Kicking ass and looking intimidating while wearing a frilly, wide-brimmed foppy Victorian aristocrat’s Sunday hat isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world, but when I guess when you’re one of history’s most pure-blooded badasses you can find a way to make that shit work... especially when you’re packing a silver six-shooter revolver big enough to make Dirty Harry give you a solemn steely-eyed bro-to-bro head nod. Known as “The Rebel Countess,” Constance Markievicz was an early 20th-century suffragette, writer, poet, revolutionary warrior, sharpshooting instructor, gunslinger, sniper, and political agitator who spent the better part of the 1910s either busting caps at British officers, fistfighting cops, training Irishmen in pistol marksmanship, or performing balls-out acts of civil disobedience that saw her routinely locked up in some of the most horrible prison hellholes the British Isles had to offer. When she wasn’t serving on the Irish Cabinet or being arrested for disorderly conduct, the Rebel Countess was also a Major in the Irish Republican Army, and her role in the Easter Uprising of 1916 helped kick-start the struggle that broke Ireland away from Great Britain as a separate country.
At one point, the Rebel Countess was sentenced to be executed by firing squad for her role in a particularly bloody Irish uprising against British rule – when she learned that her sentence was going to be commuted to “a lifetime of hard labor” because of her gender, she cursed out the prosecuting attorneys, dared the British to “man up” and shoot her, and then (when they refused) she went out and became the first woman elected to the British House of Commons – a position she was somehow still elected to even while imprisoned for seditious speech against the British government. Even after she got out of the can Markievicz was so gangster that she never even showed up to take office, abstaining from her elected position out of protest. Later she went on to be a Cabinet minister in the independent Irish government and spent her spare time fixing racecars and tearing ass around the Emerald Isle in some of the fastest vehicles she could get her hands on, just for the hell of it.
Yes, she always wore that hat when she went into battle.
Constance was born in London on February 4, 1868. Her maiden name was Gore-Booth, which sounds like a small room where people get horribly mutilated, and that’s probably fitting because this woman would go on to kick a lot of ass as a sniper and revolver marksman during one of the most brutal, bitterly-contested conflicts in the history of Western Civilization. Her family was loaded, and they owned a huge estate in County Sligo, Ireland. Her pops was a badass arctic explorer so nuts that he has the phrases “polar bear hunting” and “shark fishing” hotlinked in his Wikipedia entry, so you can probably imagine that Constance had a fairly non-traditional upbringing consisting of sucker-punching megafauna in the throat and then displaying their taxidermied corpses prominently in her living room like an awesomely-rad conversation starter.
An avid reader, writer, artist, and poet, Constance went off to art school in Paris, where she met and married a dang Polish Count named Casimir Markievicz. Casimir was pretty cool, I suppose, but when he decided he wanted to move to Eastern Europe to work as a journalist covering the events that would become World War I, Constance was like, “yeah you have fun with that” and moved back to Dublin where she was (only slightly) less likely to be chummed into bait by a German artillery shell.
Countess Markievicz had been an excellent shooter since she was a young girl, but when the Countess got back to Dublin she really wasn’t at the point yet where she was read to start cranking off rounds at police officers just yet. Instead she opted for something a little less shooty and founded an artist and writer’s club, inviting some of the best creative minds of the city to come do chill stuff like read poetry and paint stuff and possibly paper mache adorable animals or whatnot.
Around this time is when she started getting really in to the Sinn Fein revolutionary literature that was floating around Dublin during this time. Now, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the Irish and the English haven’t always gotten along that well, and but around the turn of the 20th century things were really starting to come to a boil in Ireland. Ireland was part of the British Empire at this time, and a lot of people were pissed off and wanted to break away and form an independent Ireland. Countess Markievicz was one of these people, and in 1909 she founded a militant women’s organization called the Daughters of Ireland. Working tirelessly, Constance started training the women how to fire a pistol, fortify a building, protest injustice perpetrated by the government, and prepare to fight for a revolution. The Daughters of Ireland became hardcore suffragettes, fighting for a woman’s’ right to vote in Parliamentary elections, and in 1911 Markievicz was arrested for protesting during a visit by the British King. I guess the King showed up in Ireland and was greeted by a crowd of pro-British folks waving Union Jack flags, but Constance just brought a huge black flack and draped it front-and-center during his visit as a “fuck you” to the King. Some asshole loyalist tried to whack Constance with a British flag to put her in her place, but, according to the story, the wooden flagpole shattered into splinters as soon as it struck her, and she just stood there, totally unhurt, just staring the dude down with an epic mean-mugging.
After a few months in prison, the Rebel Countess was back in action, this time helping organize the Dublin Lockout, a mass protest against British persecution of the Irish working class. When the British tried to starve out the protesting Irish, Constance used her own money to buy supplies and personally ran a soup kitchen that provided food to starving workers and their families.
This sort of thing went on for a while, but then the volatile situation in Ireland came to an explosion during the week of Easter 1916, when the people of Dublin rose up in an armed rebellion and declared an independent Irish Republic. The Irish Citizen’s Army, including 200 of the Daughters of Ireland, flipped over cars, built makeshift barricades, fortified structures throughout the city, and rose up in armed revolt against the English. From one of the buildings, the Rebel Countess holed up for a week with a bolt-action Enfield and a nickel-plated six-shooter and started taking potshots on the British soldiers sent to quell the rebellion. When she wasn’t sniping English officers with ruthless efficiency from behind her sandbagged perch, Major Constance Markievicz was also second in command of the Irish forces, directing troops and squads in a desperate attempt to hold Dublin from the British. As artillery, machine guns, and other World War I armaments rained down gunfire and explosions, Constance Markievicz and the Irish Citizen’s Army held out for six long days, battling for their freedom even though they were massively outmatched by the might of the British Army. When the rebel forces were finally overrun, Constance Markievicz is said to have kissed her revolver before surrendering it to the British. Which is rad as fuck.
As one of the leaders of the rebellion, Constance was brought to trial and sentenced to death. Even as her friends and allies were being executed for their actions, this rebel Countess stood tall in court, declaring to the judge “I did what I thought was right, and I stand by it.” When the judge declared that she be sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor, she allegedly sighed and disappointedly remarked, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.”
Even though she was sentenced to life in prison, Constance Markievicz only served 13 months of her sentence. She was released in 1917, after a General Amnesty was issued for all Irish rebels, and then just one year later Markievicz used her popularity among the Irish people to became the first woman ever elected to the British House of Commons. Of course, as I said, she didn’t take office, and not just because at the time she was elected she was actually in prison for protesting British conscription laws. Like the rest of her Sinn Fein party brethren, Constance would never actually take her seat in the British government – because all members of Parliament are required to swear an oath of allegiance to the King of England, and she wasn’t going to ever do that.
Ireland fought another major war for independence in 1919, and Constance Markievicz once again was on the forefront of battle. She helped stitch uniforms, trained fighters, supplied food with her own money, and served as the Minister of Labor in the Irish Dail government from 1919-1921. After the war, however, she kind of had a falling-out with the leadership because she thought they’d wimped out and agreed to a treaty that didn’t grant complete independence from Britain. She headed to the United States to try and drum up support from Irish-Americans, and was able to raise some money and weapons for her cause.
The Rebel Countess spent her later years fighting for women’s suffrage, and at one point while imprisoned for civil disobedience she organized a 92-woman hunger strike that was so effective that she was released less than a month later. Even into her 50s she loved race cars, taught herself how to build and repair automobiles, and was still a vocal proponent of Irish independence. When she died of appendicitis in 1927 at the age of 59, nearly 250,000 people lined the streets of Dublin for her funeral.
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