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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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.
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 office—whether he had been born to claim it, had won the right to hold it, or had found it thrust upon him—who 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.
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.
Philippa Langley, discoverer of the remains of King Richard III five years ago, has made an announcement. From the Telegraph (emphasis added):
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.
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’.
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:
I had to wonder: given that Jackson has been removed from the $20 bill, will we see the square revert to its original name?
At the top of the square, the famous Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis, King of France:
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.
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.
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).
I. An interesting shift: at one point African-American slaves took inspiration from Moses leading the Hebrew slaves out of bondage from Egypt, hence the spiritual:
When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go!
Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt’s land;
Tell old Pharaoh To let My people go!
But of course Egypt is African, or judged to be representative of Africa, so starting in the twentieth century African-Americans began to look back with admiration on ancient Egypt, partly as a riposte to the European idealization of Ancient Greece (this is where the Afrocentric charge that the latter “stole” everything from the former comes from). Thus, for example, Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s first black fraternity, founded at Cornell in 1906 and which:
utilizes motifs from Ancient Egypt and uses images and songs depicting the Her-em-akhet (Great Sphinx of Giza), pharaohs, and other Egyptian artifacts to represent the organization…. This is in contrast to other fraternities that traditionally echo themes from the golden age of Ancient Greece. Alpha’s constant reference to Ethiopia in hymns and poems are further examples of Alpha’s mission to imbue itself with an African cultural heritage.
(This despite the fact that they use Greek letters to identify themselves – why not a couple of hieroglyphs?)
I suppose the fall of slavery in the United States lessened the appeal of the ancient Hebrews, allowing the shift toward sympathizing with the Egyptians.
II. One of my favorite records when I was in college features the novelty song “Istanbul (not Constantinople),” which dates from the 1950s and is (I suppose) a celebration of the rise of nationalist Turkey. By way of explaining the name change of that county’s most famous city, the song points out a parallel situation:
Even old New York, was once New Amsterdam.
Why they changed it I can’t say, people just liked it better that way.
But perhaps a more accurate assessment of this name change is that the British defeated their continental rivals the Dutch and took possession of the New Netherlands in 1664, and promptly changed the names of New Amsterdam and Fort Orange to New York and Albany respectively, after the Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II. Fort Orange was so called, of course, on account of “Orange” being the name of the ruling house of the Netherlands.
What’s ironic is that James II was a Catholic, and didn’t have the good sense to keep it to himself, and provoked the Glorious Revolution of 1688, whereby Parliament invited his daughter Mary Stuart to become queen, and her husband to become king… that husband being none other than William of Orange, king of the Netherlands. These two reigned as co-monarchs, hence the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.
So an Orange was replaced by an Albany, who was replaced by another Orange (who opened up Ireland for Protestant settlement, hence the Orange Order, and Orangeman’s Day).
The coat of arms of Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, features a bust of King Erik IX (d. 1160), also known as Erik the Lawgiver. Although never canonized, he is widely considered a saint, with his feast day on May 18. St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Louis of France, St. Edward of England, and St. Olaf of Norway are other such king-saints, although Erik is only patron of Stockholm, not all of Sweden (that would be Briget of Sweden [d. 1373], mystic and founder of the Bridgettines).
Erik’s remains may be found in a reliquary in Uppsala Cathedral – whence they were recently removed and analyzed by a team at Uppsala University, looking to confirm details of his life as they have come down to us. From Atlas Obscura:
Wednesday’s press release from Uppsala University explains the exhaustive interdisciplinary research the team utilized in the two years since they opened the reliquary and began their work, including radiocarbon dating, aDNA analysis (ancient DNA), isotope analysis, and forensic medicine. According to the researchers, 23 of the 24 bones in the reliquary belonged to the same individual—there’s also a bonus “mystery” shinbone—who was male, between 35 and 40 years old, and died around 1160. The skull shows signs of healed wounds that may have occurred in battle, aligning with the tales of a Finnish crusade. So far, so good.
But the most interesting discoveries surround Erik’s death. According to the researchers, “The saint’s legend says that in the king’s final battle, the enemy swarmed him, and when he fell to the ground they gave him wound after wound until he lay half dead. They then taunted him and finally cut off his head.” True to legend, Erik’s bones show signs of cuts inflicted in connection with his death and indicate that he was lying face-down during the injuries. Furthermore, one of his neck vertebra was cut through; not only is this consistent with decapitation, the injury could not have been inflicted during battle as the hauberks worn at the time would protect that part of the neck. This aligns with the legend’s assertion that he was swarmed in battle, captured, and taunted prior to his decapitation. So while the research doesn’t tell us much about what Erik was like as a person, the available evidence of the king’s death in no way contradicts the account in Catholic legend.
Interesting article on Mental_floss. I had heard traumatic head injury proposed as a theory to explain Henry’s tyrannical adult behavior; a trio of neurologists has injected new life into the theory in the journal Clinical Neuroscience. Excerpts from the Mental_floss article are below:
Did Head Injuries Cause Henry VIII’s Bad Behavior?
From all accounts, as a young man, Henry was a pretty happy dude, and a pleasure to be around. By 1536, he was decidedly … not. The King Henry VIII we think of today was a bloodthirsty tyrant, impulsive, unpredictable, and murderous—the kind of man who would send two of his six wives to the executioner. So what happened?
The most severe blow [to Henry’s head] came in 1536, during another jousting match. Henry was unhorsed. He fell to the ground, and his horse fell on top of him. The king was out cold for two hours.
That same year, Henry’s reign of terror commenced. His unpredictable, inexplicable explosions made him the terror of his own court, for he was just as likely to order the execution of a friend as he was a foe. His behavior was erratic and violent, and he often flew into rages for reasons that were unclear to those around him. He became impulsive—and if you need more evidence of that, just look at his six marriages and two dispatched queens.
Henry started suffering bouts of bizarre amnesia, which led to dangerous contradictions in his commands. As the city of Boulogne was under siege, Henry reportedly demanded on paper that the city be protected, while saying aloud he wanted it to be demolished. In 1546, the king assured his sixth wife Catherine Parr that he would protect her, forgetting that the day before he had ordered his guards to take her to the Tower of London.
The king was also subject to migraine headaches and deep depressions, as well as a number of seeming endocrinological problems that could have been triggered by TBI. His rages, his erratic behavior, even his impotence later in life—there may be a simple explanation for it all, lead author Arash Salardini said in a press release: “It is intriguing to think that modern European history may have changed forever because of a blow to the head.”