Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Game of Gay Thrones

Lists of lgbt people from history have always contained the names of kings and emperors – from the Chinese Emperor Ai to King Ludwig II of Bavaria. But thrones have always been challenged by usurpers, pretenders and the disinherited.

The gay King Edward II of England inherited his throne through at last 2 junior royal bloodlines. There were people with more senior bloodlines who could have been sovereign in his place if history had taken different turns. Even today over 2 dozen living people have more senior bloodline claims to the throne than Queen Elizabeth II, though all of them were barred from succession by various historic parliaments. Laws of succession are never set in stone. The UK last changed its succession laws in 2015.

People who have been suggested as monarchs have included gay or bisexual men. Some have also been nominated for the thrones of emerging nations. Below is a list of gay and bisexual men who have been nominated for, or have claimed thrones, in chronological order, with varying degrees of success.

1) Dmitriy I Ivanovich (d.1606), Tzar of Russia.
The most successful pretender was the man generally called The False Dmitriy I. Whether he was actually gay or bisexual is a matter of opinion. There’s no real evidence. Enemies of monarchs often use accusations such as sodomy or witchcraft to blacken the reputation of the king they want to get rid of. Dmitriy was accused of both. There are a couple of Russian nobles who are claimed as Dmitriy’s lovers, Prince Ivan Andreevich Khvorostinin (d.1623) and Petr Basmanov (d.1606). Dmitriy married a Polish noblewoman, probably to cement his already-established alliance with Poland, and it was with Polish help that he became tzar.

Dmitriy claimed to be the long-lost son and heir of Ivan the Terrible. That kind of claim works well if there’s an heir who had previously “disappeared”. When Tzar Boris Godunov heard about the pretender, Dmitriy fled to Poland where he gained the support of the Polish king. Together they attacked Russia. Boris died and Dmitriy was proclaimed tzar on 10th June 1605.

It wasn’t long before Dmitriy was challenged, especially because of his pre-western, pro-Catholic rule. Within a year Dmitriy experienced a revolt. A crowd of nobles and commoners stormed the Kremlin. Dmitriy sent Petr Basmanov to see what was happening and he was killed as soon as he left the chamber. Dmitriy jumped out the window to escape but was injured on landing and he was soon caught and killed also. Their corpses were stripped and dragged into Red Square where they remained for several days. Dmitriy’s body was then cremated and as the final insult, so the story goes, his ashes were shot out of cannon towards Poland.

2) Prince Heinrich von Hohenzollern (1726-1802), King of the USA.
We move on 181 years to the American Revolution. The circumstances surrounding the formation of the USA are well known, but what is not is the attempt to place a European prince on an American throne.

Prince Heinrich was the brother of King Friedrich II the Great of Prussia. Both were known to be partial to handsome young military officers. The only real connection Heinrich had with America was his friend Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, who had left Germany under a cloud of homosexual suspicion and had transformed an unorganised colonial militia into a national military force that kicked out a world power.

It took a few years for the US to decide on a form of government. In 1786 the Founding Fathers were beginning to consider a monarchy. Baron von Steuben was probably the first to suggest inviting Prince Heinrich to be the first King of the USA. There’s no documentary evidence which specifically mentions any offer but correspondence suggests some form of discussion on US constitutional affairs took place between the two. However, the idea of an American monarchy was soon dropped.

Prince Heinrich died childless in 1802 so it’s not really possible to say if he would have been succeeded by another family member, possibly even King Friedrich II himself, or another European prince. More likely, the present presidential solution would have been chosen.

3) Prince Henry Stuart, Cardinal Duke of York (1728-1807), King of Great Britain, Ireland and France.
Just 18 months after the supposed offer of the throne of the USA came a claim to the British, Irish and French thrones. Since 1701 all Catholics were barred from succession to the throne of Great Britain and those who supported the Catholic heirs of King James II, who had abdicated, became known as Jacobites.

Prince Henry Stuart (no.68 in my “Around the World in 80 Gays” series) was the grandson and last legitimate male line heir of King James II. He was born in exile in Rome was given the title Duke of York at birth. Technically, his father, The Old Pretender, had no authority to confer this title. In 1747 Pope Benedict XIV created the Duke of York a Cardinal-Deacon, and titular Archbishop of Corinth in 1758.

Cardinal York, as he wished to be known, tried to help get support for the failed Jacobite rising of 1745 led by his older brother Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Bonnie Prince died 1788 never achieving his dream of regaining his grandfather’s throne. Even though actual physical attempts to regain the British throne were abandoned the family’s claim never was. When the Bonnie Prince was seriously ill in 1784 Cardinal York issued a statement declaring his intention to carry on claiming the throne.

By 1788 Cardinal York seems to have stopped making any attempt to seize the British throne, though he signed his will “Henry R”, Henry the king. His many Jacobite supporters always referred to him as King Henry IX. On Cardinal York’s own death the Jacobite claim to the throne officially ended though an unofficial Jacobite line of succession still exists.

4) George Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824), King of Greece
This next claim is more hypothetical than actual. In 1823 the romantic poet Lord Byron, exiled from Britain after getting his sister pregnant, amongst other scandals, joined the independence struggle of the Greeks against the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The Greek rebels relied on financial support from European sympathisers and Byron was welcomed to their cause. This cause, however, didn’t last long for Byron. Just a few months after arriving in Greece he died of a fever.

There is no indication during his life-time that Byron, or any Greek rebel leader, had any thought of placing him on the throne of an independent Greece. In fact it is generally assumed by historians that the Greeks would have favoured a republic. There was no real discussion of a Greek monarchy until 1832.

In the style of the Romantic Movement to which Lord Byron belonged, the invitation to the Greek throne seems to have just been posthumous speculation to heighten his contribution to Greek independence.

5) Baron Franz Nopcsa (1877-1933), King of Albania.
Even in Lord Byron had no ambition to wear a crown a later baron certainly did. BaronFranz Nopcsa, a Transylvanian dinosaur hunter, had his eyes set on the throne of another nation which had gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, Albania.

The Baron’s knowledge of Albanian history and geography was second to none. He did, however, have an arrogance about him which led his to consider Albanians to be intellectually inferior and power hungry.

In 1913 the Congress of Trieste was convened to determine the government of Albania. Several foreign princes were invited to the Congress to discuss which was most suitable to be the King of Albania. Baron Nopcsa, merely a “volunteer” at the Congress on behalf of the Austro-Hungarian interests, systematically discredited each prospective monarch one by one, often by very dubious means. At that point the baron put himself forward to the Congress as an alternative candidate. His knowledge of Albanian history and culture may have been high but his knowledge of Albanian politics was non-existent.

Nopcsa’s candidacy needed the support of the Albanian Foreign Ministry but none was given. His attempts to discredit the original candidates were soon ignored and he too became the subject of smear campaigns. That’s international politics for you.

Baron Nopcsa left the Congress of Trieste in disgust before it ended, declaring that he was going to leave politics for good. In the end Prince Wilhelm von Weid was chosen as the first modern King of Albania in 1914.

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