A contender with the Death of a Thousand Cuts
for the most horrific execution ever.
The amende honable was a capital punishment imposed by either the French state or the Catholic Church up until 1791, when it was outlawed for excessive cruelty. However, even when legal it was reserved for only the most grievous of crimes, such a regicide.
The whole point was that the condemned is to suffer the most agonizing pain possible while repenting their crime/sin to God, hence making honorable amends before their imminent death.
The following is the step-by-step process of the amende honorable, taken from an actual account:
- The condemned is dressed in a long white shirt and taken to the steps of the Church of Paris (hence before God). In his left hand is placed a two-pound torch of burning wax. His right hand holds the evidence (i.e. the murder weapon).
Also, this is a public display, so there's always a large crowd present to witness the event (which is done via general admission, with free tickets provided with the benediction of The Church. Luxury seats were also available for state officials, the clergy, and other important sick fucks).
- The right hand is then burnt with sulfur, which has the effect of cauterizing the hand around the weapon (usually a knife in those times), binding the body to the symbol of the crime.
- Then pieces of the condemned’s flesh are torn from his body with red-hot steel pincers. Principle areas of torture are the breasts, arms, thighs, and calves. Specific accounts note that despite the pincers’ immense heat, the process isn’t like a hot knife through butter. Oftentimes areas had to be worked at numerous times until the flesh would tear free.
- Then a liquid mixture of boiling oil, resin, wax and sulfur is poured on the exposed areas, where the flesh was removed. Accounts note that the torturers often took their time with this part, pouring nice and slow with liberal amounts of fluid.
- After the victim’s cries have subsided to low moans, his arms and legs are tied to four horses and he’s drawn and quartered. This process didn’t always work out as planned either – in the account of “Damiens the regicide”, it took several failed attempts before the torturers realized it wouldn’t work (his limbs had merely broken, they wouldn’t separate from his body). So they tried using six horses. This failed too. Finally, after several attempts with the additional horses, they gave up on a proper draw and quartering, and hacked the limbs off with pinchers, axes, and whatever else they had laying around - instruments never really meant to be bonesaws.
- Finally the remaining torso, dead or alive, is impaled upon a giant stake. Then a collection of wood is placed at the stake’s base and the whole thing is set ablaze.
Twisted huh? Leave it to the French to get imaginative with "the most agonizing pain" part.
Also more recently, this torture was made famous by Michel Foucault who used the 1757 account of Damien the regicide (one of the last amendes honorable) as a shock-opening to his famous work, Discipline and Punish.