Henricus Rex

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Henry VIII
by Hans Holbein
A popular rhyme describing Henry's marital follies:

Divorced, Beheaded, Died
Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

La folie, indeed.

Beneath the Tudor Axe

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Anne Boleyn in The Tower
The sixteenth century women were entering the sphere of politics like never before. Queens would inherit, and consorts would rule. But hand in hand with the privilege of politics, are also the dangers. And in monarchial governments, where personal loyalties and frail egos steer the course of political intrigue, dissent and distrust can cost you your life.

Tudor England (1483 - 1603) saw two queens inherit the throne for the first time in four hundred years, and a parade of influential consorts slip in and out of Henry Tudor's bed. Unfortunately, the only way to get out of bed with Henry, was through your grave, all too often not by natural causes.

From the feisty Anne Boleyn, who ensared Henry's affection, and thus was the catalyst for the English Reformation, the rambunctiously silly Catherine Howard, the bookish & timid Jane Grey, to the final rose in our crown, the bright, witty, passionately compulsive, and ultimately fatal, Mary Stuart Queen of Scots, All marched to the scaffold with dignity, as custom and religion demanded (well, perhaps except for Catherine Howard), in the end thanking and praising their Sovereign and executioner for the privilege of dying.

Anne Boleyn was the first English queen to die under the axe, and Mary Stuart (though Queen of Scotland) was the last.

Fun Link: TudorHistory.org! Happy clicking. Bright and fun to read, wonderful pictures and good selection of portraits with lots of juicy tidbits. Awesome time-killer!

In Conclusion

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Ian Hamilton Finlay
& Gary Hincks, 1987
Both the garden style called 'sentimental', and the French Revolution, grew from Rousseau. The garden trellis, and the guillotine, are alike entwined with the honeysuckle of the new 'sensibility'.

— Ian Hamilton Finlay & Gary Hincks, 1987

The Guillotine was in use in France as it's official form of capitol punishment until 1977.

Lord Byron Witnesses an Execution

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The day before I left Rome I saw three robbers guillotined—the ceremony—including the masqued priests—the half-naked executioners—the bandaged criminals—the black Christ & his banner—the scaffold—the soldiery—the slow procession—& the quick rattle and heavy fall of the axe—the splash of the blood—& the ghastliness of the exposed heads—is altogether more impressive than the vulger and ungentlemanly dirty "new drop" & dog-like agony of infliction upon the sufferers of the English sentence (i.e. hanging). The head was taken off before the eye could trace the blow—but from an attempt to draw back the head—notwithstanding it was held forward by the hair—the first head was cut off close to the ears—the other two were taken off more cleanly;—it is better than the Oriental way (i.e. with sword)—& (I should think) than the axe of our ancestors. The pain seems little—& yet the effect to the spectator—& the preparation to the criminal—is very striking & chilling. The first turned me quite hot & thirsty—& made me shake so that I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close—but determined to see—as one should see everything once—with attention) the second and third (which shows how dreadully soon things grow indifferent) I am ashamed to say had no effect on me—as a horror—though I would have saved them if I could.

— Lord Byron, 1817

Camille Desmoulins

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Camille Desmoulins is prison
My Lucile, ma poule, despite my torment I believe there is a God, my blood will efface my faults, I wll see you again one day O my Lucile ... is the death which will deliver me from the spectable of so many crimes such a misfortune? Adieu Loulou, adieu my life, my soul, my divinity on earth ... I feel the river banks of life receding before me, I see you again Lucile, I see my arms locked about you, my tied hands embracing you, my severed head resting on you. I am going to die ...

Camille Desmoulins to His Wife on the Eve of His Execution, 1794

The Death of Madame du Barry

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The Comtesse du Barry
by Vigée Le Brun
Madame du Barry, mistress if the late Louis XV, grew terrified in the face of death, shrieked in the tumbril, begged the onlookers to save her, and struggled with the executioners on the scaffold. The painter Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun speculates in her memoirs that the mobs might indeed have relented had the victims not played their roles so well.
"Madame Du Barry ... is the only woman, among all the women who perished in the dreadful days, who could not stand the sight of the scaffold. She screamed, she begged mercy of the horrible crowd that stood around the scaffold, she aroused them to such a point that the executioner grew anxious and hastened to complete his task. This convinced me that if the victims of these terrible times had not been so proud, had not met death with such courage, the Terror would have ended much earlier. Men of limited intelligence lack the imagination to be touched by inner suffering, and the populace is more easily stirred by pity than by admiration."

Marquis de Sade: Near Miss

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Quills, Directed by
Philip Kaufman, 2001
Having been released from prison in 1790 by the revolutionary government, the Marquis de Sade spent the next three years trying to be a good patriot, but when he was thrown back into prison in 1793 as a former aristocrat he must have feared the worst. He was spared the guillotine only by the fall of Robespierre in 1794. During his imprisonment under the Reign of Terror, Sade recorded his revulsion at the carnage.
"... when suddenly the execution grounds were placed absolutely under our windows and the cemetery for those guillotined put in the very middle of our garden. We have buried eighteen hundred of these in thirty-five days, a third of them from our unfortunate house." And later he complained, "My detention by the state with the guillotine right before my eyes did me a hundred times more harm than all imaginable Bastilles."

la Princess(e) de Lamballe

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La Princesse de Lamballe
by Joseph Sifiède Duplessis
Marie-Therese De Savoie-Carignan (1749-92) Princess of Lamballe
A long time friend to Marie-Antoinette, Lamballe faithfully stuck by her until forcefully removed from the Queen's company in 1792. Confronted by an improvised court on trumped up charges which she denied, she was then asked to swear an oath of loyalty to Liberty and Equality and one of hatred to the King, Queen and Monarchy, she accepted the first but refused the latter. A door was opened off the interrogation room, where she saw men waiting with axes and pikes. Pushed into an alley she was hacked to death in minutes. Her clothes were stripped from her body, and her head was struck off and stuck on a pike. Some accounts attest to the crowd cutting off her breasts and mutilating her genitals. What is certain is that her head was carried in triumph through Paris to be shown to the Queen. Marie-Antoinette spared herself this torment by fainting on the spot. The valet however peered through the blinds to see de Lamballe's blonde curls bobbing in the air.

— Simon Schama (somewhat paraphrased) - Citizens

Marie Antoinette: Crown Without a Head

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Marie Antoinette Imprisoned in the Conciergerie
The Marquise de Bréhan c. 1793-95

Josephe Jeanne Marie Antoinette von Habsburg-Lorraine,
aka Marie Antoinette, Queen of France

(November 2, 1755 – October 16, 1793)

It may be that the champagne glass so familiar today was modeled upon the famous breast of Marie Antoinette, and that her most famed and inflaming quote "Let them eat cake," is fabricated political propoganda, but hindsight renders much of what was so scandalous in her own day, down right trivial by our own standards.

From sycophantic tyrantess, to an obsolete, fluffy-headed haute grandeur, to doomed teen queen, Marie Antoinette's image has been somewhat resurrected in recent years. The truth, in the early years, lies somewhere inbetween this laundry list of feminine archetypes. But it was towards the end, when most of us grow up (she was 37 when she was executed), that her spirit and fortitude shone most. In the end, all pomp gone, she was a dedicated mother, sister, and wife. Brave as a tigress and willing to sacrifice all for her family, this is the picture that is rarely shown in our history books, literature and cinema.

From the fall of the Bastille, July 14th, 1789, til the day of her execution on October 16, 1793, her life became a series of ever shrinking spaces. In 1790 the royal family was taken by force from the palace of Versaille fifteen miles outside of Paris, to a carefully guarded Tuileries Palace in Paris. After a failed attempt to escape in disguise in 1791 to Austria (they were captured in Varenne), rather than bend and except a Republican Monarchy, Marie Antoinette machinated a war with Austria (her home country) that she'd hoped France would lose, and the family would be rescued. The parisienne masses were incensed at such gall, and on August 10, 1792 the mob stormed the Tuileries and massacred the Swiss Guard, while the royal family fled. A few days later Louis XVI was arrested and on September 21 1792 the monarchy in France was officially abolished. The family was moved to the Temple Fortress and put under heavy guard. The Princesse de Lamballe, who up until this point had shared the fate of her closest friend, was seperated from Marie Antoinette and forced to repudiate her. When she refused she was attacked by the mob and beaten to death with a hammer. The story goes that she was torn apart, her head paraded on a pike in front of the Queen's prison window, but the story cannot be substantiated beyond hear say.

[to be written]

The Executioner

Marie Antoinette on her way to the Guillotine
In France, the role of executioner was an hereditary post and from 1688 – 1847 it was held by the Sanson family. At the time of the Revolution the position was held by Charles-Henri Sanson, who took his trade very seriously. But once his public role had been reduced by the guillotine to the mere pulling of a pin the better to show his skill by the sheer numbers that could be dispatched in the shortest amount of time. At the peak of the Terror Sanson guillotined 300 men and women in three days.
Oh, thou charming guillotine,
You shorten kings and queens;
By your influence divine,
We have reconquered our rights.
Come to aid of the Country
And let your superb instrument
Become forever permanent
To destroy the impious sect.
Sharpen your razor for Pitt and his agents
Fill your divine sack with heads of tyrants.
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