Satanic mill? Cyfarthfa Ironworks Interior at Night, by Penry Williams (1825).
This vital node of the burgeoning industrial revolution made princes of its masters, and paupers of its subjects. “The town of Merthyr Tidfil was filled with such unguided, hard-worked, fierce, and miserable-looking sons of Adam I never saw before,” Thomas Carlyle would write in 1850. “Ah me! It is like a vision of Hell, and will never leave me, that of these poor creatures broiling, all in sweat and dirt, amid their furnaces, pits, and rolling mills.” The broiling creatures’ surplus labor lives on to delight the modern visitor in the form of Cyfarthfa Castle, the spired mansion thrown up in the 1820s by the prospering ironmaster William Crawshay II. (His successor in the role, Robert Thompson Crawshay, would be known as the “Iron King of Wales”.)
For workers, precarity sat side by side with toil and in 1831 the pressure of contracting wages and constricting debt triggered a protest that metastasized into rebellion. The Merthyr Rising saw the town completely overrun by the lower orders, flying the red flag in perhaps the earliest deployment of this now-familiar symbol as a banner of the proletariat.
They sacked the debtors’ court and fed its obnoxious bonds to a bonfire, and formed a militia that fought off a couple of attempted state interventions before 450 troops occupied Merthyr Tidfil on June 6 to finally quell the revolt. Two dozen protesters were killed in the associated fighting.
Twenty-six people were arrested and tried for various crimes associated with the Merthyr Rising, but amid the various imprisonments and transportations-to-Australia, Westminster perceived the need for the sort of message that only hemp conveys. Two men, Lewis Lewis (Lewsyn yr Heliwr) and our man Richard Lewis (Dic Penderyn) drew death sentences for stabbing a soldier with a bayonet. The former man’s sentence was downgraded to penal transportation when a policeman testified that he’d been shielded from a dangerous moment in the riot by Lewis Lewis. That left just the one guy and never mind a widespread belief in the town that Dic Penderyn was innocent of the crime.
To latter-day descendants, both those of blood and those of insurrectionary spirit, Dic Penderyn is a seminal working-class martyr. Commemorations, and efforts to officially exonerate him, continue down to the present day.
On this date in 1748, three instigators of a riot hanged in an Amsterdam public square, while worse fates befell those who came to see it.
It was only a few days earlier that the Pachtersoproer (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) had torn apart the homes of nineteen tax collectors and magnates in the capital. These violent protests against inequitable taxation and oligarchical power had actually begun in Friesland and Groningen, the northernmost provinces of the Low Countries, before spreading to Amsterdam.
Marretje Arents (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch), a fishmonger supporting four children while her husband was abroad as a soldier in the East Indies, was seen on that Monday, June 24th, clad in a distinctive red chintz exhorting rioters to wreak revenge on the grandees and helping to ransack at least one house. According to the chronicle (1740-1752) of Abraham Chaim Braatbard, she spat at one agent,
Today we are the boss and tomorrow we will come to you at the town hall. Then we will see what we will do with all of you, gentlemen land-thieves … [then, lifting her skirt] Now you can clean my ass, because that’s all I have left for you.
This bold and public flaunting of an insurrectionary intent was not accompanied by a political achievement more lasting than a couple of days’ looting. When Arents simply turned up on June 27th at her market stall to go about her usual business just as if she hadn’t been trying to overturn it all three days before, she was arrested for sedition. Of course, there must have been hundreds of others who either weren’t identified or weren’t deemed worth making an example of who did go right back to their normal lives, nursing their grievances in customary silence.
Marretje Arents’s voice is heard in the annals, at the cost of her life.
By the next day at noon, she and two other perceived leaders of the disturbance, Mat van der Nieuwendijk [see comments] and Pieter van Dordt, were publicly hanged at the Waag op de Dam.* Over the brattle of drummers charged with drowning her incitements to the crowd, she was still heard to keep out her cries for rebellion until the moment the rope closed her throat.
Revenge, my dear citizens, assist me. For you now let me die so shamefully, while I have not fought for myself. I did it for the whole country, against the tyranny of the tenants, who tormented us citizens and forcibly took our money and good for the lease.
She would not have had to outlive her hanging more than a few minutes to see it. As the next of the riotous “captains” was strung up, a disturbance broke out in the packed square. It’s not certainly recorded whether this was a wave of sympathy responding to Marretje Arents, or the chance surge of a large crowd jostling for position, or something else besides — but suddenly the host of onlookers stampeded, crushing their fellows underfoot and pushing others into the Amstel River. Braatbard guessed that some 200 souls might have lost their lives for the sake of this triple execution … but whether 3 lives or 203, the important thing to the Low Countries’ rulers was that the Pachtersoproer did not re-emerge.
* The Waag, or weigh-house, served the bustling commercial district that grew up around Dam Square at the heart of Amsterdam. It was demolished in 1808 under French occupation.
Painting of Dam Square from the late 1600s, by Dutch master Gerrit Berckheyde. The weigh-house in the middle of the square presents an obviously suitable landmark for an affair like a public execution; just as well, since by this time its original function had been ceded to a new and larger weigh-house which still survives as the city’s venerable Waag. It was in the latter building that the dissection was performed that Rembrandt immortalized in The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.
The manufacture of silk fabrics was highly protected, but protection did not bring prosperity to the workers. The condition of the weavers of Bethnal Green and Spitalfields was deplorable, leading to constant disturbances. The destruction of looms, and the cutting of woven silk capital offences became frequent.
On December 20 three men were executed at Tyburn for destroying silk-looms. Their execution had been preceded on the 6th by that of two others, hanged at Bethnal Green for cutting woven silk. In connection with this execution at Bethnal Green a grave question arose. The sentence passed on the condemned men was that they should be taken from the prison to the usual place of execution, but the Recorder‘s warrant for the execution directed they should be hanged at the most convenient place near Bethnal Green church. The variation of place was directed by the King. A long correspondence ensued between the Sheriffs and the Secretary of State. The point raised was whether the King had power thus to vary the sentence. The condemned men were respited in order that the opinion of the judges might be taken. It was unanimous that the King had the power of fixing the place of execution, and the men were executed at Bethnal Green, as directed. There was great apprehension of tumult, and not without cause, for in the Gentleman’s Magazine we read: “The mob on this occasion behaved outrageously, insulted the Sheriffs, pulled up the gallows, broke the windows, destroyed the furniture, and committed other outrages in the house of Lewis Chauvette, Esq., in Spitalfields.” The mob dispersed only on being threatened with military execution.
It was observed that when the Recorder next passed sentence of death, he omitted direction as to the place of execution.
“Island of Ease” the name means in Malay — but inmates at the experimental prison colony established there in 1960 found it anything but. Singapore’s 1959 elections, its first under self-rule within the British Empire, brought in the People’s Action Party. The PAP still rules Singapore to this day, famously tough on crime.
Ever thus. One of PAP’s objectives in 1959 was to root out a plague of gangsterism in the city, and to that end it instituted the Pulau Senang settlement on the virtually uninhabited 81-hectare coral island. It had a classic penitential vision: hard-core underworld gangsters sweating away their appetite for crime, learning hard work and practical trade skills, emerging reformed — “every violent lawless man could find their own way back to decent society given a proper chance and hard work,” in the words of its superintendent, Irishman Daniel Stanley Dutton.
And it had its moment in the sun: during the colony’s short life, several hundred of its inmates were found sufficiently rehabilitated for release.
But obviously not every resident was a success story, for on July 12, 1963, a confrontation over laboring conditions on the Isle of Ease spiraled into a mutiny that saw the inmates hack Dutton himself to death with the tools he’d given them to save their own souls. Two of Dutton’s assistants were also slain in the rising, and before gendarmes arrived to restore order the inmates had torched and sacked most of the colony infrastructure that they and their predecessors had painstakingly constructed over the preceding three years.
The ensuing mass trials saw a shocking 18 men capitally convicted and eventually hanged on a single date: October 29, 1965. (Twenty-nine others received lesser prison sentences for mere rioting convictions.)
Dutton’s untimely end also meant the end of his project, which was retired from the Singapore penal system in 1964. Today, it’s a military testing grounds and live-fire range.
Besides the obvious consequences — national humiliation, political executions — the occupation brought terrible economic hardship to ordinary Norwegians. Most of Norway’s western-facing trading relationships were severed by the wartime takeover, and the lion’s share of national output was appropriated by Berlin. Norway’s GDP fell by nearly half during the war years.
“There was a real risk of famine,” Wikipedia advises us. “Many, if not most, Norwegians started growing their own crops and keeping their own livestock. City parks were divided among inhabitants, who grew potatoes, cabbage, and other hardy vegetables. People kept pigs, rabbits, chicken and other poultry in their houses and out-buildings. Fishing and hunting became more widespread.”
And people got more and more pissed off.
On September 8, shipyard workers protesting the withdrawal of their milk rations triggered a large, but brief, labor disturbance. The Milk Strike was violently quashed by September 10 with a declaration of martial law in Oslo and nearby Aker and the arrests of a number of labor leaders, five of whom were condemned to death.
* Generous commutations awarded to Ludvik Buland and Harry Vestli permitted them to die in prison before the war was out. Their comrade Josef Larsson survived the war and chaired the Norwegian Union of Iron and Metalworkers until 1958.
On this date in 1693, Francis Winter was executed for the murder of a London sheriff.
Winter’s hanging takes us back to the last days (in England) of a queer old institution: sanctuary. Dating to centuries before the Norman conquest, this privilege of holy places to confer legal immunity upon fugitives was well into its dotage. In principle and sometimes in practice, a fellow could once upon a time frustrate the pursuit of the law by reaching such a sanctuary. However, most legally recognized sanctuaries had been eliminated with the Reformation.
Among the last of their breed was a dubious district between Fleet Street and the Thames, known as Whitefriars after the Carmelite monastery that had also germinated its zone of sanctuary. Though the Carmelites had been expelled in the 16th century and the right of sanctuary for criminals abolished in general during the 1620s, still Whitefriars held onto this association through the 17th century, gradually accumulating civil refugees such as debtors and an accompanying red light district bustling with taverns, brothels, thieves, and other accoutrements of the urban underbelly.*
This interesting place would come to be nicknamed “Alsatia”, tribute to the continental frontierlands between France and Germany which was controlled at the time by neither and thus perceived as lawless, and its reputation earned a literary profile to match: playwright Thomas Shadwell had a 1688 hit with his cant-heavy** portrayal of Whitefriars rogues (with evocative names like Cheatley, Shamwell, and Scrapeall) in The Squire of Alsatia.
Whitefriars retained its shady reputation long after the end of sanctuary: In William Hogarth‘s 1747 Industry and Idleness prints, the gallows-bound “Idle ‘Prentice” is seized by the authorities at a dive in the district’s Hanging Sword Alley. (Meanwhile, a murdered body is dumped into the cellar in the background.)
By this late date, “sanctuary” was a fading custom and was for that reason defended all the more vigorously by its claimants — all of whom shared a desperate interest in the crown’s maintaining a hands-off policy in “Alsatia”.
“The libertines, the rogues, and the rascals, who frequented its purlieus and committed abuses and outrages on peaceable citizens, made it a notorious place of criminal resort,” one history observes. “Bailiffs and officers of the law were afraid to enter its precincts to serve warrants or make executions.”
Our man Francis Winter was one of these fugitives bold enough to strike fear into the officers of the law.
In 1691, the Temple attempted to seal a gate connecting to Whitefriars. The Alsatians resisted this impediment to their movement, and when sheriffs showed up to control the situation the resistance turned into an outright riot. A lawman named John Chandlor was fatally shot in the fray.
This near-insurrection was far too much disturbance for a state whose tolerance for an open thieves’ district was very near its end. After some months evading arrest, Francis Winter would hang on May 17, 1693 for leading the angry mob. (He may or may not have personally pulled the trigger that killed Chandlor; given the chaotic situation, even contemporaries weren’t sure about it.)
Winter was a Cornish former ship’s captain who had commanded a vessel in England’s war against the Dutch a generation earlier; according to the Newgate Ordinary, Winter had then “behaved himself with a great deal of Candor and Courage.” Financial ruin later in life had driven him to Whitefriars where evidently he still retained the knack for leadership. Despite his offense against the public peace, Winter earned the Ordinary’s regard for accepting his sentence with pious equanimity.
Perhaps in respect for this frame of mind — or more probably, the better to orchestrate the demonstrative spectacle of an execution at the very gates of Whitefriars — Winter was reprieved from a May 8 mass hanging at Tyburn by Queen Mary II. (King William III was away, warring on France.) Then, upon the 17th,
he was put into a Coach at Newgate Stairs, and from thence Conveyed down Old Baily, and over Fleet-Bridge, to the Fryars Gate, in the way to which place, there were several Thousands of Spectators, who thronged to see him, when the Cart was settled under the Gibbet, and he put into it, (which was Erected there on purpose) he stood up, and spake as follows: I have no Publick Declaration to make here, my Thoughts being wholly taken up in the Concerns of my Eternal Welfare, for that is the Work that I am come here to do: Therefore I desire that I may not be interrupted. Then the Minister Prayed with him, and for him, and Recommended him to the Mercy of God, Etc.
* One notable denizen was the writer Daniel Defoe, who sought relief from his debts in Whitefriars in 1692.
** Including such charmers as “ready, cole and rhino for money; putt for one who is easily cheated; clear for very drunk; meggs for guineas; smelts for half-guineas; tatts and the doctors for false dice.” (Jonathon Green, The Vulgar Tongue: Green’s History of Slang) One can read the play here.
On this date in 1592, the bell of Uglich had its “tongue” cut out, then was sent to Siberian exile — the crowning indignity of the collective punishment visited on that Volga River town for the murder of Tsarevich Dmitri.
Although rival interpretations exist,** the conventional understanding of events we shall detail here is that Godunov turned assassin in order to maintain his hold on power and, eventually, achieve the tsardom for himself.
Not yet the tsar himself at this point, Godunov’s problem was that he exercised power only through Feodor … and that heirless sovereign had a (much) younger brother, our victim Tsarevich Dmitri, who in the fullness of time might easily come to supplant both Feodor and Godunov. Boris Godunov had hidden this moppet and his mum away in Uglich, where the child had his own court as Russia’s last appanage prince. The English diplomat Gil(l)es Fletcher† never met Dmitry but his 1591 Of the Russe Commonwealth caught the peril of the situation, with a bit of foreshadowing.
Besides the emperor that now is who hath no child (neither is like ever to have for ought that may be conjectured of his body and the barenness of his wife after so many years’ marriage),‡ there is but one more, viz., a child of six or seven years old in whom resteth all the hope of the succession and the posterity of that house …
[The child] is kept in a remote place from the Moscow under the tuition of his mother and her kindred of the house of the Nagois, yet not safe (as I have heard) from attempts of making away by practice of some that aspire to the succession if this emperor die without any issue. The nurse that tasted before him of certain meat (as I have heard) died presently. That he is natural son to Ivan Vasil’evich the Russe people warrant it by the father’s quality that beginneth to appear already in his tender years. He is delighted (they say) to see sheep and other cattle killed and to look on their throats while they are bleeding (which commonly children are afraid to behold), and to beat geese and hens with a staff till he see them lie dead.
The court rumors about Dmitry’s danger were onto something. On May 15, 1591, the eight-year-old princeling was found dead. He’d been stabbed in the neck.
Dmitry’s mother had the local prelates ring the cathedral bell summoning townsfolk to the commons to announce the murder and accuse Boris Godunov’s agents of perpetrating it. Outrage and panic soon whipped people into a mob that rampaged through Uglich, lynching 15 people — including one of Dmitry’s playmates as well as Moscow’s dyak, Mikhail Bityagovsky.
18th century icon of the Tsarevich Dmitry “Uglichsky” (click for larger image) shows his murder (left), and the cathedral bell being sounded to instigate summary justice (right). At the base of the cathedral, Mikhail Bityagovsky tries to batter down the door to silence the alarm.
Dangerous to bystanders, this mob was impotent against the Russian state. Boris Godunov dispatched a delegation that whitewashed Dmitry’s murder and ruthlessly punished Uglich; some 200 are reported to have been put to death for the disturbances.
The bell itself received the crowning punishment on the first of April in 1592, as the literal physical instigator of the riot: hurled from its tower, it was flogged on the public square and mutilated by having its “tongue” (the clapper) torn out. Then it was sent into exile in Tobolsk, where it remained until the 19th century. It hangs today at Uglich’s Church of St. Dmitry on Blood, although — as detailed in the bell’s Russian Wikipedia page — there is some debate about its authenticity.
As for “Saint Dmitry”, his story was just beginning and the canonization wasn’t the half of it.
When Tsar Feodor died in 1598 and Boris Godunov seized the throne outright, Russia entered her “Time of Troubles” — fifteen terrible years of civil war, invasion, and contested succession that ended with the seating of the Romanov dynasty. The Time of Troubles was characterized by, among other things, several imposters claiming to be this very murdered Prince Dmitry and therefore the rightful tsar. False Dmitrys were so ubiquitous during this interregnum that they have their own pretender regnal numbering, but all were failures in the contest for power: False Dmitri I, False Dmitri II, and False Dmitry III each came to violent and sordid ends.
* Ivan the Terrible had a perfectly cromulent heir being groomed for power in the form of one Tsarevich Ivan, but the volatile tsar had struck him during an argument in 1581 and accidentally killed him — which brought the unprepared Feodor into the succession and set up the catastrophic events of this post, as well as this incredible Ilya Repin painting:
Detail view (click for the full image) of Repin’s rendering of the horrified Ivan the Terrible clutching his mortally wounded son.
** The other principal version (Russian link) is that Dmitry suffered an epileptic fit while playing a game with knives, and accidentally stabbed himself. Many Uglichans gave this story to the official investigation (more Russian) that ensued the prince’s death, but their testimony is hard to depend upon since the Godunov-affiliated authorities conducting the investigation (like Patriarch Job, whom Godunov had made metropolitan of Moscow) preferred that version and presumably made sure that they received it. After Godunov’s death the official story reassigned responsibility to him — although this again was driven by the political imperatives of that moment. Some historians down the years have given credence to the “accident” hypothesis.
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”
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 date in the pregnant year of 1789, the former boulevard actor Francois Bordier hanged for a bit of revolutionary overexuberance.
He’d gained his fame in the 1780s for his portrayals of both Harlequin (on stage) and a besotted gambler (in Parisian society); “police records bulge with accounts of his gambling debts and spats with actresses.”
The summer of 1789, after the Bastille was stormed in Paris, was in the countryside la Grande Peur, the Great Fear: bread shortages and political upheaval put many a manor to the sack.
One such facility was Rouen’s Hotel de l’Intendance, assailed on August 3 by a mob led by Bordier, along with another fellow named Jourdain. Jourdain would perish at the gallows with Bordier but then as now the actor was all anyone wanted to talk about. The horror or heroism of Bordier moved purple pamphlets by the kiloquire, and even put Bordier on the other side of the playbill as a character in the next season’s pantomimes.*
At the news of the imprisonment of their harlequin, rumours were heard in Paris that thirty thousand Parisians, with Saint-Huruge at their head, would march to the rescue; but the authorities at Rouen, nothing daunted by the threat, put the two ringleaders on their trial. Both were condemned to death, and in spite of the intercession of Bailly and Lafayette on behalf of Bordier, both were hanged at Rouen on August 21.
April 9 is the (Roman) feast date of the minor Cappadocian saint Eupsychius.
As martyr to the hated-of-Christians pagan throwback emperor Julian the Apostate, Eupsychius could perhaps be accounted an ironical late victim of the fratricidal family politics that consumed the heirs of the great Christianizer Constantine the Great.
When Constantine kicked off in 337, he left three sons of a disgraced empress whom he optimistically hoped would share rulership. What happened instead was that, inside of a generation, practically the entire Constantinian line laid one another in the earth by dint of bloodthirsty dynastic rivalries, leaving only two men standing.
And it so happened that those two kinsmen faced one another across late antiquity’s gaping spiritual chasm: one a Christian, the other a pagan.
Constantius was the surviving son of Constantine, and regardless his Christian affiliation had secured his initial control of his father’s new eastern capital by unsentimentally butchering the bulk of his extended family including his own uncle Julius Constantius, and Julius’s firstborn son. Two other sons of Julius Constantine, too young for the abbatoir, escaped their brother’s fate and so our future Julian the Apostate grew up under a perpetually dancing Damoclean sword, a bookish philosophizing type enchanted by classical learning — so enchanted that he would eventually, and at first very quietly, apostatize from his substantial Christian education and adhere instead to the old gods.
In the fullness of time, the remainder of Constantius’s family succumbed to various civil wars — including Julian’s only surviving brother, Gallus, executed for treachery in 354 in an incident that could very well have claimed Julian as well if for no other reason than proximity. A prolific writer, Julian would later recall that “if some God, to inure my safety, had not ingratiated me with his [Constantius’s] beautiful and excellent wife, Eusebia, I could not have escaped his resentment.” Perhaps the childless Constantius could foresee well enough that, resentment or no, his last relation would be required for imperial policy soon enough.
And indeed the very next year, having spent many months mulling over whether to kill him, Constantius instead elevated Julian as his junior co-emperor. The young scholar soon distinguished himself as a surprisingly competent leader and battlefield commander, pacifying Germania and Gaul before, almost inevitably, the two emperors turned on one another in civil war. Julian must have been well-favored of goddess Fortuna whom he will defend in this post, for he won that war before the first spear was chucked when Constantius took ill and died as the rivals steered their armies towards one another.
So suddenly, 40 years after the empire had officially gone Christian, it had a pagan ruler — the last pagan ruler it would ever know.
Julian was an intelligent and idealistic young man. Taking power before the age of 30, he set a bold course to massively remake the empire in the image of its most admirable anachronisms: living modestly, paring the bureaucracy, debating Senators as their equal instead of their overlord, and — the attempted rollback that would mark his nickname and his reputation — restoring a pre-Christian cosmology to philosophical preeminence.
A few books about Julian the Apostate
This could have been Julian the Apostate‘s life’s work, twenty or thirty of forty years dislodging Christianity from the official foothold it had only recently attained and creating the groundwork for a pagan-dominated middle ages: fine grist for speculative alternative history, since Julian actually died in 363 in war against the Persians.
Having learned from the failure of previous rulers’ persecutions, he deployed instead the devious and modern mechanic of liberal religious toleration, starving the “Galileans” of the galvanizing force of either state backing or state oppression while perhaps setting their orthodox edifice up to splinter over time as various heretical movements began freely venting their rival doctrines on one another.
Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of sectarians, by Edward Armitage (1875).
His uniqueness and his erudition have made him an attractive character for modern interlocutors, especially those of the Christ-skeptic variety; Gore Vidal sympathetically centered Julian in an engrossing historical novel, and Gibbon warmly admired him:
The Christians, who had now possessed above forty years the civil and ecclesiastical government of the empire, had contracted the insolent vices of prosperity, and the habit of believing that the saints alone were entitled to reign over the earth. As soon as the enmity of Julian deprived the clergy of the privileges which had been conferred by the favour of Constantine, they complained of the most cruel oppression; and the free toleration of idolaters and heretics was a subject of grief and scandal to the orthodox party. The acts of violence, which were no longer countenanced by the magistrates, were still committed by the zeal of the people. At Pessinus the altar of Cybele was overturned almost in the presence of the emperor, and in the city of Caesarea, in Cappadocia, the temple of Fortune, the sole place of worship which had been left to the Pagans, was destroyed by the rage of a popular tumult. On these occasions, a Prince who felt for the honour of the gods was not disposed to interrupt the course of justice; and his mind was still more deeply exasperated when he found that the fanatics, who had deserved and suffered the punishment of incendiaries, were rewarded with the honours of martyrdom.
It is the last named of these incidents that finally brings us round to our date’s principal.
Like Julian himself, St. Eupsychius had no way of knowing that the new, old order would be a transient epoch. In his zeal to resist a rejuvenated paganism, Eupsychius led a riotous sack of a temple to Fortuna (Tyche). The church historian Sozomen gives us the primary-est historical record, and although it dates to several decades after Eupsychius’s martyrdom we can’t be picky when it comes to antiquity.
It is said that at this time were martyred Basilius, a presbyter of the church of Ancyra, and Eupsychius, a nobleman of Caesarea in Cappadocia, newly wed and in a manner of speaking still a bridegroom. As regards Eupsychius, I conjecture that he was executed because of the temple of Tyche, then destroyed, on account of which destruction, as has been said above, all citizens of Caesarea collectively experienced the emperor’s wrath, while those who personally took part in it were punished, some with death, some with banishment.
Later iterations would expand predictably on Eupsychius’s sufferings — tortures, miracle-making, blood and milk springing from his wound, and even eventually eliding the precipitating riot or arson — all of which conspires to pull a discernibly historical figure behind the dark glass of hagiography.*
Little more than a year later, Julian suffered a mortal wound in battle against the Sassanids. The Constantinian dynasty died with Julian, as did his signature project of Apostasy — a sudden volte-face of that fickle Fortuna whose memory and reputation would persist well beyond the twilight of paganism.