Monday, 29 October 2012

Sir Walter Raleigh

Sir Walter Raleigh by an unknown artist

On this day in history, 1618; sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded upon the orders of James I. But why was this man, once a great favourite of Elizabeth I, given such a death and executed as a traitor? With this post, I will give a brief overview of his life up until the reign of James I; and then will discuss in more detail the events that lead up to his trial and execution in 1618.

Sir Walter Raleigh was born in 1554 to Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne in Hayes, Devon. Little Walter's family had links to royalty back to the thirteenth century, and his father had previously been Lord Vice Admiral to Mary I from 1555-58. We know from Raleigh's later work that he was an incredibly intelligent man, but really very little is known about his childhood years and what sparked that brilliant mind. What we do know though is that from 1569 (from the age of 15 or so) he served as a volunteer in France during their religious wars. He returned to England in 1570. We also know that he spent some years at Oriel College in Oxford, although the exact date that he entered the college has not been recorded. He left Oxford without his degree, which at the time was not unusual and went to the Middle Temple (sort of like a law school) in the February of 1575. Whilst there he began penning poetry, the first of which was published in 1576. Raleigh was in fact related to Katherine Ashley, first gentlewoman of Elizabeth I's bedchamber, through his mother and it is possible that this link allowed him to meet other great courtiers such as Robert Dudley. In 1578, he teamed up with a man by the name of Humphrey Gilbert and set sail on an adventure to discover remote lands. He returned the following year.

In 1581, following a brief stint as a soldier in Ireland, Raleigh began to attract the attentions of Elizabeth I and spent a good few years as her favourite. That was until he earned her displeasure by entering into a liaison with one of her maids; Elizabeth Throckmorton. Having gotten Elizabeth pregnant, the two married in secret. Raleigh knew how displeased the Queen would be and so made plans to set sail once more, yet when he returned from his voyage in 1592, the Queen was well aware of what had happened. She had the couple separated and both were sent to the Tower of London. It took a while for Elizabeth to even think of forgiving the couple and both were eventually released from the Tower. Their first son disappears from the record, but in 1593 Elizabeth gave birth to another little boy. However, they were both still banished from court and it took Raleigh a while to return to favour. Raleigh was not allowed back to court until 1597 and during those years of disgrace had spent a good many years on his travels searching for the fabled El Dorado and explored the areas of Guyana and Eastern Venezuela. He had managed to get his hands on a description of a City of Gold, yet despite his years of searching never found it.

When Elizabeth I died in 1603, Raleigh had not long been back in favour yet had spent a good few years still adventuring and also dabbling in poetry. When news broke of Elizabeth's death, he hastened to meet the new King James, yet did not exactly receive a warm welcome. Despite being present at the Queens funeral as an official attendant, following this he was rebuffed quite harshly by the new ruler - James I (also James VI of Scotland) stripped him of his monopolies as well as his captaincy of the Guard and was told that he had to leave his current place of residency, Durham Place. In July of 1603 Raleigh was also questioned on two counts of treason and placed under house arrest. Yet what were these treason's? It had come to James' ear that Raleigh had been involved in a number of plots, including planning rebellion and a Spanish invasion, as well as plotting the death of the King. It is said that he planned to place Lady Arabella Stuart in James' place as monarch.

Arabella Stuart by Lowres

Raleigh was taken to the Tower on 20th July 1603. There he wrote a farewell letter to his wife, and on 27th July tried to take his own life by stabbing himself in the heart with a table knife. The attempt failed, and after a while he realised that the only evidence of any substance held against him was a statement made by a man who thought Raleigh had betrayed him. It seems that the gentleman who made the accusations withdrew them almost immediately although Raleigh did not know this until he was brought to trial on 17th November. At any rate, Raleigh was found guilty - despite the fact that Cobham had withdrawn his accusations, he was still found guilty of a more sweeping treason thanks to various letters from Cobham making out that Raleigh had passed on information on the King's military endeavours and trying to get money out of others for military intelligence. Raleigh was taken back to the Tower, and there held until 1612. After his trial, he despaired of mercy from King James and wrote another letter to his wife. However in December 1503, King James agreed that Raleigh could keep his life.

During his years in the Tower, Raleigh dabbled in chemistry. There he created various medicines, but when he fell sick in 1615 it was put down to his dabbling in chemicals. Whilst locked away he also wrote his famous History of the World. There is a copy of this still on show in the Tower of London. He began the work in around 1607, and it was intended to be widely published as the first part of his history of the world. The entire work works out as around 5 volumes, and the first two volumes make up the biblical history of how the world came into being and the final three volumes deal with the histories of the Greek and Roman Empires.

Walter Raleigh's History of the World. Photo by me

Reconstruction of Raleigh's rooms in the Tower. Photo by me

Raleigh was released from the Tower in 1616 and then began his final voyage. The aim of this expedition was to search once more for the fabled El Dorado. He set sail on 19th August 1617 and did not land until November. The journey had been arduous, Raleigh himself succumbing to a nasty fever. On 2nd January 1618, the party arrived at the Spanish settlement of San Thome. The group stormed the settlement, in direct violation of the original agreement. They were there to search for gold, they were there to help relations between England and Spain. They weren't there to attack a Spanish outpost and pillage. Following this, they searched further and further inland for the fabled mines but found nothing. San Thome had been burnt to the ground and on 13th February 1618 Raleigh was told that his son had been killed during the storming of the outpost. Raleigh would accept no apologies for his sons death and began planning another expedition of San Thome, saying that they had missed the mine. His men refused to follow, and in March deserted him completely. Raleigh was left with a tiny force, and returned to Plymouth utterly defeated.

when he returned to England, the Spanish ambassador had already been to King James with reports of the violence that had happened at San Thome. The ambassador demanded Raleigh's arrest and not long after he landed, he was arrested and taken to London. On 10th August 1618, Raleigh found himself back in the Tower. This time, there would be no escape for Sir Walter Raleigh.

On 22nd October, Raleigh was brought before the Privy Council. There he was accused of being ungrateful to the King who had forgiven him his previous treason's, accused of planning to start a war between England and Spain, and moreover was accused of deserting his men. On 28th October, a verdict was passed. Sir Walter Raleigh was guilty. Yet Raleigh threw himself on the Kings mercy, pleading for clemency. It didn't work, and Raleigh was sentenced to execution. He spent his last night in the Gatehouse at Westminster and on the morning of 29th October 1618 was beheaded at Westminster. His execution speech was long and he welcomed the fact that he was going to die. His final speech lasted for almost forty five minutes and in it he insisted that his expeditions had no ulterior motive, that he had never sought to plot with France and start a war between England and Spain.

Just before he knelt he spoke a few more words, admitting that he had been a man of vanity and joked with the executioner that the axe would be his "sharp medicine". And once the fatal blow was struck, his head was placed in a red bag and taken away by his wife who kept it until her own death. It is said that she liked to bring out his head when she had visitors. Once she died, his head was returned to the rest of his remains at St Margaret's Church next to Westminster Abbey.

Raleigh's memorial plaque inside St Margaret's Church

St Margaret's Church, Westminster. Photo by me.

Further Reading

Mark Nicholls, Penry Williams, ‘Ralegh, Sir Walter (1554–1618)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/23039, accessed 29 Oct 2012]
Sir Walter Raleigh: In Life & Legend - Penry Williams & Mark Nicholls
The Favourite - Mathew Lyons

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Sir Peter Lely


The works of Sir Peter Lely have long been my favourite Restoration, and whilst I love the work of Van Dyke and Kneller, I think Lely will always hold a special place in my heart. It probably has something to do with my long standing adoration of Charles II and the Restoration period, and the fact that this fabulous artist has painted some of the historical personages that I so admire. When I first heard about the exhibition at Hampton Court a while back, "The Wild, The Beautiful and The Damned", I knew I just had to go? Why? Because it would mean seeing some of Sir Peter Lely's most famous paintings in the flesh, which in all honesty was something I could never have imagined. Think of Sir Peter Lely and what do you think of? His portraits of Charles II, Nell Gwynne, John Wilmot Earl of Rochester? One of his most famous portraits if of Nell Gwynne as Venus, and one of my favourite paintings by him, so as I'm sure you can imagine actually physically seeing it was a bit of a moment for me.


Nell Gwynne as Venus by Sir Peter Lely

Born Pieter van der Faes in Soest (Westphalia, Northern Germany) on 14th September 1618, the little boy would grow up to be one of the greatest Restoration artists. The surname he used later in life, Lely, apparently came from the house where his father had been born which had a Lily on the emblem. Lely's father noticed early on that his son was more of an artist than a soldier and so sent him to study with an artist by the name of Frans Pieters de Grebber, an artist who is not so well known today.


Elisha Refused The Gifts of Naamen by Frans Pieters de Grebber

The young Lely studdied in Holland with Grebber and it must have proved to be a stimulating environment for the young man.

It is said that the young Lely came to England in either 1641 or 1642 although the exact reason for his move to England is not recorded. It's possible that he heard of other artists from his area prospering in England under the patronage of Charles I. Did he want to follow in their footsteps? When he first arrived in England it is rather hard to trace his exact whereabouts although it is possible that he worked for the art dealer George Geldorp who had come over from Antwerp in 1626 and was keeper of the King's pictures, and apparently kept a collection of works by Van Dyke (the man who painted the majority of paintings of Charles I). It has been noted that Lely painted in the style of Geldorp so it is really rather likely that he worked with Geldorp, and was introduced to Geldorps rich patrons.

In 1641, Van Dyke died and other famous portrait painters disappeared from the scene before the onset of the English Civil War or died soon after it's beginning. It was not until 1647 however that Lely began to practice his art independently when he was free of the Guild of Painters. He had previously made himself known with the Duke of Northumberland and Earl of Salisbury. These men were loyal to Charles I but hadn't followed the King to Oxford. In 1647, Charles I surrendered Oxford and was kept at Hampton Court  - his children James Duke of York and Minette were held at Syon Park by Northumberland. It was Northumberland who commissioned Lely to paint the now famous portrait of Charles I and James Duke of York. This portrait, next to Nell Gwynne is one of my favourites by Lely.


Charles I and the Duke of York by Sir Peter Lely

In 1554, five years after the execution of Charles I, Lely painted the famous portrait of Oliver Cromwell. It is said that as Cromwell sat for his portrait he said, "Mr Lely, I desire that you would use all your skill to paint my picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all those roughnesses, pimples, warts and every thing as you see me, otherwise I will never pay you a farthing for it". Indeed, the portrait of Cromwell certainly shows a man who was painted "warts and all" and there have been those who have suggested that Lely painted it from an existing picture although Cromwell must have approved it for later on, Richard Cromwell also commissioned a portrait from him. 

When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he was known as one of the best artists in England. And it wasn't long before he was getting work from those leading the Restoration including King Charles II himself. By 1662 he was a citizen of England and such a popular painter that he was having to employ assistants (something which a man playing Lely was keen to emphasise when I went to The Wild, The Beautiful and The Damned) and was expected to both paint the royal portraits and to provide gift copies. It should be noted that the copies of his work were done to such a high quality that they must have been done under his close supervision. Indeed, when Samuel Pepys visited Lely's studio for the first time, Lely was so busy that he thought Pepys had turned up to buy a copy of one of his portraits and told the diarist he was full booked up for the next three weeks; and in 1666 James Duke of York commissioned Lely to paint him as Lord High Admiral of the Navy. 

The works that Lely is most famous for has to be his "Windsor Beauties" - many of these can be seen hanging in the galleries of Hampton Court. Recently they were all on display at The Wild, The Beautiful and The Damned as a special exhibition and include such court beauties as Barbara Villiers, Frances Stuart and Elizabeth Hamilton. 


Barbara Villiers by Sir Peter Lely


Frances Stuart by Sir Peter Lely


Elizabeth Gramont by Sir Peter Lely

Indeed Sir Peter Lely was the man who created the famous "Restoration Image" and it is this for which he is most known. Think of Sir Peter Lely and you will immediately think of a portrait painted by him; indeed he is known for little else other than portraits. It must be noted however that Lely did indeed paint more than just portraits, for instance his little known The Concert which although unfinished is apparently meant to be a visualisation of Shakespeare's famous line, "If music be the fool of love, play on". Indeed, despite being unfinished, I feel there is something inherently magical about The Concert. 

Lely is not just famous for his royal portraits however. Some of his most beautiful works are indeed of non royals:


Portrait of a Boy by Sir Peter Lely


Sleeping Nymphs by Sir Peter Lely


The Concert by Sir Peter Lely

Sir Peter Lely was knighted in 1680, shortly before his death. It is said that he died at his easel whilst painting the Duchess of Somerset. Indeed, when he died he had become one of the most prominent artists of Charles II's reign and indeed would go down in history as one of the greatest artists of the Restoration. Indeed, many will recognise his works today, even without knowing who he was. And this has to be a great testament to his skill. Of course to art historians and lovers of the Restoration his work is like a much loved piece of furniture, something we would not do without. Although many of his portraits, particularly of the Windsor Beauties, look incredibly similar facially (it is said he used the same template for many of his portraits but rather changed the dress and backgrounds), I cannot help but love his work. Thanks to Lely, I have been able to connect to the Royalty of the Restoration, to the nobility and even to the famous mistresses of Charles II. And every time I look at his works be it online or in person, I marvel at his beautiful works. Thanks to Lely I was introduced to the Restoration, and for that I owe the man an infinite debt, and for that I will always appreciate his amazing artwork.


Queen Catherine of Braganza by Sir Peter Lely


James Duke of York and Anne Hyde by Sir Peter Lely


Nell Gwynne by Sir Peter Lely


Henrietta Anne "Minette" Stuart by Sir Peter Lely

Further Reading

The Great Artists Issue 69: Lely (link unavailable)

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Caterina Sforza Part 5 - Ten More Sons.

Gina McKee as Caterina Sforza, shouting down from her ramparts that she had the "means to make ten more sons!"

There is one story about Caterina Sforza that will always stick in someones mind. Ask anyone who has watched Showtime's recent "The Borgias" what the one thing they remember Caterina for is. and then will say the words "ten more sons". These three words are some of the most famous attributed to Caterina Sforza, probably more now than before thanks to The Borgias. But did she really say them? When did she say them? Did she really lift her skirts and show her genitalia to soldiers before her walls and shout those words down? Were they really said as Juan Borgia laid siege to the city of Forli?

I can answer that last question straight of the bat. No, she did not utter those famous famous words at the siege of Forli. She actually uttered the words in 1488, as she held the fortress of Ravaldino against the Orsi family and murderers of her husband. The Borgias places Juan Borgia as commander of the besieging army - the problem with this though is that the siege of Forli did not take place until 1499. How on earth could Juan Borgia be at the siege of Forli when he died in 1497? In reality it was Cesare Borgia who besieged Forli in 1499 and who eventually took Caterina prisoner. But that's another subject for another post. Today, I will be talking about the events that lead up to the supposed "ten more sons", and the time she spent holed up in the fortress of Ravaldino after the murder of her husband.

Going back somewhat, I left the last entry at the point where Girolamo's assassins entered Caterina's chambers. Now, she cowed against the wall, protecting her children. None of her husbands assassins dared to even touch her, however her sister was with her and when one of the men tried to grope her she slapped him away. 

As the townspeople greeted Bishop Savelli, who rode into Forli on 15th April 1488, carrying the papal banner and intending to bring Forli under papal control; the fortress of Ravaldino was still in the hands of Riario supporters and it would be prudent for the supporters to get their countess inside the walls of Ravaldino. There she would be safe. Yet the Orsi family had the idea of taking her to the fortress and having her demand the castellans hand the fortress over to the Orsis. Ludovico Orsi therefore took her from her prison in the Orsi palace and dragged her away from her children. They took her before the walls of Ravaldio where she spoke to Tommaso Feo, begging that he give up the fortress for the sake of her children. Feo refused, saying his orders were to keep the castle safe for Ottaviano. And as the crowds listened to the exchange it became clear that this man was Caterina's friend and ally. He dropped the names of Sforza, Cardinal Riario and Bentivolglio to make it clear to her captors that she had her allies. The Orsi then dragged her away, realising that the whole exchange was likely staged, that there was no plan to hand the castle over to them. 

Her captors were of course angry that she had played them for fools, and they threatened to run her though with lances. And as they did so, her whole demeanour changed. No longer was she an upset widow, instead she became strong, "Certainly you can hurt me, but you don't scare me because I am the daughter of a man who knew no fear. Do what you want: you have killed my lord, you can certainly kill me. After all, I'm just a woman".

They took her back to her prison, determined to break her spirits. They knew she was a pious woman and thought that by using her religion against her, they would break her. They smuggled a priest into her rooms and confronted her about both her and her husbands sins. Saying that his husband had been killed for her sins, he demanded she give up Ravaldino and if she did not, she would face the same fate as her husband. He said also that if she did not hand over the fortress, she would be punished by starvation and eternal hellfire for both her and her children. She banged on the door and screamed that he be taken away and she later admitted that she found this experience more traumatic than losing her husband. However, bishop Savelli (who had previously rode to the town to bring it under papal control), had her family moved to the tower of Porta San Pietro for their safety, while she was removed across the town and placed in a small cell.

On April 16th, a message came to to a man who was loyal to the Riarios (but pretending to work for the Orsi) by the name of Ercolani. The message was from Feo who said he would give up the castle on one condition: Caterina would have to pay him his back wages and give him a good reference for any future employment. Caterina would have to come alone. Of course, the Orsi would not agree to this so Savelli agreed to a compromise. It would have to be done with Caterina outside the walls, in full view. Once again she made her way up to the walls of Ravaldino and called to Feo, promising he would have everything he had asked for. Feo then said that Caterina would have to come into the fortress to sign a contract and only one person was allowed to come inside with her. The Orsi put up a fight but Savelli sent her inside, wishing for everything to be over with. And she took with her a young groom named Luca. And as she crossed the drawbridge, she turned back to the crowd and raised her hand with the index and ring fingers folded back and her thumb tucked between her. She had just, for all intents and purposes, sworn violently as the crowd.

Savelli had given her three hours to conduct her business. But the three hour limit came and went and she did not set foot outside the front of the castle. After a while, Feo appeared on the battlements and shouted down that he had taken Caterina as his hostage! He then said he would exchange her for several members of the nobility, all of which were supporters of the Orsi family. The Orsi knew that Caterina and Feo had planned this and in anger they went and seized Ottaviano and his nurse before dragging them back to Ravaldino. The child begged for mercy, his cries mingling with the cries of his little brother Livio; and the soldiers shouted threats. The cries of her children summoned her to the ramparts of Ravaldino.

Tradition dictated that she should give in when faced with her endangered children. Yet she was not like other women, she was the daughter of a great family of warriors. She knew that Savelli knew her children were the nephews of the Duke of Milan, and that Milan would bring justice swiftly down on anyone who caused the children harm. She also knew that giving up the castle would give her no advantage whatsoever against the Orsi's, that if she did so then she and her family would be in danger of imprisonment and of being poisoned. 

And this is where the "ten more sons" myth comes from, the most well known and well publicised version of this story. It was said that she walked to the edge of the ramparts and as the Orsi threatened to kill her children on the spot, she shouted back, "Do it then you fools! I am already pregnant with another child by Count Riario and I have the means to make more!". Others wrote of the event, and Galeotto Manfredi wrote to Lorenzo De Medici that Caterina had raised her skirts, grabbed her genitals and shouted that unlike those men below, she had the means of making ten more sons. Niccolo Machiavelli also repeats this story in his discourses but no one else mentions such a salacious version of events. This however, is a complete myth. There are contemporary accounts written by Cobelli and Bernardi which mention nothing of any such words. Both men, both local authors and diarists, mention that her children were brought to the walls but that Caterina never stepped foot on the ramparts. Cobelli mentions that she stayed inside on purpose while Feo had several cannon shots fired. 

Savelli reclaimed the family immediately to take them away from the danger that the Orsi's were placing them in. He knew they were unstable and he had to protect the children by placing them under a heavier guard. 

Caterina held the castle until April 29th. The Milanese army had come, and they demanded that the Riario family be reinstated, and Savelli made it clear of the Papal position on the matter also. The people began to panic, thinking that the Roman army was on its way. Yet as they arrived, only fifty horseman rode through the gates and had been sent by Cardinal Riario to help his aunt. The Orsi ran to the Porta San Pietro where they believed the Riario children to be, and banged o the doors saying that Savelli had ordered them to take the children and keep them safe. The guards refused, knowing full well that Savelli had ordered no such thing. 

And as Caterina heard the shouts of her townspeople, and the cheers as the Orsi's were ousted from power she would have heard the shouts of "Duke!" and "Ottaviano"

Her son was now the rightful ruler of Forli, she had won. She had stepped into the shoes of the warrior noblewoman who has come down to us through the centuries. From that moment on she was known as a Tigress, a woman who really was her fathers daughter. And she would rule Forli until her son came of age. 

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
Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
Will Durant, The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 AD

Friday, 19 October 2012

Caterina Sforza Part 4 - 1488: The Death of Girolamo Riario


San Mercuriale, Forli

In May 1487, Caterina Sforza began to take the reigns of power. Her husband had suddenly been taken ill with a mysterious illness and as he lay in his sick bed she had to govern Forli and Imola in his stead. Yet Caterina had to watch herself. Girolamo was seriously unwell and her eldest son was still only eight years old and there was those who had their eyes on Forli. Thankfully Girolamo recovered, but thanks to his illness as well as his weak character, Caterina knew that he was not a fit ruler. She had to take centre stage, and so she did. And in 1488, her life would change forever.

As Caterina began ruling Forli in mid 1487, she began to make plans should her husband die. She renewed her alliance with Milan and sent feelers to the Bentivoglio family in Bologna. However, the fortress of Ravaldino was under the protection of a man who she distrusted, Melhiorre Zaccheo. He had showed up in Forli as Girolamo was desperate for cash, and in return for a few loans was installed as commander of Ravaldino. Caterina made it one of her first jobs to get rid of the man and, at 8 months pregnant rode to Ravaldino. She then got off her horse and called to Zaccheo to relinquish the castle. He, of course, refused saying that he had heard Girolamo was already dead and he would only vacate the fortress on his terms and when he was damn well good and ready. Caterina rode back to Imola, a plan formulating in her mind. On August 10th, Innocenzo Codronchi turned up at Ravaldino. There was already bad blood between him and Caterina after she had ousted him from the Castel Sant Angelo. But Girolamo had rewarded Codronchi's loyalty and made him castellan of Ravaldino, which would have displeased Caterina greatly. And when Girolamo had made Zaccheo castellan of Ravaldino in his stead, he was made captain of Girolamo's personal guard. And Codronchi would have a massive part to play in helping Caterina take back her fortress. The two men knew each other well, and had played cards together often. And when Codronchi returned, it is no surprise that Zaccheo welcomed him, and the two men played at dice. The loser would have to provide lunch the next day. Of course Codronchi lost and the next morning he left Ravaldino, promising to return with lunch. His servant appeared the next morning with a fowl for lunch and Zaccheo admitted him so that he could prepare the meal. As lunch was served, the manservant waited behind Zaccheo's chair, and as Zaccheo rose from the table Codronchi grabbed him and the servant hit him on the head! Next, Zaccheo's own servant stabbed his master over and over again. It was Codronchi himself who dealt the final blow, by stabbing Zaccheo with his own sword. Zaccheo's body was then unceremoniously thrown down a well, and Codronchi threatened to do the same to Zaccheo's followers. They fled and Codronchi raised Ravadino's drawbridge. As Caterina was due to give birth on the 11th August, her brother in law brought news of Zaccheo's murder to her. Despite being so close to giving birth, she rode hard to Forli and rode up to the moat, calling to Codronchi to explain himself. He replied:

"Madam, you shouldn't entrust your fortress to drunkards and people with no brains"

And that he murdered Zaccheo because he "felt like it". What a brilliant excuse! Yet as he looked down at Caterina and saw her exhausted from her long ride and being "pregnant up to her throat", he advised Caterina to get some rest and invited her to lunch the very next day. Yet there was a condition, she was only allowed to bring one servant with her. And the next morning, she and a maidservant rode to Ravaldino. Her maidservant had prepared lunch, to make it look as though she were afraid of a poisoning attempt. Yet as she disappeared into Ravaldino, she and Codronchi disappeared alone where they discussed what was going to happen, and allowed their servants only a glimpse of various documents being signed. Not long after, Caterina got back on her horse and rode back to Imola. Three days later she returned to Ravaldino with a new castellan, Tommaso Feo. The two of them entered the fortress and not long after she emerged with Codronchi at her side. They rode together into Forli and stopped before the steps of the Riaro palace, claiming that Rivaldino was back in her hands and she had chosen a castellan who was suitable. Following dinner within the palace, Codronchi left the palace and was never heard from again.

The next day, Caterina gave birth to Francesco who was lovingly nicknamed "Sforzino". And at the same time she was busy dealing with international politics. Her main issue was with Erole D'Este, who owned the lands next to hers, and she had to keep an eye on him. Ercole and Caterina often clashed and Ercole never seemed to pass up an opportunity to goad Caterina. Two days after little Sforzino was born, Caterina had finally had enough and built a farmhouse on their borders where she stationed soldiers to constantly watch the Ferrara lands for signs of invasion. Ercole realised what was going on and on 19th August 1487 sent his peasants to tear down the little farmhouse on the basis that Caterina had built it on his territory. Caterina took the case before a tribunal but lost to Ercole. In September of the same year, the old Ordelaffi claimants made their move and stormed Forli's western gate. Thankfully this was stopped before it could really have begun, and despite only being a month out of her child bed insisted on interrogating the prisoners herself. Upon interrogation, she discovered that the man behind the plot was a farmer by the name of Passi. Yet as she brought Passi before her, Passi shouted that he hadn't spoken to these men in over eight months. The man who made the acusation was hanged, and Passi was set free.

Yet all the while, Girolamo remained in his sickbed with his mysterious illness. Yet even as he began to recover, he stared back with some of his old tricks. Despite telling his people he would get rid of the dazzi tax, he reinstated it. And the outcome was not a happy one.

Following the reinstatement of the dazzi in 1488, as wedding bells rang throughout the country as Lorenzo de Medici's daughter married the son of Pope Innocent VIII, two of Girolamo Riario's enemies united. Riario feared both Rome and Florence following his involvement in the assassination of Giuliano de Medici, and the fact that both states supported the Ordelaffi claimants to Forli. In his fear, Girolamo began to upset the nobles of his own town by trying to relieve the taxes paid by the poor. Riario tried to shift the tax to the rich town dwellers and the move was not a popular one. Ludovico Orsi, a one time friend of Riario, took it upon himself to rebuke Girolamo as acting up to the peasant class would only make things worse. Yet Riario would have none of it, and Orsi grew angry and told Riario that the people would tear him to shreds. And sadly for Girolamo Riaro, these words would become truth soon enough. Riario however accused Orsi of never having been his friend and demanded, "Perhaps you would rather that I die?". Orsi fled, and having met up with his brother agreed that the Count should die. Giralomo, already paranoid about assassination attempts, kept a constant watch on the piazza and often spotted as Orsi tried to make his way in disguise through the town. On one occasion Girolamo dragged Orsi to his quarters and demanded to know why he didn't visit any more. Orsi muttered something about needing money for the count but as soldiers stepped forward, he panicked and fled. And now that the Orsi had fully broken with the Riario's, they decided to act before Riario could. And plans to murder the Riario family began in earnest.

Girolamo Riario took his midday meal in his "hall of the mymphs", away from his family and in the afternoon, following a small siesta, held audiences. The Orsi assasins already knew how to get a couple of minutes with the count, and persuaded Riario's new page that his uncle Gasparino needed a few minutes alone with the count. Gasparino was, of course, one of those involved in the plot. Gasparino then agreed to signal from the open window when Girolamo was taking his siesta.


Girolamo Riario

Moday, April 14th was the day when it would all happen. The town was busy with the market, but by lunch time the main piazza had quietened down. Caterina was busy having lunch with her children, and as Riario went to lay down, Gasparino signalled. Six members of the Orsi family, all dressed in armour, climbed the stairs towards the hall of the nymphs and there, Cecco Orsi stabbed Riario over and over. And as they did so they cried "Liberty!". As the Orsi family ransacked the palace the servants fought amongst themselves, trying to work out if their lord had beenn killed or not, and the gathered townspeople did the same.

Three soldiers dragged the naked, battered corpse of Girolamo Riario and threw him over the balcony into the piazza. The people circled the mangled body, recognising the facial figures of their count. And they ran to the palace in horror. And as they ran, the palace was ransacked.

Girolamo's body was left laying in the piazza like meat. His body was dragged through the piazza, being spat upon and kicked and some fanatics tried to tear him to shreds. Yet the fraternity of the Battuti Neri stopped them, and they took the body to the cathedral.

Caterina was having lunch with her children at the time, and when she heard the cries of " Liberty". Gathering her children to her, she went to the window with little Ottaviano and called for help for the little heir of Forli. The palace was however now in the hands of the Orsis, and there was no help that would come for her, and Caterina knew what was at stake. The assassins would look to kill her children and so she barricaded herself  inside her rooms, and called to those loyal to her that there was no point in fighting as the Orsi family had control. And as she spoke those words, her attackers pounded on her doors. Yet Caterina would not allow her town to fall completely. She was the widow of Forli and mother of the heir. She ordered that those loyal to her meet in Ravaldino, and as she did so, the Orsi burst into her rooms.

It was at Ravaldino in 1488 that those mythical words were cried, "I have the means to make ten more sons!". Did Caterina Sforza really speak these words?

Alas, as it is late, I feel that the myth of Caterina and "ten more sons" should be saved for the next entry. So please do keep your eyes pealed.

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
Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
Will Durant, The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 AD

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Execution of Marie Antoinette


Marie Antoinette by Lebrun

On 16th October 1793, Marie Antoinette was found in her cell at the Conciergerie in Paris dressed in her mourning dress, laying down on her bed in floods of tears. The day before, she had been brought to trial by the Revolutionaries of France at the Palais de Justice and she was tried for crimes against France. The men who sat before her at the Tribunal were all Revolutionaries under the famous Robespierre; and the public gathered in the viewing gallery to watch as their once Queen was convicted, as they knew she would be. According to the prosecution, ever since she had arrived in France from Austria, she was the cause of all the ills that had befallen the country. She was the reason that the poor could not afford to eat, she was guilty of spending the entire national treasury, guilty of plotting with France's enemies against the state. Not only that, but her own son had given testimonial against her. And to add to everything else that would be thrown against her, she would be put on trial for committing incest with her own son.

She was, for all intents and purposes, on trial for committing high treason. This woman, former Queen of France and now known as the Widow Capet, would defend herself through the trial admirably and without giving away a single shred of emotion. I often wonder if, as she faced her prosecutors, she knew that it was already a foregone conclusion.

Witnesses were called against her and the first witness set the stage for each and every witness that would follow. Each witness seemed to give evidence based on gossip and hearsay. For instance, the first witness, a man by the name of Laurent Lecointre told stories of wild orgies that had gone on at Versailles. Yet he had been present at none of these. Marie Antoinette was cross examined and gave non committal replies such as "I do not believe so" or "I have nothing to say in reply". Another witness, a surgeon by the name of Rossillon said that he had found bottles of wine that the Queen used to encourage troops to her bed in the Tuileries. He also accused her of sending money to her brother and said that she had been the one who had instigated the Champ-de-Mars massacre. All of which he accused her of without any evidence whatsoever. Yet as she was cross examined about all of these events, Marie Antoinette stayed calm and never contradicted herself in her replies. Another of the witnesses called against her was the editor in chief of Le Pere Duchesne, an extreme radical newspaper. This man was the one who encouraged the cobbler, a man named Simon who was looking after her son, to bring the accusations of incest between the Queen and her son to the court. One of the members of the court demanded that Marie Antoinette explain herself, and the Queen replied:

"If I did not reply, it is because nature refused to answer such a charge against a mother. I appeal to all the mothers who may be here present"

This reply made the women of the court feel some compassion for her.

And yet, despite the accusations being based on hear say and gossip, and despite defending herself well, she was found guilty of high treason. She herself quite obviously believed that she was innocent and had done everything in her power to save the monarchy yet it did not matter. She had been found guilty, despite the fact that no solid proof that she had committed treason had been brought forth. As she was read the verdict, she remained calm.

When she returned to her cell, she asked for a pen and paper and wrote her final letter to her sister.


Marie Antoinette's last letter to her sister

The letter, dotted with tear stains, never reached her sister. Instead it was passed into the hands of a man named Forquier-Tinville, and then after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1815, a man who had collected many important papers such as this letter, arranged that it be given to Louis XVIII.

On the morning of the 16th, after having been found in tears, Marie Antoinette refused to have any food other than a few spoonfuls of soup. Her maid then helped her change into a white dress and bonnet, all the while trying to hide from the guards who were to watch her all the while and she begged to be allowed some privacy. At about 10 o clock, the judges arrived at her cell and read the charges against her once more before the executioner came forward and bound her hands before removing her little bonnet and cut her hair.


The Execution of Marie Antoinette by Gabrielli

At 11am, she was led out of the prison, her hands bound and placed in the back of a cart that would take her to the scaffold on the Place de la Revolution. The way was slow, yet every account of her last journey tells us that she remained calm and composed. And as she reached the scaffold, she stepped down gently and walked easily up the steps. Then, she surrendered herself to her executioners and as preparations were made, every minute must have seemed like an hour.

At 12:15, the blade fell, and her severed head was held high to the joyous cries of the crowd.

It is said that before she was buried in the little cemetery by the rue d'Anjou, as the gravediggers were having their lunch, that Madame Tussaud had time to sculpt Marie Antoinette's death mask. I have no idea if this is true, but if anyone has any more information then please do leave a comment below. I have to say, I do quite like this idea, even if it's not exactly what happens. At any rate, she was buried the same cemetary as her husband and once she had been buried the gravediggers sent a note to the authorities stating "The Widow Capet, 6 livres for the coffin, 15 livres, 35 sols for the grave and the gavediggers". In 1815 however, the remains of both Marie Antoinette and her husband Louis XVI were exhumed and taken to the Cathedral at Saint Denis where they were laid to rest in the Vault of the Bourbon family.

Further reading

Also, do check out the following websites to learn more about Marie Antoinette

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Caterina Sforza Part 3 - Countess of Forli

The fortress of Ravaldino, Forli

When Giralomo Riario and his wife Caterina Sforza were given the town of Forli, trouble was already brewing. The town itself had been politically unstable for over 500 years and was still subject to bitter rivalries, battles and destruction and thus the townspeople were suspicious of any new rulers. Forli itself was separated from the other town owned by the Riario's, Imola, by the little town of Faenza which was owned by the Manfredi family who were backed by the military powers of the Este's from Ferrara. To bring the two lands together, Count Giralomo Riario would have to take Faenza. For a long time Forli had been ruled by the Ordelaffi family, and in 1480 when Pino Ordelaffi was on his death bed he had no legitimate heir. He decided to recognise his bastard son Sinibaldo and make him heir to the town. The problem was that Pino was hated by the people of Forli and when he fell so ill they rose up against him. The people dragged him from his sick bed into the central piazza and beat him to death. Pino's wife Lucrezia immediately assumed the regency for her son Sinibaldo, literally just as Cecco Ordelaffi's (the ruler previous to Pino, who had been been stabbed to death by Pino) exiled sons rode into the town. Lucrezia holed herself up in the Castello Ravaldino, and waited. Whilst there, Sinibaldo mysteriously died. Giralomo, who had his eyes on the town for a while, and Pope Sixtus IV made their move and declared the Ordelaffi's claim to the city completely invalid, sending soldiers into the city to take possession of it. Lucrezia then thought it prudent to leave the city and left with over 130,000 ducats and over 32 baggage carts, while the exiled sons of Cecco went to Faenza where they waited.

Giralomo did not visit his new lands straight away. Instead he sent his trusted condottiere Gian Francesco Maruzzi as Governor to the city. People wondered why he was so reluctant to leave Rome, it was probably because he was busy cooking up more schemes to get himself more power in the city. Whilst still there, the notables of Forli sent a delegation to Rome to meet their new lord and they came away impressed. Giralomo had welcomed them warmly and promised them all good positions as well as a relief from certain unpopular taxes in the city. They returned to Forli with this good news. Meanwhile the Ordelaffi brothers who had escaped to Faenza were plotting again and on October 1480 sent 60 men to take the fortress of Ravaldino. Their orders were to kill the keeper of the castle and occupy it. Thankfully Maruzzi smelt a rat and discovered the plot, before exiling the soldiers and executing the two priests who were supposed to have assassinated the castle keeper.

Tranquillity had returned to the town, at least for now, and Caterina began to make ready to visit her new town. In the spring of 1481, Caterina and Giralomo departed Rome with an armed escort and accompanied by their children. At this point, Caterina was also pregnant again and so they travelled at a leisurely pace and stopped each evening on the way. Two weeks later they had arrived and saw their new town for the first ever time. At sunset they entered the city, and it was comprised of the grandest procession that the people of Forli had ever seen. Nobles carried banners and lances, trumpets announced their arrival, clergymen walked in a stately order holding reliquaries and golden crucifixes and acolytes waved palm leaves as had been done at Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem. Caterina and her husband were dressed in beautiful silks while their soldiers wore silver cloaks and the knights in the escort wore gold brocade. As the procession entered the central piazza of Forli, they were greeted by a group of actors playing the parts of prominent citizens from the past including the founder of the town , Claudius Livy; famous Roman play write Titus Maccius Plautus and the towns first bishop Saint Mercuriale. Following this, the party then rode up to their new palace and despite being heavily pregnant Caterina dismounted her horse gracefully, and several of the townsmen came forward begging to carry her up to the palace. She then promised that if her horse was well looked after then she would give the gentleman who had taken her horse away her jewelled headdress. And she kept that promise most gracefully.

Caterina dazzled her new people. They jostled to get a glimpse of her and her astounding beauty, and she dazzled them with the latest fashions which the towns noblewomen did their best to copy. Caterina Sforza was certainly a trendsetter! Indeed the people of Forli noted that in her first four weeks in the town, she never wore the same outfit twice but it didn't matter to them. Their countess was beautiful, they loved her and were completely enchanted by her, her beauty and her incredible fashion.

During the weeks of celebration, Giralomo addressed his new subjects, promising that he would be a good ruler to them, and promised that he would get rid of the dazzi, a tax that was levied on entering the city and purchasing grain for personal use. Giralomo promised that he would never repeal this promise, and nor would his heirs. This new policy was met with huge rejoicing but in reality, as the Popes favourite nephew who could dip his hands into Papal moneys whenever he needed it, this would only last until his Uncle died. Yet at the time this didn't matter, the town was rejoicing at their new rulers and one diarist described it as the beginning of a golden age. The diarist in question, Leone Cobelli was immediately enamoured with Caterina from the moment he first laid eyes on her as he played his badosa (like a guitar) for one of the many dances that were given and saw her dancing. His very first lines about her were: "(she danced) the most beautiful dance I have ever seen or think I ever will". Over the years he would watch her from afar and studied every moment of her life in Forli. He only ever spoke to her once, and that proved to be rather unpleasant and changed his opinion of her greatly, although this comes much later in her story.

For the month that they stayed in Forli, Caterina made the effort to visit and socialise with her new subjects. Her husband however holed himself up in his apartments. Caterina was not afraid to walk amongst her subjects and they loved her for it, but Giralomo constantly avoided doing the same. It was a pattern that Giralomo would repeat throughout the years and it did not endear him to his people. Even when they moved onto Imola, after the banquets and festivties, he locked himself in his rooms too. But the Imolese people still loved their ruler thanks to the improvements he had made to their town. But after a while, the people started to mutter, why did he lock himself up? It seems the Count was afraid of Assassins, particularly in Forli and rightly so, as will be seen later. And so when he came to the area, he preferred to stay in Imola. It also seems as if he distrusted Caterina and refused to let her visit her family in Milan, brushing off her requests angrily. Even when the Milanese ambassador stepped in for her, Giralomo still refused and said if she went he "wouldn't know how to live without her" which proved to be a lie when he said he had every intention of leaving Caterina in Forli while he went back to Rome. When Caterina heard this she began to make plans of her own to visit Milan, despite being pregnant, the plans were scuppered and she had to remain in Forli and comply with her husband and his distrust.

In September, the couple made their way to Venice and when they arrived on 8th September, the Doge of Venice came out to greet them. The trip was not just for fun however but rather Giralomo was making plans to ally with Venice against Ercole D'Este. It was his plan to carve the lands up and give them away, and would keep Faenza all for himself. Giralomo never got what he came for, despite the flamboyant banquets and parties thrown for him, and Venice did not wish to go to war against the Duke of Ferrara, King Ferdinand of Naples. On their way back, they took a round about route avoiding passing through Ferrara, and stopped in the little village of Cotignola. The villagers came out to greet them crying out the name of Sforza. But when the came back to Forli, their welcome was not as ostentatious as it had been before. The people were discontent, and having not forgotten the murder of his brother, Lorenzo De Medici was helping them along. The Artisan conspiracy was planned, with the goal of killing both Giralomo and Caterina on the road between Imola and Forli. Maruzzi again smelt a rat and discovered the plot. When Giralomo heard of the plot he flew into a massive rage yet ordered Maruzzi not to say a word of it to anyone. He needed to keep his authority.

Shortly after, Giralomo and Caterina set out for Rome once more, taking a number of Forli citizens with them as hostages. She rode to Rome on the back of a mule carrying two baskets due to the fact she was now 9 months pregnant and should ideally have been "lying in" and waiting to deliver her child. Yet despite this, she made the journey anyway and just a few days after arriving in Rome she gave birth to her first daughter, whom she named Bianca. In November 1481, Giralomo finally acted out justice for the Artisan Conspiracy and in Forli, Maruzzi had five men hanged in the central piazza and exiled many more.

In the spring of 1482, war began. Venice had decided to go to war against Ferrara, and all over the subject of salt. This may seem like a petty thing to go to war over these days, yet in the fifteenth century salt was incredibly precious and used to preserve food. Venice owned much of the salt marshes and when Ferrara began extracting salt and selling it from land it leased from Venice, the Venetians forbade the Ferrarese from doing so. When Ferrara ignored them, war began. Alfonso, Duke of Calabria was dispatched to relieve Ferrara by his father King Ferdinand of Naples and when he approached the borders of the Papal states with his army and asked to be let through, Pope Sixtus refused. Alfonso passed through anyway. Giralomo Riario was captain of the papal armies and so summoned to help defend Rome. He camped by the southern gate on the Via Appia and not far from the cathedral of Saint John Lateran, but stayed inside the walls claiming he was doing so to stop the people of Rome from revolting. In fact he was a coward. The subject of her husbands cowardice must have been disgraced at the behaviour of her husband. After all, she was a Sforza and had the blood of those who got their lands through battle, and the name had never before been associated with cowardice. Not only that but disturbing stories of her husbands conduct made their way to her - he had been seen playing dice on the high altar of the cathedral, he and his soldiers sat on boxes containing sacred relics and told scandalous stories as they did so. And so she spent her time praying for her husbands soul, and spent many hours on her knees in church, praying for him. On August 20th, the final battle of the war happened at Campo Morto, beginning at 4pm and finishing at 11pm. The Papal Armies had won the day, although cowardly Giralomo had not taken part. He had stayed at the camp to guard the tents, although he did try and claim credit for the victory. All knew of his cowardice however and Sixtus gave the honours of the day to Malatesta. Sadly, nine days after the battle, Malatesta died of dysentery. On December 13 1482, an an armistice had been reached, and a new church was built in celebration.

During her years in Rome, Caterina would have spent many hours within the Papal apartments in the Vatican.  During the years 1479-81 she would have been aware that Pope Sixtus was working on a very impressive project, the painting of the murals within the Sistine chapel which had just been completed. In 1481, Lorenzo De Medici offered to send his own painters to paint the chapel including the famous Sandro Botticelli, Domenico Ghirlandaio (Domenico would soon receive Michelangelo as an apprentice, and this apprentice would paint some of the most beautiful paintings in the chapel) and Pietro Perugino. The panel "The Purification of the Leper" was one of the first panels to be started in 1481 by Boticelli. This is actually one of the only panels in the whole chapel in which Jesus is not depicted, instead the background is made up of lots of little paintings from the temptation of Christ and the foreground of the painting shows a high priest accepting a sacrifice offered by the Leper who Christ had healed. A certain building dominates the painting, Santo Spirito, a hospital recently completed and which still exists today. Within this portrait are the figures of Giralommo Riario (showing his famous scowl) and Giuliano Della Rovere and the two papal nephews face each other on either side of the priest. To the right of them is a single female figure, Caterina Sforza, shown in her sixth month of pregnancy and carrying wood on her shoulder.


The Purification of the Leper by Sandro Boticelli, both the full image and detail of Caterina

Despite the hustle and bustle going on the Sistine Chapel, Sixtus was becoming unwell and getting weaker. The people of Rome realised that the days of Sixtus' papacy were almost over and the people began to plan to get their revenge on Giralomo and his outrages. And so Giralomo made sure that the armed guard that surrounded him and his wife grew to massive proportions. Of course, Giralomo made sure he made the most of his uncles waning papacy to get as much money out of the Papal coffers as possible, and alongside his nephew Cardinal Raffaello ruled Rome from behind the dying Pope.

In 1483, with the Pope's health waning, Giralomo purchased a new house for his family and placed the deeds in the name of the four year old Ottaviano. In the first few months of 1483, Sixtus fell seriously ill, but recovered against the odds. He lasted until August 1484 and when news of his death reached Caterina, she immediately jumped on a horse and rode from the Orsini camp near Paliano (she was staying with her husband there as he fought with the Orsini's against the Colonna's) to Rome. She headed straight for the Castel Sant Angelo and on August 14th she took control of it. The college of Cardinal's were in an uproar as she dismissed the seniour keepers of the castle and trained her cannons on the Vatican, making it impossible for the Cardinal's to reach the Sistine Chapel for conclave. The cardinals demanded that she vacate the castle yet she refused, saying that the Pope had made her husband responsible for it and she would only hand it over to the next Pope, which of course given her cannon would be a rather difficult thing for them to do. Even Sixtus' funeral was affected by it, all of the cardinal's were too afraid of approaching the Vatican when she had her cannon trained on its walls. The day after Sixtus' funeral, Cardinal Raffaello approached the castello as he was in charge of organising the conclave, and as a relative he thought he could smooth things over. Yet Caterina stood her ground and declared:

"So he wants a battle of wits with me does he? What he doesn't understand is that I have the brains of Duke Galeazzo and I am as brilliant as he!"

The Castello Sant Angelo, held by Caterina in 1483

On August 23rd, the College of Cardinals came to a desperate agreement with Giralomo, offering 8000 ducats to pay his soldiers as long as he left Rome immediately. He got ready to leave. Caterina did not. She had no faith in the promises of the cardinals and decided to wait until the conclave was over and deal directly with the new pope. The cardinal's were furious and demanded the Giralomo sort it out, but he was too busy getting ready to leave Rome. She was heavily pregnant once more, and although her pregnancy and feeling unwell could not move her, abandonment by her husband could. On August 25th, Cardinal Ascanio Sforza came to the castle with eight other cardinals, and they agreed to treat her with the utmost respect, that they would look after her as she and her family left Rome. They also gave her a written agreement that the Riario family would still get to keep Forli and Imola. On the morning of 26th August, Caterina exited the Castello wearing a brown silk dress and a black feathered cap. She was exhausted and of course heavily pregnant, but she made her mark by wearing a mans belt adorned with a coin purse and sword.

It was a sign that she was not to be messed with. Caterina had made her mark, as she would do time and time again.

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
Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy
Will Durant, The Renaissance: A History of Civilization in Italy from 1304-1576 AD

Saturday, 13 October 2012

A Rip In The Veil by Anna Belfrage


On a muggy August day in 2002 Alexandra Lind is inexplicably thrown several centuries backwards in time to 1658. Life will never be the same for Alex. Alex lands at the feet of Matthew Graham - an escaped convict making his way home to Scotland. She gawks at this tall, gaunt man with hazel eyes, dressed in what looks like rags. At first she thinks he might be some sort of hermit, an oddball, but she quickly realises that she is the odd one out. Catapulted from a life of modern comfort, Alex grapples with her frightening new existence. Potential compensation for this brutal shift in fate comes in the shape of Matthew - a man she should never have met, not when she was born three centuries after him. But Matthew comes with baggage of his own and at times it seems his past will see them killed.

Having just finished this book, I can safely say that it is not the type of book that I would normally read. Rather, this is a book I would take on holiday with me to read on the beach whilst huddling under an umbrella to keep the sun away from me. I don't really like beaches you see, and have to take a book with me to keep myself from getting bored beyond measure. However, although it's not normally a book I would read, I should say that I did rather enjoy it and in particular because the story was set in the seventeenth century.

The story itself is your basic time slip concept - modern woman finds herself inexplicably thrown back in time and spends most of the first few chapters confused about where the hell she is and what the hell should she be doing. The heroine, Alex Lind, was likeable enough and I did rather like how she kept confusing people by talking about modern stuff. I was however a little disappointed that the hero of the story, Matthew Graham, didn't make a very big deal out of the fact that Alex had come from the future when she told him, just giving her a hug and doing a sneaky sign against the evil eye behind her back. Of course, witchcraft was mentioned rather a lot during the story from various other characters including the main "bad guy" Hector Olivares and Matthew's nasty piece of work brother, Luke. With Luke, I felt like his story was one of the more interesting ones - caught in bed with his fathers ward at the age of 15 he ends up being kicked out of the family home, Matthew ends up marrying the girl and ends up catching her back in bed with his brother. Said ward, by the name of Margaret, is the spitting image of Alex - although this point wasn't really expanded upon as much as I would have liked. The hatred between the two brothers is a huge part of the story and it all ends up getting rather messy.

As I read through the book, it seemed to me as if the plot centred mainly on the life lead by the people in the little town and those who lived in the manor house where Matthew (eventually) lives. I say eventually because about half of the book is made up of Alex and Matthew in the wilderness, running away from soldiers who are intent on capturing them both. Occasionally hints are dropped of the wider historical context - the death of Oliver Cromwell, George Monk helping to bring Charles II back, the issue of religion during the seventeenth century. I liked these little snippets of context and I feel that the time spent on the context was probably about right - Matthew fought in the English Civil Wars for Parliament, believed wholeheartedly in the commonwealth and becomes worried when he hears that the Protector is dead and wonders whether Charles Stuart will allow religious freedom. The snippets were good, and added to the story rather than detracted from it.

The narrative was written well, and really quite descriptive. I could imagine the hustle and bustle of Matthew's household, could imagine the dirty and smelly towns, could imagine the infested taverns and dark looks of the clientele who frequented them. There was just one thing about the narrative that got to me, and that was the constant finishing of sentences with the word no, and then turning it into a question:

"And it would be the one gift, no?"
"I told you no? Unless you clean them they rot and fall out"
"Get over it? You held her against her will, no?"

All in all though, a good read and perfect if you want to escape from reality for a little while. Likeable characters and a story set in a time that was far from easy, it's really rather easy to find yourself wondering how you would act were you in Alex's shoes. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a bit of a historical fiction, but doesn't want to get stuck into something too heavy.

A massive thank you to Anne Belfrage for sending me this book to review. You can visit Anna's website here. And you can pick up a copy of A Rip In The Veil at Amazon UK and Amazon US

Friday, 12 October 2012

Winchester In The English Civil War


Having spent three years of my life in Winchester, I feel a certain affinity to the city and in particular the role that it played in the English Civil War. I first became interested in it's role during the English Civil War when I was wandering around the Cathedral for the first time and saw the statues of James I and Charles I that sit on either side of the massive main doors. The statue of Charles has a huge musket hole in it, from when Parliamentarian troops took the city. After that, it became my obsession and I spent many an hour in the University library researching what happened to this beautiful city during those turbulent years and I ended up specialising in one particular battle that had a huge effect on the City and the surrounding area: Cheriton. Of course, the city itself holds many secrets of what happened to it during the Civil War, many of which I discovered whilst doing work for University. Today, I thought I would travel away from Renaissance Italy for a bit and do a little something that goes back to my roots: Winchester in the English Civil War.

As War was declared against Parliament in 1642, the majority of Hampshire was staunchly Parliamentarian. Winchester, however, became a Royalist stronghold and began to prepare itself for a fight. Money was voted in for swords, bullets and arms. However, Winchester would soon find itself the victim of siege from the armies of Sir William Waller (commander of the Parliamentarian armies, and old friend of Ralph Hopton; a commander in the Royalist army). In the December of 1642, as the Royalist army who had fought a skirmish is Wherewall, began to withdraw to the City:

"fearing to be caught napping by active Sir William Waller and his force and the better to protect himself and his Cavaliers from the pursuit of the Parliaments force retreated to Winchester, a place not like to give him kind entertainment being full of Malignant spirits, who indeed were not a little glad at his coming, thinking themselves now secure from danger being under the wings of a bird of theire own feathers."

Yet as the troops fled to the city, they were pursued by Parliamentarian troops, and as they reached the city gates (and some of the citizens came out to help), were heavily outnumbered. As they fought, Grandison's regiment of horse rushing through the gates covered by musketeers, two entire regiments were destroyed. The city was now under siege, it's people trapped and its soldiers outnumbered. William Waller himself arrived not long after and found, as was to be expected, the gates shut to him. So he barricaded the city so the Royalists could not escape, and as he waited for his dragoons to arrive, began to plan his attack. At about 2pm on the afternoon of Waller's arrival, the Parliamentary forces attacked Winchester and by 3pm, they had started to break through the walls into the City and the Royalist soldiers holed themselves up inside the Castle. The very next day, having realised that the Castle was ill equipped to deal with a siege, the Royalists surrendered the castle.

As the Castle was being surrendered however, and terms settled, the Parliamentary troops began to riot through the city, pillaging and plundering as they went. And the Cathedral was quite possibly one of the biggest victims of the 1642 siege. The troops entered the great West Door and there, according to a description by Trussel, defiled bibles, hangings and sacred monuments. They fired their muskets at the two bronze statues of King Charles and King James, and pulled down beautiful mortuary chests containing the bones of Kings an Prelates; scattering the remains.


As well as this they also desecrated chantry chapels, the Lady Chapel and the medieval glass in the cathedral. They also fired their muskets at the huge West Window which depicted images of the saints. During the Restoration, new mortuary chests were made to replace the ones destroyed during this attack, and the bones gathered together and placed in them, including the remains of Kings Cnut and Rufus, Queen Emma and Bishops Wina and Alwyn. Some prominent tombs were destroyed during the attack including the tomb of Cardinal Beaufort (the effigy there now was created during the Restoration and has seventeenth century shoes depicted!) and William of Wainfleet. Whilst most of the damage was reparable, the cathedral lost some parts permanently including the medieval glass windows, ornaments and furniture.

By September 1643, the town was back in Royalist hands again after the Parliamentarians moved out of the city towards Southampton. On Monday 18th September, Colonel Sir Edward Ford marched into the city with his entire regiment. It was the day of the Mayors election, and the city would stay in Royalist hands until Oliver Cromwell would besiege the city in 1645.

For the next two years, the city stayed once more as a Royalist stronghold. The mayor of the city, William Ogle set about fortifying the castle in case the worst should happen again. He ordered the clearing of the surrounding ditches from trees, shrubs and wooden buildings that could be set fire to. And on Monday 6th November, Sir Ralph Hopton arrived in the city from Andover and he made the city his main quarters, from which he marched out to relieve the nearby Basing House from its own recent siege. It is also incredibly likely that at this point the City would have prospered - it was free from plundering parliamentarians after all. In the surrounding area, as 1643 drew to a close, much more was happening. For instance on December 12th 1643, Colonel John Boles found himself in a skirmish at Alton where he and many other defenders were killed inside the local church. The outer door of the Church of St Lawrence shows holes made during musket fire and if you look closely you can even see a few musket balls embedded in the stonework.


There is a memorial plaque to Colonel Boles on a column in Winchester Cathedral. Erected many years later, it gives Boles' name as Richard which was actually his brothers name.


As well as this, in early 1644 nearby Arundel was besieged and taken by Parliament.

The winter of 1644 was used by Hopton to get his troops back into shape after the fall of Romsey, Alton and Arundel. It was high time for him to recruit more men and get them trained in time for the next offensive in the Spring. Hopton also had to make sure than his base of operations was secure and so much of the 1644 winter was spent in building two sconces (defensive ditches or fortifications) - one upon St Giles Hill and the other upon West Hill. By 1st February 1644 Hopton had recruited and trained around 3500 foot and 2000 horse, and by mid February sent a reconnaissance force to Southampton. The sheer amount of new troops in Hoptons army meant that they had to be billeted somewhere, and many were sent to stay at the Hospital of St Mary Magdalen (which at one time had been used as a leper hospital). A few years back now, I took part in an archaeological dig at Magdalen Hill and spent most of my 4 weeks there digging in the chapel where we found evidence of seventeenth century horse gear. This matches up to a complaint sent to Hopton in 1644 by the Master of the Hospital:

"(they) have used violence to the house of God; burninge up all the seats and pues in the church, as also the communion table, and all other wainscott and timbers there, that they could lay hands on: and have converted the sayd house of God into a stable for horses and other prophane uses, to the great dishonour of God..."

By March 1644, there were plans afoot by Parliament to move back towards the west and on 25th March the army rendesvoused at West Meon. News of course reached the ears of Hopton, and during a council of War on 26th it was agreed that they should march immediately against Waller. The two armies met at Cheriton on 29th March 1644, more of which can be read about here. Following their defeat at Cheriton, instead of falling back to Winchester, the Royalists retreated back towards Basing House leaving Winchester isolated. Parliament seem to have got it into their heads that the City would be easily taken, declaring proudly in London that the City had been taken. They were wrong, and the Castle held out for another eighteen months.

On 28th September however, the city found itself besieged once more, this time by Oliver Cromwell - the Lieutenant General of the Parliamentarian Army. It took exactly a week for the City to surrender. During that week, Cromwell and the Mayor exchanged letters in which Cromwell said the only reason he was there was to save the city from ruin. Terms were not reached, and as the week progressed, Cromwell discovered that an elderly bishop was staying in the castle. Cromwell offered the man safe conduct out of the city, but was refused. So instead of giving the city another chance, he fired on the city gates and after a very short skirmish entered the city, forcing the Royalists to retreat back to the castle, which they found difficult to protect against Parliament. Impossible in fact. The castle itself was huge, made up of 8 towers which had to be manned as well as the various gates, yet the Royalists made a stirling effort in their defence. Cromwell however made sure he was well equipped to the task of taking the castle, having gun platforms built, defensive ditches dug and men lined up ready to attack. And during early October, as Cromwell was preparing his attack, the Cathedral was again being ransacked. On the 3rd October, the guns were ready and the next day the attack began. Cromwell started by firing one single shot to signal to Ogle that the attack was beginning, and sent a summons into the castle. It was ignored and the attack began. By nightfall, a breach in the walls had been made and Ogle sent men to defend it. The following day, more summons were sent to Ogle, yet he still refused to surrender although asked if his wife would be allowed safe conduct from the city as she was unwell. Although this was granted, she died on her way home to Stoke. By the Sunday evening, a breach had been made next to the black tower, wide enough for 30 men to walk through. Ogle and his troops had had quite enough, and their morale broke down completely. Ogle then sat down and wrote a letter to Cromwell, asking for a parley which was immediately accepted by Cromwell although negotiations were lengthy. Eventually, a settlement was reached and the castle was once more taken by Parliament and by 3pm the next day Ogle and his army marched out of the City, although many of the Royalists ended up joining Parliament instead.

Later in 1645, Ogle was court marshaled for surrendering Winchester castle. However, due to the size and strength of Cromwell's army he was allowed to walk free.

It was decided by Parliament that the castle should remain garrisoned in case of another Royalist rising, and Thomas Bettesworth was made its governor.

During the attack on the Castle, a large hole was made in the roof of the Great Hall. This Hall is one of the only remaining parts of the Castle left today, and has been used frequently throughout history including the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603, and the famous Judge Jeffries condemned supporters of Monmouth during the 1685. The hole had been caused by a grenado filled with musket shot which had killed three men. The famous Round Table which today hangs on the wall of the Hall is littered with musket shot, caused either by this grenado or possibly by stray musket shots.


Many other buildings in the city were damaged during the siege, including the church of St Clements and its surrounding buildings. This church had been used as a guard room by the Parliamentarians and ransacked by them. St Larences church in the middle of the city was also wrecked and made unsafe for usage thanks to its interiors being torn out. Hastily patched back together, it was used as a school until Charles II was restored in 1660. The Royalists also stole the bells from the towers of St Mary Kalender, a church that had already long been in ruin. This church now no longer exists within the city. My very favourite little church in the city, St Swithun's Upon Kingsgate was also badly damaged and during Cromwell's Protectorate was let out to a family who used one end of it to live in and the other to keep their pigs in!



By the end of the English Civil War, and following the execution of Charles I in 1649, Cromwell ordered that  Winchester castle be demolished. The castle was demolished in 1651, due to fears of a Royalist invasion from France under the exiled Prince Rupert. Parliament ordered that the Castle be demolished within fourteen days of receiving the instructions. The Great Hall was left standing, as was the central oval tower on the east side of the castle. This tower seems to have been left standing until Sir Christopher Wren began building a new palace for King Charles II in the 1680's. Sir William Waller seemed to be rather upset by the demolition:

"It was just with God for the punishment of my giving way to the plunder of the City of Winchester (whereof I was a freeman and sworne to maintain and procure the good thereof as far as I could) to permit the demolition of my castle in Winchester"

In 1682, the City sold the land to King Charles II for the grand sum of 5 shillings. And in 1683, the City agreed to the demolition of the Great Hall to make way for the Kings new palace but only if they could have a new hall built for them. However, when Charles II died in 1685, building of his new palace was abandoned and so the Hall was saved.

The history of Winchester during the English Civil War has long fascinated me. It was the central area that each side wanted to keep their hands on, and during the years of war certainly suffered. Not only were buildings destroyed but the Cathedral was ransacked and it's people had to put up with the pillaging soldiers not once but four times. The War also meant that the City lost one of it's biggest landmarks; it's Castle, with only a few ruins and the Great Hall left of it today. I must admit, that every time I go back to Winchester I wonder what it would have been like during the siege of 1645, what would the Royalists held in the castle have been thinking? And it never fails to get my imagination going.

Further Reading

The Civil War In Winchester - Richard Sawyer
Cheriton 1644: The Campaign & The Battle - John Adair
The Civil War in Hampshire - Tony MacLachlan
The Civil War In Hampshire - Rev G N Godwin (no link available)