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?
It’s not often I’m moved to tears by an academic book, but this book did it for me by putting me in the shoes of a Florentine patrician trying to comfort his friend the night before his execution. The main historical source of the book is an extraordinary ‘how-to’ manual: the one used by the ‘comforting confraternities’ of 16th-century Bologna, men who volunteered to spiritually prepare condemned criminals for their final moments on earth and, in so doing, hopefully increase their chances of salvation. The book explains the various methods and tools that the comforter could use, including prayers, songs, and pictures, and reveals the complex rituals of execution that began long before the prisoner’s arrival at the scaffold. A moving account of the realities of historical capital punishment.