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French Guillotine, circa 1870-1872

  The guillotine got his name from the french doctor  Joseph Ignace Guillotin , who proposed this device to the french National Assembly . He was however not able to make the construction plans , these were done by a collegue of hiS, Dr. Louis , a surgeon, who also was the secretary of the surgical academy . The construction was carried out by Tobias Schmidt , who was in the piano-making business.

The idea for a beheading-machine was not new and there were some precursors who made their job since the 15th century

This device was called " Mannaja" in Italy,
"Halifax Gibet" in England and
" Maiden" in Scotland .

To be decapitated with the "Mannaja" was a "privilege for the nobility." 22 -year old Beatrice Cenci , who had murdered her father, was executed on the 10th september 1599 in Rome with a similar machine

The first victim of the guillotine was Nicolas-Jacques Pelletier who was executed on 25th April 1792 , the last were Claude Buffet and Roger Bontemps who were put to death  in November 1972

Most of the people condemened to death on the guillotine was during the french Terreur  , only to be surpassed by the executions during the National-Socialist area in Germany (1933-1945).
The estimations for this period are about 12.000 executions , mostly by the guillotine!

The guillotine was largely adopted by many continental european countries, like Belgium , Germany, Sweden , but she never made her way to Great Britain who was very conservative and preferred hanging!


  In this century the guillotine would be sent from Paris to the prison by rail and is erected in a suitable place during the night. Just before dawn the officials would go to the condemned man's cell and inform him that his appeal had failed and that he was to be executed immediately.

  He would be allowed a few minutes to pray with his priest before having his hands strapped behind his back and the collar of his shirt cut down.

Movie Pic Click the picture to see a woman being decapitated at the guillotine

  The prison register would be signed for the final time and the prisoner escorted to the guillotine by warders. On arrival he would immediately be strapped to the upright bascule and then turned horizontally and slid into the lunnette. The top of the lunnette would be brought down immediately followed by the release of the blade. The whole procedure typically took less than two minutes to complete.

  Various experiments have been made on guillotined heads and generally seem to show that little consciousness remains by 5 seconds after separation from the body, although, some have concluded that the head retains feeling for much longer. Whatever the truth the guillotine is probably one of the least cruel methods of execution and yet one that has a "high deterrent" value because it is so gruesome.


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