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A judicial executioner is a person who carries out a death sentence ordered by the state or other legal authority, which was known in feudal terminology as high justice.

Please add Geni profiles of those who worked as executioners to this project.

Scope and job

From Wikipedia

The executioner was usually presented with a warrant authorizing or ordering him to execute the sentence. The warrant protects the executioner from the charge of murder. Common terms for executioners derived from forms of capital punishment—though they often also performed other physical punishments—include hangman (hanging) and headsman (beheading). In the military, the role of executioner was performed by a soldier, such as the provost. A common stereotype of an executioner is a hooded medieval or absolutist executioner.

While this task can be an occasional one, it can be carried out in the line of more general duty by an officer of the court, the police, prison staff, or even the military. A special case is the tradition of the Roman fustuarium, continued in forms of running the gauntlet, where the culprit receives his punishment from the hands of the comrades gravely harmed by his crime, e.g. for failing in vital sentinel duty or stealing from a ship's limited food supply.

Many executioners were professional specialists who travelled a circuit or region performing their duty, because executions would rarely be very numerous. Within this region, a resident executioner would also administer non-lethal physical punishments, or apply torture.

The term is extended to administrators of a severe physical punishment that is not prescribed to kill, but which may result in death.

Executions in France (using the guillotine since the French Revolution) persisted until 1977, and the French Republic had an official executioner; the last one, Marcel Chevalier, served until the formal abolition of capital punishment in 1981.


Please also see associated projects under the Capital punishment umbrella

  • hangman
  • headsman
  • electrocutioner
  • guillionteener


  • Decapitation
  • Electrocution
  • Firing squad
  • Gas chamber
  • Hanging
  • Lethal injection
  • Shooting
  • Stoning
  • Flogging

family business

The profession of executioner sometimes ran through a family, especially in France where the Sanson family provided six executioners between 1688 and 1847, and the Deibler dynasty provided five between 1879 and abolition in 1981 (Louis Deibler, his son Anatole, Anatole's nephew Jules-Henri Desfourneaux, another nephew of Anatole, André Obrecht, and finally André's nephew, Marcel Chevalier).

In Britain, the most notable dynasty was the Pierrepoints, who provided three executioners between 1902 and 1956 - Henry, his brother Thomas, and Henry's son Albert.

From The image of the executioner

"There is something very taboo about the executioner. Here is a man (or in very rare cases, a woman) who is paid to kill. Like the French executioner Charles-Henri Sanson, I also pose the question as to why a soldier is celebrated while a headman is spat on for performing the same duties in service to his country. But it must be asked that who in their right mind would accept the office that guarantees social scorn and hardships? Surely it is easy to imagine that those who take the position of executioner must be murderous in nature and seeking a legal means to quench their thirst for blood!
"So I have come to understand the fear and loathing inspired by the hangman, but I have also come to understand the hangman and have found that in many cases he is undeserving of the reputation society has saddled him with throughout history."

notable hangmen


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this project is in HistoryLink