Archive for Breaking wheel

14 November 1226 – Count Frederick of Isenberg

Posted in Breaking wheel, Catherine Wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , , , on November 14 by Old Sparky

Count Frederick of Isenberg (Friedrich von Isenberg) was literally broken to death for murdering the Archbishop of Cologne in Medieval Germany.

Recent research suggests the archbishop was just caught up in the action and his death was an accident. Nevertheless, the Medieval German aristocrat was stripped of all assets and titles and excommunicated. One his way back from Rome, having had the excommunication lifted, the German noble was captured and handed over to Cologne Cathedral. 

He was slowly tortured to death outside the Severin Gate. His arms and legs were systematically pulverised, then he was placed on a breaking (or Catherine) wheel. And he was slowly stretched until his remaining bones shattered. He took a day to die. He was then strung up on a pillar for all to see.

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15 May 1381 – Eppelein von Gailingen

Posted in Beheaded, Breaking wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , on May 15 by Old Sparky

Eppelein von GailingenWe head to Medieval Germany for today’s gruesome execution.

It’s a tall tale about Eppelein von Gailingen – a baron who was having trouble holding on to his castle in the heartlands of Nuremburg.

It was post-Crusades and the knights of the realm who’d been so helpful during the wars were now left to pick up their own pieces at home. Meanwhile the middle classes were burgeoning – and their growth was at the expense of the knights, who naturally looked on with resentment. Not so Eppelein von Gailingen – he wanted a piece of the action. So he’d jump the merchant trails and secure the necessary booty that kept him in the money.

Horsing around

Sadly, our German’s pretty ropey so we couldn’t glean a whole lot of information about our dastardly baron’s activities, only that he was impoverished, so he’d steal in order to maintain his castle. But there is one story where he apparently busted in on a wedding, scooped up the bride-to-be and kissed her in full view of her betrothed.

Our caddish anti-hero was finally caught and for his crimes, he had been due to be hanged. But he was offered a final wish – and he opted to ride his horse. Naively they granted von Gailingen his wish and of course he leaped over the wall into the moat in a break for freedom.

This is where the romantic legend ends, but the harsh reality was that he was apprehended again. For his second stab at execution there was no such naivety – he was painfully slung on the breaking wheel before being beheaded.

22 March 1540 – Hans Kohlhase

Posted in Breaking wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , on March 22 by Old Sparky

Hans KohlhaseVengeance fuelled the lawless activities of Hans Kohlhase in Renaissance Germany. He felt let down by the law in Saxony so he decided to wreck his revenge on the area that had seen his spectacular demise.

Kohlhase is actually said to have been quite an affluent man. A merchant by trade in Brandenberg, Kohlhase was doing ok by all accounts. That was until he was jumped by the staff of a nobleman – Günter von Zaschwitz – who stole his horses and then brazenly proceeded to claim a ransom.


Incensed by the injustice of the situation, Kohlhase begrudgingly paid the money, but vowed to pursue the unscrupulous count through the courts. Sadly the courts failed him – the merchant felt shafted by the very laws that should have protected him and so his reign of reckless revenge ensued. He teamed up with other wayward individuals – a motley crew of bandits and petty criminals and together they wrecked havoc all over Saxony, robbing and razing villages to the ground targeting travellers or doing over whole towns.

But finally the lawmen, who’d so singly failed the would-be law-abiding merchant, finally caught up with him and slapped a death sentence on him and his second-in-command – Georg Nagelschmidt. The two were strapped painfully to the breaking wheel in Berlin rendering Saxony a safer place.

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10 March 1762 – Jean Calas

Posted in Breaking wheel, Death penalty with tags , , , on March 10 by Old Sparky

Jean CalasA painful death on the Catherine wheel took place today in 1762, after a French cloth merchant was stitched up. Jean Calas was found guilty of a crime he professed never to have committed.

Calas stood accused of strangling his youngest son for fear that he would follow in his brother’s footsteps and turn to Catholicism. But he vowed that he was innocent.

Why was he fitted up with the crime? Because he was Huguenot and his Protestant religion was hugely unpopular.

Wheel of misfortune

As a result it was felt that Calas’s trial was also unfairly skewed. But that didn’t stop his being found guilty and they didn’t hang around either. The very next day, Calas was strapped to the breaking wheel and slowly beaten to a pulp. This was a languorous form of torturous death – and death would have taken hours or days rather than minutes. The wheel would revolve slowly and each limb would be whacked with a hammer or iron bar.

Body blows

The offender would often die of shock or dehydration, rather than injuries, making this a particularly barbaric form of execution. However some offenders were given coups de grâce – where the executioners would dole out body blows early on in the torture that gave sufficient internal injuries to put them out of their misery.

So the fact that Calas maintained his innocence up to his death caught the public’s sympathy and provoked Voltaire, the renowned philosopher, to push for religious toleration and review of criminal sentencing.

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