Nicolas Jacques Pelletier was the first man to be executed by guillotine. The day was April 25, 1792. The place was Paris, France. Pelletier’s crime? Robbery which, although disputed, the killing of the man he robbed together with his accomplices.
Surprised? Say guillotine and it conjures images of the French Revolution, and most people think that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were the first people who died by guillotine.
Well, they weren’t the first. Pelletier was. However, he was not the first to executed by beheading.
Execution by beheading is far older than the guillotine
Death by execution is an ancient form of punishment for criminals. There were many variations — hanging, impalement, burning at the stake, flaying and, of course, chopping off the head.
Chopping off the head, or decapitation, used to be done with an axe. If the axe was sharp and the headsman was skilled, decapitation was a swift affair. But, sometimes, as with the case of Margaret Pole, one swift blow was not enough.
The story of the actual execution is rather horrible, although it has sometimes been falsely embellished with tales of the executioner chasing Margaret around with an axe. There wasn’t any chasing, but Margaret did have the misfortune to have an inexperienced axe man who was, according to the Calendar of State Papers, ‘a wretched and blundering youth … who literally hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner’.Tudor History
More efficient, and less painful, ways to carry out the execution led to the invention of the guillotine.
The guillotine was named after its designer, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin
Doctor Guillotin together with German engineer and harpsichord maker Tobias Schmidt, built the prototype for an ideal guillotine machine. Schmidt suggested using a diagonal blade instead of a round blade.Thoughtco.com
The use of the guillotine spread to other European countries including Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. It was also used in Vietnam, a former French colony, before the reunification of North and South Vietnam.
Who was the last person to die by guillotine?
His name was Hamida Djandoubi. His crime? Kidnap, torture and murder of Élisabeth Bousquet. Djandoubi was executed on September 10, 1977.
The guillotine remained in use in France until 1981 when the death penalty was abolished.