Prester John


Prester John from Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493

In the time of the crusades, Europeans were looking for any allies in their battles against the Muslims for the Holy Land.  Medieval writings often feature a fabulously wealthy Christian king in the East.  This was Prester John.  He was believed to be a member of the Nestorian Church, which was an independent Eastern Christian church that did not fall under the purview of the patriarch in Constantinople.  He was supposed to be an ally against the Muslims for the crusaders to take advantage of.

The story of Prester John was first recorded by Bishop Otto of Freisling Germany in his Chronicon published in 1145.  It was based on a report from Bishop Hugh of Gerbal in Syria to the papal court at Viterbo, Italy.  According to the story recorded in the Chronicon, Prester John was a powerful Christian king who was the descendant of the Magi who visited the Christ Child.  He was also said to be a formidable fighter who defeated the Muslim kings of Persia in battle taking their capital of Ecbatana.  The only reason he did not recapture Jerusalem was because he could not cross the Tigris River.  There was no more on the story until a letter appeared in 1165.  Copies of a letter from Prester John to the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos began circulating.  In this letter, Prester John’s kingdom is described as having crystal clear rivers of emeralds, massive amounts of gold, majestic animals and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.  This myth also morphed into having Prester John’s kingdom being next door to the Garden of Paradise.  A good ally to have.  This letter were so persuasive that Pope Alexander III sent a return letter addressed to Prester John in 1177.  It was being taken east by Alexander’s personal physician Philip.  It is addressed to “the illustrious and magnificent king of the Indies and a beloved son of Christ.”  Nothing more is mentioned of Philip or what happened to him and the letter.

However, all of this was fictional.  It is thought that the battle being referred to was fought between the Mongol khan Yelu Dashi and the Seljuk sultan Sanjar in 1141.  The Mongol khans who fought in this battle were not Christians, but Buddhists.  However, many of their followers were Nestorian Christians.  It’s also possible that Europeans that were unfamiliar with Buddhists may have assumed they were another sect of Christianity.  The letter published in 1165 was fiction, however, it was translated from its original Latin into a variety of languages and distributed throughout Europe.  Then word returned from the Fifth Crusade that Prester John’s grandson, King David, was fighting the Saracens.  The problem?  It wasn’t King David conquering all these lands.  It was the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan.  They tried to bend this new development around the legend by saying one of his favorite wives was a Nestorian Christian and that he was tolerant of other religious faiths as long as they didn’t make trouble.  However, this didn’t really fit the narrative and the legends moved away from Prester John being a central Asian king.

Some additional legends, linked Prester John to kingdoms in Africa even though the original story placed him in Asia.  Marco Polo had discussed Ethiopia as a Christian land fueling the rumors.  In the 15th century, Italian and Portuguese explorers began searching for Prester John in Africa.  Portuguese explorers began connecting a kingdom in present-day Ethiopia with Prester John’s realm.  They made contact with the kingdom of Zara Yaqob, and decided this kingdom was the source of the wealth of Solomon.  Prester John was identified with the negus, or emperor, of the kingdom.  In fact, ambassadors from Zara Yaqob attended the Council of Florence and identified as representatives of Prester John.  They were extremely confused.

By this time, the legend was dying out as exploration of Africa and Asia by the Europeans were not finding this fabled kingdom.  However, the legend did inspire generations of explorers, soldiers and dreamers


A German Texas-  Mainzer Adelsverein

The Seal of the Mainzer Verein

When most people think of Texas they think of wide open spaces, cowboys and oil rigs.  They do not think of oompah bands.  However, that is what you will find in the German Belt of Texas.  This is an area of towns founded by the The Mainzer Adelsverein at Beibrich am Rhein or Adelsverein for short.  This was a society set up to fund the immigration of Germans to Texas to start a New Germany.  Wait, Germans in Texas?  How does this work?

Germany in the 19th century was divided into more than thirty independent kingdoms, principalities, and free cities.  Adding to this chaos was the birth of the industrial age.  The population was growing rapidly while at the same time machines were taking the place of most manual labor jobs.  There were scores of people aimlessly wandering around with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  They were ripe for unrest.

To find something for these people to do, besides foment revolution, a group of German princes and noblemen met in the town of Biebrich am Rhein.  They were hosted by Adolphe, the future Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the current Duke of Nassau, in his castle on the Rhine.  During the discussions, Count Carl of Castell-Castell suggested sending people to the new Republic of Texas.  Texas had just won its independence from Mexico in 1836 and was actively looking for settlers.  Land was supposedly cheap in Texas, and speculators were snapping up huge tracts of land and selling them for a profit.  Also, Germany had not yet taken advantage of the colonization boom that had started with Columbus back in the 15th century.  They wanted their slice of the New World pie.  Raw materials could be shipped back to the German kingdoms and finished goods sold in the new colony.  Plus, Texas had won its independence from Mexico.  Who was to say New Germany wouldn’t win its independence from Texas?  That would leave vast new lands and wealth for the German nobility, who were in the poorhouse after defeating Napoleon.

The company agreed and formed Mainzer Adelsverein or Adelsverein for short.  Two agents, Count Joseph of Boos-Waldeck and Count Victor August of Leiningen-Westerburg-Alt-Leiningen, traveled to Texas and purchase land.  Leiningen was well connected as he was the older half-brother of Queen Victoria of England. They met with President Sam Houston, however, they refused his first offer of land as it was currently inhabited by hostile Native Americans.  In 1843, they purchased 4,428 acres in what is now Fayette County for 75 cents an acre.  They named it Nassau Farm, in honor of Duke Adolf.  The property was supposed to be a supply station for German settlers, but became a slave plantation and was used as a resort for the nobles in the Society.  Leiningen returned in 1843 and told of the temperate climate and fertile land in Texas, but warned it was going to be a lot more expensive than they had originally thought.  Boos-Waldeck echoed his concerns, but no one seemed to listen.  They both dropped out of Adelsverein as their warnings went unheeded.

To raise money for the colony, Adelsverein was reorganized into a stock company and 200,000 gulden or $80,000 was raised for acquisition of more land.  This was roughly the equivalent of two million dollars in today’s money, but was far short of the sum Leiningen and Boos-Waldeck had told the Society was needed.  Then Adelsverein was scammed out of their capital by not one but two land speculators.  They were sold two land grants:  the Bourgeois-Ducos grant and the Fisher-Miller grant.  The land existed, but what they were not told was they had to be on the land by a certain date or it became null and void.  The expiration date for both grants had expired.  To add insult to injury, the architect of these sales- Alexander Bourgeois d’Orvanne and Henry Francis Fisher- were hired to get the settlers supplies.  Newspaper ads were placed with the logan Geh Mit Ins Texas, which means Go with Us to Texas.  They had promised to only send 150 families.  They sent close to 5,000.  So between 1844 and 1847, there were settlers coming over to Texas, mostly from provinces including Nassau, Hanover, Hesse and western Thuringia, and found no land and no supplies.  Many of these were political dissidents trying to avoid persecution after numerous failed rebellions.

The two swindlers embezzled as much money as they could get their hands on, and Adelsverein’s official representative, Prince Carl of Solm-Braunfels, was honest but incompetent.  The prince was used to good manners and high fashion.  Texas settlers were neither of those things.  He was more worried the settlers would lose their “Germanness” than getting the necessary supplies.  Adelsverein didn’t help either.  Solm-Braunfels reported the land grants were worthless and in land unsuitable for farming and in smack dab in the center of hostile Native Americans.  He recommended they look for better land, and Adelsverein told him to press on.  

Carl Prinz zu Solms-Braunfels (1812–1875) alias “Texas-Carl” Photo Credit-
See Translation

The settlers arrived after a transatlantic crossing that was treacherous at best.  Adelsverein eschewed steamships, which could make the crossing in 18 days, for sailing ships, which took two months.  So these families were stuck in the hold of filthy sailing ships without clean water, food or doctors.  What they did have was rats, fleas, lice and typhus.  When they got to Galveston, many saw there was no place for them and turned back around.  The ones who stayed faced a

165 mile journey, where Braunfels had to race ahead to try and find suitable land since the land grants they thought they had expired and were in the middle of Comanche country.  They finally founded the town of New Braunfels on the road from Austin to San Antonio near a natural spring called Las Fontanas.  Indian Point was established as a way station.  

Unfortunately, settlers who got there spent the winter in lean tos or even in the open air.  And the settlers kept coming.  Braunfels’ successor, Baron Ottfried von Meusebach, had to find away to feed and shelter them all.  Unfortunately, the dreams of Adelsverein establishing an independent New Germany were dashed when Texas joined the United States in 1845.  So the money dried up.  Plus Braunfels did not stay to see how his namesake town did, and high tailed it back to Germany after racking up $34,000 worth of debts.  Many died of disease and exposure to the elements before they could hire wagons to take them from the 165 miles from Indian Point to New Braunfels.  Then the Mexican American War broke out and all wagons were commandeered by the US government for the war effort.  These people couldn’t win for losing.  500 went back to Germany and another 500 of military age enlisted in the US Army.  Some decided they’d get to New Braunfels quicker if they walked, but that was also a bad idea and 200 died.  Historian Moritz Tiling wrote in his 1913 book, The History of the German Element in Texas:

“This proved disastrous to many, more than 200 perishing on the way from exposure, hunger, and exhaustion. The bleached bones of the dead everywhere marked the road of death the unfortunate people had taken, while those who arrived at New Braunfels and later at Fredericksburg carried with them the germs of disease that soon developed into a frightful epidemic, in which more than 1,000 people died.”

Adelsverein eventually coughed up more money as newspaper reports trickled out of how they left these people to die, but it was too little too late.  It went bankrupt not much after this.

However, by 1850, the German Belt of Texas was established with the settlements of Bettina, Castell, Leiningen, Meerholz, Schoenburg, Gruene, Hedwigs Hill, Indianola, Martinsburg, Nassau Plantation, Sisterdale and Loyal Valley.  There were 33,000 persons of German birth residing in Texas.  However, there were conflicts during the Civil War as most of the German settlers were abolitionists and Texas was a slave state.  They were persecuted by the Confederates during the war, and some even tried to escape to Mexico in 1862, which ended in a standoff known as the Nueces Massacre.  This persecution made the German communities more insular, and they spoke their own unique dialect of “Texas-German”.  Many schools did not have English or English speaking teachers until the early 20th century, when the stigma of being German became strongly felt because of the World Wars.  Today there are fewer than 6,000 fluent speakers of  Texas-German.


Princess Elisabeth of Austria- Sisi of the Sorrows

The Wittelsbachs had a history of crazy.  Both Ludwig I and Ludwig II had their foibles (See posts on both of them here: and here: ) However, Ludwig II’s cousin, Elisabeth or Sisi as she was known, had a life more tragic than crazy.  On the surface, Sisi had it all-  beauty, wealth, a good marriage- but it was all a sham.  The lady had a life full of sorrow.

Born Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie on Christmas Eve 1837, Sisi as she was called by the family was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria.  As was customary with royal marriages, her parents were second cousins.  Not a great idea when you have a family like the Wittelsbachs, but they were obsessed with keeping the bloodline pure.  What they did was heighten the crazy, but I digress.  Her childhood was peaceful and free, and she and her siblings were raised at Possenhofen Castle.  There Sisi developed a love of horseback riding and nature.  They were happy far from the intrigues of court.  At the age of 16, she was broken out of this idyllic world.

Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria was looking for a wife, or more correctly his mother was looking for a wife for him.  The formidable Princess Sophie of Bavaria decided on Helene, Sisi’s elder sister.  Princess Sophie was not a person to be crossed and was described as “the only man in the Hofburg” for her authoritarian ways.  She orchestrated everything in her son’s life, including his first sexual experience.  When Franz Joseph was 18, she found a healthy peasant girl and promised her a good marriage to a court official if she would take the Prince’s virginity.  She even had it set up son Franz Joseph thought it was a natural relationship and she really liked him.  No one knows if he ever found out about what his mother did, but he did see the girl again at a court function and was not allowed to speak to her.  So this is the kind of woman we’re dealing with.

Again, this was a cousin’s marriage, which was asking for trouble, but no one seemed to mind.  Helene, Sisi and their mother traveled to Bad Ischl to formalize the betrothal.  Slight problem.  When Franz Joseph got there he barely looked at Helene, his bride to be.  Instead, he was smitten with the bride’s younger sister, Sisi.  This was no surprise as Sisi was stunning- tall and slim with beautiful long hair.  Franz Joseph stood up to his dominating mama and told her he’d marry Sisi or no one.  If there was going to be a betrothal, then she’d better get on board.  It was no big deal to Sisi’s family, they got an empress out of the deal no matter what.  No one asked the jilted Helene how she felt.  At any rate, five days later the betrothal of Sisi and Franz Joseph was announced.  

Eight months later the two were married, and no one had prepared the poor girl for court or married life.  Sisi hated crowds and had a panic attack at her wedding reception.  After the wedding night, poor Sisi locked herself in her room for three days.  One can only imagine what sex would be like for a sheltered sixteen year old.  After the freedom of her childhood at Possenhofen, Sisi could never adapt to the rigidity and formality of court life.  A series of maudlin bad poetry bewailed the fetters of her new cage.

Soon she fell ill, and it was discovered she was pregnant, but even this happy event turned to tragedy.  As soon as the little princess was born, Sophie took charge of her grandchild and cut Sisi completely out of the loop.  She even named the child… after herself.  Well, that’s modest.  The same thing happened when Franz Joseph and Sisi’s second daughter, Gisela, was born.  Sophie was angry that Sisi was only producing daughters instead of the needed male heir, and began to treat her daughter-in-law worse.  Sophie actually left a pamphlet on her daughter-in-law’s desk with the following underlined:

“…The natural destiny of a Queen is to give an heir to the throne. If the Queen is so fortunate as to provide the State with a Crown-Prince this should be the end of her ambition – she should by no means meddle with the government of an Empire, the care of which is not a task for women… If the Queen bears no sons, she is merely a foreigner in the State, and a very dangerous foreigner, too. For as she can never hope to be looked on kindly here, and must always expect to be sent back whence she came, so will she always seek to win the King by other than natural means; she will struggle for position and power by intrigue and the sowing of discord, to the mischief of the King, the nation, and the Empire..”

Well, isn’t that sweet.  

Sisi got a respite from the stress of court on a visit to Hungary, but that visit soon turned tragic as her two daughters contracted an illness.  Gisela recovered, but two year old Sophie died.  This sent Sisi into a terrible depression from which she never really recovered.  She was unable to care for Gisela, and as a result their relationship never recovered.  Sophie blamed Sisi for allowing her namesake to get sick and die.  Nice.  She gave birth to the longed for male heir, Rudolf, in 1788 and he was whisked away by Sophie.  It was not until the birth of her fourth child that Sisi was allowed to be a mother.  She was reported to have said to a lady in waiting,

“Only now do I understand what bliss a child means. Now I have finally had the courage to love the baby and keep it with me. My other children were taken away from me at once. I was permitted to see the children only when Archduchess Sophie gave permission. She was always present when I visited the children. Finally I gave up the struggle and went upstairs only rarely.”

The only thing she could control was her physical appearance and she had a ruthless beauty regimen.  In fact, she did not look a day over thirty her entire life.  She bathed in warm olive oil and distilled water.  One night a week, she reportedly slept in sheets lined with beefsteak to keep her skin taut.  She was also probably anorexic as she would not eat to be laced as tightly as possible.  She was famous for her wasp waist, which infuriated her mother-in-law as she expected Sisi to be perpetually pregnant.  Her waist remained at 19.5 inches for most of her life.  Almost a Scarlett O’Hara waist.  Whenever she traveled, she would bring her own cows and would live on a diet of meat juice, fresh milk and egg whites mixed with salt.  She was also the first woman to do gymnastics, lift weights and work at the barre like a ballerina as a regular exercise to help with her figure.  Someone once told her it would help her complexion to sleep without pillows, so pillows were banished from her bed.

Her most recognizable feature was her glorious chestnut hair, which reached all the way to her feet.  She was obsessive about how it was dressed, and her Greek tutor Konstantin Christomanos described the ritual, “Behind the Empress’s armchair stood the hairdresser…With her white hands she burrowed in the waves of hair, raised them and ran her fingertips over them as she might over velvet and silk, twisted them around her arms like rivers she wanted to capture because they did not want to run but to fly.”  Any hair that came out during the braiding was required to be put in a silver bowl for Sisi’s inspection.  It was so bad that the hairdresser put a piece of tape under her apron to hide the hair so she wouldn’t have to have it undergo inspection.  Her glorious hair was washed every three weeks and that was a nightmare in itself.  It was rinsed with raw eggs and brandy then air dried as Sisi paced her chamber in a waterproof dressing gown.  However, her hairdresser was well compensated being paid a yearly salary of 2,000 guldens, which corresponded to a university professor.

A rare picture with Sisi’s hair unbound

By this time, Sisi and Franz Joseph were living separate lives.  Franz Joseph was having affairs and after a brief reconciliation which resulted in their fourth child, the bloom was definitely off the rose.  Sisi for her part was coming into her own.  She had balls for young people and didn’t invite their stodgy mothers.  She had a companion from England and snuck off to Ireland for incognito hunting trips.  Things settled into a an amicable separation.  However, Sisi’s world plunged into to tragedy again in 1898 when her son was found dead.  He was found with his mistress Mary Vetsera at his hunting lodge in a suspected suicide pact.  (For more on this, please see this post: )  She and Rudolf were not close, but his death still devastated her.  She was convinced there was some madness in the Wittelsbachs and the Habsburgs that contributed to her son’s death.  She isn’t far off there.  Look at her family.   Sisi began drifting from spa to spa trying to find some meaning.

It was on one of these spa trips, she was killed.  Sisi had stayed at the Hotel Beau-Rivage in Geneva, supposedly incognito.  However, someone must have found out as word leaked.  Sisi was hurrying to board the lake steamer “Genève”.  She had been advised against travelling as there were assassination attempts everywhere, but she didn’t pay them any mind.  As she rushed down the street to the pier without her entourage, Luigi Lucheni ran towards her and stabbed her in the heart with a makeshift weapon.   An Italian anarchist, Luigi Lucheni, had intended to kill the French Duke d’Orleans, but went to Geneva instead on a whim and found out Sisi was there.  Neither Sisi or Countess Irma Sztáray, her lady in waiting, realized what happened.  They thought it had been a robbery attempt, and went on to the ship.  It is suspected that Sisi was able to walk the hundred yards to the ship without noticing anything was amiss because of her tight corset.  A few minutes later, Sisi passed out and Countess Sztáray noticed blood on her dress.  Sisi was carried to back to the Hotel Beau-Rivage on an improvised stretcher and was pronounced dead shortly after.  So ends a tragic life.


Sophia Dorothea of Celle- The Lady in the Tower

Sophia Dorothea Photo Credit- Wikipedia

Born the only child of the Duke George William of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1666, Sophia Dorothea was illegitimate.  Her mother was the Duke’s long standing mistress, Éléonore Marie d’Esmier d’Olbreuse, an exiled French Protestant aristocrat.  They weren’t even supposed to be together, and Sophia Dorothea was not supposed to exist.

George William was supposed to marry Princess Sophia, daughter of the Palatine King of Bohemia (For more on her, please see this post:  George William was so repulsed by the “mannish” Sophia, he traded his claim to the duchy of Hanover to his brother, Ernst Augustus, so he’d take her off his hands.  Item:  If you look at her picture, she’s actually quite pretty, but there is no accounting for taste.  George William also agreed not to marry or have any heirs because along with being cousins, George William and Ernst’s children would be rivals for the throne of England.  No one consulted Princess Sophia as she was supposedly in love with George William and wasn’t too thrilled with his brother, who was reported to have a terrible temper.  All was fine until George William met Éléonore and fell head over heels with the beautiful French woman.  Eventually, the Duke and Éléonore were legally married and Sophia Dorothea was retroactively legitimized without protest from Ernst and his wife because they had plenty of sons.  

Sophia grew into a lovely young woman with thick dark hair, an ivory complexion and sparkling eyes.  Sophia was said to be skilled at “womanly pursuits” such as sewing, dancing and music, and was quite witty.  As a result, Sophia fielded offers from the future King of Denmark and the Duke of Wolfenbüttel, who was extremely handsome.  However, it seemed advantageous to consolidate the claims by marrying the cousins.  Electress Sophia hated her sister-in-law because she stole her man, and hated her niece by proxy.  However, she was onboard with this plan and talked George William into breaking off the engagement with the Duke of Wolfenbüttel.  Electress Sophia presented her niece with a miniature of her future husband, George Ludwig.  Sophia Dorothea pitched the thing into a wall screaming, “I will not marry the pig snout!” and proceeded to scream and sob.  Not a good start.  The first time she met George, she fell into her mother’s arms in a faint.  Same when she first met her future mother-in-law.  Things did not improve from there.

Despite Sophia’s protests, she was forced into the marriage.  George Ludwig and Sophia Dorothea were married in the Chapel of Celle Castle.  The couple lived at the Leine Palace in Hanover, and everyone hated poor Sophia Dorothea.  She was constantly reprimanded for a lack of court etiquette, and loud violent arguments were often heard from their chambers.  George was described as not only ugly, but rude, aggressive and dumb as a brick.  He instantly went off with his mistresses when he wasn’t yelling at his wife.  Electress Sophia was especially cruel to the young couple and was only happy to have Sophia Dorothea for her large dowry payments.  She wrote to her niece, Elizabeth Charlotte:

George Ludwig, Hereditary Prince of Brunswick-Lüneburg in 1680; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

“One hundred thousand thalers a year is a goodly sum to pocket, without speaking of a pretty wife, who will find a match in my son George Louis, the most pigheaded, stubborn boy who ever lived, who has round his brains such a thick crust that I defy any man or woman ever to discover what is in them. He does not care much for the match itself, but one hundred thousand thalers a year have tempted him as they would have tempted anybody else.”  

So they were basically in it for the money.  Nice.

Sophia Dorothea was terribly unhappy, but did her duty giving birth to the needed son an heir, the future George II in 1683, and a daughter, Sophia Dorothea in 1686.  The relationship did not improve at all.  George’s affairs got more public, and carried on with two women as once.   Sophia von Kielmansegg was the married daughter of his father’s mistress, and quite possibly George’s half sister, and was enormously fat.  Later, when George came to England she was nicknamed “the Elephant”.  The other was Ehrengard Melusine von Der Schulenburg, who was notoriously skeletal, and nicknamed by English “the Maypole”.  People were shocked that they were outstandingly ugly.  Because she had given them an heir, Sophia’s in laws backed off and things were almost cordial.  They actually stepped in and asked George to cool it with the mistresses.  He refused, and Sophia’s relationship with George got worse.  In one notable incident at their daughter’s christening, George nearly strangled his wife in public.  He was known to hit her on occasion as well.  What a prince.

Sophia was lonely and sad, and in that state she turned to an old friend for comfort.  Swedish Count Philipp Christoph von Königsmark met Sophia when she was sixteen and first married to George in Celle.  He left Germany and became a favorite of Charles II, and a notable soldier and lover.  He returned to Celle five years later, and found the lovely Sophia ripe for romance.  They wrote each other’s names on palace windows.  They exchanged love letters, where Philipp praised her sexy knees.  This was apparently a compliment.  He also wrote he longed to “kiss that little place which has given me so much pleasure.”  I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about her knees.  It was a full blown affair complete with secret codes, clandestine meetings and secret go betweens.  However, Sophia’s father in law, Elector Ernst Augustus, got wind of the scandalous correspondence, possibly from his mistress Countess Platen, who was also the mother of George’s mistress “the Elephant”.  Philipp was exiled and got a new post with the Elector of Saxony.  Apparently, he couldn’t keep his mouth shut and went bragging he’d had George’s wife as one his many conquest.  The rumors reached the ears of George’s other mistress, “the Maypole”, Ehrengard Melusine von der Schulenberg.  She ran and tattled what she heard to George, and to say he was not happy was an understatement.

Philip Christoph von Königsmarck; Photo Credit – Wikipedia

George confronted his wife with evidence of her affair.  She was not about to be cowed and cast his own infidelity up to him.  The argument turned violent and George threw himself on Sophia and began choking her and pulling out her hair.  She was only saved when their attendants pulled him off, but was left with purple bruises.   Sophia resolved she could not stay with such a man.  She and Philipp attempted to elope.  Their plans were foiled when Countess Platen, stuck her nose in again.  Things went swiftly south from there.  On July 2, 1694, Philipp disappeared.  It is thought he was at Leine Castle to spring Sophia and from there escape.  The legend goes that they tried to arrest Philipp, but as he was an excellent soldier and expert swordsman he got the better of the guards.  One guard was wounded, but they eventually overcame him through numbers and Philipp was killed.  Supposedly his body was covered in quicklime and buried under the bloodstained floor boards of Leine Castle.  Supposedly, several guards and the Countess Platen confessed to his death on their deathbeds.  Strangely, there was a skeleton found under the floorboards at Leine Castle in August 2016.  Analysis by researchers at Lund University indicate the body is centuries old.  The university is attempting to extract DNA from the bones to compare with samples from Philipp’s living relatives.

Whatever happened to Philipp, he was gone and Sophia was alone and under house arrest in hysterics. On December 28, 1694, a tribunal of judges and Lutheran Church officials was declared in favor of George.  What else?  Sophia was convicted of “malicious desertion”, and was imprisoned at Castle Ahlden.  The marriage was dissolved.  Sophia was only 28.  She would never leave Castle Ahlden, even when George became George I of England.  Keeping with the Hanoverian tradition, George and his son George Augustus hated each other as hard as they could.  The main bone of contention between them was George’s treatment of Sophia.  George Augustus was waiting for her father to die so he could free his mother and install her as the Dowager Queen of England.

She died thirty years later, and left a letter to George denouncing him for his cruelty to her.  She was buried next to her parents in the Old Chapel in Celle.  George refused to acknowledge her death except to overturn her will and take her property for his own.  Fate did have the last laugh as George suffered an attack of apoplexy four weeks after Sophia’s death and only a few days after receiving her last letter.  The official cause was listed as getting a stomach ache after imbibing an enormous supper with a huge dessert of fruit.  However, there is a legend that a fortune teller had prophesied that if he caused his wife’s death, he would die himself in a year.  The legends also say that Sophia’s ghost came back to take her revenge on George.  So perhaps George got his after all.


Anna Anderson-  The Fake Anastasia

Anastasia Romanov on the left; Anna Anderson on the right

News of the execution of the Romanov family in 1918 rocked the world.  (For more on this please see this post: )  However, in the face of this devastation people tried to keep the faith that someone may have made it out.  European newspaper ran stories that one or more of the Romanov children had escaped.  The one name that kept coming up was Anastasia Romanov.  However, there was no proof.  Only hope.

Then in 1920, a young woman was fished out of a the water after jumping off a bridge in Berlin.  Her suicide attempt failed and the young woman had no identification and refused to tell her rescuers her name.  She was taken to a mental institution, Dalldorf Asylum, where she remained for two more years.  For the first six months, the strange young woman would not speak at all.  Medical staff noted she had given birth to at least one child and had strange scars that looked like gunshot wounds.  This was right after World War I, so it would not have been unusual for her to have gotten caught in a firefight somewhere.  Eventually, the she began to talk and had a strange Russian accent and haughty demeanor.  Another Dalldorf patient, Clara Peuthert, believed the woman was a member of the Russian royal family after seeing a picture of them in the newspaper.  Upon Clara’s release, she  went to high Russian expatriates to beg them to see this strange young woman she believed was the Grand Duchess Tatiana.

At first, the young woman treated these new visitors with the same disdain she had treated everyone else.  She would even hide under the covers rather than talk to them.  They pushed pictures of the Romanovs at her and she would shy away, despite naming them to the nurses after they left.  A former lady in waiting visited and informed her she was too short to be Tatiana.  The strange woman actually replied saying, “I never said I was Tatiana.”  At this point there was a frenzy to find out who she was.  If she would say who she was, then perhaps she would indicate who she wasn’t.  Presented with a list of the Romanov daughters, she crossed out all of them but one.  Anastasia.

The woman who claimed to be Anastasia called herself Anna Tchaīkovsky after the man who she claimed rescued her.  She claimed that she and her sisters had jewels sewn into their corsets, which caused the bullets to not fully pierce her skin.  Then the soldiers tried to kill them with bayonets, but they were dull.  She was wounded but survived and played dead.  The soldier who came to take away the bodies took pity on her and saved her.  His name was Alexander Tchaīkovsky, and the two had a son together.  Eventually she came to Berlin to see family, but they refused to see her and that’s why she tried to kill herself.

It’s a far fetched tale, but there was some evidence in Anna’s favor.  Anna and Anastasia both spoke French, English and German.  Anna said she could understand Russian but would not speak it because it was the language of her family’s murderers.  This was taken as a sign she did not speak Russian and was a fraud by some investigators.  The two women had the same foot deformity as well.  There were details that Anna told of court life and of family members that were not common knowledge, such as a companion who drew humorous drawings of animals for her.  A handwriting expert said they identical handwriting.  There was no definitive proof.  However, this was enough for some Romanov relatives and Anna bounced from castle to castle living on the largess of her supposed relatives.  She was kept away from the larger prize of the remaining Romanov fortune.

It was only a matter of time before it came to trial.  For 32 years, the remaining Romanov family fought against Anna’s claim in German court.  They claimed that Anna was really a Polish factory worker named Franziska Schanzkowska. No proof either way was produced.  In 1970, the German Supreme Court ended the case ruling for no one.  They did not prove Anna was or was not Anastasia.  Anna eventually moved to the United States after marrying an American professor John Manahan.  They lived an eccentric life in Charlottesville, VA, where they had a sprawling home with cats, dogs and piles of garbage.  Anna died of pneumonia in 1984.

However, fate took a hand, as the remains of three Romanov daughters were found in a mass grave in 1991.  These were verified as Romanov by conducting DNA tests comparing the DNA of the skeletons to DNA from the blood donated from members of the British family who were related to the Romanovs.  Another DNA tests was performed as well.  DNA from a section of intestine removed from a prior surgery on Anna was compared to the DNA from the skeletons.  There was no match.  Anna was not a Romanov.  However, all of this is hotly debated.  There are those who claim Anna’s DNA was doctored.  Even the Russian Orthodox Church believes the skeletons found in the mass grave were not the Romanovs and refuses to treat them as royal remains.  Perhaps we will never know.