What a Way to Go: The Guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey, and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death

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9780312366568: What a Way to Go: The Guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey, and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death
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A gruesomely, hilarious and fascinating pop-history account of methods of execution from around the world and through the ages

In this wickedly humorous book, Geoffrey Abbott describes the effectiveness of instruments of torture and reveals the macabre origins of familiar phrases such as 'gone west' or 'drawn a blank'. Covering everything from the preparation of the victim to the disposal of the body 'What a Way to Go' is everything you ever wanted to know about the ultimate penalty---and a lot you never thought to ask.

It includes such hair-raising categories as:
- Sewn in an Anima's Belly: A living person is sewn into the belly of an animal and left to die&
- The Spanish Donkey: This method of torture consisted of seating a victim on top of a wall that resembled an inverted V with weights attached to the ankles, the weights slowly increased until the victim's body split in two
- Iron Chair: The victim is tied to an iron armchair and pushed nearer and nearer to a blazing fire

What a Way to Go is a a unique and fascinating look at the grim and gritty history of sanctioned death

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Geoffrey Abbott served for many years as a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London. Author of nineteen books and contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica, he has made numerous television appearances.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter OneAxeThe very prospect of a not-so-sharp wedge of iron descending forcibly on the back of one’s neck, perhaps more than once, evokes shudders of horror. Yet this method of execution, rather than that of hanging, was actually granted as a privilege to those of noble birth, death by cold steel being considered more honourable, akin to being slain on the battlefield.The execution axe itself was not unlike the battleaxes used in combat which, far from being finely honed and balanced weapons, were designed solely to batter through armour and cleave through helmets. Likewise, the ‘heading axe’, as it was called, was little more than a blunt, primitive chopper which crushed its way through the flesh and vertebrae of the victim as he, or she, knelt over the block.Death did not always come quickly. The executioner was not noted for his expertise or his sobriety, and the axe he swung was heavy and unwieldy, so ill balanced that it had a tendency to twist in his hands as it descended. Moreover, he was required to aim at an extremely small target under the critical gaze of a crowd numbered in thousands, these factors all having a further disruptive effect on his accuracy.It is hardly surprising, therefore, that, on occasions, it took more than one blow to complete the task. ‘Pray do your business well,‘ exclaimed James, Duke of Monmouth, giving the executioner some gold guineas to ensure a swift demise. ‘Do not serve me as you did Lord Russell. I have heard you gave him three or four strokes--if you strike me twice I cannot promise not to move.’ The noble duke should have saved not only his money but his breath as well, for it took Jack Ketch five blows before the head was completely severed.To appreciate what sort of an instrument the heading axe is the specimen displayed in the Tower of London merits close study. No replica, it is reportedly the one used to decapitate Simon, Lord Lovat, in 1747, he being the last man to be executed by the axe in this country.The instrument is about thirty-six inches long and weighs seven pounds fifteen ounces. The rough, unpolished blade is sixteen and a half inches long, its cutting edge being ten and a half inches in length. As crude and brutal in action as it is in appearance, its absence of precision, while not deliberate, was not considered important. It was, after all, a weapon of punishment, not mercy, epitomising the slogan: ‘Behave or be beheaded!’The axe’s partner in crime, or rather the penalty for same, was of course the block. At first just any old piece of timber, it soon evolved into a carefully shaped sculpture designed to facilitate the executioner’s task. As the victim’s throat had to be supported by a flat surface ready for the axe blow, a hollow was scooped out of one side to accommodate the victim’s chin and a similar, though wider, hollow on the opposite side of the block allowed the victim to push his, or her, shoulders forward as far as possible, thereby stretching the neck and increasing the size of the target area.Most blocks were about two feet high, permitting the victim to kneel. Lower ones, such as the ten-inch-high one used for the execution of King Charles I, required an almost prone position, this attitude inducing an even greater sense of helplessness in the victim.A new block was usually prepared for each execution, the impact of the heavy blows invariably splitting the timber after the blade had passed through the victim’s neck. The shock also made the block bounce, sometimes even causing the victim’s body to be jolted to one side or the other, both reactions tending to deflect subsequent blows of the axe.With experience and foresight, these unfortunate repercussions could be countered, as exemplified by the precautions taken at the executions of the two Jacobite leaders, Lord Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino, on Tower Hill in August 1746. Vast crowds had been assembling since before dawn to watch the event, spectators clambering on to roofs and balconies, some even scaling masts and clinging to the rigging of ships moored in the Pool of London.As recorded by the Lieutenant of the Tower of London:‘First went their four Yeoman Warders, two and two, then I followed singley; after Me followd Lord Kilmarnock the Prisoner, then the Chaplins and two friends. Then Lord Balmerino attended by the Gentleman Gaoler; then followd an Officer and fifteen men. Two herses with the Coffins for the two Lords came behind, then a Sergent with fifteen men more, all with their Bayonets fixd; thus we handed them over to the sheriff at the Gates, who took them up the Hill to the scaffold.There the Undertaker was ordered to take the Coffins out of the Herses and lay them together on the scaffold. The block was, at the request of the Prisoners, made two feet high, and I desired a good Stiff post to be put just under it to brace against the blows, and a piece of red Bais to be had, in which to catch their heads and not let them fall into the sawdust and filth of the scaffold, which was done. And the Earl of Kilmarnock had his head sever’d from the Body at one Stroke, all but a little skin which with a little chopp was soon separated. He had orderd one of his Warders to attend him as his Vallet de Chambre, and to keep down his body from strugling or any violent Convulsive Motion, but it was observed by those on the scaffold that the Body, on the Stroke, sprung backwards from the block and lay flatt on its back, dead and extended, with its head fasten’d only by that little hold which the Executioner chopt off. So that it is probable that whenever the head is sever’d from the Body at one stroke, it will allwais give that convulsive spring or bounce.Lord Balmerino’s Fate was otherwais, for tho’ he was a brave and resolute Jacobite and seemed to have more than ordinary Courage, and indifference for death, yet when he layed his head on the block and made his signal for decollation, he withdrew his body, so that he had three cuts with the axe before his head was severed, and the by Standers were forc’d to hold his body and head to the block while the Separation was making.’That was the semi-official account by an officer of the Tower based on the report he had received later from the sheriff and others. What actually happened on the scaffold were moments of high drama intermingled with what can only be classed as pure farce.The man at the centre of the proceedings was executioner John Thrift, a man hardly suited for such a role. For the past ten years or so he had been carrying out his duties more or less adequately, dispatching his victims in the recognised manner, by the rope. The axe, reserved for traitors and the like, had but briefly entered his orbit, yet here he was, the centre of vast attention, having to behead two lords. Had tranquillisers been invented, John would have had his pockets full of them.So when, dressed in his white suit, he stood by the block and saw the immense crowds, heard the buzz of tense excitement, the mounting roar from those crammed by the gates as the victims and escort approached, it all proved too much for him. He fainted. The officials on the scaffold, already uneasy about his capabilities, gathered round and revived him with a glass of wine. Worse, however, was to follow, for when the young Lord Kilmarnock came up the steps, Thrift burst into tears, more wine being required to enable him to regain his composure. A further tonic was administered by Kilmarnock, who not only spoke gently to him but also slipped a purseful of guineas into his hand.This, it would seem, was sufficient to stiffen John’s morale for, as his victim knelt over the block, the executioner advised the lord to move his hands from the block ‘lest they should be mangled or intercept the blow’. Stepping back, the executioner raised the axe, brought it down, and, as reported, one stroke proved sufficient.There was then a brief interval to permit the removal of the body, the scattering of clean sawdust to soak up the pools of blood, and for Thrift to don a clean white suit. His confidence was far from regained though, when the doughty Lord Balmerino strode on to the scaffold, defiant to the last, dressed in his rebellious regimental uniform, the blue coat with red facings which he had worn in the Pretender’s army. Under his uniform he had put on a woollen shirt which, he said, would serve as his shroud.At the imposing figure of his next victim, the executioner’s nerves were once again at the point of collapse. Humbly, he asked his victim for his forgiveness, to which Balmerino answered, ‘Friend, you need not ask me to forgive you,‘ and he presented the axeman with three guineas, adding, ‘I have never had much money, and this is all I have. I wish it were more, for your sake. I am sorry I can add nothing else but my coat and waistcoat.’Balmerino then approached the block. Undecided as to which side he should kneel, he hesitated, then suddenly made up his mind and took up the correct position. Then, abruptly, he gave the signal that he was ready by throwing out his arm in such a violent movement that Thrift, caught off balance, brought down the axe so feebly that the lord sustained only a flesh wound. Hence, as stated, two more blows were necessary before John had earned his fees.After the executions were over, the bodies were laid in the waiting coffins and transported in the hearses back into the Tower. There they were immediately interred in the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, their lead coffin-plates now displayed on its west wall.For poor John Thrift, to say nothing of his victims, the trauma on the scaffold was far from over, for later that year, on 8 December, he had to behead Charles Radcliffe, younger brother of the Earl of Derwentwater who had been executed in 1715. Radcliffe should have met his death with his brother but had escaped from the Tower.His fate, however, was only postponed, for he was recognised by a London barber who, thirty years earlier, had shaved him in the Tower. Arrested, ...

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Book Description St. Martin's Griffin. Paperback. Condition: New. 352 pages. Dimensions: 6.9in. x 5.0in. x 1.0in.A gruesomely, hilarious and fascinating pop-history account of methods of execution from around the world and through the ages In this wickedly humorous book, Geoffrey Abbott describes the effectiveness of instruments of torture and reveals the macabre origins of familiar phrases such as gone westor drawn a blank. Covering everything from the preparation of the victim to the disposal of the body What a Way to Go is everything you ever wanted to know about the ultimate penalty---and a lot you never thought to ask. It includes such hair-raising categories as: Sewn in an Animas Belly: A living person is sewn into the belly of an animal and left to die and The Spanish Donkey: This method of torture consisted of seating a victim on top of a wall that resembled an inverted V with weights attached to the ankles, the weights slowly increased until the victims body split in twoIron Chair: The victim is tied to an iron armchair and pushed nearer and nearer to a blazing fireWhat a Way to Go is a a unique and fascinating look at the grim and gritty history of sanctioned death This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Paperback. Seller Inventory # 9780312366568

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