Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Monarchy of Luxembourg in World War II

The memory of World War I hung heavily over the grand ducal family of Luxembourg in the build-up to World War II. Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide had, quite unjustly, been criticized heavily for her conduct during the occupation of Luxembourg by the forces of the German Empire and in the aftermath had been forced to abdicate in favor of her younger sister who became the Grand Duchess Charlotte in 1919. There had been a real possibility of Luxembourg abolishing the monarchy and becoming a republic or even being annexed to Belgium or France. The French had encouraged the view that the monarchy had collaborated with the Germans and it cost the pious and lovely Marie Adelaide her throne. The monarchy was maintained but Grand Duchess Charlotte had to take steps to sever all ties with the hated Germans, selling off all family property in Germany to the state of Prussia in 1935. Care was also taken that, if the Germans ever invaded again, the Grand Duchess would not remain in the country but would go into exile and place all hopes for the future in the success of the Allied armies.

Grand Duchess Charlotte
When war began over the German invasion of Poland, a repeat of the events of the summer of 1914 seemed possible and in 1940 Luxembourg attempted to fortify itself. This was the creation of the “Schuster Line” which was not actually a fortified line but rather a series of concrete barricades set up on the main roads in and out of the tiny country with heavy steel gates that could be shut in the event of an attack. The idea was to slow any invader and give time for other countries, such as the French, to arrive to actually defend Luxembourg in fulfillment of the obligations of the treaty guaranteeing Luxembourg neutrality. However, because of that same treaty, Luxembourg was obliged to build such barriers along the French as well as German borders so as to remain strictly neutral. In truth, the “Schuster Line” was hardly a formidable obstacle and really served mostly as a sugar pill to give the public the impression that their country could be defended. Actually, there was no way these roadblocks would slow a German advance in any meaningful way and little hope that the French could arrive in time to actually stop an invasion.

That invasion came on May 10, 1940 and the small Luxembourg Volunteer Corps (essentially what amounted to one battalion of militia) was ordered to stay in its barracks. The Germans moved in and occupied the country in a day with little to no resistance. In fact, most of the opposition they faced came from Luxembourg policemen, six of whom were wounded compared to only one Luxembourgish soldier. No one was killed. Elements of the French army did make contact with the Germans in Luxembourg but was little more than an armed reconnaissance and quickly fell back behind the Maginot Line on the French border. Grand Duchess Charlotte and the rest of the Royal Family had already left the country. When the first German units had violated Luxembourgish territory the day before, the Grand Duchess had summoned her ministers and all agreed to place the fate of their country totally in the hands of France. This had to be done as, since the changes following World War I, the Grand Duchess had less power than her predecessors. Remembering what had happened to her sister, there was no thought to staying in the country.

Grand Duchess Charlotte
Of course, France itself crumbled rapidly in the face of the German blitzkrieg. After six weeks of confused fighting the French were defeated and the British had abandoned the continent. Grand Duchess Charlotte was advised, toward the end, by the French government that they could not vouch for her safety and so she, her family and her ministers all fled through Spain to Portugal and from there took ship to England where they established a government-in-exile. For their part, the Germans seemed unsure as to whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. Once the Nazi grip on France and the Low Countries was secure, the Germans sent a message to Grand Duchess Charlotte offering to restore her to the throne in Luxembourg though of course German military necessity would mean that the country would remain occupied and subject to Germany for the duration of the war. Needless to say, Grand Duchess Charlotte was not about to accept such an offer and quickly refused and used the BBC to broadcast to the people of Luxembourg to encourage them to persevere until the day of liberation. In response, Luxembourg was the one Low Country that the Germans took a firm position on, erasing the Grand Duchy from the map by annexing it directly to the “German Reich”.

This action made it clear that the life or death of Luxembourg and the Luxembourgish monarchy would depend entirely on the success or failure of the Allied war effort. To her credit, Grand Duchess Charlotte did everything in her power to support that effort. Her husband, Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma, was a veteran of the Austrian army in World War I and had served as Inspector-General of the Luxembourg Volunteer Corps. However, after being forced into exile he took charge of their children (six in all) and took them to the safety of the United States where they settled on Long Island in New York. The estate they lived on belonged to a family friend who had previously been the American ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg. Grand Duchess Charlotte rejoined her family in Montreal, Canada (where the children were sent to school) but never had much time for her private life due to the war. She traveled across the United States to encourage the American public to support the Allied war effort and to donate to help the Allies. President Roosevelt fully supported this as he wanted to get involved in the war but did not want to oppose the isolationist majority of the American people who, after a bad experience in World War I, wanted to stay out of “Europe’s wars”.

Prince Jean
The Grand Duchess met with President Roosevelt several times and was one of a number of exiled European royals that FDR hosted and cooperated with to try to influence the American people toward joining the Allies (eventually, Japan solved this problem for him). Grand Duchess Charlotte also had to frequently return to London and her government-in-exile in spite of the fact that German planes and submarines made any crossing of the Atlantic very risky. When the United States did finally join the war in December of 1941 hopes for the liberation of Luxembourg and restoration of the monarchy were revived. At that moment, it seemed that victory was no longer a question of “if” but rather “when”. Grand Duchess Charlotte continued her broadcasts to her people, becoming a symbol for the underground resistance and Luxembourg contributed as much as it could to the Allied war effort. In 1942 Prince Jean (future Grand Duke) volunteered for the British army and served in the Irish Guards, eventually rising to the rank of captain in 1944.

When the moment for the Allied invasion of France came, though necessarily small, the occupied Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was still represented. About seventy Luxembourgish volunteers were attached to the Artillery Group of the First Belgian Infantry Brigade, eventually under their own officers trained in Britain. Each of their guns were named after the children of the Royal Family. This Luxembourgish battery of artillery was transferred to France in August of 1944, serving in the wider Battle of Normandy. Prince Jean had already come ashore on D-Day and served in the Battle of Caen, later participating in the liberation of Brussels. As the Allies moved in the resistance in Luxembourg rose up and began to engage the Germans such as at the Battle of Vianden Castle where 30 resistance fighters, armed by the United States, successfully held off an attack by 250 soldiers of the Waffen-SS. On September 10, 1944 Allied forces, including Prince Jean, liberated Luxembourg City. Damian Kratzenberg, leader of the pro-Nazi collaborators was arrested and, after the war, executed. However, the Germans returned and re-took much of the country in the Ardennes Offensive (aka The Battle of the Bulge”) which took a heavy toll on the local population. In the end, the Allies fought their way back and expelled the Germans from Luxembourg soil for good.

The Grand Duchess is welcomed home
The Grand Duchy was restored to independence and, in the moment of the greatest public celebration, the monarchy was restored as well with the triumphant return of Grand Duchess Charlotte. All in all, the monarchy of Luxembourg emerged probably better off than those of Belgium or The Netherlands. Britain, America and Russia nixed plans to annex parts of Germany to Luxembourg but the monarchy had never been more popular and the status of the tiny country rose to new heights. The military was strengthened, Luxembourg became a member of NATO, participating in operations around the world, ties with foreign countries were established or strengthened and Luxembourgish forces were even given occupation duties in the French zone of West Germany. Before the war, few outside of Europe and even heard of Luxembourg but afterwards the little Grand Duchy would become much more well known with defense, economic and diplomatic ties to countries all over the world.

Luxembourg and its monarchy had suffered greatly. Some 500 people were killed in the Battle of the Bulge alone, tens of thousands were made homeless and the 3,500 Jews in the country were wiped out. About 5,700 people of Luxembourg died in the war, about 2% of the population and not a few had been forcibly conscripted into the German military after the Nazis annexed the country. The Grand Duchess’ sister, Crown Princess Antonia of Bavaria, was arrested by the Nazis in Hungary and sent to a concentration camp where she was tortured but, thankfully, she survived the ordeal but her health was never the same and she died nine years later in Switzerland, having vowed never to set foot in Germany again. It was a long, painful ordeal but Luxembourg had emerged stronger than before, more united around the monarchy and a more confident member of the community of nations. Today, the Luxembourgish monarchy is one of the most secure and popular in the world.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Santo Niño de Cebú

The monarchist legacy in the Philippines can be a tricky subject. However, one area in which the Spanish colonial legacy is not controversial is in the area of religion with the Philippines standing out as the most devoutly Catholic country in all of Asia. Within that spectrum, one of the most beloved local focuses for religious devotion is the 'Holy Child of Cebu'. It is the oldest Christian icon in the Philippines and its origins in the islands have monarchist origins. It was brought by the Portuguese explorer (in the employ of Spain) Ferdinand Magellan and given as a gift to the Raja of Cebu, Humabon, as a gift to mark his baptism into the Catholic faith. Incidentally, the gift was presented along with another icon, a statue of Our Lady of the Remedies which later became a very specifically royalist icon in Mexico. Over the centuries, the Holy Child icon was embellished with fine cloth and the regalia of a Christian emperor.

Eventually, as this particular devotion grew and grew in popularity, it achieved the farthest heights of official recognition. Pope Innocent XIII approved of special liturgical texts for the celebration of the 'Holy Child of the Philippines'. Centuries later, both Pope Paul VI and Pope St John Paul II gave the devotion special recognition. In 1965 Pope Paul VI empowered his legate to hold a pontifical high mass and a canonical coronation for the image, which is a rare honor indeed. The only other Christ images to be so crowned have been the Holy Infant of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic and the Holy Child of Aracoeli in Italy (which was stolen in 1994).

During the colonial era, the Holy Child of Cebu was named Captain-General of the Spanish forces of the Philippines, which was marked by the addition of military garb in the form of boots and a red sash. In 2011 the modern Filipino navy named the Holy Child the "Lord Admiral of the Seas" on the anniversary of the rediscovery of the image (it had been lost for some time following its original presentation to the raja until the establishment of Spanish rule). Probably the most beloved and widely revered icon in the Philippines, it is the focus of a special liturgical feast every third Sunday of January.

Monday, April 13, 2015

U.S. & U.K. - Is It Over?

So, here’s the story as I heard it; the Daily Mail says that The Mail on Sunday found a secret memo to the United States Congress from the Congressional Research Service’s chief European affairs analyst saying that the time of the “special relationship” between America and Great Britain may be over and that Great Britain simply may no longer be “centrally relevant” to the United States with the rise of new powers and power blocs around the world. Seeing this, and some of the reaction to this news, has frankly left me wondering how I should really feel about it. It has played upon some doubts and troubled thoughts I have been having for quite some time about my entire operation here. One thing that does seem certain is that the “special relationship” does not seem to be understood by either side. After seeing what Britons and Americans had to say on the subject, neither seemed to have a full grasp of the facts. Some of this is connected to issues fairly recently discussed here about Britain in the last world war.

For example, I noticed that Britons tended to speak of the “special relationship” as if it were some sort of sinister code-phrase for American domination of Great Britain. In fact, it was the British who came up with the concept, starting with Winston Churchill, and it has been most often spoken of by British prime ministers rather than American presidents. I suspect this attitude is mostly due to the fact that the decline of British power in the world coincided with the rise of American power, causing the paranoid to think that there must have been some conspiracy involved. In fact, as we discussed here in January, this came about for the simple reason that British leaders in 1939 chose to enter a war they could not hope to win on their own. This changed who occupied the top spot in world affairs and, given the available options, Britain preferred American leadership to Bolshevik leadership. Then, after the conflict, a socialist government was elected that decided it was better to have a welfare state than an empire. Naturally, with the break-up of the empire, British influence around the world declined. No one can claim to be deceived in this process as President Roosevelt made it clear from day one that his government was prepared to assist in the defense of the British Isles but had no intention of fighting to preserve the British Empire which Roosevelt stated openly that he opposed.

American historians have noted that U.S. support for Britain retaining Malaysia after the war went against Roosevelt’s Atlantic Charter but was undertaken because of the recognized threat of communist expansion. The U.S. sent arms and intervened to urge Thailand to support the British-led war in Malaysia (Thailand was then on friendlier terms with America than Britain as Britain had declared war on Thailand in World War II whereas the United States had not). There were also considerable loans and grants from the U.S. to the U.K. to help the country recover economically. As part of the “Program of Assistance for the General Area of China” the U.S. sent $5 million to the Malay states specifically to aid in fending off the communist threat. But, American support for the British empire in opposition to communist insurgencies or independence movements was undercut by the lack of real resolve in Britain itself to maintain the empire. Anti-colonialism was the popular thing and the mostly left-of-center governments in both Britain and America did not want to be seen as fighting to uphold colonialism. When the Suez Crisis came, the United States backed Egyptian independence rather than Britain and France, a move that President Eisenhower would later admit was the biggest mistake of his administration.

The succeeding Kennedy administration took a more strident anti-European line across the board, from Africa to Indonesia and so it was no great surprise when things began to get rough in Vietnam, the British refused to participate. The days of Anglo-American solidarity in World War II and Korea seemed to be over. Yet, the two countries would cooperate again on other fronts but while governments pledge friendship the people seem to cling to acrimony, or the reverse. Britons, for example, frequently complain of being “dragged” into “America’s wars” while America did nothing to aid Britain during the Falklands War (which is not true, America did support the UK in the Falklands War and was prepared to do more if it proved necessary). Most Americans don’t give it much thought but those who do tend to be confused by this reaction. To the general public, it did not seem that Britain needed any help with Argentina and when the Reagan administration took action to stop the communist invasion of Grenada and set again at liberty the Queen’s representative, Britons tended to respond with anger that they had not been consulted in the matter which in turn caused American frustration by those who thought they were doing the U.K. a favor with the operation. Likewise, in the build-up to the first Iraq War, Britain had more interest in the region than America did and it was British PM Thatcher, who was in America when Iraq invaded Kuwait, who showed more ferocity than President George H.W. Bush, urging him to use American forces to expel the Iraqis.

However, it is clear that most of this seems to always boil down to the ever-unpopular Second Gulf War, the consequences of which are still being dealt with today. From what I have seen, the British public still tends to view this as an American war they were dragged into against their will. Americans, on the other hand, look at the huge and multiple electoral victories of Tony Blair in the U.K. and wonder how his decisions could possibly be placed at their door. Britain contributed more than any other ally but was, necessarily, a drop in the bucket compared to the U.S. commitment and British troops were used in defensive roles only, basically holding ground already taken to free up American troops for offensive operations. Similarly, after Tony Blair’s speech to a joint session of Congress, many Americans thought he had presented a more zealous defense of the Iraq war than the American president ever had. Indeed, many Democrats were furious at their fellow leftist for making such an eloquent defense of a war they (by then) opposed. It certainly did not seem, on the American side of the Atlantic, like the U.K. was an unwilling hostage to an all-American war.

To some extent though, going over such details is rather pointless as the democratic nature of both the U.S. and U.K. means that almost nothing these days is considered “national” policy but rather “government” policy with factions on each side shifting according to their own interests with no clear consensus on what is in the national interest. New administrations take different positions, some American presidents being more pro-British, others noticeably less so and the same for British prime ministers, with some being very supportive of the U.S. and others less so. There is also no lock-step unity, despite the democratic process, between governments and the public. Britain, which in social and economic policies tends to be much further to the left than the United States, has tended to dislike Republican administrations and favor Democrats. President George W. Bush was widely despised in Britain and the election of Barack Obama was cheered, in spite of the fact that, in America at least, Bush seemed almost gushingly pro-British and Obama noticeably cold if not borderlined antagonistic towards Britain.

Politics has most blatantly crept into American foreign policy on both the left and the right. The only consistency is that Democrats oppose whatever a Republic president does and Republicans oppose whatever a Democrat president does even if their own side previously did the exact same thing. This has led to some downright laughable scenes when President Obama has “dithered” on foreign policy issues which in turn caused Republicans to fume and sometimes back-peddle as they didn’t know what to be against since Obama was not making a decision. When Obama was staying out of Libya, they demanded that he intervene and when he did intervene they condemned him for making things worse. The same happened in Syria, Republicans criticized Obama for meddling and saber-rattling with his “red line” speech and then later condemned him for not making good on his threats and sending support to the Syrian rebels. Looking at Great Britain and the conservative opposition to American policies in the Middle East in particular, I have to wonder if their position would be the same were it not for the fact that Tony Blair happened to be in office at the time those decisions were made. Surely it was a gift from Heaven for the Tories that Blair was on duty when Britain became involved in a war that proved so widely unpopular. They are then placed in the awkward position of arguing for more support for the British armed forces while seemingly being opposed to them ever actually doing anything. It makes little sense that while the British public votes for more entitlements, keeping the NHS sacrosanct and so cutting the military down to absolute minimum so that the commanders of the armed forces have said that the U.K. is currently incapable of military action to then spurn the alliance Britain has with the most militarily powerful country in the world.

The people in power, to some extent in both major parties (as is common around the world) realize that there are bad people with bad intentions out there and so it is better for Britain to be a friend of America rather than an enemy. The public, however, has no such knowledge and no such worries. From what I have seen, most Britons do not think their country benefits from a “special relationship” with America and most Americans do not see any gain from it either. Are the masses ill-informed or is it truly useless? I must confess I have begun to doubt and re-think my own position on this issue since late last year. Previously, my view was always one that favored a strong alliance and Anglo-American friendship. My example was the late, great, King George III who famously said that he was the last to agree to America’s separation from the British Empire but, the separation having occurred, would be the first to welcome friendly relations with the new country. The only time subsequently that Britain and America came to blows, it almost lead to the break-up of the United States due to the large numbers of people who so adamantly opposed hostilities with Britain. In both world wars the United States gave considerable support to Great Britain long before actually joining the conflict. Afterwards, despite occasional tensions, both countries were partners in the Cold War against communist expansion and have cooperated in the “War on Terror”, in each case not without opposition from certain sections of society. Have things changed?

Before late last year I would have said that the “special relationship” should be preserved and strengthened as part of my desire for overall greater solidarity throughout the English-speaking world, among all the countries of the former British Empire. Today, however, I am more hesitant on the subject and have been reflecting a great deal on whether Anglo-American friendship is something worth pursuing. The British public, from what I have seen, seems to oppose it and the American public does not see where it has been of any benefit. Most, in my experience, would prefer it to continue but would not consider it a great loss if it did not. Both sides of the American political spectrum have their criticisms of Great Britain (the Democrats for what Britain used to be and the Republicans for what Britain has become) just as there is no shortage of criticism from Britain about America, seemingly no matter which party is in power, no matter if the subject is past or present. It is part of an overall questioning I have had about the attitude of the United States towards monarchies around the world.

As I have pointed out before, there is scarcely a single monarchy in the world that is not currently under the protection of or allied with the United States. In almost every case this is the result of policies set in place decades ago and maintained regardless of the governments in power, something based on national interest. However, I have been made very aware of just how many monarchists viscerally oppose the United States and would condemn all of the monarchies of the world, even their own, at least in regard to this one relationship. I have had to consider then whether or not I have wasted a great many years trying to impress upon Americans the value of monarchy and encouraging friendship with the monarchies of the world. Given the attitudes I have seen and the sentiments of a great many people on the subject, I have to wonder if this was not totally incorrect and perhaps monarchists would be more supportive of their own national institutions if America opposed rather than supported them. In the case at issue today, it then ceases to be a question of whether or not there is a “special relationship” between Britain and America (as some deny it) but rather whether there should be at all.

Personally, I prefer friendship and goodwill, I look forward to royal visits to the United States by British monarchs and other family members but if that goodwill does not genuinely exist, I would have to set my own preferences aside for the good of the monarchist cause. If the United States abandoned the monarchies of Europe protected by NATO, it would certainly make for better Russo-American relations and if the United States dropped its alliance with Japan, Sino-American relations would improve dramatically. Likewise, if the U.S. refused to lend any further support to the monarchies of the Middle East, Obama would have a much easier time achieving his goal of restoring relations with Iran. Would all of that be good for the cause of monarchy in the world? I don’t see how, but as so many seem to think it somehow would, I must consider that I may be the one in the wrong. Should the “special relationship” continue? At this point, I want to say “yes” but am increasingly at a loss for a way to justify it.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Netherlands in World War II

To say that the Dutch were unprepared for the Second World War would be something of an understatement. The military was extremely small and woefully outdated. The government had basically accepted the position that the Netherlands would be protected by her policy of neutrality and that, if war came, they would have no chance of winning on their own and so any military spending would be a waste as they would, in any event, have to depend on other powers (Britain and France) for protection. The rise of Nazi Germany also did not seem such a menace to some segments of society. There was a very vocal Dutch fascist party, the NSB, which attained some notoriety but never came close to having real power. The military did what it could, under the circumstances, to be prepared by establishing fortified positions and the “New Dutch Waterline” to flood portions of the countryside to aid in defense; a very traditional feature of Dutch military thinking. Still, most hoped that they could avoid war and were encouraged by the fact that the Germans had respected Dutch neutrality in the First World War. However, the Dutch people would learn that Hitler was a much different sort of leader than the Kaiser had been. When war broke out in 1939 the Dutch military began mobilization but Germany issued a promise to respect Dutch neutrality so that most expected that this new war would be the Great War all over again.

General Henri Winkelman
It came then as all the greater shock when, after invading Poland, Denmark and Norway, the Germans attacked the Netherlands on May 10, 1940. For the men of the Netherlands armed forces, they had little to fight back with other than patriotism. Weaponry was obsolete, with only a few armored cars and tankettes there was practically no armored corps to speak of and the tiny air force consisted of less than 150 outdated biplanes and most of these were destroyed on the ground in the initial surprise attack. With only 280,000 poorly trained troops with very few heavy guns, General Henri Winkelman did the best he could to resist the crushing onslaught. Given how hopeless his situation was, Winkelman did better than anyone could have expected. The German plan for an airborne invasion of the Hague to seize the Dutch government failed and when the German forces hit against the main Dutch defensive positions of the Grebbe Line and Afsluitdijk the determined Dutch held their ground and halted the German advance. Determination was also certainly not lacking at the very top where Her Majesty Queen Wilhelmina, a grand and formidable lady, was determined to fight to the last. She was ready to pass out rifles to her household staff to defend the palace when she was finally convinced to relocate to a safer area by sea. To her frustration, once aboard ship the Queen was taken instead to London where the Dutch government-in-exile would operate for the rest of the war.

Meanwhile, the Germans were making steady progress in the south and cutting off the Netherlands from Belgium and France. Dutch counter-attacks on May 11 were repelled by the German invaders and the situation grew increasingly critical. At the main defensive position, the Grebbe Line, the Dutch fought a fierce battle for three days, desperately trying to hold off the German tidal wave as long as possible. Yet, with every passing hour it became clear that they would be receiving no help from the Allies. On May 13 the Grebbe Line finally fell and the Germans pushed up to Rotterdam. There the Netherlands Marine Corps gave heroic service, stopping the Germans temporarily at the Meuse and fighting from street to street. Hitler was becoming furious that the conquest of the Netherlands was taking so long as he had expected the job to be done within 24 hours. On May 14 the order was given for the Luftwaffe to bomb Rotterdam, killing hundreds of civilians and destroying virtually all of the old city. Utrecht was threatened with similar treatment if the Dutch did not surrender immediately. Of course, General Winkelman knew his situation was hopeless and was already trying to negotiate a cease-fire when the bombing of Rotterdam occurred. By the end of the day, Winkelman surrendered and so the Kingdom of the Netherlands was conquered after four days of resistance.

Queen Wilhelmina on Radio Oranje
The Dutch had made a gallant effort against impossible odds and General Henri Winkelman behaved like a true Dutch patriot. Taken prisoner, he was offered parole if he would give his word of honor not to oppose the German occupation. He refused to make any such promise and so remained a prisoner for the rest of the war. The Netherlands was down, but not out and the government-in-exile organized the few Dutch forces which had escaped, along with most of the navy, into cooperation with the British to carry on the war. Queen Wilhelmina oversaw these efforts and quickly sent a message of encouragement to her people living under German occupation. She showed great leadership and courage such as when she managed to have the prime minister dismissed for his wish to make a separate peace with the Germans. Using “Radio Oranje” she sent messages of support and encouragement to her people throughout the war, coordinated Dutch military efforts and made several visits to the United States to encourage support for the Allied war effort. In the Netherlands itself, an underground resistance soon grew up which passed important information to the Allied high command in Britain and which tried to shelter those who faced persecution at the hands of the Nazis.

General Hendrik Seyffardt
However, not everyone in the Netherlands was loyal to their monarch and their national struggle. As the Dutch were deemed a racially superior people, not very different from the Germans, they were permitted to join volunteer legions in the military and even the Nazi SS. Anton Mussert, leader of the Dutch Nazis of the NSB, had the only political party which was allowed to operate during the occupation but, to his dismay, the Germans never took him seriously or allowed him any position of importance. Nonetheless, he dutifully did their bidding and urged his countrymen to cooperate with and support the German war effort. Many listened, particularly after the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union and the Netherlands would contribute more volunteers to the German cause than any other occupied country. The most prominent collaborator was the former army chief of staff General Hendrik Seyffardt who was made nominal commander of a Dutch division of the Germanic-SS that fought on the Eastern front. The Germans, however, ignored his advice and he was finally assassinated by a communist resistance member in 1943. Although they would subsequently be hated by their countrymen, and not surprisingly so, in fairness it must be said that the Dutch troops fighting with the Germans fought extremely well, taking heavy casualties and proving themselves extremely capable, mostly in the Leningrad area.

Meanwhile, by the end of the next year of the war, the Netherlands gained another enemy which, by the way, undermined the NSB Nazi collaborators at home. They had been arguing that cooperation with Germany was the key to achieving their goal of a “Greater Netherlands” that would include Flanders and a strengthening of the Dutch empire. However, they were undercut in their arguments when the crown jewel of the Netherlands empire was lost at the hands of the Nazis Asian ally of Japan. In December of 1941 the Japanese launched their three-phase plan for the conquest of southeast Asia. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent attacks on the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia it was no secret that the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia today) was next on the Japanese menu. On December 8, 1941 the Dutch government-in-exile declared war on Japan. The Japanese invasion was organized by Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi as commander of the Southern Expeditionary Army Group and began on December 17 with the landing of troops on Sarawak at the oil production center of Miri. In command of Dutch forces in the area was Lt. General Hein ter Poorten on the land and Lt. Admiral Conrad Helfrich on the sea. Helfrich was also the overall commander of Dutch forces in the East Indies.

Dutch submarine K-XVI
Even though some Allied leaders thought any defense of the East Indies to be a lost cause, the Dutch forces were determined to put up a fight and their first success was won by the small submarine flotilla operating in the East Indies and later out of Australia. The Dutch submarine K-XVI was the first Allied vessel to sink a Japanese warship when she torpedoed a Japanese destroyer. Over 100,000 tons of Japanese shipping was sunk and over 200,000 tons damaged by the Dutch O-Boats, more than the combined forces of Britain or the United States in the early days of the war in Asia. They were so successful that the naval commander was given the nickname “Ship-a-day Helfrich”. The most successful in terms of tonnage was Lt. A.J. Bussemaker of the O-16 who sank 27,100 tons of Japanese shipping before being killed in action. Lt. Henri van Oostrom Soede sank or damaged 17 Japanese ships and Lt. Johannes Frans van Dulm sank 10 and damaged 2. This impressive record, right out of the gate, encouraged the Dutch naval commanders that they could make a fight for the East Indies but the odds were clearly stacked against them. Additionally, the nature of the Dutch East Indies meant that everything depended on the naval confrontation as without control of the seas the Dutch colonial army on the archipelago would be isolated and doomed.

Dutch East Indies colonial troops
A unified command, known as ABDACOM (America-British-Dutch-Australia Command) was formed but it was hardly a cohesive organization. General Archibald Wavell, who was in supreme command, had no confidence in their victory and preferred to focus on other areas, language differences were a hindrance between the Dutch and their English-speaking allies and even among them there were problems as the Americans used a different signal system than the British and Australians. The issue was ultimately decided by the Battle of Java Sea on February 27, 1942 when the ABDACOM fleet under Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman faced the larger and better-equipped Japanese fleet under Rear Admiral Takeo Takagi. Aside from being poorly coordinated, having mostly outdated ships and being outnumbered, the Allies were also losing their network of support before the battle even began. Japanese planes bombed Darwin, Australia, ruining it as a support base and the oil refineries and airfield at Palembang on Sumatra were lost when Japanese forces defeated the greatly outnumbered colonial forces and local militia under Lt. Colonel L.N.W. Vogelsang. Eastern Borneo and the northern Celebes were already under Japanese control. Nonetheless, Admiral Doorman was determined to fight.

Admiral Karel Doorman
The Battle of Java Sea raged from noon to midnight and was the first major clash of surface warships since the World War I Battle of Jutland. On his flagship De Ruyter, Admiral Doorman signaled the Allied ships to follow him as he led the way into the fight. Admiral Takagi employed classic Nelsonian tactics that were still just as effective as they had always been. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Allied fleet was decimated. Two cruisers and three destroyers were sunk while the victorious Japanese suffered damage to only one destroyer and lost 36 men compared to Allied losses of 2,300. The heroic Admiral Doorman was killed in action himself when his flagship was sunk by the Japanese cruiser Haguro. ABDACOM began to break down as the Allies regarded the Dutch East Indies as a lost cause. Much of this was due to a woeful underestimation of the abilities of the Japanese. Most assumed that the Japanese would not be able to carry out multiple operations at the same time on a variety of fronts. That thinking proved completely wrong and immediately after the battle Japanese forces under General Hitoshi Imamura began the invasion of Java itself. General Hein ter Poorten had too much ground to cover with too few troops, many of them poorly trained local militia and native contingents.

General Hein ter Poorten
British, Australian and American forces also fought valiantly to oppose the Japanese advance but they had little support, were badly outmatched and had to fall back to avoid being cut off. Dutch forces destroyed bridges and did whatever they could to slow the invaders but were steadily pushed back. The Japanese moved quickly to secure the key oil facilities and despite gallant opposition the Dutch colonial forces were overwhelmed one by one. At Porong the Allies offered very stiff resistance with the 8th and 13th infantry battalions and 3rd cavalry of the Dutch colonial army, backed up by the American 131st Texas field artillery regiment taking a heavy toll on the invaders. Finally, however, the Dutch defenders under Major General Gustav A. Ilgen had to retreat to Madura and on March 9 was forced to surrender. Moving rapidly south, with Tjilatjap captured, Soerabaja about to fall and their forces concentrating on Bandoeng from two sides, it became clear to General ter Poorten that further resistance would be pointless. On March 8 he announced the surrender of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army in Java. The Governor-General agreed and on March 12, with the other Allies present, the defenders surrendered with witnessing Lt. General Masao Maruyama promising that the prisoners would be treated according to the rules of the Geneva Convention -a promise that was not honored.

NSB leader Anton Mussert
The Dutch East Indies was effectively conquered. Some small groups continued to resist but large-scale guerilla warfare was impossible due to the dubious loyalty of the native population. The Dutch forces who were not included in the surrender mostly regrouped in Australia and participated in the eventual Allied counter-attack. The Dutch people in the occupied East Indies endured horrific suffering. The only positive thing about this for the Dutch government-in-exile was that it effectively killed any chance of the NSB gaining popular support with the Dutch empire being destroyed by the Nazis’ allies. Even for those Dutch people who were radical nationalists predisposed to sympathize with the Germans, they were suddenly faced with the fact that collaboration meant cooperating with those who would see the Netherlands reduced to a total nonentity while it was those loyal to the Queen who were fighting for the complete restoration of the Netherlands as a significant power around the world. Dutch air and naval forces continued to fight alongside the Allies in Europe and Asia while the resistance at home carried out important surveillance work for the Allied cause.

Dutch colonial troops in Australia
The year of 1943 passed marked by suffering, endurance and a determination, embodied by the stout-hearted Queen Wilhelmina, to fight on. The first hope for liberation came in 1944 with the Allied invasion of Western Europe. Hopes were high for a quick rescue from Nazi clutches but these were dashed with the failure of “Operation Market Garden”. The plan, consisting of a series of airborne attacks on key bridges in advance of a push by British XXX Corps came close to success but ultimately ended in disaster. The Dutch underground had tried to warn the Allied high command that the area was not so weakly defended as they believed, that they were dropping their troops almost on top of the Waffen-SS Hohenstaufen Division but, unfortunately, the Allied leadership chose to ignore the Dutch warnings and the result was a defeat that ended any hope of winning the war by Christmas and which gave a morale boost to the Germans at a time when the war effort had become a long succession of defeats. Nonetheless, despite this setback, the Allied advance into the Netherlands continued and royal leadership was to play a key part, oddly enough a royal from Germany but firmly committed to the Dutch cause.

Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands
That was Prince Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld, husband of the future Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. Like the Queen, he wanted to stay in the Netherlands at the time of the German invasion and wanted to lead the resistance. However, he was finally induced to go into exile where he joined the Dutch squadron of the British Royal Air Force, eventually rising to the position of Wing Commander in the RAF. He also helped to organize and coordinate Dutch resistance forces and in 1944 was appointed to command the Dutch military. He flew both fighter and bomber missions, served as the top Dutch liaison with the Allied high command and participating in the meetings setting out the overall Allied strategy in the war. A major problem, partly due to the failure of Market Garden, was that the Dutch had been called on to rise up against the Germans in conjunction with the Allied attack but as it did not succeed as planned, German retaliation hit hard and the winter of 1944 saw 20,000 Dutch civilians purposely starved to death.

Queen Wilhelmina inspects Coldstream Guards
However, the end was in sight and as the Germans retreated the Allies pushed forward and the Netherlands was liberated. Prince Bernhard, as commander of the Dutch Armed Forces, took the surrender of the Germans at Wageningen on May 5, 1945. At the same time, the Dutch people took matters into their own hands to weed out and punish those who had collaborated with the Nazi occupiers during the war. Of course, there was no greater moment of liberation than the return of Queen Wilhelmina who, true to character, refused to wait until the war was over but came in March to the liberated areas of southern Netherlands where she received a rapturous welcome. Still, the Queen, who had often clashed with the government-in-exile (and basically ruled as she pleased), was disappointed to see the same political divisions maintained as there had been before the war. She disliked politicians in general and received considerable push back from the political elites over her determination to see the Netherlands and particularly the Dutch empire, completely restored as they had been before the war. On the other side of the world, that struggle was still going on in the war with Japan.

Admiral Conrad "Ship-a-Day" Helfrich
In July of 1945 the largest Allied invasion of the Dutch East Indies occurred with Dutch military forces taking part. Because of the significant contribution of Dutch air and naval forces in the campaign, the Netherlands was regarded as one of the major Allied partners alongside the British, Australians, New Zealanders and Americans. The Allies land on Borneo to take back the vital oil facilities from the Japanese who, since the Imperial Navy had been wiped out, were cut off from their devastated home islands and isolated from all help. Less than a month later, while Japanese forces were still operating in the East Indies, Japan is forced to admit defeat and surrender. At the ceremony on the American battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, appropriately enough, it was Admiral Conrad E.L. Helfrich who signed the acceptance of Japanese surrender on behalf of the Kingdom of the Netherlands at 9:21 AM. The war was finally over but hardships still remained. At home, the country was in ruin and in the Dutch East Indies, Japanese forces belatedly allowed the nationalist leader Sukarno to declare independence after their forces were already defeated (unknown to Sukarno at the time), setting the stage for the Indonesian War for Independence.

The ruins of Rotterdam
In the end, the Netherlands suffered immensely from World War II, losing 205,901 men, women and children, the highest death rate of any Nazi-occupied country in western Europe. 30,000 men, women and children, military and civilian, died in the Dutch East Indies in battles, massacres, prison camps and internment camps at the hands of the Japanese or Indonesian collaborators. The fate of the Netherlands is an example of the hateful mentality that gripped more than a few countries in that era. Germany and the Netherlands had a long history of friendship, in World War I there was considerable sympathy for Germany and hatred of the British blockade. Queen Wilhelmina granted German Kaiser Wilhelm II sanctuary and rebuffed all Allied efforts to hand him over for trial as a war criminal. Likewise, no other western country had such long-standing peaceful ties to Japan than the Netherlands. Fortunately, that was one relationship that was eventually restored, illustrated by the very close friendship that exists today between the Dutch Royal Family and the Japanese Imperial Family, particularly between King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima and Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako. The Emperor himself has expressed to the Dutch royals his deep regret for the painful conflict between the Netherlands and Japan in World War II. All could certainly join in such a sentiment.

Field Marshal Montgomery & Prince Bernhard
In the end, the Netherlands was never the same after the war. In spite of a successful military campaign, betrayal by the American president cost the Dutch their empire in the East Indies and at home, along with the rest of western Europe, began the incremental session of powers to greater European unity all in the name of economic security and preventing another European war. The Dutch were one of the innocents of the Second World War, the victims of unprovoked aggression for the sake of control of the channel coast, airbases near to England, oil and other resources. However, the Dutch fought valiantly in defense of their territory and despite initial defeat, inspired and encouraged by their tenacious Queen with her determination and moral clarity, continued to struggle through the darkest days, contributing to the Allied war effort more than most know until final victory was achieved. It is a record that all patriotic men and women of the Netherlands can be proud of.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Monarch Profile: Emperor Meiji of Japan

Few other monarchs in world history presided over such a crucial period for their country as the Meiji Emperor of Japan. Few lived through such dramatic changes and fewer still managed to master such changes and successfully direct them to the benefit of their country as a whole. Emperor Meiji did all of these things. Born into a land of feudalism and isolation, very advanced in traditional ways but which had fallen increasingly behind the rest of the world in others, Emperor Meiji presided over the end of Japanese isolationism, the end of the shogunate and the restoration of power to the monarchy, a period of rapid political, economic, military and educational modernization and the rise of Japan to be the preeminent regional power of East Asia, soon to become a major player on the world stage. This pivotal period of Japanese history was certainly not something that the Meiji Emperor himself would have ever expected. In most cases, the changes that occurred, even the famous “Meiji Restoration” itself, was not something he personally directed but his influence and his actions or inaction was absolutely central to exactly how things turned out, creating the Empire of Japan as it existed from the restoration until the end of the Second World War.

His Imperial Highness, Prince Mutsuhito was born on November 3, 1852 in the old imperial city of Kyoto, the only surviving son of His Majesty Emperor Komei. His mother was the imperial consort Nakayama Yoshiko though it was many years until he was aware of who his real mother was. Known as Prince Sachi, he was carefully looked after by his grandmother until, as a young child, he was taken to the Imperial Palace (Gosho) to be raised and educated in traditional fashion. Only a year later the “Black Ships” of U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry arrived and demanded that Japan open ports to trade with the United States and establish diplomatic relations. The ruling Shogun realized that the previous policy of isolationism was no longer tenable but delayed making any agreement with the Americans. The Emperor was opposed to any trade or friendship with foreign powers but by consulting the imperial court increasingly, unlike in the past, the wheels were already turning toward what became the Meiji Restoration. The Americans pointed out that China had just been beaten by Great Britain in the Opium Wars and that if Japan persisted in spurning contact with foreign powers, France, Britain or Russia might deal similarly with Japan and seize control of Japanese territory. Most of the Japanese leadership realized this was true but were divided on how quickly Japan should open up to trade and communication with the outside world. Emperor Komei remained staunchly opposed but was himself in a difficult position in how to deal with the problem as he was against the policies the Shogun was pursuing but also wanting nothing to do with rebel forces that wanted to oppose the shogunate itself.

At a critical point, the Emperor ordered the expulsion of all foreigners (his many fervent prayers for the gods to kill them all by means of natural disasters proved fruitless) and as local authorities had signed agreements with various foreign powers, there were targets on hand for Japanese warriors to attack. There was, of course, retaliation but the government also took action to suppress these forces and reassure the rest of the world that Japan was a country of law and order which would keep its agreements. There was then civil war and deep divisions in Japan when Emperor Komei died in 1867 at the age of only 37. The cause of death was smallpox and while the vaccination against this disease was known in Japan, the strict adherence of the court to traditional medicine only meant that the Imperial Family was especially vulnerable to illness (Meiji, however, was secretly vaccinated as a child). So, it was at a time of great crisis, at the age of only fourteen, that Emperor Meiji ascended the throne as the 122nd Emperor of Japan. While he continued his studies and performed the traditional rites, warring factions continued to struggle for or against the last Japanese Shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu who had established closer ties to a number of foreign powers in an effort to modernize the military and strengthen the shogunate.

As with most things in Japan, the civil conflict was complicated but could be seen as a clash between the Shogun and the imperial court to determine who would ultimately rule Japan. In the end, the imperial court was victorious. This has sometimes been put forward as “traditional” Japan fighting against the forces of modernity and representing a xenophobic hatred of foreigners and all the new ideas and technologies they brought to Japan. This is completely untrue, Japan had always been eager to embrace technological innovation and it was the shogun who was first seen as the most open to the foreigners, not the imperial court and, in any event, both sides had their own foreign allies with the French backing the shogun and the British and Americans backing the forces of the Emperor. The restoration of power to the monarchy started with rebel lords upset by the opening up policy of the shogun, as was Iwakura Tomomi who played a central part in the process but this issue eventually evaporated and the imperial court pressed on because of a desire for order, unity and an overall strengthening of the nation, even though part of the disorder that alarmed them was that done on their own behalf. Major fighting broke out because the shogun agreed to hand over power to the Emperor only to later try to take it back. When it came down to who was ultimately held to hold supreme authority in Japan, there was no question that it was the Emperor and so the “Meiji Restoration” was formally declared on January 4, 1868. Iwakura stated that the actions of the court were completely in accordance with the wishes of the young monarch and there is no way to confirm or dispute this as the Emperor himself did not leave any indication of his own views on the subject.

What is known for certain is that the Emperor presided over the changes in government and was present for some very heated arguments between the pro- and anti-shogun factions and never intervened to call a halt in favor of the fallen shogun. It can only then be surmised that he approved of these changes and, based on his overall character, was likely of the view that such division and internal struggles were proof that a new system, a truly national one based on shared loyalty to one sovereign rather than local feudal lords, was what was best for Japan. The fears of those opposed to involvement with foreign powers may have been exaggerated but they were not unjustified. However, Japan would have to modernize and strengthen if it were to have any chance of surviving as an independent country and that is what Emperor Meiji was focused on. Soon, the Emperor announced the abolition of feudalism in Japan and oversaw the transition to a more democratic, representative form of government and, eventually, the adoption of a written constitution. At one point, he even took personal command of the imperial troops sweeping up the last of the pro-shogun rebel forces. By his actions, he set a clear example; Japan would adapt and move forward in order to improve but it would be done by the Japanese themselves and in their own way, embracing modern methods but retaining traditional values.

So it was that Japan began to advance at a rapid pace, establishing the institutions that would govern the Empire of Japan for its duration. The samurai of old became the officers of the Imperial Army, the daimyos became governors in imperial service and students went to study abroad to gain the latest knowledge. The British were an obvious example to follow and the Royal Navy in particular was the model on which the new Japanese Imperial Navy was built with Japan quickly gaining its first modern, armored warship, an ironclad originally built in Europe for the Confederate navy in America. The Emperor personified this embracing of new ways while holding on to tradition. In terms of government, he appointed key officials but did not personally rule the country and generally endorsed whatever course of action his ministers decided to pursue. He often showed reluctance to meet with foreign dignitaries but, when doing so, was always extremely polite and friendly, giving each the impression that he had been shown special treatment.

At the outset, there were some radicals who went so far as to wish for the monarchy to be abolished all together in the stampede to embrace the new and throw out the old and toward the end of his life several anarchists were arrested for plotting to assassinate him, however, his leadership, dedication and moral authority ensured that while Japan would advance technologically, traditional values were also upheld and the monarchy became more central to Japanese life and the emperor more revered than ever before. In terms of foreign relations, the Meiji Emperor was the greatest asset Japan had with many European and even American visitors hailing him as the greatest sovereign in the world of his time. However, the Emperor was sometimes disadvantaged by the fact that his ministers did not always keep him completely informed as to their plans and actions. This was particularly true in regards to the growing Japanese involvement in Korea where the Emperor had an incomplete view of the true state of affairs. First, however, was the problem of the First Sino-Japanese War which broke out in 1894.

This came after a series of events such as struggles between China and Japan over influence in Korea, Chinese soldiers running rampant in Nagasaki and the shutting off of food exports to Japan. The Emperor was always concerned with protecting Japanese people wherever they were but when events led to the outbreak of war he was extremely upset. When asked to send envoys to the tomb of Emperor Komei and the Ise Shrine to announce the outbreak of hostilities, the Emperor replied angrily, “Don’t send anybody. I have not been in favor of this war from the start. It was only because cabinet ministers informed me that war was inevitable that I permitted it. It is very painful for me to report what has happened to the Ise Shrine and the tomb of the previous emperor.” Later, he relented an sent envoys to Ise and Kyoto but it was obviously greatly troubling to him. He worried that other powers might intervene to the detriment of Japan, detested seeing his people killed and he had a great deal of respect for the traditional culture of China. However, once the decision had been made, he gave his full support and moved his headquarters to Hiroshima to stay in closer contact with the military forces engaged in Korea and China. As it turned out, to the surprise of all, Japan won a swift and stunning victory in the war, ostensibly for the independence of Korea.

In the aftermath, tensions continued to mount between Japan and Korea as well as between Japan and Russia. The intervention of Russia, France and Germany to force Japan to return the Liaotung Peninsula to China (which was then leased by Russia) reinforced the Emperor’s concern over foreign adventures. From the questions posed by the Emperor about the situation in Korea, it seems that he did not entirely believe the idyllic scene presented to him by his officials about Japanese-Korean friendship. When war came with Russia, the Emperor again showed signs of anxiety over the conflict but less reservations than he had about the war with China. It seemed clear to almost everyone in the government that Russia was not being sincere in the search for a diplomatic solution to their problems but was simply playing for time. Nonetheless, when war did come, the Emperor (and the Empress) showed great gallantry and insisted that greater care be taken to maintain discipline and prevent any acts of cruelty. Because of this, captured Russians were treated with great humanity and consideration. The Emperor also showed his gratitude for the support and sympathy of the United States and Great Britain in the conflict and the English-language press around the world was full of the highest praise for Emperor Meiji.

With no more competition, Japan and Korea signed a number of treaties, each bringing the two countries increasingly closer together. There was correspondence between the Korean and Japanese emperors and the Meiji Emperor showed a deep and genuine concern for his Korean counterpart. When the Crown Prince was brought to Japan to be educated, the Emperor treated him like a member of the family. Indeed, some thought he treated him better than his own son. Likewise, the Korean emperor showed a great deal of trust and admiration for the Emperor of Japan so that when Korea was finally annexed by Japan in 1910 the Meiji Emperor expressed his satisfaction with this resolution and the firm conviction that Korea would benefit from it. He had not been told of the extent of Korean opposition to Japanese rule and the Korean monarch was likewise hardly in a position to be completely candid in his letters but he expressed his hope and trust that under Emperor Meiji the peace of East Asia would be maintained and that everything would work out for the best. His actions, he stressed, were born out of a genuine desire to do what was in the best interests of his people. Tensions would continue to fester on the peninsula but in Japan, the ordinary person saw only success and reasons for optimism. Since the restoration, the Meiji era had seen Japan modernize and expand in strength and influence so that the Japanese flag was flying over Sakhalin, Korea and Taiwan.

What problems would develop were ones that the Meiji Emperor would not live to see. Troubled by increasing health problems, the revered monarch died on July 30, 1912 at the age of 59, survived by his wife, three of five concubines and five of his fifteen children. At his passing, he was praised by people all over the world, naturally mostly in those countries with whom Japan had the closest ties of friendship. The British press was effusive and even the American press, which did not often praise any monarch, professed that the Meiji Emperor was one of the greatest world leaders of all time. Even the French and the Chinese, which were not so well-disposed toward Japan, saluted his achievements. The Russian press was not left out in praising the Emperor, though they did affirm that he did not rise to the level of Peter the Great. None could fail to be impressed by how far Japan had come in such a short space of time under the leadership, active or passive, of Emperor Meiji. The country which had been a patchwork of warlord fiefdoms at the time of his birth had opened commerce with the world, industrialized, modernized and by the time of his death stood among the ranks of colonial empires and the most powerful country in East Asia. It was truly remarkable and in all of this the Emperor was no passive observer.

As a monarch, Emperor Meiji was, as if by divine design, just the sort of sovereign Japan needed at just that critical period of history. He was mindful of tradition but open to change and innovation when it was beneficial. He did not push particular policies but used his moral authority to guide them in the right direction. He was deeply concerned for his people, very frugal, was able to read people and knew how best to handle almost anyone in any situation. Above all, he was a dutiful monarch and his most frequent displays of temper usually involved some politicians who were shirking their duty. He worked tirelessly for the advancement of his country and the peace and stability of the region. Toward the end of his life, his greatest concern and complaint was that Japan had become so modern and prosperous that many people were becoming frivolous. He did not actively take part in governing but this was not surprising and by keeping the monarchy aloof from such mundane affairs, enabled it to retain its lofty stature and be ever more valuable as a focus for national unity and guardian of the national spirit. He was, in every way, an extremely successful monarch and will always occupy a unique place of distinction amongst the long list of emperors of Japan.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter!

"He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay."
-St Matthew 28:6

A happy and blessed Easter to all from The Mad Monarchist

Saturday, April 4, 2015

MM Movie Review: Mary of Scotland

“Mary of Scotland” is a 1936 film, directed by, of all people, John Ford who is probably most remembered for his cavalry pictures of the American frontier west. Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures and produced by Pandro S. Berman it is a very favorably biopic of the tragic Stuart monarch Mary Queen of Scots based on a play by Maxwell Anderson of 1933. The screenplay was written by Dudley Nichols (probably best known for his work on “Stagecoach” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. It is a very well shot picture with cinematography by Joseph H. August and Jack MacKenzie. The starring role went to Katharine Hepburn, an iconic American actress who doesn’t attempt an accent, which is well enough as I’ve never heard any definitive argument as to what the famous queen would have actually sounded like, being Scottish but having spent her youth in France. The film opens with text to fill us in on the essential background info and to state from the outset that this film will be about a struggle between two women; Mary of Scotland and Elizabeth of England. And, make no mistake about it, Queen Mary is definitely the heroine while Queen Elizabeth is unmistakably the villainess of the piece.

Queen Elizabeth I
The film opens in England with the first appearance of Queen Elizabeth I played by Florence Eldridge (who the previous year had appeared with co-star Frederic March in “Les Miserables”). Her introduction is very significant, solemnly announced, her courtiers all drop to one knee as she barges down the hall, barking orders and scowling at the news that Mary Stuart has left France for Scotland and that the Scottish sovereign has refused to recognize her as the Queen of England. This opening scene is highly significant in contrasting Mary and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is haughty, vain and angry but is treated with loyal submission by all around her. It will be a very different story with Queen Mary. It is also made clear in this scene just whose “side” the film is on, Queen Mary is stated to be the “legitimate heir of King Henry VII” and that “all of Europe” considers Elizabeth I to be a usurper. In any event, the presence of Queen Mary in Scotland is considered a direct threat to Elizabeth who makes a rather Henry II-like statement about some English ships raising a black flag and using force to prevent Mary from landing in Scotland. However, it is no avail and at just after six minutes of screen time the star appears as Queen Mary lands in Scotland to a less than rapturous welcome from the lords.

The Queen arrives in Scotland
In contrast to our first view of Elizabeth, at first sight Queen Mary drops to her knees in prayer upon first stepping on Scottish soil, thanking God for bringing her safely to her homeland and asking divine guidance to rule well and wisely. Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, we see the nobles of Scotland who are not so loyal as the elites of England to their own monarch. They are a squabbling, scheming bunch of self-serving villains, perhaps none more so than James Stuart, Lord Moray, her regent and half-brother played by Ian Keith. The only exception is Lord Huntley played by Donald Crisp who is the Queen’s most loyal defender throughout the film (and one of the few who wears a kilt). From the outset, the nobles object to the presence of a foreigner, the Queen’s Italian private secretary David Rizzio played by John Carradine, and her Catholic faith. The Queen stands firmly loyal to her faith firmly states that in her kingdom all will be free to worship as their conscious dictates. They also immediately urge her to marry a “loyal Scot” and prefer Lord Darnley who they think they can control. However, she refuses to marry and vows to live as she pleases and not allow herself to be directed by others as had been the case throughout her life thus far.

Meeting John Knox
Thankfully, this ugly scene is relieved by a torchlight procession of her subjects singing a song of praise and loyalty to their Queen. This cheers her up and she makes up her mind to “find a way to win”. However, this happy sight cannot last long before a ranting John Knox shows up to denounce the new Queen and Catholicism. Knox is played by Moroni Olsen, the only member of the cast of the original play to portray his same character in the film. It is also during this confrontation that we see the arrival of Lord Bothwell played by Frederic March (who won an Oscar for starring in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, played princes in “Death Takes a Holiday” and “We Live Again” and who played Philip II of Macedonia in “Alexander the Great”. He also played Christopher Columbus in the 1949 film of that name -though Generalissimo Franco did not approve of it). While Knox raves his intolerant bigotry, Bothwell has him drowned out by his pipers. Queen Mary comes out to confront Knox. She tells him to preach his faith but asks him to be tolerant of her own faith and asks for his friendship in spite of his treasonous rhetoric. Knox, of course, refuses her offer and storms off determined as ever to oppose her. In the aftermath, the Queen meets Bothwell who is, from the start, portrayed as a rough, blunt but romantic hero who takes an instant liking to the Queen.

Lord Darnley
In England, Elizabeth continues to puzzle over how to defeat Mary. She dislikes the idea of Mary being wed to Bothwell or Darnley and fears that a war to conquer Scotland would unite the Scots in loyalty to Mary and against England. So, she decides to try to corrupt Moray and use him as her instrument -something we are led to believe will be very easy. In Scotland, Rizzio is also pushing the Queen to marry but prefers Darnley over Bothwell because Darnley is a Catholic but would prefer any Catholic royal from the continent over either one. The Queen accuses him of being as intolerant in his Catholicism as Knox is in his Protestantism but the two remain close friends and the Queen agrees that she must marry but it will not be a continental royal. At Rizzio’s urging then she decides that Darnley is the only viable option. It is clear though that she only has eyes for the dashing Bothwell. Darnley soon arrives, played by Douglas Walton (who viewers may remember from “The Bride of Frankenstein”, “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”). His is a totally reprehensible character, but Mary finally agrees to marry him when she is told that Elizabeth wants her to marry Leicester and does not wish her to marry Darnley. Bothwell confesses his love for her but Mary is steadfast that Darnley is the best choice for political reasons. When the Queen accepts Darnley’s proposal, the scene ends in a creepy way, after which we next see Darnley drunk and making a nuisance of himself while the nobles demand that the Queen send Rizzio away.

David Rizzio -looks like he knows what's coming
With the Queen standing firm, the nobles easily dupe Darnley into joining their conspiracy to murder Rizzio. Oddly enough, at that point, the Queen tells Rizzio, who is homesick for the sunshine of Italy, that she will send him home, though he is her only friend, to make him happy. Rizzio then asks why she doesn’t summon Bothwell back (who left in a huff over her marriage to Darnley) showing that their positions have basically switched from the beginning. The nobles bring in their troops, kill the palace guard and attack Rizzio in the Queen’s chamber with Darnley along but seemingly drunk or dazed, in any event the ignorant pawn of the nobles. The Queen vows never to forgive Darnley and tells him how stupid he has been, casting doubt on the paternity of his own son she is carrying (which is true as some later did try to spread the rumor that King James I was actually the son of Rizzio rather than Darnley). The nobles make it clear that she is to be a figurehead prisoner-queen under their control. The scandal will ruin her public support and Darnley was implicated so can take no action.

Dunbar Castle
At that moment, however, word arrives that Bothwell is returning and the rats make for their holes. There’s a fight in the courtyard but the Queen and Darnley escape while Bothwell is victorious. The little Prince James is born off-screen but the news upsets Queen Elizabeth immensely, especially with Bothwell triumphant beside the Queen and the Protestant nobles who had supported England having been banished for killing Rizzio. Darnley, with the fear of death removed, goes back to being a drunken nuisance immediately. He’s paranoid and is convinced that everyone is out to kill him. He blames the Queen for turning the nobles against him and vows to leave Scotland and disown his son. Lord Ruthven, one of the nobles who killed Rizzio, then sets the powder that blows Darnley into a million un-mourned pieces. Knox then tells the people from his pulpit that Bothwell was the murderer and it is made clear to the audience that the nobles (who really did it -in this film at least) gave him this information. Bothwell then captures the Queen and Lord Huntley and plans to marry her though Huntley tells him he is mad and the two of them have put themselves in Moray’s power by their actions and the charade of a “kidnapping” and plans for a “forced” marriage. He leaves in disgust but the Queen and Bothwell are wed, Mary telling him that he is the only one she ever loved.

Moray sets his terms
We are then told, by way of an ambassador’s report to Elizabeth (scenes with Elizabeth are often used to fill us in on things that happened off-screen) that Moray has taken the little prince and that Bothwell is trying to fight a war to restore the Queen to power but that Moray has the people behind him thanks to Knox convincing everyone that Bothwell killed Darnley when, we are told, it was really his own cronies who did the deed. The marriage seems to prove to all that Mary and Bothwell were guilty. At Edinburgh, Knox invokes revenge for a murdered king of Scotland (referring to Darnley) to rally the people against the Queen and Bothwell. Trapped and outmatched, Bothwell agrees to leave Scotland so long as the Queen is guaranteed on her throne, even if only as a figurehead. Of course, as soon as Bothwell is gone, Moray goes back on his word and betrays the Queen anyway. She is told to abdicate, see her son made king and Moray made regent to rule the country. She refuses, but Moray tells everyone she has abdicated and goes ahead. Queen Elizabeth sends word that she will oppose Moray publicly but support him privately while protesting friendship to Queen Mary and playing for time.

Queen Mary being judged
Queen Mary believes her and makes her escape to England where she thinks she will find a safe haven. She is quickly taken into custody and to her sorry discovers that her royal cousin has betrayed her (like most people in this movie) and she is a prisoner. Unknown to her, after an off-screen defeat, Bothwell dies raving in a Danish prison and Queen Mary is put on trial, though she refuses to recognize their authority or the authority of Queen Elizabeth. Nonetheless, she is charged with conspiracy to murder Elizabeth I while Queen Mary protests that she is guilty only of trying to escape from unjust imprisonment. She finally accepts her fate that the outcome of the trial is a foregone conclusion based on an invented plot by a paranoid Elizabeth. Her only hope is Bothwell and the English judges delight in revealing to her the news of his death. This leaves her a broken woman, accepting of her fate.

Two Queens face to face
But, of course, like all such films of this era, we cannot end without a secret meeting of the two queens, something for which there is no evidence at all but which few filmmakers have been able to resist. Elizabeth accuses Mary of being born too close to her throne, a threat she had to eliminate. Queen Mary claims to have had a happiness that Elizabeth will never know and that Elizabeth’s life has been “a magnificent failure”. Queen Mary tells her that Elizabeth has lived her whole life in fear of her. Yet, she refuses to renounce her claim to the English throne even though Elizabeth offers to spare her life if she does. Boldly, the Queen of Scots stands by her birthright and proclaims that she will win and Elizabeth will still lose because one day it will be her son, a Stuart, who sits on the throne of England. The Tudor queen leaves in a fury and Queen Mary prays, preparing for her death. She is led to her execution, saying a rosary in Latin amidst loud thunderclaps and the event happens off-screen as sad music plays. The film ends and the credits roll.

Mary & Bothwell publicity still
“Mary of Scotland” was not a big hit at the box office, yet, it is not a bad film and I think is sure to be very popular with a particular audience. Personally, I like it, I don’t love it but I like it. It’s sweet. It is certainly not historically accurate, though it is not really as inaccurate as some like to imply. Some things are completely made up for sure but what I think most people who complain about the historical inaccuracy are really upset about is just how partisan the film is. And boy howdy is it ever. One thing “Mary of Scotland” is not is ‘subtle’. It is a plain and simple story of good guys and bad guys and the audience is told, from the outset, in no uncertain terms, who is who. Personally, that doesn’t bother. After all, keeping this film in the context of others like it, there have been far, far more films that were just as blatantly partisan regarding Queen Elizabeth I. Almost every film to be about or to feature the ‘Virgin Queen’ have portrayed her in the most positive light possible. Certainly none of them were entirely historically accurate but it seems to me that if we can have so many films unapologetically positive of Elizabeth I (and I’m all for them), surely there is room for a film that is unapologetically positive of her rival Queen Mary.

I thought the two female leads both did an excellent job playing their parts, the rest of the cast was solid, it looked good and I think tended to get more things right than it is often given credit for. Queen Mary did claim the English throne, Queen Elizabeth did try to dominate Scotland through corrupt nobles and Queen Mary was an advocate of religious freedom rather than Catholic domination all as shown in the film. There are, on the other hand, plenty of things the film gets wrong but this is a movie closer to the romantic image of the Stuart queen rather than the historical one. It also shows Queen Mary as a devout Catholic woman who made some poor decisions in her life and that is perfectly true. Even the negative portrayal of Queen Elizabeth is not entirely inaccurate. Not everyone will like this movie but some will. In particular, I would say especially that if you are a Catholic monarchist interested in British history, you will probably love this movie.
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