Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fifty Shades of History: Great Love Affairs of the Past


Spring Break is upon us. That means I get to sit around and do Spring Break type things which means watching as much TV as I want or sleeping until the crack of noon. What it really means is that I'll have to get caught up on all the stuff I haven't had time for since classes started in January. But hey, a man can dream, right? With all the Fifty Shades of Gray crap going on right now, I thought I'd write a little piece about some great romances, the kind of love they sing songs about. The kind they makes movies about (that is, movies without the whips and chains like FSOG). What people do in the privacy of their bedrooms is of no concern to me until they have been dead about fifty years or so, and then it becomes history and thus suitable for historical inquiry. You see, historians are voyeurs. True, we do not peek in windows, but we do read people's mail. We are privy to their most intimate thoughts and deeds. Historians, like prostitutes, make their living off of other people which means there isn't much of a difference between the historical profession and the oldest profession, but I digress. Today, I'll mention a few great love affairs from a bygone era, before a series of novels sent people scurrying to their nearest sex store to buy props. My list is not all inclusive and it is by no means in order of importance, except the last one which is the most important.

1. Nicholas and Alexandra

You know, I think that Nicholas and Alexandra have a lot in common with Louis and Marie Antoinette. They were born, fell in love, got married, had children, got overthrown, and then got killed. But I seem to have a certain sympathy for Nicholas and Alexandra that I don't have for Louis and Marie despite having nothing but disdain for the very idea of a monarchy. Princess Alix (her birth name) of Hesse was Queen Victoria's granddaughter as was just about everyone else in European royal families in the late 19th Century. Queen V wanted her to marry one of the other grandchildren but Alix said no. She had already met and fallen in love with Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, heir to the throne. Tsar Alexander III opposed the marriage at first and Alix's conversion to orthodoxy would also be a sticking point too. But when Alexander grew ill, he relented. Alix hastened to Russia. On his deathbed, Alexander gave his blessing. When he died, she was received into the Orthodox Church the next day and a wedding was held just a few weeks later. This did not sit well with the Russian peasants who said that she arrived "following a coffin". By all accounts the two really were in love. They slept in the same bed, which was unusual for royal couples at the time. Nicholas would make time to eat lunch with her every day. They had four daughters before she finally gave birth to the long awaited son, young Alexi. Their letters to each other, which they often wrote in English, were some of the most moving love letters I think I have ever read. But fate dealt them a bitter blow. If you'd like to read the rest of their story, you'll have to do it here. (Just watch out for Rasputin!)

2. Napoleon and Josephine

Lots of discussion about Napoleon and Josephine leave out the fact that they got divorced, but even then they remained on good terms. If you want to read some Fifty Shades of Gray, 19th Century style, look at some of the letters Napoleon sent to her while he was away fighting in Italy. He was very, shall we say, specific, with what activities he had planned for when he returned home. Josephine was born on a sugar plantation in Martinique. Her father fell on hard times and their aunt arranged the marriage of Josephine's younger sister to the aunt's "man friend" in France. However, the sister died shortly before leaving on the voyage and so she was simply replaced with Josephine! She married and had two children. Her daughter would marry Napoleon's brother! Josephine's marriage was not a good one, and the two separated. During the Reign of Terror, they were both arrested and her husband was sent to the guillotine. It is likely that Josephine would have been as well, but fate intervened. Robespierre's government fell and the Reign of Terror ended. Josephine was released. She met a young officer named Napoleon and the two fell in love and were married. She was six years older than him. He left two days after their wedding to command troops in Italy which would win him widespread acclaim. She returned to Paris and began having an affair with a young cavalry officer. When Napoleon found out, he was none too pleased. When he left to Egypt for more campaigning, Napoleon carried on his own affair with the wife of one of his subordinates. This left a strain on their relationship that never healed. Napoleon crowned himself emperor of France which, of course, made Josephine the empress. However, as time past it became apparent that she could not get pregnant.again Napoleon, concerned with the legacy of his empire, began to consider divorce. He had gone so far as to name her grandson by her previous marriage to be his heir, but when the child died, he saw no option but to divorce Josephine. She agreed to the divorce and Napoleon insisted that she retain the title of Empress of France. When Napoleon's new wife had a son, he even arranged for Josephine to meet the child! I guess that is proof that people can remain friends even in the strangest of circumstances.

"Dat asp!"

3. Antony and Cleopatra

Of course, if you can't remain friends, committing suicide by poisonous snake is an option, at least if you were like Cleopatra Queen of Denial. (See what I did there?) I spoke of Cleopatra before, when I discussed the dreaded Honey Trap. You can find that post here, She had herself smuggled into Julius Caesar's room rolled up inside a carpet so that she could use her......charms.......on him! Of course, after he got E tu brute'd in the Senate, she decided to get to know one of his buddies, Marc Antony. She bore him a twins and the two, by all accounts, got on fairly well although they had an on again off again kind of relationship. She used her armies to support his in one of the myriad of Roman Civil Wars, but when his soldiers defected to Octavian's side, all was lost. Marc Antony, thinking that Cleopatra had committed suicide, fell upon his sword. Cleopatra, after presiding over his funeral, then killed herself. According to the legend, she induced an asp (Egyptian cobra) to bite her. However, that is probably not true. Most believe that she simply poisoned herself. Gee, all these people keep coming to bad ends.

"Do you have Prince Albert in a can?" 

4. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Queen Victoria was married to her cousin, Prince Albert. In fact, if you ever wonder why there was so much hereditary health issues (and insanity) in the English Royal Family, it was because of all the inbreeding. Think of that, my Dear Muricans, next time you feel the need to gush over a royal baby. By all accounts, the two were very much in love and almost inseparable. Since she was the one actually in line to the English throne, she was the Queen and he was the Prince Consort (the same as Queen Elizabeth II and her husband today.) Albert did, of course, have input and frequently spoke his mind to Victoria who took his opinions into account, but also remember that by the mid 1800s, the days of the monarch having sole control over the empire were long gone. Albert died suddenly at the age of 42 and for the rest of her life, Victoria wore black. Furthermore, she had his nightgown laid out for him every night and had fresh water brought to his room every morning. No one was allowed to disturb his things in his room which remained just as he had left them. If that isn't true love, my friends, I don't know what is.

And now for the last and most important:

5. Lee Hutch and The Redhead

My wife and I recently celebrated seven years of marriage, but we've known each other for twelve years. We met on June 3, 2001. We were both students at UHCL and we were taking this horrible night class called European Intellectual History. The professor had a 25 page single spaced syllabus that he read to us, word for word, on the first night. When the break arrived, I staggered outside for a smoke and she followed me. I believe we call that stalking. We remained friends from that point on. Many years later, in 2007, we went on our first date. I took her to Dairy Queen. We got married about ten months later. (I proposed at the same Dairy Queen.) At the time I could not have foreseen the health problems that I would one day have. Back then I was a relatively new detective and things were looking up. Unfortunately, the whole for better or worse thing has really just been for worse. It has been quite a struggle as I deal with my various health problems which make a normal life, for either of us, impossible. But she has stayed by me through it all. And for that reason, I think we belong on this list. As you can see from the photo, she's hot and I'm a partially disabled ex-cop who can't even remember his own name half the time. But let's just hope our story doesn't end like the other ones on this list. I have a hunch that it won't.

My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian. 

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