Prussian ’ggression; ducal dubieties

In January/February 1891 Karl Heinrich Ulrichs included a short, impassioned and enigmatic paragraph in his Latin-language newspaper Alaudae. It illustrates nicely both the challenge and the interest of editing Alaudae, since Ulrichs is making allusions that he was probably confident his contemporary readers would recognise, but which are more than a little opaque in 2023.

I give the text below, but to summarize it, Ulrichs first makes reference to a defeated leader in a civil war whose possessions had been expropriated at his defeat, but who has nevertheless more recently been permitted to receive an inheritance, and this outcome is then contrasted with the circumstances of another leader, also dispossessed, whose surviving son has little hope of recovering what is properly his.

Here is the passage in question, in English and the original Latin:

“A general, defeated in civil war, was once forcibly stripped of what was his by the victors. The same man not long ago took possession, with no objection, of an inheritance that had been legally bequeathed to him. Another leader, again forcibly stripped of what was his, has a surviving son. To this son also an inheritance has been legally bequeathed. When will that be restored to him, an inheritance that in defiance of justice and right a more powerful man has had the effrontery to steal, that man to whom so many among those people were wont to swear loyalty come hell or high water? When? Has reverence for what is right among you just turned into an old-womanish superstition? Are you not flushed with shame still to be striking TO EACH THEIR OWN?”

Dux quondam, victus bello civili, eo quod suum erat a victoribus vi spoliatus est. Idem nuper, contradicente nemine, potitus est devolutae ad se legitime hereditatis. Alii principi, suo eādem vi spoliato, superstes est filius. Ad hunc quoque legitime devoluta est hereditas. Quando huic ea restituetur, hereditas quam contra jus contra fas ausus est intercipere potentior, iste in cuius verba apud illos solebant per fas et nefas jurare tot animi? Quando? Num apud vos verecundia eius quod fas est abiit in superstitiones aniles? Nonne rubore suffundimini adhuc feriundo SUUM CUIQUE?

I understand the second half, I think. Ulrichs was born in the Kingdom of Hanover, which subsequently, in 1866, had been defeated and annexed by Prussia, and Ulrichs regularly expresses his outrage at this turn of events. The word I’ve translated “leader”, princeps, can also be “prince”, and suggests Ernst August, erstwhile Crown Prince of Hanover, the son of the king of Hanover deposed by the Prussians who never relinquished his claim to the crown of Hanover. The “stronger man” is surely Bismarck, whose brainchild the German Empire was that emerged from Prussian expansion, but who had resigned his position as Chancellor just a year before Ulrichs was writing.

Finally, the motto that the “those people” should be ashamed to be “striking” (the natural sense of ferio), suum cuique (one which I gather was sufficiently tainted by Nazi use to be avoided these days) is found on some Prussian coins of an earlier date, I think, and on the badges of Prussian guardsmen, but at any rate as the motto of the Order of the Black Eagle, the highest distinction in the Kingdom of Prussia, clearly identifies Ulrichs’ target as the Prussians even if I’m still pondering the precise implication of feriundo.

[24.09.2023: My esteemed colleague Neil McLynn has clarified that feriundo for me. He’s surely right that the thing being “struck” is, precisely, the Order of the Black Eagle, which while rarely awarded could amount to a powerful exercise in Prussian public relations when it was. The most recent recipient had been Prince George, the future George V, during a trip to Berlin with his father the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII). He was formally invested with the order on March 22, 1890.]

The first half is trickier. I’m assuming, and this could be a basic mistake, that a civil war well enough known in Europe in 1891, which is significantly far in the past (quondam) but of which the aftermath is still contested (nuper), is likely to be the American Civil War. My best guess is that in the dux who was deprived of his possessions after the war, but managed without contest to receive an inheritance, Ulrichs is making a rather loose reference to the court case United States v. Lee in 1882, in which George Washington Custis Lee, son of Mary Anna Custis Lee and Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate forces in the Civil War, sued for the return of his mother’s Arlington estate, which had effectively been confiscated by the US government in the course of the war in 1864, and subsequently — an inspired gesture — largely turned into the Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1882, however, the Supreme Court ruled in Custis Lee’s favour, and while he never returned to Arlington, he received generous compensation from the government — recovered his inheritance, in other words. Custis Lee was himself quite prominent in the Confederate army, but if it is this case that Ulrichs is referring to, I think there’s some conflation in Ulrichs’ mind of the famous Robert E. Lee and the lesser-known Custis Lee.

So on the one hand we have a civil war and a recent high-profile case; on the other, if it is indeed the Lee suit at issue, a vagueness, at least, in the definition of the parties, as well as an inaccurate assertion that the claim to the inheritance was uncontested. I’m inclined to think this can be explained by Ulrichs’ passionate concern for the claims of Ernst August, which leads him in the process of condemning Prussian injustice to flatten and simplify a half-remembered recent controversy in the United States. But that doesn’t entirely satisfy me.

So if anyone has a better candidate for that dux dispossessed in civil war, I am all ears. I should say that it’s just the kind of thing that Ulrichs will himself decide to clarify in three issues’ time, in which case I’ll let you know.

About Llewelyn Morgan

I'm a Classicist, lucky enough to work at Brasenose College, Oxford. I specialise in Roman literature, but I've got a persistent side-interest in Afghanistan, particularly the scholars and spies and scholar-spies who visited the country in the nineteenth century.

2 responses to “Prussian ’ggression; ducal dubieties”

  1. ajsillett1987 says :

    In the Prussian context of the second half I’d suggest la belle France:
    Certainly a dux of Europe fallen on hard times;
    Consumed by civil war in 1871 (Marx called the suppression of the Commune as det Bürgerkrieg in Frankreich);
    Despoiled of its patrimony by conquerors (losing Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia in 1870);
    More recently had greatly increased its imperial holdings in Indochina and Tunisia.

  2. Michael A Lombardi says :

    The answer may possibly be found in one of his Research books (1864-1879).

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