“We have a love affair with the idea of the ‘natural,’ even though we, as a species, are about as unnatural as you can imagine” – George M. Church

We can always work it out when we’re dead.

I hope you’ve found your true love.  Odds are against it given modern divorce rates.  Or maybe you found your true love and discovered you can’t stand them.  This of course, says more about your judgement than their character and our enlightened unwillingness to overlook the vast array of human peccadillos, neuroses, and general insanity that accompany any long term relationship.  We’ve got a lot of safety nets.  The children probably won’t starve.  The kingdom won’t go to war, and the church considers ex-communication too much of a hassle these days.  Love ‘em and leave ‘em, and post a “lessons learned” column on social media.  That’s the Chicago way (an Untouchables reference for those of you born after 1980).  Life was a little more complicated for your average 16th Century aristocrat, what with all the dynastic, political, and real estate concerns involved.  You got hitched.  You made the best of it.  Otherwise, there might be open warfare between this principality and that duchy, a whole lot of nonsensical slaughter that you certainly didn’t want to be responsible for.  And eventually, maybe you felt a certain fondness for your spouse, despite all their obvious shortcomings since, heck, there were a lot of geo-political considerations to take into account, and as long as they weren’t an abject psycho, you could make it work.  Life is tough.  Love is nearly impossible.  Love takes commitment.  And evidently, the desire to work things out sometimes persists beyond the grave, as was the case with Princess Anna of Saxony and John Casimir, Duke of Saxe-Coburg (1564-1633), who made a spectral appeal to Anna’s descendant Christian, Duke of Saxe-Eisenberg (1653-1707) for a little marriage counseling.

John Casimir of Saxe-Coburg was an heir of the House of Wettin (one of the oldest royal houses in Europe, members of which have at one time or another ascended the thrones of Great Britain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Poland, Saxony, and Belgium), a dynasty of German counts, dukes, prince-electors and kings that once ruled territories of present-day German states of Saxony and Thuringia for around 953 years.  That’s the kind of pedigree that gets you dates with supermodels, preferential seating at the finest restaurants, and Christmas cards from Madonna, but it was a rough time to be ducal progeny in Saxe-Coburg.  Casimir’s father John Frederick II, Duke of Saxony was a bit of a troublemaker.  It was smack dab in the middle of the Protestant Reformation and political intrigue was afoot.  When John Frederick seized and plundered the city of Würzburg, refusing to give it back, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II placed him under Imperial Ban – his possessions were confiscated, handed over to his brother, and he spent the rest of his life as an Imperial prisoner.

Meanwhile, his son, John Casimir was shuffled around from relative to relative, winding up at the University of Leipzig in 1578.  By 1584 he became engaged, without the consent of his father, with Anna, the daughter of Augustus of Saxony, whom he married on January 16, 1586 in Dresden.  Well-bred aristocrats in 16th Century Saxony just didn’t do such scandalous things as fall madly in love and wed without parental consent.  This sort of behavior is liable to get you disinherited.  Luckily, Casimir’s father was persona non grata anyway, so his opinion didn’t count as much, thus Anna and John Casimir united in marital bliss without too much hassle.  By all accounts, Duke Casimir was a competent ruler, and set up an effective administrative bureaucracy in Saxe-Coburg that persisted long past his death.  Then again, his reign saw an upswing in witch trials and burnings (178 trials to be precise), so perhaps the realm could have done with a little less efficiency.  Sadly, his torrid love affair with Princess Anna would last only 7 years, as he divorced her in 1593 for adultery, holding her captive in Veste until her death in 1613. Meanwhile he married Margaret, the daughter of William, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (and Anna’s maternal first cousin) in 1599.

Now it’s unclear whether Princess Anna ever actually indulged in an adulterous affair, and there remains the possibility this was just a convenient excuse when the Duke’s attentions wandered.  Although, Princess Anna was generally regarded as “high-spirited” and cheerful, throwing lavish parties at the Duke’s court.  In short, Anna was a party girl.  The Duke was an avid huntsman and would routinely spend several weeks away from the castle at a time, giving her ample opportunity to play the field and historians suggest she was caught in flagrante with a certain Ulrich of Lichtenstein (curiously, the name adopted by fake noble Heath Ledger in A Knight’s Tale).  This was serious business in the Holy Roman Empire.  Ulrich and Anna were both sentenced to death by beheading, but Casimir commuted the sentences to life imprisonment at the last moment.  This is the very definition of a “rocky” relationship.  Obviously, John Casimir was feeling a bit hurt, as to commemorate his new marriage to Margaret, he commissioned the famous Coburg Taler – that is, he minted an official coin that on the obverse side depicted Casimir and Margaret kissing, and on the reverse showed Anna dressed as a nun with the inscription, “Who will kiss you now, poor nun?”.  That’s some serious sour grapes, but I suppose designing your own currency is one of the perks of being a Duke.  These days, a bad break involves Facebook unfriending.  In the 16th Century you got locked in a tower somewhere.

By the 17th Century, everybody was dead.  One would think this has a tendency to settle such disputes, but we live in absurd universe where love and hate seem to persist well past the point of death.  Enter Christian, Duke of Saxe-Eisenberg (1653-1707), by most accounts a relatively cool Duke, happy to share administrative powers with his brothers over the Saxe-Gotha region while he devoted more time to the study of history, art, and alchemy (squandering a considerable amount of his financial inheritance).  He died in debt, but arguably amassed enough good karma to offset this in the afterlife, having brokered a reconciliation between the specters of his ancestors Princess Anna and Duke Casimir.  There is an old saying that we should never lie down to rest  at enmity with any human being ; and the story of the ghost of the Princess Anna of Saxony, who appeared to Duke Christian of Saxe-Eisenburg, is strongly confirmatory of the wisdom of this axiom.  Duke Christian got an unexpected visitation from the ghost of his ancestor Princess Anna.  “She came decked out in ‘silks and satins,’ gold lace, embroidery, and jewels, all so grand, and appeared to one of the descendants of her family, Duke Christian of Saxe-Eisenburg, requesting him to be so kind as to try and ‘make it up’ between her and her ghost husband, who, it seems, was a bad-tempered man, had quarreled with her, and had died without being reconciled” (Cruikshank , 1864, p7-8).

Duke Christian was sitting one morning in his study, when he was surprised by a knock at his door — an unusual circumstance, since the guards as well as the people in waiting were always in the ante-room. He, however, cried, “Come in!” when there entered, to his amazement, a lady in an ancient costume, who, in answer to his inquiries, told him that she was no evil spirit, and would do him no harm ; but that she was one of his ancestors, and had been the wife of Duke John Casimer of Saxe-Coburg. She then related that she and her husband had not been on good terms at the period of their deaths, and that, although she had sought a reconciliation, he had been inexorable; pursuing her with unmitigated hatred, and injuring her by unjust suspicions; and that, consequently, although she was happy, he was still wandering in cold and darkness, between time and eternity. She had, however, long known that one of their descendants was destined to effect this reconciliation for them, and they were rejoiced to find the time for it had at length arrived. She then gave the duke eight days to consider if he were willing to perform this good office, and disappeared; whereupon he consulted a clergyman, in whom he had great confidence, who, after finding the ghost’s communication verified, by a reference to the annals of the family, advised him to comply with her request. As the duke had yet some difficulty in believing it was really a ghost he had seen, he took care to have his door well watched; she, however, entered at the appointed time, unseen by the attendants, and, having received the duke’s promise, she told him she would return with her husband on the following night; for that, though she could come by day, he could not; that then, having heard the circumstances, the duke must arbitrate between them, and then unite their hands, and bless them (Crowe, 1868, p263-264).

Duke Christian was no slouch when it came to mediating for his undead ancestors, and steeled himself for a contentious reintroduction of Princess Anna and Duke Casimir, hoping for a resolution in the afterlife that was unachievable in the mortal world.

Duke Christian consented to do this. She had walked into the duke’s presence, although all the doors were shut, and one day after their first interview she brought her husband to their relative in the same unceremonious manner. Her ghost husband, who had been the Duke Casimer, appeared dressed in his royal robes. They each told their story (these, you will observe were talking ghosts as well as stalking ghosts). Duke Christian most gallantly decided in favour of the lady, and the ghost duke very properly acquiesced in the justice of the decision. Duke Christian then took the “icy cold hand” of the ghost-duke and placed it in the hand of the ghost-wife, whose hand felt of a “natural heat.” It appears to be the opinion of the advocates of apparitions that naughty ghosts have cold hands. In this case the husband was the offending party, and was very naughty, and therefore his hands were very cold. It seems strange that his hands should have been cold, for, being naughty, one would suppose he would come from the same place that Hamlet’s father did; and from what he said we should conclude that there was a roaring fire there, where the duke might have warmed his cold hands. It further appears that these parties all “grayed and sung together!” after which the now happy ghosts disappeared sans ceremony, without troubling the servants to open the doors, or allowing Duke Christian to “show them out.”  One remarkable fact in connection with this story is, that, upon referring to the portraits of these ghosts which hung in the castle, was, that they had appeared in exactly the same dresses which they had on, when these portraits were painted—one hundred years before this time (Cruikshank , 1864, p7-8).

Interestingly, Duke Christian’s main lesson learned from this escapade was y made that he would prefer not to wander the earth in search of reconciliation with a past love he had previously wronged.  He consequently made arrangement to ensure his disembodied spirit would remain at eternal rest.

The family records showed that these people had lived about one hundred years before Duke Christian’s time, who himself died in 1707, two years after these visits of his ancestors. He desired to be buried in quick-lime — it is supposed from an idea that it might prevent his ghost walking the earth. The costume in which they appeared was precisely that they had worn when alive, as was ascertained by a reference to their portraits. The expression that her husband was wandering in cold and darkness, between time and eternity, is here very worthy of observation, as are the circumstances that his hand was cold, while hers was warm; and also, the greater privilege she seemed to enjoy. The hands of the unhappy spirits appear, I think, invariably to communicate a sensation of cold (Crowe, 1868, p263-264).

No wonder Duke Christian took some precautions.  Who wants to wander around the afterlife freezing to death. This brings up a few other points.  Specify what you will be buried in.  You might have to wear it for eternity.  I’d go with sweatpants.  At any rate, Duke Christian appears to have been able to successfully re-establish a rapport between the undead Princess Anna and Duke Casimir, despite their troubled history.  Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us.  We just have to commit to the fact that love is a crapshoot that eludes rational analysis.  You may crash and burn and wind up imprisoned in Veste, but perhaps you can find solace in some sort of eternal embrace.  Just because life hands you lemons, it doesn’t mean you can’t make lemonade in the afterlife.  Sometimes you just have to suppress that cynicism and skepticism and take the plunge, for as Ray Bradbury said, “If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense. You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down”.

Crowe, Catherine, 1790-1876. The Night-side of Nature, Or, Ghosts and Ghost Seers. New York: Widdleton, 1868.
Crowe, Catherine.  “Ghosts and Ghost Seers”.  Ainsworth’s Magazine: a Miscellany of Romance, General Literature, & Art v13. London: Chapman and Hall [etc.], 1848.
Cruikshank, George, 1792-1878. A Discovery Concerning Ghosts: With a Rap At the “spirit-rappers”. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1864.
Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell, 1788-1879. Woman’s Record; Or, Sketches of All Distinguished Women, From the Creation to A.D. 1868: Arranged In Four Eras. With Selections From Authoresses of Each Era. 3d ed. rev., with additions. New York: Harper & brothers, 1872.