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The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death,…

The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent… (2013)

by Joel F. Harrington

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I will read this book again, sooner rather than later. An intriguing story about family redemption through being virtuous, sober and an expert at his work, . The fact that Meister Frantz is an executioner made me think about the time he lived and the society. There is more to it than 'I was just doing my job' or 'I was just following orders'. I would like to have seen facsimiles of the diary Joel Harrington worked from. His selected quotations giver an idea of content but I would like to see how sequential entries were laid out. ( )
  Goebte | Aug 29, 2015 |
A fascinating, remarkably insightful, and completely engrossing portrait of a 16th century professional executioner largely based upon his own journal kept during his 40-year career in southern Germany. Equally enlightening and absorbing are the times and place this man lived which are painstakingly recreated by Harrington in vivid detail. An exceptional work of biography and history that refrains from imposing contemporary moral sensibilities. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
The book seemed a little slow at times, but gives you a good idea of how crime was viewed and dealt with in the era (and there was a lot of it, no different than today). If you're looking for the gory details of executions, this isn't the book for you. It focuses on Meister Frantz's attempt to regain his family honor. ( )
  tlawrence36 | Feb 5, 2014 |
Fascinating biography of a public executioner and his drive to restore his family's honor. Very illuminating about crime and social attitudes in this era.
1 vote ritaer | Oct 4, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0809049929, Hardcover)

Based on the rare and until now overlooked journal of a Renaissance-era executioner, the noted historian Joel F. Harrington’s The Faithful Executioner takes us deep inside the alien world and thinking of Meister Frantz Schmidt of Nuremberg, who, during forty-five years as a professional executioner, personally put to death 394 individuals and tortured, flogged, or disfigured many hundreds more. But the picture that emerges of Schmidt from his personal papers is not that of a monster. Could a man who routinely practiced such cruelty also be insightful, compassionate—even progressive?


In The Faithful Executioner, Harrington vividly re-creates a life filled with stark contrasts, from the young apprentice’s rigorous training under his executioner father to the adult Meister Frantz’s juggling of familial duties with his work in the torture chamber and at the scaffold. With him we encounter brutal highwaymen, charming swindlers, and tragic unwed mothers accused of infanticide, as well as patrician senators, godly chaplains, and corrupt prison guards. Harrington teases out the hidden meanings and drama of Schmidt’s journal, uncovering a touching tale of inherited shame and attempted redemption for the social pariah and his children. The Faithful Executioner offers not just the compelling firsthand perspective of a professional torturer and killer, but testimony of one man’s lifelong struggle to reconcile his bloody craft with his deep religious faith.


The biography of an ordinary man struggling for his soul, this groundbreaking book also offers an unparalleled panoramic view of Europe on the cusp of modernity, a society riven by violent conflict at all levels and encumbered by paranoia, superstition, and abuses of power. Thanks to an extraordinary historical source and its gifted interpreter, we recognize far more of ourselves than we might have expected in this intimate portrait of a professional killer from a faraway world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:05 -0400)

"The extraordinary story of a Renaissance-era executioner and his world, based on a rare and overlooked journal 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. A biography of an ordinary man struggling for his soul, The Faithful Executioner is also an unparalleled portrait of Europe on the cusp of modernity, yet riven by conflict and encumbered by paranoia, superstition, and abuses of power. In his intimate portrait of a Nuremberg executioner, Harrington also sheds light on our own fraught historical moment"-- "A work of nonfiction that explores the thoughts and experiences of one early modern executioner, Nuremberg's Frantz Schmidt (1555-1634), through his own words - a rare personal journal, in which he recorded and described all the executions and corporal punishments he administered between 1573 and his retirement in 1617"--… (more)

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