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The Chinning
11.21.2003 by Sarah.


[Author's note: I met with our heroine at an amateur art show held last year in the apartment of my good friend and future roommate, Eric. General prattle and pitchers of sangria flowed freely, though our heroine chose to partake of neither. Rather, she hogged the big comfy chair in the corner of the sitting room with a bottle of wine and one of those hats that look like umbrellas. The wine was Spanish, she said, and added quickly that it was Catalonian, not Aragonese, as if that meant anything at all to me. Then, as if in utter distaste for the world, she cast the bottle aside and produced a gin and tonic from her left pant pocket, and she sipped her drink in a decidedly lady-like fashion.]

That's better. I do not know what came over me all of a sudden.

Yes I do. I cannot abide the inbreeding this evening, is all. Did you know that the present king of Spain is a descendant of the same Bourbon family that has ruled the country since the early 1700s? Well, this story has nothing to do with them, except consequently. I will tell you instead about the Hapsburgs, whose incestuous rise and fall can be traced to the shame of one woman in fifteenth-century Nuremberg.

Picture it. Nuremberg, 1459. It had been thirty years since Kaiser Sigismund chose the city to be the permanent home of the Reichskleinodien--a collection of sacred relics such as the crown of Otto the Great and pieces of Jesus' crib from Bethlehem--and in that time Nuremberg had become a bustling metropolitan center. So bustling, in fact, that one bored woman from the aristocratic Behaim family thought she could have a little fun with the men of the town without getting caught.

To her credit, she began her seductive rampage with only the other high-ranking burghers of the town such as the well-respected Meistersinger and the head of the merchant guild, but soon her infamous reputation--and her husband's fiery temper--forced her to seek satisfaction from her own household staff. Alas, her husband no longer allowed her to leave the estate. And so that lusty, lovely piece of manflesh, also known as the stable boy, readily assumed the role of paramour for this insatiable woman, whose enthusiasm for the affair overcame her prudence. Lady Behaim found herself pregnant, much to the delight of her husband, who assumed that the condition resulted from his own relations with his wife.

When the baby was born it was obvious to the woman that the child was not her husband's. The squirming baby boy in her arms bore the one unfortunate feature of the stable hand, a disproportionately large lower jaw. She panicked; surely her husband would notice. She had to get rid of the child or replace it or something, anything! She forbade the servants to show the child to anyone until she came up with a solution, and luckily for us, for whom this subplot is getting a little long, a solution became apparent the next day.

The royal family came to town to pray before the holy relics on the occasion of the successful birth of their first son, Maximilian. Lady Behaim insisted that her family join the other aristocratic families in welcoming the Kaiser and his child at the cathedral. While in town, she confided with her wet nurse, they would pay off another wet nurse to switch babies with them, a condemned practice that occurred with greater frequency than you'd expect. As it happened, Lord Behaim refused to allow his wife to stray from his sight because although she had recently delivered herself of a child, he thought that her first foray into public in nearly a year would cause her to fall into a frenzy. Lady Behaim instead signaled to her nurse to perform the deed on her own. The nurse returned within the hour with a new child, which Lady Behaim presented to her husband as his own. He named the baby Martin and remarked how much the child looked like himself.

Years went by. Maximilian ascended to the throne and little Martin Behaim grew up to become a famous merchant, navigator and cartographer, revealing to those who knew him best dark dreams of world domination. He created the first three-dimensional globe, known as the "Nuremberg Terrestrial Globe" that, albeit being terribly inaccurate, earned him great fame in the royal courts. Maximilian, on the other hand, became the first truly great Hapsburg ruler by bringing under one control the lands of Italy, Austria, Germany, Spain and the Low Countries through conquest and strategic marriages of his offspring. By marrying his son to the sole daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, a girl named Juana la loca, or "Joanna the Crazy," he gained for his family one of the largest territorial inheritances in history. He was determined to keep these lands in the family and urged his successors to do so by marrying their relatives, intermarriage being a common practice for powerful royal dynasties then as today.

Aside from being the first great ruler of the Hapsburg dynasty, Maximilian is credited with being the originator of what is known to prosperity as the Hapsburg Chin, an autosomal dominant trait that reared itself through 34 generations of the Hapsburg family. As relatively no new blood entered the lineage for hundreds of years, the Hapsburg Chin, an abnormally large lower lip and jaw, grew larger as its genes were passed down the line. In the late 17th century the Spanish Hapsburg king Charles II suffered from a triple dose of severe inbreeding; he was mentally insane, completely infertile and bore a Hapsburg Chin that jutted out so far that he could not chew his food. He died without any heirs and, after a war of succession, the Spanish crown went to the Bourbon dynasty.

The chin belonged to the Behaim's stable boy, of course. Lady Behaim's wet nurse discovered that the royal servant in charge of little Maximilian was, in fact, a childhood friend who was more than happy to go along with the ruse for a bag of silver. So little Martin Behaim, cartographer and would-be ruler of the world, had Hapsburg blood running through his veins. Kaiser Maximilian I, however, was the product of an illicit tryst with a deformed stable hand.

I propose a toast to these poor fellows, one deprived of the throne and the other in possession of a chin that would kill his family's grasp on the Spanish crown. Sex is a funny thing. Not like a clown funny, not ha-ha funny, but you know. Weird funny.




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