Posts filed under '16th Century'
July 22nd, 2010
This date in 1501,* the Italian city-state of Florence celebrated a “double feast”: that of St. Mary Magdalene, which marked a civic carnival every July 22; and, the hanging of sacrilegious gambler Antonio Rinaldeschi on the walls of the Bargello.
Eleven days prior, Rinaldeschi was having a bad run of wagering at The Fig Tree tavern.
Like Jesus is some people’s co-pilot, the Virgin Mary must have been Rinaldeschi’s card-counter — for, stalking out of the premises much the poorer, our doomed punter blasphemously uttered “words that are better kept silent” about her. Then, passing an image of Holy Mother at the piazza Santa Maria de Alberighi, he gathered up some nearby dung and flung it at the sacred pic.
This dry poo maybe should have just slid right off, but the Lord works in mysterious ways.
Write William Connell and Giles Constable in “Sacrilege and Redemption in Renaissance Florence: The Case of Antonio Rinaldeschi” (Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 61 (1998), and the source of most of this entry’s narrative),
a portion of it, resembling a rosette (‘quasi pareva una rosetta secha’), stuck to the Virgin’s diadem, above the nape of her neck. The dirtied image drew much attention. The archbishop came to look. Candles and votive images were brought before the fresco, which quickly became an object of popular devotion.
Someone saw something and the trail led back to the ill-tempered cardsharp within days, who tried to stab himself to death when he realized what was about to go down. He copped to the crime pretty quickly (at least one source says it was so that he could be executed in preference to being lynched), and his corpse dangling out the Bargello window decorated the other Mary’s regularly-scheduled homage of parades and horse-races.
(And, now that it was no longer needed as evidence, the miraculous ordure was cleaned off the statue.)
Florence at the dawn of the 16th century was truly a place where religion could get you killed. This was the city that had elevated severe Dominican friar Savonarola to dictator and morals enforcer in the 1490s (Savonarola especially hated gambling), then overthrew and burned him in 1498.
Our authors think there’s some evidence that the first couple years of the 1500s were a period when the populist religious fanatics who once grooved on Savonarola’s violent party pooper act were back on the march as against, say, the more out-of-touch syphilitic reckless gambling blasphemer element that was now, post-Savonarola, enjoying free run of the town. Having one of the latter excrement-ize a Marian monument is the sort of thing that would have led the Florentine Fox News: naturally, he had to be made an example of.
To help you bear that example in mind, a nine-panel painting, “The History of Antonio Rinaldeschi”, attributed to the hanged man’s contemporary Filippo Dolciati, can be seen in Firenze’s Stibbert Museum.
Madonna + manure, meanwhile, has its own art legacy … and the combination is still good for raising a ruckus to this day.
The Holy Virgin Mary, by Chris Ofili: a black Mary smeared with elephant dung.
* The primary sourcing on the chronology of the execution is sketchy enough that it’s possible Rinaldeschi was hanged on July 21, before midnight — rather than in the dark early hours of July 22.
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Florence,God,Hanged,History,Italy,Notable for their Victims,Pelf,Public Executions,Scandal
Tags: 1500s, 1501, antonio rinaldeschi, art, bargello, chris ofili, excrement, filippo dolciati, gamblers, gambling, july 22, mary magdalene, savonarola, st. mary, the holy virgin mary, the virgin mary
July 9th, 2010
On this date in 1572, Dutch Calvinists fighting to break away from Spanish domination hanged 19 Catholics at Brielle.
The heretofore abortive — and severely suppressed — Dutch Revolt blossomed in 1572 with the April 1 capture of Brielle by the Protestant raiders nicknamed Sea Beggars.
Dutch schoolchildren learn the occasion with the punny rhyme — bril, “glasses”, is a near-homophone for Brielle —
“Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril”
On April 1st, the Duke of Alva lost his glasses
The mailed fist of imperial Spain in the Low Countries, the Duke of Alva (or Alba) would be forced by Calvinist gains this year onto the back foot; despite a vigorous counterattack that regained some lost territory in 1573, he was soon forced into retirement.
This was still just the opening saga of the Eighty Years’ War, but the Dutch Revolt would weave together theology and nationalism for Netherlands separatists. It already had.
So, small surprise that weeks after nicking the Duke of Alva’s glasses, Dutch rebels conquering other towns started making prisoners of Catholic clergy whose loyalties were suspiciously Habsburgish. Our day’s principals (here are their names; a batch of Franciscans taken are the largest contingent, to which various lay brothers, parish priests, and others were appended) were seized at and around Gorkum (Gorinchem).
The author of this intrepid iconoclastic incursion, William II de la Marck, was likewise the author of these Catholic martyrs’ doom once they had been removed back to Brielle. They were hanged without benefit of trial at an abandoned monastery.
Every sectarian propagandist of 16th century Europe made lurid heroes of his own side’s martyrs, and these were no exception to the pattern; we read in this Catholic source (perhaps while contemplating this devotional image) that
[i]t was on the 9th July 1572 when the execution of the pious sufferers began. On their side they had fully prepared themselves for it by confession and prayer. The executioner went so slowly to work that two hours had elapsed ere the last of the martyrs had taken his place on the gallows, and many of them still lived when morning broke. But the fury of the soldiers was not yet satisfied. They mutilated the dead bodies, cut off their noses and ears, and other limbs, and, alas, shame seems to touch the pen with which we write, bound them to their hats, and returned with these melancholy trophies in triumph into the city!
The location where this day’s unfortunates suffered became a pilgrimage destination, and they were formally enrolled in the minor leagues of Rome’s competitive hagiography circuit in the 19th century.
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Netherlands,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Religious Figures,Spain,Torture,Wartime Executions
Tags: 1570s, 1572, art, catholicism, catholics, cesare fracassini, duke of alba, duke of alva, dutch revolt, eighty years' war, gorinchem, gorkum, july 9, Protestant Reformation, protestantism, william ii de la marck
July 8th, 2010
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”.
* Either beheaded or garroted.
** Almagro also rubbed shoulders with Vasco Nunez de Balboa.
† He pulled a similar trick with Trujillo, naming it after Francisco Pizarro’s birthplace.
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Chile,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Garrote,History,Nobility,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Strangled
Tags: 1530s, 1538, age of exploration, battle of las salinas, cusco, cuzco, diego de almagro, diego de almagro ii, explorers, francisco pizarro, manco inca, quito
July 4th, 2010
Life is all about timing.
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.
-Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
(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.
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Torture
Tags: 1530s, 1533, andrew hewet, clement vii, henry viii, john foxe, john frith, july 4, london, protestant, Protestant Reformation, protestantism, smithfield, thomas more, tudor england
June 29th, 2010
On this date in 1541, an English peer hanged (!) at Tyburn for an unpremeditated murder.
Thomas Fiennes, scion of an ancient title still* extant today, was more accustomed to doling out the death sentences.
Dacre sat on the jury of peers that condemned Anne Boleyn, and also helped doom plotters in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy.
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.
These Tudor toffs are distant relations of actor Ralph Fiennes, whose turn as a hanged Nazi war criminal has already been noted in these pages.
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Nobility,Public Executions
Tags: 1540s, 1541, gregory fiennes, henry viii, june 29, london, old kent road, poachers, poaching, ralph fiennes, st. thomas a watering, thomas fiennes, tudor england, Tyburn
June 25th, 2010
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 was hardly limited to Scotland.)
Whatever it was, King James had it in spades.
The son of one executed monarch and father of another, James kept head tightly fixed to shoulders all his own days, and he used it to write the (well, a) book on witch-hunting.
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.
You couldn’t fault the guy for a lot of daylight between his principles and his practices.
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.
So once the king made it back home, he initiated the North Berwick Witch Trials, the first notable witch-hunt of his reign.
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
Like any number of other executed “witches,” this one professed innocence at the scaffold.
Before she was strangled and burnt, the poor woman “tooke it on her conscience that she was innocent of all the crymes layed to her charge.”
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,20th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Public Executions,Scotland,Torture,Witchcraft,Women
Tags: 1590s, 1591, agnes sampson, daemonologie, eufame mackalzeane, euphane maccalzean, james i, james sandilands, james vi, james vi and i, june 25, literature, macbeth, north berwick witch trials, shakespeare, superstition, theology, william shakespeare, witch hunt
May 29th, 2010
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.
-Zwingli, channeling Orwell
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.
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Switzerland
Tags: 1520s, 1529, first war of kappel, jacob kaiser, may 29, schwyz, ulrich zwingli
April 30th, 2010
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.)
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Scotland
Tags: 1590s, 1591, april 30, edinburgh, john dickson, parricide
April 21st, 2010
On this date in 1597, Cossack Severyn Nalyvaiko was publicly quartered in Warsaw.
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.
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Dismembered,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Russia,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason,Ukraine
Tags: 1590s, 1597, april 21, cossacks, currency, decembrist revolt, kondraty ryleyev, literature, nationalism, poetry, severyn nalyvaiko, warsaw
April 16th, 2010
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.
In 1524, a petition known as the Twelve Articles of the Black Forest was presented to the Holy Roman Emperor.
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.
(See The Peasants War in Germany, 1525-152, by Ernest Belfort Bax for a florid description of Helfenstein’s end.)
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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Guest Writers,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Other Voices,Power,Public Executions,Running the Gantlet,Soldiers,The Worm Turns,War Crimes,Wartime Executions
Tags: 1520s, 1525, florian geyer, jacklein rohrbach, ludwig von helfenstein, peasant uprising, peasants war, weinsberg