Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Big Question: Was Rodrigo Borgia Really The Father of Cesare, Juan & Lucrezia Borgia?

As I mentioned in my review yesterday, G.J Meyer has presented some very interesting arguments over the paternity of Cesare, Lucrezia and Juan Borgia. It has long been accepted that Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI, was their father and legitimised them after he became Pope. However, it seems that logic says something different - although over 500 years later it's not possible to prove it beyond doubt. In his book, Meyer looks at various source materials that point to the possibility that actually Rodrigo couldn't have been their father. Today, I'm going to very briefly summarise Meyer's findings (I won't go into too much detail, you'll have to buy the book when it comes out in April to find out more!) in bullet point format, and I shall leave it to you to form your own opinions on the matter.
  • How did Rodrigo maintain a relationship with Vanozza Cattanei and maintain such a large family without anyone taking  much notice, even in gossipy chronicles of the time?
  • All of Vanozza's children were born in Spain, while Rodrigo was in Italy - they were also incredibly likely to have been conceived in Spain too. How could Rodrigo flit so easily between the two countries when travel took so long?
  • There is no concrete evidence that at any point before or after his election that he fathered a child or even had a mistress or indeed any brief sexual involvement with anyone except for with Giulia Farnese.
  • De Roos, who completed a huge five volume work on the Borgia family is almost completely at odds with everything we know about the Borgia myth - having compiled a ton of documents that go some way to show that Rodrigo wasn't actually the father of the Borgia children. In his first volume he publishes a huge revision of the Borgia family tree!
  • Meyer states that the four Borgia children (including Joffre) had the same mother and father, and at least three other older siblings by the same parents. Included in this is Pedro Luis, who inherited massive wealth upon his fathers death (long before Rodrigo became Pope) as well as two other daughters.
  • At least 5 of the children, if not all 7, were born in Spain - Meyer mentions that this is likely although more source material is needed. Pedro Luis is never known to have been outside of Spain and there is no record of Cesare being in Spain before 1488 - indeed he says later to the Viceroy of Naples that he and his siblings were Spanish by birth. Burchard also speaks of Cesare as a native of Valencia. Rodrigo Borgia left Spain in around 1455 (around 5 years before the birth of Pedro Luis) and returned just the once, staying between June 1472 and September 1473. That was way too late to impregnate the mother of Isabella and Girolama Borgia, and way too soon to be responsible for Cesare or Juan. And so, how could he be the father of the seven, unless he was constantly flicking backwards and forwards between Spain and Italy? Travel in those days was slow, and to do it at such a frequency isn't quite believable.
  • It is much more likely that the father of the children was Rodrigo's nephew - Guillen Ramon Lanzol y de Borja, which makes them Rodrigo's grand-nephew's.nieces.
  • When Vanozza was pregnant with Joffre in or around 1481, Guillen died and Vanozza made her way to Rome with her children and came under the protection of Rodrigo. She never lived with Rodrigo but both before and after his reign as Pope she maintained her own household.
  • Documents stating that Rodrigo was the father of the children are quite suspect for instance, a bull legitimising a child with the name of Cesare de Boria and Cesare de Borja states that the child is the son of a cardinal and an unmarried woman - neither of the parents are named. If the bull were authentic, it is unlikely that it would have used the Spanish form of the Borgia name. There is also no mention of the bull in the Vatican's records, which is odd as all authentic bulls were entered into a registry before they were sent off. It should also be mentioned that as the second son, Cesare had no need to be legitimised as he stood to inherit nothing.
  • While Rodrigo often called the children his "beloved son/daughter", he also called everyone else the same - in letters he referred to reigning monarchs as his "beloved son/daughter", and he called pretty much everyone he had dealings with by the same title. He also refers to Lucrezia as his "beloved daughter in Christ". Such titles mean nothing, especially when the reigning pontiff calls everyone the same thing.
  • Vanozza Cattanei is never known to have stepped foot inside the Vatican and none of Rodrigo/Alexander's enemies accuse him of sexual immorality - even Savonarola who hated Pope Alexander ever mentioned such things! Had he been accused of such things, Savonarola would certainly have said something in his famous sermons!
  • Rodrigo did not buy the dukedom of Gandia for Pedro Luis - he inherited much lands in Gandia upon the death of Guillen which later became the centre of the duchy. Pedro also lent Rodrigo a substantial sum of money in 1483, rather than being dependant on the Cardinal.
  • A Spanish royal brief has the name of Juan Borgia's father omitted. All that can be seen is the words "The late illustrious" - were his father a cardinal, it would have been worded "most reverend". This points to the fact that his father was a layman, rather than a churchman - and the deletion of the name suggests deliberate tampering.
And thus, Meyer comes to the conclusion that Rodrigo Borgia can't have been the father of Cesare, Juan and Lucrezia (And Joffre, but everyone forgets about him). Although a brief overview, I haven't gone into too much detail so as not to spoil the book for you all but rest assured the chapter itself is an eye opener. It has certainly made me question the age old assumption that Rodrigo was indeed the father of the three most famous Borgia children in history. It's my next aim to get hold of a copy of De Roos and study it closely, comparing it to the conclusions made by Meyer. It will certainly be a very interesting thing to look at closer, albeit a lot of work as I would imagine much of the documentation is held within the papal archives.

This could certainly be a very interesting mission indeed....

Further Reading

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Review: The Borgias - The Hidden History by G.J. Meyer

They burst out of obscurity in Spain not only to capture the great prize of the papacy, but to do so twice. Throughout a tumultuous half-century—as popes, statesmen, warriors, lovers, and breathtakingly ambitious political adventurers—they held centre stage in the glorious and blood-drenched pageant known to us as the Italian Renaissance, standing at the epicentre of the power games in which Europe’s kings and Italy’s warlords gambled for life-and-death stakes. Five centuries after their fall—a fall even more sudden than their rise to the heights of power—they remain immutable symbols of the depths to which humanity can descend: Rodrigo, the Borgia who bought the papal crown and prostituted the Roman Church; Cesare, the Borgia who became first a teenage cardinal and then the most treacherous cutthroat of a violent time; Lucrezia, the Borgia as shockingly immoral as she was beautiful. These have long been stock figures in the dark chronicle of European villainy, their name synonymous with unspeakable evil. But did these Borgias of legend actually exist? Grounding his narrative in exhaustive research and drawing from rarely examined key sources, Meyer brings fascinating new insight to the real people within the age-encrusted myth. Equally illuminating is the light he shines on the brilliant circles in which the Borgias moved and the thrilling era they helped to shape, a time of wars and political convulsions that reverberate to the present day, when Western civilisation simultaneously wallowed in appalling brutality and soared to extraordinary heights.

I received this book as a pre-release copy, for review purposed and so as a first port of call I would like to let you all know that when this book becomes available on 2nd April, if you are interested in the history of the Borgia family, you all need to purchase it. If I'm honest, my whole review could be summed up in those first few lines. This book is utterly fantastic, and offers a brand new approach to much of what we thought we knew about the Borgia family. In fact, it really makes you rethink much of what we have come to know and trust about the family's history.

Of course, as a pre-release copy, I was expecting to find a few mistakes and I would like to get these out of the way before I launch into how amazing I thought the book was. But to be honest, there really wasn't that many mistakes - the only mistakes I really noticed were a few date discrepancies at around the 6% mark (I had a kindle copy) in which instead of dates reading "14xx" when speaking about Alonso De Borja, they read "15xx". Easily fixed, but could easily be fixed with a bit of proof reading. There were also a couple of grammatical errors that made me have to reread a few sentences a couple of times, but for the most part this can be easily looked over as a reader and doesn't deviate much from the reading experience.

For the most part though, Meyer's writing is fluid and provides a very easy read. As I was reading, it really didn't feel like a non fiction book to me. But then, I have read much heavier tomes than this. Meyers writing is so fluid that at times it really did read like a novel to me, but at the same time I could really see the amount of research that he did into his work. His writing style really did make the story of the Borgia family - from Alonso De Borja right up until the fantastic Saint Francis Borgia - utterly accessible. Easy reading, and doesn't overload the reader with too much politics - although given the era, politics is really a given.

The book itself concentrates on the history of the Borgia family, history's most notorious dynasty, and works its way up from the first Borgia Pope - Pope Calixtus III - right up until the end of the dynasty proper with Lucrezia. As a history that spans well over a century, if not longer (taking into account the varied relatives, particularly of Juan Borgia) it can get quite confusing but thankfully Meyer splits it into very easy sections. You have chapters relating to each family member and what they did, followed by mini chapters which give a great background to what else was going on at the time. I thought this was a really good idea, and gives the reader a bit of context into the political background of the era. There was one sub chapter in particular that really grabbed my attention, and it addressed the apparently paternity of Cesare, Juan and Lucrezia Borgia - I won't go too much into it here as there will be a separate blog post coming but let's just say Meyer's findings are incredibly interesting, and very convincing!

In all then an incredibly interesting and quite frankly brilliant read, and one I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone interested in learning about the history of this fascinating family. An inherently interesting read that offers a brand new insight into this wonderful family, and one that discusses (and quite frankly, disinherits) most of the disgusting rumours of this brilliant family! A must read for anyone interested!

The Borgias: The Hidden History is available right now for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US - Please do pick it up if you can!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Pope Resigned? He's Not The First!

A few days ago it was announced that our current Pope, Pope Benedict XVI, will be retiring at the end of this month. As I'm sure you're all aware, I have a huge interest in the history of the Roman Catholic church so I found this really interesting. Mainly because tradition dictates that once elected as Pope, you're Pope until you die - and the last Pope to resign was back in the 1400's. And so, I thought for a bit of perspective, I'd do a post on the previous Pope's who have retired! This list ranges from the very early papacy up until the mid 1400's, so I'll split it up into different Popes and provide a bit of information on the main Popes who have resigned (either by force, or by their own choice) in history ~ there are a few more, but I've taken 4 examples here, the four latest Popes to resign before our current one.

Benedict IX ~ Theophylactus III (1045-1046)

The nephew of John XIX, he was elected in 1032 due to the bribery of his father. He is traditionally believes to have ascended to the throne of St. Peter's at the age of 8 or 9 but recent research has suggested that he was in fact in his early 20's. A shameless, corrupt debauchee; the citizens of Rome rose up against him after just 12 years of rule and in January 1045 he was forced to abandon the city. He was replaced by Sylvester III who lasted just 2 months when Benedict excommunicated Sylvester and took his throne back. He was back in the chair of St. Peter by the March. It seems as though he couldn't really be bothered with it though, and in the May resigned his post. The result was utter chaos, resulting in loads of pretenders and the situation had to be sorted out by Henry III, King of Germany. There were three contestants for the throne, and Henry knew the best thing would be to depose all of them. Only Benedict started causing trouble, all of a sudden wanting his throne back and refusing to lay down. Henry made choices over who the next Pope would be. The first was Clement II (1046-7) was on the throne for just 10 months before he died suspiciously, many said he was poisoned by Benedict who then spent the next 8 months re-establishing himself at St. Peter's. In 1048, Damascus II took the throne bus lasted only 23 days before dying. Many whispered he had died due to the heat in Rome, whilst others spoke that Benedict had killed another pontiff. In 1048, Henry decided that the Bishop of Toul was told he was going to be the next pope, but he really didn't want it. He wasn't confirmed as Pope until January 1049 and he reigned as Pope Leo IX for 6 years until his death in 1054. In 1049, Benedict was charged with simony and summoned to a council which he failed to attend. He was duly excommunicated. Following his excommunication, not much is known on him or his fate.

Gregory VI ~  Johannes Gratianus (1045-1046)

It isn't hugely clear whether Pope Gregory abdicated, or whether he was deposed. Every source I can find says something different. At any rate, he was accused of Simony in 1046 at the council of Sutri. From what I can find about him, the majority of sources state it was an abdication due to these accusations. He lost the chair of St Peter's in December 1046.

St Celestine V ~  Pietro da Morrone (1294)

In April 1292, following the death of Nicholas IV, a group of Cardinal's met at Perugia. They had escaped there to escape the plague which had once more overtaken Rome. They took twenty seven months to chose their new pontiff, finally settling on a compromise on Pietro del Morrone. Pietro was an 85 year old peasant who lived in seclusion in the hills of Albruzzi as a hermit. His one qualification was a very brief appearance at the court of Gregory X, nothing more. It is said that a group of five cardinals went on a trip to his little cell to tell him the news When they arrived, they found that King Charles II of Naples had got there first. Pietro was in a state of panic and he refused to accept the Throne until he had prayed. After praying, he agreed, and started on the journey to L'Aquila. Many believed Celestine would be the "Angel Pope" prophecies but in all honesty, Celestine was too old, and too malleable to keep the papacy in safe hands. Indeed, he ended up being little more than a puppet of Charles II - he even took up residence in the Castel Nuovo in Naples. Within the Castel, he ordered a tiny wooden cell to be built and there he spent most of his time as he felt more at home. He refused to see his cardinals as their sophistication terrified him. When he did grant them an audience they were made to abandon their Latin and use the crude Vernacular that Celestine was used to and the only language he could understand. He ignored all papal duties, and favours were given to anyone who asked for them. He lasted just five months before formally announcing his abdication - the only one in history to do so, until now.

Gregory XII ~ Angelo Correr (1406-1415)

1406, part way way through the Great Schism which saw the Papacy moving to Avignon and a huge number of Anti-Popes come into power. The new Pope, Gregory XII had long said he wished to see the end of the Schism although he knew that it was unlikely, given that he was already in his eighties. He was in office for 9 years, and very nearly saw it come to pass! It was agreed once he became Pope that if the current Anti-Pope Benedict VIII stepped down in Avignon (Gregory was chosen in Rome0, then Gregory would step down too so that a fresh claimant could be chosen. That didn't happen. Instead the two pontiff's met to discuss options, and negotiations dragged on, and on. Both of them were called in front of a Council, inn which they were both condemned as schismatics and heretics (despite the fact many wondered what heresies had been committed and both were formally deposed. A conclave was then formed, and Pietro Philarghi (who started life as an orphaned beggar) was elected as Alexander V. The problem was that neither of the other Popes wanted to take no for an answer, they refused to listen to the council and so there were three Popes. In 1415, another council was called at Constance and this one finally went some way to resolving the situation. Gregory announced Carlo Malatesta ad Giovanni Dominici as his proxies and on 4th July 1415 they announced that Gregory was formally stepping down from the Papacy. They then set aside John XXIII (Alexander's successor), but a new pope was not elected before Gregory died in 1417 - Pope Martin V was elected in the November of the year that Gregory died, and it was his election that effectively ended the Western Schism.

Further Reading 

The Popes: A History - John Julius Norwich
The Bad Popes - Russell Chamberlin

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Looking back: 7th February 1497 - The Bonfire of the Vanities

Today, in 1497: Girolamo Savonarola organised one of the most infamous moments in Renaissance history - the Bonfire of the Vanities. Here's an old post I wrote on the subject...


Savanarola by Fra Bartolomeo

Giralomo Savonarola 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 Savonarola 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 Savonarola piled up all manner of famous works of art, books and fine clothing...and burned the lot.

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

It was Lent, 1497. Giralomo Savonarola 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 Savonarola 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 Savonarola'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 Savonarola 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 Savonarola 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 Savonarola, 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 Savonarola's "rule"). Piero returned to Rome, not as the victor he envisaged.

Savonarola'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 Savonarola continued 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 Savonarola's flames. This really was a crime against the art that was created during the renaissance, and from my reading of Savonarola 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

Monday, 4 February 2013

It Really Is Richard III then.

I'm sure you've all heard the news...

This morning, the archaeological team at Leicester University announced the results from their testing of human remains found at the Greyfriars archaeological excavation.

They've found Richard III.

It's all here on the BBC news website. Exciting hmm? At the very least from an archaeological perspective. The archaeologists have been able to look at skeletal evidence alongside DNA from one of his living relatives - the detailed analysis allowed the archaeological team at Leicester to conclude that yep, it was indeed Richard III. I have to say, I'd be very interested to see a facial reconstruction!

Anyway, have a bit of fun. Here's Richard, trying to convince everyone he's actually a nice guy...

There's a documentary on at 9pm this evening, on channel 4 which I shall certainly be watching (bit obsessed with osteoarchaeology, so veeery excited to see the skeletal analysis and the facial reconstruction). I'll be the first to admit that I'm not really all that excited over the whole Richard III thing, however as a (sort of) archaeologist, the implications of this are huge. What I would have given to be part of that excavation isn't even worth listing, because it would be literally everything I own. Except my violin. Because that's my baby. I'm going to stop rambling now.

Please do check out the documentary tonight on Channel 4, and read some of the excellent blogs that have been written today on this news, like this one by MadameGuillotine. Oh, and if you're looking for a good book on Richard, please do check out "The Man Behind the Myth" by Michael Hicks!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

The Phantom of the Opera - 1st February 2013

This isn't something I'd normally post on here but I thought I'd break away from tradition and post a little review of the Phantom of the Opera, which I saw on the 1st February at the Mayflower in Southampton. My argument is that because it's set in the 1800's, it is technically history. Most of you probably know the story of the Phantom of the Opera, set in the late 1800's at the Opera Garnier in Paris. The opera is haunted by something known only as The Phantom of the Opera, a man by the name of Erik who wears a mask to cover his deformed face. Not only does he "haunt" the place, but he works on the fear the staff and the management by demanding a salary, and that Box 5 be kept empty for his own private use. As the play opens we are introduced to a number of important characters in the show - Carlotta Guidicelli, Madame Giry, Meg Giry and Christine Daee. It soon becomes apparent that Christine is a star in the making - after Carlotta has a hissy fit and leaves, Christine takes her place in the latest show, all thanks to her strange new singing Tutor known just as the Angel of Music. After the performance, she goes to her dressing room where we are introduced to Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny and Christine's love interest. But the Angel steps in as Raoul goes to get his hat, and takes her through the mirror to his underground lair beneath the opera house. It soon becomes apparent that he is deeply in love with Christine, and that his love for her borders on obsessed. And that's when things all start to go terribly wrong. Whilst the Phantom plays with the management to make sure Christine gets all the best parts, he becomes enraged when the staff disobey him, and that Box 5 is in use...and drops a chandelier on the audience and stage during a performance. He also starts killing people (there is a rather brilliant scene in which he hangs Joseph Buquet, completely ruining a performance) using his famous Persian lassoo, forces the opera to perform his own production "Don Juan Triumphant". Of course, Chagny wants rid of the Phantom and schemes with the police to make sure he's arrested during a performance of Don Juan...but it all goes wrong, the Phantom shows up as planned and abducts Christine. Again. He takes her back to his lair, and all but forces her to agree to marry him and look upon his deformed face for the rest of her life believing that it disgusts her. But she says his face no longer frightens her but his dark, ugly soul does. When Raoul shows up, the Phantom places a noose around his neck, forcing Christine to make a choice - agree to stay with him, or Raoul dies. She ends up kissing him, proving that she doesn't fear him - and is she admitting some sort of feelings for her Angel of Music? In any case, he falls to his knees sobbing, allowing the two of them to leave. Having never experienced such compassion before, it knocks the Phantom for six. He never believed that any one would look past his deformities and show him real love. He let's them go, and as the police make their way to his lair led by Meg Giry, he disappears leaving just his cloak and mask.

In the show we saw, the Phantom was played by Earl Carpenter. And I must say, he was absolutely mind blowing. Before going to see the stage show, I had only seen the move version. Whilst the music in the movie was brilliant, the stage version was a thousand times better. Carpenter's voice was astounding, and his stage presence just breathtaking. As he and the rest of the cast acted out Andrew Lloyd Webber's script, I could barely move my eyes from the stage. Carpenter was incredibly dynamic and his relationship with Katie Hall who played Christine was sheer perfection. The two of them worked so well together, their voices mingling in a dynamic musical experience.

The set and costumes were utterly beautiful. I have to say my favourite bit of the whole thing - due quite frankly to the beautiful costumes and set - was "Masquerade". The use of Venetian masks and a stage full of dancers in beautiful costumes, the set made up entirely of mirrors. I was completely blown away, and I will admit that I had tears in my eyes during this sequence and once they finished the song I clapped so hard my hands hurt. Absolutely stunning, completely blown away. In fact, the whole production was the same. And during the most famous song of the whole production, "The Phantom of the Opera", I was so impressed with not only the singing but how they made the progression from climbing down the steps to the boat on the lake. As I watched, highly impressed with the singing, I had tears in my eyes yet again. My heart was in my mouth as the set changed from the misty lake to the Phantom's lair. Absolutely astounding.

The Opera House in which the Phantom is set, is actually a real place - the Palais Garnier in Paris. And there is actually a lake and thousands of metres of tunnels beneath the Opera House. Alas, no one is allowed down to the lake that inspired the original tale. However, access to the lake and tunnels are seriously restricted and after doing some digging online, it seems you can only go down there with a special pass from security. Another interesting historical fact, the Opera was used to house prisoners during the second French Revolution - and in the deep cellars beneath the Opera you can still see rusted manacles on the walls along with graffiti from the prisoners scratched into the walls. I've been scouring the Internet for most of the day trying to find more information on these tunnels, searching for information that could point to there being even a grain of truth in the story but alas, I've come up with nothing more than a very expensive book...and I'm not going to spend £1000 on a book about the Palais Garnier. Nope. Can't afford it. However, more digging shall be done into this awesome legend - starting with reading the original story by Leroux. I've also been looking into the Palais Garnier itself, an absolutely fascinating building and so beautiful - and a building I would like to do more research on. More on that here on the blog as and when.

All in all, an absolutely brilliant production and one I would recommend to anyone whether they know the story or not. If you can get to see the tour as it heads around the UK then please do. My next stop will be to see a production of it on the West End! And in the meantime I shall be looking into the legend and the history of the Palais Garnier!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Coronation of Charles I - A Guest Post by Jennie Gillions

Today's post comes courtesy of Jennie Gillions, author of the fabulous blog "Ink Under Skin" which is all about tattoos and skin art in history. Now, I adore tattoos; heck I'm even planning on getting one of Cesare Borgia's motto but that's a different story - so her blog is definitely a must read if you like fun stuff like that. Anyway, I'll stop rambling and let Jennie take over with her post on Charles I's Coronation!

Charles I by Van Dyke

2nd February 2013 is the 387th anniversary of the coronation of England’s arguably most rubbish king.

He has some stiff competition - Henry VI was pretty useless, and Edward II was deposed by his own wife - but Charles I, I think, wins out for managing to be the only British monarch to annoy his own people so much that they, state-sanctioned, murdered him.

And it wasn’t even as if it started well. Charles had been ruling since his father James I died in March 1625, but plague had postponed the coronation. In case that wasn’t sufficiently ominous, his wife refused to be crowned alongside him, and the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke too quietly for the congregation to hear when they were supposed to start applauding.

* * *

Charles, born a second son of James VI of Scotland in November 1600, was never meant to be king. He was, by all accounts, an unattractive child, weak and with a pronounced stammer that he retained throughout his life - his father kept him in Scotland until a year after his own accession to the English throne, in 1603. Charles’s older brother Henry was, in contrast, glorious, and Henry’s death from tuberculosis in 1612 was as tragic as it was unexpected.

Charles I in his Garter robes by Van Dyke

 Charles therefore started training for kingship late, and a combination of naivety and supreme arrogance meant he made some grave errors even before he was crowned. Charles, like his father, was an ardent believer in the concept of Divine Right, that a king was annointed by God and therefore no other man had the authority to challenge him. Unfortunately Parliament tried to challenge him in its first session of his reign, by trying to impeach Charles’s beloved best friend, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham had risen to prominence under (if rumours are to be believed, quite literally under) James VI and I, becoming the preeminent figure at court, obscenely wealthy, and in charge of pretty much anything he wanted to be in charge of. This included, in 1625, an expedition to take the Spanish port of Cadiz, which ended in ignominious failure. Parliament blamed Buckingham for the men, the money and the dignity that had been lost but Charles, in an early display of the jaw-dropping inability to compromise that would eventually kill him, dissolved the session in a huff rather than risk Buckingham.

His early reign was also characterised by his disastrous marriage, to a French Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria. Henrietta Maria was only 15 when she arrived in England, already married by proxy to a nervous 25-year-old virgin who was a strict Anglican in a country that outlawed Catholicism. Charles had agreed with her brother, Louis XIII, that she should be allowed to practise her faith openly, which didn’t go down well with her new Protestant subjects. She and Buckingham hated each other, and because Charles loved his friend far more than he loved his wife, Henrietta Maria’s first months in England were unhappy ones.

Charles I and Henrietta Maria by Mytens

 So there was no glorious victory at Cadiz to celebrate, no heir to the throne and no harmony between Protestants and Catholics at court. There was no huge parade, and the Queen, refusing to be crowned in an Anglican ceremony, watched proceedings from an upstairs window. In the embarrassing silence that followed the Archbishop’s largely unheard call for cheering, it fell to one of the Lords to whip up some enthusiasm by shouting: ‘God save King Charles!’

* * *

God didn’t. Eventually, on 30th January 1649, after an eleven year rule without a single session of Parliament, followed by two bitter, bloody civil wars, England sent its king to the scaffold.

Further Reading

David Starkey & Christopher Hibbert: Charles I: A Life of Religion, War and Treason

Friday, 1 February 2013

Giveaway winner!

So last night, as many of you will have seen on facebook and twitter, we surpassed the 100,000 page view mark!

As promised, now we've reached that mark, I shall announce the winner of the giveaway!


Aimee C. Mack

Congratulations Aimee. Please can you email me with your mailing address and I'll organise the book to come out to you (probably on payday now, sorry), and as soon as the pendant arrives I'll get that in the post for you too!