For this week’s Longreads Member Pick (sign up here to receive it), we’re excited to share an excerpt from The Faithful Executioner, a book by Joel F. Harrington, Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, published this year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Harrington explains:

“My book is based on the personal journal that German executioner Frantz Schmidt (aka Meister Frantz) kept during his forty-five years in the profession, from 1573-1618. During this time, he executed 394 individuals by various methods, and also flogged, disfigured, or tortured many hundreds more. This was clearly an amazingly prolific executioner, but what has been even more intriguing to me since my first encounter of this manuscript is the unexpected portrait of Meister Frantz that emerges: a man forced into an unsavory occupation, who appears to never lose his commitment to fairness, forgiveness, and other humane values. The following passage provides the social and legal background for the era of European history I’ve called ‘the golden age of the executioner.’ The chapters that follow then trace the experiences and thoughts of Frantz Schmidt from his own perspective, largely in his own words, particularly his lifelong quest to restore his family’s honor and free his own children from his cursed profession.”

Read an excerpt


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