Praskovia Saltykova was the mother of Empress Regnant Anna Ivanovna, and wife of the titular Tsar Ivan V (co-Tsar with Peter the Great). She was a formidible woman, known both for her great charity towards waifs and strays, and her formidible temper.
One of her temper tantrums, aimed at a steward she had dismissed, was related thus in A Forgotten Empress by Mina Kirstein Curtiss: "The man had attempted to avange himself by presenting to the Tsar [Peter] a note Praskovya had written in cipher, which the steward hoped might reveal treason on her part. Outraged by the false implications of the plot, she considered the man's mere imprisonment by the secret police as insufficent punishment. On the pretext of distributing alms, she obtained entrance to his prison cell, where, with threats and curses, she beat him over the head with the cane which here severe gout necessitated her carrying. Growing angrier with each blow, she ordered her servants to burn his head and face with a candle, and finally sent for a bottle of vodka, had it poured over his head and set on fire."
Luckily for the steward, the "horrified" jailors managed to get the dowager Empress to leave before she did any more damage!
Hello everybody! Happy New Year! I hope the year has started well for you all. I thought I’d start the year with a post about an odd tax I found in the Encyclopaedia of Ephemera (pg 171).
In 1784, during the reign of George III, an Act of Parliament was passed by the Government of William Pitt the Younger introducing a “Hat Tax”. Yes, that’s right, a hat tax! Not content with taxing people for the number of windows they had (creating the term Daylight Robbery), Parliament thought it wise to put a tax on men’s hats: not ladies’ hats, of course!
To be a bona fide hat seller, one had to take out a licence to sell hats. The licence cost two pounds in London, and five pounds outside London. Also, the seller had to have the words “Dealer in hats by retail” over the door of their premises. But wait, it gets worse…
Special stamps had to be affixed to the “lining or inside the crown” of the hats, in order to make the hats “legal.” There were penalties for both the seller and the buyer of hats without stamps, and the removal and reuse of stamps was a punishable offence. The penalty for forgery of hat stamps was particularly severe, as this quote from the Encyclopaedia of Ephemera shows:
“It is recorded that in September 1798 John Collins was caught with a forged printing plate, ready inked, with dampened linen ready to receive its impression. His hand bore the ink he had just wiped from the surface of the plate. He was sentenced to death.”
The Window Tax (1697 – 1851) and the Hat tax were not the only examples of slightly deranged taxes imposed by government. We have the Wallpaper Tax (1712 – 1863), which was a tax on patterned, printed or painted wallpaper. It was evaded by buying plain wallpaper and having it hand stencilled. Other crazy taxes were the Brick Tax (1784 – 1850) and the Glove Tax (1785 – 1794).
Yesterday, the 16 Realms of the Commonwealth unanimously agreed to scrap the existing male Primogeniture law for the monarchy. Simply put, this means that, if the oldest child of Prince William and the Duchess of Cornwall is a girl, she will be first in line to succeed them, irrespective of any male siblings she may have. The Current Queen, HRH Queen Elizabeth II, took the title as her father, HRH King George VI, had no male heirs. This new law will bring the UK into line with other European Monarchies, who have also abandoned the "male-preference" Primogeniture laws, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
In order for this to be passed into British Law, several pieces of legislation have to be changed including the Act of Settlement, the Bill of Rights, the Royal Marriages Act and Princess Sophia’s Precedence Act. To ensure the legislation is acceptable to all 16 Realms in the Commonwealth, a "Realms Working Group" will be set up, under the leadership of New Zealand.
This new Law also changes the role of women with respect to the titles of "Heir Apparent" and "Prince of Wales". Under the previous, "male-preference" Primogeniture laws, there was only one situation where a female could become Heir Apparent, and only one special case, legislated for by Parliament, when it actually happened.
To be designated as Heir Apparent, there must be no possibility of displacing the candidate under the current rules of succession. So, HRH Prince Charles is Heir Apparent because he is the eldest surviving son of the Sovereign. Under the "male-preference" Primogeniture laws, no further children of the Queen could displace Charles as Heir Apparent.
For his mother, the story is very different. While Elizabeth was the oldest surviving child of the sovereign, with no male siblings, there was always the possibility that her father may have produced a male child, thus displacing her in the line of succession. Elizabeth was thus Heiress Presumptive, as she could have been displaced at any time by the birth of a male child to her father.
The only way within the previous law that a female could become Heiress Apparent, is in the following specific case. If the Heir Apparent of the reigning monarch were to have a daughter, and then to die, with no further issue (having waited 9 months after his death to see if his wife had been carrying his child), then, as the sole representative of the dead Heir Apparent, his daughter would become Heiress Apparent to her grandparent, the reigning monarch.
The reason for this is as follows. As the eldest surviving son of the Sovereign, the Heir Apparent cannot be displaced in the line of succession by any further children. His children are thus designated as his own successors, and cannot be displaced by any further children of the Sovereign. If the Heir Apparent then fathers a daughter and subsequently dies, that daughter takes the position of her father, the Heir Apparent, and cannot be displaced as her dead father is rather unlikely to have any more children. Thus, she will be Heiress Apparent, and not Heiress Presumptive.
The only case of an official Heiress Apparent in the British Monarchy was Queen Anne. When her father, James II (VII of Scotland) was overthrown, his issue by second wife Mary of Modena was disbarred from inheriting the crown (James the Old Pretender). Thus, the only immediate family of James II in line to the throne were his daughters by his first wife, Anne Hyde, and his nephew, William of Orange.
As a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, James' eldest daughter Mary, and his Nephew, William of Orange (who were by that time husband and wife) were invited to jointly take the throne as William III and Mary II. The settlement stated the following with regards to the succession:
1. William III and Mary II were to reign until death, and neither would lose the rank of sovereign if the other were to die. (Thus William would not be displaced by his children or by Anne, his sister in law).
2. If both sovereigns were to die, then the succession would fall on the children of William and Mary.
3. If William were to die childless, then the succession would fall on the issue of Mary with a second husband.
4. If Mary were to die childless, but William survived her then he would be succeeded by his sister-in-law Anne, and her issue.
5. If Anne were to die childless, or her line were to become extinct, then she would be succeeded by the issue of William with a second wife.
The important point here is point 4. This states that, in the case of Mary II dying without issue, Anne would be the undisputed Heir, and no children of William with another wife could displace her. Thus, for the period where William III reigned after Mary II's death (1694 - 1702), Anne was his Heiress Apparent, not his Heiress Presumptive.
The change in the law will have another interesting effect: we may get our first de facto Princess of Wales. The title of Prince of Wales is given to the Heir Apparent, and as the only female Heir Apparent (Queen Anne) was not given the title, there has never been a female incumbent. With the new laws in place, we may just find that the (hypothetical) eldest daughter of the Duchess of Cambridge may become our first Princess of Wales.
© James Edward Hughes 2011
"We may have been on the brink of Nuclear war and not even known it." - Robert Gates, deputy director of intelligence at the CIA in 1983.
I remember first seeing this in early 2008, wondering to myself why I hadn't even heard of this global near-catastrophy. This was the closest the world ever came to nuclear annihilation, yet nothing about this momentously important time had been mentioned in school, nor was there a huge presence of information in the public domain. Yet the lessons learned from this time are invaluable for the 21st Century.
In 1983, the world was dominated by two super-powers: the United States of America, and the Soviet Union. Their leaders, Ronald Regan and Yuri Andropov, presided over the last great threat of nuclear war in the 20th Century. Before the great thaw in relations between east and west, the bravado of Regan and the paranoia of Andropov nearly wiped life as we know it from this wonderful planet. It was in March of that year that Regan announced the Star Wars project; in August when the Soviets shot down passanger flight KAL-007, mistaking it for a US spy plane, killing over 200 people; and the early days of November, when operation Able Arthur, a nuclear training exercise began.
The documentary '1983: The Brink of Apocalypse' explains just how, in this paronoid time, the superpowers edged towards DEFCON 2, and how disaster was averted by the most unlikely of sources: in one case by two spies, a double agent called Oleg Gordievsky based in London, and Rainer Rupp, codenamed Topaz, an East German spy who had infiltrated the very highest levels of NATO; the second, by a man named Stanislav Petrov, who kept his nerve and refused to react during what proved to be a false alarm that the United States had launched a small number of nuclear missiles at the Soviet Union.
No matter what your political or national affiliation, this documentary is an excellent source of information, containing interviews with key political and military figures of the time, and with 'Topaz' and Petrov.
The "Maggot from Italy's Tomb?" The "Black Widow" of St Bartholomew? Or one of the finest examples of power politics and survival ever seen? Well, I would have to say yes to all of the above, and more! Catherine was one of the most complex characters in a time of massive internal strife in France, with enemies both within (Guise, D'Albret) and abroad (Philip II of Spain).
Born on 13 April 1519, in Florence, Italy, Catherine was the heiress to the estates of both her father, Lorenzo II de Medici, Duke of Urbino, and her mother Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne. They both died soon after her birth. She then became a pawn in the hands of her Papal relatives, first Leo X, then Clement VII. It was Clement that negotiated her marriage to Henry, Duke d'Orleans, second son of King Francis I of France.
Henry's brother Francis died, and Catherine became Dauphine. For 10 years she tried to conveive a child, and when Henry became Dauphin, the situation was all the more critical. Rumours that Henry was to repudiate her drove her to try potions, rub dung on her genitals, and drink mules' urine (thought to increase fertility at the time). She even drilled a hole in the ceiling of the room where her husband was sleeping with his long-term mistress, Diane de Poitiers, to see if there was anything she was doing wrong in the bedroom. Finally, doctors checked both her and Henry, and found an abnormality in his penis. He advised certain sexual positions, which miraculously worked, as Catherine produced ten children!
Although Henry was completely besotted with his mistress, Catherine idolised he husband the the marragethey shared. Apart from a few nominal regencies in his absence, Catherine had very little experience of direct power, as Diane de Poitiers was more in favour at court. When Henry died, during a jousting match where a lance hit him straight in the face, and splintered through his eye, into his brain, and out of his ear, Catherine was thrust into the malestrom of French politics, and the first of her regencies. Francis II, her weak and sickly son, was married to Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary's mother was Mary of Guise, regent of Scotland, and a formidable character in her own right, who was sister of the Guise brothers who now had a strangle-hold on French politics, as they had been named co-regents with Catherine during Francis' minority. It was only when Francis died, and her second son Charles IX became king, that her role as 'Queen Mother' became unassailable. There is some evidence to suggest that Catherine was not altogether sad to see her son's demise, especially as she was able to convince Charles to name her sole regent.
During her reign, Catherine had to cope with the many 'wars of religion' between the ultra-Catholic reactionaries, headed by the Guise faction, and the Protestants, headed by Coligny, Conde and Queen Jeanne d'Albret of Navarre. Jeanne was fanatically Protestant, and a disciple of Calvin. Her husband, Antoine de Bourbon, was Prince of the Blood, meaning next in line to the throne after the Valois family. Once Antoine had died, it was her son Henry, who, in the event of all of Catherine's male children dying childless, would be heir to the French crown. In an inspired move, Catherine forced a marriage alliance on Jeanne, so that her son, the Protestant future Henry IV, would marry Catherine's daughter, Margaret. Just prior to the marriage, Queen Jeanne had died in what some called suspicious circumstances, apparently killed by a pair of poisoned gloves sent from Catherine. It was at the time of the marriage, however, that the most infamous event of her reign occured.
When her son, the future Henry IV, and his entourage of Protestant followers, arrived in Paris, tensions were heated as Paris was fanatically Catholic. An attempt was made on the life of Coligny, who survived, though with an amputated finger. Fearing a massive backlash, Catherine convinced her son Charles IX that a pre-emptive strike against the Hugenot leaders was necessary. His cry of "Then kill them all! Kill them all!" was more real than he would have liked: the ultra-Catholic faction and the people of Paris started to kill all the Protestants they could. The massacre spread out into the surrounding areas. Thousands died. It is not known the extent of Catherine's involvement in the massacre, but it was what lead to the "Black Legend" surrounding her from that time on.
One of the accusations thrown at Catherine was the use of astrology and black magic, and her belief in omens, signs, portents and premonitions. Nostradamus was known to have prophesied for her on more than one occasion. R. J. Knecht, in his book Profiles in Power: Catherine de' Medici, states that she:
"owned a book with pages of bronze on which rotating disks represented the constellations. By manipulating them, she could easily work out the conjunctions essential to the reading of horoscopes."
She was especially diligent at this in the case of her children. She also used astrologers at court, one being Regnier, but the more famous being Cosimo Ruggieri. Ruggieri was not just an astrologer, but also a Black Magician too. In her book, Catherine de Medici, Leonie Frieda talks about some of the practices used by Catherine and Ruggieri to get rid of her enemies in the Protestant camp, in particular the use of dolls and models to torture and kill at a distance. After one battle in particular, three of the top Hugenot's were found in exactly the same position as the dolls used by Ruggieri.
By far the most henious sorcery attributed to Catherine and Ruggieri was the Oracle of the Bleeding Head. Both Helena Blavatsky, in "Isis Unveiled", and Eliphas Levi, in "Transcendental Magic", quote Bodin's "La Demonomanie, ou traite des Sorciers" to describe the foul act of preparing the oracle. A male child, without imperfection, was chosen, and given his first communion. The black mass was prepaired, in front of the inverted cross, in the rooms of Charles IX, Catherine's sickly son. At the altar, after taking the white wafer, the head was struck from the body in a single blow, and placed:
"all palpitating, upon the great black wafer which covered the bottom of the paten, then placed on a table where some mysterious lamps were burning...the demon was charged to pronounce an oracle, and reply by the mouth of this head..."
We do not know the question allegedly asked of this oracle, but the answer given in "a feeble voice, a strange voice, which had nothing of human character about it..." was: "Vim patior" which in Latin means "I suffer violence." It is thought that this would be the king's fate in Hell for his part in the St Bartholomeaw's Day Massacre. On hearing this, he ran from the room, and died shortly after.
Catherine's life ended, probably dying of pleurisy, months before the assination of her last surviving son, Henry III. She had seen eight children go to the grave, her husband die, and her realm splinter and fracture under the strain of religious warfare. Yet still she managed to play off the different factions, to keep her incompetent sons in power, to marry off her daughters well, and so survive every reversal that befell her. Henry IV (Queen Jeanne's son) said of her:
"I ask you, what could a woman do, left by the death of her husband with five little children on her arms, and two families of France who were thinking of grasping the crown—our own [the Bourbons] and the Guises? Was she not compelled to play strange parts to deceive first one and then the other, in order to guard, as she did, her sons, who successively reigned through the wise conduct of that shrewd woman? I am surprised that she never did worse."
© James Edward Hughes 14/04/2010