Tuesday, January 15, 2019

George Frideric Handel-The Original Rockstar

George Frideric Handel was a law school drop out, last chair violinist¹, and the first international composing superstar. Born in what is now Halle Germany, Handel overcame parental disapproval, explosive duels, and a rigid patronage system to become one of the most famous composers of all time.

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Handel himself.
Handel was born in 1685 in Halle, then a part of the Holy Roman Empire. His father, Georg Handel, was a barber surgeon, and wanted his son to have an equally dignified profession. He forbade young George from pursuing his musical interests. His reasoning was the same as that of many parents of budding musicians--there was no financially stable career in music. Luckily Handel's mother, Dorthea, was of a different opinion. She encouraged her son to explore music, helping him hide a clavichord in the attic. Young Handel spent many hours practicing in secret.²

In 1702 Handel headed to the city of Trier to begin law school. However, he spent much more time studying organ with Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow³, and eventually dropped out of law school to pursue music full time. It seemed likely that Handel would become the next cathedral organist, but in 1703 he quit, and took a job in Hamburg as a violinist with the Goose Market Theatre.

While in Hamburg Handel taught private music lessons to supplement his income, took over some Harpsichordist duties with the orchestra, and composed furiously. 1705 saw the premier of his first opera, Almira, just three years after his arrival in Hamburg.

Also notable during his Hamburg years, Handel fought a duel with his friend Johann Mattheson. Mattheson, a composer, singer, and conductor was performing as Antony in his opera Cleopatra. After his death in act three of the opera Mattheson decided to take over as conductor of the orchestra. This was, as composer of the work, his right. Like most conductors of the day, Mattheson conducted from the harpsichord. However, when he reached the harpsichord to relieve George Handel, Handel refused to budge. This resolved into a bitter argument during the opera, which culminated in the men taking the fight outside, swords drawn. Mattheson nearly killed Handel that night, but Handel was, quite luckily, saved by a coat button. The two men resolved their quarrel soon after the duel, and remained friends until the end of their lives.

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Program for Handel's opera Rodrigo
In 1706 Handel left Hamburg for Italy. He traveled around the Italian peninsula, hobnobbing with notable instrumental and opera composers of the day--Corelli, Lully, and both Domenico and Alessandro Scarlatti. During his years in Italy, Handel developed a taste for opera, and begin writing his own operas in a more Italian style. He composed two major operas in Italy--Rodrigo and Agrippina. Both premiered in Italy, and made Handel a household name in the Italian opera scene. In under four years, Handel went from virtually unknown to a rising superstar.

Handel was well known enough that he was offered the position as Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. However, Handel's stay in Hanover was brief. By 1711 he had set out for London--the city he would call home for most of the rest of his life.

1711 saw Handel's opera Rinaldo premiere, which was an instant hit. It was the first Italian Opera written specifically for London, it contained dazzling effects, and featured stirring arias sung by experts. Rinaldo ran for a whopping 47 performances--an enormously long run for the time.

Following Rinaldo Handel produced hit after hit after hit. His work was so popular that in 1712 he received an annual salary of 200 pounds from Queen Anne, about 33,000 pounds in 2018 currency. He desperately wanted to stay in London--a city that eagerly embraced his work--and in 1714 London became his permanent home after his boss, the Elector of Hanover, became King George I of England.

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Handel's most famous work, by far, is his Messiah. (Score
pictured here) He is also known for Water Music, and
Zadok the Priest, which has been performed at the
coronation of every British Monarch since its
composition.
From 1711 to 1737 Handel focused the majority of his attention on Italian Opera. He was the co-manager of an Italian Opera, and he wrote many about 40 operas during his London years. Handel's operas elevated him to the level of a superstar, and Handel enjoyed great popularity during this time.

However, in 1728 Italian opera started to go out of vogue. Attendance fell, and operas still had to deal with enormous production costs, making it difficult for companies to remain in the black. In addition to financial troubles, Handel and his colleagues had to deal with the perceived immorality of opera, and disapproval of the pious English public. Beneath all this, it is unsurprising that in 1737, Handel's opera company folded.

Handel then turned his attention to oratorios. Oratorios had the advantage of telling a grandiose story in song, but didn't have the high production cost of an opera. Additionally, since they weren't being presented in a play (the height of immorality), oratorios could safely tell religious stories. It was with these religious works that Handel really made his mark.

The first proto-oratorio was a revival of one of Handel's previous works, Esther. Esther was a wide departure from opera, featuring English lyrics, and no acting whatsoever. It was received well, and in 1733 Handel launched his first full oratorio Deborah and Athalia.

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Handel's house is preserved as a museum in London.
Though Handel did continue to write operas until 1741, he mainly produced oratorios from 1733 until the end of his life. He composed a total of 29 oratorios, with the most famous being his Messiah.

Handel died in 1759 at the age of 74. There was a staggering amount of public grief at his passing, and more than 3,000 people attended his funeral from all over Europe. A commemorative concert was put on 25 years after his death, and his works have remained constantly in performance ever since. Though he was born in Germany, England so thoroughly adopted him that he was laid to rest in Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.




¹Although in Handel's time seats within the orchestra weren't referred to as chairs, they were called desks.
²For those wondering how Georg Handel didn't notice a clavichord being played in his own home, it is worth noting that the clavichord is a notoriously quiet instrument, part of why it was later replaced by the piano in the modern orchestra.
³For those wondering how Papa Handel responded, Papa Handel unfortunately died in 1696.

Sources
The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg
Eric W. Nye, Pounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency, accessed Saturday, December 15, 2018, http://www.uwyo.edu/numimage/currency.htm.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
George Frideric Handel. German-English Composer
Duel with Mattheson
A Biographical Introduction
George Frideric Handel-Composer
George Frideric Handel, and His Life Saving Coat Button

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Damn, Girl-Mary of Austria, Queen of Hungary, Governor of the Netherlands

Sometimes called 'Mary of Hungary', it's easy to lose this Mary among the sea of other famous Mary's hailing from Austria and Hungary, not to mention the rest of Europe. This particular Mary was a master stateswoman, and arguably one of the most important politicians of her time. A member of the powerful Habsburg dynasty, and a contemporary of Henry VIII, Mary saved part of Hungary for her family after an Ottoman invasion, and governed the Netherlands for decades, suppressing rebellions, attempting to make peace with France. Though she is largely unknown today, she was a key political figure during her lifetime.

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Mary is described alternately as being very
beautiful, and as looking very manish. It
is also known that she was an unfortunate
possessor of a Habsburg lip.
The daughter of Philip the Handsome and Joanna the Mad, Mary was born in Brussels in 1505. She had five siblings, four older, the most notable being her brothers Charles and Ferdinand, both of whom later became Holy Roman Emperors.

About six months after her birth, Mary was engaged to the yet unborn heir of King Ladisla of Hungary. Thankfully, the presumed heir did materialize in the form of her future husband, Louis, was later born in 1506. The two were officially 'married' when Mary was nine, but they lived separately until 1522.

Prior to cohabiting with her husband, Mary was given a humanist education along with her sisters, Isabella and Eleanor, and her twice over sister in law, Anne of Bohemia. Young Mary was passionate about music as well as sport. There also must have been some introduction to philosophy, because she later became enamored of the scholar Erasmus.

When Mary moved to Buda in 1522 she was immediately coronated Queen of Hungary. Louis' father had had his son crowned while he was still alive in order to secure the succession. Ladislaw died in 1516, and Louis had been inexpertly ruling since the year before. When Mary arrived on the scene, Louis soon delegated running the country to her, and instead spent his time hunting and partying.

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Mary's husband, Louis. Mary refused to
remarry after his death, refusing offers from
numerous heads of state, including James V
of Scotland, the father of Mary, Queen of
Scots
Though Mary was only 15, she took to ruling like a fish to water. Renaissance Hungary was a mess, nobles fought each other and the crown incessantly, and the country was only ever a few steps away from anarchical collapse. Mary brokered peace between different noble families, and tried to inspire loyalty to her husband the King.

Unfortunately, Mary's efforts were too little, too late. When Suleiman I invaded in 1526 the nobility were unable to unify under the common cause of not being conquered by the Ottomans. Louis died in combat, leaving Mary a widow.

The couple were reportedly in love, but they had no children. This isn't entirely unexpected, the pair were 15 and 14 upon marriage, and they were only married for five years. However, this lack of an heir would make things difficult in Hungary after Louis' death. Though the Ottomans had taken Hungary, they hadn't gotten all of Hungary. Hungary was split into three--a third to the Ottomans, a third to the pretender John Zapolya, and a third went to Mary's brother Ferdinand.

Mary wrote to Ferdinand telling him about her sudden widowhood, and his sudden possession of a new country. He asked her to remain on as regent, a position that she only reluctantly accepted, protesting that the job should go to someone older and more experienced. Mary served as regent for more than a year until Ferdinand was coronated in 1527.

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Though borders were constantly changing, Europe looked
something like this during Mary's lifetime.
It is worth noting Mary's protests that she was unsuitable for the role of regent because of her age and inexperience. This is a pattern that would occur throughout her life when dealing with her male relatives. As governor of the Netherlands, she would frequently ask permission to resign, citing her inability to fully do her duty due to her gender, age, or lack of abilities. On the surface, it merely seems that Mary maybe struggled with self esteem, and the amount of reassuring letters her brother wrote to her certainly support this theory. However, it is also worth noting that in this first case, as well as most other cases of attempted resignation, Mary's attempt to resign came on the tail of her brothers denying her the basic things she needed to rule. It seems more likely that her shy projection of self doubt was merely her way of manipulating men who wanted results, but weren't willing to give her the necessary ingredients for success.

After leaving Hungary, Mary floated aimlessly until being appointed governor of the Netherlands after the death of Margaret of Austria in 1531. At the time, the Netherlands were a part of the vast and growing Habsburg Empire, ruled by Mary's brother, Charles V. The Netherlands was a notoriously tricky region, populated by a testy and nepotistic nobility, a wealthy and discontented bourgeois, and outer provinces that most definitely did not want to be under Habsburg rule. Add in the ever growing threat of Reformation, and the Netherlands was a hot seat of discontent.

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Not all of Mary's patronages were political
in nature. She was a great lover of music, and
retained talented musicians and composers at
her court.
The Reformation was a particular problem for Mary, because she frequently flirted with Lutheranism, much to the disapproval of her staunchly Catholic brothers. While Queen of Hungary, Mary had employed several reformist preachers, and read books by Martin Luther. It seemed likely that she may have had evangelical leanings herself, but when she took up as governor she became, at least publicly, staunchly Catholic.

She was, however, very tolerant of the protestants in the Netherlands. Charles frequently had to remind her to enforce anti-protestant laws, and the Netherlands was known as a place where protestant missionaries could preach without a huge amount of risk.

It was here in the Netherlands that Mary's master diplomatic and political acumen really shone. The role of governor was chronically underfunded in the Netherlands, and had only a limited number of patronages assigned to it. To control the area Mary needed both money and patronages¹, both of which were controlled by her brother Charles, who was so disinterested in the region, that he left the answering of her letters up to his secretary. Through a combination of persistent pestering and attempted resignations, Mary was able to not only get Charles to answer her letters, but also get him to allow her discretion over the dispensal of every third patronage.

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Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He was Mary's
older brother and nagging boss.
Though she won the patronage issue, Mary still struggled against Charles and his neglect of the region. An inability to balance the state budget and increased tensions with France caused a rebellion to break out in 1537. Mary kept her head, and was eventually able to suppress the rebellion, but not without great difficulty.

War was particularly difficult for Mary because her generals refused to listen to or communicate with her. Mary encountered a great deal of misogyny in her capacity as governor and regent, which made her job infinitely more difficult than it would have been for a man. Officials refused to listen to her, and nobles consistently disobeyed her orders. This, along with a great dislike of her nephew Philip (who had just replaced his father), and protest of her age, led to her retirement in 1555

After she left the Netherlands, Mary went to Castille, her mother's homeland. She accompanied her sister Eleanor, intending to spend the rest of her days happy and away from politics. Unfortunately, Eleanor died in 1558, setting Mary adrift. Charles once again offered her governorship of the
Netherlands, and Mary was even persuaded to accept it, but stress over her brother Charles' death caused her to have a sudden heart attack in October of 1558. She died a few weeks later.

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Mary in her older years
Despite her great importance in the politics of the era, Mary has been largely forgotten in favor of her brothers and nephew. This is a major disservice to any lover of history, because Mary was just as wily and clever a politician as her aunt, Margaret of Austria, and she more than outshone her brothers at times. While she may not have had a huge, lasting impact, Mary of Austria more than deserves a place at the table with the great Renaissance stateswomen of her era.



¹A patronage is a job given to members of the nobility to reward good behavior and compel further favor from the monarch or reigning noble. These patronages brought wealth and title, all of which enabled a ruler to bind the nobility to them.


Sources
'En bruit d'estre bonne luteriene': Mary of Hungary (1505-58) and Religious Reform by B. J. Spruyt
The Sinews of Habsburg Governance in the Sixteenth Century: Mary of Hungary and Political Patronage by Daniel R. Doyle
Mary of Hungary-Historical Dictionary of Brussels
Mary of Hungary-Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands
Mary of Austria: "The Heart to do Anything"
Louis II of Hungary

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Sad Case of Joanna the Not-So-Mad

The last ruler of the house of Trastamara, Joanna, known natively as Juana, of Castile was the daughter of two brilliant, but ruthless monarchs--Queen Isabella of Castile, and King Ferdinand of Aragon. She married Philip, Duke of Burgundy, and scion of the house of Habsburg. She was a brilliant woman, speaking five languages, excelling in math, science, and philosophy. Yet when she inherited the throne of Castile in 1516 she found herself shoved aside, and imprisoned as a madwoman by her father and her husband, both of whom were deadlocked in a struggle for her crown.

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Joanna was the third child of
Ferdinand and Isabella.
The modern Iberian Peninsula has only three countries--Spain, Portugal, and Andorra, but when Joanna's parents took the throne the peninsula was fractured and split between the kingdoms of CastileAragon, Portugal, NavarreAndorra, and the Muslim controlled Andalus. When Ferdinand and Isabella married in 1469 they united Castile and Aragon, creating a country that contained almost all of the territory of modern Spain. Though they were supposedly equal monarchs, on paper and in practice Isabella ran the whole  show. So when she died in 1504, and left Castile to her daughter Joanna, Ferdinand's dreams of an united Espana were endangered.

To understand Joanna as an adult, you have to understand Joanna as a child. Joanna was, very much, a Renaissance princess. Like her sister, Catherine of Aragon, and later her daughter, Mary of Hungary, Joanna was given a full Humanist education. She was taught math, science, philosophy, writing, religious and secular law, as well as five languages--French, Latin, Castilian, Catalan, and Galaico-Portuguese. She was very bright, arguably the brightest of Ferdinand and Isabella's children, a fact that no doubt led her to questioning the Catholic faith.

Now, given that Isabella and Ferdinand had commited mass genocide on several continents in the name of Catholicism, to have a daughter who questioned their austere faith was completely unacceptable. Letters from Ferdinand's attendants report that Joanna was subjected to torture in order to correct her unorthodoxy.

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Europe, 1500
Like all royal women of the age, Joanna was expected to make a brilliant marriage, and strengthen Spanish ties with a suitable foreign power. For Joanna, that power was the Habsburg family, the family that, at the time, ruled modern Germany, Austria, and much of the Benelux area. Maximilian I was head of the family at the time, and he had a single son, Philip, Duke of Burgundy.

Philip was later referred to as 'Philip the Handsome', and that sums up his character excellently. Philip was handsome; he liked women, wine, and sport. He didn't care much for affairs of state, and he especially didn't care much for fidelity in marriage, a fact which would torment Joanna all her life.

However, when the pair first met in 1496 the dark clouds of infidelity and alleged mental illness were nowhere in sight. Upon clapping eyes on each other, the pair were overcome with lust. They immediately summoned a priest, and had their marriage blessed, not even waiting for the official wedding the day after to consummate their union. Unsurprisingly, the pair had six children.

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Philip the 'Handsome'
For the first years of their marriage Joanna and Philip lived in Burgundy. Joanna enjoyed the freedom and relaxed atmosphere of the Lowlands, but unfortunately gained herself no real political allies. Though she had been tasked to advance Spain's interests by her mother, Joanna had no real interest in playing politics at this point in her life, she was more worried about wrangling her philandering husband, who had the habit of attempting to seduce everything that walked.


At the time, fidelity wasn't necessarily expected from royal men. Political marriages like Joanna and Philip's were based on the unspoken agreement that so long as there were a few heirs in the royal nursery, the man was allowed to do whatever (or whoever) he wished. The woman, on the other hand, was expected to remain faithful to her husband, and occupy her time with her children and charity projects. Joanna's mother, Isabella, understood this. Ferdinand had at least four children outside of marriage, and Isabella hadn't made a scene. Joanna, on the other hand, was in love with her husband, and wasn't going to stand for his philandering. The couple descended into a toxic cycle of her catching him being unfaithful, her yelling at him, then him avoiding her and having her confined to her rooms. Joanna's passionate outbursts and tempestuous reactions to her husband's behavior were recorded, and later used against her as evidence of her 'insanity', especially after she physically attacked one of Philip's many mistresses.

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Joanna, 1500
Back in Spain Trastamara's were dropping like flies. Joanna had never been expected to inherit her mother's throne, but with the death of her brother, Juan, in 1497, and her older sister, Isabella in 1498 Joanna was set to inherit a large chunk of the Iberian Peninsula--probably.

Problem was, women could not legally inherit in Aragon, the country of Joanna's father. While Joanna did have a son, Charles (later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V), he was still a child, and should Ferdinand die before Charles reached majority the issue of who would rule Aragon became unclear.

Enter Philip. Young and already ruling a duchy of his own, Philip was eager to add to his father's empire by taking Spain off the hands of the Trastamara's. This, however, didn't sit well with Isabella or Ferdinand, neither of whom wanted their country to go to a foreigner. Worried that Castile would end up in Philip's hands, Isabella added a codicil to her will that allowed Ferdinand to rule in Joanna's stead should Joanna die or leave Spain, cutting Philip out of the deal altogether.

When Isabella died in 1506 Ferdinand immediately had his daughter declared queen in Madrid, and around Castile. When word reached Joanna and Philip in Brussels, the pair had themselves declared sovereigns of Castile, and started the long journey to Madrid.

Though he was outwardly supportive of his daughter, Ferdinand started undermining her almost immediately. He seized state revenues, and circulated rumors that she was insane, producing the reports sent from Burgundy to back up his claims.

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Map of the Iberian Peninsula in Joanna's lifetime.
Missing is Andorra.
The Cortes--the Spanish Courts--declared Ferdinand custodian of Castile, and Ferdinand and his bishops started working on persuading Joanna to declare her father her regent. Philip, meanwhile, had landed in northern Spain, and was making his way to Madrid with Joanna. He had himself declared king in every town he went through, and seized revenues and assigned government positions to favored supporters. He was determined to become king, and he had come prepared. Protecting Philip was 2,000 German mercenaries, practically an army.


Joanna, on the other hand, was in a state of distress. Philip had told her of her father's attempts to rob her of her throne. However, she hadn't heard from her father directly, and she had witnessed her husband's attempts to steal her throne first hand. Joanna was much more inclined to trust her father than her husband, and refused to take any serious action until she's spoken with Ferdinand herself. She dressed in black in protest, and refused to appear at any oath swearing ceremony, or proclaim her husband King.

There was no doubt to Joanna that she was queen. She had been left the throne by her mother, and she intended to rule. The only problem was that nobody seemed to want her to rule. While she had some support among the populace, her strange attire and absence from the public eye isolated her from any real political supporters. She was caught between two very politically ambitious men, one of whom was wily and experienced, the other of whom had a large army and a political heavyweight for a father. Both parties owned a penis which, as so often is the case, made them both a more popular candidate than Joanna herself.

In order to keep Joanna away from her father, Philip had her confined to her rooms, and kept under guard. Both Philip and Joanna issued edicts under Joanna's name, and the pair were inches away from declaring war. Eventually, the King of France, stepped in to mediate. Ferdinand conceded to Philip, giving up all claims to Castile, and both men had Joanna declaed mad, and unfit to rule.

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Joanna attending Philip's casket, painted by Charles
de Steuben
Philip took the reigns of power in Castile, and Ferdinand retreated to his holdings in Naples. Philip didn't have long to enjoy his power though, because in the fall of 1506 he died abruptly from a fever, leaving his wife six months pregnant.

With her father in Naples and her husband dead, Joanna was closer to holding her throne than she had ever been. She was pregnant, which put her in a precarious position, but Joanna was unwilling to let the Spanish nobility take the throne from her. She stayed in seclusion for three months after her husband's death, and upon emerging took his body on a cross country processional to prepare for burial.

This journey through Spain is one of the stranger episodes of Joanna's life. Historians, as well as Joanna's contemporaries, are baffled by her motives for dragging a corpse across Spain while more than six months pregnant. While one would have to ask Joanna herself to be sure, there are several theories.

The most popular and prevalent theory is that Joanna was capital C crazy, and that she had finally come unhinged. Stories of her flinging her body upon her husband's lifeless corpse and weeping hysterically spread around the countryside. This report, while likely propaganda put out by Ferdinand, and later Joanna's son Charles, is substantiated by the fact that Joanna did have Philip's casket opened several times on the journey.

Another theory is that Joanna was traveling as an act of calculated defiance. After being apart from her people for so long Joanna was showing herself and the dead 'king' to remind the populace of her son and heir, Charles. Joanna had Philip's casket opened to prove that she did, indeed, possess his remains. This would have been seen as a message to Ferdinand that while he may wish to rule Castile, Joanna wasn't going to go quietly.

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Charles V, Joanna's son and heir
Both theories have merit, and fall on opposing sides of the debate that always arises whenever Joanna is mentioned--was Joanna insane, or merely the unlucky pawn of two rulers. However, this historian would like to pose a third theory (and a third answer to that question), that being that taking Philip's body on a tour of Spain was a stalling tactic on Joanna's part. Much like Penelope weaving her husband's burial shroud, then undoing her work in the dead of night, Joanna was putting off contracting a second marriage. The 'Queen' of Castile was quite the catch, and there were several rulers out for her hand (including Henry VII, her sister Catherine's father-in-law). By prolonging her mourning, and taking her time to bury Philip's body, Joanna bought time for herself to find a solution that suited her.

It was her pregnancy that eventually brought Joanna back into her father's clutches. Joanna gave birth to her youngest daughter Catalina in January of 1507, and afterwards Ferdinand sent his men to have her confined to a nunnery in Tordesillas. It was there that she stayed for the rest of her life.

The rest of Joanna's life was spent in captivity at Tordesillas, the only changes being her jailers and the man who usurped her throne. While in Tordesillas, Joanna was physically and emotionally abused, and denied visitors. Her only companion was her daughter, Catalina, who was stolen away and married off in 1525. Much of the money that was to be spent on Joanna's food and clothing was stolen by unscrupulous jailers, and she was purposely kept out of the loop on important events in order to make her seem insane. When Ferdinand died in 1516 Joanna was not told. She died believing that her father was still alive.

When Ferdinand died in 1516 Joanna's son, Charles, inherited Aragon. Since his mother was still alive Charles could not legally take control of Castile, so, like his grandfather, Charles kept his mother imprisoned, and had rumors of her continued insanity spread around Europe. Charles ruled as her regent for nearly 40 years.

File:Granada-Capilla Real-8-Sepulcro de Felipe I y de Juana la La Loca (Bartolomé Ordóñez).jpg
Joanna was buried next to her husband in Tordesillas.
Joanne died on Good Friday of 1555 at the age of 75. She was quietly buried, and almost immediately forgotten. Charles, now Holy Roman Emperor, would rule for another three years before abdicating in favor of his brother, Ferdinand. Joanna never saw her children again.

Joanna has gone down in history as 'Joanna the Mad'. She's little more than an historical footnote, only referred to when talking about the many genetic issues of the Habsburg family. She is frequently blamed as being the origin of the many mentally ill Habsburgs, perhaps not without reason. Joanna's grandmother, Isabella of Portugal, Queen of Castile suffered from severe depression, as did many of Joanna's descendents. However, upon close inspection, contemporary claims of her insanity dissipate into dust, revealing a passionate, but naive woman who had the misfortune to be surrounded by people who loved power more than her.

Probably. While claims of Joanna being a stark raving mad woman who groped corpses and violently accosted innocent maidens, it is highly unlikely that she was completely sane. It would, in fact, be insane, if a person who had been tortured as a child, physically and emotionally abused, gaslit, and neglected most of her life died happy and well adjusted. It seems likely that Joanna did suffer from sort of mental illness; there are reports of her falling into melancholy and refusing to eat or move. The real question is which came first: the abuse or the mental illness?


Sources
The Tragic Story of Joanna the Mad by Fernando Espi Forcen, M.D., Department of Psychiatry, The University of Chicago
Juana 'The Mad' Queen of a World Empire by Lisa Andrean
Was Joanna of Castile Truly 'Mad' or a Pawn For the Men in Her Family?
Joan, Queen of Castile
Juana the Mad of Castile
House of Habsburg

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Perfect Balance is a Little Creepy

Classical Greek and Roman sculpture is known for its beauty and true to life detail. These sculptures were inspiration for the masters of the renaissance, and for an entire style of art and architecture in the 1700s. However, Greek sculpture wasn't always Venus de Milo and Laocoon and his Sons, early Greek sculpture and art was vastly different, and a little...unsettling.

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A prime example of the Archaic Smile
The archaic period of ancient Greece is the time previous to the fourth century BCE. This was the period of time in which Greece was still figuring out how to Greece. They were working out the kinks of democracy, experimenting with black figure pottery, and hosting their first Olympics. The archaic period is when a lot of the things that characterize our modern idea of Ancient Greece sprung into being.

It was from here that the archaic smile sprung. The archaic smile is a tiny smirk seen on most statues from the period. It's the sort of smile that someone might give as a joke now, preferably with a double or triple chin, but it  wasn't a joke in Ancient Greece.

There are several theories surrounding the reason for this creepy little smile. The most pervasive are:

  • This small smile was used to indicate that the subject was in good health, and was happy.
  • Carving a full smile was simply too difficult. (Which, honestly, is fair.)
  • Greek art of the time was about idealizing and showing perfect bodies. This smile was simply the ideal and perfect smile. The Greeks wanted their sculpted bodies to be in perfect balance and harmony, this smile brought balance to the face.

Given that we cannot ask any Archaic Greek artists about the meaning behind their art, it is difficult to say which of these theories are correct. However, no matter the meaning behind, the archaic smile distinguishes any piece of artwork from the era, making Archaic Era art instantly recognizable.


Sources
"The Archaic Smile: A Commentary on the Arts in Times of Crisis" by Francis Henry Taylor
Archaic Smile-Britannica
Archaic Smile in Ancient Greek Sculpture: Definition and Concept
Greek Archaic Period




Sunday, July 1, 2018

Goodbye Swaziland, Hello Eswatini!

If you're still struggling with the idea of a South Sudan, and the lack of a Yugoslavia, you may wish to brace yourself, because on April 19, 2018 the Kingdom of Swaziland no longer existed, and was replaced by the Kingdom of Eswatini.

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Eswatini flag
The country formerly known as Swaziland is located in the southern region of Africa, bordering South Africa and Mozambique . It is the last remaining absolute monarchy in Africa, which certainly helped make the name changing process go smoother. King Mswati III started officially using the name 'Eswatini' in an address to the United Nations in 2017. He announced the official name change at his birthday celebration which, non-coincidentally, was the same day as the 50th anniversary of Eswatini's independence from the United Kingdom.

Many critics complain that this name change is just a way of distracting from Eswatini's deeper problems, and lack of democratic freedom. The great expense of changing all official and unofficial documentation and signage when the majority of Emaswati live below the poverty line is a major sticking point for the King's political opponents.

However, many people, the King included, argue that the name change is a way of finally throwing off their colonial past, and facing the future as a fully independent nation.

Either way, pull out a sharpie, or get ready to buy new maps. Swaziland is gone, Eswatini has arrived.

Sources
Swaziland Name Change to Eswatini is Now Official
Swaziland Gets a Name Change: Call it Eswatini Now
Swaziland Has a New Name-Eswatini-But Will Anything Change?
Swaziland: What Happens When a Country Changes Its Name?


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Damn, Girl-Sisi of Austria-Hungary

Known to her family as 'Sisi', Elisabeth, Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, remains one of the most Romantic (the capital R is on purpose) and tragic queens in history. Married to her cousin at only age sixteen, Elisabeth was thrust into a life of strict etiquette and heavy media scrutiny. Deeply unhappy, she wandered Europe for more than three decades searching for peace.

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Elisabeth on her wedding day.
Elisabeth was the fourth child of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria. Ludovika and Maximilian were cousins, and were almost constantly at loggerheads with each other. Maximilian was something of a free spirit--preferring to roam Bavaria disguised as a commoner, playing the zither in taverns for public amusement. Maximilian also had several affairs, and had a distinct distaste for life in Possenhofen--the castle where Elisabeth and her siblings grew up. Though Maximilian seemed to have dislike Possenhofen, he didn't dislike his children. He would frequently take them on long nature expeditions, lasting weeks at a time. Due to this, and her mother's disbelief in an extensive education, Elisabeth's education was fairly unsettled, and she did not have the  education she would later need to rule.

From all accounts, Elisabeth's childhood at Possenhofen was idyllic. She played with her siblings, avoided her lessons, wrote poetry, and rode horses. However, all of that changed in 1853 when Elisabeth was 15.

Western Europe at the time contained many more countries than it currently does. At the final dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the Empire split in 360 smaller states. Many of those states banded together to form the German Federation in 1815. The German Federation was a loose collection of states presided over by the Austrian Emperor. Elisabeth was born into Bavaria--the third biggest of these German Federation states, and the direct neighbor of the much larger Archduchy of Austria.¹

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Europe 1854, note the closeness of Bavarian and the
Austrian Empire
The archduke of Austria, Franz Joseph, was single, not opposed to mingling, and was the most eligible bachelor in Europe. Princess Ludovika was Franz Joseph's aunt, and she, along with Archduchess Sophie, Franz Joseph's mother, hatched a plan to marry Franz Joseph to Elisabeth's older sister, Helene. When Ludovika took Helene to meet the emperor, she had Elisabeth accompany them, presumably so she could set Elisabeth up with an equally enticing gentleman.

The plan was perfect--one trip, two marriages. However, Ludovika and Sophie didn't take Franz Joseph's feelings into mind. In a rare occurrence of love (or lust, if you're feeling cynical) at first sight, Franz Joseph informed his mother that he would not be marrying Helene, but that he would be marrying Elisabeth, and that was that. He proposed to Elisabeth after only a week.

Elisabeth, of course, accepted, and the couple announced their engagement on August 19, 1853. The fact that Franz Joseph was 23 to Elisabeth's 15, and that the couple were cousins doesn't seem to have mattered much to the parties involved. Franz Joseph loved Elisabeth, and one didn't tell the emperor no. It is, however, difficult to ascertain the depths of Elisabeth's feelings for Franz Joseph. Any hesitations she may have had aside, the couple was married in the April of the next year.

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Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna. 
Adjustment to the Imperial Court at Hofburg was difficult for Elisabeth. Etiquette was draconian, recalling the strict rules in place at Versailles. Particularly the rules about dressing irked Elisabeth. Court etiquette stated that the Empress could wear a pair of shoes only once before giving them to a lady in waiting. Gloves had to always be worn. There was a strict system of precedence, and a great deal of activities Elisabeth had previously enjoyed were deemed 'unseemly'. Elisabeth crossed swords with her mother-in-law, Archduchess Sophie over this more than once, particularly after the birth of Elisabeth's children.

In the view of the archduchess, Elisabeth's role was to provide heirs and look pretty, nothing more. This rankled Elisabeth, who had some interest in governing, particularly with the Hungarian part of the empire. However, Elisabeth's distaste for etiquette, and reticence at public gathering pushed her to the fringes of power, and isolated her at court.

This isolation, combined with a lack of freedom made Elisabeth deeply unhappy. Furthering her unhappiness was the fact that upon their births her first three children were taken away from her, and she was allowed little contact with them. She and Franz Joseph had three children in the first four years of their marriage, with two surviving to adulthood. These children--two daughters and a son--were raised by a staff of servants and the archduchess Sophie.

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Probably the most famous of Elisabeth's
portraits, this dress was later the inspiration
for the 'Think of Me' dress in the 2004
'Phantom of the Opera' movie.
Elisabeth was a private person with a distaste for crowds and invasions of her privacy. Unfortunately for her, Elisabeth lived at a time when more people in Europe were literate than ever before, and European press was becoming a bigger and bigger industry. Royal reporting became the newest craze, with presses constantly cranking out articles and pamphlets about what Elisabeth ate, wore, and did.  (and who she allegedly did) This only increased Elisabeth's feelings that she was in a sort of gilded cage, and imprisoned. Though she was much beloved by the masses, and she was welcomed everywhere she went, Elisabeth believed that she was viewed as a curiosity, once comparing herself to a dancing monkey.

Despite her distaste for it, Elisabeth discharged her duties as empress with great aplomb. She was, as mentioned, much loved by her people, and with good reason. She was known for personally interacting with her subjects, and taking time to speak with the people in front of her. She frequently would visit hospitals, a lady in waiting in tow, and would hold the hands of and converse with the patients.²

What Elisabeth is best known for, of course, is her legendary beauty. With wide dark eyes, and eighteen inch waist, and ankle length hair, Elisabeth was considered one of the most beautiful women of the era. Numerous paintings and sculptures were done of her, with, according to her husband, only a few coming close to actually capturing her good looks.

Elisabeth spent hours on her beauty routine. She would spend hours exercising, applying various compresses and ointments, and spent three hours having her hair done each day. While having her hair done, Elisabeth studied, learning Greek, Latin, and Hungarian.

As might be expected from a couple with an eight year age difference, who'd known each other a week before making a lifetime commitment, Elisabeth and Franz Joseph's marriage was less than congenial. Franz Joseph viewed Elisabeth's dislike for public duty as childish, and Elisabeth found Franz Joseph dull and humorless. Both had numerous extra-marital affairs.

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A portrait of Elisabeth featuring her
famous hair.
Though she was a beautiful woman, Elisabeth was not a healthy woman. She suffered from depression, and exhibited all the signs of what we now recognize as anorexia. She ate little, at times only living off raw milk and oranges. She exercised obsessively, spending hours in a gym she'd had specially set up for her. She had a morbid fascination with death, and frequently remarked that insane people were the only ones who made sense. Her depression combined with her eating disorder took a great toll on Elisabeth, and unsurprisingly in 1862, Elisabeth had a nervous breakdown.

After her nervous breakdown, Elisabeth began to travel extensively, often spending more time outside of Austria than in it. She took long cruises on the royal yacht, sailing around the Mediterranean and western Africa. Elisabeth tried to keep a low profile while traveling. She wasn't making or receiving state visits, she was traveling for herself, often under an assumed name or auxiliary title. She eventually purchased land on the island of Corfu, and began to build a castle there.

In 1866 Elisabeth returned to her husband, and began putting pressure on him to treat with the Hungarians to make them an equal part of the country. Elisabeth was successful, and in 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Compromise was passed, granting Hungary equal status with Austria, and allowing them a greater degree of sovereignty. It is unknown exactly how much Elisabeth had to do with the passing of the compromise, but it is known that following the compromise Franz Joseph forbade her from interfering in politics ever again. Franz Joseph couldn't have been too angry, however, because the couple's fourth child was born in 1868.

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Elisabeth at her coronation as Queen of Hungary
For some time Elisabeth's life was more or less uneventful. She was allowed to raise her last child, Marie Valerie, and they were quite close, Elisabeth taking her daughter with her on her travels. Though she and Franz Joseph didn't stay reconciled, the couple seemed to have been on amiable terms. And in 1890 Elisabeth was able to persuade Franz Joseph to allow Marie Valerie to marry the archduke of Austria-Tuscany, a man Marie loved despite his lack of dynastic connections.

While ostensibly a happy occasion, the engagement of Marie Valerie to her archduke dug up some bad feelings in the family. Crown Prince Rudolf, Elisabeth's third child, and heir to the throne, had been pressured into marrying a Belgian princess nearly a decade earlier, and seeing his younger sister get to marry for love rankled him. On January 30, 1889 he was found dead in a hunting lodge along with his mistress, having apparently shot her then himself.

Elisabeth went into deep mourning after the death of her son. She gave away her jewels, and dressed in black for the rest of her life, much in the same way Queen Victoria had been doing since 1861. She wandered Europe listlessly and without purpose.

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This is the last photograph of Elisabeth, taken
shortly before she died.
In 1898 Elisabeth found herself in Geneva, Switzerland. She was there visiting a friend when on September 10 she was stabbed by anarchist Luigi Lucheni³ in front of a hotel. Luigi had stabbed Elisabeth with a small file, and Elisabeth had initially thought that he'd punched her until one of her ladies noticed the blood on her dress. Though they called for a doctor, Elisabeth soon died.

Today Elisabeth is remembered as a romantic figure--the beautiful empress who never wanted to be empress. Though her story was undeniably tragic, it must be remembered that she could wield great power when she wanted to. Her actions in the Austro-Hungarian Compromise contributed a great deal to Hungary's later independence from the empire. Given her huge impact with just one issue, it is easy to imagine just what she might have done had she been allowed to properly rule.



¹It is worth noting that while Austria may have been classified as an Archduchy in the context of the German Federation, it retained its status of an Empire due to it's possession of the Kingdom of Hungary and associated territories.
²This, along with many other parts of Elisabeth's life have led to many comparisons between her and  Princess Diana.
³Luigi Lucheni didn't have anything against Elisabeth personally, he just hated the ruling class. He hadn't even come to Geneva for Elisabeth, he'd come to assassinate Prince Henri of Orléans. However, Prince Henri had canceled his visit at the last minute, and Luigi, not wanting to waste the trip, decided to assassinate Elisabeth instead.

Sources
"The Anorectic Empress: Elisabeth of Austria." by W. Vandereycken and T. Abatzi
Elisabeth, Empress Consort of Austria
The Tragic Austrian Empress Who Was Murdered By Anarchists
Sisi Museum
Empress Sisi
Elisabeth, Empress of Austria

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Harvey Milk

Along with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk is one of the most iconic and influential American LGBT leaders. Politically active from 1973-1978, Milk was one of the first openly gay political leaders, and pushed for both political and community reforms in San Francisco and California.

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Harvey Milk
Milk was born May 22, 1930 to Minerva and William Milk in Woodmere, New York. Though he knew he was gay from a young age, he stayed quiet about it until adulthood. He was a popular, well liked athlete in high school, and participated in school operas.

Harvey attended New York State College for Teachers, graduating in 1951, and moving on to attend Officer Candidate School after enlisting in the US Navy. He was subsequently stationed in San Diego, serving as a diving instructor on the U.S.S. Kittiwake. He achieved the rank of junior lieutenant before his discharge in 1955.

There is some debate about the nature of Milk's discharge. Milk stated that he was dishonorably discharged after being questioned about his sexuality, but the U.S. Navy records reflect that Milk was honorably discharged. It is difficult to ascertain which party is telling the truth, as both parties have a reasonable reason to lie--Milk to give depth to his political agenda, the Navy to avoid the embarrassment of having mistreated a man who would later become an international hero. It is worth noting, however, that Milk's discharge was during the height of the Lavender Scare, which gives credence to his story.

After leaving the military Milk worked as a high school teacher for a few years before going to work as a financial analyst. Milk enjoyed a stable career in finance until 1970 when he left to become a production assistant for Broadway musicals. Milk's credits include Jesus Christ Superstar, and Hair.


Milk in front of Castro Camera, 1973
In 1972 Harvey moved to San Francisco with his lover, and opened a camera shop in the Castro district, and area of San Francisco known for it's LGBT population and liberal politics.

Milk soon became a staple of Castro political life. His store--Castro Camera--was a gathering place for LGBT people. In 1973, shortly after moving to the Castro Milk declared his candidacy for City Supervisor, spurred on by a heavy tax on small businesses and the Watergate Scandal. Though he lost the campaign he gained recognition as a popular politician, and began to gather more political support.

Supporting small businesses as well as LGBT rights would become a focus of Milk's for the next few years. In 1974 he founded the Castro Street Fair--an event devoted to bringing commercial activity to the Castro. He worked with local businesses to revitalize the Castro Village Association, and convinced local bars to stop selling certain brands of beer during a Teamster's Strike, in exchange for the teamsters hiring more gay and lesbian drivers.

Milk ran again and lost in 1975. By this time he was the leader of the Castro gay community, fondly known as 'The Mayor of Castro Street'. His civic activities brought him to the notice of mayor George Moscone, who appointed him to the city permit's appeals board. Harvey served in this position for a few weeks before leaving to run for California State Assembly, a race he would end up losing.

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The Castro lies in the heart of San Francisco
Realizing that he needed to rely on his voter base in the Castro, Milk worked with Anne Kronenberg, and George Moscone to revise the city laws so that supervisors would be elected by the people in their specific district, rather than the city as a whole. The passing of this amendment meant that when Harvey ran for city supervisor again in 1977, he won easily.

Harvey's election was met with joy from liberals, and angry grumbles from conservatives. Once in office, Milk proved a dedication to serving all the minority groups of San Francisco, not just the LGBT community. He established free daycare services for working mothers, and had abandoned military facilities converted into low cost housing. He reformed the tax code to benefit small businesses, and worked on measures protecting LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.

Though he was universally loved in the Castro, and generally admired across the United States, Milk received death threats almost daily. Unfortunately on November 27, 1978, Dan White--a former colleague of Harvey's--carried through on that threat, assassinating both Milk and Mayor Mascone.

Today, Milk is remembered as a legendary activist, and a great politician. Though he was only in office for a short time, he was able to pass a great deal of reforms which still benefit the people of California today.

On a wider scale, Milk is an inspiration for LGBT people around the world. His belief that homosexuals needed to come out of the closet to fight for greater rights and understanding has inspired LGBT people around the world to speak out, and follow in his example.

Sources
Harvey Milk-Activist (1930-1978)
Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk, American Politician and Activist
Harvey Milk Biography
The Official Harvey Milk Biography

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Good Game

If your ideal career involves breaking and entering, eating free food, and judging the state of other people's housekeeping, you might have a future in witchcraft--if you lived in medieval Europe that is.

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Cathedral in Milan
In the early 1380s Sibilla and Pierina, two women living in Milan were brought up on charges of witchcraft. They were accused of the usual witch malarkey--eating babies, bumping uglies with the devil, baptizing wax figures. However, the 'crimes' that they confessed to are far more interesting than any sort of heresy.

Sibilla and Pierina both claimed to be members of 'The Good Game', or the dominae nocturnae. This game was a group of ladies who met with the fairy court in the night. They sang, danced, partied, then left to roam the countryside. While roaming, they would enter houses, many of which would have a full meal and a mirror on the table to satisfy their nocturnal visitors. Should the meal be satisfactory, and should the house be tidy and upkept to the ladies standards, they would place a blessing of prosperity on the home.

The witchcraft tradition of medieval Europe is filled with pagan practice, and merged with tales of faeries, ghosts, and demons to the point that It's difficult to ascertain what the medieval witch's actual craft was, and what is pure myth. It is difficult to ascertain if the dominae nocturnae was an actual society (or gathering) of women, or just a corruption of a fairy story.

Unfotunately, Sibilla and Pierina were both taken seriously by the courts of their time. They were both burned to death in 1390.

Sources
The Mythology of Witchcraft
Night Witches and Good Ladies

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Damn, Girl-Jeanne de Clisson, Bloody Lioness of Brittany

Shrouded in mythology, Jeanne de Clisson was one of the bloodiest privateers of the 14th century. Born a wealthy lady of high rank, Jeanne took to the seas against the French after the execution of her much loved second husband Olivier. She proceeded to harry French ships--militaristic and merchant--on behalf of the English crown for 13 years before settling down into another happy marriage.

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Modern picture of Jeanne done in
the artistic style of the time. It is
unknown exactly what Jeanne
looked like.
Born Jeanne de Belleville, Jeanne was born in 1300, and married wealthy land owner Geoffrey de Chateaubriant at the age of 12. Very little is known about Jeanne's first marriage, but she did have two children with Geoffrey--a son and a daughter. The son would inherit the Chateaubriant estate after Geoffrey's death in 1326, and the daughter would later inherit the de Belleville estate, as Jeanne had no living brothers.

Jeanne married again in 1330, this time to Olivier de Clisson, a widower and great friend of Charles de Blois. Though neither left a diary saying 'I <3 Jeanne/Olivier', tradition holds that their marriage was a love match. They would have five children together and live happily for 13 years.

The political situation of the time was more than tense. France and England were having at it (when were they not?), this time over Brittany, a northern Duchy in what is now France. At the time, the English still had extensive holdings in modern France, inherited from Eleanor of Aquitaine. The English, however, were having difficulties holding onto those territories, and had been at war with France off and on for several hundred years.

At Jeanne's time, England and France were involved in what would come to be called the Hundred Year's War, the same war which Jeanne d'Arc would fight and die in. (Remember, this is the HUNDRED Years war.) The war was over possession of Brittany, the territory in which Jeanne lived. Formerly an independent Celtic state, Brittany had become an independent Duchy. It was technically beholden to no other country, but had the misfortune to be surrounded by two major powers who were constantly trying to take it over. Brittany managed to hold strong until 1341 when Duke John of Brittany died without a direct heir.

The duke's death left two potential heirs to the Duchy, one backed by the French, another backed by the English. As was usual with such land disputes, France and England merrily began another war, hacking away at each other's populations and infrastructures mercilessly. Olivier, as a friend of Charles de Blois, the French candidate for the Duchy, was called away to command in the war, being posted at a fort in Vannes.

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Olivier kneels on the scaffold, awaiting his death. He is
surrounded by the corpses of other noblemen executed
for treason.
During the siege of Vannes Olivier was taken captive by the English. He was later released in a prisoner exchange, but his friend Charles de Blois was suspicious. Charles suspected that the English had had French help when they took Vannes, and he suspected Olivier. He condemned Olivier for treason, and had him executed without trial in August of 1343. Olivier's head was sent to Nantes, and placed on a spike above the city.

Jeanne was, understandably, distraught.She took her sons to see their father's decapitated head, and told them that he had been murdered by Charles de Blois. Shortly after, she sold all of her land, and gathered a force of men loyal to her and Olivier's memory. With her men she set off on a revenge mission that would last nearly two decades.

First stop on the revenge tour was the castle of Galois de la Heuse. Galois was a supporter of Charles de Blois, and had been friendly with Jeanne's husband. Why Jeanne chose Galois' home for her first scene of revenge is uncertain, but what is known is that Galois never saw it coming. He opened the gates to let Jeanne in, and was, presumably, quite surprised to soon find himself and most of the people who lived there slaughtered. Jeanne's force left a few survivors to spread the news, then took to the seas where they could make the most impact.

With money from the sales of her lands, Jeanne purchased three ships. They were painted black, and outfitted with red sails. The sight of those ships struck fear into the hearts of many a sailor when Jeanne and her crew overtook unsuspecting French ships in the mist on the English Channel. Those ominous ships meant almost certain death to almost everyone on board the captured vessel. Jeanne only spared one or two members of each crew so there would be a survivor to carry tales of her exploits.

Noble status didn't protect seafarers from Jeanne's crew. Jeanne had a particular hatred for members of the nobility, and legend had it that she would behead noblemen herself. This, combined with her general modus operandi, earned her the ephitet 'Bloody Lioness of Brittany'.

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Brittany on a map of modern France. 
Jeanne wasn't a simple pirate motivated by self interest. She was a privateer. She colluded with the English crown to provide supplies to their troops in France, and to destroy French ships. She received ships and men from the English government, and became an integral part of English naval strategy.

In 1356 Jeanne quit the murder on the high seas business, and married again, this time to Englishman Walter Bentley. Once again, all signs point to this marriage being a love match. The pair moved to a castle near the coast of Brittany, and lived peacefully. Jeanne died quietly in 1359.

Today Jeanne is all but forgotten, and the few stories we have about her are romanticized with myth and legend. It is difficult to say which parts of her life are true and which are fiction, but what few concrete records we have of her paint a vivid picture of a strong woman unafraid to get her hands dirty (or, you know, murder someone.)

Sources
Jeanne de Clisson
The Lioness of Brittany
Jeanne de Clisson, the Bloody Lioness of Brittany


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Indus Valley Civilization-The Secrets of Two Cities

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Called 'The Priest King' this iconic
Harappan statue was found in
Mohenjo Daro
Existing several hundred years after the Varna Culture, and home of one of the worlds first major urban center, the Indus River Valley Civilization, or Harappa Civilization, was almost forgotten to history until the early 20th century. Contemporaries with Egypt and Sumer, the Harappa civilization has some of the earliest and finest examples of urban planning, writing, and a standardized system of weights and measures. Unlike their neighbors, they didn't pursue conquest, or build large monuments. This, along with the fact that scholars have yet to decipher the Harappa system of writing means that unfortunately very little is known about this great civilization.

Harappa was rediscovered (by a white person) in 1826 CE by British Army deserter, James Lewis. Lewis was wandering the Punjab region of the then British India in search of ancient artifacts, and, presumably, in avoidance or people who would take him back to the army. At the time Lewis, and the archaeologists who later followed him, assumed that the city dated to around the era of Alexander the Great. However, later discoveries of artistic seals identical to ones found in Sumer would prove that the Harappa civilization is much, much older.

Beginning somewhere around 2500 BCE, and ending about a millennium later, the mysterious Harappa Civilization left little behind except their enigmatic cities. Because the Harappan script has yet to be deciphered, information on the Harappans has to be gleaned from the remains of their cities.

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Ruins at Harappa
There are two major sites associated with the Harappa civilization--Mohenjo Daro in Sindh Pakistan, and Harappa itself, in Sahiwal. These cities are laid out in similar fashions, and artifacts found have confirmed that these two cities were most likely part of the same civilization, if not quite the same country. It is widely speculated that, much like in Greece, Harappa and Mohenjo Daro were each sovereign city states participating in a wider culture. There is clear evidence of communication between the two, and it seems likely that they shared common laws and customs. Many archaeologists speculate that, of the two, Mohenjo Daro was the 'capital city', but this is, as of now, conjecture.

Harappan cities are laid out on a grid system, with streets aligning with the cardinal directions (north, east, south, west.) These streets were paved, and there were separate residential and commercial streets. In addition to planned streets, there was also a general sewer system, which was connected with every home.  In general, most houses had latrines and a bathing facility. Additionally, houses were located nearly public wells and fountains so that citizens had access to fresh water.

An interesting feature of Harappan cities is the uniformity of their building materials. Buildings were made of mud bricks covered in plaster. Brick size seems to have been standardized across the Harappan civilization, as bricks in Mohenjo Daro are the same size as the bricks in Harappa, and all bricks in the city are the same size.  Additionally, the durability of these bricks have led to them being constantly reused in new building projects. At the time of Harappa's rediscovery most of the bricks had been stripped away from the city to build the Lahore Railroad. It is a testement to the Harappans' skill that over 100 miles (161 kilometers) of railroad was paved using those bricks.

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The 'Great Bath' in Mohenjo Daro. Though little is known
about Harappan religion, it is speculated that bathing was
an important religious ritual.
Based on archaeological findings, the Harappa Civilization seems to have been a somewhat egalitarian society. Residences, by and large, contain the same levels of luxary, and there is no indication of any sort of monarchy. It is speculated that the Harappans were governed by elected rulers.

The disappearance of the Harappa Civilization as traditionally been attributed to an invasion from Aryan peoples. (No, not those aryans). For many years it was believed that the Aryans had wiped out the Harappa Civilization when they conquered India. However, recent discoveries have called this theory into question. The lack of evidence of mass slaughter, and the genetic continuity between remains from Harappans and the modern people of Punjab and Sindh suggest that the Aryans may have arrived after the Harrapans had left. It is now hypothesized that shifting climate and overcrowding caused the Harrapans to leave their cities, and disperse to other settlements in the region, abandoning Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. This theory is hardly satisfactory, and undoubtedly continuing research will see this theory modified within the next decade.

Sources
Indus Valley Civilization
Indus River Valley Civilizations
Indus Civilization
Early Civilization in the Indus Valley
The Ancient Indus Civilization
Harappa: An Overview of Harappan Architecture and Town Planning
Harappa
The Harappan Civilization
The Lost City of Mohenjo Daro
Mohenjo Daro
Mohenjo Daro and Harappa