Sunday, September 12, 2010

Turk Louis

Herewith an extract from a family history I wrote in the 1990s — with the reason for my quoting it revealed only at the very end:

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The city of Rastatt became for us, during this time, a sort of secondary center—and ultimately a point of departure [for America]…
     We were then all living in what had, until the end of World War I, been an independent country, the Grand Duchy of Baden, in the old days governed from what was now the city of Baden-Baden. The country had become divided in 1535 into two halves, Baden-Durlach to the south, an area that encompassed all of the Black Forest, and Baden-Baden to the north, where we were.
     The German states were all loosely stitched together then into what is now remembered as the Holy Roman Empire and, most recently, as The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, ruled by an elected monarch, the Kaiser. Nine of the greatest duchies of the realm elected the Kaiser, and their rulers were therefore known as “electors.”
     The Holy Roman Empire had initially been formed by the conquests of Charlemagne and had extended all the way from Italy to what is now Poland to the north.
     The Reformation first (16th) and then the Thirty Years War (early 17th century) had weakened this ancient structure over time. After World War I our part of the Duchy of Baden had become one of the Länder of the Weimar Republic (1919).
     How does Rastatt fit in? Well, one of the margraves of Baden-Baden, Louis William, born in Paris but the 21st descendant of the ruling family of Baden, the house of Zähringen, took office in 1677 and ruled until his death in 1707. He was the most distinguished of the margraves of Baden, having been a hero in the Austro-Turkish war of 1683-1699. He liked Rastatt and built a showy, ostentatious baroque palace there, known as the Schloss.
     The Schloss was an immensely long, multi-story building with statues of distinguished ancestors at regular intervals. They stood in the low spots between the palace’s many small towers. Dark, brown sandstone. In front of this structure extended a vast parade ground. A wall surrounded all this. A square stood outside and traffic ran along the wall. On the wall itself were yet more, almost countless, statues of princes and dukes and bishops and such.

The title, margrave, used to mean “count of the border.” This was a military title borne by a figure assigned to guard frontiers.
     The Germans call Louis William Ludwig Wilhelm, but in his times he was known as Louis and became famous as “Turk Louis.”
     He rose in rank from a regimental command in the Empire to become the supreme commander of the imperial army that fought in Hungary, Serbia, and Bosnia in the Turkish war. This war began when the French colluded with the Ottomans, and janissaries surrounded Vienna with an army of 300,000—an unprecedented number in those times. In 1683 a combined German, Austrian, and Polish army, under the command of Johan III Sobieski, the King of Poland, defeated the Turks and lifted the siege. Louis continued on, drove the Turks out of Hungary, and defeated them near Slankamen in Vojvodina, south of Subotica in 1691. With this action he freed Hungary of 160 years of Turkish rule.
     Not surprisingly, neither Hungarian nor Serb nor Bosnian history have much to say about “Türkenlouis,” preferring to applaud instead the local commanders who helped him.
     Perhaps an impulse of fairness moved the spirit that guides Hungarians to send us—alas unconsciously—to pay our last respects to Turk Louis on our way out of Europe.
     Louis’ wife came from Czechoslovakia. She was Sibylle August. She had nine children. Louis died at 52 weakened by the countless injuries he had collected in a life of active command.
     After his time Rastatt was Baden’s administrative center.
     Now we know.

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And now for the reason for this quotation. I learned from Siris today (here) that the famous battle signalling the  ultimate retreat of the Ottomans took place on, ah, 9/11/1683. Didn’t know that. But the revelation certainly reverberated…

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