1969: Equatorial Guinea’s Christmas Eve executions

3 comments December 24th, 2017 Headsman

A story from the 1970s Equatorial Guinea dictatorship of eventual Executed Today client Francisco Macias Nguema, via Suzanne Cronjé’s out-of-print 1976 volume Equatorial Guinea, the forgotten dictatorship: forced labour and political murder in central Africa.

a first batch of murderers were unskilfully hanged at Bata on the mainland early in December while another group met their end in Fernando Po [the island also known as Bioko, home to Equatorial Guinea’s capital city Malabo -ed.] on Christmas Eve. After a kind of public trial before most of the Cabinet in which assembled population was asked to endorse the verdict, they were shot or hanged to the strains of Mary Hopkin singing ‘Those were the days’ over the loudspeaker system.

The Headsman must admit to being flummoxed at the slipperiness of dependable primary sourcing for this extraordinarily picturesque event: as Cronje’s source notes, “the government probably only gets away with them because so little ever gets out about its doings.”

Many sites around this Internet situate the event on Christmas Eve of 1975. This appears to me unambiguously mistaken; Cronje’s narrative quotes its information from a February 1970 Financial Times report, and the Mary Hopkin detail also better fits the earlier date. (Her song was a hit in 1968.) However, it’s possible that distinct seasonal events were conflated between the years, for the 1970s were years of terrifying purges in Equatorial Guinea that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Christmas Eve 1969 is also the date reported by Randall Fegley in Equatorial Guinea: An African Tragedy (1989) although in Fegley’s telling the nostalgic soundtrack accompanied that ugly early December execution, not the one on Christmas eve. Wikipedia’s entry for Macias Nguema asserts as of this writing that the shootings were carried out by executioners dressed as Santa Claus; the only hint of textual authority I have located for this outlandish detail points to a 1981 Human Rights Quarterly article by Fegley which I cannot access. (Update: In fact, Fegley’s article makes no claim about Saint Nick getup. Thanks to cz for the comment.)

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1744: The Black Boy Alley Gang hanged at Tyburn

Add comment December 24th, 2016 Headsman

Old Blighty celebrated Christmas Eve of 1744 by weighing the Tyburn’s triple tree with no fewer than 18 thieves — 16 men, one woman, and one 14-year-old boy. Half of them were fellows in a “pestiferous Crew,” as the Newgate Ordinary colorfully describes it, the Black-Boy-Alley Gang.

Such a profligate Sett of audacious Bloodthirsty, desperate, and harden’d Villains, have of late started up to infest this great City, as make it quite unsafe to walk even in the most public Streets … Whether we consider the Number of the Malefactors, the Nature of their Crimes, the Age of some of the Offenders, (one particularly, which was a perfect Child) or the Apprehensions into which the Inhabitants of this great City were for some Time thrown, by their Excessive Boldness in committing their Robberies, all wears the Face of Horror and Confusion.

As one might suppose, these rascals based in the environs of Black Boy Alley, a no-longer-extant passageway onto the Thames in Holborn. Rictor Norton, whose work on crime in 18th century England and especially the proto-gay “molly” culture, has often been referenced in these pages, has a fascinating exploration of the Black Boy Alley gang here.

As usual one can read the entire tract at at the Old Bailey Onine; we’ve also embedded it below in pdf form.

While the Ordinary — a man named James Guthrie — expands considerably on the activities of this lot, he is outraged enough to begin his narrative instead with a group of soldiers reprieved from enlarging the Christmas Day caravan to Tyburn — “a Sett of Malefactors, who not content with the Crime of Robbery, have thought add thereto the most heinous Offence of Sodomy, which brought down Fire from Heaven; and, as if this had not been enough, they made that very monstrous Crime a Handle and Snare to draw Gentlemen in, who were inclined to that unnatural Sin.” (That is, they robbed by seducing their targets with the promise of a homosexual assignation.)

Guthrie is unabashedly furious that these guys have all managed to skate, and revenges himself by appending them to his narrative even if they cannot be depended from the gallows — so consumes the best part of ten pages reciting all that he knows or has heard about them, that “though they have hitherto escaped corporal Punishment, at least, in this World, we will do out Endeavour they shall not go wholly Scot-free, but expose both them and their vile Practices to the Public.” Considering that the nub of their operation was robbery, often violent, which of its own would cost the lives of many others on this date and throughout the era of the Bloody Code, no emerging enlightenment on human sexuality need be sought to explain their reprieve. Rather,

Of this abominable Sett, the better Sort, (if indeed any better can be of such a Crew) have found the way to escape both Shame and Chasment, very probably, by commuting with their Purses for the safety of their Persons; and as for the latter, who were all Soldiers, they escaped what was due to their Deserts, by being concerned with their Superiors; so true this our righteous Age, that Wickedness in high Places is sure to go unpunished.

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1946: Gen. Leopold Okulicki murdered in Soviet prison

1 comment December 24th, 2015 Headsman

The fate of the last Commander in Chief of Home Army General Leopold Okulicki “Niedzwiadka”, imprisoned in Moscow and murdered there, symbolize the postwar fate of the Home Army and of Poland.

-2012 resolution of the Polish parliament

On this date in 1946, Polish Home Army General Leopold Okulicki was murdered by the NKVD in a Moscow prison.

Okulicki (English Wikipedia entry | the much more detailed Polish) embarked his military career at the tender age of 16, when he ditched school in favor of an Austrian legion on the eastern front of World War I — then segued directly into newly independent Poland‘s subsequent war against the Soviets.

Already a veteran soldier, Okulicki proceeded to the Warsaw military academy and made soldiering his career. He had advanced to the brass by the time Hitler and Stalin destroyed Poland in 1939. Okulicki had the tragic honor to maintain the hopeless defense of Warsaw, but went underground thereafter with the remains of the Polish state — hunted by Germans and Soviets alike.

The NKVD caught him in January 1941, but his residence in the discomfiting environs of Lubyanka prison was ended by the Soviet Union’s arrangement with Poland following Operation Barbarossa. Paroled back into the field, he played a leading part for the Polish Home Army for the balance of the war — finally becoming its supreme commander in the last weeks of the war.

Now that the Nazis were no longer knocking on the gates of Moscow, the Soviets renewed their interest in detaining Okulicki, which was again effected with relative ease. (Comparing German and Soviet secret police, Okulicki would say that the NKVD made the Gestapo look like child’s play.) Sentenced “only” to a 10-year prison term at the Russians’ postwar show trial of Polish leadership, Okulicki disappeared into Soviet detention and was never seen again.

In the Khrushchev era, the USSR revealed that Okulicki had died on Christmas eve of 1946 at Butyrka prison; subsequent revelations of the medical records there revealed that he had succumbed to organ damage suggestive of having been beaten to death — perhaps as punishment for hunger-striking.

The post-Communist Russian state has posthumously exonerated Okulicki of his show-trial conviction; he is, of course, an honored figure in post-Communist Poland where many streets and squares bear his name.


Plaque honoring Gen. Okulicki in Warsaw. (cc) image from Tadeusz Rudzki.

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1774: William Ferguson, redcoat

Add comment December 24th, 2014 Headsman

On the morning of December 24, 1774, the British 10th Regiment encamped on Boston Common shot a 28-year-old soldier named William Ferguson for desertion.

We do know a bit about Ferguson, but the most self-evidently notable thing about him is that he was in Boston in 1774 — his regiment of redcoats a most unwelcome interloper lately brought from Quebec where it had alit after being shipped overseas years before to fight in the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War.

Back in December of 1773, a year before our action, American patriots had ratcheted up the colonies’ running tax dispute with the mother country by dumping 45 tons of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor.

Over the ensuing twelvemonth, London and the colonies escalated unpleasantries to the point where King George III remarked that “The die is now cast. The colonies must either submit or triumph.”

The immediate British response to the Boston Tea Party, and the reason that William Ferguson and His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot made their obnoxious camp on Boston Common, was that Parliament responded to the Tea Party with a series of punitive enactments directed at the colonies in general and Boston in particular: the Coercive Acts. (Or “Intolerable Acts”, as called by the colonists.)

Among other things, these measures:

  1. Closed the port of Boston;
  2. Exempted British officials in the colony from trials before colonial juries for any excesses they might commit against American insurgents, instead removing administration of justice safely to Britain; and,
  3. Put Massachusetts under a military governor: General Thomas Gage

Gage’s first order of business was to garrison truculent Boston (already occupied since 1768) with enough soldiery to enforce Parliament’s will. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1774, British troops arriving from elsewhere in the colonies — or from Canada (as with the 10th) — or mustered in Great Britain — poured into Boston. By the end of 1774, eleven regiments made camp on the Common. “Boston,” Gage wrote to the Secretary of War, “will keep quiet as long as the troops are there.”

But to dominate Boston was not to bring the colonies to heel.

General Gage soon realized that he had a tricky assignment: even while implementing laws designed specifically to antagonize Massachusetts, he simultaneously had to try to pre-empt the gestating American Revolution. Egregiously underestimating the vigor of colonial resistance and the resources required to quell it, London brushed off Gage’s entreaties for thousands of additional troops while counterproductively pressuring him to take more confrontational action against disloyal colonists.

Gage’s attempt to reconcile all these contradictory demands was to use his regiments in Boston in a series of targeted sorties into the Massachusetts countryside, in an effort to deprive colonial militias (and, now, a rebel shadow government that held sway outside of Boston) of the arms they would need in the event of open rebellion. Gage hoped he could pick off tactical objectives one by one, and ideally do so without firing any shots that might further inflame a tense situation. Some of his own subalterns sneeringly nicknamed him the “Old Woman” for insufficient bellicosity.

Gage’s plan was probably always doomed to failure. Massachusetts militiamen had already demonstrated a considerable propensity to redcoat inflammation; some one of these expeditions was bound sooner or later to send musket balls flying.

In April of 1775, that’s exactly what happened: a column of British soldiers, some from the 10th Regiment, marched out to seize a militia arms depot in the town of Concord. About sunrise of April 19, 1775 that column entered the village of Lexington on the approach to Concord and there exchanged with a colonial militia the first shots of the American Revolution.

The only British casualty of the “shot heard round the world” was a minor leg wound suffered by a private of the 10th named Johnson. (The subsequent Battle of Concord was a different story.)

Present for Lexington and Concord and presumably also in attendance at William Ferguson’s execution by musketry was yet another brother Tenther: Ensign Jeremy Lister. Lister’s diary of events is one of our firsthand accounts of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

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1715: William Ainslie, Edinburgh Castle betrayer

1 comment December 24th, 2013 Headsman

Edinburgh, Scotland held a Christmas Eve 1715 hanging of a soldier for abortive plot in the abortive Jacobite rising of 1715

The plot was a bold conspiracy of Highlanders to seize Edinburgh Castle itself, which would have been every bit the coup it sounds like. Sergeant William Ainslie and two other soldiers of the garrison had been bribed to admit the plotters via a sally port.


(cc) image from Stephanie Kirby.

Once there, the Highlanders meant to seize the castle’s ample stock of weapons and cash, and also “fire three cannon; that when this signal should be heard by some men stationed on the opposite coast of Fife, a fire should be kindled on the heights; and that these beacons, continued northward from hill to hill, should, with the speed of a telegraph, apprise Mar of his advantage.”

One minor problem: the whole enterprise depended on the ability of at least 83 people to keep a secret, but “they were so far from carrying on their affairs privately, that a gentleman who was not concerned told me that he was in a house that evening, where eighteen of them were drinking, and heard the hostess say that they were powdering their hair to go to the attack of the Castle!” Even so, the word only barely got out in time, the conspirators self-defeating by showing up late (too much time powdering?) and with ladders that were too short.

William Ainslie, the sergeant who was planning to open the gate for the Highlanders, had to shout the alarm and play it off that way once he realized that the dawdling had wasted the opportunity, but he was soon found out and spectacularly hanged over the castle wall for his trouble. The inevitable hanging-ballad broadside (“The Lamentation, and Last Farewell, Of Serjeant William Ainslie, who was executed over the Castle-Wall of Edinburgh for High Treason and Treachery, on Monday the 24th of December, 1716”*) emphasizes the pecuniary motive at the expense of the patriotic, but maybe it should have been dedicated to the principle that loose lips sink ships.

Let all Bold Soldiers far and near,
That sees my dismal Fall,
Lament my sad and wretched End,
That’s brought my self in Thrall;
Here to the World I do declare,
The Castle to Betray.
Full Fifty Pounds I was to have,
for which I’m doom’d to Die.

My Name is William Ainslie,
A Serjeant Stout and Bold,
In Flanders I the French have Fought,
And would not be Control’d:
And Loyal was to King and Crown,
my Trust did ne’re Betray,
Till I was tempted with that Gold,
For which I’m Doom’d to Die.

While I did in the Castle ly,
In Irons close Confin’d
For my Dear Wife and Children all,
My Heart no Ease could find,
To GOD I did for Mercy cry,
As I in Fetters lay.
Both Night and Day to him I’le Pray,
Since I am Doom’d to Die.

Ah! wo be to that cursed Gold,
That did my Heart intice,
To act such a gross Treachery,
The Castle to Surprise;
But wo’s me, for my Treachery,
My Hour is drawing nigh.
For I most hang out o’re the Wall,
Most Just Deservedly.

Good People, pray do not revile,
My Wife and Children dear;
Whom I so dearly lov’d on Earth,
Lord to my Soul draw naer: [sic]
I hope in Mercy he’l appear,
For still to him I’ll cry;
Since I most Justly, am condemn’d,
Over the Wall to dy.

They told me a must hang some Days,
Over the Castle-Wall;
Until the Rope takes Fire and breaks,
Then to the Ground I fall:
But since that I must suffer here,
Unto the Lord, I’ll pray;
Take Warning by my shameful End,
I just deserve to dy.

Since many People here is come,
This Day to see me dy;
I hope their Prayers to God they’l send,
For me, before I dy:
My vital Breath will soon be gone,
With a strong Rope and Tree;
But yet I hope my Peace is made,
With God who lives on high.

Those that did cause my dismal End,
I do forgive them here;
For now my Life lyes at the Stake,
Oh! Lord, to me draw near:
My precious Soul I pray receive,
For unto Thee I’ll fly;
For I have acted Treason great,
And for it I must die.

I wish all People Warning take,
That’s come to see me die;
The World unto you I’ll leave,
For all Eternity:
I must away, farewel, adieu
My Wife and Children all;
For I must hang into the Air,
Over the Castle Wall.

All you that sees me here this Day,
I desire you all to pray;
That all my Sins God would forgive,
Since I am brough to die:
Let every one both far and near,
Take Warning now by me;
Your Trust, I pray, never betray,
For which you see me die.

FINIS.

* I believe this is misdated since the plot was clearly set for September 9, 1715

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1635: Hester Jonas, cunning-woman

Add comment December 24th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1635, the aged cunning-woman Hester Jonas was beheaded as a witch in the city of Neuss.

Torture chair-illustrated title page of Hetty Kemmerich’s study of German witchcraft prosecutions, including but not limited to Hester Jonas’s. Sagt, Was Ich Gestehen Soll! has not been translated from German, but is available from Amazon.de.

Jonas (English Wikipedia entry | German), one of the better-known German witch-hunt victims, was an epileptic midwife who knew her way around the mandrake.

She was around 64 years of age when longstanding rumors of her witchiness triggered her arrest in the Hexenprozesse-crazed atmosphere of the Thirty Years War. The city’s mayor came right out and accused her of taking the devil into her bed, signaling that Jonas would have a difficult time escaping the scaffold.

Although the accused denied the charges at proceedings in November, ten hours naked in a spike-studded torture chair secured the customary confession — in this case, to fornicating in the turnip field with a black man named “Hans Beelzebub” who gave her magical powers. (Source, in German)

She managed to escape confinement the very night after she made these “admissions” but was re-taken, and her attempts to repudiate her previous self-incriminations flogged out of her.

After the executioner struck off her head, burned her body, and scattered her ashes to the four winds, her husband got the executioner’s bill for 65 Thalers.

20th century Dusseldorf poet Peter Maiwald wrote a “Ballade von der Hester Jonas” in honor of our date’s victim. The German band Cochise released an interpretation of this ballad on its 1979 album Smoke Signals.

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1941: Eight Russian POWs at Flossenburg

1 comment December 24th, 2011 Headsman

Seventy years ago today, eight unknown Russians — prisoners of the Wehrmacht’s ultimately self-defeating thrust into the Soviet Union — hanged at Flossenburg concentration camp.

By way of a moving 1995 New York Times article, these anonymous Red Army men give us a glimpse at the world of the pink triangle.

Between 10,000 and 15,000 homosexuals may have been incarcerated in the camps, Dr. [Klaus] Mulller said, out of approximately 100,000 men who were arrested under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, which called for the imprisonment of any “male who commits lewd and lascivious acts with another male.” (The law was silent on lesbianism, although individual instances of persecutions of lesbians have been recorded.)

Perhaps 60 percent of those in the camps died, Dr. Muller said, meaning that even in 1945, there may have been only 4,000 survivors. Today, Dr. Mliller knows of fewer than 15.

Their travails did not end at liberation. They were still officially regarded as criminals, rather than as political prisoners, since Paragraph 175 remained in force in West Germany until 1969. They were denied reparations and the years they spent in the camps were deducted from their pensions. Some survivors were even jailed again.

Old enough to be grandfathers and great-grandfathers, the survivors scarcely courted attention as homosexuals, having learned all too well the perils of notoriety. “It is not easy to tell a story you were forced to hide for 50 years,” Dr. Mullers said.

One of the first men to break his silence was the anonymous “Prisoner X. Y.,” who furnished a vividly detailed account of life as a homosexual inmate in the 1972 book, The Men With the Pink Triangle, by Heinz Heger, which was reissued last year by Alyson Publications.

By a coincidence that still astonishes him, Dr. Muller said, Prisoner X. Y. — “the best documented homosexual inmate of a camp” — turned out to be Mr. [Josef] Kohout.


The Men With the Pink Triangle inspired the play Bent, later made into a motion picture.

After his arrest in 1939, Mr. Kohout was taken to the Sachsenhausen camp and served at the Klinker brickworks, which he called “the ‘Auschwitz’ for homosexuals.” Prisoners who were not beaten to death could easily be killed by heavy carts barreling down the steep incline of the clay pits.

In 1940, he was transferred to Flossenburg. On Christmas Eve 1941 inmates were made to sing carols in front at a 30-foot-high Christmas tree on the parade ground. Flanking it were gallows from which eight Russian prisoners had been hanging since morning. “Whenever I hear a carol sung –no matter how beautifully — I remember the Christmas tree at Flossenburg with its grisly ‘decorations,’ ” he wrote.

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Unspecified Year: The Robbers of Nordenshaw

1 comment December 24th, 2010 Headsman

This Yule, we present an ancient Danish ballad which “is probably too true a picture of the lawless conduct of men of the highest rank, and of a state of things not confined at that period to the islands of Denmark.”

The Robbers at Nordenshaw

The Robbers lurking at Nordenshaw*
From out the green-wood creep,
And march by night to the farmer’s house,
Their Yule with him to keep.**

They’ve march’d away to the farmer’s house
With each in hand a spear;
“Come, cousin, see, we are kith and kin,
“Tap us thy Christmas beer.

“And, farmer, lodge us all tonight,
“And well with liquor ply,
“And with us leave thy pretty wife,
“Or, farmer, thou shalt die.”

“I’ll freely pour my mead and ale,
“And well I’ll serve you too;
“But, Sirs, by all that’s good above,
“No outrage on us do.

“Now if upon my house ye seize,
“And lord it at your will,
“And if ye put my wife to shame,
“That were outrageous ill.”

Some on the table threw their swords,
Some cloaks of fur so fine,
Some bade the honest farmer’s wife
Bring in the beer and wine.

A cloth of woven silk she took,
And over the table spread;
And there her ale and wine they drank,
And ate her meat and bread.

A cautious wife was Oaselille,
And used her words with care;
She rose and told the robber guests
She would their beds prepare.

No thought had she, good Oaselille,
With them to share her bed;
But left them feasting, and for help
Through the dark forest sped.

With hurried step through bush and field
Ran on the lusty dame,
And after four long weary miles
To Drost Sir Peter’s† came.

She reach’d Sir Peter’s courtyard gate,
Drew on her mantle blue,
And boldly up to the upper room,
Sir Peter’s chamber, flew.

“Wake up, Drost Peter Hoseale, wake,
“No moment longer sleep;
“The thieves, that lurk’d at Nordenshaw,
“With us their Christmas keep.

“What! still, Sir Peter, slumbering on
“Nor yet but half awake?
“Those robbers twelve are at the Grange,
“All twelve are now to take.”

Then rose the Drost and call’d his men,
And bade them all to arm;
“Wake up, my men, there’s come tonight
“Good news from yonder farm.

“Wake up, no moment more delay,
“And d’on your trusty mail;
“For Nilus Ufridson is there,
And not the man to quail.”

“Where,” ask’d those sturdy robbers twelve,
They’d drunk of ale so deep,
“Where’s now the farmer’s pretty wife?
“We’ll have her here to sleep.”

“Chide not, good Sirs, a short delay”
The grey-coat farmer said;
“She is even now to the chamber gone
“To make her guests their bed.”

The farmer out of his window look’d,
And saw the Drost’s array;
“There stop here thirty men at arms,
“Are dress’d like cushats gray.”

Then answer’d Nilus Ufridson,
“Of such I’m not afraid,
“If but my comrades stand as firm,
“And faithful prove my blade.”

“No,” answer’d Lave Rimordson,
“And scann’d the troop afield,
“For such men care we not a bean,
“To them we’ll never yield.”

They beat the door with sword and spear
And rais’d a fearful shout;
“Up up, Sir Nilus Ufridson!
“Thy gang and thou come out.”

“Seven tons of gold I’ll give thee, Drost,
“And silver other five,
“To let us hence in peace depart
“My men and me alive.”

“Thy silver, Nilus, heed I not,
“As little heed thy gold;
“Through thee weeps many an orphan child
“For friends beneath the mould.”

Hard fought Sir Nilus Ufridson,
And well he kept his ground,
And heavy were from bar and beam
The blows he dealt around.

Nor less did Lave Rimordson,
But fought with might and main
Till at the hilt by dint of blows
He broke his sword in twain.

He dash’d the hilt against a stone,
The blade stuck in the mould;
“And now, my only chance of life,
“I’ll try good words and gold.

“Drost Peter Hoseale, spare my life,
“And do me no disgrace;
“I’m near of kin to the Danish Queen
“And of an Emperor’s race.”

“If near of kin to the Queen thou art,
“And all so nobly born,
“Why to the Farmer’s didst thou go,
“And treat his rights with scorn?”

So seized Sir Peter all the twelve,
And townward march’d them off;
And set them side by side on poles,
The people’s jest and scoff.

And there they lie on rack and wheel
To bear the heat and cold;
But to the King the Drost has brought
Twelve heavy chests of gold.

* Located on the Danish island of Fyen, Fyn, or Funen.

** The Danish Jul runs all through December up to Christmas Eve, Dec. 24; that date, Christmas Eve, is the big Yule celebration in Denmark.

† I situate this execution in the 13th century based on Drost Peter’s appearance in this historical romance of Danish King Erik VI Menved‘s youth.

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2008: Nine hanged in Iran

Add comment December 24th, 2009 Headsman

Iran has been dinged for ramping up its execution pace in the wake of its mid-2009 crisis of political authority. (Like this, just yesterday.)

There might well be something to that, but Iran’s “baseline” starting point for any such escalation is already pretty high, and had already been trending up.

It was in that spirit at dawn this day last year that Tehran’s Evin Prison conducted a mass hanging of eight men and one woman, with a tenth potential victim spared at the last moment only due to the absence of his family.

All were executed for homicide, including the woman, one “Tayyabeh”, who insisted that she was tortured into confessing to burying her 8-year-old stepdaughter alive.

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1684: Baillie of Jerviswood

Add comment December 24th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1684, the Scottish patriot Baillie of Jerviswood was convicted of treason and immediately executed, for his part in the Rye House Plot against the Stuart King Charles II.

Baillie was a lesser player in the Protestant scheme — whose nature and extent, or even existence, are matters of historical debate — supposedly to do away with the Catholic-leaning ruler and his outright catechumen brother and heir James. Baillie was implicated under torture, and while disowning any part of a conspiracy declined — “with striking truthfulness” — to deny a design on Scottish rebellion.

His summary hanging would enter the pantheon of English depravities in the north country, but he achieved another sort of immortality as well.

During an earlier stint in prison, a proscribed fellow patriot’s 12-year-old daughter had smuggled him messages — becoming acquainted with Baillie’s own son, whom she would eventually wed. The girl gained fame in adulthood as Lady Grizel (or Grisel, or Griselle) Baillie.

“Werena my Heart’s licht I wad dee”
-Lady Baillie

THERE ance was a may, and she lo’ed na men;
She biggit her bonnie bow’r doun in yon glen;
But now she cries, Dool and a well-a-day!
Come doun the green gait and come here away!

When bonnie young Johnnie cam owre the sea,
He said he saw naething sae lovely as me;
He hecht me baith rings and mony braw things—
And werena my heart’s licht, I wad dee.

The legendary tableau of intrigue between Baillie and his future daughter-in-law was itself fruit for literature, given time enough to ripen into legend. Kinswoman Joanna Baillie, one of the great litterateurs of the early 19th century, made use of the episode to open a lengthy ballad to Lady Grizel in Metrical Legends of Exalted Characters:

I.
Within a prison’s hateful cell,
Where, from the lofty window fell,
Thro’ grated bars, the sloping beam,
Defin’d, but faint, on couch of stone,
There sat a pris’ner sad and lone,
Like the dim tenant of a dismal dream.
Deep in the shade, by low-arch’d door,
With iron nails thick studded o’er,
Whose threshold black is cross’d by those
Who here their earthly being close,
Or issue to the light again
A scaffold with their blood to stain,–
Moved something softly. Wistful ears
Are quick of sense, and from his book
The pris’ner rais’d his eyes with eager look,–
“Is it a real form that thro’ the gloom appears?”

II
It was indeed of flesh and blood,
The form that quickly by him stood;
Of stature low, of figure light,
In motion like some happy sprite;
Yet meaning eyes and varying cheek,
Now red, now pale, seem’d to bespeak
Of riper years the cares and feeling
Which with a gentle heart were dealing.
“Such sense in eyes so simply mild!
“Is it a woman or a child?
“Who art thou, damsel sweet? are not mine eyes beguiled?”

III
“No; from the Redbraes’ tower I come;
“My father is Sir Patrick Hume;
“And he has sent me for thy good,
“His dearly honour’d Jerviswood.
“Long have I round these walls been straying,
“As if with other children playing;
“Long near the gate have kept my watch
“The sentry’s changing-time to catch.
“With stealthy steps I gain’d the shade
“By the close-winding staircase made,
“And when the surly turnkey enter’d,
“But little dreaming in his mind
“Who follow’d him so close behind,
“Into this darken’d cell, with beating heart, I ventured.”

IV
Then from the simple vest that braced
Her gentle breast, a letter traced
With well-known characters, she took,
And with an eager, joyful look,
Her eyes up to his visage cast,
His changing countenance to scan,
As o’er the lines his keen glance past.
She saw a faint glow tinge the sicky wan;
She saw his eyes thro’ tear-drops raise
To heaven their look of silent praise,
And hope’s fresh touch undoing lines of care
Which stress of evil times had deeply graven there.
Meanwhile, the joy of sympathy to trace
Upon her innocent and lovely face
Had to the sternest, darkest sceptic given
Some love of human kind, some faith in righteous Heaven.

V
What blessings on her youthful head
Were by the grateful patriot shed,
(For such he was, good and devoted,
And had at risk of life promoted
His country’s freedom and her faith,
Nor reck’ning made of worldly skathe)
How warm, confiding, and sincere,
He gave to her attentive ear
The answer which her cautious sire
Did to his secret note require;–
How after this with ‘quiries kind,
He ask’d for all she left behind
In Redbraes’ tower, her native dwelling,
And set her artless tongue a-telling,
Which urchin dear had tallest grown,
And which the greatest learning shown,
Of lesson, sermon, psalm, and note,
And Sabbath questions learnt by rote,
And merry tricks and gambols play’d
By ev’ning fire, and forfeits paid,–
I will not here rehears, nor will I say,
How, on that bless’d and long-remember’d day,
The pris’ner’s son, deserving such a sire,
First saw the tiny maid, and did admire,
That one so young and wise and good and fair
Should be an earthly thing that breath’d this nether air.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Arts and Literature,England,God,Hanged,Martyrs,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Scotland,Torture,Treason

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