Compassionate Disfiguration? The Story of 16th C. Executioner Frantz Schmidt.

Frantz Schmidt was, for 45 years, employed by the state to extract confessions and execute criminals–361 of them, to be exact. He tortured, flogged, and disfigured hundreds more, the details of which are chronicled in his private journal with blunt matter-of-fact.

37-year-old Frantz Schmidt executing Hans Fröschel, 5/18/1591, in Nuremberg.
37-year-old Frantz Schmidt executing Hans Fröschel, 5/18/1591, in Nuremberg.

Modern published editions of his journal reflect no moral confusion resulting from his numerous and long torture sessions, and characterize the journal more as a compendium of professional milestones in his career as an executioner than as a personal and introspective journal.

When a researcher discovered a version of Frantz’s journal from the year of Frantz’s death in the Stadtbibliothek (city library) in Nuremberg, when taken together with a letter Franz wrote to the Emperor Ferdinand late in his life, an untold side to the story emerges.

A complex and emotionally conflicted man begins to emerge: “a pious, abstemious family man who is nonetheless excluded from the respectable society he serves … an apparently genuinely religious man [who] seems never to waver in his belief in ultimate forgiveness and redemption for those who seek it.”

Author Joel Harrington pieces together the narrative of Frantz’s life and teases out contextualized reflections on human nature and social progress, and explicates the tensions of a man of faith, family, and social conscience demonstrates in conflict with a society’s conflicting expectations.

I could not put down this book of gory detail, fascinating social history, and compelling personal narrative. A great snow-day read.

The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century
Joel F. Harrington
History
Macmillan
March 19, 2013
283

Offering an unrivaled view of Europe on the cusp of modernity, this fascinating biography of an ordinary man struggling for his soul documents the life of a 16th-century executioner, who, deemed an official outcast, sought to prove himself worthy of honor and free his children from the stigma of his profession. 20,000 first printing.

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