Lerma, Olivares and Haro: los Validos

Spain’s ‘Golden Century’ was dominated politically by powerful men known as validos, a combination of prime minister and personal servant, the closest confidant and advisor to the king. The reigns of Philip III and Philip IV were monopolised by three men, Lerma, Olivares and the latter’s nephew Haro. The first was created Duke of LermaContinue reading “Lerma, Olivares and Haro: los Validos”

Dukes of Teck, Dukes of Urach

The castles of Teck and Urach are not instantly familiar to even the most seasoned travellers, but both lent their names to dynasties with interesting close connections to more well-known royal and princely families—notably the Windsors and the Grimaldis—and even to an ephemeral kingdom in the Baltic that vanished before the ink was dry onContinue reading “Dukes of Teck, Dukes of Urach”

Driving across Germany: Bavaria to Baden to Brunswick

Germany’s landscape is wonderfully varied, from steep Alpine peaks to unvaried flatness of the North European Plain. In the summer of 2014, I was lucky to enjoy not one but two research fellowships, in Vienna and Wolfenbüttel, so I took the opportunity of the week between them to rent a car and drive from oneContinue reading “Driving across Germany: Bavaria to Baden to Brunswick”

Vorontsov and Dashkov princes

Sometimes one noble family needs another to boost its status slightly into the ranks of the dukes and princes. The Vorontsovs were an old noble family of middle rank who significantly influenced the history of Russia in the 18th century. The Dashkovs were an equally ancient family, and though of higher, even princely, rank, rarelyContinue reading “Vorontsov and Dashkov princes”

Sackville dukes of Dorset

The Dukedom of Dorset is mostly forgotten today, a title that had only five holders between 1720 and 1843. Yet their surname, Sackville, is well remembered, particularly as borne by Vita Sackville-West, one of the leaders of the Bloomsbury Group of the early 20th century. The surname also probably inspired Tolkien in his choice ofContinue reading “Sackville dukes of Dorset”

An Ulster Circuit: O’Neill princes and Abercorn dukes

Travelling in Britain and Ireland can be quite damp. While there are certainly moments of glorious sunshine, any traveller should also be prepared for days and days of drizzle, grey skies, and mud. Yet this can be a bonus for viewing historical monuments, adding drama and mystery to the landscape. Northern Ireland is one placeContinue reading “An Ulster Circuit: O’Neill princes and Abercorn dukes”

Dukes of Cleves, with Jülich, Berg and the Mark

‘Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived’. Possibly the most successful mnemonic in history; people who love Tudor history can even remember that Number Four (‘divorced’) was Anne of Cleves. But where on earth was Cleves? A misleading clue is in one of her historical nicknames, the ‘Flanders Mare’, though in the sixteenth century, Englishmen oftenContinue reading “Dukes of Cleves, with Jülich, Berg and the Mark”

Sforza dukes of Milan

In a recent television series, the artist Leonardo da Vinci is brought to Milan to work for the most powerful man in Renaissance Italy: Ludovico il Moro. Il Moro was head of the Sforza family, one of the names most associated with Italian history in the fifteenth century—like Medici or Borgia—but interestingly, their name wasn’tContinue reading “Sforza dukes of Milan”