Posts filed under 'Spain'

1453: Alvaro de Luna, Spanish favorite

Add comment June 2nd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1453, the man who was once the power behind Castile’s throne became its foremost cautionary metaphor.

The greatest privado — royal favorite — in Spain’s annals, Alvaro de Luna (English Wikipedia entry | the far more detailed Spanish) sprang from noble albeit illiterate stock. He came to the Castilian court in 1410 as a witty and talented young page and adroitly got his hooks into the five-year-old crown prince, the future Juan II.

Quite uncommonly for a royal favorite, Don Alvaro held his king’s affection for many decades, and even while enriching himself into the mightiest subject in the land, he energetically served his prince’s interest.

Chief among these was managing the truculent nobility who would surely have dominated the weak-willed Juan but for his capable lieutenant — who was known from 1423 ask the Constable of Castile and Count of San Esteban de Gormaz in 1423. Don Alvaro proved a consummate politico, scheming to deflect the ambitions of Juan’s rivals and to consolidate the power of the throne … which meant his own power, too. To a very great degree the favorite was the real sovereign, until he suddenly wasn’t.

“Alvaro de Luna would probably not be particularly consoled by the judgement of modern historians,” observes a wry James Boyden in The World of the Favourite** — for they “praise his efforts on behalf of Juan II for opening the way to royal absolutism in Castile, citing his own arbitrary death sentence as the clinching proof of the newfound powers of the crown.”

Don Alvaro’s downfall from his post of seemingly unassailable preeminence satisfied every literary device imaginable, beginning with poetic justice.

When Juan’s first wife, Maria of Aragon, died in 1445 — and Don Alvaro’s own hand has been suspected in that death — the Constable managed Juan’s pivot to 19-year-old Portuguese princess Isabella as the successor queen.

From her advantageous position in the king’s bed, Isabella soon began to work against Don Alvaro. She resented his intrusions into even their most intimate chambers, and she surely feared sharing the fate of her predecessor, Maria. Eventually, her arguments carried the day. Boyden once again:

It is difficult to imagine a more striking illustration of the transitory nature of earthly fortune than the spectacle of the constable’s execution in a public square of Valladolid on 2 June 1453. Certainly the event caught the imagination of contemporary poets. ‘Look then to that great Constable,’ wrote Jorge Manrique, ‘the Master whom we knew so deeply favoured by the king / And yet even of him nothing more need be said than that we saw him beheaded. / His limitless treasures, his towns and villages, his power of command / What did they bring him but tears? / What were they to him except sorrows at the leaving?’

According to Juan II, Don Alvaro’s principal crime was that he ‘has for a long time held and usurped a chief position near me and in my household and court’, and despite having been admonished about his excessive pride and effrontery ‘he has persevered in it … grasping more power to himself each day, excessively, without temperance or measure, so that there remains to me no more room to rule and administer my kingdoms personally, nor to maintain my towns in justice and truth and law …’

Not surprisingly, the constable saw matters in another light. While the king alleged usurpation of his royal authority, Don Alvaro responded with a charge of ingratitude, levelled in a tone meant to convey the sadness and resignation of a loyal servant stripped at last of his illusions. Rather than withdraw into a well-deserved retirement after forty-five years of service, he wrote,

I chose … to serve as I was in duty bound and as I felt the situation demanded; I deceived myself, for this service has been the cause of my misfortune. How bitter that I should find myself deprived of liberty who more than once have risked life and fortune to preserve your highness’s freedom! I am well aware that for my great sins I have angered God, and I will consider it a boon if I can placate his rage through these travails.

This appeal to justice was accompanied by an offer of treasure, but neither swayed the king, who was so intent upon Don Alvaro’s destruction that he would finally order his execution despite the failure of a hand-picked tribunal to render a clear sentence of death.

Although it cut no ice with his king, Alvaro de Luna’s posture of betrayed fidelity — his courage and dignity on the scaffold, ere his throat was cut and his severed head mounted on a hook — helped to salvage what might easily have become a hateful reputation among Spaniards. The annalist Pedro de Escavias recorded that Don Alvaro “struck terror into all who saw him” but “he died with a good countenance and good courage, as a knight and a faithful Christian should. May God forgive him, for he handled many great matters in the days when he enjoyed the king’s favour.” (Quoted in the out-of-print volume The Greatest Man Uncrowned: A Study of the Fall of Don Alvaro de Luna) This respectful epitaph is evident in the numerous artistic treatments around the Constable’s corpse.


Collection to Bury the Body of Alvaro de Luna, by Ramirez Ibanez Manual (1884)

Collection to Bury the Body of Alvaro de Luna, by Jose Maria Rodriguez de Losada (1867)

Burial of Alvaro de Luna, by Eduardo Cano de la Pena (19th century).

Juan’s rancor did not extend to denying his favorite an ornate tomb in Toledo Cathedral. Like all the best sovereign-favorite pairs — Richelieu comes to mind — Juan II soon followed to the grave his secret-sharer, dying in July 1454 allegedly stricken with remorse.† His daughter was Isabella of Castile, famed of Christopher Columbus sponsorship.

* There appears to be some ambiguity among sources between June 2 and June 3 whose resolution lies beyond the reach of myself and perhaps of any human. I tentatively prefer June 2 based on a preponderance of citations, and because June 3 was a Sunday.

** There’s also a fine essay on our principal to be found in The Emergence of León-Castile c.1065-1500: Essays Presented to J.F. O’Callaghan.

† However, Juan’s knowledge of his own failing health and a desire to disencumber his successors of this overmighty minister have also been suggested as reasons for Don Alvaro’s destruction. The favorite treads a very treacherous road indeed.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heads of State,History,Nobility,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Spain

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1825: El Pirata Cofresi

Add comment March 29th, 2018 Headsman

I have killed hundreds with my own hands, and I know how to die. Fire!

-Last words of Roberto Cofresi

A monument to Roberto Cofresi rises from the water in his native Cabo Rojo.

On this date in 1825, the Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi was publicly shot in San Juan with his crew.

The family of “El Pirata” — his father was an emigre who fled Trieste after killing a man in a duel — bequeathed him the upbringing and honorific (“Don”) due to a gentleman without any of the money. Dunned by multiplying creditors, he took to the sea to keep his finances afloat and for a time made a legitimate living in the late 1810s as a piscator and a ferryman. Soon, the crises in Puerto Rico’s economy and governance prodded him into more adventurous pursuits, beginning with highway robbery around his hometown of Cabo Rojo. Wanted posters testify to his landside notoriety; soon, he would combine his vocations as a buccanneer.

In his brief moment, about 1823-1825, he became one of the Caribbean’s most feared marauders, and one of the last consequential pirates to haunt those waters. His career plundering prizes and evading manhunts is recounted in surprising detail on the man’s Wikipedia page, which is in turn an extended summary of an out-of-print Spanish-language book. Given the development of maritime policing by this point it was an achievement to extend his career so long … but everyone has to retire, one way or another.


Norwich Courier, April 27, 1825

A proclamation issued justifying the execution testifies both to the example authorities wished to be understood by his fate, and their awareness that they contended with a strain of sympathy for the outlaw. This is as quoted in Southern Chronicle (Camden, South Carolina, USA), July 2, 1825:

The name of Roberto Cofresi has become famous for robberies and acts of atrocity, and neither the countryman, the merchant nor the laborer could consider himself secure from the grasp of that wretch and his gang. If you ought to pity the lot of these unhappy men, you are bound also to give thanks to the Almighty, that the island has been delivered from a herd of wild beasts, which have attempted our ruin by all the means in their power. You are also bound to live on the alert, and be prepared, in conjunction with the authorities to attack those who may hereafter be so daring as to follow their example.

His throwback profession, his acclaimed charisma, his talent for eluding pursuit, and a purported streak of Robin Hood-esque social banditry all helped to make him a legend that has long outlived the forgotten Spanish agents who hunted him. With his threat to the sea lanes long gone, he’s become a beloved staple of literature, folklore, and popular history in Puerto Rico and especially his native Cabo Rojo. Again, a lovingly curated Wikipedia page on this posthumous career awaits the curious reader.


Label for a Ron Kofresi-brand rum, which one might use to toast his memory with a piña colada: it’s a drink he’s alleged to have invented.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Mass Executions,Myths,Occupation and Colonialism,Outlaws,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions,Puerto Rico,Shot,Spain

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1525: Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor

Add comment February 28th, 2018 Headsman

Although the primary accounts — those by conquistadors Hernán Cortés and Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and historian Francisco Lopez de Gomara* — did not explicitly record the date, February 28 is the traditionally recognized anniversary of the execution of the last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc.

A monument to Cuauhtemoc in Mexico City. (Author’s photo; public domain)

Cuauhtemoc (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was enthroned early in 1521, in a Tenochtitlan already in the train of devastation brought by the Spanish, which had over the preceding months laid low the Emperor Moctezuma II (by violence) and his brother Cuitlahuac (by smallpox, a disease that halved the city’s population within a year).

He was about 23 or 24 years old, a nobleman who must have distinguished himself in war — “a handsome man, both as regards his countenance and his figure,” in Bernal Diaz’s estimation; “a valiant man and a good warrior” by Gomara’s account.

And it would fall to him to bear his proud kingdom’s ruin.

Having previously been welcomed to Tenochtitlan as guests, Cortes and the Spanish had fought their way out and now returned as besiegers, joined by most of the Aztecs’ resentful former subject kingdoms. They soon had Tenochtitlan in a stranglehold, undaunted by the frightening sacrifice of captured prisoners.

all in a moment the large drum of Huitzilopochtli again resounded from the summit of the temple, accompanied by all the hellish music of shell trumpets, horns, and other instruments. The sound was truly dismal and terrifying, but still more agonizing was all this to us when we looked up and beheld how the Mexicans were mercilessly sacrificing to their idols our unfortunate companions, who had been captured in Cortes’ flight across the opening.

We could plainly see the platform, with the chapel in which those cursed idols stood; how the Mexicans had adorned the heads of the Spaniards with feathers, and compelled their victims to dance round the god Huitzilopochtli; we saw how they stretched them out at full length on a large stone, ripped open their breasts with flint knives, tore out the palpitating heart, and offered it to their idols. Alas! we were forced to be spectators of all this, and how they then seized hold of the dead bodies by the legs and threw them headlong down the steps of the temple, at the bottom of which other executioners stood ready to receive them, who severed the arms, legs, and heads from the bodies, drew the skin off the faces, which were tanned with the beards still adhering to them, and produced as spectacles of mockery and derision at their feasts ; the legs, arms, and other parts of the body being cut up and devoured!

In this way the Mexicans served all the Spaniards they took prisoners; and the entrails alone were thrown to the tigers, lions, otters, and serpents, which were kept in cages. These abominable barbarities we were forced to witness with our own eyes from our very camp; and the reader may easily imagine our feelings, how excessively agonizing! the more so as we were so near our unfortunate companions without being able to assist them. Every one of us thanked God from the bottom of his soul for His great mercy in having rescued us from such a horrible death!

-Bernal Diaz

Wracked by famine after Cortes successfully cut off its food and water, Tenochtitlan succumbed that August. (The conquistadors found they could barely endure the stench of countless rotting bodies as they took control of the famished city.) When captured, Cuauhtemoc implored Cortes through tears (again according to Bernal Diaz),

I have done what I was bound to do in the defence of my metropolis, and of my subjects. My resources have now become entirely exhausted. I have succumbed to superior power, and stand a prisoner before you. Now draw the dagger which hangs at your belt, and plunge it into my bosom.

There would be no bosom-daggering. Cortes had a much worse fate in mind.

He saluted Cuauhtemoc for his intrepidity in defense, vowing to maintain the latter as the ruler of Mexico … Cortes’s ruler, to ratify the dictates of the conquerors, beginning with commanding his remaining loyalists to surrender. Cuauhtemoc obeyed, with what posterity can only guess must have been fathomless shame and sorrow.

Upon humiliation, Cortes heaped physical torture when the invaders’ ransack of their captured city turned up far less lesser quantities of material loot than they had anticipated — torture which Cuauhtemoc and a cousin-king of a loyal Aztec ally both endured heroically without augmenting the Spanish bottom line. Bernal Diaz once again:

The next thing which Cortes did was to collect all the gold, silver, and jewels that had been found in Mexico, of which, however, there was very little; for Quauhtemoctzin, it was said, had ordered all the treasures to be thrown into the lake four days previous to his capture. A great quantity had likewise been purloined by the Tlascallans, Tezcucans, Huexotzincans, Cholullans, and other auxiliary troops which had assisted us in the siege, besides what had fallen into the hands of the troops on board the brigantines.

The crown officials were positive that Quauhtemoctzin had concealed the greater part, and asserted that Cortes was very pleased that the monarch refused to say a word where it was hidden; for he would then be able to get the whole treasure into his own possession.

The officers then proposed that Quauhtemoctzin and the king of Tlacupa, his most intimate friend and cousin, should be put to the torture, in order to extort from them a confession as to what had become of the treasures: but Cortes could not make up his mind to insult so great a monarch as Quauhtemoctzin, whose territory more than trebled that of Spain, and that for mere lust after gold. Moreover, the monarch’s household assured us they had given up all the gold they possessed to the officers of the crown, which, it was well known, amounted to 380,000 pesos, the whole of which had been melted into bars; and one thing is certain, that the emperor’s and Cortes’ fifths were deducted from that sum; but the conquistadores were not at all satisfied, and considered this sum much below the real amount, and several expressed their suspicion to Alderete, the royal treasurer, that Cortes’ only reason for not wishing to put the monarch to the torture was, that he might secretly take possession of all his riches. Cortes, not willing that such a suspicion should any longer he upon him, or that he should afterwards be called to an account on this score, at last consented that both should be put to the torture.


Detail view (click for the full image) of David Alfaro Siquieros‘s monumental 1950-51 mural, The Torment of Cuauhtemoc.

Boiling hot oil was then applied to their feet; upon which they confessed that, four days prior to Quauhtemoctzin’s capture, all the gold, with the cannon, crossbows, and muskets, which we had lost in the night of sorrows, when we retreated from Mexico, besides those which had been taken in Cortes’ last defeat on the causeway, had been thrown into the lake. A number of good swimmers were then sent to dive for the treasure in the spot they pointed out, but nothing was found. Yet there was some truth in the statement; for I was myself present when Quauhtemoctzin led us to a large and deep reservoir of water, built of stone, which lay near his palace. From this reservoir we fished up a sun of gold similar to the one sent us by Motecusuma, besides many jewels and other trinkets, though all of little value. The king of Tlacupa also informed us that he had hidden all manner of valuable things in some large houses, about twelve miles from Tlacupa, and he would accompany us there to point out the spot where he had buried them.

Alvarado was then despatched thither with six soldiers, among which number I also was; but when we arrived at the spot, this king assured us he had merely invented all this in the hopes that we would have killed him in a moment of anger at our disappointment.

(Diaz later added that “the suspicion was become pretty general that he [Cortes] had concealed the greater part of Quauhtemoctzin’s treasure,” and indeed some disgruntled companions — unsatisfied with the share they had been allotted for so magnificent a conquest — would come to lodge this charge against Cortes formally with Emperor Charles V.)

Cortes eventually brought both these hostages/puppet kings/torture victims along with him on a 1524-1525 expedition to Honduras, perhaps to deprive them of any opportunity to rebel in his absence.

On the evening of February 27, Cortes received a report or a rumor that the Indian kings had rebellion on their mind just the same. The timetable from this report to execution is uncertain from the records, but if it was not within 24 hours it cannot have been much longer. Diaz, a hostile-to-Cortes witness here whose narrative indicates his dismay at proceedings, describes it thus:

I have now to relate a circumstance of a very different nature, which occasioned much grief to us all. Quauhtemoctzin and other Mexican chiefs who accompanied our army had, it would appear, spoken among themselves, or secretly determined to put the whole of us to death, then march back to Mexico, and assemble the whole armed power of the country against the few remaining Spaniards, and raise an insurrection throughout the whole of New Spain. This circumstance was discovered to Cortes by two distinguished Mexican chiefs, one of whom was named Tapia, and the other Juan Velasquez. This latter personage had been Quauhtemoctzin’s captain-general during our war with Mexico, and his testimony was borne out by the investigation which Cortes made into the matter, and by the confession of several of the caziques themselves who were implicated in the conspiracy. These men fearlessly declared, that seeing how carelessly and dispiritedly we roamed about; that numbers of the men were ill from want of food; that four of our musicians, with the buffoon and five soldiers, had died of hunger; and that three other men had turned back, more willing to run the risk of reaching Mexico again than of moving forward, the thought struck them that they could not do better than fall suddenly upon us while we were crossing some river or marsh, particularly as they were upwards of 3000 in number, all armed with lances, and several of them with swords. Quauhtemoctzin did not hesitate to acknowledge that these men had spoken the truth, but added that the conspiracy did not emanate with him, and that he himself had never for a moment contemplated carrying it into effect, but had merely spoken about it with the other caziques. All the cazique of Tlacupa confessed was, his having declared to Quauhtemoctzin that it was better to die at once than daily to have death before their eyes on these fatiguing marches, and see their countrymen and relations perish with hunger.

These were sufficient proofs for Cortes, and without any further ceremony he sentenced Quauhtemoctzin and his cousin the king of Tlacupa to the gallows. Before, however, this sentence was executed, the Franciscan monks, with the assistance of Dona Marina, strove to comfort these unfortunate men, and commended their souls to God. When they were being led to the place of execution, Quauhtemoctzin turned to Cortes, and said: “Oh Malinche! I have for a long time perceived, from your false words, that you had destined me for such a death, because I did not lay violent hands on myself when you entered my city of Mexico! Why are you thus going to put me unjustly to death? God will one time ask this of you!”

The king of Tlacupa said, he could only rejoice in a death which he would be permitted to suffer with his monarch Quauhtemoctzin.

Previous to their being hung, both these unhappy caziques confessed to father Juan, who understood the Mexican language, and they begged of him to commend their souls to God. For Indians they were good Christians, and they died in the true faith, and fully believed in our holy religion.

The death of these two monarchs grieved me excessively, for I had known them in all their glory, and on our march they honoured me with their friendship, and showed me many little attentions; for instance, they would often order their servants to go in quest of fodder for my horse; besides which, they were innocent of the guilt imputed to them, and it was the opinion of all who accompanied this expedition that they were put to death unjustly.

But I will leave this miserable subject, and return to our march, on which we henceforth observed the utmost vigilance, for we greatly feared the Mexicans might rise up in arms against us, after they had thus beheld their monarch ignominiously hung by the neck from a tree. But hunger, fatigue, and sickness weighed heavier upon their minds than the misfortune of Quauhtemoctzin.


Detail view (click for the full image) of the “rebel” kings hanged from a tree.

Gomara and, of course, Cortes characterize the accusations against the Indian kings as true and the proceedings against them lawful. From the footnotes in this same Bernal Diaz volume, we have this from the later Jesuit historian and ethnographer Juan de Torquemada, who was fluent in Nahuatl:

I find it differently represented in a history written in the Mexican language, and which I believe to be perfectly correct. While Cortes (the Mexican author says) was quartered in a certain township, the Mexican chiefs one evening began to discourse among themselves about the recent hardships they had suffered, and Cohuanacotzin said to Quauhtemoctzin, to Tetlepanquetzaltzin, and to other distinguished Mexicans, ‘Thus you see, gentlemen, from kings we are become slaves, and we suffer ourselves to be led about by Cortes and this handful of Christians. If we were other people than we are, and would break through the promise we have made these Spaniards, we could play them a pretty trick here, and revenge ourselves upon them for all they have done to us, and the ill-treatment my cousin Quauhtemoctzin has suffered at their hands.’ To this the Mexican monarch replied, ‘I beg of you Cohuanacotzin to drop this subject, lest some one should overhear us, and imagine we were in earnest.’ It appears (continues Torquemada) that they were indeed overheard, for the whole of this discourse was reported to Cortes by a low-minded Mexican of the lower classes.

By law, Mexican flags fly at half-staff in his honor on February 28.

* These texts are cited throughout the post, but for ease of reference … Bernal Diaz: Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, vol. 1, vol. 2 | Gomara: The Pleasant Historie of the Conquest of the West India; now called New Spaine | Cortes: History of New Spain, which is a Spanish text as I could not locate an English translation. However, even the Anglophone is liable to appreciate (from p. 225) the illustrations of Indian material culture observed by the Spaniards.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Hostages,Martyrs,Mexico,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Royalty,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1782: Jose Antonio Galan, for the Revolt of the Comuneros

Add comment February 1st, 2018 Headsman

Ni un paso atrás, siempre adelante, y lo que fuere menester … sea!

-Jose Antonio Galan

On this date in 1782, Comunero rebel Jose Antonio Galan was executed in Bogota, New Grenada (present-day Colombia).

Spain’s New World precincts had risen in response to intensified taxation exacted by the empire’s modernizing reforms and particularly accelerated when Spain went to war against Great Britain in 1779; similar pressures likewise helped to trigger the 1780-1781 Tupac Amaru insurrection in Peru.

In New Grenada, pontaneous resistance to new viceregal edicts coalesced into one of the most serious rebellions of the Spanish colonial era — albeit one that aimed at reform, not revolution.

Shouting demands for tax reductions and greater local autonomy, a force of 10,000-20,000 rebels marched on Bogota in the spring of 1781, routing a column of government soldiers sent to disperse them and forcing authorities to terms that the latter had no intention of honoring. This is one of the oldest ploys: offer concessions to end the rebellion, then declare the concessions null and void as obtained under duress when the rebels are safely out of arms.

An illiterate mestizo peasant, our man Galan (the cursory English Wikipedia entry | the much more satisfactory Spanish) was not the principal captain of this rebellion but he seems to have exceeded them in foresight — for Galan and his more radical followers continued the revolt even after the main body of Comuneros went home satisfied with the government’s specious pledges. North of Bogota, Galan threatened a more Tupac Amaru-like experience, attracting a multi-racial lower-class force* which he turned against hacienda landowners.

Captured in October of that same year after reinforcements arrived at Bogota to begin laying down imperial law, Galan was so popularly admired that no free blacksmith would accept the contract to forge his irons — all the more reason for his exemplary sentence:

We condemn José Antonio Galán to be removed from jail, dragged and taken to the place of execution, where he is hanged on the gallows until dead; when lowered, his head is to be cut off, his body divided into four parts and passed through the flames (for which a bonfire will be lit in front of the scaffold); his head will be taken to Guaduas, theater of his scandalous insults; the right hand placed in the Plaza del Socorro, the left in the town of San Gil; the right foot in Charalá, place of his birth, and the left foot in the place of Mogotes; his descendants are declared infamous, all his goods are confiscated to the treasury; his house is to be pulled down and sown with salt, so that his infamous name may be lost and consigned to such a vile reputation, such a detestable memory, that nothing remains of him but the hate and fright that ugliness and crime inspire.

Despite the sentence, it’s said that an unskillful executioner not knowing how to hang his man shot him dead instead, so that he could proceed to the butchery.

* The main insurrection that had so meekly disbanded itself was heavily led by Creole local elites with a clear inclination towards deal-making.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason

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1066: Joseph ibn Naghrela

Add comment December 30th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1066, the Jewish vizier of Granada Joseph ibn Naghrela was lynched during a notorious pogrom.

His (more illustrious) father, the scholar, courtier, and battlefield commander Samuel ibn Naghrela (or Naghrilla, or Ha Nagid), had become the trusted vizier to the Berber emirs of the taifa of Granada in Islamic Spain. Samuel helped to manage the transition to the (present-day, for purposes of this post) emir Badis or Badus when the latter was a whelp of 18.

This was the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, thriving in an atmosphere of relative tolerance. Needless to say, the nature and extent of this religious harmony and the weight of contrary but uncommon events like that of today’s post are fodder for lively contemporary debate that gores oxes both historiographical and geopolitical.


A Jew and a Muslim play a nice game of chess in this 13th century illustration commissioned by the Christian King Alfonso X. It’s an exemplar of the late Middle Ages era of interreligious “Convivencia”.

After his father’s passing, Joseph became a powerful vizier for Badis: maybe too powerful, or at any rate so indiscreet about his influence that the Jewish Encyclopedia knocked him as “haughty”. A poem by an enemy named Abu Ishaq, whom Joseph had balked of a sinecure, has been credited with triggering the riot and it certainly plays a few timeless leitmotifs. (The translated poem is as published in Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources)

Go, tell all the Sanhaja
 the full moons of our time, the lions in their lair
The words of one who bears them love, and is concerned
 and counts it a religious duty to give advice.
Your chief has made a mistake
 which delights malicious gloaters
He has chosen an infidel as his secretary
 when he could, had he wished, have chosen a Believer.
Through him, the Jews have become great and proud
 and arrogant — they, who were among the most abject
And have gained their desires and attained the utmost
 and this happened suddenly, before they even realized it.
And how many a worthy Muslim humbly obeys
 the vilest ape among these miscreants.
And this did not happen through their own efforts
 but through one of our own people who rose as their accomplice.
Oh why did he not deal with them, following
 the example set by worthy and pious leaders?
Put them back where they belong
 and reduce them to the lowest of the low,
Roaming among us, with their little bags,
 with contempt, degradation and scorn as their lot,
Scrabbling in the dunghills for colored rags
 to shroud their dead for burial.
They did not make light of our great ones
 or presume against the righteous,
Those low-born people would not be seated in society
 or paraded along with the intimates of the ruler.
Badis! You are a clever man
 and your judgment is sure and accurate.
How can their misdeeds be hidden from you
 when they are trumpeted all over the land?
How can you love this bastard brood
 when they have made you hateful to all the world?
How can you complete your ascent to greatness
 when they destroy as you build?
How have you been lulled to trust a villain [Joseph]
 and made him your companion — though he is evil company?
God has vouchsafed in His revelations
 a warning against the society of the wicked.
Do not choose a servant from among them
 but leave them to the curse of the accursed!
For the earth cries out against their wickedness
 and is about to heave and swallow us all.
Turn your eyes to other countries
 and you will find the Jews are outcast dogs.
Why should you alone be different and bring them near
 when in all the land they are kept afar?
–You, who are a well-beloved king,
 scion of glorious kings,
And are the first among men
 as your forebears were first in their time.
I came to live in Granada
 and I saw them frolicking there.
They divided up the city and the provinces
 with one of their accursed men everywhere.
They collect all the revenues,
 they munch and they crunch.
They dress in the finest clothes
 while you wear the meanest.
They are the trustees of your secrets
 –yet how can traitors be trusted?
Others eat a dirham’s worth, afar,
 while they are near, and dine well.
They challenge you to your God
 and they are not stopped or reproved.
They envelop you with their prayers
 and you neither see nor hear.
They slaughter beasts in our markets
 and you eat their trefa
Their chief ape [Joseph again] has marbled his house
 and led the finest spring water to it.
Our affairs are now in his hands
 and we stand at his door.
He laughs at us and at our religion
 and we return to our God.
If I said that his wealth is as great
 as yours, I would speak the truth.
Hasten to slaughter him as an offering,
 sacrifice him, for he is a fat ram
And do not spare his people
 for they have amassed every precious thing.
Break loose their grip and take their money
 for you have a better right to what they collect.
Do not consider it a breach of faith to kill them
 –the breach of faith would be to let them carry on.
They have violated our covenant with them
 so how can you be held guilty against violators?
How can they have any pact
 when we are obscure and they are prominent?
Now we are humble, beside them,
 as if we had done wrong, and they right!
Do not tolerate their misdeeds against us
 for you are surety for what they do.
God watches His own people
 and the people of God will prevail.

The enraged mob stormed the palace where Joseph vainly hid himself in a coal pit — murdering the hated counselor and displaying his corpse on a cross. A general pogrom has been credited with killing some three thousand Jews around Granada.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Al-Andalus,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Gibbeted,History,Jews,Lynching,No Formal Charge,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Spain,Summary Executions

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1927: Three Saragossa robbers

Add comment November 27th, 2017 Headsman

From the London Times, Nov. 28, 1927:

(From our own correspondent.)

MADRID, Nov. 28.

At Saragossa this morning three men convicted of murder and robbery were executed by the garrotte.

On July 23 last the three criminals and another, who is still at large, ambushed an employee of a liquorice factory, whom they knew was carrying money. They attacked him from behind, and after killing him secured 4,000 pesetas.

Passers-by witnessed the crime and raised an alarm, but the murderers fired upon their pursuers and escaped. One of the shots killed a child.

Later, three of the men were arrested. After their trial the Government refused to recommend them for the Royal clemency.

The Government has issued an official statement in connexion with the execution exhorting all classes of society to meditate on the sad extremes to which vice leads. All teachers are likewise invited to draw the attention of school children to the case, and explain why the Government was obliged to let the law take its course.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Garrote,Murder,Spain,Strangled,Theft

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1873: Twelve Cuban revolutionaries

Add comment November 8th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1873, twelve more Cuban revolutionaries condemned by the Spanish military were shot in Santiago de Cuba, raising the overall November 7-8 butcher’s bill to 49 and seeming to auger the massacre of the entire 100-strong crew of the captured American blockade runner Virginius, and the prospect of outright war.


Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, Nov. 13, 1873.

But instead, they were the last of the executions, thanks to the bold action of a British officer.

Sir Lambton Loraine, skipper of the HMS Niobe anchored at Santiago de Cuba, dashed off a demand/threat to General Juan Burriel insisting upon an immediate cessation of executions … which he delivered personally.

Military Commander of Santiago —

Sir: I have no orders from my government, because they are not aware of what is happening; but I assume the responsibility and I am convinced that my conduct will be approved by Her Britannic Majesty, because my actions are pro-humanity and pro-civilisation, I demand that you stop this dreadful butchery that is taking place here. I do not believe that I need explain what my actions will be in case my demand is not heeded.

Communiques back to the American and British governments were running days behind events; had Loraine waited on those orders from his government, many more rebels would likely have been shot over the subsequent days. Instead, the executions ceased, clearing a path to the resolution of the crisis.

Loraine was celebrated as a hero in the United States, a number of whose nationals were aboard the Virginius. When Cuba attained independence from Spain at the end of the century, a wide boulevard in Santiago de Cuba was renamed Lambton Loraine street.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Spain,Treason,USA,Wartime Executions

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1873: Captain Joseph Fry and 36 crew of the Virginius

Add comment November 7th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1873, Joseph Fry,* captain of the captured U.S. blockade runner Virginius, was shot in Santiago de Cuba along with 36 of his crew members. (The full roster of those executed on November 7 can be found on this page.)

This shocking mass execution just a day after court-martial compassed many U.S. citizens among its number including the captain himself, a former Confederate naval officer, and it threatened to spiral the Virginius crisis into war between the U.S. and Spain.

“The feeling of our citizens was raised to fever heat by the execution of the Cuban leaders,” one paper raged (the Evening Post, as quoted by the Washington, D.C. Daily National Republican of Nov. 13, 1873). “It will now rise to the boiling pitch.” The New York Herald called on the Grant administration to “speak to them [Spain] now with an iron throat before the rest of the victims of the Virginius are slaughtered, and in language that they would understand.” (Nov. 12, 1873)

Within days, the war tocsin rang throughout the American republic, from the lips of Congressmen and the fulminations of editorial pages. Gunships were scrambled from Atlantic ports. Even Tammany Hall passed a resolution demanding hostilities. Under different leadership on either side of the prospective conflict matters could easily have escalated; U.S. papers were soon inflating the already very sizable death toll 80, or even to the entirety of the Virginius crew. This press roundup from the Providence (Rhode Island) Evening Press will suggest the tenor of the moment.

NEW YORK, Nov. 13 — Senator Conkling said in an interview at the 5th Avenue Hotel last night, “If the facts are as represented, I have not the least doubt that instant measures will be adopted to avenge the outraged honor of this country, and teach a lesson they will never forget to those who have dared insult our flag. Those measures will be of a character that will involve not alone the fate of the insurrection in Cuba, but the whole future of the island… The honor of the country will I repeat, be vindicated if on investigation it shall be found that an outrage has been committed on our flag.”

NEW YORK, Nov. 13. — The Herald says, we can no longer trust to diplomatic protest and Madrid orders. Our safety must be in the weight of our metal and bravery of our sailors for the outrage of the murders at Santiago de Cuba …

The Sun says the nation might put up with having their flag trampled upon. They might even submit to murder in cold blood of the Cuban leaders taken under the protection of that flag; but this wholesale butchery shocks every feeling of humanity, and cannot fail to rouse the sentiment of national honor and dignity …

The World says: The pretence of piracy is too absurd for serious discussion. But on any other hypothesis the Cuban authorities had no right to meddle with the Virginius, except within a marine league of their own coast.

The Times says, although we are a peaceable nation,** we have not arrived at the point at which we can stand by and see Spain assassinate American citizens with impunity.

By reply, “The Voz de Cuba of today [Nov. 12, 1873] says editorially that it [is] as humane as anybody, more so than many who make ostentatious professions of philanthropy, but it cannot do less than approve of the energy displayed toward all rebels, and particularly toward those whom the filibustering steamer Virginius brought to make more bloody war on Cuba.” (quoted from the Worcester, Mass. Spy of Nov. 14, 1873)

* An 1875 biography is in the public domain: Life of Capt. Joseph Fry, the Cuban martyr.

** This phrase assuredly appears in the wartime propaganda campaign drinking game.

Part of Corpses Strewn: The Virginius Affair.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Piracy,Revolutionaries,Shot,Spain,USA,Wartime Executions

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1873: Four Cuban rebel generals

Add comment November 4th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1873, not five days after capturing the Virginius — a U.S. blockade runner illegally supplying separatist rebels in Cuba — Spanish General Juan Burriel had four of the rebel brass found aboard shot under martial law.

Santiago de Cuba, November 4, 1873

To his Excellency the Captain-General

At six o’clock this morning were shot in this city, for being traitors to their country, and for being insurgent chiefs, the following persons, styling themselves ‘patriot generals:’ Bernabe Varona, alias Bembeta, general of division; Pedro Céspedes, commanding general of Cienfuegos; General Jesus del Sol, and Brigadier-General Washington Ryan. The executions took place in the presence of the entire corps of volunteers, the force of regular infantry, and the sailors from the fleet. An immense concourse of people also witnessed the act.

The best of the order prevailed. The prisoners met their death with composure.

Juan B. Burriel

Part of Corpses Strewn: The Virginius Affair.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Piracy,Power,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1781: Twelve Aymara rebels

Add comment October 26th, 2017 Headsman

My very esteemed friend. [I write to you] in the midst of all the travails I have suffered during these two sieges, the first lasting 109 days and the second 15. In both of them, more than 14,000 will have perished in this unhappy city, the great majority through starvation; others were shot, and still others were beheaded by the rebels in the fields that many attempted to cross even though they knew that the rebels would not show them any mercy if they looked Spanish in any way …

There is no Indian who is not a rebel; all die willingly for their Inca King, without coming to terms with God or his sacred law. On October 26th twelve rebels were beheaded and none of them were convinced to accept Jesus; and the same has happened with another 600 that have died in executions during both sieges …

In these nine months we have survived eating biscuits and to do this we hae been taking the tiles from the roofs of our houses. I, who find myself taking care of the gunpowder during the day, have estranged almost all the city. Nobody wants to fight willingly … I have threatened them with military execution and have promised to spare their heads as long as they obey me …

More troops are needed from both Viceroyalties or from Spain, some 8,000 to 10,000 men to make Our Sovereign’s name respected throughout the entire Sierra and to finally, once and for all, cut off some heads and be finished with all these cursed relics. We need, I repeat, seasoned troops and these as soon as possible.

-Juan Bautista de Zavala, in a November 1781 letter after surviving Tupac Katari‘s 1781 indigenous siege of La Paz (via The Tupac Amaru and Catarista Rebellions: An Anthology of Sources)

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Bolivia,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Known But To God,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Spain,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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