Friday, August 28, 2015

Medieval Splendor

From the blog Once I Was a Clever Boy:
 The priory church of St Bartholomew the Great in Smithfield is one of the very few medieval churches to survive in central London, although it is not as well known as it should be. A substantial part of the priory church - presbytery and transepts - survives, and is a fine example of early twelfth century work - the priory was founded by Rahere, jester to King Henry I:
When we visit it can be very grateful that it has survived and feel we are seeing something of medieval London. 
However what we are not seeing is the colour that would have enriched the church. This changes the atmosphere  and experience. A medieval church was 'other' than that day to day living because it was, in the modern phrase, 'sacred space.'  Entering a medieval church was to enter a foretaste of Heaven. Yet this point seems still to be lost on so many people. I have even known distinguished academics in medieval history who have dismissed medieval colour schemes as garish and somehow imply we are better off without them.
To visualise the interior of St Bartholomew's as it would once have been is difficult - we have fragments and pieces but little in the way of complete schemes, or if they are they are faded  and pale. At Issoire in central France one such scheme has been recreated in 1857-59 - albeit controversially in the eyes of some, but maybe they also do not like the fact of  colouration.

(Read more.)

Traveling to New Orleans

It has been ten years since Katrina and the Crescent City shines once more. From Southern Lady:
New Orleans arguably has more than its fair share of the best restaurants in the world. Choosing tonight’s dinner destination was difficult, but I went with my sentimental favorite, The Court of Two Sisters. Located in the historic Governor’s Row section of Royal Street, the restaurant features the Quarter’s largest courtyard and the best duck à l’orange I’ve ever tasted. I could have stayed all night under the canopy of trees trimmed in twinkling lights, listening to a soothing fountain serenade, but I had plans for music of a different beat.

I could hear the blare of a tenor sax a block away as the jazzy blend of reeds and strings poured out of the door of Preservation Hall. I took a seat and listened as the Preservation Hall Band treated the packed house to this unique brand of music so identifiable with the city. An hour or so later, I reluctantly called it a night and slipped back to the hotel to rest up for the following day’s full agenda. (Read more.)

Catholics and the Return of Plain Chant

From Regina:
Unbeknownst to us, Plain Chant – also known as ‘Gregorian’ Chant – was and is nothing less than the 1400-year old ancient voice of the Church.  Dating from the 6th century, it takes its name from Pope St. Gregory the Great, who instituted it into the liturgy. 

Over the centuries, Chant – like everything in the Church — has seen corruption and reform,  but through the millennia it  remained Catholics’ principal way of praying in music in the Church. This,  until the Second Vatican Council, when other music began to replace chant within the liturgy — despite the Council’s express statement that ‘The Church acknowledges Gregorian chant as specially suited to the Roman … All other things being equal, Gregorian chant holds pride of place because it is proper to the Roman Liturgy. 1

Imbued with an enthusiasm known as the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II, in the decades following the Council, liturgists and prelates all but banished chant, until in 1994 something shocking happened. The monks of Silos, a monastery near Burgos, Spain, became internationally famous with their album Chant. Astonishingly, Chant peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200, and was certified as triple platinum, becoming the best-selling album of Gregorian chant ever released.

Suddenly, the monks’ chant reached a huge global audience, and by the mid-1990s a few in the Church had begun to question the status quo. Even more interest was aroused in 2000, when the documents of the Second Vatican Council became globally available on the Vatican website. To the question, ‘Why had this ethereal treasure of the Church been banished?’ there came no official answer. Only the Council Fathers’ own statement resonated through the years, clear as a bell. (Read more.)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A History of the English Monarchy

Welcome to the Blog Tour for Gareth Russell's new book A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I. Gareth has long been a friend of this blog, although we have not always seen eye-to-eye on everything, and a personal friend of mine as well. Along with being one of the most brilliant and prolific young authors I know of, he also edits the magazine Tudor Life. Visit Gareth at his blog Confessions of a Ci-Devant. I am honored to be part of Gareth's blog tour. To be included in the giveaway, please leave a comment with an email address so we can contact you if you win.

Here is a description from the publisher of the new book:
In A History of the English Monarchy, historian Gareth Russell traces the story of the English monarchy and the interactions between popular belief, religious faith and brutal political reality that helped shape the extraordinary journey of one of history’s most important institutions.
From the birth of the nation to the dazzling court of Elizabeth I, A History of the English Monarchy charts the fascinating path of the English monarchy from the uprising of ‘Warrior Queen’ Boadicea in AD60 through each king and queen up to the ‘Golden Age’ of Elizabeth I. Russell offers a fresh take on a fascinating subject as old as the nation itself. Legends, tales and, above all, hard facts tell an incredible story… a history of the English Monarchy.
I will be reviewing the book soon. In the meantime, the following is an article by Gareth, exclusive to Tea at Trianon.

A whitewashed church: A visit to the burial ground of the early Plantagenets

by Gareth Russell

While researching my last book A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I, I visited France to see the tombs of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard I and Henry III’s mother, Isabelle. The family feuds between Henry II, his wife and their sons had formed the basis for my third chapter, ‘From Scotland to Spain: The empire of the Plantagenets’ and their story fascinated me.

They lie today in effigy in the vast whitewashed knave of what was once the abbey church of the Fontevraud nunnery, a magnificent convent founded and expanded by Queen Eleanor’s family, where she chose to construct the early Plantagenets’ necropolis at the centre of what was then an empire that straddled both sides of the English Channel. The bright artwork, clouds of fragrant incense and kaleidoscope of splendid colour designed to tremble the knee and swell the heart is long gone. In the centuries after the region was claimed by the kings of France, Fontevraud retained its association with royalty and nobility, in what ultimately proved a costly friendship. In the seventeenth century, its abbess was a favourite of Louis XIV and ties to Versailles lasted until 1792, when the French Revolution’s hurtling mania towards enforced secularisation saw the last of the nuns, led by Abbess Julie-Gilette de Pardaillan d’Antin, take flight as the abbey was ransacked within weeks of the French monarchy itself imploding in a hail of blood, bullets and fire on the cobblestones of the Tuileries Palace courtyard.

The bright new world of de-Christianised republican France had no use for places like Fontevraud and the damage done was so extensive that even after Louis XVIII and Charles X were restored to the thrones of their forebears, the broken abbey retained the purpose assigned to it by the revolution, a prison, until 1963. To amuse themselves, the souls trapped in terrible conditions within its walls, some poor and victimised, others criminal and malign, vandalised what was left of Fontevraud’s once-splendid interiors. The misérables hacked off the nose of Richard the Lionheart’s effigy and whittled away in boredom at his carved joints.

Today his tomb is a small splash of colour alongside his mother’s, father’s and sister-in-law’s in the vast white emptiness of the disused chapel, where the grave of the abbey’s saintly founder, Robert of Arbrissel, is covered by nothing more than glass so that people can glibly walk across it. The sounds of tourists have replaced the pilgrims and the knights, the faintly discordant notes of their conversations and even their whistling echoes of the walls in place of hymns, chants and prayers. The bodies of Richard I and his relatives have long since vanished, torn from their tombs with every other set of royal bones in revolutionary France, no matter how antique. The outward shell of the tombs is all that remains. Whether it was the result of her design or vandalism after the 1790s is hard to tell, but it is amusing that the fiery Eleanor of Aquitaine’s effigy today rests a few slight but very definite inches higher than her estranged husband’s.

Emerging up the steps and into the light of the museum’s gardens, my mind fluttered to one of medieval Christianity’s sternest enjoinders – ‘Sic Gloria Transit Mundi’. (‘Thus passes all the glories of the world’.) In the end, all that remains of Queen Eleanor’s ambitions for her improbable family’s eternal memorial are four fading effigies in a defunct church. And, of course, the very faint possibility that her grave is deliberately a little higher than everybody else’s. Perhaps it is just the failed poeticism of the place, but it encourages the happy thought that through vanished magnificence a kernel of humanity, a reminder of our eternal foibles, endures.
About the Author:
Gareth Russell is an historian and writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland. He studied Modern History at the University of Oxford and completed a postgraduate in medieval history at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is the author of two novels and three non-fiction books, including his most recent book, A History of the English Monarchy: From Boadicea to Elizabeth I. He is currently writing a biography of Queen Catherine Howard.

The Birth of African Slavery

From Slate:
By 1650, however, conditions were already beginning to change. For one thing, both the Dutch and the English had started using enslaved Africans to produce sugar in the Caribbean and the tropics. English experiments at Barbados and Providence Island showed that Protestant investors could easily overcome their moral scruples. Large profits could be made if foreign rivals could be held in check. After agreeing to peace with Spain and giving up control of Northeast Brazil at midcentury, Dutch slave traders were actively looking for new markets. In England, after Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he rewarded supporters by creating the Royal African Co. to enter aggressively into the slave trade. The English king also chartered a new colony in Carolina. He hoped it would be close enough to the Spanish in Florida and the Caribbean to challenge them in economic and military terms. Many of the first English settlers in Carolina after 1670 came from Barbados. They brought enslaved Africans with them. They also brought the beginnings of a legal code and a social system that accepted race slavery. (Read more.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Restoration of the Château de Gudanes

From Vogue:
To be the keepers of a grand French château is a thing of dreams, though few will truly live it, and even fewer have the vision and wherewithal to toil to make this dream a reality. Enter Karina and Craig Waters, an Australian couple who in 2013 purchased what amounted to an eighteenth-century neoclassical ruin—albeit a Class 1 Historical Monument ruin—in the village of Château-Verdun in the South of France. The property, Château de Gudanes, had once belonged to Louis Gaspard de Sales, the Marquis de Gudanes, who commissioned Ange-Jacques Gabriel (the Parisian architect behind Versailles’s Petit Trianon and Place de la Concorde) to create the palatial home. And though it survived the French Revolution, it eventually fell into disrepair. “When we first visited the Château back in 2011, we could only gain access to some of the front rooms. The roof, walls, and floors had fallen in and the water damage had prevented entry into most of the rooms. Green mold covered the walls like wallpaper and stinging knee-high weeds carpeted stone floors,” recalls Karina. “Following the ‘consolidation phase’ after which we could safely explore the rooms, people returned to the Château. Not just from the local villages, but from around the world.” (Read more.)

How Would You Know?

From Jennifer Fulwiler:
It’s just one of many pictures from a photo album full of pictures of the staff at Auschwitz relaxing and having a great time, sometimes with their children, during on-site retreats. I originally posted it as part of my post about “good people” and “bad people,” but I’ve thought about it many times since then.

For me, this picture symbolizes all average folks who ever lived during times where particularly dark shades of evil gripped societies. It reminds me that though today we can see through the distance of history the thick pall of darkness that overshadowed the world in which these people lived, many of them could not see it themselves when they were in the midst of it. Like being in a city with air pollution, it’s easy to think that the air is clean and fresh when you’re standing in it; it is only when you get some distance and look back that you can see the dark cloud looming over where you were, and know that you were breathing soot all along.

I tend to be an easygoing, optimistic person who focuses more on my little corner of the world than the macro issues of the day. I tend to want to believe the best about people, and guard against buying into hyperbolic rhetoric that makes generalizations about the activities of certain groups of people being particularly heinous — so often, upon reasonable analysis, that type of claim pans out to be nothing more than a lame attempt to vilify people you disagree with. (Read more.)
 Here is the 8th video about Planned Parenthood's illegal selling of baby body parts. Share

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Queen Isabella

It has been some years since Queen Isabella by Alison Weir was published; I am only now getting around to reading and reviewing it. I enjoy Weir's popular histories in that she usually sifts through the household accounts to find out how many bolts of cloth were ordered, and other such details, which can tell us a lot about a person. As for Isabella of France, Queen of England, the bolts of cloth were many, since Isabella always placed a high priority on clothes, as well as on jewelry and books. Like other medieval queens, a generous part of her income was spent on charities and endowments to churches and religious houses. To be able to maintain so many varied grants and charities, which also enhanced her level of influence, the Queen needed income. In the middle ages, the main source of income was land. Therefore when her husband Edward II, to whom she had borne an heir to the throne and other children, took away her lands and gave them to his friend Hugh le Despenser, it was a blow to her prestige as Queen Consort. It left her unable to fulfill her duties and relegated her to a humiliating status.

Isabella was the only daughter of Philip IV of France, a King known for his ruthlessness as well as his physical beauty, which is why he was called le Bel or "the Fair." Isabella inherited his good looks as well as his political shrewdness. At the age of 12 she was married to the 19 year old King of England, Edward II. As Isabella matured they must have made a striking couple, for Edward, like most of the Plantagenets, was tall and well-built with red-gold hair.  Unfortunately, Edward had a tendency to develop inordinate attachments to male favorites, upon whom he showered gifts, lands and titles. When Isabella first came to England, Edward gave some of her jewels to his favorite Piers Gaveston. His attentions to Gaveston disturbed many other nobles and Gaveston was murdered. Edward was heartbroken but focused on his duties. He and Isabella had four children and he showered upon her many gifts and estates. They shared a devotion to St. Thomas Becket, and the mendicant orders, although Isabella favored the Franciscans while Edward loved the Dominicans.

After a few years, however, Edward latched onto a new favorite, Hugh le Despenser the Younger, whose family and fortunes he raised high. Isabella, her lands taken away, felt that the Despensers had gained control of both the kingdom and her husband. When Edward and Hugh le Despenser sent her to France to see her brother the King on a diplomatic mission, she asked if their eldest son the Prince of Wales could accompany her. Edward, not suspecting a thing, allowed the Prince to go with the Queen. While in France, Isabella met an exiled English lord and enemy of the Despenser clan, Roger Mortimer. Together they plotted to overthrow Edward II and place young Edward on the throne.

With the help of the lords of Hainault, Isabella and Mortimer successfully invaded England and dethroned Edward. The English people, tired of the tyrannical rule of the Despensers, welcomed Isabella and her son with joy. Hugh le Despenser and his father were horribly executed. Prince Edward, who was torn between his parents, would not consent to taking his father's crown unless Edward II permitted it. Edward II abdicated in a sorrowful ceremony and later he disappeared. Some historians think he was murdered; Weir proffers a theory that has him escaping to Italy and living a life of holy penance as a hermit. No one knows for certain and it seems the question haunted many people, including his wife and son.

In the meantime, Edward III married Philippa of Hainault but Isabella would not let the young queen have any dower lands; Isabella would not surrender an acre. Her lover Roger Mortimer had become as dreadful a tyrant as the Despensers. Edward III at age 17 had to gather together a group of friends and personally overthrow Isabella and Mortimer by force of arms. Mortimer was executed and Isabella sent to live in dignified retirement in one of her many castles. She lived to see Edward and his Queen become successful rulers as they built a large family, fought with France and won, made the kingdom thrive and became, in the minds of many, the ideal king and queen. Isabella died on the octave day of the Assumption, August 22, 1358, and was buried in her wedding dress, with her husband's heart in a casket, according to her own wishes. I enjoyed Weir's book and it has me wanting to learn more about a human tragedy that played itself out on an international stage.