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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sanson, Charles Henri

SANSON, CHARLES HENRI (b. 1739), public executioner of Paris from 1788 to 1795, was the son of Charles Sanson or Longval, who received in 1688 the office of exécuteur des hautes œuvres de Paris, which became hereditary in his family. Sanson’s brothers exercised the same trade in other towns. In the last days of 1789 Gorsas in the Courrier de Paris accused Sanson of harbouring a Royalist press in his house. Sanson was brought to trial, but acquitted, and Gorsas withdrew the accusation. After the execution of Louis XVI., a statement by Sanson was inserted in the Thermomètre politique (13th February 1793) in contradiction of the false statements made in respect of the king’s behaviour when confronted with death. He surrendered his office in 1795 to his son Henri, who had been his deputy for some time, and held his father’s office till his death in 1840. There is no record of the elder Sanson’s death. Henri’s son Clément Henri was the last of the family to hold the office.

The romantic tales told of C. H. Sanson have their origin in the apocryphal Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la Révolution Française par Sanson (2 vols., 1829; another ed., 1831), of which a few pages of introduction emanate from Balzac, and some other matter from Lhéritier de l’Ain. Other Mémoires of Sanson, edited by A. Grégoire (ps. for V. Lombard) in 1830, and by M. d’Olbreuze (6 vols., 1862–1863) are equally fictitious. The few facts definitely ascertainable are collected by G. Lenôtre in La Guillotine pendant la Révolution (1893). Cf. M. Tourneux, Bibliographie de l’histoire de Paris . . . (1890, &c.), vol. i. Nos. 3963-3965, and vol. iv., s.v. “Sanson.”