Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Favorite Hapsburg Emperors

I - Emperor Charles V: Charles V was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. His coronation by Pope Clement VII in Bologna in 1530 was the last ceremony of its kind to date. As the ruler of the lands around Austria, the Low Countries and Spain, with new explorations claiming territory in the Americas, his was the first empire upon which it was said that the sun never set. He was also a man beset by enemies but had a level of determination up to the task, fighting Protestant rebels in Germany, the French in northern Italy and the Turks in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. In 1525 he won a great victory of France at Pavia, after which the King of France and the Pope allied against him. Charles later made peace with the Protestants, captured Tunis in North Africa, reformed the law code, defeated a French attack on the Low Countries and sent Magellan on his historic voyage of circumnavigation. In 1556 he abdicated and retired to a life of prayer.

II - Empress Maria Theresa: After inheriting the throne of her father in 1740, Empress Maria Theresa was immediately attacked by a large alliance of nations who meant to prevent her succession including the great Frederick II of Prussia, the finest soldier in Europe. Though she was only 23, she refused to give in or show weakness and put up a spirited struggle, losing some territory but retaining her crown. She restored the Austrian economy by taxing the nobility and lowering taxes on the common people. She reformed the army, improved the legal system and made education available to everyone. Under her rule, the peasants gained their freedom and the right to own their own land. The Empress was a devout and pious Catholic woman and gave refuge to the Society of Jesus when others (even her own son) exiled them. In 1772 she gained territory for Austria in the first partition of Poland, perhaps the only regrettable decision she ever made.

III - Emperor Joseph II: Elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1765, Joseph II was an “Enlightened Despot” in every sense of the word. He was ambitious, not very personally charming, autocratic and at the same time extremely forward thinking. He was the first to grant (limited) freedom of religion in the Hapsburg lands, freed the serfs and tried to enforce German as the official common language of the empire. His dream was to make the Hapsburg Empire the most powerful in Europe, leading to clashes with Prussia and the Turks. Joseph II was a great patron of music, most famously commissioning work from Mozart. He built the first truly public parks and housing for the poor. Because of all he did to improve their lives the common folk adored him, hailing him as the “People’s Emperor”. Unfortunately, he brought religion under state control and so earned the wrath of the clergy and many nobles. Though he heard mass every morning of his life he was suspected of being a skeptic.

IV - Emperor Francis Joseph I: Not the most successful Hapsburg emperor in history by any means, Francis Joseph was nevertheless a monarch who refused to adjust his principles, a good and upright man who always sought to do his duty to the best of his ability and to serve the best interests of his people. He came to the throne in 1848, put down the revolutions and reestablished the House of Hapsburg as the great stabilizing force in central Europe. His personal life was beset by tragedy and the international situation for Austria (later Austria-Hungary) declined after a series of diplomatic and military disasters. Nonetheless, Francis Joseph held things together by his own integrity, work ethic and devotion to duty. The country was also developing rapidly and the prestige of the monarchy remained strong until the onset of the First World War in 1914, a conflict the Emperor had deep concerns over and which he had to be deceived into declaring.

V - Emperor Charles I: Coming to the throne in the midst of World War I in 1916, the new monarch already had a reputation as a brave soldier, devoted husband and father and a sincere man of God. He saw monarchy as a sacred duty and behaved accordingly. The Emperor viewed the alliance with Germany as a prison, distrusted the Germans and devoted himself to extricating Austria-Hungary from the First World War. He showed himself willing to sacrifice considerable territories if only he could gain peace but the Allies proved implacable. He agreed to reorganizing the Hapsburg empire into a confederation of autonomous national states but was never allowed the time to carry out such a plan. When the end came in 1918 he bowed to the inevitable but refused to abdicate, viewing such a thing as a renunciation of his responsibility to God. After being forced into exile he tried twice to regain his Hungarian throne but was loathe to shed the blood of his own people.

Not so favorites: Emperor Ferdinand I for not taking religion more into account and his son Maximilian II for not making up his mind on which faith he wanted to follow and, yes, Joseph II -who makes my best and worst lists at the same time for his needless religious antagonism.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What Is So Special About The Hapsburgs?

The Imperial House of Hapsburg, later the Imperial and Royal House of Hapsburg-Lorraine, occupies a giant place in world history. This is no exaggeration as there have been relatively few regions of the world in which the House of Hapsburg did not play some part in the past. Over the centuries members of this august and noble family have provided Archdukes of Austria, Holy Roman Emperors, Kings of Spain, Kings of Hungary, Kings of Bohemia, Emperors of Austria and even one Emperor of Mexico and one (nominal) King of England. Countries as diverse as Spain, Belgium and Austria reached their “Golden Ages” under Hapsburg rule. The name of the family originates from a castle in what is now Switzerland called Habsburg, which was the center of power for the family until 1276 when Rudolph of Hapsburg became Archduke of Austria, a title his family would hold from that time forward. In 1452 the Hapsburgs finally achieved the highest temporal place in Christendom when Frederick III was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Nicholas V, cementing the leading place the family had played in Germany and northern Italy for some time prior. Hapsburg power and influence expanded rapidly.

Although the ranks of the Hapsburgs included many able soldiers and sailors, most of the expansion of the family was not accomplished by conquest but by matrimonial alliances. This gave rise to the saying that, “Others make war, but thou, O happy Austria, only marry”. It may have been a slight exaggeration but for the most part this was true. Duke Albert V brought Bohemia and Hungary into the Hapsburg fold by marrying Elisabeth of Luxembourg, Emperor Maximilian I gained the Low Countries by marrying Mary of Burgundy and his son, Philip the Fair, married Joanna of Castile which ultimately brought the united Spain into the Hapsburg orbit. This finally united all the Hapsburg domains in the person of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who was also King Carlos I of Spain. His rule stretched over countries in Eastern Europe, Austria and Germany, northern Italy, the Low Countries, Spain and from Spain across the ocean to the New World. It was this Hapsburg empire about which it was first said that ‘the sun never set’.

It was also under Emperor Charles V that the House of Hapsburg first became the great Catholic champions of Europe. It was he who argued with Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms and fought Protestants in Germany, the French in Italy and the Muslims in the Mediterranean. The Hapsburg lands were divided at his abdication between the Spanish and the Austrian territories and it was his son, King Philip II of Spain, who fought the Protestants in France, expanded Spanish influence from Central America to The Philippines, lifted the siege of Malta, stung the Turks at Lepanto and sent his “Invincible Armada” on its doomed voyage against England. Later, in the other Hapsburg domain, it was the Holy Roman Emperors Ferdinand II and Ferdinand III who tried to stop the spread of Protestantism and return the German states entirely to the Catholic Church in the Thirty Years War. This might have been achieved were it not for the intervention of France which resulted in the war ending in a stalemate. The Hapsburg line died out in Spain but continued in Austria though as the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine when the Empress Maria Theresa married the Duke of Lorraine who became Emperor Francis I. Empress Maria Theresa continued the tradition of the Hapsburgs being a bulwark of Catholicism in Eastern Europe at a time of growing skepticism and secularism.

The Spanish Hapsburgs lost The Netherlands in a long war for independence which was also a front for the ongoing conflict between Catholics and Protestants. However, Belgium remained in Hapsburg hands and under the governorship of Infanta Isabella of Spain and Archduke Albert of Austria reached its “Golden Age” in terms of prosperity, art, religion and learning. However, after this period, Hapsburg influence in Germany, particularly northern Germany, began to decline. Still, the Hapsburg court remained world famous. Under Emperor Joseph II there was a turn toward the principles of the “Enlightenment” as well as patronage for some of the greatest musical geniuses of history, most notably Mozart and Beethoven. His policies made him extremely popular with the common people but often quite unpopular with the aristocracy and the clergy. The French Revolution had a dramatic impact on the House of Hapsburg, as it did most every great house in Europe.

The lovely tragic Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, who lost her life on the Paris guillotine was the sister of Emperor Joseph II (daughter of Empress Maria Theresa). Another sister was Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples who was displaced by the French invasion of Italy. After Napoleon Bonaparte ended the French Revolution and began his wars to dominate Europe, one of his most talented battlefield opponents was the Austrian Archduke Charles. When the Frenchman determined to make himself Emperor this brought about the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire with the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor Francis II becoming Emperor Francis I of Austria in 1804. In fact, the Holy Roman Empire had long been a mostly nominal entity for some time prior to that. It was always little more than a confederation of minor German monarchies though under certain emperors it became more centralized and more like a formal German nation-state. However, decentralized power was an old tradition for the Hapsburgs. During their rule of Spain, a great deal of localism remained and there was not a great deal of centralization until after the Spanish Hapsburgs died out and were replaced by the French House of Bourbon. In Austria, there had not been much centralization of power under the Hapsburgs until the reign of Emperor Joseph II.

Francis I, ruler of the Austrian Empire, became related to the parvenu Bonaparte clan when Napoleon married his daughter Marie Louise who became Empress of the French and mother to the future “King of Rome” Napoleon II. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars had also caused a large surge in nationalism and this would have a large impact on the House of Hapsburg which remained the most influential (if not the most powerful) royal family in Germany while also reigning over Czechs, Slovaks, Magyars, Slovenians, Croatians, Italians, Serbs and Romanians among others. In 1815 Emperor Francis I became the first President of the German Confederation, a loose organization of German-speaking states which included mostly lands he did not rule and only those predominately German areas among the lands he did. The German Confederation survived until the reign of Emperor Francis Joseph I, after which it became the German Empire under the leadership of the House of Hohenzollern of the Kingdom of Prussia. The reign of Emperor Francis Joseph I was the twilight of the House of Hapsburg. He came to the throne amidst the tumultuous Revolutions of 1848 which was a near disaster for the Austrian Empire with a rebellion in Hungary being suppressed only with the aid of Russian troops sent by the “Gendarme of Europe” Tsar Nicholas I.

In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, the Austrian statesman Prince Metternich had played a leading role in re-drawing the map of Europe to maintain a balance of powers and uphold legitimate authority. However, as he passed from the scene a series of events worked in concert to upset that balance. Emperor Francis Joseph was a good man and a solid, stable monarch. Nonetheless, he was not immune from making mistakes and at times also faced situations in which he could only choose the lesser of two unfortunate options. Growing unrest in Hungary obliged the Emperor to agree to a dual monarchy in which power was shared between the Germans of Austria and the Magyars of Hungary, hence the Austrian Empire was replaced by the “Dual Empire” of Austria-Hungary in 1867. Politicians cut the military budget, weakening Austria at a time when innovations were changing the nature of war rapidly.

In 1859 Austria allowed herself to be provoked into a war with France which ultimately resulted in the loss of most of the Hapsburg possessions in Italy to the House of Savoy. In 1866 the Hapsburg-led German Confederation opposed the expansion of the Kingdom of Prussia in the north which resulted in a war between Austria and Prussia (and the allies of Prussia including most of the north German states and Italy) which saw Austria pushed out of German politics after which even the Catholic German states of the south moved into the orbit of Prussia. The friendly ties with the massive Russian Empire were ended when Emperor Francis Joseph refused to take sides in the Crimean War (seeing neither side as justified) which caused great offense in Russia in light of the aid they had given the Hapsburgs in maintaining their rule over Hungary. The expansion of Austria-Hungary southward, such as with the annexation of Bosnia, angered the Serbians in particular and soon Austria-Hungary was almost surrounded by powers who viewed her with suspicion if not outright hostility. This, along with the fact that the Austrians were not immune from feelings of nationalism either, meant that Austria-Hungary joined in a firm alliance with the new German Empire that had previously displaced her.

So it was that by the beginning of the XX Century Austria-Hungary was beset by problems. Romania, Serbia and Italy also longed to reclaim historic territories under Hapsburg rule. Russia also wished to block Austrian expansion into the Balkans at the expense of Slavic peoples and the division of power with Hungary caused other minorities within the Hapsburg realm to demand the same for their particular group. Nonetheless, Austria-Hungary was not, as some like to claim, a feeble patchwork doomed to inevitable collapse. In military terms, Austria-Hungary could mobilize three million troops and had some of the finest, most state-of-the-art artillery in the world. The brightest lights in art, architecture, music, medicine and other sciences still called Vienna home and industry was growing, railroads were expanding and the economic situation was strengthening. Between 1870 and 1913 the per capita GNP of Austria-Hungary grew at a higher rate than Great Britain, France of even Germany. Internal problems were a major concern, but there were many ideas for new models being considered and discussed, from changing from “dualism” to “trialism” to creating a federal “United States of Greater Austria”. Had it not been for the disaster that was the First World War the Hapsburg Empire may well have continued on, adapting when necessary, as it had for centuries.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. Despite the last-ditch efforts of the last Emperor Charles I (later beatified as Blessed Charles I by Pope John Paul II) the alliance with Germany proved impossible to withdraw from and while Germany did well Austria-Hungary survived, the final defeat of Germany and the other Central Powers meant the total dissolution of the Hapsburg empire. Austria was reduced to a small, landlocked state, deprived of the ability to unite with Germany, Hungary was drastically reduced in size, Czechoslovakia was created, Yugoslavia was created (eventually) and other bits of territory were parceled out to Poland, Italy, Romania with most going to Serbia to create Yugoslavia. It was a dark time for the House of Hapsburg but, for a time, there was some hope for a restoration. Two attempts were made to restore Charles to the throne of Hungary but these ran afoul of the regent, Admiral Horthy, who would not give up power. The Allies also remained inexplicably hostile to a Hapsburg restoration. The last Emperor died and the family legacy was left to his son Archduke Otto. After the “Fatherland Front” came to power in Austria there was again talk of a restoration of the Hapsburg throne but the Nazis moved in to occupy and later annex Austria to prevent this from happening.

HIRH Archduke Otto von Hapsburg was an inveterate enemy of the Nazi regime and would remain opposed to nationalist movements throughout his life. After seeing so many of the countries that would have been part of his empire fall under communist rule, the Archduke became a leading advocate of European unity and the pan-European movement. A respected scholar and statesman, in a move whose circumstances he later expressed regret over, the Archduke renounced his claim to the Hapsburg throne in order to be involved on the political scene and he had an illustrious career as a member of the European Parliament. Such an effort could hardly have a better champion than a member of the House of Hapsburg since there is scarcely a country in Europe the family was not associated with to some degree at some point in history. Today the cosmopolitan nature of the family continues with different members of the Hapsburg family being socially or politically involved in numerous countries of the former Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. They occupy a unique place in world history and European history in particular. Their impact on the world, over the many centuries they held power, was significant to say the very least.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Historic Day for Monarchy

There must be something about the 29th day of May. It was on this day in 1328 that Philippe VI was crowned King of France, in 1453 that the city of Constantinople, defended by the last East Roman Emperor Constantine XI, fell to the forces of Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, in 1660 that King Charles II of Great Britain was restored to his rightful throne (Oak Apple Day), in 1727 that Peter II became Tsar of Russia and in 1864 that the chosen Emperor Maximilian first set foot on Mexican soil. It was also on this day in 1867 that the compromise was signed which converted the Austrian Empire into the “dual monarchy” of Austria-Hungary.

Favorite Royal Images: The Restored King

Not actually a part of my "favorites" album previously, but it is Oak Apple Day and King Charles II deserves some recognition. According to the law:
"Parliament had ordered the 29 of May, the King's birthday, to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King's return to his Government, he entering London that day".
Since we recently read about what a horror show was done away with by the return of the exiled Stuart king, I am sure everyone would join in celebrating this special holiday, grateful for the humane and dignified leadership of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen in stark contrast to the vicious, corrupt and juvenile creatures who occupy the realms of elected office. A Happy Oak Apple Day to all!
Death to the usurpers!
Death to all enemies of the Crown!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Enemy of Monarchy: Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell occupied a very unique place in British history and, of course, English history in particular. He was never very well liked (to put it mildly) in Scotland or Ireland but in England, although he was far from universally popular by the end of his life, even today many still admire him. He was undoubtedly a gifted military leader, a man of strength and determination. Most of those today who admire Cromwell, however, do not admire him as a great English general, oh no -they admire him because he’s the man who killed a king, brought down the monarchy and is to date the only non-royal to ever hold the highest seat in the land over England, Scotland and Ireland. They admire him for being the only successful republican (so far) in English history and tend to sweep any other details about the man safely under the rug. One could find amongst those sweepings the fact that Cromwell was also a megalomaniac religious fanatic, a military dictator and a mass murderer on a scale that is (fortunately) unique in the British Isles. This man was no champion of liberty as anyone today or even then would understand it and in his career illustrates that absolute tyranny is the inevitable result of an overthrow of monarchy. There was truly never a more depressing period of British history than during the rule of Oliver Cromwell.

Cromwell was born on April 25, 1599 in Huntingdon into the landed gentry, most known for being related to the Tudor statesman Thomas Cromwell who was beheaded by King Henry VIII for presenting him with an unsuitable wife. Oliver Cromwell was generally a failure as a youth, known for getting into trouble and being rather petulant and arrogant. When a local dispute went against him, he sold off his property and moved away in a huff and fell in with a radical religious crowd. Down on his luck, despised by many of his neighbors, his arrogance convinced him that these religious extremists were right and that he was one of the chosen “elect” destined to purify his country of all he considered evil. He muddled on through life, becoming a zealous Puritan but remaining a failure at pretty much everything else he pursued in life, including efforts at furthering his education which came to nothing. He did, however, manage to land a beneficial marriage that provided him with new properties, a great many children and new contacts in the growing merchant community. This crowd tended to be very wealthy, very religious (in the Puritanical, ‘we are the elect of God because we’re rich’ way of thinking) and very opposed to any authority beyond themselves and their own bottom lines.

In his life thus far, Cromwell had been a depressed, unsuccessful loser on just about every level. However, once he inherited some valuable property from a late uncle and made an advantageous marriage, everything seemed to turn around. He became wealthier, more prominent and easily fit in to the Puritan crowd that deemed wealth and prosperity as a sure sign of divine favor. This did not mean that his abilities increased though and even when he was first elected to the House of Commons in 1628 (through the influence of powerful friends) he was a lackluster politician. Still, he spent his time in Parliament working for his own advancement, forging alliances with those inclined toward his religious and political views; specifically to restrict the power of the monarchy, press for religious “toleration” (for those Protestants who dissented from the established Church of England) and to abolish bishops. Of course, he opposed King Charles I who stood for everything that he, and the powerful elite who supported Cromwell, most opposed. They wanted a more Puritanical Church of England, the King wanted more elaborate and traditional forms of worship. They wanted more power for Parliament (which they could easily dominate -it was a very restricted franchise in those days), the King believed in absolute monarchy. The King wanted to have bishops in Scotland as well as England, they wanted to keep them out of Scotland and even hoped to get rid of them in England. They also adamantly opposed the efforts of the King to raise money to carry out the duties entrusted to him as monarch because the taxes levied by the King would fall most on the shoulders of these wealthy businessmen.

When civil war broke out between the King and Parliament, Cromwell was a nonentity with his only military service being a brief stint in the local county militia. However, his inheritance, marriage and business contacts had brought him some money and he was able to purchase himself a command. He gained some notice for what amounted to simple banditry but missed out on the major early engagements. However, he began to build his career in a number of mostly minor actions and he proved to be a quick learner and to have a natural military talent. He finally gained genuine fame for his part in the battle of Marston Moor in 1644 which won the Parliamentarians a dominant place in northern England. During his service he showed himself to have a natural military talent but also a great deal of arrogance, self-righteousness and, what we might call, an inability to work well with others. However, his superiors were thwarted by the fact that Cromwell and his motley army of Protestant dissenters won battles and through victory his star began to rise. After a number of changes, Cromwell came to dominate the military forces of Parliament and he reorganized them to create the famous “New Model Army”.

Cromwell was an arrogant and self-righteous commander but, it must be said, also a naturally talented if authoritarian one. He forbid looting, swearing and generally all “ungodly” behavior and also took care of the logistical side of war, drawing on the funds provided by the wealthy merchant class who made up the backbone of Parliamentarian support, to ensure that his men were the best armed, the best equipped and paid in a timely fashion. He also emphasized discipline, often an extremely harsh discipline, and rigorous drill and training until his New Model Army was the best in the British Isles. His was the first really large professional army in British history and, incidentally, the first to wear red uniforms (it was the cheapest color available). He played a critical role in the crushing Parliamentary victory at the battle of Naseby in 1645 and won a number of smaller victories afterwards, gaining a reputation for natural military talent and, for the first time, ruthlessness against his enemies. He played a large part in bringing the First Civil War to a successful conclusion for Parliament, though he was often at odds with the political leadership, the anti-royalist factions lacking much real unity.

When the Second Civil War broke out, Cromwell won some minor victories in Wales before achieving a stunning victory over a much greater Scottish army fighting on behalf of the King as the Scots had begun to fear that the forces of Parliament would be an even greater terror to their cause than the King had been. It was during this time that Cromwell really seemed to develop a ‘Messiah complex’, quoting obscure Biblical passages and preaching about himself and his men as the instruments of God and the true “chosen people”. Just as health, wealth and prosperity was taken by many Puritans as signs of divine favor and that one was a member of the “elect”, so Cromwell believed that his victories had proven that God was on his side. Thus, the King and the royalists were not only political enemies in the mind of the increasingly fanatic general, but also enemies of God to whom no mercy should be shown. When the Scots were defeated and the King was handed over to Parliament for “trial”, Cromwell made sure that there would be nothing at all fair or just about the proceedings, vowing from the beginning to see his monarch killed. Cromwell and his troops occupied London and physically prevented any members of Parliament suspected of opposing their wish to see their monarch murdered from taking their seats. It was a show trial by any standard of judgment but this made no difference to Cromwell who believed himself to be the instrument of God, and the wrathful Old Testament God at that. He signed the death warrant and King Charles I met the death of a martyr on January 30, 1649.

Cromwell used his military command to advance his political power and despite all of his previous grand talk about the rights of the people, ruthlessly suppressed all those in his ranks who supported the idea of popular sovereignty. Cromwell was determined that only the elites, such as himself, would be able to vote or hold office in the new republican Britain. Anyone who dissented from this was promptly shot and Cromwell had many of his own men massacred for refusing to follow his political wishes. However, even more brutality was to come when the royalists reorganized themselves in alliance with the Confederates of Ireland. This joint threat of both English royalists and Irish Catholics represented the very worst fears of Cromwell brought to life and embodied everything he most despised: Catholicism and monarchy. In his mind, the two were practically inseparable for he blamed the Catholic Church, with its hierarchy and high ceremony, as being responsible for the rise of absolute monarchies in the first place. And, intolerant enough among his own countrymen, Irish Catholics making common cause with the royalists could expect no mercy at the hands of Cromwell.

In August of 1649 Cromwell and his formidable army landed at Dublin and in September stormed the Catholic and royalist stronghold of Drogheda. The result was one of the worst atrocities in Irish history. Cromwell captured the place, having his enemy outnumbered by about 4 to 1 and the proceeded to execute those who had surrendered and massacre innocent civilians. Cromwell himself had ordered that no prisoners be taken and his troops vandalized churches and butchered women and children in a show of just how truly “equal” all were in this new version of the British Isles without a king. Despite the efforts of his apologists to cover up or explain away the atrocity, the massacre of Drogheda was seared into the Irish Catholic consciousness and has never been forgotten. After three days of slaughter only 30 men out of 3,000 were left alive and no one could count the number of women and children. As Cromwell and his seemingly unstoppable army advanced across the island they left a trail of atrocities behind them; 2,000 men and 1,500 helpless civilians were killed in Wexford, including 300 women who had taken shelter beneath the Celtic high cross in the town marketplace. After eight months Ireland was subdued and was brought under the most brutal occupation in her history thanks to the first republican leader of the British Isles with many tens of thousands more being killed, driven off their land and starved to death or sold into slavery.

Cromwell could not tarry long in Ireland though for he soon learned that the young King Charles II had landed in Scotland and was rallying the disaffected Scots to his side in a bid to restore the legitimate monarchy. Cromwell rushed to meet them in May of 1650, showing much greater mercy to the predominately Protestant Scots, though he was still arrogantly condescending toward them, viewing them as good God fearing people, but essentially simple-minded fools easily led astray. He smashed the Scottish army at the battle of Dunbar, occupied Edinburgh and finished them off at the battle of Worcester. He was not as brutal as he had been in Ireland, but captured men fighting on the royalist side could still expect to be sold into slavery in the New World. At Dundee his forces carried out another massacre and under his tyrannical rule Scotland was permanently occupied by an English army to ensure that none might regret turning against their King and wish for the House of Stuart to return.

Cromwell returned to England as the military dictator of the whole of the British Isles, the only non-royal to ever have the highest seat in the land and the only man of any kind to ever hold total, absolute and arbitrary power over the three kingdoms. Many may have come to regret their decision to betray the King, abolish their ancient monarchy and entrust themselves to the power of the mightiest sword. Despite all of their hypocritical preaching about rights and limits to power and the sacrosanct nature of Parliament, Cromwell proved even less tolerant of that body than the King when it refused to bow to his wishes. He brought soldiers in to secure Westminster and evict the members, saying to them, “You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” After that, Cromwell ruled the British Isles himself as a military dictator, the three kingdoms divided up into districts under the authority of a local army officer. He did not rule for long, only about five years as “Lord Protector” of the Commonwealth but it was five years that left a very lasting impression on Great Britain and Ireland.

There is not much that needs to be said about the five years that Cromwell and his Puritan military dictatorship ruled the British Isles. Most people have heard about what it was like, even if they do not take it very seriously these days. Some may even think the stories are exaggerated. They are not. To be fair, there was religious tolerance of a kind under Cromwell; Protestant dissidents were of course given freedom of religion, the Jews were allowed back in England with freedom of religion all privately of course yet even Anglicans were persecuted, as were Catholics. This was because, according to the tastes of Puritans like Cromwell, even the Presbyterians were “too Catholic”. The British Isles had never known such a restrictive, totalitarian state as during those years when there was no king on the throne. Yes, it is true, Christmas was indeed banned. The theatres which were so famous were closed (yes, Cromwell is the Englishman who banned Shakespeare) and there was to be no dancing, no playing cards, no drunkenness, no flashy clothes, just dour, silent, miserable republican Puritanism. Those who cry for individual liberty and a libertarian society might be surprised to know that in English history prior to Cromwell, even under the “divine right” absolutists of the House of Stuart, casinos, brothels and bear-baiting were all perfectly legal.

The people no more approved the taxes of Cromwell than they had those of the King. Parliament even tried at one point to make Cromwell the king -specifically because the powers of a King were limited by tradition whereas a “Lord Protector” was absolute and arbitrary. However, the army would have none of that and Cromwell remained a dictator rather than a monarch. Remember that after the death of the King, Parliament had abolished the monarchy on the grounds that having any king at all was burdensome, unnecessary and dangerous, even to the point of trying to remove the word “king” from the English dictionary. Only a few years later the Parliament tried to push a crown on Oliver Cromwell in a desperate attempt to limit his harsh and arbitrary rule. What a difference a few years of republicanism makes. Whereas the King had been bound by ancient tradition, Cromwell ruled by might with no checks on his powers at all. Whereas the King had been opposed for trying to raise money to fight the Scots, Cromwell extracted far greater sums to wage his wars of subjugation against Scotland and Ireland as well as his vindictive wars throughout his time in office to eliminate Dutch commercial competition and punish the House of Orange for the sympathy they gave their Stuart relatives.

The rule of Cromwell and his generals was so oppressive and odious, banning gambling, horse racing, play acting, swearing and even closing down the pubs that the public was desperately unhappy and longed for the return of the monarchy like the sinner longs for salvation. When Cromwell died of malaria on May 3, 1658 his republican regime, for all intents and purposes, died with him. His son briefly tried to succeed him but the people had had quite enough of Puritan tyranny and soon King Charles II was back on the throne of his father, the monarchy restored and “Merry England” along with it. In subsequent English history there have been rebellions and even one “Glorious Revolution” but Cromwell and his tyrannical rule left such a bitter taste in the mouths of the ordinary people that the country has never been without a monarch ever since. The fact that some now contemplate such an idea proves that the true horrors of Cromwell have begun to be forgotten. That is, forgotten or simply hidden.

Today, it seems, when every aberration is tolerated, Cromwell has become a nostalgic figure in some circles. Indeed, many people far and wide across the English-speaking world regard him as a “great man”, one of the masterful captains of history, even a champion of freedom, which truly makes about as much sense as saying Adolf Hitler was a civil rights pioneer. There can be no denying that Cromwell had some immense talents, although they were decidedly hidden for most of his life. He was a natural and gifted military leader and on the battlefield had accomplished what no King ever had; the total subjugation of the whole of the British Isles under his rule. However, his campaigns were brutal bloodbaths driven by religious fanaticism. His power was based solely on the barrel of a musket and the point of a pike. No King ever had or ever would have as much pure, arbitrary power as Cromwell exercised and no King had or would butcher and tyrannize his own people as Cromwell did. Monarchists should be familiar with his record and make it known to republicans today who ignorantly think their situation would be bound to improve if the monarchy was done away with. Learn from history, Britain tried that and the result was not more freedom; it was less. The result was not a more accountable government but a totally unaccountable one. The result was not a classless society but a tyranny by the armed over the unarmed and the most oppressive political dictatorship in British history. Cromwell was no hero, he was without question the most harmful ruler the British Isles have ever had.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Royal News Roundup

In Southeast Asia, HM the King of Thailand, who has been in frail health for some time, was considered strong enough by his doctors to travel outside Bangkok for the first time since 2009. The 84-year-old monarch left the city by car to visit Ayutthaya and pay his respects to the 16th-century Thai heroine Queen Suriyothai who famously sacrificed her life in defense of her husband during a time of internal turmoil and a Burmese invasion. The King also inspected new irrigation projects, received a gift of land from the family of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and was treated to a folk dance spectacle before returning to the hospital in Bangkok. In the Middle East, the Emir of Qatar called on the State of Israel to “take a positive step in favor of peace and coexistence” and not to bet on leaders against their people. It is believed this was a reference to Israeli concerns over the possible toppling of the Syrian government. Meanwhile, in Paris this week, HM Queen Rania of Jordan spoke at the OECD Forum 2012 about the economic and social challenges rising from the global economic crisis. And, Prince Abdul Aziz, third son of HM King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is suing the city of Los Angeles, California to build a ‘mega-mansion’ opposed by the local neighbors. One resident likened it to “building a Wal-Mart in our neighborhood”. Oh, the horror.

On the southern European front, TM King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain recently marked 50 years of marriage but, alas, there were no large celebrations for the occasions and rumors have been running thick about alleged infidelities on the part of the King and an increasingly isolated Queen Sofia, only exacerbated by the decision of the government to forbid her to attend the Jubilee celebrations in London. The speculation revolves around the 46-year-old German businesswoman Princess Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein who was reportedly “shocked” by the allegations of an affair with the King and who has now left Spain for the Principality of Monaco. And speaking of Monaco, Charlotte Casiraghi now seems to be trying to keep her distance from her new role as the “face” of Gucci. According to a French celebrity journalist known for keeping up with the Casiraghi crowd, Charlotte is too intelligent to wish to be known as a model and accepted the job offer simply as a way to help finance her quite expensive hobby of equestrian competition. It was also announced this week that Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco have filed a £ 300,000 lawsuit against the Sunday Times for libel after the paper printed stories claiming that the Prince had turned a blind eye to rampant corruption in Monaco and had basically bribed Princess Charlene into marrying him. The Princely couple are seeking compensation for the damage done to their reputation and that of their country as well as an injunction against repeating such lurid gossip. I hope they succeed.

The Scandinavian royals have had a busy week. In Denmark the firstborn daughter of TRH Prince Joachim and Princess Marie was formally christened Princess Athena Marguerite Francoise Marie at the start of this week. Across the Baltic in Sweden, royals gathered for the christening of Princess Estelle, daughter of Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel. Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Crown Princess Maxima of The Netherlands, both experienced in such matters, were in attendance. The proud mother was overcome with emotion at the baptism and later the family all posed for some special portraits with the latest edition to the Swedish Royal Family.

The Dominion of Canada has been ever-present in royal news this week. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall began a visit to Canada on Monday and on Wednesday, as part of the Jubilee celebrations, members of the world famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police took the place of the usual Queen’s Life Guard in standing watch outside Buckingham Palace. A senior member of the British Household Cavalry had gone to Canada some time ago to familiarize the Mounties with the ceremony and procedures of the changing of the guard and standing guard at the palace. The broad Stetsons were quite a change from the usual plumed helmets, but the 15 Mounties carried out every move flawlessly and were quite impressive. This was the first time that a civilian non-British security force has ever guarded the Queen. The special relationship between the Royal Family and the famed Mounties goes back to the reign of King Edward VII who, in 1904, granted them the prefix of “Royal” to their name.

HM the Queen attended the Chelsea Flower show this week. Deputy Prime Minister and chief twerp Nick Clegg (one of the two teenagers running the British government these days) also said this week that a firstborn daughter to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge would become queen, even if sons were forthcoming, saying that the proposed changes to the succession were already effectively in place. He said it really didn’t matter that there has been no actual legislation passed on the subject as of yet (why let a little thing like that get in the way?) and that since the meeting in Australia, all had been decided. Other Commonwealth Realms have yet to pass legislation changing the rules of succession as well and there is some concern that, particularly in Australia, republicans may take advantage of the occasion to try to abolish the Australian monarchy altogether.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Consort Profile: Queen Marie Jose of Belgium

The woman who would become the last Queen of Italy, the “May Queen” was born HRH Princess Marie Jose Charlotte Sophie Amelie Henriette Gabrielle of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha on August 4, 1906 in Ostend to Their Majesties King Albert I of Belgium and Queen Elisabeth, Duchess of Bavaria, the youngest of three children born to the Belgian royal couple. To a large extent, much of the course of her life was set by the German invasion of Belgium in 1914 at the start of the First World War. Princess Marie-Jose, only eight-years-old at the time, was sent to school in the relative safety of England while her parents stayed at the front where the Belgian army tenaciously held on to the last unconquered corner of their country. The little princess would regularly go and visit and her parents, while careful of her safety, made no effort to shield the little princess from the hard facts of reality. Even at the age of 12 she was helping her mother the Queen in the field hospital making bandages for the wounded soldiers. The war impacted Princess Marie-Jose in a number of ways. It cemented her idolization of her father as the heroic King who stood firm for the independence of his country in the face of overwhelming odds, it embedded in her a lifelong distrust of Germany and it narrowed the possibilities for who her future husband might be. Belgium and Italy were the only Catholic monarchies on the Allied side and, after the war, about the only Catholic kingdoms left at all. So, while she was still very young it was decided that the Princess would one day marry the Savoy heir-to-the-throne HRH Prince Umberto of Piedmont.

World War I, and all the horrors and ugliness associated with it, may also have helped instill in Princess Marie-Jose a greater love for the opposite; for beauty, beautiful art, beautiful music, for a more liberal world and a total aversion to conflict and bloodshed. With the course of her life set before her, she looked toward the future hoping for the best. The Prince of Piedmont was already known as one of the most handsome young royals in Europe and as Princess Marie Jose grew up she developed a rather unrealistic expectation of the Savoy heir as the perfect prince charming, an image encouraged by those around her. In fact, the two had vastly different backgrounds and upbringings. Princess Marie Jose loved to play with her father as a child and, particularly through the influence of her mother, was given a very liberal education, an appreciation for simplicity, tolerance and new ideas. Prince Umberto, on the other hand, was raised to be a soldier, given a military education, had the glorious family history of the House of Savoy stressed upon him and his duty to carry on that illustrious legacy. Interactions with family were kind but correct and it had not be so long ago that royal children were still required to bow in the presence of their father the King and address him by his royal title. Things were not quite that formal for Umberto but undoubtedly the history, forms and grandeur of the monarchy were stressed much more heavily in Rome than in Brussels. The princess was an informal girl who very much ‘marched to the beat of a different drummer’. When thinking of Italy she most likely envisioned the romantic aspects; the art, the music and the way the ordinary people loved life. She was probably not quite so prepared for the orderly, regimented court and elaborate ceremony of the Savoy monarchy.

The time finally came on January 8, 1930 when the glamorous Belgian Princess was married, in Rome, to her tall and dashing Italian prince. It was a lavish, colorful ceremony, planned to awe and inspire but it was something of an ordeal for the new Princess of Piedmont. She would have preferred something simpler but Prince Umberto, fastidious himself, was determined that the ‘look’ of the event would be one all Italians would always remember. The new couple did have some things in common. They were devoted Catholics, they dreamed of a glorious future for the Italian people and they were both compassionate and good-hearted individuals. Aside from that, there were not many things they shared. For Princess Marie-Jose, the vibrant, outgoing free spirit, there was also the fact that she had married into the Italian Royal Family during the Fascist era and with her background, attitude and character, she clashed with the brutish dictator from the very start. Mussolini disliked everything about her, from the way she spelled her own name (she refused to convert to the Italian version out of nationalism) to how she dressed (Fascists preferred a more dour and matronly appearance) and he certainly didn’t like her ideas on freedom, tolerance and the sort of liberal, artistic people she surrounded herself with. Of course, Princess Marie Jose was just as repelled by everything Mussolini stood for, be it his bombastic, crude manners, his love of war or his fawning friendship with Germany.

Because of this, Princess Marie Jose was not to have the wedded life of her dreams. Her unconventional ways were hard for the Italian Royal Family or her husband to understand and the Fascist press took every opportunity to criticize her and the Prince of Piedmont as well since they regarded him as being insufficiently supportive of the Fascist Party as well. One thing Princess Marie Jose did have in common with her husband was a sincere Catholic faith. She visited St Padre Pio and was very supportive of Church endeavors. Her fashionable ways made her a trend-setter in Roman society, which infuriated the Fascists who did everything they could to smear her reputation. Because no children were immediately forthcoming they accused the Princess of being cold, immoral and having only a “show” marriage. This, of course, was not true and the Prince and Princess of Piedmont eventually had four children. They mocked the Princess for her appearance, accusing her of being unattractive and the absurdity of that can be seen by all simply by looking at her photographs. All of this had to be done subtly and “unofficially” of course because the Italians would not stand for attacks on the Royal Family but the ugly stories the Fascists put out worked their way into society. The Princess was accused of being a “traitor” to Italy when in fact she only opposed the Fascist regime and their aggression. She was always supportive of Italy and always supported the Italian troops that were sent off to war.

Princess Marie Jose served as President of the Italian Red Cross after 1939 and was greatly alarmed by the outbreak of World War II. According to Count Ciano (who also opposed the German alliance) he promised and did tell her when he first he learned of the German plan to invade Belgium so that she might warn her brother King Leopold III, though it did little good. When Italy joined the war, the Princess of Piedmont joined the Queen and other royal ladies in working tirelessly to nurse the wounded and frostbitten soldiers from the front where Prince Umberto held nominal command over the forces that invaded France. Never lacking in courage, she even tried to intervene with Adolf Hitler to obtain the release of Belgian prisoners of war. Showing no lack of devotion to the Italian troops either, Princess Marie Jose nonetheless cultivated her contacts with liberals, anti-Fascists and even some on the far left to try to arrange peace talks with the Allies through the Vatican. The King had no idea this was going on, Prince Umberto did but could not become directly involved for constitutional reasons, however the Fascist authorities certainly had their suspicions and put the Princess under ever increasing scrutiny. The main effort the Princess made in this direction was in 1943, the year that the Allies invaded Sicily and the Princess worked through Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini, who would later become Pope Paul VI. However, too little progress was made over too great a time and the Princess and her four children were sent to the far north, removed from court but placed close to the Swiss border, making it easier to escape to safety.

When Italy was divided between the Allied occupation in the south and the Nazi-backed Fascist puppet state in the north, Princess Marie Jose took her children and escaped over the border but continued to support the fight against the Nazis by smuggling weapons and supplies to the partisans (which included communist and also non-communist anti-Fascist groups). One partisan group even wanted to name her their “commander” but she declined the offer. When her husband succeeded to the throne on May 9, 1946 as King Umberto II, the couple reunited in Rome where she briefly reigned as Queen consort of Italy. Although there was really no romance at all between the two anymore, both were people of duty and were committed to putting their own problems aside for the good of the country. However, from the very start the new King and Queen faced a combined opposition made up of the communists on one side and the ambivalent Allies on the other. The communists attacked the King Umberto II and Queen Marie Jose by often using the propaganda first dreamed up by the Fascists. Again, some of this has gained acceptance in the popular portrayal of the “May Queen”. Some, for example, have come to believe that she was an extremely reluctant Queen consort, very gloomy and resigned to the total collapse of the Kingdom of Italy. However, the truth was quite the contrary. Queen Marie Jose was under no illusions about the difficulties Italy faced but she envisioned something much better, lifting the people out of the ruins of the war and restoring the glory, beauty and creativity, artistic and scientific of the Renaissance period.

However, at the moment, Italy was devastated and the only ones with real strength were those with foreign assistance and this meant the anti-monarchists, particularly the communists who were backed by the Soviet Union. King Umberto II and Queen Marie Jose were the targets of a great deal of vicious propaganda, spread by the communists but often originating from the Fascists. The monarchists tried to get support from the Allies (primarily Britain and America) but none was forthcoming. Rumors were also spread about the political opinions of Queen Marie Jose, implying that she herself was a revolutionary and did not want the monarchy to continue. This was, of course, absurd. The Queen was interested in politics only insofar as it had an impact on the people and society but she was never ideological. The fact that she was friends with figures from the far left was used by dishonest people to construe that she shared their political views completely. That was certainly not true, she was an out-going woman with a large circle of friends and no political litmus test on who she would associate with. In the end, a referendum was held on the future of the monarchy and the republicans controlled the vote. It was, therefore, fairly easy for them to use a variety of underhanded methods to ensure that the result was in their favor. Some urged King Umberto II to raise his flag in the staunchly monarchist south and contest the results but after all the horrors of World War II, he refused to be responsible for causing an Italian civil war. Without abdicating, the King and Queen left Italy.

After stopping first in Egypt, Umberto II settled in Portugal but Queen Marie Jose was suffering from a number of health problems and her doctors advised her that the Portuguese climate was not good for her. She was also having trouble with her vision and so moved to Switzerland to be near a noted ophthalmologist and where the climate was better. King Umberto II could not go with her as he was prohibited from either entering Italian soil or living in any country bordering Italy. In any event, the couple had remained together mostly for the sake of their duty to the country and the benefit of their children. So, there was a separation but the two never divorced, it being against their religious convictions and in the unlikely chance that the Italian monarchy might be restored and they be called to resume their posts. Queen Marie Jose devoted her time to her love of music (she had the talent of a concert pianist) and learning, writing a number of books on the long history of the House of Savoy. Eventually she moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico to be near her daughter Princess Marie-Beatrice and her children and was able to see some of the former residences of her great-aunt Empress Carlota of Mexico. She was also always glad to help aspiring musical talents and learn about local history and culture. She longed to return to Italy but was only able to after the death of her husband. Marie Jose, the last Queen of Italy, passed away herself in Geneva on January 27, 2001 from lung cancer at the age of 94. Still a beloved figure, her funeral was attended by, as well as her own children and grandchildren, her nephew King Albert II of the Belgians, King Juan Carlos I of Spain, Hereditary Prince Albert of Monaco and many, many others.

She had not had an easy life, although much of it looked very glamorous. Her childhood was dominated by war, her marriage was not a very happy one, another war ruined her hopes for the future and she was forced to leave her adopted country. Relations with her children were not always the best afterwards and she was often lonely. However, she endured it all as simply part of the duty that accompanies royalty. Her mother had given her curiosity, compassion and an open mind. Her father had given her courage, devotion to duty and a ‘never quit’ attitude. She was a great lady and would have undoubtedly been a great Queen. It is to the detriment of Italy that she was not given a chance to fully prove herself in that role.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Monarchist Profile: Wolfgang Kapp

Not many people will be familiar with the name of Wolfgang Kapp. Those who recognize it at all most likely know it only as the name associated with a putsch in Germany in 1920 aimed at toppling the dysfunctional Weimar Republic, most accounts of which hardly mention Wolfgang Kapp at all other than as a someone put at the head of this effort but having seemingly little to do with it. It is usually described as the work of nationalists or militarists with the monarchy almost never mentioned at all in most accounts. Obviously, a more complete picture of the man in, at least, nominal command of this historic event should be better understood. Wolfgang Kapp was actually not a native of Germany at all, though he was certainly as German himself as they come. He was born in New York City, USA on July 24, 1858. His family had fled Europe in the wake of the Revolutions of 1848 as his father, Friedrich Kapp, had been a democratic-republican activist. He married in New York and Wolfgang was born there before the family returned to Germany in 1870. He had a relatively normal and unremarkable childhood, went to school in Berlin, graduated and in 1884 got married, starting a family of his own and having three children over the years.

He studied to become a lawyer, finished school in 1886 and entered government service in the Ministry of Finance. Partly through the influence of his wife he became much more conservative in his political views than his father had been. After working in government for a time he moved his family to East Prussia and opened the Agricultural Credit Institute to promote the development of the area in assistance to the local landed aristocracy. In the following years he became known as an advocate for the Prussian nobility and particularly those with large estates and the part they played in the local economy. He became more stridently patriotic which, if you are on the political “right” and friendly with aristocrats, is usually rendered as “nationalistic”. He first made waves on the national scene by speaking out against the policies of Chancellor Theobald von Bethman-Hollweg in 1916, during the First World War. This earned him the animosity of the Chancellor but also attracted other friends in high places who agreed with his arguments. The following year, along with Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, he founded the “Fatherland Party” to support the war effort which, in less than a year, attracted over a million members and of which Kapp served as chairman.

The platform of the “Fatherland Party” and other advocacy groups Kapp was associated with was pretty simple and straightforward. The basic message was that the German Empire was in a struggle for survival, that the military leaders should be supported, the people devoted to the war effort and the conflict pursued until victory or peace on German terms was achieved. Part of this, of course, was to also encourage loyalty to the Kaiser, national pride and a sense of patriotic duty and the willingness to sacrifice for Germany. Naturally, when the war ended in defeat for Germany, Kapp was shocked and outraged, even more so when the Treaty of Versailles was imposed on the defeated Germans. In searching for an outlet for this frustration, it must be said, that Kapp fully embraced the popular idea that the German military had been ‘stabbed in the back’ by disloyal elements at home. Inflamed by the Versailles Treaty and the ruin of post-war Germany, Kapp entered the politically fray personally for the first time and was elected to the Reichstag in 1919 as a monarchist.

It did not, however, take long for Kapp to become frustrated by the world of politics and to conclude that more drastic measures would be required to save the Germany he so admired from being lost forever to the realm of history. Events came to a head when the Weimar government ordered the disbandment of the marine brigade “Ehrhardt” during a series of cuts to the German military. The officers of the brigade appealed to the Berlin area commander General Walther von Lü ttwitz who in turn called on President Ebert to halt the reductions. When he received a negative response, von Lüttwitz ordered his troops to occupy Berlin on March 13, 1920. Although he had nothing to do with launching the putsch, a respected politician and civil servant was needed as civilian leader of the effort and Dr. Wolfgang Kapp was chosen to be the, at least nominal, leader of the putsch that was given his name.

The dissidents objected to the supposedly “temporary” government behaving as though it were permanent and to the plans for the Reichstag to revise the constitution to choose the president themselves rather than by a popular vote of the people. This was because the radical left was grossly over-represented in the temporary government and right-wing elements feared the establishment of a dictatorial administration totally at odds with their values. There was, on the other hand, still sufficient support for traditional and conservative candidates for the putsch leaders to at least be more inclined to have the choice for president left to the public rather than the politicians. Although some of these points were later, quietly, be addressed, the liberal elements quickly closed ranks to see the putsch stopped in its tracks. Both sides faced challenges. Prominent conservatives refused to accept positions in the new government Kapp tried to form, preferring to wait and see if the putsch would be successful. On the other side, the Weimar Defense Minister called upon the army to march on Berlin and suppress the putsch. However, the army flatly refused to do so with the aristocratic General Hans von Seeckt famously responding that, “Reichswehr does not fire on Reichswehr”. So, while Kapp continued to try to form a provisional government, saying in conservative fashion, “We will not govern according to any theory”, the Weimar Republic called for a general strike to bring all of Germany to a grinding halt. The strike worked and after only two days the putsch collapsed from lack of support.

In most accounts today the “Kapp Putsch” is usually mentioned only as a nationalist or militarist coup attempt. However, the monarchist aspect cannot be ignored. It is true that, in the short time it existed, the Kapp regime never announced any formal desire to restore the monarchy nor did they do so while in power. However, General Walther von Lüttwitz was an ardent monarchist, as was Dr. Kapp and monarchists made up the bulk of the supporters of the Kapp Putsch. The Free Corps troops who carried out the putsch flew the old Imperial German ensign and old imperial titles were dusted off and used for office-holders. Observers also reported a great deal of activity at the time at the home in exile of Kaiser Wilhelm II. Had the regime survived more than a couple of days, most assume that the restoration of the monarchy would have been declared. Such a thing may have even been suggested to the Kaiser but he would likely have been unwilling to commit until the Kapp regime was better established and could prove itself able to survive. This, as we know, was not to be the case.

When the putsch collapsed, Kapp fled to Sweden where he lived in exile for the next two years before returning to Germany in April 1922 to ‘face the music’ and defend his actions in court. He was arrested and still in custody when he died of cancer on June 12, 1922 in Leipzig. Today, Wolfgang Kapp is seldom remembered at all, his name recognizable to some only because the title of the “Kapp Putsch” caught on. It was, as things turned out, a relatively minor disturbance in the very troubled history of the Weimar Republic. However, what is grossly unfair is the way that the name of Wolfgang Kapp and the Kapp Putsch have been portrayed by some as being precursors of the eventual rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist party. This is clearly simply an obvious effort by biased historians to taint with the Nazi poison anyone on the “right” in the German political arena. There were some unsavory elements in the would-be Kapp government to be sure, but it should be remembered that when the Nazis tried to force their way to power, the army opposed them (as it did not oppose the Kapp Putsch) and finally came to power by making use of republican institutions. Far from being a predecessor of the Nazi regime, there should be no doubt that if the Kapp Putsch had succeeded the radical party of Hitler could never have come to power at all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Italy in the Great War

On this day in 1915 the Kingdom of Italy entered the First World War. Italian troops would see action in France, on the Austrian frontier, in North Africa, East Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East during the service of Italy in the Great War. Slow progress and high casualties characterized the Italian front until the disaster at Caporetto brought about a change in leadership and an upsurge in public support for the war effort resulting finally in the stunning victory of Vittorio Veneto and the collapse of Austria-Hungary.

Royal Saint: Princess Elizabeth of Hesse

The lady now known as Saint Elizabeth Romanova began her life as Her Grand Ducal Highness Princess Elisabeth Alexandra Louise of Hesse and by Rhine. She was born on November 1, 1864, the fourth child of Grand Duke Ludwig IV of Hesse and by Rhine and Princess Alice of Great Britain. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria (like a great many European royals at the time) and was never after St Elizabeth of Hungary. She was known as “Ella” among her family growing up. She was raised in very modest surroundings compared to what most people today imagine for royals in the 19th Century. She swept her own floors, wore homemade clothes and so on. Because of her mother, her first language was English and also because of her mother she was exposed, at a very early age, to caring for others. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 her mother took the little Princess with her to military hospitals to care for the wounded soldiers and she was impressed early on with the understanding that, as a royal and simply as a Christian, she had a duty to care for those around her.

As she grew older Princess Elizabeth became known as one of the most famous beauties of the royal world. In no time at all royal bachelors from all across Europe were practically standing in line to call on her. The future German Kaiser Wilhelm II was positively crushed with grief when she did not return his affections. She was a very religious, serious young lady, kind and not taken at all with splendor, grandiosity or big talk. The man she finally did fall for was Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich of Russia, who was a good match, being rather shy, humble and a devotedly pious son of the Orthodox faith. The two had known each other for years as they would often accompany their mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna, on her visits to Germany to see her Hessian relatives, including Princess Elizabeth who was the Empress’ great-niece. In their youth, the Princess had not been greatly impressed by Grand Duke Sergei who seemed aloof to the charming girl, but when the Princess matured she certainly caught the attention of the young Romanov and the boy who had once seemed cold and distant became a handsome young man whose sincerity and deep faith impressed Elizabeth.

The two became close after the tragic deaths of Empress Maria in 1880 and Emperor Alexander II in 1881. Princess Elizabeth had lost her mother to diphtheria in 1879, so she could sympathize with what Sergei was enduring. Each understood the pain of the other, comforted each other and were drawn closer together because of it. They had similar cultural interests, a mutual love of art and each respected the religious faith of the other. Still, it took more than one proposal before the Hessian princess consented to marry the Romanov Grand Duke. The two were married on June 15, 1894 at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg. There were no laws requiring that royal brides take the faith of their husbands and, in their first years of marriage, the new Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia continued to be a Lutheran. She was not the sort of person to abandon Lutheranism for the sake of appearances; she sincerely believed in it. However, over time, certainly with the example of her husband helping, she became convinced of the beauty and authenticity of the Orthodox faith and in 1891 decided to formally convert and join the Russian Orthodox Church. The rest of her life would be an example of sincere Orthodox devotion, leaving positively no room for speculation as to her motivations.

Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Grand Duke Sergei were very happy together, all the more after being fully united in the Orthodox faith. However, the couple were unable to ever have any children but they made up for the lack of children of their own by caring for those of others. They served as foster parents for their niece and nephew Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna (who later married into the Swedish Royal Family) and Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich (who was later involved in the death of Rasputin). The couple also frequently hosted parties at their estate for local children. This was, likely, not only due to their lack of children of their own but also because they refused to associate with much of the fashionable high society because of their disapproval of the immoral way in which so many of these people behaved. Still, they were very popular with Tsar Alexander III and Tsarina Maria, the represented the Romanov dynasty at the Golden Jubilee celebrations for Queen Victoria and undertook other official travels for the imperial court.

It was a happy and very well ordered life the Grand Duchess had when tragedy struck in 1905 when a socialist revolutionary assassinated Grand Duke Sergei with a bomb. It was the most gruesome scene imaginable with most of the body being destroyed completely. Grand Duchess Elizabeth, ever the dutiful royal, suppressed her emotions at first, remaining calm and seemingly in a daze while visitors came to offer their sympathies. Finally, however, her grief came pouring out and many feared she would suffer a complete emotional breakdown. Thankfully, this did not happen, and in such a time of intense trial, the Grand Duchess turned herself completely over to God. She forgave the murderer of her husband and was concerned only that he repent of his crime, offering to intercede with Tsar Nicholas II on his behalf if only he would do so. He did not. The Grand Duchess decided to enter the religious life. She became a vegetarian, sold off all of her worldly possessions and built the Convent of Saints Martha and Mary in Moscow in 1908, becoming its abbess. Her hope was to found a new religious order for women from all walks of life who would be devoted to prayer and serving the poor.

The Grand Duchess was a tireless angel of mercy, taking in and caring for local orphans, visiting the most destitute districts of Moscow and giving aid to the least of society wherever there was need. In quick succession in the following years her growing order built a hospital, orphanage and pharmacy on the convent grounds. All who came in contact with her were touched by her charity and selfless compassion. During World War I the Grand Duchess and her sisters worked tirelessly nursing wounded Russian soldiers, earning the affection of all, but doing so for the glory of God. They carried on their work of mercy as revolution swept away the Russian Empire and as the Bolsheviks swept away the provisional government that replaced it. Finally, the end came in 1918 when the new Soviet dictatorship determined to wipe out every Romanov they could get their hands on. Lenin ordered her arrest and she was taken away along with other prisoners by the Soviet secret police. A short time later, on July 18, 1918 the group was thrown down a pit near a mine some 20 meters deep. A grenade was tossed down after them to ensure no one survived. However, guards reported hearing the Grand Duchess leading the others in singing an Orthodox hymn after which another grenade was tossed into the pit but the singing still continued. Finally brush was piled over the top of the pit and set on fire.

A short time later the forces of the White Army arrived and recovered the remains of the Grand Duchess and her fellow victims. Incredibly, but not surprisingly, they found proof that the Grand Duchess had survived the fall for she had been bandaging one of the others, Prince Ioann Konstantinovich, before her death. Even in her very final minutes of life she had been comforting others. Her remains were taken out of Russia and buried in Jerusalem, which she had visited previously, in the Church of Maria Magdalene. It was a tragedy but not quite the end of the story. In 1926 the Convent of Sts Martha and Mary was closed down by the Communist authorities but in 1981 the Russian Orthodox Church outside Russia canonized the Grand Duchess as a saint. In 1992 her status as a martyr was also recognized by the Patriarch of Moscow. In 1992 the chapel she built to Sts Martha and Mary was reopened and in 1994 her convent and order was reestablished and continues to do good works today, now also training nurses as part of their mission. In this way the pious example and works of mercy of St Elizabeth Romanova live on and she is venerated around the world by Orthodox Christians for her shining example of duty, devotion, courage and compassion. May she be an example to us all.

Monday, May 21, 2012

China - A Century of Republicanism

As of this last February 12 it has been one hundred years since China has had an emperor. Of course, everyone, I am sure, recognizes that the situation in China at that time was far from ideal. The dynasty would not have fallen if it had been. In some areas China had been treated unfairly, in other areas China had been the victim of circumstances beyond her control and in still others those in power had simply made mistakes. Chinese domination of the Far East area seemed so strong and unassailable that there was neglect on the part of many in the Manchu leadership. China fell behind the other powers of the world technologically and, when confronted with threats and challenges, was unable to match the far more advanced powers from across the Eurasian landmass. Chinese influence in Indochina was lost to the French, Chinese influence over Korea was lost to Japan, Macau was lost to Portugal, Hong Kong to Great Britain, Tsingtao to Germany and a majority of Chinese provinces were within the spheres of influence of various European powers, mostly Great Britain, France and Russia. Internal rebellions shook confidence in the Qing Dynasty and the gamble of supporting the Boxer uprising proved to be a very costly mistake. A population boom combined with some natural disasters caused immense problems any government would have struggled to deal with. Certainly, things were far from ideal in the Middle Kingdom.

The result was an unprecedented event in the history of the world; a revolution which brought down the Qing Dynasty and put in its place a republic. For the first time practically since time immemorial, China was without a “Son of Heaven”. The question then must be asked; how has the Middle Kingdom fared these last one hundred years without an emperor on the dragon throne? The immediate aftermath was a republic that, not surprisingly was a total failure. Not surprising considering it was forced, from the top down, on a country that had known only monarchy for all the thousands of years of its history. It failed and, though it continued on in name, was plagued by coups and counter-coups by powerful factions. The country that had been the Great Qing Empire totally fragmented. Mongolia and Tibet reasserted their independence, all the provinces of China were divided up amongst the powerful warlords who seized power with their own private armies, paying only lip service to the government in Peking in some cases, defying it in others or simply ignoring it in a few cases. The wild-eyed republican agitators who had stirred up disaffection against the Manchus for their failure to defend China against the foreigners caused China to lose more territory to non-Han peoples than any Chinese government since the late Song dynasty succumbed to the invading Mongols of Kublai Khan.

Obviously, if the point was to defend China against the “foreigners” (which they meant as anyone not of the Han nationality) then, we can objectively regard the revolution as a dramatic failure. Tibet withdrew into isolation. Outer Mongolia became a Soviet puppet state and finally Manchuria was detached from China. Ultimately, it must be said, many of these areas were re-taken but with disastrous consequences. Manchuria was regained but the Manchu nationality has been virtually wiped out. Tibet was conquered and the Tibetans are in the process of being drowned out in a flood of Han immigrants (as are the Uyghurs, as are the Mongols in Inner Mongolia and so on). Taiwan was also never regained if one accepts the legitimacy of the communist government as the successor of the original Chinese republic. Then, before, during (to some extent) and after World War II there was the Chinese Civil War which dragged on from 1927 until 1950 in which upwards of five million Chinese were killed, placing it behind only the First and Second World Wars as the most bloody conflict in all of human history and, technically, continues to this day, threatening to resume at any moment. This may be “progress” in the sense that it topped what had previously been the bloodiest civil war in history (the “Taiping Rebellion”) but I doubt many people would regard this as an achievement to be proud of.

In regards to the famines and poverty that afflicted late imperial China, brought on almost entirely by natural factors far beyond the control of the “Lord of 10,000 Years” or his mandarins, again, the situation after the revolution was not an improvement. Nothing any imperial government ever did can compare to what EACH ONE of the two republican factions that succeeded them did. In 1938 the nationalists purposely destroyed dikes on the Yellow River which flooded a huge landmass that killed an estimated 800,000 to one million innocent people. The communists, who were ultimately successful in taking control of the mainland, blindly followed the bloodthirsty, ignorant psychopath Mao Zedong in wiping out tens of millions of people in intentional purges, suppressions and massacres as well as enforced starvation through idiotic communist policies. No Emperor ever intentionally butchered so many of his own people and no Emperor ever sent millions of his own people to slave labor camps, not for anything they said or did but for simply being the wrong “type” of person, being from the wrong class or social background. Today, the standard of living that modern technology has brought to China is often touted as being entirely to the credit of the communist government which has “modernized” China (by bringing in western technology that any government could have done). Yet, no matter how poor the average peasant of the Qing Empire was compared to the average citizen of the PRC, the fact is that one has to be alive to enjoy the new standard of living and, thanks to the communist government, many tens of millions of Chinese never got that chance.

We certainly know that, in terms of the stated goals of “freedom” or “liberty” or “democracy” or “human rights” or any of the popular revolutionary slogans, the revolution was not a success. There is no doubt that these things, at least in our modern context, were unknown in imperial China. There was no democracy, there were limits on individual liberty (the Manchus famously enforced a new hairstyle on the male population and did try to suppress the “right” to carry on the barbaric practice of foot binding) as the Emperor was an absolute monarch. He was the Son of Heaven, the Lord of 10,000 Years, the master of all he surveyed, his word was law, his person was sacred, his rulings were beyond question. All of it was also perfectly in keeping with thousands of years of Chinese tradition and it was all tempered by the teachings of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. There were efforts to shift toward a constitutional monarchy for China but this was unsuccessful, in large part due to the fact that the discontented wanted immediate change and even modern Chinese state historians have admitted this.

The revolution promised all of these grand, liberal things and they were prepared to take drastic measures to bring them into existence immediately. It is not enough though, by the very nature of the revolutionary paradigm, to say that what went before was not ideal; it must be shown how the situation improved because of the revolution. Obviously, in this regard, the revolution was again a stupendous failure and this time by their very own standards of judgment. China is still, ultimately, under the absolute rule of one man. There is no democracy, there is no freedom of speech, assembly, religion or freedom to dissent. Communism may be downplayed these days but there is still no right to private property and the government may at any time take anything from any person for any reason up to and including their own life and the lives of their children. Even the “Son of Heaven” in all his celestial absolutism, never even imagined that he could hold such total power over the lives of his subjects as to dictate to the people how many children they could have. Any honest observer would have to admit that if the goal of the revolution was to bring democratic republicanism and western political liberalism to China it was an absolutely thunderous failure.

That, however, points to what may be, on a global level in terms of human history and culture, the most insidious result of the revolution in China and the end of the imperial system which is the utter destruction of the traditional Chinese heritage. This is possibly the single most unprecedented event in the entire ancient history of China. There has never been anything at all in those thousands of years to compare it to. China has not often been conquered but on those rare occasions when China was actually overrun by non-Han peoples the traditional Chinese culture was never destroyed. When the Mongol Yuan Dynasty ruled China, they adopted Chinese ways and when the Manchu Qing Dynasty ruled China they also became assimilated into the Chinese culture to the point where the last Emperor could only speak a few words of Manchurian. Yet, the revolutionaries who called themselves “nationalists” (and the communists claimed to be just as nationalist as the Kuomintang) who so decried all things “foreign” have brought in more foreign ideas, customs and institutions and trampled on more of Chinese tradition and heritage than has ever happened in thousands of years of history. Chinese dress, art, architecture, religion and everything traditionally “Chinese” about China was suppressed after the revolution, particularly after the communists came to power and the Cultural Revolution.

The very concept of a “republic” is totally alien to China. It does not matter which revolutionary faction one chooses to follow, be it the American-inspired republicanism of the nationalists or the Marxist-inspired republicanism of the communists, each are totally alien to China and both came from exactly the same western culture that the revolutionaries claimed to despise. Yet, these same revolutionaries forced such systems onto the body of China, forced the Chinese people into the bloodiest civil war in history over two competing foreign ideologies, neither of which were understood by the vast majority of the people in question. Your average peasant in China had no more idea of who Karl Marx was than your average farm boy in Kansas had of who Confucius was. Then, to make matters worse, Chairman Mao comes along and intentionally launches a war on his own people to totally obliterate any lingering remnants of anything actually recognizable as being traditionally Chinese. What was not destroyed outright was locked away so that even if one goes to China one would have to go to a museum to see anything Chinese.

Of course, we are now told that the Cultural Revolution is a rather unpleasant memory and that we should just ignore that and focus on how great and glorious the nominally communist dictatorship of today is. The problem with this is that it has simply replaced the old ugliness with a new ugliness. Again, if we are to regard the lack of an emperor as a benefit, we must see some improvement over what was. We must see the “New China” doing things to surpass the old. What could these be? The technological improvements are those allowed in from outside and, as has been stated, required no revolution to accomplish it. Japan modernized long ago without a revolution and without wiping out everything native to the Japanese culture. So, what about the cultural achievements of this post-imperial China? Where are the great architectural marvels to top the magnificent monuments such as the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs or the Forbidden City itself? Certainly not the Great Hall of the People which is hardly distinguishable from the box-like architecture of Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany. Perhaps the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium? Sorry folks, the thing looks like a giant bed pan. Judging these things may be subjective but I do not see Chinese people walking around in jeans and t-shirts as an improvement over exquisitely embroidered silk robes.

On the contrary, the current China sans-empereur has absolutely nothing to offer and even continues to do harm. They may not be as blatantly attacking traditional Chinese culture to the extent as in the Mao era but the government acts as a pimp, selling access to the beautiful masterpieces of the Chinese heritage to foreign tourists with money to spend. It is true that once China was the land of discovery and innovation, first developing many of the basic inventions from which all others have flowed. Of course, that was Imperial China, today the much-vaunted economic powerhouse of China consists of building cheap what foreigners invent or ripping off foreign products and mass-producing them at rock bottom prices. Even after the last Emperor of China had been deposed, but was still around, basic traditional Chinese customs and values were preserved and honored. Today, God help me, there is a Starbucks inside the Forbidden City. In many ways, I think that says it all. China has been one hundred years without an emperor. I hope the stooges in Peking are proud.
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