Weird History

A Day In The Life Of A Medieval Executioner In Their 16th-Century Heyday

The daily life of a medieval executioner was not easy. They did more than simply chop off heads and break prisoners on the wheel. Trying to uphold justice and set an example for their community was only one part of an executioner's duties; they also served as medical professionals and sometimes as spiritual guides, helping the condemned accept their fate and beg forgiveness before God. Occasionally, other villagers ostracized executioners for having a grim job, and yet, as they say, “It’s a job and somebody has to do it.”

But what was it like for these people to wake up in the morning  and begin a day possibly fraught with hate, boredom, or extreme danger? What devices for executions did they use back in the Middle Ages? And what about the psychology of an executioner? Fortunately, history has handed down the detailed story of Master Franz Schmidt, an executioner in 16th-century Nuremberg.

The following account comes from Schmidt's diaries, and gives a strange and rare glimpse into the daily life and practices of a medieval executioner.