Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Weblog Review -2013

How was 2013 for The Mad Monarchist? Not the best honestly, but a better year for The Mad Monarchist blog. In the month of October the blog had a record 109,750 views, passing the previous record, also set in 2013, in January, of 97,104 views. The most popular article of 2013 was, surprisingly enough, the profile on Emperor Ferdinand I of Austria with 6,261 people checking that one out, evidently after the link was shared by a school group (so that might be cheating as these may have been young people required to learn about Emperor Ferdinand rather than so many being genuinely interested). By far the most people who came to The Mad Monarchist arrived via Google or Google Search, however, once again the top blog sending viewers this way was Royal World operated by American monarchist Theodore Harvey which last year passed the 2,000 mark in the number of visitors arriving from that destination (now close to 3,000 overall). Royal World gets a sticker.

As for audience, not surprisingly, most readers are from the English-speaking world; the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. For the non-English-speaking world, again, not much change, with most readers hailing from Germany, France, The Philippines, Brazil, Russia and India (The Philippines and India both having large numbers of English-speakers). What was surprising was the East Asia area in 2013. There are, now and then, sufficient visitors from Korea and Japan to show up on the stats but never before this year were there any from mainland China. So, it seems The Mad Monarchist has managed to penetrate the “Great Chinese Firewall” and before anyone cries foul, I no longer have any relatives in China and the time my cousin spent living there did not coincide with the boost in readers. Unfortunately, based on the comments received from “The Middle Kingdom” these were often not monarchist or monarchy-inclined readers but people rather upset that yours truly is anti-Chinese. That, of course, could not be farther from the truth. The Mad Monarchist is a big fan of China and a great admirer of Chinese culture, just not of the monstrous regime that is currently in charge of things.

Perhaps the biggest blog milestone of 2013 was passing the two million mark for visitors to the blog since it started (at its current location). I can just recall when 200,000 seemed like a big deal. Overall this year the blog has remained pretty consistent at having about 3,000 readers each day. Still, the numbers have tended in the upward direction and though I do not do this for that reason (otherwise I would still not be selling ad-space) it is always nice to see more people being interested. Just at the very end of the year, yours truly also found out that someone had been posing as The Mad Monarchist on Twitter and evidently got up to no good as the account was banned. To try to stop a repeat of this, your blogger of questionable sanity recently joined the Twitter-verse at MadMonarchist1, feel free to follow there though there is not much at the present. When it comes to overall advice (not the ‘do this’ or ‘do that’ sort) I was surprised by the recurring comment that I am too “mysterious”. This surprises me since I have never been bashful about giving my opinion on anything and because I have posted several interviews in the past and they never broke any popularity records. However, I am completely open to doing blog posts or videos or something answering any questions readers may have if that is something people would be interested in seeing. I am certainly not secretive or mysterious by nature -I prefer, “delightfully difficult” or “charmingly eccentric”.

In any event, whether you prefer more or less of one thing or another, I want to thank all of you readers out there who have kept up by becoming members, subscribing, following on Facebook or just checking in every day to see the latest insanity. I do appreciate it, I hope I have not caused too much disappointment in 2013 and I hope you will stick around for 2014.

A prosperous new year to all and … stay “mad” my friends.

The Mad Monarchist

Monday, December 30, 2013

MM Year in Review: 2013

2013 was a year of change in the world of monarchy and more than anything else it will probably be remembered as the year of the abdication. Monarchs were abdicating left, right and center in 2013. This was the year royals said, “I quit!” and the first was the most surprising when in February HH Pope Benedict XVI abdicated. This was the first time in roughly six hundred years that anything even remotely similar had ever happened so, that was certainly big news. Benedict XVI cited his age and poor health as reasons for the abdication, saying that he simply did not have the ability to continue on anymore but would devote the rest of his life to prayer. That, of course, was just the beginning. In a much less surprising move, in April HM Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands abdicated, becoming Princess Beatrix which has become rather traditional for Dutch monarchs. The last Dutch monarch to reign until death was King Willem III who died in 1890. Next was the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad who abdicated in June having held the throne since replacing his father in a coup in 1995 so, at least it was peaceful this time. Lastly, less than a month later HM King Albert II of the Belgians abdicated which was a bit more unprecedented given that only one Belgian monarch before him (his father, King Leopold III) had abdicated and that was under rather unhappy circumstances. So, it was quite a turnover year for monarchy and fairly soon one could be forgiven for turning on the news each morning and wondering who would be abdicating today.

As for the major royal events of 2013, the year started with some legal vindication for the Prince of Monaco who was awarded 300,000 pounds plus legal expenses by a French court over salacious stories printed in the media that spread ugly rumors about his wedding. A well deserved win for him in the struggle against slander. However, bad or at least sad occasions would be numerous. Also in January the remains of King Peter II of Yugoslavia were brought home for reburial in Serbia, a solemn occasion but one which saw considerable support for the former monarchy. In February, the late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia had his formal burial after his death in October of 2012. To some this might seem strange but, in that part of the world at least, it is quite common for burials to take place a fairly long time after the death of the person in question on a date chosen by the court astrologers to be auspicious for the occasion. February also saw the beginning of what would be a year of trouble for Spain with the husband of the Infanta Cristina being hauled into court on corruption charges (yet to be proven) and what seemed like a never-ending struggle to somehow drag the Royal Family into the quagmire. From the Queen being booed in public to republican protests in the streets and another round of hip surgery for the King, 2013 was not a good year for the Spanish monarchy. Hopefully, things can only get better from here.

March saw the papal conclave to elect a replacement for Benedict XVI and with the election of Pope Francis the Catholic Church had, for the first time, a Jesuit pope, and the first pope from the “New World”. Ever since his election, according to polls, both the Catholic Church and even non-Catholics and the non-religious have been in love with the ever-so-humble pontiff. However, it has also been a year of explanations on the part of many in the Church virtually every time the Pope opened his mouth. It was also in March that Sacha Grimaldi was born to Andrea Casiraghi (son of Princess Caroline of Hanover, nephew of Prince Albert II of Monaco) and his girlfriend Tatiana Santo Domingo. As his parents were not married at the time, little Sacha did not immediately gain a place in the Monegasque succession. However, plenty of news was made in the royal succession of Great Britain and the Commonwealth Realms in April when HM the Queen gave royal assent to the “Succession to the Crown Act 2013” which did away with male primogeniture as well as the previous rule that those marrying Roman Catholics would lose their rights to the throne. The monarch is, of course, still required to be a Protestant.

In the month of May there was a religious milestone for the former Italian Royal Family as Pope Francis confirmed a miracle for Queen Maria Christina of Savoy (consort of King Ferdinand II of the Two-Sicilies), moving her along in the process of canonization as a saint. In the Netherlands, King Willem-Alexander had his formal inauguration amidst much celebrating. Meanwhile, in Great Britain, Christians seemed to be told to take a step back as it was announced that, when the time comes for the Prince of Wales to be crowned king, an inter-faith coronation would be held in recognition of what a multicultural and multi-faith country Britain has become. In June, Princess Madeleine of Sweden was married to New York investment banker Chris O’Neill who refused a Swedish title or Swedish citizenship. Down in Belgium, King Albert II was hit with a paternity suit by a woman who has long claimed to be his natural daughter and on the Iberian Peninsula the Prince of the Asturias and HIH Crown Prince Naruhito met to mark the 400th anniversary of Spanish-Japanese relations. The month of July was quite eventful with World Youth Day in Brazil though what really grabbed the headlines was an informal interview with Pope Francis in which he said of homosexuals, “who am I to judge?” This was referring to celibate homosexuals in the priesthood but media all over the world heralded it as the Pope basically saying that it is “okay” to be gay. However, by far the biggest royal news in July was the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, first child of Prince William and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge who will, God willing, be King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth Realms one day.

August saw little Sacha Grimaldi become the third in line for the Monegasque throne (at present) when Andrea Casiraghi and Tatiana Santo Domingo were married. In Britain, police launched a probe into the death of the late Princess of Wales over allegations of government involvement in her demise. Needless to say the investigation eventually found such rumors to be completely unfounded. In Thailand the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great was released from hospital after four years of treatment and observation. August also saw the passing of Prince Johan Friso of Orange-Nassau in The Netherlands who had been in a coma since February of 2012 after being buried in an avalanche while skiing in Austria. The biggest news event for the world, however, was certainly the prospect of western intervention in the civil war in Syria with President Obama threatening to intervene but finally backing down after an agreement was brokered by Russia. The Syrian civil war caused a massive flood of refugees into the Kingdom of Jordan and caused tensions for many monarchies in the area. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was particularly interested in seeing the pro-Iranian and pro-Russian dictator of Syria removed. A proposal to intervene was voted down in the British House of Commons and in the United States it became clear that the public had no interest in getting involved in another Middle East conflict. Local monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have nonetheless continued to support the rebel forces.

There was happier news in the month of September with Prince Felix of Luxembourg getting married to Claire Lademacher, HM the King of Sweden marking forty years on the throne and with the announcement that his daughter Princess Madeleine was ‘with child’. Things were a bit more mixed for the family of HH the Aga Khan. There was good news with the marriage of Prince Rahim Aga Khan to former model Kendra Spears (hence known as Princess Salwa) of the United States but this was followed, only the next week, by the announcement that Prince Hussein Aga Khan divorced his own American wife Princess Khaliya (formerly Kristin White). There was also political turmoil in the Kingdom of Cambodia with the main opposition party boycotting the new government and urging King Norodom Sihamoni to get involved but to no avail. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party under the dictatorial leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen has held power ever since he was put in charge by the communist Vietnamese following their invasion and overthrow of the regime of Pol Pot. There were also big changes taking place in Africa with the little but notoriously absolutist Kingdom of Swaziland announcing a new governing system called ‘monarchial democracy’. Later, for the first time, opposition parties even gained seats in the parliament in Swaziland, the only remaining absolute monarchy in Africa.

There was a warm welcome for Prince Harry who visited Australia in October and in France there was a Romanov Celebration Gala to mark the 400th anniversary of the start of the reign of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. Throughout the year there were a number of events to highlight this year and the former Russian monarchy. In other news, the world was shocked when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia turned down a seat on the UN Security Council, the first time such a thing had ever happened. The Saudis explained their choice by saying that the UN Security Council was more or less worthless, pointing to the lack of action in Syria as an example and probably also having in mind the inability of the UN to stop the development of nuclear weapons in Iran (something Saudi Arabia opposes strongly) and for basically the same reason, that being that China and Russia stand ready to veto any UN action against the Syrian or Iranian dictators.

November was a busy month for royalty around the world. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall made a visit to India and political divisions caused a great deal of storm and stress in the Kingdom of Malaysia. Earlier in the year they had also been troubled by a small-scale invasion by Filipino royalists loyal to the Sultan of Sulu (or at least one of the claimants to that title). A political firestorm was set off in Japan when an activist politician handed HM the Emperor a letter highlighting the alleged dangers surrounding the imperiled nuclear reactor in Fukushima, a breach of protocol and an effort to involve HM the Emperor in a political matter, something one is certainly not supposed to do when dealing with he who ‘reigns above the clouds’. In Great Britain a secularist group announced they were considering legal action to stop the tradition of the coronation ceremony, saying it excludes the non-religious. Most troubling, however, was the news that HM the Queen’s representative in Australia revealed herself to be a traitor. In a statement released as her time as Governor-General draws to a close Quentin Bryce voiced her support for both gay “marriage” and for Australia to become a republic. In happier news, the new King and Queen of The Netherlands were given a warm welcome touring the Dutch West Indies and in Great Britain the Countess of Wessex hosted a special reception at Buckingham Palace to mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic sci-fi television show “Dr. Who”.

From the end of November throughout the month of December there was a great deal of turmoil in the “Land of Smiles” as protests broke out in the Kingdom of Thailand over efforts by the government to pardon a former prime minister who fled the country after being found guilty of corruption. There was happier news though as the revered King of Thailand celebrated his 86th birthday. On the world stage, the Obama administration announced an agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran to lift sanctions on that country in return for stepping down their nuclear program. After the fact it was revealed that the talks came about thanks to the Sultan of Qaboos who acted as an intermediary. Britain’s Prince Harry trekked to the South Pole for the benefit of wounded veterans and in a rather odd turn of events, Pope Francis was voted “Person of the Year” by both TIME magazine and one of America’s leading homosexual periodicals. The Dutch celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, secularists advanced their cause of separating Church and State in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and to close it out Charlotte Casiraghi made her mother Princess Caroline of Hanover a grandmother for the second time in one year with the birth of her son Raphael.

Overall, 2013 was a rather mixed bag for the monarchies of the world. The Middle East has remained in turmoil because of the civil war in Syria and the nuclear threat from Iran, a cause of great worry for the monarchies there and that it on top of the occasional unrest still left over from the “Arab Spring”. In Southeast Asia every monarchy has been torn by divisive politics, in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia while in Northeast Asia, the only remaining monarchy, Japan, has been pressured by increasingly unfriendly attitudes from Korea and China, which was partly why such high hopes were placed on the imperial visit to India. In Europe there were signs of strong support for monarchy, The Netherlands having huge crowds come out to mark their change of monarch but in almost no country is there not a republican presence and they will take advantage of any misfortune to advance their cause. This can clearly be seen in the bad year that the Kingdom of Spain had. Pope Francis certainly brought about a change in the way the papacy, if not the Catholic Church, is treated, attracting more worldly praise than I have ever seen for a pontiff. The story that caused the most headlines and world attention though was certainly the birth of Prince George of Cambridge and a royal birth is always a happy occasion. It also showed how rather silly all that government urgency to change the succession law was. With or without it, at least the next three monarchs the English-speaking world will have will be kings.

Since 2013 saw the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the death of Nelson Mandela, it was a year of more than usual president-worship which your ‘old school’ monarchists find hard to tolerate. With governments all across the First World going ever deeper into debt, monarchies have been scrutinized for their cost. There also seems to be some cultural chauvinism at work as monarchies such as Japan and Thailand have been criticized by westerners for basically being too respectful toward their monarchs and not treating them with the casual flippancy seen in the west. Most troubling for me about 2013 was the further deterioration of tradition and traditional values. Royal children born out of wedlock, “inter-faith” coronations and so on. Belgium and Luxembourg both have openly homosexual prime ministers and in little Luxembourg bigger changes are planned with the current government such as legalizing gay marriage, gay adoption, removing religious classes from the public schools and doing away with Catholic services as part of National Day celebrations. The King of The Netherlands says he doesn’t want to be called “Your Majesty”, the Prince of Wales wants an “inter-faith” coronation and the Pope is talking about income inequality and driving a Ford. In all the good and bad we have seen in 2013, it is safe to say that those supporting tradition and monarchy, in Europe in particular, need to step their game up in a big way.

That was 2013, wishing everyone a happier 2014

The Mad Monarchist

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Vacation

As your resident mad man seems a bit more weary than usual (and having some medication acting up at the moment) this seems as good a time as any to start my holiday break. It is a few days earlier than last year but hopefully that means it will end a few days sooner as well. There is the 'year in review' to work on and in the days and weeks ahead there will be posts on how South Vietnam was bungled, a country that championed monarchy in Asia, the Divine Right, some soldiers of monarchy from Spain and Russia, that "third force" everyone used to talk about but that never really worked, a profile of a particularly accomplished King of Portugal, more in the "Royal Friends of Texas" series and one of the worst presidents America has ever had to suffer (and who was certainly no great friend of monarchy in the world). I hope you will all look forward to those. For those who are not already, feel free to follow me on Facebook for the occasional update and, of course, I hope everyone has a very happy Christmas. In the meantime, peruse the archives as you please and, as always, stay "mad" everyone. God bless.

The Mad Monarchist

Mandela's Kingdom

With the death of Nelson Mandela, many people have been curious as to what, if any “royal” connections Mandela had. It is a somewhat difficult issue to address since the tribal system of South Africa does not translate easily into the royal terms most are familiar with. For example, sometimes a chief is referred to as a king even though there are differences in the status of one chief or another and differences in how chiefs are chosen. A chief of the highest order is often known as “king” and yet there are other chiefs below him, a king may declare someone a chief who he favors, who are not of the same status. It should also be kept in mind that none of these, be they called king or chief, are sovereign rulers like the Prince of Liechtenstein or the Grand Duke of Luxembourg. As we shall see, some have tried to assert sovereignty in the past but were quickly thwarted by the republican government of South Africa which grants them an expense allowance and thus holds them in a large degree of economic dependence on the national government. Some tribal kings have been set up and others deposed, some have gone to the courts to contest the title of the tribal chief or king and sometimes the government has declared people claiming to be chiefs or tribal kings to be invalid. In can become rather confusing. In this case, however, we will be looking particularly at the Thembu people of whom the late Nelson Mandela was a member.

Mandela was a member of the Madiba clan of the Thembu tribe of the Xhosa ethnicity (again, even that can get a little complicated), although as that designation came about during the apartheid era it is now disputed that the Thembu and the Xhosa have anything at all in common. The Thembu claim to be an ancient kingdom, originating in the area of the Congo before moving into southern Africa. However, this is somewhat disputed now as it is being used as a basis for claims to a greater prestige and perhaps even independence (more on that later) which the South African government (the ANC as the country is effectively a one-party state) adamantly opposes. Mandela was related to the local chieftain family but, for reasons which will become clear, most of his devoted adherents prefer not to highlight the relationship. He was the uncle, for example, of Kaiser Matanzima who does not have a very good reputation in South Africa these days. His status is a little unclear as his titles are sometimes royal and sometimes republican in nature, depending on what one is reading. His unpopularity stems from the fact that he worked with the White minority government. This cooperation is often cited as the “price” for his being recognized as the paramount chief (sometimes rendered as king) of the “Emigrant Thembus” which was a separatist group.

Chief/king Kaiser Matanzima supported the Bantu or Black Authorities Act of 1951 by which the apartheid government set up officially recognized homelands for the native people. They called this an effort at genuine cultural preservation for the native African people. Others would say that the government was doing this to have a place to expel Blacks who caused problems in the parts of South Africa where the White minority was most concentrated. Chief/King Kaiser Matanzima claimed that he had his own agenda in mind even though it meant breaking with the African National Congress (the communist-coalition revolutionary group of Mandela). Matanzima had a vision for Black South African liberation coming from the establishment of a federation of all-Black states whereas the ANC was determined to stay within the White-established South Africa while using popular pressure and acts of violence to force the Whites out of power. Matanzima became very unpopular with the radicals because of this, some of whom even tried to assassinate him. Nonetheless, Transkei became the first “independent” Bantustan (as a republic) with Matanzima being elected Prime Minister. However, some at the time accused him of corrupt dealings and ruling like a dictator while he later clashed with the South African government over territorial demands. At one point, Matanzima tried to assert actual independence but was stopped when the South African government threatened to cut off the financial assistance he depended on.

In 1979 King/Chief/Prime Minister Kaiser Matanzima became State President and made his brother prime minister. In 1980 he banned opposition parties including the Democratic Progressive Party led by Sabata Dalindyebo who went into exile in Zambia and joined the ANC. Dalindyebo was also challenging Matanzima for the kingship of the tribal nation. Matanzima continued to keep politics “in the family”. He appointed the father-in-law of Nelson Mandela to his cabinet and when Mandela was arrested he tried to persuade him to leave prison and go into exile in Transkei. Mandela had been arrested, tried and convicted of complicity in 156 acts of public violence, mostly terrorist bombings which took the lives of many men, women and children. Mandela himself pleaded guilty to these charges and the South African government offered to release him if he would only renounce violence but Mandela refused to do so (which is why Amnesty International refused to designate Mandela as a political prisoner). In any event, it seemed to work out for him as his imprisonment was not harsh and Mandela was able to keep in contact with his followers, maintain his leadership and become a very rich man all while in prison. He refused to even speak with his uncle, classifying him as collaborating with the apartheid system which is what the ANC said about anyone that did not go along with their leadership and agenda.

The Thembu King
In the meantime, Matanzima was forced to step down as President over mounting cries of corruption and following a family feud with his former PM, brother and successor as President he was even arrested for a time in 1987. As mentioned earlier, he was effectively deposed as Chief/King by Sabata Jonguhlanga Dalindyebo though this was largely nominal as he died while still in exile in Zambia. Nonetheless, he is a more well regarded figure today because, in backing the ANC, he had picked the winning side. However, the drama did not end there. He was succeeded by his son Buyelekhaya Zwelinbanzi Dalindyebo a Sabata in May of 1989 and he has “reigned” as King of the Thembu ever since. It was this man of whom Nelson Mandela was, in a sense, a subject or at least would have been if the kings in South Africa had actual sovereignty. His official duties are mostly restricted to settling minor disputes between locals and carrying on familiar traditions. However, his time in office or on the throne has been quite controversial. In 2005 he was indicted for fraud, murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and arson stemming from his reaction to what he basically regarded as a village rebellion. He was sentenced to 15 years in jail but is appealing the verdict.

Since that time, the friendly relationship he and his father had with the ANC government came to an abrupt end as King Buyelekhaya blamed President Jacob Zuma for failing to intervene to stop the criminal proceedings against him. He has since pointed out the long list of unsavory things Zuma has done without consequence. Also since that time he has, in a mild way, tried to secede from South Africa and create a Kingdom of Thembuland, taking two-thirds of South Africa with him as “historic territory”. The South African government has pretty much ignored this and the King has said that he is strictly non-violent and will accomplish his goal by educating people on the “true” history of the Thembu which he has said were an ancient and powerful nation that have been unjustly eclipsed in South Africa. In particular he has railed against the most high-profile South African tribal-kingdom of the Zulus, complaining that these were nothing compared to the Thembu people and that they only achieved status by working with the Whites. He has also complained that the Zulu king receives far more government funds (63 million rands a year) than he does because of their undeserved (in his view) notoriety. He has also demanded $124 million in damages from the government and a whopping $10.8 billion for the “humiliation” that his trial caused the Thembu people.

It is a precarious position to take as all the remaining sub-national royals in South Africa exist only at the whim of the ANC government which can usually get them to fall in line by threatening their allowance. For instance, there were originally 13 tribal kingdoms in South Africa, recognized by the government but, after an inquisition by the ANC, six of these were declared to be the illegitimate fruits of the apartheid government and abolished. So far, accusing anyone of having anything to do with the apartheid era is enough to gain a political victory and when King Buyelekhaya had his lawyer give notice of the “independence” of “Thembuland” the ANC responded by saying this was a call for a return to the “homeland” policies of the apartheid government. Most people do not take it seriously at all nor is there any reason to expect that they ever will. It has been a radical turnaround since his early days when he was a member of the armed wing of the ANC. In 2011 he appointed one of Mandela’s grandsons to the position of a village chief, however, despite being his nominal subject, yet actual political superior while President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela refrained from any involvement with his native kingdom, its monarchy or its troubled king. The closest to involvement came when the King ridiculed President Zuma at a prayer service for Mandela, prompting calls for him to be deposed but it is difficult to tell where that has gone. The ANC wanted the family to remove him and the family seems to have wanted the ANC to do it. Anyway you look at it, the situation is far from ideal to say the least of it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Capstone of Government

Some time ago, I read an article by a prominent British politician (Tory Party) lamenting the diminishment of certain personal freedoms in the English-speaking countries outside of the United States. He singled out for particular illustration the diminishment of freedom of speech, due mostly to the modern-day champions of political correctness and the recent idea that no one should ever have to suffer the horror of being offended by something someone else says. He noted that this was not a problem or at least much less of one in the United States in comparison to Great Britain because of the Bill of Rights. Correctly, he pointed out that, though many are unaware of it, Britain has a similar document, predating the American version of course, and restated the argument this man has made many times in the past that the founders of the United States were simply carrying on the tradition of their Anglo forefathers who had turned out King James II and welcomed in King William III in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 when the current model of the British constitutional monarchy was established. Lamenting that the 1689 Bill of Rights has been forgotten in the modern United Kingdom, he suggested that Britain would do well to emulate America on this front, perhaps with a written constitution rather than depending on the sovereignty of Parliament to keep Britain a ‘nation of laws rather than men’. Reading through this, I could not help but notice the glaring absence of a defense of the British monarchy because that is really the essential factor.

True, this person did point out that, because the Prime Minister exercises the royal powers, he has considerable political power, pointing out how easily Tony Blair was able to totally destroy (what was left of) the traditional House of Lords. Yet, the monarchy itself remains something few politicians of any stripe wish to address directly and those who do are invariably on the side of diminishing or abolishing the institution which is at the heart of all law and government in the United Kingdom and all Commonwealth Realms. Having no window to his soul, I could not state for a fact whether this is due to a lack of support for the monarchy as a vital part of British life, culture and government or because of fear of the political consequences of defending the monarchy in such a context. However, it is an essential point. The first thing that must be said is that, regardless of how comparatively better things may be or seem to be in the United States compared to other English-speaking countries when it comes to individual freedoms, the fact is that the Constitution is not a cure-all and never has been. It is one of the flaws of the American system that every politician must swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and yet, by that very document, it is perfectly legal to change it. An American politician can take an oath to uphold the Constitution and still have it altered or taken to the Supreme Court to be reinterpreted to say something it never said before. It is, after all, only a piece of paper. It cannot speak for itself, it does not toil or spin. It has meaning only insofar as the Supreme Court interprets it and it has authority only insofar as it is enforced as it is.

The British case, on the other hand, is quite different and yet here again the very document being lauded, the 1689 Bill of Rights, is at least somewhat self-defeating. The only problem with the unwritten British constitution is that the one entity which is supposed to defend it and which, allegedly, has the obligation to defend it has been completely robbed of the ability to do so in part because of those very events of 1688 and the changes which came after (of course there have been plenty of others, and more drastic ones since). At the coronation of every British monarch they must swear to uphold the law and administer justice and yet, because of the perpetual power-grabbing by Parliament, today the monarch is effectively incapable of doing this and, in fact, most legal experts in Britain today would consider it “unconstitutional” and illegal if the Queen attempted to actually uphold the very oath she took at her coronation. Yet, this is only one modern absurdity among many we can see today. Another would be politicians being required to swear allegiance to the Crown yet also being allowed by law to campaign for the abolition of the Crown. We see it as well in the law which makes Parliament supreme while Parliament votes away its powers to the European Union.

It seems strange to me to hear a British politician, even one of comparatively better sense than most, argue that a new bill of rights is needed while admitting that the old one is simply ignored. Why not simply stop ignoring the old one? Perhaps because modern Britain is planted so thick with laws, local, national and European, that they often contradict each other. To enforce one law would mean to violate another. Of course, one could appeal, but go far enough and one will find that the ultimate authority has been effectively deprived of the power to act. Furthermore, any reassurance that this would be an occasion to do so and follow the letter of the law exactly would take some persuasion given the decades stretched to centuries that monarchs have been browbeaten into believing that the one thing they must never, ever do is exercise the power that is technically, legally, their own. I must also point out that in this same article, the author laments the evolution of the modern, permanent political class; those who have made politics a profession rather than a part-time obligation. However, the system that exists came to be as it is now by these very people and to serve the interests of that same political class. That is why there is no recourse. The final authority is supposed to be the monarch but the monarch is not allowed to exercise any royal powers so everything just circles back around to those same professional politicians in Parliament.

The United States, lest anyone think things are better in the “Great Republic” has come to the same thing, and in much less time. Contrary to what various presidents have said, “the buck stops” nowhere these days. The President does something that is illegal (something that violates the Constitution) and yet, the Constitution can do nothing to stop him. The opposition party may ask the Justice Department to investigate but, of course, the Attorney General is a presidential appointee and unlikely to find his boss guilty of any wrongdoing. The Congress is supposed to be able to do something but as any American should know, a thing is only illegal if someone in the *other* party does it. Unless the party opposed to the President controls large majorities in both houses, there is nothing they can do about a President who breaks the law. Most would think that the Supreme Court could do something, and it is probably true that most Americans consider them to now be the ultimate authority in the country (oddly, the institution to which one is appointed and serves for life, making it the least democratic) but, even if someone brought such a case to them and even if they deigned to hear it their ruling must be enforced by the President as they have no power other than to render opinion. As most familiar with American history know, presidents have refused to enforce Supreme Court rulings in the past and, in the right circumstances, there is no reason it couldn’t happen again.

Every country, no matter how modern and “enlightened” it may be, has to have something that the political structure is based on. There has to be something or someone which, when all else fails, has the final say and is above question. A republic, fundamentally, does not. America has made a good effort with its Constitution but, again, that is only a document which does little good when those who must uphold it and interpret it (and I do so love that word, as if it was written in some obscure, ancient language) are the very ones it is supposed to restrain. For Britain and the Commonwealth Realms this is supposed to be the monarch and it could be and has been. However, over time, minor incidents were so exaggerated that the British public, it seems, came to view the monarch as being the adviser to the Parliament rather than the reverse and invested so much power in politicians for fear of being tyrannized by a monarch that today the monarch has no power to restrain the politicians from tyrannizing the people. As can easily be seen in America, if a President oversteps his authority, it is difficult to impossible to call him to account. Yet, in a monarchy, if a King or Queen in most European countries tried to exercise their authority (much less overstep it) there is no doubt that they would be brought down immediately. Meanwhile, those in power can overstep their authority with no one to call them to account because the only one entitled to do so is not permitted.

One can debate whether or not another bill of rights would do the United Kingdom any good. Perhaps it would help for a while, perhaps it would not or perhaps it would be twisted to actually do even more harm. What is certain, and it is certain because the current bill of rights has failed in “its” duty, is that it would not be a perfect solution. Nor is their likely to be one so long as the public is limited in its thinking to trusting for the answer to their problems in more politicians (such as in the new House of So-Called Lords) or in more documents to be upheld and interpreted by politicians when the politicians are the very problem. When the monarch has been reduced to ceremonial status and the House of Peers destroyed in all but name, is it any surprise that the professional politicians of the Commons have been able to run wild? The public must awaken sufficiently to stop trusting those who advance themselves by playing on the public vanity. It must awaken to the fact that sometimes the popular majority can get it wrong and that any constitution or code of justice is only as good as those who are charged with upholding it. They must also realize that, even if they cannot consider allowing a monarch to rule or even have a share in governing, it is still a good idea to allow a monarch to say “no” and have that be the end of it. The public wanted that power and they have it. Most now realize something is wrong but they do not want to admit that maybe, just maybe, they are part of the reason why. Looking at the situation today, a monarch would not be unjustified to say to anyone asking for help, in the words of the last German Kaiser, “You’ve cooked this broth, and now you’re going to drink it”.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Favorite Royal Images: New Princess

Princess Salwa Aga Khan (formerly Kendra Spears)

Note: This was not originally on my 'favorite images' list but after some recent comments I decided to post this one (which I do think is a lovely photo) just as a sort of test. We shall await the results.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Monarch Profile: Emperor Napoleon I

The man who would become Emperor of the French and one of the most renowned military commanders in history was born Napoleone di Buonaparte on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. His parents were Carlo Maria di Buonaparte and Maria Letezia Ramolino. The year before he was born the island of Corsica had been ceded to France from the Republic of Genoa and Carlo di Buonaparte, a lawyer, was chosen to represent Corsica at the court of King Louis XVI in 1777. Because of the connections of his family, he was able to go to school in France where he learned to speak French and was later enrolled at a military academy. At first he was made fun of by his classmates because of his “provincial” manners and Italian accent but this only motivated him to succeed all the more nor did it turn him off of his admiration for France, at least in the long term. The historiography of Napoleon has often been divided into two camps with those hostile to Napoleon emphasizing his Italian-Corsican background and those enamored with Napoleon who portrayed him as purely French and, indeed, the very embodiment of French greatness. The truth, of course, cares nothing for agenda. In fact, Napoleon was not French in his background or ethnicity. In terms of the blood in his veins he was as Italian as one could be. However, he was French, not just by adoption, but by choice.

In the time of the young Napoleon, a Corsican could either hold on to regional pride and maintain resentment at French rule or embrace France as the most powerful country they had encountered. This was the way for Napoleon though it took him some time to get there and it came about fully when he realized that France was the only vehicle large enough for his ambition. When that became clear, he determined that the advancement of France would be his goal and in so doing he would advance himself to the most extreme heights possible. He learned French, later adopted the French spelling of his name and devoted his entire life to France. As ambitious and egotistical as he could be, he always held France, if not first in his heart, at least second to himself and even that is somewhat debatable. France was sacred to him and even in his darkest hours he never entertained the same bitterness toward his country that other fallen despots often do. France was the most wonderful thing this young man from Corsica had ever seen and if it had any faults it was only that it lacked his leadership to lead it to the glorious destiny that France deserved. It did not happen overnight of course. His first inclination had been to become a Corsican nationalist and during the French Revolution he was part of the most radical, revolutionary faction in Corsica but when he broke with the would-be leader of Corsican independence, Pasquale Paoli, he returned to France and became as ardent a Frenchman as one could be.

Joining the ranks of the radical Jacobins, Napoleon cut all ties with his homeland when Corsica declared independence from France in 1793. At that point, his choice was made; he chose to no longer be Corsican but to be French. Young Napoleon embraced the revolutionary cause and became an officer in the republican artillery, distinguishing himself at the siege of Toulon fighting the British, Spanish, Piedmontese and those French who had turned traitor. His plan won the city back for the revolutionaries and he was made a brigadier general. His star was on the rise having taken command in a difficult situation, devised a plan that led to victory and having been wounded in the process, he had all the makings of a revolutionary hero. His status rose even higher when, on October 5, 1795, he suppressed a royalist uprising in Paris with a “whiff of grapeshot” and, as a reward, he was put in charge of the Army of Italy. In this post he proved himself a natural and gifted military leader. In 1796 and 1797 he defeated the Austrians at Lodi, Castiglione, Arcola and Rivoli until, in the end, Austria and Italy were at his mercy. He also gained the high esteem of his soldiers by leading from the front, at Lodi even personally leading a bayonet charge across a bridge against the Austrian rear guard. It was because of this that his troops dubbed him “the Little Corporal”.

With these exploits, Napoleon had become a celebrity in France and he took full advantage of it in both the military and political spheres. Already he identified the British as his greatest enemy but a cross-channel invasion was not possible at that stage so he took 40,000 men and invaded Egypt, menacing British trade routes and threatening India. He won several victories over the Turks and their subject peoples who were fierce but outdated in their tactics. In the end, however, the British thwarted him by a victory at sea in the battle of the Nile thanks to the skillful leadership of the British admiral Horatio Nelson. Napoleon, seeing the situation was doomed, left his army and returned to France. Some, recognizing his ambition, skill and popularity, had thought that sending him to the Middle East would put him out of the way. As it happens, they were right to be wary for when he returned Napoleon involved himself in a plot against the Directory and, in the end, he managed to make himself First Consul; effectively the dictator of France. He enacted a new, expansive system of conscription (we have the French Revolution to thank for the “nation in arms”) and in 1800 invaded Austria which resulted in a negotiated peace that established the Rhine as the eastern border of France. On the home-front Napoleon reworked the civil laws and formalized the changes of the revolution into the Napoleonic Code. In 1802 he revised the constitution to be “Consul for Life”.

Great Britain, however, was the one enemy he could not touch and the following year renewed their war against France, later joined by Austria and Russia. However, even with the gains he had already made, his ambition was still not fulfilled and in 1804 he crowned himself Emperor, having Pope Pius VII brought up from Rome to preside over the ceremony and his give papal blessing to the new French Emperor. Yet, still, the British remained his greatest irritant. In 1805 the British fleet, again led by Horatio Nelson, destroyed the French and Spanish navies at the battle of Trafalgar. On land, however, Napoleon proved unstoppable and he set out on what was arguably his most brilliant military campaign. He moved quickly, maneuvered adeptly and struck with vicious force. On October 17, 1805 he defeated the Austrians at Ulm and on December 2 won a stunning victory over the Austro-Russian forces at the battle of Austerlitz. That victory alone would have earned him a page in military history but Napoleon was still not finished. In 1806 he defeated the Prussians at Jena and in 1807 defeated the Russians at Friedland, forcing them to make peace. With the Treaty of Tilsit, Europe was effectively divided between France and Russia with the French Empire in the commanding position. Napoleon had made himself Emperor in 1804 and within three years had effectively made himself master of Europe.

This was an astounding event and it shows just how rapidly life was changing for Napoleon and how rapidly he was being changed himself. In little more than ten years he had gone from being an obscure junior artillery officer to crowning himself “Emperor of the French”. He had married the aristocratic Josephine de Beauharnais, the great love of his life, he had gone from fighting French troops in Corsica to leading French troops to some of their greatest victories, he had gone from being a Jacobin revolutionary to proclaiming himself a monarch -and of imperial status no less. And along with a helping of plain good fortune (which he would be the first to recognize) he had done it all by his own skill. He was brilliant on the battlefield, and away from it he allowed no opportunity to slip through his fingers, advancing himself by being a revolutionary when the revolutionaries were in power, fighting for the Directory then going along with the coup against it and finally, when standing on the world stage, sought to make himself the equal of the Emperors of Austria and Russia. It was nothing short of astounding. Later in life, Napoleon never liked to portray himself as a traitor or a revolutionary when, in fact, he was both. However, the more he advanced, the more conservative he became and eventually he tried to force republicanism and monarchy together, to create a revolutionary kind of monarchy, not eliminating monarchy as the French revolutionaries had originally sought to do, but simply replacing them with his own version. And he was succeeding.

For the devout, traditional royalists of France Napoleon would not and could not be anything but an upstart usurper, however, many people who would have been royalists were converted to his side because of the order and return to normalcy that Napoleon brought to France. He ended the chaos, bloodshed and instability of the French Revolution and while he emancipated Jews and Protestants he also signed a concordat with the Pope that recognized Catholicism as the religion of the majority in France and restored to the Catholic Church most (but not all) of the privileges that the First Republic had taken from them. Napoleon had also portrayed his French Empire as a restoration of the empire of Charlemagne and the style he adopted was a very noticeably Roman one; wearing a laurel crown at his coronation, topping the standards of his regiments with eagles and in countless other ways. As the Pope had come to terms with him, as the position of the Church had been settled in France, it became possible, in the minds of many at least, to be a good Catholic and a loyal supporter of the new Emperor Napoleon I. The most unanswerable argument Napoleon could always make to his critics was that he simply got it done. The republican purists might have condemned him for his monarchial aspirations and the royalists might denounce him as a usurper but the fact was, they had not succeeded and Napoleon had. They did not restore calm and order to France, he did. They did not resolve the problems with the Church, he did and the government and legal system he established proved successful enough to endure, in part, even to our own time. He got it done and no one, then or now, could deny it, regardless of their own opinions of the man.

If Napoleon had stopped there, if he had let the peace in Europe continue and simply endured the hardships imposed by his sullen enemies it is entirely possible that there might still be a Bonaparte on the throne of France today. However, as with many of those who advance themselves so far, Napoleon thought he could advance farther still. He was overreaching to be sure, but it was not necessarily overconfidence as so many assume. Napoleon had a high opinion of his own abilities certainly but to the great frustration of his enemies it was mostly justified. As his British adversary the Duke of Wellington said, his mere presence on a battlefield was as good as 40,000 extra soldiers. The problem was that Napoleon could not be everywhere at once and while he had many adept commanders amongst the Marshals of France, most were better subordinates than they were independent commanders. Likewise, Napoleon had re-drawn the map of Europe, tearing down old countries and establishing new kingdoms. He farmed out his siblings to become monarchs in Germany, Italy and Holland but only his brother Louis, who was made king over the Dutch, proved both capable and popular (so much so that Napoleon eventually removed him and annexed the Netherlands to France). Critically, one such country was also Spain. Having meddled in Spanish affairs previously, Napoleon finally took over the country outright and placed his brother Giuseppe (Joseph) on the throne as King Jose I.

The Kingdom of Spain proved easy to conquer but impossible to pacify. The word “guerilla” entered the lexicon as Spanish irregular forces harassed the French occupiers at every turn. Spain, generally dismissed as a sideshow by Napoleon, would be a drain on French resources that would ultimately prove critical. It was also worsened by the fact that Napoleon didn’t stop at Spain but decided, while he was in the neighborhood and all, to conquer Portugal in 1807. The Royal Family went into exile in Brazil but this proved a pivotal moment as it got Great Britain (longtime allies of Portugal) involved in the Peninsular War. The British would support the Spanish resistance, revamp the Portuguese army into a very effective fighting force and would send troops to Spain to bedevil the French led by the man who would ultimately bring Napoleon down; Arthur Wellesley, later made Duke of Wellington. France would lose 300,000 men in Spain and have nothing to show for it.

The Spanish quagmire, however, was not enough of a distraction to deter Napoleon from even grander ambitions. Russia was still smarting from the loss of Poland and was unhappy with French influences in Russia and the impact on the Russian economy of Napoleon’s effort to force everyone to stop trading with Britain. By 1812 French spies informed Napoleon that Tsar Alexander I had about decided he had had enough of this and would be taking action. In response, Napoleon launched the most ambitious offensive of his career. Gathering all of his allies (and those allied by force) into a massive army of 600,000 men, Napoleon invaded Russia in the summer of 1812. Most know the basic story of how the invasion unfolded. The French won battles, advanced and advanced but never achieved a decisive victory. Many of the Russian generals seemed hopelessly inept but the stalwart Russian soldiers, on the other hand, seemed inhumanly unflappable. Despite all losses they never gave up and while the French kept advancing, the Russians kept falling back, destroying everything as they went. Napoleon even captured Moscow but it was far from a prize or a decisive victory. The burnt out ruins of the city he marched into summed up the entire Russian campaign; cold, hunger and hardship that gained France nothing. And, all the while, with the Russian armies remaining intact as a threat, bands of fierce Cossacks harassed the French flanks and supply lines. The invasion turned into a disaster and had to be abandoned. The famous retreat from Moscow was nothing short of a nightmare for the French and their allies. Of the 600,000 men Napoleon had led into the steppes of Russia, only about 40,000 survived the ordeal.

By the spring of 1813, Napoleon had recovered somewhat but was faced with the combined forces of Great Britain, Russia, Sweden and Prussia arrayed against him. Napoleon scraped together another army and went out to meet them, confident that, having defeated multiple enemies before, he could do so again. For a time, it seemed that might be the case as he fought as brilliantly as he had in the past but this time it was to no avail. The French were defeated at Leipzig in October of 1813 and forced to retreat to France. With a population tired of his wars and the horrendous casualties they caused, along with the Allied powers closing in on them, Napoleon’s marshals urged him to admit defeat. Feeling disgusted and betrayed Napoleon abdicated on April 11, 1814 and was exiled to the island of Elba on the Italian coast. King Louis XVIII was restored to the throne of France and Europe breathed a sigh of relief. By this time Napoleon had divorced Empress Josephine and in 1810 had married Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, the eldest child of Emperor Francis I. He did this to obtain an heir and make the Bonaparte succession secure as well as to, hopefully, gain recognition as a legitimate member of the crowned heads of Europe by marrying into the House of Hapsburg. In 1811 she gave birth to his only son, Napoleon II. With his downfall in 1814, Napoleon would never see them again and that too weighed heavily upon him.

So, Napoleon did not stay exiled very long. He had little trouble escaping from Elba, won over the army sent to arrest him to his side and triumphantly restored himself to power. However, the other European powers had had enough and, at the Congress of Vienna, declared Napoleon an enemy of world peace basically and joined forces to crush him immediately. He probably knew this was bound to happen and it calls into question the point of his restoration and all those who would die as a result but, Napoleon believed that if he could move quickly and defeat the British and the Prussians before all the Allies could unite against him there would be time to make some arrangement or at least hope for a miracle that would enable his empire and dynasty to survive. And, it must be said, at the outset, he displayed his usual skill. He divided the Prussians from the British (a coalition force that included a large number of Germans and the Dutch-Belgian army) and was able to bring superior forces to bear against the British under Wellington at the small Belgian town of Waterloo.

However, when it came time for battle on June 18, 1815, Napoleon was ill and displayed none of his usual foresight and aggressiveness. He attacked the British lines again and again but the British always managed to hold on. Just when it seemed the enemy would crack under sheer weight of numbers, the Prussians arrived on the scene. Desperate to end the battle, Napoleon threw in his “Old Guard” but the British repulsed them as well. Wellington counter-attacked, the Prussians closed in and the French were totally defeated. Napoleon was finally and permanently beaten. Once again he was exiled but this time to the remote island of St Helena in the middle of the South Atlantic where he lived out the rest of his life. Napoleon Bonaparte, the man who made himself “Emperor of the French” and who conquered most of Europe died on May 5, 1821 at the age of 51. Meanwhile, the Congress of Vienna had worked to put Europe back together after Napoleon had spread war and devastation from Lisbon to Moscow. Most damaging though was that his success had spread the ideas of the French Revolution across the whole continent and by both raising up some peoples and inspiring others to resist him, he made nationalism a much more potent force in the future. The impact of “the Little Corporal” would be felt from the Iberian Peninsula to the steppes of Russia, from Scandinavia to Sicily for a very long time to come.

For other thoughts on Napoleon and his place in history, see this post.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Royal News Roundup

Starting up north, HRH Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark paid a visit to the Danish troops serving in Afghanistan while Princess Marie of Denmark is making plans to visit Ethiopia. In neighboring Norway it was announced that the King and Queen will be spending Christmas with Princess Martha Louise and her family while the Crown Prince and family will be in Uvdal. The Crown Princess is easing back into her royal duties after some health problems that required neck surgery but she is reportedly on the mend and in good humor. The King & Queen also attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony this week, the award going to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The King and Queen of Sweden were also, of course in attendance with the King presenting the award.

Concerning the British & Commonwealth royals, Prince Harry had his race to the south pole canceled because of safety concerns but he and the veterans still continued their trek to the southernmost extreme of the globe at a more leisurely and non-competitive pace. They arrived on Friday making Prince Harry the first British royal to ever visit the South Pole. Back at home, Prince William showed his support for HM’s Armed Forces at a special military tournament in London. Having ended his career in the RAF, the Duke of Cambridge is expected to be rejoining the Blues & Royals shortly. Also on the military front, the Duchess of Cambridge welcomed home her Fourth Rifles Battalion this week of which she is honorary colonel. The Prince of Wales gave out an art award and along with the Duchess of Cornwall attended the Sun Military Awards.

Princess Catherina-Amalia of The Netherlands celebrated her tenth birthday (congratulations there) this week and Queen Maxima was on a tour of Africa, visiting Ethiopia and Tanzania, bringing quit a bit of happiness to the locals based on the images from the trip. In Belgium, King Philip met with trash collectors and got started celebrating Christmas at the Royal Palace along with Queen Mathilde, Princess Astrid and Prince Laurent.

In southern Europe, in the sunny Principality of Monaco, Charlotte Casiraghi is all set to give birth to her first child and has a room reserved at the Princess Grace Hospital where she and her brothers were born. Her actor/comedian boyfriend will be wrapping up his latest tour in Monaco to be on-hand for the big event. In nearby Italy, HH Pope Francis made headlines again this week for being given the distinction of TIME magazine “Person of the Year”, continuing the unabashed love affair the mainstream media has been having with Pope Francis, something that stands in stark contrast to the treatment of his predecessors. However, in another interview with an Italian periodical, seemingly in response to the controversy caused by his papal “mission statement” Pope Francis had to assert that he is “not a Marxist”. That is, of course, good to hear but it is also not exactly the sort of thing one expects a Pope to have to clarify. Once upon a time, the very idea would have been too absurd to even occur to anyone. Unfortunately, though he clarified that he was not one, the Pope did not seem bothered by being called one saying, “I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people, so I don’t feel offended.” That may be an even worse thing to say. Marxists are atheists after all, so one would wonder by what definition a Christian could consider an atheist a “good” person. Did anyone ever say that National Socialism was wrong as an ideology but many Nazis were good people? Has anyone ever said that -because Marxism has killed more people than Nazism did (even if for no other reason than that it is more widespread and has been around longer). Somehow I doubt it. How things change. And, over in Spain, HRH Infanta Cristina was sued this week by the far-right group “Manos Limpias”, I would suspect mostly likely in an effort to gain publicity. On a lighter note, HM Queen Sofia was in London doing some Christmas shopping.

On the subcontinent of India, HH Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar passed away on Tuesday at the age of 60 from a heart attack. Wodeyar was the last descendant of the dynasty which ruled Mysore until the abolition of the princely states following independence from Britain and the dissolution of the Empire of India. Today the area is part of the state of Karnataka. Described as a progressive and a reformer he was also a known cricket enthusiast. He had no children. In happier news, though not without a hint of controversy for the royal world of India, star athlete S. Sreesanth was married to Princess (?) Bhuveneshwari Kumari of the royal family of Jaipur at the Guruvayoor Sree Krishna temple in Kerala. The famous cricket bowler has had some trouble with the law in the past. Of course, we wish them all the best.

In still more news of people saying things that shouldn’t have to be said, former PM and convicted criminal on the run from the law, Thaksin Shinawatra, has said he is loyal to the King and complained that nothing his enemies in Thailand are saying is true (that he is not loyal to the monarchy and aspires to being the first “President of Thailand”). Of course, the fact that he has to say such a thing only goes to show what good reasons have for people to doubt it. After all, if one cannot take the word of a politician convicted of massive deceit and corruption, who can you believe?

In Japan, HIH Crown Princess Masako released a 2-page statement on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday saying that she is making good progress in her recovery and has hopes for better times ahead. Less pleasantly, in a recent article by the ever left-leaning Japan Times, Philip Brasor editorialized on how the “liberal leanings” of HM the Emperor are at odds with the “far-right” LDP currently in power. It bemoaned how “emperor worship” is still engrained in people, much to His Majesty’s discomfort and embarrassment, pointing to the recent uproar over a breach in protocol when an activist politician handed HM a letter. This is the sort of simplistic and frankly racist idiocy that can only come from a western leftist. His are the very same people who howl the loudest about the Emperor being a purely symbolic figure, completely outside of politics, upset that any might still respect or (dare I say) even revere HM while in the very same breath insisting that, despite being totally nonpolitical, when it comes to politics, deep down HM really agrees with them and not the “far-right” that places more trust and more seriousness to the monarchy. Everyone should also be aware that the *actual* far-right has never held an ounce of political power in Japan (at least since World War II) and that what these people call “far-right”, such as the Liberal Democratic Party means a party that believes in the freedom for people to worship where they choose, to insist on past agreements being honored and which is determined to defend the country in case of attack. That is what they call “far-right”. It would be funny if so many people didn’t believe it. As for HM the Emperor holding “liberal” views, if “liberal” is defined as caring about the health of the people and country and preferring to have peaceful relations with all, then, yes, that would make HM the Emperor a liberal but the same would also apply to the vast majority of the entire population.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Royal Friends of Texas: The Netherlands

Dutch immigration to the New World has been extensive over the centuries but has mostly been concentrated in areas far removed from Texas. However, Dutch influence in Texas history goes back to the colonial period with the very first Dutchman in Texas being a very prominent figure in Texas history. That man was Felipe Enrique Neri, Baron de Bastrop. He was born Philip Hendrik Nering Bögel in the colony of Dutch Guiana (modern-day Surinam) in South America. He promoted himself to Baron de Bastrop when he moved to New Orleans, Louisiana and adopted the Spanish version of his name after coming to San Antonio, Texas. He had served in the Dutch army (cavalry of course) before marrying, having five children and then working as a tax collector. When he was accused of having sticky fingers he packed up his family and moved to Louisiana (at that time under the Crown of Spain). He made a fortune, lost it and started to make another when he moved to Texas after France received Louisiana and sold it to the United States. Baron de Bastrop moved to San Antonio in 1806 and received a grant from the Spanish government to establish a colony between Bexar and the Trinity River.

Baron de Bastrop
Baron de Bastrop was an extremely important figure in the development of Texas. He was elected mayor, established good relations and trade with both the Mexicans and the local Caddo Indians as well as helping Moses Austin gain permission to establish the first Anglo colony in Texas which was later carried out by his son Stephen F. Austin, the “Father of Texas”. Baron de Bastrop was trusted and respected by the Spanish and later Mexican governments and his influence brought about the passage of numerous laws that greatly benefited Texas such as the establishment of a port at Galveston island. He was commissioner of colonization for the Austin colony and was later elected to the state legislature of Coahuila y Tejas. He served there up until his death in 1827. A city and a County in Texas are named Bastrop in his honor though it was not until some time after his death that it was learned that his title of Baron de Bastrop had been a fabrication. Nonetheless, because of his great contribution, no one thought that mattered and in Texas he has forever remained Baron de Bastrop. Not long after, came the War for Independence and the establishment of the Republic of Texas.

The Kingdom of The Netherlands was fairly quick to recognize the Republic of Texas and establish full diplomatic relations. When the Kingdom of Belgium did so, the Dutch did not want to be left out and so did the same, opening a Dutch embassy in Austin and welcoming a Texan ambassador to Amsterdam. The Kingdoms of France, Belgium and The Netherlands were the only European countries to fully recognize the Republic of Texas as a sovereign state. Dutch settlers, however, were slow to come to Texas, though there was some trade between Texas and the Netherlands and Dutch colonies in the Caribbean and South America. Dutch settlement in Texas would never be extensive but it did pick up after the end of the American Civil War. One early group was led by Pieter Nieveen and a man named Mr. Roelofs who brought Dutch settlers to establish a farming colony in Denton County. Unfortunately, the enterprise was not a success. Another Dutch colony was attempted at Gothland but met a similar fate. However, in 1895 a group of Dutch businessmen started the Port Arthur Land Company and bought 66,000 acres of prairie land in southeast Texas for resale at $8 per acre. The first Dutch immigrant to buy some of the land was George Rienstra in 1897 and a few months later about fifty Dutch families followed him to start a new life in Texas. To house them while their new homes were built they constructed the Orange Hotel named in honor of the Dutch Royal Family. This little settlement became what is now the town of Nederland east of Houston.

At first the Dutch stuck to what they knew best, making cheese, raising dairy cattle and growing rice. However, not long after oil came bursting out of the ground at nearby Spindletop and an oil processing plant was soon built a mile south of Nederland. This proved beneficial when the local rice industry was wiped out in the 1907 depression, the local Dutch families were able to find work with the oil companies and the town of Nederland prospered. The town of Nederland remains a unique little corner of Texas and eventually the locals built a large, Dutch-style windmill in the center of town to honor the Dutch settlers who founded it. Another little town, less noticeably, has Dutch roots in Texas. That is thanks to Willem Henrik Snyder, later known as “Pete” (for some reason) who was the first settler in Robber’s Roost where he set up a trading post on Deep Creek. He primarily did business with West Texas buffalo hunters who traded hides for supplies, hence the area became known as Hide Town but which was later renamed Snyder, Texas in honor of the Dutch frontiersman who founded the place.

Over the years the Dutch-Texans became known for their religious faith, family ties and uniquely Dutch habits. Unlike other Texans, they saved their horses for plowing and walked everywhere. They saved their money and never bought on credit and whereas most Texans love eating tomatoes raw with a little salt, the Dutch figured that, being a fruit, tomatoes should be eaten stewed with sugar and cornstarch. There were also a number of Dutch natives who became notable throughout Texas history such as David Levi Kokernot who was born in Amsterdam but later moved to New Orleans were he became a pilot and eventually bought his own ship. While hunting smugglers on the Texas coast, he shipwrecked at Anahuac and ended up joining the local Texas forces in the War for Independence. He became good friends with General Sam Houston who, after becoming the first President of the Republic of Texas, gave Kokernot a number of special jobs and he was even the captain of a company of Texas Rangers for eleven years. His sons later grew up to be major cattle ranchers in West Texas. Descendants of his are still working in the cattle business in the area west of Fort Davis. Another Dutch family who came to Texas was that of Maarten and Antje Koelemay who settled with their eight children in Nederland. After having no luck at the cheese business the sons became railroad workers while living at the Orange Hotel which their father managed until 1915 when a storm forced the historic hotel to close.

The Dutch influence on Texas has been considerable for their relatively small numbers. They were pioneers in the hotel business, dairy farms and in the oil business. Dutch settlers were known for maintaining strong ties with their homeland, including the regular marking of ‘Queen’s Day’. John Brands was a noted priest from the Netherlands who was instrumental in the strengthening of the Catholic Church in Galveston in the 1840’s and they introduced things to Texas as varied as coleslaw and doughnuts. Dutch people have played a part in Texas history ever since the days of the famous Baron de Bastrop and the Kingdom of the Netherlands has enjoyed friendly diplomatic relations with Texas ever since the early days of the republic. For a little while, in a very nominal way, Texas and The Netherlands were even under the same monarchy in the days of Emperor Charles V and King Philip II of Spain before Dutch independence was won. Hopefully the close ties and friendship between Texas and the Kingdom of The Netherlands will always continue.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Story of Monarchy: The End of Afghanistan

As most readers of this weblog at least will probably know, Mohammed Zahir Shah was the last King of Afghanistan. He was a member of the Barakzai dynasty which had held power in Afghanistan since 1826 after the fall of the Durrani Empire. Chaos had ensued after the fall of the Durrani and Afghanistan fragmented into warring tribal factions, something which will sound familiar to people today. Out of that chaos arose Dost Mohammad Khan who made himself the Emir of Afghanistan. Later, he lost power as a result of the First Anglo-Afghan War but was later restored and his family would rule Afghanistan until the monarchy came to an end. The Emirate of Afghanistan became a kingdom under Amanullah Khan who took Afghanistan out of the British sphere of influence and tried to modernize the country only to be met with a civil war and be forced to flee the country, finding refuge, ironically enough in the British Empire of India. His son was likewise chased from the country though his successor was soon deposed as well, allowing for a return to some normalcy with the reign of King Mohammed Nadir Shah who came to power in 1929. He had British support but still faced opposition from radical tribal leaders, pressure from the Soviet Union and periodic rebellions. In 1933 he was assassinated which left the throne to his son, King Mohammed Zahir Shah.

King Zahir Shah
A highly educated man and forward thinking, his reign saw Afghanistan become a more well established country rather than just a war-torn backwater. Afghanistan joined the League of Nations, established diplomatic relations with the United States, had trade agreements with countries from Europe to the Empire of Japan and he gave assistance to the Muslim rebels attempting to establish an independent East Turkestan. However, these forces were defeated by the Republic of China whose forces massacred all the Afghan volunteers. Still, particularly after World War II ended, Afghanistan under the King continued to improve itself. The first university was established, a new constitution was enacted, genuine elections were held and the country became a functioning constitutional monarchy. Innovations included things like universal suffrage and even rights for women. Unfortunately, rival factions continued to be a problem and not just in the countryside but in the palace as well. Mohammed Daoud Khan, a cousin of the King, had served as Prime Minister in the 1950’s but his administration was a disaster and the King had dismissed him. Given what happened later, it is important to understand why.

Daoud Khan was an egotistical and extremely ambitious man who ended up being the ruination of his own country. Despite the fact that there was still a great deal of work to be done in his own country, he looked beyond Afghanistan and put progress there to the side while he pursued his dream of uniting all the Pashtun people into a larger Pashtun nation-state (the Pashtun being the dominant ethnic group of Afghanistan. However, there were a great many Pashtuns living in the still fairly young country of Pakistan and the Pashtun nationalism of Daoud Khan provided no small amount of antagonism to Pakistan. Never a wealthy country, Daoud Khan poured money into Pashtun militias on the Pakistani border and quarreled with Pakistan over where the border was. Pakistan cut off trade with Afghanistan as a result, leaving the Soviet Union as the sole source of economic support for the kingdom. The Soviets were, of course, more than happy to provide all sorts of support to Daoud Khan but at a heavy price of course with the result being the Afghanistan became more and more dependent on the Soviets and the Soviets became more demanding about having greater influence.

Daoud Khan
Fighting broke out between Afghanistan and Pakistan during this time and things did not go well for the Afghans. In addition, the economy was suffering and the non-Pashtun minorities were growing resentful and rebellious of the regime of Daoud Khan which was entirely Pashtun dominated. The King finally dismissed him in 1963 and tried to win back the support of the minorities by removing members of the Royal Family from the Council of Ministers with his new constitution. He also tried to reestablish good relations with Pakistan and, indeed, the border was reopened. However, Daoud Khan held a grudge and was determined to seize power again but next time he intended to do away with the monarchy completely so there would be no King who could remove him from office. It is also worth remembering that, even though they were never a majority, Daoud Khan had been supported durin his time in office by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the communist party which was, of course, favored by the Soviets. They wanted to make Afghanistan a socialist state like the Soviet Union and were quite pleased to see the failed policies of Daoud Khan draw their country closer into the Soviet orbit.

The communist poison was sitting there in Afghanistan, almost unnoticed but certainly deadly and Daoud Khan would be their path to power even if he was too ignorant to realize it. As has almost invariably been the case in countries around the world, from Russia to China to Cambodia, it is not the communists who overthrow monarchies and seize power (they are usually not strong enough to) but rather some other, more moderate, regime that does so first. The communists then come in, sweep away this younger, weaker regime and take absolute power for themselves. Such was the case in Afghanistan. In truly cowardly fashion, Daoud Khan plotted his revenge against his cousin but did not take action against him in person. Rather, he waited until the King was far away in Italy having eye surgery in 1973 when he launched a palace coup. Daoud Khan seized power and for the first time in Afghan history, declared himself President rather than king and the country became the Republic of Afghanistan. He thought he had won and immediately consolidated his power, killing off potential rivals and establishing a single-party state ruled by the party he established of course, the National Revolutionary Party. All political opposition was persecuted and that included his former communist “friends” of the PDPA. Relations also cooled with the Soviet Union as Daoud Khan, anxious to be his own boss, sought economic ties with India and Iran and the Middle East rather than Soviet Russia. Needless to say, the communists were soon plotting his downfall.

PDPA flag
Old enemies also rose again such as Islamic fundamentalists who were given aid by Pakistan which had not forgotten how Daoud Khan had tormented them in the past. Also, despite his attempts to change direction from his more socialist past, nepotism and corruption were as widespread as before. The Soviets helped unite the communist subversives in Afghanistan around the PDPA (other than the Maoists) and in 1978 Daoud was assassinated in a communist coup that brought the PDPA to power. However, there were still deep divisions among the communists and chaos ensued with one faction overthrowing another. However, a socialist state was established, land reforms (as they were called) were enacted and state atheism was imposed on what was still a zealously Muslim country. Almost immediately there was an anti-communist resistance movement and the rulers called on the Soviet Union for help. Despite some initial reluctance, by the end of 1979 the USSR invaded Afghanistan to prop up the communist government. Most probably know what happened next. Soviet military power was able to hold the cities but the countryside remained dominated by anti-communist, mostly Islamist, guerilla forces support by funds and war materials from the United States. This soon brought about a stalemate and increasing frustration for the Soviets in a situation that resulted in many referring to Afghanistan as “Russia’s Vietnam”.

The exiled King Zahir Shah had been barred from the country by the PDPA and an Afghan civil war was the last thing he wanted to see. Nonetheless, during the Reagan administration he was sought out as an opposition leader and cautiously and tentatively agreed to become the leader of a government-in-exile for Afghanistan. However, this was something the most powerful rebel factions would not agree to as they were determined to have a theocratic republic rather than a monarchy and so the concept fell apart. By 1989 the last of the Soviet military forces left Afghanistan (in utter disgust and frustration) while in Afghanistan the fighting continued between the Afghans themselves. The King had little to nothing to do with Afghan politics during this time, though he was still a sufficiently contentious figure that he was nearly assassinated in 1991. Another government emerged but the country was still almost completely lawless and it was opposed by the Taliban militia that was supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. In 1996 the Taliban secured control of most of the country though areas remained contested by the United Front opposition.

"Father of the Nation"
In 2001, after refusing to turn over Osama bin Laden, U.S. and allied forces invaded Afghanistan and destroyed the Taliban regime. Almost immediately there were calls for the restoration of the monarchy under former King Zahir Shah as the only man who could unite all Afghan people and who was not tainted by the long series of civil wars. However, the U.S. government opposed this, preferring the (supposedly) more pro-American Hamid Karzai to be President of Afghanistan. Yet, it seems the former monarch did not want the position in exactly that way anyway saying, “I will accept the responsibility of head of state if that is what the Loya Jirga demands of me, but I have no intention to restore the monarchy. I do not care about the title of king. The people call me Baba (a term for a respected elderly man) and I prefer this title”. So, when the new post-Taliban government was formed Hamid Karzai became President and he granted the former king the title “Father of the Nation” which was abolished after the King died in 2007. There are currently no major political parties or factions in Afghanistan calling for the restoration of the monarchy, some favor the current republican regime, most advocate for a more Islamist government and there is still the (Maoist) Communist Party ever ready to cause trouble. However, recently, Prince Nadir Naim has emerged as a possible contender for power, a former aid and grandson of the last King (the son of a daughter of his) who is attracting some attention and positive press. He is the first royal to official enter the political race since the downfall of the monarchy, is dismissed by some as an outsider but supported by others who see the end of the monarchy as the point when things started going wrong for Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he has, as yet, not said that his goal is to restore the monarchy. He is running for President in the elections next year on a more general theme of national “restoration” as leader of the “Voice of the People” movement. He is also the nephew of Afghanistan’s first president, the one who overthrew his grandfather and ended the monarchy. Only time will tell how he fares in the chaotic world of Afghan politics.
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