This day, down the ages, seems to have had more than its share of soaking in blood, with a few witches thrown in for good measure but, like many another, it also involves a new Pope taking up the hot seat. Probably, because there have been so blessèd many of ‘em – two hundred and sixty six, if anyone’s counting, and that’s without all the antipopes – you could pick any old day and there would be one pontiff or another getting started or heading upstairs to meet the boss but, in this case, it’s Stephen III back in 768. He started off as a Benedictine monk but then Pope Zachary took a shine to him and he soon found himself in the rarefied air of high office, helping out a string of Popes until he finally came to be at the bedside of the dying Paul I. Which is when all the jockeying for position really got started and, if there’s anyone who knew how to play dirty, it’s your eighth century pontifical candidates.
Some people reckon that Stephen III should be made a saint, though the Holy See won’t wear it for some reason. After all, as far as Popes go, he really was a blinding one …
Taking a leap away from witchcraft, we now find that we’ve landed right up to the armpits in gore once again as we come to Anna Mansdotter, who this day became the last women to be executed in Sweden. In 1890. Which does seem a very long time ago, in terms of capital punishment. Mind you, the last man to get the chop (the Swedes favoured the axe) met his fate as late as 23 January 1910, though in his case it was at the guillotine, the only time they ever used it. Before we run away with the idea that the Swedes were radically-minded trendsetters in the matter of being civilised, up until 1866 they had been keener than Judge Jeffreys when it came to dishing out the death penalty, being bested only by Spain in numbers despatched. So they had something of a rethink and cut back a bit, but what really turned things round was when the executioner died in 1920, meaning they’d completely run out of them and then they found they couldn’t get anyone else to take the job on. Nothing for it but to pack it in and so they abolished it completely the following year. A tad too late for Anna Mansdotter, however, seeing she’d carried out the Yngsjö Murder in March 1889, with her own son as accomplice, the victim being the son’s wife and her daughter-in-law. It seems that when Anna’s husband died, she began to indulge in unseemly sexual practices with said son and, in order to put a stop to the gossip, she married him off to Hanna Johansdotter, only this Hanna sort found out what’d been going on, didn’t she? Ticklish situation. Though nothing that couldn’t be resolved by a swift clout with a heavy stick and a bit of strangulation to follow, especially if they left her lying so it looked like she’d fallen down stairs. Only the authorities weren’t buying it and they both were given appointments with the headsman. In the end, the son got off with life imprisonment for some reason (they let him out in 1913) but she, being the scarlet woman, finished up with her head in the basket on 7 August 1890.
Stephen III: [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A Papal Death Proclaimed: [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Blinding of Samson: Rembrandt [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Macbeth Meeting the Witches: Henry Fuseli [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Witch (“Magic Circle”): John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Johannes Kepler: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Anna Mansdotter: [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Alice Huyler Ramsey: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Lynne Cox in 2012: By TEDxMonterey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons