Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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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:

Here is a video of a geisha applying her makeup:

Here is a video of a geisha dance:

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