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10 People Who Were Posthumously Executed
History is filled with stories of executions and revenge, but some people take it a step further. In some cases, a person’s crimes are so egregious their enemies decide that being dead is no excuse for carrying out an execution! Yes, some people have died, been dug up, and put to death all over again to satisfy someone’s need for vengeance.
Posthumous executions don’t happen often—after all, what’s the point? Still, they do happen, and while they’re rare, a posthumous execution is almost always a story that’s told, spreading the word far and wide. Each of these people shuffled off their mortal coils before someone stepped in, ordered their execution, and ensured it was carried out.
10 Pope Formosus
From October 891 until April 896, Formosus served as pope, though his period of leadership was plagued with problems. Soon after becoming pope, Formosus was embroiled in one controversial decision after the other. At the time, numerous people vied for power in regions under the pope’s authority, putting him at the center of multiple fights.
The pontiff opposed Emperor Guy III Spoleto and persuaded Arnulf of Carinthia to depose him. Arnulf seized Rome in February 895 and became emperor. Formosus died in 896 and was buried with all the honors expected of his office. His successor held the position for only 15 days before Stephen VI became pope in 897.
Pope Stephen loathed Formosus, so he put his exhumed corpse on trial for usurping the papacy. Formosus’s corpse was dressed in regal attire and made to sit upon the pope’s throne, where Stephen VI tried and convicted him, undoing every act he’d done as pope. Stephen VI had three fingers cut from Formosus’s right hand (the benediction fingers), clad in rags, buried, re-exhumed, and thrown into the Tiber River.
9 Harold Harefoot
Harold I, known as Harold Harefoot, ruled England from 1035 to 1040, first serving as England’s regent before becoming King of the English in 1037. Harefoot ruled England in place of his half-brother, Harthacnut, who was busy fighting a rebellion in Norway at the time. Harefoot’s family vied for power in various ways throughout his reign, culminating in several military actions.
His stepbrothers, Alfred and Edward, opposed him upon their return to England, but their efforts were quickly ended. Harefoot ruled until his death in 1040, when Harthacnut finally assumed the throne upon returning to England. Despite taking the crown peacefully, Harthacnut wasn’t happy with his half-brother’s reign, so he ordered his body to be exhumed.
Once his corpse was out of the ground, it was beheaded and chucked into a wetland along the Thames River. However, his body was later recovered and reburied in London. While Harthacnut’s reason for doing this has been lost to history, he likely despised his half-brother for taking the crown he intended to gain upon their father’s death. Additionally, he probably blamed Harefoot for the death of Alfred while he was regent.
8 Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester
England went through many rulers and various forms of government before settling into the parliamentary democracy it is today. In the 13th century, Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, was one of the primary leaders of the reform movement against King Henry III, his brother-in-law. The two fought off and on for years, ultimately leading to an all-out civil war.
Montfort won his campaign and retained Henry as king, but with several provisions. Montfort established the second English parliament, which initiated many of the parliamentary norms present today. Don’t celebrate him too much for reform, as he was a rabid antisemitic bigot who was responsible for expanding the persecution and slaughter of English Jews.
Montifort’s government wasn’t popular, and he fell from power. Eventually, this led to the Battle of Evesham in Worcestershire in 1265, which Montfort lost. He was slain in battle, but that wasn’t enough. His body was mutilated by royalists such that his testicles were hung beside his nose on his decapitated head. His extremities were sent to his enemies, and only his torso was buried.
7 John Wycliffe
While Martin Luther’s contributions to the Protestant Reformation are well known today, one of his predecessors, John Wycliffe, helped pave the way for the Catholic schism. Wycliffe was a professor, theologian, priest, and professor at the University of Oxford, but above all else, he was a reformer. Wycliffe argued against the privileges afforded to the clergy, advocating for poverty.
His followers, later dubbed Lollards, expanded on his views, which included predestination, iconoclasm, and more. Additionally, Wycliffe supported translating the Bible into Middle English, which was opposed by many higher-ups of the Catholic Church. Wycliffe was problematic for the church, but his death following a stroke in 1384 didn’t bring an end to his teachings.
Thirty-one years after his death, the Council of Constance declared him a heretic on May 4, 1415. Subsequently, his writings were banned, and his remains were removed from consecrated ground and burned. However, this didn’t happen until 1428, which was 44 years after Wycliffe’s death. His ashes were unceremoniously chucked into the River Swift, though this didn’t bring about an end to Wycliffe’s teachings.
6 Vlad the Impaler
Vlad III was the Voivode of Wallachia and an important leader in Romanian history whose brutality inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Vlad was a strong military leader and was ruthless on the battlefield. Throughout his military campaigns, he slaughtered villagers and captured people, whom he returned with him to Wallachia, where he impaled them upon spikes.
Vlad later fought against the Ottomans after refusing to pay homage to the sultan, Mehmed II. This conflict eventually led to Vlad’s imprisonment in Visegrád, Hungary, where he remained from 1463 until 1475. During his imprisonment, stories of his cruelty spread throughout Europe. After his release, Vlad returned to fighting the Ottomans and died in battle in late 1476 or early 1477.
Despite being dead, Vlad’s body offended the Turks, so they cut him into pieces. His head was sent to Sultan Mehmed II, where it was placed upon a high stake in Constantinople. Stories of his demise differ, depending on the sources, and his final resting place remains a mystery. However, he was likely interred at the Comana Monastery.
5 Martin Bucer
Martin Bucer was a Protestant reformer who joined the cause after meeting Martin Luther in 1518. After that, he joined the Reformation and worked hard to bring it to fruition despite the Catholic Church’s insistence that he do otherwise. Bucer married a former nun, leading to his excommunication from the Church and forcing him to flee and join other reformers in Strasbourg, France.
In his attempt to further the cause of the Reformation, Bucer tried to unite Protestants and Catholics over various issues they agreed on, but his efforts never came to fruition. Eventually, Burcer was exiled to England, where he worked to expand the Reformation before he died in Cambridge at the age of 59 in February 1551.
Unfortunately, Queen Mary I, otherwise known as “Bloody Mary,” didn’t let his bones rest. Instead, after coming to power, Mary tried Bucer posthumously for heresy. His casket was disinterred, and his remains were burned, as were all copies of his writings. Mary’s successor, Queen Elizabeth I, undid Mary’s actions concerning Bucer, and on July 22, 1560, she rehabilitated Bucer’s memory.
4 Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was and remains a controversial figure in English history. Cromwell wore many hats throughout his lifetime, including working as a politician in Parliament, an English statesman, and a soldier with a record that led him to believe his actions were supported by divine providence. Throughout his life, Cromwell fought for the Kingdom of England as a Parliamentarian and other outfits.
In 1653, Cromwell became the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth—a position he held until his death. Cromwell was a strong figure, and his death in September 1658 left a power vacuum, resulting in a revolution that brought Charles II back to the throne. Since Cromwell opposed Charles II and advocated for the execution of Charles I, this created a problem.
King Charles had Cromwell’s body removed from its tomb and executed for regicide. His head was removed and placed on a stake outside the Tower of London, where it remained for three decades. His body was displayed for a short while at Tyburn Manor in Middlesex. Cromwell’s head was eventually reburied, but not until 1960, 302 years after his death.
3 Edward Teach
While most people don’t know who Edward Teach was, they’re likely familiar with his other name: Blackbeard. Teach operated around the Eastern coast of Britain’s colonies in North America and the West Indies, where he captured ships, blocked ports, and ransomed vessels. He did much of it by commanding his ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
Teach’s ship had 30 to 40 cannons and more than 300 men, making him a formidable pirate throughout his reign in the 17th and 18th centuries. Eventually, he gained the attention of Virginia’s governor, Alexander Spotswood, who arranged for Teach’s capture. Teach was killed in the battle alongside several of his men, so he couldn’t be captured. However, he was taken to Virginia nonetheless.
The expedition’s leader, Robert Maynard, examined Teach’s body and removed the head. He suspended it from his ship’s bowsprit and took it to the governor to collect his reward. Once Teach’s head was returned, it was displayed on a pole at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay as a warning to other pirates. Teach’s dead men were buried while the living were tried and executed.
2 Joseph Warren
Dr. Joseph Warren was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was responsible for enlisting the aid of Paul Revere and William Dawes, and with their help, he and his countrymen fought off the British at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Soon after, Warren received a commission as a Major General, but he didn’t exercise his rank as most generals might.
Instead, Warren chose to fight alongside his fellow soldiers as a private, which put him on the front lines against the enemy. This worked out as well as you might expect, and Warren died at the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, just three days after the formation of the Continental Army.
Warren’s body was stripped, bayoneted beyond recognition, and chucked into a ditch by British soldiers. Lieutenant James Drew of the Royal Navy, who fought at Lexington and Concord, dug up the corpse a few days later and “spit in his face jump’d [sic] on his stomach and at last cut off his head and committed every act of violence upon his body.”
1 Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was a mystic who served closely under Nicholas II and his family during the final years of the Russian Empire. Rasputin worked closely with Nicholas, serving as a healer of sorts to Nicholas’s only son, Alexei Nikolaevich. Most saw Rasputin as a fraud and sought to overthrow him, given his influence on the emperor.
Rasputin consolidated his power when Nicholas left Russia to command the Imperial Russian Army during WWI. This only made him more despised, and in December 1916, Russian noblemen assassinated Rasputin. There are many stories of what unfolded the night Rasputin died, but what is certain is that his life ended. His body was later buried under the watchful eye of the Imperial family.
Nicholas planned on building a church to commemorate Rasputin’s final resting place, but he abdicated his throne before this could happen. His successor, Alexander Kerensky, ordered Rasputin’s body to be exhumed and burned to ashes. He did this not to punish Rasputin further but to ensure his grave didn’t become a place of support for the Imperial family.