June 27

The last of the Last Words offerings (for a while):

“It is better to perish here than to kill all these poor beans.” — The ultra-vegetarian Pythagoras, Greek philosopher and mathematician (495 BC), refusing to escape from an angry mob with his students through a fava bean field.

And, Master Kyngston, had I but served God as diligently as I have served the king, he would not have given me over in my gray hairs. But this is my just reward for my pains and study, not regarding my service to God, but only my duty to my Prince.” — Thomas Wolsey, English archbishop, statesman and cardinal (29 November 1530). Henry VIII was a monster whose favour was always short-lived and fatal.

“Stand by me, Tom, and we will die together.”
— Robert Catesby, leader of the Gunpowder Plot to effect the largest mass murder in English history (8 November 1605). Catesby and Thomas Percy were shot by armed men sent to arrest them after the failure of the Catholic uprising. Their fate was easier compared to the hideous tortures visited upon those plotters, like Guy Fawkes, who were captured.

“More weight.”
— Giles Corey, American farmer (19 September 1692), being pressed to death during the Salem witch trials. If one were accused of a crime where the death penalty was thought to be unavoidable, a refusal to plead either innocent or guilty could protect one’s property from seizure after death. The problem was that refusal to plead would led to the peine forte et dure or being loaded with ever-greater weight until one either pled or died. It took the 82-year-old Giles Corey three days to die.

“So many people who knew the condition of Amritsar say I did right…but so many others say I did wrong. I only want to die and know from my Maker whether I did right or wrong.”
— Reginald Dyer, British army officer (23 July 1927). In April 1919, the city of Amritsar was rocked by Hindu mob violence aimed at Sikhs and Europeans. People were killed, banks looted, and, worst of all in the eyes of the British occupation, a white woman missionary was beaten and left for dead. The police were unable to stem the disorder and so the Army was called in. General Reginald Dyer proclaimed — with great publicity —  that all large gatherings were forbidden and when thousands gathered in defiance of the decree, he ordered his troops (mostly Ghurkas from Nepal) to open fire on a crowd in an enclosed market place. After 15 minutes of firing, 379 people were dead and over 1,200 were wounded. Dyer was praised by local Sikhs and the British public; Indian and British intellectuals were appalled. The massacre led to increased native pressure for independence and a weakening of British resolve to keep India.

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