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.

On this day..

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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