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


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Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie: The Young Victoria

While this movie has yet to reach my area, I am really looking forward to it! I have a fascination with European history, especially monarchs within England. My release over this past summer, Love Will Bloom included a small snippet with Queen Victoria in it. Naturally, when I heard there was a movie coming out about her, I was excited, and its a romance which makes it even better. As you all know I'm also a history buff. An interview with Sarah Ferguson (producer of the movie and current Duchess of York) showed that she made it very clear the true history was told, and not any frivolous scenes thrown in for entertainment.

From the press release.... The Young Victoria is written by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Vanity Fair) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.). Producers on the film are Graham King, Martin Scorsese, Tim Headington and Sarah Ferguson.

Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) delivers a stunning performance as Queen Victoria in the turbulent first years of her reign. Rupert Friend (Pride & Prejudice) portrays Prince Albert, the suitor who wins her heart and becomes her partner in this spectacular romance. The film also features Paul Bettany (Iron Man, The Da Vinci Code), Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Jim Broadbent (The Damned United, The Chronicles of Narnia), Thomas Kretschmann (Valkyrie), and Mark Strong (Tristan & Isolde, Oliver Twist).

The Young Victoria chronicles Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne, focusing on the early turbulent years of her reign and her legendary romance and marriage to Prince Albert.

Here is the trailer:

The Duchess of York, gave an interview and I thought, you all might be interested in a few particular things she had to say...

Did you have any hesitations with your daughter, Princess Beatrice, taking part in the film? Whose idea was it for her to get involved?

Both of them are so proud about this film that they of course loved sitting going on set and when they were on set of course it was then decided that Beatrice could go and do that and she jumped at it with both feet. She came from school where she did drama so for her it was just big dresses and just being on set. What this film has taught me just is how hard Hollywood works. Hollywood is not just entertainment, it’s about the behind the scenes, what everyone does. I’ve never seen such hard work. It’s really extraordinary and has to be heralded. I often took myself, go to the cinema and look at the big screen, walk out and go yeah that’s good but never contemplate just what it takes. I think it’s incredible. I’m happy with whatever both girls decide to do because I believe a real mother should be there to guide, be a role model, and to listen, but never to preach or teach.

What is Beatrice’s impression of the whole experience?

I think Beatrice would like to be in that century and I keep trying to tell her well it’s not going to happen dear. She really is so responsible; she was born to be a princess. She’s got it in her blood. She just has a sense of duty and responsibility that I’ve never seen in another human being.

You’ve written two novels about the life of Queen Victoria – is there a particular connection you feel you have with her?

I find her sense of cheekiness. I find her sense of humor. I find that she’s so strong and bold and I often have days when I allow people to push me around and I often think what would she do. There’s no way she’d put up with it so why am I?

Actress, Emily Blunt, who play Queen Victoria had this to say...

How much of this was a character study, compared with taking creative license?

It’s funny cause I felt like I had a free reign with her because nobody knows about the youthful side of Queen Victoria, the love and the passion and I felt like no one really knew about that so I think there was an element of me sort of saying well prove it to me, prove to me that she wouldn’t have sat like this or said that, said something in that tone of voice, but I think I wanted at the same time to do her justice cause it was very well documented, that whole side of her life. So everything that I read about her wouldn’t necessarily been read about by most people but, but I thought it was important to do justice to what I had read which presented her as this remarkable girl who had such strength and fire in her and literally everything that you see in the movie, virtually everything was true almost to the word.

You were allowed access to Victoria’s private diaries and letters – how did that help you form the basis for your role?

The diaries were the most helpful because she was so open in them and you know very expressive and would go into great detail about people or what she thought about them and who she hated, who she liked, and even with Albert she’d talk about the way he looked in such such detail. The curl of his mustache…was like she’d rapture about it for a paragraph and so it was really helpful to me to delve into that cause I could start to hear her voice in a way.

What other special research/training did you do to prepare?

I learned to side saddle a horse ride and I learned how to waltz. Both of them were frightening experiences but I overcame them in the end. It was a bit of a task but we did alright.

(I wanted to pop in here and say that even writers have to do this sort of thing. The best way to write a scene is to experience it in some way, whether that be through actual practice, lots of reading, interviewing or watching videos.)

Is there one scene in the film that you are particularly fond of?

It’s funny, I really like the scene where she meets the privy counsel for the first time where she addresses the room full of sort of 60 old men who are there to judge her really, and doubtful of whether this young girl can..is up to the task. As an actress when there’s so much to play with that you know she’s terrified, she needs to assert herself, this is a huge moment for her, she knows that they doubt her, she’s feeling very vulnerable about the fact that her dearest uncle has just died and it was so much to play with that I really enjoyed that scene, I just really enjoyed it. I thought it was her really coming into her own. I think on the day that I read about it in biographies, she really did surprise them and they talked about the strength and the femininity but also that she was someone that was quite hard to read and I found that interesting that she was actually quite an ambiguous girl. You couldn’t quite figure out what she was thinking so there’s something quite powerful in that. That’s the thing and that’s what I loved about the film. You see the private side and the public side and she lead such a duel existence as you know so many of the monarchs do.

Actor, Rupert Friend who plays Prince Albert, was interviewed as well. Here are few things he had to say...

It seems as though you enjoy working on period pieces (The Young Victoria, Pride and Prejudice, The Libertine, The Last Legion, etc.) - what attracts you to these types of films? Do you prefer period pieces to modern day films?

I think it’s just the stories that have come my way that have interested me and in a sense there’s an element of kind of I guess time travel about it that I really like. Being able to really go back in time and see how people lived in other periods is really exciting for me. As different as it can be from my own experiences the better.

To prepare for the role of Prince Albert, you took dancing, calligraphy, archery lessons, and even worked with a vocal coach to capture an accurate German accent. Out of all the lessons, what did you find the most challenging to learn? What was the easiest to pick-up?

The hardest was the piano because I had to learn a piece of Shubert which Albert plays for, well he doesn’t actually play it for her but he plays it in the movie, and that was really really hard but the most rewarding as well because when I cracked it, it was the best feeling ever, so that was the hardest. The easiest in a way actually was the archery. The guy who was teaching me was amazing and he made me my own bow and my own arrows. It came weirdly quite naturally the whole sharp shooting thing.

I leave you withthis particular scene in The Young Victoria that reminds me a great deal of another great queen who also struggled with being a woman and holding the crown...

Can you guess which queen I speak of?

I hope you all enjoy the movie, I'm chomping at the bit to see it!


Friday, December 11, 2009

The Sword of Christendom by Mary McCall

The Sword of Christendom: Vowed to the Riding
The trail is through dolour and dread,
Over crags and morasses;
There are shapes by the way,
there are things that appall or entice us:
What odds? We are Knights of the Grail,
We are vowed to the riding.
~Louise Imogen Guiney (1861—1920)

They say a little truth suspends disbelief in fiction. Watching the film First Knight, one gets a sense of medieval customs when Lancelot kneels before the chapel altar prior to receiving his sword. The medieval knight spent a significant amount of time in fasting, prayer, and other rituals prior to being inducted into service. When one reflects on the Ten Commandments of Chivalry, the modern mind is sometimes appalled by “VI: Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation, and without mercy.”

This was not a concept held only by knights, whom we moderns might accuse of being ignorant or cruel. In his De laudae novae militiae (Of the New Knights, referring to The Knights Templars whose rule he wrote), the learned mystic and scholar St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote:

But in truth the knights of Christ fight the battles of their Lord with all tranquility of conscience, fearing neither sin by the death of their enemy nor the danger of their own death, because death inflicted or suffered for Christ’s sake bears no trace of crime and often brings the merit of glory... For he bears not the sword without cause; he is the minister of God for the punishment of evil and the exaltation of good. When he kills a malefactor, it is not homicide, but, so to say, “malecide,” and he is clearly considered the avenger of Christ in the case of those who do evil, and defender of Christians. Moreover, when he himself is killed, it is understood that he has arrived in eternal glory... (Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 182, col. 924).

Heady words, but before we are too easily repelled or self-righteous, let’s remember that both the crusading efforts of the knights and the missionary works of the friars were complimentary. Also, those of us in America are taught to praise as heroes the men, who by force of arms, built and sustained our nation. That included the vanquishing of French and Spanish Catholic culture in Mississippi and the Great Lakes areas, and in the Southwest; the transportation in miserable conditions of thousands of slaves into a life of servitude, the murder and persecution of thousands of Loyalists during the revolution for the heinous crime of supporting the government they and their fathers knew and loved against men who in their eyes were traitors. Dare I mention what our heroes did to the American Indian Nations, those noble people whose love of this land that was literally stolen from their Great Spirit, and their tribes made subject to wholesale slaughter and dishonored treaties. This list can go on. The point I am making is that the medieval knights did what was perceived as right and moral for them in their world. It is not wise to cast stones and neglect the debauchery of society today. I dare say the medieval knights of God would be raising their sword against most of us.

In any case, it is important also to see that the medieval knights attempted to pattern themselves after heavenly patrons – Saints of Chivalry. In them they saw not merely prototypes as warriors, but as men.

Interestingly, their principle patron was not a man but an angel – Saint Michael the Archangel. In his struggle against Satan at God’s command, when first the cry of revolt was raised in heaven, medieval chivalry saw its first example. “Who is like unto God?” was both St. Michael’s war-cry and name. He was called the Standard-bearer of Heaven and held the honor in Christian postmortem liturgy of leading the souls of the Faithful to Heaven. Most of the mountaintops of Europe were consecrated to him from the Dawn of the Church through the Middle Ages.

So too was St. George a patron, not just in England but across Europe. In this soldier, martyred under Diocletian, our fathers found the perfect image of knight and crusader. He also showed us a perfect example of how the best of Eastern and Western Christendom met in reveling the saints and fighting the infidel. As a result of the Crusades, St. George became a sort of patron-general for Chivalry.

Many and varied were other patrons of chivalry. “The Seven Defenders of Christendom”: St. George for England, St. Denis for France, St. David for Wales, St. Andrew for Scotland, St. Patrick for Ireland, St. James for Spain, and St. Anthony for Italy. They would often be invoked together under this one head by knights from various countries charging the Saracens.

Another list of heroes the knights attempted to emulate were the Nine Worthies. Three were pagans: Hector of Troy, paragon of loyalty; Alexander the Great, who became of demi-Christian hero for his ability to conquer the then known world; and Julius Caesar, founder of the Roman Empire, of which our ancestors believed Christendom to be the continuance of politically.

Three of the Worthies were Jews: Joshua, who defeated the Canaanites; King David, who made the Jews mighty and defeated Goliath; and Judas Maccabeus, who led the resistance against the Syrian pagans. Lastly, there were three Christians: King Arthur, Roman leader of Briton’s resistance against the pagans; the Emperor Charlemagne, re-establisher of the Roman Empire. And last was Godefroi of Bouillon, leader of the first Crusade, Liberator of the Holy Land, and considered to be the very flower of Chivalry. Godefroi was at once a courageous warrior and very devout and pious. He founded one of the largest Christian orders of chivalry (of which there were many) – the Knights of the Holy Sepulcher. This order exists to this day.

So why would I pick this topic during Advent as many are already celebrating the Christmas season? For the answer, I’ll introduce you to one of the most beautiful ceremonies in the history of the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. Until the Postcounciliar (Traditional Roman Catholics separate Church time as Precounciliar and Postcounciliar, according to the time of Vatican II) changes in the liturgy in the 1960’s, the ceremony of the Sword of Christendom was celebrated at 11:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

The Sovereign Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ, blesses, in His name, a Sword and Helmet, which are to be sent to some Catholic warrior who has served well of the Christian world. In a letter addressed to Queen Mary of England and to Philip, her husband, calling her husband to Rome, Cardinal Pole explains this solemn rite. The sword is sent to some Prince, whom the Vicar of Christ wishes to honor in the Name of Jesus, who is King: for the Angel said to Mary: The Lord will give unto him the Throne of David his father (Lk. 1:32). It is from him alone that the power of the sword comes (Rom. 8:3,4); for God said to Cyrus: I have girded thee with the sword (Is. 45: 1,5); and the Psalmist thus speaks to the Christ of God: Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O thou most mighty! (Ps. 44:4). And because the sword should not be drawn save in the cause of justice, it is for that reason that a sword is blessed on this Night, in the midst of which rises, born unto us, the divine Sun of Justice. On the helmet which is both the ornament and protection of the head, there is worked in pearls, the Dove, emblem of the Holy Ghost; and this is to teach him who wears it that it is not from passion or ambition that he must use his sword, but solely under the guidance of the divine Spirit, and from a motive of spreading the kingdom of Christ.

How beautiful is this union of energy and meekness under the one symbol and ceremony! The power and blending and harmonizing the varied beauty of distinct classes of truth that is to not to be found save in that Christian Rome, which is where God has established the center of Light and Love. The ceremony we have been describing… What a grand list it would be, had we the names of all those glorious Christian warriors, who were thus created Knights of the Church, at this solemn hour, when we would celebrate the birth of Him who came to vanquish our enemy!

At Rome, if there be in the Holy city a Knight, who has received the sword and helmet, blessed as we have described by the Sovereign Pontiff, the fifth Lesson is given to him to sing, because it speaks of the great Battle between Christ and Satan in the glorious mystery of the Incarnation. [Note: This was truly an honor. Until the first recipient, Gofefroi, this Lesson was restricted solely to the Pope, and is one of the few times in the medieval period that a member of the laity was permitted to approach the Holy Altar and the only time a sword was permitted to be drawn within the sanctuary]. Whilst the Choir is singing O magnum mysterium, the Knight is taken by the Master of Ceremonies to the Pope. Standing before the Holy Father, he draws his sword, thrice sets its point to the ground, thrice brandishes it in the air, and then wipes the blade on his left arm. He is then taken to the Ambo or reading desk, takes off his helmet, and, having vested the cope, over his armour, he sings the lesson. Theses ceremonies of Holy Mother, the Church of Rome, were drawn up in days when might was not right and brute force was made subservient to moral power and principle. The Christian warrior, cased in steel armour, was resolved, as indeed he was bound, never to draw his sword save in the cause of Christ, the conqueror of Satan… (Gueranger: Liturgical Year, Vol. II, p. 127-128)

The prayer used at the imposition of the Sword of Christendom, remained unchanged in the Roman Pontifical until its removal by John XXIII. The following prayer was also used by local episcopates when blessing knights for secular rulers within their Episcopal jurisdictions at the imposition of the sword and expresses perfectly the medieval view of knighthood as a vocation.

Receive this sword in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; use it in defense of thyself and of the Holy Church of God, for the confusion of the enemies of the Cross of Christ and of the Christian faith, and never unjustly to the injury of any man, so far as human frailty will permit; which he deign to grant who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.

For the medieval knight, the Feast of the Incarnation (Christmas) held special significance. The art of war was not merely a preserve for the nobleman and mercenary, but something which may call to its trumpet all manner of men through knighthood, holy orders and lesser orders as members of the Earthly Church Militant (Church Suffering = Purgatory; Church Rejoicing = Heaven). For the combat of the Christian Knight was not primarily with flesh and blood but with supernatural principalities and powers. The great dragon (the serpent of Eden) lurked in his world (and still does in ours), seeking whom he may devour. The true Christian warrior conformed to the society standards in which he lived that were considered akin to Christ and His Church.

I will close with a medieval blessing: May the miracle of the Incarnation reign in your heart and protect you from the dragon.

Mary McCall is an award winning writer of historical romance. Visit her at: http://marymccall.wordpress.com/

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Taste for Ale, by Nancy Lee Badger

Research is a big time-consumer when I write a historical romance novel. I set my adventures in ancient Scotland and the marvelous bits of information, found in books and the internet, get me excited. Researching beer and ale for a story set in 1598 Scottish Highlands, I thought about the area skirting the eastern shore of the North Sea. Did the harsh climate let them grow the necessary ingredients?

In order to answer my questions, I scoured the internet and came across an interesting website. I have asked John DeMasi of www.ProhibitionHomebrew.com to help me understand more about this naturally made beverage.

Nancy: Thanks for joining me John

John: Hi Nancy, I’m glad to be here.

Nancy: Tell us a little bit about your business.

John: Prohibition Homebrew is an online retail store for home brewers and home vintners, as well as those interested in adopting the hobby. We have the ingredients and equipment necessary to brew your own beer and wine, as well as information on how to brew it.

Nancy: My research shows Scotland has produced beer and ale for thousands of years. Is there a difference between beer and ale?

John: Well, yes and no. An ale is a type of beer. In the most rudimentary sense, “beer” is broken down into two broad categories: ales and lagers. An ale is a type of beer which is created using top-fermenting yeasts, while a lager is produced using bottom-fermenting yeast. There are numerous subsets of each, and even hybrids between the two. There are Belgian ales, Brown ales, Pale ales and of course-- Scottish ales! Similarly, Lagers include various Pilsners, American Lagers, and Bocks to name a few.

Nancy: I was amazed to hear Scotland’s method of using bittering herbs is older than Europe’s. I read where organic remains found inside pots gave modern brewers the ability to recreate today’s ale with the same taste. Are any of your products able to recreate something akin to ancient Scottish brews?

John: Yes. Unfortunately, we do not have a specific “ancient Scottish” brew kit (containing all the ingredients for a specific recipe). However, we carry many of the ingredients which were used in ancient Scottish brews. Before the advent of hops in beer a variety of different herbs and spices were used. The heather plant is common to the Scottish countryside. Its tips were, and still can be, used to add a floral and aromatic character to beer. Similarly, sweet gale is a deciduous shrub found abundantly in the Northern Hemisphere, especially on the Scottish moors and bogs. It was historically used for beer flavoring before hops. We also carry herbs used in European brewing before the use of hops.

Nancy: I found one website selling something called Froach Heather Ale. They state leann fraoich means heather ale, made from boiling malted barley, sweet gale, and then adding flowering heather. Anything like this in your catalog?

John: Unfortunately, not at this time. We carry the ingredients necessary however and a simple Google search for “Heather ale” will bring up tons of different recipes which other home brewers have posted on homebrew forums.

Nancy: ‘Drop Your Kilt’ Scottish Ale caught my eye as it is promptly touted on your webpage. You share the recipe with readers. Do you sell all the ingredients? Can anyone make this at home?

John: We sure do. One of the recipe kits we sell is our ‘Drop Your Kilt’ Scottish Ale. Like all our recipe kits, it contains all the ingredients (hops, grains, yeast, etc.) that you need to make a batch of beer as well as detailed instructions on how to brew it. Truly anyone with the ambition can make it at home! However, there is some basic equipment you will need. You can check out the ‘Equipment Kits’ section of our website to get a better idea of some basic kits and general pieces of equipment you will need.

Nancy: Second only to single malt Scotch Whisky, my husband loves a product from a local brewery with a Scottish name. It is not a true Scots product, and he was thinking of trying to brew his own. Do you carry everything he needs?

John: We should. If there is any particular item your husband cannot find already on our website he, or anyone else, can email us at: Customers@prohibitionhomebrew.com and we will do our best to special order it. I am also happy to answer any questions, and can be reached directly at: John@prohibitionhomebrew.com.

Nancy: How long until his homebrew would be ready to taste?

John: Going back to your original question, it will depend on what style of beer your husband is trying to make. The temperature of fermentation and the quality of yeast will determine when a beer will taste its best. However, it takes around four weeks for many types of ale.

Nancy: Any other interesting things you can tell us about your business? And where are you located?

John: We are located in Greensboro, North Carolina. We are working on a recipe-sharing forum, known as the Speakeasy, so that home brewers can trade their own recipes, as well as a custom label making section so that individuals can make customized labels right within our site. Our staff loves home brewing and is very knowledgeable. We are willing to answer any questions people may have and no question is too great or too small. I hope your article sparks some interest in potential future brewers because this is an incredibly enjoyable hobby. The Scottish ale has a deep copper color. The hardy, rich character of this ale is much a reflection of its own people and it is not surprising that after thousands of years these characteristics have endured.

Nancy: Wow! You sure have raised my interest in the possibility of home brewing. I am still in awe that flowers and bits of shrubbery work together with yeast and come up with such a worldwide favorite like ale. My research shows it was a staple of life in the less-than-hospitable Highlands of Scotland, where I base some of my stories. Thanks for helping me understand the language and I hope my readers will visit your website. Make-your-own beer kits sound like a great gift idea!

Nancy Lee Badger lives with her husband in Raleigh, NC. She loves everything Scottish and still volunteers annually, with her family, at the New Hampshire Highland Games. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal Romance Writers, and Celtic Heart Romance writers. Her first novel will be published under her pen name, Nancy Lennea, in early 2010. Visit her websites and blog for updates and excerpts.