Royals need friends, too. Sometimes, they choose soothsayers, sorcerors, or the like to advise them (or to do their dirty work). More often than not, the results aren't good for those who live under the rule. Royal henchmen also often have their own agenda, which doesn't always bode well for others. However, not all royal advisors were villainous. Some, such as court magicians, clairvoyants, or self-proclaimed wizards, were simply strange people who spun alluring tales of their ability to predict the future and cure all manner of maladies.
From the famed Rasputin to the lesser-known Charles-Henri Sanson, the following are notorious henchman and performers of wizardry who got blood on their hands so the royals didn't have to, cast a dark influence over entire nations, or got up to some generally bizarre stuff on the backs of their inflated sense of self-importance.
Comte de Saint-Germain used his gift of storytelling and ostentatious dress to enter the Royal Court in France as King Louis XV's closest confidante. His excessive charms included his wit, intelligence, ability to play multiple musical instruments, knowledge of science and philosophy (Danish Prince Charles of Hesse-Kassel called him "one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived"), and fluency in French, Spanish, English, Italian, and Portuguese.
Saint-Germain's musical abilities were such that some consider him an opponent (perhaps "competitor" is a better word) of the great Handel; he was described by English writer and gentleman Horace Walpole thus: "He sings, plays on the violin wonderfully, composes, is mad, and not very sensible."
Eventually, Saint-Germain was driven out of France. Other royal advisors became jealous of the king sending him on diplomatic missions behind their backs, and so they conspired against him. Ever resourceful, Saint-Germain landed in Russia, where he is said to have played a part in installing Catherine the Great on the throne in 1762. As he moved from court to court across Europe, Saint-Germain adopted numerous pseudonyms, including Marquis de Montferrat, Comte Bellamarre, Chevalier Schoening, Count Weldon, Comte Soltikoff, Graf Tzarogy, and Prinz Ragoczy.
Saint-Germain was a larger-than-life figure; he is said to have been an alchemist who made gold and jewels at will, and the possessor of the elixir of life. In fact, Theosophists claim he is still alive. He is rumored to have passed in a German prince's court in 1784, but records of him at Freemason meetings exist beyond that date. When he was alive, he claimed to be 500 years old, and records of his origins were intentionally obscured.
Saint-Germain is purported to have warned King Louis XIV of the coming French Revolution. That would have been some royally good soothsaying, had the king heeded the warning.
Grand Inquisitor of Spain Tomás de Torquemada was a friar employed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to eliminate thousands of heretics. As Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada expanded the list of offenses under his purview, adding sorcery, sodomy, polygamy, blasphemy, and usury to heresy and apostasy, and authorized the use of systematic harm to obtain evidence. Inquisitors under Torquemada's control used awful devices like the rack.
Torquemada was a virulent anti-Semite, and convinced Ferdinand and Isabella to send all 40,000 or so Jews in Spain packing. He didn't like Muslims, either, and was suspicious of Jews and Muslims who converted to Catholicism. Such converts, of whom tens of thousands lived in Spain, were routinely hauled before the Inquisition. Ironically, Torquemada was from a family of Jews who converted to Catholicism.
France's royal executioner of the mid-1700s, Charles-Henri Sanson, terminated thousands on the order of King Louis XIV. Following the French Revolution, he remained loyal to his craft, not his boss as he worked the guillotine when it was Louis's turn. Charles-Henri did not, however, execute Marie Antoinette. His son Henri did, and their business boomed during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror.
Execution was a family affair for the Sansons, and Charles-Henri was the fourth-of-six generations in the industry. Over his 40 years on the job, Sanson executed an estimated 3,000 people. His nickname, Gentleman of Paris, was a tongue-in-cheek assessment of his prolific workload. The advent of the guillotine allowed more efficient severing of heads, and Sanson was a beneficiary of this new technology.
As it turns out, Sanson didn't actually like killing people. However, the profession and those within it were so reviled by society, they were born outcasts, with no hope of integrating or changing careers.
- Photo: illustrators of the 1728 Figures de la Bible, Gerard Hoet (1648–1733) and others, published by P. de Hondt in The Hague in 1728 / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Jannes And Jambres
As the Bible tells the story, the Pharaoh of Egypt was not impressed when Moses threw a staff to the floor and transmogrified it into a snake. He called upon Egyptian magicians to oppose Moses and his brother, Aaron.
These magicians, Jannes and Jambres, who may have been sacred scribes (their job title varies depending upon the translation of the Hebrew word "charTummim"), only appear briefly in the Bible, in Exodus 7:11,22: "Then Pharaoh also called for the wise men and the sorcerers: and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did in like manner with their enchantments."
So they matched Moses and Aaron with their magic. Jannes also appears in the writings of Pliny the Elder, a Roman philosopher, and Apuleius, a Roman writer, who described him, along with Moses, as a great magician of antiquity. According to some sources, they protected Egypt from the plagues wrought by Moses, though the Bible obviously tells a different story. Jewish narratives told outside the Torah, meanwhile, say Jannes and Jambres left Egypt in the Jewish exodus, became friends with Moses and Aaron, and convinced the latter to create the golden calf.