During the French Revolution M. Guillotin invented a machine for slicing off heads quickly and painlessly. It was pretty successful - though not quite so clean-cut as some people imagine. It took a couple of chops to get through fat King Louis' neck. But the idea was 500 years after a British invention, "The Halifax Gibbet", a remarkably similar device that was used in West Yorkshire between the 13th and 17th centuries. The earliest recorded execution was in 1286. Convicted criminals did have one thing going for them. For hundreds of years the law stated that if a condemned person could withdraw his or her head after the blade was released and before it hit the bottom, then he or she was free. The good old British idea of a "sporting chance".
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