History of the West - A Blog on European History

Central European History from Antiquity to the 20th Century

The Blonde Who Came in from the Cold

Hilde Krüger

Katharina Mathilde Krüger was born either November 9, 1912 in Cologne-Kalk or, as other sources claim, September 11, 1914 in Berlin, and went on to become an actress. Her best-known pre-war German movie showed her starring in the anti-Semitic UFA film Don’t lose Heart, Suzanne!whereupon Joseph Goebbels, the “Buck of Babelsberg” (the studio town) became her patron and/or lover – Old Joe was not a believer in the accurate separation of business and personal affairs, as we know.

Although she acted in about a dozen other UFA productions, she went to Hollywood in 1940, living at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel , where, as the gossip had it, her first American lover, J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world, paid the bills. Getty was married five times and known as a ladies’ man, and Nazi sympathizer, too.

But the acting bombed. Her English left a lot to be desired, her acting perhaps as well. She quickly substituted Getty with Gert von Gontard, who, as heir to the Budweiser brewery, was suitably rich, and lived with him for a year.

We do not know what exactly happened thereafter – maybe the pair was bothered too much by the clumsy plots of the American police or perhaps there were relationship problems – but at some point in 1940, Hilde was recruited by the German “Abwehr” (Military Intelligence) and sent to Mexico, which was an interesting target for the German war economy because of its oil. Since Mexico’s President Lazaro Cardenas had nationalized all foreign oil companies in 1938 and the former owners, England, the USA and the Netherlands had subsequently imposed an embargo on Mexican crude oil, two-thirds of its production went to Germany.

Immigration Form

So it came that Mrs. Krüger pulled up on February 9, 1941, at the border crossing Nuevo Laredo, in her luggage carrying a letter of recommendation from her good friend Mr. Getty. In no time she had settled in the high-society of Mexico-City and generals, business leaders and politicians in the country fell for the peroxide-blonde Nazi bombshell. Her first conquest was Ramón Beteta, Under-Secretary of the Treasury, but she became rather quickly the mistress of the Secretary of the Interior and subsequent Mexican President, Miguel Aleman. The besotted Mr. Alemán rented a love nest and visited her almost every night, as noted carefully by the FBI. Apparently, Hilde also snuggled with influential General Juán Almazán and Foreign Minister Ezekiel Padilla – the whole Mexican government had fallen hook, line and sinker. As a quid pro quo, her patrons arranged a few roles for her in several Mexican films (excerpt here).

After being in business for a year, she was arrested at the instigation of the USA, but soon was released by the intercession of her patrons. To avoid deportation, she quickly married a Mr. Nacho de la Torre, the grandson of former President Porfirio Díaz.

Lovers: Getty, Betana, Alemán, Padilla, Andreu Almazán

The spy business was great. The Secretary of the Interior issued about three hundred visa to German spies; mercury – important for the German war effort – was loaded on German submarines at the port of Veracruz and as much oil smuggled through Panama as the pumps could carry.

Julio Lobo Olavarría

Until 1946 she lived with her playboy husband in the lap of luxury, but soon after her old friend Alemán became president, she exchanged Mr. Torre for a heavier calibre, the Venezuelan Julio Lobo Olavarría, sugar king of Cuba, with whom she went to Spain. But the subsequent marriage lasted only a year. In 1958, she appeared once again in German cinemas, in the Swiss comedy “Eine Rheinfahrt, die ist lustig.”

UFA movie poster 1935

There is a documentation of Nazi espionage in Mexico on YouTube, “La red nazi en México” by Sebastián Gamba, Mexico in 2010, unfortunately only in the Spanish original (link).

She died in 1991 during a visit at home or 2008 in New York, no one knows for sure. Overall, she made fourteen films in Germany, four in Mexico and one in Switzerland.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

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Wilson and the Fourteen Points

Woodrow Wilson

Despite the deteriorating situation at the home front – over a million workers had participated in strikes as early as in January 1918, and hundreds of women and children succumbed each day to malnutrition – the German army regained much of its spirit in the late summer of 1918, and the subsequent Allied offensives launched in late September proceeded, “to Foch’s irritation,” (29) rather slowly. In the centre of the front, a combined Franco-British offensive advanced past the Hindenburg Line by the second week of October, but the attack in Flanders, around Ypres, struggled mightily against continuing resistance of Rupprecht’s Bavarians and it took three weeks to capture Lille, only ten miles behind the front. The American offensives around Verdun and the Argonne Forest remained inconsequential for the outcome of the war: while the First U.S. Army was able to make good a few miles in the direction of Sedan, without ever reaching it, the Second U.S. Army made practically no gains at all east of the Meuse against Army Group Gallwitz.

But whatever defensive successes the German army achieved, they could only delay the loss of the war, not avoid it. The numerical strength of the defenders had shrunk to less than 2.5 million men by October, and few replacements were available although the German army continued to draft in fresh recruits until November 6. (30) It seems that on September 28, Ludendorff could no longer defy reality. After a tormented philippic against the Kaiser, the government, the army, the navy, and the universe that conspired against him, he informed Hindenburg that the war was lost and an armistice had to be secured forthwith. On the next day, a second conference was called at Spa; present were Wilhelm, Hindenburg, Ludendorff, Hertling and the new Foreign Secretary Paul von Hintze.

The war was raging on …

After protracted discussion, it was resolved that, in the face of the virtually unlimited American resources of men and materiel, the war could not be won. Germany’s allies were at the brink of disintegration – Bulgaria had already capitulated and Austro-Hungarian as well as Turkish troops refused to fight – and no hope remained to avoid defeat. In these circumstances, the conclave set out to go on a little fishing expedition, to identify the most desirable peace terms that might be obtained. It was remembered that, on January 8, 1918, the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, had illustrated his ideas of peace and a new world order to the U.S. Congress and the world press in the famous “Fourteen Points”.

Text of the Address of the President of the United States, delivered at a joint session of the two houses of Congress, January 8, 1918

The points essentially propounded an international order in which relations between nations must be transparent, colonial peoples should determine how and by whom they would be ruled, the seas would be open, free trade was to prevail, and a world government, a league of nations, would be formed. The Fourteen Points also set the price Germany must pay for peace. It must give up every inch of territory taken in this war as well as Alsace-Lorraine, seized from France nearly half a century before. (31)

The participants of the conference perused with alacrity Wilson’s words regarding the most decisive issues, those of financial consequences and of loss or gain of territories.

There shall be no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages. … National aspirations must be respected; peoples may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. “Self-determination” is … an imperative principle of action, which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril. (32)

Wilson’s suggestions were deemed quite acceptable, but the Kaiser and the generals still entertained the hope that Alsace-Lorraine and Poland could be retained. However, as a public demonstration of Germany’s instant peacefulness, the Kaiser accepted the resignation of seventy-five years old chancellor Hertling and, on October 3, appointed in his stead his fifty-one year old cousin, Prince Max von Baden.

Right side: Colonel House, the unofficial master of the United States …

Most histories depict the new chancellor as a “liberal” because Ludendorff called him that; but Prince Max was a liberal only in the sense that Nero and Caligula were liberals if compared to Attila the Hun. He was, of course, a staunch monarchist and had zero sympathies for liberal or, worse, socialist reforms, but he was not, like his brother-in-law Wilhelm, ignorant of reality. (33) He had, it was true, once served on the committee of the German Red Cross and in 1917 publicly mentioned the possibility of a negotiated peace, and thus he was far less compromised when contacting Wilson than, say, Ludendorff or Wilhelm himself would have been.

Prince Max understood the urgency of decorating the German government with a few democratic faces; by yesterday, if possible. He approached the major parties of the Reichstag, and, by appealing to their patriotism, secured the support of the Liberals, the Catholic Centre and, for the first time in history, the SPD, two of whose deputies joined the Baden government. (34) The new administration set out to work on minor democratic changes to the old Imperial constitution and on October 5, von Baden notified the American government, via Switzerland, that Germany sought an armistice based on the Fourteen Points.

The Fourteen Points as PDF

The first reply was received on October 8 from Secretary of State Robert Lansing, who imposed, on his president’s behalf, the immediate withdrawal of German troops from the occupied parts of Belgium and France as an initial condition for an eventual armistice. Baden promised to fulfil the demand in his reply of October 12, and German evacuations began the very next day.

On October 14, a second note, this time by Wilson, demanded the end of the “illegal and inhuman practices,” (35) of the German submarines, and Baden managed to shut down the U-boats by October 20, against the bitter resistance of the admiralty. It must be noted, however, that neither Wilson nor any other U.S. representative ever demanded to shut down the, apparently legal and humane, continental blockade imposed by the Royal Navy.

A third note was received on October 16, and it did put the new chancellor into a quandary. Since it seemed to imply his cousin Wilhelm, Prince Max faced an awkward predicament. The memorandum demanded that the “arbitrary powers” which threatened the “peace of the world” were to be disposed of before formal negotiations could be initiated, which von Baden and his cabinet interpreted as demanding the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm at the very least, perhaps even the abolition of the monarchy and the establishment of a German republic. This diagnosis was supported by another missive that reached Berlin on October 23, and explained that if the United States “must deal with the military masters and monarchical autocrats of Germany, it must demand, not peace negotiations, but surrender.” (36)

This clumsy message, quite unprecedented in diplomatic custom, was a political bomb of the biggest magnitude and occasioned consequences greater than perhaps any other diplomatic document of the 20th Century. At the time Wilson penned his note, diplomatic convention regarded the inner affairs of a sovereign country as a taboo which might be commented on, perhaps, in private whispers from ambassador to ambassador at informal functions, but not become the subject of an official note to the head of a government. For every German monarchist or nationalist, and there were still lots of them around, Wilson’s note was an insult of epic proportion, an affront to the country’s sovereignty and a pique to all those who had lost loved ones in the war. It was, literally, unheard-of.

The catastrophic consequences of the note can hardly be exaggerated. Whether President Wilson had composed the missive in blissful American naiveté or in an ill-starred miscue, perhaps merely intending to strengthen the liberal and democratic elements in Germany cannot now be ascertained, but the results of his note provided, as we will see, a fantastic pretext and absolution to the guilty while the future German republic was fatefully tainted from her inception by having to shoulder the burden of a lost war she was not in the least responsible for.

The outcome of Wilson’s note, without which the republic could not have been born in the same confused way, facilitated the creation of the two most resilient phantoms of subsequent nationalist, right-wing and finally Nazi propaganda, the myths of the “Stab in the Back” and the legend of the “November Criminals”. As soon as the armistice was signed, the men responsible for the disaster disappeared: Wilhelm went to exile in the Netherlands, Ludendorff fled to Denmark, disguised in mufti and a false beard, and Hindenburg and the other prominent generals took to diving stations. The innocent representatives of the new republic which signed the armistice and, eventually, the peace treaty, were vilified as traitors and some of them subsequently murdered.

The unfortunate consequences of Wilson’s note not only proved that the USA were “not quite as magnanimous as they had promised,” (37) they created arguments which were to lead from the First directly to the Second War. It was uncalled-for one state to dictate policy to another: we have seen how much the trifling matter of allowing a few Austrian detectives or not into Serbia to investigate Francis Ferdinand’s assassination had become a raison de guerre. To make it worse, Wilson’s procedures were deceptive and might be called extortionate – certainly not an auspicious start into his golden age of peace, love and understanding. His tactic of negotiation was mala fide from the beginning: designed to get the opponent’s most important concessions right from the start, and to get cheaply what otherwise would have to be
obtained at great cost: the withdrawal of the German army from France and Belgium and the cessation of the U-boat campaign.

The problem was that Wilson’s demands later allowed nationalists, monarchists and militarists alike to claim that the war had not really been lost: that the German army had “never been defeated in the field”, since no foreign soldier, with the exception of Rennenkampf’s and Samsonov’s Russians in East Prussia 1914, had ever set foot on the Fatherland’s soil. Hence, the armistice was unnecessary and treasonous, as was the subsequent Treaty of Versailles, signed by the “November Criminals”, i.e. the government of the German Republic that had stepped in after Wilhelm and his cronies had absquatulated themselves. Thus, the right-wing clamoured, the republic had signed away the nation’s honour.

Prince Baden realized that the dismissal of Ludendorff, who, despite his deceptively spurious rank of First Quartermaster General was the real military dictator of the country, was priority number one, especially since the general had brazenly overstepped his authority. The day after Baden received Wilson’s calamitous message, Ludendorff sensed an opportunity to prolong the war and hence his own authority. Since, against expectations, the German front had not collapsed after the “Black Day” at Amiens and the military situation had somewhat improved in the meantime, Ludendorff took the opportunity to address his troops in an order of the day. The bulletin defined the Fourteen Points and Baden’s request for an armistice based thereon as a hidden “demand for unconditional surrender. It is thus unacceptable to us soldiers. It proves that our enemy’s desire for our destruction, which let loose the war in 1914, still exists undiminished. It can thus be nothing for us soldiers but a challenge to continue our resistance with all our strength.” (38)

An unknown staff officer moved quickly to suppress the circular, but one copy escaped destruction to reach OBEROST, the Eastern command, where the signal officer on duty, a Social Democrat, secured it and forwarded it to the party’s headquarter in Berlin, whence it found its way to the press. Ludendorff’s unauthorized note was foul play at the
very least, perhaps outright treason, and von Baden realized that any basis for peace negotiations would be compromised as long as the quasi-dictator remained in office. The broad support Baden enjoyed in the Reichstag enabled him to call upon the Kaiser and to make it clear that it was either Ludendorff or himself. On October 26, Ludendorff and Hindenburg were ordered to Bellevue Palace in Berlin, where Ludendorff was forced to tender his resignation, which the emperor
thanklessly accepted. Baden, who knew a double-dealer when he saw one, had prior to the meeting elicited Ludendorff’s written admission that no chance remained to win the war by military means and hence could avoid the simultaneous firing of both the leading generals. When Hindenburg offered his own withdrawal from command, Wilhelm ordered him to remain. (39) The story goes, perhaps apocryphal, that when Ludendorff returned to his hotel room in the evening, he told
his wife that: “In a fortnight we shall have no Empire and no Emperor left, you will see.” (40)

He was right. It took exactly fourteen days.


(29) (38) (40) Keegan, John, The First World War, Vintage Books 2000, ISBN 0-375-40052-4361, pp. 413, 414, 414

(30) (32) (34) (37) Weitz, Eric, Weimar Germany, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-01695-5, pp. 16, 15, 15, 16

(31) Persico, Joseph, 11th Month, 11th Day, 11th Hour, Random House 2004, ISBN 0-375-50825-2, p. 290

(33) Read, Anthony, The World on Fire, Norton Books 2008, ISBN 978-0-393-06124-6, p. 26

(35) (36) (39) Massie,Robert K., Castles of Steel, Ballantine Books 2003 ISBN 0-345-40878-0, pp. 772, 772, 773

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear …

The cardinal difference between the Great War of 1914 and earlier European wars lay in its objective, which in turn changed its scale. For no longer were wars waged for the gain of a slice of territory somewhere, or like Bismarck’s, for specific aims and with limited means: the war of 1914 was for “all or nothing.” Germany, it was alleged, challenged Great Britain’s status as the dominant power in the world save the Americas, and there was no consolation prize. The totality of a country’s resources had to be subordinated to the goal of eventual victory, and in this sense the war of 1914 was the first “Total War”, although the phrase itself would not be coined until twenty-nine years later. The winner-takes-all approach also accounts for the extensive lists of “war aims” that the contenders put together for the sake of convincing the public that the prize was worth the slaughter.

The final chapter of the cataclysm began with the German offensives of Spring 1918. Read PDF …

Appendices: Quotations Bibliography

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Clovis – The Rise of the Franks

Caesar’s spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side, come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines, with a monarch’s voice,
Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs or war.

William Shakespeare “Julius Caesar”, Act 3, Sc. 1, L. 1270

It was a sign of the increasing military faculties of the Franks that the victory over Attila and the Huns at Chalons had been achieved with the aid of a substantial corps of their warriors. The Franks were not one of the early tribes enumerated in Tacitus’Germania“, they were, it appears, part of a secondary conglomerate of smaller tribes, perhaps survivors of intra-German conflicts who banded together around AD 250 and crossed the Rhine River westwards. They followed the trail of an earlier tribal coalition which had included the original “Germani”, who crossed the Rhine in the same direction in the first century BC but seem to have been assimilated fast: Julius Caesar does not mention them in “De Bello Gallico“, his report on the campaigns in Gaul.

The early Franks were allowed to settle in the areas west of the lower Rhine: the Salian tribe settled in today’s Flanders, in the vicinity of Tournai and Arras, while the Ripuarian Franks, under the leadership of the Merovingian dukes,
took up residence slightly further south-east, around the banks of the Meuse and Moselle Rivers. (Tribal identities are somewhat disputed today)

Smaller communities initially settled in the two main tribes’ vicinity. Yet these original settlements of the Franks had multiplied and spread swiftly, and resulted, in the late fifth century AD, in Frankish domination of great parts of northern and eastern Gaul. Because the possessions of the Visigoths in Gaul were concentrated south and west of the Loire and Rhone Rivers, and their acquisitive impetus, under King Euric [rex. AD 466-484], was directed upon the conquest of Spain, the Franks found ample opportunities to enlarge their domains.

Frankish territory in blue, AD 481

Clovis, or Chlodwig, in Latin “Chlodovechus”, a duke of the Franks in the last decades of the fifth century AD, was descended in paternal line from Childeric I, a former “Roman warlord and Frankish king based at Tournai”, (1) who, in the lesser days of his luck, had been exiled to Thuringia. That was where he met Clovis’s future mother Basina, queen of the Thuringians, who accommodated the exile in ways he could not have expected; she had a child with him and left her husband to join Childeric when the latter was restored to his authority. The son succeeded the father, at the tender age of fifteen years, to the leadership of the nation, which amounted, in the estimate of contemporary observers, to approximately 5,000 warriors [Clovis, or Chlodwig, rex.AD 481-511].

The young nobleman was instructed in the business of arms, for which he showed a considerable talent: to the extent that many of the mercenary corps meandering through and marauding the country were attracted to assemble under his banner. In addition to his military abilities, he was praised for applying justice when required and employing passion when permitted. Edward Gibbon wrote that “in all his transactions with mankind, he calculated the weight of interest, of passion, and of opinion: and his measures were sometimes adapted to the sanguinary manners of the Germans and sometimes moderated by the milder genius of Rome and Christianity.” (2) In today’s words, he was – and remained – a killer and a fraud as well.

Baptism of Chlodwig, around AD 496
Baptism of Chlodwig, around AD 496

But his great chess move, and the most important benefit Clovis was able to secure for the eternal felicity of his people were not his military achievements but his uncanny decision to support that species of Christianity which would wind up the winner of the heresy wars between the fourth and seventh century: the Catholic Church of the Athanasian Creed. [1] This accomplishment perpetually improved the relations of the Franks with the Eastern Roman Empire, in particular so because, at the time being, all the other Germanic kingdoms followed Arianism. The Franks thus became natural allies to Byzantium.

The conversion of the Franks to the religion which institutes, as its most ethical and noble achievement, the love of mankind for each other, did not, however, impede Clovis’s acknowledgement of necessary political prudence; “his ambitious reign was a perpetual violation of moral and Christian duties: his hands were stained with blood in peace as well as in war; and as soon as Clovis had dismissed a synod of the Gallican Church, he calmly assassinated all the princes of the Merovingian race.” [… that is, all his blood relatives] (3)

Chlodwig’s conquests

A Frankish victory over the Alemanni at Tolmiac in the north-east had been followed by an extensive border dispute between Clovis and Alaric II, the young king of the Visigoths in the south-west. At length a meeting was arranged between the two, and the rendezvous proceeded with mutual proclamations of brotherly love and assertions of eternal peace but yielded no written truce or covenant.

Thus, when the indigenous population of the great and fecund province of Aquitaine asserted, in a confidential embassy, their inclination towards a change from Gothic to Frankish overlordship, Clovis did not hesitate for long; “in 507 he attacked the Visigoths, defeating and killing Alaric II at the Battle of Vouillé, and virtually drove them out of Gaul (they only kept the province of Languedoc, on the Mediterranean coast). The Burgundians held on for a time, but in the 520s Clovis’s sons attacked them too, and took over their kingdom in 534.” (4) Before long, Clovis accepted from Emperor Anastasius the honour of the Roman consulship, as a sign of Imperial support for his Catholic associates. (Some historians believe it was not consul, but “patricius“, the same title as given later to Theodoric). But Clovis died soon, only four years after Vouillé [AD 511] and Italy remained beyond Frankish reach, although Frankish troops invaded Italy in 540 to benefit from Belisar’s Gothic War. His mass murders were soon forgotten and grateful French historians made him the founder of the French empire.

His successors extended the Frankish realm in the same rapacious ways until 555 as seen in the map below (light green areas).

Conquests until 555, status of Saxonia (north-east) doubtful

(1) Wickham, Chris, The Inheritance of Rome, Viking Books 2009, ISBN 978-0-670-02098-0, p. 112

(2) Gibbon, Edward,The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Modern Library 2003-5, ISBN 0-345-47884-3, p. 779 [661] (First Citation: Mass Market Edition 2005 Second Citation: 4th Edition 2003-4)

(3) Gibbon, p. 780 [662]

(4) Wickham, p. 92

Footnote: [1] Athanasius, Patriarch of Alexandria, AD 295(?)-373

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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Mata Hari – For Your Spies Only (Part I)

The Seven Veils Costume

” … I hate my small breasts. They’re what men watch first – after looking at my face for a second, or two, if they like it, their gaze invariably moves to my breasts, as if to evaluate how much milk may be expected from that peculiar cow. They watch my buttocks too, but my breasts seem like my business card, and they leave much to be desired. That is why I always wear a gold-plated breastplate when I am dancing, you know – and I always fear the moment when it comes off in bed. I try to deflect the dreaded moment by taking the initiative, for men are so happy to be touched. And I always loved to touch, for men were my happiness and now they are my perdition.” [* Prison letter from Mata Hari to her sister Léonide, who attended her execution]

Margaretha Zelle alias Mata Hari

Margareta Zelle (7 August 1876 – 15 October 1917), who under her stage name Mata Hari [Javanese, “Mata (Eye) Hari (of the Day) (=Sun)”)] became the superstar of erotic dance and the world’s premier enchantress in the years leading to the Great War – before Josephine Baker took the crown. She loved men, especially officers.

“I love officers. I have loved them all my life. I prefer to be the mistress of a poor officer than of a rich banker. It is my greatest pleasure to sleep with them without having to think of money. And, moreover, I like to make comparisons between the different nationalities”.

We must point out here, that our quotations of the lady are reasonably accurate and historical, for her well-developed character was evident in her words. She was a good writer with a beautiful hand and composed her own advertising copy. She was well-spoken and surprisingly educated, exceedingly charming and loved to deceive the scores of interviewers and reporters who begged for her gossip. She loved statements tongue in cheek, had a sharp wit and a gift for coining memorable phrases. [Source]

She grew up in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, in a somewhat well-to-do family. That changed when her father went bankrupt when she was 13, in 1889, and a few years of confusion followed. After being found half-naked upon her school principal’s lap, schooling was done for. [Much info on these years on the German Wiki page] She grew to be a tall girl for the time, at 178 centimetres (5.84 feet), which certainly helped her to make an impression.

In 1894, she answered a marriage ad by Rudolf MacLeod (1 March 1856 – 9 January 1928), a Captain of the Dutch Colonial Army, living in Indonesia, who sought a wife. “Officier met verlof uit Indië zoekt meisje met lief karakter met het doel een huwelijk aan te gaan” [‘Officer, on vacation from (Dutch) India, seeks young woman of gracious character to marry’] . The less is said about the marriage, the better. She gave birth to a son and a daughter, but the son died early, perhaps poisoned by a servant. The pair returned to Amsterdam, and divorced on August 30, 1902. Child support for the daughter at the sum of 100 Gulden per month was ordered by the court, but Rudolf never felt able to fulfil the obligation.

Broke, Margareta set out to Paris – dreaming of a career as mannequin or model, whatever might turn out. She failed and returned – and then had the idea. We do not really know how and why, but she invented a made-up story of being a trained mystical Indonesian dancer, to gain under this guise more attention than the scores of other attractive ladies who populated the erotically loaded stages of Paris. She invented her own Dance of the Veils, which the Paris public had recently seen in Richard Strauss‘ opera Salome, which had aroused one more big scandal when performed in Paris. The gentlemen (and ladies) of the Haute Volée, considerate about the public morals of the capital had besieged the opera houses to review the artistic permissibility of the act. Some of the gentlemen had to see the performance more than once to come to conclusions.

The problem was, of course, that the Dance of the Veils was, we would say, a “generic” dance – it had no history, no cultural background. It had been invented just at the time, notably by the American dancer Loïe Fuller, who celebrated a sensational debut on December 5, 1892 at the Folies Bergère with dances using light projections and special costumes, which she patented a year later in Paris and London. A few years later the Canadian Maud Allan followed in her footsteps – all of them inspired by the great Isadora Duncan.

Margareta’s difficulty was, however, that she could not afford light projectors, operators or even special costumes, and, initially, her natural talents had to suffice. Such talents she did have, and perhaps it helped that her legend as Indian respectively Indonesian temple dancer could not really be checked by the audience for the lack of expertise.

She was perky, breezy, a real flirt, and well aware of her body, which she flaunted at will. Equipped with such weapons of female mass destruction, it did not take long before she celebrated a boisterous debut at the Musée Guimet on March 13, 1905, whose founder and main sponsor, millionaire industrialist Émile Étienne Guimet she immediately took on as mistress.

Competition in erotic dancing in Paris was keen, and Margareta developed her act further. Her lover, M. Guimet, had received a government commission to study the religions of the Far East, for his museum, and her “disguise as a Javanese princess of priestly Hindu birth, pretending to have been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood thus fell on fertile grounds. She was photographed numerous times during this period, nude or nearly so. Some of these pictures were obtained by MacLeod and strengthened his case in keeping custody of their daughter. She brought a carefree provocative style to the stage in her act, which garnered wide acclaim. The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jewelled breastplate and some ornaments upon her arms and head. She was never seen without a bra as she was self-conscious about being small-breasted. She wore a body stocking for her performances that was similar in colour to her own skin.” [Source: Wiki]

In Amsterdam 1915
In Amsterdam 1915

Her comments were open, frivolous and entertaining as usual:

“I took the train to Paris without money and without clothes. There, as a last resort and thanks to my female charms, I was able to survive. That I slept with other men is true; that I posed for sculptures is true; that I danced in the opera at Monte Carlo is true. It would be too far beneath me and too cowardly to defend myself against such actions I have taken. …

The dance is a poem, of which each movement is a word. … In my dancing one forgets the woman in me, so that when I offer everything and finally myself to the god–which is symbolized by the loosening of my loincloth, the last piece of clothing I have on–and stand there, albeit for only a second entirely naked, I have never yet evoked any feeling but the interest in the mood that is expressed by my dancing”.

In a way, she helped the public acceptance of exotic dancers as well. She was the first of the profession to be accepted in the high society, not only for her dancing skills (which were not so outstanding, some said) but for her persona, knowledge and use of the media, including risqué photographs – a precursor to today’s celebrities who are famous for being celebrities, not for any ability or merit.

Biographers love to cite newspaper articles of besotted reporters, who described her as “so feline, extremely feminine, majestically tragic, the thousand curves and movements of her body trembling in a thousand rhythms,” or as “slender and tall with the flexible grace of a wild animal, and with blue-black hair” and that her face “makes a strange foreign impression.”

Yet – quite naturally – copycats arose in numbers, and her act slowly lost the intrigue that had been its major forte. Apostles of the public morality accused her of cheap exhibitionism – which surprises somehow, for while exhibitionism it was, it was truly not cheap, compared to the likes of the gentlemen who were allowed to hold her arm and perhaps other parts of her anatomy.

More recently a discussion has opened in regard to her sexuality, concentrating on the mind-blowing question whether she was bisexual, which she probably was and why not? That this discussion has not arisen earlier is perhaps owed to the increasing liberty in which such questions are discussed nowadays, or still our perpetual interest in gossip.

It is known that she had a playful relation to cross-dressing in military uniforms and we have a somewhat problematic article here (for the lack of sources cited), but anyway, here it comes, from a Fandom page [Link]:

“Mata Hari’s own orientation may be of some relevance in the controversy. Mata Hari had innumerable male lovers, and she seems to have been overwhelmingly heterosexual. There is some suggestion, however, that she was not exclusively so. Many of Mata Hari’s lovers were officers, and she herself enjoyed dressing up in military uniform. Mata Hari and the Russian actress Alla Nazimova were also said to be lovers, though they may never have met.

Alla Nazimova

Women, as well as men, certainly found Mata Hari attractive and were aroused by her nude dancing. Natalie Clifford Barney, a wealthy American expatriate, was a well-known hostess in Belle Epoque Paris. Barney, known as “The Amazon”, was also the centre of an artistic lesbian/bisexual circle that included the writers Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette ) and Renee Vivien and the actress and prostitute Liane de Pougy. Barney had a house in Neuilly with a large garden, and she and her friends liked to stage amateur theatricals and dances with lesbian themes there. When she met Mata Hari, Barney was immediately impressed and hired her to dance at her home. Mata Hari gave at least three nude performances (one of them on horseback as Lady Godiva) at Barney’s garden parties. For one such appearance, Mata Hari herself insisted that only women be invited. Colette, who was then struggling to make her own career as a nude dancer, greatly resented Mata Hari and envied her success. Despite this, Colette went to great lengths to see Mata Hari dance, and she was impressed by her legs, buttocks, and torso.

Colette

Colette wrote that one of Mata Hari’s performances at Barney’s house “brought the male–and a good portion of the female, audience to the limit of decent attention”. The American lesbian writer, Janet Flanner, became a close friend of Barney’s after the war and also talked to many of Barney’s friends who had witnessed Mata Hari’s performances. Of her nude dancing, Flanner said that “The only woman who had that kind of extraordinary style was Mata Hari. “There” was a woman who was equal to any event”. Mata Hari remained part of Barney’s circle, and frequently lunched with Barney and her friends. Barney wore mannish “Amazonian” style dresses, and Mata Hari often wore similar outfits while riding. According to Flanner, Mata Hari got a brand new “Amazonian” dress from Barney just before her execution, and was wearing it when she was shot.

Natalie Clifford Barney
Natalie Clifford Barney

Natalie Barney had a legendary sexual appetite, and she enjoyed the challenge of seduction. Janet Flanner later denied that Barney and Mata Hari had been lovers, though Barney had so many sexual partners that neither she nor anyone else could keep track of them, and she classed the less important ones simply as “adventures”. Given her association with Barney and her friends, and given what we know of Mata Hari’s adventurous and unconventional nature, it is certainly possible that she at least experimented sexually with women. Many secondary authorities now list Mata Hari as bisexual, and she has become a popular lesbian icon. As in many such cases, however, the real evidence is far from conclusive.

Liane de Pougy
Liane de Pougy

After she was safely dead, Barney, Colette, and Pougy all criticized Mata Hari harshly. They even said that they had never found her attractive. This was a curious assertion indeed, since Mata Hari had performed nude for them three times. Unattractiveness would hardly have earned her two return engagements at the Barney home.”

Renee Vivien
Renee Vivien

Take it or leave it.

Anyway, due to the multiplying competition and the slow vanishing of youth (she had put on a few pounds), she danced less and less – the last time we know of on March 13, 1915 – but concentrated on her career as a top international courtesan. She was seen with bevies of high-ranking military officers – her favourite companions – but also politicians, industrialists and the like.

She did not change much, but the atmosphere of the continent changed with the outbreak of the Great War of 1914 to 1918. We know that truth is always the first casualty of war, but an almost universal fear of foreign spies came over Europe, and a woman who had lovers in many countries and travelled – as a Dutch citizen, she was neutral – freely around countries whose inhabitants certainly had all kinds of malicious intents against peace-loving Frenchmen – she became to be viewed by many as a security risk.

The spy craze of the Great War is almost worth an article of its own. Every country – at war or not – continually arrested presumed spies, many of which were so cleverly hidden by their suspected employers that they were illiterate, did not speak their sponsors language and had no contact to the military.

In the spring of 1916, Russia had sent a 50.000 strong Expeditionary Corps to aid the allies on the Western Front, and one of their pilots, a 23-year-old Captain caught the eye – and the heart – of our heroine.


Now the shit was to hit the fan … Hang on for part II of the story, in a few days … Here the biggest picture gallery available …

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019) * The Prison Letter is the author’s invention!

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Lust and Poison at the Sun King’s Court

The Laboratory of La Voisin
The Laboratory of La Voisin

The court of the Sun King Louis XIV was known as a gallant place where beautiful ladies with flexible morals were able to calculate chances of promotion quite the way up to the most exalted beds in the country. Competition, however, was fierce and various ladies with respectable charms but little patience turned to strategies destined to improve their pecuniary as well as social conditions in the shortest possible time.

One of these hungry ladies was Marie Madeleine Marguerite d’Aubray, from an equally rich and famous noble family. At the age of 21 (1651), she married the Marquis Antoine Gobelin de Brinvilliers, a wealthy Flemish wool merchant, with whom she had five children. Through her husband she met the flimsy, but charming – and permanently mired in financial difficulties – scoundrel Monsieur Godin de Sainte-Croix, with whom she began a prolonged affair.

Marie’s father considered the affair, did not like it, and managed to send the friend of the family for a year to the Bastille prison, where the hobby alchemist Sainte-Croix  obviously met an inmate colleague who taught him various skills on toxicology. At liberty again, Sainte-Croix returned straight back to his lover, with specific proposals on how the sweetheart could take possession of the family heritage quickly. In the way, unfortunately, stood her father and two brothers and a sister with whom she would have to share the heritage.

The brothers expired mysteriously in the course of the summer of 1670 , but the suspicious Sister Thérèse d’Aubray now developed a strong interest in checking her food  and thus remained alive, although she died before the subsequent trial and condemnation of her dear sister, probably due to natural causes. Although the autopsies of the brothers evidenced certain indications of poisoning, Marie always had an alibi and the servant of the brothers in question, a certain Jean Stamelin called La Chaussee ( “the Way”), was above suspicion.

It came out by accident only.  Sainte-Croix died in a failed experiment in his laboratory, probably by inhaling toxic gases. Since he, as always, was heavily in debt, his estate had to be executed at the local court, where a cassette was noticed and opened, which divulged not only his promissory notes, but also a variety of poisons as well as the lovers‘ full correspondence.

The search of Sainte-Croix’s cassette

The subsequent investigation quickly led to the arrest of the servant, his trial, torture and execution, while Marie fled abroad, first to England, then to Liège – into a convent. After her extradition, she  was subjected to the water torture (see cover photo), then various other gymnastic exercises and finally sentenced to death on the scaffold on July 16, 1676 . So far so good.

Clerical and secular interrogations and torture of Mme. Brinvilliers

Meanwhile, a series of strange deaths of rich nobleman – or at least gossip about it – had aroused the idle suspicion of the court. What advanced the subject to the favourite theme of the courtiers’ natter was the strange fact that Louis Henri de Pardaillan de Gondrin , Marquis de Montespan, began to complain publicly about his wife Françoise de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan, who – under her artist or bed name Athénaïs – had replaced Louise de La Valliere, the official mistress of Louis XIV, in the royal four-poster bed. Even more shocking, he accused the First Lady-in-Waiting of Queen Marie Therese, Mme. Julie d’Angennes to have arranged the connection for selfish motives.

Louise de la Vallière
Louise de la Vallière
Portraits of the Marquise de Montespan, mistress of Louis XIV

The problem  was that – usually – the husbands of the royally selected ladies did not complain about matters they could not change, but tried to draw from the circumstances given the best possible benefits for their own careers. But Montespan was so angry that he not only publicly demanded a duel with the king but also decorated Louis‘ coach with antlers, for which he was promptly jailed. He was subsequently exiled, but did not give up. Although prohibited by order of the king,  he travelled not only to Paris each summer from 1670 to 1686, but also paid for an annual requiem mass for his (quite lively) wife, and forced the two children to participate in a phony funeral.He also announced publicly and repeatedly that his wife had swayed the king with love potions and black masses.


A Catholic monarch could – of course – not sit out such accusations, whether Mme. Montespan had born him seven children or not. Thus, the Marquis fell even deeper in disgrace and the irritated King sent his bloodhounds out for him.

But Louis needed a pretext to make it not look like a personal pursuit – which of course it was. Because in the wake of sensational trial of Mme. Brinvilliers, all the hallways of the court echoed with rumours of poisonings anyway, he created an official commission and special court, a renewed Chambre Ardente, which had already served his blessed colleagues Francis I, Henry II and Francis II so well in the pursuit of heretics. Fittingly, this time it was called Cour de Poison ( “Poison Court”).

For a change, the official task of the court this time was combating the suspected circles of Satanism – the popular assumption was that the cult urged his followers to commit the suspected murders by poison (financial interests were officially taboo). The usual suspects were mostly women – but not only; psychics, spiritualists, pharmacists, poisoners and manufacturers of love potions.

The French police prefect Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie was commissioned to destroy the satanic conspiracy. About four hundred suspects were interrogated and by the enthusiastic use of torture numerous enjoyable confessions were obtained. Everyone accused everybody else, it was a lark.

Philip of Orleans. the brother of Louis XIV, meets the devil himself during a party at La Voisin, Catherine Deshayes
Philip of Orleans. the brother of Louis XIV, meets the devil himself during a party at La Voisin, Catherine Deshayes

But suddenly there was a true lead. A thin trail of the king‘s mistress to a suspected mass murderess and poisoner could be established, the famous La Voisin (also called “Monvoisin” or “Montvoisin”), a person Reynie had noticed before. In the case of Mme. Montespan who was, after all, the official royal mistress, the chief of police suspected not really poison, but the acquisition of love potions to ensure the king’s favour, he thought quite possible – Black Masses might be required for their production  – who knew?

Catherine Monvoisin (or Montvoisin), née Deshayes, usually called "La Voisin"
Catherine Monvoisin (or Montvoisin), née Deshayes, usually called “La Voisin”

In the course of his investigation Reynie had busted two soothsayers, who accused Mme. Monvoisin. The lady turned out to be a winner. It could be determined – reasonably reliable – that she had a customer base that actually reached into high nobility.

Inquiries in the vicinity of the bustling dame rendered quickly that she was perceived to provide horoscopes and black magic, actually sold poisons and love spells and performed abortions as well. In her garden stood a chapel in which demons like Astaroth and Asmodeus were worshiped. These black masses were visited by an illustrious clientele of courtiers and princesses – even the executioner of Paris himself belonged to the circle. Embarrassingly, one of the carriages waiting outside bore the coat of arms of the royal mistress and soon the police could prove visits by Mme. Montespan all the way back to 1665.

Illustration from “Justine” by the Marquis de Sade

Claimed by several witnesses in the subsequent interrogations was that in these ceremonies Madame de Montespan had lain naked on an altar while her petitions for the king’s continuing favour were passed on to the Christian God and the gods of the underworld. She had allowed the priest Guibourg to introduce a host in her vagina and to have intercourse with her while praying. [ Description of the exhibition ] [ PDF ] The daughter of Monvoisin confirmed both the masses and the sales of love potions, but these statements were immediately relegated to the secret archives.

Catherine Monvoisin and the priest Étienne Guibourg performing a Black-Mass on the mistress of King Louis XIV of France, Madame de Montespan - by Henry de Malvost, 1895
Catherine Monvoisin and the priest Étienne Guibourg performing a Black-Mass on the mistress of King Louis XIV of France, Madame de Montespan – by Henry de Malvost, 1895

It became worse soon. Excavations on the site of La Monvoisin unearthed the remains of more than 2,500 aborted, dead-, early- or newborn babies.

Execution of La Voisin
Execution of La Voisin

That Mme Monvoisin was due, was clear – but first royal generosity had to protect the innocent, that is noble, attendees of the masses – their names were removed from the lists, and they were advised to take extensive vacations – preferably abroad.

Madame de Sevigne witnessed the execution of La Voisin and wrote in her letters: “At Notre Dame she refused to apologize, and fought tooth and nail at the Place de la Greve. They brought her to the pile of wood, tied her up in a sitting position with iron chains and covered her with straw. She cursed without pause and repulsed the straw five or six times, but eventually the fires flared up, and she was never seen again. Her ashes are now flying around in the air. Thus died Mrs Voisin, famous for her crimes and pagan unbelief. “[ Source ]

Another mistress of Louis and rival of Montespan, the beautiful Marie Angélique de Scoraille de Roussille (see above), also died suddenly. Rumours concentrated on Mme. De Montespan and Reynie actually investigated her. But several influential courtiers prevented an indictment, including Françoise d’Aubigné,Marquise de Maintenon, usually called Madame de Maintenon, the governess of the royal children (with whom Ludwig later entered into a secret, morganatic marriage),. But after the death of the beautiful Angélique, Montespan quickly fell out of favour.

Françoise d'Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719)
Françoise d’Aubigné, Marquise de Maintenon (1635-1719)

Slowly the poison affair fizzled out – the last execution took place in 1683. Reynie was urged to complete his investigation – he probably got too close to some folks dear to the royal well-being. What remained was a new law regulating the marketing of poisons, which became a model worldwide. Divination and soothsaying was banned in France and a decree of 1682 ended witch trials.

From 1686 on Ludwig was rather busied by the formation of the League of Augsburg , and through the wars of the Palatinate – and later the Spanish Succession , and the affairs of the court lost importance. The King spent his subsequent years more and more with the Marquise de Maintenon and in the bosom of his family.

Louis XIV with Mme. de Maintenon and family, attributed to Nicolas de Largillière
Louis XIV with Mme. de Maintenon and family, attributed to Nicolas de Largillière

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

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Germany between AD 900 and 1250


Header and below: The famous painting at the town hall of Landshut, Lower Bavaria, depicting scenes of the “Wedding of Landshut” in 1475 between the Bavarian Duke Georg der Reiche (George the Rich) and Hedwig Jagiellonica, daughter of the Polish King Kasimir IV. Andreas. The wedding is quadrennially re-enacted as a magnificent spectacle (last in 2017). Painted by August Spieß, Rudolf Seitz, Ludwig Löfftz and Konrad Weigand.


The two basic tools of statecraft for the Kings of Eastern Franconia after the division of Charlemagne’s Empire were war and marriage, and both influenced the royal exchequer. If the annual campaign was successful, the lion’s share of the newly acquired territories was the king’s to bestow upon a faithful liege, perhaps with some cash as well. If a war was lost, the hand of a royal daughter might mitigate the conditions of peace. At length the more or less classical feudal system developed, wherein liege lord and vassal were bound to mutual assistance by the bilateral oath of fealty; yet in reality an often incessant series of battles, marriages, exchange, barter and trade obscured the lines and enhanced the volatility of the political landscape. War was ubiquitous and unremitting, miring states in feuds that lasted, sometimes, for centuries: England and France fought three hundred years, with intermissions, over the erstwhile Normannic possessions in western and northern France. …

By the end of the ninth century AD, the centre of political gravity in the East moved to Bavaria, where Arnulf of Carinthia [r.AD 887-899] and his, rather ineffective, son Louis the Child [r.AD 900-911] represented the last of the
Carolingians. Between AD 896, when Arnulf fell seriously ill, and AD 911, there was “a power vacuum in the Eastern kingdom. It was filled by new regional rulers, called “‘Dukes’ – of Bavaria … of Alemannia (now increasingly called Swabia) … of Saxony … of Lotharingia … and even of the East Frankish heartland, which seems to have crystallized as a duchy under Gebhard’s nephew Conrad around 906.” (16)

It was not really an Empire in AD 1000, and certainly not “Holy” …

There is a temptation to see the emergence of these regional princes as the beginning of German particularism, but for the time being these were only transient structures, albeit developing their own political consciousness. They could be relatively mature, as in Bavaria, or chaotic, as in Saxony, but it “is a sign of the power of the duchy as a political concept that they too had more or less hegemonic dukes by Louis the Child’s death. The Frank Conrad, ruler of the most ‘royal’ duchy, was a natural successor to Louis, as Conrad I (911-18), but he failed to gain the respect from his ducal ex-peers that he hoped for,” and “when he died, the magnates of ‘Francia et Saxonia’ chose Henry of Saxony as the new king (Henry I, “the Fowler”, 919- 36).” (17)

It was a momentous occasion, and a risk, too: for the first time since Chlodwig, a man was king of the Franks who was not a Frank himself. It was perhaps an accidental bout of wisdom that had influenced the decision, for the Saxonian
dukes and their armies were the leading edge in the border wars in the East, against the Slays and in particular against the Magyars or Hungarians, the latest semi-nomadic issue from the Asian steppe. Henry defeated them in 933, to his credit and popularity. (18) The basis for the wealth of Henry’s family, the Liudolfingians, later called the Ottonians, was slave trade, a most profitable business which benefited from the Saxons’ proximity to the border. They sent grab commandos on kidnapping sprees into the East, to abduct the children of the Slavs [the name “Slav” indeed comes from this business, ¶], and to sell them, especially young boys, blonds at a premium, into the Turkish and Arabian brothels of the Levant.

The hazard of Henry’s election for the Franks was that the Saxons well remembered Charlemagne’s slaughter of 4,500 of their kin, and no one would have been surprised had they sought revenge. But Henry publicly announced to forego retribution, and this message gave rise to the hope that the vicious circle of intertribal slaughter and retribution might be broken. At the occasion of the succession of his father and his formal coronation and anointment as emperor at Aachen, Charlemagne’s capital, Henry’s son Otto [Otto I, r.AD 936-973] promoted equality between the tribes, by inviting all the eastern dukes and being publicly supported by them, in an attempt to strengthen the governmental consensus he hoped to establish.

From left to right: 12th-century stained-glass depiction of Otto I, Strasbourg Cathedral, Henry the Fowler, Henry II, Henry IV at Canossa, Frederick II.
From left to right: 12th-century stained-glass depiction of Otto I, Strasbourg Cathedral, Henry the Fowler, Henry II, Henry IV at Canossa, Frederick II.

In some respects it was easier for the aristocracy to entertain notions of collegiality than it was for the peasants; for the Aleman farmer or Saxonian shepherd, fancies of being a “German” were still part of a distant future. The annals kept in churches describe fiendish prejudices: chronicles portray the Swabians as stupid, the Hessians as overbold, and call the Saxons simply “wild”. Awful was the reputation of the Bavarians; rapists and robbers, gluttons and drunkards.

[* The terminology of the age was volatile; the summary below is provided by Chris Wickham: “The separate concepts “France” and “Germany” did not yet exist; nor even, except occasionally, did “West” and “East” Francia, the terminology historians currently use; both were normally just Francia, or Francia et Saxonia in the case of the eastern kingdom, to reflect the Saxon origins and political base of the Ottonians. (‘France” is of course simply the French for Francia; by contrast in the German lands, the Frankish heartland was only one region among the old ethnic territories of Saxony, Alemannia, Bavaria, and so a new inclusive name eventually appeared, the regnum Teutonicum, though not until the eleventh century.) But the lack of interest of the historians reflects a slow cultural separation. For Flodoard and Richer, Francia was „really“ (northern) France; the East Franks were Transrhenenses, from over the Rhine, or else the inhabitants of Germania, the old Roman geographic term. For Widukind, similarly, West Francia was Gallia, proto-French the Gallic lingua, and Francia was seen as “really” being in the East.”] (19)

Yet the instruments of civil governance, as opposed to war, remained few and crude, hampered by the sluggishness of communications. For the most part, Otto and his successors still governed ambulatory: they moved, with a
long trek of wagons and horses, counsellors and courtiers, bodyguards and jesters, ladies chaste and not so chaste, through the country. Wherever the trek halted, royal duties were performed as long as circumstances permitted it: when the local host ran out of victuals, the wagons moved on. Many parts of the realm would not behold the king ever; the royal visits concentrated upon the old Roman settlements and the newer Imperial towns, mostly sees of bishops: Mainz, Speyer, Cologne, Trier, Worms, Nuremberg and Regensburg, the former “Castra Regina”, i.e. “Fortress by the Regen River”.

The Imperial Throne in the Cathedral of Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle)

All in all it was a somewhat haphazard affair Otto found himself king of, when, by a stroke of luck or fate, in AD 951, the opportunity arose to marry the widow of the king of the Lombardy, and thus to secure the Lombardian succession, which included most of northern Italy, for his family, their successors, and the Regnum Teutonicum. In the pursuit of this lucky break Otto happened to set his eyes on Rome as well. The former capital of the world had sunken deeply; the times of her grandeur were a fading memory. Economically and militarily without importance, the city, at perhaps a tenth of her former one million inhabitants, managed a meagre subsistence on a diminished flow of pilgrims visiting the seat of St. Peter. One possibility, however, attracted Otto’s attention, regarding the city’s most venerable resident, Pope John XII. In compensation for a contribution to the bishop’s stressed finances, the king as well as his successors would like to propose their ideas on the future bearers of the greatest Catholic dignity to the people of Rome, and would expect the wisdom of their choice to be honoured in perpetuity. Edward Gibbon reports on another shady deal:

Otho [Otto] the First imposed a treaty on the senate and the people [of Rome], who engaged to prefer the candidate most acceptable to his majesty: his successors anticipated or prevented their choice: they bestowed the Roman benefice, like the bishoprics of Cologne or Bamberg, on their chancellors or preceptors; and whatever might be the merit of a Frank or Saxon, his name sufficiently attests the interposition of foreign power.

Such mutual compliments also caused difficulties in cooperative warfare, for in the meetings of the presumed allies, it could happen too easily that jokes were told, catcalls flew, one word gave the other, and in a minute the hypothetical
confederates went at each other’s throats. Only when the kingdom was confronted with a true danger, the wild hordes of the Hungarians, did the amalgamated troops display a semblance of orderly conduct. When the intruders were beaten by Henry in AD 933, and later, decisively, by Otto in AD 955, and thus ceased to remain a threat to the lives and possessions of
the tribes, it was probably the first time that a collective “German”* sigh of relief swept through the land.

These acts of prerogative were most speciously excused by the vices of a popular election. The competitor who had been excluded by the cardinals appealed to the passions or avarice of the multitude; the Vatican and the Lateran were stained with blood; and the most powerful senators, the marquises of Tuscany and the counts of Tusculum, held the apostolic see in a long and disgraceful servitude. The Roman pontiffs of the ninth and tenth centuries were insulted, imprisoned, and murdered by their tyrants; and such was their indigence, after the loss and usurpation of the ecclesiastical patrimonies, that they could neither support the state of a prince nor exercise the charity of a priest.

The influence of two sister prostitutes, Marozia and Theodora, was founded on their wealth and beauty, their political and amorous intrigues: the most strenuous of their lovers were rewarded with the Roman mitre, and their reign may have suggested to the darker ages the fable of a female pope. The bastard son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of Marozia, a rare genealogy, were seated in the chair of St. Peter, and it was at the age of nineteen years that the second of these became the head of the Latin Church. …

[But] we read with some surprise that the worthy grandson of Marozia lived in public adultery with the matrons of Rome; that the Lateran palace was turned into a school for prostitution, and that his rapes of virgins and widows had deterred the female pilgrims from visiting the tomb of St. Peter lest in the devout act they should be violated by his successor. The Protestants have dwelt with malicious pleasure on these characters of Antichrist; but to a philosophical eye, the vices of the clergy are far less dangerous than their virtues. (20)

Painting – by some ascribed to show Marozia (890 – 937) – the alleged mistress of Pope Sergius III. She was given the unprecedented titles senatrix (“senatoress”) and patricia of Rome by Pope John X. Corner: The Wedding of Marozia and Hugh of Italy, from Francesco Bertolini, Historia de Roma.

Otto’s Italian job had not only secured him the possession of the Lombardy and the connubial attentions of the widow, but his financial health as well. A number of prosecutions for treason which notably reduced the number of John’s creditors, had removed much of the pope’s secular distress, and, in a solemn ceremony, the grateful bishop decorated Otto with the crown and the royal insignia of Charlemagne; since this day Otto referred to himself as Augustus, Caesar, and Emperor. The good-neighbourly relations, once established, persuaded John and Otto to adjudicate two future principles of Imperial ballots: that the candidate who was elected emperor by the German princes would thereby obtain, instantly, the kingdom of Italy as his personal domain, but he was not to assume the Imperial titles until he was crowned in Rome, by the pope himself. The vacant Roman titles were resurrected by the sword of the Barbarians and the authority of a religion; and it was the claim of the new dignity that it bestowed superiority over all the other monarchs of the West.

With so many labours of love and duty on his hands, Otto did not find much time to tend to his “German” affairs. He could have returned over the Alps and collected affirmations of his new rank from the dukes, but the new possessions,
and perhaps the widow’s attentions, required his continued presence in the newly acquired territories. It was the Italians, who now had the frequent opportunity to host the new emperor’s court, who were the first to come up with a single appellation covering all the pale folks from the north: they called them “Teutonici”, in remembrance of Gaius Marius’s victory over the Teutones a millennium ago. The Italians thought that all these tribes whose tongues they could not understand, could understand each other, which was, unfortunately, not the case. But since one Germanic dialect sounded just as unintelligible to them as the next one, they were all called “Teutonic”, ‘German’.

Now that the Regnum Teutonicum also included Italy and a new Imperial dignity, the question was what would happen at the founder’s death. Yet, surprisingly enough, the Ottonians were able to form a relatively stable dynasty, despite some smaller emergencies, and after the deaths of Otto II [r.AD 973-983] and Otto III [r.AD 98310021, the German dukes elected “Henry IV of Bavaria (Henry II, 1002-24), who was Otto I’s brother’s grandson and Otto III’s male line heir. There was no doubt at any of these royal accessions that East Francia was a single political system, which by now included Italy as well.” (21)

Medieval Costumes
Medieval Costumes

When trouble arose, it came from an unanticipated direction. It had been early recognized by Otto and his successors that the princes of the Church were relatively more eager to support Imperial business than the secular nobility, whose interests were dominated by dynastic issues. Ever since the harmonious understanding between Pope John and Otto I, the bishops and cardinals of the Catholic Church could be counted on to be found on the side of the emperor, until the cosy relations suffered a setback over the right of investiture.

Conflicts over the authority to appoint bishops were as old as the Church, dating back to AD 337, when Emperor Constantine (on his deathbed, not a minute earlier) accepted Christianity as one permissible religion of the Imperium Romanum and his own. Six centuries later, Otto and his successors claimed the right of investiture as an Imperial prerogative, and for a hundred
years or so the popes were too weak to challenge the emperor’s licence. Under the auspices of Pope Gregor VII, however, a reform movement usurped the clerical hierarchy and reclaimed the privilege for the Holy See. After prolonged arguments and a few rounds of cross-excommunications, the Church won, and the current emperor Heinrich IV had to undertake a journey to Canossa and beg forgiveness from the pope.

The crown was thus forced to abandon the former Imperial privileges in clerical affairs, but the triumph of the Church had consequences that far outreached the rather limited issue of investiture. Since Canossa, the Holy Roman Emperor was a lay Christian like any of his subjects, and this transition of power the Church promptly used to claim the secular authority, that is, the political control, over her properties. The number of administrative entities in the Regnum Teutonicum was much augmented by the addition of clerical domains; three hundred years later approximately ninety German bishops and cardinals, with all the rights of secular lords, joined the thirty or forty leaders of the nobility in the actual governance of the realm.

The Knight, Death and the Devil - Albrecht Dürer (The Scourges of the Middle Ages)
The Scourges of the Middle Ages – Knight, Death and Devil – by Albrecht Dürer

The main consequence of the tug-of-war between clergy and nobility was that it further hampered the emergence of a “German” consciousness, compared with, say, France. The French ethnogenesis developed more rapidly not only because central governance was instituted earlier, it was also centred on an all-important capital. In a perfect antithesis, the possessions of secular and clerical princes in the Holy Roman Empire, as it was called from the fourteenth century on, were divided and subdivided again, and a quilt of dozens of tiny-to-medium-sized dominions alongside the great duchies emerged, and existed until the early nineteenth century. The absence of a great capital contributed to the maturative sluggishness; great towns reflect culture and culture reflects identity.

Without the benefits of a unified language or political centre, the German national birth pangs continued, for attractors of social cohesiveness, a “national” consciousness, were disfavoured by the princes, who saw them as threats to their sovereignty. Otto’s Imperial claim of superiority over the rest of the continental princes, whether they called themselves kings or not, remained a theoretical exercise; de facto, the medieval emperor was not more than primus inter pares. Not that the Imperial designs ever were too modest: one of Otto’s eventual successors from the House of
Hohenstaufen [flor. AD 1138-1254], Heinrich IV, allowed his modesty to claim all the lands in Africa and the Levant, between Gibraltar and the Hellespont, as his personal domain, on the argument that they, as former provinces of the Imperium Romanum, be restored to his authority as the universal heir of Romulus and Hadrian. He also proclaimed his desire to conquer Baghdad and the Caliphate.

It probably saved the Regnum Teutonicum respectively Holy Roman Empire a lot of needless slaughter, when the good man died in AD 1197, at only thirty-three, and his extensive plans remained stillborn. Perhaps it was a family trait: his father, Friedrich I, called “Barbarossa” for his prodigious red facial hairdo, had not allowed the pages of the family book to remain unturned, either: to combine the useful with the sacred, he partook in the Third Crusade but had the misfortune to fall off his horse into a Turkish river and, for his armour, drowned on the road to glory [AD 1190). At least he did not need to witness the subsequent slaughter of his army by the heathen Saracens. Crusades were much in fashion at the time, and in the family, and Barbarossa’s grandson Friedrich II experienced a good amount of the Holy Quest when he became, successively, the pupil, an enemy, and a victim of the Church. (22)

Piazza Federico II at Jesi, Frederick II's birthplace
Piazza Federico II at Jesi, Frederick II’s birthplace

In his minority, Friedrich had been a ward of Pope Innocent III and had been married, as quickly as it might appear proper, to the heiress of the short-lived Kingdom of Jerusalem, thereby to instil in the young emperor a desire for the
reacquisition of the Holy City. Friedrich dutifully delivered the town once again from Arab occupation [AD 1229] but soon tired of the essential stupidity of religious fanaticism. Being a man of religious tolerance, he began to negotiate with the sultan, to establish actual freedom of worship. The scandalous undertaking did not meet with the pope’s applause, as Edward Gibbon assures us:

The enemy of the church [Friedrich) is accused of maintaining with the miscreants an intercourse of hospitality and friendship unworthy of a Christian; of despising the barrenness of the land, and of indulging a profane thought, that if Jehovah had seen the kingdom of Naples he never would have selected Palestine for the inheritance of his chosen people.

Yet Friedrich obtained from the sultan the restitution of Jerusalem, of Bethlehem and Nazareth, of Tyre and Sidon; the Latins [Europeans, ¶] were allowed to inhabit and fortify the city; an equal code of civil and religious freedom was ratified for the sectaries of Jesus and those of Mohammed; and while the former worshipped at the holy sepulchre, the latter might pray and preach in the mosque of the temple whence the prophet undertook his nocturnal journey to Heaven.

The clergy deplored this scandalous toleration; and the weaker Moslems were gradually expelled; but every rational object of the crusades was accomplished without bloodshed; the churches were restored, the monasteries were replenished; and in the space of fifteen years, the Latins of Jerusalem exceeded the number of six thousand. (23)

Medieval view of Lucerne by Martin Martini 1597
Medieval view of Lucerne by Martin Martini 1597

Peaceful coexistence was not a fashion of life the Catholic Church was prepared to tolerate, and in a short time the natural passions of hatred and ferocity were restored to the treasure of Christian virtues. Friedrich was excommunicated not only once but twice, and at length retired to his beloved refuge of Sicily. The island had inherited, over the last two millennia, a veritable melting pot of Mediterranean cultures: Greek, Phoenician and Roman influences had existed in fruitful competition for centuries, and the results pleased the emperor’s eyes. Sicily became Friedrich’s pet project of a “modern state”, and on account of his good relations to the sultan, he obtained the assistance of Arabian scientists, civil servants, doctors and clerks; his court was the most developed institution in contemporary Europe.

Germany was of lesser importance to him, and he only crossed the Alps twice to inspect his titular possessions. He had surrendered a few of the old Imperial privileges, the imposition of tariffs or duties, for example, to the major German princes, in return for their electoral support of his son’s succession to the Imperial dignity. Such deals were common and the most compelling factor in the gradual diminishment of the Imperial authority. They were called Capitulations, and the name correctly describes their contents. Perhaps comparable to the way the English aristocracy had gained, in the development of the four centuries between the Magna Charta of AD 1215 and the Bill of Rights in AD 1689, more and broader limitations of the powers of the crown, the capitulations of the German emperors decreased their executive powers. Friedrich’s attempt to secure his son’s succession was the last effort to establish a hereditary line on the thrown of the Occident until the usurpation of the office by the House of Habsburg three centuries later.

The form of the actual Imperial election was reformed in AD 1356 with the publication of the “Golden Bull”, which delegated the franchise upon the shoulders of the seven Electors, whose majority vote would ennoble the successful candidate. The original bull named three men of the cloth and four members of the nobility: the three clerical electors were the archbishops of Mainz, Cologne and Trier, of whom the gentleman from Mainz officiated as Imperial Arch Chancellor and primus inter pares: he was the chairman of the election board, voted last, and supervised the coronation ceremonies. The four secular electors were the Count Palatine of the Rhine, the Duke of Saxony, the Marquis of Brandenburg and the Duke of Bavaria, replaced later by the King of Bohemia.

The convoluted design effectively prevented the establishment of dynasties for more than two centuries; no single family was permitted to accumulate undue influence by too long a reign. Therefore, at a time when England was ruled by
the Plantagenets and their descendants, the Yorks and Lancasters, and France governed by a succession of Capets, Orleans, Valois and Bourbons, no German dynasty was allowed to leverage a unifying influence upon the German people. This absence explained, to a degree, the differences between the national consciousness of France and Germany: the French perspective was early formed by territorial, that is, increasingly possessive motivations, while the German outlook was restricted to the vagaries of ever-changing and frequently shifting political coalitions.

The project “Germany” had a long way ahead.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

(16) (17) (18) (19) (21) Chris Wickham, “The Inheritance of Rome“, Viking Books 2009 ISBN 978-0-670-02098-0, pp. 430, 431, 431, 429

(20) (22) (23) Edward Gibbon, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire“, Modern Library 2003-5, ISBN 0-345-47884-3 , pp. 1043 (889), 1276 (1088), 1278 (1090) [First Page Number: Mass Market Edition 2005; Second Page Number: 4th Edition 2003-4]

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The End of the Legions

Vercingetorix throwing down his weapons at the feet of Julius Caesar by Lionel Royer, 1899
Vercingetorix throwing down his weapons at the feet of Julius Caesar by Lionel Royer, 1899

It is this year AD 476, which is commonly cited as the “end” of the Roman Empire, a custom which seems to overlook the fact that the eastern part of it survived for another thousand years. But one could take any of the neighbouring decades and claim an “end” all the same; indeed, it is a mistake to see Roman and Barbarians as either/or, when in reality the cultures mingled; in the words of Chris Wickham, “Crisis and Continuity” were both present between AD 400 and 550. (43) The perhaps most significant change was the end of the centralization of politics, economy and culture that the great empire had provided; particularism set in.

The end of political unity was not a trivial shift; the whole structure of politics had to change as a result. The ruling classes of the provinces were all still (mostly) Roman, but they were diverging fast. The East was moving away from the West, too.
It was becoming much more Greek in its official culture, for a start. Leo I was the first emperor to legislate in Greek; under a century later, Justinian (527-565) may have been the last emperor to speak Latin as a first language. But it is above all in the West that we find a growing provincialization in the late fifth century, both a consequence and a cause of the breakdown of central government. …
Building became far less ambitious, artisanal production became less professionalized, exchange became more localized. The fiscal system, the judicial system, and the density of Roman administrative activity in
general, all began to simplify as well. (44)

Mosaic of Justinianus I in the Basilica San Vitale (Ravenna)
Mosaic of Justinianus I in the Basilica San Vitale (Ravenna)

The decisive challenge, and indeed the most “taxing” matter, for any community that would endeavour to follow the Roman example, was how to pay for a standing army, which had been the instrument of Rome’s expansion and maintenance. It is true that in ancient Rome the farmer was expected to perform military service if the need arose, quite like in ancient Gaul or beyond the Rhine. But that had changed at the latest with Marius’s army reform around 100 BC. The Imperial decline and the decrease in political stability six hundred years later resulted in a corresponding shrinking of manufacture and commerce, which, at length, destroyed the Imperial tax base. It seems that the change from a paid to a landed army occurred in the West at the same time as Emperor Justinian I in the East embarked on his Imperial reconquista (which depleted his treasury, too), that is, at the time of Theodoric’s Ostrogoths reign in Italy.

Theodoric the Great, by Fabrizio Castello (1560-1617)
Theodoric the Great, by Fabrizio Castello (1560-1617)

Beginning in the fifth century, there was a steady trend away from supporting armies by public taxation and towards supporting them by the rents deriving from private landowning, which was essentially the product of this desire for land of conquering elites. In 476, according to Procopius, even the Roman army of Italy wanted to be given lands, and got it by supporting Odovacar. Procopius may well have exaggerated; the Ostrogoths state in Italy certainly still used taxation to pay the army, at least in part, probably more than any other post-Roman polity did by the early sixth century.
Overall, however, the shift to land was permanent. After the end of Ostrogothic Italy, there are no references in the West to army pay, except rations for garrisons, until the Arabs reintroduced it in Spain from the mid-eight century onwards; in the other western kingdoms, only occasional mercenary detachments were paid … .

The major post-Roman kingdoms still taxed, into the seventh century. But if the army was landed, the major item of expanse in the Roman budget had gone. The city of Rome, another important item, was only supplied from Italy after 439, and lost population fast, as we have seen. The central and local administration of the post-Roman states was perhaps paid for longer, but in most of them the administration quickly became smaller and cheaper. Tax still made kings rich, and their generosity increased the attractive power of royal courts. But this was all it was for, by 550 or so.

Tax is always unpopular, and takes work to exact; if it is not essential, this work tends to be neglected. It is thus not surprising that there are increasing signs that it was not assiduously collected. In ex-Vandal Africa after 534, the Roman re-conquerors had to reorganize the tax administration to make it effective again, to great local unpopularity; in Frankish Gaul in the 580s, assessment registers were no longer being systematically updated, and tax rates may only have been around a third of those normal under the empire.
Tax was, that is to say, no longer the basis of the state. For kings as well as armies, landowning was the major source of wealth from now on. (45)

Germanic Kingdoms of the West
Germanic Kingdoms of the West

The differentiated Roman structures of administration and command could no longer be maintained. For centuries Rome had continued to grow by her arms while providing reasonable security and the general advantage of being a province of the Imperium Romanum was explained once to a Gaul by a lieutenant of Emperor Vespasian, around AD 70, and preserved by Tacitus:

The protection of the [Roman] republic has delivered Gaul from internal discord and foreign invasions. By the loss of national independence, you have acquired the name and privileges of Roman citizens. You enjoy, in common with ourselves, the permanent benefits of civil government; and your remote situation is less exposed to the accidental mischief of tyranny. Instead of exercising the rights of conquest, we have been contented to impose such tributes as are requisite for your own preservation. Peace cannot be secured without armies; and armies must be supported at the expense of the people. It is for your sake, not for ours, that we guard the barrier of the Rhine against the ferocious Germans, who have so often attempted, and who will always desire, to exchange the solitude of their woods and morasses for the wealth and fertility of Gaul.
The fall of Rome would be fatal to the provinces; and you would be buried in the ruins of that mighty fabric which has been raised by the valour and wisdom of eight hundred years. Your imaginary freedom would be insulted and oppressed by a savage master; and the expulsion of the Romans would be succeeded by the eternal hostilities of the Barbarian conquerors
.” (46)

The tax base that had provided for the maintenance of the legions was evaporating, and consequently no large standing armies could be maintained for the next thousand years.
The unthinkable had happened: Rome had fallen, at least in the West, 1229 years after her mythical creation by Romulus, and for the moment no organized power would defend the western parts of the European continent from the inscrutable advances of Barbarian intruders. Yet nature abhors a vacuum, at least in politics, and before long the competition for the inheritance of Rome was in full progress. It centred on the former provinces of Gaul and eventually led to the “Middle Ages”, which were characterized by a sudden fall and only very slow reintroduction of systems based on centralized administration.
Principally what happened is that the centre broke away – the north-western Germanic states and the Byzantine Empire were to become the pillars of European power, while impoverished Italy lost its political importance.
A side effect of this change was that the “Pax Romana”, which had held most of the citizenry harmless from war for a few centuries – unless they lived in border sections – disappeared and was followed by more than a millennium of
slaughter.

(43) (44) (45) Chris Wickham, “The Inheritance of Rome“, Viking Books 2009 ISBN 978-0-670-02098-0, pp. 76, 90 – 95, 102 – 103

(46) Edward Gibbon, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire“, Modern Library 2003-5, ISBN 0-345-47884-3 , p. 776 (659); First Page Number: Mass Market Edition 2005; Second Page Number: 4th Edition 2003-4

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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The Woman of Amphissa

The Floozies of the Palatine

Ludi Florales – The Feast of Florals
Detail

The history of Rome has provided us with a surprising number of nasty girls, and here we will have a look at the most prominent. While the competition is crowded, it remains remarkable that no less than six of them, Claudia Livia Julia (usually called Livilla), Julia Livia (sometimes called Julia Drusi Caesaris filia, daughter of Drusus Caesar), Julia Agrippina the Younger, Claudia Octavia, Julia the Elder, the only daughter of Augustus [read her post on this Blog], and Livia Drusilla (also called Julia Augusta), all came from a single family and all lived within one century (58 BC to AD 68), at the same time as the famous Valeria Messalina [read her post on this Blog], Poppaea Sabina the Younger and Poppaea Sabina the Elder, her mother.

Poppea brings the Head of Claudia Octavia to Nero, by G. Muzzioli (1876)

Murder and perversion abounded … as seen in the movie “Caligula” [Download] The establishment of the Imperial Court seems to have brought the, er, emancipation of the girls to a flowering …

One may reasonably doubt whether a more murderous, licentious and scandalous breed existed in the annals of mankind, and they certainly matched the infamous males of the clan – the respective emperors of the age, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero. Sexual perversion, treason and poisoning are only a few examples of their human fallacies.

Tiberius on Capri
Tiberius on Capri
More floozies at the Ludi Floralia (Flower Festival)

Numbers 10 to 8, featuring: Theodora, Faustina the Younger, Fulvia Flacca Bambula

On Fulvia, politically the most interesting of the ladies and by far the most powerful, there is an exhaustive Master Thesis “A Study of Fulvia”, by Allison Jean Weir [Link to PDF].

https://blogs.transparent.com/latin/the-top-ten-scandalous-women-of-ancient-romepart-i/

No. 10: Theodora
No. 9: Faustina
Fulvia With the Head of Cicero by Pavel Svedomsk
No. 8: Fulvia With the Head of Cicero by Pavel Svedomsk

Numbers 7 to 4, featuring: Julia the Elder, Valeria Messalina, Claudia Livia JuliaCleopatra

https://blogs.transparent.com/latin/the-top-ten-scandalous-women-of-ancient-rome-part-ii/

No. 7: Julia by Leon Francois Comerre
No. 6: Messalina by Eugène Cyrille Brunet
La Reine Bacchanale by Fritz Zuber-Buhler (1822-1896)
La Reine Bacchanale by Fritz Zuber-Buhler (1822-1896)
No. 5: Claudia Livia Julia (Livilla)
No. 4: Cleopatra by Robert Auer
Venus in the Gardens of Lucullus

And the top three, featuring: Poppaea Sabina the Younger, Julia Agrippina the Younger, Livia Drusilla

https://blogs.transparent.com/latin/the-top-ten-scandalous-women-in-ancient-romefinale/

No. 3: Poppaea Sabina
No. 2: Agrippina, murdered by Nero
No. 1: Livia (Drusilla)
Virgil Reading the Aeneid to the Emperor Augustus, His Wife Livia and His Fainting Sister Octavia -  Antonio Zucchi
Virgil Reading the Aeneid to the Emperor Augustus, His Wife Livia and His Fainting Sister Octavia – Antonio Zucchi
Orgia by Édouard Henri Avril
Édouard Henri Avril depicts fun for all the family …

But if you were curious and DID peek, send us a comment on the debauchery you witnessed! Gory details welcome!

(© John Vincent Palatine 2019)

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Our Place in the Sun – German Diplomacy after Bismarck

Dropping the Pilot - Sir John Tenniel, 29.03.1890, Punch Magazine
Dropping the Pilot – Sir John Tenniel, 29.03.1890, Punch Magazine

Header, left to right: German Secretaries of the Foreign Office after Otto von Bismarck: Herbert von Bismarck, his son (in office October 24, 1885 until March 26, 1890), Bernhard von Bülow, later Chancellor (October 20, 1897 until October 23, 1900), Heinrich Leonhard von Tschirschky und Bögendorff (January 24, 1906 until October 25, 1907), Wilhelm von Schoen (October 26,1907 until June 27, 1910), Alfred von Kiderlen-Wächter (June 27, 1910 until December 30, 1912) and Gottlieb von Jagow (January 11, 1913 until November 22, 1916).


The Iron Chancellor had retired – quite against his will – on March 18, 1890. He has always considered his highest duty to ensure friendly relations with all nations surrounding Germany, if possible. That France, irate over the defeat of 1871 but momentarily impotent, would remain the perpetual enemy was clear. What had to be avoided, under all circumstances, was that she found continental allies, in particular in the East, i.e. Russia, to aid her in conducting a retaliatory war. Bismarck’s antidote for this particular venom was to develop the best diplomatic relations with the other two large reactionary monarchies, Russia and Austria. These two nations and Germany signed a
compact called the Dreikaiserbund, the League of the Three Emperors, in which the monarchs agreed to mutual neutrality in the case that one of them were attacked by France or the Ottoman Empire.

Aware that tensions developing between Russia and Austria over the Balkans might eventually exert a negative impact on this treaty, Bismarck conducted an additional pact with the Czar, the so-called “Rückversicherungsvertrag”
or “Reinsurance Treaty”, which held Russia to neutrality in the case of a new Franco-German war regardless of origin, and thus banned the spectre of Germany having to fight a two-front war. Bismarck’s fundamental doctrine was, obviously enough, to keep France diplomatically isolated as much as possible.

To undertake this neutralization of French diplomacy, the Second Empire, one is tempted to say “naturally”, relied on a Foreign Office staff composed chiefly of the nobility and not responsible to the parliament.

No statistical information about the diplomatic corps in the Kaiserreich is as striking as the share of nobles. Of the 548 diplomats in service in the period 1871-1914, no fewer than 377, i.e. 69 per cent, were noble. The percentage of nobles was higher if we count only the foreign missions and not the Auswärtiges Amt [Foreign Office] itself. The ambassadors of Imperial Germany were noble to a man. The most important department in the Auswärtiges Amt was the Political Department IA, which in the period from 1871 to 1914 was 61 per cent noble.

It is true that there was a constant increase in the share of middle-class members of the diplomatic service in this period and beyond it. But during the Kaiserreich such commoners were deployed almost exclusively either in the less important departments of the Auswärtiges Amt, namely in the Trade, Legal or Colonial Departments, or else in the Consular Service. If middle-class people entered the diplomatic missions abroad at all, then during the Wilhelmine period [1888-1918] they were on the whole sent to South Africa or the Middle or Far East, areas which were important commercially but where aristocrats were unwilling to serve.

Not only was the execution of the Reich’s foreign policy in the hands of the nobility, it was, with few exceptions, the northern, Protestant, that is, “Prussian” aristocracy, which occupied the lion’s share of the available posts; Catholics were far less represented.

The exclusive esprit de corps of the German diplomatic service was also promoted by a degree of confessional discrimination. Until 1945 the ratio of Catholics among the diplomats was significantly lower than the national ratio. This situation can only partially be explained by the fact that until 1918 the German middle states maintained their own diplomatic service.

What was perhaps more important was that the majority of south German aristocratic families loathed the idea of state service under the detested Hohenzollerns and that until the turn of the century they saw the real
focus of their social aspirations in the Hofburg of Vienna rather than in Potsdam and Berlin. Whoever reads the extensive private correspondence of German diplomats of the imperial period will be astounded at the almost pathological fear of so-called “Ultramontanism” [the idea that German Catholics and the Centre Party were remote-controlled by the pope], which prevailed among even the highest and apparently most open-minded diplomats and statesmen in Berlin.

There was a widespread conviction that any softness towards “Ultramontanism” would have as a logical consequence the disintegration of the Reich. Catholics could therefore only be recruited into the service of the
Reich if they had taken a firm and unequivocal stand against Rome and against the Centre Party. (36)

Quite contrary to the impression of strength and unity that the Reich government attempted to project to the outside, the formulation and execution of her foreign policy required from the chancellor an intimate understanding of the matters at hand and the ability and willpower to impose them, should the need arise, even against the ideas of the monarch. Bismarck possessed the required abilities and was able to handle Wilhelm I, who could be stubborn at times. But when Wilhelm’s successor Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III succumbed to throat cancer in 1888 after less than a hundred days in office, the third Kaiser of the year, Wilhelm II, took over.

Things at the Foreign Office began to change soon thereafter. The young emperor did not trust Bismarck implicitly, the way his grandfather had, perhaps because he considered himself a natural talent in foreign affairs. In 1890, Bismarck was retired against his will, to be replaced by Baron Marschall von Bieberstein, whom the old chancellor mocked by calling him a “ministre étrange aux affairs”,* and Chancellor Count Leo Caprivi, who had neither knowledge of nor experience in foreign matters and openly admitted that he desired none. By all appearances, the new staff of the office did not understand Bismarck’s security system or thought it expendable. German foreign policy freed itself from the fetters of reality. (* It was a word play on “foreign” and “estranged”: a “ministre aux affairs étranges” is a foreign minister, but a “ministre étrangè aux affairs” is a minister “estranged from”, that is, “clueless about” his affairs.)

Bismarck’s Reinsurance Treaty, the pièce de résistance of his foreign policy, was simply allowed to expire; the new secretary of state did not even inquire in St. Petersburg whether the Czar desired a prolongation of the compact. The
Russian court, perplexed, could only interpret Berlin’s silence as a sign of inexplicable German hostility, and looked for a new ally in the West. France was ready and willing.

The next diplomatic catastrophe befell the relations with Great Britain. Ever since the Seven Years’ War, which had seen the allies emerging as victors, Anglo-Prussian relations had been amicable, for the greatest part, and the shared victory over Napoleon at Waterloo had forged a special bond. From the 1890s on, however, Wilhelmine Germany embarked upon an unnecessary and rather harebrained naval armaments race with England, which directly threatened the British Empire’s dependence on open sea lines for commerce, communication, and the administration of her possessions.

With the exception of the medieval Hanseatic League, Germany had no extensive history as a naval power, for her geographical position in the middle of the continent mostly obviated this need. The expansion of the French and British colonial empires in the nineteenth century, however, fatally ignited, in certain German circles, a desire for competition. The new Reich subsequently embarked upon colonizing the leftovers; those parts of the globe that other powers had judged too poor to be desired. Eventually, four African territories were identified, occupied and colonized with drum rolls and fanfare: today’s Togo, Cameroon, Namibia and Tanzania. In addition, a part of New Guinea, Samoa, Tsing-Tao in China and a few island archipelagos in the Pacific Ocean were obtained.

These appropriations were, alas, no fertile lands which could feed the multitudes at home; to be honest, they were not very useful at all, unless one wanted to study exotic bacteria in fever-infested Cameroon. But there are cases in which beauty is measured by the cost or effort to achieve it, and such was the case with the fledgling German colonial empire. History teachers delivered a continuous stream of lectures and homilies to high school students in regard to the [technically Austrian, but never mind] Empire of Charles V in the sixteenth century, in which the sun, proverbially, never set, and many obedient German pupils – and their parents – developed the desire to keep the “place in the sun” their emperor had publicly claimed for the country at all cost. Logically, the newly acquired German territories had to be defended against thievish hands, which included all the foreign navies that might anchor near the coast at any moment to rob Germany of north-eastern New Guinea and its cannibal villages, who could say?

With the explicit consent of the Kaiser, the German Secretary of the Navy, Tirpitz, had brought a huge navy bill through parliament which enabled the launch, at a feverish pace, of an ever-increasing number of battleships and lesser vessels for the protection of the colonies. New shipyards had to be built to accommodate the program, to the
bewilderment of the British who could not in the world imagine a reason why Germany needed a fleet of battleships, unless to challenge the Royal Navy. Great Britain, consequentially, sought aid against possible German liberties, and by 1912, two decades later, France, Russia and Great Britain were allied, at least defensively, in the Triple Entente, a treaty against Wilhelmine Germany and its valorous allies Austria-Hungary and Italy, the “Dreibund” or Triple Alliance.

Alliances 1914
Alliances 1914

The Foreign Office in Berlin clearly did not understand the realities it created, and its callous recklessness allowed France to play the “German Domination of Europe!” card against the Teutonic menace with great success. While Germany
had advanced her industrial production and consumption faster than any other continental country and had become the world’s second-biggest industrial nation, after the British Empire but before the USA, her political culture had remained essentially pre-modern, which was made worse by the young emperor’s rashness.

Wilhelm II had been born with a crippled left arm and developed a crippled self-esteem; his cousin Nicholas II, the Russian Tsar, once called him a “shameless exhibitionist.” The young monarch had a propensity to evoke the most unfortunate impressions wherever he appeared; his constant demands of greater power for Germany failed to make him popular anywhere, and, to make it worse, these exhortations were often delivered with poor charm and a complete lack of diplomatic sensitivity.

Hence, by 1914, the efforts of Wilhelm’s noble diplomats had resulted in the enmity of Great Britain, France and Russia, unpopularity in the world – perhaps with the exception of the Ottomans – and an arms race of the like the globe had never seen before.

As I have said before, there is a rule of thumb in history which holds that the more arms are being stacked upon each other, the greater the probability that they will go off one day. They did on August 1, 1914.

(© John Vincent Palatine 2015/19)

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