On 20th February 1810 Andreas Hofer was executed by firing squad, on the orders of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Andreas Hofer was an innkeeper who lived in the Tyrol, which is the westernmost part of present-day Austria. In Hofer’s time the Tyrol was part of the Austrian Empire which was coming under severe pressure from France to cede control of it to Bavaria, which was part of Napoleon’s growing European Empire. This is what happened in 1809, much to Hofer’s disgust.
Hofer led an insurrection and defeated the Bavarians at the battle of Berg Isel, after which he declared himself Commander in Chief of the Tyrol, headquartered at Innsbruck. Emperor Franz agreed to take the Tyrol back under his protection, but this did not please Napoleon who once again demanded that the province be ceded to Bavaria.
Andreas Hofer continued his resistance, which led Napoleon to put a price on his head. Hofer was eventually tracked down to a shepherd’s hut in the mountains, from where he was taken barefoot in the snow to Mantua, in northern Italy.
After a rigged trial Andreas Hofer was sentenced to death, although his judges did not seem to be particularly keen on having the sentence carried out. However, Hofer’s fate was sealed when Napoleon sent a message demanding to know the date set for the execution.
That date was 20th February, when Hofer bravely faced the firing squad – refusing a blindfold and himself giving the order to fire. His remains were taken back to Innsbruck 13 years later and his memory is still revered in the Tyrol.
© John Welford