illuminate history

Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)

Kings & Queens/History & Politics

One’s head spins with the profusion of kings and queens  whose inter-related and lavish lifestyles are proudly displayed in all the countries we visited, despite turbulent political upheavals over the centuries.

Christian IV (1577-1648), Denmark’s longest-reigning king had the Copenhagen neighborhood called christian-iv-on-his-deathbedChristianshavn developed as a fortified merchants’ town, modeled after Amsterdam. Also king of Norway, he had Oslo re-built in 1624, after it had been destroyed by fire. His war with Sweden and involvement in the Thirty Years War in Germany, on the other hand, caused great hardship for Denmark, but he died peacefully at home.resurrected-vasa-from-1628

Not so his sometime ally/sometime  adversary Gustavus Adolphus II (1594-1632) of Sweden, who was killed at the Battle of Lützen  during the Thirty Years War. This was after the spectacular sinking of the warship he commissioned, the Vasa, before she even reached the Baltic Sea on her maiden voyage in 1628. Apparently she was top-heavy and immediately swamped by waves just outside the harbor.







The Great Northern War was disastrous for Sweden’s Charles XII. When Peter I of Russia captured the fortress  Nyenskans in 1703, Sweden lost control of territory it had controlled for over 100 years. Like Christian IV, Peter the Great modeled his namesake city after the canals and bridges of Amsterdam.Stockholm Opera House foyer.jpg





Although not so warlike, the dedicated patron of the arts Gustavus Adolphus III was assassinated in 1792. Political rivals killed him at a masquerade in the foyer of the Stockholm Opera House–which he’d commissioned a few years before. Verdi dramatized this event in his opera  Un Ballo in Maschera.



Only a few years later, in 1810, it became clear that there was no heir apparent to the Swedish throne. King Charles XIII was sixty-one, childless and senile. The Swedish Parliament decided to appoint someone of whom Napoleon, who then controlled much of Europe, would approve. They selected Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s marshals.  Regent and Crown Prince Karl Johan broke with Napoleon in 1813 and led Sweden into the anti-Napoleon alliance.Norway, too, needed a king at this time and were persuaded by Bernadotte to enter a union with Sweden in which Norway remained an independent kingdom, but shared a common monarch and foreign policy.This arrangement continued until 1905, when Prince Carl of Denmark was elected as King Haakon VII of Norway.



Another assassination took place in St. Petersburg in 1881. Czar Alexander II favored modernization, abolished serfdom in 1861 and undertook a rigorous program of military, judicial and urban reforms. Yet numerous attempts on his life culminated with a bomb thrown at his carriage. The shredded jacket he was wearing is on display at the



The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood” was erected between 1883 and 1907 in memory of the assassinated czar.tombs-of-nicholas-and-alexandra









A few years later, Alexander II’s grandson, Nicholas II and his entire family were assassinated in 1917. However their remains were recovered and interred in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in 1998.




Splendid palaces and vast art collections were created in past centuries for the private pleasure and entertainment of the czars, their families and aristocratic friends. Today these sumptuous treasures are meticulously preserved for the benefit of the people of Russia–from the reconstructed Amber Room at Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace hermitage-leonardosto priceless Leonardos at The Hermitage–two of only fourteen extant paintings.

There were, of course, kings in Italy as well and Napoleon and his troops occupied Italy.

young-garibaldiAlthough Italians wanted to be rid of Napoleon, they wanted to retain many of the bourgeois republican ideals of the revolutionary period from 1796-1799. Vittorio Emmanuele I restored the old repressive system; insurrections broke out in the 1820’s. Except in Greece and Latin America, the insurrections were violently repressed.  As a young man, Giuseppe Garibaldi fought successfully in South America. We saw several monuments to him in Buenos Aires.anita-garibaldi_close-up2

(Footnote: Garibaldi’s Brazilian wife, Anita, is the subject of my favorite equestrian statue on the Trastevere in Rome.)


Giuseppe Mazzini launched the “Young Italy” movement to establish a unified, democratic and republican Italy that would lead other subject peoples to freedom and liberty. Garibaldi joined this movement in 1833.



Budding politician Camillo Cavour was involved in founding Il Risorgimento, the newspaper which became the official voice for the Italian National Movement. Carlos Alberto of Savoy, delivered the Albertine Statute, establishing a constitutional monarchy and the Subalpine Parliament, which functioned from 1848 to 1860.
Garibaldi’s legion of volunteers, the Expedition of a Thousand, succeeded in liberating Sicily from the Bourbon king of Naples.




Vittorio Emanuele proclaimed the unification of the Kingdom of Italy in March, 1861, but fighting continued. It wasn’t until France emerged victorious after the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 that the kingdom included Rome.


Verdi shows up in this story, too. He was a staunch supporter of Unification, proud that his last name was an acronym:



R–Re (King)

D–d’ (of)

sofiero-gardensFor the most part, kings and queens seem to have remained above the fray after that. When Swedish Gustav Adolf VI married English princess Margaret in 1905-under much more peaceful conditions-  King Oscar II and Queen Sofia,  his grandparents,gave them the summer palace as a wedding gift. Both avid gardeners, Gustav and Margareta cultivated Sofiero into a horticultural paradise–which it remains, now owned and maintained by the state.







Current queen of Denmark, Margrethe II, is an accomplished artist and ballet costume/stage set designer. Under an assumed name, she submitted illustrations to Tolkein for Lord of the Rings. He used them for the Danish edition published in 1997.























One comment on “Kings & Queens/History & Politics

  1. Sybilla Cook
    September 11, 2016

    Love the history. There is SO much I never learned in school. Thanks.

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This entry was posted on September 10, 2016 by in Copenhagen, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Sweden, Travel, Writing and tagged .
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