Imperial Tragedy: a sad tale from the last years of Byzantium

Anna Komnene – Welcome everyone to Minimum Wage Historian!
Olga of Kiev – Where’s Zachsky?
Anna Komneme – Don’t worry about him. Today’s topic I’m afraid isn’t as exciting or funny as usual. It’s a rather sad story about an emperor. As Byzantium was dying, one man experienced a series of tragedies that mirrored the tragedies of the Empire.
Gaspar Correia – Wait, I thought today’s topic was Ancient China.
Mulan – Yes, that’s what Zach said on Monday. ( Holds up stack of books and notes. )
Anna – Um…Don’t worry. Zach E-texted me this morning. Said he couldn’t make it and to change today’s topic.
Gaspar – E-texted? You don’t know what you’re talking about, do you?
Anna – How DARE you question an Imperial princess! I was born in the Purple Chamber of the Imperial Palace!
Olga – Yes, yes, yes. You say this thing every day. You bad liar.
Mulan – Where is Zach and what did you do to him?
Anna – Oh, well…
I may have
Um….
maybe had him…
Mulan – Anna!
Anna – I may have had him kidnapped.
Mulan – You what?
Olga – (Laughs hysterically.)
Gaspar – For money, right? I’ll go in, 60/40.
Anna – No, he wanted to talk about Ancient China, but I have more Byzantine history to tell, so we’re telling it or I’ll have my Varangian Guard come in and beat you up.
Gaspar – (Throws up hands) Hey, you wanna talk Byzantine history, who am I to argue. Let’s do it.
Mulan – You have a bad habit of fomenting coups, don’t you?
Anna – I don’t know what you’re talking about so I’ll ignore that comment. Let’s start, shall we? Today’s topic is about the son of last week’s topic, Michael Palaiologos, the “Dark Emperor” as Zach so ineptly called him.
Gaspar – I thought it was funny.
Anna – Shut up. Michael had a son named Andronikos Palaiologos II.

Byzantines were bigger fans of facial hair than Civil War generals.  But Andronokis went against fashion and cut his beard square.  Not sure why.

Byzantines were bigger fans of facial hair than Civil War generals. But Andronokis went against fashion and cut his beard square. Not sure why.

Mulan – His father was a ruthless man. Was this Andronokis the same?
Anna – Not hardly. Andronokis was a thoughtful, caring person who loved his family and his empire more than himself. He is one of the longest reigning emperors, forty years he sat on the throne of the Roman Empire. But he was also fairly weak person. He had none of his father’s ruthlessness but he also lacked his father’s drive and forcefulness.
Gaspar – Not ruthless? So he had plenty of ruth? Ruth is an important part of anyone’s character.
Anna – Shut up. It was a harsh time and he was not a harsh man. He worked hard, but he worked poorly. During his reign the Empire lost much of its meager territory for good. His name meant “Man of Victory” but he would see no victory, only loss after loss. Keep in mind that he wasn’t incompetent, he just was the wrong man for the times. After his father’s death the Empire was surrounded by enemies on all sides. Bulgarians, Serbians, Latins and especially the Turks. Each one was eating away and the Empire. Mulan, you’re a soldier, what would you do?
Mulan – I’d throw every coin into the military, regain territory which would earn more money and stay on the offensive no matter what. Every territory gained is more revenue earned.
Anna – Exactly. But Andronokis disbanded the navy that had saved Constantinople so many times in the past and got rid of all the army except a few thousand mercenaries.
Mulan – Wait…he did what?
Anna – He was a peaceful man in a time of war.
Mulan – Peaceful or no, was he an idiot?
Anna – An idealist. When he was young his father sent him to Turkey to fight the Turks. Instead of attacking he found the ruins of a town and he spent his time rebuilding the town and bringing settlers in to live there. A few years later the Turks marched in and simply took it. All his hard work for nothing. This was typical of his reign.

Not a good time to have a mediocre emperor.

Not a good time to have a mediocre emperor.

Anna – Let’s start with his long series of tragedies, some were political and some were personal. Not all were his fault. He was born under an unlucky star. When he realized that the empire was being taken apart like a wounded fish in a school of sharks he realized too late that he in fact needed a military. So he hired a mercenary company led by a man named Roger de Flor. Roger was a German leading a group of Spanish mercenaries and was kicked out of the Knights Templar probably for being a “douche bag” as Zach would call him.
Olga – I miss Zachsky. (dramatic sigh)
Anna – Shut up. This mercenary, Roger, has a few successes against the Turks but when they weren’t fighting Turks they were raiding and destroying Byzantine towns. They refused orders and extorted money from Byzantine officials they ran across.

Roger de Flor in action, "helping" his Byzantine masters.

Roger de Flor in action, “helping” his Byzantine masters.

Anna – After all of Roger’s hard work, he finally returned to Constantinople to demand more payment for services rendered. I hate to say this about a fellow Roman, but Andronikos had no spine. Instead firing Roger, he promoted him to Caesar, the third highest rank in the Empire and gave him some fancy new clothes and gifts. Ever the gentlemen, Roger left the city and as he sailed away he publicly dumped all his gifts into the harbor as a sign of his disrespect.
Mulan – What a dishonorable jerk! I’d cut his head off!

Mulan - This is what I'd do that no-good thug!

Mulan – This is what I’d do that no-good thug!

Anna – Yes, well, you have more “testicular fortitude” than Andronikos. He gave the mercenaries more money and told them to go back and fight the Turks. Roger agreed, took the money and promptly went to Adrianople, where Andronikos’s son, Michael IX the co-emperor lived. Roger shows up and invites himself to a huge feast. Michael inherited some of his grandfathers ruthlessness –
Gaspar – There’s that word again.
Anna – Shut up. Michael knew what these mercenary scum were up to. He didn’t attend the feast but instead decided to take a much “harsher” approach to the problem. He orders his men in to the feast where they proceed to slaughter Roger and his officers. When Michael heard the “news” he said, “What a pity!”
But that wasn’t the end to Andronikos’s sorrows. His first wife, A a Hungarian princess named Anna died young and so he married an Italian princess named Yolonde. He grew to love Yolonde deeply and she bore him several sons but the daughters all died in infancy. He then fasted and prayed for a daughter and lit several candles, one to each saint and whichever candle lasted the longest he’d name his child after that saint. He eventually had a girl and the candle that died last was St. Simon. Not a gilr’s name so he named her “Simonis,” a unique name for a girl that would prove to have a unique and tragic life. Like me she was born in the purple chamber of the palace and so held great respect. But the Serbian king Mulitin was rampaging all over Greece and threatened to take Thesselonika if the emperor didn’t give him an Imperial princess for a wife. He had had three wives already, each one died mysteriously.
Olga – I no like this man!
Anna – Just wait, you’ll have even less reason to like him. Andronikos, lacking a vertebrae as previously mentioned, gave in and gave Mulitin his only daughter, Simonis. She was only 6. This wasn’t uncommon, but usually the wedding was ceremonial and the bride wouldn’t be “Man and Wife” until she was of age. But Mulitin didn’t wait. He abused the poor girl so that she’d never be able to bare children.

Here is a melencholy portrait of the poor child bride, Simonis or Simonida as the Serbs called her.  All she wanted was to return home.

Here is a melancholy portrait of the poor child bride, Simonis or Simonida as the Serbs called her. All she wanted was to return home.

Anna – Just a generation ago such a marriage to a barbarian like Mulitin would have been unthinkable. But Andronikos was weak and let it happen. He loved his daughter was ashamed for her treatment. Simonis hated her “husband” and only wanted to return home. She thought if her father new her situation he’d let her return. Eventually Mulitin let her go home for a visit. Once back in Constantinople she refused to go back, but the hopeless emperor new that if she didn’t, her husband would renew his war against the Empire and he had nothing to stop him. So he sent the poor, crying girl back. On the way back to Serbia, she escaped and ran to a monastery and dressed as a nun, but her guards found her and forced her to return in tears. When she was 23 Mutilin died and she hurried back to Constantinople where she lived a sad, lonely life.
Mulan – I’d cut off Mutilin’s head too! That pig deserves to be skinned alive!
Olga – I burn his house and city down!
Gaspar – Cement shoes are too good for him.
Anna – It’s a tragedy that would never have happened if the emperor and the Empire were stronger. But there’s more tragedy to come. Yolonde, Andronikos’s wife, was a vain, greedy woman who thought Simonis had married well. Yolonde hated her step sons who were born by Anna, so she pleaded with her husband to divide the Empire among all his sons and give her sons an inheritance. Andronikos knew that the request was ridiculous. Divide the already shrinking Empire? Never. So, Yolonde threw a fit. she cried, wailed, screamed and threatened to kill herself, but none of it worked. Yolonde then left her husband and moved to Thesselonaka and stayed there for the rest of her life. This shamed Andronikos even further. He had loved her but all she loved was money and power. For all his faults, he was a good man that wanted to do right by his people and his Empire. In better times he might have made a halfway decent emperor. He had lost the love of his wife so he could insure his son, Michael would be Emperor after him. He was his father’s favorite.

Oh, yes, Zach did draw this. Andronikos and his first wife, Anna.

Oh, yes, Zach did draw this. Andronikos and his first wife, Anna.

We’ve mentioned Michael already. He was the elder son and set to inherit the Empire. He had a son and named them after his grandfather, “Andronikos.” He loved his son more than anything else and doted on him. He was the one ray of sunshine in the Emperor’s cloudy life. Michael however, didn’t take his duty seriously. He was what you modern people would call a “Frat boy.” He spent his time partying and buying things he couldn’t afford. He had a cousin though and they were closer than brothers. His cousin, John was a thinker and took things seriously. he tried to keep Michael’s excesses under control. But then Michael fell in love with a married woman and became very jealous. He ordered his men to watch her house and to beat up any man that came to see her. But one night, Michael’s little brother had to deliver an urgent message to him and figured he could find him at the woman’s house. As he approached the door, Michael’s thugs jumped out and beat the young man to death. When news spread of the murder, Michael was accused of murder and was disinherited. Michael wept for his brother and promised to be a better man, but it was too late. When Andronikos heard the news, his heart broke. Michael left the capitol and young Andronikos loved his disposed father and worked with his grandmother Yolonde to inherit the throne. The Emperor grew to mistrust his grandson and eventually trumped up immature charges against. The grandson threatened civil war and the two reconciled. Eventually Andronikos grew old and feeble and with a broken heart, retired as a monk. His poor daughter, Simonis, nursed him for the rest of his life. It must have been a sad, lonely household, the two of them. She never married again and didn’t want to. He had seen everything he spent his life working for fall apart in his face. The Empire was worse off than when he first inherited it and his family was torn to pieces with civil war on the horizon. One family’s tragedy held the fate of the Empire.
Mulan – I’m fairly depressed now.
Olga – Very sad story. I like Zach’s happy stories better.
Gaspar – Yeah, seriously. I can’t even..enhance this story. What a downer.
Anna – But it’s what happened. Not all of history is uplifting and cheery. Byzantine history is normally told in a very stiff, formal and distant manner. I told this story to show that behind the dry facts of history, there were real people and real families that bled and cried.

This is the flag of the Palaiologos dynasty and became the flag of the Byzantine Empire in its final century.  The story of the Palaiologos family is far from over.  Maybe I'll get rid of Zach again and tell more of their stories down the road.

This is the flag of the Palaiologos dynasty and became the flag of the Byzantine Empire in its final century. The story of the Palaiologos family is far from over. Maybe I’ll get rid of Zach again and tell more of their stories down the road.

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Rebirth of Byzantium: The Dark Emperor Rises

Zach – Today’s post is about the darkest time for the Byzantine Empire. It is an empire shattered and in exile. In 1204 the grotesque 4th Crusade, instead of liberating the Holy Land, attacked Constantinople and took it over. The Crusaders looted the city for years stripping the churches and palaces of anything that was worth anything. The emperor fled to Nicea along the coast of Anatolia (Turkey) and set up a government in exile. There were several factions that split off from the Byzantine Empire and most didn’t recognize Nicea’s claim to the governments. Others just didn’t care.

Here we see the once mighty Byzantine Empire, shattered and fragmented.

Here we see the once mighty Byzantine Empire, shattered and fragmented.

Anna – How the Empire came to be like this would require a post by itself. It seems hopeless for my beloved Empire, but a hero arises. It’s not the hero Byzantium deserves, but its the hero Byzantium needs. But first let’s get into our panelists. We are most honored to have Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. Next we have Saint Olga of Kiev, first Christian convert in Russia and a lunatic. Next we have Boudica, barbarian rebel against Rome. And lastly we have Gaspar Correia, conquistador and “historian.”
Zach – The Byzantine Empire: the continuation of the ancient Roman empire in the Middle Ages. For some reason it isn’t really taught in public schools. In high school I think we spent a day on it and mostly talked about Justinian’s re codification of Roman Law. (Important but kind of boring.) It was a fascinating place and as our story opens, its in a desperate position. Surrounded by enemies and fractured internally. But the Byzantines didn’t give up, a trait they’ll carry with them until the death of the Empire. For fifty years they fought for every inch of land and power they could while constantly waiting for their chance to take their beloved city, Constantinople back from the hands of the Crusaders.
Catherine – During this time the Byzantine government in Nicea was ruled by a man with little royal blood. His name was John Doukas Vatatzes. He was called “John the Merciful.” He was a wise leader that loved his country. He kept the Empire together and lead them with intelligence and strength. He slowly but steadily grew his exiled Empire along the coast of Turkey. But he was growing old and Constantinople was still out of reach. His only son and heir to the Empire was a sickly lad and not a capable leader at all, much like my husband was… before he got blown up.
Olga – Your husband got blown up? Did you blow up the ones that blew him up? I burnt down city of mens that killed my husband.
Anna – Yes, John’s son, Theodore was less than inspiring. That’s what happens when you don’t have royal blood. But there was one man that inspired the people and the military. His name was Michael Doukas Angelos Komnenos Palaiologos. A long name, I know, but it shows hes related to several important royal families, including my own! In fact, except for this John character, almost every Byzantine Emperor after my father could be traced directly to him. Isn’t my father wonderful?
Boudica – I see a bunch of soft, over fed dandies pretending to have problems.

Here's Michael himself.

Here’s Michael himself.

Zach – John recognized that Michael was a very capable and very ambitious man. To keep him from trying a coup or leading a rebellion, he promoted him to an officer in the Imperial army. But eventually John grew suspicious of Michael (rightly so) and accused him of disloyalty. Usually John the Merciful earned his nickname, but this time, he knew the threat was great so he borrowed a form of trial from the Latin occupiers. If Michael was able to hold a red hot iron without being burned, it showed that God knew he was innocent. At the “trial” when the bishop who was acting as judge told Michael to grab the glowing iron, Michael said, ” Sure, I’ll do it, but you have to hand it to me first.” The bishop was understandably reluctant and called the proceedings off. The Byzantine crowd, proud of their Roman traditions of fair trials, knew this was a farce and Michael’s popularity soared. John was no fool and with Michael’s upswing of popularity, John gave him his niece, the princess Theodora Doukaina. He didn’t really like her but she loved him and even adopted his last name, not unheard of, but rare at that time. That soon became the trend in Byzantium.
Anna – Only a year later John died and his son Theodore inherited the exiled throne of the Roman Empire. Theodore was an unpleasant man prone to quick mood swings. Michael knew this was not a good situation to be in. Theodore was also very paranoid and Michael knew he was in Theodore’s “Not a friend” list. So he went to the Turks and offered his service as an officer. For the next few years Michael would be off fighting the Mongols far to the east and having great success. But, he was related to me, so of course he had great success. But back in Nicea, Theodore was proving to be not completely incompetent. In spite of his illness, he personally led his army on an almost constant campaign against the enemies that surrounded him, mostly against the Despotate of Epiros.
Boudica – The brave Mongols were giving the Turks a hard time, right? So the Turks made peace with the Byzantines so they could focus their manpower at the Mongols which had taken over, like, half the world by now. Go Team Barbarian! But a part of this treaty was that they send Michael back to them. When he got back he met Theodore and bowed down low making all kinds of promises to be super loyal and never try to take the throne.
Catherine – But, the sickly Theodore soon died after that and his only son was only nine years old. There was a regent, one of John’s friends. On his coronation day, Michael had a bunch of mercenaries burst into the church and kill the regent. Michael then stepped up as “protector” of the young heir and assumed the throne. Not a pleasant way to gain power but Michael was not a pleasant man. he was ruthless and cunning, but he was also patriotic and intelligent.

Gaspar's photo of Michael taking over the Empire.

Gaspar’s photo of Michael taking over the Empire.

Anna – The young heir, John, couldn’t do anything to stop Michael from taking over. At the coronation where John was supposed to have been crowned emperor, Michael ordered the Patriarch to crown him instead. Ruthless. Technically John was Emperor though, but only in name. But, his ruthless aspirations aside, Michael threw himself into the cause of the Empire. He renewed the war against the Despotate and against the Latin occupiers. He was a great military leader that managed to wind many victories with his small army. He slowly made his way to Constantinople and sent scouts out to watch the city for any sign of weakness. The general in charge watched and waited. Then one day his scouts rushed up to him and reported that the Venetian ships (Venice propped up the Latin Empire like America did to petty dictators through the Cold War) and the entire Latin army had left. They technically had a pact of non-aggresion with the Latin Empire, but the general knew this was too good of a chance. He also knew that Michael would care about treaties or niceties like promises or honor. So he rushed into the city to the cheers of the occupied Byzantine civilians and quickly sent word to Michael. Michael was sleeping when his sister Eulogia entered his tent and tickled his feet. “Emperor, you are master of Constantinople,” she said.
“How can I be when I am in Meterion?” Michael asked.
She explained and he gathered his army and Rushed to Constantinople and entered through the Golden Gate, the ceremonial gate in which triumphant generals and emperors would enter for their grand parades.

"Yo, John, you're cramping my stale.  I don't care if you are emperor, you're in my space."

“Yo, John, you’re cramping my style. I don’t care if you are emperor, you’re in my space.”

Gaspar – But in my research I uncovered how the army actually got into Constantinople. Few defenders, yes, but it has a big wall. Michael’s army used ancient teleportation magic learned from the Pharaohs of old. The court sorcerers teleported a team of magically animated automatons wielding Greek Fire. These metal beasts with flame throwers made short work of the Latin garrison.

The Byzantines had many mechanical contraptions such as a throne that lifted into the air with mechanical lions the roared and mettle birds that sang.

The Byzantines had many mechanical contraptions such as a throne that lifted into the air with mechanical lions the roared and metal birds that sang.

Olga – Robots shooting fire? I like! I want robots that shoot fire. Go buy me them!
Anna – No, Gaspar, actually the Garrison were Greeks and opened the gates for them because they hated the Latins.
Gaspar – Oh. Are you sure?
Anna – Very.
Zach – But Michael found a capitol city almost in ruins. The churches were emptied, houses were left empty and rotting. The Imperial palaces were hardly fit for living in and the crown jewel of the Empire, the greatest city in the world, was a ruin of what it used to be. He immediately He started a rebuilding project. He started with the public buildings, the courts, the theaters, the homes for the old and poor and of course the churches. In Byzantium religion and politics were the same thing. This wasn’t a false attempt at piety, the Byzantines were very religious. It was their favorite subject to talk about in the markets, they loved their icons and everything that happened had some spiritual meaning to it. For some reason though, Michael would forget this.
Catherine – Michael restored land and property taken by the Latins to the Byzantine families that used to own them…and the taxed the snot out of them and everyone else. This was strike one against his popularity. Strike two came when he had the heir, John, blinded and sent away. Blindings were common back then but to do it to a boy was considered monstrous. No one really knows what happened to John. Some say he became a monk. Some say he regained his eyesight and left of Sicily. (He was blinded by being forced to look into a light. It was considered more humane.)
Boudica – And they call us barbarians? Bah! Well, Michael had enemies in the court, but he also had powerful enemies everywhere else. He made allies of far away countries that were enemies to his nearby enemies. He’d scheme and organize wars between those countries so they wouldn’t turn towards Byzantium. In Sicily, King Charles Anjou, brother of the French king, was planning on launching another Crusade to destroy Byzantium. When Michael heard of this he knew he didn’t have the money to raise an army that could hope to win against Manfred’s. So he sent spies into Sicily to stir up rebellion. He also made his third strike. He went to the Pope. At this time, the Catholic and Orthodox churches were split and disliked each other to the point of hatred. He sent a message to Rome saying that they’d acknowledge the Pope as supreme ruler if he agreed to protect Byzantium. When word spread about this, the people were ticked off to no end. These were super religious people to whom compromise was seen as weakness. They would sooner die that bow before the Pope. They also hated the Latin’s for their many years of Crusader occupation. To Michael it was just politics, but to the Byzantine people it was their souls. Hmmm…I’m not a fan of big governments that tell you how to live your lives and either were the Byzantines when it came to religion.
Zach – Michael tried to force the people to accept the union but the more he pushed, the more the people fought back. He resorted to torture and execution to make it happen, but it all backfired. His loyal sister Eulogia even got sick of his crap and left to Bulgaria and promised to fight against her brother with everything she had. Don’t mess with a Byzantine’s religion. Eventually Rome grew tired of waiting and Okay’d the Sicilian crusade. Aside from the rebellions he was creating in Sicily, he sent word to the king and queen of Aragon that Sicily was ready to revolt and they should be ready to move in and take over. The match was finally struck when one of Anjou’s French soldiers tried to molest a local girl. The Sicilians had had enough and within days the entire island was in revolt.

Sicilian's rising up.  Red, the color of angry men.

Sicilian’s rising up. Red, the color of angry men.

Anna – Then the king of Aragon quickly moved in with his forces to “pacify” the region, as you modern people like to say. Michael had saved the Roman Empire without shedding a single drop of blood, well, Byzantine blood anyway. This was his greatest victory. After that he went over to put down a rebellion, got sick and died in some town of no consequence. The priests refused him any kind of religious ceremonies for his funeral and basically just dumped in in the ground with no pomp or ceremony in the middle of the night. It wasn’t until years later that they dug up his body and gave it a slightly better funeral in some monastery way out in the boonies. His wife publicly denounced him and no prayers were said for him. In their eyes he had betrayed the faith that was more important to them than life. It didn’t matter what he had done for the Empire, all of that was moot when he went against their church. We Romans take our faith seriously. To us, you can’t sacrifice the Church for the Empire. The Empire was there to support the Church.
Zach – Michael was a complex man. He was brave and intelligent and would do anything for his Empire. He had done more to restore the Empire than anyone else and yet his people hated him for the way he did it. For them, the means did not justify the end. He was a mixture of good and bad that might never be fully understood.
Olga – I like him. He kick butt and take name.
Gaspar – I don’t see what everyone’s whining about.
Boudica – A lesson in tyranny. It doesn’t matter what benefits you get if the government tells you how to live your life.
Catherine – Ruthless. I like that him.
Anna – He was a Roman and flawed one, but he was necessary.

He made the difficult choices a hero couldn't make.  He was the man Constantinople needed even though they hated him for it.

He made the difficult choices a hero couldn’t make. He was the man Constantinople needed even though they hated him for it.

Olga – Don’t forget to like us on the facebooks page thing.
http://www.facebook.com/MinimumWageHistorian

The Battle of Lepanto

Perhaps a little biased, but this picture does show the opinion that the Europeans were ready for a final show down.

Perhaps a little biased, but this picture does show the opinion that the Europeans were ready for a final show down.

Anna – Anna Komemne here to introduce this week’s topic. The Battle of Lepanto. Zach won’t be joining us today because he’s off writing some…what did he call it?
Gaspar – A “science fiction novel,” whatever that is.
Anna – Yes, he’s writing a novel about some sort of science. I don’t get it. But today’s topic is rather thrilling. The climactic battle between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire over supremacy of the Mediterranean.
Olga – Where is the food?
Anna – no food yet. Gaspar just ordered the pizza so it might be a while.
(Olga gets up to leave.)
Olga – Tell me when food get here. Little Olga is hungry.
(Olga leaves.)
Anna – Well then. Let’s see who we have on our panel today. We have with us, Tamar of Georgia, queen of Georgia and led her country to a golden age. Then we have Tomoe Gozen, woman samurai a very deadly individual. Then we have Buffalo Calf Road, Cheyenne warrior woman and then we have Gaspar Correia, conquistador and “historian.”
Gaspar – I feel very outnumbered. I’m the only man on the panel.
Anna – Apparently. Stop whining. Now let us begin. On October 7th, 1571, the forces of the Ottoman Empire and the Holy League met for climactic sea battle that was the culmination of centuries of struggle between power and religion. As my beloved Roman…sorry, for those of you who insist upon it…As my beloved “Byzantine” empire shrank and died, the Ottoman’s expanded. They took over Greece, Bulgaria, Rhodes and soon they would lose Cyprus where the city of Famagusta was being besieged.
Tamar – I must pay my respects to the Venetians. They were aware of the Ottoman threat far more than any other European power. They had been fighting almost a non stop navel war with the Ottomans for decades and knew that if the Ottomans gained control of the Mediterranean they would be able to take Southern Europe including Italy and Spain. I know what its like to be isolated and surrounded by enemies. The Venetians brought the Ottomans to the peace table to buy time. While they waited they began planning. They began making weapons. In their Grand Arsenal they began making ships more powerful than anything else of the time.

This was the greatest assembly line for weapons in Europe.  It's where we get the English word "arsenal" from. They owned that!

This was the greatest assembly line for weapons in Europe. It’s where we get the English word “arsenal” from. They owned that!

Tomoe – It is honorable to fight alone despite odds, but sometimes it is good to have an ally. Pope Pius V recognized the threat the Ottomans were but in a different way than the Venetians. The Venetians saw a military and monetary threat and Pope Pius saw a religious threat. Pius V called on all Shoguns and emperors of Europe to come and join a military league against the Ottomans. This was no one-time-battle. This was to be a permanent alliance against the Ottomans that would meet every year and and set sail to fight the Turks wherever they may find them.
Anna – Noble, yes, but not as successful as Pope Pius might want. The problem was, England was too busy with fighting between protestants and Catholics and France had the same problem but also a weak alliance with the Ottomans. The Holy Roman Empire and Poland were too far away and didn’t care about what happened down in the sunny southern Europe.
Buffalo – Wait, so their religious leader calls for aid and he’s just ignored? Such devotion. Did anyone answer?
Anna – Spain did. Austria and Spain were both ruled by the same powerful family, the Hapsburgs. We don’t often think of Austria and Spain in the same sentence, but back then the two countries were just family held lands to one massively powerful and inbred family. Charles V of Spain was a very devout Catholic and wanted to help. However, he was too occupied with plundering gold in the New World to worry about the increasingly less profitable Mediterranean. So, he sent his half-brother, Don John of Austria to lead the fleet. He was young, attractive, charismatic and had recently returned from military success against the Moors. Also answering the Pope’s call were the Kingdom of Naples, the Duchy of Savoy, Republic of Genoa, Kingdom of Sicily and the Knights of Malta who are always up for a fight.
Tamar – Quite the fleet. It was the largest fleet seen by Europe since…perhaps Salamis almost 2,000 years prior. The Pope was the mover and shaker here. He organized and get everyone together, but Venice helped as much as they could. After all, they were the Ottoman’s next target. The Pope personally blessed the Holy League’s banner and sent it down to Sicily where the combined fleet would meet. Venice had the the most ships, 109 and Spain had 90. The rest were Knights of Malta and the other countries’.
Gaspar – But the Venetians had something else up their sleeve. While the others were assembling their fleets, the Venetians were busy making a secret weapon. (Anna groans.) Aside from their usual galley warships, unchanged since the Ancient Greeks…well, they did add cannons…the Venetians also made super sized ginormous warships called “Galleasses.” These were enormous warships with bigger cannons pointed in all directions. There were six of these super ships and they were to be up at the front of the battle.

Gaspar's photo comparing the relative size of a galley and galleasse.

Gaspar’s photo comparing the relative size of a galley and galleass.

Buffalo – Wait, did they really?
Anna – Actually, yes. They made super weapon battle ships that were so large they couldn’t be boarded and could fire all around them with bigger guns than any other ship.
Tamar – But the Sultan had spies and knew of the Holy League’s plans. He gathered his forces and appointed Ali Pasha as admiral. He sent his fleet out to meet this Holy League and destroy it.

Ali Pasha, head of Ottoman forces and snappy dresser.  Admit it, the guy had style.

Ali Pasha, head of Ottoman forces and snappy dresser. Admit it, the guy had style.

Tomoe – The two fleets met near Greece where the Turks had sailed out of the port of Lepanto. The Holy League had 212 ships including the 6 super star destroyers …I mean…galleasses and had 28,500 soldiers. They had heavy cannons that some of the ships had to modified to handle and the soldiers were armed with breastplates, helmets and the latest guns. The Ottomans had 251 ships with 31,500 soldiers armed with bows, crossbows and a few guns. No armor. This is a battle where both courage and technology would play a crucial role. Unlike true samurai, honor would play little in this battle. But rage would. On the way to find the Turks, they heard of the fall of Famagusta and how the after surrendering, the Turks slaughtered them without honor. This enraged the Christians.
Buffalo – The two sides faced off in groups of three. Wait…I think I have a map….

Here it is.  See how the two navies split into 3 major squadrons with a few ships in reserve.  The Super Star Destroyers were out front, not frightened at all.

Here it is. See how the two navies split into 3 major squadrons with a few ships in reserve. The Super Star Destroyers were out front, not frightened at all.

As the two sides lined up the Gallesses opened fired, firing their cannons much farther than thought possible. Don John took the center, Barbarigo of Venice took the left and Doria of Spain took the right. Now, here’s something I know a little about. Arrows and guns. The Christians wore steel armor that could, on good days, stop bullets from their modern matchlocks. They had better guns than the Ottomans and more of them. Also, the Ottomans trusted in their composite short bows for volume of fire. but the problem was, their arrows couldn’t hope to penetrate the Christians’ armor. Also, the Turks didn’t carry enough ammunition which would prove to be a problem in a little bit. Don John wore full plate armor and carried a giant sword. Usually the side with the bigger and more numerous guns wins.
Anna – As the battle commenced, Don John saw the flag of Ali Pasha which had the name of Allah written a thousand times in gold. He sailed his squadron right down the middle towards the confident Ali Pasha. Just like Alexander the Great, charging into the middle to take out the leader.
The Venetian admiral was set upon by five ships at once and was almost instantly killed. The second in command took over and was killed only a short time later. The Venetians were fighting a hard battle and somehow managed to turn the Ottomans and ran their ships into the shore where many Turks tried to run. They were picked off by gunfire from the Venetian ships. The gallesses were surrounded by enemy but they were inflicting terrible casualties among the Turks. Their big guns could smash apart the smaller Turkish ships with ease. The gallesses sunk over 70 Turkish ships by themselves and messed up their formations and caused chaos in their ranks.

Here's Don John (not to be confused with the famous lover) leading his ship into the middle of the battle.  Like a BOSS!

Here’s Don John (not to be confused with the famous lover) leading his ship into the middle of the battle. Like a BOSS!

Gaspar's depiction of the effectiveness of the gallesses.

Gaspar’s depiction of the effectiveness of the gallesses.

Tomoe – But then Admiral Dora of Spain did something that was perhaps dishonorable. He saw that Turkish fleet extended past his lines, so he moved his squadrons further south to avoid being surrounded, but this left a large hole in Christian line. The Turks saw this and immediately sailed into opening so they could come back around and attack Christians from the rear. The only ships that moved in to block the line were the handful of galleys from the Knights of Malta. (If you don’t know them, check out our three part epic of the siege of Malta.) The Knights stood their ground and prevented the Turks from breaking through though they died almost to the man in doing so. That is most honorable like true samurai.
Tamar – In the center however was where the fighting was fiercest. Don John’s and Ali Pasha’s ships sailed right at each other like a destined duel. The two ships came up beside each other as did all the ships around them. They were packed so close together that the water could hardly be seen. It was chaos. Ships smashing into ships, flights of arrows and muskets firing, drums and horns blaring and shouts from the wounded and dying filled the air. Ships rammed into ships and others were boarded. Eye witness accounts said the sea was red with blood for miles around. It was a hellish way to fight. It was as intense as it was lethal.

This painting in the Doge's palace gives an idea of the chaos and insanity that defined the battle.

This painting in the Doge’s palace gives an idea of the chaos and insanity that defined the battle.

Buffalo – Ali Paha’s elite janissaries boarded Don John’s flagship the “Real” twice but each time the Spaniards counter boarded and on the third time Ali Pasha was killed by a small cannon ball to his head. A low rank soldier quickly cut off Pasha’s head and put it on a pike to show everyone that the battle was in the Holy League’s favor. Such a barbaric way to fight. Horrible.
Anna – As the Turks saw that the admiral’s flagship (with his personal treasure) was captured, they quickly lost heart and began retreating. It was a route and the Holy League destroyed much of the Turkish fleet. The final score was:
Holy League: 17 ships lost. 1 ship captured, 8,000 dead.
Ottomans: 50 ships lost, 137 captured, 20,000 dead.
Also, 15,000 Christian galley slaves were set free and on man in particular was shot in the hand. His name was Miguel de Cervantes who wrote “Don Quixote.”
Buffalo – Okay, so the Holy League won the battle. So what? Was this important in the long run?
Anna – Depends on who you ask. Most historians mark this as a turning point in the wars between Europe and the Turks. After this, the Turks never really threaten the western Mediterranean again.
Tamar – But the Ottomans rebuilt their fleet the following year. No big loss.
Anna – Yes, big loss. They built ships, but they lost most of their experienced sailors. They had ships but not enough men to sail them. The following year they didn’t embark on any campaigns and by 1780 their once mighty fleet was rotting in the harbor of Constantinople.
Tomoe – Also, there was the loss of the bowmen. Bowmen are hard to train and the Ottomans lost almost all of them. In one battle the entire tradition of Turkish bowmen was wiped out.
Gaspar – Whatever, it doesn’t matter. What happened was that Europe now felt bold enough that they could take on the Ottomans and the Ottomans didn’t feel like they could take on Europe on the sea. Turning point, yes, but it was too late in a way. Europe turned away from the Mediterranean and faced west to the New World or East to India and China. The fate of the Mediterranean became a side show, a backwater. It was now small game compared to the big dogs. Both Venice and the Ottoman Empire slowly shrank into obscurity after this.
Anna – We’ll let the readers decide for themselves on the outcome of this battle.

But Europe rose and the Ottoman fell. Nuff said.

 

Gaspar – Hey, don’t forget to like us on Bookface.

Anna – He means Facebook.

Rome and Asymmetrical Warfare

Zach – Its been at least a good ten minutes since anyone here’s mentioned “Romans” so today’s topic is a lesson in asymmetrical warfare in the Roman Empire. “Asymmetrical Warfare” means: Asymmetric warfare is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly.

Sometimes the winner isn't as obvious as it appears.

Sometimes the winner isn’t as obvious as it appears.


Anna – But first, let’s introduce our panelists. As always, I, Anna Komemne, Byzantine princess and first woman historian is the co-host. Next we have Hua Mulan, Ancient Chinese woman soldier. Then we have General Cornwallis, head of British forces during the American Revolutionary War. Next we have Saint Olga of Kiev, first Russian convert to Christianity and expert in blood soaked revenge. And lastly…and I do mean lastly, we have Gaspar Correia, conquistador and “historian.”
Olga – Thank you, thank you. Is good to be here, dah? Pretty little Olga likes to talk about peoples beating up peoples.
Gaspar – So, we’re talking about Romans?
Zach – You didn’t do the research, did you?
Gaspar – Oh, I did a TON of research.
Anna – (Glares at Gaspar) Clearly.
Zach – So, let’s get into it, shall we? In 106 BC. there was a Numidian king named Jugurtha. He slaughtered his brothers who were heirs of his father’s kingdom and took control over all of Numidia. His father saw that he was too popular and sent him off to fight with their Roman allies in Spain, hoping he’d get killed. But it turned out that he rocked at it and came back a war hero. After assassinating one of his brothers, he began waging war on the other. But his brother, Adherbal was kind of a weakling and ran to Rome to beg for protection. Jugurtha followed him to Rome and bribed the Senate to give him the good half of the kingdom in exchange for peace. The Senate agreed.
Mulan – Bribing senators? That’s utterly impossible! Was that too much sarcasm?
Gaspar – A bit.
Anna – But, like all barbarian warlords he didn’t keep his word and once he returned to Numidia he started waring against his brother again. He went in and slaughtered his brother and his people without mercy. The Romans were angered about this betrayal of their trust and declared war on Jugurtha.
Cornwallis – Bad form, old boy. I’ve always found it unwise to anger an empire greater than your own. The Roman Senate sent a Consul by the name of Lucius Bestia to Norther Africa to stamp this barbarian king out.
Gaspar – Bestia. That’s an awesome name.
Zach – Gaspar has a solid point there.
(Mulan nods approvingly)
Cornwallis – This Jugurtha chap has a rather different army than the Romans. His army consists mainly of light skirmishers and light cavalry, perfect for nomadic hit and run tactics.
Light to no armor.  Bows and spears thrown from a distance.  They seldom got into close combat.

Light to no armor. Bows and spears thrown from a distance. They seldom got into close combat.


The only thing protecting these guys was a tiny leather shield and a T-shirt.  It meant they could run around a whole lot, but don't expect much in a stand up fight.

The only thing protecting these guys was a tiny leather shield and a T-shirt. It meant they could run around a whole lot, but don’t expect much in a stand up fight.


Mulan – The Roman Republic had a very different theory of warfare. They specialized in mass formations of heavy infantry with archers supporting them and little cavalry to scout and guard the flanks.
They had a long way to go until they understood "style."  They copied the Samnites a great deal who taught the Romans how to fight.  This was mixed with Classic Greek Phalanx type of formations.

They had a long way to go until they understood “style.” They copied the Samnites a great deal who taught the Romans how to fight. This was mixed with Classic Greek Phalanx type of formations.


This is what the Roman army would look like in battle. No, hiding behind rocks and bushes.  No hit and run ambushes for them.

This is what the Roman army would look like in battle. No, hiding behind rocks and bushes. No hit and run ambushes for them.


Mulan – As you can see, there is a vast difference between the two armies. The Romans have a ‘dress-right-dress’ high speed-low drag proffesional killing machine and the Numidians have a bunch of scantily clad runners that can shoot and run away before a fight breaks out.
Zach – You’re not a fan of Barbarians, are you.
Mulan – I was trying not to be biased but I spent my adult life fighting filthy barbarians.
Cornwallis – No, no, I fully understand.
Olga – I like Numidians. Why stand up to big army that can kill you? If you get into fair fight, you did something wrong. Stab in back is better.
Anna – I find it most dishonorable.
Zach – So, Rome invades Numidia with their giant, slow army and find a local populace that doesn’t like them and help hide and support Jugurtha. Wait…this sounds very familiar. Rome moves further into Numidia as the invasion progresses and Jugurtha is constantly harassing the Roman army. They attack at night, raid supply lines and then fall back into the mountains when the heat gets turned up. When the heat got too much, Jugurtha offered peace with a large gift for Bestia and Bestia returned with Rome claiming victory.
Anna – But the Senate was less than enthused. They accused him of being bribed. Meanwhile back in Numidia, Jurgurtha continued his war, breaking his promise yet again.
Mulan – See! Stinking barbarians.
Olga – Ha! Foolish Romans.
Cornwallis – The Senate then sent another Consul named Postumius Spurius Albinus. He brought fresh troops and supplies. But he found the situation more difficult than the old chap imagined. Whenever he advanced on Jurgutha, the king would retreat and everything the Romans relaxed, the Numidians would attack. It was most frustrating. To top it off, Jurgutha would make promises and treaties every time he was in danger and each time the Romans would stop the war and negotiate. And each time Jurgutha broke his promises and attacked when the Romans weren’t prepared.
Olga – Romans not being noble, they being stupid.
Zach – Eventually Albinus got sick of it and left to go chill in Italy and eat some gelato while he left his brother in charge. His brother, Aulus in charge. Aulus was described as a “Coneited ignoramus.” That’s probably not the kind of person you want in charge of your army, but that’s what happens when politics decides who leads an army. Aulus gets the bright idea to attack one of Jugurtha’s fortresses that’s completely surrounded by swamp. So he moves his lumbering army into the swam and waits. Jugurtha retreats into the countryside, pretending to be afraid. While Aulus was wading through muck trying to find the Numidian army, Jugurtha bribes a bunch of Aulus’s army to switch sides. Then they launch a surprise attack against the now undefended Roman camp and force Aulus to surrender.
Gaspar – Jugurtha accomplished this daring feat thanks to “stealth suits” made with powdered unicorn horn and Atlantean technology. These invisible warriors made it past the magical sentry ballistas the Romans had around their camp. See, I did my homework.
A numidia "Shadow Warrior" in his Atlantean stealth suit.

A numidia “Shadow Warrior” in his Atlantean stealth suit.


Anna – Why do we keep him around?
Zach – He buys the pizza most of the time.
Gaspar – I have trunks of plundered gold. I can afford it.
Mulan – The romans, sick of Jugurtha’s crap, move in with this new invasion. But the new consul, Quintus Caecilius Metellus learned from his predecessors. He used far more light troops such as slingers, archers and light cavalry to advance slowly. When they got to towns they found smiling officials ready to help them. He didn’t trust any of them. He could not be bribed or fooled. A very professional soldier. I like that.
You offer me money?  And you think this gives you power over me? I will see your Numidia turn to ashes.  And then yo

You offer me money? And you think this gives you power over me? I will see your Numidia turn to ashes. And then you have my permission to die.


Cornwallis – Yes, Metellus keeps a stiff upper lip and takes his army out into the plains to chase this wily barbarian king. Jugurtha tries to trick Metellus into an ambush several times, but Metellus advances slowly and constantly prepared to fight. Finally Jugurtha gives in and brings his own army to bare. He brings his light infantry and light cavalry into combat with Rome’s heavy infantry and heavy cavalry. They would move in, unleash darts and then run away before the Romans could counter attack. The Romans largely ignored it and continued to advance on Jugurtha’s capital. By nightfall, Jugurtha’s army was exhausted and they fell back into the hills. Metellus saw an opportunity and sent his heavy infantry in to attack the Numidians at night. The Numidian army ended up retreating and it was a huge disaster for Jugurtha. Quite a shame.
Zach – Metellus continued to advance while Jugurtha harassed them. Metellus ignored him and marched straight for the capital. Once Jugurtha realized their goal, he raced to catch up. Metellus surrounded the city and began the attack. The archers and slingers covered the ladders as they were brought up to the wall. Jugurtha attacked the Roman camp and the Metellus sent his second in command, Marius, to defend the camp. When Marius arrived he saw that the Numidians were scattered and disorganized as they were looting the camp. He fell on them and slaughtered them. The next day Jugurtha could see that his city was ready to fall, so he launched an all out attack and actually drove the Romans away from his city. With winter coming along, Metellus withdrew his army to garrison the towns and cities they already held.
Anna – This may be surprising, but Jugurtha once again used deceit and surprise to attack the Romans. Metellus, tired of the war, tried to negotiate peace with Jugurtha but Jugurtha instead raised a fresh army and renewed the war. During a festival where the Romans were busy partying, Jugurtha surprised them and killed them as they were drunk.
Olga – And then he burned their houses down, yes?
Anna – No, those were his peoples’ houses. He didn’t want to burn them.
Olga – Shame, shame.
Mulan – Metellus, this old soldier had had enough. He gathered some Numidian allies of his and marched on Jugurtha’s capital. Once he arrived he put his Numidians in the front and when the people of the city saw the Numidians, they threw open the gates because they thought it was Jugurtha. Metellus then proceeded to slaughter everyone in the city.
Anna – Rather barbaric for a civilized Roman.
Zach – Those were the rules of warfare back then. If a city resists, then its fair game for slaughter.
Mulan – I believe such things should not be done by civilized societies. I forbade my armies from looting.
Zach – That’s because you’re awesome.
Mulan – I am awesome. Remember that.
Cornwallis – After Metellus’ victory, he began to pacify the country one town at a time. He built trust and friendship with the people and showed them the advantages of friendship with the Romans. This had the effect of isolating Jugurtha to the hills and swamplands. One by one Metellus took all of Jugurtha’s strongholds and cities. It took a long time, but he was meticulous and didn’t rush it.
Mission accomplished! Gaspar's photo of the Roman Army entering a Numidian city.

Mission accomplished! Gaspar’s photo of the Roman Army entering a Numidian city.


Zach – Metellus, tired of winning all the time, retired back to Rome to work on his pizza recipe. Marius was now in charge. He continued the whole urban pacification and Jugurtha grew so desperate he launched another assault on the Roman position. Remember, he was great with hit and run, but not great with field battles. Marius was hard pressed to defend his camp, but he scoffed at the barbarian and had his army pretend to run away to just behind a nearby hill. Jugurtha didn’t follow and assumed the Romans were running all the way back to Alexandria. They made camp in the Roman camp and began eating and drinking to celebrate their vicotory. Marius waited until dawn and then charged down the hill where the Numidians were still passed out from a night of drinking forties and loud music from their ghetto blasters. The Romans caught them completely by surprise and probably (some of them at least) with their pants down. Jugurtha, showing just how great a general he was, miraculously organized his army in time to avoid being completely destroyed. He attacked the Roman lines again and again; from the front, the rear and sides. Nothing worked. The heavy infantry acted as a wall he couldn’t break through. Jugurtha managed to escape but lost most of his army.
Anna – Jugurtha’s second in command, Bochus, was tired of getting his fanny paddled and asked the Romans to negotiate a peace treaty. My fellow Romans were tired of this and demanded only one thing. If he wanted peace, he had to bring Jugurtha to them in chains.
"Negotiations are over."

“Negotiations are over.”


Zach – Bochus then invited Jugurtha to a party where he surprised the king, killed his bodyguard and took him captive. He promptly turned him over to the Romans. The Romans were known for a great deal, but forgiveness was never one of them. They took Jugurtha, the barbarian king who led them around the desert for ten years and threw him in prison where they starved him to death.
Anna – That wasn’t very merciful.
Mulan – Got what he deserved.
Olga – So sad.
Gaspar – But Jugurtha came back as a Litch, an undead sorcerer and over the centuries was a continuous plague on the Roman Empire.
Anna – So, why did it take the Romans ten years?
Zach – The problem was that they had completely different forms of warfare. The Romans moved in slowly with a ponderous army, and waited for Jugurtha to face them in open battle. They simply weren’t equipped mentally or equipment wise to deal with an insurgency. Like how America thought the way to defeat an insurgency was to drive up and down the highways and get blown up by bombs, the Romans thought they could walk in and intimidate the Numidians. Turns out neither of those tactics worked. In a set piece field battle, the Romans like the Americans, will win against a lighter force. But finding people that are hiding among a hostile populace? Not easy.
Mulan – Then, how does one defeat an insurgency? I fought barbarians, but they were always invading china.
Zach – You make the populace feel it would be better for them to support you instead of the insurgency. The Romans did this by offering citizenship, roads, medicine, theaters, circuses and tax exemptions. There’s no real easy answer but the Romans finally won because they began playing the game like Numidians did and city by city, pacified the country.
That's right, Numidians.  Mess with the bull, you get the horns!  You can't run with the big dogs.

That’s right, Numidians. Mess with the bull, you get the horns! You can’t run with the big dogs.

Elizabeth Van Lew: Union spy

Looks can be deceiving. This woman was never quite what she appeared to be.

Looks can be deceiving. This woman was never quite what she appeared to be.

Zach – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian and this week’s topic of Elizabeth Van Lew. As many of you know, I’m an adopted Virginian and will always count myself as a Virginian even though I currently reside in Utah. And as a Virginian I have a duty to learn what I can about its history. In my wanderings I often come across small tidbits I find interesting, such as: the name of the City of Richmond comes from an Englishman who saw the James River and it reminded him of the Thames River as seen from Richmond Hill in London. So, he called the settlement Richmond. But sometimes I find a larger piece of history that I think people should know about. Today we will discuss Elizabeth Van Lew. She was a spy for the Union and one of the most effective and eccentric ones of the war. But before we get to that, let’s introduce our panel.
Anna – As always I’ll be co-hosting even though I’m twice the historian Zach is and far more attractive. I’m Anna Komemne, “Byzantine” princess born in the Purple Chamber of the Imperial palace and first recorded woman historian. Next we have Buffalo Calf Road, Cheyenne warrior woman and possibly killed General Custer.
Buffalo – Possibly??!!
Anna – Next we have Guiseppe Garibaldi. Italian hero of the Reunification.
Garibaldi – Gratzie. Anna, yes? And what would the lovely Anna be doing after this?
Anna – Doesn’t matter. I’ll be busy. Next we have Olga of Kiev, Russian Saint and expert on revenge.  Followed by Gaspar Correia, Conquistador and voted “Least accurate Historian ever.”
Gaspar – Who voted me least accurate??
Anna – Me and Zach.
Buffalo – (laughs)
Gaspar – Don’t make me play Conquistadors and Indians.
Buffalo – Let me drop a 99% lethal virus on your country and see how well you do.
Olga – Be quiet both of yous. This fighting is pointless.
Zach – Thank you Olga for being the voice of moderation and peace.
Olga – We all know Russia is best. You make us angry, we drop big bomb on you.
Zach – (face palms)
Anna – Anyway. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Olga – Yes, before I have to blow a comrade up with bomb.
Zach – Elizabeth Van Lew was born in Richmond in 1818 to a wealthy family from New York. While they weren’t at the top of the social heap, they were respected enough to throw parties and dinners for high society. Heck, even Edgar Allen Poe performed a private reading of “The Raven” for them. Does it get cooler than that? I submit to you that it does not. But they were ‘new money’ and not an old southern family. Before the Civil War, the South and Virginia especially had a very aristocratic society.
Buffalo – And what he means by that is that the rich people controlled everyone else.
Zach – Pretty much. But Elizabeth’s father was successful in his business dealings and they owned a house in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond across from St. John’s Church where Patrick Henry gave his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. On the 4th of July you can still go to that church and hear actors recreating that famous scene BTW.

Don't ever mess with a man that's willing to risk his life for freedom.

Don’t ever mess with a man that’s willing to risk his life for freedom.

Anna – Yes, they had a magnificent three and a half story mansion in Richmond and a summer house along the shore of the James River. She was privately tutored and then went to school in Philadelphia. She was not very pretty nor was she ugly, but she was usually the smartest person in the room, could hold informed conversations about almost anything and had a wit sharper than a razor.
Garibaldi – Sounds like my kind of woman, yes?
Buffalo – Ah, but there was a problem. She lived in Richmond, a very Southern city. And she was an abolitionist. That wasn’t smiled upon where she grew up. But she didn’t care what they thought. She only cared about what she knew to be right and wrong. She wrote in her diary: “From the time I knew right from wrong it was my sad privilege to differ in many things from the … opinions and principles of my locality.” That was putting it mildly. From the time she was introduced into society, she made her opinions on slavery very clear and that didn’t make her popular at all. As the Civil War broke out, many Richmonders shunned her. Others called for her to be put in jail and some even wanted any Northern sympathizers hanged. Luckily for her they mostly ignored her because they viewed her as eccentric and ‘not altogether there.’ Still, she never hesitated from telling the Southerners exactly what she thought.
Garibaldi – Yes, yes! Her heart burned for freedom against the Austrian Crown…er…I mean…Against slavery! After her father died, her and her mother freed all their slaves, found their children that had been sold to others, bought them back and freed them too. She did not merely talk like so many. No, no! She acted with her love of freedom guiding her.
Gaspar – Very impassioned, Garibaldi.
Garibaldi – I cannot help it. I am Italian.
Anna – But then the Civil War started and she found herself surrounded by enemies. How bad was it? The Confederate States of America had their White House in Richmond. She was in the headquarters of the Confederacy.

The Confederate White House.  Not a good place for a Yankee lover to be livin'.

The Confederate White House. Not a good place for a Yankee lover to be livin’.

Zach – But what could she do? It was just her and her mother living in a big house with no friends. When she heard that Yankee prisoners were being held in a prison in the city, she went and visited them and began getting messages to send to their loved ones. She succeeded in a “Charisma” check and convinced the guards to let her visit as a nurse.
Garibaldi – Ha! But soon these little visits weren’t so innocent, no? She began collecting military information from the Yankee soldiers and Southern guards. She began to go places where she could overhear important information. But she wasn’t noticed because people were used to ignoring her. And she also acted a little crazy. She would walk hunched over, mumble to herself and act strange. No one thought the weird lady was a Union spy. What information she gained, she mailed coded messages to Union officials and generals. The cipher was kept in her watch which she still had when she died. I could have used a senora like her during my wars!
Olga – I’m sure you Italian man had plenty of womens.
Garibaldi – (shrugs)
Zach – She also sent her servants on “innocent” errands. She would put messages in empty egg shells and sown into their clothes. Keep in mind that her neighbors hated the idea that she was even helping the Union soldiers. If they knew she was acting as a spy, they would have hanged her. To the people of Richmond there was only one thing worse than a Yankee: a traitor. Heck, me being a Southerner I didn’t know “Damnyankee” was two words until I was thirteen.
Olga – What is that word?
Zach – Never mind.
Gaspar – But that is not all. She also became notorious for her assassinations.
Zach – No, she did not!”
Gaspar – Sit down and let grown ups do history here. They didn’t know who it was that kept blowing up factories and killing their agents, but they had a name for her: Lady Reaper. Southern spies feared being found out by the Lady Reaper and soon they sent their own assassin after her. Alexander Boudilaire was a Southern aristocrat, but he had a talent for shooting the Ace cards right through the middle. No one was more lethal. Their duel lasted two days through the city of Richmond. One stalking the other and then trying to line up a shot on their target. Eventually Elizabeth caught him in an alleyway. Her knowledge of her home town let her trap her target. The ensuing gunfight was brief but bloody.

She was a force of Destruction to the South!

She was a force of Destruction to the South!

Anna – Everyone, please ignore everything Gaspar just said. He’s a moron.
Buffalo – Gaspar, a girl doesn’t have to blow up half the city to be a hero. She did everything she could to do what she felt was right, regardless of personal danger. I’d call that a hero any day.
Olga – So, why do it then?
Buffalo – Because to her, the equality of all men was more important than her own life. She once said: “I’m not a Yankee. I’m only a good Southerner, holding to an old Virginian tradition of opposition to human bondage.”
Zach – But then Elizabeth or “Crazy Bett” as the prison guards called her, thought of an idea. She had a servant named Mary Bowser.who had a photographic memory. Elizabeth rolled her Charisma check again and somehow talked Jefferson Davis, the Confederate President to take Mary on as a servant. From Mary, Elizabeth was able to gain vital information about troop movements and military strategy, information that could make or lose a war.
Buffalo – But information wasn’t enough for this woman! She organized a web of contacts and spies that she gained more and more information from. She even helped plan a prison break for the Union soldiers and when they finally made their escape, she hid several of them in her attic until the heat was turned down.

Maybe one of them was Steve McQueen's ancestor?

Maybe one of them was Steve McQueen’s ancestor?

Garibaldi – Near the end of the war when General U.S. Grant set up his headquarters outside of Richmond, she continued to pass messages to him regularly. She was so good at it, that she liked to also sneak him flowers for his breakfast table. Yes, even in war a man must appreciate the beautiful things of life.
Zach – But eventually the war was won by the Yankee filth…oh…I mean, the Union forces. And her wartime activities became known. She didn’t hide it ether. As soon as Lee left with his forces, she went up to her roof and unfurled a giant American flag. Her neighbors gathered around and began cursing her but she said “General Grant will be here within the hour. If you do one thing to my home, yours will be burnt in the hour!” If she had been disliked before, she was outwardly loathed now. From this day on she basically became a reclusive hermit in her house. She occasionally had important Northern visitors and was even named Postmaster of Richmond by Grant, but no one in society would even look at her except to spit at her. She had spent her family’s fortune helping the Northern war effort and was now friendless and penniless. She has been called the most effective spy in the war and she received nothing but heartbreak and loneliness for it. For decades after she could be seen walking through the streets of Richmond with her cane and talking to herself. She also owned 40 or so cats. Yes, sometimes that crazy cat lady might have a story to tell and Elizabeth’s story was one of doing what she thought right even if it cost her everything but her life. After the war her only income was an annuity from a Union soldier she helped escape from prison.
When she died in 1900 she couldn’t afford a tombstone, but Union soldiers she had saved donated money for the tombstone which said: “She risked everything that is dear to man — friends, fortune, comfort, health, life itself , all for the one absorbing desire of her heart — that slavery might be abolished and the Union preserved.”
Anna – Sometimes doing what’s right doesn’t earn you any rewards. Sometimes the person loses quite a lot. Just look at our dear Joan D’Arc.
Zach – But Elizabeth was a hard core woman that didn’t just talk, she did. When she saw injustice she risked all she had to fight it. That’s a lesson we need to keep alive. And that goes for the big and small things in life alike.

Gaspar's Photo of a "Union spy."  He insists its real but something seems off about it....hmm....I wonder.

Gaspar’s Photo of a “Union spy.” He insists its real but something seems off about it….hmm….I wonder.