When watching The Tudors, I found that there was no shortage of episodes featuring an interrogator and/or executioner, complete with the condemned asking for a quick and painless death. Initially, I was always puzzled by the blood-thirsty crowd—men, yes, but women and children too—all clamoring for satisfaction. (There was, by the way, a time in England when prisoners were executed simply because tickets could be sold for the event.)
It was the executioner, however, that caught my attention. His job (as being male was generally the requirement) was gruesome. How could he sleep at night? Did the idea that he had the power to bring someone’s end quickly, meaning he had humanitarian concerns, make it possible? How horrible it must have been to be the person executed by a weak-armed executioner, whose first swipe was not thorough enough.
I’ve now got a way to answer these questions without taking up the profession myself (though I have executed a few term papers in my time). Joel F. Harrington’s, The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honour and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century, takes the reader into the journal of a Renaissance-era executioner, Meister Frantz Schmidt of Nuremberg, who was responsible for the deaths of 394 individuals. What is discovered is not so much a monster, bur rather a literate professional who used his skills and knowledge of medicine to restore his family’s honor. Peter Lewis reviews the book over at Barnes and Noble Review and I’m adding it to my TBR.
Frantz Schmidt was a master executioner. He had a notarized certificate to prove it. He apprenticed under a master; he paid his journeyman’s dues. He mostly worked in the imperial city of Nuremberg during his forty-five years of service, 1573-1618. He executed 394 people: men, women, and some boys and girls. Schmidt, always poised, delivered a good death, whether he beat you to kingdom come with a wagon wheel or applied the pitch and touched the flame, slipped the noose or cut off your head. Read the full review at Barnes and Noble Review…