According to 24.hu, Hungary’s first prime minister tried to commit suicide with a paper knife to avoid the loss of his honour by hanging. He actually managed to die an honourable and merciful death. Haynau was raging when he heard about Batthyány’s “gracious death”.
Lajos Batthyány was the first prime minister of Hungary responsible for the parliament and appointed by V. Ferdinand. As the relationship between the Hungarian leadership and the Habsburg dynasty worsened he receded. His role came down to help the communication of these two.
However, he still became the second biggest scapegoat after Kossuth in the eyes of the Austrians.
In January, 1849 he lead the peace legation and went to the camp of Prince Alfred zu Windisch-Grätz in Bicske. The Prince did not see him, so he asked his attorney general if his life could be in danger?
Ferenc Deák argued that he does not have to be afraid, but just to be sure, he should leave the country. He proudly answered:
“I won’t be a deserter because of some abject years.”
What was his sin?
Now we already know that it was about “some years”. As a military envoy in Bicske they could not catch him but Windisch-Grätz, after a few days of hospitality, took him and the whole legation to the freshly occupied capital city, where, according to the military rules, his immunity became nonexistent: Batthyány was arrested on the 8th of January and they took him to one of the buildings belonging to the Royal Council of Governors in Buda.
The Central Military and Political Board of Enquiry asked about the reasons of his arrest on 14th January.
The answer did not matter, because, although it was not an everyday conceptual suit, his culpability and the judgement was known in advance.
The judge himself was mislead, because they said to him that the judgement will be followed by the mercy of the sovereign.
He was heavily humiliated
It was a great international disappointment when it came to light that Lajos Batthyány was sentenced to death by hanging on the day of the revolution of Wien, October 6th, 1849. This was the day when the martyrs of Arad were sentenced to death too.
“Hanging is the treatment for murderers and criminals, it was not meant for a figure like Batthyány. It was all about revenge, and it was the best way to humiliate Batthyány.”
(Róbert Hermann, historian)
As the prime minister of Hungary, as a Hungarian nobleman, knowing that he is innocent, Batthyány could not stand this. He made his move. He tried to kill himself with a paper knife. When his wife visited him, last time on the 5th of October in 1849, she gave him a knife. It was a small blade, not strong enough, but Antónia Zichy was checked every single time, so she could not bring any other weapon.
To avoid the loss of his honour he tried to commit suicide. It was not an easy thing to do because, the guards were standing in front of his door and the knife was not appropriate for the job.
“He laid on his bed and pulled his up blanket. First he wanted to prick his heart, but the blade was too short and weak, it even broke on his rib. Then he cut his artery on his neck. He needed to be very brave and strong to do that.” (Róbert Hermann)
The guards realized what happened and the quick medical help saved the life of the prime minister. Batthyány achieved his goal: the captain of the Pest-Buda military area decided to reconsider and sentence him to death by a bullet.
Come on hunters! Long live the country!
Johann Kempen von Fichtenstamm lieutenant-general was not in an easy situation, to be honest. The executions were planned to happen on the first anniversary of the revolution in Wien.
The lieutenant-general could not take the responsibility himself to alter the decision and postpone the execution, but he did not want a bloodbath: if they take off the bands, Batthyány’s blood would be all over…
He made the best possible choice when he took him to stand in front of a firing squad on the 6th of October. Lajos Batthyány tottered to the wood market behind Újépület of Pest and got down on his knees. He did not let them cover his eyes and he himself gave the command to shoot.
“Allez Jäger!” meaning “ Come on Hunters!”
Then he shouted: “Long live the country!”
One bullet went through his heart, one damaged his lunges and one made a hole in his head. At the place of his death the Batthyány eternal flame burns in the Hold street.
Haynau was raging when he heard the news about Batthyány’s “gracious death”, but he could not do anything against it, just punish Kempen.
Translated by Attila Horváth