Guillotine


Guillotine

The guillotine ( ]

Although Guillotin did not actually contribute to the machine’s design, it was his name that it would carry throughout history, thanks to a comic song about Guillotin and his proposal which appeared in the Royalist periodical, Actes des Apôtres, shortly after the 1791 debate; the machine was originally called "louison" or "louisette".

On April 25, 1792 the first victim of the device was a highwayman named Nicolas Jacques Pelletier. The crowds marveled at the machine's speed and precision.

The basis for the machine's success was the belief that it was a humane form of execution, contrasting with the methods used in pre-revolutionary, "ancien régime" France. In France, before the guillotine, members of the nobility were beheaded with a sword or axe, while commoners were usually hanged, a form of death that could take minutes or longer. Other more gruesome methods of executions were also used, such as the wheel, burning at the stake, etc. In the case of decapitation, it also sometimes took repeated blows to sever the head completely, and it was also very likely for the condemned to slowly bleed to death from their wounds before the head could be severed. The condemned or the family of the condemned would sometimes pay the executioner to ensure that the blade was sharp in order to provide for a quick and relatively painless death.

The guillotine was thus perceived to deliver an immediate death without risk of misses. Furthermore, having only one method of execution was seen as an expression of equality among citizens. The guillotine was adopted as the official means of execution on March 20 1792. The guillotine was from then on the only legal execution method in France until the abolition of the death penalty in 1981, apart from certain crimes against the security of the state, which entailed execution by firing squad.

When Guillotin himself died, it was not on his namesake as legend would have it, but instead of natural causes on May 26, 1814.

Guillotine in France

Reign of Terror

The period from June 1793 to July 1794 in France is known as the Reign of Terror or simply "the Terror". The upheaval following the overthrow of the monarchy, invasion by foreign monarchist powers and the Revolt in the Vendee combined to throw the nation into chaos and the government into frenzied paranoia. Most of the democratic reforms of the revolution were suspended and large-scale executions by guillotine began. The first political prisoner to be executed was Collenot d'Angremont of the National Guard, followed soon after by the King's trusted collaborator in his ill-fated attempt to moderate the Revolution, Arnaud de Laporte, both in 1792. Former King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were executed in 1793. Maximilien Robespierre became one of the most powerful men in the government, and the figure most associated with the Terror. The Revolutionary Tribunal sentenced thousands to the guillotine. Nobility and commoners, intellectuals, politicians and prostitutes,Fact|date=June 2007 all were liable to be executed on little or no grounds; suspicion of "crimes against liberty" was enough to earn one an appointment with "Madame Guillotine" (also referred to as "The National Razor"). Estimates of the death toll range between 15,000 and 40,000.Fact|date=June 2007

[


thumb|right|Public_guillotining_in_Lons-le-Saunier, 1897.Picture taken on 20 April 1897, in front of the jailhouse of Lons-le-Saunier, Jura. The man who was going to be beheaded was Pierre Vaillat, who killed two elder siblings on Christmas day, 1896, in order to rob them and was condemned for his crimes on 9 March 1897.] At this time, Paris executions were carried out in the Place de la Revolution (former Place Louis XV and current Place de la Concorde) (near the Louvre); the guillotine stood in the corner near the Hôtel Crillon where the statue of Brest can be found today.

For a time, executions by guillotine were a popular entertainment that attracted great crowds of spectators. Vendors would sell programs listing the names of those scheduled to die. Regulars would come day after day and vie for the best seats. Parents would bring their children. By the end of the Terror the crowds had thinned drastically. Excessive repetition had staled even this most grisly of entertainments, and audiences grew bored.

Eventually, the National Convention had enough of the Terror, partially fearing for their own lives, and turned against Maximilien Robespierre. In July 1794 he was arrested and executed in the same fashion as those whom he had condemned. This arguably ended the Terror, as the French expressed their discontent with Robespierre's policy by guillotining him. [cite web
title =The Reign of Terror
work =French Revolution Exhibit
url =http://www.historywiz.com/terror.htm
accessdate =
]

Guillotine retired

The last "public" guillotining was of Eugène Weidmann, who was convicted of six murders. He was beheaded on June 17 1939, outside the prison Saint-Pierre rue Georges Clémenceau 5 at Versailles, which is now the Palais de Justice. The allegedly scandalous behaviour of some of the onlookers on this occasion, and an incorrect assembly of the apparatus, as well as the fact it was secretly filmed, caused the authorities to decide that executions in the future were to take place in the prison courtyard. Jules-Henri Desfourneaux, the presiding "number one" executioner at this time was variously reported as slow, possibly drunk, and indecisive, certainly a far cry from his well-regarded immediate predecessor Anatole Deibler. He was also prone to arguing with his cousin and "number two" André Obrecht which led to the latter's resignation on two separate occasions, the last involving a fistfight between the pair after an execution.

The guillotine remained the official method of execution in France until France abolished the death penalty in 1981. The last guillotining in France was that of torture-murderer Hamida Djandoubi on September 10, 1977.

The guillotine outside France

As has been noted, there were guillotine-like devices in countries other than France before 1792. A number of countries, especially in Europe, continued to employ this method of execution into modern times.

In Antwerp, Belgium, the last beheaded was Francis Kol. Convicted for robbery with murder, he received his punishment on 1856-05-08. During the period 1798-03-19 until 1856-03-12, the town of Antwerp counted 19 beheadings [Gazet van Mechelen, May 8th, 1956]

A notable example is Germany, where the guillotine is known in German as "Fallbeil" ("falling axe"). It has been used in various German states since the 17th century, becoming the usual method of execution in Napoleonic times in many parts of Germany. Guillotine and firing squad were the legal methods of execution in German Empire (1871-1918) and Weimar Republic (1919-1933).

The original German guillotines resembled the French Berger 1872 model but eventually evolved into more specialised machines largely built of metal with a much heavier blade enabling shorter uprights to be used. Accompanied by a more efficient blade recovery system and the eventual removal of the tilting board (or bascule) this allowed a quicker turn-around time between executions, the victim being decapitated either face up or down depending on how the executioner predicted they would react to the sight of the machine. Those deemed likely to struggle were backed up from behind a curtain to shield their view of the device.

In 1933 Hitler had a guillotine constructed and tested. He was impressed enough to order 20 more constructed and pressed into immediate service. Nazi records indicate that between 1933 and 1945 16,500 people were executed in Germany by this method. In Nazi Germany beheading by guillotine was the usual method of executing convicted criminals as opposed to political enemies, who were usuallyFact|date=March 2008 either hanged or shot. By the middle of the war, however, policy changed: the six members of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance organisation were beheaded in 1943, as were a hundred or more conscientious objectors from that date, including Franz Jägerstätter, beheaded in Berlin on 9 August 1943. The last execution in Germany, other than in East Germany, took place on 11 May 1949, when 24-year-old Berthold Wehmeyer was beheaded in Moabit prison, West Berlin, for murder and robbery. When West Germany was formed in 1949, its constitution forbade the death penalty; East Germany abolished it in 1987, and Austria in 1968.

In Sweden, where beheading was the mandatory method of execution, the guillotine was used for its last execution in 1910 in Långholmen prison, Stockholm. Although the guillotine has never been used in the United States as a legal method of execution (it had been considered in the 19th century before introduction of the electric chair), in 1996 Georgia state legislator Doug Teper proposed the guillotine as a replacement for the electric chair as the state's method of execution to enable the convicts to act as organ donors. The proposal was not adopted.

Living heads

From its first use, there has been debate as to whether the guillotine always provided as swift a death as Guillotin hoped. With previous methods of execution, there was little concern about the suffering inflicted. As the guillotine was invented specifically to be "humane", however, the issue was seriously considered. Furthermore, there is the possibility that the very swiftness of the guillotine only prolonged the victim's suffering. The blade cuts quickly enough so that there is relatively little impact on the brain case, and perhaps less likelihood of immediate unconsciousness than with a more violent decapitation, or long-drop hanging.

Audiences to guillotinings told numerous stories of blinking eyelids, speaking, moving eyes, movement of the mouth, even an expression of "unequivocal indignation" on the face of the decapitated Charlotte Corday when her cheek was slapped. Anatomists and other scientists in several countries have tried to perform more definitive experiments on severed human heads as recently as 1956. Inevitably the evidence is only anecdotal. What appears to be a head responding to the sound of its name, or to the pain of a pinprick, may be only random muscle twitching or automatic reflex action, with no awareness involved. At worst, it seems that the massive drop in cerebral blood pressure would cause a victim to lose consciousness in several seconds. [ [http://tafkac.org/medical/decapitated_head_blinking_more.html Excerpt from British Medical Journal, Vol 294: February, 1987] , quoting "Proges Medical" of July 9 1886, on the subject of research into "living heads".]

The following report was written by a Dr. Beaurieux, who experimented with the head of a condemned prisoner by the name of Henri Languille, on June 28 1905:

Quote|Here, then, is what I was able to note immediately after the decapitation: the eyelids and lips of the guillotined man worked in irregularly rhythmic contractions for about five or six seconds. This phenomenon has been remarked by all those finding themselves in the same conditions as myself for observing what happens after the severing of the neck...

I waited for several seconds. The spasmodic movements ceased. [...] It was then that I called in a strong, sharp voice: 'Languille!' I saw the eyelids slowly lift up, without any spasmodic contractions – I insist advisedly on this peculiarity – but with an even movement, quite distinct and normal, such as happens in everyday life, with people awakened or torn from their thoughts.

Next Languille's eyes very definitely fixed themselves on mine and the pupils focused themselves. I was not, then, dealing with the sort of vague dull look without any expression, that can be observed any day in dying people to whom one speaks: I was dealing with undeniably living eyes which were looking at me. After several seconds, the eyelids closed again [...] .

It was at that point that I called out again and, once more, without any spasm, slowly, the eyelids lifted and undeniably living eyes fixed themselves on mine with perhaps even more penetration than the first time. Then there was a further closing of the eyelids, but now less complete. I attempted the effect of a third call; there was no further movement – and the eyes took on the glazed look which they have in the dead. [cite web
title =Dr. Beaurieux's Report
work =The History of the Guillotine
url =http://www.metaphor.dk/guillotine/Pages/30sec.html
accessdate =
]

ee also

*Henri Désiré Landru
*Eugen Weidmann
*Marcel Petiot
*Bals des victimes
*Decapitation
*Flying guillotine (weapon)
*Plötzensee Prison
*Use of capital punishment by nation

References

*

External links

* [http://www.guillotine.dk/ The Guillotine Headquarters] with a gallery, history, name list, and quiz.
* [http://site.voila.fr/guillotine/ L'art de bien couper] a French site with a quite complete list of guillotined criminals, pictures, history.
* [http://boisdejustice.com/History/History.html Bois de justice] History of the guillotine, construction details, with rare photos (English)
* cite web
last =Fabricius
first =Jørn
title =The Guillotine Headquarters
date =
url =http://www.guillotine.dk/Pages/Guillot.html
accessdate =


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • guillotine — [ gijɔtin ] n. f. • 1789; de Guillotin, n. du médecin qui en préconisa l usage, après Louis et sa louisette 1 ♦ Instrument de supplice servant à trancher la tête des condamnés à mort par la chute d un couperet qui glisse entre deux montants… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Guillotiné — Guillotine La guillotine. La guillotine est une machine qui était utilisée pour l’application de la peine de mort par décapitation, en France, dans certains cantons de Suisse, en Suède, en Belgique et en Allemagne. La guillotine fut utilisée pour …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Guillotine — Sf Fallbeil erw. fach. (18. Jh.) Onomastische Bildung. Entlehnt aus frz. guillotine, das zurückgeht auf den Namen des Befürworters dieser Hinrichtungsart, dem französischen Arzt Guillotin.    Ebenso nndl. guillotine, ne. guillotine, nschw.… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

  • guillotiné — guillotiné, ée (ghi llo ti né, née, ll mouillées) part. passé de guillotiner. Condamné à mort pour meurtre et guillotiné.    Substantivement. Un guillotiné …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • guillotine — ► NOUN 1) a machine with a heavy blade sliding vertically in grooves, used for beheading people. 2) a device with a descending or sliding blade used for cutting paper or sheet metal. 3) Brit. (in parliament) a procedure used to limit discussion… …   English terms dictionary

  • Guillotine — Guil lo*tine (g[i^]l l[ o]*t[=e]n ), v. t. [imp. & p. p. {Guillotined}; p. pr. & vb. n. {Guillotining}.] [Cf. F. guillotiner.] To behead with the guillotine. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Guillotine — Guil lo*tine (g[i^]l l[ o]*t[=e]n ), n. [F., from Guillotin, a French physician, who proposed, in the Constituent Assembly of 1789, to abolish decapitation with the ax or sword. The instrument was invented by Dr. Antoine Louis, and was called at… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Guillotine — Guillotine, die bekannte, in Frankreich übliche Hinrichtungsmaschine, aus zwei oben mit einem Querbalken verbundenen Säulen bestehend, zwischen denen ein scharfes Eisen, das durch ein in einer Kurbel laufendes Seil dirigirt wird, schnell und… …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • guillotine — (n.) The name of the machine in which the axe descends in grooves from a considerable height so that the stroke is certain and the head instantly severed from the body. [ Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure, January 1793], 1791, from Fr …   Etymology dictionary

  • guillotine — [gil′ə tēn΄, gē′ətēn; ] for v., also [ gil΄ə tēn′, gē΄ətēn′] n. [Fr, after J. I. Guillotin (1738 1814), Fr physician who advocated its use during the French Revolution in preference to less humane methods] 1. an instrument for beheading by means… …   English World dictionary

  • Guillotine — (spr. Gillotihn), die in der ersten Französischen Revolution in Frankreich eingeführte, auch in mehreren deutschen u. italienischen Staaten u. in Griechenland übliche Köpfmaschine. Die G. besteht aus zwei, oben mit einem Querholz verbundenen… …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon


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