Dear Readers: As usual, please check out Legal Insurrection for my political punditry: Idaho legislator wants Atlas Shrugged on school reading list.
This week on Canto Talk, my favorite military historian, Barry Jacobsen, will be sharing a different view of the past. He will be joining Silvio and I to discuss History’s Most Intriguing Couples. As our show is on Valentine’s Day, this seems like a great time to switch gears to a slightly sweeter topic (click HERE for podcast; the show will be Thursday, Feb. 14, 7 pm PST-9 pm CT, 10 om EST).
So, this week, the Shrine of Flaming Capitalism will feature some noted couples in history.
#1 ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
As I began researching this topic, every single “Historic Couples” list that I came across began with this entry. As it features ancient Egypt, men in togas, and the ultimate sacrifice in the name of love, I am going to agree and keep with this tradition.
Cleopatra VII of Egypt is often remembered for her legendary powers of seduction and mastery at building shrewd alliances. Still, her final political and romantic partnership—with the Roman general Mark Antony—brought about the deaths of both lovers and toppled the centuries-old Ptolemaic dynasty to which she belonged. Earlier in her reign, Cleopatra’s relationship with another Roman general, Julius Caesar, had allowed her to wrest the throne from her brother and co-ruler Ptolemy XII when civil war erupted between the two siblings in 48 B.C. Her strong ties to the mighty and growing Roman empire bolstered Cleopatra’s position, particularly after her son Caesarion—believed to be Caesar’s child—became her co-regent.
After Julius Caesar’s murder in 44 B.C., Rome fell into civil war, which was temporarily resolved in 43 B.C. with the formation of the second triumvirate: Octavian, Caesar’s great-nephew and chosen heir; Mark Antony; and Lepidus, a Roman statesman. Antony took up the administration of Rome’s eastern provinces, and he summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus, in Asia Minor, to answer charges that she had aided his enemies. Hoping to woo Antony as she had Caesar before him, in 41 B.C. Cleopatra arrived on a magnificent river barge dressed as Venus, the Roman god of love. A besotted Antony followed her back to Alexandria, pledging to protect Egypt and Cleopatra’s crown. The next year he returned to Rome to prove his loyalty to the triumvirate by marrying Octavian’s half-sister Octavia; Cleopatra, meanwhile, gave birth to Antony’s twins and continued to rule over an increasingly prosperous Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra were reunited several years later, and Cleopatra had another son, Ptolemy Philadelphos, in 36 B.C. Having left his wife, Antony declared Caesarion to be Caesar’s son and rightful heir (as opposed to his adopted son, Octavian) and awarded land to each of his children with Cleopatra. This launched a war of propaganda with the furious Octavian, who claimed that Antony was entirely under Cleopatra’s control and would abandon Rome to found a new capital in Egypt.
In 32 B.C. Octavian declared war on Cleopatra, and in 31 B.C. his forces trounced those of Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium. The following year, Octavian reached Alexandria and again defeated Antony. In the aftermath of the battle, Cleopatra took refuge in the mausoleum she had commissioned for herself. Antony, falsely informed that Cleopatra was dead, stabbed himself with his sword. On August 12, 30 B.C., after burying Antony and meeting with the victorious Octavian, Cleopatra closed herself in her chamber with two of her female servants and committed suicide. The method she chose remains unknown, but Plutarch and other writers advanced the theory that she used a poisonous snake known as the asp, a symbol of divine royalty. According to her wishes, Cleopatra’s body was buried with Antony’s, leaving Octavian (later Emperor Augustus I) to celebrate his conquest of Egypt and his consolidation of power in Rome.
#2 ISABELLA AND FERDINAND OF SPAIN
True, a princess is suppose to fall in love with a prince. However, in the realities that were European medieval political unions, that was more theory than actuality. Yet, this marriage seems to be an example of “love before first sight”:
Isabella was born in the family of Juan II, King of Castile. At that time Spain was a separate, independent kingdom, and if the Castile and Aragon were Christian states, the neighboring Granada belonged to Muslims – the Moors. Isabella was brought up in an atmosphere of hatred towards other religions and, apparently, still in his childhood dreams that drive them from Spain.
Isabella′s father was a man of good-natured and gentle, but the mother suffered from bouts of hysteria. The girl grew up in the small town of Arevalo in a simple situation, because in the age of four, she lost her father and her mother was forced to leave the palace, as well as the throne of Henry′s stepson, selfish and greedy people.
The first significant event in her life has become engaged to a young heir to the throne of Aragon – Prince Ferdinand. Isabella had tales of the bridegroom, that impressionable girl fell in love with his chosen one in absentia. And reality does not disappoint Isabella.
When in 1469 she saw Ferdinand, then literally gasped in admiration: it is so – tall, charming, self-confident – she presented her prince.
The first years of married life have been very happy for her. In 1470 Isabella had her first child, and four years later, Henry died, making thus princess queen of Castile. Two major states united Spain. There was a very good opportunity for the fight against Muslim Granada. Isabella used this opportunity to great advantage in his power. Interests and values Ferdinand coincided with her own, and in 1480 Aragon and Castile began to successfully fight against the Moors.
#3 HENRY II AND ELEANOR OF AQUITAINE
Who said love and romance was always going to be hearts-and-flowers? The relationship between England’s King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine was nothing if not tempestuous — on a civil war scale!
On 18th May 1152, the young prince Henry married Eleanor of Aquitaine, the cast-off wife of King Louis VII of France. This in itself was to have far-reaching political consequences, and at the time the marriage scandalised the houses of Europe. Eleanor was eleven years Henry’s senior. Strong-willed and impetuous, she was rumoured to have had lovers in both Prince Raymond of Antioch and Henry’s own father, Geoffrey of Anjou. In fact, Geoffrey strongly advised Henry not to get involved. She was also closely linked to Henry by blood, being within the fifth degree of kinship which was prohibited by the church, and this was precisely the excuse by which Louis had got his marriage to her annulled.
Still, the marriage worked. Their characters complimented each other: Eleanor was a powerful enough personality to hold her own in Henry’s company, and was able to act as regent for him when he was away. She bore him 6 children who survived: among them four sons, Henry the Younger, Richard, Geoffrey and John. Yet, like Henry himself, she was fiercely protective of her inheritance, and valued it above loyalty to her husband. This would inevitably result in friction, with Eleanor supporting her sons against their father in defence of Aquitaine.
Eleanor was a powerful enough personality to hold her own in Henry’s company…
Contemporary chroniclers failed to understand this driving force within her, and interpreted her ‘fickleness’ as a variety of women’s perceived weaknesses. The most persistent rumour was that Eleanor turned against her husband out of jealousy over his infidelities. Henry undoubtedly had two bastards, Geoffrey ‘Plantagenet’ and William ‘Longsword’, and there is also no doubt that the great love of his life was Rosamund Clifford, with whom he took up in 1173 and who died in 1176. Henry is supposed to have contemplated divorcing Eleanor for Rosamund in 1175, and wagging tongues suggested that Eleanor poisoned her the year after. It has also been suspected that Henry had a liaison with Margaret, daughter of King Louis, who had been married to Henry the Younger and was then betrothed to Richard for years whilst she remained in the custody of Henry.
Certainly, it is likely that these rumours contributed to Richard’s distrust of his father. But Henry and Eleanor had been to all intents and purposes estranged since the birth of John in 1167, and her actions are always geared towards her sons and Aquitaine. Henry’s little peccadilloes were of more interest to the chroniclers than they seem to have been to Eleanor (though the implications of a divorce are likely to have stung her into action)