Showing posts with label celts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label celts. Show all posts

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.

Image result for Jeanne de Clisson
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.

Image result for Jeanne de Clisson
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.)

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Damn, Girl-Boudicca of the Iceni

It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that the Romans were dicks. And that the Romans, if given an inch, will take your entire hecking country. It's also a fact that the Romans had very little respect for the traditions of the lands that they conquered, so is it really a surprise that in 60 CE the fiery Queen Boudicca had to take the Romans to task?

Image result for boudicca
There are no surviving pictures of the queen,
but this statue of her stands on the banks of
the Thames near the Houses of Parliament
Boudicca was queen of the Iceni, a tribe of Britons living in what is now modern Norfolk. Her husband, Prasutagus, was a client king under the Romans, a sort of half ally-half subject, and when he died he left half of his stuff to his daughters--Isolda and Siora--and the other half to Emperor Nero. The Romans, who didn't believe in letting women inherit property*, gave the Iceni the middle finger, and took everything that Prasutagus left behind, as well as the lands and possessions of several other members of the British nobility. When Boudicca protested the Romans had her flogged and her daughters raped to put them in their place. Big mistake.
As you might imagine, Boudicca was a little pissed off, and so she rallied not only her own forces, but also the forces of the Trinovantes of the south, as well as other local tribes. Army behind her, Boudicca decided to take on the Roman Empire.

She chose an advantageous time to attack. The Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paullinus was off fighting the Welsh when Boudicca led her troops south. They took the cities of Camulodunam (Colchester), Londinium (London), and Verulamium (St. Albans), looting and putting the entire population to the sword. 

This, as you might imagine, freaked out the defending Romans just a bit. Most of the legions were off in Wales, and the Romans were spread thin. Not only that, but the Iceni were brutal. Cassius Dio, one of the two surviving primary sources from Boudicca's rebellion, wrote of the Iceni gathering the noble ladies of the city, stripping them naked, hanging them, cutting off their breasts, sewing said breasts to their mouths, then driving a spear through them all kebab style. According to Dio, this didn't phase the Iceni at all. So you can understand why Paullinus was a bit worried when he got back.

Image result for boudicca
Dio described her as being tall, with a flinty
gaze, a loud voice, and waist-length red hair
Even with Paullinus' forces returned from Wales, the Iceni still outnumbered the Romans by quite a lot, so Paullinus chose to engage the tribes in a narrow area where their greater numbers would be a disadvantage. The overconfident Iceni cut off their own escape route with wagons, and could not flee when the Romans fell on them. The Romans slaughtered every Briton they could, but Boudicca and her daughters escaped.

However, Boudicca refused to be taken captive by the Romans. She and her daughters drank poison, and died shortly after the battle.

Boudicca was a smart and fearless woman. She managed to unite groups of Britons who traditionally did not work well together, and led them into battle personally. That she was a woman greatly embarrassed the Romans, who couldn't conceive that a female could lead. Though her rebellion failed the Romans let up on some of their restrictions; they'd seen what the Britons could do when angered.

*If you had to be a woman in the ancient world, it was pretty good to be a Briton. Women were not only allowed to inherit, but were educated, trained as warriors, and enjoyed more protections under law than their counterparts in the rest of Europe. The Romans, who treated their women abysmally, couldn't quite wrap their heads around this.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Documentary Review- The Truth Behind: Secrets of the Druids

So I was cleaning my apartment today, and decided I'd try to knock off another one of the documentaries in my Netflix queue at the same time. I was actually kinda looking forward to this one. I'm a huge anglophile, and I love most things having to do with Celtic culture, religion, music, etc. The Druids are one of the huge mysteries of history, and I was hoping to gain a little more illumination on them, given that I don't know very much. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

This documentary had an enormous bias. A bias the size of a small Canadian territory. The bias could probably be seen from space. A more apt title for this movie would be 'The Druids Definitely Performed Human Sacrifice and Cannibalism, And We've Cherry-Picked the Facts to Prove It!'

It's a well known theory that the Druid's practiced human sacrifice. It's been taught in books and schools for ages. The thing is, this theory needs to be taken with a water softner pellet size grain of salt. Why? Who do you think started that theory?

The Romans.

You know, those dicks that were trying to conquer the Celtic homeland?

The Romans, who had nothing to lose and everything to gain from making the Celts out to be hedonistic, blood thirsty savages.

Most of the cited authorities in the documentary were Roman authors. No Medieval scholars, no modern authorities in the 'Druids did not sacrifice humans, that's dumb' camp. The sources were exclusively Roman men who 'witnessed' the Celt's atrocities (it is worth mentioning that a large part of Celtic warfare relied on intimidating their opponents. This persists even into the modern day with the use of bagpipes in Scottish regiments) and archaeologists who gave no other explanation than the remains found were victims of human sacrifice.

There were some contradictory points in the documentary that I think bear mention. At one point they talked about how the Druids sacrificed war captives to appease their gods. At another point they talked about how the Druids would sacrifice precious and personal objects on their sacred island to their gods, and how the personal nature of the sacrifice made it worth more. It seems a bit contradictory to me that they would sacrifice strangers - men beaten in war, held in contempt - as opposed to people they held dear. It seems that the sacrifice would be worth more if family members or high ranking members of their society were sacrificed.

Look at our fine Celtic Warrior, with his lovely blue tattoos
Later in the film they did talk about how a young aristocrat had been sacrificed just as the Romans were about to overrun Anglesea. Now, here is where I contradict myself, because that just doesn't make very much sense. It makes sense from a religious standpoint, yes, but from a practical standpoint no. Because why would you sacrifice one of your warriors, when the Romans are on your doorstep? Wouldn't it make more sense to sacrifice his wife? Or one of the chief Druids? Someone who wasn't as integral to your safety? To me it seems like a harebrained idea, and the Druids were known for being wise. These were men who went through years of education, who memorized their history, had a working knowledge of medicine, knew about the local flora and fauna, and were well versed in their religion. You would think that the memorization of their history alone would have tipped them off to the fact that sacrificing their warriors was just a bad idea.

The cannibalism part of the documentary is thrown in as an afterthought almost. I feel like it's there to add shock element. The reasoning and facts behind it are flimsy at best.

Now, I'm a little biased too. That much is true, and I acknowledge that. We have concrete evidence of human sacrifice being performed in other cultures. I mean, if you think about it, the Celts believed that they came from the Milesian peoples, who left Egypt at about the same time as the Children of Israel (See Story of the Irish Race by Seamus MacManus). Egypt being a fairly important center of trade in the ancient world, the Milesians could have come into contact with any number of cultures who practiced human sacrifice. Heavens, the Ancient Egyptians practiced retainer sacrifice, which, while not exactly the same as sacrificing people to appease bloodthirsty gods, is kinda similar.

So, apparently Celts kept the skulls of the people they killed
and attached them to their homes and temples, both as a
warning and to appease their gods. 
What I'm saying is that the Celts could have practiced human sacrifice. Maybe. But I highly doubt it was in the manner that the Roman writers described. As I mentioned, the Romans had every reason to misrepresent the Celts.

There were good things about the film. It talked about multiple archaeological sites that I didn't know about before, and am excited to look up. When it talked about the archaeology it talked about the archaeology. The interpretation was a bit skeevy, but the explanation was good. It was a visually pretty movie. The reenacting scenes were entertaining. It was a short film, only 45 minutes. If I was a schoolteacher who liked to teach suspect history, this would be a good documentary to show in class. (although there is one bit where they reenact a sacrifice talking place, and that's a little gruesome.)

Overall, it was a disappointing movie. Instead of an actual, unbiased, exploration of the facts, they went for the shock factor, and, honestly, it made for pretty poor watching.

Should you want to watch it though, it can be found on Netflix, at least at present.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review-Mistress of Rome

Book Review is a regular featuring talking about books dealing with history, culture, or geography both fictional and non.

Image result for mistress of romeSo, I've had this book literally forever. I bought it at a library sale back when I was in middle school or junior high, I just hadn't read it until now. Having read it, I can't imagine why I put it off for so long! This book more than exceeded my expectations. It's probably the best historical fiction novel I've read since Cleopatra's Daughter.

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn documents the lives of two slaves, Thea and Arius living in Rome (both the city and the empire) from about 81-96 CE. It begins and ends with the reign of Emperor Domitian, who features prominently in the book. Spoiler alert: he's a bit of a dick. I know that must come as a shock, given the fact that Roman Emperors were such fluffy, precious cinnamon rolls, but Domitian is the literal worst.

Thea is the slave to the wealthy, beautiful, and extremely bitchy Lepida, and Arius is one of the many slaves trained to fight to the death for sport. Fate brings them together, and for a while they're happy. But the machinations of a certain Patrician cow tears them apart. Years pass, and they've both come to the notice of Emperor Domitian, and they find that Caeser the man is nothing like the Lord and God he pretends to be to the Roman people.

Image result for emperor domitian
Domitian was kinda an ugly
dude, no?
This book expertly weaves together both love story and history, without one overbalancing the other. Even if you can't stand romance (or history, but if that's the case, why are you here?), I'd still recommend this book, because the romance isn't cloying. If anything, it's a completely natural part of the book, and the book would definitely suffer without it. What's more, is that the romance is completely natural. There's nothing contrived or forced like so many romance stories.

As for historical accuracy, this book comes pretty close. The author makes up most of quite a few characters, but they have backstories that tie into historical events, and the events surrounding Domitian are very accurate, or as accurate as you can be when writing about ancient history.

Mistress of Rome is a good read. It has an engaging story with interesting and complex characters. It's the sort of book that will have you in almost painful suspense until the last page (I silently screamed out of anxiety for these folks a few times). It's also the first of a series that I look forward to finishing.

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