Today’s Cruel Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
A modification of the execution method known as ‘Broken on the Wheel’ was introduced into France in 1534 by Francis I as the punishment for no fewer than one hundred and fifteen crimes, but it was mainly reserved for traitors and murderers.
The most common technique involved binding the felon, face upwards, on a large cartwheel which lay on the scaffold. An alternative device was a St. Andrew’s cross, consisting of two lengths of timber nailed together in the ‘X’ shape. Once secured, the felon would be lifted so that the wheel or cross could be fixed to a post horizontally or inclined at an angle, thereby affording the spectators a clear and uninterrupted view.
The executioner would take up his iron bar, three feet long by two inches square, or a sledgehammer if he so preferred, and, with great deliberation, slowly and accurately proceed to smash to pulp the arms and legs of the victim. Depending on the sentence, the end would be brought about either by a blow to the heart, neck or stomach or by administering the ‘retentum’, a thin, almost invisible cord passed round the victim’s throat and pulled tight, thereby strangling him.
The more serious the crime, the greater the length of time before the coup de grâce was given. In the case of eighty-six-year-old John Calas of Toulouse, who in 1761 was believed to have killed his own son, he was first tortured to persuade him to reveal the names of his accomplices. He was then sentenced to be broken on the wheel, but not to receive the retentum until two hours had passed; and after death his body was to be burned to ashes.
Culled from: The Book Of Execution