Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Moments in C.P. History. Numbers X-XII

Moments in C.P. History
A Series by Paul Melrose

Number 10. Princess Batthyany (Original text from Februs 41)

The name of Princess Irene Batthyany is not one which is familiar to most people but, nevertheless, she had a brief flirtation with both fame and humiliation as the beautiful wife of Count Lajos Batthyany whose reign as President of Hungary was brief and tragic, ending in his execution. The widowed Princess, though spared such a fate, was nonetheless subject to a very public shame which forms the basis of this particular 'Moment'.

In the mid 19th century, Europe was controlled by mighty empires, one of the biggest being the Austrian Empire which then included part of Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia and Hungary. The year of 1848 became known as the year of revolution because, almost simultaneously, many of these subordinate nations began to flex their muscles and demand varying degrees of self government. In the forefront of these nations was Hungary. The politics involved in the issue were complex and so the reader will be spared too much insomnia-inducing background. To understand how Irene Batthyany arrived at her humiliating fate however it is necessary to mention a few names and look at a brief summary of events.

The first of these people was Louis Kossuth. He was the leader of the opposition to Austrian control and in 1848, amid a tide of revolt, he saw the opportunity to demand a certain degree of self government for the Hungarians. Austria at first reacted with anger and indignation, but when revolution actually broke out in Vienna itself, the Austrians, fearing Hungary might secede from the empire, capitulated.

Amid scenes of joy, a fellow member of the Austrian opposition, Count Lajos Batthyany, was appointed provisional President of the new semi independent Hungary and the provisional government sought to form a type of government acceptable to the people, which turned out to be a pseudo monarchy with Batthyany at its head. So Batthyany adopted the courtesy title of Prince and his proud and lovely wife became Princess Batthyany. Irene Batthyany was a dark haired beauty in her early forties at the time of the revolt, the mother of five children including three adult sons who were serving in the Hungarian army.

The joy was short lived for, though Hungary had its limited self government, it immediately inherited problems. Within Hungary's borders lay the state of Croatia whose people also sought self rule. Given the lesser of two evils, if the Croatians had disliked being 'slaves' of Austria, they positively detested falling under the writ of the 'Magyars' and immediately began to agitate against the situation with their overall rulers in Austria.

So a new key name in the saga emerged when Austria appointed a new Commissar for Croatia, a Colonel Joseph Jellacic, who was fanatically anti Hungarian. Once in power he broke off relations between Croatia and Hungary on 19th April 1848, putting the new Hungarian regime immediately in trouble from that point on. On 10th May, a Slovak minority in Hungary asked for independent rights within Hungary and 5 days later the Romanians condemned the new union with Hungary.

Prince Batthyany, realising that his newly self governing nation was facing trouble from all quarters, tried to do deals with his Austrian masters if they disavowed the Croatian leader Jellacic. Batthyany and his wife were contemptuous of Jellacic and his motives and made no secret of the fact in public utterances, which drove the Croatian leader to fury. Given subsequent events, this was to prove a terrible error of judgment by the Batthyany family, for the Austrians, while apparently sympathetic to Batthyany's problems, were secretly boosting Jellacic in undermining the Hungarian regime.

Confident now that he had Austria's blessing, Joseph Jellacic's Croatian army, together with a Serbian force, attacked Hungary in June of 1848 and very quickly captured most of South Hungary.

The hapless Prince Batthyany resigned and the Hungarian government attempted a compromise with their Austrian masters but to no avail, Batthany's resignation proving to be the catalyst for an open war between the young Hungarian government and the Austrian monarchy.

Despite the Prince's resignation from government, the brave and determined Hungarians were at first remarkably successful on the battlefield, turning the early tide against them, and prompting the abdication of the Austrian emperor Ferdinand in favour of his nephew Francis Joseph. Soon, however, the weight of numbers was too much and the reconstituted Austrian army launched new assaults taking the Hungarian capital city of Pest within 2 weeks.

The outcome of hostilities was finally decided when the Russians, under Czar Nicholas I, who had stood by and watched developments, finally decided that if Hungary proved successful, revolt might begin within the Russian empire, and so decided to crush the Hungarians in order to deter such thoughts.

In June of 1849, two Russian armies entered Hungary, a total of nearly half a million men now opposing the Hungarian regime. It was too much. The Hungarian government fled into exile and, on 13th August 1849, the Russian Commander Marshal Paskievicz was able to report to his Czar. 'Hungary lies at your feet your Majesty.'

Now the full weight of Russian retribution hit Hungary. The country was placed under a military administration and thirteen of Hungary's senior officers were publicly hanged. Prince Batthyany, unable to escape from the country with his family, had tried to commit suicide by cutting his throat but was forcibly prevented from doing so. He was arrested and on October 6th 1849 was shot by firing squad. The occupying forces then proceeded to run riot, tearing down Hungarian flags and wrecking Hungarian shops. About 100 more executions followed until an amnesty spared the remainder, including the widowed Princess Irene Batthyany who was allowed to remain in the her lavish home until it was decided what to do with her.

The mood of the mob, which at first had been so supportive of Hungarian independence, turned sour in the aftermath of humiliating defeat, much of the anger turning on the exiled Government and the Batthyany family. Boosted by the public mood, a group of Russian officers decided one weekend in November of 1849 to teach the widowed Irene Batthyany a humiliating lesson. A dozen Russian soldiers gate crashed the Palace of the Batthyany family and found Princess Irene alone apart from her serving maid. Frightened, she demanded they leave only to be told that, for her arrogance and because her sons had fought with the rebel Hungarian forces, she should accept her share of responsibility and punishment for bringing her country to such a parlous low.

Despite her shrieks of protest, Irene Batthyany was carried out of her palace by the officers and taken, kicking and screaming to the Pest market square where an enthusiastic mob soon gathered to witness Irene's humiliation. The terrified Irene was put up onto a platform and her head and hands secured in a pillory reserved usually for the vagrants and prostitutes who were regularly punished in public.

If her shame at such treatment was not enough, Irene was further mortified to see the Croat leader Jellacic, who she had oft derided, seated on the platform with a group of Croat officers all thirsting to witness her degradation. Cheered on by the mob, the Russian officers lifted Irene's dress and petticoats, securing them to her shoulders, then pulled down her lace drawers exposing her naked bottom to the jeering mob. One of the Russians then removed his thick leather belt and proceeded to spank the bare bottom of the shrieking Princess before handing over to another soldier who continued the punishment. The punishment continued until all the officers had administered the belt to Irene's by now scarlet and roasting bottom for some considerable time.

When Princess Irene Batthyany was shrieking in anguish, her bottom crimson and swollen with pain, the Russians relented and she was released. She was made to kiss the hand of Jellacic and offer apologies for past slights before being allowed to pull up her drawers and adjust her dress. The poor woman, having adjusted her clothing, was then compelled to drag herself home on foot, completely humiliated, through a howling mob who pelted her with rotten fruit and vegetables.

Eventually the military dictatorship was replaced, in July 1850, by a civilian one which eased up on the brutality but made certain that any traces of Hungary's abortive attempts at independence were carefully removed. This included dispersing the Batthyany family into the countryside and rehousing them in more frugal accommodation, taking them and their brief acquaintance with fame out of the limelight for ever.

Number 11-13. Jeanne Du Barry and Caroline de Rozen (This is the text from Alex's blog, edited by Alex in 2008)

The future Countess du Barry was born on August 19th 1743 in Vaucoleurs, France, as humble Jeanne Becu, a child born out of wedlock to a pastry cook named Annie Becu. It is suggested that Jeanne's father may well have been a friar who served as spiritual advisor to the local convent (the irony is not lost!) a man named Jean Baptiste Gormand of Vaubernier who was certainly Annie Becu's lover.

Thanks to the friar's influence, Jeanne had a better education than she might have expected at the convent of Saint-Aure in Paris. At fifteen she left school and took on several positions as lady's maid to the wealthy and influential, thus she had access to the nobility of Paris. In 1763 she met a notorious rake named Jean du Barry, and eventually became his mistress. He was known in Paris as 'Jean the Vile' and was frequently interviewed by the police for his custom of prostituting his lovers, Jeanne Becu included. It appears from journals written to friends that Jeanne had begun to loathe the degradation into which she had sunk and was anxious to attain more respectability.

In 1768, Jeanne Becu was introduced at court and came to the attention of Louis XV who was immediately attracted to her and wanted her as his mistress. Convention at the time decreed that, in order to deflect gossip, a mistress had to be a married woman who would thus arrive at court with her husband, the husband then presumably waiting patiently while the King dallied with his wife, and would then, dutifully, take her home. Decorum was thus preserved. So Jeanne Becu married Guillaume Barry, the brother of her procurer, Jean, in order to become one of Louis XV's many mistresses. Her future was thus secured and she became a woman of some influence.

Jeanne du Barry became a patron of the arts and a known protector of artists and intellectuals. She was an attractive, excitable woman of strong passions and little patience. It is said that she made friends easily thanks to her outward-going nature and easy laughter, but frequently lost them again thanks to her jealousy and sensitivity to perceived slights.

Among the many contacts the Countess du Barry made at court were the Countess of Provence and her teenage lady-in-waiting, Caroline, Marchioness de Rozen. While the relationship between the two Countesses was never more than cordial at best, Jeanne du Barry formed an immediate attachment to the pretty young lady-in-waiting who was eighteen or nineteen at the time of their first meeting. It appears to have been reciprocal for the young Marchioness appeared to revel in the company of the vivacious Jeanne du Barry. So much so that the two became firm friends, the young Caroline always being on Du Barry's guest list for every social function. There was no suggestion of any sexual liaison, they were like two sisters, happy in each others company, and the young Marchioness would boast to her friends that she was one of Jeanne du Barry's favourites, never far away when she was needed and always present at every glittering ball and social function.

Given natural human jealousy and possessiveness, such an idyllic existence could not last for ever and the Countess of Provence, who had watched the developing friendship with growing anger, finally put her foot down. She told her young lady-in-waiting, in no uncertain terms, that this close friendship with Du Barry had to stop. It was, she told the girl, demeaning for herself to be excluded from so many functions to which the young Marchioness was invited and that the girl was not to continue the friendship any longer. Frightened of the wrath of her mentor, the Marchioness ignored future invitations to any of Du Barry's social occasions and, when compelled to go to the Palace with her own mistress, treated Jeanne du Barry with coldness and indifference.

Jeanne was furious and very upset by this snub and complained to Louis XV about the slight she had received. The King, most probably in jest, replied that the Marchioness was little more than a child with all the temperamental vagaries of a child. He apparently suggested that 'a taste of the rod would do that little thing no harm' and chuckled that he wouldn't mind watching Caroline's young bottom get a taste of it either!

Whether this was intended to be taken seriously or not, the angry Jeanne du Barry took him at his word. She sent a message to the young Marchioness asking if she could visit in secret the next morning as there were important matters that needed to be discussed relating to her future at court, suggesting it would be to her benefit if she could get away. Flattered by the hint, and undoubtedly curious, Caroline made some excuse to her mistress and took a carriage into Paris to Du Barry's sumptuous home.

In the meantime, Jeanne du Barry had informed the King that, if he were to arrive in secret and hide behind a dressing screen in her boudoir, he might see something to his liking. Puzzled, but happy to play his lover's games the King duly arrived and took his place behind the screen.

Downstairs, an apparent reconciliation had been effected with Jeanne and the young Marchioness breakfasting together amid great cordiality. Once the repast was over, Jeanne du Barry told her young guest that there were documents pertaining to her future role at court in Jeanne's boudoir and that they should go up there with all haste. Suspecting nothing, Caroline de Rozen followed the Countess into her bedroom whereupon the door was rapidly slammed shut and four very strong chamber-maids grabbed the young Marchioness and dragged her, screaming, over to the bed where she was thrown face down.

As the girl shrieked in fear and shame, at a word from Jeanne du Barry, her long skirts and petticoats were hoisted up high on her back, completely baring her bottom. Jeanne then angrily told the girl this was the price for snubbing the Countess du Barry, and that, after today's experience, she would never do such a thing again.

Before the delighted eyes of the King secreted behind the screen, while two of the maids held the struggling Caroline, the other two picked up stout birch rods and began to whip the young Marchioness across her bare buttocks very severely until the skin broke and little spots of blood began to run down her thighs. At this point Jeanne du Barry ordered that the whipping be stopped and the girl be allowed to rise. This she did with great difficulty, weeping hysterically before fleeing back to her carriage and home... presumably kneeling all the way!

Unable to tell her mistress, the Countess of Provence, what had happened for she had broken a promise and would be in more trouble, Caroline de Rozen wrote directly to the King complaining about her treatment. She received a reply, apparently sympathetic, saying he would question Jeanne du Barry on the matter , but that of course he would be unable to do anything unless Caroline was prepared to come to court and display the evidence to him. Such a humiliating proposal made it obvious to the Marchioness that her complaint was falling on deaf ears, and she sought advice from her friends on what to do next.

All, without exception, suggested that she make up with Jeanne du Barry with all haste for the Countess was too powerful an enemy to confront, and Caroline took the advice. She wrote to Jeanne asking if she could visit once more, apologising for past slights and confessing that her chastisement was no more than she deserved.

Delighted by the success of her actions, Jeanne was pleased to welcome back her young friend and agreed that the friendship would continue in secret in order that the Countess of Provence would not be discomfited in any way, and so it was done.

In 1774, Louis XV died and, for some time, Jeanne du Barry became a forgotten figure in France. Not one to let the grass grow under her feet for long, she courted the new power in the land, the Duke of Brissac and became his lover of many years. in 1789, the French Revolution began and Jeanne began to make many trips to London, ostensibly to secure her jewellery in safe banks. She made contact with a number of exiled aristocrats while in England, a very dangerous practice, which led eventually to her downfall and death. The Revolutionary Government considered her actions as treacherous and, in 1793, Jeanne du Barry was arrested and charged with working against the revolution.

She was sentenced to death and on 8th December 1793, at the age of fifty, the Countess Jeanne du Barry went to the guillotine. She did not meet impending death with any great courage or dignity (and who could blame her!), collapsing several times in the tumbril en route to the guillotine and screaming to the crowd from the platform "Why do you want to hurt me? Why?" and eventually becoming so hysterical that she was difficult to restrain. The last words she ever spoke are probably her most famous, "Encore un moment, monsieur le bourreau, un petit moment," ("One moment more, executioner, one little moment") and then the blade did its work.

Number 11-13. Catherine the Great (This is the text from Alex's blog, edited by Alex in 2008)

Catherine the Second of Russia, later to be known as Catherine the Great, was born Sophia Augusta Fredericka, Princess of Auhalt-Zerbst on 2nd May 1729 in Stettin, Prussia. Her father was Prince Christian August, a general in the Prussian army but the driving force in the young Sophia's eventual rise to fame was her mother, Princess Johanna Elizabeth, a woman of great ambition.

The seeds of influence were sown early when Prince Karl August, one of Princess Johanna's brothers, became engaged to Elizabeth, the Empress of Russia, but the boy died unexpectedly in 1727 before any nuptials could be arranged. Johanna's cousin, Karl Frederick, had also married the daughter of Peter the Great, so the strength of relationship between the Prussian and Russian courts was firmly established by the early part of the 18th century.

When Empress Elizabeth sought a wife for her son and successor, Peter III, much deep and earnest correspondence ensued between Elizabeth and the Prussian Princess Johanna with the result that, on January 1st 1744, the young Sophia and her mother were invited to St. Petersburg by Elizabeth and her son. Sophia was then just fourteen years old. The Empress was delighted by the young Sophia for she found a very attractive young girl, intelligent and perceptive beyond her years. Thus it was agreed that, subject to Sophia's conversion to the Russian Orthodox Church, the girl would marry Peter. As part of the conversion process, Sophia had to be given a new name ordained by the Empress and Elizabeth chose to call the girl 'Catherine' in honour of her own mother.

Peter III proved to be a sickly young man and had several bouts of serious illness during Catherine's visit, and had survived a serious bout of measles in 1743 which left him sterile. This fact appears to have been withheld from Catherine until well after the two were married on 2nd August 1745.

Marriage thus proved to be a horror for Catherine. Her role was to produce a male heir and it didn't happen. She began to feel guilty and fractious, leaning on only a few trusted advisors and friends. She saw little of her husband, spending her time riding horses and reading the works of Voltaire. A few months into the marriage, the Empress Elizabeth reorganised Catherine's court circle, dismissing many of the girl's close friends and replacing them with advisors of her own choosing. One of these was Sergei Saltykov, a long time friend of the Empress and. many dared only whisper, probably more than that. Saltykov had a reputation as a strong and virile ladies man who was encouraged by Empress Elizabeth to become close to the young Princess Catherine. It soon became clear to the young girl what her mother in law was doing and she acceded to the Empress's clear desire that she take Saltykov to her bed in order to produce a child, a task for which her husband was incapable.

After two miscarriages Catherine finally gave birth to a son on 20th September 1754, the child being named Paul. The fact that the child was a boy took all the weight of expectation from Catherine's shoulders and allowed her greater freedom of movement and a chance to study English, at which she rapidly became fluent.

In 1761 the now ailing Empress Elizabeth died on Christmas Day and Peter III became Emperor of Russia. If his health was not a big enough handicap, Peter lacked any political savvy and consequently, during his period of waiting to step into his mother's shoes, had made himself very unpopular. Catherine, his wife, on the other hand, had steadfastly cultivated her own friends, her own advisors and her own 'court' and, amazingly for someone who was a foreigner, was very popular throughout Russia.

Catherine was advised, even before Elizabeth was laid to rest, to overthrow her husband and take the Russian throne but she sought various counsel and decided against it.

The coup was not long in coming, however, and by June 1762, Catherine and her advisors realised that there could be no further prevarication for the situation in the country was becoming ever more hostile to Peter so, on 28th June 1762, Catherine led a march through St Petersburg which picked up support and momentum along the way. Peter and his mistress escaped from the city to a country retreat where, on July 6th, he was tracked down by Catherine's agents and murdered. It became clear that Count Alexei Orloff, one of Catherine's most trusted advisors, had conspired with her in this murder but she justified it on the grounds that Russian independence was threatened by the Prussian links of her late husband..... of which she, of course, was the first!

Catherine was crowned on Sunday 22nd September 1762 in the Kremlin and proceeded to install all her trusted advisors in key positions, including the aforementioned Count Orloff who became Minister of Police and the Interior, a role in which he would exercise more than a slight taste for corporal punishment. Catherine ruled as a benign dictator who, in fact, scrapped the death penalty and brought in some enlightened social legislation.

If Catherine was basically a benign and enlightened despot, there were two areas in which she would have no patience or sympathy. One was her lack of regard for anyone who, whether through foolishness or malice, might betray Russia, and the other was anyone who would spread malicious gossip about Catherine herself. Catherine had ample cause to worry on both counts for revolts and minor uprisings were rife in the early years of her reign and her propensity for affairs with countless men left her vulnerable to attack. In both areas her wrath was manifested through severe physical retribution.

An example of such was an incident which followed a masked ball at the Palace of St Petersburg where a very well connected lady, the wife of a senior Russian general, had apparently drunk a little too much and was making very indiscreet remarks concerning Russia's alliances and her husband's opinion of them. The ball was attended by a number of foreign dignitaries who could clearly hear some of the lady's opinions and were not best pleased. The lady's indiscretions soon came to the ear of Catherine and she passed word to Orloff to get something done about it. The lady was told that her husband, who was away in the army, had left word for her and she was to return home. Unsuspecting, the General's wife left the ball in the company of Orloff's men, but instead of being taken home, she was taken to Orloff's Interior Ministry and down to a basement.

To her horror, she saw that the room contained a vaulting horse and an array of rods and birches. Count Orloff himself came into the room and read her the riot act about loose tongues undermining the Empress and the State. To her shame and horror, the frightened lady was told to strip naked, at which she protested violently, citing her position in society and her husband's rank. Orloff told her, in no uncertain terms, that her husband would have no military rank if she did not do as she was told and, as far as her position in society was concerned, the punishment had been ordained by the Empress Catherine herself, and that her future at court was very much in the balance.

The lady hesitated no longer and stripped naked, then was firmly strapped down over the vaulting horse. On Orloff's command, she was birched soundly until her shrieks rang round the room and her bottom was red raw. She was then released, allowed to dress, and sent home with a warning that any repeat of such injudicious behaviour would result in imprisonment.

An example of what happened when Catherine's personal trust was betrayed can be illustrated by the experience of one of her most trusted Maids Of Honour. The girl was responsible for the Empress's intimate dressing and bathing, thus of course found herself privy to some very private secrets including the sight of certain of Catherine's lovers arriving and departing the boudoir. The girl was engaged to be married and could not resist passing some juicy tittle-tattle to her fiance who, in turn, repeated it at one of his dining clubs in St Petersburg. Inevitably the gossip got back to the Empress who was livid with rage. Instead of reacting immediately, Catherine bided her time until the girl's wedding. After the happy couple had retired to the bedroom to consummate their marriage, the bedroom was forced open by six men of Catherine's personal bodyguard. Without ceremony, the sheets were stripped from the naked couple and the girl dragged out of bed. She was 'horsed' on the back of one of the guards while another birched her bottom mercilessly. The helpless husband was ordered to kneel naked and watch the proceedings on his knees.

When the birching was over and the girl was crying in anguish, the couple was told to enjoy their married life and, as far as Catherine was concerned, the flogging was the end of the matter. The couple was told that should any further indiscretions occur, however, both would be sent to a labour camp in Siberia. Needless to say the 'hint' was taken seriously.

Catherine's reign was a difficult one in many ways, yet she ruled Russia for over thirty years. Although she had her critics, she was greatly loved for her enlightened social policies and her military wisdom. Her final years were haunted by illness and depression, including a loss of faith in her son, Paul, who she attempted to have removed from the line of inheritance. The attempts failed and the now ailing Catherine died, following a stroke, on 5th November 1796. Her son did indeed inherit the throne of Russia, immediately tried to reverse many of his mother's reforms, and in fact, restored the memory of his 'father', Peter III, holding a new lying in ceremony so that Peter was buried next to his wife in the Peter and Paul Cathedral of St Petersburg.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the humiliation that Princess Batthyany, of Hungary had to suffer,e when her fine royal robes were raised and her linen bloomer's taken down as she awaited her corporal punishment tied to the pillory. was I am sure pure agony. And the belts, that painfully seared her naked rear end, given to her by these smirking officer's was brutally felt. She deserved such fate.