Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Art, Antiquity and Absolutism: John V of Portugal

John V (Lisbon, Portugal, 22nd October 1689 – Lisbon, Portugal, 31st July 1750)
João Francisco António José Bento Bernardo, affectionately known as, "The Magnanimous"

Portrait of John V of Portugal by Pompeo Batoni
 John V of Portugal by Pompeo Batoni

We have spent a fair few days on the continent of late with stories of revolutionary France and Austria; let's continue our tour with a trip to Portugal, for an audience with John V, the Magnanimous, King of Portugal and the Algarves. 

When John was born to Peter II and Maria Sofia of Neuburg, the house of Braganza was already in crisis, with no male heirs to succeed to the throne. In fact John's birth would mark the start of a period of new fecundity for the king and queen, with seven children following after this newborn son, styled as Prince of York and 11th Duke of Braganza. 

John was 16 when his father died in 1706 and was proclaimed king on 1st January 1707; just one year later he married Archduchess and Princess Imperial Maria Anna of Austria, Princess Royal of Hungary and Bohemia, daughter of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and his third wife, Eleonore Magdalena of the Palatinate-Neuburg. This was a shrewd tactical move, ensuring a strong alliance with Austria and flourishing connections in Europe including France and Spain.

Portrait of Queen Maria Anna of Portugal by Pompeo Batoni
Queen Maria Anna of Portugal by Pompeo Batoni

John was a gifted business strategist and achieved what so many of his contemporaries sought for, an absolute monarchy. Portuguese prospectors were growing rich on gold and diamonds mined in Brazil, a Portuguese colony, and John recognised the invaluable source of revenue this could provide. Taking a fifth of the spoils from the mines, the crown grew immensely wealthy and with that money came power, the monarch now absolute ruler of his domains and what rich domains they were!

Portugal was raking in the sort of wealth that other kingdoms could only dream of and John set about spending the spoils of colonisation. He constructed enormous ornate  palaces as grandiose proof of his financial clout and set about filling them with works of art, literature and antiquities. In addition to indulging his own love of the arts, John established Portugal as a strong and growing centre of manufacturing. Not content with this, he created seats of learning and education where, he hoped, his own love of art and antiquity would be passed to subsequent generation. A passionate follower of the art, literature and music, John amassed an enormous and priceless collection in Lisbon and, like so much of that same city, much of this was lost in 1755 when an earthquake struck, bring floods and fires that raged unchecked for days. It was a devastating blow to the cultural heritage of Portugal and one that would no doubt have broken the heart of the man who cared so much for the collection he had gathered from across the world, had he been alive to see it.

When many other countries were actively pursuing aggressive expansion, John instead remained neutral in European conflicts and focussed his energies and his bribery skills on building a relationship with the Vatican. More than anything he was determined to win the recognition and support of the Pope for his absolutist policies, an ambition that was realised in 1748. After years of lobbying and negotiation, John was awarded the title of Most Faithful Majesty of Portugal by Pope Benedict XIV, a successful triumph at the end of a long campaign.

Portrait of John V of Portugal by Carlos Antonio Leoni
 John V of Portugal by Carlos Antonio Leoni 

However, all the wealth and privilege were of no help when John suffered a serious and debilitating stroke in 1742. Unable to return to his political duties he devoted himself to religion as the country, so dependent on his guidance, began to stumble. An absolute monarch is never popular amongst the ruling classes and with the King indisposed, the people of the nation became pawns in a game played by those who now jostled for influence. When he died in 1750, his son, Joseph, inherited a country in turmoil and passed the day to day running of it to  Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the Marquis of Pombal, a man we'll meet on another day.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart: A Most Musical Lady

Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart (Salzburg, Austria, 30th July 1751 – Salzburg, Austria, 29th October 1829)
Affectionately known as Nannerl

Portrait of Anna Maria Mozart by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni
Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni

I have spoken many a time of the Gilflurt love of music and it's likely that you may have heard of a certain gentleman by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as he has enjoyed a certain measure of success. Whether you have heard of his sister... well, that's a different matter.

Before her brother had so much as touched a piano key, Maria Anna was learning the harpsichord at the knee of her father, Leopold Mozart. As Maria Anna flourished, Leopold added his infant son to the family act and before long the siblings were touring the capital cities of Europe. Though Wolfgang's name is legendary now, in childhood he often took second place to his extremely talented sister when she topped the bill during their recitals. The young Wolfgang adored Nannerl and together they invented their own languages and worlds of fantasy, delighting in one another's company as they travelled the continent.

Miniature portrait of the Mozart siblings by Eusebius Johann Alphen, 1765
The Mozart siblings by Eusebius Johann Alphen, 1765

Maria Anna's illustrious career did not last long though and at the age of eighteen she was no longer a precocious musical talent, but a young lady ripe for marriage. For her, there would be no more tours of Europe and no more high society recitals; instead, she remained in Salzburg looking for a suitable spouse whilst her brother continued his career.

As Leopold controlled his daughter's early career, so too did she defer to her father in matters of the heart. Despite Wolfgang's encouragement to do what she wanted, she turned down a marriage proposal from her first love, Franz d'Ippold, and waited for a more suitable match. At the age of 22 she finally married twice-widowed magistrate Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg, becoming stepmother to his five children. The family settled in the Austrian village of St. Gilgen and had three children of their own.

Still under her father's influence, Maria Anna entrusted the care of her first child, Leopold, to him after his birth in 1785. The reasons for this unusual decision remain unknown and the boy stayed in Salzburg until his grandfather's death in 1787, at which point little Leopold returned to his family, already having commenced his musical training. She did not see Wolfgang at all after 1783 and the two siblings drifted apart as their lives took very different paths.

When Maria Anna was widowed in 1801, she moved her children and stepchildren to Salzburg and took employment as a music teacher. Nineteen years later and nearly three decades after Wolfgang's death, she encountered his widow, Constanze, and her second husband Georg Nikolaus von Nissen. Two years after this she finally met Wolfgang's son, Franz Xaver Mozart, who had come to Salzurg to conduct a performance of the Requiem in honour of the newly-deceased Nissen.

Anonymous portrait of Maria Anna Mozart

Maria Anna's health failed in her later years; when she died she left a fortune in trust and was buried in St Peter's Cemetery, Salzburg. Though it is believed that she wrote some compositions none now survive and the woman who once topped the Mozart family billing is almost forgotten, a footnote in the story of her younger brother's own tragedy.

To find out more about the premiere of Mozart's Don Giovanni, do click here!

Monday, 29 July 2013

The Influential Career of René de Maupeou

René Nicolas Charles Augustin de Maupeou (Montpelier, France, 25th February 1714 – Le Thuit, Eure, France, 29th July 1792) 

Portrait of René Nicolas Charles Augustin de Maupeou

Here at the Guide we have had a bit of a French flavour of late, with stories of Corday and Robespierre to set our revolutionary fires burning. Today is another chap from over the Channel though he is, perhaps, a little less notorious than our previous subjects.

Maupeou was born into privilege and married into money; as assistant to his father, the young Maupeou was involved in parliamentary business from an early age and when Maupeou the elder retired from the office of Chancellor, Maupeau the younger was more than ready to step into his shoes.

Portrait of Louis XV by Louis-Michel van Loo
Louis XV by Louis-Michel van Loo

He rose through the ranks of office quickly, ingratiating himself at court and installing allies in key roles to further solidify his position. In 1770, Maupeou reformed the make-up of the French judiciary to ensure that those who were magistrates by right of succession could no longer make unilateral decisions, a move that alarmed the nobles of France. In fact, these magistrates would now be controlled by the King himself, as both monarch and Maupeou manoeuvred in an effort to secure the sovereign absolute power. This growing hostility flared even more when Maupeou introduced policies to tax the richest members of society, most of whom were exempt from levies. In another wildly unpopular move he introduced a bill by which Parlement could no longer veto royal edicts, essentially establishing Louis XV as an absolute monarch and giving Maupeou and his associates unparalleled control over tax and judiciary.

Portrait of Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet
Louis XVI by Antoine-François Callet, 1789

However, where Maupeou had found support in Louis XV, when the King died, Louis XVI did not share his appreciation of the minister, preferring a new broom approach to his reign. In 1774, Maupeou was removed from office and went into seclusion.

Although he still held the title of Chancellor, he never entered the political arena again though his stringent, absolute policies were held up as model practice by the revolutionary government. One can only imagine that Maupeou might have appreciated the irony of this given his determined loyalty to the King he served and when he died in 1792, Maupeou had seen the old monarchy swept away on a tide of revolution.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

"Pity is Treason": The Execution of Maximilien Robespierre

Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre (Arras, Artois, France, 6th May 1758 – Paris, France, 28th July 1794)

Portrait of Maximilien Robespierre, 1790
Portrait of Maximilien Robespierre, 1790

After her fourth or fifth gin, my grandmother Gilflurt is a bit of a one for her portentous announcements and on more than one occasion she has chewed on her pipe, refilled her glass and told us that you can tell much of a man from the manner of his death. I don't know if that is true but as I sifted through my broadsheets and came across news of the death of Maximilien Robespierre, her words came fluttering back.

I shall revisit the life of the infamous Frenchman at another time but for today my mind is on his passing, and the gruesome events that led up to it.

By Spring of 1794, France was in turmoil. The leaders of the revolution had never been more unpopular with the public and as the Reign of Terror swept through the country a culture of fear and suspicion began to permeate society, infecting those in the highest office as it did those in the lowest straits. Whilst government envoys across Paris were apparently committing acts of excessive and extreme terror, their punishments were minimal. Expelled from the Jacobin Club and recalled to Paris for disciplinary action they instead went on the run, speaking out against Robespierre at every opportunity.

Gripped by the threat of possible assassination Robespierre pushed the 22 Prairial into existence, a move that was to prove fatally misjudged.  The new law was aimed at those suspected of being counter-revolutionaries; with the passing of the 22 Prairial such suspects could be executed without due process. Citizens were appalled not only at what the law allowed but also at what they saw as Robespierre's gross misuse of his powers. The 22 Prairial had been passed without discussion in the Committee of General Security and this only solidified suspicions that Robespierre was out of control, making sweeping and dictatorial decisions without proper consultation.

Portrait of Robespierre by Louis-Léopold Boilly, 1791
Maximilien Robespierre by Louis-Léopold Boilly, 1791

On 8th Thermidor (26th July), Robespierre attended the National Convention and gave an impassioned speech in his own defence. For two hours he railed against charges of tyranny, denouncing his opponents of enemies of the Republic and detailing an extensive and powerful conspiracy that involved the Convention itself. Outraged and fearful that they might be next to face the executioner, members of the Convention reacted with fury and the debate grew increasingly vitriolic. That same evening Robespierre retired to the Jacobin Club and repeated his speech, this time to a rapturous reception.

Louis de Saint-Just added his own voice to Robespierre's the following day, addressing the Convention on his friend's behalf. He had barely begun to speak before the heckling started and as Saint-Just fell silent, Robespierre made futile attempts to speak in his own defence. Eventually the voices that were raised against him proved overwhelming and demands were made for his arrest as the deputies railed against him, with one famously calling, "The blood of Danton chokes thee!".

Painting of Robespierre's Arrest by Max Adamo, 1870
Robespierre's Arrest by Max Adamo, 1870

We cannot know what thoughts must have gone through Robespierre's mind as the the Convention finally ordered his immediate arrest; perhaps he knew the almost inevitable fate that awaited him or maybe he believed he might still be able to escape the charges of despotism laid before him. Whatever his long-term plans, he fled to the Hôtel de Ville that night. With him were those loyal followers who also faced arrest, Saint-Just,  François Hanriot, Philippe Le Bas, Georges Couthon and Robespierre's brother, Augustin as well as a small number of other supporters.

In the early hours of 28th July troops arrived at the Hôtel de Ville to arrest the fugitives and the men, apparently, panicked. Le Bas shot himself as Augustin leaped from a window in an effort to escape, breaking both legs in the process; for Robespierre suicide seemed like the only option and he too took up a pistol. However, he survived the shot and shattered his jaw, spending the night in the offices of the Committee of Public Safety, bleeding profusely from the terrible wound. Once the blood flow was stemmed somewhat by means of handkerchiefs and bandages, he was moved to the self same anteroom where Marie Antoinette had awaited her own fate.

Painting of the Execution of Robepsierre and his Supporters
The Execution of Robepsierre and his Supporters

On 28th July 1794 Robespierre fell victim to his own 22 Priarial as he was taken to the Place de la Révolution with almost twenty of his supporters. One by one they went to the guillotine, their bodies thrown into a mass grave at Cimetière des Errancis. 

It was an ignoble end for the man who had risen to the highest offices of the land; in the end the very suspicion and fear that he played a part in sowing were to bring him down as friends and colleagues jockeyed for power and influence. The government of France would not stabilise for decades as the country adapted to life after Terror, but that is a story for another day.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

"I killed one man to save 100,000": Charlotte Corday

Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d'Armont (Normandy, France, 27th July 1768 – Paris, France, 17th July 1793)

Portrait of Charlotte Corday painted in the condemned cell by Jean-Jacques Hauer
Charlotte Corday painted in the condemned cell by Jean-Jacques Hauer

My not so happy ever after tale of the death of Marat has proven one of the most popular stories here at the Guide and the little ones of Gin Lane never tire of hearing it. Funny thing is, they're not so fussed about the man in the bath, it's the girl on the guillotine who grabs their fancy so, on the anniversary of her birth, I thought the time had come to tell a little more of Charlotte Corday.

Charlotte was born in the tiny Normandy hamlet of Saint-Saturnin-des-Ligneries to a minor line of aristocrats. Following the death of her mother and sister, Charlotte and her surviving sibling were raised in the Abbaye-aux-Dames convent at Caen. Here she studied the work of philosophers including Rousseau and Voltaire, proving herself to be a bright and serious-minded girl. When she reached adulthood Charlotte did not take holy orders but instead left the convent. She remained in Caen and set up home with her cousin and good friend, Madame Le Coustellier de Bretteville-Gouville. 

Photograph of Charlotte Corday's childhood home
Charlotte's childhood home

Charlotte met a number Girondins in Caen and came to sympathise with their political ideals. Already unsure about the direction in which the revolutionaries were steering her country, she admired the moderate approach of the Girondin leaders and shared their distrust and dislike of the Montagnards. As she grew more politicised and her opinions more firm, Charlotte watched in horror as violence swept through France. After the September Massacres, she began to fear that the country was teetering on the brink of civil war.

Fired by fear for the future, Corday began to conceive of a plan to remove one of the most outspoken and radical Jacobins, Jean-Paul Marat. She was, of course, not Marat's only enemy and he had spent time in hiding before due to threats on his life but he could hardly have conceived of the threat posed by the seemingly harmless young woman who would finally bring him down.

On 9th July 1793, Charlotte travelled from Caen to Paris, where she took lodgings at the Hôtel de Providence and wrote a document explaining her forthcoming violent actions, Addresse aux Français Amis des Lois et de la Paix ("Address to the French People, Friends of Law and Peace"). Four days later she concealed a kitchen knife in her clothing and went to visit Marat, supposedly to share intelligence with him.

Despite his wife's reservations, Charlotte was admitted to Marat's home, the revolutionary forced to conduct his business from a bathtub due to an agonising skin condition. As the short meeting concluded, Charlotte rose to her feet, drew the concealed blade, and plunged it deep into the revolutionary's chest. 

Painting of Charlotte Corday by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry, 1860
Charlotte Corday by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry, 1860 
The assassin asked for no mercy at her trial, declaring that she had "killed one man to save 100,000." During her short imprisonment she wrote a number of letters and even sat for a portrait; her lawyer, Chauveau-Lagarde had previously defended Marie Antoinette but once again his efforts were to be in vain. Happy to lay down her life for her beliefs, Charlotte repeatedly admitted her guilt and the revolutionary tribunal sentenced her to death.

Just four days after Marat breathed his last, Charlotte was taken to the guillotine and executed. Moments after the blade fell, executioner's assistant Legros lifted her head from the basket and slapped her cheek. Charlotte's executioner, Charles-Henri Sanson, echoed the crowd's outrage at this affront and Legros was rewarded with a three month prison sentence for his troubles.

In fact, Charlotte's actions were to have little impact on the path of the revolution and instead Marat was hailed as a martyr whilst Corday's name was left to languish. Now they are forever linked, bound by art, literature and history.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria and the Flight from Bonn

Archduke Maximilian Francis of Austria (Austria, 8th December 1756 - Vienna, Austria, 26th July 1801)

Portrait of Archduke Maximilian Francis

The last Archbishop-Elector of Cologne, Hochmeister of the Teutonic Knights and Archduke of Austria, Maximilian was one of a long and distinguished line, born to Maria Theresa and Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor. His illustrious siblings included Queens Marie Antoinette and Maria Carolina and Holy Roman Emperors Joseph II and Leopold II whilst he was uncle to Francis II.

In this painting by Archduchess Marie Christine, Duchess of Teschen we see (left to right): Archduchess Marie-Christine, Archduke Ferdinand, Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, Archduke Maximilian, Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I
In this painting by Archduchess Marie Christine, Duchess of Teschen we see (left to right): Archduchess Marie-Christine, Archduke Ferdinand, Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, Archduke Maximilian, Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I

There are not quite so many royals at Gilflurt family gatherings but like we Covent Garden girls, Maximilian loved his music. The tenor in his court orchestra at Bonn was the father of a certain Ludwig van Beethoven and Maximilian took a very keen interest in the musical development of the young man. Under the tutelage of organist Christian Gottlob Neefe, Ludwig was brought to court and served as Neefe's assistant. Impressed by Beethoven's extraordinary talent, Maximilian became patron to the young musician and when he was seventeen, Beethoven was sent to Vienna to study under Mozart. This first opportunity was to end in tragedy when Beethoven's trip to Austria was cut short by the death of his mother but five years later he returned, this time studying with a variety of famous composers under the patronage of Maximilian.

Portrait of Archduke Maximilian, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Joseph Hauzinger, 1776
Archduke Maximilian, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette by Joseph Hauzinger, 1776

Though a keen lover of the arts, Maximilian was not quite as gifted as a strategist and just one year after the execution of his brother-in-law and sister in Paris, French troops began pouring into his territories. The Archbishop fled before the advancing armies and as his court was scattered to the winds, he must have wondered whether he would ever return to Bonn. In fact he was destined never to see the city again; in the year that his former territories were passed to the French as part of the Treaty of Lunéville the last Archbishop-Elector of Cologne died in Vienna, aged just 45 years old.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Espionage and Adventure: Friedrich von der Trenck

Friedrich Freiherr von der Trenck (Prussia, 16th February 1726 – Paris, France, 25th July 1794)

Engraving of Friedrich von der Trenck

Well, my fan is all-a-flutter because today on the Guide we are remembering a man of action, the ever-adventurous Friedrich von der Trenck.

Born into a military family, von der Trenck initially pursued a career in law but the lure of an adventurous life proved too strong and by 1744 he was stationed in Silesia as on officer of Frederick the Great. His swift rise, numerous decorations and occasional indiscretions did not endear our hero to everyone and when the moment came to cast doubt on this favourite of the King, they grabbed it with both hands. In an unfortunate twist of fate, von der Trenck's cousin was fighting on the opposing Austrian side at Silesia and when the two men corresponded with one another, rumours began to spread that von der Trenck was an Austrian spy. Despite his bravery in battle and loyalty to his Prussian rulers and comrades, he was imprisoned at Glatz. His initial period of captivity was one of relative ease but his repeated efforts to escape resulted in a new sentence, this one of hard labour.

The daring escape by Sallieth after J.van Meurs (1788)
The daring escape by Sallieth after J.van Meurs (1788)

After several increasingly audacious failed escape attempts, von der Trenck finally made a desperate, bid for freedom, surviving a forty foot drop from the walls of the fortress before evading capture throughout a long winter night. Fleeing Prussia he initially resumed his military career in Hungary before moving on to Russia where, he told his friends, he was highly favoured by Tsarina Elizabeth. He remained in Russia for a number of years where he enjoyed a long affair with an unnamed, married noblewoman who some have suggested was the Tsarina herself.

Even now Frederick had not given up on recapturing the escaped convict so, when von der Trenck returned to his homeland in 1753 to attend the funeral of his mother, the King made a move.

von der Trenck by Dutch engraver Willem Kok (Dutch translation, 1788)
 von der Trenck by Dutch engraver Willem Kok (Dutch translation, 1788)
Upon von der Trenck's arrival in Danzig he was rearrested and taken to the Magdeburg Citadel, where he was held in manacles in a tiny, isolated cell. This time there would be no escape and he was to remain in captivity for a decade until his freedom was secured by special petition of Empress Maria Theresa. Upon his release, von der Trenck made up for lost time as he established himself as a mercenary, merchant and writer, producing a highly successful, very colourful autobiography that became required reading for the thrill-seeking public!

Eventually, von der Trenck became the Austrian spy he had been suspected of being all those years before and it was this new adventure that was to prove his undoing. Undercover in  revolutionary France, he was discovered and went to the guillotine on 25th July 1794. He was posthumously given the title of Count by the King of Prussia, a rank that passed to the eldest of his fourteen children.

His is a story worthy of the most breathless adventure novel, a life of flamboyant highs and devastating lows and he even found time for a dash of illicit romance! Come to think of it, one of the more excitable Gilflurt aunties was in Russia in the late 1740s; I wonder...

You can see more wonderful pictures from the life of this remarkable character here

My thanks to fabulous Twitter follower De Zilveren Eeuw for the wonderful engravings that accompany this post!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Conspiracy, Coups and Crown Jewels: Louisa Ulrika of Prussia

Louisa Ulrika of Prussia (Berlin, Prussia, 24th July 1720 - Svartsjö, Sweden, 24th July 1782)

Louisa Ulrika by Alexander Roslin, 1775

Intrigue, ambition and political manoeuvring are staple ingredients in the heady world of dynastic politics and Louise Ulrika of Prussia, who died on this day in 1782, enjoyed more than her fair share of all three. From a marriage that even her own brother warned the groom against, she would rise to the heights of monarchy and try to bring about a revolution.

Born to Frederick William I of Prussia and Sophia Dorothea of Hanover, Louisa Ulrika was the younger sister of Frederick the Great. A sought after and eligible young woman, she married the Crown-Prince of Sweden, Adolf Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp, in 1744. The match was made against the express wishes of Frederick who thought his sister arrogant, overly-ambitious and a potentially dangerous influence on the Swedish monarchy. Perhaps that was true or perhaps Frederick thought that his other sister, Princess Anna Amalia of Prussia, would be a more pliant figure to achieve his own ends at court but whatever his reasons for speaking out, the marriage went ahead as planned.

With Sweden desperate for an heir, Louisa Ulrika was hugely popular with the people. Though her innate arrogance would eventually see her lose favour within the aristocracy, Louisa Ulrika formed strong alliances early on, especially with courtier Count Carl Gustaf Tessin. Tessin adored the new bride and made himself indispensable to her household, eventually serving as governor to her first child, the heir to the throne of Sweden. The Count's fortunes would change dramatically in 1751 when the newly crowned King found him on his knees at Louisa Ulrika's feet; outraged, Adolf Frederick removed Tessin from court and Louisa Ulrika did nothing to save the reputation of this perhaps too loyal follower.

At the time of her marriage Louisa Ulrika already held unshakable political opinions and was a firm believer in the system of absolute monarchy, something the Swedes did not subscribe to.  However, the intelligent Louisa Ulrika was also a strategist with one eye on the future and she drew loyalists to her until she eventually formed a political party of her own, the Hovpartiet (Court Party). Louisa Ulrika was not above using bribery to achieve her ends, all the time inspiring fierce affection in her followers.

The highly-cultured Louisa Ulrika championed the arts and sciences in Sweden, promoting and funding scientists in the country. As much as she made her cultural mark, the chance to stamp herself on the political landscape of her new nation would prove more elusive.

When she became queen in 1751 she realised the true limits of a Swedish constitution that rendered its monarchs as powerless figureheads, all policy decisions taken by parliament. Her personal ambitions were frequently frustrated by government and by 1756 she was ready to implement her plans, poised for revolution.

The plot had been gestating for years; indeed, half a decade earlier Louisa Ulrika substituted her coronation crown diamonds with glass in order to pawn the gemstones in Berlin and finance her coup d'état. With the followers of Hovpartiet behind her she would seize power once and for all, smashing the constitution and returning Sweden to the rule of an absolute monarchy. Never lacking in self-confidence, Louisa Ulrika's plans were initially frustrated when her own lady-in-waiting, Ulrika Strömfelt, informed parliament that the crown jewels had been tampered with. Even then fortune favoured the Queen as her husband fell ill and she was able to use his period of convalescence to retrieve the diamonds. All the time she continued to plot, arming her followers and developing a plan in which hired criminals would riot in the streets, causing widespread fear and chaos. The royalists, led by the King, would restore order and the monarchs would be swept to power on a tide of public adoration.

In the end it was alcohol and a loose tongue that caused the plot to falter as conspirator Ernst Angel drunkenly discussed the plans in the earshot of police. Arrested and interrogated, Angel gave up the conspirators and justice was swift and merciless as executions, flogging and exile followed. For the Queen the punishment was less painful but immensely humiliating. The proud Queen, who believed in the right of monarchy above all else, was forced her to write a letter of confession and regret. Louisa Ulrika did as she was commanded though said privately that her only true regret was that her revolution had failed. Her husband was put on notice by parliament that, should such a plot occur again, he would be removed from the throne.
Portrait of Count Carl Gustaf Tessin by Louis Tocqué
Portrait of Count Carl Gustaf Tessin by Louis Tocqué,  1741  

The ambitious Louisa Ulrika was not to be sidelined forever and her chance for redemption came with the Seven Years War, when Sweden faced Prussia across the battlefields. As the tide of war turned against Sweden in 1763, parliament found itself forced to ask Louisa Ulrika to negotiate with her brother, Frederick, King of Prussia. For a long time she refused, enjoying this new power over the government she so loathed but when she did intervene, her efforts were successful. All her outstanding debts were cancelled and the Queen was once again in a position to set about bribing members of the government to ensure the decisions of parliament went as she wished.

Her efforts were destined to fail once more and as King Frederick's reign entered its twilight, so too did her influence dim as her own followers drifted away to join her son, Crown Prince Gustav. In 1771 the King died and the following year the newly-crowned King Gustav III would succeed where she had failed, instigating a successful coup and restoring Sweden to an absolute monarchy. Enormously proud of his achievements, she was shocked and dismayed to find that Gustav intended to rule the country according to his own will himself and that her influence would not be needed. As he asserted his independence, Gustav actively went against her recommendations in matters of state and their relationship slowly and surely grew more vitriolic than ever before.

In 1777 our heroine was at the centre of yet more drama when she accused Gustav's wife, Sophia Magdalena, of philandering, claiming that the heir to the throne was the child of nobleman, Fredrik Munck. The scandal that followed was immense and embarrassing to the family as once again, Louisa Ulrika was forced to write yet another statement of regret and apology. The Queen Dowager was to remain estranged from Gustav until she was on her deathbed, when mother and son finally reconciled.

For Louisa Ulrika, luxury and privilege were no substitute for power; she lived a life of driving ambition fuelled by an unshakeable belief not only in monarchy but in her own abilities, ultimately  frustrated by hubris.

Read more about Louisa Ulrika's son, Charles XIII, here.

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

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Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Major-General Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, Founder of Brisbane

Major-General Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, 1st Baronet, GCH, GCB, FRS, FRSE (Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland, 23rd July 1773 – Largs, Ayrshire, Scotland, 27th January 1860)

Portrait of Major-General Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane

Whatever the local gossip-mongers may say, none of us Gilflurts has ever had cause to be shipped off to the New World, it's a scurrilous falsehood. In fact, our only connection to the colonies is the odd tea we took with Major-General Brisbane when he came to call on our elder uncle Gilflurt.

Born in Ayrshire, Brisbane studied mathematics and astronomy at the University of Edinburgh before joining the 38th Regiment of Foot. His military career took him around the world and under the watchful eye of the Duke of Wellington, he rose swiftly through the ranks and was awarded a number of commendations. With the Iron Duke's support he was appointed Governor of New South Wales in 1821 and for his four years in office, was a keen and ambitious reformer. The first President of the Philosophical Society of Australasia, Brisbane set up Australia's first observatory as well as academic agricultural institutions; he also pioneered the sowing of a number of valuable crops in the area.

In 1823 Brisbane championed the building of a new convict settlement at Moreton Bay; this settlement was named after him and by 1839 was a free town. Though his policies found favour with the public, Brisbane clashed with Colonial Secretary, Frederick Goulburn, who was highly critical of some of his decisions. Like those who had taken the office of Governor before him, he found himself at odds with other administrative officers in the region and their complaints against him were enough to trigger an official inquest into his behaviour. Although he was eventually absolved of all the accusations, both Brisbane and Goulburn were recalled to England in December 1824 by Earl Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies.

Brisbane left Australia immediately, retiring into life as a Scottish country gentleman. With his passion for science, he was an eminently suitable candidate for the role of President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1832 (1832) and turned down several high government offices abroad to continue his astronomical work. Further laurels followed with honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge, a gold medal from the Royal Astronomical Society and fellowships of both the London and Edinburgh Royal Societies. His research was invaluable to the field of astronomy and he published a number of works on the subject.

The Brisbane Aisle Vault
The Brisbane Aisle Vault

Brisbane died in 1860 and was buried in the Brisbane Aisle Vault; the convict settlement that took his name is now home to more than two million inhabitants and a State capital... not bad for a boy from Largs!

Monday, 22 July 2013

"My story is my birth and death": Napoléon II

Napoléon François Charles Joseph Bonaparte, Prince Imperial, King of Rome, Prince of Parma (Paris, France, 20th March 1811 – Vienna, Austria, 22nd July 1832)
Known as Franz, Duke of Reichstadt, after 1818

Portrait of Napoleon II as a boy

Well, I'm a continental type so after our jaunts to Austria and Russia, the time seems right for a trip to France to meet a young man who would live an eventful if tragically short life: Napoleon II, affectionately known as "Franz".

Born to Napoleon I and Marie Louise of Austria at the Tuileries Palace, Napoléon II was named Prince Imperial and King of Rome from his birth as well as given the diminutive nickname, L'Aiglon ("the Eaglet").

The child was baptised at Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral by Joseph Fesch, with both nobles and members of the public in attendance. His childhood care was provided by Louise Charlotte Françoise Le Tellier de Montesquiou, the Governess of the Children of France, and he developed a strong bond with her as his education progressed. Fluent in French, German, Italian, Latin and Greek, he was fascinated by military history and enjoyed outdoor pursuits

Portrait of  Marie-Louise, Empress of the French, and the Roi de Rome by François Gérard, 1813
Marie-Louise, Empress of the French, and the Roi de Rome by François Gérard, 1813

When his son was only three years old Napoléon abdicated and named his son as Emperor; though the government refused to acknowledge his office and he never ruled France, the boy remained known as Napoleon II. The child's final meeting with his father took place on 24th January 1814; the two would never see one another again and when Napoleon abdicated in April of that year he gave up his familial rights to the French throne, depriving his son of the right to rule.

Marie Louise and Framz left the Tuileries in March 1814 and travelled to Rambouillet where they were reunited with Marie Louise's father, Emperor Francis II of Austria; barely a month had passed before they departed from France forever to begin a new life in her native land of Austria. Although a movement began to put Napoleon II on the throne of France following his father's defeat at Waterloo, the new French Commission never called him to power and the four year old boy's short reign as Emperor was in name only and even then, only by the most avid Bonapartists. However, when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte ascended the throne in 1852, he took the title Napoleon III, thus recognising Napoleon II's claim to France.

With Napoleon exiled to Elba, mother and son made their home at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. Though his life here was one of luxury and privilege, the boy became a pawn of the court and fell under the particular influence of Austrian Foreign Minister, Prince Metternich of Vienna, who used the boy for political gain. It was Metternich who scotched his chance to take the French throne in 1830 when the Bourbons fell.

As he grew older, Franz developed a strong bond with his cousin, Princess Sophie of Bavaria. When Napoleon III took an interest in the career of her son, Maximillian, rumours spread that Franz was the boy's father. Now, my mother Gilflurt knew a few continentals and always said that this was nothing but gossip; I tend to agree with her on that!

Deathbed portrait of Napoleon II by Johann Nepomuk Ender, 1832
Deathbed portrait by Johann Nepomuk Ender, 1832

Franz died of tuberculosis at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna on 22nd July 1832; his last words were, "Ma naissance et ma mort, voilà toute mon histoire. Entre mon berceau et ma tombe, il y a un grand zéro." ("My story is my birth and death. Between my cradle and my grave, there is a big zero.")

Photograph of the tomb of Napoleon II
The tomb

Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.

Pen and Sword
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Book Depository (free worldwide shipping)

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A Celebrated Strategist: Charles de Croix, Count of Clerfayt

François Sebastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt (Hainaut, Belgium, 14th October 1733 - Vienna, Austria, 21st July 1798)

Engraving of François Sebastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt

I have always liked the cut of a military man's jib and a flamboyant name is equally welcome so I thought I'd take to my secretaire and prepare a little something about the Count of Clerfayt, a gentleman who more more than fits both criteria!

Clerfayt was born in the Austrian Netherlands in the Castle of Bruille. His ambitions were clear from and early age and he joined the Austrian army at the age of 20, seeing action in the Seven Years' War within two years. Clerfayt was highly courageous and rose through the ranks at an incredible rate. By the time the Treaty of Hubertusburg was signed and the war ended, the Count had risen to the rank of Oberst and was awarded the Military Order of Maria Theresa.

Loyal beyond question to Emperor Joseph II, Clerfayt distinguished himself further at the 1787 revolt in the Netherlands and was again promoted, this time to the rank of Feldmarschal-Leutnant. The Count was enormously successful in his chosen career as he roundly trounced the Turks and was rewarded by yet another promotion, by now attaining the rank of Feldzeugmeister.

In 1792, Clerfayt's army successfully engaged French forces at Croix-sous-Bois during the War of the First Coalition before going onto a number of battles in the Netherlands, including the siege of Maastricht. Further successes followed and in 1794 he succeeded the Duke of Saxe-Coburg as commander in chief, though it was at this point that his fortunes took a turn for the worse. In October of that year,  Clerfayt's troops were driven back at the Battle of Wattignies in the first of a series of defeats that eventually culminated in his negotiating a less than favourable armistice with the French. The Austrian Foreign Minister, Johann Thugut, had not been consulted on the decision and Clerfayt was forced to resign, moving into a new career in politics.

Photograph of the grave of François Sebastien Charles Joseph de Croix, Count of Clerfayt
Clerfayt's Grave

Ambition, bravery and loyalty were the watchwords of Clerfayt's time in the military. His career may have ended somewhat abruptly but his reputation remained intact; the Count died in 1798 and remains a highly respected figure in the history of the Austria as one of the greatest soldiers and strategists the country has ever known.