Friday, February 29, 2008

Review - Dissolution

"In an age of treachery and turmoil, brutal murder brings the ultimate test of faith."

In case you didn't pick it up from the title, CS Sansom's book is based in that period in English history when King Henry VIII went about closing the monasteries (1536 - 1540). Cromwell, Henry VIII's Vicar General sent out his agents to gather "the dirt" on all the abbeys and monasteries throughout England - he wanted to know about their wealth, their vices, and their adherence to the "new faith".

So enters one Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and support of the "reformists", sent out by Cromwell to investigate the murder of one of his Commissioners at a remote Sussex monastery.

And so the story continues ..... and what begins as a murder investigation soon develops into a questioning of faith and religion.

Without giving too much away, the plots twist and turn, culminating in a link back to Anne Bolyen, second wife of Henry VIII, who encouraged Henry to abandon the Papacy and become Supreme Head of the Church in England.

It is an interesting look into that period in English history where the new "reformist" religion was taking shape under Henry VIII - and to what extent adherence was enforced.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Death Warrant of Mary Queen of Scots

A copy of the warrant for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots "has been acquired by the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace for £72,485, with the help of heritage bodies' donations."

According to a BBC News article dated 19th February 2008:
"The Catholic Queen was executed on 8 February 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire. Her cousin, Elizabeth I, signed the warrant but later claimed she had given no instruction for its enactment. The original warrant disappeared in the recriminations which followed.

Robert Beale, principal clerk to the Privy Council, was responsible for bearing the warrant to the commissioners.

They were instructed to "repair to our Castell of Fotheringhaye where the said queene of Scottes is in custodie and cause by your commaundement execution to be don uppon her person".

The document, which includes Beale's annotation, was delivered by him to Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent - one of the two commissioners who organised the execution. "

From a BBC News August 2006 article ~~~ Mary Queen of Scots Death Mask

Pearl Cornioley Honoured

There is an amazing article in The Telegraph about one of France's wartime heroines. The following is an extract - please read the main article.

"Pearl Cornioley, who died on February 23 aged 93, was a wartime agent in France with the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

By the time the Germans invaded France in 1940 she was employed as a shorthand typist to the air attaché at the British Embassy, but she decided to evacuate her family, shepherding them south through Spain to Gibraltar, from where they took ship to Liverpool, arriving in July 1941.

Pearl Witherington joined the WAAF, but became increasingly frustrated by her pen-pushing post at the Air Ministry, and presented herself at the SOE headquarters in Baker Street, London, demanding a job.

She was taken on, and embarked on seven weeks' training in armed, and unarmed, combat and sabotage - "Having been in the Girl Guides proved very helpful," she recalled. "We learned to use explosives and did a lot of firearms training. I was quite a good shot."

She was not so proficient, however, at mastering Morse and at one point feared that this weakness would result in her dismissal.

Having parachuted from an RAF Halifax on September 22 1943, Pearl Witherington landed near Chateauroux, in the southern Loire, where she was to join the Resistance group known as "Stationer".

SOE gave all its agents a trade as a codename, and Pearl Witherington was referred to as "Wrestler"; her nom de guerre in France was "Pauline"; in wireless transmissions to Britain she was called "Marie".

Her specific role was to act as a courier carrying coded messages. Once she cycled 50 miles to deliver a message, only to find that a bridge she had to cross was heavily guarded. Carrying her bicycle on her shoulders, she waded across the freezing river Cher.

There were some narrow escapes, as when a German soldier on a train took an unhealthy interest in her papers, or when the Gestapo came to the house from which her team was transmitting by wireless (she was out enjoying a picnic at the time).

Pearl Witherington's work in occupied France was also a chance to rekindle her relationship with Henri Cornioley, a young Frenchman to whom she had become close before the war.

On May 1 1944 the leader of Pearl Witherington's network, Maurice Southgate, was captured, and she assumed control of 1,500 résistants (this number later swelled to 3,000) operating in the Sologne area of the Loire valley, which they were to hold in the Allied interest. Henri Cornioley was part of this group, which harassed the Germans in the run-up to D-Day.

The network blew up railway lines and disrupted supply routes. "It was our job to stop the Germans getting from the south to the north of France where the landings were happening," Pearl Witherington explained later.

"Our second task was to stop them trying to get back to Germany. Over 18,000 Germans gave themselves up on our territory." So effective was she that the Germans put a price of one million francs on her head.

It was during this period that she came closest to being captured or killed. On June 11 she and Cornioley were in the guard house of a chateau at Les Souches when it came under attack from the Germans. The pair fled, splitting up as they came under fire.

Pearl Witherington was recommended for a Military Cross but, as a woman, she was deemed ineligible. Instead she was offered a civil MBE, which she refused ("There was nothing civil about what I did, I didn't sit behind a desk all day"). She was then, in 1945, appointed a military MBE.

Much later in life there was further recognition: in 2004, at the British Embassy in Paris, the Queen presented her with a CBE.

Two years later, and six decades after she had jumped from the Halifax to begin her life as an SOE agent in France, Pearl Witherington was awarded her Parachute Wings, the insignia of the Parachute Regiment.

She was the principal driving force behind the creation of a large monument to the SOE's "F" Section, situated on a roundabout at Valençay, that was inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in May 1991."

Further Information ~~~ Women of the SOE

"Spitfire" Women Honoured

It seems 2008 is the year in which women who served during the Second World War are being remembered.

The Telegraph has an article (dated 19th February 2008) in which the women (and men) who formed that Air Transport Auxiliary are being honoured by the British Government.

According to the article:
"The ATA's pilots, which included female flyers known as Spitfire women, delivered more than 300,000 aircraft to frontline airfields.

The civilian unit, founded in 1938, had a remarkable record and very few planes were lost or damaged, although 173 pilots and eight flight engineers were killed, including Amy Johnson, the pioneering female aviator.

By 1945 the group had 650 pilots from 22 countries around the world including Chile, South Africa and the United States.

The ATA also contained ground engineers, crash rescue teams, nurses and doctors, administration staff and air cadets."

According to Britain's Prime Minister, Gordon Brown:
"It is right we have recognition for those women who did so much to protect and defend the airports and other military services during the war, and we will go ahead with the proposal of an award for these women."

For More Information ~~~ British Airways Museum: ATA

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Review - Plain Jane

This is the third book in Laurien Gardner's Queens of England series - one hopes that the other three Queens (Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr) will also be worthy of attention.

So, as you may, or may not have gathered, "Plain Jane" is the story of Jane Seymour, third wife and third Queen of King Henry VIII of England.

The story begins with 9yo Jane, and her early childhood in Wiltshire. We soon are introduced to 17yo Jane as she begins her journey to take up a position as lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. This is around the time of Anne Boleyn's ascendancy at court - two rival Queens and one King.

And so, the familiar story of Jane's progress from lady of Queen Catherine to becoming a member of the court of Anne Boleyn, following through to Anne's coronation as Queen and her ultimate downfall. We then witness Jane's favour from the King and her own brief reign as Queen - her life ending after the birth of Henry's son and heir.

But what of the character of "Plain Jane" ?? Jane Seymour is often depicted as a young woman of chaste character, of pious devotion, and of obedience to family and King. But was Jane truly the innocent as she is often portrayed?? Was she entirely devoid of any understanding of the game of courtly politics?? Or was she in truth a keen observer, who, when the time came, decided to learn from the mistakes of those who came before her, and was determined not to loose her own head. Jane, at times, comes across as more cunning and more astute than those around her give her credit.

Jane certainly gave Henry the one thing that both Queens Catherine and Anne could not - a son and heir - but a what cost - she too gave her life in satiating the King's one desire.

I am not particularly a fan of the Tudors - yes, the irony is not lost, this is the second book on the Tudors that I have recently read - and my next book is also set in the reign of King Henry VIII. But until someone decides to write about other historical notables, the Tudors seem to be flavour of the month - well, for quite some months now actually.

I quite liked this novel on Jane Seymour - and think I will track down the other two novels: "The Spanish Bride: A Novel of Catherine of Aragon" and "A Lady Raised High: A Novel of Anne Boleyn".

Beauty for the sake of religion

Yes you read correctly.

According to an article in "Press TV" both men and women wore make-up and adorned themselves all in the name of religious worship.

"Archaeologists have discovered various instruments of make-up and ornamental items in the Burnt City, which date back to the third millennium BCE.

The caves of the Bakhtiari region, where the first hunter-gatherers settled at the end of the ice age, have yielded not only stone tools, daggers and grindstones but also several stones covered with red ocher.

As no cave paintings have been found in this area, researchers believe the people of this era bepainted their faces and bodies with ocher.

Other caves in Kermanshah have also yielded several samples of animal bones with traces of paint. Again, as the cave walls are undecorated, it can be inferred that the residents used these bones as ornaments.

The tombs found in Kerman have all yielded white powder made of lead or silver suggesting the people of this region were the first to use white powder for beautification purposes.

The masks and statues unearthed at Haft Tappeh in Khuzestan, show the people of the time blackened and extended their eyebrows, reddened their lips and cheeks and lined their eyes up to the eyebrows.

Archaeological finds dating back to the first millennium BCE, show the diversity and abundance of cosmetics and ornaments in this period, suggesting that this era was the peak of the art of decoration and makeup in Iran."

In addition to these finds, archaeologists have found some amazing pieces of jewellry:

"Metal, bone, shell, stone and glass rings, bracelets, armlets, anklets, hair and dress pins, circlets, chokers, ornamental buttons, various ear and fingernail cleaning tools are among the frequent finds from this era.

Agate, pearls and other semi-precious stones have been discovered in the Burnt City, and the quantity of unearthed necklaces, bracelets and rings show that the inhabitants were fully aware of the value of ornaments and their application.

The oldest man-made mirrors discovered, which date back 4500 years, have been found mostly in Ilam, Luristan and Azarbaijan and are ornamented with mythological figures carved into their handles and backs."

Please visit the main article as there are displayed jewellery and ornamentations of the most intricate design - it really sheds new light on the artistic genius of those who lived many centuries before us.

Ancient Queen of Ibb

The Yemen Observer posted an article by Mohammed al-Kibsi back in January 2008, reporting on the discovering of an ancient tomb in Ibb.

From the article:

"Three tombs believed to date back to the Hemiriate dynasty have been discovered in the al-Usaibyah area of the al-Sadda district of Ibb last week.

The tombs housed three women, one of them believed to be a queen. Local sources from al-Sadda confirmed that golden jewels were found in the tomb, believed to be for a queen or a princess. Other jewels were found in the other two tombs. In addition, a bronze spear was found in a second tomb and a 70 centimeter sword in a third tomb.

The three tombs were found in a rocky room around five meters deep and about 3 meters wide. The room contained large pieces of alabaster, each piece around 150 cubic centimeters. The room also contained a 20 centimeter bronze belt.

The al-Usaibyah area is near the Raidan Palace, not far from the ancient city of Dhafar, the capital of the Saba and Tho Raydan kingdoms. Dr. Abdullah Ba-Wazir, head of the General Authority of Antiquities and Museums, said that the discovery in al-Ausaibyah came about after two tribes began fighting about the discovery the tombs. When local authorities intervened to resolve the conflict between the two tribes, they discovered the tomb.

Ba-Wazir revealed to the 26 September newspaper that an archeological team from Ibb governorate was sent to the area together with another team from Sana’a.

He said that they found a royal tomb, designed in a rare architectural style. Found inside the tomb was a bronze coffin containing the remains of a woman believed to be of a high political status.

Ba-Wazir explained that the site is a royal grave built in an artistic style indicating that the grave is of an important political person, presumably a woman. It may belong to the Himiriat period.

Authorities also sent a specialized archaeological team in addition to the team from Ibb. They are to do rescue excavations at the site at which the bronze coffin was found. He explained that the team treated the discovery site with great caution due to bad conditions such as high humidity and moisture making it difficult to preserve the coffin.

Ba-Wazir confirmed that the team will document all the antiques and other items discovered at the site. The coffin will be sent to the Ibb city museum for further preliminary preservation. Some scientific archaeological institutes will be contacted so their experts can inspect and determine the chronological age of the decaying body.

The authority manager explained that one of the duties of their team is to evaluate the discovery site in order to know if the site extends further in the area or whether it is isolated. He added that they will know more when they receive the report within the next two days.

Ba-Wazir warned people in the area not to do any diggings because of their negative effects on the current excavations by the authority teams. He called for them to cooperate with local authorities and security forces for the good of the public. Cooperation will result in saving the cultural heritage of this historical area and provide a suitable atmosphere for the excavation."

Now according to Yemen history, the Hemiriate or "Himyarites" had their capital at Dhafar, and used the Red Sea as a means of trade. Their culture was gradually absorbed into that of the Sabeans - though by the 1st Century BC, the whole area had been conquered by the Romans.

From "Yemen Old Splendour Tours":

"Dhofar was the seat of the Himyarite King Al-Tuba’ Abu Kareb Asaad, Known as Asaad Al –Kamil. His famous palace “ Raydan Palace”, was built there. There also stood Dhofar town. Nothing remains of the palace and the town but a few meters of walls Still, There are several antiquities showing the greatness of the Himyarites and their civilization such as the dams. Historians tell us that there were 80 dams, cisterns and a number of water reservoirs carved in rock in the green stretch of Ardh Yahsob (land of Yahsob). There are many cisterns around Dhofar mountain in addition to stone tombs on the western side of the mountain, which can be reached through the village of Dhofar. They are wide rooms connecting with each other deep in the rock by gates “openings” each room, with a platform to lay the bodies of the dead. The most important cisterns, carved in the rock, are by the road leading to Bayt Al-Ashwal. They were carved at the end of the flow gate of an ancient dam at the mouth of the wadi east of Dhofar Mountain."

Review - The Poisoned Queen

But to give the Ann Dukthas' novel its full title: "In the Time of ..... The Poisoned Queen: A Nicholas Segalla Time Travel Mystery".

"The Poisoned Queen" in question is Mary Tudor - Queen Mary I of England, or as many know her, "Bloody" Mary. Events are centered around the final months in the life of this Queen - she is very ill and the Pope is concerned. Enter Nicholas Segalla to delve into political and court intrigue to discover just who would wish to harm the Queen of England. And the list of suspects is quite long!

The story begins rather curiously - enter the author, Ann Dukthas, a character in her own novel, as she meets with the mysterious Nicholas Segalla - a man whose antecedants are questionable. And so Nicholas recounts to Ann the events surrounding Mary's last months. We are then returned to "modern" times, where Nicholas ties all the events together - with references to all the relevant documentation that can still be found today.

I am, personally, not a great fan of Tudor fiction - but did enjoy this rather interesting approach. Yes, initially, I thought more HG Wells and science fiction than historical fiction - but don't be put off. You will find yourself drawn into the mystery as the suspects, and the body count rises!

There are three other books: "The Prince Lost to Time"; "A Time for the Death of a King"; and "The Time of Murder at Mayerling". All are novels based on true events in history - events, however, shrouded in enough mystery and intrigue that there are many possible, and plausible reasons for many possible, and equally plausible outcomes. I have yet to read these other titles, but shall look for them. I hope that you do!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Review - The Crown Rose

Hmm ...... this novel of medieval France by Fiona Avery is a hard one to categorise.

Okay - it is basically a story of the early life of St. Isabelle of France - daughter of Blanche of Castile and sister of St. Louis. It roughly covers her younger years from the period of 1234 to 1242 - the last chapter catching up with Isabelle in her last years.

It is a curious novel as is delves into the mystique of local French legends, religious relics and secret societies - so be warned, this is not a "straight" biographic retelling of the life of a medieval saint.

The "relationships" between the French royal family, and with those around them, makes for an interesting by-play.

But to quote the inside jacket of the book:

"The Crown Rose portrays the mystery of one man who enters Isabelle's life at several key moments, becoming her icon, her soul's other half, and her destiny - a man who may, in fact, be much more that an ordinary man."

You really have to keep reading it to discover the mystery of this Man - I literally could not put it down. I kept wanting to have a break from reading, but couldn't - so I sat and read, and read till finished.

Look I enjoyed this book - and will most likely read it again within the next six months.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Review - The Lost Letters of Aquitaine

This novel by Judith Koll Healey is known in the US as "The Canterbury Papers" - and is a rolicking good "girl's own adventure" starring the much maligned Princess Alice or Alais of France.

When I first read this book (this was my second reading) I was a bit iffy on the whole premise of a Princess of the Royal House of France being sent on some secretive quest to retrieve some incriminating letters written by the redoubtable Eleanor of Aquitaine. But it works!

Setting the Scene:
Year 1200 - Princess Alais, former betrothed of Richard Plantagenet and former lover of his father, King Henry II of England, is sent on a mission by Eleanor, wife to Henry and mother to Richard, to retrieve some letters written long ago, and secreted in Becket's altar at Canterbury Cathedral.

What ensues is a tale of adventure, which sees our Princess crossing the Channel to England, and back again to France; she is abducted, rescued and ultimately pursued by ruthless King John who believes that she holds the key to some long lost secret that could threaten his position as King of England.

Enter Stage Left the mysterious Knights Templar - what secrets do they hold and what pressure can they bring to bear against King John.

The Reality:
Could Alais have undertaken such a mission - it is indeed possible as much of Alais' life after the death of Henry II is sparsely documented.

What we do know is that Alais (to continue with the spelling of her name as per the novel) was indeed betrothed to Richard and became the mistress of his father Henry II whilst Eleanor was a prisoner.

Did Alais have any children by Henry II - it depends on what documents you read - yes there is the possibility that a fertile young girl would ultimately give birth to a child or number of children in a situation where the King was "exercising his masculine prowess" - he was apparently no slouch in the sack. Four children are ascribed to Alais and Henry II - no names or the genders are given and they are presumed to have died young.

Alais was ultimately sent back to France (1195) and was married, at age 35yo, to William Tavlas, Count of Ponthieu. She was mother to three daughters, one - Eleanor - would be the grandmother of Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I.

There are many twists and turns - careful reading is required - but highly absorbing!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Marianne North

(1830 - 1890)
Botanic Explorer

This extraordinary young British woman discovered plants and painted or drew them in a scientifically and extremely accurate manner. She undertook many a journey: Syria, the Nile, Sicily, North America, the West Indies, Brazil, Japan, Borneo, Java, Singapore, Sri Lanka and India.

Marianne painted many hundreds of pictures, preferring to dedicate herself to this work in the solitude of jungle huts rather than being feted by the local hierarchy. She paid for the building of a gallery at the Kew Botanical Gardens, which opened in 1882. This gallery still contains over 800 of her works.

One previously unknown tree she had drawn - the capucin - was subsequently named "northea" after Marianne, and she is also commemorated by the "crinum northianum", the "kniphofia northiana ' and the "nepenthe northiana".

More on at PlantExplorers and on Victorian Web.

Florence Baker

(c.1836 - 1916)

This young Hungarian woman, aged 17 years old, was on the verge of being sold to a Turk by her ex-nurse, when renowned explorer, Samuel Baker, bought her and took her as his wife.

Florence accompanied Samuel on all his major travels, including his search for the source of the River Nile. Both had been given up for dead when, after many harrowing hardships, they finally regained contact with civilization to give details of one of the sources of the Nile - Lake Albert.

When Samuel returned to the Equatorial regions of the Nile and was given command of a military expedition to stop slave-trading, she still remained as his most constant companion and partner throughout all these many dangerous excursions.

Later, Samuel and Florence visited India, Japan and America.

Biography of Florence Baker from the National Portrait Gallery.

Elizabeth Blackwell

(1821 - 1910)

Elizabeth was the first woman to obtain a medical degree in the USA.

Elizabeth was a naturalised American (1849) - having been born in the UK, and settling in America aged 11 years old with her family.

In American at this time, women were not allowed to study medicine in the medical colleges nor did many other colleges allow them to do so. Elizabeth was finally accepted by Geneva Medical College, New York (1847) and graduated two years later (1849). from there she continued her medical education in Europe - she spent time in Paris where she was only accepted as a student midwife. However, most of Elizabeth's time was spent at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London.

On her return to New York, Elizabeth faced seven years of loneliness and difficulties; she was ignored by her medical colleagues and barred from the city's hospitals and dispensaries; she received abusive anonymous letters and found it impossible to persuade anyone to rent her suitable consulting rooms.

Despite these initial difficulties, Elizabeth was responsible for the establishment of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children (1857) and for the Women's Medical College of the New York Infirmary (1868).

Elizabeth returned to England (1869) for good. She encouraged Elizabeth Garret and Sophia Jex-Blake in the desire to become doctors, and Florence Nightingale in her life's work.

Elizabeth left behind her in American, another women she had encouraged to become a doctor, Marie Zakrzewska (d.1902) - the Resident Physician of GM of the Infirmary for Women and Children.

Biography of Elizabeth Blackwell

Caroline Herschel

(1750 - 1848)
German Astronomer

Caroline was the sister of Friedrich Herschel, who lived in England. He was a musician whose hobby was astronomy - his hobby developed so well that he asked Caroline to leave Germany (1772) and help him in England.

Together, Friedrich and Caroline built their own telescope, including the immensely precise grinding and polishing of the lenses. They began to study the universe - she took down data and performed the innumerable calculations connected with them.

Friedrich read his first papers to the Royal Society (1780) - he discovered a new planet - Uranus (1781) and became Court Astronomer (1782). All of these activities involved Caroline.

Meanwhile, Caroline herself carried out her own investigations and independently made discoveries of nebulae and no less than eight comets (1780 - 1797). She was also in a position to inform the Royal Society of 560 missing stars from the "British Catalogue" (1797).

After the death of her brother Friedrich (1822), Caroline compiled a new Catalogue of the 2500 stars discovered by him.

More on Caroline Herschel

Etheria (Aetheria)


This remarkable woman was a Spanish Nun who journied to the Middle East toward the end of the 4th century. She recorded detailed descriptions of the years' daily liturgical activities in Jerusalem, especially the re-enactment, on location, of the Palm Sunday procession and other events during Holy Week leading up to Easter. This practice was all new to her.

Her writings have shown scholars that the impetus to change the widespread Christian was of merely fasting a week before Easter into symbolic enactments actually emanated from Jerusalem itself.

Visit: "The Pilgrimage of Etheria"

Katharine Sheppard

(1848 - 1934)

This pioneering woman was responsible for achieving the first vote for women.

Katharine was a woman of great charm, inflexible determination and a sound administrative ability. When the New Zealand branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was started by the American, Mary Leavitt (1185) during her worldwide campaign, Katharine was appointed Superintendent of the Franchise Department, responsible for organising Franchise Departments throughout New Zealand.

When the Parliamentary program for the coming session (1888) included a new Electoral Act, Katharine developed and submitted a petition from the WCTU asking for women to be included. For the next few years the debate and struggle for the womens' vote ebbed and flowed within the House of Representatives, with the WCTU pressure group nudging MP's (members of parliament) along. A petition containing 100085 women's signatures was collected (1891) from WCTU areas and sent to both the House of Representatives and the Legislative Council.

More delays provoked a telegram from Katharine to the Legislative Council. However, at the Senate Reading, the Bill was rejected. A fresh petition containing 20774 signatures was presented (1892) - a counter-petition was organised by the Liquor trade was also submitted. But, by year's end, and despite further Readings, there was still no vote for women.

Before the next Parliamentary Session (1893) the WCTU worked feverishly, visiting remote areas, holding meetings and collecting signatures till yet another petition, signed by a third of New Zealand women (31872) was submitted. By a majority vote, the Bill was passed (8/9/1893) by the Upper House - on the Third and final Reading.

But there still remained the Governor's signature. The Opposition sent the Governor a petition; Katharine wrote to himmon behalf of all women, and she received a telegram (19/9/1893) - the Governor agreed to the Bill. New Zealand women had the vote! They were soon followed by South Australia (1894), Western Australia (1899) and by all Australia (1902).

The women's vote was achieved worldwide:
Austria (1918), Belgium (1919), Brazil (1932), Bulgaria (1947), Canada (1918), China (1947), Denmark (1915), Finland (1906), France (1944), German Fed. Republic (1918), UK (1919), Holland (1919), India (1926) - but provincial vote only, Indonesia (1955), Iran (1963), Ireland (1919), Israel (1948), Italy (1945), Japan (1945), Jordan (1973), Norway (1913), Pakistan (1926), Philippines (1937), Poland (1918), South Africa (1930), Spain (1931), Sweden (1913), Switzerland (1971), Thailand (1932), Turkey (1933), USA (1920), USSR (1971) and Yugoslavia (1945).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ancient Pro-feminism

A couple of articles caught my attention today, focusing on the role of the feminine persona in historical times.

Royal Goddesses of a Bronze Age State by Marco Merola
According to this article, in the city of Ebla (Syria) " .... archaeologist Paolo Matthiae's team discovered two almost perfectly preserved figurines that confirm textual evidence for a royal cult of the dead focused on the city's queens." This cult of worship of the feminine deity occurred during the Bronze Age.

"Both figurines are intricate representations of women, which are rare in Near Eastern Bronze Age art. One, made of steatite and wood, is depicted with her arms arranged in a gesture indicating prayer. The second figurine holds a goblet and wears an ornate gold dress. Both seem to have been used in a ritual mentioned in a tablet from Ebla that describes how the city's dead queens became female deities who were then worshiped privately by their successors. Matthiae suspects the steatite figure depicts a living queen who would have prayed to the gold-covered figurine, itself a representation of a dead queen who had become a goddess."

You can read the rest of this article and glimpse the two figurines at the "From the Trenches" website.

She crucified her enemies and burnt London to the ground. Meet Britain's first feminist, Boadicea by Paul Johnson
A great introduction to one of ancient Briton's most feared warriors. Though Dio's quote with regards to the Iceni led uprising is a tad harsh: " ..... a
ll this ruin was brought about by a woman". However, we know that had the Romans been a little bit more subtle in their dealings with those they conquered, their Empire might remained intact for a while longer.

"We should not be surprised by this portrayal of her as a "baddie". Throughout history, one person's hero has been another's villain." says Johnson.

The rest of Paul Johnson's article can be read here on the "Daily Mail" website.

Edit: Saturday 9th February 2008
A couple more articles came to my attention today, so I'll add them below.

Sumaria's Mona Lisa
An article published in Gulf News reports on the re-discovery of this ancient artifact:

"The 'Sayedat Al Warkaa', a Sumarian 20cm facial curving, known among archaeologists as the Sumarian Mona Lisa, and which is more than 5000 years old, was found in a garden after the police and occupation forces received a report."

The rest of this short article can be read at Gulf News.

Ancient Queen's Tomb Discovered in Ibb by Mohammed al-Kibsi
From this article posted on 19th January 2008:

"Three tombs believed to date back to the Hemiriate dynasty have been discovered in the al-Usaibyah area of the al-Sadda district of Ibb last week.

The tombs housed three women, one of them believed to be a queen. Local sources from al-Sadda confirmed that golden jewels were found in the tomb, believed to be for a queen or a princess. Other jewels were found in the other two tombs. In addition, a bronze spear was found in a second tomb and a 70 centimeter sword in a third tomb. "

Dr. Abdullah Ba-Wazir, head of the General Authority of Antiquities and Museums, said: "that the site is a royal grave built in an artistic style indicating that the grave is of an important political person, presumably a woman. It may belong to the Himiriat period."

The rest of this article can be viewed at the Yemen Observer website.

Executed Today - Mary Stuart

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland was executed today, 8th February 1587.

My good friend, Jason, of Executed Today, has kindly permitted me to post a little blurb on Mary on his site. You can view the article here: Mary Queen of Scots.

What is "Executed Today" - well, its a rather interesting look at history through the executions of the famous and infamous. Jason presents a calendar of executions - a bit like 'this day in history".

A unique look at history - and a unique site, which if you haven't already dropped by you should, in the words of a famous Australian, "do yourself a favour" and take a peek.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Saturday Movie Mayhem

Today, and don't ask me how I managed it, I sat down and watched two DVDs in a row! This is a first for me, usually I manage to watch maybe a quarter of one over the space of a month, possibly because I am doing something else at the time.

Anyway, I watched "The Lion in Winter" with Kate Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. Only Kate can play the indomitable Eleanor of Aquitaine with such passion. And a very young Timothy Dalton in the original - my goodness, just how young was he - or rather, how old is he now??? I have both versions of "Lion" - one with Kate Hepburn and the other with Glenn Close. I am a little biased towards the original but don't get me wrong, Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart do a wonderful job.

A the second feature of the afternoon was "Witness for the Prosecution" with the enigmatic Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power and Charles Laughton. This is without a doubt the best EVER courtroom drama of all time. If you haven't seen this movie - find it and watch it!

So endeth my afternoon of inane pleasure - I doubt I shall ever see the likes of it for quite some time!

Review - Duchess of Aquitaine - Part II

This review of Margaret Ball's "Duchess of Aquitaine - A Novel of Eleanor" continues on from my previous post - "Review - Duchess of Aquitaine".

Okay - I finally finished the book - emphasis on the finally!

My thoughts - well, I am reminded of a novel on Eleanor's early years that I read over 20 years ago - the title and author escape me, but the image on the cover of the novel is still vivid - Eleanor, seated on a throne with the image of Abbot Suger standing ominously behind her.

Margaret Ball's novel deals specifically with Eleanor's life from the death of her father (1137) up until her impending marriage to Henry II (1152).

I am sorry, but for all of Margaret's bragging, I found the book rather stale. The blurb on the back " .... gloriously illuminates the life of one of the most powerful, resourceful, and fascinating women in all history .." is a bit of an over-statement. This could possibly be due to the fact that I am on extremely familiar terms with Eleanor myself, so I knew what was coming. Except for one little item - Sybilla of Anjou!

Yes, Margaret, you too failed in your "careful and sounder research". You made the mistake of many authors and biographers who preceeded you. Sybilla did not participate in the Second Crusade - her husband Thierry did, but not Sybilla. A little more careful research would have revealed that she was in fact in Flanders putting down a rebellion - which is documented. Or is this "artistic liberty" ??

As the novel ends in 1152, I will be presuming that a sequel will no doubt be forthcoming. A little more diligence Margaret a second time around.

And yes, dear readers, I do realise this is a novel - a fictional account of Eleanor's earlier years - but Margaret herself, put out the challenge - but I will leave it for you to do your own digging!