1916: Not Constance Markievicz, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me”

Add comment May 6th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1916, the British field court meting out death sentences to Irish Easter Rising rebels announced eighteen commutations — most notably including Countess Constance Markievicz.

Markievicz has long been one of the most remarkable and compelling personalities of the Irish independence struggle. As her biographer noted, many other women of that cause are best-known “mainly because of their connection with more famous men.” Markievicz, notably, “stood alone, self-driven and self-confident. She was more than a muse or an enabler or a facilitator, the preferred roles for women to play.”

She was the privileged daughter of a baronet turned polar explorer who came to her distinctive name by marrying a Polish nobleman.** In her girlhood, she’d been presented at court to Queen Victoria.

She trained as a painter and her material circumstances put within her reach that charmed state of comfortable avant-garde consciousness. The Countess gave that up, for Ireland. The abhorrence of the daughter of the Provost of Trinity College Dublin is perhaps her most definitive epitaph: “the one woman amongst them [Irish republicans] of high birth and therefore the most depraved … she took to politics and left our class.”

By the late 1900s and into the 1910s she was a mainstay of hydra-headed radicalism: nationalist, suffragist, socialist. (She was a close friend and comrade of James Connolly.) In those years she could have spent in a pleasant Left Bank garret, she walked picket lines, burned flags, faced arrest, and sold jewelry to fund the soup kitchen she worked in.†

Markievicz co-founded the Fianna Eireann youth organization as a response to Baden-Powell‘s imperial scouting project. It would become an essential feeder for the republican organs (like the Irish Volunteers); Fianna itself was also well-represented among the Easter Rising fighters, and contributed that conflagration’s youngest martyr.

Bust of Constance Markievicz on St. Stephen’s Green, where she served in the Easter Rising.

But for her sex Markievicz would probably have been among the martyrs herself for her role on the St. Stephen’s Green barricade, and perhaps she wished it were so; she greeted the news of her May 6 commutation with the retort, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” She’s been slated with having personally shot a constable during the Rising, although her defenders consider this a baseless smear.

While again in prison — she’d been amnestied from the Easter Rising stuff, but was arrested anew for anti-war activism — Markievicz successfully stood for election to Parliament, and in fact has the distinction of being the first woman elected a British M.P. … although she complied with Sinn Fein policy and refused to take the seat. She was also a member of the First Dail (parliament) of the revolutionary Irish Republic and was the first Irish female cabinet minister (Ministry of Labour).

Constance Markievicz died in 1927 at the age of 59, penniless in a public ward having disbursed the entirety of her wealth. A quarter-million of her fellow peoples of the Irish Free State thronged the streets of Dublin for her funeral.

* The other commutations (with their associated non-capital sentences) as published by the London Times of May 8, 1916:

Penal servitude for life. — Henry O’Hanrahan.

Ten years’ penal servitude. — Count George Plunkett, John Plunkett (his son).

Five years’ penal servitude. — Philip B. Cosgrave.

Three years’ penal servitude. — R. Kelly, W. Wilson, J. Clarke, J. Marks, J. Brennan, P. Wilson, W. Mechan, F. Brooks, R. Coleman, T. Peppard, J. Norton, J. Byrne, T. O’Kelly.

** It turned out that although Casimir Markievicz went by “Count Markievicz” there wasn’t actually any such title. But “Count” and “Countess” stuck nevertheless.

† She does perhaps forfeit some wokeness points for complaining of her post-Easter Rising imprisonment at Aylesbury that she was lodged with “the dregs of the population … no one to speak to except prostitutes who have been convicted for murder or violence. The atmosphere is the conversation of the brothel.”

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1907: Qiu Jin, Chinese feminist and revolutionary

4 comments July 15th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1907, Chinese poet, intellectual and activist Qiu Jin (Ch’iu Chin) was beheaded for plotting an anti-Qing rising.

The daughter of a well-to-do gentry family, Qiu was shunted into the arranged marriage that would have been usual for her milieu.

It did not suit her.

Hers had been an active mind from youth, and after several years of domestic misery, resolved to make her own way in the world, separated herself from her husband, and headed for Japan.

She prepared herself for this journey by an act taxing symbolism as heavily as physique: painfully un-binding her feet. “Unbinding my own feet to undo the poisoned years / Arousing the souls of a hundred flowers to passionate movement,” she wrote in verse while en route to Japan.*

She would later issue a plea for women to emancipate themselves by doing likewise.

[W]e women, who have had our feet bound from early childhood, have suffered untold pain and misery, for which our parents showed no pity. Under this treatment our faces grew pinched and thin, and our muscles and bones were cramped and distorted. The consequence is that our bodies are weak and incapable of vigorous activity, and in everything we do we are obliged to lean on others.

Being thus necessarily dependent on external aid, we find ourselves, after marriage, subjected to the domination of men, just as though we were their household slaves. All our energies are confined to the home, where we are occupied in cutting out clothes, cooking and preparing food, making tea and boiling rice, sprinkling and sweeping, waiting on our husbands, and handing them basin and towel.

In any important business we are prevented from taking the least part. Should a guest arrive, we are obliged to make ourselves scarce and hide in our private apartments. We are not allowed to inquire deeply into any subject, and should we venture to speak at any length in reply to some argument, we are told that our sex is volatile and shallow.

My sisters, do you know where the fault lies that has brought us to this pass? It is all due to women’s lack of energy and spirit. We ourselves drew back in the first instance, and by-and-by that came to be regarded as an immutable rule of conduct.

Sisters, let us today investigate the causes which have led to this want of spirit and energy among women. May it not be because we insist on binding up our girls’ feet at an early age, speaking of their “three-inch golden lilies” and their “captivating little steps”? May it not be, I say, that this process of foot-binding is what has sapped and destroyed all our energy and spirit?

Today my blood is up, and I want to stir your blood as well, my sisters, and rouse you to a sense of your degradation. All women should, in the first place, refuse to adorn themselves with paint and powder, or trick themselves out in seductive guise, realizing that every human being has his own natural countenance given to him by God … In bringing forward this question of unbound feet, my sisters, I want you to realize that the result of having feet of the natural size will be to abolish the evils attendant on injured bones and muscles and an enfeebled constitution — surely a cause for unbounded rejoicing. …

If one day we succeed in wiping out this horrible blot on our civilization, our bodies will begin to grow stronger, and the steps we take in walking will become a pleasure instead of a pain. Having thus regained their natural energy, the whole sex will progress without difficulty, and an endless store of happiness will be built up for thousands of generations of women yet unborn.

But if you shrink from this reform, and wish to retain the pretty sight of small feet beneath your petticoats, you will remain imprisoned to the end of the chapter in the seclusion of your inner apartments, quite devoid of any strength of character, and it will be impossible to manifest the native brilliancy of the female sex. … Let there be thorough enlightenment on the subject of foot-binding, and progress in the matter of equal rights for men and women will surely follow.

That’s being on the right side of history.

In these last days of the decrepit Qing, prophets and revolutionaries with visions of a better tomorrow grew thick on the ground.

Qiu distinguished herself by her eloquence among Tokyo’s Chinese expatriates. Her powerful vision of women reborn as equals, and China reborn as independent and strong, must have had a bit of that personal-is-political vibe.

We sisters must learn to put aside everything we have preoccupied ourselves with before and focus on what we must do for our future — as if our former selves are dead and we have returned to this world in other forms of humanity.

-Qiu Jin in Tokyo, 1904 (Source)

Returning to her homeland, she found wage work as a teacher and her life’s work as her era’s most famous female activist: she artfully combined vocation and avocation by using her school as a cover to train revolutionary fighters.

And if contemporaries had been shocked by her foot un-binding and marriage un-doing, they hadn’t seen anything when it came to gender transgression. Qiu dressed in men’s clothes, rode horseback astride, trained in swordplay, and put out China’s first women’s journal. Her intimate friend — and possibly her lesbian lover — Wu Zhiying, whose biographical essays helped cement Qiu’s posthumous fame, remembered her friend as

forthright. When she happened to meet benighted ones, she would confront them head-on, leaving little room for compromise. People often held this against her. Some even compared her to Sophia [Perekovskaya] and Madame Roland. She would answer [to such appellations] without much thought.

(Quoted in Hu Ying, “Writing Qiu Jin’s Life: Wu Zhiying and Her Family Learning,” Late Imperial China, December 2004)

How it would have crowned the character arc for this once-hobbled housewife had the insurrectionary plot she masterminded with her cousin Xu Xilin succeeded! Maybe it was a little too operatic even for the fates to swallow.

In the event, the hour of the Manchus’ destruction would not arrive for another four years, although it would come at the hands of another secret-society plot.

But Qiu Jin’s got sniffed out by the authorities and busted pre-emptively; our day’s hero made a brave but only symbolic last stand at her school, then was taken into custody and tortured. She yielded a line of poetry, but would not implicate comrades.

“Autumn wind, autumn rain — they make one die of sorrow.”

Qiu Jin was publicly beheaded at Shaoxing. Within five years (and the realization of that revolution she had lost her life pursuing), memorial sites and statues were going up to her memory around China.


Shaoxing statue of Qiu Jin. (cc) image from jensimon7.

* She wrote poetry throughout her life; there are some selections of Qiu Jin poetry translated to English here.

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1911: Sugako Kanno, radical feminist

Add comment January 25th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1911, Japanese anarchist writer Sugako (“Suga”) Kanno was executed for the High Treason Incident — the only woman ever hanged for treason in Japan.

Radicalized by suffering rape in her teens, Kanno was known for her discomfiting engagement with Japan’s unsettled “woman question.”

More to the point, she was one of the handful of the treason trial subjects who was directly involved in the actual plot to assassinate the emperor. (Her diaries are full of anguish for those tried with her who were merely guiltly by association.)

Kanno is often subsumed in retrospective accounts by Shusui Kotoku, the more famous male anarchist who was also her lover.

But Kanno was also one of her country’s first female journalists, first notable feminists … a prolific writer of fiction and nonfiction, and a radical intellectual in her own right.

Her voluminous diaries in the run-up to her hanging are reprinted in Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan.

[E]ven among anarchists I was among the more radical thinkers [she told her interrogators]. When I was imprisoned in June 1908 in connection with the Red Flag incident I was outraged at the brutal behavior of the police. I concluded that a peaceful propagation of our principles could not be conducted under these circumstances. It was necessary to arouse the people’s awareness by staging riots or a revolution or by undertaking assassinations … Emperor Mutsuhito, compared with other emperors in history, seems to be popular with the people and is a good individual. Although I feel sorry for him personally, he is, as emperor, the chief person responsible for the exploitation of the people economically. Politically he is at the root of all the crimes being committed, and intellectually he is the fundamental cause of superstitious belief. A person in such a position, I concluded, must be killed.

Succinct. Little wonder she admired Russian assassin Sophia Perovskaya … and that she shared Perovskaya’s fate.

She mounted the scaffold escorted by guards on both sides. Her face was covered quickly by a white cloth … She was then ordered to sit upright on the floor. Two thin cords were placed around her neck. The floor-board was removed. In twelve minutes she was dead.

-newspaper account

Sugako Kanno is profiled more extensively in Treacherous Women of Imperial Japan: Patriarchal Fictions, Patricidal Fantasies.

She was back in the news in 2010 when a long-hidden secret message of hers surfaced, corroborating the orthodox historical take that while Kanno was up to her eyeballs in a real plot to murder the emperor, Shusui Kotoku was not part of it.

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1852: Fatimih Baraghani, Tahirih the pure

Add comment August 31st, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1852, the Persian poet Fatimih Baraghani was strangled with her veil in a Tehran garden for her women’s rights advocacy.

She’s best known as* Tahirih, the title meaning “pure one” given her by the Bab.

The moniker denoted the latter’s support of her in the Babi community that would eventually develop into the Baha’i faith. Tahirih was notable even within that outlawed sect for her staunch advocacy of female emancipation; in 1848, she dramatically unveiled in public at a conference to underscore her rejection of Islamic gender law.

Known for her intelligence as well as her militancy, she came under increasing police pressure. She was killed along with about 30 of her faith in the Persian crackdown on Babism after an assassination attempt on the Shah.

Her reported last words were modern-sounding indeed:

You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.

Most readily available material about this inspirational character tends to the devotional, as with this video series; Executed Today does not necessarily endorse the position that at her apparent death she actually only escaped to trans-dimensional hiding.

* Fatimih Baraghani is also known as Qurratu’l-‘Ayn, or Qurrat al-‘Ayn — “consolation of the eyes.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,God,History,Intellectuals,Iran,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Strangled,Women

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1793: Olympe de Gouges, a head of her time

9 comments November 3rd, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1793, Olympe de Gouges’ forward thoughts were removed from her shoulders in the Place de la Revolution.

Most recognizable today for her Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen* — a proto-feminist call for equality of the sexes issued in response to the day’s revolutionary but guy-centric Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizende Gouges was much more than a one-issue woman.

Fully engaged with the liberal intellectual currents of the Enlightenment, de Gouges spent the 1770’s and 1780’s in Parisian salon circles cranking out plays (over 40) and petitions, pamphlets and manifestos on animal welfare, poverty, the treatment of orphans, and ending slavery.

The latter issue, and not women’s rights, was the cause her contemporaries would have most associated with her.

But the natural-born gadfly didn’t pick her battles with injustice, and the Terror was a bad period to be indiscriminate. Like some of her Girondist associates, she risked the Paris mob’s wrath by openly opposing Louis XVI‘s execution — right in character, Olympe was down on the whole idea of the death penalty — and she carried principle into foolhardiness by printing broadsides savaging Robespierre.

Show trial time.

There can be no mistaking the perfidious intentions of this criminal woman, and her hidden motives … calumniating and spewing out bile in large doses against the warmest friends of the people, their most intrepid defender.

Misogynist condescension veined the prevailing interpretation of this misbehavior.

Olympe de Gouges, born with an exalted imagination, mistook her delirium for an inspiration of nature. She wanted to be a man of state. She took up the projects of the perfidious people who want to divide France. It seems the law has punished this conspirator for having forgotten the virtues that belong to her sex.

And strange to say, that condescension outlived Robespierre by centuries.

Only recently, as mainstream thought has (sort of) caught up with de Gouges, has the scope of her work (French link) attracted renewed appreciation, and Olympe been acknowledged an Olympian herself.

* Article 10: “Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum.” The work was dedicated to Marie Antoinette.

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