Friday, January 06, 2012

The Guillotine

As I read To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson, I learned more about the guillotine which was used extensively during the French Revolution. Dr Joseph Ignance Guillotin suggested the use of a beheading device with the intent of creating a socially equal form of capital punishment. In the past, noblemen had been beheaded which was quick and honorable. On the other hand, lesser men were tortured to death or hanged. With the guillotine, however, death would be equal and swift for all men.
The Execution of Robespierre from Wikipedia
A gruesome part of the French society was the watching of executions. I read somewhere (in the book?) that families would come to watch and bring their children. But, after years with thousands of public executions, less people were present as they'd grown bored with the events. By 1799, the guillotine had been used to execute about 15,000 people.

Here's a paragraph from Erickson's book:
The first human trial of the guillotine in April of 1792 was something of an experiment, which gave the many spectators an added frisson. The machine had been used on sheep and calves, and tested on human corpses brought from the charity hospitals. But no one could be certain that it would work as efficiently on a live criminal, and the wretched forger scheduled to be executed that day must have suffered the added torment of doubting the efficiency of the savage blade. Scientists speculated about whether the head might live on after it was separated from the trunk, whether the mind might go on thinking, the eyes seeing, the tounge wagging. But the forger's execution proved to be effortless and swift, and made a very good show, and the observers went off afterwards satisfied that they had witnessed a new and entirely satisfactory form of public vengence.
The guillotine has continued to be used, even in my lifetime! I found a date (at the site mentioned later in this paragraph) that shows the guillotine used in 1987 in East Germany. And, it was last used in France in 1977 when the murderer Hamida Djandoubi was beheaded. (information from The debate as to whether or not the person continues to be alive for seconds after the beheading has continued to be debated. For more information on that, you can read this article at The Guillotine site.
Of course, Marie Antoinette faced the end of her mortal life lying on a guillotine platform. Her husband, King Louis XVI, had also been executed in this manner nine months earlier.


lahbluebonnet said...

Great to hear from you again! I'm glad you're posting again. Want to make sure you got my e-mail. If not, mine is...

Anonymous said...

Useful post! Nice that you quoted the sources.

A reader, from Catalonia :-)

Anonymous said...

Is it okay if I use your picture in my History project?

Dana Leeds said...

Anonymous, I'm glad you liked the photo! I'm usually careful that I choose photos that are public. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out where I got the one you mentioned so I changed it to the current photo from Wikipedia. I hope your history project turns out well!

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