History Check 4: Constance Markievicz

29 April, 1916

The soldier kneels in the muddy ground, resting a rifle on the parapet of the trench and looking across no man’s land toward the enemy with the white flag. For days, shells have fallen continuously, their deep booms punctuating the sharp crack of rifle fire and the stutter of machine guns. They have lost contact with other positions and have been forced to hold out with little understanding of what is going on in the larger battle.

The soldier watches, covering Commandant Mallin as he talks with the man with the white flag. A breeze stirs the sheet doing service as a flag of truce, as well as the pale green of their own flag hovering over the trench. The man gives Mallin a paper and he walks back to the trench line. The soldiers rise and gather round as Mallin reads the paper. It is an order from their commander, an order to surrender.

Far away men are fighting and dying in the muddy fields of France, the plains of Russia, the Mountains of the Balkans and the riverlands of Mesopotamia. But here in Dublin, the Easter Rising has come to an end. They are rebels – traitors in British eyes – and they know what surrender will likely mean, especially for officers like the soldier.

The soldier, Lt. Constance Markievicz, brushes mud from her dark green uniform and settles her plumed cap over her tangled hair. She joins the line of men walking toward the British soldiers to stack their arms. As she reaches the pile of rifles, she raises her weapon to her lips, kisses it reverently and lays it on the stack. She looks up at the British officer, a Captain who she recognizes; he’s married to her cousin. She nods to him and says, “I am ready.”

 

Markievicz in History

Markievicz the Socialite

Constance Georgine Gore-Booth made an unlikely rebel, let alone an Irish nationalist or a socialist. For one thing, her family was not native to the island. They were descended from English aristocracy who immigrated to Ireland during one of England’s attempts to colonize restive island. For another, they were wealthy. Markievicz had attended her first meeting of the nationalist party Sinn Fein still wearing her gown from the ball she had just attended at Dublin Castle – the heart of English power in the city. But Constance grew to see the British Empire as inherently oppressive: to workers, to women, to its colonies, and specifically to Ireland. Her childhood friendship with the future nationalist poet W.B. Yeats (who would dedicate a poem to her and her sister after their deaths) no doubt played a role, but so also did her father’s social conscience. Sir Henry Gore-Booth was a landlord in northwest Ireland,  but unlike much of the Victorian aristocracy,  he saw his wealth as an obligation to do something for others. During the famine of 1879, Sir Henry fed his tenants out of his own funds. Both Constance and her sister Eva would grow up to become involved in activism for labor rights and women’s suffrage, but Constance felt a deeper loyalty to Ireland, and it would lead her down a radical path.

 

Markievicz became involved in politics around 1908, joining Sinn Fein that year. She performed in nationalist plays at the Abbey Theatre and worked to defeat Winston Churchill’s election to Parliament. She helped found Fianna Eireann, an Irish nationalist equivalent to the British and American Boy Scouts. Her first trip to jail came in 1911 when she spoke at a mass demonstration for the Irish Republican Brotherhood and threw stones at pictures of King George. It was here that she discovered that her social rank made the justice system reluctant to punish her, often punishing others in her stead – even when she testified to her own guilt in court. She used her own money to feed striking workers – selling her jewelry and taking out loans when that failed her. Speaking to other female activists she advised, “Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank, and buy a revolver.” One observer marked her penchant for showing up to parades heavily armed by saying “that the casual onlooker might be readily pardoned for mistaking her for the representative of an enterprising firm of small arms manufacturers.”

 

Markievicz the Rebel

The failed Easter Rising of 1916 would eventually lead to the Irish War for Independence, and the subsequent Irish Civil War. Markieviscz was in the midst of it all. She helped as a surgeon and a sniper during the Rising, an act not even the British legal system could ignore. When the court reduced her death sentence due to her being a woman, she replied to the court, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” She was sentenced to life in prison, but was released a year later in a general amnesty in response to international pressure over the excessive harshness of Britain’s dealings with Ireland after the Rising.

Markievicz was jailed again in 1918 when she protested conscription. While there, she became the first woman elected to the UK House of Commons, though she refused to take her seat in solidarity with Sinn Fein’s boycott of the British government. Instead, she returned to the nationalist struggle, using her social connections to help the rebel government find safehouses. She used her notoriety to force factory owners to compromise on negotiations with workers (the longer they stayed in a meeting with her, the more likely that the police would raid the building). She worked as a spy since being a woman made the police less observant of her. On one memorable occasion she stashed a briefcase full of incriminating documents in the front window of a thrift store – trusting her hand-made tag with its outrageous price to protect it. The papers sat in the window for weeks before Markievicz sent someone around with enough money to buy it back.

After Ireland won Home Rule and the Independence movement fell into Civil War, Markievicz seems to have lost her passion for the conflict. Fighting the British was one thing, but her fellow Irish was another. When the war ended, she returned to her roots as a philanthropist – though without the wealth she’d started life with. Instead she used her hands, fixing trucks and using them to deliver goods to the needy. She died at the age of 59 in 1927. In 2018, the centenary of her election, the government of Ireland cheekily donated a portrait of the famous and unrepentant rebel to the House of Commons. It was displayed as part of a celebration of women’s suffrage. One supposes that with Ireland independent at last, it was now acceptable for Constant Markievicz to take her place in the chamber.

 

Markievicz on the Tabetop

Strong Boots and a Revolver are a girl’s true best friends.

Makievicz makes for a nice character inspiration in part due to her complexity. Is she a terrorist or a freedom fighter? Do we remember her stand for the disenfranchised, or for the often vicious violence that characterized certain phases of the Irish Independence movement? As an historian, I must say both – we should recall our historical figures ‘warts and all.’ As a Tabletop RPG player, this kind of nuance works best in a ‘shades of gray’ campaign, but can have its place even in a more classic fantasy setting. Markievicz might make an excellent NPC; part of an organization the PCs are allied with or a part of, forcing them to deal with the ethical questions of armed rebellion. As a PC her life makes for great inspiration for any sort of character whose story is about rising up against oppression. In fact, her ‘riches to rebel’ story puts one in mind of Princess Leia from the Star Wars saga. An entire campaign could even be based around this sort of rebel movement. The Pathfinder adventure path Hell’s Rebels is just such a story.

So what are the essential notes we need to hit to build this character? Markievicz was clearly skilled in deception and stealth. She also had a strong personality, implying a level of charisma. We know she was educated, so intelligence would probably be a strong attribute as well. We know she was competent with firearms, but have no reason to believe she was a remarkable marksman, so we need not worry too much about specific combat skills.

 

Building Constance Markievicz

Background

Markievicz was definitely upper class, and used her position to the benefit of causes she believed in. I think the Noble background is the obvious choice. The “Position of Privilege” feature is a fantastic representation of Markievicz’s ability to move through the upper echelons of society smoothly, and is one that a clever player might put to some very fun uses during adventures that requires infiltration.

 

Species

Like many historical figures, there is no special reason to pick one species over another for Markievicz. To make the choice, I would look at whether the campaign setting has a species that makes up the aristocracy of the nation our game is set in, and use that for the build. Game set in an elvish kingdom? Then she’s an elf or half-elf. In the kingdom of Darguun in the Eberron setting? Then she’s a hobgoblin. Whatever species you land on, the important feature is that this character is no longer willing to benefit from a system she sees as oppressive, and is now actively fighting against it.

 

Class

Stealth and Deception obviously speak of Rogues to most people, and Markievicz would definitely make an outstanding rogue. A Bard would also go far to represent her charismatic abilities as well as her penchant for a dramatic gesture. I think these two probably do the best job of representing Markievicz’s skill set as she displayed it, and there is no real way to pick between them. In such cases, it all comes down to preference. My inclination is bard because Markievicz was not primarily a combatant and bard seems to represent her ability to transition from socialite to rebel to politician to spy to philanthropist. But since there is no specific reason to choose bard over rogue, I’ll offer some insights on both. For bard, I’d pick the College of Whispers. Markievicz wasn’t shy about being sharp-tongued and would absolutely have hit British troops with Vicious Mockery given the opportunity. Mantel of Whispers is a great (if dark) ability for a spy and would have served her well. If going the Rogue route, I would be torn between having her be a Thief or a Mastermind, but would lean toward Mastermind. Its 3rd level Tactics and Intrigue abilities could easily be keyed to actual exploits of the historical Markievicz!

 

Markievicz in Eberron

To place Markievicz in Eberron, we need to find a place where a scrappy insurgency is fighting for freedom against oppression. There’s plenty of oppression to be found in Eberron, especially if we broaden the idea beyond political oppression to discuss corruption or the influence of the Houses. So Markievicz could be placed nearly anywhere – the mean streets of Sharn, the troubled city of Thaliost, or the jungles of Qbarra with their humanoid invaders pushing in on the lands of the Scales. If I’m building her, I think I would select the Eldeen Reaches. The relationship between Aundair and the Reaches can easily relate to that of Britain and Ireland. The Eldeen rebels broke away from Aundair during the Last War, much as the Easter Rising tried to during the Great War, and Aundair has designs on recovering its lost western territories. This would especially be great in a campaign set during the war itself. In such a campaign, Markievicz is the daughter of an Aundairian aristocrat and landholder in the Eldeen lands. Fed up with the treatment of the Reachers, she abandons her life of luxury and joins the rebels, helping gather information and supplies for the insurgency by slipping across the lines and moving through the cities of Aundair as a spy.

 

Well, that’s all for today, hopefully this complex character can enhance your gaming experience in some way, whether PC or NPC. Markievicz was not one to allow society to put her in a box, and we should celebrate her independent spirit.

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