Thursday, November 30, 2006

Madame de Polignac and the Politics of Calumny

Once a week on this blog there will be a cameo of certain friends and relatives of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, those who might have indeed "taken tea" at Petit Trianon. The queen's closest confidante was Madame de Polignac. Gabrielle de Polastron, Duchesse de Polignac, also referred to as "Yolande," is usually portrayed in books and films as Marie-Antoinette's "bad girl" friend, responsible for leading the young queen of France into a wild, decadent lifestyle. Often depicted as a greedy, spendthrift slut, Gabrielle preferred simplicity, was a devoted mother and loyal friend of both the Louis and Antoinette. Part of the rehabilitation of Marie-Antoinette's reputation is a careful look at her relationship with Gabrielle.

Gabrielle, born in September 1749, came from an old family of Languedoc. After her mother's death when she was three, Gabrielle was given to the care of an aunt, Madame d'Andlau. While still a small child Gabrielle was placed in a convent school, where she grew up. Now many girls of high and low estate were educated by nuns in those days, including Louis XV's mistress Madame du Barry. In Gabrielle's case, perhaps because she was separated from her family at such an early age, there seems to have some influence of the religious life in her personal habits. She wore simple, tasteful clothes, never wore perfume or flashy gems, such as diamonds. Cheerful and discreet, a lover of music and the outdoors, Gabrielle grew into a refined lady of enchanting grace and beauty.

At the age of eighteen Gabrielle, was given in marriage to Comte Jules be Polignac of an ancient family of Auvergne. Since the twenty-two year old bridegroom was a captain in the Royal Pologne regiment, they moved to Paris. According to Edmond Giscard d'Estaing in the June 1977 Historia magazine (translated by a Belgian friend):

This young couple had a fortune, but they also had the charges of the poor members of their family, so that they could not afford Versailles.... So they remained with Polignac's father or Madame d'Andlau, in the Louvre or at Claye. This young woman enjoyed living in the country, and would have stayed there for her entire life without Diane de Polignac's intervention. Diane, her sister in law, was not very pretty, but she was clever, ambitious, and gifted for intrigues.

In 1774, in the beginning of the reign of Louis XVI, Gabrielle met Marie-Antoinette, and as Diane had hoped, Gabrielle's charming, easy-going manner captivated the eighteen year old queen, who was struggling with the iron restraints of the court etiquette. Antoinette had been sent to France as Louis' bride in order to further Austrian interests. Louis XVI, however, did not want his wife to meddle in politics, knowing that as a foreigner it could lead to her unpopularity. He feared to replicate the pattern of his grandfather Louis XV's reign, in which at times it seemed like Madame de Pompadour was ruling France. He also wanted to keep her from manipulation by the various factions at court, especially the liberal Orleanist clique. Authors such as Philippe Delorme, Girault de Coursac, and Bernard Fay maintain that Louis XVI encouraged his wife to befriend Gabrielle, and so created for her a circle of politically "safe" friends.

Marie-Antoinette also needed a calm, motherly companion, older than herself, to advise her about her difficulties in her marriage, her fears about pregnancy and childbirth. Gabrielle was such a friend, soothing the queen in her moments of hysteria and depression. Louis XVI held her in high regard, and gave a high office to her husband so that the Polignacs could afford to live at court. Madame de Polignac was the only person Louis XVI ever visited in a private home; he sat with her at the opera, and wrote to her when she left Versailles. As the royal family grew, the king and queen entrusted Gabrielle with their children, being that she had showed herself to be an exemplary mother of her own three. Gabrielle influenced the queen to adopt simpler styles. At Gabrielle's home and with her family, Marie-Antoinette said, "Here I truly feel at home."

According to Giscard d'Estaing, the "salon Polignac" soon provoked envy and calumny among the courtiers who were excluded from the queen's circle.

Among men in this circle, the first place was for "divine Vaudreuil," the most faithful of knights and adorers of Yolande de Polignac. This 40 years old Creole, with his face marked by smallpox, was noticeable for his entire devotion, but also for his sparkling wit, and his constantly imagining new parties, new spectacles... .Another lively person was Besenval, this greyheared Swiss, somewhat heavy, however so flexible and smart, and loyal. Fersen, this young romantic Swede, so elegant with his languid eyes, was among the most frequent too. "Handsome Fersen" and "divine Vaudreuil" played, the one towards the queen, the other one towards the duchess Jules, the same roles, that calumny arose, without convincing anyone other than those who wanted to be convinced.

But sumptuous Versailles was not built for this light existence.... this isolated little circle provoked rumors, that would soon get venomous. If the whole court was invited to the great balls organized at Versailles, only a few intimates were allowed in Madame de Polignac's salon, and this even more when the queen stayed at Trianon. Soon arose terrible criticisms and awful calumnies....The necklace affair is the most characteristic way calumny was used... The whole city of Paris was passionate about this affair, pamphlets went from hand to hand and, while the queen was so obviously totally innocent, public opinion considered her guilty, so that, even today, the queen seems to have been part to this scandal.

Marie-Antoinette was terribly upset. Madame Campan told what happened when she heard that the Cardinal had been released. "The queen cried and sobbed. 'Ah ! I feel like dying ! Ah ! Those wicked people ! What have I done to them ? If you love me, you'd better kill me !' Then, she asked for 'her friend, her dear Polignac,' who would console her. Within 10 minutes, Madame Campan wrote, she was beside the queen. She immediately entered the room. The queen stretched her arms towards her, and she ran to her. I still heard sobbing, and I went out.

The Polignacs were accused of greediness, but they were probably not anymore greedy than any other family. As Giscard d'Estaing writes:

The gifts [Madame de Polignac] received were insignificant besides those which courtiers, lords and, a fortiori, members of the royal family, were massively given. Sums Louis XIV and Louis XV spent for favorites or for palaces that were liberally distributed are considerable, and we are astonished to see how legend focuses on Yolande de Polignac only, and reproaches her, the most innocent of all, forgetting about all the other people.

The calumnies grew uglier as the propaganda machine, aimed at provoking the revolution, produced porngraphic pamphlets depicting Antoinette and Gabrielle as lesbian lovers, engaged in orgies at Trianon. Gabrielle became universally detested and was blamed for depleting the royal treasury, although it was war that had caused the bankruptcy. She "often asked to retire from the court. 'I am not made for living at Versailles,' she kept repeating."

The king wished to reform the feudal tax system and get rid of the deficit by taxing the nobility, and so he called the Estates-General in May 1789. The opening of the Estates General coincided with the death of the king and queen's seven year old son, the Dauphin Louis-Joseph. The royal couple were devastated and with difficulty met the escalating crisis. When violence erupted on July 14, 1789, Antoinette begged her friend to leave, fearing that she would be assassinated. Gabrielle begged not to abandon Louis and Antoinette in their hour of need, but the queen said, "Remember that you are a mother." On July 16, the Polignac family left Versailles for a life of exile.

Gabrielle's health deteriorated. She had cancer as well as being consumed with horror and anxiety as she heard of the imprisonment and tragedies that befell Louis and Antoinette.

One of her friends wrote: "She did not stop crying. For six months, a deep sadness, great sufferings without certain causes weakened her each day more." A last blow hit her when they were forced to announce to her this horrible news: on October, 16th, 1793, Marie-Antoinette had been beheaded in Paris. This was the true beginning of Madame de Polignac's agony. She could not survive the queen, and she herself died on December, 9th, 1793, one month and a half, precisely, after her friend.

A witness told of her death: "Her last sigh was but her last breath, and to tell this in one word, her death was as sweet as she herself had been. She was buried in Vienna and they wrote on her tomb her name only, followed by this mention: 'Dead from suffering' on December 9th, 1793."

I am more and more convinced that Gabrielle has been just as maligned as the queen. What went on with her relations and friends was a common occurence in a every court of Europe - when you rose, your family rose with you, it was almost expected. If there had been no revolution, no one would have given a second thought to the Polignacs, except perhaps to find them annoying, as many did. But with the complete upheaval of society in the Revolution, contemporaries and historians alike were/are grasping for straws to see what the queen did that made her so hated by the French people. They think it must have been the problems with La Barry, or the queen's dress allowance, or her Trianon, or Gabrielle's grasping relatives, etc.

However, Marie-Antoinette was hated because she was deliberately maligned by a careful campaign on the part of political enemies, which included dissimulating false and exaggerated rumors to the people, as well as every form of the most vile pornography. Gabrielle was routinely included in the pornograhic depictions. People were scandalized and believed that some of it must be true. Gabrielle must have done something wrong. To this day Gabrielle is seen as the naughty, greedy friend, when in reality she probably saved Antoinette's sanity. The powerful tools used to destroy the French monarchy and transform society into a totalitarian state are with us still, but on a much larger and more pervasive scale. Share

Saint Andrew's day, "O Bona Crux!"

Today is the feast of the Apostle Saint Andrew, patron of Scotland. I was able to find the tartan sash of the ancient clan of MacLachlan and wear it to Mass. My kinsmen wore the same tartan at Culloden in 1746 while fighting beside Bonnie Prince Charlie. Happy feast day to my sister Andrea and my several cousins with the name of Andrew.

Here is Robert Burns' poem Scots Wha' Hae,' one of my favorite poems as a child.

Scots wha' hae'
Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed
Or to victorie!

Now's the day, and now's the hour:
See the front o' battle lour,
See approach proud Edward's power
Chains and slaverie!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave?
Let him turn, and fleel

Wha for Scotland's King and Law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa',
Let him follow me!

By Oppression's woes and pains,
By your sons in servile chains,
We will drain our dearest veins
But they shall be free!

I always loved the stanza of Wha will be a traitor knave?...Wha so base as be a slave? It still gives me a chill.

On a darker note, Scottish native Tony Blair's wife Cherie is about to be appointed to the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences. Mrs Blair is a Catholic but she diverges from Church teaching on many points and one wonders if her appointment is some diplomatic gesture. British Catholic author and journalist Joanna Bogle writes of this on her blog; she and many of our Catholic brethren in the U.K. are not pleased and I understand why. Prayer is definitely in order.

Today begins the prayer which if prayed 15 times a day from the feast of St Andrew, Nov 30, until Christmas eve is supposed to be instrumental in bringing many graces:

Hail and blessed be the hour and the moment when Jesus Christ was born of the pure Virgin Mary at midnight in Behlehem in piercing cold. At that hour vouchsafe O my God to hear my prayer and grant my petition through the intercession of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary His Mother. Amen.

From the old Martyrology for November 30, Feast of St Andrew the Apostle:

Andrew, having been brought to the place of execution, seeing the cross at some distance, began to cry out: O good cross, made beautiful by the body of my Lord! so long desired, so anxiously loved, so unceasingly sought after, and now at last ready for my soul to enjoy! take me from amidst men, and restore me to my Master; that by thee He may receive me, Who by thee redeemed me. He was therefore fastened to the cross, on which he hung alive two days, preaching without cessation the faith of Christ....

Thus passed into eternal glory on this day the poor fisherman from Galilee, Patron saint of Scotland, of Greece, and of Holy Russia.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Hope of November 2006 by Lew Rockwell

Here is an interesting overview of the state of politics in America by Lew Rockwell. He says that a solid education is vital for a free people. I have the growing impression that people are not taught to reason anymore, but lap up whatever is fed to them by the media.

I am grateful that as a child my parents encouraged lively discussions around the dinner table. The television was in the basement, and so it did not monopolize the family dynamic. We had plenty of books and read aloud to each other, which enriched our conversations. We studied Scripture as a family. We spent a lot of time outdoors, too, roaming the woods, playing with our pets, interacting with friends. I think so many factors contributed to us being strong individuals with independent thought. Now that I am a parent myself I appreciate all the more what my father and mother did for us. Oh, we, my siblings and I, are far from perfect, but at least (I hope) we are not automatons to be manipulated by the media, or by the state. Share

The Armenian Genocide

While surfing through Catholic blogosphere for details about the Holy Father's visit to Turkey, I came to what is perhaps the snarkiest, purportedly "Catholic" blog, rich in ostentatious piety but poor as far as civility and charity go. In spite of such drawbacks, I saw the mention of "Christians persecuted in Turkey," and it reminded me of the Armenian holocaust of the early twentieth century, in which two million died. The genocide perpetrated by the Moslem Turks upon the mostly Catholic Armenians during the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire is largely forgotten. It was, however, the first mass murder of the twentieth century, a century which was to see plenty of mass killing. Armenia adapted Christianity in 301 AD, becoming the first nation to do so. The Armenians have a long tradition of suffering and martyrdom. Theirs is part of the woundedness of the land where the Vicar of Christ has gone as a true Shepherd. Share

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Review of Leslie Cottle's "Let Them Eat"

Let Them Eat (2006) starring Leslie Cottle and Mark Camacho is an independent film depicting the final hours of Marie-Antoinette. I would like to post a review by Tony Medley in the Tolucan Times, as well as links to another article here. The article and the review mention something about the Voice of God being a female, but when I watched the DVD it seemed to me to be the queen struggling with her own conscience. When my mom saw it, she understood the voice as being that of Marie-Antoinette's mother, or even that of Our Lady. I think it is open to interpretation. Anyway, it was refreshing to see someone in a film having a dark night of self-examination and self-confrontation, in this world where every sin is shrugged off as a psychological malaise.

What struck me most about Let Them Eat was Leslie's ability to become the condemned queen. Leslie is a gifted character actress; she puts herself into her performance heart and soul. She has portrayed Maria Callas among her other roles. She is also a poet and singer, a writer and director. The film is the product of her combined craftsmanship.

Leslie is a friend of mine and we have had long conversations about religion and Catholicism. She knows that I am a practicing Catholic. There are many things that we disagree about, such as past lives. However, I do not have to be in total agreement with a person in order to appreciate their art, or be their friend.
At The Movies by Tony Medley, November 15, 2006
Leslie Cottle's 43-minute DVD is a counterpoint to Sofia Coppola's grotesquely superficial biopic of the last Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Unlike Coppola's beautifully filmed dirge, Cottle takes a more serious look at Marie's last days, segueing between Marie in her cell waiting execution and a modern day Bella, both played by Cottle, who feels she is Marie reincarnated and who is going through problems of her own. Voiced over most of the scenes is Cottle reading from her own poetry. Cottle's picture of Marie is clearly more accurate than the eye candy that Coppola presents, which was an embarrassment. At least Cottle captures Marie's fight with despair as she awaits her fate. Adding to the quality of the film is the score by Yacoub Moilim. Cottle not only plays Marie and Bella, but her voice also appears as God, who discourses with Marie throughout the film, explaining to her why she is meeting such a terrible fate. This connection with what was going on in France was sorely lacking in Coppola's frivolous picture of Marie. It was hard to believe that someone could spend the money Coppola spent on her film and not even touch on what was going on in France, why people hated Marie, and why she met her fate. In 43-minutes and a miniscule budget, Cottle brings a much clearer picture of why Marie found herself in such a terrible predicament. Another part of the DVD that sets it apart for me is that it shows the courage and relative calm with which Marie accepted her fate, something that is completely lacking in Coppola's treatment.
Read more reviews at

Leslie indeed captures the courage of the queen while in the pit of abandonment, as well as her tears and her forgiveness. It is a brief film and does not cover every detail, but the essence of the portrayal is heart-wrenching and true. Ultimately, it depicts the reality of death which we all must face.

Monday, November 27, 2006

John Laughland, my cousin

As my friends have come to discover, I have lots of cousins. If I were to mention some of them on this blog, they might not be too pleased. I do not think my second cousin once removed John Laughland will mind, however. John is a distinguished Bristish journalist who writes for The Spectator, The Guardian, Lew, The American Conservative, and many other political journals. He is also the author of several books, including Travesty: The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic, The Death of Politics, and The Tainted Source. He seems to enjoy taking on controversial issues, but then a taste for controversy is a very distinct family trait. He was the last Western journalist to interview Slobodan Milosevic before his death, I am told.

Here is an book review written by John Laughland on Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt by Paul Gottfried, originally published in Insight on the News in April, 2003.

If nature abhors a vacuum, this is nowhere clearer than in the one created by modern secularism. Theological discourse having been banished from the public realm--or the churches, at any rate, having abandoned it, preferring instead to restrict their own pronouncements to tepid endorsements of the latest social and political fads--it is now only militant secularists who utter theological language.

In Britain, where child-murderer Myra Hindley died in prison recently, the tabloid press excoriated her claim to have converted to Catholicism by screaming that she was "a devil" who should "go to hell"--words which hardly ever now pass the lips of your average modern cleric. Similarly, those who attack the Catholic Church for allegedly harboring pedophiles demand from the church "a sincere act of repentance for its sins" at the very moment when the administration of the sacrament of confession has been effectively diluted out
of all existence.

If Paul Gottfried has established himself as a virulent critic of the cultural Bolshevism which has forced the progressive abandonment of such collective nostrums as national identity and Western values, he now takes that reasoning to the next logical step. In Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt (University of Missouri Press, 2002), he shows how the secularist project merely causes theological forms of behavior to erupt into the political realm, albeit in a particularly nasty and deformed way.

Gottfried speaks of the "managerial state"--he has appropriated James Burnham's phrase to lambaste the modern liberal state, which regards it as its vocation to administer the behavior and even thought processes of its own citizens. Gottfried says it has now transmuted into the "therapeutic state" in which state action is devoted to expiating the self-inflicted and unmerited guilt at the very fact of being a developed Western society.

While the United States generally is considered less "socialist" than Western European societies, Gottfried convincingly argues that the leftist project is ultimately just as strong in America, where the campaign to enforce political correctness is probably even more virulent than in Europe. But it is pretty bad over here, too. British television, for instance, recently produced a multiparty documentary about the hajj in which devout Muslims explained at length during prime time the religious significance of their journey to Mecca. It is inconceivable that the same time or prominence would be devoted to a series of programs with Christians explaining in all seriousness why walking to Santiago de Compostela obtains you a plenary indulgence, or why Our Lady of Lourdes has proven healing powers. Far from it: In Germany, as Gottfried shows, one bishop has joined the campaign to remove crucifixes from school classrooms in Bavaria.

Gottfried argues that the modern Western state now encourages the behavior patterns of a "deformed Protestant culture." The individual inheritance of Protestantism has, he says, ultimately caused the destruction of communal ties and of any sense of a common past. But, as he rightly points out, and as we see in the current crisis over Iraq, the politics of guilt does not lead to any genuine humility. On the contrary: "The repentant Protestant is allowed to go forth and bring enlightenment to others--the humbled, self-debasing sinner achieves ultimate purpose as a crusader on a never-ending global mission." George W. Bush, please note.

Literally nothing is then allowed to stand in the way of this crusade. Francis Fukuyama, as Gottfried reminds us, thinks it is wrong to agonize too much over the mass slaughter of the wars of the 20th century because, says Fukuyama, that was "the price paid" for democracy. Such universalism forms the backbone of the neoconservatives' commitment to nation-building, the export of democracy and wars to "protect peace." Even the supposedly conservative Bush administration legitimizes its attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan in the language of gender empowerment--as if bombs were the right price to pay to get Afghan women to throw off their burkas (which, in any case, few have done).

Although in some instances, the neoconservative message seems to be at odds with Gottfried's portrayal of the neoconservatives as part of the problem (David Brooks of the Weekly Standard, for instance, writes fervently of the need for a "return to national greatness"), Gottfried is right to say that important elements of the left around the world now regard the United States as their Utopia. The so-called collapse of communism was in reality the result of the abandonment by a crypto-Trotskyite new generation of communists of precisely the most conservative aspects of the late communist regime: its social prudishness
and its belief in national sovereignty.

Faced with their desire to create a nihilistic and rootless world regime of open borders and cultural cosmopolitanism, such new leftists naturally turned to America. But the Iraq crisis has produced an unexpectedly strong counter-reactionto such U.S.-imposed globalism, mainly driven by the old left. And it may therefore be that the high-water mark of U.S. crusading adventurism is also the beginning of its end.
—John Laughland, April, 2003


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Saint Cecilia's Punch

Those of you who have been to our parties have enjoyed the Saint Cecilia's Punch. My friend Virginia passed it on to me from her grandmother's recipe book. It is delightful, but please don't drink and drive! Share

A short reflection on martyrdom for Saint Cecilia's day

While in Rome, my mother bought me a small statue of Saint Cecilia, the early Roman martyr from the turn of the early third century. It is based on the life-size one in her basilica, sculpted after her incorrupt body was exhumed in the sixteenth century. She is lying on her side in her dressing gown with her neck half-severed. Cecilia was killed in her bathroom, and the executioner who hacked at her neck was put off by her calm dignity. It took her three days to die. The prelude to her ordeal was an attempt to scald her, which was why she was found near the bath - one of those huge Roman baths. For Cecilia belonged to one of the ancient Roman families and possessed great wealth. She was young, beautiful, and desired, but she died because she refused to renounce her Savior.

While journeying through life it is easy to understand why so many of the martyrs were very young. When people are young they do not understand what it is to lose life. Sacrifices are easier when you do not fully grasp what is being renounced. There is a special valor, a reckless courage, possessed by young soldiers which old soldiers do not always have. And yet Christians of every age are called to be soldiers of Christ and martyrs in spirit if not in body. The fortitude that seemed so effortless in my grandparents in their old age I see now was no small thing.

As Abbot Gueranger wrote in The Liturgical Year, Volume XV: "The lesson will not be lost if we come to understand this much: had the first Christians feared, they would have betrayed us, and the word of life would never have come down to us; if we fear, we shall betray future generations, for we are expected to transmit to them the deposit we have received from our fathers." Those who had faith and courage, whether it was Saint Cecilia in her agony, or my grandmothers in their nursing homes, where they spent many years before they died, have passed on to me a priceless gift.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Let's Bring Back Etiquette

(Here is an excerpt of an article I originally wrote for the Daughters of Mary newsletter in December, 2000.)

Etiquette is a lost only occasionally surfaces like the relic if a forgotten martyr, or an artifact of a bygone civilization. The doffing of a gentleman's hat, the curtsying of a little girl, hand-written thank-you notes and the idea of dressing for dinner, are generally regarded in the same light as the quaint customs of an indigenous tribal people. Yet the loss of etiquette is a sign of the degradation of a society that has abandoned respect for its own members because ultimately it has abandoned public, as well as private, respect for God.

We must have respect for others, as well as for ourselves, as being made in the image and likeness of our Father in Heaven. The exterior forms of courtesy are merely a concrete means of showing charity towards people, of giving them what is due to their human dignity.

Through good manners we display consideration for the feelings of others. By refraining from behavior which may disturb or disgust, we can instead cultivate words and actions which soothe, charm, and set at ease. Rather than flattery and falsehood, etiquette helps us to be at our best while bringing out what is best in our friends.

Forms of courtesy are small ceremonies or rituals applied to the most mundane situations. As Amy Vanderbuilt wrote in her 1958 Complete Book of Etiquette: "Ceremony is really a protection...If we have a social formula to guide us and do not have to extemporize, we feel better able to handle life." Knowing what to say or do in any given social situation builds self-confidence. It is not intended to make one boring or stuffy, but rather more efficacious in the giving of love. Share

Monday, November 20, 2006

Petit Trianon

Petit Trianon was originally built by Louis XV for his mistress Madame de Pompadour. It was a country-house on the grounds of Versailles, about a fifteen minute walk from the main palace. In 1774, the new twenty year old King Louis XVI gave the Little Trianon to his wife, nineteen year old Marie-Antoinette, saying, "Since Trianon has always belonged to mistresses of the king, it is only right that I should give it to you." It became a retreat where the queen could escape from the opulence and stiff formality of the court and live simply with her family. After her children were born, the queen was often there with them, desiring them to have as normal a childhood as possible. Marie-Antoinette has been criticized for "playing dairy maid" because of the farm she etablished at Trianon, giving homes and employment to otherwise destitute peasant families. Furthermore, the royal family was fed by the produce of the farm, in an attempt to cut back expenses. There were fish in the lake, fruit trees, berries, vegetables, livestock and the famous dairy with the Sevres milk pitchers. Horticultural experiments were applied there, new strains of plants, which were meant to better the lot of all the people. It was at Petit Trianon in 1785 that potatoes were introduced to France.

I first visited Trianon when I was seventeen years old. It was January, but the birds were inexplicably singing in the gardens. There was a strong sense of timelessness that I experienced then and on successive trips. Others have confided to me a similar feeling of enchantment when wandering through the gardens of Marie-Antoinette. Friends and relatives who have visited Trianon tell me that the descriptions and ambiance in the novel are quite accurate. There is nothing more pleasing to an author....

I hope this blog will capture the spirit of Trianon, which is the spirit of a queen who only sought to love and be loved in the company of her family and friends. Above are paintings by Joseph Caraud (1821-1905) of Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVI, their daughter Madame Royale, and friends, particularly the Princesse de Lamballe, relaxing at Trianon in the calm before the storm.


My nom-de-plume

On the EWTN interview Doug Keck asked me the reason for using a pen name and I replied it was in honor of my grandmother. As a child I used to say to her, "Grandma, tell me about your life." Maria Magdalena Vidal was born on May 25, 1904 on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. Her great- grandfather, Kiamko, was Chinese. She always told us that he was a merchant from Shanghai, but we found out many years later that actually he was a notorious pirate. After amassing a fortune through pillage, Kiamko eventually settled down on vast estates in the Philippines. He married a lady of Spanish-Malaysian blood, descended from one of Magellan's comrades who had settled in the islands in the sixteenth century. Kiamko's son, Alejandro Arnibal, inherited what had become an empire of fishing and sugar cane which he ruled like an oriental despot. His daughter, my grandmother's mother, was Mamerta Philomena Arnibal, an exotic beauty with dark skin and chiselled features.

Mamerta and her sisters would assist at Mass in their floor-length mantillas made of pineapple fiber. In the Philippines, the women sat on one side of the church and the men on the other. In spite of the segregation, Mamerta once caught the glance of a poor young Spaniard, Jaime Vidal. Jaime was from Barcelona in Catalonia, and was working as an accountant in his uncle's cigarette factory. He was a descendant of the Sephardic Jews of Aragon, the conversos. When his eyes met Mamerta's they both fell in love. Jaime came to her home and serenaded her under her window with his guitar. Alejandro disapproved of him as a suitor due to his lack of fortune, and he and his sons would pour buckets of water on Jaime's head.

Jaime and Mamerta eloped. She incurred her father's wrath; he crossed her out of the family Bible. It was as if she had never been born, although she and Jaime were united in holy wedlock and had nothing to be ashamed of. Years later, when she was a widow and in need of assistance, her family would not help her. They really treated her as if she had died.

Mamerta and Jaime had a son, Francisco. When she was pregnant a second time there were political problems in the islands and they decided to relocate to Spain. Jaime went first to Spain to prepare a home for them, but he was killed in a riding accident. Mamerta, abandoned by her family, was at a total loss. She gave birth to my grandmother in May 1904. Unprotected, she was kidnapped and forced to marry a Filipino gentleman whose name we do not know. He was cruel and beat Mamerta, and baby Magdalena as well. By the time Magdalena was three years old she was ill, and Mamerta feared for her life. She heard of an orphanage for mixed race children called the House of the Holy Child run by American missionaries. She took her little girl there and begged them to take care of her.

The House of the Holy Child was operated by the Anglican Church under the auspices of a former Boston socialite, Frances Crosby. She was a maiden-lady with no children of her own. She was enchanted by Magdalena and raised her as her own daughter, giving her the last name of "Crosby." Magdalena was baptized a Catholic but her "godmother," as she called Miss Frances, raised her as a high Anglican. Frances later married an Anglican clergyman, Father Barter. They were both devoted to my grandmother, raising her as a proper young lady.

Magdalena was a bright and precocious child and wanted to be a teacher. She began teaching as early as age fourteen, and by age twenty had her teaching certificate. It was then she met my grandfather, Herman, from Alabama. He had a fiancee back in the States but when he became enamored of my grandmother he broke his engagement. Her foster mother did not approve of Herman because he was a Baptist, so Herman and Magdalena eloped. They had four children and the youngest was my mother.

When the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1942 my grandfather, being an American citizen, was sent to Santo Tomas concentration camp in Manila. My grandmother made ends meet by tutoring the daughters of the future president of the Philippines, Manuel Quezon. My grandmother hid Filipino guerilla soldiers in her attic, risking death since the Japanese made frequent house searches. When the Americans came to liberate the Philippines, there were massacres in the streets of Manila. My grandmother knew they had to escape. She crawled through the mud with her children, trying to avoid land mines, to hide in a burnt out house in a district where the Japanese had already been. They almost starved to death, but were eventually reunited with my grandfather and returned to his family home in Alabama.

I will write more on this later. I promised my grandmother that someday I would write a novel of her life, and I plan to do so, God willing. Share