The Faithful Executioner
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The Faithful Executioner : Life and Death in the Sixteenth Century

By (author) Joel F. Harrington

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Welcome to the world of Frantz Schmidt: citizen of Nuremberg, executioner of 394 unfortunates, and torturer of many hundreds more. Most unusually for his times, Frantz was also a diarist. Drawing deeply on this exceptional and overlooked record that he kept for over forty-five years, The Faithful Executioner takes us deep inside his world and his thinking. But the picture that emerges is not of a monster. Could a man who routinely practiced such cruelty also be insightful, compassionate - even progressive? Young Frantz enters the trade as the Apprentice, following in his father's footsteps. Later, as the Journeyman, he travels the roads of Franconia, learning to reconcile his desire for respectability with his violent work. After a lifetime working amid human cruelty, tragedy, injustice and simple misfortune as the Master in Nuremberg, Frantz has become a moralist and storyteller, the Sage. And, in the closing chapters of his life, retired now from his role as executioner, he is the Healer, running the large medical practice that he always viewed as his true vocation. The Faithful Executioner is the biography of an ordinary man struggling to overcome an unjust family curse and a panorama of a Europe poised on the cusp of modernity, a world with startling parallels to our own.

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  • Hardback | 320 pages
  • 162 x 240 x 32mm | 661g
  • 02 May 2013
  • VINTAGE
  • The Bodley Head Ltd
  • London
  • English
  • 1847922120
  • 9781847922120
  • 486,510

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Author Information

Following a distinguished academic career teaching and studying the history of Europe, Joel Harrington is currently Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. He specializes in the Reformation and early modern Germany, with a particular interest in social history. Among his previous publications are A Cloud of Witnesses, Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany and The Unwanted Child, for which he won the 2010 Roland Bainton Prize for History.

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Review quote

"A surprisingly moving story of brutality and redemption" -- Dan Jones Telegraph "Opens a window on a gruesome world" Daily Express "Who can imagine how an executioner feels about his trade? Joel F. Harrington has written a considered and fascinating book which helps us hear the voice of one such man, a professional torturer (and healer) who, astonishingly, kept a diary. Exploring both sixteenth-century Nuremberg and the world about the city, he recreates the social context for the flamboyant displays of cruelty which later centuries find so hard to comprehend. Both the executioner and his victims are rescued from our condescension, and restored to their own moral universe: which is not so far from ours as we like to suppose." -- Hilary Mantel "This is a sympathetic, intelligent and surprisingly tender book" -- Dan Jones The Times "Harrington does an excellent job at recreating the thoughts and fears of a man whose job is one of the most loathed and caricatured" -- Ben Wilson Daily Telegraph

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Review text

Who can imagine how an executioner feels about his trade? Joel F. Harrington has written a considered and fascinating book which helps us hear the voice of one such man, a professional torturer (and healer) who, astonishingly, kept a diary. Exploring both sixteenth-century Nuremberg and the world about the city, he recreates the social context for the flamboyant displays of cruelty which later centuries find so hard to comprehend. Both the executioner and his victims are rescued from our condescension, and restored to their own moral universe: which is not so far from ours as we like to suppose.

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