1782: Jose Antonio Galan, for the Revolt of the Comuneros

Add comment February 1st, 2018 Headsman

Ni un paso atrás, siempre adelante, y lo que fuere menester … sea!

-Jose Antonio Galan

On this date in 1782, Comunero rebel Jose Antonio Galan was executed in Bogota, New Grenada (present-day Colombia).

Spain’s New World precincts had risen in response to intensified taxation exacted by the empire’s modernizing reforms and particularly accelerated when Spain went to war against Great Britain in 1779; similar pressures likewise helped to trigger the 1780-1781 Tupac Amaru insurrection in Peru.

In New Grenada, pontaneous resistance to new viceregal edicts coalesced into one of the most serious rebellions of the Spanish colonial era — albeit one that aimed at reform, not revolution.

Shouting demands for tax reductions and greater local autonomy, a force of 10,000-20,000 rebels marched on Bogota in the spring of 1781, routing a column of government soldiers sent to disperse them and forcing authorities to terms that the latter had no intention of honoring. This is one of the oldest ploys: offer concessions to end the rebellion, then declare the concessions null and void as obtained under duress when the rebels are safely out of arms.

An illiterate mestizo peasant, our man Galan (the cursory English Wikipedia entry | the much more satisfactory Spanish) was not the principal captain of this rebellion but he seems to have exceeded them in foresight — for Galan and his more radical followers continued the revolt even after the main body of Comuneros went home satisfied with the government’s specious pledges. North of Bogota, Galan threatened a more Tupac Amaru-like experience, attracting a multi-racial lower-class force* which he turned against hacienda landowners.

Captured in October of that same year after reinforcements arrived at Bogota to begin laying down imperial law, Galan was so popularly admired that no free blacksmith would accept the contract to forge his irons — all the more reason for his exemplary sentence:

We condemn José Antonio Galán to be removed from jail, dragged and taken to the place of execution, where he is hanged on the gallows until dead; when lowered, his head is to be cut off, his body divided into four parts and passed through the flames (for which a bonfire will be lit in front of the scaffold); his head will be taken to Guaduas, theater of his scandalous insults; the right hand placed in the Plaza del Socorro, the left in the town of San Gil; the right foot in Charalá, place of his birth, and the left foot in the place of Mogotes; his descendants are declared infamous, all his goods are confiscated to the treasury; his house is to be pulled down and sown with salt, so that his infamous name may be lost and consigned to such a vile reputation, such a detestable memory, that nothing remains of him but the hate and fright that ugliness and crime inspire.

Despite the sentence, it’s said that an unskillful executioner not knowing how to hang his man shot him dead instead, so that he could proceed to the butchery.

* The main insurrection that had so meekly disbanded itself was heavily led by Creole local elites with a clear inclination towards deal-making.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Colombia,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason

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1526: Antonio Osorio de Acuña

Add comment March 23rd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1526, Spanish bishop Antonio Osorio de Acuña was beheaded in Simancas for supporting the revolt of the comuneros.

Acuna was in his sixties when the popular revolt rose in Castile.

Given his age and station, he might have been expected to exercise the bishopric of Zamora in the interests of the powers that be. Instead, he threw in with the rebels, even fearlessly leading men into battle.

If that sounds (rightly or wrongly) principled to you, you might be surprised that Acuna has generally been tarred as an opportunist.

Was it “opportunistic” to seize the vacant bishopric of Toledo when that city was under attack by royalists? Or was it a courageous and needful stroke to take the ecclesiastical power in hand and direct the church’s material resources to the cause?

It’s really all in how you look at it. Surely throwing dissenting priests into the dungeon was a little harsh, but then, it was wartime.

Acuna was caught fleeing for France after the revolt broke down, but his execution took four-plus years to arrange through the sluggardly church courts.

Still, he was executed — a fact which underscores the stakes he was playing for, and insured that he would never get the benefit of historiographic doubt.

This Spanish-language page summarizes Acuna’s pre-comuneros career of graft and careerism. This Castilian nationalist page likes him quite a lot better.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Spain,Treason

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1521: The Comuneros of Castile

1 comment April 24th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1521, the day after winning the decisive battle in the Castilian War of the Communities, royalist forces beheaded its three principal leaders in Villalar.

Even while the Spanish Empire was burgeoning in the New World, its home peninsula remained a house divided.

The Iberian Kingdoms of Aragon and Castile had joined in a personal union with the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in the late 15th century.

When the couple passed, it was not a given that their conjoined territory would become, as it did, the germ of a unified Spain.

Instead, the royal power couple’s crazy daughter was kept under lock and key while her infant son grew into the redoubtable Emperor Charles V. To exacerbate the local annoyance, Chas had continent-spanning territories, and ambitions; Spain was not his base, merely one of his provinces. (He’d grown up in Flanders. Ah, dynastic politics.)

The Emperor was only a teenager when his Castilian subjects rose against his levies, and against the paradoxical perception that the first true King of Spain was a foreign ruler.

A riot in Toledo mushroomed into a revolt, and everyone started drawing up sides. (Spanish link) Things went south when the commoner rebels started adopting an unwelcome radicalism (beyond rebelling against the king, that is), enabling the imperial rep (and future pope) Adrian of Utrecht to pull back into the royalist camp rebellious nobles increasingly fearful of expropriation at the hands of the firebrands.

After the balance of forces decided in Charles V’s favor, all that remained was to give the chop to the primary troublemakers. Juan Lopez de Padilla, Juan Bravo and Francisco Maldonado were obligingly captured after the Battle of Villalar.


The Execution of the Comuneros of Castile, by Antonio Gisbert. Segovian Juan Bravo allegedly asked to die first, so as not to witness the death of so good a knight as Padilla.

The demise of the “Caballeros Comuneros” pretty much squelched the revolt — although Padilla’s widow Maria Pacheco defended the rebel ground zero of Toledo for several months more.

The comuneros have lived on ever since as a symbol in literature and propaganda, among monarchists (for whom they are a symbol of perfidy), liberals (rather the reverse) and Castilian nationalists. Though “comuneros” was for a period an all-purpose smear against agitators in the Spanish dominions, April 23 (the date of the fateful battle) has been Castile and Leon Day, a public observance, since 1986.


This monolith in the Villalar town plaza commemorates the Comuneros. Image (c) Julio Alvarez, and used with permission.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Habsburg Realm,History,Language,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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