Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Europe. Show all posts

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary, Governor of the Netherlands

Sometimes called 'Mary of Hungary', it's easy to lose this Mary among the sea of other famous Mary's hailing from Austria and Hungary, not to mention the rest of Europe. This particular Mary was a master stateswoman, and arguably one of the most important politicians of her time. A member of the powerful Habsburg dynasty, and a contemporary of Henry VIII, Mary saved part of Hungary for her family after an Ottoman invasion, and governed the Netherlands for decades, suppressing rebellions, attempting to make peace with France. Though she is largely unknown today, she was a key political figure during her lifetime.

Image result for mary of austria
Mary is described alternately as being very
beautiful, and as looking very manish. It
is also known that she was an unfortunate
possessor of a Habsburg lip.
The daughter of Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad, Mary was born in Brussels in 1505. She had five siblings, four older, the most notable being her brothers Charles and Ferdinand, both of whom later became Holy Roman Emperors.

About six months after her birth, Mary was engaged to the yet unborn heir of King Ladisla of Hungary. Thankfully, the presumed heir did materialize in the form of her future husband, Louis, was later born in 1506. The two were officially 'married' when Mary was nine, but they lived separately until 1522.

Prior to cohabiting with her husband, Mary was given a humanist education along with her sisters, Isabella and Eleanor, and her twice over sister in law, Anne of Bohemia. Young Mary was passionate about music as well as sport. There also must have been some introduction to philosophy, because she later became enamored of the scholar Erasmus.

When Mary moved to Buda in 1522 she was immediately coronated Queen of Hungary. Louis' father had had his son crowned while he was still alive in order to secure the succession. Ladislaw died in 1516, and Louis had been inexpertly ruling since the year before. When Mary arrived on the scene, Louis soon delegated running the country to her, and instead spent his time hunting and partying.

Image result for louis ii of hungary
Mary's husband, Louis. Mary refused to
remarry after his death, refusing offers from
numerous heads of state, including James V
of Scotland, the father of Mary, Queen of
Scots
Though Mary was only 15, she took to ruling like a fish to water. Renaissance Hungary was a mess, nobles fought each other and the crown incessantly, and the country was only ever a few steps away from anarchical collapse. Mary brokered peace between different noble families, and tried to inspire loyalty to her husband the King.

Unfortunately, Mary's efforts were too little, too late. When Suleiman I invaded in 1526 the nobility were unable to unify under the common cause of not being conquered by the Ottomans. Louis died in combat, leaving Mary a widow.

The couple were reportedly in love, but they had no children. This isn't entirely unexpected, the pair were 15 and 14 upon marriage, and they were only married for five years. However, this lack of an heir would make things difficult in Hungary after Louis' death. Though the Ottomans had taken Hungary, they hadn't gotten all of Hungary. Hungary was split into three--a third to the Ottomans, a third to the pretender John Zapolya, and a third went to Mary's brother Ferdinand.

Mary wrote to Ferdinand telling him about her sudden widowhood, and his sudden possession of a new country. He asked her to remain on as regent, a position that she only reluctantly accepted, protesting that the job should go to someone older and more experienced. Mary served as regent for more than a year until Ferdinand was coronated in 1527.

Image result for europe map 1500
Though borders were constantly changing, Europe looked
something like this during Mary's lifetime.
It is worth noting Mary's protests that she was unsuitable for the role of regent because of her age and inexperience. This is a pattern that would occur throughout her life when dealing with her male relatives. As governor of the Netherlands, she would frequently ask permission to resign, citing her inability to fully do her duty due to her gender, age, or lack of abilities. On the surface, it merely seems that Mary maybe struggled with self esteem, and the amount of reassuring letters her brother wrote to her certainly support this theory. However, it is also worth noting that in this first case, as well as most other cases of attempted resignation, Mary's attempt to resign came on the tail of her brothers denying her the basic things she needed to rule. It seems more likely that her shy projection of self doubt was merely her way of manipulating men who wanted results, but weren't willing to give her the necessary ingredients for success.

After leaving Hungary, Mary floated aimlessly until being appointed governor of the Netherlands after the death of Margaret of Austria in 1531. At the time, the Netherlands were a part of the vast and growing Habsburg Empire, ruled by Mary's brother, Charles V. The Netherlands was a notoriously tricky region, populated by a testy and nepotistic nobility, a wealthy and discontented bourgeois, and outer provinces that most definitely did not want to be under Habsburg rule. Add in the ever growing threat of Reformation, and the Netherlands was a hot seat of discontent.

Image result for mary of austria
Not all of Mary's patronages were political
in nature. She was a great lover of music, and
retained talented musicians and composers at
her court.
The Reformation was a particular problem for Mary, because she frequently flirted with Lutheranism, much to the disapproval of her staunchly Catholic brothers. While Queen of Hungary, Mary had employed several reformist preachers, and read books by Martin Luther. It seemed likely that she may have had evangelical leanings herself, but when she took up as governor she became, at least publicly, staunchly Catholic.

She was, however, very tolerant of the protestants in the Netherlands. Charles frequently had to remind her to enforce anti-protestant laws, and the Netherlands was known as a place where protestant missionaries could preach without a huge amount of risk.

It was here in the Netherlands that Mary's master diplomatic and political acumen really shone. The role of governor was chronically underfunded in the Netherlands, and had only a limited number of patronages assigned to it. To control the area Mary needed both money and patronages¹, both of which were controlled by her brother Charles, who was so disinterested in the region, that he left the answering of her letters up to his secretary. Through a combination of persistent pestering and attempted resignations, Mary was able to not only get Charles to answer her letters, but also get him to allow her discretion over the dispensal of every third patronage.

Image result for Charles V holy roman emperor
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He was Mary's
older brother and nagging boss.
Though she won the patronage issue, Mary still struggled against Charles and his neglect of the region. An inability to balance the state budget and increased tensions with France caused a rebellion to break out in 1537. Mary kept her head, and was eventually able to suppress the rebellion, but not without great difficulty.

War was particularly difficult for Mary because her generals refused to listen to or communicate with her. Mary encountered a great deal of misogyny in her capacity as governor and regent, which made her job infinitely more difficult than it would have been for a man. Officials refused to listen to her, and nobles consistently disobeyed her orders. This, along with a great dislike of her nephew Philip (who had just replaced his father), and protest of her age, led to her retirement in 1555

After she left the Netherlands, Mary went to Castille, her mother's homeland. She accompanied her sister Eleanor, intending to spend the rest of her days happy and away from politics. Unfortunately, Eleanor died in 1558, setting Mary adrift. Charles once again offered her governorship of the
Netherlands, and Mary was even persuaded to accept it, but stress over her brother Charles' death caused her to have a sudden heart attack in October of 1558. She died a few weeks later.

Image result for mary of austria
Mary in her older years
Despite her great importance in the politics of the era, Mary has been largely forgotten in favor of her brothers and nephew. This is a major disservice to any lover of history, because Mary was just as wily and clever a politician as her aunt, Margaret of Austria, and she more than outshone her brothers at times. While she may not have had a huge, lasting impact, Mary of Austria more than deserves a place at the table with the great Renaissance stateswomen of her era.



¹A patronage is a job given to members of the nobility to reward good behavior and compel further favor from the monarch or reigning noble. These patronages brought wealth and title, all of which enabled a ruler to bind the nobility to them.


Sources
'En bruit d'estre bonne luteriene': Mary of Hungary (1505-58) and Religious Reform by B. J. Spruyt
The Sinews of Habsburg Governance in the Sixteenth Century: Mary of Hungary and Political Patronage by Daniel R. Doyle
Mary of Hungary-Historical Dictionary of Brussels
Mary of Hungary-Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands
Mary of Austria: "The Heart to do Anything"
Louis II of Hungary

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Damn, Girl-Teuta, Queen of the Illyrians

Ancient Illyria covered the same space as modern Albania. Or modern Bosnia-Hezergovinia. Or modern Serbia. Or modern Croatia. Or modern Montenegro. Historians really can't agree. No matter where they may have lived, the Illyrians were a fierce nation of seafarers, with a penchant for piracy. The pillaged all around the Adriatic, making themselves rich off of the goods of trading ships. They were a wealthy nation, and in the early 200 BCE's, they were still holding strong, despite the rise of the land hungry Roman Republic.

Image result for map of illyria
A reasonable guess as to where Illyria may have been.
Teuta was the second wife of king Agron. Agron was your typical ancient king. He liked pillaging, booze, and sex. And after a particularly successful raid, he engaged in all three so enthusiastically that it lead to his demise, leaving Teuta to serve as regent for their young son, Pinnes.

Impossibly enough, Teuta liked pillaging even more than her dead husband. One of her first acts upon being appointed regent was to give out letters of marque to the majority of the ships in her navy, authorizing them to pillage whoever they wanted, so long as they paid their tax.

In Illyria, piracy was just as much an industry as fishing. It was an acceptable career, and the Illyrians didn't see anything wrong with it. Teuta encouraged it among her people, and told them to attack everyone and anyone. Not only did piracy bring in money to the Illyrians, but it also brought in new lands and cities, because the Illyrians weren't content to just steal things, they also had to conquer lands.

Teuta was known to have led some of these raids herself, and for several years the Illyrians were the scourge of the Adriatic. No one could stop them, until someone snitched to Rome.

Related image
Bust of Teuta
The Roman Republic was about 250 years old, and going pretty strong. The senate was dedicated to protecting the financial interests of Roman citizens, so when reports of Illyrians indiscriminately attacking their ships reached Rome, the senate sent out two ambassadors--the Coruncanius brothers--to try and broker a peace with Teuta.


Unfortunately for all involved, one of those ambassadors, Lucius, wasn't very good at being an ambassador. Lucius and Gaius approached Teuta when she was in the middle of a seige, pulling her away from the thick of the fight. When they presented their argument she was obviously distracted, and when they finished speaking she told them that she and her government couldn't regulate the actions of private citizens. This is when Lucius lost it.

There's no account of exactly what Lucius said to Teuta, historians just record it as 'plain speech'. However, the gist of what he told her was that Illyria should change its customs to suit the needs of Rome. Bad move.

When the brothers were on a ship back to Rome Lucius was killed by an assassin that is widely believed to have been sent by Teuta. Killing an ambassador is a major no-no, so when word reached Rome, the Romans retaliated brutally, sending 200 ships and 20,000 infantrymen to suppress the Illyrians.

Image result for Queen Teuta coin
Teuta on Albanian currency.
Teuta held her own for a very long time against the Romans, and would have been able to beat them back, if not for the treachery of Demetrius. Demetrius was a high ranking Illyrian with designs on the throne. He sold out the Illyrians to the Romans, and Teuta was forced to surrender, and ceed Illyria to the Romans.

Today Teuta is remembered most often as a Pirate Queen. She's on the back of Albanian currency, and she's claimed as a national hero by the Albanians. Teuta was known in her day for being fierce and indomitable, to the point that following her peace treaty with Rome she was no longer allowed to sail out of her harbor with more than two unarmed ships. Despite not knowing much about Teuta before or after this incident with Rome, there is no doubt that she was a strong, fearless woman.

Sources
Queen Teuta and Rome
Teuta-The Pirate Queen of Illyria
Lady Pirates-Queen of the Illyrians
The Fierce Queen of the Illyrians: Teuta the Untameable
Ancient Piracy and Teuta: The Illyrian Pirate Queen
Queen Teuta

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Documentary Review: Dear Albania

This short, but enjoyable, film is the perfect thing to watch while doing laundry, dishes, and other household chores. It's informative and interesting, but not so academically complex that you need to give it your whole attention.

Image result for dear albaniaProduced and narrated by American-Albanian actress Eliza Dushku, Dear Albania documents the visit of Eliza and her brother to Albania, the homeland of their grandparents. It looks at Albanian culture and people from the lens of a semi-outsider--someone who is at once part of the culture, but has been geographically removed from that culture for most of their lives.

It starts in the capital city of Tirina, where Dushku and her brother track down some family. From there they explore the lovely beaches, as well as the vibrant city of Tirina. However, they don't stay in one place for very long. From Tirina they explore other large cities in Albania, as well as several large cities with significant Albanian communities in the neighboring country as well.

To be entirely honest, there wasn't a lot of substance in this film. There were stunning visuals, small amounts of tourist information, along with a large amount of Dushku family history. This movie gives just enough of a taste of Albania to get the watcher interested, but the lack of actual information leaves you dissatisfied at the end. It was more of a travel diary than a proper documentary, though it tried very hard to fit into the documentary category.

Overall, it was a mildly entertaining film to have playing as background noise while I performed household tasks. While it might have been light on information, it has left me with a burning curiosity to learn more about Albania, as well as ideas for a few research topics, so keep an eye out for more Albanian history in the future!

Do you know of any good documentaries about Albanian history, culture, or people? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Damn, Girl-Chevaliere d'Eon de Beaumont

The Chevaliere*, or Chevalier, depending on who you ask, d'Eon was one of the most colorful figures of the 18th century. Assigned male at birth, and named Charles Genieveve Louisa Auguste Andre Timothee de Beaumont, the Chevaliere is notable for her service in the french military, for being a spy, and for coming out as a female, and living as Lia de Beaumont in the latter part of her life. She was a free mason, a champion fencer, a lawyer, a decorated war hero, and a celebrated author.

Image result for Chevalier d'eonIt was 1755 and, no surprise, the French were scheming. Relations with England were growing uneasy, and King Louis was attempting to put his cousin on the Polish throne. The Russian Empress, Elizabeth, refused to meet with any French ambassadors, and the French government was actively working against itself. It was this environment that the Chevaliere first got her start.

The Chevaliere was sent with the French diplomatic mission to Russia under the guise of a lowly secretary. The truth of her mission, however, was much more complex than that. d'Eon was there as part of le Secret du Roi--Louis' secret spy agency that was so secret, most of the French government didn't know about it. At the time of the Chevaliere's service, the group was dedicated to helping Louis put his cousin on the Polish throne, essentially giving France control of Poland. d'Eon's mission was to get the good will of Empress Elizabeth. There was just one problem, the Empress refused to see any of the French diplomats.

So the Chevaliere and the people back in Versailles put their heads together, and came up with a brilliant idea. d'Eon would be disguised as a woman, and infiltrate the court of the Empress that way. The idea was that Empress Elizabeth would be more open to speaking with a female French diplomat. They were absolutely right.

Seven years later the Seven Years War is going poorly for France. d'Eon left Russia to serve as a dragoon in the French army. She was the Secretary to the French ambassador, and she must have been very helpful at the peace talks between France and Britain, because she was later awarded the honor of the Order of St. Louis, which, I have been told, is a big deal.

After being decorated, d'Eon was sent to London to assist the current French ambassador to England, the Comte de Guerchy. Unfortunately, the pair did not get on. d'Eon's overspending, and her insubordination made her a liability, and she was recalled by the French government in 1763.

Image result for Chevalier d'eon
Had the Chevaliere returned to France as ordered, she most likely would have been thrown in the Bastile or worse. That was an unattractive option for d'Eon, so she decided to blackmail the French government. d'Eon was still a member of le Secret du Roi, and was in possession of certain sensitive information. Since the end of the Seven Years War the French had given up their ambitions in Poland, and were working towards an invasion of England. The Chevaliere threatened to expose the duplicity of the French government if they didn't assign her a pension, and let her live in peace.

The French government was, understandably, a tad uneasy about this arrangement, and were delaying their decisions. To hurry them up, and show that she meant business, the Chevaliere published her first tell-all book, filled with secret correspondence she had received as a spy. She promised that more would follow.

France quickly acquiesced to her demands, and d'Eon became an overnight celebrity. Her book was incredibly popular, but it was the mystery surrounding her gender that really had the English people hooked. See, the Chevaliere continued to dress up in women's clothes, even after quitting the court of Empress Elizabeth. She maintained a sense of mystery about her gender, to the point where people made bets about whether or not she was a boy or a girl. d'Eon herself refused to say.

After fifteen years in England, France reached out an olive branch. d'Eon would be allowed to return home on the condition that she assume the role and appropriate clothing of her gender. the Chevaliere jumped on the opportunity, and went back to France.

However, the transition was difficult for her. She wanted to keep her dragoon's uniform as a symbol of political power, and to maintain the same amount of political influence that she had before. The French government wasn't too keen on this. Several times she was forceably dressed in female clothes, and her political opinions were consistently ignored. She was, essentially pushed to the side, and in 1785 she moved back to England.

d'Eon was able to live off her pension for a while, but in 1789 the French monarchy was abolished, and the Chevaliere was left without a source of income. To support herself, she gave swordsmanship exhibitions, wearing her Cross of St. Louis, and branding herself as an Amazon. The English people welcomed her back with open arms, but as the Chevaliere grew older she grew increasingly more isolated. When an injury made her stop fencing in 1796 she moved into a flat with another old woman, and rarely left her home after.

Image result for Chevalier d'eonAfter her death it was, of course, discovered that the Chevaliere possessed male genitalia. This news, of course shocked the world. Most people believed the Chevaliere to be female, and there had even been court cases that confirmed this, the most convincing argument being that the Chevaliere said she was female.

And there is a large amount of evidence saying that the Chevaliere truly identified as a woman, and that it wasn't a guise she adopted for social and diplomatic purposes. The Chevaliere experienced a religious awakening in her later life, and affirmed that not only did she believe herself to be a woman, but that God had told her she was a woman.

Historian's today waver about d'Eon's sexuality, but d'Eon knew d'Eon best. If she said she was a woman then she was a woman, and while today's gender politics are very different from gender politics of the past, the fact remains that d'Eon identified as a woman, and that identity should be respected.

Gender identity aside, d'Eon was an amazing woman. She was a talented and capable diplomat, and excellent writer, and a colorful person.

*A note on pronouns: since the Chevaliere maintained that she was a woman for most of her life, I have used feminine pronouns to refer to her here. No one would know the gender of the Chevaliere better than the Chevaliere herself, and on while the Chevaliere hasn't appeared to me in a dream saying that she prefers she/her pronouns, it is reasonable to assume that female pronouns are the appropriate pronouns to use when writing about her.

Sources
Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont
d'Eon, the Fresh Face
Charles, chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont
The Incredible Chevalier d'Eon, Who Left France as a Male Spy, and Returned a Christian Woman
The Chevalier d'Eon

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

I Thee Wed-More or Less-But Mostly Less

Have you ever wanted to get married to someone of an inferior social rank, but didn't want to risk causing a national crisis? If so, than a morganatic marriage may be for you.

Image result for franz ferdinand and sophie
Franz Ferdinand (of WWI fame) and his wife, Sophie, had
a morganatic marriage.
Morganatic marriage, or 'marriage of the left hand' is a kinda-sorta marriage, in which someone, usually a man, of a royal house marries a person of lower rank, usually a commoner, with the stipulation that the spouse, and all children from that marriage will not inherit any lands or titles. It sounds like kinda a shitty deal, but it was the only way for many royal and noble people to marry the person they loved in the time before the 20th century.

Aside from inheritance, a morganatic marriage behaved exactly like a normal marriage. The couple was married in a church, and all children were declared legitimate. Bigamy was still prohibited, and women still took their husband's last name. The only difference in these aspects, is that when marrying the husband would extend his left hand to the bride, instead of his right, to symbolize a morganatic or 'of the left hand' marriage.

Image result for alexander II and ekaterina
Czar Alexander II and his wife, Princess
Ekaterina Dolgorukova. Though Ekaterina
was a princess at the time of their marriage,
their marriage was still morganatic. Also shown
are their children, Georgiy and Olga.
The word 'Morganatic' comes from the German word for morning. This references the 'morning gift', or a gift given by the husband to the wife the morning after their wedding. This gift was usually a tract of land, or a similarly useful item that could support the woman and her children should the husband die. This gift remained the sole property of the wife, and should the couple divorce she would still retain it.

Morganatic marriage has most frequently been used to avoid a general uprising should a person of royal rank decide to marry 'beneath them'. Social rules were more strict in times gone by, and part of being a nobleperson was the understood obligation to marry for the benefit of the state instead of oneself. Doing contrary to that could land a person in serious trouble (To this day both Sweden and the United Kingdom have laws saying that the monarch has to approve the spouse of any royal family member.). But sometimes true love just couldn't be stopped, and so to deal with the social strictures of the time, morganatic marriage was the compromise.

Sources

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

General Frost vs. Europe

When making a 'Top Ten Places Not to Invade In The Winter' list, Russia inevitably comes in number one (with Greenland and Canada following close after.). There were multiple occasions in history, when European leaders thought it might be a good idea to poke the Russian Bear with a stick. Some, like the Mongols, were successful, most, like pretty much everyone else, were not.

Image result for russian winter moscow st basil
St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow.
Russia's pretty big, which makes it difficult to defend and control. Russia's long history of internal conflicts (more recently in Georgia and Chechnya) prove this. However, Russia has a secret weapon-General Frost.

You've probably guessed this, but General Frost is a poetic name for winter. Russia is far north, and has some pretty gnarly cold spells. We're talking spit freezing before it hits the sidewalk cold. The winter snows cover everything, and the country more or less goes into hibernation. Nothing grows, and game isn't always plentiful. If you haven't prepared, you're dead. 

So, despite its size, Russia is pretty well defended. They have reasonable armies (and more recently nuclear weapons) to help the in the summer, and unlivable conditions in the winter. However, that hasn't stopped some people from trying to invade Russia in the winter.

Image result for charles xii sweden
Charles XII
The Swedes were the first (as far as I can dig up) to try invading Russia in the winter. They were the first, so they get a bit of a pass. Sweden itself is northerly, and it's not like they had someone else's mistakes to learn from.

Although, quite frankly, even if there had been someone else's failed attempts to learn from, it is doubtful that that would have stopped Charles XII, the young, brash, and ridiculously successful King of Sweden. Charles was a genius military commander, and dangerous risk taker. He frequently dove into battles with forces that vastly outnumbered his own, and usually came out victorious. Charles was That Kid. You know, that kid in school who claimed to never study for a test, and then got full marks. Charles was the monarchy equivalent of that kid, and, quite frankly, the rest of Europe was a little sick of it.


See, Sweden at the time was something of a world power. They'd taken most of the land around the Baltic sea. The only things they didn't own was Denmark and Norway (Norway belonged to Denmark). This worried the Danes, as well as the newly minted Czar of Russia, Peter the Great. So, to combat the Swedish, the Danes, Russians, Poles and Saxons (part of modern Germany) all decided to gang up on Charles. They were banking on his youth and inexperience (Charles was only 18 at the time). Bad decision. Charles was not only something of a genius, but he had good advisers, ad he listened to them. When the Danes came for Sweden, Charles snck into Denmark, and took them down. Then he turned his eyes to Poland, and successfully installed a King favorable to Sweden. Done with Poland, he turned his eyes to Russia.

Charles had had great success with small armies that attacked quickly and unexpected. He adopted the same strategy in Russia. In 1700 he attacked Narva, a town in Modern Estonia. He was outnumbered about 3 to 1, and it was the middle of a blizzard. Remarkably, but also unsurprisingly, Charles won.

Image result for peter the great
Peter the Great, czar of Russia at the time
of Charles XII's invasion.
The Swedes continued across Russia like this, but the Russians, as per the usual, implemented a scorched earth policy, leaving nothing for the Swedes to eat. The Russians then cut off the Swede's supply lines. Despite all this, the war wasn't going too badly for the Swedes, until General Frost stepped in.

1709 was one of the coldest winters of that era. 2,000 Swedish soldiers died from cold in a single night. Northern Russia wasn't a good place to hang out, so, against the council of his advisers, Charles decided to winter with his buddy Mazeppa in the Ukraine.  

Ivan Mazeppa was a former Russian ally who wanted to get the Russians out of Ukraine. He told Charles of his plan to start an Ukranian rebellion, and invited Charles to invade. Never one to pass up new territory, Charles agreed.

Thing was, most of Charles' forces were very ill, and couldn't fight. Charles himself had been wounded. Additionally, the Russians found out about the planned uprising, and moved to quash it before it even began. So when Charles arrived in Ukraine he had much fewer Ukrainian troops than expected, and only the skeleton of an army.

Realizing the fight was already lost, Charles escaped with 2,000 of his sickest men, leaving the rest of the army behind. The Russians caught up with them, thoroughly defeating the 16,000 Swedish forces left behind.

Next up to the plate was the young French protegee, Napoleon. The year was 1812, and Napoleon had had it with Russia. Russia was supposed to be his ally. They were buds. They were part of the continental system, they had no reason to fight each other, and they promised each other that neither of them would trade with England. It was a good arrangement. For France.

What Napoleon failed to realize was that this arrangement wasn't helping out Russia very much. Russia needed trade with the English to bolster its economy, and France had done the unthinkable--they helped Poland.

Image result for Napoleon
Napoleon Bonaparte, making sure
his ribs are still there.
Well, Napoleon couldn't handle that sort of betrayal, not from an ally, so he invaded Russia to teach Czar Alexander a lesson. He gathered some 450,000 men (give or take), the largest military force ever assembled in Europe to that point (probably). With his typical modesty, Napoleon named his forces the 'Grande Armee'

Now, I have absolutely zero historical evidence to back this up, but I imagine Czar Alexander's reaction to Napoleon's invasion was something like 'lol wut?', and he slipped on his shades, and watched the French armies confidently walk into his territory, just knowing that they wouldn't last a year in Russia.

As I mentioned, there's no historical evidence, but it's a pretty amusing picture.

What is fact, though, is that the Russians put up very little resistance to the French at first. Instead of standing to fight, they let the French take the towns of Vilna, Vitesbk, and Smolensk, virtually without a fight. Instead of fighting the Russians torched the cities and all surrounding crops, leaving the French to die of starvation, exposure, and sporadic attacks. This worked very well. Tens of thousands of soldiers died of starvation, exhaustion, and dehydration. Many more deserted.

The Russians didn't stand and fight until the French were just 75 miles from Moscow. The French and Russians were fairly evenly matched, and each suffered heavy losses. The Russians, however, decided not to stick around. They set fire to Moscow, all of Moscow's food storage, and left, leaving only a large amount of hard liquor behind.

Image result for alexander i russia
Czar Alexander I
So, while they French may have been merrily drunk, they were also starving. Napoleon had decided to stay in Moscow for a while, and wait for Czar Alexander to make peace, but Czar Alexander decided to sit back, and let winter take care of things. Eventually, Napoleon threw in the towel, and decided to head back to France, just as winter was approaching.


Now, this went as well as you might expect, which is to say, poorly. The Russians were determined that the French stay out, so they drove the remnants of the Grand Armee along the same route they came in on. If the food options had been picked over before, they were completely nonexistant on the way back. The Russians kept the French from ranging further afield to find further sustenance. Added to that was the cold. Many men froze overnight. Dead bodies were stacked up against walls to provide insulation, and tales were told of men slitting open their horses, and climbing inside them to keep warm. The French died in massive waves, and only 20,000 of them returned home to France.

Then there's Hitler. As I'm sure you well know, nothing good ever starts with Hitler, and this is no different. Stalin was in charge of Russia at the time, and both of these repugnant knaves should have studied their history. Had they done so, many lives would have been saved, because:

  1. Hitler would have known better than to invade Russia. 
  2. Stalin wouldn't have insisted that no city be surrendered, and instead adopted the scorched earth tactics that has kept Russia independent for so many generations.
Image result for hitler
Adolf Hitler, looking unfriendly as usual.
Instead, Hitler and the Germans were the ones scorching the earth, and the citizens of the USSR were being attacked by not only the Germans, but their own government. Stalin ordered that deserters and suspected traitors be shot, not to mention his abhorrent policy of relocating ethnic minorities to Siberia.

Having conquered France, Hitler needed to get on with the rest of the world. Conquering the UK would be a difficult, and not entirely worthwhile endeavor, so he decided to go after his land and resource rich neighbor, the USSR. This was the start of 'Operation Barbarossa'. 

Germany and the USSR had signed a non-aggression pact two years before, but Hitler still considered communism a major threat to the German Empire he wanted to build. Because Nazi Germany didn't do anything by halves, Hitler planned to completely wipe out the communist population of the USSR, not just the Jews, Romani, Homosexuals, and political dissenters that he usually went after.  

Hitler started by forming a group of elite troops called the Einsatzgruppen. He sent these soldiers into Russia to murder Jewish males, communist leaders, and anyone who looked like they might start a resistance, en masse. He then gathered a force of more than three million soldiers, and stormed Russia's frontier. While Allied powers had repeatedly warned Stalin about a German invasion, Stalin had refused to listen, and was caught by 'surprise'. 

Unlike his predecessors, Stalin refused to give ground. He ordered that no city surrender or be abandoned. As a result of that three million USSR soldiers were taken captive in Kiev. Instead of evacuating the countryside, and torching all the crops, villagers were ordered to stay put, and anyone suspected of disloyalty or cowardice was shot. Because of this the Germans were able to subsist off the crops of the small Russian villages, and were able to penetrate further into USSR territory.

Image result for josef stalin
Josef Stalin
Looking through the lens of history, Hitler has done far better than expected. However, according to Hitler and company, the invasion of the USSR was taking far longer than expected. Hitler had expected the invasion of Russia to go like the invasion of France, quick and relatively painless. But the Russians held out far longer than he'd expected. By the time the Germans were ready to head to Moscow, winter wasn't too far away.

And, in a move that will surely have you banging your head against the nearest flat surface, the Germans did not have any winter supplies. They hadn't expected to stay the winter, and so they were completely unprepared. They started to slowly retreat, but before they could get out of Russia entirely, war had flared up again in the west with the invasion of Normandy. 

Unlike previous invasions, the failure of Operation Barbarossa was not a decisive win for the Russians. Had another front not opened up Hitler would have most likely started the invasion up again in the spring. The German soldiers were able to subsist off the food they found in the countryside, all they lacked was warm clothing. Had Stalin stuck to the proven tactics of his forerunners, and set everything on fire, WWII may have gone much differently.

Sources

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-In Summation

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It was going to be all one post, but then it turned out to be...not so brief. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about these ladies.

I'm not very good at conclusions, I never have been. I can't tell you how many rough drafts of papers I turned in that ended with: 'In conclusion, yes.' But since this isn't a first draft of a college paper, I will attempt to be more cohesive and coherent about this.

This conclusion is extra hard to write, because how do you close the book on such an extraordinary group of women? I've only scratched the surface here, there's so much more that could be said. I don't know exactly what it was, but something about being married to an unstable, tyrannical, king turned six seemingly ordinary girls into strong, admirable women, who will be spoken about forever.

Catherine of Aragon might still have been famous without Henry, she was the daughter of the brilliant Queen Isabella of Castille and Leon after all, but the story of her bravery and stallwartness in the face of Henry's persecution sets her apart from not only Henry's other wives, but from all Queens in history. She was brilliant, pious, and loving, and certainly deserved better than she got. She was a metaphorical saint to the point that there's a movement to canonize her so she can be a literal saint.

Anne Boleyn's ambition and drive spurred the English Reformation, and put England on a path that would change the face of history forever. She held the attentions of a capricious King for nearly a decade, and managed to enact enormous social change during that time, something none of Henry's other Queens did. She's controversial, sure, but you can't deny that without her not only would England not have her most illustrious monarch--Elizabeth I--but England may have forever remained a Catholic nation. She used her beauty and intelligence to shape history, not bad for a daughter of the minor nobility.

Jane Seymour was known for being gentle and kind, and as being the Queen that Henry loved the most. She gave birth to Henry's only son--Edward--and managed to bring a sense of peace and prosperity to the English court. Jane made a home, and brought calm. You could say that she cleaned up Anne Boleyn's mess. She isn't known for having any great political power, or bringing about any great change, but you can't deny that she had an enormous emotional impact on Henry and the people around her.

Anne of Cleves and Henry may have been married less than a year, but she was the smartest out of all Henry's wives. She knew when to yield, and doing so bought her a life of wealth and independence, as well as the dubious honor of being close to the King. She lived a happy life, and died peacefully. Not something that any of Henry's other wives can say they did.

Catherine Howard was young and naive. She was thrust by uncaring relatives into a world that was much too complex for her, and she was crushed underneath the weight of it all. She was an unexceptional Queen of England, but her story is by far the saddest.

Catherine Parr managed to have Mary and Elizabeth restored to the line of succession, ending a civil war years before it began. It's thanks to her that England was able to enjoy the political stability of the Elizabethan era. She was clever and pious, and managed to weather the storm of Henry's dissatisfaction. She was married almost as many times as Henry himself, but never quiet managed to find happiness. She was the first of England's queens to publish under her own name, and served as role model to both Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey.

Henry VIII married six different women. While he definitely had a type--smart, pretty, musically talented--the women he married definitely were not carbon copies of each other. Each of these women had a distinct personality, and each of them had a distinct impact on Henry. While not all of them made large political marks, all of them influenced the monarchs of the Tudor era.

Part One   Part Two   Part Three   Part Four   Part Five   Part Six   Part Seven   Part Eight  

What are your thoughts on Henry and his wives? Who, in your opinion, is the most interesting? Make my day and leave a comment below. :)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Damn, Girl- Medici: Lucrezia Tornabuoni

So I've already talked about Medici: Masters of Florence a little bit, but the more research I do into the historical background of the Medicis of this era the more I feel compelled to write about them, particularly about the one of the two leading ladies of the show- Lucrezia Tornabuoni, because honestly, talk about a role model. This lady kicked ass in the political arena, provided significant services for the people of Florence, and was a major artistic patron, as well as an artist herself.

Image result for lucrezia tornabuoni
Lucrezia in her youth painted by Piero Benci
Lucrezia was born into a powerful family, and married into another. Her husband, Piero, was later the head of the Medici bank, and was basically the ruler of Florence from 1464-1469. However, Piero was bedridden, so Lucrezia did most of the legwork--literally. That wasn't all she did though, Lucrezia was known for her charitable works and her writing as well.

As mentioned, Lucrezia did a lot of the legwork during her husband's time as leader of Florence. She settled disputes between citizens, received petitions, and acted as ambassador for the city, not something a woman of her era typically did. Her father-in-law, Cosimo de Medici, openly valued her advice, and admired her decision making skills. Lucrezia fostered good relations with her children and grandchildren, so when her son, Lorenzo the Magnificent, came to power she was able to advise him politically.

Lucrezia did a large number of charitable things during her lifetime. She was known for helping fund convents, particularly for donating cloth for nuns to use for their habits. She provided dowries for impoverished women so they could marry*, and took care of widows and orphans by seeing that their relatives were given church positions so that they could support their families.

She was also a keen businesswoman. Lucrezia owned several properties, and collected rents on shops, farms, and homes. Most notably, she purchased a defunct thermal bath in Bagno a Morbo, and refurbished the dump into a profitable business venture. In addition to this, she managed many of the Medici financial affairs while her husband Piero was bedridden with illness. She was known as a shrewd money manager, and her sons often looked to her for advice in this matter.


But the talents of this amazing woman don't stop there, Lucrezia was also a writer! Her fictional work is almost entirely religious in nature, comprising retelling of bible stories as well as sonnets and lyrical poems on religious topics. Her letters also survive, and can be found here.

Image result for lucrezia de medici
Lucrezia in her old age painted by Domenico
Ghirlandaio
Lucrezia was an incredible woman far ahead of her time. She's the sort of woman that I would want my daughters to be like, and the sort of woman that would be incredibly successful and popular today. One can only imagine what she might have accomplished politically if allowed to run for office!


*On a side note, completely unsupported by historical fact (as far as I know), I really like the idea of Lucrezia being a sort of love vigilante, providing dowries for girls so they could marry their true loves, and helping set people up. (Her mother-in-law, Contessina di Bardi, was known for arranging marriages, and she and Lucrezia were very close, so it's plausible that Lucrezia could have done the same, right?) Just imagine- Lucrezia Tornabuoni de' Medici-- political badass and Cupid's handmaiden. If I was going to write a historical fiction novel about her, this would be the premise.

Sources
Monstrous Regiment of Women
Oxford Bibliographies
Medici Dynasty