1793: Philippe Egalite, hoisted on his own petard

6 comments November 6th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Philippe Egalite was hoisted on his own petard.

To hoist with one’s own petard actually has an older derivation, dating to siege warfare engineers whose primitive bombs, petards, were liable to detonate unexpectedly and gave their makers a “hoist.”

Still, the phrase sounds like something that ought to come right out of the French Revolution, redolent (as are petards themselves: the explosive word is from the French “to fart”) of angry mobs hoisting aristocrats, as was their wont, up on pikestaffs and lampposts and … petards. Whatever those are.

Philippe Egalite — the Duke of Orleans, as he was known for most of his life — was such an aristocrat: in fact he was royalty, the First Prince of the Blood and a cousin to Louis XVI.

And he was the member of the royal house who most vibed on the revolutionary spirit of the times, literally bankrolling the Jacobins before the Revolution. Hilary Mantel* notes that Orleans made the Palais Royal “into a sort of demagogue’s shopping centre — Paris’s most volatile public space, crammed with cafés and bookshops, a gathering place for the disaffected. In July 1789, three days of orchestrated violence began there, and culminated in the taking of the Bastille.”

Now that is a petard.

Philippe’s class-traitor politics obviously exposed him to the wrath of the monarchists — a particular irony since the man’s son Louis-Philippe, was France’s last king from 1830 to 1848 — but as usual in Paris during the Terror, it was the the Revolution devouring its children that did him in.

Despite taking up during the Revolution the very Republican name Egalite by which we know him, and despite Egalite‘s vote in the Convention in favor of guillotining Louis XVI (this is sometimes described with more melodrama than accuracy as the “decisive” vote), and despite his many years’ prior revolutionary sympathy, the Duke of Orleans was rounded up with the rest of the available Bourbons when the French General Dumouriez‘s spring 1793 defection prompted a panicky revolutionary purge in Paris. Philippe’s own son, the future king, had gone over with Dumouriez to the Austrians.

Rosebud

The Duc d’Orleans employed Choderlos de Laclos, author of the notoriously delicious Dangerous Liaisons.

As an individual citizen turned politician turned guillotinee, Egalite doesn’t much stand out in those perilous years: one more vulnerable Convention delegate outmaneuvered by Robespierre et al.

As the Daddy Warbucks of the Rights of Man, however, Egalite was a titanic figure for his contemporaries. Not many held him in high personal esteem, but movements need moneybags, and the Prince of the Blood bankrolled his from the bottomless revenues he earned on estates that would dwarf entire departements.

The Duke of Orleans and those around him, according to George Armstrong Kelly in “The Machine of the Duc D’Orléans and the New Politics” (The Journal of Modern History, Dec. 1979)

invented something novel in the history of French politics: the massive use of wealth, research, and propaganda** for the purpose of forming public opinion and swaying public policy. No doubt there are analogues among the Romans and the eighteenth-century English; but here we are almost reminded of the Rockefellers and Kennedys.

Orleans was accused of generating all this mayhem to make his own bid for the throne; those accusations may even hold a bit of truth. Such machinations remain for the conspiratorial among posterity a shadow-play upon the wall; one is left to guess at their potential dimensions from shreds of evidence and the vying vituperations of various contemporary revolutionary factions.

But if extant, such schemes were fatally compromised by the mediocrity of the figurehead who lost his head this day. Though a revolutionary in his philosophy, he was still a doughy Bourbon scion in his soul, and heir to the many shortcomings that characterized that dynasty in its decadence.

Dissolute in the enjoyment of privilege; irresolute in the conquest of power; blithely rearing wolves to his own destruction. That was some petard.


Philippe Egalite and his onetime lover Grace Elliott are the titular characters of the 2001 Eric Rohmer movie The Lady and the Duke.

* Hilary Mantel is the same author who penned the acclaimed historical novel Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell.

** Kelly claims that Egalite funded Marat.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Notably Survived By,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Royalty,Treason

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2003: Four for the oil of Chad

1 comment November 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2003, seven Chadians were shot in the capital of N’Djamena, with an eighth in the eastern city of Abeche. (A ninth would be executed three days later.)

Chad’s first known judicial executions since 1991 came as a shock to observers; the country had publicly mooted death penalty abolition earlier that very year.

It also seems to have come as a shock for its subjects.

Four of those executed this date — the four that concern us here — were ranking power-brokers in President Idriss Deby’s regime convicted of bumping off the head of the Chad Petroleum Company, one Sheik Ibn Oumar Idriss Youssouf.

Mahamat Adam Issa, Adouma Ali Ahmat, Abderamane Hamid Haroun and Moubarack Bakhit Abderamane had been condemned on Oct. 25, just a month after the Sheikh was assassinated outside the Foreign Ministry. Less than two weeks later, the perps were shot when Deby denied them clemency even with their Supreme Court appeal still pending (pdf). (The Chadian judiciary seems a rickety thing (pdf).)

The murder, for its part, came just a month after Chad christened a $3.7 billion pipeline project.

It’s often called the “Adouma affair” after its principal defendant, which helpfully suggests the murky oil politics surrounding the speedy execution.

Ali Adouma was a former Deby advisor; both Adouma and the victim were from Darfur, in neighboring Sudan, whose conflict has spilled into Chad (pdf).

The Sudanese government had at times sought Adouma’s extradition for financing anti-govenrment Zaghawa forces across the border; while the Zaghawa ethnic minority (whose ranks include President Deby) dominates Chad, its Darfurian brethren have had the worst of their conflict with the Sudanese government.

So even if the convicts’ torture-adduced confessions resembled the truth of the murder, it can be safely inferred that the fact and the haste of their executions were matters of state. (Adouma’s confidence that there would not actually be an execution was reportedly shaken only in the last hours of his life.)

What matter of state is a different, uncertain matter: to calm potential foreign investors who’d be understandably nervous about seeing a petroleum kingpin pinched on the streets without consequence? A sop to Khartoum in Deby’s ongoing diplomatic efforts to limit the knock-on from Darfur to Chad? Or a warning to Deby’s own base? (pdf)

The vague attempts at conciliation by the Chadian President do not please his entourage which almost sees it as treason. Last May, 80 soldiers tried to overthrow Deby and would have assassinated him …

President Idriss Deby, according to observers with knowledge of Chadian politics, would be in a “precarious” situation. The Chad regime, undermined by corruption and ever on the brink of a chronic socio-economic crisis … may become even “tougher”. In N’Djamena, the hasty conviction and execution of Ali Adouma are seen as a sign from the President to his inner circle, even the ones in charge of the national economy, that he is ready to use coercion, even against his own clan.

These pictures of the execution were published in a Chadian paper. In image three, the circled figure is one of the firing squad members, who was himself bizarrely reported fatally shot during the execution. (Whispers continue to circulate that the unlucky executioner had in fact been intentionally eliminated after receiving some sensitive parting confidence from the well-placed condemned.)

“Chad,” said Interior Minister Routouang Yoma Golom, “has given a wonderful example to wrong-doers.”

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Chad,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Pelf,Politicians,Power,Shot,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1730: Hans Hermann von Katte, Frederick the Great’s lover

7 comments November 6th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1730, Prussia’s greatest king watched his boyhood lover put to death at his father’s order.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Most of those ways were explored at some point by a Hohenzollern.

The 18-year-old prince Frederick had a thoroughly frosty relationship with the old man. Surly Frederick William I — “the soldier king” — didn’t have much use for his sensitive, music-loving son. An “effeminate fool,” dad thought the boy, and did not scruple to beat him publicly as he forcibly molded the unwilling heir into a military man.

Now, blue bloods have often had rocky relationships with their sires, but running away is not the usual option for a prince of the realm.

But Frederick contrived to hit the bricks, and 26-year-old officer Hans Hermann von Katte had the bad luck to be his best friend (and presumed homosexual lover). When Frederick turned to him for help, they started plotting flight.

Both were apprehended and imprisoned, and Frederick was himself in some danger of being executed by command of his own father. Dad softened up enough to keep his son’s head attached to his shoulders.

Von Katte wasn’t so lucky: sentenced only to imprisonment, the verdict was upgraded by the vindictive monarch — and as part of Frederick William’s ongoing project to break his son, he made the kid watch his friend’s beheading from close enough proximity to beg (and receive) von Katte’s forgiveness.

Here’s a melodramatic interpretation from a short film called Der Tod des Hans Hermann von Katte:

Frederick spent the next decade under the father’s thumb, chafing but bending himself to the austere demands of Prussian statecraft.

Well did he absorb them, for upon succeeding in 1740, he far surpassed his father in the martial pursuits, and for the half-century span of his reign was Europe’s acknowledged battlefield master. Known to posterity as Frederich the Great — and more familiarly as der alte Fritz, “old Fritz” — his augmentation of the empire vaulted Prussia into Europe’s great powers club and set the stage for German unification.

[flv:http://play-mcvideos.howstuffworks.com/2008-07/31/12211.flv 425 344]

Frederick scarcely ever spoke again of von Katte, but neither did he lose his native intelligence, and he kept up a long-running correspondence with Voltaire.

It gives an achingly tragic cast to the boy who suffered the horrible loss of his intimate this day — who dutifully delivered to his country genius as a commander and statesman, at the uncomplaining sacrifice of the life he yearned to lead.

UC-Berkeley professor Margaret Anderson’s wonderful “Rise and Fall of the Second Reich” course podcast situates Frederick in the arc of Prussia’s development out of the Middle Ages —

[audio:http://webcast.berkeley.edu/media/f2007/hist167b/hist167b_20070904.mp3]

— and treats his adroit foreign policy and active mind in the age of the Enlightenment.

[audio:http://webcast.berkeley.edu/media/f2007/hist167b/hist167b_20070906.mp3]

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Homosexuals,Nobility,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Power,Prussia,Scandal,Soldiers,Treason

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1914: Carl Hans Lody

4 comments November 6th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1914, German spy Carl Hans Lody was put to death in the Tower of London during the opening months of World War I.

Lody‘s was the first execution in the Tower since its heyday as the chopping-block of disfavored nobility had passed in the mid-18th century. Times had changed by the era of trench warfare: Lody was not beheaded, but shot inside a wooden shed erected for the purpose in the Tower yard. Ten more German spies, who seem to have had a harder go of infiltrating Britain than their English counterparts had in Germany, would suffer the same fate by war’s end.

A Berlin-born naval officer, Lody had no experience spying but was tapped for the job because he had traveled abroad and spoke English well enough to pass for an American tourist. He was dead scarcely three months after he entered the Isles, though his work may have helped a U-boat sink a British warship.

According to A.W. Brian Simpson in Domestic and International Trials 1700-2000, the case was a legal landmark as the first espionage trial in England held partly in camera — outside the public view. The outcome, however, was a foregone conclusion, and Lody himself didn’t bother to contest his guilt — seemingly fixated on going to his grave with nothing short of the utmost in romantic gentlemanly decorum.

Part of the Themed Set: Spies.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Espionage,Execution,Germany,History,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Wartime Executions

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