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. 


Sources: 

  • 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.

28 March 2017

"Raging Wolf" Thomas of Marle (1073-1130), Lord of Coucy

Thomas of Marle was born in 1073 as son of Enguerrand I of Coucy (±1042-1116), a man of many sandals. Enguerrand divorced his first wife, Thomas' mother Adèle of Marle, for adultery. Thus, Thomas' paternity was cast into doubt, and Enguerrand openly vented doubts that Thomas was his biological son.
When Enguerrand abducted and married his second wife, Sibyl of Château-Porcien, she was still married to Godfrey of Lorraine, while he was absent and at war. Thus, Enguerrand and Godfrey became bitter enemies, fighting each other in a private war. Thomas of Marle hated his father and joined his enemies. Still, in 1095 they both took part in the First Crusade.

Coucy Heraldry
As a knight, Thomas of Marle should have been an example of virtues like wisdom, charity and loyalty, but he wasn't like that at all. He achieved notoriety as a "wild beast", an "unbearable madman" and "like a wolf gone mad". He was "the vilest of men and a plague to God and man alike". He had a habit of "torturing peasants and captives, hanging them by the testicles, beating and starving them to death".
Thomas even cut the throat of a relative, archdeacon Walter of Laon. He supported the citizens of Laon in their rising of 1112, and sheltered its leaders. As a result Thomas was excommunicted in 1114, and condemned in the Royal Court of France, but continued with his deplorable activities.

In 1102 Thomas had married Ida of Hainault and they subsequently had 2 daughters. After Ida's death he married Melisende of Crécy in 1108, and had 2 sons and 2 more daughters. Thomas succeeded his father upon Enguerrand's death in 1116.

In 1130, while King Louis VI was hampered by obesity, his relative Raoul of Vermandois* organized an expedition against Thomas of Marle. At Coucy Ralph's men caught him, and Raoul pierced him with his sword - before handing him over to the French King. Thomas made a long confession, was imprisoned, and died soon afterwards in prison.

Peace was finally achieved when Thomas' son, Enguerrand II, married Agnès de Beaugency, a niece of Raoul of Vermandois. It was Enguerrand VII de Coucy (1340-97) who married Princess Isabella (1332-82), daughter of English King Edward III.

 * Raoul of Vermandois was a grandson of King Henry I of France (1008-1060).

16 March 2017

The violent deaths of the Counts of Flanders around 1100

Around 1100 successive Counts of Flanders in Belgium met with violent deaths.

Robert the Frisian was a younger son of Count Baldwin V of Flanders (1012-67) and his wife, Princess Adèle of France. Robert married Gertrude of Saxony, widow of Count Floris I of Holland. While acting as regent for his stepson Dirk I of Holland, Thus, Robert acquired the nickname "The Frisian" (Frisia being the name for Holland at the time). In addition to 7 children from her first marriage, Gertrude gave Robert 3 sons and 3 daughters. On February 22, 1071, near Cassel Robbrecht attacked his unpopular nephew Arnulf III of Flanders, a teenager, who died in battle.
Thus, Robert succeeded as Count of Flanders. On October 13, 1093, Robert was crossing the Marne River on campaign with the French King, when he fell from his horse and was trampled on by other horses.

Robert II of Flanders, Robert I’s eldest son, joined the First Crusade. He became known as a cruel conqueror who participated in the killings and looting in Jerusalem. He brought back with him a relic, said to be the arm of Saint George. In 1111 Robert led an army against Meaux. While approaching the city Robert was fatally wounded. He fell from his horse, and drowned in the River Marne on October 5.

Baldwin VII of Flanders
Baldwin VII of Flanders, Robert II's only son, was born in 1093. Aged 18, the new Count solicited the advice of his cousin, Charles the Good, who was several years older. It was Baldwin who arranged the marriage of Charles to the heiress of the County of Amiens, Margaret of Clermont, in 1118. Once Baldwin VII personally hanged ten knights who had violated the peace of the fair of Torhout, and he had another one boiled in oil. During a fight over the castle of Bures-en-Bray, Baldwin VI was being hit on the head by a lance. The nosepiece of his helmet was shattered, wounding him in the face. Badly hurt, Baldwin continued to fight, but soon his face was badly swollen. He was first taken to the abbey of Auchy, then to Atrecht, while the swelling on his face increased. He had trouble moving his arms, while his lower body became paralysed. Baldwin never recovered and died within a year on July 17, 1070.

Baldwin had nominated his cousin Charles the Good as his heir. Charles was born in 1084 in Denmark to King Canute IV and his wife Adela of Flanders, a daughter of Robert The Frisian. After Canute IV had been murdered in 1086 in the church of Odense, Adela took her son for safety to Flanders. During Charles' reign a solar eclipse was followed by a great famine, but Charles took measures that helped to address the famine quickly.
Charles made increased use of courts to settle disputes, and tried to tackle corruption. That way, Charles managed to antagonize the Ergembald family, and also a man named Didier Hacket by punishing the man's son for his part in a feud. While praying prostate on the floor of the St-Donatien Church in Bruges on March 2, 1127, Didier and some henchmen entered the church and blocked off all the exits. Charles was attacked, and his head was cut off as he looked up. The murderes were arrested and executed, while 21 others were hanged from the tower of Bruges. All members of the Ergembald family were hunted down and killed.

Charles had died childless. His successor as Count of Flanders was the unpopular William Clito of Normandy. William was wounded in the hand by an arrow at Alost; it turned gangrenous, and he died on July 28, 1128. He was succeeded by Thierry of Alsace, another grandson of Robert The Frisian. His rule was moderate and peaceful.

Sources: 

28 February 2017

King Chilperic I (±539-584), the Nero & Herod of his time

Frankish King Chilperic I (±539-584) was one of the sons of Clothaire I of the French Merovingian dynasty. After his father’s death in 561 Chilperic became King of Neustria (the northwestern part of France). Chilperic’s reign saw the introduction of the Byzantine punishment of eye-gouging (the act of pressing or tearing the eye). After sizing some ecclesiastical property, chronicler Gregory of Tours described Chilperic as “the Nero and Herod of his time”.

Chilperic murdering his wife
Chiliperic had his first wife Audovera, the mother of 5 of his children, committed to a convent. There she was murdered in 580. Next, Chilperic married the Visigothic Princess Galaswintha (540-568) in 567, but soon tired of her. One day she was found strangled in bed. She may have been murdered at the instigation of Chilperic’s mistress, a serving-woman called Fredegund, who then married him. Rumour also had it that Chilperic himself had murdered his wife in bed (see picture). 
Since Chilperic’s brother Sigibert had married Galaswintha’s sister, the Visigothic Princess Brunhilda, the murder of Galaswintha resulted in a series of bloody wars. In 575 Fredegund had Sigebert assassinated. His widow Brunhilda then married her nephew Merovech, a son of Chilperic and his first wife Audovera. To nullify the marriage, Chilperic had Merovech tonsured and sent to a monastery to become a priest.

There is a story that one day Chilperic found his new wife Fredegund washing over a basin, and then smacked her bottom. She thought it was her lover and cried out “what do you think you are doing, Landeric?’ She saved herself by having her husband killed. Chilperic was stabbed to death by an unkown assailant. 

7 February 2017

The cruelty & bloodshed of Queen Keo Phimpha of Lan Xang

The notorious Queen Nang Keo Phimpha of Lan Xang in Laos may have been born as the eldest child of King Samsenthai (†1417) and his 1st-wife-and-1st-cousin, Queen Bua Then Fa. After Samsenthai's death Keo Phimpha intrigued and connived as King Maker and Breaker for the best part - or worst - of a decade.

In 1428 King Phommathath, Keo Phimpha's nephew, was beheaded on her orders within 10 months of his accession. Another nephew, King Youkhon, reigned for 8 months and then fled for his life before being killed on the others of his aunt. A 3rd nephew, King Konekham, reigned for 1½ year before Keo Phimpha had him murdered, too.
One of Keo Phimpha’s brothers, called Lue-Sai or Meunsai, who had earlier been passed over in the succession, was allowed to reign for 6 months before committing suicide in the Palace gardens. In 1436 Keo Phimpha raised another brother to the throne. This Khong Kham claimed to be a reincarnation of this own father. He died from a fit in 1438.

Then, finally, the aged Keo Phimpha mounted the throne herself. By then the Council of Ministers and the senior nobility had tired of her intrigues, cruelty and bloodshed. They succeeded in deposing Keo Phimpha within a few months of her accession. She was abandoned on a rock at Pha-Dieo, bound together with her husband and grandnephew, Wiang Pha. They died from either thirst, starvation or being eaten by wild animals.

25 January 2017

The brain damage of Charles The Young of Aquitaine (†866)

Emperor Charles the Bald (823-77) was a grandson of Charlemagne. He married twice and had several sons and daughters. In 855 Charles the Bald passed the rebellious Kingdom of Aquitaine to his son Young Charles (±847-866).

Charles The Bald
As Charles the Child became a teenager, he tried to exercise what little personal authority he could. In 862 he married a widow without his father's consent. Charles the Bald suppressed his son’s rebellion and forced Young Charles to put away his wife.

In 864 Charles apparently intended to play a joke on one Albuin during a hunt, ambushing him and stealing his horse. Albuin believed the assault to be genuine, and hit Charles on the head with his sword. Brain damage due to the blow left Charles mentally incapacitated. He never recovered and died 2 years later on September 29, 866.

Sources: J. Bradbury's The Capetians (Kings of France 987-1328) & wikipedia.