Friday, August 4, 2017

The Executioner by Katherine Pym



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David and Sarah Kirke live in a time of upheaval under the reign of King Charles I who gives David the nod of approval to privateer French Canadian shores. When Louis XIII of France shouts his outrage, King Charles reneges.

After several years, the king knights David and gives him a grant for the whole of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Soon, David is carried in chains back to England. He entreats Sara to manage the Ferryland plantation. She digs in and prospers, becoming the first entrepreneur of Newfoundland.


 Bio: Katherine, her husband and their puppy-dog divide their time between Seattle and Austin. Katherine loves history, especially of early Modern England which is filled with all sorts of adventure. 

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King Louis XVI's execution by Sanson

Executioners are interesting although it is not easy to find a lot of data on these guys.  I know of two who were completely different. One was thoughtful, the other a menace to the public.

Charles-Henri Sanson
Charles-Henri Sanson was the executioner during the French Revolution. He executed Danton, Robespierre, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Before Camille Desmoulins was guillotined, he handed Sanson a locket of his wife’s hair. “Please return this to my wife’s mother.” 

Sanson honored Camille's wishes. While he was at the Duplessis’ household, Camille’s mother-in-law learned her daughter would be executed. Afraid Sanson would be recognized as the one who had guillotined Camille, and would Madame Duplessis’ daughter, he dashed away from their house, mournful of his vocation.  

I read once that the offspring of executioners in France were never allowed any other vocation but that of an executioner. He must marry an executioner’s daughter, thus keeping their grisly profession within a lower social stratum, and within the family. (Everyone must have been related. How many executioners could there have been in France in a given year?)

They were not allowed to live in town but at its outskirts. One of Sanson’s descendants was a known herbalist. People came to him for cures. Another Sanson, who could not bear a life of executing people, committed suicide. 

Jack Ketch somewhere in the crowd.
An English well-known executioner was Jack Ketch. There are no known pictures of what the man looked like. The one that shows up on Wikipedia and other sources is not the correct Ketch, but from the autobiography of another Jack. The clothes are not of the 17th century, either. 

English executioners were taught several ways to execute an individual; i.e., with fire, the axe, and the rope. I’m not sure if Ketch was very proficient in his vocation or a complete fool. He botched most of his executions.  

The hanging knot is supposed to be placed on the side of the neck so that when the poor wretch is thrust in the air, his neck should break, but Jack liked to put the knot at the back of the neck. This meant long strangulation. Family members were forced to run under the Tyburn hanging tree, grab the wretch’s legs and yank down, hoping somehow for a quick end. 

The Tyburn Tree
When Jack used the axe, he knocked the blade against the person’s neck several times before the head came off.  One tortured fellow was Lord Russell. It took four strokes of the axe before the man was finally dispatched. Because of his cruelty, a hue and cry reached the king. Jack Ketch was forced to write a note of apology to the Russell family, which published in 1683.

The Handsome Duke of Monmouth
The Duke of Monmouth expressly requested Jack Ketch make good use of the axe: “Here,” said the duke, “are six guineas for you. Do not hack me as you did my Lord Russell. I have heard that you struck him three or four times. My servant will give you some gold if you do the work well.”

There is no evidence if Ketch took the money, but he disregarded the duke’s request. It took several strokes to finally behead the lad. 

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Many thanks to Wikicommons, Public Domain, &

Old and New London: A Narrative Its History, Its People, and Its Places, The Western and Northern Suburbs, Vol. V.,  1892, by Edward Walford