Of the complaints against the Ancien Regime from those in the vanguard of the Enlightenment, very high on the list was the cruel and arbitrary nature of the legal system. In his memoirs, Casanova describes the notorious execution of Robert Damiens as an ‘offence to our common humanity’. A case that in some ways was even more notorious was that of Jean Calas, who was sentenced to be broken on the wheel for a crime he had not committed and which inspired Voltaire to devote much of the rest of his life to campaigning against such injustice and horror. Here’s a fascinating account of the Jean Calas case by Ken Armstrong (‘Broken on the wheel’), Voltaire’s crusade and the impact it had in moving international public opinion against capital punishment.
A chilling eye-witness account of a prisoner being broken on the wheel can also be found on Geri Walton’s blog here.
A short blog on crime and punishment which we have previously posted can be found here.
‘The Prologue’ and chapters one to four of ‘Casanova in Paris: The Shadows of the King’ are now freely available here.
6 long form articles on Casanova’s life and times are freely available here.
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