Sunday, September 30, 2012

MM Sunday Scripture

Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen and whom ye have desired! And behold the Lord hath set a king over you.
-I Samuel 12:13

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Royal News Roundup

In the Far East, as diplomatic issues continue to bedevil Japan, Korea and China, HM the Emperor of Japan said during a regular diplomatic briefing that he and the Empress, “wish to visit Korea some day. I hope Japan and Korea will continue to maintain friendly relations in the future.” This comes in the wake of the South Korean President saying that the Emperor would have to personally apologize for events which occurred during the era of Japanese colonial rule over Korea which prompted an angry reaction from the government in Tokyo, saying that it had been South Korea which had first spoken of an imperial visit while Japan had never requested such a trip. The Emperor has said before that he would be willing to give any apology Korea desires if it will make them happy and improve Japanese-Korean friendship. Of course, if such an arrangement were made, given that these demands for apologies always seem to come during diplomatic disagreements, I would not be surprised if the government of the day forbid such an apology on the grounds of it being “too political”. Which would not be an argument without merit as all too often today calls for apologies for past wrongs are about politics rather than history.

In Southeast Asia, royal physicians in Bangkok have announced that the health of HM Queen Sirikit of Thailand has greatly improved, with her appetite, sleep routine and mobility being almost back to normal. The Queen will continue to undergo physical therapy for the immediate future. The Thai queen consort was found to be suffering from a slight shortage of blood to the brain in July after almost falling while attending to the King who also remains in hospital. Nearby, HM King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia began a 3-day visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to strengthen Viet-Cambodian relations. The King has already met with Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi. The Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, was originally put in power by Hanoi following the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in which Pol Pot was driven from power and which provoked the last Chinese invasion of Vietnam (didn’t work out so good for China). Over in the Middle East, Queen Rania of Jordan joined charity foundation presidents, politicians, three other royals and executives from The World Bank, Wal-Mart and the United Nations at the Clinton Global Initiative where she said, “We need another revolution in the Arab world. We need an education revolution”. Meanwhile, HH the Emir of Qatar has called for Arab countries to intervene in Syria and enact a no-fly zone over the country to protect Syrians from the government forces of Bashar Al-Assad. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, just back from a medical leave of absence, launched a new project to expand the Prophet’s mosque in the Muslim holy city of Medina.

In Europe, Prince Friso of The Netherlands remains in grim condition. South African Bishop Desmond Tutu reported that, recently, the Queen’s son opened his eyes and moved slightly before slipping back into the comatose state he has remained in since his skiing accident in Austria in which he was caught in an avalanche seven months ago. The Prince turned 44 on Tuesday and in The Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, debate has started to emerge about when he should be taken off of all life support. And, just to add to the pain of the House of Orange, the Prime Minister had been under increased pressure to publicize royal expenses and the Queen has been criticized for saying that she sees “no reason” to reduce the royal allowance. So far the PM is sticking to his guns saying that to make the expenses public would be a violation of the privacy of the Royal Family. On a happier note, to the south in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, new photos have been released of Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Countess Stephanie in preparation for their upcoming wedding. Though, there too, there is murmuring about the expense of the wedding to the Luxembourg state. Such concerns over spending taxpayer euros would carry a lot more weight if those raising them were not constantly throwing away so much money on projects that have nothing at all to do with Luxembourg or the people of Luxembourg in any way whatsoever.

In Britain, the traitor-group “Republic” has announced a new campaign to abolish the Duchy of Cornwall (a title belonging to the Prince of Wales) on the grounds that this will make the monarchy “more accountable”. How exactly getting rid of the Duchy of Cornwall will accomplish this they did not say. However, they have also announced their intention to press for the legal invasion of the privacy of the Royal Family and to abolish the Queen’s royal veto which, of course, is a very pressing issue considering that no British monarch has actually used the royal veto since the reign of Queen Anne. On a happier note, despite his recent stays in the hospital, and being 91-years old, HRH the Duke of Edinburgh is still doing his part for Queen and country with no less than 37 official functions scheduled for the next two months. God bless Prince Philip, you can’t keep a good Duke down. The Queen also recently purchased a set of portraits of herself by the artist Andy Warhol to feature them in a special Diamond Jubilee exhibition at Windsor Castle called “The Queen: Portraits of a Monarch” which will start on November 23 and run until June, 2013.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Royal Profile: Prince Ferdinand, Duke of Genoa

HRH Prince Ferdinando di Savoia, first Duke of Genoa, lived a short life but one filled with promise. He is another one of the “might have beens” that appears in royal history on occasion and during his time he was one of the most respected and admired royal figures in Italy. He was born Prince Ferdinando Maria Alberto Amedeo Filiberto Vincenzo on November 15, 1822 in Florence, the second son of Prince Carlo Alberto of Carignan and Princess Maria Teresa of Tuscany. Only two years later Prince Carlo Alberto was recognized as heir to the throne by King Vittorio Emanuele I of Piedmont-Sardinia. This raised the profile of the young family and soon brought to the forefront the ideas of Prince Carlo Alberto in favor of constitutional monarchy. In 1831 King Carlo Felice died and Prince Carlo Alberto became King of Piedmont-Sardinia and, with his own promotion, he named Prince Ferdinand the Duke of Genoa. Like the other sons of the House of Savoy, Prince Ferdinand grew up being trained to be a soldier and inculcated with the long history the royal family. As a second son, it was expected that he would have a military career.

The Duke of Genoa embarked on such a career, becoming a general in the army and admiral of the Sardinian navy. He gained considerable respect for his role in the First Italian War of Independence (1848-1849) in which he commanded a division of the Piedmontese army. During the course of the conflict his heroism earned him the Gold Medal of Military Valor for his service. He was tall, very similar in appearance to King Carlo Alberto and always led from the front. His soldiers admired him greatly as an intelligent commander and one who would not hesitate to expose himself to danger. Like both of his parents he was also a devoutly religious man as well as a man of high ideals. Many others, evidently, thought the same and agreed with his vision of what a modern monarchy could or should be. In this regard, it is difficult not to underestimate the influence of the British model of constitutional monarchy among the moderate people who were unhappy with their political situation but too traditional to favor something with so poor a record as republicanism. Many people hoped to find success as well as political freedom equal to that of Great Britain by emulating the British model of mixed government with power divided between the people, nobility and monarchy rather than being concentrated at the top.

In 1848, starting in Palermo, the Sicilians rose up in revolt against the House of Bourbon. The nobles of Sicily had, during the Napoleonic Wars, (with British encouragement) forced King Ferdinando III of Sicily and IV of Naples to enact a constitution which gave the Kingdom of Sicily a more British-style government. However, this constitution was later revoked and discontent had spread. On January 11, 1848 rebellion erupted again and in a more violent fashion. The old constitution was restored, establishing a representative government with the central role being given to an elected parliament. Rebel forces took control of almost the whole island (not the Bourbon bastion of Messina) and even talked of establishing a pan-Italian confederation. They also began looking around for an appropriate prince to be the new sovereign of their new constitutional monarchy and, given the leadership shown by King Carlo Alberto in Piedmont-Sardinia, quickly turned to his son the Duke of Genoa. Knowing his temperament and background, the representatives of the British government were pleased with such a choice and encouraged the Duke to accept the offer, with the British ambassador in Turin promising that Britain would immediately recognize Sicilian independence once he did so.

By the summer everyone was well enough convinced and the Sicilian secessionist government voted unanimously to offer the throne to the Duke of Genoa. Since having another king named Ferdinand would have aroused some resentment, it was expected that he would reign as King Alberto Amedeo I of Sicily. However, when the Sicilian delegation came to Turin to make their formal offer, the Duke of Genoa was at the front with his troops and reluctant to leave them. King Ferdinand II of Naples had joined in the war against Austria alongside King Carlo Alberto, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and (for a time) even the Pope, but when he learned that the Duke of Genoa was being considered as his possible replacement on the throne of Sicily, he immediately broke off the alliance and recalled his troops. When the war ended in victory for the Austrians and defeat for the Piedmontese, the Duke of Genoa respectfully declined the offer of the Sicilian throne. Things also began to fall apart back in Sicily where the Neapolitan navy shelled Messina, killing many people, following by a massive campaign by Bourbon troops to retake the island. It took about nine months and was a very bloody affair but finally the rebel government was subdued and their leader forced to flee to the protection of the British on Malta.

That ended any chance of the Duke of Genoa becoming the King of Sicily. However, he proved his worth well enough on the field of battle with the Piedmontese army. At the disastrous battle of Novara, the Duke of Genoa fought like a lion and had four horses shot out from under him. But, in the end, the Piedmontese were defeated and King Carlo Alberto abdicated in favor of his son, King Vittorio Emanuele II. After the war, the Duke of Genoa was put in command of the Piedmontese royal artillery, a branch of the service he set about reorganizing and modernizing. The following year he also achieved some domestic happiness with his marriage to Princess Elizabeth of Saxony, daughter of King Johann and Queen Amalie Auguste of Bavaria. They married on April 22, 1850 in Dresden and the following year had their first child, Princess Margherita, who would go on to one day marry her cousin King Umberto I and become Queen consort of a united Italy. Their second child, Prince Tommaso, was born in 1854 and would go on to preside over the Italian government during the First World War. The Duke of Genoa remained a very respected military figure and when Piedmont-Sardinia joined in the Crimean War alongside the United Kingdom and Imperial France, he was to take command of the reserve corps in the expeditionary force being dispatched to Russia. However, despite being a young man still, he had fallen ill and was growing increasingly frail. He died on February 10, 1855 at the age of only 32 in Turin and was buried in the royal crypt, succeeded by his son Prince Tommaso who became the second Duke of Genoa.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Monarch Profile: Emperor Cuauhtémoc

Among the old Aztec rulers, none are more revered in modern Mexico than Emperor Cuauhtémoc (“Descending Eagle”). Whereas the reputation of his predecessor, Emperor Montezuma II, remains mixed, Cuauhtémoc is remembered as a fierce warrior, a patriotic figure and a sympathetic victim of Spanish aggression. Of course, many details of his life are unknown and much of what can be presented was passed down as oral tradition. It is difficult to impossible to determine the veracity of such accounts but, on the other hand, they are not always wrong. Cuauhtémoc was, according to estimates, born sometime around the year 1495 into the (extremely large) Aztec imperial family. The ill-fated Emperor Montezuma II was a relation of his (usually given as cousin though sometimes referred to as uncle) and as a young man Cuauhtémoc married one of Emperor Montezuma’s daughters. According to traditional stories, Cuauhtémoc was an exceptional warrior who earned great fame for his leadership in the wars to subjugate and maintain control over the other native tribes of the central valley of Mexico. That is an easy enough story to accept, given what is known of the man.

What is more likely to be some embellishment after the fact is the stories about the omens that appeared, prior to the arrival of the Spanish, which Cuauhtémoc took to be ominous and that, from their first appearance, he was not in awe of these aliens but wary of them as potential enemies. According to such stories, Cuauhtémoc was always on the right side, foreseeing every disaster, never being fooled but never being listened to by those in authority so that the Spanish were ultimately able to overcome them. Again, even to the sympathetic ear, the stories of this period in the life of Cuauhtémoc seem a little too convenient and have the appearance of being made after the fact to embellish the reputation of someone who had already achieved the status of hero. In any event, as we do know from history, the Spanish forces of Herná n Corté s entered the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan on November 8, 1519, eventually taking Montezuma II prisoner. The Emperor died, whether at the hands of the Spanish or a mob of his own people remains hotly debated to this day. Cortes fought his way out of the city in a brutal battle known in Mexico as la noche triste (“night of sorrow”) and during his absence one of his lieutenants carried out a massacre, inciting the Aztecs to rise up in revolt.

This was about the time that Cuauhtémoc inherited the feathered crown at the age of twenty-five. Montezuma II was, upon his death, succeeded by his younger brother, Emperor Cuitlahuac, who died soon afterward of smallpox; a most devastatingly effective weapon of biological warfare the Spanish inadvertently brought with them. Because of the terrible toll the disease had taken, combined with the massacre and the “night of sorrow”, there was no one left but Cuauhtémoc to take the throne. His reputation as a great warrior may have also had something to do with it as the people looked for military leadership in this time of trial. With no time for pomp or ceremony, Cuauhtémoc immediately devoted himself to securing and defending Tenochtitlan as Cortes had returned with a larger Spanish and allied army to besiege the great city. The fight, however, did not go well for the Aztecs who had virtually no experience at the art of siege warfare whereas the Spanish (like most all Europeans of their era) were masters. Despite their best efforts, the Spanish forces steadily gained ground but Cuauhtémoc fought them every step of the way, from street to street and house to house for eighty days without respite.

Still, if things continued, a Spanish victory was inevitable so, on August 13, 1521, Cuauhtémoc sent out messengers to the surrounding tribes summoning them to help fight the Spanish and defend (or soon retake) Tenochtitlan. Unfortunately, the Aztecs were not known for being the most kind of masters or benevolent of overlords and few of their fellow natives were distressed to see them facing total defeat. Indeed, the Spanish victories thus far would not have been possible if so many of the indigenous people they encountered had not been so eager to throw off the Aztec yoke that they would willingly join anyone who offered them a change. In the end, only the people of Tlatelolco (the sister-city of Tenochtitlan, also built on an island on lake Texcoco) remained loyal to the Aztec Emperor. It was not enough and soon Cuauhtémoc had no choice but to abandon the great city, with his family and a small entourage, in disguise.

Unfortunately for Cuauhtémoc, he was captured while crossing Lake Texcoco with the remaining Aztec chieftains and surrendered to Cortes, reportedly handing the Spanish conqueror his knife and asking to be killed with it. Cortes declined, saying that, “A Spaniard knows how to respect valor, even in an enemy”. It may seem implausible to modern ears, especially given what transpired in the conquest of Mexico, but the Spanish had been genuinely in awe of the Aztec rulers and, just as the Christian crusaders had spoken to the Muslim conqueror Saladin, tried to persuade them that their beliefs were unworthy of such great men. Nonetheless, Cuauhtémoc was handed over to the royal treasurer to find out where the Aztecs had hidden their vast hordes of gold and to use any means necessary to gain this information. Cuauhtémoc, along with his most elite companions, declared repeatedly that no such treasure existed and, this answer being considered unsatisfactory, had their feet burned to “persuade” them to give up their secret. A famous story says that, during this ordeal, one of the chiefs urged Cuauhtémoc to tell the Spanish what they wanted to know to save them all to which the fallen emperor is alleged to have replied, “Do you think I’m in a bed of roses?”

In truth, there was nothing Cuauhtémoc could have done as it seems factual that no such treasure existed. Indeed, the Aztecs themselves did not view gold as being particularly valuable, other than, perhaps, as a decoration and certain bird feathers worked much better, being more colorful and considerably lighter and easier to wear. Cortes, when confronted with the horrific scene of his fallen foe having his feet burned, was ashamed and ordered his immediate release. Some gold was found, scattered about the city in various temples or the homes of leading aristocrats, but nothing like the vast quantities that were expected. Cortes had given Cuauhtémoc his life, but still did not trust him and when he set off to conquer Central America for the Spanish Crown, he took the fallen monarch with him for fear that he might lead another revolt if left in Tenochtitlan. It was during this expedition on February 28, 1525 that Cortes had Cuauhtémoc put to death after discovering that he and several other Aztec noblemen were plotting his assassination. However, Cuauhtémoc protested to the last that he had been unjustly accused and afterward Cortes was genuinely anxious about whether or not he had killed an innocent man.

After the death of Cuauhtémoc, one of his advisors, Tlacotzin, was made his successor as Emperor of the Aztecs and was later baptized into the Catholic Church and named Juan Velazquez Tlacotzin. What became of the late Cuauhtémoc is uncertain. An ossuary exists in Guerrero that is alleged to be his final resting place but the legitimacy of the site remains questionable. What is not questionable is the near legendary status that Cuauhtémoc has achieved in the years following Mexican independence from Spain. Cities, streets, plazas and every sort of landmark bear his name from one end of Mexico to the other and numerous statutes, busts and artistic images of him exist. His status rose most especially in the post-revolutionary period of Mexico when there was a concerted effort by the Mexican people to distance themselves from their Spanish ancestry and associate themselves almost exclusively with the native elements of their roots. Emperor Cuauhtémoc provided just what they were looking for in a national hero; one who fought the Spanish invaders, endured torture at their hands and died the victim of injustice.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Consort Profile: Queen Catherine de' Medici

The popular image of Catherine de Medici is one of the quintessential ‘wicked woman’. At a time when the French monarchy was in grave danger and France itself was violently divided between opposing religious forces, Queen Catherine is one figure both sides today seem to be mostly in agreement on with Protestants viewing her as the very embodiment of evil itself while most Catholics disavow her completely and even believe her to have been a witch and a Satanist. Those unfamiliar with her story and how history has treated her may be shocked by what is written about her. Her defenders are, unsurprisingly, few and most of those who do speak up on her behalf do so very guardedly and only up to a certain point, arguing that she may have had good intentions for doing terrible things or was being forced by events beyond her control to make difficult choices, though hardly anyway would deny that those choices included the unspeakably cruel. There is also no denying that she had little to no choice in the general direction that her life would take. The course of her life was set at a fairly young age by the political maneuverings of two powers.

Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de’ Medici was born on April 13, 1519 in Florence, Italy to Lorenzo II who had been made Duke of Urbino by HH Pope Leo X (his uncle) and his wife Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne who was from a well placed French noble family. She was adored by her parents but within weeks her mother died of puerperal fever and a few days later Lorenzo II died of syphilis. Pope Leo X had arranged the match of her parents to secure a Franco-Italian alliance against the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I and intended little Catherine to marry within the Medici family, when the time came, to secure the family hold on Florence (in those days, stability was a precious commodity). Catherine was raised by her grandmother and later by an aunt. The family fortunes struggled a bit when Pope Leo X died but rose again with the election of another Medici to the Throne of St Peter; Pope Clement VII. She learned the rough world of Italian politics at a very young age when she was taken hostage by a rival family bent on ending Medici rule over Florence. It says a great deal that Catherine, held in a convent, found this the most calm, peaceful and happy period of her life. After Italy was invaded and Rome itself devastated by imperial troops, Pope Clement VII was obliged to formally crown the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to enlist his help in securing Florence for the House of Medici as well as the liberty of young Catherine.

During the siege Catherine was under the greatest threat imaginable but survived unhurt to be delivered to Pope Clement VII in Rome who wept with joy upon seeing her, so great was his relief that she had been safely rescued. Immediately, the Pope determined to arrange a lofty marriage for the girl and, as usual, there were political considerations to be made as well. To counter the German domination in Italy of Emperor Charles V, the Pope turned to his erstwhile ally King Francis I of France who was also looking to shore up his position on the Italian peninsula. A marriage agreement was soon made between Catherine de Medici and the younger son of King Francis; Henri, Duke of Orleans. Both were only 14-years old and were married at Marseille on October 28, 1533. At first everything went well. Catherine was well treated at court, said to be bright and friendly but it all came crashing down when Pope Clement VII died and was succeeded by Pope Paul III who immediately broke off the French alliance in favor of closer ties with the Germans and refused to pay the dowry for Catherine agreed to by his predecessor. For Catherine, her warm welcome quickly turned to a cold shoulder. Prince Henri gave her little notice and enjoyed a string of mistresses while the childless Catherine was shamed for not producing a son for the House of France (which really required the cooperation of Henri).

Things became more intense when her brother-in-law Francis, Dauphin of France, died in 1536 making her husband Henri heir to the throne. As Dauphine of France, the pressure was greater than ever for Catherine to have a son. Nothing seemed to work and many advised the King to have his son divorce Catherine and find another wife. This drove Catherine to desperate measures, everything from prayers, fasting and pilgrimages to some truly disgusting home remedies said to increase fertility. For quite a while, nothing seemed to work but then, it all changed. Most attribute this to the inexplicable ways of nature, others to the advice of her doctor who told her and the Dauphin how to ’do things’ properly but still others say that Catherine turned to witchcraft and became a Devil-worshiper and it was after that point that she finally became pregnant in 1544 and had roughly a child every year thereafter. Be it the doc or the devil, Catherine was finally a mother, her position was secured and the means by which she would frequently be the effective ruler of France established. In 1547 she was crowned Queen consort alongside her husband who became King Henri II. However, he still lived mostly apart from her and generally treated his favorite mistress better than Queen Catherine.

Queen Catherine had a less than happy time as consort. The King rarely paid any attention to her other than to father more children and even this ended in disaster when the Queen suffered a terribly traumatic incident giving birth to twin girls. Catherine nearly died, one of the babies died in the womb and the other died short afterward and the Queen was never able to have children again. The only high point was finally ending the Italian Wars with the Holy Roman Empire when one of Catherine’s daughters was married to King Philip II of Spain. However, during the festivities, which included jousting, King Henri II was mortally wounded and died on July 10, 1559 nursed to the end by the wife he had always neglected. Catherine’s 15-year old son then became King Francis II of France but there was immediately a coup of sorts which saw real power go to the House of Guise. France was quickly becoming divided during this time by a 3-way struggle for power between the Protestants (led by the Bourbon family) on one side, the Catholics (led by the Guise family) on the other and the royal court in between. The Guise faction were quick to move against the Protestants but Queen Catherine (and many in the Catholic Church) promoted tolerance and reconciliation. King Francis II, however, did not live long enough to ever become a force of his own and Queen Catherine struck a deal with the Protestants to ensure that she would hold power in the name of her younger son who became King Charles IX in 1560 at age nine.

The Queen first tried to bring the Protestant and Catholic leaders together to work out a peace but was unsuccessful and soon the infamous Wars of Religion were raging across France. The Queen tried to appease the Protestants by enacting religious toleration and ‘toning down’ Catholic practices they found most objectionable (with the approval of the Pope) but it was not enough to stop each side from attacking the other. She also pressed the Church for more money to keep the Protestants in check and even tried to make a deal with the Ottoman Sultan to relocate French and German Protestants to Eastern Europe but the Sultan declined the offer. More powers became engulfed in the conflict. When the Protestant brought in German mercenaries to continue the fight, Queen Catherine brought in the Swiss but no side seemed strong enough to totally defeat the other two. Queen Catherine was, officially, on the Catholic side but stuck to trying to make peace and even allowed Protestants to hold high places at court and marry into the Royal Family. Gaspard de Coligny, a Protestant, soon became the top advisor to King Charles IX and he wanted to invade The Netherlands to fight the Spanish. The Catholics, naturally, opposed this and Catherine saw Coligny replacing her as the primary influence on the King. Coligny had to go. An assassination plot was arranged but Coligny survived and the Protestants were infuriated.

The King was outraged at the near murder of his friend and believed that the Guise family were responsible. But, the Queen assured him that if the Protestants took Paris it would not be only the Guise men who died but the Royal Family and the King himself as well. It was then that the plot was hatched to strike first and suddenly by killing Coligny themselves, a terrible blow to the Protestant leadership. When she threatened to leave France for the safety of Italy the King finally gave in and agreed but, in a parting comment, said that if Coligny was to die they would have to kill every other Protestant as well for if any were left alive they would surely want their revenge on him. So, on August 23, 1572, St Bartholomew’s Day, the massacre of Protestants began. For a week in Paris and other areas across France Protestants were killed though the actual number of victims in unknown, ranging from thousands to tens of thousands. Queen Catherine was undoubtedly involved as she made sure that those Protestants she favored were spared. It was not the only massacre of the religious wars of course, and there had been Protestant massacres of Catholics, but it was the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre that would become the most infamous episode of the Wars of Religion in France and the blackest mark against Catherine.

Prior to this, some Protestants had viewed Catherine de Medici as the reasonable member of the Royal Family, the voice of peace and moderation. After St Bartholomew’s Day she was portrayed by the Protestants as the “wicked Italian Queen” who conducted her affairs in the style of Machiavelli, callous, cruel and unprincipled. Less than two years later King Charles IX died and his brother became King Henri III (a rather odd fellow if ever there was one) with the Queen mother Catherine again named as regent. This was only because he was, at the time, serving as King of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth but he was soon back in France. Henri was Catherine’s favorite son but he did little right in her eyes. Still, he followed her course of reconciliation and made numerous concessions to the Protestants but the wars continued. This is what is sometimes known as the war of the three Henrys; King Henri III, Henri of Guise for the Catholics and Henri Navarre of the Protestants. King Henri III had Hanri of Guise killed and Queen Catherine was horrified and died on January 5, 1589 sorrowful and asking for prayers for her misguided son. She could not have a traditional royal burial as Paris was in the hands of her enemies and later, during the French Revolution, her remains were tossed in a mass grave with other royals. She had been called the most powerful woman in the world of her time and her time in power has been called the ‘Age of Catherine de’ Medici’ yet few, then or now, have a kind word for her.


This was a rather difficult profile to do. No matter the subject, I generally try to find something positive to say about the person in question, partly out of habit and partly because there is no shortage of those quick to condemn any royal figure, good or bad, and that library of work does not need added to. However, in the case of Catherine de’ Medici, this was a difficult task and, perhaps surprisingly, Catholic sources tended to be more critical of her than Protestant ones. The Protestant historians were no less condemnatory, castigating her as the author of their misfortunes and the butcher of St Bartholomew’s Day but it was the Catholic sources which accused her of extorting protection money from the Church and being a devil worshiper -not an everyday accusation. Her entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia, for example, describes her as, “Dictatorial, unscrupulous, calculating, and crafty” as well as being superstitious, egotistical and who even when serving the interests of the Church and malicious motives, putting the survival of the Crown before the cause of the Catholic forces. However, if she truly was as terrible as virtually everyone says she was, Catherine certainly paid considerably for her misdeeds even before what awaited her in the afterlife.

Forced into a loveless marriage she did not want, she was constantly being ridiculed, pushed aside and truly treated as nothing more than a ‘baby machine’ and not a terribly reliable one at that. She was faced with a divided country and a 3-way division which is the worst kind as no faction is hardly ever strong enough to defeat the other two. She also grew up in a time and place where political survival was a cut-throat business. Her earliest years were spent in a ‘kill or be killed’ environment where you got the other guy before the other guy got you. She had a husband who never loved her, traumatic pregnancies and children which were a constant source of sorrow and seemed all to have been ill-fated. Francis was dead at 16, Isabel (consort to Philip II of Spain) died in her early 20’s, Claude who was born crippled and died at 27, Louis, Jean and Victor all dead within a year of their birth, Charles, mentally unwell and dead at 24, Hercule who was deformed at died at 30, Marguerite who was said to have been the most beautiful woman in the world but who lived a rather immoral life and was never able to have children and finally Henri who caused such grief who was assassinated at age 38.

Certainly then, Catherine endured a great deal of anguish herself. There is no doubt, based on the evidence of her own hand, that she was capable of dealing mercilessly with any enemies, real or perceived. Yet, she was also thrust into a situation not of her own making, at least initially, and few doubt that without her, the House of Valois would have come to an earlier end. Especially today it seems odd to find so many who are critical of a queen whose overriding policy was always one of negotiating a peace, yet it is hard to dispute that those efforts prolonged the conflict by granting concessions in return for bad behavior and never hesitating to resort to underhanded measures when negotiating proved fruitless. Given her patronage of the arts, to glorify the monarchy and solidify the shaky House of Valois, she may have had good intentions and there should be no doubt that she was obsessed with securing the position and future success of her children, even if they often disappointed her. However, if she was only self-serving and utterly malicious through and through, it seems that God saw to her punishment and her children with her. Usually I feel almost compelled to sympathize with anyone who is disliked by everyone else, but in this case …

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monarchist Profile: Arthur Capel First Baron Capel of Hadham

Baron Capel was one of the top royalist commanders of the Second English Civil War. He was born on February 20, 1608, the only son of Sir Henry Capel of Rayne Hall in Essex and his wife Theodosia Montagu, daughter of the highly esteemed Sir Edward Montagu of Broughton Castle. He attended Queens’ College in Cambridge and in 1627 married the heiress Elizabeth Morrison which brought him considerable wealth. He gained still more from inheritance after the death of his grandfather in 1632, to the extent that he was then one of the richest men in England with holdings in ten counties. Capel put his wealth to work for him in getting involved in politics and he was elected to the “Short Parliament” in April of 1640 as MP for Hertfordshire. In November he was reelected to the same seat in the “Long Parliament”. During that time, few would have taken him for an ardent royalist as he delivered numerous criticisms of royal policy and the actions of King Charles I to pursue his own course of action regardless of the obstacles Parliament tried to put in his way.

In fact, Capel was the first MP to deliver a county petition protesting royal actions and he voted in favor of the execution of the Earl of Strafford. In that case, however, he seems to have had misgivings as he stated later that he regretted it for the rest of his life. By the summer of 1641 Capel had begun to be alarmed at the radical direction Parliament was taking. He had protested against certain things the King had done, but he saw Parliament increasingly setting itself against the King himself and this he found deeply disturbing. King Charles I was, by that time, in need of friends and someone with the wealth of Capel would be a valuable ally indeed. As he already seemed to be drifting away from the Parliamentarians, the King made a friendly overture to him in August of 1641 by raising him to the peerage as Baron Capel of Hadham, giving him a seat in the House of Lords. Lord Capel was seen to be firmly on the royalist side when he voted against the Militia Ordinance which was effectively an effort by Parliament to take control of the armed forces away from the King. When the First English Civil War broke out, Lord Capel put his money where his mouth was and raised and outfitted a cavalry regiment. In October of 1642 he fought in the Battle of Edgehill as a member of the King’s lifeguard.

Even though Lord Capel had absolutely no military experience prior to Edgehill, his standing earned him an appointment to command all royalist troops in north Wales, Cheshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire with the rank of lieutenant general though at least Sir Michael Woodhouse, an experienced veteran, was sent along with him. Lord Capel was certainly not lacking in bravery, audacity or devotion to his cause but he had the misfortune to be up against some of the better commanders of the Parliamentary forces. Capel came under attack by Sir William Brereton and despite some daring maneuvers and bold attacks, Capel was checked at every turn and became the object of some ridicule in the area, at least among those predisposed toward the forces of Parliament. Finally, at the urging of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, Lord Capel was replaced by Lord Byron in December of 1643. He spent most of the next year at court with King Charles I before next being assigned to the commission that discussed the Uxbridge Treaty of 1645 proposed by the Parliamentarians and the Covenanters of Scotland. There was little chance of this being accepted and it was not so Lord Capel moved on to serve on the Council of the Prince of Wales at Bristol where he formed two regiments, one of infantry and the other of cavalry, to serve as the Prince’s lifeguards.

When the western royalist forces surrendered in 1646 Lord Capel went with the Prince into exile on Scilly and then Jersey but the two parted company when the Prince of Wales went to France to join his mother Queen Henrietta Maria. Lord Capel had been invited to go along of course, but did not because he was uncomfortable around the very Catholic entourage of the Queen (not an uncommon sentiment at the time). In 1647 he returned to England and waited on the King who was being held prisoner at Hampton Court. All the while, Lord Capel, along with other royalists, was constantly involved in the effort to gain support for the King and especially to get the Scots to come on side for another effort at defeating the forces of Parliament. Ultimately, this led to the outbreak of the Second Civil War. In 1648 Lord Capel was charged with leading the royalist uprising in East Anglia. He joined with the troops loyal to the King at Chelmsford in Essex in June but they were pounced on by the Parliamentarians under General Fairfax who chased them to Colchester. Lord Capel commanded the rearguard that held off rebel attacks while the army fell back to the city.

Following the siege of Colchester, the city surrendered in August and Lord Capel was taken prisoner. Confined first at Windsor Castle and later the Tower of London to await trial, the intrepid Baron accomplished the remarkable feat of escaping from the Tower. He hid out for several days but was finally betrayed by a boatman hired to take him to a royalist safe house in Lambeth. In February of 1649, with four other prominent royalists, Lord Capel was taken before the “High Court of Justice” and sentenced to death as a “traitor” for remaining loyal to his King and country. Alongside the Duke of Hamilton and the Earl of Holland he was beheaded outside Westminster Hall on March 8, 1649. He had paid the ultimate price for his heroic loyalty but, in time, his sacrifice was recognized. After the restoration of the monarchy, King Charles II restored all confiscated lands to his family and made his eldest son Earl of Essex.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

MM Sunday Scripture

I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever. Nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it, and God doeth is that men should fear before him.
-Ecclesiastes 3:14

This one does not reference monarchy directly but it bears repeating, especially for those who say that the verses concerning monarchy no longer apply or that it is an outdated institution. -MM

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Royal News Roundup

Bride and groom in Borneo
In the Far East, local royals in Indonesia gathered in Bau-Bau for the biannual Festival Kraton Nusantara. The members of the former Butonese kingdom of Wolio hosted members of some sixty other local formerly ruling houses from across the Indonesian archipelago to keep alive traditional culture. Meanwhile, on the north shore of Borneo, people are preparing for the wedding this weekend of Princess Hajaj Hafizah Sururul Bolkiah, the daughter of Sultan who will marry Penigran HajI Muhammad Ruzaini on Thursday. And from southeast Asia to northeast Asia, royal fans are rejoicing as a South Korean TV station announced on Tuesday that they will be producing a sequel to the smash hit historical-drama “Jewel in the Palace” which was a big success across Asia. A timeline has been set up but there is still no word on who will be directing or starring in the new project but even some TV officials from China said they were interested in investing in the new show. The series follows the legendary life of an orphan turned cook in the royal kitchens of the Joseon dynasty who becomes the first female physician at the royal court. Meanwhile tensions continue to rise between the most powerful republic and the oldest monarchy in East Asia as Red Chinese naval forces have carried out live-fire exercises in the South China Sea and while mobs in China attack anything Japanese. In Japan, Japan Airlines announced on Friday it was stopping all flights to China because of the growing hostility over the disputed islands in the East China Sea. Already the dispute over the Senkaku islands have forced Japanese businesses in China to close and China currently buys 20% of all Japanese exports.

Princess Letizia
In Spain, where is had not been a good year for the monarchy overall, there was a happier occasion as HRH the Princess of the Asturias celebrated her fortieth birthday (though you could hardly tell it). The happy day was marked by the release of a new series of photographs of the Prince and Princess of the Asturias and their two daughters. Meanwhile, HM King Juan Carlos has been dealing with continued attacks in the media as well as trying to hold the kingdom together during the economic crisis which many separatist groups are trying to use to their advantage. On the new website for the Spanish monarchy, the King posted a letter directed at dissidents in Catalonia saying, “In these circumstances, the worst thing we can do is to divide forces, encourage dissent, chase rainbows and deepen wounds…” This statement came after a large pro-independence rally in Catalonia. Over in Monaco, Prince Albert II attended the annual Monaco Yacht Show while Princess Charlene was turning heads in Paris at a special exhibit where her own tiara is among the items on display.

The Queen of The Netherlands
To the north, in The Netherlands, HM Queen Beatrix read her Speech from the Throne on Tuesday at the Knight’s Hall in The Hague as the new session of the Dutch parliament began. The budget for the Queen is set to be reduced by some 5,000 euros in the next budget though with elections coming up shortly, the next government may have other plans. In her remarks the Queen reaffirmed Dutch support for the euro and for a policy of austerity in response to the European debt crisis. The Dutch Royal Family put on a cheerful face on Prince’s Day as they waved to crowds from the balcony of Noordeinde Palace. However, the Queen’s youngest son is still being missed as he remains comatose in a London clinic following a ski accident in Austria. There had been some talk that Johan Friso was showing no signs of any possible improvement and might be sent back to The Netherlands, essentially to die at home rather than in an English hospital. Further to the north, the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark visited Brazil. In Norway, the Royal Family remains in mourning for the late Princess Ragnhild whose funeral will be held at the Palace Chapel on Friday, September 28. Across the border in Sweden, the Royal Family (yes, all of them) attended the opening of the Swedish parliament on Tuesday.

The Duchess of Cambridge
And, for the House of Windsor, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are wrapping up a resoundingly successful jubilee tour which saw the royal couple visit Singapore, Malaysia, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Australia and other areas. They were charming, friendly and focused on the job at hand in spite of the righteous indignation surrounding photos of the Duchess being published by an increasing number of disreputable publications around Europe. The Royal Family is taking legal action in France where the photos were first made public but since that time they have also been published in Italy, Ireland and Denmark as well as being all over the internet. It also came out this week that the Duchess of York will be suing “News of the World” over the phone hacking scandal and that the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall will soon be making a visit to Australia.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Papal Profile: Pope Pius VII

Pope Pius VII reigned over the Catholic Church during a particularly difficult and volatile time. This, naturally, meant that he had many difficult decisions to make and difficult situations to deal with. Nonetheless, given the unfair things many people have said about other pontiffs, Pius VII remains widely respected and almost surprisingly so. One can only imagine what would be said of him if the counter-revolutionary forces had not prevailed in the Napoleonic Wars and the many compromises he was obliged to make had to stand. Would he then be judged as harshly and unfairly as other Bishops of Rome have been? We will never know. What we do know is that Pope Pius VII earned the respect of almost all the crowned heads of Europe by the handling of the many hardships he faced. Even Protestant states which had formerly been quite hostile toward the Catholic Church and the papacy in particular were won over by this aristocratic monk and theologian from the Romagna. Few men ever came to the papal throne under worse conditions only to leave it in such a state of security, renewed strength and political independence.

The man who would be Pius VII was born Barnaba Niccolo Maria Luigi Chiaramonti on August 14, 1742 in Cesena to Count Scipione Chiaramonti and his wife Giovanna, daughter of the Marquis Ghini. As such, he came from an aristocratic family but one that was certainly not the most wealthy in the land and so he grew up knowing both the feeling of a proud heritage along with the necessity of hard work and determination; a background that would serve any future leader quite well. In 1756 he joined the Benedictine Order and took the name Gregory, eventually becoming a teacher in Parma and later in Rome. He was ordained priest on September 21, 1765 and his career developed quickly for the better following the election of Giovanni Angelo Cardinal Braschi as Pope Pius VI as Chiaramonti was related to the Braschi family through his mother. In 1782 he was appointed Bishop of Tivoli and in 1785 was made Bishop of Imola and given the red hat of a Cardinal-Priest of the Basilica of St Callistus.

When the forces of the French Revolution swept into northern Italy in 1797 they were determined to spread revolutionary republics as they went. Soon, the green-white-red tricolor first appeared on Italian soil with the creation of the Cisalpine Republic which, some may be surprised to know, Cardinal Chiaramonti called for loyal submission to. The aristocratic cardinal preached in his Christmas sermon that Christ advocated for equality and that the Catholic Church was not opposed to democracy, indeed that Christians would be the best democrats. Of course, the French did not stop there but invaded neutral Venice and the Papal States where clerical rule was overthrown and the Roman Republic declared. Pope Pius VI was effectively taken prisoner by the French and died in captivity in 1799 which a triumphant republican newspaper in Paris called, “a seal on the glory of philosophy in modern times”. Because of this, there was some doubt as to whether there would be a new pope at all. However, a conclave was finally arranged and held in Venice under the protection of the Emperor of Austria, who hoped this would ensure the election of the candidate of his choice.

However, the Princes of the Church (predominately Italian of course) were not very impressed with the spread of veto power. They were less impressed that it should be done at such a time when the Church was clearly on hard times and they were also cognizant of the fact that the famous city of Venice, where they were meeting, was then under the rule of the Emperor of Austria only because it had been handed over to them by a rising star in the French republican army named Napoleon Bonaparte. So, the situation emerged that the first two choices were vetoed by the Hapsburg faction but most of the other cardinals refused to vote for the candidate favored by Austria. A compromise candidate was needed and the choice fell on Cardinal Chiaramonti who was finally elected unanimously. On March 14, 1800 it was announced that Cardinal Chiaramonti was the new Pope, taking the name of his persecuted predecessor as Pius VII. Because of his earlier speaking on reconciliation with the forces of the revolution he was not welcomed by those in the Sacred College who favored a hard line against revolutionary republicanism but he seemed the only possible choice and the choice was made. The Hapsburg Emperor was less than thrilled as well and showed his displeasure by forbidding the papal coronation to be held in the grand Basilica of St Mark. Instead, the new pontiff was crowned at the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore on March 21, 1800. Pius VII had to be crowned with a Triple Tiara made of papier-mâché as the real one had been taken by the French in their seizure of Rome

By that time, it had become clear that the republics planted in Italy by France were not all taking root very well and, for a variety of reasons, the Austrian Emperor invited Pope Pius VII to reside in Vienna. Was it out of genuine concern for his safety, an effort to make up for the setting of the coronation or an effort to solidify the Austrian position in northern Italy and influence Church administration? It did not matter. Pius VII realized that, regardless of what actually happened, to go to Vienna would be to be seen as the chaplain of the Hapsburg Emperor and to lose any chance of making amends with France. He also knew that, as the Bishop of Rome, his place was the See of Rome and that is where he had to go, regardless of the danger. So, on a very austere and rickety Austrian ship the new Pope was sent to Pesaro, the rough passage taking nearly two weeks, and from there on to Rome. Once back, the French-sponsored Roman Republic had been overthrown by King Ferdinand of Naples, one his first acts was to appoint the brilliant Ercole Consalvi to the rank of cardinal and make him Secretary of State. His first duty was to negotiate a concordat with the French Republic. This would have seemed an impossible task given how virulently anti-Catholic the French Republic had been, however, Pius VII was determined that some understanding be reached and, by the time he attained the papacy, the more radical revolutionary leadership had given way to the Consulate of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, a much more pragmatic and realistic man than his predecessors.

The concordat was signed, to the surprise of many across Europe, with the Catholic Church being recognized as the religion of France but giving Napoleon final say on the publication of papal documents and certain other privileges. Napoleon later made other revisions to the concordat and used the status of the Church in France to induce the signing of a concordat with the French-sponsored Italian republic which gave the government far-reaching powers over the Church. As usual with such agreements, at the time, few seemed pleased with the result. The radical revolutionaries screamed about any official recognition being given to the Catholic Church while conservatives shouted just as loud about the Pope giving up too much to the regime of a usurper. However, Napoleon had been astonishingly successful in his career thus far and seemed to be determined to be a permanent fixture on the European scene and the Pope would not ignore him. In 1804, after some cajoling, the Pope even agreed to go to Paris to preside over Napoleon crowning himself “Emperor of the French”. Pius VII did not perform the actual coronation but gave Napoleon his blessing and recited the traditional Roman phrase, “Vivat imperator in aeternum!” (“May the Emperor live forever!”). However, after the coronation, Pius VII was repeatedly refused permission to leave and ended up staying in France all winter.

Obviously, if Pius VII had thought such gestures on his part would be reciprocated he was sorely mistaken and conflicts continued between France and the Papacy. As Napoleon was successful across the continent, the lack of concessions from Rome seemed all the more outrageous to him and when Pius VII refused to close the main papal port to British shipping, Napoleon seized the opportunity and marched on Rome, annexing the Papal States to the French Empire in 1809. The Pope responded by formally excommunicating the French Emperor who himself then responded by taking Pius VII prisoner, holding him in Savona. In 1812 he was transferred to Fontainebleau and remained there until Napoleon fell from power in 1814. It was during this time of political impotence that the reputation of Pius VII soared the highest as across Europe people marveled at his staunch refusal to give in to French demands despite the perilous condition he was placed in. In fact, he revoked the previous concessions he had made. When the Pontiff at last returned to Rome he was met with a thunderous welcome with one observer noting that even “Protestants who witnessed the scene wept scalding tears”.

The downfall of Napoleon marked a great triumph for Pius VII as the Congress of Vienna restored all of central Italy to papal control while other former sovereigns, even ones who had never allied or made peace with Napoleon, were not so fortunate. In Papal Rome, restoration was the order of the day. Pius VII restored the Holy Office of the Roman Inquisition, the Index of Forbidden Works and the Society of Jesus. Concordats were signed with non-Catholic powers such as Protestant Prussia and Orthodox Russia while Pius VII also issued condemnations of the new and growing Protestant Bible Societies and Freemasonry whose members had been the authors of so much misfortune. He also instituted the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith as a countermeasure to these movements. Finally, just to show that he was more than willing to forgive and forget, the Pope sent a chaplain to attend to Napoleon in his exile on St Helena and even spoke up for him after hearing about the conditions he was subjected to there. In Church matters he was staunch in upholding traditional teachings, condemned those who said that Ecumenical Councils could overrule the Pontiff and while his predecessor had been less than positive on the formation of the United States of America, Pius VII praised the new republic for the American naval campaign against the Barbary pirates of North Africa, famously saying that the Americans “had done more for the cause of Christianity than the most powerful nations of Christendom have done for ages”.

Pope Pius VII had been elected at one of the darkest hours for the Catholic Church, a time when the previous pope had died a prisoner, Rome was in secular hands and the cardinals forced to elect a successor on what was officially “foreign” soil. Yet, by the end of his reign all that had been lost was restored and the Catholic Church had a newfound respect around the world. Even adamantly Protestant powers like Great Britain had come to recognize the Catholic Church, on the continent at least, as a force for order and stability; in other words a fairly good thing all in all. Pius VII had accomplished this by holding fast on the issues that mattered while being pragmatic enough to give ground where it was possible to do so. Thanks to the success of the Allied armies, the concessions he made only had to be temporary but the Pope was always a realistic man who recognized that he had to deal with the world as it existed rather than as he might wish it to be. In 1823 he broke his leg and this caused his health to deteriorate rapidly and Pius VII died, respected by all, on August 20, 1823 at the age of 81.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Royal Profile: Prince Phetsarath of Laos

In the history of the Kingdom of Laos, just prior to its tragic demise, few royals had such a diverse and colorful career as Prince Phetsarath. Holding such positions as prime minister and vice-king and various times in his life, his reputation endured even after his death with the Prince achieving and almost semi-divine status that lingers somewhat even to the present. His Highness Prince Chao Maha Ouphat Phetsarath Rattanavongsa was born in Luang Prabang on January 19, 1890 to Prince Bounkhong (son of Prince Souvanna Phomma) the uparaja of Luang Prabang and his second wife Princess Thongsy. The second son, Prince Phetsarath was the older brother of Prince Souvanna Phouma who would lead the pro-neutrality royalist faction in the later Laotian Civil War. He was also an older half brother of Prince Souphanouvong who would lead the communist faction and become the first President of Laos (Prince Souphanouvong being the son of Prince Bounkhong by his eleventh wife who was a commoner). Coming from such an illustrious family line, Prince Phetsarath was given the best education possible in colonial French Indochina.

After preliminary instruction in the traditional fashion, he was sent to the Lycee Chasseloup Laubat in Saigon (at that time in the French colony of Cochinchine) the “Paris of the Orient” and “Pearl of the Far East”. In 1905 he left Indochina to study in Paris, France at the Lycee Montaigne and later the Ecole coloniale. After finishing his education he returned to Laos in 1912 and the following year married Princess Nhin Kham Venne, his first of three wives. After about a year of working for his father as an interpreter he got a job clerking at the French governor’s office in Vientiane. The Prince proved himself quite adept and within two years was promoted to secretary to the colonial governor. This was during World War I which added new difficulties as the French organized military battalions from Indochina to serve in Europe, sometimes in combat roles but more often in labor battalions, digging trenches and moving men and supplies. In 1919 Prince Phetsarath was honored with the title of Somdeth Chao Ratsaphakhinay, one of the highest in the land, from the King. His father had previously held the same position. He was also appointed Director of Indigenous Affairs of Laos by the French governor.

The next year, on July 26, 1920, Prince Bounkhong died and Prince Phetsarath succeeded his father as the uparaja or ouphat, effectively the Vice-King of Laos, also sometimes westernized to “Viceroy”. In that capacity he worked tirelessly for the development of the country. He reformed or, indeed, instituted in the first place, the Lao Consultative Assembly, streamlined the advisory council of the King, made the civil service more fair and results-driven by establishing a clear system of ranks and requirements for promotion that ended a great deal of corruption. In Laos, “Church and State” went hand-in-hand and Prince Phetsarath also reformed the administrative system of the Buddhist temples and set down new guidelines for the education of Buddhist priests. The first modern legal code in the Kingdom of Laos was the invention of Prince Phetsarath and he founded the Institute of Law and Administration to train competent civil servants who would not owe their position to the granting of special favors. Not only did all of this greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Lao government, but it also displayed to the people of Laos that they themselves were capable of holding positions and making improvements which were previously the domain of the colonial authorities alone. As such, even many who were not ill-disposed toward the French began to see them as being rather unnecessary.

Prince Phetsarath was quickly gaining a golden reputation in Laos among the ordinary people and that grew all the more with the coming of World War II in French Indochina. When France fell to Nazi Germany, and word reached Southeast Asia, people in Laos were shocked. What would happen to them if their “protector” had been conquered? The answer was that the military government in Thailand, supported by Imperial Japan, moved to regain border territories they had lost to Cambodia and Laos after the Franco-Siamese War. This outraged the Lao people and caused a great deal of anger against France as their position in the colonial union of French Indochina was based on the promise of protection which was no longer being delivered. Tensions rose further when the French government (Vichy) allowed Imperial Japanese forces to make use of bases in Vietnam for their campaigns against Malaysia and the Dutch East Indies.

In January of 1941, in reaction to all of this, Prince Phetsarath formed the “Movement for National Renovation” to stand up for Lao territorial integrity. It was not an anti-French organization and some French officials in Laos supported it but these were generally those more in line with the “Free French” loyal to General Charles DeGaulle in London. The French colonial leadership in Hanoi which was loyal to the Vichy government opposed the organization. At one point, in 1944, Prince Phetsarath sent Lao troops to attack Thailand and regain the lost territory but nothing came of the attempted campaign. Laos remained in almost a state of limbo in terms of the wider world war until the liberation of France by the Allies in 1944. With France shifting back to the Allied camp, the Japanese reacted by taking control of Indochina themselves, starting with Vietnam. Some French officials fled to Laos and the Japanese moved in to pursue them and to detain King Sisavang Vong in the hope that he would declare independence from France and join the Japanese-sponsored “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” as the Emperor of Vietnam and King of Cambodia had done or would do. The King and Crown Prince refused to turn against France but Prince Phetsarath took a different view. As he saw it, their relationship with France had been based on the French pledge to protect Laos and as they had failed to do so, Laos should declare independence and if this could only be done with the support of Japan, so be it.

With the King refusing to deal with them, the Japanese naturally moved closer to Prince Phetsarath who was widely revered throughout the country and a determined patriot devoted to the cause of independence. During their occupation they named him Prime Minister of Luang Prabang and Prince Phetsarath formed and led the group called Lao Issara or “Free Laos”. When the King remained obstinate, Prince Phetsarath issued his own declaration of independence, backed up by Japan who were rushing to try to erect friendly Asian governments as an Allied victory loomed on the horizon, and the Prince tried to regain lost ground since the start of the war. Because of his activities during this time, Prince Phetsarath became known as the “Father of Lao Independence” even though the time of this independence was of short duration. After the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan those governments allied with Japan and occupied by Japanese forces began to come apart. Indochina was no different. In August of 1945 the last Emperor of Vietnam abdicated and a “Democratic People’s Republic” was declared in Hanoi. In Laos, Prince Phetsarath tried to convince the King to declare the unity and independence of Laos at that time, without French or Japanese influences, but the King was convinced that France would be returning and the risk of unrest was too great.

Within days the French were reasserting control over Indochina and Prince Phetsarath was a marked man for his cooperation with the Japanese. Still at the head of his “Free Laos” government, he had no choice but to escape across the border into Thailand in 1946. He was gone but not forgotten and during the more than ten years Prince Phetsarath spent in exile, his reputation grew and grew in Laos until he attained godlike status. People had come to believe that the Prince possessed supernatural powers and would often call on him to bless their villages and drive out evil spirits. After the return of French forces, his reputation as “Father of Independence” took on a new importance among the populace. People said that he could fly and had turned himself into various animals to speed his work in struggling for their freedom. Part of the origins for these beliefs were also the seemingly miraculous way the Prince had survived numerous accidents in his life, and tales of this eventually reached the point where he was considered invincible, a khon kong or half-god, half-royal.

The French, needless to say, were not happy with Prince Phetsarath or his ever-growing legend, but how could they fight a demigod? In 1957 he was finally allowed to return to Laos where he received a huge, rapturous welcome from the ordinary people. He visited King Sisavang Vong who restored all of his old titles to him and by the prestige of his personality brought about a moment of unity amongst the political factions in Laos. Unfortunately, it was not long after that Prince Phetsarath died of a brain hemorrhage on October 14, 1959 in Luang Prabang. His funeral was a massive affair, and rightly so, for his death was a tragedy for the entire country. Had he lived longer, the terrible civil war might never have happened. Yet, even after the civil war, the fall of the Kingdom of Laos and the communist takeover, the memory of Prince Phetsarath has never died. His portrait adorns the walls of shops, homes and restaurants and family altars where people burn incense in his honor and pray for his spirit to watch over them. Even in recent years, people in Laos, young and old, could be found wearing miniature portraits of the Prince as talismans to protect them from harm. In spite of all the years of communist controlled education painting the Royal Family with the worst possible reputation, the faith of the people in their beloved prince remains strong.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Colonialism and the Middle East

Today with all the problems in North Africa and the Middle East, the actual conflicts between governments and between the people and their own governments are often matched by an equally contentious fight over where to place the blame for all of this. We are, after all, living in the age of irresponsibility, where it is certainly never, ever “my” fault. It is always easier, of course, to blame someone else. Blame another country, blame another religion, blame another race, blame another party or political system. This, of course, absolves one of the very painful and difficult duty of critical reflection and self-improvement; of taking it upon yourself to solve your own problems. Why try to fix things when all of your problems are the fault of another? In many cases, though, this can lead to downright comical twists and turns and downright acrobatic contortions of logic. In the United States, for example, many of the same people who cheered on the Bush administration in spreading the gift of democracy to the people of Iraq have lately been condemning the present occupant of the White House for supporting popular rebellions against dictators in the name of democracy when that democratic process leads to anti-American regimes.

Similarly, many of those who cited the existence of the terrorist prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba under George W. Bush as being at fault for making people hate the USA are now quiet as church mice after President Obama failed to make good on his oft-repeated promise to close the facility. The blame now must reside elsewhere I suppose. Likewise, it is almost funny to see the leadership of the European Union congratulate the people of North Africa on achieving democracy when they are so adamantly opposed to submitting themselves to the democratic will of their own peoples. However, the Muslim community, and particularly the Arab Muslim community, are no less adept at these blame games than the western and (hardly even nominally these days) Christian countries. I find it particularly strange to see so many disgruntled Arab Muslims shouting abuse at the west and calling for Islamic unity and the creation of a new Islamic caliphate considering that, during World War I, it was Arab Muslims who fought alongside the Christian Allied powers in bringing about the destruction of the last, legitimate Caliph of Islam who was the Turkish Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

My favorite, though, is when they blame the problems in the failed republics of North Africa and the Middle East on western colonialism. Though “western” is really casting too wide a net as the only European countries that colonized North Africa and the Middle East were Great Britain, France and (very briefly) Italy. Spain had a tiny foothold but it never came to much. However, if you just blamed everything on the British, French and Italians you inadvertently let America off the hook based on the silly technicality that the United States has never had a colony or mandate in the region, so it is better to just say “western” colonialism just so everyone from America to Norway will be warned. Though, with Gaddafi gone, at least Switzerland will be able to sleep a little easier at night from now on. This is also a smart move because most people in the world think colonialism to be an inherently evil thing and even most people in Europe, even most people in the countries which had the largest colonial empires in the world (Britain and France) consider colonialism a terrible and shameful thing.

Just to be clear, for anyone new to this game, I am not among those who think it so. I do not pretend it was all good, but I think it was more positive than not and, while I speak only for myself in this, I find it a little absurd that anyone in the Americas in particular would decry colonialism considering that none of the countries and most of the people of the Americas today would not exist without it. That being my mentality, I am particularly sensitive to colonialism being the modern whipping boy for every problem in the contemporary Third World, to say nothing of the Middle East and North Africa. Of course, everything that is today is based to some degree on all that has been but when it comes to colonialism I think the negative aspects are being exaggerated. I think this is particularly true considering North Africa and the Middle East which were under European colonial rule for a period of time that amounts to a mere speck on the world history timeline when compared to the length of time the region was under the colonial rule of the non-Christian, non-western and non-European Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Consider this: Algeria was a colony of the Ottoman Empire for 300 years and was only a French colony for 132 years and during much of that time French rule was quite limited. Tunisia was an Ottoman colony for more than 131 years and was a French protectorate for only 75 years. The territories that are now Libya were colonies of the Ottoman Empire for 360 years then were an Italian colony for less than 32 years. Egypt was under Ottoman sovereignty for 365 years while the British held control over Egypt for only 40 years. Palestine was under Ottoman rule for 401 years and a British mandate for 26 years. Syria was ruled by the Ottomans for 402 years and was a French mandate (along with Lebanon) for a mere 21 years. Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire for 387 years and was then a British mandate for a mere 12 years. That is pretty much the whole of North Africa and the Middle East (the “Middle East” being defined in my education as the area from Egypt to Iran) other than Iran which had never, officially, been under the rule of a European power though it did have a British sphere of influence in the south and a Russian sphere of influence in the north (though not every Russian would consider Russia a “European” country by any means). So, how is it that “western colonialism” is held to blame for nearly every problem in the modern Middle East and North Africa when in most cases European rule lasted less than fifty years rather than the colonialism of the Turks who ruled the region for centuries?

Now, it should be obvious but I will point it out just to be on the safe side, this does not mean I think the Middle East and North Africa should instead blame modern Turkey for their current problems instead of “the west” (which Turkey is trying to join, but that’s another story). As mentioned, if anything, the Turks would have more reason to blame their problems on the Arabs for turning on their Muslim brethren in the First World War to fight alongside Britain, France and Italy in bringing down the Ottoman Empire. Even after the Turkish Sultan, the Caliph of Islam, called upon all Muslims to unite in a jihad against the Allied powers, Muslims from the Empire of India to the Arabian peninsula and French Algeria disregarded this call and did their part to bring down the Islamic Ottoman Empire -along with her own allies which were Orthodox Bulgaria, Roman Catholic Austria-Hungary and the Protestant and Catholic Empire of Germany. The Arabs have no room to blame the Turks for their present situation and the western powers should not attempt it either. Today the western world complains endlessly about the conflicts and civil wars and unrest in the Middle East, conveniently forgetting that before their predecessors brought down the Ottoman Empire, this was a fairly pacific region and when there were troubles it was the Turks who had to deal with it, not the French, British or Americans. As with any empire, critics can point to examples in the Ottoman Empire that were not so nice but then there was no Assad regime in Syria, no Saddam Hussein in Iraq and no Gaddafi in Libya under either the Turks or the Italians.

Everyone, from individuals to entire nations, rise or fall and live or die based on the choices they make. Blaming colonialism for modern problems is pointless and provably false. The Korean peninsula was, for a time, under the colonial rule of Japan and the Japanese did not always treat the Koreans with absolute loving kindness, however, South Korea still managed to become an extremely successful and prosperous country. North Korea, obviously, did not but, as South Korea proves, the Japanese cannot be held to blame for that. North Korea is a failed state because it adopted an astoundingly stupid political and economic system. North Africa and the Middle East are no different. Where they have problems, it is the result of choices they have made. For the Middle East and North Africa the choices made include cutting colonial ties, pursuing bad policies and, in the cases of Libya, Egypt and Iraq, overthrowing existing monarchies in favor of militaristic republics. Sometimes it only takes one mistake to derail things if that mistake is big enough and as long as you play the blame game that one big mistake will never be corrected.

The Ottoman Empire is a good example again. Their big mistake was getting involved in World War I. If it makes the Turks feel any better, that was a common mistake at the time as it was a mistake for everyone who got involved in the Great War who had a choice in the matter (I say for the benefit of the Belgians) even if they were on the winning side. Everyone says that the Ottoman Empire was in decline and doomed to inevitable collapse. True, compared to periods in the past, Ottoman Turkey was in decline but, again, that was based on choices and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was not inevitable. This is something people seem to like to say to avoid having to think about real problems and their consequences. They said the same thing about Austria-Hungary; that it was doomed to collapse and there was nothing anyone could do about it, war or no war. As we have talked about before, that was nonsense. Had it not been for the war, it is entirely possible Austria-Hungary would have gone on and might still be with us today. Similarly, the Ottoman Empire was in pretty bad shape but they were making changes, they were developing, updating, making some poor decisions but some wise ones as well. The Ottoman government had control of its own territory, maintained law and order, was in the process of developing a modern infrastructure and when war came managed to threaten the Suez Canal, force the biggest surrender of British forces since the siege of Yorktown in America, had troops in southern Russia and drove the Allies off of Gallipoli. They didn’t win, but that is a respectable list of accomplishments for an empire in decline, supposedly on the doorstep of “inevitable” collapse.

The last Sultan
If the Ottoman Empire had stayed out of World War I, and better yet if the other major powers had as well, with the discovery of vast Arabian oil reserves in 1938 they may well have made one of the biggest recoveries in history and there would have been none of the subsequent regional conflicts that have bedeviled the world from then to the present day. However, what was done is done. How about the countries as they exist today? A simple look around would be much more beneficial than playing the blame game. Which countries have been the most poor and oppressive -and thus unstable? Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Tunisia all have one thing in common: republicanism. Which have been the most stable in the region? Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE and Oman. What do they all have in common? Monarchy! I know, you were going to say oil but that’s not entirely true (though you cannot deny it certainly helps). The Sultanate of Oman has very limited oil reserves and the Kingdom of Jordan has practically none at all while even with considerable oil wealth, republican dictatorships like Libya and Iraq still managed to make the lives of their people miserable. So, there are good examples to follow, there are successful models to draw upon. All that needs to happen is for people to stop blaming colonialism, stop blaming foreign countries, stop blaming movies or cartoons no one has even seen and take responsibility for your own recovery. Step one in that recovery should be the restoration of the one form of government that had, across North Africa and the Middle East, proven to provide the most stability and genuine progress while still respecting time-honored traditions -monarchy.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...