Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X: by Xenophobia (26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary)

Again, a motive, not a means. Again, there is an opera about it.

Let me introduce you to another queen, Gertrude of Merania, married to another one of our slightly confused kings in a turbulent time. The king was András II, constantly at odds with the nobility, and it didn't help that his wife was a foreigner (although usual practice for royalty) and brought some of her family with her into the game. Their children, among others, include Béla IV (the king that weathered the Mongolian invasion), and the later Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.
From what we know, the Hungarian noblemen had no love lost for Queen Gertrude. They thought that the king was giving her Meranian entourage preferential treatment (even though King András was kind of giving land away to nobles like it was candy), and looked at the foreigners at court with great disdain. Eventually, while King András was off on a campaign in 1213 (it was a pet project, he also participated in a Crusade that failed horribly), a group of Hungarian noblemen, led by the (in)famous Bánk bán, decided to murder the queen.
From what we know, she was stabbed to death - according to some sources, in front of her children. The story was turned into a theater play by Katona József and premiered in 1848. It was made into an opera soon after. The play is mandatory reading in high school, and paints Gertrude as the villain - allegedly she helped her younger brother "seduce" (e.g. rape) Bánk's wife, and she killed herself and her son out of shame. Thus, according to literature, the killing of the queen was justified.

An interesting (and well known) part of the story is a letter: The noblemen asked János, archbishop of Esztergom, for advice as they were planning their deed. The Archbishop, inclined to agree with them but determined to play it safe just in case they failed, composed a letter in Latin:

Reginam occidere nolite timere bonum est si omnes consentiunt ego non contradico

This line, depending on how you read (and punctuate) it, can mean two things:
1. "You don't have to kill the queen, it is good for you to fear, and if all agree, I don't, I'm against it"
2. "Kill the queen, don't fear, it is good, and if all agree, I am not against it."

Punctuation saves lives, people.

(Of course the opera was made into a movie)


  1. That definitely hasn't been the only time in history a foreign empress-consort has caused trouble for her husband's dynasty! A lot of these royal houses ended up with barely any blood from their native lands, because of all this intermarriage with people from other kingdoms.

  2. Well outside marriage is a lot better than interbreeding - at least you don't end up with imbeciles on the throne ... oh wait, sometimes you do anyway :). So history doesn't make her out to be the baddie, but popular literature does? Sounds like the same way Richard III was treated by Shakespeare.
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  3. Oh man, I love stories of tragedy averted (or caused) by poorly worded or lost letters. I wonder how many kingdoms have risen or fallen, how many people have lived or died, how many fortunes won or lost based on grammatical errors?

  4. Well, gees. That wasn't nice of them. I bet they were angry because he totally didn't chose one of their daughters. Then I bet daddy didn't like the daughter's relationship with the son and accused him of rape.

    Who knows the truth. History is fibs about the conquered written by the winners.

  5. It's sad that people kill other people just because they are different. And it still happens too...

  6. Love the punctuation example--jealous hearts added fuel to the fire--great post. I love St .Elizabeth and her story is amazing too.

  7. Wow, two totally contradictory meanings from one line of Latin! How did the Romans ever manage? I don't know if you had to study any Russian in school, but I love that marriage and defect are the same word, with the same pronunciation!
    Maui Jungalow

  8. What as clever archbishop, no blame either way...

  9. Maybe it's because I just woke up from a nap, but I had to read this twice to figure out what was going on. LOL

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee's Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  10. János ah you sneaky thing you. Politics! can't stand it, can't live without it :|

  11. Sounds like they interpreted that line just the way they wanted to!