1597: Severyn Nalyvaiko

3 comments April 21st, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1597, Cossack Severyn Nalyvaiko was publicly quartered in Warsaw.

Nalyvaiko organized “unregistered” Cossacks in Poland’s eastern realms, modern-day Belarus and Ukraine, into what became a significant rebellion. (Poland’s efforts to “register” and thereby control Cossacks would continue to cause tension in the years ahead.)

The Poles outmuscled him, and here he is.

However, because longer-term historical trends were not so favorable to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Nalyvaiko rates a place as an early independence martyr for (east) Slavic resistance to Warsaw’s Polish imperialism.

Not only does he get a spot on present-day Ukrainian coinage (as pictured); 19th century Russian poet Kondraty Ryleyev, who would himself be executed for his part in the Decembrist plot, lyricized Nalyvaiko’s death as heroic national sacrifice … and simultaneously elevated the poet’s own prophesied fate for himself.

“In Ryleyev’s poetry, fate — romantic fate — is not simply personal and individual,” writes Lauren Leighton. “The fate of his heroes, and so his own fate, is raised to the level of national-historical tragedy. By welcoming his fate and dying for his land, Nalivayko ennobles his people.”


“Nalyvaiko”

Say not, thou holy man, again
That this is sin, thy words are vain,
Be it a fearful mortal sin
Worse than all crimes that e’er have been,
I care not — for could I but see
My native land at liberty,
Could I but see my race restored
To freedom from the foreign horde,
All sins would I upon me take
Without one sigh for Russia’s sake. —
The crimes of all the Tartar race,
The apostates Uniates‘ treason base,
The sins of every Jew and Pole —
All would I take upon my soul.
Try not with threats my mind to shake,
Persuasive words no change can make,
For hell to me is to have viewed
My loved Ukraine in servitude;
To see my fatherland set free,
This, this alone, is heaven for me!

E’en from the cradle was my breast
With love of liberty possessed;
My mother sang me glorious lays
Of those long-past historic days,
Whose memory yet lives ‘mongst men,
For no fear seized on Russians then,
None cringed before the haughty Pole;
The iron of a foreign yoke
Weighed upon no free Russian’s soul,
None cowered beneath a stranger’s stroke;
Cossacks were then the Pole’s allies,
Bound each to each in equal ties,
Such as free men would well beseem —
Now all is vanished like a dream.
Cossacks long since had learned to know
How into tyrants friends may grow;
The Lithuanian, and the Jew,
The Pole, and all the Uniate crew,
Like ravening crows around their prey
Seize us, and tear our limbs away.
The voice of law no more is heard
In Warsaw’s city, none are stirred
At hearing all a nation’s wail,
Our mourning voices nought avail,
And now within me burns a flame
Of hatred for the Polish name —
A fierce hot flame of raging fire —
My look is wild with passion dire
And frenzied wrath; the soul in me
Sickens for love of liberty.
One thought have I by night and day,
Which like a shadow haunts my way,
E’en where the steppes lie silent, bare,
Unresting it pursues me there;
E’en in the soldier’s camp, and when
The battle’s whirl, and tramp of men,
Around me roar with maddening rush,
I hear it still, and in the hush
Of the still church’s vaulted gloom,
Sound in my ears the words of doom
“‘Tis time,” the holy accents say,
“‘Tis time to sweep the foes away,
“O’er the Ukraine who bear their sway.”
I know full well the direful fate
Which must upon the patriot wait
Who first dare rise against the foe
And at the tyrant aim the blow.
This is my destined fate — but say
When, when has freedom won her way
Without the blood of martyrs shed,
When none for liberty have bled?
My coming doom I feel and know
And bless the stroke which lays me low
And, father, now with joy I meet
My death, to me such end is sweet.

On this day..

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1525: Thomas Müntzer, prophet of the Peasants’ War

9 comments May 27th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1525, radical religious reformer and Peasants’ War leader Thomas Müntzer lost his head in the town of Mühlhausen.

Müntzer, a university-educated theologian, caught the whiff of Lutheranism in the Zeitgeist; following Luther’s call to study the Biblical text directly without the intervention of the doctors of Rome, Müntzer swiftly discerned a heavenly admonition to set to rights the many wrongs of an unjust world.

Luther had not had in mind dispossessing the haves, particularly not when imperial electors defended him from the Pope’s inquisitors.

When in 1517 opposition against the dogmas and the organisation of the Catholic church was first raised by Luther, it still had no definite character. Not exceeding the demands of the earlier middle-class heresy, it did not exclude any trend of opinion which went further. It could not do so because the first moment of the struggle demanded that all opposing elements be united, … Luther’s sturdy peasant nature asserted itself in the stormiest fashion in the first period of his activities. “If the raging madness [of the Roman churchmen] were to continue, it seems to me no better counsel and remedy could be found against it than that kings and princes apply force, arm themselves, attack those evil people who have poisoned the entire world, and once and for all make an end to this game, with arms, not with words. If thieves are being punished with swords, murderers with ropes, and heretics with fire, why do we not seize, with arms in hand, all those evil teachers of perdition, those popes, bishops, cardinals, and the entire crew of Roman Sodom? Why do we not wash our hands in their blood?”

This revolutionary ardour did not last long. The lightning thrust by Luther caused a conflagration. A movement started among the entire German people. In his appeals against the clergy, in his preaching of Christian freedom, peasants and plebeians perceived the signal for insurrection. Likewise, the moderate middle-class and a large section of the lower nobility joined him, and even princes were drawn into the torrent. While the former believed the day had come in which to wreak vengeance upon all their oppressors, the latter only wished to break the power of the clergy, the dependence upon Rome, the Catholic hierarchy, and to enrich themselves through the confiscation of church property. The parties became separated from each other, and each found a different spokesman. Luther had to choose between the two. Luther, the protégé of the Elector of Saxony, the respected professor of Wittenberg who had become powerful and famous overnight, the great man who was surrounded by a coterie of servile creatures and flatterers, did not hesitate a moment. He dropped the popular elements of the movement, and joined the train of the middle-class, the nobility and the princes. Appeals to war of extermination against Rome were heard no more. Luther was now preaching peaceful progress and passive resistance.

Muntzer became adopted into the Marxist pantheon sufficiently to grace East Germany’s five-mark bill.

That’s Engels in The Peasant War in Germany, revisiting the theological conflicts at the birth of the Protestant Reformation from the perspective of 19th century Marxism.

Projecting backwards, Engels saw in Müntzer a distant forerunner of their own day’s class conflicts — the man whose language was Biblical and apocalyptic but whose subject matter was the peasantry’s demand for material justice.

[Luther] says in his booklet on commerce that the princes should make common cause with thieves and robbers. But in this same writing he is silent about the source of all theft … Behold, the basic source of usury, theft, and robbery is our lords and princes, who take all creatures for their private property. The fish in the water, the birds in the air, the animals of the arth must all be their property, Isaiah 5[:8]. And then they let God’s commandment go forth among the poor and they say, “God has commanded, ‘Thou shalt not steal’.” But this commandment does not apply to them since they oppress all men — the poor peasant, the artisan, and all who live are flayed and sheared, Micah 3[:2f]. But, as soon as anyone steals the smallest thing, he must hang. And to this Doctor Liar says, “Amen.” The lords themselves are responsible for making the poor people their enemy. They do not want to remove the cause of insurrection, so how, in the long run, can things improve? I say this openly, so Luther asserts I must be rebellious. So be it!*

In this detail view of East German artist Werner Tübke’s weird panorama of the Battle of Frankenhausen, a crestfallen Müntzer realizes divine aid is not forthcoming.

Müntzer embraced the cause of a massive peasant revolt in central Europe in 1524-25. Luther said God wanted them “knocked to pieces, strangled and stabbed, secretly and openly, by everybody who can do it, just as one must kill a mad dog!”

So it was with Müntzer, who was captured in the decisive Battle of Frankenhausen, tortured into recanting his heretical doctrines,** and beheaded.

Whether one thinks of politics leading Müntzer’s theology or theology leading his politics† or some sort of dialectic between them, we see Müntzer latterly through a glass darkly — the wasted root of a lost Reformation.

* From a 1524 pamphlet vituperatively entitled “Highly provoked defense and answer to the spiritless, soft-living flesh at Wittenberg, who has most lamentably befouled pitiable Christianity in a perverted way by his theft of holy Scripture,” reprinted in Revelation and Revolution.

** Müntzer’s theology included rejection of infant baptism, which ranks him as an early anabaptist.

† “I have done nothing but say that a Christian should not so wretchedly sacrifice someone else on the butcher’s table. And if the political bigwigs do not cease to do so, the government should be taken from them. Whenever I have seriously proclaimed this to Christendom, it either refused to act or was too scared to do so. What more shall I do? Should I perhaps be silent, like a dumb dog? Why should I then make a living off the altar?”

On this day..

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1832: Samuel Sharpe, “I would rather die upon yonder gallows than live in slavery”

4 comments May 23rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1832, Jamaican national hero Samuel Sharpe died upon the gallows for instigating the slave revolt that would (help to) end slavery.

Samuel Sharpe, an educated slave who was also a Baptist deacon, was the moving spirit behind the attempted general strike that became the Christmas Rebellion.

That time of year was less than festive for Jamaica’s enormous slave population, for Saint Nick opened the short window for harvesting the island’s sugar cane.

Samuel Sharpe and collaborators had the wit to realize that being depended upon to bring in the cash crop that made life comfortable for their owners put the slaves’ hands upon a potent economic lever. In the last few days of 1831, they pressed it.

The “passive resistance” thing didn’t last long, however, and the “strike” transmuted into a rebellion — the cause swiftly taken up by thousands of slaves around the island who torched crops. Given the small (less than 20) white body count,* the “violence” appears to have been directed against the instruments, rather than the perpetrators, of their enslavement.

Not so the reprisals.

The rebellion was suppressed within days, and over 300 put to death for it (in addition to 200 slave casualties during the pacification itself). There’s an absorbing BBC Witness episode about this affair available as a podcast here.

Sharpe was the last of those executed.

But his revolt is widely thought to have given impetus to the British parliament’s deliberations over the ensuing months that ultimately led to the Slavery Abolition Act (1833).

What [abolitionist MP William] Wilberforce was endeavoring to win from the British senate by his magic eloquence the slaves themselves were endeavoring to gain by outbreaks and violence. The combined action of one and the other wrought out the final result. While one showed that slavery was wrong, the other showed that it was dangerous as well as wrong. Mr. Wilberforce, peace man though he was, and a model of piety, availed himself of this element to strengthen his case before the British Parliament, and warned the British government of the danger of continuing slavery in the West Indies. There is no doubt that the fear of the consequences, acting with a sense of the moral evil of slavery, led to its abolition. The spirit of freedom was abroad in the Islands. Insurrection for freedom kept the planters in a constant state of alarm and trepidation. A standing army was necessary to keep the slaves in their chains. This state of facts could not be without weight in deciding the question of freedom in these countries … I am aware that the insurrectionary movements of the slaves were held by many to be prejudicial to their cause. This is said now of such movements at the South. The answer is that abolition followed close on the heels of insurrection in the West Indies, and Virginia was never nearer emancipation than when General Turner kindled the fires of insurrection at Southampton.

Frederick Douglass

Sharpe, today, is an official national hero of Jamaica. The place in Montego Bay that he hanged is known as Sam Sharpe Square, and his face adorns the currency.

* Contrast with the much smaller, much bloodier rebellion of Nat Turner in the U.S., which preceded the Christmas Rebellion by a few months.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Hanged,History,Jamaica,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries

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1817: Policarpa Salavarrieta, Colombian independence heroine

1 comment November 14th, 2008 Headsman

This morning in 1817, a Colombian seamstress was shot in Bogota for spying on the Spanish forces fighting to quell South America’s Bolivarian independence movements.

Policarpa Salavarrieta — it was the name her brother used for her; her legal given name and origin are romantically lost — was infiltrated into Bogota during the reconquista, when a Spain recovering from Napoleon’s intrusion deployed in force to quash the separatist aspirations of its New World colonies.

It was the day of Simon Bolivar, but Spain had completed its apparent pacification of New Granada* in 1816, and established a stronghold in Bogota. Subversives had to mind their P’s and Q’s.

Although she was a known agitator in the city of Guadas, “La Pola” could slip into Bogota without drawing attention.

There, she used her skills as a domestic to hang around royalist households, sewing up clothes while snooping around, and helping revolutionaries recruit soldiers.

She was arrested when the Spanish busted the network, (the link is in Spanish) and shot publicly with her lover, Alejo Sabarain, and a number** of others — all men, none of them half so well-remembered or beloved as Salavarrieta. She was supposed to have ignored the priests murmuring te deums in her ear on the scaffold in order to exhort the onlookers to resistance.

Over the years to come, she would become an emblematic martyr of independence; just see how many times her theme is visited in this history of Colombian painting (Spanish again). She’s also the only historical (not mythological/allegorical) woman ever used on Colombian currency.

As will be readily surmised, of course, she merits her tribute because the movement in whose service she died soon rallied and carried the day.

* The Spanish territory of New Granada encompassed most of the ice cream of the South American cone.

** Various numbers are given for the day’s total execution count. This site (Spanish) says a total of nine — Policarpa Salavarrieta and eight men, including Alejo Sabarain — and persuasively names all of them.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Famous,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Shot,Spain,Spies,Treason,Wartime Executions,Women

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1945: Josefa Llanes Escoda

9 comments January 6th, 2008 Headsman

On this day in 1945, Filipina suffragist Josefa Llanes Escoda was last seen before her presumed execution by the Japanese occupying troops holding her at Manila’s Far Eastern University.

Escoda came of age with her native archipelago under American colonization. An energetic and brilliant woman, Escoda lectured in sociology at the University of the Philippines, held several civil service posts, founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines and helped win female suffrage.

During the Japanese occupation, her efforts to aid POWs — including those on the Bataan Death March — made her the “Florence Nightingale of the Philippines”.

But she declined to do so in the capacity of Japanese collaborator and she and her husband Antonio were arrested in 1944 and executed in the weeks following MacArthur’s return and push towards Manila.

Escoda is pictured on the Philippines’ current 1000-peso bill.


Escoda is in the center of the three figures on this banknote. Jose Abad Santos, also executed by the Japanese, is in the top left.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,History,Intellectuals,Japan,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Philippines,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions,Women

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