Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Henry Austen

Jane's beloved brother.
Henry Austen was his sister's Jane favourite brother, her "especial pride and delight"*. He was also very helpful in furthering Jane's career and is responsible for the publication of all her novels. Hadn't it been for him, we may never had read her books. He was also his sister's biographer: for more than 50 years after her death, until her nephew published "A Memoir", the information he provided would remain the only biographical material available to the public about this great author. We really owe him a lot! But who was Henry Austen? His niece Anna Lefroy describes his thus:
My Uncle Henry Thomas Austen was the handsomest of his family, and, in the opinion of his own father, also the most talented. There were others who formed a different estimate, and considered his abilities greater in shew than in reality, but for the most part he was greatly admired. Brilliant in conversation, and like his Father, blessed with a hopefulness of temper, which, in adapting itself to all circumstances, even the most adverse, seemed to create a perpetual sunshine of the mind. (Read entire post.)

State Flags

Maryland's is the best. (Via Serge.)
Overall, I have to admit that Maryland has the best flag of any U.S. state: it is heraldic, relatively simple, and overwhelmingly traditional. The Facebook commenting led to an all-out war of annihilation between a lass of Virginia and one of Maryland on the relative merits of their respective state flags. Right as it is for Virginians to defend the great inheritance of their fair dominion, there is simply no contest here: Maryland’s flag is the overlord. (Read entire post.)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Bishop's Alb

From Vive la Reine:
Lace worn by Madame Elisabeth, the sister of Louis XVI. It was given to the Bishop Dupanloup in the 19th century by the only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the duchesse d’Angouleme.

Tsar Nicholas II in Italy

A gift remembered.
To my brother Umberto... the Emperor of Russia gave a singular and complicated toy: it was a Russian village, with all its houses, streets, animals and vehicles. The houses, there were about 10 of them, were in real masonry, with doors and windows, each of them about 60cm high. Pedestrians and about 50 Cossaks on horseback, in proportion, "were circulating" in the streets, realistically furnished with everything that can really be seen in a real street of a Russian village. It was necessary to use an entire salon of the Castle, surrounded by a railing, to store the huge toy in. Everyone warmly welcomed the beautiful present: but not that much Umberto, who used to say that was not as much a "toy" but "a show". (Read entire post.)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Maria Leopoldina of Austria

Empress of Brazil and yet another niece of Marie-Antoinette.
The legacy of Maria Leopoldina of Austria, the first Empress consort of Brazil, is still seen in South America on a daily basis. It was thanks to her that the basic color scheme of the Brazilian flag, green and yellow, was chosen to illustrate the marriage of the Houses of Braganza and Hapsburg. She was born Maria Leopoldina Josefa Carolina in Vienna on January 22, 1797 to the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II and his second wife Maria Teresa of the Two Sicilies. Like any good Hapsburg princess she was given the best education and a very refined and polished upbringing. She spoke six languages fluently and had a great interest in the natural sciences. In 1817 she sailed to Brazil to marry Dom Pedro of Alcântara, heir to the throne of Portugal after breaking off a previous engagement to a Saxon prince. It was an arranged marriage and would not have required such a long journey were it not for the fact that the French armies of Napoleon had conquered Portugal and forced the Royal Family to relocate to their chief colony of Brazil. However, Maria Leopoldina took the trip well, her interest in the natural sciences making Brazil attractive to her and, in fact, she took along a number of biologists and other scientists with her. She was the brainy type, very intellectual and scorning physical beauty as useless vanity. (Read entire post.)

Contracepting Religious Freedom

Some reflections from Fr. Angelo.
Another irony is Paul Moses’ suggestion that the bishops employ the methods of Saul Alinsky.  This, he says, could build consensus.  Moses counsels the bishops to garner enthusiastic support by community organizing.  Grassroots support, of course, if helpful.  However, the quintessentially alinskian element here is the way in which grassroots support is generated by the ulterior motives of radicals in order to implement a preconceived and elitist agenda.  Moses rightly points out that Obama knows all about this.  But this is not the mission of the bishops. The Church is a voluntary society.  No one has to belong to it, but those who do have an inalienable right to follow its precepts without the interference of the state.   This is not about political maneuvering.  It is about keeping the claws of the government out of religious matters. (Read entire post.)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Memories of Carlotta

The Queen of Italy remembers.
I remember aunt Carlotta very well. After the Emperor, in 1867, was killed by revolutionary Benito Juarez, she lived in Trieste for a while, at the Miramare Castle, then, at the beginning of the twentieth century, she returned to Belgium. During the last years of her life, she was practically secluded at the Bouchout Castle, for more than 20 years already. She was considered "the insane" by everyone. But I don't think she really was. Shortly before her death I went to visit her with my parents. She stared into space for a long time, her face haggard, her hair dishevelled: it seemed like she didn't notice anything of what was happening around her. But at some point my father and my mother, who were talking between themselves, couldn't remember the name of a recently-nominated minister. She interrupted them and gave them the new minister's personal details in a very detailed way. Then, as if she had noted my surprise, she told me: 'I'll teach you a secret: when you want to escape your past, pretend to be mad. No one will ever ask you indiscreet questions again..' (Read entire post.)

Contraception and Economic Collapse

In spite of available contraception, the illegitimacy rate continues to increase. (Via Serge.)
Oh, we are giving birth … but over a third of those births are to single mothers, especially black and Hispanic women, and that number has been increasing despite near-universal access to birth controlResearcher Kay S. Hymowitz argues:
We are becoming a nation of separate and unequal families that threatens to last into the foreseeable future.  On the one hand, well-educated women make more money.  They get married, only then have their children, and raise them with their husbands.  Those children are more likely to grow up to be well-adjust­ed, to do well in school, to go to college, to marry and only then have children.  On the other hand, we have low-income women raising children alone who are more likely to be low-income, to drop out of school or, if they do make it to college, go to a less elite col­lege, and to become single parents themselves.
The Obamination’s answer: More contraception.  And encourage marriage — gay marriage, that is.  Jonathan V. Last sees it as all of a piece: “Compared with religious freedom and the First Amendment, the out-of-pocket expense of contraceptives might seem like a minor issue.  But for the left, it’s a matter of dogma.  And that dogma is sexual liberation.” (Read entire post.)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Paris Flappers

From Paris Atelier. When hats were still a must but bobbed hair was considered risqué.


Children and Adversity

We all want to protect our children from sorrow and harm. Since we cannot keep life from happening here is some advice on how to help our children handle adversity.
In speaking with parents over the years and observing my own children’s sports and school activities, I have noticed a disturbing trend:  There is a powerful reluctance to let our kids struggle or fail.  Fairness is the new mantra.  We worry more about our children’s self-esteem than preparing them for an independent and successful future.  Everyone gets a nice trophy or certificate for simply showing up.  Competition is often set aside in favor of participation where everybody is a winner.  I bet you have noticed this as well.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like fairness.  I am also strongly in favor of encouraging young people.  But, I also appreciate the pursuit of excellence.  Competition can be a healthy thing that also encourages children to excel and give their best effort on the playing field and in school.  Instead of assuming that our kids might be hurt or negatively impacted by failure or struggle, perhaps we should consider that they will learn valuable lessons from these experiences.  I think we know intuitively as parents and parents-to-be that we are molded by our childhood experiences.  How were you shaped by your childhood?  How does your upbringing manifest itself in how you are raising your family today?  How does it affect your actions at work?  How does it affect your faith?  Can you trace your actions as an adult to the multitude of experiences you had as a child?  Children need to learn from their struggles and failures and experience the accompanying emotions of sadness and frustration.  These struggles will teach them to be persistent in the face of adversity later in life. (Read entire article.)

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Prince de Ligne

With all the misplaced emphasis on Marie-Antoinette's friendship with Count Fersen, it is forgotten that the Queen had many male friends in whom she confided and with whom she corresponded over the years. Then as now, there were people who insisted on seeing impropriety where none existed. One of Marie-Antoinette's most cultured, charming and cosmopolitan friends was indubitably Prince Charles-Joseph de Ligne, from the country now known as Belgium, once a province of the Habsburg empire. The Prince de Ligne had fought in the Seven Years' War on the Austrian side and later became a Field Marshal of the Empire. He was an intimate friend and distant relative of the Habsburg family, especially Emperor Joseph II. The Prince and his wife were the parents of seven children and immensely wealthy. They had vast estates in the Brabant, including marvelous gardens at Bel Oeil. The Prince knew a great deal about horticulture and was able to advise Marie-Antoinette when she was planning her gardens at Petit Trianon. Of Marie-Antoinette, whom he knew quite well, he said: "Her pretended gallantry was never any more than a very deep friendship for one or two individuals, and the ordinary coquetry of a woman, or a queen, trying to please everyone."

The Prince de Ligne was the author of several books, including works of military history. In his personal memoirs he wote extensively of Marie-Antoinette, praising her beauty and her virtue while chivalrously defending her reputation:
 The charms of her face and of her soul, the one as white and beautiful as the other, and the attraction of that society hence made me spend five months of every year in her suite, without absenting myself for a single day....
As for the queen, the radiance of her presence harmed her. The jealousy of the women whom she crushed by the beauty of her complexion and the carriage of her head, ever seeking to harm her as a woman, harmed her also as a queen. Fredegonde and Brunehaut, Catherine and Marie de' Medici, Anne and Theresa of Austria never laughed; Marie Antoinette when she was fifteen laughed much; therefore she was declared "satirical."

She defended herself against the intrigues of two parties, each of whom wanted to give her a lover; on which they declared her "inimical to Frenchmen;" and all the more because she was friendly with foreigners, from whom she had neither traps nor importunity to fear.

An unfortunate dispute about a visit between her brother the Elector of Cologne and the princes of the blood, of which she was wholly ignorant, offended the etiquette of the Court, which then called her "proud."
She dines with one friend, and sometimes goes to see another friend, after supper, and they say she is "familiar." That is not what the few persons who lived in her familiarity would say. Her delicate, sure sense of the becoming awed them as much as her majesty. It was as impossible to forget it as it was to forget one's self.

She is sensible of the friendship of certain persons who are the most devoted to her; then she is declared to be "amorous" of them. Sometimes she requires too much for their families; then she is "unreasonable."
She gives little fetes, and works herself at her Trianon: that is called "bourgeoise." She buys Saint-Cloud for the health of her children and to take them from the malaria of Versailles: they pronounce her "extravagant." Her promenades in the evening on the terrace, or on horseback in the Bois de Boulogne, or sometimes on foot round the music in the Orangery "seem suspicious." Her most innocent pleasures are thought criminal; her general loving-kindness is " coquettish." She fears to win at cards, at which she is compelled to play, and they say she " wastes the money of the State."

She laughed and sang and danced until she was twentyfive years old: they declared her *' frivolous." The affairs of the kingdom became embroiled, the spirit of party arose and divided society; she would take no side, and they called her "ungrateful."

She no longer amused herself; she foresaw misfortunes: they declared her "intriguing." She dropped certain little requests or recommendations she had made to the king or the ministers as soon as she feared they were troublesome, and then she was "fickle."

With so many crimes to her charge, and all so well-proved, did she not deserve her misfortunes? But I see I have forgotten the greatest. The queen, who was almost a prisoner of State in her chateau of Versailles, took the liberty sometimes to go on foot, followed by a servant, through one of the galleries, to the apartments of Mme. de Lamballe or Mme. de Polignac. How shocking a scandal! The late queen was always carried in a sedan-chair to see her cousin, Mme. de Talmont, where she found a rather bad company of Polish relations, who claimed to be Leczinskis.

The queen, beautiful as the day, and almost always in her own hair, — except on occasions of ceremony, when her toilet, about which she never cared, was regulated for her, — was naturally talked about; for everybody wanted to please her. The late Leczinska, old before her time and rather ugly, in a large cap called, I think, " butterfly," would sometimes command certain questionable plays at the theatre; but no one found fault with her for that Devout ladies like scandals. When, in our time, they gave us a play of that sort we used to call it the queen's repertory, and Marie Antoinette would scold us, laughing, and say we might at least make known it was the queen before her. No one ever dared to risk too free a speech in her presence, nor too gay a tale, nor a coarse insinuation. She had taste and judgment; and as for the three Graces, she united them all in herself alone. (The Prince de Ligne: His Memoirs, Vol.I, pp 197-201.)
The Queen was cautious about gossip due to the infatuations which many gentlemen cherished for her. As the Prince penned many years after her death:
Who could see her, day after day, without adoring her? I did not feel it fully until she said to me: "My mother thinks it wrong that you should be so long at Versailles. Go and spend a little time with your command, and write letters to Vienna to let them know you are there, and then come back here." That kindness, that delicacy, but more than all the thought that I must spend two weeks away from her, brought the tears to my eyes, which her pretty heedlessness of those early days, keeping her a hundred leagues away from gallantry, prevented her from seeing. As I never have believed in passions that are not reciprocal, two weeks cured me of what I here avow to myself for the first time, and would never avow to others in my lifetime for fear of being laughed at.

But consider how this sentiment, which gave place to the warmest friendship, would have detected a passion in that charming queeu, had she felt one for any man; and with what horror I saw her given in Paris, and thence, thanks to their vile libels, all over Europe, to the Duc de Coigny, to M. le Comte d'Artois, M. de Lamberti, M. de Fersen, Mr. Conway, Lord Stratheven, and other Englishmen as silly as himself, and two or three stupid Germans. Did I ever see aught in her society that did not bear the stamp of grace, kindness, and good taste? She scented an intriguer at a league's distance; she detested pretensions of all kinds. It was for this reason that the whole family of Polignac and their friends, such as Valentin Esterhazy, Baron Bezenval, and Vaudreuil, also Segur and I, were so agreeable to her. She often laughed with me at the struggle for favour among the courtiers, and even wept over some who were disappointed. (Ibid., pp. 201-202)
 The Prince de Ligne's refusal to help the Belgians rebel against the Empire led to the loss of his estates in his native land. He died in Austria in 1814.

"Let Them Eat Cake" Revisited

Once again we explore the question. To quote:
Executing Marie-Antoinette at the age of thirty-seven and leaving her two children as shivering, heart-broken orphans in the terrifying Temple prison, suggested that the Revolution was a lot more complicated than its supporters like to claimed. However, if Marie-Antoinette is painted as stupid, deluded, out-of-touch, spoiled and selfish, then we're likely to feel a lot less pity when it comes to studying her death. If that was the republicans' intention, then they did a very good job. Two hundred years later and the poor woman is still stuck with a terrible reputation, and a catchphrase, that she certainly doesn't deserve. (Read the entire post.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Staying Downton Syle

An article on stately homes in England where people go for vacation. One of the homes mentioned is Hartwell House, which is known to readers of the novel Madame Royale.
 ...Hartwell House has a history that stretches back almost one thousand years to the reign of Edward the Confessor. It’s been the seat of William Peveral the natural son of William the Conqueror; of John Earl of Mortaigne who succeeded his brother Richard the Lion Heart as King of England in 1199; and of Louis XVIII, the exiled King of France who held court there from 1809 to 1814. Louis was joined at Hartwell by his Queen, Marie-Josephine de Savoie, his niece the Duchesse D’Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, his brother the Comte d’Artois, later Charles X, and Gustavus IV the exiled King of Sweden. During the residence of the French Court the roof was converted into a miniature farm, where birds and rabbits were reared in cages, while vegetables and herbs were cultivated in densely planted tubs.(Read entire article.)

Six Reasons to Carry a Handkerchief

A visual guide. See also: Every Man Should Carry a Handkerchief Share

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Mongol (2007)

Jamukha: I want to ask you: All Mongols fear the thunder... but not you?
Temudjin: I had no place to hide from the thunder... so I wasn't afraid anymore. 

~from The Mongol (2007)
Directed by Sergei Bodrov, the Russian production of Mongol is a film which left me utterly transfixed, as history and legend mingle to create the archetypal tale of the hero who rises from adversity and obscurity to greatness. Temudgin, later known as the Great Kahn, triumphs over a childhood and youth riddled with soul-crushing abuse to conquer most of Asia. Inspiring him and guiding him is his belief in his gods and the memory of the maiden who once promised to be his bride. If his father's enemies had not been so intent upon destroying him, he would probably have grown up to be another unknown Mongol chieftain. Because he had to fight for survival and that of his family, he would not rest until he had become the ruler of his people, ready to sally forth and take over the world. As SFGate puts it:
"Mongol" has a classic tagline - "Greatness comes to those who take it" - that's right on the money for a sweeping, old-school epic. In recounting the early life of Genghis Khan, this outsized film offers everything you would want from an imposing historical drama: furious battles between mass armies, unquenchable love between husband and wife, blood brothers who become deadly enemies, and many episodes of betrayal and treachery among the warring tribes of the Central Asian steppes.

This is a large-scale production of the David Lean school, but nudged in an art-house direction by Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov ("Prisoner of the Mountains"). There are plenty of haunting landscapes, gorgeously photographed by Sergei Trofimov on location in China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, along with the sort of warfare scenes that define epics, but also an unexpected take on one of history's most fearsome leaders. The man who becomes Genghis Khan isn't exactly portrayed as a humanist or an egalitarian, but as a leader who was unusually fair-minded and generous for his day.
 According to Joel Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Bodrov is the Russian filmmaker best known to American audiences for the superb 1997 drama "Prisoner of the Mountain." The adult Temudgin is played -- with remarkable intensity -- by the Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano. Honglei Sun, who's Chinese, is the hero's blood brother and mortal enemy, the mercurial, funny and frightening Jamukha. Temudgin's wife, a beautiful woman named Borte, is played by the movie's only Mongolian star, Khulan Chuluunn, and it's her first time in front of a camera. She's a great argument for native talent, and against acting classes.
I don't know the Mongolian word for panache, but "Mongol's" got plenty of it. The battle scenes are as notable for their clarity as their intensity; we can follow the strategies, get a sense of who's losing and who's winning. The physical production is sumptuous. (The film was shot by Sergey Trofimov, who is Russian, and Rogier Stoffers, who is Dutch.) And through all of Temudgin's extravagant trials and hard-won triumphs, there's a sense of a singular child serving as father to a powerful man whose power flows from his instinctive devotion to justice, and to his wife. It's an austere epic that turns the stuff of pulp adventure into a persuasive take on ancient history.
The scenery in Mongol is breathtaking; filmed on location, the movie provides a glimpse into the Mongol psyche by showing their land with all its vast magnificence. The costumes, acting, and battle scenes are authentic, making us feel that we are there, although riding around with the Mongol tribes is not the most comfortable idea. However, the film allows one to comprehend how only a larger than life character like Temudgin could tame the untameable. The early scenes in which the child Temudgin rides by his father's side, imitating him and gleaning constant instruction from him, display not only the basis for the protagonist's formation and his later ability to survive, but also provide a look at how in traditional societies the upbringing of the children is a constant hands-on occupation of the parents rather than a sideline.

The most powerful element of the film is Temudgin's relationship with Borte, the young girl who against all odds becomes his wife and the mother of a dynasty. Borte's fiery love for Temudgin knows no bounds; no sacrifice is too great if it means saving his life, as she proves more than once. Theirs is a love which endures every test and emerges stronger than ever. It is illustrated once again that behind the success of a man of destiny is a woman who has given her heart's blood. Share

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Crown

Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel The Crown takes readers on an odyssey through the England of Henry VIII during the bloody period of the dissolution of the monasteries as seen from the point of view of a young Dominican novice. There are many aspects of this extraordinary novel that contemporary Catholics will find that they can relate to, namely the confusion in the Church and the compromises of many of her members to political persecution and social expediency, as well as the heroic stand taken by those with the courage to speak truth to power. In Tudor England, speaking truth to power, or even silently trying to follow one's conscience, often meant dying a hideous death. Young Joanna Stafford finds that in those intense times there is no such thing as spiritual mediocrity; either she must take the high road or face perdition. Joanna is not one to settle for less than heroism anyway, having entered a strict Dominican monastery where she looked forward to an austere life of poverty, chastity and obedience. When she leaves the monastery without permission to help a relative who is condemned to death for championing the Catholic faith, she sets off a chain of events which lead her on a spiritual journey into the heart of the mysteries of faith, of sacrifice, and of royal power.

The title of the book signifies a mysterious relic, the crown of a holy Saxon king, which Joanna is commissioned by the wily Bishop Gardiner to find for purposes of his own. Joanna knows that not finding the crown could mean the torture and execution of her father, who already languishes in the Tower of London.Yet, along with the elusive and tangible crown, there are many other awe-inspiring crowns in the novel, the crown of martyrdom, the crown of virginity, the crown of Our Lady, the blood-splattered Tudor crown, the pagan crown of ancient monuments at Stonehenge, the crown of the foundations of a lost monastery and the Crown of Thorns. Even as the symbolism of the crown is repeated throughout the novel, so Joanna finds her vocation tested as she learns to overcome her worst fears. It is a story in which spiritual victory comes as the fruit of earthly defeat.

One plot element in The Crown involves a series of famous tapestries which hold clues to solving several puzzling scenarios. Even as the tapestries are woven by the nuns at Dartford Priory, the author has woven her story so that many clues hidden in the narrative, which make the novel a mystery and a thriller as well as an intriguing work of historical fiction, containing many details of monastic existence and of the struggles of the poor in the sixteenth century. It is refreshing to see the Reformation from a Catholic point of view, one reminiscent of Robert Hugh Benson. I came away from the book marveling at how God's plan is like a vast tapestry of which we only see a tiny portion and yet every thread has a distinct purpose. Through her stumbles and falls, Joanna is confronted with her own weakness yet she rises with new strength, gaining insights which help her to see beyond the surface of things.

Here is my interview with the author Nancy Bilyeau.

(*NOTE: The Crown was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.)


A Nation's Icon

Westminster Abbey.
Within the heart of London resides the presence of the contemporary British monarchy that only echoes that of England’s prime, its medieval era. Within this period, such things like the Tower of London, the War of the Roses, and the many wives of Henry VIII come to the minds of those who know the basics of England’s past, but there is one aspect of this time that most everyone has heard of around the world; Westminster Abbey. Being a church with a decadent history of both art and monarchy, it is one of the most important and well known structures that exist in Europe. Resplendent as the Abbey appears today, one needs to understand its humble beginnings and development during the Middle Ages within the historical context of its time in order to have a true sense of its grandeur and impact on the nation of England. (Read entire article.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Louis XVI at Cherbourg

From Vive la Reine. A painting of Louis XVI inspecting the royal navy, the one which helped America win her independence and which Napoleon later used to terrorize Europe. Share

Modest is Beautiful

A London designer helps women to be ladies.
A fashion designer is teaching young women how to dress with purity after her brother’s death made her rethink her career, writes Estefania Aguirre. Helena Machin, who works with high-profile clients for a famous milliners in London which cannot be named for privacy reasons, is offering style masterclasses for women, teaching them how to dress attractively and modestly. “I want to invest some time and love into the next generation,” said the 30-year-old.
“I want to have them embrace their femininity by modest and attractive dress and in doing so fulfil their God-given potential. It’s a voluntary project so I am juggling it around other commitments but I will give as much time as I am able.”
Helena came up with the idea after her twin brother, James, passed away from a terminal illness three years ago. She said: “He spent his life serving others, showing them the way to Christ through his heroic example, despite being unwell for a lot of the time. Through his good humour and good example he bought many people back to their faith.”
About the same time Helena discovered Opus Dei. Turning 30 this Christmas made her realise that whatever time she had left, she had to be doing something worthwhile. She questioned whether working in fashion was the right thing to be doing. But God soon taught her, through the example of St Josemaría Escrivá, to make holy her every day work, however trivial it might sometimes seem. In a talk she gave recently to a group of young women she explained the different body shapes and gave tips on how to best dress according to that shape. Helena is starting a series of projects, one of which includes an intensive short course she will be giving at Easter at the Baytree Centre in London for 14- to 18-year-olds. She will also be giving lectures in schools and in university chaplaincies.
Helena said: “One tip I would give to all young women out there would be: if you want to be treated like a lady, dress like a lady.”
For more information, please visit the website (Read entire post.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Living With the Parents

A new trend.
In the United States today, unemployment among those age 18 to age 34 is at epidemic levels and the number of young adults that are now living at home with Mom and Dad is at an all-time high. So why are so many of our young adults jobless? Why are record numbers of them unable or unwilling to move out on their own? Well, there are quite a few factors at work. Number one, our education system has completely and totally failed them. As I have written about previously, our education system is a joke and most high school graduates these days are simply not prepared to function at even a very basic level in our society. In addition, college education in the United States has become a giant money making scam that leaves scores of college graduates absolutely drowning in debt. Many young adults end up moving back in with Mom and Dad because they are drowning in so much debt that there are no other options. Thirdly, the number of good jobs continues to decline and this is hitting younger Americans the hardest. Millions of young people enter the workforce excited about the future only to find that there are hordes of applicants for the very limited number of decent jobs that are actually available. So all of this is creating an environment where more young adults are financially dependent on their parents that ever before in modern American history. (Read entire article.)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Colors of Snow

From Under the Gables:
"People used to think me queer when I was a little girl because I saw deep purples and red and violets in a field of snow. I used to be hurt over it until I gave up trying to understand people and concentrated on my love and understanding of landscapes," Fern Isabel Coppedge once related. She had wanted to be an artist since she was 13 years old and became more enamored with the idea when her family moved to California from her native Illinois and she attended her sister's watercolor class. (Read entire post.)

Myths about Lady Jane Grey

Author Susan Higginbotham explores the truth of the matter.
Philip’s supposed insistence upon Jane’s death before he would wed Mary has often been used in novels and in the film Lady Jane to depict Mary as a pathetic, aging hag so desperate for love that she would sacrifice a young girl’s life to keep from losing a prospective husband. Mary’s council did indeed urge the queen to execute Jane, and Simon Renard, the imperial ambassador, was clearly pleased at her decision to do so. But there is no evidence that Philip or his father, the Emperor Charles, demanded Jane’s death as a precondition to marriage or indeed that they even had a chance to do so, given the short period of time between the collapse of Wyatt’s rebellion (the uprising which sparked the decision to execute Jane and Guildford, who had been sentenced to death the previous year) on February 7 and the executions on February 12. Indeed, the decision to execute the couple appears to have been taken before the rebellion had even ended: Renard, writing to the emperor on Thursday, February 8, to report the collapse of the rebellion, believed that Jane and Guildford’s executions had been ordered for the previous Tuesday—February 6—but did not know whether they had been carried out. Renard’s letter to Charles on February 13 mentions Jane’s and Guildford’s deaths the day before almost offhandedly: “Since then it has been discovered that 400 or 500 gentlemen and others had a share in the plot, so the prisons will not suffice to hold them all. Yesterday Courtenay, chief of the conspiracy according to Wyatt, was committed to the Tower, and the Lady Elizabeth set out to come hither. She is expected to-morrow with an escort of 700 or 800 horse, and it is believed that she will soon be sent to the Tower, where Jane of Suffolk was yesterday executed, whilst her husband, Guildford, suffered in public. To-day 30 soldiers, men of some standing, were executed as an example to the people.”

Mary may or may not have been reluctant to execute Jane and Guildford, but she was certainly capable of resisting imperial pressure, as her refusal to execute her sister Elizabeth despite Renard’s urgings shows. (Read entire post.)

Friday, February 17, 2012


Anna A. of Vive la Reine offers a brilliant analysis of a "letter" whose authenticity is highly questionable. First of all she quotes courtroyale:

Another love letter addressed to Count Fersen from Marie Antoinette:
(there is a bit of controversy regarding the authenticity of this letter by those who chose to believe that MA was a Catholic martyr)
July 29 1791
I can tell you that I love you and indeed that is all I have time for. I am well. Do not worry about me. I hope you to be well too. Write me cipher letters and send them by mail to Mrs Brown’s address, in a double envelope to Mr. de Gougens. Send the letters by your manservant. Tell me to whom I should send the letters I could write you. I cannot live without that. Farewell, the most loved and the most loving of men. I kiss you with all my heart.”
 La revue bleue 1907
 Anna responds to courtroyale:
...The letter in question is very questionable, historically. It was supposedly found in the Archives of Stafsfund by Lucien Maury, who claimed that he had found an extract of a letter from the queen to Fersen which had been looked over, and had it published in the Revue Bleue in 1907.  The letter, however, was not in Marie Antoinette’s handwriting, and it was only in the cipher that the queen used. It’s not known for certain whose handwriting the letter is in, although it does not match the queen’s. Which leaves us with a few possibilities, ignoring the context of the letter for now: That an unknown woman got ahold of the Queen’s cipher and wrote this note to Fersen; that Marie Antoinette had the letter dictated for her; that Fersen translated a letter from someone into Marie Antoinette’s cipher; that someone in the 19th century penned the letter and slipped it in with Fersen’s papers.
It’s possible that someone working closely with Fersen would have had access to her cipher and could have penned the note. Mme de Saint-Priest, the wife of the King’s minister, who knew of Fersen’s work to save the royal family, could have obtained her cipher. Several of her letters to Fersen around June 1791 contain similar phrases to those included in the “love letter,” including an indication that she had not heard from Fersen in some time, that she was devoted to him and wanted him to write, etc. Marie Antoinette having the letter dictated is almost certainly out of the question, since she would have to trust another person with her correspondence during the oppressive time period after the family’s failed flight. Fersen could have translated a letter back into the queen’s cipher, regardless of who sent it, but it begs the question of why Fersen would copy out a letter in the Queen’s cipher [regardless of who wrote it] instead of the other way around. The last possibility isn’t out of the question, considering the contention around Marie Antoinette’s reputation that went back to the 1770s.
It’s also important to look at the credibility of the person who supposedly discovered the letter. He referred to the Baron de Klinckowstrom, who published the first lengthy edition of Fersen’s correspondence with Marie Antoinette and others, snidely as someone who was a “defender of the Queen’s memory” — that is, that he must be covering something up in order to defend her reputation. Maury also attributed the letter to September 1791, although Mlle Soderhjelm (who essentially started the theory that Fersen is referring to Marie Antoinette when he speaks of a woman he is in love with in letters to his sister) places it being received by Fersen on July 4, 1791.
In either case, when you compare this letter to authenticated letters written by Marie Antoinette in Fersen either to the end of June or in September, the contents don’t match up. In the “love letter,” the writer knows where Fersen is, but not to who she should send the letters to him, and begs for him to write her. But on June 29th, 1791 in an authenticated letter, Marie Antoinette asks Fersen not to write to her and says she cannot write him again for some time.
Then, in another authenticated letter on September 26th to Fersen, Marie Antoinette acknowledges that she had received a letter from him (which presumably gave the queen an address) but has not known his whereabouts for the past two months. The writer of the “love letter” knew where Fersen was, but did not know who she should send letters to, asked him to write in cipher, and had a more complicated method of exchanging correspondence with him. Marie Antoinette admits she did not know where he was, but she knew where to send the letter in Brussels without complication, and would not need to tell Fersen to whom to send the letters because they had been corresponding for some time. Marie Antoinette and Fersen’s correspondence had long made use of cipher, so why include this in a letter? Whether the letter is dated June or September, it is at odds with the information we have from letters which were more thoroughly authenticated. Unlike the “love letter,” which was once published with an editorial column that not only gave the year 1792 for the letters but boldly stated that Madame Campan sewed a disguise for Fersen while he was making love with the queen!
To quote Nesta Webster:
“Let us consider the matter judicially: a writer strongly hostile to the Queen is allowed to hunt amongst Fersen’s papers, asserts that he has found confirmation of his aspersions on her character in the form of a note which no one before had ever seen, produces a fragment neither written nor signed by her, and this is to be regarded as proof? What court of law would consider such evidence for a moment? And why a fragment? Why not the whole letter? … The famous fragment has never even been submitted to experts and rests on the testimony of M. Lucien Maury alone.” (Read entire post.)
 I would just like to add that Marie-Antoinette being a Catholic martyr has nothing to do with whether or not she had an affair with Count Fersen. Since genuine martyrdom wipes away all past sins then if the Queen did truly die a martyr's death her martyrdom would blot out past offenses. An extramarital affair may keep one from being officially beatified but there are many whose martyrdom is known only to God. However, those of us who do not believe the Queen and Fersen were lovers do so not because we are trying to prove she was a martyr; we do so because of the evidence and lack thereof.

I have written of this same topic at length, here and here.

A Woman Bishop?

According to the old Irish legend:
From the Book of Lismore: "For humility Brigit stayed so that she might be the last to whom a veil should be given. A fiery pillar rose from her head to the roof-ridge of the church. Then said Bishop Mél: “Come, O holy Brigit, that a veil may be sained on thy head before the other virgins.” It came to pass then, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, that the form of ordaining a bishop was read over Brigit. Mac-caille said, that a bishop’s order should not be conferred on a woman. Said Bishop Mél: “No power have I in this matter. That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigit, beyond every (other) woman.” Wherefore the men of Ireland from that time to this give episcopal honour to Brigit’s successor."

The abbesses of Kildare apparently retained this episcopal honour until a reforming Synod in 1152.

With such curious privileges around one can see why twelfth century Popes both before and after Strongbow and King Henry II were interested in reforming the Irish church.

We are not required to believe everything in an early saint's life. I suspect this story may originate in attempt to explain the particular traditional privileges of the abbess of Kildare, perhaps originating with the Celtic ( a dangerously overused term these days in respect of spiritual matters) tradition of a monastically led church, with the bishop less important than the abbot or abbess, and, I wonder, possibly in local land tenure customs and claims.

Prof. Charles-Edwards (he is the Professor of Celtic Studies here at Oxford) gives a detailed assessment of the life of St Brigid in his life of her in the recent Oxford DNB which can be read here and provides a valuable informed insight into the complexities of the era. This is a topic and period about which I know very little, but I do apprecaite the tangled nature of the sources and admire the skill of those who can disentangle them. (Read entire post.)

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Etiquette and the Empress

Like mother, like daughter.
Maria Theresa was decidedly less attached to the old etiquette than her father had been. She mitigated it, and was often glad to take advantage of her pregnancies, and later of her widowhood, to modify or escape it.[...] She defied convention in a number of other ways. She froze her courtiers with the draught from the windows she insisted on keeping open; she loved to walk and talk in the gardens of her palaces; early in her reign, she danced, rode and sledged with abandon. She was relatively accessible, and won the devotion of many by her spontaneity and generosity. She liked to exempt friends and favoured visitors from rules of etiquette. She had her old governess, a mere countess Fuchs, buried in the family vault of the Habsburgs. She exploited what seems to have been elaborate conventions enabling the ruler and her family to appear incognito more or less when they pleased. She loved referring to herself as a mother of her subjects rather than their ruler. She showed at times a passionate devotion to her children, especially in nursing them during attacks of illness, even including smallpox, which Joseph had in 1757 and Charles two years later. She and her husband cultivated simplicity in the family circle, in the style captured by her daughter Marie Christine in her painting of their exchange of Christmas presents. (Read entire post.)

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Marie-Antoinette was more like her mother than most people realize. Share

Henry VIII's Other Niece

I never knew that Frances Brandon had a sister but apparently she did. According to Susan Higginbotham:
Of Henry VIII’s three nieces—Margaret, Countess of Lennox, Frances, Duchess of Suffolk, and Eleanor, Countess of Cumberland, the last was the shortest-lived and probably the least known. Eleanor was the younger daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife Mary, known as the French Queen because of her previous marriage to Louis XII.
Eleanor was born sometime between 1518 and 1521. S. J. Gunn has speculated that she might have been named for Eleanor, Queen of Portugal and later Queen of France, who was the Emperor Charles V’s older sister. Erin Sadlack has suggested that she might have been born in late 1520 or 1521, after Henry VIII met Charles V at Gravelines. According to Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, who wrote a history of her family in the seventeenth century, Eleanor was around twenty-seven or twenty-eight when she died in 1547. (Read entire post.)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Louis XVII Prays for His Parents

 A fair child fleeing from the world's fierce hate,
In his blue eye the shade of sorrow sate,
His golden hair hung all dishevelled down
On wasted cheeks that told a mournful story,
And angels twined him with the innocent's crown,
The martyr's palm of glory.
The virgin souls that to the Lamb are near,
Called through the clouds with voices heavenly clear,
"God hath prepared a glory for thy brow;
Rest in his arms, and all ye hosts that sing
His praised ever on untired string,
Chant, for a mortal comes among ye now;
Do homage,--'tis a king!"
 ~ from Capet, éveille-toi! Share

The Romance of the Middle Ages

A report on a fascinating exhibit on romance writing at Oxford:
The Romance of the Middle Ages celebrates the stories of medieval romance and how they have influenced our culture, literature and art over the last thousand years. It includes the dramatic love stories about King Arthur and Tristan and Isolde as they are illustrated in sumptuous medieval manuscripts, alongside works of art and draft papers by J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman and Monty Python, the last on public display for first time.

The exhibition draws on the Bodleian’s outstanding collection of manuscripts and early printed books containing medieval romances. These range from lavishly-illustrated volumes to personal notebooks and fragments only saved by chance. Alongside these will be works of art from across Europe that illustrate romance legends; these include ivory carvings, jewellery and caskets, on loan from national museums and collections.

Romance writing developed in Britain after the Norman Conquest and flourished as a form of storytelling right through to the Middle Ages, forming the basis for many kinds of later drama, poetry and prose fiction. This colourful exhibition tells how these compelling medieval stories have inspired writers and artists across the centuries; from the early modern period (including Shakespeare, Ariosto and Cervantes) through to medievalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (including Walter Scott, Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris) and, finally, to contemporary versions and adaptations (including manuscripts and drafts by J.R.R. Tolkien, Philip Pullman and the Monty Python team). From the Knights of the Round Table to the Knights that say ‘Ni!’, The Romance of the Middle Ages exhibition tells the fascinating story of medieval romance across the ages. (Read entire post.)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Interview with Author Nancy Bilyeau

I recently read a magnificent novel, The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau, which deals  with the fate of some English  Dominican nuns during Henry VIII's "reform." I was delighted and honored when Nancy agreed to be interviewed. I will be reviewing the book as well in a future post. To quote from the book description:
An aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father—and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell’s ruthless terror. The year is 1537. . .  
EMV: Nancy, welcome to Tea at Trianon! Congratulations on your magnificent novel, The Crown, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was especially impressed by the research that went into making it one of the most authentic novels of the Tudor era that I have ever read.  You bring to life the beauty and peace of the cloister even as it is about to be destroyed. Can you tell us a little about how you began your journey into the past, and where you found the best sources on such a turbulent, controversial epoch?

NB: I’ve been interested in English history since I was 11 years old and saw a re-broadcast of “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” on television with my parents. Ever since that time, the Tudor period was my particular passion, and I read the major books about the time. I pored through the major biographies, from J.J. Scarisbricke’s Henry VIII to Garrett Mattingly’s Catherine of Aragon. Every time a new biography on Anne Boleyn was published, I bought it. I do think I have all of them. When I began the research for The Crown, I dove into all books and sources on the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Pilgrimage of Grace, which was the 1536-1537 rebellion in the North against the Protestant reforms. I found some of the most helpful books written almost a century ago: F.A. Gasquet’s English Monastic Life (1906) and Cranage’s The Home of the Monk: An Account of English Monastic Life and Buildings in the Middle Ages (1926).  On the other end of the spectrum, British History Online is an amazing Internet source of contemporary and secondary source documents.

EMV: There are very few novels that tell the story of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII from the point of view of an insider. The only other novels in a similar vein that I have read are The King’s Achievement by R.H. Benson and Miracle at St. Bruno’s by Philippa Carr. What inspired you to have a nun as your heroine? And why a Dominican nun in particular?

NB: I wanted to write my book from a woman’s point of view but it took me a while to decide which woman. I wanted to write a mystery thriller because I enjoy reading them so much myself. I fused two of my favorite genres: the historical novel and the thriller. So would I have a “real” woman—a queen or princess or lady-in-waiting—as the protagonist? I decided no, that would be too difficult and possibly contrived to have, say, Queen Catherine Parr solving murders when she’s not fending off conspiracies to drive her off the throne. I wanted a fictional heroine, someone who is doing interesting things in a turbulent time. I have always been intrigued by nuns, and so I thought it could yield high drama, to write a nun’s story at the most fraught moment of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. I picked the Dominicans because I’d read a little bit about Saint Catherine of Siena and she interests me. And Dartford Priory was where I wanted to set the book, and that was the only house of Dominican sisters in England pre-Reformation.

EMV: Your heroine, Joanna Stafford, is a zealous soul, in love with God and ready to serve Him with all her heart. However, she sometimes has trouble with obedience which make some of the nuns question her vocation. The upheavals of era disturb the course of her novitiate as well. Do you think, under normal circumstance, that Joanna would have been happy being a nun?

NB: Yes I do. In my conception of her, Joanna finds a peace and a sense of fulfillment in Dartford Priory that she’d known nowhere else in her life. And she has the intelligence and resilience to succeed at it. I thought a lot about the spirituality of my heroine. I didn’t want to make her a nun forced to enter a priory. For one thing, my research yielded the fact that that didn’t happen very often in late medieval England. The image of the wild and restless girl imprisoned in a convent—it’s not too accurate. When Henry VIII’s commissioners seeking to “reform” the monasteries made their visits across the country, the nuns were asked, together and sometimes separately, if they wanted to leave, and very few did. And after the dissolution, some nuns continued to live in small groups and try to carry out their vocations for the rest of their lives. In Dartford, a half-dozen of the real nuns ended up leaving England after the reign of Queen Mary and lived in near-poverty in Holland.

EMV: I thought that your portrayal of Katherine of Aragon was especially powerful. She knew Henry better than anyone, having been married to him the longest, and the pieces of information that slip out when she makes her brief appearances in the novel are tantalizing. What made you focus on Katherine rather than the other wives?

NB: Oh her image has suffered so badly. Today people seem to feel that the middle-aged, stout woman should have stepped aside for the young, sexy lady-in-waiting. Just give up your husband, throne—and your dignity. I think you’ll agree that very few women today would feel that way about a friend who had been married to a man for 20 years. Katherine of Aragon was a very, very popular and beloved woman with the commoners, the nobility, and the monastic orders of her country. There was a reason for this! She was kind, generous, highly intelligent, gracious, decisive, and devout. She was fierce in time of war; when Henry was in France she defended the country capably against Scottish invasion. In her youth Katherine was beautiful. Katherine supported what we would consider today a feminist position: She believed her daughter Mary could rule the kingdom as a queen. Katherine’s mother, Isabella, ruled in her own right, and that family had a history of very strong and capable female rulers: Margaret of Austria and Mary of Hungary spring to mind. But Anne Boleyn has such a fix on our collective imaginations that readers today often root against Katherine and Mary—and for Anne to become queen and have that son Henry wanted. It’s rather bizarre.

EMV: I also loved your depiction of Katherine’s daughter, Mary. So often she is shown as being dour, bitter and depressed, but in The Crown she is every inch the granddaughter of Isabella of Castile, determined, savvy and authoritative. What are your thoughts on Mary’s complicated psyche?

NB: I feel Mary’s reputation has suffered enormously too, in this case in comparison to Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth. Mary is seen as weak and vindictive and cruel. Yet how strong she was! She defied her father’s tyranny for so long and supported her mother in exile. She only submitted to him when it was a question of her survival and she was urged to sign the papers by Eustace Chapuys, the Emperor’s ambassador. She stood up to constant pressure from her younger half-brother to forsake her religion. Edward and his minsters would certainly have taken harsh measures against her if not for Mary’s Hapsburg relatives. And then very few people expected her to raise an army and take the country when Edward died—to fight for her right to succeed. But she did it and with amazing courage. And Mary brought forth the same loyalty among friends and servants as her mother did—more than Elizabeth did later. Mary never minded when her ladies got married and had children—she gave them presents and stood as godmother over and over. Now Mary suffered psychologically through all of this. Her naturally kind and generous nature did darken in some respects, though not as much as people think today. “Bloody Mary” is such a tragic legacy.

EMV: In the novel, Joanna and the other nuns have taken the Oath, and yet they admire the courage of those who died rather than take it, such as the Carthusians and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher. I never realized that so many nuns did take the Oath and yet they were dissolved anyway. Why was Cromwell so determined to destroy consecrated life in England, especially when the monks, nuns and friars did so much good work in health care, education, and feeding the hungry?

NB: It was a financial imperative. The country was approaching bankruptcy. The land grab of the monasteries—that is what it was—poured more than a million pounds into the royal treasury. The King and Cromwell assured people that hospitals and schools would replace the abbeys and monasteries that were emptied and often destroyed but that rarely happened. The money went to building new palaces and to war, mostly. Also the property was turned over to courtiers so that they would be more bound to the king than ever.

There are social problems in the late 16th century that some historians attribute to the loss of the safety net provided by the Catholic orders. And there were other sorts of losses. For example, at Dartford Priory the sisters educated the girls from local families. After the priory was destroyed, no one else taught the Dartford girls to read in an organized way for many, many years—centuries, actually. A grammar school was formed in the town in 1576, but that was just for the boys.

Cromwell was also someone who supported Martin Luther’s ideas and so he had that motivation. Henry VIII had an extremely complicated and ambivalent attitude toward the monastic orders. He tried in the beginning to personally persuade some of the leading friars—the men who became the Carthusian martyrs—to see the divorce from his point of view and agree to support him as head of the Church of England. But when they repeatedly refused, they were starved, tortured and then killed in the most painful way possible. Henry himself did not ever support Luther and many times tugged the religion of his country back. One of the other reasons besides need for money that Henry VIII pushed through the Dissolution of the Monasteries was that he did not want hotbeds of educated men and women loyal to the Pope thriving in his country. There was monastic support for Pilgrimage of Grace, and that strengthened his resolve to crush the abbeys. Once they were turned out from their homes and could not wear their habits or practice their faith in the same way, friars, monks and nuns were no threat.

EMV: One of the aspects of the book which most intrigue me are the Howard tapestries which contain messages and symbols woven into them. Did such tapestries really exist?

NB: These specific tapestries all come from my imagination. Tapestries were a beautiful and thriving art form in medieval and early modern England. One of the good things about Henry VIII is that he collected and appreciated tapestries. Nuns wove and embroidered tapestries during this time period, though the larger ones were woven in France and the Low Countries. So I took the next step, and had my Dartford Priory become a center of tapestry production. It helped me strengthen one of my themes and that was how much the sisters lived and worked as a team. I was absolutely thrilled to receive an email from a Dominican sister in the United States saying that she’d read my book and I got right the essential nature of the life of the sisters and how they interacted with the friars.

EMV: Do you think England suffered in the long run from the dissolution of the monasteries?

NB: I can’t say that England would be better off if it had remained a Catholic country, like France and Spain. That is too enormous a question. But I can say that England suffered from the destruction of those beautiful buildings. There is so little to see of these magnificent abbeys and priories today, it’s just heartbreaking. Most of them were torn down and stripped for the value of the bricks and the lead. The Dominican monastery in London called Blackfriars was famous throughout Europe for its beauty and magnificence. When the Emperor Charles visited his aunt, Katherine of Aragon, in the 1520s, he stayed at Blackfriars, not at one of Henry VIII’s palaces. It was a huge complex of buildings. Today all that survives of Blackfriars is a piece of crumbling stone wall not more than five feet long. I’ve seen it; there is a small plaque next to the wall in a park. It brought tears to my eyes.

EMV: Thank you very much, Nancy, and I can’t wait to read more of Joanna’s adventures in the sequel!

(*NOTE: The Crown was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.)

Pregnancy is Not a Disease

From Real Love Inc:
Pregnancy is how a woman’s body is supposed to work.  It’s the way we’re made.  Birth control works against that, by preventing or altering the body’s normal processes.  In classifying contraception as “preventative”, the United States government has deemed the healthy functioning of women’s healthy bodies as defective, and in need of government-provided intervention to alter.

So now women’s healthy bodies are deemed defective.  But what about men?  Apparently their non-impregnable anatomies are fine just as they are, and in that respect represent the standard for which women should strive.  CNN made this point when they said that “Liberal groups have pushed for an expansive contraception coverage requirement on grounds of gender equality in health care.”

So now “gender equality” apparently requires that women’s bodies function like men’s bodies.
(Read entire post.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Photo of Marie-Amélie of Naples, 1848

From Vive la Reine. People often ask me if I know of any photos of the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. I don't, but here is one of her first cousin Marie-Amélie of Naples, who was Marie-Antoinette's niece and another Habsburg-Bourbon genetic combination. Since Marie-Amélie and Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte resembled each other in a cousinly sort of way, one can get the general idea of how the latter would have looked in a photograph or daguerreotype as they were called. Share

Rome and Romanticism

From Charles Coulombe: 
Historically, Romanticism was born in the hearts and minds of the resistance to Napoleon --- even though many Romantics initially embraced him as a hero figure, akin to Charlemagne. His attempt to do for Europe what his predecessors tried to do to each of their countries aroused the fires of nationalism in their breast --- German, Italian, English --- and even French. The brutality of Napoleon’s police and censors drove “subversive” writers deep within their souls; his total control of Europe led minds to wander elsewhere, beyond the Continent. 

Here we find the origins of the main themes of Romanticism, although, as we noticed, the roots of the phenomenon were already present. A longing for the Medieval past, and for the contemporary exotic --- whether Asia or the wilds of America; an exaltation of the needs of the individual (and by extension, the self) over the wishes of the community; preference for folklore over the sort of learning perceived to have brought the Enlightenment, and of intuition over reason, custom over legislation; a fascination with intense feeling --- including horror and humour --- over the mundane: these were the hallmarks of the Romantic revolt, in literature, art, and music, in politics, and most certainly in religion. (Read entire article.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Killing Season

Prioress Eleanor of Tyndal of the Order of Fontevraud and her companion arrive at a castle on the English coast to help a family in crisis. Not only has the lord of the castle, Baron Herbert, forsaken his wife’s bed, but one by one their grown sons are dying under suspicious circumstances. Is it murder, or has the Devil taken possession of them? With the help of Brother Thomas, Sister Anne and Gamel the physician, Eleanor and her brother Sir Hugh seek to unravel the secrets which plague the family. In this thirteenth century thriller, there is much to be learned about medieval medicine, which was not as backward as is commonly thought. There is a great deal of medieval piety as well, with a strong emphasis on Satan, which makes the story quite dark at times, although Prioress Eleanor always lends balance and good sense to the narrative. The characters are quite true to their era in outlook and behavior; no anachronisms are to be found. They are all involved in their own personal struggles and come to greater self-knowledge by the end of the story, although as in real life it is made clear that each soul is a work in progress. The nature of marital love is explored as well as the commitment of the religious life, each vocation having its joys and challenges. The beauty of true friendship, as people in the Middle Ages understood it, shines through all the storms which surround the beleaguered castle, replacing an old curse with a new blessing.  I highly recommend A Killing Season for those who love both mysteries and medieval tales.

This review originally appeared in the February 2012 edition of the Historical Novels Review.

 (*NOTE: This novel was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)


French Parenting

I always wondered, when in France, why the children and the pets were so well-behaved...AND they seemed happy! Now I know why......
Soon it became clear to me that quietly and en masse, French parents were achieving outcomes that created a whole different atmosphere for family life. When American families visited our home, the parents usually spent much of the visit refereeing their kids' spats, helping their toddlers do laps around the kitchen island, or getting down on the floor to build Lego villages. When French friends visited, by contrast, the grownups had coffee and the children played happily by themselves.

By the end of our ruined beach holiday, I decided to figure out what French parents were doing differently. Why didn't French children throw food? And why weren't their parents shouting? Could I change my wiring and get the same results with my own offspring?

Driven partly by maternal desperation, I have spent the last several years investigating French parenting. And now, with Bean 6 years old and twins who are 3, I can tell you this: The French aren't perfect, but they have some parenting secrets that really do work. (Read entire article.)