1756: John Symmonds, “Spanish Jack”

Add comment April 8th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1756,* robber John Symmonds (Symonds, Simmons) aka “Spanish Jack” hanged at Maidstone.

One “Gonzalez” by birth in Alicante, Spain, our man obtained his Anglo-Saxon name by dint of service aboard English privateers during the multifaceted 1740s world war.

Maritime service and a piratical nickname might suggest that he earned his hemp as a buccaneer. Not so: Spanish Jack segued into the lucrative and dangerous smuggling trade, and thence to ordinary landlubber thefts in his adoptive realm.

So well had he adapted to this underworld that in 1751 he turned Crown’s evidence and hung three fellow footpads to save his own life, pocketing a £10 reward into the bargain. His Old Bailey evidence in this case gives some idea of his practices:

we consented to stop the first man we met that had any thing about him; there was one Jonathan Stevens with us, he is not apprehended yet. We had been in Stepney-fields; about nine we stopped the prosecutor at the end of Church-lane; I asked him what it was o’clock; he said he could not tell. I stopped him and said, you must give me what you have about you. He made a little sort of a resistance; I took him and shov’d him against a wall; the other four came up. I held him whilst they took what he had about him; I never saw the stock buckle; Holmes said nothing to us of that. Mandeville took from him a guinea and 4 s. 6 d. and some halfpence; we made the best of our way when we had done to the Blue Anchor in the Back lane; there we had some slip and changed a guinea, and divided every man a share.

But sauce for the goose would be sauce for the gander within a very few years, as the Newgate Calendar notes.

The many robberies he had committed in London and its adjacencies having rendered him so notorious that he thought himself in great danger of being apprehended, he determined to go into the country. Having travelled to Rochester, he formed an acquaintance with a fellow named Smith, who was publicly known to live by felonious practices.

Symmonds and Smith went to a public-house in Rochester, and while they were drinking some punch found an opportunity of concealing a silver tankard, which they carried off unperceived. On the following day they were apprehended, and committed to Maidstone Jail — Symmonds to be tried for stealing the tankard, and Smith to appear as evidence for the Crown.

* The Newgate Calendar’s “18th of April” is mistaken; it was the 8th. See CapitalPunishmentUK.org.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft

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1756: Owen Syllavan

Add comment May 10th, 2016 Headsman

Colonial counterfeiter Owen Syllavan (Sullivan) was executed in New York on this date in 1756.

An Irish runaway, Syllavan followed an indenture to the North American colonies and wound up enlisted in the army during the French and Indian War. As a militia armorer, he picked up the smithing skills with which he would later turn out plates to to clone the colonies’ bills of exchange.

Anthony Vaver, author of Bound With An Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America, tells the charming crook’s story on Vaver’s blog Early American Crime; click onward to find out whether Syllavan’s gallows appeal for his 29 confederates to get out of the currency fraud game saved their necks.*

* Anthony Vaver has also guest-blogged for Executed Today.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Counterfeiting,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,New York,Occupation and Colonialism,Pelf,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,USA

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1756: Veronika Zeritschin, the last witch executed in Germany

Add comment April 2nd, 2015 Headsman

When did Europe stop executing witches?

Early modern Europe’s witch hunt era wound down in the 18th century, but the precise milestone dates are surprisingly tricky to pin down. The superstition outlived the judicial machinery, and some of the last reputed “witches” — like Anna Göldi and Barbara Zdunk — don’t seem to have been formally charged with sorcery.

The clear “lasts” we do have are country by country, earlier or later depending on the vigor of the pushback witch-hunters could muster against the the onset of rationalism.

The last witch execution that can be documented in the Holy Roman Empire’s illustrious history took place on this date in 1756, in Landshut, during the age of Maria Theresa.* Its subject was a 15-year-old named Veronika Zeritschin, who was beheaded and then burned.

There is scant information readily available online as to how she came to that dreadful pass, perhaps because the distinction was long thought to be held by a woman named Anna Maria Schwegelin (English Wikipedia entry | German) — condemned for her Satanic intercourse in 1775. That sentence, it was only latterly discovered, was not actually carried out, leaving poor Anna to die in prison in 1781.

As one might infer, Veronika Zeritschin’s own distinction might not be entirely secure against subsequent documentary discoveries. But as of now, she appears to be the last person executed on German soil as a witch.


Salvator Rosa, Witches at their Incantations (c. 1646). “Rosa has a secret to tell us: how the romantic imagination feeds on terrors and beliefs that were once all too real.”

* Marie Antoinette‘s mother. Maria Theresa’s absolutism was not quite that of the Enlightenment; she was a staunch foe of the trend towards religious toleration:

What, without a dominant religion? Toleration, indifferentism, are exactly the right means to undermine everything … What other restraint exists? None. Neither the gallows nor the wheel … I speak politically now, not as a Christian. Nothing is so necessary and beneficial as religion. Would you allow everyone to act according to his fantasy? If there were no fixed cult, no subjection to the Church, where should we be? The law of might would take command. (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Austria,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Habsburg Realm,History,Milestones,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1756: Four members of the Swedish Hovpartiet

Add comment July 23rd, 2010 Headsman

This date in 1756 saw the decapitation in Stockholm of four nobles tight with Queen Louisa Ulrika for an attempted coup d’etat.

Louisa Ulrika was a sister to Prussia’s Frederick the Great, married off to the Swedish crown for reasons of statecraft. Old Fritz had, all the same, suggested a different sibling to the Scandinavians inasmuch as Louisa was “an arrogant, temperamental intriguer.”

They probably should have taken the hint. Instead, they were taken with the beauty and the brains.

As Frederick predicted, Louisa found the Swedish setup during its 18th century Age of Liberty quite unsatisfactory: the monarchy played second fiddle to a powerful parliament, the Riksdag.

Before long, she commenced her temperamental intriguing.

Some well-placed bakhsheesh among the parliamentarians enabled Louisa to exercise some pull behind the scenes. But overall, the Queen thought much better of that Prussian system she had left behind: enlightened despotism, with an accent on the despotism. Wasn’t this supposed to be the Age of Absolutism?

Comely and charismatic, she soon began gathering supporters of this idea around her court, the so-called Hovpartiet (Swedish link) of strong-monarchy types. And eventually, Louisa felt strong enough herself to throw off the shackles of the estates — dragging along in this scheme the king, Adolf Frederick.

To finance this ambitious project, Louisa literally pawned the crown jewels.

Naturally, putting the crown jewels in hock is a slightly different matter from fencing a hot Rolex. The bankers who obtained this impressive debt security started making their own inquiries, and diplomatic rumors started circulating. That obnoxious Riksdag started demanding to see and inventory the royal hoard on the presumptuous grounds that it was state property.

Stalling for time against these persistent auditors, Louisa managed to gather some of the armaments intended for her project and set about hiring Stockholm criminals for a false flag operation which would enable the crown to restore order against some manufactured civic disturbances and thereby seize state power.

Erik Brahe (the one who was executed on this date). Image from this public domain German text; German speakers can get more on this day’s doing here.

These henchmen, notably bastard noble son Ernst Angel, indiscreetly boasted about the coming royal putsch down at the local watering-hole, and pretty soon the whole embarrassing thing had been blown wide open.

Embarrassing to Louisa, that is. The royals got to keep their jobs — though Adolf Frederick had feared he might go the way of Charles Stuart.

But for the less pedigreed members of the plot, there was a heavier price to pay than shame: eight men in the Hovpartiet lost their heads.

This date saw the end of Erik Brahe (Swedish Wikipedia link), Johan Puke (and his), Jakob Gustav Horn and Magnus Stålsvärd.

Three days later, the loose-lipped Ernst Angel joined them, along with Gabriel Mozelius, Per Christernin and Israel Escholin. (Names-to-dates associations from this Swedish article.)

A Genealogical Digression…

One is caught up by the distinguished name “Brahe”, one of those among the first batch of beheadings on July 23, 1756. This aristocratic cavalryman was indeed a member of the redoubtable Brahe family (more Swedish) whose most illustrious offspring was Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe. (Although there was also a Brahe among the casualties of the Stockholm Bloodbath: they go way back.)

At any rate, this date’s Erik was a distant relative to Tycho, and a relative as well of Tycho’s Swedish cousin also named Erik Brahe, who was at Tycho Brahe’s deathbed in 1601. That other, older Erik Brahe has lately come in for some suspicion as a guy who might have murdered Tycho Brahe. Growing misgivings about the circumstances of the astronomer’s sudden death have just this year caused Tycho Brahe’s remains to be exhumed for further study. (But so far, no smoking gun.)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Scandal,Sweden,Torture,Treason

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