public executioner

Franz Schmidt (executioner)

Franz Schmidt (* abt. 1550 + 1635), also known as Meister Franz, was executioner in the region of Bamberg from 1573 to April 1578, and from 1 May 1578 till the end of 1617 executioner of Nuremberg.

In 1617, he resigned from his post. This removed from him the social stigma of being “unehrlich” (dishonest or disrespectable) which applied at that time to executioners, prostitutes, and beggars (but also to millers, shepherds, and actors), including their families, preventing them from e.g. entering a guild or receiving an “honest” burial.

His journal of punishments executed by him has survived and contains 361 executions and 345 minor punishments (floggings, ears or fingers cut off).

The individual entries contain date, place, and method of execution, name, origin, and station in life of the condemned and – in later years more verbose than in the earlier ones – details of the crimes on which the sentence was based.

Meister Franz executed criminals by rope, sword, breaking wheel, burning, and drowning. The wheel was reserved for severely violent criminals, burnings (for homosexual intercourse and counterfeiting money) occurred only twice in his whole career, and drowning – prescribed by the Carolina for a woman committing infanticide – was commuted regularly in the Nuremberg of Schmidt’s time into execution by sword, partly upon the intervention of Schmidt and some clergy.

Schmidt’s journal is unique as a source of social history and history of law. The autograph is no longer extant, but – according to the preface of a modern edition – libraries at Nuremberg and Bamberg owned, as late as 1913, four handwritten copies made between the 17th and the start of the 19th century. The first printed edition appeared in 1801.


  • A Hangman’s Diary: Being the Authentic Journal of Master Franz Schmidt, Public Executioner of Nuremberg 1573 – 1617. Translated by C. Calvert and A.W. Gruner. Edited, with an Introduction, by Albrecht Keller. Published by D. Appleton, second impression October, 1928.

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