February 11, 1462 Son of the Dragon

When a group of visiting Ottoman envoys declined to remove their turbans in Vlad’s court, the Prince ordered the turbans nailed to their heads.

Count Dracula, favorite of Halloween costume shoppers from time out of mind, has been around since the 1897 publication of Bram Stoker’s novel, of the same name.  Stoker’s working titles for the manuscript included “The Un-dead”, and “Count Wampyr”. He nearly kept one of them too, until stumbling into the real-life story of Vlad Țepeș (TSE·pesh), a Wallachian Prince and front-line warrior, against the Jihad of his day.

bram-stoker-draculaIn modern Romanian, “Dracul” means “The Devil”. In the old language, it meant “the Dragon”, the word “Dracula” (Drăculea) translating as “Son of the Dragon”.

Stoker wrote in his notes, “in Wallachian language means DEVIL“. In a time and place remembered for brutality, Vlad “the Impaler” Țepeș stands out for extraordinary cruelty. There are tales that Țepeș disemboweled his own mistress. That he collected the noses of vanquished adversaries. Some 24,000 of them. That he dined among forests of victims, spitted on poles. That he even impaled the donkeys they rode in on.

In 1436, Vlad II Dracul became Voivode (prince) of Wallachia, a region in modern-day Romania situated between the Lower Danube river and the Carpathian Mountains. The sobriquet “Dracul” came from membership in the “Order of the Dragon” (literally “Society of the Dragonists“), a monarchical chivalric order founded by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund in 1408, dedicated to stopping the Ottoman advance into Europe.

order-of-the-dragonA crossroads between East and West, the region was scene to frequent bloodshed, as Ottoman forces pushed westward into Europe and Christian forces pushed back..
A weakened political position left Vlad II no choice but to pay homage to Ottoman Sultan Murad II, in the form of an annual Jizya (tax on non-Muslims) and a contribution of 500 Wallachian boys to serve as Janissaries, the elite slave army at the center of Ottoman power.

Vlad was taken hostage by the Sultan in 1442 along with his two younger sons, Vlad III and Radu. The terms of the boys’ captivity were relatively mild by the standards of the time and the boys became skilled horsemen and warriors.  While Radu went over to the Turkish side, Vlad hated captivity and developed an incandescent hate for his captors. It would last him all of his days.

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II set his sights on the invasion of all Europe.

Vlad III gained the Wallachian throne three years later and immediately stopped all tribute to Sultan Mehmed II, by now risen to 10,000 ducats a year and 1,000 boys. When a group of visiting Ottoman envoys declined to remove their turbans in Vlad’s court, the Prince ordered the turbans nailed to their heads.

Vlad, Ottoman EnvoysVlad now consolidated power as his reputation for savagery, grew. According to stories circulated after his death, hundreds of disloyal Boyars (nobles) and their allies met their end, impaled on spikes.

The conqueror of Constantinople now amassed power of his own, setting his sights on campaigns against Anatolia, the Greek Empire of Trebizond and the White Sheep Turkomans of Uzun Hasan. Throughout this period, Romanian control of the Danube remained a thorn in his side.

Pope Pius II declared a new Crusade against the Ottoman in 1460, but Vlad Țepeș was the only European leader to show any enthusiasm. The Hungarian General and Ţepeş’ only ally Mihály Szilágyi was captured by the Turks, his men were tortured to death and Szilágyi himself sawed in half.

vlad-tepes--i101077Țepeș invaded the Ottoman Empire the following year. In a letter to Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus dated February 11, 1462, Țepeș wrote: “I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers…Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him (Sultan Mehmet II)”.

The Sultan invaded Wallachia at the head of a massive army, only to find a “forest of the impaled”. The Byzantine Greek historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles writes: “The sultan’s army entered into the area of the impalements, which was seventeen long and seven stades wide“.

To give a sense of scale to such a horror, a “stade” derives from the Greek “stadeon” – the dimensions of an ancient sports arena.

Vlad DraculaOutnumbered five-to-one, Ţepeş carried out a scorched earth policy, poisoning the waters, diverting small rivers to create marshes and digging traps covered with timber and leaves. He would send sick people among the Turks, suffering lethal diseases such as leprosy, tuberculosis and bubonic plague.

From his years in captivity, Ţepeş understood Ottoman language and customs as well as the Turks themselves. Absolutely fearless, he would disguise himself as a Turk and freely walk about their encampments.

On June 17, 1462, the Son of the Dragon launched a night attack on the Ottoman camp near the capital city of Târgoviște, in an effort to assassinate Mehmed himself. Knowing that the Sultan forbade his men from leaving their tents at night, a force of some 7,000 to 10,000 horsemen fell on Mehmed’s camp three hours after sunset. The skirmish lasted all night until 4 the next morning, killing untold numbers of Turks, their horses and camels. Ţepeş himself aimed for the Sultan’s tent, but mistook it for that of two grand viziers, Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha.

800px-AtaculdeNoapte
The Battle With Torches by Romanian painter Theodor Aman, depicting the The Night Attack of Târgovişte,

Mehmed II “The Conqueror” survived the Night Attack at Târgovişte. In the end, the Romanian principalities had little with which to oppose the overwhelming force of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad III Țepeș would twice be deposed only to regain the throne but never able to defeat his vastly more powerful adversary.

In the end, the Romanian principalities had little with which to oppose the overwhelming force of the Ottoman Empire. Vlad III Țepeș would be twice deposed only to regain power. Unable to defeat his more powerful adversary, Vlad was exiled for several years in Hungary, spending much of that time in prison.

Heaven help the unsuspecting rodent who fell into his hands, in that wretched cell.

Vlad

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.
Advertisements

February 8, 1943 The Gift of Valor

The Swedish-American poet Carl Sandburg once wrote “Valor is a gift.  Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.” 

e4fe77529e36fb9999c1c4e195929129For six hundred years, the Balkan states of Southeastern and Central Europe were conquered and unwilling subjects of foreign powers. First the Ottoman, and then the Austro-Hungarian Empires.

By the dawn of the 20th century, the dream of a single state for ethnic Serbs, Croats and Slovenes had been around for some two hundred years.

The spark that started WW1 and literally changed the world was struck by the “Black Hand”, a secret society dedicated to Serbian liberation, no matter what.

The dream of sovereignty took form and shape in the wake of WW1, the six constituent republics of the Socialist Republic (SR) of Bosnia and Herzegovina, SR Croatia, SR Macedonia, SR Montenegro, SR Serbia, and SR Slovenia merging to form the “Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes”.  A creation of the treaty ending the Great War, the place was referred to as the “Versailles State“, for the first ten years. The name was officially changed to Yugoslavia in 1929, literally translating as the “Land of all South Slavic peoples“.

tumblr_mzl45prz011stxu8xo2_500Lepa Svetozara Radić was born into this world on December 19, 1925.

From her earliest student days, Lepa Radić was known for dedication and hard work, a smart and serious girl, dedicated and reading well above grade level.

Radić developed strong left-of-center political views, taking influence from uncle Vladeta Radić, a strong proponent of the labor movement.

By that age when young teenage girls are thinking of other things, Radić had joined the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ). By the time she turned fifteen in 1941, she was a member of the Yugoslavian Communist Party.

As World War 2 enveloped the continent, a group of disaffected Yugoslav Army Air Force officers plotted to overthrow the government in Belgrade. The Cvetković government signed the Vienna protocol on March 25, 1941, signalling its intention to join the Tri-Partite pact of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. The bloodless coup d’état of two days later overthrew the Prince Regency of Paul Karađorđević, installing the pro-western, seventeen-year-old King Peter II, with encouragement and support from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Adolf Hitler was apoplectic, taking personal offense at the coup d’état.  Der Fuhrer had no interest in waiting to see if the new government would declare loyalty.  Hitler summoned his military advisers the same day, determined “to destroy Yugoslavia militarily and as a state” and to do so “with pitiless harshness.

The Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia was overwhelming, simultaneously launched from bases in Germany, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.  The Yugoslav state never had a chance.  It was all over, in eleven days.

gettyimages-92424114-612x612

The invasion was over in April, but not the Resistance.

With the German stranglehold in tight control of the towns and roadways, a Serbian resistance was quick to form in the wild mountains of the war torn nation.  Two of them really:  the Chetniks, dedicated to support of the Royal government in exile and the ferociously pro-Communist Partisans, under the leadership of Josip Broz “Tito.”

For the Radić family, there was no question of loyalty.  Lepa’s father Svetor and uncles Voja and Vladeta joined the Partisans in July, leading to the arrest of the entire family by the Ustashe, the fascist Nazi-puppet government of Yugoslavia.

lepa_radic_i_nemci__1502623485_44934-e1502623544936-780x300Resistance fighters freed the Radić family in weeks. That December, Lepa and her sister Dara officially joined the Partisans.

Though only fifteen, Lepa Radić was as fierce in her opposition to the Nazis, as any Partisan. She volunteered for the front lines, joining the 7th Partisan company of the 2nd Krajiski Detachment, transporting wounded and defenseless from the battlefield. Did I mention, she was fifteen years old.

1190617_lepa-radic_ls-sLepa was found out in February 1943, coordinating the rescue of 150 women and children attempting to flee the Nazis. She fired everything she had at attacking SS forces, but never had a chance. Lepa Radić was captured and sentenced to death by hanging, tortured for three days to extract information on Yugoslavian Resistance.

She gave up the cube root of zero.

She was brought to a hastily constructed gallows on February 8, 1943, and hanged in full view of the public.

Lepa_Radić_hangedMoments before her execution with the rope around her neck, Radić was offered a pardon. All she had to do, was give up the names of her Partisan comrades.

“I am not a traitor of my people”, she said. “Those whom you are asking about will reveal themselves when they have succeeded in wiping out all you evildoers, to the last man.”

Those were her last words.

The Swedish-American poet Carl Sandburg once wrote “Valor is a gift.  Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes.”

Were I ever to be half so egregiously tested, I hope I would prove myself half the man, as that seventeen-year-old girl.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

January 27, 47,981BC I, Neanderthal

Today, to call someone “Neanderthal” is to insult him as a stupid brute.  It appears that our cousin was nothing of the sort.

In the 17th century, the German Reformed Church teacher and hymn writer Joachim Neander liked to hike a valley outside of Düsseldorf. The beauty of nature was inspirational, clearing his mind and inspiring verses like:

“See how God this rolling globe/swathes with beauty as a robe…
Forests, fields, and living things/each its Master’s glory sings.”

The theologian contracted tuberculosis and died at the age of thirty.  And yet he lived on in a way, in the valley which came to bear his name.

Some 200 years later, three years before Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, workers quarrying limestone in the Neander Valley discovered an unusual skull.  This was no ordinary head, elongated and nearly chinless as it was, with heavy ridges over the eyes.  Heavy bones were found alongside  which fitted together, albeit oddly.

From top, clockwise: a) Neander Valley by Friedrich Wilhelm Schreiner, oil on cardboard, 1855, b) original bones discovered the following year, and c) Artist’s conception of what he looked like, H/T Artist: Kennis & Kennis Reconstructions

The state of archaeological science had much to learn in 1856.  Who knows, 22nd century historians and scientists may look back and say the same thing about us.  At the time, even to discern fossils from ordinary rock was beyond the ability of many scientists.

Scholars of the day had no shortage of theories. This was a lost Cossack, a bowlegged rider suffering from rickets, a painful condition resulting in weak and misshapen bones. To some, the life of pain resulting from such a condition made perfect sense, the bony eye ridges resulting from perpetually furrowed brow.

800px-neandertala_homo__modelo_en_neand-muzeo

British geologist William King suspected something radically different. This was no aberrant human being nor even a lost ancestor. This was a member of a long lost branch of humanity.   An extinct but parallel species to our own.  King published a paper in 1864 hypothesizing his idea of an evolutionary dead end, naming the long lost species after the poet who had once wandered the valley in which it was discovered.

bn-jj263_cavema_p_20150713194645

H/T, WSJ

He called it Homo Neanderthalensis: Neanderthal Man.

Today, to call someone “Neanderthal” is to insult him as a stupid brute.  It appears that our cousin was nothing of the sort.

thxsbryh8nThe hyoid bone at the floor of the mouth serves as a connecting-point for the tongue and other musculature, giving humans the ability to speak. A delicate structure likely to be lost in most fossilized specimens, the first Neanderthal hyoid was only discovered in 1989.

An international team of researchers analysed this fossil Neanderthal bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modelling and, yes.  Neanderthal could not only speak, but was capable of highly complex speech not unlike ourselves, though his voice was likely high and grating.  Certainly not the base grunting commonly associated with “cave-men”.

Neanderthal bodies were suited to the ice age of the early and middle Paleolithic era, shorter in stature and more robust, considerably more powerful than Cro-Magnon, our direct ancestor and all but indistinguishable from ourselves.

Neanderthal emerged on the Eurasian landmass, about 300,000 years ago.  The average female stood 5′ – 5’1″ and weighed 140-pounds, the average male about five inches taller and weighing in at 172.

neanderthal, mother and child

“Neanderthal sculptures, named Nana and Flint, at the Gibraltar Museum”. H/T Jaap Scheeren, New York Times

Neanderthal possessed  a brain only slightly smaller than Cro-Magnon, walked upright, formed and used simple tools and controlled fire.  They even buried their own dead, at least sometimes.  Some researchers theorize that they built boats and sailed the Mediterranean.  Imperfectly formed tools and weapons found alongside more sophisticated specimens even suggest he educated his children.

neanderthalchild1t
H/T Signs of the Times, Science & Technology

He might even fit in if you brought him back today, provided you dressed him right.

Despite all that, Neanderthal was an evolutionary dead end and not our ancestor, though he did “coexist” for about 5,000 years with our Cro-Magnon forebears.  The two even bred together and produced children, sometimes, the first such encounter taking place on this day, fifty thousand years ago.

Whether the happy couple had Barry White or Marvin Gaye playing in the cave, is lost to history.

Alright, I made that part up, but not the “coexist” part.  Our modern ancestors migrated from the African continent some 50,000 years ago, resulting in that first hookup somewhere on the Eurasian landmass.  It was far from the last.

range_of_neanderthalsacoloured

Known Neanderthal range, ca 300,000 years ago, to 35,000BC

Several years ago, Vanderbilt University Geneticists compared a genome-wide map of Neanderthal haplotypes, with a database of some 28,000 modern adults of European and Asian ancestry. The 2016 study published in the journal Science, reported that modern day Eurasians carry between 1½% to 4% of Neanderthal DNA.  

The study went on to postulate a range of traits relevant to disease risk in modern humans and linked back to Neanderthal DNA, including those which influence depression, obesity, mood disorders, skin disease and addiction.

20-physical-traits-you-may-have-inherited-from-a-neanderthal-300x300The idea isn’t as strange as it sounds. Last year, Sir Richard Branson was in the news, claiming  he’d looked into his family ancestry. Forty generations back, turns out Branson is related to Charlemagne.  It’s no big deal, according to Geneticist Adam Rutherford. Speaking at the Chalke Valley History Festival, Rutherford explained: “Literally every person in Europe is directly descended from Charlemagne. Literally, not metaphorically. You have a direct lineage which leads to Charlemagne,” adding “Looking around this room, every single one of you … is directly descended between 21 and 24 generations from Edward III.

Edward III of England exited this world a mere 689 years ago.  The time from which the last Neanderthal left the stage was fifty times that span.

1-occipital-bun-e1419459708298If you have European or Asian ancestry, the following traits might be a sign of your inner Neanderthal:

The “Occipital Bun” (I have one of those) is a knot of rounded bone, believed to have once anchored the massive neck and jaw muscles of Neanderthal.

c0dd5e736cc6ddebdf295b65d14c75e3The naturally large eyes of individuals such as Ukrainian model Masha Tyelna are believed to have been useful to Neanderthal, making their way in the dim light of northern latitudes.  In fact, Neanderthal may have used more brain power processing visual input:  an evolutionary disadvantage compared with early modern humans.

12-red-hair

One mutation in the main gene for hair color appears to come from Neanderthal, including a spectrum of red hair from auburn to carrot top to strawberry blond. Two to six per cent of modern Europeans have red hair, compared with 0.6%, worldwide. Red hair is much more prevalent in the British Isles. 10% to 13% of Irish and Scottish respectively have red hair, while 30% (Scotland) and 46% (Ireland) carry the gene.

I remember, before it turned gray, my beard was a screaming shade of red.

4ca8e48815353a6b541668666ebe924fFreckles?  Fair skin is more efficient at producing vitamin D from weak sunlight, an advantage for those living at northern latitudes. Freckles result from clusters of cells which overproduce melanin granules, triggered by exposure to sunlight. Freckles are found in a wide range of skin colors and ethnicity, but are most prevalent on fair complexions. It is a Neanderthal gene most common in Eurasians, among whom 70% are believed to carry the gene.

Having evolved for hundreds of thousands of years on the Eurasian landmass, Neanderthals developed the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) receptor, a gene complex responsible for immune system response to local pathogens. While the HLA receptor conferred an immunity advantage on modern humans, it rendered us more susceptible to a range of autoimmune conditions from Lupus to Crohn’s disease to increased risk for cancer and type 2 Diabetes.

Perhaps calling someone ‘Neanderthal’ isn’t such an insult, after all.  Maybe, there’s one peering out from the bathroom mirror.

article-2529822-1a1bd6a7000005dc-828_634x389

Feature image, top of page: Hat tip, CBSNews.com

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

January 21, 1793 Grande Princesse

Marie Antoinette is supposed to have said “Let them eat cake” (“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”) in response to the bread riots, but there’s no evidence she ever said such a thing.

Alliances came and went throughout 18th century Europe, and treaties were often sealed by arranged marriages. One such alliance took place in 1770 when Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and his wife Maria Theresa, the formidable Queen of Hungary and Bohemia, married their daughter Maria Antonia to Louis-Auguste, the son of Louis XV, King of France.

10053278The happy couple had yet to meet when the marriage was performed by proxy, the bride remaining in Vienna while the groom stayed in Paris. At 12 she was now the Dauphine, Marie Antoinette, wife of the 14-year-old Dauphin, future King of France.

There was a second, ceremonial wedding held in May, after which came the ritual bedding. This isn’t the couple quietly retiring to their own private space. This was the bizarre spectacle of a room full of courtiers, peering down at the proceedings to make sure the marriage was consummated.

It was not, and that failure did damage to both their reputations.

The people liked their new Dauphine at first, but the Royal Court was another story. Insiders had promoted several Saxon Princesses for the match, and called Marie Antoinette “The Austrian Woman”. She would come to be called far worse.

marie_antoinette_by_joseph_ducreuxThe stories you read about 18th century Court intrigue make you wonder how anyone lived like that. Antoinette was naive of the shark tank into which she’d been thrown. Relations were especially difficult with the King’s mistress, the Comtesse du Barry.  Antoinette was somehow expected to work them out.

The King’s daughters, on the other hand, didn’t care for du Barry’s unsavory relations with their father. Antoinette couldn’t win. The sisters complained of feeling “betrayed” one time, when Antoinette commented to the King’s mistress “There are a lot of people at Versailles today”.

Court intrigues were accompanied by reports to Antoinette’s mother in Vienna, the Empress responding with her own stream of criticism. The Dauphin was more interested in lock making and hunting, she wrote, because Antoinette had failed to “inspire passion” in her husband. The Empress even went so far as to tell her daughter that she was no longer pretty. She had lost her grace. Antoinette came to fear her own mother more than she loved her.

Louis-Auguste was crowned Louis XVI, King of France, on June 11, 1775. Antoinette remained by his side, though she was never crowned Queen, instead remaining Louis’ “Queen Consort”.

With her marriage as yet unconsummated, Antoinette’s position became precarious when her sister in law gave birth to a son and possible heir to the throne. Antoinette spent her time gambling and shopping, while wild rumors and printed pamphlets described her supposedly bizarre sexual romps.

marie-antoinette over the yearsFrance had serious debt problems in the 1770s, the result of endless foreign wars, but Antoinette received more than her share of the blame.

As first lady to the French court, Antoinette was expected to be a fashion trendsetter. Her shopping was in keeping with the role, but rumors wildly inflated her spending habits. Her lady-in-waiting protested that her habits were modest, visiting village workshops in a simple dress and straw hat. Nevertheless, Antoinette was rumored to have plastered the walls of Versailles with gold and diamonds.

The difficult winter of 1788-89 produced bread shortages and rising prices as the King withdrew from public life. The marriage had produced children by this time, but the legend of the licentious spendthrift and empty headed foreign queen took root in French mythology, as government debt overwhelmed the economy.

French politics boiled over in June 1789, leading to the storming of the Bastille on July 14. Much of the French nobility fled as the newly formed National Constituent Assembly conscripted men to serve in the Garde Nationale, while the French Constitution of 1791 weakened the King’s authority.

Food shortages magnified the unrest. In October, the King and Queen were placed under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace. In June they attempted to flee the escalating violence, but were caught and returned within days. Radical Jacobins exploited the escape attempt as a betrayal, and pushed to have the monarchy abolished altogether.

Unrest turned to barbarity in September 1792, with rumors of foreign and royalist armies, coming to oppose the revolution.  Between 1,370 to 1,460 prisoners were summarily “tried” and executed by the mob, in the first twenty hours.   Antoinette’s close friend and Lady in Waiting, the Princesse de Lamballe, was taken by the Paris Commune for interrogation. She was murdered at La Force prison, her head fixed on a pike and marched through the city.

death-of-the-princess-de-lamballe-by-leon-maxime-faivre
Léon-Maxime Faivre (1908) Death of the Princess de Lamballe

There would be 65 to 75 such incidents.

Louis XVI was charged with treason against the First Republic in December, found guilty and executed by guillotine on January 21, 1793.  He was 38.

Marie-Antoinette became prisoner #280, her health deteriorating in the following months. She suffered from tuberculosis by this time and was frequently bleeding, possibly from uterine cancer.

massacre_à_la_salpêtrière
Thirty five women were dragged from the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, and murdered

Antoinette was taken from her cell on October 14 and subjected to a sham trial, the outcome of which was never in doubt. She was accused of molesting her own son, a charge so outrageous that even the market women who had stormed the palace demanding her entrails in 1789, spoke in her support. “If I have not replied”, she said, “it is because nature itself refuses to respond to such a charge laid against a mother.”

guillotineMarie-Antoinette’s hair was cut off on October 16, 1793. She was driven through Paris in an ox cart, taken to the Place de la Révolution, and executed by decapitation. She accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot on mounting the scaffold. Her last words were “Pardon me sir, I meant not to do it”.

Marie Antoinette is supposed to have said “Let them eat cake” (“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”) in response to the bread riots, but there’s no evidence she ever said such a thing.  It’s completely out of character and, despite her lavish lifestyle, she had always displayed sensitivity toward the poor people of France.

The phrase appears in the autobiography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Les Confessions”, attributed to a “Grande Princesse” whom the book declines to name, but is probably Maria Theresa, of Spain. Considering the lifetime of cheap and mean-spirited gossip to which Marie Antoinette was subjected, it’s easy to believe that this was more of the same.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

January 14, 1699 Witchcraft Hysteria

The witchcraft hysteria launched by the Spanish Inquisition would dwarf what was to come in the English colony.

Four years before the Salem witch trials of 1692, Goodwife Ann “Goody” Glover and her young daughter worked as housekeepers, for the Goodwin family of Boston.   13-year-old Martha, one of the Goodwin girls, accused the younger Glover of stealing fabric. Ann’s daughter ran out in tears, which earned Martha a rebuke from Ann Glover. Four of the five Goodwin children soon began to writhe and carry on in a manner destined to become familiar, four years later. Their doctor concluded “nothing but a hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of these maladies.”

The following trial, contained no small amount of anti-Catholic bigotry. Cotton Mather, the socially and politically influential New England Puritan minister called Glover “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholick and obstinate in idolatry.”

Glover’s Gaelic was far better than her English, and the two “Irish speakers” hired to translate, probably made some of it up as they went along.  For Ann Glover, the final straw was her inability to complete the Lord’s Prayer. What may seem to the modern mind as mere doctrinal differences were at one time matters of life-and-death. As a Catholic, she was either unable or unwilling to complete the prayer with the Protestant doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen”. It doesn’t exist in the Catholic recitation.

Ann Glover was hanged as a witch on November 16, 1688.

5554327958_7c0274e293_o-700x900
The Great Elm of Boston Common, toppled in a storm in 1876, once served as the city’s hanging tree.

The witchcraft hysteria to strike Massachusetts’ North Shore communities of Danvers, Ipswich, Andover and Salem four years later ended the lives of five men and fourteen women at the end of a rope, on Gallows Hill. As many as 17 more died in the tiny, freezing stone compartments that passed for jail cells. 81-year-old Giles Cory was “pressed” to death over two days and nights, as rocks were piled on his chest to extract his confession. Knowing that his possessions were forfeit to his tormentor should he confess; Cory’s only response was “more weight”.

A persistent myth holds that victims of the Salem witchcraft hysteria were burned at the stake, but English law in the North American colonies, forbade it. All the convicted witches of 1692, died by hanging.

Not so one hundred years earlier, across the Atlantic. The witchcraft hysteria launched by the Spanish Inquisition would dwarf what was to come in the English colony.

The Spanish Inquisition was one of several such inquisitions, launched to root out “heretics” between the 12th and 19th centuries. The Inquisitional system was based on ancient Roman law and carried out by the Latin church from Mexico to Peru to the Portuguese colony of Goa, in India. The overwhelming majority of sentences handed down by the inquisition, demanded penances such as wearing a cross sewn into the clothing, scourging, or going on pilgrimage. When a suspect was convicted of unrepentant heresy, the inquisitional tribunal was required by law to hand the condemned over to secular authorities for execution of sentence, which may include imprisonment, banishment, or burning at the stake.

dc1459b2fb0d7566e9f725eac1ae9316

The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilee was tried by the Roman inquisition in 1633 and held under house arrest until his death in 1642, for the heretical belief that the earth revolved around the sun. The last victim of the Inquisition was in Spain in 1826, when schoolteacher Cayetano Ripoll was executed by garrote, for teaching Deism in his school.

Interestingly, there seems zero evidence that either the Greek or the Russian Orthodox Church, ever conducted an inquisition.

Belief in witches was widespread in pre-Christian Europe but largely absent from the first thirteen hundred years of Christian thought. The medieval Church distinguished between “white” and “black” magic, and local folk practice mixed with appeals to patron saints to ward off disease, protect livestock and ensure a bountiful harvest. The vehement denunciation of witches was more a product of the late medieval and early renaissance periods, due to plague outbreaks and changes in weather brought about by the Little Ice Age.

The Malleus Maleficarum or “Hammer of the Witches” written in 1486 by Dominican priest Heinrich Kramer, elevated witchcraft to criminal status and advocated for its extermination. Kramer himself was expelled from Innsbruck for his beliefs and described as “senile”, but the work would have lasting effect.

zugarramurdi-4_grandeEducated Spaniards of the era considered witchcraft to be a Protestant superstition. The Spanish Inquisition, launched in 1478 to protect Catholicism as the One True Faith, went first after forced converts from Islam (Moriscos) and Judaism (Marranos) suspected of lapsing into their prior faith.

In 1609, the French judge Pierre de l’Ancre conducted a massive witch hunt in Labourd, a formerly French territory in the Basque Provinces of Spain. De l’Ancre has been described as “ridiculous”, an “obsessed fanatic”. In the year of his judgeship, seventy people were burned at the stake including several priests. Even then he wasn’t satisfied, believing as many as 3,000 witches had escaped his grasp;  10% of the entire population of Labourd, at that time.

The following year, witch trials began in the northern Spanish cities of Logroño, and Navarre. In Salem, Puritans investigated only a few hundred suspected witches, resulting in the death of 20. During the Basque witch trials of 1610-’14, some 7,000 would be examined by the Inquisition on charges of witchcraft and sentenced to auto-da-fé, a ritualized, public penance after the performance of which, the condemned would learn their fate.

witch-trials-basque

Of 44,674 cases tried by the Spanish inquisition, 826 resulted in burning at the stake. Another 778 died by torture and were burned, in effigy.

In August 1614, the central office of the Inquisition ordered that all witch trials be dismissed in Logroño, and introduced new and more rigorous standards of evidence.  Back in Massachusetts, the state declared a day of fasting on January 14, 1699, in memory of the wrongful persecutions from 1688-’92.

Sometime in the 1830s, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “W” his name, distancing himself from his twice-great grandfather and Salem witch trial judge, John Hathorne.  None of it did a lick of good for the poor collection of oddballs and outcasts, done to death in the earlier period.

December 17, 1865 Horrors of the Congo

Rubber plantations took space and clear-cutting old-growth rain forest took time, so the king’s agents drove villagers from their homes, to fend for themselves. Problem solved, instant space for the most important cash crop, of the era.

President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe once orchestrated the murder of 20,000 civilians from a single province, after failing to receive a single vote. Josef Stalin deliberately starved as many as ten million Ukrainians to death, in a political “terror famine” known as the Holodomor. Pol Pot and a revolutionary socialist cadre of nine – the Ang-Ka – killed between 1.7 and 2.5 million fellow citizens of late 1970s Cambodia: about 1/5th of the entire population. Mao Tse-Tung’s policies and political purges killed between 49 and 78 million of his own citizens, between 1949 and 1976.

You’re really playing in the Big Leagues, when they can’t get your body count any closer than the nearest thirty million.

From Adolf Hitler to Idi Amin, the top ten dictators of the last 150 years account for the loss of nearly 150 million souls. We remember the names of these people, or most of them, as some of the great monsters of history.

220px-Punch_Rhodes_Colossus
December 10 1892 satirical cartoon depicts Cecil Rhodes as the New Colossus bestriding the continent, from Cape Town to Cairo. Hat tip, Punch

Yet, one man escapes notice, though his crimes rival and even exceed the worst atrocities carried out by twentieth century dictators. He is King Leopold II of Belgium.  For nearly thirty years, the undisputed slave master of a personal plantation some 76-times the size of Belgium itself, and run for the personal enrichment of this one man.

As late as 1870, the European powers controlled barely ten percent of the African continent, with most of those holdings, along the coast.  By the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, only Ethiopia and Liberia remained independent of European control.

From German East Africa to Italian Somaliland, most of the continent was carved into colonies of the various European powers, administered by governments in France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Leopold II ascended to the throne to become King of the Belgians on this day in 1865. Like most of the statesmen of the era, Leopold was convinced that a nation’s greatness, lay in proportion to its overseas empire. He first cast his gaze on the Philippines, then a Spanish possession, but negotiations broke down when Queen Isabella II was deposed in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1868.

Leopold next set his sights on Africa.  Henry Morton Stanley may never have ‘presumed’ to meet up with Dr. Livingstone in “Darkest Africa”, had it not been for the personal assistance of one Tippu Tip, the most powerful of Zanzibar’s Arab slave traders. This was an execrable lot, Stanley himself once lamented the lack of a heavy machine gun, on witnessing the abject misery of 2,300 unfortunates, held captive by these people: “Would to God I could see my way to set them all free and massacre the fiends guilty of the indescribable inhumanity I have seen today.

Leopold_ii_garter_knight
His Majesty, King Leopold II of Belgium

Leopold buttressed what was at fist a weak position with an alliance with the Arab slave trader, and later raised an army of Congolese mercenaries, to wrest control. The two year Congo-Arab war was a proxy war, fought mostly by native Congolese aligned with one side or the other, and sometimes switching sides.

Leopold emerged victorious from this Imperial double-cross, and set about reorganizing his mercenaries into a Force Publique, charged with enforcing his will across a region three-times the size of Texas and cynically called, “The Congo Free State”.

TipputipPortrait
Portrait of Tippu Tip, House of Wonders Museum, Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Leopold’s Congo was divided into districts for the purpose of extracting all the region could produce, in ivory, gold, diamonds, rubber, and more.   Provincial governors were paid by commission, and press-ganged enormous numbers of Congolese into agricultural labor, or worked them to death in the mines.

Entire ecosystems were denuded of large animals, as beaters in the hundreds or thousands drove ivory-bearing elephants by raised shooting platforms, where European “hunters” awaited, armed with a dozen rifles apiece.

Rubber plantations took space and clear-cutting old-growth rain forest took time, so the King’s agents drove villagers from their homes, to fend for themselves. Problem solved, instant space for the most important cash crop, of the era.

The greed of these overseers is hard to get one’s head around. Failure to meet quotas for gold or ivory would be met with mutilation, most often taking the form of amputation of a foot, or a hand. If a man needed both hands to work or if he couldn’t be caught, hands and feet would be cut from his wife, or his children.

While the King never personally set foot on African soil, the savagery inflicted on the Congolese by Leopold’s agents has been compared with the Mongol rampage across Asia, of a thousand years prior.  It’s impossible to know how many died of overwork, starvation or disease, or the infection caused by mass amputations.  An estimated twenty million populated the Congo Free State in 1885. By the time of the 1924 census, that number had fallen to ten million, with no corresponding influx into neighboring regions.

leopold-ii-boma-laborers

The Belgian government reluctantly took over administration in 1908, but the whippings and mutilations continued in Leopold’s Congo, long past the time of Leopold himself.  The wealth of the region continued to be siphoned off until Congolese independence, in 1971.

Today, the “Democratic Republic of Congo”, sometimes referred to by a former name of “Zaire”, has yet to recover.  The “Great African War” swept over the region in the 1990s, killing some six million and overturning one dictator in Kinshasa, for yet another.  The Tutsi genocide led by Hutu-militia in 1990s Rwanda, is familiar to the modern reader.

leopold-ii-daughters-limbs
“Nsala of Wala contemplates the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter in 1904” – H/T Allthatsinteresting.com

Today, one of the most resource-rich regions in the world remains in abject poverty, with infant mortality twelve times higher and life expectancy 23 years shorter, than that in the United States.

Leopold II, King of the Belgians and at one time the largest landowner on the planet, died peacefully on December 17, 1909, forty four years to the day, from his coronation.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

December 1, 2013 The Sacred Soil of Flanders Fields

I’ve long believed that we can’t be participating citizens of a self-governing Republic, we can’t know where we want our nation to go, if we don’t understand where it’s been.  It’s one of the principle reasons for examining history.  It’s why I think something wonderful happened five years ago, and I don’t think many of us heard about it.

November 11, nineteen short days ago, marked the one-hundred year anniversary of the end of World War One.  Before they had numbers, this was “The Great War”.  The “War to end all Wars”.

Passchendaele (1)
Passchendaele

There is barely a piece of 20th or 21st century history, which cannot be traced back to it.

International Communism was borne of the Great War, without which there would have been no cold war, no Korean War, no war in Vietnam. The killing fields of Cambodia would have remained mere rice fields.  The spiritual descendants of Chiang Kai-shek’s brand of capitalism would be running all of China, instead of only Taiwan.

no-mans-land

The current proportions of the Middle East arose from the Great War. While the region’s tribal alliances and religious strife is nothing new, those conditions would have taken a different form, had it not been for those boundaries.

World War II, an apocalypse which left more dead, wounded or missing than any conflict in world history, was little more than the Great War, part II. A Marshall of France, on reading the Versailles Treaty formally ending WWI, said “This isn’t peace. This is a cease-fire that will last for 20 years”.  He was off, by about 36 days.

_78081389_resized_3279921_10

I’ve long believed that we can’t be participating citizens of a self-governing Republic, we can’t know where we want our nation to go, if we don’t understand where it’s been.  It’s one of the principle reasons for examining history.  It’s why I think something wonderful happened five years ago, and I don’t think many of us heard about it.

Over the summer of 2013, more than 1,000 British and Belgian schoolchildren visited seventy battlefields of the Great War.  Ypres.  Passchendaele.  Verdun.  The Somme. This was a singular event.  Never before had the Commonwealth War Graves Commission permitted the excavation of these battlefields.

All over Northern France and Belgium, the region known as “Flanders”.  There these children collected samples of the sacred soil of those fields of conflict.

The soil from those battlefields was placed in 70 WWI-style burlap sandbags, each stenciled with a red poppy, where it came from, and the dates.  Those sandbags began their journey with a solemn Armistice Day ceremony at the Menin Gate of Ypres, that memorial to the 56,395 British and Commonwealth soldiers who fought and died on the Ypres salient of the Great War, and whose bodies were never found or identified.

The sacred soil of Flanders Fields transported to London aboard the Belgian Navy frigate Louisa Marie, and installed with great care at Wellington Barracks, the central London home of the Grenadier Guards, Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards.

There the soil of the Great War would nourish and support a garden, inscribed with the words of Doctor John McCrae’s famous poem, “In Flanders Fields”.  Ready for the following year, a solemn remembrance of the centenary of the War to end all Wars.

_71447576_soil4_getty

That day, December 1, 2013, was for the Flanders Fields Memorial Garden, the first full day of forever.  I cannot think of anything more fitting than that it was children, our future and posterity, who retrieved the sacred soil of Flanders and installed it in that garden.

It is now for that posterity to keep our history alive, and never to let it fade, into some sepia-toned and forgotten past.

article_img

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.