Charles-Henri Sanson: The King’s Executioner!

If you have never before heard the name Charles-Henri Sanson, there are many who envyyou. Charles-Henri was the Royal Executioner of France during the reign of Louis XVI, and after the revolution for the First French Republic. He worked as an executioner in Paris for over 40 years and personally killed almost 3000 people, including King Louis XVI himself, and revolutionaries like Robespierre and Danton. Sanson came from a family dynasty of killers, but he would surpass them all, and is today one of history’s most famous executioners.

Sanson’s great-grandfather had been appointed Executioner of Paris in 1684 by Louis XIV (The Sun King) , and held the position until his death 11 years later. The job was passed on to his younger son, and when he died,it was Sanson’s father, Charles John Baptiste Sanson,who was responsible for carrying on the family tradition. Charles John Baptiste served hisentire mature life as High Executioner, but after suffering an injury that made him partially paralyzed in 1954, he took on his eldest son Charles Henri as an apprentice ,who at the time was just 15 years old. Even though Charles-Henri didn’t officially replace his father as High Executioner until his death in 1778, it was he who was actually in charge from that point on. He began a career that would make him known as  “The Great Sanson”, and his name evokedfear among criminals and enemies of the King alike.

The Blood-Red Coat of the Master Executioner

At the age of 18 he and his uncle Robert were in charge of the gruesome execution of Robert-François Damiens, who had tried to kill King Louis XV with a knife. Damiens was torturedwith boiling oil before Charles-Henri strapped his body to four horses to be drawn and quartered, which was the penalty for regicide at the time. This was the last time a person was executed by drawing and quartering in France, and Damien’s torso, allegedly still living, was then burned at the stake. The torture of Robert-François Damiens became legendary, and Charles-Henri’s uncle actually quit his job after the event. Famous Venetian author and womanizer Giacomo Casanova, who witnessed the execution in Paris, said “it took courage to watch the dreadful sight that went on for four hours”.

After his father died in 1778, Charles-Henri officially received the blood-red coat, which was worn by the Master Executioner. He became a famous figure in France, and people gave him the nickname “Monsieur de Paris”, even though his job was anything but gentle. Charles-Henri was a proponent of the guillotine as the standard form of execution, since it was clean and safe, and better for the victims too. When he retired from the job in 1795 he had performed2,918 executions, some of them going down in history forever. Even though he was Sanson’s boss for most of his life, on 21 January 1793, Louis XVI was beheaded by guillotine onPlace de la Révolution at the hands of his long time Royal Executioner. Even though he wasnot a supporter of monarchy, Charles-Henri respected the king and said he met his fate bravely and with dignity. Other famous people of the revolution like Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Hébert, and Desmoulins ,where also executed by the hands of ” The Great Sanson”.

The Execution of Louis XVI

It was originally Sanson’s youngest son, Gabriel ,who served as his assistant, and the one who was supposed to take over the role as Master Executioner. When he fell of the scaffold anddied during an execution in 1792, the obligation fell on the elder son, Henri. He was the manwho guillotined Marie Antoinette and Chief Prosecutor Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinvillein 1795, and Henri would remain Master Executioner of Paris for 47 years. His son Henry-Clément Sanson, and Charles-Henri’s grandson would be the sixth and last generation of theSanson family to serve as Master Executioner. A dynasty that lasted from 1684-1847, and that served France during one of its most chaotic periods in history. Even though the entire family is infamous, it is “The Great Sanson” that most people think about when hearing the name. When Napoleon Bonaparte asked how he was able to sleep after all those killings,Charles-Henri answered: “If emperors, kings and dictators can sleep well, why shouldn’t an executioner”? Charles-Henri Sanson died in July, 1806 and is buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.

The Miracle on Ice: USA vs USSR in the 1980 Olympics!

When the USA Ice hockey team faced up against the USSR during the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, nobody gave them a chance. Their team consisted of only amateur and collegiate players, while the Soviets had won almost all major tournaments the last 30 years. In a nail biting finale, which many would later name The Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century, the young americans came out as winners against the Soviet super team. Relive the dramatic match here if you want more hockey, now that the Stanley Cup is over!