The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century by Joel F. Harrington is a biography of a German executioner, based on his diary.
- 320 pages
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0809049929
The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century by Joel F. Harrington is a wonderful book based on a remarkable journal kept by the executioner of Nuremberg, Meister Franz Schmidt. Along with the “work” of Meister Schmidt, the author vividly re-creates life in sixteenth century Nuremberg and its surroundings.
The biography recounts the stigma an executioner had during his lifetime. The executioner was an outcast of society, even though a good one was difficult to find and much appreciated, and so was his family. The stigma helped created a lineage of executioners since that was one of the few jobs they were able to hold in such a class conscious society.
Master Schmidt kept his journal for the main purpose of restoring honor to his family from the horrible career which they were forced into. This is a fascinating book, not for the squeamish but the horror is not there for horror’s sake, but instead to help the reader understand the time and the techniques used by the biographies subject.
I was surprised to learn that many executioners at the time considered themselves professionals and were proud of how little their “clients” suffered, unless instructed by the state to prolong their death. An executioner which botched an execution could be fired (good luck integrating into society) or even lynched by the angry crowd.
Meister Schmidt would also torture and patch criminals up if needed even though, it seemed, he understood the effectiveness of psychological torture better than some contemporaries of ours. Because of his intimate knowledge of anatomy, the executioner, an outcast I must remind you again, was sometimes called upon to heal the sick and injured of the general population. Many took great pride in that second profession.
This is a wonderful book, at times unpleasant to read because of the horrendous crimes or sometimes equally horrendous punishments. The world was very brutal in the sixteenth century, the author makes that clear, and Meister Schmidt was an integral part of the state to keep order and relative safe.
Zohar — Man of la Book
Disclaimer: I borrowed this book.
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