Erased Females

A couple of recent news stories suggest that certain individual women in history had their achievements stolen by men.

1. Elizabeth Winkler in The Atlantic:

Doubts about whether William Shakespeare (who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died in 1616) really wrote the works attributed to him are almost as old as the writing itself. Alternative contenders—Francis Bacon; Christopher Marlowe; and Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford, prominent among them—continue to have champions, whose fervor can sometimes border on fanaticism. In response, orthodox Shakespeare scholars have settled into dogmatism of their own. Even to dabble in authorship questions is considered a sign of bad faith, a blinkered failure to countenance genius in a glover’s son. The time had come, I felt, to tug at the blinkers of both camps and reconsider the authorship debate: Had anyone ever proposed that the creator of those extraordinary women might be a woman? Each of the male possibilities requires an elaborate theory to explain his use of another’s name. None of the candidates has succeeded in dethroning the man from Stratford. Yet a simple reason would explain a playwright’s need for a pseudonym in Elizabethan England: being female….

The prevailing view… has been that no women in Renaissance England wrote for the theater, because that was against the rules. Religious verse and translation were deemed suitable female literary pursuits; “closet dramas,” meant only for private reading, were acceptable. The stage was off-limits. Yet scholars have lately established that women were involved in the business of acting companies as patrons, shareholders, suppliers of costumes, and gatherers of entrance fees. What’s more, 80 percent of the plays printed in the 1580s were written anonymously, and that number didn’t fall below 50 percent until the early 1600s. At least one eminent Shakespeare scholar, Phyllis Rackin, of the University of Pennsylvania, challenges the blanket assumption that the commercial drama pouring forth in the period bore no trace of a female hand. So did Virginia Woolf, even as she sighed over the obstacles that would have confronted a female Shakespeare: “Undoubtedly, I thought, looking at the shelf where there are no plays by women, her work would have gone unsigned.”

Emilia Bassano [was] born in London in 1569 to a family of Venetian immigrants—musicians and instrument-makers who were likely Jewish—she was one of the first women in England to publish a volume of poetry (suitably religious yet startlingly feminist, arguing for women’s “Libertie” and against male oppression). Her existence was unearthed in 1973 by the Oxford historian A. L. Rowse, who speculated that she was Shakespeare’s mistress, the “dark lady” described in the sonnets. In Emilia, the playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm goes a step further: Her Shakespeare is a plagiarist who uses Bassano’s words for Emilia’s famous defense of women in Othello.

Could Bassano have contributed even more widely and directly? The idea felt like a feminist fantasy about the past—but then, stories about women’s lost and obscured achievements so often have a dreamlike quality, unveiling a history different from the one we’ve learned. Was I getting carried away, reinventing Shakespeare in the image of our age? Or was I seeing past gendered assumptions to the woman who—like Shakespeare’s heroines—had fashioned herself a clever disguise? Perhaps the time was finally ripe for us to see her.

More at the link.

2. From the Herald Sun (Melbourne):

Was King Tut a fraud? New evidence points to a female pharaoh who ruled before him

Why do so many of Pharoah Tutankhamun’s famous golden statues have breasts? Turns out, it’s not him. It’s his sisters. They ruled Egypt before him — and achieved everything the boy king is credited with. But they were written out of history — until now.

That’s one new theory that is beginning to emerge from fresh forensic analysis of the rich relics found bundled in the famous tomb found by archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922.

Modern Egyptologists are revisiting the clues, reshaping the fragmentary puzzle of what exactly happened during one of history’s most tumultuous times….

[After Akhenaten’s death,] Princess Neferneferuaten took the throne, the professor says, with the teenage Meritaten adopting the ritual role of chief royal consort.

“It looks like after one year, Meritaten had herself crowned as pharaoh, as well,” she says.

It wasn’t without precedent. Or controversy.

Egypt had had female pharaohs before — Hatshepsut and Sobekneferu.

And Akhenaten had already done something radical: Among his revolutionary acts was to make his favourite queen, Nefertiti, a full equal in rank and status. Essentially, a co-pharaoh.

Their looted statues — one wearing the crown of Upper Egypt, the other of Lower Egypt — were later bundled among Tutankhamun’s possessions.

The bejewelled plate of the goddess Nut also found among Tut’s treasures indicates it was these child queens that had set about restoring the old religions and moving the capital back to Thebes. Not Tutankhamun, as is widely reported.

But the priests who cemented King Tut’s rule hated Akhenaten with a vengeance for having stripped away their gods, their wealth and their power. And they wold have been scandalised by any following co-female rule, Professor Angenot says.

More at the link. I am not endorsing either of these, but I’m not discounting them entirely; sometimes women really have been written out of history because men wanted it that way. However, it is always tempting to go too far in the opposite direction for similarly political reasons. Whom to believe? (Although I confess to being a Stratfordian myself; I found James Shapiro’s Contested Will to be convincing.)

Prince Arthur

Arthur Tudor, that is, whose death (in 1502) left Katherine of Aragon a widow after five months of marriage. Would the English send her back to Spain with her dowry, and be deprived of an alliance with a country that had just discovered the New World? Would Katherine lose the opportunity to be queen some day? By no means! The English arranged for Katherine to marry Arthur’s younger brother Henry, who succeeded to the throne in 1509 as King Henry VIII.* But Katherine’s daughter Mary displeased Henry – Henry Tudor had won the crown in 1485 through right of conquest, and Henry VIII really wanted a son to carry on the dynasty. Katherine, however, produced a series of miscarriages and stillbirths, which Henry began to believe was punishment for violating Leviticus 18:16: “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.” (Indeed, the English had to get special permission from the papacy for the marriage to happen, and they based their argument partly on Deuteronomy 25:5: “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her” – you can see how Biblicism had already become standard in formulating Christian policy.) Henry’s petition for a divorce from Katherine was denied, in part because the papacy had had to grant an exemption for the marriage in the first place, and in part because Rome was then occupied by Charles V, Katherine’s nephew, and was in no position to grant Henry any favors. 

Thus was founded the Church of England, with Henry as its head, and the power to grant his own divorce.**

To return to Prince Arthur, I noticed an article in Town and Country magazine just now (likely inspired by the success of a new television series, The Spanish Princess, about Katherine). Excerpt:

The Cause of Prince Arthur Tudor’s Death Remains a Medical Mystery

The Prince of Wales’s unexpected passing changed the course of European history, but we still don’t know exactly how he died.

Also known as the sweating sickness and simply the sweats, the so-called “English Sweat” which claimed Arthur, Price of Wales’s life has remained a medical mystery for centuries.

Reaching epidemic proportions on no less than five occasions during the late 15th and early 16th centuries, sweating sickness was highly lethal. Physician John Caius, whose book about the illness remains the most famous account from the time period, noted that death could occur within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms, and that those who survived the first 24 hours would usually make a full recovery (though surviving did not, evidently, prevent the patients from contracting the disease again.)

Sweating sickness was confined almost exclusively to England during its outbreaks, ravaging the wealthy more often than the poor. And yet, for all of its virulence, the sweats seemed to disappear almost as suddenly as they appeared in the first place, with no known outbreaks after 1578.

While the disease’s disappearance no doubt saved thousands of lives, it has also stymied modern medical investigators hoping to understand what claimed the life of Arthur and so many of his subjects.

Part of the trouble stems from sweating sickness’s symptoms—fever, chills, aches, delirium, and, of course, intense sweating—which are common to a number of diseases including influenza, scarlet fever, and typhus, yet never seem to fit exactly in strength, duration, or combination with any known medical issue. The most common modern theory suggests that the outbreaks may have been a form of hantavirus, similar to a hantavirus pulmonary syndrome that struck the American southwest in the 1990s. Exactly why the virus, if that was indeed the cause, would disappear so suddenly is not known, but some scholars suggest that it could be a result of the virus evolving in a way that made it less deadly or less easily spread to humans.

More at the link, including an image of the now-lost east window of St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, which was commissioned for Arthur and Katherine’s engagement. You can see the couple in the lower right and left of the window; you can also see St. George on the left, another piece of evidence about his national importance in the late Middle Ages.

* Somehow this episode reminds me of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “But I don’t want to think I’ve lost a son, so much as gained a daughter! For, since the tragic death of her father… I want his only daughter to look upon me as her own dad, in a very real, and legally binding sense.”

** You can always tease an Anglican about the sordid origins of his Church. However, he will respond with the claim that Anglicanism represents the via media between Catholicism and Protestantism, a tolerant Big Tent of a religion that eschewed fanaticism (although Queen Elizabeth, whose Settlement inaugurated the rhetoric of the via media, did condemn numerous Catholics for religious reasons).

St. George’s Day Today

From my Orthodox friend Alex Nikas, news of a calendrical expedience:

Greek Orthodox to Celebrate Saint George’s Day on April 29

The annual celebration of Saint George on April 23 is one of the most important feasts in the Orthodox calendar. Almost all Greek households have someone called Georgios or Georgia among close or distant relatives or friends.

However, this year Saint George’s day coincided with Holy Tuesday.

According to the Christian calendar, whenever April 23 is within Lent, and therefore during the fasting period, Saint George’s day is moved to immediately after Easter.

This year Georgios and Georgias all over Greece and abroad will celebrate their name day on Monday, April 29.

This happened in England in the year 2000, when Easter fell on April 23; the Church of England moved St. George’s Day to May 5 (I think). I can state authoritatively on the basis of my own research that the English royal court moved the feast of St. George in the late Middle Ages if it conflicted with Holy Week.

Maken Engelond Gret Ayeyn

The great Paul Strohm in Lapham’s Quarterly (hat tip: Arts and Letters Daily) discusses late-fourteenth and early-fifteenth century English trade, in particular the perennial conflict between the ideas of free trade and protectionism. A sample:

Giano’s killing was one episode in the larger story of international trade and its accompanying rivalries in the later European Middle Ages. The so-called Dark Ages were never as dark as their name would imply; hucksters, peddlers, chapmen, and other minor players had always plied Europe’s roads and dealt their goods. But it was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that high-volume international trading seriously resumed, with trade in wool one of its major drivers. In those centuries, the Port of London alone handled almost a thousand arriving and departing trading vessels a year, and numerous other English ports (including the newly active ports of Dover and Southampton) were claiming a role. Half this activity was devoted to wool, and it generated immense wealth for the realm, conferring fortunes on a small and monopolistic group of men. These successful profiteers were not the sheepherders and shearers of the provinces, nor the merchant sailors who braved the seas, but the entrepreneurial middlemen who collected revenues on exported wool. A close-knit group of at most several hundred men, they formed allegiances and confederations throughout the mercantile establishment that dominated the leading guilds and ran the city of London.

Read the whole thing, which concludes that the author of the protectionist Libel of English Policy (1438) may be considered a Brexiteer avant la lettre, “laying early foundations for varieties of economic nationalism now returning to contemporary vogue.”

Arthurianism in Early Plantagenet England

My friend Chris Berard is interviewed for Boydell’s Medieval Herald about his new book:

What would you most like readers to take from your book? 

I want my readers to see that the legend of King Arthur, as written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, encapsulates the ‘medieval cultural synthesis’ of the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman, and Celtic-Teutonic traditions. I describe Arthur in my book as a composite figure, a “best of” kings compilation. In Arthur one finds dimensions of King David, Alexander the Great, King Æthelstan, King Canute, Charlemagne, and the early Norman kings of England. Geoffrey’s Arthur can be understood as a patriotic resistance fighter and as a champion of established institutional authority. Geoffrey’s History of the Kings of Britain was to the post-Conquest kings of England what Virgil’s Aeneid was to Caesar Augustus. In the History of the Kings of Britain, we find a divinely-ordained, manifest destiny of imperial attainment; recurrent patterns of history that provide an intoxicating blend of mystery and meaning to the past, present and future; instruction on good kingship and good vassalage; and hope for an idyllic future, which can be described as a more perfect version of an already idealized past. The breadth of sources and traditions that Geoffrey drew upon when constructing Arthur combined with his tailoring of the figure to appeal to the particular imperial ambitions of England’s monarchs was the key to Arthur’s enduring appeal. Arthur is a king for all seasons. I seek to situate the medieval Arthurian tradition within the broader context and patterns of Western Civilization, and my hope is that my work will contribute to the recognition of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain as an integral part of the western canon.

More at the link.

Henry V

My wife and I enjoyed seeing Henry V at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse in Atlanta this evening. I was amused to see so many women actors on stage playing male parts, as though the director was saying, well, in Elizabethan times men played women, so now we’re going to reverse it.

But I was less amused to see King Henry V bearing a shield that looked like this:

Wikipedia.

As king, of course, Henry should have borne a shield that looked like this:

Arms of Henry IV from 1406, arms of Henry V. Wikipedia.

Edward III, back in 1340, was the first English king to quarter the arms of France with the arms of England, by means of illustrating his claim to the throne of France. At the time France was represented by Azure, semé de lys Or – that is, a blue field strewn with an indeterminate number of fleur de lys – “France Ancient” in the lingo.

Arms of Edward III from 1340, arms of Richard II, arms of Henry IV to 1406. Wikipedia.

In 1376, King Charles V of France reduced the number of fleur de lys in the French royal arms to three (“France Modern”) and King Henry IV of England followed suit with own his coat of arms in 1406 or so. Henry V inherited this coat of arms, along with the throne, in 1413.

So where does the coat of arms France Ancient quartering England with a label of five points per pale Ermine and France come from? Apparently it was borne by Henry V’s father Henry IV, before he became king, for a brief period in 1399, when he was both Duke of Hereford and Duke of Lancaster. The label was reused by Henry V’s brother John, Duke of Bedford, who served as his regent for France, but the first and fourth quarters of his coat of arms were France Modern, not France Ancient.

Arms of John, Duke of Bedford (d. 1435). Wikipedia.

I realize that few people care about heraldry as I do – and that critiquing an entire production of a Shakespearean play based on a single anachronism is pedantic and philistine! But I still think that with a little extra effort, you can get such details right. The Shakespeare Tavern is proud to claim that it’s an Original Practice playhouse; I can assure you that Shakespeare’s audience would have noticed this.

Or was it intentional? This is always the question when faced with apparently problematic details. Richard II had exiled the future Henry IV in 1397, and upon the death of Henry’s father John of Gaunt in 1399, seized the Duchy of Lancaster. Henry’s return to England reclaim his rightful inheritance gathered so much support that it turned into a revolution, deposing Richard and installing Henry as king. By using the arms of his father “coming to reclaim his inheritance,” is the play suggesting that Henry V’s French expedition is somehow parallel to the Lancastrian Revolution – that Henry V is attempting to live up to the example of his father, who did the same thing in 1399?

Perhaps. Personally I don’t like having to make the “fanboy save,” as I heard it described once.

UPDATE: The Shakespeare Tavern responds:

Unfortunately, I think it wasn’t as much an artistic decision as a practical one. We didn’t have the correct shield already “in stock” as it were, and just used the shield that we already had available. As artistic director Jeff Watkins likes to say: “We don’t do history, we tell stories.”

Stonehenge

The most recent discovery about Stonehenge. From the National Post:

Stonehenge bluestones were dragged 240 km over land from quarry in Wales, study finds

‘You could actually see the hole left from where the stone pillar had been removed. Just amazing’

Stonehenge: one of the wonders of the ancient world, but also the elusive megalith that leaves scientists and people ruminating on its purpose. Discoveries by a team of archeologists and geologists suggest the transportation of the bluestones from the Preseli hills in Wales to Stonehenge in England was an effort to unify tribes of prehistoric Britain.

In the team’s excavations, they pinpointed the exact origins of the bluestones that line the inner and outer perimeter of the sarsen trilithons — the tall, three-stoned structure that people usually envision when thinking of Stonehenge.

The location of the quarries, where the bluestones originate, now nullifies a pre-existing theory that suggested they were transported by sea from Milford Haven to the Salisbury Plains. Nearly 5,000 years ago, the Neolithic humans dragged the bluestones 240 km over land, according to the study published in Antiquity.

More at the link.

Anne Good and Madeline Gray ’18

On February 14, Associate Professor of History Anne Good and alumna Madeline Gray ’18 presented their research on “Mrs. Knight’s Receipt Book, 1740,” at the February Community Gathering. The Center for Engaged Teaching and Learning funded a trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library in November, where they examined Mrs. Knight’s book in person. It contained more than recipes for food – humorism was alive and well in the eighteenth century, and many home remedies based on this theory were also included. Attendees, however, were treated to gingerbread treats made according to the book.

Vegetation

A couple of interesting BBC links:

1. Alastair Sooke investigates the so-called “Green Man”:

A mask-like face engulfed in undergrowth, leaves sprouting eerily from his wretched mouth. Sometimes beautiful, often sinister, this mysterious figure – so common in medieval sculpture – is known as ‘the Green Man’.

In his heyday, the Green Man could be found glaring in churches across Europe. Since then, he has permeated folklore, popular culture and literature.

But who is he? And where did he come from? Is he a positive symbol of springtime renewal? Or an image of dereliction and decay – a dark reminder of man’s mortality?

Find out more at the link. The video references a 1978 book on the topic by Kathleen Basford, which is still in print.

2. News from Somerset:

Bath’s Sydney Gardens to be restored

Georgian pleasure gardens which were loved by Jane Austen are among six parks to have been awarded a total of £13.8m in lottery cash.

Sydney Gardens in Bath, which have fallen into decline, have been given £2.74m to help with restoration.

The novelist lived near the park when she moved to the city in 1801.

Other parks to get cash include South Cliff Gardens in Scarborough, Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford and Ellington Park in Ramsgate.

Fairhaven Lake and Gardens on the Fylde coast and Stevens Park in Quarry Bank, Dudley, have also received Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money.

The Grade II registered Sydney Gardens were designed in the late 18th Century, and became Austen’s local park when she moved to the city.

More at the link.

Lady Godiva

Was pleased to receive a Christmas treat from a college friend of mine: a box of Godiva chocolates. The company’s well-known logo features Lady Godiva riding naked on a horse.

Wikipedia.

The Godiva episode is one of the more popular medieval legends, even outside of England, where it is alleged to have taken place (the company was founded in Belgium in 1926). The idea is that Leofric, earl of Mercia (d. 1057), oppressed his subjects with heavy taxation. His wife Godgifu (Godiva) repeatedly besought Leofric to change his mind, to no avail. Finally, an exasperated Leofric said that he would grant relief, if Godgifu  rode naked through the streets of Coventry. His request was seemingly impossible by the standards of aristocratic feminine behavior, but Godgifu took him up on it and rode through the town clothed in nothing but her long hair (although she ordered everyone to stay indoors first; only a certain “Peeping Tom” violated the edict).

Leofric and Godgifu were real people. Godgifu died between 1066 and 1086, i.e. some time after the Norman Conquest; unlike most Anglo-Saxons, she retained her lands and position in the face of the regime change. The legend of her naked ride started to be told in the thirteenth century, so this is an interesting example of medieval medievalism. A good book on the phenomenon is Daniel Donahue, Lady Godiva: A Literary History of the Legend (2002), which details the erotic, aristocratic, and decadent strands of the legend that made it so appealing as the name of maker of fine chocolates.