Saturday, May 29, 2010

Speaking of Fallen Empires... (Chingisids)

Last week's focus on empires that fell in the early 20th century reminded me that I have yet to focus on my favorite dynasty of all: the Chingisid Dynasty. "The who?" you're probably asking yourself. Why, the dynasty of Genghis Khan. Indeed, the dynasty still survives today through hundreds of male lines, although no one can quite figure out how those lines connect... Well, genetic research may help fix that problem some day.

Anywho, onto the topic of the week. The Mongols have always been an unruly lot. They've survived in the rugged Gobi Desert north of China, fighting their way into China multiple times only to be pushed back by the militarily superior and better organized Chinese Empire. The Mongols and the Turks of the west (in modern-day Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, pretty much all the northern -stans) share much of the same heritage, language, and organization. This proved very fortunate for the family of Genghis Khan, a thirteenth-century Mongol warlord who began the largest conquest until the British conquered India. While Genghis is the most famous of the lot, his children truly made the empire. Genghis reunited Mongolia and began the outward expansion of the Khaganate, but it was his grandson, Kublai, that brought it to its height.

Before I go on, let me explain some titles here. The title "khan" relates most closely to the English "king". A khan rules a khanate, which is the equivalent of a kingdom. But Genghis Khan created a higher position which relates closely to the title emperor. Technically, it was called khagan and the domain a khaganate, but English sources usually rename the title "Great Khan" and call the domain an empire, specifically the Mongolian Empire, although it was rarely unified. The dynastic name Chingisid is based on a variant spelling of Genghis and the -id ending simply implies "family of". Thus Chingisid means "family of Ghengis". Right, back to the story...
The first eight Khagans of the Mongol Empire
When Ghengis died, his successors, all direct descendants, continued expanding the newly-founded empire. Ögedei, Güyük, and Möngke khans, ruling in succession from 1229 until 1259, are little known and Möngke's reign ended in a four-year civil war that set Kublai Khan on the Khagan throne. A decade after his accession, he also conquered the entirety of the Chinese Empire and ruled it for another two decades. Kublai's descendants continued in the formal role of rulers of China and Mongolia as the Yuan Dynasty of China (using the formal titles Emperor of China and Khagan of Mongolia) while the various other branches of the family, both senior and junior (since Kublai's line was not eldest) declared their de facto independence and conquered much of the rest of the region. The Yuan Dynasty survived in China until 1370, when the Ming Dynasty restored a native family to the Chinese throne. The Yuan retreated to Mongolia, however, and continued to rule the region until 1635 when all the males of the dynasty were killed and all the females sold into slavery.
The Mongol Empire at its height, with divisions
Already by the time of Kublai's reign, other branches of the family were going out on their own. The largest and historically most important of the branches were the Blue and White Hordes which eventually merged into the Golden Horde in 1376. This branch expanded its power all the way to the Kievan Rus (Western Russia), threatened Poland-Lithuania, conquered the whole of the Crimea (which a branch held until the 1700s), and just generally made the rest of Austria, Bohemia, Hungary, the Byzantines, and other regional powers nervous. They tried a few times to push into heartland Europe but were unsuccessful and over the subsequent decades and centuries, the Russians pushed them back toward Mongolia. The Golden Horde was finally dissolved in 1499.

Another important branch of the Chingisid Dynasty managed to uproot the ancient Persian Empire and replace it with an entirely new empire. Luckily for the Muslims, most of the western Chingisids adopted Islam after they left their homeland. In fact, one of the reasons Indonesia is currently Islamic is because the Mongols sent trade fleets through the region, converting the local populations as they went. When Hülëgü Khan invaded Persia, he declared the Il Khanate which pushed the Abbasid Caliphs, descendants of Muhammed's uncle and rulers of Sunni Islam, into Fatimid Egypt, ruled by radical Sh'ia Anti-Caliphs. Within one hundred years, the Il Khanate was suffering dynastic upheaval, rivalries, and civil war. The khanate was completely dissolved in 1388. The power vacuum left helped establish Turkey as a legitimate power base for the whole Middle East and set in motion the Ottoman Conquest of the next century.

One last branch, that of the eldest Chingisid line, ruled a strange and relatively undefined region called the Chagatai Khanate. This family ruled the heart of the Mongol Empire but was often at the center of rivalries with its neighbors. In 1348 it split into two rival branches that never unified and in 1370, the western khans became puppet leaders under the upstart khan, Timur e-Lang. The eastern portion, called the Khanate of Mughalistan, survived until around 1690 when it fell to rival factions.

One last important thing to add to this discussion is the character of Timur. Timur was a Turkish upstart with a highly likely descent from Genghis Khan in his maternal line. His power base was the region of modern-day Afghanistan with his capital at Samarkand (in modern-day Uzbekistan). After he had conquered the Afghan and Uzbek Turks, he spread out and generally ravaged his Mongol neighbors who were already experiencing problems. He conquered Persia and fairly well destroyed the Il Khanate. He pushed heavily into the Chagatai Khanate and Golden Hordes. In reality, the Yuan Dynasty holdings were really the only things that avoided Timur's wrath. Timur's dynasty did not last long but many branches survived throughout the region to rule separate clans and minor states. One branch even came to conquer and rule India-Pakistan as the Mughal Dynasty (note the reference to the Mongols in that title?). Timur saw himself as both a successor and rival to the Chingisid khans, but he was not a member of the family nor did he strongly claim a Mongol heritage despite genealogical links to them. His legacy is his own but is constantly lumped with that of the Mongol khans.

The khagans lost much of their power over this period because the branches of the family ceased to respect the implied unified and centralized authority of the Great Khans. Almost as soon as the Chingisids took China, the other branches went their own ways. Some members of the family returned year after year to elect the next khagan, but it eventually became an act just like the electors of the Holy Roman Empire electing a Habsburg to the throne. Still, the power of the Chingisids remained strongest in Mongolia throughout this entire period, and when everything fell apart, it fell apart there last. Fragments survived but Mongolia remained the capital and home of the Chingisids.

Their importance in history is underrated because their empire lasted for so short a time, but the Chingisid khans of Mongolia, China, Persia and Russia all were considered a serious threat to Europe and an inspiration for travelers such as Marco Polo. Their Pax Mongolia (Mongolian Peace) allowed the Silk Road to flourish during this time, and when that peaceful time ended, people in Europe demanded cheap eastern goods, eventually causing the Age of Exploration. Without the Mongols, it is very possible that the Middle Ages would have continued for many decades or centuries more. Thus, while they are oft forgotten and rarely remembered, the family of Ghengis Khan has certainly left its mark on the world and may have very possibly caused it.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Great Dynastic Combustion (Dynastology Today)

Greetings again. Weeks of Dynastology blogs have led me to this point. Although I will continue case studies into the foreseeable future, the major discussion topics of dynastology have been addressed except for dynastic politics in the 21st century. In reality, this is my final planned post that relates to the history of dynastology. There is a very good reason for that, though. Prior to 1848, pretty much every monarchy in the world was absolute, or close to it at least. After that date, everything began to change, culminating in the Great War of 1914 known most commonly as World War I.

Heads of 19 important European Dynasties in 1908.
Why is World War I so important to dynastic politics? Because the dynastic framework of much of Europe -developed over more than a millennium through dynastic marriages, inheritances, wars, and more - fell apart at last. Germany suffered this the most, but other important states of Europe also abandoned their monarchical heritage for the better prospects of democratic republicanism. The largest decline in worldwide monarchies was indeed between the years 1900 and 1950. In that time, the majority of the world's monarchies were abolished and replaced with some other form of governance.

The origins of this move are ancient but were made into reality with the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9 in Great Britain. Prior to that time, every monarchy in Europe was absolutist, at least in principal, with the monarch having complete control of all aspects of government except, perhaps, the church. The Glorious Revolution installed the first constitutional monarch on a European throne. Now don't get me wrong, s/he still had a lot of power, but it was far more controlled by the English and Scottish Parliaments. In the subsequent years, British monarchical power declined to such a degree that in 1841, the young Queen Victoria wasn't even allowed to veto the choice of prime minister. In fact, Britain survived the waves of revolutions in the later centuries because the parliament already had control of the monarchy.

The rest of Europe was in a lot worse condition. The French king's heavy-handedness over the years finally resulted in the French Revolution, which saw the king turned into a constitutional monarch only to be deposed and beheaded a few years later. France later became a new monarchy under Napoleon who tried to create a more nationalistic state. He didn't fail in that goal, just in his tactics. When the old French monarchy returned in 1814, the people were not exactly as loyal as before to the king and deposed the monarchy again in the Revolution of 1830, resulting in a second constitutional monarch, Louis-Philippe. Unfortunately, the royal desire toward absolutism caused the new king's downfall and France overthrew yet another king in favor of a republic in 1848. Four years later, Napoleon's nephew, Napoleon III, took the imperial title and attempted to rule France like a proper constitutional monarch should, but he failed too, with Paris declaring The Commune and the Prussians marching in to abolish the last French monarchy. France's monarchical history ends in 1870.

Other states of Europe were also affected by these waves of revolutions and invasions. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was created after the Napoleonic Wars only to be divided in 1830 creating Belgium. Italy abolished all its hereditary monarchies save Savoy's to create the Kingdom of Italy. Soon after, Spain dissolved its own monarchy for a year to test republicanism. Portugal, after tough years and the secession of Brasil, finally overthrew its monarch in a republican-led coup in 1910. Meanwhile, Japan, marching across Korea, abolished the Korean Empire in 1910, while China overthrew its own 2000-year-old monarchy two years later. The world was in flux and the trend was toward communism, republicanism, or constitutional monarchy. Only the last choice allowed a monarch to stay on the throne, and most countries chose the other options.

Europe in 1914

The proverbial crap really hit the fan once World War I started, though. Queen Victoria had been busy in the previous century and was grandmother or in-law to the majority of important monarchs who participated in World War I. Somewhat oddly, Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria, was not one of her kin but his death caused country after country to join in the war pitting Germany, Austria, the Ottoman Empire, and at times Italy against the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and at times Italy. Nicholas II of Russia, grandson-in-law to Victoria, was the first to go. His country, tired of centuries of oppression by the upper class, finally rose up and overthrew the dictatorial Romanovs to begin the decade-long process of creating the Soviet Union. With no reason to keep them, the Soviets murdered Nicholas, his wife, and his five children.

Germany soon suffered a similar, albeit less violent, fate. Germany was losing the war and the people were already getting angry. While the country had been united in 1871, the kaisers had allowed the rulers of the once-independent monarchies to retain their titles and status, delegating military and foreign affairs to the imperial government. This proved to be disasterous. Already a few monarchs had been deposed and the states had abandoned the German Empire. In November 1918, facing increased threats to his life and position, the German kaiser abdicated the German throne. Within two months, all other monarchs in Germany, about nineteen in total, abdicated their thrones or were forced off them. Kaiser Wilhelm II, grandson of Victoria, had to flee to the Netherlands where he lived until the middle years of World War II. Some of the other monarchs were allowed to stay but they were barred from participation in government or use of their hereditary titles or names.

Austria, Hungary, and Serbia all suffered the same fates. Austria & Hungary were united under the Habsburg-Lorraine family. Austria deposed their monarch and Hungary declared the throne vacant until the 1940s. Serbia became a much larger state but abandoned its former monarch.

Europe in 1922
The final casualty of the war was the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. In 1923, the Allied Powers basically allowed the Empire to self-destruct. The Turkish War of Independence ended the position of Sultan and replaced it with simply Caliph (a religious title) in 1923. But within a year, even that was too much and the empire was dissolved completely, Mustafa Kamal "Ataturk" became the first president and the House of Osman fled the country. Turkey's fall ended the results of World War I but not the downfall of European monarchies. In the subsequent three decades, the remainder of the world suffered more dynastic losses:

* Mongolia - 1924: Fell to communist forces
* Spain - 1931: Fell to fascist and nationalistic forces (re-established in 1975)
* Albania - 1939: Italians dissolve monarchy
* Croatia - 1943: Italians abandon country
* Iceland - 1944: Seceded from Denmark and declared a republic
* Yugoslavia - 1945: Became communist republic
* Manchuria - 1945: Japanese puppet state, merged into China
* Italy - 1946: Monarchy dissolved after referendum
* Bulgaria - 1946: Soviets dissolve monarchy
* Romania - 1947: Fell to communist forces
* Ireland - 1949: Seceded from union with Britain
* Egypt - 1953: Revolution ended monarchy
* Vietnam - 1955: State partitioned and republic declared (following secession from France)
* Iraq - 1959: Monarchy overthrown in a coup

As you can see, the first half of the twentieth century saw the decline of much of the world's monarchies. In the subsequent half century, most monarchies in Africa too were dissolved. Now only a few remain and virtually all of them are constitutional, meaning the monarch is mostly a figurehead. Indeed, monarchs are not even allowed much power in order for their country to be a member of the European Union.

Dynasties will continue in perpetuity but their dynastic lands and titles change and end with time. The trend has been away from monarchism but it could someday return. France, Italy, Portugal and Germany all have monarchist movements to restore some form of monarchy and it has happened in some countries such as Spain. Perhaps the trend will change but for now, we must all see that the twentieth century witnessed the demise of the absolute monarchy.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Terrible Tyrants of Tuscany (The Medicis)

It is a constant oddity that the Medicis are so well-known. They were not a very large family and they were fairly short-lived. The region that they controlled was barely larger than Rhode Island and they never expanded outward from their hereditary origin. In all reasonableness, they were a terrible dynasty that never should have achieved all that it did. Regardless, they are probably in the Top 5 of famous European dynasties...somewhere after Habsburgs and Tudors but before Stuarts, I'd bet. And this is the story why...

The Medicis began their rise to power in the remote hills north of Florence, Italy. The region at this time – the 1200s – was known as the Republic of Florence, and was one of a few Italian republics that survived the destructive rise of the Holy Roman Empire. Over the early generations of the family, they had managed to marry into or enter into contracts with many other prominent Florentine families. Their major product that they brought to the Florentine markets was wool. After a short conflict with other businesses in the region, the family was actually banned from government politics except for two figures who avoided the turmoil. It is from one of these, Averardo, that the royal line sprang forth.

Averardo's son, Giovani, founded the Medici Bank, and quickly became the wealthiest man in all Florence. His son, Cosimo, took things a step further and became the first of a long line of Florentine patriarchs. "Patriarchs?" you ask. "Why patriarchs?" Quite simply because Florence was a republic, not a kingdom or duchy. A republic couldn't have a monarch, so the Medicis grabbed the local title of "signore", which pretty much meant patriarch. To make things more clear, the Medicis assumed the power of a monarch without actually abolishing the republican state...rather like the Caesars during the first two centuries of the Roman Empire.

For three generations – from Cosimo to Piero to Lorenzo – the Florentine Republic remained a republic with a strong central government. But everything fell apart when another Piero decided he wanted to take control. The Republic banished him and his family for eighteen long years from 1494 until 1512. When they returned, they also decided it was better to appease Florence than usurp it. Five more Medicis ruled Florence before another revolt overthrew the dynasty in 1527. Yet this time, the Medicis were ready for it. In 1513, one Medici patriarch, Cardinal Giovanni, was elected Pope Leo X of the Catholic Church. Two years after his death, in 1523, another Medici was elected Pope Clement VII and remained so throughout this second Medici exile. Clement used his power to help restore the Medicis to Florence and get Alessandro to become the first Duke of Florence in 1531. His assassination six years later opened a new chapter in the great Medici epic.

In 1537 Cosimo the Great succeeded his distant cousin as Duke of Florence. In 1569 he dissolved the Republic of Florence and declared the Grand Duchy of Tuscany...that's right, it's an official monarchy now. Cosimo's sons began the first major push toward marrying into the higher echelon of society. Francesco de Medici married Johanna of Austria and produced Eleanora, who would marry into the wealthy Dukes of Mantua & Montferrat, and Marie, who would marry Henry IV of France. The next grand duke, Ferdinand, decided that the family needed to balance itself between France and Austria so married Christina of Lorraine, a family that would one day inherit the grand duchy. Yet despite this, Ferdinand was later forced to wed his son, Cosimo, to a Habsburg princess to appease the angered Emperor. The Medicis were in their political prime during this age. The people of Florence were extremely wealthy and the region remained only sparsely inhabited compared to the other regions of Italy. It was only inevitable that the family would decline from this high pedestal.

Since Tuscany provided so many Papal candidates during the 1500s and 1600s (four in total), religious orders, seeking Catholic solitude from the craziness of Protestant Germany, went to Tuscany, buying up land en masse while not having to pay taxes as per Italian law. Then one of the worst tragedies struck the Medici dynasty: the grand duke died leaving a minor as his heir. Christina of Lorraine and her daughter-in-law, Maria Magddalena, took control as regents. During their term, they allowed the duchy of Urbino, a Medici vassal state, to return to Papal control, they banned outside education of Tuscan citizens, and they led the prosecution against Galileo Galilei. When the young grand duke grew up, he was obsessed with technology at the expense of his duchy. He then became involved in the Wars of Castro which literally returned Tuscany to a barter state due to run-away inflation and non-existent interest rates. Tuscany was bankrupt. The cities were covered in grass and the buildings were ready to collapse.

The last vestige of the dynasty grasped desperately for purpose and relief. Cosimo III married the duchess of Orleans, a granddaughter of Henry IV of France. She managed to produce one daughter, who would become the Electress Palatine, and a son, the last grand duke of Tuscany in the Medici line. Cosimo feared a succession war upon his or his heirs' death. The English and Dutch were willing to work with him but Spain wanted the Republic of Siena, once a Spanish fief, back and Austria (well, the Holy Roman Empire) wanted Florence back since it was an Imperial fief. As soon as Cosimo III died in 1723, a war broke out despite the fact that Cosimo's son, Gian Gastone, still was Grand Duke. Spain was originally in line to become the next dukes until the War of the Polish Succession transferred that right to Francis III of Lorraine. When Gian Gastone died in 1737, the state fell to Francis while the Medici family property fell to the last Medici daughter, Anna Maria Louisa. Anna declined the inheritance and returned her family heirlooms to the state in perpetuity, so long as the items remained in Florence forever. Anna died 19 February 1743 and with her ended the House of Medici.

The power and glory of the Medicis were really relatively short-lived. Their influence in European politics was temporary, albeit great, and the height of the dynasty can be ascribed to no more than 100 years. But what the Medicis lacked in dynastology they made up for in culture. No family in Europe can claim such a wonderful Renaissance legacy as the Medicis. Their patronage in both Tuscany and Rome allowed some of the most magnificent artists to reach their greatness. Michaelangelo, Donatello, Masaccio, Raphael, Brunelleschi, and Leonardo da Vinci all were commissioned to create great works in Florence. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence remains one of the foremost art galleries in the world.

Thus, without the Medicis, Italy would have been a bleaker place. But their dynasty was a short and troubled one, with few dynastic breaks and one large dead-end in 1743. Their blood flows through most European monarchs today, but no known male line, legitimate or otherwise, survived the eighteenth century. The Medicis' story tells of success during times of triumph, but also an unwillingness to change with the times. Indeed, they even seemed to regress when things turned tough. Yet they will remain popular due to their culture and craft, and the fame they established throughout Early Modern Europe.


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