The Sentence against Damiens (1757)

Having found Damiens guilty, the judges ordered him punished in a gruesome public spectacle, with the intention of repressing symbolically, through his body, the threat to order that the judges perceived in his attack on the King. Such punishment, characteristic of the Middle Ages and early modern period was much opposed by the Enlightenment view that crime would be better handled by rehabilitating criminals’ minds rather than mutilating their bodies.


The Parlement declares "the said Robert-François Damiens has been convicted of having committed a very mean, very terrible, and very dreadful parricidal crime against the King. The said Damiens is sentenced to pay for his crime in front of the main gate of the Church of Paris. He will be taken there in a tipcart naked and will hold a burning wax torch weighing two pounds. There, on his knees, he will say and declare that he had committed a very mean, very terrible and very dreadful parricide, and that he had hurt the King. . . . He will repent and ask God, the King and Justice to forgive him. When this will be done, he will be taken in the same tipcart to the Place de Grève and will be put on a scaffold. Then his breasts, arms, thighs, and legs will be tortured. While holding the knife with which he committed the said Parricide, his right hand will be burnt. On his tortured body parts, melted lead, boiling oil, burning pitch, and melted wax and sulfur will be thrown. Then four horses will pull him apart until he is dismembered. His limbs will be thrown on the stake, and his ashes will be spread. All his belongings, furniture, housings, wherever they are, will be confiscated and given to the King. Before the execution, the said Damiens will be asked to tell the names of his accomplices. His house will not be demolished, but nothing will be allowed to be built on this same house."

Source: Anonymous, Pièces originales et procédures du procès, fait à Robert-François Damiens (Paris: Pierre Guillaume Simon, 1757).