Drownings in the Dark: The Politics of Secret Executions in Antwerp, 1557-1565
Keywords:Antwerp, executions, secrecy, public sphere, religious dissidence
Between 1557 and 1565, the Antwerp city council carried out almost all of its executions of religious dissidents by drowning them in secret. This presents a puzzle to current historiography, as historians of capital punishment have identified the public and spectacular nature of early modern executions as their defining elements. To understand these secret executions, this article traces contemporary notions of secrecy and openness using a wide range of sources, including chronicles, martyrologies, correspondences, and bailiff accounts. It argues that in this period, the concept of secrecy had more to do with closing off space than with hiding knowledge, and that both hiding and showing were important strategies in the performing of executions. The authorities did not control these; rather, by negotiating the dynamics of hiding and showing executions, the central authorities, local magistrates, and the religious groups whose members were being executed constructed their meaning and effect. As such, the case of the secret executions in Antwerp nuances the current paradigm of executions as public events orchestrated by authorities to display sovereign power.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Isabel Casteels
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