Showing posts with label 14th century. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 14th century. Show all posts

Friday, January 25, 2019

Damn, Girl-Isabella, Queen of England, 'She-Wolf' of France

Militant and ruthless, Isabella of France was the sort of queen HBO and Starz make television shows about. Married at twelve, Isabella spent the early years of her reign being scorned and passed over for her husband's male favorites. Forced to stand between her husband, his aristocracy, and England, Isabella became a wily diplomat and politician, which later saw her ousting her corrupt and weak husband with the help of her lover. Though she saw real power for only four years, she saw her son onto the throne, and was instrumental in holding England together during the tumultuous years of Edward II. Deemed 'the she-wolf of France'¹, Isabella was a fierce defender of what was hers.

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Our girl Isabella, deciding the fate of her enemies.
Born sometime between 1292 and 1295, Isabella was the sixth child and only surviving daughter of King Philip the Fair of France, and Queen Jeanne of Navarre. Very early in her life Isabella was given into the care of Theophania St. Pierre, who served as her nurse and companion even after her marriage.

Despite being cared for by Theophania, Isabella was, in no way, neglected by her parents. As their only girl she was much indulged, and given several grants of land, making her wealthy even as a child. In addition to being given land, Isabella was also given a rudimentary education,being taught to read even though her father generally held the belief that only nuns should be taught to read. Isabella developed a love of books and learning that would sustain her throughout her life.

It is important to note the sort household that Isabella was raised in. While by no means normal, Isabella's family was idyllic by the standards of the times, and the modern day. Her parents were in love, and it was very likely that their marriage had been a love match. Isabella's mother ran her country, Navarre, independent of Philip's France, and Philip was a strong, if somewhat brutal, king of France. Isabella was raised by exemplary monarchs with strong relationship. This would stand in stark contrast to the men in her own future, and may have contributed to the disillusionment that Isabella would experience later in her life.

At the time of Isabella's birth France and England were, unsurprisingly, at war. Traditional enemies, England and France's latest quarrel was over the regions of Aquitaine and Gascony, regions that the two countries had been fighting over since Eleanor of Aquitaine's marriage to Henry II, and the transfer of her lands to English hands, four generations previous. Philip IV and Edward I were ready to call a temporary truce, and they decided to seal the deal with a double marriage--Philip's sister, Margaret of France, to Edward I, and Edward I's son, Edward of Caernarvon, to Philip's only daughter, Isabella.

The marriage was agreed to in 1298, and Edward pressed for Isabella to marry his son immediately, but an intervention from Pope Boniface VIII, proposing that marrying off a three year old was perhaps a little unethical, delayed the union. The couple were married by proxy when Isabella was seven, then married for real in 1308.
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Edward Caernarvon at his coronation.
Twelve year old Isabella was hailed as a beauty, and was greeted joyously by her new English public. Her husband, Edward, however, wasn't as enthused. It wasn't that he disliked Isabella, it was just that he was enamoured with another man, and he was completely indifferent to the twelve year old he had just vowed to love, honor, and obey. Edward already had someone to love, honor, and obey, his husband favorite, Piers Gaveston.

Piers Gaveston and Edward II went all the way back to 1300, when Edward was 15 (ish). Edward's father, Edward (hereafter referred to as 'Big Daddy Ed'), wasn't too terribly impressed with his son. Big Daddy Ed was a Medieval King's Medieval King. His hobbies included holding tournaments, producing heirs, and warring with the Scots. Edward, on the other hand, liked music, swimming, rowing, and thatching. Big Daddy Ed was disgusted with his son, and so he installed Piers Gaveston, the son of a poor knight, in Edward's household. Piers was the sort of fellow that Big Daddy Ed would have liked to have for a son--athletic, refined, and a great lover of warring with the Scots. He'd hoped that Piers would be an improving influence for his son, unfortunately, Piers was anything but. Piers and Edward fell in love almost immediately, and the pair proceeded to wreak havoc among the nobility and common people.

While Piers doesn't appear to have been present at Edward and Isabella's marriage, he was most notably present at their coronation (Big Daddy Ed having died a few months before). Piers had controversially been raised to the title of Earl of Cornwall², and as such had the right to wear cloth of gold at the coronation. Piers, however, decided to show up in purple silk, essentially claiming status on par with Isabella and Edward. He also proceeded Isabella and Edward in the procession, and was given several other prestigious duties during the ceremony. This infuriated Edward's nobles, as Piers was, outside of his flashy new titles, not particularly blue-blooded.

The real insults came at the banquet succeeding the coronation. Edward had been given substantial sums of money by the French for the coronation, and had spent it on lavish tapestries displaying the arms of himself and Gaveston. Edward took several of the jewels and wedding presents meant for Isabella, and gave them to Gaveston, and spent much of the evening with his husband favorite, instead of with his new bride. The French delegation was outraged, and Isabella wrote to her father that she felt like a nonentity in her own marriage.

For the first few years of her marriage, Isabella had very little political power, and much of the drama and intrigue of this time concerns Edward and Piers. Edward burned through goodwill and money quickly, and had alienated his nobility not long after his coronation. His continued indulgence and promotion of Gavestone, as well as his neglect of the kingdom and ineffectual warring with the Scots, led his barons to draw up the Ordinances of 1311, which severely curtailed his powers. He was forced to banish Gaveston multiple times, but always managed to recall him at a later date. Isabella more or less was dragged along with them, with very little power of her own. However, everything changed when Isabella turned sixteen.

There was no formal agreement about what age Isabella had to reach before she and Edward would consummate their marriage, but even in Medieval times it was generally agreed upon that getting pregnant at twelve was sheer dangerous idiocy. Getting pregnant at sixteen, however, was merely dangerous. Consequently, Isabella was pregnant by 1312.

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Map of the British Isles in 1300. Not
included are the Plantagenet lands in
southern France.
Now, at this time Edward and Gaveston were in the middle of yet another one of their power struggles with the English aristocracy. Gaveston had been exiled again in 1311, and his return to England had ruffled more than a few feathers. Additionally, the Scots were feeling frisky again, and they were making war in Northern England.

Unfortunately, Northern England was where Isabella was, and her husband's war making was so incompetent, that she soon found herself in danger. Edward marched south with his army, leaving Isabella with scant protection from the advancing Scots.

Isabella and Edward both made it safely back to London, but Gaveston was not as fortunate. He had been trapped in Scarborough Castle by his enemies, and executed, leaving Edward bitter and heartbroken. On November 13th Isabella's first child, the future Edward III, was born.

The next four years would be the happiest of Edward and Isabella's marriage. Two of their four living children--John and Eleanor--were born during this period. During this time Edward put significant efforts into repairing his relationships with his subjects, enacting reforms and reassigning lands that had been unfairly given to Gavestone. Edward seemed contrite, and for a time England enjoyed a brittle peace. However, things grew uneasy as another royal boyfriend favorite rose over the horizon.

The Despenser family were related to Edward, and Hugh Despenser the Younger (Hereafter known as 'Horny Hugh') was technically Edward's nephew. In 1318, Horny Hugh was made Edward's royal chamberlain. Horny Hugh Despenser and his father, Hugh Despenser, both had political ambitions. Unlike Gavestone, who was content to be a wealthy, lowborn, nuisance, Horny Hugh wanted to rule. He was given large swathes of the marchlands, angering the Marcherlords³ to whom the land rightfully belonged.

Furthermore, Horny Hugh and Isabella didn't like each other. It's unknown what sort of relationship Isabella had had with Gavestone, but given that Isabella was little more than a child during Gavestone's tenure as royal husband favorite, it seems likely that they didn't have much of a relationship at all.

However, with Horny Hugh, things were different. Isabella was becoming a political person in her own right, and she was painfully aware that Horny Hugh and the Despensers elevation insulted her, her French family, and the realm. She was frequently called upon by the barons to curb the king's worst impulses, and her and Edward's relationship grew increasingly tense. In 1322 Edward asked Isabella to swear an oath of loyalty to the Despensers. When she refused, he took away her lands, and gave custody of their two youngest children--Eleanor and Joan--to Horny Hugh.

Meanwhile, Isabella's brother Charles had become King of France, and he was eyeing Gascony with increasing amounts of lust. Squabbles started popping up in the region, and despite multiple attempts at diplomacy, including sending Edward and Isabella's eldest son to France, war seemed inevitable. In 1325, Edward decided to send Isabella to intercede.

Once back in France, Isabella had very little reason to be loyal to Edward. He had taken her children, confiscated her lands, and reduced her to little more than a pauper. She had been insulted and humiliated for seventeen years, and she was done. Safe at her brother's court in Paris, Isabella declared her contempt for her husband and the Despensers. She took up the garb of a widow, saying, essentially, that her husband was dead to her, and that she considered him unfit for the office he held. With the help of her cousins in the Lowlands, Isabella began plotting to remove Edward from the son in favor of their eldest son.

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Roger speaking with Isabella on a battlefield
Enter Roger Mortimer. He was a young, handsome nobleman with vast estates in Wales and Ireland. He had been exiled from England for his political policies of attempting to overthrow the Despensers, and he had a thirst for vengeance. He and Isabella had met many times before, as Mortimer had been a regular at court, but with Isabella in widow weeds, and Mortimer driven from his home, something had changed. They began to plot together, and that plotting soon moved to the bedchamber, where it is widely assumed that they began plotting Edward's overthrow in a horizontal position.

Roger and Isabella's relationship is an interesting one. It is quite obvious that she was very enamored of him. She was permissive of his bad behavior far beyond what someone using him as a means to an end would have been. However, it is difficult to ascertain Mortimer's feelings. While they had some things in common--love of art, love of Arthurian Romance--he frequently disregarded her wishes concerning their plot, and later the running of the country. After attaining the regency, he used her to gain vast lands and wealth. This may be constructed just as him being the typical medieval man, but there was also the fact that Mortimer was already married to a woman it was widely rumored to be in love with. However, he and his wife had been separated for three years, and it was possible that his ardor towards his wife had cooled, and he truly had feelings for Isabella.

Though they were nowhere near as open about it as Edward and his husbands favorites, it soon became common knowledge that Isabella and Mortimer were lovers. This enraged Edward, who swore that if he saw Isabella again he would kill her. Because of her adultery, Isabella's brother refused to help her with her coup.⁴ Luckily, Isabella's cousins in Hainault⁵ held no such compunctions, and gave them ships and Dutch mercenaries to begin their invasion.

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Berkeley Castle, where Edward died.
Isabella and Mortimer landed in Suffolk in September of 1326. Edward's few allies quickly abandoned him, and England was taken with almost no bloodshed. Horny Hugh was hanged, drawn, and quartered, and Edward was deposed and imprisoned in Berkeley Castle. Isabella and Edward's eldest son, Edward (hereafter referred to as 'Baby Edward'), was placed on the throne.

As Baby Edward was only fourteen, a regency was necessary. As queen, this position was granted to Isabella, and she, along with Mortimer, would serve as regents for about four years.

About a year into their regency, Isabella and Mortimer decided to deal with the problem of the old king. Despite imprisoning him in a dank dungeon, and throwing dead animals and rotting corpses into his cell in hopes he would die of disease, Edward stubbornly remained alive. He remained a rallying point for those who opposed Isabella and Mortimer, and in September of 1327, he mysteriously died.
There are a few stories about how Edward died. Least gruesome is that he was smothered in his sleep. Most popular is that a flaming hot poker was inserted into his anus, and run through his entrails. There are some stories as well that claim he didn't die, but instead escaped, and fled to Italy to live out the rest of his life as a monk.⁶ While neither Isabella nor Mortimer confessed to having ordered or committed the murders, it is widely assumed that they at the very least signed off on the order.

Unfortunately, their regency wasn't entirely popular. Isabella herself remained widely respected, it was Mortimer who was the problem. Like all of the other husbands favorites in Isabella's story, Mortimer was greedy and grasping; sending England to the brink of bankruptcy to enrich himself. He was very unpopular, and Baby Edward grew resentful.

In 1330 Edward had had enough. With support of Henry of Lancaster, Edward staged a dramatic midnight coup, taking a secret passage into the castle where his mother and Mortimer were living, pinning them and their advisors in an enclosed chamber, forcing them to abdicate. Mortimer was hanged a short while later, while Isabella was placed under house arrest.

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Baby Edward
There were several people who called for Isabella's execution, but Edward declined, instead spinning the narrative that she was innocent in the affair, and that the blame rested squarely with Mortimer. Her lands were seized, and she was pensioned off, placed under house arrest at Castle Rising in the Norfolk countryside where she couldn't cause any more problems.

The last years of Isabella's life saw her growing closer to her family, and finding religion. Her daughter, Joan, came to live with her after leaving her husband, and Isabella doted ceaselessly on her grandchildren. Towards the end of her life, she and Baby Edward reconciled. She became a nun in 1358, and died shortly after.

Looking at her life, it can be difficult to determine if Isabella was a plotting villainess or a woman making bloody, bloody lemonade. It is apparent that she struggled for much of her life to become an active agent in her own fate, and was met with mixed success. Today she is mostly forgotten, lost in the blinding glare of her son, Edward III, who is frequently touted as being England's greatest king. However, she should be remembered as a brilliant queen and stateswoman in her own right, who was instrumental in ensuring stability in England, even if she had to do it by force.



¹The title was borrowed from Shakespeare's play Henry IV, Part III. The original title referred to Margaret of Anjou, but has since become a byname for Isabella.
²This caused a major scandal, because the Earldom of Cornwall was then, and now, a royal title. (It's currently held as an auxiliary title of Prince Charles.) While Cornwall is no longer an Earldom but a Dukedom, it is still considered to be the right of the first born son of the monarch.
³A Marcherlord was a nobleman with holdings along the border with Wales, who was expected to defend the border.
⁴Adultery was a major crime for a Medieval noblewoman. Charles' first wife had committed adultery, and Charles had had her lovers beaten to death in a public square. It is unsurprising that he was less than permissive about his sister's liaison with Roger Mortimer.
⁵The aforementioned Lowland cousin. Coincidentally, this same cousin, Joan of Hainault, was responsible for throwing Isabella and Mortimer together.
⁶This story was later used to support the causes of people who would rebel against Baby Edward.

More on Similar Topics





Sources
The Plantagenets by Dan Jones
Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England by Alison Weir
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
Isabella, the 'She-Wolf of France'
Edward II Marries Isabella of France
Isabella of France: Queen of England
Isabella of France
Edward II: King of England
Edward II:1307-1327
Edward II (1284-1327)
Edward II:1307-1327 AD
Piers Gaveston, Hugh Despenser, and the Downfall of Edward II
Roger Mortimer
Edward III

Monday, June 25, 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.

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

More on Similar Topics





Sources
The Mythology of Witchcraft
Night Witches and Good Ladies

Friday, June 22, 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.)

More on Similar Topics






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


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

William Tell-the Man, the Myth, the Apple

William Tell is the great Swiss hero you kinda know about (unless you're Swiss). He is most famous for having shot an apple off his son's head, and for most people, that is the end of their William Tell knowledge. However, William Tell is also a sign of resistance, liberty, and independence. He is one of the most renowned people in Swiss history, and he may not have been real.

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William Tell depicted on a 1970 postage stamp
To understand why William Tell is such a big deal, you have to understand Swiss history. In the early 13th century several groups of Celtic, Germanic, and French people living in the Alps decided that they didn't have much in common with the surrounding countries, so they banded together to form one country.

This wasn't really a problem with the rest of Europe, because at the time the rest of Europe didn't really know or care about Switzerland. High up in their mountains, the Swiss were essentially a group of farmers who didn't even speak the same language. However, all that changed in the mid 1200s, when a bridge across the St. Gotthard's pass was constructed, connecting Switzerland and Italy via land.

A convenient land route between Northern Europe and Italy was a pretty big deal. The Italians had some pretty dope stuff, and everyone wanted to do business with them. However, because of the Alps and the Apennines, Italy was very difficult to get to via land. Sure, you could take a boat, but hiring a ship was expensive, especially if you lived in a landlocked country. In addition to being costly, shipping was risky and time consuming. It was much safer and easier to spend three days trekking through the Uri Canton of Switzerland than it was to spend weeks on a boat.

After construction of the bridge, the people of the Uri canton were doing very well. Travelers had to pay locals for food and shelter, as well as to rent mules to carry their goods through the pass. However, as time went on there began to be some civil unrest. By 1257 the Uri people thought it best to appeal to their nearest nobleman--Rudolph von Hapsburg--to settle their internal issues. Rudolph agreed most readily.

In late 1257 Rudolph marched his armies into Switzerland, and just sorta stayed. The Swiss had, effectively, invited a wolf to a sheep's dinner party, and the wolf was taking full advantage of this. As expected, the Swiss were none too pleased with this, and began to act out.

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William Tell shooting the apple off of his son's head
Skip ahead to 1291--or 1307 depending on the account. In the town of Altdorf a pro-Hapsburg sheriff--Gessler has placed a Hapsburg hat on a pole in the middle of the square. All people passing it are required to bow to it to show their respect for the Hapsburg family.

Enter William Tell. A simple farmer and expert marksman from Burglen, William doesn't particularly care for the Hapsburgs, and he doesn't care who knows it. He doesn't bow to the hat, and this makes Gessler angry.

So, in his fit of rage, Gessler does what any reasonable officer of the law would do in that situation--he forces Tell to endanger the life of his son. Gessler informs Tell that he must shoot an apple off of his son's head. Should Tell miss the apple, both he and his son will be executed.

Tell is, of course, reluctant to shoot an armor piercing projectile at many kilometers per hour at his son, no matter how good of a marksman he may be. However, his son encourages him to make the shot, so William does. And, because he is so amazing, William splits the apple in half, and it falls off of his son's head. Gessler congratulates Tell on his amazing shot, but stops to ask him a question. Before taking the shot Gessler saw William conceal a second arrow in his jacket. What was that about?

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The remains of Kussnacht-renamed Gessler--Castle. Like Many
Hapsburg era castles, Gessler Castle was torn down during
the effort to drive the Hapsburgs out of Switzerland.
Never one to stop pushing his luck, Tell informs Gessler that, had he missed and killed his child, the second arrow would have been for Gessler. This makes Gessler angry, and he orders his cronies to slap William in irons, and put him on a boat bound for the dungeon at Kussnacht castle.

While on the boat a big storm blows up on the lake. Gessler releases William from his chains, because in addition to being an excellent marksman, and the king of sass, William is also an excellent sailor. Living up to his reputation, William guides the boat to safety in an outcropping of rocks. However, when the boat touches the rocks, William leaps out, and pushes the boat back into the sea.

Coming to the conclusion that Gessler and his men would probably survive, William finds them after they land, and ambushes the sheriff's party, killing them all. Then, with three other friends, William swears a pact to rid Switzerland of the Hapsburg troops, and free them from their oppression. This is, essentially, the start of the Swiss War for Independence.

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William Tell Monument in Altdorf
Now, as with many heroic figures from this time period, it is difficult to ascertain if they actually lived or not. The tale of William Tell wasn't put to paper until centuries after the events that supposedly occurred, and sources disagree about the year in which it occurred. Additionally, there are no parish records of a William Tell living in that time. However, while it may be difficult to prove the actual physical existence of a 13th (or 14th) century man named William Tell, there is no need to prove how big of an impact Tell has had on Swiss culture.

William Tell is, essentially, the Swiss national hero. He's a symbol of Swiss bravery and ingenuity. His iconography is famous--he appears on coins, there are statues of him around the country, and his crossbow appears on every item exported by the Swiss. Every time the Swiss are threatened with war or invasion, his myth comes alive again, fueling the fires of Swiss nationalism. While he may not have lived, his influence is undeniable.

More on Similar Topics




Sources
In Search of William Tell
William Tell--Swiss Hero
Who Was William Tell?
The Legend of William Tell

Friday, October 6, 2017

Damn, Girl-Christine de Pizan

Just as Sappho is the Mama Lesbian, Christine de Pizan is the Mama Feminist. Christine was the first European woman to make a living from her writing, and her book The Book of the City of Ladies was one of the first books on feminism ever written.
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Christine at her desk.

Born in 1364, Christine started her life in Venice, but her family moved to France when she was three years old. Her father, Thomas de Pizan, had received an appointment as astrologer to Charles V. Living with the royal court gave Christine access to a vast library or literary and rhetorical works. Though not much is known about her education, or if she was even formally educated at all, the quality of her literature show that Christine was obviously well read.

At the age of 15 Christine married royal secretary Etienne de Castel. It is unknown if they were  happy or not, but they did have three children¹ together before Etienne died of the bubonic plague after ten years of marriage. Etienne's death left Christine with no source of income, a substantial amount of debt, and two children and a recently widowed mother to support.

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Illuminated page from The Book of
the City of Ladies
Luckily, Christine was a talented writer, and the French court had a fever that could only be cured with more poetry. Christine put out ballads about love, loss, and widowhood which brought her to the attention to royal patrons like Isabelle of Bavaria, the Duke of Orleans, and the 4th Earl of Salisbury.

For the first few years of her career, Christine mostly wrote poetry and moralistic works. Until in 1402 when Christine decided to pick a fight with a dead man. ²

Jean de Meun wrote a second half to The Romance of the Rose in 1280ish. In his poetry, de Meun was biting and cruel about ever member of society, but Christine took particular offense at the way he treated women in his works. He portrayed women as little more than one dimensional seductress ruled by their own lusts.  In her response Christine argued that women are much more complex than de Meun portrayed them. She starts by criticizing de Meun, but ends by criticizing the entire European canon at the time, censuring the many works about the nature of women, none of which were written by women.

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Christine writing
This sparked a long term literary debate which would bring her to the attention of monarchs around Europe. It also sparked a long term passion for writing about women and women's history. In her seminal work The Book of the City of Ladies, Pizan imagines a world built by women, for women, free from misogyny. Within that framework she tells the stories of the great women who came before her, without the misogynistic bias that colored the accounts of so many male writers.

In around 1415 Christine retired a convent with her daughter. The increasing political unrest, and the disaster at the Battle of Agincourt, had her rattled, and she was ready to retire from public life. In 1429 she released The Tale of Joan of Arc, a ballad that basically fangirled over Joan of Arc and her victories. The Tale of Joan of Arc was Christine's last work, and she doesn't appear in public record anywhere else. It's generally assumed that she died shortly after.

Christine had a massive impact on the writers and political leaders of her day. Her works attacking the traditional patriarchal society influenced other female writers, and also influenced future female monarchs, such as Louise of Savoy, Anne of Brittany, and Leonor of Portugal.


¹A daughter named Marie, a son named Jean, and a second unnamed son who died in infancy.
²A move I cannot help but applaud. It's the sort of thing I have done would do.

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Sources
Christine de Pisan-Brooklyn Museum
Christine de Pizan: Her Works
Christine de Pisan-Britannica
Christine de Pisan-New World Encyclopedia
Christine de Pisan-Biography

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Stone of Destiny

The Stone of Destiny, or the Stone of Scone, is living proof that legends can be true. The Stone is a symbol of Scottish Nationalism, and the place where every Scottish king until the late 13th century was crowned. Like the Scottish people, the Stone has had a tumultuous history. But, like the Scots, the Stone has survived centuries of English rule.

Image result for stone of destiny
The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, after
the Abbey/Palace where the Stone was kept before the English
invasion.
The Stone supposedly has biblical origins. When Jacob wrestled with God, changed his name, and dreamt of a promised land at Beth-el (Genesis 28:11-12 , Genesis 32:28Hosea 12:4*) he laid his head upon a stone. Legend is, the Stone of Destiny is that stone.

And how did that rock end up in Scotland? Well, supposedly Jacob held on to it. If you know anything about the Old Testament, you'll know that several decades later Jacob ended up moving his family to Egypt, where they stayed for quite a while. Here's where the Bible and Celtic legend meet. See, the Celts (well, some of the Celts) believe that they are descended from the Milesian race. The Milesians left Egypt at about the same time as the Children of Israel. Scottish legend says that Scota, a daughter of the Pharaoh, fled Egypt for Spain with her Greek husband, and that she took the stone with her.** From Spain they went to Ireland, and from Ireland, several members of the party went to Scotland. The Stone was first used in a coronation in Ireland, but it made the trip across to Scotland, where it resides today.

Image result for scone palace
Scone Palace, where the Stone resided prior to 1296.
Now back to verifiable history. For thousands of years the stone was used in Scottish coronation ceremonies. It was just as much part of the coronation ceremony as the orb and scepter are today. The Stone was kept at Scone Palace, which is located in modern Argyle. The stone remained here until 1296 when Edward I conquered Scotland for the English. Edward took the stone back to England with him, and had it housed in the bottom of a chair, whereupon every proceeding English monarch would be crowned.


Fast forward about 700 years to 1950. The United Kingdom is somewhat less united, but it's still going strong. There's been a surge of Scottish nationalism (unsurprisingly), and a crew of four enterprising young Scots broke into Westminster Abbey, and stole the stone out of the chair. They then proceeded to sneak it back into Scotland, avoiding roadblocks and the British police. A few months went by, and the thieves left the stone in the ruins of Scone Abbey, wrapped in a Scottish flag. The stone was returned to Westminster Abbey, and was present for the coronation of Elizabeth II.

Image result for edward's chair
Edward's Chair, the throne upon which every English monarch
has been crowned. For several hundreds of years the Stone
resided in this cavity at the bottom of the chair. Today,
a replica stands there.
The Stone remained at Westminster Abbey until 1996, when it was finally returned to the Scots by the English government. The stone now resides in Edinburgh Castle, where it will stay until the next English monarch is crowned. After the coronation, the stone will be returned to its rightful place back with the Scottish people.

One of the questions lingering in my mind, however, is what is going to happen with the Stone when the Scots achieve independence? (Don't look at me like that, it's going to happen eventually. I'm just pointing out the signs of the times.) Will the Stone still be used in English Coronations? Will Charles or William be crowned atop the stone just as all their Hanover/Windsor predecessors were?***

Now, there are a few other mysteries surrounding the Stone. There have been continued doubts about the authenticity of the stone since its removal to England. One rumor is that the monks at Scone Abbey gave Edward I the stone cover of a cistern instead of the actual Stone of Destiny. (For more fascinating, in depth information on this, check out the Sons of Scotland link in the sources) More recently, there is speculation that the 1950 thieves replaced the stone with a replica, or another rock entirely.)

Image result for edinburgh castle
Edinburgh Castle, where the stone now lives.
Whether or not the Stone actually came from Ancient Israel, there is no doubt that the Stone of Destiny is a strong and powerful symbol of Scottish Nationalism. It represents the Scottish people, and is a concrete reminder of a long and storied heritage of rebels and warriors. And while the Kings who were crowned upon the Stone may have been lost to history, the Stone itself will never be forgotten.

*Standard using-the-bible-as-a-source disclaimer: While the Bible may not be accepted as truth across all religions and creeds, the Old Testament provides a valuable insight into the laws and culture of the Israel-Palestine-Mesopotamia-Egypt areas of the BCEs. Whatever you believe, you cannot deny the influence that Judeo-Christian writings and ideas have had on history. I reference the LDS Edition of the King James Bible. Why? Because I'm familiar with it.

Image result for saltire flag
Flag of Scotland
**I must take a moment to express my doubts. The Stone weighs about 336 pounds. I can't imagine hauling something that heavy from Beth-el to Egypt to Spain to Ireland to Scotland. But people do crazy things in the names of sentimentality and religion, so my doubts may be unjustified.


***Of course, we do have to consider the fact that Queen Elizabeth might just live forever. Scientists would have you believe that immortality is impossible, but I have faith in the old gal. If anyone can live forever, it'll be her.

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Sources
History of the Irish Race by Seamus MacManus
The Sons of Scotland
Scone Palace
Ask History
Edinburgh Castle
Encyclopedia Britannica
Historic UK

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The War of the Oaken Bucket

It's 1325, and Italy is having some difficulties getting along.

Image result for war of the bucket 1325
Highlighted portions are the states
going to war for no good reason.
It's unsurprising really, I mean, the enormous Roman Empire broke apart, and the world has been squabbling over the crumbs ever since. Italy, in particular, was a small peninsula of turmoil. The upstart Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa had invaded just a bit earlier, the different states couldn't get along, and then there were those assholes in the Papal States claiming to have supreme power over the entire world, because God or something. Italy was a mess, and tensions were high.

After Barbarossa's invasion Italy was divided into two major factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. I know those names sound made up, but they're not. The Guelphs were the merchant class, city slickers, who supported the pope, and the Ghibellines were the simple country folk who thought the Holy Roman Empire was pretty nifty.* Needless to say, they hated each other.

So, two factions, both alike in dignity, on the fair Bologna-Modena border where we set our scene, are going at it pretty hard. It's Guelphs vs. Ghibellines, with Bologna for the Guelphs and Modena for the Ghibellines, and they've been skirmishing over this border for a long time, to the point where fighting is just a part of the landscape. So, one day, during a routine foray into Bologna, a few Modenese soldiers stole a loot filled bucket from a well, and hauled ass back to Modena.

Now, you would think that the Bolognese would have said something along the lines of, "Oh well, it's a bucket. Yeah, there was stuff in it, but we've got lots of other stuff, and it's not like we can't find another bucket." But no, the exchange went something more like this:

Bologna: Hey, bro, I know we don't get along, but can we have our bucket back?        
Modena: Um...no? We stole that bucket fair and square. This is how this works, stupid.          
Bologna: Please?        
Modena: No?      
Bologna: Fine. Well then. You won't give us back our bucket? LET'S HAVE A WAR.


Image result for war of the bucket 1325
the Bucket of contention
And so the War of the Bucket began.

Luckily, this particular war didn't drag on for too long. There was only one battle, the Battle of Zappolino, and it was pretty decisive.

So Bologna, with the help of Pope John XXII, raised an army of 32,000 men. The Modenese met them with a force of 7,000 men--and the Modenese won.

The Modenese victory has a lot to do with the fact that 30,000 of the Bolognese soldiers were poorly armed, and even more poorly trained. Additionally, the Modenese had the higher ground. The Modenese were coming down the slopes of hills to their Bolognese enemies who were hanging out on the plain below. It was a thorough rout, and the Modenese chased the Bolognese back to their city.

The Modenese didn't bother sacking the main city, they settled for destroying some castles, diverting the river away from Bologna, and kidnapping some 26 nobles. Oh, and most delicious, the Modenese returned to their city with another bucket stolen from the Bolognese.

That bucket, the second one, is still on display in Modena today. You can find a replica outside on the city's main well, and the original inside the museum. Hundreds of years later, and the Modenese aren't letting go of that one.

*I feel it is worth noting, that a big part of the faction alignments had to do with who was most likely to invade your state. If the pope was knocking at your door, the Holy Roman Emperor seemed like a pretty swell fellow.


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Sources
War History Online
Battle of Zappolino
Military History Now
War of the Bucket