Emilia PlaterCountess Emilia Plater (13 November 1806 – 23 December 1831) was a revolutionary from the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. She fought in the November Uprising (1831) and is considered a national hero of Belarus, Poland and Lithuania.
Emilia Plater was born in Wilno (Vilnius), to a notable aristocratic family of Franciszek Ksawery Plater and Anna née Mohl. Her parents divorced when she was nine years old and she was brought up by her distant relatives, the Plater-Żyberk family, in their family manor Liksana in Livonia. Well-educated, Plater was brought up in cult of Tadeusz Kościuszko and Adam Mickiewicz's poems. She was also a fan of Bobolina, a woman who became one of the icons of the Greek uprising against the Ottomans, and Joan of Arc. Such interests were accompanied by interest in horseriding and sharp-shooting, quite uncommon for early 19th century girls of aristocratic families.
In 1829, Emilia Plater began to take a grand tour throughout the historical Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During it she collect the belarusian national songs and today E. Plater is honoured in Belarus as the first belarusian folklorist. After the outbreak of the November Uprising against Imperial Russia (1831), lands of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania were initially unaffected by the fighting and during the initial stages, there were still no anti-Tsarist units formed there. Emilia Plater decided to form one of the first such partisan units herself. She cut her hair, prepared a uniform for herself and organized and equipped a group of volunteers. The unit was composed of roughly 280 infantry, 60 cavalry and several hundred peasants armed with war scythes. From the area of Dyneburg (Daugavpils) she crossed the border to Samogitia, where in April of 1831 her unit seized the town of Zarasai. Her unit headed back for Dyneburg, but after a reconnaissance mission discovered that the city was defended by a strong garrison and was impregnable to attack by such a small force as her own unit.
After that she returned to Samogitia and headed for (Poniewież) Panevėžys, where she joined her forces with the unit commanded by Karol Załuski. Shortly afterwards General Dezydery Chłapowski entered the area with major forces and took command over all units fighting in the former Grand Duchy. According to a popular legend, he advised Emilia Plater to stand down and return home. She allegedly replied that she had no intention of taking off her uniform until the fatherland was fully liberated.
Her choice was accepted and she was made the commanding officer of 1st company of the Polish 1st Lithuanian Infantry Regiment. She fought with distinction and was promoted to the rank of captain, the highest rank awarded to a woman at that time. After the Polish units were defeated by the Russians, Gen. Chłapowski decided to cross the border with Prussia and get interned there. Emilia Plater refused to follow the orders and decided to try to break through to Lithuania to continue her struggle instead. However, during the break through the forests, Emilia Plater became seriously ill and died December 23, 1831 in a manor of Abłamowicze family in Justianów. She was buried in the small village of Kopciowo (Kapciova, Kapčiamiestis) near Suwałki.
Her death was widely publicised shortly afterwards and Emilia Plater became one of the symbols of the uprising. The symbol of the fighting girl became quite widespread both in Poland, Litwa and abroad. Adam Mickiewicz immortalized her in one of his poems, Śmierć pułkownika (Death of a Colonel), although the description of her death is a pure poetical fiction and was only loosely based on her real life. Other literary works based on her life were published, mostly abroad, both by Polish emigres and by foreigners. Among them were Georg Büchner, Konstanty Gaszyński, Antoni E. Odyniec and Władysław Buchner and Józef Straszewicz, who published three successive versions of her biography in French.
She also became the theme of paintings by several artists of the epoch, among them Hyppolyte Bellange, Achille Deveria, Philipp Veit, Francois de Villain and Wojciech Kossak. In 1842 J. K. Salomoński published a short biography of Emilia Plater in New York, under the title of Emily Plater, The Polish Heroine; Life of the Countess Emily Plater.
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