Sweyn Asleifsson, 1116 – 1171: The Ultimate Viking

He was born in Caithness, son of Olaf, who was murdered in 1135 by Olvir Rosta, who a year previously had lost a minor sea battle and carried a grudge.  Olvir’s method of restoring his self esteem was the burning Olaf’s house down while Olaf was still in it.  This is how cycles of violence start, and neglecting to take out the nineteen year old Sweyn was an oversight that was going to cost Olvir.

That would come later.  In the meantime, the boy (who, curiously, took his surname from his mother Aslief) gets his first mention at the 1135 yuletide revels at the household of the earl of Orkney.  It seem the Earl’s cup-bearer had grabbed some of Sweyn’s holiday grog, an act that Sweyn did not take in the spirit of the season. He  stewed for a day or so, then brained the fellow. Continue reading

Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov, 1887- 1967: “any resemblance to living persons….”

Famous for the assassination of Rasputin, which he may or may not have actually had a hand in.

On a lighter note, he was also responsible for the familiar disclaimer on books and movies, this is a work of fiction, any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidence.

It all had to to with the 1932 MGM rather ahistorical production, Rasputin and the Empress, in which a “fictional” Prince Chegodieff is credited with killing the Mad Monk after the fellow had hypnotized and raped Chegodieff’s wife, the Princess Natasha.

Yusupov had no problem with being thought the killer of old Creepy-Drawers, but the bit about the rape was, to his mind, libelous.  The British courts agreed and MGM settled for £25,000, the removal of some crucial footage in the first reel,  and the disclaimer at the start of the film.

But wait, there’s more.   Turned out that there was a real Prince  Chegodiev,  who also sued on grounds of libel.  And also won.

Not easy, the movie making business.

(For footnote minded people like me, the question remaining is, is Chegodiev the Prince Alex Chegodiev mentioned here, or his son Paul, or someone else entirely? If one of the above, it clearly did nothing to turn other family members off of the film industry. )

Henriette Caillaux, 1874-1943: Behind Every Great Man….

On March 16 1914,  Parisian socialite Henriette Caillaux went to the office of Gaston Calmette, editor of the French journal Le Figaro.  No appointment. Might she be allowed to see him? It was late, but the fellow agreed to the unusual request. How could he help the lady?

She got straight to the point.  From her muff she pulled a Browning automatic and fired four shots into the low-down dirty dog of a journalist.

A passionate woman, clearly. Old fashioned, too.  She was doing no more than standing by her man, her man being the center-left Radical Party politician Joseph Caillaux who was widely expected to be the Prime Minister in the up coming election.

That is, until the papers went to press.

Continue reading

Margaret Lambrun, 1570?- ?: Courage of Conviction

By 1821, Napoleon had been defeated and peace seemed to spread out on the horizon for the foreseeable future.

Some people are never satisfied.

William Hazlitt in his essay “Guy Faux” bemoans the lack of passion and machismo in the post-war milquetoasts compared to the stalwart firebrands of earlier ages.  Nothing manly for Britain’s youth to get up to (one imagines the same sort of dismay as serious men compared World War One gave way to the Roaring Twenties)

A progressive sort of fellow (or perhaps he just wanted to shame the menfolk), Hazlitt cites admiringly the story of Margaret Lambrun  (“as it is but little know, I shall relate it as I find it”).

Briefly, the story is as follows: Continue reading