Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A post from the author

I've been thinking all day of what I would write here on this blog when I got home from work. You may have noticed over the past couple of days that this blog has been MIA with a little message that said it had been removed. It's true, I hit the delete button. And there are many reasons for this stemming from issues that are going on in my personal life. I don't want to go into too much detail because a lot of it is rather personal.

When I started this blog, I had no idea that it would pick up so soon and I'm seeing more and more people comment on my posts and join the facebook page which is great. But it was very hard for me to come to terms with the fact that when you start doing things like this you can end up taking criticism, and that stops you from concentrating on the lessons you are trying to learn. It's even harder when you come up with stumbling blocks not only from criticism but also from past incidents too. I started this blog for people to learn from my knowledge, and I enjoy writing about the parts of history that I adore, and it is here for everyone. With everything that has happened recently though I have taken alot of what has happened to heart and for a while I wanted nothing more to do with it. For a while, my love of history took a back seat and I began to hate it all because of the blocks that had presented themselves in front of me. Obviously we benefit from positive feedback, but when things start getting intense and you notice things it can get very upsetting. As I said I'm not going into it in too much detail and it is my hope that I never need to do so.

This blog is here for everyone, and it is my hope that it will be for many years to come. It's a matter of ignoring the haters because you're always going to get hate when you start doing something like this, and rising above it. This has been a learning curve for me and I'm not going to let anything stop me from doing what I love. My readers know that it is my aspiration to become a published historian one day, and I plan on going back to University within the next couple of years to complete my Masters and eventually my PhD. This blog is a stepping stone, a place for me to share my own journey as well as providing all of you with posts that will interest and inspire.

I want to thank those of you who have left me nice comments on these posts and on facebook, you guys are all amazing and because of you I have realised that this blog is a place that people enjoy. May it never change.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Inspirations from History: Lucrezia Borgia

The name Lucrezia Borgia is synonymous with incest and corruption, helped along its way by contemporary reports from anti Borgia factions as well as modern day interpretations of this blonde haired Italian temptress. These days, thanks to the interpretation of the Assassins Creed franchise, we still think of Lucrezia as a woman who enjoyed poisoning people from a hidden ring and who was involved romantically with her brother Cesare. But was this really the case? Or was she merely a political pawn in the games of her father and brother?

Lucrezia Borgia from Ubisofts Assassins Creed 2: Brotherhood

Lucrezia has interested me now for a long time, and I devour books on the Italian Renaissance and the Borgia family. And she inspires me too, as from my reading I can just tell that she was a strong woman who was able to overcome obstacles. After all, she managed to forgive her brother after he had her second husband assassinated and she always maintained her dignity in the face of such obstacles. As well as the picture above, we have seen Lucrezia in the HBO television series "The Borgias" in which she is played by the fantastic Holliday Granger. In the series we see a young Lucrezia who is very close to her brother (there are hints of the incest rumours, but they walk a very fine line with that. For me, the way they show the relationship between Cesare and Lucrezia just shows that they were very, very close) and a girl who is used as a pawn by her father Rodrigo. Yet we also see the beginnings of her guile, when she deliberately makes her first husband slip on a wet floor and we see her agree with her fathers plan to have the pair divorced due to impotence.

Holliday Granger as Lucrezia in The Borgias

But who was Lucrezia Borgia, and why do we still think of her as the evil, incestuous woman from the Renaissance?

Born in around April 1480, Lucrezia Borgia was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI) and Vanozza Cattanei. Her three brothers were Cesare, Giovanni (also known as Juan) and Gioffre - Juan was later found dead in the Tiber, and his murder is often linked to Cesare although this may again be based on rumours from the anti Borgia faction. Lucrezia was part Spanish, Rodrigo coming from Spain, and the family was hated due to their Spanish roots. Even when Rodrigo became Pope the family were still the centre of political hatred, scandal and rumour. In 1493 Lucrezia was married to Giovanni Sforza, the marriage completed by proxy and Lucrezia was sent off to Pesaro to live with her new husband. This was a marriage of convenience and politics - the Pope needed the Sforza's on his side, but when the Pope tired of the Sforza's he arranged a divorce for his daughter. The marriage was dissolved on the grounds of impotence, which in itself is laughable. Sforza certainly was not impotent, he already had children from his first marriage and stated firmly that he had known Lucrezia hundreds of times! When the College of Cardinals asked Sforza to prove it publicly, Sforza refused and the marriage was dissolved. This incident, as stated by Sarah Bradford in her book "Lucrezia Borgia" may have been what sparked off the rumours of incest between Lucrezia and her father, as Sforza claimed that the Pope wanted her all for himself!

Lucrezia's name was further dragged into scandal around this time when she became involved with a man named Perotto, and he was found drowned in the Tiber (rumour again stated this was down to Cesare!). Many said the two were having an affair. Lucrezia's second marriage was to Alfonso of Aragon, Duke of Biscelie, and seemed to be a happy one but yet again this would end in disaster. Cesare soon became jealous that Lucrezia was giving the handsome Alfonso all her attention. Early in the marriage Lucrezia suffered her first miscarriage (a pattern that would manifest throughout her life) and on 15th July 1500 her husband was publicly attacked in Rome and was badly wounded. Yet he began to recover, being looked after by Lucrezia and one of her trusted doctors. On 18th August when Alfonso was sat up in bed talking to his wife Michelloto de Corella burst into the room stating that Alfonso's uncle had been taken prisoner and that Lucrezia must petition the pope for his release. When she returned Alfonso was found strangled, dead in his bed. Rumour sparked yet again that this was the deed of Cesare, which seemed likely considering that Michelloto was known to be Cesare's henchman and assassin. Lucrezia mourned the loss of Alfonso heavily, so much so that her father sent her away whilst her father began to get her back on the marriage market. She was soon to become Duchess of Ferrara.

Lucrezia married Alfonso D'Este in around 1502 and lived a comfortable life with her new husband. Whilst the two of them often committed adultery they ended up developing a mutual respect for each other, despite not loving each other. Lucrezia though gave Alfonso many children, and they were happy enough. The mutual respect may have even made way to a kind of love from her husbands side, and they often wrote letters to each other whilst her husband was away, the both of them concerned for each others safety. During this time, the biggest event in Lucrezia's life was to happen: the death of her brother Cesare. He was killed in a battle at Vianna after escaping imprisonment at the Medina Del Campo in Spain, and Lucrezia found out much later. Once again she grieved heavily and despite all the wrongs he had done to her, she still cherished him. On the outside though Lucrezia did not show her grief, it was as if through all her hardships she developed a tough outer shell and was determined not to look weak, a sign of the Borgia strength that she so often exhibited and an asset to her personality.

In July 1509 Lucrezia passed away after developing complications giving birth to her eighth child. Despite clinging to life for ten days she remained very unwell and her doctors were of the opinion that her illness was caused by a buildup of menstrual blood that had become infected. The doctors tried everything for her, from bleeding to cutting off all her hair yet nothing worked. She had just turned 39 when she died, and was buried in Ferrara.

Lucrezia Borgia certainly lived a remarkable life, through the trials of life, love and death. She was the daughter of one of the most influential men in Renaissance Italy so is it any wonder that her name was dragged into scandal? In all of my reading, I have never once come across a credible source that proves she was guilty of poisoning or even incest and thus I will keep believing that she was innocent of these acts until anything new comes to life. Like so many women in history, the name of Lucrezia Borgia has been maligned thanks to propaganda and rumour. After all, people still talk of Anne Boleyn as a witch with 6 fingers who slept with her brother and countless other men despite the fact that all of these have been shown as being untrue. The same goes for Lucrezia, and despite how maligned she has been over the years I will continue to admire her. She had a remarkable life, lived through the scandals of her fathers world, watched those close to her be murdered, had countless stillbirths yet still retained that Borgia strength and dignity which was something to be proud of.


Bradford, S, 1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London
Bradford S, 2004, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love & Death in Renaissance Italy, Penguin: London

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Little Bit About Me

I apologise for the delay in blog posts, my laptop ended up dying on me and so had to be sent for repair. But now it's back, you lot get to put up with me posting again. Hurah! Since being computerless, I've been thinking about posts I could put up here - should it be a book review? a piece on a particular event in history? But then I realised that I've never actually really introduced myself. And now that this blog is getting a little more well known, with it's page views reaching out for 1000 and now over 50 follows on the facebook page I thought it was about time to introduce myself properly.

Me, measuring up a section of an archaeological feature

My name is Sam. Well, it's Samantha but very few people actually call me that these days. I'm 23 years old and currently live in Southampton, UK, with my partner of 4 years. It's quite a nice little life that we live here, in our little flat on the waterfront. I'm not a big fan of my day job in the clerical sector but it pays the bills and for that I'm grateful. Considering as how unemployment is on the rise and everything.

As a child I moved around a lot, as I was an army child and never settled anywhere for long. That was until we moved to rural Wiltshire. There I completed my secondary education and my love for history grew and grew. As I went through GCSE and A-Level I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist and so when the time came I went off to University in Winchester to do my degree. I started off doing a joint course in history and archaeology, but for my sins gave up history after the first year. I wish now that I hadn't, and had given up on the archaeology instead. I had some wonderful lecturers in history whilst I was there and honestly regret not staying on and taking single honours in history. But at that point, my mind was set. I graduated with an upper second class honours in archaeology in 2009 and that's when we moved to Southampton. I was one of the luckier ones in my group, and almost immediately secured a post at the Unit in Southampton whereupon I worked on digs at Tudor House and also a building site next door to a waitrose. We didn't find very much but I loved it, I didn't mind crawling out of bed at 5am on a cold, winters day and getting myself to site. I loved being knee deep in mud, I loved being on a dangerous building site, I loved working with my colleagues. But alas, it wasn't to last and as it had with many archaeologists I lost my contract. I haven't worked in archaeology since.

Instead I have allowed my love for history to take over once again and have started doing research into various historical eras that interest me greatly. My bookshelf has grown and grown within the past few years so now they're full to bursting and I have no more room; and I have decided that I will end up taking this love of history further. I have plans to go back to University and complete a Masters degree in either the history of the Renaissance or possibly early modern (think Edward VI), and one day I hope to have a few books published on my specialist areas - the research of which is being conducted pretty much as we speak. One day I also hope to teach others and to share my passion for history with those who want to learn from me. How this will begin I don't know, but I am looking at ways and means of doing this, but eventually I hope to become a lecturer.

So how did my interest in history begin? I guess I can attribute that to my Aunt who began buying me books on Ancient Egypt. I would read them from cover to cover and watch documentaries on the television and beg my parents to take me to castles. When I was much younger I remember visiting Dover Castle and falling in love with the place and I would spend hours and hours in museums too. Whilst I was at school I can remember too learning about the six wives of Henry VIII, and there being a line of printed portraits on the wall. I was drawn to two of those women: Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. At the time we were too young to be told the real reasons for their being beheaded - according to my primary school teacher Anne Boleyn was beheaded for being a witch (nooooo!) and Katherine Howard? Well, nothing was really ever mentioned about her. But there began my obsession with the Tudor dynasty which just grew and grew. Henry VIII has always been my favourite Tudor monarch but recently my interests have broadened, so that I have found an intense interest in the short reign of Edward VI. In fact the Tudors makes up the majority of my book collection. Other interests grew out of that, and a few years ago I developed a rather huge obsession with the English Civil War thanks to joining the reenactment society known as the Sealed Knot. In that I played the part of a musketeer, and took part in battle reenactments. I dressed in accurate portrayals of military uniform and learned every single piece of musket drill there was. From there I wanted to know more and more about the period, and the battles; and so specialised in this era during my final year at University - my dissertation was on the landscape archaeology of the Battle of Cheriton in 1644.

But honestly, anything old will always hold my interest - be it something from the Neolithic or a portrait from the Georgian era, I adore the stories that history can tell us. There is something magical about learning how these people lived, how they died, what they used in their everyday lives. And it's a passion that I hope to keep on sharing both here and in my everyday life also.

Friday, 11 November 2011

We Will Remember Them

On this day in history, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the first world war ended. At that moment, the armistice was signed between the allies and Germany in a train carriage in the forest of Compiegne.

As I sit here writing this, we have just had the traditional two minutes silence which symbolises that moment when the guns fell silent. I may not be at work today, but it did not stop me from setting aside two minutes as BBC 1 had their own ceremony as the country fell into silence. And as I sat there I remembered not only those who have lost their lives in the First World War but those who lost their lives in more recent conflicts as well as conflicts dotted throughout history.

The poem quoted below is one that we all know, written by Laurence Binyon in 1914 as he was serving with the army in France, and the fourth stanza (highlighted in bold) is the one that is frequently read at services of remembrance:

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Cheriton 1644: The Campaign & The Battle

After receiving some distressing news health wise this afternoon I thought I would come back home and share some happiness with you all. Hey, it'll make me feel better.

My speciality in both history and archaeology has always been the English Civil War and in particular the Battle of Cheriton which took place on 29th March 1644. When I was working on my BA dissertation, which was a study of the landscape archaeology of the battlefield (I ended up mapping the entire battlefield, looking at both proposed sites and working out that the traditional site was the most likely due to the landscape...which in itself is another post!), I came across a great book by John Adair in my University library. This book, named simply "Cheriton 1644: The Campaign and the Battle" became my bible, I had it out of the library for almost 6 months and used it intensively. And it was a sad day when I had to give it back at the end of my course.

However, looking around online it seemed that this was a rather rare book and only went through one lot of publication, meaning that any available copies were all first editions and thus rather expensive. All copies I found ended up costing between £150-£300, all new and in great condition which obviously was a little expensive. But I was determined on getting myself a copy to take pride of place on my bookshelf between my other rare books. After a lot of searching I managed to find a "used but good condition" on Amazon marketplace for just £28. Guess who snapped it up.

When it arrived I was shocked at the condition. It was perfect, never read. OK so it was a little discoloured due to the age (published in 1973) but other than that it was perfect. No tears, the hardback was almost perfect. The only thing missing was the dustcover. Had it come with that then the price would have rocketed. Not only that it was lovingly parcelled up too, wrapped in protective cellophane and then wrapped like a parcel with a nice note from the seller too!

I'm currently reading this wonderful book again and loving every moment of it. Not only that, it's helping with my research for my Nanowrimo novel (which is even better!) and it's really got me back into this wonderful battle. I fully intend to start back on my work on the battle now, get some pieces written on it and see where I go from there.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Book Give-away!

Apologies for my lack of posts recently everyone, I've been slightly busy with some of my real life stuff - I'm sure you know the deal: work, visits, life. I also made the decision to take part in National Novel Writing Month (again!) which I may be regretting a little. Writing 50,000 words in a month is a bit of a mountain to climb. I have got some proper posts coming, I just need to sit down and actually write them!

I just wanted to let you all know that this blog now has a facebook page! Please do come and like us here, and when we get to 100 likes I will be doing a book giveaway! So please do come over, hit the like button and you may find yourself the lucky owner of The Borgias & Their Enemies by Christopher Hibbert. This is a really fantastic book, and I love the way Hibbert writes about this fantastic family!

So remember, as soon as we get that 100th "like" over on our facebook page, I'll be randomly picking someone to receive this wonderful book! So please do come over and say hello, and spread the word!