History is Incessantly Incesty (Part Uno)

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A Song of Fire & Ice or shameless familial “bonding”

I, like 16.5 million viewers last Sunday, watched the Game of Thrones season 7 finale with bated breath. With only 6 episodes left of the entire show, a series which was born from books that are taking about as quickly to write as The York Minister Cathedral was to build, the story is furiously spiraling to its inevitable conclusions. One of which happens to be the fate of a couple I’ve personally been rooting for since Book 1 when it made little sense geographically or personally, nor does it seem likely ideal in light of recent revelations…

But what do I care? In defense of myself, I’m here to point out a few instances in history where things got a bit too close for comfort, if you know what I mean. And perhaps by contrast, make the Dragon and Wolf look guiltlessly desirable in comparison. Lord of Light, have mercy on my internet search history…

1. Lucrezia & Cesare Borgia (And maybe Pope Alexander VI)

Lucrezia_Cesare Borgia

Unlike Showtime and Victor Hugo, I personally don’t ascribe to the belief that this Renaissance Brother & Sister Power Duo were secretly boning. But, alas, contemporaries of their time assumed they might be. After-all, the family of Pope Alexander VI stood accused of liberal poisonings and murders, thievery, buying and selling church offices, adultery and rampant orgies among the papacy, fratricide, and general douche-baggery aimed toward the Papal States–was there no limit to bounds The House of Borgia knew? [6]

Late in the 15th century, when Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI in no small part to bribery (presumably) and the assistance of rival Cardinal Sforza who was said to have personally taken a large payoff himself, Lucrezia Borgia suddenly became the most eligible, illegitimate 12-year old daughter in Italy. As a reward for his support, Cardinal Sforza saw Lucrezia married off to his nephew, Giovanni Sforza the then Duke of Milan, to solidify the alliance between the two families. This went about as well as a dinner date between the Hatfields & McCoys, and soon Pope Alexander VI was calling for an annulment while Cardinal Sforza’s other ally –just the King of France, Charles VIII, no big deal — appeared parading through Italy with the door held wide open for him to invade the papal territories. Giovanni was accused of having neglected to consummate the marriage, which incensed, caused him to lob the nefarious accusation at the Borgia family that the true reason the papacy was asking for the divorce was because Lucrezia was busy fornicating with her father and brother, a somewhat less humiliating prospect for the Duke to stomach apparently. With the promise of keeping the dowry intact for Giovanni, the marriage was soon dissolved but not so for the rumors. [1]

“It is said that Mr. Giovanni Sforza did this because the Duke used with his sister, his wife, the puppet of the pope, but of another mother” – Malipiero Letter 1497 [5

The Borgias had not yet given up on Lucrezia’s worth as a bargaining chip, and so paired her off with Alfonso of Aragon, a bastard of Naples, in the hopes of laying the ground work for Cesare Borgia to marry the daughter of the King of Naples and inherit the throne as well as another ally against Charles VIII who was still busy trouncing through doors a bit willy-nilly around Italy. Still a teenager, Lucrezia managed a hot second of a peaceful marriage before, again, her scheming brother and father (who were totally plausible lovers…of her misfortune, clearly) decided, you know what, Charles VIII just loves walking through doors and things, really good at it actually, the best–we might as well be friends and marry Cesare off to his daughter instead. Naturally, the Kingdom of Naples was a bit pissy about this new frenemy and The Borgias added another noble house of Italy to their shitlist. [2]

“Thus, Lucretia, Sextus always wants to make love to you? O fate with a horrible name! This Sextus is your father.” Epigram by Jacopo Sannazaro Italian poet (1457 – 1530) [4]

On the wrong-side of another family dispute, 18-year old Lucrezia tried to navigate her way through another marriage doomed to fail when her Neapolitan hubby was ambushed on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica by henchmen wielding a few knives, no doubt causing her to cry out “Et Tu, Pater?”. Alfonso managed to survive for the time being, held up under the “reliable” care of the papacy while propaganda papered the streets of Naples supposing that Cesare had made the idle threat “What didn’t happen at lunch may still happen at dinner.” like this was some pilot season episode of The Sopranos. Unsurprisingly, Alfonso turned up in bed strangled one morning. Perhaps by a jealous lover brother reasoned the gossip. Lucrezia, having really no energy left to deal with the mess her life had become at the hands of her family, went into mourning. [1]

Unfortunately, if there was one thing a noble Renaissance woman was good for other than posing for paintings, it was getting hitched– and that’s precisely what the Borgia brood were plotting to do again. This time their ambitions were with the duchy of Ferrara (And no, not for Lemonheads, that candy company is an American one) and Lucrezia was soon married off to Alfonso D’Este, another alliance Charles VIII would surely adore. Ultimately, this one worked out for Lucrezia and she was able to spend the rest of her days in Northern Italy cherished by her subjects. Not a year later, her father Pope Alexander VI collapsed of illness (or poisoning, eh it was the Renaissance after-all), sending the papacy into the awaiting hands of Borgia enemies and her brother Cesare, infamous as a subject of Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince, aesthetic model for portraiture of Jesus Christ, and number one suspect in the Tiber river murder of his brother Giovanni or “Juan” [7], died only a few years later.

It seemed almost as if Lucrezia would be fortunate enough to finally escape the sins and rumored exploits of her family, but after her death in 1519 after a troubled childbirth, the gossip again rose to a feverish pitch with little to no one left to denounce them.

“Here rests Lucrezia by name, who in reality was a Thais, the daughter, wife & daughter-in-law of Alexander.” – Epitaph written by Jaccopo Sannazaro, who wasn’t yet done slandering Lucrezia. [1]

Why did the rumors persist? Alexander’s papacy wasn’t exactly the first of its kind to churn out questionable practices nor a squeaky clean image, but perhaps the answer lies with the sheer amount of enemies The Borgia managed to collect over their years clamoring for power. Among the families already listed, they also managed to incite the animosity of the legendary House of Medici who ran Florence, the Orsini family, the Colonna house which churned out a libelous diary from Stefano Infessura who gleefully chronicled Lucrezia’s rumored licentiousness, and Pope Julius II. Before becoming pope, Julius II spent his time hating Alexander VI and worked to undermine and, if possible, unseat him. When he wasn’t trolling Michelangelo, Julius II used his papacy to try and mop up remaining Borgia territory all while torturing a Cesare Borgia loyalist for any amusing gossip he could gleefully spread about his enemies. [2]

“For the thing was known far and wide, and because my informants were not Romans merely, but were the Italian people, therefore have I mentioned it.”

-Matarazzo of Perugia, who relates the accusation of papal orgies by Pope Alexander VI with the inclusion of his daughter Lucrezia as well-known fact because it was ‘common’ gossip. [5]

As for the fate of King Charles VIII of France who featured so prevalently in the torrid politics of Lucrezia’s numerous marriages? Killed by a door. I’m not even kidding. [3]

hodor4

(To be Continued…Part 2)

Fact check it, yo!

[1] Hibbert, C. (2009). The Borgias and their enemies. London: Constable.

[2] Meyer, G. J. (2014). The Borgias: The Hidden History. Random House Inc.

[3] Markatos K., Karamanou M., Arkoudi K., Konstantinidi A., Androutsos G., A Cranial Trauma was the Cause of Death of Charles VIII of France (1470–1498), World Neurosurgery, Volume 105, 2017, Pages 745-748

[4] Fantazzi, C. (2011). Susanna de Beer, Karl A. E. Enenkel, and David Rijser, eds.The Neo-Latin Epigram: A Learned and Witty Genre. Supplementa Humanistica Lovaniensia 25. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009

[5] Gregorovius F., Lucretia Borgia: According to Original Documents & Correspondence of Her Day.

Primaries;

[6] Diario della citta di RomaStefano Infessura (Notoriously biased & unreliable, as are the rumors)

[7] “But I understood, as the Duke of Candia died for the death of his brother, Cardinal.” Pigna dispatch Ercole, Venice Feb 22nd, 1498

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Gaul and Britain

(History Notes!)

Victory_of_King_Merovech

Guess where I’m half Quinotaur…

5th and 8th c. AD

The Merovingian Kingdoms (481-751)

-Founder = Clovis!

  • When he dies, he divides the territory into 3 equal parts among his sons.
  • Follow horizontal line of succession

-Equally legtimate male family succession. (This won’t end badly at all…)

-LONG HAIRED KINGS IN FASHION!

7th century *Merovech* Pops up in geneology like whoa

  • -Founding story. Quinotaur mated with a chick. Oh baby.
  • -Like, literally. Baby. They had Merovech.  He was….wait for it…half Quinotaur.

-Was Merovech step-father descendant of Priam of Troy? Sounds legit.

What: Mythical Founder of the Merovingians. Half Quinotaur. Half Trojan. All badass.

Why?

-Idea of Rome

  • Essentially claiming to be more Roman than the Romans! (More pure from Priam than line of Aeneas)
  • True heir of Rome ya’lls.

 

Neustra (North-West France), Austrasia (Northeast), Burgundy (South)

  • Son gets training at Austrasia by Mayor of the palace.
  • Mayor chosen by powerful aristocrats.

Rural (Frankish)

Urban (Gallo-Roman)

 

Merovingian Women: (Could move up the social hierarchy)

-Fredegund and Balthild (started as slave)

  • Both Queens, authority as mothers as well.
  • Both started at low status.
  • Effective at exercising political authority

 

Episcopal Authority and The Frankish Church

  • Bishop= Administrators
  • Saints = Spiritual
  • Bishops found a problem. They felt that they were spiritual leaders.

-“Anyone who was a true saint would always obey his bishop and is always humble”

-Hide relationship with God.

  • How do we know who is a saint?

-Miracles associated after death. No longer living, active authority.

  • In Frankish Church, Bishops figure out how to be both spiritual and administrators.

 

 

 

Spain and Italy (5th-8th c. AD)

(History Notes!)

Visigothic Spain (418-711 AD)

A) Foederati (Barbarians who are given territory to rule and defend)

  • Given Territory
  • Given tax revenue
  • Responsible for defense
  • AKA ‘JUST TAKE IT’

B) Came from Scythia, Romans confused with Scadea/Thule too.

C) First Barbarian Kingdom

  • Request to settle around Adrianople. Given permission, settled in refugee camps though.
  • Major revolt. Eep. Romans lost, Emperor killed.

Alaric the Visigoth

  • Negotiated a better deal for his people. Give him Roman title or else.
  • 410- Rome is sacked because Honorius would not give him a title. Pillaged and stole shit.

-Kay fine. Take some territory. GAWD. (Spain/France)

Christianities

A) Visigoths converted to Arian Christians. (So Heretics. So keep making themselves even more undesirable)

  • Nicene/Chalcedonian councils created a hate/borderline tolerant relationship with Arian heretics.

Roman Law              vs.     Barbarian Law

Court/Layers              vs.     King/oath helpers (iz)

Jury                               vs.     Legally defined fine (wergeld)

Judge imposes fire      vs.      “Evidence loses significance” and “Let god decide!” (Eventual ‘Ordeal’)

B) Authority vs. Nature (West vs. East)

  • Pricillianist (Heresay); Form of Christianity, Dualistic.

-Strong impact on West. Influences Catholicism.

  • Good- God (Spirit) versus Evil- Satan (Flesh)

-Fasting, making body uncomfortable, embracing chastity. Other super fun things.

  • For West = Arians and Pricillian problem (Caaaaaaatholics)

From…

*Third Council of Toledo (589)* Visigothic Spain

  • Meeting with Visigothic Bishops in kingdom summoned by king to declare all people living in Visigoth Kingdom as Chalcedonian.

WHY: Creed test bitches! In church service. “And the Son” procession of the holy spirit becomes a thing.

  • Different practice exclusive to the West.
  • Represents strong top-down approach of Christianity and it’s spread in the West. Precursor to a forming hierarchy.

 

 

 

Early Byzantium

(History Notes!)

Byzantium didn't start the fire.

Byzantium didn’t start the fire.

Early Byzantium

A) Official policies:

  • Persians- WE ARE AT WAR!
  • Barbarians- Go west and GTFO. Make it seem like they can rule by allowing them to. They are there because we say so. Whatever helps us sleep at night.

B) Chalcedonian. Enforce Orthodoxy. (Remember the Council of Chalcedon? Statement that Jesus has two natures)

C) Heraclius (608-641) First Byzantine Emperor. “Basileos ton Rhomaioi”

  • Wins Persian Wars!
  • Greek for ruler of Romans.
  • Arrives as usupur. Brief civil war. Hated Phocas because he sucks at wars.

-Phocas couldn’t stop Avars who came from central Asia and settled the Balkans.

  • Persians attack when Heraclius is ruler, they take Syria and Anatolia (Turkey)

-Lost Uruslum.

-Took the True Cross (Jesus’ cruxification cross. Errybody mad)

  • Strengthen forces at home and borders. THEN ATTACK THOSE JERK PERSIANS!

-Now all of Persia belongs to Rome. Oh snap.

Arab Invasion (633-659) AKA “A Wild Arabia Appears”

  • Arabs take Syria for funsies.

-Roman resources depleted by Persian War. Never really get back poor old Syria.

  • Arabs now have Syria and Egypt (Those Monophysite heretics!)
  • Yarmuk River (636)

-Byzantines completely f’d into a corner.

-After battle, cannot stop Arab advancement.

Constans II (641-668)

A) Reorganize Roman military.

  • Themas (A province)

B) *The Themata* Byzantium, 7th c. Constans II

  • Military unit stationed in a themas or province.

Why this is important: Each unit responsible for themas and owned property. Turns military into land holders. Instead of paying them, they got land.

  • Coinage disappears. Wide spread commerce declines.
  • Massive Urban Decline in Byzantium.
  • Makes soldiers very reliable. Fighting for their land, not yours. Defending Empire makes it strong enough to survive another thousand years.

Urban Decline

  • Cities belong to the Arabs. Whoops.
  • Themata
  • Exception: CONSTANTINOPLE!

Recreating Rome? Justinian’s Wars 6th c. AD

Eh, who cares. We still have Constantinople for another thousand years.

Eh, who cares. We still have Constantinople for another thousand years.

 

Emperor of Constantinople

  • Re-assert authority over lost territory. BELISARIUS = Greatest. General. Ever.

 

The Vandal Wars (533)

  • Believe Jesus has less authority than God. Arian! (Heretic)
  • Vandal conquest of Africa (429-442)

-Quick conquest of Vandal, HUGE influx of ka-ching!

-If we can retake Africa…then what else?

The Gothic Wars (535-553)

  • Theodoric as King in Italy (489-493)
  • War drags on for 20+ years.
  • Romans sack, pillage, loot.
  • Barbarians sack, pillage, loot.

-LOL this sends Italy to the stone age! Dark Ages for the win!

The Persian Wars (537-532; 540-545, and 549-561 or “Why won’t these guys stay dead?”)

  • Sassanian Persia (c. 224-641)

-Cataphract. Fucker horse units for Persia! Also star in Civilization games.

  • May have payed off the Persians to get them to go away….a few times.
  • Client Kingdoms

-Iberia, as buffer state. If they get invaded immobilize! Lazica too.

-Persian wars continue until 641 AD happens and Persia goes bye.

Justinian: Model Roman Emperor

  1. Fought Wars
  2. Corpus Iuris Civilis (Made Laws)
  3. Get involved with Religion. And all of its disputes.
  4. Last to govern in Latin. After him it is all Greek.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t ‘Cross’ Michael II.

On Christmas Eve of 820, the Emperor Leo V condemned the pretender Michael II to death by the rather bizarre method of having him tied to an ape and thrown into the furnaces that heated the imperial baths. Before the execution could take place, Michael’s supporters dressed up as monks and crept into the imperial palace to attack the emperor. Leo reportedly defended himself for more than an hour armed with nothing but a heavy metal cross that he swung around wildly before succumbing to the blades of his assailants. In what was surely the most undignified coronation in Byzantine history, Michael II was hastily brought up from the dungeons and crowned with the chains of his captivity still around his legs.

Found in Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization written by Lars Brownworth.

 

Prima Nocta or Prima “Not”?

Image

One classy evening after a long night of getting paid to repeatedly explain where the restrooms were and pouring the occasional decaf, I felt like unwinding with a game of Animal Crossing (had some big loans owed to that skank Tom Nook) and a viewing of Braveheart because I’m rock n’ roll and really like that scene where Mel Gibson gets hanged, drawn, and quartered. Oops, spoilers.

There must have been a considerable amount of time since I last saw the movie and between that must have had tea and crumpets with a history book because, suddenly, I took offense at the very mention of ‘Primae Noctis’ and the fact that all those Scotties were prancing around in kilts (but that’s a post for another day).

For those unfamiliar, Primae Noctis or the French version Droit du Seigneur, was the idea that a lord was within legal rights to take the virginity of a serf’s daughter, most notably, on her wedding night. We see this concept perpetuated in Braveheart when crotchety ol’ King Edward I of the Britains enacts this law to “breed out the Scots” and we see a few fug lords wedding crash on the friend of William Wallace which escalates quickly into war and the entire point of the film and Mel Gibson’s career.

Braveheart isn’t alone, though. The Office, Game of Thrones, Merlin, and Family Guy reference it. And if you were living in the Enlightenment Era, you had the Marriage of Figaro or some of Voltaire’s sass to help spread the fire. What is even more strange and can possibly be found to prey victim to the widespread misconceptions present through these times is that some notable scholars even believe it, toting around ‘evidence’ where there is none.

So how did this happen?

Obviously, with something like this, you need an account or source that has either witnessed, observed, or found any sort of legal documentation of this act being practiced. Curiously, with a right as supposedly as widespread as we are led to believe, almost nothing exists and yet a few scholars are determined to hold the belief that it was a real thing. Or it happened in the Dark Ages, duh. Or France at least, yes, at least France. (Always France).

These select few will point to Herodotus (who, if you’ve been keeping up with me, know that I am already familiar with) and say, “Herodotus claims daughters of Babylon had to offer their virginity to a stranger!” [citing paragraph 199 Book 1]

The fact that Babylon =/= Medieval Europe and a vastly different political climate and caste system is neither here nor there because a closer look at what Herodotus actually said is more illuminating and vastly more interesting.

After detailing how Babylonian men found wives during marriage auctions (It’s like the dowry, women are either property or a burden) Herodotus goes on to say,

…has now fallen into disuse and they have of late years hit upon another scheme, namely the prostitution of all girls of the lower classes to provide some relief from the poverty which followed upon the conquest with its attendant hardship and general ruin. [Book 1 para. 196]

No sign of putative legal rape here, folks, just the exercise of the oldest profession in the world. Oh, but wait. Here’s the passage being referenced in support of the claim (Book 1, para. 199) check it out:

There is one custom amongst these people which is wholly shameful: every woman who is a native of the country must once in her life go and sit in the temple of Aphrodite and there give herself to a strange man.

Oh, sure. Taken out of context, I suppose you could take out some phrases and compare this to a feudal sex crime, but what this is actually referring to is a form of phallic worship which was common in the area as detailed by Westermarck in the penultimate History of Human Marriage. Herodotus goes on to detail that the woman enters the temple, is offered a silver coin as bargain, and slept with in order to complete the religious rite. This can be seen as a form of ‘sexual sacrifice’ in the form of worship which wouldn’t be all to dissimilar with the antics of Aleister Crowley’s crew.

Herodotus DOES, however, write in Book 4 about the Adyrmachidae tribe in Libya who are guilty because

They are the only Libyan tribe to follow this practice, as also that of taking girls who are about to be married to see the King. Any girl who catches his fancy, leaves him a maid no longer. [para. 168]

But note the “only” and the “Libya” and a few thousand years, and this example is further away from Medieval Europe than indoor plumbing.

So Herodotus had a small mention, but how did this translate into a giant boogie laden finger pointing at Europe?

Well, Dr Karl Schmidt, a German and a doctor so enuff said, believes it “was only a learned superstition” and that it originated from culagium, a requirement that a serf get permission to marry, and such a permission often required the peasant to pay a fee or give some kind of service (not prostitution, okay, calm down). This apparently appeared to come up in the consequence of marrying under the lands of another Lord, as it would be like losing a ‘headcount’ and a laborer by right so compensation was in order. So the “right of the Lord’ was more likely a tax rather than a romp in the Motte-and-bailey.

And the idle belief that the higher clergy practiced Droit du Seigneur in Middle Age France? (Geez, again with this? Let them rebel in peace)

This misconception could have stemmed from the symbolic “possession” of a man’s wife by the church as it was a requirement that for three days and three nights to go by before any copulation happened because of the “spirit of solemn devotion”. But, mostly, because any ecclesiastical authority could be thus payed off with a nice meaty fee if you wanted the privilege of the dirty deed on the first night instead. Certainly, there was a legal rape happening here, but not one of the flesh…

Of course, there is also Boece, an established uncredible source who fabricated many narratives, who wrote of an event that happened more than 700 years before he did. I shudder to think this may have been the basis for Braveheart

And othir law he maid, that wiffs of the commonis sal be fre to the nobilis; and the lord of the ground sal have the maidenhead of all virgins dwelling on the same. [The Chronicles of Scotland. 1938.]

Perpetrator of myths not history. And if this didn’t help spread it, Voltaire’s cheeky comedy ‘Le Droit du Seigneur: Comedie en vers’ and his parallel criticisms of a pre-revolution/enlightenment satirical view of early France has probably got him giggling around in his grave now that common knowledge totes Primae Noctis around like a slutty party girl.

Either way, somewhere between no evidence to shady business to disrespectful double-takes and biased views of civilized society, we have a gross pock mark on the history of Medieval Europe (well, two, if you’re also counting the pestilence. Gosh, I’m witty.) I’m not saying it didn’t happen, I’m sure a position of power and dominance led to frequent abuse of lower classes and sexual violence against women. But it certainly wasn’t a cultural or legal custom that was practiced without prejudice all across Europe. And in the case of Braveheart, there is no evidence to support an event of this nature occurring on the British Isles unless you want to go sit over there with Boece and the guy who wrote about George Washington cutting down a cherry tree.

So, the next time you’re out making a reference about claiming someone’s wife for a night ala Prima Nocta, that’s me staring you down in the corner and predatorily stalking you with a conversation about violent youth, knighthood, and the Crusades. So just don’t do it, okay?

Fact check it, yo!

Secondary Sources:

Old Babylonian Marriage Ceremonies and Rites. S. Greengus. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2 (1966)

The History of Human Marriage. Edward Westermarck. 1891. pp. 72-76-80.

Jus Primae Noctis: Eine Geschlichtliche Untersuchung. Schmidt, K. (1881)

Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. Brundage, J. (1987)

Jus primae noctis or droit du seigneur. Vern L. Bullough. The journal of Sex Research, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Feb. 1991), pp. 163-166.

Primary sources:

The Histories Herodotus

Other:

The Chronicles of Scotland. 1938. Boece.