An example of terror

Today’s fragments come from both an account of the murder of Henry IV of France in Paris in 1610, and from an account of the terrible execution which subsequently met his assassin.  The torture of Ravaillac is described in graphic detail and shouldn’t be read by anyone squeamish, or about to eat lunch.

Henry King of France and Navarre, beeing at Paris about three of the clocke in the after noone, intended to goe to his Arsenall: tooke his Caroch, and as a Prince which lived without feare or suspition of his people, passed through the City, accompanied with fewe of his Nobilitie; without taking for his better assurance, either Archers, or any of his usuall Gard.  But mischiefe, or rather our sinnes procured, that an accursed and execrable assassin named Francis Ravaillac, borne in Angouleme, approached his person, not farre from S.Innocents; where seeing his Majesties Caroche stayed by a Cart, which met and stopped their passage, taking opportunity, assaulted with most hellish fury this good King, with a long knife, made of purpose; with which hee gave him two wounds in the left side, the first was given nigh the shoulder, which entered not farre, but onely rased the skinne: the second was mortall, the blowe entering betwixt the first and sixt rib, cut asunder the veine leading to the heart; and the wound was so deepe, that it reached into the Cava Vena, which was pierced with the point of the knife. The Prince finding himself wounded to death, lost upon the instant his speech, by reason of the aboundance of bloud, which issued out of his mouth, therefore they turned the caroch to the Louv’re, where he was no sooner arrived but hee rendred his soule into the hands of Almighty God, testifying with his eyes and hands lifted up to heaven, that hee died a true Christian and good Catholique.’

Upon Friday 25. of May, Francois Raviallac was brought out of the prison for the palace with a lighted Torch in one hand, and the knife (wherewith he killed the King) chained to the other hand, to openly be seene.  After this he was placed standing upright in a dung-cart, and so from thence conducted to the Capitall church in Paris, and after this to the place of execution, a spatious streete about the middle of Paris, where there was builded a very substantial scaffold. This here following was the manner of his death: an example of terror made knowne to the world to convert all bloody-minded Traytors from the like enterprise.

The hand with the knife chained to it and halfe the arme was put into a flaming furnace, wherein the knife, his right hande, and halfe the arme was in a most terrible manner consumed. After this, with Tongues and Iron Pincers, made extreme hot in the furnace, the Executioners pinched and seared his breasts, arms, thighs and calves and other fleshy partes, cutting out Collopes of flesh and burning them before his face. They poured scalding Oyle, Pitch, and Brimstone onto his wounds. They put upon his navel a rundle of clay with a hole in the middle and into the same hole they poured moulten lead till he cryed out with most horrible roares. Then they caused foure strong horses to be brought to teare his body in pieces and to separate his limbs into four quarters. But so strong was his flesh and joints that of a long time these four horses could not dismember him. At last they were constrained to cut the flesh under his armes and thighes with a sharp razor by which meanes his body was at last torn to pieces. The rage of the people grew so violent that they snatched the dismembered carcasse out of the executioners hands. Some beate it, others cut it in pieces with knives, until there was nothing left but bones, which were brought to the place of execution and there burned to cinders. The ashes wereof were scattered into the wind, as being thought unworthie of the earths buriall.

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3 Comments

  • October 22, 2010 - 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Thanks! Perfect editorial work.

  • October 22, 2010 - 9:14 am | Permalink

    It’s not a secret. Freely available via EEBO. I juxtaposed the two texts for the very reasons you describe. They were published as two separate accounts, but I loved both the similarities and the differences of the representations of death. The murder of Henry IV caused such outrage at the time, it is said to have been a direct cause of the rise of absolutism. Yet as you point out, it is the death of Raviallac which induces sympathy and pity. Both accounts were widely read both in France and England.

  • October 22, 2010 - 9:07 am | Permalink

    Huh, nice post for today! Is it a secret where this fragment is from? If yes, it’s OK, I understand.

    On the other hand, however, this is fascinating on at least two accounts. First, what kind of intended readers and expectations were envisioned for this description. There seems to be a fruitful tension between the detailed anantomy of the assassination with the surgeon’s expertise on the route of the dagger and the representation of the enraged crowd. Is this an anatomy of the body, the assasination and the fury of the crowd? Two, also the narrative point of view is fascinating as the two bodies destroyed are uncannily associated: on the one hand as mere bodies they appear on the same level, on the other hand the assassin’s body is represented as superior to the extent that it was stronger, could not be torn apart easily,whereas the King’s body was easily terminated and thirdly the representation of pain on the assassins part can induce pity, while this is not there in the case of the King.

    So ultimately thanks for this most thought-provoking post.

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