21 November 2017

Miranshah (1366-1408), Tamerlane's Unruly Son

Miranshah (1366-1408)
Miranshah (1366-1408) was the third son of the great conqueror Tamerlane (1336-1405). Tamerlane was known to cross Asia like a firestorm. He had people tortured and had piles made of bloody heads. He was also an avid collector of wives and concubines. One of Tamerlane’s concubines, Mengli Agha, was Miranshah's mother. Miranshah had just 3 wives and several additional concubines. His most famous descendant was Babur (1483-1530) who became the first Mughal Emperor in India.

In 1396 Tamerlane gave Miranshah the control of Azerbaijan. By 1398 stories of Mrianshah’s uncontrolled debauchery had reached Tamerlane, while he was on his way back from India after sacking Delhi. Stories were told of Miranshah's riotous gambling, and of marathon drinking bouts inside mosques. The Prince was said to throw gold coins from palace windows into the hands of frenzied mobs. Further evidence of Miranshah’s disturbed behavior came with reports that he had desecrated the tomb of Mongol Prince Oljeytu in the famous green-domed mosque of Sultaniya, north-west of Theran. Miranshah also had some fine buildings summarily demolished. Castilian embassador Guy Gonález de Clavijo described Miranshah as “a man of advanced age, beging about 40 years old, big and fat, and he suffers much from gout”. He doubted reports of Miranshah’s insanity, attributing his bizarre behavior to “insecurity and attention-seeking”.

Whatever the truth of Miranshah’s mental state, his lack of military talents gave his father the greatest cause for concern. Although Tamerlane loved drinking bouts, too, particularly after great battles - or at weddings and festivals, the difference was that - unlike Miranshah – Tamerlane did not let the drinking get in the way of either winning wars, or administering his empire.
Tamerlane sent some officers to Azerbaijan who reported back that Miranshah had been corrupted by the scandalous company he kept. His shifty entourage of scholars, poets and musicians were blamed for the disastrous state into which Azerbaijan had descended. Thus, Tamerlane had his son’s court favorites sentenced to death. Miranshah himself escaped the death sentence, but was relieved of his throne. 
After his father’s death in 1405 Miranshah tried to support his own son Khalil Sultan in his claims to the throne until he was killed in battle in 1408.

Sources: J. Marozzi: Tamerlane, 2004, HarperCollins & Wikipedia.

2 October 2017

Wilhelm Kettler (1574-1640), Duke of Courland

Wilhelm Kettler (1574-1640)
Wilhelm Kettler was born on June 20, 1574, in Mitau (now Jelgava in Latvia) as the younger son of Gotthard Kettler and his wife Anna of Mecklenburg (1533-1602). She was a daughter of Duke Albrecht VII “The Handsome” of Mecklenburg-Güstrow and his wife Anna of Brandenburg (1507-1567). After his father’s death in 1587 Wilhelm and his elder brother Friedrich inherited the Duchy of Courland and divided the inheritance between themselves.

In 1609 Wilhelm married Sophia of Prussia (1582-1610), one of the 5 surviving daughters of Albrecht Friedrich (1553-1618), the last, mad Duke of Prussia, and his wife Marie Eleonore of Cleves (1550-1608), a sister of the last, mad Duke of Cleves. As a dowry Wilhelm and Sophia received the territory of Grobina (now in Latvia). Their only child, a son Jacob, was born on October 28, 1610, while Sophia died soon afterwards, around November 24.

Due to conflicts with the local nobility, Wilhelm lost control of the Duchy of Courland in 1617. He emigrated, leaving his brother Friedrich als sole ruler. Wilhelm died on April 7, 1640 in Kukułowo in Poland. Two years later his son, Jacob von Kettler (1610-1682), succeeded his uncle Friedrich as Duke of Courland.

7 August 2017

The madness of Nicholas Nikolaevich of Russia (1831-91)

Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich (“Nizi”), was born on 8 August 1831 at Tsarskoye Selo Palace in Russia as a younger son of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia. His father arranged for Nicholas a career in the army. Nicholas Nicolaievich unwillingly married his second cousin Princess Alexandra of Oldenburg (1838–1900) who is described as “plain and unsophisticated”. The wedding took place in St Petersburg on 6 February 1856. Soon after, the couple found out that they had little in common. Still, they had 2 sons. 

Grand Duke Nicholas 
Tall, strong and with a long, thin nose and heavily lidded blue eyes, Nicholas Nicolaievich was neither handsome nor very intelligent. An incredible womanizer, Nicholas “loved all women except for his wife”, as a contemporary wrote. Around 1860 Nicholas developed a permanent relationship with Catherine Chislova (1846-89), a dancer from the Krasnoye Selo Theater. Their affair was quite open and they had 5 children. The Grand Duke arranged a change of class into the gentry for his mistress, and their illegitimate children took the surname Nikolayev. In 1881 his wife left Nicholas for good and moved to Kiev, but she refused to grant the divorce Nicholas wanted.

Nicholas' mistress, Catherine Chislova, died unexpectedly in 1889. Shortly after her death, Nicholas went mad. His priapic sexuality had now metamorphosed into hypersexual insanity: “suffering from delusions”, he “molested every women he met”. After a ballet, Nicholas “became so aroused, he went backstage and tried to seduce everyone he saw”. Finally, he was pulled from one of the young male dancers, whom he had cornered and covered with kisses. 

In 1890 Nicholas was declared insane and kept locked indoors in his Crimean Vorontzov Palace. There he was attended by an elderly manservant, allegedly the only person who was safe from his amorous attacks. As a womanizer Nicholas may have suffered from tertiary syphilis

Quickly Nicholas Nicolaievich slipped into a haze of madness. His younger brother Mikhail wittily expressed his “astonishment that a man of such excessive stupidity could still lose his mind”. Nicholas died in his Palace at Alupka, Crimea, on 25 April 1891. The Palace was immediately sold as he was in debt after squandering all his tremendous wealth, and borrowing heavily. 


  • Simon Sebag Montefiore: The Romanovs 1613-1918, W&N, 2017.
  • Arturo E. Beéche, Greg King: The Grand Dukes (Sons and Grandsons of Russia's Tsars since Paul I), Volume 1, EuroHistory.com, 2010. 
  • Wikipedia.

10 May 2017

The Wives of Jagatjit Singh Bahadur, Maharaja of Kapurthala

Born in the autumn of 1872, Sir Jagatjit Singh Bahadur became ruling Maharaja of the Princely State of Kapurthala in India in 1877, succeeding his father Kharak Singh Bahadur (1849-1877). In 1890 Jagatjit attained full ruling powers . Like most of his fellow Princes, Jagatjit reveled in pomp and ceremony. He was an avowed Fracophile who modelled his palaces on French châteaus and filled them with French furniture. In 1935 Jagatjit met with Benito Mussolini. He also attended a Nazi Parteitag in Nuremburg.

Jagatjit Singh Bahadur,
Maharaja of Kapurthala.
At the age of 13 Jagatjit had been married to Maharani Harbans Kaur, daughter of Mian Ranjit Singh Guleria of Poprola. Several years had since passed, and his wife still had not conceived, so questions were asked. Even Jagatjit’s portly girth was blamed for his inability to consummate his marriage. It seems that experts were consulted, and a ramp-like bed was constructed. This apparently solved the couple’s difficulties and in due course a son was born and named Paramjit Singh (1892-1955). The bed’s engineer received a life pension.

During his life Jagatjit Singh married 6 times. His 5th wife was a Spanish girl, Anita Delgado (1890-1962). In 1908 they married and had a son. Anita was never required to live with his other wives, and would accompany Jagatjit on his travels. They were separated in 1925. 

Jagatjit’s 6th wife was Eugenie Grosupova, an illegitimate daughter of a Czech Count and an actress. After the deaths of her grandmother and mother, Eugenie became profoundly disturbed. She was certain that they had both been poisoned, and lived in terror of being poisoned herself. 
As Jagatjit’s roving eye had already alighted on another beautiful girl, Eugenie and Jagatjit were having difficulties in their marriage. One day, Eugenie caught a taxi to a stone tower, and committed suicide by jumping off it. From the marbled 5th storey Eugenie fell 3 storeys to the red-sandstoned, 2nd floor. Eugenie's body was found hanging over the railings. Jagatjit was shocked and upset when he heard of her death, and was said to have aged overnight. He died on June 19, 1949. 

Sources: World of RoyaltyC. Younger: Wicked Women of the Ray, HarperCollins, 2011.

25 April 2017

Count Renauld II "The Bad" of Sense (†1055)

Count Renaud II “The Bad” of Sense was described as “mad”. He was the eldest son of Fromond II of Sense (†1012) and his wife Gerberge de Roucy. Fromond was at loggerheads with the archbishop of Sense, Lietry, whom he could not forgive for having got the archbishopric in stead of his son Bruno.

After succeeding his father, Renaud II became involved in the power struggle with the archbishop of Sens. Renaud acted with disrespect to the church, which he despoiled, apparently claiming that he was “King of the Jews”. On another occasion, during mass, Renauld spat at the archbishop. French King Robert The Pious (972–1031) decided to intervene. For some reason, when the King took Sens on April 22, 1015, Renaud II was naked when he fled. Renaud’s brother Fromond was defending in the Big Tower in the city of Sens when he was captured. Fromond was subsequently interned in Orléans where he died.
Denier of French King Robert II the Pious.
Finally, a bargain was struck, whereby Renaud was to keep the county for life, and at his death the entire county was to revert to the crown. This agreement was carried out on Renaud’s death in 1055.
Renaud's brother Bruno was installed as archdeacon of the Church of Langres. Another brother, Renaud, became abbot of Sainte-Marie du Charnier. In 1023 Renaud II married a woman named Juvilla and fathered a son named Fromond.