Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Little Princess

From Tiny-Librarian.

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Halloween in Tudor England

 Nancy Bilyeau discusses the genius of the Church in baptizing pagan customs so that they became part of the celebrations of the high and holy Christian feast days. The Reformation tried to purify the Faith of any "pagan" superstitions, which resulted in a great deal of destruction.  Of course, black magic was always forbidden to Christians by the Church and in most places, witchcraft was a capital offense. To quote:
Nothing shows the merger of Celtic and Christian beliefs better than "soul cakes." These small, round cakes, filled with nutmeg or cinnamon or currants, were made for All Saints’ Day on November 1st. The cakes were offered as a way to say prayers for the departed (you can picture the village priest nodding in approval) but they were also given away to protect people on the day of the year that the wall was thinnest between the living and the dead, a Celtic if not Druid belief. I am fascinated by soul cakes, and I worked them into my first novel, The Crown, a thriller set in 1537-1538 England. Soul cakes even end up being a clue!

In the early 16th century, Halloween on October 31st, All Saints’ Day (or All Hallows Day) on November 1st and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd were a complex grouping of traditions and observances. Life revolved around the regular worship, the holidays and the feast days that constituted the liturgy. As the great Eamon Duffy wrote: "For within that great seasonal cycle of fast and festival, of ritual observance and symbolic gesture, lay Christians found the paradigms and the stories which shaped their perception of the world and their place in it." (Read more.)
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Halloween and the Catholic Family

Some prudent observations from Scott Richert:

The Christian Origins of Halloween:

"Halloween" is a name that means nothing by itself. It is a contraction of "All Hallows Eve," and it designates the vigil of All Hallows Day, more commonly known today as All Saints Day. ("Hallow," as a noun, is an old English word for saint. As a verb, it means to make something holy or to honor it as holy.) All Saints Day, November 1, is a Holy Day of Obligation, and both the feast and the vigil have been celebrated since the early eighth century, when they were instituted by Pope Gregory III in Rome. (A century later, they were extended to the Church at large by Pope Gregory IV.)

The Pagan Origins of Halloween:

Despite concerns among some Catholics and other Christians in recent years about the "pagan origins" of Halloween, there really are none. The first attempts to show some connection between the vigil of All Saints and the Celtic harvest festival of Samhain came over a thousand years after All Saints Day became a universal feast, and there's no evidence whatsoever that Gregory III or Gregory IV was even aware of Samhain.
In Celtic peasant culture, however, elements of the harvest festival survived, even among Christians, just as the Christmas tree owes its origins to pre-Christian Germanic traditions without being a pagan ritual. (Read more.)
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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Pirate Queen

Ching Shih was a nineteenth century woman pirate who expected strict discipline from her buccaneers and imposed upon them a code of behavior. I find all of this fascinating since on my mother's side I am descended from a Chinese pirate named Kiamko. From Today I Found Out:
At the Red Flag Fleet’s peak in 1810, she commanded about 1800 ships, both big and small; 70,000-80,000 pirates (about 17,000 male pirates directly under her control, the rest being other pirate groups who agreed to work with her group, then female pirates, children, spies, farmers enlisted to supply food, etc.); controlled nearly the entire Guangdong province directly; held a vast spy network within the Qing Dynasty; and dominated the South Chinese Sea.
She didn’t just rely on looting, blackmailing, and extortion to support her troops either.  She setup an ad hoc government to support her pirates including establishing laws and taxes.  Because she controlled pretty much the entire criminal element in the South Chinese Sea, she also was able to guarantee safe passage through it to any merchants who wanted to pay.  Of course, if they didn’t pay, they were fair game for her pirates.
In order to manage her ruffians and get them all to do what she said without question, she setup a strict system of law within the Red Flag Fleet which basically equated to, “You don’t follow the rules or I think you aren’t and you get your head chopped off.  No exceptions.”  Specific laws included:
  • If you disobey an order, you get your head chopped off and body thrown in the ocean.
  • If you steal anything from the common plunder before it has been divvied up, you get your head chopped off and body thrown in the ocean.
  • If you rape anyone without permission from the leader of your squadron, you get your head chopped off and your body thrown in the ocean.
  • If you have consensual sex with anyone while on duty, you get your head chopped off and your body thrown in the ocean and the woman involved would get something heavy strapped to her and also tossed in the ocean.
  • If you loot a town or ship of anything at all or otherwise harass them when they have paid tribute, you get your head chopped off and your body thrown into the ocean.
  • If you take shore-leave without permission, you get your head chopped off and body thrown into the ocean.
  • If you try to leave the organization, you get your head… ha, just kidding, in this case you get your ears chopped off.
  • Captured ugly women were to be set free unharmed.  Captured pretty women could be divvied up or purchased by members of the Red Flag Fleet.  However, if a pirate was awarded or purchased a pretty woman, he was then considered married to her and was expected to treat her accordingly. If he didn’t, he gets his head cut off and body thrown in the ocean.
(Read more.)
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Sacrilege and Blasphemy

Terry Nelson explains:
God is gravely offended by sacrilege and blasphemy.  We try to make reparation for such sins through prayer and penance.  ["Reparation is a work destined to save society." - Pius IX]  When possible, it seems to me it is even better to prevent the commission of such sins.  For myself, that is the positive side, the merciful aspect of Bishop Paprocki's actions, he not only prevented public blasphemy but he also protected the faithful from grave scandal.  There are consequences to sin. (Read more.)
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The High Kings of Ireland

From Medievalists:
The sources of the eleventh and twelfth centuries certainly allow us to discern a considerable extension in the powers of the greatest overkings. These sources also record for the first time a number of practices which hitherto had not been noticed; however, the extent to which such practices were new features of the period is difficult to determine. The proposition that local kings suffered a drastic decline in status (as opposed to power) in the same period is reappraised, and found to receive little support from the contemporary sources, principally the chronicles. The thesis demonstrates that overall, we must think of Irish kingship as a dynamic institution, but one in which many different kings and dynasties, were significant, rather than the select few which have received the most scholarly attention. The medieval Irish polity was more complex, but therefore more interesting. (Read more.)
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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Hameau of Chantilly

Marie-Antoinette was not the only one who had a peasant village built in her gardens. Others did as well. At least in Marie-Antoinette's case she brought destitute families to live in the cottages. From Anna Gibson. Share

The Shame of Our Prisons

A new report:
The consistency of the findings from these surveys is overwhelming. The same factors that put inmates at risk of sexual abuse show up again and again, as do the same patterns of abuse involving race and gender, inmates and guards. Prison officials used to say that inmates were fabricating their claims in order to cause trouble. But then why, for example, do whites keep reporting higher levels of inmate-on-inmate sexual abuse than blacks? Is there some cultural difference causing white inmates to invent more experiences of abuse (or else causing blacks to hide what they are suffering)? If so, then why do blacks keep reporting having been sexually abused by their guards at higher rates than whites?1 The more closely one looks at these studies, the more persuasive their findings become. Very few corrections professionals now publicly dispute them.

The BJS has just released a third edition of its National Inmate Survey (NIS), which covers prisons and jails, and a second edition of its National Survey of Youth in Custody (NSYC). These studies confirm some of the most important findings from earlier surveys—among others, the still poorly understood fact that an extraordinary number of female inmates and guards commit sexual violence. They also reveal new aspects of a variety of problems, including (1) the appalling (though, from state to state, dramatically uneven) prevalence of sexual misconduct by staff members in juvenile detention facilities; (2) the enormous and disproportionate number of mentally ill inmates who are abused sexually; and (3) the frequent occurrence of sexual assault in military detention facilities. (Read more.)
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The Irish Famine of the 1740's

An early famine which prefigured the Great Hunger one hundred years later. From Historical Writings:
It started with a Great Frost in December 1739 and went on to September 1741. Temperatures across Ireland and Europe plummeted to -12 °C indoors, and as high as -32°C outdoors. Little snow fell, as the winds increased, and temperatures dropped even further. Ireland and most of Europe had been affected, as rivers, lakes and streams froze, and the fish died in the first few weeks of this natural disaster.

Hypothermia was the greatest fear; people burned what they could to stay alive. Country dwellers fared better, as many properties were of wooden construction, and they burned trees to keep warm. In normal weather conditions, Ireland received shipments of coal from Wales and Scotland, but the weather temporarily suspended deliveries. By late January 1740, when shipments had resumed, prices had soared, above most people’s pockets.

Much machinery in those days was powered by water, and the sub-zero temperatures brought them to a halt. Like the food processing plants, cloth for the weavers, and paper for the printers. Then Ireland was plunged into darkness, when the oil froze, and the street lights were snuffed out.

Ireland had two main food sources; potato and oatmeal. Potatoes were grown in gardens and on farms, but most had been attacked by the frost and destroyed. In the spring of 1740, the rains did not come, the frost dissipated, but the fierce cold winds remained. If the cold had not killed off the livestock; sheep and cattle etc, the drought was the final straw.

In the summer of 1740, the people of Ireland faced a famine of the likes they had never experienced … The frost had killed the potato harvest. The drought killed off the grain harvest, cattle and sheep. People were starving, and food was becoming scarce. There started a mass exit out of Northern Ireland, heading to the south of the country, where beggars lined the streets. (Read more.)
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Monday, October 28, 2013

Lost Abbey

Lost Abbey is a suspenseful young adult novel by Amanda Jones and Clinton Jones about the plight of English Catholics in the reign of James I. From Amazon:
All sisters fight, but not all sister fights threaten the family with total destruction. Susannah Hill, the youngest maid at Oldbourne Manor in 1610, knows her sister is wrong to sneak out at night. But she isn't ready for what she discovers when she spies on Mary, her beloved older sister, courting by moonlight. Mary's suitor brings a gift, and Mary keeps it secret. Unable to curb her curiosity, Susannah soon finds Mary is hiding a Holy Bible, freshly printed in English. This is fine - and legal - in Protestant England, but at Oldbourne, recusant Catholics keep their ancestors’ faith against the law. Mary has privately turned Protestant. Will she give away their secret, a secret so dangerous that it could lead to the grisly death reserved for traitors? Would Mary even endanger the life of the little sister she has nurtured since their mother died in childbirth? Will Susannah have to choose between her faith and her family?
Lost Abbey gives a balanced picture of the religious conflicts of the era from the point of view of two young girls. It shows the particular hardships visited upon those Catholics who could not afford to pay the recusant fines levied by the government. In  many cases, they were faced with homelessness, beggary and imprisonment. Since families were indeed faced with utter destruction it made it easy for many to give in and join the state-sanctioned church. The fact that choices have far-reaching consequences is a strong message of the book. With vivid descriptions and multidimensional characters, it is book that shows that God's mercy never leaves us, even in the darkest moments.

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A Warning Unheeded

How much tragedy and crime would have been prevented if only the bishops would have listened to what Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald had to say about pedophiles. From R.J. Stove:
 To summarize: in the 1950s, Fr. Fitzgerald constituted a rare voice—often, it would seem, a lone voice—on the subject of sexual immorality, and above all pederasty, in the priesthood. This was at a time when such Molochs as Freudianism and the Kinsey Report still exercised such tyrannical rule over the American public culture, that their despotism was conceded (and applauded) by old-fashioned buttoned-up liberals like Lionel Trilling, quite as much as new-fashioned monsters like Allen Ginsberg. Against this despotism, even such classic admonitions as Fulton Sheen’s Peace of Soul proved almost useless....
This is, in part, what Fr. Fitzgerald said. The letter came into the public domain only four years ago:
These men, Your Excellency, are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishop I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary laicization [in his haste he spelled it “laycization”] … It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished the island retreat—but even an island is too good for these vipers of whom the Gentle Master said—it were better they had not been born—this is an indirect way of saying damned, is it not? When I see the Holy Father I am going to speak of this class to His Holiness.
Well, this cri de coeur proved to be—as A.J.P. Taylor would have put it—a turning-point of history at which history failed to turn. A year afterward, Pope Pius XII, in whom Fr. Fitzgerald invested such high hopes, had died.  A decade afterward, the very words “damned” and “wrath” had largely disappeared from Catholic consciousness, as being excessively “negative.” (Read more.)
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The Slave Trade Today

Sadly and tragically, it is going strong. To quote:
“Modern-day slavery has many faces,” said Ana Steele, president of the Dalit Freedom Network USA and Dalit Freedom Network UK, explaining that the United Nations’ definition includes “the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Regardless of what form it takes, Steele explained, “it is incumbent on each one of us to combat modern-day slavery wherever it exists.”

Her comments come in the wake of the release of the 2013 Global Slavery Index, which detailed the various kinds of modern-day slavery, as well as countries with the highest density.

The Global Slavery Index used research conducted over a period of 10 years and was compiled by a team of four authors and drew from support of 22 experts. Although this is the first, the aim is to conduct a yearly report on global slavery.

The report stated that “modern slavery takes many forms and is known by many names: slavery, forced labor or human trafficking,” and it included these different forms in its study of slavery around the world. (Read more.)
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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Passport of Madame de Korff

The passport used by the Royal Family during their flight to Montmédy. (Via Le monde de l'élégance et de l'art's Photos) Share

Inquisitors of Languedoc

From Medievalists:
Among these is the rich mass of documentation relating to the inquisition of heretical depravity in Languedoc in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This material, spanning a period of well over a century, lets us to see how reactions to the inquisitors changed over time. The evidence shows a distinct pattern of learning and adjustment by the people of Languedoc. When the inquisition was first founded, its procedures and personnel were in a state of flux. It was a new, unpredictable player in the political arena. How best to deal with it was anything but clear. What we see is an often flailing pattern of responses that betrays confusion, an often astonishing naïveté, and resort to large-scale defiance and open violence, much of it counterproductive. As the inquisition perfected its processes and became a regular part of the socio-political landscape, however, people learned how to adjust to it. Responses to it became more sophisticated — and perhaps more effective. Some people, including those who had passed through the investigatory and punitive machinery of the inquisitors, learned how to “colonize” the inquisition, using it to accomplish their own ends. (Read more.)
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The New Cuba

Well, at least they are now allowed to own cell phones. From National Geographic:
There’s a term Cuban housewives use as they make their rounds in search of the day’s family food: pollo por pescado. It means “chicken for fish”: You have promised fish for dinner, but in the stores there is no fish, so you get a little chicken and pretend it’s your fish. Cuba is surrounded by seawater, of course. Where is all the fish? Ah, any Cuban will tell you, leaning in close, a merry gleam in his eye: glad you asked, mi amor. The fish is in the restaurants. The fish is in the hotel buffets, a popular amenity for tourists, where long counters are piled high with varieties and quantities of food no ordinary Cuban ever sees. The fish is being sold out of private homes, if you know which doorbell to ring. In many of these locales the fish—like nearly every desirable product in Cuba, from nightclub admission to hair dye and plasma TVs and acid-washed blue jeans—is being sold in CUCs.

Now we come to that aspect of present-day Cuba that causes the yuma (that’s the grammatically adaptable slang for “American,” “foreigner,” and also “the general outside world to the north and east”) to reach for a calculator and some aspirin and a crash course in recent Cuban history. The CUC, which is shorthand for Cuban convertible peso, is one of the two official currencies of Cuba. Like the libreta, the double-currency system is in theory destined for extinction; things are so fluid in Cuba that by the time you read this, it’s conceivable the government will have begun ending it. But to appreciate fully the elaborate survival negotiations that have dominated so many Cubans’ daily lives in recent years, you have to come to grips with the essential weirdness of the CUC.

It’s a recently invented currency, introduced a decade ago as a replacement for the dollars and other foreign money that began flooding and disrupting the country after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, thus ending the big-socialists-to-little-socialists financial support that had been holding up the Cuban economy. The multiyear Cuban depression that followed the Soviet breakup was catastrophic (fuel shortages, 14-hour blackouts, widespread hunger), and the government set out to counter it by throwing the island open to international tourism. This was all done rather fiercely, with a flurry of beach hotel building that continues to this day—current plans include multiple golf courses and jet-capacity airports—while anticapitalist admonishments still declaim from highway billboards and urban walls:

SOCIALISM OR DEATH!

THE CHANGES MEAN MORE SOCIALISM!

In its purest concept the CUC is used for goods and services somehow connected to foreignness: hotel bills, international transactions, Fidel T-shirts in the souvenir shops, and so on. One CUC is worth about one U.S. dollar, and it’s simple to obtain them; whether you’re a yuma or a Cuban, state employees at exchange centers will take whatever currency you hand them and count out your reciprocal CUCs, wishing you a pleasant day when they’re done.

These employees, like the rest of the Cubans who work for the state—currently about 80 percent of the country’s labor force—are not paid in CUCs. They’re paid in the other currency, the Cuban national peso. One national peso is worth 1/24 of a CUC, or just over four cents, and in socialist Cuba state salaries are fixed; the range as of mid-2012 was between about 250 and 900 pesos a month. Some workers now receive a CUC stimulus to augment their peso wages, and recent changes are lifting top-end salary limits and linking pay more to productivity than to preset increments. But it was Cubans who taught me the national comic line about public workplace philosophy: “They pretend to pay us, while we pretend to work.” (Read more.)
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

October

From The Dutchess:
                                                  O hushed October morning mild,
                                                  Begin the hours of this day slow,
                                                  Make the day seem to us less brief...
                                                  Retard the sun with gentle mist;
                                                  Enchant the land with amethyst...

                                                  ~Robert Frost


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A Beautiful Boy

Congratulations to Prince George of Cambridge on the  occasion of his holy christening! May God keep him safe and help him to be a great king. Share

How Eating Affects Our Brain

From Psychology Today:
I recently stumbled onto a book that opened my eyes in many ways to the misinformation plaguing Americans regarding healthy eating, particularly where it concerns brain health. The book, Grain Brain, by Dr. David Perlmutter, is mind-blowing—no pun intended—and disruptive to some long-standing beliefs about what our bodies require for optimal health.

"The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low-carbohydrate diet, which unfortunately is relatively uncommon in human populations today," he says. Carbohydrates typically thought of as healthy, even brown rice, 100% whole grain bread, or quinoa—mainstays of many of the most health-conscious kitchens—cause disorders like dementia, ADHD, chronic headaches, and Alzheimer’s, over a lifetime of consumption. By removing these carbohydrates from the diet—harbingers of inflammation, the true source of problems that plague our brains and hearts—and increasing the amount of fat and cholesterol we consume, we can not only protect our most valuable organ, but also potentially, undo years of damage. Cholesterol, for example, long vilified by the media and medical community, actually promotes neurogenesis (the birth of new brain cells) and communication between neurons, to the degree that studies have shown that higher levels of serum cholesterol correlates to more robust cognitive prowess. (Read more.)
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Friday, October 25, 2013

Faces of the American Revolution

Here are some amazing photos of veterans of the War for Independence:
These stunning images are early photographs of some of the men who bravely fought for their country in the Revolutionary War some 237 years ago. Images of Americans who fought in the Revolution are exceptionally rare because few of the Patriots of 1775-1783 lived until the dawn of practical photography in the early 1840s. These early photographs – known as daguerreotypes – are exceptionally rare camera-original, fully-identified photographs of veterans of the War for Independence – the war that established the United States. (Read more.)
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Twelve Years a Slave

Great review from Steven Greydanus.
The film, directed by British filmmaker Steve McQueen, been compared to Schindler’s List, a comparison that, in some ways, does it a disservice. The protagonist of Schindler’s List was a German with a conscience; Jewish characters were in the background. Like The Butler earlier this year (also from a black director, Lee Daniels), 12 Years a Slave focuses solidly on black characters in a story that includes decent white characters as well as monstrous ones, but no white hero per se.

Perhaps you’re already thinking this is a movie that I think you should see, rather than a movie you would want to see. Perhaps, no matter how I might praise the brilliant direction and stunning cinematography, or Chiwetel Ejiofor’s riveting lead performance, you’re thinking a harsh, unflinching movie about slavery isn’t your cup of tea. You might even be wondering whether, in 2013, we really need yet another movie about slavery. Haven’t we seen it all before?

What if I were to tell you that until now there has never been a major historical motion picture about the slave experience in America? Could that possibly be true? Hollywood has produced plenty of historical dramas about race and racism (many dominated by white protagonists or major characters) from The Help to Glory. Steven Spielberg’s Amistad was more about abolitionists; as with Schindler’s List, oppressed characters were in the background.

There is no shortage of firsthand source material on the actual experiences of American slaves. Scores of ex-slave memoirs were published and disseminated by abolitionists prior to the Civil War. After the war, writers and journalists recorded thousands of interviews with former slaves. A few of these accounts are famous for the post-enslavement careers of their authors, such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas. Why have neither of these notable figures been the subject of a major motion picture?

In the annals of firsthand slave narratives, the story of Solomon Northup, first published in 1853, is particularly poignant. (Northup’s memoir, written with the aid of a writer named David Wilson, was a bestseller in its time, and was repopularized in 1968 by historians Joseph Logsdon and Sue Eakin. The full text is available online.)

A free-born New York native, a husband and father of three, Northup had been lured in 1841 to the slave city of Washington, where — like countless other free blacks during this time period — he was kidnapped, shipped to the Deep South (Baton Rouge) and sold into slavery. Generations of schoolchildren have learned about the Underground Railroad; why are they not taught about this horrifying “Reverse Underground Railroad”? Why had I not heard about it until now?

The choice of this story lends the first act of 12 Years a Slave a greater immediacy and impact than other slave narratives might have. When we first meet Solomon Northup, he’s a working family man, a violinist married to a cook, both with jobs that occasionally take them out of town. They are respectable, well educated, relatively comfortable: a family with lives and challenges recognizably similar to our own.

All of this makes the shock and abhorrence of what happens to Solomon all the more crushing. Ejiofor brings a dignity and warmth to the early scenes with his family, and a horror and bewilderment over what unexpectedly befalls him, that makes the viewer feel his disorientation and disbelief. He responds as any of us would — with outrage and defiance. But he is in the hands of professional predators whose livelihood depends on crushing this natural, human assertion of right.

Even so, Northup’s self-possession is never entirely eradicated. Set apart from his fellow slaves by his vocabulary, worldliness and assertiveness, Northup impresses his first master, a gentle Baptist preacher (Benedict Cumberbatch), with his competence and vision — qualities that only make Northup a target to stupid, cruel men like Tibeats (Paul Dano), who works for Ford, and Epps (Michael Fassbender), a plantation owner who becomes Northup’s second owner.

Making some effort to accommodate himself to the role imposed on him, Northup learns to hide what may be, other than his indomitable determination to be reunited with his family, his greatest asset: his dangerous ability to read and write. The logistics of composing a letter and getting it to friends in the North, who could produce copies of his papers of freedom, may be seemingly insurmountable, but he keeps trying. (Read more.)
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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Queen Henrietta Maria's Dwarf

Stepanie Mann quotes Fr. Rutler about Queen Henrietta Maria's devoted retainer:
In the saga of Catholic curiosities, unique is the smallest known adult Catholic, Sir Jeffrey Hudson who as a man was eighteen inches tall. His parents and siblings were of average height. He was not a typical dwarf, inasmuch as he was perfectly proportioned in every way, only tiny—more of what is called vernacularly a midget, and technically a pituitary dwarf, conditioned by a lack of growth hormone. But his hypopituitarism was without precedent in England and his perfect and delicate miniature size distinguished him from the common Continental court dwarves of his day. As a possible portent, he was born on June 14, 1619 in England’s smallest county, Rutland, whose motto is “Multum in Parvo,” or, Much in Little as David Cameron might try to translate it. His father raised cattle, particularly bulls for baiting, for the Duke of Buckingham. When little Jeffrey failed to grow, he was taken in to the Buckingham household as a “rarity of nature.” He was seven years old and when King Charles I and his queen Henrietta Maria were entertained by the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham, the lavish banquet ended with a large pie out of which popped Jeffrey Hudson in a miniature suit of armor. This gave rise to a rumor that he had been baked in the pie, but this was not the case. The Queen was so delighted that the Buckinghams presented their rarity to her. The Queen kept a separate household at Denmark House in London, and Jeffrey joined it at the end of 1626, along with two disproportionate dwarfs and a Welsh giant. Jeffrey became favored for his wit and elegance, and Inigo Jones wrote costumed masques in which he took part. The French queen’s court was Catholic and housed so many priests that some objections were raised among Londoners who feared a conspiracy might be afoot. Jeffrey embraced Catholicism and kept his faith throughout his difficult life, regularly assisting at Low Masses which occasioned tasteless puns. (Read more.)
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Medieval Monsters

I must admit, I have never heard of either a Blemmyae or a Cynocephali until now. From Medievalists:
In her book Monsters and Grotesques in Medieval Manuscripts, Alixe Bovey explains “the monsters of the Bible are few, but important: the first is the serpent who tempts Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, resulting in their expulsion from Paradise. Generally interpreted to be the Devil in disguise, in several ways this serpent is the archetype for demonic monsters of the Middle Ages. Its snaking body a kind of metaphor for opportunistic cunning, the serpent is able to prey on human weaknesses such as pride and greed.”

The dragon is the ultimate form of the serpent and can be found in many medieval tales. In bestiaries it is said that their most powerful weapon is the tail, which could be used to squeeze and suffocate their prey. Elephants are said to be their mortal enemy, but one can also find several saints who do battle with dragons. (Read more.)
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Early Reminiscences of Queen Victoria

History and Other Thoughts quotes Queen Victoria:
I was brought up very simply—never had a room to myself till I was nearly grown up—always slept in my Mother's room till I came to the Throne. At Claremont, and in the small houses at the bathing-places, I sat and took my lessons in my Governess's bedroom. I was not fond of learning as a little child—and baffled every attempt to teach me my letters up to 5 years old—when I consented to learn them by their being written down before me.

I remember going to Carlton House, when George IV. lived there, as quite a little child before a dinner the King gave. The Duchess of Cambridge and my 2 cousins, George and Augusta, were there. My Aunt, the Queen of Würtemberg (Princess Royal), came over, in the year '26, I think, and I recollect perfectly well seeing her drive through the Park in the King's carriage with red liveries and 4 horses, in a Cap and evening dress,—my Aunt, her sister Princess Augusta, sitting opposite to her, also in evening attire, having dined early with the Duke of Sussex at Kensington. She had adopted all the German fashions and spoke broken English—and had not been in England for many many years. She was very kind and good-humoured but very large and unwieldy. She lived at St James's and had a number of Germans with her.

In the year '26 (I think) George IV. asked my Mother, my Sister and me down to Windsor for the first time; he had been on bad terms with my poor father when he died,—and took hardly any notice of the poor widow and little fatherless girl, who were so poor at the time of his (the Duke of Kent's) death, that they could not have travelled back to Kensington Palace had it not been for the kind assistance of my dear Uncle, Prince Leopold. We went to Cumberland Lodge, the King living at the Royal Lodge. Aunt Gloucester was there at the same time. When we arrived at the Royal Lodge the King took me by the hand, saying: 'Give me your little paw.'

He was large and gouty but with a wonderful dignity and charm of manner. He wore the wig which was so much worn in those days. Then he said he would give me something for me to wear, and that was his picture set in diamonds, which was worn by the Princesses as an order to a blue ribbon on the left shoulder. I was very proud of this,—and Lady Conyngham pinned it on my shoulder. Her husband, the late Marquis of Conyngham, was the Lord Chamberlain and constantly there, as well as Lord Mt. Charles (as Vice-Chamberlain), the present Lord Conyngham.
(Read more.)
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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Son at Last

The birth of the Dauphin Louis-Joseph. Louis XVI brings the cordon bleu with the Order of the Holy Spirit to place around his little son. From Tiny-Librarian:
On October 22nd, in 1781, a much longed for son was born to Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The Queen had gone into labour in the early morning hours, and, as the King later wrote  "At exactly a quarter past one by my watch she was successfully delivered of a boy."
Silence greeted his birth, and Marie Antoinette assumed that she had given the country another Princess. Her husband was the one who broke the news to her saying "Madame, you have fulfilled our wishes and those of France, you are the mother of a Dauphin". (Read more.)
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A Wedding Dress for a Holocaust Survivor

From Jewish Woman:
A white wedding gown may have seemed like a frivolous request in the surreal environment of a Displaced Persons camp, but for Lilly the dress symbolized the innocent, normal life she and her family had once led- before the world descended into madness.
Lilly and her siblings were raised in a Torah observant home in the small town of Zarica, Czechoslovakia where her father was a teacher, respected and well liked by the young yeshiva students he taught in nearby Irsheva.

He and his two sons were marked for extermination immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz. For Lilly and her sisters it was only the first stop on their long journey of persecution, which included Plashof, Neustadt, Gross Rosen and finally Bergen Belsen. (Read more.)
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Food and Social Boundaries in Medieval England

From Medievalists:
While in the early part of the period the consumption of meat carried a status value, the impact of the Black Death and the resultant shift in the balance of society and the weakening of aristocratic wealth and power changed this. The lower classes of society subsequently had access to a greater quantity of meat while the aristocracy shifted its focus to the consumption of wild birds. It is argued that this change in food consumption represents an attempt to reestablish social differentiation through diet. (Read more.)
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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Monument Unrealized

This picture shows the 1790 plan to build a statue of Henri IV and Louis XVI together in front of the National Assembly in Paris but it was not to be. (Via Louis XX.) Share

Last of the Irish Bards

Who really composed the music of the "Star-Spangled Banner"?
The O’Carolan composition considered the likely “ancestor” of the music is a piece called “Bumper Squire Jones” which honours the named gentleman as one of the composer’s patrons. This was composed by O’Carolan in 1723. The theory is that subsequently the tune of Squire Jones found its way to London where it was used by John Stafford Smith who added his own words to make a drinking song called “Anacreon in Heaven”. This was done at the behest of a gentleman’s club in London, which was dedicated to “wit, harmony and the god of wine”.

This song was apparently a “big hit” in certain circles during the late 18th and early 19th century before it traveled across the Atlantic; where it was modified and used by Francis Scott Key as music for his composition commemorating the Battle of Fort MacHenry in September 1814. In this battle the occupying British Navy was defeated by the embryonic American Navy.

From there the song became first a patriotic song throughout the United States, until it was eventually declared the National Anthem in 1931, two years after the fact that the nation had no official anthem was brought to the attention of millions of Americans by the popular 'Ripley's Believe it or Not’ radio programme.

Who was Turlough O’Carolan?

The so-called “Last of the Irish Bards” was born near the oddly named village of Nobber in County Meath in 1678, where he lived the first 18 years of his life.  His father was a small farmer and blacksmith. Turlough’s earliest works (musical and poetic) were dedicated to his first love, Bridget Cruise who lived nearby. In all he composed four pieces in this young lady’s honour.

At about this time, two significant events occurred in the young man’s life.

For some unrecorded and unknown reason, the entire O’Carolan family moved from Meath to the North Roscommon/Leitrim area west of the River Shannon where John Carolan was hired as blacksmith by the MacDermott Roe family of Alderford, near the village of Ballyfarnon. No doubt, the pain of his departure from his beloved Bridget inspired young Turlough's artistic heart to compose some his earliest pieces that still bear her name.

The second watershed event which occurred around this time was when Turlough was struck by the dreaded disease, smallpox, for which there was then no known cure. Resulting from this, Turlough O’Carolan would spend the rest of his life sightless. (Read more.)
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Monday, October 21, 2013

A Riveting Simulcast

Through the courtesy of the wizards of technology I was privileged to see a live in HD performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin by the Metropolitan Opera. This opera, based upon a poem by Pushkin, was favored by Tsar Nicholas II. It has a special place in my heart as well. It was a magnificent performance and having a Slavic cast makes all the difference. According to The Washington Times:
While some aspersions have been cast on the English National Opera sets used for this production, we found them quite serviceable and appropriate to the snowy mood that the original stage director, Deborah Warren, was attempting to convey.

Updating the action of the opera slightly to the late 1800s, this production, along with the crisp, clean, elegant lines of Chloe Obolensky’s period costuming, replicated the stiff, wintry, formal Russian society of the time that, like the English Victorians, was capable of concealing great passion beneath a politically correct exterior.

As for the opera itself, “Eugene Onegin,” based on Alexander Pushkin’s eponymous verse novel, is regarded by many as Tchaikovsky’s greatest opera. With its 2013 cast, the Met clearly found an ensemble that’s as capable of confirming this judgment as any.

Pushkin’s tale exemplifies the age-old legend of the Wheel of Fortune that spins, in this case, in two different directions for the opera’s principal characters. Onegin (Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecien), Pushkin’s brooding anti-hero, is a dashingly handsome, intelligent minor member of the landed aristocracy. He is also quite the nihilist, however, regarding his fellow men and women, with rare exceptions, as not generally worthy of cultivation. He treats women in particular as objects of contempt, although he’s not beneath pursuing them whenever it suits the moment.

Onegin is introduced to the bookish but apparently dull Tatiana (Russian soprano Anna Netrebko) who immediately shakes out of intellectual torpor and falls madly in love with him. But, when she incautiously makes the first move by writing a passionate love letter to Onegin, the latter coldly spurns her. Things deteriorate further when, attempting to have some fun with his friend Lenski (Polish tenor Piotr Beczala), a sensitive aspiring poet, he callously pursues Lenski’s beloved childhood sweetheart Olga (Russian mezzo-soprano Oksana Volkova) —Tatiana’s sister—causing the impetuous Lenski to challenge him to a duel. Both realize—too late—their huge, needless miscalculations.

Years later, upon Onegin’s return to St. Petersburg after a lengthy tour abroad, he is astounded to learn that Tatiana is now married to his relative, the gracious older noble, Prince Gremin (Belarusian bass Alexei Tanovitsky). But when Onegin, true to form, attempts to rekindle his now-impossible connection with Tatiana, she spurns his advances, leaving him to bitterly contemplate the vicissitudes of pride and fate as the curtain falls. The principal singers featured in the Met simulcast were almost uniformly superb and were also quite distinctive in their interpretation of each role, key in an opera where a strong ensemble is mandatory for a truly successful production.

Ms. Netrebko, whom we have long admired since first seeing her many seasons ago with the Washington National Opera as a winsome, tragic Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” has grown into a distinctive soprano superstar who at this point in her career has decided to dig into major tragic opera roles while leaving the ingénues behind. And that’s an interesting situation in “Onegin.” Tatiana is introduced to use precisely as a naïve young girl. But her character rapidly transforms after being spurned by Eugene, becoming more mature and self-possessed figure by the opera’s close—a reverse image of her former self.

Ms. Netrebko makes this transition effective on two levels. On the first level, we note little change in Tatiana’s bookish, seemingly aloof physical presence between the first and final acts. But this outward projection masks the passion and turmoil within, a secret, emotional core that emerges via Ms. Netrebko’s subtle, skillful, richly expressive vocal instrument. It’s her voice, not her appearance, that bares Tatiana’s soul, creating an unforgettable character, particularly during the emotional cascades at the center of the lengthy, passionate, and taxing “love letter” aria Tchaikovsky wrote for this part.

Mariusz Kwiecien portrays Onegin as an enigmatic, almost disengaged man of the world, not incapable of passion, but still quite capable of divorcing that passion from any thought of commitment or personal involvement when it comes to romance with the opposite sex. It’s clear he’s never been truly smitten, and that emerges in his proper but cold rejection of Tatiana’s impulsive early advances.

Later, of course, Onegin is indeed love-struck for the young woman he has apparently lost. This surprise reversal of fortune signifies his collapse into the unaccustomed role of spurned lover, a stark contrast to his earlier, haughty overconfidence. It is Onegin’s and Tatiana’s parallel tragedy that neither is open to the other when the time and circumstances are right.

Kiprensky portrait of Alexander Pushkin, circa 1827.
Mr. Kwiecien conveys Onegin’s awakening passion superbly with the steady, confident, expressive baritone voice we’ve admired since seeing him in 2012 in the elegant Santa Fe Opera production of Szymanowski’s infrequently performed, ethereal masterpiece, “King Roger.” His instrument is both expressive and authoritative and his Onegin proves the perfect, ill-fated match to Ms. Netrebko’s Tatiana.

“Onegin’s” odd man out, as it were, is poor Lenski, the boyish, budding poet who begins the opera as Onegin’s best friend but ends up Onegin’s bullet in his broken heart. Madly in love with Tatiana’s sister, his childhood sweetheart Olga, the jealous Lenski is easily drawn into Onegin’s silly game but further than anyone might have expected, leading to tragic, if predictable consequences.

We have a winner in this production in the person of tenor Piotr Beczala who captures Lenski’s impetuous innocence and genuine goodness to near perfection. Clear and forceful, his voice has a surprising power that makes him more of a key presence in this production than is often the case in this opera, adding considerable tragic impact to his needless loss.

While the characters of Olga and Prince Gremin are not the focus of “Onegin’s” tragic love triangle, they are nonetheless key players who become unwittingly involved. In her interpretation of Olga, Ms. Volkova’s plummy mezzo and jolly personality is the perfect foil for both her intellectual sister Tatiana and her devoted yet immature would-be husband Lenski. One normally associates fluttery coquettishness with sopranos, but Ms. Volkova’s voice handles this character type with an earthy ease that defies expectations.

Although we don’t see him until the final act, Prince Gremin, Onegin’s older relative and Tatiana’s eventual husband, plays a crucial role. Tatiana is advised early on by the older women in the household that romantic love is not essential to a good marriage—something the younger woman cannot believe.

Yet in the finale, she has settled for just that, winning a royal title for herself in the process and comfortably maturing into the role. She’s startled to be reintroduced to the long-lost Onegin, and nearly succumbs to his entreaties. But in a surprising turn for lovers of traditional romance, she returns to Gremin, confounding Onegin’s presumptions.

All of which would have seemed unlikely if the much-older and wiser Gremin weren’t a genuinely decent, stand-up guy. That’s all left up to the singer who portrays him—in this case, bass Alexei Tanovitsky. After a few sung lines of dialogue, Gremin reveals the depth of his character and makes his case in a distinctive, extended solo. Mr. Tanovitsky’s sublime interpretation of this key dramatic moment was unexpectedly breathtaking. There can sometimes be a harshness to the bass voice as well as some difficulty in perceiving this vocal range when sung against a full, romantic era opera orchestra. Mr. Tanovitsky rose above the orchestration to declare his honor and his love in a rich, compassionate, masculine bass devoid of rough edges, making it clear to all why Tatiana would not leave a husband who, though perhaps not her first choice, was clearly worthy of her loyalty and devotion. (Read more.)
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Chapel Staircase

Here is a picture of the staircase in the Royal Chapel at Versailles. Share

Were Roman Roads Built by Celts?

From The Telegraph:
The findings of Graham Robb, a biographer and historian, bring into question two millennia of thinking about Iron Age Britain and Europe and the stereotyped image of Celts as barbarous, superstitious tribes.
In reality the Druids, the Celt’s scientific and spiritual leaders, were some of the most intellectually advanced thinkers of their age, it is said, who developed the straight roads in the 4th Century BC, hundreds of years before the Italian army marched across the continent.
“They had their own road system on which the Romans later based theirs,” Mr Robb said, adding that the roads were built in Britain from around the 1st Century BC.
“It has often been wondered how the Romans managed to build the Fosse Way, which goes from Exeter to Lincoln. They must have known what the finishing point would be, but they didn’t conquer that part of Britain until decades later. How did they manage to do that if they didn’t follow the Celtic road?”
Mr Robb, former fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, first came up with the theory when he planned to cycle the Via Heraklea, an ancient route that runs a thousand miles in a straight line from the tip of the Iberian Peninsula to the Alps, and realised that it was plotted along the solstice lines through several Celtic settlements. (Read more.)
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Myth of "The Cousins' War"

Leanda de Lisle explains why the more accurate name is still "The Wars of the Roses":
When I wrote my new dynastic history, ‘Tudor’ I believed that ‘the Wars of the Roses’ was a term first coined by the nineteenth century novelist Sir Walter Scott. The historian Dan Jones has since traced these exact words back to the eighteenth century historian David Hume. But as I note in Tudor, the origins of the phrase are much older than the form of words we now use.

The ‘wars of the roses’ were being referred to as ‘the quarrel of the two roses’ in the mid seventeenth century Before then you have Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, part I, with the scene in which Richard, Duke of York quarrels with the Lancastrian leader, Edmund, Duke of Somerset. The two men ask others to show their respective positions by picking a rose – red for Lancaster and white for York. (Read more.)
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Panacea of Withered Poppies

Drug addiction is nothing new. From English Historical Fiction Authors:
Although we commonly consider drug addiction and abuse a modern world problem, it began in far earlier times. The 16th century discovery of laudanum by alchemist Paracelus, and its subsequent rediscovery in 1660 by English physician Thomas Sydenham set the stage for the opium trade of the following centuries.

The name laudanum comes from the Latin verb laudare -- to praise. The tincture was widely praised for its ability to relieve pain, cough and diarrhea. By the 18th century, George Young published his Treatise on Opium, a text that exalted the virtues of laudanum and recommended the drug for a broad range of ailments. In an era when cholera and dysentery regularly ripped through communities, killing victims with diarrhea, and dropsy, consumption, ague and rheumatism were all too common, laudanum’s popularity is easy to understand.

By the 19th century laudanum was also recommended to promote sleep, reduce anxiety, check secretions as well as treat colds, meningitis, cardiac disease, yellow fever and relieve the discomfort of menstrual cramps. Nursery maids even gave it to colicky infants. (Read more.)
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The Missing Picture

Unseen horrors of the Khmer Rouge. From The New York Review of Books:
Panh was thirteen years old when the Khmer Rouge took power and brought his middle class life in Phnom Penh to an end, literally from one day to the next. He lost his entire family in the ensuing Holocaust but managed, miraculously, to survive himself and, when the Khmer Rouge fell, to move to France. Over the past couple of decades, he has made a series of landmark films on the experience of Cambodians during those years. These include two quietly powerful and unforgettable earlier works on S-21 itself, one of them a long, intimate series of interviews with the man known as Comrade Duch who was the prison’s commandant and supervised the grim work that took place there.

In a way Panh has all along been presenting Cambodia’s missing picture, struggling to remember, reminding his audiences, which, until now, have been mostly in France (his films are made in French), of the savage absurdity of the Khmer Rouge’s radical experiment in utopian social engineering. But The Missing Picture marks a departure from his earlier work. Until now, Panh has allowed the testimony of the witnesses that appear in his film, their memories, their explanations, justifications, excuses, and admissions of criminal conduct, to carry his story. There is no narration, no explanation, no effort to put the rise of the Khmer Rouge into a broader historical setting—the Vietnam War, the American bombing, the sharp contrasts of wealth and poverty that gave the Khmer Rouge much of its early following.

His new documentary is without interviews, without the intrusive camera and magnified close-ups of victims and perpetrators alike that he has used in the past. Unlike his earlier work, this new film provides explanatory narration, written by Panh, that offers both memories of his own experiences under the regime and terse, aphoristic observations on the nature and the meaning of it all. (Read more.)
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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Paris in the Fall


Childe Hassam, "Street Scene in Paris, Autumn," 1889

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Brunehaut vs Fredegonde

Two fierce Merovingian queens. From MyLadyWeb:
Brunehaut, or Brunehild, was the daughter of Athanagilde, king of the Visigoths of Spain. In A. D. 565, she wed Sigebert, king of the Franks of Austrasia. Contrary to the custom of the times, Sigebert had resolved to have but one wife, and to choose her from a royal family; his choice fell on Brunehaut--beautiful, of regal bearing, modest, dignified, agreeably conversant and wise. Sigebert quickly became very much attached to his new bride and eventually loved her so much that he was willing to go to war against his own brother to please her.

Why to war? Now that is a soap-opera of historic proportions!

Fredegonde was the daughter of poor peasants in the neighborhood of Montdidier in Picardy, and at an early age joined the train of Queen Audovere, the first wife of King Chilperic. She was beautiful, dexterous, ambitious, and bold; and she attracted the attention, and before long awakened the passion of the king. She pursued with ardor and without scruple her unexpected good fortune. Queen Audovere was her first obstacle and her first victim.  On the pretext of a spiritual relationship which rendered her marriage with Chilperic illegal, Queen Audovere was repudiated and banished to a convent. But Fredegonde's hour had not yet come; for Chilperic married instead Galsuinthe, daughter of the Visigothic king, Athanagild, whose youngest daughter, Brunehaut, had just married Chilperic's brother, Sigebert, king of Austrasia. Chilperic, king of Neustria, brother of Sigebert, had married Galsuinda, daughter of Athanagilde, sister of Brunehaut; but before long Galsuinthe was found strangled in her bed, and that Chilperic wed Fredegonde making her his queen. An undying hatred arose between Fredegonde and Brunehaut, who, to avenge her sister's death, persuaded Sigebert to make war upon his brother. (Read more.)
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How Tall Was Queen Matilda?

Queen Matilda was not a dwarf, as some have claimed. From Marc Morris:
This is, quite simply, a modern myth. There is no evidence, contemporary or otherwise, to support it. It derives entirely from an excavation of Matilda’s tomb in Caen carried out in 1959, during which the scanty remains of her skeleton were measured. The French press at the time reported that she was only 127cm (4’2”) tall, and this arresting ‘fact’ soon found its way into the next generation of history books. But it was not true. Twenty years or so later, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Sir Jack Dewhurst, didn’t believe a word of it. Matilda, he pointed out, gave birth to at least nine healthy children, eight of whom grew to adulthood. The queen could not have done this had she been 4’2”. Dewhurst, who was writing a book about royal confinements, made enquiries with Professor Dastague (Institut d'Anthropologie, Caen) who had led the original dig, and was told that they had never claimed Matilda was so short. In fact they had concluded that she was 152cm (about 5’). As Dewhurst points out in his article, this height is far more compatible with Matilda’s successful multiple pregnancies. 

But that doesn’t solve the problem beyond reasonable doubt. In the first place, the skeleton that the archaeologists examined in 1959 was far from complete; Matilda’s height was extrapolated from her femur and tibia. Second, and more problematic still, the excavation of 1959 was not the first time that the queen’s remains had been disturbed. The tomb had been destroyed during the Huguenot revolutions of the sixteenth century and its contents scattered. Whether or not the remains measured in 1959 actually belonged to Matilda thus depends on how diligent the monks* of La Trinité were when they returned to sweep up. (Read more.)
*(Actually, the monastery in question had nuns not monks.) Share

Friday, October 18, 2013

And This is Not Marie-Antoinette, Either

Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily, Last Holy Roman Empress
History.com has mistaken Maria Theresa of Naples and Sicily for her aunt, Marie-Antoinette. It is bad enough that the article is riven with inaccuracies, but with all the pictures of Marie-Antoinette available on the internet why would someone choose a picture of another person? Maria Theresa was the eldest daughter of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and Marie Carolina of Austria. Maria Carolina was the favorite sister of Marie-Antoinette. They both named their eldest daughters after their mother, Empress Maria Theresa. Maria Theresa of Naples married her first cousin Emperor Francis, the son of Marie-Antoinette's brother Emperor Leopold. Emperor Francis and his Empress, Maria Theresa of Naples (above) were the last to bear the titles of Holy Roman Emperor and Empress. Their daughter Marie Louise married Napoleon Bonaparte. Marie Theresa never lived to see her daughter handed over to Bonaparte, though, for she died in 1807 at age 34.

Emperor Francis II and Empress Maria Theresa with their family
As for the inaccuracies in the History.com article, perhaps the most annoying is the one about Louis XVI being impotent. Louis XVI was not impotent and he did not have a physical defect which required an operation, as explained HERE. Share

How Not to Talk to Your Children

From New York Magazine:
For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.
But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.(Read more.)
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A Holocaust Survivor Thanks the Pope

How Italian Catholics risked everything to save Jews from death during World War II:
The last living person whom the bishop of Assisi saved from being killed during the Holocaust met with Pope Francis Oct. 4, thanking him for the Church’s role in protecting her people.

“Thank you for what the Church did for us,” Graziella Viterbi, 88, told Pope Francis Oct. 4 at the archbishop’s residence in Assisi, where her family fled as refugees in 1943.

“I thank you,” Pope Francis replied. “Pray for me.”

Before this exchange, the two had greeted each other, both saying, “Shalom.”

The two met in the “hall of divestment,” the room in the bishop’s residence where St. Francis stripped off his clothes and embraced a life of poverty dedicated to Christ. Pope Francis is the first pope in 800 years to have visited the room, where many Jews stayed during World War II.

Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, said in his address at the meeting that, in that very hall, his predecessor, Bishop Giuseppe Nicolini, had welcomed many Jews during the time of Nazi occupation.

Around 200 Jewish refugees moved to Assisi during World War II, where there had never before been a Jewish community. Viterbi’s father, Emilio, moved his family there in 1943. Emilio Viterbi had been a highly esteemed professor at the University of Padua, but he lost his position there in 1938, when Italy’s fascist government issued racial laws that excluded Jews from higher education and public office.

In 1943, the Viterbis moved to Assisi after Italy’s armistice with the Allies. Assisi attracted many refugees, as its location in central Italy was closer to the front lines. The north of Italy, including Padua, was at the time under Nazi control.

Bishop Nicolini, who was a Benedictine and had been bishop of Assisi since 1928, built a clandestine network to help Jews, saving them from Nazi persecution. Very few Assisi residents were even aware of the some 200 Jews among the refugees in their city.

According to Graziella Viterbi, Bishop Nicolini “kept the authentic identity cards of all the Jews hidden in Assisi in a niche right behind his working desk.”

Bishop Nicolini managed the secret network together with his secretary, Father Aldo Brunacci; Father Rufino Nicacci, Franciscan guardian of the Church of San Damiano; and Michele Todde, from a convent in the city.

More than 300 Jews were saved by the network, which disguised them in convents and monasteries, especially among cloistered women. (Read more.)
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Thursday, October 17, 2013

This is Why I Love Marie-Antoinette

Ute Lemper as Marie-Antoinette in L'Autrichienne
Via Tiny-Librarian.
It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it. There was Marie Antoinette when she was in prison and her throne was gone and she had only a black gown on, and her hair was white, and they insulted her and called her Widow Capet. She was a great deal more like a queen then than when she was so gay and everything was so grand. I like her best then. Those howling mobs of people did not frighten her. She was stronger than they were, even when they cut her head off.
A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett
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Louise of Hesse-Darmstadt

Louise was one of Marie-Antoinette's childhood companions, whose portrait was shown to her during her trial. From Tiny-Librarian:
Miniature of Princess Louise of Hesse-Darmstadt. She was one of the people in the entourage of Marie Antoinette when she travelled to France to marry the future Louis XVI in 1770, and Louise exchanged letters with the Queen until 1792. (Read more.)
More HERE. Share

The African Roots of Southern Cooking

 The American Southern cuisine is a unique combination of European and African cultures. To quote from Deep South Magazine:
Southern food is really not that simple. It is an essential American storyteller along with our government and music. It has a long history. Southern food encompasses many regions, people and economics. It’s good, healing food born from strife and survival. The slaves weren’t creating Southern cuisine in order to make history, they were cooking to stay alive....

You have to look at two things: what came with the slaves on the boat and what they had to work with when they got to America. There was a strong Native American influence in the early beginnings of Southern food when slaves began arriving: crops like corn and techniques like frying. Then, you have crops and techniques that came over from West Africa with the slaves, like the peanut (or goober peas), okra (or gumbo) and stewing techniques. There’s also daily survival ingredients like watermelons, which served as canteens in the fields. It’s 95 percent water. The slaves also used the rind as soles for their shoes. So ingredients like this that are now part of Americana and the Native American influence really started shaping Southern food very early on. But you can’t discount other influences like that of the Spanish and Portuguese through Louisiana or the Latin influence through parts of Texas. The slaves worked with what was available to them and adapted their daily diets accordingly. (Read more.)

From Food and Wine:
I can find virtually all of these plants in Charleston," Brock says as he strolls through the garden at the family home of Amsy Mathiam, a human-resources manager and an incredible home cook. Mathiam's father was the Senegalese ambassador to Sweden, and she spent much of her childhood in Stockholm, but her mother made sure she learned to cook traditional Senegalese recipes. Today, she is teaching Brock how to make something called soupe kandia—what he knows as gumbo. "Though it doesn't use ham or tomatoes or a roux, the look and texture are the same," Brock says. The red color comes from palm oil and the thick texture comes from smashing the okra into a paste. (Read more.)
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Anne Boleyn in France

It wasn't what you might think. From The Anne Boleyn Files:
Some people seeking to blacken Anne Boleyn’s name say that Anne must have been influenced by the loose morals and sexuality of the French court, but we have to remember that Anne Boleyn was serving Queen Claude, a woman known for her piety and a woman who was often away from court due to her annual pregnancies. Anne was serving in a morally strict household, not one of scandal. As well as her day-to-day duties, as a maid-of-honour, Eric Ives writes that Anne may well have accompanied Claude and her mother-in-law, Louise of Savoy, on their journey to Lyons and Marseilles to welcome back Francis I in October 1515 after his victory at the Battle of Marignano in Italy. While the women were in the area, they went on a pilgrimage to Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume to see the alleged tomb of Mary Magdalene. The story behind this tomb is that on the 12th December 1279 a sarcophagus proclaimed to be that of Mary Magdalene was found in the crypt. It was said that Mary Magdalene had fled the Holy Land on a boat with neither rudder nor sail, landed at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and then travelled to Marseilles where she converted the locals. According to legend, she retired to a cave in the mountains of Sainte-Baume later in her life and was buried in Saint-Maximin. The basilica of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume was built in the late 13th century and early 14th century and the crypt was consecrated in 1316. (Read more.)
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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Myth of the Dark Countess

Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France, circa 1800
The myth of the Dark Countess is being brought up again, now that they are exhuming the body of Sophie Batta to test the DNA. According to The Daily Mail:
A 200-year-old mystery that links a castle in a German town, a mysterious 'Dark Countess' and the French royal family may be on the cusp of finally being solved. In 1807 a covered carriage arrived in the central German town of Hildburghausen. A man, now known to be Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck, a secretary in the Dutch embassy in Paris from July 1798 to April 1799, got out. With him was an enigmatic and secretive young woman who would go on to fire the imaginations of historians everywhere. Known as the 'Dark Countess', many believed she was none other than Marie Thérèse Charlotte de Bourbon - daughter of the French King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were executed during the French Revolution....They are exhuming her grave to collect DNA evidence that can prove once and for all whether the Dark Countess was in fact the ill-fated princess.
 After her parents were guillotined Marie Thérèse was imprisoned in the 'Temple', a notorious former fortress used as a prison during the Reign of Terror. Accepted historical dogma is that afterwards she was taken to Vienna, the capital city of her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II, and also her mother's birthplace. It was speculated that she would have refused to rejoin society after her traumatic time in the Temple, where it is rumoured she was subjected to cruelties by the guards - and perhaps even pregnant from rape - and was replaced by Ernestine Lambriquet, her half-sister and childhood companion. The Count gave her name as Sophie Botta, a single woman from Westphalia and refused to confirm what the relationship between the pair was. When she died in November 1837 she was quickly buried, possibly without a religious service, intensifying the speculation. (Read more.)
The substitution theory claims that Louis XVI had an "operation" and was encouraged by his wicked brother Provence to test himself upon a serving maid. The maid, who was a married woman, gave birth to a daughter named Marie-Philippine Lambriquet. Marie-Antoinette eventually adopted the girl and renamed her "Ernestine" after a character in one of her favorite novels. Ernestine and Madame Royale were educated together.

Later, the legend claims, while Madame Royale was in prison, she was raped and impregnated. She was sent off to Germany to a small town where she was made to wear a green veil and given the name of "Sophie Batta," also known as The Dark Countess. Meanwhile, her wicked uncle Louis XVIII replaced her with her alleged "half-sister" Ernestine, who became the Duchesse d' Angoulême. The Dark Countess rumor was perpetuated by
Marie-Thérèse's moroseness and lack of beauty. How could she be the daughter of the beautiful lively Marie-Antoinette? So they assumed that she was someone else.

Here are some glaring points as to why this story is untenable:


1) Louis XVI had no illegitimate children. There is no proof that he had an operation. He was known for his devotion to his wife, fidelity to his marriage vows and his religious scrupulosity. He did not have an affair with a chambermaid and beget Ernestine. There was an Ernestine, a child of servants, whom Marie-Antoinette adopted. (She adopted two other children as well. The queen came from a large family and liked having lots of children around.) There is no evidence that Ernestine was the secret daughter of Louis XVI or of any of the other princes.

2) Louis XVIII would have had to pay off a huge amount of people to buy their silence, and he really did not have all that much money - not enough for that kind of blackmail. He had been an impoverished exile for over 20 years. When he did get hold of some cash, he immediately deposited it in an English bank. The Bourbon family lived on his savings the next time they were all exiled.

3)Louis XVIII may have been clever and devious enough to carry off that kind of a hoax, but the other members of the family were not. His brother Artois (Charles X) was notorious for his lack of discretion. His nephew the Duc d'Angoulême, Madame Royale's husband and cousin, was deeply pious and scrupulously honest, in spite of other innumerable short-comings. He would never have been able to live that kind of a lie. The other nephew, the Duc de Berry, was like his father Artois, completely unable to be devious, no matter how hard he tried.

4) Many faithful retainers and childhood friends of Madame Royale, such as Pauline de Bearn and her mother the royal governess Madame de Tourzel, were close to
Marie-Thérèse before and after the Revolution. Both mother and daughter were known as women of honor and to insinuate that they would participate in such a hoax is outrageous to say the least. There were many, many others, who had lost fortunes through being faithful to the royal family and were not the type to sacrifice their principles over such a charade that really served no purpose.


UPDATE: The Dark Countess has been proved to be false.

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