History for the Rest of Us

Queen Christina of Sweden and the Marquis Monaldeschi

Queen Christina of Sweden and the Marquis Monaldeschi

Aug 27, 2012

Sweden to-day is one of the peaceful kingdoms of the world, whose people are prosperous, well governed, and somewhat apart from the clash and turmoil of other states and nations. Even the secession of Norway…was accomplished without bloodshed, and now the two kingdoms exist side by side as free from strife as they are with Denmark, which once domineered and tyrannized over both. It is difficult to believe that long ago, in the Middle Ages, the cities of southern Sweden were among the great commercial centers of the world. Stockholm and Lund ranked with London and Paris. They absorbed the commerce of the northern seas, and were the admiration of thousands of travelers and merchants who passed through them and trafficked with them. Much nearer to our own time, Sweden was the great military power of northern Europe. The ambassadors of the Swedish kings were received with the utmost deference in every court. Her soldiers won great battles and ended mighty wars. The England of Cromwell and Charles II was unimportant and isolated in comparison with this northern kingdom, which could pour forth armies of gigantic blond warriors, headed by generals astute as well as brave. It was no small matter, then, in 1626, that the loyal Swedes were hoping that their queen would give birth to a male heir to succeed his splendid father, Gustavus Adolphus, ranked by military historians as one of the six great generals whom the world had so far produced. The queen, a German princess of Brandenburg, had already borne two daughters, who died in infancy. The expectation was wide-spread and intense that she should now become the mother of a son; and the king himself was no less anxious. When the event occurred, the child was seen to be completely covered with hair, and for this reason the attendants at first believed that it was the desired boy. When their mistake was discovered they were afraid to tell the king, who was waiting in his study for the announcement to be made. At last, when no one else would go to him, his sister, the Princess Caroline, volunteered to break the news. Gustavus was in truth a chivalrous,...

Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Bothwell

Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Bothwell

Aug 24, 2012

Mary Stuart and Cleopatra are the two women who have most attracted the fancy of poets, dramatists, novelists, and painters, from their own time down to the present day. In some respects there is a certain likeness in their careers. Each was queen of a nation whose affairs were entangled with those of a much greater one. Each sought for her own ideal of love until she found it. Each won that love recklessly, almost madly. Each, in its attainment, fell from power and fortune. Each died before her natural life was ended. One caused the man she loved to cast away the sovereignty of a mighty state. The other lost her own crown in order that she might achieve the whole desire of her heart. There is still another parallel which may be found. Each of these women was reputed to be exquisitely beautiful; yet each fell short of beauty’s highest standards. They are alike remembered in song and story because of qualities that are far more powerful than any physical charm can be. They impressed the imagination of their own contemporaries just as they had impressed the imagination of all succeeding ages, by reason of a strange and irresistible fascination which no one could explain, but which very few could experience and resist. Mary Stuart was born six days before her father’s death, and when the kingdom which was her heritage seemed to be almost in its death-throes. James V. of Scotland, half Stuart and half Tudor, was no ordinary monarch. As a mere boy he had burst the bonds with which a regency had bound him, and he had ruled the wild Scotland of the sixteenth century. He was brave and crafty, keen in statesmanship, and dissolute in pleasure. His first wife had given him no heirs; so at her death he sought out a princess whom he pursued all the more ardently because she was also courted by the burly Henry VIII. of England. This girl was Marie of Lorraine, daughter of the Duc de Guise. She was fit to be the mother of a lion’s brood, for she was above six feet in height and of proportions so ample...

Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra

Aug 23, 2012

Of all love stories that are known to human history, the love story of Antony and Cleopatra has been for nineteen centuries the most remarkable. It has tasked the resources of the plastic and the graphic arts. It has been made the theme of poets and of prose narrators. It has appeared and reappeared in a thousand forms, and it appeals as much to the imagination to-day as it did when Antony deserted his almost victorious troops and hastened in a swift galley from Actium in pursuit of Cleopatra. The wonder of the story is explained by its extraordinary nature. Many men in private life have lost fortune and fame for the love of woman. Kings have incurred the odium of their people, and have cared nothing for it in comparison with the joys of sense that come from the lingering caresses and clinging kisses. Cold-blooded statesmen, such as Parnell, have lost the leadership of their party and have gone down in history with a clouded name because of the fascination exercised upon them by some woman, often far from beautiful, and yet possessing the mysterious power which makes the triumphs of statesmanship seem slight in comparison with the swiftly flying hours of pleasure. But in the case of Antony and Cleopatra alone do we find a man flinging away not merely the triumphs of civic honors or the headship of a state, but much more than these—the mastery of what was practically the world—in answer to the promptings of a woman’s will. Hence the story of the Roman triumvir and the Egyptian queen is not like any other story that has yet been told. The sacrifice involved in it was so overwhelming, so instantaneous, and so complete as to set this narrative above all others. Shakespeare’s genius has touched it with the glory of a great imagination. Dryden, using it in the finest of his plays, expressed its nature in the title “All for Love.” The distinguished Italian historian, Signor Ferrero, the author of many books, has tried hard to eliminate nearly all the romantic elements from the tale, and to have us see in it not the triumph of love, but the...