Aug 1 • 15M

You're Better Than An Elector-Archbishop

Newsletter 2022-08-01

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Family comedy one disaster at a time.
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It’s said that the key to unhappiness is to compare yourself to other people. That is, at best, a half truth. Comparing yourself to other people will only make you miserable if those people are better than you. If you compare yourself to someone worse, however, you’ll feel great. This is especially true if those people are dead so they can’t defend themselves or sue you for defamation. Good luck collecting damages in ghost court. With that in mind, I’d like to make your day by telling you about the worst dead rich guy I know. Okay, so I never actually met him, but I visited his house and read exactly one article about him, so I feel like we’re BFFs. Get ready to feel superior without doing anything else to better yourself. Warning: Dangerous levels of smugness ahead.

As you of course know, Clemens August of Bavaria was Archbishop of Cologne and the second-most powerful elector of the Holy Roman Empire in the Eighteenth Century. Wait, you didn’t know that? Weird, because that dude literally spent a fortune so you would know his name. I guess it sort of worked since he died 261 years ago and I’m still talking about him. Then again, I didn’t remember his name after touring his palace and had to Google him. Yes, he’s important enough to have his own Wikipedia page, but then again, I also have one and I’ve never been the second most powerful elector of anything. I have way more Twitter followers than he ever did, though. That’s why I’m better than him. Here’s why you’re better than him, too.

The Holy Roman Empire wasn’t Holy, Roman, or an Empire. That was a favorite joke of basically every tour guide I had in Germany. It was actually a loose alliance of German kingdoms overseen by one guy chosen by a group of seven electors. To everyone who complains about the Electoral College in the United States, there is a worse system, but only one, and it was from back before people invented toilet paper. That was a joke, but I just Googled it, and it’s actually true. Commercially manufactured toilet paper was invented in 1857. Before that people wiped their butts with anything that was available, including rocks, corn cobs, and pages from books, which explains why everyone was so excited about the invention of the printing press. I’m an author in the wrong era. Back then, sales of my books would have skyrocketed.

Anyway, Clemens August and his older brother Albert were two of the seven electors who picked the next emperor. Since they started out controlling 28.57 percent of the votes just by being born, it wasn’t hard for them to swing the election in their favor. Albert became Holy Roman Emperor Charles VII. It made sense to give the job to him because the oldest sibling is always the smartest, funniest, and best looking in the entire family. This insult is wasted on my younger brothers and sisters since none of them read this newsletter. Clemens got to be the archbishop of Cologne as a consolation prize. The message was literally, “Sorry you’re a loser, bro. Thoughts and prayers.” Unfortunately, the archbishop never did much thinking or praying.

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The only thing of any political significance Clemens did in his entire life was vote for his brother to be emperor, and then his brother died three years later. Those are rookie numbers. I suspect many of you have voted for presidents who served for four or eight years. That’s one point for everyone who isn’t Clemens. So why am I still talking about this guy two and half centuries later? He wasn’t even the most important man in his own family. Well, he built a big house. Full stop. That is the beginning and end of his list of lasting accomplishments. That dripping sound you hear is rich people literally drooling over the thought of how they can establish their legacy. The line between a regular McMansion and a palace that will one day be a tourist trap is twelve thousand square feet. Oh, and you have to hire someone to carve a few gaudy statues.

Clemens August’s house has a name, which is the first sign he went overboard. It was called, not so creatively, Augustusburg Palace. Among the German kingdoms, the key to power was being rich, and the key to proving you were rich was spending your money until you were poor. Augustusburg Palace was Clemens’ brilliant scheme toward that end. You wouldn’t think that the whole clergy thing would be a path to wealth, but being a bishop used to be a much better gig than it is today, especially if you were in the family that could rig elections to pick the emperor. Clemens showed he was powerful by spending literally all of his money on the biggest and stupidest house anyone could imagine. Then, in a true flex, he only stayed there three weeks a year. The rest of the time, he was at his other, lesser houses, including a hunting lodge that was really more of a mini palace built just a mile from his main one. It was an important backup in case he got tired when he was out for a walk. I guess he never thought to just Uber home.

This is the palace from way too far away. Apparently it was a royal residence built for ants.

And here’s the palace from way too close. It was not a great photography day for me.

Furniture was more expensive than home construction back then. Rather than buying new pieces for all of his various houses, it was cheaper for Clemens to hire a thousand horses to carry all of his couches and chairs from one residence to another. That number seems excessive, but I get it. Stuff has a way of accumulating to fill whatever space you’re in. My first post-college apartment was nine-hundred square feet. I filled it with all my earthly possessions, which barely took two minivans to move, and it was still mostly empty space. When we moved out less than a year later, we needed a seventeen-foot U-Haul. I’m not blaming Lola, whose arrival weirdly coincided with the purchase of nearly everything we own. All I’m saying is, if she had acquired even one more throw pillow, we would have had to have hired those thousand horses, too.

Shockingly, Clemens went super into debt paying for a bunch of houses he mostly didn’t live in and then moving all his furniture between them. He didn’t want to leave his successor with a negative balance, though, so his will stipulated that when he died, all his furniture was to be sold. The next guy inherited a giant empty building he also couldn’t afford to furnish. That’s why today, when you tour Augustusburg Palace, it’s just a bunch of empty rooms. Imagine touring a giant warehouse with some unnecessary flourishes on the walls and you’ll get the general vibe. Once the palace became a protected cultural site, historians were only able to recover one piece of Clemens’ original furniture, presumably from a pawn shop in a shady part of town. Although the desk originally belonged to Clemens, he never actually used it because, according to all historical records, he didn’t work a day in his life. That’s actually a point in his favor. If you’re going to be useless, own it. Spare me the fake charity work.

The purpose of this article is to make you feel better about yourself, but so far, I haven’t done a very good job of that. You might be saying to yourself, “I don’t own even one palace, empty or not. How am I better than this guy?” Let me break it down for you. Here are all the ways you are better than one of the seven richest and most powerful people in the Holy Roman Empire. And just to show this isn’t some subjective list, I made up an entirely arbitrary point system so you can prove with made up numbers that you really are the very best.

Garage Space

Augustusburg Palace had zero garages for cars. If you have even a one car garage, you are better than the elector-archbishop. Give yourself a point. If you have a two-car garage, you are better than the holy Roman emperor. That’s two points. And if you have a three-car garage, you deserve to be the eternal god-king of all Germany. Wield your power wisely—or not. Just give me a heads up to steer clear if you’re about to start your reign of terror. That’s three points. The palace did, however, have a carport, which they called a carriage port since they lacked imagination back then.

Hallways

Augustusburg didn’t have them. It wasn’t just cars that were beyond the realm of their understanding. If you don’t have to walk through all of your rooms to get to all of your other rooms, give yourself a point.

Air Conditioning

Clemens only stayed at his summer palace for three weeks a year because it was unbearably hot. Instead of building a low, well ventilated building on a breezy knoll, he built a massive palace on a sun-baked field and then slept on the third story of it. This was an especially bad choice since the archbishop mainly used his many residences to have secret affairs. Do you know what’s super unsexy? Heat stroke. Keep in mind that back then no one brushed their teeth and toilet paper hadn’t been invented yet. Really, nobody should have been having sex with anyone at any temperature.

Weirdly, Germany learned nothing from the folly of Augustusburg. Today, most of the country still doesn’t have air conditioning. If it’s warm, they sweat, and if it’s hot, they die. Their vaunted German engineering really let them down on this one. I guess they used up all their expertise on BMWs and Tiger tanks. If your home has any kind of temperature control, give yourself a point.

Fashion

I realize that style is subjective, but also, it’s sort of not. Terrible is timeless. Clemens sold all his furniture when he died, but all his fancy painted portraits stayed in the palace. Nobody wants somebody else’s family photos. Based on those pictures, we know how he and his buddies dressed. It was, shall we say, not great. Times were especially hard for women. They wore corsets so tight that their internal organs moved around. If your organs are where they’re supposed to be, give yourself a point.

Domes

Despite hiring Europe’s top artists and amassing more marble than the Vatican, Clemens somehow couldn’t afford real domes. His rooms all have square corners, but he painted the tops of some of them to create the optical illusion that they were curved. I also don’t have dome money, so this one is a draw for me. If you do have a dome, give yourself a point. I suspect the only person who will win this category is Jerry Jones.

Building a staircase like this seems like a brilliant idea until you remember someone has to dust it.

Dining Room

Augustusburg Palace has a massive dining room that could seat fifty. Exactly one person ate there. Everyone else sat in an upstairs balcony that wrapped around the entire room. The greatest honor of the time was to be invited to dinner with the archbishop-elector. But you didn’t actually eat with him. You sat on the balcony and watched him eat. That seems like the opposite of luxury. I would pay money to not be forced to watch people eat, and I’d pay double that to have them not watch me. Both seems like forms of torture. Then again, people back then didn’t have as many entertainment options as we do now. If you’ve ever watched TV, give yourself one point. Deduct that point if you watch Food Network.

Bathrooms

Augustusburg was built with a million square feet and zero bathrooms. If your house has even one flushing toilet, give yourself a point. Clemens’ hunting lodge, on the other hand, did have “bathrooms,” if you want to call them that. They were really just tiny closets that contained a wooden chair with a hole in the seat. I assume the pot they put below it was super ornate, but it has, thankfully, been lost to time. Worse, there was a cushion around the hole. It was a padded leather doughnut. Imagine sitting on that right after somebody else used it. I would burn the entire house down. You know what? Just give yourself a million points. Clemens’ life was the worst.

So what do the point totals mean? If you got zero points, you are Clemens August. Technically, I gave him a point earlier, but I’m deducting it now for taking this quiz after he was already dead. That’s definitely a party foul. If you have one to infinity points, you are better than an elector-archbishop! In your worst moments, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, “At least I’m superior to one of the seven most powerful people in the Holy Roman Empire.” That’s better than therapy, and also possibly better than sex depending on the current state of your romantic life. I’m not here to judge. Imagine spending your entire fortune to flex on your neighbors but ending up with a house that doesn’t even meet bare minimum building codes today. Seriously, tell your local planning commission that you want to put up a home with a hundred bedrooms and no bathrooms and see what they say. Don’t forget to mention that the place also won’t have air conditioning.

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Elector-Archbishop Clemens August did nothing to earn his money or power. He was born into it. You, likewise, were born into the wealth and technology of the Twentieth Century. (Yes, we’re now in the Twenty-First Century, but if you were born after 2000, close this newsletter and go back to daycare.) The average person today lives better than the richest, most privileged person two hundred years ago. No reason to feel guilty about that. Flaunt it if you’ve got it.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Catch you next week.

James