"sentencing a youth to have his hands cut off"

Memorial to Chevalier de la Barre
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeMemorial to Chevalier de la Barre - Credit: Moonik
The youth referred to is Chevalier de la Barre, executed in 1766. de la Barre had failed to remove his hat when he passed within 30 yards of a procession bearing a crucifix, and had allegedly spoken “irreverently of the Virgin Mary” and “sung bawdy songs.”  His story was detailed in Voltaire’s Oeuvres Complètes (complete works).  According to Voltaire, de la Barre was the victim of petty personal vengeance – the young soldier was staying with his aunt, an abbess.  When the abbess rejected the romantic advances of a man named Belleval, Belleval set out to ruin her financially, and then to ruin her nephew, by spreading the rumour relating to the church procession.  Six witnesses testified that they had seen de la Barre fail to remove their hats when passing close to the procession. Other witnesses testified that de la Barre had blasphemed and made other heretical statements.  De la Barre, on the scaffold, said that he “never thought that a gentleman could be put to death for so little.”