Posts Tagged ‘October 30’

The Princess Diatribes

Posted in General on October 30th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

October 30, 1863:  Nepotism Pays Off Even It Takes 22 Generations

There have always been some advantages to being a princess.  If nothing else, you never starved.  (Throughout much of European history, that was a major advantage.)  Unfortunately, most princesses were superfluous and expendable.  In the Russian court, at least until Peter the Great, the imperial sister and daughter were  packed off to a convent.  True, most of those convents had all the luxuries of the Kappa Kappa Gamma house at Northwestern except for the mating with Delta Kappa Epsilon; nonetheless it was exile.  The French Court was a little more generous with mademoiselle la princesse.  The king permitted his spinster sisters to stay at Versailles and teach the harpsichord to his spinster daughters.

Of course, many princesses had diplomatic careers–as the sacrifice in a political marriage.  Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, was married off to Louis XII–who was three times her age.  At least the old goat was kind to her, and also was obliging enough to die after three months of marriage.  Other princesses were far more miserable.  The French princess who married Edward II discovered she was the lesser queen of the two.  A sixth century Ostrogothic princess had her nose slit off by her husband–quite literally the King of the Vandals; at least her father took her back and broke off the alliance.  There were worse fates than a comfy convent.

During the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Princess was esteemed as the most prestigious bride for a political marriage.  She represented the wealth and sophistication of the greatest power in Christendom.  Indeed, when one Byzantine daughter married into the Capetians, she was the only literate in the French royal family.  Of course, Byzantium dismissed most European suitors as unworthy of an imperial bride; but a few indispensible allies were begrudged the distinction.  The Doges of Venice were entitled to the Emperor’s nieces.  And to placate the northern shore of the Black Sea, the Great Princes of Kiev could have an imperial sister or daughter.

By the end of the 12th century, however, the Byzantine Empire was in decline and so were the standards for a political marriage.  The Empire still dominated the Balkans but had lost Sicily and Southern Italy to Norman brigands.    Holding off the Turks in Western Anatolia (a losing battle since the area is now called Turkey), the Byzantines had no force to reconquer their lost Italian provinces.  However, the Empire still had a strategy for winning back the territory.  Her name was Irene Angelina, the daughter of Emperor Isaac II, and she was married off to the crown prince of Norman Sicily.  Irene was all of 12 years old.

She was a bride in 1193, a widow the same year, and a prisoner in 1194.  Southern Italy and Sicily had been conquered by Philip of Swabia, a cousin of the Norman line, who felt that he had a more legitimate claim to the throne.  He certainly had the better army.  Philip was smitten with the young Byzantine princess.  He was twice her age–but that only made him 27–and he decided to marry her.  The German prince had nothing to gain from a political perspective.  Her father had been overthrown, blinded and imprisoned by his brother–who had his own daughters available for political alliance.  So Irene’s looks and charm were all the dowry she could offer.

But they lived happily ever after–until childbearing finally killed her in 1208.

On October 30, 1863, Prince Christian Wilhelm Ferdinand Adolf George of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksberg arrived in Greece, invited by public vote to take the throne.  No, his name does not sound Greek, but the future George I did boast of his Hellenic heritage.   He was the great-great-great-great-great-(you get the idea–22 generations) grandson of Irene Angelina.