April 30, 2015

It Happened on April 30th

A Walpurgis Night bonfire


Tonight is Walpurgis Night, or Walpurgisnacht if you're Germanic-inclined. (I just like the sound of it.) It's the eve before Beltane, and, like Halloween, is a time of year when the boundaries between this world and the spirit world are said to be especially thin. It's a time of the turning between seasons, was celebrated by the ancient pagans, and is still celebrated today. Coming between spring and summer, it's not quite one thing or another, and anything can happen.

You may wonder how such a pagan holiday came to be named after a Christian saint. It happened for the usual reason: it gave you a chance to celebrate the day and the Church authorities would still leave you alone. Sometimes. In about the 16th or 17th century, the notion arose of Walpurgis Night being a time when witches' sabbats were held, and that would almost always get you into trouble.

The real Saint Walpurga was an English missionary to the Frankish empire, the sister of Saint Willibald and Saint Winibald, the daughter of Saint Richard the Pilgrim, and the niece of Saint Boniface. With Boniface, she evangelized to the German pagans. She was also well-educated, and wrote accounts of her brothers' lives, making her perhaps the first known English (and German) female author.

One of the traditions of Walpurgisnaught is the lighting of giant bonfires, supposedly to keep the evil spirits at bay. There may be a more practical reason for the fires, as well. Walpurgis season, in northern European areas, was when the livestock was first let out to graze in the countryside, and the fires were an efficient way of keeping wolves and o
William Lilly
ther predators away.

William Lilly's Birthday, 1602

William Lilly was a famed astrologer of the 17th century. His most famous work, Christian Astrology, was printed in 1647 and has never gone completely out of print. He got himself into a lot of trouble by predicting the Great Fire of London 14 years before it happened, but was found innocent of starting it in his trial before Parliament.

Lilly's ancestors had been yeoman for several generations, and he managed to get a basic classical education. When he was 17, his father fell on hard times and William could no longer continue in school. He went to London, where he was hired as a clerk and attendant for an elderly couple. Seven years later the gentleman died, leaving Lilly an inheritance of £20. Soon after that, Lilly married the man's widow, Ellen, who died a few years later, leaving him an inheritance of  £1000.

Lilly began to study astrology, and also started paying attention to the world of rulers and politics. He made quite a reputation for himself with his predictions, published widely, and got himself noticed by the great men of the day. He had set himself up as a professional astrologer, taking as many as 2000 questions a year, and also privately advised Cromwell and his supporters. He was also consulted by the Royalists, although Charles, suspecting his motives, declined to take his advice.

When Charles II returned to power, Lilly was in a bit of trouble, but thanks to help from friends in high places, he was pardoned. In 1661 he pledged his loyalty to the King -- an act for which he paid a fee of £13 6s 3d. After that, he led a relatively quiet, low-profile life.

Lilly married twice more after Ellen's death. His second wife was named Jane, and the marriage was very unhappy. Lilly said it was because Jane was "of the nature of Mars." She died in 1654, and Lilly married again, to Ruth, who was of a more compatible astrological aspect.

Lilly is regarded today as one of the masters of horary astrology, a branch in which the astrologer attempts to answer a question by drawing a chart based on the time the question was asked. He was the author of the first astrology book written in English (rather than Latin). The republication of a facsimile edition of Christian Astrology in 1985 brought about a revival of interest in the field that continues today.

Wax museum replica of LeVey.  Photo by Fernando de Sousa.

Church of Satan Established, 1966

While I'm on the occult theme, I might as well tell you about the Church of Satan, which was established in San Francisco on Walpurgis Night, 1966. The Church was founded by writer, musician, and occultist Anton LeVey.

The Church of Satan does not worship the devil, or, in fact, believe in him or in any other supernatural deities. They use the word "Satan" in what they say is its original, Hebrew context: an "adversary", or questioner. The Church promotes rational, materialistic, and individualistic goals. Among the Satanic Sins are: stupidity, self-deceit, herd conformity, and lack of aesthetics.

Since the Church of Satan does not release information on its membership figures, it is unknown how many members there actually are. They don't solicit membership, either, but you can become a Registered Member for a fee of $200 (assuming you're legally classified as an adult in the nation in which you live.) In order to become a first-degree Active Member, you have to participate in the Church and answer an examination. Admission to higher degrees is by invitation only.

Anton LeVey died in 1997. The Church is currently headed by High Priest and Priestess Peter H. Gilmore and Peggy Nadramia, and the headquarters is now located in Hell's Kitchen, New York City.

April 29, 2015

It Happened on April 29th

Photograph by Musteroiseau

The Peace Rose Introduced in US, 1945

The rose's first name was simply 3-35-40. It was a one of a number of experimental roses grown by French horticulturalist Francis Meilland. As the German invasion of France loomed, Meilland feared for his most promising rose, and sent cuttings to acquaintances in Italy, Germany, and the United States. The cutting bound for the United States left on the last plane out of France before the German invasion.

The rose was a hit everywhere it was grown, and, due to the lack of communication during the war, it received several names. In Germany, it was called the Gloria Dei ("Glory to God") rose. In Italy it was named the Gioia ("Joy"). In America it was called the Peace Rose. Meilland himself named it the Madame A. Meilland, after his mother. Madame A. Meilland is its formal cultivar name.

In the United States, the ceremonial introduction of the Peace Rose took place in the first annual rose show of the Pacific Rose Society, in Pasadena, California. Two white doves were released into the air as a symbol of Peace. The event took place, coincidentally, on the same day as the fall of Berlin, considered to mark the end of World War II.

The rose is a hybrid tea rose with yellow tones. Today it is the most popular rose in the world, and it is estimated that between 350,000 and 500,000 Peace Roses are grown annually.

The Elektromote

The Elektromote Demonstrated, 1882

The Elektromote was the first electric trolleybus, and its invention is certainly much earlier than I would have expected. It was presented to the public on April 29, 1882 by its inventor, Dr. Ernest Werner von Siemens, in Halensee, Germany.

In case you're wondering what the difference is between a trolley (also called a trolleybus or trackless tram) and a streetcar, it's all to do with the way the electrical circuit is completed. A trolley uses two overhead wires and two poles to complete an electrical circuit. A streetcar (or tram) uses the track as the return part of the circuit, and thus needs only one overhead wire and pole.

Trolleybuses are far less popular than they used to be, but at least 315 cities still use them. In the United States they are now in use in Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Dayton.

John Arbuthnot

John Arbuthnot's Birthday, 1667

John Arbuthnot was a literary man about London in the 17th century. He was a physician, a satirist, and an expert in many fields. As a friend of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, he is thought to have inspired some of the works of both authors. He was known to have provided "hints" to his acquaintances -- suggestions for satires, essays, or other literary endeavors.

Arbuthnot's most enduring legacy, however, is his creation of the character John Bull. John Bull is now accepted as the national personification of Great Britain, just as Uncle Sam is the personification of the United States. John Bull is usually depicted as a stout, middle-aged man, usually wearing some form of the Union Jack in his clothing.

John Bull
Bull was introduced in Arbuthnot's pamphlet, Law is a Bottomless Pit, meant to discourage involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession. In the satire, John Bull (England) is suing Louis Baboon (Louis Bourbon, or France) over the estate of the deceased Lord Strutt (Charles II, or Spain). The only one who profits from the enterprise is John Bull's lawyer.

If we don't know too much about Arbuthnot's life, it's really not our fault. He was extremely reluctant to leave any records of his life at all, fearing what would be made of them in a posthumous biography. At the time, recently deceased authors were made the targets of quickly written and notoriously inaccurate biographies, produced by booksellers in order to publicize the dead author's books. The worst of these booksellers was Edmund Curll, who would actually hire writers to make things up if an adequately sensational biography could not be obtained otherwise. Of him, Arbuthnot said, "Biography is one of the new terrors of death."

April 28, 2015

It Happened on April 28th

Mutiny on the Bounty, 1789

Bligh and his supporters were set adrift.
No doubt you're familiar with the story of the mutiny on the Bounty. It's been the subject of several movies; the most memorable are those starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, Trevor Howard and Marlon Brando, and Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson as Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian.

The basic facts are these: on April 28, 1789 the crew of the HMS Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian, mutinied against Captain William Bligh. Bligh and most of those loyal to him were set adrift with only meager supplies, a sextant, and a pocket watch. The mutineers ultimately landed at Pitcairn's Island, where they burned the Bounty and settled.

Popular belief holds that the crew rebelled because of the extraordinary cruelty of Captain Bligh. In fact, Bligh was comparatively lenient compared to other British naval officers of the time. According to the ship's log, he punished infrequently and preferred verbal rebukes to corporal punishment. He was concerned with the health of his crew, striving to maintain a good diet and adequate sanitation on the voyage. He also tried to curb the spread of venereal disease among his men, but was not very successful in that regard.

William Bligh in later life.
The Bounty had begun its career as a collier -- a ship designed and used to carry coal. It had been purchased by the Royal Navy for an experiment designed to benefit the slave trade. The ship was charged with traveling to Tahiti, picking up breadfruit plants, and then bringing them to the West Indies where it was hoped they would flourish and become a cheap foodstuff for slaves. The ship was converted to provide appropriate storage and transport for the plants, and a small crew (46 men) was taken on. The ship set sail on December 23, 1787.

The first trouble on the voyage occurred at Cape Horn. Bad weather made the Horn unusually difficult, and it took a full month for the ship to round it. After ten months at sea, the Bounty finally reached Tahiti on October 26, 1788.

Once in Tahiti, the crew began collecting and potting breadfruit trees. What no one had counted on, however, was that it would take considerable time for the plants to reach a state where they could safely undertake the sea voyage. The crew stayed on Tahiti for five months, living ashore and caring for the plants. The crew became used to the ways of the island, and relations between captain and crew became increasingly worse. Bligh became increasingly strict and unpredictable and seemed to single out Christian for punishment.

The Bounty and its company left Tahiti on April 5, 1789. On April 28, the crew mutinied, with Fletcher Christian as their leader. Out of the 42 men on board (excluding Christian and Bligh, and two men who had died on the trip out), 18 were mutineers, 22 remained loyal to the captain, and 2 attempted to stay neutral.

Bligh and five loyal officers were forced into the ship's launch. More volunteered to go with him, knowing that if they stayed with Christian they could be hung as mutineers, whether or not they had actively participated. When the 23-foot was launched, Bligh and 18 men were on board. The boat was so heavy that its gunwales were only a few inches above water. They had four cutlasses, enough food and water for a few days, a sextant, and a pocket watch -- no charts, no compasses.

Cultivating the breadfruit trees.
The Bounty, meanwhile, made first for the island of Tubuai, where they were attacked by natives, and then back to Tahiti. Some of the mutineers were left in Tahiti, but Christian and eight other crewmen sailed out again with six Tahitian men, 11 women, and one baby. They were still hoping to avoid capture and punishment by the Royal Navy. Finally, on January 15, 1790, they landed at Pitcairn Island, which had been previously discovered but had since been misplaced on the official maps. The fugitives unloaded their livestock and provisions, and then sank the ship -- partly to avoid detection by the Navy, and partly to prevent any malcontents from leaving.

Bligh, miraculously, was able to bring the tiny boat and most of his men to safety. They attempted to land first at Tofua, about 30 nautical miles from where the mutiny took place. There, one of the crewmen was stoned to death by natives. After that, Bligh was afraid to attempt landing anywhere for fear of the same results. He managed to bring the launch 3618 nautical miles (that's the equivalent of about 4163 land miles) to Timor, the nearest European post. The trip took 47 days.

Another British Navy ship, the HMS Pandora, commanded by Edward Edwards, was sent to search for the Bounty and its mutineers. After finding and taking on as prisoners the mutineers who remained in Tahiti, it spent a few months searching for the rest before turning back to England. It was sunk on a reef, losing 31 men and four prisoners. The remaining 89 crewmen and 10 prisoners manned four launches and also made for Timor.

Back in England, both Bligh and Edwards faced courts martial for the loss of their ships. (This was standard procedure, by the way, and no reflection on their abilities or conducts.) Of the 10 men who were taken prisoner by the Pandora, four were acquitted (the four who had been loyal to Bligh but could not be taken on the launch), two were found guilty but pardoned, one was reprieved on a technicality and pardoned, and three were convicted and hung. Both Bligh and Edwards were acquitted.

In fact, Bligh was given command of another expedition to collect breadfruit on the HMS Providence. This time the expedition was successful -- 2126 breadfruit trees were successfully delivered. The slaves in the West Indies, however, refused to eat the breadfruit, so the project was ultimately useless. Eventually, Bligh attained the rank of Vice Admiral. In his later life he also served for awhile as the Governor of New South Wales, but was arrested and overthrown during the Rum Rebellion. Apparently, he just wasn't very lucky as a commander.

Fletcher's son, Thursday October Christian.
The mutineers on Pitcairn Island didn't exactly have an easy time of it, either. Fletcher Christian was the first leader of the settlement and was considered a just and good leader, giving the Tahitians an equal say in the running of the settlement. The other Europeans, however, tended to treat them like servants, and this state of affairs ultimately led to rebellion. Five of the mutineers, including Christian, and six of the Tahitians were killed during the hostilities. The remaining four mutineers attempted to lead the settlement, but less effectively. When the island was discovered by an American ship in 1808, one mutineer, John Adams, was discovered on the island, along with nine women and various children. Adams was granted amnesty for the mutiny.

April 27, 2015

It Happened on April 27th

This picture of the Sultana was taken the day before its explosion.

Sultana Steamboat Explosion, 1865

On April 27, 1865, the Mississippi riverboat, the SS Sultana, exploded near Memphis due to a faulty boiler. An estimated 1800 passengers were killed, most of them Union soldiers returning home from Confederate prisoner of war camps.

The Sultana was a wooden steamship, and fairly new. It had been commissioned in 1863 and ran regular routes between New Orleans and St. Louis. Frequently, the U.S. War Department had commissioned it to transport troops.

On its last trip, the Sultana stopped in Vicksburg, Mississippi to pick up prisoners. It also needed repairs to its boiler. A complete boiler replacement would have taken three days, so a partial repair was made. A bulged area was removed from one of the boilers and a patch of inferior metal replaced it. That repair only took one day.

In the meantime, the ship had filled up with Union Prisoners who were eager to get home. They had recently been released from Confederate prisoner of war camps (the Civil War had ended only weeks before) and most of them were returning to Ohio.

The boat filled up quickly as soldiers clamored to get on board. The Sultana had a legal capacity of 376. It is thought that approximately 2400 got on board, filling every available inch of space.

The explosion occurred at about 2:00 am, when the steamship was about eight miles north of Memphis. The most likely cause was low levels of water in the boilers. The river took a series of twists and turns as it progressed northward. Since the ship was so overcrowded and top heavy, with every turn the ship listed to one side or the other, sloshing water from one of the four connected boilers to the next. The empty boilers, with the fires still going, developed hot spots in the metal. When the water returned, it turned to steam as soon as it hit the hot spots, which caused sudden high pressure, weakening the metal. If the boilers had maintained a high water level, there would have been less damage to the boilers.

When the boilers exploded, a large section of the ship was immediately destroyed. The remaining portions of the ship were ignited by hot coals and burst into flame. The fire could be seen eight miles away in Memphis.

Illustration of the event from Harper's Weekly.
Many of the Union soldiers were already ill or weakened by their stay in the prisoner of war camps. Those that survived the initial blast, and the fire, found themselves plunged into the Mississippi, now extremely cold from the spring run-off. Many died of drowning or hypothermia. It was an hour before the first rescue ship reached them.

About 500 survivors (some who had been found in trees along the river banks) were taken to hospitals in Memphis. About 300 of those died later of their burns or from exposure. All of the ship's officers died. The exact number of deaths is unknown -- the official count is 1547, but historians believe it may have been as high as 1800.

A curious footnote to the story is that one man claimed responsibility for the blast. His name was Robert Louden, and he was a resident of St. Louis and a former Confederate saboteur. According to his business partner, Louden made a deathbed confession that he had sabotaged the ship by "coal torpedo", a device that had been invented during the Civil War for just this purpose. Iron shells resembling pieces of coals were created, filled with gunpowder, and sealed with beeswax. The device was then rolled in coal dust and placed in a coal pile to be used in a ship's boiler. The torpedo itself wasn't powerful enough to destroy a ship, but it could cause the explosion of a boiler, which was.

Les Mignons were favorites of Henry III, above.

The Duel of Les Mignons, 1578

"Les Mignons" means, literally, "the darlings" or "the dainty ones." They were the favorites of King Henry III of France, and contributed greatly to his unpopularity among the people. They dressed in an elaborate, effeminate style, were rumored to have unorthodox sexual preferences, and received great -- and generally undeserved -- favors from the king.

One of Henry's chief rivals was Henry, Duke of Guise. On April 27, 1578, the two court factions decided to reenact the Battle of the Horatii and the Curiatii. This story goes back to a long war between Rome and Alba Longa in the 7th century BC. According to the story, it was decided that the whole war would be decided by a battle between two sets of triplets: the Horatii, representing Rome, and the Curiatii representing Alba Longa.

In the original battle, two of the Horatii were killed, and the three Curiatii, who had been wounded, chased the remaining Horatius. In the chase, the Curiatii became separated and the Horatius was able to kill them one by one. Returning to Rome, he was met by his sister, who expressed grief, since she had been engaged to be married to one of the Curiatii triplets. Horatius killed her as well. The people of Rome wanted to execute Horatius for the murder of his sister, but his father addressed the crowd, speaking of his son's recent victory of their behalf, and of his own grief in having recently lost three of his four children. Horatius was allowed to live.

The original Horatii, taking their oath.
The story of the Duel of the Horatii and Curiatii had long be told as an example of how stupid governments could be, in this case by settling the future of their countries on single -- er, triple -- combat. In the case of the reenactment by the Mignons and the followers of the Duke of Guise, the episode was regarded as even stupider. If you're wondering about the outcome, two were killed outright, one died of his wounds the next day, and one died after 33 days of agony. Of the two survivors, one convalesced for six weeks, and the other escaped with merely a scratch. It is safe to say that none of the deaths were mourned by the public.

April 26, 2015

It Happened on April 26th

John James Audubon's Birthday, 1785

John James Audubon -- the Lost Dauphin??

The Life of John James Audubon

He was a remarkable artist, and one of the most influential ornithologists who ever lived. He may also have been the Lost Dauphin, Louis XVII of France.

He was born Jean Rabin, the son of a French naval officer named James Audubon and his Creole mistress, in the French Colony of Les Cayes in what is now Haiti. His mother died when he was very young, and he was then cared for by his father's mulatto housekeeper, by whom he also had several illegitimate children. After a slave rebellion in 1788, James Audubon decided to return to France, and he took two of his children with him, Jean and an infant girl.

In France, Audubon and his wife formally adopted both children and the boy was renamed Jean-Jacques Fougere Audubon. He learned all the accomplishments that a young man of his station would be expected to know -- music, dance, fencing, riding -- but his real love was nature. His father hoped that he would become a naval officer and he was sent to military school. Jean-Jacques turned out to be prone to seasickness and not very good at mathematics or navigation. After failing to qualify for officers' training, he was allowed to return home where he resumed exploring the fields and woods.

In 1803, when Audubon was 18, his parents secured a false passport for him and sent him to the United States in order to avoid his being drafted for Napoleon's army. The plan was for him to join in partnership with the son of a friend of his father's, developing a lead mine in Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. The site was a 284-acre homestead, and Audubon soon found ample opportunity to explore the fields and woods, hiking, hunting, fishing, and drawing. He also made the acquaintance of Lucy Bakewell, whom he would later marry.

The lead mine enterprise turned out relatively unsuccessful, and Audubon next attempted to learn the import-export business. He made several attempts at running a general store with his partner from the lead mine project, Ferdinand Rozier. Audubon attempted many business enterprises during his life, but the only things he was really successful at were his nature and artistic projects. During lean times he was always able to eke out a living with his hunting and fishing skills, and he gave drawing lessons and did portraiture when necessary to raise cash. His wife was able to earn a stable income teaching.

Cover showing the Egretta Tricolor

Birds of America

Audubon's drawings were based on birds which he had killed and then stuffed and mounted into realistic positions. (Most other taxidermists of the time posed their birds into rigid, unlifelike poses.) He worked primarily in watercolor, and based his work on his observations in nature. Many of Audubon's earliest works have been lost, mainly because he repeatedly destroyed them in order to motivate himself to do better. He also lost a cache of 200 drawings in 1812, when rats got into his drawings while he was on a brief trip.

Audubon's great work was his Birds of America. It was a collection of colored prints made from copper plates and published in England. The prints measured 39 by 26 inches, and the birds were depicted life-size. In the case of some of the larger birds, this required some rather strange positions in order to get the bird on the page. The prints were sold by subscription, and came in sets of five that were issued every month or so.

The printing cost of Birds of America was $115,640 -- in today's money the equivalent of more than two million dollars. In addition to the money raised by subscriptions, Audubon raised funds by exhibitions, and by selling oil paintings -- both copies of the bird drawings and other works by commission -- and animal skins which he had hunted. It is believed that only 200 complete copies of the work were ever printed.

The American Flamigo
A text to go with the birds, Ornithological Biography, or An account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America, was published separately. It was written jointly by Audubon and Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray, and consisted of five volumes. Under British Law, the publisher of any text was required to furnish free copies to the public libraries of England. Audubon published the prints separately from the text in order to limit his expense -- the prints were unbound and thus free copies were not required.

Altogether, the complete set of prints and the accompanying five volumes cost a subscriber about $1000. More affordable octavo editions (about nine by six inches) of the text and illustrations were published later in the United States. Various copies still exist: it is estimated that five of the ten highest prices ever paid for printed books were for copies of Birds of America. A complete copy of the original edition recently sold at auction for the equivalent about $11.5 million.

So What about the Lost Dauphin?

The story that John James Audubon may have been the Lost Dauphin of France is a story that originated only after Audubon's death. There had been several stories as to what had become of Louis XVII after his parents, Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, had been guillotined. It is known that the little prince had been imprisoned with his family at the Temple, a fortress in Paris. He was later removed from the Temple and given into the care of a cobbler and his wife, Antoine and Jean Marie Simon. When Jean Marie fell ill, the child was returned and was certified to be in good health.

After this, the trail gets harder to follow, since many of the Temple records were destroyed during the Bourbon Restoration. It was claimed that the child was put into a darkened room and that food was passed in through the bars of his cage. It was also claimed that no one actually saw him for a period of six months.

Audubon in 1850
At the end of those six months, he was visited by the Director leader Barras, who noted that he was suffering from neglect. His cell was cleaned and new caretakers were appointed. He was periodically inspected by members of the Civil Committee -- usually different ones each time. He never spoke.

The child became seriously ill in 1795, when he was 10 years old. A doctor was sent for, but the child died. An autopsy stated that the child was about 10 years old, that the doctor had been informed that he was Louis Capet's son, and that he had died of an infection from a long-standing case of scrofula (tuberculosis of the lymph nodes).

Immediately after his death, rumors of his escape arose, fueled by his relative anonymity in the last years of his life, and the lack of a positive identification after his death. The remnants of the royal family paid no tributes to his memory; even his sister declined to wear mourning.

In 1846, the mass grave where the dauphin was buried was exhumed. Only one body showed evidence of tuberculosis, and the body appeared to be that of a boy in his middle to late teens.

When the Bourbon monarchy was destroyed, at least a hundred claimants to the throne came forward, all claiming to be the Lost Dauphin. The claims persisted for decades, and some still believe them today. One of the most interesting claims concerns John James Audubon.

Audubon never claimed to be Louis XVII himself, but the rumor became prevalent after his death. He was the right age. He was adopted -- and under somewhat mysterious circumstances. He appeared in France at about the time that Louis disappeared. And there was the evidence of a very strange letter that he had written to his wife from Paris in 1828, in which he described himself as "patient, silent, bashful, and yet powerful of physique and mind, dressed as a common man, I walk the streets! I bow! I ask permission to do this or that! I...who should command all!"

April 25, 2015

It Happened on April 25th

First Execution by Guillotine, 1792

Louis XVI's execution by guillotine in 1793.
We tend to think of the guillotine as an object of horror, but in the 18th century it marked a great step forward in humanitarian executions. Before the adoption of the guillotine executions in France fell into two categories. Members of the nobility were beheaded with an axe or a sword and it generally took at least two strokes to behead a person. Sometimes the victim bled to death before the head was completely severed. Members of the lower classes were hanged, a process that could take several minutes to effect death, or even longer.

The guillotine was intended as an equalizer, since it would be used on all executed criminals, regardless of class. It was also believed that it would cause a more humane death by instantaneous execution. Other reforms banned the use of torture, the confiscation of property, and punishments against the family of the accused.

"I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye..."
Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, for whom the device is named, was not the inventor of the guillotine. He was, in fact, opposed to the death penalty, but he hoped that a more humane method of execution would be the first step in the abolition of capital punishment. He served on a committee formed under the National Assembly and headed by the King's physician to research devices that could be used for the purpose of decapitation. Various machines were studied, including the Scottish Maiden and the Halifax Gibbet. There is a story that Louis XVI himself (who was an amateur locksmith and interested in mechanical items) suggested the use of a triangular blade instead of the crescent-shaped ones that were commonly used in other countries, but the story is probably apocryphal.

Guillotin's name became inextricably linked to the machine when, in a speech to the Assembly, he said, "Now, with my machine, I cut off your head in the twinkling of an eye, and you never feel it!" The statement was reported to the public, became the subject of a popular song, and after that Guillotin's name was forever tied to the device.

Guillotin came close to being put to death by the guillotine himself. He had been imprisoned after receiving a letter from a condemned man (who wanted him to look after his wife and children) which immediately put him under suspicion. Guillotin was freed after Robespierre fell from power. (There was another Dr. Guillotin who was executed by guillotine, but he was no relation.) Guillotin's family petitioned the government to change the name of the machine; when the government refused, they changed their own name.

The first person executed by the guillotine, by the way, was Nicholas Jacques Pelletier. He was a highwayman who had assaulted and killed a man in Paris, and was arrested the same night. He was sentenced to death on December 31, 1791, but had to wait until April to be executed. The National Assembly had outlawed all executions except by guillotine, but the guillotine had not yet been built. When the execution finally took place, the crowd was disappointed by the lack of drama.

France continued using the guillotine as the only legal method of execution until capital punishment was outlawed in 1981. The sole exceptions were executions decreed by military courts, which mandated trial by firing squad, and certain crimes against national security.

Samantha was honored on a Soviet stamp.

Samantha Smith is Invited to the USSR, 1983

Samantha Smith was nine years old when she wrote to the new Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov. She congratulated him on his new appointment, and expressed her worries about the Soviet Union and the United States going to war. She wanted to know if Andropov was going to vote for war or not, and why he wanted to conquer her country.

Her letter was published in the Soviet Pravda, but Samantha wasn't satisfied. Andropov hadn't answered her letter. She wrote again, this time to the Soviet Union's Ambassador to the United States, asking him if she would be receiving a reply. This time Andropov wrote back.

Andropov's response, which she received on April 26, 1983, stressed the wish of Andropov and the Soviet people for peace, and invited Samantha to come visit them. She visited the Soviet Union with her parents and spent two weeks there. She was amazed by the friendliness of the Russian people, and later wrote a book about her experiences. Samantha charmed the Russian people, but many Americans considered her to be an unwitting pawn serving Soviet propaganda.

Samantha later went to Japan, where she visited Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and attended a Children's Symposium. She became a celebrity in the United States -- enough to attract a stalker, Robert John Bardo, who latter stalked and killed actress Rebecca Schaeffer. She starred in a television series, Lime Street, with Robert Wagner.

On August 25, 1985, Samantha was killed in a accident when the commuter plane she was traveling in crashed on landing, killing all passengers and crew. Over 1,000 people attended her funeral. In her home state of Maine, the first Monday in June has been declared Samantha Smith day. The Soviet Union has issued a commemorative stamp in her honor, and named an asteroid after her.

April 24, 2015

It Happened on April 24th

Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope's Birthday, 1815

When I was younger, and more patient, I used to adore the novels of Anthony Trollope. They were huge, gossipy Victorian novels, full of memorable characters and interesting complications. These days my patience is not quite what it used to be and I tend to prefer the BBC adaptations. If you haven't seen them and you like that sort of thing, I heartily recommend them. There are four-episode adaptations of The Way We Live Now and He Knew He Was Right, a seven-hour adaptation of The Barchester Chronicles, and a 26-part series on The Pallisers. They're all available on DVD, and chances are good that you could borrow them from your library.

Trollope was the son of an impoverished barrister. His mother was an accomplished writer in her own right, best known for her first book, Domestic Manners of the Americans, written after her stint in Cincinnati as an unsuccessful entrepreneur. Anthony's older brother, Thomas Adolphus Trollope, also was a writer, best known for his histories and travel writing. All three of the writing Trollopes were pretty prolific: Thomas published about 60 volumes and Frances over 100. Thomas was the least prolific writer of the family, publishing only 47 novels, plus some short stories and a few travel books.

Anthony Trollope began working for the General Post Office when he was 19 and obtained a post in London. He apparently wasn't a very good worker. He was known for being unpunctual and insubordinate, and his superior was happy to recommend him for a post in Ireland just to get rid of him. Trollope had volunteered for the post -- he was unhappy in London, and deeply in debt.

Mom was a writer, too.
He found himself unexpectedly happy in Ireland. His money went further, he took up fox-hunting, and he met Rose Heseltine, whom he eventually married. He also began writing novels. A large part of his duties in the Post Office required long train trips around Ireland, and he used his time on the train to write. His first novels, naturally enough, were about Ireland.

Although he was happy in Ireland, he felt that, as a writer, his place was in London. He obtained a Post Office position there in 1859, and began submitting his works for publication in London. His Irish-themed stories were not very salable there, so he began writing novels set in England. His novels were very successful, both in popular sales and with the critics.

In fact, his reputation as a writer stayed elevated throughout his life, and was only damaged by the publication of his Autobiography after his death in 1882. In his autobiography explained his writing habits, which many could not reconcile to current romantic ideas about visitation from "the Muse." He held himself scrupulously to a daily quota, and if he finished a novel before his quota was up, he started a new book. He wrote every day from 5:30 am to 8:30 am, and produced at least 250 words every 15 minutes. He also stated that he wrote with the object of earning money, and considered any author who didn't to be foolish.

Daniel Defoe

Death of Daniel Defoe, 1731

The members of the Trollope family seem like mere amateurs when you think about the writings of Daniel Defoe, who wrote more than 500 books, pamphlets, and journals during his lifetime. Defoe was the son of a chandler (candle-maker). His birth name was Foe -- he later changed it to Defoe for a more aristocratic-sounding appeal. Among his most famous works are Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and A Journal of the Plague Year.

Defoe was a survivor of some of the most devastating events in English history. He was six years old when the Great Plague swept London, leaving 70,000 dead. A year later the Great Fire of London took place. Defoe's was one of only three homes standing in his neighborhood when it was all over. When he was 26 he took part in the Monmouth Rebellion, an attempt to overthrow James II by the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II's illegitimate son. Defoe's side lost and although many others were executed or transported for their crimes, Defoe was pardoned. He was also a witness to the Great Storm of 1703, the most severe storm ever observed in the southern part of Great Britain. Defoe wrote books about both the Great Plague and the Great Storm.

April 23, 2015

It Happened on April 23rd

St. George and the Dragon, 1899 oil by Gustave Moreau.

St. George's Day

We might as well start out talking about St. George Day, or the Feast of St. George, since so many of today's observances are linked to him. It's celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church. It's celebrated by the various Orthodox Churches, although not necessarily on the same day. St. George is the patron saint of England, so of course it's observed in most of the British Commonwealth. He's also the patron saint of a whole bunch of towns and cities all over the world, so we get St. George's Day celebrations there as well.

Who was St. George? It's believed that he lived during the late third and early fourth century AD, and belonged to a noble Christian family in the city of Lod. Lod is now located in Israel. At the time it was in the Roman province of Syria Palaestina. He became a soldier of the imperial guard for the Emperor Diocletian. When Diocletian ordered all of his Christian soldiers to convert to paganism or die, George refused.

George was tortured on the wheel of swords and resuscitated three times before being beheaded. So great was his faith that the Empress Alexandra and a pagan priest named Athanasius were moved to become Christians and died as well. Shortly after his death, George began being honored as a martyr. In 494 he was canonized by Pope Gelasius I.

George did a little recruiting during WWI.
St. George's most famous exploit involves the rescue of a maiden from a dragon, or perhaps a crocodile, if you're going to insist on historical accuracy. The dragon was terrorizing the natives of the city of Silene by guarding the spring that supplied their water and only granting them access after they had sacrificed a sheep to it. After they ran out of sheep, they began providing a virgin, determined by lot. St. George put an end to that exchange by putting an end to the dragon.

The first mention of St. George in England is in the writings of the Venerable Bede in the seventh century. The Feast Day of St. George was celebrated in England and eventually became a major holiday, on a par with Christmas. The flag of St. George, a red cross on a white background, became the emblem of England and later was incorporated as part of the Union Jack.

Birth of William Shakespeare, 1564

Death of William Shakespeare, 1616

It seems appropriate that the life of England's greatest writer is doubly associated with St. George's day. Of course, we're pretty much guessing at his date of birth, but he was baptized on April 26, so it seems a pretty reasonable guess. The date of his death is better documented, and he was buried two days later.

I'm not even going to try to summarize Shakespeare's life, his works, or his importance in this brief article. I would like to point out, however, that his character, Henry V, invoked St. George at the Battle of Agincourt: "Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry, 'God for Harry, England, and St. George!'"

A procession of Shakepeare's characters by an unknown 19th century artist.

Cervantes -- not a very good bookkeeper.

Death of Cervantes, 1616

This is where things get interesting. Shakespeare died on April 23, 1616. Cervantes died on April 23, 1616. But Cervantes died ten days before Shakespeare.

The answer to this paradox is that different calendars were then in effect in England and Spain. England was using the Julian, or old style, calendar. Spain had adopted the Gregorian, or new style, calendar.

To make it a little more complicated, we're not sure that Cervantes actually died on April 23. Some claim that the date cited is actually the date on his tombstone, which, according to local custom, would have been the date he was buried. In that case, it is most likely that he died on the 21st or 22nd.

And we can't verify the tombstone, either, because we don't know where he's buried. According to his will, he was to be buried at a nearby convent of Trinitarian nuns, where his daughter was a member. However, the nuns moved to another location a few years after his death and some of the dead went with them. We don't know whether or not Cervantes's body was one of them.

Cervantes was born Miguel de Cervantes in 1547. He wrote numerous novels, plays, and poems, but is best known for his great work, Don Quixote, considered by many to be the first modern novel. It is believed that he got the idea for his novel while he was imprisoned in La Mancha. He was a purchasing agent for the Spanish Armada and a tax collector, and his accounts suffered a few irregularities.

World Book and Copyright Day

April 23rd has been celebrated as World Book and Copyright Day by the United Nations since 1995. The date was chosen, in part, because of its connection to William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.

Another connection between reading and April 23rd is in one of the annual traditions of Catalonia, Spain. Since medieval times, it has been customary for men to give their lovers roses on St. George's Day. The women, since the 1920's anyway, respond by giving their men a book. The custom has been promoted by the booksellers of the area, and accounts for about half of the yearly book sales.

Bermuda Peppercorn Ceremony

Back in 1816, the capitol of Bermuda was moved from St. George to Hamilton City. That left the question of what to do with the Old State House. The Freemasons were interested in it, so they rented it -- for the price of one peppercorn a year.

The bargain still stands and every year the Freemasons faithfully pay their rent, on St. George's Day, of course. It's a grand pageant. The governor arrives in a horse-drawn carriage, and there are parades, military guards and bands, and a 17-gun salute. The Freemasons then present the governor with the peppercorn, resting on a velvet cushion on a silver platter.

April 22, 2015

It Happened on April 22nd

Turkish Delight, the ancestor of the Jelly Bean.

National Jelly Bean Day

It's not really an official holiday as far as I've been able to determine, but some folks recognize today as National Jelly Bean Day. And for my money, any day's a good day to celebrate candy.

If you've ever thought about the history of jelly beans at all, you might think they're a modern invention. Not so. Jelly beans -- or at least the ancestors of jelly beans -- go all the way back to at least the 15th century, and probably much further. These early candies were called lokum, and were made in the Ottoman Empire with honey or molasses for sweeteners and water and flour to bind it all together. The result was a very sweet, jelly-like confectionery. Think about the inside of a jelly bean, and you've about got it.

Lokum could be flavored, of course. Rosewater, mastic, and lemon were all used as flavoring, and chopped dried fruits or nuts could be added to the mix. When it was all mixed together, it was cut into small cubes, and then dusted with something to keep it from sticking together: powdered sugar or cream of tartar, usually.

In the 19th century, a Brit visiting Instanbul got hooked on the goodies, and started shipping it back to England. He called it Turkish Delight. If you've ever read C. S. Lewis's Narnia books, you might remember hearing about it. (And it's not just known from the book, actually. After the movie release of the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Turkish Delight sales were said to have soared.)

It was in the 1700's that the panning process was invented that give the jelly beans their candy shell. The process was used first in France on Jordan Almonds. To coat the nuts, they were added into a pan of liquid sugar syrup, and then rocked gently until they were covered all over. This process is basically how jelly beans are created today, although of course now it's all done by machine.

At some point, confectioners started molding the jelly into bean shape, instead of cutting it into squares. Today, this is accomplished by creating a bed of dry corn starch, and then making small "bean-shaped" impressions into it. The liquid candy is squired into the impressions and then allowed to dry.

We're not exactly sure when jelly beans came to America, but they were definitely around by the time of the Civil War. A man named William Schraft was marketing them at that time, and advertising them as a great gift to buy for a departing Union soldier.

By the early 1900's jelly beans were pretty popular as bulk, or "penny" candy. Around the late 1920's or early 1930's they became popular as an Easter confection, probably because their egg shape goes along with all the other fertility and birth symbols that we associate with the coming of Spring. In the 1970's jelly beans got a whole new life when gourmet jelly beans arrived on the scene. And of course, they got a really big boost when President Ronald Reagan announced that they were his favorite candy. Jelly beans have even gone on the space shuttle! I guess I don't have to tell you it was during the Reagan administration.

An 1865 two-cent piece

"In God We Trust" to Appear on Coins, 1864

April 22, 1864 was the date that the Coinage Act of 1864 was passed. The Act changed the metal composition of the penny, and authorized the minting of a two-cent piece. The two-cent piece was to be minted with the phrase "In God We Trust" on it.

This was the first appearance of the phrase, and arose undoubtedly because of public reactions to the horrors of the Civil War. Over time, "In God We Trust" came to be first allowed, and then required, on all coins, the last being the nickel in 1938.

It was 1956 before the phrase was also required on all currency, as a result of the passing of Public Law 84-140. This was just a year after the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1956 "In God We Trust" was officially adopted as the United States' national motto.

April 21, 2015

It Happened on April 21st

According to legend, Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf.

Romulus and Remus Founded Rome, 753 BC

According to legend, Rome was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus. The story starts in the ancient kingdom of Alba Longa in central Italy, which was ruled by King Numitor. Numitor had a brother, Amulius, who deposed Numitor and killed his sons. He also forced Numitor's daughter, Rhea Silvia, to become a Vestal Virgin, in order to deprive Numitor of any grandchildren who might come along to challenge Amulius's reign.

Of course, these things never work out quite as planned, and Rhea became pregnant. She claimed that the god Mars was the father. Rhea gave birth to the twins, Romulus and Remus, and when Amulius learned of it he imprisoned Rhea and ordered a servant to dispose of the babies.

The servant took mercy on the children, and instead of killing them he set them adrift on the Tiber. There they were discovered by a she-wolf, who fed and cared for them. Later on, they were discovered by a shepherd and his wife, who raised them as their own. Eventually they found out who they really were and killed Amulius. They were offered the throne of Alba Longa but restored it to their grandfather instead, preferring to found their own city.

The twins set off to found their city. Unfortunately, they couldn't decide on a location. They agreed to abide by the omens, so they set out entrails and waited for the vultures to arrive. There was a difference of opinion as to what the omens meant: Remus saw six vultures, compared to Romulus's twelve, but he saw his first. The debate was settled in a time-honored fashion: Romulus slew Remus and built the city where he wanted it.

According to the story, the name of the city, Rome, is derived from Romulus's name. The truth is probably the other way around -- the name of the character was derived from the city. Rome is thought to have been derived from the ancient name for the Tiber, Rumon or Rumen, which comes from a Greek and Latin root meaning "flow." As for when Rome was actually founded, there is evidence of human settlement in the area dating back at least 10,000 years.

Jean-Baptiste Biot

Jean-Baptiste Biot's Birthday, 1774

Jean-Baptiste Biot was a French astronomer, physicist, and mathematician. One of his most important contributions was in his study of meteorites, which was basically the beginning of the science of meteoritics.

In Biot's time very few people believed that meteorites were actually extraterrestrial objects. Of course, there had been stories about rocks being found on the ground after a fireball was seen in the sky, but these stories were thought to be tall tales. (After all, Aristotle had asserted that they were terrestrial, and who can argue with him?) A German physicist named Ernst Chladni had published his theory that they came from beyond the earth's atmosphere, but it was still only a theory, and not generally believed to be true.

On April 26, 1803, a shower of more than 3,000 meteorite fragments fell in L'Aigle, France. This was a terrific chance to investigate the phenomena and the French Academy of Sciences sent Biot to study them. Biot concluded that they were indeed of extraterrestrial origin, based on two observations. The first was the sudden appearance of so many stones that hadn't been there previously and that were similar in composition to other stones that had appeared at meteorite sites. The second was that a whole lot of people had seen them fall from the sky.

Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday, 1926

I doubt if there's anyone reading this who doesn't know who Queen Elizabeth is, so I'll just give you a few quick facts.

1. When Elizabeth was born, it seemed completely unlikely that she would ever become queen. True, she was third in line, after her uncle and father, but her uncle was still young and it was expected that he would produce offspring. Edward VIII's abdication of the throne took care of that line of reasoning.

2. Elizabeth is the last head of state alive today who served in uniform during World War II. (She served in the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service, where she was a driver and mechanic.)

3. Elizabeth did not take her husband's name, Mountbatten, upon their marriage. She retained the royal family name of Windsor -- which hadn't always been the family name. Up until 1917, the Royal House was known as the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which came from Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband. The name was changed during World War I in order to sound "less German."

Of course, the Mountbattens hadn't always been Mountbattens, either. Before his marriage to Elizabeth, Prince Philip was of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg. He renounced his titles (he was a Prince of Greece and Denmark) and took the name Mountbatten, an English translation of a family name of Battenberg.

Any of Elizabeth's descendents who carry royal titles will also be known as Windsors. Those without those titles will be Windsor-Mountbattens.

"Princess Lilibet" in 1929.
4. Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 was televised, and it did a great deal to make television more popular. In Britain it was estimated that more than 20 million television viewers watched the event. In North America, the figure was a little less than 100 million.

5. At 63-plus years of rule, Elizabeth is the second longest reigning monarch in the world today, and one of the longest reigning monarchs of England.

6. She's also one of the wealthiest people in the world. Forbes estimates her net worth at $450 million dollars. Of course, the Crown Jewels and the palaces belong to the country, but as an individual Elizabeth owns considerable real estate, art, gems, and other valuable items.

Incidentally, although today is the Queen's actual birthday, it's not necessarily the Queen's Official Birthday. In the United Kingdom, that's celebrated on the first, second, or third Saturday in June. In Canada, it's the Monday on or before the 24th of May (Queen Victoria's birthday.) In Australia it's the second Monday in June, and in New Zealand the first Monday in June (to open the snow/ski season.)

She served in the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service during World War II.

April 20, 2015

It Happened on April 20th

"It is the law of England, Mr. Clarke; we must not call it murder," said Lord Ellenborough.

The Case of Ashford v Thornton is Concluded, 1818

In this case, it's not the crime that's interesting -- it's the trial.

In the United States, we're so used to the law's prohibition against double jeopardy that we sometimes forget that this has not always been the case. It certainly wasn't the case for Abraham Thornton, when, in 1818, he was accused for the second time for the murder of Mary Ashford.

Abraham Thornton was 24 years old, a heavy-set, healthy man. Some said he was a good-looking man; some thought his looks repulsive. On the 26th of May, 1817, he attended a party (a feast and dance) at The Three Tuns, a public house in Warwickshire, England, where he happened to notice a young woman named Mary Ashford.

Mary Ashford was 20 years old, and worked as a housekeeper for her uncle in Warwickshire, England. She was attending the party with a female friend. Thornton asked who she was, and when told her name, he claimed that he had been intimate with her sister on three occasions, and declared that he would be so with Mary, also. At the end of the evening, Thornton, Mary, and Mary's friend all left the pub together.

The next morning, Mary's body was found drowned in a water-filled pit. Thornton, who had been seen leaving with Mary, was questioned. He admitted having sexual intercourse with Mary, but denied killing her. When he was searched, blood was discovered on his underclothing. He was promptly arrested and charged with rape and murder.

Naturally, this was an emotionally-charged trial and local opinion was strongly against Thornton. Pamphlets were published arguing his guilt. Poems were written about him. When the day of the trial arrived, the courthouse was packed -- with men, since, due to the sensational nature of the crime, women were not admitted to the trial.

As it turned out, Thornton had a pretty good defense. He had been spotted at several locations by several different individuals that night and together they made a pretty good alibi. In order to have done what it was claimed he had done, he would have had to chase Mary down, rape her, kill her, put her body in the well, and then travel three miles -- all in under five minutes.

The blood proved to not be much of a mark against him either. An autopsy showed that Mary had died by drowning, and the only lacerations on her body were in her genital area and not inconsistent with consensual sex. In addition, she had been a virgin, and was menstruating at the time of her death.

After 10 hours of testimony, and another two hours of closing arguments, the jury was called on for its decision. They didn't even leave the box, and took less than six minutes to acquit Thornton.

Naturally, the public was outraged at the verdict. The public had already decided Thornton was guilty, and they wanted a guilty verdict. Across the country, newspapers chimed in, and a collection was taken up to persecute, er, prosecute Thornton further.

Now, all this brings up the really interesting part of the case. At that time it was possible, if a defendant was acquitted, for an individual to bring a private appeal to court, and prosecute again.

This is exactly what Mary's brother, William Ashford did. Thornton was again charged with Mary's rape and murder, and a trial was scheduled.

We can never know exactly what Thornton was thinking, but it stands to reason that he must have thought that, with public opinion so very strongly against him, he stood little chance of a fair jury trial. In any event, his answer in court to the charges this time was, "Not guilty; and I am ready to defend the same with my body."

Trial by Battle was an ancient custom, brought to England by the Normans, and it was still on the books. In cases of retrials by private prosecution for murder (and also treason and certain felonies), it allowed the accused to force the plaintiff to settle the matter by person combat. Thornton was challenging Ashford to a literal fight to prove his innocence.

The Ccurt of the King's Bench
The Battle did not necessarily have to be to the death, although it could be. If the defendant lost but still lived, he would be hanged immediately. If the plaintiff lost, the defendant was a free man. If the plaintiff cried craven ("I am vanquished"), he was declared infamous, lost the rights of a freeman, and was liable for damages. If the defendant could hold the plaintiff off from sunrise to sunset, he was declared the victor.

There were certain conditions under which a plaintiff could decline the challenge. If the plaintiff was a woman, over 60 years old, a minor, blind, lame, a Peer of the Realm, a priest, or a Citizen of London, he was not required to fight. Also, the defendant could be denied the right to Trial by Battle if he was taken in the act of committing the crime, had tried to escape, or if there was extremely strong evidence of his guilt. None of these conditions applied in the case of Ashford v Thornton.

The prosecution argued that Thornton should not be allowed to add the murder of the brother to the murder and rape of the sister, but the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Ellenborough answered, "It is the law of England, Mr. Clarke; we must not call it murder." The prosecution then argued that the evidence was so strong against Thornton that the Right to Trial by Battle must be denied. The court wasn't having any of that, either. Ashford must accept Thornton's challenge, or give up the prosecution. Ashford, who was a slightly-built youth of 22, gave up the case.

The following year a bill was passed by Parliament outlawing both private appeals and Trial by Battle. It was rushed through, with all three of the required readings taking place in one night, since it was thought that another pending case was likely to have a similar outcome.

Thornton, who found public opinion toward him so hostile that he was forced to leave England, booked passage to New York on the Independence, but passengers were outraged when they found out who he was and demanded that he be put ashore. He later managed to leave on the Shamrock in September, 1818. He found work in the United States as a bricklayer, and died in Baltimore around 1860.

April 19, 2015

It Happened on April 19th

Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor

Pragmatic Sanction Issued, 1713

Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, was worried. Five years ago, he had married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel, and she had not yet produced any children. Not only that, but for the past two years, he had been the sole living male Habsburg. His brother had produced some daughters, but under Salic law, which had ruled the succession since the sixth century, females could not inherit. Who would be Charles's heir?

His solution would be to issue the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, which allowed for female succession if there were no living male heirs. Simple solution, right?

At first it seemed that the Sanction turned out to be unnecessary after all, since Elisabeth gave birth to a son in 1716. But poor little Archduke Leopold died before he was a year old. The following year the Empress produced a daughter, Maria Theresa, who would ultimately become Charles's heir.

Maria Theresa as a young woman
You would think that, knowing his daughter was going to succeed him, Charles would have taken steps to ensure that she knew what she was doing. Maria Theresa was allowed to attend council meetings once she reached the age of 14, but Charles never discussed state matters with her or showed her state documents. She received her education from Jesuit tutors, and had good Latin, but she never really mastered grammar or punctuation. She learned some court etiquette from her governess. She learned all the basic skills young ladies were expected to know -- drawing, singing, painting, and dancing -- but was not really trained to become a sovereign.

Charles VI died in 1740, probably as a result of eating poison mushrooms, and Maria Theresa found herself in some difficulty. She didn't really know enough about matters of state to effectively run the empire. Her father had effectively bankrupted the treasury, and the small army hadn't been paid in months. Although the Pragmatic Solution had provided for her inheriting her father's holdings, according to law she could still not be elected Holy Roman Empress. Her husband, Francis Stephen of Lorraine, was eligible as far as sex was concerned, but he didn't hold enough land or high enough rank. Maria Theresa made him co-ruler with her of her Austrian and Hungarian holdings. He was eventually elected Holy Roman Emperor.

Once Charles was gone, however, the various sovereigns who had agreed to the Pragmatic Sanction reneged on their agreement. The result was the War of the Austrian Succession, which would last nine years and eventually involve most of the nations of Europe. In North America, it included the fray known as King George's War, the third of the four French and Indian Wars. It also included the war known as the War of Jenkins Ear in England.

Maria Theresa in 1759
Although a great deal of Maria Theresa's reign was concerned with warfare, she also had time for internal reforms. She built a large standing army and kept it under central government control. She collected taxes from the nobility, who had never been required to pay them before. She arranged for a study of infant mortality in Austria that included mandatory autopsies of all hospital deaths in the city of Graz -- a law that still stands today. She promoted inoculation for smallpox by having all her own children inoculated and by hosting a dinner for the first 65 children who received the vaccine, waiting on them herself.

In addition, in her spare time Maria Theresa managed to produce 16 children, several of whom became historically significant. Her children included two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II, Duchess Maria Amalia of Parma, Queen Marie Carolina of Naples, and Marie Antoinette of France.

Marie Antoinette

Marie Antoinette Marries Louis XVI, 1770

Like her mother, Marie Antoinette was scarcely prepared for the role she would play in life. The atmosphere at the Hofburg Palace was quite relaxed. Protocol wasn't really emphasized. The family dressed in bourgeois clothing in their private quarters, and the children were encouraged to play with "common" -- that is, non-royal -- companions. This atmosphere was significantly different from what she would later encounter at the French court.

Her education was significantly lacking, also. Tutors were provided, of course, but Marie (or Antonia, as she was called in her family circle) just wasn't that interested. The tutors would sometimes finish her work for her to avoid being dismissed from their positions. She liked to draw, and she spoke good Italian, but her French and German were weak. Of course, all the European history she learned was from the Austrian point of view.

After the death of her father, Francis I, Marie's mother and brother, Joseph II, became co-rulers of the empire. Marriages were arranged for all the daughters to cement alliances with the various European countries. Marie's betrothal was to Louis Auguste, the French Dauphin. The traditional enmity between France and Austria made the alliance particularly important.

Maria Antonia, now known as Marie Antoinette, was married by proxy on April 19, 1770 at the Church of the Augustine Friars, Vienna. Her brother stood in for the Dauphin. The ceremonial marriage of the Dauphin and Dauphine took place of May 16, 1770.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly Marries Prince Rainier III, 1956

Prince Rainer's marriage to Grace Kelly was precipitated, in part, by a succession crisis in Monaco. According to a 1918 treaty with France, if Rainier did not produce an heir Monaco would revert to France. In 1955 the 33-year-old prince was not yet married.

The couple met in April 1955 at the Cannes Film Festival. Grace was a US delegate at the Festival and posed for a photo session with Prince Rainier. After she returned to the United States the two began a written correspondence. At the time, Grace Kelly was working on the film The Swan, in which she played a minor princess considering marriage to the heir to a European throne.

In December 1955 Rainier visited the United States, ostensibly on a tour. He visited Grace and her family and three days later he proposed. As a condition of the marriage, the Kelly family was required to produce a dowry of $2,000,000. Grace was also required to take a fertility test. The pre-nuptial agreement stated that if the couple ever divorced, Grace would relinquish all rights to the children.

The couple had two marriage ceremonies. The first was a civil ceremony, held on April 18th in the Palace Throne Room. On April 19th, the church ceremony was held at St. Nicholas Cathedral. 600 guests attended, including numerous Hollywood stars. An estimated 300 million people watched the event on television. It was called the Wedding of the Century.

Grace's wedding gown was designed by Hollywood designer Helen Rose, and took 36 seamstresses six weeks to complete. The engagement ring Rainier provided was a 12-carat emerald cut diamond. (Grace wore the ring as her character's ring in High Society. )

After the wedding, Rainier forbade the screening of any of Kelly's films. Hitchcock offered her the lead role in Marnie in 1962 and she was interested in pursuing it, but her subjects objected to their Princess playing the less-than-reputable character. In addition to providing the Prince with three children, Princess Grace was active in art and social charities. She died in 1982 after suffering a stroke and driving her vehicle off a mountainous road. Prince Rainier never remarried, and was buried beside his wife after his death in 2005.