Freedom Beheaded

General Moragues and his time

In 1701, upon the death of the childless Habsburg monarch Charles II, the War of Succession broke out in Europe, pitting France and the Crown of Castile, both noted for extreme absolutism, against Austria, the Dutch Republic and Great Britain, all characterised by a federalist, parliamentarian tradition.

In 1705, Catalonia took up arms with the Habsburg cause.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the warring powers made peace. Philip V accepted all of the demands from the British and their allies in exchange for being given free rein over Catalonia, allowing him to impose a fierce, bloody repression.

Not least among the many brutal acts committed was the cruel treatment visited upon General Josep Moragues..

Josep Moragues Sobrevia, later to sign as Josep Moragues Mas, was born in 1668 in the farmhouse owned by his family in Joanet, now within the municipal area of Sant Hilari Sacalm. He spent his early life taking care of the lands inherited from his father.

With his marriage to Cecilia de Regás, from Arbúcies, he became related to the rural aristocracy.

At twenty-five, he joined the Vic militia to fight against the frequent French incursions in Catalonia during the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697).

In 1705, he was among the so-named Vigatans, that is, people from the Plain of Vic who strongly opposed the French army. The Vigatans’ strong anti- French feelings led to the uprising in Vic in favour of the Grand Alliance and to the junta that arose from the agreement between Vigatans which took place in Sant Sebastián Chapel. This gave powers to Domènec Perera so that, along with Antoni Peguera, he could go to Genoa to sign a pact with England, containing the Catalan promise of contributing six thousand armed men when the English disembarked in Barcelona, in order to guarantee the Grand Alliance’s success in Catalonia against Francisco de Velasco, the Bourbon Viceroy. The Vigatans were thus in opposition to the Philippists, known as Botiflers.

Despite his lack of military experience or training, Moragues was successful in leading his forces against various Castilian and French military units, whose defeat led to the triumphal entry into Barcelona of Archduke Charles of Austria. One of the monarch’s first decisions was the creation of the Catalan Royal Guards, whereupon the Vigatan leaders were made colonels. Two years later, Moragues was promoted to Battle General, the highest rank achieved until then by a Catalan in the war.

Early in 1707, he was appointed Governor of Castellciutat, a military fortress close to La Seu d’Urgell which protected the border area from French onslaughts. During this time, his wife died and he later married Magdalena Giralt, from Sort.

The war had various alternatives, but after the defeat at the Battle of Almansa, the Bourbon troops were clearly making headway and the war was developing against Charles III’s interests. In 1711, following the death of Charles’s stepbrother, he himself became Holy Roman Emperor, after which the situation took a radical turn as the English were the first to be interested in stopping the war due to the power the new Emperor could acquire.

On 11 April 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht was signed, meaning that the English, Dutch and Austrians rescinded their alliance against France and Philip V in exchange for territorial concessions that left the Catalans defenceless. The interests of Catalonia were thoroughly ignored despite the pledges signed with the allies. The Catalan leaders chose to continue the war in view of the few alternatives left for them to maintain the previous state of affairs.

A mere two months later, Moragues was ordered to surrender Castellciutat to the Philippists, but, although ill at the time, he refused to do so and resisted until 28 December, capitulating under conditions he found advantageous for his men, but which the Bourbon authorities failed to honour.

Following the loss of Castellciutat, Moragues took refuge in Sort, where, emboldened by the resistance of Barcelona, he organized a militia that, dominating Pallars and part of Alt Urgell, sought to reconquer Castellciutat, albeit without success. Obeying orders, he transferred to the fortress of Cardona to work under Colonel Antoni Desvalls, the Marquis of Poal, for whom he effectively covered the rearguard, blocking the Bracamonte column in Vic, and recruiting 400 men in Ripollès and the Plain of Vic. He participated in numerous assaults on convoys transporting food for the Philippist troops that were besieging the capital, which made him become known among Bourbon forces as 'The Devil of the Guilleries'.

During this period, the Bourbon forces abducted his wife, who he himself later managed to rescue.

Upon the end of the war, the victors had already begun a harsh repression against Catalan institutions and symbols, which included imprisonment for military commanders, such as Antonio de Villarroel and Joan Baptista Basset.

MMoragues, who refused to flee from Catalonia through Vallferrera and go on exile to Vienna, retired with his family to his estate in Sort.

He was soon summoned to Barcelona by Tserclaes de Tilly, the new Captain General appointed by the Spanish Bourbon monarch. His papers were confiscated and he was ordered to appear before Tserclaes every day. Fearing arrest for conspiracy, he made his will in his wife’s favour and, with his officers Francesc Descatllar, Jaume Roca "Jaumic" and Pau Massip, he decided to set sail to Majorca, where the pro-Habsburg resistance was still in force. He was recognised by the ship’s captain, who discreetly changed the route and returned to Barcelona.

Hidden in the slopes of Montjuïc, they were informed on and arrested at dawn on 22 March 1715, when they were trying to climb aboard the ship.

Moragues and his men were subjected to a summary trial, sentenced to death and tortured. The new authorities proved especially cruel with Moragues so that his execution would serve as an example and a warning to those Catalans who resisted the absolute dominion of Philip V. The Botifler Gregori Matas thus described the execution to the minister Manuel Vadillo: 'Moragas was sentenced to be dragged alive through the streets by a horse, have his neck slashed and body quartered, his head being then placed inside an iron cage above the Puerta del Mar with this legend: "Iosephus Maragas ob penetratum iteratae rebelionis scelus, bis Regis clementiam abusus, tertio tandem iustitiam periclitatus et expertus.".' (Josep Moragues for having committed the crime of repeated rebellion, having twice abused royal clemency; the third time he was finally taken prisoner and executed by the law.)

The Consular Annals of Barcelona describe Moragues’s brutal execution as follows: 'On 27 March (1715), he was executed under sentence as an ordinary man, with a large display of men of arms and soldiers, the prisoner walking barefoot, wearing a penitent’s shirt and granted no honours, simply as Josep Moragas'

Moragues’s head was not removed until twelve years later, following the definitive peace between Philip V and Charles III in 1725. Moragues’s wife was released and, on 14 February 1727, with the help of the lawyer and former Mayor of Barcelona Rafael Casanova and the diplomatic pressure of the Austrian ambassador Königsegg, the skull was taken out of the cage, with specific orders from Philip V that this be done “with no publicity or noise.” The demeaning legend and iron cage were to remain exposed for a further month.

General Moragues was not rescued from oblivion until the Catalan Renaissance, with Àngel Guimerà’s 1887 poem The Head of Josep Moragues:

Hunters are skilful
and conceal their snare;
however, if shame allows you
to raise your eyelids,
you will see it standing high,
the cage with the decoy.
The bird doesn’t eat or drink
nor does it know about flying.

In broad daylight,
over the silent iron bar,
the mistral does not feel
either hail or lightning;
but, once darkness arrives,
its twitter causes fear.

Traveller, wherever you may come from,
if yours is an honest heart,
bend your knees and pray
like a son, before the head
of the virtuous Josep Moragues,
our general.

Look at him in the moonlight
over the Portal de Mar:
his face is like parchment
all mottled and stained;
his mouth, without lips;
his eyes, two cavities;
holding on to his temples;
his forehead and eyebrows deformed;
greenish and blackening.

Inside an iron cage,
hanging and twisted,
unruly flocks of birds
peck at him in their flight
and he rustles and rattles
while moving to and fro.

Suddenly his eyes
brighten like furnaces;
his hair seethes,
like thorns, rippling;
veins cross his face
like the cracks of a rock;
he stands upright in his cage;
causing the birds to fly away,
and he says, with clenched teeth
and a strangulated voice:

—Oh, tower of a hundred fathoms,
now dust on the royal path!
Oh, sea of fierce waves,
now a dry abyss!
Oh, lofty galley,
now splinters in the hearth
where strumpets cook
for the tyrant’s belly!
Helpless lineage,
what you are now and what you once were!
You, who out of land and sea
made two slaves,
dressed in rags,
your wounds open,
walk the land on your knees,
mud spattering your eyes.

In your indomitable chest
bruised by the leather,
against which the iron
of spears and swords has broken,
the moaning of a woman
is now so becoming!

There where you once had a heart,
a crab must have taken its place:
before me you have rotted,
before me you have passed!
When the trumpets sound
on the Day of Judgement,
the heroes of the Earth
who sleep forgotten
in the midst of the crowds
their children must they seek.

And I will tell them: with you
the oak has dried,
and the new buds died
before they could even grow.
Look there at those who rise
in the surroundings of the Montserrat:
on their necks they bear
the riveted shackle of the slave:
their faces are withered,
their chests and foreheads are low;
their speech is foreign,
their air isn’t ours:
they are all from Catalonia,
none of them is Catalan!
And the heroes of the earth
without seeing you will pass by!

Oh country, my country,
it is your fate to suffer,
and on the stairways of abysses
you are constant in your descent.
The horrible creature
that yesterday killed you off,
if it’s not the Devil that lies within him,
it is the next best thing.

Alas, sad Catalonia,
you certainly need to work!
In this impure life,
which is world, flesh and the Devil,
the sun never sets:
arise, as she is prostrate.
You, mad creature, cannot be
the thunderous Jupiter
that showers his Danaë
with a rain of altered gold.

Your place is under the table;
bones you will be given;
lick the hand that strikes you,
pray for it to the saints,
and open your chest, that they

may drink your blood in gulps!—
Thus, in the moonlight,
over the portal of the sea,
roared the head
of the Catalan hero.

And alas, time passes; of men
all past is erased!
The walls fell,
The doors were knocked down,
and countrymen and strangers
congregate in brotherhood.

However, if shame allows you
to raise your eyelids,
you will see it standing high,
The cage with the decoy:
And the birds, once again,
pecking at it as they flutter.

Poem by Pere Quart

Mort esclava!
Enslaved death!
Caged bird<
in a secular cage.
Our bird,
blind, mutilated,
red from blood and from shame.

We shall not relapse!
The atavistic punishment
will observe us all the time.
Regenerated bird, sing, now cynically,
to freedom beheaded.
(The Decapitations XII) -1934-