Tuesday 31 August 2010

"The Fair Maid of Brabant": The Life of Adeliza of Louvain, Queen of England

“It has not been granted to you from Heaven that you should bear a child to the King of the English… Perhaps the Lord has closed up your womb.”
- Hildebert, Archbishop of Tours in a letter to Queen Adeliza

Appropriately enough, Adeliza of Louvain’s career as Queen of England started with a shipwreck. This one incident in the English Channel, which occurred months before she even set foot in England, was to radically alter Adeliza's position in her new country. Initially, the marriage between Adeliza of Louvain and the recently-widowed King Henry I of England was supposed to bring some comfort and distraction to the King following the death of his first wife, the powerful and respected Matilda of Scotland. On the surface, Adeliza seemed to fit the bill perfectly. She was young, charming, beautiful and well-connected. Her father owned sizable territories in modern-day France and Germany and her mother was a descendant of the great Emperor Charlemagne. So proverbial was Adeliza’s prettiness that she was nicknamed “the Fair Maid of Brabant” and her personality had won her praise at the Imperial court in Germany. The marriage contracts between King Henry and Adeliza’s father, Godfrey, were signed in the spring of 1120, six months before the shipping disaster that would shatter not only Adeliza’s future happiness but also the welfare of England for a generation.

Monday 30 August 2010

"A well-formed woman of middle height, with a short and slender neck"

“The bones found in the place where Queen Anne Boleyn is said to have been buried are certainly those of a female in the prime of life, all perfectly consolidated and symmetrical, and belong to the same person... The remains of the vertebrae, and the bones of the lower limbs, indicate a well-formed woman of middle height, with a short and slender neck. The ribs show depth and roundness of chest. The hands and feet bones indicate delicate and well-shaped hands and feet, with tapering fingers and a narrow foot.”
- The 1876 pathology report on the remains said to be those of Anne Boleyn, Queen of England

Claire Ridgway at The Anne Boleyn Files discusses the 1876 exhumation of the bodies buried in Saint Peter-ad-Vincula's, amongst them the alleged remains of Anne Boleyn.

Friday 27 August 2010

Katharine Parr in the Movies

"Six wives. And the best of them's the worst." - The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

Everley Gregg was the first on-screen Katharine Parr in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), in which Henry's sixth and final wife was cast as a bossy but protective nursemaid during her husband's twilight years.

Deborah Kerr, perhaps best known for her role in The King and I, played an elegant and gracious Queen Katharine in the biopic Young Bess (1953), opposite Charles Laughton, Stewart Granger and Jean Simmons. With her red hair and alabaster skin, Kerr had a strong resemblance to the real Queen Katharine, although she was undoubtedly a more beautiful version of the original.

Real-life aristocrat, Sarah Beauchamp, daughter of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, played Queen Katharine in Hallmark's A Queen's Way (1953.)

Thursday 26 August 2010

Catherine Howard in the Movies

"So young, so beautiful, yet so corrupt." - King Henry VIII on the character of Catherine Howard in the BBC television series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)
"Love eternal, since yesterday afternoon, until tomorrow morning?" British actress and dancer, Binnie Barnes, as Queen Catherine opposite Charles Laughton in the Oscar-winning The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933.) The story of Catherine's love affair with the King dominated the movie, but Catherine was presented as both more worldly-wise and sophisticated than the real queen had ever been. The couple's first on-screen meeting can be watched here.

The Sexualisation of Anne Boleyn

Claire Ridgway at The Anne Boleyn Files criticises the over-sexualisation of Anne Boleyn's story in the modern media.

You can read Claire's full article here.
"It angers me that nearly 500 years on she is still being presented as the woman who tempted Henry away from his wife and beloved church, and a woman who even considered incest to keep her man and crown. Even some Anne Boleyn fans are presenting her as some kind of trophy wife, like a modern day footballer’s wife or celebrity. Others present her as a tragic heroine, a victim of a husband who sought revenge after being bewitched by her. Sometimes it seems that we haven’t moved on from the views of the likes of Chapuys, who called Anne “the Concubine” ... Why oh why do some authors and directors have to make it so that her rise to Queen was based solely on Henry’s sexual infatuation with her and her dangling her virginity as bait? It’s almost akin to people slurring a woman company director by saying that she only got to that position because she slept with influential people or because she’s sexy. Anne Boleyn is not the only victim. Elizabeth Woodville is often portrayed as a woman who used her descent from the mythical Melusine and her knowledge of witchcraft to trap Edward IV and to further her family. Marie Antoinette is depicted as a woman with a voracious appetite for both sexes. Eleanor of Aquitaine was so hot-blooded that she left her frigid husband, Louis VI, for Henry II, and had previously had an affair with her uncle... Alexandra, a member of the History Police group, summed up my feelings on this issue well when she commented on Boudicca, saying, “I think Boudicca was sexy because she was powerful, not powerful because she was sexy”. We are doing historical characters a grave injustice when we credit their success and power to sex and their sex appeal."

Wednesday 25 August 2010

"Popular's" Facebook Fan Page

My novel Popular, which will be released in the UK in the Spring of 2011, now has its own fan-page on Facebook, which can be accessed here.

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Anne of Cleves in the Movies

"If I do not please the King... will he kill me?" - Anne of Cleves in The Tudors (2009)

Elsa Lanchester was the first on-screen Anne of Cleves in the Oscar-winning The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). Shown here opposite Anne's fictitious lover, played by John Loder, Anne was shown as being clever and wily, deliberately making herself unattractive so as to extricate herself from marriage to the dangerous King Henry. In reality, Elsa Lanchester was married to Charles Laughton, who starred opposite her as Henry VIII.

In this still from the BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970), Elvi Hale is shown as Anne of Cleves, opposite Keith Michell as Henry VIII. Hale's performance and the script, written by Jean Morris, was the most historically accurate portrayals of Henry's fourth queen.

Monday 23 August 2010

Jane Seymour in the Movies

"She has the face of a simpering sheep. And the manners. But not the morals. I don't want her near me." - Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days (1969.)

Seen here in another role, Norwegian actress, Aud Egede Nissen, played Jane in the German silent movie Anna Boleyn (1920), one of the early epics of European cinema. She was the first of two Scandinavian actresses to play Queen Jane.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Anne Boleyn in the Movies

"I know my husband! He is a hunter... When he has sported, he will kill. 'Tis his nature. And I am the prey." - From the television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

British actress Laura Cowie, seen here as Anne Boleyn, played the role in the silent movie Henry VIII (1911.) She later married her on-screen co-star, Arthur Bourchier.

Considered one of the greatest German actresses of her generation, Henny Porten -  shown in a studio still - played the doomed Queen in the 2-hour long silent movie epic Anna Boleyn (1920), directed by Ernest Lubitsch.
"Isn't it a pity to lose a head like this?" Merle Oberon, seen here in the role, gave her break-out performance as Anne Boleyn in the Oscar-winning British costume drama, The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933.) Oberon, who went on to become one of the great beauties of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, had a relatively small role in the movie, with the story beginning on the day of Anne's execution. Yet, it was a memorable appearance and Oberon herself became fascinated by the character, hanging portraits of Anne in her Knightsbridge apartment. 
"I need an English teacher for the Dauphin." A poster for the French-language epic, Les perles de la couronne (1937), which chronicled the adventures of a fictitious set of royal jewels through history, with what would now be called an "all-star cast." Anne Boleyn was briefly played by Barbara Shaw, appearing as a young woman at the French Court and then later as Queen of England.

Friday 20 August 2010

British veterans jeer a woman arrested for defiling War Memorial

 'Disgusting' is indeed the word.

Wendy Lewis, 32, was jeered by a "Guard of Dishonour" of decorated British war heroes, when she arrived at Blackpool Magistrates' Court. She was arrested following a night of drunkenness in which she urinated on the Cenotaph, (Blackpool's war memorial to those who gave their lives in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts), before she proceeded to perform a sex act on a man nearby.

It is hard not to agree with the description of this woman as "Britain's most disgusting person."

It is good to see that the veterans made a showing at this woman's hearing to represent the memories of their fallen friends and comrades whose memory she insulted - and those of their families. It is only to be hoped that the British public treat Miss Lewis in precisely the same way. The manner in which this woman behaved is beyond the pale, insulting, disgusting and absolutely abhorrent. The fact that she showed absolutely no contrition, but instead told the soldiers to "f**k off" reveals exactly what kind of person she is - as if any further proof was needed.

The Press Association writes: -

A woman branded "Britain's most disgusting person" after urinating on a war memorial is on the run after fleeing court.

Wendy Lewis, 32, was given a "guard of dishonour" by angry war veterans - who she told to "**** off" when she appeared at Blackpool Magistrates' Court.

But she fled the building 20 minutes later and a warrant has now been issued for her arrest.

Lewis had been caught on CCTV relieving herself on the Cenotaph in the town before performing a sex act on a man in public.

She was found guilty of outraging public decency at an earlier hearing and was expected to face a community service order.

But Lewis, who arrived 40 minutes late for her 9.30am court appointment, promptly disappeared 20 minutes later before her case was called on in court.

Earlier, Lewis, of Princess Street, Blackpool, had run the gauntlet of angry old soldiers when she first arrived.

She covered her face with a hood and lashed out at photographers and TV crews as she walked to the court building.

A handful of veterans, proudly wearing berets and campaign medals on their blazers lined the court steps to form the "guard of dishonour" for Lewis. They clapped and shouted, "Disgusting!" as she entered the building.

Police officers will be on the look-out for Lewis and if she is arrested this weekend will spend it in the cells until court resumes on Monday morning.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Katherine of Aragon in the Movies

"Henry VIII had six wives. Catherine of Aragon was the first: but her story is of no particular interest - she was a respectable woman. So Henry divorced her."
- Introduction to the movie The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

British stage actress, Violet Vanbrugh, who played Queen Katherine in the silent movie Henry VIII (1911), based on the play by William Shakespeare.

American actress, Julia Swayne Gordon, seen here in an early publicity photo, played Katherine in the movie Cardinal Wolsey (1912).

  Seen sitting on the left is Hedwig Pauly Winterstein as Katherine in the German silent movie epic Anna Boleyn (1920.)

Henry VIII in the Movies

After some discussion on the Tudors on screen, I thought I would post an overview of Henry and his famous tribe of wives, as they've been portrayed on screen over the last 100 years.

 British theatre actor, Arthur Bourchier, in the silent movie Henry VIII (1911), shown here with actress Laura Cowie in the role of Anne Boleyn. The couple later united in real life and were married in 1912.

Monday 16 August 2010

Natalie Dormer to play another Queen of England

Two former on-screen Anne Boleyns are set to once again "compete," as they play the same Queen of England in movies to be released next year.

Helena Bonham-Carter, who played Anne Boleyn in the 2003 British television drama Henry VIII, and Natalie Dormer, who played Anne (above) across 21 episodes of the Showtime series, The Tudors, will both be playing the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth, who passed away at the age of 101 in 2002.

Sunday 15 August 2010

The Feast of the Assumption, 1524

"It would be so wonderful to see you all again for Assumptiontide, which we are marking with a supper and dance at Hever this year, as usual. I do so hope you can make it. Anne is back from London, as the Queen is on progress for the summer, and, as usual, she has been the most wonderful help to me, especially as this time of year always has such unhappy memories with the anniversary of Henry's death weighing upon my mind. Mary has come back from Leeds, where she and William have been decorating their new house together, although sadly William could not accompany her this time, as His Majesty had need of him. My husband, alas, remains in London for much the same reason and George has gone back to Oxford, to spend the holiday with some of his classmates... You asked about the Wyatts in your last letter. Well, old Sir Henry remains a martyr to the gout, as always, his eldest girl, Margaret, is at Court with Anne and she has come home at the same time and for the same reason. Her younger sister, Mary-Anne, is due to be presented as a debutante at Court, next summer, with my mother acting as her sponsor. Truth be told, I think she is rather looking forward to getting away and once it is decided whether she is to presented to the Queen or to the Duchess of Suffolk, preparations can begin in earnest. As for Tom and his wife, Bess, I am afraid I am at a loss as to what to tell you. In short, Jocasta, it can best be put this way - Tom has fallen in love with Anne who, quite sensibly, has rejected his advances, and Bess has fallen in love with anyone and everyone, except her husband. Their marriage is not just miserable but conspicuous in its misery, which  makes matters worse, as I know all too well from the behaviour of my brother in recent months. In any case, the Wyatts' marriage has caused quite the scandal, as only scandals which take place in either the London Set or in small, rural communities, can. And it is to Tom and Bess's great misfortune that they happen to be members of both.... Do write to me with all your news, With love and prayers, Elizabeth."
- A letter from Lady Elizabeth Boleyn to Lady Jocasta Howard, from The Rise and Fall of the House of Boleyn by Gareth Russell

Today marks the Feast of the Assumption in the Church Calendar and the extract below comes from an incomplete novel of mine, The Rise and Fall of the House of Boleyn

In this scene, some members of the Boleyn family are spending the summer of 1524 at their main residence, Hever Castle, in the southern county of Kent (above.) Kent, which is known as the "Garden of England," was much-loved by the Boleyns and despite having homes in Essex, Norfolk and London, as well as dozens of minor manors across the kingdom, Hever remained their favourite castle.

In the summer of 1524, Henry VIII had not yet declared his interest in the youngest of the Boleyn children, Anne, and her elder brother, George, had recently been betrothed to the society heiress, Jane Parker. The eldest Boleyn, Mary, had been married for four years to the courtier and art collector, Sir William Carey. Also in residence at Hever are the girls' mother, Lady Elizabeth, and their Anglo-Irish grandmother, Lady Margaret, daughter and co-heiress of the Earl of Ormonde, who, today, would be described as "Ascendancy" class.


As events transpired, Tom Wyatt was not to lay eyes on Anne again until a full six weeks after her seventeenth birthday, when the impending Feast of the Assumption made it impossible for him to avoid her any longer. It was traditional that, on some of the great Holy Days - mainly the Epiphany, Easter Sunday, the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the Assumption and All Saints' Day - the most prominent families of the Weald would congregate in one of the families' parish chapels to attend Mass together. Tom had been in London for Saint Peter and Saint Paul's Day, meaning that he had mercifully avoided the Boleyns' company, but with the arrival of the Assumption and his return to the family home at Allington, he could not put off a reunion any longer. Moreover, when Tom had discovered that, this year, the Assumption was to be marked by a Mass at St. Peter's Church, "the Boleyns' chapel," and had subsequently tried to wriggle out of attending, his ailing father had insisted he attend, in order to pay his respects to the new Earl of Kent, who would almost certainly be there, now that the mourning for his late father had ended.

Riding past Hever on the way to the church, on that predictably sweltering Assumptiontide, Tom could see lanterns, tables and decorations being set out around the gardens of the castle by a busy army of servants, all at Anne and Elizabeth's instructions, he presumed. A small statue of the Virgin had already been installed near the bridge, with poesies of flowers clustering around her feet. From somewhere in the grounds, he could hear the voice of three maids cheerfully singing Star of the Sea in honour of the Holy Mother. Later, there would be music and dancing far into the balmy evening in honour of the Assumption and the overwhelming aroma of the flowers the Boleyn women had clustered around their garden as decoration for the night-time ball wafted softly through the heavy summer morning air. Hever always reminded him of Anne and seeing the castle and its gardens abuzz with preparations that bore all the hallmarks of her sensibilities, Tom felt a new sense of foreboding at seeing her after their last, disastrous meeting.

The Princess Royal at 60

Lord Belmont in Northern Ireland carries news on the official birthday portrait of Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal (above), who turned 60 today.

The Daily Mail gives an account of Princess Anne's dress.

I very briefly had the opportunity to be presented to Her Royal Highness at the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland's Garden Party at Hillsborough Castle in 2009 and I have to say from that very, very brief meeting she seemed down-to-earth and charming, with a very wry sense of humour.

Friday 13 August 2010

"Northern Ireland's Union with the United Kingdom threatens Protestantism"

"[Irish]Republicans often ask how can they persuade Unionists to think more positively towards their 32 County Nirvana. With British Unionists, they’re genuinely wasting their time- our long term aim is not to ensure the survival of a religious faith but to help the Northern Irish enjoy the same kind of social and cultural freedom enjoyed by our fellow citizens in the rest of the UK."

The above quote is taken from a brilliant on-line article from the blog A Pint of Unionist Lite, which reflects upon the recent pronouncement by Rev. Foster, a former political ally and then an opponent of Rev. Ian Paisley, once he felt Dr. Paisley had become too liberal. Yes, you heard me.

The comments were made in the Newsletter's Unionism 2021 series, reflecting what a broad church Unionism has become now that the centenary of the Partition of Ireland, which was so frequently described as a short-term aberration in Ireland's history, is a mere eleven years away.

Basically, Rev. Foster declared that the United Kingdom is an unholy place and has thus sacrificed the loyalty that the people of Ulster placed in it 100 years ago. The good Reverend writes: "Now its secularism, its multi-faithism, its hatred of all things scriptural, its abandoning of the moral standards considered sacrosanct but a generation ago, and its embracing of the aspirations of those regarded deviants until recently, make it as uninviting as was Sodom to Abraham."

Ah... what would Unionism be without the token pint of crazy?

Thankfully, the writer of A Pint of Unionist Lite captures exactly what I think of this kind of statement and it's refreshing to read someone whose Unionism correlates so closely with my own.


Daughter of the Church: The Life of Matilda of Scotland, Queen of England

"From the time England first became subject to kings, out of all the queens none was found to be comparable to her, and none will be found in time to come, whose memory will be praised and name will be blessed throughout the ages."
- The Hyde Chronicle

For seventeen years after the death of Matilda of Flanders, England had no queen. William the Conqueror followed his wife to the grave four years later, to be succeeded in England by his son, William II, who for his own reasons decided not to marry. When William died and was succeeded by his brother, Henry I, in 1100, the new King married for reasons very similar to his father’s – his chosen queen was a princess of unassailable royal ancestry and famed for her piety. The two queens even shared the same Christian name and, in fact, the new Queen Matilda had been the god-daughter of the old. Unlike her predecessor however, the new Queen was not beautiful. One of her champions rather kindly said that the Queen’s appearance was ‘not entirely to be despised.’

Beauty or no beauty, Matilda of Scotland, Queen of England, had an august lineage and, as the career of her predecessor showed, such things mattered at that time. Matilda could claim in her family one parent who was to become a character in a Shakespearean play and another who was to become a Catholic saint. Her father, Malcolm III, King of Scots, was the hero whose victory heralds the end of Macbeth, whilst Matilda’s mother, Queen Margaret, was an English princess so famed for her religious zeal that she was to be canonised in the 13th century by Pope Innocent IV. Four of Matilda’s brothers and one of her half-brothers – Duncan II, Edmund, Edgar, Alexander I and David I – were to wear the Crown of Scotland and her sister, Mary, was to become the mother of the Queen of England in the next generation.

Monday 9 August 2010

The Allure of Anne Boleyn

There is an old adage that well-behaved women seldom make history. No-one alive in the sixteenth century could have doubted that Anne Boleyn had made history and there were a great many who would have agreed that this was because she hadn’t been particularly well-behaved. She had gone down in a maelstrom of pornographic conspiracy, accused of multiple acts of sexual perversion and attempted regicide. Popular belief in her links to the occult was widespread amongst the lower classes, particularly in the north of England, eventually giving rise to the legend that she had had six fingers and various other marks of the Devil upon her body. Despite Anne’s plea of innocence, even in the face of death, many refused to believe that the King would have moved against her unless she had been guilty of at least some of the charges of adultery for which she had ostensibly been beheaded. A contemporary lawyer spoke for many when he ruled that ‘there was never such a whore in the realm,’ and Tudor loyalists, attempting to reconcile the Anne that so many of the elite had known personally with the nymphomaniacal Anne of the indictments, concluded that she had been ‘a woman endued with as many outward good qualities in playing on instruments, singing and such other courtly graces as few women of her time, with such a certain profession of gravity as was to be marvelled at. But inward she was all another dame than she seemed to be; for in satisfying her carnal appetite she fled not so much as the company of her own natural brother besides the company of three or four others of the gallantest gentlemen that were near about the king’s proper person – drawn by her own devilish devices’. For many, she was ‘the vicious Queen,’ ‘the misfortune that has happened to England’ and ‘the ruin of many pious and worthy men’.

For others, however, the Queen had been ‘more accused than convicted,’ ‘that most holy Queen,’ ‘God’s Nymph,’ ‘virtuous,’ ‘worthy,’ ‘the most beautiful of all in true piety and character,’ and the Queen Dowager of Hungary spoke for many when she said that no woman could afford to glory in the fate of Anne Boleyn. Much to his evident chagrin, the Spanish ambassador to London, who had loathed the slaughtered queen, was forced to admit that he could find no evidence to suggest that she had actually been guilty – although he was swift to clarify that this did not necessarily mean she had not somehow deserved her death.

Every point of Anne’s life – from the date of her birth to the reasons behind her destruction – has been the subject of historical “trench warfare,” and this fascination does not show any sign of abating. Since the publication of Marie Louise Bruce’s Anne Boleyn in 1972, Henry VIII’s second queen has been the subject of ten individual biographies, with a further two more on various specific stages of her life – a account of her early relationships and a thorough study on her imprisonment and death. She has featured as a character in fifteen motion pictures and eight television shows, being played by actresses like Merle Oberon, Vanessa Redgrave, Charlotte Rampling and Helena Bonham-Carter. There have also been treatments of her in the numerous biographies written about those who knew her – including her husband, her daughter, her stepdaughter, her illegitimate stepson, her sister, her sister-in-law, her cousins, Archbishop Cranmer, Cardinal Wolsey, Sir Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. She has been extensively analysed in the five published works on Henry’s half-dozen consorts as a collective that have appeared in print following Alison Weir’s best-selling The Six Wives of Henry VIII in 1991 and there was also a ferocious academic spat over her destruction between four academics, played out in the usually far-more sedate pages of the English Historical Review.

Many who read this blog know that over the next five years, along with my other projects, I will be researching a biography of Anne myself and I was touched that many encouraged that decision after reading my series back in May, chartering Anne's downfall day-by-day from May 1st to May 19th. But, many may justifiably ask - why the need for another treatment of Anne's life? Well, truthfully, part of it is sheer egotism. Having studied Anne for years, I believe that I have constructed a believable portrait of her and whilst I agree with a lot of what has been written about Anne by modern writers, I disagree with much as well and the areas in which I believe mistakes have been made are important ones.

Less egotistically, but with equal selfishness, writing a biography of Anne Boleyn is both hugely enjoyable and perpetually intriguing. Her ability to fascinate shows no sign of dimming, death and time not withstanding. Like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, Anne Boleyn is a creature of infinite variety, which age has not withered nor custom rendered stale. Her story is dramatic, engaging and possesses a gradient of catastrophe which still has the power to boggle the imagination. The proliferation of novels, operas, plays, television shows and movies based on her life, however loosely, are a testament to the selling-power of that story. Agents, being agents, do not commission what will not sell.

Paradoxically, it is this aspect of her life which turns so many people off studying her - much less from taking her seriously. Whilst none of my tutors made such a mistake, many of my fellow undergrads at Oxford seemed to regard Anne Boleyn with a sort of snobbish intellectual disdain. The unmistakable impression conveyed was that she was a footnote to history, not a factor, for it is a sad truth that so many of those who fancy themselves to be historians believe that if something is interesting, it cannot also be important. And if it is a subject of popular interest, as well, then that is even worse.

Sunday 8 August 2010

"Popular" book cover (U.K. Edition)

I am very pleased to be able to show-off the book cover for my first novel, Popular. The novel, which follows the adventures of a group of Belfast teenagers, all of them struggling to fit into the popular clique governed by the beautiful but Machiavellian Meredith Harper, will be published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland in 2011 by Puffin.

Popular has a Facebook fan page - "Popular" by Gareth Russell - and in the next weeks and months, there will be more on-line information about it and its sequels.

The wonderful cover illustration of Meredith Harper is by Gavin Reece at New Division.



MEREDITH HARPER is rich, popular, manipulative and almost unnaturally beautiful. At the age of sixteen, she’s already a social legend.

IMOGEN DAWSON, beautiful and sexy-chic, she’s Meredith’s best friend and a total bombshell. And doesn’t she just know it. Then there’s . . .

KERRY DAVISON, daddy’s little princess with a passion for pink and a penchant for Fabulous Induced Breakdowns. Now meet

CAMERON MATTHEWS, six-feet tall, blue-eyed and the most popular guy in school.

Together they’re unfathomably gorgeous and, like, totally beau. But under the glamorous surface of parties and spa-days is a wealth of comforting lies and convenient silences, bitching, break-ups and scandal.

Let the games begin . . .

Medical Team Slaughtered by the Taliban in Afghanistan

Above: Dr. Karen Woo, a British national, who was murdered today in Afghanistan

"Ten members of the Christian medical team — six Americans, two Afghans, one German and a Briton — were gunned down in a gruesome slaughter that the Taliban said they carried out, alleging the volunteers were spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. The gunmen spared an Afghan driver, who recited verses from the Islamic holy book Quran as he begged for his life."
- A.P. News Report

"The expedition will require a lot of physical and mental resolve and will not be without risk but ultimately, I believe that the provision of medical treatment is of fundamental importance and that the effort is worth it in order to assist those that need it most."
- The late Dr. K. Woo

A medical team was lined up and shot by Taliban terrorists in the Badakhshan provice of Afghanistan, it has been confirmed.

It is a terrible and senseless tragedy, reminding us - as if any was needed - of the sheer, appalling barbarity of the Taliban and of the courage of those, from both Afghanistan and the rest of the world, who go out to try and assist many of those whose lives are still being ruined by the fanaticism and cruelty of the Taliban.

It is also deeply, deeply sad to think of ten families tonight who are grieving and my thoughts and prayers are with them, for whatever they are worth.

The story is being carried by the Associated Press here and The Daily Telegraph here.

Friday 6 August 2010

Marie-Antoinette and Madame Etiquette

"Upon Louis XV's death, a stunned Marie Antoinette and now Louis XVI stood in their inner apartments of Versailles. Famously, they asked God to guide them because of the disadvantage of their youth. Of course, a court does not wait for prayers or thought; there was proper etiquette to be carried out right away."

The blog, Marie Antoinette's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century, reports on the death of Louis XV in 1774, when his young grandson was proclaimed King Louis XVI, with his 18 year-old wife, Marie-Antoinette of Austria, standing by his side.

The young couple had been waiting for a few days for the old King to succumb to his agonising death from smallpox and amidst their grief (the Queen was now leaning on her husband's arm, crying), they were forced to endure the elaborate ritual of the courtiers and aristocrats of Versailles swearing an oath of allegiance to their new Sovereign, moments after the bells began tolling to announce the death of his grandfather. Equally confused about this procedure were the other members of the Royal Family - the King's young brothers, the Comte de Provence and the Comte d'Artois, and their wives, Marie-Josephine and Maria-Theresia.

Luckily, on hand to guide the young King and Queen was Marie-Antoinette's chief lady-in-waiting, the impeccably proper Comtesse de Noailles (above, played by Judy Davis in the 2006 motion picture Marie Antoinette), whom the Queen had nicknamed "Madame Etiquette" because of her encyclopaedic knowledge of (and obsession with) royal decorum. Ordinarily, Marie-Antoinette found the Countess to be overbearing, stuffy and irritating, but in the midst of the confusion and pandemonium of the King's death, she was certainly glad to have Madame de Noailles on hand to tell them what to do, introduce the right people and guide them around the room to receive the requisite protestations of loyalty.

For more on the story of the etiquette surrounding the death of Louis XV and the proclamation of Louis XVI, read the Gossip Guide's account here.

New York condemns two men to jail for a vicious hate crime

"What you did was beyond the comprehension of any civilized person."
- Judge Patricia DiMango

"I want to offer my deepest, humblest apology for the outcome of that night. I swear to God that is not what I intended to happen."

- Keith Phoenix, defendant

Two men in New York have been condemned to 37 years in prison, each, for beating two Ecuadorean brothers to death, when they mistook them for a gay couple, back in December 2008.

Firstly, it makes me embarrassed at how ludicrously lenient sentencing laws are in the UK, when compared to the US, particularly for a crime as heinous as this.

Secondly, it sounds to be very much like the men in question are a bit like the thief who got caught - i.e. not in the least bit sorry they stole, but awfully sorry they're going to prison.

For more on the story - read here.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

"Madame Royale" out in paper-back

I was honoured and delighted to be asked to write an endorsement for Elena Maria Vidal's new edition of Madame Royale: A Novel, which you can read more about on the author's blog.

Madame Royale has now be re-issued in paper-back and on Kindle.

For this blog's review of its prequel, Trianon, click here.

Monday 2 August 2010

The Feast of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels

Today is the Feast of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels. In the great medieval epic, Dante's Divine Comedy, perhaps one of the finest works of European literature, in which the author takes an imagined journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, Dante and his dead love, Beatrice, reach the section of Heaven where the Virgin sits, surrounded by an angelic host singing of their love for "the Rose in which the Word Divine became incarnate."

Dramatised in Paradiso, Canto XXIII of the Divine Comedy, in Dante's presence, the angels sing: -

"I am Angelic Love, that circle round
The joy sublime which breathes from out the womb
That was the sanctuary of our Saviour;
And we shall circle, Lady of Heaven, while
Thou followest thy Son, and mak'st diviner
The sphere supreme, because thou enterest there."

Thus did the circulated melody
Seal itself up; and all the other lights
Were making to resound the name of Mary.

Thereafter they remained there in my sight,
"Regina coeli" singing with such sweetness,
That ne'er from me has the delight departed.

Although the Inferno section of the Divine Comedy is much more famous than those chronicling the author's imagined version of Purgatory and Paradise, it is definitely worth reading all three, if one has the chance. Dante's work still has the power to move and shock, in equal measure, not just because it captures the sheer depth and sophistication of medieval piety, which is all too often dismissed as being simplistic, intellectually-backward nonsense but also because in the midst of his fantastic writing - merging both theology and imagination - there is something still profoundly heartbreaking about the fact that when it came to picking a guide to take his autobiographical self through the splendours of Heaven, Dante chose the figure of his deceased love, Beatrice, a tragic declaration of how much he still missed her and how he hoped one day to be re-united with her.
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