Thursday, April 2, 2015

B: by Botched Beheading (26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary)

Beheading is a staple of medieval punishment - it is usually quick, bloody, and over before you know it. Usually.
According to legend, in 15th century Hungary it was customary that if the executioner failed to... well, execute someone at the third try, the person would be allowed to live.
(What are the odds, right?)

Hunyadi László was the first son of legendary army general Hunyadi János, and the older brother of Hunyadi Mátyás who later became Hungary's most famous Renaissance king. After his father's death he was head of not only the family, but also a remarkable political force (the legal king at the time was László V., in his early teenage years) (not a very strong king, you see). In the midst of good old-fashioned medieval intrigue and political play that would put the Lannisters to shame, László made a mistake: Under unexplained circumstances he killed one of the most influential nobles loyal to the king.
At first, the king promised amnesty to the Hunyadi family, but that didn't last long - soon after both brothers (and their supporters) were thrown into prison, and László, as head of the family, was convicted for murder and high treason.

Hunyadi was to be executed on March 16th, 1457, in Buda. According to legend (and this is a very popular legend, I remember hearing it in elementary school) the executioner brought the ax down on his neck three times, but failed to deliver a killing blow. In the most popular version of the story it was due to the fact that László had long, thick hair, and the blade slipped on it. After the third blow the onlooking crowd started to demand clemency from the king - but László's luck had run out. The king ordered the executioner to try again, and the head finally rolled.

I remember filing this information away in case needed: Healthy hair can save your life one day.
(Provided you have a just king)

Interestingly, the connection between good hair and beheading is not unique to Hungarian folklore. If you venture over to my other blog on J day, you will read a very similar story from a Viking saga...

(The image you see above is a very famous 19th century painting by Benczúr Gyula, depicting Hunyadi's final goodbye)

26 comments:

  1. Harsh! Memo to executioner... next time sharpen your axe!
    Wendy at Wendy of The Rock

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  2. I would have prefered success at the first strike in this situation. What an agony just to count the strikes and think you have surrvived (for how long one may wonder?) then an unjust king orders a fourth killing strike. I wonder what punishment the executioner got afterwards?!

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  3. Good hair can save your life - I shall have to remember that :). Doesn't sound like the king was very good at anything in the justice department.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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  4. Of course, my mind goes to a potential silly situation of the other executioners giving that executioner a hard time. I mean, really. There are limits. ;)

    And do you mean Hunyadi was scheduled for execution in 1457 (rather than 1957)?

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    1. Du-uh. XD Thanks for the catch! :)
      And yeah, there is a theory that the executioner was actually trying to save his life.

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  5. Talk about a pain in the neck ....
    I think after the third time I wouldn't really want to live anymore.

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  6. I knew there was a reason I need to grow my hair long!

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  7. I wonder what shape a person would be in after three attempts at hacking the head off? Not very good, I imagine. Shame on the king for not following the custom. But maybe he was afraid he might be next on the list.

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  8. This is awesome. There's a similar, more modern story about Yukio Mishima's beheading in Japan (self-inflicted, sort of)... about as bloody as this one! Love your theme. :)

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
    Out of Print, Fiction authors and their shorts

    A-Z Blogging in April Participant

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  9. I think I would rather have got it over with!

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  10. A botched beheading? Eek! That would be horrible! I'd want it to be done in on clean cut.

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  11. I can see this in a modern shampoo commercial. :)

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    1. Right?! :D Hungarians may be like "Too soon, dude."

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  12. I once read somewhere that wealthy people would pay the executioner a fee when they were being beheaded to ensure that the axe was nice and sharp so it would be quick and (hopefully) painless.

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  13. And he still lost his head after all! what luck. I'm seeing a pattern so far, Hungarian must love number three. I must say though, I'm loving the names :)
    "Haneen/I Will Never Give you Up (479)"

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  14. Yikes. That's not how I want to go. I'd be curious to know how often beheading victims resisted, or try to slip out at the last second. :)

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  15. this method was used as a high born execution. I would rather be run through the heart or hanged than beheaded. now, if it was the guillotine then maybe. i mean only 30 seconds instead of three whacks.

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  16. Did you ever see the Tudors? The beheading scene of Cromwell is botched and excruciating to watch. Maui Jungalow

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    1. Yes, that was on my mind too. At least the wives fared better than that.

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  17. Wondering if that failed blow had consequences. I assume he had injuries....a deep gash? What a gruesome time.

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  18. Ouch! Please, if I ever get beheaded, do it on the first stroke.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee's Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

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  19. Oooh, man. By the third failed try, the person would be allowed to live? I'd imagine they wouldn't live long after that. My goodness.

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  20. Ouch, I was trying not to imagine what that would be like if it didn't happen on the first one... can't believe people used to watch it happen.

    Mars xx
    Curling Stones for Lego People

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  21. Another great post! Thanks for sharing! Sounds like it was not a fun place to be around the Middle Ages. Unless you were king.

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  22. 3 tries ? :D
    I have a good hair but I doubt it would last for 3 ax hits :)

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