1530: Johnnie Armstrong, border reiver

Add comment July 5th, 2018 Headsman

Scottish “border reiver” John Armstrong of Gilnockie was hanged on this date in 1530 with his followers at Caerlanrig, without benefit of trial.

The job description of the border reiver was to, well, reave the border. These mounted raiders exploited the wide gaps in sovereignty that opened along the ill-controlled England-Scotland border throughout the 16th century (their heyday) and indeed for centuries prior. They plundered vulnerable* farmers both north and south of the notional line. Sometimes the prize was livestock; other times, the “black rent” due your basic protection racket would suffice.

Their presence left an indelible imprint on the Anglo-Scottish marches, from the farmhouse fortresses called bastle houses to provisions in the “March Law” governing the manner of permissible counter-raiding.

Nettlesome as they were, they also stood useful mercenaries hired out for a number of the era’s battles; notably, English-hired reivers held off a much larger Scottish incursion in 1542. Only with the union of the crowns under James VI of Scotland/James I of England were the reivers finally suppressed.**

Johnny/Johnnie Armstrong, the younger brother of Thomas, Laird of Mangerton, is perhaps the most lasting legend among them — thanks to the signal boost he would later receive from Sir Walter Scott. Chief of a reiver band 160 strong, Armstrong made himself enough of a headache for English-Scottish diplomacy that the Scots king James V resorted to treachery to eliminate him. Having dialed up the frontier “prince” for a meeting, James simply had the sharp-dressed marauder arrested and summarily hanged when the reiver came to call. Thirty-six of his fellow reivers died with him.

Johnny Armstrong is the subject and the title of a notable child ballad (no. 169) whose lyrics can be perused in their entirety here; several renditions of its climactic third chapter can be found in the usual places.

John murdred was at Carlinrigg,
And all his galant companie;
But Scotlands heart was never sae wae,
To see sae mony brave men die.

Because they savd their country deir
Frae Englishmen; nane were sae bauld,
Whyle Johnie livd on the border-syde,
Nane of them durst cum neir his hald.

* “Vulnerable” mostly meant, neither in the ambit of a powerful protector, nor of the reiver’s own clan.

** A subsequent echo of the border reivers — in the same vein and the same region, but clearly distinct from them — emerged later in the 17th century in the form of the moss troopers.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Scotland,Soldiers,Summary Executions

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1530: Francesco Ferruccio, victim of Maramaldo

Add comment August 3rd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1530, Francesco Ferruccio (or just Ferrucci) and his executioner Fabrizio Maramaldo clinched their immortality at the Battle of Gavinana.

The battle was the tragic final scene of the War of the League of Cognac, in which an alliance of Italian city-states tried to expel the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperor Charles V from the peninsula. Charles had already in effect decided matters by forcing the French out of the fight, which also brought about the capitulation of the Vatican.

Left alone in the fray, doughty Florence — ever so briefly at this moment restored as a Republic, having given the Medici the boot — continued to hold out against impossible odds. A vast imperial army swollen by landsknechts whose mercenary arms were now unnecessary elsewhere in Italy besieged Florence on October 24, 1529.


The Siege of Florence, by Tuscan Renaissance Man Giorgio Vasari.

The intrepid Florentine commander Francesco Ferruccio (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) strove to take his hopeless fight to the enemy. After a plan to coerce papal support by striking Rome was vetoed, Ferruccio mounted a march through the Apennines to threaten the Imperials’ rear.

He was intercepted at Gavinana, a battle decided by the arrival of landsknecht reinforcements under the command of the notoriously cruel condottiere Fabrizio Maramaldo.

Maramaldo would elevate himself for posterity out of the ranks of his merely brutal brethren by finding Ferruccio, badly wounded, his prisoner, and putting him to immediate death by his own hand — an execution that resulted in Florentine capitulation one week later, and the installation of Alessandro de’ Medici as Duke of the now ex-Republic.*

While admittedly borderline as an “execution” suitable for this here site, Ferruccio’s defiance in the face of his killer and his last denunciation of Maramaldo — “Coward, you kill a dead man!” — became the stuff of legend in a later Italy. (It also helped Ferruccio’s case for the nationalist pantheon that he died fighting against the Germans, not against the next city-state over.)

The romantic novelist Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi** made Ferruccio the subject of his magnum opus L’Assedio di Firenze, and before you knew it the name was on the lips of every risorgimento Tom, Dick and Francesco. Garibaldi invoked him in speech; Goffredo Mameli wrote him into the national anthem.


Every man has the heart
and hand of Ferruccio …

Under the Italian state those men helped to make, Ferruccio was appropriated as the name of a battleship; fascist Italy especially found Ferruccio congenial to the national-pride project and valorized the martyr relentlessly.


1930 Fascist Italy stamp depicting — for the 400th anniversary of the occasion — Fabrizio Maramaldo murdering his prisoner Francesco Ferruccio. Other Februccio stamps from the same period can be found on the man’s Italian Wikipedia page.

For Maramaldo, a less flattering but possibly more durable legacy: Italian gained the noun maramaldo, the adjective maramaldesco, and the verb maramaldeggiare to signify bullying or cruel domineering.

* Alessandro had a reputation for despotism, and was assassinated a few years later by his cousin Lorenzino de’ Medici in a tyrannicide that was Brutus-like in both its motivation and effect. That later affair is the subject of the 19th century play Lorenzaccio.

** Guerrazzi also did his bit for the legend of Beatrice Cenci.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Florence,Habsburg Realm,History,Holy Roman Empire,Italy,Language,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1516 and 1530: Autos de fe in the Spanish Canary Islands

Add comment June 4th, 2011 Headsman

From The Inquisition in Spanish Dependencies, available free from Google books here:

That Columbus, on his first voyage, took his departure from Gomera indicates the importance assumed by the Canaries in the development of trade with the New World and this, conjoined with their productiveness, as they became settled and cultivated, rendered them a centre of commerce frequented by the ships of all maritime nations, as well as an object of buccaneering raids, in an age when trade and piracy were sometimes indistinguishable. Their proximity to Morocco and the Guinea coast moreover exposed them to attacks from the Moors and gave them an opportunity of accumulating Moorish and negro slaves, whom the piety of the age sought to convert to Christians by the water of baptism. In various ways, therefore, there came to be abundant material for inquisitorial activity, although the Judaizing New Christians, who furnished the Spanish tribunals with their principal business, appear to have been singularly few.

There was no haste in extending the Spanish Inquisition to the Canaries … It is not until the time of Diego de Muros [Spanish link], who was consecrated in 1496, that we have any evidence of such action … [and even then] every act, from the preliminary arrest to the final decision, was regulated from Seville …

Irregular and imperfect as may have been the organization of the tribunal, it yet managed to accomplish some convictions. In 1510 there was held an auto de fe in which there were three reconciliations for Judaism and one, of a Moorish slave, for reincidence in Mahometan error, while a fifth culprit was penanced for Judaism. Then in 1513 occurred the first relaxation, that of Alonso Fatima, a native Morisco, who had fled to Barbary. This was always deemed sufficient evidence of relapse to former errors, and he was duly burned in effigy. It was probably also to 1516* that may be attributed the first relaxation in person — that of Juan de Xeres of Seville, for Judaism. It shows that the tribunal was indifferently equipped that, when he was sentenced to torture, the physician whose presence was obligatory on such occasions, Doctor Juan Meneses de Gallegas, was required personally to administer it. It was exceedingly severe, extending to eleven jars of water; the accused was unable to endure it; he confessed his faith, was sentenced to relaxation as a relapsed and for fictitious confession, and was executed on Wednesday, June 4th. …

on June 4, 1530, another oblation was offered to God, in an auto celebrated with the same ostentation as the previous one [in 1526, with seven executions]. This time there were no relaxations in person, but there were six effigies burnt of as many Moorish slaves, who had escaped and were drowned in their infidelity while on their way to Africa and liberty. There were also the effigy and bones of Juan de Tarifa, the husband of the Ynes de Tarifa who had denounced herself in 1524; he was of Converso descent and had committed suicide in prison, which was equivalent to self-condemnation. There were three reconciliations, of which two were for Judaism and one for Islam and five penitents for minor offences.

This use of religious terror in service of slavery — the burning of those effigies who had been “drowned in their infidelity on their way to Africa and liberty” — was an overt policy of the tribunal.

Pious zeal for the salvation of these poor savages led to their baptism after capture; they could not be intelligent converts or throw off their native superstitions, and no one seemed able to realize the grim absurdity of adding the terrors of the Inquisition to the horrors of their enslaved existence. When a negro slave-girl was bemoaning her condition, she was kindly consoled with the assurance that baptism preserved her and her children from hell, to which she innocently replied that doing evil and not lack of baptism led to hell. This was heresy, for which she was duly prosecuted.

Under the inquisitorial code the attempt to escape from slavery thus was apostasy, punishable as such if unsuccessful, and expiated if successful by concremation in effigy. This is illustrated in an auto, held by Zayas and Funez, June 24, 1576, in which among sixteen effigies of absentees were those of eight slaves, seven negroes and one Moor. They had undergone baptism, had been bougt by Dona Catalina de la Cuevas and were worked on her sugar plantation. They seized a boat at Orotava and escaped to Morocco, for which they were duly prosecuted as apostates and their effigies were delivered to the flames — a ghastly mockery which does not seem to have produced the desired impression in preventing other misguided beings from flying from their salvation.

Related: Jews in the Canary Islands: Being a calendar of Jewish Cases extracted from the records of the Canariote inquisition in the collection of the Marquess of Bute.

* A footnote in the text of our source notes that “in the record concerning Juan de Xeres, the year is omitted, but as Wednesday fell on June 4 in 1511, 1516, 1533 and 1539, the probable date is 1516.”

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Canary Islands,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Executed in Effigy,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Jews,Known But To God,Posthumous Executions,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Slaves,Spain,Torture

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1530: Tangaxuan II, the last Tarasco ruler

1 comment February 14th, 2009 Headsman

This date in 1530 marked the end of the pre-Columbian Tarasco Empire, when the Spaniard Nuño Beltrán de Guzmán lashed its last independent king (Spanish link) to a tree and burned him to death.

Legendary even by conquistador standards for his cruelty, Beltran de Guzman eliminated the Tarascan state in western Mexico — a onetime Aztec rival which had got off relatively easy during Cortes’s 1520s incursion by cooperating with the Spanish.

Beltran de Guzman had set out from Spanish holdings on the hunt for gold, butchering the many natives on his westward jag unable or unwilling to comply with his demand for more and better treasure.

Tangaxuan — or Tangaxoan, or Tanganxoan, or Tangaxhuan, and other such variants — met his foreign-born visitor peacefully with some gifts of gold and silver. This only whetted Nuno Beltran de Guzman’s appetite, and he promptly had the king detained and tortured for more pelf before dispatching him by dragging by horses and burning alive at the confluence of the Río Lerma and the Río Angulo. (Spanish, again.)


The monumental Juan O’Gorman mural in Michoacan, the present-day Mexican state occupying what was once Tarascan land, depicts this day’s execution above the inscription, “Tangaxhuán, the last monarch of the Purhépecha Indians was tortured and assassinated by the ferocious hordes led by the sadistic, vile, Nuño de Guzmán.”

Although even other Spanish officials viewed our bloodthirsty conquistador with distaste, his depredations were ultimately rooted in the logic of imperial expansion, and the conquest of Tarasco consolidated (Spanish link) the colonial power’s grip on “New Spain”.

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

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