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The Slovak Robin Hood In the Light of Documentary Evidence and Popular Legend

Part One

MUCH has been written about Juro (George) Janosik, the leader of the Slovak mountain boys, who has become a great legendary national hero in his country, and much more will, doubtless, still be written about him in his native land where his name is an inspiration to both the old and the young. It is rather appropriate to recall, at this time, the exploits of this so-called rebel against society in his day, for Janosik is the symbol of a people's just indignation against injustice and oppression, as well as a symbol of hope of ultimate victory, of justice, and of truth.

The sources from which we are able to draw a reliable character sketch of this remarkable man are, twofold: the official records of his trial, and the numerous folk songs, stories, and legendary accounts of him. The former are necessarily dry, the latter rich and varied. These sources represent people of conflicting views: the one class feared and hated the bold youth as its enemy; the other loved and immortalized him as a national hero. It is a difficult task to reconcile these widely divergent points of view; yet, these sources, which give us two different pictures of him, are not really contradictory, but rather complement each other.

The original Latin-Slovak judicial documents were kept in a special file in the county archives of the Liptov District records, in St. Mikulas, the county seat. Unfortunately, these disappeared rather mysteriously in the second half of the last century. Duplicates of these documents, however, have been preserved and their contents were first publicized by Gaspar Fejerpataky in the Vlastenskil Kalendar (1831-1832). These are a faithful copy of the authentic record know as Fassio Janosikiana) dated 1713. In 1880, Paul Dobsinsky published his views in the Prostonarorodne Obycaje (National Customs) in the Slovak Museum's publication of that year (Muz. sl. spol;VIII, Podtatranskil Juro Janosik). Paul Sochall's Zbojnik Juro Janosik, published in 1924, is a good source of information and from it and the other contemporary records and legendary accounts which have been handed down for generations, we are able to reconstruct most of the scenes of the time, and reenact the events in the life of this popular hero, so that they may be considered to be truly historical, not merely legendary.

Both sources give Tarchova in Trencin County as his birthplace, where he was born about 1688. But research has indicated that Janosik was actually born on a small farm in the highlands in the vicinity of that hamlet, and the spot today is marked by a small, dilapidated hut with the number "575" on it. It stands between two linden trees in a place called Janosov, which boasts of a population of 17 persons, most of whom bear the name Janosik.

Janosik was still a child when the revolution under Rakoczy II (1703-1711) took place, but he joined the insurgents, whose motto, "Pro Liberate," was emblazoned on their banner. Later, he joined the imperial army. He was sent to Bytciansky Castle as a guard, where he met one of the Emperor's prisoners, an adventurous brigand and soldier of fortune, Thomas Uhorcik. This fateful acquaintance proved to be the turning-point of his life.

Rakoczy's ill-fated rebellion was put down in 1711, and the youthful Janosik returned home after being ransomed out of the army by his parents. Tradition has it that he became an outlaw and a highwayman because his father was flogged to death by the lord of the manor when he refused to leave the deathbed of his wife in order to work in the fields of his master. This fatal flogging took place in Tarchova, at the village bridge, according to one account, and at the castle of Teplicka in Zilina, according to another report. The judicial documents, however, merely record the fact that Uhorcik, who had escaped from prison, had come to Tarchova and had persuaded Janosik to join his robber band in the forest.

As a background to the future of Janosik it is well to recall that the social conditions in Slovakia at the time were, perhaps, at their worst. The Revolution had failed, but many a peasant's son was unwilling to bow down under the yoke of a feudal system after tasting freedom as a soldier of fortune. Conditions among the peasants in the kingdom of Hungary after the death of the liberal monarch, "Matthew, the Just," became steadily worse until they became unbearable. The peasants' revolt under George Doza in Transylvania and in the Dolna valley was cruelly stamped out by the nobility, and the lot of the former was actually that of serfdom or virtual slavery.

Although the right to emigrate was restored to the peasantry, in view of the fact that the people were subject to burdensome taxation and many restrictions, their status by the end of the seventeenth century had grown worse, so that in reality the nobility had assumed the right of life and death over their subjects. The Slovaks, especially, became the victims of a cunning and unscrupulous nobility which enslaved them. Frequent class struggles, wars, and plagues added to the misfortunes of the Slovak people. Many areas were reduced to poverty-stricken regions where extreme misery and want prevailed.

Northern Slovakia which had, perhaps, suffered the most in these trying times, became the home of the discontented, the discouraged, and the desperate. These men organized robber bands and preyed on the surrounding countryside from their mountain hideouts. Thomas Uhorcik was a member of one of these bands as early as 1704; and in 1711, Janosik became a member after taking the brigand's pledge and sealing his oath with his blood. His exploits soon won him far reaching fame in his own country, and even in Moravia, Poland, Hungary, and Silesia. After being elected chieftain, the youthful bandit extended the zone of his operations from the eastern counties of Liptov, Spis, Orava, Turiec Tekov, Malohont, and Saris to Zvolen, Trencin, and Nitra, and even crossed into Moravia, Silesia, Poland, and Hungary.

His comrades were, according to his own admission: Thomas Uhorcik (Uhrik); Paul Gasparec-MlynarCik from Rakov; Barte, the shepherd from Predmier; "Red" Ondras from Dlha; Plavcik from Dunajov; Gabor from Valkov; Juro Turiak (Huncaga, or Huncik); Kubo Chlastiak from Otomic; Juriak, Satora, Gavel, and several Poles. Not a few secret accomplices, like Juro and Kubo Stukovec in Krasny, furnished him with supplies and information.

Folk stories about this interesting outlaw are, undoubtedly, guilty of several anachronisms. They list the following as his associates: Uhorcik, Gajdosik-Mlynarcik, Surovec, Hrajnoha, Adamcik, Ilcik (the chief scout); Garaj, Postavcik, Tarke, Mucha, Durica. Most of these were not even Janosik's contemporaries. For instance, Jakub Surovec, from Rovny in Trencin, who terrorized Orva, Trencin, and Pohronie, was not born until 1715, two years after Janosik's death. And he himself was executed in 1740. Nitran Hrajnoha, famous dancer, lived in the middle of the 18th century, and was broken on the wheel in Smolensky Castle. In 1873 Hrajnoha's treasure was unearthed by some laborers who were building a highway near Nadas. Adamcik was a notorious bandit in Moravia, and Ilcik lived in Trencin. Garaj must have preceded Janosik, because a brook is mentioned by that name in the judicial documents covering the trial of Slovakia's most famous outlaw. Some of Janosik's associates are, perhaps, purely imaginary characters, products of the popular imagination.

A triangular area, known as the King's Plateau lies on a high point overlooking the counties of Liptov, Pohron, and Malohont, near Hochwald, or Hovald, at the spot known as the "Tall Pine," directly above the road running from Liptov to Spis. This region was at one time covered with a thick forest, which was the hiding place of robber gangs in every century. Queen Maria Theresa destroyed this picturesque rendezvous of the highwaymen by having the forest cut down by royal proclamation. But in Janosik's time, this area was the favorite haunt of brigands, and it was there that Lord Jan Radvansky, while on his way to the funeral of the former revolutionary general, Petroczy, was robbed by the Slovak Robin Hood. Lord Paul Revay, Lady Schardon, and Lord Ladislaus Zmeskal were held up in this region by Janosik's merry band. Lord Skalka fell into their hands, as did Sipos from Zilina, some horse dealers from the same town, several wine merchants, and many others.

Some of the booty was given to the poor and needy. Hence, the story circulated that Janosik robbed the rich to feed the poor. This is not quite in keeping with the facts, for his comrades preyed upon the lower classes as well as on the wealthy nobility. The jewels taken from Lord Skalka were distributed among the young ladies in Tarchova. Romantic tales, which have little historical basis, however, have become apart of the Janosik saga in Slovakia. The authentic documents do not even allude to most of the feats attributed to Slovakia's legendary hero. At his trial, Janosik admitted that he often raided the sheepfolds of the lords of the manor, that some of the shepherds, either from fear or friendship, cooperated in these robberies and then accompanied him to celebrate at the "Black Ant" in Klenovce, owned by the inn-keeper, Martin Mravec, or at the "White Horse" in Dunajov, and sometimes at the "Blue Star" in Krasnej, or the "Golden Eagle" in Tarchova.

Winter time found the mountain boys seeking employment in the nearby homesteads because the snow would have betrayed their footprints leading to their hiding-places, deep in the pine forests of King's Plateau. Thus, Janosik served as a farmhand in the winter of 1712-1713 at Kovalcik's and Ondrejcik's in Kokava. In the spring they hastened to their mountain rendezvous at the foot of the Tall Pine.

Janosik's romantic career as Slovakia's Robin Hood was a short one, lasting less than two years. Although he escaped after his first capture at Klenovce in the autumn of 1712, he was caught in the summer of the next year. The commissioner at Malohont had granted him an amnesty after he had been confined in Jakoffy Castle in Hrachov, but after the county police of Liptov arrested him he never regained his freedom. No official record gives us the exact details of this final capture; but, according to tradition, Janosik was apprehended either because of the treachery of one of his band, namely, Gajdosik, who had given away the secret of his chief's gigantic strength (the magic belt) , or because of the treachery of Janosik's former sweetheart, who lost her heart to the Police Captain, Joseph Lehotsky, when he came to her father's inn, the Golden Goose, in search of the renowned outlaw. The scene of his arrest, in the first version, was said to have been in the Little Mountain inn in Polhora, Zvolen County, between Brezno and Tisovec. At any rate, the famed outlaw was taken in chains to Liptov, where he was lodged in Vranov Castle, built by Francis Palugyay. There, in a dark cell, Janosik was chained to the wall, to await his trial and death.

Janosik was allowed to plead his case. He pleaded guilty to certain charges of robbery, but denied having committed crimes that were not his. Some of the acts he was accused of were perpetrated while he was in prison. Thus, he denied having anything to do with the robbery of a priest from Orava, or the hold-up of Vitko from Silesia, the murder of the blacksmith's son in Dobrovce, the robbing of the Galusovecs, the looting of churches in Hungary, Poland, Silesia, or Moravia, where the sacrilegious robbers are alleged to have nailed the sacred hosts to a tree in order to determine whether blood would flow from them when shots were fired into them! He was also accused of having freed one of his band as he was about to be hanged in Zilina. It is noteworthy that the county sheriff, John Litisky, and the mayor of the town of Oscadnice were suspected of being overly friendly with Janosik.

To all the charges of which he was falsely accused the stout-hearted robber-chieftain simply pleaded innocent. Attempts to prove that he was in collusion with other notorious brigands in Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary were unsuccessful. When he was accused of having shot a priest from Domanize, it was proved that two of his associates, Turiak and Plavcik, had committed this dastardly crime: in his absence. No crime, other than robbery, was proved against Janosik, who never killed anyone; but in those days a thief, as well as a murderer, might be hanged.

Legendary accounts of the trial picture Janosik as remaining silent about the identity of his comrades, but the official records indicate that he gave the Court a list of their names, but refused to reveal their where-abouts. As to the buried treasure, he told his listeners that it was hidden in a large fir tree opposite an oak on which a hand was carved indicating the exact location of the fir tree, in the glade where the road winds down from Jablonka to Klenovce. Lord Skalka's jewels he had hidden in the mountains of Handlov, although legends have it they were bestowed on the maidens of the village of Tarchova.

Janosik was tried by the county court of Liptov, presided over by the vice-commissioner, Ladislaus Okolicsanyi, on March 16-17, 1713, in the county courthouse of St. Mikulas in Liptov. The other members of the court were the magistrates of the four districts of Liptov county, namely, Jan and Andrew Rady, Andrew Andreansky, and Matthew Joob. The official prosecutor was Alexander Cemicky, and the attorney for the defense was Balthasar Palugyay. The defense pleaded guilty to the charges of robbery and asked the clemency of the Court. Moreover, Janosik promised to give up his former way of life and wished to become once again a law-abiding citizen. The prosecution, however, demanded the highest penalty and succeeded in exacting a two-fold sentence from the Court, so that the "double-dealing" prisoner might first pay the penalty for his lighter crimes by being tortured on the rack, and then by being hanged on the gallows to forfeit his life for his graver transgressions. This was in accordance with the laws of the Tripartitum of 1515, 1625, and 1655.

The death sentence was carried out on March 17 or 18, before a vast assembly of people, on the execution grounds of St. Mikulas, on the Vah near the Paludzky bridge. There the young robber-chieftain was hanged on the gallows, and his lifeless body was buried beneath it as was the custom of that time.

According to popular legends, Janosik, though weighed down by his heavy shackles, danced the "hajduchy" (a lively folk dance) four times around the gallows, just before his death. Another legendary story tells of a courier who came directly from the Emperor with his imperial pardon, but it was too late, for the daring youth, who had promised to recruit four regiments of soldiers for the Emperor , was already hanging on the rack. He refused the amnesty with the words, "Now that you have roasted me, you might as well devour me." He is said to have died after being suspended by his rib on the rack for three days.

All nature seemed to go into mourning for this youth, whose merry songs once resounded through the glen. The babbling brooks became silent, the animals in the forest ceased their activity momentarily in silent tribute to their departed hero. A sudden hush came over all, and his many friends, far and near, were overcome by sorrow at his passing. An annual penalty was imposed on Liptov County by the Emperor for having sentenced Janosik to death, and, until recent times, four measures of gold ducats were paid to the imperial treasury each year. That is the story in legendary accounts.

The people believed in Janosik's nobility of character. It is said that his body was buried in the crypt of the church in St. Mikulas, where it lies in a state of complete preservation awaiting the day when a new Janosik will arise and strike down the oppressors of his people. Many years after this sad event, it was reported that while some youngsters were playing near the town of Hajasov, one of the boys playfully lifted the corner of a nearby hut and hid his cap underneath. This feat of amazing strength reached the ears of the nobility, who quickly removed this new performer, whom they considered another Janosik.

Janosik's execution was the signal for the authorities to capture all the remaining outlaws still at large in Slovakia. Emerich Kubiny, the registrar of Liptov, was sent to Malohont with warrants to arrest all suspects. In April, Uhorcik, alias Martin Mravec, was captured at St. Mikulas, where he had married and settled down as a tavern-keeper, the proprietor of the Gray Falcon. He was given a hasty trial and condemned to die on the rack. An imperial decree was issued by which the county magistrates would be held responsible in the future for all banditry in their areas, and on April 17 , 1713, the assembly at Liptov approved of the motion to round up the outlaws. The imperial marshal, John Palfy, arrived to enforce the emperor's instructions.

Continue on to Part Two of Janosik's Story.

Slovak Tales for Young and Old in English

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