Friday, November 13, 2015

History is Stranger than Fiction: the Dwarf Wedding

If you have heard of Tsar Peter the Great, it's probably as a reformer who tried to bring western science, technology, and bureaucracy to Russia. But he was also a very strange man who did some peculiar things. Consider, for example, what he did after his niece Anna Ivanovna married the Duke of Courland in a very grand ceremony:
Two days after the couple’s marriage, Anna’s uncle, Czar Peter the Great, staged a wedding of two dwarfs as a companion celebration to Anna’s. It was an incredibly elaborate affair. According to Lindsey Hughes in Peter the Great: A Biography:

At the feast … the dwarfs sat at miniature tables in the centre of the room, while full-sized guests watched them from tables at the sides. They roared with laughter as dwarfs, especially the older, uglier ones whose hunchbacks, huge bellies and short crooked legs made it difficult for them to dance, fell down drunk or engaged in brawls. 
This parody of Anna’s wedding was partly a satire on her notorious ugliness and bad manners. But according to Hughes it was also a satire of the whole court:
Like all Peter’s mock spectacles, the dwarf wedding also operated on a more symbolic level. Its juxtaposition with the wedding of Anna and the duke and its imitation of certain elements suggested that the full-sized guests were watching caricatures of themselves, miniature ‘lords and ladies’ clad, like them, in unfamiliar Western dress.
I have to say that I feel cheated because the biography I read of Peter the Great made no mention of this. Some historians have no idea what is really important.

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