Showing posts with label holy roman empire. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holy roman empire. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

George Frideric Handel-The Original Rockstar

George Frideric Handel was a law school drop out, last chair violinist¹, and the first international composing superstar. Born in what is now Halle Germany, Handel overcame parental disapproval, explosive duels, and a rigid patronage system to become one of the most famous composers of all time.

Image result for george frideric handel
Handel himself.
Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, then a part of the Holy Roman Empire. His father, Georg Handel, was a barber surgeon, and wanted his son to have an equally dignified profession. He forbade young George from pursuing his musical interests. His reasoning was the same as that of many parents of budding musicians--there was no financially stable career in music. Luckily Handel's mother, Dorthea, was of a different opinion. She encouraged her son to explore music, helping him hide a clavichord in the attic. Young Handel spent many hours practicing in secret.²

In 1702 Handel headed to the city of Trier to begin law school. However, he spent much more time studying organ with Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow³, and eventually dropped out of law school to pursue music full time. It seemed likely that Handel would become the next cathedral organist, but in 1703 he quit, and took a job in Hamburg as a violinist with the Goose Market Theatre.

While in Hamburg Handel taught private music lessons to supplement his income, took over some Harpsichordist duties with the orchestra, and composed furiously. 1705 saw the premier of his first opera, Almira, just three years after his arrival in Hamburg.

Also notable during his Hamburg years, Handel fought a duel with his friend Johann Mattheson. Mattheson, a composer, singer, and conductor was performing as Antony in his opera Cleopatra. After his death in act three of the opera Mattheson decided to take over as conductor of the orchestra. This was, as composer of the work, his right. Like most conductors of the day, Mattheson conducted from the harpsichord. However, when he reached the harpsichord to relieve George Handel, Handel refused to budge. This resolved into a bitter argument during the opera, which culminated in the men taking the fight outside, swords drawn. Mattheson nearly killed Handel that night, but Handel was, quite luckily, saved by a coat button. The two men resolved their quarrel soon after the duel, and remained friends until the end of their lives.

Image result for rodrigo opera
Program for Handel's opera Rodrigo
In 1706 Handel left Hamburg for Italy. He traveled around the Italian peninsula, hobnobbing with notable instrumental and opera composers of the day--Corelli, Lully, and both Domenico and Alessandro Scarlatti. During his years in Italy, Handel developed a taste for opera, and begin writing his own operas in a more Italian style. He composed two major operas in Italy--Rodrigo and Agrippina. Both premiered in Italy, and made Handel a household name in the Italian opera scene. In under four years, Handel went from virtually unknown to a rising superstar.

Handel was well known enough that he was offered the position as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. However, Handel's stay in Hanover was brief. By 1711 he had set out for London--the city he would call home for most of the rest of his life.

1711 saw Handel's opera Rinaldo premiere, which was an instant hit. It was the first Italian Opera written specifically for London, it contained dazzling effects, and featured stirring arias sung by experts. Rinaldo ran for a whopping 47 performances--an enormously long run for the time.

Following Rinaldo Handel produced hit after hit after hit. His work was so popular that in 1712 he received an annual salary of 200 pounds from Queen Anne, about 33,000 pounds in 2018 currency. He desperately wanted to stay in London--a city that eagerly embraced his work--and in 1714 London became his permanent home after his boss, the Elector of Hanover, became King George I of England.

Image result for messiah score
Handel's most famous work, by far, is his Messiah. (Score
pictured here) He is also known for Water Music, and
Zadok the Priest, which has been performed at the
coronation of every British Monarch since its
composition.
From 1711 to 1737 Handel focused the majority of his attention on Italian Opera. He was the co-manager of an Italian Opera, and he wrote many about 40 operas during his London years. Handel's operas elevated him to the level of a superstar, and Handel enjoyed great popularity during this time.

However, in 1728 Italian opera started to go out of vogue. Attendance fell, and operas still had to deal with enormous production costs, making it difficult for companies to remain in the black. In addition to financial troubles, Handel and his colleagues had to deal with the perceived immorality of opera, and disapproval of the pious English public. Beneath all this, it is unsurprising that in 1737, Handel's opera company folded.

Handel then turned his attention to oratorios. Oratorios had the advantage of telling a grandiose story in song, but didn't have the high production cost of an opera. Additionally, since they weren't being presented in a play (the height of immorality), oratorios could safely tell religious stories. It was with these religious works that Handel really made his mark.

The first proto-oratorio was a revival of one of Handel's previous works, Esther. Esther was a wide departure from opera, featuring English lyrics, and no acting whatsoever. It was received well, and in 1733 Handel launched his first full oratorio Deborah and Athalia.

Image result for handel house museum
Handel's house is preserved as a museum in London.
Though Handel did continue to write operas until 1741, he mainly produced oratorios from 1733 until the end of his life. He composed a total of 29 oratorios, with the most famous being his Messiah.

Handel died in 1759 at the age of 74. There was a staggering amount of public grief at his passing, and more than 3,000 people attended his funeral from all over Europe. A commemorative concert was put on 25 years after his death, and his works have remained constantly in performance ever since. Though he was born in Germany, England so thoroughly adopted him that he was laid to rest in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.




¹Although in Handel's time seats within the orchestra weren't referred to as chairs, they were called desks.
²For those wondering how Georg Handel didn't notice a clavichord being played in his own home, it is worth noting that the clavichord is a notoriously quiet instrument, part of why it was later replaced by the piano in the modern orchestra.
³For those wondering how Papa Handel responded, Papa Handel unfortunately died in 1696.

Sources
The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg
Eric W. Nye, Pounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency, accessed Saturday, December 15, 2018, http://www.uwyo.edu/numimage/currency.htm.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
George Frideric Handel. German-English Composer
Duel with Mattheson
A Biographical Introduction
George Frideric Handel-Composer
George Frideric Handel, and His Life Saving Coat Button

Thursday, January 10, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Sad Case of Joanna the Not-So-Mad

The last ruler of the house of Trastamara, Joanna, known natively as Juana, of Castile was the daughter of two brilliant, but ruthless monarchs--Queen Isabella of Castile, and King Ferdinand of Aragon. She married Philip, Duke of Burgundy, and scion of the house of Habsburg. She was a brilliant woman, speaking five languages, excelling in math, science, and philosophy. Yet when she inherited the throne of Castile in 1516 she found herself shoved aside, and imprisoned as a madwoman by her father and her husband, both of whom were deadlocked in a struggle for her crown.

Image result for joanna the mad
Joanna was the third child of
Ferdinand and Isabella.
The modern Iberian Peninsula has only three countries--Spain, Portugal, and Andorra, but when Joanna's parents took the throne the peninsula was fractured and split between the kingdoms of CastileAragon, Portugal, NavarreAndorra, and the Muslim controlled Andalus. When Ferdinand and Isabella married in 1469 they united Castile and Aragon, creating a country that contained almost all of the territory of modern Spain. Though they were supposedly equal monarchs, on paper and in practice Isabella ran the whole  show. So when she died in 1504, and left Castile to her daughter Joanna, Ferdinand's dreams of an united Espana were endangered.

To understand Joanna as an adult, you have to understand Joanna as a child. Joanna was, very much, a Renaissance princess. Like her sister, Catherine of Aragon, and later her daughter, Mary of Hungary, Joanna was given a full Humanist education. She was taught math, science, philosophy, writing, religious and secular law, as well as five languages--French, Latin, Castilian, Catalan, and Galaico-Portuguese. She was very bright, arguably the brightest of Ferdinand and Isabella's children, a fact that no doubt led her to questioning the Catholic faith.

Now, given that Isabella and Ferdinand had commited mass genocide on several continents in the name of Catholicism, to have a daughter who questioned their austere faith was completely unacceptable. Letters from Ferdinand's attendants report that Joanna was subjected to torture in order to correct her unorthodoxy.

Image result for map of europe 1500
Europe, 1500
Like all royal women of the age, Joanna was expected to make a brilliant marriage, and strengthen Spanish ties with a suitable foreign power. For Joanna, that power was the Habsburg family, the family that, at the time, ruled modern Germany, Austria, and much of the Benelux area. Maximilian I was head of the family at the time, and he had a single son, Philip, Duke of Burgundy.

Philip was later referred to as 'Philip the Handsome', and that sums up his character excellently. Philip was handsome; he liked women, wine, and sport. He didn't care much for affairs of state, and he especially didn't care much for fidelity in marriage, a fact which would torment Joanna all her life.

However, when the pair first met in 1496 the dark clouds of infidelity and alleged mental illness were nowhere in sight. Upon clapping eyes on each other, the pair were overcome with lust. They immediately summoned a priest, and had their marriage blessed, not even waiting for the official wedding the day after to consummate their union. Unsurprisingly, the pair had six children.

Image result for philip the handsome
Philip the 'Handsome'
For the first years of their marriage Joanna and Philip lived in Burgundy. Joanna enjoyed the freedom and relaxed atmosphere of the Lowlands, but unfortunately gained herself no real political allies. Though she had been tasked to advance Spain's interests by her mother, Joanna had no real interest in playing politics at this point in her life, she was more worried about wrangling her philandering husband, who had the habit of attempting to seduce everything that walked.


At the time, fidelity wasn't necessarily expected from royal men. Political marriages like Joanna and Philip's were based on the unspoken agreement that so long as there were a few heirs in the royal nursery, the man was allowed to do whatever (or whoever) he wished. The woman, on the other hand, was expected to remain faithful to her husband, and occupy her time with her children and charity projects. Joanna's mother, Isabella, understood this. Ferdinand had at least four children outside of marriage, and Isabella hadn't made a scene. Joanna, on the other hand, was in love with her husband, and wasn't going to stand for his philandering. The couple descended into a toxic cycle of her catching him being unfaithful, her yelling at him, then him avoiding her and having her confined to her rooms. Joanna's passionate outbursts and tempestuous reactions to her husband's behavior were recorded, and later used against her as evidence of her 'insanity', especially after she physically attacked one of Philip's many mistresses.

Image result for joanna the mad
Joanna, 1500
Back in Spain Trastamara's were dropping like flies. Joanna had never been expected to inherit her mother's throne, but with the death of her brother, Juan, in 1497, and her older sister, Isabella in 1498 Joanna was set to inherit a large chunk of the Iberian Peninsula--probably.

Problem was, women could not legally inherit in Aragon, the country of Joanna's father. While Joanna did have a son, Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V), he was still a child, and should Ferdinand die before Charles reached majority the issue of who would rule Aragon became unclear.

Enter Philip. Young and already ruling a duchy of his own, Philip was eager to add to his father's empire by taking Spain off the hands of the Trastamara's. This, however, didn't sit well with Isabella or Ferdinand, neither of whom wanted their country to go to a foreigner. Worried that Castile would end up in Philip's hands, Isabella added a codicil to her will that allowed Ferdinand to rule in Joanna's stead should Joanna die or leave Spain, cutting Philip out of the deal altogether.

When Isabella died in 1506 Ferdinand immediately had his daughter declared queen in Madrid, and around Castile. When word reached Joanna and Philip in Brussels, the pair had themselves declared sovereigns of Castile, and started the long journey to Madrid.

Though he was outwardly supportive of his daughter, Ferdinand started undermining her almost immediately. He seized state revenues, and circulated rumors that she was insane, producing the reports sent from Burgundy to back up his claims.

Related image
Map of the Iberian Peninsula in Joanna's lifetime.
Missing is Andorra.
The Cortes--the Spanish Courts--declared Ferdinand custodian of Castile, and Ferdinand and his bishops started working on persuading Joanna to declare her father her regent. Philip, meanwhile, had landed in northern Spain, and was making his way to Madrid with Joanna. He had himself declared king in every town he went through, and seized revenues and assigned government positions to favored supporters. He was determined to become king, and he had come prepared. Protecting Philip was 2,000 German mercenaries, practically an army.


Joanna, on the other hand, was in a state of distress. Philip had told her of her father's attempts to rob her of her throne. However, she hadn't heard from her father directly, and she had witnessed her husband's attempts to steal her throne first hand. Joanna was much more inclined to trust her father than her husband, and refused to take any serious action until she's spoken with Ferdinand herself. She dressed in black in protest, and refused to appear at any oath swearing ceremony, or proclaim her husband King.

There was no doubt to Joanna that she was queen. She had been left the throne by her mother, and she intended to rule. The only problem was that nobody seemed to want her to rule. While she had some support among the populace, her strange attire and absence from the public eye isolated her from any real political supporters. She was caught between two very politically ambitious men, one of whom was wily and experienced, the other of whom had a large army and a political heavyweight for a father. Both parties owned a penis which, as so often is the case, made them both a more popular candidate than Joanna herself.

In order to keep Joanna away from her father, Philip had her confined to her rooms, and kept under guard. Both Philip and Joanna issued edicts under Joanna's name, and the pair were inches away from declaring war. Eventually, the King of France, stepped in to mediate. Ferdinand conceded to Philip, giving up all claims to Castile, and both men had Joanna declaed mad, and unfit to rule.

Image result for joanna the mad
Joanna attending Philip's casket, painted by Charles
de Steuben
Philip took the reigns of power in Castile, and Ferdinand retreated to his holdings in Naples. Philip didn't have long to enjoy his power though, because in the fall of 1506 he died abruptly from a fever, leaving his wife six months pregnant.

With her father in Naples and her husband dead, Joanna was closer to holding her throne than she had ever been. She was pregnant, which put her in a precarious position, but Joanna was unwilling to let the Spanish nobility take the throne from her. She stayed in seclusion for three months after her husband's death, and upon emerging took his body on a cross country processional to prepare for burial.

This journey through Spain is one of the stranger episodes of Joanna's life. Historians, as well as Joanna's contemporaries, are baffled by her motives for dragging a corpse across Spain while more than six months pregnant. While one would have to ask Joanna herself to be sure, there are several theories.

The most popular and prevalent theory is that Joanna was capital C crazy, and that she had finally come unhinged. Stories of her flinging her body upon her husband's lifeless corpse and weeping hysterically spread around the countryside. This report, while likely propaganda put out by Ferdinand, and later Joanna's son Charles, is substantiated by the fact that Joanna did have Philip's casket opened several times on the journey.

Another theory is that Joanna was traveling as an act of calculated defiance. After being apart from her people for so long Joanna was showing herself and the dead 'king' to remind the populace of her son and heir, Charles. Joanna had Philip's casket opened to prove that she did, indeed, possess his remains. This would have been seen as a message to Ferdinand that while he may wish to rule Castile, Joanna wasn't going to go quietly.

Image result for charles v holy roman emperor
Charles V, Joanna's son and heir
Both theories have merit, and fall on opposing sides of the debate that always arises whenever Joanna is mentioned--was Joanna insane, or merely the unlucky pawn of two rulers. However, this historian would like to pose a third theory (and a third answer to that question), that being that taking Philip's body on a tour of Spain was a stalling tactic on Joanna's part. Much like Penelope weaving her husband's burial shroud, then undoing her work in the dead of night, Joanna was putting off contracting a second marriage. The 'Queen' of Castile was quite the catch, and there were several rulers out for her hand (including Henry VII, her sister Catherine's father-in-law). By prolonging her mourning, and taking her time to bury Philip's body, Joanna bought time for herself to find a solution that suited her.

It was her pregnancy that eventually brought Joanna back into her father's clutches. Joanna gave birth to her youngest daughter Catalina in January of 1507, and afterwards Ferdinand sent his men to have her confined to a nunnery in Tordesillas. It was there that she stayed for the rest of her life.

The rest of Joanna's life was spent in captivity at Tordesillas, the only changes being her jailers and the man who usurped her throne. While in Tordesillas, Joanna was physically and emotionally abused, and denied visitors. Her only companion was her daughter, Catalina, who was stolen away and married off in 1525. Much of the money that was to be spent on Joanna's food and clothing was stolen by unscrupulous jailers, and she was purposely kept out of the loop on important events in order to make her seem insane. When Ferdinand died in 1516 Joanna was not told. She died believing that her father was still alive.

When Ferdinand died in 1516 Joanna's son, Charles, inherited Aragon. Since his mother was still alive Charles could not legally take control of Castile, so, like his grandfather, Charles kept his mother imprisoned, and had rumors of her continued insanity spread around Europe. Charles ruled as her regent for nearly 40 years.

File:Granada-Capilla Real-8-Sepulcro de Felipe I y de Juana la La Loca (Bartolomé Ordóñez).jpg
Joanna was buried next to her husband in Tordesillas.
Joanne died on Good Friday of 1555 at the age of 75. She was quietly buried, and almost immediately forgotten. Charles, now Holy Roman Emperor, would rule for another three years before abdicating in favor of his brother, Ferdinand. Joanna never saw her children again.

Joanna has gone down in history as 'Joanna the Mad'. She's little more than an historical footnote, only referred to when talking about the many genetic issues of the Habsburg family. She is frequently blamed as being the origin of the many mentally ill Habsburgs, perhaps not without reason. Joanna's grandmother, Isabella of Portugal, Queen of Castile suffered from severe depression, as did many of Joanna's descendents. However, upon close inspection, contemporary claims of her insanity dissipate into dust, revealing a passionate, but naive woman who had the misfortune to be surrounded by people who loved power more than her.

Probably. While claims of Joanna being a stark raving mad woman who groped corpses and violently accosted innocent maidens, it is highly unlikely that she was completely sane. It would, in fact, be insane, if a person who had been tortured as a child, physically and emotionally abused, gaslit, and neglected most of her life died happy and well adjusted. It seems likely that Joanna did suffer from sort of mental illness; there are reports of her falling into melancholy and refusing to eat or move. The real question is which came first: the abuse or the mental illness?


Sources
The Tragic Story of Joanna the Mad by Fernando Espi Forcen, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, The University of Chicago
Juana 'The Mad' Queen of a World Empire by Lisa Andrean
Was Joanna of Castile Truly 'Mad' or a Pawn For the Men in Her Family?
Joan, Queen of Castile
Juana the Mad of Castile
House of Habsburg

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Damn, Girl-Holy Roman Empress Theophano

Holy Roman Empress Theophano (sometimes spelled Theophanu or Theophania), not to be confused with St. Empress Theophano, was a Byzantine princess, who has the singular honor of having introduced the fork to Northern Europe. But beyond her taste in cutlery Theophano was also a wise and beloved Empress who helped bring Byzantine culture to the Germans.

Image result for empress theophano holy roman empireTheophano was a Byzantine princess, but she hadn't been 'born in the purple', meaning that she had been born before her father was Emperor. Because of this, she didn't have quite as high of a status as the other princesses, a situation that came in very handy for her uncle John Tzimiskes, when it was his turn to be Emperor.

See, at this time There were a couple of very powerful empires--the Holy Roman, and the Byzantine. Then there was the Italian peninsula, which was a hot mess. The south belonged to the Byzantines, the north to the Germans, and the Arabs kept attacking the entire thing from their home base in Italy. Out of the two empires the Holy Roman was weaker, so it was no surprise when Otto I decided to try for a marriage alliance between the two states.

Admittedly, John Tzimiskes wasn't super keen to ally with the Germans. He did need their militaristic support, but in his mind the Byzantines were waaaaayy better than the Germans, and he couldn't let the Holy Roman Empire think that they stood on equal grounds, so instead of sending a princes who was 'born in the purple' as requested, he sent Theophano.

Otto I wasn't happy that he hadn't gotten the 'born in the purple' princess he'd requested, but Theophano brought most of southern Italy with her as a dowry, so Otto got over that complaint really quickly, and  Theophano married Otto II. Otto I didn't have too much time to feel bitter, because he died shortly before their wedding, leaving Theophano with only one in law to deal with, the iron willed Adelaide of Italy.

While the Germans like Theophano, many of them thought her odd. The Byzantine empire was known for its luxurious, decadent ways, and Theophano was a product of that 'decadence'. She talked too much, she bathed every day, and, strangest of all, she used a two pronged utensil to bring food to her mouth (aka a fork), instead of eating with her hands like everyone else.

Image result for empress theophano holy roman empire
Theophano and Otto II being crowned
and blessed by Jesus Christ.
Weird foreignness aside, Theophano was an excellent empress. Much like her mother-in-law Adelaide, Theophano lucked out, and was good friends with Otto II. They jointly ruled their empire for about ten years, waging war against the neighboring French, and protecting their lands from Arabs and internal dissent. They had five children together, four of whom survived to adulthood. Then, in 983, Otto died.

Fortunately, Theophano had popped out another Otto, and so Otto III took the throne. Unfortunately, Otto III was only three years old at the time, so Theophano assumed the regency. She and her mother-in-law Adelaide combined forces to rule the empire, and kept the whole thing together. During her regency she repelled another French attack, appointed public and church officials, and ruled Italy, all while maintaining a close relationship with her son. She so influenced Otto III that after her death in 991 he basically ran the Holy Roman Empire in the ground trying to make it more like the beloved Byzantine Empire that his mother spoke so fondly of.


After her death Adelaide took over as regent for Otto III, and, because Adelaide didn't particularly like Theophano, she refused to have annual services read on the date of Theophano's death. A smear campaign against her started soon after, and so Theophano wasn't fondly remembered in Germany. She was, and is, however, remembered in modern Turkey, the land of her birth, where she is remembered as a wise and capable leader.

Sources
Theophano of Byzantium
Theophano, Empress and Regent
Theophano, Holy Roman Empress
The Princess Theophano