Guillotine - History of Guillotine


Used as a replacement for the axe, the guillotine has a long, gruesome history. Although it was likely used in many European countries before 1300, the first convincing documentation of its development and use was from January 4th, 1307. It was reported that on this date the guillotine was used in the execution of an criminal named Murcod Ballagh.

The guillotine is made up of a wooden support structure, holding a long, sharp blade above the neck of the intended criminal. A small structure containing a circular hole was wrapped around the neck of the intended in order to secure them in place. Above them, a sharp blade was attached to a connected rope that controlled the blade's release. Once dropped, the blade sliced through the criminal's neck, separating the head from the body.

Although used for centuries, the Guillotine did not acquire its name until 1789, when Dr. Guillotine declared, before a local assembly, that decapitation should become the standard form of capital punishment. Approved in 1791, decapitation from the guillotine became the only form of the death penalty considered humane.

One of the most unique, and important features of the guillotine is that of blade design. Although the first guillotine blades were likely straight, or slightly curved like an axe, this quickly became seen as an inferior structure. An oblique blade was introduced in the 1800s, which helped to smooth the otherwise jagged decapitation, by spreading the force out along the edge of the blade.

The guillotine is most widely known for its use in the executions of the King and Queen of France during the French revolution. King Louis XVI was executed via the guillotine in January of 1793, and nine months later the execution of Marie Antoinette followed that of her husbands.

The last use of the guillotine occurred in France in 1977 to execute Hamida Djandoubi, but it use wasn't completely abolished in the country until 1981, when France banned capital punishment.

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