Monday, 21 October 2019

Game of Gay Thrones: Part 3

When I wrote my original “Game of GayThrones” article in 2017 about lgbt claimants and pretenders to royal thrones I didn’t think there’d be any more. How wrong I was. Here I am with my third group, and there’s enough for a fourth next year. So, let’s get straight into it and find out about these other possible lgbt monarchs.

1) Hierocles (d.222) – proposed Emperor of Rome.

Hierocles was a Roman slave and the boy-lover to a future emperor, Gordian, but it is another emperor who proposed Hierocles as his heir. Gordian recognised Hierocles’ athletic abilities (I wonder how!) and taught him chariot racing. It was during a race that Hierocles came to the attention of the 19-year old Emperor Elegabalus.

During the race Hierocles fell out off his chariot right in front of the royal box (I don’t believe in coincidence). His helmet flew off to reveal his fresh young face and blond hair. Elegabalus was instantly aroused and wasted no time at all in rushing down to help the youth to his feet and whisk him off for a night of passion.

Now a freed slave and favourite male lover of the emperor Hierocles found himself as the “husband” in a same-sex marriage (Elegabalus was a hereditary High Priest, so he could perform any marriage he wanted). Unfortunately, Elegabalus wanted to make his “husband” his Caesar, effectively his imperial heir. Even Elegabalus’s politically powerful grandmother objected and persuaded him to nominate his cousin as Caesar instead. But for a while Hierocles was in the running for successor to the Roman Emperor.

It wasn’t that much later that the Praetorian Guard tired of Elegabalus’s ineffective rule and assassinated both him and Hierocles. The cousin became the new emperor.

2) César de Bourbon, 1st Duke of Vendôme (1594-1665) – progenitor of the bloodline of the current pretender to the Jacobite throne of Great Britain.

Here we deal with the most hypothetical claim to any throne I’ve mentioned. César was the eldest son of King Henri IV of France. However, he was born illegitimate and thus ineligible to succeed to the throne, even after he was legitimised in 1595. Consequently, César’s legitimately-born younger half-brother succeeded their father as King Louis XIII.

For most of King Louis’ reign César was involved in plots against the king’s chief ministers, Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin. The king exiled César several times, but they were eventually reconciled the year before Louis’ death in 1643. It is unlikely César had any plan to become king in place of his half-brother, only to replace his chief ministers.

César was reputedly bisexual. His town house in Paris was nicknamed the Hôtel de Sodome (House of Sodom). He married a wealthy duchess and it is through their heir that we encounter the Jacobite throne of Great Britain (mentioned in the first “Gay Thrones” article).

Cesar’s eventual heir was his great-grandson the King of Sardinia. The king married a French princess, the cousin of Prince Henry Stuart, the gay Jacobite “King Henry IX”. The son of the Sardinian king and queen thus became heir to both the Jacobite “Henry IX” and César, Duke of Vendome.

Let’s add more queerness – a more recent Jacobite heir, Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, was the heir of the gay King Ludwig II of Bavaria, so that’s three gay/bisexual men whose bloodline heirs eventually meet and are held by the current Jacobite claimant, the Duke of Bavaria.

3) Prince Philipp von Hessen, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel (1896-1980) – heir presumptive to the thrones of Finland and Chatti.

After the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire several Prince-Electors, a group of German princes who elected the Emperor’s successor, became kings by international treaty. Prince Philipp’s ancestor, Wilhelm II, Prince-Elector of Hesse, declared himself King of Chatti, the name of an ancient tribe who once lived in the Hesse region. An international congress of 1818 denied him this claim. A hundred years later his descendant Prince Philipp became heir to this rejected throne.

A real throne was available to Prince Philipp by this time. After World War I the newly independent Finland decided to become a monarchy. The parliament elected Prince Philipp’s father, Prince Friedrich Karl, as their first king. By now the Prince-Elector title had been dropped and Friedrich Karl was using the original family title of Landgrave (a high-ranking count) of Hesse-Kassel.

Philipp had a twin brother called Wolfgang, so did they become joint Crown Princes of Finland? It was decided that Philipp, the elder twin, would become Landgrave and Head of the Princely House of Hesse. Wolfgang would become Crown Prince of Finland. However, less than two months after making the offer the Finns decided to become a republic.

Recent biographies of Prince Philipp have suggested he was bisexual. He married and had several children. Like many influential aristocrats Philipp joined the Nazi party in the early 1930s and, also like many influential aristocrats, criticised Hitler’s regime during World War II. Philip’s father-in-law, the King of Italy, arrested the Italian fascist leader Mussolini in 1943 and Hitler believed Philipp was involved. Consequently Philipp and his wife were imprisoned in concentration camps, where his wife died. After being freed by US troops Philipp was held prisoner for another two years for his former role as Governor of Hesse under Hitler.

Finnish monarchists considered Crown Prince Wolfgang to be their king until his death without children in 1989. Prince Philipp predeceased him, but monarchists regarded him as heir presumptive, and the monarchists consider the throne of Finland passed to Philipp’s son.

4) Prince Manvendra Gohil Singh (b.1965) – heir to the Maharajah of Rajpipla.

Prince Manvendra is the only living male lgbt heir to a sovereign throne (I’ll mention the only living female heir to another throne in the next Gay Thrones article next year). The prince made headline news in 2006 when he came out publicly as gay.

The throne of Rajpipla in western India dates back to 1200. Under British rule the Maharaja of Rajpipla was accorded the style of His Highness. After India became independent in 1947 Rajpipla was merged with the Bombay Presidency. Indian maharajas retained their titles until the Indian government withdrew recognition of them in 1971. Even though no longer officially royal the many princely families in India are often still referred to by their former titles as a courtesy, as is also the case with deposed European royal dynasties.

Prince Manvendra will, in all probability, adopt the unofficial style of Maharaja of Rajpipla after the death of his father, even if Indian law doesn’t recognise it. No doubt he will still be referred to as a “gay Maharaja” in the media.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Xtremely Queer: Stepping Across the Steppes (Part 2)

Last month I wrote about the first expeditions of the Russian explorer Nikolay Przhevalsky (1838-1888). We left Nikolay and his 1879 expedition about to set off from the Russian frontier post in the Altai Mountains and head for the mysterious city of Lhasa in Tibet.

The expedition encountered blizzards and barren landscapes as they travelled southwards over the mountains to the infamous Takla Makan desert. At one point they came across the horrifying sight of the rotting remains of hundreds of nomads who had starved to death because they couldn’t make it through. Mirages, burning ground and salt-sand storms made life both disorientating and uncomfortable. At last the expedition reached the Humboldt Mountains south of the Takla Makan. These were named after the great gay explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859).

At the next outpost Nikolay could see the snow-capped Himalayas ahead but the going was slow. Golf ball-sized hailstones and snow blindness became a problem for both the men and animals, not to mention the daytime sun that burned their faces while their backs froze in the shade.

Advance parties found a mountain pass which led to a Buddhist pilgrim route. Further along the expedition entered the territory of a tribe called the Yograi. These were a fiercely independent people who were suspicious of every stranger. As the expedition rested the Yograi mounted an ambush. The expedition fought back and their guns were superior to the tribesmen’s weapons and the ambush was beaten off, leaving several of the Yograi dead and many injured.

Once through Yograi territory the expedition at last entered Tibet. By pure chance Nikolay encountered a Mongol pilgrim he had met some years earlier who warned him that Lhasa had got news of his approach and were preparing to prevent him from entering the city. Sure enough, the expedition met a contingent of Tibetan soldiers.

The expedition was only 160 miles (260 km) away from Lhasa. So near, and yet so far. Nikolay steadfastly refused to turn back unless he received a written order from the local governor. The governor himself came to deliver the order. Soldiers followed the disappointed expedition back as far as the Yograi territory. This time they made it through with no trouble.

By New Year 1880 the expedition was well on its way back to Russia with Nikolay’s dream of reaching Lhasa shattered. But the expedition was not all completely in vain. Nikolay had charted the route and collected thousands of specimens, including many plants and animals previously unknown to science.

Nikolay was feted by the tsar, the scientific community and the public, all clamouring to hear of his exploits. The authorities approved of another expedition, except that reaching Lhasa was to be a secondary aim. Expanding his previous surveys and finding the source of the Huang Ho River were his primary tasks.

The new expedition set off from northern Mongolia in late 1883 and arrived in Ulaan Baatar (now the capital city). The temperate was so cold that mercury froze in the thermometers but by New Year 1884 the temperature rose above zero. Tracking the Huang Ho River the route took the expedition around the eastern edge of the Humboldt Mountains. By May it had followed the river to its source and Nikolay completed his first task.

About 700 miles to the south west lay Lhasa and Nikolay’s long-held quest of reaching the city. Despite the intense cold and illness among the expedition members Nikolay made good progress for 100 miles to the Yangtse River. On the other side was last leg to Lhasa. Alas, the Yangtse was deep and fast-moving and its banks were steep and treacherous. Despite the offer of boats from local tribesmen Nikolay decided the risk to the pack animals was too great. There was no other way across and Nikolay chose to abandon his quest yet again.

The expedition headed back towards the source of the Huang Ho. By February 1885 he had reached Lob Nor, the lake on edge of the Takla Makan that he had visited in 1873. Travelling south-west towards Tibet Nikolay noticed that the Chinese authorities were going ahead of him all the way and doing their best to persuade the local tribes to restrict the amount of supplies he needed. They even blocked some of the ravines Nikolay needed to get through and was he exasperated at the attempts to stop him getting any further.

Finally, Nikolay had to concede defeat and decided to abandon all hope of reaching Lhasa. The expedition headed westwards for a couple of months until it reached the River Hotan. Following the river north Nikolay was able to survey the whole area and collect more animal and plant specimens. There was great jubilation when the expedition reached its official end at Karakol (in modern-day Kyrgyzstan) in November 1885.

Back in St. Petersburg Nikolay was again feted as a hero. Not only had he vastly improved the knowledge of plant and animal species (quite a few of them named after him) his survey provided vital information for the Russian military to help plan imperial expansion into central Asia and campaign against the Chinese. For eighteen months Nikolay’s life was a round of public appearances, lectures and official meetings. Yet he was still eager to get back through the wilderness and finally reach Lhasa, by force of arms if necessary.

In summer 1888 Nikolay’s next expedition set off for Karakol, the finishing point of his previous expedition. Following the Hotan River south would take him straight to Tibet. It would be easier this time because he had surveyed the route himself, of course.

When Nikolay arrived in Karakol he was behaving restlessly and complained of feeling unwell. He was hospitalised and the doctors diagnosed typhoid. Nikolay realised he was dying and his dream of reaching Lhasa would never become a reality. On 1st November 1888 Nikolay Przhevalsky died. He was buried, as he instructed, on the shore of Lake Issyk Kul nearby. In 1957 a museum dedicated to his life and work was opened in Karakol, though little, if anything, is mentioned of his relationships with the young protégés he took with him on each expedition.

Nikolay’s reputation as an explorer, geographer and zoologist cannot be overestimated, but he had personal characteristics common for his era and background which may trouble people today. He was racist, imperialist and mysogynostic, and would not achieve the same celebrity status if he lived today that he enjoyed in his lifetime. Yet, modern political correctness should not be imposed upon historical characters, not until a certain nation stops hero-worshipping the numerous slave owners among their past presidents.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Queer Achievement: A Polish Celebration

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

Earlier this year scientists solved a decades-old mystery surrounding the remains of a Polish general who fought in the American War of Independence. They declared that the general, Casimir Pulaski (1745-1779), was intersex. The story behind this mystery is itself worthy of a separate article for the future, but for today let’s celebrate by looking at his coat of arms (below).
Casimir (or Kazimierz in his native Polish) was born during the time of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He was a leading commander in a failed rebellion against Russian domination and was stripped of all his military honours. He escaped to France and then to America. Today is the anniversary of Pulaski’s death.

Polish heraldry differs from that of nations like the UK in that there was never any official state authority to regulate its use. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that Polish historians began to collect the many Polish coats of arms illustrated in various sources into one authoritative collection. Until then Polish heraldry was illustrated in family and local documents and non-Polish publications. Consequently, the coat of arms of one family could change with each generation.

The Polish feudal system in the Middle Ages also influenced how heraldry developed. There was more of a clan element to Polish feudalism. The Pulaski family belongs to a very large clan which includes families currently having over 900 different family names. Most of these names are based on the name of the town or village where that branch of the family lived. Going further back the Pulaski and the other 900 families descend from the Ślepowron family.

The Ślepowron family took its name from the village of Ślepowrony and their earliest known ancestor was called Wawrzęta Korwin z Ślepowron. This reveals the ultimate origin of the clan in the Korwin family. It was Wawrzęta who was granted the coat of arms (below left) in 1224 by the ruling prince of Poland. For several centuries there were variations on the design, with the crow facing the other way and/or standing on a crown instead of a log.
Heraldry has always used puns and visual clues to the identity of the family or original grantee of the coat of arms. The crow has been used across Europe as an emblem of unrelated families with similar names. Its Latin name is “corvus” (still used as the scientific name for the crow family of birds). Families such as Corvo, Corbett and, yes, even Corbyn, adopted crows in their coats of arms. Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition in the UK, is descended from a family who had three crows in their coat of arms.

Another member of the lgbt community was descended from Wawrzęta Korwin z Ślepowron and used his coat of arms. She was the Russian mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891). Her full family name was Korvin-Krukovskaya and also derives from “corvus”.

There’s a medieval family legend telling how the crow the family their name. They allegedly descent from a Roman general called Marcus Valerus. The legend says that Valerus confronted a huge barbarian warrior in battle. As he attacked the warrior a huge crow flew down and pecked the barbarian’s eyes out. Valerus killed the warrior and from then on he was called Corvus.

Another medieval legend explains why the crow has a gold ring in its beak. It relates to a king of Hungary called Matthias Corvinus Hunyadi (1443-1490), a supposed descendant of General Corvus. One day King Matthias took off his gold ring and put it aside whereupon a crow swooped down and flew off with it. The king followed the bird, killed it and retrieved his ring. From then on he put the ring in the beak of the crow on his coat of arms. In truth King Matthias has no Corvinus/Korwin ancestry, and the Korwins are not related to him. However, 17th century historians fabricated the connection and the gold ring was adopted by most of the 900 Ślepowron/Korwin families, including the Pulaskis.

The crow also appears as the crest on top of the helmet in most of these Ślepowron/Korwin families. The helmet itself, and the coronet on top of it, is traditional in the heraldic achievements of Polish non-titled aristocracy like the Pulaskis.

The Pulaski branch of the Ślepowron/Korwin family later added a horseshoe to the coat of arms. They also changed the colour of the shield from red to blue. These changes occurred through the marriage of an ancestor to an heiress in the Pobog family. The Pobog family coat of arms (above right, next to the red coat of arms of Wawrzęta Korwin z Ślepowron and Sofia Kovalevskaya) contains a horseshoe and cross.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Homohoax: Daughters of a Poetic Hoax

Today’s article is about another hoax connected to the lgbt community. Earlier the year I described how one of the earliest gay rights organisations in the USA, the Mattachine Society, got its name from a group of masked performers of satirical plays in medieval France. Contemporary to the US Mattachine Society was a lesbian rights organisation called the Daughters of Bilitis. They got their name from a literary hoax.

Let’s start by looking at the name Bilitis and at who she was, or wasn’t.

In 1894 a book was published in Paris called “Les Chansons de Bilitis” (The Songs of Bilitis). It was a collection of erotic lesbian poems that had been translated from their original Greek into French by an author called Pierre Louÿs (1870-1925).

In his introduction to the poems Louÿs described them as autobiographical works by Bilitis, a courtesan from the southern coastal region of Turkey called Pamphylia who, through a series of failed or abusive relationships, settled first in Mytilene on Lesbos and then on Cyprus. On Lesbos Bilitis got to know the island’s most famous inhabitant, the female poet Sappho. Pierre Louÿs assumes that Sappho taught Bilitis the art of poetry.

“Les Chansons de Bilitis” were set out to illustrate her life. The first part recounts Bilitis’ childhood in Pamphylia. She falls in love with a man who later rapes her. However, she marries him and bears him a child. Her husband continues to be abusive and Bilitis feels she has no choice but to abandon the marriage and her child and escapes to Lesbos.

The second part of the “Chansons” sees Bilitis in Mytilene on Lesbos. Through Sappho she meets a young girl called Mnasidikia. The friendship between them lasts ten years, but the love Bilitis had for Mnasidikia was unrequited. Eventually Bilitis becomes jealous of the attentions Mnasidikia is getting from men. Once again she thinks it is best to move on.

Bilitis arrives on Cyprus still yearning for Mnasidikia. The final “Chansons” tell us that she became a courtesan in the cult of Aphrodite. Louÿs suggests that Bilitis wrote her poems late in life while on Cyprus.

Bilitis died and was buried on Cyprus is a magnificent terra cotta coffin within the underground chamber. This was rediscovered in 1864 by a German archaeologist called G. Heim. The coffin lid bore the sculpted face of its occupant. Inside was her body. Around the walls of the chamber were black stone tablets on which were inscribed the poems Bilitis had written.

Thirty years after the discovery of her tomb the poems of Bilitis were translated and published by Pierre Louÿs as “Les Chansons de Bilitis”. It was a huge success and was hailed by scholars as an important addition to literature and history. It received praise in particular for its lesbian eroticism.

But there were some scholars who were mystified by this sudden appearance of a previously unknown poet with such a significant amount of work. There were also a few literary critics who suspected that the poems were not from ancient Greece at all.

Eventually, Pierre Louÿs came clean and admitted that “Les Chansons de Bilitis” were fake and that he had written them himself. A clue to the hoax comes in the name of the archaeologist who was alleged to have found the tomb and poems, G. Heim. This is a pun on the German word “geheimnis”, which means “secret”. You might have thought that the confession of a hoax might have upset both the literary and academic worlds, but it didn’t.

What Louÿs did from the start was study actual ancient Greek poetry and literature and produce a modern work imitating the ancient style. It’s a technique that wasn’t new (the fake poems of an ancient Scottish poet called Ossian had captured the public’s imagination a century earlier), and is still sometimes used today (a novel written entirely in Middle English was published recently).

“Les Chansons de Bilitis” came to be seen as an example of sincere imitation through academic research, and remains so.

So, how did a literary hoax inspire the name of a lesbian organisation in the USA? Despite being a popular book on continental Europe “Les Chansons de Bilitis” was relatively obscure in America. During the 1950s several lgbt groups formed, including the Daughters of Bilitis which was founded by several lesbian couples in San Francisco in October 1955. At their second meeting they chose their organisation’s name.

The name Bilitis was chosen deliberately because it was obscure. The general public had never heard it before but it was quite well-known among the many lesbians who had obtained privately printed copies of “Les Chansons de Bilitis”. Because of its erotic content the book was subject to censorship and not available publicly. It was obscure enough for the Daughters of Bilitis to use it with the comfort of knowing that the general public wouldn’t be aware of the sexual focus of the organisation while many lesbians would.

The organisation’s name also echoes that of several women’s charitable and social organisations across the USA, in particular the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organisation of women descended from soldiers who fought in the War of Independence. The choice of “Daughters of” for the lesbian organisation gave it an air of respectability.

The Daughters of Bilitis enjoyed a successful existence for a few years, but the emergence of more radical feminism in the 1960s created a schism in the organisation. Despite this, the Daughters of Bilitis were an important part of the pre-Stonewall lgbt rights movement and went on to inspire other female groups.
Album cover of a very rare vinyl recording of “Les Chansons de Bilitis” produced in 1961 in France.