Sunday 27 November 2022

Advent 1: A Market For It

Here we are again. It’s almost Christmas and I’m beginning my annual Advent series. Last year I looked at various seasonal characters who were either gender-variant, had changed gender over the centuries, or were played by people of the opposite gender. This year I’m looking at what some members of the lgbt community do to keep the Christmas spirit going.

There’s only really one place to go to in order to celebrate a traditional Christmas – Germany and Austria (that’s two, I know, but they share many cultural elements). No-one does a traditional Christmas better than them, and they have already started with one of the seasonal events they created – the Christmas Market.

Some cities now have regular lgbt Christmas Markets held at the same times. Here are three German/Austrian lgbt markets and a Christmas connection for each host city. Let’s start with the city which claims to have held the first ever seasonal market, Vienna.

VIENNA – The forerunner of the modern Christmas market was the December or Winter market. The first of these was held in Vienna way back in 1296. Permission to hold a special market was granted by Emperor Albrecht II in order to allow local people to stock up on goods to get them through the winter. Today the Vienna Christmas market is the biggest in the world, comprising of several separate markets held simultaneously.

The first Vienna lgbt Christmas market appears to have been in 2014 under the name of Pink Christmas. As well as the usual gift and food stalls there was plenty of entertainment. The market was held in the heart of the city’s gay village in the Naschmarkt area. The market was held again in 2015, but it seems to disappear after that.

Another way that Christmas can be made special is by celebrating it for the first time in a new home. One Viennese resident did just that at Christmas 1928. He was the famous gay philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). The new home in question still exists. It is situated a 9 Kundmanngasse and is still known as Haus Wittgenstein.

It was Ludwig’s sister Margaret who commissioned the building. She asked Ludwig to help in the design and he took great pains to get the details right, taking a year just to design the door knobs. When it was completed it got a mixed reception from the family. Half of them liked it, but the other half didn’t, including Ludwig himself who said it was too austere.

In 1968 the house was sold for demolition, but it was saved by the Vienna Landmark Commission who declared it a national monument in 1971.

MUNICH – We move to Germany and the city that hosts one of the most popular Christmas markets. It is also, probably, where the first lgbt Christmas market was held in Germany. Founded in 2005 Munich’s Pink Christmas market has been held continuously (covid permitting) ever since. It is held in the Stephanplatz, south of the old city – next to a cemetery!

Speaking of cemeteries, just across the River Isar from Stephanplatz is another, the Ostfriedhof cemetery. There you will find the grave of gay fashion designer Rudolph Mosshammer, who was murdered in 2005. Rudolph exhibited one of the most desired traits of the Christmas season, charity. He made a fortune designing clothes for the rich and famous, and he realised that with that wealth he could do some good for the less fortunate.

In August 2000 Rudolph founded Licht für Obdachlose (Light for the Homeless), an organisation which donated money, resources and equipment to Munich’s homeless charities. Every year Mosshammer hosted a lavish Christmas party and shelter for the city’s homeless and destitute. He also gave huge amounts of money to alcoholic treatment clinics and personally sold the German version of “Big Issue” on the streets.

Rudolph Mosshammer’s example of charity at Christmas has been mirrored by both millionaires and the modest incomed all around the world for a very long time. Long may they, and we, continue to do so.

HAMBURG – The lgbt Christmas market in Hamburg is called Winter Pride. It takes place in the St. Georg district, the city’s gay village. The modest sized Winter Pride also had music and DJs at the weekend, turning it into an outdoor party (other lgbt Christmas markets have regular music and entertainment). It is also one of the longest running, having first been held in 2009 with just a mulled wine booth.

When it comes to Christmas not only do we think about others, but we also wish for peace around the world. This was seen most significantly during World War I with the Christmas Truce in the trenches in 1914. During that same Christmas Hamburg was also involved in a desire for peace. It came from members of Germany’s women’s suffrage movement. One of the leaders was Hamburg-born Lida Gustava Heymann (1868-1943).

As soon as war broke out in 1914 there were many who called for peace. The women’s suffrage movement was just kicking in across the world at this time, and many suffragettes led these calls. Lida Heymann was one of them. She belonged to a wealthy Hamburg merchant family, no doubt very familiar with the city’s annual Christmas market.

With her life partner Anita Augspurg (1857-1943), Lida founded the Society for Women’s Suffrage in 1902. They both corresponded with other suffrage leaders around the world, and it was a letter that Lida wrote to the American suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt that prompted women in the UK to write the Open Christmas Letter in 1914.

Carrie Chapman Catt published Lida’s letter in the December issue of “Jus Suffragi”, the journal of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance. British suffragette Emily Hobhouse responded by organising the circulation of the Open Christmas Letter which was signed by 101 British suffragettes, including the lesbians Eva Gore-Booth and Esther Roper. It was published in the January 1915 issue of “Jus Suffragi”.

This Christmas, as another war rages in Europe, we all hope for peace.

I was going to end with a YouTube video of a Christmas market, but then I thought of something I came across a couple of years ago. How many of you have heard of a 2015 comedy horror film called “Krampus”? Have you seen the trailer? Blink and you’ll miss it, but for one second, 7 seconds into the trailer, the 2014 Nottingham Christmas market flashes on screen. If you don’t believe me, read this. No-one was more surprised than the city council to see it appear in a film trailer. Here’s the trailer. See if you can pause it at the right moment.

Monday 14 November 2022

Game of Gay Thrones 7: Byzantium, Korea, England and Baden

Here we are again with another group of lgbt royal wannabes. Included are a couple of spouses who, for one reason or another, were prevented from sitting beside their spouses. I never stop being surprised by the number of queer claimants and disinherited heirs to thrones past and present there have been, not to mention their spouses. There are even more to come next year.

Imperial symbol adopted by the Byzantine emperors

1) Basiliskianos (pre-846- after 866); named as a possible Emperor of Byzantium, 866.

The throne of Byzantium has seen more than its fair share of dethronements, assassinations and claimants. Basiliskianos became a pawn in the power struggle between Emperor Mikhael III (840-866) and his lover and co-Emperor Basileios (c.830-886). I explain the emperors’ relationship in more detail here. Briefly, Mikhael spotted Basileios at a sporting event and became besotted with him. He later made him co-emperor.

In 866 Mikhael began to show more than a casual interest in a young courtier called Basiliskianos. After Mikhael won a chariot race Basiliskianos gave him a lot of enthusiastic praise. The emperor was wearing the imperial red boots, and he told Basiliskianos to remove them and wear them himself. This angered co-emperor Basileios and a bit of an argument ensured. Mikhael said to him “I made you emperor, and do I not have the power to create another?” He later added, “I am ready to make Basiliskianos emperor”. He never did, but the possibility was always there and it upset Basileios enough to assassinate Mikhael. There’s no record of what happened to Basiliskianos after Mikhael died.

Imperial emblem on the Joseon kingdom

2) Crown Princess Sun-Bin Bong (1414-after 1436); consort of the future king of Josean.

Sun-Bin was a member of the aristocratic Haeum Bong clan. In 1429 she married Crown Prince Hi Hyang of the Joseon kingdom in Korea. The marriage, however, was not a very congenial one, and it is reported that the king himself told the Crown Prince to take more interest in his new bride. It didn’t help the marriage, and it deteriorated even more when Princess Bong got angry after one of the Crown Prince’s concubines became pregnant.

Another stumbling block in the marriage was Princess Bong’s habit of giving clothes from the royal wardrobe to her own family. But what really put an end to the marriage, and any chance of her sitting on the Korean throne with her husband in the future, was her blatant over-friendliness towards her female servants, in particular a maid with whom she confesses to having been intimate with on more than one occasion.

This was too much for the king and he banished Sun-Bin Bong from court, annulled the marriage, and reduced her to the rank of commoner. As with Basiliskianos above, there’s no real record of what happened to her after that.

Coat of arms the Mervyn, Earl of Castlehaven

3) Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven (1594-1631); consort of the legal heir to King Henry VIII of England.

Before the 1701 Act of Settlement defined the order of succession to the British throne it was sometimes decided by the last will of the previous monarch. King Henry VIII’s will of 1546 decreed that after the extinction of his own descendants the throne should pass to descendants of his younger sister, not his elder sister as would have been the case under primogeniture rules.

After the last of Henry VIII’s children, Queen Elizabeth I, died in 1603 the heir to the throne under his will was Lady Anne Stanley (1580-1647), who should have become Queen Anne. However, parliament decided to ignore the will and gave the throne to the primogeniture heir, the gay King James VI of Scotland. Some people considered Anne to be the rightful monarch though she never pressed her claim.

It is Anne’s second husband, the Earl of Castlehaven, who is our lgbt royal wannabe. Their marriage was disastrous. I wrote about it several years ago and it is best to read about it here because it’s a bit complicated. Thankfully, the whole sordid affair ended in 1631 when the earl was executed and he never got the chance to be the prince consort to the lawful (under King Henry’s will) queen of England.

Coat of arms of the Pinces Sanguszko-Lubartowicz

4) Prince Janusz Sanguszko-Lubartowicz (1712-1775); bloodline heir of King Harold II of England.

The most famous date in English history is 1066 – the year of 4 kings and 2 invasions. King Edward the Confessor died and was succeeded by King Harold II. Harold faced an invasion led by William of Normandy. Harold was killed in battle, but before William could take the throne as the victor one of King Edward’s nephews was declared king. He quickly abdicated in William’s favour.

Several sites online track Harold’s bloodline to determine who is his direct heir. None match my own research, which I believe is accurate. Harold’s bloodline passed through his daughter to the Kievan royal family, then to the Princes of Warsaw, and finally to the Counts Potocki, the present heirs. On the way several senior bloodlines became extinct and switched to surviving junior branches. One such senior line ended with Prince Janusz Sanguszko-Lubart.

Janusz became Harold’s heir at the age of 17 on the death of his mother, the previous bloodline heir. Janusz was a bit of a party animal and squandered his inheritance on parties and his many gay lovers. In contrast, he was also a great benefactor to local religious institutions. In 1730 he entered a dynastic marriage, but he showed little interest in performing his dynastic duty by fathering an heir. His wife soon left him, and Prince Janusz spent the rest of his life trying unsuccessfully to have his marriage annulled.

In 1748 his openly gay lifestyle was forced temporarily into the closet when his father imprisoned his lover for fraud. Two years later, his father died and Janusz had another vast inheritance to squander away. Although not interested in politics the king of Poland-Lithuania appointed him a Court Marshal, among other offices.

When Janusz died in 1775 he was in debt and there were no close living relatives on his mother’s side, King Harold’s bloodline, to succeed him. It had to go back to descendants of his great-grandfather’s younger brother, from which it has passed to today.

Coat of arms of the Grand Dukes of Baden

5) Prince Maximilian von Baden (1876-1929); heir presumptive to the Grand Duchy of Baden.

The Grand Duchy of Baden was one of the sovereign states within the Holy Roman Empire and the German Empire until it was abolished in 1918. The last Grand Duke was Prince Friedrich II (1857-1928). He was childless and his cousin Prince Maximilian was his nearest living male relative and heir presumptive.

In the 1890s the British Queen Victoria attempted to marry Maximilian to her grand-daughter, Princess Alexandra von Hessen. Alexandra wasn’t interested because she was already in love with the future Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. I wonder how history would have been different if Alexandra had married Maximilian. After all, it was Alexandra’s relationship with Rasputin that was one of the causes of the Russian Revolution.

In 1900 Prince Maximilian did marry into the British royal family. His wife was Princess Marie Louise, one of Queen Victoria’s cousins and a member of the “old Royal Family” (i.e. junior descendants of King George III), the Cumberlands. This branch of the family still exists, but most of them sided with Germany in World War I and were deprived of their British royal titles, Princess Marie Louise included.

Before his marriage Prince Maximilian was listed in Berlin police records as a homosexual. This fact was only revealed in a biography of him in 2013. Maximilian and Marie Louise had two children, both of whom have interesting connections. Their son married the late Duke of Edinburgh’s sister (he was named after Prince Philipp von Hessen, heir presumptive of Finland). Maximilian’s daughter married Philipp von Hessen’s twin brother.

In September 1918, when it seemed Germany would lose the war, the Kaiser appointed Prince Maximilian as Chancellor of Germany. The following day the Kaiser offered an armistice to the Allies and Maximilian advised him to abdicate. Once armistice was accepted a political “rebellion” against the Kaiser’s appointments forced Maximilian to resign. A republic was declared, royal titles were abolished, and Maximilian spent the rest of his life in retirement. On his cousin’s death in 1928 he became the head of the abolished Baden royal family, and claimed by monarchists as the rightful Grand Duke of Baden. He died the following year.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

An Emperor Leaves His Mark

With all the various anniversaries being celebrated in the UK this year one significant anniversary in British heritage has been overshadowed.

Hadrian’s Wall is one of the UK’s most famous historical sites. It is named after the Roman Emperor Hadrian who ordered it to be built when he visited Britain in 122 AD, 1,900 years ago this year. Construction began almost immediately and it probably took six years to complete in its original form. So, Happy 19th Centenary Hadrian’s Wall.

When Donald Trump declared that he was going to build a wall along the US-Mexico border people laughed at the idea and said it would be impracticable, but the idea of building a wall to separate communities isn’t new. Look at the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall.

In 2017 I wrote about another significant legacy made by Hadrian during his visit to Britain – the establishment of Britannia as the female personification of the island.

There’s actually very little recorded information about Hadrian’s visit, though some details can be surmised by what happened and what changed after he left. First of all, we don’t know what time of year he visited. It was probably in June, and he didn’t come alone. As with all imperial visits there was a huge retinue of officials and servants and around 3,000 soldiers. There was also the Regio VI Victrix, the Victorious 6th Legion. Hadrian’s choice to bring the 6th Legion was significant because some historians believe that part of this legion was already stationed in northern England helping the diminishing 9th Legion (the alleged “lost” legion) to defend the empire’s northern border.

The Romans had ventured into the Scottish Lowlands, but withdrew south of a Roman road called Stanegate which ran horizontally across part of northern England. Hadrian was aware of the various skirmishes his army had with tribes from the Lowlands. These skirmishes had died down by the time he arrived in Britain, but it is clear that he intended to mark the northern border of the Roman Empire with a wall.

Hadrian’s movements in Britain are very uncertain. We have no surviving itinerary or full account. We are fairly sure that he visited York, or Eboracum as the Romans called it, because he ordered the building of a temple to the new goddess Britannia. This may have been on his way up to, or down from, Vindolanda.

Vindolanda was a major fort on Stanegate. It was a wooden fort which had just been rebuilt to house the Cohort of Tungrians, a thousand infantry men from the region of Belgium. There’s archaeological evidence that a luxurious new building was being constructed around the time of Hadrian’s British visit. It was too lavish for even a provincial governor so it must have been intended for someone of the highest importance – like the emperor.

Hadrian and his massive entourage sailed from Boulogne to the south coast of Britain and went by carriage train to London. The 6th Legion, however, continued to sail up the coast to the River Tyne.

When he arrived at Vindolanda, Hadrian had a look at the defences, and even though he probably didn’t need it, he decided to have a wall built across the country just north of the Stanegate road. Historians think this was a means of marking the northern border of the Roman Empire rather than a defence measure to keep the northern tribes out of England. There are indications that there was some movement of people, for trade and immigration to some degree, both ways across the wall.

The 6th Legion began to construct the wall almost immediately. Hadrian didn’t hang around long after that. The wall took about six years to complete and there were another ten years of modifications. It may seem strange to us today, but originally there were no forts planned for the wall. They were thought of as building progressed.

Since its first completion Hadrian’s Wall has been a significant structure on the landscape, earning an iconic place in British history. So iconic, in fact, that the great walls featured in “Game of Thrones” is based on it, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

After the Romans left Britain in 410 AD the wall fell into disrepair. It was an ideal source for building stone by the local Britons. Thankfully, it was such a substantial structure that large parts of it remain, helped by the fact that there is very few settlements in that part of the country. The remains of many of the wall’s structure exist underground and archaeologists are constantly discovering new facts about the wall and Roman life.

Needless to day, there have been anniversary events held along the whole length of the wall this year. There are also several re-enactment groups who stage several events every year. Hadrian’s Wall is one of the places I have yet to visit even though it has been on by bucket list of British heritage sites I want to see.

So happy 1900th birthday, Hadrian’s Wall.