Thursday, January 31, 2013

Carnival of Cryptids Released!

In 1937, more than one hundred cattle in Central Brazil were killed, their tongues ripped out.  Witnesses reported an encounter with mapinguari, "the fetid beast", who was known by natives to roam.  It was a huge monster, eight or nine feet tall with huge claws, a scream that could petrify the bravest of men, a second mouth in its belly, and reeking, matted hair over skin so thick arrows and swords merely bounced off.

Modern scientists believe the rumored creature could be a genetic memory of the mylodon, the Giant Ground Sloth that lived in South America but went extinct ten thousand years ago.  It was approximately the same size, its habits could have been similar, and its skin featured "dermal ossicles", boney scales that acted as armor.  Many descriptions match, but surely no one would expect really to see an extinct monster.

The coelacanth armored fish was believed extinct for millions of years before being rediscovered in 1938, so why not the mylodon?  What if an expedition was launched to hunt down a mylodon?  Find out in Carnival of Cryptids, a new anthology from Kindle All-Stars.

Carnival of Cryptids is an ebook for charity featuring eight stories of mylodons, yetis, Alien Big Cats, and all the favorite not-yet-explained-by-science creatures.  All proceeds go to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

March 25, 1409 – Violent Council of Pisa Begins

The Western Schism had separated the Catholic Church in Europe for over thirty years.  As the Middle Ages began to come to a close, the worldly authority of the Church was evident.  With the Crusades, the Pope had displayed his ability to exert power over the kings of Europe, who in many ways were subordinate to papal will and arguably commanders for Christendom's armies.  Because it was such an important seat of power, the Vatican became fraught with corruption and factional infighting, much of which came from the wealthy families of Italy.  In an effort to escape these trappings, the Pope moved to Avignon, France, in 1305.  There, however, the corruption grew to a new higher level, and the papacy came under heavy influence from the French king Paul IV, who instigated the destruction of the Knights Templar.

After seventy years, the Papal Curia moved back to Rome under the guidance of Pope Gregory XI.  The Italian city-states had organized to shrug off the rule of the Church, and thusly France, and the Church responded by massacring thousands of rebels in Cesena and excommunicating all of Florence.  To quell further uprising, the French Pope moved back to Rome to have more direct influence.  Two years later, however, Gregory died.  The city of Rome rioted, demanding that a Roman be elected pope despite none being eligible.  The cardinals finally elected the Neapolitan Urban VI, who had been an effective administrator, but as pope was distrustful and brutal.  After five months, disapproving cardinals reconvened and elected a new pope, Clement VII, who returned to Avignon.

Europe was thrown into chaos as no one could agree who was the real pope and what to do with the antipope.  Royal families became divided, causing wars in Portugal and Castile.  When the town of Bruges declared itself a supporter of Avignon, it became partially depopulated as supporters for Rome simply left.  The division weighed on Europe even to the point that Charles VI of France suggested that the Avignon pope, whom he supported, to step down.  As the fifteenth century dawned, both popes agreed to a meeting but later refused.  The cardinals gave up hope and determined to solve the matter.

They convened in the college town of Pisa at the cathedral beside the leaning tower along with 80 bishops, representatives of 100 more, and ambassadors of the kings.  Famous universities such as those in Cologne, Paris, and Oxford sent over 300 doctors of theology and cannon law to contribute.  Each morning for three days, the meetings opened with a call for the popes to present themselves.  The popes did not, and so the testimonies began without them.  A group of Germans in support of Rome did appear in April, but their case only caused anger to rise up among those gathered.  Two months later, representatives from Avignon appeared as well.  Their argument caused laughter to break out among the council, and when the Avignon-supporting Chancellor of Aragon spoke, the Archbishop of Tarragona made a declaration of war.

The people of Pisa heard the rumor of war and misunderstood it to be a declaration of war by the Church against the antipope rather than an ungrounded call-to-arms in Spain.  They seized the ambassadors and hauled them up the tower, throwing them to their deaths.  The council was shocked, but they determined to finish their business.  Antipope Benedict XIII in Avignon took the declaration of war seriously and immediately called upon his supporters to launch a crusade against the Pisans.  Not to be outdone, Gregory XII in Rome did the same.  The council continued its business with the Patriarch of Alexandria stating, "Benedict XIII and Gregory XII are recognised as schismatics, the approvers and makers of schism, notorious heretics, guilty of perjury and violation of solemn promises, and openly scandalising the universal Church… to be driven out of the Church."  They unanimously elected a new pope, Alexander V, and sent letters to the kings of Europe calling for a crusade to remove both former popes.

Europe became even more divided.  War broke out between pro-Avignon Scotland and pro-Rome England, in Portugal, and, especially, among the various cities of the Holy Roman Empire.  Emperor Charles IV had died in 1378, and the electors had not yet met due to the Schism.  With three popes willing to grant the title, the electors began to tear into one another, backed by France for Pisa, Spain for Avignon, and Poland for Rome.  The war became worse as Hussites in Bohemia rebelled after the Pisan pope issued a bull condemning Wycliffism.  Sigismund, King of Hungary, worked to suppress the revolt, but his resources proved stretched too thinly to snuff out the movement.  The Ottoman Empire, fresh from its own civil war, made great advances in the Balkans while the Christians were divided.

After years of war, an armistice was pronounced, and Europe formally divided.  Spain led a coalition of supporters of Avignon (who retreated to Madrid), Rome held Naples and Poland, while the rest of Europe recognized Pisa.  Pisa weakened to northern Italy as Protestantism swept northern Europe, limiting Rome's influence to southern Italy, which would never unify with the north again despite a series of small wars attempting to do so in the nineteenth century.

In the sixteenth century, another war of religion would be fought as the Protestants came to the aid of the Huguenots, eventually turning France into a nation without a state-church.  England, too, would fall to Protestantism as Calvinists pushed out the influence of the Pisan Church.  Eastern Europe, meanwhile, was increasingly swallowed by the Ottomans up to Hussian Bohemia and Orthodox Russia.  As the age of empires began, the many different churches of the nations of Europe were spread throughout the world, which became increasingly secular to survive religious disunity.


In reality, the Council of Pisa confined its orders to within the Church.  While the ambassadors from Avignon were insulted and threatened, they sneaked out of the city safely.  Ultimately, most of Europe sympathized with Pisa, but little was done to back the new antipope.  The groundwork was laid, however, for the Council of Constance in 1414, which prompted the Pisan and Roman popes to step down and excommunicated Benedict XIII, who fled to Spain.  It also elected a new unifying pope, Martin V, and condemned Hus, affirming Catholic rule in Europe.

Friday, January 25, 2013

March 24, 1603 - Anne Stanley Succeeds Elizabeth I

After witnessing the deaths of many of her friends, Elizabeth I of England herself fell ill with "melancholy" and passed away.  She had ruled England for over forty years, steering it through rough eras of religious war between Protestants and Catholics and resisting the Spanish Armada.  Elizabeth had also never married, meaning that she had no issue to rule after her.  Her secretary of state and Lord Privy Seal, Robert Cecil, who himself had inherited his title from his father, had set to work on the problem of succession early as he came into office in the 1590s in coded negotiations with a potential heir, King James VII of Scotland.

Elizabeth's first cousin twice removed, James had proven himself loyal to England during the Spanish Armada.  In addition, he was a knowledgeable and strong monarch, able to deal with opposition while continuing many of his own projects, such as the colonization of Outer Hebrides Islands by adventurers and conducting witch hunts to purify Scotland of evil.  Both were firm executive moves following action of the Scottish Parliament in demanding title-deeds from the Highlanders (many of whom failed to prove ownership of their lands and were subsequently "civilized") and the Witchcraft Act of 1563 establishing capital punishment for the crime.  He proved himself a scholar, writing the pamphlet Daemonologie on the topic of witch hunting in 1597.

Other pamphlets, however, began to raise suspicion in Cecil.  In 1598, James published True Law of Free Monarchies, followed by Basilikon Doron ("The Royal Gift") the next year.  Both were treatises on the divine right of rulers and reflected James' leanings toward absolutism.  In comparison, Elizabeth said in her first speech as monarch at Hatfield House in 1558, "I mean to direct all my actions by good advice and counsel."  James took a very different stance on government and had already begun conflicts over money with the Scottish Parliament.  Cecil knew that contributing to James' coronation in England would be a great boon to is personal career, but haunting visions of a civil war, perhaps even rivaling that of the Barons' Wars, forced him to reconsider his choice.  Finally he became determined against James Stuart.  Cecil sabotaged him, giving sly bad advice for the tone of the king's letters to Elizabeth.  By the time of Elizabeth's death, James had become widely unpopular in court.

Cecil faced the problem of whom to crown.  According to the will of Henry VIII, the line passed next to the granddaughters of Mary Tudor, the Greys; Jane Grey had actually ruled for nine days as queen before her execution, Catherine Grey had married secretly and been involved in a huge scandal with Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, ending with their sons being deemed illegitimate, and Mary Grey had died without children.  Attempting to crown Catherine's son Edward Seymor, Viscount Beauchamp, would be a political nightmare, and so Cecil turned to the next in line through the will, twenty-two-year-old Anne Stanley.

The Third Succession Act of Parliament in 1543 affirmed Anne, and Cecil began stirring its significance among the court and in Parliament.  Elizabeth refused to name an heir (judging it to be political idiocy), and so upon her death, Anne Stanley was suddenly approached to be queen.  The girl was quietly shocked, as Elizabeth had been decades before, and Cecil felt he had made the right decision, setting out to recreate Elizabeth upon the throne.  Anne was unmarried and living at the estate of her brother, 6th Earl of Derby, following her father's death.  She seemed perfect clay in which to mold the will of rule by council.

James became furious and staged an invasion of England to claim his throne.  Cecil spun the event into a defense of the nation, calling all the more praise for Anne, who sat meekly upon the throne while Parliament raised an army to protect her.  After two years at war, James ran out of money and was refused more by the Scottish Parliament.  Scotland soon descended into a civil war of its own as James worked to force absolute rule.  Scotland overthrew the king and replaced him with James' young son, Henry Frederick, who ruled obediently through council.

Anne continued her rule quietly, being known primarily as a great patron of the arts through the advice of her brother.  The biggest political question of the day was whom she would marry, a question that Cecil increasingly answered with, "It stands to be seen, if at all."  No one in Europe seemed to be eligible as Catholic nobles were out of the question (though Anne herself had Catholic leanings) and the males of the Continent seemed to be too old, too young, or already married, such as Sigismund III Vasa of Poland-Lithuania and Gustav II Adolf of Sweden.  Cecil counseled Anne to maintain her virginity as a political tool until his death in 1612.

Anne finally married in 1623, to Francis Cottington, an experienced ambassador and Parliamentarian who also had Catholic leanings.  The couple was widely popular among Protestants and Catholics alike, healing much of the religious tension in the country while the rest of Europe descended into the bloody Thirty Years War.  England continued expanding its colonial empire, much at the cost of the Dutch and the Scots, against whom England often fought at sea alongside Spain.

Colonial expansion fascinated Europe for the next two centuries, first in the Americas, then the Orient, and finally the interior of Africa.  England's model of Parliamentary rule with an executive monarch proved effectual, expanding its representation to include colonies after a tax revolt in the Americas.  England gained the world's largest empire by the 1800s but would eventually fade as nationalism and independence rose up among the many peoples ruled from London.


In reality, Robert Cecil chose James Stuart.  While James and the Parliament struggled, a complete break occurred under James' heir Charles I in the First and Second Civil Wars.  The Stuarts were restored in 1660 but ousted again in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.  Anne Stanley lived a troubled life; she and her son brought her second husband Sir Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, to trial on accusations of rape and sodomy, culminating in his beheading in 1631 and the establishment of the right of an injured wife to testify.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

March 23, 1801 - Conspiracy to Murder the Tsar Stopped

Paul, the son of Catherine the Great, was born in 1754, when Catherine was still Grand Duchess during Elizabeth's reign.  Elizabeth immediately took Paul as her own, attempting to indoctrinate him with her own tutors.  Her care was minimal at best; stories were told of the infant Paul falling out of his crib and sleeping on the floor through the night until morning when his lackluster caregivers noticed.  As he grew, Paul proved to be quite intelligent and made up for his uncaring home-life by immersing himself in stories of chivalry and fantasy.

Upon the death of Peter III after only a few months of rule, Catherine became autocrat of Russia.  Paul disagreed with many of her mother's stances, particularly her wars of expansion into the Middle East and Central Asia.  He followed his Peter in appreciation of the new Prussian style, focusing on reform and defensive war.  Although he attended Catherine's council meetings early on, he later spent most of his time on his estates drilling soldiers along the model of Frederick the Great.  Paul wrote a work of military reform, Reflections, which proved to be a criticism of his mother's policies.  Catherine ended much of her attention to Paul.

The distance between mother and son was finalized when Paul's son Alexander was born.  Catherine took Alexander from Paul as he had been taken from her and trained him with her own tutors.  It became clear that Catherine wished to pass over Paul, even contacting his mother Maria for confirmation, but all parties seemed to agree that traditional succession meant Paul would have his time to rule.  When Catherine suffered a stroke in 1796, Paul became Tsar of All Russias.

Even before his rule, Paul was known as an eccentric.  He was fascinated by chivalry and immediately began laws reforming the ruling class.  Paul repealed his mother's legalization of corporal punishment for nobles (a popular move) but also enacted new policies attempting to forge a new age of noble knights, dispensing generous gifts on those who agreed and banishing those who opposed him.  He reformed the army, dismissing many generals and recreating the uniforms to emulate the stylish, if ineffectual, Prussians.  Paul also welcomed the Knights Hospitaller, who had fled their home in Malta from General Napoleon, and they elected him Grand Master, a title in which he reveled.

While his domestic policy caused turmoil, Paul struggled with foreign affairs.  He first recalled his mother's final expedition of 13,000 troops who were prepared to march on Iran, ending expansionism.  Paul also had inherited an alliance with Austria and Britain against Republican France, whom he despised as an illegitimate uprising against nobility.  While first enthusiastic about battling to return order to Europe, Paul was soon betrayed.  It became clear that Austria was attempting territorial gain in Italy.  The Austro-Russian campaign in Switzerland proved fruitless, and the Austrians retreated, leaving the Russians to fight as rearguard with heavy losses.  Meanwhile, an Anglo-Russian invasion of the Netherlands also turned to a retreat, and Paul was disappointed with the efforts of allied troops.  When Britain seized a Danish frigate in violation of Scandinavian neutrality and refused to return Malta to the Knights Hospitaller, Paul ended his alliance with Britain as he had Austria.

Meanwhile, foreign relations with France improved dramatically.  Napoleon had overthrown the republic's Directory and installed himself as First Consul, which matched Paul's worldview of noble rule much more closely.  After Napoleon generously returned 7,000 Russian prisoners despite Britain's failure to pay promised ransom, Paul began secret communications for an anti-British alliance.  The two concocted a scheme to march overland through Persia to harass India, Britain's valued market.  In January of 1801, Paul ordered Ataman Orlov and 20,000 Cossack cavalry to begin the preliminary march to India to map an invasion route.

Two months later, a contingent of drunken dismissed officers burst into Paul's rooms in the newly constructed St. Michael's Castle.  Paul hid behind the curtains but was found, and the officers attempted to force him to sign an abdication.  Paul refused and, during the scuffle, managed to escape his room.  He called for guards, finally finding those loyal enough to defend him.  His attackers were executed and an investigation found, tracing some funding from British agents reacting to Paul's seizure of British ships and factories in Russia.

Anti-British fervor swept the country, coinciding with the arrival of British Admiral Horatio Nelson's fleet in Reval that May.  He was fresh from Copenhagen, where the ships had bombarded the city and forced the Danes to comply in Britain's destruction of the Armed Neutrality Coaltion between the Scandinavian countries.  Russia attempted to fight off the fleet, but the British ships overcame them at the Battle of Reval and sailed for St. Petersburg.  Paul remained in the city despite suggestions to flee and organized the use of small fire ships piloted toward Nelson's fleet, emulating the battle against the Spanish Armada.  Nelson refused to be defeated by Russians, going down with his flagship as the sabotaged ships eventually retreated.

Paul and Napoleon dispatched their invasion in August of 1801 in Astrabad on the Caspian Sea.  Napoleon contributed scientists and artists, much as he had done with his Egyptian expedition, while Paul dispatched brightly colored cloth for sale and fireworks for displays.  They passed into Persia, where Fath Ali Shah had signed an Anglo-Persian treaty earlier that year, stating, "Should it ever happen that an army of the French nation attempts to settle on any of the islands or shores of Persia, a conjunct force shall be appointed by the two high contracted parties, to act in cooperation, to destroy it."  A British force marched out from India, but the Persians, upon recognizing that neither France nor Russia intended conquest thanks to Paul's rejection of expansionistic warfare, capitulated and signed a new alliance with France and Russia.  The British were defeated at the Battle of Kandahar, and the Russo-French force marched into India.

Britain began to panic and struggled to create a new coalition.  Scandinavia refused and again ousted British authority with a coalition of neutrality.  Austro-Hungary joined with Britain as Napoleon expanded again into Italy; Prussia joined later as the war spread to Germany.  At the indecisive Battle of Trafalgar, Britain attempted to destroy the combined French-Spanish navy but merely wounded it before returning to protect the Channel.  Meanwhile, at Paul's encouragement, Napoleon dispatched the fleets to harass Britain's colonies where they would be most vulnerable.  As colony after colony fell or became disrupted, Britain's economy crashed.  Finally in 1812, the world came to peace with a final armistice requested by Britain.

Through the nineteenth century, Europe recuperated and began a new wave of colonization began in Africa and Asia.  Paul, however, worked to continue his reforms inside Russia, welcoming French technological improvements while solidifying his chivalric order.  After the death of his son Alexander due to typhus in 1825, Paul began to groom his grandson Alexander II for rule, but the tsar died the next year.  Eight-year-old Alexander II was made tsar, advised by a council whose powers were expanded during the wave of revolutions following the death of Napoleon II in 1848.  Russia came late into the race to colonize, taking only a few areas in Central Asia while France dominated the Middle East and Britain took hold of much of China, paring it with Prussia and Batavia as they had in Africa.  Paul's legacy of reform improved much in the lives of the average Russians, but finally his aged chivalric order was overthrown in 1919 by revolts calling for a greater share of wealth  for the populace.


In reality, Paul was assassinated.  He refused to sign the abdication and was stabbed with a sword.  His son Alexander was told by one of the assassins, General Zubov, "Time to grow up! Go and rule!"  Alexander became determined to defeat Napoleon and overturned his father's pro-French plans.  After Napoleon's defeat at sea by Nelson in 1805 and on land in Russia by Alexander in 1812, the French Empire finally crumbled.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

March 22, 1739 – Nader Shah Assassinated in Delhi

After centuries of stable rule, the Safavid dynasty of Persia began to decline, and chaos swallowed up the empire.  Sultan Husayn was seen as weak, and the powerful Ghilzai Afghans of Kandahar rebelled against his rule.  He dispatched a new governor to quell the uprising, but the Afghans killed him and began expanding their rebellion.  Husayn marched out against the rebels with a force of three times their size, but his army was defeated, and the Afghans drove him back to the capital Isfahan, where they forced him to abdicate in 1722.  Meanwhile, the Ottoman and Russian empires, seeing an opportunity to advance, seized great swaths of Persian land at their frontiers.

As Husayn's son Tahmasp II attempted to restore order, he called for aid from many of the local chieftains, including Nader of the Afshar.  Nader had been born a shepherd's son.  His father died when Nader was young, and then the boy and his mother were captured as slaves by raiders.  Nader escaped slavery and later fell in with brigands.  There, his tactical mind and ruthless spirit shown, and he rose to become their leader.  He became admired by the Afshar chiefs, who welcomed him and gave him daughters to be his wives.  When the Afghans came to his city Mashhad, he submitted but then escaped to build up a private army.  His might grew until he was recognized and called upon by Tahmasp.

Nader discovered that Tahmasp's general Fath Ali Khan was a traitor and turned him over to the shah for execution.  As a reward, Tahmasp granted Nader the title Servant of Tahmasp and gave him command of the army.  Over the next three years, Nader created a powerful force that routinely defeated the Afghans in battle.  In 1729, the Afghans fled, and Tahmasp returned to Isfahan.  Nader plundered the city to reward his army and was granted governorship over the eastern part of Persia as well as Tahmasp's sister as another wife. 

While war continued with the Afghans, Nader also campaigned against the Ottomans, chasing them out of the lands stolen during the uprising.  His campaign was interrupted when the Afghans besieged his home at Mashhad, and he rushed east to rescue his family.  Tahmasp took over the campaign and squandered Nader's victories, eventually signing a piteous treaty.  Nader was infuriated and determined to overthrow the sultan.  He managed to get Tahmasp drunk and displayed him to the court, showing that the sultan was unfit to rule.  They forced him to abdicate, giving the throne to the baby Abbas III while Nader served as regent.  He campaigned against the Ottomans for the next three years, finally winning back the lost provinces and creating an alliance with the Russians.

With the wars settled in 1736, Nader emulated his heroes Genghis Khan and Timur by calling a massive meeting of the leaders throughout the empire.  Nader recommended himself as shah rather than the young Abbas, and the recommendation was accepted unanimously.  He then carried on the war against the remaining Afghan strongholds, finally defeating them utterly in 1738.  Still hungry for conquest, he pressed on into the Mughul Empire of India, claiming they had harbored Afghan enemies.  At the Battle of Karnal in 1739, his army of some 55,000 destroyed a force twice its size.  Nader captured the emperor Mohammad Shah and carried him to his own capital, Delhi.

There, as the triumphant army entered, Nader found himself stabbed by an assassin posing as a prince with a gift.  The city turned to pandemonium.  Indians excited by the news of Nader's death attacked Persian soldiers.  The soldiers counterattacked and looted what they could, but eventually the Persian army fled India in disarray.

Meanwhile, Nader's son Reza Qoli Mirza had been ruling Persia while his father was away campaigning.  Upon news of his father's death, Reza had the remaining Safavids, including former sultans Tahmasp and Abbas, executed.  Tahmasp's sister, Nader's wife, committed suicide, and no one stood against Reza as he took the throne.  While his father had been a military genius, Reza preferred the imperial life to campaigning.  He enjoyed luxuries, and the British East India Company proved able to supply them.  Reza traded infatuations with Europe, who took him to be the son of the "Second Alexander", as legends grew about Nader.  Envoys from Europe showered Reza with gifts, and the new sultan gave glamorous contracts for trading posts.  Many Persians distrusted the foreigners, and a threat arose to Reza's power when Kurds rebelled in 1747.  Rather than leading the army himself, Reza brought in European mercenaries.  After the rebellion was put down, the mercenaries stayed.  Reza began massive modernization projects, primarily canals, which brought the attention of French and British bankers to the nation.

Upon Reza's death in 1766, the British orchestrated a take-over of Persia, installing a puppet ruler much as they had done with principalities in India as the Mughul Empire collapsed.  Gradually over the next century, the lands would be split up between Britain in the south and Russia, who seized much of the north.  When the world entered its post-war phase of relinquishing colonies, former British Iran and the Soviet satellites of Azerbaijan and Khurasan became prime grounds for Cold War activity, especially along the western Iranian oilfields.


In reality, the assassination was only a rumor.  Nader Shah punished the city by allowing his army to plunder it and only stopped when Mohammad Shah granted his entire treasure, including the fabled Peacock Throne, which was enough to cancel taxes in all of Persia for three years.  Nader continued campaigning, but his health gradually faded as his cruelty increased.  He was finally assassinated in 1747 by his officers who decided they should "breakfast off him ere he should sup off them."  The nation fell into civil war, and the chaos largely kept out Western European influence and modernization until the Qajar Dynasty of the nineteenth century.

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