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Past Redemption

In his twenties, Philippe Maurice was sentenced to death by guillotine for murdering a policeman. Saved by a change of government, he transformed himself through prison study into one of France’s leading medieval historians. William Smith reports.

On October 28th, 1980, death sentence was passed at the Paris Cour d’Assizes (central criminal court), the first time the penalty had been applied in France for seventeen years. In the dock stood a young man of twenty-four, Philippe Maurice, indicted for the murder of a police officer. In summing up, the president of the court, reciting the penal code, informed the accused that ‘everyone condemned to death will have their head cut off’. Justice was seen to be done and, in a scene reminiscent of a revolutionary tribunal, part of the court stood up and applauded. All that remained was for the law to take its grim course.

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