Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Happy Birthday Charlie!

On 29th May 1630, Queen Henrietta Maria gave birth to a son at St James' Palace London. The child's father was, of course, the famous Charles I who would eventually be executed for apparent treason against his country. The little boy, Charles, was their second son - their first having been born about a year previously and died at less than a year old. When he was born, little Charles was automatically given the titles of Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, and was officially given the title of Prince of Wales around the time of his 8th birthday.

On his 30th birthday, 29th May 1660, Charles returned to London to reclaim the crown that was taken from his father. The day was full of rejoicing, the people were glad to have their King back and be rid of Puritan rule. The new monarch also reinstated things that had been banned under Puritan rule including theatres and sport. This day was known for a very long time as "Oak Apple Day" and was a celebration every year to mark the Restoration of the Monarchy.

You all know how much I love Charles II (or Charlie as I more commonly call him, because of reasons) and so I thought on this day which marks two very important occasions in his life I would write a little bit about how and why I love him so much, and why he was an amazing monarch.

When Charles was born, his mother Henrietta Maria was embarrassed due to his darker colouring (which came from her side of the family, her mother was the famous Marie De Medici), and called him ugly saying, "He is so ugly that I am ashamed of him, but his size and fatness supply the want of beauty". It looks like Henrietta got her comeuppance as Charlie grew up as he did indeed grow to be a rather handsome young man with a passion for the ladies! I mean he was an exceptionally adorable child. I mean just look at him!

When his father Charles I went to war with Parliament in 1642, little Charlie got his first taste of battle. He accompanied his father to the Battle of Edgehill (which famously ended up with no clear victor!) and during 1645 took part in a number of campaigns aged just 14!! Brave boy! But when it was clear he was losing the war, Charles escaped abroad where he lived in exile. Whilst there he made the er...acquaintance of Lucy Walter who became his mistress, and bore him his first son - James, who would later become Duke of Monmouth. He was also an exceptionally handsome young man...

When I saw this little miniature at "The Wild, The Beautiful and the Damned" I thought "HGFKSDHFFS HE LOOKS LIKE HIS DAD!"...ahem

After he became King, he restored the theatres and general fun which would eventually lead to him having the lovely Nell Gwynne as a mistress. In the mean time however he was too busy with his maitresse-en-titre Barbara Villiers (fascinating women but just naaaasty) who went on to bear him many illegitimate children. I read an excellent story that involved Charles going to Barbara's house where they spent the evening chasing a moth and giggling. Typical Charlie.

As we know, Charlie loved the theatre and he often frequented the theatres, even allowing women to act on stage. One of his great friends was the famous John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (a man who deserves a post in his own right!) who wrote a rather amusing ditty about Charles:

We have a pretty witty King
And whose word no man relies on
He never said a foolish thing
And never did a wise one.

Good ole Rochester also wrote some excellent bawdy plays - basically 17th century pornography!

The thing that gets me the most about Charles II is how he loved his people. In 1666, when the Great Fire of London hit, he helped. He actually went down into the streets and helped with the bucket work, helped try and stop the fire. Good old Charles ordered buildings to be destroyed to try and stop the spread of fire, but it didn't work all that well, so he ended up working with the common men to stop the spread of fire. Whenever I read of the Great Fire I always well up at his bravery, and working with his people. Just...it makes me want to cry. 

Charles was also a huuuuuge advocate of science and helped bring about the Royal Society. Charlie signed a charter in 1660 which allowed it to keep going, and throughout the years it got stronger and stronger, with members such as the lovely Prince Rupert!!

Also, his foreign policy was a little bit daft and it's no wonder that his advisers and parliament got a little bit peeved with him. To cut a very long story short, Charles ended up agreeing to ally with France, agreeing to the Treaty of Dover in which France would give him £16000 per year, and in agreement Charles agreed to give France troops and announce his conversion to Roman Catholicism...except he didn't convert...until he was on his death bed. Oh Charlie, you sneaky little bugger!!

Despite his many mistresses, including Barbara Villiers, Nell Gwynne, Louise De Kerouelle and Moll Davis etc; he was very much in love with his wife. There is a wonderful story in Brain Masters' book "The Mistresses of Charles II" in which Masters describes Charles going to bed with his wife Catherine of Braganza and she felt sick in the middle of the night. As she was throwing up, he went and fetched her a bowl and spent his night clearing up after her. That is LOVE!

And that is just a few reasons as to why I love Charles II - I won't mention his fabulous legs, love of nice shoes and general good looks...Not only that but he is the man who kept the famous Ravens in the Tower of London after his astrologer started moaning about them getting in the way of his telescope. Whilst he may have made some mistakes and later on alienated his parliament, he was a good man who believed in doing the best for his country. 

Charles II brought fun back to his kingdom, despite parliament constantly trying to outmanoeuvre him. I guess that's why he dissolved them and spent the last years of his reign in self reign. He loved many, fathered many, loved his subjects. He refused to make the mistakes his father did, despite making many of his own, and was a resounding success.

Charles II is a man to be looked up to. He brought fun back to his subjects, fought against parliament at the same time as trying desperately to work with them to save himself from the same mistakes his subjects made. yet despite his setbacks he still knew how to have fun, he loved to party, loved the theatre and more so loved his woman. I can't help but adore this man and all he did for England.


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Review: The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis

I've said it time and time again, I tend not to read historical fiction because it normally ends up with me getting very, very angry over it. Now I have read some excellent historical fiction, most recently Hilary Mantel's "Bring Up The Bodies" which I have yet to review, but in my experience the majority of these books are full of huge inaccuracies and are quite frankly rubbish. Now I'm always on the look out for historical fiction that I may enjoy and sometimes do indulge as a bit of guilty pleasure and when I came across "The Borgia Bride" by Jeanne Kalogridis I thought it looked interesting. So I downloaded it to my kindle and began to read.

I wish I hadn't wasted my money.

From the outset I found it a chore to wade through a narrative that did not flow, the sentence structure was awful, the dialogue of the characters was wooden and if I am completely honest, I hated the main character which is a shame because historically Sancia of Naples is a very interesting character. She came across as really one dimensional and OK, so she fought off the Pope when he tried to grope her (in the story that is) but she seemed to fall head over heels in love with Cesare after setting eyes on him only once. Oh, and from what I read of Cesare in this book, he came across as too...too nice. Now then, I was barely able to get half way through this book before I deleted it from my kindle in utter disgust so I have no idea if the author made Cesare more...believable...than he is in the first part of the book and if I'm honest, I don't care.

What I really hated about this book was the fact that the author decided to indulge in the whole incest rumour that haunted the Borgia family. I've written about my views on this over and over again and am firmly in the camp of "The Borgias were not incestuous", and I have never ever seen a single shred of evidence that proves the rumours were true. I felt sick as I read a scene in which Sancia stood watching as Pope Alexander VI slept with his daughter Lucrezia. The scene wasn't graphic, and I honestly don't think the author would know how to write a decent sex scene anyway, but it was what was implied that turned my stomach. At that moment, I put the book down in a rage and vowed to never pick up a book by this author again.

If I'm honest this book may have put me off reading fiction about the Borgia family forever, even though I have heard that there are some very well written fiction books on the family. The thing that bugs me the most is that people these days still believe the incest rumours, and books like this do not help. In the same was that people believe Anne Boleyn had a sexual relationship with her brother thanks to Phillipa Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl", this book will only reinforce the public view that the Borgia family were depraved and enjoyed each others company far too much. 

I really hate writing bad reviews of books and always try to give the author the benefit of the doubt but with this one I just can't. If you are interested in the Borgia family I would recommend picking up a decent biography of them before even venturing into the fiction genre. And if you do fancy delving into the fiction of Renaissance Italy, then steer clear of this book. 

Friday, 25 May 2012

Cesare Borgia Part 3 - The Path To Marriage

Following Cesare's departure from the church and into the secular lifestyle, Alexander VI began looking for a wife for his son. Obviously as a Cardinal he was not allowed to marry, but now he has formally resigned his cardinal's hat he now had an important job to do - make good alliances for the good of the Papal states. This had been planned since before Cesare left for Naples to crown the King of Naples. But whilst Cesare was in Naples, playing at being peacemaker and discussing dynastic marriages for his sister as well as taking over his now dead brother's estates in the area; he began to take delight in the pleasures of Naples. It is rumoured that whilst there he fell in love with a woman named Maria Diaz Garlon and spent the stonking sum of 20,000 ducats just to win her favour! Yet Cesare was already proving to be a hugely extravagant man who loved luxury, which must have really gotten to King Frederigo of Naples who had to bear the expense of having Cesare as a guest.

Portrait of a man, said to be Cesare Borgia

Cesare also managed to pick up a long lasting souvenir of his trip to Naples - he had come down with Syphilis, known as the "French Disease" to many and the "Naples Disease" after Charles VIII's army picked it up in the town. But within a few months of getting back to Rome Cesare would have probably considered himself cured as the first stage of syphilis lasts between ten and ninety days. It was a disease that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

After returning to Rome on 5th September 1497 and meeting his with his father, it was decided that the hopes of a Borgia dynasty now rested on Cesare's shoulders. But at this point in time Cesare was still a cardinal and thus could not marry. The answer was a simple one, Cesare would renounce the cardinalate and Alexander VI would find his son a wife. There were even rumours of marrying Cesare off to his brothers wife Sancia, and making young Jofre a cardinal instead!

Following his sisters divorce from Giovanni Sforza which was formally agreed in the December of 1497, rumour would fly around Cesare once more. A man known as Perotto (Pedro Calderon) mysteriously disappeared and it was thought in February 1498 that the young man was in prison for getting Lucrezia pregnant. By 14th February it was apparent this was not the case, he had been thrown in the Tiber. It appeared that Lucrezia and Perotto had been involved in an affair, and nine months before Perotto's death Lucrezia went and stayed in the convent of San Sisto apparently exiled for her bad behaviour. Was she pregnant with Perotto's child at this time? Was she whisked away to the convent to hide her misconduct at a time when her father and brother wanted to prove her virginity for the sake of her divorce? There were rumours also that the body of one of Lucrezia's women, Pantasilea, was found with Perotto - an act of vengeance or removal of evidence of Lucrezia's misconduct? It did not take long for these deaths to be attributed to Cesare and it has to be said that this one is really rather likely - he would allow nothing to stand in his way of his plans for his sister, especially since they were so entwined with his own, and the fact that he was so very close to his sister. Did he see it as an act of dishonour on Perotto's part? Did he even have a part to play? It's a question that is very easy to surmise based on rumour and what is "likely" as opposed to full scale fact. The evidence we have is of course based on stories and rumours.

Paulo, lover of Lucrezia in "The Borgias". In real life his name was Perotto and he was definitely not killed by Juan. Because Juan had been dead a long time...

What of Cesare's marriage plans following this incident? For a long time Alexander pursued Naples for his son's bride, especially considering as how Lucrezia was married to Alfonso of Aragon this would only strengthen the ties between the two families. Yet, that idea fell flat after Frederigo refused to consider transferring Juan's old estates to Cesare to compensate for his loss of church revenues. Yet a different avenue was found and Alexander sent people over to France to talk things over with Charles VIII. This was interrupted when Charles died, but when his son Louis XII took over he had huge reasons for being on good terms with the Pope - mainly because he wanted a divorce from his wife. Alexander jumped at the opportunity and in June 1498 sent envoys to France to get the marriage dissolved. It was also agreed that Cesare would go to France where he would try and ensnare Carlotta of Aragon who was residing at the French court, and thus on 17th August 1498 he officially announced his decision to resign as a cardinal. That same day envoys from France arrived with the documents that would allow the formal Duke of Valencia to call himself the Duc de Valentinois, and from henceforth would be known to the Italians as "Il Valentino"

Before he left for France, it became obvious that Cesare was starting to worry about his looks. He was spending a lot of time in athletic sports, often violent ones but he was worrying about his appearance especially when he started wearing grander and grander clothing to try and divert attention from his health issues. At a time when it would have been so important to make a good impression, especially with the prospect of a bride on the horizon. Secondary syphilis started to show itself on his body, and worryingly, his face - and he was only around the age of 23! And as mentioned earlier, he probably would have considered himself cured when it disappeared after the first bout, it must have been pretty distressing. So little was known about this new venereal disease that the likelihood of Cesare knowing the unsightly rash would go away on its own within a couple of months was pretty slim.

Francois Arnaud as Cesare in The Borgias.

On 1st October 1498 Cesare took formal leave of his father and made his way to France. And when he arrived, ostentatiously dressed, he disgusted the French court. They were used to much plainer clothing. In Italy a person's outward appearance was essential to show how important you were, but in France this was considered much less important. And his time in France would change his outward show of importance and he would dress himself in black velvet at a time when he was more sure of himself than ever.

The woman that Cesare had his eye on was Carlotta of Aragon, and their meeting was not a comfortable one. She was determined not to marry him and made no secret of it saying she did not want to be known as "La Cardinala" - and she was already in love with another. He may have made a bad impression with Carlotta but he particularly won over King Louis XII as well as the rest of the French court. He was good looking, intelligent, loved feasting and dancing, and he got on well with the French. But he needed a result, he needed a bride and Carlotta kept refusing to budge. Louis even forced Carlotta into having dinner with him and Cesare to try and persuade her but to no effect. Cesare was dissapointed, and talked of leaving France, yet this was Cesare beginning to stretch out into politics on his own. After all, it was his first time away from his father in such a capacity and he himself became the driving force behind the French alliance.

It was Louis XII who ended up finding Cesare his bride. Her name was Charlotte D'Albret, an exceptionally beautiful woman and kinswoman to the French queen. Cesare was very enthusiastic over the match but what Charlotte thought is not recorded although she probably didn't have much choice. The marriage negotiations lasted over 6 weeks as Charlotte's father proving difficult, demanding to see the dispensation allowing Cesare to marriage and demanded many guarantees. At the end of April the negotiations were over and the marriage was agreed.

On 12th May 1499 Cesare and Charlotte were married in the Queen's closet at Blois. It consisted of a private ceremony followed by a huge court wedding feast. Huge silk tents were set up in the castle grounds for a huge feast. The usual lack of privacy before the marriage was consummated did of course happen, and the couple consummated their marriage that afternoon, and again that evening. There is a rather hilarious story in which Charlotte's ladies reported that Cesare was the victim of a practical joke in which he asked the apothecary for pills to pleasure his lady but the apothecary gave him laxatives. The poor boy couldn't stay off the Privy for the whole night! Whether this story is apocryphal or not, Cesare proudly wrote to his father the next day informing him that he did his duty well and often (apparently over 8 times!!). The honeymoon was spent at Blois, and Cesare gave Charlotte so many beautiful gifts (which had originally been meant for Carlotta of Aragon). Yet the couple did not stay together for long at all and "the most content man in the world" began to prepare to join the French attack on Milan. At the end of July, Cesare left his wife behind and joined Louis XII at Lyon to begin the invasion of Italy. He would never see his wife again.

Further reading

Bradford, S, 1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times, Butler & Tanner: London
Bradford, S, 2005, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, Penguin: London
Hibbert, C, 2008, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner: New York (originally published 1924)
Strathern, P, 2010, The Artist, The Philosopher and the Warrior, Vintage: London

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Cesare Borgia Part 2: From Cardinal to Soldier

Francois Arnaud as Cesare Borgia in Showtime's "The Borgias"

Following Rodrigo Borgia's ascension to the Throne of St Peter as Pope Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia was kept out of Rome on his father's orders. He stayed in Spoleto for a few months. His father certainly hadn't forgotten him however and within a week of his ascension Cesare was given the archbishopric of Valencia worth 16000 ducats per year. Just a few months after the ascension all of the Borgia children were back in Rome, and when Cesare returned he took up residence in a grand palace in the Borgo, a newly built quarter around the Vatican. The 17 year old Cesare though seemingly had the good sense to not let his new importance go to his head, unlike his brother Juan who certainly wasn't being modest and spent much of his time in the limelight. Even at such an early stage in his career, Cesare had no inclination towards the priesthood and Boccaccio commented that his manner was that of "a son of a great Prince; above all he is merry and fond of society". This quote certainly doesn't conjure up images of Cesare the evil Military Commander that have filtered down to us throughout the years!

Both Cesare and Juan had their place in their fathers plans and as mentioned in the previous post Cesare was always meant for the Church whilst Juan would be in the military. By early February 1493 the Pope's plans for his sons were becoming evident and rumours were abound that Juan, Duke of Gandia, would be made Gonfaloniere of the Papal Armies and Cesare would be made a Cardinal. The main issue that Alexander had to deal with in making Cesare a Cardinal was the issue of his illegitimacy on on 20th September 1493 he issues a papal bull stating that Cesare was in fact the legitimate son of Vanozza De Cattanei and her husband Domenico. On the same day he issued a secret bull testifying that Cesare was his own son! This meant that the cardinals Pallavicini and Orsini who had been examining Cesare's status, could say that he was legitimate and thus elligable to join the College of Cardinals. As should have been expected, Cesare's joining of the College caused an uproar - when Guiliano Della Rovere (later Pope Julius II) heard the news he gave a massive yell of rage and took to his bed with a fever, saying that he would not allow the College to be so abused. Cesare was barely 18 years old when he was invested into his Cardinal robes and still hadn't taken Holy Orders. And the main reason behind Giuliano's rage was that he and his followers believed the new nominations, not only of Alexander's Son but also that of Ippolito D'Este who was not yet 15 and Alessandro Farnese the brother of Alexander's mistress Giulia, were a move by the Pope to fill the College with non-Italians. The College voted in consistory on 20th September and the decision had been close - 10 cardinal's opposed allowing the nominees in whilst 11 agreed with the Pope. On 17th October Cesare made a formal entry into Rome to take up his seat as Cardinal of Valencia and councillor to his father.

For a long time Cesare stayed by his fathers side working on Church business and supporting his father in family business. For example whilst Juan was in Spain (getting married), Alexander received reports of Juan's misbehaviour, his poor treatment of his new wife and gambling. Cesare wrote to his brother from Orvieto saying that whilst he didn't really believe the reports he advised Juan to make sure only good reports came back to them.

1494 was a year that proved to be huge for Italy - up until that point Italy had been under threat of invasion from Charles VIII of France over the country of Naples. Charles had his eye on Naples for a long time, believing that it belonged to France. When King Ferrante of Naples died in January 1494, Charles sent an envoy to Rome saying that if the Pope favoured Ferrante's son Alfonso over himself then there would be trouble. Charles had also been in talks with Della Rovere. On 17th March Charles officially announced that he would invade Italy and despite the cardinals who opposed Alexander fleeing to Charles' side, Alexander kept on strengthening his bonds with Naples. Agreement was reached between the Pope and Alfonso of Naples - Alfonso would be crowned King of Naples and little Jofre was married to Sancia, given the title of Prince of Squillace and 40000 ducats as an annual income! Yet the threat of France did not go away, and by 18th December 1494 the French were at Rome. Cesare waited in the Vatican with his father. On Christmas Day Alexander told the cardinals that he decided to admit the French King into Rome and that night 3 envoys arrived in the City. Now all Cesare and Alexander could do was wait for Charles to enter the city. He chose his moment on 31st December, St Silvester's Day and talks began. Charles demanded that Cesare accompany to him on his trip to Naples and that the Castel Sant Angelo be handed over to him. The Pope refused, invoking the French King's wrath, and Cesare, Alexander and four Cardinals fled through the underground passages from the Vatican to the Castello. On 10th January the Pope capitulated after a section of the castello walls collapsed and killed three guards. On 15th January an agreement was signed; Cesare would go with Charles to Naples for three months, free passage was to be allowed throughout the Papal states and a pardon was to be given to the churchmen and nobles who had rebelled against the Pope. On 28th January Charles, Cesare and the army set out for Naples and it is during this trip that we see the first signs of the infamous Cesare. On 30th, just two days later whilst guests of Della Rovere at Velletri Charles received news that Cesare Borgia was missing, that he had escaped dressed as a groom of the Royal stables. It was said that he travelled so quickly that he was able to stay that night in Rome. He ended up going to Spoleto the next day. Charles flew into a rage, screaming, "All Italians are dirty dogs and the Holy Father is as bad as the worst of them!". The Pope denied he had anything to do with his Son's escape but I can imagine that the escape was secretly agreed between them before Cesare had even left! More bad news was to get to Charles though, when it was found that the chests taken on the journey had been emptied  of their gold and jewels. This daring escape was one that would set him up nicely for his future career, showing all the hallmarks he would become famous for: disguise, secrecy as well as a location very cleverly picked to snub both the French king and Della Rovere!

Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia

The years 1494-95 proved to be a huge learning curve for Cesare in which he gained first hand experience of politics, he had seen the power of the French army, watched as the Kingdom of Naples fell before the might of France. And he had watched as his father had outplayed the French, despite the young King having a massive army at his back. By this point, he was just 20 and his career was just getting started. He had gained a sense of power and an inate fascination with military tactics, and it was following this when Cesare Borgia would make his move.

The rivalry between Cesare and his brother Juan is the stuff of legend. After all, Juan was the son destined for the military, the son who had been made Gonfaloniere of the Papal armies and that was everything Cesare wanted. Instead he was stuck in Cardinal robes. In August 1496 Juan returned to Rome from Spain, leaving his pregnant wife and young son where they were. He arrived dressed ostentatiously, with a hat hung with pearls as well as a Turkish mantle hung with gold brocade. He had not outgrown his love of nice clothes it seemed. The prodigal son had returned, and just one month after his arrival it was reported that "these sons of the Pope are consumed with envy of each other". Alexander doted on Juan, despite the fact that he relied on Cesare. But with Juan back in the picture, Cesare was no longer his fathers only right hand man.

David Oakes as Juan Borgia, Duke of Gandia in Showtime's "The Borgias"

On 8th June 1497 Alexander announced two new appointments for his sons. Cesare was made Legate for the coronation of the new King of Naples whist Juan was given the Duchy of Benevento as well as the cities of Terracina and Pontecorvo. This caused resentment, and Juan became the target of anti Borgia hostility particularly from the Orsini family after Juan had been involved in an initiative to take back the Orsini lands. Just one week later, 14th June, Juan disappeared. That very afternoon Cesare and Juan rode to have supper with their mother, returning as night was falling. As they reached the bridge leading to the Castel Sant Angelo Juan told his brother that he must leave them and go elsewhere on his own. According to a report given later both Juan and Cesare's servants tried to tell him not to go alone but to no avail but Juan was adamant. All he did was send a groom back for his light armour. After he took his leave, a masked man got on the mule behind Juan and they rode off together. Juan's groom was attacked on his way to the Vatican to get Juan's armour but returned to wait for his master despite his stab wounds. But when Juan did not return the groom returned to the palace thinking that Juan was spending the night with a young lady. Thus the incident was not reported that night to the Pope. The next morning Juan's servants told the Pope that he had not returned, but Alexander wasn't overly worried because Juan often did such things. Worry began to set in as the day wore on and in the evening Cesare was summoned before his father to tell him where Juan was. Cesare told him what had happened to the groom and the Pope panicked, ordering a search to be made. On Friday 16th the body of a young man was pulled from the River Tiber near the church of Santa Maria Del Popolo. He was fully clothed, and a purse hung at his belt carrying 30 ducats. The body was that of Juan, covered in 9 stab wounds. Rumour flew around the city, who had killed Juan Borgia, Duke of Gandia? The Orsini's were blamed due to the recent fighting, as well as the Sforza family (but the Pope absolved them of the crime). A week later though, the search for Juan's murderer was called off. Did the pope know something? Bad blood between Cesare and Juan was mentioned by various envoys, and the strange masked man is mentioned in all contemporary accounts of what happened. At the time though Cesare was not immediately thought of, blame lay mainly on the Orsini family. A year later though rumours started in Venice that Cesare was responsible - although it should be noted that the Orsini had many friends in Venice. This story began to believed though especially by Juan's widow Maria, as well as Queen Isabella of Spain. The story began to take form as it spread and it was said that Cesare was so jealous of his brothers position and that Lucrezia had more affection for Juan that he had him killed and thrown in the Tiber. But was Cesare capable of killing his own brother? He would have been if he had something to gain from it, which he did. He gained massively from his brother's death but there is absolutely NO contemporary evidence to support that Cesare was responsible. The story rests on rumours of alleged jealousy, the supposed incestuous relationship with Lucrezia and the fact that Cesare profited from the death of his brother. No contemporary accounts at all point the finger of blame at Cesare.

In fact, Cesare did not benefit from Juan's death for over a year and he remained in the church until 17th August 1498 when he resigned as a Cardinal and embarked on a secular career in the military.

Further reading

Bradford, S, 1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times, Butler & Tanner: London
Bradford, S, 2005, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, Penguin: London
Hibbert, C, 2008, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner: New York (originally published 1924
Strathern, P, 2010, The Artist, The Philosopher and the Warrior, Vintage: London

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Cesare Borgia: Part 1 - Early Life

Cesare and Micheletto in Showtime's "The Borgias"

I seem to have a bit of a thing for Cesare Borgia, I just can't help myself. The man is an enigma, horrifically vilified yet he was the only man to have ever resigned from the College of Cardinals, he was exceptionally intelligent and one of the best military leaders that had ever lived. He made mistakes, and he made so many enemies yet to me, he is quite possibly one of the most, if not THE most, fascinating men in history. Maybe it's because he's the archetypal bad boy, or maybe it's because of how Francois Arnaud plays him in The Borgias. I don't know, but I thought that this man deserved a series of posts about his life, his relationships, and all the people that he thought it would be fun to murder. Because that's what he did. Oh, and syphilis because he had that too. I will warn you in advance that these posts will probably end up with me going on...and on...and on about how perfect I think Cesare was and how the whole incest thing is made up. Hopefully though there will be more proper historical stuff than blatant fangirling, but we shall see. The plan is, like I have done in my previous mini series on Nell Gwynne and Barbara Villiers, to split Cesare's life up into sections starting with his early life and finishing with his untimely death on the field of battle.

Cesare Borgia, bastard son of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia and the Courtesan Vanozza de Cattanei was born in Rome and some point between September 1475 and April 1476. Unfortunately, as is often the case we do not know his exact date of birth. Cesare's mother Vanozza was actually married to a man by the name of Domenico Gianozzo for the sheer sake of appearances and they had been married some time before Cesare was born. Vanozza had however been Rodrigo's mistress for at least two years previous to the marriage so there was no doubt whatsoever that Cesare was Rodrigo's son. As we know, the Borgia family were originally from Spain until in 1444 Cesare's Great-Uncle Alonso travelled to Rome to become a Cardinal. Rodrigo Borgia however was in his youth an incredibly handsome young man (you would never guess from the portraits of him that survive!) with boundless energy. He had a great sense of humour but got bored very easily and he loved, more than anything, beautiful women. Rodrigo never ever attempted to conceal his love of women, even when he became Pope Alexander VI when he took Giulia Farnese as his mistress. He was also a man to be reckoned with as he would prove time and again as Pope.

Joanne Whalley as Vanozza in Showtime's "The Borgias"

Vanozza went on to bear Rodrigo three more children, the names of which are synonymous with the infamous Borgia family: Lucrezia, Juan (Giovanni) and Jofre - although Rodrigo at first did not recognise Jofre as his own. The children were not brought up in their fathers house; as Rodrigo was a Cardinal it would not be seemly for him to fully acknowledge his illegitimate children. Cesare and Juan were brought up together in the same house both with their own household as would befit sons of the Church. Lucrezia spent the first years of her life with her mother before moving to the house of his first cousin Adriana De Mila. The children of course saw much of their father as he loved them dearly, and Rodrigo planned fully for his sons futures. Juan was destined to be a soldier whist Cesare would go into the Church. Jofre however would be used as a pawn by his father in marriage treaties to form alliances. Lucrezia of course would take up a good marriage. They were a tight family unit, and both Cesare and Lucrezia inherited from Rodrigo his resilience, strength and to some extent his good spirits. Cesare was described as having a "head most beautiful" and whilst there is no surviving contemporary portrait the one that does exist and is said to be of Cesare shows a young man with a startling resemblance to his mother.

Juan however was seen as an exceptionally spoiled child. He was said to have looked a lot like Cesare except his hair was lighter. He was handsome, incredibly vain and self indulgent, lacking Cesare's self control. It was an attitude that would earn his many enemies and eventually lead to his death. Lucrezia however was exceptionally beautiful and good natured, the "darling of the family". Both Cesare and his father adored her and her feminine, intelligent charm. 

David Oakes as Juan in Showtime's "The Borgias"

A Lady said to be Lucrezia Borgia

Now we have a brief background of Cesare and his family, it's time to look in a bit more depth at his early life. As we have already mentioned he was destined for a career in the church as laid down by his father. He would have started his education at an early age where he learnt Greek, Italian, French, Latin, arithmetic, geometry, music and drawing. Of course he could already speak and write Spanish. As early as 1481 at the age of just 6 years old Cesare was holding church benefices. At the age of 7 Cesare was made apostolic protonotary by Sixtus IV and in the July of 1482 he was given a canonry in his fathers bishopric of Valencia as well as becoming archdeacon of Jatvia and rector of Gandia. Whilst he was not yet of an age to take an active part in these benefices, the money went straught to Rodrigo for Cesare's maintenance and education. For a child not yet 8 years old, that is a lot of church honours. By the age of 14 when he became a man, and for the next 3 years would complete his education at the Universities of Perugia and Piza. At Perugia he would see get his first experience at the harsh political life, and his eyes would open to the true position of how things stood in the States of the Church. Here he would also meet a man who would later become his condotierre, Gian Paulo of the unruly Baglioni family. In 1491 Cesare received more benefices that would advance his career in the church - in the September he received the bishopric of Pamplona, the ancient capital of Navarre and he was only 15. It caused an uproar with the people in his new bishopric as he had not yet taken holy orders and they believed the only reason he was given the bishopric was because of his father, the Cardinal. Rodrigo tried to calm them, saying Cesare was given the bishopric based on his merits, whilst Cesare wrote a hasty letter to them, giving them a representative of his to look after them. Yet the people of Navarre remained rebellious until Pope Innocent intervened.

After two years in Perugia, Cesare went to the university of Pisa where he studied for his doctorate in Law. This was also the territory of the powerful Medici family and Rodrigo wanted to be on good terms with them. Rodrigo wrote to Lorenzo De' Medici (The Magnificent) asking that Cesare be placed under his protection. Lorenzo's second son Giovanni was also destined for the church, yet the two did not end up being friends. This was mainly down to the style in which Cesare lived, as well as the rivalry between the two boys. Cesare was a brilliant student, whereas Giovanni was not so much. Cesare was awarded his doctorate long before Giovanni; and thus it is likely that Giovanni resented the bastard son of the Spanish Cardinal. 

In 1492, Pope Innocent's health began to decline and this was Rodrigo's hour. By July Innocent was dead and the Cardinals went into conclave. At this point Cesare would have been kept abreast of the news from Rome, knowing that his family's future hung in the balance. At the age of 61 this was Rodrigo's last chance at the papacy although his success certainly wasn't definite - Rodrigo had little to no support, and his Spanish blood was seen as a huge set back. This was when Rodrigo played his cards, he began to offer various offices to his colleagues and pay them off - there is one story of four mules loaded with gold and silver were seen moving from Rodrigo's palace in Rome to Cardinal Ascanio Sforza's palace, and Sforza was also offered the vice chancellorship. On the 11th August, thanks to his wheeling and dealing, Rodrigo Borgia was elected as Pope. And the next morning a courier brought the news to Cesare who hurried back to Piza to await his fathers orders. Ten days later he was at the castle of Spoleto - although he did not attend his fathers coronation (which sadly The Borgias got wrong!), his new life was about to begin and at the tender age of 18 years old he was made Cardinal, much to the upset of the church.

Further reading

Bradford, S, 1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life & Times, Butler & Tanner: London
Bradford, S, 2005, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love and Death in Renaissance Italy, Penguin: London
Hibbert, C, 2008, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner: New York (originally published 1924
Strathern, P, 2010, The Artist, The Philosopher and the Warrior, Vintage: London

Friday, 11 May 2012

Kindley Sort of Feelings

I can't believe I've done this...

Last night I brought myself a kindle...

For the longest time I was so against the Kindle it was unreal. Both my mum and my sister got one a couple of Christmases ago and were raving about how awesome they were, and how I should get one because of all the free book goodness and it holds huge amount of books and is lighter than lugging a library around with you. But I was quite happy with my paper books, thank you very much. Instead I scoured charity shops for used books and raided Amazon marketplace of their cheap books.

But then I got some news. News that I will have to keep very hush hush until I'm allowed to say something but it is exciting. VERY EXCITING. That and I realised that my bookcases (yes, plural) were fit to burst and I just didn't have any more room for normal books. Oh, and I found Samuel Pepys' diary as a free Kindle e-book as well as a plethora of historic non fiction goodness, all for free or if not free then relatively cheap.

So last night, I sat there and went against everything I had ever believed in and brought myself a kindle. I didn't go for the super duper all singing, all dancing 3g touch screen one because I don't need it. And I don't need a keyboard either, so I just got the bog standard kindle that can fit 1.500 books on it. And it was relatively cheap too, considering as how many books you can fit on it. And the best thing is I don't have to worry about breaking the bank on books because looking through the amazon site, they are so cheap. I have spent an absolute fortune on books in the past year, so this will be a great opportunity for me to save some much needed mulah and keep my library growing. Oh don't get me wrong, I will ALWAYS prefer paper books and keep on growing the library that I will eventually have on display in my very own office when I'm lecturing in some university but for now, this will do nicely.

And I won't have to lug a billion heavy books with me when I go to Rome.

Which has to be a good thing.

I do however have to apologise to my future Kindle for all the history feels it will have sobbed all over it, particularly when it comes to my wonderful English Civil War and Restoration. Oh, and when I download Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, which will be one of the first things I buy for it. And novels. I don't read enough novels.

I'm a little nervous about how I'll feel about it when it arrives. Right now I kind of hate the fact that I've gone against myself and got myself one when I was so vehement about them before. Who knows, maybe I'll fall head over heels in love with it in time.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Post Grad History Woes

As I was sat falling asleep over my strawberry yogurt on my lunch break today I started thinking about future prospects that would involve me, and lots of history. Now you all know I got my BA in Archaeology some time ago now and ever since then I've been mooching about, sobbing grossly over the fact that I miss learning about stuff. That and I really REALLY want to sit down and write another dissertation. I actually kid you not, I thoroughly enjoyed writing my BA dissertation. I must be mad!

I made the decision a while ago that I wanted to move from Archaeology and concentrate fully on history. Oh don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with digging massive holes everywhere and then dropping your lunch in a Roman field ditch but after suffering the disappointment of being a field archaeologist during a recession, I though that maybe I should indulge my love of history a bit more. And indulge I did...

Yes, yes I know there are copies of The Hunger Games trilogy on that shelf but even those of us who adore historical non-fiction need to have a break every now and then. But I digress. I now have two bookshelves full to bursting with (mostly) history books that concentrate on the Seventeenth Century. There are a few Tudor books in there, mostly relating to the later years of the era and my collection of Italian Renaissance books is growing considerably too.

I promise this is going somewhere.

When I got home from work this evening, barely more awake than I was at lunchtime and surprisingly not covered in strawberry yogurt, I sat down and had a look at some post grad history courses in my area. I plan on staying in the area where I live because we both hold down full time jobs and I abhor moving. That and I still plan on working full time whilst studying. It is possible, I promise...I hope. My problem came though when many of the modules available in the MA courses just didn't jump out at me, many of them covering the late 18th Century up to pretty much modern day. That was when I found a course that involves Medieval stuff, and the Renaissance. I almost jumped out of my seat. You know how much I love the Borgia family, and I have read a bit around the Medici too, and what with heading to Rome in July too. It is a fascinating culture. And one I would jump at the chance to study. Whilst it is not the Seventeenth Century, I still adore the Renaissance (and am prepared to read a lot more on the Medieval period too, does anyone have any book recommendations? Please do email me if so!) and this honestly sounds like my perfect course.

The next job is working out a) how I'm gonna pay for said course and b) how I'll manage to work full time around it.

This is it you guys, decision made (I think, I hope...I'd better not change my mind again!). Next stop, application. I'll keep you updated.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Amazing Life of Prince Rupert of the Rhine (In Bullet Points)

When I sat down to write this blog post, it was originally going to a book review of of Charles Spencer's "Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier". However as any followers of mine on twitter will attest to, when I finished the book yesterday I went on a rampage about how much I love the Rhineland Prince, and listed in a barrage of tweets WHY I love him so much. And I also warned people that this blog post may happen. I'm not sorry.

Anyway, I first of all wanted to thank Charles Spencer for providing me with lots of extra information about this fascinating man in the history of the Seventeenth Century. Oh don't get me wrong, I knew of Prince Rupert loooong before I picked up a book about him and that is all down to my days in the Sealed Knot, and plenty of beer tent drinking with Prince Rupert's Blewcoats! And in my reading around The English Civil War, the name of this exceptional military man just kept on popping up. Whether it be with fantastic military victories, Cavalry charges worthy of a song or the hateful propaganda poured out by Parliament; there was something incredibly special about Prince Rupert of the Rhine. And well...I guess you will all know already that I have one hell of a thing for Rupert because of the massive picture of him in the header image up there!

Reading Spencer's biography of Rupert was an eye opener for me, and has really peaked my interest. And so this post is going to talk about WHY I have such a thing for this dashing, Cavalier poster boy. And I'm going to do bullet points just because if I didn't then this post would end up being a million times longer. And each point, I hope, will show exactly how awesome (...oh god did I really just use the word awesome in a history blog post? I regret absolutely nothing) Prince Rupert was.
  • He was the nephew of Charles I - what's not to like?
  • Him and his family ended up in exile after his parents took over Bohemia where they ruled for just one season, which is why his parents Frederick V and Elizabeth of Bohemia are so often called the "Winter King & Queen". After the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II began advancing on Prague in 1619 just a few months after Rupert's birth, the family were forced to flee. And poor baby Rupert was almost left behind! A court servant ending up throwing him into one of the carriages at the last minute!
  • They escaped to The Hague, where Rupert grew up, earning himself the nickname "Rupert the Devil" due to being incredibly mischievous.
  • By the age of 14, Rupert had become a soldier, fighting in the Siege of Rheinberg in 1633, and by 1635 had become a member of the Prince of Orange's lifeguards. And during these years he earned himself a reputation for fearlessness in battle!
  • In 1638 Rupert was captured during the Invasion of Westphalia, and imprisoned in Linz where his captors tried to convert him to Catholicism - Rupert refused, he was Calvinist and proud, and kept on refusing even when he was told he could go free if he converted.
  • His captors ended up liking him though, and gave him a white poodle which he named "Boye"
  • He was released in 1641 after promising never to take up arms against the Emperor again and went to England.
  • He was appointed General of the Horse in 1642 by his uncle King Charles and ended up recruiting over 3000 men by the September. He won an astounding success at Powick Bridge after leading a surprise Cavalry charge.
  • He played a key role at Edgehill, but he ended up arguing with another commander, making a swift cavalry charge but a lack of discipline in the ranks meant that he was unable to bring the troops back to the field. Edgehill could have been won by the Royalist, but it ended up with no clear victor.
  • In 1643, he took Bristol, which became one of his best victories.
  • It was at this point that Parliament really feared him. And he became a big issue in potential peace negotiations. And the propaganda against him kept on coming, some said he could even dodge bullets!
  • During his later years in the wars though, he managed to make enemies. He may have been a great military man but he was never able to grasp the ways of the courtier, and had a very quick temper. He managed to have a huge falling out with George Digby, a favourite of King Charles, and this would end up haunting him for many years.
  • At the battle of Marston Moor, 1644, Rupert commanded much of the Royalist army which ended up being a huge defeat. Rupert, and lack of clear communication, were blamed.
  • After the Battle of Naseby, Rupert was one of the few Royalists to realise that actually, the war would be Parliament's and he tried his best to make his uncle see that. He urged his uncle to vie for peace but Digby got in the way of this! In 1645, Rupert was back at Bristol and overwhelmed by Parliament - he surrendered it in the September. Charles (influenced by Digby?) dismissed Rupert from his service.
  • But Rupert being Rupert managed to convince his Uncle to hold a court martial to see is he had in fact been negligent in letting go of Bristol. After meeting with the King, it was decided that actually, Rupert had been the one in the right. Yet, Charles and Rupert ended up arguing about the fate of the Governor of Newark. And so Rupert resigned. 
  • He ended up in France where he ended up fighting for Louis XIV, although he was quite clear in the fact that if his uncle wanted him, he would go back to England. Now that's loyalty!
  • The main problem that Rupert had while he was in France was that the French court was dominated by his Aunt, Queen Henrietta Maria (who had a bit of a dislike for her Nephew) and her favourite Digby. I can imagine Rupert seething as he first came into contact with Digby upon entering the French court. So Rupert moved on and accepted a commission from Anne of Austria to fight for Louis. From 1647 Rupert fought with De Gassion, taking the fortress of La Bassee after a three week siege. Sadly not long after, Rupert and De Gassion were taken unawares by the Spanish - Rupert was shot in the head and very badly injured. It was an injury that would affect him for the rest of his life. Whilst Rupert was recovering, De Gassion was killed in combat.
  • After this Rupert returned to the service of his Uncle, where he joined the Navy. At the time, Charles was a prisoner on the Isle of Wight and Rupert argued that the fleet should be used to rescue Charles. In the fleet, discipline was lacking and many ships ended up turning tail and joining the other side!
  • After a reconciliation with his uncle, Rupert took command of the naval fleet himself. His command took him many many places. It was in Ireland that he learned of the execution of his Uncle. But he sailed on, determined to keep on fighting for the Royalist cause and the new King Charles II. These years took him as far as the Caribbean as a privateer (pirate), though he was often pursued by Parliamentary ships under the command of Robert Blake. 
  • During the trip, Rupert almost lost his life in a storm in which his ship The Constant Reformation was shipwrecked. He was determined to go down with his men, except they ended up pushing him into a lifeboat and sending him across to his brother Prince Maurice. 333 lives were lost on that ship as well as a lot of treasure. Not long afterwards, in another storm as they sailed for the Virgin Islands, a hurricane scattered the remaining ships. The Defiance which was captained by Prince Maurice went missing and was never found. Rupert refused for a long time to believe that his brother was dead, although it was certain. And Maurice's death left a hole in Rupert's heart that would never be filled.
  • in 1653 Rupert returned to France and the court of the exiled Charles II. But his presence caused problems, as he apparently became involved in a plot to assassinate Oliver Cromwell in 1654 and many in the court including Clarendon saw Rupert as an obstacle to peace.
  • in 1655 Rupert left for Germany, where he visited his brother Charles-Louis. Relations broke down though and they parted on bad terms in 1657 and he took up employment with Ferdinand III.
  • However after Charles II's restoration, Rupert moved permanently to England (with lots of wine!) and was granted a large pension by his cousin and ended up being made Constable of Windsor Castle in 1668. He continued his work with the Navy, fighting in the Dutch Wars.
  • His old head wound began to flare up again and Rupert ended up undergoing trephanning TWICE to sort the problem out. This surgery had changed little since it had first been used by people in prehistory, and the survival rate was low. But survive, he did. And after retiring from active naval service in the 1670's he began to work very closely with the Royal Society, having long had an interest in science. Much of his scientific work ended up being military, and he is credited with early versions of the machine gun, revolver and torpedo. He also became involved in the colonisation of North America, dealing in trade and also the slave trade, he was also made First Governor of "Rupert's Land", an absolutely huge expanse of North America, though he never set foot there.
  • Towards the end of his life, Rupert became romantically involved with the actress Peg Hughes - he never married her but ended up falling so head over heels in love with her that he almost became the laughing stock of court. Despite never marrying Peg, Rupert openly acknowledged their daughter Ruperta (born 1673), and enjoyed the family lifestyle.
  • In November 1682, Rupert died of pleurisy at his house in Westminster.  He was buried in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey and given a magnificent state funeral.
Most people will think of the English Civil War when they hear Rupert's name and for a long time I was the same. But his life was absolutely remarkable and he ended up staying in the military well past his 50th year. Not only had he been part of the army and Navy, but he had been a pirate as well as taking part in science via the Royal Society and being hugely involved in the colonisation of America. And THAT is why I have such a thing for him.

Further Reading
Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier - Charles Spencer

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Review: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

I was kindly sent a copy of this book by the author Nancy Bilyeau and her publishers after winning a giveaway on English Historical Fiction Authors. It arrived on Thursday, and by Friday evening I had finished it - and now I'm not normally one to coin this phrase but I just couldn't put it down. Now you guys know me, I'm not normally one to break into historical fiction if I can help it as more often than not it disappoints me - the only exceptions recently have been Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" and Ken Follet's "Pillars of the Earth" and normally I steer very very clear of Tudor fiction (please see Tired Of The Tudors, and you'll understand why). "The Crown" is Bilyeau's debut novel, and I have to say, she has done a very good job. Whilst the book isn't perfect, with some inaccuracies, the fast paced storyline and exceptionally well developed characters kept me hooked from the first page right until the last. And I have to say it was a much needed break from my heavier non fiction that I've been reading lately.

First of all, the story is set within Dartford priory in Kent, which was the only house of Dominican Nuns in England., and the main character is Sister Joanna, or Joanna Stafford. Joanna is part of a much bigger family unit, related to the executed Duke of Buckingham and family ties to the Duke of Norfolk...and thus also a family connection to Henry VIII! But why do we encounter Stafford in a priory as a Novice? Quite simply, she had agreed to the dying Queen/Dowager Princess of Wales Katherine of Aragon, that she would take vows due to a huge sense of kinship, and her own huge religious faith. I found Stafford a hugely interesting character from the get go, she came across as hugely intelligent and incredibly loyal to her friends. The story is set amongst the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, an exceptionally turbulent time for England, and after being arrested at the public burning of her cousin, Joanna finds herself embroiled in a quest for a lost Anglo-Saxon artifact. And at the same time, as the story unfolds, we get a sense of how the dissolution affected not only those who were losing their homes but normal people too - there was one part of the book where Joanna was making her way out of the priory (and I'll try not to give away any spoilers) only to be greeted with hostile looks and words. It was incredibly evocative, and I found myself feeling deeply for the characters.

Bilyeau does a fantastic job with her writing too, considering the massive cast of characters in the book and you find herself creating ties to each character for different reasons, even if they are only briefly mentioned. For instance, I found myself particularly to like John the Stable Boy - he was just awesome (and again I won't go into too much detail of why because spoilers) and even with the characters who were the bad guys as it were, I found myself finding parts of them that I liked. The characters were not inherently good or evil, they were just human. And I liked that characterisation. It helped that the narrative was detailed, conveying a believable view of Tudor England, and hugely evocative visions of the frightening Tower of London; yet not too detailed to spend pages and pages talking about what someones shoe looked like (trust me, I've read books like this - and you get bored very quickly!). The story was fast paced and exciting, and it was that as well as the well rounded characters that meant I just could not put it down. Which has to be a good thing right?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and cannot thank the author and her publishers enough for sending me a copy. I will certainly be keeping an eye out for further work by this promising author. For anyone who likes Tudor fiction then I definitely recommend picking up this book, particularly if you like historical mysteries, and as I described it to my partner last night "It was like a historical Da Vinci Code only written a lot better, much more exciting, and with better characters...and without anything to do with Da Vinci!". Sums it up nicely I think.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Look What The Postman Brought Me

It took me ages to take this picture. My camera just didn't want to play ball!

After reading a post over at MadameGuillotine yesterday morning, I had to check out the link that pointed to the Charles II coin. So off I toddled to RubyLane, a rather fantastic online antique shop, and there it was in all it's glory. I didn't think twice as I hit the purchase button, paid the $60 (thank you credit card, I'm sorry you have taken a bashing these past few days what with Hampton Court as well but shhhh, I only live once!) and waited with baited breath.

And then, about half an hour ago there was a knock on my front door and I was handed a parcel. Which I of course promptly tore open and what should I find inside? The most beautiful, tiny, solid silver three pence from Charles II's reign.

Isn't it just the prettiest little thing you have ever seen? According to the website it dates from 1670-84, with the front face showing the bust of Charles II, and the words (which you can just make out) Carolus II Dei Gratia which means Charles II by the Grace of God. On the back of the coin which is very very worn away, you can just make out the words MAG BR FRA ET HIB REX which means King of Great Britain, France and Ireland. The emblem, which is quite hard to make out, is of three intertwined "C''s topped by a crown with the date on top of it. The date is one that you can just about make out and thanks to staring at it copiously for a good few minutes, and zooming in on the websites pictures I can say that it does indeed say "16-9", and if the dating is correct (which I don't doubt at all) then it can only date from 1679! During 1679 Charles II disbanded Parliament, The Habeus Corpus Act was passed in the UK and it was the year of the supposed Meal Tub Plot, a non existent plot invented by Thomas Dangerfield to stop James Duke of York from ascending to the throne after Charles II's death!

Doing a bit of digging online, I managed to find a better picture of the back of this coin:

According to the many coin websites I've looked at this morning (hey, don't judge me, I was researching the pretty!) this coin would not have been hand struck as coins had been for a very long time. Hammered coins involved a blank coin being places between two dies (or in my language, molds) and then bashed with a hammer. With milled coins, they were basically cut and imprinted with a machine and the edges were decorated - which meant that it could be shown coins had not been clipped, basically when some nasty little thief cut off a load of the metal to sell for himself. Milled coins first came fully into use around 1662 when they completely took over from the old school hammered coins.

I just want to say as well, whilst mooching around having a look at other examples of this gorgeous little three pence piece, that I am really quite shocked at how much these can be sold for online. Some of them go for well over £200, looks like I got myself a bargain!

I will certainly treasure this little beauty, and I'm not sure as yet whether I'll get a chain and wear it or whether I'll keep it safe somewhere. It seems a shame to have it locked away somewhere when it's lasted for so long and would have spent it's time passing through the hands of the people of Restoration England. Imagine how many people have touched it, what they bought with that coin. Amazing.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Hampton Court Take Two

So as I'm sure you're all aware from the amount I've been harping on and on about it on twitter and facebook for the past few weeks that yesterday I went to Hampton Court. The main reason for the visit was to see the Wild, the Beautiful & The Damned, all about sex and beauty at the Court of Charles II. But of course, Hampton Court isn't all about that and there was plenty of other stuff to see and do. So here we go, complete with lots and lots of photos!

Of course, Hampton Court is full of Tudor bits and bobs and is best known as "the home of Henry VIII", as well as the stories that haunt the entire Palace. The one that always gets me is that Hampton Court is where Henry found out that Katherine Howard was having it away with other men, thanks to Cranmer leaving him a note in the Chapel Royal. Katherine was confined to her chambers (the staff reckon this was where Mary II's chambers now are) and she ran down the gallery where all the Tudor Portraits now hang, screaming out for him. Is this a true story? Who knows, but there are plenty of stories about visitors getting creeped out in the gallery, and staff members noticing some funny goings on!

Hung along the so called Haunted Gallery are an absolute cornucopia of Tudor portraits, including the famous family portrait, the famous portrait of the young Edward VI and the well known face of Henry VII.

At the end of this gallery you have the Great Watching Chamber. When we were here last time, a dude dressed up as Henry VIII received petitions in here, and I had the honour of asking him to help my "unmarried sister" find a husband. Today there were no costumed interpreters (they were too busy in the courtyard) but the room still managed to take my breath away.

Just off from here is the Great Hall, where the royalty would have eaten their dinner/massive banquets. My photos of the Hall didn't come out very well, but here goes...

Now then, earlier on I mentioned costumed interpreters. We found these in Clock Court...

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn decided to have a full scale argument about the fact Katherine of Aragon was still making his shirts! After Anne stormed off, Henry just couldn't work out what he had done wrong and wandered off leaving George Boleyn to get help from the audience! Later on, Anne was much happier as Katherine was no longer allowed to make his shirts and she was going to made Marquess of Pembroke. I did wonder whether George took forward my suggestion of flowers!

After lunch we decided to take a walk around the Gardens because the weather was actually AMAZING and last time we were there it was raining too hard to even think about going for a walk around them. I was absolutely stunned at their beauty. And it was Charles II who introduced the central avenue of trees!

After this, we headed back inside and discovered a whole wing of the Palace that we had never seen before. I spotted a sign pointing to William III's apartments leading to an extraordinarily grand staircase. Now the staircase I had seen before but we hadn't gone up there, which is a shame because I was completely in awe seeing these wonderful rooms.

At first I thought this was a painting of a group of people in the room where we were standing. But at a closer look I realised that it was actually a photograph of people re-enacting a scene from the time of William III! This room as well (I didn't manage to get any pictures due to rubbish lighting) was decorated with guns all over the walls in incredibly beautiful patterns. After this we were taken through a series of room which made up grand bedrooms, huge rooms with gorgeous portraits hung on the wall...

And then I was surprised by this guy...

Standing there, in all regal and kingly glory was Charles I. I may have had a bit of a moment when I saw it and jumped up and down squealing with joy. Yes, I adore this man almost as much as I adore his son and I have far too many feelings for the Stuart family. They were just incredibly unlucky, and made some bad decisions but just...wow. I adore them. As you may have gathered from my 17th Century, Stuart family rambles on this blog. And after this room full of fab, there were even more rooms that just made me long to live in the palace. Oh, and I discovered the royal toilet as well!

Wait? More Charlie? I'm not sorry at all. Anyway, after finding more fabulous portraits of Charlie I we stumbled across this absolutely stunning corridor which reminded me, somewhat weirdly, of the mansion from the original Resident Evil game.

Isn't it just fantastic? And the best bit was that there was literally no one there! It seems these parts of the Palace are much less known about than the Tudor areas, which is so sad because these hallways and galleries are just absolutely stunning.

And that was that. I'm sure there are many more nooks and crannies to discover in this fantastic palace and I will say now that next time I go I will be spending more time in the Stuart and later era rooms than the Tudor parts. Just because...I mean look at them. I just adore Hampton Court, and it has a really special place in my heart - mainly for the massive Charles II portrait that hangs in Mary's apartments. But not only that, it's like something out of a fairy tale with so many hidden gems it's unreal. I doubt I will ever love anywhere as much as I love Hampton Court, the stories that just come at you from every angle. It is certainly a very magical place. Now, I will leave you with a picture of me and a wooden man getting drunk in Base Court.