Monday, October 24, 2011

What is the Symbol for the Russian Ruble?

Also of interest: The double-headed eagle on the ruble was
adopted early on in the Rurik period from the Byzantine
double-headed eagle to symbolize the Rurik rulers' relationship
with the Byzantine royal family, the Paleologues, through
Ivan III's consort, Zoe (Sophie) Paleologue, a Greek princess.

The short answer is there is no official symbol. During the imperial period until about the early reign of Nicholas I around the 1820s, a symbol with the Russian letters "er" (Р) and "u" ( У) was used, pictured at right. It has been replaced with a variety of symbols including R and руб. The Central Bank of Russia has been trying to decide since 2007 on a new design for the symbol and is considering both a P with two lines through it and the symbol below.

This post is adapted largely from Wikipedia. Thank you to Wikipedia, specifically the English-language article on the Russian Ruble for providing so much helpful information.

Imperial Napkin Fold

This one's short but interesting. It deals with out friends the Hapsburgs again but on a much lighter topic. The way napkins are folded at Austrian state events is a closely guarded secret that only two people know who pass it on to someone else before they die. It originated during Hapsburg rule in Austria-Hungary in Vienna and is still used sometimes when foreign dignitaries, for example, dine in Vienna with high-ranking government officials.

The napkin is displayed in a museum to the public and there are pictures and videos of it online. So it's easy for people to see but no one has been able to figure out how to do it. It's my guess that a lot of people have not tried but the secrecy over a napkin just makes you wonder what other juicy secrets they might have regarding the former royal family in Austria! When I have the chance to write more, I'll discuss one secret that another royal family may have that, if true, is far darker...the story of Kaspar Hauser.

I have some more research to finish before I can publish though, and I worked overnight at the restaurant last night so I'm tired and ready to sleep (had a bad day [night?] there too). For now, enjoy this short video of the Hapsburg napkin fold!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Battles of the World for 1000 Years

A short but very cool video simulating battles in the world over time. See if you recognize periods of war by the increase in frequency of battles. Also see if you recognize any of the names. I know they're small but the more major battles have bigger names. I thought this video was pretty cool.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Succession, Royal Inbreeding, and the Hapsburg Lip

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Royal intermarriage, when royals marry other royals, has occurred as long as monarchies have existed. The some members of the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt married their blood siblings; Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIII (the famous Cleopatra) are an example from the classical period. Medieval Europe saw a significant amount of intermarriage among royal families that often resulted in remote inbreeding which occurs when a husband and wife share many ancestors but are not superficially closely related.

While royal marriages were often marriages of convenience to cement an alliance, some families married to keep their family in power and exclude other families from claiming their titles. Basically, any time either a female became the monarch (e.g. Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom) or a king had only daughters, they would be the last ruler of their royal house. If the daughter-princesses married men of other noble families in an alliance and had male children with them, the oldest male child would succeed to the throne when the king died under the name of his father, not his mother and the previous king. Queen Victoria was the last British monarch of the House of Hanover; her husband Prince-Consort Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha passed his name to his children and Edward VII ruled as a member of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Therefore, some families thought if they only married within their own dynasty, they would anchor their family to its dominions for generations to come. Some families were more notorious than others for their close marriages. Dynasties that were especially prominent in their marriages between close relatives included The House of Wittelsbach of Bavaria, the British Royal Family, especially the House of Hanover, and Hapsburg Dynasty, especially the Spanish branch. The Wittelsbachs had aunt-nephew and uncle-niece marriages. The Hanovers married as follows:
  • George I married his first cousin Sophia Dorothea of Celle
  • George I married his third cousin once removed Caroline of Ansbach
  • George III married his second cousin twice removed Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz
  • George IV married his first cousin Caroline of Brunswick
  • William IV married his third cousin once removed Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen
  • Victoria married her first cousin Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha
George V sweeps away his German titles.

    Interestingly enough, another way to keep the family name as the ruling dynasty of a state is to make it the law. George V of the United Kingdom was born a member of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (a descendant of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha). However, with the start of the Great War against the German Empire, anti-German sentiment ran high and the King of England denounced his German titles, taking the name Windsor. The current British royal family is the House of Windsor. However, a queen currently rules Great Britain! She would traditionally be the last monarch of the House of Windsor and when Charles, Prince of Wales succeeds to the throne, he would take the name of his father's family (Prince Philip who was a Greek prince before marrying Elizabeth). Charles would belong to the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (House of Glücksburg for short) and rule under that name. However, by royal decree and law, Charles will remain a Windsor and rule under that name, a continuation of the House of Windsor (itself a cadet branch of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha despite the denouncement of German titles by George V).

    Charles II of Spain, the last Spanish Hapsburg
    The House of Hapsburg took marriage within its own family to the extreme over many generations. The House of Hapsburg, which originated in what is now Switzerland, produced many Holy Roman Emperors and ruled the Austrian Empire (and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and the Spanish Empire for centuries. Franz Ferdinand, whose murder kicked off World War One, was a Hapsburg (of the cadet branch Hapsburg-Lorraine). However, one may recall that while Franz Joseph I of Hapsburg-Lorraine ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire during WWI, Alfonso XIII of the House of Bourbon ruled Spain in the same time period. How did the Hapsburgs, an immensely important and powerful dynasty lose the Spanish monarchy? The answer is inbreeding.

    The Spanish Hapsburgs intermarried so much that by the time Charles II of Spain (November 6, 1665–November 1, 1700), the last Spanish Hapsburg came to the throne, his ancestor Joanna of Castile showed up in his family tree in 14 unique spots that in most people with a diverse pedigree will have 14 distinct, different people in. Everyone can have a maximum of 32 great-great-great-great-grandmothers. Joanna of Castile showed up 6 times as his great-great-great-great-grandmother leaving him with at most 26 distinct women as his great-great-great-great-grandmothers (although it is probably less, I cannot interpret his family tree enough to calculate it). Perhaps more confusing, one ancestor, Margarita of Austria was his grandmother and great-grandmother at the same time.

    King Charles had grave physical and mental illness. It is rumored that at one point in his life he exhumed the bodies of many of his ancestors to have a look at their corpses. It is suspected that he had two rare genetic diseases brought out by remote inbreeding called combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis. He may have also suffered from acromegaly either instead of or in addition to one or both of the disorders listed above. He also had mandibular prognathism (more on that below).

    Charles II was frail and fragile; he couldn't walk until he was eight years old and was by all modern standards retarded (however, he did not have any known trisomy disorders). He was exceptionally unattractive and had a severe lack of intellect and emotional stability. He was most likely sterile and it has been suggested that neither of his marriages, one of which ended in divorce, were ever consummated. His tongue was very large and he his underbite caused him to be unable to chew food. He could barely be understood when he spoke and he drooled on himself. He died young, five days short of his 35th birthday, probably from a heart defect. His lack of an heir (and therefore his inbreeding) directly caused the fourteen-year long struggle that was the War of Spanish Succession, when as many as maybe half a million soldiers went to war to determine who would rule Spain.

    Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor
    Charles was the last in a long line of increasingly deformed Spanish Hapsburgs. Although he was the extreme, other members of the family had the same jaw deformity that he had, mandibular prognathism. The condition was so common in the Hapsburg family that it became known as the Hapsburg Lip or Hapsburg Jaw. It is characterized by a large underbite and protruding "strong" chin. The deformity supposedly entered the family from a Polish princess of Piast Dynasty. Notable members of the family with it were Charles I of Spain (Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor), pictured above, Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor, pictured at left, and of course Charles II of Spain, also pictured above. Generations of rulers had the deformity and it still can be seen, albeit in a very diminished feature, on the current King of Spain, Juan Carlos I of the House of Bourbon but also a descendant of the Hapsburgs.

    Juan Carlos I of Spain
    Finally we must remember that portraits are not photographs! They are approximations of what people looked like but were usually embellished to make the person pictured look better. Charles was probably even worse off than he looks from his official portraits. Imagine if you were approached by a powerful king from an even more powerful family to paint a portrait of him. Would you include the acne scars on his cheeks? Varicose veins? Rosacea? I think not. So remember the portraits we see are idealized, representing a possible best-case-scenario.

    it was not poor Charles II's fault that he was born deformed though. His family's avarice for power and wealth and unwillingness to take the risk of sharing that power with outsiders caused him to have less genetic diversity than a child of a brother and a sister. It is always the innocent victims of circumstance and birth that we seem to take pity on and Charles II, who could have had anything as King of Spain during the peak of the Spanish Imperial period but could not even chew his own food, certainly deserves our pity.

    The Madness of King George: A Misunderstood King

    George III in his coronation robes.
    His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, George William Frederick (June 4, 1738-January 29, 1820) became King of the Great Britain and Ireland as George III on October 25, 1760 when his grandfather, King George II, died after passing out unceremoniously and unfortunately while using the toilet early in the morning. The former king had lived to the age of 77, longer than any recorded English monarch up to that point. The new monarch was only 22 years old when he took the title King and 23 at his coronation but he had extensive schooling from his tutors and, unlike the previous two British kings of the House of Hanover, spoke English as a first language (instead of German), never visited the Electorate/Kingdom of Hanover in Germany which he became king of eventually, and was wholeheartedly British.

    However, the king had a dreadful problem. He suffered from several episodes of serious physical and mental illness throughout his life that were well-documented thanks to his high station. It is widely believed now that the king had a hematological disease called acute intermittent porphyria (AIP). First of all, unlike other royal afflictions such as mandibular prognathism in the Hapsburg family (more on that another day), porphyria is not the result of marriage between close relatives (inbreeding). Rather, AIP is a hereditary disease that is autosomal dominant, meaning that someone affected by it has a 50% chance of passing it on to each of his children. The disease can lay dormant for one's whole life and often needs a trigger (like a change in medicine, stress, diet, etc.) to bring out an acute attack, explaining why neither of George III's parents had notable symptoms. One of King George's descendants, Prince William of Gloucester (December 18, 1941–August 28, 1972) was diagnosed with variegate porphyria (VP), a similar porphyria with hepatic and cutaneous symptoms and autosomal dominant inheritance pattern.

    Prince William suffered from porphyria too.
    An attack of acute intermittent porphyria is manifested by a wide range of symptoms. The actual cause of the attack is the absence of an enzyme, porphobilinogen deaminase, that converts a chemical called a porphyrin into heme, a component of hemoglobin, the iron-based chemical in red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. Porphyrins are toxic to the body in high doses and attacks occur when stress, diet, or something else causes the body to not be able to filter the excess porphyrins. Pain is severe and most often located in the abdomen and the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). Often pain needs to be treated with IV morphine or other equally strong narcotics. Insomnia is common. Nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea all can occur. Muscle weakness, seizures, headaches, forgetfulness and confusion are often the neurological symptoms. The heart races and tachycardia (high heart rate) and hypertension (high blood pressure) are not uncommon even when an attack is not occurring. Psychiatric problems can occur and can sometimes be the only manifestation of the disease. Often individuals afflicted with porphyria are simply depressed and have anxiety issues but in more severe attacks serious cases of paranoia and psychosis can occur. Finally, AIP is often marked by a distinct purple color in urine and stool during an attack, hence it's name which is related to the Greek word for "purple" (a book about George III's porphyria is titled Purple Secret). There can often be other symptoms. There is no cure and the treatment is usually just of symptoms. One medicine, called Panhematin is available to treat the cause of porphyria but requires an IV and is difficult to find as most hospital pharmacies do not carry it and only one company in the United States makes it. Other than Panhematin, IV glucose (sugar) is used sometimes because carbohydrates are known to help stop attacks. Opiates are used for pain, phenothiazines are used for nausea, and benzodiazepines are, very cautiously, used for seizures. Barbiturates and many other drugs are known to be porphyrogenic, i.e., trigger attacks of AIP. Arsenic, now known to be poisonous in any individual, is one of the most dangerous substances to ingest for someone with any porphyria. In 2003, samples of George III's hair and wigs were analyzed and arsenic was found in them, most likely a medication given to him for his illness that in a cruel twist of fate actually made his condition worse.

    George III is often remembered as "Mad King George." In fact, the playwright Alan Bennett wrote a play called The Madness of George III in 1991 which was adapted as a movie, The Madness of King George in 1994.The play and movie focus on the unfortunate king's mental illness rather than his successful military campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars and his warm welcome of the United States to the international scene after the defeat of Britain in the American War of Independence. Rather, he is also remember often as the king who lost the American colonies (the United States was founded during his reign). Some bloggers have even asserted that if it weren't for porphyria, the United States wouldn't exist and we'd all be drinking tea and singing God Save the Queen today (presumably on the assumption that the king was crazy due to the disease and mishandled the colonies and the war).

     However, a lot of scholarship now has a more positive outlook on George III's reign, the longest in British history up to that point. Let us try to look at George III like unbiased historians rather than Americans who are most familiar with the king as the despot who ruled with "absolute tyranny" to whom the Declaration of Independence was addressed. George III was actually quick to respect the United States as a new country, welcoming John Adams as the de facto ambassador from the US (his title was Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of St. James's). John Adams did not stay at the court for long, however. According to US Department of State Historians, John Adams "became so frustrated with the cool reception [from George III's court] that he closed the legation in 1788 and the post remained vacant for four years."

    It seems from his dealings with the infant United States that King George III was in fact a rather honorable man. He also enjoyed some simple pleasures. Sometimes remembered as "Farmer George," the King had somewhat of a green thumb, liked to tend to his garden, and was very interested in agriculture in general. He loved spending time at what is now called the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. He was also a skilled equestrian.

    George III in 1820, the year he died.
    However, with regards to the king's disease acute intermittent porphyria, George III suffered attacks often. His most notable episodes occurred in the early 1780s, 1804, and 1810. He was immensely popular in 1810 but his deteriorating condition caused parliament to pass the Regency Act of 1811, officially titled the "Care of King During his Illness, etc. Act of 1811," of which this year is the 200th anniversary. The law passed control of the monarchy to his son, the future King George IV.

    Suffering all the typical symptoms of AIP, the king also was almost totally blind and in chronic pain. It is rumored that he would speak for hours on end about nothing and sometimes would wander around nearly or entirely naked. He never learned of the death of his son Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father. He never knew that he was proclaimed King of Hanover and the Electorate of Hanover was elevated to a Kingdom. He died with his favorite son, Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, by his side on January 29, 1820 around 8:30 PM, in incredible pain, grief-stricken over the death of his youngest and favorite daughter Princess Amelia, and most likely conscious but psychotic until the bitter end. If ever there was a "tyrant" that one can feel sympathy for, it is the misunderstood King George III.

    As a side note, I have a particularly strong interest in George III and porphyria. My grandmother suffered from acute intermittent porphyria and it is likely that my mother, my sister, and I all have inherited it. For more information on porphyria, or to help promote awareness of the rare but serious hematological disease, check out the American Porphyria Foundation and learn about the different porphyrias to become more aware. Here's an interesting tidbit to pique your interest: porphyria is sometimes cited as a cause or contributor to vampire and werewolf myths.

    One Minute to Midnight

    October 22 is an important day in Cold War Era history. On October 15, 1962 pictures from US spy planes were given to President John F. Kennedy that showed Soviet-built missiles based in Cuba, a volatile country with a revolutionary communist government just a short distance from Florida.

    The U2 Spy Plane image of Soviet missiles in Cuba
     On October 22, the president announced in an extraordinarily important speech that marked a climax in Cold War tensions that the US had identified the medium-range missile being built in Cuba and that our government would not tolerate such a violation of the Monroe Doctrine. He stated that any nuclear action by the Soviets in Cuba, regardless of the target of the attack, would be considered an attack on the United States and instituted a naval blockade against Cuba. The president was lauded for his strong, no-nonsense, courageous positioning and handling of the crisis in his speech when the world was on the brink of nuclear war.

    The phrase "one minute to midnight" is thrown around a lot when people talk about the Cuban missile crisis. It is a reference to the Doomsday Clock, a index published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists by the University of Chicago that measures how close the world is to all-out nuclear war (midnight). The Cuban missile crisis certainly brought the world close to nuclear war, but neither the United States nor the USSR wanted to engage in a nuclear world war over the island nation of Cuba.

    So, contrary to popular belief, the clock remained at 7 minutes to midnight during the entire Cuban missile affair. The clock has never landed on one minute to midnight, in fact. The closest the clock ever got was two minutes to midnight in 1953 when the United States and the USSR both tested nuclear bombs within a short time frame and the nuclear arms race really took off.

    Graph of the Doomsday Clock's Minutes to Midnight.

    The Cuban missile crisis ended on October 28, 1962, to the relief of the entire world, when Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union planned to dismantle the missile sites in Cuba. A strategic victory was won for the United States, the Monroe Doctrine, and President Kennedy while a proverbial victory was won for reason, logic, and humanity as a whole. The human race had, at least for the moment, avoided the promises of mutual assured destruction in a nuclear war between the superpowers, a phrase fittingly made into an acronym: MAD.


    Hi everyone! My name is Mike. I am a history buff and spend a lot of time reading articles online and in print about different historical figures, events, peoples, etc. and I always want to share them with someone. I decided to make a blog to share short synopses of historical topics as often as I can. I have bachelor of arts degrees in economics and history and while I have studied all different histories, the subjects I know most about are German and Russian history, especially during both countries' imperial periods, WWI, and WWII.

    I'm just getting started with blogging so excuse me for making any mistakes...I'm learning as I do this project.