Showing posts with label 18th century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 18th century. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Cleaning House-Peter the Great and Reforming Russia

Peter the Great served as the autocratic czar of Russia for more than 43 years. He inherited a medieval kingdom, and over the course of his reign dragged it kicking and screaming into the seventeenth century. He changed Russia on every level--religiously, culturally, administratively, militarily--and paved the way for the great reforming czars and czarinas of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, including our old friend, Catherine the Great.

Born Pyotr Alekseyevich in June of 1672, Peter ascended to the co-czardom at the age of ten. He was the son of Emperor Alexis and his second wife, Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina. Alexis's heirs by his first wife were sickly and unfit to rule, but both were propped up by their sister, Sophia Alekseyevna, who served as regent until 1688.

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Peter the Great: 1672-1725
During this time, Peter and his mother were sent off to the village of Preobrazhenskoye, far from the center of power in Moscow.¹ Preobrazhenskoye was close to a German enclave, allowing Peter to be in contact with Westerners. It was in Preobrazhenskoye that Peter started to gain an interest in all that western Europe had to offer and to plot reform.

Russia, at the time, was a backwards and medieval nightmare. Strictly isolated from the rest of Europe, it still hadn't adopted the new technologies of ships and the Julian calendar. People dressed much the same as they had for hundreds of years, and the power of the country was in the hands of the boyars, or petty princes. The Russian economy relied on agriculture, which wasn't ideal for a country with such harsh winters. Compared to the rest of Europe, Russia was a dilapidated cesspit, and Peter wanted to change that.

However, to turn Russia around, Peter needed to educate the Russians, starting with himself. In 1697 he set out with 250 of his closest friends for the rest of Europe. Peter traveled incognito as one Sergeant Pyotr Mikhaylov. Peter used his relative anonymity to study shipbuilding in the Netherlands and to tour factories, schools, arsenals, museums, and Parliament. They trashed hotel rooms and hired master craftsmen to go back and work in Russia. Peter would have gladly extended his embassy, but in 1698 a rebellion broke out back home, and Peter reluctantly returned.

His visit to the rest of Europe made Peter even more eager to reform Russia, which he did, undertaking a reform process that would overhaul Russian society from top to bottom. This reform process would take Peter's entire lifetime, but to break it into easily listable paragraphs:

Military 

One of Peter's most urgent goals was obtaining more ports for Russia--ports on the White, Baltic, and Caspian Seas. Russia didn't have a lot of ports, and thus had no way to efficiently export Russian goods. While Peter did have his ports on the Pacific, the eastern part of Russia was mostly unoccupied. His one western port was very northerly and spent much of the year frozen over. To gain the western ports he desperately craved, Peter needed to do some conquering, which meant dealing with the formidable Swedish and Ottoman Empires.

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Peter was obsessed with ships from a young age. He built
a small fleet at his home in Preobrazhenskoye, which
came to be known as his 'toy navy'
Firstly, Peter set about obtaining a larger fighting force. Military service was extended to last a lifetime, and serfs were press-ganged into service. He imported export shipwrights from England and the Netherlands and set them to work building him a navy. They constructed a vast fleet in a short amount of time, and by 1703, Peter had a formidable seafaring force, equipped with all the latest technology, like steering wheels.

Because of his navy, Peter was finally able to hold his own on the world stage. He was finally able to kick out the Swedes and continue the proud Russian tradition of invading Ukraine. He took on the formidable Ottomans and won, gaining both the ports he took and a bit of Iran in the process.

Church

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Patriarch Adrian, the last patriarch until the
Patriarchy of Moscow and All Russia was restored
in 1917. There is still a patriarch, and, as of 2019
the holder of that office is Patriarch Kirill
Like Henry VIII before him, Peter wanted to take the clergy down a peg or five. In another example of Russia's medieval-ness, the Russian Orthodox Church still exercised an outsized amount of power, including over the czar. Many clerics were resistant to Peter's reforms and were leading voices of dissent. In order to get these uppity churchmen under control, Peter refused to appoint a new patriarch²  after Patriarch Adrian died in 1700. Instead, Peter appointed a "custodian to the throne of the patriarch," or an acting patriarch, who was counseled by a group of bishops. The custodian was later replaced by the Holy Synod, a group of churchmen who ruled the church under the authority of the czar.

As might be imagined, this wasn't a hugely popular move, especially among the churchmen. Monks in particular didn't like the changes, as it meant that they lost political power and monasterial lands. To quash this rebellion, Peter forbade monks to have pen and paper and started to bring in loyal churchmen from Ukraine to outnumber the dissenters.
Peter also set about educating the clergy, many of whom were practically illiterate. Every priest was required to attend a seminary where they learned Latin and Greek and were deeply immersed in church doctrine. This was successful in that it resulted in a better educated clergy, but this series of study neglected to teach the vernacular Russian and Church Slavonic, which made it difficult for clergy to communicate with their flock.

Culture

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Typical clothing of a pre-Peter the Great
boyar.
Not content to Westernize institutions and commerce, Peter imposed a series of laws that westernized the behaviors of the Russian people. Traditional Russian clothing was forbidden, and the nobility were required to wear French court dress. Noblemen were no longer allowed to have beards, and Peter would cut them off personally. To wear a beard or non-Western clothing would mean incurring a fine of 100 rubles³. Cultural customs were also taxed, and traditional activities like fishing and beekeeping were subject to a tax⁴.

Banning beards in particular was quite an inflammatory act. Beards were a religious thing for Russian men, and it was thought that a man without a beard was naked. By forcing men to be clean-shaven and to wear cold and impractical French style clothing, Peter was stripping away their old Russian identity.

Education

Peter was determined to have an educated populace, and to do this he secularized the school system, allowed the middle classes to attend schools (so long as they entered civil service), and founded several institutions of higher education. Like Caliph al-Ma'mun, he oversaw the translation of many Western books into Russian and encouraged his citizens to study abroad--whether they wanted to or not.

By wresting the schools away from the church, Peter strengthened his control over his people. After he appointed the Holy Synod, Russians were taught to fear the czar across the pulpit, but with state-controlled schools, Peter could teach it in schools too. Opening schools to middle-class children ensured that Peter would have a talented bureaucracy to run the swollen Russian Empire, something that would be very important when Peter changed the administrative boundaries of the country.

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Peter moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg,
a European style city he had built near the Baltic.
A fan of higher education, Peter allowed (and forced) middle-class and noble boys to attend school in Europe proper. Like with the members of his Grand Embassy, these young men were expected to come back and use their skills for the benefit of Russia. However, Peter didn't neglect the native Russian institutes of learning. He established artillery and language schools in Moscow and St. Petersburg, along with colleges devoted to science. A short list of the institutions founded by Peter include:
  • School of Navigation and Math (1701)
  • School of Medicine (1707)
  • School of Engineering (1712)
  • School of Science (1724)
While education still wasn't open to girls or to the peasantry, Peter set Russia on the road to becoming an educated and enlightened nation.

Commerce 

One of the downsides to all of Peter's reforms was that they were expensive. After all, you can't get state-of-the-art naval vessels and a palatial European city at the Dollar Tree--it takes some serious capital. To get that capital, the tax system had to be changed.

Previously, Russia had operated on a "Hearth Tax" system, where the peasantry was taxed by the household. No matter how many people lived in the home, they paid the same flat rate. To avoid paying more tax, peasants would often move in together. In 1680, Peter introduced the "Poll Tax," a system that taxed each adult member of the household individually, no matter how many people lived there. Not only did this give Peter some of the capital he needed, but it also allowed him to gain the favor of his nobility by lowering their taxes.
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Peter the Great on 2 ruble coins.
However, not all of the expenses could be defrayed by taxes. After all, you can't get universities and top-notch cannons at the Dollar General. Peter picked up the rest of the slack by introducing high tariffs on imports, and creating state monopolies around salt, vodka, oak, and tar. Under this, Peter controlled the prices of Russia's most popular goods and encouraged people to buy products made in their own country. He also made sure revenues from those products went to the states, as merchants weren't allowed to buy goods from manufacturers until after the Russian government had had their pick. If there was any surplus after the government picked out the choicest goods, merchants could sell those, but it wasn't a good business model. Peter's policies ensured that not only would his citizens buy Russian, but that the profit from their purchases would go to the state.

Administrative Districts

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The areas in brown, purple, and red show the size of Russia
around the years of Peter's reign.
Because of its size, administering Russia was no small feat. Then, as now, Russia was the largest country on Earth in terms of land area. The population was heavily concentrated in the west of the country, leaving the east and frigid north sparsely populated. Prior to Peter, the Russian administration system was incompetent and antiquated. To change that, in 1708 Peter divided the country into eight governorates, who were ruled over by a royal governor and the Landrats, or eight to twelve civil servants assigned to help the governor. The governorates were later scratched, and the country was broken up into 50 provinces in 1719. Those provinces were later subdivided into districts.
Peter wasn't just interested in redrawing lines on a map. Under Russian law, towns were subject to rule from the military and local lords. Peter loosened the rules, and while towns were still subordinate to Moscow, they were allowed to elect their own leaders.

Class

Perhaps the biggest changes that Peter made during his reign were changes to the class system of Russia. He hit every level of society with a series of reforms that ensured that the Russian people would be more tightly under his control and loyal to him. 

Peasantry

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Serfs were allowed to continue to wear their traditional
clothing, but became even more firmly the property of
their lords.
Life did not get better for the peasantry under Peter--it got much worse. In addition to imposing harsher taxes, Peter also made it more difficult for serfs to leave their homes, essentially reducing them to slaves. Serfs had no rights and could be press-ganged into military service or municipal building projects at any time. Between 30,000 and 100,000 serfs died building St. Petersburg alone. 
Peter, like every other czar, saw the peasantry not as actual people but as another resource to be exploited. His treatment of the Russian serfs is damning and stains an otherwise brilliant career. It is for this that it's difficult to wholeheartedly support Peter the Great, and it's what makes him such a controversial figure.

Towns

For the middle classes, laws were enacted that said that any person in trade could settle in whatever town they wished, so long as they informed the proper authorities that they were there. Tradesmen were no longer tied to the land like serfs, and this allowed the spread of skilled manufacturing across Russia. 
Additionally, to structure town society, townspeople were put into one of two guilds: the regulars or the commons. The regulars were the skilled craftspeople and merchants who were their own bosses. They had rights to move around as they wished and be appointed to governing bodies. People who worked as hired labor were relegated to the commons, and they were little better than serfs.

Nobility

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A page from the Table of Ranks
In 1722, Peter introduced his Table of Ranks, which was a list of every rank of nobility, court, military and government. This table was essentially a how-to guide to gaining higher positions, and, theoretically, anyone (anyone being anyone noble) could work their way up by providing the required civil or military services. While some levels had to be approved by the czar himself, all ranks were achieved by service.
There were, of course, a few exceptions, mainly relating to the czar's immediate family, and once a person reached the eighth rank, their title did become hereditary. However, by doing this Peter deputized the idle rich into helping him run the country.

Government

As part of his efforts to bring Russia under an autocratic regime, Peter had to contend with the boyars and the Duma. The Duma⁵ was a collection of noblemen, civil servants, and wealthy landowners whose job it was to advise the king. In theory anyways. By the time Peter came around the Duma was a formidable governing body that controlled governance on every level. They stood between Peter and his goal of complete control, so in 1711 he dissolved the Duma and instead created a Senate. The senate had ten men, all of whom had been appointed by Peter personally and could not resign without an imperial decree. Some were noblemen, but there were also churchmen, scholars, and businessmen. 

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Peter the Great statue in St. Petersburg. This statue was
erected by Catherine the Great.
On the lower levels of public service, bureaucratic ranks became non-hereditary, meaning that to hold a job in public service, one had to be qualified. This also meant that any ambitious fellow with an education could technically work their way up to the senate. These bureaucrats displaced the boyars, and remained in power until 1917.

Make no mistake--Peter the Great isn't the fluffy bunny sort of guy you can feel comfortable having as a role model. He received plenty of pushback during his life, and anyone with a conscience is still side-eyeing him now. However, his determination to drag Russia kicking and screaming overall did the country a lot of good, even as it quashed individual freedoms. Peter was, out of all of the Romanovs and those that came before them, the most farsighted of Russia's monarchs, and his reforms, however brutally undertaken, ultimately changed Russia for the better.


¹While Preobrazhenskoye is now a part of Moscow, during Peter's time it was a prosperous, mid-sized town.
²Patriarch is the Orthodox version of a Pope.
³This rule did not apply to commoners or the clergy.
⁴I also remember reading once that under Peter the Great, any man found going to bed with his boots on could be killed. I've been unable to find where I read that, so treat that factoid with caution.
⁵The Duma of this time period is usually referred to as "Boyar Duma" to differentiate it from the Duma of Czar Nicholas II and the modern Duma.


Sources
Empire of the Tsars: Romanov Russia presented by Lucy Worsley

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The French and Indian War

The French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, the Third Silesian War, the Pomeranian War, or "that one war that Mrs. Painter talked about for, like, two weeks before we finally got to the Revolution."¹ was the first truly global war. As far as wars go, the French and Indian War is little more than a footnote on American history. On the outside, it may look relatively unimportant, but the French and Indian War changed the political landscape of North America in a way that would be instrumental to the Revolution that would occur twenty years after. And while it's no War of the Oaken Bucket, the French and Indian War merits discussion.

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North America at the beginning of the French
and Indian War
Winston Churchill described The Seven Years' War as being the first world war, and he wasn't wrong. The Seven Years' War was fought across the world, in Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean². In Europe, multiple nations were fighting to curb the influence of Frederick the Great of Prussia. In India, the French and English supported various Indian rebel states in attempt to gain more favorable trade situations. In Africa, they tussled over the gum arabic trade. In the Caribbean, they fought over the financially lucrative sugar colonies.

In mainland North America, France, Spain, and England were fighting for land. France claimed to own all of the land watered by the Mississippi River, as well as Quebec and New France. Spain claimed Florida. Britain, by far the greediest of the bunch, claimed that the borders of their colonies continued horizontally from the east coast of the continent to the west coast. The fact that they weren't sure that there even was a west coast was conveniently overlooked.

With these overlapping claims, it's inevitable that the French and English would collide, and collide they did³. Enterprising British settlers, hungry for land, kept moving west, most notably into the lush Upper Ohio River Valley. Meanwhile, the French had been warring with the Meskwaki tribe, and in order to preserve some semblance of a peace, they had rerouted their trade routes, building forts in what was considered English territories.

In this era, forts were vital to controlling the land and protecting the settlers on the land. Because there was no wide police force, all policing had to come from the soldiers in the fort. The fort was also a place for civilians to hide in case of attack, and it protected travelers on the road. Forts were tremendously important, and both the French and the English were very touchy about the other side building forts on their land.

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Drawing of Fort Le Boeuf
Things kicked off in 1753 when the Virginia lieutenant governor, Robert Dinwiddie, sent an enterprising young nobody named George Washington to Fort Le Boeuf to tell the French to get the heck off the metaphorical English lawn. France had built a string of forts between Lake Erie and modern Pittsburgh, and the English were less than pleased. Washington carried out his duty, and the French politely declined his eviction notice. The niceties covered, Dinwiddie declared the French forts an act of aggression, and sent William Trent to build forts of their own, and George Washington to kick the French out of their forts.

Aggression declared, it was time to pick teams. Both the French and the English had been trading with the native tribes, and they realized that having the locals on their side was not only good for business, but it was also good for the war effort. The majority of Native Americans sided with the French, as they were the lesser of two evils. The French were less inclined to settle the land, and they bothered to learn native languages, and try to make friends. The British were increasingly encroaching on traditional hunting grounds, and they didn't seem inclined to stop. For many tribes, siding with the French seemed the best way to ensure their way of life.
Credit: Devan Hurst
However, just because one particular native nation teamed up with the French or the English didn't mean they were friends. In fact, tribes frequently fought with their European allies in between fighting the opposing side. Allying with the Europeans wasn't so much joining together to fight for a common cause as it was attempting to keep the white men too busy fighting each other to steal from tribes.

The most significant native ally to the British was the Iroquois League, or the Haudenosaunee. The Haudenosaunee were a powerful group in the region, and the British claimed them as subjects. This was particularly convenient for them, because the Haudenosaunee, as far as the British understood it, claimed a portion of land that the French were settling on, and this strengthened the English claims to the area.

It's summer of 1754, and George Washington is continuing in his efforts to run the French out of town. The French had defeated William Trent and burned his unfinished fort, building the much nicer Fort Duquesne (pronounced Du-cane) on its ashes. Meanwhile, Washington had defeated a small force of French in Pennsylvania and had captured the French leader, Joseph de Jumonville. Jumonville claimed that he and his men were on a peace mission to warn the English they were trespassing. Washington was, by all accounts, willing to negotiate and let Jumonville and his men go, when his Haudenosaunee ally,⁴ Tanaghrisson, killed Jumonville. Tanaghrisson notoriously hated the French, claiming that the French had boiled and eaten his father.

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Recreation of Fort Necessity
The French were none too pleased about the death of their commander, and George Washington high tailed it to Great Meadows, where he started building a fort appropriately named Fort Necessity. The French arrived at Fort Necessity on July 3rd and soundly beat the English, sending Washington and his men scurrying back to Virginia.

This led to a string of French victories, allowing them to take several English forts, and establish their own forts all along the Ohio river. They were able to do this partly because of their superior military power but also partly because they had support from Paris. London, on the other hand, didn't care about what was happening in the colonies, with King George II stating "Let the Americans fight the Americans." This ambivalence would continue until future Prime Minister, William Pitt, realized that the North American colonies were key to establishing British world dominance.

Meanwhile, up north in Nova Scotia, trouble was brewing. A group of French settlers called the Acadians had been farming the land since the 1600s, when Nova Scotia was still New France. The presence of these Francophone peoples made the British nervous, so nervous that in 1730, the Acadians had been forced to swear an oath of neutrality. However, things were heating up in Nova Scotia, and the British governor, Charles Lawrence, was getting nervous. The French had built an enormous fortress, Fort Louisbourg, on Cape Breton island, and they had built another fort, Fort Beausejour, on the Chignecto river. While storming Fort Beausejour in 1755, a small group of Acadian militiamen were captured, and Lawrence seized upon the incidence as a violation of the Acadians' oath of neutrality made twenty years earlier.

Lawrence gathered a group of Acadian leaders and tried to compel them to take an oath of allegiance to the British. The Acadians, unsurprisingly, refused. Though they had been mostly ignored by their French liege lords, they weren't too fond of the British, who coveted their lands. Lawrence took their refusal as an act of aggression and signed a deportation order. All Acadian lands and possessions were forfeit, and the Acadians were to leave Nova Scotia forthwith.

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Depiction of the Acadians by artist Claude Picard
Not trusting the Acadians to go quietly, Lawrence sent his men to surround churches on Sunday mornings when the majority of the Catholic Acadians were attending mass. They captured the men, and sent the women and children running. The English destroyed dykes and fields, and loaded the Acadians onto ships headed to France, Britain, and the colonies of South Carolina, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. While many Acadians fled to the forests and fought back, they were unsuccessful. Approximately 10,000 Acadians were deported, and more than a tenth of them died. Acadians who landed in English colonies landed to a cool reception and were forced to wander in search of a new home. A number of these Acadians ended up in Louisiana, becoming the people who would become to be known as the Cajuns.

Meanwhile, back in London, parliament was finally taking the war seriously. They sent a significant force to the colonies to fight the French, and their newly minted navy to cut off French supplies and reinforcements. The British started winning in the Americas, aided by their fancy new guerilla warfare tactics learned from the Native Americans.

The French were starting to get desperate. The war had been dragging on for eight years, and the French government was going bankrupt. The British were slowly taking away both their trade on mainland North America and their sugar colonies, and they were getting tired of it. They turned to their friends, the Spanish. In an agreement that would be later known as the Family Compact⁵, the Spanish agreed that if the British had not withdrawn from North America by May 1, 1762, Spain would enter the war.

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Map of North America at the end of the French and
Indian War
This was meant to pressure the British into withdrawing. Unfortunately, Spain wasn't very intimidating. The English declared war on Spain in January of 1762 and thoroughly defeated them, taking Cuba, the Philippines, and the French Caribbean islands.

After these defeats, the French were ready to throw in the towel. Spain, France, and Britain signed the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763. In this treaty, Britain got Florida, Canada, and everything east of the Mississippi river. France got everything west of the Mississippi, as well as their sugar colonies. Spain got Cuba and the Philippines.

As the dust settled, the people in the Americas, native and non, realized that they had been massively screwed over. The Native Americans had hoped that fighting with the French and British would ensure that settlers kept off their lands in the Ohio River Valley. Unfortunately, with the French driven out, the British were free to settle where they pleased. Native Lands were snapped up at an alarming pace, and it was becoming increasingly impossible to keep settlers at bay.

Additionally, the war had been enormously expensive for the British government, and they had to find some way to pay for it. What better way to pay for it than taxing their colonies? These taxes would infuriate the colonists and ignite the spark that started the American Revolution.




¹Thanks, Mrs. Painter!
²Okay, sure, the Caribbean is technically a part of North America, but it's easy to forget that.
³At this point in the war, Spain was keeping itself to itself. They didn't have a horse in the Upper Ohio River Valley race. They wouldn't enter the war until later.
⁴Tanaghrisson was, specifically Seneca, though he may have been born into a different tribe. He was a significant Haudenosaunee leader, known by Europeans as "half-king."
⁵The French and Spanish kings were cousins.

This article edited by Mara Kellogg. Infographic made by Devan Hurst.



Sources
Who Fought in the French and Indian War?
French and Indian War-Ohio History Central
French and Indian War-Encyclopedia Britannica
French and Indian War/Seven Years' War
Incidents Leading Up to the French and Indian War
French and Indian War-History
Acadian Expulsion (The Great Upheaval)
Acadian Deportation, Migration, and Resettlement
French and Indian War-US History
French and Indian War Forts
The Battle of Fort Necessity
French and Indian War-Michigan State University

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.


 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.


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