Curiosity – Lover’s eyes

Marie Antoinette’s Playhouse:
These tiny eye paintings started as a fad in the late 1700s. Their purpose? To carry a piece of a loved one at all times without revealing their identity.
It’s a true token of a love affair, and fodder for a story of...

These tiny eye paintings started as a fad in the late 1700s. Their purpose?To carry a piece of a loved one at all times without revealing their identity.

It’s a true token of a love affair, and fodder for a story of romance.

The alleged beginning of these “lover’s eyes” comes from the prince of Wales, later King George IV, who once became determined to court a Catholic, twice-widowed woman named Maria Fitzherbert. The court frowned upon this courting and at first Maria Fitzherbert was not particularly impressed either. Finally, she reluctantly agreed to marry him, though their marriage would not be officially recognized since George III had not approved it.

Some accounts say that Maria came to her senses before the marriage and fled to America. But the prince did not give up. He sent her a locket with a miniature painting of his eye inside and the note, “P.S. I send you a parcel, and I send you at the same time an eye. If you have not totally forgotten the whole countenance, I think the likeness will strike you.” Whether it was the portrait or his letter, Maria decided to give in and marry George. Rumors say that George kept a portrait of Maria’s eye as well.

Marie Antoinette’s Playhouse:
These tiny eye paintings started as a fad in the late 1700s. Their purpose? To carry a piece of a loved one at all times without revealing their identity.
It’s a true token of a love affair, and fodder for a story of...

Marie Antoinette’s Playhouse:
These tiny eye paintings started as a fad in the late 1700s. Their purpose? To carry a piece of a loved one at all times without revealing their identity.
It’s a true token of a love affair, and fodder for a story of...

Marie Antoinette’s Playhouse:
These tiny eye paintings started as a fad in the late 1700s. Their purpose? To carry a piece of a loved one at all times without revealing their identity.
It’s a true token of a love affair, and fodder for a story of...



Bella Rosenfeld Chagall (1895-1944)

chagall010Bella was born in Vitebsk, White Russia, the youngest of eight children of Shmuel Noah and Alta Rosenfeld.

Her parents, owners of a successful jewelry business, were members of the ḥasidic community and conducted their family life according to Jewish tradition. However, they also sought out secular education and opportunities for their children. Chagall, who was educated in Russian language schools, became a student in the Faculty of Letters at the University of Moscow in her teens; she was particularly interested in theater and art, and as a university student, she contributed articles to a Moscow newspaper.

In 1909, while visiting friends in St. Petersburg, she met Marc Chagall; their attraction was instantaneous and they were soon engaged.chagall-e-bella-Although both were from Vitebsk, their social worlds were far apart and the Rosenfelds were unhappy with the engagement.

The couple finally married in 1915 and their only child, Ida, was born the next year. In 1922, Marc Chagall moved his family to France. Bella was a constant subject in her husband’s art, often represented as a beloved bride. The Chagalls fled to the United States following the outbreak of World War II, arriving in New York in 1941.

Bella Chagall died in 1944 in the United States, apparently of a viral infection. Bella Chagall’s literary work included the editing and translation of her husband’s 1922 autobiography from Russian into French (Ma Vie, 1931; Eng. trans., My Life, 1960).

Marc Chagall with Bella Rosenfeld, 1934

Her major work, Burning Lights (Brenendike Likht), written in Yiddish in France in 1939, was published posthumously in English in 1946. Chagall said that her visits to Jewish communities in Palestine in 1931 and Vilna in 1935 prompted her to write in Yiddish, her “faltering mother tongue.” In Burning Lights, Chagall arranges her reminiscences according to the calendar and observances of the Jewish year. Writing in the voice of her childhood self, Basha, she places female experience at the center of her luminous narrative.

Chagall’s selective portrait of her well-to-do urban family, living among and employing gentiles, successful in business, religiously active, and communally philanthropic, contrasts with contemporaneous depictions of the contained and impoverished Jewish life of the East European shtetl.

A great part of the genius of Brenendike Likht is Chagall’s ability to convey simultaneously the timelessness of traditional Jewish life and a dark foreboding prompted by the existential reality of East European Jewry in the 1930s. A second posthumous autobiographical volume, First Encounter, was published in 1983.

Sophie Blanchard

Sophie Blanchard (25 March 1778 – 6 July 1819) was a French aeronaut and the wife of



ballooning pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard. Blanchard was the first woman to work as a professional balloonist, and after her husband’s death she continued ballooning, making more than 60 ascents. Known throughout Europe for her ballooning exploits, Blanchard entertained Napoleon Bonaparte, who promoted her to the role of “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals”, replacing André-Jacques Garnerin. On the restoration of the monarchy in 1814 she performed for Louis XVIII, who named her “Official Aeronaut of the Restoration“.

Sophie Blanchard was born Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant to Protestant parents at Trois-Canons, near La Rochelle. Little is known of her life before her marriage to Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the world’s first professional balloonist. The date of her marriage is unclear; sources quote dates as early as 1794  or 1797,but most state 1804, the year of her first ascent. Blanchard had abandoned his first wife, Victoire Lebrun, and their four children to travel round Europe pursuing his ballooning career, and she later died in poverty. Variously described as Blanchard’s “small, ugly, nervous wife”, “small with sharp bird-like features” and later as “small and beautiful”, Sophie was more at home in the sky than on the ground, where her nervous disposition meant she was easily startled. She was terrified of loud noises and of riding in carriages, but was fearless in the air.She and her husband were in an accident on a joint flight in 1807 (her 11th ascent, possibly his 61st), in which they crashed and he sustained a head injury. The shock apparently left her mute for a while.

Sophie made her first ascent in a balloon with Blanchard in Marseilles on 27 December 1804. The couple faced bankruptcy as a result of Blanchard’s poor business sense, and they believed a female balloonist was a novelty that might attract enough attention to solve their financial problems. She described the feeling as an “incomparable sensation” (“sensation incomparable“).Sophie made a second ascent with Blanchard and for her third ascent on 18 August 1805, she flew solo from the garden of the Cloister of the Jacobins in Toulouse.

She was not the first woman balloonist. On 20 May 1784, the Marchioness and Countess of Montalembert, the Countess of Podenas and a Miss de Lagarde had taken a trip on a tethered balloon in Paris. Neither was she the first woman to ascend in an untethered balloon: in Blanchard’s time, Citoyenne Henri, who had made an ascent with André-Jacques Garnerin in 1798, was widely credited with that ballooning first, although the honour actually belonged to Elizabeth Thible. Thible, an opera singer, had made an ascent to entertain Gustav III of Sweden in Lyon on 4 June 1784, fourteen years before Citoyenne Henri. Blanchard was, however, the first woman to pilot her own balloon and the first to adopt ballooning as a career.

In 1809, her husband died from injuries sustained when he fell from his balloon in the Hague after suffering a heart attack. After his death, Sophie continued to make ascents, specialising in night flights, often staying aloft all night.

She became a favourite of Napoleon, and he appointed her to replace André-Jacques Garnerin in 1804. Garnerin had disgraced himself by failing to control the balloon that he had sent up to mark Napoleon’s coronation in Paris; the balloon eventually drifted as far as Rome, where it crashed into the Lago di Bracciano and became the subject of many jokes at Napoleon’s expense.The title given to her by Napoleon is unclear: he certainly made her “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals” (“Aéronaute des Fêtes Officielles“) with responsibility for organising ballooning displays at major events,but he may have also made her his Chief Air Minister of Ballooning, in which role she is reported to have drawn up plans for an aerial invasion of England.

She made ascents for Napoleon’s entertainment on 24 June 1810 from the Champ de Mars 800px-Blanchardballoon3.jpgin Paris and at the celebration mounted by the Imperial Guard for his marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria. On the birth of Napoleon’s son, Blanchard took a balloon flight over Paris from the Champs de Mars and threw out leaflets proclaiming the birth.She performed at the official celebration of his baptism at the Château de Saint-Cloud on 23 June 1811, with a firework display launched from the balloon, and again at the “Féte de l’Emperor” in Milan on 15 August 1811. She made an ascent in bad weather over the Campo Marte in Naples to accompany the review of the troops by Napoleon’s brother-in-lawJoachim Murat, the King of Naples, in 1811.When Louis XVIII entered Paris on 4 May 1814 after being restored to the French throne, Blanchard ascended in her balloon from the Pont Neuf as part of the triumphal procession. Louis was so taken with her performance that he dubbed her “Official Aeronaut of the Restoration”.


On 6 July 1819, while making an ascent to start a display over the Tivoli Gardens in Paris, her hydrogen-filled balloon caught fire and Blanchard, entangled in the surrounding net, fell to her death. She was reported to be unusually nervous before starting this ascent.

Blanchard had performed regularly at the Tivoli Gardens, making ascents twice a week when she was in Paris.She had been warned repeatedly of the danger of using fireworks in her exhibitions. This display was to be a particularly impressive one with many more pyrotechnics than usual, and it appears that the warnings had made an impression on her. Some spectators implored her not to make the ascent, but others, eager to see the show, urged her on. One report suggested that she finally made up her mind and stepped into her chair with the words “Allons, ce sera pour la dernière fois” (“Let’s go, this will be for the last time”).

At about 10:30 p.m. (accounts differ as to the exact time), Blanchard began her ascent, carrying a white flag and wearing a white dress and a white hat topped with ostrich plumes. The wind was blowing strongly, and it appears the balloon struggled to rise. By shedding ballast Blanchard managed to get some lift, but the balloon brushed through the trees as it ascended. Once she had cleared the treetops Blanchard began the display by waving her flag. The balloon was illuminated by baskets containing “Bengal fire“, a slow-burning, coloured pyrotechnic.

A few moments after beginning the display, and while still ascending, the balloon was seen to be in flames. Some reports say that the balloon momentarily disappeared behind a cloud and that when it reappeared it was on fire—whatever the circumstances, the gas in the balloon was burning. Blanchard began to descend rapidly, but the balloon, caught in the wind, continued to move off from the pleasure gardens even as it went down. Some spectators thought these events were part of the show and applauded and shouted their approval.The balloon had not risen very high and, although the escaping gas was burning, the gas within the balloon maintained sufficient lift for a while to prevent the craft plummeting directly to the ground. By rapidly shedding ballast Blanchard was able to slow the descent. Most reports say she appeared to be calm during the descent, but she was said to be wringing her hands in despair as the craft approached the ground.Rumours later circulated that she had gripped the chair of her craft so tightly that “several arteries had snapt through the effort.”

Just above the rooftops of the Rue de Provence the balloon’s gas was exhausted, and the craft struck the roof of a house.It was thought likely that she would have survived had that been the end of the incident, but the ropes holding the chair to the body of the balloon may have burnt through, or the impact may have thrown her forwards, with the result that Blanchard, trapped in the netting of the balloon, pitched over the side of the roof into the street below. John Poole, an eyewitness, described her final moments:

There was a terrible pause, then Mme Blanchard caught up in the netting of her balloon, fell with a crash upon the slanting roof of a house in the Rue de Provence, and then into the street, where she was taken up a shattered corpse.[24]

Some reports credit her with crying out “À moi!” (“help”, or literally, “to me”), as she struck the roof.Although the crowds rushed to her assistance and attempts were made to save her, she had either died instantly, from a broken neck, or at most ten minutes later.

The most likely cause of the accident seemed to be that the fireworks attached to her balloon had been knocked out of position by a tree as she ascended; possibly the balloon was heavily loaded and failed to rise quickly enough. When she had lit the fuses the fireworks headed towards the balloon instead of away from it; one of them burned a hole in the fabric, igniting the gas. One man reportedly spotted the problem and shouted to her not to light the fuses, but his cries were drowned out by the cheering of the crowd.[20] Later reports suggested she had left the gas valve open, allowing sparks to ignite the gas and set fire to the balloon, or that her balloon was of poor construction and allowed gas to escape throughout the ascent.[1]


6 People Who Claimed to Have Been Romanovs

In 1917, the House of Romanov had been ruling Russia continuously for more than 300 years when the family was overthrown by the Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin. On this date (or possibly yesterday—there’s a debate about exactly when it happened) in 1918, Tsar Nicholas II, along with his wife Alexandra and their five children, met a brutal end: they were shot and stabbed in the basement of the house where they were being held by the Bolsheviks, and the Romanovs’ extended family were either killed or exiled. Nicholas and his family were the last to hold the throne, and their deaths signified a permanent end to the royal family.

Over the years, a number of people have come forward pretending to be exiled members of the Romanov family. Some merely wanted to be famous, while others were convinced that they truly had royal blood coursing through their veins. Today, all members of the immediate family have been identified through DNA evidence as having been killed.


1. Marga Boodts // Claimed to be Olga

After Marga Boodts married a German officer in 1926, she shared a shocking secret: That she was actually Grand Duchess Olga of the Romanovs. Olga was the first daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra, and her hand in marriage was considered very valuable.

Boodts claimed she’d kept the secret because she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. She said that she was being supported by her uncle, Kaiser Wilhelm II, until his death, and she promised him she wouldn’t tell anyone for “the protection of [her] own life.”

She went public with her claims when Anna Anderson (see below) decided to come out with her own claims of Romanov ancestry. Boodts wanted to destroy Anderson’s credibility while supporting her own. She even wrote aBOOK about everything she had supposedly gone through as a run-away Romanov, but it was never published.

Boodts died in 1976 and was buried under the name “Olga Nikolaevna”; the grave was supposedly ruined in 1995.

2. Larissa Tudor // Rumored to be Tatiana

Larissa Tudor married Owen Frederick Morton Tudor in 1923 and lived a very uneventful life with her husband until she died three years later, when she was just 28. Larissa never claimed to be Tatiana, the second daughter in the Romanov family, but rumors arose after her death.

When Larissa died, she left Owen with a large inheritance; its origins were unknown. More than 60 years later, author Michael Occleshaw discovered some inconsistencies in Larissa’s story. He found that she was buried under the name “Larissa Feodorovna,” even though her marriage certificate said “Haouk.” She looked similar to Tatiana and some neighbors, when seeing portraits of Tatiana, said the woman was Larissa.

Occleshaw wrote a book detailing the events and how Tatiana would have escaped and how she could have come to be known as Larissa, although his theory was later disproven.


3 and 4. “Granny” Alina and Ceclava Czapska // Said to be Maria by their grandsons

Granny Alina, according to her grandson, mysteriously showed up in South Africa and supposedly told her family there that she was a princess, but couldn’t tell anyone else out of fear of being shipped back to Russia. She died in 1969, and, in 2004, her grandson took her claims public. George Negus Tonight, an Australian program that focused on current events in the early 2000s, ran a show on it, and while the family was still investigating, the story was more or less closed.

Alexis Brimeyer also claimed that his grandmother was Maria, but his claims were taken significantly less seriously because he had a history of faking noble titles. He started with “His Serene Highness Prince Khevenhüller-Abensberg,” which he quickly gave up after he was sued by the actual Princess Khevenhüller.

After the legal dust settled, he took on several other names before claiming that his grandmother was actually Maria and that made him a Romanov as well. Brimeyer died in 1995, but not before he also laid claim to the Serbian throne. Until 2007, these conspiracies didn’t seem especially farfetched, because there were a son and daughter missing from the skeletons discovered. But that year, the missing Romanovs were discovered, proving both Brimeyer’s and Alina’s claims false.


5. Anna Anderson, a.k.a. Franziska Shanzkowska // Claimed to be Anastasia


Since 1918, dozens of women have claimed to be Anastasia, the fourth and youngest daughter in the Romanov family, but Anderson is by far the most famous imposter. Her story begins when she tried to commit suicide in Berlin in 1920 and refused to tell anyone her name. Two years later, she began telling people that she was the Grand Duchess.

Some people who knew the Grand Duchess backed up her claims, including family friends and Russian officials. But when relatives of the tsar investigated Anderson’s claims, they discovered that she was actually Franziska Shanzkowska, a woman who had suffered a series of tragic events and had not been heard from since around the time Anderson was found in the canal. Her family later denied her when Nazis threatened to throw her in jail if she was found to be Shanzkowska.

In 1928, she came to live in the United States at the expense of Xenia Leeds, a Russian princess who was distantly related to the Romanovs and living with her American husband. After a failed attempt to claim the Romanov estate, she moved from place to place before ending up in Germany. Once there, she again tried to get ahold of the estate and failed. She returned to the United States in 1968, where she married a wealthy man, and spent her final years in an institutional care facility.

Anderson claimed she was Anastasia until her death in 1984, but DNA evidence proved otherwise in the ’90s.


6. Michael Goleniewski // Claimed to be Alexei

Alexei was the youngest child and only son of Nicholas II, and a real problem for the communist regime in Russia. Like Anastasia, Alexei had quite a few claims to his name.

Michael Goleniewski lived a much less exciting life than Anderson, likely because so few believed his claims. He was born in Poland, and worked as a spy for the Soviet Union while employed for the Polish Secret Service, but he ended up working for the CIA and MI5.

Goleniewski defected to America in 1961 and was made a citizen by a private billpassed by both houses of Congress. Once in the States, he began to claim that he was Tsarevich Alexei and that the rest of the family was alive and in hiding somewhere in Europe. In 1963, Goleniewski had a reunion with another “Anastasia,” a Rhode Island imposter named Eugenia Smith.

Unfortunately for Goleniewski, documents proved he was born and raised in Poland and 18 years younger than Alexei. The tsarevich also had hemophilia, a blood disorder that makes clotting difficult, which was never confirmed in Goleniewski.

The CIA was not happy with Goleniewski for faking something so huge and ended his employment. Still, the wannabe Romanov claimed to know about the tsar’s money and even managed to spark an investigation. Like Anderson, he claimed to be Alexei until his death.


Defenestrations of Prague

The Defenestrations of Prague were two incidents in the history of Bohemia in which multiple people were defenestrated. The first occurred in 1419 and the second in 1618, although the term “Defenestration of Prague” more commonly refers to the later incident. Both helped to trigger prolonged conflict within Bohemia and beyond. Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window.

First Defenestration of Prague


The New Town Hall,the place of the first defenestration.

 The New Town Hall, the place of the first defenestration

The First Defenestration of Prague involved the killing of seven members of the city council by a crowd of radical CzechHussites on 30 July 1419.

Jan Želivský, a Hussite priest at the church of the Virgin Mary of the Snows, led his congregation on a procession through the streets of Prague to the New Town Hall (Novoměstská radnice) on Charles Square. The town council members had refused to exchange their Hussite prisoners. While they were marching, a stone was thrown at Želivský from the window of the town hall.This enraged the mob and they stormed the town hall. Once inside the hall, the group defenestrated the judge, the burgomaster, and some thirteen members of the town council, where they were killed by the fall or dispatched by the mob.

King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia, upon hearing this news, was stunned and died shortly after, supposedly due to the shock.

The procession was a result of the growing discontent at the contemporary direction of the Church and the inequality between the peasants and the Church’s prelates, and the nobility. This discontent combined with rising feelings of nationalism and increased the influence of radical preachers such as Jan Želivský, influenced by Wycliffe, who saw the current state of the Catholic Church as corrupt. These preachers urged their congregations to action, including taking up arms, to combat these perceived transgressions.

The First Defenestration was thus the turning point between talk and action leading to the prolonged Hussite Wars. The wars broke out shortly afterward and lasted until 1436.


Second Defenestration of Prague

The Second Defenestration of Prague precipitated the Thirty Years’ War.

In 1555, the Peace of Augsburg had settled religious disputes in the Holy Roman Empire by enshrining the principle of Cuius regio, eius religio, allowing a prince to determine the religion of his subjects. The Kingdom of Bohemia since 1526 had been governed by Habsburg Kings, who did not, however, force their Catholic religion on their largely Protestant subjects. In 1609,Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia (1576–1612), increased Protestant rights. He was increasingly viewed as unfit to govern, and other members of the Habsburg dynasty declared his younger brother, Matthias, to be family head in 1606. Matthias began to gradually wrest territory from Rudolf, beginning with Hungary. In order to strengthen his hold on Bohemia, Rudolf in 1609 issued the Letter of Majesty, which granted Bohemia’s largely Protestant estates the right to freely exercise their religion, essentially setting up a Protestant Bohemian state church controlled by the estates, “dominated by the towns and rural nobility”.[2] Upon Rudolf’s death, Matthias succeeded in the rule of Bohemia (1612–1619) and extended his offer of more legal and religious concessions to Bohemia, relying mostly on the advice of his chancellor, Bishop Melchior Klesl.

Conflict was precipitated by two factors: Matthias, already aging and without children, made his cousin Ferdinand of Styria his heir and had him elected king in 1617. Ferdinand was a proponent of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and not likely to be well-disposed to Protestantism or Bohemian freedoms. Bohemian Protestants opposed the royal government as they interpreted the Letter of Majesty to extend not only to the land controlled by the nobility or self-governing towns but also to the King’s own lands. Whereas Matthias and Klesl were prepared to appease these demands, Ferdinand was not, and in 1618 forced the Emperor to order the cessation of construction of some Protestant chapels on royal land. When the Bohemian estates protested against this order, Ferdinand had their assembly dissolved.

The Defenestration

On May 23, 1618, four Catholic Lords Regent, Count Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice, Count Vilem Slavata of Chlum, Adam II von Sternberg (who was the supreme burgrave), and Matthew Leopold Popel Lobcowitz (who was the grand prior), arrived at the Bohemian Chancellory at 8:30 am. After preparing the meeting hall, members of the dissolved assembly of the three main Protestant estates gathered at 9:00 am, led by Count Thurn, who had been deprived of his post as Castellan of Karlstadt by the Emperor. The Protestant Lords’ agenda was to clarify whether or not the four regents present were responsible for persuading King Matthias to order the cessation of churches on royal land. According to Martinice himself:

Lord Paul Rziczan read aloud… a letter with the following approximate content: His Imperial Majesty had sent to their graces the lord regents a sharp letter that was, by our request, issued to us as a copy after the original had been read aloud, and in which His Majesty declared all of our lives and honour already forfeit, thereby greatly frightening all three Protestant estates. As they also absolutely intended to proceed with the execution against us, we came to a unanimous agreement among ourselves that, regardless of any loss of life and limb, honour and property, we would stand firm, with all for one and one for all… nor would we be subservient, but rather we would loyally help and protect each other to the utmost, against all difficulties. Because, however, it is clear that such a letter came about through the advice of some of our religious enemies, we wish to know, and hereby ask the lord regents present, if all or some of them knew of the letter, recommended it, and approved of it.

Vilem Slavata of Chlum, 1618 enamel on copper, by follower of Dominicus Custos

Before the regents gave any answer, they requested that the Protestants give them the opportunity to confer with their superior, Adam von Waldstein, who was not present. If they were given the opportunity, the Protestants would get an official answer to their grievance by the next Friday (this was taking place on the eve of Ascension Day and they all must observe the holy day). The Protestants demanded an immediate answer. Two regents, Adam II von Sternberg and Matthew Leopold Popel Lobcowitz, were declared innocent by the Protestant Estate holders and too pious to have any responsibility in the letter’s creation. They in turn were removed from the room; however, before leaving, Adam II von Sternberg made it clear that they “did not advise anything that was contrary to the Letter of Majesty”. This left only Count Vilem Slavata of Chlum, Count Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice (who had replaced Thurn as Castellan), known Catholic hard-liners, and Philip Fabricius the secretary to the Regents. They eventually claimed responsibility for the letter and, assuming they were only going to be arrested, welcomed any punishment the Protestants had planned.

Count von Thurn turned to both Martinice and Slavata and said “you are enemies of us and of our religion, have desired to deprive us of our Letter of Majesty, have horribly plagued your Protestant subjects… and have tried to force them to adopt your religion against their wills or have had them expelled for this reason”. Then to the crowd of Protestants, he continued “were we to keep these men alive, then we would lose the Letter of Majesty and our religion… for there can be no justice to be gained from or by them”. Soon after, the two Regents were defenestrated along with the Regents’ secretary, Philipus Fabricius, but survived the 70 feet (21 metres) fall from the third floor. Catholics maintained the men were saved by angels or by the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who caught them; later Protestant pamphleteers asserted that they survived due to falling onto a dung heap, a story unknown to contemporaries and probably coined in response to divine intervention claims. Philip Fabricius was later ennobled by the emperor and granted the title Baron von Hohenfall (literally “Baron of Highfall”).



Immediately after the Defenestration, the Protestant estates and Catholic Habsburgs started gathering allies for war.After the death of Matthias in 1619, Ferdinand II was elected Holy Roman Emperor. At the same time, the Bohemian estates deposed him as King of Bohemia and replaced him with Frederick V, Elector Palatine, a leading Calvinistand son-in-law of the Protestant James VI and I, King of Scotland, England and Ireland.

Because they deposed a properly chosen king, the Protestants could not gather the international support they needed for war.Just two years after the Defenestration, Ferdinand and the Catholics regained power in the Battle of White Mountain on November 8, 1620. This became known as the first battle in the Thirty Years’ War.

There was plundering and pillaging in Prague for weeks following the Battle. Several months later, twenty-seven nobles and citizens were tortured and executed in the Old Town Square. Twelve of their heads were impaled on iron hooks and hung from the Bridge Tower as a warning. This also contributed to catalyzing the Thirty Years’ War.

Further defenestrations

More events of defenestration have occurred in Prague during its history, but they are not usually called defenestrations of Prague.

A defenestration (chronologically the second defenestration of Prague, sometimes called one-and-halfth defenestration) happened on 24 September 1483, when a violent overthrow of the municipal governments of the Old and New Towns ended with throwing the Old-Town portreeve and the bodies of seven killed aldermen out of the windows of the respective town halls.

Sometimes, the name the third defenestration of Prague is used, although it has no standard meaning. For example, it has been used to describe the death of Jan Masaryk, who was found below the bathroom window of the building of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 10 March 1948. The official report listed the death as a suicide.[10]However, it was widely believed he was murdered, either by the nascent Communist government in which he served as a non-partisan Foreign Minister, or by the Soviet secret services.[11] A Prague police report in 2004 concluded after forensic research that Masaryk had indeed been thrown out the window to his death. This report was seemingly corroborated in 2006 when a Russian journalist claimed that his mother knew the Russian intelligence officer who defenestrated Masaryk.

Princess Charlotte of Wales 1796-1817


Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was the only daughter of George IV, then Prince of Wales and his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick . Theirs was an arranged marriage, which George agreed to in order to get parliament to settle his enormous debts which at the time amounted to £630,000 . On first sight of his future wife, George was thoroughly dismayed and in a state of shock, “I am not well”, he announced “pray get me a glass of brandy,” The marriage ceremony proceeded as arranged, attended by his well pleased father, George III, on the evening of 8th April, 1795 at the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace. The bride wore a elaborate dress of silver tissue and lace and a velvet robe lined with ermine. The distraught bridegroom spent his wedding night lying on the bedroom floor by the fireplace in a drunken stupor.

Although he was repelled by his wife, he did his duty and brought himself to consummate the marriage and the Princess of Wales gave birth to a daughter and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, exactly nine months after the marriage, on 7th January, 1796 at Carlton House. After the birth of the child George promptly abandoned Caroline.

George III, who was sympathetic toward the plight of his niece, Princess Caroline and never on the best of terms with his errant son, expressed a desire to have Charlotte live with him so that he could supervise her upbringing and education.

A battle of wills followed over who was going to control the raising and education of Princess Charlotte. The prince was willing to accede to the wishes of his father, but wanted Caroline to have no influence in her daughter’s education, while king wanted her to be party to decisions about her daughter. A reconciliation took place between George and his father and an agreement about Charlotte’s future finally reached. She was to remain under her father’s care. The Princess of Wales was forbidden to see her daughter on a daily basis and in 1799 was banished. She went to live abroad, inviting scandal by taking lovers and running up vast debts. The child’s first governess was Lady Elgin.

Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-SaalfieldNot surprisingly Charlotte grew up to be a stormy and rebellious teenager. After a failed attempt to force his daughter into a marriage with the Prince of Orange, whom she loathed, the Regent married his daughter and the heiress to the throne to Leopold George Christian Frederick of Saxe-Coburg- Saalfield, (pictured right) her own choice as a husband. Leopold was the youngest child of Francis, Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld and Augusta of Reuss-Ebersdorf. The couple were married on 2 May, 1816, at Carlton House. After spending their honeymoon at Oatlands in Surrey, the country seat of the Duke of York, the couple set up home at Claremont. The cool and collected Leopold was to prove a calming influence on his tempestuous and headstrong wife.

Princess Charlotte of WalesAfter two miscarriages, Charlotte became pregnant with what was hoped would be a grandson and the heir in the next generation to the British throne. She went into labour on 3rd November, 1817. The Prince Regent was summoned and hurried to be present when the labour proved to be difficult and protracted, Caroline’s ordeal lasted for for fifty hours. Finally the child was born at nine o’clock on 6th November, a boy, born dead. The sad news was related to George on his reaching Carlton House, being told that his daughter herself was doing well, he retired exhausted to bed.

Though the mother seemed at first to be recovering well from her horrendous ordeal, she complained that evening of severe stomach pains and began to vomit. She later developed a pain in her chest, before going into convulsions. It has been suggested that Charlotte may have died as a result of porphyria, inherited from her grandfather, George III.

Soon after the Regent was awoken by his brother, the Duke of York and informed that his only daughter was dead. Highly emotional by nature, George was extremely distraught. The following day he went to visit his bereaved son-in-law at Carlton House. In contrast to the sad but composed Leopold, George was overcome and worked himself into a very distressed condition, which was the cause of further alarm.

Charlotte and her son were buried at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Her elaborate carved memorial is situated in a side chapel toward the back of the nave. George’s recovery from his bereavement was slow, he became somewhat reclusive and dwelled excessively on the shock of the sad event which had overwhelmed him. Charlotte’s obstetrician, Sir Richard Croft was widely blamed for the Princess’ death and was said to have been negligent. Both the Regent and Prince Leopold publicly exonerated him from blame, but the damage to his reputation was done and eighteen months later Croft shot himself.

Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield was later to act as principal adviser to his young niece Victoria. In June 1831, he became king of the Belgians, fifteen years after Charlotte’s death , he married Louise-Marie, daughter of Louis-Philippe of France, and they had four children, one of whom was named Charlotte in her honour. He was to be instrumental in arranging the marriage of Queen Victoria to his nephew, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

The English Black Queen

Queen Charlotte died nearly two centuries ago but is still celebrated in her namesake American city.

When you drive from the airport in North Carolina, you can’t miss the monumental bronze sculpture of the woman said to be Britain’s first black queen, dramatically bent backwards as if blown by a jet engine. Downtown, there is another prominent sculpture of Queen Charlotte, in which she’s walking with two dogs as if out for a stroll in 21st-century America.

Street after street is named after her, and Charlotte itself revels in the nickname the Queen City – even though, shortly after the city was named in her honour, the American War of Independence broke out, making her the queen of the enemy. And the city’s art gallery, the Mint museum, holds a sumptuous 1762 portrait of Charlotte by the Scottish portrait painter Allan Ramsay, showing the Queen of England in regal robes aged 17, the year after she married George III.

Charlotte is intrigued by its namesake. Some Charlotteans even find her lovable. “We think your queen speaks to us on lots of levels,” says Cheryl Palmer, director of education at the Mint museum. “As a woman, an immigrant, a person who may have had African forebears, botanist, a queen who opposed slavery – she speaks to Americans, especially in a city in the south like Charlotte that is trying to redefine itself.”

Yet Charlotte (1744-1818) has much less resonance in the land where she was actually queen. If she is known at all here, it is from her depiction in Alan Bennett’s play as the wife of “mad” King George III. We have forgotten or perhaps never knew that she founded Kew Gardens, that she bore 15 children (13 of whom survived to adulthood), and that she was a patron of the arts who may have commissioned Mozart.

Here, Charlotte is a woman who hasn’t so much intrigued as been regularly damned. In the opening of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities she is dismissed in the second paragraph: “There was a king with a large jaw, and a queen with a plain face, on the throne of England.” Historian John H Plumb described her as “plain and undesirable”. Even her physician, Baron Christian Friedrich Stockmar, reportedly described the elderly queen as “small and crooked, with a true mulatto face”.

“She was famously ugly,” says Desmond Shawe-Taylor, surveyor of the Queen’s pictures. “One courtier once said of Charlotte late in life: ‘Her Majesty’s ugliness has quite faded.’ There was quite a miaow factor at court.”

Charlotte’s name was given to thoroughfares throughout Georgian Britain – most notably Charlotte Square in Edinburgh’s New Town – but her lack of resonance and glamour in the minds of Londoners is typified by the fact that there is a little square in Bloomsbury called Queen’s Square. In the middle is a sculpture of a queen. For much of the 19th century, the sculpture was thought to depict Queen Anne and, as a result, the square was known as Queen Anne’s Square. Only later was it realised that the sculpture actually depicted Charlotte and the square renamed Queen Square.

Hold on, you might be saying. Britain has had a black queen? Did I miss something? Surely Helen Mirren played Charlotte in the film The Madness of King George and she was, last time I looked, white? Yet the theory that Queen Charlotte may have been black, albeit sketchy, is nonetheless one that is gaining currency.

If you google Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, you’ll quickly come across a historian called Mario de Valdes y Cocom. He argues that her features, as seen in royal portraits, were conspicuously African, and contends that they were noted by numerous contemporaries. He claims that the queen, though German, was directly descended from a black branch of the Portuguese royal family, related to Margarita de Castro e Souza, a 15th-century Portuguese noblewoman nine generations removed, whose ancestry she traces from the 13th-century ruler Alfonso III and his lover Madragana, whom Valdes takes to have been a Moor and thus a black African.

It is a great “what if” of history. “If she was black,” says the historian Kate Williams, “this raises a lot of important suggestions about not only our royal family but those of most of Europe, considering that Queen Victoria’s descendants are spread across most of the royal families of Europe and beyond. If we class Charlotte as black, then ergo Queen Victoria and our entire royal family, [down] to Prince Harry, are also black … a very interesting concept.”

That said, Williams and many other historians are very sceptical about Valdes’s theory. They argue the generational distance between Charlotte and her presumed African forebear is so great as to make the suggestion ridiculous. Furthermore, they say even the evidence that Madragana was black is thin.

But Valdes suggests that the way Queen Charlotte is depicted in Ramsay’s 1762 portrait – which US artist Ken Aptekar is now using as the starting point for a newart project called Charlotte’s Charlotte – supports the view she had African ancestors.

Valdes writes: “Artists of that period were expected to play down, soften or even obliterate undesirable features in a subject’s face. [But] Sir Allan Ramsay was the artist responsible for the majority of the paintings of the queen, and his representations of her were the most decidedly African of all her portraits.”

Valdes’s suggestion is that Ramsay was an anti-slavery campaigner who would not have suppressed any “African characteristics” but perhaps might have stressed them for political reasons. “I can’t see it to be honest,” says Shawe-Taylor. “We’ve got a version of the same portrait. I look at it pretty often and it’s never occurred to me that she’s got African features of any kind. It sounds like the ancestry is there and it’s not impossible it was reflected in her features, but I can’t see it.”

Is it possible that other portraitists of Queen Charlotte might have soft-pedalled her African features? “That makes much more sense. It’s quite possible. The thing about Ramsay is that, unlike Reynolds and Gainsborough, who were quite imprecise in their portraits, he was a very accurate depicter of his subjects, so that if she looked slightly more African in his portraits than others, that might be because she was more well depicted. How can you tell? She’s dead!”

Shawe-Taylor says that a more instructive source of images of Queen Charlotte might well be the many caricatures of her held at the British Museum. “None of them shows her as African, and you’d suspect they would if she was visibly of African descent. You’d expect they would have a field day if she was.”

In fact, Charlotte may not have been our first black queen: there is another theory that suggests that Philippa of Hainault (1314-69), consort of Edward III and a woman who may have had African ancestry, holds that title.

As for Valdes, he turns out to be an independent historian of the African diaspora who has argued that Peter Ustinov, Heather Locklear, the Medicis, and the Vanderbilts have African ancestry. His theory about Charlotte even pops up on, where she appears alongside Mary Seacole, Shirley Bassey, Sir Trevor McDonald, Zadie Smith, Naomi Campbell and Baronness Scotland as one of our great Britons. Despite being thus feted, Charlotte has not yet had much attention, say, during the annual Black History week in Britain.

Perhaps she should get more. The suggestion that Queen Charlotte was black implies that her granddaughter (Queen Victoria) and her great-great-great-great-granddaughter (Queen Elizabeth II) had African forebears. Perhaps, instead of just being a boring bunch of semi-inbred white stiffs, our royal family becomes much more interesting. Maybe – and this is just a theory – the Windsors would do well to claim their African heritage: it might be a PR coup, one that would strengthen the bonds of our queen’s beloved Commonwealth.

Or would our royal family be threatened if it were shown they had African forebears? “I don’t think so at all. There would be no shame attached to it all,” says the royal historian Hugo Vickers. “The theory does not impress me, but even if it were true, the whole thing would have been so diluted by this stage that it couldn’t matter less to our royal family. It certainly wouldn’t show that they are significantly black.”

What’s fascinating about Aptekar’s project is that he started by conducting focus group meetings with people from Charlotte to find out what the Queen and her portrait meant to citizens of the US city. “I took my cues from the passionate responses of individuals whom I asked to help me understand what Queen Charlotte represents to them.”

The resulting suite of paintings is a series of riffs on that Ramsay portrait of Charlotte. In one, a reworked portion of the portrait shows the queen’s face overlaid with the words “Black White Other”. Another Aptekar canvas features an even tighter close up, in which the queen’s face is overlaid with the words “Oh Yeah She Is”.

Among those who attended Aptekar’s focus groups is congressman Mel Watt, one of very few African-Americans in the House of Representatives and who represents the 12th district of North Carolina which includes Charlotte. “In private conversations, African-Americans have always acknowledged and found a sense of pride in this ‘secret’,” says Watt. “It’s great that this discussion can now come out of the closet into the public places of Charlotte, so we all can acknowledge and celebrate it.”

What about the idea that she was an immigrant – a German teenager who had to make a new life in England in the late 18th century?

“We were a lot more immigrant-friendly in those days than we were friendly to people of colour,” says Watt. “We all recognised that we all came from some place else. But there was always a sense of denial, even ostracism, about being black. Putting the history on top of the table should make for opportunities for provocative, healing conversations.”

Does Valdes’s theory conclusively determine that Queen Charlotte had African forebears? Hardly. And if she had African forebears, would that mean we could readily infer she was black? That, surely, depends on how we define what it is to be black. In the US, there was for many decades a much-derided “one-drop rule”, whereby any white-looking person with any percentage of “black blood” was not regarded as being really white. Although now just a historical curio, it was controversially invoked recently by the African-American lawyer Alton Maddox Jr, who argued that under the one-drop rule, Barack Obama wouldn’t be the first black president.

In an era of mixed-race celebrities such as Tiger Woods and Mariah Carey, and at a time when in the US, the UK and any other racially diverse countries mixed-raced relationships are common, this rule seems absurd. But without such a rule, how do we determine Charlotte’s ethnicity? If she is black, aren’t we all?

It’s striking that on US and UK census forms, respondents are asked to choose their own race by ticking the box with which they most closely identify (though there can be problems with this: some people in Cornwall are angry that the 2011 census form will not allow them to self-define as Cornish because only 37,000 ticked that box in the 2001 census and that figure has been deemed too small to constitute a separate ethnic group). We will never know which box Queen Charlotte would have ticked, though we can take a good guess. But maybe that isn’t the most important issue, anyway.

For congressman Watt’s wife Eulada, along with some other African-Americans in Charlotte, the most important issue is what the possibility that Queen Charlotte was black may mean for people in the city now. “I believe African-American Charlotteans have always been proud of Queen Charlotte’s heritage and acknowledge it with a smile and a wink,” she says. “Many of us are now enjoying a bit of ‘I told you so’, now that the story is out.”

But isn’t her heritage too sketchy to be used to heal old wounds? “Hopefully, the sketchiness will inspire others to further research and documentation of our rich history. Knowing more about an old dead queen can play a part in reconciliation.”

And if an old dead queen can help improve racial trust in an American city, perhaps she could do something similar over here. Whether she will, though, is much less certain.