Showing posts with label England. Show all posts
Showing posts with label England. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Morris Dance

Morris Dance is a type of English folk dance of mysterious origins. It was (and is) most frequently practiced through the midlands and in the counties along the Welsh border, but it has connections to folk dances throughout Western Europe. Morris dance is characterized by energetic stepping and skipping, as well as the use of bells, handkerchiefs, sticks, swords, and the occasional beast.

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Morris dancer and musician.
The first reference to Morris style dance comes from the wedding of Raymond Berengar, Duke of Barcelona, and Petronilla of Aragon in 1149. There are further references to continental Morris dances being adopted into church ceremonies and being performed at court events throughout the Middle Ages. It is very likely that these dances were being performed in England at the same time as well, as Morris dance was considered ancient by the Elizabethans.

The earliest mention of Morris dance in England dates from 1448, when a tapestry depicting Morris dancers was recorded in an inventory of Caister Castle. That same year, a troupe of Morris dancers were paid seven shillings by the Goldsmiths Guild for a St. Dunstan Day performance.  There are several other records of Morris dancers appearing on objects, and being paid for performances throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.¹

The name "Morris" is generally seen to be as a corruption of the Spanish word "Morisco," referring to the Arabs who occupied Southern Europe throughout much of the Middle Ages. This has led many historians to assume that Morris dancing has its roots in the traditional dance of the Moriscos. However, as Morris dance bears minimal resemblance to Moorish traditional dance this theory has been discarded by modern historians.

Additionally, the name "Moorish" was a fashionable appendage to any art considered even a little bit foreign. New music, dances, and clothing styles were labeled as "Moorish," relationship to Middle Eastern culture or not. It seems most likely to this historian that the name "Morris" was given to the dance at a later date, perhaps as a way to further distance the dance from its pagan origins.

This brings us to the probably pagan origins of Morris dance. It is likely that Morris dance existed long before the Arabs made it to Europe, and instead evolved from pagan traditions. Many dances tell the stories of a battle against nature, and dances were performed on days that were culturally significant to pagans, such as the beginning of summer and the middle of winter. In addition, the appearances of hobbyhorses and the occasional dragon or unicorn also hint at a pagan past, as these animals could be seen as a focus of worship. Outside of England in Brittany some small churches had a festival specially dedicated to the hobbyhorse, where the horse was adorned with flowers and paraded around the town. Though this was a supposedly Christian festival, it certainly seems more pagan to outside observers.
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Hobby Horses at the 2018 Banbury Folk and Hobby Horse
Festival
The Morris dance of the Middle Ages can be split into two styles--Court Morris and Folk Morris. Morris dancing was very popular in the Tudor courts, with records of it having been performed in the courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Court Morris was an elaborate affair with expensive costumes and elaborate sets. The line between Morris and mumming is a thin one at best, but it was especially thin in these court dances with their elaborate costuming and pageantry.² Court Morris flourished until Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans took power in 1649.

Opposed to dancing, drinking, and anything resembling a good time, Cromwell suppressed Morris dance into near extinction. However, the tradition survived. Morris dance resurfaced in the countryside after the restoration of the English monarchy. Morris dancing had fallen out of favor with the nobility, but it was adopted by the commoners. The common people couldn't afford the same elaborate costuming as the nobility, but they used ribbons, bells, flowers and colorful rags to add to their appearance. The modern Morris costume evolved from their imitations.

However, as Britain industrialized the dance began to fall out of style. Many young men moved to the factory towns, and were disinclined to continue Morris dancing. Early twentieth-century Morris dancers lamented that the younger generation was too proud to continue the  tradition, because it was too much like begging. These young men might have changed their minds as time wore on, but unfortunately, many of those young men lost their lives in World War I.

Morris dance may have been lost to time had it not been carefully documented by the ethnochoreologist and ethnomusicologist Cecil Sharp. Sharp traveled England collecting folk dances and published several works on the subject. Sharp's books revived interest in Morris dance, and Morris began to be taught (and tested) in some English schools.

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A group of Morris dancers is called a side. Historically, Morris sides were exclusively male, but that is no longer the case. While a side can, hypothetically, consist of an infinite number of dancers, most have less than twenty, including the band. Most dances have only six to eight dancers on the floor at a time.

Traditional sides are led by a Squire who arranges performances and is generally the man in charge. Under him is the Foreman or Captain who teaches the dances. Last on the leadership hierarchy is the Bagman, who serves as a secretary. Under them are the dancers, and the occasional Fool or Beast.

Beasts are Morris characters that add to the story of the dance. Common beasts are hobbyhorses, dragons, and unicorns. It can be difficult for Beasts to dance with the same nimbleness as the other dancers due to their cumbersome costume, but that doesn't stop many from trying. Hobbyhorses are the most common type of Beasts in modern practice.

There are six main styles of Morris dance still practiced in England today: Cotswold, Molly, Border, Northwest Clog, Longsword, and Rapper. While all are related, each style has a unique flavor and tradition.

Border 

Quite possibly the oldest Morris tradition, Border Morris originated in the counties near the Welsh border, and, while simpler than Cotswold style, it is much more lively. It must be noted that, while it is sometimes called "Welsh Border Morris," Border Morris is an English dance and has little to do with Welsh folk dance traditions. Many border style dances have "fight sequences" choreographed into them. Historically these might have been done with actual swords, but they have been done with sticks or wooden swords since at least the 1800s.

Border Morris traditionally made an appearance in the winter, where men would dance for extra money when they couldn't farm or fish. This was considered a form of begging and was thus illegal, so dancers darkened their faces to avoid arrest. Dancers wore a rag coat, a tailcoat, women's clothing, or any other bits and bobs lying around. The main purpose of Border costume is to look eccentric. Border sides generally have a bigger band than other styles and are accompanied by a vigorous percussion section.

Cotswold 

The most commonly performed style, Cotswold Morris originated in the South Midlands, particularly the counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Warwickshire. Cotswold style survived the most intact after the Cromwell persecutions because of its location in the heart of royalist territory, and it was documented extensively by Cecil Sharp.

Cotswold dances are usually performed with six or eight dancers, and dancers generally wear white shirts with black or white pants. In addition to the dancers, there may also be a Fool, a Beast, or a cake impaled on a sword. Cotswold is notable for it's use of bells, or ruggles, attached beneath the knee of each dancer. Cotswold dancers may also wave handkerchiefs, bang sticks, or clap hands. Cotswold is traditionally performed around Whitsunday.

Longsword 

Also called "hilt and point," Longsword Morris comes from Yorkshire, and is, as expected, danced with swords.³ Longsword dances are performed with six to eight dancers, with each dancer holding on to their own sword, as well as the end of their neighbor's sword to make a circle. Swords are, thankfully, blunt and around a meter long. During a Longsword dance, dancers weave between the swords, and end the dance by creating a star. Longsword, as well as the closely related Rapper, is most commonly performed during Christmas and New Year's.


Molly 

Molly dance is unique in that it was less choreographed and organized than other types of Morris dance. Molly was traditionally performed as a part of the Plough Monday celebrations. Plough Monday, which takes place on the first Monday of January, was a day when ploughboys would drag a plough to the more affluent homes in the village and demand payment in money or food from the homeowners. If the ploughboys weren't satisfied with their payment, they would cut a long furrow through the homeowner's front lawn or doorstep.

Needless to say, Plough Monday was raucous at the best of times. Dancing accompanied the ceremonial shake-downs, and often random passersby would join in. Some male dancers would don women's clothing for the celebration, which gives the dance style its name ("Molly" being the contemporary pejorative for a man who wore women's clothing and male homosexuals). If not wearing petticoats, dancers wore whatever was closest to hand, and used black face paint to hide their identities--a necessity when committing property damage. Like most Morris dances, the origins of Molly are unclear, and there are no references to Molly dancing until the 1800s. Molly hasn't enjoyed the same revival as Border and Cotswold style, and traditional Plough Monday celebrations definitely aren't allowed anymore, but Molly dancing does accompany the "Straw Bear Festival" of Whittlesea, which occurs the weekend after Plough Monday.

Northwest Clog 

Not to be confused with its Appalachian counterpart, Northwest Clog originated in the industrial towns of Cheshire, Lancashire, and West Yorkshire and came of age during the industrial revolution. As people from rural communities moved to manufacturing centers, they brought their Morris traditions with them, and a new dance tradition that imitated the machinery they worked with was formed.


Northwest Clog dances are danced in multiples of four, and traditionally the dancers wore colorful clothing, along with the heavy clogs they used in their factory work. Modern dancers wear clogs with iron taps on the toe and heel. Dancers also sometimes use sticks or slings and are led by a conductor, who uses a whistle to signal changes in the dance figure. Northwest Clog is traditionally performed during the annual rushbearing, which happens in the summertime.⁴

Rapper

By far the most athletic of the Morris styles, Rapper dance hails from Durham and Northumberland. There are five dancers who are occasionally joined by the characters of Tom and Betty, who lead the dance. Dancers make use of "rappers," which are basically bendy swords with wooden handles on each end. This is the fastest of the Morris dances and, like Longsword, features dancers weaving between rappers and using their swords to create pictures. Rapper style also occasionally features backflips. Dancers wear hard-sole shoes and white shirts with black pants. Rapper dancers are traditionally performed during Christmas and New Year's.


It would be remiss of this historian to write about Morris dance but not talk about the live music that often accompanies the dancers. Morris bands utilize traditional instruments (concertina, fiddle, melodian, accordion, pipes, tabor) and are percussion driven. Bands can range in size from a single musician to tens of people, depending on the style of dance and the preference of the side. Musicians often dress to match the dancers and are an integral part of the performance.

Morris dancing, particularly Border Style and Molly Dance Morris, have met with controversy in recent years due to the fact that many Morris sides include black face paint as a part of their costume. The tradition of dancers blackening their faces has dozens of explanations dating from different eras, but some of the most common are:

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Morris Men dressed in traditional Cotswold
style costume.
  • Morris dancers in the Early Middle Ages blackened their faces because they were performing an ancient rite and needed to be disguised for this.
  • Faces were blackened to imitate Moors during dances, which often told the tale of a Moorish vs. Christian battle.
  • Dancers blackened their faces to hide their identities from the police because it was illegal to dance on public holidays.
  • Morris dancing was often accompanied by a certain amount of criminal mischief, and dancers didn't want to be arrested.
  • Morris dancers were shy. (No, seriously.)
  • During the Industrial Revolution, many factory men had to supplement their income through dancing. They would wear face paint so their bosses didn't know about their side hustle.
  • It's tradition, and face blackening helps the dancer get more into the dancing mood and feel less inhibited.
  • It's a way of remembering the oppressive policies of the 1700s that disenfranchised the working class.
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Morris dance is also occasionally accompanied by a brass
band or wind ensemble, but a traditional band is more
popular.
It seems likely that the reason for using face paint during Morris dances has changed throughout the ages, and there is no definitive reason for it. It must be mentioned, however, that wearing blackface in Morris dance predates the practice of wearing blackface in American minstrel shows. All the same, many Morris sides have abandoned the practice and either leave their faces bare or paint them a different color.

During its long history, Morris dance has transitioned from being an important pagan ritual, to being a way of making money, into a lighthearted celebration of English culture. Morris has evolved over the years, and undoubtedly will continue to do so, proving that culture and tradition are mutable.


¹One of the more colorful stories about Morris Dance from this era is that of the actor Will Kemp, who bet a friend that he could Morris dance from London to Norwich before the end of Lent. In a feat that would come to be known as his "Nine Day Wonder," Kemp danced the more than 100 miles between the two cities. While the entire journey took more than nine days, he did win his bet. While not the inspiration for, it is definitely reminiscent of Tony Hawks who, in the 1990s hitchhiked around the circumference of Ireland with a mini-fridge, also on a bet.
² The line was even thinner outside of England in Spain, where Morris dances often portrayed a battle between Christians and Muslims with the Christians emerging triumphant.
³Longsword Morris dance shouldn't be confused with Scottish Longsword dance, where the swords are placed on the ground.
⁴Unlike other Morris dances, Northwest Clog has always been a co-ed affair. Traditionally only men were allowed to Morris dance, but by the time Northwest Clog developed, this was no longer the case. While many Morris sides are mixed today, Northwest is the only style of Morris in which men and women dancing together has always been the norm.

This article was edited by Mara Kellogg.


Sources

"Morris and Morisca" by Violet Alford
"Some Other Hobby Horses" by Violet Alford
"Early Record of the Morris in England" by Lucile Armstrong and Barbara Lowe
"The Origins of the Morris Dance" by Rodney Gallop
"The Abram Morris Dance" by Maud Karpeles
"Some Notes on the Morris Dance" by Cecil J. Sharp
"The Earliest Reference to the Morris Dance?" by Michael Heaney

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.


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

Wednesday, January 16, 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

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Young Pretender and the Jacobites

Charles Stuart, also known as 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' or 'The Young Pretender' is a near mythic figure, and a Scottish national hero. His 1745 uprising against the House of Hanover, culminating in the disastrous battle of Culloden is romanticized as a brave, but tragic attempt at freedom against an unwanted government. To this day, Charles Stuart is the face of the Jacobites, and he's idolized by modern Scots and people of Scottish descent.

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Charles Edward Stuart
However, the facts are that Charlie and his '45 Rebellion was the end of the militant Jacobite movement. Charlie's defeat at Culloden, and the subsequent Hanoverian crackdown on the Scottish people saw that the Jacobites would never rise again, and essentially put paid to any hopes of renewing the Stuart dynasty.

Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart was born not in Scotland, but in Rome. Related to both the Pope and the King of France, Charlie had a privileged upbringing, despite living in exile from his ancestral home. He was a keen hunter, and was well educated in both books and courtly manners. His father, James III and VIII, also known as 'The Old Pretender' raised him as the Prince of Wales, and awarded him several honors and orders of the British kingdom. Between this and his father's obsession with regaining his throne, it is no surprise that in his early 20s Charles devoted himself to reclaiming the English throne.

In 1745 Charlie invaded Scotland with the intent of ousting George I. Accompanied by an army of French and Scottish Highland supporters, Charlie managed to retake Scotland, and parts of England. However, due to infighting, desertion, lack of funds, and poor military choices on Charles' part, the Jacobites were defeated at the disastrous Battle of Culloden in 1746, and Charles Stuart fled back to France.

Though he's hailed as a hero, the truth is that Charles Edward Louis Philip Casimir Stuart peaked at 25. After returning to France Charles tried to rally support for another invasion of the British Isles, but was unsuccessful. He had an illegitimate daughter, and at age 52 he married a 19 year old, whom he forced into a convent soon after. He died at age 63, sick, embittered, estranged from both his father (who had converted to Anglicism) and his brother.
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James II was deposed by his Protestant daughter.
James was Catholic, and his second wife was
related to the Pope of the time
Though, as mentioned above, Charlie is the face of militant Jacobiteism, he was, by no means, the entirety of the movement. Jacobiteism started in 1688 when James II, the last catholic King of England, was forced into exile by his protestant daughter Mary II, and her husband, William of Orange. The movement really got going though in 1714 when Queen Anne, the last of the Stuart Monarchs, was succeeded by German George I, the first monarch of the House of Hanover.

There were two uprisings prior to the Hanoverian take over, one in 1689, and one in 1708. The 1689 rebellion was lead by James II, the ousted Catholic King. James II's uprising was almost immediately after the 'Glorious Revolution', and was moderately successful. James II was proclaimed King of England, Scotland, and Ireland by a parliament held in Dublin, but his French-Scottish forces were ultimately defeated by William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne. The 1708 uprising, largely French, was short lived and unsuccessful.

The next Jacobite uprising of note, 'The Fifteen', took place in 1715, directly after George I's succession to the throne. George I was vastly unpopular with a large percentage of the people. He was a foreigner, didn't speak English, and had an open disdain for England and its people. This, combined with a divided government made the Hanovers an easy target for John Erskine, 6th Duke of Mar. Erskine managed to raise a large part of the Northeast, and the Jacobite clans to the cause of James the III and VIII, and James set out for Scotland. While Erskine did progress as far as Perth, he was ultimately defeated by the Duke of Argyll, and James arrived too late to participate in any actual battling. However, though 'The Fifteen' was a failure, it was vital proof that a large scale uprising against the house of Hanover could be made. The proof remained strong in the minds of the exiled Stuarts and Jacobites even after the failure of the Highland Uprising of 1719. It was with the memories of 'The Fifteen' in mind that Bonnie Prince Charlie and his forces set out for what would become known as 'The Forty-Five'.

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Flag of Bonnie Prince Charlie
Charles was only 25 when he launched his invasion of Scotland. Backed by a modest French force, with promises of more reinforcements from France and Sweden, Charlie landed on the west coast of Scotland in July of 1745, convinced that the Scottish people would soon join him.

Charlie had been raised to believe that Britain, especially Scotland, was a hotbed of Jacobite sympathy, and that all he had to do was raise his banner, and the people would rally to his cause. In reality, while many Scots and Englishmen had Jacobite sympathies, most of them were unwilling to fight for a ill equipped king. In reality, it was largely the Highland Scots who came to Charlie's aid.

At the time, England was engaged in the Austrian War of Succession, and large parts of the English forces were fighting abroad in France and the North American Colonies. England was largely undefended, and due to a majority Whig government, many members of the Tory party were glad to support the Stuarts. Due to this support, and lack of opposition, Charles and his army were able to progress quickly through Scotland. He marched triumphantly into Edinburgh just two months after landing in Scotland, and with every victory more and more soldiers flocked to his cause. Charlie quickly took Perth, Prestonpans, and Derby before his supporters started to have doubts. Though Charles wanted to march on London from Derby, he and his army turned back to lay siege to Stirling Castle.

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William, Duke of Cumberland
As a military leader, Charlie was brash and reckless. He had a habit of ignoring his advisers, and relied heavily on the Highland Scot's favored tactic of a head-on charge. Historians speculate that had he continued his habit of ignoring his generals he may have successfully taken London and the throne, but at the worst possible moment Charlie decided to heed his adviser's cautioning.

Their retreat back into Scotland allowed William, Duke of Cumberland, to catch up with the Jacobites. George I, nervous about the Young Pretender's success had summoned his brother back to England, and the Duke of Cumberland was challenged the Jacobites relentlessly. Though the Jacobites enjoyed several early victories against the Duke, the battles began to become more difficult, and Charlie lost soldiers to desertion and death at an alarming rate.

On April 15, 1746, the Duke of Cumberland caught up to the Jacobites at Culloden, near Inverness. Ignoring the warnings of his advisers, Charlie chose Culloden as a battle site, despite the fact that the marshy ground would hinder the highlander's ability to charge, and allowed the English the better position. Charlie sent his men to raid the English camp the night of the 15th, and when the two forces met on the morning of the 16th, the Jacobite forces were tired,  divided, and hindered by the mud. Despite their best attempts, the Jacobites were defeated after only 40 minutes of fighting, and those who weren't killed fled into the highlands, pursued by the Hanoverian army.

Charlie survived the battle, spending five months on the run before with the help of Flora MacDonald, whom we've discussed before, he was able to escape back to France

The defeat at Culloden was a disaster for the Scots. Determined to quash the Jacobites once and for all, soldiers of the Young Pretenders army were hunted down, and killed without mercy. Those who weren't killed were transported, marking the first mass immigration of Scots to North America.

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Culloden
Furthermore, the tartan, kilts, bagpipes, and the Scottish language were all outlawed in an attempt to kill Scottish culture. The ancient Scottish right to bear arms was revoked, and English soldiers combed the highlands, brutally disarming the residents, and commandeering their homes.

Though there is still a Stuart Pretender to the Throne, the Jacobite movement is all but extinct today. The Hanover dynasty ended with the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, and, given the fact that Elizabeth II is widely rumored to be immortal, it seems unlikely that the House of Windsor is going anywhere soon. However, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause remain firm as a symbol of Scottish nationalism, and hope for independence.

Sources
Bonnie Prince Charlie by Carolly Erickson
The Battle of Culloden
Culloden
Battle of Culloden--English History
The Jacobite Rebellion of 1745
Jacobite--British History
The Jacobite Revolts: Chronology
Who Was Bonnie Prince Charlie
The Myths of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites
Charles Edward, the Young Pretender--British Prince
House of Stuart Family Tree
The House of Stuart
The House of Stuart--Scottish and English Royal Family

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Match Made in Hell-King George the IV and Queen Caroline

Royal marriages of times gone by weren't the fairy tale royal romances of modern years. Up until the past few years, royal marriages were political and economic transactions, and little more. While most couples weren't in love, they were expected to remain civil, and many became friends. Some royal couples, however, were royal disasters. But no couple was quite so disastrous as the marriage between the dissolute George IV and his German cousin, Caroline of Brunswick-L√ľneburg.

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Caroline of Brunswick
By age 17, George IV was a known troublemaker. He was fond of women, wine, gambling, and all sorts of immoral flim-flammery. His parents, King George III and Queen Charlotte had quite given up on him, and he was running wild around the country. He was a notorious womanizer with a preference for older women, and liked to build elaborate and ornate palaces (Like the Brighton Pavilion  which was constructed in 1787). In 1785 George contracted an illegal marriage with the twice widowed Maria Fitzherbert, and within the decade was 630,000 pounds in debt.

George was desperate for funds, and the only way he could get parliament to pay his debts was to marry and provide an heir. His marriage with Maria had ended in about 1793, and so on the urging of Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, George agreed to a marriage with his cousin Caroline, whom he had never met.

Caroline was a vivacious and bubbly young woman with some unfortunate hygiene habits. According to contemporary sources Caroline liked to talk and gossip, and enjoyed a good joke. She was very friendly, but was prone to talking about things outside of what was considered appropriate. This alone, wouldn't be a big problem, but she had a bad habit of not changing her underwear, and once sent the English ambassador a tooth she had had pulled. Despite these shortcomings, Caroline was both a protestant and a princess, and was therefor a suitable bride for George.

Their first meeting was on the same level of disaster as the first meeting between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves. Upon being introduced to his cousin, three days before their wedding, George turned to his friend, Lord Malmesbury, and asked for a glass of brandy. He then left the room, calling for his mother, the Queen. Caroline was equally unimpressed, informing Lord Malmesbury in French that George was not nearly as handsome as his portrait.

The couple's rocky start can be attributed not only to a mutual lack of physical attraction, but to the fact that both parties were in love with, or at least involved with, other people. It was an open secret that George had married Maria Fitzherbert, and though he had left her eight years after he was attached to Lady Jersey, and he wasn't going to get rid of her. Caroline, though the identity of her suitor is unknown, definitely had a different man she wished to marry. Upon being asked her opinion on her marriage, she replied:
Image result for george iv
George IV
“I am indifferent to my marriage, but not averse to it; I think I shall be happy, but I fear my joy will not be enthusiastic. The man of my choice I am debarred from possessing, and I resign myself to my destiny.” 
Note the "The man of my choice I am debarred from possessing" part.

Despite their lack of attraction and the fact that they were both romantically interested in other people, the couple might have had a decent go of things. Unfortunately, George was an immature dick who was determined to make his new wife miserable right from the very beginning. He installed his mistress, Lady Jersey, as Caroline's Lady of the Bedchamber, and showed up drunk to their wedding. He later demanded the return of several of Caroline's wedding jewels, and gave them to Lady Jersey, who flaunted them in Caroline's presence. On their wedding night, George was so drunk that he passed out on the floor before performing his marital duties.

Despite George's obvious distaste, the couple evidently had sex at least once, because in January of 1796, almost exactly 9 months after the wedding, George and Caroline's only child--Charlotte--was born. Shortly afterwards George sent Caroline a note informing her that though they were required to remain married they would no longer be living together. This was reportedly quite fine with Caroline. However access to her daughter was heavily restricted, and she was only able to see Charlotte in the presence of others. She wasn't quite as fine with this. In 1811 her access to Charlotte was cut off entirely. There wasn't much for Caroline in England, so she left to tour the continent in 1814.

While abroad Caroline lived the way she wanted. She took an Italian lover, adopted multiple children, and was fond of dancing half naked. She was very happy, but in 1820 when George III died and George IV became king she returned to England to claim her rights as Queen.

This was, as it turns out, a terrible idea. Princess Charlotte had died in 1817, and George was scheming to divorce Caroline and remarry so he could have an heir. He used scurrilous tales of Caroline's time abroad and false accusations of her having an illegitimate child to persuade parliament to open up an investigation into her. The House of Lords introduced the 'Bill of Pains and Penalties', which, if made law, would have dissolved their marriage.

Unfortunately for George, Caroline had the popular support of the people. While the Bill of Pains and Penalties passed in the House of Lords by nine votes, the House of Lords knew that the bill would never pass in the Commons, so they dropped the affair, leaving George furious.

File:How to get Un-married, - Ay, there's the Rub! by J.L. Marks.jpg
Political cartoon put out in 1820
George, however, was the king, and he had a few cards he could still play. On July 19, 1821 Caroline was barred from his coronation. When she tried to enter Westminster Abbey the men at the door would not let her in, and slammed the door in her face. She died a little over two weeks later.

The real legacy of George and Caroline's disastrous union was the introduction of tabloid coverage of royal life. During the investigations into Caroline's behavior, two penny broadsheets advertised every detail. Rivalries sprung up between newspapers that supported the queen and newspapers that supported the king. For the first time in English history, the public was immersed in every detail of a royal scandal, a tradition that continues to the modern day.


Sources
The Wedding of the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline
The Queen Caroline Affair, 1820
George IV
Caroline of Brunswick-Luneburg
George IV and Queen Caroline: A Disastrous Royal Marriage
The Trial of Queen Caroline in 1820 and the Birth of British Tabloid Coverage of Royalty
George IV: the Royal Joke?
Caroline of Brunswick, Wife of King George IV of the United Kingdom