Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace
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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Legend of Robin Hood

First off I apologize for this blog coming out later in the week, but I've been battling a cold/flu and trying to get ready for the Holidays :) Without further ado, I give you The Legend of Robin Hood...



What do you think of when you hear mention of Robin Hood? Do you think of a handsome man depriving greedy abbotts, princes and sheriffs of their coin and jewels, and then gallantly taking them to distribute among the poor? A criminal? A murderer? Do you think of a debonair hero whisking his lady love onto his horse for a romantic ride? Or do you think of a humorous fox? Tell me, what does Robin Hood mean to you?

(To the left is a memorial statue of Robin Hood in Nottingham.)

The first references to Robin Hood were not told in romantic or even bawdy ballads. They weren't written in stories or records of the affluent or the poor. No, a mere mention here and there in various rolls of the English Justices across England. The name was spelled differently, often seen as Robinhood, Robehod, Hobbehod or Rabunhod. The name started to pop up in the 13th century. But it wasn't in reference to one person. In actuality, it appeared that our dear Robin was just another name for crook and criminal. But who's to say that they didn't start calling all thieves of the nobles Robin's after the hero in our imaginations, started to truly do his deeds?

The name took hold and would continue to brand those with treacherous backgrounds well into the middle ages and beyond, with even Guy Fawkes calling Robert Cecil and his followers, Robin Hoods, in 1605.

Starting in the 14th century you will begin to see the name pop up in a more literary fashion, such authors as William Langdon and his poem, (1377) "The vision of William concerning Piers Plowman." Andrew of Wyntoun, and his work Orygynale Chronicle written in 1420, and written in the late 13oo's and edited in 1440 by Walter Bower, John of Fordun's Scotichronicon. In this last particular tale, it must be noted that the battle in Sherwood Forest, is very similar to a battle that took place there with Roger Godberd, who has often been sited as perhaps being the "real" Robin Hood. Here is a passage from Scotichronicon:

"Then arose the famous siccarius, [murderer,] Robert Hood, as well as Little John, together with their accomplices from among the disinherited, whom the foolish populace are so inordinately fond of celebrating both in tragedies and comedies, and about whom they are delighted to hear the jesters and minstrels sing above all other ballads."

Another great tale of Robin Hood, is The Gest of Robyn Hode, written supposedly sometime in the mid-15th century. Here is the first lines of this ballad:

“Lythe and listin, gentilmen,
That be of frebore blode;
I shall you tel of a gode yeman,
His name was Robyn Hode.”

(Here's a link to read the whole thing, I highly recommend you do: http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/gest.htm)

There is some speculation that the real Robin Hood was actually the Earl of Huntington. The below inscription is on a grave in Kirkless Priory, however many say the grave cannot possibly have come from the 13th century. But according to legend, this is where he travelled to where he was killed by the prioress and Sir Roger of Doncaster. This same inscription was written in notes by Thomas Gale, Dean of York in the 17th century, insinuating the very real existence of such a man.

"Hear undernead dis laitl stean
Lais Robert Earl of Huntingun
Near arcir der as hie sa geud
An pipl kauld im Robin Heud
Sic utlaws as hi an is men
Vil England nivr si agen.
Obiit 24 Kal Dekembris 1247"

One thing you will find repeatedly in all tales of this gallant, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor man, are the names of his "merry men" and of course his love interest, Maid Marian. There's Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Allan a Dale, and of course the very evil Sheriff of Nottingham, and Prince John. He's always portrayed as a brilliant archer. We know he lived in Sherwood Forest, where today although the acreage has gone from nearly 100,000 from Robin's time to 450, visitors still flock to the Major Oak, where tales tell us was the major meeting point for the band. Back in the day Sherwood forest was dense and packed not only with trees and the King's deer, but outlaws. It was easy to hide from the law in that forest... His hometown was referred to as Locksley, most likely Loxley of Yorkshire. These are the major key points, as time progressed the story has changed a little at a time, but never strays from the key characters and setting.

So do you think this mystery man existed? I for one do. Most ballads and tales came from something. I suspect there was such a man, perhaps not as notorious as stories would have you believe, but there must have been someone to promote such a strong legend that even fascinates us today, some 800 years later.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Good evening fellow history lovers!

I just recieved an email from Jonathan Dresner, from the Department of History at Pittsburgh State University, and my article on St. Brendan recieved a fabulous mention in his December 2008 History Carnival!

Here's the link to check it out as well as a ton of other history article links to read!

http://www.froginawell.net/japan/2008/12/december-2008-history-carnival/#comment-178478

Cheers!
Eliza

Monday, December 1, 2008

History of Socks and Stockings

When did it all begin? I’m sure you can guess why…our feet were cold. But have socks and stockings changed all that much over the years?

Way back in the cavemen days, we used animal skins gathered around the ankle and tied for socks, sometimes animal furs to keep us extra warm. In early medieval times, those who wore socks were considered of the noble classes. Socks were woven or sewn by hand. And in the 16th century with the invention of the knitting machine, tighter woven socks were made. They were often made of wool for the general population and silk or cotton for the upper classes. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that nylon socks were introduced.

Socks are not only used to keep our feet warm and dry but to ease the chafing of shoes. Shoes today are a lot more comfortable then they used to be, and I know I need socks with some of mine. Can you imagine what it would have felt like to wear some of the medieval shoes without socks? Ouch!

Men wore stockings before women even did, but they were called hose and by the twelfth century a staple in a man’s wardrobe. Women generally wore socks, pantyhose weren’t even invented until 1959. Today’s thigh-highs are a lot like what women used to wear historically, garters included.

The hose that men wore were knee length and tied at the top, usually with some form of embroidery. Perhaps not unlike men’s knee socks of today, minus the embroidery and ties. Over the next couple hundred years, socks differed in lengths, from mid-calf, to knee to mid-thigh. They were different colors with decorations or stripes all over rather than just embroidery at the top.

By the 16th century however these two-legged hose, became one garment extending all the way to the crotch. The reason being that men’s tunics shortened over time as did their braies or breeches, which turned into a codpiece, so more of the leg was exposed. This pushed men to also feel that they needed to have nicer legs. Do you remember Henry VIII being quite proud at the turn of his leg?

In 1560, Elizabeth I, received her very first pair of knit silk stockings (knee length) and from there continued to collect many in bright colors and designs. I love my socks and stockings to be brightly colored and designed. She’s my kind of woman :)

Knitting schools opened in the 16th century making it easier to acquire socks. As more and more places specialized in types of socks, you knew if your sock was from a certain place, what quality it would be. This was because of whatever wool was available to the sock maker. For example, in Yorkshire you were more likely to get a coarser sock, like those worn by children and workers. For a better wool sock you’d go to the Midlands, which many merchants did.

I must say I’m glad presently it isn’t necessary for women to wear stockings or pantyhose everyday. I always rip mine. In fact when I know I have to wear them, I buy two, because without fail I will rip the first pair while putting them on. The second pair is usually totaled by the time I’m ready to take them off…

So that is a little history on socks and stockings. What kind do you wear?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Great Fire of London

At one o’clock in the morning, Sunday, September 2, 1666, a disastrous event began and didn’t end until Wednesday, September 5th. It is known as The Great Fire of London and would change the city forever.

The fire began at Thomas Farynor’s (baker to King Charles II) bakeshop on Pudding Lane. Thomas and his family were woken by a servant and escaped, however one of their maids didn’t fare so well, perishing in the blaze.

It didn’t take long before the fire rapidly spread. The city of London at the time was made up mostly of wood and pitch buildings which are very flammable. When you mix pitch and dry wood, and burn it, you make charcoal. Pitch is still used today to make torches…

The streets were narrow and rutted, and the buildings piled one on top of another. It was a medieval city that had just continued to grow without any thought for planning or overcrowding. A lot of the buildings had jetties. This means they start out small but with each floor got bigger and bigger, the top floor well surpassing the first. Not unlike the shape of an ice cream cone, or upside down pyramid.

The fire leapt from house to yard catching hay, feed, and anything else in its path on fire. Soon it reached London Bridge and consumed half of it before coming to a halt at the gap where a fire 33 years prior had occurred.

Widespread panic began when the fire reached the Roman Walls encasing the city. Prior to that, people didn’t feel the need to escape, just went from safe house to safe house. Now it was apparent that they weren’t safe. Thousands flocked to the gates, pushing and shoving each other to get out of the city.

The fire destroyed the entire city within the Roman Walls, but did not reach the aristocratic domains in Westminster or the residence of Charles II, Whitehall Palace.

Fire brigades worked tirelessly to put out the fires, but little can be done with buckets of water when a raging inferno is consuming everything in its path with assistance from blustery winds. They did have “fire trucks” but some of them didn’t have wheels—only sleds—and some were stuck in the gridlock of panic-stricken people. Others that reached the fire, had no where to get water from. One to the biggest helps in past fires, the people had discovered were to create breaks, for example demolishing a house or building to deprive the fire of fuel to keep moving. This was suggested to stop the fire, and had it been done earlier the damage would not have been so severe, but at the time, the Lord Mayer of London, Bludworth was hesitant to place the order. Seeing as how nothing was being done, Charles II ordered the demolitions, but it was too late, the fire too big a monster to squelch.

When the Trained Bands of London destroyed the buildings with gunpowder explosions, they didn’t have enough time to clear the rubble away before the fire was on them, and thus the fire raged on, perhaps even worse than before with the added supply of gunpowder.

For another three days the fire raged, until coming to a stop at Temple Church. But the winds picked up again urging it forward toward Westminster. The Duke of York, ordered the Paper House demolished as a break, and lucky he did so, because the fire died there.

Some say the fire could have been avoided had the Lord Mayer ordered the demolitions earlier, other witnesses say that when the fire started at the bakery, no one was even trying to put it out, people were just running for their lives or gathering their things, or even looting…

The fire destroyed around 13,500 houses, 89 churches, 52 Guild Halls, the Royal Exchange, the Custom House, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Bridewell Palace, city prisons, General Letter Office, and three of the Western city gates. It is estimated in about $1 billion in damage in today’s monetary standards.

Surprisingly only about 8-16 lives were lost. And in fact there was some good to come out of it, despite the fact it ruined 85% of the city, bankrupt and displaced thousands, and that was that it killed off thousands of rats that carried the plague virus which had been surreptitiously killing people for years.

Another good thing to come out of, the king commissioned the city to be rebuilt, this time with wider streets and brick buildings. By 1671, the majority of buildings were complete, and in 1675 the king commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral as well as a monument, which still stands today in the place where Mr. Farynor’s bakery used to stand, a street now called Monument Street.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Why do Americans vote on Tuesday?

Every four years we vote on a Tuesday in November. My question earlier today was do you know why?

Here's the answer:

Way back in colonial times, by November the harvest was usually over. So the people went to church on Sunday, took Monday to travel to the polls and voted on Tuesday, returning home on Wednesday. Just goes to show how much we still follow traditions of our forefathers.

Hope you all voted today! As Americans and citizens of a nation ruled by democracy, you can make a difference!

Cheers!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Celtic Lore: The Voyage of St. Brendan

History tells us that Columbus discovered America...despite the fact that Native Americans already lived here... and despite the fact that another man had already been here from Ireland. His treacherous journey from the Emerald Isle to the Americas, or as he phrased it the Isle of the Blessed, is known as, the Voyage of St. Brendan the Navigator.

St. Brendan was born around 484, near the port of Tralee, in Country Kerry. He was a holy man, a monk, and an abbot. He developed several monasteries in Ireland and attracted many disciples. The most famous of his monasteries was Clonfert, in County Galway, built in 560 which lasted until sometime in the 16th century. That's almost a thousand years! St. Brendan's Cathedral which was built in the 11th century still resides in Clonfert, and is renowned for its large Romanesque doorway. In Annaghdown, (Co. Galway), he also built a convent, which his sister Brig presided as abbess.


There are many landmarks in Ireland named after St. Brendan, including Brandon Mountain located in the Dingle Peninsula, in County Kerry. He built a small monastic cell at the bottom of the ridge. It is believed he climbed this steep hill and had a vision of the Americas before he set sail. Although, he didn't know it was the Americas. He thought it was Tir na nOg, or the Land of Eternal Youth, the Garden of Eden.

On the north side of Brandon Mountain lies the small village of Brandon and beyond that Brandon Bay. I have been to Brandon and climbed Brandon Mountain. My maiden name is actually Brandon, and my family came from Brandon to the U.S. in 1898. It is a beautiful little town, and the mountain really is a hill. I have a picture of myself standing atop the ridge and Brandon Bay in the background. I got to see the ancient beehive shaped remains of his chapel. Sheep roam the 3200 foot high summit. If you ever get a chance to visit Ireland, it is a must see.

St. Brendan loved to travel and was known for voyaging to Scotland, where he met St. Columba if Hynba Island. He travelled to Brittany with Welsh monk, St. Malo, and reportedly stayed at the Welsh monastery Llancarfan, built by St. Cadoc. But his biggest voyage of all, the one called The Voyage of Saint Brendan, was his journey to America. It was an epic journey. Some say he took sixty monks, others say fourteen plus 3 non-believers. They built boats called curraghs, that were made from a wooden frame, and leather made from dried ox hides. In 1970, Tim Severin replicated the journey, and proved that it was possible. (I put the book by Tim Severin about his journey on the book list on the right.)

It took Saint Brendan 7 years to complete his journey in which it is believed he traveled to Iceland, Greenland, and the Americas. The tale describes Saint Brendan as meeting St. Patrick. He lands on an island fo Easter celebration, which turns out to be a sea monster. It was the making of such stories as The Odyssey and Pinnochio. St. Brendan and his group explored the Land of Promise bringing fruits and precious stones with them upon their return.


There are some who believe Columbus used the manuscripts journeling Saint Brendan's voyage to navigate his way to the Americas. Speculation also states thatVikings began serious raids on Ireland by the end of the eighth century. Is it possible the Norsemen learned about the lands from the Irish travellers?


Saint Brendan is now known as the Patron Saint of sailors and travellers. Saint Brendan died in 578, at Annaghdown in Ireland. He is buried at Clonfert Cathedral. His Feast Day is May 16th, the day of his death.

So what do you think? Did St. Brendan travel to the Americas before Columbus?





Monday, October 20, 2008

Medieval Beverages - Tasty!!!

You’re just popped that can of your favorite soft drink and think to yourself, “Man, how did they not have soda in the middle ages?”

Well, they didn’t have Kool-aid, Gatorade, Earl Grey, Brita, or Starbuck’s either. Not even plain old coffee…How in the world did they survive?

Here’s what they did have:

Water – if water was boiled it could be purified, but people rarely drank it and when they did it wasn’t always boiled first. Water had too much bacteria in it. You know what went into the water? Shudder. Water ways were treated as a sewage of sorts. Excrement, trash, carcasses…

Ale – was made from grains and very thick. Think beer but not strained enough. Often they would drink watered down ale.

Wine – the poor had no wine, the middle class had watered down wine, and those with money generally had the good stuff.

Caudell – was wine or ale that was beaten with raw eggs to make a frothy beverage. I wonder if the guys who were trying to pump up their muscles devoured this drink often?
Cider – made from apples, but I wouldn’t serve it to your children today. It was usually mixed with mead or some other alcoholic beverage.

Mead – is an alcoholic beverage made from honey and grains. It was often flavored with hops to give it that bitter beer flavor. (There is a winery near my house that makes Medieval Mead. I’ve never tasted it, but now I think I have to!)

Milk – was for children only. Adults didn’t drink it. A milk-cow was considered a prized possession. Especially if the family was starving and the mother couldn’t nurse her baby. Those cows saved a lot of babies from starvation. Milk was also provided by goats.

Perry or Poire – pear juice…but again, don’t give it to the kiddies. It’s fermented, and similar to the cider.

Spiced wine – also known as Clarey or Claret. It was wine spiced with cinnamon or honey, and other spices.

Distillates – these are alcoholic beverages made from grains, and very strong. Think of liquor. (Whiskey was made quite a bit in Scotland)

Murrey – blackberry wine

Prunelle – juice of wild plums and berries, fermented into a wine or liqueur

Melomel – this is mead that contains fruit, like berries.

Methegin – was a type of mead made with spices.

Hippocras – mix of wine and spices




By the way, in medieval times it was okay to drink alcohol with breakfast. Do you think I could get away with it, if I said I was doing it for research?



Snap. Snap.

"Oh, wine boy! Fill 'er up my lad."


Monday, October 6, 2008

Um...Why were you going to bleed me again?

You want to do what? And no pain meds? Oy!

Today on History Undressed we are discussing Medieval medicine. During Medieval times the church played a large role in medicine, as it did with most things. Monks were trained in colleges to become physicians, and followed strict rules in order to heal a person. A lot of their healing practices derived from Greek and Roman texts.

There were physicians who weren't monks however, and they did use some other ways of healing patients that monkes were against.Some laymen were also made into physicians by attending universities or joining a medical guild. Even these men in the medieval ages were sometimes ostracized because they were not of the church. However if they belonged to a guild they were often protected, if not… it was two groups against you. If they did go to school, they began at age 14 and went through school for about 12 years before they could begin practicing.

And I have to say that they did use pain meds sometimes, but the concoctions they made could kill you, so you might have chosen to go without. One particular concoction was made from lettuce, gall from a castrated boar, briony, opium, henbane, and hemlock juice. As most of you know, hemlock is poisonous…

In most cases surgery wasn’t even contemplated unless it was a life threatening situation.
Cesarean sections were performed on dead mothers in order to save the soul of the unborn infant. Most surgeons set broken bones, extracted arrows, and sewed up wounds. Laymen surgeons also took care of dentistry. (Click here for past post on dentistry)
Some other forms of surgery were to remove cataracts from the eyes, and trepanation. Trepanation was when a hole was made in the skull of a person to relieve pressure. It was often the cure for those who had seizures.

The monks didn’t believe in pagan healing ways, such as the use of herbal medicines, and intricate surgeries. A lot of women healers who used their herbal remedies to heal people were considered witches. They believed that everything happens because of God, everything happens for a reason. A lot of times they believed you had done something wrong and angered our Holy Father, so in most illnesses you would be rubbed with holy water, anointed oil, maybe have relics of the saints presented to you and they’d pray for you. If you died, I guess you deserved it.

(If you are really interested in the way the church played a role in medicine, Ken Follett’s book World Without End is a fabulous journey into the world of church, medicine and the plague.)

But this was very early on. Soon the church came to believe that God provided things in nature to help us heal. St. Augustine played a big part in changing the tune as did Marcelli with his book De Medicamentis Liber, which came out in 1536 (some consider the medieval era to have ended in 1400 to 1501, I like to think it lasted just a little longer) and discussed how to use certain plants, gems and other natural substances to cure the sick. However, these new curing methods were still seen as slightly skeptical and were only accepted if done while using Christian incantations.

Medieval medical practitioners believed in the four humors, blood (air), phlegm (water), yellow bile (fire) and black bile (earth). They believed that in order to be healthy all four needed to be in balance of one another. They balanced the humors by diet, medicines and blood-letting.

As far as diet, in the medieval ages, the majority of the population consisted of peasants. These people were too poor to afford a properly balanced diet, and ate mostly bread, meat or fish. In some cases they were able to get some fresh fruits and vegetables, and it was even harder to get cheese and butter. Needless to say, the wealthier folk had a much more balanced diet, and in most cases were on the healthier side.

Keeping the humors in balance depended on the seasons as well, hot, cold, wet or dry. Most plants, herbs and household goods were categorized according to this hot, cold, wet or dry theory. Moods were characterized by the four humors, Choleric (yellow bile), Sanguine (blood), Melancholic (black bile) and Phlegmatic (phlegm). They also counted a lot on astrology, compass directions and the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. One major fault in the humor theory, was that they didn’t believe that blood circulated through the body.

When physicians came to call on a patient or the patient was brought to them, they often checked the blood, urine and feces of a patient to see if the humors were in balance of one another. Blood was checked for hot or cold. Was it greasy or foamy? How fast did it coagulate? They would take a persons pulse to see how strong their heart was. After thoroughly examining a patient and listening to the patients own version of events, the physician would commonly check their “leech” book, a popular one written in the 9th century was Bald's Leechbook. This would tell the physician if they needed to bleed the patient or not. Another book physicians relied on was Tacuinum Sanitatis (Handbook of Health).

Bleeding a patient would draw all of the noxious ails from their organs, and make the person well again. Choosing a specific vein depended on what humor was out of balance. The dangers of blood letting (and not using a leech) were vast. A physician could cut an artery instead of a vein and the patient could bleed to death. The incision could become infected, not to mention you are weakening the already sick person. Unfortunately, for most patients, if they were bled they either got sicker or died. I wonder why the docs didn’t realize this and stop bleeding their patients sooner? I know if I went to the doctor and he said to me, “I know you’ve been sick lately. Instead of prescribing antibiotics, this time we’re going to bleed you.” I’d run as fast and far away as I could!

The Tacuinum Sanitatis, listed six things essential elements to keep a person healthy: a healthy balanced diet, fresh air, getting a healthy amount of exercise, getting plenty of rest, secretions and excretions of the humors, and your mental state. As long of all of these things were in balance you should be healthy.

In the case of the Black Death in the 14th century, medical practitioners came to realize you could catch the illness by breathing the air of a sick individual, hence the quarantining of families, and sometimes whole cities.

Lepers were another group who were ostracized. They were banned to leper colonies or hospitals.

Most hospitals (not for lepers) were at monasteries. It provided for some of the income for the monks, but not only that, the Rule of St. Benedict was “before and above all things, care must be taken of the sick, that they be served in very truth as Christ is served.”

Another type of hospital to mention is the Knights Hospitaller run by the Order of St. John. It began in Jerusalem during the crusades and took care of the sick, poor and injured pilgrims of the Holy War. These hospitallers soon spread across Europe. (In 1119 the Hospitallers joined with the Knights Templar.)

It is also important to point out that many women practiced medicine as well. Much more than was recorded. Women became physicians, nurses and midwives. However a female physician was often controversial and she would most probably have been ostracized quite a bit.

In 1150, Abbess Hildegard of Bingen wrote a book titled, Causae et Curae (Causes and Cures), which discussed her medical advice and philosophies. Another physician who specialized in females was Trotula of Salerno and her work, De Passionibus mulierum (The Diseases of Women) written in the 12th century. Some obstetricians today even say how great the work is and her knowledge of the female body was vast.

Midwives and nurses were very important for female health. Especially since monks, who consisted of most of the physicians at the time, were not allowed to touch females let along examine them. These women often used the more natural cures for ailments. In order to become a midwife, you either learned a practiced with an older and more experienced midwife, or you grew up with a male physician as your father or guardian who introduced you into the field.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Guest Blogger: Wolfgang Amadè Mozart

Today on History Undressed we have a special guest who is very close to my heart. I grew up playing the piano and still really enjoy the classics, especially the work of this particular artist. I highly recommend visiting my friend and visiting often. His life and stories are quite riveting...



Without further ado, I give you, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart:


Servus Freunden!

I take the utmost pleasure and honor in introducing myself to you, the readers of this remarkable weblog! I have been, I will be, I most certainly shall be and I am your most humble and obedient servant in music, Wolfgang Amadè Mozart, and the mistress of this site has generously asked me to write a guest post, which, of course, I am all too happy to do.

I regret that time and space do not permit me to reveal to you exactly how I came to be here in this perplexing and fantastical world of the Internet, but here I am nevertheless. If you are curious, you can read that on my own weblog, Prima La Musica (
http://mozartmagnus.blogspot.com/). I will say that however it is accomplished, I am delighted, for it provides me excellent opportunities to get to know future generations of music lovers, and musicians. How music has changed through the centuries! And yet it has not changed in its ability to please, inspire and incite. The language may change, but the sentiments do not. That my own work has reached the fame it has fills me with no small amazement. I suppose my father was right all along and it is to him, as well as my wife and her second husband, that I owe gratitude.

But enough of all that. I found History Undressed one night as I sat up combing the Internet for new sites to read, and I am happy to say that it was the very first I chanced upon. The title alone was enough to pique my curiosity! Through this site I found others that are dedicated to history and I have made a number of new friends. If you know anything about me at all, you know that I am, after all, a genial man and that I fairly thrive on the society of other people.

Through the years I have been asked many interesting and thought-provoking questions by visitors to my site, which caused me to create a feature which I call, Ask Mozart. The question that seems to be asked most is, what do I think of modern music. Because my experience of your century is limited to that which I can see and hear via this Magic Box that was lent to me, I can only say that I am most impressed with the growing number of styles, and styles within each style. I do not know how you keep up with it all! If I were a living composer in your time I would be hard-pressed to do so; I believe that I would have to simply ignore those that I do not like and listen only to those that I do. Now, because there are so many styles, genres and forms, I perceive that much of your modern music is, more or less, little more than branches from particular trees, the largest of which is simple folk music, a style that I use in my own music. But a discourse in music history is not what our charming and affable Hostess wants of me, so I shall leave that topic.

I do not know how long I shall have use of the Magic Box, so please do stop by my site and pay me a visit. Many thanks to our Hostess for allowing me this opportunity to meet you! I remain,

Ihr Freund in der Musik,
W. A. Mozart

Friday, September 26, 2008

Part II: Marie Antoinette

Welcome back mes amies. This is Part II of my blog on Marie Antoinette. (Click here for Part I) Earlier this week, I left off with the story of the Diamond Necklace Affair and today continue with the rest of the short life of the ill fated French queen.

I also want to say here, and I’d love your opinion, that I feel bad for the queen. Sure she may have had some issues, but it seems that the people were out to get her from the beginning. In the end I think she and the rest of the monarchy paid a hefty price for freedom. But I suppose with all quests for freedom and overthrowing a leader there will be blood.

I would also be remiss in my accounts of Marie Antoinette’s life if I didn’t mention her good friend, Count Axel von Fersen. In fact it had been rumored because they are so close that the two were lovers, and the people even accused Marie that her second son was Ferson’s and not Louis’s. However there is absolutely not evidence that the two were anything beyond good friends, and for a queen who was severely lacking in support, any loyal friend was cherished.

During the Diamond Necklace debacle, Marie became pregnant once again. She feared for her health since she had just given birth only several months prior, and in fact due to the stress of the whole ordeal, she did go into labor early. The princess was born on July 9, 1786, and sadly in June 1787, Sophie Helene Beatrix, the fourth child of Louis and Marie died, just one month shy of a year old. When people attempted to console her regarding the death, saying the child was so young, Marie replied, “Don’t forget that she would have been my friend.”

During that eleven months prior to the death of their child, the financial situation in France was rapidly deteriorating, as was the political power of the king and queen. The Assembly of Notables, who’d not been called to order for over 160 years, was assembled to attempt to pass some reforms to assist with the financial ruin of the country, since parliament was of no help to King Louis. Marie, being of ill health was not present, as well as being absent at subsequent meetings. The assembly rather than realizing she was of ill health from giving birth and suffering shortness of breath after, thought she was not attending on purpose to undermine the whole affair.

The assembly failed with or without the queen as they did not pass any of the reforms. The situation in France continued to decline, and Marie decided to become more involved in the political affairs and her children, and less involved in her previous carefree interests. She was attempting to salvage her reputation from the Diamond Necklace disgrace and realizing her children were the future of France and the country was in shambles, she wanted to improve it. At the same time the king himself started to suffer from some bouts of depression, so perhaps she was trying to also pick up her husbands role, as most couples do, you balance each other out.

Even though she tried to keep a low profile, she still came out as a powerful political figure. The Assembly of Notables was dissolved in May of 1787, as it got nothing done, and this was of course blamed on the queen. That summer, she was given the nickname, ‘Madame Deficit.’

She tried with a portrait of herself and her children to have the people view her differently, but it was overshadowed by two things. One the youngest princess had died and her portrait was painted out of the cradle, and two, Countess Lamotte had escaped to London and began publishing her rubbish.

In November of 1787, the king who was feeling better, and subsequently the queen had taken a step back, exiled Parliament in an attempt to force through legislation that would help the country, but he was challenged by the new Duc D’Orleans, his cousin, who he also exiled. The people notably did not agree with all of these actions and further threw fits when in the summer of 1788, King Louis brought back another political entity that hadn’t been around for over 150 years, the Estates General.

Marie Antoinette, during all of this had abandoned a lot of her political fervor to take care of the ailing Dauphin. At the time he was suffering from tuberculosis and was so ill in fact his spinal column and twisted severely. During the late summer of 1788 she did step in to assist in recalling Jacques Necker as the Finance Minister, which at the time was a popular move, but always being the scapegoat, Marie was blamed with bread prices soon began to rise.

Riots broke out across the city in the spring of 1789, and to make matters worse, in June 1789, the Dauphin Louis-Joseph, died of consumption at the age of seven. His title was passed to his younger brother Louis-Charles.

The following month the people stormed the Bastille. At the time the prison only contained seven prisoners, but it was a huge breakthrough for the people, and symbolized the breaking down of a government they did not agree with. Bastille Day is celebrated today as a National Holiday. (I actually attended a Bastille Day event at the French Embassy in D.C., I thoroughly enjoyed myself.) Needless to say this was a majory turning point, and one of the first in the French Revolution.

The next was the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which still required the king to conduct certain ceremonies, but put a lot of power back with the people. (Click on the link to see the declaration, http://www.constitution.org/fr/fr_drm.htm.)

By September, the shortage of bread was leaving many people starving and in October, when a dinner was conducted for the royal bodyguards the people went wild with hate, believing the king and queen were hoarding bread. On the 5th of October a mob of women stormed the castle, now known as the March of Women on Versailles, demanding the queen’s blood. They killed several bodyguards, but were not able to get to the queen – yet.

However, they did force the royal family to Paris, where they sort of placed them under house arrest in Tuileries Palace. Marie at this time decided she would no longer involve herself in the politics as it had only proved to anger the people more in the past. She did still perform her continued charitable work, but at the same time she secretly appealed to other European nations for help, including her brother the Emperor of Austria.

Many escapes plans were made and none met. Most of them Marie did not agree with, because they were in favor of her only leaving with her son and she wanted to leave with her whole family. With the help of her long time friend Count Axel von Fersen, the family was able to escape Paris under disguise as peasants on June 20, 1791. They headed for the French-Austrian border where her brother awaited with troops to rescue the royal family. However half-way there, they were caught when recognized by villagers in Varennes. They were taken back to Paris and were now prisoners of the revolutionary government. Because they had tried to escape, the new political party exploited them and what little shreds were left of their popularity were completed depleted. A little over a year after they were almost free of the horror their lives had become, things got worse.

On August 10, 1792 the royal family was attacked in their home by militants demanding that the Legislative Assembly suspend the king from his duties, declaring literally that Louis was no longer king to the French. Hundreds of Swiss guards, who protected the royal family, died in the fighting. The family was taken from the palace and imprisoned in the Tower of the Temple in Marais, originally a headquarters for the Knights Templar, it was later used as a prison.

About a week later, the royal family’s attendants were taken from the Tower for interrogation, among them the Princess de Lambelle, of the House of Savoy, who was a confidante of the queen. Unfortunately the princess was transferred to La Force prison and was a victim of the September massacre which was a brutal addition to a time that would become known as the Reign of Terror. After begin brutally murdered, her head was put on a spike, taken through town, and the people drank to her death.

Although the head was cruelly paraded outside her prison window, Marie Antoinette to did not look upon it, and in fact after hearing about her companions horrible death, fainted, and I’m sure was physically ill as well.

A month later, the first National convention was held, and the monarchy abolished, and France declared a republic.

Now that Marie and Louis were no longer queen and king, they were considered prisoners under arrest for treason. Their names were even restyled as the “Capets.” In December Louis “Capet” was separated from his family and brought to trial, his charges trying to undermine the First French Republic. The convention, let by Jacobites, found him guilty and did not want to keep him hostage. Instead, a month later he was condemned to death by guillotine.

On January 21, 1793, he was executed, leaving Marie now a widow, in a more perilous situation than she was before. She crumbled inside, refusing to eat or exercise, instead preferring to lay in bed. She didn’t proclaim her son queen either. Which could either be because she was too depressed to think about it, or because she feared that would be sending him to his own death. Her health declined and she suffered from tuberculosis and hemorrhaging.

Despite her health, her fate was still being discussed by the new government. Later that year in July, her son was taken from her and given into the care of a cobbler. In August she was moved to the Conciergerie prison. Many plots for her escape were made, but Marie refused them all. In October she was brought to trial accused of sending millions of livres from the French treasury to Austira, conducting orgies at Versailles, plotting to kill the Duc D’Orleans, declaring her son to be king of France, and planning the death of all the Swiss guards who protected her during the massacre at her palace, and most obnoxious of all, that she sexually abused her son. After two days of proceedings, on October 16, 1793 she was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death that day. She was beheaded by guillotine and her body thrown in an unmarked grave at La Madeleine cemetery.

What happened later? Her son, Louis-Charles died at the age of ten from maltreatment and malnourishment. Her daughter, Marie-Therese-Charlotte somehow managed to survive the Reign of Terror and was taken in by her uncle the Emperor of Austria, married Louis-Antoine of France, and was queen of France for twenty minutes. She had no children.

In 1815, Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis were exhumed and given a proper burial, now resting eternally in St. Denis Basilica.

She is seen as a martyr for the French nobles and royals.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Marie Antoinette: Part I

My first encounter with Marie Antoinette was when I was eight years old. My grandparents had recently moved to Paris, France and invited my family over for a summer vacation. While there, I visited the Château de Versailles, Le Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and le Hameau de la Reine (the Queen’s Hamlet). I was instantly enraptured, enthralled and awed at the rich history and culture of the French people, not to mention the beautiful queen with towering hair.

Since that first time, I have returned several times to visit the grounds. It is simply one of the most beautiful and enchanting places I have ever been.

Who exactly was the queen that everyone mistakenly quotes as having said, “Let them eat cake?”

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen, was born an Austrian Archduchess on November 2, 1755 at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. Known as Madame Antoine, she was the fifteenth child to be born to Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and his Empress, Maria Theresa from the House of Hapsburg.

A lot of how Marie was raised would come through when she later moved to France. In her home life, her parents had changed some of the court rules. For instance, Empress Maria Theresa did not like having the courtiers watch her give birth and banished them from the room, allowing certain people to come to court who otherwise would not be allowed, and being lax on the dress code at court. The family also had a private palaces where none of the courtiers would go. While there they were allowed to dress somewhat less conservatively, play with non-royal children, visit the gardens and menageries, and attend to their studies.

However sadly, because there were so many children, and her mother’s child favorite was Marie’s eldest sister, Archduchess Maria Christina, Marie didn’t receive that great of an education. She could barely read or write in her native language by the time she was twelve years old. She was also not that close with her mother, describing their relationship as one of ‘awe-inspired fear.’

In 1765, when the Emporer died and his eldest son inherited the throne, marriage arrangements were already in place for all of the daughters, to make alliances with surrounding countries. However in 1767, an outbreak of smallpox would drastically alter all of these plans, leaving Marie Antoine to be betrothed the French dauphin, at the age of twelve.

A dowry of 200,000 crowns, jewels, portraits and other memorabilia were placed, and on April 19, 1770, at fourteen years of age, Marie Antoine was married by proxy (her brother stood in as the bride-groom), and her name was restyled to Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France.

Nearly a month later, she met the sixteen year old French dauphin, Louis-Auguste, and the ceremonial wedding and ritual bedding took place on May 16, 1770 at the Château de Versailles.

After the ritual bedding, the couple were supposed to have consummated their marriage, however they did not, and it was a topic of contention in both the French and Austrian court for about seven years. There are several opinions on why the marriage was not consummated. One the couple was simply not attracted to each other and couldn’t be bothered, two, Louis was impotent, three, they were extremely young when they got married, and Marie looked even younger, perhaps they weren’t ready, and four he had a very large penis and she a small vagina which made consummation painful on both ends. Whichever, if any are true, the couple did manage to have four children after they got over their seven years of abstinence.

During that seven years Marie made of the most of her time as queen, having lavish parties, attending balls and operas, gambling, buying expensive clothing, etc... When she had her first child she did settle down a little. All during that time she was devoted to the people and the poor, giving alms, donating to charity, and even adopting a few poor children to be raised among her own. However, the people took little notice of this and rumors often flared. Perhaps because she was of Austrian decent and the French had been at war with Austria, thus not trusting her, or perhaps the people saw and only believed her faults and rumors, she was not so popular among the people.

They pictured her living extravagantly and having numerous affairs with both men and women. These rumors were flared by pornographic pamphlets that were distributed underground.

The king and queen held court at Versailles, and on the grounds


not far from the grand chateau was another, called Le Trianon. This was built by Louis grandfather as a place for the family to get away from court life. Not far from it is Le Petit Trianon, originally built by Louis’s father for his mistress Madame de Pompadour who died before its completion and was then given to Louis XV's next mistress Madame du Barry. Upon his accension to the throne, Louis XVI gave Le Petit Trianon to his then nineteen year old wife to use at her leisure.

Marie Antoinette did use Le Petit Trianon at her leisure and in fact developed a close circle of friends who she entertained there often and lavished with gifts. This made others of the court who had not been invited quite jealous and would end up spreading rumors about the queen to damage her reputation.

Also providing anger to some of the public was Marie’s Hameau de la Reine, or the Queen’s Hamlet, built in 1783. This was a rustic little village built in a secluded area of the park at Versailles near her Petit Trianon, complete with sheep, cows, a farmhouse, twelve cottages, a dairy and mill. It was supposed to represent a peasant village where Marie and her ladies would go dressed as peasants, milkmaids or shepherdesses and play.

I can see where the people would be offended by this, however she did employ several peasants to actually work on the farm, and provided very well for them. (It should also be noted she was not the only royal to build such a play village.)

Around this time she also bought another chateau, which had to be redecorated, and the people were growing more and more angry at the extravagances the queen was lavishing on herself, especially in light of the huge national debt and the people going hungry. Also at this time she became pregnant again giving birth to a second son in 1785. The people speculated that the boy was not even the king’s child.

It was also at this time that the diamond necklace affair too place. What could that possibly be? Sounds like something straight out of Hollywood. Well for all intrigue, mystery, and betrayal it should have been.

Louis XV had commissioned jewelers Boehmer and Bassenge to create a beautiful diamond necklace for his mistress, but he died before purchasing it. The jewelers then went to Louis XVI and his queen, Marie Antoinette, but they declined. She *gasp* found the necklace too extravagant to spend the money on (It would be worth $100 million today). The people would of course forget that she refused this necklace and several years later it would come to surface again.

A lady of court named Countess de Lamotte, was an impoverished woman. She sought friendships at court that could better her situation, and even became the mistress of one Louis René Édouard de Rohan, Cardinal of France. Rohan had been trying for quite some time to get into the inner circle with the queen, hoping to also then get into the amorous action that was rumored about.

Naturally for Rohan, when Lady Lamotte approached him, and seduced him with her words of being the queen’s lesbian lover he was entranced, and thus ensnared in this harpy’s trap.

Lamotte spread it around that she was the lesbian lover of the queen, and somehow persuaded Rohan with forged letters that the queen wanted him to get her THE diamond necklace, in exchange for personal favor. She even went so far as to have him meet with a prostitute dressed like the queen in the gardens at Versailles who told him to buy the necklace and she would pay him back. Rohan being gullible enough to fall for it, retrieved the necklace on credit and gave it to a valet who was to give it to the queen.

However, the valet turned out to be Lamotte’s husband who then pried the diamonds from the necklace and sold them in Paris. The jewelers started pounding on Rohan’s door who didn’t have the money yet from the queen and so the jewelers sent the queen a letter who promptly ignored their inquiry. Needless to say when another letter arrived the queen paid more attention, and promptly had everyone arrested and insisted on a public trial. Unfortunately her unpopularity was already such that people thought it possible she really did have the necklace, and perhaps she instigated the whole thing. Also at this time the nobles who did not like their queen were trying to assert their own power. They found Rohan not guilty, however he was stripped of his title and banned from court. The Lamottes were sentenced to life in prison and to be branded as thieves, even though the Comte de Lamotte was already in England living lavishly.

After this fatal blow to her reputation, the queen was liked even less by her people, who truly believed she played a part in it.

Within a year Lamotte escaped to London, and there published numerous pamphlets that were distributed in France about her lesbian affair with the queen, which only further damaged Marie Antoinette’s reputation.

Because of her rapidly declining position among the people, and Louis giving her an increasing role in politics led to the decline of his popularity and the faith of the nobles and people in the monarchy. Thus began the French Revolution, which is another entire blog in itself.

As far as the rumor that Marie Antoinette on the eve of the revolution upon hearing her people were starving and had not bread, that she responded, “let them eat cake,” there are several misunderstood issues.

First off, the term was “qu'ils mangent de la brioche,” which does not translate to “let them eat cake,” but rather brioche, which is a type of sweet bun. Second of all, it wasn’t Marie, but in fact has been attributed to Maria Therese of Spain, wife of Louis XIV, nearly 100 years prior.

Proof of this is Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote on the quote when Marie Antoinette was only ten years old. Obviously she wasn’t even married then.

Come back this Friday (9/26/08) for Part II of Marie Antoinette.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Celtic Lore: The Druids

When we think of the Celtic people of the British Isles, Ireland comes to mind, as does magnificent stone circles, bonfires, magical poems and mystery. I certainly know when I went to Ireland several years ago I felt overwhelmed by the sense of natural power coming from lands that flowed through my veins. It is a beautiful place, and just being there brought a compelling peace to my mind and body.

I also think of Druids. Just the name druid conjures up fantastical illusions and my curiosity soars. Who were these powerful people, the druids, the stuff of legends?

The Druids were the priests of the Celtic people. Women were called Druidesses. The word Druid is actually a Celtic one, and means ‘wise one’ or ‘knowing one.’ Druis as they were sometimes referred to means ‘sorcerer.’ It is often linked with the word ‘oak’, since ‘dru’ means oak. It is thought that they possibly derived from this word, because oak trees are strong and stable, and oak groves were considered very religious places.

Not only were the Druids priests, but teachers, judges, propehts, doctors and magicians. They were the philosophers, and were often sought after for their knowledge and expertise. They were said to know the future, and to speak to the Gods. Their secret hymns and knowledge were not written down, but passed down word of mouth from Druid to Druid. They were the ultimate secret society of that time.



Druids believed in human sacrifice and divination of the sacrificed body. They also sacrificed animals to the Gods. Religious ceremonies and celebrations were very important to the people and had to be presided over by a Druid.

Unlike royalty and nobility, you weren’t necessarily born into a Druid priesthood, the position was given to those who had the aptitude for it. A novice initiated into the priesthood could have training for up to twenty years.

Once a year the Druids met where they would settle disputes. They were given the job of judge since the people considered them to be the most just. Those who didn’t following the judgment of the Druid priests would be shunned by society, and even excluded from religious practices.

The Druids were such a powerful people that it is said they’re influence was held over the king. They accompanied him everywhere, and he referred to them for wisdom. Even more, it is said that if the Druids did not approve of the king, then he would have no power.

The stars, universe and nature played a huge part in Druid practice. They believed in immortality, which is why perhaps those who would go to sacrifice sought it as a gift, as so many have across cultures. Looking to nature and the stars is how the Druids often predicted the future, weather, etc…

Dressed in white robes, with scarlet and gold embroidery, gold bracelets and necklaces, the Druids were considered to have magical powers, being able to shape-shift or become invisible, create storms, cause a woman and cattle to be fertile, withholding sunshine or rain, casting spells and other various magical practices. Perhaps this is why some link Druids to wizards.

Sacred stone circles decorate the landscape of the British Isles. Who made them and what were they for? It has been determined they were religious sites, where the Celtic people celebrated solstices, equinoxes and other religious festivals. The most popular of stone circles is in England, Stonehenge, perhaps because it is so impressive. The circles are linked to cosmic activity, as solar activity, celestial objects and cycles were important to the people. (I’ve posted a picture of Stonehenge and a picture of Knocknakilla in Ireland.)

What would it have been like to be at a Druid ceremony? Picture the starts bright at night, blazing fires doting the lands. The white robes of the Druid priest flapping gently against their legs with the wind. Musicians play eery songs that carry through the air like whispers from the Gods. The people watch in amazement as the priests with their hands raised to the sky they chant out ancient words that they've known for generations...


I am the wind which breathes upon the sea
I am the wave of the ocean
I am the murmur of the billows
I am the ox of the seven combats
I am the vulture upon the rocks
I am the beam of the sun
I am the fairest of plants
I an a wild boar in valour
I am a salmon in the water
I am a lake in the plain
I am a word of science
I am the point of the lance in battle
I am the God who creates in the head of the fire
Who is it who throws light into the meeting on the mountain?
Who announces ages of the moon, if not I?
Who teaches the place where couches the sun, if not I?


Celtic Myths and Legends, Publications Interntaional, ltd.


The Druid priests fell out of popular existence over time with the invasion of the Romans, and the push for Christianity in the British Isles. I say popular because they still practiced in secrecy and under the covering of wooded sacred areas. They were called Pagans, and some people still celebrate and practice their ancient customs today.

Have you ever visited the British Isles? Have you felt the ancient power held within its lands? What do you think of all the legend and lore that comes from the ancient practices of the Celtic people and the Druids?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom (England, Wales and Scotland)

What are the crown jewels? Crown jewels are the actual jewelry and other artifacts that belong to the sovereign ruler of a country. They are the regalia and vestments worn during coronation, as well as other important ceremonies. When that sovereign’s reign is over the crown jewels are passed along to the next ruler.

They are the crown, scepter, orb, spoon, ampulla, srings, necklaces, earrings, coronets, swords, mantles and coronation robes. The crown jewels are kept in the royal treasury and brought out on certain occasions.

Today, I’ll discuss some of the major power players of Europe and their crown jewels, the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland).

This large, exquisite and priceless collection has been kept in the Tower of London, since 1303, due to a theft at Westminster Abbey. Sadly in 1649, Oliver Cromwell melted down the ancient crown jewels when he established the Commonwealth. In 1660, the Restoration began with King Charles II of England and Scotland, most of the regalia was replaced at a cost of nearly £12,185. He and his court worked hard to get the items sold off by Oliver Cromwell returned, and some of the melted metal (gold and silver) and some jewels were recovered. The only other in tact artifacts returned were some swords and a spoon. The coronation chair (from 1300) was not destroyed and was in fact used by at Westminster Hall by Cromwell when he was named Lord Protector.

Saint Edwards Crown made in 1661, is said to have been made from the melted gold returned to the sovereign, from the crown of King Alfred (r. 871 – 899), and has also been rumored to contain gold from the crown of St. Edward the Confessor (r. 1042 – 1066) and pearls from Elizabeth I. Adorned with 444, the crown has been noted by most monarchs to be extremely heavy. It is used only during coronation, while the Imperial State Crown is used for other functions and ceremonies.

Since Charles II’s reign many sovereigns and their consorts have added to the regalia and jewels.

Part of The Queen’s crown jewels are the Cullinan I and II diamonds. They are the biggest diamonds in the world, found in 1905 at the Premier Diamond Mining Company in Cullinan, Gauteng, South Africa. Cullinan I is 530 carats, and sits in the Sovereigns Scepter. Cullinan II is 317 carats, and is placed in The Imperial State Crown.

Another famous diamond in the Queen’s crown jewels is the Koh-i-noor diamond, which reputedly brings luck to an woman who wears it and ill-fate to any male who wears it. The diamond originally belonged to India and was given by Duleep Singh in 1851 to Queen Victoria.

Wales has The Honours of Principality of Wales, which is what the crown jewels of the Prince of Wales are called. Included in the collection is a coronet (crown), a ring, a rod, a sword, a girdle, and a mantle. Most of the honours were redesigned in 1911, and do contain several coronets. One of the most famous coronets, Llywelyn’s coronet. Llywelyn III of Gwynedd (r. 1247 – 1282), took his crown/coronet the Cross of Neith, and other items to the Cymer Abbey for safe keeping while at war with England in 1282, he died later that year before gathering his possessions. The coronet and other holy relics were taken in 1284 from the ruined kingdom of Gwynedd, to London, from there they were taken by King Edward I and presented at the shrine of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey. This coronet has been lost in history. Some speculate that the crown was given to Glyndwr when he was crowned in Wales in 1404. Some say it was stolen from Westminster Abbey in 1303. Most are sure that it did escape Oliver Cromwell’s destruction.

Scotland’s crown jewels also called honours, are kept in Edinburgh Castle. They are considered the oldest of the all of the United Kingdom’s crown jewels, because they escaped Cromwell’s hands. They were given over time to Scotland in the early middle ages by various Popes. In 1603, James I of England, aka James the VI of Scotland left the jewels in Scotland when he moved to England to take the throne. They include the crown, sword and scepter. It also includes the Stone of Destiny.

When Cromwell occupied Scotland the jewels were hidden in Dunottar Castle, but soon Dunottar was besieged by Cromwell and his men. The local minister’s wife somehow managed to sneak the jewels from the castle and hid them in Kinneff Church, buried beneath its floor. In 1707, the jewels were moved to Edinburgh Castle, placed in a chest and there unbelievably forgotten for over a hundred years! Sir Walter Scott rediscovered them in 1818, putting them on display where they have been ever since.

In 1296, King Edward stole the precious Scottish relic, The Stone of Destiny aka The Stone of Scone, taking it to England. This precious stone has been around for so long it is said to have been the pillow stone used by the Biblical Jacob. Since 847 it was used by Scottish sovereigns who sat upon it during their coronation ceremonies. Edward I of England had the stone fitted into a chair in Westminster Abbey known as St. Edward’s Chair, which English sovereigns were crowned. For 700 years this stone was held in England, until in 1996, it was finally given back to Scotland, to be kept there with the exception of being used in England during coronations.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The History and Culture of Japanese Geisha

A long standing stigma has been placed on Japanese Geisha girls. When someone thinks of a Geisha, they think of a glorified prostitute or call girl. This is far from the truth. Geisha’s are entertainers, and they are trained vigorously in art, music and dancing. If you translate Geisha into English, you get artist.

Being a true Geisha is an honor to the girls, who when they become full-fledged Geisha’s are then called geiko. If a girl begins her training to be a geisha before she is 21, she is called a maiko, meaning child dancer. A girl or woman can become a geisha even if she wasn’t a maiko, but if she had been a maiko she would enjoy much more prestige.

Because the geisha is much coveted, prostitutes have called themselves geisha’s to bring in more customers, but you will notice a distinct difference, and that is their attire. Both girls where a kimono, and over their kimono is an obi (or sash). Geisha’s tie their obi in the back, and prostitutes tie it in the front. One simple reason for this, you can’t tie it yourself if its in the back, and if you’re a prostitute, your going to need to tie it and untie it throughout the day. The prostitutes often went by the name ‘Geisha girls,’ or ‘panpan girls,’ and they often serviced American military. Geisha DO NOT engage in paid sex with clients.

Aren’t they courtesans? No they aren’t. While some girls may have a danna, a patron, take interest in them it doesn’t mean they will become intimate, although they most likely will. The danna pays for all of their expenses, sort of like a mistress, but relationship is a very intricate one that is not well understood. A geisha, even after completing her training, will continue to take classes.

So how does one become a geisha? Some girls were sold to the okiya, or geisha house, however this wasn’t too common in more reputable districts (a geisha district was called a hanamachi). Daughters of geisha usually became geisha themselves, and would most likely be the successor, atori, to the geisha house.

During the first stage of training, the girls would be put to work as maids and have to do everything they were told. This stage of training was called shikomi. The youngest of all the girls, or the newest to the house, would have to wait up until the most senior geisha returned home and assist her in getting ready for bed. This could be as late as two or three in the morning.

Also during this time the girls would be attending the hanamachi geisha school. Today’s girls still follow this custom to learn the traditions, dialect and the dress.
Once the girl has finished her shikomi training by becoming proficient in all of her classes and passing a dance exam, she was relieved of her “maid” duties and moved to the second stage of training, minarai. Minarai’s training would be done in the field, however they would not take part in the more advanced levels. They were they mostly to be seen and not heard so to speak. It is the minarai’s form of dress that we have adopted as what a geisha looks like. They are the most expressive and impressive designs, because their dress is supposed to speak for them.

A minarai teams up with an onee-san, or older sister. She follows her to her events and mainly observes or pours tea. A minarai could also work closely with a okaa-san, who is the proprietor of her geisha house. She’ll learn the art of conversation and how to play games. After she completes this stage she is promoted to maiko, an apprentice geisha. While the first two stages last only several months, maybe up to one year, the maiko stage could last years…

The maiko will go with her onee-san everywhere, but now she may participate, once her older sister feels comfortable. The onee-san teaches the maiko how to be a true geisha, tea ceremony, flower arrangement, calligraphy, playing the shamisan (a three string instrument), dancing, conversation. She will help her pick a new professional name. She will perfect her way of doing her hair and makeup. Hair is washed about once a week, and the design of the sytle so intricate it has to be done by a professional. A thick white foundation is applied to the face, neck and chest. A line is left around the hairline to create a ‘mask’ look. And a 'W' like shape is left at the back of the neck. Black is then traced around the eyes and eyebrows, a maiko also traditionally wears red around the eyes too. The lips are then colored, red, but not the entire lip, only parts of them. After three years of wearing her makeup, the maiko will wear a more subdued style. A lot of established geisha only wear their makeup when doing a special performance. Depending on if you’re in Kyoto or Tokyo, a geisha’s disposition is different. Tokyo geisha are more apt to be sassy, while geisha from Kyoto are more demure.

After her onee-san feels she is ready, the maiko will become a full-fledged geisha and charge full price. There are two types of geisha, a tachikata, who mainly dances and a jikata who mainly sings and plays instruments. The former are usually the younger girls and the latter older more established geisha.

But what are they charging what? You may have gotten some sort of idea, but let me explain further.

They attend parties and tea houses, where they are the entertainment and hostesses. They pour tea, sing, dance, play instruments, and chat with the guests. In other words they are the life of the party and companions.

The training to become a geisha is extremely rigorous, and because of this the number of women today who are becoming geisha is diminishing.

Here is a news clip from NBC on The Secret Life of Geisha:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngSWyBn5Jq8&feature=related

Here is a video of a geisha applying her makeup:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvyskAURwCs&NR=1

Here is a video of a geisha dance:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rebiXeM7h50&feature=related

If you are interested in reading some books about geisha, here is a list:

Geisha, A Life, by Mineko Iwasaki
Autobiography of a Geisha, by Sayo Masuda
The Asian Mystique, by Sheridan Prasso
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden