The origins of the French guillotine date back to late-1789, when Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed that the French government adopt a gentler method of execution. It became the symbol of the revolution during the Reign of Terror beginning in 1793.
Joseph Ignace Guillotin proposed the following six articles in favour of reformation of capital punishment to the National Assembly.
- Article 1: All offences of the same kind will be punished by the same type of punishment irrespective of the rank or status of the guilty party.
- Article 2: Whenever the Law imposes the death penalty, irrespective of the nature of the offence, the punishment shall be the same: decapitation, effected by means of a simple mechanism.
- Article 3: The punishment of the guilty party shall not bring discredit upon or discrimination against his family.
- Article 4: No one shall reproach a citizen with any punishment imposed on one of his relatives. Such offenders shall be publicly reprimanded by a judge.
- Article 5: The condemned person's property shall not be confiscated.
- Article 6: At the request of the family, the corpse of the condemned man shall be returned to them for burial and no reference to the nature of death shall be registered
The machine was successful as it was considered a humane form of execution. Prior to the Guillotine, people were beheaded with a sword or axe or hung, which took longer for the convicted to die. The guillotine was made to deliver an immediate death.
The Guillotine plays a vital role in the French period of 1792-94; ‘The Reign of Terror’. The revolutionary Tribunal sentenced thousands to the Guillotine throughout the French Revolution. Maximilien Robespierre became one of the most powerful men in government and the figure most associated with brutal violence and terror. The Guillotine was also known as the ‘National Razor’ or the ‘Madame Guillotine’ (Britannica, 2015)
It is estimated that the total deaths carried out by Guillotine ranged between 16’000 and 40’000. Throughout the Reign of Terror in France, the Guillotine became a popular entertainment that attracted great crowds of spectators. Vendors sold program listings, which contained the names of those, scheduled to die that day.
Robespierre’s reputation to Guillotine any noble, working class or common people was noted amongst the National Convention. The National Convention feared for their own lives and believed the Reign of terror must end. They Turned against Robespierre and he was arrested on the 28th of July 1794.
Robespierre was ironically executed in the same fashion as he condemned many. As Robespierre was beheaded by Guillotine, this symbolized the end of the Reign of Terror.
King Louis XVI was executed by Guillotine on January 21st 1793.
Marie Antoinette was executed by Guillotine on October 16th 1793.
Encyclopedia Britannica,. (2015). Guillotine, The beheading instrument. Retrieved 8 October 2015, from http://www.britannica.com/topic/guillotine
History Channel (2015) The Guillotine Video - French Revolution - HISTORY.com Retrieved 7 October 2015, from http://www.history.com/topics/french-revolution/videos/guillotine
Wykes, D. (2015). Notes and Queries: Quillotine Print.Nq.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy2.acu.edu.au. Retrieved 8 October 2015, from http://nq.oxfordjournals.org.ezproxy2.acu.edu.au/content/48/1/40.full.pdf+html