Tuesday, May 10


Hapsburgs! The Soap Opera

Abridged from an email sent to Lauren at Cnytr, who wanted to know more about Spain, the Hapsburgs, and other generally fascinatingly useless bits of information. This is all off the top of my head, so don't blame me if I'm wrong. Though I think most of it is actually pretty accurate. You Have Been Warned.

I'll start with the Reconquista, since that's where all the fun stuff begins... Though the Hapsburgs don't show up until maybe eight hundred years into the business. But whatever.

If I remember correctly, the Moors first invaded Spain in the year 800 and pretty much pushed the Christians to the far north of the country. Asturias, Galicia, some of northern Catalonia and Navarre are about the only bits of the country that remained largely free of Muslim control.

The details of the time period are somewhat hazy to me. The Muslims tended to alternate between moderate tolerance and persecution of the Christians under their rule. In the 850s, Cordoba was the subject of a number of pesecutions that if I remember correctly gave us several important Spanish martyrs. On the other hand, the Christians and the Jews managed to do well under later caliphs, considering a Mozarabic (Arabized Christian) culture developed under their rule and was surprisingly cultured, even though Christians remained second-class citizens and paid heavier taxes than their Muslim neighbors.

The Christians weren't as "intolerant" as people often make them out to be, either. Pedro the Cruel (or "The Just," as others have it) had Muslim craftsmen design his palace at Seville and kept a harem, while Ruy Diaz de Bivar el Cid Campeador (played by Charleton Heston, and later an unsuccessful candidate for sainthood) was esteemed by his Muslim enemies as a chivalric and courteous fighter. Also, the lines between Muslim and Christian struggles were often blurred, with sometimes Christians allying with Muslims and vice versa in various combinations to fight off their different enemies.

There were quite a few crusading moments, though. St. James and St. Emilian de la Colgada ("of the Hood"--no relation of Robin) appeared on horseback in full armor at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosas in 1215 to lead the Christians to victory, an event commemorated in the enjoyable though supremely hokey 1950s movie The Castillian (which ran once every three weeks on TNT during my childhood, and which I think starred some guy who usually was in surfer movies). Eventually, kingdom by kingdom, the Spaniards won their peninsula back and also, like with Pedro the Cruel, took many of the benefits of Muslim civilization back with them. It is no coincidence that the home of medieval Romance, the Occitan country of Provence, is next door to Spain. (Presumably, the Muslims of this period did more romantic things than putting garbage bags over their wives' heads).

And you already know about Raymond Llull, right?

At some point during all this, my maternal grandmother's family picked up their last name, de Varona. Stop me if I already told you this, but there was a castle in Spain (either in Castille or Leon, unless it was somewhere else) and the men of the family of the castle went off to fight the Moors (or maybe Leon or Castille, or someone else) and the daughter was left behind as chateleine (or the equivalent word in Spanish). This didn't please her terribly so she bound up her hair, disguised herself as a boy, and covered her face with a helmet. (She was, of course, very beautiful...not that my grandmother told me this, but it just figures.) She proved so successful in battle that she was to be honored with a knighthood (or something), and when she approached the king to be dubbed (or something) she took off her helmet and her hair came streaming down over her shoulders and the king, astonished, cried out, "no es varón, es varona!" (in modern Spanish, barón and barona), in other words, "this isn't a guy, this is a chick!" Sadly, we can't pin down the date on any of this, but as the Italians say, se non è vero, è ben trovato.

Anyway, by the 1490s, Spain was united largely between the Catholic Monarchs Fernando and Ysabel (played by Fay Dunaway). Ysabel is exceedingly cool, and some people want to canonize her. She rode in armor at the head of her troops during the siege of Granada, the capital of the last remaining bastion of Moorish control, a battle commemorated in the sprightly late-15th-century ditty, Levanta Pascual in which Pascual wakes up to see crosses atop the pinnacles of the formerly infidel city. Eventually Boabdil (which wasn't really his name, which nobody could pronounce anyway), the Moorish king, was ejected from his palace at the Alhambra and all Spain was Spanish again.

Ysabel's kid, Juan, was killed tragically, and the line of succession passed to Joan the Mad (Spanish, Juana la Loca, literally, Joan the Loca), who was sort of a medieval Morticia Addams as she spent much of her time trucking the body of her dead husband around Spain surrounded by monks, torches and general Goth paraphanalia. Her hubby, when he wasn't being dead, was Philip of Burgundy, who I think was a Hapsburg, or at least knew what bar stool to find them under on Saturday nights in Bruges. Joan was of course crazy as a loon, so when Fernando the King finally died in 1516, it was their son, Charles I and V, a Hapsburg, who ascended the throne. Juana didn't die until 1555.

Charles, well, he is sort of the Uncle Fester of the Spanish Hapsburgs. Detached, aloof, a little funny-looking, but brilliant in his own calculating way (and also fascinated by eel pies, which he spent much of his monastic retirement eating). He was a brilliant monarch and very Catholic, but he also somehow managed to have his army pretty much wreck Rome in 1527. The details of it are a bit vague but I remember the King's idiot assistant, the Constable de Bourbon, owed the largely Lutheran mercenaries some back pay and da boys kinda got out of hand and decided to go attack Rome. I imagine he didn't mind it so much as since he was Holy Roman Emperor as well as King of Spain, well, the Pope was always a bit of a problem to him anyway (his predecessor as Emperor, Maximilian, attempted to have himself elected pope to solve the problem, but it didn't work). Also, he, as with many of the Hapsburgs of his era, wasn't much to look at. I have been told I have a Hapsburg lip, but since I have none of them in my family tree and since they have a tendency to go crazy, I sincerely hope not. Mercifully, I don't have the chin, which makes Jay Leno look good by comparison.

Charles's kid, Philip II, is the Gomez Adams of our saga. Aloof, accustomed to dressing in black and being even more Goth-Catholic (in a nice way, mostly) than his nutty grandma, he spent much of his time building an enormous, delightfully creepy palace-monastery-college-church-tomb complex called the Escorial where he was going to be buried eventually. He also had good taste in funeral vestments, though he was a stick-in-the-mud and spent much of his time making memoranda, which, after his death, were carefully sorted, categorized, tied into bundles and thrown into the trash. He was also the person responsible for screwing up the Spanish Armada and thus indirectly to be blamed for the existence of Prince Charles, Guy Falwks day, and Yorkshire Pudding (which, despite my fondness for English cooking, is truly disgusting).

Nearly four hundred years after his death, Errol Flynn died in the Escorial while on location filming a Biblical epic about King Solomon. This is deeply ironic because not only did Errol Flynn star in a delighfully hokey film about the Spanish Armada in which he was condemned to a Spanish galley for being a stinking English pig-dog but also because Philip II designed the building to look like Solomon's temple, at least on the best advice of his librarian, Benito Arias Montano, who was mostly wrong. The Escorial later inspired a wacky Jesuit named Villalpanda to come up with a scholarly reconstruction of the Temple on Roman classical lines, in order to prove that the Greeks really stole all their ideas from the Hebrews.

His son, Philip III, presided over a golden age in which Cervantes wrote, Mateo Romero composed and the Duke of Lerma, his prime minister, ran the country into the ground through idiotic mercantilist policies which resulted in his leaving the Escorial forever through a back door in the middle of the night sometime around 1617. I guess Phil No. 3 is Pugsley. Lerma, well, I'm not sure. He rather reminds me of the evil fox in Pinocchio. After Philip III, most of the Hapsburg kings were pretty much Cousin Itt, a rather unimpressive assemblage of inbred monarchs who had lips like Mick Jagger and drooled a lot. Finally, when Philip V, a Bourbon, came in in 1715 after or in the middle (I forget) of the War of the Spanish Succession, Spain wasn't much to sneeze at politically.

The Austrian Hapsburgs are even more fun. In most cases, they were merely selfish and bossy and rather nice to look at rather than being crazy and drooly. Here are the highlights:

Maximilian I--le dernier chevalier, died 1517 or so, big into tournaments, flashy spectacles (though unlike the troubador and fellow tournament junkie Ulrich von Liechtenstein, he did not wander around Europe in a Venus costume). Wanted to be pope. Had Albrecht Durer design him a triumphal arch made out of paper.

Maria Theresa--sometime in the 1740s. Catholic, mother of around fifteen kids, and definitely wore the pants in the family. She thus rocks. Her slightly nitwitted hubby, Francis I of Lorraine lost his own country and got Tuscany as a door prize after the Medicis descended into gibbering idiocy. Potential for a sitcom here with John Cleese as Francis, maybe entitled A Problem Like Maria. One of her daughters was Marie-Antoinette (to be played by Kirsten Dunst in a new move. Really).

Joseph II--the heavyset guy in Amadeus. An Enlightenment despot, and probably an extremely intelligent upper-class twit. He closed down monasteries, got the Josephinist heresy named after himself and patronized Mozart. A mixed bag.

Francis II or I--Dissolved the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 after declaring himself Emperor of Austria in 1804 (a sportier, more aerodynamic title), switching post-nomial numbers to put Napoleon off the scent. When he ascended the throne there was only one slot left on the Big Hall of Paintings of the Emperors (something like that) in Frankfurt so maybe he figured it was better to make a good exit. Married his daughter Marie-Louise (kinda cute for a girl with Hapsburg lip) to the Corsican Ogre, Napoleon, after he divorced Josephine (also cute, for a girl with bad dental work--Josephine was probably the best thing that ever happened to Nappy, too, since Marie-Louise got Parma as after Napoleon got exiled, where she became Grand Duchess, ate large quantities of ham and took up with a one-armed count named Neipperg. Or was he one-eyed?

(Nappy's mom was probably the most sensible in the family--she stayed home to nurse Lucien who had a cold rather than go to Nappy's coronation and see himself make an idiot of himself in front of Pius VII. He never forgave Lucien for it.)

L'Aiglon--Aka Napoleon II, King of Rome, or Charles Francis somethingorother, Duke of Reichstadt. Napoleon I's sickly kid by M-L. Got carted off to Vienna as spoils of war in 1815 to die at age 21 in 1833 thus opening the way to Napoleon III to take over France in 1853 and also to be played by Sarah Bernhard about seventy years later on stage.. (She also did Hamlet and Lorenzo de Medici). Romantic but rather pointless. (L'Aiglon, not the Divine Sarah.)

Ferdinand I. All the emperors of Austria after Francis the First were also "the First." See this handy chart:

Francis I (1804-1834)
Ferdinand I (1834-1848)
Franz Joseph I (1848-1916)
Bl. Charles I (1916-1918, died at Madeira, 1922, incorrupt after death).

Ferdinand I was a gibbering idiot and mostly serves a a placeholder between Franz and Franz Joseph to prevent confusion. His head was too big for the Iron Crown of Lombardy when he was proclaimed King of Lombardo-Venetia, so they had to make this dumb hat with it stacked on top of it to make it fit.

Franz-Joseph I was a newer, hipper, non-crazy Hapsburg introduced to placate the mobs during 1848, the Year of Revolutions (think Woodstock, but with firearms, and angry Hungarians instead of hippies, and no music). He was sort of a Hapsburg version of John F. Kennedy but with weird facial hair, though he sort of turned into a central European version of General Stroessner of Paraguay. Think Pinochet, but wrinklier, since he hung around dressed up in white uniforms with ten pounds of brass macaroni on the collar until well past his expiration date and after most of his children had ended up either killing themselves or being used for target practice by Serbian terrorists. (I happen to like brass macaroni and would gladly be a Latin American dictator or Apostolic King of Hungary just for the uniforms.)

During his era, Vienna lapsed into a doomed and rather enjoyable decadence characterized by art nouveau buildings (Jugenstil or youth style, which Franz Joseph hated--one courtier characterized the Sezession Building's gilded dome as looking like a 'gilded cabbage' and when another building in the new style was built across the street, F-J ordered all the palace curtains drawn), Johann Strauss operettas, Freudianism, champagne, chocolate, champagne, and cool uniforms (and champagne). F-J is also famous for having unwittingly been the source of a type of steak cut, the tafelspitz or end-of-the-table, so named because he took so little interest in his meals that he ate so quickly that the subalterns at the end of the table had no time to start their dinners before he finished his, and when the Emperor stopped chowing down, everyone had to.

One of F-J's cool uniforms can be seen here.

I think in his old age he would have been like Grandpa Munster.

His main publicity asset was being married to the rather attractive Elisabeth "Sissi" von Wittelsbach (either Lilly Munster or maybe Marilyn, depending on whether she was running around in that nightgown of hers), a cousin of "Mad Ludwig" of Bavaria.

(I am told on good authority that Emmy Rossum wears a dress based on the famous Winterhaltur portrait of the Empress in last year's Phantom of the Opera movie. He did another one of her in the nightgown. I have no idea why...or I have no idea how someone could sleep in this mountain of tulle without suffocating.)

Elisabeth probably gets second place in the best-looking royals of Europe pageant, right after Empress Eugenie, Napoleon III's gal, but Eugenie de Montijo was only a countess (and Spanish!) before she was Empress and thus had less chance of inbreeding and should probably be handicapped in the runnings. Sissi was very useful as the Hungarians loved her primarily because she spent a lot of time dressed in their national costume, which sort of looks like a cross between Snow White, polka costumes and something Mimi from The Drew Carey Show would wear. Except somewhat less frightening. Maybe.

The Wittelsbachs are almost as crazy as the Spanish Hapsburgs, but much more likely to get asked to the Prom as they were probably one of the best-looking Royal Families around. Ludwig, who spent a lot of his times building castles, going on midnight snow rides, eating sweets, and letting Wagner mooch off him, probably would have had beautiful kids but 1) he was in love with Sissi, who was already taken (an unsuccessful attempt to marry her sister failed when she got sick of hearing how much she looked like Sissi, and plus they were second cousins or something, let's say it all together now:eeeewwww), and 2) he was...mmmm...how to put this...he would have fitted in great in present-day San Francisco. His brother Max was barking mad. (His granddad wasn't much better as he had to abdicate after an unfortunate liaison with Lola Montez--an exotic dancer from Scotland with a cheesy Spanish name--who he made a countess. On the other hand, he wasn't crazy, just a lech.)

Sissi was neurotic, loved riding on horses for hours, couldn't stand her mother-in-law, and had an eating disorder. In general, she drove Franz-Joseph crazy and he took a few mistresses, I think, which was a bad idea as it just made her even more upset and she took to wandering around Europe and hanging out in casinos and riding horses. Always about the horses! She eventually got shot by an anarchist in 1898.

Her kids weren't much better: Rudolf blew his brains out at Mayerling after he couldn't marry Countess Maria Vetsera (the only royal sucide, incidentally, to be ever made the subject of a joke in the Munsters, by Grandpa). Franz-Ferdinand (now the namesake of a pop group) would have made a good nineteenth-century melodrama villain given his fondess for shooting tame game birds fattened too much to really fly, though he did marry for love rather than kill himself, though Countess Sophie Chotek, who was still a commoner by Hapsburg family rules despite being a frigging countess. Which explains the inbreeding. She would have never become empress if she had lived to see her husband crowned (though Franz said he would have made her one anyway), and also probably didn't get the family Christmas card.

Blessed Charles (and his wife Zita, who died in 1989) was a cousin, and thus had a shot at being a bit better of a guy. He was a good man caught in a bad situation by all accounts (I mean, he ascended the throne in 1916, in the middle of a war!) and died in poverty in 1922. He got beatified last year I think.

I of course have been incredibly tacky and insensitive to these tragic figures. Someone's got to do it.

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