1567: The Michelade of Nimes

Add comment September 30th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1567, Huguenots in revolt in Nimes put to death dozens of Catholics in a courtyard butchery to climax a massacre remembered as La Michelade (English Wikipedia entry | the much more detailed French)

This name of sinister memory derives from one of the church calendar’s great autumnal feast, Michaelmas — and the sword-arm of its titular archangel would have been required to keep the peace between the rival religionists in the Languedoc.

Nimes went heavily for the Protestants, with the region’s royal governors unable to restrain the conquest of Catholic neighborhoods and churches by the predominant Huguenots through the 1560s: “the very wind which blew upon Nimes breathed heresy,” in the words of Dumas.

The years running up to our events of 1567 feature one of the numerous rancorous truces pocking France’s intractable Wars of Religion: this one is known as the “Armed Peace”, which gives you an idea where everyone’s heads were at. And in Nimes, the heresy in the wind was not such as to prevent the restoration of Catholic authorities to control of the civic institutions — to the undoubted irritation of the Huguenot grandees who endured the indignity of displacement alongside the sure knowledge of the popular weight that supported them.

This ripening conflict appropriately came to fruition via a vegetable market at a city fair on Michaelmas — September 29, 1567 — where an altercation turned into a sectarian riot and soon transformed into a municipal Protestant insurrection.

Huguenots still maintaining the preponderance of force in Nimes, they perpetrated the expected outrages during the excitement: sacking the cathedral, murdering some particularly hated Catholics. But the overall organization of the Huguenots and the organized participation of the city’s Huguenot elites suggests a good deal of advance orchestration, and perhaps coordination with the Huguenot attempt to kidnap the king just days before.

In the disturbance, Nimes’s first consul Guy Rochette — Catholic, naturally — sought refuge in the palace of Bishop Bernard d’Elbene; a Huguenot captain forced the door and arrested them, confiscating from Rochette the keys to the city. Though the bishop managed to escape, other prominent Catholics were systematically detained, too. According to Allan Tulchin’s That Men Would Praise the Lord: The Triumph of Protestantism in Nimes, 1530-1570, “[i]t seems clear that the Protestant leadership intended to conduct a general roundup of Catholic lay and clerical leadership. Protestant forces targeted at least half of the sixteen men who had served as consul between 1564 and 1567 … of the nine Catholic members of the presidial, only two did not appear among the victims.”

Captive Catholics were detained in several buildings around the city, notably in the city hall. It is not known to what extent the kill lists to cull from these unfortunates were preordained and to what extent they were improvised in the moment, but on the night of September 30, summons for specific victims went out, and Protestant squads complied by dragging them out of the city hall basement or wherever else they were held to the courtyard of the bishop’s palace. This would be the makeshift abattoir.

In the narration of Dumas,

when night came the large number of prisoners so imprudently taken began to be felt as an encumbrance by the insurgent chiefs, who therefore resolved to take advantage of the darkness to get rid of them without causing too much excitement in the city. They were therefore gathered together from the various houses in which they had been confined, and were brought to a large hall in the Hotel de Ville, capable of containing from four to five hundred persons, and which was soon full. An irregular tribunal arrogating to itself powers of life and death was formed, and a clerk was appointed to register its decrees. A list of all the prisoners was given him, a cross placed before a name indicating that its bearer was condemned to death, and, list in hand, he went from group to group calling out the names distinguished by the fatal sign. Those thus sorted out were then conducted to a spot which had been chosen beforehand as the place of execution.

This was the palace courtyard in the middle of which yawned a well twenty-four feet in circumference and fifty deep. The fanatics thus found a grave ready-digged as it were to their hand, and to save time, made use of it.

The unfortunate Catholics, led thither in groups, were either stabbed with daggers or mutilated with axes, and the bodies thrown down the well. Guy-Rochette was one of the first to be dragged up. For himself he asked neither mercy nor favour, but he begged that the life of his young brother might be spared, whose only crime was the bond of blood which united them; but the assassins, paying no heed to his prayers, struck down both man and boy and flung them into the well. The corpse of the vicar-general, who had been killed the day before, was in its turn dragged thither by a rope and added to the others. All night the massacre went on, the crimsoned water rising in the well as corpse after corpse was thrown in, till, at break of day, it overflowed, one hundred and twenty bodies being then hidden in its depths.

Dumas is indulging poetic exaggeration of the scene, and later estimations of the number of victims range well below 120 — but Tulchin quotes a leather worker who saw the courtyard on the following day and described it as “all covered with blood and the water of the well all red.” Even “merely” twenty or thirty victims slashed to death would have been a gory work.

In the days following, Huguenots would cement their control of Nimes with the systematic pillage of churches and (after a six-week siege) the capture of the city’s royal garrison. There was no general massacre after the Michelade; in the main, Catholics were forced into submission or exile instead of the grave.

But the effusion, combined with Huguenot attacks further north, helped to trigger the (very brief) “Second War” within the Wars of Religion which gave way after a short truce to the much bloodier “Third War” of 1568-1570 … whose peace would be broken by a Catholic sectarian massacre much better remembered to history than the Michelade.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,God,History,Known But To God,Lawyers,Mass Executions,Politicians,Power,Put to the Sword,Summary Executions

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1430: La Pierronne, visionary

2 comments September 3rd, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1430, the Breton visionary La Pierronne was handed over to the secular authorities and burnt for blasphemy.

Not much is known of La Pierronne, save that she was a companion and follower of Joan of Arc — one of several women, who all shared Joan’s confessor, an itinerant monk known as Friar Richard. (Not much is known of him, either.)

La Pierronne was captured by the English at Corbeil in the spring of 1430, along with a younger companion whose name is not known. Rumor had it that she and Joan had both taken communion multiple times the previous Christmas, which was an irregular activity but not technically an outlawed one.

Still, cavalier behavior with the Host plus a surfeit of fealty to the Maid put our seer squarely in the sights of the Grand Inquisitor Jean Graverent. It was a preview of the sort of interrogation Joan herself would soon face.*

Like Joan of Arc, La Pierronne maintained that God spoke to her — and not only spiritually but in the shape of a physical apparition. This was clear heresy in the Church’s eyes — a direct ticket to the fire in the absence of speedy abjuration.

On the third of September, both women were presented with their options in the form of a sermon presented in the presence of the stakes that would otherwise receive them. Joan herself would face this test of faith, and would fail it on her first encounter. Here, the younger woman recanted — but La Pierronne held to her visions at the cost of her life.

Two women, who about half a year before had been captured at Corbeil and brought to Paris, had a sermon preached over them in the court before Notre Dame. The elder of these was Pierronne, and she was from Bretagne speaking Breton. She asserted and maintained that dame Joan (the Maid), who fought for the Armagnacs, was a good woman, and that what she did was well done and according to God.

Also she admitted having received the precious Body of our Lord twice in one day. Also she asserted and swore that God often appeared to her in human form, and spoke to her as one friend speaks to another, and that the last time she had seen Him, He was clad in a long white robe with a crimson doublet under it; which is nothing short of blasphemy. And she would never retract this statement that she often sees God clothed in this form, for the which, on this same day, she was sentenced to be burned, and so it was done and she died on the Sunday named persisting in this assertion, but the other woman was set at liberty at the same time.

* Joan had been captured by the Burgundians in May 1430. The Inquisitor Graverent was engaged by a different inquisition when Joan was prosecuted, so he didn’t take part in her trial.

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1679: John King and John Kid, Covenanters

Add comment August 14th, 2015 Headsman

At Edinburgh’s Tolbooth on this date in 1679, two Covenanter ministers hanged as rebels.

The widely recorded gallows-humor bon mot of Kid to his fellow-sufferer — “I have often heard and read of a kid sacrificed, but I seldom or never heard of a king made a sacrifice” — might be pure bunk. Certainly both ministers took pains to vindicate their scruples both religious and political (but I repeat myself) in great detail in the printed records that survive of their scaffold address. “The last speeches of the two ministers Mr. John King, and Mr. John Kid, at the place of execution at Edinburgh on the 14th day of August, 1679” does (so we presume) what it says on the tin.


The Publisher to the Reader.

Having observed that of late years it is become Customary to publish the dying Speeches of such as have been in a Publick manner Executed as Criminals, I thought the sight of these Speeches (not as Speeches or Discourses only, but) as the Speeches of these two (so much talk’d of) Men, would to most be very acceptable, all persons I believe being curious to know what they would say in their Circumstances, I did not think it necessary to make any Animadversions upon them, but leave it to the [illegible] of every Reader to make his own Remarks, (it being as easie to animadvert in this Case as to read) I would as unwillingly impose my Comment upon others, as I would be imposed upon my self.

farewel.

The Speech of Mr. John King.

I do not doubt but that many that are Spectators here, have some other end, than to be edified by what they may see and hear in the last words of one going to Eternity, but if any one of you have Ears to hear, (which I nothing doubt but some of this great gathering have) I desire your Ears and Attention, if the Lord shall help and permit me to speak, to a few things.

I bless the Lord, since infinite Wisdom and holy Providence has so carved out my Lot to dye after the manner that I do, not unwillingly, neither by force: It’s true, I could not do this of my self, Nature always having an Inclination to put the evil day far off, but through Grace I have been helped, and by this Grace yet hope I shall: ‘Tis true, through Policy I might have shunned such a hard Sentence, if I had done some things, but though I could I durst not, God knows, redeem my life with the loss of my Integrity and Honesty. I bless the Lord that since I have been apprehended and made a Prisoner, God hath very wonderfully upholden me, and made out that comfortable word, Fear not, be not dismayed, I am with thee, I will strengthen thee, I will uphold thee by the right hand of my Righteousness, Isaiah 42.10. [sic – the correct cite is Isaiah 41:10 -ed.] I thank the Lord he never yet gave me leave so much as to have a thought, much less to seek after any [illegible] that might be the least sinful: I did always, and yet do judge it better to suffer Affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of Sin for a Season; therefore I am come hither to lay down my life; I bless the Lord I dye not as a Fool dyeth, though I acknowledge I have nothing to boast of in myself: yea I acknowledge I am a Sinner, and one of the chiefest that hath gone under the name of a Professor of Religion; yea amongst the unworthiest of those that have Preached the Gospel; my Sins and Corruptions have been many, and have defiled me in all things; and even in following and doing of my Duty, I have not wanted my own sinful Infirmities and Weaknesses, so that I may truly say, I have no Righteousness of my own, all is evil and like filthy Rags; but blessed be God that there is a Saviour and an Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and I do believe that Jesus Christ is come into the World to save Sinners, of whom I am the chief, and that through Faith and his Righteousness I have obtained Mercy; and that through him, and him alone, I desire and hope to have a happy and glorious Victory over Sin, Satan, Hell, and Death; and that I shall attain unto the Resurrection of the just, and be made Partaker of Eternal Life. I know in whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. I have, according to my poor Capacity, preached Slavation in his name; and as I have preached, so do I believe, and withal my Soul have commended it, and still do commend to all of you the riches of his Grace, and faith in his Name, as the alone and only way whereby to come to be saved.

It may be many may think (but I bless the Lord without any solid ground) that I suffer as an Evil-Doer, and as a busie body in other mens matters; but I reckon not much upon that, having the Testimony of my own Conscience for me. It was the lot of our blessed Saviour himself, and also the lot of many of his eminent precious Servants and People to suffer by the World as Evil-doers: Yea I think I have so good ground not to be fear’d as such a lot, that I count it my non-such-honour; and Oh what am I that I should be honoured so, when so many Worthies have panted after the like, and have not come at it: My Soul rejoyceth in being brought into Conformity with my Blessed Lord, and Head, and so Blessed a Company in this way and lot; and I desire to pray that I may be to none of you this day upon this account a Stone of stumbling, and a Rock of Offence: and blessed is he that shall not be offended in Christ and his poor Followers and Members, because of their being Condemned as Evil doers by the World.

As for these things for which Sentence of Death hath past against me, I bless the Lord my Conscience doth not condemn me, I have not been Rebellious, nor do I judge it Rebellion for me to have endeavoured in my Capacity what possibly I could for the born-down and ruined Interest of my Lord and Master, and for the Relief of my poor Brethren afflicted and persecuted, not only in their Liberties, Priviledges, and Persons, but also in their Lives; therefore it was that I joyned with that poor handful; the Lord knows, who is the searcher of hearts, that neither my design nor practice was against his Majesty’s person and just Government, but I always studyed to be Loyal to lawful Authority in the Lord, and I thank God my heart doth not condemn me of any Disloyalty; I have been Loyal, and I do recommend it to all to be obedient to higher Powers in the Lord.

And that I preached at Field-Meetings, which is the ground of my Sentence, I am so far from acknowledging that the Gospel preached that way was a Rendezvous of Rebellion, as it is so tearmed, that I bless the Lord that ever he counted me worthy to be Witness of such Meetings; which have been so undoubtedly countenanced and owned, not only to the conviction, but even to the Conversion of many; therefore I do assert, That if the Lord hath had any purer Church in the Land than other, it hath been in and amonst these Meetings in Fields and Houses, so much now despised by some, and persecuted by others.

That [illegible] up Rebellion, and taking up Arms [illegible] authority is untrue, I bless the Lord my Conscience doth not condemn me for that; this never being my design; if I could have preached Christ, and Salvation through his name, it was my work; and herein have I walked according to the Light and Rule of the Word of God, as it did become me, though one of the meanest of the Ministers of the Gospel.

I have been looked upon by some, and represented by others to be of a divisive, and Factious Humor, and one that stirred up division in the Church, but I am hopeful that they will all now give me their Charity, being within a little to stand before my Judge, and I pray the Lord forgive them that did so misrepresent me; but I thank the Lord what-ever men have said against me concerning this, that on the contrary, I have often disswaded from such ways and practices, as contrary to the Word of God, and of our Covenanted and reformed Religion; and as I ever Abhorred division, and Faction in the Church, as that which tends to its utter Ruine, if the Lord prevent it not. So I would in the bowels of my lord and Master, if such an one as I am may presume to perswade, and Exhort both Ministers and Professors; if there be any Consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love; if any Fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies that you be like minded, having the same Love, being of one accord, of one mind the Lowliness of mind; let each esteem other better than themselves, Phil. 1.12. [again, sic; I believe Philippians 2:3 is the citation] Harmoniousness and Honesty in the things of God, can never enough be south after, and [illegible] tend to the prejudice and hurt of Christians [illegible] can never enough be fled from and avoided.

And as I am come hither willingly to lay down my Tabernacle, so also I die in the belief, and faith of the Holy Scriptures, and in the faith of the Apostles, and primitives Christians, and Protestant Reformed Churches, and particularly the Church of Scotland, whereof I am a poor member: That have been so wonderfully carried on against so many Oppositions, by the mighty Power and goodness and Wisdome of God, I bear my Witness and Testimony to the Doctrine and worship, Discipline and Government of the Church of Scotland, by Kirk Sessions, Presbyters, Synods with Assembles.

Here he also bore his Testimony to the Solemn League and Covenant.

Also I bear Testimony to our publick confessing of sins, and Ingagements to duties, and that either as to what concerns the reformation of the whole Church in general, as also the causes of Gods wrath, the neglecting of which is feared, to be one of the greatest causes of Gods wrath this day against the Land: I also give witness and Testimony unto the protestation, given in against the Receiving the Malignant party into places of power and trust, contrary to our Solemn Ingagements, and Obligations to God, also I adhere unto our Confession of Faith, Larger and shorter Catechisms. I witness my Testimony against Popery, which is so greatly increased, yea so much Countenanced, and professed openly by many, and that without the least punishment; I bear witness against the Antichristian Prelacy now — established by a Law contrary to our Vows to Almighty God, and against defending all our Solemn Oaths, and ingagements, as a thing that Calls for Divine Vengeance.

Here he bore witness against all Oaths contrary to the Covenant: and then proceeded thus.

Also I bear my Testimony against all Error, Schisme, Heresie, contrary to our ingagements to God, and especially against that Reviving again, and Soul deluding evil or rather Devilry Quakerisme so much Connived at, if not allowed and Countenanced by many, whose Office it is to restrain it, as also against all the Steps and Courses of Backslidings, defections, which have been and now are on Foot in the Land, and against all branches and parties thereof, under whatsoever name or Notion; moreover, I bear my Testimony to all the Testimonys both formerly and of late, by suffering and banished witnesses, and to all the Testimonies by our first suffering Gentlemen, Noble-men, and others, that have suffered in this City and Kingdome, who Chearfully laid down their lives with admirable Divine Assistance, and all those who have laid down their lives, as also to those who have Sealed their Testimony, either with suffering imprisonment or Banishment upon this account, Score, and quarrel.

Here he bore his Testimony against their Act of Supremacy.

As also I bear my Testimony against the Cess imposed by the late Convention of Estates, whereby the Enemies of Christ, and his Church, are supplyed with all necessaries, for the utter extirpating of the interest of Christ in this Church.

And there is one thing more I would say, that the Lord seems to be very wroth with the Land. The causes are many, first the dreadful sleights our Lord Jesus Christ, has received in the Offers of his Gospel.

Secondly, The Horrid profanity that has overspread the whole Land, That not only Religion in its Exercise, but even Common Civility is gone.

Thirdly, there is the Horrid perjury in the matters of our vows and ingagements, its to be feared will provoke the Lord to bring his Sword upon these Lands.

Fourthly, The dreadful formality and stupidity in the duties of Religion, which is introduced, like that which came upon the Carless Daughters.

Fifthly, Horrid ingratitude, what do we render to him for his goodness? is not the most of all that we do, to work wickedness, and to strengthen our selves to do evil, and want of Humility under all all [sic] our Breaches? We are brought Low, and yet we are not Low in the sight of God, what a dreadful Covetousness, and minding our own things more than the things of God, and that amonst all Ranks? would to God that there were not too much of this among many, who are Enemies of the Cross of Christ, and mind earthly things.

And yet I dare not say, but there are many faithful and precious to him in Scotland, both of Ministers, and Professors, whom I trust God will keep stedfast, and who will Labour to be found faithful to their Lord and Master, and whom I hope he will make a brazen wall and Iron Pillars, and as a strong defenced City, in the following of their duties in these sad evil times, but it were to be wished, That there were not too many to strengthen the hands of the evil-doers, and make themselves Transgressors, by endeavouring to buidl again that which formerly they did estroy, but let such take heed of the flying Roll, Zach. 5. And let all the Lords Servants and Ministers take heed that they watch, and be stedfast in the faith, and quit themselves like men, and be strong, and set the Trumpet to the mouth, and give Seasonable and faithful warning to all Ranks Concerning sins, and duties, especially against the sins of this sinful time: it is to be Lamented and sadly Regretted by many of the Lords people, that there has been so much silence and fainting, even amongst Ministers of how great Concernment it is; now in this sad Juncture, let Ministers consider well, what it is that God calls for at their hands. To be silent now, especially when so many Cruel and Horrid things are [illegible], when they are so much called, and ought to be concerned to speak even upon the Peril of their lives, certainly a dreadful sin in the sight of God, their silence must be. I shall only desire that the Lord would open the mouths of his faithful servants, that with all boldness, they may speak out the mind of their Master, that so the work, interest, Crown and Kingdome of our Lord Jesus Christ, may not be destroyed, and that the troubles of his poor people, which are precious to him, may not without a Testimony be ruined. I shall but say a few words.

First, All you that are profane, I would seriously Exhort you that you return to the Lord by serious Repentance; if you do, iniquity shall not be your Ruine; if you do not, know that the day of the Lords Vengeance is near and hastneth on. Oh know for your comfort, there is a door of mercy yet open, if you be not despisers of the day of Salvation. And you that have been, and yet are, Reproachers and persecutors of Godliness, and of such as live Godly; take heed, Oh take heed, sad will be your day, when God arises to scatter his Enemies, if you repent not for your ungodly deeds.

Secondly, All those who are taken up with their own private interests, and if that go well they Care the less for the interests of Christ, take heed and be zealous, and repent, lest the Lord pass the Sentence I will spew you out of my mouth.

Thirdly, For the truly Godly, and such as are Lamenting after the Lord, and are mourning for all the abominations of this City, and are taking pleasure in the very Rubbish and Stones of Zion, be of good Courage, and Cast not away your Confidence, I dare not say any thing to future things, but surely the Lord has a handful that are precious to him, to whom he will be Gracious; to these is a dark night at present, how long it will last the Lord knows. Oh let not the sad disasters, that his poor people meet with, though very astonishing, Terrifie you, beware of snares that abound, Cleave fast to your Reformed Religion, do not Shift the Cross of Christ, if you be called to it, it is better to suffer than sin, account the reproaches of Christ greater Riches than all the Treasures of the World.

In the last place, let not my Death be Grievous to any of you, I hope it will be more profitable both for you and me, and for the Church and interest of God, than my life could have been. I bless the Lord, I can freely and Frankly forgive all men, even as I desire to be forgiven of God, pray for them that persecute you, bless them that Curse you. As to the cause of Christ, I bless the Lord I never had cause, to this day, to repent for any thing I have suffered, or can now suffer for his name. I thank the Lord who has shewed mercy to such a vile sinner as I am, and that ever he should advance me to so High a dignity, as to be made a Minister of his blessed and everlasting Gospel, and that ever I should have a Seal set to my Ministry, upon the hearts of some in several places and Corners of this Land: the Lord visit Scotland with more and more faithful Pasters, and send a Reviving day unto the people of God; in the mean time be patient, be stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; and live in Love and peace one with another, and the Lord be with his poor Afflicted Groaning people, that yet remain.

Now I bid farewell to all my friends, and dear Relations; Farewell my poor Wife and Children, whom I leave in the good hand of him who is better than seven Husbands, and who will be a Father to the fatherless. Farewell all Creature comforts, Welcome everlasting life, everlasting glory, Welcome everlasting love, everlasting praise; bless the Lord, O my Soul, and all that is within me.

Sic Subscrib.

John ing.

August, 14th. 1679.
Tolbooth, Circa boram Septimam.

The Speech of Mr. John Kid.

Right Worthy and well beloved Spectators and Auditors.

Considering what bodily distempers I have been exercised with since I came out of the Torture, (viz.) Scarce two hours out of my naked bed in one day, it cannot be expected, that I should be in Case to say any thing to purpose at this Juncture, especially seeing I am not as yet free of it, however I cannot but Reverence the good hand of God upon me, and desires with all my Soul to bless him for this my present Lot.

It may be there are a great many here that Judge my Lot very sad and deplorable. I must confess death it self, is very Terrible to Flesh and blood, but as it is an out-let to sin, and an in-let to righteousness, it is the Christians great and inexpressible priviledge, and give me leave to say this, that there is somthing in a Christians Condition, that can never put him without the reach of insufferableness, even shame, death, and the Cross being included.

And then if there be peace betwixt God and the Soul, nothing can damp peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, this is a most supporting ingredient in the bitterest Cup, and under the sharpest, and firiest Tryal he can be exposed unto. This is my mercy, That I have somthing of this to lay Claim unto, viz., The intimacies of pardon, and peace betwixt God and my Soul.

And as concerning that, for which I am condemned, I magnifie his grace, that I never had the least challenge for it, but on the contrary, I Judge it my Honour, that ever I was counted worthy to come upon the Stage upon such a consideration; another thing that renders the most despicable Lot of the Christian, and mine insufferable, is a felt and sensible presence from the Lord, strengthening the Soul when most put to it, and if I could have this for my Allowance this day, I could be bold to say, Oh death where is thy sting, and could not but cry out Welcome to it, and all that follows upon it: I grant the Lord from an Act of Soveraignity may come, and go as he pleases, but yet he will never forsake his people, and this is a Cordial to me in the Case I am now exposed unto.

Thirdly, The exercising and puting forth his glorious power, is able to Transport the Soul of the believer, and mine, above the reach of all Sublunary difficulties, and therefore seeing I have hope to be kept up by this power, I would not have you to look upon my Lot, or any other that is or may be in my Cafe, in the least deplorable, seeing we have ground to believe, that in more or less he will perfect his power and strength in weakness.

Fourthly, That I may come a little nearer to the purpose in hand, I declare before you all, in the sight of God, Angels and men, and in the sight of that Son and all that he has Created, that I am a most miserable sinner, in regard of my Original and Actual Transgressions. I must confess they are more in number than the Haires of my Head. They are gone up above my Head, and are past numbering, I cannot but say as Jacob said, I am less than the least of all Gods mercies, yet I must declare to the exalting of his free grace, That to me who am the least of all Saints is this grace made known, and that by a strong hand, and I dare not but say he has loved me, and washed me in his own blood from all iniquities, and well is it for me this day, That ever I heard or read that faithful saying, that Jesus Christ, came into the World to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Fifthly, I must also declare in his sight, I am the most unworthiest that ever opened his mouth to preach the unsearchable Riches of Christ in the Gospel. yea the sense of this made me altogether unwilling to fall about so great a work, until by the importunity of some whose names are precious and savoury to me and many others, I was prevailed with to fall about it, and yet I am hopeful not altogether without some fruit, and if I durst say it without vanity, I never found so much of the presence of God upon my Spirit, as I have found in exercises of that nature, though I must still confess attended with inexpressible weakness, and this is the main thing for which I must lay down my Tabernacle this day, viz. That I did preach Christ and the Gospel in several places of this Nation; for which I bless him (as I can), That ever such a poor obscure person as I am, have been thus priviledged by him, for making mention of his grace as I was able.

Sixthly, Give me leave to add this word farther, that though there be great appearances, for spreading and preaching this Glorious Gospel, yet I fear there is a snare at the bottom, and poyson in that dish which may gender, and be productive, of not only greater Scarcity of Honest preaching and preachers, but a Real Famine of the Word, this I say is my fear, and I hope God will keep his servants and people from fomenting any thing to the detriment of the Gospel.

Seventhly, I am also afraid that the Lord is tending to multiply his stroaks upon the Land, we have walked seven times contrary to him, and therefore we may lay our account (unless Repentance prevent it) that he will walk seven times contrary to us, there is more and more grounds to fear that a Sword is Brandished in Heaven, a Glittering Sword, sharpned and forbished against the Guilty and Harlot Scotland.

Eightly, As for the Fifth Cause in my indictment, upon which my sentence of death is founded, (viz.) Presonal preference, Twice or thrice, with that party whom they call the Rebels; for my own part I never Judged them such: I Acknowledge and do believe there were many there that came in the simplicity of their hearts, like those that followed Absolom long ago, and I am as sure on the other hand there were a great party there that had nothing before them but the repairing of the Fallen work, and the restoring of the breach, which is wide as the Sea, and I am apt to think that such of these who were most branded with mistake, will be found to be most single: but for Rebellion against his Majesties person or Lawful Authority, the Lord knows my Soul Abhorreth the name and thing; Loyal I have been, and I wish every Christian to be so, and I was ever of this Judgment, To give to Caesar the things that are caesars, and to God the things that are Gods.

Ninthly, Since I came to prison, I have been much branded with many that I must call Aspersons whereof Jesuitisme is one, I am hopeful there was never one that did converse with me that had the least ground for laying this to my Charge, I know not how it comes to pass it is laid upon me now, except implacable prejudice that some have been prepossest with against me. I am not Ignorant that near two years ago, a person of some note in this Church while Living, was pleased to say, I was dyed in that Judgment: after he was better informed, he Changed his Note, and said it was misinformation: but now the Lord, before whom I must stand, and be Judged by and by, knows I have a perfect Abhorrence of that thing. And that it was never my Temptation directly nor indirectly. Though I must confess, some few years ago, some were very pressing upon me that I would conform, and imbrace Prelacy? But for Popery, and that Truth, it never came nearer my heart than the Popes Conclave, and the Alcoran, which my Soul Abhors.

Tenthly, I Have also been branded with factiousness, divisive, and seditious preaching, and practices. I must confess if it be so, it was more than ever I was aware of: according to the measure that God has given me, it was my endeavor to commend Christ to the hearts and Souls of the people, even repentance towards God and Faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, according to the word of God, confession of faith, and Catechismes Larger and Shorter, yea I did press them, when God did cast it in my way to remember their former Obligations in Doctrine, worship, Discipline and Government, and that they would make it their work to stand to it, in substance and Circumstance, seeing it is so Cryed down in this day, and if this be divisive preaching, I cannot deny it.

Eleventhly, I am prest in Conscience to bear my Testimony to and Abhorrence of every Invasion, Usurpation, and incroachment that is made or has been made against Christs Royal prerogative, Crown, and Kingdome, Originate upon and derivate from that which they call the Supremacy. I was never free to say a Confederacy with those that I judge have in a great part said a Confederacy with that thing, and the Lord is my record, I was never free in my Conscience for that that is called indulgence, neither first nor second, as it was rendered by the Counsel, and as it was imbraced by a great many Godly men in this Land, yea it was never Laudable nor expedient to me, and in effect this is one of the main grounds, why I am rendred so Obnoxious to so many imputations, that I have been all along contrary to that indulgence in my Judgment. I confess I have been so, and I die in my Judgment contrary to it, and this I crave Leave to say without any Offence given to the many Godly and Learned, that are of another Judgment.

Twelfthly, I Judge it fit likewise in this Cafe to leave my Testimony against that Stent, Taxation and Cess, that has been so injustly imposed, so frivolently founded, and vigorously carried on by the Abettors of that contention, and meerly upon no other account imaginable, but to make a Final Extirpation of Christ, and his Gospel Ordinances out of the Land, and how Lamentable it is to consider how many professors did willingly pay it, and were most forward for inciting others to do the same.

In the next place, though to many I die desired, yet I know to not a few my death is not desired, and it is the rejoycing of my heart, that I die in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has loved me, and given himself for me, and in the faith of the Prophets and Apostles, and in this faith that there’s not a name under heaven by which men can be saved, but the name of Jesus, and in the Faith of the Doctrine and Worship of the Kirke of Scotland, as it is now established according to the word of God, Confession of faith, Catechisms Larger and shorter, and likewise I joyn my Testimony against Popery, Perjury, Profanity, Heresie, and every thing contrary to sound Doctrine.

In the Close, as a dying person, and as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful, I would Humbly leave it upon godly Ministers to be faithful for their Lord and Master, and not to hold their peace in such a day, when so many ways are taken for injuring of him, his name, way, Sanctuary, Ordinances, Crown and Kingdome, I hope there will be found a party in this Land, that will continue for him, and his Matters, in all Hazzards, and as faithfulness is called for in Ministers, so professors would concern themselves that they Countenance not, nor abet any thing inconsistent with former Principles and practices. Let the Land consider how Neuteral and indifferent we are grown in the matters of God, even like Ephraim long ago, a Cake not turned.

Next how far we are fallen from our first love, how far we are degenerated from the noble Vine into which the Lord did once plant us; Lamentable it is how far we are gone in the way of Egypt, drinking the Waters of Sichar, &c. [i.e., drunkenness -ed.]

Again, What a woeful Spirit of bitterness is predominate in this Land, in this our Age, Ephraim vexing Judah, and Judah Ephraim, Manasseth Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseth, the growing dogedness of this temper almost amongst us all, portends terrible things from the Lord against Scotland.

Fourthly, Reformation neither designed nor practiced, what means all this deformity that is come to pass in these days, instead of the contrary? how many of us are pulling down that which we have been building up; how many of us calling good evil, and evil good, dis-owning and dis-favouring that which sometime we judged our honour to testifie for and to avouch.

Fifthly, A Publick Spirit in contending for God in his matters, in substance and circumstance, according to our Vows and Obligations, is much wanting amonst us at this day.

Farther I am prest in Conscience to make honourable mention of all those glorious things that God has done in Scot. since the year 1638. the abundant measure of his spirit that has been power’d out upon his people.

Here he spoke much concerning the Solemn League and Convenant; and afterwards proceeded as followeth.

And moreover I bear my Testimonies against all other Confusions, Imprisonment and Blood, that is or may be intended against those of the Land that desire to keep their Garments clean, whether in Prison or out of Prison.

6thly, As concerning that which is the ground of my death, viz. Preaching here and there in some Corners, I bless my God I have not the least challenge for it, and though those that Condemned me are pleased to call such Preachings Rendezvouses of Rebellion, yet I must say this of them, they were so far from being reputed such in my Eyes, that if ever Christ had a People or party wherein his Soul took pleasure, I am bold to say these Meetings were a great part of them; the shineing and Glory of God was eminently seen amonst these Meetings, the convincing Power and Authority of our Lord went out with his Servants in those blasphemously nick-named Conventicles; this I say without reflection upon any. I have a word to say farther, that God is calling persons to Repentance, and to do their first work; Oh that Scotland were a mourning Land, and that Reformation were our practice, according as we are sworn in the Covenant.

Again, that Christians of Grace and Experience would study more streightness and stability in this day, when so many are turning to the right hand, and many to the left; he that endureth to the end shall be saved; he has appointed the Kingdom for such as continue with him in his Temptations.

Next, if ever you expect to have the Form of the House shewed you in all the Laws thereof, goings on thereof, and comings in thereof, then think it no shame to take shame to you for all that has been done, sitting down on this side Jordan is like to be our bane. Oh when shall we get up and run after him till he bring us into the promised Land, let us up and after him with all our heart, and never rest till he return.

I recommend my Wife and young one to the care and faithfulness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God that has fed me to this day, and who is the God of my Salvation, their God and my God, their Father and my Father, I am also hopeful, that Christians, Friends, and Relations, will not be unmindful of them when I am gone.

Lastly, I do further bear my Testimony to the Cross of Christ, and bless him that ever he counted me worthy to appear for him in such a lot as this: Glory to him that ever I heard tell of him, and that ever he fell upon such a method of dealing with me as this, and therefore let none that loves Christ and his Righteous Cause be offended in me.

And as I have lived in the faith of this, that the three Kingdoms are married Lands, so I dye in the faith of it, that there will be a resurrection of his Name, Word, Cause, and of all his Interest therein, though I dare not determine the time when, nor the manner how, but leave all these things to the infinitely wise God, who has done, and will do all things well. Oh that he would return to this Land again, to repair our breaches, and take away our back sliding, and appear for his work: Oh that he were pacified towards us; Oh that he would pass by Scotland once again, and make our time a time of Love, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Himself hasten it in his own time and way. The Lord is my light and life, my joy, my song, and my salvation; the God of his chosen be my Mercy this day, and the inriching comforts of the holy Ghost keep up and carry me fair through, to the Glory of his Grace, to the edification of his people, and my own eternal advantage. Amen.

Sic Subferib.

John Kid.

August, 14th. 1679.
Tolbooth, Ante horam Septimam.

FINIS.

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1284: Tekuder, Mongol sultan

Add comment August 10th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1284, the deposed Mongol ruler Tekuder was put to death.

The Mongols had conquered half the world on the back of steppe horses and religious toleration. Mongols variously adopted Nestorian Christianity, Buddhism, and Islam, as well as tribal shamanism; it even sponsored debates among the rival confessions. What counted in the end for the men who commanded its armies was wins and losses.

Our man Tekuder was the son of Hulagu Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan who exemplified pluralistic competence. The son of a Christian but an eventual convert to Buddhism, Hulagu Khan’s signal achievement in the religious arena was done by his sword-arm: he defeated and destroyed the Abbasid Caliphate.

In time, three of the four large khanates comprising the Mongol ascendancy would declare themselves for Islam … but in the 13th century the doctrine most likely to get you in trouble was simply to be too doctrinaire.

Hulagu’s son and heir Tekuder, though once baptized into his parents’ Christian faith, turned to Mohammed’s faith with a convert’s zeal and demanded the compliance of his military brass. He declared the Ilkhanate of Persia and Mesopotamia a Muslim sultanate, and tilted Mongol diplomacy away from the Franks and towards Mamluk Egypt.


Tekuder receives an ambassador.

This split Tekuder’s coalition between Muslims on one side, and Christians and Buddhists on the other, and “the whole of the old Mongol party of malcontents, Buddhists and Nestorians alike, rallied to”* Tekuder’s own nephew Arghun.** One may infer from this entry which man prevailed.

Arghun enjoyed a successful seven-year reign with an incidental appearance in the Marco Polo saga: Arghun appealed to his great-uncle Kublai Khan to send him a wife, and Marco Polo was a part of the party that escorted that woman to Persia in 1291-1293.

Marco Polo would proceed back home to Venice after this voyage, laden with Spice Road riches after a quarter-century’s absence.

Arghun Khan of Persia, Kublai’s great-nephew, had in 1286 lost his favourite wife the Khatun Bulughan; and, mourning her sorely, took steps to fulfil her dying injunction that her place should be filled only by a lady of her own kin, the Mongol Tribe of Bayaut. Ambassadors were despatched to the Court of Kaan-baligh to seek such a bride. The message was courteously received, and the choice fell on the lady Kokachin, a maiden of 17, “moult bele dame et avenant.” The overland road from Peking to Tabriz was not only of portentous length for such a tender charge, but was imperiled by war, so the envoys desired to return by sea. Tartars in general were strangers to all navigation; and the envoys, much taken with the Venetians, and eager to profit by their experience, especially as Marco had just then returned from his Indian mission, begged the Kaan as a favour to send the three Firinghis in their company. He consented with reluctance, but, having done so, fitted the party out nobly for the voyage, charging the Polos with friendly messages for the potentates of Europe, including the King of England. They appear to have sailed from the port of Zayton (as the Westerns called T’swan-chau or Chin-cheu in Fo-kien) in the beginning of 1292. It was an ill-starred voyage, involving long detentions on the coast of Sumatra, and in the South of India, to which, however, we are indebted for some of the best chapters in the book; and two years or upwards passed before they arrived at their destination in Persia. The three hardy Venetians survived all perils, and so did the lady, who had come to look on them with filial regard; but two of the three envoys, and a vast proportion of the suite, had perished by the way. Arghun Khan too had been dead even before they quitted China; his brother Kaikhatu reigned in his stead; and his son Ghazan succeeded to the lady’s hand. We are told by one who knew both the princes well that Arghun was one of the handsomest men of his time, whilst Ghazan was, among all his host, one of the most insignificant in appearance. But in other respects the lady’s change was for the better. Ghazan had some of the highest qualities of a soldier, a legislator and a king, adorned by many and varied accomplishments; though his reign was too short for the full development of his fame.

-The Travels of Marco Polo

* Quote from The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia.

** We have met Arghun Khan in passing in these pages, as the executioner of Georgian prince Demetre II, the Self-Sacrificer.

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1915: Kassim Ismail Mansoor, purveyor of coffee and treason

Add comment May 31st, 2015 Headsman

A century ago today, an Indian Muslim named Kassim Ismail Mansoor was hanged by the British in Singapore as a traitor.

The treason in question concerned the dramatic mutiny some months previous of Singapore’s 5th Light Infantry — Muslims who had feared that they would be dispatched to World War I’s European charnel house. (Ironically, the British brass had no such intent: they already considered these troops too unreliable, for some reason.)

Many of the mutineers were shot en masse by summary court-martial.

Our man Mansoor was not a fighter but a civilian coffee-shop proprietor. Having come into the confidence of some of his countrymen enough to know the mutinous thrust of their grievances, he made bold put in writing an appeal to the Rangoon consul of the Ottoman Empire — Britain’s wartime enemy — for the intervention of Turkish warships that could pick up their disaffected Muslim brethren and turn together against the British. Unfortunately for Mansor, that missive fell into British hands.

A 1937 retrospective series in the Straits Times on the distinguished career of Mansoor’s defense counsel, Sir Vincent Devereux Knowles, dives into the case here: 1, 2. Knowles, it says, knew his task was quite hopeless.

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1674: Guru Tegh Bahadur

Add comment November 11th, 2014 Headsman

The early religion of Sikhism was led by a succession of 10 Gurus.*

The Mughals executed the ninth of those Gurus on this date in 1674.

Guru Tegh Bahadur (the name means “Hero of the Sword” and was earned in youthful battles against those same Mughals) was acclaimed above 20-odd other aspirants after the previous Guru died saying only that the next guy was in the village of Bakala.

Guru from 1664, he’s noted for founding the holy city of Anandpur Sahib in Punjab. And it was his lot to lead a minority faith during the reign of the Aurangzeb, an emperor notorious to posterity for religious dogmatism.

He’s known best as a persecutor of Hindus: knocking over temples to throw up mosques, forcing conversions, and implementing sharia. But Aurangzeb knew how to get after all kinds.

Considering the going sectarian tension between Hindu and Muslim in the environs, there’s a good deal of touchy historical debate over just how to characterize Aurangzeb’s policies. This site is entirely unqualified to contribute to that conversation but suffice to say it was not an ideal moment to adhere to an alternate faith.

The circumstances of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s capture, and his subsequent execution in Delhi, are similarly obscured by hagiography. Aurangzeb, who spent his reign at virtually continual war, must surely have seen in the Guru’s capital city — which also welcomed Hindu refugees fleeing the Mughals’ abrogation of their rites — a nest of rebellion. Putting its leader to death when he too refused conversion would have been right in character; no less understandable is the Guru’s remembrance as a martyr to religious liberty, and not only the liberty of Sikhs but Hindus, Buddhists, and any other comers.

Tegh Bahadur’s nine-year-old son Gobind Singh succeeded as the tenth and last Guru. It was he who laid down the “Five Ks” — five articles that a faithful Sikh should wear at all times. Thanks to the parlous state of security vis-a-vis the Mughals, one of those items is the Kirpan, a dagger or small sword that continues to vex airline security agents down to the present day.

* Ten human Gurus: the tenth passed succession to the perpetual “Guru Panth” (the entire community of Sikhs) and “Guru Granth Sahib” (a sacred text).

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1854: Aslak Hetta and Mons Somby, Sami rebels

Add comment October 14th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1854, two Sami men were beheaded for Norway’s Kautokeino Rebellion.

The indigenous Sami people — often known as Lapps, although this nomenclature is not preferred by the Sami themselves — had by this point become territorially assimilated to the states of the Scandinavian peninsula across which their ancestral homeland had once spanned.

The material benefits of this association for the Sami were much less apparent.

In Norway — our focus for this post — Sami shared little of the economic growth in the 19th century save for a startling proliferation of alcoholism.

In the 1840s a charismatic Sami preacher named Lars Levi Laestadius founded a Lutheran revival movement that went over like reindeer among his people. Religious enthusiasm and social critique went hand in hand: Laestadius’s hard anti-alcohol line and criticism of the comfortable state clergy touched deeply felt grievances, and Laestadius could deliver these messages in Sami dialects. Villages devastated by drink would go dry in response to his exhortations with pleasing results for the social fabric, further stoking adherents’ piety.

The most militant expression of this movement soon detached itself from any restraint Lars Levi Laestadius might hope to exercise upon it. Eventually it would move towards disruptive actions like interrupting services of the official clergy and protesting licensed alcohol merchants.

In a rising in November 1852, firebrand Laestadians attacked the trading post of Carl Johan Ruth, the liquor merchant in the Finnmark village of Kautokeino. Both Ruth and the local sheriff, responding to the disturbance, were slain in the ensuing fray and several other buildings in town torched. A counterattack managed to quell the disturbance — killing two rebels in turn — and eventually 17 men and 11 women were condemned to sentences ranging from short prison terms to lifelong prison terms to (our concern, of course) execution.

The two leaders of the mob, Aslak Hetta (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian) and Mons Somby (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian), were both beheaded at the Arctic Circle town of Alta.

After decapitation, the men’s bodies were buried at Alta’s Kafjorddalen Church, but their severed heads went off to the Royal Fredrik’s University (today the University of Oslo) for scientists to probe. The heads eventually went missing until a search turned them up at a cranium collection in Copenhagen in 1997, which returned them at the behest of the descendants for burial back with the trunks from which they parted ways 160 years ago today.

A 2008 Nils Gaup-directed feature film, The Kautokeino Rebellion, dramatizes these events. (Synopsis | review) Armas Launis, a Finnish composer with an interest in ethnography, also wrote a libretto (Finnish link) in honor of Aslak Hetta after residing among the Sami for some time.


As of this writing, the full movie is also available on YouTube provided you can understand Norwegian, or read Spanish subtitles.

* Laestadianism still exists today. According to Wikipedia, “Because of doctrinal opinion differences and personality conflicts, the movement split into 19 branches, of which about 15 are active today.” Said Wikipedia entry enumerates all 19 groups, ranging from the Conservative Laestadians (approximately 115,000 adherents) all the way down to the Sten group (15 adherents) and the Kontio group (5 adherents).

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1864: Bizoton Affair executions

Add comment February 13th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1864, a bustling market Saturday in Port-au-Prince, Haiti was enlivened with the public executions of eight Haitians for cannibalistic murder.

It was perhaps the signal event in a long-running campaign against vodou (voodoo, vaudoux) in whose service the murder was supposedly committed. The charge sheet had it that a man intent on an occult rite to propitiate the spirit world had slaughtered his own young niece and with several friends and family devoured her remains.

It made for some great copy.

“The eye of the law has penetrated into the midst of the bloody mysteries of this religious cannibalism, against which all the teachings of Catholicism have remained powerless,” breathed the world press in salacious revelry.


Sketch of the Bizoton Affair accused from Harper’s Weekly.

Within Haiti and without, vodou itself stood in the dock alongside its adherents. This was quite likely the very point of the trial.

The popular syncretic religion, heavily derived from Haitian slaves’ African roots, represented to Haitian elites and European observers alike all that was most barbarous about the one place that had run white slavers off. Just a few years ago as I write this, the U.S. televagelist Pat Robertson claimed that Haiti had come by its liberty due to a long-ago pact with the devil. That “pact” was a secret vodou ceremony launching the rebellion that became the Haitian Revolution.

Vodou persisted throughout the 19th century — it still persists today — among Haiti’s underclasses. Though frequently persecuted, vodou enjoyed the support and personal devotion of Emperor Faustin Soulouque, a former slave who ruled Haiti in the 1850s. When Soulouque was overthrown by Fabre Geffrard in a coup backed by Haiti’s elites, dissociating from vodou was one of his principal tasks.

As the history blogger Mike Dash explains in a detailed exploration of the case’s background, the deeply Catholic Geffrard had come to an arrangement with the Vatican that

committed the president to making Catholicism Haiti’s state religion — and the executions of February 1864, which so clearly demonstrated Christian “orthodoxy,” took place just weeks before the priests of the first mission to the country arrived from Rome. The trial was followed up, moreover, by a redrafting of Haiti’s Code Pénal, which increased the fines levied for “sorcery” sevenfold and added that “all dances and other practices that … maintain the spirit of fetishism and superstition in the population will be considered spells and punished with the same penalties.”

The original records of the trial are long lost, meaning the surviving accounts are typically the very partisan ones already convinced that pagan vodou cannibalism was rampant in Haiti. The British charge d’affaires Spenser St. John* has one of the best-known and most influential from his 1887 memoir of Haiti. (St. John attended the trial personally with other European dignitaries.)

St. John considered the case self-evident, and dwelt on its lurid revelations of the cannibalism scene — the flaying of little Claircine’s body, the palm of the hand savored by one cannibal as the choicest morsel. Cannibal testimony was St. John’s own choice morsel; in his view, Haitians extremely “sensitive to foreign public opinion” obstinately threw up a collective wall of silence on a practice that “every foreigner in Hayti” just knew was everywhere around him. But even when St. John published, after another 20-odd years past the Bizoton trial to gather evidence of anthropophagism, all that he managed to produce were two highly dubious second-hand accounts of white men allegedly sneaking into vodou ceremonies under cover of blackface and reporting the sacrifice of children. In the hands of Victorian writers prone to still further embroidery these few sketchy dispatches — and the notorious Bizoton case — would help to cement vodou’s sinister reputation.

St. John’s American counterpart was less impressed with the show trial, its moral panic scenario, and the thrashings administered to the accused to force their confessions.

It was not a fair trial; the evidence was extracted by torture. There was a report in circulation. It caused great excitement. Government took it up, and was determined to convict, because it was a seeming stain on their race. The verdict was forced.

Per St. John, the execution itself was badly botched. “The prisoners, tied in pairs” were “fired [at] with such inaccuracy” by their respective shooting teams “that only six fell wounded on the first discharge.” It took half an hour and much reloading to complete the executions, “and the incidents were so painful, that the horror at the prisoners’ crimes was almost turned into pity at witnessing their unnecessary sufferings.”

* As a consular official in a previous post on the opposite side of the globe, St. John accompanied two of the earliest ascents of Mount Kinabalu in Borneo; as a consequence, one of that mountain’s peaks bears his name.

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Sometime around 19 AD: Some wicked priests of Isis (… allegedly)

Add comment October 28th, 2013 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

October 28 marked the start on the Roman calendar of the Isia, a dayslong festival in honor of the Egyptian goddess Isis, who enjoyed a wide following in the Roman Empire. (There’s a temple of Isis in the ruins of Pompeii.)

In recognition of the Isia, we’re unearthing an extremely dubious but suitably execution-related slander of the Isis cult by the Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus — who writes that at some unspecified date around 19 AD, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius in Rome, a freewoman named Ide and some priests from the cult of Isis were crucified for their role in a wacky conspiracy.

It is known from several ancient historians that followers of both Isis and Yahweh were banished from Rome at about this time, but the specific immediate causes are unclear. Both were “foreign” (and still more, eastern) religions, so might have come in for a bit of expedient demagoguery; the emperor Augustus, only five years dead at that point, had been down on Isis-worship in general thanks in part to his rival Cleopatra, who associated herself with the goddess.

Suetonius says that Tiberius “abolished foreign cults, especially the Egyptian and the Jewish rites, compelling all who were addicted to such superstitions to burn their religious vestments and all their paraphernalia.” Cassius Dio attributes the Jews’ punishment to their successful proselytizing; such a pattern also intermittently worried future emperors with respect to Isis, and could be consistent with the Senate’s decree that those who renounced their cult(s) could stay.

Josephus alone offers scandalous specific triggers for these expulsions in his twenty-volume Antiquities of the Jews, which covers the history of the Jewish people from Adam and Eve right up to the First Jewish-Roman War.*

There’s a different backstory for each community’s expulsion, according to Josephus — very much at pains to distinguish cases we today, and Josephus’s contemporaries, might naturally take to be connected. Both stories have a novelistic feel of collective punishment for particular crimes, but it’s noticeable that while the Jews’ fate is mildly attributed to a couple of individual criminals (already outcast by the Jews) defrauding a Roman convert who wanted to donate to the temple in Jerusalem, the Egyptian rite gets fabulously shown up as systematically corrupt and a menace to the honor of good Roman matrons.** Josephus is mining here an existing Roman stereotype of Isis-worship as a libertine cult, but he wrote Antiquities in about 93-94 CE, a time when Isis had waxed in the favor of the emperor Domitian as well as his predecessor Vespasian.

Second-century Roman statue of Isis, which can be seen in Rome’s Capitoline Museums

Per Josephus, Paulina, wife of Saturninus, was a wealthy married woman “of a beautiful countenance” and “great modesty,” and a devoted follower of Isis. Decius Mundus, a prominent Roman aristocrat, fell in love — or more like in lust — with her, and tried to seduce her. She rejected him. He offered her presents; she refused them. Finally he offered the staggering sum of 200,000 Attic drachmae for, as Josephus tactfully puts it, “one night’s lodging.” Paulina was outraged by his suggestion.

Despondent, Decius Mundus went home and declared his intent to starve himself to death. A freed slave in his household, a woman named Ide who was “skillful in all sorts of mischief,” couldn’t stand to watch him waste away like this and took pity on him. She could get Paulina to sleep with him, she promised, and she’d do it for the bargain rate of 50,000 drachmae, 75% off.

Knowing that Paulina could not be bought at any price, and also knowing of her devotion to the cult of Isis, Ide resorted to trickery: she went to two corrupt Isis priests and promised to split the 50,000 drachmae with them if they would help deceive the lady. They agreed, rejoicing at the prospect of being 25,000 drachmae richer.

The elder of the two priests went to Paulina with a stunning revelation: the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis had noticed her piety and fallen in love with her, and desired to spend a jackal-headed night with her.

Paulina, who in another era would probably have bought the Brooklyn Bridge and some oceanfront property in Arizona, was delighted by the news. She passed the message on to her husband, asking for permission to “sup and lie” with the God, and Saturninus, “full satisfied with the chastity of his wife,” agreed to share her.

So she want to the temple and had dinner with Anubis (who remained invisible and silent during the meal), then the priest escorted her to the bedroom, put out the lights and shut her in.

Whereupon Decius Mundus emerged from his hiding place and made sweet love to Paulina all night long in the dark, slipping away at dawn.

Whether he wore the jackal’s mask has not been recorded.

Paulina went home in a cloud of post-coital bliss, enraptured by her encounter with the god. She told her husband all about it, and all her friends, who weren’t sure whether to believe her. None of them challenged her, though, such was her reputation as a modest and religious woman.

Decius Mundus let her spread the story around for three days, then came to her and told her the truth, and laughed in her face. She may have rejected him while he was Mundus, he added maliciously, but she had sure liked him when she’d thought he was Anubis!

Furious and humiliated, Paulina tore her own clothes in hysterics when she realized what she’d done. She demanded Saturninus go complain to Tiberius about how she’d been treated, and her embarrassed husband complied.

Tiberius was not one of Rome’s nicer emperors, but he took ample action to avenge Paulina’s dishonor: he razed the temple of Isis to the ground, threw her statue into the river, and suppressed the cult. Lastly, Tiberius ordered that Ide and the Isis priests involved in the conspiracy be crucified.

But Decius Mundus? He got off lightly, merely being banished from Rome. Tiberius decided there were mitigating circumstances, namely that “what crime he had committed was done out of the passion of love.”

* Josephus himself was a rebel Galilean commander in this war; he was captured by the Roman general Vespasian when Josephus weaseled out of a group suicide pact as the Siege of Yodfat ended in a bloody rout. Taken as prisoner to his opposite number, Josephus boldly hailed Vespasian as future emperor. Vespasian did indeed achieve the purple, and pensioned Josephus as a house historian (and Roman citizen) under his own protection.

** See Horst Moehring, “The Persecution of the Jews and the Adherents of the Isis Cult at Rome A.D. 19,” Novum Testamentum, Dec. 1959.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Capital Punishment,Crucifixion,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,Italy,Other Voices,Pelf,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Scandal,Sex,Slaves,Uncertain Dates

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356 BCE: Herostratus burns the Temple of Artemis

4 comments July 21st, 2013 Headsman

By the ancient world’s tradition, it was on July 21, 356 — the night of Alexander the Great‘s birth* — that a theretofore forgettable man set fire to the wooden rafters of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

Situated on the Hellenized coast of Asia Minor, near present-day Selcuk, Turkey, Ephesus was one of the great cities of the Mediterranean. It counted Artemis (Diana) its patron deity, and gloried in a jaw-dropping marble temple, bankrolled two centuries before by the Lydian king Croesus, that would have nearly covered a modern football pitch. Ephesians took their Artemis seriously: 400-plus years later, St. Paul would barely escape lynching at the hands of enraged Artemis devotees when he proselytized there.

What a horror it must have been for 4th century BCE Ephesians to awake this day to the destruction of their city’s own sacred pride.

Even more shockingly, the temple’s destroyer made no effort to conceal himself. He openly boasted of his act, and of the horrifying reason for it: merely to exalt his obscure name with the luster of infamy.

Ephesus not only put this man to death, but passed a damnatio memoriae upon him, forbidding any mention of his name, in order to deny him his victory.

But the the historian Theopompus, who was not Ephesian, cheated the city of its sentence by recording it: Herostratus. It’s a word that has become a metonym in many languages and an allegory in many books for any villain impelled to his wickedness by the allure of celebrity.

We have no specific date for Herostratus’s execution. But we do have his last tortured victory. We do have his name.

The Ephesians in time rebuilt the magnificent temple, bigger and more awe-inspiring than before. It stood some 600 years more until the Goths sacked it in 268 AD, long enough to secure its place among the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

“I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus,” wrote Antipater of Sidon of the reconstructed, post-Herostratus temple. “But when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.'”


The Temple of Artemis today: a weedy rubble. (cc) image from LWY.

* Plutarch remarked that Artemis was too distracted delivering the conqueror into the world to protect her shrine.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,History,Language,Notable for their Victims,Popular Culture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

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