"Off with his head"

Madame Guillotine


Did you know that when you chop off someone's head the head is aware that it's been chopped off?

And did you know that more people were guillotined during World War II than during the bloody French Revolution?

These are just two of the many grisly facts about the Guillotine, the method of excuting people in France for hundreds of years.

French neuroscientists last century confirmed in their studies that a head cut off by a guillotine knows that it is a beheaded head whilst it rolls along the ground or into the basket. Consciousness survives long enough for such a perception. Of course France wasn't the only country to have the Guillotine. The guillotine was used in Algeria, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Switzerland and Vietnam well into the last century. Even the socially-conscious Swedes relied on the sharp flashing blade to carry out their executions.

In Germany and Austria during World War II as many as 20,000 people are thought to have been guillotined by the Nazis. Some 20 guillotines were used to do away withundesirables. Hitler considered the guillotine a demeaning form of punishment and used it for political executions.

The Guillotine draws its name from Joseph Ignace Guillotin, a man interested in the Arts and a professor of literature at the Irisnah College at Bordeaux. Guillotin later studied medicine at Reims.
However, Dr Guillotin did not invent the grisly instrument of death. A similar device known as the Halifax Gibbet had been in use in that Yorkshire town since 1286 and continued until 1650. Dr Gillotin merely proposed that the machine be used to provide a more humane way of executing criminals.

Joseph Guillotin belonged to a small reform movement that sought to banish the death penalty completely. He was against people being executed by inhumane methods such as burning, mutilation, drowning, and hanging. Some lower class criminals were executed by "quartering", whereby the prisoner's limbs were tied to four oxen and the animals were driven in four different directions. Guillotin proposed a method that would provide a quick and painless death. He didn't intend that the device would be used privately - Dr Gillotin proposed that it be set up and used in private - but watching guillotine executions quickly became a popular pasttime with the masses. When he made his proposal Dr Gillotin had no idea that the gruesome device would come to be known as "The Guillotine". In time, the association with the machine of death so embarrassed Dr. Guillotin's family that they begged the government to rename it. When the government refused, they changed their family name.

The surgeon, Antoine Louis (who was the secretary of the surgical academy), is credited with the design of the prototype first used in France ... along with the German harpsichord maker, Tobias Schmidt and France's main executioner, Charles-Henri Sanson.

The advent of the Guillotine meant that an easy death was no longer the prerogative of nobles.

The first to be executed with the Guillotine was a highwayman, Jacques Nicolas Pelletier.

Modern neurophysiology has confirmed that a head cut off by a swift slash of axe or guillotine knows that it is a beheaded head whilst it rolls along the ground or into the basket consciousness survives long enough for such a perception.

It was not until 1791 that a law was passed that everyone condemned to death in France should be decapitated.

By 1799 the Guillotine had decapitated more than 15,000 heads.

Almost all of the French aristocracy were sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were its most famous victims.

Up to 40,000 people were killed during the Guillotine's reign of terror in France - an estimated 80-85 per cent of them were commoners.

Grisly facts about the Guillotine

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