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Showing posts with label damn girl. Show all posts
Showing posts with label damn girl. Show all posts

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Damn, Girl-Sisi of Austria-Hungary

Known to her family as 'Sisi', Elisabeth, Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, remains one of the most Romantic (the capital R is on purpose) and tragic queens in history. Married to her cousin at only age sixteen, Elisabeth was thrust into a life of strict etiquette and heavy media scrutiny. Deeply unhappy, she wandered Europe for more than three decades searching for peace.

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Elisabeth on her wedding day.
Elisabeth was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Ludovika and Maximilian were cousins, and were almost constantly at loggerheads with each other. Maximilian was something of a free spirit--preferring to roam Bavaria disguised as a commoner, playing the zither in taverns for public amusement. Maximilian also had several affairs, and had a distinct distaste for life in Possenhofen--the castle where Elisabeth and her siblings grew up. Though Maximilian seemed to have dislike Possenhofen, he didn't dislike his children. He would frequently take them on long nature expeditions, lasting weeks at a time. Due to this, and her mother's disbelief in an extensive education, Elisabeth's education was fairly unsettled, and she did not have the  education she would later need to rule.

From all accounts, Elisabeth's childhood at Possenhofen was idyllic. She played with her siblings, avoided her lessons, wrote poetry, and rode horses. However, all of that changed in 1853 when Elisabeth was 15.

Western Europe at the time contained many more countries than it currently does. At the final dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Empire split in 360 smaller states. Many of those states banded together to form the German Federation in 1815. The German Federation was a loose collection of states presided over by the Austrian Emperor. Elisabeth was born into Bavaria--the third biggest of these German Federation states, and the direct neighbor of the much larger Archduchy of Austria.¹

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Europe 1854, note the closeness of Bavarian and the
Austrian Empire
The archduke of Austria, Franz Joseph, was single, not opposed to mingling, and was the most eligible bachelor in Europe. Princess Ludovika was Franz Joseph's aunt, and she, along with Archduchess Sophie, Franz Joseph's mother, hatched a plan to marry Franz Joseph to Elisabeth's older sister, Helene. When Ludovika took Helene to meet the emperor, she had Elisabeth accompany them, presumably so she could set Elisabeth up with an equally enticing gentleman.

The plan was perfect--one trip, two marriages. However, Ludovika and Sophie didn't take Franz Joseph's feelings into mind. In a rare occurrence of love (or lust, if you're feeling cynical) at first sight, Franz Joseph informed his mother that he would not be marrying Helene, but that he would be marrying Elisabeth, and that was that. He proposed to Elisabeth after only a week.

Elisabeth, of course, accepted, and the couple announced their engagement on August 19, 1853. The fact that Franz Joseph was 23 to Elisabeth's 15, and that the couple were cousins doesn't seem to have mattered much to the parties involved. Franz Joseph loved Elisabeth, and one didn't tell the emperor no. It is, however, difficult to ascertain the depths of Elisabeth's feelings for Franz Joseph. Any hesitations she may have had aside, the couple was married in the April of the next year.

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Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna. 
Adjustment to the Imperial Court at Hofburg was difficult for Elisabeth. Etiquette was draconian, recalling the strict rules in place at Versailles. Particularly the rules about dressing irked Elisabeth. Court etiquette stated that the Empress could wear a pair of shoes only once before giving them to a lady in waiting. Gloves had to always be worn. There was a strict system of precedence, and a great deal of activities Elisabeth had previously enjoyed were deemed 'unseemly'. Elisabeth crossed swords with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie over this more than once, particularly after the birth of Elisabeth's children.

In the view of the archduchess, Elisabeth's role was to provide heirs and look pretty, nothing more. This rankled Elisabeth, who had some interest in governing, particularly with the Hungarian part of the empire. However, Elisabeth's distaste for etiquette, and reticence at public gathering pushed her to the fringes of power, and isolated her at court.

This isolation, combined with a lack of freedom made Elisabeth deeply unhappy. Furthering her unhappiness was the fact that upon their births her first three children were taken away from her, and she was allowed little contact with them. She and Franz Joseph had three children in the first four years of their marriage, with two surviving to adulthood. These children--two daughters and a son--were raised by a staff of servants and the archduchess Sophie.

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Probably the most famous of Elisabeth's
portraits, this dress was later the inspiration
for the 'Think of Me' dress in the 2004
'Phantom of the Opera' movie.
Elisabeth was a private person with a distaste for crowds and invasions of her privacy. Unfortunately for her, Elisabeth lived at a time when more people in Europe were literate than ever before, and European press was becoming a bigger and bigger industry. Royal reporting became the newest craze, with presses constantly cranking out articles and pamphlets about what Elisabeth ate, wore, and did.  (and who she allegedly did) This only increased Elisabeth's feelings that she was in a sort of gilded cage, and imprisoned. Though she was much beloved by the masses, and she was welcomed everywhere she went, Elisabeth believed that she was viewed as a curiosity, once comparing herself to a dancing monkey.

Despite her distaste for it, Elisabeth discharged her duties as empress with great aplomb. She was, as mentioned, much loved by her people, and with good reason. She was known for personally interacting with her subjects, and taking time to speak with the people in front of her. She frequently would visit hospitals, a lady in waiting in tow, and would hold the hands of and converse with the patients.²

What Elisabeth is best known for, of course, is her legendary beauty. With wide dark eyes, and eighteen inch waist, and ankle length hair, Elisabeth was considered one of the most beautiful women of the era. Numerous paintings and sculptures were done of her, with, according to her husband, only a few coming close to actually capturing her good looks.

Elisabeth spent hours on her beauty routine. She would spend hours exercising, applying various compresses and ointments, and spent three hours having her hair done each day. While having her hair done, Elisabeth studied, learning Greek, Latin, and Hungarian.

As might be expected from a couple with an eight year age difference, who'd known each other a week before making a lifetime commitment, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph's marriage was less than congenial. Franz Joseph viewed Elisabeth's dislike for public duty as childish, and Elisabeth found Franz Joseph dull and humorless. Both had numerous extra-marital affairs.

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A portrait of Elisabeth featuring her
famous hair.
Though she was a beautiful woman, Elisabeth was not a healthy woman. She suffered from depression, and exhibited all the signs of what we now recognize as anorexia. She ate little, at times only living off raw milk and oranges. She exercised obsessively, spending hours in a gym she'd had specially set up for her. She had a morbid fascination with death, and frequently remarked that insane people were the only ones who made sense. Her depression combined with her eating disorder took a great toll on Elisabeth, and unsurprisingly in 1862, Elisabeth had a nervous breakdown.

After her nervous breakdown, Elisabeth began to travel extensively, often spending more time outside of Austria than in it. She took long cruises on the royal yacht, sailing around the Mediterranean and western Africa. Elisabeth tried to keep a low profile while traveling. She wasn't making or receiving state visits, she was traveling for herself, often under an assumed name or auxiliary title. She eventually purchased land on the island of Corfu, and began to build a castle there.

In 1866 Elisabeth returned to her husband, and began putting pressure on him to treat with the Hungarians to make them an equal part of the country. Elisabeth was successful, and in 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Compromise was passed, granting Hungary equal status with Austria, and allowing them a greater degree of sovereignty. It is unknown exactly how much Elisabeth had to do with the passing of the compromise, but it is known that following the compromise Franz Joseph forbade her from interfering in politics ever again. Franz Joseph couldn't have been too angry, however, because the couple's fourth child was born in 1868.

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Elisabeth at her coronation as Queen of Hungary
For some time Elisabeth's life was more or less uneventful. She was allowed to raise her last child, Marie Valerie, and they were quite close, Elisabeth taking her daughter with her on her travels. Though she and Franz Joseph didn't stay reconciled, the couple seemed to have been on amiable terms. And in 1890 Elisabeth was able to persuade Franz Joseph to allow Marie Valerie to marry the archduke of Austria-Tuscany, a man Marie loved despite his lack of dynastic connections.

While ostensibly a happy occasion, the engagement of Marie Valerie to her archduke dug up some bad feelings in the family. Crown Prince Rudolf, Elisabeth's third child, and heir to the throne, had been pressured into marrying a Belgian princess nearly a decade earlier, and seeing his younger sister get to marry for love rankled him. On January 30, 1889 he was found dead in a hunting lodge along with his mistress, having apparently shot her then himself.

Elisabeth went into deep mourning after the death of her son. She gave away her jewels, and dressed in black for the rest of her life, much in the same way Queen Victoria had been doing since 1861. She wandered Europe listlessly and without purpose.

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This is the last photograph of Elisabeth, taken
shortly before she died.
In 1898 Elisabeth found herself in Geneva, Switzerland. She was there visiting a friend when on September 10 she was stabbed by anarchist Luigi Lucheni³ in front of a hotel. Luigi had stabbed Elisabeth with a small file, and Elisabeth had initially thought that he'd punched her until one of her ladies noticed the blood on her dress. Though they called for a doctor, Elisabeth soon died.

Today Elisabeth is remembered as a romantic figure--the beautiful empress who never wanted to be empress. Though her story was undeniably tragic, it must be remembered that she could wield great power when she wanted to. Her actions in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise contributed a great deal to Hungary's later independence from the empire. Given her huge impact with just one issue, it is easy to imagine just what she might have done had she been allowed to properly rule.



¹It is worth noting that while Austria may have been classified as an Archduchy in the context of the German Federation, it retained its status of an Empire due to it's possession of the Kingdom of Hungary and associated territories.
²This, along with many other parts of Elisabeth's life have led to many comparisons between her and  Princess Diana.
³Luigi Lucheni didn't have anything against Elisabeth personally, he just hated the ruling class. He hadn't even come to Geneva for Elisabeth, he'd come to assassinate Prince Henri of OrlĂ©ans. However, Prince Henri had canceled his visit at the last minute, and Luigi, not wanting to waste the trip, decided to assassinate Elisabeth instead.

Sources
"The Anorectic Empress: Elisabeth of Austria." by W. Vandereycken and T. Abatzi
Elisabeth, Empress Consort of Austria
The Tragic Austrian Empress Who Was Murdered By Anarchists
Sisi Museum
Empress Sisi
Elisabeth, Empress of Austria

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Damn, Girl-Jeanne de Clisson, Bloody Lioness of Brittany

Shrouded in mythology, Jeanne de Clisson was one of the bloodiest privateers of the 14th century. Born a wealthy lady of high rank, Jeanne took to the seas against the French after the execution of her much loved second husband Olivier. She proceeded to harry French ships--militaristic and merchant--on behalf of the English crown for 13 years before settling down into another happy marriage.

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Modern picture of Jeanne done in
the artistic style of the time. It is
unknown exactly what Jeanne
looked like.
Born Jeanne de Belleville, Jeanne was born in 1300, and married wealthy land owner Geoffrey de Chateaubriant at the age of 12. Very little is known about Jeanne's first marriage, but she did have two children with Geoffrey--a son and a daughter. The son would inherit the Chateaubriant estate after Geoffrey's death in 1326, and the daughter would later inherit the de Belleville estate, as Jeanne had no living brothers.

Jeanne married again in 1330, this time to Olivier de Clisson, a widower and great friend of Charles de Blois. Though neither left a diary saying 'I <3 Jeanne/Olivier', tradition holds that their marriage was a love match. They would have five children together and live happily for 13 years.

The political situation of the time was more than tense. France and England were having at it (when were they not?), this time over Brittany, a northern Duchy in what is now France. At the time, the English still had extensive holdings in modern France, inherited from Eleanor of Aquitaine. The English, however, were having difficulties holding onto those territories, and had been at war with France off and on for several hundred years.

At Jeanne's time, England and France were involved in what would come to be called the Hundred Year's War, the same war which Jeanne d'Arc would fight and die in. (Remember, this is the HUNDRED Years war.) The war was over possession of Brittany, the territory in which Jeanne lived. Formerly an independent Celtic state, Brittany had become an independent Duchy. It was technically beholden to no other country, but had the misfortune to be surrounded by two major powers who were constantly trying to take it over. Brittany managed to hold strong until 1341 when Duke John of Brittany died without a direct heir.

The duke's death left two potential heirs to the Duchy, one backed by the French, another backed by the English. As was usual with such land disputes, France and England merrily began another war, hacking away at each other's populations and infrastructures mercilessly. Olivier, as a friend of Charles de Blois, the French candidate for the Duchy, was called away to command in the war, being posted at a fort in Vannes.

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Olivier kneels on the scaffold, awaiting his death. He is
surrounded by the corpses of other noblemen executed
for treason.
During the siege of Vannes Olivier was taken captive by the English. He was later released in a prisoner exchange, but his friend Charles de Blois was suspicious. Charles suspected that the English had had French help when they took Vannes, and he suspected Olivier. He condemned Olivier for treason, and had him executed without trial in August of 1343. Olivier's head was sent to Nantes, and placed on a spike above the city.

Jeanne was, understandably, distraught.She took her sons to see their father's decapitated head, and told them that he had been murdered by Charles de Blois. Shortly after, she sold all of her land, and gathered a force of men loyal to her and Olivier's memory. With her men she set off on a revenge mission that would last nearly two decades.

First stop on the revenge tour was the castle of Galois de la Heuse. Galois was a supporter of Charles de Blois, and had been friendly with Jeanne's husband. Why Jeanne chose Galois' home for her first scene of revenge is uncertain, but what is known is that Galois never saw it coming. He opened the gates to let Jeanne in, and was, presumably, quite surprised to soon find himself and most of the people who lived there slaughtered. Jeanne's force left a few survivors to spread the news, then took to the seas where they could make the most impact.

With money from the sales of her lands, Jeanne purchased three ships. They were painted black, and outfitted with red sails. The sight of those ships struck fear into the hearts of many a sailor when Jeanne and her crew overtook unsuspecting French ships in the mist on the English Channel. Those ominous ships meant almost certain death to almost everyone on board the captured vessel. Jeanne only spared one or two members of each crew so there would be a survivor to carry tales of her exploits.

Noble status didn't protect seafarers from Jeanne's crew. Jeanne had a particular hatred for members of the nobility, and legend had it that she would behead noblemen herself. This, combined with her general modus operandi, earned her the ephitet 'Bloody Lioness of Brittany'.

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Brittany on a map of modern France. 
Jeanne wasn't a simple pirate motivated by self interest. She was a privateer. She colluded with the English crown to provide supplies to their troops in France, and to destroy French ships. She received ships and men from the English government, and became an integral part of English naval strategy.

In 1356 Jeanne quit the murder on the high seas business, and married again, this time to Englishman Walter Bentley. Once again, all signs point to this marriage being a love match. The pair moved to a castle near the coast of Brittany, and lived peacefully. Jeanne died quietly in 1359.

Today Jeanne is all but forgotten, and the few stories we have about her are romanticized with myth and legend. It is difficult to say which parts of her life are true and which are fiction, but what few concrete records we have of her paint a vivid picture of a strong woman unafraid to get her hands dirty (or, you know, murder someone.)

Sources
Jeanne de Clisson
The Lioness of Brittany
Jeanne de Clisson, the Bloody Lioness of Brittany


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Damn, Girl-Nur Jahan, a Woman Worthy to be Queen

Either the twelfth or the twentieth wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, Nur Jahan was thrust into a life of fear and uncertainty. She was born while her parents were fleeing Persia, and was left on the road. Luckily, she was returned to her family, and was regarded as a lucky symbol from then after. Indeed, Nur Jahan was lucky for her family, because she would later become the Emperor Jahangir's favorite wife, and would, essentially, rule India in his stead, raising her family to the higher echelons of power with her.

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Contemporary portrait of Nur Jahan
Born Mehrunnisa, Nur Jahan was the child of Mirza Ghiyas Beg and Asmat Begum, both high ranking members of the Persian court. Although it is unknown precisely why Mirza and Asmat had to flee Persia, it is known that they were fleeing to the court of Emperor Akbar (Jahangir's father) in search of a better life. Asmat was heavily pregnant, and gave birth along the road. Shortly after Nur Jahan was born, their caravan was attacked by robbers, leaving the family with little goods or money to start over in their new life. Fearing that they would be unable to provide for their daughter, her parents abandoned Mehrunnisa on the road.

According to legend, Mehrunnisa's mother was so distraught at having left her daughter behind, Mirza agreed to go back for the infant. When Mirza found Mehrunnisa underneath the tree they'd left her, a large cobra was looming over her, ready to swallow her whole. Mirza rushed at the snake, shouting, and the snake slunk off to do it's snakely business elsewhere. Mirza took his daughter back to his wife, and after telling the tale of his daughter's miraculous escape, their fellow travelers gave them the money to continue with their journey.

Other accounts say that Nur Jahan was left on the road, but was returned to her parents by other members of their caravan. Either way, shortly after the return of their daughter Mirza and Asmat arrived at Akbar's court, and settled into life as a mid-level bureaucrat.

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Prince Selim, later the Emperor Jahangir
-World Grabber
Mehrunnisa, who's name means 'The Sun of Women', grew up to become a beauty with an excellent education. She was an accomplished musician, poet, dancer, and artist, and she was also known for being witty and charming. She was also a fashionista, cook, and landscape artist. It is unsurprising that around 1594 she enchanted Prince Selim (later Jahangir) to the point that "he could hardly be restrained, by the rules of decency, to his place."

Prince Selim, heir to the throne, was so besotted with Mehrunnisa that he sought her hand in marriage. However, Mehrunnisa was already betrothed, and Emperor Akbar refused to break the engagement in favor of his son. So, at the age of 17, Mehrunnisa was married to Sher Afghan, a Persian courtier and adventurer. Her first marriage, while not a love match (or particularly propitious), gave Mehrunnisa Ladili Begum, Mehrunnisa's only child.

Sher Afghan wasn't destined to live to a ripe old age. He died in 1607, after 13 years of marriage. There are many rumors saying that Selim, angered by Sher Afghan's refusal to break his betrothal, and lust for Mehrunnisa, had Sher Afghan killed. The History of Hindostan, a somewhat sketchy contemporary source, gives an account of Selim's many failed attempts to have Sher Afghan killed, culminating in Selim ordering a small army to attack Sher Afghan. While if Selim actually arranged Sher Afghan's death is in doubt, it's proven fact that in 1607 Mehrunnisa was widowed at age 30.

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Ladili Begum
Shortly after her husband's death, Mehrunnisa was summoned to Delhi to act as a lady-in-waiting to Prince Selim, now Emperor Jahangir's stepmother. In 1611 Mehrunnisa was married again, this time to the Emperor, becoming his 12th (or 20th, sources disagree) wife.

Emperor Akbar, Jahangir's father, had been a brilliant Emperor. Starting with only a small part of what is today Pakistan, Akbar managed to conquer all of north India, swallowing modern Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and China. He'd been a strict Sunni Muslim, but had encouraged religious discourse between Muslims, Hindus, Parsis, and Christians. He'd managed to woo local leaders of all religious persuasions to his side, yet retained his own religious supremacy (while building up a cult around himself).

Jahangir was a pale imitation of the brilliance of his father. Jahangir tried, undoubtedly; he extended his empire further down the Indian subcontinent, and managed to keep the empire more or less together. However, where Akbar had been focused on reform and expansion, Jahangir was focused on art and culture. Where Akbar had strictly followed the tenants of Islam (which forbid drugs and alcohol), Jahangir saw them more as guidelines, and at the time of his marriage to Mehrunnisa, was well on his way to becoming a non-functioning addict.

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Mughal Empire
As far as marriages went, Jahangir and Mehrunnisa, renamed Nur Jahan (meaning 'Light of the World), were pretty happy. Jahangir was smitten with Nur Jahan, and she seemed to have returned his affection. While the couple never had children, Nur Jahan became Jahangir's Empress, and she was, by all accounts, a loving step mother. Jahangir and Nur Jahan had a great deal in common--they both loved the arts, and were passionate about hunting. Most importantly, Nur Jahan was more than willing to take over running the country, leaving Jahangir to lose himself in opium and mindless pleasure to his heart's content.

As the de facto ruler of India, Nur Jahan put herself in the forefront of government work. She signed her name to royal decrees, along with her husband's, essentially giving herself the power to issue decrees, as well as promote and dismiss officials within the empire. She struck coinage in her own name, something that had never happened in Mughal history. She presided at Court, hearing cases about disputes between nobles, and passing judgement. She conducted international relations with other powerful women in foreign countries, and cemented trade deals. She was a shrewd businesswoman, and under her guidance India enjoyed an era of peace and prosperity.

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Nur Jahan
Nur Jahan was also a philanthropist. She was particularly concerned with the women of her empire. Concerned that poor women would be unable to marry, she personally provided a dowry for over 500 women. She was the patroness of dozens of female poets and artists, many of whom's works survive today.

Despite her peaceful reputation, Nur Jahan had no scruples about warfare. She was an excellent sharpshooter herself, known as 'Tiger Slayer' for her remarkable feat of killing four tigers with six bullets. (keep in mind, these are 17th century bullets.) She planned and led several expansionist campaigns herself. When her husband was captured, she rescued him with a contingent of soldiers, riding in on an elephant, and successfully winning the battle despite the fact that both her and her elephant were injured.

Though the empire was prospering, Nur Jahan reigning after the death of her husband was out of the question. It was widely assumed that Khurram (later Shah Jahan), Jahangir's third son, or Shahryar, Jahangir's youngest son. Nur Jahan initially supported Khurram, even marrying her niece Mumtaz Mahal to him. However, Khurram's hunger for power as he grew older led to Nur Jahan throwing her support behind Shahryar (who was married to her daughter Ladili).

When Khurram, now Shah Jahan, took power in 1628 he had Nur Jahan sent into exile in Lahore along with Ladili Begum, who was widowed after the death of Shahryar. Nur Jahan lived for another 18 years. Though she had backed his rival, Shah Jahan, kept her in comfort, and Nur Jahan was allowed to continue her building and artistic projects. She was kept from the political workings of the empire, but put her efforts into charity work instead, building mosques and assisting the poor. She died quietly in 1645.

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Silver rupees with Nur Jahan's name on them
After her death, Shah Jahan did his best to erase Nur Jahan from history, having the coins with her name rescinded, and erasing her from official records. However, Shah Jahan was not at all successful--a testament to Nur Jahan's incredible influence. The hundreds of mosques and gardens she had constructed, as well as the waystation system for travelers she had established could not be demolished. Her artistic influence continues to influence India to this day. She invented several dishes which are now a staple of Indian cuisine, and the flowering patterned muslin she favored is a favorite in Indian fashion. Her style of stitched clothing and structured saris is still the norm for Indian dress. A wealth of poetry written by her still survives, as do many of her buildings and gardens.

Nur Jahan was an extraordinary woman for any era, but especially for the era into which she was born. She ran an empire so skillfully that even her staunchest enemies grudgingly admitted that she was, what would later become her most famous epithet, 'A Woman Worthy to Be Queen'.


Sources
A History of Hindostan: Translated from the Persian: to Which are Prefixed Two Dissertations, the First Concerning the Hindoos, and the Second on the Nature of Despotism in Indian. Volume III by Muhammad Qasim Hindu Shah Astarabadi Firishtah
Indian-Jahangir
Nur Jahan
Nur Jahan: Mughal Empress
Empress of Mughal Indian: Nur Jahan
World Changing Women: Nur Jahan



Sunday, May 20, 2018

Damn, Girl-Arsinoe II, Three Times a Queen

To start off, Arsinoe is pronounced ar-SIN-o-ay. The only reason I bring this up, is because I recently discovered that I've been pronouncing it wrong for years. What can I say? I read way too many books, and don't talk to nearly enough people.

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Bust of Arsinoe made in Alexandria.
Though she was often portrayed in
the Egyptian style, this sculture
has a distinctive Hellenic influence.
Born 316 BCE, Arsinoe, later known as Arsinoe Philadelphus, was wife to three kings. She has gone down in history as a schemer. She's been accused of vile crimes, such as propositioning her husband's son, ordering the banishment of her husband's other wives, and ordering the execution of men who threatened her son's places in the line of succession. The truth is much more tame, and reveals not a black-hearted schemer, but a talented and ambitious woman who wanted to see her sons on the throne of Egypt.

 Arsinoe was the daughter of Ptolemy I Soter and his second wife, Berenice I. Not much is known about her early life, as she doesn't make much of an appearance in historical record until 299-- the year of her marriage to the 60 year old Lysimachus, king of Thrace, Anatolia, and Macedonia.

Lysimachus, like Arsinoe's father Ptolemy, was one of the heirs to the vast empire of Alexander the Great. Unlike Ptolemy, Lysimachus was having a little trouble keeping his kingdom under control. It was hoped that his marriage to Arsinoe would not only establish good relations between the two kingdoms, but help bring stability to Lysimachus' lands.

Lysimachus must have liked the 17 year old Arsinoe, because they had three children in rapid succession, Ptolemy in 297, Lysimachus Jr.¹ in 294, and Philip in 293. He renamed the city of Ephesus  after her, and gave her at least three cities from around his empire. Though Lysimachus had other wives (polygamy was IN for Hellenic monarchs), Arsinoe was a clear favorite, especially after her full-brother (meaning same mother, same father. Keep this in mind, it'll be important later) Ptolemy II ascended the throne of Egypt.

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Lysimachus, Arsinoe's first
husband.
For 17 years Arsinoe had a relatively quiet life. She enjoyed her time as the second most prominent person at court (after her husband), built religious buildings, and took care of the cities under her command. Unfortunately, as the 280 BCE's came on, she began to clash with Agathocles, Lysimachus' eldest son and heir apparent.

Now, it is important to note that the idea of primogeniture, and the eldest son of the first wife inheriting the father's title and position hadn't come around yet. During this time, King's chose their heir based off ability to rule, and while Agathocles, being Lysimachus' only adult son, was most likely going to inherit the throne and kingdom, it wasn't a sure thing, especially since Arsinoe's sons were nearing majority.

Tradition has it that around 283 Arsinoe propositioned Agathocles, who was only a few years older than her. Agathocles turned her down, and, incensed, Arsinoe convinced Lysimachus to execute his eldest son. This is very likely untrue. Agathocles was a full grown man, and could have expected to share in the duties (and perks) of kingship, but Lysimachus was stubbornly clinging on to his throne. Discontented, Agathocles had begun to plot against his father, and Lysimachus ordered his son's execution.

Enter Lysandra, Arsinoe's half sister, Agathocles' widow, and political schemer out for revenge. She had fled to Babylon with her brother Ptolemy Ceraunus, and was pouring ideas into the ear of King Seleucus, one of Lysimachus' main rivals.

Seleucus was king of what is modern Syria and Iran, and he wanted into Anatolia. Lysandra and Ptolemy C. convinced him to invade in Agathocles' name, and claim the country for himself. Seleucus happily complied, and with Ptolemy C. in the lead, invaded Lysimachus' European holdings. Lysimachus died in the chaos, and Ptolemy C. personally assassinated Seleucus, taking Lysimachus' kingdom for himself.

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Ruins at the city of Ephesus. The city was renamed Arsinoea
by Lysimachus, but the name was changed back to Ephesus
after his death.
Arsinoe had fled with her sons to the city of Cassandrea. Located in modern Greece, the city had strong walls which Arsinoe kept manned by soldiers loyal to her. She was safely ensconced when Ptolemy C's emissaries came courting on his behalf.

Ptolemy Ceraunus was the son of Ptolemy I, and Arsinoe's half brother. He'd been passed over as king of Egypt in favor of his brother, and had fled abroad to make trouble. He'd been living in Lysimachus' court since 285, and recognized Arsinoe's political power. As the wife of the former king, she exerted significant pull with the government, and she was well loved by the common people for her piety. Throw in her Egyptian contacts, and Arsinoe was an ideal bride. Though they'd been mortal enemies weeks before, Ptolemy C. was ready to propose.

It is difficult to say what Arsinoe was thinking when she accepted his proposal. Ptolemy C. was well known for being someone who could not be trusted, and he'd contributed significantly to the death of Arsinoe's late husband. Arsinoe took every precaution--she insisted on a very public marriage ceremony, she made Ptolemy C. adopt her sons as his heirs--but the union still unsettled most people. Arsinoe's son Ptolemy was so against the union that he left before the wedding ceremony, a move which saved his life. Shortly after their marriage, Ptolemy C. had Arsinoe's younger sons killed, and Arsinoe fled to Egypt.

Ptolemy II, also known as Ptolemy Philadelphus (from here out, Ptolemy P.) was king of Egypt, and Arsinoe's full brother. He was already married (to a woman named Arsinoe, incidentally) with several sons when his sister returned to the land of her birth. Ptolemy P. welcomed his sister with welcome arms. She was well known for her political savvy, and she was ready to put that to work in Egypt. Unfortunately, this put Arsinoe II at odds with Arsinoe I. This eventually led to Ptolemy P. banishing his wife, and marrying his sister, making her co-pharaoh.

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Arsinoe II and Ptolemy P. on a coin.
A marriage between full siblings didn't sit super well with the ancient Greeks, though it didn't seem to bother the Egyptians too much. However, Ptolemy P. and Arsinoe quashed objections to their marriage by associating themselves with Zeus and Hera, Osiris and Isis, two other pairs of married siblings, and the monarchs of their respective spheres. This association with deity would lead to Arsinoe being worshiped as a goddess both during and after her life.

Arsinoe adopted Ptolemy P.'s sons by Arsinoe I, putting an end to her dreams of her remaining son taking a throne. However, Arsinoe was just as much the pharaoh as Ptolemy P. She inspected troops, led the state cult, and appeared on the coinage, sometimes alone. She was widely venerated, especially in the countryside by the common people. Unfortunately, she died just five years after arriving in Egypt.

We remember Arsinoe today because of her masterful political maneuvering. She wasn't noted for her charitable works like similar schemers, but rather for her swift rises to power. She became the favorite wife of two men who already had wives, and prompted the banishment of her enemies. It is impossible to say if Arsinoe did all this maliciously, but it is certain that she must have had a forceful personality. Though she drew significant criticism after her death, both for the disappearances of her enemies and marrying her brothers (though it is important to note that no children came of the union of Arsinoe and Ptolemy P.) she was an important, and valued politician of her time.


¹Not his actual historical designation.

Sources
Arsinoe II Philadelphus
Arsinoe II, Queen of Thrace and Egypt
Arsinoe II
A Portrait of Arsinoe Philadelphos  by Dorothy Burr Thompson 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Damn, Girl-Tamar of Georgia, Queen of Kings

Crowned co-ruler at age 12, Tamar (sometimes spelled 'Tamara') reigned over Georgia's¹ golden age, and expanded the kingdom to its greatest height. She would reorganize the Georgian Orthodox Church, defeat multiple attempted internal coups, and send an Ottoman invasion packing. A woman of faith, Tamar credited her religion for her battlefield successes, and performed extensive charity work. She was canonized shortly after her death, and is seen as a Georgian religious and national hero. However, behind her piety was a shrewd woman more than willing to fight for her throne and people.

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Tamar
Tamar was the only child of King George III and Queen Burdukhan. George, like his daughter, had to deal with scheming relatives. When his nephew (or cousin) Demma attempted to dethrone him George had Demma blinded, castrated, and thrown into prison. George dealt with other insurrectionists in a similarly brutal manner-with breaking kneecaps as his preferred method of chastisement. Due to the instability of his kingdom, George had his 12 year old daughter² crowned co-ruler.

George's main reason for this was to ensure the stability of Georgia during his lifetime and after his death. He hoped that if the restless Georgian nobility saw that he had a stable dynasty in place to succeed him, they might calm down a bit. Additionally, he was giving the patriarchal Georgians time to get used to the fact that there next ruler would be a woman, something that had never happened in Georgia before. While many nobles protested, George quashed their protests saying 'One knows a lion by its claws, and Tamar by her actions.' While there is little known about Tamar's childhood, this praise from her father suggests that she was more than suited for her role.

George died six years after his daughter's investment, leaving Tamar to govern the country by herself. Historians disagree about the beginning of Tamar's reign. Some sources claim that she had a very smooth ascension, aided by the fact that the Georgian people had had a chance to get used to the idea of her rule. Other's claim that she was met by insurrection--insurrection that she quickly quashed.

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Tamar holding court
Following her second crowning, Tamar's first order of business was to marry in order to produce an heir. She left the choosing of a spouse up to her council. They chose a Russian prince Yuri, the son of Prince Andrei Bogoliubsky of Vladimir-Suzdal. Yuri had a reputation as a warrior, and the council believed that he would be good for their queen and country. However, Yuri thoroughly disproved them not shortly after the wedding vows were said. He was thoroughly dissolute--engaging in extramarital affairs, torturing and murdering Georgian Muslims, and abusing alcohol. He publicly berated Tamar for not bearing him a son, and was prone to violent outbursts. He was such an awful husband that Tamar divorced him after only three years. In a merciful move her father would certainly have disapproved of, Tamar sent him packing off to Constantinople with a generous allowance--kneecaps intact.

Georgia was a largely Catholic country at the time. This makes the fact that Tamar was able to obtain a divorce quite extraordinary, given that divorce is, to this day, contrary to Catholic doctrine. Tamar was able to obtain a divorce not only because of Yuri's widespread unpopularity, but because of her own special relationship with the church.

Following her ascension, Tamar convened a Synod, and set about reforming the Georgian church. She was already known for her piety, and made several changes that reflected this. In addition to this, she also saw that the bishops and clergymen who didn't like her were defrocked. Every powerful clergyman in the church was Tamar's man, and she used this to her benefit.

With Yuri out of the picture, Tamar was free to remarry, and remarry she did. her next husband was Davit Soslan, an Alanian Prince. He was chosen for her by her aunt, who reportedly told Tamar that Davit was 'Hewn from stone, and reared on wolf's milk'. Davit, unlike Yuri, lived up to his reputation. He was handsome, supportive, and an able military man. Tamar installed him as King Consort, and quickly had two children.

After the births of her children, Tamar set to conquest. This was largely to keep the Georgian nobles busy elsewhere, and not conspiring with her ex-husband to dethrone her. Despite his exile, Yuri attempted to dethrone Tamar twice, but was soundly defeated.

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Georgia at it's height
Under Davit's leadership, the Georgians were able to take parts of Armenia, Shirvan, and Azerbaijan. Tamar's success made her Muslim neighbors nervous, and they sent a unified force after her under the leadership of the Rum Sultan, Rukn al-Din. Rukn was a lovely man. In his initial letter to Tamar he informed her that all women were feeble minded, and that, should she convert to Islam, he would make her his wife. Should she retain her religion he would make her his concubine. The letter was so insulting that one of Tamar's courtier's hit Rukn's courier hard enough that the courier passed out. When the courier finally came to, Tamar sent him back with a message that she didn't care to be married to Rukn, at that she would defeat him. True to her word, Tamar sent him packing.

In addition to her expansionist endeavors, Tamar also focused on developing and reviving Georgian culture. She had monasteries and churches built, and it was under her that a monastic town was carved into the cliffs of Vardzia.

Tamar died of an unknown illness in 1213. Her final resting place is a mystery, with rumors that she is buried in Gelati or in Jerusalem. As mentioned, she was canonized shortly after her death, and she is still celebrated in the Orthodox churches. She was succeed by her son, who was later succeeded by her daughter, Rusadan, another Queen of Kings.



¹No, not the Georgia in the United States, the Georgia in Central Asia.
²Some sources say that Tamar was 18 at the time of her ascension to the throne, but most agree on 12.

Sources
Queen Tamar: the Confident Female Ruler of the Georgian Golden Age
Queens Regnant: Tamar of Georgia--the First Female Ruler
St. Tamar, Queen of Georgia
Tamar of Georgia-Queen of Kings
Queen Tamar



Thursday, February 1, 2018

Damn, Girl-Omu Okwei, Captain of Robbing Industry

Born Felicia Ifeoma Ekejiuba, Okwei was a people-person, a trait that she used enormously to her advantage. Rising from having almost nothing to become the wealthiest woman in Nigeria, she built  relationships with both native Nigerians and the British which led to her being crowned Omu, or Queen. Her political expertise and excellence in this position ensured that she would be the last to ever hold the title.

Okwei surrounded by her family
Okwei was the daughter of Prince Osuna Afubeho, a wealthy warrior. As was the practice of the time, Prince Osuna had many wives, all of whom were expected to provide for themselves through trade. Given that daughters were unable to inherit the property of their fathers, Okwei's mother insured that her daughter had a solid background in trade so that she would be able to provide for herself.

At age nine, Okwei was sent to be apprenticed to her maternal aunt in the Igala tribe. Nigeria was, and still is, a country with hundreds of tribes, each with unique languages and customs. At the time, the Igala language was very important for trade, and during her apprenticeship Okwei not only learned how to do business, but the language that would open a lot of doors for her. By the time she returned home at age fifteen, she was successfully trading in vegetables and poultry.

In 1889 Okwei married Joseph Allagoa, an influential brass trader. Okwei's family disapproved of the match, given that Joseph's family did not share the same royal status of Okwei's family. Okwei, however, didn't care, and married Joseph anyways, despite the fact that her family withheld her dowry.

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Tribal and linguistic divisions of Nigeria.
The dowry was an important part of marriage for an Igbo woman of the time. Because women could not inherit their father's money and property their dowry was the only way for them to build up a successful trading business after marriage. A dowry was essential for being self sufficient, and for having a successful marriage. Marriages in which the wife was not successful in her trading endeavors, and in which she did not contribute to the family financially, rarely prospered.

Despite her lack of capital, Okwei started a business in palm oil trading--a highly lucrative product at the time. She was able to make use of her husband's business connections to start building her empire, and though they divorced not a year after marrying Okwei was able to use those contacts throughout her life.

Okwei and Joseph divorced in 1890, and Okwei had custody of their son, Frances. Okwei continued her trading business, and in 1895 married again, this time to Opene of Abo, the son of a successful and wealthy trader. Okwei's family once again disliked the match, this time because of Opene's lack of work ethic, and once again Okwei ignored their protests and married despite her lack of dowry. Opene's lackadaisical attitude towards working, and his willingness to support Okwei in her trading endeavors suited her just fine, and they, reportedly had a very happy marriage, having one son, Peter.

Shortly after her second marriage, Okwei went into business with her mother in law, Okwenu Ezewene. Though Okwei later dissolved their partnership, Okwei was able to add less perishable items to her inventory. During this time Okwei diversified her stock to include cotton goods and tobacco-items in particular demand.

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Unprocessed palm oil
By 1904, when Okwei dissolved her partnership with her mother in law and became an agent of the Royal Niger Trading Company, Okwei was making an astonishing amount of 400 tickets a month. The ticket system was put into place by the British colonial government because of a lack of universal currency in Nigeria at the time. Many tribes refused to trade in British pounds, preferring to trade in traditional cowrie shells or iron rods. British merchants, on the other hand, refused to accept cowrie shells and iron rods as payment. The ticket system was put into place as a compromise. Each ticket could be converted into a certain amount of oil or other goods, but ultimately amounted to about one pound sterling.

Okwei continued to grow her trading empire by starting to trade in clay and iron goods. She also grew her network of trade contacts by marrying off her maids and foster daughters to European shop owners, translators, and government officials. This, combined with her honest and open attitude, endeared her to Africans and Europeans alike.

The palm oil industry--Okwei's bread and butter--collapsed during World War One, as the main market for palm oil was in Germany. Okwei changed her trade focus from selling palm oil to selling ivory and coral beads. Ivory was valuable to Africans and Europeans alike--used for ornamental accents in Europe, and ceremonial jewelry in Africa. Okwei not only exported and sold ivory, but she also amassed a large selection of ceremonial ivory jewelry which she rented out for a profit.

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Cowrie shells--the traditional currency of the Igbo
In 1918 the ticket system was abolished, and a new currency--neither pound sterling nor cowrie shell--was introduced. By this time the Nigerians had started to trust the old currency (the pound sterling), and were suspicious of the new money. Because the British paid them in new currency Nigerians turned to money changers to buy goods locally. Okwei set up a business as a money changer, taking advantage of local suspicion to pay two shillings of old currency for every five shillings of the new.

In addition to money changing, Okwei also set herself up as a landlady and a money lender. She owned some sixteen houses--fifteen of which she rented out. She provided business loans to local businesswomen, and invested in her local market. Her vast wealth also made it possible to import goods directly from England--a costly and risky venture made less risky by Okwei's vast fleet of personal trading trucks and canoes.

While she was certainly a shrewd businesswoman, Okwei was also a respected member of the community, and the core of her family. She supported her sons and their wives in their endeavors, and was often the calm, impartial mediator in family disputes. She was devoted to her traditional way of life, refusing to become a Christian and keeping up her devotion to her native religion. This, along with her support for tribal government led to her being elected Omu.

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The Onitsha market--still located on the land leased out
by Okwei.
The Igbo system of government at the time consisted of an unrelated king and queen. The king was in charge of the men, foreign relations, and most warfare, while the queen was in charge of the women, the economy, and the markets. Both were appointed positions, usually given to people who were greatly respected. Okwei took her duties as Omu very seriously, and was such a good Omu that the title has never been awarded to another woman out of respect for her legacy.

Much like Andrew Carnegie or J.D. Rockefeller, Okwei rose from poverty to become a millionaire. It would be easy to classify her as a captain of industry because of the money she poured back into her community, or as a robber baron because of the high interest rates she charged her debtors, but in reality she falls somewhere in the middle. While her methods were not always ethical, Okwei contributed enormously to the Nigerian economy, and helped pave the way for the modern female entrepreneur in Nigeria.

Sources

Omu Okwei, The Merchant Queen of Ossomari--a Biographical Sketch by Felicia Ekejiuba
Women in the Economy of Igboland, 1900 to 1970: A Survey by Gloria Chuku
Okwei of Ossomari (1872-1943)