Francesc Ferrer i Guardia was an important Catalan pedagogue, who was accused of having incited the week of riots in Barcelona known as La Setmana Tràgica or Tragic Week and consequently executed by the authorities.
He was born in Alella in El Maresme on January 10th 1859 and from an early age had been associated with first republicans and later anarchists.
He had only returned to Barcelona shortly before the outbreak of the Tragic Week so it is unlikely that he played a significant role in organising the violence.
However, following a trial full of irregularities, he was found guilty and was executed by firing squad on Montjuïc on October 13th 1909.
Ferrer i Guardia's execution provoked an outcry around the world, including demonstrations and newspaper articles and there was even a book published in the United States by Joseph McCabe, entitled The Martyrdom of Ferrer.
The Times said of his death that "Because of negligence or stupidity, the government has confused the freedom of instruction and conscience, the innate right to reason and to express one's thoughts, with the right of opposition, assimilating criminal agitation."
Francesc Ferrer i Guardia was born in Alella on January 10th 1859 into a well to do farming family and in 1873, at the age of 14, his parents sent him to Barcelona to work in a flour company, the owner of which registered him for classes and he became influenced by the republican, federalist and internationalist ideas of Francesc Pi i Margall.
In 1883, whilst working as a conductor on the Barcelona-Cervere railway line, Ferrer i Guardia was also a member of the Partido Republicano Progresista and was closely connected with its leader Manuel Ruiz Zorrilla.
Following an attempted coup, in 1886, Ferrer i Guardia, his wife and three children were forced into exile in Paris, where he gave Spanish lessons and was unpaid secretary to Ruiz Zorrilla.
By the 1890s, he was becoming more influenced by anarchism and freethought and in 1892 participated in the Congreso Universal de Librepensamiento in Madrid.
In 1893, he separated from his wife Teresina, who tried to kill him over the custody of the children, and between 1895 and 1898, he remained in Paris giving classes at the Liceu L'Espagnol Practique.
In 1899, he married Leopoldine Bonnard, a French teacher of free thought, and together they travelled Europe.
He came increasingly into contact with anarchists and anarchosyndicalists and began to develop his anarchist theories of education.
A large inheritance of a million francs from a former student allowed Ferrer i Guardia to return to Barcelona and found the Escola Moderna, which was co-educational, didn't teach religion but rather science and humanism, and encouraged free and individual thought.
The school provoked strong opposition from both the church, which disapproved of lay education, and the authorities, who repeatedly closed it down, and as a result was only open intermittently between 1901 and 1909.
Ferrer i Guardia edited the newspaper La Vaga General (The General Strike), until in 1906, the translator and librarian of the Escola Moderna, Mateu Morral, made an assassination attempt on King Alfonso XIII.
Ferrer i Guardia was arrested and although found not guilty, decided to spend a period of time in France and Belgium, where he continued writing and publishing.
In June 1909. he returned to Catalonia from England and on July 29th, the nine days of rioting known as La Setmana Tràgica or Tragic Week broke out.
Given his anarchist connections, Ferrer i Guardia was arrested accused of instigating the violence.
The trial was full of irregularities and most of the evidence against was circumstancial but Ferrer i Guardia was unpopular with the establishment and most of the Catalan conservative press were clearly against him.
Francesc Ferrer i Guardia was found guilty and on October 13th 1909, he was executed by firing squad outside the castle prison on Montjuïc.
His execution provoked international outcry and in Catalonia, he is considered a martyr. His body now lies in the Cemetery of Montjuïc.
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