BOX 1.1
Suicide in Western History

1293. Adam Le Yep, a freeholder in Worcestershire, was reclassified a serf because of his extreme poverty. Rejecting the social demotion, he drowned himself in the Severn.

1302. Raoul de Nesles rushed headlong into the melee during the Battle of the Golden Spurs at Courtrai, preferring certain death to the humiliation of defeat.

1394. After several days of illness, Jean Masstoier decided to drown himself in the river. Saved in time but still suffering from “melancholy of the head,” he threw himself down a well.

1418. When his wife fell ill, Pierre le Vachier, a retired butcher from Sarcelles who had been ruined by the civil war and had lost two of his children, not only was left destitute but also felt totally abandoned. He “went to hang himself from a tree, where he died and strangled himself.”

1426. Jeannette Mayard, a shoemaker’s wife and a good Catholic but given to drink and jealousy, hanged herself.

1447. A woman known to be insane got up in the middle of the night. “Her husband asked her where she was going and she answered that she wanted to go relieve herself. Thus the said woman went about the house stark naked, then threw herself into a well a good thirteen arm-widths deep.”

1728. Joseph Castille, a peasant, hanged himself from an apple tree near Domagné. Alcohol had clearly affected his mental faculties. Witnesses were unanimous: “He drank continually”; “he was perturbed.” He had hallucinations, danced about in nothing but his chemise, talked to the birds, washed himself at the holy water font, and had become morbidly jealous….

1769. A young girl of fifteen, François Royer, drowned herself at Fougères. She had for some time been abused by her mother, who sent her out to beg, gave her hardly enough to eat, threw her out into the street in the middle of the night calling her a whore, and beat her with a stick….

1787. Yves Barguil, a known drunkard thirty years of age who had already attempted to kill himself on several occasions, hanged himself near Quimperlé. He had long declared his intention and was considered mad, as his mother had been. Alcohol aggravated his condition; his wife had hidden all the ropes and locked up the barn.

SOURCE: Minois, 1999:8-9, 278-280. © 1999. Reprinted by permission of the Johns Hopkins University Press.



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