The Executioner’s Diary

In his new book, The Faithful Executioner, Joel Harrington tells the story of Frantz Schmidt, Nuremberg’s master executioner from 1573-1618, using Schmidt’s own journal. Peter Lewis highlights what made the “pious, reflective, loyal, sober Frantz” such “a rare bird in the world of executioners”:

Schmidt was a professional torturer and punisher as well as executioner. He had to know how far he could go in securing a confession — the best place to turn the screw, how much stretch the shoulder would take in the strappado, the correct tilt of the waterboard (yes, that’s right) — and if the sentence handed down was to sever the tongue, the severer better be handy with medical tools if it was not to become an act of capital punishment. The executioner’s medical knowledge was widely sought, and Schmidt was well considered to have extensive familiarity with herbs and salves (from attending his torture victims) and of setting broken bones (so that the execution might go on). He considered healing to be his calling — for a sensitive soul, it must have been a consolation to his other profession — and he made more money as a healer than an executioner; his patients numbered in the thousands.