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The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death in the Sixteenth Century Paperback – 1 May 2014

4.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (1 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099572664
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099572664
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 269,795 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A surprisingly moving story of brutality and redemption" (Dan Jones Telegraph)

"Opens a window on a gruesome world" (Daily Express)

"This is a marvelous book about a fascinating subject… It is a virtuoso performance… A brilliant microhistory, a triumph of technique and a wonderful read" (Peter Marshall Literary Review)

"Who can imagine how an executioner feels about his trade? Joel F. Harrington has written a considered and fascinating book which helps us hear the voice of one such man, a professional torturer (and healer) who, astonishingly, kept a diary" (Hilary Mantel)

"This is a sympathetic, intelligent and surprisingly tender book" (The Times)

Book Description

Step into the world of Meister Frantz Schmidt: executioner, torturer and dispenser of justice.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 May 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is the fascinating story of Meister Frantz Schmidt (1555 - 1634) who was an executioner and torturer in Nuremberg and who kept a diary, which the author has fleshed out into an incredible biography of a man and a time which is little known. It was unusual to keep a diary in those times, but Schmidt kept a personal journal of the executions he carried out throughout his long career, from 1573 at the age of just nineteen, to his retirement in 1618.

One of the oddest, and saddest, things about Schmidt's life is that he became an executioner through a quirk of fate when his father, Heinrich, was called upon by a noble to act as executioner after he had arrested three locals for plotting against his life Up to that point, Heinrich had been a woodsman and fowler. After the hapless man was forced to kill he had no choice but to become an executioner. Since the Middle Ages, executioners were shunned and excluded by society and tended to bond together out of necessity. When this terrible social exclusion was forced upon him, Heinrich did the best he could and trained his son Frantz in his new profession - although both men had plans to try to escape the calling forced upon them.

It has to be said that Frantz did the best he could under the circumstances. His training began with using rhubarb stalks to practice on (apparently similar to the sinews in the neck - much of this book is gruesome, so this is not for the squemish), continuing with beheading stray dogs and helping his father in his work before, ahem, striking out on his own. During his long career, he personally killed three hundred and ninety four people, torturing countless others.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Mick Jagger once criticised Bill Wyman's autobiography for reading like an itinerary. (expletive deleted) This book at times does read like an itinerary, but it very necessary if the reader is to understand the intensity and scale of the executioner's workload in an era when the death penalty was seen to serve a very public purpose. However, the author also succeeds in bringing his subject alive to the reader. He portrays a human being with a family and legitimate social and economic aspirations in turbulent times. You almost feel like you know Schmidt, whereas you would recoil from Jack Ketch. Schmidt is almost an early modern Pierrepoint.

Paul Laxton
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An interesting insight into an aspect of history rarely covered, the executioner was it turns out really skilled at his job and crucial to the maintanence of law and order, shame you will never read a novel where the executioner is the hero - the stigma of the role continues to this day.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I must admit I was a little anxious that this book might be simply a trot through numerous gory executions. However, I have been truly impressed at how much more this book is.
It is a book about punishment, but also about a society's, and individual's view on justice, sin, damnation and redemption. It is about how one man sets about restoring his family's honour while working in a 'dishonourable' profession.
I have found it a chilling, moving and fascinating insight into a world at the very doorstep of the modern era.
Hugely readable, and highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
In the latter half of the 16th Century and the first years of the 17th, Meister Frantz Schmidt was the official executioner for the thriving city-state of Nuremberg, part of the Holy Roman Empire. He kept a meticulous record of the occasions for all 394 people he executed, as well many more sentences of corporal punishment and torturing of suspects.
This is a fascinating and exceptionally well written account of the life of Meister Frantz, whose father was forced to enter the unsavoury and socially pariah status of an executioner, and his son followed suit. Despite the awful state-sanctioned punishments that Frantz inflicted on a variety of miscreants, he comes across as being a conscientious and rather likeable man. He was desperate to be accepted into Nuremberg society, at a time when the public executioner was almost always shunned by polite society. His journal demonstrates how Frantz was determined to do the job to the best of his ability, whilst minimising suffering of his victims; nevertheless he routinely inflicted horrendous pain on what he judged to be the worst offenders – usually inveterate and cruel criminals. This is an excellent study of 16-17th century Nuremberg society and its social mores.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Well written - a dream to read. (I read it in 2 days)

Interesting subject as well.

My reaction to the whole subject was quite different at the end to the beginning. Author manages to take you into the world of Germany at that time.

It lost a bit of its vrim and coherence towards the end, but a small criticism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you've ever wondered how executioners practiced in order to make their executions go smoothly, then wonder no more - suffice to say, avert the eyes of your four-legged friends, and guard your rhubarb patch jealously! This sort of information lies embedded within the pages of this very readable book, which charts the life of Meister Frantz, an executioner in seventeenth century Germany. While there are (inevitably) ample anecdotes about particular executions and how they impacted upon the executioner, Harrington's book really takes us on a journey through the life of a man who was looking to restore his (and his family's) good name, a good name that had been lost through no fault of their own.
It raises ethical problems for ourselves - are we really so far removed from the mindset of the seventeenth century as we like to think?
Harrington is at pains to distance himself from the prurient and sensationalist side of the executioner's art, but there are still passages that drew me up short in their implication. The victims and the executioners both have good tales to be told, and they receive good airings in this book.
The curious part in me now wishes to know how transposable the German experience is to the English/British model. Were executioners here similarly disadvantaged?
The text is generously annotated and referenced, and on the whole the book straddles the divide between popular and scholarly history in a successful way. A curious insight into the past, and very welcome for it, I would recommend this book.
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