Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The lecherous Louis XIV and scandalous life of Emily Post

We tend not to think of the lecherous, red heeled Louis XIV and Emily Post as having similarities, but the two did share one common goal - étiquette.

Louis pretty much invented etiquette to deal with his ill mannered friends. Every time Louis’ courtiers came over to the palace, they would trample the lawn, throw trash everywhere, frolic in the shrubbery, and pee in the fountains. So Louis had the brilliant idea to place little signs or “etiquettes” all over the palace grounds telling people how to behave. And it actually worked. The lawns looked greener, the fountains looked less yellowish, and the shrubbery….well, let’s just say that there was a reason why it was so tall.  


Flash forward many centuries later to the family operated, end-all to be-all on etiquette – The Emily Post institute. 

Emily Post wasn’t the Gatsbyesque miss that most people think of today. She rocked out on her banjo, hobnobbed with Mark Twain, and cared little for what fork to use during the salad course. Her husband had a fondness for chorus girls that culminated in their divorce in 1905. Instead of retreating in shame from the scandal, Post published her best selling Etiqutte in 1922. It is still today the second most stolen book from the library (the Bible is the first.) And while most of its advice would require you have a maid and a few token butlers, other advice still rings true today. For example;

"Ethically the only chaperon is the young girl’s own sense of dignity and pride; she who has the right attributes of character needs no chaperon—ever."

Dignity and Pride. Not much has changed since Louis XIV demanded people stop peeing in the fountain.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

La Malinche: The slave girl who conquered a nation

Roberto Cueva del Río
This month in history, the breathtakingly vicious Hernán Cortés lands on the borders of Mexico changing the fate of an entire culture. 

Behind every powerful story in history…is an even more powerful woman. La Malinche (Doña Marina) was a beautiful slave given to Cortés as a gift. Serving as an interpreter, she translated from Nahuatl to Mayan while Spanish priest Gerónimo de Aguilar translated from Mayan to Spanish. She gave Cortes a son, most likely syphilis, and the best gift of all – she convinced Montezuma to cooperate with Cortes.

Born in 1496, she was the daughter of a noble Aztec family until her fate got tangled up in politics. When her father died, her mother remarried and gave birth to a son. Desiring the son to rule over Malinche, she sold her daughter into slavery and declared her dead. Malinche ended up as a slave to a Mayan lord who later gave Malinche and 19 other slave girls to Cortés as a gift.

Although Cortés isn't exactly remembered for his charity and kindness, by all historical accounts he was utterly faithful to Malinche. (as if I couldn't turn this into a love story). Cortez later wrote in a letter home, "After God we owe this conquest of New Spain to Doña Marina. " 


She has been portrayed a zillion times in Latin American art and literature, sometimes as a conniving temptress…sometimes as the sacred virgin who brought Christianity to Mexico. (often as both). Whether virgin or harlot, she continues to inspire artists today. Here are a few of my favorite depictions of her:           

"La Gran Tenochtitlan"
Detail from mural by Diego Rivera at Palacio Naciona
La Malinche by Rosario Marquardt, 1992

From: Mexico the way it was and is
Malinche is the lady with the rosaries. Imagine having a boyfriend that sicks dogs on people for fun? I would pray for his soul too. 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mary Toft: The Woman who gave birth to Rabbits

Hogarth's illustration commemorating Mary Toft and her 19 rabbit babies. 

In 1726, the medical community was shocked by a unnatural birthing phenomenon when an English woman named Mary Toft gave birth to rabbits. The following is her story which I felt compelled to tell in rhyme: 

Mary had a Little Bunny

It’s been said many times
Newborns come out looking funny.
Take the case of Mary Toft,
Her firstborn looked like a bunny.

Mary screamed for the midwife,
And grabbed her birthing chair.
But before she knew what hit her,
Out popped another pair.

Now three babies hopped about
As Mary fell to the floor.
She gave a great big push,
And out hopped another four.

Poor Mary was losing count
With the tally now at seven.
Mr. Stork flew by again,
And dropped two more from heaven.

 “This has to be the last,” she screamed.
“Holy Lord, show me a sign!”
And as if to answer all her pleas,
Out flopped another nine.

Soon men of science, far and wide,
Came to see her bunny litter,
And when they said – “this can’t be true…”
Out cropped another critter.

The king’s physician soon arrived
To examine Mary’s womb.
“My god!” he said. “If you keep this up...
You’ll need a bigger room.”

He ordered an examination
To find the bunny trail,
But when Mary saw his sharpened knife…
She quickly changed her tale.

“It’s a lie,” she screamed.
"A farcical invention.
I made the whole thing up,
I wanted some attention."

“The bunnies you see before you,
Didn’t come from my tummy.
I bought them from the butcher,
Who stole them from their mummy.”

Mary ended up in prison,
Branded a cheat and a liar.
And as for her children,
They returned to their briar.

Now the folks of Godalming,
Still believe the harebrained plots,
And to this day, they swear,
She gave birth to bunny tots.

But if you fell for Mary’s tale,
May I offer some advice?
I hope next time you see my name,
You won’t let me fool you twice.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The True Story of Valentine’s Day

In just a little over two weeks, restaurants will be filled with doe-eyed couples donning red and gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, despite the fact that their meal is costing more than what their kidney is worth.(1) Personally, it’s my favorite holiday. (yes, I am one of those people.) I mean, what’s not to love? We have a deranged emperor, a poor blind girl, a massacred saint, and it all ends in the institution that ensnares unites two people into wedded bliss.

Let’s start with the diabolical emperor - Claudius Gothicus. (2) Hmmmm let me plunge deep into the recesses of my mind to find something nice to say about Claudius. (long pause…..longer pause…..still thinking…..If I use more ellipses than something it going to come to me ….) Oh I know, Claudius was really handy with a sword.  Yep, that’s about it.  Claudius spent a good portion of his life massacring Goths and he was darn good at it. He wasn’t too spectacular in the love department.  There doesn’t seem to be a misses Gothicus pulling on his heartstrings in any part of this story.
Claudius Gothicus. The missing nose may have made it hard for him to get a date.

Not one for romance, Claudius didn’t want his soldiers coming to work all weak in the knees and missing their wives at home. His solution was to forbid marriage. That’s not to say he didn’t allow his soldiers some recreational enjoyment. After one successful battle, he wrote to one of his generals that there were so many female Goths captured that each of his soldiers could have not one….but two to three women to rape a piece. (Like I said, not much for romance.)
Saint Valentine, A man who always looked good in red. 

In an effort to preserve the holy union of marriage, a priest named Valentine secretly wed couples behind Claudius’ back. When Claudius found out, he was none to happy and ordered Valentine to be put to death. While Valentine was in prison, one of the judges, Asterius came to pray with Valentine along with his blind daughter. Supposedly, the blind daughter was healed and before Valentine was to be stoned and decapitated, he sent her a letter and signed it “from your Valentine.” 

Valentines Day is the only day that I will tolerate cherubs.

The story does have some dubious sources and may just be the thirteenth century version of Hallmark hogwash. But like most holidays smothered by commercialism, Valentine’s Day does have something sacred at its core - Valentine died for his beliefs. And when we all come off of our chocolate heart sugar high, that’s a great reason to wear red.


(1) I googled ….the going rate for a kidney is 150,000 so as usual, I am exaggerating slightly.
(2) Claudius Gothicus means "conqueror of Goths." He was also called Claudius the Cruel. I think the first name sounds far more bad ass without being so literal.   

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Seven Degrees of History: Anne Frank and Audrey Hepburn


In the winter of 1940, Nazi soldiers began rounding up Jewish villagers in Belgium, Holland. They shoved men, women and children into covered military trucks, the yellow stars on their chests picking up the last rays of sun from a cloudless sky. Beside the truck, a young German soldier shifted back and forth on his feet, his shaking hands trying to keep a cigarette in his mouth. He was far too young to have death on his soft hands. 

A young girl felt the butt of a pistol against her back as she was thrown onto the truck’s cold hard floor. Over and over again, she whispered to herself, 'Our Father Who art in heaven....Our Father Who art in heaven. ' This young girl was just another prisoner to be taken to a nearby concentration camp and disposed of without witness. Her name was Audrey Hepburn.

Audrey was not Jewish, but her family was believed to be sympathizers and that was bad enough. She knew she was headed toward her death. Several friends had already been taken away. Most painful of all, she had watched Nazi soldiers line up her uncle and cousins against a wall and then shoot them in the head.

Suddenly, a soldier on the other side of the truck began beating one of the prisoners with the end of his rifle. This was her chance. Live or die. Fear. Fear would not win. She slipped underneath the truck, her lithe figure going unnoticed in the shadows. And then she ran. She ran until her heart beat like a trapped bird inside her chest. 

Less than 150 miles away from Audrey’s escape, a young girl looked out her narrow window from an abandoned building in Amsterdam. Her hands were wrapped around the checkered red, cover of a simple diary – the diary that became her last connection with the world of hope, love and kindness.  Her name was Anne Frank.

Anne’s story so moved Audrey that when later asked to play the role of Anne Frank, Audrey refused. She had once escaped that pain. She would not revisit it.

Audrey and Anne. Anne and Audrey. Two famous people with similar dreams. Two famous people with similar suffering.  One awoke from the nightmare. The other did not. I often think children understand biographies far better when connections between famous people are made. Without these connections, historical figures seem to exist on their own plane, never bridging the gap between time and emotion.

Hoping to find many more of these connections. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The smell of seduction


“A woman should wear perfume everywhere that she would like to be kissed.” – Coco Chanel

Cleopatra had her own perfume factory replete with the rarest flowers from around the world. Legend has it that she charmed Caesar with her dramatic scent during her famous carpet unfurling escapade. 

In the nineteenth century, any man could sniff out the respectable ladies from the free-loving whores. It all came down to one thing – their perfume. Would you have smelled like a courtesan or a cultured lady of society? Take this scent quiz to find out.

Do you prefer perfumes with:
A. Jasmine, musk or vanilla (Think Dior Poison, Calvin Klein Obsession or Jovan’s White Musk)

B. Floral scents with rose and violet undertones (Think Este Lauder’s Beautiful or Flora by Gucci

Scroll down to see just how nasty you are….












Keep scrolling….









Did you miss this game?












Your wrists are looking a little flabby.











Thank god I started this blog again or you would all have fat wrists.








Let me take this moment to tell you guys how much I love you.










That was touching. Ok, now keep scrolling






Did you pick A? Of course you did, you little hussy. Now take your Jezebel scent and go back to cavorting in the whorehouse.

Choose B? You just might get invited to tea and crumpets. 

In the nineteenth century, a society lady simply did not wear musk or jasmine. Ever. Only courtesans wore those scents. (1)Today, not much has changed when it comes to perfumes. We have all had it happen. We are in the grocery store line, or even worse, stuck on the train with our nose hairs burning off because someone is wearing too strong of a perfume or cologne.
The smell of this animal's butt drives women crazy. Men....not so much.

If you find a perfume too strong, it is most likely that you are smelling either the musk or civet contained in it. Aside from more stringent FDA regulations, not much has changed on how musk and civet are manufactured in perfumes. Musk is abstracted from deer testicles. Civet comes from the anal glands of wild cats. Yes, you heard me right. We think we are so civilized, but the smell of deer testicles and a cat’s arse send our olfactory sensors into passionate overdrive. (2)At least they do for women. Women can smell musk 1000 times stronger than men and the smell will actually trigger female sexual arousal. That means that if you are female and you wear a musk smelling perfume then you are just making yourself ridiculously horny, but are doing nothing for the men around you. What does arouse sexual desire in men? Highly accurate and totally quotable scientific studies have shown that men have increased penile blood flow from the smell of pumpkin, cinnamon, vanilla, licorice and doughnuts. (3)

Obviously, more first dates should happen in bakeries.

Just like fine dining, the most successful perfumes are the ones that blend the sweet and the savory. The most successful perfume in history began with such an alchemic blend. In the 1920s a manuscript was discovered after excavations in the underground passages of a royal chateau. It contained the secret formula for Queen Catherine de Medici's perfume. 
Coco and Catherine - two women with a nose for seduction.  

Catherine's secret formula would later be the basis for a perfume you might be more familiar with - Chanel No. 5. Rumor has it that Chanel bought the manuscript for 10,000 dollars and hired perfumer Ernest Beaux to recreate it. Chanel was sort of persnickety when it came to scent. She claimed to have a stronger nose than most people and absolutely abhorred musky perfumes. She also was not a fan of scents too heavy on the floral end. She famously quipped, “Women are not flowers. Why should they want to smell like flowers. A woman is not a rose.”

But the true secret behind Chanel No. 5 was not the combination of scents, but the use of aldehydes which allowed a perfume to last. Chanel No. 5 was not the first perfume to use aldehydes, but it was the first perfume to use is so effectively with the perfect combination of musk, jasmine and roses. After WWII, GIs lined up outside Chanel’s store at 31 Rue du Cambon to bring home Chanel No. 5 to their sweethearts.

Chanel No. 5 continues to be a favorite. Today, a bottle of Chanel No. 5 is bought every thirty seconds, making it the best selling perfume around the globe.  In a survey in 2009, it was voted the sexiest perfume. (4)
"What do I wear to bed? Why, Chanel No. 5. of course."

What are your favorite scents? I have to confess that I am a bit of a prude when it comes to perfume. My personal favorite is Marc Jacob’s Daisy because it smells….well, like a flower. (Sorry, Chanel.) No sexy bakery smells for me. My second favorite is Chanel No. 19. Chanel No. 19 was originally No. 31. It was Chanel’s personal favorite and the perfume she reserved for her own personal use.  (It was later changed to No. 19 to honor her birthday) 


(1)Courtesans also bathed more then your typical water fearing socielite so they didn’t need perfume to cover up their body odor.
(2) Calvin Klein’s Obsession truly smells like deer balls. Whenever I smell a man wearing it, I have to keep a safe distance or risk vomiting. 
 (3) Being a visual person, I have all sorts of images of how increased penile flow was measured against the smell of bakery items. I just won’t go there.
 (4) I personally think Chanel No 5. smells like a combination of old ladies and moth balls, but what do I know. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

WWI posters


Melodramatic? A bit. Stark and depressing? Sure. Still, these WWI posters give us an interesting glimpse into the tactics used to elicit support for the war.

A tad obtuse but my personal favorite. I am guessing the message is: give blood or allow your fellow man to get his eyes pecked out by vultures.


Stephen King’s Carrie meets High Noon. Simple yet effective. (1)


Not exactly your feel good “Go Army” approach.


I don’t know about you but if every man I knew was dying in battle, I would get my arse out there and start picking fruit like a crazy lady.


And then I would feel very guilty about any shoe purchases. (2)


This one could totally be recycled for my own deviant purposes. But I won’t. Really, I won’t. (3)


Source: Found at Bibliodessy
A collection of these WWI posters can be viewed at Ball State University's Digital Collection
Teachers can also print out lesson plans to discuss the effect of WWI posters as propaganda devices.

(1) Yes, I searched for the posters with shoes in them.
(2) No lie.
(3) ok that is a lie. I printed this one out and stuck it to my white board. I like the font. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

That very bad woman: the great seductress, Madame Helvétius


“I should have set her down for a very bad one altho Sixty years of age and a widow. I own I was highly disgusted and never wish for an acquaintance with any Ladies of this cast. . . .”
-Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams never understood what anyone saw in that "very bad" French woman. Adams first met Anne-Catherine de Ligniville, Madame Helvétius, (nicknamed Minette) at a dinner party surrounded by a bevy of adoring men, smartly dressed Angora cats in sateen jackets, and pampered lapdogs. During the meal, Minette raise her coquettishly, short petticoats to show more than “a foot” and with silver bell laughter touched the back of Mr. Adam’s……chair. (Gasp!) Such scandalous behavior must have thrown Mrs. Adams into a tizzy. But Minette had that dizzying effect on anyone who walked through her walled garden and left their inhibitions as the door.
            Her salon in Auteuil, known as the La Societe d’Auteuil, was a mecca for the greatest freethinkers, including Voltaire and Diderot. Her husband had been one of the controversial philosophers of his day, amassing a small fortune as a tax collector. As his widow, Minette had a freedom most women of the Enlightenment could only dream of and she exercised that freedom with the restraint of a robber baron. Even in her sixties, she plowed through paramours like a sickle through wheat, gathering an impressive harvest of Paris’ most desirable heartthrobs. Benjamin Franklin loved her to distraction eventually asking for her hand in marriage. When Minette teased him about not spending the night with her, Franklin smoothly replied, `Madame, I am waiting until the nights are longer.’ Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot proposed to her twice, never marrying due to his devotion to her. Minette turned them all down, preferring to remain her own master.

What was this great seductress's secret? To start, beauty was not her weapon of choice. With her tangle of medusa hair and wizened, mole covered face, Minette was hardly your typical beauty queen, even by eighteenth century standards. Instead, she crafted her seduction from a different kind of witchcraft. Like a true high priestess, she charmed men with cerebral challenges, biting wit, and the holy grail of love: the promise of eternal youth. Benjamin Franklin said he felt like "a little boy" in her presence and author Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle followed her around like a lovesick puppy. She simply made all her devotees feel a little more light-hearted, always creating one big bacchanal feast of perpetual gaiety. That was heady stuff in the world of dour American politics and stuffy, corseted etiquette – something that Abigail Adams would never understand. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Meeeeeeeeooooow. Cat Fights!


Get out the claws. If you are going to pull a Tanya Harding, these ladies show how to fight with finesse.


These medieval wenches are not messing around. They have thrown their wimples to the ground and are going straight for the Jersey Shore hair pulling. They appear to be fighting over a white cloth? Methinks Gwenda has found Beatrice’s undergarments in her husband’s feather bed. Either that, or they are giving each other a good scalp massage. (1)


Tightly pulled corsets are not keeping these London dames from beating the snot out of each other. What is that strange sausage like object about to come crashing down onto a finely coiffed bun? That would be a sandbag. Wait for it.....here comes the history part. (2) Sandbagging was popular with gangs in the late nineteenth century as a way to pummel your nemesis without leaving a mark. It is a very deceptive weapon. Although it may look fairly harmless, it delivers an incredibly strong blow. (3)
And yes, that is where we get the origins of the word – sandbagging- hiding your strengths to later unseat your opponent. 
Of course, no one brawls like the Victorians.  Here we have a Girls Gone Wild "Police Gazette" article reporting on two ladies fighting for the “hand of handsome Charley Ford.” You can see the outcome in the background as the victor is carried off to her true love with her heaving chest half-exposed. Charley is one lucky bloke.

The French do everything with a tad more joie de vivre. These young ladies from Armand Vallée 1921 are taking up their boxing gloves in style. And really, why would you wear clothes? Boxing is so much more fun naked. (4) 

(1) If any of you medieval manuscript experts know exactly what they are doing, please share.
(2) I won't always warn you.
(3) I am basing this opinion on what it feels like to have my son's sock monkey slammed across my face.
(4) In case you are wondering, I am an authority on this subject.








Friday, August 23, 2013

The Raucous Royals Returns

I have missed all my fellow history geeks. I had to take time off from work and stop blogging due to my son's health problems. Now, he is better and after a little prodding from some well-intentioned editors....the blog is back.

So what will the new and improved Raucous Royals contain? To start, a lot of fashion related history, a little bit of the morose (of course) and tons on the premodern era (the Tudors are back!) The free newsletter will now be bi-montly. (sign up on the left hand side)

What have I been up to?...here is a little clue:

In the meantime, you can catch up on your useless history knowledge with some archived posts:

The Bizarre

Love and Romance

Fashion



Monday, April 4, 2011

Showtime's The Borgias – Kill the Characters not the Monkey


Last night, I watched the soporific 2-hour premier of Showtime’s the Borgia.The show begins with Innocent VIII’s deathbed scene- a man guilty of enough simony (not to mention his countless bastards) to land him in Dante’s 8th circle of hell. Innocent asks his cardinals to clean up their act and make the church respectable again. Now, a new Pope must be chosen. Ok. we were off to a good start. 

But half way through the first two episodes, and somewhere between feeling like I was being walled up in a Papal conclave and wishing for the darn smoke to turn white so something would happen in this mind-numbing plot line…I realized that I simply did not care about these characters. Unlike the Godfather, (the movie the producers supposedly intended to emulate) there isn’t a single redeeming quality about any of the family members. In fact, I am pretty sure that I felt more sorry for Cesare’s taster monkey that bites it in the first episode.

And I don’t even like monkeys.

The main character, Rodrigo Borgia is over-simplified to the point of being obnoxious. Cesare Borgia is a peevish brat without a conscience.  The vapid Lucrezia’s biggest desire is to be painted with an exotic beast. The entire family comes across as a bunch of thugs with a singular desire– power. It’s the singular part that turns into a real snooze fest. For such a talented cast, they weren't given much to work with. While shows like the Sopranos have multi-layered characters with multi-layered desires, the Borgias are reduced to a bunch of one-liners. In the Sopranos, we are horrified by Tony Sopranos’ unscrupulous actions, but he is still a very human character. We feel his guilt when he sits in that psychiatrist’s chair. And when Jonathan Rhys Myers flashes his psycho eyes in The Tudors, I may giggle now and then, but I still feel his character torn between his own desires and the desires of his family and the church. These characters were all very human with human wants and human cares. The Borgias' dead monkey seems to have more feeling. 

The most frustrating part is that the real history had tons for viewers to care about. Alexander VI, despite his moral ineptitude, loved his children to death and was willing to destroy everything the peace of Lodi had established to protect them. In Showtime’s The Borgia, Alexander doesn’t seem to give a bag of figs for his sons or his daughter. He admonishes Cesare like an overworked father and has very little interaction with Lucrezia.

Where are the family factions splitting political lines? The Sforza, the Visconti, the Colonna, the Orsini, and most importantly the Medici? Did the producers really need to spend an entire episode on showing just how corrupt Alexander was? And where is Savanarola with his fire and brimstone sermons and his child messengers? Where is Ludovico Sforza and his machinations with the French –inviting the devil to his doorstep to crush his enemies in Naples only to have the serpent turn on him. Now THERE is a powerful story. 

I think Michelangelo sums up perfectly the atmosphere in Rome that the Borgias took two hours too long to establish.

Here they make helmets and swords out of chalices,
And they sell the blood of Christ by handfuls,
And cross and thorns are lances and shields
And even Christ all patience loses.

But let him come no more to these city streets,
For here his blood would flow up to the very stars,
Now that in Rome they sell his skin
And they have closed the roads to all goodness…

Perhaps Michelangelo saw what the producers of the Borgias missed – that a story stripped of humanity truly is a road closed to all goodness.  It’s this redeeming goodness that the Borgia is missing. Mario Puzo's The Godfathers succeeded not because it had “Sex. Power. Murder. Amen,” but because in their Machiavellian pursuit of power they were still just a family that loved each other and were willing to die for each other. Unfortunately, the Borgias love their family as much as their monkeys.

I REALLY wanted to like the Borgia. Now, I only have watched the first two episodes so perhaps this is just a slow start and the series will get there. But so far...it's just not coming together for me. But I would love to hear what others thought. Personally, I am really enjoying Camelot (Produced by the Michael Hirst - the same producer as The Tudors.) so I am getting my history fix. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Raucous Royals bids farewell

Today will be the last post on The Raucous Royals. Over two years ago, I began this blog as an offset of The Raucous Royals book to share all the interesting tidbits that never made their way into the book. Readers have tolerated my endless bad analogies, my blatant overuse of the word "raucous", my terrible spelling, and occasional rants. The past few years, I have met some incredible people through this blog. But there are so many other history blogs that do a much better job than I do digging up raucous history. I am looking forward to having more free time to enjoy reading those sites.

I will continue to make posts on my art blog and my twitter account will stay live too. The newsletter will become a quarterly newsletter.

Thank you and farewell fellow history geeks, and if you know a child who thinks history is boring...well, they obviously have not met a Raucous Royal.