How to offend the sovereign

The Roman dictator Sulla began the countdown by promulgating the “Law on Insulting Greatness” (c. 80 BC). At first, the Forum was filled with signs with the names of his personal enemies, then the street pillars filled with proscriptions - lists of citizens who allegedly damaged the dignity of Sulla (Latin proscribere - to announce, to make public in writing). Scribed were outlawed.

Those sentenced to death were given a public flogging, then they cut off their heads and exhibited at the oratorical stands. In this dark period of history, a famous Latin aphorism arose: "Let them hate, if only they were afraid." According to Plutarch, even before his death, Sulla ordered to strangle the petty official Granius, who spoke ill of him badly.

Cicero also turned out to be among those scored after his performance against Mark Antony. According to legend, the severed head of the glorified speaker was put on public display - and Fulvia, the wife of Anthony, looked at the dead eyes with hatred for a while, then put her head on her knees, pulled her tongue out of her mouth and pierced a golden hairpin from her hair.

Pavel Svedomsky "Fulvia with the head of Cicero", con. XIX century. Source: ru.

According to the law on insulting the greatness of the Roman people (Latin lex majestatis), which operated during the republic, greatness is possessed by the gods first, then the civil community and the senate. Senior officials are not subject to jurisdiction while in office, not by themselves, but precisely because of the majestas of state institutions. Everything changed in 8 BC. er .: Augustus added to the law on state crimes insult princeps and his family.
Then, under Tiberius, any action or statement disliking the emperor, as well as not expressing due respect to him and his guardian genius, was considered an insult to greatness. With such a broad interpretation, insult was even the loss of a sword soldier - as the dishonor of the imperial genius, who took the military oath. A new wave of political repression and false denunciations began.

The pursuit of insulting greatness under Tiberius reached the grotesque. Punishing a slave or dressing up in front of a statue of the emperor, finding a coin with an imperial profile in the wrong place, mentioning the emperor without praise — these and similar cases became the subject of investigation under torture. Memorable historical case: Proconsul Marcellus was accused of insulting greatness for replacing the head on the statue of Augustus with the head of Tiberius. Line Tiberius continued Nero in the second half of his reign. As the same Suetonius wrote, “he already executed without measure and analysis anyone and for anything,” scribing even those who did not applaud him for playing music at feasts.

In the Middle Ages, despite the continuation of the law throughout Europe, wandering vagant poets composed texts that defamed the Pope, and the common people quietly lit a fire of rulers. Relatively loyal to the satire on power were perhaps the British, but the French and the Germans severely pursued the offenders. So, Louis XIV terribly irritated cartoons of his person. Meanwhile, caricaturists enthusiastically parodied him until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

William Thackeray, “What is King doing?”, A caricature of Louis XIV from the Paris Sketchbook magazine, 1840. Source: commons.

The attention of the French zealots of royal honor shifted from writers to draftsmen. By decree of Philip of Orleans in 1722, a special caricature tribunal was formed. However, the offenders did not let up and even created canons of obscene images of royal persons. Louis XVI was taken out with a fat hog with a human head, Marie Antoinette - a shameful whore.

Honore Daumier. Caricature of King Louis-Philippe, 1832. King as Rabelaisian Gargantua, devouring the wealth of France. Source:

The British king George III, suffering from a serious illness - porphyria, did not enjoy authority among his subjects - and while the court painter Francis Cots wrote the formal portraits of the king, cartoonists James Gilray, Thomas Rowlandson, Richard Newton portrayed him in a comically insignificant form. The famous caricature of Richard Newton depicts John Boole (the humorous personification of a typical Englishman) releasing intestinal gases to the portrait of King George III and the outraged Prime Minister William Pete with a shout: “This is treason !!!”

Richard Newton "Treason", 1798. Source: en.

Napoleon Bonaparte was so enraged by his caricatures by the British that in the course of the peace negotiations with Great Britain he demanded to equate caricaturists with counterfeiters and even murderers.

Thomas Rowlandson "The Jokers of Paris, or the Fall of Napoleon the Great", 1814. Source:

European caricaturists preferred to depict Russian kings as bears. Even Catherine II was represented in this image: on one caricature the bear-king was surrounded and hunted by hunters from all sides, and Prince Potyomkin, who was bear-headed Catherine with the bear head, was attacked by the British Legion on the other. This pictorial cliché passed into the following centuries: the Americans painted Stalin's bear, the Dutch Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the Germans Gorbachev, the Swedes Yeltsin, the British Putin and Medvedev.

William Holland, The Russian Bear and His Invincible Rider, 1791. Source:

During the Anglo-Boer War, a caricature appeared in a French satirical magazine with a picture of a female naked ass who vividly resembled the British king Edward VII. Out of harmless, the scandalous number was withdrawn from sale, the buttocks face was covered with a painted skirt. Bismarck also appeared in the ruthless pencil of Jean Weber in the guise of a butcher, a fresh compatriot, and Queen Victoria, drawn to hell by devils.

Jean Weber, "Shameless Albion", 1901. Source: commons.

The Germans competed with the French in guarding the highest honor: in the first seven years of the reign of William II, 4,965 convictions were issued for insulting greatness. Newspaper writers wrote that the persecution of those who did not approve of the monarch’s actions would result in the transformation of the barracks into prisons, otherwise they would not be able to accommodate all those arrested Beginning in 1904, the Kaiser’s position gradually softened, and in 1906 he decided to pardon all those convicted of violating this law. In the history of insulting greatness, a temporary ellipsis was set.

In Russia, the insult of greatness was legalized much later than all over Europe: in the Council Code of 1649, the decree "about the sovereign's honor" first appeared. Other insults belonged to private and affecting personal, especially noble honor. However, in a situation of unlimited autocracy, insulting greatness was interpreted here almost as in ancient Rome - comprehensively and ruthlessly.

By establishing Peter I, insults of the tsarist person were punished with whip, tearing out nostrils, deprivation of all rights of the state, Siberian exile and, finally, the death penalty. At the same time, any “unfriendly speeches” about power were considered insulting to the sovereign’s honor, “for His Majesty is an autocratic monarch who should not give an answer to anyone in the world about his affairs”.

Adolph Charlemagne "Peter I covers the conspirators in the house of Zikler on February 23, 1697", 1884. Source:

What kind of "stinky" and "evil" words could be heard about the king? Here are some real statements of people of different classes about Peter I. “He left the Christian faith and wears a German dress, shaves his beard, and there is no romance in it” (archimandrite). "Let the sovereign die, and the queen I will take for myself" (monk). “Whoever started beards to shave, cut off his head” (peasant). “The king is not royal blood and not our Russian kind, but German” (soldier’s wife).

Insult of greatness was also considered disrespectful treatment of images of the monarch. In the 18th century, there was a ban on the sale of parsun (painting portraits), on which the highest person was a little like the original. For the unsophisticatedly executed parsuna masters threw under the whip. Singing Andrei Savelyev in 1720 paid for waving a cane, pointing to the royal portrait. Saveliev vainly justified himself, as if he only wanted to drive the flies away from the image of His Majesty.

Even the “non-drinking for health” of the royal person was punished as an disrespectful attitude and harm to her health. It was necessary to drink to the very bottom, otherwise it was easy to fall victim to a denunciation - as it happened in 1720 with the kisses of Dementyev. Kissman allegedly "did not like the sovereign, because he did not drink for his health."

The monarch even insulted the scribes when deducing the king's name or title. Particularly dangerous was the omission of the first syllable in the words “sovereign” and “sovereign”, spellingly diminishing the authoritative status. “Trimmers” (scraping blots) were also considered a state crime - a touch of an unholy hand on a sacred royal title. All excuses and explanations of the scribes were called "twists", were not taken into account by the investigation and were not considered extenuating circumstances.

The clerk Ivan Kirillov was very unlucky: when rewriting the decree on commemoration of the reposed princess Praskovya, sisters of the empress Anna Ioannovna, the unfortunate copyist confused the names and “majesty” with “highness”. It turned out that the well-being empress "from this temporary life, by the will of God, was settled in eternal rest." Dyachka lifted for life in Siberia. And probably the most ridiculous slip of the word was made by Simon Sorokin: in the document he beautifully deduced the signature - “Perth First”. For this he was punished with whips.

A separate article insults greatness - inappropriate and bawdy songs. So, Catherine II didn’t like the popular song about the abandoned empress wife: “My hearty friend is walking in a green garden, in a semi-saddle ... with her favorite maid of honor, with Lizaveta Vorontsova ...” Almost all the texts coincided with suspicious names like: “My midnight little animal, // Little animal has moved into the garden // // To go to Katyusha ...”

Charges of insulting greatness often served as a means of revenge or a means of career growth on the basis of a false denunciation. In 1732, Hierodeacon Samuil Lomikovsky invented an ingenious method of vengeance on his enemy, hieromonk Laurentius Petrov: he came to the courtyard of the Transfiguration Monastery in Maksakovsky, shaking in an angry way with “cards, orange human pus, on which the surname and title of imperial patterns had come out and I’m of the way of the way of the manners and I’m of the rest of the way of the way of the way of the way of the way of the way of the way of the way of the way of the way of the way of life and the way of them. Petrov. But the sophisticated idea shamefully failed: Lomikovsky could not prove the belonging of the feces to Petrov and went forever to Siberia to work on silver mills.

The Russian autocrats treated insults at them differently. Catherine II tried to track blasphemous remarks, although she declaratively insisted on lighter punishments of offenders than state traitors. Pavel I began his rule by freeing most of those convicted for insulting greatness, but he did not take down his own offenses so easily. There is a known case of a reference to hard labor with a preliminary flogging and tearing out the nostrils of a non-commissioned officer for a caustic caricature of the emperor, found on the doors of the church.

Isaac Krukshank “The Taming of a Mad Bear”, 1801. Source: historian. rf

Compatriots contemptuously called Paul I a "peasant king" and composed abusive epigrams on him: "You are not a crowner in Petrova glorious city, But the barbarian and corporal on paratrooper." And the epitaphs: “Does the dog lie here, that it stinks like a stinker? Not! This is Paul the First. ” Europeans came up with the nickname “Russian Hamlet”, and caricaturists drew him with an egg-headed monster, a crazy giant on the way to Bedlam, or a chained bear.

Alexander I treated the vilification much easier - the cases of insulting him were especially marked by a concise Supreme Resolution: “Forgive”. An exception was made only for the peasant Michkov, who dared to blaspheme, and not only the sovereign, but also the Lord. The resolution in fact Michkova said: "To be according to this, only as a punishment for blasphemous words, forgiving him completely in the words spoken to my account."

Alexander III was not touchy, which follows from a memorable historical anecdote. Having got drunk drunk, a certain peasant began to brawl, they tried to bring him to his senses, pointing to the imperial portrait hanging in the tavern. “And I spat on your sovereign, the emperor!” - in the heat of the moment cried out the buster and really spat on the portrait, for which he received half a year in prison. The king got acquainted with the case and exclaimed with laughter: “He didn’t give a damn about my portrait, and I’ll feed him for six months for this ?!” He laughed a lot and wrote: “I don’t hang my portraits in taverns and send the offender I did not care about him either. ”

Honore Daumier "Nicholas I studies a caricature of himself," 1847. Source: monarchism. info

In another version of this story, the soldier Oreshkin appears. With him, as a military demand, he allegedly was stricter: declaring the emperor's will in front of the regiment's formation and ecclesiastical repentance in front of the image of St. Nicholas with the promise of no longer drinking. It is curious that a similar story was told even earlier about Emperor Nicholas I, it was only there that the soldier Agafon Suleikin appeared and with his audacious words were: “As for me the portrait, I am the portrait myself!”

Despite the general tendency to mitigate the views of ruling persons on insulting their honor, the prosecution for this crime remained the main task of Russian political intelligence until the beginning of the XX century. It was possible to get 8 years of hard labor not only for direct verbal insults of the king, but also for public grimaces and obscene gestures directed at him, as well as the disrespectful mention of the late monarchs. Up until the October Revolution, many investigative cases were initiated under this article.

Having destroyed most of the pre-revolutionary practices, the USSR retained a criminal article for insulting the supreme power, only now it was called “anti-Soviet”, and its distributors — for the most part, victims of denunciations — received the stigma of “enemies of the people”.

It is noteworthy that in modern Russian legislation, insulting a private person was decriminalized by the amendment of 2011, while the article “Insulting a representative of the government” still remains in the Criminal Code.

Main sources:

Veretennikov V.I. The History of the Secret Chancellery of Peter the Great's Time. M .: Librokom, 2013.
Kurukin I.V., Nikulina E.A. Daily life of secret office. M .: Young Guard, 2008.
Suetonius. Lords of Rome. M .: Ladomir, 1999.
A. Schegolev. The Law on Insulting Greatness in the Political System of Ancient Rome: Dis. ... cand. the story sciences. M., 2000.

Cover photo: Jean Weber, Shameless Albion, 1901.
Source: commons.

Photo lead: Sylvester David Miris "Proscriptions of Sulla", approx. 1799.

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