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Subject: ‘Royalty’

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Czar Paul’s one ambition was to avenge his father’s death

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about Czar Paul of Russia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 599 published on 7 July 1973.

Czar Paul of Russia,  picture, image, illustration
When Catherine the Great died, Czar Paul of Russia shed no tears of grief but cried out an inner cheer of vengeful delight

The small squat ugly man stood looking at the coffin of his mother, Catherine the Great, still lying in state. There were no tears in his eyes. His face was white and the muscles of his face twitched – but this was anger not sorrow. Suddenly he raised his clenched fists upwards and hissed: “And now at last I shall have my revenge!”

This was Czar Paul of Russia who in 1796 had just succeeded to the throne. His mother, Catherine the Great, believed that his fits of uncontrollable temper bordered sometimes on madness and that he was not suited to take her place and rule over Russia. She meant to name Paul’s son, Alexander, as next Czar, but her death from a sudden stroke prevented her from making her intentions known publicly. And so Paul became Czar of Russia.

Paul had always disliked his mother while she for her part had treated him with contempt and hostility. He had been brought up by his aunt, the Empress Elizabeth. When Elizabeth had died, Catherine had still shown no interest in her son. Paul had married when he was 19 but his wife died a few months later. Soon after, he married again, this time a Prussian princess – Maria. Catherine only showed some interest when Paul’s son was born. She held an enormous banquet in his honour, and then took the baby Alexander from his parents to be brought up by herself.

Paul had always firmly believed – and probably not without reason – that his mother was in some way to blame for the murder of his father, Peter the Third. Now that his mother had died, it was his opportunity to show some gesture of revenge.

First he ordered that the body of his father, killed 34 years ago, should be exhumed and placed in a coffin alongside that of his mother. The two coffins, side by side, formed the head of the vast and long funeral procession. And then the man who Paul knew to be guilty of the actual deed of killing his father – Count Alexis Orlov – once a strong fierce soldier but now an old man – was forced to walk behind the two coffins carrying Peter the Third’s crown in his hand. The bodies of Peter and Catherine were then buried together.

But Paul’s revenge was not yet complete. Catherine had had a favourite admirer who had helped and advised her during much of her reign. His name had been Potemkin and Catherine had been desolate when he had died a few years before her. Paul now had Potemkin’s remains dug up and scattered into a ditch to lie there forgotten.

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Catherine the Great was a warrior empress with literary taste

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about Catherine the Great first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 598 published on 30 June 1973.

Catherine the Great,  picture, image, illustrationv
Supported by loyal troops Catherine took Czar Peter prisoner and became ruler of Russia, by C L Doughty

It was midnight at the prison of Ropsha in St. Petersburg. In the largest of the stone cells a man, still dressed, sat on his bed listening to the sounds of revelry and laughter from along the corridor. The noise sounded strangely ominous to him. He pulled his white silk scarf tighter about his neck to warm himself against the chill of the room, and shivered back against the pillows.

This man, until a few weeks ago, had been Peter the Third, Czar of all Russia. Then the Russian army had deposed him and proclaimed Catherine, his wife, as sole ruler. Now he was a prisoner. But a very favoured prisoner. He had been allowed his violin and his favourite dog. And when Peter had complained about not being able to sleep, Catherine had ordered that his own bed should be taken from the Palace to Ropsha prison to make his nights more comfortable.

Suddenly the noise grew louder and there were footsteps in the corridor. Then the door burst open and the room was filled with prison guards. At their head, Peter recognised Alexis Orlov – his most dreaded enemy, and one of the men who had led the revolt that had toppled him from the throne.

The guards had obviously been drinking. They danced and sang bawdy songs round his bed. Orlov held out a glass to Peter and filled it with wine. “It’s a party in your honour,” he said but there was a hint of mockery in his eyes.

Then, as Peter took the glass, a sudden brawl broke out. Two of the guards started fighting and fell across Peter’s bed. It was as if it had been arranged. Immediately Orlov sprang upon them as though to tear them apart. Instead, his hands fastened on Peter’s white silk scarf, pulling tightly at the ends. Within a few minutes, Peter the Third was dead.

A message was sent to Catherine. It told her that the ex-Czar of Russia, her husband, had been accidentally killed in a drunken brawl. She received the news calmly and informed the Russian people that her husband had died of natural causes.

Catherine was indeed now sole ruler of Russia.

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The Man in the Velvet Mask still guards some of history’s secrets

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Mystery, Royalty on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about the Man in the velvet/iron mask first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 598 published on 30 June 1973.

Man in velvet mask,  picture, image, illustration
English rebel, son of a king or a minor Italian nobleman — who was the Man in the Mask held in the Bastille? Picture by Neville Dear

On an early autumn afternoon in 1698, a litter, with curtains tightly drawn, was carried into the Bastille, the formidable fortress on the east side of Paris. The great gates closed behind it with that deep, resonant boom the litter’s occupant knew only too well.

Hands drew the curtains aside, and he stepped out into the courtyard.

He paused for a moment, his eyes scanning the high stone towers that reared up above him.

The heavy velvet mask that covered his face was beginning to itch: he longed to remove it, but he knew that the Sieur de Saint-Mars, his jailer for nearly thirty years, was standing too close by, and was watching him intently. If he tore off the mask to let fresh air reach his prickling skin, Saint-Mars might kill him where he stood, just as he had once threatened him with death if he attempted to tell anyone what he knew.

That evening, when the masked man was safely locked away inside his cell, Saint-Mars sent word to King Louis XIV’s Minister for War that France’s most secret, most confidential state prisoner was once more safe from curious eyes. As ordered, no one had been allowed to scrutinise or recognise him on the long journey north from the Isle de Ste Marguerite.

On that journey, a few peasants had had a glimpse of the prisoner when he and Saint-Mars had stopped at a chateau near Villeneuve. But all they had seen was a tall, long-haired man, anonymous and faceless behind his ever-present mask.

Almost two centuries passed before anyone was able to enlarge on this flimsy evidence, and give the mysterious prisoner a name. But during that time, speculation bred a whole range of ingenious theories, and also made the velvet mask into something truly sinister.

It was Voltaire who first suggested that it had “springs of steel.” From there, it grew into the cruel restricting mask of iron, of which Dumas wrote in his novel “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1848-1850).

Dumas, like Voltaire, named the prisoner as the twin brother of Louis XIV. He was also identified, however, with various French and English noblemen, the playwright Moliere, and perhaps more reasonably, with a man known to have been a political prisoner of Louis XIV.

This was Ercole Matthioli, envoy of the Duke of Mantua, who had deeply angered Louis in 1679 when he betrayed the French king’s secret purchase of a Mantuan fortress: in revenge, Louis had Matthioli kidnapped and imprisoned.

A less dramatic, but far more likely candidate than any of these was Eustache Dauger, who was named in 1890 by biographer Jules Lair. Forty years later, in 1930, the historian Maurice Duvivier pieced together Dauger’s history which, as far as official records are concerned, ended abruptly in 1668.

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Czar Peter III was murdered by his wife, Catherine the Great

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about Czar Peter III first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 597 published on 23 June 1973.

Peter III of Russia,  picture, image, illustration
Peter III of Russia

It was the evening of Christmas Day, 1761. Peter, who had been appointed Czar of all Russia that very day, was holding a sumptuous and riotous supper party in the vast banqueting chamber of the glittering royal palace in St. Petersburg. He had insisted that his guests wore their gayest clothes. He laughed and joked incessantly while the court musicians played loud, merry music. There was nothing to indicate that in the very next room the body of his aunt, the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, lay in state, surrounded by weeping mourners. She had died that very morning.

Early in the new year, the funeral took place. The funeral procession was huge and magnificent. Thousands lined the streets to see it. But Peter seemed unaware of the solemnity of the occasion. He walked behind the hearse, two courtiers carrying his regal train. He laughed and giggled to himself like a child intent on playing pranks. Suddenly he would stop so that the hearse went on several yards ahead while the entire procession behind came to a halt. Then Peter would run on, capering madly, leaving the procession to catch up with him as best they could. To Peter, the funeral of his aunt seemed like some ridiculous game.

This was Peter the Third, the man who was now ruling Russia. It was hardly surprising that his reign was to continue for only three years, or that it should end in violence and death. But Peter, on this funeral day, could know nothing of that. Nor could he know that he was to be the one short link between two great Empresses of Russia – Elizabeth, his aunt, and Catherine, his wife, later to be known as Catherine the Great.

Peter was born in 1728. He was only three months old when he lost his mother, the beloved sister of Elizabeth, Empress of Russia. His father neglected him and during his childhood Peter suffered more neglect and ill-treatment. Then his father died too and Peter became an orphan.

When Peter was 14 years old and then Duke of Holstein, Elizabeth arranged for him to be brought to Russia. Elizabeth had adored her sister. She was determined to do all she could for her nephew. She had decided that she would make Peter heir to the throne of Russia.

She quickly discovered that Peter was a thin, awkward child with rounded and almost deformed shoulders, and a thin, high-pitched voice. Elizabeth did everything she could to try and improve his poor health and his loutish ways, but Peter responded to none of this. He was cowardly and boastful. He was also destructive by nature, and when given toys he would pull them to pieces and then lose interest in them.

However, Elizabeth, was determined that he should be the next Czar of Russia. When Peter was 16, she decided that it was time he should marry. She had already chosen the bride – an obscure German Princess, Sophia. Sophia was brought to Moscow and educated to Russian ways. She was even made to change her name to Catherine, after Elizabeth’s mother.

Previously, Catherine had only seen a miniature portrait of her husband-to-be. This had depicted Peter as a handsome young man. She was horrified when she first met him and found that he was childish, cruel, ungainly and almost repulsive. But nevertheless the marriage took place.

Five years later, a son was born – Paul. The Empress Elizabeth immediately had the baby taken under her own care. Catherine was heartbroken. Indeed, it was 40 days before she even had a first glimpse of her son. But Peter remained completely disinterested.

And now Peter, at the age of 34, was the rightful Czar of Russia.

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Peter the Great was a political genius and brutal autocrat

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty, Ships on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about Peter the Great first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 596 published on 16 June 1973.

Peter the Great,  picture, image, illustration
Dressed as an English sailor, Peter the Great helped shape oaken timbers and to build great sailing ships, offering no hints that he was Czar of Russia

He was dressed in the uniform of an English sailor. Each day he toiled long hours at Deptford docks in London, helping to shape the oaken timbers and to build the great sailing ships that then, in 1698, were second to none in the world.

He was a giant of a man, nearly seven feet in height. He said little, but his eyes were always alert, watching, learning. The way his great hands caressed the wood showed only that here was a man with an obsessive love for ships. And the humble way in which he obeyed orders gave no hint as to his true identity. For this was Peter the First, Czar of all Russia – the Czar who was to become known as Peter the Great.

Peter’s love for ships had begun long ago. Much of his childhood had been spent in a suburb of Moscow mainly peopled by foreigners. It was here that he met Brandt, a Dutchman who at one time had been a shipbuilder. He told Peter about the great ships that sailed the world. Peter had never before seen a sailing ship. Together, he and Brandt built a boat and Brandt showed him how to sail it. He did not know it then, but this was to be his first step towards the future creation of a Russian navy.

Peter’s other great love was playing soldiers. As a small boy he had played long hours with his wooden toy soldiers, working out long complicated manoeuvres far beyond the intelligence of any ordinary child. Later, as a youth of nineteen, Peter organised two real regiments of soldiers, attending to every detail even down to designing their uniform. But he still treated them as toys. He sent them into a “mock” battle against each other. However, the battle proved to be more realistic. One man was killed, many seriously injured, and Peter himself had his face badly burned by an exploding shell.

Peter had had a confused and frightening upbringing. Peter the Great’s father, Czar Alexis, had died leaving a second wife and the children of his two marriages – Ivan and Sophia by his first marriage, and Peter by his second. This could only result in conflict and a struggle for the vacant thrown of Russia. During this conflict, Peter was to see much violence and bloodshed which made him realise how cheaply human lives could be held.

Sophia was the eldest of the children and the most ambitious. Ivan was sickly and weak. Peter, by contrast, was a healthy strapping child but far too young then really to know what was going on. And so Sophia was able to intrigue cleverly with the help of her admirer, Prince Golitsyn. She gained the support of the special regiments of the army known as the Streltsy and so came virtually to rule Russia. She had Ivan and Peter proclaimed as joint Czars with herself acting as Regent. The two children would sit on a special double throne with Sophia concealed behind the curtains whispering the words she wanted them to say.

When he was 16, Peter was persuaded to marry. It was to be an unhappy match. Peter was clumsy, rough and blunt, more like a peasant than a Czar. His wife on the other hand was of noble birth and upbringing. They had little in common. Even the birth of a son, Alexis, did nothing to make their marriage happier.

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Boris Godunov wanted to erase the Romanovs from Russia

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about Russia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 595 published on 9 June 1973.

Ivan the Terrible and son,  picture, image, illustration
Ivan the Terrible's queen with their son, Dimitry by C L Doughty

Prince Adam of Poland was being dressed by his valet one morning when the valet’s hand slipped on a button tearing it away from the richly embroidered waistcoat. Enraged by this carelessness, Prince Adam slapped the valet hard across the head and sent him stumbling to the floor. The valet looked up at Prince Adam and said “You would not have done that if you knew my true identity.”

“And what is that?” the Prince demanded.

“I am Dimitry, son of Ivan the Fourth, and the true Czar of Russia.”

Prince Adam questioned the young man closely and he was soon convinced that his story was true. Within a few hours he had Dimitry robed in rich clothes and was making preparations to take him to the capital of Krakow to see the Polish King.

When Ivan the Fourth of Russia had died he had left two sons – Fedor and the baby Dimitry. Fedor remained at the Russian Court but Dimitry was taken by his mother to the royal estate at Uglich, Fedor was proclaimed Czar.

Fedor was very different from the cruel merciless man who had been his father. Fedor had been sickly from birth and suffered from a weakness of his legs that made him unsteady on his feet. When he was proclaimed Czar at the age of twenty-seven he still possessed no more than the mind of a child. His main pleasure was to rush about the city ringing the church bells. It was obvious that even though he was rightful Czar, somebody else would have to be the guiding hand for Russia. The man who gained this position was Boris Godunov, the person who had acted as chief adviser to Ivan the Fourth during his last years.

In 1591 there came news that the younger son of Ivan, Dimitry, had been murdered in Uglich and that the angry townspeople had seized the murderers and executed them without trial. Boris conducted an investigation into the affair and then declared that Dimitry had died accidentally by falling on to a knife while he was playing. The truth of the matter has never been discovered, but certainly there is good reason for thinking that Boris was responsible for Dimitry’s death, just as seven years later he was probably responsible for poisoning the sickly Czar Fedor.

By then Boris had complete control of the army. Boris went into seclusion at a monastery and then ordered his army to force the people of Moscow to go to the monastery and implore him to be their new Czar. He let the people stay kneeling in the thick snow for days before he finally accepted what he had wanted right from the start – the throne of Russia.

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The poet Francois Villon was King of France for a day

Posted in Legend, Literature, Myth, Oddities, Royalty on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about France first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 595 published on 9 June 1973.

Francois Villon the vagabond King,  picture, image, illustration
Francois Villon, the vagabond King

Did medieval Paris really have its own underworld monarch, the king of the beggars? Is it historically true that, for a joke, King Louis XI went so far as to make this arch-criminal king of France for twenty four hours? Was the beggar king a spare time poet, as well as a soldier of such ability that he saved his city from capture during his brief reign? Was there ever, in fact, a man behind the legend of the Vagabond King?

It was always a good story, and in one form or another it has cropped up again and again over the years. Books, plays, even an opera have been written round the cheerful 15th century crook who was supposed to have made the most of a royal whim. It always sounded too far-fetched a story to be true, and few scholars would have wasted their time over such an improbable tale if the Vagabond King had not possessed a name. Fortunately one crops up in all the stories: Francois Villon.

At least we know that this man was real enough. He was born in Paris in the year 1431, and became a Master of Arts at the university of that city, as well as finding fame as a poet whose work is one of the glories of France.

If this makes him sound an unlikely candidate for the title of the Vagabond King, it must be remembered that legends have an almost uncanny knack of proving themselves to be true.

Nevertheless, for four hundred years nobody read Villon outside his homeland, and it was not until half-way through the 19th century that a number of English poets began to translate his work, much of it written in medieval French slang. Suddenly people wanted to know more about this man whose words had the power to make 15th century Paris jump into focus like a film.

For a time, the Vagabond King story was widely believed. Then, as Villon’s works became more and more fashionable, historians began to wonder just how much of the strange tale was really true. The search for the Vagabond King had begun.

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Plots and paranoia engulfed the reign of Ivan the Terrible

Posted in Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

This edited article about Ivan the Terrible first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 594 published on 2 June 1973.

Ivan the Terrible,  picture, image, illustration
Ivan the Terrible

The eight-year-old boy stared down from the high Kremlin tower at the Red Square far below. His mother, the Empress Helen, put her arm round his thin hunched shoulders. “Never forget,” she said “that you are the true Czar of Russia. All that you see before you now – Moscow and the Kremlin – was built by your father and your grandfather. They ruled sternly but wisely. In time you will have to do the same.”

The empress spoke sadly. She knew that the future would not be easy for her son. A nobleman, Prince Shuisky, was already clamouring for power. And perhaps, too, she had some strange presentiment of her own fate. For next morning, her features contorted in agony, the Empress Helen was found murdered in her bed, poisoned by an unknown hand.

Czar Ivan the Fourth was alone. Later, history was to brand him as Ivan the Terrible. But for the moment he was a defenceless child, surrounded by the intrigues of the Russian Court.

When Ivan’s father had remarried against the wishes of the Church, the Church Patriarch had told him that any child of that marriage would be evil and would bathe his country in blood. That prediction was to come terrifyingly true.

Ivan’s father had died a few years later. Ivan had succeeded him as Czar at the tender age of three, his mother ruling in his name. And now his mother was dead, and there was only the power-hungry Prince Shuisky.

Ivan had a certain instinct of royalty. He knew that he was rightfully Czar, but that for the moment he was just a child. He must be patient, he must wait. The waiting was not easy. Prince Shuisky made certain of that. Ivan was brought up within the royal Russian Court but was allowed little pleasure. The people and the nobles knew that Ivan was Czar but they knew too the power of Prince Shuisky. His word was law. Ivan was kept in the background. Prince Shuisky openly taunted and bullied him, while his followers insulted and ignored the boy.

But there still remained within the child that sense of majesty and the knowledge that one day he would be Czar.

The years passed. It seemed that Prince Shuisky ruled supreme and that Ivan was a forgotten prince. And then, at the age of thirteen – grown old before his time because of those years of torment and humiliation, Ivan suddenly turned upon Prince Shuisky. He denounced the man as a usurper and demanded that he be given his rightful punishment. The people realised that Ivan’s royal blood was asserting itself. His demand was obeyed, Prince Shuisky was arrested, and at Ivan’s command, he was thrown to the royal hounds and torn to pieces.

Prince Shuisky was dead. Long live Ivan the Fourth!

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The Palace of Whitehall in London about 1680

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, London, Royalty on Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Palace of Whitehall about 1680,  picture, image, illustration
A reconstruction of the Palace of Whitehall in London about 1680 by Peter Jackson

This detailed architectural drawing is a reconstruction of the Palace of Whitehall around 1680, a few years before the Glorious Revolution. The Palace was a treasure house of the ancient and the modern, with many buildings dating back to mediaeval times alongside the magnificent new additions of the Tudor and Stuart period. The original residence had been bought by the Archbishop of York in the 13th century, but once it was acquired by Cardinal Wolsey its splendour was not long in the making. Henry VIII acquired it after the vainglorious prelate’s demise, and it served as the monarch’s palace until 1698 when it was almost entirely destroyed by fire, save for the magnificent Banqueting House built in 1622 to the designs of Inigo Jones, its interior painted by Rubens a decade later. It stands at the centre of our reconstruction, while to the right can be seen the Horse Guards barracks and at the top the Holbein Gate, the entrance to the Palace of Whitehall.

Many more pictures relating to Whitehall in London can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Several pretenders claimed to be King Louis XVII of France

Posted in Historical articles, History, Revolution, Royalty on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about Louis XVII first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 593 published on 26 May 1973.

Louis XVII in the Temple,  picture, image, illustration
Louis XVII in the Temple

The boy stood in the dank, filthy cell staring balefully at the three men, his eyes gaunt, his face parchment pale. With his overlong legs and his arms hanging ape-like from a stunted trunk, he looked deformed.

Mathieu, Recerchon and de la Meuse, the delegates from the Paris Committee of General Security, flinched slightly at the sight, but otherwise appeared unmoved. Stony-faced, they nodded to each other, then turned and left.

The heavy cell door clanged as it closed. The bolts rasped shut. The child whom the world believed to be Louis XVII, nine-year-old King of France, was alone once more inside the dungeons of the Temple.

This empty royal title came to the son of Louis XVI on 21st January, 1793, the day his father was guillotined by a resentful and rebellious people. Louis XVI died as plain “Louis Capet,” for in the orgy of violence, murder and revenge that marked the French Revolution, the monarchy was swept away, as well as the monarch.

However, though France had officially became a republic on 10th August, 1792, there remained those stubborn royalists who proclaimed as Louis XVI’s successor the young boy imprisoned in the Temple.

Equally naturally they plotted to rescue him, an event greatly feared by the revolutionary government in Paris.

On 3rd July, 1793, young Louis was forcibly parted from his mother, Queen Marie Antoinette, and flung into a solitary cell, where he was rigidly guarded day and night, and regularly visited by members of the Committee of General Security.

The visit of Mathieu, Recerchon and de la Meuse, on 19th December, 1794, was among the last the hapless prisoner received. His miserable “reign” ended less than six months later, on 8th June, 1795, when he died of chronic tuberculosis. Two days afterwards, he was given a lonely burial in the cemetery of Ste. Marguerite.

The atmosphere of secrecy in which the last months of his life had been spent quickly produced a profusion of rumours hinting that his rescue had succeeded despite the diligence of the Temple guards.

The idea remained no more than rumour for some 50 years, until 1846, when the young prisoner’s body was exhumed and examined by two leading doctors.

The results were both startling and puzzling.

The long-legged, short-bodied corpse was undoubtedly that of the boy seen by Mathieu and his companions, but it was not the body of King Louis XVII.

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