Saturday, August 29, 2015

Collared by the Inquisition

As something of a political junkie, I have been enjoying this year’s presidential campaign season.  While I find it hard to believe that any of the frontrunners will still be in the race a year from now, I have enjoyed listening to some of the more absurd campaign promises—all of which are long on emotion and totally absent of details.

Evidently, few of the candidates understand how limited the constitutional power of the presidency actually is.  This reminds me of a story a former president of Enema U was fond of telling after he had retired (He damn sure couldn’t tell the story while still holding the job!).

Shortly after moving into the President’s office in Abattoir Hall, the administration building, he discovered that the men’s bathroom near his office only dispensed those tiny little squares of toilet tissue.  About the only thing in a men’s room that is more annoying—with the exception of the impossibility of two men's having a conversation—would be those air-blowing hand dryers that only the very young enjoy using.

As university president, this was one annoyance he really felt he shouldn't  have to suffer, so he dashed off a memo to the maintenance people ordering them to replace the current dispenser with one that would hold rolls of toilet paper.  According to my friend, when he retired from the university years later, the toilet paper dispenser had still not been replaced.  This tale epitomizes institutional inertia and the limited authority of positions of power.

And, of course, it reminds me of another story—a little more historical one:

When Philip IV inherited the family business from his father, Philip III, he was inheriting the largest empire in history:  Spain, Portugal, a third of Italy, Sicily, Flanders, the Philippines, South America, Central America and most of North America.  (This wasn’t even counting the assorted islands scattered all over the world.).  On paper, Philip IV, the sole owner of the Spanish Empire, was beyond rich.

In actuality, Philip had a real mess on his hands.  Most of this was caused by the "simple" fact that Philip was a Hapsburg, a member of the royal family that, for generations, made sure that all the wealth, power, and property remained within the family by requiring each successive king to marry either his first cousin or his niece.  This hereditary manipulation doesn't continue for very long before it produces kings who are suited only to sit in the corner and lick their own eyebrows.  In just one more generation Philip’s son, Charles II, wasn't even able to manage that task. 

Note.  Come to think of it, the family was so closely related that not only was Charles II the son of Philip IV, he was also his own first cousin. And Charles’ sister is also his cousin.  And Charlie’s grandmother is also his aunt.  Royal inbreeding was done in all the royal families.  This is why even today, if you look closely at Prince Charles, you can tell that somewhere in his family tree is a horse.

King Philip tried to stop the downward spiral of Spain, chiefly by some economic reforms, but it was too little and far too late.  Spain was in such desperate need for cash, that it hadn’t even replaced the naval vessels lost when Philip II lost the Armada to Sir Francis Drake.  A royal navy that was supposed to guard Spanish possessions all over the world, consisted of just seven ships. 

Philip could have cut some of the crippling taxes that were hampering the Spanish economy:  between the alcabala (a high sales tax) and the almojarifazgo (an even higher import-export tax), it was impossible for Spain to compete with the rest of Europe.  However, the already cash-strapped Phillip was incapable of long-term planning and actually raised taxes to try to solve his problems in the short term.

The other reason for the economic crisis was that Spain was involved in endless wars trying to protect the Catholic Church against the growing Protestant world—and these were wars that Spain almost always lost. 

Poor Phil tried—he really did.  He announced an austerity program, condemned extravagance, and mandated that, in the future, Spaniards must live pragmatically.  Carefully, the nineteen-year-old monarch examined the royal household budget, paring away 67,300 ducats a year, mostly through cutting the amount of food his servants ate.  Unfortunately, this modest beginning was still a few million ducats short of solving Spain’s financial problems.  Still, he had introduced the concept of simple, pragmatic living.

And the Spanish Inquisition—which no one expected—marched along in lockstep, forcing Spaniards to live pragmatically.  Well, they tried, too.

Forcing people to live pragmatically was fairly difficult.  Eventually, the inquisition found a concrete way of enforcing austerity.  It banned the ruffed collars from clothing—and since the ruffed lace collars would not stand up by themselves, starch was also banned, as a "tool of the devil". 

The ruff, made popular (and enormous) by Philip the Third (pictured at right), was now "evil".  Alquacils (sort of a master-at-arms to enforce justice) were armed with scissors and prowled the streets of Madrid enforcing the ban.  Shops were raided and offending merchandise was burned in the street.  Eventually, offenders were frequently pilloried and fined.

For the fashionable set, this left only the Walloon collar.  This rather plain, ordinary, and downright ugly collar is sort of a flat cape that extends to the shoulders and partway down the back.  Sort of like a lobster bib worn backwards, it was easily wrinkled, got dirty almost immediately, and most important of all, had become popular in despised Protestant Holland. The people of Spain hated it. Pictured at left is a very young Philip IV with a Walloon collar.

Something had to be done!  A collar must be found that was fashionable, not identified with Protestants, and yet pragmatic.  It had to be stiff, but could not use the forbidden starch.  It had to be becoming, but not use foreign lace.

Early in 1623, a Madrid tailor sent a sample new collar to the king.  It was a wide piece of cardboard, covered with white silk on the top, and dark cloth on the bottom to match the wearer’s clothing.  The collar was then stiffened and slightly curved with heated rollers before being covered with multiple layers of shellac.

The king loved them, and ordered a large number of them for personal use.  The tailor hurried back to his shop and began making the royal collars.  But before the order could be finished, someone informed the Inquisition that immoral collars were being created, collars that were stiffened by alchemy, devilish hot machines and strange incantations.  Obviously, this smelled of the Evil One.

The Inquisition (still unexpected) raided the tailor’s shop and found ample evidence of suspicion and witchcraft.  Mysterious pots of shellac were dumped and the poor tailor’s tools and stock were burned in the street directly in front of the shop’s door. 

This infuriated the king, who sent his Prime Minister to reprimand the president of the Inquisition Council. 
“These collars are dangerous new ideas,” said the priest.  “They are immodest and have silk.  They are not pragmatic!”

“Nonsense,” answered Duke Olivares, the king’s minister.  “They are not only the best and most comfortable collars, they are the most economical.  They need no washing, no starching, and will easily last for a year.  Besides, the king wants them.”

Not able to argue with such impeccable logic—the king really did want them—the Inquisition allowed what came to be known as the Golilla collar.  For the next 75 years, they became all but synonymous with the Spanish Empire, becoming mandatory throughout Spain, Spanish Italy, and South America.  Spain continued the downward economic spiral, suffering wars and political upheavals, but the wealthy of the empire were well-dressed.

Appropriately, it was the Hapsburg inbreeding that eventually eliminated the golilla collar.  Charles II, the inbred son of Philip IV, was incapable of producing an heir.  Spain, tiring of kings not quite as intelligent of the horses they rode, turned the monarchy over to a French royal family.  Philip V, a Bourbon, took one look at the strange collar and banned it as barbaric, replacing it with a cravat, already popular in France. 

Over time, the cravat turned into the modern necktie.  Now, we have some potential leaders, most wearing suitable ties, who certainly behave as if they were inbred.  This time, let's try not to elect another Hapsburg.


  1. I have a theory that the Democrats are conducting genetic experiments trying to produce the ultimate president. It started with Jimmy Carter who was an early attemp to create a half Christian/half Marxist. As we know it didn't turn out very well and their next two attempts (half German/half weasel and half robot/half Kitchenaid Toaster) were not popular with the electorate. They finally hit a workable combinating that managed to capture the imagination of the voters the next go-round with the half redneck/half Jackrabbit that was Bill Clinton. They then made two consecutive attempts at reanimating the dead which failed (with the last one you could still see the bolts sticking out of his neck, which creeped people out). They hit again, finally with the half guilty white liberal/half black communist in 2008. Unfortunately their next experiment isn't quite ready for the 2016 election, so they are recycling the Bride of Half Jackrabbit/Half Handsy Redneck in the person of an abortive guilty white liberal/socialist/feminist experiment that they hope will be able to remain erect for at least as long as it takes to get elected. To hedge their bets, the Dems are also offering up a pair of earlier experimental attempts at breeding an acceptable honky Marxist. They're a little long in the tooth, having been kept in the lab for several decades. The hoary old leftist and the dim-witted serial groper have been trotted out of late as an alternative offering just in case the Bride of Clintonstein accidentally wanders off deeper into a mine field or grabs hold of an electrical transformer and blows herself up. I hear they're planning a black/Hispanic/feminist/communist hybrid next time, but so far, they've been unable to make one that is a reliably pro-choice atheist Marxist. The specimens keep sneaking off to go to Mass and have lunch at Taco Bueno and Popeye's. They had to dispose of two that I know of recently because they just couldn't keep them from shopping at Walmart.

    But the Dems still have faith in genetic science (except the kind that produces better crops, prevents disease and keeps the elderly alive longer). As the old saying goes, "Hope springs eternal in the Progressive Socialist Petrie dishes."

  2. Wow, Tom! Slow down, take a deep breath, and wipe the slobber off your face! I'm really not sure what your screed has to do with shirt collars, I'm going to blame it on your watching too much FOX news.