27 May 1610 – François Ravaillac
For François Ravaillac had assassinated Henry IV, the king of France and a popular man by all accounts.
He’d had a vision that he had to convince the king to convert Huguenots to Catholicism. Ravaillac tried three times to get an audience with Henry and failed before the next vision kicked in. This time he foresaw that Henry was going to ‘make war with the pope’.
That was it, the zealot couldn’t risk damage to his beloved religion and so he murdered the threat at source – he stabbed Henry as he passed by him in a carriage. The authorities whisked the deranged man off before an angry mob could mobilise, or he would probably have been torn to pieces.
Feeling the heat
And ironically that’s precisely what happened. They dispensed with the hanging in favour of a bout of gruesomely prolonged events that added up to a death reserved only for regicides. Parts of Ravaillac’s flesh were torn off by hot pincers before a variety of hot and boiling substances were anointed from acidic sulphur to the piece de resistance – molten lead. Then blisteringly, bubbling hot oil was poured onto the open wounds. Just to give you an idea of how hot we’re talking, you might like to know that lead melts at 327.5 °C (well over three times the boiling point of water).
So back to the actual execution and the real heavy duty killing – drawing and quartering. But drawing’s not what you’re thinking. OK, so the Brits used blades to disembowel you, but the French had a far more drawn-out method, literally. Each of his four limbs were chained to four horses, which were then encouraged to move off…in four different directions, ultimately tearing the person limb from limb. What was left was then quartered.
In the run-up to his death his bravado knew no bounds, ‘…I have no regrets at all about dying, because I’ve done what I came to do’. Shame Ravaillac hadn’t seen a vision of his own demise – maybe then he would’ve thought twice about carrying out the assassination.