1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Executioners

Discussion in 'Research' started by Xanados, Feb 21, 2012.

  1. Xanados

    Xanados Maester

    635
    24
    18
    Who orders an execution?

    I understand that a warrant has to be given to the executioner in order for him to be free of murder chargers, but who gives him those orders?

    Would a king/lord be present?
     
  2. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

    1,159
    175
    63
    What kind of period of history are we talking about here?
     
  3. Xanados

    Xanados Maester

    635
    24
    18
    Middle Ages.
     
  4. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

    1,159
    175
    63
    Before the invention of courts of law, the king. After the invention of courts of law, still the king. This is of course assuming that the case is high profile enough for the King to have taken notice of it. After all, back then Soverenity meant something practical right? Given the term "Middle Ages", I would presume that Lords and Dukes would have a large say in local matters, so in a way they certainly could be present, it would all depend on their individual predisposition whether they over saw it personally or got someone else to do it.

    I haven't done any research on the specifics of who appoints executioners if at all, myself. Some one else may be able to give you a better sourced answer to both these questions, but the above is my basic understanding of things. Hope that's some help.
     
    Xanados likes this.
  5. Drakhov

    Drakhov Minstrel

    81
    2
    8
    You might find Hangmen of England: History of Execution from Jack Ketch to Albert Pierrepoint by Brain J Bailey a useful reference if you can get it.

    As to who appoints an executioner it probably depends on the period - I don't believe England had an official 'State Executioner' until the late 19th Century - in the Middle Ages, in England at any rate, it appears executioners may have been recruited from convicts, who may also be under penalty of death themselves and who take the job to avoid the noose - a couple of Wiki links you might find interesting

    Thomas Derrick

    List of Executioners

    Who signs the Death Warrant? I believe the sentencing Judge, since (s)he carries the authority of the crown / state by dint of being appointed - the Head of State (be they Monarch or elected official) might be the last resort in the appeals process, but i doubt very many cases ever got that far.

    In the period you're interested in, the local lord may have ultimate jurisdiction over their tenants - even then, they would probably have an appointed officer (Sheriff, magistrate etc) who carries their authority.

    I suppose also that a commoner in this period might be executed summarily, without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom - poacher caught by the lord's bailif might end up at the end of a rope without all that legal messing about.

    A ship's Captain also - Francis Drake tried and executed one of his crew for practicing witchcraft

    Execution of Thomas Doughty

    Drum-Head court Martial

    Those of noble birth may have to have the Warrant issued by the Monarch, since they couldn't be tried in a common court - take a look at this link from Wiki

    Court of Star Chamber
     
  6. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    2,012
    291
    83
    The sense I received from the books of Medieval law I've read was that for the greater part executions would be the prerogative of the highest levels of the hierarchy… though that may well have been honored more in the breach. Part of the point of feudalism was the delegation of power: the noble who reigned as the king's representative exercised many of the king's prerogatives, including very specifically the dispensation of justice; he, in turn, could delegate downward to his own vassals, within nearly the same limits. In fact, my recollection is that there were more laws in the codes I looked at concerning the application of the law itself than there were laws concerning crimes—and these included some items that we might find surprisingly "modern," such as holding hearings only at appointed times and places, procedures for summoning the accused (including giving him the benefit of the doubt, and an extension, if his attendance is delayed or hindered by circumstance), use of evidence (albeit somewhat limited), appellate processes, and so forth. Along with holding those conducting the courts responsible for their decisions, something that's long since passed by the wayside. (Conversely, they also include a lord being responsible—that is, legally liable—for his vassal's conduct, unless the lord chooses to disavow the vassal.)

    The two books I'm referring to are The Lombard Laws—the code used by the Germanic conquerors of northern Italy, late 6th-late 8th centuries, and Leges Henrici Primi—that is, Henry I of England, 1100-1135. (Interestingly, the two are nearly identical… an indication of how standardized these became following the overlay of Germanic onto Roman culture.) I've read others, but it's been too long for my memory to be relied upon for specifics; I'll have to see what I can dig up.

    As for who employed the executioner—here's another reason you might see this restricted to "king's justice": this was a highly specialized profession. In fact, I strongly suspect that for most times and places, it wasn't a "profession" at all… you simply wouldn't be using his services often enough to keep one handy. As like as not, he would also have some other task or tasks—such as non-capital punishment, or torture if that was accepted practice in his region. (Another item from the above-mentioned codes: both state that confessions derived by torture were meaningless. Again, this doesn't seem to have received rigid, widespread observance.…) Or else the person carrying out sentence would simply be a man-at-arms.

    Keep in mind, too, that people were considered a reasonably valuable resource throughout much of history; you wouldn't go killing them if you could find some alternative that kept them around and useful, or unless their crime was so heinous—or they were held to be individually so dangerous—there wasn't a viable one. Which is why wergild and similar practices worked at all, let alone why they became widely used: they broke the cycle of killing.

    I can tell you one group that didn't have the right to order an execution: the Church. They had to turn persons convicted in ecclesiastical courts over to secular authorities for capital punishment, in every place and period I'm aware of. Nor did those authorities always follow their recommendations… though they'd generally defy them only for good reason.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2012
    Xanados likes this.
  7. Xanados

    Xanados Maester

    635
    24
    18
    Brilliant information. Thanks everyone.
     
  8. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,514
    3,030
    313
    Middle Ages . . . Europe?

    Even if someone below the king had issued the orders, I'm pretty sure they would be doing so on the king's authority and that would be reflected in the way the order is issued. There's so much variability, though, you can probably get away with whatever you want on a fine point like this one.
     
  9. Xanados

    Xanados Maester

    635
    24
    18
    Europe, yes. Sorry I just assumed that is what everyone thinks when they say Medieval. But perhaps that is slightly ignorant of me.

    Again, thanks for the info.
     
  10. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    3,530
    505
    113
    I believe any person in charge of a territory could sentence a person to death, but I believe they did it in the name of the king, or ruler of the nation.
    I believe in some instances the decision was passed onto a representitve, such as a military official or the "Sheriff"(chief law enforcement).
    I also believe summary executions were common. Why bother the monarch when everyone knows the person is guilty?
     
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    3,607
    1,497
    163
    Since your original question seems to be very adequately answered, I thought I might offer some information that might help with setting the tone.

    On a side note, the nobility and those who wore their livery could not be arrested in Elizabethan times, except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace. I don't know how far back that goes.
    Priests also had similar laws, pleading, Benefit of clergy to reduce a death sentence to a lesser penalty.
    While most crimes were punishable by fines, some throughout our history have been consistently punishable with death. Of these, the common ones seem to be: murder, violent theft, treason, arson, sodomy, rape, pickpocketing, stealing from churches, horse-stealing, and sheep and cattle stealing, and witchcraft.
    That's not to say that other offenses weren't punishable by death, just that these offenses spanned the middle ages through the 18th century in Europe pretty consistently.

    Most executions were not carried out. Many people plead their way out of execution, joining the army or navy, pleading right of clergy, or convincing the court they were pregnant.
    Also, a note about executions..... Hanging was the main way normal criminals were dealt with. It was easy, cheap, and horrific enough to make a point. (The sharp drop was not invented until 1783. Before that, hanging killed by strangulation.) Other more awful deaths awaited those convicted of the worse crimes. While a normal murderer would just be hanged, one who murdered children or raped and murdered might be killed in a worse way. Women guilty of treason were burned at the stake, and men guilty of treason were drawn and quartered. Hanged and cut down while still alive, they were disemboweled, castrated, beheaded and quartered.
    Many executions, whether hanging, breaking on a wheel, or draw and quartering, were given mercy by an executioner, who delivered a killing blow before the sentence was carried out.
     
  12. Stari Bogovi

    Stari Bogovi Dreamer

    10
    0
    1
    What about lynching and vigilante justice? I know that peasants would take it upon themselves to mete out beatings, mild tortures, and public humiliations (I read one bit about your neighbors removing the roof of your house if they thought your wife was too domineering). How much further might it go?
     
  13. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

    2,012
    291
    83
    Dare I guess you aren't from the U.S.? If you were, you'd probably know how far it might go.…
     
  14. Fnord

    Fnord Troubadour

    190
    7
    18

    Yeah, there are still isolated incidents of "peasant justice" in the U.S.

    Here in Omaha we have our own low-point:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omaha_Race_Riot_of_1919
     
  15. Hans

    Hans Sage

    219
    12
    18
    When it comes to vigilante justice there are lots of variations that do not (bodily) harm the victim. They may even be legal at times.
    Removing the roof was already mentioned, an other variation was putting a dung cart (I might not have fount the correct translation for "Mistwagen") on the roof.
    If it was thought somebody are an illegitimate couple the path between their front door could be marked in some way.

    A special (illegal) form of public humiliation called "Haberfeldtreiben" was revived here in Germany some years ago. A big group of people ("Haberer") would assemble at night in front of the victims house and make a lot of noise. Then the leader proclaims the list of the victims sins in lyric verses and everyone answers "Ja, wahr is." (Yes, it's true). After that they all leave again.
    The victim is strongly encuraged not to leave the house and even sent back if he does so.
     
  16. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    3,607
    1,497
    163
    That last one is really interesting. I wonder whether historical references exist for that type of thing. I love that we got off track but into something really cool. It only helps to inspire any who read these threads. Thank you guys.
     
  17. Hans

    Hans Sage

    219
    12
    18
    Are court files enough reference? About 130 of these exist for the time between 1700 to 1900.
    For the latest one you might search for "Haberfeldtreiben Gerd Sonnleitner". It was a big thing around here, because it was the first one after about one hundred years. But I don't know what English references to that event exist.
     

Share This Page