Monday, June 29, 2015

Monarchists in the German Military of World War II

After the victorious German blitzkrieg of 1940, Adolf Hitler was angered by the exiled German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, referring to the victorious troops as his own. This is usually understood as being a reference on the part of the ex-Kaiser to the fact that the German military leadership of World War II had been the officer-cadets and junior officers of World War I; they had learned their trade in the Kaiser’s Germany. However, there was more literal truth to the Kaiser’s statement than many people realized. The military of Nazi Germany was not filled with hardcore Nazis, though some certainly leaned in that direction. Many were apolitical men who considered matters of government to be none of their business and not the sort of thing for professional military men to concern themselves with. However, there were also those who were monarchists and who were very conscious of the distinction that they were fighting for their German Fatherland and not Adolf Hitler or the Nazi Party. There may have been more monarchists than can ever be known for sure since so many did see expressing political opinions as unseemly and due to the fact that, after the Nazis came to power, voicing any support for any other form of government would have meant ruination for themselves and their families.

Korvettenkapitan Hermann Ehrhardt
Even before the Nazis came to power, being too openly monarchist could be disastrous for a German military officer even under the Weimar Republic. Army commander Colonel General Hans von Seeckt brought about the end of his military career when he invited Prince Wilhelm, the Kaiser’s grandson, to the army’s 1926 autumn maneuvers. There had also been a backlash after an earlier coup attempt against the republic in which many monarchists participated. Imperial Naval Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, leader of one of the best Freikorps units in the post-Great War chaotic period in Germany had to flee the country after taking part in the Kapp Putsch but later returned and opposed the Nazis first bid to seize power in Bavaria. Targeted for assassination during the “Night of the Long Knives” he managed to escape to Austria and eluded the Nazi regime throughout World War II. General Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, who came from the untitled Prussian nobility, was assumed by most to be of monarchist sympathies and though he clashed with the Nazis, was called out of retirement to serve in World War II but was later executed for his part in the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Major General Ferdinand von Bredow, a monarchist and head of military intelligence, did not escape and was murdered in the “Night of the Long Knives”.

GFM Gerd von Rundstedt
The most senior German officer known to be a monarchist was General Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. He came from a Prussian aristocratic family with a history of military service stretching back to the army of the revered Frederick the Great. He was a staff officer in World War I and was later made colonel-in-chief of the Eighteenth Regiment. He stands out in photographs for his preference to wear the collar lace of his regiment rather than the usual collar rank insignia for general officers. Called out of retirement for the Polish campaign, he was known for being a brilliant commander when it came to broad planning, a master of the “big picture” while leaving the details to others. When SS units, working behind the lines, began massacring Jews he had them banned from his area of operations. He was commander of Army Group A in the blitzkrieg in Western Europe and commander of Army Group South in the invasion of the Soviet Union, leading the conquest of the Ukraine.

During these years, he was contacted by members of the anti-Nazi resistance who tried to enlist him in their cause but, while he sympathized, he refused to take part, fearing the chaos that would follow the violent overthrow of the regime. Dismissed for clashing with Hitler, he was later reinstated and made commander of the western front, where he disagreed with his subordinate, Field Marshal Rommel, over how best to repel the expected Allied invasion that came in June of 1944 in Normandy. When he remarked that, after the defeat at Normandy, Germany should make peace he was dismissed again but was again recalled later and presided over the defeat of the Allied invasion of The Netherlands known as Operation Market Garden. He was still commander of the western front when the Ardennes offensive was launched (resulting in the Battle of the Bulge) and in the aftermath oversaw the establishment of a new defensive line along the Rhine. However, Hitler was as erratic as ever and von Rundstedt was dismissed again, for the last time, in March of 1945, replaced by Luftwaffe Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.

GFM Fedor von Bock
Another senior military figure known to be a monarchist, and another Prussian from a long-standing military family, was General Field Marshal Fedor von Bock. A product of German and Russian aristocratic stock, he was born in what is now Poland and was the nephew of Colonel General Erich von Falkenhayn, mastermind of the Verdun offensive in World War I. He served as a junior officer in that conflict in the army group of Bavarian Crown Prince Rupprecht, with whom he became close friends, and so distinguished himself that he earned the coveted Pour le Merite (aka the Blue Max), Imperial Germany’s equivalent of the Victoria Cross. He was a staunch opponent of the Allied restrictions placed on the German military by the Treaty of Versailles and as such approved of some Nazi policies in regard to rearmament and reasserting German independence, however, he had no love for the Nazi regime itself. He was a staunch monarchist and continued to make regular visits to the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II in The Netherlands. Hitler would have liked to do away with him but he was simply too valuable as a military leader. He led German forces into Vienna after the union with Austria and into Czechoslovakia after that country was dismembered and occupied.

During World War II, von Bock commanded Army Group North in the conquest of Poland and Army Group B in the invasion of France and the Low Countries. When the invasion of the Soviet Union came in 1941 he was part of a bloc of German monarchist commanders on the eastern front. He commanded Army Group Center while on his flanks were Army Group North commanded by monarchist Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb and Army Group South commanded by monarchist Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. He disagreed with Hitler’s meddling in the campaign and favored pressing on to Moscow as rapidly as possible with his panzer divisions, leaving Russian armies to be mopped up by the slower infantry rather than taking the time to encircle and wipe out each enemy force. The constant order to divert his armored forces to the north or south on such errands were, he warned, wasting their resources and slowing down the campaign. When his forces were given the key role in the drive on Moscow (Operation Typhoon) von Bock was shown to have been correct all along. The delays had allowed the Russians to reinforce their positions and the High Command ordered him to dispatch his armored forces under the famous panzer General Heinz Guderian toward Bryansk to encircle more Red Army forces rather than pressing ahead. A combination of stiff Russian resistance, these diversions of resources and increasingly bad weather finally brought the offensive to a halt just short of Moscow.

Field Marshal von Bock was later dismissed by Hitler after continued disagreements over the Fuhrer’s handling of the Russian campaign. Von Bock was also frustrated by the treatment of Russian civilians and Hitler’s opposition to enlisting anti-communist Russians in the Axis cause (the Russian Liberation Army of General Andrei Vlasov). As a known monarchist who opposed the Nazi regime, he was naturally approached by members of the resistance who were plotting Hitler’s assassination. Like von Rundstedt, von Bock sympathized but refused to get involved. He was convinced that the SS were too powerful and that SS Chief Himmler would prevent any coup from being successful even if they did manage to kill Hitler. He remained in retirement until 1945 when Admiral Karl Doenitz took over leadership of the Reich after Hitler’s suicide. Von Bock set out to meet with the new Fuhrer, presumably to take up a military post again but his car was attacked by British aircraft on his way to Kiel. Fedor von Bock thus became the only German Field Marshal of World War II to die by hostile fire.

GFM Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb
The aforementioned Field Marshal Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb was another monarchist to rise to prominence in the German military in World War II. He was a Bavarian with a long record of service to his country, serving in China during the Boxer Rebellion as an artillery officer and then seeing extensive service, both in the field and as a staff officer in World War I, predominately on the eastern front. In 1915 he earned the Knights Cross of the Military Order of Max Joseph, a very prestigious Bavarian decoration, and was elevated to the rank of knight and minor nobility, Wilhelm Leeb becoming Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb. Staying in the army, it was Ritter von Leeb who commanded the troops that suppressed the first Nazi attempt to take power in the Munich “Beer Hall Putsch” of 1923. Needless to say, Hitler despised the Bavarian royalist and after coming to power promptly promoted him to Colonel General and retired him. Talented officers of such experience as Ritter von Leeb were rare though and Hitler had to tolerate him when necessary. In the occupation of Czechoslovakia he was briefly recalled and given command of an army but then quickly retired again when the Allies did not respond.

When World War II broke out, Ritter von Leeb was recalled to duty again for the blitzkrieg in the west, given command of Army Group C. However, he annoyed Hitler again by objecting to the violations of Dutch and Belgian neutrality which Germany had promised to respect. He was a man of honor and integrity but, of course, such values were not always appreciated by the new leadership in Berlin. Nonetheless, he gave his usual service, displaying his expert leadership and for his contribution to the victory over the Allies in the west was awarded the Knights Iron Cross and promoted to Field Marshal. For the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler decided he could not do without him and gave Ritter von Leeb command of Army Group North. His forces performed magnificently, smashing through Soviet resistance and quickly moving to surround the key, historic city of Leningrad. It might have been taken but at that crucial time, he was ordered to divert forces from his command to the south. Leningrad would never be taken but would be the scene of the longest siege in modern military history. When Ritter von Leeb advised staying on the defensive so that Army Group Center could be reinforced and push toward Moscow, Hitler accused him of timidity and blamed his Catholicism, saying that von Leeb would rather pray than fight. Ritter von Leeb was just as disgusted with Hitler’s micromanaging of the war and asked to be relieved of command. Hitler promptly granted his request and he never saw active service again.

Kapitan zur See Hans Langsdorff
There were, presumably, quite a few monarchists serving in the German military of World War II but the political situation as well as the prevailing sensibilities and traditions of the officer corps prevented most from ever making their monarchist sentiments explicitly known. However, some managed to send signals that would seem to most to be a clear message as to their true political opinions. So, lastly, we will look at the case of a famous German naval officer in World War II. Prior to the conflict, partly because of treaty restrictions and partly because of an intentional naval strategy, Germany built a number of vessels known as “pocket battleships”. These were designed to be lighter and faster than most any other warships while still packing the powerful punch of the full-size battlewagons. Of these, probably the most famous was the Admiral Graf Spee commanded by Captain Hans Langsdorff. Captain Langsdorff had served in the High Seas Fleet in World War I, earning the Iron Cross for his actions at the Battle of Jutland and he continued to advance his career in the inter-war years. In 1938 he was given command of the Admiral Graf Spee and the following year, with the outbreak of war, set out with orders to do as much damage as possible to British shipping lanes in the South Atlantic. As such, merchant ships were to be his primary targets while he was to outrun any warships he encountered, especially those he could not outgun.

Captain Langsdorff did his duty brilliantly, sinking nine British ships for a total of 50,000 tons of lost shipping. The British Admiralty was thrown into a panic as resources were diverted from far and wide to hunt down and sink the Graf Spee. However, Captain Langsdorff was no pirate but truly an officer and a gentlemen. He followed all the appropriate rules for war at sea and no one from any of the ships he sunk were killed. The pocket battleship was soon packed full of British prisoners and they were unanimous in attesting to how well treated they were by the German captain. However, the brief, brilliant career of the Graf Spee was soon to come to an end as more British warships moved into the area. Eventually, the pocket battleship was cornered in Montevideo, Uruguay by the Royal Navy. After a brief battle off the Rio de la Plata, Captain Langsdorff was ordered to scuttle his ship rather than see it interned by the Uruguayan authorities. He did so and after seeing to the well being of his crew, Captain Hans Langsdorff dressed in his best uniform, wrapped himself in a German naval ensign and shot himself in the head. It was a tragic, noble end to a promising naval officer. In his death, he also sent a message that strongly suggests that Captain Langsdorff was of monarchist sympathies for the flag he wrapped himself in before taking his own life was not the swastika flag of Nazi Germany, but the ensign of the old Imperial German Navy under which, in service to the King of Prussia and German Kaiser, he had begun his career. In death, he had shown the world what his true loyalties were.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Prussian Princes in World War II

During the years of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany, some royals embraced the new regime while others opposed it. Those who joined the Nazis were mostly from minor families who felt they had nothing to lose by doing so and would have gained little if the old monarchy system had been restored. However, it was the Prussian royals who were the focus of the most attention as they had previously been not only the Royal Family of Prussia but the Imperial Family of the whole of Germany. Of those, it is important to note that only one son of the former Kaiser, Prince August Wilhelm and his family, took up the Nazi cause. His father, Kaiser Wilhelm II, practically disowned him for doing so as he refused to have anything to do with any government in Germany that was not the old monarchy. Some thought that Prince August Wilhelm harbored ambitions of gaining the imperial throne for himself or perhaps his son but, of course, that is something the Nazis would never have done. In the end, Hitler would turn on him as he turned on all the German royals when they could no longer be of use to him.

Hitler & Prince Charles Edward of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha
Numerous Prussian princes, while shunning the Nazi Party, did join the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) and fight in the war, at least early on. It is important to understand who these men were and why they served considering that the Nazis and everything connected with them have been vilified to the point of appearing as almost fictional caricatures of pure evil so that the actual facts of the situation are often ignored. Not every German was a Nazi and not even every Nazi chose to be so because they wanted to be on the most evil “team” on the world stage. Many men fought for Germany in World War II who were not members of the Nazi Party and, on the other hand, there were examples like the famous case of Oscar Schindler who was a card-carrying member of the Nazi Party who is honored to this day for all of the Jewish lives he saved during the Holocaust. The problem that plagued the German royals was the same as has been faced by many royals around the world whose countries have abolished their monarchies; whether to place themselves in opposition to their country because of its government or to defend their homeland regardless of the political situation.

In the absence of the Kaiser, exiled in The Netherlands, the highest ranking royal in Germany was Prussian Crown Prince Wilhelm. Of his sons, all who were able to, served in the German military during World War II in some capacity, at least for a time. The only one who did not was his youngest son, Prince Friedrich of Prussia, who was studying in England when the war broke out. He was arrested by British authorities as an “enemy alien” and placed in an internment camp in England and later moved to Canada. In both camps, his fellow inmates elected him their leader and he became a British citizen after the war in 1947. The first and third sons served in the German army while the second served in the Luftwaffe. Crown Prince Wilhelm himself is sometimes portrayed as a Nazi Party member or supporter. Neither is true. A veteran of the First World War and army group commander on the western front, the Crown Prince was as opposed to the Versailles Treaty as any patriotic German was, opposed the Weimar Republic and supported Germany reasserting itself as a proud member of the world community. However, he was never a member or supporter of the Nazi Party.

Crown Prince Wilhelm
Assumptions to the contrary mostly arise from the fact that numerous photos of the Crown Prince wearing what appears to be the standard Nazi Brownshirt uniform can be found. Despite appearances, the Crown Prince was not a Brownshirt but rather did belong to the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK) which was a subsidiary organization for automobile and motorcycle enthusiasts. It was a fact of life in Germany that, under the Nazi regime, virtually all such organizations had to adopt Nazi-style uniforms including the ubiquitous brown shirts and swastika armbands. However, there was nothing sinister about the NSKK itself. It trained drivers, held rallies and helped motorists, similar to organizations such as AAA in America or the British Automobile Association. Crown Prince Wilhelm was never a member of the Nazi Party and never endorsed Adolf Hitler or his movement. The Nazi leadership certainly never saw the Crown Prince as an ally but rather the opposite and their feelings on that score would become very clear during the course of World War II. While, early on, they tried to recruit royals as window-dressing to add legitimacy to Nazi gatherings, the Nazis were paranoid about any sympathy for the old monarchy and took action against the royals even if they were serving in uniform with the German armed forces.

Prince Wilhelm in East Prussia
Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Crown Prince Wilhelm, was born with every expectation of becoming German Kaiser one day. That all changed with the German Revolution in 1918 of course. However, as he reached adulthood, romance barred the way for his expected leadership of the House of Hohenzollern. In 1933, against the wishes of his grandfather, Prince Wilhelm married Dorothea von Salviati who he had met while in school in Bonn. Due to dynastic rules he had to renounce his claim to the throne and the rights of succession for any future children in order to marry the woman who had his heart. Upon doing so, the future of the House of Hohenzollern became the responsibility of his younger brother Prince Louis Ferdinand. He had been far away from Germany for a long time, having settled in the United States and taken a job in Detroit, Michigan where he was taken in by Henry Ford. President Roosevelt was also fond of the young man. When the actions of his brother called him back to Germany in 1934 he seemed the odd man out with some whispers that he was too taken with America and American ideas about democracy to be a potential Prussian monarch. Prince Louis Ferdinand was not pleased with the marriage of his brother and how it thrust him into the position of future leader of the family but it would be his line who would carry on the Hohenzollern legacy to the present day.

Prince Hubertus of Prussia
Prince Louis Ferdinand took a job in the aviation industry in Germany and later joined the Luftwaffe as a training officer. His older and younger brothers, Prince Wilhelm and Prince Hubertus both joined the army. Prince Wilhelm became an officer in the First Regiment of the First Division, rising to command the 11th Company in 1938. Prince Hubertus was to see service in the Eighth Regiment, Third Infantry Division (he later transferred to the Luftwaffe). When war broke out, Prince Wilhelm and Prince Hubertus both saw action in the German invasion of Poland. Another Prussian royal at the front was Prince Oskar Wilhelm who was a reserve officer. He was killed in action at Widawka, Poland on September 5, 1939. This Nazis noticed this but took no immediate action. Later, however, Prince Wilhelm was fighting at the front in the invasion of France and was mortally wounded at Valenciennes and died a few days later in Nivelles on May 26, 1940. Two Prussian princes being killed at the front disturbed the Nazi leadership who did not want the royals to have any share of the glory. However, they were more disturbed by what happened later.

Prince Alexander Ferdinand
When news of the deaths of Prince Oskar and Prince Wilhelm reached Germany there was an outpouring of sympathy toward the Prussian Royal Family. When the funeral for Prince Wilhelm was held at the Church of Peace more than 50,000 Germans turned out to show their support for the House of Hohenzollern. The sheer number of mourners caused the Nazi leadership to panic and they immediately enacted the so-called “Prince’s Decree” which banned all Prussian royals from military service. Prince Hubertus was pulled out of the line and basically forced to end his military career while Prince Louis Ferdinand in the Luftwaffe was prevented from ever seeing action. The only Prussian prince who was allowed to remain at his post was Prince Alexander Ferdinand, the son of Prince August Wilhelm and, like his father, a member of the Nazi Party and originally a member of the SA Brownshirts. When the decree was issued, it coincided with a Nazi crackdown on royals and monarchists in general. Any pretense of being in any way sympathetic to the old monarchy was dropped and even the few really pro-Nazi royals in Germany were pushed to the side and became subject to state scrutiny. Prince Alexander Ferdinand, who had once harbored hopes of becoming Hitler’s successor, was sidelined and his pro-Nazi politics also caused him to be shunned by his family. When he married in 1938 none of his Hohenzollern relations attended the wedding.

Prince Wilhelm Karl & Prince Oskar
Most of the Prussian Royal Family had much closer ties to the anti-Nazi underground than they did to the ruling party. Crown Prince Wilhelm, who some people regarded as too friendly with the Nazis, showed his true colors in subtle ways so as not to endanger his family such as the regular gift of cigars he sent to anti-Nazi monarchist Reinhold Wulle who was sent to a concentration camp for organizing a monarchist opposition party. Today, most tend to think that the Crown Prince had virtually nothing to do with the anti-Nazi movement but the Nazis themselves certainly did not think so and kept the Crown Prince under close surveillance throughout the war and after the assassination attempt on Hitler made in 1944 the Gestapo were ordered to shadow him at all times. The German resistance group which orchestrated that assassination attempt had numerous ties to the Prussian Royal Family. The man who would have been chancellor of Germany had the bomb plot and coup succeeded, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, was a monarchist and most of the attention was on Prince Louis Ferdinand as a potential German Kaiser going forward. Many of the plotters were also members of the German branch of the Knights of St John which was presided over by Prince Oskar of Prussia and whose son (and successor in that position) later wrote a history of the German resistance movement.

Prince Louis Ferdinand
Although he was not personally involved in the assassination plot, the connections between the resistance and Prince Louis Ferdinand were sufficiently known for the Prince to be arrested, interrogated by the Gestapo and then imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp. Adolf Hitler himself stated that, “the Crown Prince is the actual instigator” of the attempt on his life. Propaganda Minister Goebbels said of the German royals and aristocrats, “…We must exterminate this filth,” and SS chief Heinrich Himmler said, “There will be no more princes. Hitler gave me the order to finish off all the German princes and to do so immediately.” That, thankfully, did not happen but Prince Louis Ferdinand was sent to a concentration camp and the anti-royal crackdown was so widespread that even the pro-Nazi Prince Philip of Hesse and his wife Princess Mafalda of Italy were arrested and put in (separate) concentration camps. Princess Mafalda died there from injuries sustained when the Allies bombed an ammunition factory in the camp where she was being held. Estimates are that five to six thousand royals and aristocrats were murdered in the purges following the bomb plot. Himmler wanted all German princes to be paraded through Berlin to be spit on before they were killed and their property seized and redistributed to loyal Nazis.

Prince Wilhelm
It seems strange that some modern historians will go out of their way, grasping at straws, in a desperate effort to link the royals with the Nazis (in an effort to discredit them of course) when the Nazis themselves were absolutely certain that the royals were the heart and center of their most dangerous internal opposition. Those Prussian and other royal princes who fought in the German armed forces, almost without exception, did so purely out of their devotion to Germany and the German people and not because of any sympathy at all with the Nazi regime. Those princes and aristocrats who were truly devoted to the Nazi cause were very few and found themselves betrayed by the party they served and shunned by the rest of their class and often by their own families. The handful that the party did not turn against, such as Prince Josias zu Waldeck und Pyrmont, a notorious general in the SS, faced retribution at the hands of the Allies when the war was over. For the House of Hohenzollern, the Crown Prince was held under house arrest as some considered prosecuting him for “war crimes” during the First World War, which was plainly absurd but his death in 1951 saw leadership of the family pass to the capable hands of Prince Louis Ferdinand, a man with friendly ties to the Allies and a staunch opponent of the Nazi regime throughout his life.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Battlefield Royal: Heinrich Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein

During World War II, one of the most successful fighter pilots in the German Luftwaffe was Prince Heinrich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. His accomplishments were all the more remarkable in that he was a night fighter pilot and an ace who won most of his victories against the British. Whereas most of the highest-scoring German aces achieved most of their "kills" against the Russians on the Eastern Front, victories won over the RAF were more difficult and thus much more prestigious. This was the category that Prince Heinrich fit into. In his time, he was the most successful night fighter pilot in Germany and most of his victories were won against the much more formidable Royal Air Force of Great Britain. He was also no great fan of the Nazi regime and even contemplated assassinating Adolf Hitler personally. Read his story here.

(Left to Right) Luftwaffe ace Hartmann Grasser, Prince Heinrich shaking hands with Hitler, dive bomber ace Gunther Rall and Austrian ace Walter Nowotny at Fuhrer Headquarters in Rastenburg 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Monarch Profile: Prince Jacques I of Monaco

One of the more controversial men to hold the title of Prince of Monaco was Jacques Francois Leonor Goyon de Matignon. It will be noticed that his name was not Grimaldi and that would be a hurtful point to many. On October 20, 1715 he married Hereditary Princess Louise-Hippolyte of Monaco, daughter and successor of Sovereign Prince Antoine I after a long and contentious search for a suitable husband. Part of the appeal of Jacques was that he was not so well born as to be reluctant to change his name. Unfortunately this would also mean that he would be tainted from the start with the image of a social-climber. Still, his own family was fairly prestigious as well, coming from one of the oldest families of Brittany. One of his ancestors was the famous Marshal Jacques de Matignon who refused to participate in the notorious Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.

Many other members of the larger Grimaldi clan were adamantly opposed to the marriage of Louise-Hippolyte and Jacques de Matignon. They argued, not unreasonably, that according to previous accords the Monegasque throne should only pass to a Grimaldi and that by the marriage Jacques would become the effective ruler of the principality and the founder of a new dynasty in all but name. They tried to pursue the matter through legal means but to no avail and thereafter many took to referring to the Monegasque Princely Family as the House of Matignon rather than Grimaldi. Nor was the Princess of Monaco herself happy with her husband whom she viewed, because of all the intrigue surrounding the marriage, with great suspicion, suspecting that he was only using her to advance his own position. Her fears were not unreasonable as Jacques was attracted to the marriage because he would be gaining a principality rather than any real devotion to the Princess and the match was pushed by King Louis XIV of France who wanted to secure French influence over Monaco and he knew that Jacques would be “his man” as it were.

Princely Family of Monaco
In 1731, with the death of Antoine I, Prince Jacques became “Sovereign Consort” of Monaco and thought of himself as the real ruler of the place and this was another example of what Princess Louise-Hippolyte regarded as her husband assuming more power than was his right and attempting to usurp her legitimate place as Sovereign Princess of Monaco. Nonetheless, throughout their marriage the line of Prince Jacques I was secured by the birth of eight children from 1717 to 1728. When the couple came to the throne the people of Monaco welcomed their Princess but scorned their new Prince who they saw as acting arrogantly and really caring nothing for the people but only about what he could gain from the Principality. Even before assuming the throne he avoided Monaco and preferred to stay with the French court at Versailles enjoying a succession of mistresses. The marriage of Grimaldi and Matignon was not a happy one.

Prince Jacques I was the effective ruler of Monaco, especially after Princess Louise-Hippolyte died of smallpox only eleven months into her reign. With no more opposition Jacques I was able to assume total control of Monaco and was recognized as the Sovereign Prince by the King of France. However, his reign would not be a peaceful one even after the passing of his wife. Her fight was taken up by her sister Princess Margaret d’Isenghien who conspired against Jacques on the grounds that the Monegasque had always been ruled by a Grimaldi and would accept nothing else. To deal with this Prince Jacques appointed the Chevalier de Grimaldi (an illegitimate son of Antoine I) to be Governor of Monaco. Fortunately the Chevalier proved to be a wise administrator and ruled Monaco with great ability for the next 50 years. It was certainly an improvement over Prince Jacques who never showed much interest in Monegasque affairs and was generally unpopular. He preferred the high life of the French court to the business of governing his little Principality. Finally, with public opposition to his rule showing no signs of letting up he left Monaco in May of 1732 and the following year abdicated in favor of his son Prince Honore III. The new Sovereign Prince was barely 14 but with the Chevalier running things the country seemed to be in capable hands with good prospects for the future. Prince Jacques returned to his favored lifestyle in Versailles and Paris where he spent the rest of his life before his death on April 23, 1751. His former residence in Paris, named the Hotel Matignon is today the official residence of the French prime minister.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The House of Hapsburg in World War II

The First World War saw the venerable Hapsburg dynasty deposed and exiled, their empire, Austria-Hungary, broken up. The Second World War saw the end of the last realistic hope for a Hapsburg restoration to date. When it comes to monarchies, history has tended to take an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude; if they do not have a throne, they are not worth remembering. However, the Hapsburgs came closer than almost anyone realizes to being restored to the Austrian throne just prior to World War II. It is also technically true that they retained, in name though not in fact, the throne of the Kingdom of Hungary until late in the war. Unlike the other Central Powers of the First World War, Austria-Hungary had ceased to exist entirely, yet, there were many factors in the inter-war period that encouraged hopes of a restoration in both Austria and Hungary. What had replaced the old “Dual Monarchy” did not seem to be working out so well. Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were not nation-states but multi-cultural contrivances that faced serious ethnic tensions and other powers, such as Hungary and Austria found themselves isolated and wishing to be relevant again.

Altogether, the absence of Austria-Hungary helped pave the way to power for Adolf Hitler, a man who despised everything about the “Dual Monarchy”. There was the monarchy, the aristocracy, the multi-cultural nature of it as well as what he viewed as the pandering to the Jewish and Slavic populations by the Hapsburgs. There was nothing about it he liked and the international tensions created by the new borders drawn after World War I all worked together to create a situation the Nazis were only too willing to exploit. Yet, the former Hapsburg lands also posed the greatest threat to the Nazi movement ever gaining the domination in Europe they longed for even after coming to power in Germany. Czechoslovakia stood in the way and had an industrial center that Nazi Germany very much needed. To unite all Germans into a single nation-state also meant that the first “prize” on the Nazi wish-list was Austria and yet Austria was also their first obstacle as Italy supported Austrian independence as a buffer state between Italy and Germany and this also barred the way to the Italo-German alliance which Hitler considered paramount to his plans. A Hapsburg restoration, even if only over Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, would have created a power bloc that would have been a major obstacle to Nazi plans for German expansion considering how militarily weak Germany was at the time, even right up to the outbreak of war.

Archduke Joseph
Of the countries involved, probably none presented a greater cause for monarchist frustration than the Kingdom of Hungary. The full restoration of the monarchy there was tantalizingly close on several occasions and the fact that it ultimately failed can be attributed to two sources: the paranoia of the Allies (primarily France, though only God in His wisdom knows why) and the ambition of Admiral Miklos Horthy. At the end of the First World War, power in Hungary had fallen to the Hapsburg Archduke Joseph August of Austria, who was quite popular in Hungary and was given the place of regent. He put down one attempted revolution, survived another (communist) revolution and was restored to power again as Hungarian regent. However, in their blind and short-sighted opposition to a Hapsburg holding power in any part of the former Austria-Hungary, the Allies forced Archduke Joseph to step down in 1919. He then became a member of the House of Lords where he remained a respected figure until the German occupation in 1944 forced him to flee to the United States.

King Charles
Nonetheless, in 1920 the Hungarian government voted to restore the monarchy though they lacked a monarch and so Admiral Miklos Horthy was appointed regent. He was of service in preventing a communist takeover of the country, reestablishing stability and a general sense of normalcy but he proved to be ultimately treasonous by not handing power back to the last King of Hungary, Emperor Charles I (Kaiser Karl), when he tried to reclaim his throne twice in 1921 only to be forced out of the country on each occasion. Horthy protested that the time was not right, the Allies opposed it and though some of his arguments might have had merit, as regent it was not his decision to make. As regent, he was only to hold power until the King returned and as soon as Emperor Charles set foot on Hungarian soil, Horthy should have deferred to his legitimate monarch. According to some accounts, the idea that Britain and France would have taken action against any Hapsburg restoration in Hungary seems likely to have been exaggerated. If power had been handed over and the restored monarchy solidified, it seems rather unlikely that Britain and France would have risked a conflagration to keep the Hapsburgs from their Hungarian inheritance.

Horthy and Hitler
So, Hungary would go on through most of World War II as a nominal kingdom; a monarchy without a monarch. Without the monarchy, Hungary drifted ever closer to Nazi Germany, first by increased economic ties, later by taking part in the division of territory in Czechoslovakia and finally militarily by joining the Axis and participating in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Hungary regained some of the territory lost to Romania thanks to Hitler, regained more in the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and took a slice for itself when Czechoslovakia was dismembered. Slovakia had been part of the Kingdom of Hungary prior to World War I and the Slovaks were persuaded to become a German protectorate when Hitler threatened to allow Hungary to swallow them whole if they tried to make any trouble about it. The Hungarians went on as less-than-enthusiastic members of the Axis but the Hungarian military was decimated at the Battle of Stalingrad and as the Soviet Red Army drew closer, Horthy began trying to get Hungary out of the Axis and surrender. When Hitler learned of this, not surprisingly, German forces occupied Hungary in 1944, Horthy was arrested and the Hungarian pro-Nazi “Arrow Cross” party took power as the willing instruments of the German occupation.

Crown Prince Otto
All of these events were watched very closely by the man who should have been King of Hungary, Archduke Otto of Austria. He succeeded as head of the House of Hapsburg on the death of his father Emperor Charles in 1922. It was at that time that he became the nominal King of Hungary but when he reached legal adulthood and was expected to actually take up the Hungarian throne, Admiral Horthy advised him not to try it. The Archduke knew well enough from the experience of his father that it would be useless to try so long as Horthy opposed him, given the current situation. With Horthy being replaced by the Nazis and they in quick succession by the communists, the opportunity to take up the Hungarian throne would never materialize for Archduke Otto. However, he did have reason to be hopeful about a restoration in Austria and if the Austrian situation had worked out, there is reason to believe that the situation in Hungary, and perhaps beyond, would have altered considerably and in favor of the Hapsburgs.

Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss
Very few people realize just how close Archduke Otto came to being restored to the Austrian throne. By his own accounts, it was a done deal, it was going to happen, the long-sought after goal of seeing the House of Hapsburg in Vienna again was no longer a question of “if” nor even of “when”. It was all planned out. The root cause for why it did not ultimately happen came from the last place anyone would have expected: Ethiopia. First, however, a little background information is probably in order. After the First World War, Austria was left as a small “rump state”, powerless and isolated in Europe. It is not surprising that Austrians initially favored a union with Germany but the Allies refused to permit this, fearing that it would strengthen the Germans. Austria went through turmoil, civil strife, the all too common threat of a communist takeover before order was finally restored by a short, fervent man named Engelbert Dollfuss, leader of the Fatherland Front. First coming to office as chancellor in 1932, Dollfuss solidified his hold on Austria after defeating the socialists in 1934 but would not survive the end of the year. He had courted the monarchists but never took them home from the dance.

Banning opposition parties, Dollfuss established a Catholic, corporatist state which has since been termed “Austrofascism”. He did manage to restore a proper patriotic pride to Austria, ended the threat of a leftist revolution and had very close and friendly ties with Benito Mussolini in Rome. He kept monarchists dangling on promises but did see eye-to-eye with Archduke Otto in their mutual loathing of the Nazis. Most importantly, this attitude was shared by Il Duce in Italy. Given the subsequent formation of the Axis, the “Pact of Steel” and so on, it can easily be forgotten that while Hitler hero-worshipped Mussolini since the Blackshirts march on Rome, that sentiment was not returned. Mussolini initially disliked Hitler and even after Hitler came to power and the two met face to face, Mussolini found something unsavory about him. This was important as the Nazis wanted Austria more than anything, it being the largest part of the German population outside Germany itself, and Italy was the one major obstacle to the Nazis being able to take Austria by force. In 1934, when Dollfuss was assassinated by the Nazis in an attempted coup, Mussolini was outraged and rushed Italian troops to the border, forcing Hitler to back down and denounce the Austrian Nazis who had done the deed.

Schuschnigg and Mussolini
At the time, Germany was still militarily weak but Mussolini was rather put off by the fact that, in that hour of crisis in 1934, he had been forced to act alone; neither Britain nor France had backed him up. In Austria itself, Kurt von Schuschnigg succeeded Dollfuss as chancellor and he knew that something more would have to be done to preserve Austrian independence and keep the country out of Hitler’s grasp. Restoring the monarchy was something Schuschnigg determined he could do. As Hitler and the Nazis in Germany grew in power and prestige there were not a few Austrians who longed to be part of the “Greater Germany” Hitler pledged to build. It was necessary then to give Austrians a greater sense of themselves as a distinct people, to recall the glory days of the past and there could be no better way to accomplish this than by restoring the Hapsburgs. There would be those in the European community who would oppose it but ultimately only two men mattered; Archduke Otto himself and the guarantor of Austrian independence Benito Mussolini.

Archduke Otto
Needless to say, Archduke Otto was more than willing to take the throne. Horrified by the thought of a Nazi takeover in Vienna and Austria becoming a state in Germany, the imperial heir offered to return at any time if he could be of help in saving the situation. The laws banning the Hapsburgs from Austrian soil were repealed and properties of the Hapsburgs were restored to them. The monarchists were jubilant, the Nazis were outraged and Schuschnigg finally put the issue to Mussolini. Would Italy support or oppose a restoration of the Hapsburg monarchy in Austria? By this time, Mussolini had come close to falling out with the Allies but still had no love for Hitler nor did he want to see the Germans on his border by annexing Austria. Surprisingly, given his background, Mussolini informed Schuschnigg that he would not oppose a restoration of the monarchy. He even went a step further and suggested that Italo-Austrian ties could be cemented by a Hapsburg marriage to a member of the Italian House of Savoy (something for which there was plenty of historical precedent). Schuschnigg arranged a secret meeting with Archduke Otto to inform him that the path had been cleared for the restoration of the monarchy. It was all agreed to and Schuschnigg stated that everything should be set for the restoration to happen the following year.

Fuhrer & Duce
Unfortunately, problems arose that prevented the speedy restoration that Schuschnigg and Archduke Otto planned. After an Ethiopian attack on an Italian outpost along the disputed border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Mussolini launched his invasion of Ethiopia. Liberal world opinion came down hard on Italy with Britain and France denouncing Italy in the League of Nations. Sanctions were imposed on Italy that succeeded in infuriating the public but not in deterring the Duce from his war. Germany, of course, did not join in the sanctions against Italy but continued to offer an outstretched hand of friendship. Ethiopia was conquered by Italian forces within seven months and Mussolini was turned against the Allies firmly and irretrievably. Since the Allies had offended him, the Duce turned to Hitler. From that point on, Austria could no longer count on Italian protection from a Nazi takeover and Hitler immediately began planning for the annexation of Austria and to do it before Archduke Otto could be restored to the throne. Fittingly enough, the Nazi plan for the invasion of Austria was given the codename of “Operation Otto”.

Patriotic rally of the Fatherland Front
Today, few people realize how close Austria came to restoring the monarchy, were it not for the British and French sanctions on Italy over Ethiopia, it almost certainly would have happened. More than that though, few people realize just how seriously the Nazis took the possibility. They were positively panicked by the idea and their fears were not entirely unjustified. Stories circulated in Nazi Germany that Archduke Otto would be restored to the Austrian throne but also that Hungary and Czechoslovakia were planning to join together under the House of Hapsburg and attack Nazi Germany. Of course, the idea that Archduke Otto or any government he presided over would have launched an unprovoked attack on Germany is absurd, yet there was some elements of truth to the stories. Schuschnigg had worked to forge better relations with Hungary and Archduke Otto was already nominally the King of Hungary anyway, so it is not that far-fetched to foresee a restoration in Austria leading to a full restoration in Hungary as well. The idea of Czechoslovakia rejoining Austria and Hungary also seems far-fetched but considering that they were under threat from Nazi Germany themselves, if Italy, Austria and Hungary had become an all-monarchy, anti-Nazi power bloc, it is not impossible to imagine the Czech government joining in as a matter of practical necessity.

The anschluss is accomplished
But, as we know, it didn’t happen. Schuschnigg called for a referendum on Austrian independence and Hitler determined to take action before it could be carried out. The only one who could have stopped him was Mussolini and he was no longer prepared to stand in the way. When this news reached Hitler, the Nazi dictator was ecstatic, knowing that Austria was as good as his. To sweeten the deal, Hitler also renounced forever any claim to the Southern Tyrol (a German populated area ceded to Italy after World War I). Prince Philip of Hesse telephoned the Fuhrer from Rome to inform him that Mussolini would keep his troops at home this time. Hitler excitedly shouted into the phone, “Please tell Mussolini that I shall never forget this…Never, never, never! Come what may! …And listen -sign any agreement he would like…You can tell him again. I thank him most heartily. I will never forget him!…Whenever he should be in need or in danger, he can be sure that I will stick with him, rain or shine -come what may- even if the whole world would rise against him -I will, I shall-” No child on Christmas morning was ever so excited and, though it was said in an obviously exuberant moment, Hitler would be as good as his word, at least as far as Mussolini was concerned. On March 12, 1938 German army units drove into Austria and in quick order the annexation was accomplished.

Archduke Otto
Austrian aristocrats and monarchists were immediately arrested by the Nazis, many of them being killed, along with any others who had opposed the union. The laws against the Hapsburgs in Austria were put back into effect, their property was again confiscated and Archduke Otto himself was declared a criminal, a wanted man and he had to take extra precautions for his own security. He moved to France and helped a great many Jews escape from Austria prior to the outbreak of World War II. He also remained adamant that the Austrians were not partners with Germany, but their first victims. Without the unity that the Hapsburg monarchy had provided, Hitler had a relatively easy time taking the German populated areas of the former Austria-Hungary for himself. First was the Sudetenland and then all of Czechoslovakia was partitioned with Poland and Hungary joining in the feast. Anyone who would dismiss the impact on the world of the loss of the “Dual Monarchy” should consider the fact that all of Hitler’s pre-war territorial gains were a nibbling away at the former lands of Austria-Hungary. It also warrants pointing out that the Allies took no action against Germany in these days and that should serve as an illustration of how unwarranted the fears were of Allied opposition to the restoration of the Hapsburgs. It would all seem to indicate that, despite the protestations of those who did not want to give up power, that the French and British would not have taken any action to oppose a return of the Hapsburgs if a country like Hungary had just gone ahead and done it. Ultimately, the only one who made a commitment to restore the Hapsburgs regardless of Allied opinion was Schuschnigg and he was abandoned.

The Archduke in Florida, 1942
When World War II broke out in Europe and the Germans finally got around to launching their invasion of France, Archduke Otto was again forced to flee, this time to the United States of America via Portugal. With the Nazi laws enacted against them, the Austrian Imperial Family in America were people without a country but Archduke Otto never relented in his anti-Nazi campaign. He settled in Washington DC but traveled across America extensively. He met with President Roosevelt several times and urged him and the American people (which at the time wanted no part of Europe’s war) to intervene and take up the cause of defeating the Axis. He also raised money for refugees from the former Austria-Hungary and charitable causes to benefit them as well as doing his best to make it clear to all that his people were not the enemies of America but victims of the Nazis just as much as the Czechs or the Poles. At the end of 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the United States in solidarity with their Japanese ally, America committed itself to the world war. Always a man of peace who greatly emphasized the role played by his father in trying to negotiate a peaceful end to the First World War, Archduke Otto nonetheless volunteered to fight for the Allied cause. While in America he tried to raise funds and gain support for an army battalion of Austrian exiles but was unable to bring it to fruition.

When the war progressed in favor of the Allies, ending ultimately in the total destruction of Germany and its division among the Allies, Archduke Otto was on the scene and was briefly able to visit his Austrian homeland in 1945. His immediate concern was lobbying Allied leaders to keep Austria out of the hands of the Soviets. He put forward his own proposal for post-war Central Europe, calling for the creation of a “Danube Federation” that would encompass much of the former territory of the Empire of Austria-Hungary. British Prime Minister Churchill seemed supportive of the idea but, not surprisingly, it was thwarted by the opposition of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. As nearly all of the territory of the proposed federation was within the agreed-to Soviet sphere of influence, Stalin was able to veto the plan. Although it was not stated outright that the “Danube Federation” would be another Hapsburg empire, for the Archduke was certainly not an ambitious man, it stood to reason that he would have been the only logical candidate to assume a position of leadership in such a state. As it was, he busied himself with arguing for the rights of the German-speaking peoples outside of Germany, trying to gain recognition of Austria as a victim of Nazi aggression rather than an accessory and to form an Austrian government-in-exile. The last goal proved unreachable and he also railed against the handing over of Eastern Europe to Stalin and the Soviets which was the primary impediment to most of his plans. Unfortunately, that concerned agreements already made and involved territory that the Red Army already occupied so that, even if the British and Americans had regrets, there was little to nothing they could do about it.

With the situation as it was at the end of the war, hopes for a Hapsburg restoration vanished quickly. However, it is still a mark of how much the power-mad politicians who seized control of Austria in the aftermath of the war were about the possibility of Archduke Otto gaining the throne that, while Austria was purged of all the laws and policies enacted during the union with Nazi Germany, the post-war republican government retained those that were anti-Hapsburg. The Archduke remained banned from Austrian soil for decades until he was obliged to renounce his claim to the throne simply to have the basic freedom enjoyed by any other citizen. It was an obscene injustice for a man who had opposed the Nazi movement from the very beginning, a man who had been singled out by the Nazi regime as an “enemy of the state” and who had devoted his entire life during the war to resisting the Nazis and rescuing Austria and the other Hapsburg realms from their grip.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Today in Mexican Monarchist History

It was on this day in 1867 that HM Emperor Maximilian of Mexico was executed, by firing squad, on orders from President Benito Juarez, and in violation of the republican constitution Juarez himself wrote which forbid the death penalty. He was executed alongside his top generals Miguel Miramon and Tomas Mejia (others were executed elsewhere). From the past Monarch Profile of Maximilian:
Between March and May of 1867 Emperor Maximilian and his army were besieged at Queretaro by a massive republican force. The Emperor displayed his generosity and courage on this occasion, many times exposing himself to danger and often sleeping wrapped in a blanket alongside the frontline soldiers. Finally, he was betrayed by Colonel Miguel Lopez who allowed a republican column to enter the city and the imperial defenses fell apart. Maximilian was given the opportunity to escape but would not abandon his faithful generals who would be killed because of their loyalty to him. After a short military show trial he was sentenced to death with his generals Tomas Mejia and Miguel Miramon. The three men were taken to the ‘Hill of Bells’ and executed by firing squad on June 19, 1867. Maximilian, who was only 34 years old, died shouting “Viva Mexico!” while his generals died shouting, “Viva el Emperador!”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Monarch Profile: Emperor Otto the Great

After the fall of the (western) Roman Empire, Europe descended into what is known as “the Dark Ages” when civilization, as everyone then knew it, broke down. Yet, for all of the Germanic tribal wars and Viking raids, progress was constantly being made to rebuild civilization and so the Dark Ages could also be called “the Recovery”. Latin civilization had been crushed by German invaders but those Germans who had once been dismissed as barbarians were increasingly looked to as a source of strength and thus of order. A great deal of order was restored to the chaos by the conquering armies of Charlemagne who established an empire stretching across modern day west-central Europe. He was a key figure in the recovery but after his death the empire he had forged began to fall apart, the largest parts dividing into what has since become France and Germany. After Charlemagne, the next great German monarch who would take up the cause of recovery was Kaiser Otto I, later known as Otto the Great, a towering figure in German history. That is significant for, if the French and Germans still argue today about which of them Charlemagne belonged to, there was no doubt about Emperor Otto. He was German and could be seen as something of a “founding father” for the German nation.

Otto was born on November 23, 912 to Duke Henry the Fowler of Saxony by his second wife Matilda of Westphalia. He grew up in the rough and tumble world of the small states ruled by the German nobility, fighting for power in the collapsing former empire of Charlemagne while also still fighting foreign powers on their frontiers. Whereas the Romans had once fought German barbarians, the Germans were now fighting new invaders they deemed barbarians such as the Slavs and Magyars to the east. In due course, Saxony became the most powerful of the German states and Prince Otto gained experience fighting the Slavs as well as an illegitimate son born of a Slavic noblewoman his knights had captured (this son would one day become the Archbishop of Mainz). As his father was making good progress in uniting the Germans under his rule, he sought an alliance with the distant cousins of his people in Saxon England and so married Otto to Princess Eadgyth, half-sister of King Aethelstan of England, in 930. Henry put all his hopes for the future on Otto, breaking with German tradition by naming him sole heir to his throne and, as it turned out, those hopes were not misplaced. He would prove a formidable monarch.

In 936, Henry the Fowler died and the Saxon nobles elected Otto, then 24, King of Germany. He was, of course, also Duke of Saxony by inheritance and, thanks to the efforts of his father, ruled in fact or at least in name over all the German people. Otto was also a great admirer of Charlemagne and demonstrated this from the very beginning. With the last heirs of the Frankish emperor having died out some years before, the new King of Germany sought to present himself as the successor of Charlemagne, the most successful and powerful figure in western history since the fall of Rome. Otto had many admirable qualities and all would be needed as he faced hostile Slavs to the northeast, Magyars to the east and rebellious nobles within his own domain. He immediately set to work with policies to centralize power in Germany. He forced the nobles to swear a personal oath of loyalty to him as king, placed churchmen in important positions to lessen the influence of the nobility and took other actions to ensure that he would be master and not only the first among equals as had previously been the case. He was mostly successful and his reign would set the pattern for subsequent German history in domestic as well as foreign policy for while he was reducing the power of the barons in the Kingdom of Germany, a call for help came from a damsel in distress in Italy.

The lovely, young Queen Adelaide of Burgundy or St Adelaide of Italy as she is known today, had been left a widow at only 19 and was being pressured to marry Berengar of Ivrea (King Berengar II of Italy), an ambitious man who wanted her lands for himself. She was taken captive for a time but escaped, managed to find refuge and sent a plea to King Otto of Germany for help in 951. It must have reminded the German monarch of the call for help from Pope Leo to Charlemagne but, in any event, it was an opportunity Otto would not pass up. He readied his army and was soon marching at the head of a column of German knights into northern Italy. Faced with such a fearsome sight, Berengar decided young Adelaide was not worth it after all and fled the scene without fighting a single battle. Like the storybook white knight riding to the rescue, Otto saved the lovely Adelaide and married her himself (his Anglo-Saxon bride had died about five years earlier). It could not have worked out any better as Otto had enhanced his reputation, extended his power and obtained a very pious and devoted wife with whom he would have a very happy marriage.

Domestic bliss could not deter Otto from his duty though and there were still plenty of challenges for him to deal with, one of the most pressing being the Magyars. These are the people of what is now Hungary but in those days they had yet to find religion and were pagan plunderers of lands as far west as Spain. It was on August 8, 955 that the Magyars attacked Augsberg. Bishop Ulrich organized the local populace to defend the city walls and they fought desperately, holding off the fierce Magyars until nightfall but exhausting themselves in the process. No one expected the city to hold out another day. Bishop Ulrich prayed that the Blessed Virgin would deliver them and his prayers were answered. When word reached the Magyar camp that King Otto and his German knights were marching to relieve Augsberg they hastily packed up and rode away. However, the Magyars were no cowards and a fight was still to be had. It came two days later at the Battle of Lechfeld when, after morning mass, King Otto led his troops into battle beneath a banner bearing the image of St Michael the Archangel. However, the fight did not go well. His troops began to break as the hard-hitting Magyar warriors attacked and counter-attacked. When another group of Magyars managed to outflank the Germans and circle around, coming in from behind, all seemed lost. To the surprise of his men, Otto ordered his son Conrad to lead the charge against these forces. It was surprising because Conrad, Otto’s son by his first wife, had previously led a rebellion against his father but, nonetheless, Otto trusted him. It proved to be the right move as Conrad led his men in a desperate charge that smashed the Magyars back, turned the tide and won the battle for the Germans.

In the wake of this victory, being King of Germany seemed insufficient to Otto’s bloodied but triumphant knights and they began hailing him as “Kaiser”. There was certainly no other single monarch in western Christendom to match him and later in 962 the Pope crowned Otto emperor of a restored Holy Roman Empire, which is to say what became known as the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation” or First German Reich. Otto’s dream of emulating Charlemagne had come to full fruition with that coronation; he finally held the highest (secular) throne in Christendom. The Franks had had their hour of glory, now it was the turn of the Germans. Otto I was the sole master of the German people, had a firm hold on all his lands as well as the added prestige of the imperial title; he seemed to have reached his zenith. In those troubled times though, the work of any monarch was never done and soon Kaiser Otto had to lead his men to war again when his domains came under attack by the Slavs. He gathered his forces and marched off to meet them, the two sides coming together in Mecklenburg. Having fought so many enemies over the years, Otto was not eager for blood and sent the Slavic leader a proposal for peace and friendship but this was rejected. There would have to be a fight.

Emperor Otto decided on a bold move. The Slavs were confident that they would surely win the next day’s battle but Otto would not give them the chance. During the night, he took his knights across the Recknitz River that separated the two armies and as the morning dawned, launched a surprise attack that totally crushed the Slavic forces. Germany was saved, another pagan enemy had been defeated and another victory was added to the laurels of Emperor Otto. When not making war, Otto also continued his work consolidating his power over the German lands, encouraging art and learning as well as sending out missionaries to the surrounding pagan nations. After a reign of much success in domestic affairs and many victories on the battlefield Emperor Otto died on May 7, 973. Power passed without opposition into the hands of his 17-year old son Otto II. His dynasty would continue to hold power as kings of Germany and Holy Roman Emperors until 1024. Throughout the long history of the First Reich, a similar pattern would be followed. There would be decentralization of power, a growth in the power of local rulers and then a particularly strong-willed emperor would appear on the stage, unite the states under his leadership, centralize power, make war against the French in the west, Saracens in the south or the Slavs in the east, fight to subdue Italy and then, with his passing, the pattern would repeat.

Emperor Otto the Great fully deserves his lofty position in the history of the German-speaking people. He was one of the “great” emperors of the Saxon line, no others matching him until his descendent St Henry II before the next great emperor emerged in the person of Frederick Barbarossa of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. Yet, western civilization as a whole owes him a debt as well for he had an impact beyond the boundaries of Germany. The law and order he established provided the peace and stability necessary for the building of strong, central core for the forces of Christendom and those whom he met as enemies would later become allies. After their defeat at his hands, the Magyars retreated east and settled in what is now Hungary, establishing that kingdom and becoming Christian with the rise of their great patron saint King Stephen (who married a German princess). The Slavs, likewise, over a longer period of time, would also embrace Christianity in their turn. As the darkness of the Dark Ages receded and was replaced by the growing light and civilization of the Middle Ages, a key figure in making it all possible was Kaiser Otto. Everyone remembers Charlemagne, and rightly so, as the man who brought order out of chaos, the monarch who presided over the return to the ideal of “empire” in the west and, as such, one of the key figures in the establishment of Christendom. All of that is true but it is just as true that it did not long survive him. It was Kaiser Otto the Great who ensured that, under new leadership and largely focused on a new people, the legacy of Charlemagne would carry on into the future.
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