(Featured Image Credit: Ben Skála, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
An adventurous teenager by the name of Juraj Jánošík began his all too short life as a chivalrous scoundrel when he joined the Kuruc rebellion. Hungarians and Slavs rose in a peasant revolt against the opposing Habsburg empire and were soundly defeated at the Battle of Trenčín. The Austro-Hungarian army then proceeded to recruit from what remained of the force it had decimated and assigned the young Jánošík to be a prison guard in Bytča—a town in modern-day northwestern Slovakia. In the year 1710, at the age of twenty-two, Juraj proved that rebellious blood still flowed through his veins, (that, or he was young, naive and easily influenced) when he came to make friends with one the captives, Tomáš Uhorčík. The prisoner persuaded Jánošík to help him escape and
eventually both fled the iron and stone confines of the prison, to the lawless expanse of Slovakia. Empowered by this freedom, they formed a small gang of bandits and quickly grew infamous. Tomáš departed shortly thereafter to take a new name and settle down, leaving the 23 year-old Juraj in charge.
Juraj Jánošík’s vision for his bandits was oddly heroic, almost as if he’d heard tales of England’s legendary Robin Hood. Not only did his men target the rich and share their loot with the poor, but they never killed a single soul! Their concern even stretched to the injured and they are reputed to have cared extensively for an accidentally wounded priest.
Everything up to this point has been true. Juraj did exist and he was a bandit with a soft spot. That is more than can be said for Robin Hood! It is Juraj’s capture and death where the uncertainty of folklore begins eclipse reality.
Stories say that while taking shelter in his old friend Tomáš Uhorčík’s Tavern, Juraj was beset by his enemies and captured when he slipped upon spilled peas tossed his way by a wicked old woman. The defeated hero went to trial on March 16th and 17th, 1713, and likely died immediately thereafter. Leaders of robber bands were reserved a special form of execution. A hook would be thrust into their left flank and they’d be left to die, hanging pathetically from the gallows. Legend says that Juraj was offered amnesty in exchange for his return to the military, where his skills could be put to good work. His response: “If you have baked me, so you should also eat me!” and he jumped on the hook himself.
(DISCLAIMER: Were you to rank the following passage on a scale of 1-5 in historical accuracy it would be a solid 1. This is merely a bit of spontaneous fun based loosely on the information I happened upon in researching Jánošík.)
The carriage rumbled over the sporadically exposed stone of the dusty road. It had been hours since its passengers had first departed and the sun was beginning to sink. The route, winding through the vast countryside, had proven desolate aside from the few sections around the villages that invariably held them up with herds of lethargic livestock.
Inside the plain carriage, a priest finished murmuring the Latin of his prayers and leaned against the wall, hoping the rumbling ride would rock his body into slumber. Across from him, his single bodyguard whittled down fingernails with a knife and periodically nursed a canteen. The soldier reeked more than the lowliest shepherd, but at least the priest felt confident he would do his job if it came to it. Terrible bands of highwaymen had plagued the land recently, and it was said they’d stoop so low as to rob a man of God. The heathens…
A wail arose from outside the carriage and the horses noisily protested as they violently slid to a halt. Both men inside jumped and tried to peer out the window. It looked as if there was a woman kneeling on the side of the road. A knock from the driver was persuasion enough to send the bodyguard out the door and his charge right behind.
“Dear god!” cried the driver, pointing.
A woman, wrapped in a large shawl, cradled a bundle of bloody cloth that must have contained the remains of her child.
The driver continued, “I saw her stumble out of the woods and then collapse on the side of the road! I had to stop!”
Pity welled in the priest. However it happened, this woman had lost her child. She would need God right now. It was fortunate he could be here. He sped to her side.
The guard called behind him, “No! No, wait for me! Damnit…”
But the priest had already reached for the woman’s shoulder. Shawl and empty cloth fluttered into the air, cast by a wiry man whose dagger already pointed at the priest’s throat.
“Good impression, huh?” Muttered a raspy voice though the stupidest of grins.
The commotion that followed resists all attempts to be described. At its resolution, several more bandits were rolling in the dirt and attempting to restrain the guard and the driver, all while the priest screamed, his own bodyguard’s sword protruding from his shoulder. When the guard and driver had been bound together, three bandits rushed hurriedly towards the wounded man.
“Father, Father!” The leader of the troop apologized. He was a bearded man, much taller and more elegant than the one who had dressed as a woman. “I’m so sorry this happened. We do our best to avoid such things! I cannot express how surprising a situation this is! It’s a shame you had to get involved, because, otherwise, I think you would approve of what we are doing here. You see, for the past year or so my men and I have been robbing the wealthy and giving to the poor. It all began…” Juraj Jánošík babbled on as two of his men worked to remove the blade. One steadied the priest’s back as the other clutched the blade as if it were the legendary Sword in the Stone and heaved.
The priest moaned, but Juraj only shushed him and grinned, “Come now, wouldn’t you agree it’s better out than in? Now, might I ask what’s in that carriage and where are you were taking—Wash that!”
The first bandit stripped away the priest’s bloodied vestment and begin to carry it away, while the second tore the priests undershirt, exposing the wound, and commenced tending to it.
“Nevermind, you needn’t worry about those details right now. Ooo, I see you are a man of fine taste in jewelry. Ruby?! Delightful!”
Juraj began to remove each ring from the man’s fingers and pocket them. Seeing this, the bandit supplying first aid paused to remove the golden holy pendant from around his neck.
“No! Leave it!” Juraj snapped.
“What? Why can we take his rings but not his necklace?”
“The rings belong to a rich man, the pendant to a holy one.”
The bandit considered the statement, then nodded and returned to bandaging.
“Now, father, I feel awful about this, so what do you say to spending the next few days with us while you heal? After that we will get you to where you were going. All will be even then,” the scoundrel offered with a kind, roguish smile.