Friday, 21 December 2012

Pentland Robson Dramatic Club - A Murder Has Been Arranged

A dramatic scene from A Murder Has Been Arranged 
performed by Pentland Robson Dramatic Club

A Murder Has Been Arranged, a ghost story in three acts by Emlyn Williams, was first produced in 1929, and revived circa 1973-74 by the Pentland Robson Dramatic Club.

It was the theatre company's second production in its new home at the Aventine Club Theatre, Cuthbert Street, Gateshead.

The play's central character, Sir Charles Jasper, will inherit £2m if he can survive the night of his fortieth birthday in a supposedly haunted theatre. A dramatic irony, as the Aventine Club Theatre was itself said to have been haunted, perhaps by a errant spirit from the Wesleyan Methodist Church, which stood adjacent to the theatre until its demolition in 1967.

The Wesleyan Methodist Church overshadows
the Aventine Club Theatre in 1966

The Dramatic Club had a varied repertoire which included melodrama, swashbuckling adventure, as well as modern classics, including a production of N.F. Simpson's theatre of the absurd play One Way Pendulum.

The Little Theatre, Saltwell, circa 1990
The venue of the Pentland Robson Dramatic Club's
1970s production of One Way Pendulum 

Pentland Robson Dramatic Club members
stroll through a wood on their annual chill out
at Otterburn Hall

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The Dark Lady of the Sonnets - Patricia Cornwell, where are you?

Costume design for The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (1910)
by Charles Ricketts
Harley Granville-Barker as William Shakespeare
with Red Elizabethan Lady

"I have had great difficulty in containing myself or making myself go off to sleep the last few days, for on Thursday [2 March 1972]..... I found that I had identified the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets".

Thus A.L. Rowse in his diary entry for 5 March 1972. And there was more...
" is difficult to keep such a secret - I feel ready to burst. ...the only way to hold on is to tease my enemies, who have made me suffer so much anguish, and now get some fun out of it, and them".

The 'enemies' that had caused so much 'anguish' were other academics, among them renowned Shakespeare scholar Samuel Schoenbaum. 

In 1964, when Rouse had asserted that the 'young man' of the sonnets was Shakespeare's patron, the Earl of Southampton, it was Professor Schoenbaum who pointed out that this claim had been made as early as 1817 by Nathan Drake.

And Rowse's pronouncement that the 'rival poet' of the sonnets was Christopher Marlowe, had fallen on deaf ears.

But now the tables had been turned. He had unravelled the secret of English literature's greatest conundrum - 
"and it is right for all I have had to put up with, that it should have fallen to me to solve it".

Contemporary image used by Rowse on the title page
of his book on the Dark Lady

The lady he identified as the 'Dark Lady' was Emilia Lanier née Bassano, the Italianate daughter of a court musician and the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, with whom she had a son in 1593.

Rowse based his conclusion on his reading of the casebooks of the astrologer Simon Forman, on whom he was preparing a biography. From these he discovered that Emilia had been 'somewhat brown in youth', which corresponds nicely with 'dark' lady; and that her husband was called William, which neatly fits Sonnet 135:

So thou, being rich in Will, add to thy Will
One will of mine, to make thy large Will more.
Let no unkind nor fair beseechers kill;
Think all but one, and me in that one Will.

The evidence seemed impressive, until it was pointed out that Emilia's husband was not named William at all, but Alfonso. And that 'somewhat brown in youth' had been a mis-reading of 'somewhat brave in youth'.

As Professor Schoenbaum unkindly commented: 
"It is useful for a Dark Lady to be demonstrably dark". [William Shakespeare - A Compact Documentary Life].

Nevertheless, Rowse's book Shakespeare's Sonnets: The Problem Solved*, became a bestseller among Shakespeare enthusiasts avid for the tiniest piece of new information on the life of their hero.

*Compare the title with Patricia Cornwell's Jack the Ripper - Case Closed, in which the popular novelist claimed to have solved a mystery which had eluded police and criminologists for over a century.

The historian Michael Wood also unequivocally endorsed Rowse in his television series In Search of Shakespeare.

Michael Wood also believes that the Grafton Portrait is a depiction
of how Shakespeare would have been at 24, declaring: "Shakespeare looked like this: a young blade, diffident, sensitive, witty, ambitious, a provincial poet making his way in the world", and suggesting that he could have commissioned the portrait to send back to his proud parents as proof of how well he was doing in London.

Needless to say, however, there is a long list of alternative candidates for the post of the elusive Dark Lady, including the poet's wife, Anne Hathaway, Queen Elizabeth I, and, most recently, Lucy Negrowidely reported in the media. (1) So maybe the true identity will never been known. 

Patricia Cornwell, where are you?

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The business portfolio of William Shakespeare

Elizabethan England was a land of high inflation and unemployed.
But there were also business opportunities in the developing
capitalist system.

Image: Engraving by Peter Bruegel.

If the financial crisis is bad today, in Elizabethan times it was infinitely worse.

Inflation was breaking all records, prices were rising steeply, and wages were at their lowest in real terms for 300 years.

Elizabethan society had Poor Laws and there was 
a Poor House in parishes overseen by 
Justices of the Peace.

But all was not gloomy. It was a good time to invest in land and property. Usury was a profitable venture. And there was a burgeoning demand for entertainment. And Shakespeare had a finger in them all.

Built in 1595, the Swan theatre was an entertainment
arena for plays, bear bating and swashbuckling.

As a shareholder in his theatre company Shakespeare generated capital which he could then invest in property and land deals. 

In 1602 he bought lands in Old Stratford, and in 1605 he bought a lease in Stratford and in three hamlets nearby. He bought New Place, the biggest house in Stratford. And his new wealth was able to procure for him his own coat of arms from a snobbish College of Heralds.

New Place - Shakespeare's Stratford residence.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

But it is Shakespeare’s moneylending which causes the most debate and controversy. 

In 1604 he sued his Stratford neighbour Philip Rogers over a debit of just £4. And four or five years later he pursued one John Addenbrooke for an unpaid loan of £6.  

In 1598 one Richard Quiney wrote a letter to his
'Lovinge good ffriend and contreymann Mr Will Shackespere' 

asking for a loan of £30. It is not known if Shakespeare 
replied to the letter
or that he even received it.

There were attempts to ban usury completely, on the grounds that it was forbidden in the Bible. 

But a developing capitalist system, and the financing of voyages of trade and discovery, made it an indispensable part of a new order than was emerging. 

And it is perhaps in these terms that Shakespeare could justify his actions, if indeed he wanted to justify them at all.

The vessel Red Dragon was used by the East India Company 
in trade with the East Indies.
It is believed that Hamlet was performed
onboard the ship in 1607.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Shakespeare's life was one of contrasts. A poet and actor on the one hand, an astute businessman on the other. 

Were these contradictions in his mind when he wrote The Merchant of Venice, itself a play of contrasts in which the action alternates between the magical island of Belmont with its fairy-tale princess, and the world of Venetian commerce with its usury and business deals? 

Was the poet-actor-businessman Shakespeare questioning his own values in the play? 

Warren Mitchell's Shylock was one of the highlights 
of the BBC TV Shakespeare 

Of course we can never know for certain what was passing through the mind of a man as complex as Shakespeare, and who lived 400 years ago, and in an age in which people's view of the world may have been very different to our own. 

And is it even important to know? As a character in Joyce's Ulysses states:

...when we read the poetry of King Lear what is it to us how the poet lived?

Friday, 7 December 2012

The History of England from 1689 to 1783

The arrival in England of William of Orange
as depicted by Sir James Thornhill
The ‘bloodless’ and ‘glorious’ Revolution of 1688 had brought the nephew and daughter of James II, William and Mary, to the English throne. Protestant Stuart had succeeded Catholic Stuart. But it is a dangerous time as Louis XIV of France still recognises James as the legitimate king of England. Irish Catholics also support James, and in 1689 French troops along with James land in Ireland and make siege of Londonderry. The siege is raised, and in July 1690 an army of English and Dutch led by William defeats an Irish and French army under James. But William’s main concern is to save his native Holland from Louis XIV, and he drags his new kingdom into another war with France. A static war of sieges follows. Then in May 1692 William has a great victory in the naval Battle of La Hogue which repulses a French invasion of England. Peace is concluded in 1697, but it is inconclusive, and leads to the creation of two institutions which are still with us today: the Bank of England and the National Debt. 
Sir Christopher Wren rebuilds St. Pauls after
the old edifice was destroyed in the
conflagration of 1666
The eighteenth century opens on a sombre note for England. Louis XIV’s grandson inherits the throne of Spain and with it the Spanish empire and the Netherlands. This greatly increases the power of France. Then, in 1702, William dies, and with Mary also dead, the throne passes to Mary’s sister, Anne. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, becomes commander of the army, and proves himself a brilliant military leader. He destroys the power of Louis XIV at the War of the Spanish Succession, fought to put an Austrian on the throne of Spain. With his Austrian allies he defeats a combined French and Bavarian army. The queen rewards him with a gift of the royal manor of Woodstock, along with Blenheim Palace, constructed by Sir John Vanbrugh. A further victory drives the French out of the 
John Churchill
1st Duke of Marlborough
Netherlands and Louis sues for peace. In 1707 England agrees an Act of Union with Scotland to create Great Britain, with a single flag, the Union Jack. But the war with France continues, with the English army advancing into France. Once more the French king sues for peace. But the Tories have a majority in the House of Commons and oppose the war as it financially benefits their political rivals the Whigs. In 1713 they conclude the Treaty of Utrecht, which gives Gibraltar to Britain, as well as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Then, in 1714, Anne dies, and with no living issue, the crown passes to the Protestant descendants of the House of Hanover. After 700 years of Danish, Norman, French, Welsh, Scottish and Dutch sovereigns, England now has a German monarch who speaks no English - George I. The new king dispenses with many of his royal prerogatives, and the Whigs regain power in Parliament. Government by cabinet is created, and in 1721 Sir Robert Walpole becomes the first Prime Minister. 
Sir Robert Walpole in conversation
with Speaker Onslow in a painting
by Sir James Thornhill (1730)
In 1727 George I is succeeded by George II. Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels are published, It is also the age of Pope, Handel and Hogarth. In 1739 John Wesley begins his evangelising, and Walpole is forced into a sea war with Spain which leads to a full scale war involving most European powers. The war lasts eight years and like many wars achieves nothing. In 1745 the Young Pretender, Charles Edward, leads a Jacobite rebellion in Scotland with just seven followers. The Highlanders rise to support him, enter Edinburgh, and move south into England. But promised help from France does not materialise and the rebels are forced to retreat and are routed by the English on Culloden Moor near Inverness. In the same year Venetian artist Canaletto produces his paintings of Georgian London. And the first true novels are published, among them Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. The war ends in 1748, but tensions mount in North America, where France erects forts along several important rivers, the St. Lawrence, the Hudson and the Mississippi, confining to the coast the thirteen British colonies. In 1755 there is fighting on the Hudson 
The Thames on Lord Mayor's Day (1752)
by Canaletto (abstract)
which leads in 1756 to the Seven Years’ War in Europe. The war in Europe inhibits the French from reinforcing their North American colonies, and one by one their fortresses fall. 1759 sees a Year of Victories for the British, including the capture of Quebec by General Wolfe on 13 September 1759. Peace is finally agreed in 1763 with France ceding to Britain all Canada and all her territories west of the thirteen colonies.
William Pitt the Younger
In 1760 George II is succeeded by his grandson George III, who sees himself as the Patriot King. Government by cabinet is suspended, and replaced with a period of rule by the King and the ‘King’s Friends’. The year 1761 sees the departure of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, and the force behind the recent victories, and is also marked by a deterioration of relations with the American colonies. Though self-governing, their trade was regulated by the British, who insisted they contribute to the high cost of the war in their defence. This is not unreasonable, but the colonies refuse to tax themselves, so the British Parliament prepares to tax them direct. The colonies protest ‘No taxation without representation’. Parliament imposes duties on a variety of imports only to repeal them after riots in Boston. But the tax on tea remains. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Captain Cook touches land in the newly discovered Australia. But the king continues to mismanage the nation’s affairs. In 1773 the North American colonists throw tea into the Boston harbour in an action known as the Boston Tea Party. Parliament’s response is to pass penal measures against Massachusetts. Skirmishes break out in the summer of 1775, and a year later, on 4 July 1776, a Declaration of Independence is issues by Congress. Canada remains loyal to the British, but an army marching south is surrounded at Saratoga and forced to surrender. France and Spain profit from a British defeat to declare war on their old adversary. In 1781 a British force at Yorktown is forced to surrender when it is caught between a Franco-American army and a French naval fleet. Finally, in 1782, Britain cedes all her territories south of Canada to the thirteen colonies.
In England the cabinet system is restored to government after the disaster of George’s personal rule. In 1783 William Pitt the younger, at 24 years of age, becomes Prime Minister.  In 1776 Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations is published. It is the age of Burke, Goldsmith, Gibbon, Sheridan and Gainsborough, and of the literary giant, Dr. Samuel Johnson. And in 1782 James Watt develops the steam engine, which is to lead to the creation of the railways and the Industrial Revolution.

Samuel Johnson 'the Great Cham'
by Sir Joshua Reynolds (c. 1772)
In April 1775 he published his Dictionary of the English Language

Sunday, 2 December 2012

The vedute artists who painted Venice - Canaletto, Luca Carlevarjis, Francesco Guardi

veduta (pl. vedute) (Italian) view, vista

The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute (1730)

The veduta genre of detailed urban landscape painting had its beginnings in Venice towards the end of the 17th century. 

The great Venetian masters, from Luca Carlevarjis to Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, worked incessantly to satisfy the demand throughout the continent.

Venice: The Wharf, Looking towards the Doge's Palace
(first half 1700s) Luca Carlevarjis

Francesco Guardi was just starting when Canaletto was enjoying great success. He continued to create in his paintings the atmosphere present in the master's work.

Venice: The Dogana and the Giudecca (c1775)
Francesco Guardi

Squares and avenues appear in the paintings, as well as country scenes with ruins and lush vegetation. 

Ruins of a Temple
Bernardo Bellotto (nephew of Canaletto)

With the scrupulous detail of Canaletto, and the emotional content of Guardi, they remain the masters of the art of the veduta.

Venice: Grand Canal

Monday, 26 November 2012

Chocolate - the Food for the Gods

[Women] think the most wonderful thing in the world is chocolate.  [Men Behaving Badly]

In Aztec culture the god Quetzalcoati came down from the firmament with a cocoa tree that he filched from the Heavens.

Aztec Chocolate God Quetzalcoati

The Aztecs ground the cocoa seeds and seasoned it with cereals and chilli peppers to produce the spicy drink they called chocolati.

Aztecs enjoying a cup of chocolati

Christopher Columbus, the last man to discover America, stumbled across it in 1502 when he robbed a native trader, and thought it was a kind of almond. 

“They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price. For when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when one of these almost fell, they all stooped to pick it up, as if an eye had fallen”.

But he failed to realise the importance of his chance discovery, and it was left to Hernando Cortez in 1519 to establish the first plantation for the growing of cocoa beans.

Cortez concludes a chocolate deal with Aztec Emperor Montezuma

In 1528 Cortez introduced chocolate to the Spanish court of Charles V where they added sugar, vanilla and spices to it. The result was so seductive that they keep it a secret for the next one hundred years.

In 1615 Louis XIII of France is given his first taste of chocolate by his Spanish wife. Soon it is a craze throughout France and gains a reputation as an aphrodisiac. In the following century Casanova has a cup of chocolate before each sexual conquest.

The craze reached London around 1652. In June 1657 the Publick Advertiser announced:
In Bishopgate Street in Queen's Head Alley, at a Frenchman's house, is an excellent West India drink called chocolate, to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates. 

By the beginning of the eighteenth century chocolate had arrived in Germany and Austria. In the 1750s it reached the United States. Chocolate factories were opened in Europe and in North and South America. In 1847 J.S. Fry & Sons began making solid chocolate.

'Anything is good if it's made of chocolate'. [Jo Brand]

Any commodity as precious as chocolate is bound to lead to conflict, and in 1973 open hostilities broke out among chocolate-producing countries of the EU. After much bickering over the inclusion of vegetable oil in chocolate by some manufacturers, peace was finally restored in 2003.

Save the Earth. It's the only planet with chocolate.

From its humble beginnings chocolate has now become an $83 billion dollar a year industry. [MarketsandMarkets] In the UK 91% of women and 87% of men admit to eating chocolate. [Mintel] In 2008 Germany topped the world league for the consumption per capita of chocolate. And on Valentine's Day in the U.S. 58 million pounds of chocolate candy are sold.

In the words of the Fab Four....
All You Need is Love Chocolate! 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Invasion of the Saucer People. Is it already too late?

World leaders at the G8 Summit 2012?
Or aliens from outer space?

The one thing we can be sure about conspiracy theorists who tell us that aliens from outer space have infiltrated positions of power on Earth in order to take over the planet, is that they are wrong.

For if there were space aliens in our midst we would know them at once by their appearance. The green skin, the three heads, the propensity to hop along the ground on their twelve pairs of legs, would all tend to convince us that they were not native and to the manor born. 

And even if they had evolved human forms, and had been able to adapt to the gravity of our planet, and to sustain themselves on our alien cuisine, and to master our languages, including the ones with the tricky prepositions, we still may get suspicious when one of them arrives for a job interview and announces: ‘My - name - is - Mr - Smith - querk! - and - I - have - an - appointment - with - Mr - Brown - querk! - Please - let - him - know - I - am - here - querk!’

And, yet, we could be wrong. When we see our leaders, our political masters, strut and pose at photo ops, or babble in that curious low-minded manner of theirs, to avoid answering a question perhaps, or because they think it makes them appear statesmanlike, then it is hard to believe that they are not visitors from a distant galaxy. 

Why shouldn’t we be convinced that they are representatives of the Saucer People, and that the wars and chaos and the discord that they spread are all part of a grand, extra-terrestrial plan to prepare the way for an invasion?

But, no, they aren’t from another planet. Though sometimes, when one of them says something monumentally dim, and we stare at him or her in disbelief, can we really be blamed for wondering, if only for one millisecond of a moment, that perhaps maybe they are?

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Yuletide, Saturnalia and the Feast of Fools

The Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia

Santa Claus is coming to town.
(so mind your bottoms, ladies!)

Lo! the Yuletide festivities are upon us once more, and already people will stocking up with the booze, the liver salts and the paper hats. But to what do we owe this our annual manifestation of silliness? Or put another way: From whence comes it thither? And for wherefore does it why?

The winter solstice celebrations, of which Christmas is a part, owe their origins to the ancient Roman tradition of Saturnalia, the festival of Saturn. 

During this period, which lasted seven days, all schools and law courts closed, prisoners went unpunished, and the population indulged in a frenzy of drinking and debauchery. Not very different from the office Christmas party, in fact.

Social boundaries of class and gender were also swept aside as all and sundry celebrated the coming of the New Year in a passionate sexual re-enactment of ancient fertility rites. Once again not very different to the office Christmas party.

The Feast of Fools (detail)
Pieter Bruegel
In England, in mediaeval times, the Christmas festivities were presided over by the Lord of Misrule. During the Lord's 'reign' there was open licence for days (and nights) of nameless wildness, and cross-dressing was an indispensable part of the frivolity.

Naturally it France they went further with their Feast of Fools, which took the form of open rebellion against the Catholic Church. In 1445, the Faculty of Theology in Paris wrote a letter to the bishops, stating: 
'Priests and clerks... sing wanton songs... run and leap through the church... and rouse the laughter of their fellows... with indecent gestures and verses scurrilous and unchaste'.

In England, the revelry continued unabated until the 1640s, when that old killjoy of an Oliver Cromwell, deciding they were unfit for a decent society, took the law into his own puritanical hands and banned them outright. 

Naturally the stout yeomen and yeowomen of Olde Englande didn't give up their pleasures that easily, and they just moved underground. But when they resurfaced again during the Restoration, they had become less wild and spontaneous, with the cross-dressing left to the professional performers, of which today's pantomime artists are the relic.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Death of the Man in the Iron Mask

On 19 November 1703, a prisoner in France’s notorious Bastille Prison, his identity hidden behind a mask of black velvet, suddenly died. But who was the mysterious masked man who occupied the third chamber of the prison’s Bretaudière Tower? The elder brother of Louis XIV? The illegitimate son of Oliver Cromwell? It is a mystery which has continued for over 300 years.

What is known about the celebrated prisoner, named in the burial register as M. de Marchiel, is the day and the circumstances of his death. According to his gaoler, Du Junca, on 19 November 1703, after attending Mass, he suddenly felt ill, and had to be helped back to his cell. There he quickly lost consciousness and died at about 10 o’clock that night. 

The prison doctor was summoned, but could find no cause for the prisoner’s terrible death. The following morning he was secretly buried in the cemetery of the Church of St. Paul. According to the gaoler, the funeral expenses amounted to forty pounds.

Du Junca also recorded in his diary that the prisoner arrived at the Bastille on 18 September 1698, accompanied by the governor, M. de Saint-Mars, and M. de Rosarges, a sergeant. At nine o’clock that night Du Junca and de Rosarges took him to his chamber in the Bretaudière Tower.

The arrival was further elaborated by Voltaire, himself a prisoner at the Bastille on two occasions, in 1717 and 1726. In his work The Century of Louis XIV, he wrote: 

“In the greatest possible secrecy, an unknown prisoner, slightly above average height, young and with the most beautiful and noble countenance, was taken to the Château of the île Sainte-Marguerite. Throughout the journey the prisoner wore a mask of which the chin straps had steel springs to allow the man to eat. They were under orders to kill him if he removed the mask. He remained on the île until, in 1690. a trusty officer called Saint-Mars …. having being made governor of the Bastille, took him .... to the Bastille [where] he was refused nothing that he asked for. His greatest cost was for the finest linen and for lace”. 

Voltaire added that he also played the guitar.

Over the course of the following fifty years Voltaire tried unsuccessfully to discover more about the masked man. In 1771 he decided that he was the elder brother of Louis XIV, the illicit fruits of a secret liaison between the king’s mother, Anne of Austria, and an unknown lover. Upon learning of the existence of this illegitimate elder brother, Louis had him interred and his identity hidden behind a velvet mask. 

But not everyone agrees with Voltaire. So unless Patricia Cornwell gets on the case, the identify of the Man in the Iron Mask could remain a mystery that will haunt us in perpetuity. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Artists of the Place Clichy, Paris

Place Clichy by Giovanni Baldini (1874)

The Place Clichy is one of the most animated squares in Paris, so it is not surprising that it has attracted many artists, such as Manet, Renoir, Signac, Pissarro, and most notably Pierre Bonnard.

The square also caught the attention of Italian-born Giovanni 'Master of Swish' Baldini (1842-1931), best known as a portrait artists, who subjects included Sarah Bernhardt.

More paintings of the Place Clichy through the eyes of painters here.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Popes' Palace, Avignon

Photo: Greudin

Avignon is located in the Rhone Valley of France. The main attraction of the town is the Popes’ Palace, which in 1309 became the business headquarters of the Papal Empire.

It came about as the result of a quarrel between two of the principal stakeholders - Philip the Fair, King of France, and Pope Bonifice VIII. 

Philip was unhappy that Rome was extorting vast sums of money from the Christian nations to finance its Crusades. It was creating an imbalance between the spiritual and the temporal powers of Europe, with the spiritual gaining the upper hand. So he determined to stop the drain from his dominions.

He began by prohibiting the export of gold and silver without a licence, and requiring the clergy to pay their taxes directly to him. Pope Boniface responded by excommunicating the king. 

Being excommunicated was the thing that Christian souls feared the most, so it was a useful weapon in the Vatican’s armoury. 

It was also good business, since persons who were excommunicated were compelled to purchase absolutions at exorbitant rates. 

It is estimated that in 1327 half of the Christian world was in a state of excommunication. 

But Philip was made of sterner stuff. He accused Boniface of being an atheist, and despatched several faithful servants to his palace in Anagni, where they seized and manhandled him so badly that he died. His successor, Pope Benedict XI, was poisoned.

Philip then decided that the papacy should cease being an Italian family business. So he concluded an agreement with the cardinals that a French archbishop, Raymond Bertrand de Got, should be promoted to the pontificate, where he took the name of Clement V. The business was then relocated to Avignon and the takeover was complete.

The palace is now a major tourist attraction visited by more than 650,000 tourists [Official website]. On view are the pope's private apartments, as well as the frescos by Italian artist Matteo Giovanetti. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Pope Leo X - open for business

Leo X was pope from 1513 to 1521. He was pope while syphilis, introduced to Europe by the companions of Columbus, was spreading across the continent with wonderful rapidity. He may have contracted the disease himself. 

But syphilis or not, he never let it interfere with his money making activities. He spent his own income and squandered the savings of his predecessors. He created hundreds of new offices and put them up for auction. In all this he was following the habits of his predecessors. As Bishop Alvaro Pelayo 200 years previously had said: “Whenever I entered the apartments of the Roman court clergy, I found them occupied in counting up gold-coin, which lay about the rooms in heaps”.

Seated behind the pope on his right in Raphael's portrait of 1518/19 is his cousin Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, the future Pope Clement VII, who advocated an aggressive approach to the spreading the Word of God. And hovering on his left is Cardinal Luigi de’ Rossi, on whom he had bestowed (or sold) his cardinal's hat.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Theresa Garnett - a scolding for Mr. Churchill

"Take that, in the name of the insulted women of England!"

3 p.m. on Saturday 13th November 1909 and Winston Churchill is alighting from a railway carriage at Bristol station. Suddenly a mad woman comes rushing towards him brandishing a dog whip. “Take that, you brute!” she screams as she tries to beat Mr Churchill with the whip. 

The woman is Theresa Garnett, a 21-year old suffragette militant from a time in which feminists preferred physical confrontation to baring their boobs. Her assault on Mr Churchill was reported in The Times as follows:

'Mr Churchill … had just alighted from the carriage and had introduced his host, Sir William Howell Davies, M.P., and others to Mrs Churchill. Surrounding the party was a number of Bristol detectives in a semi-circle. Mr Churchill was recognized, and a crowd began to assemble. Suddenly a woman broke through the cordon of police, shouting frantically and flourishing a dog whip. She gripped Mr Churchill’s coat with one hand, and with the other which held the whip she aimed a blow at Mr Churchill. She failed to hit him with the whip. Her hand alone hit him in the face. Mr Churchill was not hurt at all. He saw the blow coming and grappled with the woman. For a moment there was a struggle. …. The woman was shouting frantically and the words “Take that, you brute, you brute!” could be heard. Mr Churchill wrenched the whip from his assailant’s hands, and in another moment two police officers placed her arms by her sides. She was promptly hurried outside the station, and as she disappeared, still shouting and struggling, Mr Churchill put the whip into his overcoat pocket'. [The Times 15 Nov., 1909]

Theresa is taken the police station for interrogation. She refuses to give her name but is recognized as a well-known activist with an impressive CV: 

April 1909 - chains herself in the House of Commons.

27 June 1909 -  imprisoned for throwing bricks at Whitehall. Goes on hunger strike and is accused of assaulting a prison officer.

August 1909 -  climbs onto the roof of Sun Hall in Liverpool. Is sent once more to prison and once more goes on hunger strike. 

13 November 1909 assaults Mr Churchill at Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

She is charged with disturbing the peace and given a term of one month’s imprisonment. Once again she goes on hunger strike and is force fed with a tube. In protest she sets her cell on fire and is placed in a punishment cell. 

The Times has no further mention of Theresa Garnett until Wednesday 17 March 1954 when it reports her being present at the funeral of Lady Pethick-Lawrence.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Guy Fawkes and J.M.W. Turner

Guy Fawkes, the only man to have entered Parliament with honest intentions, being greeted by the Official Reception Committee, 
5th November 1605.

Mr Fawkes's intention, of course, was to blow the building up, or to burn it down, he probably didn't care which.

He failed in this endeavour, though the edifice was finally consumed in flames in 1834, and witnessed by the artist J.M.W. Turner. 

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October 1834
by J.M.W. Turner

J.M.W. produced so many pictures of the fire, nine in watercolour and two in oil on canvas, that we could almost think he enjoyed it!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Angelica Kauffman (1741 - 1807)

Angelica Kauffman self-portrait 1785

Swiss-born Angelica Kauffman was an artist child prodigy. As a teenager she was painting portraits of the European nobility. She spoke Italian, German, French and English. She played musical stringed instruments and was an accomplished opera singer. In mid-1760s London she was the darling of the portraitists counting royalty among her clients. Her alluring beauty had men throwing themselves at her feet.   But she was duped into marrying a confidence trickster posing as a count. She got out of the marriage only when the husband died in 1780. She married a second husband in 1781 and spent the last 25 years of her life in Rome, where she died on 5 November 1807.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Louis VIII - the French king who refused doctor's orders

“Your Majesty is dying. The only remedy for you is to deflower this young virgin”. 

Such was the proposition made to Louis VIII of France on 8 November 1226 as he lay on his death bed. But the king replied that he was in love with his wife, Blanche de Castille, whom he had married when both were twelve years old, and must therefore refuse his physician’s thoughtful advice.

Louis had the cognomen ‘the Lion’, and had fallen sick on his way back to Paris from the Crusades in the south of France. He was struck down with a fever and debilitating diarrhoea and was probably suffering for dysentery, a common illness of soldiers at the time, though some think he may have been poisoned. On 3 November he took to his bed and became delirious. His doctors consulted and diagnosed a severe case of sexual abstinence due to several months of campaigning, and that the remedy was a night of passion with a young virgin. As reported by Guillaume de Puylaurens: 

‘…. coming back from the Crusades in Albigeois the king fell ill and they said he could be cured if he saw a woman …. His faithful companion Archambaud de Bourbon chose a beautiful young girl and had her placed in his bed while he was sleeping. Upon waking the king asked the girl what she was doing in his bed. She replied that she was there to help cure him of his sickness. He thanked her for her kindness and said that he must refuse the remedy as he did not wish to commit a mortal sin.’

He died several days later - 8 November 1226, at the age of 39.

No-one at the time blamed Louis’s fidelity as the cause of his death. Instead, rumour-mongers pointed the finger at Thibaud de Champagne, whom they accused of poisoning the king because of his mad passion for Blanche. But Thibaud had a cast iron alibi, as had left the royal army several months before the king’s death. 

Louis was succeeded by his twelve-year old son, Louis IX, who was to become known as Saint Louis, and Blanche assumed the title of Regent.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Place Masséna, Nice

Place Masséna c. 1905

Nice's beautiful Place Masséna owes its name to Marshall André Masséna, a lieutenant in Bonaparte's Italian Army. He saw victory in Zurich in 1799, distinguished himself at the siege of Genoa in 1800, defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Caldiero in 1805, and was conqueror of the Kingdom of Naples in 1806. In 1804 he was made Marshall of the Empire, in 1808 he became Duke of Rivoli, and in 1809 Prince of Essling. But he fell from grace after reverses in Portugal in 1810. More interested in pleasure than in patriotism, he aged prematurely and died in 1817.

Carnival on Place Masséna c. 1900

An important date for Nice, and for the Place Masséna is 26 May 1832 as this is the day that the king Charles-Albert established an institution with the task of creating an urban plan which would determine the shape of the modern city. This led in 1844 to the creation of the Place Masséna with Boulevard Barthélemy (later Avenue de la Victoire, now Avenue Jean Médecin) to the north. 

And in 1928, Jean Médecin, an energetic and stubborn man, was elected mayor of Nice, and oversaw the enlargement of the square to what it is today - a vibrant crossroads in the heart of la belle ville de Nice.

Strollers on Place Masséna today