The Faithful Executioner : Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century
In the late 1500s a Nuremberg man named Frantz Schmidt began to do something utterly remarkable for his era: he started keeping a journal. But what makes Schmidt even more compelling to us is his day job. For forty-five years, Schmidt was an efficient and prolific public executioner, employed by the state to extract confessions and put convicted criminals to death. In his years of service, he executed 361 people and tortured, flogged, or disfigured hundreds more. Is it possible that a man who practiced such cruelty could also be insightful, compassionate, humane - even progressive? In his groundbreaking book, the historian Joel F. Harrington looks for the answer in Schmidt's journal, whose immense significance has been ignored until now. Harrington uncovers details of Schmidt's medical practice, his marriage to a woman ten years older than him, his efforts at penal reform, his almost touching obsession with social status, and most of all his conflicted relationship with his own craft and the growing sense that it could not be squared with his faith.
- Hardback | 352 pages
- 154.94 x 231.14 x 33.02mm | 453.59g
- 17 Jan 2014
- Hill & Wang Inc.,U.S.
- New York, United States
- black & white illustrations, black & white line drawings, maps, frontispiece
About Joel F. Harrington
Joel F. Harrington is a professor of history at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of "The Unwanted Child," winner of the 2010 Roland H. Bainton Prize for History, as well as "Reordering ""Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany" and "A Cloud of Witnesses." He lives with his wife and two children in Nashville, Tennessee.
Fascinating . . . Engrossing . . . Harrington brings out the sheer strangeness of the past . . . In "The Faithful Executioner," Mr. Harrington has not only rescued the life of an individual from disgust and condescension but also, by focusing on a career in killing, brought a whole world back to life. "The Wall Street Journal" Remarkable . . . [A] fascinating exploration . . . this is a surprisingly modern, even topical story that poses difficult questions about capital punishment and what Harrington calls the human drive toward retribution.' "The Washington Post" Fascinating . . . One of the pleasures of reading history is to be transported somewhere, even if we aren't sure we want to go. "The Chronicle of Higher Education" Equal parts enlightening and enjoyable. "The Daily Beast" [A] vividly drawn portrait . . . Harrington succeeds in deftly taking us beyond Schmidt's biography to address broader questions. Finely researched and crafted. "History Today" A fascinating read. "Publishers Weekly" Surprisingly poignant . . . A whole teeming world of Reformation Germany comes alive. "Kirkus Reviews" This is a precious story that Harrington has drawn from the journal and archival records, a braiding of Schmidt's words with a re-creation of Schmidt's world, a story that is at once inclusive and atmospheric, deeply intimate and rare . . . It is a wonder-making world, made manifest by an artful historian's hand. "Barnes & Noble Review" Who can imagine how an executioner feels about his trade? Joel F. Harrington has written a considered and fascinating book that 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 re-creates the social context for the flamboyant displays of cruelty that 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 as far from ours as we like to suppose. Hilary Mantel, Man Booker Prize winning author Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies A book as entertaining and revealing as it is improbable and outrageous. Joel F. Harrington has told a marvelous yarn, giving us not just the compelling biography of Meister Frantz but his world. "Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943 1944" In an astonishing feat of historical reconstruction, Joel F. Harrington uniquely draws us into the emotional world of a man paid to kill professionally--into his troubled sense of achievement and shame. This compelling book is brilliant reading for everyone interested in new ways of thinking about the past as well as crime and punishment today. "Ulinka Rublack, author of Dressing Up: Cultural Identity in Renaissance Europe" The Faithful Executioner masterfully conjures the heavy stench and bustle of a sixteenth-century southern German city--waterlogged roads, smoky marketplaces, blood-lusty masses laden with bizarre superstitions--via the Lebenslauf of a curious figure: Meister Frantz Schmidt, Nuremburg's state executioner from 1578 to 1617. With the help of Schmidt's private journal, Joel F. Harrington revivifies both the detailed and the abstract with enviable scholarship and style. This is social history at its very best: weird, riveting, addictive. "R. Jay Magill Jr., author of Sincerity""