Posts filed under 'Spain'

1578: Nicolas Gosson, counterrevolved

Add comment October 26th, 2020 Headsman


Beheading of barrister Nicolas Gosson at Arras on October 26, 1578.

Presently in France, this town at the time was in the Spanish Low Countries during the unfolding Calvinist Dutch Revolt.

Gosson, “a man of great wealth, one of the most distinguished advocates in the Netherlands, and possessing the gift of popular eloquence to a remarkable degree, was the leader of this burgess faction” according to this public domain history. He mounted an urban coup in favor of the Orangist — one of several similar coups in the southern Low Countries, where ultras tried to force events upon less favorable terrain. “Inflamed by the harangues of Gosson, and supported by five hundred foot soldiers and fifty troopers under one Captain Ambrose, they rose against the city magistracy, whose sentiments were unequivocally for Parma, and thrust them all into prison. They then constituted a new board of fifteen, some Catholics and some Protetants, but all patriots, of whom Gosson was chief.”

The not-so-patriotic faction — the so-called “Malcontents”, noblemen and their supporters who were either repelled by Calvinist excesses or simply pleased to seek their advantage allying with Spain — turned back Gosson’s revolution within days.

Baron Capres, the great Malcontent seignior, who was stationed with his regiment in the neighbourhood … marched into the city at the head of a strong detachment, and straightway proceeded to erect a very tall gibbet in front of the Hotel de Ville. This looked practical in the eyes of the liberated and reinstated magistrates, and Gosson, Crugeot, and the rest were summoned at once before them. The advocate thought, perhaps, with a sigh, that his judges, so recently his prisoners, might have been the fruit for another gallows-tree, had he planted it when the ground was his own …

The process was rapid. A summons from Brussels was expected every hour from the general government, ordering the cases be brought before the federal tribunal, and as the Walloon provinces were not yet ready for open revolt, the order would be an inconvenient one. Hence the necessity for haste … Bertoul, Crugeot, Mordacq, with several others, were condemned in a few hours to the gibbet. They were invited to appeal, if they chose, to the council of Artois, but hearing that the court was sitting next door, so that there was no chance of a rescue in the streets, they declared themselves satisfied with the sentence. Gosson had not been tried, his case being reserved for the morrow.

Meanwhile, the short autumnal day had drawn to a cloe. A wild, stormy, rainy night then set in, but still the royalist party — citizens and soldiers intermingled — all armed to the teeth, and uttering fierce cries, while the whole scene was fitfully illuminated with the glare of flambeaux and blazing tar-barrels, kept watch in the open square around the city hall. A series of terrible Rembrandt-like night-pieces succeeded — grim, fantastic, and gory. [Pierre] Bertoul, an old man, who for years had so surely felt himself predestined to his present doom that he had kept a gibbet in his own house to accustom himself to the sight of the machine, was led forth the first, and hanged at ten in the evening. He was a good man, of perfectly blameless life, a sincere Catholic, but a warm partisan of Orange.

Valentine de Mordacq, an old soldier, came from the Hotel de Ville to the gallows at midnight. As he stood on the ladder, amid the flaming torches, he broke forth into furious execrations, wagging his long white beard to and fro, making hideous grimaces, and cursing the hard fate which, after many dangers on the battle-field and in beleaguered cities, had left him to such a death. The cord strangled his curses. Crugeot was executed at three in the morning, having obtained a few hours’ respite in order to make his preparations, which he accordingly occupied himslf in doing as tranquilly as if he had been setting forth upon an agreeable journey. He looked like a phantom, according to eye-witnesses, as he stood under the gibbet, making a most pious and Catholic address to the crowd.

The whole of the following day was devoted to the trial of Gosson. He was condemned at nightfall, and heard by appeal before the superior court directly afterwards. At midnight of the 25th of October 1578, he was condemned to lose his head, the execution to take place without delay. The city guards and the infantry under Capres still bivouacked upon the square; the howling storm still continued, but the glare of fagots and torches made the place as light as day. The ancient advocate, with haggard eye and features distorted by wrath, walking between the sheriff and a Franciscan monk, advanced through the long lane of halberdiers, in the grand hall of the Town House, and thence emerged upon the scaffold erected before the door. He shook his fists with rage at the released magistrates, so lately his prisoners, exclaiming that to his miplaced mercy it was owing that his head, instead of their own, was to be placed upon the block. He bitterly reproached the citizens for their cowardice in shrinking from dealing a blow for their fatherland, and in behalf of one who had so faithfully srved them. The clerk of the court then read the sentence amid silence so profound that every syllable he uttered, and every sigh and ejaculation of the victim, were distinctly heard in the most remote corner of the square. Gosson then, exclaiming that he was murdered without cause, knelt upon the scaffold. His head fell while an angry imprection was still upon hi lips.

This municipal revolution and counter-revolution, obscure though they seem, were in reality of very grave importance. This was the last blow struck for freedom in the Walloon country. The failure of the movement made that scission of the Netherlands certain, which has endured till our days.

A few months afterward, Malcontents, Catholics, and pro-Spain types sealed their alliance (maybe at breaks in their negotiations clapping shoulders as they reminisced about cutting down old Nicolas Gosson) with a pact called the Union of Arras.

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1647: Francesco Toraldo

Add comment October 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1647, Francesco Toraldo was put to summary death by rebelling Neapolitans.

Toraldo was a decorated commander during the Thirty Years’ War who was all set up to enjoy retirement as the Duke of Palata, a dignity conjured for him by the grateful Spanish.

This title persists in the Spanish peerage to this day, even though the namesake “duchy”, Palata, is a town in Italy — which is where Toraldo had some family holdings.

That meant he was in the neighborhood to get pulled into the action when Naples in 1647 rebelled against the King of Spain, the neglectful overlord of the City of the Sun.

In July 1647 a tax revolt led by a fisherman named Masaniello briefly gained control of the city.*


The Anti-Spanish Revolt of Masaniello in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples on 7 July 1648, by Michelangelo Cerquozzi and Viviano Codazzi, the latter of whom fled Naples because of this very event.

After the city’s merchants murdered Masaniello, Toraldo was called on as governor-general. He enjoyed widespread support among the still-restive populace, and when the Spanish royal house attempted a show of force under John of Austria to decisively quell the disturbance, Toraldo’s defense of the city might have led a more ambitious soul to declare himself the master of Naples. Indeed, many Neapolitans urged this course upon him — but Toraldo hewed to an increasingly untenable middle way of simultaneous fidelity to Spain and the Neapolitan masses that did for him in the end. (In fairness, the bolder attempt would surely have done for him just the same; his safety would have been in retiring.)

Hitherto the people had at least recognised the external sovereignty of Spain. Whilst they fought against the Spaniards, they professed their allegiance to the king of Spain; they rejected the accusation of rebellion, decidedly as well as vehemently; they had respected the pictures and arms of Philip IV and his ancestors, and always called themselves his most faithful people. But by degrees this had changed, and the unsuccessful expedition of Don John had given the last blow to this feeling of attachment to the royal family …A manifesto of the people on the 17th of October, 1647, set forth the grievance of the nation against their rulers, and invoked the aid of the Pope and the Emperor of kings and of princes. Political parties were formed; the most active at first were those who cried “Long life to the Pope! were he but our liege lord.” The Cardinal-Archbishop leaned to this side; the Nuncio Altieri was familiar with intrigues, and his brother was mixed up in it … Others, and amongst them some of the nobility, inclined towards France, and intriguers were not wanting who laboured in behalf of this power … Others again, considered a republic as feasible; but the great mass of the middle class began to perceive the danger into which they had fallen by the last steps taken in the revolution. They had been desirous of the abolition of burdens which were too oppressive, but not of a change in the government and dynasty. They had allowed the populace to have its own way about the gabelles. But when the populace prevailed, they changed their minds, as one insurrection followed upon another, when all commerce was at a stand-still, when all security was at an end, when the town was threatened with being turned into a heap of ruins, and that they were on the point of losing every thing, because they wanted too much. It was this middle class which later gave Spain an easy and bloodless victory.

But till this happened, Naples continued the theatre of horrible scenes. As the negotiations with Don John of Austria led to no results, the people tried to drive away the troops from the posts which they still occupied within the town. Thus Michele de Santis, the butcher who had murdered Don Giuseppe Carafa, led six hundred men against the Spanish post at Porta Meina. The Viceroy, after whom it was called, as has already been mentioned, had built this gate in the wall of Charles Vth, upon the heights of Montesanto, on the slope of the mountain upon which is situated the Carthusian convent and Sant’Elmo. Here stood fifteen Spaniards, armed only with pike and swords; they drove back six hundred men. The leaders perceived that, without the advantage of a commanding position, all individual detached successes were of no avail. Santa Chiara had resisted all their attacks. On the 21st of October a mine was sprung under the tower. Don Francesco Toraldo, who had been too weak to extricate himself, as he might possibly have succeeded in doing from his false position, and who now acted as a sort of check upon the people, commanded the attack in person. The mine was sprung, but being improperly laid, it only injured the neighbouring buildings, which buried numbers of the champions of the people under the ruins. The garrison of the convent made a sally at the same time, and the bands of the assailants withdrew, with the cry of treason. Their unfortunate leader was to atone for the treason; they seized him and dragged him to the market-place. In vain did Don Francesco Toraldo attempt to speak, in vain did his adherents try to silence the mad men. He sank down at the fish-market; they cut off his noble head upon a stone fish-stall. They stuck it upon a speak; thus had first [Don Giuseppe] Carafa’s head been carried in triumph, then that of Masaniello. They tore the still warm heart from the mangled corpse, and carried it in a silver dish to the convent, where Donna Alvina Frezza, the very beautiful wife of the unfortunate man, was staying. The savage murderers desired that the princess would show herself at the gate of the convent to receive the heart of her husband. The nuns, horror-struck, refused to deliver the message: then these savages collected the wood and faggots that were about to set fire to the convent. Toraldo’s widow, informed of the danger appeared at the threshold, and was obliged to receive from the hands of the barbarians this dreadful though beloved present. Many even of the mob wept at this sight. The corpse remained hanging on the gallows for two days, then they took it down, and in one of those sudden revulsions of mind that so often take place amongst the rude masses, they buried their murdered Captain-General with great pomp. (Source)

This fresh detonation of the powder keg led to the populace declaring itself the Neapolitan Republic; as the passage above hints, that project did not long survive the Spaniards’ pressure.

* Masaniello’s populist revolt left a wide literary footprint. Of special note is the opera La Muette de Portici, whose performance in Brussels in 1830 helped catalyze the Belgian Revolution.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Gibbeted,History,Italy,Lynching,Naples,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1546: Jorge Robledo, Popayan conquistador

2 comments October 5th, 2020 Headsman

Spanish conquistador Jorge Robledo was beheaded on this date in 1546

Robedo (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Spanish) emerges onto history’s stage as a marshal from the train of Francisco Pizarro, dispatched to the new Spanish colony of Popayan in the Colombian Andes.

There he founded several still-extant cities, like Santa Fe de Antioquia.

After a few years back in the mother country, Robledo returned to Popayan intending to install himself as an authority in those cities or still better, the province as a whole — a project that necessarily pitted him against the incumbent boss Sebastian de Belalcazar. Several months’ skirmishing produced a verdict for the latter, who had his rival publicly executed with several aides-de-camp.

Belalcazar himself was in 1550 condemned to death for this severity. He died of natural causes while preparing to sail for Spain to appeal it. Belalcazar has been in the news recently because a statue of him was torn down in 2020 in protest of centuries of brutality towards indigenous peoples.

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1812: Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo, Huanuco rebel

Add comment September 14th, 2020 Headsman

Peruvian revolutionary Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo was garroted on this date in 1812.

Bust of Juan Jose Crespo y Castillo at Lima’s Panteon de los Proceres. (cc) image from Fernando Murillo.

An advance shock of the coming Peruvian War of Independence, Crespo y Castillo came to the fore of an indigenous rebellion against Spanish dominion in the mountainous department of Huanuco.

This small — perhaps 1,500 rebels were involveed — rising broke out in February 1812 and lasted only a couple of months but testified to Peru’s ongoing current of native resistance.

Crespo y Castillo wasn’t a firebrand but a prosperous local Creole elite, a farmer and alderman of long standing. Beyond the common grievances of state abuses and corruption he acutely felt the injury imposed by trade tightening that devastated the value of his tobacco crops.

On February 22, 1812, Indians from several outlying towns marched on the town of Huanuco, putting the Spanish authorities to flight. Crespo y Castillo was elevated to the leadership of a small governing board for the rebellion, whose limited ambitions were marked by its slogan, Viva el rey, muera el mal gobierno.

By May, the whole thing had succumbed to the customary remedy of overwhelming counterattack plus clemency offer for the rank-and-file — among whom, of course, our man numbered not.

He was put to death at the Plaza Mayor of Huanoco, uttering the inspiring last words,

“Muero yo, pero mil se levantaran para ahorcar a los tiranos. Viva la libertad!”

(“I die, but a thousand will rise to hang the tyrants! Long live freedom!”)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Garrote,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Spain,Strangled,Treason

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1573: Lancelot van Brederode, sea beggar

Add comment July 20th, 2020 Headsman

Dutch revolt general Lancelot van Brederode was beheaded on this date in 1573, bequeathing posterity the gorgeous ruin of his sacked castle.

Lancelot van Bredrode, detail from an illustration of him alongside fellow ‘sea beggar’ Jan van Duivenvoorde, by Johannes Hilverdink.

Lancelot van Brederode (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was the bastard half-brother of Hendrick, Lord of Broderode, and both men numbered among the ranks of Calvinist Low Countries nobles determined to break away from Spanish Catholic domination.

This faction became known as the Geuzen, meaning “Beggars”; so prominent was Hendrick that he was the Grote Greus, or “Big Beggar”. Alas, he was chased into exile by the Spanish crackdown and became the Died Young Beggar.

Lancelot’s talents were on the waves, and it’s no surprise that seafaring Watergeuzen were the most prominently successful Beggars of all in the unfolding Dutch Revolt. Unfortunately he was not successful at supporting the defense of Haarlem against Spanish siege: when the Spanish took the city, Lancelot lost his head. To add insult to injury, they destroyed Brederode Castle; the gorgeous ruins were protected as a national monument and partly restored in the 19th century.


The Ruins of Brederode Caste, by Meindert Hobbema. For a more present-day view of the shattered citadel, see here.

Lancelot’s young (at the time of dad’s beheading) son Reinoud van Brederode went on to become a powerful lawyer and diplomat in the Dutch Republic. But not so powerful that he could save his father-in-law, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, from his own date with Executed Today.

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1558: Toqui Caupolicán

Add comment June 27th, 2020 Headsman

Es algo formidable que vio la vieja raza:
robusto tronco de árbol al hombro de un campeón
salvaje y aguerrido, cuya fornida maza
blandiera el brazo de Hércules, o el brazo de Sansón.
Por casco sus cabellos, su pecho por coraza,
pudiera tal guerrero, de Arauco en la región,
lancero de los bosques, Nemrod que todo caza,
desjarretar un toro, o estrangular un león.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. Le vio la luz del día,
le vio la tarde pálida, le vio la noche fría,
y siempre el tronco de árbol a cuestas del titán.
«¡El Toqui, el Toqui!» clama la conmovida casta.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. La aurora dijo: «Basta»,
e irguióse la alta frente del gran Caupolicán.

-“Caupolican” by Ruben Dario

On this date in 1558, the Spanish executed Mapuche revolutionary Caupolicán by impalement.

A toqui (war chief) for the Mapuche as they launched in 1553 their decades-long insurrection against Spanish domination, Caupolican (English Wikipedia entry | the well-illustrated Spanish). It is he who had the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia put to death after one early Mapuche victory.

The Spanish were able to recover and throw back the indigenous rebels. Caupolicán’s force was destroyed, and he shortly after taken prisoner, when whilst besieging a Spanish fort called Cañete a Spanish double agent lured the Mapuche into a devastating ambush.

His end verges into the mythic thanks to Alonso de Ercilla‘s lengthy epic poem from a decade after Caupolicán’s death, La Araucana. (Full text at archive.org.) Two key events stand out.

In the first, the bound Caupolicán is reviled by his wife, Fresia, for permitting himself to be captured alive. Her gesture of scornfully abandoning their infant child in at Caupolicán’s feet has been captured on canvas numerous times, although Fresia’s historicity outside of Ercilla’s pen is quite dubious.


The prisoner Caupolicán and Fresia, by Raymond Monvoisin.

However, the conquered toqui redeems his valor at the last by kicking away the executioner and hurling himself upon the spike meant to impale him.

Eslo dicho, y alzando el pié derecho
aunque de las cadenas impedido,
dió tal coz al verdugo, que gran trecho
Je echó rodando abajo mal herido;
reprehendido el impaciente hecho,
y del súbito enojo reducido,

Je sentaron después con poca ayuda,
sobre la punta de la estaca aguda.

It is said that, raising his right foot
although impeded by the chains,
he dealt the hangman such a mighty kick
that the man was thrown from the scaffold;
that impatient reprimand delivered,
his fury abated
and he sat himself unaided
upon the tip of the sharp stake.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Chile,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1939: Toribio Martinez Cabrera

Add comment June 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Spanish officer Toribio Martinez Cabrera was executed on this date in 1939 by Franco’s Spain.

An army lifer who had cut his teeth fighting in Cuba against Spain’s imperial dispossession, Martinez Cabrera (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish was one of the few brigadier generals to remain loyal to the Spanish Republic when his brethren launched the Spanish Civil War.

Despite entrusting him with command responsibility, his upper brass demographic profiled as a probable rebel and the Republic remained wary of his act; he was interrogated as a possible double agent after the fascists took Malaga, and defeated an outright treason charge after Franco occupied Gijon in 1937. It seems like he was destined to be shot by someone.

Having the honor of returning to an official capacity in the collapsing remains of the Republic, he supported Segismundo Casado‘s March 1939 coup against the Communist-allied Juan Negrin. The latter could get no negotiated terms from the fascists and so resigned himself, as he later remembered from exile, “to fight on because there was no other choice, even if winning was not possible, then to salvage what we could — and at the very end our self respect … Why go on resisting? Quite simply because we knew what capitulation would mean.” Unfortunately for Martinez Cabrera, Casado’s short-lived junta also got a cold shoulder from Franco and submitted to unconditional surrender.

Although most of its members evacuated abroad as the fascists triumphed, Martinez Cabrera declined to flee. He was shot at Paterna on June 23, 1939.

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1571: Sigismondo Arquer, Sardinian scholar

Add comment June 4th, 2020 Headsman

Sardinian scholar Sigismondo Arquer was burned at the stake in Toledo, Spain, on this date in 1571.

Born in the capital of Spanish-governed Sardinia, this gentleman had a hereditary imperial knighthood but also an interest in humanism and religious heterodoxy well-calculated to annoy in Counter-Reformation Spain.


Arquer’s map of his native city of Cagliari, for the Cosmographia universalis, for which compendium he also composed an entry on “dark Sardinia” that “in its blend of ancient sources, personal observations and original narrative structure … played a critical role, even when not explicitly acknowledged, in the development of the image of Sardinia in European culture.” (Source) Today, one of the streets in this very historical core the man once sketched is called Via Sigismondo Arquer.

Exploiting Arquer’s associations with Swiss Protestants as well as his talent for making powerful enemies — skewering clergy in the Cosmographia, nettlesome lawsuits against Spanish oligarchs — the Inquisition bagged him for heresy in 1563. He was 33.

In between bouts of interrogation, Arquer used his long confinement to knock out a Passion in Catalan, heavy with personal resonance. The Christ parallels ran all the way to the Plaza de Zocodover, where a soldier — motivated by anger at the heretic or pity for the sufferer, only God can say — speared him through the side during his death throes.

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1559: Spanish Protestants at Valladolid

Add comment May 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1559, an auto de fe in Valladolid marked the onset of an Inquisition purge of nascent Lutheranism in Spain.

Now you’d expect to find the Spanish Inquisition policing spiritual disloyalties of the realm’s backsliding Jewish and Muslim conversos

… but of course the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition had a broad remit to defend orthodoxy and considering that Spain is still a predominantly Catholic country they’d be entitled to point at the scoreboard.

In 1558, it caught wind of an actual Lutheran movements, heretofore rarely seen on the peninsula — and as Joseph Perez notes, it alarmingly penetrated clerical and aristocratic circles. “A blast of hysteria struck Castile. Suspects filled the prisons, where there was soon no room for newcomers. Nor were there enough inquisitors to conduct the trials. Others had to be brought in from Cuenca and Murcia … It proved necessary to provide special protection for the detainees, to prevent them being lynched by the infuriated populace.”

A series of autos collectively comprising scores of defendants unfolded over 1559-1560, beginning in Valladolid — where the Lutheran cadre seemingly numbered close to 100 literate and influential souls.

Underscoring how deeply this heretical sect reached into the Spanish state’s heart, the star attraction among the 14 Protestants burned that day was Augustino de Cazalla, a chaplain to Emperor Charles V. Others joining him included:

  • Two siblings of Augustino de Cazalla: Francisco de Buiero [Vivero], a priest, and Beatriz de Buiero
  • Alfonso Perez, another priest
  • Juan Garcia, a goldsmith
  • Antonio Herrezuelo,** a lawyer
  • Christoforo de Ocampo de Zamoza
  • Christoforo de Padilla de Zamoza
  • Caterina Roman
  • Doña Caterina de Ortega, daughter of the Treasurer
  • Francisco de Herrera
  • Isabella de Strada de Pedrosa
  • Juana Velasquez de Pedrosa
  • Gonzalo Vaiz

The Lutheran crackdown was only getting started. As our chronicler Joseph Perez observes, “On 24 September, over 100 individuals were sentenced in Seville; twenty-one received the death penalty. Among them was a son of the count of Bailen, first cousin to the duke of Arcos. Here too, one man was burnt alive for having remained true to his convictions to the end. On 8 October, Philip II presided over the second auto da fe of Valladolid in the course of which fourteen individuals were sentenced to death, among them Carlos de Seso, who was burnt alive for persisting in his errors. Then, on 22 December 1560, another auto da fe took place in Seville: seventeen of the accused were sent to the stake, three of them in effigy, one of whom was Doctor Constantino Ponce de la Fuente.”

* The whole family received the fury of the Inquisition: two other siblings caught non-capital sentences, an the already-deceased mother Doña Leonora de Buiero was exhumed for burning along with the living heretics. Not only that, the family house was razed and a marker disgracing the family was erected in its place.

** Herrezuelo’s wife, Leonor de Cisneros, recanted to avoid the stake but the resulting reproach from her martyr-husband stung her so deeply that she followed his fate in 1568. Herrezuelo was the militant of the crowd: all of the other 13 disavowed their errors to obtain the mercy of strangulation prior to incineration; Herrezuelo died gloriously obstinate, suffering burning alive to spite his persecutors.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Auto de Fe,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Spain

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1524: The rulers of the K’iche’ kingdom

Add comment March 7th, 2020 Headsman

This Tyrant at his first entrance here acted and commanded prodigious Slaughters to be perpetrated: Notwithstanding which, the Chief Lord in his Chair or Sedan attended by many Nobles of the City of Ultlatana, the Emporium of the whole Kingdom, together with Trumpets, Drums and great Exultation, went out to meet him, and brought with them all sorts of Food in great abundance, with such things as he stood in most need of. That Night the Spaniards spent without the City, for they did not judge themselves secure in such a well-fortified place. The next day he commanded the said Lord with many of his Peers to come before him, from whom they imperiously challenged a certain quantity of Gold; to whom the Indians return’d this modest Answer, that they could not satisfie his Demands, and indeed this Region yielded no Golden Mines; but they all, by his command, without any other Crime laid to their Charge, or any Legal Form of Proceeding were burnt alive. The rest of the Nobles belonging to other Provinces, when they found their Chief Lords, who had the Supreme Power were expos’d to the Merciless Element of Fire kindled by a more merciless Enemy; for this Reason only, because they bestow’d not what they could not upon them, viz. Gold, they fled to the Mountains, (their usual Refuge) for shelter, commanding their Subjects to obey the Spaniards, as Lords …

Bartolome de las Casas, A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (under the heading “Of the Kingdom and Province of GUATIMALA”)

On this date in 1524 the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado cinched the destruction of the indigenous K’iche’ (or Quiche*) kingdom of present-day Guatemala by burning its hostage chiefs before its demoralized capital city.

Alvarado was already a seasoned hand of the ongoing Spanish usurpation of the New World — a veteran of Cortes’s conquests in Mexico. With that realm brought to heel, Alvarado was tasked with leading a Spanish invasion of (mostly Mayan) Mesoamerican kingdoms.

In the first weeks of 1524, Alvarado pressed across the Samala River into the K’iche’ kingdom to devastating effect. “The Spaniards, O wonderful! went to the Towns and Villages, and destroy’d with their Lances these poor Men, their Wives and Children, intent upon their Labour, and as they thought themselves, secure and free from danger. Another large Village they made desolate in the space of two hours, sparing neither Age, nor Sex, putting all to the Sword, without Mercy,” de las Casas laments.

In a decisive February 20 battle, Alvarado’s forces felled the half-legendary native hero Tecun Uman — a mortal blow to the empire in the memory of the Annals of the Cakchiquels, a document from later in the 16th century, which bluntly records that “the Quiches were destroyed by the Spaniards … all the Quiches who had gone out to meet the Spaniards were exterminated.”

Indians now fleeing before him, the conquistador marched onward towards the capital city of Q’umarkaj (various other transliterations are available, such as Gumarkaaj and Cumarcaaj; it’s also known from Nahuatl as Utatlan, giving us de las Casas’s reference at the head of this post). To assist blunt force, he had recourse to strategem — as Alvarado himself recorded in his account of Guatemala. Declining an invitation of hospitality from the authorities there for fear of being trapped in a hostile city, he instead convinced those guys to pay him a diplomatic visit to his camp outside the city … then seized them as hostages, who were executed speedily when their capture did not quell all resistance.

by the cunning with which I approached them, and through presents which I gave them, the better to carry out my plan, I took them captive and held them prisoners in my camp. But, nevertheless, their people did not cease fighting against me in the neighborhood and killed and wounded many Indians who had gone out to gather grass. And one Spaniard who was gathering grass, a gunshot from camp, was slain by a stone rolled down the hill …

And seeing that by fire and sword I might bring these people to the service of His Majesty, I determined to burn the chiefs who, at the time that I wanted to burn them, told me, as it will appear in their confessions, that they were the ones who had ordered the war against me … And as I knew them to have such a bad disposition towards the service of His Majesty, and to insure the good and peace of this land, I burnt them, and sent to burn the town and to destroy it, for it is a very strong and dangerous place.

The equivalent account from the Annals of the Cakchiquels is mournfully terse — paragraph 147, here quoted by Victoria Reifler Bricker in The Indian Christ, the Indian King: The Historical Substrate of Maya Myth and Ritual.

Then [the Spaniards] went forth to the city of Gumarcaah, where they were received by the kings, the Ahpop and the Ahpop Qamahay,** and the Quiches paid them tribute. Soon the kings were tortured by Tunatiuh [Alvarado].

On the day 4 Qat [March 7, 1524] the kings Ahpop and Ahpop Qamahay were burned by Tunatiuh. The heart of Tunatiuh was without compassion for the people during the war.

As Alvarado pledged to make it, this former empire’s former capital is today an utter ruin.


The Baile de la Conquista commemorates the Spanish conquest, personified in Alvarado’s confrontation with Tecun Uman.

* No etymological relationship of these “Quiche” to the egg-and-cream brunch staple. The K’iche’ people remain a major ethnic minority comprising about 11% of the present-day Guatemalan population with a widely-spoken language; Nobel laureate indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchu belongs to this group.

** From a footnote to this version of the Popol Vuh — “The Book of the People”, another important K’iche’ text — come these explanations of the ranks in question:

Ahpop is the Maya word which has passed without variation to the languages of the interior of Guatemala; its literal meaning is “the mat.” The mat, pop, was the symbol of royalty, and the chief or lord is represented as seated upon it on the most ancient monuments of the Maya Old Empire which had its origin in the Peten, Guatemala. The Ahpop was the Quiche king and chief of the House of Cavec; the Ahpop Camha, also of the House of Cavec, was the second reigning prince; the Ahau Galel was the chief or king of the House of Nihaib, and the Ahtzic Vinac Ahau the chief of the House of Ahau Quiche

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guatemala,Heads of State,History,Hostages,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Royalty,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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