Introduced to France in 1792 (but existing in a crude form since the Middle Ages), the French guillotine as we know it was the brainchild of Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who proposed the decapitation execution method as a ‘more humane’ option than the often-botched axe beheadings of old.

The device consists of a wooden frame with an angled weighted blade suspended at its peak by a rope. The victim’s head is placed in a round hole at the base known as a ‘lunette’. The blade is then be released by the executioner, and the deed is done.

Just as any public execution of the time, guillotine executions were public spectator events, a macabre form of entertainment for the grim times of the Reign of Terror. This period in French history took place during the French Revolution, where mass executions were carried out between 1793 and 1794. Thousands were put to the blade during this bleak year, including famous figures such as King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

The site for these spectacles was the infamous Place de la Révolution in Paris, where souvenirs were sold and food consumed at these ghoulish occasions.

Marie Antoinette was executed on October 16, 1793 at Place de la Révolution

Almost unbelievably, the guillotine continued to be used in France throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, with the last head rolling from the instrument in 1977. It wasn’t until 1981 that the guillotine would be outlawed when France scrapped capital punishment.

Although this method is seemingly more compassionate than Joan of Arc’s fate at the burning stake hundreds of years prior, beheading by guillotine is thankfully outlawed across the globe today, so no one has to end their days due to the sharp edge of the ‘widow’.