16 December 2016

Sofie Luise of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1685–1735)

Sofie Luise was born on 6 May 1685 as the 4th and youngest child and only daughter of Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Grabow, and his wife Christine Wilhelmine of Hesse-Homburg. Sofie Luise's father died before her 3rd birthday. Her eldest brother, who was 10 years her senior, succeeded their childless uncle as Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin in 1692.

Sofie Luise
of Mecklenburg
On 28 November 1708 Sofie Louise became the 3rd wife of Friedrich I (1657–1713), the 1st King in Prussia. Friedrich had just one surviving son from his earlier marriages and still hoped to get additional sons with his young wife. He was a little man with a little hump, unimpressive in appearance, asthmatic, sickly and weak. At 50, Friedrich was no longer capable of making love, and the marriage remained childless.

Worse, the marriage was a disaster. Sofie Luise proved to be a fanatic, puritan Lutheran and a complete nuisance. Gradually, she showed herself to be mentally unstable, and the King estranged from her. Soon, she was over the hill and required watching. During periodic fits of violence Sofie Luise had to be kept under restraint.

29 November 2016

Maria d’Aragona (±1503-1568)

In the "Golden Age of Bastards" King Ferrante I of Naples (1423-1494) was an illegitimate son of King Alfonso V of Aragon and his mistress Giraldona Carlino. Ferrante I married twice and had several illegitimate children, too. One of Ferrante’s mistresses, Diana Guardado, was a member of an aristocratic patrician family. She gave birth to three of his children: Maria d’Aragona (who married a brother of Pope Pius III), Giovanna d’Aragona (who married a brother of Pope Julius II) and Ferdinando d’Aragona (†1542). Ferdinando was created Duke of Montaldo and married twice, too. His youngest child was Maria d’Aragona (1503-1568).

Maria's sister Giovanna 
d'Aragona (1502-1575) 

was also a patron 
of writers.
Maria d’Aragona’s brilliance and beauty were widely praised. She frequented intellectual and religious circles, and was acquainted with the poetess Victoria Colonna. In 1523 Maria married Alfonso d’Avalos (1502-1546), Marquess del Vasco. He became a decorated soldier. In 1538 he was appointed governor of Milan for Emperor Charles V. Subsequently, Maria lived in the ducal palace in Milan, while her husband was constantly in the field with his army. In 1544, in one of the worst massacres of the century, Alfonso lost 12,000 of his men in a battle against the French. He was wounded in a battle and never fully recovered from his wounds. The last years of his life he was a broken. After her husband’s death in 1546 Maria, her 7 children and her sister Giovanna (to the right), settled in Pavia, where they established a literary salon. In 1547 they moved to Castell dell’Ovo in Naples and reopened their salon. Driven out of the castle during a rebellion, Maria managed to live out the last years of her life in Naples, where she died in 1568.

In 2012 the remains of Maria d’Aragona were dug up in Naples. When a linen bandage was cut off from Maria’s arm, a large, oval ulcer was discovered. Examination of the tissue with a microscope showed the presence of Treponema Pallidum, a spirochaete bacterium that is known to cause syphilis. The tissue was so well preserved that the spiral shape of the bacteria could be detected. Maria also harbored human papillomavirus in a venereal wart—the first diagnosis of this sexually transmitted, cancer-causing disease in the tissue of a mummy.

Sexually transmitted diseases were common in Renaissance Italy. It was easily spread by soldiers, having sex with - or raping – women, so Maria was most likely infected by her soldiering husband. See also: Syphilis in the Italian Renaissance.

25 November 2016

Intermezzo - Syphilis & the Italian Renaissance

The Italian Renaissance is also known as the “Golden Age of Bastards”. Powerful men routinely took many mistresses and fathered several children with them. “Natural” children were frequently raised by the legal wife, alongside half brothers and sisters; others were sent to live and be educated in foreign courts. 
The Wolf of Rimini
Several of these bastards had brilliant careers: 
  • Despite the presence of legitimate children Lionello d’Este (1407-1450) was favoured by his father as successor as Marquess of Ferrara. 
  • Career soldier Federigo III da Montefeltro (1422-1482) was an illegitimate son of the lord of Urbino. 
  • The notorious Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417-1468), popularly known as “The Wolf of Rimini”, was an illegitimate son of the lord of Fano.
The Italian Renaissance is also known as the era of highly contagious syphilis. At the time, social environmental and biological conditions were ideal for the spread of infections: new contacts among people, increasing trade, movements of armies from one part to the other within Europe, and also promiscuity and prostitution. 
The first well-documented major outbreak of syphilis occurred in Naples in the mid-1490s after Charles VIII of France had invaded Italy. It was of exceptional virulence, highly contagious and caused severe ulceration. Soon, a slower-progressing form of syphilis replaced the initial severe form. Many symptoms were less severe, and the rash, of a reddish colour, did not cause itching. Moreover, the gummy tumours then appeared only in a limited number of cases. For Renaissance rulers, leading the licentious lifestyle of court society of the time, syphilis was almost an occupational hazard.

24 October 2016

Another Mad Heir - Felipe of Spain and Sicily (1747-1777)

With Don Carlos (1527-1598), Spain had already had an imbecile heir to the throne, who had a tendency to molest women. Don Felipe (1747-1777), however, was even worse.

Charles VII of Naples
aka Charles III of Spain
King Charles VII of Naples and Sicily (1716-1788) had become King at the age of 19. He married 13-year-old Princess Maria Amalia of Poland and Saxony (1724-1760). She had already given birth to 5 daughters when, late at night on June 13, 1747, their first son was born. He was christened immediately with the name “Felipe Antonio Januario Pascual Francisco de Paula”. Charles, besides himself with joy, seized the infant in his arms and embraced him, then lifted him up for all to admire. He thanked Heaven again and again.

Before Felipe was weaned, he had his first epileptic fits. Several nurses were discharged until one was found in whose care Felipe seemed to blossom. After a while, however, she refused to stay - in spite of every possible inducement. In the following years, Felipe was to substantiate the most dismal rumours about him. The Sardinian ambassador wrote: “There is something in his eyes that does not harmonize with the rest of his features. I have been assured that, although he is 7 years old, [..] he can scarcely utter a word [..].” The Prince - supposedly - suffered from “a great heaviness of head, which made him gloomy and ill-humoured”.

Don Felipe (1747-1777)
Don Felipe was not the first Spanish Royal with mental problems. His grandfather, King Philip V of Spain, had periodically been afflicted by fits of manic depression; suffering from delusions, screaming and biting himself. Felipe’s uncle, King Ferdinand V of Spain, suffered from a similar mental illness. Felipe’s mother, Maria Amalia, was impatient and ill-tempered. When she lost control, she boxed her pages and slapped her ladies-in-waiting.

Charles’ elder half-brother, Ferdinand VI, died childless on August 10, 1759. On August 22, the news reached Naples. Charles fainted and remained speechless for hours. Overcome with melancholy, he remained in his rooms for nine days. He knew he had to appoint a successor to the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily. First, he appointed a committee of the highest officials and magistrates and 6 physicians. They were to examine the mental state of his eldest son and pronounce on his capacity to govern. Don Felipe was kept in close observation for 2 weeks, and the committee’s verdict was that his “complete imbecility” should exclude him from the succession. King Charles issued a declaration stating: “A considerable body of my counsellors of state, a member of the Council of Castile, of the Chamber of St. Chiara, the Lieutenant of the Sommaric of Naples, and the whole Junta of Sicily, assisted by the six deputies, have represented to me that after every possible investigation they have not been able to find in the unhappy Prince the use of reason, nor any trace of reflection, and that such having been his state from infancy, he is not only incapable of religious sentiments and the use of reason at present, but no shadow of hope appears for the future.” Felipe’s second brother, another Carlos (1748-1819), became heir to the Spanish throne, while a third brother, Ferdinand (1751-1825), became King of Naples and Sicily.

16 August 2016

Countess Juliane of Salm (1616-±1647) had been naughty

On 18-11-1642 the Wittelsbacher Count Palatine Georg Wilhelm (1591-1669) divorced Countess Juliane of Salm (1616-±1647) because she had given birth within only 2½ months of their marriage. 

Juliane of Salm was the youngest daughter of Johann (1582-1630), Wild- und Rheingraf in Grumbach und Rheingrafenstein and Countess Anna Juliane von Mansfeld (1591-±1626), thus Juliane had been an orphan since around the age of 14.

Birkenfeld Castle
Juliane married Count Palatine George Wilhelm on 30-11-1641 in his castle in Birkenfeld. He was 25 years her senior. Juliane gave birth within 2½ months of the wedding ceremony on 14-2-1642. The child had been fathered by Count Johann Ludwig of Salm-Dhaun (1620-1673) who belonged to another branche of the same family. On 30-10-1643, however, Johan Ludwig married another relative instead, Elisabeth of Salm-Neuviller (1620-1653).

6 March 2016

Darya Nikolaevna Saltykova (1730-1801), the Russian Elisabeth Báthory

In the late 1750s ominous rumours began to spread in Moscow about terrible things taking place in the home of the young widow Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova. Born in 1730 as daughter of Nikolai Avtonomovich Ivanov and Anna Ivanovna Davydova, she was married at a young age to the noble Gleb Alexeyevich Saltykov, an uncle of Nikolai Saltykov (1736-1810), a tutor of the future Emperor Paul I of Russia and his 2 sons. Darya gave birth to 2 sons: Theodore (1750-1801) and Nicholas († 1775). She was widowed by 1755 at the age of 26.

Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova
People spoke of 100s of house-serfs tormented brutally by the lady landowner, about cruel torture and murder. At first, complaints to authorities about the deaths at the Saltykova estate were ignored, because Saltykova was well-connected with powerful people at the royal court. Eventually, however, relatives of murdered women were able to bring a petition before Empress Catherine II 'The Great'. She decided to form a commission to investigate and try Saltykova publicly.

Saltykova was arrested in 1762 and held for 6 years, while the commission conducted a painstaking investigation. Many witnesses were questioned and records of the Saltykova estate were examined. Finally, the commission was compelled to admit that Saltykova’s brutality had caused the death “if not of a hundred people, as had been reported by informers, then of at least fifty people for certain”.

It had been established that the sadistic lady beat her house-serfs (mostly maids), using different objects and implements; she poured boiling water over them, and froze them in the snow. Following her orders, the stablemen would whip disobedient house-serfs to death. In its report, the commission attributed the enormities to the mistress’s anger aroused at the sight of “carelessly washed floors and clothes”.

Saltykova had murdered her servants in a house standing in the center of Moscow, under the jurisdiction of Moscow police, who - it turned out - were bribed from top to bottom by Saltykova. The police readily drew up documents certifying yet another 'accidental death' of one of Saltikova's house-serfs. Even the leaders of the Chief Criminal Investigation Department took bribes, resulting in long delays during the investigation.

In 1768 Saltykova was chained on a platform in Moscow for one hour with a sign around her neck with the text: “This woman has tortured and murdered”. Many people came to look at her during the one hour she was displayed. Afterward, she was imprisoned for life in the basement of the Ivanovsky Convent in Moscow. Saltykova showed no repentance for what she had done and used to curse nearly everyone she saw. She remained locked-up for 33 years, dying on 27-12-1801 and was buried next to her relatives in the Donsky Monastery necropolis.

Bronnen: Evgenii V. Anismov: Five Empresses (Court Life in Eighteenth-Century Russia), 2004; Wikipedia. For further reading see:  Russia Pedia.