Friday, July 25, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors, Part III (Hapsburg-Lorraine)

Concluded from Part II

Emperor Francis I: The reign of Francis I was one in which he would be overshadowed by his wife and by a Bavarian rival for the imperial throne. When Charles VI died his daughter Maria Theresa succeeded him in his hereditary positions (Archduchess of Austria, Queen of Hungary etc) but it was uncertain what would be the place of her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine. He had practically been raised to be the husband of Maria Theresa (his brother was the original choice but died) and he did his part to gain friends and fortune for the Hapsburgs, gaining the favor of British elites by joining the Freemasons and challenging France over the Polish succession by which he traded Lorraine for Tuscany in Italy. When his father-in-law died, the Bavarian Charles VII was elected Emperor but quickly lost most of his territory to Austrian troops as Marie Theresa was more than prepared to fight for her land and titles (or those she wanted for her husband). Bavaria might have remained an Austrian possession were it not for the intervention of King Frederick the Great of Prussia. Maria Theresa managed to have Francis I elected emperor in 1745 and he was co-regent of her hereditary dominions but it was really Maria Theresa who ruled, which was well enough because she was pretty darn good at it, being a principled, decisive, religious and all around great ruler. Emperor Francis mostly “ruled” from behind a desk doing paperwork and though he was not a faithful husband he still did his part to secure the Hapsburg-Lorraine succession by fathering sixteen children with Maria Theresa, among them two future emperors and an ill-fated future Queen of France. He died in 1765, some time before his wife.

Emperor Joseph II: Known as the “People’s Emperor”, Joseph II will always be remembered as one of the “Enlightened Despots”. His personality changed after the death of his beloved first wife, making him more cold and aloof. He tried to apply reason to government which earned him friends and enemies alike. At home and abroad his desire was to make Austria a great power, centralize government and unify his diverse domains. His public popularity came for his emancipation of the serfs, granting of religious freedom (up to a point) and providing social welfare for the poor. Yet, he was also a very authoritarian man and a very absolutist monarch who would tolerate no opposition. His efforts to place the Catholic Church under state control earned him many lasting enemies among the clerical faction and Church histories to this day often speak more harshly of Joseph II than predecessors who actually made war on the Pope or never practiced their religion at all. To unify his people he tried to make German the official language of all Hapsburg lands, which did not go over well, and he tried to make the House of Hapsburg supreme in Germany, going to war with Frederick the Great of Prussia in the process. He also fought less consequential wars against the Turks and Hungarian rebels, which were practically family traditions. He planned a rescue operation to save his sister, Queen Marie Antoinette from the French Revolution but his offer was refused by the brave royal couple who were reluctant to leave (at least at that stage). A patron of the arts, particularly music, Joseph II was called the “Musical King” and is most remembered now for his commissioning of work from Mozart. He died in 1790 adored by the lowest but hated by many for his interference in religion and Germanization policy. Still, he set the example which almost all subsequent Hapsburg Emperors tried to emulate.

Emperor Leopold II: Succeeding his elder brother, Leopold II had to put down rebellions from Belgium to Hungary because of the unpopular policies of his brother and he repealed the most provocative of these but maintained the majority of them. He too was a proponent of “enlightened” absolute monarchy and had originally been trained for the priesthood. He ruled as Grand Duke of Tuscany where his aloof nature made him less than popular, despite abolishing the death penalty and instituting public health programs. As Emperor, he was cold and calculating, refusing aid to French royalists and preferring to try to eliminate Prussia as a rival in Germany than punishing republican France. He also refused to allow any Papal Bulls read in his territory without first approving of the document. Still, the treatment of his sister and brother-in-law stirred his fury as an absolute monarch and he agreed to make common cause with the other Crowned Heads of Europe to stop the spread of republicanism. He died before any concerted action could be taken in 1792 at the age of only 44. Whereas his brother Joe had been much more single-minded and uncompromising, Kaiser Leo II was always prepared to keep flexible and to always consider the “politics” of any given situation. Unlike his brother, he certainly did his part to secure the succession, having sixteen children just like his own parents did. Overall, Emperor Leopold II might not have been the sort of monarch to be widely admired but he was probably the right man for the job at that time.

Emperor Francis II/I: The last Holy Roman (German) Emperor and the first Emperor of Austria, Francis succeeded his father after being raised in extremely strict fashion by his uncle Emperor Joseph II whom he nonetheless idolized. Emperor Francis can be a hard man to understand. He seemed not to really care that his aunt was guillotined by revolutionaries and yet the honor of his house was of paramount importance to him. His empire was well known for its vast network of spies and powerful secret police, yet he was an approachable monarch who always made time for any of his subjects who wished to speak with him. Most of his reign was dominated by the war with Napoleonic France and he was Napoleon’s most intractable enemy on the continent. When Napoleon became so successful that he determined to make himself emperor, Francis II feared that he might be able to so dominate Germany as to win election so he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire and thenceforth ruled as Emperor Francis I of Austria. It was a bitter blow to have to cede territory to France and worse still to give his own daughter to Napoleon in marriage. However, he saw the Austrian Empire through the crisis and by his own very conservative nature, helped ensure that the peace was practical and based on a respect for traditional authority. In the end, his prestige also allowed the Austrian Emperors to become the hereditary presidents of the German Confederation. He was a good, solid emperor and though sometimes accused of being paranoid and tyrannical, the fact is that he had reason to be and the steps he took prevented Austria from falling apart due to radical nationalism. He died in 1835.

Emperor Ferdinand I: Although often dismissed, I have a bit of a soft spot for Kaiser Ferdinand, sometimes known as “Ferdinand the Good”. True, he was handicapped in a number of ways and suffered from very severe epilepsy, however, he was not as totally incompetent as some seem to think. He could speak several different languages, could write very well and was a considerate and very religious man. Married to the Italian Princess Maria Anna of Savoy, she was a devoted wife who took good care of her husband, really being more of a nurse than a traditional wife but he loved and appreciated her for her attentiveness in what was really a sacrifice for her. If all had remained calm and tranquil, it might have been possible for Ferdinand I to remain on the throne with considerable help but that all changed with the outbreak of the Revolutions of 1848. He realized that he was not up to the task and the best thing to do would be to abdicate in favor of someone young and fit who could handle the situation. So he did, handing power over to his nephew after which he retired to Prague and lived quietly the rest of his life. While there, he also proved to be a help to the local economy and actually proved to be quite an astute businessman, amassing a fortune that supported the family for the rest of the Hapsburg reign. He died in 1875.

Emperor Francis Joseph I: One of the longest ruling monarchs in modern European history, the events of the reign of Francis Joseph would be too numerous to mention. He started out by suppressing revolutionaries and remained ever vigilant to threat of rebellion thereafter. Despite rising ethnic unrest, Francis Joseph made the Austrian Empire a workable power with growing industry and a scientific and artistic community that was second to none. However, in 1859 he acted rashly in allowing himself to be provoked into war with France and Sardinia in northern Italy, losing Lombardy in the process and a short time later went to war with Denmark alongside the other German states. The aftermath of this led to a short, disastrous war with Prussia which saw Austria removed from German affairs in 1864. Any attempt at a revival was dashed by the continuing danger of rebellion in Hungary which Emperor Francis Joseph tried to put to rest by (rather reluctantly) agreeing to the Compromise of 1867 which saw the Austrian Empire become the “Dual-Monarchy” of Austria-Hungary with each having separate and co-equal governments. In 1882 he signed on to the Triple Alliance, a monarchist defense pact, with the German Empire and the Kingdom of Italy. In 1908 Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia which angered Serbia and Russia (as well as Italy since they did not receive the territorial compensations they had been promised) and pan-Slavism, led by Serbia and backed up by Russia would become the dominant concern of the latter years of Francis Joseph’s reign. He was always a dutiful monarch and he learned from experience. He also became more sincerely religious as he aged, possibly because of the many tragedies he faced in his private life, though he was still not above using the imperial veto to influence papal elections. Holding on to what he had been given became his primary concern and the strength and preservation of the monarchy was never far from his thoughts. When World War I came, he probably viewed some sort of showdown with Serbia as inevitable but he was still reluctant and had to be lied to before actually giving the order to go to war. Too old, by that time, to play much of a part, he died in 1916.

Emperor Charles I: Known as the “Peace Emperor”, it is rather illustrative of his life that this nickname was due to intentions rather than actual achievements. He was thrust into the position of heir to the throne when Archduke Francis Ferdinand was shot in 1914 but already displayed admirable qualities that would have served him well as monarch. He was an accomplished soldier, known for his concern for the welfare of his troops, his devotion to his wife and family and his deep faith. When the Pope called for a peace without victors, only Charles and the King of the Belgians took it seriously and made the attempt. Unfortunately, it was a rather naïve and futile gesture that almost brought about the early destruction of Austria-Hungary. His intentions were noble and his virtue was far above his contemporaries but it was simply beyond the realm of possibility that the Allies would have agreed to such a proposal at that stage and even more ludicrous to think they would have kept his secret when making the attempt public proved so helpful to the Allied cause. The Germans were furious at such a betrayal and made plans to invade and occupy Austria-Hungary at a moment’s notice (it would not have been dissimilar to what happened to Italy in 1943). From that point, Austria-Hungary was more like Germany’s prisoner than Germany’s ally and Emperor Charles had little choice but to see things through to the end. He dismissed the old army leadership and took command himself while also proposing new domestic plans in an effort to regain the loyalty of the various ethnic minorities. However, it was to no avail and the Allies had already agreed to the post-war dismemberment of Austria-Hungary in any event. After a final, crushing blow in 1918 the empire simply collapsed in on itself and Emperor Charles was forced to relinquish power and go into exile. However, he did not abdicate as he viewed the monarchy as a sacred trust that he could not abandon. In 1921 he tried twice to regain his throne as King of Hungary but was blocked by the ruling regent. He died in Portugal a year later at the age of only 34. In 2004 Charles, the last Hapsburg Emperor, was formally beatified by Pope John Paul II. He was a saintly man and, like a number of “last” monarchs, too good for his own good in a number of ways.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors, Part II

...continued from Part I

Emperor Matthias: Put in charge of Hungary by his brother, Matthias aligned with the Protestant rebels, gained control of more disaffected territories and finally forced Rudolf from power. In 1612 he was elected Emperor but the methods he had used to gain power soon caused him problems. He had to deal with rebellious forces in Hungary, Slavonia, Croatia as those who he had granted concessions to before demanded more from him. His hope was to reconcile the Catholics and Protestants but the Protestants did not want to be reconciled, nor did the more zealous Catholics of the House of Hapsburg who wanted to wipe out Protestantism, an idea which even Charles V had deemed impractical. Poor Matthias was, in a way, hoisted on his own petard. He had inadvertently stirred up ambitions among the rebellious to unseat his ineffective brother only to see his own reign crippled by divisions and rebellion. His brother, Archduke Rudolf III of Austria, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, was one of the leaders in this area and succeeded in gaining power as Emperor Matthias grew old and feeble. He died in 1619 and any thought of reconciliation died with him.

Emperor Ferdinand II: One thing was certainly clear when Ferdinand II was elected Emperor in 1619; any concessions to Protestantism would be stopped. Kaiser Ferdinand II was a staunch, devout Catholic, Jesuit-educated and a man who wished to see Catholicism restored throughout Germany. Religious liberty was not his thing and he was not big on the idea of sharing power with the nobility either and he wasted no time in tearing up the agreements of his predecessors and enforcing an imperial smack-down on the Protestants in his territory. The Bohemians revolted first, declared Ferdinand deposed and tried to replace him but he still managed to be elected emperor first and soon fighting broke out that spread quickly. This was the start of the Thirty Years War as Catholics and Protestants struggled for the domination of Germany and really all of Central Europe. The forces of Kaiser Ferdinand seemed to always be successful only to have a new enemy arise to snatch final victory from their grasp. At White Mountain the Catholic imperial forces led by the Belgian general Tilly were victorious over the Protestants in Bohemia but then Denmark got involved. Spain came to help Austria and under Wallenstein the imperial forces were victorious again. But, then Sweden got involved and King Gustavus Adolphus dealt the Catholics a devastating blow. Tilly was defeated, Wallenstein was recalled and finally the Swedes were checked with the death of their King. However, just as Ferdinand II was about to declare victory, France intervened and in 1637 Emperor Ferdinand II died and both sides were exhausted.

Emperor Ferdinand III: Under his father, Ferdinand III has taken command of the imperial army and won a smashing victory over the Swedes, proving himself to be a capable commander. It was left to him to see the Thirty Years War brought to an end, not with the victory he had hoped but with a negotiated peace. The only thing that was really settled was that nothing was going to be settled and Germany would remain religiously divided between the Catholics and Protestants. It also changed the nature of the (German) Empire for whereas his predecessors like his father Ferdinand II, Ferdinand I and Maximilian I had tried to centralize power, Ferdinand III was obliged to do the opposite. In order to gain more support against the Swedes and then the French, he conceded much greater local autonomy to the various German rulers so that, once again, the empire existed more on paper than in reality. It became more of an idea and less of an actual pan-German empire. But, it was a matter of necessity for Ferdinand III and he did his best to stay strong and keep up the fight, even after the official peace, by helping Spain against France in Italy and helping the Catholic Poles against Sweden. However, it would be wrong to expect too much from the reign of Ferdinand III as the whole Hapsburg realm was exhausted by the Thirty Years War and the whole of Germany was in ruins and would be a long, long time in recovery. He did the best he could under such circumstances and should be appreciated for that.

Emperor Leopold I: Fortunately, Hapsburg fortunes turned around after the election in 1658 of Emperor Leopold I, though it was due in large part to a man who was not a Hapsburg and not even a German-Austrian but a rather frail, French-born Italian by the name of Prince Eugene of Savoy who happened to be one of the greatest captains in military history. Leopold I was a very learned man, conservative, a great lover of music as well as being devoutly religious. All in all, a fine combination. Hungary, Bohemia and Croatia rallied to him and there was a conflict with Sweden but the great rivals of his reign would be Turkey and Louis XIV of France. The Turks were first dealt with thanks to another brilliant general, the Italian Field Marshal Raimondo Montecuccoli. Next was Louis XIV of France who was blocked by the Prince of Orange who then managed a major coup in becoming King William III of England, Scotland and Ireland. He also had to deal with a rebellion in Hungary led by Protestant nobles who disliked Leopold’s efforts to enforce Catholic uniformity. This was used as a pretext by the Turks to launch a major invasion of Central Europe resulting in the attack on Vienna which was turned back thanks to the timely arrival of the Poles under King John Sobieski. Prince Eugene followed up with more victories over the Turks, pushing them out of Hungary and further south. He would go on to more fame in the War of Spanish Succession against France. Leopold I would not live to see the end of it but he had shown good sense, picked good commanders, consolidated power for his house and supported the Church. He was very intelligent and smart enough to know to leave military matters in the hands of those best suited for it while he focused on music, religion and government. A good man and a good emperor, he died in 1705.

Emperor Joseph I: Not much is usually said about Joseph I who suffered from bad timing as an emperor. He started out overseeing events already set in motion by his father and then died before seeing the conclusion of his own plans. However, he certainly had plans, the foremost of which was the establishment of Austria as a great power. He carried on with the War of Spanish Succession in the hope of seeing the Hapsburgs maintained on the throne of Spain which, in the end, did not happen though thanks to Prince Eugene of Savoy he did gain a commanding position in Italy. Considered a reformer in his youth, he was not a radical but did enact some needed changes in the Hapsburg government and he did manage to bring order to the chronically chaotic state of the Austrian economy. His efforts to dominate Italy brought him to the brink of war with the Pope (not an unusual occurrence) but he was obliged to make peace when rebellion broke out in Hungary (also not an unusual occurrence). Once again, Hungarian rebels aligned with the Turks and Joseph I was obliged to roll back some of the power gained by the imperial monarchy in order to win the support necessary to pacify Hungary and keep the Turks from getting any big ideas. Although not often mentioned, it was also Emperor Joseph I who got the ball rolling on the Pragmatic Sanction to secure the hereditary succession of the lands of Austria. He died, his work not yet finished, in 1711.

Emperor Charles VI: What potential and what a waste! Emperor Charles VI often seems left out of history as little more than a prelude to the reign of his daughter. This is somewhat understandable given that much of his early life was spent more like a pretender to a crown he never achieved. It was his overriding goal in life to become the King of Spain and he did live in the country for a time, mostly ruling over Catalonia and the British and Portuguese supported his bid for the throne. However, despite many victories, the war did not end the way Charles wanted. When Joseph I died he went back to Austria to be elected emperor and the British suddenly dropped their support for him. They did not want to see French power expanded but nor did they wish to see the same monarch ruling over both Spain and Austria. He married but had only daughters and became obsessed with securing the succession for his daughter, Maria Theresa, by issuing the Pragmatic Sanction and trying to get all the major powers to recognize it. Although not often recognized, Charles VI was quite an accomplished emperor. He defeated the Turks and gained the Banat for Hungary as well as taking Serbia and some other territories. He consolidated the Hapsburg position in Italy by trading Sardinia for Sicily with the House of Savoy and set Austria out on what might have been the start of a colonial foreign policy by founding a trading company for the West Indies. However, he emptied the Austrian treasury trying to bribe everyone in recognizing the Pragmatic Sanction as well as granting other concessions (Britain demanded he step back from trying colonialism). It was not always money well spent as most powers ended up adhering to or rejecting it as their own national interest dictated. He died in 1740.

To be concluded in Part III...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MM Mini View: The Hapsburg Emperors, Part I

Emperor Frederick III: Known as “Frederick the Peaceful”, Frederick III was the first Hapsburg to be elected Holy Roman Emperor and the last to be crowned by the Pope in the city of Rome in 1452. Known as an aloof, distant sort of man with a tendency to be indecisive, Pope Pius II sardonically said that he wished to “conquer the world while remaining seated”. Still, it seems to have worked for him and some have a tendency to unjustly dismiss Frederick III. He was not so much slow as methodical, not so much unimaginative as cautious, careful, sober and realistic. He negotiated a concordat with the Pope that governed Hapsburg Church-State relations for nearly four hundred years and his patience and determination allowed him to triumph over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. His brother rebelled against him and defeated him at every turn, yet Frederick III persevered and maintained himself on the throne. He failed to defeat the Hungarians, who won numerous victories over his forces, yet he survived and did manage to pull off a real long-term victory over Burgundy, securing an advantageous marriage for his son and the inheritance of that choice piece of real-estate. He died in 1493.

Emperor Maximilian I: One of the great ones, Kaiser Max is the real-life reason behind the famous saying, ‘Others make war, but thou, oh happy Austria, only marries’. His reign as Emperor dates from 1508 but he had been in charge of the Hapsburg dynasty for much longer. He was Duke of Burgundy thanks to the marriage contract won at gunpoint by his father and so from 1477 he was already ruler of a large slice of France and the Low Countries. When King Louis XI of France tried to take Burgundy from him, Max went to war and sent the French packing. He fought the French again in the Italian Wars and seized the Tyrol when he was asked to settle a dispute between the Tyrolese and the Bavarians. Perhaps most significantly, he married his son, Philip the Handsome, to Juana of Castile, daughter of Fernando and Isabella, thus securing Spain for the House of Hapsburg. He tried to make the Holy Roman Empire into a more unitary state and to use matrimonial alliances to gain mastery over France but was less successful in those endeavors. He also lost the Hapsburg ancestral lands to Switzerland but, the foundations he laid ended up bringing about a Hapsburg empire second to none in the western world.

Emperor Charles V: A giant in western history, Charles V was elected Emperor in 1519 but had already inherited a massive empire from Spain to the Low Countries to Austria itself. A sincerely religious man but a worldly and practical one as well, it is no understatement to say that Emperor Charles V saved Christendom on more than one occasion. During his eventful reign, he was almost constantly at war and was usually victorious. He defeated the Turks in the south, won a crushing victory over the French at Pavia in the west, broke the power of the Pope in Italy and subdued rebellious princes in Germany. A cosmopolitan man who almost defied classification, he was also in charge when Lutheranism first appeared and famously rebuked the monk at the Diet of Worms. He urged the Catholic Church to make reforms such as would make it easier for the Lutherans to get along with it but to no avail. He fought the Protestants for a time but ended by making peace with them so as to focus on external enemies. He was the last Emperor to actually be crowned, done in Bologna by Pope Clement VII after he had conquered Italy and forced the Pope’s submission. The Spanish empire expanded in the New World but so many conflicts did cause considerable financial problems in the future. Still, a giant historical figure who became something of a legend in Spain and Germany alike.

Emperor Ferdinand I: The brother of Charles V, he oversaw the German half of the Hapsburg empire, inheriting it when his brother abdicated while the Spanish half went to his nephew King Philip II. He also gained the thrones of Bohemia, Hungary and Croatia but a faction of the Hungarians allied with the Ottoman Sultan and rebelled against him. Vienna was besieged but in the end the Austrians were victorious. Ferdinand also negotiated the peace on behalf of his brother with the Protestants in Germany, allowing them to maintain their religion. He tried to centralize power and build-up an absolute monarchy in the Holy Roman Empire but had to deal with rebellions in Bohemia and Hungary. He sympathized with many of the positions of the Protestants but still supported the “Counter-Reformation” and invited the Jesuits into Vienna and Prague toward that end so the idea some have entertained that he was a crypto-Protestant is an exaggeration. He was a practical man who did his best to defend and consolidate the Hapsburg realm and to keep the Turks out of Central Europe. He died in 1564 after a reign that was difficult and not without setbacks but which had been successful when it counted most. Overall, an astute monarch.

Emperor Maximilian II: Elected the same year his father and predecessor died, Kaiser Max II at times seemed to be unsure whether he wanted to be a Catholic or a Protestant. He seemed so favorably inclined to the Lutherans that his father had to assure the Pope that Maximilian would not succeed him if he actually became a Protestant. As it happened, Max II remained at least nominally Catholic throughout his life. There were Protestant as well as Catholic electors and no law stipulating that an Emperor had to be a Catholic. In the end, he was on good terms with the Protestants and still elected Emperor as a Catholic with the Pope confirming his election. He then pushed for the Pope to accept Protestant practices such as doing away with clerical celibacy and giving communion in both kinds. When the Council of Trent issued its documents, he refused to have them published and tried to get his Spanish cousin to ease up on the Protestants in Holland. In the end, he angered the Catholics and still never managed to totally appease the Protestants and he was unable to take the remainder of Hungary back from the Turks. He died while trying to press his claim to the Kingdom of Poland in 1576. His reign was a rather well meaning mess that accomplished little.

Emperor Rudolf II: One of the more unusual Hapsburg emperors. Most regarded him as aloof, excessively formal and rather stiff. He was certainly reclusive and rather eccentric and not the most dutiful of monarchs. He never married so never produced an heir and delegated most of his daily tasks to others while he obsessed over machinery, astrology and alchemy (and religious people should remember when being lectured by modern scientists that astrology and alchemy were at one time considered solid, scientific “fact”). He was tolerant towards Protestants and Jews and was never really a serious, practicing Catholic but his actual state of mind became harder to determine and more erratic. He was prone to fits of depression and became almost obsessive in his fascination with alchemy. He naively tried to remain neutral in the growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants and tried to bring everyone together for a war against the Ottoman Turks but it got him nowhere and soon Hungary was in rebellion again. In Bohemia he granted concessions to the Protestants but they only demanded more and joined forces with the Hungarians to force Rudolf from power. He died in 1612 powerless and possibly mad.

To be continued in Part II...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Royal News Roundup

There were lots of sporting events and visits for the British royals last week. Prince Harry won big at polo and joined his big brother in hosting a cricket match. HM the Queen hosted a special reception for enterprise award winners, the Duchess of Cambridge attending a cooking class and of course little Prince George has been in the news a great deal concerning his upcoming birthday. The little Prince is said to be, “charging around and opening doors” now, so no doubt he is keeping his parents on their toes. The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall visited Devon and Cornwall, Prince William visited Coventry War Memorial Park and Prince Michael of Kent spoke out about his struggle with cancer. The Queen also made a visit to the Reading Railway Station. Elsewhere in northern Europe, a new poll found that a majority of Danes favor ending the allowance to Princess Alexandra, ex-wife of Prince Joachim, both of whom have since remarried. This is not terribly surprising given that, while she is not unpopular, she is not really seen as a member of the Royal Family anymore and does do much in the way of official engagements. In Sweden the Royal Family was out to celebrate the birthday of Crown Princess Victoria on July 14 who turned 37. Congratulations to her.

Further south on the continent, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima signed a book of condolences for the victims of the Malaysian airliner that was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Dutch nationals made up the largest number of the victims. Prevailing opinion has been that the aircraft was shot down by pro-Russian separatists and it will be revealing to see how The Netherlands will handle this given that they were among the most opposed, in the past, to taking economic action against Russia over events in the Ukraine. Moving further south, TM King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain paid an official visit to the North African Kingdom of Morocco last week where they met with King Mohammed VI and Princess Lalla Salma over two days. Upon returning home, the King and Queen had a night off and went to the movies but then it was back to business and full dress uniform for the King who received the credentials of a number of foreign ambassadors.

In the diverse lands of ‘Eternal Asia’ the Crown Prince of Dubai took a video of the recent “super moon” that went viral on this here internet, the Emir of Qatar went to Turkey to meet with the President and PM, calling for talks in an effort to, let us be frank, end his pariah status with the rest of the Arab royal community. He also issued prisoner pardons for Ramadan but at last report there was no word of who was included. Usually the Ramadan pardons are given out to foreign workers in Qatar. Crown Prince Paras Shah of Nepal remains in custody in Thailand after being arrested for marijuana possession (not the first time). He has been living in Thailand with his girlfriend since splitting with his wife in Singapore (his wife comes from an Indian princely family and has returned to Nepal with their children). In Cambodia, the ashes of the late King-Father Norodom Sihanouk were laid to rest in the Silver Pagoda following a lavish procession through Phnom Penh last Saturday. Crowds of people gathered, many expressing hopes that the soul of the late monarch would help Cambodia and bring the political parties together. In Malaysia (aside from this latest tragedy for their airlines) the Sultan of Selangor had some harsh words for an elected official of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party after he suggested that the Islamic Religious Council should have its executive powers removed. The Sultan called the politician “rude” and “ignorant” and suggested that he speak more carefully in the future. And, finally, last Saturday the Crown Princess of Tonga, wife of Crown Prince Tupouto ‘a ‘Ulukalala, gave birth to a daughter, their second child, named Princess Halaaevalu Mata’aho. Congratulations to the proud parents.

This past week, it should be obvious, I didn’t get a great deal of “royal” news because other events dominated the news cycle with a ground war in the Middle East and a jet liner being shot down over Ukraine. Some people have asked me about those issues and I really don’t have much to say about either one. The fighting in Gaza seems pretty ‘cut and dry’ and as for Ukraine, my position hasn’t changed on that from what it was in the beginning. There will be a lot of bluster and stern words but the bottom line is that, other than the Ukrainians themselves, no one but Russia is willing to fight over this. Western Europe doesn’t want to challenge Russia nor do most people in the United States and I am firmly in the majority on that one. It doesn’t involve American interests or security, the USA doesn’t have a good track record in foreign policy from my standpoint and I don’t want to see anymore American forces be asked to fight and die and get their legs blown off for countries that despise them. We’re talking about a bunch of governments that I do not approve of on either side, it is not the state of affairs I would prefer nor is that currently within the realm of possibility. As far as who is to blame for this, it seems clear to me that the pro-Russian rebels shot it down but that they didn’t know exactly what they were shooting down and I don’t think Putin had anything to do with it as he’s not intensely stupid and would know that such an act would only make things more problematic for him. There are people who should be outraged over it, but they don’t seem to be, at least not enough to do anything about it and, frankly, if they don’t care I see no reason why America should. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sovereignty and Morality

One of the things that often frustrates me is the people who pose questions with the perceived goal of looking for an excuse to be disloyal. They come up with all sorts of hypothetical situations, asking if, under these certain circumstances, would rebellion be justified? My usual answer is “no” as, for me, the fundamental basis of loyalty to monarchs is simple, being based on religious conviction. “My son, fear the Lord and the King: and have nothing to do with detractors (rebels)”, Proverbs 24:21. That’s simple enough and good enough for me. Without doing intensive research, I was unable to come up with any Scriptural justification for rebellion. Throughout the Bible, it doesn’t happen much, the most prominent rebellion that comes to mind is that of the Maccabees which was a rebellion against a foreign conqueror, the Seleucid Empire which was one of the successor states of the “world” dominion of Alexander the Great. In the Christian era, people were told to “render unto Caesar”, to “fear God and honor the Emperor” and to obey “not only the good and the gentle but also the harsh”. And, as we know from history, even in the worst periods of immorality and even persecution, there were no massive Christian rebellions. On the contrary, Christians were sent to their deaths protesting their loyalty with the usual phrase, “Hail Caesar, Emperor of Rome, we who are about to die salute you”.

This has occupied my thoughts as of late because of a growing concern that the time may be approaching (or even near upon us), in my country at least, where the issue becomes pressing as to whether one can morally pay taxes and submit to a government that is doing immoral things. Certainly, one can imagine that when Jesus Christ said, “render unto Caesar” that some of that money was going to further causes the audience being addressed would have considered immoral. The Caesar at that time was the Emperor Tiberius who went rather off the deep-end morally at the end of his life, according to most accounts, but even at best we can imagine that tax money would be spent on things like sponsoring pagan Roman temples which the Jewish leaders Jesus was addressing would have surely denounced as idolatry. Yet, the command was to pay your taxes and be loyal to the Emperor. Does this apply to us today in the same way? It seems to me that an answer might be dependent on whether you live in a republic or not or even as to what sort of monarchy you live in. Pondering the issue has made me wonder (not much, because the answer seems obvious) whether or not people realize how morally hazardous a republic can be. When considering what the difference would be between the people, taxes, laws and overall situation of those in the time of Christ versus those here and now the answer I came up with has, at its heart, the issue of sovereignty.

This is an opinion piece and others may disagree, but these are simply my thoughts for your consideration. It seems to me that one reason for the lack of rebellions or authorization for rebellions in the old days (very old days) is because people were not expected to sit in judgment of their superiors. For the Jews of the Old Testament, God was in charge and God picked who would be king over them. They were to be loyal to that King who was responsible to God for his actions and if he acted wrongly or misruled his people it was God that would deal with him. This was basically stated in the covenant God made with King David, establishing his “divine right” to rule God’s people. God said that if the descendants of King David ruled badly, He would punish them but that their divine right would never be taken away for the sake of King David, the man after God’s own heart. The people were to obey so long as the authorities did not demand them to act contrary to the law of God and even then, as we see in cases such as that of Daniel, the response was disobedience but not disloyalty or rebellion. God was considered to be the master of kings and princes and the one who directed the fate of the nations. So, when Israel and Judah were conquered by the Romans, they considered that was the will of God and as their king submitted so too did they. Basically, how the Emperor behaved was God’s problem to deal with and not their’s.

That may sound flippant but the underlying point is extremely serious because today is not at all the same in most republics and even some monarchies. The point is that, in the past, when the government did something wrong, the King and the King alone was responsible to God for it. Today, where I live and probably a majority of those reading this as well, it is “we” who are responsible when the government does something wrong and the reason is sovereignty. Let us take the example of the United States, a republic familiar to all. Before independence, King George III was the sovereign, holding sovereignty over what would become the original United States of America. Although one could substitute the word “Parliament” after 1688, according to the letter of the law, George III was King “by the Grace of God”. Parliament passed laws in the name of the King, who gave assent or vetoed them as he pleased (though George III never vetoed anything as most know) and he reigned by God’s grace because it was God who made him the sovereign of England, Scotland and Ireland and all their dependencies. Then, along comes the American War for Independence and the birth of the United States of America; a federal republic. Instead of an hereditary monarch, the United States would have a President, chosen by the Electoral College through the democratic process because the people said, in so many words, ‘we will have the leader we choose, not the leader God chooses for us’. But was the President then the sovereign of the United States? Perish the thought!

The President is certainly not the sovereign of America as it was stated very clearly from the outset that the United States was to be based on the principle of “popular sovereignty”. That means everyone is king which is the same thing as saying there is no king at all. Sovereignty is claimed by the collective and invested in the public at large as “we, the people”. Did anyone then or does anyone now realize what a truly terrible responsibility that represents? This is why, for example, if one were to commit a crime or, excuse me, if one were to be *unjustly accused* of committing a crime (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) north of the border in Her Britannic Majesty’s Dominion of Canada your case would be referred to as “The Crown versus Stickyfingers McGuilty” whereas in these United States, under the same circumstances, it would be, in federal cases, “The People of the United States versus Shiftyeyes O’Liar” because the sovereign is the basis of law and authority and in Canada that is Her Majesty the Queen, which is to say, “The Crown” of Canada while in the United States there is no sovereign but the collective sovereignty of “the people”. How many people recognize the moral ramifications of this? Likewise, in Britain, laws are enacted in the name of the Queen whereas in the United States, with popular sovereignty, they are enacted in the name of “the people”. Can everyone see the important difference and what this means?

In a country based on traditional authority, in which the monarch is sovereign, as was universally the case in the old days, this meant that if a bad law was enacted the sole responsibility fell on the shoulders of the monarch. However, by trying to take power into our own hands and claiming popular sovereignty, sticking with the illustration of America, it means that everyone is tainted, so to speak, by a bad law because everything that is done and every law that is passed is done so in the name of and by the authority of “we, the people”. This holds true even in the case of money and taxes. What did Jesus Christ first ask about the coin when questioned on paying taxes? He asked, who was pictured on that coin and the answer was, of course, Caesar as the profile of the Emperor appeared on all coins just as, again to bring it forward, the profile of Queen Elizabeth II appears on all the coins in a country like Canada. So, He said, “render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar”. Was this based solely on cosmetics? I don’t think so and such a thing could not be applied to the United States wherein coins feature the profiles of presidents long dead like Lincoln, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Washington and Kennedy. We could hardly ‘render unto’ these men who are no longer alive, nor would it be right to do so because none of them were sovereigns.

The underlying point is that the currency Christ held up was a Roman coin backed by the authority of the Emperor. In the United States, the power to issue currency is reserved to the Congress, the representatives of, again, “we, the people”. That is then combined with the fact that the power of the purse is reserved to the people’s elected representatives and that means that the general public is, to some degree, responsible for all that is done with it. Power and responsibility is, after all, a two-way street even if it may be comfortable to ignore the fact. By demanding that, “we, the people” should all be sovereign, that we should all collectively hold power and authority, we are then all collectively responsible for all that comes as a result of this. What is more revealing, at least to me, is that everyone seems to realize this when it is convenient to their cause. For example, many people, certainly in America, will have heard of the anti-war campaign “Not In My Name”. It was a very widely used slogan in the opposition to the Iraq War and has been used by numerous causes around the world, most of them of very leftist origins. These same people, however, claim to be totally oblivious to this concept when traditional Christians oppose “gay marriage”. Most Christians don’t give a toss what people get up to in the privacy of their own homes but what they do object to is the idea of the government, acting in their name, saying something in law which they believe is untrue. Thanks to collective sovereignty, it is forcing traditional Christians to make liars of themselves.

This hardly seems fair to those who did everything possible to stop perceived wrongs done by their government. They may have voted, participated in debates, perhaps even held public protests but, fair or not, “we” asked for this situation. In fact, “we” demanded it and shed blood to achieve it. To make matters even more unfair, it is not as though “the people” actually rule, ever have or ever will but the people went along, the people participated or at least submitted to this and the political leaders of the revolutions of the world made it sound so empowering when they said, “We will hold power, but it will be in your name” because there is no higher power than “the people”. This grand sounding ideal, however, was actually a sort of suicide pact which enables all to be tainted by the actions of 51% of their number, sometimes even less. If we are going to say that power comes from the people and not from God then it is the people who are responsible to God for all that their fellow members of the collective do. In a traditional monarchy, if the King misruled, the King would die and go to Hell. With popular sovereignty, everyone risks being dragged down to the infernal regions by the most politically successful. We used to have a monarch to blame. Now, we have only ourselves.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Princely Profile: Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, “Ipse Rex”

Known as the personification of the problems in the Catholic Church of his time, Cardinal Wolsey was worldly, wealthy and ambitious. Yet, like most figures of the Renaissance or any period in history Wolsey had his good points as well as his failings. He rose to prominence during the reign of King Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty and was a major figure at court as well as acting as an envoy to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. When Henry VIII came to the throne Wolsey's star was to rise even higher, and the young king had complete trust in the clever churchman. One way this came about was mutual ambition. Henry VIII wanted power and glory and would abide no one who tried to discourage him. Wolsey realized this and was always eager to encourage the King's ambition as a way of realizing his own.

It was a policy that worked as in 1514 Wolsey was given the prestigious position of Archbishop of York. In September the following year he was elevated to the rank of Cardinal and only one month later Henry VIII made him Lord Chancellor of England. This was the apex of his career, holding the most powerful office in the kingdom and the red hat of a Prince of the Church. It was quite a rise from someone who had been born the son of a butcher. For some time their relationship was good. The King was obsessed with wars and jousts and pageantry and had no interest in the work of administration, which was therefore left in Cardinal Wolsey's capable hands. Even his worst enemy could not deny that Wolsey was committed, hard working and extremely good at his job.

Problems did not arise until that pivotal moment in English history when King Henry VIII fell for the seductions of Ann Boleyn and became determined to put away his lawful wife Queen Catherine of Aragon. Cardinal Wolsey, ever devoted to the King, did his best to solve the problem but knew that the Pope would refuse. He earned the wrath of Ann Boleyn who tried to turn Henry against him, and other than the King, Wolsey had few friends. His rise from humble origins disturbed the aristocracy, and many envied his extreme wealth, it often being said that he lived even more luxuriously than the King himself. Wolsey was also the perfect illustration of all the problems in the Church that devoted men like St Thomas More were demanding be corrected. He became very fat, extracted fees from those given posts in the Church, was absent from his see in York, had fathered illegitimate children and had done little to strop the spread of Lutheranism/Protestantism in England. When he failed to gain the annulment Henry wanted some accused him of purposely not trying hard enough because of an ambition to be elected Pope.

Because Queen Catherine was the aunt of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and Cardinal Wolsey was pushing a foreign policy of closeness with France, he would have liked nothing better than to see the Queen put away. However, he did not approve of Henry marrying Ann Boleyn, who it seemed to many had cast a spell over the King and was driving him to make revolutionary changes in the kingdom simply to satisfy his lust. When the Cardinal could not get a swift judgment in Henry's favor, the king grew impatient and his enemies among the nobility and especially Ann Boleyn, closed in on Wolsey. He was dismissed as Lord Chancellor, stripped of his role as Papal legate, deprived of all offices save the archbishopric of York and was later forced to sign over all of his possessions to the King.

Later, when it was found that Wolsey had not been at fault for the king not obtaining his divorce, he was pardoned and returned to York to try to act as the shepherd he was supposed to have been. However, he had powerful enemies that would not relent and they produced forged documents claiming that the Cardinal had been in secret negotiations with the King of France and demanded that he be tried for high treason. When the King's officers came to arrest him he famously said, "Master Kingston, I see the matter against me now it is framed; but if I had served God as diligently as I have done the King He would not have given me over in my gray hairs". Cardinal Wolsey, however, was never tried or executed for the charges against him as he died before the matter could be concluded on November 29, 1530.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Anglo-American Empire

It is true that, ultimately, considering what are known as alternate histories is a waste of time. We can never know for sure what would have happened, what might have been or how this or that would have worked out. However, if kept in its proper place, such speculation can be of at least some benefit. As well as providing some creative exercise that might generate valuable ideas, I also have found it a good tool for bringing people to an understanding of free will, that the way the world is today did not just happen inexorably but was the result of past decisions. If different decisions had been made, we would be living in a different sort of world. Actions have consequences and this is a point that can be brought home by considering alternate possibilities. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. But in ourselves” as Shakespeare wrote and the life we have is what we have made it, to a large extent, because of the actions or inactions of ourselves or people like ourselves. As we recently saw the annual celebration of America’s Declaration of Independence, it may be worthwhile or at least entertaining to consider what might have happened if such a declaration had never been made. Likewise, if it had, what might have happened if Britain had won the war and the American colonies remained in the British Empire?

First of all, despite the way most people make it sound, America would not be some sort of oppressed, downtrodden land of miserable tyranny. Under the British Crown the American colonies already had a higher standard of living and more individual freedom than most people in the world. King George III was no tyrant, he did not get his way all the time and he never refused Royal Assent to any acts of Parliament. In many ways, life would not be all that different in America if the war had never happened or if the British had won. After all, standards of living are not terribly different in the modern United States compared to Australia or Canada. Given that calls for greater unity in the colonies already had a history by the time of independence, it seems likely that they would have come together under one government. The United States would also probably look much the same as it does today. It could be argued that the French Revolution might never have happened if the American Revolution had not been successful but that seems doubtful. If it did not happen, America would probably be smaller but the safer bet would be that it would have happened anyway. The “Enlightenment” mentality that helped inspire the American Revolution had been spreading in France far longer and there were major problems in France that were exacerbated by intervention in America but which were not caused by it or restricted to it. So, let us assume the French Revolution broke out as it occurred in history.

America would have then expanded just as it did, with Anglo-American forces seizing the Louisiana Territory during the war with France. During the time when Spain and France were allied it is also likely that Anglo-American forces would have seized Florida and possibly even more but that becomes increasingly less likely. With North America supporting the British war effort rather than hindering it, the allied victory over France might have been easier or come a bit sooner and the British Empire might have expanded even more but perhaps in different areas. Would India have been such a priority for Britain, for example, if all of North America was part of the empire, including the cotton states of the deep south, the coal fields of Pennsylvania and West Virginia? Suppose that British North America expanded southward in a way similar to the United States and, just like the United States, was drawn into a war with Mexico over border disputes. In actual history, Britain tried to prevent the war because it would disrupt their lucrative trade with Mexico, however, events on the ground could have provoked such a conflict in any event and there probably would have been less trade with Mexico if what became the United States had remained in the British Empire with the increased inter-imperial commerce that would provide.

The events after the conflict might have been different though. In reality, the USA annexed the northernmost reaches of Mexico but paid compensation for it and resisted the urge to take over the whole country -which would have been too blatantly imperialist for the United States even though there were a few in Mexico at the time who thought that would have been best. Over time, a number of Britons expressed amazement that the US did not just annex Mexico and be done with it, rather than having to return to intervene periodically. As Britain certainly had no problem with imperial expansion, perhaps British North America would have grown to include Mexico. From there, it would only be a short step to expand into Central America. Britain had interest in the region (British Honduras, the Mosquito Coast) and might have been compelled to go further once France started looking into the idea of building a canal across Panama. From Gibraltar to Singapore, control of strategic maritime “choke points” has long been a priority for Britain. Given that, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the British Empire would have expanded into Central America and, with all of this going on, Britain might have been too busy to have intervened and expanded into other areas or perhaps not to the same extent as happened in history.

In Africa, for example, the foothold in South Africa would have happened in any event as it was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. However, it might have stopped there with Britain content to let the Boers move into Botswana and perhaps the Portuguese might have been able to realize their dream of linking their east and west coast possessions, an aspiration thwarted by Britain in actual history which put some strain on the oldest alliance in Europe. The American Civil War would, of course, have been averted both because energy would be expended toward grander schemes and because the slave areas would have had much more opposition as well as a government that was not averse to giving compensation for slave owners. The war with Spain would likely have been avoided. A young Winston Churchill observed the rebellion in Cuba and came away convinced that the island would be much the worse off under their rule than that of Spain and hoped that the United States would not compel Spain to give up the “Pearl of the Antilles”. Many did not share his view and he later approved of the U.S. conquest of the island (being a lifelong admirer of America) but in the event, it is possible Britain would have stayed out of the conflict so long as Germany or some other colonial rival did not intervene.

King George V & General John J. Pershing
As it concerns Germany, the First World War might not have happened at all if America had remained in the British Empire or, at least, it might have been a much smaller conflict. Britain, like many countries, had no real reason to get involved but anti-German hysteria had been growing in Britain for some time due to the perception of Germany being a rival in the colonial, naval and economic spheres. More or less since the time of the industrial revolution, combined with the extensive trade routes controlled by the Royal Navy, Britain had been the largest economy in the world. However, in 1870 it was surpassed by the United States and has never regained the top spot ever since. If, however, America had remained in the British Empire, the economic powerhouse of America would have been a boost to Britain and might have allowed Britons to view the German economic rise more dispassionately. Even at its height, it would never have been a challenge to the economic supremacy of a British Empire that included North America. If, however, Great Britain still became embroiled in World War I, with the manpower, money and industry of America within the British Empire, it would likely have been a much shorter conflict, ending in a swift Allied victory.

Had such a thing occurred, the Russian Empire might not have collapsed, if the war had ended before the situation in Russia became too severe and thus the subsequent Cold War and all the proxy conflicts that entailed would never have happened. Similarly, a swift end to the war might have meant that the German and Austrian empires would have come to terms before being overthrown and so there might have been no World War II at all and we would all be living in a world with a balance of powers rather than one or two superpowers in constant standoff. And yet, if the Social Democrats in Germany managed to use the defeat to their advantage and bring down the monarchy, giving room for the rise to power of Hitler and so on, World War II might have happened anyway. In that event, it would have certainly been a much shorter and more localized war. American strength would have been present at the outset rather than only from 1942 onwards and it would have been focused on Europe alone. This would mean that the war might have ended in a German defeat even before the invasion of the Soviet Union and thus there would have been no Eastern Bloc and Soviet domination of half of Europe. It would also mean a completely different picture of Asia.

King George VI & General Mark Clark
The British Empire and the Empire of Japan had been close allies after all and it was only when the United States demanded that Britain choose between friendship with America or friendship with Japan that Great Britain repudiated the Japanese alliance in favor of pleasing the United States. If there was no United States but a British North America, that would never have happened, the alliance would likely have been maintained and while Britain was focused on defeating Germany in Europe, few would have likely cared if China was being defeated by the Japanese. Japan would also have had no reason to go to war in 1941 as the primary source of vital resources, North America, would have been an ally. So, even if World War II had happened, it would have likely ended with Poland and Czechoslovakia independent, the Kingdoms of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania intact (though possibly under the Italian Crown, depending on how things might have changed for Italy). With monarchy being so dominant, and the war ending without massive Soviet involvement, perhaps it would even have been that the Hapsburgs would have been restored to at least some portion of their former territories. In Asia there would still be an Empire of Japan, an Empire of Manchuria and a Kingdom of Tibet with a less expansive China. It would likely also mean that it would be the Republic of China rather than the communist state that exists today. With monarchy such a strong force in the world, and trends and fashions do matter immensely, whether they should or not, the Chinese might not have embraced republicanism at all.

Similarly, without the influence of the American Freemasons, Mexico might have remained a monarchy under the Iturbide family though the rest of Latin America (outside Brazil) is more doubtful given that Spain was reluctant to recognize the independence of rebel colonies whereas Britain supported this. Much of Africa would also be a very different picture. Without the United States and Soviet Union competing during the race for de-colonization, the African colonies might have gained independence at a more moderate pace and in cooperation with native elites as Britain tended to favor doing or more newly independent countries might have chosen to maintain ties with the Crown as Commonwealth Realms. And, even in the event that this did not happen, the British Empire such as it was would have remained a dominant force considering that the primary source of strength would be North America and Australia where the people had greater bonds of history, culture and nationality with Britain as opposed to India which did not. In actual history, the loss of India was a blow from which the British Empire never recovered as India was, as one German observer put it, “the strength and greatness of England”. If, however, North America had remained and grown up united with the British Crown, the strength and greatness of the empire would have been in a land more loyal and less likely to cut ties but remain in union with the Crown as Canada, Australia and New Zealand have done.

Of course, this is all inherently speculative. The point is to simply provide some ‘food for thought’ for those who tend toward the Wilsonian view of the United States as the “savior of the world” and who tremble at the thought of America losing her War for Independence. That is quite a negative view, but it might have been more positive such as in the scenarios laid out here. Rather than suffering under British rule (which had never happened in the first place), things might have worked out quite well if the American colonies had remained under the British Crown. With all of the strengths, resources and admirable qualities of both, I tend to take a more positive view that if America and Britain had remained together, it would have been beneficial for both. I have long thought and often said that the Americans suffered, consciously or not, from being cut off from the rest of the English-speaking world and from the lack of the shared loyalty to the monarchy and that, likewise, the British Empire suffered from its lack of Americans, American resources, energy and vitality. They would, I think, have been stronger together and a great many others may well have benefited as a side-effect as well.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Royal News Roundup

In northern royal news last week, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge returned to Wimbledon to take in the final match, the Duchess revealing that her own game is not what it used to be since motherhood allows for little spare time and the Prince of Wales returned to Somerset Levels to see how the flood relief has gone. He also called for more investment in fisheries and Princes William and Harry had a chat on Google+. Also reflecting on family life, Prince William revealed that bath time for little Prince George is a “painful” experience and in more somber news, Admiral Arthur Phillip, first Governor of New South Wales, Australia and the founder of what is now the city of Sidney was given a memorial in Westminster Abbey attended by HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The Duke also joined the Queen in visiting Derbyshire Dales. And, in other northern news, three generations of Swedish royals posed for the camera at Skansen, an open-air museum founded in 1891. Prince Carl Philip also talked about his proposal to fiancé Sofia Hellqvist being a surprise. Call me old fashioned but when you’re living together it hardly seems like much of a surprise to me would be possible.

In the Low Countries, King Philip and Queen Mathilde held a special reception for the Belgian soccer team, the “red devils” and in France, on Saturday, Prince Felix and Princess Claire of Luxembourg held the christening of their new addition, Princess Amalia of Luxembourg, with aunt Princess Alexandra as godmother and Claire’s older brother Felix as godfather. In Spain, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia visited their neighbor Portugal, meeting with the President and First Lady. After returning home, the King paid tribute to the Spanish soccer star Alfredo Di Stefano who passed away recently, the King saying that he “admired” the former player and coach.

The little Principality of Monaco made a number of headlines last week when New York businessman Adam Hock sailed into the Port of Hercules on the yacht of a billionaire Canadian friend of his, all set to attend the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix in late May as well as the celebrity birthday bash of Naomi Campbell at the Billionaire Club in Monte Carlo. However, the night after his arrival, the captain of the yacht informed him that he was ordered out of the country by Prince Albert II himself. Why? It probably has something to do with the fact that Hock assaulted princely nephew Pierre Casiraghi in New York in 2012, sending him to the hospital. Hock’s friends tried to intercede for him but the Sovereign Prince would have none of it, Hock had to go and was threatened with immediate arrest if he set foot in Monaco again. His lawyer complained of course but, thankfully, it did the sucker-punching rat no good as the Prince still has final say on what goes on in Monaco and he can expel anyone from the country as he pleases. In this case, well deserved I would say. In Paris last week, niece and new mom Charlotte Casiraghi fell from her horse in a jumping competition, still managing to look glamorous doing it (not many can pull that off). Save perhaps for a bruised bottom, no harm was done and Charlotte later appeared at Paris Fashion Week on Wednesday.

Outside Europe, the Emir of Qatar held talks with the Kuwaitis as part of the on-going efforts to decrease tensions between the two gulf states. Qatar has been on the ‘naughty list’ with many of the Arab monarchies for using their powerful news network, Al Jazeera, to generate sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood and rebel forces in the region. In the UAE, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi spoke out that the President of the country, his brother Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, is in good health despite rumors to the contrary. He also gently chastised social media for spreading such rumors. In related news, the Sultan of Oman announced plans to travel to Germany both for a vacation and for medical examinations. Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, secondary wife of the Prime Minister of the UAE and daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, donated $500,000 to aid the South Sudanese refugees flooding the Gambella region of Ethiopia while in Jordan, Queen Rania and daughter Princess Iman held a feast for orphans at the Royal Palace, a special evening meal during Ramadan. Earlier in the week, the Princess also joined her mother in visiting a care center for the elderly.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Consort Profile: Empress Kojun of Japan

There are certain monarchs that have always impressed me as being ‘a monarchists’ monarch’. Putting aside their positive or negative abilities as national leaders, these were monarchs who really believed in monarchy, in traditional authority and who had a monarchist sort of mindset that guided them in their lives. One does not always think of ‘a monarchists’ consort’ but Her Majesty Empress Kojun of Japan was certainly such a consort. She was the longest-living Empress consort in Japanese history and she was the last living link with the old Japan that existed at the turn of the last century. She lived through both world wars, saw the Empire of Japan reached its zenith of power and prestige as well as seeing it utterly destroyed. Happily, she also lived to see the new State of Japan come roaring back as a successful and industrious country, the second biggest economic power house in the world. Yet, through it all, she was known as the most attached to traditional ways and customs even when almost everyone else had seemed to abandon them. This has caused some historians and commentators to view her negatively but only because they focus on one narrow aspect rather than taking into context the whole portrait of this grand and remarkable lady who lived a life of service and duty.

She was born Princess Nagako on March 6, 1903 in Tokyo, Azabu district, the daughter of Prince Kuniyoshi Kuni and Chikako Shimazu. Prince Kuni was the head of one of the cadet branches of the Imperial Family, being descended from a past emperor from the thirteenth century. Her mother was of aristocratic background, coming from the family of a prominent daimyo. For little Princess Nagako, her upbringing was typical of the old aristocracy of the time but her destiny was revealed to her earlier than most and so most of her childhood was quite unlike those of other girls. She attended Gakushuin, at that time the Peers’ School, Girls’ Department in Tokyo alongside Princess Masako Nashimoto who would go on to marry the Crown Prince of Korea. She was only eleven years old when the path for her life was chosen for her. On January 14, 1914 HM Empress Sadako invited a number of girls of suitable rank to tea at the Concubines’ Pavilion in the Imperial Palace. Watching through a hole in a screen was Crown Prince Hirohito, who was told to pick one to be his future bride. He chose Princess Nagako and the arrangements were all made that one day they would be married. Although she was his preference, it was certainly not a “love match” as the two were very young, had never met and knew nothing about each other at all. It was all a matter of duty. Happily, it would not remain so.

Even then, there were some grumblings about the Crown Prince making a troublesome choice. Princess Nagako had imperial and noble ancestry but it was not of the highest order most expected and she was not from the Fujiwara clan that most imperial consorts had been from. Several prominent and very powerful people objected to the match and demanded that the Imperial Household Agency call it off but Prince Kuni was just as adamant that no such thing happen, threatening to kill his daughter and then himself if this was done. Thankfully, no such drastic measures were necessary as when things became really heated HM the Taisho Emperor stepped in and endorsed Princess Nagako as his future daughter-in-law and that settled it. After that, to have questioned the match would be to question the divine will of the Emperor, which did not happen. Preparations then went ahead with the Princess spending her time until she was of a proper age to marry being given an intensive training course on how to be a Crown Princess and future Empress. The formal engagement was announced in 1921 and the wedding set for 1923. Everything was done to familiarize the princess with her duties, obligations and the ceremony and protocol of the imperial court. She was, for example, one of the last people alive in Japan who could understand the unique style of language used by the Emperor and inner court in the old days which disappeared after World War II.

However, there was to be no imperial wedding in 1923 as it was in that year that a horrific earthquake struck Tokyo that devastated the city and killed around 10,000 people. The marriage was postponed for a year while all the strength and energy of the nation was funneled into dealing with the natural disaster. For the Princess, her education continued and many forget what an intelligent, cultured and well-rounded lady she was, learning French, studying Chinese and Japanese literature and numerous other diverse subjects, being a talented artist and singer as well as adept at the piano, Japanese harp and violin. During all that time she only met her future husband nine times and the two were never alone but finally the grand occasion came on January 26, 1924 when the two were married. Before the end of the next year, the Crown Princess became Empress consort with the passing of HM Emperor Taisho and the elevation of Crown Prince Hirohito to the Chrysanthemum Throne. This was only shortly after the birth of their first child, HIH Shigeko, Princess Teru earlier in the month. Of course, there were rules to be followed for such an occasion but the Empress was still a more involved mother than most of her predecessors had been and she took the job of motherhood very seriously.

As the Emperor and Empress had been brought together almost as strangers, it was to be expected that, early on, their relationship seemed rather formal and distant. However, it was all a matter of getting to know each other and as they did, they became a very loving couple, greatly attached to each other. The Empress seemed to view her primary occupation as being to shelter and support her husband, to care for him and ensure that he was able to give his best in his own duties and obligations. This, she did very well and the Emperor had no more attentive guardian and caretaker than his Empress for as long as he lived. The devotion the Emperor had for her was displayed only a few years after the marriage. In 1927, 1929 and 1931 the Empress gave birth to three girls in succession and many began to worry if a son and heir would be forthcoming. In 1932 such talk only increased as the Empress suffered a miscarriage and many began to urge the Emperor to take a concubine to ensure the survival of the dynasty. The Meiji Emperor had had several concubines and it was quite common but the Emperor would not hear of it. He was a ’one woman man’ and the Empress was the only one for him and he would have no other. As if to prove the imperial decision correct, in 1933 the Empress gave birth to HIH Crown Prince Akihito, followed by another prince in 1935. In all, they would have seven children, five girls and two boys.

One can only imagine the strain this was on the Imperial Family, having to deal with such issues during such critical years as the early 1930’s which saw the occupation of Manchuria, the restoration of the Empire of Manchukuo and the outbreak of hostilities with China following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. Through it all, the Empress was a strong source of comfort and support for her husband and did her part whenever she could, even after the outbreak of the wider war in 1941. She took part in the ceremonies celebrating the surrender of Singapore, the largest British bastion in the Far East and when the war came to Japan the Empress had the children sent to safety but remained by the Emperor’s side in Tokyo, enduring the intense bombing in solidarity with the people. The Empress would later describe this as the worst period of her life, not only because of the bombing and immense human suffering but also because of the pressures, weighing down from all sides on the Emperor and the real worry when the war finally came to an end that he might be taken away and executed. The immense, frenzied changes that took place after the war were also difficult for her to deal with but she never complained. As the monarchy was being re-invented for the new State of Japan, the Empress considered it her duty to support her husband in everything he did and every decision he made.

What finally seems to have been too much was when HIH Crown Prince Akihito decided to get married. The two older daughters had already married and lost their status because of the new post-war laws that downsized the Imperial Family but the Empress seems to have thought that, for the heir to the throne, the traditional way would still be followed. Many of the old aristocracy were upset when the choice of the Crown Prince fell on Michiko Shoda, a commoner with a Catholic education. No one knows what was said behind closed doors but the prevailing sentiment is that the Empress was against such a choice. When it went ahead anyway, all sorts of rumors were spread around of the Empress being cold, distrustful and even spiteful toward Crown Princess Michiko, much of that probably being exaggerated. What is true is that the Crown Princess had one or two nervous breakdowns in the years after her marriage and perhaps the Empress was showing more concern than most people think. Her motives should not be questioned and one could speculate more positively that she had the best of intentions in being reluctant about the Crown Prince marrying a commoner.

After all, consider her own life; she had come from the Imperial Family and aristocracy and yet there were still strenuous objections to her own marriage. She was given years of training for the high honor and privilege of being Empress consort and even then, she knew how difficult the adjustment was for her. Perhaps she had not realized how much attitudes had changed since the time of her marriage, perhaps she wanted to spare the young girl from a life she felt she was not suited for. Finally, there is also the simple fact that the Empress was someone who took tradition and history and the sacred nature of the Imperial Family very, very seriously. When that is the case, as we are seeing with a number of issues today, one can easily and often be accused of being unkind or even hateful simply for holding firm to the traditions and values that were once taken for granted by all. In any event, that was certainly the most controversial period of her life, for most people today anyway, but much of it has probably been over-blown. It is not as though daughters and mothers-in-law have always gotten along famously no matter how high or low born they might be. It is a common story all over the world. On the whole, the family remained happy and the Empress had the joy of becoming a grandmother. She visited Europe and the United States with HM the Emperor and became known as the “Smiling Empress” because of her friendly disposition, but while perfectly genuine, few foreigners knew that it was the sort of positive countenance and pleasant demeanor that was instilled by years of preparation.

To the very end, she was a dutiful and attentive wife and was heartbroken when, on January 7, 1989, His Majesty the Showa Emperor departed this life. Her Majesty was re-titled as Empress-Dowager but her own health had deteriorated so much while she focused all of herself on the Emperor that she was too frail even to attend his funeral and after his death she went into seclusion for the rest of her life. Her Majesty, Empress Dowager Kojun died on June 16, 2000 surrounded by her immediate family, at the age of 97 in the Fukiage Omiya Palace in Tokyo. She was buried near her husband at the Imperial Cemetery on July 25, 2000. Her passing marked the end of an era and a last, living, connection with the old Empire of Japan that had existed since the Meiji Era was lost with her. It was a great sadness but Japan was also fortunate to have had such a remarkable lady for so long. She was a shining example of the best virtues of old Japan and the traditional elite. She lived by an ancient code, was firm and unyielding in her principles and showing no favoritism, was devoted to maintaining what had been handed down. She was a devoted wife and mother, a supportive and dutiful Empress consort, a faithful, strong and tireless daughter of Great Japan.
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