After digesting my stripped-down version of modern history, Princess Arva decided to share some of the history she knew 's stuff she had intimate knowledge of. It made for riveting narrative while we cruised through southern Lithuania, and I must admit it greatly affected my impression of her.
"Despite having been routed in 1410, the Teutonic knights lost not a drop of their brazen arrogance. They continued proselytizing and crusading and Christianizing the Baltic tribes as if they had been last to walk off the bloody fields of Grunwald," she said. "Spiritually, the vanquished became victors."
"Probably because Algirdas and Jogaila allowed them to," I said.
Surprisingly, Arva met my interjection with utter calm. "Indeed it is so. Which is why many nobles were willing to undertake drastic measures to protect the Baltics' traditional beliefs 's a noble cause, through and through. We were a peace-loving race; we bothered no one." She shrugged. "Okay, so our men were known to kidnap Polish women, but what's so bad about stealing some Slavic women now and then?"
I laughed aloud. "I take it you don't know anything about political correctness," I said.
"Political correctnessâ€¦. sounds like an oxymoron," she said. (Believe me, I don't know how to say "oxymoron" in Baltic pidgin, the language of our discourse, but I believe this is what she meant.)
The princess paused. There was a look of concentration on her face as she gazed out the side window of the car. "None of us took issue with Jogaila for converting to Christianity. It was a matter of political expediency 's he had to do what he had to do to prevent the Balts from being massacred, be it at the hands of the Orthodox Slavs or the Catholic knights. The same with Algirdas 's the way he cuddled up to the Teutons was abhorrent 's but his exemplary bravery at Grunwald was enough to cleanse the stain on his reputation.
"No, it was what happened in subsequent years that angered traditionalists such as myself. Instead of permitting us to revive our ancient customs, Jogaila and Algirdas went about baptizing the entire region 's one tribe at a time. Prussia, Galindia, Samogitia, Curoniaâ€¦ We tolerated it for a time, and then they allowed the creation of a bishopric in Kaunas in 1417. That showed they were serious. And for us was the call to resistance. It was exactly 30 years after Jogaila's baptism 's and more importantly 's it was created by order of the Council of Constance."
"Remind me of that one."
"The Council of Constance was called by Emperor Zigismund in order to resolve the conflict between three standing popes! Can you imagine it? They ridiculed us Balts for polytheism, yet they have three popes! Anyway, the point is that the Catholics were vulnerable during those first post-Grunwald years. They were crippled by internal fighting, the Knights of the Cross were on their knees, and the faithful were having serious doubts about the church hierarchy's potential to lead. It was the perfect time to cure all Baltic lands of the disease of Christianity."
"Maybe Jogaila's conscience wouldn't allow him to do it?"
"Jogaila 's conscience? Surely you jest!" Princess Arva sighed, then plowed on. "At the time they said Jogaila, who lived in Krakow, missed his native Lithuania and dreamed of returning to its virgin birch forests, but the way he went shopping around Poland for a new spouse after his second wife died in 1416, I don't know. Poland needed the Balts more than vice versa, but judging by Jogaila's behavior you could tell he was a secret Slavophile."
"Guy ended up having four wives," I said.
"Yes, and he was 52 years older than his fourth, a 17-year-old Orthodox tart from Kiev," the princess added. "To boot, she was a whore. Their sons 's Wladyslaw and Casimir 's were not of his blood."
Now that was a revelation! But, to my chagrin, I found the word as intriguing as the tale. "Did you know that in English 'whore' comes from the Indo-European root *kuer-, which means to sell, as is verkaufen."
"So now you speak two languages of the crusader! You must be proud, tenured professor."
I grinned. "So where did you come into all this?"
"As I told you before, American crusader, I was part of a diplomatic effort to unite all the Baltic tribes and force Jogaila's hand: either Perkunas, or Christ."
"But he was in Krakow all those years."
"But he frequently returned to Lithuania for summer hunting trips."
I froze. "And so you were going toâ€¦"
"Yes, we were going to kill the old geezer."