About the guillotine

About a year and a half ago, I made post, which I today would like to improve. It concerned the placement in Paris of the guillotine during the last half of the 19th century. The use of the guillotine is of course very much linked to the French Revolution, but it was still the tool for death penalties in France until – in my opinion – too recently.

First, maybe a little bit of history: Before getting into use, the guillotine was tested, first on sheep and calves, in April 1792 at Cour du Commerce Saint-André (see previous post) and later also on some human corpses. The first execution took place later the same month at Place de Grève, now the Place Hôtel de Ville, just in front of the Town Hall (where now is the ice rink, see post last Monday). The victim was a common burglar.

Only then started the revolutionary madness which fortunately calmed down around 1794. The most famous place for the executions is of course the present Place de la Concorde (then Place de la Révolution – see previous posts), where King, Queen and some other prominent personalities lost their heads. However, the guillotine was for such events displaced from its first more permanent place, at the Carrousel, just in front of the then still existing Tuileries Palace (see previous posts). The Revolution executions continued then at Place Saint-Antoine (now Place de la Bastille – see previous posts) and especially close to Place du Trône-Renversé (now Place de la Nation – see previous posts).

After these exited years, executions – fortunately fewer – took again place in front of the Town Hall until 1832 when they were transferred to what was then the Paris border, today Place Saint-Jacques in the Montparnasse area.

As from 1851, the place for the executions became the prison la Roquette until it was demolished and then, until the end, at the still existing Santé Prison. The last Paris execution took place 1972 (and the very last one in Marseille in 1977). Capital punishment was officially - and I would add fortunately – at last abolished by France in 1981. What I will show today (again, and in a bit modified way) is where the guillotine stood for executions between 1851 and 1899. Some granite stones (example on the top picture) in the pavement can be found on a street called Rue Croix-Faubin (11th arrdt.). The stones were put there to support the guillotine. Just behind these stones you could find the Grande Roquette prison, built 1836 and demolished 1900 (replaced by apartment buildings). This was then where death sentenced prisoners were kept and also prisoners awaiting their deportation to the “bagnes” (overseas convict-prisons). When needed (fortunately not every day), the guillotine was brought from its close-by storage place, 60 bis, rue de la Folie-Regnault, the small building - since then slightly modified - you can see on the below patchwork. On the opposite side of Rue de la Roquette was another contemporary prison building, the Petite Roquette, originally used for young, later for female, delinquents – and during WW II for some 4000 members of the Resistance Movements. This prison stood there until 1974, when it was replaced by a park. All that remains from the prison is the entrance gate. It's estimated that maybe upto 40.000 people were guillotined during the French Revolution, however only a smaller part in Paris. Frightening is to know that probably as many were vicitms of the Nazi use of the guillotine during the 30's and 40's. Today, no country seems to use the guillotine - but unfortunately other tools have replaced.


Michelle said...

That is really interesting. I didn't know any of that. I felt like I got a history lesson. :) I am glad they don't use that anymore.

Michelle said...

That is really interesting. I didn't know any of that. I felt like I got a history lesson. :) I am glad they don't use that anymore.

Jill said...

Amazing history Peter. Are you a retired teacher??

Anonymous said...

I once heard an interview with the man who was last to operate the guillotine. Surprisingly, he was opposed to its use. But not because the death penalty was too harsh. He opposed it because the condemned died too swiftly and painlessly!

Olivier said...

40.000 guillotinés, on plaisantait pas a l'époque. Voila bien une mort affreuse ;o((

Bettina said...

Wow Peter, what a huge job you're doing here. It's very interesting and informativ, though it's a gloomy subject.

Like Jill I always think of you as a former teacher. Are you ? You're really good at making Paris and history alive to us.

Have a nice day ;0)

alice said...

Je suis toujours sidérée de l'acharnement et de l'énergie déployés par l'espèce humaine pour détruire ses semblables...
Un nouveau post passionnant, Peter, et je suis bien contente de savoir maintenant qu'un parc a remplacé une prison!

lyliane six said...

Tu as envie de faire tomber des têtes en ce début d'année? C'est bien que les parcs remplacent les prisons, mais ce serait mieux si les prisonniers devenaient les fleurs de ces parcs..

Cergie said...

Je me souviens de ces messages assez impressionnants que tu avais faits. L'histoire n'a donc pas retenu de ce burglar ordinaire le nom, lui qui a tant fait pour aider à avancer l'humanité des exécutions ? Car c'est de cela qu'il s'agit : exécuter sans bavure ; autrefois il y avait bourreau et bourreau, parfois ils s'y prenaient à plusieurs fois...
J'ai lu un entrefilet (dans le dernier "ça m'intéresse" il me semble) qui explique que les têtes des suppliciés étaient méthodiquement rangées entre leurs jambes. Ce fut le cas pour Louis XVI et Marie Antoinette.

Claudia said...

Chilling and very well researched post... although the guillotine was a humane improvement on beheading by axe it's still a monstruosly barbaric killing machine.

EMNM said...

Wow great post!!
I´m going to mark this to my next trip to Paris

hpy said...

Heureusement on a guillotiné des gens, sinon de quoi aurais tu peux bloguer aujourd'hui!
Je me rappelle le parc de la Roquette, assez sympa, mais sans rien de spécial à l'époque où j'y photographias des araignées.

Adam said...

Very interesting Peter. Of course the French are well known for Madame la Guillotine, but can we say that it was worse or more inhuman than hanging, which was the chose method in the United Kingdom? Of course, any such practice is against all fundamental human decency, and it should be abolished worldwide.

Ruth said...

I hope the U.S. will also ban the death penalty. I'm surprised how recently the guillotine was used, wow.

I've been to Le Petit Journal jazz bar a couple of times across from the Luxembourg. :)

claude said...

C'est un sujet tranchant !
Elle a beaucoup fonctionné pendant la révolution. Elle coupait à la chaîne, pourtant ce n'était pas une tronçonneuse, mais ce fut tout de même un véritable massacre.
Je crois que la dernière fois que quelqu'un y a perdu la tête, c'était sous VGE, avant 1981, et il paraît que c'est une erreur judiciaire.

Jessica said...

I first found your blog because of your original post on this subject which I found fantastically informative. But you have included so much more information this time around. Particularly fascinating is the brief amount of time spent testing the guillotine before executing someone. Criminals didn't just lose their rights, they ceased to be human. Nice job, Peter, as usual.

Karen said...

Such an informative post, Peter. I learn so much from this blog and not just about Paris.

Abolishing the death penalty shows that a country has grown up and matured. I only wish it to happen soon here in the USA. Perhaps it will with our new President who spoke of putting childish things aside on his first day in office.

Anonymous said...

Oh. I would never have remarked the stones and even if I wouldn't have known what they mean.

Cezar and Léia said...

Amazing history!
I wish it was only a kind of “fare tale”.Unfortunately it really happened. I mean because it gave the impression that people supported it .Maybe they could watch this “exhibition “with their family! I think it was sad however sad circumstances happened in many places that time.
Thanks a lot for your post. Your words motivated me to get more information, to improve my French and the like!
Your friend Léia

Ming the Merciless said...

Interesting and gory history of France. It's amazing you can still see the original foundation of the building.

Thérèse said...

On a fait du chemin depuis mais il y a encore bien des exécutions sommaires de par le monde malheureusement.
J'aime bien participer aux leçons d'histoires chez toi.

Starman said...

I had no idea about the last beheading being as recent as 1977. That's astonishing. Nor, did I know of Grande Roquette (though I used to stop at La Grande Roquette on rue de la Roquette for an occasional café).

Tanya Breese said...

Amazing....such a dark piece of history, right there with people going about their daily business.

Virginia said...

Oh my, I am amazed at what I've learned here of course. After your amazing post...I think I am glad to have escaped with my head!

PeterParis said...

It WAS a history lesson! :-)

No, I'm not! With the blog I teach also myself!


PeterParis said...

En effet!

No, I wasn't a teacher (except occasionally during my university years). As I said above, I basically learn while preparing my posts. I wish you also a nice day, week... :-)

Un parc, c'est bien plus sympa ... mais il y a des prisons ailleurs.

PeterParis said...

Absolument aucune envie de faire tomber des têtes! Tu peux être tranquille! :-)

Je pense que tu as raison pour la tête entre les jambes, au moins pour certains victimes. Morbide!

I can but agree!

Nathalie H.D. said...

Peter, est-ce que tu sais si Claude a raison et que le dernier condamné français était une erreur judiciaire? Si oui, quelle justification (s'il en fallait encore une) pour l'abolition de la peine de mort, quelle que soit le mode, guillotine, pendaison, chaise électrique ou autre.

40 000 guillotinés sous la révolution française, à l'échelle de la population de l'époque c'est effroyable. Autant par les nazis, ça je ne ne savais pas. Je croyais qu'il n'y avait que les pelotons d'exécution ou les chambres à gaz.

Je me demande si Barack Obama va s'attaquer à la peine de mort aux USA - eh non bien sûr, il ne peut pas puisque c'est du ressort des états...

Encore un excellent billet, Peter, et tu as raison : en faisant des recherches on apprend soi-même...

Anonymous said...

Great post Peter as always. I know it takes ages to research these things.
In response to my previous post. ha ha no not competing with the Paris bloggers, just didn't have access to my london photos while I was away.
Have you been to Cimetière de Picpus? If not I think you would like the history there.
I am keen to join you and NY, Stockholm & Budapest for your mid month underground posts. London has a fascinating underground as well. Let me know if thats ok. Asked NY but he didnt respond.

PeterParis said...

Shall we have a walk together?

Je retourne pour voir les araignées!

I can but agree!

PeterParis said...

I hope for the same!

La dernière fois, c'était à Marseille en 1977. A prioiri ce n'était pas une erreur juidciaire (Hamida Djandoubi (tortures, viol, assasinat)).

Yes, obvioulsy they were in a hurry. The revolution required "results"!

PeterParis said...

An additional task for Obama! Is this a federal issue?

Yes, I believe you have to know aboput them to find them!

Cezar & Léia:
Executions in France wer public until 1939 and certainly big "shows" during preceding centuries!

PeterParis said...

Not of the building, but of the stones the guillotine originally was standing on.

Continuons à apprendre ensemble!

You have to know about, not easy to guess when you just walk by!

PeterParis said...

Yes! :-)

No risk in France any more, not since 1981!

J'ai déjà donné la réponse à Claude, ci-dessus. A priori pas d'errueur judiciaire - cette fois-ci.

Oui, c'st ce que je comprends aussi, c'est une question état par état. Puet-être Obama peut mettre la question sur la table?

Continuons à apprendre ensemble!

Yes, I have made a post about Picpus; you can find it under labels.
Of course, you would be welcome to join, London is defintely the city which should be there!

Neva said...

A very historical post today...I love the old picture of the gulliotine being brought out...maybe the death penalty will disappear here as well with this administration....hard to say....it looks like he is tackling Guantanamo Bay first....

Unknown said...

Great information about the guillotine! I had no idea Nazis have used it...

Answering your question:
Vietnam and Botswana (the Okavango delta) are on top of my list, let's see if I can make it (one of them at least) this year... :-)

Unknown said...

Great information about the guillotine! I had no idea Nazis have used it...

Answering your question:
Vietnam and Botswana (the Okavango delta) are on top of my list, let's see if I can make it (one of them at least) this year... :-)

Anonymous said...

I wonder if a person can see anything right after their head is chopped off? I would imagine their brain is still functioning and for a brief second or two they could see their executioners.

I would rather be doing most anything except sitting in the house looking at the sun shine on all this snow. Eating cookies sounds good to me.

I don't know about you, but my head reels with ideas and things I either want to do, should do, or wish I did — that I don't have much time left to do anything but take a nap.

Carpe Diem!

Abraham Lincoln's Blog

PeterParis said...

Yes, Guantanamo was obvioulsy the first big item. Good!!

Great traveller!!

I read about it and perhaps no-one is really sure, but it seems that the death was total and immediate. No more testing allowed!!

... and please have some cookies! :-)

krystyna said...

Hi Peter!
Very informative and interesting facts about this sad, history of France.
You are always perfect lector and great photographer!

Thank you!

krystyna said...

Is it still actual that I can use your photo with link to you?

Have a wonderful day!

EMNM said...

oh yes of course! maybe i´ll be there in spring

hpy said...

Les araignées n'y sont qu'à l'automne.

PeterParis said...

Of course you are welcome to link and to use my photos, as mùuch as you like!

So, looking forward to see you!


Unknown said...

Do you happen to know how many were used during the French Revolution? There must have been more than just one guillotine during the Revolution. Would you happen to know where the other places were located for execution by guillotine in France during the Revolution?
Thanks for your time,