1817: John Cashman, Spa Fields rioter

Add comment March 12th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1817, a sailor named Cashman was hanged for the Spa Fields riots.

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, Britain’s economy had all but ceased to function for her lowest orders, burdened by spiraling food prices and cratering wages. An ample stock of radical agitators put the powdered wig set in mind of so many Robespierres, and here and there they were sacrificed on the scaffold.

Three years on, in the wake of a different protest against these unresolved crisis that was crushed with the same violence, Shelley would put the spirit of swelling desperation into verse in his “Masque of Anarchy”

Men of England, heirs of Glory,
Heroes of unwritten story,
Nurslings of one mighty Mother,
Hopes of her, and one another;

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you —
Ye are many — they are few.

What is Freedom? — ye can tell
That which slavery is, too well —
For its very name has grown
To an echo of your own.

‘Tis to work and have such pay
As just keeps life from day to day
In your limbs, as in a cell
For the tyrants’ use to dwell,

So that ye for them are made
Loom, and plough, and sword, and spade,
With or without your own will bent
To their defence and nourishment.

‘Tis to see your children weak
With their mothers pine and peak,
When the winter winds are bleak,–
They are dying whilst I speak.

‘Tis to hunger for such diet
As the rich man in his riot
Casts to the fat dogs that lie
Surfeiting beneath his eye;

‘Tis to let the Ghost of Gold
Take from Toil a thousandfold
More than e’er its substance could
In the tyrannies of old.

In November of 1816, activists convened a 10,000-strong meeting/rally at Spa Fields, Islington, demanding political reforms including universal male suffrage, the secret ballot, and annual general elections. After a petition to this same effect had been repeatedly rebuffed by the corpulent Prince Regent, a follow-up meeting on December 2 doubled the crowd, and doubled its anger. Balked of even so much as a hearing for their petition, the crowd rioted — incited in one instance by a demagogue thundering,

A man who receives one million a year public money gives only 5,000l. to the poor. They have neglected the starving people, robbed them of every thing, and given them a penny. Is this to be endured? Four millions are in distress; our brothers in Ireland are in a worse state, the climax of misery is complete, it can go no further. The Ministers have not granted our rights. Shall we take them? (Yes, yes, from the mob.) Will you demand them? (Yes, yes.) If I jump down, will you follow me? (Yes, yes, was again vociferated. It shall go no further.) (London Times, Dec. 3, 1816)

In a trice the crowd sacked the nearby establishment of a gunsmith called Beckwith for armaments, and a gentleman in the shop was shot in the fracas which is a painful place to be shot. He survived, but it’s for this attack that our principal will find his way to the gallows: the riot itself was restrained after some hours.

The tumult made witnesses uncertain to the detriment of the law but although four comrades were acquitted beside him, John Cashman was condemned thanks to a firm identification by the gunsmith’s apprentice. Cashman denied it in words calculated to stir the ire that had launched Spa Fields.

My Lord, —

I hope you will excuse a poor friendless sailor for occupying your time. Had I died fighting the battles of my country, I should have gloried in it, but I confess that it grieves me to think of suffering like a robber, when I can call God to witness that I have passed days together without even a morsel of bread, rather than violate the laws.

I have served my King for many years; and often fought for my country. I have received nine wounds in the service, and never before have been charged with any offence. I have been at sea all my life, and my father was killed on board the Diana frigate. I came to London, my Lord, to endeavour to recover my pay and prize money, but being unsuccessful, I was reduced to the greatest distress; and being poor and pennyless, I have not been able to bring forward witnesses to prove my innocence, nor even to acquaint my brave officers, for I am sure they would all have come forward in my behalf.

The Gentlemen who have sworn against me must have mistook me for some other person (there being many sailors in the mob): but I freely forgive them, and I hope God will also forgive them, for I solemnly declare that I committed no act of violence whatever. (Morning Chronicle, January 31, 1817)

Cashman’s spirits were less exalted come execution day, when the man was hauled in a cart to a gallows situated opposite the gunsmith’s outraged shop — in the presence of a vast and testy mob. Authorities feared a rescue attempt or an attack upon the execution team, a replay of the Porteous riot that had many years before lay Edinburgh in flames on the occasion of a provocative public hanging. If ever there was a man they hoped would do the submissive penitential act, it was this bluff sailor. Instead, Cashman bantered with onlookers, cheeky and fearless, stirring the pot.

The Rev. Mr. Cotton and Mr. Devereux now ascended the platform, and endeavored to bring the wretched man to a sense of his awful situation. Their benevolent exertions, however, were fruitless, he appeared callous to all religious exhortations, and pushing them aside, exclaimed, “Don’t bother me — it’s no use — I want no mercy but from God!”

The executioner then came forward, and put the rope round his neck. This operation excited new tumults, and fresh exclamations of disapprobation burst from the crowd. On the night cap being put over his face, he said, “For God’s sake let me see to the last; I want no cap.” In this he was indulged, and the cap was withdrawn. He now turned towards Mr. Beckwith’s house in an angry manner, and shaking his head, said, “I’ll be with you there” — meaning that he would haunt the house after his death. Again turning to the people, he cried “I am the last of seven of them that fought for my King and country: I could not get my own, and that has brought me here.” The executioner having quitted the platform, the unfortunate wretch addressed the crowd nearest him, and exclaimed: “Now you —— [bastards?] give me three cheers when I trip.” — “Hurra you ——.” And then, calling to the executioner, he cried out, “come, Jack, you ——, let go the jib-boom.” The few remaining seconds of his existence he employed in similar addresses, and was cheering at the instant the fatal board fell beneath his feet. The cap was then drawn over his face, and he died almost without a struggle. A dead silence instantly prevailed, which continued for a few moments.

The Sheriffs during the execution took their station in the window of a home opposite Mr. Beckwith’s shop.

After the lapse of about ten minutes the populace renewed the expressions of disgust and indignation towards every person who had taken a part in the dreadful exhibition. Cries of “Murder! Murder!” were distinctly heard from the innumeraboe mouths, followed by crimes of “Shame! Shame!” “Where are the conspirators? Why not hang them?” &c. Groans and hisses accompanied these allusions. (New York (USA) National Advocate, April 25, 1817, reprinting the Commercial Advertiser

In the end, the potential violent recrudescence did not come to pass and the angry onlookers dispersed to carry their foul tempers and unsatisfied grievances back to the workingmen’s haunts. Parliament paid the Spa Fields petitioners one last rude tribute by enacting just days later a Seditious Meetings Act barring any unauthorized assemblies “for the purpose … of deliberating upon any grievance, in church or state.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Public Executions,Rioting

Tags: , , , , , ,

295: Saint Maximilian, conscientious objector

Add comment March 12th, 2017 Headsman

March 12 is the martyrdom date (in 295) and annual feast date of Saint Maximilian of Tebessa, Christianity’s protomartyr of conscientious objectors.

A Christian from Numidia (the Mediterranean coast of present-day Algeria), Maximilian presented himself to the African proconsul for mandatory conscription and refused in the name of Christ to bear arms.

The proconsul remonstrated with him, and in their interaction Maximilian espoused a vindication of pacifism so clear and timeless that a Vietnam War-era Catholic antiwar organization would take the name Order of Maximilian. “I will not be a soldier of this world, for I am a soldier of Christ.”

The translation below is via Peace Be With You: Justified Warfare or the Way of Nonviolence.

Cassius Dion You must serve or die.

Maximilian I will never serve you. You can cut off my head, but I will not be a soldier of this world, for I am a soldier of Christ.

Cassius Dion What has put these ideas into your head?

Maximilian My conscience and He who has called me.

Cassius Dion (to Maximilian’s father) Put your son right.

Maximilian’s Father He knows what he believes, and he will not change.

Cassius Dion Be a soldier and accept the emperor’s badge.

Maximilian Not at all. I carry the mark of Christ my God already.

Cassius Dion I shall send you to your Christ at once.

Maximilian I ask nothing better. Do it quickly, for there is my glory.

Cassius Dion There are Christian soldiers serving our rulers Diocletian* and Maximian, Constantius and Galerius.

Maximilian That is their business. I also am a Christian, and I cannot serve.

Cassius Dion But what harm do soldiers do?

Maximilian You know well enough.

Cassius Dion If you do not do your service I shall condemn you to death for contempt of the army.

Maximilian I shall not die. If I go from this earth my soul will live in Christ my Lord.

Cassius Dion Write his name down … Your impetiy makes you refuse military service and you shall be punished accordingly as a warning to others. (Reading the sentence) “Maximilian has refused the military oath through impiety. He is to be beheaded.”

Maximilian God lives.

Unfortunately but unsurprisingly Maximilian’s historicity is quite questionable. He’s not to be confused with the remarkable and certainly real World War II martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe.

* 295 was a few years before Diocletian launched his great persecution of Christians.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Algeria,Ancient,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Military Crimes,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , ,

1858: William Williams, guano-freighter cook

Add comment March 12th, 2016 Headsman

From the Daily Alta California, April 20, 1858:

Thomas P. Lewis, master of the ship Adelaide, loading guano at Elide Island, off the coast of Lower California, was killed there on the 12th ult. by Wm. Williams, colored cook off that vessel. Three other vessels happened to be there at the time, and the officers united to hold a court, taking six sailors as part of the jury, and tried Williams, convicted him of murder, and then hanged him on the island.

Elide Island is a “naked rock, one mile in circumference” off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California which for a few years in the mid-19th century was heavily exploited for its guano supplies. 28,000 tons of bird crap later, the supply was tapped out.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,Mexico,Murder,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Uncertain Dates

Tags: , , , , ,

1943: David Cobb, the first U.S. serviceman hanged in World War II Britain

4 comments March 12th, 2015 Headsman

David Cobb, Private, Company C, 827th Engineer Battalion (Aviation), on March 12, 1943 achieved the milestone distinction of becoming the first U.S. soldier executed in Great Britain.

On December 27, 1942 — a mere 11 days after arriving in Britain — Cobb was ordered by a Lt. Robert Cobner to surrender his weapon when the private popped off to him during a routine inspection. Instead, Cobb shot Cobner dead.

He was hanged by the British executioner Thomas Pierrepoint at Shepton Mallet prison — a fortress dating to 1610 and still in use to the present day. The U.S. Army employed part of the prison during World War II to carry out 18 military executions; over half of these men were, like Cobb, black.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Military Crimes,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1690: Jack Bird, pugilist

Add comment March 12th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1690, the somewhat comic thieving career of Jack Bird came to an end at Tyburn.

Bird ran away from an apprenticeship to serve as a foot-guard under the Duke of Monmouth in the Low Countries, and “here,” says the Newgate Calendar, “he was reduced to such necessities as are common to men who engage themselves to kill one another for a groat or fivepence a day.”

Jack fled his enlistment and commenced a life of larceny.

His first experience wasn’t so good.

After stealing a bit of silk from an Amsterdam merchant, he was put to twelve months’ hard labor, and upon fainting away at the initial brutal work was punished by being chained to the floor of a flooding cistern for an hour where he was “obliged to pump for his life … [for] if the water had prevailed he must inevitably have been drowned, without relief or pity.”

Released back to Old Blighty, Bird’s want of fortune or employment prospects — and possibly England’s want of the flooding cistern punishment — led him to the road, where he robbed with mixed results.

On the one hand, the Newgate Calendar credits him with one of the more humiliating failures in the annals of crime, when he held up a former seaman who had lost both his hands. As Bird was obliged to frisk his fingerless mark to obtain his valuables, he brought himself close enough that the victim, a “boisterous old tar,” “suddenly clapped his arms about his neck, and spurring his own horse pulled our adventurer from his; then falling directly upon him, and being a very strong man, he kept him under, and mauled him with his stirrups.” Bird ended up in Maidstone jail, where he was lucky to have a hanging sentence commuted.

On the other hand, he’s credited with a folklorish encounter with “the mad Earl of P–“.* Ordered to deliver his purse, the Earl counteroffered: “I will box you fairly for all the money I have, against nothing.” Jack thought this a merry lark and accepted straight away. The Earl’s chaplain insisted on doing the honors in his master’s stead and Bird — clearly toughened up from his younger self — duly pummeled the divine. Honor-bound to a fault, the Earl paid up.

Our pugilist’s downfall was the gentler sex. Somewhat gentler, anyway. One night when out with a bawd, Jack and his date chanced across a passerby between Dutchy Lane and the Great Savoy Gate in the Strand whom they fell upon and robbed. The opportunistic footpads fled into the dark, but the woman was caught. Jack went to visit her at Newgate and maybe buy off her victim/prosecutor, but instead found himself arrested on suspicion of being her absconded male accomplice.

In a last act of gallantry, the 42-year-old outlaw made a guilty plea and successfully took all the blame on himself.

* From a sift through Wikipedia’s list of English Earldoms, I think this must refer to the notoriously violent Earl of Pembroke, who himself only avoided being hanged for murder by dint of availing the privilege of the Peerage. Whether the alleged boxing round has any basis in fact …

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

Tags: , , , , , ,

1421: The last Viennese Jews

1 comment March 12th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1421, a months-long campaign to purge Vienna of her Jews culminated with over 200 burned — and the rest of the once-thriving community either driven into exile or forced to convert.

Vienna had had a Jewish presence for centuries, centered on the Judenplatz.

The religious wars unleashed between Catholics and followers of the Czech reformer Jan Hus complicated the Jewish position. While not an unblemished relationship, Hussites were generally seen to be more sympathetic to Jews, and vice versa. Fellow-victims of Catholic persecution, Hussites recast the Biblical Antichrist with Papist rather than Jewish associations. Hussites openly looked to the Torah and Jewish divines like Rabbi Avigdor Kara for inspiration.*

That’s all well and good, but Vienna was emerging as one of the principal cities of the very Catholic Habsburg empire. (It was not yet the official seat: that would come later in the 15th century.)

To the perceived Hussite-Jewish alliance one must add consideration of Duke Albert V — later the Holy Roman Emperor Albert II — and his considerable debts, no small part of them held by Vienna’s Jewish moneylenders.

On Easter 1420, Albert pumped up a rumor that Jews had desecrated the Eucharist and ordered mass-arrests and -expulsions of Jews, complete with handy asset forfeiture. This was the onset of the Wiener Gesera, the Viennese persecution — as it was remembered later by remnants of the shattered Jewish community scattered abroad.

Pogroms attacking the Jews in Vienna (and elsewhere in Austria) ensued, culminating with the dramatic three-day siege of Vienna’s Or-Saura synagogue. That ended Masada-style when 300 trapped denizens committed suicide to escape forced baptism, and the last living among them torched the building from the inside. Its blasted remains were razed to the ground by the besiegers.**

Albert at that point finished off Vienna’s Jews by sending its final hardy (or foolhardy) members — 120 men and 92 women, it says here; different figures in the same neighborhood can be had elsewhere — to the stake.

“As the waters of the River Jordan cleansed the souls of the baptized, so did the flames which rose up in the year 1421 rid the city of all injustice,” read a Latin plaque erected on the site.

Jews were not permitted to return to Austria for centuries.

* “The Hussites pioneered a uniquely Czech form of philo-Semitism … the fascination, among a persecuted, dissident group, with the Jewish people and religion,” writes Eli Valley. “The Hussites were perhaps the first religious group in Christian European history to argue against the ban on Jews in craftsmaking and farming” and “unlike Martin Luther’s similar program in the sixteenth century, the Hussite movement did not predicate its kindness to Jews on the condition that they would be baptized.”

** The synagogue’s foundations have been only recently rediscovered, as part of the excavation for a Museum Judenplatz at the site. That museum has not necessarily been welcomed by the Viennese Jewish community it’s supposed to represent.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Austria,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Jews,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1975: Olga Hepnarova, tram spotter

Add comment March 12th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1975, 23-year-old Olga Hepnarova was hanged at Prague’s Pankrac Prison.

On July 19, 1973, a splenetic Hepnarova had lived out the road rager’s fantasy by barreling her three-ton Praga RN lorry into a tram stop* — killing eight elderly commuters.

Caught on the scene where her Truck of Death came to rest, Hepnarova’s authorship was not in question — only her culpability.

Three days after the bloodbath, she was telling police about her hatred of and alienation from her “brutal” fellow-beings, of beatings from her father and every form of humiliation and disrespect among her peers. This had been a lifelong theme with Hepnarova; the wounds of the world pierced her deeply, and she had spent time in a psychiatric institution after a teenage suicide attempt. In her short working life, she’d been unable to hold down any job for long. Truck-driving, tragically, was only her latest (and last) gig.

About the same time the tormented Hepnarova was owning her actions to the authorities, editors at two newspapers received nearly-identical letters she had posted before she made herself famous, touching much the same themes.

I am a loner. A destroyed person. A person destroyed by people… I therefore have a choice – to kill myself or to kill others. I choose – TO AVENGE MY PERSECUTORS. It would be too easy to leave this world as an unknown suicide. Society is too indifferent, rightly so. My verdict is: I, Olga Hepnarová, the victim of your bestiality, sentence you to the death penalty.

Doctors who examined her did not find her sufficiently off her rocker to have not known what she was doing, and the remorseless Hepnarova accepted the court’s verdict and sentence with equanimity. There are reports, however, that by the last day her placidity had crumbled and that she fought the execution team and had to be dragged, swooning, to the noose.

For this documentary, have your Czech handy. (And the same — or the online translator of your choice — for this Czech website about Olga Hepnarova’s life and legal case.)

Hepnarova was the last woman ever hanged in Czechoslovakia. (Or either of its death penalty-less successor states, if you want to count it that way.)

* The street where this shocking scene was enacted is today named for Milada Horakova, who preceded Hepnarova on Pankrac’s gallows.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Execution,Hanged,History,Milestones,Murder,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1939: Mikayil Mushfig, Azerbaijani poet

Add comment March 12th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1939, Azerbaijani poet Mikayil Mushfig was shot during Stalin’s purges.

The 30-year-old former schoolteacher was a socialist enthusiast as a youth in the 1920s; his work celebrated officially sanctioned subjects like virtuous peasants and workers, and modernization of the alphabet.

How far to go to put aside the backward old ways? Poets debated in verse whether the traditional instrument tar ought to be banned.

[O]ne poet, Suleyman Rustam, wrote, “Stop tar, stop tar, You’re not loved by proletar!” Another poet, Mikayil Mushfig, countered, “Sing tar, sing tar! Who can forget you!”

The tar wasn’t banned, but Mushfig’s enthusiasm for the Soviet project was deemed (however genuine) insufficient, “petit-bourgeois”.

The nightingale is sorrowing near the rose,
Though autumn comes-it lingers to depart,
Life, life! This cry of longing ever grows:
With love, with burning passion how to part?

With feelings new, you string your singing lute
My youthful pen, now just about to start!
O friends, give answer to my pain acute:
With this great seething fire flame, how to part?

Here‘s a pdf of some Mushfig poetry in Azerbaijani.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Artists,Arts and Literature,Azerbaijan,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Posthumous Exonerations,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Russia,Shot,Treason,USSR,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1960: Hoang Le Kha, NVA cadre

2 comments March 12th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1960, the former French colony of Vietnam made its last use of that most characteristically Gallic killing-machine: the guillotine.

Communist cadre Hoang Le Kha of the Vietnam People’s Army — the insurgent force also known at different times, in different manifestations, and through different eyes as the Viet Minh, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Vietcong* — earned the unpleasant distinction. According to a disappointingly truncated article (.pdf) from the Texas Tech University Vietnam Archive, the beheading took place notwithstanding an appeal pending before the International Control Commission, the multinational body charged with overseeing the supposedly temporary partition of Vietnam.

So, six years after Dien Bien Phu, what was independent Vietnam using this hated machine for?

Why, the same thing the French used it for: Terror.

The demonstrative device was redeployed in 1959 by Ngo Dinh Diem — a man whose obliviousness to blowback would soon land him in these pages — for exacting frightful, visible justice on subversive types.

According to that troubled former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara,

On May 6, 1959, Diem signed Law 10/59, which, in an ironic bow to the former French colonial masters, inaugurated the era of death by beheading, as Diem’s lieutenants traveled the countryside with mobile guillotines and platforms, looking for “communists.” Article 1 of Law 10/59 called for “sentence of death, and confiscation of the whole or part of his property” for anyone convicted of crimes ranging from murder to stealing farm implements and water buffalo. Article 3 proclaimed that anyone belonging to “an organization designed to help to prepare or to perpetrate” such crimes “will be subjected to the sentences provided for” — that is, they will also be beheaded. … Article 16 announced: “The decisions of the special military court are not subject to appeal, and no appeal is allowed to the High Court.”

He then cites Hanoi historian Tran Van Giau’s recollection of the period.

“In 1959, the most difficult period of the revolution in South Vietnam, the Ngo Dinh Diem puppet regime dragged the guillotine everywhere and carried out a bloody fascist repression.”

Though officially downplayed overseas, all-but-summary beheadings were intentionally publicized in Vietnam in an effort to cow rebels.

The Diem government had many public executions. A lot of people in the West denied that it happened but Diem made no bones about it. They advertised the executions and there were pictures in the paper of people getting their heads chopped off by a guillotine. … In 1959, when I went around with the map teams there were many military outposts where they summarily chopped off the heads of people they thought were Communists. They put the heads on stakes right in front of their outposts, sometimes with two cigarettes up the nostrils. They even invited people to take pictures of it. They were very proud of themselves.

It didn’t work.

As a result, the guillotine itself, an archaic French model, can be seen among other dreadful mementos of that horrific war at Ho Chi Minh City’s War Remnants Museum.

Right alongside it is a picture of Hoang Le Kha.

(Many images — some of them graphic or disturbing — available at this Vietnamese page.)

* This is a very hasty lumping-together; the terms are not synonymous.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Vietnam,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1289: Demetre II the Self-Sacrificer

4 comments March 12th, 2008 dogboy

On this date in 1289, Georgia’s King Demetre II, beholden to the Mongol regional ruler Arghun Khan, earned the name “Self-Sacrificer” (tavdadebuli) by giving himself up for execution in a bid to spare his nation the ruins which befell other resistors of Mongolian rule. He was tortured and beheaded for allegedly participating in a plot to overthrow the khan. The Georgian Orthodox church canonized Demetre a martyr and saint.

Demetre sat on the Georgian throne in tumultuous days, when its influence spanned only the eastern half of present-day Georgia. His nation’s position in the Caucuses Mountains between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea placed it at the center of action during the Dark Ages, crushed between European Crusades from the west, Mongolian military expansion from the north and east, and Turkish and Iranian influence from the south.

This left the so-called Caucasian isthmus a political boiler room from the 9th to 18th centuries, during which its dominion waxed several times, and waned even more spectacularly twice as often (a rather complete description is given by Ronald Grigor Suny in The Making of the Georgian Nation).

The Christian polygamist was a fifth-generation descendant of “golden age” Georgian ruler King David II, III, or IV (depends on who you ask), who earned the only name he would need as Georgian ruler for refusing to cede power to Byzantium and expelling the Seljuk Turks — considered the dreaded Muslim invaders — from Georgia, northern Armenia, and some of present-day Azerbaijan. King David the Builder united these nearby Transcaucasian cultures under a single banner shortly after 1100. A century later, in 1204, after the inception of the Byzantine Empire of Trebizond (now in western neighbor Turkey), Georgia reached its zenith under the reign of Queen T(h)amar the Great: from the ruins of Constantinople after the fourth Crusade, in the Eastern center of Orthodox Christianity, the dynastic Kingdom of Georgia entered its glory days.

Georgia at its height under Queen Tamar.

But such days did not last. T(h)amar’s son had no children when he fell fatally ill after a defeat in support of the persistent Crusaders. Within six decades, the Mongols would conquer Georgia at least twice, demanding gold in tribute to protect the once mighty kingdom from the Turks, and eventually other Mongolian factions. The nation’s religious heart felt more threatened by the Muslim onslaught than by the prospect of Mongolian overlords, and residents frequently took up arms alongside the Mongols to repel the southern invaders. Which is not to suggest that rebellion against the region’s ruler, the Mongolian Ilkhanate, was unknown.

Indeed, Demetre II was sired during just such a time and held the dubious distinction of taking power immediately after David VII (David Ulu, “the Senior”), whose efforts at revolt resulted in a three-way carving of Georgia. In 1262, David Ulu and his cousin David VI (David Narin, “the Junior”) ended their largely unsuccessful attempt to pry away the Mongol thumb after being forced to hole up in Kutaisi, the birth city of David the Builder. Ulu and Narin made peace with the Mongols and ruled the eastern and western partitions, respectively.

Their surrender was precipitated largely by the kidnapping of large portions of their families at the invaders’ hands, but it was a year too late to save Demetre’s mother. Three years after the surrender, in a show of pure subjugation, David Ulu agreed to aid the local Ilkahn — himself a subordinate to the Mongolian khan — in battle against the Golden Horde in the neighboring northern Azerbaijani region of Shirvan. Still attempting to exert his own pressure over the kingdom, David Ulu watched his domain shrink further as the southern province of Samtskhe broke away to submit more immediately to the Ilkahnate.

Coins dating to the reign of Demetre II. (From the National Bank of Georgia)

In 1270, David Ulu died, and his 11-year old son ascended to the throne, regency passing to Demetre’s uncle Sadun Mankaberdeli while Demetre was schooled at the court of the khan. At 18, Demetre took control. He had stood side-by-side under Mongol Buddhist-maybe-turned-Christian Abaqa Khan with his Armenian brethren (under the rule of Leon II [or III, depending on the counter]) in four years of service. He distinguished himself in a losing march on Syria at the Second Battle of Homs (1281), yet another Ilkhanate attempt at opening the Crusade routes. This curious cast at a connection with Europe — mirrored through the dispatch of the likes of ambassador Rabban Bar Sauma to the West — ended poorly for both sides: the Mongolians saw their influence diminish even further in the southern Caucases, but the subjugated, Christian Georgia still needed their services. Demetre maintained a relationship with the Mongols, the only way to retain a semblance of power in a time of flux in the region.

Demetre was a prolific breeder in his day, likely managing to produce more subsequent Georgian kings than any other ruler while earning the ire of the church thanks to a trio of wives. His polygamy was decried by another Georgian saint, Basil Ratishvili, who predicted the ruin of the nation from these ungodly acts. It started with a classic merger of adjoining empires through a marriage to a daughter of Manuel I of Trebizond, which by that time was on the rise as a political center (it would become a stop on Marco Polo’s famous wander in the years immediately prior to its moment in the sun at the start of the 14th century); two of their children shared the title of King of Georgia, David VIII taking the half formerly claimed by David Narin, Vakhtang III acquiring Tbilisi and the western side.

Demetre’s second wife was Solghar, a Mongol princess who produced a son and two daughters — including one who married Trebizond’s most dominant ruler, Alexius III. His third marriage yielded a two-time leader in King Giorgi [George] V, who was brought up at his grandfather’s court after Demetre’s execution; his ascent to the throne in 1299 was a brief affair, but when he returned to power in 1314, his campaigns rid Transcaucasia of all Mongolian traces, united the previous factions, eliminated opposing nobles, secured access to Georgian Orthodox sites in the Holy Land, connected Georgia with Egypt and the Byzantine Empire as well as the Republics of Genoa and Venice, introduced the precursor to the modern Georgian flag, and resulted in his informal titles “Giorgi the Brilliant”, “Giorgi the Magnificent”, and “Giorgi the Illustrious.”

For Demetre II, Demetre the Devoted, Demetre the Self-Sacrificer, none of those achievements would be known, thanks to Solghar, daughter of Bugha Chingsang. Chingsang served as prime minister under Arghun Khan, who seized power in 1285 from his uncle after accusing the latter of poisoning Arghun’s father, Abaqa. Bugha’s attempted ouster of the new Khan ended with a resounding defeat, and Bugha and several co-conspirators were beheaded on January 17, 1289. Immediately, the Khan called on Demetre, who was advised by many that an ill fate awaited him if he complied. It is questionable whether Demetre was in any way complicit in the plot, but it is not questionable that Demetre knew what would happen at the court of Arghun Khan. The regional patriarch/bishop Catholicos Abraam reportedly offered the only support:

If you sacrifice your own life for your nation, we, the bishops of this land, will bear your sins, and will pray to God that you be numbered among the holy martyrs. For the Lord Himself said, Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And if it is good for a man to lay down his life for just one neighbor, how profitable is it for a man to die for the sake of many?

Demetre agreed, taking Abraam, the priest Mose, his sons David (later VIII) and Giorgi (later V), and several other members of his court. The Georgian Orthodox church officially presents the events thusly:

At the ordu [the Khan’s camp in Azerbaijan] the Mongols could find no fault in the young Georgian king, but they imprisoned him nevertheless. Then a group of Georgian faithful forced their way into the prison to see him and offered to help him escape. The king was deeply moved by their compassion, but nevertheless he told them, “I knew from the beginning the death I would suffer, and I offered my life for this nation. If I escape now, the nation will be destroyed. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:36).”

The khan ordered his execution. Fully prepared to meet death, King Demetre prayed fervently, received the Holy Gifts, and gave up his soul to the Lord. Those present witnessed a divine miracle: the sun grew dark and an ominous gloom enshrouded the whole city.

The holy relics of the Royal Martyr Demetre were guarded until the catholicos and the priest Mose secretly retrieved the body and, with the help of a group of Tbilisi fishermen, returned the king to his homeland. He was buried in Mtskheta, in the burial vault of his forefathers at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.

O Holy Demetre, martyr and king, pray to God that our souls may be saved!

Whether the souls of those who pray to the doomed Demetre II are saved or not, the Georgian Orthodox saint lives on largely through his efforts to revive his nation’s church and restore its places of worship. One of his more enduring acts as sovereign was to order the building of the Metekhi Church in Tbilisi on the site of an extant 5th-century church; its transformation from church to jail to theater and back to church as the fortunes of Georgia swayed may be one of the more apt reflections of the nation itself, if not the most flattering.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Georgia,Guest Writers,Heads of State,History,Martyrs,Mongol Empire,Mongolia,Myths,No Formal Charge,Notably Survived By,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Popular Culture,Power,Royalty,Torture,Treason

Tags: , , , ,


Calendar

September 2018
M T W T F S S
« Aug    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!


Recent Comments

  • KYGB: Richard, you need to stop bothering Kevin. You have a website with a forum on it. Go back to your own sandbox...
  • Be: RIP to the five year old murdered and shame on JCF to infer that her death was a sham perpetuated by the white...
  • Eric: Absolutely incredible, not much difference to someof the landlords today? https://youtu.be/hDG_hl_qZKw
  • Kevin Sullivan: Richard, I’m responding to this not because i have to respond, but simply to let the facts...
  • Petrut: Or maybe he just had enough with you… You don’t like him and what he has to say, then stop...