Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How the Bernadottes Came to Sweden

What do Napoleon, the son of a French lawyer, and being kind to prisoners of war have to do with the Swedish monarchy? Significantly more than you would think. In 1810, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected Prince Royal of Sweden, and eight years later became the founding king of the dynasty that rule Sweden to this day, proving that, contrary to what Michael Palin said, sometimes you do vote for a king.

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Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, the hero of our tale.
To understand the Bernadotte's rise to power, you have to understand late eighteenth century Europe. In the summer of 1789, Louis XVI, an absolute monarch from a long line of absolute monarchs attempted to solve his financial issues using the nominal democratic system France already had in place. This went poorly, and resulted in the common people calling for a new constitution, taking the Bastille, forcing Louis and his family from their opulent home in Versailles, and culminated in a lot of very wealthy and important people losing a very important appendage to the guillotine. "What does this have to do with the price of meatballs in Sweden", you ask? Well, the act of dethroning and de-heading Louis, scion of the long and noble line of Bourbon, sent a shock across Europe. After all, if the French monarch could be thrown out of power, and a 'democracy' instituted in less than two years, were any of the other absolute monarchs of Europe safe?

With the English kicked out of their American colonies, and the French monarchy quite literally headless, it seemed that the age of the 'enlightened despot', or the benevolent philosopher dictator was coming to an end. This was particularly worrying to the Swedish king Gustav III who was a great admirer of Marie Antoinette. He was a little more politically savvy than Louis XVI, and he survived his initial summoning of the Riksdag--or the (at the time) nominal Swedish democratic system. However, he made enemies, and bit a bullet Abraham Lincoln style  in 1792.

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Gustav III
Gustav III left his throne to his thirteen year old son, Gustav IV, or Gustav Adolf. The years in which Gustav IV's uncle served as regent were the best of his reign. Gustav Adolf grew into a paranoid and arrogant king, which lead to him losing Finland, Pomerania, and the Aland islands. He was forced to abdicate, and handed the throne to his uncle, Charles XIII.

Charles XIII wasn't so much the best choice for king as he was the only choice for king. The House of Vasa had been struggling since the abdication of Queen Kristina in 1654, and Charles had only tenuous claims to the throne himself. Furthermore, Charles was childless and a bit senile. It was clear to Charles and the ruling class of Sweden that if they wanted to continue to have a monarchy, they would have to elect somebody. The year was 1809.

Now, the 'election' of a monarch wasn't an uncommon thing, the Vasa's themselves had been elected. In cases where a royal line was dying out without an heirs, or in the case of creating an entirely new country, the nobility of a country would take a look at all the princes of Europe, and see who they liked. This sort of thing had been happening since medieval times, and in the tumultuous world of nineteenth century Europe, it was nothing to balk at.

Two distant cousins of Charles XIII were nominated as heirs, but one was an idiot, and the other died. There was a whole host of unsuitable candidates for Crown Prince of Sweden, and a significant portion of the Riksdag were sick of it. They wanted a successful monarch, someone who wasn't an idiot who would lose Finland. And who was more successful than the plucky young Corsican ruling France?

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Bernadotte again
There was no way in hell that any self respecting Swede was going to invite Napoleon to be their king--they were an independent country after all. But maybe one of his brothers, or one of his Marshals, the military geniuses who had won Napoleon his vast empire.

Enter Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. A commoner from Southern France, he ran away from his apprenticeship as a lawyer at age eighteen to join the French army. Like Napoleon, he had used the chaos of the French Revolution to rise rapidly through the ranks, eventually becoming a general. He supported Napoleon on his campaigns, eventually being made the French Minister of War, a Marshal, and then the Prince of Ponte-Corvo, a small principality in Italy.

Bernadotte was an attractive candidate for a number of reasons. He was a proved general, a proved administrator, and he already had an heir. He was extremely popular in Sweden, having received and made peace with Swedish officers independently of Napoleon's commands. He was also unemployed, which was very convenient for the Swedes.

Most importantly, he had been kind to the right person back in the day. Baron Otto Morner was about to become the brother-in-law to the Swedish Chancellor, and he was a big fan of Bernadotte. Bernadotte had been a major player in the Battle of Lubeck, during which Bernadotte and the French had roundly kicked Prussian and Swedish ass, but, like, nicely. Bernadotte captured a contingent of Swedish soldiers, and was so nice to them that Otto Morner was still a huge Bernadotte stan four years later. While in Paris, Morner brought the proposition to Bernadotte, who was incredulously flattered.

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Jean's wife, Desiree Clary. She and Napoleon
used to date.
There was a lot going against Jean Baptiste Bernadotte however, and he knew it. He didn't speak Swedish, he wasn't Lutheran, and all of this was seemingly happening behind Napoleon's back. Napoleon and Jean Baptiste had never been great friends, and they certainly weren't bosom friends at the time, but Bernadotte said that the religion and the language thing could be fixed easily, and that, should Emperor Napoleon and King Charles agree, he would be happy to have his name up for consideration.

There was a hiccup. Morner hadn't been acting entirely officially. He was just a lieutenant, not an ambassador. An ambassador had, in fact, been sent to Napoleon, asking him on his opinion on who should succeed Charles XIII. Napoleon had backed King Frederick VI of Denmark-Norway, hoping to unite Scandinavia under a friendly flag. When he found out that Jean Baptiste had been offered the position, he wasn't crazy about Bernadotte being on the Swedish throne, but he loved the idea of a Frenchman on the throne. He went to his ex-stepson, Eugene, the Viceroy of Italy, and offered the position to him. Eugene refused. Napoleon decided to, well, not support Bernadotte, because if Bernadotte failed it would be embarrassing for Napoleon, but he wasn't not not supporting Bernadote.

Jean Baptiste discussed it with his wife, and after getting Napoleon's 'do it if you want', formally submitted his name for consideration. Baron Morner was an enthusiastic hype-man, campaigning for Bernadotte much like how modern pundits campaign for elected officials. Though there was a significant faction in favor of Frederick VI, and King Charles still wanted to elect his idiot cousin, Jean Baptiste was elected unanimously.

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Some of today's Bernadotte's.
Pictured: King Carl Gustav XVI, his daughter,
Crown Princess Victoria, and her eldest child,
Princess Estelle.
There were a few hurdles that had be overcome before Jean Baptiste could become Prince Royal, however. He had to become a Lutheran, that was non-negotiable. He also had to promise not to give any Swedish posts to Frenchmen, and allow Charles XIII to adopt him. Jean acceded, and took the name Charles John, becoming king Charles John XIV, or Carl Johann XIV to the Swedes.

The new Charles was good to his word, and any worries of a French takeover of Sweden were assuaged for good in 1813 when Charles and Swedish forces joined the sixth coalition to fight against Napoleon. Charles was Crown Prince for about eight years, from 1810 to 1818. During this time, he conquered Norway, and unified Sweden and Norway again. By the time he became King, he had thoroughly won over his new people.

Jean Baptiste Bernadotte's legacy lives on today in the ruling family of Sweden. The current king, Carl Gustav XVI is the great, great, great, great grandson of Jean Baptiste. When Carl Gustav's daughter, Crown Princess Victoria, becomes Queen Regnant, she will be the eighth Bernadotte monarch.

More on Similar Topics



 Sources
Bernadotte: Napoleon's Marshal, Sweden's King by Alan Palmer
Karl Johann XIV-King of Norway and Sweden
Charles XIV, King of Sweden and Norway
The Bernadotte Dynasty
The House of Bernadotte
Charles John XIV, King of Sweden and Norway
         

Friday, February 22, 2019

Damn, Girl-Phillis Wheatley

Taken from her home and family, thrust into a strange land, surrounded by strangers, Phillis Wheatley had an inauspicious start to life, yet became one of the most august women of her time. She was the first poet of African descent, and the second woman to be published in the United States. She was a genius, speaking three languages, and well versed in classical studies, science, and literature. Yet, she spent most of her life a slave, and died poor and alone at the young age of 31.

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This is the only contemporary portrait of Phillis
Phillis' exact date of birth is unknown, but it is generally accepted that she was seven years old when she was taken to America in 1761. She was captured by slavers somewhere on the west coast of Africa, likely in Senegal, Gambia, or Ghana, and boarded onto a schooner named The Phillis. The Phillis was captained by Peter Gwinn, who had been charged with bringing back a large human cargo of African males to be sold in the new world. Gwinn wasn't as successful as the ship's owner, Timothy Finch, had hoped, instead bringing back a small cargo of women and children, many of whom were very ill.

Phillis was one of those who were very ill. She was a refuse slave--or a slave who wouldn't fetch a very good price. She has been described as being 'slender, frail, having shed her two front teeth', and the slave seller wasn't confident that she was going to live long, let alone that he was going to get much money for her. When Mrs. Susanna Wheatley¹ offered ten pounds, the slave seller gratefully let Phillis go, happy to have gotten some return on his investment.

Susanna took Phillis home, and named her after the ship that had stolen her from her homeland. Despite the fact that the Wheatley's had several other slaves, Phillis was not placed among them. Out of some maternal whim, or twist of sympathy, Susanna gave Phillis her own room. When Phillis showed signs of perhaps being able to read and write, Susanna set her daughter Mary to tutoring the young Phillis, and within sixteen months Phillis was completely fluent and literate in English, able to 'read any, most difficult Parts of Sacred Writing to the great Astonishment of all who heard her'.²

Teaching a slave to read was completely unheard of at the time, and a master who gave their slaves education was something of a loose cannon, as educating slaves endangered the whole practice of slavery. Not content to be volatile rebels, the Wheatley's also had Phillis tutored in Greek, Latin, history, literature, astronomy, classics, and, of course, religion.

America at the time was in the middle of what is called the First Great Awakening. Religious revival was in the air, and being pious and well versed in the bible was in vogue. The Wheatley's, much like the rest of the people in the colonies, were swept up in the excitement. They were avid church goers, and they took Phillis to church with them. Because of this, Phillis grew up, and remained, a devout Protestant her entire life.

The Wheatley's treated Phillis like one of the family. She was, essentially, a second daughter. She wasn't expected to do housework or manual labor like the other slaves, she was taken to church with her masters, and allowed to eat and spend time with the family. When the Wheatley's went on social calls, they often took Phillis with them, including her in the conversation. She was treated with respect not only by the Wheatley's, but by their associates as well, and she impressed many of the most eminent men and women of Boston with her learning and precociousness.

However, don't be fooled. The Wheatley's still sucked butt. Despite treating Phillis as one of the family, they still owned her. She was still a slave, even if she wasn't forced to do menial labor. She wasn't free, but she didn't fit with the other slaves either. The Wheatley's forbade Phillis from socializing with the other slaves, isolating her, and stranding her in between worlds.

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Phillis' book.
In 1767, when Phillis was thirteen, her first poem was published. Phillis had shown a great talent for writing, a talent the Wheatley's encouraged. When Phillis wrote a poem "On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin" in honor of two men drowned at sea, Susanna saw that it was published in the newspaper, The Newport Mercury. Several other poems followed, and Phillis' work began to gain recognition in the colonies and across the Atlantic.

Phillis' first really successful poem, “An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of the Celebrated Divine George Whitefield” was published in 1770, and it was about this time that Phillis, with Susanna's help, started putting together a collection of poetry for publication. It was titled Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, and contained 28 poems. It would be published in 1773 when Phillis was eighteen.

Getting a book published in the late eighteenth century was no small feat. Publishers required a guarantee that people would buy the book, and some required that authors assume some of the costs of printing themselves. In Phillis' case, a list of 300 people who would buy the book was required by the publisher. Susanna lobbied heavily, and while she was able to collect some signatures, some of them being of the most eminent and learned men in Boston, she was not able to collect the required 300. This was because there were not 300 people in Boston who believed that poetry could be written by a slave. Discouraged by the American market, Phillis and Susanna decided to take Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, across the pond, where the public had already been proven to be more receptive to African authors.

Publishing the book in England required jumping through several hoops. Firstly, the publisher, Archibald Bell, was skeptical of the books authorship, and wanted proof that the book was, in fact, written by a slave. To provide evidence, Susanna assembled a group of eighteen men willing to sign affidavits certifying Phillis' authorship. These were some of the most educated and important men in Boston³, many of whom were prominent political and religious figures. The quizzed Phillis on her work, and all signed a paper saying that Phillis was the author of the book.

Once the publisher had the affidavits, he required that Phillis have someone to dedicate her work to. The dedication, and dedicatee was very important. A book had to be dedicated to a public figure, who was, essentially, vouching to the public that the book was quality work. For Poems on Various Subjects, Phillis and the Wheatley's chose Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon.

The countess was chosen because Phillis had a tenuous connection to her. One of Phillis' first important poems, 'An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned George Whitefield' had been about George Whitefield, who had been the personal chaplain to the countess. The Wheatley's used this connection to forward Phillis' book to the countess, going as far as to have one of their ship captains read the entire work to the countess.

The countess was charmed, and she write to the publisher, allowing the work to be dedicated to her. With the dedication and affidavits in order, Phillis' book was cleared for publication, and came out in the summer of 1773.

Phillis Wheatley Statue (http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2012/02/p (Progressive Eruptions))
Statue of Phillis done by Edmonia Lewis
Phillis' book was well received, circulating among the upper class, attracting astonishment that a slave could write so well. England, at the time, had a much more lax approach to racism, and while slavery wasn't yet illegal in the British isles, society was sympathetic to the plight of the enslaved. Phillis was received as an equal everywhere, and became a social star.

Unfortunately, Susanna Wheatley fell ill, and Phillis had to quickly leave London in September of 1773, depriving her of the chance to meet both the King and the Countess of Huntingdon. She returned to Boston, and was freed in October of that year. On March 3, 1774, Susanna Wheatley died.

With the death of Susanna, the Wheatley family disintegrated. The eldest son, Nathaniel, was living across the Atlantic with his English wife, and John Wheatley had fled Boston because of the British troops occupying the city after the events of the Boston Tea Party. Phillis, while she did have some money of her own, was in no position to live independently, so she moved in with Mary Lathrop nee Wheatley, the daughter who had taught her to read, and the pair relocated to Newport, Rhode Island along with Mary's husband.

Phillis lived fairly uneventfully in Providence, continuing to write and participate in religious activities. The most notable thing to happen in this period was her correspondence with George Washington in early 1776.

Though the Wheatley family at large were loyal to the British crown, Phillis seemed to have some enthusiasm for independence. She hoped that with independence from Britain would come independence for all the enslaved Africans. On October 26, 1775 she sent a poem to General George Washington which enthusiastically proclaimed that the Americans would defeat the British, and that it would usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity. In this poem she created the goddess Columbia--the goddess who would come to represent America, and would be memorialized in the Statue of Liberty.⁴

George Washington was very impressed with her poem, and responded to her in a letter praising her talents. He invited her to come visit him at his headquarters in Cambridge, however it is highly unlikely that they ever met, given that Phillis would have had to cross British lines to reach him.

Phillis and the Lathrops returned to Boston in 1776, and Phillis married John Peters, a freed African, on November 26, 1778. Peters was a shopkeeper with a bad reputation. Contemporary accounts paint him as a villain who abused Phillis, and squandered their money. They stopped living together about a year after their marriage. Nevertheless, they had two children, neither of whom lived more than a day.

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Phillis' most famous poem
In 1779 Phillis started lobbying to publish a second book of poetry. Due to the Revolutionary War she was unable to get in touch with her contacts back in England, and there wasn't much of a market for poetry in America at the time. Phillis had to take a series of janitorial jobs in boarding houses, and died in childbirth on December 5, 1784. No one attended her funeral.

Phillis faded into relative obscurity for about 50 years after her death. Her second book of poetry was finally released in 1834, and another was printed in 1864. She was often held up as an example of the humanity and capability of enslaved Africans by abolitionists of her age, and her work has strong, but subtle abolitionist themes. She is remembered today as being one of the best writers of early America, and as being the first published African American writer.



¹Or possibly Susanna's husband, John. Sources disagree.
²From a letter by her master John Wheatley. (sic) throughout.
³For those, said men were:
  1. Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Virginia
  2. Andrew Oliver, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
  3. Reverend Mather Byles
  4. Joseph Green, a poet and satirist
  5. Reverend Samuel Cooper, known as 'the silver tongued preacher'
  6. James Bowdoin, scientist and poet
  7. John Hancock
  8. Reverend Samuel Mather
  9. Thomas Hubbard
  10. Reverend Charles Chauncy
  11. John Moorhead
  12. John Erving
  13. James Pitts
  14. Harrison Gray
  15. Richard Carey
  16. Reverend Edward Pemberton
  17. Reverend Andrew Elliot
  18. John Wheatley, Phillis' master
⁴ She also compared George Washington to a god, and equated him with the concept of freedom.

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Sources
The Trials of Phillis Wheatley by Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Phillis Wheatley: Biography of Genius in Bondage by Vincent Carretta
Complete Writings of Phillis Wheatley published by Penguin classics
"A Slave's Subtle War: Phillis Wheatley's Use of Biblical Myth and Symbol" by Sondra O'Neale
Phillis Wheatley-Poetry Foundation
Phillis Wheatley-The History Chicks
Phillis Wheatley-National Women's History Museum
Phillis Wheatley-Encyclopedia Britannica
Phillis Wheatley-Biography
Phillis Wheatley-National Portrait Gallery


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Gilbert Baker and the Rainbow Flag

You may have never heard the name Gilbert Baker, but you've definitely seen his work. Baker was fashion designer, drag queen, and the creative genius behind the rainbow flag.

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An original design pride flag, including hot pink and turquoise.
San Francisco of the 1970s was a haven for LGBT people of every stripe. With the groundbreaking election of Harvey Milk in 1977, the Gay Rights Movement was gaining momentum. As more and more legislation to protect LGBT people was introduced, and as more and more legislation to oppress LGBT people was being fought, the need for a unifying symbol of the greater Gay Rights Movement was needed.

Previous to 1978 the pink triangle had been used as the symbol for the movement. The pink triangle was introduced in the 1930s as an identifying mark for gay men in Nazi concentration camps.¹ Activists in the 1970s attempted to reclaim the symbol, but the pink triangle still held (and still holds) negative connotations, and memories of pain.

Enter Gilbert Baker, drag queen and sewing machine wiz. He was asked by Milk and other members of the San Francisco LGBT community to create a better symbol for the movement. In a moment of inspiration, Baker decided on a rainbow--a cross cultural symbol of hope.

Creating the first flag was an enormous undertaking. Gilbert had to hand dye the individual strips of cotton, filling several metal trash cans with dye, and soaking the fabric at the local gay community center. Baker recruited several friends to help with the dyeing process, and his flag made its debut at the 1978 Gay Liberation Parade.

The rainbow flag commonly used today has six stripes--on for every color of the rainbow excluding indigo. Baker's original flag had eight colors--hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, purple. The hot pink was dropped from the flag a few months after its inception. After Harvey Milk's assassination in November of 1978 demand for rainbow flags was high, and there was a shortage of hot pink fabric. The turquoise was dropped in 1979 in order to make the flag more symmetrical.

Each color in the flag has an assigned meaning. The meanings assigned to the original eight colors are:
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Gilbert with his flag after its acquisition by the Museum of
Modern Art in 2015.

  • Hot pink for sex
  • Red for life
  • Orange for healing
  • Yellow for sunlight
  • Green for nature
  • Turquoise for magic
  • Blue for serenity
  • Purple for spirit
The modern flag has kept many of the same meanings, with only the meaning of blue changed from serenity to harmony.

Today, Baker's original flag resides in the Museum of Modern Art, and replicas of his flag fly in all countries of the world, creating a common symbol for a diverse, worldwide community.




¹Unfun fact: Lesbians put into concentration camps were given a black triangle, as Hitler refused to acknowledge that lesbianism might exist. These ladies were, instead, labeled as 'anti-social', or as living a way contrary to the norms of society.


More on Similar Topics







Sources
When We Rise by Cleve Jones
Gilbert Baker Official Website
Gilbert Baker Biography

Friday, February 15, 2019

Damn, Girl-Murasaki Shikibu, World's First Novelist

An extremely popular writer both in her lifetime and in the millenia since, Murasaki Shikibu is credited as writing the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji. A mysterious figure, Murasaki used her illicit knowledge of classical Chinese and Japanese literature not only redefine the genre she wrote in, but to create an artform that survives to this day.

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Murasaki
Like so many of the women we cover, it's unknown if Murasaki Shikibu is even this woman's real name. Probably born in 973 CE, Murasaki not only grew up in a time where the early lives of women weren't deemed worth recording, but in a society where it was considered impolite to use a person's real name. The name we know her by is taken from her father's profession, and the name of the central female character from her novel.

Murasaki was the daughter of Fujiwara no Tametoki, a scholar, and lowranking member of the dominant Fujiwara clan. Murasaki's grandfather and great grandfather had both been important poets, and education was highly valued in her family. Consequently, her brothers were both given brilliant educations in both Chinese and Japanese literature. It was uncommon for ladies to be educated this way, as the Chinese language was considered to be unladylike. However, Murasaki showed an eagerness and aptitude for learning, with some stories even saying that she would eavesdrop on her brothers lessons through a door. Recognizing her aptitude, or perhaps tired of her antics, Murasaki's father allowed her to be taught in Chinese language and literature, grousing that such a mind was wasted on a girl.

In 998 Murasaki married family friend (and literal family) Fujiwara no Nobutaka. He was about twenty years her senior, and already had a basketball team's worth of wives, and an American football team's worth of children. As was traditional, Murasaki continued to live with her father after her marriage. Nobutaka must have visited at least once, however, because in 999 Murasaki gave birth to a girl she named Kenshi. Nobutaka died a few years later in 1001 when a plague swept Kyoto.

Whether or not Murasaki's marriage was a happy one is an interesting question. Japanese tradition paints her as a loving wife and loyal widow, but her writing brings all of this into question. There are certain resemblances between the idyllic Genji and an exiled nobleman of Murasaki's acquaintance whom Murasaki was rumored to have a relationship with. It is questioned if some of the love poems written by Murasaki might be inspired by this nobleman, and if the image of her as a loyal widow might be the moralistic construct of a later era.

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Paintings capturing the moment Murasaki
conceived Genji on Lake Biwa were very
popular.
After her husband's death Murasaki joined the court of Empress Shoshi as a lady-in-waiting. At the time the worth of a Japanese noblewoman was measured not by her looks, but by her artistic abilities. Being able to write sensitive poems, having beautiful calligraphy, and skillfully matching colors for the elegant draping sleeves of a kimono, was how a lady attracted a man. The sign of a successful Empress was the ability to surround herself with the greatest creative minds, much like the salon of Europe. By the time of her arrival at court Murasaki was already an accomplished poet. She had, however, made no forays into prose.

It is, of course, likely, that Murasaki simply woke up one day and decided to write a series of stories about the amorous adventures of a handsome nobleman, but the popular legend is much more exciting. In an episode similar to the gathering of Romantics at Lake Geneva, the Empress Shoshi lamented that there were no good stories, that she was tired of the old romances, and would Murasaki please write a new one. Murasaki agreed, and retreated to a Buddhist temple on Lake Biwa. One night while looking at the moon and lamenting the death of her late husband Murasaki was struck by inspiration, and wrote two whole chapters of her work on the back of sacred Buddhist texts.¹

Genji was an instant hit. It was read by the Empress, and subsequently devoured by all the ladies of the court. This was unsurprising, as monogatari novels were as popular in Heian Japan as romance novels are today. Works like this were written in the fledgling kana, or written Japanese, and were thus accessible to women who were rarely taught Chinese kanji. What is surprising, is that men read Genji too. Empress Shoshi's father, Fujiwara no Michinaga, was an important court influencer, the real power behind the throne, and an avid Tale of Genji fanboy. From him the story circulated through the men of the court until noted male poets were congratulating Murasaki on her creation.

Murasaki, unfortunately, wasn't much for life at court. Conservative and introverted, Murasaki detested the inane frivolity and illicit love affairs that made up the daily schedule in the Heian court. She was often viewed as cold and aloof by her contemporaries, and had open rivalries with several other important female poets of the day. When Empress Shoshi left court after the death and abdication of her husband in 1011, Murasaki left with her.

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Also Murasaki
The end of Murasaki's life was quiet. She died some time between 1014 and 1031, either staying with Shoshi to the end, or retiring to a Buddhist convent. She left behind a daughter, and an enormously popular work twice the length of War and Peace.

The Tale of Genji is perhaps the most important piece of Japanese literature. Its glimpses into the life of aristocratic Heian Japan are not only precious from a historical perspective, but the slice of life narrative and overarcing character development make it a literary gem as well. Additionally, Genji was a major factor in the standardization of kana, and became required study for anyone hoping to become a scribe.

The novel was copied out hundreds of times, and when woodblock printing came around it was distributed even further beyond aristocratic circles. It experienced a huge resurgence in popularity during the Edo period of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and owning a piece of Genji 'fanart' was considered the height of sophistication. This popularity continues to this day, with The Tale of Genji being translated over and over again, and being treated to reimaginings in a variety of mediums in and out of Japan.


¹This writing on the back of sacred texts wasn't seen as sacrilege like it would have been if written on a Bible, Torah, or Koran. Instead, this was used to justify reading The Tale of Genji to later audiences who had religious scruples about the content.

More on Similar Topics




Sources
A History of Japanese Literature by William George Aston
Beyond The Tale of Genji: Murasaki Shikibu as Icon and Exemplum in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Popular Japanese Texts for Women by Satoko Naito
Murasaki Shikibu: Japanese Courtier and Author
Murasaki Shikibu: the Brief Life of a Legendary Novelist
Murasaki Shikibu-Tales of Genji
Murasaki Shikibu-New World Encyclopedia
Murasaki Shikibu-Famous Inventors
World Changing Women-Murasaki Shikibu
Summary of The Tale of Genji
Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji: Work by Murasaki
The Tale of Genji
Historical Background
Background of The Tale of Genji
The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari)
In Celebration of The Tale of Genji, the World's First Novel





Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Bass Reeves, the Fiercest Lawman in the Old West

Widely considered to be the inspiration behind the fictional Lone Ranger, Bass¹ Reeves lived a larger than life existence of adventure hunting criminals in the old west. One of the first African-American Federal Marshals, Reeves caught more than 3,000 outlaws, all without sustaining a single gunshot wound, or being able to read.

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Bass Reeves, sporting a truly epic
moustache.
Born in 1838, Bass spent the first few years of his life enslaved in the newly minted state of Arkansas. He and his family were owned by William Reeves, a wealthy farmer and popular southern politician. William Reeves eventually decided to relocate to Texas, and Bass was assigned to be a valet to Reeves' son, George. When George went off to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War in 1861, Bass went with him.

Bass' time serving with the Confederacy was brief. Though dates are unsure, it is generally agreed upon that in some point between 1861 and 1862 Bass escaped after an altercation with his master during a card game. From Texas, Bass fled to Indian Country, the land that would later become the state of Oklahoma.

While in Indian Country, Bass became friendly with members of the Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek Nations, learning their languages, tracking techniques, and fighting for the Union with them.

Bass was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and when the war ended in 1865 he married, bought a farm in Arkansas, and proceeded to have ten children. Bass was a successful farmer, but he was more well known for his skill with languages and knowledge of Indian Country. In 1875 he was made a deputy US Marshal, and charged with the responsibility of cleaning up Indian Country.

Indian Country at the time was a pretty lawless place. Because it wasn't under the authority of any state government criminals could only be prosecuted by the federal government, and could only be chased down by federal authorities. While tribes were allowed to organize their own law enforcement, they only had jurisdiction over Native Americans, leaving white and black criminals the responsibility of the harrassed and understaffed US Marshals.

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Isaac Parker, the 'Hanging Judge'. Parker earned
this epitaph from the many criminals he sentenced
to the noose during his vigorous efforts to rid the
West of crime.
In May of 1875 Isaac Parker, later known as 'the hanging judge' was put in charge of a portion of the west that included Indian Country. He authorized the hire of some 200 deputies, and Bass Reeves was one of the top picks. From there he set out on a more than 30 year career that would see him become one of most famous lawmen of the Old West.

Life as a U.S. Marshal was busy. Bass would spend weeks away from his family, hunting down outlaws. When he finally caught his man, Bass would return to the courthouse at Fort Smith. He would spend a few days with his family back in Arkansas, then head back out.

Bass was at something of a disadvantage when it came to crook catching, because, as a former slave, he had never been taught to read. Because of this, he had to have warrants read to him. Bass would memorize the contents of several warrants before heading out on a manhunt. These manhunts could last months, giving Bass ample time to forget the contents of the warrants, but Bass was a sharp cookie. Despite the fact that he had to rely on his memory, he never brought back the wrong man.

There were times when Bass even used his illiteracy to his benefit. It was well known that Bass couldn't read, and there were several instances of Bass being captured by outlaws, and asking them to read him a letter from his wife before they shot him. Bass would take advantage of their moment of distraction to draw a gun on them, and take them in.

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Bass Reeves
Bass was bold and imposing, standing at 6'2, but he was also a master of disguise. A famous story recounts how he disguised himself as a bum, dressing himself in rags and a hat riddled with bullet holes. He came up to a homestead belonging to the mother of two outlaws Bass was hunting. He spun a sad story about how he was being hunted by the marshals, and how they had shot the hat right off his head. Sympathetic, the woman let Bass into her home, and suggested that he should team up with her two sons. Bass agreed, and when the two outlaws came home Bass agreed to join them. However, when everyone was asleep Bass handcuffed the two brothers together. When they woke up the next morning they were angry, but Bass still managed to haul them back to Fort Smith, despite being pursued by the men's irate mother.

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass found himself abruptly out of a job. Marshal duties were taken over by the new state government, who did not allow African Americans to serve. Bass joined the Muskogee Police Department, and spent two years as a beat cop. Legend says that there was never a single crime on his beat.

In 1909 Bass was diagnosed with Bright's Disease. He died a few months later in  January of 1910. 

Bass was one of the most effective lawmen of the time. He caught over 3,000 criminals, and it is notable that of that number, he only ever had to shoot fourteen of them. He is widely considered to be the inspiration behind the popular cartoon character, the Lone Ranger, though this has never been confirmed. Either way, Bass remains an Old West legend.


¹Pronounced with a short 'a', like the fish, not with a long 'a' like the musical instrument.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mara Branković

Before beginning, it is important to note that there is not a lot written about Mara in English. Most of the scholarship done about her is written in Serbian, and as The Nerd is not familiar with Serbian, translation apps were used to translate web pages and documents. The Nerd apologizes in advance for any mistakes or misrepresentations which may have occurred because of translation errors.


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The only known portrait of Mara.
As far as obscure Slavic princesses go, Mara Branković, eldest daughter of the Serbian Despot¹, Đurađ Branković, is pretty obscure. She has been all but forgotten to the world, yet for several decades she was one of the most important diplomats in Europe, helping to keep a tenuous peace between the Muslim Ottomans, and the Christian everybody else.

Mara was the daughter of Đurađ Branković and his second wife, Irene. Maybe. She may have been the daughter of Đurađ's first, unnamed wife. The documentation is shaky, and it's difficult to know exactly when and to whom Mara was born. What is for sure is that she was the second of five children--two girls and three boys.

Serbia, at the time, was in a shaky spot. Sandwiched between the rapidly growing Ottoman Empire, and the land hungry Hungarian Empire, Serbia was put in the precarious position of having to serve two masters who didn't like each other. Đurađ had been able to gain the position of despot by only the skin of his teeth, after the previous despot died without an heir. he required the approval of the leaders of his powerful neighbors to retain his position. In order to appease the pair, he gave his daughters to them in marriage, Mara to Sultan Murad II, and her sister, Katrina, to the Count of Hungary.

Mara was 21 at the age of her marriage in 1433. The sultan was fifteen years older than her, and already had a wife and an heir. Murad supposedly wasn't initially too keen on marrying the daughter of his lowly client king, but when her father offered most of Serbia as a dowry, Murad seized on the opportunity.

The years of Mara's marriage were fairly quiet. Murad favored Mara, but reportedly never consummated the relationship. Mara got on well with Murad's other wife, and his son. She served as an intermediary between her father and her husband, trusted by both sides to be fair and honest.

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Murad II
There was one major incident during the years of Mara's marriage. In 1438 Đurađ got uppity. Murad really wanted to attack the Hungarian Empire, and while Đurađ promised to remain neutral in the conflict, he refused to allow the Ottoman armies into his territory. Murad wasn't too pleased about this. He started conquering Serbia, taking almost the entire country, and sending Đurađ running to Venice.

Murad wasn't satisfied with taking Serbia. He wanted revenge, and so in 1439 he captured Mara's brother, the heir apparent, Gregory. Gregory joined his brother Stefan, who had been held as a hostage since Mara's marriage six years earlier. Murad made Gregory the governor of several Serbian territories, but in 1440 became suspicious that Gregory was corresponding with his father. Gregory and Stefan were thrown into prison, in May of 1441 the pair were blinded, then released.²

Mara was, reportedly, furious. The Sultan had ordered that she not be told about the deed until after it was done. When she found out she reportedly threw her husband under her feet, screaming at him, making it more than clear that he had gone too far this time. Regretting his actions, Murad ordered that the person who blinded the brothers also be blinded as recompense. Because that would certainly rectify the situation.

This incident gives an interesting insight into Mara's relationship with her husband. It's clear that Murad not only respected Mara, but also considered her to be an equal to him, or at least an almost equal. He was evidently in fear of her wrath, where so many other men of the time had no regard for their wives' feelings on anything. This raises the question of if he considered Mara's political influence too great for him to risk offending her, or if he genuinely cared for her, and valued her good opinion.³

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Mehmed II, later known as 'Mehmed the
Conqueror'
In 1444 the conflict between Serbia, Hungary, and the Ottomans was put to rest, with Mara playing a not insignificant part in the proceedings. After a few months of peace Murad abdicated, leaving his thirteen year old son, Mehmed II, in charge of the country. Murad, Mara, and a few other companions retreated to the countryside, with Murad coming out of retirement every so often to conquer important bits of land for his son. He died of an apoplexy in 1451.

This left the twenty year old Mehmed the sole Sultan in the empire. He and Mara were very close, she had become a sort of surrogate mother to him after his own mother died in 1449. When Mara asked to return to Serbia after her husband's death, Mehmed was more than happy to let her go, taking the extraordinary step of releasing her from the harem.

It must be noted that Mara and Mehmed's relationship would have been vastly different had she had children. Ottoman princes were notoriously fratricidal, with Mehmed himself making it legal to kill a brother who was in line for the throne. Any child of Mara's would have been a threat to Mehmed, and he could not have risked letting Mara or her child out of the country. Fortunately, Mara was childless, and posed very little threat.

Mara returned to her family in Serbia, all of whom were remarkably still alive, if not still in possession of all important organs. With Mara returned the vast swathes of Serbia that had served as her dowry, and Đurađ found himself the happy owner of more land than he had before.

From here, Đurađ did what medieval kings did best, arranged strategic marriages for his daughters to cement alliances between kingdoms. While Mara was getting on a bit, being somewhere between 32 and 39 years of age, she was still a valuable marriage candidate, especially given her Ottoman connections. Đurađ eagerly betrothed her to the last Byzantine Emperor, Emperor Constantine XI⁴

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The Ottoman Empire
Unfortunately for Đurađ, Mara had had it with marriage. After Murad's death she had vowed never to marry again. Remarkably, her father (and later brothers) respected this vow, and she refused not only the Byzantine Emperor, but important Czech nobleman and ally against the Hungarians, Jana Jiskru.

When Đurađ died in 1456 a power struggle between his sons ensued. Gregory, the eldest brother, backed by Mara, Irene, and their powerful uncle Thomas, was challenged by Lazar, the youngest brother, backed by his wife and Stefan. Infighting grew so terrible that Irene died, and Mara returned to the Ottoman Empire.

Mara was welcomed back with open arms. She was given several towns and properties, and retired to Ježevo,⁵ near Mount Athos in modern Greece. It is notable that she retired to this area, as women were, and still are, forbidden to approach Mount Athos. Mara was the second woman ever to enter the area, and had to receive special permission from the monks in the area. However, given that she owned many of the monasteries, getting permission must have been easy enough.

It was, however, less easy for Mara to get her sister, Katrina to Ježevo. When Katrina's husband died in 1456, Katrina divided up his property, and peaced out of Hungary. She appears to have moved with her sister to Macedonia, though if they were in modern Greece Macedonia, or the FYROM is uncertain.

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Monastery of Simonos Petra, located on Mount Athos.
From their home, the sisters played mediator between the powerful Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire during the Venetian-Turkish war of 1463-79. The Venetians sent their emissaries to the sisters, and the sisters would pass on their messages, or accompany the emissaries to Constantinople themselves. They took the further step of using Mount Athos, essentially a neutral ground, for negotiations between the two countries.

Mara's other notable political interventions involved the election of the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In Mehmed's time becoming Patriarch involved paying an obscene amount of money to be appointed by the Sultan. In 1465, Mara convinced Mehemed to appoint her personal priest, Dionysius, as patriarch. Unfortunately, Dionysius didn't last long in the role, but Mara was able to see him peacefully retired to Mount Athos. She tried again with Rafael, a Serbian monk, but he was unable to raise the required funds, and was reduced to begging in the streets of Constantinople.

Mara died peacefully in 1487, and was buried in the Kosinitza monastery. She left behind her a large amount of wealth and religious relics, which was vigorously fought over by her family. She also left behind a legacy of diplomacy and peacemaking. Her advocation for the rights of Christians in the Ottoman Empire lead to some small amount of peace between the groups, and her interventions with the Venetian Republic led to a few decades of tenuous peace.



¹The term 'Despot' is not commentary on Đurađ's ruling skills, but is, instead, the official title of the ruler of Serbia at the time.
²Other stories claim that the Sultan had the brothers blinded over jealousy. The brothers were excellent hunters, and Murat apparently couldn't stand that.
³Or, perhaps, he simply didn't like to be yelled at. That should also be taken into consideration.
⁴For those protesting that the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire are the same thing, it should be known that Istanbul was not always Constantinople. The Ottoman conquest of Byzantium was not complete until 1453.
⁵It has been difficult for this historian to ascertain exactly where and what Ježevo was. There is a city called Ježevo in modern Croatia, but as far as this historian can tell, it is not the city Mara settled in. Given Mara's involvement in Ottoman affairs, it seems unlikely that she would have settled as far away as Croatia. Additionally, Mara was heavily involved with affairs on Mount Athos, a holy mountain near Thessaloniki, Greece. It seems likely that Ježevo was the name of a small village, or even the name of Mara's estate near there.

This article is gratefully dedicated to M. Kellogg, who inspired and encouraged its development. 

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Sources
Serbian Ladies and Athonite Monks by V. Demetriades and E. A. Zachariadou
Shedding New Light on the Ties of Mara Branković to the Holy Mountain of Athos and the Translation of Relics by Mihailo St. Popović
The Byzantine Lady: Ten Portraits, 1250-1500 by Donald M. Nicol
Serbia
Mara Brankovic

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Statue of Liberty Was a Completely Useless Lighthouse for Sixteen Years

A gift from the French government to assure the United States that they were, in fact, still friends, the Statue of Liberty was never meant to be a lighthouse. Still, for the first sixteen years of its American life, Liberty Enlightening the People served as a lighthouse, 'helping' to guide sailors into the New York Harbor. Or something like that.

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Statue of Liberty Lighthouse, 1890.
As mentioned, the statue wasn't supposed to be a lighthouse, but when the idea was posed to Frederic Bartholdi, the statue's designer, he seized on the idea with enthusiasm. A statue that not only held a torch, but held a torch that lit up and literally guided people to safety was pretty cool, and everyone else agreed, especially when it was proposed that the statue would be illuminated by the newfangled electric light.

The Statue of Liberty was the first lighthouse in the United States to be lit with electricity, with all other lighthouses running off old fashioned kerosene lamps. However, Bartholdi's original design didn't include any convenient places to shine lights out of, save for the lady's tiara. Bartholdi and his engineers (noted among them, Gustav Eiffel) set to finding a creative solution, or two.

Bartholdi's first idea was to install flood lights along the ledges of the torch. This would cast a bright light out to sea, illuminating the way for passing vessels. This idea, however, worked too well, and was rejected because it was feared that the light would blind sailors, and cause shipwrecks. Instead, windows were cut into the torch, and electric lights were placed inside, lighting the torch from within.

The lights were initially powered by a steam electricity plant and dynamo generator at no cost to the United States government. While the United States were thrilled to have a cool statue, they weren't too keen on paying for the lighting costs. Part of the illumination agreement was that the power plant and first week of illumination would be donated by the American Electric Light Manufacturing Company. The statue was lit up on November 1, 1886. A week later, it was dark again.

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Statue of Liberty today
Soon after going dark, President Grover Cleveland made the Statue of Liberty the problem of the Lighthouse Board. The Lighthouse Board weren't too happy with this assignment, given that the statue was expensive, difficult to light, and did no actual good as a navigational aid. There was no amplifying lense in the torch, which meant that the light was very weak. Proponents of the lighthouse claimed that the light could be seen for 24 miles out to sea. In reality, the light didn't make the 8 miles to Manhattan.¹

The first and only lighthouse keeper, Albert E. Littlefield, was hired in December of 1886. Littlefield was chosen because of his expertise with electricity, and under his care the lights kept shining for sixteen years. Though he made improvements that made the lighthouse less expensive, the Statue of Liberty was still a huge drain on Lighthouse Board resources, and it ceased to serve as a lighthouse on March 1, 1902.



¹For those who aren't lighthouse aficionados, a good lighthouse can be seen 30-40 miles away

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Statue of Liberty Lighthouse
Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty, NY