The humbling of “General Hyena” 1850
It’s always gratifying to see a bully and tyrant cut down to size and a particularly satisfying example of this occurred in London in 1850, even if the retribution meted out was disproportionately small compared with the crimes in question.
1848 was “The Year of Revolutions” across Europe, and in Austria revolts led to the abdication of the feeble-minded Emperor Ferdinand, and his replacement by his 18-year old nephew, Franz Josef. The latter was, amazingly, still on the throne at the start of World War 1 and he was only to die in 1916. During 1848 and 1849 the Austrian-ruled possessions of Hungary and Northern Italy were also among the areas affected, with nationalist groups rising up to demand greater autonomy, or even independence. These insurrections were suppressed with savage efficiency by the Austrians – in the case of Hungary with significant support from Russian forces. The Italian campaign was notable for its prosecution by the 82-year old Marshal Radetzky (of “March” fame) and one of his ablest commanders was to be the 62-year old General Julius Haynau.
Haynau’s military career had begun in the Napoleonic wars and though a competent soldier he also demonstrated qualities of cruelty, arrogance and blind devotion to his superiors which a century later might have brought him to dizzy heights in the Nazi party. In Italy he was to earn the reputation of “Butcher of Brescia”, when he followed up his suppression of a revolt in that town in April 1849 by shootings, hangings and floggings. This was however mild compared with Haynau’s record in Hungary, where among those he hanged were thirteen surrendered Hungarian generals. His most notable achievement was however to gain a reputation for having women sympathetic to the rebels flogged. Austrian admirers were to label him “The Hapsburg Tiger.” In Britain however his savagery was to earn comparison with a less noble beast and he became commonly known as “General Hyena”.
|Austrian troops storming rebel positions at Brescia, April 1849|
Upon restoration of peace Haynau retired from the army and in 1850 undertook a tour of Western Europe. Given his nickname it was less than wise to include Britain on his itinerary. While in London he decided to tour the Barclay and Perkins Brewery in Park Street, just off Southwark Bridge Road. This was considered a state-of-the-art industrial plant, a marvel of efficiency and innovation, and it was to play host over the years to many eminent visitors, including British and foreign royalty.
|A Hungarian woman being flogged by Austrian troops, 1849|
Haynau arrived at the brewery on September 4th with his nephew and an interpreter. His prominent (and ridiculous) moustache seems to have revealed his identity to the workers as prints showing him flogging women had been in circulation prior to this. Word of his presence began to spread and as he was brought to see the stables of the delivery horses a group of draymen – delivery men – began to pelt him with hay and horse-droppings. Haynau and his companions now took to their heels, the workers pummelling him and tearing off part of his trademark moustache. Now in ignominious flight, and pursued by a mob which may have grown to 500, Haynau and those with him managed to dart in to the George Inn in Bankside. He seems to have tried to hide first in the coal cellar, and afterwards in a bedroom, but when discovered with pelted with more manure.
| Popular illustration of Haynau under attack at the brewery
Note inset pictures, left and right, of hanging and flogging
Some popular verses of the time record Haynau’s come-uppance. Though hardly great poetry, the following extract typifies the popular view of the incident:
One day he went to have a stare,
At where we English brew our beer,
And met a warm reception there,
From Barclay and Perkins’ draymen.
“Out, Out, the tyrant!” all did cry!
How you would laugh to see him fly,
To cut his lucky he did try,
But soon found out it was all my eye,
One collared him by his moustache,
and one with mud his face did splash,
Another rolled him in the slush…
…One let down upon his head,
Straw enough to make his bed,
One pulled his nose till it was red,
Did Barclay and Perkins’ draymen.
Then out of the gate he did run,
And now there was some precious fun,
A rotten egg he got from one,
For all did try – yes every one,
To show how we loved a brute
Who women flogg’d and men did shoot,
For trying tyranny to uproot .
|Haynau trying to hide|
The police arrived too late to spare the general these indignities but they did at least manage to get him away through a window at the back of the inn, and to bring him across the river to safety by boat. Thoroughly and deservedly humiliated, Haynau cut short his British holiday. The draymen responsible were instant heroes. Congratulatory letters arrived from overseas as well as from Britain, a well-attended celebration rally was held at Farringdon Hall and the Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi subsequently visited the brewery to thank the workers.
As so often, Queen Victoria was not amused however and she demanded that the government apologise to Austria for an outrage against what she called “one of the Emperor’s distinguished generals.” Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary, was directed to write the necessary apology. He himself had told his colleagues that he was as delighted as any man in England about what had happened and his official despatch to the Austrians reflected this. He regretted the attack but added, pointedly, that it was ill-advised for Haynau to have come to Britain in the first place in view of the general indignation about his behaviour in Italy and Hungary. Palmerston added that it would be unwise for Austria to ask for prosecution of the brewery workers because, were they put on trial, their defence council would obviously use, and thereby publicise still further, evidence of Haynau’s own atrocities.
|Haynau being rescued from further indignities by the police|
Queen Victoria was indignant when she saw the dispatch, but it had already been sent. She demanded that another, with an unqualified apology, be drafted. Palmerston told the Prime Minister that any such new despatch would have to be signed by a new Foreign Secretary. Unwilling to lose the most capable member of the government, Russell, the Prime Minister did not force the issue. Palmerston had won, and himself became Prime Minister five years later. Victoria loathed him.
Haynau died in 1853. It is ironic – and pleasing – that a cruel and arrogant tyrant should not be remembered for his undoubted military capabilities and achievements, but as the flogger of women who was himself to get the beating he richly deserved from London workmen.