Biography thread

Jan 2019
198
Montreal, QC
#1
In grade 10, I asked my Classics teacher who her favourite historical figure was. She replied with a confused expression, and a simple, "Historians don't work like that."

I was stunned. I had been going about with the presumption that everyone with even a passing interest in history had a favourite historical figure. But, as I progressed through many different history classes, I learned that her approach wasn't too far off from the norm. I found that many instructors and students alike examine historical figures with little regard to their humanity. They are presented as a set of dates; they were born this year, flourished this year, died that year. Their accomplishments are listed. They are tied into the grand scheme of things. Yet, they are never acknowledged and examined for what they are: human. We so often see historical figures presented as something not quite human. Perhaps it's difficult to imagine them as living, breathing people with centuries between us and them. But, to me, it's problematic (a word I despise, but an apt one) to view them as a single thread in the weave of history. To me, what is important is viewing them as a whole person. Yes, James VII/II of England was indeed deposed by William of Orange, which ushered in massive changes in the workings of the English monarchy, but such a set up creates both King James and the Dutch Abortion into static things. Their human integrity is denied for a triumphalist narrative. Time and hindsight makes it difficult, but I believe it is of utmost importance to examine historical figures as people, and not the sum of the histories written after their deaths.

Personally, I came to history by way of a single historical figure. Those who know me know that I was - and still am - in love with King Charles II. I first learned about him as a person in 2013, and from there out, I was infatuated. Not just with him as a man, but with his era. The wits, the rakes, the orange girls and the philandering dukes were all so appealing to me. I found the characters of Katherine Sedley, Nell Gwynne, and Barbara Villiers drew me into the Restoration court. My love for history was only discovered because I approached it, looking for people. The scandal and the rumour generated by such a colourful cast of syphilitic characters has captured me ever since.

Perhaps this introduction is a bit too long winded, but I think it would be a good idea to have a biography thread in the Early Modern board. I find this category to be depressingly inactive. As an early modernist myself, I find it discouraging to hop on in hope of lively discourse, only to find it a ghost town. I have no place to talk about the Stuart brothers, so I decided that the best place would be a thread devoted solely to interesting early modern personages. Because a chance encounter (this sounds dramatic and romantic, but it was literally just an Eminem parody) with Charles II, I became interested in history and the Restoration era. So I think that, in putting forth the lives of interest people of the early modern age, we can guide each other to interesting and wonderful pieces of history.

So, here is a place to share interesting people that we encounter in our early modern studies. The criteria are as follows:
  • The figure needs must have lived between 1500-1700. (I find the 1750 qualifier to be stretching it a bit.)
  • The figure is European. (I'm an Anglocentrist, so this is generous, even for me.)
  • The posts don't have to be long. They can be a few words, to a few paragraphs, or even essay length. The goal is to introduce us to someone.
I hope that this thread helps people to nourish an interest in the early modern era. I'll be making plenty of posts about the Restoration court, as I love it, and I find it is woefully under represented, as are all things within the later Stuart era.

-DoY
 
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Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
4,709
Portugal
#2
In grade 10, I asked my Classics teacher who her favourite historical figure was. She replied with a confused expression, and a simple, "Historians don't work like that."

I was stunned. I had been going about with the presumption that everyone with even a passing interest in history had a favourite historical figure. But, as I progressed through many different history classes, I learned that her approach wasn't too far off from the norm.
I quite liked your post, so sorry to decompose it, but your post gave me the will to comment certain things, that I think will also be a mirror of how people in different geographical areas see history in a different way in some aspects.

First of all it seems that, by her comment, your 10th grade history teacher saw herself as a historian. I don’t know her, eventually she was, but if she was solely a history teacher she wasn’t a historian at my yes. I am commenting this because I see often people with history degrees or history teachers calling themselves as historians, and I only consider a historian a producer of history, ie., the historian is not only the one that researches but the one that with that research produces conclusions: traditionally a book, a thesis, a synthesis… whatever… in the light of the technological development of the last few decades let us also include other media productions (videos, documentaries…).

Also, it seems that as she considered herself a historian, and in the sequence of that, she needs to distance emotionally from the historical characters, to have a neutral approach: a scientist doesn’t connect emotionally with his object of study. It was consider that this would help to erase any bias and reach the final truth, and this line of thinking went much from the late of the 19th century as sometimes even today that can still be seen.

Personally I partially agree with this line of thinking, if we attach too much to a historical character we loose focus, we dress the T-shirt of the fan club, we see that here in Historum often in threads like my historical character is better than yours.

On the other hand it is impossible to have a complete lack of involvement. If we aren’t interested in that character why should we research about him? The motivation to research about a character is itself the proof of interest, the proof of the existence of a bias towards him/her.

As for my part I have favourite historical characters (plural). Plenty of them! I like history. When I was a kid my historical characters were the ones of the pop history, much influenced by the height of the Anglo-Saxon culture in the media: Movies, TV series, Cartons, Comics (well here more Franco-Belgian Bande Dessinée - BD), so my favourite historical characters would be related with WWII, the American Wild West (both historical, mythical and fictional), and the Greco-Roman world. This went to a point that when I reached the 10th grade I knew much more about WWII than my history professor. But I knew nothing… I just knew a bunch of data. Dates. Events. Names. Equipments used. But I was still ignorant about the main questions. I knew the sequence of events, but I didn’t knew to explain them, to relate them, and I didn’t understood why did they happen.

After I begun my studies in the college my focus changed, and it was there that I begun to focus much more in Portuguese history and that I begun to see that the Portuguese history (or any other for that matter) could be as interesting as the themes explored by the Anglo-Saxon media.

Anyway, this post is already long… soon I will present here a handful of Early Modern characters (out of the Anglosphere) that I find quite interesting and a brief summary (or maybe just a comment) about their lives.

I'll be back...
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,577
Sydney
#3
Descartes , the man who invented modern thinking ,
a Frenchman who spend much of his life as a Dutch ,
he was a military mercenary who spend his time in camp in the realm of mathematics and analytical geometry
during the 1620 winter Prague campaign , he was inspired by a cozy night with a German oven
formulating that truth could be , indeed must be , proven by reason .

this kind of revolutionary thinking was typical of the time , both in the arts , shipbuilding ,religion , warfare or any other human endeavor .
things were in turmoil , the middle age was an age of certainties , the modern age was one of exploration

Still Descartes , as a realist , was careful to keep out of reach of less enlightened authorities
Amsterdam was a hotbed of scientists which suited him perfectly , his fame spread through Christendom
he was induced to go to Sweden whose climate promptly killed him

he was one of the "three musketeers" who changed everything
Keppler , Galileo , Descartes
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
4,709
Portugal
#4
I found that many instructors and students alike examine historical figures with little regard to their humanity. They are presented as a set of dates; they were born this year, flourished this year, died that year. Their accomplishments are listed. They are tied into the grand scheme of things. Yet, they are never acknowledged and examined for what they are: human. We so often see historical figures presented as something not quite human. Perhaps it's difficult to imagine them as living, breathing people with centuries between us and them.
I have the idea that his way to write biographies can only be applied to the historiography between the late 19th century, with the Positivism, and the revolution of the Annales.

Anyway, about historical characters I would like to begin with some adventurer fellows:

The first one (not in any particular order) would be:

The Portuguese poet Luís de Camões (c.1524-1580)

Camões lived in a period in witch the Portuguese explorations had already reached the Indian Ocean, every year a fleet went to the Orient to sent troops and trade and Portugal was a true Thalassocratic empire.

We have many doubts about his life, but Camões was from the low nobility, poor but with protectors. He had studies and was well educated, but there are no records of him at the University of Coimbra. He fought in Morocco were he lost an eye and returned to Portugal. Had a bohemian life, writing poems (he has wonderful sonnets), fighting sword duels, drinking and loving. And that bring him troubles with the law when he wounded a man and was arrested and later forgiven. Embarked to the Orient in one of those yearly fleets (c.1550) again as a soldier, went from the East Coast of Africa, to India and to China (Macau). Apparently had at least a shipwreck. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish the historical facts with the later myths around him. During this period he wrote “The Lusiads”, his major work, an epic history of Portugal, in the style of the Classics, Homer and Virgil (and in my modest opinion much better than this last one), and there is the story, maybe the legend, that when he had a shipwreck he went to shore swimming with just one arm while with the other raised high the manuscript of “The Lusiads”, to save his writings.
 

Maki

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
2,266
Republika Srpska
#6
I present you with Jovan Nenad, self-proclaimed Serbian emperor from 1526-27. Nenad first appears in sources in the aftermath of the battle of Mohacs when he swore fealty to John Zapolya in Szekesfehervar, a claimant to the Hungarian throne. It is possible that Nenad met with Zapolya earlier that year in Tokaj. We know little about his origins. Certain Hungarian sources claim that he was initially Zapolya's servant, but these sources are pretty biased against Jovan Nenad, so it is likely that they deliberately falsified Nenad's origins. Nenad himself only portrayed himself as a warrior sent by God to defeat the infidels. He also claimed descent from Serbian and Byzantine emperors and said that his eventual goal was to eliminate Ottoman presence in Europe and restore the Byzantine Empire. It is possible that he took the name Jovan because that was the name of many Byzantine and Bulgarian emperors. His army grew rapidly and he managed to defeat the Ottomans in Bačka, parts of Syrmia and Banat. There he established his realm. His capital was Subotica. However, Subotica was already in possession of a Hungarian noble, Valentin Terek. And there was Jovan's biggest mistake. When his army drove the Ottomans out of Bačka, he didn't return the land to the Hungarian nobles, but gave it to his own people instead. This caused conflict between him and the Hungarian nobles. Eventually, in early 1527, Nenad and Zapolya became enemies. In early 1527, Terek sent 67 cavalry to take Subotica back, but he failed. Jovan Nenad's army included some other famous names, most notably Radoslav Čelnik, his main commander.

Nenad eventually had plans to cross into Serbia, but he needed artillery to do that. So, he asked the titular Serbian Despot Stefan Berislavić for aid, but Berislavić refused. An Englishman John Wallop estimated that Jovan's army was 10,000 strong. However, Jovan Nenad soon started suffering setbacks. While he was campaigning in Syrmia, Terek returned with a force of 300 cavalry and took Subotica. Afterwards, he massacred the Serb garrison inside. Nenad moved to Segedin. Despite his popularity among ordinary Serbs, Serb nobles in Hungary were quite hostile to Jovan Nenad. That's because most Serbs were more willing to join Nenad than other Serb nobles. On April 13th 1527 Nenad declared for Zapolya's main rival for the Hungarian throne, Ferdinand I of the House of Habsburg. It seems that Ferdinand's sister Mary was the one who brokered this deal. In April 1527 Jovan Nenad defeated yet another Hungarian army. Zapolya then decided to try and make peace with Jovan Nenad. He tried to use a Serbian noble and Despot Radič Božić, but this failed. Zapolya then ordered the Duke of Translylvania Peter Perenyi to eliminate Jovan Nenad. This resulted in a battle of Szolos which Jovan Nenad won. A Serbian nobleman loyal to Zapolya, Marko Jakšić, helped Perenyi after the battle, once again showing the hostility between the Serbian nobles and Jovan Nenad. Due to his victory, Nenad's reputation soared. Jovan Nenad's army at this time was not that smaller than Zapolya's or Ferdinand's, so he was a real problem for Zapolya. Ferdinand also sought to strengthen his ties with Nenad. On June 24th he sent him an emissary. Radoslav Čelnik, Nenad's main commander, received estates from emperor Ferdinand and 200 people to work on those estates. Earlier in June, another emissary of the emperor arrived to Nenad. This emissary concluded that Nenad was indeed loyal to Ferdinand. He also petitioned Ferdinand to give helmets and other equipment to Nenad's soldiers and a war flag with golden fringes that would depict the coat of arms of the emperor on one side and Virgin Mary on the other side. Ferdinand complied.

However, Nenad's doom was coming ever closer. Perenyi didn't forget his earlier defeat. He and bishop Imre Czibak mobilized a large army and defeated Nenad at the battle of Szodfalva in July 1527. Nenad survived the battle, but not for long. After Szodfalva, Nenad tried to link his forces with Ferdinand's. However, Nenad was ambushed while passing through Segedin and was mortally wounded. He was taken to the village of Tornjoš where he was beheaded by Valentin Terek's men.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,577
Sydney
#7
The time period from the 1500 to the 1800 was pretty transformative
The 1500 saw the universal church explode and people killing each other over it ( and more substantial reasons )
that was the death of chivalry
The 1700 were by and large quite polite in cutting each other throats , formality was appreciated
that was the birth of good manners

The most intense ferment was during the 1600 , a century of strife , chaos , transformation , even the climate was mad
 
Jan 2019
198
Montreal, QC
#8
Also, it seems that as she considered herself a historian, and in the sequence of that, she needs to distance emotionally from the historical characters, to have a neutral approach: a scientist doesn’t connect emotionally with his object of study. It was consider that this would help to erase any bias and reach the final truth, and this line of thinking went much from the late of the 19th century as sometimes even today that can still be seen.

Personally I partially agree with this line of thinking, if we attach too much to a historical character we loose focus, we dress the T-shirt of the fan club, we see that here in Historum often in threads like my historical character is better than yours.

On the other hand it is impossible to have a complete lack of involvement. If we aren’t interested in that character why should we research about him? The motivation to research about a character is itself the proof of interest, the proof of the existence of a bias towards him/her.
Maybe I rambled a bit too much. My point is that we so often lose sight of the fact that historical figures were people, not just dry statistics from hundreds of years ago. My connection to Charles II (this sounds strange, but bear with me) is that it was he who got me into the discipline of history. As of typing this, I am a 2nd year honours student. I've been published, I've made the dean's list, I'm a part of an international honours society, as well as one that is based from my university proper. It was through Charles II (and eventually his brother, James VII/II) that I was able to achieve all of this. It sounds flowery, but I shall accept it for what it is.

I'll be the first to admit that I am biased towards both Charles and James. But now I am able to hone my bias into a fair and academical interest. Many Historum "favourite figure" threads are little more than mud-slinging competitions, at the end of the day. I don't think I mean a complete lack of involvement as it were. It's somewhat hard to articulate, I suppose. Many conventional historians are interested in a figure so that they may see where they fit in with the grand scheme of things. They are examined as a cog in the machine of history, but are very rarely acknowledged as an individual human.

Firsltly I agree with the Classics teacher

Secondly most of my favourite people - if I have any - are in the medieval. Sorry :)
Care to explain why?

And if you don't have interest in any early modern figure, then why waste your time commenting? Just to bump up your post count? :think:
 
Likes: Futurist

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
4,709
Portugal
#9
One more character and adventurer:

Pêro da Covilhã (c.1450-c.1530), Portuguese explorer, diplomat and spy.

Also a low noble, like Camões, Pêro da Covilhã (meaning that he was from the city of Covilhã), was a swordsman since quite young. He was in Castile under the protection of a Castilian noble, quite possibly he embarked also in the Strait of Gibraltar in pirate ships as it was common at the time, and returned to Portugal and was presented to the king, D. Afonso V and becomes a king squire.

In 1476 he fights on the Portuguese side in the Battle of Toro, against the party of Isabel and Fernando, when the Portuguese king D. Afonso V, after marrying with D. Juana, still had ambitions to the Castilian throne.

The battle was inconclusive, the prince D. João II fought quite well with his men and stayed the field after the battle, but his father, D. Afonso V, fled during the battle and lost any hope to have pretentions to the Castilian throne.

D. Afonso V went to France seeking an alliance with the king of France Louis IX, and probably Perô da Covilhã followed him.

Back to Portugal, D. João II becomes king but there is a court complot against him. The new king kills personally his cousin and brother in law, one of the main heads of the plot, and delivers Perô da Covilhã the task to investigate who were the other traitors. They are identified and executed.

Also a man of confidence of the new king, Perô da Covilhã is sent to Fez and Tremecén (today’s Morocco and Algeria) in a trade and diplomatic embassy, possibly he already knew Arabic by this time.

Again, Back to Portugal he marries and has at least one son what he will not see, since in 1487, the same year that the king sends two caravels commanded by Bartolomeu Dias to find a path between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, Perô da Covilhã receives from the king the mission of his life: With Afonso de Paiva, he will depart to the Orient, by the Mediterranean, in a complementary mission with Bartolomeu Dias.

The mission of the two men will be to collect information about the Muslim spice trade routes in the Indian Ocean, and reach Ethiopia, the fable land of Prester John, since there was the idea that he could be a valuable ally against the Muslims.

By land they go to Barcelona, than take a ship to Naples, Rhodes, Alexandria (now disguised as Arab Merchants). In the Egypt they both got sick with the “fevers of the nile”, and a Naib takes their merchandise but they achieve to recover their value when they get better. From Alexandria they try to follow the path of their spices to their origin.

From Alexandria they go to Cairo, but are attacked by robbers. In Cairo join a caravan (of Moroccan merchants if I recall correctly) in direction to Aden (by land). But in El-tor they follow their own path by boat, visiting both sides of the Red Sea. Including Meca where preaching, they passed as Muslims, maintaining their cover.

When they finally reach Aden in 1488 they decide to separate. Afonso de Paiva goes to Ethiopia and Perô da Covilhã procedes to India, they agree to meet in Cairo after their tasks were completed, but it will be the last time that the two spies will see each other. We are in the same year that Bartolomeu Dias finally finds the connection between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean.

Perô da Covilhã still in 1488 reaches Calicut (city that Vasco da Gama will reach by sea in 1498) and travels not only in the Indian Coast (Cananor, Goa), but also goes to Ormuz, and the trade cities of the East coast of Africa (Melinde, Quiloa, Mozambique and Sofala). Finally in 1491 he is able to return to Cairo with all the information about the trade routes.

In Cairo he finds two Portuguese Jewish sent by D. João II, and receives that Afonso de Paiva is dead and didn’t fulfil his part of the mission and that Bartolomeu Dias had done is mission. Furthermore, after all those 4 years, he know that his son is named Afonso, in honour to the previous king.

With these new information, Perô da Covilhã writes a report that delivers to one of the Protuguese jews (José Lamego) that will return to Portugal to reliver the report to the king, and Perô da Covilhã continues his voyage with the other Jew (Rabi Abrahão) with the intent to reach Ethiopia.

E goes to Aden again, from there to Zeila, and finally to Ethiopia, where he his received by the Emperor, becomes a Ethipian noble but is denied to return to Portugal. Even so he influences the court to establish relations to Portugal and to send an embassy in 1508.

Many years later, in 1521, a Portuguese embassy arrives to Ethiopia with the father Francisco Álvares, the expedition chronicler. Perô da Covilhã was already an aged man, married and with sons of this new marriage. He tells to father Francisco Álvares the history of his voyages, and sends his oldest Ethiopian son to Portugal with gold to deliver to his Portuguese wife and Portuguese son. Unfortunately his Ethiopian son dies in the voyage and the gold was returned to Perô da Covilhã, never reaching his Portuguese family.

Quite possible his first report reached the king, since Vasco da Gama seemed pretty informed of the trade routes in the Indian Ocean when he made his first voyage to reach India.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,577
Sydney
#10
A couple ,
Armand jean du Plessis Cardinal de Mazarin and his counterpart Gaspar de Guzman count-duke of Olivarez
those two ministers fought each other for twenty years all over Europe .
this was a super power conflict as merciless as any before or since
appeasement was not an option , the political stake were too high

the history of this conflict make lurid novels pale in comparison
diplomacy , warfare , secret services , corruption , religion , money , lots of money were used to destroy each other countries
they stoked the fires of the thirty years war , using Germany as a cockpit for indirect and ultimately direct confrontation
with England neutralized , in the troth of its civil war ,
from Sweden , Catalonia , the Nederland as far as the Hungarians borderlands they sought allies or tools
it became a race to bankruptcy
the winner would be the one left with the last coin and the last soldier

Spain lost and was broken while the "winner" France sunk into aristocratic revolt and popular troubles for ten years
 
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