The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century

Joel F. Harrington. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8090-4992-9
In Harrington’s gruesome and enlightening latest (after The Unwanted Child), the career of German executioner Frantz Schmidt is used to paint a ghastly portrait of life in the “long sixteenth century.” The book’s backbone is Schmidt’s remarkable journal, a laconic catalogue of 45 years of executions and reflections. Medieval class distinctions, held in place by heredity and Christian values, are dissected as the executioner attempts to expunge the “dishonorable” stigma from his family name (his father trained him in the “odious craft”). An anomaly for his time, the pious, sober executioner meticulously recorded the deeds of those he dispatched. From his retellings of various crimes—which run the gamut from slander to patricide—a sense of the medieval moral system emerges, as do Schmidt’s own personal ethics and beliefs: contra the status quo, Schmidt, a proponent of “a more modern concept of individual identity,” refused to “conflate social status and reputation.” Juxtaposed against the moral underpinnings of barbaric justice in 16th-century Europe, Schmidt’s journey to reconcile his profession with his faith and personal philosophies makes for a fascinating read. 39 illus., 2 maps. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, Sagalyn Literary Agency. (Mar. 19)
Reviewed on: 12/17/2012
Release date: 03/19/2013
Open Ebook - 320 pages - 978-0-8090-4993-6
Paperback - 320 pages - 978-1-250-04361-0
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4481-2937-9
Hardcover - 285 pages - 978-1-84792-212-0
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