Articles on this Page
- 12/21/17--22:00: _When You've Been Na...
- 12/22/17--17:00: _Advent Calendar Doo...
- 12/23/17--16:30: _THE BECKET LEAVES B...
- 12/24/17--17:30: _Telling the Christm...
- 12/25/17--16:01: _Provençal Christmas...
- 12/26/17--16:30: _Tamara Karsavina & ...
- 12/27/17--18:30: _ ...
- 12/28/17--16:01: _Christmas: a Biogra...
- 12/29/17--16:30: _Cabinet of Curiosit...
- 12/30/17--16:01: _December Competition
- 12/31/17--16:01: _Statistics - and Ed...
- 01/01/18--16:30: _Writers chatting ab...
- 01/03/18--00:45: _The Woman Who Creat...
- 01/03/18--22:30: _Forward Girls and F...
- 01/04/18--16:30: _History and Humilit...
- 01/05/18--20:00: _WORDS - AS WELL AS ...
- 01/06/18--17:30: _LADY DRURY'S CLOSET...
- 01/07/18--16:30: _'Please let me pass...
- 01/08/18--17:02: _50 Bizarre Claims A...
- 01/09/18--16:30: _Monk-ey business – ...
- 12/22/17--17:00: Advent Calendar Door number 23, by Leslie Wilson
- 12/23/17--16:30: THE BECKET LEAVES By Elizabeth Chadwick
- 12/24/17--17:30: Telling the Christmas Story by Miranda Miller
- 12/25/17--16:01: Provençal Christmas treats, by Carol Drinkwater
- 12/26/17--16:30: Tamara Karsavina & Henry Bruce, Part Three by Janie Hampton
- 12/27/17--18:30: Children of the King by Lynne Benton
- 12/28/17--16:01: Christmas: a Biography by Judith Flanders
- 12/30/17--16:01: December Competition
- 12/31/17--16:01: Statistics - and Edward ll by Mary Hoffman
- 01/01/18--16:30: Writers chatting about their love of history, by Gillian Polack
- 01/03/18--22:30: Forward Girls and Fast Novels - Katherine Langrish
- 01/04/18--16:30: History and Humility - Joan Lennon
- 01/05/18--20:00: WORDS - AS WELL AS DEEDS by Sheena Wilkinson
- 01/06/18--17:30: LADY DRURY'S CLOSET or THE HAWSTEAD PANELS by Adèle Geras
- 01/07/18--16:30: 'Please let me pass!' by KarenMaitland
- 01/08/18--17:02: 50 Bizarre Claims About Domitian
- 01/09/18--16:30: Monk-ey business – Michelle Lovric
|Greetings Card 1900|
It's likely that the Krampus figure, who is often portrayed with one cloven and one scaly human foot, dates from a far earlier period than the St Nick stories. His name comes from the German word krampen which means claw and the traditional view is that he is the son of Hel the Norse god of the underworld. The Catholic church tried to ban him in the twelfth century for his similarity to popular depictions of the Devil as did the fascist
Christian Social Party in the
|CREDIT: MATEJ DIVIZNA VIA GETTY IMAGES|
This Advent Calendar, by Marianne Schneegans, is from the 1940s, but it gives the general idea. There is something Breughel-esque about the scene, which is probably not by chance, when I think about it.
So I thought I would open a door on an Advent Calendar for you, and find a picture of myself, at the age when I was opening Advent Calendars and yearning for Christmas to come soon - as opposed to adulthood, when one counts the days and hopes for more time..
That was 1962; the Berlin Wall had been built eighteen months earlier (I remember that, and the shock in our household), and John Kennedy was still alive, though it wasn't till June the following year that he visited the city and announced that he was 'ein Berliner.' The Berliners were more than pleased with his support, but characteristically amused that he'd announced that he was a doughnut. He would be assassinated in November the following year, something I also remember, though I have no idea where I was when I heard about it. I can remember the pictures in the paper, that's all, and looking at them as the papers lay on the sitting room floor. What I do have a vivid picture of in my mind is myself standing in the garden of my school, and another girl coming up to me and saying: 'We're waiting for the Americans to send their rockets to Russia, and the Russian rockets to come back, and that will be the end of the world.' That was the Cuban missile crisis, in October of that year. I knew about the bomb, and approved of the Aldermaston marches. I had even got hold of a CND badge from a young man in the youth club my parents ran at the YMCA.
I had gone to grammar school at just 10, something for which I was academically, but not emotionally ready. Quite a lot of my classmates were almost 12. The other girls asked me if I liked Cliff or Elvis, and I said 'neither', so they told me I was 'square.' I still don't like either, and at Christmas 1962 I didn't yet know that salvation from squareness was at hand. The Beatles had released 'Love Me Do', also in October, and I was going to really like the Beatles. I still do.
What were we playing that night? Probably 'Stille Nacht,' the haunting carol composed by Joseph Mohr, which for me epitomises Christmas. In my childish head, the beautiful simplicity of that melody rang out through a snowy mountain landscape, not in flat pre-Alpine Oberndorf, where it was first sung.
My mother was born in Silesia, and she told me about spending Christmas in Giersdorf, now Podgorzyn, in the Riesengebirge/Karkonosce/Krkonosce mountains where my great-grandfather lived, where in winter the snow came up to the first floor windows and a tunnel had to be dug through it to get into the front door. So here is an Advent Calendar door in advance for Christmas Eve, with this 1930s postcard of a mountain hut now on the Czech side of the mountains (I had hot chocolate there a few years ago, in summer), and the snow making the trees into meringues. My great-grandfather did have to pull the Christmas tree back on a sledge. It must have taken quite a while to get the snow off it, mind, and it was decorated with handmade straw ornaments, my mother told me. On Christmas Eve there was carp (the area is full of carp ponds from old monasteries), and they'd have the bread and milk and ground poppyseed pudding which we shall eat tomorrow night, which is peculiar to that part of the world.
WISHING ALL HISTORY GIRLS READERS A BLESSED HOLIDAY AND A PEACEFUL NEW YEAR.
|Thomas Becket returning from exile shortly before his murder|
The subject of numerous writings and artistic creations throughout christendom, this stubborn, complex, driven man became a saint (canonised in February 1173 by the Pope) and almost brought Henry II (also a stubborn, complex and driven character) down with him and only some astute diplomacy, some wonderfully stage-managed showmanship of penance, and a huge dollop of luck saved Henry II from excommunication and overthrow.
A shrine was built to Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Opened in July 1220, its first year's takings came in at over £700 - seven times the equivalent that a baron of medium income would pay to come into his inheritance. Martyrdom was indeed a lucrative business for the Church.
The event led among many other artistic creations to a British treasure known as The Becket Leaves. The Leaves area four separate surviving vellum fragments of a much larger, now lost work of an illustrated life of Thomas Becket. The leaves surfaced in Belgium in the first half of the 19th century as part of the library assembled by Jacques Goethals-Vercruysse following the French Revolution. The library was presented to the city of Courtrai after his death, but the leaves were kept by a collector and held in the family until 1986 when they were then offered for sale at auction by Sotheby's.
These richly illustrated leaves had never been properly examined and other than the originals were only known from an old set of black and white reproductions published in 1885. Interest was intense and so was the bidding which rose to £1.4 million. The British Library could not afford such a sum, but J.Paul Getty purchased the Leaves and placed them on indefinite loan to the British Library so that they could be studied and enjoyed by those who wished to do so, rather than having them vanish again into another private collection.
|A sick Becket's family is forced into exile by a furious Henry II|
The text narrates Thomas Becket's life story and the drawings illustrate it and give us a wonderful snapshot view of 13th century life - of clothes and culture and moments in history, including the coronation of Henry II's 15 year old son and heir also named Henry, and of the father serving the son and paying him honour at the coronation feast in Westminster. Thomas Becket had refused to crown the young man of course and had tried to ban anyone else from doing so, but the coronation had gone ahead under the auspices of the Archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury. There is a very likely apocryphal story that while serving his son, King Henry remarked that it was unusual for one king to serve another, to which his son swiftly replied that it was not so unusual to see the son of a count serve the son of a king!
|The coronation of Henry the Young King, who is then served by his father.|
What a pity the rest of the work no longer survives - or if it does, it is missing in a collection somewhere. It would be glorious to see, but at least we have these few existing pages.
Seasons Greetings to all
Of course there had been paintings of the Nativity for centuries and Christmas plays, imitating those of Easter, probably grew up in the 11th century. In the century before Francis lived, ecclesiastics dressed up as the midwives, Magi, shepherds and other people in the Christmas story, as well as live animals. This is recorded in descriptions of the liturgical drama, the Spectacula Theatricalia.
But it was Francis who, in about 1223, had the imaginative idea of re-enacting the birth of Christ very simply. He had recently visited the Holy Land, where he saw Jesus's traditional birthplace in Bethlehem. Later he told a friend: “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.” These animals are not mentioned in the canonical gospels but frequently appear in the apocrypha.
A friend of his, Giovanni Vellita, was the Lord of Greccio, two miles away from Assisi. Like Francis, Giovanni had renounced worldliness and wanted to return to the poverty and simplicity of the first Christmas in Bethlehem. On Christmas Eve the manger was prepared in a cave, and an ox and ass were brought in. Local people began to come in procession, carrying torches and candles, and Mass was celebrated over the crib. In Greccio you can still see the stone where the hay was placed and the carved image of the baby was laid. There were no figures of Joseph and Mary, just the two animals.
This fresco in the upper church at Assisi by Giotto, who was born only forty years after Francis died, shows the saint at Greccio during that first dramatisation of the nativity in 1223. A contemporary described Giotto as "the most sovereign master of painting in his time, who drew all his figures and their postures according to nature." Every Christmas this Nativity scene is still acted out by the people of Greccio.
This idea spread rapidly throughout Italy and Catholic Europe. People later made cribs out of straw and clay figures and put them in churches, schools and in their homes. In Naples you can still buy these figures from street stalls and there, particularly, the presepio became an art form and was often very elaborate, like the one below.
Eventually this charming tradition spread to Protestant countries as well. In England people used to bake a mince pie (using meat, not raisins) in the shape of a manger which would hold the pastry christ child until dinnertime, when the pie was eaten. The Puritans banned Christmas celebrations and outlawed such pies, calling them "Idolaterie in crust".
There is a legend that at midnight on Christmas Eve animals have the gift of speech; because the humble farm animals gave the infant Jesus His first shelter, and warmed him with their breath, they were rewarded with the gift of human speech.Thomas Hardy knew this legend from his Dorset childhood and wrote his poem, The Oxen:
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
"Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
"Come; see the oxen kneel
"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
Lunch on the beach on Christmas Day is also a tradition. Plenty of oysters being served there.
"The crib figures include, of course, the main players: baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but you might also find a shepherdess or glass-blower, a fisherman, knife-grinder, miller, laundry girls, vendors of herbs or fruits, musicians, donkeys, goats, sheep, the local curé, even the schoolmistress. It forms a miniature re-enactment of 19th-century Provençal country life.
Santonniers are usually born into a family business passed down from generation to generation. What is remarkable is that even 21st-century artisans will spend hours in the hills hunting for thyme twigs, a stone or some precise detail they need to give their characters authenticity. Aubagne, birthplace of the great storyteller and film-maker, Marcel Pagnol, boasts an excellent santon museum."
And after all this food, the family would walk to the local church for Midnight Mass, a tradition I have grown up with in Ireland and the UK. In some districts the mass might be partially celebrated in Provençal. I have certainly attended mass in the Camargue where it was sung and spoken entirely in Carmarguais-Provençal.
I hope for all of us it will be a sane and blessed year.
|Tamara Karsavina aka Mrs Henry Bruce in 1923.|
Half way between Petrograd and the White Sea, Henry and Tamara discovered they had unwittingly crossed the front line of the Russian civil war and were now among the Red Army Bolsheviks. The commissar of Sumozero village believed they were foreign spies and told them they would be rowed to the next village across the lake. But his men were drunk and there was a storm brewing. Tamara’s patience ran out and she screamed at him. She was sympathetic to the communists but she could not tolerate bad behaviour in a drunk commissar, not even in the name of "Peace, Bread and Freedom".
|Tamara as Pimpinella in Pucinella|
|Map of their route by cart from Lake Sumo , to Murmansk by steam train |
and through the Arctic Ocean in a coal-boat.
Twenty-four hours later, they reached the fishing village of Sumsky Pasod on the White Sea and realised they had crossed back into friendly territory. But the Red Army was closing in and the villagers were leaving. They leaped into the last boat and a fisherman rowed them up the White Sea to Kem harbour. From there they walked seven miles across the marshes to the railway line.
At Kem station they found a throng of refugees, unsure from whom they were escaping – was it the Germans, Whites, Reds, or Finns? The railway line had been built in 1916 to transport arms and food from the Arctic Ocean to the German-Russian front. Now that Russia had made peace with Germany, the single track between Murmansk and Petrograd was being commandeered by both Whites and Reds to move their respective troops and supplies, north and south. When Henry asked to buy first-class tickets to Murmansk, the station manager told him, ‘I shall be obliged to close this conversation, Comrade, if you speak in tones unworthy of a socialistic state. And it is useless to bring the Lord into it. The rules state there is no Lord, but our saviour Lenin.’
The train steamed out of Kem just days before the small town fell to the Red Army. Progress was slow: on orders from the Czar, the track had been built in only a year by Chinese labourers and 10,000 Austrian prisoners of war, without a proper survey. At bends the locomotive tilted precariously and at weak bridges everyone clambered out and walked across behind the train. The approach to the watershed between the White Sea and the Arctic Ocean was so steep that the train had to take a second run. The exhausted family travelled into the Arctic Circle past the snow-capped Khibiny Mountains and beside navy-blue lakes. It was a beautiful but terribly remote landscape, unchanged when my daughter Daisy and I travelled the same route 80 years later to the nuclear submarine city of Murmansk.
In 1918, Murmansk, 850 miles north of Petrograd, was then only one year old, a single dusty street of wooden barracks called Pall Mall. Hugh Walpole described it as: "Simply the end of the earth. There are a few vessels, and nothing else save wolves and ptarmigans". The local forces were continually changing allegiance and that month Murmansk’s commissar was in alliance with the British general. Tamara and Henry found a railway carriage to sleep in but it gave little protection from the relentless sunlight, stifling heat, mosquitoes and stench of reindeer. When they heard that Tsar Nicholas II and his family had been assassinated in Ekaterinburg, they realised that they would not be returning to Russia soon.
Two weeks later they boarded a British collier as ‘Purser’ and ‘Stewardess’ and steamed up the Kola Inlet and into the Arctic Ocean. For two days and nights, a storm raged. For Tamara, the fiercer the wind blew, the more her memories of the past months diminished, as she vomited repeatedly over the rail. The crew and their exhausted passengers felt their spirits rise as they threaded their way through the islands of Norway and out into the North Sea. Near the Orkneys, a German submarine fired a torpedo which missed their hull by a matter of yards.
Tamara, Henry and Nikita arrived on the east coast of England at Middlesbrough in late August 1918. It had been a journey of two thousand miles by steamer, horse and cart, on foot, in a rowing boat, by train and by collier boat. That same month the Red Terror began in which over a million Russians were tortured and killed. In November the World War officially ended, although British, French and American armies continued to fight, and on the losing side, until 1922.
|Tamara Karsavina aka Mrs Henry Bruce,|
in her kitchen in London in 1948.
Henry’s employers at the Foreign Office posted him to Tangiers, ‘a quiet posting away from it all’, but only on condition Tamara stopped dancing. When Diaghilev pleaded with her to rejoin the Ballet Russe, Henry chose to leave the diplomatic service and the family settled in London.
With the Ballet Russe, Tamara worked with Matisse, Nijinska, Picasso and J.M. Barrie. She appeared in silent movies with Leni Riefenstahl and Johnny Weissmuller.
In 1930, shortly after Diaghilev died, Tamara helped start the Royal Academy of Dance and her autobiography, Theatre Street, was published. An abridged edition appeared in the Soviet Union in 1971, with all references to Henry, Nikita and their escape from Russia deleted.
|Tamara looks at a portrait of herself painted by|
Sir Oswald Birley in 1920, The Tatler, 1951.
|Henry James Bruce, British diplomat, 1934.|
|Tamara and Nikita shortly before their escape from Russia in 1918. |
Henry's cousins were surprised that he had recently married a dancer, and
that their child was already walking. Tamara's good nature soon won them over.
Tamara Platonovna Karsavina (1885-1978). Henry James Bruce (1880-1951). Nikita Bruce (1916-1993)
|Elizabeth, aged 13|
Our December guest is Judith Flanders, interviewed here by Charlotte Wightwick.
Judith Flanders was born in London, England, in 1959. She moved to Montreal, Canada, when she was two, and spent her childhood there, apart from a year in Israel in 1972, where she signally failed to master Hebrew.
After university, Judith returned to London and began working as an editor for various publishing houses. After this 17-year misstep, she began to write and in 2001 her first book, A Circle of Sisters, the biography of four Victorian sisters, was published to great acclaim, and nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. In 2003, The Victorian House (2004 in the USA, as Inside the Victorian Home) received widespread praise, and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards History Book of the Year. In 2006 Consuming Passions, was published. Her book, The Invention of Murder, was shortlisted for the 2011 CWA Non–Fiction Dagger. The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London was published in 2012. And now, Christmas: a Biography has been published by Picador.
Welcome, Judith, for agreeing to be our very seasonal guest
Charlotte Wightwick: The book is called Christmas: A Biography. Why 'Biography' rather than 'History’?
Judith Flanders: I wish I had a more profound answer for this, but mostly it was because I wanted to give the subject a bit of ‘life’, not just that it was either dead history, or living kitsch. Oh, that and my publisher liked it.
CW: Its a commonplace that 'the Victorians invented Christmas as we know it.' How far is this true?
JF: Not true at all. This was what I thought when I began. (Annoyingly, this was even what I had written previously.) But the really exciting part of historical research is that you get to change your mind, and within only weeks I realized that this was just wrong, wrong, wrong. One historian had famously written that between 1790 and 1832, the Times newspaper had barely mentioned Christmas most years, and many years had never mentioned it at all. He had done his work before newspaper digitisation, so I had a huge advantage. When I ran a digital search on those dates in the Times, I actually found more than 5,000 mentions…
Christmas has always been a holiday of consumption. For most of history from the earliest mentions, in the 4th century, it was about consuming food and (especially) drink. With the coming of mass production and industrialization, the types of consumption changed, from food and drink to presents (and more food and drink!), which makes us think of the 19th century as being the period when Christmas was ‘invented’, but that really couldn’t be further from the truth.
CW: What's your favourite fact or story about Christmas which you didn't previously know? What surprised you when researching the book?
JF: There were endless surprises, but my favourite fact was one that showed how little change there has been in some things. In 1805, on the Lewis and Clark expedition, a government-sponsored expedition to map out much of the west of America, Lieutenant Lewis recorded in his diary that Captain Clark had given him ‘Fleeshe Hoserey vest draws & Socks’, and another man had given him a ‘pr. Mockerson’. That is, he received fleece hosiery (long underwear), a vest, underpants and socks, as well as a pair of slippers. It was good to know that boring Christmas presents have a long history!
CW: As well as universal traditions, every family/ set of friends has its own particular festive quirks. What's your own favourite personal Christmas tradition?
JF: I have to admit to being a total Christmas fraud in real life, compared to on the page — I’m Jewish, and don’t celebrate Christmas. We had a tree a couple of times when I was a child, but it was never a big thing for my family. And today I do nothing at all: I find the run-up to Christmas so exhausting that I’m always happy just to lie on the sofa through the holidays, reading all the books I didn’t get around to all year.
CW: Santa: is he real? (Sorry, couldn't resist!)
JF: Oh dear. This is going to take a while, isn’t it? I’m sorry, Virginia, but I have to tell you that no, Santa Claus isn’t real. But the various ‘Santas’ that have been suggested include a ‘coster’ (a street-seller of fruit and vegetables) who breathes fire through the keyhole on bad boys and girls, and, my own favourite, a newspaper in 1815 which had a letter signed ‘Santa Claus, Queen and Empress of all handsome girls…Queen and Empress of the Court of Fashions’, followed by a letter of approval from this ‘good, delightful, charming’ woman’s husband, St Nicholas. So there you have it, Santa is really a woman.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was spent, as appears to be traditional for me, either in a food-related stupor, or watching TV programmes about food (and often both). Now I have to admit to a certain amount of perplexity when watching some of these (seriously, how complicated can it be to roast a turkey?) but I did come across one real gem, and the inspiration for this month’s entry into the History Girls’ Cabinet of Curiosities. Naturally I can’t remember which programme it was on, so I can’t just point you in the direction of the telly and get back to lazing around – although that is probably no bad thing.
What caught my eye on TV was a demonstration of how gingerbread was made in the medieval and early modern period, and in particular showcased the variety of stunning moulds that were used to make it.
|Gingerbread mould, C17th|
|Gingerbread mould, C17th|
Not for our forebears a clumsy, vaguely humanoid shape with raisins for eyes and smarties for buttons: originally, gingerbread was beautiful, elaborate and, to top it all off, often gilded. Of course, as spices such as ginger were luxury items, gold just added to the bling effect…
It also seems to explain (although this is only my guess) why gingerbread is called bread, given that we think of as gingerbread is more of a cake or a biscuit: originally, recipes featured breadcrumbs rather than flour. Mixed with spices and wet ingredients, the mixture was then pressed into the elaborate moulds and left to dry next to the fire (not baked in an oven). Other recipes used almond paste to make white gingerbread.
More details (and recipes) can be found at http://www.theoldfoodie.com/2006/12/through-ages-with-gingerbread.html or http://www.historicfood.com/Gingerbread%20Recipe.html.
Alternatively you could of course just watch rolling Christmas food telly for hours on end to find the right TV programme. It would be a sacrifice to historical research worth making!
|Gingerbread mould of an angel from Aachen. All images from Wikimedia Commons|
To enter our December competition, just answer this question in the Comments section below:
"What's your own favourite personal Christmas tradition?" (The quirkier and more specific to your family the better!)
Then copy your answer to email@example.com
Closing date: 14th January, to give you time to recover from your own Christmas.
We're sorry that our competitions are open only to our UK Followers.
Happy 2018 to all our Followers and readers!
At the beginning of a new year we thought you'd like to know some statistics. There are 1,183 official Followers on this site - who are eligible to enter our competitions if they live in the UK. But there are many more of you who read the blog without being Followers.
In July 2018 we will have been History Girls for eight years!
We've had over three million hits, a third of them from the United States of America. But we've also had nearly 36K from Ukraine and over 21K from China.
Our most popular post ever was Leslie Wilson's on Maria von Maltzan, 23rd July 2012. It has had nearly 96K hits!
The third most visited post was written only last month. Michelle Lovric's Suicide by Greed about the way Venice is succumbing to the effects of huge tourist cruise liners, was published on December 10th 2017. It has had over 17.5K hits already in three weeks.
I hope you find all this as fascinating as I do.
In case you are new to the site, this is our pattern:
1st - 28th of every month: a daily post by on of our 29 members (we have a job share on 15th).
29th: a guest post from a writer of history or historical fiction.
30th of months with 31 days: Cabinet of Curiosities by Charlotte Wigtwick, about an object or objects from history.
Last day of month: competition to win the latest book by the guest on 29th.
But the daily work of the site is to provide a different post every day of the year on a historical topic. So I must get on and give you a review of Edward ll the Man: a Doomed Inheritance by Stephen Spinks.
For many people, all that they know about England's second king of that name (after his father, Edward Longshanks), is that he died from a red hot poker up his backside. And this was a punishment for being a homosexual. He was deposed for his unnatural instincts and then cruelly murdered.
Well, for that you have to thank Christopher Marlowe, whose play, published posthumously in 1594, was first given the title The Troublesome Reign and Lamentable Death of Edward the Second, King of England, with the Tragical Fall of Proud Mortimer.
It portrays Edward's fascination with his "favourite" Piers Gaveston, who is executed not far into the play and then his successor "Spenser" (Hugh Despenser the Younger historically). At the end of the drama, the regicide referred to above is carried out by the villainous Lightborn, whom many have identified with Lucifer (though surely he'd be called Lightbearer in that case?)
Stephen Spinks quickly deals with Marlowe's version at the beginning of his new biography and then proceeds to demolish what the play tells us. He makes it clear that his subject suffered terribly from being the middle Edward of a three generation kingship of that name. His father was known as The Hammer of the Scots, while this king suffered the ignominious defeat by Robert Bruce at Bannockburn.
His son, Edward lll, reigned for fifty years, produced thirteen children in his long marriage to Philippa of Hainault, was immensely popular with his subjects and, through his oldest son Edward the Black Prince, won victories in France, even taking the French king prisoner.
So the second King Edward is an early example of the "squeezed middle," and his reputation has consequently suffered. That he did have homosexual relationships is indisputable but he also had four children with his wife, Isabella of France. He was cultured, educated, refined and took pleasure in all sorts of athletic and aesthetic activities.
But his relationship with his father was stormy and the old king was increasingly irascible at the end of his reign. At his death Edward l left his son a burden of debts and of administrative chaos. The young Edward had a cohort of young knights with whom he had grown up and who formed a tight loyal band. Men like Roger Mortimer the Younger, who would eventually become Queen Isabella's companion in arms and lover.
Roger Mortimer, who would depose his friend and be executed by that friend's son after three years when he had effectively become the ruler of England.
Stephen Spinks has been fascinated and obsessed by Edward ll from boyhood, writing his PhD thesis on him and now this book, the culmination of many years of study.
So what does he think about Edward's end? Well, he adopts the thesis of historian Ian Mortimer in his book The Greatest Traitor: the Life of Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March. Both Spinks and Mortimer believe that Edward the Second was not in fact killed at Berkeley Castle in 1327 at all and that his funeral was faked. They rely on a letter written by Manuele de Fieschi, a Papal notary in 1336.
According to the Fieschi letter, Edward survived, escaping first to Ireland and then to the continent where, after many travels, he became a monk in Lombardy and made his confession to Fieschi in 1335.
So, no red hot poker. No murder in fact and the king left to die of natural causes in a religious house in Italy. It's a quite different story. By contrast his former friend, then traitor Roger Mortimer was executed after three years of tyranny and his former queen, Isabella, was imprisoned by their son. Edward's half brother, the Earl of Kent was executed for plotting to restore Edward to the throne - something possible only if the deposed king had still been alive.
The author's enthusiasm for his subject ensures that this book is extremely readable and that Edward's reputation is at least partly rehabilitated. A good read for anyone who, like me, is fascinated by the Plantagenets.
(I'm afraid that Blogger absolutely refuses to upload any of my images, which has been a problem for a while now.)
Earlier gave me the biggest factor in me demanding to find out why things happen and how they affect ordinary people. I saw my first picture of a pile of dead bodies from a WWII death camp when I was six. I understood that the pile of corpses belonged to people who had been murdered, but I didn't understand why the word used to describe the murder was the same one we use to refer to the outcome of pesticide. Soon after, I discovered that some of them were potentially cousins or distant relatives. That and a mild form of antisemitism at primary school meant that I could see history as my family's past, where those who didn't flee to a safe land were tortured and murdered. I didn't understand how that was possible. I needed to understand. Later (much later) I discovered that I myself was part of a different form of bigotry at school.
All of this pushed me into trying to find out how humanity operates. Who we are. How we make the decisions we make. The story side of it is because this turned out to be a key factor. We are good to others and we murder others based on the stories we tell. Stories are powerful.
For me, those cultural narratives become more and more important as our lives become more and more difficult. This is not an easy decade. Understanding the cultural narratives around us helps us get through it. Using historical fiction can be especially powerful, becuase it gives us a safer place to explore and it provides contexts for our current lives. Not all historical fiction gives this, and not all writers who intend to present story this way do so, but for readers, every book we read that helps us with our own lives is essential reading.
What I've noticed over the years is that the assumption that literary wriitng has more meaning for us than genre writing is ill-conceived.
The writing that has most meaning is the writing that helps us decode our culture and to understand who we are. The best writers do this, no matter the form their writing takes. This has important cultural implications for the kind of decisions some readers make about reading genre writing. They're cutting themselves off from material they need and from understanding that would give them emotional help in tough times. The best historical fiction writers deliver all this along with fine stories in historical settings. The trick is not to find a particular type of writing (historical fiction, science fiction, literary novels) but to find the themes and stories we need for a particular moment in our lives. Some reasons for reading require specific genres, but for others, genre is far less relevant than the other things an author may put into their novel.
When I joined the History Girls, I explored this. I read books by all the members I could find in two weeks. Those two weeks were what convinced me that it's all in the skill and hard work of the writer: every one of those novels contained deep meaning and would be perfect for readers who needed that specific type of understanding.
Not all writers are as good as this and not all books by even our favourite writers are equally classic. And some of us need fun reading within a genre, with no extra meaning from time to time. This summer I'm reading a dozen of the latest Regency romances, because it fits my mood. I'm reading them alongside the other novels, however, and not replacing either with the other: they have their own cultural niches and meet different needs.
on both. You can find out more about her and her writing here.
From drawing to dissection
Image 2 - Weeping Woman by Amé Bourdon, first published in 1678. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.
Let us start with Jane Austen.
The Reverend Barrett is Firmly Against Novels. And yet funnily enough he uses the fictional device of the epistolary novel to make his points. Using as his example the (presumably fictitious) young Lady Harriet ******, this is what he has to say:
Coloured print of Jane Austen, University of Texas, Wikimedia Commons
Letters to A Young Lady, frontispiece: scan from book in author's possession
Young Regency lady reading: unknown provenance.
The collapse of the Quebec Bridge in Canada in 1907 and the resultant deaths were caused by irresponsible engineering. But then, twenty years later, something rather wonderful happened ...
The first ceremony of the Calling of the Ring took place in 1925, using a ritual created by Rudyard Kipling, at the request of H.E.T. Haultain, professor of engineering at the University of Toronto. To this day, the ring is worn on the "dominant hand" so as the engineers draw or write, the reminder is always present.
Learning humility from history ...
Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
|Hanna Sheehy Skeffington|
|Thanks to Little Island for the wonderful postcards|
Lady Anne Drury lived in Hawstead Place near Bury St Edmunds, and she was the wife of Sir Robert Drury and sister of Nathanial Bacon, a talented painter. It's thought that she herself painted these pictures and I like to believe that. Her husband was often away at court or on foreign campaigns and she turned to religion for comfort while she was living in Suffolk. She was a Puritan and greatly influenced in meditation and prayer by Joseph Hall, her chaplain and spiritual director at Hawstead. Images of God and the Saints were not part of her devotions.
Then, in 1610, her daughter, Elizabeth died. She was fifteen years old and Lady Drury was now childless. John Donne wrote an Elegy for her called 'An Anatomy of the World, wherein, by the occasion of the untimely death of Mistris Elizabeth Drury, the frailty and decay of the whole world is represented.'
In 1612, Donne printed another version of the poem, called 'The Second Anniversarie. Of the Progress of the soul' and this version contains the lines:
'She, she is gone; she is gone; when thou knowest this,
What fragmentary rubbish this world is
Thou knows, and that it is not worth a thought.'
It's an interesting change. This, bynthe away was John Donne's first published verse. To me, the room displays 'the fragmentary nature of the world' as well as the wonders to be encountered there. We see flowers, landscapes, figures, animals: all manner of things, some beautiful, some grotesque, like the very disturbing mermaid below. The whole universe is before our eyes. There are images of flight and creatures from nightmares. Crocodiles and sheep. Mountains. The image of the well, above, seems almost surrealistic to a modern eye.
I imagine Lady Anne going every day to paint. Thinking: what shall I look at next in order not to see the pain in my heart? What shall I focus on so that I don't have to focus on my loss? Finding peculiar items in the emblematic books and making pictures of them and arranging them to fill an endlessly empty horizon.
If you have the chance to visit the real thing, please do. You will be haunted by this room as have been since I saw it. I will return.
|Devon Lane. Photographer: Richard Knight|
Of course, these lanes were in use centuries before the invention of cars, caravans and tractors. So perhaps the solution is to encourage tourists to read the highway code section of an ancient medieval book called TheSachsenspiegelwhich became the law book of the Holy Roman Empire. It was written around 1220, but parts of it were still in use until 1900. A learned administrator, Eike von Repgow, complied a book at the behest of his liege, Count Hoyer of Falkenstein, drawing together the Saxon laws of custom and practise. He translated the work from the Latin into Middle Low German. The Sachsenspiegel covers laws governing many aspects of life, but some of the most fascinating rules concern roads and travellers.
One states that the king’s highway must be wide enough to enable one cart to give way to another, in other words about 13 foot. There was a strict rule in the order of precedence. Someone on foot must give way to a rider, a rider must give way to a cart and an empty cart must give way to a laden one. But if carter should find himself behind a pedestrian or rider approaching a narrow bridge, then he must draw the cart aside allow them to cross the bridge first in case the cart becomes wedged.
|Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake|
|Travellers being directed to shrines containing holy relics.|
But in case that didn’t work, the law said that any traveller who was attacked by a dog, pig or bull, was entitled to defend themselves, even to the point of killing it, without having to pay the owner compensation, provided he swore on a holy relic that he’d had no other choice. But anyone who owned an aggressive dog or a pet wolf, bear, stag or ape, must pay for any damage these animals did. It is interesting that in the 13th century there were enough people who kept these animals as pets or for use in entertainments at fairs, that it was necessary to specifically name these ‘tamed’ animals in law.
1411-1413 A pet ape or monkey
playing with a dog
at the foot of a bed.
If you survived the vicious farm dogs and wandering livestock, one major hazard still remained – outlaws and robbers. They knew that most travellers, especially those on horseback or in carts, were bound to be carrying at least enough money for a few night’s lodgings and probably a great deal more, in addition to goods, valuable horses and carts which were a great temptation to any thief. The significance of choosing to travel on the king’s highway or waterways was that, in theory, you were under the protection of the king at all hours of the day and night. Specifically mentioned in the Sachsenspiegel was the protection it afforded to women, Jews and priests.
|A woman being set upon by robbers on the road.|
|Caroline Lawrence & the 'Emperor Domitian'|
So when it came time for me to write a long-planned spinoff to my Roman Mysteries books I looked at my timeline in the late first century AD and realised I had the perfect opponent, a fascinating tyrant who was the most powerful man in the world at that time: the Emperor Domitian.
Domitian was the eleventh emperor if you start counting from Augustus. He was the third Flavian and ruled for fifteen years, longer than his father Vespasian or his brother Titus. By all accounts he was a corrupt monster. Recently some scholars have tried to argue that his reputation was the result of a smear campaign by a few disgruntled senators.
For the first three books in my Roman Quests series, he is the unseen opponent sending soldiers, guards and torturers to pursue my protagonists. In the final book, Return to Rome, we finally meet him and witness his assassination. Of course I am writing for children so some of the action happens offstage and other events are seen through the eyes of my young protagonists.
When you write about someone you can’t help but empathise. I feel Domitian was probably somewhere on the spectrum and socially dysfunctional. As one of my characters says near the end of Return to Rome, ‘If Domitian had been merely a butcher or a sailor he only would have made life miserable for his small circle of family and slaves. A man like that should not be given the power to rule an empire.’
Domitian’s assassination in AD 96 was documented in gory detail by Suetonius Tranquillus, the great biographer of the Caesars who was about 27 years old at the time of Domitian’s death. You can read a vivid account in all its gruesome detail here. Other ancient authors who write bitterly about the eleventh emperor include Aelius Aristides, Dio Chrysostom, Dio Cassius, Eusebius, Martial, Pliny the Younger, Statius and Tacitus.
Here are fifty bizarre claims about Domitian – all made by ancient sources – that make him an irresistible opponent in a historical novel set at the end of the first century.
He was born on 24 Oct AD 51 in a house on Pomegranate Street in Rome.
This is one of the few ancient addresses that has come down to us.
He later turned the house into a temple dedicated to the Flavians, his family.
He grew up in poverty, although his father Vespasian later became emperor.
Once, before his father became emperor, he was forced to flee for his life.
He survived by dressing like a woman and hiding in the house of a friend.
He always plotted against his older brother Titus, who succeeded their father.
He was a skilled archer and often fired arrows through slaves’ spread fingers.
He often amused himself by spearing heat-drugged flies with a stylus.
A steward once quipped that nobody was with him, ‘not even a fly’.
He became emperor in AD 81 after the mysterious death of his brother Titus.
An officer named Saturninus conspired against him in late 80s.
Domitian’s resultant paranoia led to a ‘reign of terror’ in the AD 90s.
He covered some walls with reflective stone so that nobody could sneak up on him.
He put the freedman who assisted Nero’s suicide to death.
Unlike Nero, he did not avert his eyes from torture.
He liked to watch people and terrify them with his gaze
He often pretended to befriend people just before he executed them.
He encouraged slaves to denounce their rich masters as traitors
He then confiscated the property and split the proceeds with the delator.
He accused a pantomime actor named Paris of having an affair with his wife.
He spared his wife Domitia but murdered Paris in the middle of a street.
He executed people caught leaving flowers at spot where Paris had died.
He was a notorious womaniser and called his lustful activity ‘bed wrestling’.
He seduced his niece Julia, daughter of his brother Titus, and got her pregnant.
He caused Julia’s death by demanding she have an abortion that went wrong.
He terrified guests by inviting them to death-themed dinner parties
The dinner parties were held in pitch-black rooms draped in black cloth.
Guests’ name-tags resembled grave slabs and were lit by grave lamps.
He gave them food commonly served at banquets for the dead.
Guest were served by naked boys painted black to resemble ghosts
He liked to watch female gladiators and pygmies battle in the arena.
He collected freaks and was especially fond of a boy with a tiny head.
Late in his reign, he demanded to be addressed as ‘master and god’.
He erected a gigantic bronze equestrian statue of himself in Caesar’s forum
He changed the name of his birth-month October to Domitianus.
(This change of month name did not catch on.)
He added gold and purple to the chariot factions of red, white, green and blue.
(The new chariot factions did not catch on.)
He put a high podium in his palaces to lift himself above others.
He was obsessed with his hair loss and wore an expensive wig.
He wrote a book about curing baldness.
He revered Minerva above all other gods and considered her his protector.
Shortly before his assassination he dreamt that Minerva abandoned him.
From an early age he knew the exact day and hour of his foretold assassination.
He had several astrologers put to death in order to stop their prophecies.
On the fated day lying slaves told him the deadly hour had passed and he relaxed.
After the first assassin stabbed him, several others piled in, too.
His wife was out of town but reputedly knew of the planned assassination.
Rome’s initial reaction to his death was fairly low-key.
The Senate proclaimed Nerva emperor with suspicious rapidity.
The Senate also decreed that his name and image be destroyed.
Domitian’s body was removed and cremated by his childhood nurse Phyllis.
She mixed his ashes with those of his niece Julia, whose death he had caused.
|Domitian (erased) with his wife Domitia on a coin|
According to my hero, Giuseppe Tassini, the palazzo shown below right once hosted a devil in the form of a monkey-butler. The simian Satan was outed and cast out by a clever Franciscan monk.
|Ca' Soranzo de l'Anzolo|
At that time, the palazzo belonged to Iseppo Pasini, lawyer of the Ducal Curia. This man was well known for his grasping and unscrupulous ways, by which he had earned hugely. Nevertheless, he pretended to great piety. So he invited the celebrated preacher to dinner at his elegant home. Before proceeding to table, Pasini told Father Matteo that he had in his home a most extraordinary and highly skilled monkey. This unusual servant had full command of his domestic matters.
|Father Matteo |
da Bascio, courtesy
of Wikimedia Commons
The monkey replied, ‘I am the devil. I have brought myself here to take away the soul of this lawyer, which is owed to me on account of many sins.'
Father Matteo continued, ‘And why, therefore, being so hungry for his soul, have you not yet killed him, and brought back with you to hell?’
‘Only because, before going to bed, the lawyer always prays to God and the Virgin. If he had only once omitted his usual prayer, I could have without delay carried him to eternal torment.’
Hearing this, Father Matteo hastened to command the enemy of God to leave the house immediately. The monkey informed him that he had his own instructions: he might not leave this dishonoured house without doing some kind of damage.
‘Very well,’ said Father Matteo. ‘You may do some damage, but only what I shall prescribe you, and no more! You will leave via this wall, and the resulting hole will serve as testimony to what has happened here.’
The devil obeyed. Father Matteo, sitting down dinner with the lawyer, made him review his past life. Finally, picking up a corner of the tablecloth, he twisted it. Miraculously, copious quantities of blood flowed out. ‘This,’ said Father Matteo sternly, ‘is the blood of the poor whom you exsanguinated with so many unjust extortions.’
The lawyer repented and lamented his crimes, and warmly thanked the Capuchin for leading him back to grace. But when he saw the hole left by the devil, he declared that he could not be free of fear if his proud adversary remained free. But Father Matteo was reassuring, commanding him to place the image of an angel in that hole, as any fallen angels (like the devil) would flee from a saintly one.
Michelle Lovric's website
Image of the devilish monkey above courtesy of Wellcome Images: a monkey holding a clyster in an apothecary's shop; satirizing physicians who gave enemas to ladies. (How much more devilish does a monkey need to be?) Engraving by F. Basan after D. Teniers the Younger.