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Robert-François Damiens (1715-1757) was a Frenchman who attained notoriety by unsuccessfully attempting the assassination of Louis XV of France in 1757. He was the last person to be executed in France with the traditional and gruesome form of death penalty used for regicides.
Damiens was born in a village near Arras in 1715, and early enlisted in the army. After his discharge, he became a menial in the college of the Jesuits in Paris, and was dismissed from this as well as from other employments for misconduct, his conduct earning for him the name of Robert le Diable (Robert the Devil). During the disputes of Pope Clement XI with the parlement of Paris, Damiens' mind seems to have been excited by the ecclesiastical disorganization which followed the refusal of the clergy to grant the sacraments to the Jansenists and Convulsionnaires ; and he appears to have thought that peace would be restored by the death of the king. He, however, asserted, perhaps with truth, that he only intended to frighten the king without wounding him severely.
On January 5, 1757, as the king was entering his carriage, Damiens rushed forward and stabbed him with a knife, inflicting only a slight wound. He made no attempt to escape, and was at once seized. He was then tortured so as to have him denounce his accomplices or those who had sent him, to no avail. He was condemned as a regicide by the Parlement of Paris, and sentenced to be torn in pieces by horses in the Place de Grève. He was first tortured with red-hot pincers; his hand, holding the knife used in the attempted murder, was burnt using sulphur; molten wax, lead, and boiling oil were poured into his wounds. Horses were then harnessed to his arms and legs for his dismemberment. Damiens' joints would not break; after some hours, representatives of the Parlement ordered the executioner and his aides to cut Damiens' joints. Damiens was then dismembered, to the applause of the crowd. His trunk, apparently still living, was then burnt at the stake.
After his death his house was razed to the ground, his brothers and sisters were ordered to change their names, and his father, wife, and daughter were banished from France.
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