On this date in 1538, Spanish conquistador Diego de Almagro was executed* at Cuzco by his vengeful rivals, the Pizarro brothers.
Conquistadoring with the rapacious Pizarros was a good way to get rich, get dead, or possibly both.
Almagro, a soldier, got to the New World in 1514 and soon fell in with alpha male Pizarro Francisco.** He’d become an adjunct to the latter’s conquest of the Incan Empire in the 1520s and 1530s; sent to capture the Incan city of Quito, Almagro found it razed by its defenders, and he sycophantically re-founded it as San Francisco de Quito.†
Things weren’t buddy-buddy for long.
The Iberian mothership divided Spain’s putative New World possessions north and south, putting Almagro in command of the southern cone. Great news … now all he had to do was actually take control of it.
Personally financing an expedition on the expectation of fabulous riches to be seized, Almagro instead foundered in Chile’s northern valleys in a frustrating environment of natives equally hostile and impecunious. After a couple years, he gave up and returned to Peru, angrier and poorer for his trouble — and there found that he could exploit the Spanish preoccupation with intransigent Incan chief Manco Inca to nick the capital city of Cuzco for himself.
Almagro actually had the lesser Pizarros — Gonzalo and Hernando — prisoner for a while, but he bartered them away to Francisco for a hill of beans (that is, a promise not to attack), and the Pizarros took their city back by routing Almagro at the Battle of Las Salinas.
The sentence of death against as august a personage as the appointed ruler of Nueva Toledo shocked many, and it was carried out against Almagro’s own entreaties for an appeal to the crown.
Detail view of a print of Almagro’s capture and execution. (Click for the full image.)
Francisco Pizarro would redeem his want of clemency towards his former partner in his own blood: in 1541, Almagro’s son, Diego de Almagro II or el Mozo, murdered Pizarro in an attempted coup d’etat. (Almagro the Younger, too, would be executed for his trouble.)
Although he was an important conquistador who spent most of his time at points further north, Almagro is best remembered today not in Peru but in Chile — for his abortive and disappointing expedition made him that land’s first European “discoverer”.
This date in 1533 saw John Frith and Andrew Hewet burned to ashes at Smithfield for Protestantism … just a week before Henry VIII himself was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
A Cambridge man who’d picked up some heresy in Lutheran Germany, Frith was a friend of William Tyndale and did a couple of turns in English prisons for his various transgressions of orthodoxy.
He was finally nabbed by a warrant of then-Chancellor Thomas More before he could escape to the continent, and hailed before a doctrinal court for sacramentarianism.
During his examination by the bishops, Frith stated that he could not agree with them that it was an article of faith that he must believe, under pain of damnation, that when a priest prayed during the mass, the substance of the bread and wine were changed into the actual body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ, even though their appearance remained the same. And even if this was so, which he did not believe it was, it should not be an article of faith.
(This, uh, hypothesis remains Catholic doctrine to this day, but at least it’s no longer worth your life to dispute it.)
All the pieces were in place for this radical theology to become orthodoxy over the succeeding generation. The newly-designated Archbishop of Canterbury — still for the moment within the Catholic fold — was reformer Thomas Cranmer. Despite his sympathy for a shared evangelical cause, Cranmer passed a guilty verdict after trying to talk Frith out of his belief. In the event, however, it was the Inquisitor who was converted: Cranmer over the course of the 1530s adopted Frith’s own view. He would eventually enshrine it in the Book of Common Prayer.
All of which, of course, was made possible by Henry’s insistence on ditching his first wife in favor of Anne Boleyn, and Cranmer’s support for that action. On July 11, both the king and his pliant prelate were excommunicated by Pope Clement VII.
Still, it must be allowed that this fact scarcely gave carte blanche to Protestant reformers in England. Maybe Frith was made for the flames regardless: as timing goes, the 1530s were great for religious martyrdom.
Andrew Hewet, our poor footnote, had no part in these august affairs save the victim’s. Hewet was a tailor’s apprentice who was just caught up with an anti-heretical accusation at the wrong time. In prison, he too refused to acknowledge transubstantiation — saying, “I believe as John Frith believes.” For so believing, he burned as Frith burned.
This well-favored but evidently unrefined young rowdy had a penchant for the illicit hobby of poaching game, just becoming in this period a conflict zone in the proto-capitalist enclosure movement.
We may suppose that a callow youth of privilege didn’t have the means of production on his mind, just an overweening sense of entitlement about the forests of the next lord over. In any event, a 1537 letter to Thomas Cromwell testifies to the young Fiennes’ vice.
I have received your lordship’s letters wherein I perceive your benevolence towards the frailness of my yoyth in considering that I was rather led by instigation of my accusers than of my mere mind to those unlawful acts, which I have long detested in secret. I perceive your lordship is desirous to have knowledge of all riotous hunters, and shall exert myself to do you service therein. I beg you give credence to Mr. Awdeley, with whom I send some of my servants to be brought before you; he can inform you of others who have hunted in my little park of Bukholt.’
We don’t have the particulars of this situation, but secret detestation notwithstanding, four years’ time finds Fiennes up to similar shenanigans.
In this later, fatal case, our sportsman and a group of retainers went out to hunt deer on the lands of his neighbor, Sir Nicholas Pelham. There, they encountered some men of Pelham’s, and in the ensuing melee, one of the latter party was beaten to death. Pelham pressed the issue aggressively.
“Overpersuaded by the courtiers, who gaped after his estate,” Fiennes tried the dangerous gambit of pleading guilty and casting himself on the king’s mercy. The fact that testimony indicated that Fiennes himself had not participated in the fight might have meant an acquittal, though a guilty plea also positioned Fiennes to exculpate his mates.
Gaping courtiers may have realized better than their prey that the king’s mood this summer tended towards severity. Spurning a recommendation of clemency from the peers of the realm, Henry VIII insisted on Dacre’s execution.
The affairs of the luckless baron’s last day — which was only four days after his trial — remain a bit mysterious. Hopes for a clemency were raised by a last-minute reprieve from a scheduled morning beheading, only to have the noble led out that afternoon to the beneath-his-class death by hanging at Tyburn.
Oh, and the mates Dacre was (possibly) trying to protect? Three of them hanged this date as well, at St. Thomas a Watering on the Old Kent Road.
* It hasn’t been continuously extant, strictly speaking — in fact, it was terminated along with Thomas Fiennes, only restored in 1558 to the hanged man’s son.
If there’s one thing King James VI of Scotland (eventually to also become James I of England) worried a lot about, it was witches.
The Al Qaeda of the 16th century imagination, those shadowy yet omnipresent necromancers were especially feared around this time for their powers of supernatural mayhem, and you can take your pick on the phenomenon’s psychosocial explanation. (It washardlylimitedto Scotland.)
THE fearefull aboundinge at this time in this countrie, of these detestable slaues of the Deuill, the Witches or enchaunters, hath moved me (beloued reader) to dispatch in post, this following treatise of mine, not in any wise (as I protest) to serue for a shew of my learning & ingine, but onely (mooued of conscience) to preasse / thereby, so farre as I can, to resolue the doubting harts of many; both that such assaultes of Sathan are most certainly practized, & that the instrumentes thereof, merits most severly to be punished: against the damnable opinions … not ashamed in publike print to deny, that ther can be such a thing as Witch-craft.
In 1589, Jamie sailed to Denmark to wed a Danish princess. When ferocious storms nearly wrecked the royal convoy on its return trip, there was only one possible explanation: witchcraft. And security theater for 16th century Scotland wasn’t taking your shoes off when ferrying across the nearby loch — it was publicly burning human beings to death for consorting with the devil.
It was what you’d expect. Seventy people accused, the doomed tortured into confessions like Jack Bauer would do, and a respectable harvest of souls, most famously (because interrogated by the king himself) Agnes Sampson. “Most of the winter of 1591,” writes one chronicler, “was spent in the discovery and examination of witches and sorcerers.”
Our day’s principal, whose name has various different renderings (such as Eufame Mackalzeane), was the last to suffer for some months.
Euphan McCalzeane was a lady possessed of a considerable estate in her own right. She was the daughter of Thomas McCalzeane, lord Cliftenhall, one of the senators of the college of justice, whose death in the year 1581 spared him the disgrace and misery of seeing his daughter fall by the hands of the executioner. She was married to a gentleman of her own name, by whom she had three children. She was accused of treasonably conspiring of the king; of raising storms to hinder his return from Denmark; and of various other articles of witchcraft. She was heard by counsel in her defense; was found guilty by the jury, which consisted of landed gentlemen of note; and her punishment was still severer than that commonly inflicted on the weyward sisters; she was burned alive, and her estate confiscated. Her children, however, after being thus barbarously robbed of their mother, were restored by act of parliament against the forfeiture. The act does not say that the sentence was unjust, but that the king was touched in honour and conscience to restore the children. But to move the wheels of his majesty’s conscience, the children had to grease them, by a payment of five thousand merks to the donator of escheat, and by relinquishing the estate of Cliftonhall, which the king gave to sir James Sandilands, of Slamanno.
As a striking picture of the state of justice, humanity, and science, in those times, it may be remarked, that this sir James Sandilands, a favourite of the king’s, ex interiore principis familiaritate, who got this estate, which the daughter of one lord of session forfeited, on account of being a witch, did that very year murder another lord of session in the suburbs of Edinburgh, in the public street, without undergoing either trial or punishment. (Source
On this date in 1529, Zwinglian missionary Jacob Kaiser was burnt at the stake in the Catholic Swiss canton of Schwyz.
His Protestant evangelizing was a violation of the unwritten Cuius regio, eius religio policy keeping peace among the cantons. (Later, it would become written.)
This otherwise routine Reformation martyrdom led Ulrich Zwingli, then Grossmünster of Zurich, to make war on the Catholic cantons, seeking to pry them open for further Protestant inroads.
Let us be firm and fear not to take up arms. This peace, which some desire so much, is not peace, but war; while the war that we call for, is not war, but peace. We thirst for no man’s blood, but we will cut the nerves of the oligarchy. If we shun it, the truth of the gospel and the ministers’ lives will never be secure among us.
The short-lived Erster Kappelerkrieg — the First War of Kappel — was won within weeks, swiftly concluded by a truce favorable to Zwingli’s Protestant alliance.
(Legend has it that the treaty was concluded over a shared pot of milk soup picturesquely resting on the Catholic-Protestant border, the Kappeler Milchsuppe.)
Die Kappeler Milchsuppe (1869) by Gemälde von Albert Anker.
But this initially favorable return on poor Jacob Kaiser’s sacrifice was soon squandered.
Hostilities between the two camps continued, eventually flaring into the Second War of Kappel. Zwingli was again spoiling for the fight, but his under-prepared Protestants were trounced by a Catholic league in October 1531. Zwingli himself died on the battlefield.
On this date in 1591, Scotsman John Dickson was condemned to death (which he immediately suffered) for murdering his father.
“The criminal record,” observes this volume of Scottish crime, “contains neither the particulars of the murder, nor the evidence against the prisoner.”
What is particular to this case is the method of execution: the breaking-wheel, or something very similar to it, a tortuous death used throughout continental Europe but that never caught on in the British Isles.
John Dickson, younger of Belchester, being apprehended, ta’en, and brought to Edinburgh, was put to the knawledge of ane assize for the slaughter of his awn natural father [in July 1588], and also for the lying for the said offence at the process of excommunication. [Being convicted, he was] brought to the scaffold, and at the Cross broken on ane rack, [and] worried—where he lay all that night, and on the morn [was] carried to the gallows of the Burgh-moor, where the rack was set up, and the corpse laid thereupon. (Passage from here or here.)
Dickson’s is the first of only two such “breaking” death sentences, in which the doomed is staked out spread-eagled and has his limbs shattered one by one, documented in Scotland. (The other is that of Robert Weir in 1604; an assassin in 1571 “is said, also” to have suffered such a fate, but actual documentation has been lost.)
Nalyvaiko organized “unregistered” Cossacks in Poland’s eastern realms, modern-day Belarus and Ukraine, into what became a significant rebellion. (Poland’s efforts to “register” and thereby control Cossacks would continue to cause tension in the years ahead.)
The Poles outmuscled him, and here he is.
However, because longer-term historical trends were not so favorable to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Nalyvaiko rates a place as an early independence martyr for (east) Slavic resistance to Warsaw’s Polish imperialism.
Not only does he get a spot on present-day Ukrainian coinage (as pictured); 19th century Russian poet Kondraty Ryleyev, who would himself be executed for his part in the Decembrist plot, lyricized Nalyvaiko’s death as heroic national sacrifice … and simultaneously elevated the poet’s own prophesied fate for himself.
“In Ryleyev’s poetry, fate — romantic fate — is not simply personal and individual,” writes Lauren Leighton. “The fate of his heroes, and so his own fate, is raised to the level of national-historical tragedy. By welcoming his fate and dying for his land, Nalivayko ennobles his people.”
Say not, thou holy man, again
That this is sin, thy words are vain,
Be it a fearful mortal sin
Worse than all crimes that e’er have been,
I care not — for could I but see
My native land at liberty,
Could I but see my race restored
To freedom from the foreign horde,
All sins would I upon me take
Without one sigh for Russia’s sake. –
The crimes of all the Tartar race,
The apostates Uniates‘ treason base,
The sins of every Jew and Pole –
All would I take upon my soul.
Try not with threats my mind to shake,
Persuasive words no change can make,
For hell to me is to have viewed
My loved Ukraine in servitude;
To see my fatherland set free,
This, this alone, is heaven for me!
E’en from the cradle was my breast
With love of liberty possessed;
My mother sang me glorious lays
Of those long-past historic days,
Whose memory yet lives ‘mongst men,
For no fear seized on Russians then,
None cringed before the haughty Pole;
The iron of a foreign yoke
Weighed upon no free Russian’s soul,
None cowered beneath a stranger’s stroke;
Cossacks were then the Pole’s allies,
Bound each to each in equal ties,
Such as free men would well beseem –
Now all is vanished like a dream.
Cossacks long since had learned to know
How into tyrants friends may grow;
The Lithuanian, and the Jew,
The Pole, and all the Uniate crew,
Like ravening crows around their prey
Seize us, and tear our limbs away.
The voice of law no more is heard
In Warsaw’s city, none are stirred
At hearing all a nation’s wail,
Our mourning voices nought avail,
And now within me burns a flame
Of hatred for the Polish name –
A fierce hot flame of raging fire –
My look is wild with passion dire
And frenzied wrath; the soul in me
Sickens for love of liberty.
One thought have I by night and day,
Which like a shadow haunts my way,
E’en where the steppes lie silent, bare,
Unresting it pursues me there;
E’en in the soldier’s camp, and when
The battle’s whirl, and tramp of men,
Around me roar with maddening rush,
I hear it still, and in the hush
Of the still church’s vaulted gloom,
Sound in my ears the words of doom
“‘Tis time,” the holy accents say,
“‘Tis time to sweep the foes away,
“O’er the Ukraine who bear their sway.”
I know full well the direful fate
Which must upon the patriot wait
Who first dare rise against the foe
And at the tyrant aim the blow.
This is my destined fate — but say
When, when has freedom won her way
Without the blood of martyrs shed,
When none for liberty have bled?
My coming doom I feel and know
And bless the stroke which lays me low
And, father, now with joy I meet
My death, to me such end is sweet.
At the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth centuries, conditions for peasants in what is now southern and central Germany were in decline. The cost of goods continued to increase while the ruling aristocracy, who owned the land rented by peasants to grow crops, declined to reduce rents or raise wages
In addition, the territorial sovereigns attempted to increase their income to accommodate the increase in prices by levying additional taxes and tithes on, and increase other obligations owed by, the peasants and serfs under their control.
Simultaneously, changes in the economic market due to increased international trade and industry affected the structure of society, putting into conflict the interests of the aristocracy and the growing merchant class, and giving rise to burghers and industrial workers. Growing awareness of the Reformation and changes in commerce and the social structure also put ecclesiastical society and its lifestyle into conflict with secular interests.
The majority of the Twelve Articles asked for relief from economic hardships, such as the cattle tithes and death tax, and for the preservation of “common” land for use by the peasants. The Emperor ignored the petition, which then became the definitive set of grievances of the lower class. The movement quickly splintered into three factions: Catholics who resisted any challenge to the Church’s supremacy; burghers and princes seeking autonomy from the Church through reforms proposed by Luther; and the lower classes.
Violence soon errupted, as these factions took up arms to preserve, or better, their way of life in an uprising known as the Peasant’s War (1524-1525).
Not surprisingly, sources differ on why the conflict came to a head when it did: the Catholic church blamed the revolting Lutherans; the peasants blamed the aristocracy; and the aristocrats blamed the church. Regardless of the reason, Count von Helfenstein was not in a favorable position.
Count Ludwig von Helfenstein fought against the peasants during this conflict. Occupying the town of Weinsberg on the orders of the Archduke, von Helfenstein freely slew peasants either when discovered in small bands or when they sought admission to the town.
On April 16, in revenge for these killings, an attack led by Florian Geyer and Jacklein Rohrbach (German link) and under the command of George Metzler captured the town and von Helfenstein.
Many aristocrats and knights were killed outright during the fight. Von Helfenstein, however, was forced by vengeful peasants to run (while his wife and child watched) a double gantlet of men with spears drawn.
Helfenstein is led to his messy fate, while his kneeling wife entreats in vain, in this 1844 painting by Gustav Metz. (More, in German.)
Like most peasant revolts, however, it got its licks in and then got crushed. The princes, connected to the Empire, were able to amass greater control over other nobility, while feudalism’s decline was accelerated in favor of commercialism and trade.
On this date in 1554, rebel leader Thomas Wyatt the Younger tied on his own blindfold and laid his head on the block, having declared that not “any other now in your durance [i.e., the Tower] was privy to my rising”.
And Wyatt had had to do more than talk the talk to keep the future Queen Elizabeth I out of the executioner’s way.
Sore afraid that Wyatt’s rebellion had been engineered with the connivance of her Protestant half-sister, the Catholic Queen Mary Tudor had had Wyatt tortured to implicate her.
Wyatt held firm to Elizabeth’s innocence.
Had he not, the princess might have followed her mother to the scaffold, instead of becoming one of the realm’s most illustrious monarchs* — a fraught situation aptly portrayed at the outset of the 1998 Cate Blanchett flick Elizabeth.
It wasn’t only religion that made the political situation in 1550s England so perilous.
Mary Tudor’s marriage to Philip of Spain had roused fears of Spanish political domination. This, much more than theology, triggered the plot that took Thomas Wyatt’s head off his shoulders.
Against this specter of Iberian influence, Wyatt and some fellow-nobles attempted to raise coordinated insurrections in early 1554. Most fizzled or were busted by authorities before they could get going. Wyatt’s alone, in quarrelsome Kent, ignited: he marched 4,000 men on the city of London and for a moment seemed to have a real prospect of capturing it before the crown rallied the city.
A paroxysm of vengeful executions in February 1554 claimed nearly 100 participants in the rebellion, their mutilated bodies demonstratively hung up around town. (It also claimed Lady Jane Grey, the lately defeated rival contender for Mary’s throne, whom the latter now realized was too dangerous to be left alive.)
It could have been uglier, though.
Despite her “Bloody Mary” reputation, the Queen went fairly easy on this dangerous challenge to her authority, making some high-profile examples but paroling most of the rank-and-file traitors in a hearts-and-minds clemency campaign.
The namesake rebel, however, was never going to be in that bunch. He was kept on a bit in the Tower while Mary’s goons “laboured to make Sir Thomas Wyatt confess concerning the Lady Elizabeth … but unsuccessfully, though torture had been applied.”
“Much suspected by me, nothing proved can be, Quoth Elizabeth prisoner”
Having kept his head under torture, Wyatt lost it on this date — and readied Elizabeth’s to wear the crown.
If you find the Elizabethan age worth celebrating, spare an extra thought this date for Thomas Wyatt the Younger’s eponymous old man.**
In Henry’s snakepit, youthful frolics could come back to bite you; Wyatt the elder was actually imprisoned for adultery with the queen, only ducking the fatal charge thanks to some pull with Thomas Cromwell.
Wyatt pere wrote a melancholy poem about this depressing turn of his fortunes, but considering his times, you’d have to say he was born under a good sign.
A few years later, he was again on the hook for treason, and (Cromwell having been beheaded in the interim) saved by the fortuitous influence of Queen Catherine Howard, who was herself not long before a fall and a chop. (After that, Lady Wyatt, famous for her gallantries, was supposed to be in the running to become King Henry’s sixth wife even though she was still married to Thomas.)
The elder Wyatt managed to die naturally before trying his luck with a third treason charge.
* Many a slip ‘twixt a cup and a lip, but that turn of ill fate for Elizabeth could have set Mary, Queen of Scots on her way to becoming one of England’s most illustrious monarchs, instead of going to the scaffold.
** The illustrious family ties go the other direction, too. Thomas Wyatt the Younger was the grandfather of Francis Wyatt, the first English royal governor of the New World territory named for Queen Elizabeth: Virginia.
On this date* in 1520, on his famous voyage of circumnavigation, explorer Ferdinand Magellan ordered the immediate execution of a mutinous captain.
Not to be trifled with.
Having alit just days before at the natural harbor of Puerto San Julien on the Brazilian Argentine coast (Magellan named it) with plans to winter there, the overweening Portuguese explorer faced an uprising of grumpy Spanish officers.
Gaspar Quesada, captain of the Concepcion, along with Luis de Mendoza of the Victoria and recently displaced San Antonio skipper Juan de Cartagena, seized some of the expedition’s ships during the night of April 1-2.
Since you know Magellan’s name five centuries later, you already know he quashed it.
As the sovereign of this fragile floating world, Magellan had little choice but to treat a challenge to his authority mercilessly.**
Though accounts are inconsistent, it seems Mendoza was boldly slain by one of Magellan’s men meeting him under color of “negotiation”.
Mendoza was then posthumously beheaded and quartered along with Gaspar Quesada. Juan de Cartagena was either executed as well, or else caught a “break”: some sources relate that, instead of executing Cartagena, Magellan had him marooned.
the twentieth of June , wee harboured ourselues againe in a very good harborough, called by Magellan Port S. Julian, where we found a gibbet standing upon the maine, which we supposed to be the place where Magellan did execution upon some of his disobedient and rebellious company.
-From a member of the Francis Drake expedition. Just 12 days later and at the very same place, Drake visited a similar penalty for a similar offense upon one of his own crew.
* “‘The authorities’ are divertingly divergent on the precise date of these events,” says O.H.K. Spate in The Spanish Lake, referring specifically to the dates of the mutiny. “Denucé puts them on Easter Sunday and Monday, 1–2 April; Merriman on Easter Sunday and Monday, 8–9 April; Nowell on Palm Sunday and the next day, with the trial verdict on 7 April. By the Julian calendar, in use until 1582, the dates would be 1–2 April; by the Gregorian, ten days later. Pigafetta and Maximilian, who slur over the whole affair, give no dates at all. It is not of vast moment.” Clearly, O.H.K. Spate never had to write an almanac blog.
Anyway, there’s some primary sourcing on this affair here.
** Though Magellan made an example of the leaders, he pragmatically spared about 40 others after keeping them in chains and working the pumps for three months. After all, the man still needed to crew his ships.