Beheading has been a favored means of execution throughout history. Decapitation results in a quick death and, in some societies, was considered an “honorable” execution. Many cultures across the globe have used ritualistic beheading by sword, axe, guillotine, and even wire as a punishment for various crimes. Some penal systems even used different tools depending on a criminal’s class or rank; an axe might be used for a commoner, while a sword would be reserved for noblemen or members of the military.
Beheading was a common method of execution in Nazi Germany, with figures estimating that about 16,500 individuals were guillotined in Germany and Austria between 1933 and 1945. France, however, kept beheading as it’s standard method of execution longer than any other modern country; although the guillotine reached the height of it’s popularity during the French Revolution, it continued to operate into the 1970′s. There have been many infamous beheadings over the past few centuries — Anne Boleyn, Marie Antoinette, King Loius XVI, and members of the White Rose resistance, to name a few. National Beheading Day offers us an opportunity to reflect on capital punishment and examine this method of execution (now retired in most civilized governments), and it’s use throughout history.
Like most kids, I went through a phase where I was fascinated by anything of a morbid nature. I loved scary stories and Tales from the Crypt, but I also loved learning about the creepy, strange, and gruesome things that have happened throughout history. I remember being both appalled and captivated when we studied European history in school and learned about King Henry VIII and his multiple “unsatisfactory” wives. Public decapitation is just such an extreme way to end a marriage, even for those of us who occasionally envision murdering our beloved spouses! Later, I was equally fascinated by the French Revolution and (in my opinion, at least) the incredibly misunderstood Marie Antoinette. And here’s an interesting bit of information for the trivia lovers out there: famed wax figure maker, Madame Tussaud, was sentenced to death by guillotine during the revolution, but her fate was spared and instead she was forced to make death masks of other less fortunate victims. And to think — I had always thought she’d just been an opportunist, not an actual activist!