Archive for Guillotine

21 January 1793 – Louis XVI

Posted in Guillotine with tags , , , , on January 21 by Old Sparky

Louis XVI

Even royalty was not beyond the law as Louis XVI of France found out in 1793.

The French king was sent to the guillotine for treason, following the insurrection on 10 August 1792. And, with his execution came the end of total monarchy in France.


He was born Louis-Auguste de France and ruled as King until 1792. But in the grip of famine, disease, increasing poverty, spiralling inflation and a growing communist spirit, the French people turned on their monarch for living in apparent luxury. They directed their ire particularly at his Austrian wife, Marie Antoinette, supposedly because she was of foreign birth.

Prison break

The royal family were virtually imprisoned in their palace as the angry mob closed in. Storming the Bastille, they took the two reigning monarchs into custody.

Louis was tried by the National Convention for treason and found guilty. He immediately had his titles stripped from him. Known from then on as citizen Louis Capet, he lost his head in one clean swipe of the blade, aged 38, watched by a jubilant crowd.

His wife, already in the grip of cancer and TB, and the real focus for the mob’s animosity, was to follow 9 months later, following a sham of a trial, in which she was accused of sexually abusing her son.

King Louis was portrayed by Robert Morley in the 1938 film Marie Antoinette and by Jason Schwartzman in Sophia Coppola’s 2006 cleverly titled update Marie Antoinette.

Neither fine performance should be confused with the character of King Louie from The Jungle Book who was a singing cartoon ape.

Also on this day

21 January 1801 – John Fisher

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31 December 1898 – Joseph Vacher

Posted in Death penalty, Guillotine with tags , , , , , on December 31 by Old Sparky

Joseph Vacher

Joseph Vacher

A French version of Jack the Ripper was beheaded after he confessed to murdering a feast of victims, among them shepherds and shepherdesses.

Aged just 29, Joseph Vacher, was guillotined for strangling and mutillating, raping or disembowelling, even gorging himself on blood from the necks of his chosen victims in south-west France.

Early signs

Even as a child, he had been given to killing animals and slapping his 14 brothers and sisters around. But his ultimate decent into depravity was borne out of his lack of luck with the ladies.

Before Vacher had even reached the age of 20, unsavoury encounters with a prostitute landed him a sexually transmitted disease, so part of his testicles had to be lopped off.

Following that, he was thwarted in love. So at 25, Vacher first tried to shoot the object of his affection, before turning the gun on himself. When those attempts failed, he began targeting women, girls and lone shepherd boys.

With conservative reports ranging from 11 to 23 victims, Vacher was finally caught after he tried to kill a woman in a field. But her screams luckily brought her husband and son to her rescue. Vacher was overpowered and packed off to the police station where his crimes soon caught up with him.

Rabid results

He put his gruesome killing spree down to the possibility that his blood had been poisoned after a rabid dog bit him as a child. The ensuing herbal medicine he was given to combat the rabies apparently left him short tempered and given to bouts of brutality. People even testified that his personality had changed as a result of that encounter.

Nevertheless, he was finally put to death on New Year’s Eve 1898 in Bourg-en-Bresse, Ain Province.

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22 November 1910 – Johan Alfred Andersson Ander

Posted in Death penalty, Guillotine with tags , , , , , on November 22 by Old Sparky
and the Swedish Record for the longest name goes to...

and the Swedish Record for the longest name goes to...

Johan Alfred Andersson Ander was the last and only person to be sent to the guillotine in Sweden.

Saddled with debts, Ander decided to rob an exchange agency and in doing so he battered Victoria Hellsten until she died of her injuries.

All he got for spoils was 6,000 Swedish crowns and he didn’t even have long to spend that.

He was arrested and beheaded in 1910, aged 37.


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16 October 1793 – Marie Antoinette

Posted in Death penalty, Guillotine with tags , , on October 16 by Old Sparky

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette

Accusations of louche living and diamonds were to be the downfall of today’s supposedly dastardly damsel.

Visions of a life rife with excesses fuelled 18th century Frenchmen to harangue their queen, Marie Antoinette, with accusations of crimes against the proletariat; supposed crimes that were ultimately to turn a nation against her.

France was being torn apart by food shortages, money shortages and general discontent. Amid this suffering, the royal family and surrounding friends were painted as being far removed from the nation’s pain. Instead they enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle, while the people starved or struggled to earn an adequate living.

Of course the commentators at the time jumped on the libellous bandwagon and the stories got more and more immoral as they cooked up tall tales that served to ridicule the Austrian-born queen’s reputation.

Much hated

Marie Antoinette became the focus for the nation’s hatred, fuelled not least by their vehement dislike of all things Austrian.

Her marriage to Louis XVI had been strategic (as were most royal weddings during this era). The Hapsburgs were doing well in Europe and her mum was pretty good at the whole leading a country thing.

So her bloodline was a strong selling point. The underlying tack was that she’d have her mum’s ear and France hoped that would impart some of the supremacy in their direction, while the Austrians were keen to extend their control over neighbouring states.


The problem was the new couple had married painfully young, and maybe at 15 she had not been versed in all things strategic, so the bottom line was both camps thought she sucked. Indeed her own brother branded her a ‘dupe’ according to ‘Wikipedia’ as she had shown no evidence of helping the Austrian cause.

She valiantly tried to defend herself, saying ‘Would it be wise to have scenes with [Louis XVI’s] ministers over matters on which the king would not support me?’

Mother beyond

Fair play to her, but it was no wonder she was eventually sidelined. So Marie Antoinette turned her talents to her other key role: motherhood, specifically to produce the much-coveted heir and spare. And she certainly delivered on the old sprogging front, ejecting a dauphin on demand. But it turned out that the spare was to be a key issue, because boy was that dauphin a sickly boy.

Sadly, she couldn’t win, because when the spare came along, he was made of much sterner stuff than his older brother, prompting accusations that he must have been bastard.

Well, what was a girl to do, faced with that kind of animosity?

Withdrawal was her answer and the queen cosseted herself with close friends. Here she messed up too, because part of that retreat included the construction of a mini village and shock, horror, the purchase of her very own house, which was not the done thing when there were palaces to languish in.

It was seen as spectacularly spendthrift at a time when the French nation was groaning under the weight of debts, rung up in part and ironically while fighting a war against the Austrians just seven years before the two countries had been united in marriage.

And hers was a small voice against this kind of merciless onslaught of bad publicity and conjecture.

Perhaps the best-known urban myth is her coquettish ‘Let them eat cake’ in response to information that bread was facing skyrocketing inflation. Of course that quip was never true, but she was vilified nevertheless and with key insurgents helping to stir up trouble, she faced a formidable opposition.

Diamond geezer

But the killer came in the shape of a diamond necklace, which Marie Antoinette never actually asked for.

Turns out, it was the work of a cardinal by the name of de Rohan, and according to several sources, his actions came in the wake of the queen’s flat refusal to purchase the ostentatious bauble.

But de Rohan got suckered into buying the bling in a bid to get into her good books.

Well, that was it: open season for all the critics to crawl out from their venomous hidey holes and literally let rip. Bizarrely, but perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the queen who came away from the whole saga most tarnished.

De Rohan was naturally taken to court, but walked away a free man, leaving the discredit squarely on the queen’s regal shoulders as yet more evidence of her flagrant displays of excess.

Anyone who could, had a pop at the beleaguered head of state. Then, a woman by the name of Jeanne de Lamotte waded in. She’d been jailed for her part in the necklace saga and had been released only to start touting stories that she’d slept with the queen.

It was the stuff of tabloids – lesbian harlot and a cuckolded king – the people of France were loving it, after all they needed a focus for the all-pervading sense of dissatisfaction permeating the country.

And the proletariat was mobilising. Fuelled by discontent, the masses were easily seduced by the attractive and compelling arguments for an egalitarian state with no aristos to siphon off much-needed funds.

At the epicentre of this animosity sat the royal family, who epitomised the very decadence of the class they depised.

Mum’s the word

So began Marie Antoinette’s fight for survival. Her PR machine kicked in and the key spin lay in her portrayal as a mum. And not just any old mother, but the mother of the next king of France.

By now she was in her 30s and with that came a sober makeover aimed primarily at complementing the demeanour she was trying to convey.

The queen even came into her own as a politician, helping to soothe wranglings between her husband and the assembly.

These were all valiant attempts, but they were way too little, way too late and to an audience who really couldn’t give a toss. They so wanted someone to blame for their difficulties and Marie Antoinette was fair game, and perfect fodder mainly because she was Austrian. That had always been at the root of everyone’s gripes and her being head of state had never been easy for them to stomach, given their supreme sense of nationalism.

This period in French history was and remains one of its bloodiest. The upper echelons of society fled or risked losing their heads at the foot of Madame Guillotine, in the bloodbath that was the French Revolution, which kicked off in 1789.

During this hazardous period, the royal family faced the ultimate dilemma. As monarch what could Louis do? Scarper and leave his country to fend for itself or stand his ground and act like a monarch? Faced with this bleak decision, the answer was a no-brainer. Stay put. And the family stayed with him.


Inevitably the mob descended and ‘stormed the bastille’ and the family were unceremoniously dumped in prison and stripped of their titles.

Husband Louis Capet, as he was now known, went first and his head hit the decks pretty sharpish on 21 January 1793.

Marie Antoinette was to follow nine months later, by this time suffering from cancer and not in the best of health.

Her trial was particularly grim. Various accounts state that she stood accused of treason, but for her, probably the most heartbreaking was that she’d sexually abused Louis Charles, the spare, who was now heir to the throne now his older brother and dad were both dead. And apparently Louis has been coached into admitting this in court.

The crimes stuck and she was found guilty of treason. And as had been the case with her husband, she was stoic about her impending doom.

‘I was queen, and you took away my crown; a wife, and you killed my husband; a mother, and you deprived me of my children. My blood alone remains; take it, but do not make me suffer long.’

Thankfully they obliged and Madame Guillotine’s fatal slice was swift and final. She died just under three weeks shy of her 38th birthday and while she was initially thrown in an unmarked grave, her body was exhumed 22 years later and put to rest in a place befitting her regal status.

In case you were wondering, Louis junior festered in a jail and died of tuberculosis. On a happier note, his sister outlived them all and went on to become a duchess.

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1 October 1957 – Jacques Fesch

Posted in Death penalty, Guillotine with tags , , , , on October 1 by Old Sparky

Jacques Fesch

Jacques Fesch

Jacques Fesch was a French cop killer who miraculously reinvented himself while on death row.

He turned devout Roman Catholic while waiting for the guillotine to fall during his incarceration between 1954 and 1957.

The Frenchman had been trying to reinvent himself when the crime happened too. Up to that point Fesch had led a louche life, leaving his wife and daughter for a mistress and another illegitimate child.

Fair cop

However, he had dreams of sailing the South Pacific. And to fulfil his vision, the Frenchman was attempting to rob money to buy a boat, when it all went horribly wrong. Fesch bungled it and shot policeman Jean Vergne, who was in pursuit.


Of course the press went into overdrive and stirred public opinion into a frenzy. And naturally, amid such a furore against him, Fesch was sent down for the crime.

But within a year of his incarceration Fesch suddenly found God and his life became one of humble piety. Such was his reinvention that there was talk of his posthumously becoming canonised after his head was cut off in 1957.

So far though, the argument for and against a sainthood for Fesch hasn’t come to a head…

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14 September 1932 – Paul Gorguloff

Posted in Death penalty, Guillotine with tags , , , on September 14 by Old Sparky

Paul Gorguloff

Paul Gorguloff

Paul Gorguloff lost his head for murdering the French president just seven years before the outbreak of World War II.

The Russian immigrant was sent to the guillotine, aged 37, for killing President Doumer.

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10 September 1977 – Hamida Djandoubi

Posted in Death penalty, Guillotine with tags , , , on September 10 by Old Sparky
Hamida Djandoubi

Hamida Djandoubi

Hamida Djandoubi has the dubious honour of being the last person to be officially sent to the guillotine in France.

The Tunisian immigrant was beheaded in Marseilles for killing his girlfriend after she shopped him to the police for forcing her into prostitution.

He had been found guilty of raping and torturing her and then strangling her, some of the deeds of which took place in front of witnesses.

Indeed, he damningly provided a confession, which told how he strangled the victim and then made sure she was dead, records Jeremy Mercer in his book ‘When the Guillotine Fell’.

‘I asked for the flashlight so I could make sure she was really dead. At one point, for reasons I can’t really explain, I kicked the girl’s nose but she didn’t move’, said Djandoubi.

Heads, you lose

According to Wikipedia the murderer claimed that an accident which had left him disabled had triggered the psychotic tendencies and his predilection to alcohol. Naturally, he launched an appeal and Djandoubi was to have it declined just a mere day before he was scheduled to die.

Early the following morning in 1977, the one-legged murderer had his head cut off. Mercer goes into graphic detail when he describes the actual moment, which is not for the faint-hearted: ‘The gush of blood. It was as if somebody had thrown a bucket of water against the wall…The head that fell and bounced in the basket. The crimson fountain that spurted from the arteries.’

Also on this day

10 September 1801 – Jason Fairbanks
10 September 1990 – Charles Coleman

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