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During your time reading this article from tistip, you may have come across some of the worst punishments humans have ever devised. Torture has been used throughout history to punish criminals, make enemies talk, or just for fun by insane despots. But what if you were sentenced to death using a formRead more
During your time reading this article from tistip, you may have come across some of the
worst punishments humans have ever devised.
Torture has been used throughout history to
punish criminals, make enemies talk, or just
for fun by insane despots.
But what if you were sentenced to death using
a form of punishment that was quick, watched
by thousands, and even may have made you a
Execution using guillotine
We are talking about the guillotine.
Join me as we explore the gruesome and fascinating machine that was the favored form of punishment in France for nearly two hundred years, and whether you agree with this form of punishment or not, just try not to lose your head and keep calm.
The guillotine is probably best known for
its work during the French Revolution.
It struck fear into the hearts of innocent
and guilty citizens across France.
It was a time of unrest and those sentenced
to death rarely had trials.
But beheading and even beheading machines
were not new to the world at the time of the
Beheading as a punishment happened throughout history and across the world.
It can be traced back to ancient Greek and
However, beheading wasn’t for everyone.
It started out as an honourable death and
was reserved for nobles and persons of importance.
If you were someone of lower status, you most
likely would be getting the axe as your beheading device.
But those with real prestige were decapitated
by a sword.
You had to be really important to get the
Either way the result was the same.
Beheading was not just a Eurocentric punishment either.
Seppuku, which is ritual decapitation by Samurai sword, was practiced in Japan from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
Regardless of if you were a Samurai, Roman
soldier, or English crusader decapitation
was always an option as a punishment.
In England beheading gained popularity during Medieval Times.
It was used to execute rival rulers, soldiers,
But traitors were not high status, so they
were not worthy of just your normal beheading.
Instead they were dragged through the streets
by horse to the location of their execution,
hung within inches of death, disemboweled,
and then finally beheaded.
Some traitors were lucky enough to have all
four limbs tied to a different horse, and
then torn apart when the horses ran in different directions.
Luckily the traitor was already dead when
most of the time.
Before the Guillotine became fashionable and
sped up the beheading process, there were
other machines created to achieve this goal.
A machine called the “planke” was used
in Germany during the Middle Ages and England had a similar device with a sliding axe known as the “Halifax Gibbet.”
It would seem that Germany and England both
beat France to the cut.
Eventually France moved into the beheading
The idea for the guillotine and its namesake
was Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin.
Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin.
He was an anatomy professor and politician
in Paris when he came up with his famous idea.
He lobbied before the National Assembly in
1789 for equality in capital punishment.
The idea of equality of life was on the minds
of everyone during the French Revolution.
Dr. Guillotin just took the discussion one
step further to the equality of death.
He argued that it was unfair for common criminals to be tortured as capital punishment, while more noble law brakers were given swift and quick justice.
Some wealthy felons could even tip their executioners to make sure they received a quick death.
Dr. Guillotin argued that if France was going
to be truly egalitarian, then those principles
should extend to capital punishment as well.
All criminals, regardless of class, should
be beheaded, he declared!
His solution was a beheading machine that
ensured everyone received a quick and compassionate death.
He explained that, “the mechanism falls
like lightning; the head flies off; the blood
spurts; the man no longer exists.”
As far as punishments go, everyone is going
to have the same experience.
Joseph-Ignace Guillotin may have come up with the idea of using a beheading machine for
executions, but he was by no means an inventor or engineer.
Instead, a man by the name of Antoine Louis
created and built the first beheading machine
Louis tested his machine on animals, and when the new contraption could cleanly sever the heads of sheep and calves he moved to human trials.
First Louis tested his beheading machine on
the corpses of dead women and children and
was largely successful.
However, with dead human male necks the cuts never seemed clean and this prompted Louis to go through several redesign phases.
To overcome the annoying obstacles of thicker
necks and denser bones of males, Louis increased the height from which the blade dropped and the blade was redesigned into a sloping, triangular shape.
This did the trick and Louis’ machine could
now sever the head of a fully grown male corpse with accuracy and ease.
It is amazing what you can do when you’ve
got a good head on your shoulders.
The machine that Louis made was originally
named after its creator.
The name “Louison” or “Louisette”
did not stick however, after people associated
the machine with the great doctor who came
up with the idea of equality for punishment
Much to the lament of Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin the beheading machine was renamed the guillotine.
But the French people also took to calling
the machine “The Widow” and the “National
The guillotine design was simple yet effective.
It consisted of two upright wooden beams with
a crossbeam at the top, which the rope the
blade was connected to was attached.
Heavy weights were placed on the backside
of the blade to ensure the blade picked up
enough speed to cut cleanly through the neck
of the guillatine’s victims.
The first victim of the device was Nicolas-Jaques Pelletier, who was executed in 1792.
He was a criminal who had been sentenced to
death for robbing and murdering Parisian citizens.
A guillotine was erected in Place de Grève
outside of Hôtel de Ville in Paris.
Pelletier was paraded into the plaza and walked onto the platform where an enthusiastic and interested crowd awaited his execution.
Imagine for a moment you are in the crowd
just waiting around to see the next public
Instead of your usual gallows, a fourteen
foot high wooden machine with a razor sharp
blade hanging from the top sits in the middle
of the plaza.
“What the heck is that?” you might ask
the person next to you.
But no one knows because it is the first time
a contraption like this has been used in France.
You watch as the scoundrel Nicolas-Jaques
Pelletier is walked up onto the platform and
secured so his head rests at the base of the
wooden tower of death.
Then the executioner approaches.
Instead of weilding an axe or sword he walks
empty handed over to a lever.
He pauses for a moment and then pulls.
The shining blade falls like lightning and
cuts straight through the criminal’s neck.
Pelletier’s decapitated head falls into a wicker basket as hired hands throw sawdust onto the blood covered wooden boards.
The crowd erupts in applause.
The guillotine had caught on as the main form
of execution for all convicted felons in the
country of France.
More devices were built and capital punishment by guillotine became almost as popular as egalitarianism during the French Revolution.
At dinner parties people had model guillotines
in their parlors with decapitated effigies
of enemies and politicians.
For holidays and birthdays children received
toy guillotines to decapitate their dolls
or mice they caught running around the house.
Poets and songwriters began to write and sing
about the wonderful machine that was bringing swift justice to all who were condemned.
At all of the public executions vendors were
selling souvenirs to commemorate the time
families spent together watching the executions by the famed guillotine.
If you planned right or knew someone important you could even get a spot at a nearby restaurant called “Cabaret de la Guillotine.”
Some people even attended the guillotine executions on a daily basis.
It was reported that a group of somber taboo
women called the Tricoteuses would sit on
the scaffold and knit socks, hats, and scarves
Even those being executed joined in the excitement.
There were accounts of people walking to their
death making sarcastic jokes and dancing their
way up the steps to the guillotine.
Not only were the executions by guillotine
popular and widely attended, but the guillotine operators were revered as celebrities.
During the French Revolution guillotine operators were judged by fans on how quickly and precisely they could behead their victims.
The more beheadings, the more admired the
executioner was in the hearts of the onlookers.
The guillotine executioner profession became
a family affair such as with the Sanson family.
Fathers and sons served as state executioners
for multiple generations, and were responsible
for decapitating King Louis XVI and Marie
Between the 1790’s and 1840’s the family
was responsible for decapitating thousands
of individuals using the guillotine and could
go almost as quick as a beheading a minute.
It was said that the names of executioners
were chanted for all to hear and the clothing
of executioners inspired the latest fashion
trends across France.
It was rumored over the centuries that when
the head was cut off a victim it was still
conscious and could even move and speak.
There is some truth to these claims, but not
The brain uses around twenty percent of all
oxygen taken in by a human body.
Once oxygen stops being supplied to the brain,
such as when the head is separated from the
heart and lungs, the brain shuts down.
However, there is a small window of time where the oxygen and blood that is present in the brain can still be used.
The rumors of decapitated heads still being
conscious gained public attention when in
1793 an executioner’s assistant slapped
the face of the decapitated head of Charlotte
She was charged and sentenced to execution
for the murder of her husband.
The onlookers claimed to see her cheeks flush
and turn red with anger.
This story led doctors and enthusiast to ask
decapitated heads to blink, speak, or show
signs of consciousness.
Spoiler alert, no severed heads showed any
signs of consciousness.
The experiments with decapitated heads were
put to a stop in the twentieth century, however, studies on rats found that brain activity in a decapitated head may continue for up to four seconds after the head is separated
from the body.
Much to the dismay of guillotine enthusiasts
all things must come to an end.
Slowly capital punishment dwindled during
the twentieth century.
However, there was a brief resurgence of the
guillotine during the the Nazi regime.
During the 1930’s twenty guillotines were
ordered to be placed in cities across Germany.
According to Nazi records the guillotines
were used to execute over sixteen thousand
people between 1933 and 1945.
After World War II the guillotine was still
used in France until 1977 for capital punishment.
The last person to be executed by the guillotine was a convicted murderer named Hamida Djandoubi.
A few years later in 1981 France abolished
capital punishment all togehter.
Before his death Guillotin became incredibly
distraught with how the device he had envisioned and helped create became a symbol of death and terror across Europe.
Guillotin tried to dissociate his name from
the beheading machine, and his family petitioned the French government to change its name, but neither were successful.
There are many forms of torture and punishment more painful than the guillotine, but few can claim such swift and numerous deaths as the “National Razor.”
The guillotine struck fear, awe, and excitement
into the hearts of the people during and after
the French Revolution.
No other form of capital punishment was met
with such pomp and circumstance as the guillotine.
People tended to lose their minds over guillotine executions.
Just remember, if you ever find yourself at
the wrong end of a guillotine you may still
have four seconds to make a face before your
decapitated head loses consciousness. Lol
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