1829: Matej Tatarka, outlaw

Add comment October 22nd, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1829, the Slovak outlaw Matej Tatarka was hanged.

Tatarka — and most information about this character is in Slovak, as the links in the post will attest — was a brigand whose gang haunted the rugged wilds of the Tatras mountains straddling present-day northern Slovakia and southern Poland.

That was in the 1820s, a period when economic and political development in Europe were driving outlaws off the lands and into the wistful literature of a Romantic age. To consider an analogue: it was Ainsworth‘s 1834 novel Rookwood that elevated into myth the criminal career of Dick Turpin — a bandit who had hanged back in 1739.

Tatarka might have been the impetus for Slovakia’s simultaneous-to-Ainsworth recovery of its own hundred years’ dead knight of the road, Juraj Janosik.

Tatarka flashed into the emerging Slovak national consciousness in early 1829, when he escaped prison. Recaptured months later, the Habsburg empire’s sentence and execution of such a quaint figure could not fail to attract the interest of Slovak romanticists like Belopotcky, who helped circulate the fellow among artists by including Tatarka in his almanacs of Slovakian events.

It was so directly after the archaic Tatarka’s hanging that interest in Janosik revived in the 1830s that the causal inference is difficult to resist; Tatarka hanged at Liptovsky Mikulas in 1829 and the very next year a play about cheerful brigands opened in that same town. Poet Janko Kral, who celebrated Janosik in verse,* might have even witnessed Tatarka’s hanging.

* Kral’s Vignettes of Janosik in turn influenced his contemporary Jan Botto, whose Song of Janosik is 19th century literature’s definitive elegy for the bygone social bandit — concluding (with thanks to Sonechka for the translation)

When they hang me, the rain will mourn me
The moon and stars will shine for me
The winds will murmur over me, and the Tatras will resound with,
“Flown are thy golden days!”

Once they’d fixed on Tatarka’s predecessor, these Slovak writers couldn’t get enough; here’s Botto’s Death of Janosik in a dramatic reading:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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