Nu History Podcast – Episode 5: Late Medieval Kings and Kingmakers

Here’s another podcast for you!

In this episode we talk to Alex Brondarbit, Academic Analyst in the division of Academic Affairs at University of California, and author of two books on late Medieval nobility, power and advancement. We discuss his recent work particularly around English kings and power brokers. We also talk about the experience of getting history books written and published in this day and age.

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Nu History Podcast – Episode 4: Beowulf and the Anglo Saxons

The fourth episode of our podcast is here!

For this episode Lilly and Alex are joined by Elton, a historian and “nerd guy about Beowulf” (his own words), who is here to talk about some of his recent work and projects, mostly relating to Beowulf of course!

You can listen through Spotify below, or head to Anchor for links to follow on Apple, Google and wherever else you get your podcasts.

Princess Charlotte and the road to Victoria

The events that led Victoria to the throne involved a love match, national mourning and a race for royal princes to procreate quickly, quietly and efficiently. The sons of George III had a race to provide him with a suitable grandchild to continue the house of Hanover and naturally the most pressure fell on his eldest, the future George IV. George, as the Prince of Wales, was capable of only one(legitimate) progeny who was a girl, the Princess Charlotte. His other children were illegitimate and unable to take the throne due to the succession laws of Britain that barred any product of immoral or illicit unions. Princess Charlotte had grown up as a pawn in the furore that rang above her head between her father, the king, and her mother Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel. Her parents were first cousins with Caroline’s mother being the sister of George III, George IV’s father and predecessor on the British throne. The engagement between George IV, then the Prince of Wales, and Caroline occurred in 1794 due to a natural solution to clear some of his ever-mounting debts. If he married someone appropriate to become his queen the parliament and treasury would agree to increase his yearly allowance. By the eighteenth century choosing a bride for a British monarch had become increasingly more difficult than acquiring a substantial dowry, good looks and fertile child bearing hips. Naturally these were still important but events in the seventeenth century further narrowed the marriage market. One of the key aspects of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that over threw the Catholic sympathiser James II, in the favour of a Protestant monarch, meant that Catholicism was now barred from the throne. The last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, who died in 1714 without a male heir left a vacuum that needed to be filled. The new laws meant the chosen heir would be needing to be related to the Stuart dynasty, male, preferably one with ruling experience and most importantly Protestant. This left very few people to take the helm except the rulers of a small German principality. The eventual George I was ruler of Brunswick-Lüneburg and descended maternally from the Winter Queen Elizabeth Stuart, eldest daughter of James I of England. He believed in the appropriate faith and already had an heir and a spare to satisfy the English parliament. Thus, creating the Hanoverian house which Caroline was marrying into.

Before their wedding day the couple had never met and therefore embarked on a lifelong union on the 8th of April 1795. Caroline had endured a difficult journey from her home in Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, Germany. Britain was currently at war with revolutionary France whom had allies that surrounded the small German duchy. However, Caroline was known for being high spirited and verbally effusive, and arrived in England in a flurry of ill-mannered and vulgarly transparent behaviour. The future king the Prince of Wales was evidently disappointed as he was expecting a siren of beauty gracious, and kind, and most importantly quiet and biddable. None of which would describe Caroline’s delight in gossip and flirty behaviour. It is said that Caroline was equally disappointed with the appearance of her husband to be, who was fat, argumentative and given completely to his mistress (or possibly wife) Maria Fitzherbert. Their union is said to have lasted the length of their first night together and in the morning traded insults through mediators. George believed her to be unhygienic and not a true virgin in the marriage bed and Caroline was appalled that she was to have one of his mistresses, Frances Villiers, serve as her Lady of the Bedchamber (hence in close quarters and in insufferable dislike). It was however sufficient to get Caroline pregnant immediately and therefore sparing George the need of visiting her bed frequently. Despite her openness and given to charming the many men who looked her direction Caroline earned a popular reputation with the people, even furthering George’s hatred of her due to the public being very fluent in their despair of him and his behaviour. The notion of a child occurring so soon cemented the public opinion that Caroline was good and needed their support. On the 7th January 1796, a healthy daughter was born and christened Charlotte after the current queen who was the wife to George III. Upon hearing the birth of his daughter, the Prince of Wales responded by rewriting his will thus leaving all his property to Maria Fitzherbert and to Caroline one shilling. If there was need for evidence of the animosity between the couple, the will would naturally serve quite easily. George was disappointed for not having a boy but his father the king George III was delighted to have a legitimate grandchild regardless of her sex.

Charlotte was to grow up in a very divided household. Her mother was portrayed as the ‘wronged woman’ due to having her letters read by George’s mistress for any evidence that would permit divorce, and her father was vilified in the press for continuing to live in luxury and preventing Caroline from visiting anywhere without his permission. By August 1797 Caroline had moved into her own establishment of Blackheath and lived as though a single privileged woman. Happily, for Caroline who was fond of her daughter, Charlotte summered with her governess on the Montague House estate and could visit her frequently. It became clear quickly that Charlotte was to be the only child between George and Caroline and both parents attempted to instil their opinions and demands upon the young child. Caroline wanted better treatment within the royal family for having provided an heir but other than being allowed to visit Charlotte, she had no say in the child’s upbringing. Therefore, the child was to be brought up entirely by governesses and decisions made by her father. Despite this Charlotte saw very little of her father and it was unbeknownst to him that Caroline made a point of taking her daughter for carriage rides in the park, much to the delight of the public who were sympathetic to them.

The Prince of Wales had every appearance as a dominant father figure who liked his own way. When Charlotte was eight he pushed her mother out of Blackheath to live in small Kensington Palace apartments and moved his daughter into Montague House itself to allow visits to his Carlton House residence. Charlotte is said to have been socialised very well with her own peers as she rattled around her home with no company except those who were paid to serve her. She also suffered her first loss as her governess Lady Elgin was forced to retire due to her age despite them being close friends. Her replacement was Lady de Clifford who was not adept at disciplining the child who had grown into what would termed as ‘tomboy’ today. Charlotte would delight in playing with boys and becoming accustomed to unlady-like pursuits, such a fighting and galloping horses through the house estates. By 1805 Charlotte had a full suite of tutors to educate her on the Protestant faith, government and various genteel activities, however she evidently only learnt what she thought necessary herself. Thus, she became fluent in some languages and proficient at the piano but virtually illiterate alongside.

Relations between her parents had deteriorated by the time Charlotte reached the age of ten. Her mother acting upon George’s orders and pretended to not see her each time they came across each other in the park, rendering the young child deeply upset. At the time Caroline was under investigation against having taken various lovers however the ‘delicate’ matter found nothing that would aid George in finally divorcing her. The end of the proceedings allowed Caroline to visit Charlotte again but disallowed contact between any of Caroline’s followers. As Charlotte grew into a teenager and her visits to court became more frequent she was described as uncouth and undignified. Her father placed the blame of her mother’s influence with this despite being immensely proud of her stellar equine pursuits. She grew up into a tall and buxom lady with a love of Austen, Mozart and candid discussion… with a fondness of allowing her under-drawers being seen without concern for the dignity of her rank. Charlotte loved to do whatever she was told not do. On the 6th February 1811, her father became the Regent of Britain and Charlotte, forbidden to attend, rode obviously up and down the ground floor windows attempting to catch a glimpse of the solemn ceremony. Charlotte and her father did have some similarities, they were both politically minded with leanings towards the Whigs. Although the Whigs did not enjoy much royal enthusiasm while George was regent, Charlotte made it obvious where her feelings lay by flirting across the opera hall to the Whig leader, the Earl Grey. It would seem since George as a child rebelled against the strict confines of his parents rule he would learnt to show some respect to a child ready to grow up and explore. He however placed even stricter decorum and allowance rules upon Charlotte which led to her disappointing him frequently. Charlotte did not have a proper allowance for a princess for clothing and was forced to leave shows or operas early and to observe them without being perceived from most of the audience. She was also made to live in Windsor Castle with her unmarried aunts who she believed to be stuffy and dull. With such boredom to contend with her eye fell upon men for entertainment. George FitzClarence, her cousin, was banished to Brighton to join his regiment early after behaving unseemly with the princess and Charles Hesse of the Duke of York’s household was allowed several clandestine meetings with Charlottes mother’s blessing before Hesse was commanded to Spain.

However, Charlotte was at the age where marriage would be looming fast and her father started negotiations in 1813 after the tide of the Napoleonic wars steered in prosperous favour of the British. The first candidate was William, Prince of Orange who would increase alliances and trade with Northwest Europe. The potential couple met at the Regent’s birthday party and all males were riotously drunk. Although having given no official word about what was intended Charlotte had heard suggestions through the grapevine and did not bother to hide her distaste at the prince. She was informed properly of the match through Doctor Henry Halford who found her displeased at the prospect and declared that she did not wish a future queen to marry a foreigner. True enough in English and European history there is enough evidence to both support and negate this belief. The Regent had managed to mishear his daughter’s intentions and thought she wished to marry the Duke of Gloucester instead. Vehemently speaking he argued with both Charlotte and the Duke before realising there were no improper actions taken or about to be undertook. This whole affair was being enjoyed by the public through the satirical papers and news press who continued to vilify the Regent and bless the princess. On the 12th of December, Charlotte had given George the impression she liked the Prince of Orange and started to proceed with marriage plans. These took several months as Charlotte refused point blank to leave Britain and visit the home country of the prince. Many historians believe Charlotte was being difficult after having been advised by the Earl Grey to play for time before deciding on her future husband. The diplomats were also slowing progress since neither crown had the wish to unite under one throne and therefore inheritance of William and Charlotte’s children needed to be divvied up as to whom would gain Britain or the Netherlands. Charlotte signed the marriage contract on the 10th of June despite rumours of her having fallen in love with one of a few Prussian princes. The whole agreement was however about to be thrown into disarray. Charlotte met Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld at a party held for the Russian cavalry. Leopold was invited to attend Charlotte for a meeting and he impressed her father by leaving a note stating he wished no improper feelings toward her. George did not think Leopold would become an issue and knew that he would be an impoverished man to consider courting Charlotte.

During this Caroline who maintained public support was against the match between Charlotte and the Prince of Orange and the press agreed. Charlotte to the magnificent displeasure of the Regent broke of the engagement when she discovered her own mother would not be welcome within her marital home. Wishing to avoid being closeted with the Queen spirited herself away in a Hackney cab to her mother’s household before ordering Whig politicians to attend and advise her. She returned to her father reluctantly the next day after the Duke of York stating he had the power to return her by force. Charlotte lived in forced isolation until the end of July 1814 when she was informed her mother had left to live on the continent, never to see her again. Charlotte could visit Weymouth and travel as a dignified princess should eventually reconciling properly with her father at Christmas. The Regent held high hopes that Charlotte would return to the Prince of Orange but by March 1815 she had fixed upon Leopold as a future spouse. Issues surrounded her decision since Leopold was fighting with his regiment against Napoleon although he was responding enthusiastically to Charlotte’s overtures through intermediaries. As the continent was unsettled the Regent refused Charlotte’s initial proposal of marriage to Leopold before eventually summoning the man to Britain in February 1816. Leopold impressed both Charlotte and her father and the marriage was allowed to take place on the 2nd of May 1816. Delighted to have an end to his daughter’s romances he gave Claremont House and a generous income to the couple to set up a proper house for the future King and Queen of England. Crowds lined the streets and celebrations continued in the public spaces. The only mishap was when the poor Leopold promised his worldly goods to Charlotte who giggled in response.

Marriage to Leopold proved to be a calming balm on Charlotte who became quiet, respectful and more ladylike. Despite an early miscarriage Charlotte fell pregnant in April 1817 and she was restful and happy for the duration. Naturally at the mercy of the press, gamblers had bets on the sex of the child and economists made prospect forecasts. Charlotte’s pregnancy progressed normally under the care of Sir Richard Croft and a medical team. However, when her contractions came on the 3rd of November an unsuspected shock would rock the country. Charlotte had difficulties and her labour spread over several days until the end of the 5th of November a large stillborn boy was born. Charlotte received the news of her child calmly and appeared to recover from her ordeal. Leopold however distressed from being at his wife’s side the whole time took and sleeping draught and slept. In the early hours of the 6th of November Charlotte was violently ill and succumbing to post-partum bleeding. Within an hour Princess Charlotte had died while Leopold slept in the next room.

The death of Charlotte was a major loss to the royal family, she was the Regent’s only heir and none of his brothers had heir’s either. The public reaction to the news was one of genuine remorse and deep mourning even down to the paupers and homeless carrying black bands in respect. The entire running of the country shut down for two weeks and all gambling dens closed on the day of her funeral out of respect. The Prince Regent was distraught and unable to attend his own child’s funeral while Caroline fainted at the news after hearing it through a passing courier. It is said that Leopold never fully recovered from the loss of his wife and refused to remarry until he became King of the Belgians in 1832. He married Louise-Marie of Orleans and had four children. The princess was buried in St George’s Chapel with her son at her feet under a magnificent structure with help funded by the public. What killed Charlotte was never fully explained and despite receiving no blame from the Prince Regent, Sir Richard Croft committed suicide for his role in Charlotte’s labour.

Charlotte’s death meant there were no legitimate grandchildren of George III. George IV did not provide any more children during his rule as Regent or as King meaning there was a race for his younger brothers to marry and procreate, fast. After George IV died, the next in line was George III’s next son William IV who had a fonder love of sailing and ships then women. Once again England was facing the prospect of choosing someone to rule when the Hanoverians ran out of male brothers. Light did appear at the end of the tunnel, once Prince Edward the Duke of Kent discovered Charlotte’s death while at home in Brussels he abandoned his long-term mistress and sought a wife immediately. He chose Dowager Princess Victoria of Leiningen, Leopold’s sister, and they married in 1818. Their child, Charlotte’s niece, was born Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent. Edward did not live long enough to become king after his elder brother William IV. This meant the throne passed to his daughter in 1837 who became Queen Victoria, one of Britain’s longest reigning monarchs. Despite the sons of George III being disappointed in not being able to provide him with a male grandchild, it almost seems natural after the death of Charlotte that the grandchild that follows him to the throne would be a queen. And one that placed a descendant in nearly all the remaining ruling houses of Europe.

(Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbell1975/6118587664)

Political Unrest in Russia: The Abdication of Nicholas II

Nikolai Aleksandrovich, known as Tsar Nicholas II, was the last Russian Emperor and a member of the illustrious Romanov dynasty that had sat on the imperial throne since the early seventeenth century. Born on the 18th of May in Tsarskoye Selo, now Pushkin, Nicholas was born to rule only to die in a bloody revolution designed to end the formal monarchy of Russia. Nicholas II was the son and heir of his predecessor Tsarevich Aleksandr Aleksandrovich and his consort the Dagmar of Denmark Maria Fyodorovna, and his succeeded his father in Moscow on May 26th 1896. As a child Nicholas was trained to be an excellent military officer but his intellectual skills were inadequate to be prepared for the role of emperor. It is well documented that he possessed a good personality, but naturally shy with a compulsion to remain within the privacy of the family quarters instead of socialising with the court subjects. His close family was intimate and happy since Nicholas had a genuine affection and love for his wife Alexandra whom he married two years before his ascension on 26th November 1894. Alexandra was the stronger of the two in temperament and was the leader in their religious guidance during their marriage and reign. However well his family circle functioned the political undercurrents of court life was rumbling with discontent. Nicholas had a tendency to lean on favourites, to distrust his ministers, and to believe his right to rule was derived from the outdated notion of Divine Right and absolutism that had already seen the fall of the French monarchy.

The year running up to the 18th March 1917 had several upheavals close in on the Russian imperial family, their downfall and eventual execution in 1918. Nicholas II had run through a series of ministers that had presented the emperor with a skewed perception of common Russian life that he preferred to what he read in the official reports that landed in his office. His belief in autocratic rule meant that he never attempted to produce policies to aid his government and people. Russia maintained the medieval ideology of feudalism and the people being closely tied to the land ensured a limited measure of freedom. This meant that the people’s faith in the imperial monarchy was low and morale sank lower during Russia’s involvement in World War One from 1914. Nicholas as a monarch has interests in Balkans and attempted to salve peace within the great powers of Europe, however the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo meant Nicholas’ resistance to war ended in the mobilization of Russian troops. Yet this war would see Russia falling from being a world power to an economic and military failure. In the years running up to the world war Nicholas II had been to seen to be the blame for several catastrophes from the execution of multiple political opponents, the instigation of the Russo-Japanese War, a very violent defeat for the leaders of the 1905 Revolution, and links with England attempting to suppress the power of Germany.

One of the reasons the people grew increasing disaffected with the imperial monarchy was the lack of order and control to the Russian army who had already seen a recent war with Japan. The imperial army lost approximately over three million soldiers, lack of food and supplies alongside poor management from the higher level military leaders. As the government failed to provide for their own army and citizens, riots and rebellions grew in frequency, particularly with Nicholas away, and authority crumbled. There had been several attempts at constitutional reform to become more similar to the role of parliament in Britain  but they were resisted. The increasingly isolation of the Tsar to his ministers prevented anything meaningful taking place.

The Russians began the war in the strong position in regards to supplies, but by 1917 severe winters had caused a standstill in railways, emergency shipments of coal and the treasury being depleted significantly. On the 23rd February 1917 the citizens of Petrograd resorted to stealing and rioting which slowly spread to other cities all with the aim to gain the attention and bring down the Tsar. With the best of the militia dead the police created a forced recruitment and gave them very little training. Although the police and militia deployed fired into the air rather than the mob of over twenty thousand that had formed they were not deterred but reinforcements from Nicholas’ base were too late. On the 12th of March the Volinsky Regiment mutinied which led to successive rebellions within the militia to join the mob themselves. Nicholas II knew that the situation was die when the imperial guards loyalists the Preobrazhensky Regiment formed under Peer the Great also turned their anger against the Tsar. By the end of the day sixty thousand soldiers had joined the revolution to march against the Tsar.

Up against such numbers members of government, the Duma and the Soviet attempted to restore order with provisional preparations. The most significant order was that Nicholas II was to abdicate and create a clean slate for ruling Russia. Nicholas II faced the decision with the threat of civil war, the army generals pushing for abdication and his citizens deprived of food with his family in the hands of the Soviet.

Nicholas II abdicated on the 15th March 1917, thus formally ending what is now known as the February Revolution. Originally he had abdicated in the favour of his son Alexei who was weak but soon the aim of the revolution was to force the whole imperial family into exile. The ideology of whether Russia should remain in the hands of the monarchy or become a republic was put to a vote by the people. Nicholas’ abdication and further revolution by the Bolsheviks would formally bring the end of the Romanov dynasty that had lasted three centuries. By October 2017 the last Romanov imperial family were imprisoned.

If you would like more information one of the best Romanov biographers is Simon Sebag Montifiore whose books are available on amazon and in most booksellers.

Who Was China’s Last Emperor?

When you think of China in the modern-day, you think of a communist/socialist state, a place of beauty with the Great Wall, and a country whose cuisine has spread worldwide. However there was a time when China did have its own emperor, and was not ran by either the Japanese or Mao.

Image of Henry Pu Yi

Henry Pu Yi was born on the 7th February 1906, and at the age of 2 years and 10 months was chosen by his predecessor Empress Dowager Cixi on her deathbed. Known as the Xuangong Emperor, his start to the reign did not go quite to plan: Puyi was taken from his family residence kicking and screaming by palace guards, leading to the eunuch needing to be sent to calm him down.

His father, Prince Chun became the Prince Regent, but could do little to stop the new Emperor from making a scene during his coronation. After developing a close relationship to his nurse, barely ever seeing his own biological mother, and saw her till the age of 8. However, getting all that power from such a young age, and being treated like a king had a negative affect on Puyi, who would feel distant from everyone around him, regularly having his eunuchs beaten for small things.

An Image of 3 Year old Puyi

As Emperor, he aimed to reform the Household Department, replacing the old aristocratic officers with outsiders, appointing Zheng Xiaoxu as the minister of the Household Department, who then hired Tong Jixu. Jixu was a former Air Force pilot, and as Chief of Staff was meant to clean up Puyi’s government. However the reforms did not go to plan, and Puyi was later forced out of the Forbidden City by Feng Yuxiang, who would later go onto be Vice Premier of the Republic of China.

Image of Feng Yuxiang

The Xinhai Revolution of 1911, which consisted many revolts and uprisings saw the end of the Chinese Imperial Dynasty, and Puyi’s reign. On the 12th February 1912,  a 6-year-old Puyi became the last Chinese Imperial Empire, marking the end of 2000 years of Imperial rule. Signed with the new Republic of China, he was able to retain his title, but would be treated like a foreign monarch, a similar agreement that Italy held with the pope. Puyi and his Imperia court were allowed to remain in the Northern half of the Forbidden City, as well as in the Summer Palace: all put in the Articles of Favourable treatment released on the 26th December 1914.

Although Puyi was restored in 1917 through warlord Zhang Xun, it was to only last from the 1st July to the 12th, a move which grew mass opposition across China, and would later lose Puyi his privileges put in place by the Articles of Favourable Treatment. In 1925, Puyi was moved to the Japanese Conession of Tianjin, spending time in the Zhang Garden and then the Garden of Serenity. Though he may have been pushed out of China, he was never too far away from politic, with discussions to reinstate him coming and going.

Image of Zhang Xun

After discussions with the ever-growing Japanese army Puyi was instated as a puppet ruler of Manchuko (1932-1945). In public, Puyi bared no sentiment towards the Japanese, but in private resented being made head of state/emperor. This is emphasised through his enthronement, where the Japanese wanted him to wear Manchuko-style uniform, but Puyi wanted to wear his traditional clothing. In the end, a compromise was met, seeing Puyi wear Western style uniform. From 1935-45, there were many assassination attempts on Puyi, including being stabbed in 1937 by a palace servant. All in all, his role as Emperor was limited, with Puyi’s wartime duties including sitting through Chinese-Language Shinto prayers.

After the war the Soviets sent Puyi to a sanatorium on the Soviet/Chinese border, and stayed there till the Communists took over China. Though Mao’s cultural revolution in 1966 looked to threaten Puyi, old age eventually caught up with him, and he died of Kidney cancer and heart disease in 1967 at the age of 61.

It’s easy to see why history forgot Puyi: unlike Tsar Nicholas II, he didn’t have much opportunity to mess up as badly, and control always seemed to be out of his hands. Given that he was on the throne at such a young age, it was hard for him to put his mark on history.

Twice a Queen: Emma of Normandy

Much is known of England’s powerful queen consorts, from Eleanor Aquitaine to Elizabeth Woodville to Anne Boleyn but little is known about the woman who arguably was one of the first of England’s powerful queen consorts, along with her mother in law Ælfthryth. Emma of Normandy was queen consort of England twice, first to Æthelred the Unready and secondly to Cnut the Great. She was the mother to two kings of England, Harthacnut and Edward the Confessor.  Her continued hold on power was due to her determined will which saw her survive the death of both husbands and several sons. The Encomium Emmae Reginae written in honour of her recorded her as a central figure during this period and is one of the major sources. Her position as a daughter of Normandy has also led to her marriage to Æthelred being considered as one of the main events leading to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

Born to Richard I, Count of Rouen, and his wife Gunnor, Emma was born sometime during the 980s. Her brother Richard was Duke of Normandy and another brother Robert was Archbishop of Rouen. Her family’s position was what led to Emma’s marriage to Æthelred in 1002 as a result of an arrangement between the two territories against Viking raids. Emma dutifully provided 3 heirs for Æthelred but her power was limited during her marriage to him. While she seems to appear more during Æthelred’s reign compared to his first wife, such as appearing prominently on witness lists of Æthelred’s charters, William of Malmesbury reported that the pair never got along. Emma was forced to return to Normandy with her two sons in 1013 after her husband lost control of England to Swein Forkbeard and was only unable to return upon his death the following year. By 1016, Æthelred himself had died and Emma had been unsuccessful in convincing him to pass over his sons from his first wife in favour of Edward.

Æthelred’s heir Edmund Ironside however did not survive long, dying at the end of 1016 after struggling to hold off Cnut. Emma soon married Cnut in a mutually beneficial marriage. She retained her position as queen as well preserving the life of her two sons while Cnut benefitted from Emma being seen as symbol of continuity and quelling the threat from Normandy. Emma was afforded a far greater position as Cnut’s wife than she was during her marriage to Æthelred. Sources refer to the couple as pair and Emma also appears in royal imagery such as in the Liber Vitae which includes an image depicting Emma and Cnut presenting their gift of a cross on the altar of the New Minster of Winchester. The Encomium Emmae Reginae also comments that while the marriage began as one for political means, that the marriage became affectionate. By the time Cnut died in 1035, the marriage had provided two children, including Cnut’s heir Harthacnut.

Upon Cnut’s death Emma did not cede her political power. She focused on ensuring that her son with Cnut, Harthacnut could maintain power. Harthacnut however was in Denmark and made little attempt to come to England. Emma was forced to appeal to her sons from her marriage to Æthelred, Edward and Alfred, to come to England to help support her against her opponents. However upon their arrival they were betrayed by allies leading to the death of her son Alfred who died after having his eyes gouged out. Emma was forced to flee to Flanders as her stepson Harold Harefoot took control of England. Upon Harefoot’s death in 1040, Harthacnut had finally joined his mother and the two set sail to England to reclaim the throne.

Harthacnut’s reign was not popular according to the C and E texts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Emma is believed to have convinced Edward to return to England to help reduce tensions but to also strengthen her position. It was during Harthacnut’s reign that she commissioned the Encomium Emmae Reginae, to present her version of events and create a lasting legacy of her life. Emma firmly places the blame for her son Alfred’s death on Harold the Harefoot. Despite the work’s biases, it is considered an important source for 11th century English and Scandinavian history.

Upon the death of Harthacnut’s in 1042, Emma’s power began to decrease. Despite having helped secure Edward’s position, perhaps as a result of her favouring Harthacnunt as heir, their relationship soured. Edward came to Winchester seizing the treasure held there, if it was Emma’s own or the royal treasury is not clear, as well as her advisor Bishop Stigand who was stripped of his office. While Emma would later return to court, and Stigand would also be promoted, it was the end of her influence. In her place the Earl Godwine gained her political power, despite his probable role in the death of Edward’s brother, Alfred. Emma would see him become exiled before she died in 1052 but after her death he returned to power and his son became the ill-fated Harold Godwinson.

When Emma died in 1052, she was buried at Winchester next to Cnut and Harthacnut. She had been queen consort of England twice over, as well as when married to Cnut, queen consort of Denmark and Norway. Two of her sons had also successfully obtained the English throne. In the case of her second husband and her two sons she had been instrumental in their success. Despite not being of English birth and being a woman, Emma navigated the dangers of the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish courts in securing a position for herself. For a queen consort with such an interesting life, Emma deserves much more than a footnote in the history books.

The life and times of the Court dwarf

This post will discuss what the role of the Court dwarf, loosely covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It will do this by focusing on two specific case studies of arguably the most prominent; Jeffrey Hudson at the English court and in exile of Henrietta Maria and Nicolas Ferry at the court of King Stanislaw I of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania at the Lunéville.

Jeffrey Hudson (1619- c.1682)-

Jeffrey Hudson was the court dwarf of Henrietta Maria and arrived at her London residence at Denmark House in 1626. He spent much of his early life in Rutland before he came to the attention of Henrietta Maria and Charles I. Hudson was originally accustomed with the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham and lived in their household. In the same year they were entertaining Charles and Henrietta Maria in London and took Hudson with them. It was at this moment that Henrietta Maria was said to have expressed much interest about Hudson when he was presented to her. It was a rather extravagant entrance as he was said to have appeared out of a pie! At this point Henrietta Maria was delighted by this and the Duke and Duchess decided Hudson should live with Henrietta Maria as a gift.

Hudson became rather famous in courtly life, it should be added that it was not a rarity at the time for those at court to be entertained by court dwarfs but in Hudson’s case he was unique at the time. He was unique in the way, considering his stature people were in awe of the way that his features were evenly proportioned. Hudson soon garnished much attention at court through acting in plays in roles that were usually in striking and elaborate roles, in which he were elaborate dress designed by a favourite patron of Henrietta Maria, Indigo Jones. It can also be said that Hudson was patronised by Henrietta Maria as well in the sense that she provided him with a means to support himself through theatre, dance and comedic performance. In addition he was educated in court culture through receiving lessons in French, fencing, shooting and equestrian skills.

It also appeared that their relationship was genuine in the sense that both Henrietta Maria and Hudson appeared to have a good friendship in England, whereby Hudson attended the Catholic services with Henrietta Maria and that considering it took her a long time to acquire English language proficiency, knowing that Hudson took French lessons certainly helped cement their friendship. It is reasonably fair to state that prior to the turbulent years of Civil War that gripped the country that Hudson through the many performances he gave to courtiers was exceptionally popular and well liked on the whole. The most popular of the roles he played arguably inspired the story of Tom Thumb, whereby Hudson was in one performance kept inside a large pocket of William Evans. Evans was said to have measured 7’ 6”. Taking into consideration the time period, this was an exceptionally height. Perhaps by even today’s standards it is well above average height but, considering the monarch Charles I was said to have measured around 4ft, naturally it would have been perceived as ‘giant’ height, and hence he was cast as playing a Giant in this performance. Alternatively if we take into account the rise in Puritan ideals amongst the proprietor class it is easy to see how something as simple as court gaiety angered those who affiliated themselves with Puritan ideals.

When war ensued the Court abandoned London. Hudson remained loyal to Henrietta Maria and King Charles I, when Henrietta Maria left the country for Holland to pawn jewellery in return for arms he went with her. After approximately a year of doing this he did return with Henrietta Maria and rendezvoused at Oxford with Charles. At this point in time it was a Royalist stronghold where he had set up his Court before the Siege of Oxford before June 1646.

However this friendship did not last when Henrietta Maria fled to France after believing she was likely to be captured by the Earl of Essex after giving birth to another daughter in the South-West of England. Hudson just like in 1642, left with her along with other aids. Later more Royalists decided to do the same, one of them by the name of Charles Crofts got into a dispute with Hudson. Hudson was angered by the way Crofts was insulting his stature and challenged him to a duel as a result of this, it resulted in the death of Crofts. As a consequence of Hudson’s actions this ended up being a disaster for him, for he had killed a Cavalier. This did not look good for Hudson in terms of legality as it was against the law to duel in France and he very easily could have been executed for this offence. The last thing Henrietta Maria did do for him at least was spare him of this sanction, Hudson was exiled instead back to England. However not much was initial known of his movements after his expulsion apart from the fact that at some point he was on a ship captured by Barbary pirates. Hudson was used as a slave to labour in North Africa for 25 years before he was rescued when Charles II assumed the throne.

Nicolas Ferry (1741–1764)-

Nicolas Ferry was the court dwarf of King Stanislaw Leszczyński and was commonly referred to as Bébé at court. Ferry was born in France to a farming family and like Hudson, according to contemporary accounts from portraits it appeared as if his limbs were in proportion to his height. Political instability was rife in Poland during the early-eighteenth century when Stanislaw was on the throne, there appeared to be a power struggle between him and Augustus II. Augustus was king before Stanislaw, but Stanislaw was voted in by the Diet (Polish Parliament) to become King of Poland. This was because Royal elections were held in Poland as opposed to inheriting the title of king. However, Stanislaw was soon ousted out of Poland but he nevertheless remained the Duke of Lorraine and had his court at Lunéville. This was where Ferry spent the majority of his time and unlike Hudson, Ferry remained at Stanislaw’s court at Lunéville.

Again much like Hudson he was acquired by Stanislaw and later Ferry was said to have been a gift to Stanislaw’s wife. Ferry attracted much attention at court and was popular with many of the ladies who arrived. In return for Ferry living in the Leszczyński household, Stanislaw paid Ferry’s family for him to be the court dwarf at Lunnéville. Unlike Hudson there was no evidence to suggest he was interested in education as it was discussed previously how Hudson was educated in the French language. Ferry had tutors but it appeared that Ferry had no interest in education as some accounts suggest he was illiterate. In this sense it can be argued his sole purpose was to entertain at court. In spite of Stanislaw providing Ferry tutors to no effect he, nevertheless was said to have doted on him as he provided him with a purpose-built wooden house attached to Stanislaw’s residence, the Chateau de Lunéville. Ferry had a mischievous and playful nature at court often by carrying out practical jokes on individuals at court and he was arguably a popular attraction that entertained the likes of even Voltaire.

However, there is one similarity he did share with Hudson. It was said he was jealous of another Polish dwarf, Józef Boruwłaski and allegedly attacked him. Boruwlaski toured Europe with his master the Countess Humiecka and on their travels they visited the court of Stanislaw in Lunéville. It is unknown for certain why this occurred but what we do know is that Boruwłaski was well versed, intelligent and witty. Not to mention that many courtiers recognised these characteristics of Boruwłaski, which were not attributed to Ferry. This in a way explains why Ferry acted the way he did. Ferry perhaps felt threatened by the arrival of Boruwłaski who excelled in courtly demeanour. The similarity lies in the way that both Ferry and Hudson grew jealous of others and that there was evidence that they both striked their opponents. However, Ferry did not kill his opponent. Additionally, in spite of Ferry being punished for his behaviour through being whipped he was not expelled from court unlike Hudson. The major difference with Ferry was that he was not expelled from court. After this episode Ferry was still very much at the forefront of court gaiety. Eventually it was Ferry’s health that prevented him from partaking in court activities, he developed a hunchback in his early twenties and there was speculation that his body tissue started to waste away as a result of premature ageing. He died aged 22.

Revisiting Burckhardt’s Italian Despot – The Este and Borgia Families

Once again, I have found myself revisiting some old research. You may know already that around 2010 I was particularly keen on the Renaissance  – repressed art historian at the core, what could you expect? Having spent some time analysing the different Italian factions of this period, I came across Buckhardt – as you should if you are looking into this topic!- and ended doing some research on some of the most prominent Italian families and their rulers. Therefore, today I will revisit my early ideas as a student of the Italian magnates and their power politics.

Jacob Burckhardt presents his model of Italian despot in his book The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. According to him, the despotism in Italy was different from the system of tyrannies established in these states during the 13th and early 14th centuries. “The earliest firm tyrannies in important towns were achieved by feudatories who owed their position in part to alliances with Frederick II” – he says very eloquently. However with the Renaissance changes these dynamics. The despots were meant to seek for fame, have passion for arts and count scholars in their courts to give their like the other European princes. Theirs was an absolute power over their realm,  but their situation was delicate; the rule of a despot was brief. It was easy to make enemies, and family interests could be either one’s salvation or condemnation. For reasons I cannot fully remember, my investigation then went to focus on two main families, d’Este and the Borgia. So the following lines will try to compare their strategies as families, and how this is reflected by their leaders.

D’Este

They controlled a considerably big area configured by the cities of Modena, Reggio, Rovigo and Ferrara, which would be the capital of their realm. Their interest in this region grew since 1185 when Azzo d’Este married Machellesa degli Adelardi, who was the heiress of her family’s properties there. The Este developed good diplomatic skills and administrative bureaucracy which, in addition to the control of rural-agrarian economy instead of commerce, gave them a lot of power, as well as a firm grip over the rich people in their land. Furthermore, they also knew that maintaining the public order and making their citizens happy was a major issue, crucial indeed to avoid rebellions. Due to this The Este cared for the food supply, flood control and irrigation, as well as for the provision of an effective judicial system, religious and philanthropic works and entertainment of their areas of influence. The family found a strong leader in  Ercole d’Este Following Buckhardt’s teaching, it appears that he possessed many of the characteristics that later on Machiavelli would appoint in Il Principe. He was well-known for using his family members for representation, alliance and marriage, which made him a very well-connected and supported ruler.

The Este were remarkable in the flourishing art patronage of the Renaissance and for this reason their main competition were the Medicci.  Ercole’s role in this is particularly important as he promoted the revival of classical theatre, and supported the Boiardo’s poetry, and focussed on creating a magnificent ducal capital. In addition, the family also had ties with the church. In fact, Borso d’Este played a major role in the patronage of the Carthusian order in Ferrara. I guess it could be said that the spirit of the Este family based on strong family unity, patronage of the arts and religion is encompassed in the monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which became their burial site.

The Borgia

The Borgia’s success was mainly due to the links they established within the church, and it is precisely Pope Alexander VI, or Rodrigo Borgia, who made them powerful. But the Borgia’s control was flawed in nature. Although it is true that the  Papal States had become a vast thanks to Alexander and his son, Cesare, the authority that the pope had varied from one city to another. Religion was at the stakes – The Reformation drew near. Meanwhile, the Borgia aimed for a centralised government, especially outside the Romagna, which they had recently conquered. This centralisation was based mostly on their ability to amass large quantities of money. Alexander managed to collect large amounts of wealth due to new taxes, heavy tithe rates, retributions from cardinals, etc. Violence was also their friend. Conquering the Romagna was no easy task, but with Alexander’s money, Cesare managed to rise an army capable of great military success. The militia from this area was meant to be an instrument of unification and a demonstration of local support, but it rather looked like forceful conscription in the modern sense. And so, the problems began…the French invasions, the rebellion in Umbria, the problematic pilgrims of the 1500 Jubilee…And yet, the crusade against the Turks was somewhat successfull.Art patronage does not seem one of their main concerns. It is known that the Pope Calixtus III, the first Borgia pope, had no dedication to art patronage rather that the eventual reconstruction of ruined churches[28], while Alexander seemed more dedicated to his iconographic project of the Virgin. So this makes one wonder, if the Borgia cause was a family business, or rather a means to complete individual pretensions. Some scholars support the idea that both Alexander and Cesare used Lucrezia Borgia (daughter and sister respectively) for their political gains through arranged marriages. Yet after two troublesome relationships, the woman ends up married to Alfonso d’Este, much to her interest rather than that of her relatives – by this union she would become duchess of Este, not just the daughter of the Pope…Alexander, and so Cesare, had been more identified in the way of a ruler of the Middle Ages rather than of the Renaissance. Despite the presence of remarkable people in their court such as Machiavelli or Leonardo Da Vinci, they seem to lack the “renaissance” experienced elsewhere in Italy. The way they took control and power seemed ruthless and aggressive. They were more alike with the so-called tyrants than despots per se.

So, upon reflecting on my work, this makes me know think that, although Buckhardt’s premises are a great basis to understand the Renaissance politics of Italy, his idea of the despot does not seem to find common ground among all these people. In addition, I do not think anymore that this is a particularly useful way of understanding the political dynamics of Italy in this period. The concept of the Italian despot seems to miss the wider picture in which these people developed their strategies that suited them best for the sake of competition and survival of their regime. Of course, this is based on just two families, but with a little research in the Medicci or the Sforza, one can only wonder if there was such a thing as the ultimate Italian despot, or rather a multiplying configuration of regional, powerful magnates driven by individual thought and family agendas.

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PS: for this I have quite an extensive bibliography of works that made me reconsider Buckhardt’s concept, and this is what my reassessment is based upon, but any comments are of course welcomed, as this is not even remotely my specialty nowadays…This is just a selection of those I perhaps found most interesting or useful/insightful.

Burckhardt, J., The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, (New York, 1960) – where you should start, preferably.

Tuohy, T., Herculean Ferrara: Ercole d’Este (1471-1505) and the Invention of a Ducal Capital, (Cambridge, 1995) – This is the real deal. Solid arguments, in-depth analysis, different perspectives on the argument.

Gundersheimer, L.W., Ferrara: a Style of a Renaissance Despotism, (Princeton; N.J, 1973) – perhaps a bit outdated now? But it does provide a nice complement to Tuohy from a more descriptive and traditional approach.

Mallet, M., The Borgias: Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Dynasty, (London, 1969) – Again, I know it’s an old book, but like Buckhardt, it does establish the grounds for the understanding of the Borgia enterprise.

Gwynne, N.M., The Truth about Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, (Sainte Croix du Mont, 2008) – quite blunt review of the Borgias, a bit sensationalist even I would say, but some interesting theories regarding personal identity and the Pope as both religious leader and head of family

Bradford, S., Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, (London, 2004) – perhaps too focussed on her amorous affairs than her actual identity and power. However, as a biographical piece it does comprise her entire life, and explores the ambiguities of her background as a “legitimate Borgia”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King John: Is History a bit unfair?

Welcome to another Blog post. This may seem weird to you, after all, I’m not really known for my posts on Medieval history (well I’m not known at all really!), but after some of the people at the blog made fun of my lack of writing on this subject, I’d thought I would rise to the challenge and write about something which I remember very well from when I was at school all those years ago. Therefore a post about King John is what I bring you today. My main aim here is to not necessarily open your eyes to any new information, far from it, but to challenge your perspectives on the king who signed the Magna Carta.

So I would assume and argue that most of us know our information about King John from the tales of Robin Hood, you know, those stories which probably were made up, or at least was an amalgamation of a few from different counties, brought together by the print revolution. So even academics who go into this field of study will most likely go in with an already biased interpretation based of a tale which can hardly be trusted for accuracy. So when we look at him, we must remember to try to banish all thoughts of Robin Hood to start with.

When we compare him with his brother, I get the feeling that we praise Richard for really nothing and attack for John for a failing family. Richard was hardly ever in England, and couldn’t even speak the language, how can we then say he was a good king? He was too busy fighting in the crusades to deal with the problems in his own country. Therefore perhaps John inherited a country that was already in trouble. John was well learnt, he studied and could speak the language of the country that he was in charge of. Therefore to class him as a bad king, seems a bit unfair, surely? He at least tried to sort things out unlike his brother.

John also gave more to the poor than those before him, again I’m no expert on this, but I’m sure I have read that John gave the most, so does this show him to be a caring king? He also could be argued to be the founding father of the English navy, although as an early modernist, I find that a tedious claim, as navies really found their footing in the seventeenth century! But he set up ports and saw the construction of some kind of navy that would later have a great impact in our national identity.

The defeats in the army can hardly be put on him, more of an unlucky King, after all if the battles are analysed in detail, it can be seen that perhaps it wasn’t him necessarily being bad, but unfortunate circumstances being the main problem. So perhaps, before we start judging and pointing out fingers and thinking how bad he is, ask ourselves perhaps there were reasons and circumstances that lead to what happened.

I hear you say, what about the Magna Carta, oh that document, the one that poor john is forever known as signing. The document which is known as the start of our constitution, and always quoted somehow. Well I think the circumstances that he was in and the problems he faced made this inevitable, I think that the rising taxes for the failing army and military campaigns would of course cause problems.

To class him as a tyrannical, evil King is unjust, and shows a failure to look at other Kings and Queens of this time, to properly understand the circumstances and to understand the pressures to be a King. I am always hesitant to judge the past by present standards, and you could argue well he has never been liked, but my argument is that his perception of him has always been skewed and when we do proper do an in-depth study, we must not go in with pre conceived ideas.

History of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Picture above showing my Blenheim coloured Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Charlie. The name Blenheim was used for the chestnut and white coloured coatings of the breed. The name was to honour John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough as he had many of the King Charles Spaniel Variety in the chestnut and whit colour.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a Pedigree dog and a member of the Toy dog group according to the British Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club. The breed is commonly mistaken for the King Charles Spaniel often, however there are clear differences between both breeds making them distinct. The snout of the Cavalier is longer, whereas the snout of the King Charles is similar to that of a Pug (nose squashed on to the face). Historically the main purpose for the breed was to be a lap dog for the wealthy. This was the usual requirement for small toy breeds like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in order to keep their owners warm and to transfer their fleas to the hairs of the dog. The breed was said to have been a favourite of Charles II of England that he went so far as to sign a decree that enabled the breed to be recognised as a royal breed. This entitled the breed to enter public buildings, even the Houses of Parliament. This decree lasted through Charles II’s reign and was even in effect up until the reign of his successor James II.

However the popularity for the breed soon waivered as William and Mary preferred Toy Spaniels with shorter snouts. This changed the physical appearance of the dog that was associated with the time of Charles II. Yet in the nineteenth century Queen Victoria’s Toy Spaniel Dash appeared to look very much like the dogs of Charles II, with the longer snout according to portraits. However it was not until the 1920s that the revival of the traditional of Charles II’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel came into place. In the early 1920s an American, Roswell Eldridge came to England for the Crufts dog show, disappointed to learn that the version of Charles II’s Toy Spaniel was no longer in existence in England he decided to make a public advert that said he would offer prize money to a breeder who was successful in re-producing the traditional King Charles Spaniel. However it was not until 1928 when the prize money was given to a Miss Walker and the breed Cavalier King Charles was formed.

‘Blenheim Spaniels of the Old Type, as shown in pictures of Charles II’s time, long face, no stop, flat skull, not inclined to be domed with spot in centre of skull.  First prize of £25 in Class 947 and 948 are given by Roswell Eldridge Esq., of New York, USA.  Prizes go to nearest to type required.’The advertisement of Roswell Eldridge