From my list on the history of capital punishment.
Who am I?
When I started researching the history of early modern public execution, I read a few eyewitness accounts in which people behaved so strangely that I realised I understood nothing about the realities of this once-common historical practice. By reading the books on this list, I quickly discovered that the ceremony of capital punishment was a performance in which the entire community participated, filled with rituals and behaviours that had enormous emotional and spiritual significance for everyone involved, not just the ‘poor sinner’ on the scaffold. I also discovered that music and singing were crucial parts of the performance, with ballads being sung about the event for years afterwards.
Una's book list on the history of capital punishment
Why did Una love this book?
What must it have been like to be an executioner? In this detailed and moving study, Harrington explores the extraordinary diary of Meister Franz Schmidt, the 16th-century executioner of Nuremberg, who kept notes on every one of the 394 people he executed, as well as the countless others he tortured, whipped, and disfigured according to the law's demands. This book is therefore essential for understanding exactly how this mysterious craft was carried out, but the surprising twist in the tale is how Schmidt spent his entire life seeking to have his family's honour restored in a period when executioners were believed to be able to ritually 'pollute' another human simply by touch. Harrington's real achievement here is explaining how dishonour was the central force within public punishment—something we too easily forget today.