Chief for Bolivar, but it could not bridge the gap in background and outlook between them. Bolivar was of European aristocratic stock, and he did not share Piar’s expectation that their revolution would also entail overturning the racial caste system.

In 1817, conflict between them came rapidly to a head: Bolivar stripped Piar of his command — and then perceiving Piar to be conspiring with other of Bolivar’s rivals, had him arrested and tried by court-martial. It’s a blot on Bolivar’s reputation given his wrong-side-of-history position in their conflict, and also given that when confronted with multiple subalterns maneuvering politically against him, he chose to go easy on all the criollos involved but make an example of the one Black guy.

That example consisted of having Piar shot against the wall of the cathedral of Angostura, the Venezuelan city now known as Ciudad Bolivar.

Bolivar didn’t personally attend this execution — another demerit — but legend holds that upon hearing the volley of the firing squad he wailed, “I have shed my own blood!”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Venezuela,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1546: Jorge Robledo, Popayan conquistador

2 comments October 5th, 2020 Headsman

Spanish conquistador Jorge Robledo was beheaded on this date in 1546

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

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

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

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

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

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1989: Moises Giroldi, Panamanian general

Add comment October 4th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1989, Panamanian Gen. Moises Giroldi Vera was shot in the San Miguelito barracks for his coup attempt the previous day.

With tensions mounting between strongman Manuel Noriega and his U.S. patrons — Washington had laid Panama under sanctions, indicted Noriega, and by year’s end invaded to depose him — Giroldi shot his shot by attempting to topple the regime from within.

U.S. intelligence provided minimal help to a man one described as “a bastard, a sort of mini-Noriega,” skeptical of the rebel officers’ capacity for completing the putsch. But they came pretty close, actually capturing Noriega on the morning of Oct. 3; the plotters’ dithering about handing him over to American agents enabled the dictator to summon help and reverse the attempt.

Giroldi and ten other soldiers involved in the abortive coup were tortured at a hangar at the Albrook air base, and all of them killed. Nine of them died at that site so their collective fate is known as the Albrook massacre, notwithstanding the venue change for Giroldi’s own summary execution. Legend holds that Noriega himself pulled the trigger.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Panama,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Torture,Treason

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1953: Erna Dorn, June 17 rising patsy

Add comment October 1st, 2020 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add comment September 28th, 2020 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

** Other revolutionaries fled to exile.

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

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1630: Yuan Chonghuan

Add comment September 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1630,* the Ming statesman Yuan Chonghuan was executed by lingchi

Yuan Chonghuan’s tomb in Beijing. (cc) image by Walter Grassroot.

Yuan (English Wikipedia entry | Chinese was a commander during the 1620s wars against invaders from Manchuria — wars that in due course would bring about the end of the Ming dynasty and the transition to the Manchu-founded Qing. For that very reason, Yuan cuts a sort of Stilicho figure, whose historical shadow is that of a capable commander undone due to petty infighting by a state too far gone to rot to recognize that it needed his talents.**

Yuan scored some notable battlefield wins against the Manchu (Jurchen) invaders in his time. Political intrigue saw him pushed out of power for a spell, ere a new emperor took the throne and called him out of retirement, investing him with enough authority to execute a rival general on his own say-so.

Despite successfully defending Beijing itself from a Jurchen attack, Yuan came under suspicion for the escape in that battle of the enemy ruler — Hong Taiji, the man who would become the founder of the Qing dynasty. Had he passed on an opportunity to follow up his victory because he had a treasonable understanding with the guy who stood a fair chance at conquering China in the foreseeable future? The charge formed the basis of his destruction. At least Yuan could be philosophical about it: “A life’s work always end in vain; half of my career seems to be in dreams. After death my loyal spirit will continue to guard Liaodong.”

Later rulers — the Manchu/Qing rulers — officially rehabilitated the man and his countrymen down to the present day pay him tribute at various public memorials to his honor, like Yuan Chonghuan Memorial Park in his native Dongguan.


A 1956 serialized novel treating the end of Yuan and the revenge sought by his (entirely fictional) son Yuan Chengzhi, Sword Stained with Royal Blood, has been re-adapted into numerous martial arts jams for film and television.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,China,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Gruesome Methods,History,Lingchi,Myths,Notably Survived By,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1812: Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo, Huanuco rebel

Add comment September 14th, 2020 Headsman

Peruvian revolutionary Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo was garroted on this date in 1812.

Bust of Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo at Lima’s Panteon de los Proceres. (cc) image from Fernando Murillo.

An advance shock of the coming Peruvian War of Independence, Crespo y Castillo came to the fore of an indigenous rebellion against Spanish dominion in the mountainous department of Huanuco.

This small — perhaps 1,500 rebels were involveed — rising broke out in February 1812 and lasted only a couple of months but testified to Peru’s ongoing current of native resistance.

Crespo y Castillo wasn’t a firebrand but a prosperous local Creole elite, a farmer and alderman of long standing. Beyond the common grievances of state abuses and corruption he acutely felt the injury imposed by trade tightening that devastated the value of his tobacco crops.

On February 22, 1812, Indians from several outlying towns marched on the town of Huanuco, putting the Spanish authorities to flight. Crespo y Castillo was elevated to the leadership of a small governing board for the rebellion, whose limited ambitions were marked by its slogan, Viva el rey, muera el mal gobierno.

By May, the whole thing had succumbed to the customary remedy of overwhelming counterattack plus clemency offer for the rank-and-file — among whom, of course, our man numbered not.

He was put to death at the Plaza Mayor of Huanoco, uttering the inspiring last words,

“Muero yo, pero mil se levantaran para ahorcar a los tiranos. Viva la libertad!”

(“I die, but a thousand will rise to hang the tyrants! Long live freedom!”)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Garrote,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Spain,Strangled,Treason

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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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1574: Charles de Mornay, sword dance regicide

Add comment September 4th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1574, the courtier Charles de Mornay was executed for an aborted plot against the Swedish king.

The French Huguenot had been a mainstay in the Swedish court for many years, and a favorite of King Erik XIV until that man was deposed in 1568.

From 1572, at the instigation of the French ambassador, de Mornay went to work on a plot to assassinate King John III — Erik’s half-brother and successor. This Mornay Plot would have liberated Erik XIV from prison and enthroned in John’s place either (it’s not clear) this same Erik XIV or else their other brother, Charles.

What the plan lacked in subtlety it compensated in showmanship. The idea was to use the Scottish mercenaries present in Swedish service during a scheduled ceremonial performance of their sword dance in October 1573. It turns out that while wheeling around the sovereign twirling blades, it’s a simple enough matter to just twirl one right through him.


Maybe that’s what gave Shakespeare the idea for the big duel in Hamlet.

Apparently Charles de Mornay lost his nerve at the critical moment and didn’t issue his dancing assassins the go-ahead sign — leaving John on the throne, and several folks involved in the plot in position to inform upon it. Indeed, we’ve brushed up against one such previously in these pages, for prior to de Mornay’s exposure a Scottish officer who caught wind of a rumor of the coup became accused of leading it, and was unjustly beheaded as his rewarded for reporting it.

De Mornay was exposed a few months later. King John had Erik murdered in prison in early 1577.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Notable for their Victims,Power,Soldiers,Sweden,Treason

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