1822: Francisco Javier de Elio

Add comment September 4th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1922, Spanish royalist Gen. Francisco Javier de Elio was garroted in Republican Valencia.

Elio (English Wikipedia link | Spanish) was a career Spanish officer noted for being the last Viceroy of the Rio de la Plata in South America.

The Rio de la Plata forms the border between present-day Uruguay and Argentina, and by the time Elio self-proclaimed his viceregal rank, the May Revolution had confined Spanish authority to Uruguay.* He maintained the Spanish monarchy’s power in Montevideo until revolutionaries routed his forces at the Battle of Las Piedras** and Elio had to return to Spain.

This was just in time for the Spanish crown, as that country’s liberals had answered the chaos of the French invasion by promulgating in 1812 one of Europe’s most forward-thinking constitutions. King Ferdinand VII wholly repudiated this constitution upon his re-enthronement at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and this soon led to yet another liberal revolt in 1820† and yet another French invasion.

Elio, who administered Valencia with a rough hand for Ferdinand, was such a ferocious monarchist that revolutionaries took him prisoner in the 1820-1823 “Liberal Triennum”. The attempt by a group of mutinous cannoniers in 1822 to place Elio at their head (with or without the general’s foreknowledge) led to his condemnation by a military court.

The September 26 London Times preserves two accounts by opposing partisans of Elio’s end.

EXECUTION OF GENERAL ELIO

The infamous General Elio has at length suffered the pain of death (by the garotte). His execution took place this morning at 11 o’clock, after having been publicly divested of his rank and honours. The General was not condemned on account of his conduct as Captain General, but in consequence of the revolt of the cannoniers who occupied the fort of Valencia, on the 30th of May. Being tried before an ordinary Court Martial on the 2d of June, at which General Villa-Campa presided, he was on the 27th of August adjudged to the most ignominious death known to the Spanish laws, that of the garotte. This sentence, submitted to the Auditor of War to be revised, was not only approved, but the Auditor demanded its immediate execution, comformably to the martial law of the 17th of April, 1821. The arrival of the Brigadier Espina, who was provisionally invested with the military command of this district was regarded as the signal for the execution. If it had been retarded, we should have broken into the prison, and ourselves have conducted the victim to the scaffold. The people maintained that demeanour which becomes an heroic nation, and accompanied the culprit to the scaffold with shouts of — ‘To death with Elio! his blood will cement the constitutional edifice.’

And a contasting version …

The scaffold on which General Elio was strangled at Valencia, on the 4th instant, was erected close to a delightful garden which belonged to him when he was all-powerful in that town. It appears that this spot was selected in order that his tragical end might be marked by a circumstance which was calculated to make him regret life. One of our journals, which is at all times distinguished for its violence, affirms that General Eio, previously to walking to the scaffold, knelt down and asked pardon of the authorities who were present, for all the mischief he had occasioned — this is wholly false. Above 12,000 persons were witnesses of the firmness which he showed on this sad occasion, and of the last words which he pronounced. The General protested his innocence in the face of God and man; he declared that he had only carried into execution the orders which he had received from the Government during the period of his command; that he was utterly unconnected with the revolt of the cannoniers; and, finally, that he begged of God to pardon his murderers, as he himself forgave them. ‘I wish,’ he added, ‘that my blood may be the last which is shed in Spain. Spain will one day do justice to the purity of my intentions, and repeat the cry which is now my last prayer — ‘”Long live the King and religion.”‘

* When a Spanish colony, Uruguay was known as the Banda Oriental.

** The date of this decisive battle, May 18 (1812), is still kept as a Uruguayan national holiday.

† Guess what happened to the guy who led that 1820 revolt.

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1823: Rafael Riego, Spanish liberal

Add comment November 7th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1823, Rafael Riego was hanged in Madrid.

Riego was a leading exponent of the supine cause of Spanish liberalism during the 1810s reign of the feckless Ferdinand VII, who had reversed Spain’s extraordinarily progressive 1812 constitution.

On the first day of the 1820s, he led an army mutiny that forced the king to restore that constitution.

Feckless Ferdinand went along with the new sheriff, and the result was a three-year interregnum of constitutional government — the Trienio Liberal.

But the Bourbon king was only too pleased to solicit the aid of Europe’s counterrevolutionary monarchs.

In 1823, a French expedition — the “hundred thousand sons of St. Louis — invaded Spain at Ferdinand’s invitation and swiftly crushed Riego’s liberals. Then Ferdinand crushed Riego himself.

Induced like Cranmer to sully his reputation by recanting in the vain hope of a pardon (and by starvation and other coercions), Riego was instead stripped of military honors, given a summary trial, and ignominiously drug to the gallows in a basket.


Text of a propaganda leaflet that circulated in England following Riego’s execution. (Source)

Post-Riego, Spain’s liberal and absolutist factions still had years of bloody fighting and martyr-making yet to go.

And we’re not just talking 19th century. There’s a Himno de Riego, which was also the anthem of the 1930s Spanish Republic that Franco laid low.

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1824: Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico

Add comment July 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1824, the Mexican officer who had made himself emperor was shot at the village of Padilla.

Iturbide‘s military acumen saw him through a meteoric rise in the service of what was then New Spain.

Iturbide rejected an early offer of generalship from the pro-independence leader Hidalgo in favor of spending the 1810s ably quashing the insurgency.

In a bizarre twist of fate, however, it would be Iturbide who would himself cement Mexican independence.

En route to try to finish off the last major rebel leader, Vicente Guerrero, Iturbide caught wind of the recent del Riego liberal revolt back in the mother country,* which had triggered civil war in Spain.

For the conservative royalist general, heir himself to a Basque noble lineage, the potential collapse of Bourbon authority in Spain raised the frightening specter of social upheaval.

All Iturbide’s work killing guerrillas for the sake of public order could come to naught if the Spanish monarchy collapsed or ceased projecting its power overseas … and then who knew what would emerge from the resulting power vacuum in Mexico?

So Iturbide cut a deal with Guerrero to consummate the Mexican War of Independence by separating from Madrid on an essentially conservative basis — a political breakaway without a social revolution. Independent Mexico would make nice with the Spaniards already living there, keep Catholicism as the official state religion, and get itself a constitutional monarchy of its own to insulate itself from the chance outcomes of continental politics across the ocean.

And when Iturbide marched into Mexico City and encountered a crowd conveniently imploring him to take the throne, well, who was he to deny them?

And so Iturbide transitioned smoothly from scourge of the revolution to its man on horseback,** immediately splintering the coalition that lifted him to power.


Contrary to this allegorical take on Iturbide’s coronation, he crowned himself — Bonaparte-like.

Only months after his July 1822 coronation, Iturbide shuttered Congress and began arresting the opposition. Meanwhile, Ferdinand VII had emerged from the Spanish fray as the (momentary) winner, leaving his upstart former subjects without international support.

A general that the freshly-minted emperor had himself had promoted, one Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna — yes, the Alamo guy — declared against Iturbide by the end of 1822, and come the following spring, Agustin I was a European exile, in the paradoxical position of drawing a pension from Mexico while also officially considered a traitor and outlaw.

In Tuscany and then England, Iturbide published an autobiographical justification — Statement of Some of the Principal Events in the Public Life of Agustín de Iturbide — then finally took up a much-asked-for invitation from Mexican conservatives to return and become the savior of his country against internal breakdown and a potential Spanish attack.

Founded on vainglory, this expedition was destined for fiasco; within five days of touching Mexican soil, Iturbide was serenading a firing squad with the last words, “Mexicans! I die with honor, not as a traitor; do not leave this stain on my children and my legacy. I am not a traitor, no.” Apparently they were serious about that injunction never to return.

When in Mexico City, relive happier times for our day’s subject at the Palace of Iturbide where he briefly maintained himself in the purple.


Iturbide’s palace. Creative Commons image from patricio00.

And do think twice about styling yourself Emperor of Mexico, since the only other person to claim that title also ended his reign in front of a firing squad.

* Ironically, it was a body of soldiers assembled for a reconquista of Spain’s independenceminded New World possessions that enabled del Riego to mutiny.

** Iturbide paused in the revolution’s good graces just long enough to design the Mexican flag.

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1816: Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Colombian Renaissance man

Add comment July 6th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1816, Jorge Tadeo Lozano was executed by firing squad in a Bogota temporarily reconquered for the Spanish crown.

Scientist, journalist, essayist and man-about-town Lozano (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) sprang from the stock of New World Spanish nobility.

He studied literature, philosophy, medicine, chemistry, mathematics, mineralogy, botany; he served in the Spanish military and traveled in Europe; he returned to his native New Granada, where he became drawn into the liberal ferment with a celebration of the emerging bourgeoisie obviously contextualized by his scientific education.

Money, like the blood of a body, gives life and shares with each and every one proportionally the movement and robustness that it needs to freely comply with the action that it must complete as a member of society … This inistrumental motive of wealth can not be hushed, if it is to produce an effect … in the manner of electric flow [it] passes through bodies, leaving them with a glowing heat, also enlivens the arms and hands through which it passes… (Studies in the History of Latin American Economic Thought)

As a member of the constituent assembly, he helped draft an 1811 constitution that acknowledged the authority of the Spanish crown, but not of its viceroy, creating (so its signers thought) a new commonwealth state. Lozano thereupon became the first President of Cundinamarca, essentially the forerunner to the present-day Colombian presidency.

Since Lozano turned out to be a better botanist than executive, he resigned the office after a few months.

Only after Europe had sorted out the Napoleonic wars did the Spanish free up the resources for a brutal reconquista of their errant provinces. But when it came, under a general with the macho nickname El Pacificador, it had intellectuals just like Lozano right in its sights.

Even though he’d been back at lower-profile scribbling since his stint at the top, Jorge Tadeo was just the sort of guy Pablo Morillo targeted for demonstrative executions over the second half of 1816.

Thus perished the persons of the greatest wisdom, the most virtuous and wealthy, in New-Granada. The object which Morillo had in view, was to extinguish intelligence, remove men of influence, and destroy property, so that, in future, there should be none capable of originating or directing another revolution. (Source)

Thus perished Lozano this date, along with another intellectual, Miguel Pombo (Spanish link) among a whole train of patriotic martyrs over the months of Morillo’s rule.

The policy of killing these men to deprive New Granada of revolutionary potential was, however, an abject failure: just three years after these men were shot as traitors to that distant European line, Simon Bolivar detached Colombia from Spain at the Battle of Boyaca.

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1831: Gen. Jose Maria Torrijos y Uriarte and his liberal followers

2 comments December 11th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1831, one of the great Spanish liberal officers was shot along with dozens of comrades attempting to spark a revolution.

It was a dark time for Spanish liberals under the autocratic rule of Ferdinand VII.

Jose Maria Torrijos y Uriarte (Spanish Wikipedia page) was one of the heroes of that downtrodden cause from way back, a noble-born officer who had been made a captain at the precocious age of 13 and been around for all of Spanish liberalism’s greatest early 19th century tragedies.

He was in Madrid for the ill-fated uprising against its French occupiers in 1808, and was captured en route to aid Pedro Velarde‘s last stand.

Lucky for Torrijos, and luckier still: as a prisoner, he might have been in line for the ensuing mass execution, but an aide-de-camp of General Murat let him go in gratitude for chivalrously preserving a French officer from the Spanish mob.

A few years after the Peninsular War, with independent Spain yoked to a reactionary Bourbon-backed monarchy, Torrijos’ dangerous opinions made him a prisoner once more.

This time, he was liberated by the brief ascendancy of fellow-traveler Rafael del Riego. This effusion, too, was destined for grief upon the scaffold; once more, Torrijos escaped, this time to exile.


The execution of Rafael del Riego

Pushing forty and a bit emptyhanded for all his strivings, Torrijos’ restless soul was not satisfied knocking about the shores of England. He soon assembled a company of like-minded folk (such as Robert Boyd) to make another bid at liberating Iberia. But he was induced to put ashore under the misapprehension of support, and promptly rounded up.

The Malaga governor’s message to Madrid requesting instruction returned the simple order: shoot them all.* (Spanish link)


El fusilamiento de Torrijos y sus compañeros en la playa de Málaga, by Antonio Gisbert

“A la muerte de Torrijos y sus compañeros”
by José de Espronceda (from here (pdf))

Helos allí: junto a la mar bravía
cadáveres están ¡ay! los que fueron
honra del libre, y con su muerte dieron
almas al cielo, a España nombradía.

Ansia de patria y libertad henchía
sus nobles pechos que jamás temieron,
y las costas de Málaga los vieron
cual sol de gloria en desdichado día.

Españoles, llorad; mas vuestro llanto
lágrimas de dolor y sangre sean,
sangre que ahogue a siervos y opresores,

y los viles tiranos con espanto
siempre delante amenazando vean
alzarse sus espectros vengadores.


Monument to Torrijos at Malaga’s Plaza de la Merced.

* Around 50 or so were shot. The exact figure is differently accounted by various sources; I have been unable to determine if any among them are authoritative.

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1831: Mariana de Pineda Muñoz, Spanish liberal

2 comments May 26th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1831, Mariana Pineda died for her flag.

The problem, in the eyes of feckless royal troglodyte Ferdinand VII, was that Pineda’s flag stood for “Equality, Freedom and Law.”

The widowed 27-year-old (English Wikipedia page | the much more detailed Spanish) had become a devotee of the liberal Zeitgeist that contended in post-Napoleonic Europe with absolutism.

Spain had had the briefest of flings with liberal government in 1812, only to have Ferdinand reverse Spain from one of the most progressive governments in Europe to one of its most backward. The man even reintroduced the Spanish Inquisition.

By the 1830’s, tensions between constitutional liberals and unreconstructed royalists had Spain on the point of civil war, which would in fact erupt upon Ferdinand’s death two years hence.

Mariana Pineda swam with liberal circles, even helping a death-sentenced cousin escape prison. In 1831, the authorities found a flag in her home embroidered with the “Equality, Freedom and Law” slogan.

Pineda refused to name accomplices, and Ferdinand threw the book at her. Pineda remained adamant.

Before suffering public garrotting in her native Granada (while the offending flag was burnt before her), Pineda declared,

“The memory of my ordeal will do more for our cause than all the flags in the world.”

Her prediction wasn’t so far off.

Pineda’s posthumous repute as heroine has migrated from the particular cause of her day to the general pantheon of Spain. These days, a Granada public holiday (festivities held in the square named in Pineda’s honor) commemorates her sacrifice. Her name is also a byword for the struggle of women to win full political participation (there’s a Centro Europeo de Las Mujeres “Mariana de Pineda”). And martyred playwright Federico García Lorca turned her story into a theatrical classic — his first successful play.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Garrote,History,Martyrs,Public Executions,Spain,Strangled,Treason,Women

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