Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Charles I of Württemberg

(in German: Karl I von Württemberg)

If you think of Stuttgart at all, it is most likely as the home of automobile manufacturers Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. However, Stuttgart is also the capital of Baden-Württemberg, a south German state bordering Bavaria to the east and Switzerland to the south. About 125 years ago a gay royal scandal nearly shook Württemberg off its foundations.

Karl Friedrich Alexander was the third King of Württemberg, from 1864 until his death in 1891. He was king at the time of the unification of Germany in 1871 and skillfully led his people in the decision to become part of the new German Empire. Born in Stuttgart in1823, at the age of twenty-three he married the Russian Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaievna, daughter of Tsar Nicholas I, and at the age of 41 Karl acceded to the throne upon his father's death. The couple had no children, because of Karl's homosexuality, so Olga and Karl adopted Olga's niece Vera Konstantinova.

Had an American pianist studying music at the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music not injured his arm, there might have been no scandal at all. Richard Mason Jackson (a pianist known by his middle name as “Mase”), along with Charles Woodcock and Donald Hendry became the objects of obsession by gay King Karl. The king was so smitten that he gave the Americans titles, positions and lavish gifts far beyond their station. They eventually held such sway over the king (and his purse) that the new German Chancellor Otto von Bismark had to intervene in order to sever their sordid influence over Karl. It was a royal soap opera the likes of which had not been seen in those parts, and the royal family was not able to cover it up. All the sordid details appeared in newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.

In October 1888, the New York Herald republished a story from its European edition describing three American males who were said to be lavishly disposing of the monarch's money. The article said that an American named “Mase” Jackson was one of the three gentlemen playing “Piers Gaveston” parts in Germany." Gaveston was the male lover of England's King Edward II Taken literally, Americans "playing Piers Gaveston parts" with King Karl meant that they were performing the insertive role in anal intercourse. Although the newspaper chose a euphemism to describe such acts, the reading public at the time would have understood the meaning.

The same article focused on gossip circulating in Germany about King Karl and seances presided over by the “upstart” Baron von Jackson, of Steubenville, Ohio. The rise of Mase from poor, humble origins in Ohio to the aristocratic "Baron von Jackson" in Germany was juicy gossip in its day. Jackson's father, a cousin of General Stonewall Jackson, had died at the very moment of his son's birth in 1846. Raised by his widowed mother on a farm in Ohio, Jackson had moved with her to nearby Steubenville, and there studied the piano, developing an ardent desire to become a musician. At sixteen, unable to finish his courses at Mount Union College, Jackson returned to Steubenville, and taught music at Beatty's Seminary (a school for female teachers). He tuned pianos, became organist in the Methodist Episcopal Church and traveled often to Pittsburgh to enjoy the opera. Jackson formed a friendship with another Steubenville youth, a popular tenor, Will H. MacDonald, and, subsidized by relatives, traveled with MacDonald to Germany, to study at the Stuttgart Conservatory of Music. When Jackson injured his arm and was forced to give up the piano, he took a job in 1876 as assistant to the American Consul in Stuttgart, a position he held for five years. The handsome, young American walked daily through the Stuttgart parks and soon attracted the notice of the King, who was 23 years his senior. The newspaper reported that this “grew into a friendship of the most intimate character.”

In 1881 the homosexual monarch asked Jackson to join his household as a "confidential friend and companion." Jackson accepted, renounced his United States citizenship, and was made a Baron. He  added "von" to his last name and become a favorite of the King of Württemberg. A large apartment in the palace was assigned to “Baron von Jackson”, and a private entrance was constructed, connecting directly to the royal apartments. A handsome income and lavish gifts were bestowed upon him. The King had also added the American to his will, so that should his benefactor die, Jackson would still be immensely rich. All of these salacious details appeared in the newspapers.

But Jackson was not yet through exploiting his royal connection. Because of his intimacy with King Karl, honors were showered upon Jackson by the kings of Holland and Saxony, the Emperor of Austria, the Czar of Russia, and even the Pope, with whom he had an audience. After Jackson saved the lives of three men whose boat had overturned, King Karl made him a "Privy Councilor," and Jackson was called “Excellency,” an honor seldom attained by anyone other than royalty, and even then, usually late in life.


The coat of arms of the Württembergs: Fearless and Faithful.

The American's appointment to court caused a political furor. Next the New York Sun picked up the story and offered even more sordid detail to the controversy. They reported a love triangle, with Jackson seeking intimacies and favors from both the king and the Grand Duchess Vera. The king retaliated by making Jackson promise not to marry “during the king’s lifetime.”

Jackson was described by an American lady living in Stuttgart as the life of the American colony and "the funniest man I ever knew," with a quaint, droll way of talking. She added: "Men and women – and particularly children – liked him."

Jackson had been appointed "Reader to the King," a euphemism for the King's companion, one whom he could meet in ordinary fashion, without formalities. The king bestowed on Jackson rare works of art and gifts of diamonds, and the American was known as the man who had the most influence over the King.

The New York Star cited a response to the controversy by interviewing a nephew of Jackson, a Dr. Morrison of Steubenville: “It has been sneeringly said that the King of Württemberg fell in love with Jackson. Well, I don't see very well how he could help doing that. Mace was of the kindliest disposition that you could imagine, gentle almost as a girl, but so manly in bearing as to claim the admiration of all who came in contact with him. His weakness used to be his love for flowers.”

Well, that explains it!

Dr. Morrison noted that Jackson had saved the king from snowballs thrown by some intoxicated students and that the monarch had then become "perfectly infatuated with Mase." When the King heard Jackson play the piano "his infatuation became complete." The King had then insisted that Jackson consent to assist him in managing the realm. Neither the King's infatuation, nor the Ohio pianist's call to manage a kingdom was considered odd by his trusting relative. Dr. Morrison boasted that Jackson had written home, telling his relatives that the king called Jackson “My dear bosom friend, Jack.” Then things got really interesting when Dr. Morrison mentioned that Jackson blamed another American, Charles Woodcock, for kicking up a scandal. Dr. Morrison was told that Woodcock was jealous of the king’s attention to Jackson. But that wasn't the half.

Tomorrow, the rest of the story.

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