Atlas of Prejudice: The European Age of Incest

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The short essay The European Age of Incest and the map Europe According to Charles V (1555) are taken from the first volume of the Atlas of Prejudice by Yanko Tsvetkov. The book was first published on the German market in 2013 where it became an instant hit selling more than 10 000 copies. The English version of the book was published worldwide on August 11 and is currently available on Amazon.

There weren’t any iPhones in the Middle Ages and nobody today assumes the opposite. Even though we are aware of the immense technological gap between our time and the medieval period, there are some political differences which aren’t so easy to spot. One of the most significant is that the term nation didn’t actually exist. The concept of a national state emerged during the 17th Century, after the Thirty Years’ War.

In 16th Century Europe, states covered the territories owned by the aristocracy associated with a particular crown. Whole regions switched ownership as frequently as Imelda Marcos switched shoes. Royal marriages were political acts through which empires were consolidated or partitioned. Unwilling to share power with strangers, ruling aristocrats started to marry their close relatives, which along with the benefits, brought many genetic disorders.

One of the most powerful monarchs Europe had ever seen, Charles V, by the grace of God, Holy Roman Emperor, forever August, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, Navarra, Grenada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Sevilla, Cordova, Murcia, Jaén, Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, King of Two Sicilies, of Sardinia, Corsica, King of Jerusalem, King of the Western and Eastern Indies, Lord of the Islands and Main Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Neopatria, Württemberg, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Asturia and Catalonia, Count of Flanders, Habsburg, Tyrol, Gorizia, Barcelona, Artois, Burgundy Palatine, Hainaut, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Roussillon, Cerdagne, Drenthe, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgau, Oristano and Gociano, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Biscay, Molin, Salins, Tripoli and Mechelen, was a product of centuries of exquisite royal incest.

As a consequence, he suffered from severe case of mandibular prognathism, a genetic disorder which develops an abnormally extended chin, a condition that colloquially carries the name of his dynasty—Habsburg jaw.

He was unable to chew his food properly, suffered from indigestion and usually ate alone. Logically, the abundance of such genetic defects also meant abundance of power, wealth and land.

There is a famous quote attributed to him: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”

Apart from letting us know that in the early 1500s horses were fluent in German, those words are a testament to His Majesty’s cosmopolitan spirit.

Being the undisputed ruler of Spain, Charles V had direct access to the immense resources of the Spanish colonies in America. Centuries ahead of his time in terms of fiscal innovation, he borrowed heavily from Genovese bankers, using the loans to finance wars and chase the French out of Northern Italy. On their way home, they famously brought with them Leonardo da Vinci who was seduced by Francois I, the king of France himself.

That’s one of the reasons the Mona Lisa is now in the Louvre but don’t blame Charles V about it. Nobody could have foreseen that a common portrait of a woman with questionable beauty could one day become the most famous painting in the world.

Francois I was the arch-enemy of Charles V. Un­­able to forget the Italian loss, the French king resorted to extreme measures. He allied himself with the only man who could rival the power of Charles V: Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.

For the first time in history a Christian kingdom entered into a political alliance with a Muslim power. Suleiman twice laid siege on Vienna, wreaking havoc among the Catholic world. When he retreated, probably out of negligence, he forgot several bags of coffee and a basket of croissants. The Austrians found them irresistible and stole the recipe, which was in turn stolen from them by the French, who today consider it part of their cultural heritage.

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