1937: Nikolai Nikolayevich Durnovo, Slavist

Add comment October 27th, 2020 Headsman

Russian linguist Nikolai Nikolayevich Durnovo was shot during Stalin’s purges on this date in 1937.

The man descended from tsarist nobility — not only the House of Durnovo but his mother’s House of Saltykov — and the Durnovo name might have been hateful to radicals from a key minister involved in the smashing-up of the 1905 revolution.*

Our Durnovo had more modest interests as “one of the pioneers of linguistic and geographical study of East Slavic languages” who did some of the foundational work sorting Russian, Belarussian, and Ukrainian linguistic features. He published a 1915 “Dialectological map of the Russian language in Europe with an essay on Russian dialectology” and (in 1924) the first Russian dictionary of linguistic terms. He had an appointment in Belarus and researched and lectured in Czechoslovakia as well, but was eventually denounced as a “bourgeois nationalist” and struggled for work with the pall of the 1930s.

In 1933-34 a number of Slavic studies intellectuals and especially linguists were arrested in an affair known as the Case of the Slavists — seemingly, as with a previous Case of the Academics, a campaign to enforce discipline upon a field of growing ideological importance to Moscow. Accused of suspect foreign contacts, convicts in this early purge received “mere” prison sentences, some eventually escaping to exile. But the scarlet letter upon them stood all in great danger as purges grew more deadly late in the 1930s, and our man Durnovo was not the only Slavist who was subsequently executed.**

He was shot at Sandarmokh in Karelia, a site with over 9,000 recorded executions from 1937 to 1938. His sons, Andrei and Yevgeny, were also both executed in 1938. All the convictions from the Slavists’ trials were overturned after Stalin’s death.


Memorial stone at Sandarmokh; the inscription implores “People! Do not kill one another!” (cc) image by Semenov.m7.

* That man, Pyotr Durnovo, is also famous for a 1914 memorandum acutely diagnosing the state of imperial rivalry between England and Germany and correctly forecasting that should Russia foolishly ally with England — he wrote in February, before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand made the imminent onset of war obvious — it would court “social revolution in its most extreme form.”

[T]he trouble will start with the blaming of the Government for all disasters. In the legislative institutions a bitter campaign against the Government will begin, followed by revolutionary agitations throughout the country, with Socialist slogans, capable of arousing and rallying the masses, beginning with the division of the land and succeeded by a division of all valuables and property. The defeated army, having lost its most dependable men, and carried away by the tide of primitive peasant desire for land, will find itself too demoralized to serve as a bulwark of law and order. The legislative institutions and the intellectual opposition parties, lacking real authority in the eyes of the people, will be powerless to stem the popular tide, aroused by themselves, and Russia will be flung into hopeless anarchy, the issue of which cannot be foreseen.

Nicholas II should have listened to him.

** Not all were so unfortunate. Victor Vladimirovich Vinogradov was actually reinstated to the summit of the academy during Stalin’s life (and received the Stalin Prize in 1951). He’s still widely known in his field to this day as one of the seminal Russian linguists.

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Feast Day of the Talavera Martyrs

Add comment October 27th, 2019 Headsman

The gorgeous Basilica de San Vicente* in Avila, Spain is dedicated to a trio of Christian martyrs whose feast day today is.


(cc) inage from David Perez.

The Romanesque masterpiece was begun about 1175, when the relics of three Diocletian martyrs — Saint Vicente and his sisters Sabina and Cristeta — were translated from the Monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza. (In the present day, the relics reside in the church’s high altar.)

Panels in the basilica relay for the illiterate medieval audience their stock martyrdom tale of these faithful siblings: tortured on wooden crosses before having their heads graphically smashed under wooden beams.


Vicente, Sabina, and Cristeta, the martyrs of Talavera, along with St. Anthony (16th century painting).

* The church’s full official name is Basilica de los Santos Hermanos Mártires, Vicente, Sabina y Cristet.

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1799: Egyptians after the Revolt of Cairo

Add comment October 27th, 2018 Headsman

Every night we cut off thirty heads, and those of several chiefs; that will teach them, I think, a good lesson.”

-Napoleon to the Directory on October 27, 1799, after crushing the Revolt of Cairo

Napoleon’s private secretary on the adventure in Egypt, Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, claimed that Napoleon exaggerated for effect, and the executions were more in the neighborhood of a dozen per night. The beheaded corpses were stuffed in sacks and tossed into the Nile.

Bourrienne’s biography of Napoleon also relates (albeit without a date)

Some time after the revolt of Cairo, the necessity of ensuring our own safety urged the commission of a horrible act of cruelty. A tribe of Arabs in the neighbourhood of Cairo had surprised and massacred a party of French. The general-in-chief ordered his aide-de-camp, Croisier, to proceed to the spot, surround the tribe, destroy their huts, kill all the men, and conduct the rest of the population to Cairo. The order was to decapitate the victims, to bring their heads in sacks to Cairo, to be exhibited to the people. Eugene Beauharnais accompanied Croisier, who joyfully set out on this horrible expedition, in the hope of obliterating all recollection of the affair of Damanhour.

Next day the party returned. Many of the poor Arab women had been delivered on the road, and the children had perished of hunger, heat, and fatigue. About four o’clock, a troop of asses arrived in Ezbekyeh Place, laden with sacks. The sacks were opened and the heads rolled out before the assembled populace. I cannot describe the horror I experienced; but, at the same time, I must acknowledge that this butchery ensured for a considerable time the tranquility and even the existence of the little caravans which were obliged to travel in all directions for the service of the army.

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1938: Chinese soldiers and civilians after the Battle of Wuhan

Add comment October 27th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1938 the Imperial Japanese Army conquered the Hankow or Hankou industrial district within the city of Wuhan, and according to the Associated Press* “shot scores of Chinese soldiers or civilians luckless enough to be taken for soldiers” including “twenty uniformed and civilian-garbed Chinese … executed within sight of foreign gunboats.”

A major trading city that had been forced open to western concessions by the Second Opium War, Wuhan had become, briefly, the capital of the Chinese Kuomintang after Japan’s initial onslaught the previous year quickly captured the former capital Nanking.

* The linked newspaper miscopied the dateline; it should read “Hankow, Oct. 27” rather than “Oct. 2”.

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1905: Ed Lamb, bully

Add comment October 27th, 2016 Headsman

This date in 1905 was — in the title of the Manatee County Historical Society publication about the case — The Day They Hanged Ed Lamb in Braidentown/Bradentown/Bradenton.

It all started in the schoolyard.

Lamb’s son was the resident bully at the local Braden River School until one day that January he picked a fight with the son of Dave Kennedy and surprisingly got his — the bully’s — ass kicked.

Like many a child since, young master Lamb sent his problem up the generational chain of command. Ed Lamb, a mill hand, raised the beef with Dave Kennedy, a farmer, when the latter stopped by the mill a few days later to sell his wares, even menacing Kennedy with a knife.

But for the second time, a Kennedy went all lion on a Lamb and overpowered his antagonist. Enraged and embarrassed, Lamb stalked away to his nearby home, got a shotgun, and wasted Dave Kennedy. Masculinity: vindicated. Stunned bystanders allowed Lamb to escape.

Our Manatee County correspondent gives the surreal vignette from his own family history of the Kennedy children — being dismissed from school at news of the murder — walking home on a dirt road that very day and passing the disgraced Lamb family on a wagon with their possessions, heading out of town. “One of the children standing beside the roadway became frightened thinking that Ed Lamb would pop out fo the trunk at any moment.” He didn’t: Ed was on a lam all his own, and was recaptured the next morning and spirited away to Tampa to protect him from lynching. Lamb spent the months between his conviction and his execution harrying the local newspaper with letters entreating folks straighten up and get right with God, letters that notably failed to breathe word one of apology to the Kennedies.

The drop fell at 12 minutes past 12:00 non. But the rope slipped and the prisoner was raised a second time and shot into eternity. He was rendered unconscious by the first shock and never knew that he was let to fall a second time. His neck was broken by the second fall and he was pronounced dead by Dr. John Holten of Sarasota. He mounted the gallows cool and fearless and died without a murmur or a struggle. Inside the jail, 40 witnesses were in the jail when the execution took place, the gallows being inside the building. A few white people and a great many Negroes were congregated around the jail, but perfect order was maintained.

Lamb’s son, brother and sister-in-law were present when he mounted the scaffold, but were overcome and left before the drop fell. The doomed man kissed them goodbye and asked them to meet him in heaven. His wife was unable to come to the jail to see him for the last time. Was photographed. Lamb dressed himself for the scaffold with great deliberation. And at his request, was photographed after being attired for death. He talked freely. But in his last speech he said nothing about the crime for which he suffered. He said that he was willing to die. That he had made his peace with God and wanted all of his heirs to meet him in a better world. Sheriff Wyatt was cool and carried out his part well. The noose was adjusted and the black cap pulled down over the prisoner’s face. And the trap sprung that sent the murderer to meet his maker. The death warrant directed that the execution take place in private between the hours of 11:30 and 12:00, but the sheriff allowed the condemned man 12 minutes longer lease on life.

Manatee County paid Coursey and Barnett $16.70 for Lamb’s hangin’ suit, and paid J.W. Wilhelm & Co. $21.35 for his coffin.

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1821: Elizabeth Warriner, Lincoln poisoner

Add comment October 27th, 2015 Headsman

For this just-in-time-for-Halloween wicked stepmother, we are indebted to the highly browsable The Word On The Street, a collection of highlight broadsides held by the National Library of Scotland.

The Last Dying Words, Speech, & Confession of Elizabeth Warriner. Who was Convicted at the last Lincoln Assizes, for the Horrid Murder of her Step-Son, J. Warriner, by poison, and who was Executed at the City of Linclon [sic], on Saturday the 27th of Oct. 1821.

ELIZABETH WARRINER was indicted for the Murder of J. Warriner, her Step-Son, at Surfleet, by administering poison to him. The prisoner was the second wife of a Farmer. The deceased was his Son by a former marriage, about 12 years of age. From the period of her marriage, the prisoner treated the child with great cruelty. On various occasions she was heard to say she would be the death of him. At length on the morning stated in the indictment, the boy, immediately after breakfast, which consisted of bread and milk, was taken ill. Medical aid was called in, but he breathed his last in the course of the day. After she had poisoned the unfortunate boy, she dragged him out of the house, and put him in the stable, and hanged him up, with a rope round his neck, to make people believe he had hung himself, as there was no marks of violence round the neck. The body was opened by a surgeon, when the stomach and intestines were found to exhibit all the appearance of arsenic having been administered. It was afterwards ascertained that a quantity of arsenic was in the possession of the father, who used it for some husbandry purpose, [and to] which the prisoner had access. It further turned out, that a small quantity was found [in t]he basin from which he had eaten his breakfast: and that the prisoner had given him his breakfast in that basin. This circumstance, added to a variety of others, which in the [cou]rse of the examination of the witnesses, seven in numher, came out, led to to the conclu[sion], that the prisoner administered the poison.

Mr. Justice Holroyd summed up tne evidence, and the Jury found her gulity, The [judge] in passing sentence, obserted to the prisoner, that the crime of murder in all cases [was] an heinous one, and in all countries was punished with death; but there were gradations e[ven] in this crime, and her’s [sic] was of the worst nature. She had destroyed her Step-Son; and no other motive could be assigned than that arising from a cruel, hardened, and vicious disposition — her crime was that of muder, the most heinous and cruel. — He hoped she would sincerely repent of her crime, and take all possible care of her soul during the few hours she had to live, so to be reconciled to her offended Maker; he feared she was not so convinced of the necessity of this as she ought to be, but trusted she would seek for that advice which would satisfy her of that necessity, and enable her to meet her future Judge, with a well-rounded hope in his mercy from the sincerity of her contrition; all that remained for him to do was to pass sentence upon her which the law required, which was, that she should be taken from whence she came, and on Saturday the 27th October, 1821, to be taken from thence, to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till she was dead, and that her body should be delivered to the surgeons for dissection — concluding with — “and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

The moment she heard that her life was to be forfeited for the barbarous murder, and her cruel treatment to her Step-Son, she jumped up from the floor in the greatest agony, wringing her hands, and other symptoms of distraction.

About ten o’clock on Saturday morning, she ascended the fatal scaffold with a greater degree of fortitude and resignation than could have been expected; and addressed the numerous spectators around her in nearly the following words: “Good people, you see now before you an unfortunate woman, cut off just in the prime of life, and for the most dreadful of al [sic] crimes, Murder! let my dreadful fate be a warning to you not to suffer your passion to work forcibly on your minds, which has been the cause of the melancholy situation in which I am now placed; let me beg your prayers — good people pray for me; O pray for me.”

On the morning of her awful execution, she was dressed all in white, with a child suckling at her breast, which was taken from her by the executioner and her melancholy cries was heard at a great distance. It was shocking to the surrounding multitude.

She then dropped a handkerchief she held in her hand, as a signal, crying, O my Child! my Child! and was immediately launched into a dreadful eternity.

Printed by John Muir, Glasgow.

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1441: Margery Jourdemayne, the Witch of Eye

5 comments October 27th, 2014 Headsman

There was a Beldame called the wytch of Ey,
Old mother Madge her neyghbours did hir name
Which wrought wonders in countryes by heresaye
Both feendes and fayries her charmyng would obay
And dead corpsis from grave she could uprere
Suche an inchauntresse, as that tyme had no peere

On this date in 1441, a Westminster folk magician went to the stake.

The “Witch of Eye” had meddled with powers beyond her control — not the Satanic for which her sentence condemned her, but those of the royal court.

This local wise woman had been arrested as a sorceress once a number of years before. But medieval Europe, before the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the attendant gloom of existential danger from within, was usually not eager to pursue a local shaman for serving a community’s demand for everyday magick — just so long as the charms and incantations purveyed were not being turned to any apparently injurious purpose. The Witch of Eye, Margery Jourdemayne by name, spent several months imprisoned in Windsor Castle and was released with a pledge to stop with the hocus-pocus.

In her fatal last affair this broken promise would augur very ill. But barring that extraordinary case, this was actually one of those little social regulations that could usually just be ignored in the breach. Our cowherd’s wife returned to purveying salves, potions, and elixirs, perhaps a bit more quietly.

Despite her humble rank, the Witch of Eye seems to have enjoyed a sizable client base among the great lords and ladies.

Such august persons of course had interests outside of love tonics. At the start of the 1440s, the royal court was absorbed by the affairs of the teenage king Henry VI.

In Late June of 1441, three servants of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester were accused of compassing the death of the king by using astrological divination to forecast the date of his death — which looked especially treasonable since the result reported is supposed to have been soon.

Though a Peerress by marriage, Eleanor was only the daughter of a knight. A sort of proto-Anne Boleyn, she had raised herself (and not a few eyebrows) by starting off as a lady in waiting of the Duke’s previous wife, and (once dynastic machinations sent that Duchess packing for her native Low Countries) advancing herself into the master’s bed.

A cultivated humanist, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester gave every impression of having found a satisfying domestic union — but Eleanor’s social-climbing set her up for some resentment. It was even said by a chronicle, laying a retrospective interpretation on events, that only occult arts could account for Eleanor’s boudoir triumph:

And this same tyme was take a womman callid the wicche of Eye, whoos sorcerie and wicchecraft the said dame Alienore hadde longe tyme usid; and be suche medicines and drynkis as the said wicche made, the said Alienore enforced theforsaid duke of Gloucestre to love her and to wedde her.

The rank of the figures involved elevated such gossip beyond the court’s everyday palaver.

Humphrey had claimed the Regency for a brief period before Henry VI declared his own majority in 1437, at age 16. More than that, Humphrey was the most senior uncle to the unmarried* Henry, which made him the heir presumptive. He was a heartbeat away from having the crown on his own head.

And that made it a very colorable accusation that Eleanor’s servants — and those henchmen soon accused Eleanor herself, too — took interest in the prospective imminent death of a king in the springtime of his youth.**

Henry’s alarmed response was twofold. First, he commissioned a horoscope reading of his own; no surprise, this improved horoscope predicted a long, healthy life.† Second, he kicked off the judicial processes that would ruin all concerned — although some ruinations were more final than others.

The servants pointed the finger at Eleanor, and the Duchess desperately fled to the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey. This proved not to help her that much when an ecclesiastical court handed down charges of witchcraft and heresy. One of Eleanor’s three busted cronies, Roger Bolingbroke, had already been forced to publicly abjure his devilries amid a display of his necromancing tools.

Just as Bolingbroke claimed that “he wroughte the said nygromancie atte stiryng of the forsaid dame Alienore, to knowe what sholde falle of hir and to what astat she sholde come,” Eleanor implicated her old magic-vendor, the Witch of Eye for building some of the illicit charms. By now it was pratically beside the point that Eleanor said Bolingbroke’s damning wax figurines were meant to inflict children upon Eleanor rather than injury upon His Majesty. Margery Jourdemayne had shaped the wretched dolls, and nobody caught in the storm of charges had less pull than she. Plus, of course, she was now a repeat offender.

How she in waxe by counsel of the witch,
An image made, crowned like a king,
… which dayly they did pytch
Against a fyre, that as the wax did melt,
So should his life consume away unfelt.

Condemned by a court presided by the Archbishop of Canterbury, she was burned at Smithfield.

Two of the three courtiers died violently, too: Roger Bolingbroke was hanged, drawn, and quartered on November 18, while Thomas Southwell died suddenly in prison around the time of Jourdemayne’s execution. He might have poisoned himself. The third man, John Home, was only shown to have known what his fellows were up to and not to have taken part himself: he skated on a royal pardon.

The Duchess of Gloucester did well to confine her own juridical guilt to ecclesiastical charges only — heresy and witchcraft — and beat the much more dangerous treason charge that was leveled at her. (In another century, Britons would be much more used to the idea of executing elite nobility.) Her marriage was annulled (she procured it by witchcraft, remember?) and she was forced to perform a humiliating, Cersei Lannister-like‡ public penance on foot around Westminster and London before being shunted off into a forced and closely-watched retirement.


The Penance of Eleanor, by Edwin Austin Abbey (1900)

The scandal didn’t directly touch the Duke of Gloucester, but it essentially forced him out of public life. Six years later he was arrested for treason, but he died (possibly of a stroke, or possibly poison) within days.

The sensational fall of this household excited literary interlocutors almost before Margery Jourdemayne’s ashes were cold — such as this nearly-contemporary “Lament of the Duchess of Gloucester” which dwells on the titular character’s self-destruction by dint of her own vanity: “who wille be high, he shalle be low / the whele of fortune, who may it trow.”

The verses excerpted above in this post come from the following century’s “Mirror for Magistrates”, which makes use of historical figures who met terrible fates not unlike this very site. She might also have helped inspire a lost play from the late 16th or the 17th century.

Shakespeare too stages this entire affair in Henry VI, Part 2, representing Gloucester as an innocent tragically bearing the disaster his enemies visit on him through his wife.

In Act I, Scene 2, Eleanor arranges her divination — and we learn that her enemies are in the process of framing her.

Eleanor. While Gloucester bears this base and humble mind.
Were I a man, a duke, and next of blood,
I would remove these tedious stumbling-blocks
And smooth my way upon their headless necks;
And, being a woman, I will not be slack
To play my part in Fortune’s pageant.
Where are you there? Sir John! nay, fear not, man,
We are alone; here’s none but thee and I.

[Enter HUME]

Father John Hume. Jesus preserve your royal majesty!

Eleanor. What say’st thou? majesty! I am but grace.

Father John Hume. But, by the grace of God, and Hume’s advice,
Your grace’s title shall be multiplied.

Eleanor. What say’st thou, man? hast thou as yet conferr’d
With Margery Jourdain, the cunning witch,
With Roger Bolingbroke, the conjurer?
And will they undertake to do me good?

Father John Hume. This they have promised, to show your highness
A spirit raised from depth of under-ground,
That shall make answer to such questions
As by your grace shall be propounded him.

Eleanor. It is enough; I’ll think upon the questions:
When from St. Alban’s we do make return,
We’ll see these things effected to the full.
Here, Hume, take this reward; make merry, man,
With thy confederates in this weighty cause.

[Exit]

Father John Hume. Hume must make merry with the duchess’ gold;
Marry, and shall. But how now, Sir John Hume!
Seal up your lips, and give no words but mum:
The business asketh silent secrecy.
Dame Eleanor gives gold to bring the witch:
Gold cannot come amiss, were she a devil.
Yet have I gold flies from another coast;
I dare not say, from the rich cardinal
And from the great and new-made Duke of Suffolk,
Yet I do find it so; for to be plain,
They, knowing Dame Eleanor’s aspiring humour,
Have hired me to undermine the duchess
And buz these conjurations in her brain.
They say ‘A crafty knave does need no broker;’
Yet am I Suffolk and the cardinal’s broker.
Hume, if you take not heed, you shall go near
To call them both a pair of crafty knaves.
Well, so it stands; and thus, I fear, at last
Hume’s knavery will be the duchess’ wreck,
And her attainture will be Humphrey’s fall:
Sort how it will, I shall have gold for all.

In Act I, Scene 4, the enthusiasts summon a shade from the underworld and our day’s principal is favored with a few lines from the bard:

Margaret Jourdain. Asmath,
By the eternal God, whose name and power
Thou tremblest at, answer that I shall ask;
For, till thou speak, thou shalt not pass from hence.

But the entire party is arrested and Gloucester’s attempts to note the meaningless vagueness of the predictions supplied by the alleged demon are overruled abruptly.


The conjuration scene in Henry VI, Part 2, illustrated by John Opie.

In Act II, Scene 3 the Duke and Duchess are destroyed politically, and their hirelings destroyed bodily.

Henry VI. Stand forth, Dame Eleanor Cobham, Gloucester’s wife:
In sight of God and us, your guilt is great:
Receive the sentence of the law for sins
Such as by God’s book are adjudged to death.
You four, from hence to prison back again;
From thence unto the place of execution:
The witch in Smithfield shall be burn’d to ashes,
And you three shall be strangled on the gallows.
You, madam, for you are more nobly born,
Despoiled of your honour in your life,
Shall, after three days’ open penance done,
Live in your country here in banishment,
With Sir John Stanley, in the Isle of Man.

Eleanor. Welcome is banishment; welcome were my death.

Duke of Gloucester. Eleanor, the law, thou see’st, hath judged thee:
I cannot justify whom the law condemns.
[Exeunt DUCHESS and other prisoners, guarded]
Mine eyes are full of tears, my heart of grief.
Ah, Humphrey, this dishonour in thine age
Will bring thy head with sorrow to the ground!
I beseech your majesty, give me leave to go;
Sorrow would solace and mine age would ease.

Henry VI. Stay, Humphrey Duke of Gloucester: ere thou go,
Give up thy staff: Henry will to himself
Protector be; and God shall be my hope,
My stay, my guide and lantern to my feet:
And go in peace, Humphrey, no less beloved
Than when thou wert protector to thy King.

Queen Margaret. I see no reason why a king of years
Should be to be protected like a child.
God and King Henry govern England’s realm.
Give up your staff, sir, and the king his realm.

Duke of Gloucester. My staff? here, noble Henry, is my staff:
As willingly do I the same resign
As e’er thy father Henry made it mine;
And even as willingly at thy feet I leave it
As others would ambitiously receive it.
Farewell, good king: when I am dead and gone,
May honourable peace attend thy throne!

[Exit]

Queen Margaret. Why, now is Henry king, and Margaret queen;
And Humphrey Duke of Gloucester scarce himself,
That bears so shrewd a maim; two pulls at once;
His lady banish’d, and a limb lopp’d off.
This staff of honour raught, there let it stand
Where it best fits to be, in Henry’s hand.

Earl of Suffolk. Thus droops this lofty pine and hangs his sprays;
Thus Eleanor’s pride dies in her youngest days.

See also: Jessica Freeman, “Sorcery at Court and Manor: Margery Jourdemayne, the Witch of Eye Next Westminster,” Journal of Medieval History, vol. 30, pp. 343-357.

* Henry married Margaret of Anjou in 1445. Despite the Shakespeare portrayal, she had no part in the proceedings against Eleanor or the Witch of Eye.

** It has long been supposed that part or all of the real impetus for these charges was an opportunistic attack by the Duke’s political rivals, specifically around the question of making peace with France in the Hundred Years’ War. Gloucester, who fought at Agincourt (Shakespeare’s Henry V name-checks him in the great Crispin’s Day pre-battle oration), opposed the growing pro-peace faction.

† It did not predict that Henry would end up murdered in prison.

‡ Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin unquestionably mines historical atrocities for inspiration and the notorious Walk of Shame scene is no exception; however, the specific public penance he’s cited as the fountainhead for Cersei’s ritual humiliation was not Lady Gloucester’s, but a similar walk endured some years afterward by Edward IV mistress Jane Shore, for which affair we may digressively endorse this History of England podcast episode.


The Penance of Jane Shore, by William Blake (1780).

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1698: Old Believer popes and Princess Sophia’s petitioners

1 comment October 27th, 2013 Johann Georg Korb

This entry in our Corpses Strewn series on the October 1698 extirpation of the Streltsy is courtesy of the diaries of Austrian diplomat Johann Georg Korb, an eyewitness to the events.

Today was assigned for the punishment of the popes — that is to say, of those who by carrying images to induce the serfs to side with the Strelitz, had invoked the aid of God with the holy rites of his altars for the happy success of this impious plot. The place selected by the judge for the execution was the open space in front of the church of the most Holy Trinity, which is the high church of Moscow. The ignominious gibbet cross awaited the popes, by way of reward in suit with the thousands of signs of the cross they had made, and as their fee for all the benedictions they had given to the refractory troops. The court jester, in the mimic attire of a pope, made the halter ready, and adjusted it, as it was held to be wrong to subject a pope to the hands of the common hangman. A certain Dumnoi struck off the head of another pope, and set his corpse upon the ignominious wheel. Close to the church, too, the halter and wheel proclaimed the enormity of the crime of their guilty burden to the passers by.

The Czar’s Majesty looked on from his carriage while the popes were hurried to execution. To the populace, who flood around in great numbers, he spoke a few words touching the perfidy of the popes, adding the threat, “Henceforward let no one dare to ask any pope to pray for such an intention.” A little while before the execution of the popes, two rebels, brothers, having had their thighs and other members broken in front of the Castle of the Kremlin, were set alive upon the wheel: twenty others on whom the axe had done its office lay lifeless around these wheels. The two that were bound upon the wheel beheld their third brother among the dead. Nobody will easily believe how lamentable were their cries and howls, unless he has well weighed their excruciations and the greatness of their tortures. I saw their broken thighs tied to the wheel with ropes strained as tightly as possible, so that in all that deluge of torture I do believe none can have exceeded that of the utter impossibility of the least movement. Their miserable cries had struck the Czar as he was being driven past. He went up to the wheels, and first promised speedy death, and afterwards proffered them a free pardon, if they would confess sincerely. But when upon the very wheel he found them more obstinate than ever, and that they would give no other answer than that they would confess nothing, and that their penalty was nearly paid in full, the Czar left them to the agonies of death, and hastened on to the Monastery of the Nuns, in front of which monastery there were thirty gibbets erected in a quadrangular shape, from which there hung two hundred and thirty Strelitz. The three principal ringleaders, who presented a petition to [Peter’s half-sister and rival] Sophia, touching the administration of the realm, were hanged close to the windows of that princess, presenting, as it were, the petitions that were placed in their hands, so near that Sophia might with ease touch them. Perhaps this was in order to load Sophia with that remorse in every way, which I believe drove her to take the religious habit, in order to pass to a better life.

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1449: Ulugh Beg, astronomer prince

Add comment October 27th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1449, Timurid sultan and astronomer Ulugh Beg was beheaded at the order of his son.


Ulugh Beg and his famous astronomical observatory, depicted on a Soviet stamp.

Grandson of the conqueror Timur (Tamerlane), Ulugh Beg had hitched along on some of those legendary military campaigns.

As power passed to Ulugh Beg’s father Shah Rukh, our man settled in as governor of the silk road city of Samarkand, in modern Uzbekistan — and turned it into an intellectual capital of the empire.

A great patron of the sciences, Ulugh Beg was a brilliant astronomer in his own right, nailing NASA-quality precise calculations of heavenly bodies’ positions and the revolutions of the earth a century ahead of the likes of Copernicus.

An inscription on the madrasah he erected summed up the city’s philosophy under its philosopher-prince: “Pursuit of knowledge is the duty of each follower of Islam, man and woman.”

Wedding scientific genius to political power enabled Ulugh Beg to build a great observatory in Samarkand. Though this structure unfortunately did not outlive Ulugh Beg himself, it made Samarkand the world’s astronomical capital in the 1420s and 1430s.

But the flip side of wedding scientific genius to political power was that the guy had to govern — which wasn’t his strong suit. Within two years of his father’s 1447 death, Ulugh Beg had been overthrown by his own son* and summarily beheaded.

* The son became known as “Padarkush”, meaning “parricide” … and appropriately, he was overthrown by his own cousin within months.

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Entry Filed under: Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Execution,Famous,Heads of State,History,Intellectuals,No Formal Charge,Power,Royalty,Summary Executions,Timurid Empire,Uzbekistan,Wrongful Executions

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1659: The first two Boston Martyrs

5 comments October 27th, 2010 Headsman

October 27 is International Religious Freedom Day, dating to the execution this date in 1659 of Quakers Marmaduke Stephenson and William Robinson on Boston Commons. They were two of the four Boston Martyrs, Quakers whose necks were stretched in Massachusetts for failing to either keep quiet or stay out of town.

(Fellow Quaker Mary Dyer, perhaps the more famous martyr, was led out to execution with Stephenson and Robinson but reprieved at the last moment. Her time was still some months away.)

As Puritans had fled C-of-E persecution earlier in the 17th century, Quakers migrated to the New World with Cromwell‘s Puritan ascendancy.

And in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the old dissidence had become the new orthodoxy — as described by the (obviously partisan) Horatio Rogers. (Via)

In June, 1659, William Robinson, a merchant of London, and Marmaduke Stephenson, a countryman of the east pan of Yorkshire, “were moved by the Lord,” in Quaker phrase, to go from Rhode Island to Massachusetts to bear witness against the persecuting spirit existing there; and with them went Nicholas Davis of Plymouth Colony, and Patience Scott of Providence, Rhode Island, a girl of about eleven years of age … During their incarceration Mary Dyer was moved of the Lord to go from Rhode Island to visit the prisoners, and she too was arrested and imprisoned. On September 12, 1659, the Court banished the four adults from Massachusetts upon pain of death

… On October 8, within thirty days of her banishment, Mary Dyer with other Rhode Island Quakers went to Boston, …where she was again arrested and held for the action of the authorities. Five days later William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson, who had been travelling about spreading their doctrines through Massachusetts and Rhode Island since their release from prison, also went to Boston to look the bloody laws in the face, in the words of the Quaker chronicler; and they too were arrested and cast into prison. …

The issue was now clearly made between Quaker and Puritan. The Quaker defied the unjust Puritan laws, and dared martyrdom. Dare the Puritan authorities inflict it?

On October 19 the three prisoners were brought before Governor Endicott and the Assistants, and demand having been made of them — Why they came again into that jurisdiction after having been banished from it upon pain of death if they returned? — they severally declared that the cause of their coming was of the Lord and in obedience to him. The next day they were again brought before the magistrates, when the Governor called to the keeper of the prison to pull off their hats, which having been done, he addressed them substantially as follows: “We have made many laws and endeavored in several ways to keep you from among us, but neither whipping nor imprisonment, nor cutting off ears, nor banishment upon pain of death, will keep you from among us. We desire not your death.” Notwithstanding which, he immediately added: “Hearken now to your sentence of death.” … When the Governor ceased speaking, however, Stephenson lifted up his voice in this wise: “Give ear, ye magistrates, and all who are guilty, for this the Lord hath said concerning you, who will perform this promise upon you, that the same day that you put his servants to death shall the day of your visitation pass over your heads, and you shall be cursed forevermore, the Lord of Hosts hath spoken it; therefore in love to you all take warning before it be too late, that so the curse might be removed; for assuredly if you put us to death, you will bring innocent blood upon your own heads, and swift destruction will come upon you.” …

Great influence was brought to bear to prevent the execution of the sentences. Governor Winthrop of Connecticut appeared before the Massachusetts authorities, urging that the condemned be not put to death. He said that he would beg it of them on his bare knees that they would not do it. … Governor Endicott, the Rev. John Wilson, and the whole pack of persecutors, however, seemed to thirst for blood; and it was determined that somebody must die.

The 27th of October, 1659, was fixed for the triple execution and elaborate preparations, for those days, were made for it. Popular excitement ran high, and the people resorted to the prison windows to hold communication with the condemned, so male prisoners were put in irons, and a force was detailed, in words of the order, “to watch with great care the towne, especially the prison.”…

The eventful day having arrived, Captain Oliver and his military guard attended to receive the prisoners. The marshal and the jailer brought them forth, the men from the jail, and Mary Dyer from the House of Correction. They parted from their friends at the prison full of joy, thanking the Lord that he accounted them worthy to suffer for his name and had kept them faithful to the end. The condemned came forth hand in hand, Mary Dyer between the other two, and when the marshal asked, “Whether she was not ashamed to walk hand in hand between two young men,” for her companions were much younger than she, she replied, “It is an hour of the greatest joy I can enjoy in this world. No eye can see, no ear can hear, no tongue can speak, no heart can understand, the sweet incomes and refreshings of the spirit of the Lord which now I enjoy.” The concourse of people was immense, the guard was strong and strict, and when the prisoners sought to speak the drums were caused to be beaten.

The method of execution was extremely simple in those days. A great elm upon Boston Common constituted the gallows. The halter having been adjusted round the prisoner’s neck, he was forced to ascend a ladder affording an approach to the limb to be used for the fatal purpose, to which limb the other end of the halter was attached. Then the ladder was pulled away, and the execution, though rude, was complete.

The prisoners took a tender leave of one another, and William Robinson, who was the first to suffer, said, as he was about to be turned off by the executioner, ‘I suffer for Christ, in whom I lived, and for whom I will die.” Marmaduke Stephenson came next, and, being on the ladder, he said to the people, “Be it known unto all this day, that we suffer not as evil-doers, but for conscience sake.”

Next came Mary Dyer’s turn. Expecting immediate death, she had been forced to wait at the foot of the fatal tree, with a rope about her neck, and witness the violent taking off of her friends. With their lifeless bodies hanging before her, she was made ready to be suspended beside them. Her arms and legs were bound, and her skirts secured about her feet; her face was covered with a handkerchief which the Rev. Mr. Wilson, who had been her pastor when she lived in Boston, had loaned the hangman. And there, made ready for death, with the halter round her neck, she stood upon the fatal ladder in calm serenity, expecting to die….

Just then an order for a reprieve, upon the petition of her son all unknown to her, arrives. The halter is loosed from her neck and she is unbound and told to come down the ladder. She neither answered nor moved. In the words of the Quaker chronicler, “she was waiting on the Lord to know his pleasure in so sudden a change, having given herself up to dye.” The people cried, “Pull her down.” So earnest were they that she tried to prevail upon them to wait a little whilst she might consider and know of the Lord what to do. The people were pulling her and the ladder down together, when they were stopped, and the marshal took her down in his arms, and she was carried back to prison. . .

It was a mere prearranged scheme, for before she set forth from the prison it had been determined that she was not to be executed, as shown by the reprieve itself, which reads as follows: “Whereas Mary Dyer is condemned by the Generall Court to be executed for hir offences, on the petition of William Dier, hir sonne, it is ordered that the sajd Mary Dyer shall have liberty for forty-eight howers after this day to depart out of this jurisdiction, after which time, being found therein, she is forthwith to be executed, and in the meane time that she be kept a close prisoner till hir sonne or some other be ready to carry hir away within the aforesajd tyme; and it is further ordered, that she shall he carrjed to the place of execution, and there to stand upon the gallowes, with a rope about her necke, till the rest be executed, and then to returne to the prison and remajne as aforesaid.

Mary Dyer once again returned from exile the following year, and was hanged in June 1660.

The hours were numbered, however, for New England Puritans in their most cartoonishly obnoxious form. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in the mother country, an edict forbidding the death penalty for Quakerism closed the doors to the Boston Martyrs club.

An Account of the Sufferings of Marmaduke Stephenson is available free on Google books.

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