Ismail Kamil Pasha and the Princess
In 1805 Mehemet Ali, an Albanian, was appointed viceroy and pasha of Egypt by the Ottoman Sultan. He soon initiated a major program of modernization and industrialization. Among Mehemet Ali’s projects was the creation of a modern army, which would be useful not only to defend his interests, but also to expand his authority.
The first target of his ambitions was the Sudan, the vast, desolate, unruly land to the south of Egypt, which he wanted for its potential in mineral resources and its very real manpower resources, for he had found that Sudanese slaves made excellent soldiers. So in mid-1820, Mehemet Ali dispatched two expeditions to begin the conquest of the Sudan.
One was under Ismail Kamil Pasha, who was a pretty inept commander, described by one historian as “utterly incompetent in managing an army,” but was Mehemet Ali’s son.
Despite his poor leadership qualities, Ismail didn’t do too badly, opening the campaign with a series of small victories over some of the poorly armed, mutually hostile tribes in northern Sudan, who had difficulties facing the new Egyptian army, with its muskets and artillery. .
In December of 1820, it was the turn of the Hannekab, who dwelt along the Nile in the vicinity of the Third Cataract.
Now it was the custom among many Sudanic tribes that the army should be led by a virgin, so that her virtue would bring it divine favor. Thus it was that on December 4, 1820, Safia, the daughter of King Zubeyr of the Hannekab led her father’s army at the Battle of Jebel Dager. Despite her undoubted virtue and the courage and skill of the Hannekab warriors, the Egyptians won the battle, and in the process captured Princess Safia.
Now Ismail may have been a poor commander, but he immediately realized that his prisoner might be put to good use. Rather than abuse her himself or send her as a gift to his father or demand an enormous ransom, as would have been standard operating procedure, Ismail took very good care of Safia. He treated her with all the honors due a highborn woman – some people said as though she was one of his own sisters. After showering her with gifts, he sent her back to her father.
This so impressed King Zubeyr that the Hannekab shortly made an alliance with the Egyptians, by which they greatly benefited, being given additional lands and more modern arms.
Afterwards, Princess Safia quietly disappears from history. As for Ismail, he ran into some problems later; in 1822, while ill, he was captured by the enemy and burned to death.
How I Became a Marshal of France
Antoine III Agénor de Gramont-Toulongeon (1604-1678) was many things in his life, duc de of Gramont, comte de Guiche, comte de Gramont, comte de Louvigny, and Souverain de Bidache, among them. He was also a Marshal of France, an honor won on many a field during the Thirty Years’ War.
In his memoirs, published in 1716, long after his death, Gramont told an amusing story about how he came to win the coveted baton.
According to Gramont, one day while in Paris, he decided to lobby Cardinal Mazarin (1602-1661), the first minister of France, for a promotion to marshal. By chance, Gramont came upon Mazarin, powerful successor to the great Richelieu, during a light moment. Perhaps needing a break from his efforts to protect France from all enemies, foreign and domestic, during the minority of Louis XIV, the Cardinal was playing a little game; He was jumping against a wall and pushing off to see how high he could get.
Now Gramont saw an opportunity to toady a bit (he was very good at this, in 1634 he had married Richelieu’s niece to gain favor), and promptly challenged Mazarin to a jumping contest, saying, “I’ll bet 100 crowns that I jump higher than your Eminence.”
The Cardinal, a great gambler (he once won so much at cards that he “tipped” the Queen 50,000 ecus for bringing him luck), promptly accepted.
Naturally, Gramont threw the match. He carefully jumped just a little lower than the Cardinal, and thus lost his bet. In his memoirs Gramont said that six months later he received his baton.
Now this makes an amusingly pleasant tale, but there is a problem with it. Gramont was made a Marshal of France in 1641, when Richelieu was still first minister. Mazarin wasn’t even in France in 1641, and did not take over as first minister until Richelieu’s death in 1643. And it hardly seems likely that Gramont misremembered a jumping contest with Richelieu, who was quite old and ill in 1641.
There is a possibility that when writing his memoirs Gramont misremembered the purpose of his visit to Mazarin. While he had been created a marshal in 1641, Gramont was not made a duke until 1643. So perhaps he was not lobbying the Cardinal for a promotion to marshal, but for one to duke?