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

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Damn, Girl-Queen Christina of Sweden, Minerva of the North

One of the most colorful queens of history, Christina of Sweden lived many lives within the span of 62 years. An enigma wrapped in a mystery deep-fried in a contradiction, she ruled Sweden for fourteen years and oversaw some of the best infrastructural and cultural improvements of the country at the time, yet she abandoned her country to live unfettered by duty. She was a philosopher and a patron of the arts whose collecting and patronage preserved some of the best late Renaissance/early Baroque art and music, and was a major player on the European political stage.

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Christina
Christina was born in December of 1626 to Queen Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg and Gustav II Adolf, who were desperately seeking an heir. Maria had had three previous miscarriages, and all of them had been girls. When Christina was born, Maria was very disappointed that she had another daughter instead of the son she had hoped for. Gustav, on the other hand, was ecstatic that they finally had a living child and ordered that she be treated and educated as a prince. Four years later, she was declared heir apparent.

Gustav was deeply embroiled in the Thirty Years War, and after being separated from his men, he died in battle in 1632. Gustav was a remarkable ruler in his own right, but his wife was...unstable. Before his death, Gustav had ordered that Christina be raised by her aunt Catherine and not by her mother. However, that order was disobeyed, and Christina lived with her mother for several years.

To say that those years were unhappy would be an understatement. Maria Eleonora had plunged into a deep depression after the death of her husband. She had her apartments draped in black and refused to let Gustav be buried keeping his body lying in state, except for his heart, which she kept with her in a small, gold casket. She insisted that Christina be with her at all times and, in turns, verbally abused her daughter for not being a boy, criticized her for not being feminine enough, and scarred the young queen with outbursts of violent affection. The governors appointed by Gustav to take care of Christina during her minority deemed Maria unfit as a mother and gave custody of Christina to her aunt. Maria Eleonora was exiled to Gripsholm castle.

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Gustav II Adolf
Christina's youth with her aunt and cousins was filled with lessons. This might have been tedious to any other child, but Christina passionately loved learning and would spend her life in hours of daily study, and she often said that her favorite activity was learning new languages¹. In her childhood, she would rise at five, then spend six hours at her lessons. On weekdays, those lessons were the academics one would expect. On weekends, she was tutored in the princely sports of riding, shooting, and swordfighting. Afternoons saw politics lessons with Axel Oxenstierna², one of the most accomplished politicians of the era.

Christina's main tutor was Johannes Matthiae, a retired clergyman and skeptic of the Lutheran faith. The Lutheran faith, then as now, was the state religion, and rulers were required to be Lutheran. Mathie taught Christina to question Lutheranism, a skill that would aid and plague her throughout her life.

Though Christina would not formally assume the throne until 1644,³ she was consulted in serious political matters as early as 1638, when she was just twelve years old. She started ruling with the council in 1640. During these early years, she showed a strong inclination against warmongering and favored the improvement of Swedish infrastructure and extending welfare and education to the lower classes. Achievements of this time include overseeing the refurbishment of Stockholm, and the setting out of the "Instructions", a document that stated in exacting detail how the colony of New Sweden was to be run. The "Instructions" contained progressive ideas like not warring with the surrounding colonists and not massacring the Native Americans. It instructed that colonists were to pay tribes for their lands and that they were to practice religious tolerance.⁴

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Maria Eleonora
After reaching majority, Christina most notably helped bring an end to the Thirty Years' War by declaring that the official religion of a state should be the same as the religion as its ruler. She established the first Swedish newspaper and opened up education to all citizens.

Christina's goal was to bring the fledgling Enlightenment north. She wanted to turn Stockholm into the "Athens of the North", and for this, she is often known as the "Minerva of the North". A big fan of philosophy, going so far as to claim it was more important than science, Christina imported philosophers to her court--most notably Rene Descartes, who tutored her personally.⁵

All of this was quite expensive, and Christina's habit of giving away crown lands and her refusal to marry worried her nobles. Even more worrying was her relationship with her beautiful Maid of Honor, Ebba Sparre.

Ebba Sparre was the daughter and granddaughter of politicians and was also a celebrated beauty. As is the case with so many people of the era, much of the details of her life are lost to history, and the lady herself might have been entirely forgotten had she and Christina not been lovers.

Though not much is known about their affair, that it existed is unquestionable. Even for an era where friendship was proclaimed in far more florid and intimate terms than it is now, Christina was suspiciously demonstrative of her love for Ebba. She proclaimed Ebba as her royal bedfellow and frequently gushed about her "friend" to foreign ambassadors, urging them to appreciate Ebba's beauty and wit. Surviving letters from Christina to Ebba paint an undoubted picture of extreme passion. In 1656 Christina wrote to Ebba:
"How happy I should be if only I could see you Beautiful One. But I am condemned by Destiny to love and cherish you always without seeing you; and...I cannot be completely happy when I am separated from you. Never doubt this fact, and believe that, wherever I may be, I shall always be entirely devoted to you, as I have always been...Goodbye Beautiful One, goodbye. I embrace you a million times."⁶
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Ebba Sparre
Though Ebba married Jakob de la Gardie in 1652, some sources claiming on Christina's suggestion, others her ire, the two women remained in contact throughout their lives. Christina tried to visit Ebba several times but was prevented by Ebba's family. The pair would never meet again after Ebba's marriage.

In 1654, Christina finally achieved her dream of abdicating. She had been trying to give up the throne since 1650 and had petitioned the Riksdag no less than 20 times, claiming that ruling was bad for her health. They had previously denied her requests, but in 1654 they relented.

Why, exactly, the Riksdag relented is a matter of some debate. Some sources claim that it was because Christina had alienated the nobility with her spending and attempts to enlighten her court. Some sources say that the affair with Ebba Sparre and Christina's refusal to marry made the Riksdag worried about the future of Sweden. Other sources claim that it was because Christina had converted to Catholicism, and that the Riksdag was forced to let her abdicate. Whatever the reason, Christina designated her cousin and once fiance Carl as her heir and abdicated.

The Swedes, at large, were NOT happy with this development. Despite the feathers she ruffled, Christina was still wildly popular with nobles and peasants alike, so popular that she had to uncrown herself during her abdication ceremony, as the gentleman assigned to the task refused to do so.

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Christina was described as being "short,
pockmarked, with a humped right shoulder"
Dressed as a man, Christina left Sweden, and arrived in Rome. In 1655, she officially converted to Catholicism, which was a huge coup for the Vatican. The conversion of a previously Protestant ruler made Pope Alexander VII so happy that he gave her sumptuous apartments in the Vatican and gave her a stipend from church coffers to help maintain her lifestyle. This enamorment didn't last long, as the pope soon discovered that Christina wasn't one to blindly accept the religious teachings of the church. That aside, Christina kept a home in Rome for the rest of her life and was called friend by seven popes.

Finally, free to do as she wished, Christina traveled Europe. She became a major patron of the arts, amassing a huge collection of Venetian school paintings, opening the first opera house in Rome, sponsoring the composers Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti, founding the still functioning Arcadia Academy, and rescuing the reputation of the architect Bernini. She began writing herself, publishing three main philosophical works and sponsoring philosophical conventions around Europe.

Though Christina spent most of the rest of her life writing, art collecting, and philosophizing, she did make two more forays into politics. In 1657, it came to light that Christina had been plotting the takeover of Habsburg Naples with the support of the French crown. The scheme collapsed after Christina attended the summary execution of a traitorous servant at Fontainebleau. In 1667, she attempted to have herself elected queen of Poland but was unsuccessful. She was, reportedly, not too distressed about this failure.

In 1670, Christina returned permanently to Rome and lived there until her death in 1689. She died a well-respected philosopher and patron of the arts. She was buried in the Vatican Grotto--one of only three women to be buried there.

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Christina in her later years
Christina's main focus in philosophy, like so many other philosophers of her day, was on the nature of love. According to Christina, real love was religious in nature, and very rare. She also believed that men and women were equal, saying that "soul had no gender". She was also a big fan of religious tolerance, exerting her influence to protect Rome's Jewish community and the Huguenots in France. In government, Christina was a big fan of Enlightened Despotism, believing that a good and enlightened ruler with absolute power was the only way to properly govern a country. She wrote three books on her philosophical views.

One of the most commonly discussed aspects of Christina is her gender and sexuality. Historians have been quibbling over the question since before Christina was history, and unless Christina rises from the grave to give us a definitive answer, it is unlikely that we will ever have a definite answer. Christina has been, by turns, described as straight and slandered, bisexual, lesbian, transgender, hermaphrodite, and asexual.

This historian strongly favors the bisexual and lesbian theories, as Christina's name was later linked with that of Cardinal Decio Azzolino, as well as that of Ebba Sparre. Christina also wrote passionate letters to women whose writings she admired and once spent several hours alone with a famed courtesan. Whatever Christina may have felt and done with other people, it seems likely that Ebba was the love of Christina's life. Christina's lifelong letters to Ebba show a woman who is very much in love, and neither party ever found happiness with another person (Ebba's marriage was famously unhappy).

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Christina's tomb beneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome
Christina was a woman of contradictions. She hated the task of ruling, yet attempted to take over two countries. She believed in gender equality, but said on multiple occasions that she didn't think women should rule. She loved women, but did not often enjoy their company. Christina led a troubled life and has gone down in history as one of the most complex and intriguing monarchs in European history.





¹Christina reportedly learned to speak Latin, Spanish, Italian, German, and French, in addition to Swedish. She also had some knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic. Out of all of these, French was the one she used most frequently and the language she wrote in.
²Christina loved learning from Oxerstina and claimed to prefer learning from him above all else. However, later in her reign, she limited his power, resentful of his attempts to limit her power during her minority. Oxerstina, a devout Lutheran, tried to limit Christina's contact with her cousins due to the Calvinist leanings of their parents. This may also have contributed to Christina's later ambivalence toward him.
³Though she assumed the throne in 1644, she was not officially crowned until 1650 because of Sweden's involvement in constant warfare.
⁴Religious tolerance aside, colonists of New Sweden were still supposed to try and convert the Native Americans to Christianity.
⁵Descartes unfortunately died of pneumonia four months after reaching Stockholm. This may have been contributed by Christina's insistence at 5 am study sessions in the freezing winter.
⁶Quote taken from "'A Girton Girl on a Throne': Queen Christina and Versions of Lesbianism, 1906-1933" by Sarah Waters.


This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.

More on Similar Topics



Sources
"Christina of Sweden" by Marguerite Horan Gowen
"Christina of Sweden (Continued)" by Marguerite Horan Gowen
"A Girton Girl on a Throne': Queen Christina and Versions of Lesbianism, 1906-1933" by Sarah Waters
"Two Portraits of a Queen: Calderón and the Enigmatic Christina of Sweden" by Deborah Compte
Wasa, Kristina (1626-1689)
Christina, Queen of Sweden
Famous Queen Christina
Queens Regnant: Christina of Sweden--the Girl King
Queen Coins: LGBTQ Rulers Through History

Friday, January 11, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More on Similar Topics






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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

More on Similar Topics






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

Sunday, August 13, 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!

More on Similar Topics

Friday, July 28, 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.

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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.

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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

Wednesday, July 5, 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.

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Wednesday, June 28, 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.

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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.

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