The Early History

maiden01.jpg
The Scottish Maiden, 16th Century

Contrary to popular conception, there were many fore-runners of the guillotine throughout history. The Halifax Gibbet (below), the Scottish Maiden, and the Italian “Mannaia” used to execute Beatrice Cenci in the sixteenth century. And it was just these instruments that Dr. Guillotin had in mind when he recommended a design to Dr. Antoine Louis of the Academy of Surgery (in fact, the guillotine was originally known as the Louisette … pretty pretty, don’t you think?). The prototype and subsequent improvements were carried out by a German harpsichord maker, Tobias Schmidt.

Early Italian predecessor to the guillotine
Early Italian predecessor
to the guillotine