The guillotine made capital punishment less painful

The guillotine that has been in the Prison Gate since 2016 looks imposing: the sharp blade inside hangs so threateningly, ready to fall with a bang, that one hardly dares to come close. And yet it made capital punishment much more humane.

Guillotine, collection Prison Gate Museum. Photo: Romy Meijer
Guillotine, collection Prison Gate Museum. Photo: Romy Meijer

An almost painless death during the French Revolution

The guillotine was named after the French doctor Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (1738-1814). In 1789, the year of the storming of the Bastille in Paris, he proposed to the French National Assembly introducing this ‘decapitation machine’. Guillotin’s main reason for this was that decapitation using the guillotine would be more humane. The inclined blade would fall so rapidly that death would be almost painless. This was not a new system of execution; it was already in use in other countries, be it with a straight or round blade. The guillotine had an inclined blade, which “worked” better.

The guillotine became famous – and infamous – due to its use on a mass scale during the French Revolution.

The guillotine in the Netherlands and The Hague

The guillotine was also used in the Netherlands: on 15 June 1812, it was used for three executions on Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt. In The Hague, the guillotine was used twice. On 17 September 1812, a man who had been convicted of manslaughter was executed by guillotine. The second victim was 19-year-old Adriana Bouwman. She was executed for theft and arson on 1 May 1813. The guillotine in the Prison Gate, which dates from around 1800, was not used in the Netherlands, but probably in France or Italy. The apparatus is not complete, for it lacks a little axe, which could be used if the first attempt at execution proved unsuccessful.

Andere verhalen