I just want to clear something up here
Some Parisians claim that Joseph Guillotin was the genius behind the invention of the Guillotine but this was not so.
Merely a politician at the time of the French revolution he recommended the device as a more humane method of killing people than hacking at their heads with an axe or being “broken” on the wheel.
Previous versions of this dispatching machine were used as far back as the 13th century, numerously called the Scottish Maiden and the Halifax Gibbet.
Some interesting facts are that capital punishment was first debated by the very man who mercilessly ruled during the Reign of Terror in Paris after the death of King Louis 16th – Maximilien Robespierre.
Ironically he ended his life on the guillotine and was purportedly the only man to be guillotined face up to be able to witness his own death.
Outlaws were still guillotined in France up until 1977.
But who among you has heard about the fascinating and god forsaken Gibet de Montfaucon in Paris?
A gibbet is an erection for hanging people – usually publically.
The King “Saint” Louis in the 13th century (bless him) first ordered a gibbet constructed to perfom this very service but it proved inadequate for the task and so in 1320 King Charles ordered a monstrous 16 metre scaffolding to be erected on the crest of a hill just outside the city that would allow authorities to hang over 60 people at one time. Imprisonment was just too expensive so most suspects were hanged for their sins. Many of these chaps hung around to be eaten by carrion and putrify – some for up to 3 years.
The smell was hideous of course but despite this these gibbets were commonplace in the Middle Ages in an era where only the poor paid taxes (the nobility and the rich Church got out of it) and so a Police force was rudimentary and ineffectual in preventing crime.
Le Gibet de Montfaucon could be seen for miles so it could act as a ghoulish deterrent. People could come and shudder at the horrible end awaiting wrong-doers. It was such a deterrent that whole criminal neighborhoods of bars, brothels and medieval night-clubs sprang up to cater for the crowds who came to gawp.
“Cabarets” or bars commonly sprung up near Gibbets as they were such a popular outing for people bored with their everyday ho-hum existence. A medieval open-air cinema.
Gibbets were constructed by each lord on his land so that he could mete out his own form of arbitrary justice easily. A king could erect as many as he liked on his land, but Dukes were allowed only 8 gibbets per property.
Around 1621 the gibet de Montfaucon was abandoned as urban sprawl claimed the land and after the French Revolution in 1790 it was dismantled.
Now there is a lovely park there called Les Buttes-Chaumont where Baron Hausmann flung a lot of his excavated rubble from the Paris streets and houses he destroyed in the 1850’s.
Le Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a nice peaceful green place to go for picnics and now you can spare a thought: that you are sitting on a former rubbish dump upon a former medieval gibbet where crows circled permanently to feed on the suspended corpses of desperate medieval wrong-doers……. enjoy!