Thursday, 27 October 2016

More about Sir William Huntley-Palmer

Excerpts from the never-published memoir “Journeying in Syldavia” by Sir William Huntley-Palmer, which is an account of the author’s time spent in the service of King Ottokar IX of that country.

“In the Spring of 1756, I found myself once more in Klow, the capital city of the Kingdom of Syldavia. I had found accommodation in an apartment in an old Klovene tower house in the mediaeval quarter of the city, the area being often referred to as Klovinus, which was the name of the original Roman city, not far from the ancient Cathedral or Basilica of St Budvar (occasionally but incorrectly referred to as St Vladimir). My landlord, Freiherr Stefan von Stiflipz was a senior officer in an infantry regiment. He claimed descent from the ancient Slav tribe of the Hvegi and said that the house had been the residence of Sidekar Krutusne, a famous warlord of the Hvegs in the 15th century, and who was one of the first members of the Order of the Black Pelican. The Pelican was carved above the entrance to the house, bearing in its beak a scroll emblazoned with the Latin phrase “hoc signo vinces nigrum onocrotalus”.

Von Stiflipz was a genial fellow, and we often shared a bottle or two of the excellent local wine over dinner of an evening, generally conversing in either German or, when my grasp of that language failed, in French, a tongue that was becoming widely spoken by the educated classes of the country. We discussed the history of Syldavia, with Von Stiflipz expounding at great length on the important role of the Hvegi tribes in the unification of the country and how Muscarius Hivegiorum (Muskar Hveghi or Muskar of the Hvegs) defeated the Turkic Khan of Istrovia (Roman Syldavia Inferior) and became King Muskar I.

A fairly frequent guest was Hauptmann Wilhelm Tischdecke, a young Captain of Jägers, previously serving in a Pandour regiment who had recently arranged a commission in the more fashionable Strelec Regiment of Jägers. There was much talk of sending troops to the south where there had recently been Ottoman incursions in the province of Zeta, to the north of Lake Skhoder, threatening both the provincial capital, Cetinjow and the important market town of Bjelogoritza, further up the River Zeta, near the confluence with its tributary, the Jetinuja River.

I was keen to travel south with any expeditionary force and Von Stiflipz was able to introduce me to  Rittmeister (that is captain) Marko Tvrdoglav of the Grünerwald Dragoon regiment, which had been mobilised for service in the South. Because of my previous service in Kerr’s Dragoons, the Rittmeister was happy to arrange permission for me to accompany his squadron as far as Cetinjow.

Within the month a small vanguard had been formed and sent south. This comprised two squadrons of the  Grünerwald Dragoons, one from the Eszakivaros Huzzars and an impromptu brigade formed from five companies of foot from the Motörkopf regiment, three companies of Lasko’s Pandours and Hauptmann Tischdecke’s  Jäger company.  I rode with Rittmeister Tvrdoglav’s Dragoons, accompanied by my manservant Domenico, a Venetian who claimed to be the illegitimate son of a member of the Morosini family. The remaining  troops would follow on within a few weeks, some by the same route that we had taken along the valley of the River Wladir, but others by sea, south along the coast from Dbrnouk to Rudva, a port to the southwest of Cetinjow. In total, the army was expected to consist of six battalions of Foot, three of Pandours, a dozen squadrons of various types of Horse and a number of troops of Artillery.”

Sir William writes at length of the landscape through which the small force passes. He complains that he was unable to visit the city of Istow (formerly Istrow, Roman Istriodunum) to view the Roman ruins but vows to return at a future date. (n.b. Huntley-Palmer visited Istow in 1759 and commissioned the painting “The Ruins of Istriodunum by Moonlight” which now hangs in the Staatliches Kunstmuseum ( Državni muzej umjetnosti) in Klow.

Sir William also writes of the customs and superstitions of the peasants of the southern marches of the province of Moltuja. He writes at length of the legend of a fearsome demonic sorcerer from the icy north known as Crna Tomascz or Black Thomas, who the peasants believe has the power to reanimate the recently-deceased and enslave them for his evil purposes. Sir William writes that  the peasants of this region, being superstitious and in much fear of  Crna Tomascz paint their window and door frames with blue paint, which they believe will ward off the demon. He records that “the people believe that Crna Tomascz knows when someone is close to death and will climb into the house and bewitch them so that once buried he can call forth the corpse from the grave”. He also writes that across the whole region many rural buildings have their roofs partially painted red, especially along the ridges and hips to prevent a demonic entity, which he says the peasants call a  “Noc Vitek”  (trans. Night Gaunt) from roosting there.

By the early Summer of 1756, H-P arrives in Cetinjow, which he describes as being “a city built on two hills, of  an antique appearance, dominated by a mediaeval citadel and encircled by walls of considerable height but which are in need of some repair. There are many fine buildings of some antiquity and numerous churches for followers of both the Latin and Greek Rites. There are also religious buildings for both Jews and Mussulmen and the city has a population in which one might discern divers peoples from the shores of the Mediterranean and the Levant, as well as the sturdy peasantry of Syldavia. On the streets one might hear the Venetian dialect one moment, followed by Greek, Magyar, Arabic, Turkish, the Syldavian Slavic tongue or the barbarous dialects of the mountains.

However, the troops are not to remain in the city for long and are soon on the move again, with the town of Bjelogoritza their final destination. While in Cetinjow, though, Sir William takes the opportunity to draw a detailed plan of the city and lists the major buildings, the state of the fortifications and the size and quality of the garrison. He records that “although the walls are tall and built of dressed stone, they are of such an age that they could not long withstand modern artillery, allowing a Forlorn Hope of steady troops to enter via the breach.” 

He is also scathing about the quality of the garrison of the city. He writes that “the city is garrisoned with two or three hundred militia men, who are slovenly and of poor quality, many appearing infirm. Their uniforms are of brown homespun of an old-fashioned cut and contrast poorly with the smart grey uniforms of the Motorköpf regiment and Captain Tischdecke‘s green-coated Jägers. There are also some locally-recruited Pandours of a barbarous and brigandlike appearance, who I believe are the sworn tribal enemies of  those of the Lasko Regiment who form part of our small brigade. Our Pandours are stout fellows, well-turned out and of an impressively warlike bearing but these others lack discipline, are prone to drunkenness, quarrel constantly and steal from the townspeople. I am sure that if the Turk had arrived before us, his Janissaries and Bashi-Bazooks would already be putting their feet up on the governor‘s dining table. There are no Horse at all, save for a few dozen of the Governor’s Gendarmerie, who are more suited to collecting Excise Monies than fighting and the only guns in the city’s bastions must have first seen service in the German Wars a century ago.

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