Sunday, 23 September 2012

Caterina Sforza Part 1- Family History, Birth and Marriage

Caterina Sforza by Lorenzo Di Credi

Ever since I have started reading about Renaissance Italy, there is one woman who has cropped up again and again. A woman who went against pretty much everything that was expected from a woman in Renaissance Italy. Her name was Caterina Riario Sforza De Medici, but more commonly known as Caterina Sforza. She has come down to us through history as the She-Wolf of Forli, a woman who held out against the Borgia Pope, a woman who apparently stood on the ramparts of her city during the siege of Forli and lifted her skirts crying that her enemies could kill her children as she had the means to make plenty more. But was she really the tyrannical leader that Machiavelli makes out in "The Prince" (he really went off her after an incident when he was sent to her court as an ambassador)? Or was she just a woman trying to find her place in a world that was controlled by men? Whatever the case, she certainly made her mark as a woman who stood her ground against everything that life threw at her. She suffered huge loss throughout her life yet always remained strong. They called her a tyrannical she-wolf. But was she really? Over the next few posts I will be concentrating on the life of this remarkable woman, starting as always with her birth and early life.

Caterina Sforza was born in Milan in 1463, the illegitimate daughter of Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Lucrezia Landriani. As a bastard, had she been born anywhere else other than Italy, she would have faced a life of stigma and been unable to form a respectable standing in society. But as we have seen in the life of Rodrigo Borgia, bastard children were the norm in Renaissance Italy and Caterina was raised in her fathers house alongside his legitimate children. And as many other bastard children did in Renaissance Italy, she carried her surname with pride. The Sforza family rose to be the ruling family of Milian, despite the fact that they started out as a peasant family. In 1390, Caterina's great great grandfather had become a condottiere, or mercenary, and fought in various wars and skirmishes that were commonplace in the Italian principalities.

Map of Italy showing the Italian Principalities as they would have been

Italy during the fourteenth century, and indeed beyond, was split up into different republics or principalities. And each state had it's own ruler. Machiavelli describes this in his work "The Prince":

"Principalities are hereditary, with their prince's family long established as rulers, or they are new. The new are completely new, as was Milan to Francesco Sforza, or they are like limbs joined to the hereditary state of the prince who acquires them, as is the kingdom of Naples in relation to the king of Spain. Dominions so acquired are accustomed to be under a prince, or used to freedom, a prince wins them either with the arms of others or with his own, either by fortune or by prowess".

Due to his prowess on the battlefield in the 1390's, as these principalities fought amongst themselves for alliances or border disputes, Caterina's great great grandfather was given the nickname of Sforza, which meant Strength. After moving between states and fighting for different states at different times, he settled and took service in Milan. His new lord was Fillipo Maria Visconti. Whilst he lived in Milan, he had an illegitimate son named Francesco who proudly took on the Sforza name. Francesco married the illegitimate daughter of Fillipo, Bianca Maria, and when Fillipo died without a single heir in 1447 it meant that Francesco Sforza was close to claiming the duchy of Milian. But, alas, on the day of Fillipo's death the Milanese declared the city a republic and destroyed the Visconti castle. Many of the Italian states didn't like this idea and Milan soon found itself facing some strong enemies. Venice ended up plucking away at the borders of Milan in retaliation and the republic had no choice but to hire the Sforza army of condottiere. Francesco quickly retook the captured towns and in 1448 signed a peace treaty with Venice. He then returned to the city of Milan and began a siege of the city that lasted for months. As the food began to run out, Milan opened its gates to Francesco and he was made ruler of the city.

Francesco Sforza, unknown artist

Francesco's son was Galeazzo Maria who continued the tradition of using the Sforza name as well as developing Milan as his father had done before him both with technical developments and military developments. He was also an incredibly lavish man. Upon the death of his father in 1466, the new ruler of Milan put on incredibly lavish displays. Yet he was an incredibly self indulgent man and managed to earn himself a lot of enemies during his reign.

Galeazzo Maria Sforza by Piero Pollaiuolo

Galeazzo's daughter, Caterina, was just three years old when her father became Duke of Milan. And along with the court, she took up residence in the newly renovated castle of Porta Giovia. Her childhood was surrounded by incredible opulence and would have wanted for nothing. Her education was the best that money could buy, and she took her lessons alongside her half brothers and sisters; the legitimate heirs of Galeazzo. Her tutor was a man by the name of Francesco Filefo and under his tuition she learnt Latin and read the works of Cicero and Virgil - it helped that the castle held a huge library full of classic works. The young Caterina also read the stories of the saints as well as devouring French romance books. She also spent long hours learning to bear arms which was a tradition in a family that had started out from a condottiere. She not only would have learnt how to use weapons but also how to ride and hunt. It was not normal at this time that women would have learnt such things. This education gave her an advantage that would become more and more obvious as she grew up. Very few women at this time learnt how to bear arms - Isabella of Castille (the mother of Katherine of Aragon) learnt to hunt and ride but spent more of her time praying than learning the arts. Isabella D'Este was incredibly literate and loved art but unlike Caterina was not given instruction in how to ride and hunt. Thus Caterina had the advantage over her peers. And this would become more and more obvious as the years went on.

What else helped shaped the She Wolf to be? During her childhood she was certainly surrounded by incredibly strong willed women including her grandmother, Bianca Maria Visconti, who raised her in her earliest years. Bianca co-ruled the City of Milan with her son Galeazzo during the first years of his reign until he decided it was time to rule on his own. He believed that she was treating him like a child. Caterina also had a close relationship with her stepmother Bona who was an incredibly beautiful woman. She was a fantastic horsewoman and always went with Galeazzo on the hunt.

In 1473, at the age of 10, Caterina was thrown into the marriage market. In the October, following a long trip away from his court, Galeazzo became exceptionally ill He had smallpox and believed, with a finality that shocked his family, that he was going to die. However Galeazzo recovered, much to everyones surprise, and set about transforming Milan so it would compete with the great courts of Italy. He transformed the city into a hive of art, architecture and music and of course, Caterina herself benefitted from this. Yet during the Christmas of 1472, Caterina's father and Giralomo Riaro were discussing marriage. And he was also the nephew of the Pope. His contemporaries described him as fat, with pale skin and with a sickly disposition, he was not well read nor the brightest tool in the box. And he owed everything to his position as the Pope's nephew. Giralomo's original bride however was not Caterina, it was Constanza Fogliano. However her mother refused to allow her daughter to have her daughter taken by a man of inferior rank and preferred to wait until she reached the age of 14, the legal age of  consummation. On 6th January 1473 the Marquis of Mantua wrote to Galeazzo offering a compromise - Constanza's mother should allow her daughter to be "put to bed" with Riaro, and with other women present. It would then be considered as a form of consummation although no sexual intercourse would take place. Giralomo refused and threatened to leave, and so Caterina's father needed to keep the man happy. He offered to substitute Caterina as his bride instead of Constanza. Riaro agreed and on January 17 1473, the marriage contract was agreed. Giralomo Riaro was then thirty three years of age, his bride to be was just 10; this was the norm in Renaissance Italy and the marriage agreement certainly was not full of romance like we see today. The two would have taken part in a betrothal ceremony, where a notary asked them if they wished to be married. The couple would then respond with "I do" (or rather volo in Italian). The certificicate would then be signed and the agreement finalised with a ring and a kiss. If the couple were over the age of 14, the marriage could then be consummated although this did not usually happen until the bride moved into her husbands house. And once the marriage was consummated, there was no going back. The bride had officially been possessed by her new husband, and if she left her husband then it would spark great scandal.

Giralomo Riaro, in a fresco by Melozzo of Forli

The couple consummated their marriage, despite the fact that Caterina was below the legal age, and Riario's uncle the Pope was not pleased with this. He was forced to issue a papal bull to absolve all parties in the illegal sexual act.

Just one week after the marriage was completed, Giralomo Riaro left Milan and travelled back to Rome. She then remained in her father's care and did not see her husband for the next three years. In her father's house, despite now being a married woman and Countess, she continued her studies and waited until she could join her husband as she turned fourteen. Riaro however spent the next three years with various mistresses, and did not write to his new wife at all. She stayed in her fathers house, and watched as her father passed away and her stepmother Bona became regent for the new Duke, until 1476. Then, as she turned 13, Bona wrote to Giralomo confirming the marriage agreement and stating that at the age of 13, Caterina was old enough to join her husband in Rome. The official wedding was then organised, although Giralomo claimed that he could not attend his own wedding due to biusness reasons. Instead, she was married by Proxy in an unremarkable ceremony (due to the fact that her father had recently been murdered) and just a few days later she said goodbye to her childhood home forever.

Further Reading
Elizabeth Lev, The Tigress of Forli, 
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
Paul Strathern, The Artist, The Philosopher and the Warrior
Ernst Breisach, Caterina Sforza: A Renaissance Virago
Christopher Hibbert, The Borgias and Their Enemies
Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilisation of the Renaissance In Italy
Christopher Hare, The Most Illustrious Ladies of the Italian Renaissance

Monday, 17 September 2012

It's Giveaway Time!

Considering as how this here blog has just celebrated it's 1 year birthday and just passed 39,000 page views, I thought it about time I do a little giveaway. Plus, it has been an absolute age since I last did a giveaway.

This time, I'm going to be giving away a copy of Paul Strathern's "The Artist, The Philosopher and The Warrior"...

This book, all about three of the most influential men in Renaissance Italy is utterly fantastic and one of my favourite books on the period.

All you have to do to win this excellent book is:
  • Like the facebook page
  • And leave a comment on this post
The winner will be chosen by a random number generator and the closing date is Sunday October 7th!

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Bonfire of the Vanities

Savanarola by Fra Bartolomeo

Giralomo Savanarola is probably one of the most famous people from Renaissance Italy, next to the Borgia and Medici families. He is best known as the preacher who fundamentally ruled Florence with his sermons, and the man who was behind one of the greatest atrocities in Renaissance history: The Bonfire of the Vanities. As a man, Giralomo Savanarola is fascinating and I will be doing a piece on him and his life in more detail soon. Today however, I wanted to do a brief post on the Bonfire of the Vanities - an event in which the supporters of Savanarola piled up all manner of famous works of art, books and fine clothing...and burned the lot.

Painting of Savanarola's execution, in the same spot where he had started the Bonfire of the Vanities

It was Lent, 1497. Giralomo Savanarola had already been ruling the city of Florence for many years, preaching to the people and almost brainwashing them into believing that their extravagant life's were sinful. He regularly packed out the Santa Maria del Fiore, famous for it's massive dome built and finished by Brunelleschi in 1469, where he delivered rousing sermons against the extravagant clothes and art that the Florentine people were famous for.

At the start of Lent Savanarola sent a band of innocents around the city to collect up what he called 'vanities'. These innocents, known as the 'blessed innocents' were groups of children who up until then had walked around the city dressed in robes of purest white and singing the praises of God. They had previously been barred from a number of streets in the city when it became apparent that some Florentine's didn't actually support the friar. However this time they had armed guards with them and every vanity that they could get their hands on were piled into a huge pyramid in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria (as seen in the painting above of Savanarola's eventual execution, but this will be covered in more detail in later posts).

At the very bottom of the pyramid were items such as wigs, false beards, pots of rouge that women used to redden their cheeks and perfumes. On top of that were books that Savanarola and his followers considered to be 'Pagan' - these were all important historical works from Greek philosophers, books of poems by Ovid and Petrarch, works by Cicero. Next came paintings, drawings and bust sculptures of subjects considered profane. Included among these were works by the famous Sandro Boticelli, who is said to have been a follower of Savanarola and abandoned his paintings to follow the friar. Next were musical instruments, sculptures and paintings of naked women. And right at the very top of the pyramid were sculptures of Greek Gods and mythical legends. This was then finalised by an effigy of Satan, reigning over these sinful items. It is said that this model of Satan was given the face of a Venetian man who had offered to buy the items for 22,000 florins. This can only hint at the worth of all the items together, and I can only imagine that such works of art were worth much, much more.

The Palazzo Veccio, Florence.

The bonfire was lit on Shrove Tuesday, 7th February. As the entire signoria assembled from the balcony of the Palazzo Veccio, flames began to lick up the pyramid which by now was now over sixty feet high, and the crowds surrounding the massive bonfire singing a Te Deum.

This event divided Florence even more than it already was. The people were turning against Savanarola, and Piero de Medici ended up leaving Florence and heading to Rome where he received the blessing of Pope Alexander VI to lead an army against the city. Yet even as the army approached, the majority of Florentine citizens did not want to return to Medici rule (they had been ousted from the City during the early part of Savanarola's "rule"). Piero returned to Rome, not as the victor he envisaged.

Savanarola's reign of religious tyranny (for want of a better word), would start to decline in June 1497 when Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull excommunicating him from the Roman Catholic church. Yet when Savanarola continuted to preach in the Santa Maria del Fiore, the signoria tried to ban him from preaching and riots occasionally broke out.

His reign would not come to an end until 1498 when he was arrested and made to prove that he had a special relationship with God. When he failed he was jailed in the Bargello before being tortured and eventually executed. But that's for a different post.

For now, all I can do is feel the huge loss of so many works of art lost to Savanarola's flames. This really was a crime against the art that was created during the renaissance, and from my reading of Savanarola I have to wonder how anyone could condone doing something like that? A crime yes, but certainly a very interesting event in the history of both the fascinating man and the beautiful city of Florence.

Further reading

Donald Weinstein, Savanarola: The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Prophet.
Lauro Martines, Scourge and Fire: Savanarola and Renaissance Italy
Paul Strathern, The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
Paul Strathern, The Artist, The Philosopher and the Warrior
Paul Strathern, Death In Florence: The Medici, Savanarola and the Battle for the Soul of the Renaissance.
Christopher Hibbert, The Borgias and their Enemies

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Rodrigo Borgia Part 5 - Death

Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI in "The Borgias"

In the years leading up to Pope Alexander's death, there were many events including war with France, the death of his beloved son, Juan Duke of Gandia; Alexander's row with Savanarola, the resignation of his son Cesare from the College of Cardinals, Alexander joining with Venice and France against the Sforza family, Cesare taking over the Romagna and Alexander issuing Papal Bulls following Christopher Columbus' trip to the new world making slavery of the native people legal. It must be noted also that all the while rumours flew of poisoning and murder as a method of furthering his schemes yet there is no solid evidence that this happened. In much the same way that it can never be proven that Cesare Borgia killed his brother, the same can be said of the rumours that Alexander resorted to poison. The only "evidence" came after Alexander's death when his successor Julius II tortured Alexander's servants.

As I'm sure you can see from the list above, there is still so much of Alexander's life to write about. So much so that he really does deserve his own biography. Today however, instead of launching into each of these events, I will be writing of Alexander's final years and his death.

In 1503, Cesare Borgia was preparing for another military operation in the Romagna. He had already taken the cities of the Romagna and deposed its leaders. During the early part of 1503, Cesare and his father weren't exactly seeing eye to eye - Cesare wanted his Independence and had begun to make decisions on his own, and Alexander was getting more than a little annoyed with his sons bold moves. Cesare supported the French King Louis XIII, successor to Charles VIII and believed that the French would make better allies than the Spaniards. Plus, Louis supported Cesare's work in the Romagna. Alexander, as a Spaniard himself, had always veered more towards King Ferdinand (father of Catherine of Aragon) and kept trying to convince Cesare that Ferdinand was the best ally for him. Yet at the same time he still desperately tried to raise money for his sons military endeavours by selling offices, and consequently due to this had another 5 Spanish cardinals created in May 1503.

Yet before Cesare could even start out on his latest venture into the Romagna, events took a turn for the worse. Both he and his father fell incredibly ill.

On the evening of  6th August 1503, Alexander and Cesare attended a dinner party held by Cardinal Adriano Castellesi, one of the cardinals created by Alexander in May of the same year. Castellesi was also bishop of Hereford, bishop of Bath and Wells and had also served as ambassador to the Papal Court for Henry VII.

The signature of Cardinal Castellesi

On 12th August however, Alexander started to feel unwell and spent that night constantly vomiting. The 12th was also the day that Cesare had planned to set out on his military venture, yet he too was taken ill. The following day Castellesi was also taken sick, and it was assumed that due to three people being taken ill of the same thing it was unlikely to have been poison. It is said that the Pope seemed to recover over the next few days, but on 16th Cesare worsened and was given an ice bath to try and reduce his fever. Cesare was reported to be slightly better on 18th, but during that day the Pope worsened. Burchard reports in his diaries that on the morning of 18th that Alexander made his confession to Don Pietro Gamboa, the bishop of Carinola. Don Pietro also celebrated Mass in the Pope's presence but the Pope suddenly stated that he felt unwell:

"The service was also attended by five cardinals - Serra, Francesco Borgia, Giovanni Castelar, Casanova and de Loris of Constantinople - to whom His Holiness stated that he felt ill. At the hour of Vespers, he was given the Extreme Unction by the Bishop of Carinola, and he expired in the presence of the datary, the bishop and the attendants standing by."

According to Burchard, Cesare did not visit his father before his death. But this can be attributed to the fact that Cesare was suffering from the same illness that killed his father. Burchard also mentions that even after Alexander's death, Cesare did not visit his fathers body. It was written also that Alexander did not even mention Cesare or Lucrezia during his illness.

However, upon learning about his fathers death, Cesare sent "Micheletto with a large number of retainers to close all the doors that gave access to the Popes room. One of the men took out a dagger and threatened to cut Cardinal Casanova's throat...unless he handed over the keys to all the Pope's treasure".

Micheletto and his men then entered the rooms and seized all of the silver that they could get their hands on as well as two coffers containing around one hundred thousand ducats. At about four o clock that day, they then opened the doors and announced that Pope Alexander VI had passed away. Valets then gutted the Papal rooms of everything left of value, leaving just the papal chairs and the tapestries that hung on the walls.

The Pope was then prepared by his Master of Ceremonies for his lying in state, where he lay until his funeral which took place on Monday 4th September.

Meanwhile however, rumours of poison began to spread and it was widely believed in Ferrara where Louis XII advised Duke Ercole II to have Lucrezia's marriage to Alfonso D'Este annulled - the prospect of paying back her huge dowry daunted the French king. And as preparations were begun for Alexander's funeral, the following was written by a man named Bartolomeo Masi in his work Ricordanze:

"As pleases Almighty God, on 18th August Pope Alexander VI died; he was Spanish and been pope for eleven years. They say he was poisoned and also that Duke Cesare, his son, was the cause of his death. The said duke had held a great feast to which he invited several cardinals he wished to poison and he ordered two flasks of a special wine, which he secretly poisoned, telling no one, and gave them to a trusted servant telling him not to serve them to anyone...because he wanted them for himself. When the pope arrived he asked for the best wine...and the servant brought one of the flasks which the pope tasted".

As can be gathered from Masi's writing, he is basing his theory completely on hearsay. In fact we know that Cesare and Alexander attended a party at the house of Adriano Castellesi, and so not put on by Cesare. The rumours have come down to us today, so much so that Tour Guides of the Vatican tell their tours that Cesare Borgia poisoned his own father. We have no evidence for this other than snippets of writing written by third parties and written many years after the actual event.

Alexander VI's funeral was held on Monday 4th September. The corpse having been dressed, it was carried in procession from the Sistine Chapel to the Basilica of St Peters with an escort of cardinals, clerics and canons. Members of Alexander's household carried the 140 wax tapers that accompanied the procession. The pope's bier was carried by paupers who acted with much more respect to the dead Pope than what was being exhibited by the clerics who acted with much disorder. And when inside the basilica, the guards attacked the procession and seized the wax tapers. This led to the members of the clergy running from the basilica in fright, thus abandoning the body of Alexander. It was Burchard, with the help of three others, that moved the Pope's bier into position behind the high altar. But even here it was realised that the body would not be safe, and so to protect it from those who wished to get revenge on the Borgia Pope, the body was moved behind the iron grille of the chapel. Burchard then left, and that the chapel to take care of some business and when he returned noticed the change in the Pope's body. His face had changed:

"To the colour of the blackest cloth, and covered in blue-black spots; the nose was swollen, the mouth distended, the tongue bent back double, the lips seemed to fill everything and the appearance of the face was more horrifying than anything ever seen."

When it came to the Pope's burial, the coffin had been made too small and the Porters made gruesome jokes as they struggled to squash the swollen body inside. Burchard again describes what happened:

"Six labourers or porters, making blasphemous jokes about the Pope or in contempt of his corpse, together with two master carpenters, performed this task. The carpenters had made the coffin too narrow and short, and so they placed the pope's mitre at his side, rolled his body in an old carpet, and pummelled and pushed it into the coffin with their fists. No wax tapers or lights were used, and no priests or any other persons attended to his body."

What a horrible thing to happen to a man who had been the most powerful man in Christendom. Of course, the day after the burial, rumours spread around the city of Rome like wildfire:
  • He had been heard talking to Satan
  • He brought the Papacy by selling his soul to Satan
  • He had struck a deal with Satan that he would wear the Papal crown for eleven years. He had done that, with just seven days added on top.
  • As he died, water boiled in his mouth and filled the room with steam
  • When Rigor Mortis set in, his penis was erect.
Not long after his burial in St Peter's, his body was moved to the Church of Santa Maria in Monseratto delgi Spagnoli, the Spanish national church in Rome. There he was given a new tomb, which survives to this day.

Alexander's tomb at Santa Maria in Monseratto delgi Spagnoli

Pope Alexander VI really did lead a remarkable life. Despite buying his way into the seat of St Peter's and the rumours of corruption, poisoning and murder; he was incredibly close to his sons and daughters and loved them deeply. Even though he loved his women, he was loyal to each of them in his own way, particularly towards Vanozza (whom he stayed friends with even after they stopped being in a relationship with each other) and La Bella Farnese. He also was an avid patron of the arts and had works commissioned by Pintruccio, who painted the fresco in the Borgia apartments. He also commissioned works from Michelangelo and Raphael. He was also an avid supporter of education and issued a papal bull in 1495 allowing the founding of Kings College in Aberdeen! As well as this, despite the huge dislike of the Jews at the time, he allowed Jews exiled from Spain to live in Rome and let them live free from the persecution of Christians. All in all then, not a bad bloke and he was certainly little different to the pope's who came before and after him. I for one admire Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, for his remarkable life, for continuing on despite the rumours that plagued his reign, for the love and loyalty he showed his children and to his mistresses. He has to be one of my favourite historical pope's and I certainly don't believe the rumours that many still believe today (I'm looking at you Vatican Tour Guide!)

Further Reading

Burchard, J, 1963 (translated from original), At the Court of the Borgia, The Folio Society: London
Bradford, S,1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London
Bradford, S, 2004, Lucrezia Borgia, Penguin: London
De Roos, 1924,  Material for a history of Pope Alexander VI:
Hibbert, C, 2009, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner Books: Boston
Hollingsworth, M, 2011, The Borgias: Histories Most Notorious Dynasty, Quercus: London

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Tudor House, Southampton

It's been a couple of years since I was last at Tudor House. Last time I was there the place was a building site, part way through a restoration programme. I was an archaeologist then, and I was working with a team of diggers in the gardens. We were basically there to shovel dirt out of the way of the builders. Yet we still found some pretty awesome bits of archaeology including some nice bits of pottery, and one of my colleagues found a rather beautiful stylus. One of my fondest memories is of trying to demolish a little stone wall with a mattock, in the rain. The mattock wasn't working and every time I hit the wall sparks would fly. In the end I had to use a sledgehammer. It was tough work. But damn it felt good when that wall came down!

Today, I decided it was high time I went back. Mainly because I've had nearly three weeks off work due to illness, but also because it's right on my doorstep. So this afternoon I took myself down there. I stood outside for a moment, in the little square facing this absolutely stunning building and I took it all in. The outside hasn't changed a bit since I was last there but it never fails to take my breath away. And then, I took myself inside, paid my entry fee and entered the banqueting hall.

The first thing we were treated to was an audio visual tour giving a brief history of Tudor House as well as a short introduction of how Tudor House became a museum. It was held in a very darkened banqueting hall, with a light show in which it seemed as though the candles were flickering, and noises came from the door behind me. I closed my eyes and I have to say, as the audio of creaking footsteps and barking dogs was being played it was somewhat freaky. It was a brilliant introduction to the history of the house, which I shall go into briefly below before I bombard you with all the photographs that I took.

The house itself dates from the fourteenth century, when in around 1348 a man named John Whytegod owned the land. The lane that runs alongside Tudor House, now known as Blue Anchor Lane, was originally known as Whytegod's lane (I wonder why). Whytegod also owned part of the property nearby known as King John's Palace, part of which can be seen as you wander around Tudor House. In the fifteenth century, Tudor House passed to Walter and Jane William. Walter William inherited the building from his father, and he was a trader who dealt in the shipment of wool and cloth. William was also involved a plot against King Richard III when, in 1483 he was made Mayor of Southampton. Due to his part in the plot, he was branded a traitor and fled to Beaulieu Abbey where he sought sanctuary and died not long afterwards. When Henry VII became king in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth, he pardoned Williams fellow traitors and his wife became the wealthy owner of Tudor House. She later married Sir John Dawtrey. Following the wedding, the house came into the hands of the Dawtrey family. Sir John, already overseer of the Port of Southampton also owned many property in St Michael's Square near Tudor House, and he decided that a man of his status needed a house to befit him. So he commenced work and joined his houses into a bigger house which became very much like the building today. After Sir John died in 1518, the house passed into the hands of Lady Isobel Lyster (Sir John's widow, who he had married after Jane had died). Lord and Lady Lyster were exceptionally wealthy and conducted huge entertainments at Tudor House. After Isobel's death, Lord Lyster married again and retired permanently to Southampton in 1528. He was the owner of Tudor House until his own death 1554, and there is a monument to him in the church opposite the House. In the 1600's the house belonged to wealthy ship owners (evidence of which can be seen in the graffiti dotting the walls of the house), yet in the Georgian era began to decline, when it was made into a series of dwellings and the nearby area was one of the poorest areas of the city. Not long after, in the early 1800's, the house was made into a museum, yet many changes were made. Doors were added where there had been no doors, a minstrels gallery was added where there was none previously and wood panelling was added to many of the walls in a romanticised version of Tudor building work. However, it is thanks to this work that we still have Tudor House today, and thanks to the work of local historians and archaeologist we now have a history of this fantastic building.

I have to say, even though I spent less than an hour wandering around this beautiful building, I certainly saw more of it than I ever did while I was working here. When I was working in the gardens there was little time to explore the building - even though I did get to see the cellars on my first day. It was an absolute pleasure to wander around and have a look at the displays, and to see the graffiti scrawled on the walls from the 1600's and beyond. And despite the changes made to the place in the Georgian period, you really can get a sense of what it was like there. Plus, it was really very quiet and exceptionally peaceful, which always helps.

Below are some photographs that I took while I was wandering around.

The door on the left originally lead to the Tudor pantry and buttery. The gallery above was added in the Georgian era, as were the oak beams you can see in the wall on the left.

This is apparently a model of Elizabeth I

The beautiful gardens

This corner in the gardens is where I spent most of my time digging. To get rid of spoil we had to hoist buckets over the wall.

Tudor kitchen...apparently

Tudor pottery - we found many examples of this whilst digging

The engraving above could be a "witch mark" - used in medieval and Tudor times to protect against witchcraft (although these are normally two intersecting letter V's), or an insignia or a merchant who lived here at the time.

Beautiful painted beam

Not a very clear picture, but this wall has graffiti on it dating from the 1600's

Poor little stuffed spaniel puppy :(

Greek Amphorae



Ship marks. If you look closely you can see what looks like a boat, and to the right of it and inscription of SCH

And last but not least, the staircase heading towards the exit, decorated with portraits of the family who once lived in Tudor House.

All in all, a fantastic afternoon and well worth the money. If any of you are in Southampton, I urge you all to visit this fantastic little place.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Great Fire Of London

On 2nd September 1666, disaster struck London. At around 2am that morning, in the house of John Farryner, a baker in Pudding Lane, a fire started that would cause widespread devastation. At the time the fire had struck, London had already been through the mill. The previous year the Great Plague had struck, killing an estimated 30,000 people; and previous to the Great Fire, the country had been in the grip of the Second Dutch War.

London was used to fires - the nature of the closely build wooden houses had seen to that. So when the Lord Mayor of London was called to the fire in Farryner's house, he wasn't best pleased with what he saw and apparently said that "a woman might piss it out". The fire had been blazing for around an hour previous to the Mayor's visit and before he had gone to bed, Farryner had carefully checked his fire (which was only in one room) and he had gone through it and raked up the embers. However it started, the flames caught hold. Whatever spark had been produced, perhaps smouldering beneath the floorboards, it reached a pile of faggots that Farryner had placed ready for the next days baking and it was not long until the building was fully ablaze. Farryner's house was, of course, made of timber and surrounding the house were other tightly packed timber framed buildings. And the timber had tried out thanks to the long, sweltering hot summer.

Just six months earlier, Charles II had written to the City Authorities to try and warn them of the dangers of fire in the city. He tried to warn them that the narrow streets lined with the timber framed buildings held the potential for grave catastrophe. He even gave his Royal Authority to pull the timber buildings down and rebuild them. But nothing was done. The usual precautions obviously seemed good enough to the mayor as he dithered by the apparent small fire - water pumps were brought out to try and stem the blaze. But within an hour, an easterly gale (which had prevented the British fleet from engaging the Dutch fleet not so long back) had made the fire take hold. It was sweeping through the streets.

St Paul's On Fire - Museum of London

And the fire spread quickly, sweeping from Pudding Lane down Thames Street and beyond. It even reached the Royal Exchange after the fire rained down destruction along Fist Street Hill and Lombard Street. Nothing could stop the fire as it raged its way towards London Bridge. London Bridge was not the same stone structure we see today, instead it was crammed with dry timber framed buildings all crammed close together.

London Bridge from a panorama of London, drawn in 1660 by Claes Van Vissher

Before the southward spread of the flames were able to be stopped, almost a third of the buildings on London Bridge were destroyed.

It didn't take long for the old water pumping machines used to break down. Yet still the authorities dithered and did not take the necessary precautions to stop the fire spreading even further. To start with, the Lord Mayor was loath to pull down more houses than he already had to create bigger gaps that the fire could not jump across as he and his authorities would have to deal with any costs for rebuilding. The only way that could be absolved was by royal authority. 

The famous diarist John Evelyn wrote of the fire:

"Churches, public halls, exchange, hospitals, monuments and ornaments, leaping after a prodigious manner from house to house and street to street."

Charles behaved exceptionally when he heard news of the fire. He granted authority for the Mayor to pull down more houses, and he took his brother James, Duke of York to see the extent of the blaze. At noon on the first day, him and his brother travelled downriver and landed at Three Cranes, climbing upon a roof to see the extent of the flames. And it was from this moment on that Charles realised that he needed to help and he put himself in harms way as he made his way to the front line. Him and his brother urged people to pull down houses and even helped with the water buckets.

On the second day of the fire, Charles summoned the Privy Council and set up a special committee where fire posts were set up. Each post had 100 men and a further 30 soldiers and an allowance of £5 for bread and beer. These posts were set up in a semicircle from Smithfield to Temple Bar, and three courtiers were attached to each post too. These courtiers could override the aldermen if they thought more buildings should be destroyed to stop the spread of fire and could even hand out a shilling to those who gave their all and worked through the night. A ring even closer to the front line was set up, headed by Parish constables, and militia was called in from neighbouring counties to take over from the London Trained Bands. The Duke of York organised defences and doused houses against the flames that were expected to reach where he was and Charles worked with men in Queenhithe to pull down the local market stalls and houses, he then rode around the inner ring of fire posts encouraging the men to stay and fight the fire. Some said he carried a bag of silver or gold and handed out money to those who agreed to stay. One man, Henry Griffith later reported that:

"His Majesty's... singular care and pains, handling the water in buckets while they stood up to the ankles deep in water and playing the engines for many hours together, as they did at the Temple and Cripplegate, which people seeing, fell to work with effect, having so good fellow labourers"

Yet despite their hard work, the fire raged on - at one point building into a huge wall of flame, 50 feet high. It is said that the heat became so intense that fire balls were created that drew air into themselves and destroyed church towers and ancient walls. Yet Charles still kept on, and worked like a common labourer. And until the fire eventually burned itself out, prayers and fasting were ordered as if God's divine providence could stop the onslaught. It must be remembered that despite the advances in science, people were still incredibly superstitious and believed that their prayers to God would help. Their prayers did little and the fire even gutted old St Paul's Cathedral, the heat so intense that it melted the lead roof. 

As mentioned previously, the flames destroyed the Royal Exchange. This was the heart of mercantile London. The entire building was destroyed - spices brought by the East India company burned and filled the air with brightly coloured flames and the statues that filled the buildings niches were destroyed. Only the statue of Gresham remained.

Of course the people were in uproar as the flames raged, and the roads became jammed with people as they tried to escape. Many ran to the north of the city towards the open fields that surrounded the city. The gates became jammed and on the second day of the fire it was ordered that the gates be shut to incoming traffic. People piled their belongings into carts, desperate to escape. Many even tried to save their belongings by burying their belongings - Samuel Pepys buried his cheese but alas his diaries are silent as to whether he dug it back up later!). Yet as the people panicked, the nobility still tried to keep order. James Duke of Monmouth took charge in Cornhill and lead a troop of the Kings Guard to try and clear people from the streets.

One can only imagine the scene as London burned. Diarist John Evelyn writes of it in detail in his diaries:

"ten thousand houses all in one flame, the noise and crackling and thunder of the impetuous flames, the shrieking of women and children, the hurry of people, the fall of tower, houses and churches was like an hideous storm and the air all about so hot and inflamed that at the last one was not able to approach it...London was, but is no more"

A map showing the area of London burned, by Wenceslav Hollar

By 6th September the fire had burned itself out. Two surveyors came up with figures that make one shudder even today:
  • Only 67 acres of land remained untouched out of 450 acres within the city walls
  • Over 13000 houses destroyed
  • 89 churches reduced to rubble
  • The halls of 44 livery companies had their clothes reduced to ash
  • 4 bridges collapsed
  • Over 10,000 people would be homeless for the winter
  • Christchurch and stationers Hall had gone up in flames - many booksellers had placed their wares in storage there. £15,000 worth of books and manuscripts had been destroyed.
  • No one knows how many died
Now, the hard work of rebuilding London would begin. But it was a long and slow process. Charles II himself took great interest in rebuilding the city, as he had a huge interest in building works. He appointed a council to oversee the work and urged that London be rebuilt more beautiful than ever. He followed the work closely on maps and made sure that streets were straightened and encouraged the use of bricks rather than timber. And Charles also brought in Sir Christopher Wren, a man of genius who would work hard to restore the city and rebuilt St Paul's Cathedral into the beautiful masterpiece that we see today.

It took a long time to rebuild London, and many were left destitute. The people blamed the fire on a Catholic plot. And although on 6th September, Charles rode out to tell his people that the fire was nothing to do with a plot, they were not convinced. The Quakers believed it was a righteous punishment on those who persecuted them, but the majority believed it was caused by the Catholics, desperate to undermine the protestant people. It is said too that in 1685 James Duke of Monmouth blames his own uncle for starting the fire.

50 years later, long after Charles II's death as well as the exile of his brother James, London was still being rebuilt. The Great Fire was a massive event in British History, and one which will always live on in the history books. It was a catastrophe for many, yet despite the destruction it showed that in a time of crisis many can be relied on to work together. It proved that the country's King could be relied on. And out of the ashes, the City of London returned anew.

Further Reading

Coote, S, 1999,  Royal Survivor: The Life of Charles II, Palgrave: New York
Boward, B, 2012, The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714, Pearson: Harlow
Fraser, A, 1979, King Charles II, Weidenfeld & Nicholson: London
Hanrahan, D, 2006, Charles II And The Duke of Buckingham: The Merry Monarch & The Aristocratic Rogue, Sutton: Stroud
Uglow, J, 2009, A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration, Faber & Faber: London
Watson, J.N.P, 1979, Captain General and Rebel Chief: The Life of James Duke of Monmouth

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Rodrigo Borgia Part 4 - His Relationship with Women

Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia and Lotte Verbeek in The Borgias

Rodrigo Borgia, best known as Pope Alexander VI, was famous for being a man who wouldn't let his religious calling get in the way of his women. He had at least 8 children, all of whom were illegitimate as he was a man of the cloth and really shouldn't have had kids anyway, and was famous for his so called banquet of chestnuts. He had mistresses, two of the most famous being the mother of his children Vanozza dei Cattanei, and the young Giulia Farnese - often known as La Bella. There were also disturbing rumours that he also enjoyed a relationship with his daughter Lucrezia that stretched beyond a father and daughter relationship. And these relationships lasted until his death. In today's post about Rodrigo, I will go into his relationships with the three main women in his life.

Vanozza De Cattanei

Joanna Whalley as Vanozza in The Borgias

The relationship that Rodrigo had with Vanozza is really quite fascinating. Her relationship with him lasted longer than with any of his other mistresses, and she was the mother of Rodrigo's most famous children: Cesare, Lucrezia, Juan and Joffre (and OK, so Joffre didn't really do that much. But we at least know his name whereas Rodrigo's other kids by other mothers aren't really known all that well at all). Vanozza and Rodrigo met when he was in Pisa in 1473. She was a courtesan - that is to say "an upmarket prostitute" - and had been born into a family of lesser nobility. She was full of charm and captivated Rodrigo from the get go. And because of Rodrigo's captivation and his wish to maintain a long and loving relationship, a marriage was organised for Vanozza. The marriage was to Domenico da Rignano and he was incredibly compliant and its seems could be relied upon to make demands on his new wife. This of course left Rodrigo and Vanozza to pursue their relationship. In 1475, Vanozza gave birth to a little boy. They named him Cesare, and Pope Sixtus legitimised the boy as the son of Rodrigo Borgia as a mark of his approval. Not so long after this Domenico died and Vanozza gave birth to two more children - Juan, and just four years after that a girl, Lucrezia. Vanozza was married twice more after the death of Domenico, and gave birth to a further two children; Joffre and Ottaviano (both of whom were rumoured not to be the children of Rodrigo).

Due to having such a relationship with Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia (as he was known at the time), Vanozza certainly profited and was able to live in a very comfortable house, and was able to build another big house near the baths of Diocletian. Her third husband Carlo Canale was also rewarded handsomely for keeping quiet and was made governor of the Torre Nueva, Rome's prison, and he made a pretty penny from charging the inmates for privileges that they could afford.

In around 1489, Rodrigo's eye was drawn towards a young woman commonly known as "La Bella" - her name was Giulia Farnese. She was the wife of Orsino Orsini and took the place that Vanozza had held for so long - that of Rodrigo Borgia's mistress.

From the time that Rodrigo took La Bella as a mistress, his passion for Vanozza lessened and she led a fairly retired life in Rome until her death in 1518. She had always been spoken of with respect in Rome. She was buried with great ceremony at Santa Maria Del Popolo, at the grand age of 76.

Vanozza's tombstone in Santa Maria del Popolo

Giulia "La Bella" Farnese

A Lady (possibly Giulia Farnese) by Raphael Sanzio

Giulia "La Bella" Farnese became an obsession for Rodrigo Borgia. She was young and thought of as one of the most beautiful women in Rome. She was married to Orsino Orsini in 1489 in Rodrigo's own palace, at the age of just 19. And she became Rodrigo's mistress not long after. She became his obsession - she was young and carefree and more so, she lived in the same house as his children (they were looked after by Adriana da Mila, his cousin). And it was during his relationship with Giulia that Rodrigo showed himself as capable of intense jealousy. He often wrote to Giulia complaining that she was spending too much time in her husbands company when she had sworn to him that she wouldn't go anywhere near him. Obviously, Orsino was alarmed at his wife receiving letters from the Pope threatening "eternal damnation" and sent his wife back to Rome quick sharp.

The thing that always gets me, is that Rodrigo was considerably older than Giulia. And when I say considerably, I mean CONSIDERABLY. There was almost 40 years between them but it seems that Rodrigo's sexual appetite was as good as ever. He put this down to his "healthy" living, and Hibbert mentions "he ate sparingly himself, often contenting himself with a single course. And while other cardinals were carried about Rome on litters or carriages, he preferred to walk. He hunted; he wrestled; he enjoyed falconry; he took pride in having 'the slender waist of a girl'".

What I also love about Giulia Farnese is that she developed a very close relationship with Rodrigo's daughter Lucrezia. So much so that she led a train of over 150 Roman Women at Lucrezia's wedding to Giovanni Sforza in 1493. There are also stories of the two ladies escaping boring sermons and sitting together giggling.

Giulia also used her closeness to the Pope to get her brother Alessandro made a cardinal. Johanne's Buchard writes of the event in his memoirs and writes of Alessandro and other electees; "brother of Giulia, the Pope's concubine".

In 1494, Giulia found herself prisoner to the French army who were busy trying to invade Italy. With her was Adriana de Mila, and they were on their way back from visiting Giulia's husband in the country. A messenger was sent to King Charles VIII of France when the women were captured. He replied that they did not fight against women but Yves de Alegre, Captain of the French Guard, demanded a ransom for the women. 3000 ducats were demanded for their release. The Pope of course paid this and the women returned to Rome escorted by 400 French soldiers.

In around 1500, Giulia fell out of favour with the Pope, likely due to her age. The split seems amicable though and was likely helped by Adriana de Mila. Following this Giulia moved just outside of Rome, and returned to Rome in 1505 for the wedding of her daughter. This was two years after the death of Rodrigo. From 1506 to 1522 Giulia lived in Carbognano where she was governor of  the castle - as she was a very able administrator. In 1522 she returned to Rome, where she died at the age of 50 in the house of her brother Alessandro.

Lucrezia Borgia

Lucrezia Borgia in the Borgia Apartment Fresco (picture by me)

You may think it strange for me to include Rodrigo's daughter in a post where I talk about his mistresses. However, Rodrigo was very close to Lucrezia. And there are also many rumours (totally unsubstantiated I might add) that their relationship went beyond the normal father daughter relationship. I've written in depth about Lucrezia and her life before so won't go into too much detail here. As mentioned, she and her father were close, and many say that she was having an incestuous relationship with him. In fact, having a quick search on the internet has shown SO MANY SITES THAT SAY THE SAME THING. Including this one - and I shall quote:

"He openly kept a string of mistresses, fathered many children, and held orgies within the papal residence. Lucrezia and her brothers participated in these functions. In fact, she was having sexual relations with her father and her brothers Cesare and Juan."

No. No. No. No. Dear people of this website: This is all hearsay and rumour. It has never been proven that this happened. The rumour actually comes from the annulment proceedings between Lucrezia and her first husband Giovanni Sforza. And to put it bluntly (and it short because I've written about it before!), Giovanni was pissed because the Pope and Lucrezia were saying he was impotent, and that's why the marriage had to be annulled. At the end of the proceedings Giovanni turned around and said the only reason the annulment was happening was because the Pope wanted Lucrezia for himself. And the rumour stuck. Now I know that website is one of those websites that anyone who is widely read on the Borgia family wouldn't trust with a bargepole but there are still many out there who believe the rumours that have come down to us. And it's websites like this as well as games such as Assassins Creed Brotherhood and TV shows like Borgia, that keep the rumours going. In all my readings on the Borgia family I have never come across anything that can be called proof about these so called incestuous relationship and until I come across substantiated proof I will always defend the family from these malicious rumours. But anyway, I am ranting again, which you're probably all fed up of because I've ranted about this before.

To me, it seems Rodrigo's relationship with his daughter was just that of an adoring father towards his daughter. In fact, biographies of both Lucrezia and her father are littered with anecdotes of how devoted he was to his daughter. For instance at the end of June 1494, Rodrigo was beside himself with grief at rumours going around Rome that Lucrezia was dead. When he found out the rumours were false, he wrote a letter to her;

"Truly you have given us four or five days of grief and grave worry over the bitter news that has spread throughout Rome that you were dead or truly fallen into such infirmity that there could be no hope for your life. You can imagine how such a rumour affected my spirits for the warm and immense love that I have for you. And until I saw the letter which you wrote in your own hand, although it was so badly written that it showed you were unwell, I have enjoyed no peace of mind. Let us thank God and Our Glorious Lady that you have escaped all danger. And thus we will never be truly content until we have seen you in person".

Another rather poignant moment that shows just how he felt for his daughter came at the end of 1501, just before Lucrezia was to leave for Ferarra to live with her third husband Alfonso D'Este. On the evening before Lucrezia was due to leave, Rodrigo said in a meeting with Gian Luca Pozzi that he was anxious of how his daughter would be treated once she was in Ferrara with her new husband. Pozzi then brought up the issue of Cesare's marriage to Charlotte D'Albret but Rodrigo brushed it off, saying Cesare would do nothing about that until he had the goodwill of the French King, and that he had already discussed this with Lucrezia. He then went on with a rather moving speech, saying that he loved "the aforesaid Madonna far more than he did the Duke because she was virtuous and prudent and had always been most obedient to him: and that if she would be well treated in Ferarra, nothing they could ask him would ever be in vain".

Thus, to conclude; Rodrigo Borgia certainly loved his woman. As Pope of Rome, he should have really kept his vows of chastity but let's face it, at the time the Roman Catholic clergy were renowned as men who broke their vows often. He respected his own women, as shown with his relationship with Vanozza (they remained close friends even after he had moved on) and with Giulia also. And despite the vicious rumours that are still circulating today about his relationship with his daughter, it is clear that he loved and respected her and that he wanted the best for her. A corrupt man of the church he may have been, but he was certainly no different from his colleagues in the college of cardinals and even Pope's who had preceded him. Yet he loved and respected his women, that much is clear from any good biography you can pick up on the Borgia family.

Further reading

Burchard, J, 1963 (translated from original), At the Court of the Borgia, The Folio Society: London
Bradford, S,1976, Cesare Borgia: His Life and Times, Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London
Bradford, S, 2004, Lucrezia Borgia, Penguin: London
De Roos, 1924,  Material for a history of Pope Alexander VI:
Hibbert, C, 2009, The Borgias & Their Enemies, Mariner Books: Boston
Hollingsworth, M, 2011, The Borgias: Histories Most Notorious Dynasty, Quercus: London