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Executioner

Executioner

Overview
A judicial
Judiciary
The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes...

 executioner is a person who carries out a death sentence
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 ordered by the state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

 or other legal
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 authority, which was known in feudal terminology as high justice
High Justice
High Justice is a 1974 collection of science fiction short stories by Jerry Pournelle. It was republished in a omnibus edition with Exiles to Glory in 2009 as Exile -- and Glory....

.

The executioner was usually presented with a warrant authorizing or ordering him to execute the sentence. The warrant protects the executioner from the charge of murder
Murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

. Common terms for executioners derived from forms of capital punishment—though they often also performed other physical punishments—include hangman (hanging) and headsman (beheading).
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Encyclopedia
A judicial
Judiciary
The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes...

 executioner is a person who carries out a death sentence
Capital punishment
Capital punishment, the death penalty, or execution is the sentence of death upon a person by the state as a punishment for an offence. Crimes that can result in a death penalty are known as capital crimes or capital offences. The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, literally...

 ordered by the state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

 or other legal
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 authority, which was known in feudal terminology as high justice
High Justice
High Justice is a 1974 collection of science fiction short stories by Jerry Pournelle. It was republished in a omnibus edition with Exiles to Glory in 2009 as Exile -- and Glory....

.

Scope and job


The executioner was usually presented with a warrant authorizing or ordering him to execute the sentence. The warrant protects the executioner from the charge of murder
Murder
Murder is the unlawful killing, with malice aforethought, of another human being, and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide...

. Common terms for executioners derived from forms of capital punishment—though they often also performed other physical punishments—include hangman (hanging) and headsman (beheading). In the military the role of executioner was usually performed by a soldier, such as the provost. A common stereotype
Stereotype
A stereotype is a popular belief about specific social groups or types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings...

 of an executioner is a hood
Hood (headgear)
A hood is a kind of headgear that covers most of the head and neck and sometimes the face. They may be worn for protection from the environment, for fashion, as a form of traditional dress or uniform, to prevent the wearer from seeing or to prevent the wearer from being identified.-History and...

ed medieval or absolutist executioner.

While this task can be an occasional one, it can be carried out in the line of more general duty by an officer of the court, the police
Police
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

, prison staff, or even the military
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

. A special case is the tradition of the Roman fustuarium, continued in forms of running the gauntlet
Running the gauntlet
Running the gauntlet is a form of physical punishment wherein a captive is compelled to run between two rows—a gauntlet—of soldiers who strike him as he passes.-Etymology:...

, where the culprit receives his punishment from the hands of the comrades his crime has gravely harmed, e.g. for failing in vital sentinel duty or stealing from a ship's limited food supply.

Many executioners were professional specialists, who usually travelled a whole area since executions would rarely be very numerous. Still, especially if a resident, he would often also administer non-lethal physical punishments
Corporal punishment
Corporal punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable...

, or apply torture
Torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

.

The term is also extended to administrators of a severe physical punishment that is not prescribed to kill, but which may result in death.

Since executions in France (using the guillotine
Guillotine
The guillotine is a device used for carrying out :executions by decapitation. It consists of a tall upright frame from which an angled blade is suspended. This blade is raised with a rope and then allowed to drop, severing the head from the body...

 since the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

) persisted until 1977, the French Republic had an official executioner, Marcel Chevalier
Marcel Chevalier
Marcel Chevalier worked as the last chief executioner in France. He succeeded André Obrecht in 1976 and held his position until 1981, when capital punishment was abolished under president François Mitterrand and justice minister Robert Badinter...

, until the formal abolition in 1981.

Executioners in society


In Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 and its colonies, executioners have often been shunned by their neighbours. This attitude can be observed in numerous novels and films, for instance in Alexandre Dumas, père
Alexandre Dumas, père
Alexandre Dumas, , born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie was a French writer, best known for his historical novels of high adventure which have made him one of the most widely read French authors in the world...

's The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, first serialized in March–July 1844. Set in the 17th century, it recounts the adventures of a young man named d'Artagnan after he leaves home to travel to Paris, to join the Musketeers of the Guard...

or in the film La veuve de Saint-Pierre (The Widow of Saint-Peter) in which executioners, who are minor characters, were ostracized by villagers. The profession of executioner sometimes ran through a family, especially in France where the Sanson family provided six executioners between 1688 and 1847, and the Deibler dynasty provided five between 1879 and abolition in 1981 (Louis Deibler, his son Anatole, Anatole's nephew Jules-Henri Desfourneaux, another nephew of Anatole, André Obrecht
André Obrecht
André Obrecht was the official executioner of France from 1951 until 1976.Born in Paris on August 9, 1899, Obrecht was the nephew of the chief executioner Anatole Deibler. He learned of his uncle's job at ten, when a series of postcards depicting an execution were published in September 1909...

, and finally André's stepson, Marcel Chevalier
Marcel Chevalier
Marcel Chevalier worked as the last chief executioner in France. He succeeded André Obrecht in 1976 and held his position until 1981, when capital punishment was abolished under president François Mitterrand and justice minister Robert Badinter...

). In Britain, the most notable dynasty was the Pierrepoints, who provided three executioners between 1902 and 1956 - Henry, his brother Thomas, and Henry's son Albert
Albert Pierrepoint
Albert Pierrepoint is the most famous member of the family which provided three of the United Kingdom's official hangmen in the first half of the 20th century...

.

Native societies in Asia
Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, the Americas
Americas
The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

, and the Pacific seem to rarely display such blame towards executioners, even when, as in North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, there is significant and vocal opposition to the death penalty itself.

An exception is in Japan where executioners are being held in contempt as part of the Burakumin
Burakumin
are a Japanese social minority group. The burakumin are one of the main minority groups in Japan, along with the Ainu of Hokkaidō, the Ryukyuans of Okinawa and Japanese residents of Korean and Chinese descent....

 class (today executions in Japan are not carried out by professional executioners, but by prison guards regularly moved). In "Memories of Silk and Straw", by Junichi Saga, one of the families surveyed in the Japanese village of Tsuchiura is that of an executioner family ("The Last Executioner", P. 54). This family does suffer social isolation, even though the family is somewhat well-off financially.

In the Ottoman Empire, only gypsies could be executioners. Executioners were seen as "damned" people and even their graveyards were separate from public graveyards. There were no inscriptions on executioner tombstones, usually uncarved and unpolished simple rough stones were used. One of the oldest and largest "executioner graveyards" is in the Eyüp district in Istanbul. After the republican revolution in Turkey, executions continued to be performed by gypsy executioners. This situation continued until the dissolution of capital punishment in Turkey.

The lack of social shunning for executioners in places like North America may be attributed to the infrequency of executions in modern times and the ease in which prison or judicial official are able to conceal their daily job duties. This provides anonymity that was not possible when executions were carried out in view of the general public.

See also

  • List of executioners
  • Scharfrichter
    Scharfrichter
    The term Scharfrichter refers specifically to a tradition of executioners in the German states...

  • Pierrepoint (film)
    Pierrepoint (film)
    Pierrepoint , is a 2005 British film directed by Adrian Shergold about the life of British executioner Albert Pierrepoint....

  • Executioner's sword
    Executioner's sword
    An executioner's sword is a sword designed specifically for decapitation of condemned criminals . These swords were intended for two-handed use, but were lacking a point, so that their overall length was typically that of a single-handed sword...

  • Sword of Justice
    Sword of Justice
    A Sword of Justice, or executioner's sword, was used by trained executioners for carrying out capital punishment in many cultures. Given their special 'ceremonial' purpose, they were usually very well-made of the highest quality metal and were extremely sharp...

  • The Executioner (Kisyov novel)
    The Executioner (Kisyov novel)
    The Executioner is a crime novel by Bulgarian novelist Stefan Kisyov, about the killing of Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov. It was published in 2003 and is the winner of the Vick Foundation's "Best Novel of 2004".-Plot summary:...