Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History's Notorious and Victorious
Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious

Khalid Elhassan - August 12, 2021

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Hugh Latimer takes his final walk to his execution site. Davenant Institute

12. Memorable Final Words Amidst the Flames

Henry VIII was succeeded on the throne by his underage son, Edward VI, who was staunchly Protestant. Hugh Latimer regained royal favor, was appointed court preacher, and became the young king’s chaplain. However, Edward died young and without issue, and was succeeded by his sister Mary, a staunch Catholic who viewed Protestantism as a heresy, and was determined to restore England to Catholicism. Early in her reign, she had prominent Protestants such as Latimer imprisoned and tried for heresy. Latimer, along with fellow bishop Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, was tried for heresy in Oxford in 1555. He was convicted when he refused to renounce his faith, and was sentenced to be burned at the stake.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Hugh Latimer had some memorable final words. Wellcome Collection

Latimer was chained to the stake alongside Ridley. When the flames were lit, Ridley cried out in agony. Latimer sought to comfort him even as he himself was consumed by fire, and uttered his final words through the smoke and flames: “be of good cheer, master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle in England, as I hope, by God’s grace, shall never be put out.” It could be argued that the candle still burns. Queen Mary’s efforts to restore Catholicism failed. When she died in 1558, she was succeeded by her Protestant sister, Elizabeth I, and England has been Protestant ever since.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
John Rackham, also known as Calico Jack. Wikimedia

11. A Pirate Who Became Famous Because of Who He Knew, Not What He Did

John Rackham, better known as Calico Jack (1682 – 1720), is one of the best-known pirates of the Golden Age of Piracy. That is not because he was particularly successful – compared to other famous pirates, his career was middling and his accomplishments mediocre. Instead, his fame rests upon his association with more successful pirates; his venality and backstabbing which stood out even in a profession built on venality and backstabbing; and because his first mate designed the Jolly Roger flag. Most importantly, he became known because his crew included two famous female pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, and because of Anne Bonny’s final words to him.

Rackham was nicknamed Calico Jack because of the colorful calico clothes he favored. He was the quartermaster aboard the pirate sloop Ranger in 1718, when she encountered a French man of war twice her size, and the pirate captain, choosing discretion over valor, fled. Rackham and the crew decried what they viewed as cowardice, and soon thereafter they voted the captain out of the command. In his place, the pirates elected Calico Jack. As captain, he specialized in plundering small vessels engaged in coastal trade but fell upon larger ships when the opportunity presented itself.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Bronze statue in the Bahamas of Anne Bonny who had some brutal final words for Calico Jack, and her friend Mary Read. Pinterest

10. Brutal Final Words From Calico Jack’s Lover

In 1719, John Rackham, AKA Calico Jack, accepted a royal pardon, renounced piracy, and was commissioned by the governor of the Bahamas to hunt pirates. However, a love triangle that involved Anne Bonny grew complicated, and the duo stole a slip and slipped out of the Bahamas. That voided Rackham’s recent pardon. In October 1720, a pirate hunter chanced upon Rackham’s ship at anchor, while Calico Jack and most of his men were too drunk to offer effective resistance. The only fight was made by the women, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who offered fierce resistance before they were finally subdued.

Captured, Calico Jack was tried and convicted of piracy and was sentenced to death by hanging. His lover, spared the noose after “pleading her belly” – she was pregnant – had little sympathy for him. When he grew maudlin as he bade her goodbye before his execution, Bonny’s final words to him were brutal: “if you had fought like a man, you would not hang now like a dog!” He was hanged on November 18, 1720, and his corpse was displayed from a gibbet at the entrance to Port Royal, Jamaica, in an inlet known thereafter as Rackham’s Cay.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
A reconstructed statue of Augustus as a younger Octavius. Wikimedia

9. A Young Man Who Defied Expectations

Gaius Octavius (63 BC – 14 AD), known to history as Augustus Caesar or just plain Augustus, was Rome’s first emperor. He was born to an affluent plebian family on his father’s side, while his mother was of the patrician Julii lineage and a niece of Julius Caesar. Octavius’ famous grand-uncle launched his grand-nephew into public life and groomed him to be his heir. Octavius was in Albania, completing his military and academic studies when his grand-uncle was assassinated in 44 BC.

When he returned to Italy, he learned that Caesar had adopted him as his son in his will, and made him his chief heir. He was advised to decline the dangerous inheritance, but he ignored the advice and went to Rome. There, Caesar’s lieutenant, Mark Antony, refused to honor the will. Caesar’s assassins ignored the teenager, and Cicero, one of Rome’s chief elder statesmen and a leading figure of a politically powerful but militarily weak faction, sought to manipulate him. As he quipped, he would “raise, praise, then erase” the young man.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Bust of Augustus wearing the Civic Crown. Wikimedia

8. From an Ignored Nobody to a Feared Somebody

While everybody underestimated Octavius, he paid for public games in honor of his adoptive father to gain recognition and popularity and wooed Caesar’s veteran soldiers to his side. When Octavius secured a military force under his command, Cicero’s faction sought the young man’s aid. They bent the rules to appoint him a senator despite his youth, and sent him against Mark Antony, who was forced to retreat from Italy to Gaul. The consuls in official command of the forces arrayed against Mark Antony were killed, so Octavius got the Senate to appoint him to a vacant consulship despite his youth.

He then double-crossed the Senate, reached an agreement with Mark Antony and joined him in a power-sharing dictatorship. They then exacted a terrible revenge upon their foes with the launch of a massive purge that executed thousands of opponents, actual and suspected, including Cicero. Next, they went after Julius Caesar’s assassins and defeated them in a final battle. Octavius and Antony then swore friendship, sealed the bargain with the marriage of Antony and Octavius’ sister, and divided the Roman Empire. Antony was given the east, while Octavius stayed in Rome and ruled the west.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Augustus’ final words were quite apt. Pinterest

7. The Final Words of Rome’s Greatest Emperor

In Egypt, Mark Antony fell in love with Cleopatra, married her, and abandoned Octavius’ sister. Octavius used that as a pretext to attack Antony, whom he defeated decisively in 31 BC. He then seized Egypt and the eastern provinces and brought the entire Roman Empire under his control. Octavius then reorganized the state. He ended the Roman Republic, whose political structure, created for a city-state, had proved impractical for the governance of a vast empire. The result was a century of chaos and bloodshed until the reins were taken by Octavius, whom the Senate granted the honorific “Augustus”.

In the Republic’s place, Augustus established a stable, autocratic, and centralized de-facto monarchy. He inaugurated a period known as the Pax Romana, that brought to the Greco-Roman world two centuries of peace, stability, and prosperity. He held supreme power in the Roman world from 43 BC, first in conjunction with Mark Antony until 31 BC, and thereafter alone, until his death in 14 AD. Comparing the role he had to play as emperor to the theater, Augustus’ final words to those gathered around his deathbed were: “Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit“.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Stjepan Filipovic, whose memorable final words made him a Yugoslav hero. Pozitivno

6. The Croatian World War II Hero

To come up with defiant final words against tyranny and oppression while at death’s door is badass. Then there is shouting defiance against tyranny and oppression while the oppressive tyrant’s noose is around one’s neck type of daring, which takes things to another level. Stjepan Filopivic managed to pull off the latter in World War II, when he shouted to a gathered crowd “Death to fascism! Freedom to the people!” with a Nazi noose around his neck. They were his final words on earth, just a split second before his execution.

Stjepan Filipovic was a Croatian who was born in 1916 in what became Yugoslavia after World War I. He left home when he was sixteen-years-old, and got a job as a metalworker. In 1937, he joined the local workers’ movement and became an activist member. He was arrested for political activity and was sentenced to a year in jail. His time behind bars only served to further radicalize him, and upon his release in 1940, he joined the Communist Party. He was radicalized even further when Germany invaded and conquered Yugoslavia in 1941.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Stjepan Filipovic shouting his final words of defiance. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

5. Sublimely Defiant Final Words

Stjepan Filipovic volunteered to join the partisan resistance against the Nazi occupiers, and he was posted to a guerrilla unit near Valjevo, in today’s Serbia. He was given responsibility for recruitment and for weapons supplies, excelled in his duties, and showed significant promise. Between that and conspicuous daring, he rose to command an entire partisan battalion by the end of 1941. However, he was captured by the Nazis in February 1942, and was sentenced to be publicly hanged in Valjevo’s town square. At death’s door, Stjepan Filipovic had the courage and presence of mind to seize the moment and defy his captors during his final seconds on earth.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Statue of Stjepan Filipovic’s final defiance. Kostatadic

Atop the gallows, and with the hangman’s noose around his neck, Filipovic daringly thrust his hands in the air and struck a dramatic pose that was captured on camera. He urged the gathered crowd to continue the struggle against the Nazi oppressors and their Yugoslav collaborators, and cried out just before he was hanged: “Death to fascism, freedom to the people!” It was a preexisting partisan slogan, and Filipovic’s martyrdom helped popularize it. After the war, Filipovic was designated a national hero of Yugoslavia. A monumental statue was erected in Valjevo in his honor, replicating his Y-shaped pose in an artistic rendition reminiscent of a Goya painting.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
A medieval manuscript’s depiction of Al Saffah’s proclamation as Caliph. Wikimedia

4. The Well-Named Spiller of Blood Was the First to Feast Atop the Bodies of Defeated Enemies

As seen above, the Mongols had feasted over the still-living bodies of defeated Rus and Cuman commanders after the Battle of Kalka River in 1223. However, that was not the first time that vanquished leaders had faced such a fate. Such a ghoulish mode of celebration seems to have been pioneered by the first Abbasid Caliph Abul Abbas (722 – 754). Nicknamed Al Saffah (“Spiller of Blood” – a well-earned nickname), he feasted atop the bodies of his foes after he defeated and displaced the Ummayad Dynasty as Caliphs.

Al Saffah had initiated a revolt against the Ummayads and crushed them in a climactic battle in 750. He then tracked down and killed as many members of the defeated dynasty as he could get his hands on. In 751, Al Saffah declared an amnesty, and 80 surviving Ummayad princes emerged from hiding to receive their pardons at a banquet. It turned out to be their final meal. Al Saffah had them seized, stabbed, covered their quivering bodies with leather rugs, then sat down and bade other guests join him in a feast as the dying Ummayads writhed beneath them.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Vespasian. Wikimedia

3. From Humble Origins to the Heights of Power

The Roman Emperor Vespasian (9 – 79 AD), was born Titus Flavius Vespasianus in an unremarkable village named Falacrinae, northeast of Rome. He hailed from a relatively comfortable but otherwise undistinguished family without pedigree, of the equestrian class – the second of the property-based classes of ancient Rome, that ranked below the senatorial class. His ancestors included a common legionary who went on to become a centurion, a debt collector, and a small-scale money lender with a clientele of barbarians.

Vespasian rose from his humble origins to become emperor of Rome and found the Flavian Dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire for three decades. A self-made man, he entered the cursus honorum (the career ladder of Roman officialdom) as a military tribune, and steadily rose through its military and civilian positions. His first big break came during the invasion of Britain in 43 AD, when he displayed exceptional brilliance in command of a Roman legion, and won the esteem of Emperor Claudius. That led to a consulship, but he displeased Claudius’ wife, and was forced to retire soon thereafter.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Roman capture of Jerusalem in the final stages of the Great Jewish Revolt. Pintrest

2. Vespasian Transformed the Year of the Three Emperors Into the Year of the Four Emperors

Vespasian reemerged from retirement after Emperor Claudius’ death, and won favor with his successor, Nero. His restored career was derailed, however, when he fell asleep while Nero was giving a lyre recital. Things got so bad for Vespasian that he was forced to become a muleteer to make ends meet. His fortunes revived when he was appointed to suppress the Jewish Rebellion in 67 AD, and he was busily engaged in that when Nero was forced from power and driven to suicide in 68.

In the subsequent scramble for power, rival governors and generals mounted the throne in quick succession. By April of 69, the year was already known as “The Year of the Three Emperors”. Vespasian reasoned why not four? He secured support in the Roman east, then declared himself emperor and sent his forces to Rome. By year’s end, his armies had triumphed, and won a final victory that secured the Empire for Vespasian. His rule was successful, as he restored stability and good governance, and launched a massive building and public works program.

Final Meals, Feasts, and Words from History’s Notorious and Victorious
Bust at the Capitoline Museum of Vespasian, who kept his humor until his final breath. Bible History

1. This Emperor’s Final Words Were Wholly in Character

Vespasian had a reputation for wit and amiability. As emperor, he seldom stood on ceremony, but cultivated a blunt and even coarse mannerism, and was given to forthright speech. He never forgot his origins and resisted the temptation to put on airs to which most Roman emperors succumbed. One of his revenue-raising schemes involved a tax on public urinals, which was widely ridiculed. His son and designated heir took him to task for that and argued that it was beneath imperial dignity to collect revenue from bodily excreta.

In response, Vespasian held a coin beneath his son’s nose and asked whether he could smell any urine. He concluded the lesson with the statement: “money does not smell” – which became a Latin proverb. Vespasian’s final words were in line with his character. Starting with Julius Caesar, who was declared a god after his assassination, Roman emperors who died in good repute were deified after death. When he felt the end nearing 79 AD, Vespasian, in a final illustration of a lifelong penchant for not taking himself too seriously, joked just before he drew his last breath: “dear me, I think I am becoming a god“.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

History Collection – 10 Memorable Dying Statements From Famous Figures

American Battlefield Trust – The Death of John Sedgwick

Biography – Gary Gilmore

Cassius Dio – Roman History

Defoe, Daniel – A General History of the Pirates (2017 Reprint)

Dodwell, Henry – The Founder of Modern Egypt: A Study of Muhammad Ali (1931)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Hugh Latimer

First Things, a Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, No. 284, 2018, p. 33+ – Latimer and Ridley are Forgotten: Peter Hitchens Recovers a Protestant Understanding of England’s Martyrs

Gabriel, Richard – Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan’s Greatest General (2004)

Gonick, Larry – The Cartoon History of the Universe III: From the Rise of Arabia to the Renaissance (2002)

History Collection – The Fart That Killed 10,000 People

International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 27, No. 1, (Feb., 1995) – The Military Household in Ottoman Egypt

Jackson, Peter – The Mongols and the West (2005)

Morgan, Gwyn – 69 AD, the Year of the Four Emperors (2006)

Muslu, Cihan Yuksel – The Ottomans and the Mamluks: Imperial Diplomacy and Warfare in the Islamic World (2014)

Nicolaus of Damascus – Life of Augustus

Rawi, Egypt’s Heritage Review – Coffee With the Pasha: The Story of Egypt’s Most Famous Massacre

Suetonius – The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

Top Tenz – Gallows Grub: Final Feasts

Wheen, Francis – Karl Marx: A Life (1999)

Wikipedia – Calico Jack

Wikipedia – Muhammad Ali’s Seizure of Power

Wikipedia – Stjepan Filipovic

Williams, John Alden, ed. – The History of Al-Tabari, Volume XXVII: The Abbasid Revolution, AD 743-750 (1985)