Madame la Guillotine… or if you’d rather, Le Rasoir National (the National Razor)

More fascinating facts about the guillotine I’ve recently come across, so thought I’d share with you! We all know that during the Reign of Terror fervent French ‘citoyens’ came to the Place de la Revolution in central Paris in droves to watch the guillotine do its grisly work, and the machine was mentioned in all sorts of songs, jokes and poems. Spectators could buy souvenirs, like weird drop earrings in the shape of the machine, read a programme listing the names of the victims, or even grab a quick bite to eat at a nearby restaurant called “Cabaret de la Guillotine.” Obviously the sights they had witnessed didn’t affect some people’s appetites!

Another interesting, if gruesome fact concerns the daily list of those about to lose their heads. Prisoners who had no means to bribe their jailers were placed at the end of the day’s execution list and being one of those was not an appealing prospect at all.

This was because guillotine’s blade was sharpened every night. Executions began around 10.00 a.m., with aristocrats and other well-known or important victims being executed first, when the crowds were largest. In the morning, the blade was still very sharp and death was instantaneous. But as the decapitations continued, the blade became duller and duller as the day progressed; at the Terror’s peak in the summer of 1794, up to 30 poor souls were beheaded daily… and by the end of the day sometimes the blade had to be dropped a second, and sometimes a third time, on the same unfortunate person’s neck.

You’ll be glad to know that eventually, to stop screams of agony or the grotesque sight of a half chopped-off head, they finally devised a way to gradually add small weights to the wooden casing of the blade and this fixed the problem.