Posts filed under 'Women'
January 24th, 2015
Dutch Anabaptist Anneke Esaiasdochter (better known as Anna Jansz; this was the surname of her husband*) was executed in Rotterdam on this date in 1538.
Anna (English Wikipedia entry | German) is a key martyr of the fragmented Anabaptist movement following the destruction of Anabaptis’s “New Jerusalem” in Münster.
This catastrophe hurled Anabaptism into the desert, where rival leaders pointed the way to different horizons. Would it double down on revolutionary political aspirations, along the lines of Münster? Would it become a pacificist, spiritual movement without secular aspirations?
Anna Jansz, at least as she appears in the readings others have given her, somewhat personifies these conflicting directions — and not incidentally, the also-open question of women’s role in the Anabaptist movement.
Though she appears in the Martyrs’ Mirror as a model feminine sufferer, the “Trumpet Song” she composed has in at least some versions a distinctly apocalyptic tone. One historian called it the Marseillaise of Anabaptist hymns:
Wash your feet in the godless blood
This is shocking imagery, but it’s also far from clear that it’s actually what Anna herself wrote — or if its surface interpretation is what the author intended to convey. Anabaptism’s fast-evolving strains published different versions of the “Trumpet Song” in the 16th century, whose slight alterations dramatically shade its meaning — especially so in view of the possible scriptural allusions. Here’s a version of the same line in which the verb wash (wascht) is replaced with watch, or mind (wacht), and it now advises the true Christian to leave punishment of the persecutors to God:
You true Christians be of good cheer
Mind dipping your feet in blood
Because this is the reward which those who
robbed us will receive
As Timothy Nyhof details in this paper (pdf), her image is ultimately quite elusive to us,** and filtered through the texts of interlocutors like the great Anabaptist fugitive David Joris, rumored to have been Anna’s onetime lover. Joris published the version of the “Trumpet Song” excerpted just above — the cautious one.†
In the end, a fixed conclusion as to whether Anna was a firebrand later softened for public consumption, or the reverse, or a more nuanced character entirely, is beyond the reach of posterity. In any guise, she was an exponent of the call to spiritual purity and anticipation of the Lord that fortified a proscribed faith in its wilderness sojourn.
Detail view (click for the full image) of Anna Jansz en route to her January 24, 1538 execution from the Martyrs’ Mirror.
* Anna’s husband Arendt Jansz fled to England to escape the persecution of Anabaptists, which is why he doesn’t figure in this story.
** Nyhof ultimately situates Anna Jansz among the Melchiorites. Although that philosophy’s namesake had gone down backing the Anabaptist commune, his post-Münster followers turned Melchior Hoffman’s eschatology towards personal redemption instead of political violence. (Source)
† I’m certain it must exist out there, but I have not been able to find online a complete version of any of the “original” versions of Anna’s famous song, either in Dutch or in translation. Profiles of Anabaptist Women: Sixteenth-Century Reforming Pioneers gives the last three of its 13 stanzas thus:
At Borsa and Edom, so the author has read
The Lord is preparing a feast
From the flesh of kings and princes.
Come all you birds,
I will feed you the flesh of princes.
As they have done, so shall be done to them.
You servants of the Lord, be of good cheer.
Wash your feet in the blood of the godless.
This shall be the reward for those who robbed us.
Be pleased therefore, rejoice and be glad.
Play a new song on your harps;
Delight in our God
All you who foresee vengeance.
The Lord comes to pay
And to revenge all our blood.
His wrath is beginning to descend.
We are awaiting the last bowl.
Oh bride, go to meet your Lord and King.
Arise, Jerusalem, prepare yourself.
Receive all your children alike.
You shall spread out your tents.
Receive your corwn, receive your kingdom.
Your King comes to deliver.
He brings his reward before him.
You shall rejoice in it.
We shall see his glory in these times.
Rejoice, Zion, with pure Jerusalem.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drowned,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Netherlands,Public Executions,Spain,Women
Tags: 1530s, 1538, Anabaptist, anna jansz, david joris, january 24, rotterdam
January 15th, 2015
On this date in 1944, Soviet partisan Zinaida Portnova was executed by the Germans occupying Belarus.
The youngest-ever female Hero of the Soviet Union (she was posthumously decorated in 1958), the Leningrad-born Portnova had a rude start in insurgency when the German blitz swept past her summer camp in Belarus and trapped her behind lines.
Said to have been radicalized when occupying soldiers struck her grandmother, the girl joined the youth arm of the local resistance, dubbed the “Young Avengers”.
From surveilling enemy troop deployments and assembling weapons caches, Zinaida Portnova graduated to sabotage and ambushes … and capture. Even then she pulled off an action hero escape by snatching a gun and shooting her way out of custody, only to be re-arrested shortly thereafter.
She was shot a month shy of her 18th birthday.
A large number of Pioneer youth groups were subsequently dedicated to Zinaida Portnova, as was a museum of the Komsomol underground and a public monument in Minsk. She remains to this day an honored martyr of the Great Patriotic War.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belarus,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Terrorists,Torture,USSR,Wartime Executions,Women
Tags: 1940s, 1944, january 15, world war ii, zinaida portnova
January 12th, 2015
On this date in 1874, two men and a woman hanged at H.M. Prison Gloucester for unsatisfactory affairs of the heart.
Charles Edward Butt
On August 17 of the previous year, Charles Edward Butt had besought the company of a Miss Amelia Phipps for an excursion to the next day’s Gloucester Cheese Fair.
Miss Phipps, long the object of the young farmer’s amorous suit, had unfortunately pledged her company to another gentleman, which disappointment Butt remedied by shooting the young lady to death.
Mary Anne Barry and Edwin Bailey
On that very same August 17, a Bristol teen mother named Mary Susan Jenkins attempted to relieve her baby’s colic by reaching for a packet of Steedman’s Soothing Powders.
Plumped for use by teething children, these packets had been helpfully delivered by the local Dorcas Society, a charitable network set up to provide essentials to the poor. And Miss Jenkins was quite poor indeed, after having been dismissed from her domestic service by a prosperous cobbler named Edwin Bailey after the latter impregnated her, and then refused to pay for the upbringing of his whelp.
Minutes after the treatment with Steedman’s, however, the whelp had breathed his last.
Investigation soon determined that the packages had been laced with lethal quantities of strychnine, and the package from the “Dorcas Society” in fact appeared to have been addressed by the hand of Edwin Bailey himself — whose maintenance payments of five shillings per week had now been mandated by a court.
Bailey’s motivation in the affair is obvious; much less so is that of Mary Anne Barry. Barry was another of Bailey’s servants, and she had taken to visiting the Jenkins family over the preceding months under the name only of “Anne” — representing herself as an emissary of the Dorcas Society.
Barry claimed that she had simply been dispatched by Bailey to attempt to ferret out the bastard child’s real paternity which he still violently denied. But a few days before the rat poison was administered it was she who had recommended Steedman’s powders and suggested that they could probably be procured of the Dorcas Society. Though this surely convinced her jury, that panel strongly recommended her to mercy, perhaps not entirely certain on the judge’s charge to them “whether there was not a view of her case consistent with her innocence.” Considering that she was informing Edwin Bailey of the conversations in what she perhaps thought was merely the capacity of a detective, there is indeed such a view.
Robert Anderson Evans
Aging executioner-relic William Calcraft, who would be forced into retirement later this year, was too sick to officiate, so the honors were done by Welsh hanging-hobbyist Robert Anderson Evans instead. Evans only rates a faint and distant blot on the British executioners’ star chart; this date’s trio was probably his piece de resistance. At Evans’s suggestion, the gallows was constructed not as a rising stage, but as a platform level with the ground, and built over a pit.
Evans was a doctor by training, but despite this he gave these patients an increasingly outdated physic: the short drop hanging, soon to be rendered entirely obsolete by William Marwood‘s variable-drop tables.
While the fall Anderson allowed on this occasion was sufficient for the men, the lightly-built Mary Anne Barry — for whom Marwood’s calculations would have called for a longer fall — choked to death for several minutes. Anderson even had to resort to pressing down on her dangling body to speed her death, possibly reflecting as he did on the advantage the elevated stage had for effecting this sort of extremity. (It was a regular occurrence at Calcraft executions.)* Ms. Barry, who confided on the platform that her dreams had long foretold this fate for her, turned out to have the distinction of being the last Englishwoman to die with a short-drop hanging.
* Anderson’s undistinguished hanging career might have been lengthened had he taken to heart the idea that the separation is in the preparation. Anderson didn’t even bring three ropes with him because he assumed that the woman in the group would be reprieved (and that he wouldn’t break a rope and have need for a handy backup). Mary Anne Barry’s noose was made up at short notice in the prison by a former navy man.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Sex,Women
Tags: 1870s, 1874, edward butt, edwin bailey, gloucester, january 12, mary anne barry, robert evans
January 9th, 2015
(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this date in 1945, Polish Gentile Karolina Juszczykowska was executed at the prison in Frankfurt am Main for her attempt to save two Jewish men in Tomaschow, Poland, the previous year. She was 46 years old.
The people she tried to rescue have never been identified; only their first names, Paul and Janek, are known. According to Karolina, she met them on the street and they offered her 300 zloty a week to hide them. She kept them in her home and locked them inside when she went off to work during the day; they slept on the floor at night.
The arrangement lasted only about six weeks before they were betrayed.
The Gestapo raided Karolina’s home on July 23, 1944 and found Janek and Paul hiding in the cellar. Karolina was arrested and the two men were summarily executed.
Karolina emphasized that she only took them in because she needed the money to support herself. The judges who presided over her case seemed to believe her and, although they issued the mandatory death sentence, recommended clemency, writing, “The accused is in a difficult financial situation and succumbed to the temptation to improve her life.”
Karolina was indeed poor. “I have no assets,” she said in her statement to the police, “and don’t expect to have any in the future.” She’d worked menial jobs her whole life: farm work, construction, domestic service, and most recently in the kitchens of Organization Todt, the Third Reich’s civil and military engineering division. She had never been to school and was completely illiterate; she signed her police statement with three crosses.
But, as Yad Vashem points out when writing of her case, no matter what she said, it’s highly unlikely that Karolina Juszczykowska’s reasons for hiding Jews were primarily mercenary.
The wartime Polish economy had shattered, inflation had soared, and 300 zlotys wouldn’t have even been enough to cover the costs of feeding two extra people. No rational person would risk her life for that — the sentence for a Pole caught helping Jews was nearly always death.
What, then, motivated our Gentile rescuer?
Psychologist and filmmaker Eva Fogelman wrote a book called Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust, wherein she examines the many and various motivations of rescuers. “Many rescuers,” she writes,
found it impossible to explain to anyone who did not live through those times why they acted as they did. In war, there were no rules. The familiar seemed strange, and the bizarre seemed normal. In retrospect, rescuers’ behavior, in some instances, was not understandable even to them. How could they have endangered their families? How could they have done what they did or said what they said?
In Fogelman’s estimation, many rescuers were motivated by simple morality, either of a religious or purely personal kind.
Moral rescuers had a strong sense of who they were and what they were about. Their values were self-sustaining, not dependent on the approval of others. To them, what mattered most was behaving in a way that maintained their integrity. The bystanders who ultimately became rescuers knew that unless they took action, people would die …moral rescuers typically launched their rescuing activity only after being asked to help or after an encounter with suffering and death that awakened their consciences. Scenes of Nazi brutality touched their inner core and activated their moral values … For the most part, when asked for help, moral rescuers could not say no.
We will never know for sure, but it could have happened like this: In 1943, Karolina, while working for Todt, either witnessed or heard about the liquidation of the Tomaschow Ghetto and the accompanying violence and brutality. Most of the ghetto’s Jews were sent to Treblinka in January 1943; the last few hundred were taken away in May. Janek and Paul went into hiding and managed to stay off the radar for a year or so, but by the time they met Karolina they’d been run to ground and were desperate. They asked for her help. She couldn’t say no.
Although Karolina’s judges recommended she be pardoned, the death sentence was carried out anyway. There were no survivors and all we know about this case comes from court documents. But her sacrifice did not go unnoticed.
On May 17, 2011, over 65 years after her death, Israel recognized Karolina Juszczykowska as Righteous Among the Nations, its official honorific for Gentiles who aided Jews during the Holocaust.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Poland,Wartime Executions,Women
Tags: 1940s, 1945, eva fogelman, january 9, karolina juszczykowska, psychology, world war ii
January 3rd, 2015
AP caption: “The expression on the face of this Hun posing for the camera standing by the gallows from which a woman is hanging, Jan. 3, 1945 shows a lack of concern. The name and nationality of the unfortunate woman is unknown. One of the many victims of Nazi terror. The German soldiers seem to be quite used to this kind of sights for them a picture like this is just a souvenir.” (Via)
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Known But To God,Mature Content,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Women
Tags: 1940s, 1945, january 3, photography, world war ii
December 23rd, 2014
From the Domestic Annals of Scotland (see here or here):
A commission composed of country gentlemen and advocates sat in the Tolbooth of Borrowstounness to try a number of poor people for the crime of witchcraft. There was Annaple Thomson, who had had a meeting with the devil in the time of her widowhood, before she was married to her last husband, on her coming betwixt Linlithgow and Borrowstounness, when he, ‘in the likeness of ane black man, told you, that you was ane poor puddled body, and had an evil life, and difficulty to win through the world, and promised if you would follow him, and go alongst with him, you should never want, but have ane better life; and about five weeks thereafter the devil appeared to ye when you was going to the coal-hill about seven o’clock in the morning. Having renewed his former tentation, you did condescend thereto, and declared yourself content to follow him and become his servant.’ There were also women called Margaret Pringle, Margaret Hamilton (two of the name), and Bessie Vicker, besides a man called William Craw. ‘Ye and each person of you was at several meetings with the devil in the links of Borrowstounness, and in the house of you Bessie Vicker, and ye did eat and drink with the devil, and with one another, and with witches in her house in the night-time; and the devil and the said William Craw brought the ale which ye drank, extending to about seven gallons, from the house of Elizabeth Hamilton, and you, the said Annaple, had ane other meeting about five weeks ago, when you was going to the coal-hill of Grange, and he invited you to go along with him and drink with him in the Grange-pans.’ Two of the other accused women were said to have in like manner sworn themselves into the devil’s service and become his paramours, one eight years, the other thirty years ago. It was charged against Margaret Pringle, that ‘the devil took you by the right hand, whereby it was for eight years grievously pained, but [he] having touched it of new again, it immediately became hail;’ against Margaret Hamilton — ‘the devil gave you ane five-merk piece of gold, whilk a little after becam ane sklaitt stane.’ And finally, ‘you and ilk ane of you was at ane meeting with the devil and other witches at the cross of Muirstane, above Kinneil, upon the thretteen of October last, where you all danced, and the devil acted the piper.’
These poor people were solemnly tried by the commissioners before an assize of fifty persons, and, notwithstanding that the indictment charges scarcely any hurtful attempts against individuals, the whole were adjudged to be taken four days after to the west end of the town, and there worried at a stake and burnt.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Scotland,Witchcraft,Women
Tags: annaple thomson, bessie vicker, borrowstounness, december 23, margaret hamilton, margaret pringle, william craw
December 8th, 2014
On this date in 1975, the wife of East Timor’s Prime Minister was publicly executed on the docks of her conquered country’s capital.
By the happenstances of colonial expansion, East Timor, a 15,000-square kilometer half-island in the Lesser Sundas, chanced to have the Portuguese flag planted on its soil instead of (as characterized the rest of its surrounding Indonesian archipelago) the Dutch.
Because of this, Timor-Leste did not walk the same path trod by Indonesia: it did not share in Indonesia’s 1945 revolution breaking away from the Netherlands, nor in the 1965 coup d’etat that put the Suharto military dictatorship in charge of that country.
While these years of living dangerously played out throughout the vast island chains, and even in West Timor, little East Timor remained Portuguese property into the 1970s.
But by that time, colonialism was wearing out its welcome in that onetime maritime empire. A long-running, and ever more unpopular, war against independence fighters in Portugal’s African colonies finally helped to trigger the mother country’s 1974-75 Carnation Revolution and a new regime interested in immediate decolonization.
Abruptly — arguably, too abruptly — Portugal began divesting herself of her onetime empire’s onetime jewels, including not only East Timor but
Goa on the coast of India (oops), and the African states of Guinea, Mozambique, and Angola. These would immediately become contested violently by proxies backed by the United States and the Soviet Union.
Though easily the least lucrative and strategically essential of these forsaken colonies, Timor too felt the the Cold War’s hand.
Western-allied Suharto eyed warily the Timorese left-wing insurgent movement turned political party that went so far as to declared Timorese independence in November of 1975. In response, Indonesia gathered the main opposition parties under its own umbrella and had them produce a declaration calling for — wouldn’t you know it? — unification with Indonesia.
By that time, the fall of 1975, it was becoming apparent that such a unification would soon be a fait accompli. Indonesian commandos were penetrating East Timor, even making bold enough to murder western journalists. On December 7, 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor with the blessing of Washington, D.C.*
The ensuing 24-year occupation was a notorious bloodbath, and Indonesian troops set the standard right from day one … or, in this case, day two.
On December 8, in the now-occupied capital city of Dili, dozens of Timorese elites were marched to the quay under the frightened gaze of their countrymen and -women, and there publicly shot into the harbor. Notable among them was Isobel Lobato, the wife of Nicolau Lobato, who had been the prime minister of Timor’s brief moment of independence in 1975.
Nicolau Lobato himself did not hare his wife’s fate, however. He escaped into the bush where he helped lead a remarkably persistent anti-occupation guerrilla movement until he was finally killed in a firefight in 1978. Post-independence, Dili’s Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport was re-named in his honor.
* President Gerald Ford and his fell henchman Henry Kissinger flew out of Jakarta hours before the invasion, arriving in Hawaii where they would demur on reporters’ inquiries as to whether they had green-lighted the unfolding incursion. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was at that time America’s U.N. envoy, boasted in his memoirs that “The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success.”
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,East Timor,Execution,History,Indonesia,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Women
Tags: 1970s, 1975, cold war, december 8, decolonization, dili, isobel lobato, nicolau lobato
December 3rd, 2014
An everyday execution in 16th century Montpellier, from the diary of Swiss medical student Felix Platter — whom we have already had cause to notice in these pages:
Beatrice, Catalan’s former servant girl, who had drawn off my boots when I had first arrived in Montpellier, was executed on the 3rd of December. She was hanged in the square, on a little gibbet that had only one arm. She had left us a year before to go into service in the house of a priest. She became pregnant, and when her child was born, she threw it into the latrine, where it was found dead. Beatrice’s body was taken to the anatomy theatre, and it remained several days in the College. The womb was still swollen, for the birth of the child had occurred no more than eight days before. Afterwards the hangman came to collect the pieces, wrapped them in a sheet, and hung them on a gibbet outside the town.
Part of the Themed Set: Filicide.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Gibbeted,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Women
Tags: 1550s, 1556, december 3, felix platter, filicide, infanticide, montpellier
November 21st, 2014
(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
The story of Christiana Bell’s execution in Gloucester County in modern-day New Jersey on or shortly before November 21, 1721, begins in 1703. That was the first time she was accused of infanticide: they had found a dead baby and Christiana, a domestic servant who was probably only in her teens at the time, came under suspicion because she had been pregnant out of wedlock and was suddenly not pregnant but with no infant to show for it.
Her trial in 1703 was presided over by Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, 3rd Earl of Clarendon, governor of the New York and New Jersey colonies. She was convicted and sentenced to death. However, Lord Cornbury took pity on her — perhaps because of her youth, or maybe there were doubts about her guilt — and first commuted the death sentence, then issued a full pardon. Christiana returned home, having spent fourteen months behind bars but not stretched her neck.
She didn’t learn the lesson Lord Cornbury might have wanted her to learn from her fortuitous escape.
In 1720, she was rearrested for the exact same crime: she’d gotten pregnant out of wedlock again, delivered a live baby and did away with it.
Christiana very nearly got lucky again: her death sentence was suspended and she got a chance to plead her case before New Jersey Supreme Court on May 2, 1721. Today, appeals in capital cases are automatic; in Christiana’s time, this was an unusual and perhaps unprecedented legal maneuver.
Unfortunately, it backfired on her: the prosecution was ready with witnesses who testified about Christiana Bell’s notorious past and her prior conviction and death sentence. This time there would be no reprieve.
The exact date of her execution is not known for certain, but on November 21, 1721, the Gloucester County Board of Freeholders approved funds to reimburse the sheriff for expenses he’d incurred in hanging her.
See Legal Executions in New Jersey: A Comprehensive Registry, 1691-1963.
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,New Jersey,Other Voices,Public Executions,Uncertain Dates,USA,Women
Tags: 1720, 1721, christiana bell
November 8th, 2014
(Thanks to Amelia Fedo, a graduate student in French literature, for the guest post.)
On this date in 1793, Manon Roland (née Phlipon)* was guillotined as part of the Girondist purges in the Paris Terror.
As Olympe de Gouges — who preceded her to the guillotine by only a few days — observed, being a woman may have prevented her from holding political power under her own name, but it didn’t stop her from losing her own head.
Born in Paris to a bourgeois engraver, she married up through her alliance with quasi-aristocrat Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière. Twenty years her senior, he was chosen by her for his class status and intellect rather than for the love he inspired.
Ambitious from the start, Madame Roland took advantage of her husband’s (and later, her Girondin not-quite-lover François Buzot‘s) engagement in civic life to catapult herself into the role of behind-the-scenes stateswoman. She had been prepared for this role since childhood, when she had voraciously read Rousseau and Plutarch. Unlike Olympe de Gouges, she internalized the idea that women did not belong in politics — yet still she yearned to have an influence on the Republic.
And she did indeed succeed in wielding political power, with enough competence that Robespierre wanted her guillotined at least as much as her husband: everyone knew that she was the real force to be reckoned with.
Her political career was inextricably tied to her husband’s. Unable to hold political office herself, she lived vicariously through him. At first he was a bureaucrat, and she his secretary and personal assistant; but then he became involved in Parisian politics and was eventually appointed Minister of the Interior.
It was his wife who encouraged him to accept the position; for a year now she had been hosting salons frequented by a wide range of political movers and shakers, and she was itching to get in the game.
Monsieur Roland did not have a brilliant career as minister. His wife was the one with the vision and energy (the historian Lucy Moore claims that every good idea he had was hers); although devoted to Republican ideals he remained something of a milquetoast, and was attacked both by the snobby old guard (the lack of buckles on his shoes caused a scandal) and by the extreme left.
Although Madame Roland identified with Robespierre and was a good deal more radical than the Girondins (especially in her feelings about the monarchy), she and her husband were still officially associated with them. As such, they were swept up in Robespierre’s purges.
There were a few pre-Terror false alarms: a warrant was issued for Monsieur Roland’s arrest after the September Massacres, which Danton put the kibosh on; and in 1792, Madame Roland was dragged into court on trumped-up charges of corresponding with émigrés, but was able to use her oratorical skills to get herself acquitted.
When the Terror began, Monsieur Roland opted to keep his head down in the hopes of keeping it on, and resigned from his post as minister.
It was too late. In May 1793 Madame Roland was arrested again — unaccompanied by her husband, who had managed to escape into hiding.
She was subjected to a show trial like so many before and after her; although she had prepared a defense, she was not allowed to read it. Given that she was accused of “conspiring against the unity and the indivisibility of the Republic and attempting to introduce civil war,” neither her verdict nor her sentence are much of a surprise.
She was preoccupied with her husband (whom she declared would be driven to suicide by her execution), with Buzot (who was in grave danger of suffering her same fate), and with her own legacy. She seized the opportunity to be a martyr like the men she so admired — men who had been able to act in the open, rather than behind the scenes — and took advantage of the free time she had in prison to write her memoirs.
Most sources give similar accounts of her behavior before and during the execution. Content to die for her principles — or, perhaps, simply resolved to make a show of contentment — she maintained great calm and resignation in her final hours. The only favor she asked of anyone was that her childhood friend Sophie Grandchamp wait for her on the Pont-Neuf so that they could see each other when the tumbrel passed.
Influencing people up to the very end, Roland’s last political act was an attempt to impart some of her courage to the man who would share her tumbrel, a forger of assignats named Lamarche.
Lacking the sort of great social narrative that would give meaning to his death (such as a personal feud with Robespierre), Lamarche did not share Roland’s sanguine attitude; he thus found himself the recipient of a performance designed to alter his mood, consisting mostly of jokes, distractions, and modeled behavior. The events surrounding her execution have passed into legend, but various sources agree that she quipped to Lamarche after his hair was cut, “It suits you wonderfully. You have the head of a Roman.”
She also urged the executioner to leave her own hair long enough to serve as a suitable handle — for him to show her head to the crowd, of course.
As much as she detested Danton, it appears she had a few things in common with him after all.
Counterintuitively, it was considered a privilege to be guillotined first; it was merciful, the reasoning went, to kill someone before they could see others die. Roland chose to pass up this “privilege”; most attribute this to her desire to spare Lamarche the sight of her death, but Lucy Moore points out in Liberty: The Lives and Times of Six Women in Revolutionary France that she may have rejected the logic of such a “mercy” altogether and wished to live — like Madame du Barry — even a few moments longer.
After mounting the scaffold, she addressed a statue of Marianne, left over from a festival held in the Place de la Révolution; she is traditionally said to have exclaimed, “O liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!”, although a less reputable source (i.e., the apocryphal Sanson memoirs) assigns her the more prosaic last words, “Oh! Liberty, how they’ve tricked you!”
As she had predicted, her husband committed suicide two days later, falling on his sword as soon as he learned of her fate.
*This is only one of many names she has been called; Siân Reynolds explains in Marriage and Revolution: Monsieur and Madame Roland that “Manon” is a childhood name, and her adult name remains mysterious; it was either “Marie,” “Jeanne,” or “Marie-Jeanne.”
A few books about Madame Roland
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Guest Writers,Guillotine,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Other Voices,Politicians,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Treason,Women
Tags: 1790s, 1793, French Revolution, november 8, paris, the terror