Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Karl XII, the 'Alexander of the North' Has a Bad Decade

It's highly ironic that Karl (Often anglicized to Charles) XII¹ is referred to as the 'Alexander of the North', given that his reign saw the end of Sweden as an empire and significant global power. While Karl may have started out strong by conquering Denmark, Poland, and parts of Russia, he ultimately failed his country abroad and at home. A nickname that makes more sense is 'The Swedish Meteor'. Karl earned this nickname because of, you guessed it, his meteoric rise to power, and quick fall from grace.

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Karl on a horse
Karl was groomed to be king from a very young age. After his mother's death in 1693, Karl's father, Karl XI, took Karl with him everywhere, including him in royal progresses, meetings of the Riksdag, and other monarchical duties. Daddy Karl also saw to it that young Karl had the best tutors and religious mentors. When Karl XI died in 1697 the fifteen year old Karl was ready to assume the throne.²

When the power's abroad heard about Karl's ascension to the throne, many countries saw the Swedish Empire as ripe for the picking, especially after negotiations for a royal marriage between Karl and a Danish Princess broke down. Not wanting to waste the opportunity of a lifetime, Denmark, Poland-Lithuania, Russia, and Saxony banded together, and with promises from the Swedish nobility that they would start rebelling if a war started, this coalition started attacking Sweden from all sides.

However, young Karl was no dummy. He went on the offensive, and invaded Danish Zeeland, and at the Battle of Narva he took the Danes out of the war with one blow. It wasn't long before Karl's armies had driven the Russians and Saxons out of the Swedish provinces on the Baltic. With 3/4 of his enemies driven back, Karl turned his sights on the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

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Karl not on a horse.
Many of these early achievements cannot be attributed directly to Karl. He was still young, and he didn't have a great deal of war experience. However, he was smart enough to listen to the advisers and generals left to him by his father. As time went on Karl became better at battlefield strategy, and many of his advisers died. By 1702 Karl was almost entirely in charge.

It was this year that Karl invaded Poland. Poland was a deeply divided country, and they were no match for the united Swedes. Karl overthrew the reigning monarch, Augustus II, and installed Pole Stanisław Leszczyński as king. Safe in the knowledge that Stanisław would do what he was told, Karl made Poland his base for invading Russia.

Now, Karl had been doing very well up until then. He'd been at war for the entirety of his reign, but had still managed to help with administrative decisions back at home. Had Karl decided that enough was enough, and gone back home he might have been remembered as a hero King who conquered vast swathes of territory, and subdued Sweden's enemies. However, in 1706 Karl made a fatal mistake--he invaded Russia.

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The Swedish Empire
We've discussed Karl's invasion of Russia before, so I won't go into too much detail here. But here's a brief summary: Karl invades western Russia, and reconquers the Baltic provinces that Russia had taken. The Russian soldiers scorch the earth behind them, and attack the Swedish baggage trains, leaving the Swedes without supplies. When they lost battles, the Russians withdrew further into Russia. Though Karl made it all the way to Moscow, lack of supplies forced him to turn back, and a Russian victory at Poltava forced Karl to flee to Turkey.

Turkey was a seemingly good place to seek refuge. The Turkish sultanate was friendly to the Swedes, and the Turks also had a beef with Russia. The Turks agreed to jointly attack Russia. However, though Karl requested another army from Sweden it never arrived, and efforts to attack Russia petered out.

In 1714 Karl left Istanbul for good, and headed to the Swedish provinces in Pomerania. His five years in Turkey had shifted Karl's priorities from expanding Swedish territory and punishing his enemies to merely keeping his empire intact, and making peace. Karl decided that ceding pieces of land, either for money or treaties, was the only way to go. He ceded vast swathes of Swedish territories, and lost others to various German kingdoms. In 1718 Karl was shot through the head while fighting the Norwegians. He died, leaving no children to succeed him.

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Death mask of Karl XII, also not on a horse.
Karl was a king of Sweden, who didn't actually spend all that much time in Sweden. He was deeply religious, and a highly intellectual man. He didn't drink alcohol or have affairs with women. His close relationships with his fellow soldiers have lead many historians to speculate that he may have been homosexual. Towards the end of his life he was reviled by his own people, and rumors that he was shot by one of his own men abound.

Karl is heartily disliked by most modern Swedes. Not only do they blame them for the loss of their empire, but they also blame him for the enormous amount of money and lives that his wars cost. Additionally, Karl XII has become an icon for far-right Swedish Neo-Nazi groups, which certainly doesn't boost his posthumous reputation.

¹I refer to him as 'Karl' rather than 'Charles' in this post because it makes very little sense to refer to a King of Sweden by an English name.
²Karl XI had arranged for a regency should he die before Karl XII came of age. However, due to internal fighting within the regency, the Riksdag asked Karl to assume the throne early.


Sources
Charles XII- King of Sweden
The Blazing Career and Mysterious Death of 'The Swedish Meteor'

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The California Sphinx

There's been a lot of exciting finds announced this week, Caesar's landing place in Britain, Iron Age human remains in Turkey, and a 3,000 year old tomb found in China. However, the most exciting (in my opinion) was the discovery of one of the lost sphinxes from the 1923 film set for the movie The Ten Commandments.

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Aforementioned Sphinx
In 1923 Cecil DeMille set out on an ambitious black and white film entitled The Ten Commandments.¹ It was an enormous undertaking. DeMille hired thousands of actors, and built a lavish set in the middle of the Californian desert. The set was designed by the popular French art deco designer, Paul Iribe, and included more than 20 sphinxes.

The film was a hit, but an expensive hit. The Ten Commandments grossed about $4.2 million at the box office, but cost about $1.5 million to make. At the end of filming the set was too expensive to dismantle, and DeMille didn't want to leave it in the desert for another movie studio to poach. So, he did the reasonable thing, and decided to bury it.

Years passed, and the set was almost forgotten about. However, in 1980 film director Peter Brosnan started searching for the set. He was able to get a $10,000 grant from the US government to start archaeological work. In 1990 he dug up the very first sphinx, and the Californian desert has been churning out more pieces of movie set ever since.

One of the remarkable things about this find is how well it was preserved. The sphinx was made of plaster, and was mostly intact. The paint was a bit chipped, but otherwise looked as good as it did in 1923. 


¹He later remade an expanded, colorized version of this film in 1956

Sources

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Damn, Girl-Olympe de Gouges

Olympe de Gouges was essentially the French Mary Wollstonecraft, if Mary Wollstonecraft had been a pacifist who published inflammatory material during one of the most violent times in history. Abolitionist, feminist, and children's rights activist, Olympe de Gouges fought for the rights of the disenfranchised during the height of the Reign of Terror through her pamphlets and plays. Though she remained a semi-loyal monarchist until her death, her writing was a big part of the French Revolution, and her writings on gender and racial equality continue to influence civil rights thinkers to this day.

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Olympe de Gouges
Olympe was born Marie Gouze in the French town of Montauban. The daughter of a butcher and a lady's maid, Olympe was given a cursory education, and was raised speaking the regional language of Occitan. Not much is known about her early life, but it is known that at age 17 she married Louis Aubrey, an officer in the French Army who was much older than her. Their marriage was short lived, with Aubrey dying only a few years later. While Marie and Louis did have a son, it was evidently an unhappy marriage, because after Louis died Marie moved to Paris, changed her name, and vowed never to marry again.¹

 Now named Olympe de Gouges--a mash up of her mother's first name and father's last name-- Marie set about trying to become a writer. Though she wasn't well read, and didn't have the most thorough of educations, Olympe was hardworking and determined By 1778 she had had her first play published.

One of Olympe's favorite mediums was the theater. She wrote around 40 plays, twelve of which survive, ten of which were published, and only 4 of which were ever produced. Writing exclusively for the Comédie Française, Olympe had to deal with the sexism of Comédie Française producers and actors, which severely hindered the publication and production of her plays during her lifetime.

Olympe's plays adhere to the proud tradition of theater as activism. Her plays covered the controversial subjects of the time--slavery, divorce, the immorality of debt imprisonment, political extremism, and inequality of the sexes. One of her plays, L'Esclavage de Nègres, ou l'Heureux naufrage [Black Slavery or the Happy Shipwreck] was sabotaged by both performers and outside protesters because of its controversial advocation for the freedom of African slaves.

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Dedication page of The Declaration of
the Rights of Women
Around the time of her arrival in Paris, rumors started flying that Olympe was the illegitimate daughter of the Marquis de Pompignan, or King Louis XV. While most likely untrue, these rumors gave Olympe access to the higher echelons of pre-Revolution French society. It was here where Olympe found patronage, and made friendships among the nobility that would influence her moderate, soft-monarchist views.

Olympe believed that a monarchy was essential to a country's survival, but she didn't believe in the French monarchy of the time. She repeatedly warned and entreated the House of Bourbon to treat its citizens, especially the women better. Her seminal work The Declaration of the Rights of Woman was even dedicated to Queen Marie-Antoinette, in hopes that the Queen would identify with Olympe's writing as a woman, and move for political change.

The Declaration of the Rights of Women was a direct, rage filled response to the glaring omission of women and women's rights in The Declaration of the Rights of Man. In it, Olympe revised the declaration, and gave specific rights to women that echoed the same rights assigned to men. In it, she also advocated for a revision of the marriage contract, and wrote her own marriage contracted which brought two people together in an equal union where property and children were shared.

Loyalty to the monarchy aside, Olympe's real loyalty lay with France. She abhorred violence, and believed that war was a violation of the social contract between nation and citizen. She repeatedly advocated for peaceful methods of resistance, and her thinking influenced the great activists of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Olympe was considered a political moderate for her time, though being a moderate during the French Revolution isn't really saying much by today's standards. She often satirized political extremism in her writing, and condemned the political violence happening during the revolution. However, moderate or no, Olympe did eventually end up on the side of the revolution.

It was after the revolution that Olympe's writing switched from plays to pamphlet's, and her work became dangerously political. Her assertions that injustice against women was the root of societies ills, and criticisms of The Declaration of the Rights of Man brought her to the attention of the revolution. Her advocacy for equality of the sexes, and criticisms of Revolution leaders led to her imprisonment, trial, and eventual execution.

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The execution of Olympe de Gouges
Though she was executed for crimes against the revolution, Olympe was, in no way, unsuccessful. Not only has she had a lasting legacy, but she was successful in her own time. She heavily petitioned for the right to divorce through plays and pamphlets, and in 1792 France was the first country to legalize divorce. Civil rights were also given to illegitimate children, and a voluntary tax system proposed and outlined by Olympe was also adopted.

But not only successful in her own time, Olympe's legacy has impacted the world for generations. Along with Mary Wollstonecraft, Olympe was one of the founding mothers of feminism. She encouraged women to band together, and identify as women, something that has influenced the modern idea of citizenship. Her work is studied among philosophers and feminists theorists today.



¹I have been unable to find any information on Olympe's son--Pierre Aubry de Gouges-- during this time. Whether or not he went to Paris with her is unknown, however he did end up serving as a General with the French Army in South America. If you have any further information about him, please share in the comments!

Sources
Olympe de Gouges Biography
Marie Olympe de Gouges Facts
Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)
Welcome to Olympe de Gouges
Olympe de Gouges--French Writer

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Match Made in Hell-King George the IV and Queen Caroline

Royal marriages of times gone by weren't the fairy tale royal romances of modern years. Up until the past few years, royal marriages were political and economic transactions, and little more. While most couples weren't in love, they were expected to remain civil, and many became friends. Some royal couples, however, were royal disasters. But no couple was quite so disastrous as the marriage between the dissolute George IV and his German cousin, Caroline of Brunswick-Lüneburg.

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Caroline of Brunswick
By age 17, George IV was a known troublemaker. He was fond of women, wine, gambling, and all sorts of immoral flim-flammery. His parents, King George III and Queen Charlotte had quite given up on him, and he was running wild around the country. He was a notorious womanizer with a preference for older women, and liked to build elaborate and ornate palaces (Like the Brighton Pavilion  which was constructed in 1787). In 1785 George contracted an illegal marriage with the twice widowed Maria Fitzherbert, and within the decade was 630,000 pounds in debt.

George was desperate for funds, and the only way he could get parliament to pay his debts was to marry and provide an heir. His marriage with Maria had ended in about 1793, and so on the urging of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, George agreed to a marriage with his cousin Caroline, whom he had never met.

Caroline was a vivacious and bubbly young woman with some unfortunate hygiene habits. According to contemporary sources Caroline liked to talk and gossip, and enjoyed a good joke. She was very friendly, but was prone to talking about things outside of what was considered appropriate. This alone, wouldn't be a big problem, but she had a bad habit of not changing her underwear, and once sent the English ambassador a tooth she had had pulled. Despite these shortcomings, Caroline was both a protestant and a princess, and was therefor a suitable bride for George.

Their first meeting was on the same level of disaster as the first meeting between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. Upon being introduced to his cousin, three days before their wedding, George turned to his friend, Lord Malmesbury, and asked for a glass of brandy. He then left the room, calling for his mother, the Queen. Caroline was equally unimpressed, informing Lord Malmesbury in French that George was not nearly as handsome as his portrait.

The couple's rocky start can be attributed not only to a mutual lack of physical attraction, but to the fact that both parties were in love with, or at least involved with, other people. It was an open secret that George had married Maria Fitzherbert, and though he had left her eight years after he was attached to Lady Jersey, and he wasn't going to get rid of her. Caroline, though the identity of her suitor is unknown, definitely had a different man she wished to marry. Upon being asked her opinion on her marriage, she replied:
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George IV
“I am indifferent to my marriage, but not averse to it; I think I shall be happy, but I fear my joy will not be enthusiastic. The man of my choice I am debarred from possessing, and I resign myself to my destiny.” 
Note the "The man of my choice I am debarred from possessing" part.

Despite their lack of attraction and the fact that they were both romantically interested in other people, the couple might have had a decent go of things. Unfortunately, George was an immature dick who was determined to make his new wife miserable right from the very beginning. He installed his mistress, Lady Jersey, as Caroline's Lady of the Bedchamber, and showed up drunk to their wedding. He later demanded the return of several of Caroline's wedding jewels, and gave them to Lady Jersey, who flaunted them in Caroline's presence. On their wedding night, George was so drunk that he passed out on the floor before performing his marital duties.

Despite George's obvious distaste, the couple evidently had sex at least once, because in January of 1796, almost exactly 9 months after the wedding, George and Caroline's only child--Charlotte--was born. Shortly afterwards George sent Caroline a note informing her that though they were required to remain married they would no longer be living together. This was reportedly quite fine with Caroline. However access to her daughter was heavily restricted, and she was only able to see Charlotte in the presence of others. She wasn't quite as fine with this. In 1811 her access to Charlotte was cut off entirely. There wasn't much for Caroline in England, so she left to tour the continent in 1814.

While abroad Caroline lived the way she wanted. She took an Italian lover, adopted multiple children, and was fond of dancing half naked. She was very happy, but in 1820 when George III died and George IV became king she returned to England to claim her rights as Queen.

This was, as it turns out, a terrible idea. Princess Charlotte had died in 1817, and George was scheming to divorce Caroline and remarry so he could have an heir. He used scurrilous tales of Caroline's time abroad and false accusations of her having an illegitimate child to persuade parliament to open up an investigation into her. The House of Lords introduced the 'Bill of Pains and Penalties', which, if made law, would have dissolved their marriage.

Unfortunately for George, Caroline had the popular support of the people. While the Bill of Pains and Penalties passed in the House of Lords by nine votes, the House of Lords knew that the bill would never pass in the Commons, so they dropped the affair, leaving George furious.

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Political cartoon put out in 1820
George, however, was the king, and he had a few cards he could still play. On July 19, 1821 Caroline was barred from his coronation. When she tried to enter Westminster Abbey the men at the door would not let her in, and slammed the door in her face. She died a little over two weeks later.

The real legacy of George and Caroline's disastrous union was the introduction of tabloid coverage of royal life. During the investigations into Caroline's behavior, two penny broadsheets advertised every detail. Rivalries sprung up between newspapers that supported the queen and newspapers that supported the king. For the first time in English history, the public was immersed in every detail of a royal scandal, a tradition that continues to the modern day.

Sources
The Wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline
The Queen Caroline Affair, 1820
George IV
Caroline of Brunswick-Luneburg
George IV and Queen Caroline: A Disastrous Royal Marriage
The Trial of Queen Caroline in 1820 and the Birth of British Tabloid Coverage of Royalty
George IV: the Royal Joke?
Caroline of Brunswick, Wife of King George IV of the United Kingdom