Friday, May 26, 2017

Imperial China, Identity and Worldview

Most readers will have, perhaps, heard of the infamous Opium Wars in which Victorian Great Britain defeated the China of the Great Qing Empire. Contemporary observers and even fairly modern historians have said period of conflict can be seen in more ways than that of an undeniably shameful effort to force an entire country to become drug addicts. There were other issues involved but one which I think deserves some reflection is the attitude and overall worldview of Imperial China. It is still not one to totally vindicate the British by any means, at least not in my opinion as I hope to show, but rather reflects on how people even in the Victorian era may have been trying to enforce a sort of global norm or international order of a sort on an empire which was very much out of step with the rest of the world in how it interacted with others. For myself, I do not think the Sino-centric worldview of Imperial China was entirely worthy of condemnation, though it requires some context to fully explain.

Anglo-centric view of British mission to China
Regular readers will be aware that the old, traditional, monarchical, Imperial China or, as I like to refer to it, the *real* China dealt with the world beyond their borders in a very specific way in keeping with a very Sino-centric worldview. China has often been referred to as “the Middle Kingdom” and this was a term the Chinese often used to refer to their country. However, many mistakenly believe that this referred *only* to China whereas the Chinese applied it to the entire world. There was the Upper Kingdom in the heavens, the Low Kingdom in the underworld and the earth was the Middle Kingdom. They also believed that the most important person on earth was the Emperor and everything about traditional China emphasized this point. The Forbidden City, where the Emperor lived, was held to be the center of the world and no building was allowed to exist that was taller than the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the preeminent, central throne room of the Chinese Emperor. The Emperor of China, titled as the “Son of Heaven” was held to be the divinely ordained ruler of the world, not only China, it was simply that some inconsequential and unsophisticated people beyond the borders of China were too ignorant to understand this basic fact.

Le Emperor of Vietnam before Chinese officials
In keeping with this view, the Chinese (which is to say the Han people) believed that they were the most advanced and civilized people on earth. Others, if they recognized their place within this Sino-centric world view, could also be considered civilized but any who did not were barbarians, unworthy of serious consideration. It is also for this reason that the Chinese refused to deal with anyone who did not, at the outset, recognize the total supremacy of the Chinese Emperor and adopt or at least make a show of adopting their worldview. The Emperor of China was the only emperor, the rulers of Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and so on had only kings. One reason for the longstanding antagonism between China and Japan was that, while there were periods when the Japanese played along and sent tribute to the Chinese Emperor, they never totally went along with this system and tended to insist on referring to their ruler as the Emperor of Japan and would not tolerate the notion that he could be a vassal or in any way subordinate to the Emperor of China.

Of course, not everyone went along with this way of thinking. The Vietnamese in particular were well known for referring to their ruler as “king” when dealing with the Chinese but using the title of “emperor” among themselves. They were ruled by the Vietnamese Emperor and everyone knew it but, for the sake of peace and stability, they would pay court to the Emperor of China since that was what was required to keep the Chinese happy. The Europeans were a more mixed bag. Some went along with this local custom, while others refused, first by insisting on meeting the Emperor face-to-face as any ambassador would do with a European monarch and then refusing to get down on both knees and bow down in front of him. They did not show such obeisance to their own monarchs, much less a foreign one. This, of course, inevitably led to problems.

Barbarians on the rampage
This, however, was a mentality that was actually very common and certainly not unknown to Europe. The English word, “barbarian” comes from the Greek word “barbaros” and was used to refer to pretty much anyone who was not Greek and even among the Greek city-states themselves as an insult. The Romans, likewise, referred to almost everyone who was not Roman as a barbarian. In America, many Indian tribes, such as the Navajo with “Dineh”, referred to themselves as ‘the people’ or ‘the humans’ which made the other tribes they encountered non-humans. The traditional worldview of the Jews is that they are the chosen people of God, favored above all others and that all other people in the world, the gentiles, are unclean and to be shunned for fear of contamination. It is not hard to imagine this mentality leading to trouble, yet, I also think this mentality is a major part of why the Jews have survived for so long, even without a nation-state of their own. If you are no better, which is to say no different, than any other people, there is no reason why you should survive. You are not needed, you may even be a hindrance, so why bother trying?

The despicable talking shop of the world
In the west, all of this was supposed to have been done away with after the adoption of the Westphalian system (named for the Treaty of Westphalia), following the horrific Thirty Years War in central Europe (mostly Germany). It was that system which said that every nation-state is sovereign within its own borders, should not interfere in the internal affairs of other states and that all are equal in terms of their sovereignty. However, after World War I with the League of Nations, the west seemed to disregard the Westphalian system and it would be hard to argue that it was not abandoned completely after World War II with the establishment of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization and the increasing use of economic pressure to reward or punish countries who do not follow along with the prevailing international order. China, of course, is one of the five “ruling” members of the United Nations, China is a member of the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization and the World Bank. Yet, China never seems to have fully ‘bought in’ to any of these organizations and many explain this by saying that the old Sino-centric worldview has not completely disappeared from China.

After all, the People’s Bandit Republic of Chinese Sweatshops has certainly not embraced the liberalism and human rights called for by the United Nations. It deals with countries that the UN says are to be shunned, it has engaged in currency manipulation to give its own economy an advantage and has even begun trying to establish a “World Bank” of its own. In effect, they have adopted the forms but not the substance of these new internationalist organizations. They use them to their own advantage but never adhere to anything they say which would, in their view, be detrimental to the current Chinese ruling class and political system. It may be that the Sino-centric mentality does survive in Peking and I would say it proves that the mentality was not all that bad in the first place. Obviously, if you are not Chinese, you are not going to agree with it but if you are Chinese, it has helped them remain more independent than other countries that no longer feel that they are anything unique or special.

Emperor Tongzhi of the Great Qing Empire
The point, in my view, where Imperial China began to go down the wrong path was with the death of the Tongzhi Emperor, the tenth ruler of the Great Qing Empire and one not generally considered very exceptional at all. However, his personal qualities are rather beside the point, what mattered was that his reign saw the attempt at what was called the “Tongzhi Restoration” in which traditional, Imperial China tried to begin the process of modernization while retaining their traditional values, traditional culture, mindset and, of course, their imperial monarchy. This came after China had been defeated by Britain, then Britain and France in the Opium Wars, most of the Chinese coast had become dominated by the ‘foreign devils’ and China had been forced to sign the “Unequal Treaties” with numerous foreign powers. This greatly disturbed the Chinese and quite rightly so. They should have been disturbed because what happened to them was completely unjust. At the same time, they looked over at Japan which, after the “Meiji Restoration”, was growing more advanced, more prosperous and more powerful with each passing year. Traditionally, the Chinese had always viewed the Japanese with contempt, calling them “dwarfs” and a nest of pirates, but now saw them becoming more advanced and not being pushed around by the Europeans the way that China was.

As absurd as giant portraits of Karl Marx?
Since the Tonghzi Restoration did not work out, there are of course a horde of historians who can explain why it was doomed to failure after the fact. However, I remain obstinately unconvinced. The basic idea was good, the only problem was in how it was implemented and the considerable opposition that existed at court to any change whatsoever. It probably did not help that, whereas the Meiji Restoration returned political power to the Meiji Emperor of Japan, the Tongzhi Restoration did not bring about a similar empowerment of the Tongzhi Emperor of China. He was still capable of being thwarted by powerful factions at court, particularly the clique around the powerful Empress-Dowager Cixi. She came around to the need for reform eventually but by that time the situation had deteriorated considerably and the reserves of public patience had been largely depleted. The result was the Xinhai Revolution and the end of traditional China with the resulting republic proving unworkable and ultimately falling victim to a new absolutist ideology, one dreamed up by a Jew in Germany in the 19th Century. Yet, despite being foreign in every way, even under Communism, the Chinese remained confident in their own identity and Chairman Mao invoked the traditional Sino-centric worldview on his day of triumph, when he stood on the Tiananmen Gate and proclaimed the “People’s Republic of China” saying that, with his victory, “the world has stood up”.

You will notice that he said, “the world” and not simply that China or that, “the Chinese have stood up”. The pertinent point is that the Chinese do not view themselves as no different from any other people, they do not view themselves as replaceable or interchangeable in the way that western Europeans seem to. They do not ‘go along to get along’ but, on the contrary, insist that others ‘go along’ with their point of view in order to ‘get along’ with them. The most obvious example of this is their insistence on being recognized as the one and only legitimate government of China and refusal to maintain formal relations with anyone who continues to maintain formal relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan.

Once a sacred ritual, now empty play acting
Obviously, holding yourself superior to all others and insisting on groveling submission to all you deal with is not a recipe for good will and friendly interaction with foreign powers. However, the traditional Chinese worldview has served China well once they were able to moderate a bit and be more realistic about it. They have not been swallowed up by the internationalist machine but have rather used it to their own advantage, though even in China there are inroads being made by the mindset of the global elite that must be pushed back against. The biggest tragedy, however, is that the regime in China which is doing this is itself not truly Chinese in any political, cultural or traditional sense. With the overthrow of the monarchy, starting with the original Republic of China and the abdication of the last emperor, China effectively cut out its own heart, the centerpiece of all they once were, the apex of the mountain of history and heritage that ultimately defined them as a people. In that regard, they have much yet to learn and must fully restore their traditional and truly Chinese society. However, in terms of identity, how they view themselves and how they view the world, the rest of the world could learn a thing or two from China.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump Meets Some Monarchs

U.S. President Donald Trump is currently on his first foreign trip as chief executive and has stopped in at some places of royal significance and met with a few monarchs. As best as I can recall, the first monarch to meet with him as president was King Abdullah II of Jordan and on this trip he has met with King Salman Abdulaziz in Saudi Arabia, Pope Francis (sovereign of the State of Vatican City) in Rome and with King Philippe of the Belgians in Brussels while in town to talk to NATO which, while running for office, Trump dismissed as "obsolete" and a rip-off for the United States but, after proper coaching from the neocon clique, he now says is "not obsolete" and is just great. Whatever. In between Riyadh and Rome he also stopped in at Jerusalem but, of course, there was no royal to meet with in Israel. In fact, no reigning European monarch has ever visited the State of Israel, though I think an African royal from a no longer reigning family might have visited a long time ago in an official capacity. European royals have made unofficial visits but as far as full-fledged, government sanctioned, roll-out-the-red-carpet type state visits or official visits of any kind, there has never been one. Recently, some where saying the British might be the first, but, personally, I doubt it.

As for Trump meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, I am less than pleased. He certainly got a much warmer reception than Obama had, despite the media constantly informing everyone that Trump is "Islamophobic" and he did not kowtow nor did the First Lady cover her hair. The Arab monarchs seemed to have intentionally moved to meet with Trump quickly and put on a great show of friendship but, personally, I am not buying it. As I have long said, I would prefer the Arab monarchs to the most likely alternative which would be a Sunni version of the Iranian Islamic theocracy but being so cozy with the Saudi king and selling him so many weapons does not sit well with me. The level to which America has befriended the Arab monarchies, even to the point of fighting a war to restore an absolute monarch to his throne, has not resulted in any increase in goodwill from the Islamic world (or among monarchists I have noticed) and any sort of benefit remains unknown to me. The Middle East is going through an Islamic civil war with Iran and the Shiites on one side and the Saudis and other Arab states and the Sunnis on the other. I think America should stay completely out of this and not picking a winner between two sides which, frankly, each despise the United States.

Moving on from Jerusalem to Rome, President Trump met with Pope Francis, something which caused some anticipation given that the two had some cross words for each other in the past. The Pope saying that anyone who wanted to build a wall on their border was not a Christian, so I guess he got over that, "who am I to judge?" sentiment, at least on certain issues. I suggested that, upon arrival, Trump might complement the Pontiff on the extremely high walls that surround Vatican City and his private army of Swiss mercenaries who, backed up by the Italian police, keep the little papal state secure. Somehow, I doubt that happened. Trump seemed much more pleased than the Pope but a Vatican spokesman said that the two found common ground on the subjects of "life, religious liberty and freedom of conscience". That sounds nice. However, I could not help but notice that of the three items listed, the Catholic Church was, until fairly recently in ecclesiastical terms, absolutely opposed to all but one of them.

The Pope also urged Trump not to pull out of the Paris "climate change" agreement which seems just as bizarre a thing for a pope to be stuck on as it is to hear a pope advocating for democracy, freedom of religion and the separation of Church and state. Has Pope Francis perhaps heard of his predecessor (Blessed) Pope Pius IX? He might read Pius IX's controversial Syllabus of Errors and see how far it coincides with his own views. Of course, they might say that Pius IX was speaking about areas beyond his field of expertise but, last I checked, this would likewise apply to Pope Francis talking about "climate change". Again, it also just seems an odd subject for a pope to take up, rather smacking of monumental human arrogance to think that a group of powerful men are going to get together and sign agreements that will change the weather. Past pontiffs might, I suspect, have been more concerned about Trump being a protestant or his multiple divorces than his position on the planet's temperature. However, the meeting of these two men, with the media constantly repeating how completely opposite they are, also called to mind something I doubt you will see anywhere else. Yes, it's just that mad

This meeting has obviously been implied to be a meeting of humility and arrogance, the austere and the opulent and yet, I think that may not be all wrong but not in the way people are thinking. Just consider this for a moment. In numerous official statements from President Trump and his staff, Trump has repeated over and over that he is "learning" more and more all the time about how things work. He has certainly changed many of his positions since he was elected to office (not a good thing in my view btw) and that would necessarily reflect an admission of error. Yet, on the other hand, Pope Francis has said that the papacy has not changed him at all. He is exactly the same man now as he was before his election. In fact, the papacy has had to change considerably in order to adapt to him rather than him adapting to the papacy, everything from dress codes to living arrangements to security procedures have had to be changed. Which then, at the bottom of it, is the more "humble" attitude? One man attains high office and must learn and adapt while the other attains high office and says he has not changed at all, which is to say, there must have been no room for improvement. Of course, I'm probably wrong but that is what occurred to me anyway.

Lastly, as for Trump meeting with the King of the Belgians, it seemed to go well enough but frankly there was not much to that. It was more of a courtesy call than anything else. Trump is there to talk to NATO, to two the neocon line and since Belgium currently has a government, there is little for him to do in terms of national decisions. Perhaps, at least, the fact that King Philippe and Queen Mathilde survived will reassure the British that the Queen and Prince Philip will not be subjected to any immediate danger from meeting with the Trumps. After recent events in Manchester, perhaps they are reconsidering how terrible Trump's suspension of travel from countries like Libya might be? Well, of course not, that would just be crazy...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Battle of Aspern-Essling, Austrian Victory Over Napoleon

It was on this day in 1809 that the Battle of Aspern-Essling was fought, during the War of the Fifth Coalition, between the forces of the French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Austrian Empire of Kaiser Franz I, with the Imperial and Royal Army being led by Archduke Charles of Teschen, probably the most formidable continental foe of the illustrious Corsican conqueror. The battle is not generally listed among the most significant of all time in the world but it was certainly not unimportant and had some very interesting aspects. It was a dark time for the Austrian Empire, Vienna had recently been taken by the French and the French or their allies were in possession of much of the Austrian heartland. Napoleon wished to cross the Danube and finish off the Archduke and his army but the Austrians had done a good job of destroying the bridges to hinder this effort. The idea, however, was to hinder and not attempt to stop, which the Archduke did not wish to do. Instead, it was his intention to allow Napoleon to cross the Danube so as to be able to fall upon his forces as they came across, before the entire Grande Armeé could arrive in force and concentrate against him. The Austrian plan was for the French to cross the river and they would then attack them on a front from the village of Aspern to the village of Essling.

The Prince of Liechtenstein
This was an excellent plan as it made the best use of the situation that the Austrians found themselves in. It would allow them to attack and annihilate a part of the French army which would be too strong to defeat when it was altogether and the French had to come after them, not only to deal with the threat that the Imperial & Royal Army posed to the French occupation of Vienna but also because Austrian irregulars led by the great hero Andreas Hofer from the Tyrol, were wreaking havoc on the French supply lines and rear echelon forces. The French had to move, they had to cross the Danube and as they did, Archduke Charles would attack them. He organized three of his corps (the Sixth, First and Second) to attack Aspern while the Fourth Corps would attack Essling. In the center, to respond to any French cavalry attack, was the commander of the Austrian reserve cavalry corps who happened to be Prince Johann I Joseph of Liechtenstein who had been, and would be again when the current crisis passed, the Sovereign Prince of Liechtenstein. Believe it or not, long before they were known for banking and art collecting, the Princes of Liechtenstein were more familiar as members of the Austrian army.

On May 21, 1809 as the French army was getting across the Danube, the Archduke launched his attack. First, at Aspern, the initial Austrian blow was dealt by General Johann von Hiller where he smashed into the French forces of General André Masséna, who he had fought before at Ebelsberg when the Austrians had been forced across the Danube. The fighting then had been savage and it was no less fierce on May 21. The French offered tenacious resistance as the successive waves of three Austrian army corps came smashing down on them, converging on their location. Street by street, house by house, the Austrians inched forward, slowly, painfully but inexorably until it seemed the French might not hold. Concerned that his flank would be turned, Napoleon launched an attack on the Austrian center, aimed at their artillery which was shelling French positions in Aspern. The French heavy cavalry in their shining cuirasses and plumed helmets with horsehair manes, rumbled forward, smashed the Austrians guns and took care to avoid the soldiers in square led by one Prince Friedrich Franz Xavier von Hohenzollern-Hechingen. He was from a different branch of the House of Hohenzollern than that which ruled the Kingdom of Prussia and, in fact, he had fought against the Prussians during his long military career. The French dashed around his infantry but met the Prince of Liechtenstein’s cavalry and though they made a good showing, they failed in their ultimate goal of diverting the Archduke from his plan of attack.

The French at Aspern-Essling
Meanwhile, at Essling, the town was hit by the Austrian Fourth Corps under Prince Franz Seraph of Orsini-Rosenberg whose family had been barons of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and Imperial Counts. He faced the French Second Corps under Marshal Jean Lannes, who would ultimately lose his life in the battle. Once again, the fighting was fierce, the French just as determined in defense as the Austrians were determined in attack. By the time night fell, the French still held about half of the village of Aspern, the other half being in Austrian hands and while they also still held Essling, the Austrians had advanced so close that the two armies were said to be camped with pistol shot range from each other. As it was, Napoleon was confident that his troops had done well holding their ground and that the following day he could work one of his military miracles and bring about another French victory.

As dawn broke and the fighting erupted again on May 22, the confidence of the French Emperor seemed well founded. In Aspern, Masséna launched a counter-attack that stunned the Austrians and swiftly drove them back and out of the village. Simultaneously, Prince Orsini-Rosenberg was attacking Essling, however, Marshal Lannes and his men held on, were reinforced and launched their own counter-attack which, likewise, drove the Austrian forces from the town. However, that good news was followed by worrying news. At Aspern, the Austrian generals Hiller and Heinrich Graf von Bellegarde (a Saxon born officer from a noble family of Savoy) who commanded the Austrian First Corps, counter-attacked and smashed Masséna, driving the French out of town. Napoleon had to do something and he decided, once again, to launch a frontal attack on the Austrian center, this time with much more muscle. He aimed at precisely the point where the Austrian forces of the Prince of Hohenzollern and the Prince of Orsini-Rosenberg came together.

Austrian grenadiers charge at Essling
The French troops surged forward, infantry at the front, Lannes leading his men on the left and with cavalry in reserve. They hit the Austrian line and, as planned, the Austrians broke, each corps pulling back and the French charging into the opening. Napoleon had victory in his grasp, with the Austrian center broken, each wing could be rolled up in turn, attacked from flank and rear. However, at that critical moment, Archduke Charles himself personally led his last reserve forward, holding a Habsburg flag as he rallied his faltering soldiers. The Austrians held their ground, the French wave crashed against them but could go no farther. Along the line, the French were stunned and being shot to pieces. At the same time, unknown to the French, the Austrians had set several barges adrift on the river which moved downstream and at that moment hit the hastily assembled French bridges, destroying or damaging them. Napoleon feared his line of escape would be cut off and he would be trapped and destroyed on the riverbank so he called off his stalled attack.

Archduke Charles of Teschen
At Essling, the fight continued to be bitterly fought and see-sawed back and forth. The Prince of Orsini-Rosenberg attacked again and the Austrians took Essling but the French were able to counter-attack and drive him out. However, fearful of being cut off, Napoleon had ordered his men to fall back and so the Prince of Orsini-Rosenberg decided to shift his attack toward the French center since he had found no joy at Essling. Marshal Lannes fought a sort of rear-guard action, holding the Austrians off as long as possible while the French army retreated. He was mortally wounded in the process and by the end of the day, both armies were totally exhausted. Both sides had lost about 23,000 men killed, wounded or captured. It was not a decisive victory as Napoleon was able to escape with his army, nonetheless, it was a solid victory for the Austrians and Archduke Charles had done something that many had begun to think impossible; for the first time in about a decade, the famous Napoleon Bonaparte himself had been defeated in battle and the Archduke was the man who had done it. In the end, it was undone by another of Napoleon’s great victories at the Battle of Wagram which saw Austria defeated at the Fifth Coalition broke up, forcing the Kaiser to come to terms with Bonaparte. Still, the sting that the Habsburg Archduke had given him at Aspern-Essling meant that, while the terms of peace were certainly harsh, Napoleon was much less vindictive than he might have been and hoped to have Austria as a friend rather than a foe in the future.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

British Virtue Signaling and African Republicanism

The fact that liberal to leftist republics predominate in the countries of the world today can be traced back to two immediate and related causes; World War II and the subsequent end of European colonialism, particularly the end of the British Empire which was by far the largest. Prior to World War II, while certainly more prevalent than prior to World War I, the most common form of government in the world was still some variety of monarchy outside of the United States and Latin America. Even the French Republic maintained existing monarchies in parts of its colonial empire in Indochina. In Europe itself, monarchies remained in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Italy, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. Monarchs reigned over the whole of the Middle East, from Egypt to Iran with the exception of the French mandates of Syria and Lebanon, the rest bound up in various ways with the British Empire. In the British Empire of India the King-Emperor in London reigned over a small army of colorful Indian rajas and maharajas, even a sultan or two, stretching all the way over to Burma whose last king had been exiled by the British but, again, the monarch in London took the title as the British soldiers took the country.

Growth of the British Empire
The Kingdom of Siam/Thailand was, then as now, still holding out, the French maintained the Emperor of Annam (in Vietnam) and the Kings of Laos and Cambodia, the British monarch presided over a collection of sultans in Malaysia as the Queen of the Netherlands did in the Dutch East Indies. To the north, China had gone republican and Mongolia had been occupied by the Soviet Union but the Dali Lama was still in Lhasa, the Korean royal family was still around, albeit within the orbit of the Emperor of Japan and as of 1931 the last Qing Emperor had been restored to his ancestral throne in Manchuria by the good graces of the Imperial Japanese Army. Other than the French colonies, most of Africa had a monarch either in London, Brussels or Rome and usually local chieftains closer to home who were maintained by the imperial system. Prior to 1936 the only independent countries in Africa were Liberia and Ethiopia. The most recent colonial readjustments in Africa had been the partition and annexation of the former German colonies after World War I. Other than the slices of Togoland and Kamerun that went to France, the native Africans simply exchanged a Kaiser for a King and German for English as the language of government.

World War II would change this state of affairs as no monarchy, no matter how briefly or nominally, who had anything to do with the Axis Powers would ultimately survive with the exceptions of Thailand and Japan (though it helped that in the case of Thailand the King was not even present in his country for the war). The fact that the Emperor of Japan maintained his throne was due entirely on the good graces of one General Douglas MacArthur who asserted removing the Emperor would plunge the country he was charged with occupying into unrest and irregular warfare so long as a single Japanese man, woman or child remained a live. Other than the “Land of the Rising Sun”, the war would see off the last Emperor of China, the monarchs of Indochina, Bulgaria, Romania, Yugoslavia, Italy and Albania. The aftermath saw the end of the European colonial empires and this brought about the biggest explosion in the number of republics around the world which brought about the state of affairs we have today.

Marshal Badoglio enters Addis Abeba
Winston Churchill set these events into motion during World War II but this was certainly not his intention. It was, nonetheless, the result, particularly with his post-war defeat and replacement by the socialist Clement Attlee. However, even before the war, Britain began a very bad habit of making a national policy of what we would today call “virtue signaling”. The British ultimately took this to the point of being like the stereotypical liberal, a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel (as Robert Frost famously said). The British decided, even before World War II, that the colonialism in which they had dominated and come to control more of the land and peoples of the earth than any other was suddenly a bad thing, originally for anyone other than themselves and shortly thereafter, for their own selves as well. One could, perhaps, excuse this sudden, and rather hypocritical, about-face if it were to have actually benefited the British monarchy but, as the plethora of post-colonial republics attests, it only ultimately diminished it. The first sign of this came with the outbreak of war in 1935 between the Kingdom of Italy and the African tribal empire of Ethiopia.

Britain, by use of sanctions and condemnatory speeches at the League of Nations, gave her moral support to Ethiopia and admonished Italy, taking the side of an African country Britain itself had previously invaded for her barbaric misdeeds, against a fellow western, European country which had been a friend and ally since the time of its formation. In purely liberal terms, there would seem no reason to consider one better than the other. Neither Italy nor Ethiopia were liberal, one was a monarchy ruled by a Fascist dictator, the other was a monarchy in which slavery was legal and widely practiced, something the British had themselves invaded other African countries for in the past. When a French woman challenged Winston Church on condemning Italy for doing nothing that Britain herself had not done, for more often and on a far greater scale, the future Prime Minister replied, “Ah, but you see, all that belongs to the unregenerate past, is locked away in the limbo of the old, the wicked days. The world progresses.” Would this make Churchill the first virtue-signaling progressive? It seems an odd fit for someone who served so proudly for the British Empire in India, the British subjugation of the Sudan and the British conquest of the Boers in South Africa. He never otherwise seem to consider these imperial expeditions “wicked” or “unregenerate”.

Ethiopia's Roman Emperor
On the face of it, British interests were not impacted at all by whether Ethiopia was ruled by the King of Italy or the King of Axum, however, the broader implications were that the British Empire stood to have its interests negatively impacted by alienating the Italians whose considerable fleet sat astride the British naval base at Malta and was well within striking distance of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal. However, in the end, this need to virtue signal meant that Britain lost an ally, gained an enemy, imperiled the central artery of the British Empire and gave Hitler the best friend he had long desired. Britain did eventually recognize the King of Italy as the Emperor of Ethiopia but after the outbreak of World War II fought a long, hard campaign to drive the Italians out of the country and set the Ethiopian ruler Haile Selassie back on the throne he had fled in the face of the advancing forces of ‘Roman civilization’.

This is, of course, all leading up to the final question of what the British Empire gained from this altruistic policy? Did they win a lasting ally in Haile Selassie? No, Haile Selassie responded in an odd way on one hand and a rather more understandable but still ultimately futile way on the other. Rather than cheer the cause of the British Empire which had restored him to his pre-war throne, he instead not only cheered but actually fought for the very cause which had failed him; that of collective security embodied in the post-World War II era by the United Nations. As for the British Empire, he showed more racial solidarity than the British had shown toward their fellow Europeans and cheered the process of decolonization that brought down the British Empire (all the while maintaining his own colonial rule over Eritrea which he seized shortly after returning to power). It is, again, entirely understandable that he should choose the side of people most like himself rather than those most different. However, in the end, this meant not only no British Empire but no Ethiopian Empire in Africa either as the anti-colonial movements were seething with Marxism and Haile Selassie was ultimately overthrown by a communist coup. Unfortunately for him, by that time there was no British Empire to put him back again a second time.

British Africa
However, if choosing the African side over the Italians did not end well, things were little different when the British government chose the African side over, well, the British side. It may be beneficial first though, to look at an African colony in which the non-native minority was less than significant but in an area of the continent with the longest ties to Great Britain such as west Africa. Keep in mind, the subject at issue here is not the right or wrong of colonialism but whether the actions of the United Kingdom in giving up the empire were of benefit to the British monarchy or even the cause of monarchy in general. A conscious decision was made, after all, to concede the independence of the colonies from the British Crown without a struggle on the grounds that it was the ‘virtuous’ thing to do. True enough, Britain could have had a difficult time holding on to a landmass such as India for example, should the British have chosen to fight to maintain themselves, however, the situation in Africa was not seen as so insurmountable. There was no small amount of talk at the time of a “third” British Empire (numbered as the first being lost with America and the second going with the loss of India) centered on Africa. For our first example, we will take the first in-line historically.

British officers with the Ashanti, 19th Century
In 1957 the British Parliament passed the Ghana Independence Act which ended the era of the British Crown Colony of the Gold Coast, renaming the country Ghana and making it an independent Commonwealth Realm. It was an independent country but with HM Queen Elizabeth II as sovereign, represented by a Governor-General and it was the first west African country to be given independence. This period of Ghana as an independent monarchy, however, lasted only until July 1, 1960 when a referendum was held on a new constitution which removed the Queen as head of state and made Ghana a republic with a President. So, unlike the United States for example, Ghana did not have to fight a war for eight years to win independence from Great Britain, instead, the United Kingdom graciously gifted independence to Ghana only for the people of Ghana to show their gratitude (or lack thereof) by, in only about three years no less, voting 88% to 11% to abolish the monarchy in Ghana and replace the Queen with a President. However, it did not end there for while the new President lectured about the benefits of communism and socialism, he also refused to take the side of the British in the Cold War, putting Ghana in the “Non-Aligned Movement”. Taken together, this is rather like saying, ‘we won’t help you and we won’t actively fight against you but we hope you lose all the same”.

Prempeh II of the Ashanti
Naturally, Ghana might have chosen to reject an Anglo monarch but restore to full sovereignty one of their own. Ghana was, of course, a creation of British colonialism and no such historic place existed prior to the British arrival but there were tribal kingdoms that could have been elevated to the position, although no expert on the subject, I would guess that the Ashanti chiefs would have been the most likely source of potential native monarchs of whom the candidate at the time would have been one Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II. However, as soon as independence was given to Ghana as a Commonwealth Realm (and independent country in union with the British monarchy), the local government began confiscating property of the Ashanti chief whose line had not very long before been allowed back from exile in the Seychelles where the British had sent them after losing the Anglo-Ashanti wars. It had been the British colonial government of the Gold Coast, bear in mind, which had allowed them back and granted the Ashanti tribal kingdom self rule in 1935. The first post-colonial government was less generous. Yet, nonetheless, the Ashanti king made peace with new President and has carried on in cooperation with the republic ever since. In the years since, one might say the Republic of Ghana has been less than a resounding success considering that currently 7% of the entire population has applied for visas to move to the United States. It may also interest readers to know that Ghana has a rather unusual name for, taken literally, “the Republic of Ghana” would translate to “the Republic of the Warrior King” which is rather contradictory.

Next, we will look at two more high-profile examples which have the commonality of both containing sizable British and/or European minority populations; South Africa and Rhodesia. Obviously, in South Africa, there was a history of unfriendly relations between the British and the Boers (White Afrikaners of Dutch and/or mixed European descent). The British took the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch in the Napoleonic Wars, after which the Boers withdrew into the interior, establishing their own republics which were later conquered by the British in the Boer Wars. However, not long after, around 1909-1910, the British granted considerable autonomy to the Boers and they proved their loyalty and gratitude by fighting for the British in the two world wars, though there were a sizable number who hated the British, always would and always have. However, there had long been some tension between the British and Boers over how each dealt with the native Black population. There had long been a strong republican presence among hard-line Boers but it had not gained real political momentum until after British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan came to Cape Town and spoke of the inevitable end of colonialism and criticized the apartheid (racial segregation) policies of the Afrikaner-dominated government.

Twilight of the British Crown in South Africa
This quickly destroyed any vestige of loyalty felt by Afrikaners towards the British monarchy. Only in Natal, which was the only area in which the White population was majority Anglo rather than Boer, was there opposition to the idea of a republic. They staunchly reaffirmed their loyalty to Queen Elizabeth II and warned that republicanism would be the ruin of South Africa. They were the one bright spot for monarchists in this entire period of South African history, however, they too did not seem to be too optimistic about the virtue-signaling coming from London, referring to Prime Minister Macmillan’s “winds of change” speech as “blowing up to hurricane force”. The Black African population also opposed the idea of a republic but made no secret of the fact that, being dominated by leftist ideologies and identity politics, this was simply out of opposition to unfettered Boer rule and not out of any actual support for the Crown. In any event, they would not be voting in any referendum anyway.

In 1960 a referendum was held on whether South Africa would retain the monarchy or become a republic. Those pushing for the republic conveyed the message that the British were abandoning South Africa, along with the rest of the empire, and that the republic was the only way to ensure the solidarity of the White population and their continuation in a majority Black country. Those campaigning for the monarchy mostly focused on the economic benefits of trade ties with the other Commonwealth Realms, the need for British military support against communism and, it should be noted, African racial nationalism. Others, and it is no surprise this was not successful, urged people to vote against the republic but that this did not imply support for the monarchy. Given that the British had already shown more inclination toward the Black majority than the White minority, the campaign to retain the monarchy was at a disadvantage from the outset with their argument. In the end, the republicans won the day, though not by a very wide margin.

Flag of apartheid era South Africa
Again, most opposition had come from Natal and some even talked of secession from South Africa, however the growing belief that Britain would support the Black population rather than the White population, undercut them and most were forced to go along with the republican Boers or face becoming not only a minority but a powerless and hated minority in their country. The Boer-dominated republic made a few conciliatory gestures to the monarchists but generally went their own way and severed all ties with the British Crown. Great Britain later more openly and vociferously condemned the racial policies of South Africa but held back from going as far as others did in the international effort to impose sanctions. Nonetheless, the effort to never stray too far to the left or to the right ultimately succeeded in pleasing no one. Effective support for the monarchy all but disappeared among the White population and had never been genuinely present in the political movements of the Black population either. As a result, when South Africa did end apartheid and gave political power to the Black population in 1994. The result, needless to say, was that the Black African government did not choose to restore the monarchy and become a Commonwealth Realm again nor did they elevate one of their own chiefs to be “King of South Africa”.

The most prominent of these were the Zulu kings and they have not always had the best of relations with the post-apartheid South African government, dominated by the African National Congress. King Cyprian was in place when the switch to republicanism came and King Goodwill has been in place since 1968. He has been the focus of a great deal of criticism for being out of step with fashionable political trends such as speaking disapprovingly of homosexuality and a little too approvingly of the era of White-rule in South Africa. He also provoked calls for an apology when he spoke in a critical way of Africans from outside South Africa moving into the country in such large numbers. In short, relations between the Zulu kings and the ANC government have been less than absolutely cordial. Once again, British virtue signaling and going along with the popular liberal trends of the day meant the loss of a crown for the British Queen, no restoration for the natives and a situation that is worse for everyone.

First Rhodesian parliament
The situation was even more stark in the nearby country of Rhodesia. Established under British colonial rule, Rhodesia had become the breadbasket of Africa with the most consistently productive farms, probably on the entire continent. It was a place of one of the most successful recreations of British society in a foreign land anywhere in the world. However, again, it was a land with a White (this time largely Anglo-Saxon) minority ruling over a much larger Black African majority. In 1923 the British colony of Southern Rhodesia had become, effectively, self-governing within the British Empire. Unlike South Africa had the history of the Boer Wars and thus tensions between the Anglo and Boer populations, Rhodesia had no such problems and the Rhodesians were as ardent defenders of the British Empire as one could ever hope to find and from 1923 to 1953 things seemed to be going fine. However, as decolonization continued and British pressure mounted to give the Black population the vote, which, given the size of their majority, would mean total political domination over the White population, the Rhodesian government began to grow nervous, particularly after witnessing what happened to Northern Rhodesia as it became Zambia.

Stamp showing post-UDI Rhodesia was still loyal
The British government, however, was adamant that the Black population had to be given the vote. There was a choice to be made and the British government chose to take the side of the Black population over the White population and the result was the unilateral declaration of independence in 1965. The Rhodesians established themselves as a Commonwealth Realm monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State and Ian Smith as Her Majesty’s Prime Minister in Rhodesia. However, the British government refused to recognize the country and continued to apply pressure to end White rule and bring about Black rule. Ultimately, Rhodesia’s time as an unrecognized, independent monarchy did not last long under such circumstances. In 1970 Rhodesia officially became a parliamentary republic, severing all ties with the British Crown. There were probably no more reluctant republicans in the world but the British government was far more active than it had even been toward South Africa in forcing change on the Anglo population of Rhodesia with sanctions, diplomatic opposition and even a military blockade of sorts.

Ultimately, after holding out for decades, Rhodesia was finally forced to surrender. With the fall of the Portuguese empire after the Carnation Revolution and the weakening of the Boer regime in South Africa, Rhodesia was completely isolated and could not survive. Finally, in 1979 the first steps were taken toward Black majority rule and in quick order Rhodesia was destroyed and in 1980 the country became the Republic of Zimbabwe led by the Marxist dictator Robert Mugabe (still in power to this day) and the opening of a reign of terror against the White population. The British, who never recognized Rhodesia, did recognize the Republic of Zimbabwe and even allowed Zimbabwe to join the Commonwealth as a republic the same year though Mugabe eventually took the country out in 2003. It is the second most impoverished country in Africa today, which is a far cry from the prosperous colony that had such surpluses that it exported food which leads to an important point.

Still protesting Cecil Rhodes. It's not going away.
This is why virtue signaling and fashionable political trends make for bad policy. In the end, in every case detailed above, the Africans have ended up worse off than when they started. However, from a purely monarchist perspective, one thing *should* (and I emphasize should, because some do not seem to) be very clear. Robert Mugabe was no different than any other post-colonial African leader in one regard; not one of them chose to maintain the monarchy and retain the British monarch as their Head of State. Neither did any choose to become a monarchy with their own sovereign, though they certainly had plenty of options in most cases. The only Black, African monarchies today are Swaziland and Lesotho which never lost their status in the first place and which are, let us be honest, essentially dependencies of South Africa. The British had a choice between their own people and the Africans and they chose the Africans. Now, majority opinion says that was the right and virtuous choice to make, which remains so even though no one could call any of the post-colonial countries a resounding success. However, it certainly did not benefit the British monarchy at all.

Britain leaves Africa, Africans move to Britain...and
then protest against the British in Britain.
Today, no country in Africa has restored Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state even after Her Majesty’s government chose to empower the African people at the expense of the British minority populations in those countries. At the same time, by and large, the British surrendered forever the goodwill and support of that same White population which had previously been so loyal. The Rhodesians were, again, once the most ardent supporters of the British in the world. Today, however, it is not uncommon to find surviving Rhodesians who will damn the British in no uncertain terms, some even more than they damn Robert Mugabe and, frankly, it is not difficult to understand why. They have adopted a diehard Boer-level hatred of all things Anglo. Given all that has happened to them since 1980, it would be rather shocking if they did not harbor fierce resentment for the government, made up of people like themselves, who completely abandoned them and furthered their displacement. Yet, in spite of this, as I have mentioned (and refuted) in the past, the British monarchy is still accused of racism! Even when they support other races against their own, no sizeable population is won over and accusations of racism continue. So, how has this policy benefited the cause of the British monarchy in any way?

The short answer is that it has not. It has not even benefited the Africans as liberal opinion assumed that it would. All it has done is to increase the number of republics and grow the ranks of those bigoted against the British and Anglo-Saxon civilization. Yet, it does not yet seem that the lesson has been learned though there are signs that people are starting to come around. Hopefully, for the sake of the monarchy and a thousand years of British tradition, they will not adopt the Boer attitude when they do. Personally, I have come to my limit on the subject. Warm feelings of doing 'the right thing' is no substitute for victory and just because you think you are doing good for those who hate you, doesn't mean you really are. No one should abide those who are willing to let their own civilization fall in exchange for a feeling of moral superiority.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

MM Movie Review: Der große König

“Der große König” (‘The Great King’) is a German biopic of the famous Prussian warrior king Frederick the Great, released in 1942 and directed by Veit Harlan. That information alone necessitates addressing the ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to this film so, we may as well get that out of the way. Yes, the film was made in Nazi Germany and was a product of the film industry which was ultimately under the authority of the Minister of Propaganda Dr. Joseph Goebbels. Because of this, many will hate the film, sight unseen while others will and have inevitably seen it through a tinted lens, which is unfortunate but, I am sure, for some people it simply cannot be helped. Most broadly, it is usually interpreted as a film about Frederick the Great in which the King is meant to be a stand-in for Adolf Hitler. That may or may not be true but I certainly think it is possible to see it without such a parallel and I believe that if someone were to watch it and not be told when it was made, many would see nothing ‘national socialist’ about it at all.

Prussian advance at Kunersdorf
Production values are very high with this film, reflective of the fact that it was made in late 1940 and early 1941 when the Germans were pretty much winning the war. It is set during the Seven Years War (for Americans that is the French and Indian War) and stars Otto Gebuehr as King Frederick II, Gustav Froehlich (who sci-fi fans will know from “Metropolis”) as Sergeant Treskow and Kristina Soederbaum as his wife Luise Treskow. The sets are all quite convincing and the major battle sequences are truly epic in scope with large numbers of soldiers, cavalry and all the rest. Otto Gebuehr does a great job as Frederick the Great, was quite similar in appearance to the monarch and, as such, it is not surprising that he played the part on more than one occasion. The film opens with the Battle of Kunersdorf in which the Prussian army is crushed by the combined forces of Austria and Russia, the worst defeat of Frederick’s career. The Austrians held off the Prussian attack, then counter-attacked and drove the Prussians from the field, a route it was thought might well finish them. In the aftermath, the King is despondent and his generals and officials in Berlin begin to talk of peace negotiations and even doing away with the King if he stands in their way.

In one telling scene early on, Prince Heinrich criticizes his brother Frederick to his face, saying that under his rule, their enemies have increased every year to the point that Prussia was opposed by all of Europe. This, of course, was mostly true as historically, at this point, Prussia was opposed by almost everyone with the British as their only major ally. In a fury, the King also says that he had intended for the first regiment that fled to be sacrificed, basically that he ordered them to attack an Austrian position he knew they could not take but that as they would be shot down, others could shelter behind their corpses and prevent any counter-attack until the artillery arrived to open a breach in the Austrian lines. After soberly listening to a tirade against him by Luise Treskow, whose family mill was destroyed in the battle (she thinking the King was just an elderly major), we see in this scene that the King, while mindful of the suffering of ordinary people, was fully prepared to order men to certain death in order to win the larger victory. However, at Kunersdorf, it did not work because the regiment in question had fled.

Graf von Laudon, the Austrian commander
Despite the wishes of his generals, King Frederick is determined not to surrender but to carry on the fight and orders the regiment that fled, the Bernburg Regiment, to be officially disgraced, at which point the colonel shoots himself. The King is unmoved, seeing this as weakness. Later, he survives a Habsburg attempt to poison him by a sleazy envoy, dreams of his books and his music, the pursuits of peacetime while back in Vienna, Kaunitz and General von Laudon talk about him. Count Kaunitz is adamant that only a Habsburg has the right to rule Germany and that the Hohenzollern is no legitimate monarch at all but simply the puffed up Marquis of Brandenburg. Count von Laudon, on the other hand, has more respect for his recently defeated opponent and points out that when it was last in great peril, the Empire was saved, not by a legitimate monarch but by the victories of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Kaunitz thinks it unfair to the Prince to compare him to so despicable a character as the King of Prussia but the matter is ended when word arrives that Frederick has raised a new army and is on the move again.

Frederick is, however, ill and rages against his brother when he suggests making peace and an alliance with France. The King tells him that the French are not to be trusted and want to keep Germany as a collection of small, powerless states that can all be easily dominated, as it was, he says, after the Thirty Years War. That issue is put aside in favor of the next battle, the Battle of Torgau, which is a great victory over the Austrians of Daun. The Bernburg Regiment is restored to favor, however, the coordinated attack was carried out by bugle calls and when the adjutant who was supposed to order the attack on the front where the Bernburg Regiment was stationed was killed, Sergeant Treskow (recently married to Luise), sees the enemy approaching and blows the bugle himself. King Frederick is outraged when he learns that a lowly sergeant ordered the attack, though one might wonder why an attitude of “all’s well that ends well” was not in order. Well, believe it or not, this is. The King says that if the end result had not been a victory, he would have had the sergeant shot immediately. Instead, he orders him spread eagle to a wagon wheel for three days as punishment. Obviously, this does not endear him to Luise Treskow who had been fuming against the King since her family mill was destroyed.

"Old Fritz" and his generals
What she doesn’t know is that the King is simply trying to maintain discipline and has ordered that Treskow be promoted to lieutenant when he has finished taking his three days of punishment. But Sgt. Treskow is indignant about the injustice of this and decides to desert. In the meantime, Czarina Elizabeth of Russia has died and while other Russian officers break out in cheers for Czar Peter III and start smashing everything in sight to show their happiness, their commander, General Zakhar Grigoryevich Chernyshov, is not so sure. He knows Czar Peter will soon make peace with Prussia and then an alliance with him. However, Chernyshov plans to deceive Frederick by offering more troops than he has, withholding any real help and waiting for the Czar to be bumped off. However, to his surprise, as well as those who know their history, this all happens before he can do anything. Czar Peter is assassinated, Catherine II is Empress of Russia and he then intends to isolate his army as much as possible until Frederick is heavily engaged against the Austrians at which time he will intervene on the Austrian side.

However, Frederick figured out what the Russians were up to, takes General Chernyshov prisoner and orders that, while he doesn’t expect the Russians to fight alongside him, they will still march to their assigned position so that the Austrians under Daun will have to divide to meet them. This culminates in the Battle of “Schweidnitz 1762” (if you can find that one) where we see Prussians advance, artillery bow up a tower and Sergeant Treskow is killed as he did not desert after all. A victory parade is held in Berlin but the King does not attend. The non-religious man checks on the widow Treskow and then goes to a large cathedral, not to pray, but to cry some manly tears before a brief song of tribute sings us out and the film ends.

Overall, the film is an entertaining one though not without flaws. It is broadly accurate as far as the history goes, Frederick the Great did meet with a stunning defeat, he did soldier on and he was ultimately victorious, however, it does take a number of liberties with the historical record, one major one being that the “Hohenzollern Miracle” does not amount to much in this film as it never shows the Russians playing any part in the ultimate success of Frederick. It says, at the outset, that the words spoken by Frederick in the film are historically accurate. Although I cannot claim to know everything Frederick ever said, this seems dubious to me, particularly the scene in which he justifies his war against Austria to his brother. He condemns the Habsburgs as being unfit to lead a united Germany, makes clear that a united Germany under Prussian leadership is his goal, on the grounds that the Habsburgs share power with non-Germans. This little speech, and I may well be proven wrong, sounds to me more like something Hitler would have said than something Frederick the Great would have said.

Frederick the Great, while a Prussian nationalist of a sort, was not as xenophobic as this films seems to me to imply that he was. This was a monarch who usually spoke French rather than German, had an army made up of men from many different countries and who took in a number of foreign exiles, a notable example being the Jesuits who he said he would sell back to the Catholic countries when they regained their senses. It is all the more strange considering that, while this film is set during the reign of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa, her successor, Emperor Joseph II, would seem to have been more of a German nationalist than Frederick was, going so far as to try to impose German as the primary language of all Habsburg lands (which did not go over well as one can imagine). However, while it seems to show an anti-Habsburg bias that was more in line with Hitler than Frederick (who often expressed his admiration for his Habsburg opponents, particularly Joseph II) it is, overall, a well made, well acted and entertaining film. Perhaps knowing when it was made distorts my view as it does others, it simply seems at such times to be casting the views of Hitler on to the person of Frederick. And Hitler, after all, while admiring Frederick the Great immensely, was certainly no traditionalist, no monarchist and no friend of the ‘old order’ but was, in fact, quite an egalitarian other than in the area of race. It may also be noteworthy, given Hitler's opinion of the Jews, that neither King Frederick nor Empress Maria Theresa were particularly fond of them and not a few would likely say Frederick was more tolerant of them than the Habsburg Empress was. However, Hitler's opposition to the Habsburgs was clearly irrational and no facts would have changed it.

Aside from this issue, the film has what I would consider only rather minor flaws. It runs longer than it needs to and there are a number of scenes which are rather superfluous. The drama surrounding the King’s favorite nephew, who he hopes will succeed him but dies toward the end, is not needed to drive the story forward and seems to exist simply to show that the King has a great many burdens and heartaches and must stand alone, shouldering the weight of the German destiny. The conspiracy involving the Russians could have been cut out as it ultimately came to nothing and did not matter to the overall narrative. Many have commented on the fact that filming was in progress when war broke out between Germany and the Soviet Union but not too much should be made of this as it is extremely doubtful that the filmmakers would have been aware of this impending attack. On the whole, I think it is a good film for its time and one that people should do their best to view on its own merits and not get bogged down in trying to find Nazi propaganda messages throughout. I would even say it is a good film to take a lesson from in how royal leadership is supposed to be, not swayed by popular opinion and putting the good of the nation above the personal happiness of the monarch.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Monarch Profile: King Henri II of France

The French House of Valois in the Sixteenth Century is often seen, rather dismissively, as a dynasty in decline and Henry II, succeeding the ‘larger than life’ King Francis I, is all too often glossed over, particularly in English-language histories, and remembered only for his tragic and unusual demise. However, this is to do an injustice to a monarch who deserves to be remembered as a formidable man and one of the great “might have been” figures in French history. King Henry II was an astute leader, a man who endeavored to do much with little and, as such, had an active mind. He almost always had a number of irons in the fire, was constantly plotting some geopolitical maneuver and would not have been out of place in the city states of Italy of the time with their numerous intrigues and plans within plans. Had he lived long enough to see even some of these brought to fruition, he would almost have certainly changed the fate of Christendom and brought the Kingdom of France to a position of preeminence long before the glory days of the Bourbon.

Henry as a child
Henry was born on March 31, 1519 at Chateau de Saint Germain-en-Laye, the second son of King Francis I of France and Claude, Duchess of Brittany and, as the second son, was not expected to ever be king. He was the “spare”. However, even as a child, his life was not uneventful. The Italian Wars were still raging and at the Battle of Pavia in 1525 King Francis I was defeated by the German Emperor Charles V, who was also King of Spain, and taken prisoner. This, along with the subsequent sacking of Rome, allowed Emperor Charles V to dictate terms to King Francis I and his ally Pope Clement VII. A treaty was signed and it was agreed that Francis I would be released from his Spanish captivity but the Emperor demanded that this be a prisoner exchange and so, in the place of the King of France, little Henry and his brother the Dauphin had to take the place of their father. In effect, they were to be held hostage by the Emperor to ensure that King Francis I adhered to the agreement he had obviously signed under duress. So, for more than four years, Henry and his brother were prisoners in Spain. They were not held in terrible conditions of course, were generally treated appropriately for their status but this may have had an impact on young Henry and his future development.

Henry learned from an early age that being a prince was serious business, that this was a high stakes game and that you always had to be on guard for any threat and reaching for any opportunity. He also learned that it was important to always have a backup in case things did not work out. He never wanted to be a prisoner again. Later on, in case he needed any further coaching in political intrigue, he was married to Catherine de’ Medici on October 28, 1533 at the age of fourteen. This was, of course, an arranged marriage on the part of King Francis I and Pope Clement VII, the pontiff being from the Medici family, the Italian clan which ruled the city-state of Florence, Tuscany. Catherine’s own parents had been brought together in a similar alliance by King Francis I of France and the Medici Pope Leo X in opposition to Emperor Maximilian I. Previously, King James V of Scotland had hoped to marry Catherine but ties to France were seen as more valuable than the more remote land of Scotland and so her hand went to Henry, Duke of Orleans.

Henry and Catherine, brought together by Clement
However, this marriage, which neither bride nor groom had any desire for, was ill-fated from the start, partly because of the intrigues of Italian politics. A year after the wedding, Pope Clement VII died and was succeeded by Pope Paul III, from the Farnese family, who opposed the Medici, cancelled the papal alliance with France and stopped payment on the dowry for Catherine, making her immediately less than popular with the King.

Catherine would go on to no small amount of notoriety herself but she and Henry lived mostly separate lives with the Duke of Orleans taking as his mistress Diane de Poitiers, with whom he had a very long and very close relationship to the point that she seemed to be his wife in all but name. Diane, not Catherine, would be the dominant woman in France, at least as long as Henry lived but, as she was mistress and not wife, she was enough of a French patriot to insist that Henry still do his marital duty and maintain conjugal relations with his wife in order to secure the succession. That was certainly important as, in 1536, the Dauphin suddenly died and Henry, Duke of Orleans moved up in the ranks to be heir to the French throne. Just over ten years later King Francis I died and on July 25, 1547 the Duke of Orleans was crowned King Henry II of France according to ancient and sacred French royal tradition, at the Cathedral in Reims. He was 28-years old, his father passing away on his birthday.

Once the crown of France was on his head, King Henry II quickly showed himself to be an ambitious and energetic monarch. He had many grand aspirations and while he might focus on one thing at a time, he always had other projects simmering on the back burner. Such was necessary as the Kingdom of France was in a precarious position. After the defeat of his father and the resulting treaty, Emperor Charles V was dominant in Germany, Italy and Spain while King Henry VIII of England still had a foothold at Calais and dreamed of becoming King of France himself. To make matters worse, King Henry and Emperor Charles had previously been allied against France before Henry VIII decided to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, who happened to be the Emperor’s aunt. Nonetheless, France was encircled with an enemy on every border and a few enemies on the inside as well. Along with the usual rebels here and there, Protestantism had spread from its birthplace in Germany to France where the Huguenots were a major concern for King Henry II who, while he may not have been the most pious man in the world, was certainly a staunch Catholic and adamant that the Catholicism of France was non-negotiable.

King Henri II
In Germany, Emperor Charles V had been urging the Pope to call a council to enact Church reform and, hopefully, appease the Protestants in that way. Eventually, when bloodshed persisted, he made peace with them in order to focus on his external enemies such as the French or the Turks or even the Pope himself. His Spanish lands were safe thanks to the well established Inquisition which prevented Protestantism from ever taking root. In England, religious divisions had already started to cause problems but like King James V of Scotland, King Henry II of France was determined to see Protestantism eradicated. The measures taken would certainly seem harsh by modern standards but, it is simply a fact of history that where religious differences were allowed to spread, horrific wars were the inevitable result while countries which prevented such differences, escaped such calamities. Had more French monarchs been as harsh as King Henry II, a great deal of future bloodshed and civil war might have been avoided. The Wars of Religion took a terrible toll on France and it just possible that the suppression of King Henry II might have prevented them. So, while Henry II was King of France, heretic leaders were burned, people who spoke heresy might lose their tongues, censorship was enforced and suspected Protestants were imprisoned. Henry II certainly had no qualms about it, as far as he was concerned, he was protecting the sacred foundations of the monarchy and protecting the souls of his subjects from eternal damnation.

The major goals of King Henry II were too secure his power and defend the Church at home and supplant Emperor Charles V as the dominant monarch of western Europe. Swift suppression of dissent and dissident opinion at home took care of the first while the second required a number of plans. King Henry II planned to make use of the rivalries in Italy to thwart the Emperor there, remove the German/Spanish domination of Italy and replace it with French dominance while going for a more direct offensive on his own. At the same time, he also had more long-term plans to gain a pro-French Great Britain through dynastic alliance and perhaps a little subterfuge. For a man who began his reign with a recently defeated country, literally surrounded on all sides by hostile powers, this was certainly an ambitious program indeed but, King Henry II could never be accused of lacking in audacity.

King Henri II curing by his touch
As for his domestic life, King Henry II, despite his bad relationship with Queen Catherine, did his duty to secure the French succession for the House of Valois. He fathered no less than ten children by Catherine de’ Medici, though, sadly, many died young and those which reached adulthood seemed invariably doomed to lives of tragedy. He also had three illegitimate children by three different mistresses, though none by his most long-standing favorite, Diane de Poitiers. The relationship would be extremely odd probably anywhere other than France. Diane and Catherine de’ Medici were actually distant cousins, Diane approved of the marriage between Henry and Catherine, encouraged Henry to do his duty by her and even nursed Catherine backed to health when she became extremely ill. In any event, any sympathy people might have for Queen Catherine as the wife of an unfaithful husband, tends to be non-existent given her reputation and later actions in life.

For King Henry II, the first pot that came to boil on his political stove was the renewal of the Italian Wars. After the defeat of the Pope and the imperial subjugation of Italy, the Medici family in Florence had allied with the Habsburgs and were to be rewarded with a monarchical title to all of Tuscany. However, there remained one city-state in Tuscany that was outside their control which was the Republic of Siena. When Florence moved to conquer Siena, the city-state called on France for help and King Henry II answered, sending a small French force to back up a largely Italian one commanded by Pietro Strozzi, an accomplished soldier whose family, the Strozzi, were long-standing rivals of the Medici. King Henry II also launched a direct offensive against the Germans and their allies west of the Rhine. To do this, King Henry II allied with some minor Protestant powers and also maintained the existing alliance with the Ottoman Turks whose naval forces cooperated in attacking imperial ports on the Mediterranean.

This requires a bit of explanation as modern readers tend to raise an eyebrow at a staunch Catholic like King Henry II of France being allies with Protestants and Muslims against a Catholic emperor. Of course, it would be nice if such conflicts never happened, however, it was all too common and King Henry II was certainly not unusual in this regard. The Anglican King Henry VIII of England hired Catholic Italian mercenaries to subdue a Catholic uprising in Cornwall. Emperor Charles V, certainly a staunch Catholic, made concessions to win Protestant support for his wars. Even when he made war on the Pope, the German army he sent in to Italy consisted in large part of Protestants. Likewise, at the end of their long reign, the last Habsburg monarch, Blessed Emperor Charles I of Austria-Hungary, would fight his last war as an ally of the Ottoman Turks, sending troops to help maintain the Islamic empire in the Middle East. Even the Pope himself, when France later became the dominant power in Europe, made common cause with Protestant powers against the Catholic King of France. For purists, this is irritating but, again, it was certainly not unusual nor unique to Henry II.

Henry II decorates a hero at Renty
In the course of the war, King Henry II made some major gains but was ultimately thwarted in his effort to establish French dominance over Italy, supplanting the Germans. At the Battle of Marciano in 1554 the French backed forces of Siena under Strozzi were defeated by a larger German-Spanish-Florentine army under Gian Giacomo Medici, securing Medici control over the whole of Tuscany. Yet, nearer to home, the French were more successful. King Henry II launched an offensive into Lorraine and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Renty on August 12, 1554. Emperor Charles V had commanded the Germans and Francis, Duke of Guise, commanded the French. The imperial offensive into France was stopped and the cities of Metz, Toul and Verdun all fell into the hands of King Henry II. Dispirited by these losses and tired from a lifetime of stress and struggle, Emperor Charles V abdicated in 1556, dividing his massive empire into a Spanish branch and a German branch. King Philip II inherited the Spanish half and Ferdinand I became Emperor over the German half.

King Henry II carried on the fight, hoping to secure a victory that would enable him to negate the loss in Italy, however, King Philip II of Spain allied with Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, an accomplished soldier, who led the Spanish army to a great victory over the French at the Battle of Saint Quentin on August 10, 1557. England then decided to join in the fun, King Philip II of Spain being married to Queen Mary I of England, however the French still had some fight left in them and aside from some minor victories in Belgium, struck an extremely painful blow against the English by taking Calais, the last English foothold on French soil. However, King Henry II realized that the war had not been the great success he hoped and he had no choice but to agree to a compromise peace. He would keep Calais, Metz, Toul, Verdun and Saluzzo but would give Piedmont back to the Savoy, give some French princesses to be married to the Habsburg and Savoy families and give up on trying to dominate Italy.

King Henri II
It seemed as though the grand aspirations of King Henry II had been thwarted, however, as stated at the outset, Henry II was a man who kept a ‘backup plan’ in reserve. For King Henry II, that backup plan was a certain Stuart princess later to be Mary Queen of Scots. Her mother was from the Guise family, the most stalwart Catholic family in France, and King Henry had her brought to France to be raised and to make sure that, come what may, France would dominate Scotland. Yet, there was still more to it than Scotland alone for according to the Catholic Church, Queen Elizabeth I of England was illegitimate and, as such, Mary of Scots was to be considered the true Queen of England as well as Scotland. Mary of Scots was supposed to be the real “secret weapon” of King Henry II of France. With her, he could secure the whole of Britain and Ireland as Catholic, French allies and together they could dominate the whole of Christendom. It was a grand scheme and, considering the great expense of his Italian adventure, a scheme was about all that King Henry II could afford.

One could occupy a great deal of time trying to imagine how different the course of history would have been if the intrigues of King Henry II of France had come to fruition. As we know, they did not. While at a joust celebrating the peace with Spain, as King Henry II loved jousting, the French monarch was struck in the head by the lance of a member of the King’s Scottish Guard. A splinter pierced his brain and King Henry II of France died the following month on July 30, 1559. He was succeeded by his ill young son, King Francis II, husband of Mary of Scots, but he was not destined to live long either. A still younger son, King Charles IX, would take the throne but Queen Catherine de’ Medici would be the one in charge and the Wars of Religion soon followed, a horrible period in French history. It was certainly not the future that King Henry II had envisioned for his country.

King Henri II
Most historical accounts look back on the reign of King Henry II as almost a disaster and the usual view of the monarch himself is an extremely negative one. He has often been accused of having all of the faults and none of the virtues of his famous father, King Francis I, save for being a personally brave man. He is disliked and accused of being cold, aloof, vindictive, reckless and bad tempered and so on and so forth. However, that seems rather overly harsh to me and I have always been rather fond of the man. He had audacity. That tends to win me over as few other traits ever could. He inherited a defeated country, surrounded by enemies and knew he would have to gamble in order to succeed and if he was going to gamble, he was going to go for a prize that would be worth the risk. I also do not think he was reckless or foolhardy, he had, if anything, too many plans for too many schemes all going at the same time. He was a man of great ambition and great aspirations which, sadly for him, did not come to pass. Such is life, you take a risk and you win or lose. King Henry II took his chance and lost, though had he lived longer, he may, perhaps, have seen his second succeed. It certainly would have made for quite a change if he had.
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