It is most unfortunate but true that the guillotine has become the most famous icon of the French Revolution. "the Louisette" did indeed symbolize many of its aspects; its passionate egalitarianism, its demand for common standards, its humanistic tendencies,...and its moloch mercilessness. Here then is a brief history of the most evocative lethal instrument ever.
The Guillotine's predecessors included the Scottish Maiden, the Italian Mannaia and the English Halifax Gibbet which were in irregular use In the Middle Ages. These machines, like all forms of decapitation were an aristocratic privilege.
In 1790, National Assembly delegate Dr. Joseph Guillotin proposed that torture be abolished and a humane and equal death penalty be applied in the form of a decapitation machine.
Such a machine had been designed by Dr. Louis and was built by a harpsichord maker named Thomas schmidt
The first execution was of Jacques-Louis Pelletier, a thief. The audience is disappointed by the lack of spectacle.
During the Reign of Terror, 17,000 people were guillotined. Most of the estimated 40,000 who perished in the Terror did so by mass drowning or shooting. Not a la Madame Guillotine.
During the Age of Imperialism, the guillotine was taken wherever the French Empire extended---- to the Caribbean, and Asia especially.
in 1870s, Berger redesigned the guillotine to make it smaller, more portable and scaffold-less. The Guillotine now functioned seldomly in France. Most execution were of underworld criminals.
The Last Public Guillotining in france Took Place in 1939 The Nazis revived use of Guillotine and around 17,000 executions took place in Hitler's Europe.
The Last Guillotining, taking place in 1977, was of Algerian murderer Hamida Djandoubi
The death penalty abolished in France in 1981. Its abolition was declared "In the spirit of the Revolution."
Tete A Tete
During the Reign of Terror, fear of the guillotine reached cult-like status. Popular Names for the Guillotine Included "The National Razor," The Hungry Lady" The She-wolf." Louisette" Madame Guillotine," and "The Widow"
During The Reign of Terror, Men wore their cravats increasingly high. There were women's earrings made of the guillotine. In the Thermidorean Reaction, cravats came to cover much of the face, women wore dresses a la guillotine
During the Thermidorean Reaction, balls were hosted on the cemeteries of he Terror. To get in, you had to have lost one close relative in the Terror. Young men would wear shirts so high their heads were invisible sometimes and women wore red ribbons around their throats. To signal to a partner, the man would make a slitting gesture across his throat and the woman would reply with a dropping gesture.
The Guillotine exerted a powerful influence well into the twentieth century due to the interest that writers and the general public showed in the Machine.
A Day in the Life of the Condemned
the roll call of the condemned-A representative would call the names of prisoners to be executed that day
the Toilette of the condemned-the prisoner would have their hair cut to the back of their neck and their shirt ripped to make the guillotine's work easier.
the tumbrel ride-Prisoners were loaded into rough-hewn carts with many other prisoners-at the height of the Terror in Paris there might be 80 to 90 people to be executed every day. The Ride was long and painful. All the way, jeering crowds laughed, joked and threw things at the prisoners. These rides from the various prisons could take hours--- Robespierre's took 3.
at the scaffold-the prisoners were expected to take a calm, stoic and brave approach to their own deaths. Most prisoners did show this, but Madame Du Barry for example died screaming for help. The crowd sympathized with her whereas they jeered the brave victims.
Could you have been guillotined and not died of it? Yes, the Republic beheaded people who were already dead- I.e. Charles Valaze
The Guillotine was constantly being moved because of stench and fear of disease
After the execution---- Head and Body were put into a ditch with head between legs and then covered with quicklime.
A Heady Business
When the executioner's assistant slapped Charlotte Corday's head after her guillotining, the crowd swore they saw her blush.
Antoine Lavoisier, the famous chemist, had a friend record the times he blinked after he was beheaded-the friend recorded 11.
It is true that for a few seconds if the head is not properly shaken, blood remains going to the brain the person is still alive after they have been guillotined. This was one of the reasons why the death penalty was abolished in France.