Monday, November 24, 2008

Copernicus Look-a-likes

I have blogged in the past about misidentified portraits. Identifying portraits is a tricky business. Often art historians will look at the costume, jewelry and props surrounding the portrait. To determine dates, x-rays and carbon dating can be employed. But even after science and the most knowledgeable art historians weigh in, we often still get it wrong. Examples of famous people misidentified include the painting of Lady Jane Grey by Master John (shown here). Susan James was the first to identify this painting as Katherine Parr (The sixth wife of Henry VIII) and not the tragic nine day queen.

By far, the most useless technique in identifying portraits is sometimes our own eyes. It is not enough to say, “portrait A looks like portrait B so they must be the same person.” (I admit that I catch myself doing this sometimes too.) To prove this point, come play one of my favorite games…

The History/Celebrity Look-a-Like Game
What is History Celebrity Look-a-Like you ask? It is only the most entertaining museum game in the history of the art world. The rules are as follows:

Players: 2+

Object: To find people in portraiture that look like celebrities.

6 points for major celebrities
5 points if their dead
2 points for B- list celebrities

Play: Once a famous person is identified in a portrait, the other player has the right to “contest” the call. Contesting a call requires enlisting the help of a “judge” in the form of a stranger, museum curator or 3rd party not involved in the game. The judge must determine if the celebrity look-a-like call is a bad match. If the match is determined a bad call then the player who made the call loses 6 points. You can only contest 3 calls in one game.

Winner: The person with the most points at the end of the museum trip.

Now that you know the rules, here are some examples that I have found:

Marie Antoinette and Nicole Kidman
Marie Antoinette
I have always thought Nicole Kidman was a dead ringer for Marie Antoinette. This portrait by Austrian painter, Martin van Meytens portrays Marie Antoinette at the age of 12. Nicole's forehead is not as high and she is certainly missing the Hapsburg chin, but there is something oddly Marie Antoinette-like about the Aussie star.

Louis XIV and Paul Stanley

Louis XIV
OK I am going to date myself on this one, but Paul Stanley (from the rock band KISS) IS Louis XIV reincarnated.

Nicolaus Copernicus and James Cromwell

I found this one recently on Tudor It turns out that some sly archaeologists found the remains of Nicolaus Copernicus and used forensic facial reconstruction to make this image of the famed astronomer. I think that they really stole James Cromwell's DNA.

Martin Luther and Bob the Bachelor

Despite the fact that this one is worth only 2 points, I still think it is a good call. Most of you probably won't know who this Reality TV star is unless you watch ABC's The Bachelor. This was Bob The Bachelor (Yes they really called him that) and now I have lost all credibility by admitting that I watch The Bachelor.

Madame de Pompadour and Drew Barrymore

This one got "contested" and I think wrongly so. There is something about these two femme fatales that makes them seem like they could be related in a past life. To prove this point, I have added the Vermilion cheeks and a little grey powder to Miss Barrymore's picture.

Anne Boleyn and Audrey Hepburn

Although no one knows what Henry VIII's second wife really looked like, in this painting, she is screaming Breakfast at Tiffany's.

I will admit that some of these examples are better than others. But you can see how easy it is for two unrelated people to look similar.

What are your favorite Celebrity/History look-a-like?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Catherine de Medici: Part II - Hath No Fury than a Pope Scorned

In last week's post on Catherine de Medici, the citizens of Florence were debating what to do with the 13 year old Medici Duchess. The options were:

A. Strip her naked and exposed her on the city walls as target practice.
B. Place her in a brothel to spoil her marriage value.
C. Lock her up in a convent

Fortunately for Catherine, the citizens went with option C, but Catherine never knew if they would come storming into the convent to enact plan A or B. At one point, she even cut off all her hair and donned a nun’s habit daring the people to hurt a bride of Christ. Catherine intended to survive even if it meant a life of seclusion.

Yet, just a few months earlier the Florentine people had called her “Duchessina” (little duchess) and loved and respected her. We can imagine a 13 year old girl not fully understanding why her people had loved her one minute and then wanted her dead the next. Such a precipitous fall from grace cemented Catherine's distrusting nature. We will see this chariness color her political decisions later in life. (more on that later...)

Where was I? Ah yes, death and destruction…

Rome….A Bigger Mess

Months earlier, Catherine’s cousin Giulio de Medici, (Pope Clement VII) had some uninvited guests in the form of Spanish and German troops under Charles V. The main forces consisted of 13,000 German reiters and these brutes were not attacking Rome for religious redemption. They mostly just wanted booty. Instead of being paid, they worked out an agreement where they agreed to sack Rome if no limit was set to their pillaging. And pillage they did. They helped themselves to Rome’s goodies like hyperactive kids on a sugar high. It was said that their commander, von Frundsberg, wore around his neck a gold chain with the sole purpose of strangling the Pope. To amuse themselves further, they dressed an ass up in papal vestments and ordered a priest to feed it the consecrated Host. I don’t find it very funny, but the Germans found it hilarious. When the priest refused, they hacked him to pieces. hmmmm...still not funny.

All of these stories most likely reached Catherine.

But Frundsberg didn’t get to use his gold chain because Clement escaped disguised as a servant with a long beard and tattered hat. It wouldn’t have fooled me, but barbarians are not too smart when they are busy pilfering.

So with his papal robes dragging behind him, Clement hid out at the Castel St. Angelo while the holy city took a good beating. It was roughly during this time that English legates came to see the pope about Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. They found Clement sitting on a straw pallet with his gouty leg propped up, vowing never to shave again. Clement was on hard times.

So let's recap. We have a very pissed off Pope, dressed like a pauper, sitting on a straw throne, needing a shave, his palace in Rome is in tatters, his people have been murdered and raped, and now the city where he came from was revolting and trying to drive out his Medici relatives. I am not defending the guy, but let’s just say he was probably in a bad mood. Clement felt betrayed by the Florentine revolt and intended to put it down swiftly and cruelly. Machiavelli didn’t dedicate The Prince to Clement’s brother, Lorenzo II, for nothing. Clement ‘s mission to put down the Florentine revolt reflected a Medici family mantra - “do evil if necessitated.”

In an act of marketing genius, Clement then made a secret agreement with Charles V to end the destruction in Rome in exchange for placing the crown of Charlegmagne on Charles' head (shown here on the right)1. This gave Charles serious religious prestige and cost Clement nothing. But how do you put a revolt down with no army? No worries. Clement employed the same barbarians that had sacked Rome just months earlier to put down the Florence revolt. The German historian Leopold Von Ranke, with his usual overly dramatic flair, described it best when he wrote, "With astonishment did men behold Clement launch upon his native city the very army by which the horrors of the Sack of Rome had been perpetrated before his eyes."2 (Cue the organ)

You have to be a little leery of a pope that finds employment for barbarians. Yet whether his tactics were justified, Clement was still triumphant. He then came to Florence to bring his prize back to Rome - his young cousin, Catherine de Medici.

The Pope’s Booty
Catherine was not of royal blood, but she did have a dowry big enough to tempt any prince so Clement went about looking for a suitable groom. Several suitors were proposed including:

A. The Duke of Richmond (Henry VIII’s illegitimate son)
B. King James V of Scotland
C. Prince of Orange
D. Duke of Milan

Any one might have made a fine husband, but Clement had higher aspirations for Catherine. Knowing that France could use some spare gold, Clement waved the carrot of Catherine’s dowry in front of King Francis I and Francis bit. Catherine was to be married to Francis’s second son, Henri II. Francis was not just hungry for Catherine’s dowry. She also fit into his grand scheme of taking a chunk of Italy here and there and the wily Clement VII did nothing to make Francis think border expansion was not possible.

Thus, the young Catherine de Medici traded up that donkey for a white palfrey and made her royal entrance into France wearing enough bling to blind a person.3 Cinderella stories prevail that she had a fairy god mother in the form of Leonardo da Vinci who designed the first high heel shoe for her star-studded premier. These tales certainly make for a good story if it were not for the fact that Leonardo died in 1519 and spent the last years of his life in France, not Italy. But Catherine did bring a sense of style to the court by employing the most talented Florentine seamstresses to make her dresses.

A very busy Woman
Besides high heels, Catherine made the following popular in France:

1.The first forms of ice cream - or sorbet4
2. The Fork - That one didn’t catch on until later
3. Handkerchiefs - but they were more like decorative squares and not the snot rags that we think of today
4. Dwarfs - Catherine had a thing for dwarfs
5. A train of Bears -Cause everyone needs a few Bears in your royal procession
6. Underware - the ladies of the court were going commando until Catherine came along
7. Seers and Soothsayers- Catherine was buddies with Nostradamus and the Ruggieri Brothers (more on them later...)
8. The side-saddle - Invented later in her reign to show off her legs
9. The folding fan
10. Tobacco – Made popular later in her reign. She ground it up to treat headaches, but unfortunately the rest of the court found other uses for it. (that means lung cancer for the kids at home!)

You would think a woman that shows up with fortune tellers, dwarfs and ice cream might impress a guy, but Henri seemed indifferent to his Father’s choice of bride. Perhaps he thought the “merchant’s daughter” was not high enough on the royal food chain for him. Perhaps her lack of beauty did not appeal to him. Perhaps he resented having no say in the matter. We will never know. But we do know that Henri was Francis’s least favorite son and relations between the two were never the stuff of hallmark commercials. Henri most likely blamed his Father for selling him short in the marriage market and probably saw his marriage alliance as proof of his Father’s lack of affection for him.5

Catherine already had a rough start.

King Francis I – Mentor or Sleazy Voyeur?
If Henri showed little affection for his new bride, at least Francis seemed happy with his choice. He liked Catherine so much that he even stayed in the newlywed’s chamber to make sure that he “saw valour in the joust.” We can only imagine how the 14-year old Catherine felt about her Father-in-law sticking around for her first moments as a newlywed. Yuck. It just might have killed the moment. Even worse, Pope Clement VII checked in on the two honeymooners the next morning to make sure that the deed was done. He left satisfied.

In truth, Francis probably would have made a better husband for Catherine than his son. They shared a love of dance, poetry, art, and beautiful people. Catherine knew how to please and Francis…liked to be pleased. Catherine quickly ingratiated herself into Francis harem, called the Petite Bande – a group of beautiful ladies that surrounded Francis everywhere he went. But Catherine was that girl who stood out amongst Francis’s bevy of dimwitted groupies. She was the girl with the “personality” who could keep up with the boys. She stayed side by side with Frances in the hunt and took her falls without a complaint. She knew all the latest dances. She knew all the hot artists (Vasari adored her)6 She made Francis laugh. Heck… she even knew how to use a fork. Catherine had that little something extra to make any man go hmmmm. It must have been refreshing for Francis to have a true Renaissance woman in his court when he had chosen so many of his companions by beauty alone. In turn, Francis became a mentor to Catherine and we can see many of her later political decisions influenced by these early years. (more on that later...)

So you can see Catherine had a chance of making a place for herself at court, winning the love of her people and being remembered by history as a true Renaissance queen. But we all know that is not how things turned out. No, her uncle, Pope Clement VII had to go and wreck everything. What did he do to wreck Catherine’s chance of happiness? Answer to come in Part III…

All sources will be listed at the end of Catherine's story.


(1) This is a reproduction of the crown. The original crown was destroyed in 1590.

(2) Strage, p 16.

(3)Catherine wore a pair of priceless pearl earrings that she later gave to Mary Queen of Scots. These pearls ended up as part of Elizabeth I’s crown jewels after she ordered the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

(4) The origins of the first forms of ice cream and many foods are spotty. I have included sorbet in the list because Francis fell in love with sorbet after Catherine's arrival in France. I have seen many tales circulating on the internet about Catherine introducing all sorts of recipes to France and changing how the French prepared food. Unfortunately, there isn't any proof that Catherine brought her cooks with her to France, and even if she did, it would not have changed how food was prepared. French and Italian cooking techniques were fundamentally the same. Also, In the 16th century, food was not distinguished by nationality so we would not have had "French Cuisine" or "Italian Cuisine"

(5) He almost married Mary Tudor. aka Bloody Mary - a real prize.

(6) Francis had a strong appreciation for the Renaissance Italian artists. In the art bargain of the century, Francis bought the Mona Lisa from Leonardo for 4000 gold coins.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Buy a Book Save the World

I recently logged into my facebook account (yes I finally joined!) and found an invitation from author Lindsey Leavitt my BF (blogger friend) to BUY A BOOK SAVE THE WORLD. I would provide a link to the group, but I just can't figure out how to work the facebook thing yet. arg technology! But next time you are in facebook, look up the group. I know...I know... I don't need to tell anyone who reads this blog to buy any more books, but I do have a huge book section for suggestions on Royalty books.

Don't forget the babies...they need books too!
I have told all my friends and family to get my daughter books. She is especially addicted to all the Karen Katz books. I think Ms. Katz puts some sort of voo doo baby hypnosis in her books. I have yet to figure it out, but every time one of her books crosses my little toddlers field of vision....she starts cooing and drooling uncontrollably. It's like crack for babies. Seriously. Go buy a baby a Katz book and see for yourself.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Marvelous Day for Elizabeth I

Happy Birthday to my most Raucous Royal, my daughter- Charlotte Elizabeth! 450 years ago today, Charlotte's namesake ascended the throne of England.

On November 17th, 1558, Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary I died early in the morning. The 25-year old princess Elizabeth was eagerly awaiting news of Mary’s condition at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. As a sign that Elizabeth had been declared queen, her servant was to bring her the ring that Mary’s husband, King Philip II of Spain, had once given the now very dead queen.

According to legend, a horseman galloped up with the coveted ring and gave it to Elizabeth. The new queen then fell to her knees in prayer and recited the biblical verse, “A DOMINO FACTUM EST ISTUD ET EST MIRABILE IN OCULIS NOSTRIS”(This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.)

From the moment the ring was placed on Elizabeth’s finger, the Virgin Queen became wedded to her country.1 Now, Elizabeth could stop pretending that she was listening to the Catholic mass and go about stuffing her face with comfit cakes and marchpane.2 No, not exactly. Elizabeth had her work cut out for her. She inherited a country on the verge of bankruptcy, stricken with plague and pestilence and its people polarized by religious unrest. Things were messy. On top of these challenges, imagine stepping into a new job where all your employees are loyal to the previous boss. Her employees (called her Privy Council) wanted to carry on with business as usual – you know….taxes, poverty, beheadings, burning, hangings, quartering and bear-baiting. Elizabeth promptly fired all but ten. She appointed as her Secretary of State, William Cecil, a dour, little man who loved to wear black and never forgave a wrong.3

Elizabeth's new Privy Council may have ensured a smoother transition, but they certainly were not about to change their views on a ruler of the “weaker sex”. When a messenger mistakenly took a letter directly to Elizabeth, Cecil chided him by saying, “a matter of such weight….too much for a woman’s knowledge.”4

So how did a mere woman take a war-ridden, bankrupt, second-rate country into an age of literacy, art and prosperity? That’s a long tale. Check out the book section to read more about Elizabeth.

(1) Philip was none too happy about the change of power, nor did he get his ring back.
(2)Elizabeth really liked sweets.
(3)Cecil had recorded in his journal every Protestant that Mary had killed for heresy. You could say he had a bit of a bone to pick with the Catholics.
(4) Thomas, p. 85

Sources and Futher Reading:
Jenkins, Elizabeth. Elizabeth the Great. New York, NY: Coward-McCann, 1958.
Thomas, Resh Jane, Behind the Mask, The Life of Queen Elizabeth I, New York: NY, Clarion Books, 1998.
Jones, Norman. "Advice to Elizabeth." History Today, November 2008, pp. 14-20.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Raucous Rumor of the Month- Another Royally Bad Hair Day

Ok I know have a weird fixation on hair rumors. I already tackled the Marie Antoinette going grey overnight rumor. Now I have to address the Mary Queen of Scots being bald rumor.

The Rumor: When Mary Queen of Scots’ executioner held up her head in the customary "God Save the Queen" mumbo jumbo, the poor sot was left holding only a wig as her head rolled to the ground. Everyone was then very shocked. Not shocked that Mary was missing a head. Oh no. Shocked that Mary kept a dirty secret….she was as bald as a newborn.

Source of Rumor: This is a fairly new one. We can thank a recently released popular trivia book and several internet sites for spreading it.1

The Truth: Yes, Mary was probably losing her hair due to numerous health problems. But her real dirty secret was that she had gone grey…not bald. At her execution, she wore her customary auburn wig and eyewitnesses were surprised to discover Mary’s natural hair color. Her hair was cut short too which may have also lent some credence to the baldness rumor.

I know debunking this rumor is not going to change the world. But come on…the poor woman lost her head. At least, let her keep her hair.

(1) I am not going to name the bad trivia book because I believe in book Karma. I too may get some historical fact seriously wrong some day and get it into print.

Sources and Further Reading:
Primary Source of Mary Queen of Scots’ Execution
Fraser, Antonia. Mary Queen of Scots, London, UK: Phoenix Press, 1969

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Catherine de Medici - Part I : David Loses an Arm. Catherine loses a City

The Fall of Florence
In 1527, the city of Florence was one heck of a mess. The Florentines wanted the ruling family, the Medici, OUT and that included the Medici upstart, Pope Clement VII (Giulio de Medici) and all his clan. To punctuate their hatred, citizens tore threw the streets destroying the art that had once made Florence the Renaissance epicenter. Some genius even hurled a bench through a window and broke the David’s arm. 1

Catherine’s Fate
During the melee, the 13 year old Duchess of Florence, Catherine de Medici, rode through the streets of Florence on a donkey with the screams of an angry mob calling for her death. Catherine had few friends or family to protect her from her terrible fate. Her mother, Madelaine de la Tour d’Auvergne, a French Bourbon Princess, had died giving birth to her. Her father, Lorenzo II de Medici, the Duke of Urbino, had died from Syphilis weeks after Catherine's birth.2 Catherine represented everything the people had come to hate in the power-hungry banking family. Her bulging eyes and thick cheeks didn’t help any. Most contemporary sightings reported that Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de' Medici looked every inch a Medici (and that was not a compliment). If the people could destroy the David, what was to stop them from killing this unattractive heiress to the Medici fortune?

There were certainly some creative suggestions as to what to do with her.

A. Strip her naked and exposed her on the city walls as target practice.
B. Place her in a brothel to spoil her marriage value.
C. Lock her up in a convent

What would be Catherine’s fate? Stay tuned for Part II for the answer…

Some Strange Art Coincidences
(1 ) We can thank the great painter and architect, Vasari for saving the arm. He hid David’s arm until things calmed down and then reattached it. Michelangelo was later convicted of taking part in the revolt when the Pope’s forces tore through Florence (more on that in Part II). Michelangelo did look pretty guilty since he was one of the masterminds behind the city’s fortification. But all ends well and we can thank the Prior of S. Lorenzo for saving Michelangelo's life. He hid the Michelangelo out until the Medici cooled their heels and forgave the wayward artist.

(2) Niccolo Machiavelli had honored Lorenzo (Catherine's Father) by dedicating The Prince to him. The Prince became one of Catherine's favorite light reads. Her critics later referred to it as "Catherine's Bible."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Raucous Book of the Month

King George: What Was His Problem?
by Steve Sheinkin
Illustrated by Tim Robinson

I bought this book because of the title. I have always thought George III was a dullard so I was dieing to find out exactly what the title promised…what was his problem??? When I opened it up, I realized that this book was about the American Revolution (Yes, I missed the small print in the subtitle). Horror! Not another American history book. As a native of Boston, we laugh at the tourists who think the Battle of Bunker Hill was really fought on Bunker Hill. And there are only so many Boston duck tours and Lexington Battle reenactments that one person can stand in a lifetime. So you can imagine my disappointment when I realized the book that I thought would teach kids about royalty was really about those ruffians, our founding fathers. Don't kids have enough books on the American Revolution?

Boy was I wrong. Kids need this book.

First off, Sheinkin’s book is full of amusing antidotes about real people and not the cardboard cutouts that appear in text books. For example, who would have thought that Sam Adams, the sharp dressed guy on my favorite beer, was a sloppy dresser and had a thing for salmon. Did you know that Patrick Henry was a bit of a motor mouth? Yes, we hear tales of Washington’s troops being a bunch of hooligans, but did you know that Washington also had to break up a thousand-man snow ball fight between Massachusetts and Virginia?

What really sucked me in was not just the trivia. Sheinkin has a rare ability to tell history from all sides without getting too weighed down in the details. Best of all, he remembered the ladies. For example, did you know that Hannah Davis could watch the minutemen battling from her house? Have you ever thought about what Dorothy Quincy was doing in the middle of the melee? You will have to get the book to find out.

Readers also get plenty of real quotes, letters, maps, and George Washington's bad love poems. The text book information is there, but the pace is faster than Billy Dawes famous ride (Sheinkin calls this section “Revere and That Other Guy”) Yes, King George III only makes a few cameo appearances, but the reader won't miss him. (I still think he is a dullard) Overall, what really makes King George work is the fact that readers can take away far more than George’s dilemma. You start to see what everyone’s problem was, and most importantly, how so many colorful personalities (with very different opinions) came together for one goal.

A quick mention on the art: Tim Robinson’s hilarious pen and ink illustrations also give an extra layer of sauciness to the characters. George has the perpetual “I can’t believe I am being disobeyed” look of shock and Robinson captures the blustering, larger-than-life nature of Ethan Allen perfectly.

Note: The age range is 9-12, but I really hate when Amazon dumps books into this category. (They did this to my book too) The age range should say 9+ because adults will enjoy this book as much as kids.

For more books on George III see the Reading Section

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Wise Doctor

This is my rough sketch illustrating royal doctors and all the wacky medical cures used throughout history. It is for my next book which will be out in 2010 called I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat. I am not sure if this sketch will make the cut.

This week’s post features my favorite doctor of the irascible Henry VIII – Dr. Butts. While Henry was courting Anne Boleyn, Dr. Butts was sent to the future queen to cure her of the Sweating Sickness.1 Anne survived thus earning Dr. Butts future job security. (We can take a guess as what his fate would have been if she had died) Dr. Butts then went on to become royal physician to all of Henry’s children and most importantly a good friend to Henry.

Dr. Butts...His name says it all
Being the royal physician in Henry's court was not as prestigious as we may think. The physician's role was secondary to the apothecary who got to do all the fun mixing of pills and potions. Basically, the court physician was a glorified chemist to the King’s bodily excretions. Dr. Butts had the very serious job of making sure the amount of liquids and food that went into the king….came out at the other end. His daily responsibilities entailed examining the King’s urine and make sure it was up to snuff...or sniff.

Color, Clarity, and…(gulp)Flavor
How do you tell good pee from bad pee? Well let’s start with our handy pee chart for the kids at home.

The doctor would first consult his chart to classify the specimen. We can conclude green pee = very bad. Yellowish pee = good.

Next, the doctor would hold the pee sample up to the light and then diagnose the clarity. Chunky things floating in there = very bad. Clear = good.

Next, the doctor would swirl then taste. (Yes, you really needed to swirl first.) A sweet taste= very, very bad. That meant the person might be diabetic. (they of course did not call it diabetes) Many people have claimed that Henry VIII was diabetic later in life, but I have yet to find any quotes from his doctor saying things like, “King’s pee has a nice floral bouquet to it today” No, most likely the King’s pee didn’t warrant much mention. But if we were to guess what the King’s pee tasted like (just for fun) I am guessing that it tasted pretty rancid with all the meat he was eating.2 Henry VIII also loved artichokes. 3 Enough said.

Dr. Butts' True Legacy
Dr. Butts should not only be remembered as physician to Henry VIII, but also as the man who secured Holbein’s Henry VIII and the Barber-Surgeons (shown here). This was Holbein’s last work before the plague claimed this great artist’s life.

(1) For more information on the Sweating Sickness
(2) When a person eats little fresh fruits and vegetables, their pee gets very dark and stinky. If anyone has been on the Atkins diet then you know exactly what I am talking about.
(3) Artichokes like asparagus give urine a strong smell. Just trust me on this one.

Sources and Further Reading:
Weir, Alison. Henry VIII, The King and His Court, New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2001
Porter, Roy. Blood & Guts, A Short History of Medicine. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2002.
Magner, Louis. A History of Medicine. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis, 2005.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Plain Jane with a new look

I have been researching hats this week. Many thanks to Got Medieval for sending me some wonderful pics of people wearing those crazy twisty hats. I had been drawing them all wrong.

I have also decided that the wrong hat can really add years. One of the regular contributers over at Tudor History questioned how Jane Seymour would have looked if she lost the boxy Gable Hood (left). I think Jane's new French Hood is much more attractive (right). Ahhh the wonders of photoshop!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How Royals Squashed a Rumor

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting article about the Science of Rumors concluding that the worst way to fight a rumor is to ignore it. It is an interesting study because it leads me to my next question: How much of a past ruler's image is affected by their ability to squash rumors?

Obviously the biggest invention to change how rumors were spread was the invention of the printing press around 1440. You may guess that religious material would be the hottest reads to roll off the presses, but that was not the case. Pamphlets and libels ridiculing the elite were the first best sellers. Instead of disseminating rumors through word of mouth, a deluge of printed material could now reach the masses. As a result, Kings and Queens were forced to make a painful decision….do they ignore the printed slander or punish the authors?

Queen of France, Catherine de Medici, best remembered for being responsible for the The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, chose to ignore polemic pamphlets. Around 1575, after the death of her son Charles IX, an especially misogynistic pamphlet was printed entitled Discours Merveilleux de la vie, actions et deportements de Catherine de Medicis Royne. In it, Catherine was blamed for the St. Bart ‘s ruckus and ordering the murders that sparked the violence. (The basic gist of it was that she was the female devil incarnate sent to seduce the people of France.) This pamphlet was more than just tabloid trash. It was distributed widely and translated into German, English and Latin. It became so popular that it was even used to later discredit future female rulers, Marie de Medici and Marie Antoinette.

What did Catherine do when she read it? She laughed herself silly. She even had the audacity to further quip that the author left so much out and remarked that if he had gone to her directly… then she could have given him much more juicy tidbits. Yet, Catherine is not remembered for her sense of humor. Her name has unjustly become synonymous with bloodshed.

During the same time period, Elizabeth I of England would not tolerate any slanderous pamphlets attacking the crown. The zealous puritan, John Stubbs wrote a book entitled, The Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf whereinto England is like to be Swallowed by another French Marriage. You can pretty much figure out from the title how Stubb’s felt about Elizabeth’s possible marriage to Catherine de Medici’s son, The Duke of Anjou. The queen was not enlightened by Stubb's work and she promptly ordered the public removal of his right hand.1 Ouch! Today, this may seem like a draconian punishment for a little free speech, but Elizabeth (and certainly her advisers) understood the importance of royal image making. A weak monarch was a matter of appearances.

What do you think about the power of rumors? With the election just days away, how much of our voting decision is based on rumors?

(1) Elizabeth may have not found the book amusing, but Stubbs kept his sense of humor to the end. Before his hand was chopped off, he delivered one last bad pun and said, “Pray for me now my calamity is at hand.” Then after they chopped off his hand, he managed to retain his composure enough to get out a “God save the queen” before fainting.

Sources and Further Reading:
Pamphlet from
The Gordon Collection.
Strage, Mark. Women of Power: The Life and Times of Catherine de Medici. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanowich, 1976.
Lancelott, Francis. The Queens of England and Their Time, D. Appleton and Co., 1858.