I have been a little bit too busy these last days, so here is another post about the Montmartre Cemetery, from which I still have some photos in reserve, including of another cat.
This is about a family grave which is difficult to combine with other tombs, so it’s about one single, fairly modest grave where are buried three members of the executioner family Sanson, including maybe the two most famous ones, Charles-Henri Sanson (1739-1806) and his son Henri Sanson (1767-1840), who respectively performed the execution of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. The grandson of Charles-Henri, Henri-Clement Sanson (1799-89), who was the last of the family to hold this profession, has also his place here.
Totally seven generations of the Samson family held this official function, from 1688 to 1847, so Charles-Henri was number four. Other executioners were of course active during this period, but the Sanson family held the originally Royal rights and was active in Paris. (Many other executioners including other Sanson family members worked in the province).
Charles-Henri had of course the “privilege” to be active during the Revolutionary years, which made him responsible for some 4000 executions including of Louis XVI, Danton, Robespierre… until his son took over.
Charles-Henri was also heavily involved in the development of the guillotine; such an instrument became necessary with the need for more “efficiency”. The Revolution gave also the “right” to non-nobles to be decapitated rather than being hanged, burnt, torn to pieces…. To be honest, there seems also to have been some wishes to make the executions more “human”. There was a close collaboration between J.P. Guillotin, who gave the name to the new instrument and some others, including Charles-Henri and a friend of his, an instrument maker, who finally produced the first guillotine. It is said that Louis XVI who were presented the plans, proposed some improvement to the blade, to make it oblique.
Different sources give a doubt whether Charles-Henri or his son, Henri, executed Marie-Antoinette, but the most probable is that the son was the one. Charles-Henri was still present, but let his son, who officially took over the official title two years later, in 1795, do it.
Despite all, there are some sources which indicate that both Charles-Henri and Henri had a human behavior and tried to make their job as decently as possible. One anecdote tells that Marie-Antoinette walked on the foot of Henri, excused herself and that he then replied that he was the one to be excused.
The last executioner member of the family, Henri-Clement Sanson, who took over in 1840 and was active for only seven years had less to do; only 18 executions. He "improved" and published his grandfather’s memoires, which are still on the market (if you are interested).
Here are some illustrations from the executions of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette and the famous drawing by David of Marie-Antoinette on her last trip.
I have already made some posts about the guillotine in previous posts, trying to retrace its "Paris history" until the death penalty was at last – and fortunately – abolished in 1981.
Here is where you can find the Sanson grave.