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Into the Lion’s Mouth January 15, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

What do Lorenzo the Magnificent (obit 1492), Henry III of Navarre (obit 1610) and Rudolph Hess (obit 1987) have in common? Well, they were men, they were all born in Continental Europe and they also went defenceless to their enemies and somehow survived to tell the tale, hence the lion’s mouth of the title.

First, Lorenzo: after the Pazzi Conspiracy (1478) had failed Lorenzo, Florentine despot, found that his city was at war with almost the entire Italian peninsula. Florence couldn’t possibly hope to win this war and besides the Florentine much preferred making money to fighting. At this point Lorenzo made an extraordinarily brave decision. He got on a boat and sailed to the south of Italy where he personally negotiated with his most powerful enemy King Ferrante of Naples (obit 1494). Actually, Lorenzo had had some guarantees prior to his arrival. But at other moments in his life Ferrante gave guarantees that he most certainly did not respect: notably the 1485 revolt in the south. Ferrante, in fact, enjoyed having his enemies killed, embalmed and placed dressed in chairs around his palace. Rather, then, Lorenzo than this blogger…

Second, Protestant Henry III* travelled to Catholic Paris to get married in 1572 to princess Margaret of Valois. Thousands of Huguenots made the journey with him and enjoyed the marriage 18 August, then 24 August the government encouraged the populace to turn against their Protestant guests in the infamous St Bartholomew Day’s Massacre, where perhaps 30,000 Protestants were slaughtered in one of the most ghastly blood baths in history. The young Henry III was only saved by promising to convert to Catholicism: a promise he later abjured. The young twenty-year-old must have had some sense of the danger he was going into when he travelled to rabidly Catholic Paris and so he too joins the lion’s mouth club.

Third, Rudolph Hess, in one of the most peculiar episodes of WW2, 10 May 1941, took a Messerschmidt, which he would pilot himself, and then flew to Britain (actually Scotland), an enemy power, to unilaterally negotiate for peace. The trip is extraordinarily controversial. Why did nasty old Hess go? Did Hitler know that Hess planned to fly to Britain or had Hess gone mad? There are even some conspiracy theories about whether Hess was not immediately killed by the British. What is clear is that Hess joins our trio of men going unarmed into the heart of enemy territory.

There must be other examples of this kind of journey from safety into danger, but Beach can’t think of any. He would be grateful for any other contributions: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

*Guy writes into point out that I meant Henry III of Navarre not, as would be assumed, Henry III of France.

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16 Jan 2012: The Count writes in ‘Rudolph Hess seems to have thought that by personally arriving in a country his side were already at war with, he could somehow change everything just by being a really cool guy. That’s not bravery, that’s clinical insanity! The British government seem to have thought so too, since they neither hanged him nor tried to use him as a negotiating tool, but simply locked him up and pretty much forgot about him. Also, it’s not really that brave. If he was mad enough to believe that the British government would automatically see his point of view if only he was there in person, he wouldn’t have felt that he was in any real danger, since Britain could be relied upon to keep to the articles of war and not casually shoot a solitary unarmed enemy who arrived under a flag of truce without trying him first, which he clear;y didn’t think was going to happen… Your “lion’s mouth” selection is missing a very illustrious candidate, who, despite my complete lack of belief in this area, is, I think, more worthy of a place in that trilogy than Rudolph Hess. I refer of course to Jesus Christ. It’s often forgotten that this fellow was in fact Jewish, therefore the Messiah he claimed to be wasn’t the later Christian version, but the original Jewish model, who was (or, if you’re Jewish, will be) basically King Arthur. That is to say, a political and military leader who would, with the help of God, deliver his country from its enemies, no matter how overwhelming the odds seemed to be. But first, he had quite a few oddly specific prophecies to fulfill, such as riding into Jerusalem on an ass. By doing that amidst the maximum possible fanfare, Jesus was essentially saying: “Hello Romans! Those of you who have bothered to study Jewish culture will know that I am hereby announcing both my intention of leading a massive revolt against you, and my literally God-given ability to do so! But of course it doesn’t matter that you know who I am, because you can’t possibly stop me…” As history tells us, things didn’t quite go according to plan. Indeed, even the Christian Bible contains a passage making it screamingly obvious that Jesus was genuinely surprised to find himself helplessly nailed to a cross, and couldn’t understand what had gone wrong.’ Thanks Count!