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  • Saved by Birds and a Gypsy December 26, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    joseph karl von habsburg

    Archduke Joseph Karl (obit 1905) was one of the minor scions of the Austro-Hungarian royal family. He was famous though for a particular interest: in a country where gypsies were despised he was a Roma-phile, writing books on gypsy culture and even learning their language. In his attempts to advance the claims of the gypsy population of the Empire he told the following anecdote. It is usually associated with the Battle of Sadowa, 3 July 1866 where Joseph fought bravely against the Prussian hordes: he had three horses shot from under him. (It should be remembered that almost everything that went wrong in twentieth-century Europe began with the Prussian victory there).

    On another occasion the Archduke was really warned by a gipsy. It was just before the battle of Sadowa, in 1866, and he was sleeping in a peasant’s cottage, when in the middle of the night he was awakened by a gipsy. On the man being brought to the bedside of the Archduke, he burst out into rapid Romany, declaring that the enemy were approaching with the intention of surprising the Austrians. ‘The outposts have not heard anything suspicious,’ the Archduke remarked. ‘No,’ replied the Zingari, ‘because the enemy is still a long way off.’ ‘How do you know this?’ ‘Come to the window,’ exclaimed the gipsy, leading the Archduke forward to the narrow opening in the rough wall and directing his gaze to the dark sky illumined by the silver rays of the moon. ‘You see those birds flying over the wood toward the south?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the Archduke, ‘I see them. What of it?’ ‘What of it?’ retorted the gipsy. ‘Do not birds sleep as well as men? They would certainly not fly about at night-time thus had they not been disturbed. The enemy is marching through the woods southward, and has frightened and driven the birds before it.’ Immediately orders were given for the outposts to be doubled, and the entire camp to be awakened. In less than two hours after the visit of the gipsy fierce fighting was indulged in…

    There are many different versions of this story and it is difficult to establish the Ur version: it may be somewhere in the Archduke’s writing on the Roma, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. As to the Archduke’s faithful gypsy henchman the story may be true, and may have prevented a local rout before the battle, but Sadowa was a tremendous Austro-Hungarian defeat. Germany was essentially founded on Bismarck’s victory there and his humiliation of the French four short years later.

    30 Dec 2014: LTM on some birdlore ‘There is a US TV program about moonshiners making illegal whiskey in Virginia.  One of the moonshiners in tonight’s episode talked about how they knew the police were coming:  All the birds went silent  and left the trees.  The moonshiners went in the direction the birds had gone. Earlier there was a British TV program on the anniversary of the Tsunami of 2004. Before the first wave struck, very observant Thais noticed that all the birds had fled the trees on the beach and flown inland. They followed. No gypsy needed for interpretation, but it helps to have people around who know the way of the woods.’ Thanks, LTM!

    4 Jan 2015: Bob S on institutionalising the use of birds for weather warnings.