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Video:What is a Guillotine?

with Zach Toombs

Curious to know what a guillotine is and when it was used? Watch this About.com video to see information about this type of death penalty.See Transcript

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Transcript:What is a Guillotine?

Hi, my name is Zach Toombs and today on About.com we’re talking about the guillotine.

What Is a Guillotine?

The word guillotine is synonymous with death by execution by decapitation. The contraption consists of a tall upright frame with a weighted, angled blade raised to the top and suspended. The condemned person is the placed with his or her head placed directly below the blade. When the blade is released, it drops with speed and force, severing the head from the body.

The French Revolution

The guillotine is perhaps best known for its use during the French Revolution, but its use extends through the centuries. In fact, the guillotine wasn’t outlawed in France until it was abolished by French President Francois Mitterrand in 1981.

Marie Antoinette

Perhaps the most famous execution in France by use of the guillotine? Marie Antoinette. In April 1770, she married Louis XVI of France, assuming the title of Dauphine of France. Initially adored by the people of France, she quickly fell out of favor during the period leading up to and through the French Revolution.

When the French monarchy was abolished in September 1792, the King and his wife were imprisoned and tried. Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine in October 1793, eight months after her husband met the same fate.

The guillotine is perhaps the most famous of several similar execution devices used the world over. Known by the names such as the Italian Mannaia, the Scottish Maiden, the German Fallbeil and the Halifax Gibbet, some of which pre-date the more famous French model by several centuries.

An Honorable Death

Death by decapitation may seem barbaric by today’s standards, but it was actually considered honorable in the past, as opposed to the more dishonorable death at the gallows, or by burning at the stake. And while it has historically been considered quick and painless, there has also been considerable debate about whether the brain remains “alive” after decapitation.

That’s a look at the guillotine. Thanks for watching, for more information, be sure to check out About.com.

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