As the Trump campaign reeled from the videotape of Trump appearing to brag about being able to commit sexual assault without consequence, Wikileaks attempted to staunch the bleeding by releasing emails from Clinton advisor John Podesta, which U.S. officials believe were hacked on orders from the Russian government as part of an effort to influence the American election. Included in those emails (whose authenticity is likely but not yet confirmed as of this writing) is one from last year in which onetime Apollo astronaut and Ancient Aliens pundit Edgar Mitchell warned Podesta, a UFO enthusiast, about what the space aliens, or Extraterrestrial Intelligences, as he called them, plan to do:
Remember, our nonviolent ETI from the contiguous universe are helping us bring zero point energy to Earth. They will not tolerate any forms of military violence on Earth or in space.
They seem to have been pretty tolerant of World Wars and Great Power wars, of genocide and holocaust, but who’s keeping score? Mitchell, who died this year, was a consultant advocating for “zero-point energy” at the time of his death. Zero-point energy, proposed by Nikola Tesla, is popular among pseudoscientists as a way of deriving “free” energy through harnessing the energy of vacuums, though research on its feasibility is inconclusive.
Mitchell’s email, which focused mostly on fears that earthbound countries would send weapons into space, is not surprising given his longstanding fringe beliefs in UFOs, ancient astronauts, and so on, nor that it was sent to Podesta, a longtime UFO enthusiast. There is no evidence that Podesta brought the email to Hillary Clinton’s attention, or that anyone acted on it. More surprising is that Mitchell, who prided himself on being an astronaut and scientist, used internet articles from AOL.com and other popular websites to support his allegations. Apparently, in his twilight years, he accepted whatever he read on the internet. Mitchell tended to give contradictory claims, sometimes citing his belief in space invasion to secret and unnamed U.S. government sources, and other times admitting that his claims were “pure speculation,” as he did in a 2014 radio interview.
As many of you know, I don’t spend all of my time obsessing over ancient astronauts and Templar conspiracies. I have many other interests, and one of my favorite historical subjects outside of crazy fringe history is the history of the Habsburg Empire. I was consequently dismayed to discover that this week Ancient Origins ran an article by Polish journalist Natalia Klimczak exploring the Habsburg dynasty. As you might expect, the “analysis” of the Habsburgs was not much more impressive than their battery of odd claims about Templars, Atlantis, giants, etc.
Things did not get off to a good start when the author described the Habsburgs this way:
The rich family history was created around the thrones of countries like Croatia, Ireland, the Kingdom of Bohemia, England, France, Germany, Russia, Poland, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, and many others. They created a hermetic reality based on people of Habsburg blood - a royal blood empire which was thought to be perfect. However, their story contains many shameful and weird episodes.
There are a lot of bad claims there. Let’s start with the fact that France and Russia were never part of the Habsburg realm. Their thrones were not a key or lasting part of Habsburg history. Britain (which controlled Ireland from the twelfth century to the twentieth), France, and Russia were the rivals of the Habsburgs, even when in putative alliance with them. Now, to qualify this: Habsburg women served as queen-consorts of some of these powers, and in the most technical sense possible, the Habsburg King Philip II of Spain was titular king of Ireland and England from 1554 to 1558 by jure uxoris due to his marriage to Mary I of England and Ireland. How technical was this? Parliament passed a law specifically to ensure that Philip would hold no power in England in his own right, and that his title would expire with his marriage to Mary. Philip agreed reluctantly to ensure the marriage would occur. The marriage, for what it is worth, made Mary the Queen Consort of Spain, but no one would claim Spain as part of the British Empire.
The Habsburgs did indeed believe that they needed to maintain the purity of their bloodlines, but they did not imagine that their blood created a “blood” empire. The author seems to be misunderstanding the family’s longstanding policy of marrying into other royal houses in order to become heirs to their territories, thereby expanding their own. They were interested in blue blood, but not specifically familial blood. It happened, though, that after centuries of picking spouses from the limited pool of European ruling houses, most royals were related to each other. The Habsburgs tended to be stricter than others in regulating how low down in the aristocracy one might marry before the marriage became morganatic, meaning that the children were disqualified from inheriting a title. This happened to Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, who married a mere countess.
Klimczak argues that the Habsburgs were cursed with a strain of hereditary madness inherited from Joanna of Castile (Juana la Loca), who is suspected of having had depression or schizophrenia, though others have argued that her apparent “madness” was a reaction to her harsh treatment at the hands of the men who wanted to rule through her. But regardless, the author goes on to allege that Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (Charles I of Spain) was himself mad, which is almost literally something no one else has ever argued. The author’s evidence is that Charles pre-planned his funeral and held a dress rehearsal for it. The Habsburgs were known for throwing spectacular ceremonies of all kinds, and this hardly counts as evidence of madness. Imagine what Klimczak would say about the Pharaohs.
Our author seems to have come to some incorrect conclusions due to confusing, or at least not caring to distinguish between, different monarchs. In this case, the author next claims, through misleading quotation, that Charles was infertile and inherited recessive genes for madness. The trouble is that Charles V had six children, and the article from the journal Nature that the author quotes is referring not to Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (who reigned as Charles I of Spain) but to Charles II of Spain, who lived more than a century later and was the last Habsburg monarch of Spain. The author might know this, but she chooses not to explain it.
Klimczak ignores the bifurcation of the Habsburg dynasty into Spanish and Austrian branches after the reign of Charles V and instead imagines that the “the rulers’ bodies were very ill and deformed,” causing them to lose their power. It is true that Charles II was deformed and sickly (he died at age 38), but this was not the case in the Austrian branch of the family, which retained the imperial title until the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, and ruled as emperors of Austria down to 1918. The Austrians lost power thanks to Napoleon and nationalism, not to inbreeding. Even the Spanish Habsburgs didn’t lose power due to inbreeding per se. Spain was already in decline thanks to the weakening of the Spanish Empire relative to those of France and Britain, the deaths of all other surviving Spanish Habsburg men, and the infertile Charles II’s decision to will his crown to his grand-nephew, Philip of Anjou, a Bourbon, rather than an Austrian Habsburg relative, due to complicated genealogical arguments of primogeniture. The long and short of it is that this resulted in the War of the Spanish Succession.
I had expected that if Klimczak wanted to make an argument about illness and sickness that she might have brought up some of the more famous cases from later Habsburg history—from the mentally retarded Emperor Ferdinand of Austria to the depressed and suicidal Crown Prince Rudolph, and the archduke who famously paraded naked through Vienna wearing nothing more than the Order of the Golden Fleece. If she wished to argue for the dynasty’s “weird” behavior, I’d have thought she’d have focused on the members of the family who obsessed over the occult, patronized mountebanks and Hermetic quacks, and collected magic objects and oddities. It’s possible that she takes the strictest reading of Habsburg history, whereby it ends in 1740 with the death of Charles VI, taking the House of Habsburg-Lorraine, formed from the marriage of Charles VI’s daughter Maria Theresa to Holy Roman Emperor Francis I of Lorraine as an illegitimate successor, despite the Pragmatic Sanction. This is an odd path to follow if one’s key argument is that madness passed along maternal lines, since the House of Habsburg-Lorraine descends from a Habsburg woman.
Our author seems instead to have skimmed some Polish-language books on the Habsburgs and repeated superficial summaries unthinkingly. This is especially distressing since Klimczak claims to be a historian with a Master’s degree in history and a Ph.D. in languages.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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