Wednesday, June 5, 2013
The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Joel F. Harrington
Frantz Schmidt was a skilled professional in a profession little honored: he was the executioner and torturer in 16th-century Nuremberg. Schmidt left behind the matter-of-fact chronicle that became the starting point for Vanderbilt University historian Joel Harrington’s fascinating account. The Faithful Executioner reconstructs the time and place Schmidt inhabited, uncovering some eternal questions about justice and power. Executions soared in 16th-century Germany as the authorities tried to reduce violence by dissuading the public from the need to seek “private retribution.” Not unlike the Bush administration, the authorities tried to define acceptable limits for enhanced interrogation. There was even a “three strikes and you’re out” policy—except that in Schmidt’s era, the third strike was the blow of the executioner’s sword to the malefactor’s neck.