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Suicide and Historical Loopholes April 7, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Ancient, Contemporary, Modern
Suicide and Historical Loopholes

Suicide has proved abhorrent to most spiritual traditions. Certainly, the great monotheistic religions and most of the far Eastern religions have condemned ‘self-murder’: cue lots of pulpit bashing and descriptions of hell or unpleasant reincarnations. This begs the question though of what you can do if you live in 500 BC or 500 AD or […]

Escaping the Guillotine March 4, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Escaping the Guillotine

Capital punishment: it’s been a while. Beachcombing was thinking about close escapes from death penalty. There are two types of these, of course: either royal screw ups on the part of executioners or daring escapes at the point of death.  The first category would include John Lee and a few others who somehow survived a […]

Rhyming with Death December 8, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
Rhyming with Death

  Death concentrates the mind wonderfully and, at least in the east, a longstanding custom has been to pen a final poem: a last communiqué to the world. This custom stretches far back into the Middle Ages  and perhaps the greatest thing to recommend it is the brevity of the works in question So we […]

Last Witch Killing? September 14, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Last Witch Killing?

There is some argument about when the last witchcraft killing took place in Western Europe, but this, for what it is worth, is Beachcombing’s candidate dating from 1861: he fully expects to be proved wrong, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com The name of the victim was Dummy. It is true that he was not killed […]

Torturing Guy June 21, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Torturing Guy

At present, the Beachcombing family are under assault from a group of teenage toughs who have taken to ringing their bell in the evening and running off into the dark. Of course, the sensible thing would be to ignore the little idiots and hope that their antics don’t wake up the children. But Beachcombing never […]

Maximilian’s Shirt June 3, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Maximilian's Shirt

‘Emperor’ Maximilian was a scion of the Hapsburg dynasty who was parachuted into Mexico (1864) as Imperial Ruler in the Old World’s last concerted attempt to meddle in the Americas. Maximilian was not quite the patsy though that many in Europe and  monarchists of Mexico had hoped. He was one of those men who had […]

Last Words of the Executed May 27, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary, Modern
Last Words of the Executed

Beachcombing will not deny it: he’s been in a real Last Words mood recently. So when a friendly book dealer sent him Robert K. Elder’s Last Words of the Executed he was hardly going to complain: even if, by a bizarre error of the printer’s art, the index had ended up being bound in the […]

Vikings Vikinged in Dorset UK March 29, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Prehistoric
Vikings Vikinged in Dorset UK

Beachcombing has sometimes confessed in this place that he is not a great fan of the Vikings. Indeed, say ‘Viking’ to your average medievalist and they will get lyrical about sturdy boats and trips to Greenland. Beachcombing, on the other hand, sees burnt monastic libraries, lines of children being brought to slavery in the fiords […]

Capital Punishment and Prehistoric Burials March 19, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval, Prehistoric
Capital Punishment and Prehistoric Burials

    You are a member of the minor nobility in some part of northern Europe found guilty of murder in the fifteenth century. After the capital sentence is passed you are thrown in the back of a cart and driven out to the local place of reckoning.  However, as you are also interested in history […]

Viking Decapitations and the Knife Experiment February 21, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval
Viking Decapitations and the Knife Experiment

*Post dedicated to Mathias B who inspired it with his readings in Jómsvikinga saga* Beachcombing is down in the flu doldrums and so apologies for any emails to which he’s not yet replied. Several of you though (Ostrich, Swedish Anna, SY) pointed out that yesterday’s request about the letter from a Frederick to Ethiopia was a letter […]

Surviving Decapitation January 31, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
Surviving Decapitation

Beachcombing was traumatised in early childhood by seeing his father execute several hens on a Pennine farm. Even now he smells the metallic tang of their blood and sees the mess of heads and bodies and the feathers sticking everywhere. (Honestly, Mrs B won’t even let the younger Beachcombings watch SOS Nanny, what was Beachcombing […]

Irish hang-women January 17, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern
Irish hang-women

Richard Clark in his remarkable Capital Punishment in Britain has a story that has been buzzing around and around in Beachcombing’s head for the last six months. In his chapter on hang-men RC notes, in a final short section, that ‘Ireland allowed women to be involved with executions and two were’. He records a female assistant executioner who […]

Image: Decapitation at Aitape, 1943 October 24, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Image: Decapitation at Aitape, 1943

Beachcombing continues with his series of striking images. He is offering today though not the neat studio photograph of an Australian, Leonard Siffleet (1916-1943), opposite. But another more worrisome photograph of the same man that he has included in the middle of this post. There any reader, who feels up to it, will see the brave Australian […]

Last Axe Decapitations in the West October 21, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Last Axe Decapitations in the West

A description this morning from one of Beachcombing’s books of the season Charles Duff’s A Handbook on Hanging, reviewed in September. To make sense of what follows it should be remembered that Germany had inherited from Prussia beheading as a form of capital punishment. Of course, France too favoured decapitation but employed the more lithe and winsome […]

Review: A Handbook on Hanging September 10, 2010

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Modern
Review: A Handbook on Hanging

Beachcombing recently stumbled upon and cannot now shut up about Charles Duff’s A Handbook on Hanging: Being a Short Introduction to the Fine Art of Execution (1928) in a Nonsuch reprint.*  Yes, it gives a caricature of the history of hanging, while also communicating the case for and against abolition back in the days when the […]

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