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flgdecl1000004758_-00_isreal-flag-decalHey! It’s the flag of Irsael: a blue Star of David on a white background between two blue stripes.  What’s the story with all of that blue anyway?  Well, like most stories involving Judaism, the story goes back a long, long way to the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, where the high priests wore a robe dyed a deep midnight blue.  In fact, this color, known as tekhelet, was a sacred color which appeared in temple hangings and in the twined fringes known as tzitzit which hang from the corners of Jewish prayer shawls.

A High Priest with Tekhelet Robe

A High Priest with Tekhelet Robe

The Tanahk (the sacred books of Judaism) are pretty specific about tekhelet.  It is mentioned nearly 50 times and it is specifically and explicitly stated that the special blue dye must be made from a shellfish called chilazon (rather than from the less expensive indigo).   And so it was for many lives of men.  Unfortunately everything went wrong in the first and second centuries AD when the Roman Empire destroyed the temple, defeated a Jewish revolt and exiled Jews from Jerusalem.  During this period of chaos and diaspora, the fine nuances of dyes were not of tantamount importance, and the way to make tekhelet were lost as was knowledge of exactly what sort of mollusk a chilazon actually is.

Oh, also, during travel, the Ark of the Covenant was supposed to be covered in a cloth of tekhelet

Oh, also, during travel, the Ark of the Covenant was supposed to be covered in a cloth of tekhelet

The Talmud demands that tekhelet be used for crafting the fringes of prayer shawls and it stipulates that counterfeit dyes must not be (knowingly) used.  This has left devout Jews with a conundrum as to how to proceed.  Since the Roman exile, Orthodox Jews have most commonly setteld plain white tzitzit, however there have also been several attempts to rediscover the mysterious chilazon and recreate tekhelet.   In the late nineteenth century the Grand Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner researched the subject and proclaimed that the common cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, was the missing mollusk.  The dye he created, however, did not seem to fit Talmudic descriptions and chemists later determined it was simply Prussian blue (although the holy man proudly wore his blue fringes, as did many of his followers).

Common cuttlefish - Sepia officinalis (photo by David Nicholson)

Common cuttlefish – Sepia officinalis (photo by David Nicholson)

Hexaplex trunculus

Hexaplex trunculus

Another Talmudic scholar cross referenced his ancient religious text with modern malacology texts and concluded that the chilazon was actually Hexaplex trunculus, a murex snail which is a close relative of  Murex brandaris (the source of Tyrian purple).   The dye which he created from the secretions of Hexaplex trunculus was also purple and thus did not seem to fit the bill.  Only with the help of a chemist in the 1980s was it determined that the proper blue color could be obtained by exposing a solution of the snail slime dye to sunlight.  So if you are an orthodox Jew (or a high priest of the Temple) you might want to look into getting some tekhelet clothing.

Actual Tekhelet dyed wool (probably...)

Actual Tekhelet dyed wool (probably…)



To celebrate the winter solstice, Ferrebeekeeper presented a gallery of winter monarchs—icy kings, queens, and princesses who symbolically represent the frozen majesty of winter.  However European history contains a real “winter king” Frederick V (1596 – 1632), a Calvinist intellectual and mystic who was famous for building the Hortus Palatinus, one of the most renowned of Baroque gardens.  Frederick V was not called “the winter king” because he personified the savage nature of winter.  He received the nickname from enemies who derisively predicted that he would only be king of Bohemia for a single winter–and his enemies were entirely right.  The short life of Frederick V was a series of missteps, blunders, catastrophes, and regrets.  Today he is principally remembered for starting the Thirty Years War—Europe’s most destructive conflict until the age of Napoleon (or maybe until World War I).

Portrait of Frederick (Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, 1613)

Frederick V was born as heir to the Electoral Palatinate, a powerful feudal territory whose lord was one of the hereditary electors responsible for choosing the Holy Roman Emperor.  His father, Count Palatinate Frederick IV, died young from “extravagant living” (Frederick IV was an alcoholic who left control of his lands to a regent while he sat in the palace and drank).  Thus, when Frederick V was 14 he became one of Germany’s most powerful lords—although shadows were already gathering around him.  The Golden Bull of 1356 which determined important constitutional aspects of the Holy Roman Empire stipulated that “Frederick’s closest male relative would serve as his guardian and as regent of Electoral Palatinate until Frederick reached the age of majority.”  The tangled ancestry of German nobility is evident in Frederick’s crest–so chaotically garish that it would even make Nascar proud—but it was determined that (Catholic) Count Palatine of Neuburg was his closest relative.  Frederick V’s family was traditionally Calvinist and so this solution was not acceptable.  The ensuing dispute eventually resulted in an early majority for young Ferdinand V (who became his own master at the age of 17) but it ensured a toxic legacy among the religiously divided Electors.

The Coat of Arms of Frederick V of the Palatinate...Good grief...

Frederick V also was married at the age of 16 to Elizabeth Stuart (daughter of James I) at the royal chapel at the Palace of Whitehall. In 1614, when he was 18,  Frederick attended a meeting of the Protestant Union (a group of powerful German Lords who championed the Protestant cause).  During the meeting, Frederick became ill with a fever.  Although he had displayed some initial promise as a ruler, after the illness Frederick’s character changed.  He became depressed and listless and left many critical decisions to his chancellor, Christian I, Prince of Anhalt-Bernburg (the same minister who had ruled on behalf of Frederick IV).  It was against such a background that the crown of Bohemia was thrust upon him.

Frederick V wearing the Crown of St. Wenceslas (Gerard van Honthorst, 1634, oil on canvas)

Bohemia was an elective monarchy which chose its own king, but, despite this high title, said king answered to the Holy Roman Emperor.  In fact since 1555 the Holy Roman Emperor had always also been the King of Bohemia, but thanks to religious controversy and schism sweeping Europe, Bohemia’s Protestant electors were in no mood to elect and affirm the Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II.  Frederick V, callow, melancholic, and sick, was elected as king of Bohemia in 1619 amidst the turmoil of the Bohemian revolt.  Frederick was crowned with the (magical cursed) Crown of Saint Wenceslas in St. Vitus Cathedral on 4 November 1619. At the time Bohemia was not exactly a proper kingdom (having been held for so long by the Holy Roman Emperor) and Frederick V soon found he had only very limited ability to raise funds.  This became important when Emperor Ferdinand II decided to take the field to contest Bohemia.  The Emperor’s army was ably led by Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, who seized Frederick V’s ancestral lands in the Central Palatinate before marching on Prague.  On 8 November 1620, Frederick V’s army was destroyed in the Battle of White Mountain.  Bohemia was lost, its people were cruelly ground beneath the popish & authoritarian foot of Ferdinand II, and Frederick V was forced into exile–first to Silesia and ultimately to the Hague in Holland.

The Battle of White Mountain (Peter Snayers, 1620)

Since he maintained the pageantry and splendor of a royal court while in the Hague, Frederick V quickly lavished away the huge sums of money which foreign potentates had granted him to pursue his cause.  He was unlucky too. On a trip to view the captured Spanish treasure fleet,  his boat capsized, which caused his eldest son, Frederick Henry of the Palatinate to drown (which also drowned hopes for a marriage between Frederick Henry and a Spanish princess).  Frederick V alienated and refused Gustavus Adolphus, the one sovereign who could have regained his throne and lands for him (although Gustavus would also have demanded that Frederick V become a subject).  Frederick died in1632, of a “pestilential fever”. His internal organs were buried in Oppenheim, but his preserved body was slated for final burial elsewhere.  Unfortunately, while in transit Frederick V’s dead body somehow got caught up in the Spanish assault on Frankenthal and vanished.  His final resting place is unknown (although we do know where his internal organs are interred).

Frederick V's daughter Sophia, dressed as an Indian (Painted by her sister, Louise Hollandine of the Palatinate around 1644)

Frederick’s life was ruined by reaching for a crown which should never have been his (and which, at the time, actually conferred little royal dignity or authority anyway). Yet this troubling legacy of ruination resulted in an end he would probably never have foreseen.  Frederick V had married the daughter of James I of England.  England had its own religious sectarian problems which were ended by Parliament when it signed the Act of Settlement in 1701.  The document settled the English secession for once and all on an obscure Protestant heir—Frederick’s  youngest daughter Sophia, Electress of Hanover.  Sophia, a patroness of art, philosophy, music, and culture, died in 1714, just before Queen Anne of England passed away, but her son George inherited the crown that would have been hers.  All subsequent monarchs of Great Britain were (and are) direct descendants of the unlucky Winter King.

Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

December 2022