Friday 20 February 2015

The Execution of Andreas Hofer

Andreas Hofer (St Leonhard, Tyrol, 22nd November 1767 – Mantua, Italy, 20th February 1810)

On this day in 1810 Andreas Hofer, Tyrolean innkeeper, cattle drover and former soldier, was executed for his pivotal role in the rebellion against the French and Bavarian forces who had occupied his land during the War of the Fifth Coalition.

Hofer was so incensed at the occupation of Tyrol that he organised a resistance force in the Passeier Valley and, when the rebellion broke out on 9th April 1809, Hofer was ready as leader of a militia force. The rebels knew that the time to act had come when the agreed signal was received in Innsbruck of sawdust floating down the river. Church bells sounded over the city calling the people to arms and they attacked the occupying soldiers with all they could muster.

The shooting of Andreas Hofer in Mantua by Anonymous, 1810
The Shooting of Andreas Hofer in Mantua by Anonymous, 1810
As the rebels gained ground, Hofer led a force some twenty thousand strong in defence of his homeland, driving back the Bavarian and French occupying forces time and again yet as the tide of battle turned against Austria and in favour of Napoleon, so too did the tide begin to turn against the Tyrolean rebels. Austrian troops were forced to retreat from Tyrol, leaving the rebels hopelessly outgunned and they in turn fled to the mountains to regroup as the city of Innsbruck fell to Bavarian occupation.

By now there was a price on Hofer’s head and he took refuge in Hofburg, where he declared himself the de facto ruler of the Tyrol, even going so far as to introduce his own currency. The Emperor promised him time and again that he would never abandon Tyrol to opposing forces yet the hope was a faint one. As French and Bavarian troops swarmed into the country, it was only a matter of time before the rich reward on offer for Hofer’s capture found a foothold and it was Franz Raffl, a neighbour of Hofer, who eventually gave him away.

The captured rebel leader was taken to Mantua to face a court martial where officers found themselves unable to agree on a sentence. They claimed to have received a communication from Napoleon himself telling them to "give him a fair trial and then shoot him" though Napoleon claimed later that he had never wanted Hofer dead. Whatever the truth of the sentence, Hofer went before a firing Squad on 20th February 1810. He told the gunmen to be sure they shot straight and refused to either wear a blindfold or kneel before the firing squad. Indeed, when the time came to give the order to fire, it was Hofer who did, a man in charge to the bitter end.

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