From history, few occupations are as maligned as that of Medieval era executioner. Popularly known as the gleeful dispensers of death and torture, the truth is that many executioners throughout this period treated the occupation with a specific relevance and showed extreme dedication to their duties. Besides trying to minimize the suffering of those supposed to be executed, the execution was not extremely professional in carrying out their job for a lifetime.
So, without thinking about any Hollywood depiction, what was it like to be an executioner in the Medieval times, and how did someone get the job of the executioner in the first place?
Before we continue, note that the duties expected and performed by executioners have varied wildly across time and regions. So how did someone get the job of the executioner in the first place? It turns out that most European Medieval executioners were former criminals themselves. The role of executioner was so infamous that finding someone to do the job of executioner was tough. It often required either forcing someone or offering the gig to someone who was supposed to be executed himself.
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In Germany, for lots of centuries, it becomes very commonplace to thrust the role of executioner upon a victim’s oldest male relative. This all brings us around to why so many people prevented the career of an executioner like the plague. So if we discuss why so many people avoided the profession, it turns out that one was then sure to be cursed in the afterlife. In some regions, such as France, executioners were provided by church decree absolved of the sins committed while performing their duties.
This did not stop the public from considering executioners untidy and unclean. It started leading to more problems with the profession of the executioner. The profession of executioner was completely isolated from society. So coming back to the point of condemning dying instead of becoming an executioner, people seem to have been fine with this as the criminal’s life would still be forfeit. For example, throughout Medieval Europe, executioners were often forced to live in houses outside the town or city they traded-in. In some cases where this was not possible, they tended to stay near things like public latrines, lepertoriums, or brothels. Executioners were often denied citizenship to the cities or towns they served and were largely barred from holding office or even entering pubs, churches, bathhouses, etc.
Executioners were sometimes also given the job of disposing of animal carcasses. We can’t deny or ignore the idea behind wearing the mask by executioners. They wore it to hide their appearance, but it did not appear to be an effective thing to do. Beyond this, even the big cities of history were not that big, so people knew who the executioner is. This post is all about – how did someone get the job of the executioner in the Medieval times?