Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Exile of the Dalai Lama

It was on this day in 1959 that HH the XIV Dalai Lama left to Tibet to go into exile, being granted refuge in India, following the takeover of his own country by the communist forces of China. The recent history of Tibet has been one of unending tragedy, recognized by comparatively many but acted on by comparatively few. When Soviet communist forces enslaved Mongolia hardly anyone in the outside world seemed to notice (and it remains one of the worst and least known atrocities in history even today) but while the communist takeover of Tibet was fairly well known at the time, few were willing or able to do anything about it. The United States had little interest or access to the region and whereas the British would previously have been the ones to take action, British power was rapidly on the decline, India had gained independence and was far more concerned with the religious animosities in their own country and trying to hold it together to do anything about the communist takeover of remote, isolated Tibet. There is no doubt that the country is still suffering terribly today in the absence of the Dalai Lama and, sadly, most would see little reason to hope for improvement given current circumstances with so much of the rest of the world becoming dependent on Chinese loans.

The Dalai Lama, ever an optimistic and hopeful man, remains committed to peace and non-violence and to the limited goal of “meaningful autonomy” for Tibet. He is well known and much celebrated around the world. Few other exiled monarchs or traditional authority figures enjoy the same prestige and name-recognition that he does. However, much of this support is honestly illusory. Many in this country who praise and sympathize with him do so for less than genuine reasons. They like being able to appear “spiritual” by associating themselves with a religious figure whose teachings they are not subject to. Some are eager to attach themselves to him simply because he is a religious leader who is not Christian. In any event, many of those who praise and applaud him and have “Free Tibet” bumper-stickers on their car have a “commitment” to Tibet and the Dalai Lama that goes no deeper than popular outrage and slogans. For them, it is one of those “good causes” that is (or was) fashionable to associate yourself with while never intending to actually do anything about it nor of really having any idea of how exactly they would like to see things change. They also usually put their own politics first.

One of the most talked about examples is the actor Richard Gere who was very critical that the U.S. was not “doing more” when George W. Bush was President to stand up to China over Tibet yet has remained silent since his favorite Barack H. Obama has been President despite his much cooler, arms-length dealings with the Dalai Lama in favor of maintaining good relations with China. Gere, a Democrat, seemed much more concerned about Tibet when a Republican was in the White House than he is now. In the same way, many of the same people who champion the cause of Tibet and the Dalai Lama were also effusive in their praise of the ANC in South Africa. But, just as many put U.S. party politics ahead of their concerns over Tibet, it seems he ranks below the African National Congress as well since they were almost completely silent when South Africa refused to allow the Dalai Lama into their country for a planned summit on world peace (after being leaned on by the Chinese of course who have been buying up influence in Africa for years). So, obviously, many of those who pretend to care about the situation in Tibet and the continued exile of the Dalai Lama have support that is barely skin deep, all talk and no action, all form and no substance.

The Dalai Lama puts his hope in the Chinese people, that their hearts are changing and that they will eventually force the government to adopt a new approach with Tibet. I have a hard time sharing such an optimistic view and as Chinese money buys more and more Chinese influence around the world I have seen myself a growing hostility toward the Dalai Lama and Tibet with more and more people parroting the official communist-government talking points on the subject. As I have said many times, I am certainly not in total agreement with the Dalai Lama on either the political or spiritual levels. However, there is no doubt that the Dalai Lama is the traditional, rightful and legitimate leader of Tibet and it is a scandal that he remains in exile all these decades later. Nothing else matters to me, agree or disagree with the man himself and regardless of the political situation in my country or any other. The Dalai Lama is the legitimate traditional authority for Tibet and that is where he belongs. I hope he lives to see the day his exile will finally end.

Royal News Roundup

In Great Britain this week HM the Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh visited several areas in North London as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. On Thursday HM the Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh became great-grandparents yet again when Peter and Autumn Phillips welcomed their second child into the world at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. The new addition is a girl, named Isla Elizabeth Phillips. Congratulations to the happy couple! On Friday HM the Queen and the rest of the British Royal Family attended a special memorial service at St George’s Chapel in Windsor castle in memory of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.

Across the North Sea, in Denmark on Monday HM Queen Margrethe II and HRH Prince Henrik hosted a special gala dinner in honor of TRH the Prince of Wales and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall who were visiting the Kingdom of Denmark this week. Later, the Queen and her Prince Consort attended a gala banquet put on by the Academy Council Foundation at Charlottenborg palace in Copenhagen. In Norway, on Monday, HM King Harald V held a special audience with representatives of the Lion’s Club International at the royal palace. On Tuesday the King attended the closing ceremony of the Gorud Youth Conference in Oslo.

In the Low Countries, HM King Albert II of the Belgians met with the Minister of Public Enterprises, Science Policy and Development Cooperation (trying saying that three times fast) this week. HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands attended a special celebration for the 25 anniversary of the National Committee at the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. In Luxembourg HRH Grand Duke Henri met with the Grand Rabbi of Luxembourg, Mr. Alain Nacache, at the Grand-Ducal Palace.

In southern Europe, on Wednesday TM King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia attended the XXIX Edition of the International Journalism Awards ‘King of Spain’ and the VIII Edition of the Don Quixote Award for Journalism in Madrid. Thursday HM King Juan Carlos I of Spain unveiled a special plaque in the Bosnian town of Moster commemorating the arrival of Spanish forces in the area in 20 years ago as part of the peace-keeping force in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This week also saw TSH Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco in the far north, visiting the Sami community of Norway, donning native costume and going for a reindeer sleigh ride.

Across the world in the Pacific Ocean, on Tuesday the people of Tonga laid to rest the late King George Tupou V at the royal tombs in Mala’e Kula in a traditional 2-hour state funeral attended by thousands of grieving subjects, government officials and the representatives from nations around the world.

Finally, there seems to have been some uproar over the editing of the speech made by HM the Emperor at the commemoration of the 1-year anniversary of the Fukushima earthquake-tsunami disaster. There have been accusations of censorship by the state-run Japanese media and protests by outraged citizens that the words of the Emperor concerning the nuclear disaster were cut out from the pre-recorded re-broadcasts of the event. Of course, I would never be in favor of censoring the Emperor under any circumstances as it seems was done here, though it has not been proven as yet. However, the reaction that I have found just in my own poking around (unfortunately) seems to reinforce why the Japanese government tried to keep certain information from the public for fears of causing mass hysteria. I found a great deal of hysterical shrieking on the subject of radioactive contamination and environmental destruction that seems totally out of proportion to the actual facts. Just to remind everyone, the huge loss of life one year ago was caused primarily by the tsunami, to date NO ONE has died from radiation. People should try to keep that in mind before becoming too hysterical. I would not be wild about having a nuclear reactor in my backyard but I do have high-pressure natural gas pipelines in my backyard (front yard too as it happens) and those could cause quite a disaster as well. The point being that no combustible fuel is ever going to be 100% safe in any and all circumstances. Also, the current Prime Minister of Japan, as well as his predecessor, have implemented the gradual elimination of nuclear energy in Japan. However, before anyone starts celebrating, let me remind everyone as well that as things stand now “green energy” is far from sufficient to meeting the needs of a nation the size of Japan and so the country will simply become entirely dependent on imported oil. It is worth remembering that dependency on foreign fuel sources was a big reason for Japan feeling it vitally necessary to expand her colonial empire in the build-up to World War II. Just something to keep in mind. Overreacting is never a good idea.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Mad Rant: The Republican Illusion

We are coming up on election time in the most powerful, most successful republic in the world -the United States of America. Once again we are being told that THIS election is the most important election of our lifetime. Now, I don’t like to go so far as those who snidely quip that if elections actually mattered they’d be illegal but, honestly, the truth is not terribly far from that. Elections are, to a large extent, illusory. The United States government knows that, they knew from the beginning that democracy would have limits and could not and should not be applied in any and all cases. That is part of the reason why there is an Electoral College and it is why, originally, only landowners could vote and senators were appointed by the states rather than popularly elected. Democracy is not always fair or honest and we should all know that. For example, when the French made their peace with the Communist North Vietnamese they agreed that there would be elections in the not-too-distant future to determine under which government (Hanoi or Saigon) Vietnam would be reunited. However, neither the South Vietnamese (who still had an emperor at that time) or the United States signed on to this agreement nor did either plan to follow through on the elections. Each realized that with a Communist dictatorship already controlling more than half the country a truly free and fair vote would be impossible and the communists would win. So, they said ‘to heck’ with that idea.

Is it a different story in the United States, the “Great Republic”? Of course, but not completely. After all, look at the Republican Party primary. The candidate (Moderate Mittens Romney) was effectively chosen long before most people ever got a chance to vote. The states with the three largest populations, New York, Texas and California, had yet to hold a single primary when Romney was effectively declared the “inevitable” nominee. The Party big-shots liked him, the Bush family endorsed him, most of the state governors endorsed him and everyone else was effectively told to shut up, get in line and accept him as the nominee. After all, what are Republicans who don’t like Romney going to do -vote for Obama? As if! We saw the same thing happen on the other side in the last presidential election. Hillary Clinton was very popular, she had more experience, more name recognition and so on and so forth but Obama had the support of big-shots in the Democratic Party, from the union bosses to the Kennedy family and he was declared the winner. In fact, the Democrats are even more blatant about thwarting the will of voters than the Republicans are since they openly have “delegates” and “super delegates” so that the Party bosses can pick who they want regardless of popular will.

Take someone like myself for example. As I sit here on the Texas-Mexico border, we have yet to hold a primary and the available choices are already down from around 10 candidates to 3 candidates. And, before anyone here has had a chance to vote, we are being told to ignore 2 out of the 3 because Romney already has it in the bag and you would only make things worse by voting for someone else. Also keep in mind that where I live, forget the candidates, I don’t often have even a choice of party. I live in a very predominately Hispanic area that is so heavily and faithfully Democratic territory that for most local offices the Republican Party doesn’t even bother to run candidates. So many people simply vote for whoever has a “D” after their name that the Republicans consider my part of the state a waste of resources to campaign in, so for most local offices ballots have one name beside them -take it or leave it, like it or not, you get whoever the Party chooses to run. Is that what passes for democracy? And I’m sure that in other parts of the state the Republican Party dominates in exactly the same way and if you are a Democrat living in one of those areas you are out of luck.

So, what does any of this have to do with monarchy? It involves monarchy because it is all a result of the republican mind-set that, among other things, sees democracy as the cure-all for any country and any situation. In the pre-revolutionary days of absolute, traditional monarchies the Prince (King, Grand Duke, Emperor etc) ruled his people as he saw fit, having a personal interest in doing so to the best of his ability because it was “his” country and would be handed down to his children and so on. No human system will ever be perfect but, on the whole, it worked and because of that persisted as the dominant form of government, naturally arrived at, by most of the world for most of human history. However, today the majority want no part of that, mostly because it just doesn’t “sound” nice, so instead we have the farce of republicanism foisted on people across the globe where we go through this regularly scheduled dog and pony shows to make people believe they really have some sort of control over how they are ruled when, by and large, we really do not. I know, I know, that sounds terribly harsh and cynical, and I’m not saying elections don’t matter at all but just bear with me for a minute here.

In a sense, every government anywhere that is or ever has been has been to some extent “democratic” in that people get the government they deserve. No government, no matter how totalitarian it pretends to be, can exist without the support or at least the acceptance of a majority of the people. However, for the most part, countries are governed as their rulers see fit regardless of the popular will. Take the United Kingdom for example, where republican malcontents rail about how “un-democratic” it is to have a hereditary head-of-state rather than an elected one. Yet, the vast majority of laws which govern the modern United Kingdom are made in Brussels by the European Union which is led by a ruling clique and a President that no one in Britain (or any other country) ever voted for. The only people in the EU that are elected have very little power over anything of importance. In fact, in Brussels, the biggest pain in the posterior for the EU ruling elite are those shouting for “freedom and democracy”. It may also be useful to compare the United Kingdom to the current Republic of Italy. In the U.K. the Queen is not elected but has very little power. The Prime Minister is elected and s/he actually governs the country. In Italy the President is elected by Parliament, not by a popular vote of the people, but also has very little power. However, the current Prime Minister of Italy, the man who actually governs, is, in this case, a man who was not elected and, in fact, never elected to any prior office in his life. In which case do the people have more control over their government?

Of course, I’m sure republicans would say that, while this may be troubling, the important thing is that people have rights, guaranteed in law, by their respective constitutions, to protect them from any overreach by government. Yes, well, the Jews had “rights” in Germany too before the Nazi government decided to take them away. Religious people have “rights” in the People’s Republic of China, they have freedom of religion enshrined in their constitution, but try being a priest and saying that the one-child policy is immoral and see how quickly you end up in a “reeducation through labor” camp. In the United States, in the 1940’s when America went to war with Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan over freedom for the world, everyone had “rights” but, of course, Black people had far fewer “rights” than White people and many Japanese, German and Italian Americans had “rights” up until the time the government decided to put them all in internment camps. Am I trying to argue moral equivalency here? Of course not. I live not far from where one of those internment camps used to be and, as bad as it was that people were treated like that, they were certainly not being worked to death or sent off to gas chambers. My only point is that the “rights” the government grants can be easily suspended or taken away by that same government, no matter what sort of government it is. When you get down to it, most people are not nearly so “free” as they think.

However, the drive persists with the belief in republicanism and democracy assuming an almost religious status. I say “almost” because this belief is a mythology which requires a greater leap of “faith” than even most mainstream religions. Religious figures like Jesus Christ, the Apostles or the Buddha or Confucius are all real people who actually existed and taught people things. In the case of Confucius, his descendants are still alive and well in China today. Yet, when it comes to the republican mentality, people blindly go along thinking that they have “freedom” because they have elections in spite of the fact that governments today, even the most liberal and democratic ones, more heavily regulate the everyday lives of ordinary people than at any other time in history. Everything from the food you eat to the air you breath, the car you drive, the house you live in, even the light bulbs you use are regulated by the State. And the people making these regulations are not like the monarchs of old. They are written by politicians with no vested interest in the welfare of the people or the good of the country, people who are in office for limited period of time and are eager to get what they can while they can and they are influenced by crony capitalists looking to enrich themselves or social activists and other assorted lobbyists with narrow self-interests looking out for number one and no one else.

Whether it was Christ, Mohammed or Buddha, there were people who knew these men, people who saw them, heard them, listened to them and were moved by them. Even people who did not accept their teachings still testified to their existence in history. The “gods” of democracy and republicanism, on the other hand, are more akin to gods like Jupiter, Mars or Neptune, who were worshipped in spite of the fact that no one knew them, no one saw them but were told that they were nonetheless responsible for everything that happened in the world. And, like Baal or Moloch the gods of democracy and republicanism demand more than your prayers, personal virtue or some incense -they demand sacrifice. This can be by taxation, and humanity has never been more heavily taxed than since the rise to dominance of the post-revolutionary republic where the state is responsible for almost everything, but they also demand that you sacrifice certain “rights” in order to be granted certain other “rights”. Such cases have today reached downright farcical proportions. The hypocrisy, contradictions and double-standards when it comes to things like the “right” to free speech could not be more blatant.

It is ironic that it is these democratic-republican types who are today the ones at the forefront of pushing for secularism, most likely to call themselves atheists (proudly) and oppose any support for traditional religion while at the same time displaying such mindlessly slavish devotion to their own faith in the “god” of republicanism. “Republicanism is the answer”, they say even though the vast majority of the worst, most arbitrary tyrannies in the world today are republics. “The world needs more democracy” they say, even though democracy has not exactly worked out well on the countries it has recently been imposed upon. You can point out to them the long list of brutal tyrants who gained power via the democratic process, you can point out how un-democratic their most ideal societies and organizations today are and it does not shake their blind faith in their failed “god”. “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” are their “holy trinity” and they go on applauding and justifying the French Revolution and every other revolution no matter how horrific the consequences. It reminds me of the words of Lady Thatcher who pointed out that, “Human rights did not begin with the French Revolution” and that when it came to, “Liberty, equality, fraternity’ -they forgot obligations and duties I think. And then of course the fraternity went missing for a long time”.

But none of it matters to the devoted faithful it seems. The Revolution is their Genesis story, democratic republicanism is their sacred doctrine and the voting booth is their high altar where we must all go and pay obeisance no matter how little it actually does. Now, let me state again, I’m not saying elections don’t matter at all, I am not saying you should not go out and vote but I am saying that those who consider such things absolute goods and the answer to every ill in life are, at best, extremely foolish. Regular democratic rituals will not save the world, they will not change society and they will not relieve you of your burdens. The fact that so many still think it will, in spite of the mountain of evidence to the contrary, makes me a very … Mad Monarchist.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Monarch Profile: King Carol II of Romania

Probably no other King of Romania is as controversial as Carol II with enemies of the Crown being most repelled by his effort at personal rule and many monarchists being put off by his private life and interference in the reign of his young son. At the time of his birth, a great many hopes were placed in the young prince who supposed to represent a new beginning and a solidification of the House of Hohenzollern with the Romanian people. He was born in Peles Castle in the Carpathian Mountains on October 15, 1893 to Crown Prince Ferdinand and Crown Princess Marie of Romania during the reign of King Carol I, the first King of modern Romania. The Royal Family was still rather new at this stage and was working to strengthen ties between themselves and their people. Ferdinand had been born in Germany and baptized a Catholic and Marie was the daughter of Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh and baptized a Protestant (though she would later dabble in both the Orthodox and Bahai faiths). Prince Carol was thus the first future King of Romania to have been born on Romanian soil and baptized into the Romanian Orthodox faith as a child. The hope was that this would cement his image as a Romanian king and dispel any feeling held by the people that his predecessors had been German kings ruling Romanians.

As a boy, Prince Carol was curious, rambunctious and ambitious, traits that would never really leave him throughout his life. In 1909 he began his service with the army, joining the Romanian Mountain Corps and he took quite well with military life, the simplicity of discipline and hierarchy as well as the pomp and ceremony of the parade ground. In November of 1914 he took his seat in the Romanian senate to prepare himself for the governmental aspect of his future position, his father having succeeded as King of Romania the month before. World War I had broken out by that time and the pro-Allied Queen and Prime Minister succeeded in bringing the Hohenzollern King around to their way of thinking; joining the Allies but holding off doing so until they were willing to promise all the territorial gains Romania had long desired (as usual, mostly at the expense of Austria-Hungary). Finally, Romania joined the war in 1916, buoyed by Allied material superiority and the recent Brusilov offensive by the Russians which was such a success it seemed to nearly knock Austria-Hungary out of the war in one blow. However, appearances were deceiving.

Crown Prince Carol was recalled to the front and became a general in the course of the war, but Romanian entry into the conflict proved disastrous for herself, a drain for the Allies and a great benefit to the Central Powers. The Germans and Austrians were not so weak as everyone had thought and in relatively quick order Romania was overrun and occupied by two German armies. The Royal Family had to abandon Bucharest and the vast mineral wealth of Romania was channeled toward the German war effort. In the end, Romania would be one of the few Allied powers to end up getting everything she had wanted when the final victory came but, for the moment, the war was over and Crown Prince Carol saw no reason why he shouldn’t pursue his own happiness. In August of 1918 he ran off to the Ukraine to marry his sweetheart, the daughter of a Romanian general, to the shock and horror of the court. It was a terribly delicate time for the monarchy as the stunning defeat of the Romanian forces had undermined respect for the Crown and forced King Ferdinand to give up much of his powers in order to keep the monarchy in place. The King was furious with his son, ordered him placed in a monastery and his marriage annulled. That was in his power, but he could not forever keep his son and his beloved apart and in 1920 she gave birth to his son.

This child, of course, had no recognition in Romanian law and so King Ferdinand and Queen Marie arranged for Carol to marry a suitable royal bride the following year. On March 10, 1921 in Athens, Greece the Crown Prince was married to Princess Helen of Greece and Denmark (known in Romania as Elena). By no stretch of the imagination could the marriage be called a happy one. It was a union that had basically been forced on the couple for reasons of royal duty and Carol was prepared to do his duty and no more. Not quite nine months later Crown Princess Elena gave birth to the future King Michael and with the succession secured, the Crown Prince had little more to do with his wife after that, concentrating instead on the love interest that was to be the cause of many of his misfortunes in his life to come; a divorced Roman Catholic with a Jewish father named Elena (“Magda”) Lupescu. Like the Crown Prince, she had a reputation prior to their involvement and when word of their affair got out it caused another scandal at court. However, for Crown Prince Carol, Magda was the love of his life (as would be proven) and he refused to give her up. Finally, under pressure from all sides, he agreed to renounce his rights to the throne in favor of his young son Prince Michael in 1925.

It was expected that the Crown Prince had, with that renunciation, effectively ended his ‘royal career’. However, the headstrong Carol fundamentally objected to the entire process. He felt it was unjust that he should have been forced to marry, forced to choose between his birthright and the woman he loved and he felt he had been coerced into making the renunciation. In 1927 King Ferdinand died and, with a regency in place, Carol’s young son became King Michael I of Romania. One year later Carol and Princess Elena formally divorced and Carol spent most of his time traveling abroad with Magda. However, in 1930 he unexpectedly returned to Romania, renounced his earlier renunciation and proclaimed himself King Carol II. The boy-king Michael was effectively deposed by his father who had support among many in the army and those who wanted to see a stronger and more authoritarian monarch. Obviously this was a time of considerable turmoil for the royal family and particularly as he grew older the young King Michael would never forgive his father, not simply for deposing him (he was too young at the time to be terribly ambitious) but for displacing his mother in favor of Magda who was treated in every way as wife.

As monarch, King Carol II pledged a “national renaissance”, choosing his own ministers and enacting a new constitution which reserved final authority for the Crown. In 1938 he earned more political enemies when he banned the fascist Iron Guard organization, which he had earlier supported. Because the Iron Guard was anti-Semitic many blamed this action on the influence of his half-Jewish “wife” Magda Lupescu. However, King Carol II really wanted no parties or factions or movements at all in Romania other than his own. He had his own monarchist social movement, devoted to strengthening the rule of the King and had, in 1935, authorized the formation of his own political youth movement known as “The Sentinel of the Motherland” or “The Sentinel” for short. This was to encourage support for the monarchy, loyalty to King Carol II personally, devotion to the Romanian Orthodox Church, Romanian nationalism and national unity. It goes without saying that the revolutionary groups were absolutely opposed to all of this and most of the western world looked on it all distastefully as a “royal dictatorship” but right-wing militants were also not pleased to having their own movements supplanted and sidelined by the King.

During these years the Nazi Party had risen to power in Germany and with the western democracies refusing to take action and the Soviet Union focused on expanding in the Baltic states, Hitler began to re-draw much of the map in Eastern Europe through diplomacy and intimidation. After the start of World War II, borders shifted and Hungary, Bulgaria and the Soviet Union all demanded territorial concessions from the “Greater Romania” the Allies had gifted after the First World War. King Carol II was forced to go along with this as the defeat of France and the resulting domination of Europe by Nazi Germany (which at that time had a non-aggression pact with Stalin) left Romania isolated. Naturally, this did nothing to help the popularity of the King in his own country and made him appear weak abroad. With those concessions it seemed that the reign of King Carol II was doomed. It also did not help that Adolf Hitler personally despised the King. In addition to Hitler’s virulent hatred of royalty in general the fact that the King lived with a woman who was (gasp!) half-Jewish infuriated the Nazi dictator all the more.

General Ion Antonescu was one of the most vocal in protesting the concessions and the King sent him to prison for his defiance. However, he was also the most pro-Nazi man in the military hierarchy and Hitler brought pressure to bear to have Antonescu released from prison. The general promised the Nazis the mineral wealth of Romania for their war effort if they would support him in deposing King Carol II and taking over Romania as a military dictator. Generals loyal to the King began plotting his assassination but, before they could act, Antonescu made his move with Nazi support and forced Carol II to abdicate on September 6, 1940. The throne passed again to his son who resumed his reign as King Michael I but the real power was Antonescu who ruled Romania for most of the rest of World War II as “leader”. Carol II and his beloved Magda went into exile, never to see Romania again, first toSpain, then Mexico, later to Portugal, getting married finally in Brazil in 1947. He never saw his son again, even after the young King Michael was deposed by the Soviets and forced into exile himself. Carol II made overtures but his son refused to see him.

When Romania entered World War II under Antonescu the former King offered to form a Romanian government-in-exile on the Allied side but Great Britain and the United States opposed such a move. After all, such a government would have doubtlessly clashed with the agreed upon Soviet domination of Eastern Europe after the war. He even made a similar offer to Joseph Stalin but communism and royalty simply do not mix and the Soviets didn’t even bother replying. Romania would be in their sphere of influence in any event and they knew it. Through it all, Magda never left his side. After their marriage in Brazil the former King titled her Princess Elena of Romania but the court around his son, needless to say, never recognized it. The couple had to move more than once because of the effects of climate on Magda’s health, improving only after their move to Portugal. However, it was there that the former King Carol II died, unexpectedly, of a heart attack on April 4, 1953 at the age of 59. He was buried there in Portugal and after her death in 1977 his Princess Elena was buried alongside him. It was not until 2003 that their bodies were removed and transported to Romania for reburial. However, old animosities still remained and neither of his sons attended the ceremony and while he was buried in a royal chapel along with the remains of other, long past, Romanian royals, his wife had to be buried outside as her royal status was not recognized by the family. Even in death, the controversy and divisiveness that characterized the rule of King Carol II of Romania still remained.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

War of 1812 Wednesday, Part I, Causes and Background of the War

Probably no other war the United States has ever fought is less remembered or more unusual than the War of 1812. There are a number of possibilities for this. It may be due to the fact that some people simply lumped the conflict together with the American Revolution; a rather unimportant aftershock. It may be because nothing of great significance was achieved because of the war. However, it is more likely that this lapse of memory is due to the fact that the United States, so proud of her illustrious military record, failed to achieve any of her objectives in the war and indeed was fortunate to have escaped with her territory intact. In spite of this, some have claimed the War of 1812 to be an American victory, while the majority of others view it as a stalemate. The British and Canadian perspective, needless to say, is quite different and in this case considerably more accurate.

To understand the causes of the War of 1812, which was a conflict many in the United States did not want, it is essential to know a little bit of the global politics of the day. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, following the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte had made France the ruler of continental Europe. The French were able to defeat Spain, Prussia, Austria, Russia and other powers with Great Britain alone holding out because her naval mastery kept Napoleon from invading the British Isles. As a result, both sides declared blockades against each other to bring economic pressure to bear against their enemy. This effected the United States which, as a neutral power, had been making money hand over fist selling supplies to both sides. The United States protested these blockades, but against the naval might of Great Britain, could do very little about it, nor were all Americans sympathetic to the French regime of Napoleon.

The ongoing naval battle between France and Britain also effected America with the issue of impressments. The Royal Navy was stretched to the limit fighting Napoleon and blockading Europe, so every able-bodied sailor was needed. However, life was hard in the British fleet and hundreds of sailors deserted over time. Knowing nothing but the sea, many of these deserters found work on American merchant ships. When these vessels were stopped by the British blockading ships, British deserters were removed and impressed back into the Royal Navy. The United States disapproved of this and claimed that many of the men being impressed by British ships were not British deserters but American citizens. Britain, engaged in a life or death struggle against a dictator who had taken over half of Europe, felt little sympathy for any American who was taken by mistake into naval service. The issue did finally come to blows however in 1807 when the USS Chesapeake was stopped by the British frigate HMS Leopard only to have the American commander, Captain James Barron, refused to allow the British search his ship for deserters. In response, the Leopard fired on the Chesapeake, the British boarded the ship by force, removed four Royal Navy deserters and had one of them hanged.

The British later apologized for the incident, but the overall situation continued. The United States tried to retaliate by passing the Embargo Act which stopped all foreign trade, and as a result almost ruined the entire economy of the New England states which depended on commerce for their livelihoods. It also hurt southern states which could not sell cotton or tobacco to Britain, virtually shutting off their only income. After 15 months this nonsense was stopped, but none of the other actions taken had any effect either. Moreover, when the United States promised to restore free trade with any nation that lifted her restrictions, Napoleon pretended to do so hoping to incite America to join his war against the British. He would soon get his wish and actions such as this only made Britain view America as not only less than neutral but supportive of the dictator Napoleon and his conquest of Europe.

There was also, it must not be forgotten, still lingering rivalry from the American Revolution. Much of this focused on the American Indians and their treatment by both sides. Many Indians had sided with Britain during the Revolution since the American colonists were eager to expand westward and seize the land Britain had granted the Indians only a short time before. During the frontier conflicts after the Revolution Britain continued to support the Indians in the Northwest Territory as they resisted the incursions of United States settlers. General William Henry Harrison had defeated an Indian confederacy led by the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh in 1811, but the Indians were not pacified and continued to look to British forces in Canada for support. Chief Tecumseh would prove to be a vital commander in the upcoming conflict.

That same year, negotiations with Britain continued to go nowhere and the aggressiveness of the United States was growing, fueled by a desire for expansion and conquest. President James Madison forbid all trade with Britain and asked the Congress to prepare for war with the British Empire. The country, however, was not united on the subject of war. The so-called "War Hawks" were mostly from the southern and western states under such men as Henry Clay of Kentucky and John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. They were eager most of all for the conquest of Canada. During the American Revolution Canada had been invaded but British and Indian troops under Sir Guy Carleton had defeated the attempt and many in the US were anxious for revenge. National arrogance played a great part in this. Many Americans were so convinced of the superiority of their country and government that they believed the Canadians would welcome their invasion with open arms. One politician, commenting on the weak defenses to the north remarked that the Kentucky militia alone would be enough to conquer Canada. Indeed, with Britain locked in combat with Napoleon, Canada seemed like a huge, undefended prize simply waiting to be taken.

This view was not universal though. Many New England states were totally opposed to a war with Britain. Conquering Canada mattered little to them in comparison to how their economy would be ruined by cutting off all trade with the British Empire. The problems so far had already taken a heavy toll on their businesses and many were not prepared to tolerate conditions becoming any worse. Many people in the US also sympathized with Great Britain carrying on the fight against Napoleon and were not happy with the prospect of effectively entering a world war on the side of a French dictator bent on conquest. The divisions became so heated that the same month war was declared riots broke out in Baltimore against the anti-war Federalists which raged for four months. The War of 1812 was probably the most unpopular war the United States ever fought up until the Vietnam conflict. Yet, as many as there were who opposed the war, there were many more who favored aggressive action against Britain. These people believed in the "Manifest Destiny" of the United States to rule all of North America and war with Britain seemed the perfect way to finally wipe out the British-backed Indians hindering US occupation of the Northwest Territory, grabbing the vast expanses of Canada as well as perhaps taking Florida from Britain's Spanish ally.

Ultimately, it was the expansionists who won out, along with those who were simply eager to throw the weight of America around and demand some concessions from Great Britain to recognize their claim to be a legitimate world power and not simply some upstart rebel colonies which would soon fall apart. At the request of President Madison, on June 18, 1812 the United States Congress formally declared war on Great Britain. America, especially the War Hawks, were jubilant and optimistic, though in hindsight there was certainly no reason to be. The United States army was miniscule and scattered across the frontier in remote garrisons. There was hardly a navy to speak of and there was still no institution for the training of military officers. Britain, on the contrary, had the best navy in the world, a veteran army which had experience fighting the largest battles yet seen in the western world and more than holding their own. The Americans however, disdaining regular army troops and drawing an idealistic but flawed conclusion from the Revolution were confident that their civilian militia would be more than enough to gain control of North America while the best British troops were still tied down fighting the French in Europe.

Continued next week with "1812 - The First Year"

Monday, March 26, 2012

Consort Profile: Empress Xiaozheyi of China

It seems that in Imperial China, many of the consorts we most remember are those who met a tragic or mysterious end. This was certainly the case with Empress Xiaozheyi (Xiao Che), consort of the Emperor Tongzhi, who remains the subject of one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Great Qing Dynasty. She was born on July 25, 1854 into the Alute clan of the Mongol Plain Blue Banner. Because of her background many works refer to her as Empress Alute. Her father, Chong Ji, was a highly respected mandarin, a professor at the Hanlin Academy and the Secretary of the Bureau of Revenue, probably the most esteemed and accomplished Mongol scholar of his time. Her mother was the daughter of a high-ranking Manchu prince, so she was well placed in the upper echelons of Qing society from the very beginning. Alute was noted for her exceptional intelligence, which is not surprising given the scholarly achievements of her father and he kept his daughter close to him when he was at court, personally seeing to her education. Because of this she had a far more developed intellect than was normally expected for a princess but her proximity to the halls of power also caused her to be noticed by the Empress Dowager Cixi as well as her son Emperor Tongzhi who was immediately taken with her.

Tongzhi had reigned as the “Son of Heaven” since he was five years old, coming to the Dragon Throne in 1861 but it was his mother who was the real power. When the time came for a bride to be chosen for the Emperor it was Tongzhi himself who insisted on the knock-out book-worm Alute as an ideal bride for himself and certainly few would have disputed the wisdom of such a choice. Alute was equally famous for her great intelligence, her great virtue and character as well as her great beauty. One would have been hard pressed to imagine someone better suited to be an empress. Empress Dowager Cixi, on the other hand, was not so impressed but, nonetheless, on September 15, 1872 Alute formally became Empress consort to Emperor Tongzhi while the other candidates, favored by the Empress Dowager, were given the consolation prize of becoming concubines. However, their lives were to be rather boring as Emperor Tongzhi favored Alute more than any other and spent almost every night with her, hardly, if ever, calling for any of his other concubines. Even as a youth, Tongzhi had a reputation for, shall we say, a great deal of diverse romantic experience, but all that seemed to change with his marriage to Alute and while his mother might have been pleased with that, she was not at all pleased that he was spending all his time with his wife to the neglect of the consorts she favored and he was soon taking some interest in actually ruling China. She didn’t like that either and was inclined to put the blame on his new wife.

Emperor Tongzhi
The Empress Dowager took Empress Alute aside and explained to her that she should not keep her husband all to herself, that whether she recognized it or not she was causing harm but making Tongzhi neglect his other consorts. Alute, of course, was intentionally doing nothing of the sort. She came when the Emperor called and could hardly be held to blame for him not calling others. Appealing to her famous intellect, the Empress Dowager also suggested that Alute and the Emperor devote more of their time to study rather than romance and, of course, to do so separately so that the lovely girl would not distract her lustful husband. Tongzhi, however, wanted nothing to do with anything that kept him apart from Alute for long and she was just as devoted to him, no matter how odd a couple they seemed, the playboy and the nerdy girl, so finally the Empress-Dowager acted on her own considerable authority to have the two kept apart. This was unfortunate as the Emperor, deprived of the companionship of his wife, soon returned to his former licentious ways with the help of his eunuchs who were eager to indulge his every whim. Soon he was being smuggled out of the palace to the various dens of iniquity around Peking where, by most accounts, his lifestyle led him to contract syphilis.

Emperor Tongzhi became increasingly bad tempered as well as increasingly ill because of this state of affairs and Empress Alute became more and more depressed, however, she had enough intellect and sufficient will to hold out hope. When she was allowed to tend to her husband her thoughts were always on his recovery and what changes they would make when that time came. Eunuchs reported to the Empress Dowager that Alute often complained about her dominance of the government and interference in her life and that of her husband. Needless to say, the Empress Dowager did not take kindly to this and began to view her daughter-in-law not only as a hindrance to her but as an actual threat and perhaps her son as well, though that was of course blamed on the influence of his over-intelligent wife. Reportedly, the Empress Dowager listened in on one such conversation and then burst into the room in a rage, attacked Alute and ordered her to stay away from the Emperor, having her eunuchs take the Empress away and keep her more or less under guard.

Empress Dowager Cixi
Empress Alute was despondent and her despair increased when Emperor Tongzhi died on January 12, 1875. The Empress was reportedly pregnant at the time but as the Emperor had no children it was up to the Empress Dowager to decide the succession and she chose her nephew who became the tragic Emperor GuangXu. Empress Alute was refused the title of Dowager Empress or any of the other traditional privileges of the widow of an Emperor of China. She was kept virtually in a state of arrest and her food allowance was drastically cut, weakening her considerably. Here is where the real mystery begins. The generally accepted story is that she wrote to her father asking for help and that he replied telling her, in so many words, that suicide was the only honorable way out. Not long after, on March 27, Alute was dead, the official verdict from the imperial court being that she succumbed to an illness.

Immediately though many believed she had killed herself in despair over her situation and on the advise of her father. However, there are some problems with this story which cause many to doubt it. For one thing, it would have been no small trick for her to get a message out of the Forbidden City to her father without the knowledge of the Empress-Dowager, to say nothing of him being able to freely reply back. If this did happen, was his response authentic? Given how he had always been so close to his daughter it seems at least slightly questionable that he would advise her to take her own life. Likewise, the sudden onset of so terrible an illness has caused some to believe that she had been poisoned, probably on orders from the Empress Dowager who was certainly not above such tactics. The angry reaction of the Empress Dowager to any kind words about Alute would seem to support this theory. Additionally, even if it was simply a death from natural causes, the fact that her food allowance had been cut so dramatically would have weakened her health and made her more susceptible to illness, so the Empress Dowager would still not be totally free from blame in that case. So, what was it? Did she die of natural causes as the court claimed, did she commit suicide or was she poisoned by a spiteful mother-in-law. We may never know for sure and so the true fate of the tragic Empress Alute will likely remain one more of the many secrets held within the massive walls of the Great Within.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Royal News Roundup

The news out of the Imperial Household in Japan remains troubling. Since undergoing heart surgery HM the Emperor has had to return to the hospital twice to drain fluid from his chest. Doctors have advised him to take it easy and get as much rest as possible but the Emperor has found it difficult, recently attending the special prayer service on the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami disaster after which the Imperial Household Agency reported that the Emperor was experiencing shortness of breath. Nonetheless, this week he received in audience His Highness the Emir of Kuwait though he did delegate the hosting of the state banquet to HIH Crown Prince Naruhito. The banquet was cut short, nonetheless, because of the ill health of the Emir who, at 82, is some four years older than the Emperor. His Majesty’s father and predecessor, the Showa Emperor, lived to the age of 87 before his death due to complications from cancer and trouble with his pancreas and digestive system. Of course we hope and pray that the Emperor will have many more years on the Chrysanthemum Throne, providing moral and spiritual guidance for the Japanese people.

Although it was last week, I cannot help but to comment on another royal visit to the Far East. TRH Crown Prince Philippe and Crown Princess Mathilde of Belgium spent most of the week in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, along with a Belgian delegation, to strengthen economic ties between the two countries. The couple are two of my favorite royals on the scene today but I will admit -this one was painful: watching them lay a commemorative wreath at the tomb of the vicious communist dictator Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi on the first day of their visit. I feel sorry for them having to participate in such a display of “tribute” to a brutal dictator but such is life I suppose. Later at the Presidential Palace the Crown Prince met with President Truong Tan Sangat and Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan. Crown Princess Mathilde visited a health center and met with some Belgian businesswomen. Later both attended a special state banquet in their honor. It pains me to no end to see the smug, farcical band of criminals squatting in the French colonial palaces of Hanoi, holding the Land of the Ascending Dragon in their graft-prone fingers, and likewise pulling the strings of Laos and Cambodia (make no mistake about it, both regimes take their marching orders from Hanoi) and it pains me just as much to see royals of the illustrious House of Coburg compelled by heartless international business interests to bow and scrape to the puffed up heirs of Ho Chi Minh who have never even acknowledged the blood of the millions of people they have spilled, the nations they have ruined and the noble dynasties of ancient lineage they pulled down. Please indulge my particular fury on that count, I cannot help but take this case personally.

Alas, also in an eastern direction, in the Pacific Ocean, as we reported earlier, this week saw the passing of HM King Siaosi Tupou V of the island Kingdom of Tonga who died in hospital in the former Crown Colony of Hong Kong at the age of 63. While other members of the family, including his heir and brother, were at his bedside the Tongan Queen Mother held a special prayer service in Nuku’alofa. The King came to the throne in 2006 amidst a great deal of turmoil between the supporters of the monarchy and those who wished to see it shorn of its powers, and it was because of that trouble that his formal coronation was not held until 2008. Even then it was only after the King had agreed to defer many of his key privileges to the Prime Minister. Later economic troubles and continued agitation by “pro-democracy” groups obliged the King to give up most of his sources of income, and make no mistake about it -that matters a great deal. Look at the British monarchs after King George III or the penultimate King of Italy; when monarchs lose their economic independence from the government, they frequently become sidelined. Hopefully, slim as that hope may be, the new King of Tonga will reduce this trend and continue to provide real leadership for his people and country.

In Europe it is the House of Windsor that has caught the lion’s share of the headlines. On Wednesday HM the Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh attended a special prayer service at St Paul’s Cathedral for the members of the Order of the British Empire, of which Prince Philip is the Grand Master. At Westminster Hall the Queen addressed both Houses of Parliament, paying tribute to Prince Philip for his steady support and assistance over the years, “a constant strength and guide” as Her Majesty called him. The Queen spoke of the glories of British history and said, “I have been privileged to witness some of that history and, with the support of my family, rededicate myself to the service of our great country and its people now and in the years to come”. Of course, there was also a small group of republican protestors outside the hall, doing their best to get noticed, including some Labour Party MP’s who should be dragged off to the Tower for even associating with such traitors. Their arguments were predictably pathetic, moaning over how “the people” should “have a say” in the choice of their Head of State. One cannot help but wonder why. They have no say whatever in the leadership of the European Union which has far more actual control over their lives than the Queen does and they all seem perfectly fine with that.

Just imagine, if these people had their way, the U.K. could be just like the Federal Republic of Germany with their disgraced, scandal-ridden President or perhaps the Italian Republic where an elected President with no power appoints a Prime Minister with extensive powers who no one in the country ever voted for at all. Maybe they would be lucky enough to have someone as powerful and democratic as the President of France whose only reaction to a bloody rampage by the terrorist Mohamed Merah was to crack down on what people do on the internet -and lawyers doubt he can even do that. Or, maybe the U.K. would be as fortunate as the United States where every four years people go into hysterics about how the entire fate of the universe hangs on “this” election and people get divided up into warring camps that always seem on the verge of open violence against each other and with every election ending with roughly half of the country positively hating the leader of their country. And remember, that’s the republic with the “best” track record. Still, as a friend of Britain, I should also give a word of friendly warning to the British people, if they ever become so separated from their senses as to embrace republicanism, you should be prepared for an absolutely monumental tidal wave of arrogant, self-satisfied smugness as such the world has never seen from the shores of the United States that though it may have taken a couple hundred years, you have finally admitted that “America was right” all along. Just be prepared for it.

In other news of interest, HH Pope Benedict XVI is arriving in Mexico today to be greeted by President Felipe Calderon in a historic visit that has already attracted millions of pilgrims in anticipation. This is the first visit by the Pontiff to Spanish-Latin America and his outdoor mass in Guanajuato is expected to have over 300,000 people attending. After completing his visit to Mexico the Pontiff will go on to Cuba where the communist authorities have already arrested 13 dissidents who have been occupying a Church in Havana, demanding that the Pope publicly read a list of grievances against the state. Catholic officials were upset by the occupation, though they have acted as mediators in the past between the state and unhappy citizens, regarding their occupation of the Church as “disrespectful”. Even other known Cuban dissidents stated that disrupting a place of worship was the wrong way to try to bring grievances to light. Needless to say, the Communist authorities were only too happy to publicize the condemnation of Church officials of the group. Officially atheist though they may be, they would not pass up the opportunity to portray the enemies of the Communist regime as defying God as well as the government. For this reason some dissidents, though critical of the occupation of the Church, said that the clerics had overreacted in their response and played into the hands of the Communist Party. The Pontiff is expected to arrive in Cuba on Monday.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Defending the Spanish Empire

Today it is fashionable to portray all imperialism as a terrible thing and Spain seems to have a worse reputation than others. Part of this is due to the fact that so much of history has been dominated by the English-speaking world which was very antagonistic toward Spain. Yet, much of it also comes from Spanish-speaking countries as well. Spain is a convenient punching bag to excuse the problems that still exist in many of these countries. Bring up Spain to many Mexicans even today and they will still accuse their poor economy on the fact that Spain “stole” all the gold and silver from their country centuries ago. That, of course, doesn’t wash with me. Becoming independent means you become responsible for your own success or failure from that point on and you can’t keep blaming all your problems on your predecessor. You’re in charge -do something about it. The fact is, this anger toward Spain is entirely misdirected. The Spanish-speaking world is, overall, in a poorer state than the English-speaking world but there are many reasons for that, one of which is anti-Spanish bigotry itself. Allow me to explain.

No matter what sort of system you have (though that certainly matters) any society will be better off if it is united, stable and peaceful. Stability is good for business and as long as things are stable, people can usually adapt to most other problems. The English-speaking world had this and the Spanish-speaking world didn’t partly because, with the exception of the United States, the British Empire did not fall apart with colonial peoples turning against the mother country. In fact, even in the United States, at least after that little spat in 1812, most Americans felt some level of kinship with Great Britain and the British and Americans became close friends and allies. Yet, on the other hand, be it in Mexico, Venezuela or the Philippines there remains a great deal of animosity directed against Spain. The independence movements that led to the breakup of the Spanish Empire also inevitably led to numerous wars between the new countries which also bred long-lasting rivalries and animosities between Spanish-speaking nations which even today hamper efforts to foster greater cooperation between Latin American countries.

We also cannot avoid the racial aspect. This presents some uncomfortable facts and, in a way, does not paint a very good picture for the advocates of racial integration. The Spanish Empire led to the birth of an entirely new ethnic group unseen on such a scale elsewhere, certainly in the British Empire. Although there was always some mixing, for the most part, British colonists kept themselves segregated from the native populations in America, Africa, India or Australia. They also brought over more families (women included) to their New World colonies. The Spanish, largely, did not do this and the Spanish settlers who did come had no hesitation about mixing with the natives. The result was the mestizo ethnicity, originally a half-European, half-native mix but with the native becoming more dominant over time due to their greater numbers. This ethnic group is by far the dominant majority in Latin America and they tend to more closely identify with their native roots than their Spanish ancestry. This has led to some exaggerated nostalgia for the pre-Columbian civilizations in addition to the lingering hostility toward Spain. Again, this hostility is misdirected.

Spain is often criticized for the destruction of the native civilizations of Latin America such as the Incas and the Aztecs, with the Aztecs probably being the most famous. This is unfair, to some extent at least, for two basic reasons. In the first place, one cannot blame an entire nation for the misdeeds of a few. It is also often forgotten that, when Columbus was first dispatched on his famous voyage of discovery, Queen Isabella was adamant that the natives not be enslaved or mistreated but were to be regarded as free peoples “for as such they are”. It is also often forgotten that, initially, such as in Mexico with the Aztecs, the Spanish tried to work through the native leadership. Contrary to popular belief, Montezuma II was not the last Aztec emperor, nor was he even the next-to-the-last. It is also true that the Spanish did not arrive in the New World and immediately carry out a campaign of genocide to wipe out the native people. The vast majority of natives who died did so as a result of disease. Was it the Spanish who brought these new diseases? Yes, but it was inadvertent and the spreading of disease was something even Europeans didn’t fully understand at the time.

Finally, there is the most politically incorrect aspect of Spanish imperialism which was the much lamented destruction of native cultures. Take the Aztecs, again, as an example. I may be mad but I fail to see how this was a bad thing. Although the Aztec civilization was highly advanced in many ways it was also an extremely brutal civilization that practiced mass human sacrifice. They were also brutal in their treatment of conquered peoples which is why so many non-Aztec natives were so willing to ally with the Spanish against their Aztec overlords. Today it has become fashionable to shrug off the human sacrifices as not being terribly important. Unfortunately, it WAS very important. It was the dominant feature of their religion and a constant occurrence. The Aztecs believed people had to be sacrificed just to make the sun rise every morning. The destruction of a civilization like that, even if not always done for entirely pure reasons, was hardly a loss to the world. Although every people everywhere will always have their good points and their faults, whether it is the Spanish and the Aztecs, the British and the Thugee of India or the Romans and the Carthaginians, we should not permit the recent trend of moral relativism to condemn people for putting a stop to clearly vicious and barbaric practices.

The fact is that the Spanish Empire led to the development of a huge part of the world and had it remained intact longer all Spanish-speaking countries would probably be better off. Whole countries, populations and ethnic groups today would not exist at all were it not for the Spanish Empire and it was more far reaching and successful than most people realize. There were actually Spanish outposts as far north on the Pacific coast as modern-day British Columbia and although many like to portray the history of the Spanish Empire as an inevitable downward spiral after the death of King Felipe II, it actually revived considerably in the Bourbon era, particularly during the reign of King Carlos III when Spain again fought Great Britain, mostly in the Americas, and achieved all of their goals with the exception of the re-taking of Gibraltar. It is also worth remembering that the Spanish Empire was well established long before the first pilgrim fathers ever set foot on the shores of Massachusetts and that New Spain was the most advanced center of learning and technology in all of North America virtually right up to the time of its fall. In North America, the very first universities, medical schools, printing presses and so on were all established in the Spanish colonies.

Far from being blamed, Spain should be credited with the large and advanced empire she built. Where Spain can be blamed to some extent is in allowing it to collapse through a failure in keeping order at home. The Napoleonic invasion was traumatic enough but King Fernando VII did himself no favors with his erratic changes in policy and tinkering with the established rules of succession. After his death the Carlist wars plunged Spain into a very, very long period of internal conflict that prevented them from properly defending her colonies from rebel forces or retaking those colonies when it was still possible to do so. By the time the remnant of the empire was finished off by the United States in the Spanish-American War, Spain was left with only a few minor footholds on the coast of Africa and even then they were still not finished fighting each other until Franco got everyone opposed to the republic on one side (finally) and killed the communist revolutionary beast (yes, with a little help from Hitler and a lot of help from Mussolini, we know, we know…) and even after his decades in power he still didn’t manage to get everyone on the same page. So, from instability in Spain to the influence of revolutionary Freemasonry and intervention from foreign powers, there is blame to go around in determining what brought down the Spanish empire. However, most countries were much better off under the Crown of Spain than they have been since independence and they would be well advised to put past grudges behind them and come to a new understanding with their fellow Spanish-speaking peoples.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Monarchist Profile: Jose Maria Gutierrez de Estrada

Jose Maria Gutierrez de Estrada was probably the most prominent Mexican monarchist of the era after the establishment of the republic who was never a military commander. His position was entirely a diplomatic one and yet few if any other Mexican did more to bring about the reestablishment of monarchy in Mexico under the doomed Hapsburg Archduke Maximilian. He was born in 1800 in San Francisco de Campeche in the Captaincy General of Yucatan. Coming from a well-to-do family he was sent to Mexico City for the best possible education and though few today might realize it, in the Spanish colonial period, New Spain (mostly modern day Mexico) was by far the most well established educational center in North America. As a young man he lived through all of the traumatic events that ultimately led to the independence of Mexico in 1821, the short lived empire of Iturbide and finally the establishment of the republic under President Guadalupe Victoria. By that time his intelligence gained him some notice and he was dispatched by the President on the first Mexican diplomatic mission to Europe which was led by Don Lucas Alaman (another noted Mexican monarchist) to establish friendly relations, first with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

General Santa Anna
However, Gutierrez’ early diplomatic work was cut short by poor health that would plague him throughout his life and he had to take some time off to recover. During that interval he married, well -as was expected, to the sister of the Conde de la Cortina. In 1831 he was elected Senator for his home state of Yucatan on the centralist party ticket. At the time, republican politics were divided into two camps; the federalists who wanted greater autonomy for the states and centralists who wanted a stronger central government in Mexico City. This was a bitter struggle which in many cases led to civil war and was at least partly responsible for the short but costly war that saw Mexico lose Texas in 1836. However, Gutierrez managed to survive it all with his reputation intact, gaining fame as a writer and making many friends in high places in Mexico City. Like many conservatives he allied, for a time, with General-turned-President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna who appointed him Secretary of the Interior in 1835; the highest political office he would achieve in his career. In did not last long though as that same year Santa Anna set off to personally crush the rebellion in Texas where he went down to defeat, capture and exile.

Like many, all of this had an impact on the worldview of Gutierrez de Estrada. The United States was expanding and growing more powerful. Gutierrez advised strengthening Mexico’s position by becoming more closely allied with the nations of Europe and Central America. However, no long-term policy was ever possible because of the chronic instability in Mexico City. No government could ever get much done since, no sooner had one strongman gained the presidency than he was overthrown by another and so on and so on in seemingly endless succession. Gutierrez felt this particularly when he was sent as ambassador to Great Britain to prevent the British from recognizing the Republic of Texas and to oppose American annexation of Texas (the event which ultimately sparked the disastrous Mexican-American War). However, Gutierrez was unable to get anywhere in this mission because he had barely arrived in Britain when the government that sent him was overthrown and replaced by another. The conservative President Anastasio Bustamante offered him the position of Foreign Minister but Gutierrez turned it down, being thoroughly disgusted with the state of affairs in Mexico and convinced that only a firmly established monarchy could save his country from the chaos of republicanism.

Gutierrez made no secret of his opinion that monarchy was the answer for the ills of Mexico and this made him a primary target of republicans and the liberal party. He was forced to leave the country in 1842 but had at least for a time the backing of the government of Generalissimo Santa Anna which charged him with inquiring amongst the courts of Europe about importing a prince to restore the monarchy in Mexico. This Gutierrez did with zeal. He wrote constant letters to anyone and everyone about how republicanism had brought anarchy that was stagnating all progress in Mexico, how bandits ruled the countryside while the powerful fought over the presidency and how the rising liberal party was despoiling the Church. He met with Prince Metternich in Austria and King Louis Philippe in France, both of whom expressed some interest in his plan but took no action. The revolutions of 1848 also proved to be a major problem as every royal house in Europe was forced to look to their own survival and forget any idea of overseas adventures. Nonetheless, Gutierrez was nothing if not persistent. He joined forces with other monarchist expatriates such as Jose Hidalgo in making the case, but none were as passionate as Gutierrez who sometimes put people off with his emotional intensity. Hidalgo may have been the most charming but Gutierrez was doubtlessly the most zealous.

He had, during his many years of exile lobbying, suggested numerous princes for the Mexican throne, one of them being the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian. When the French Emperor Napoleon III finally came around to the idea, he enlisted Gutierrez in persuading the young Hapsburg to accept the Mexican Crown. This Gutierrez did with his usual determination, pleading, promising and impressing upon the Archduke that he was the only man who could save Mexico from total ruin and disaster. With the victory of the liberal party in Mexico Gutierrez was joined by other Mexican monarchists such as the venerable General Juan Almonte who joined in the chorus. When Maximilian at last let it be known that he would consent it was Jose Maria Gutierrez de Estrada that spoke for the Mexican delegation that came to Miramar to formally offer him the throne. His words were intense and powerful:

“Prince: The powerful hand of a generous monarch [referring to Napoleon III] had hardly restored liberty to the Mexican nation, when he dispatched us to Your Imperial Highness … Without you, Prince -believe it from these lips which have never yet served the purpose of flattery- without you, all our efforts to save the country will be in vain … May it please Your Imperial Highness to fulfill our prayers and accept our choice. May we be enabled to carry the joyous tidings to a country awaiting them in longing anxiety.

“These are the sentiments which in the name of our grateful country we lay at the feet of Your Imperial Highness. We offer them to the worthy scion of that powerful dynasty which planted Christianity on our native soil. On that soil, Prince, we hope to see you fulfill a high task, to mature the choicest fruits of culture, which are order and true liberty. The task us great, but greater is our confidence in Providence.”

Gutierrez offers Maximilian the Crown of Mexico

As we know, Maximilian said he would accept if a referendum showed that the Mexican people truly desired him and this the French forces quickly organized. Once that was done Gutierrez again led the formal delegation in offering Maximilian the crown, which he finally accepted. Gutierrez was the first to drop to his knees, take the hand of the Archduke and shout, “God save His Majesty Maximilian I! God save Her Majesty Charlotte, Empress of Mexico!” The others quickly joined in the cheer. On their way to Mexico the Imperial couple stopped in at Rome to call on Pope Pius IX and stayed at the palace which was Gutierrez’ home in exile. When the Pontiff returned the visit Gutierrez had tears running down his face as Pius IX stepped inside his home. The loyal Mexican did not accompany his new sovereign back to his homeland, saying that with the establishment of the monarchy the great work of his life was accomplished and that he wished to retire.

Emperor Maximilian still named him as his personal representative to the courts of Europe. However, the ever more reactionary Gutierrez was sometimes disturbed by the news that reached him from Mexico. Like many in the staunchly conservative camp, he was inclined to believe that Maximilian was being far too soft on his republican enemies and did not go far enough in restoring the preeminent position of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Nonetheless, he was confident that he had done all he could do and that the future of Mexico would be brighter for his many years of effort. Because of that it is, perhaps, fortunate that he did not live to see the monarchy he worked so hard to restore come crashing down. Jose Maria Gutierrez de Estrada passed away in Paris in 1867, shortly become the Second Mexican Empire came to an end and Emperor Maximilian met his own tragic fate.
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