1897: Michele Angiolillo, assassin of Canovas

Add comment August 20th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1897,* anarchist Michele Angiolillo was garroted in Vergara prison for assassinating the Spanish Prime Minister.

Angiolillo (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish) was an Italian expatriate in England who was so incensed by the procesos de Montjuic — a spasm of indiscriminate arrests and torture that followed an anarchist bombing in Barcelona — that he resolved to avenge the crime against his brothers.

“He read of the great wave of human sympathy with the helpless victims at Montjuich,” Emma Goldman wrote of Angiolillo. “On Trafalgar Square he saw with his own eyes the results of those atrocities, when the few Spaniards, who escaped Castillo’s clutches, came to seek asylum in England. There, at the great meeting, these men opened their shirts and showed the horrible scars of burned flesh. Angiolillo saw, and the effect surpassed a thousand theories; the impetus was beyond words, beyond arguments, beyond himself even.”

That named “Castillo” whose clutches rent so much flesh was the Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Canovas del Castillo, a statesman whose pioneering contribution to the art of manufactured consent was the turno system whereby two major Spanish political parties alternated turns in power/opposition and mutually connived to engineer ceremonial elections to that effect.

Upon his shoulders rested responsibility for the Barcelona torture regime.

And Angiolillo took it upon his shoulders to hold the executive to account.

Slipping into Spain with false papers, Angiolillo found Canovas taking a restorative visit to the Santa Agueda thermal baths and shot him dead on August 8.

As guards overcame the gunman — much too late — Canovas’s wife shrieked at him, “Murderer! Murderer!” The shooter gave her a bow and asked her pardon, for “I respect you, because you are an honorable lady, but I have done my duty and I am now easy in my mind, for I have avenged my friends and brothers of Montjuich.” (There are different versions of this bit of faux-politesse reported; suffice to say that in any form the remark was more pleasurable for Angiolillo to deliver than for the widow to receive.)

Official undesirables, by no means limited to anarchists who had survived Inquisition tactics in Montjuic, could scarcely contain their glee. New York anarchists avowed their support. Cuban and Puerto Rican separatists fretted only that the glory of the deed did not belong to one of their own. The Cubans specifically (and correctly) anticipated that the death of Canovas spelled the imminent recall of “Butcher” Weyler, the island’s strongman governor who had brutally crushed a rebellion there.**

His trial was undertaken within days, a mere formality considering that Angiolillo obviously shared the pride taken in his act by his overseas supporters. He justified the murder with reference not only to the torture and execution of anarchists at Montjuic, but of the execution of Philippines independence martyr Jose Rizal a few months prior.

* There are some sites proposing August 19 or 21. Period press reports are unambiguous that the correct execution date is August 20.

** William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal would publish a banner headline during the imminent Spanish-American War triumphantly asking readers, “How do you like the Journal’s war?” Its claim to ownership stemmed in part from Hearst’s relentless hyping of Weyler’s (very real) atrocities over the preceding years.

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1897: The Bicol martyrs of Philippines independence

Add comment January 4th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1897, eleven pro-independence Filipinos were shot at Manila’s Bagumbayan execution grounds.

These eleven,* together with one who was tortured to death on a prison brig and three others who died exiled to prisons elsewhere in the Spanish empire, comprise the Fifteen Bicol (or Bikol) Martyrs.

Spanish suppression of the unfolding Philippine Revolution was in full martyr-making; just days before, the same site had seen the execution of Dr. Jose Rizal. (A few days after this, it made still another batch of martyrs.)

“They died bravely,” a Filipino newspaper reported. “They died like those who are sustained by a sacred ideal.”

They were.

This date’s victims had been rounded up on September 16 at Naga City in the Bicol Region. It was the aftermath of Spain’s discovery of the anti-colonial Katipunan secret society, and mass arrests followed by torture-aided interrogation were the order of the day.

These would not, in the end, avail.

As a result, the “Quince Martires” are still commemorated in independent Philippines every January 4, which is a public holiday in Naga City … and commemorated throughout the year at that city’s Plaza Quince Martires, and its monument.


(c) image courtesy of Wally Ocampo.

* Rev. Fr. Gabriel Prieto; Gabriel’s brother, Thomas Prieto; Rev. P. Severino Diaz; Rev. P. Inocencio Herrera; Manuel P. Abella; Manuel’s son, Domingo I. Abella; Camilo Jacob; Florencio Lerma; Macario Valentin; Cornelio Mercado; and Mariano Melgarejo.

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1897: The Thirteen Martyrs of Bagumbayan

2 comments January 11th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1897, days after Philippine independence hero Jose Rizal was shot by the Spanish, 13 martyrs to the same cause suffered the same fate at the same execution grounds.

The 13 Martyrs of Bagumbayan (not to be confused with the 13 Martyrs of Cavite; it was a bakers’ dozen special on Filipino martyrs during the Philippine Revolution) consisted of:

They were casualties of Spanish pressure against the revolutionary Katipunan and/or its Rizal-rounded parent organization La Liga Filipina.

Not all this grab-bag of sacrificial patriots were really firebreathing revolutionaries. But the (serious) divisions among Filipino activists and revolutionaries were of small import to the Spanish, who (as the 13-strong martyr batches suggest) went in for the wholesale school of repression.

Perhaps most notable in this day’s batch was Francisco Roxas, one of the Philippines’ wealthiest men. Despite his liberal sympathies, he’d refused the more radical Katipunan’s shakedown for financing, only to have that organization vengefully place his name on a membership list the Spanish were sure to find. (Roxas maintained his innocence, but accepted his unsought martyr’s crown and never betrayed his fellows.)



Two photos of the 13 martyrs’ execution, from this page, with plenty of other undated executions.

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1896: Dr. Jose Rizal, father of the independent Philippines

9 comments December 30th, 2008 Headsman

December 30 is Rizal Day (Araw ng Kabayanihan ni Dr. Jose Rizal in Tagalog) in the Philippines, for the execution that date in 1896 of the great martyr of Philippine independence.

Also available free at gutenberg.org (the HTML version is very well-illustrated).

At Jose Rizal’s birth in 1861, it had been 340 years since Magellan had reached (and died at) the Philippines under the Spanish flag.

In Rizal’s century of romantic nationalism, independence movements stirred abroad in the Spanish Empire … too weak yet in the Philippines and elsewhere during the mid-1800s, but unmistakably prefiguring those national destinies that this day’s victim would come to embody.

Oddly, Jose Rizal was not even the most “revolutionary” of his farming family’s 11 children. That distinction went to older brother Paciano, who was under an official cloud before Jose hit adolescence for his relationship with the Gomburza priests, and would later serve as a brigadier general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo.

Jose was less strident — and more brilliant.

Though reputedly an adept fencer and crack shot with a pistol, the renaissance man’s gifts ran more to the life of the mind.

At the Universidad Central de Madrid, the University of Paris, and the University of Heidelberg, Jose Rizal studied ophthalmology and anthropology, and pursued the variegated artistic interests of his youth.

His two novels published from Europe, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo*, both criticized colonial authorities and their Vatican adjutants and struck nationalist chords that put him on the Spanish government’s watch list.

“I die without seeing the dawn brighten over my native land! You, who have it to see, welcome it — and forget not those who have fallen during the night!” -From Noli Me Tangere

Rizal also penned essays and editorials in a less symbolic vein, like this one skewering the stereotype of the lazy native by turning the mirror upon colonial agents who were waiting to prey on the fruit of native labor:

How is it strange, then, that discouragement may have been infused into the spirit of the inhabitants of the Philippines, when … they did not know whether they would see sprout the seed they were planting, whether their field was going to be their grave or their crop would go to feed their executioner? What is there strange in it, when we see the pious but impotent friars of that time trying to free their poor parishioners from the tyranny of the encomenderos by advising them to stop work in the mines, to abandon their commerce, to break up their looms, pointing out to them heaven for their whole hope, preparing them for death as their only consolation?

Man works for an object. Remove the object and you reduce him to inaction The most active man in the world will fold his arms from the instant he understands that it is madness to bestir himself, that this work will be the cause of his trouble, that for him it will be the cause of vexations at home and of the pirate’s greed abroad. It seems that these thoughts have never entered the minds of those who cry out against the indolence of the Filipinos.

(This essay and both novels are available in the original Spanish and in English at gutenberg.org, along with various translations of Rizal’s various fiction and non-fiction work.)

Fire-eating stuff in the eyes of the Spanish crown, but Rizal wasn’t the bomb-throwing type himself.

As the Philippine Revolution that would break the Spanish yoke on the islands took shape in the summer of 1896, Rizal applied to go to Spanish Cuba to treat victims of the yellow fever, and even explicitly disavowed the revolution.

Countrymen: I have given proofs, as well as the best of you, of desiring liberty for our country, and I continue to desire it. But I place as a premise the education of the people, so that by means of instruction and work they may have a personality of their own and that they may make themselves worthy of that same liberty. In my writings I have recommended the study of the civic virtues, without which there can be no redemption. I have also written (and my words have been repeated) that reforms, to be fruitful, must come from _above_, that those which spring from _below_ are uncertain and insecure movements. Imbued with these ideas, I cannot do less than condemn, and I do condemn, this absurd, savage rebellion, planned behind my back, which dishonors the Filipinos and discredits those who can speak for us. I abominate all criminal actions and refuse any kind of participation in them, pitying with all my heart the dupes who have allowed themselves to be deceived. Go back, then, to your homes, and may God forgive those who have acted in bad faith.

This stance on the revolution — the fact that he thought and wrote but never struck a blow — has engendered some controversy over the rightfulness of Rizal’s place in the national pantheon, as has his anti-clericalism and a disputed Vatican claim that Rizal retracted his criticisms of the Church before his death. One Spanish contemporary called Rizal “the Tagalog Hamlet.”

But mostly he is seen as the Spanish government at the time saw him, and as many revolutionaries did as well: as the lodestar of the Philippines’ national aspirations.

Rizal was arrested en route to his humanitarian assignment in Cuba and returned to Manila to face trial for sedition, rebellion and conspiracy, by which point, of course, the verdict was quite preordained. He was shot in the back by a firing squad, uttering the Christ-like last words “consummatum est” — “it is finished.”

Rizal’s execution, and the events preceding it, are depicted in this long excerpt of a 1998 film:


Jose Rizal’s execution.


Near the spot Rizal was actually executed, his martyrdom depicted in statuary.

There are any number of Jose Rizal tribute sites online. JoseRizal.ph and JoseRizal.info are two good places to delve deeper.

* A filibuster is a private military expedition, and more typically associated with Anglo American campaigns against the Spanish-speaking lands to the south, like those of William Walker.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Activists,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,History,Intellectuals,Occupation and Colonialism,Philippines,Shot,Spain,Treason

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