© Cor Snabel
In 1870 capital punishment was abolished in the Netherlands.
By special justice 152 death penalties were imposed after
W.W.II for crimes committed against the Dutch population.
Forty of those were carried out by firing squads. We have to
go back to 1861 to see our last executioner in action.
The city of Haarlem has always had the privilege –if one
could call it a privilege- to supply the executioner for
Holland. The only exception was Dordrecht, as the oldest
town it had its own executioner. If Amsterdam needed his
services, the magistrates had to send a request to the
Sheriff of Haarlem a few weeks in advance. According to the
standard procedure a representative of Amsterdam traveled to
Haarlem a day before the execution with two letters, one for
the Sheriff with the request to allow the executioner to
leave for Amsterdam and the other letter for the man himself
with the official invitation to accompany the representative
The magistrates made sure they had several convictions for
this “day of justice”, so it always was a tiring day for the
executioner. His work usually meant to execute capital
punishment in its several forms, whippings, branding or the
less cruel punishments as public exposure. Whatever his job
was, he was always sure he had enough audience; these
“events” were witnessed by an enormous crowd, fathers even
lifted their children on their shoulders so they would not
miss a thing.
It is needless to say he and his family were outcasts of
society. Every execution day was hard for them too; in the
15th and 16th century a few executioners, who failed to cut
of the victims’ head with one blow of the sword, became prey
of the disappointed crowd and were beaten to death. In the
17th and 18th century this never happened again, although
the watching crowd judged him critically. The executioner
was paid the same day and he was paid for every action. For
breaking on the wheel for instance, he was paid for every
turn of the wheel and per convict he earned 42 to 54
guilders. In one day he could earn as much as a common
laborer made in a whole year.
>Choose from the following ancient occupations
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