Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Today in History
Today we can all celebrate the 210th Anniversary of the beheading of Marie Antoinette. The Queen of France and wife to King Louis XVI, she was convicted of treason and executed after the French Revolution. According to this pretty in-depth biography, she held her head high on her way to the guillotine and kept her self-respect as she was being carted through the streets of Paris on the way to her death. Reportedly, while on the scaffold, she accidently stepped on the foot of one of her executioners. Her last words were "Monsieur, I ask your pardon. I did not do it on purpose."
Even more interesting though, is the history of the guillotine. While it was made famous during the French revolution and used for executions in France until 1977, when on September 10, Hamida Djandoubi was the last person in France to be executed via these means. Four years later, France abolished the death penalty.
However, predecessors to the Guillotine pre-date the French Revolution by several hundred years. The Halifax Gibbet is reputed to be dated as far back as the Norman Conquest in 1066, although the first reference to it dates to 1280. The Scottish Maiden is another example of pre-1700s guillotine, arriving in 1564.
However, the guillotine as we all know and love it is named after a Dr. Guillotin, who in October of 1789 submitted to Assembly a proposition in six articles which included a recommendation that death, without the accompaniment of torture and by means of decapitation, should become the sole and standard form of capital punishment in France.
Plans were mapped out for the modern guillotine and the first model was constructed in April of 1792, and it was tested on sheep and calves. Throughout that month, many tests were also performed on human corpses. On the 25th of April, 1792, Nicolas-Jacques Pelletier was the first person to be executed by a machine called "the Guillotine".
Throughout history, up until 1977, the Guillotine saw many different forms in France and also in countries such as Sweden and Vietnam.
The main page of the Guillotine site that I've been linking to and using for information is here. I would've used more diverse sources, but this site is delightfully thorough.