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


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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?