There’s no rescue from being beheaded. People have been riddled with bullets, plummeted from great heights, and plucked frozen from the sea and still managed to survive, but losing one’s head is a sure death. The severed head is therefore a symbol of power and of justice, but you might also end up with one from a strangely perilous hobby.
10. The Headless Pirate
The Victual Brothers were a group of European privateers who roamed the Baltic Sea. In the 1390s, the mercenaries were hired to do battle against Denmark, but in the following years, they turned to piracy. One of the leaders of the group was Klaus Stortebeker.
Very little is known of this character, including his real name—Stortebeker was a nom de guerre meaning “empty the mug with one gulp,” evidence of some serious chugging ability. The man’s story was cut short when he and a contingent of Victual Brothers were captured by a Hamburgian fleet around 1400. Their fate would become the stuff of legend.
The group was brought back to Hamburg to stand trial, where they were sentenced to death by beheading. Resigned to his death, Stortebeker struck up a bizarre deal with the mayor. His pirates would be lined up in a row when he was decapitated. The mayor promised to free as many men as Stortebeker’s headless body could walk past.
This must have seemed like a raw deal for the pirates, who had doubtlessly witnessed the effects of multiple beheadings in their adventures. However, the story goes that after the executioner chopped off his head, Stortebeker’s body stood up and began walking, making it past 11 men before the enraged executioner tripped it.
Despite the mayor’s word, all the pirates had their heads lopped off by the day’s end.