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Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, Hanging of Traitors, 1794
Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, Hanging of Traitors, 1794
ART Collection/Alamy

6 People Executed in Effigy

Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, Hanging of Traitors, 1794
Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, Hanging of Traitors, 1794
ART Collection/Alamy

In early modern Europe the justice system wasn’t quite what it is today, and there were times when a community decided someone was guilty of a crime even though he or she wasn't in custody—usually because they'd already escaped. To mollify the public (or royalty's) desire for revenge, in some situations a representation of an individual, crafted of straw or wood or in the form of a painting, would be "put to death" in their stead. Over the course of history many people have been executed in effigy, including these sorry six.

1. DON FELIPE, HERESY // SPAIN

During the Spanish inquisition a great number of convicted heretics who had evaded capture were executed in effigy to act as a warning to others. One such example was Don Felipe de Bardaxi, who in 1563 was executed in effigy in Saragossa, Spain, for “very great blasphemies and things resembling heresy of the Lutheran sect.” (In reality, his biggest crime was probably dealing in contraband horses.) Don Felipe managed to escape before being arrested, and eight years later the Saragossa tribunal annulled his sentence and he was "restored in honor and good reputation" in exchange for some religious penance—proving that it was lucky he had only been executed in effigy.

2. MARQUIS DE SADE, SEXUAL DEVIANCE AND POISONING // FRANCE

In 1772 the Marquis de Sade and his servant Latour engaged a number of young prostitutes in sexual excess, rewarding them with candies laced with the aphrodisiac Spanish fly. The prostitutes later fell ill and accused the Marquis of poisoning them. It was not the first time the Marquis had abused his position to fulfill his urges and an order was sent out for his arrest. De Sade and Latour fled to Sardinia, but meanwhile a court in France found the pair guilty of sodomy and poisoning. In a public show of their disgrace, straw effigies of them were beheaded and then burnt.

3. KAJ LYKKE, INSULTING THE QUEEN // DENMARK

Danish noble Kaj Lykke was an incorrigible ladies’ man, and around 1656 he started an affair with a servant girl. Gossip and cruel jibes soon beset the young girl and she broke off the affair, but not before Lykke had written to her to reassure her, noting that even Queen Sofie Amalie was being gossiped about for her affairs with her servants. The letter was to be his undoing. Sofie Amalie of Denmark was not a monarch to be trifled with, and unluckily for Lykke, his slanderous letter ended up in the queen’s hands after his relationship with the servant girl soured. Outraged by the slight, the royals ordered his death. By then Lykke, sensing danger, had already fled, and so desperate courtiers instead built a life-sized wax doll version of him in the hope that the queen would not be able to tell the difference. The ploy worked and the queen, watching from some distance, was pleased to see the punishment carried out—the doll had its hand cut off (the executioners making the doll appear to writhe in agony for effect) and then was beheaded. The effigy's head was then displayed on a spike as a warning to any other unruly subjects. After Sofie Amalie’s death Lykke smugly returned from exile, and reveled in the celebrity his “fake” death had created.

4. MARIE-ANNE LE BLANC, MURDER // FRANCE

Paintings were often used to represent criminals who had evaded justice and to take their punishment. In some cases artists were actually commissioned to paint a likeness of the guilty party being executed, but in other cases the painting itself was "put to death." This public showing of disgrace allowed the community to feel that at least some form of retribution had been meted out. In 1706 in Caen, France, Marie-Anne Le Blanc was found guilty in absentia of murder. The guilty party having fled, her abandoned house was searched and there a fine portrait of her was found. The painting of the murderer was put on display on a gibbet at the pillory for all to see, and after 24 hours it was publicly "executed" by burning.

5. PIERRE-PAUL SIRVEN AND WIFE, MURDER // FRANCE

During the religious schisms between Catholics and Protestants in 18th century France, Catholic leaders accused Protestants Pierre-Paul Sirven and his wife of murdering their daughter, who had been found drowned in a well. The evidence of murder, however, was scant—and the Sirvens fled to Switzerland, where Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire proclaimed their innocence and gave them sanctuary. Not letting the absence of the accused deter them, the local courts found the Sirvens guilty and on September 11, 1764 they burned effigies in their place. Voltaire continued to campaign for their innocence, and in 1771 Pierre-Paul returned to the town of Mazamet and was exonerated.

6. CORFITZ ULFELDT, TREASON // DENMARK

Corfitz Ulfeldt, known as Denmark’s most famous traitor, repeatedly plotted intrigues against the Danish monarchy. Ulfeldt was married to King Christian IV’s daughter, Leonora Christina, and enjoyed wealth and privilege, but this was not enough for him—he fomented rebellion against the Danish crown on several occasions. In 1663 Ulfeldt was convicted of high treason and sentenced to death, but he evaded capture. To sate the king's apparent appetite for his humiliation, a mannequin likeness of Ulfeldt was beheaded and cut into four pieces, and its head was then displayed on a spike for all to see. Ulfeldt did not get off scot-free, however, and a year later died in Switzerland in mysterious circumstances.

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Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, Hanging of Traitors, 1794
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
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Pop Culture
The Cult of Prince Philip
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images
Ralph Heimans/Buckingham Palace/PA Wire via Getty Images

For seven decades, Prince Philip has been one of the more colorful figures in Britain's Royal Family, prone to jarring remarks and quips about women, the deaf, and overweight children.

"You're too fat to be an astronaut," he once told a boy sharing his dream of space travel.

British media who delighted in quoting him are still lamenting the 96-year-old's recent retirement from public duties. But the people of the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu are likely to be optimistic he'll now have the time to join them: They worship him as a god and have based a religion on him.

Followers of the Prince Philip Movement, which started in the 1960s, believe that the prince was born to fulfill an ancient prophecy: that the son of an ancient mountain spirit would one day take the form of a pale-skinned man, travel abroad, marry a powerful lady, and eventually return to the island. When villagers saw the prince’s portrait, they felt the spirit in it, and when he visited Vanuatu in 1974, they were convinced.

Chief Jack Naiva, a respected warrior in the culture, greeted the royal yacht and caught sight of Philip on board. "I saw him standing on the deck in his white uniform," Naiva once said. "I knew then that he was the true messiah."

True believers assign large world movements to the machinations of Philip. They once claimed his powers had enabled a black man to become president of the United States and that his "magic" had assisted in helping locate Osama bin Laden. The community has corresponded with Buckingham Palace and even sent Philip a nal-nal, a traditional club for killing pigs, as a token of its appreciation. In return, he sent a portrait in which he’s holding the gift.

Sikor Natuan, the son of the local chief, holds two official portraits of Britain's Prince Philip in front of the chief's hut in the remote village of Yaohnanen on Tanna in Vanuatu.
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The picture is now part of a shrine set up in Yaohnanen in Vanuatu that includes other photos and a Union flag. In May 2017, shortly after the Prince announced his retirement, a cyclone threatened the island—and its shrine. But according to Matthew Baylis, an author who has lived with the tribe, the natives didn't see this so much as a cause for concern as they did a harbinger of the prince's arrival so he can bask in their worship.

To date, Prince Philip has not announced any plans to relocate.

A version of this story ran in a 2012 issue of Mental Floss magazine.

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Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, Hanging of Traitors, 1794
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History
The Secret World War II History Hidden in London's Fences

In South London, the remains of the UK’s World War II history are visible in an unlikely place—one that you might pass by regularly and never take a second look at. In a significant number of housing estates, the fences around the perimeter are actually upcycled medical stretchers from the war, as the design podcast 99% Invisible reports.

During the Blitz of 1940 and 1941, the UK’s Air Raid Precautions department worked to protect civilians from the bombings. The organization built 60,000 steel stretchers to carry injured people during attacks. The metal structures were designed to be easy to disinfect in case of a gas attack, but that design ended up making them perfect for reuse after the war.

Many London housing developments at the time had to remove their fences so that the metal could be used in the war effort, and once the war was over, they were looking to replace them. The London County Council came up with a solution that would benefit everyone: They repurposed the excess stretchers that the city no longer needed into residential railings.

You can tell a stretcher railing from a regular fence because of the curves in the poles at the top and bottom of the fence. They’re hand-holds, designed to make it easier to carry it.

Unfortunately, decades of being exposed to the elements have left some of these historic artifacts in poor shape, and some housing estates have removed them due to high levels of degradation. The Stretcher Railing Society is currently working to preserve these heritage pieces of London infrastructure.

As of right now, though, there are plenty of stretchers you can still find on the streets. If you're in the London area, this handy Google map shows where you can find the historic fencing.

[h/t 99% Invisible]

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