Considered one of Poland’s eminent freedom fighters, the Insider looks at the story behind the revolutionary wonder woman Emilia Plater…
Emilia Plater (1806-1831), Poland’s swashbuckling heroine from the November Uprising against Tsarist Russia, would have been the perfect role model for Arya Stark from Game of Thrones or Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Born into a noble and patriotic family in Vilnius, her parents divorced when she was young and she was forced to grow up with her two boy cousins, with whom she rode horses, learned swordsmanship and went hunting.
When the uprising against Russian forces erupted in November 1830, after Polish officers in Warsaw rebelled against Russian plans to use them to suppress France’s July revolution, the 24-year-old Plater, having already rejected a marriage proposal from a wealthy Russian engineer on patriotic grounds, immediately drew up plans to seize control of her town Dynenburg, in what is now Latvia, from the Russian garrison.
Together with her pal Maria Proszyńska, she cut her hair into a man’s style, stitched together a male uniform and armed herself with a pistol and a dagger. She then gathered around her several hundred riflemen, cavalrymen and scythe-bearing peasants, and after a rousing speech set off for Dyneburg. The group engaged Russian forces successfully in several spats along the way, but upon reaching their target, Plater decided not to attack due to the overwhelming forces facing them.
She went on to fight in several battles and was made captain of the 25th Polish-Lithuanian Infantry Regiment, the highest ranking woman at the time. After the uprising in Lithuania began to stall, Plater decided to head to Warsaw to continue the struggle for independence. However, soon after separating from the main forces, she became ill and died in Justaniów on 23 December 1831.
Controversially, it has been suggested that Plater never actually commanded any forces in battle, her commanding officer role being more honorary than real, and it’s even been suggested that she once fainted on the battlefield. Although the actual details of her life and death may never be known with much accuracy, she has become indelibly associated with patriotism and Poland’s struggle for freedom – hence you’ll find her name attached to schools and streets throughout the nation.