On Mercy and Children

Another snippet from ”The Faithful Executioner’, in which about 1/4 of his executions were of children, which seems truly barbaric by today’s standards. the official law was that children should be shown mercy, but that there was leeway when their crimes showed they were ‘mature in evil’

The executions in Nuremberg were all for theft, but only for the most hardened of the child criminals. The standard punishment was to be whipped out of the city and permanently banned from returning, but time and time again, they were caught thieving again. There is a genuine sense of frustragion and anger in the authorities and the hangman, that they were not deterred from a life of crime, as they believed that we are all in charge of our own destinies, that our own chices lead us to good or evil. In one instance, a whole gang of young reprobates was condemned to death, with most of them being on the scaffold before being reprieved, then forced to watch their leader despatched. which should have put the fear of god in them, but seeing such brutality just didn’t seem to deter them. They seemed at a loss as to why.

Maybe it was because their world was so small that even in a large town, most people knew of each other. Also, most people who were in business had staff living with them, so how could they feel safe employing someone convicted of either theft or violence? The simple answer is they could not, so once a person was a criminal, there really was little alternative but to continue on that same path. Being banned from their city meant there was no support, no friends, no way of getting work, so many just kept on committing crimes until their time ran out.

Which brings me back to an earlier post in which I said that women were never hanged. Well, in Nuremberg in February 1584, two were. They were girls, Hensa Kreuzmayer and Hensa Bauer, one of whom had already had her ears trimmed as punishment. They were part of a gang with 5 boys, aged 13 to 18.  It seems this gang had tried thepatience of the authorities for so long they felt there was no wasy they could be let go free again.

What is truly terrifying about this mindset is that it did not allow for people who had suffered trauma or had mental health problems, as in the example of Elizabeth Aurholtz who had been abandoned by her father in a snowy wood after he had drowned her mother and hanged her brother. The executioner had no sympathy for her, as he claimed she chose to become a criminal, but again, who would look after an orphan whose father had behaved so horrifically? They woudl have seen her family as being dangerous, so nobody would ever trust her, even though some might feel sympathy for her plight.

Another reminder of how much times have improved.

5 thoughts on “On Mercy and Children

  1. Barb, this is really interesting…where did you get this? I see whole plots for a few novels. Great stuff…of course…horrifying. I’m so glad to see the US has moved on from acts of capital punishment…(NOT!) Many things I love about this country…many I abhor…capital punishment is one of them.


    • Most of it is in the book The Faithful Executioner. I’m taking ages reading it because it is so good and I have to digest it all. Brilliant how it explains so much of the time, and the echoes of it still now. Capital punishment doesn’t deter much crime it just gets rid of the people who do it. Sometimes they get it wring.


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