Thursday, 8 August 2013

FACTUAL REVIEW: The Faithful Executioner - Joel F. Harrington

Release Date: 02/05/13
Publisher:  Bodley Head


Welcome to the world of Frantz Schmidt: citizen of Nuremberg, executioner of 394 unfortunates, and torturer of many hundreds more. Most unusually for his times, Frantz was also a diarist. Drawing deeply on this exceptional and overlooked record that he kept for over forty-five years, The Faithful Executioner takes us deep inside his world and his thinking. But the picture that emerges is not of a monster. Could a man who routinely practiced such cruelty also be insightful, compassionate - even progressive? Young Frantz enters the trade as the Apprentice, following in his father's footsteps. Later, as the Journeyman, he travels the roads of Franconia, learning to reconcile his desire for respectability with his violent work. After a lifetime working amid human cruelty, tragedy, injustice and simple misfortune as the Master in Nuremberg, Frantz has become a moralist and storyteller, the Sage. And, in the closing chapters of his life, retired now from his role as executioner, he is the Healer, running the large medical practice that he always viewed as his true vocation. The Faithful Executioner is the biography of an ordinary man struggling to overcome an unjust family curse and a panorama of a Europe poised on the cusp of modernity, a world with startling parallels to our own.


I’m a person who gets curious about history and whilst accounts are easy to come by, its always the ones written by the victors and the shapers rather than from the everyman point of view. That’s the history that really grabs me, I like the everyday items that were used like the bread shovel or butter churn etc. Things that have been passed down and used by many generations. But the history, well a lot of that is oral and as well all know a story never loses anything in the telling.

So it was with great interest that I sat down to read this book written by an Executioner in the 16th Century. Yes its maudlin and contains details that a great many may well not wish to read but it also includes observations of everyday life which helps the reader build up a picture of society as seen by a man from the outside. All in a very interesting read and whilst not for everyone it’s definitely an eye opener.

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