Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Bernadottes

When King Gustaf IV Adolf was allocated through a bloodless coup in March 1809, his uncle, Carl XIII, was appointed as his successor. Since the new king didn't have any heirs, a prince from the Danish royal family, Carl Christian (named Carl August in Sweden), was called to Sweden to become the new Crown Prince. Unfortunately for Carl August he was a lousy horseman. Shortly after his arrival to Sweden, Carl August fell off his horse and died.

Sweden was again seeking for a crown prince and they began to look further south – to France. One of Napoleons most famous Marshals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, was no longer the favorite of Napoleon, and Bernadotte therefore accepted the offer to become Swedens new crown prince. He was named Carl Johan – a more suitable royal name than Jean-Baptiste – and landed in Sweden October 29, 1810.

Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte came from Pau in the South of France. His father was a lawyer. Jean-Baptiste had created a career in Napoleons army, and was rewarded with the titles Marshal of France and Duke of Ponte Corvo. His wife, Désirée had been engaged to Napoleon, and her sister, Julie, was married to Napoleons older brother, Josef. The title 'Queen of Sweden' was not in any way tempting Désirée. However, her husband, the new Crown Prince of Sweden, finally managed to persuade her to come to Sweden together with their 10 year old son, Oscar.
Désirée too had to change her name. Into the more Scandinavian form Desideria.

Désirée didn't like Sweden. Only 5 months after her arrival, she went back to Paris. She returned to Sweden in 1823, 5 years after her husbands coronation as king. Bernadottes name as king was Carl XIV Johan. Since Norway at that time 'belonged' to Sweden, Carl Johan was also proclaimed King of Norway.

In order to establish his family as 'royal', Bernadotte planned a wedding between his son, Oscar, and Josephine of Leuchtenberg. Today 200 years after their arrival to Sweden, the Bernadotte family is an integrated part of the few royal families left in Europe. Through marriages, they have family bonds to the royal families of Denmark, Norway, England, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

When Carl Johan died in 1844, Oscar succeeded him as Oscar I. We are now counting the 7th generation of Bernadottes at Swedens throne, and when the present king, Carl XVI Gustaf dies, his daughter Victoria will become the ruling Queen of Sweden.

In his book 'A Royal Saga', Lars Elgklou presents the story of the Bernadottes in a light and humorous tone. The book also contains a lot of photos and paintings of members of the Bernadotte family.

Cheers,
Asta

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cathrine II of Russia

Cathrine II of Russia (Russian name Yekaterina II), born May 2, 1729 as Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg in Stettin, Kingdom of Prussia.
Ruling Empress (Tsarina) of Russia from July 9, 1762.

The young princess Sophie in 1744 was selected to become the wife of Peter, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, heir to the Russian imperior and throne as a result of his aunts, Empress Elizabeth's, warm feelings for Sophie's father in her young days.

Where Sophie was very devoted to both her father and to her mother, Peter had lost his mother less than 2 weeks after his birth, and his father died when he was 11. Peters upbringing and education was unpedagogical and focused on making him a competent army officer.

Both Peter and Sophie were born and raised in Prussia. Their native language was German. Their new language would be Russian, and Cathrine took on the challenge to learn the difficult language, while Peter ended up hating everything Russian.

Sophie converted to the Eastern Orthodoxy on June 28, 1744, and the Church received their new member as Yekatarina (Cathrine).

Cathrine and Peter married August 21, 1745.

In the beginning of Peter and Cathrines marriage, she found her husband childish but quite charming. She played with him and tried to get along with him. Unfortunately Peter became ill from smallpoxes, and not only did the illness make him hideous, it also made him grumpy and suspicious towards his wife.

Cathrine knew that in order to be able to maintain the Empress Elizabeth's good will, her main assignment would be to deliver a prince. But her marriage did not lead to any pregnancy, and years went by without anything ever happening.

Peter held a misstress while Cathrine carried on liasions with Sergei Saltykov, Grigory Orlov and Stanislaw Poniatowski, and through her friend, Princess Ekatarina Vorontsova-Dashkova, she was introduced to powerfull political groups in opposition to her husband.

In 1754 Cathrine finally gave birth to her first child, a son named Pavel. Some historians believe that Sergei Saltykov was the father of the child, but the child was recognized by Peter as his son.

She gave birth to Pavel in a room in the palace, crowded with members of the Court. Immediately after the delivery of the child, The Empress Elizabeth removed the newborn from his mother, taking him into her custody. Cathrine was left on her own in the room for several hours, dirty and without food and water. Which must have been a chocking experience for her. She'd done her duty, now she was no longer of any value, is how she described it in her private diary.

Cathrine was only allowed to see her son occasionally, and as the time went by, Pavel came to hate his mother, while she was unable to understand her son and didn't really like him.

The losses that she suffered strengthened her. She decided not to give up, and carried on as if nothing had happened, determined to keep her position as the wife of the heir. She established her position with help from her friends. In 1757 Cathrine gave birth to hers and Stanislaw Poniatowskis daughter, Anna. Poniatowski was later to be elected as King of Poland.

The Empress Elizabeth died in 1761, and Peter became Emperor under the name Peter III. Cathrine was now Empress Consort of Russia.

The new Emperor admired the Prussian king, Frederick II. Therefore he intevened in a dispute between Denmark and Holstein over the province of Schleswig, taking Fredericks II side. This eroded much of Peters support among the nobility.
At first Cathrine chose to stand by her husbands side. She was pregnant with her third child, and was therefore unable to join forces with the un-satisfied. Furthermore, her position was in danger because of her adultry. She kept a low profile, awaiting the birth of her second son, Bobrinskoj's, birth in April.

In July 1762, just 6 months after becoming the Emperor, the guard revolted against Peter and proclaimed Cathrine the ruler of Russia.

Three days later, Peter III died. Whether he was killed due to an accident or not, historians have not found any evidence surgesting that Cathrine was involved in her husbands assassination.

Cathrine was now the sole ruler of Russia. She was open to new ideas and wanted to reform the medieval country and corresponded with Voltaire, Diderot and Montesquieu. However, despite her eager she never quite succeeded. Slavery was common and accepted in Russia and the gap between rich and poor was overwhelming. Cathrine's visions remained only visions.

She never re-married, but her love affairs have become famous. Her favorite for many years was Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin, often associated with the expression 'Potemkin village'.

When Potemkin was sacked as first lover by Cathrine in 1776, he selected the following candidate-lovers for her. And she had many lovers. Her last favorite, Zubov, was still in service when Cathrine died Novembe 17, 1796.

Cathrine II of Russia are one of the many interesting women that fills the historic gallery. A very strong, very independent woman who became the Empress of Russia because of her intellegens and her human knowledge. Marie Tetzlaff's book is partly based on Cathrines memoirs - Mémoires de Cathrine II.

Cathrine II of Russia - Marie Tetzlaff, 1995

Cheers,
Asta

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Claudius

Tiberius Claudius Drusus (10 BC - 54 AD), ruler of the Roman empire (41 AC - 54 AD) under the name Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Claudius was born with some sort of disability which made the imperial family to keep him away from public life. His mother, Antonia, called him a monster. For a number of years, the responsibility of his upbringing and education was therefore put in the hands of his grandmother, Livia, Augustus's wife.

Robert Graves wrote his book 'I, Claudius' as a diary. And in the TV-drama 'I, Claudius', Derek Jacobi gave Claudius much more character than history has given him. Claudius didn't want to become emperor, however, had he declined, he probably would have been killed. Therefore he accepted the 'honor'.

In Rome, marriage was a political issue. Marriages were seen as family alliances. Therefore Livia arranged Claudius's first marriage with Plautia Urgulanilla. After their divorce, Claudius married Aelia Paetina. Soon that marriage fell out as well.

Claudius then married Valeria Messalina, closely allied to Caligula, Tiberius's successor to the throne.

When Caligula was killed by unsatisfied pretorians, many people hoped for a restoral of the republic. But the pretorians wanted an emperor, disabled or not. And dragged Claudius to the throne announcing him the new emperor of Rome.

For someone who prefered to study history, this must have been quite a shock. In the dramatized series of I, Claudius, the new emperor secretly wants to restore the republic. This might not be historical correct. However, being able to survive in a family where poison and the daggert ruled more than in any other family indicates, that Claudius might not have been so disabled as some historians claim. Perhaps he was just a very good actor.

Claudius's most significant contribution to history is the conquest of Brittain. Claudius wanted to eradicate the Druid religion in Brittain. He also wanted to strengthen the Romans commercial interests. After 2 weeks of command in Brittain, the Celts aknowledged themselves defeated, and Claudius and his army returned to Rome to celebrate the triumph. His and Messalinas son was named Brittanicus in honor of the great victory.

To run the day-to-day business of the empire, Claudius appointed a number of freedmen - former slaves. They formed a secretariat which was divided into several bureaus, and the leadership of each bureau was put in the hand of a freedman.

Claudius also introduced a number of religious reforms. Significantly he was very concerned about the spread of the oriental mysteries within Rome, and wanted to find more traditional Roman replacements.

These steps - and many more could be mentioned - must have been taken by a very intellegent human being. Historians are still discussing Claudius's physical and mental health. Perhaps he had polio, perhaps Tourette syndrome. Whatever sickness he had, he has left significant scholarly works after him for instans about the Etruscan history.

Messalina and Claudius's marriage ended in tradegy. Messalina was much younger than her husband and notorius in her adultry. One day when Claudius was out of town, Messalina decided to marry a young consul. But word was sent to Claudius. When returning to the palace, interrupting the celebration of Messalinas wedding, Claudius sought for revenge and Messalina was killed.

Shortly thereafter, Claudius married his niece, Aggripina the Younger, mother of Nero.

Aggripinas aim was to secure her sons future at the imperial throne. This could be the motive for Aggripina to murder her husband. Whether Claudius really was poisoned or if he simply died of age is impossible to determine. What we do know is, that Aggripina managed to ensure the succession of Nero before Brittanicus, Claudius's son, could gain power.

Claudius died on October 13, 54 AD.

I, Claudius - by Robert Graves


Cheers,
Asta

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Odysseus

The tales of Odysseus are one of the most fantastic stories I have ever read. Whether it was written by Homer or not, it is a grand story. So full of magic that you want to believe that it's for real.

Odysseus, King of Ithaca, leaves his island kingdom to fight in the Trojan War. After 10 years of war, it takes Odysseus another 10 years to reach his home and his journey is marked with adventurous events. He suffers from the anger of Poseidon, the Sea God. He fights sorcery and the underworld. He lurks the Sirens enchanting song and fools Scylla and Charybdis, guardians of the Strait of Messina. Faithfull to his wife and family Odysseus overcomes all obsticles and finally reaches the coasts of his kingdom.











Odysseus and the Sirens



















A map of Hades - the Underworld

When safe at home, Odysseus finds his palace overtaken by suitors to his wifes, Penelopes, hand. In order for Odysseus to be able to enter the palace without revealing himself, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, disguises him as a beggar.

In her dispear of her husbands faith, Penelope decides that the time has come where she must choose a new husband. She announces that the man who can string Odysseus's bow and shoot an arrow through 12 axe-handles will marry her.
All the suitors try, all in vain. At last Odysseus asks if he may try. The suitors laugh and mock him, the old beggar. But Penelope allows him to try. Odysseus strings the bow and shoots an arrow through all 12 axe-handles.

He now reveals his true identity and after hanging all the suitors and even some of the house maids who were the mens lovers, Odysseus can finally unite with his wife and son and again call himself Odysseus, King of Ithaca.

Odysseus - by Homer ? - about 8th century BC

Cheers,
Asta

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Goddesses who inspires

Many artists - painters, poets and musicians - are inspired by their muses. The word 'muse' was taken from the Greek Mythology and means the goddesses or the spirits who inspire the creation of literature and arts.

The 9 Muses representing each part of the art are:

Erato, Muse of lyric poetry, especially love and erotic poetry
Euterpe, Muse of flute playing
Calliope, Muse of heroic poetry
Clio, Muse of history
Melpomene, Muse of tradegy
Polyhymnia, Muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn and eloquence as well as agriculture and pantomime
Terpsichore, Muse of dance and dramatic chorus
Thalia, Muse of comedy and idyllic poetry
Urania, Muse of astronomi and astrology

The reason for astronomy and astrology being recognized as art is that the ability to read the signs of the stars in ancient times was considered to be an art reserved for the few.

We often talk about the 10th Muse, who is considered to be a female poet who obtains immortality. Plato, the philosopher, honoured Sappho of Lesbos by naming her the 10th Muse.

Sappho is one of the most famous female poets of antiquity and she is recognized as one of the nine lyric poets. Many of her poems are about the love for the young girls, which is why the lesbian love has been named after her.

The nine lyric poets is representing antiguitys 'Hall of Fame'. They were a canon of Greek composers esteemed by the scholars of Hellenistic Alexandria as worthy of critical study.

The Greek comedy can be compared with our days black cabaret or comedy cabaret (the German - not the French). With a sharp, raw satire philosophers, politicians and other notabilities were nailed to wall.

The grandest and most famous Greek comedy writer was Aristophanes. Furious controversy and winged poetry held together by dionysisk festive joy was the style that characterized Aristophanes. Some of his most famous comedies are being played yet today - 2,400 years after their first entry.

When reading about Aristophanes I get associations to Marilyn Manson. The principles of performance is exactly the same. And the finesse is the absurd logic, satire, theater with the performers in fantasy costumes and 'masks', the excessive gesticulate and underlying significance wrapped in a direct language that is so absurd that it claims a loud out laugh from you.

The Knights and The Frogs are a coupple of the satirical comedies of Aristophanes that are still being set up on theaters all over the world.

Cheers,
Asta