November 5

On November 5, 1605, the House of Lords was supposed to have been blown up by a group of Roman Catholic conspirators who were disappointed that the newly-crowned King James had not relaxed the anti-Catholic policies of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth. Had the plot succeeded, James would have been killed at the State Opening of Parliament, along with a good many other English grandees. But the plot was exposed, and the principal conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, who was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the House of Lords, were all arrested, convicted, and executed.

“A late 17th or early 18th-century report of the plot.” Wikipedia.

Since that time, the Fifth of November has been celebrated as a triumph of British Protestantism against the wicked forces of papistry. To this day, it serves an excuse to throw a stuffed “Guy” (or even a pope) onto a bonfire, or at least set off fireworks (I lived in London once, and can attest to this). I assume that the anti-Catholicism of the celebration has been downplayed in recent years, and that the fifth of November is simply the British equivalent of Hallowe’en – an occasion of autumn revelry.

“A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Missing are Digby, Keyes, Rookwood, Grant, and Tresham.” Wikipedia.

I have always been curious why the Fifth of November fell out of favor in the American colonies. Why don’t we celebrate it here anymore? Why did the Irish custom of Hallowe’en take off in from the nineteenth century? Apparently George Washington found it embarrassing. As he wrote in 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

Alas, such consideration was not enough to win the French colonists to the cause of Revolution (thus does Canada exist today!), but apparently it had a permanent effect.

But as I wrote before, the casting of Guy Fawkes as a sort of anarchist freedom fighter has been one of the more remarkable transformations I’ve ever witnessed.

Queen Elizabeth

From the BBC:

Elizabeth I is arguably one of the most recognisable and iconic monarchs in history, yet the careful curation of her image and the way she was depicted throughout her reign means her true appearance has remained a mystery.

“Propaganda portraiture, once the reserve of the rich and powerful, is now in the hands of every teenager. The ability to curate your image to present a persona to the world. Elizabeth I pioneered this syndrome” says Mat Collishaw, an artist who has embarked on the task of recreating the true face of the Virgin Queen.

To bring her back to life, Collishaw has used a combination of modern technology such as digital scanning, 3D printing and animatronics. His very modern portrait, named The Mask of Youth, now sits face to face with its original inspiration, the famous Armada portrait at the Queen’s House in Greenwich, London.

“I’m creating a mask which attempts to reveal the truth of her actual appearance but also provides other mechanical elements which suggest that beneath the surface, behind the mask, her mind is busy making decisions and calculations that no one is privy to.” says Collishaw.

Click the link to watch a 5-minute video of Collishaw’s work.

Windsor Castle

From the Independent:

Fascinating images show original Windsor Castle after it was built to defend against medieval Home Counties

Research sheds new light on origins of England’s most famous royal palace outside London

Historians have reconstructed what Britain’s largest medieval fortress – Windsor Castle – originally looked like when it was built to keep the Home Counties under control some nine and a half centuries ago.

Using a series of archaeological discoveries made over recent decades, researchers have been able to calculate that the original 11th century fortress, built by William the Conqueror, was around a fifth of the size of the current castle.

They have also discovered that, although it has always been a Royal fortress, the land on which it stands had to be rented from a private landlord for the first 475 years of the castle’s existence.

More at the link.

Lady Di

This day marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, at the age of 36 in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Her lover Dodi Fayed and driver Henri Paul also perished in the wreck. Paul had three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood, and had been driving over 100 km/h, in an attempt to evade a number of photographers chasing them on motorcycles. 

Monogram of Diana. Wikipedia.

Lady Di’s relative youth and the violence of her death were shocking, of course, but what was most remarkable was the great outpouring of sympathy for the deceased. She had admitted to cheating on Prince Charles prior to their divorce and since that time had led a sort of Eurotrash lifestyle, but to a lot of people these things then became badges of “authenticity,” especially when compared to the rest of the allegedly stuffy, uptight royal family – her flaws became her virtues. Press coverage was nonstop, a great carpet of flowers and teddy bears appeared in front of Buckingham Palace, and even Prime Minister Jean Chrétien ordered flags to fly at half-mast in Canada. The Queen remained at Balmoral, her Scottish summer residence, in the week following the crash; by Thursday the headlines were reading “Show us you care!” – the idea being that King George VI had refused to leave London during the Blitz, so Her Majesty should come down to be with her people in their hour of need. I recall someone later writing that this drift “deserved a special Pulitzer for ass-saving improvisation,” as it usefully deflected peoples’ animosity away from the “paparazzi,” whom they blamed for Diana’s death.

Coat of arms of Diana during her marriage to Prince Charles – i.e. the Spencer arms, impaled with the arms of the Prince of Wales. Wikipedia.

There are theories that World War I started because all the Events of 1914 took place starting on June 28 – i.e. during the summer – and that people would have been a lot less hotheaded if the Archduke had been assassinated in January.* Summertime is the “silly season,” and my personal theory is that the higher temperatures and extended daylight hours made the reaction to Diana’s death a lot more intense than it otherwise would have been.

Coat of arms of Diana following her divorce – i.e. the Spencer arms, on a lozenge. Wikipedia.

Fortunately, it burned itself out. It reminded me of a medieval political assassination (e.g. that of Thomas of Lancaster or Simon de Montfort); often, such deaths were followed by a burst of miracles at the tomb of the deceased, but these tended to taper off as grief for him waned, and without the active involvement of interested parties, the initial sympathy generally did not evolve into a sustained saint’s cult. I seem to remember that a memorial march on the first anniversary of Diana’s death attracted much fewer people than anticipated, and two years ago the Express newspaper found her gravesite at Althorp, Northants., to be in an unkept state. Furthermore, I am really glad that the Queen has not abandoned her old-school reserve and devotion to duty, that she has not started oversharing her personal feelings with celebrity journalists or publicly working out at the gym, because that’s what people expect these days – and that she retains the respect and affection of her subjects for it. Christopher Hitchens was perhaps too harsh when he called Diana a “silly, trivial woman” and a “simpering Bambi narcissist,” but the revelation that she had borderline personality disorder in retrospect makes complete sense and suggests that she was not really someone worthy of admiration.

Royal Standard for members of the Royal Family without assigned arms (i.e. the royal arms, within a bordure ermine). This covered Diana’s coffin during her funeral, “the most hyped non-event in history” (Hitchens, again). Wikipedia.

* Modris Eksteins, Rites of Spring (1989):

The days of that summer were long and full of sunshine; the nights were mild and moonlit. That it was a beautiful and unforgettable season is part of the lore of that summer of 1914, part of its poignancy and mystique…. The fine days and nights of that July and August encouraged Europeans to venture out of their homes and to display their emotions and prejudices in public, in the streets and squares of their cities and towns. The massive exhibitions of public sentiment played a crucial role in determining the fate of Europe that summer. Had it been a wet and cold summer, like that of the previous year or the next one, would a fairground atmosphere conductive to soap-box oratory and mass hysteria have developed? Would leaders then have been prepared to declare war so readily? There is evidence that the jingoistic crowd scenes in Berlin, St. Petersburg, Vienna, Paris, and London, in the last days of July and in the early days of August, pushed the political and military leadership of Europe toward confrontation.

Rex inutilis

An interesting post on the OUP blog by Sophie Thérèse Ambler, courtesy my friend Bill Campbell:

What to do with a simple-minded ruler: a medieval solution

The thirteenth century saw the reigns of several rulers ill-equipped for the task of government, decried not as tyrants but incompetents. Sancho II of Portugal (1223–48), his critics said, let his kingdom fall to ruin on account of his “idleness,” “timidity of spirit,” and “simplicity”. The last term, simplex, could mean straightforward, but here it meant only simple-minded, foolish, stupid. The same term was used to describe the English king Henry III (1216–72), as well as John Balliol, the hapless king of Scotland (1292–96) appointed by England’s Edward I. As the elites of these kingdoms knew too well, it could happen on occasion that a man rose to officewhether he had been born to claim it, had won the right to hold it, or had found it thrust upon himwho did not have the intelligence to wield power.

Such a situation was dangerous, for subjects would suffer. In Portugal, it was claimed that Sancho’s inability to govern had allowed Church liberties to be attacked, women to be defiled, and the common folk to be oppressed. England’s Henry III had frittered away his resources, monies needed desperately to maintain his government; the result, it was claimed, was that Henry did not even have the cash to buy food and drink for his household and had turned to seizing victuals from his people, leaving them impoverished. The subjects of John Balliol had, perhaps, the most to fear from their king’s simplicity: John was incapable of standing up to Edward I, when a stand was needed urgently to defend his people from the bullying English king.

The people of Portugal, England, and Scotland knew of a potential solution to the problem of their simple-minded rulers: the rex inutilis theory (literally, “useless king”). This was a tenet of Church law that provided, when a bishop was too infirm to fulfill his duties, for the appointment of a coadjutor to exercise power on his behalf. The theory could be applied to lay rulers too, though it addressed here the problem of incompetence rather than infirmity.

It was the pope who held the power to pronounce a king rex inutilis. The papal court was like a medieval United Nations: its interests ranged from the making of peace between polities to the proper conduct of rulers, and the well-being of all those under the Church’s care. To this end, the pope had a mighty moral weapon in his arsenal: he could depose rulers and free subjects from their oaths of fealty or, as in the case of a rex inutilis, take effective power from his hands.

More at the link.

St. Olaf

The relics of Norway’s patron saint seem to have been found:

Norway’s Saint Olaf Uncovered: Archaeologists Believe They have Discovered the Shrine of the Lost Viking King

A team of Norwegian archaeologists believes they have discovered the remains of a 1,000-year-old church that once served as the final resting place for one of Norway’s great Viking kings, and its patron saint.

Olaf II Haraldson reigned in the eleventh century, from 1015 until 1028 AD, and today is largely credited for spreading the Christian religion throughout Norway. Olaf was driven into exile by the Danish King Canute and was slain in battle upon his return to Norway, just north of the city of Trondheim, where his forces fell to the enemy Danes and a rebellious group of Norwegian nobles.

Olaf was proclaimed a saint and was buried in St. Clement’s Church in Trondheim, but as his cult grew larger and larger, his body was eventually moved to the Trondheim cathedral. Some time after, historians believe that St. Clement’s church was destroyed, its location lost – until now.

Researchers at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) may have discovered the original foundations of St. Clement’s Church, and even believe that they have identified the lost shrine of the martyred King. They uncovered a stone slab which they claim had been the foundation of the altar where the King’s coffin once rested. Researchers have also found skeletons at the site, believed to be the remains of the church graveyard, but they were likely buried many years after Saint Olaf.

More at the link.

Henry I

Philippa Langley, discoverer of the remains of King Richard III five years ago, has made an announcement. From the Telegraph (emphasis added):

Another car park, another King: ‘Henry I’s remains’ found beneath tarmac at Reading Gaol

Britain’s kings appear to be making a habit of this.

First it was Richard III, whose bones were found under a car park in Leicester. Now it appears that Henry I may have met a similarly undignified fate.

Archaeologists have discovered what could be King Henry’s remains languishing beneath a Ministry of Justice car park on the site of Reading prison.

The bones were detected among a series of graves discovered by archaeologists using ground-penetrating radar (GPR), during an exploration of the site containing the ruins of Reading Abbey.

They came across the graves, along with a number of other potentially significant archaeological finds, while scanning tarmacked land close to the Abbey’s High Altar.

The announcement on Monday of the latest discovery came five years to the day that archaeologists from Leicester University revealed they had found the bones of Richard III, beneath the Greyfriars carpark in the city. These were later confirmed by DNA testing to be those of the Plantagenet king.

The graves beneath the car park at the former Reading Gaol where discovered as the result of an ambitious project to establish the full historic significance of the Abbey.

Reading Abbey was founded by Henry I in 1121 and was always known to have been the final resting place of the King and his Queen Adeliza.

However, there has long been speculation about the precise location of his remains, as a result of grave robbers raiding the area for the silver coffin the king was reportedly buried in.

It had previously been thought Henry, the youngest son of William the Conqueror, had been buried in front of the High Altar and a full excavation will be required to confirm whether the newly discovered graves contain his remains.

A spokeswoman for Reading Borough Council, which is leading the project along with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth and the Ministry of Justice, said:

“The graves are located behind the High Altar in an apse at the east end of the Abbey. They are located east of the area where King Henry I’s grave is believed to be. No direct connection between these features and King Henry can be made using these results alone.”

So they’ve discovered some skeletons, but there’s no proof yet whose they are. They haven’t even dug them up to examine them! I’m sorry, but after Ms. Langley’s breathless announcement about the Princes in the Tower last year I am starting to think she’s a bit of a self-promoter.

Sweet Caroline

An interesting discovery on Historic UK, about Caroline, wife of King George IV. I had no idea!

***

The Prince of Wales, know as Prinny, was a well known womaniser and at the age of 17 he had an affair with an actress Mary Robinson. When he was 23 he fell in love with a beautiful Catholic, Mrs Fitzherbert. He was so besotted with her that he persuaded her to go through with a secret marriage. The marriage was conducted in secrecy in her house where a Church of England clergyman performed the ceremony for a fee of £500.

They were very happy together for eight years but by then Prinny was in debt to the tune of £630,000, a tremendous sum in those days.

The only way that he could pay off his debts was to marry and furnish the country with an heir, then Parliament would pay his debts.

In 1795 Prinny was introduced to his potential bride, Caroline of Brunswick. Caroline was short, fat, ugly and never changed her undergarments, and rarely washed. Her body odour was overwhelming.

After embracing her, Prinny retired to the far end of the room and said to the Earl of Malmesbury: “Harris, I am not very well, pray get me a glass of brandy”.

He continued to drink brandy for three days until the morning of the wedding.

He was so drunk on their wedding night that he collapsed into the bedroom grate and remained there until dawn. Nevertheless, their only child Princess Charlotte was conceived, so he obviously managed to do what was required of him by his country.

Prinny found Caroline so disgusting that he refused to live with her and a year after their wedding he sent her a note tactfully informing her that she could do as she liked, as he would not be having ‘relations’ with her again. Caroline took this to mean that she could do as she wished.

Rejected by her husband she went to live at Blackheath, London where her behaviour became more than a little extreme. In her room she had a clockwork Chinese figure that performed gross sexual movements when wound-up. She also was given to dancing around in front of her guests in a manner that was most indelicate, exposing most of her body.

In 1806 rumours began to circulate that a four year-old child in her entourage, William Austin, was her son. His father was said to be a footman.

A Royal Commission was set up called the ‘Delicate Investigation’, but nothing could be proved against her.

In 1814 Caroline left England and proceeded to shock the people of Europe. She danced at a ball in Geneva naked to the waist, and in Naples she became the mistress of King Joachim, Napoleon’s brother-in-law.

In January 1820 King George III died and Prinny became King George IV and so Caroline became Queen.

The government in England offered Caroline £50,000 if she would stay out of the country, but she refused and came back, where she settled in Hammersmith to the intense embarrassment of all concerned.

On the 17th August the House of Lords took the offensive by demanding that Caroline appear before them. The aim of the House of Lords was to dissolve the marriage on the grounds that Caroline had been involved with a man called Bartolomeo Bergami, (‘a foreigner of low station’) in a most degrading intimacy.

Caroline was very popular with the London ‘mob’ whilst King George was not. They surrounded the House of Lords every day; her coach was escorted by the cheering mob whenever she had to appear there. The evidence against her was plentiful. It seems that during a cruise she slept on deck in a tent with Bergami and took her baths with him in full view of the other servants. In Italy her mode of dress was bizarre to say the least; she was in the habit of wearing dresses open to the waist.

After 52 days the divorce clause was carried but after the brilliant oratory of Lord Brougham in her defence, the Lords decided to drop it.

George IV’s Coronation was to be the 29th April 1821. Caroline asked the Prime Minister what dress to wear for the ceremony and was told that she would not be taking part in it.

Nevertheless Caroline arrived at the Abbey door on the day demanding to be admitted. She shouted “The Queen…Open” and the pages opened the door. “I am the Queen of England,” she shouted and an official roared at the pages “Do your duty…shut the door” and the door was slammed in her face.

Undaunted, Caroline drove back to her house and sent a note to the King asking for a Coronation ‘next Monday’!

She died 19 days after her frustrated attempt to get into the Abbey.

She was buried in Brunswick, and on her coffin was inscribed… ‘CAROLINE THE INJURED QUEEN OF ENGLAND’.

New Orleans

Happy to have experienced New Orleans for the first time this summer. The French Quarter is not exactly “family friendly,” of course, but there’s plenty of history to gratify people like me!

The heart of it all is Jackson Square, named after the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. It features an equestrian statue of the man who would later become the seventh U.S. president:

jackson

I had to wonder: given that Jackson has been removed from the $20 bill, will we see the square revert to its original name?

plaza

At the top of the square, the famous Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis, King of France:

stlouis

I quite liked the historic flags, and the stained glass illustrating scenes from the life of St. Louis, including planning the Sainte-Chapelle and receiving the keys to Tunis while on crusade.

I was pleased to see that the arms of the Archdiocese of New Orleans (left) make an obvious reference to the arms of the French city of Orléans (right, via Wikipedia). The colors are reversed, and the pelican refers to Louisiana.

armsNOarchdiocese         600px-Blason_Orléans.svg

990px-Flag_of_Louisiana.svg

Flag of Louisiana, via Wikipedia.

Speaking of the connection between Old Orleans and New Orleans, down the street we find an equestrian statue of Joan of Arc. The original, by Emmanuel Frémiet, can be seen in Paris.

joanofarc

Joan, of course, raised the siege of Orléans in 1429 during the Hundred Years War. I was pleased to see the coat of arms of Orléans near the plinth, along with those of Lorraine (Joan’s birthplace), Reims (where she presided over the coronation of Charles VII), and Rouen (where the English burned her at the stake for witchcraft).