Tuesday 27 September 2011

27th September, 1501: Katherine of Aragon sets sail for England

On The Anne Boleyn Files, Claire Ridgeway discusses the day the fifteen year-old Katherine of Aragon left her native Spain to marry into the English royal family. Due to adverse weather conditions, the Infanta's trip had already been forced to turn back to Spain once before, but, this time, the new captain, Stephen Butt, sent all the way from England by King Henry VII, carried the flotilla out into the Atlantic and towards England.

Monday 26 September 2011

The Kings and Queens of England

A full table of the Kings and Queens of England, with their consorts. I also profiled the same for the French monarchy in an earlier post. Ordinarily, the lists start in 1066 with William I's conquest of England, a move which many academics deplore, understandably. Although that is admittedly where I also usually start my list, under the influence of "1066 and all that," this list starts at a shakier point in our royal knowledge - 802 A.D. For some reason, we British lost France's excellent ability to pick amazing sobriquets for our monarchs at precisely the time we were conquered by a French duke... Elizabeth I made a solid effort to revive the custom in her favour, though.
(802 - 1013, 1014 - 1016)

EGBERT (802 - 839). He is said to have married Redburga, a princess of the Franks and the Holy Roman Empire.

AETHELWULF (839 - 856). He married twice; firstly to Lady Osburga and after her death to Princess Judith of France. After his death, Queen Judith married the next King of England, Aethelbald.

AETHELBALD (856 - 860). He married Judith of France, Dowager Queen; after his death, Queen Judith married Baldwin I, Count of Flanders.

AETHELBERT (860 - 865). He never married.

AETHELRED (865 - 871). He married Lady Wulfthryth.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

September 21st, 1819: The birth of a granddaughter of France

On the twenty-first day of September 1819 in the Élysée Palace, today the official residence of the French President, the most beautiful member of the French Royal Family, Princess Caroline, Duchesse de Berry, went into labour. A southern Italian princess by birth, Caroline was the daughter of Francesco I, King of the Two Sicilies, and his Austrian queen, Maria-Clementina. At the age of seventeen, Caroline had been married to Charles-Ferdinand, Duc de Berry, the King of France's youngest nephew. A glamorous and attractive pair, the Duke and Duchess had been married for just under three years when she gave birth to their first child and there was much expectation resting on the young Duchess for the event.

Despite the fact that the Duke was the younger son of another younger son, the genetic bad luck of that generation of the French royal family and the violence of the Revolution had placed him much closer to the throne than he might have been under ordinary circumstances. His eldest uncle, Louis XVI, and his little cousin, Louis XVII, had both perished in the Revolution. With the monarchy restored, his middle uncle had chosen to rule under the name Louis XVIII, to suggest continuity with his family's pre-revolutionary rule. But the current king, clever and morbidly obese, was childless and his queen had died years earlier, leaving the king's younger brother, the handsome and ultra-conserative Charles, Comte d'Artois, as next-in-line. Charles, the Duke's father and Caroline's father-in-law, had two sons, of which the Duke was only the youngest. Yet, the Duke's elder brother, Louis-Antoine, had been married for twenty years and there were still  no sign of any children. Depending on which clique you listened to at court, it was either because Louis-Antoine was impotent or because his wife was barren after the psychological traumas she had endured during her imprisonment under the revolution. Either way, in time, the crown would eventually pass from the current king to the Duke's father and then his brother and then, finally, to him. 

With the expectation that the Duke would one day sit on the French throne as King Charles XI, with Caroline as his queen, there was added pressure for her to produce a son. On September 21st 1819, however, she was unable to oblige. Instead, she gave birth to a daughter who was promptly christened Louise-Marie-Thérèse (above). "Louise" was given in honour of her godfather and great-uncle, the King, and "Marie-Thérèse", in honour of her aunt and godmother, Madame Royale.

As dramatised in Elena Maria Vidal's novel, Madame Royale, Princess Louise-Marie's life was not to be as happy or tranquil as royalists would have hoped. At the age of only five months, she lost her father when he was stabbed to death by a republican assassin as he left the opera one evening with his wife who was, already, two months pregnant as her husband bled to death in front of her. The Duke's death led to a backlash of anti-republican legislation and sentiment in France, with royalism in France losing its liberal base and becoming more and more dominated by conservatives of the far Right. When the old King died in 1824 and Louise-Marie's grandfather inherited the throne as King Charles X, he was determined to preside over a government with a policy of zero tolerance for compromise. Along with colonial expansion in Algeria and government support for the Industrial Revolution, Charles's government also curtailed the freedom of the press, limited the suffrage and promoted the Catholic religion so overzealously to the extent that one wit once quipped that it was a government for priests, by priests. Intent on atoning for the sins of his youth, Charles X apparently could not understand that the whole nation was not content for the government to insist they atone along with him. In 1830, the King was badly advised by those around him and betrayed by members of his own family, when he was swept off the throne in favour of his liberal cousin, Louis-Philippe. 

Louise-Marie, aged eleven, followed her poor grandfather into exile. She then lost her mother when Caroline bravely returned to France, determined to launch a counter-revolution and restore the crown to its rightful incumbent - her son, Henri. Caroline's attempt failed and she was placed under house arrest by Louis-Philippe's government. Locked up and isolated from friends or family, Princess Caroline fell in love with a handsome Italian nobleman, Count Lucchesi-Palli, whom she secretly married and had children with, much to the exiled Royal Family's fury.
Refusing to allow Henri or Louise-Marie to live with a mother they deemed so demonstrably unsuitable, the French Royal Family placed the children in alternative care. The real mother figure in the young Louise-Marie's life was not, therefore, the glamorous and unstable Caroline, but instead Caroline's former sister-in-law, Marie-Thérèse. The only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Aunt Marie-Thérèse had all of her late mother's love for family life and children, and her father's solid and dependable attitudes. From then, until the day she married at the age of twenty-five, Marie-Thérèse was the centre of Louise-Marie's world and she adored her aunt and guardian.

Married in Vienna to Ferdinando-Carlo, Prince of Lucca, Louise-Marie was destined to spend her whole life dodging the revolutions which intermittently rocked Europe and which had first begun in her homeland, thirty years before her birth. In 1848, three years after her marriage, her husband was briefly imprisoned when a wave of continent-wide unrest spread to north Italy. After his release, the Prince and Princess sought refuge with their young family in the United Kingdom, where Louise-Marie had spent much of her adolescence.

A year later, Ferdinando-Carlo and Louise-Marie returned to Parma, with their three young children - Margherita, Roberto and Alicia. Another son, Enrico, followed two years later. Then, tragically, a mere five years after they returned in triumph, Louise-Marie was to experience the same agony her mother had endured, when her beloved husband was stabbed to death by an unknown assailant. He died a day after the attack and Louise-Marie was forced to assume the burden of leading the government in the name of her 6 year-old son, Roberto, who had now succeeded as Duke of Parma.

In 1859, Louise-Marie's time as regent ended, when war and revolution once more entered Parma and she and her children were forced into exile again. They settled in Venice, where, exhausted at the age of forty-four, Louise-Marie, Dowager Duchess of Parma, passed away. Her body was taken to the Kostanjevica Monastery in Slovenia, where she was buried next to the other members of her family who had died in exile in the pretty local Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady. There, the body of the woman who was born at a time that had seemed like the high point of monarchism's triumph in Europe, but whose life had been constantly disrupted and devastated by its traumas, rests to this day.

Monday 19 September 2011

Sneak peak at the new Marie-Antoinette movie

Here are some stills from the new movie about the fall of the French monarchy, Les Adieux a la Reine, with Diane Kruger as Marie-Antoinette (above) and Virginie Ledoyen, as I expected, as Gabrielle, Duchesse de Polignac (below). The movie is based on the wonderful novel by Professor Chantal Thomas, the author of a non-fiction book on Marie-Antoinette's demonisation by the libellistes of the 1780s, and it tells the story of the final three days of life at Versailles from the viewpoint of Agathe, a fictional maid in the Queen's household, whose job it is to read to the Queen in the mornings. Agathe is played by Lea Seydoux, who also appeared as Queen Isabelle in Ridley Scott's recent adaptation of the Robin Hood legend, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. 

I'm very excited about this movie.

Sunday 18 September 2011

September 16th, 1701: The death of a deposed King

Stephanie A. Mann, author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation, marks the anniversary of James II's death in 1701. Having been overthrown in favour of his daughter and son-in-law in 1688, Britain's last Catholic monarch died in exile as a guest of his cousin, the King of France. He was survived by his second wife, Queen Maria-Beatrice, and their two children, Prince James-Francis-Edward and Princess Louisa-Maria-Theresa. In England, he was survived by his estranged daughter, Princess Anne, who had supported her father's deposition thirteen years earlier.

The late king was buried in Saint Edmund's Chapel in the Church of the English Benedictines, the main church of the English Roman Catholic community in Paris. Tragically, and as with most royal tombs in France, James's grave was desecrated during the French Revolution eight decades later and his body was destroyed.

Friday 16 September 2011

Review of a new biography of Mary Tudor

The superb blog Mary Tudor: Renaissance Queen reviews yet another biography of Queen Mary Tudor, by Oxford linguist and historian, John Edwards. Mary Tudor: England's Catholic Queen seeks to put Mary in her proper context as a mid-century European sovereign, rather than merely focusing on the alleged tragedies of her adolescence and private life. 

For the blog's excellent and expert review of Edward's biography, click here.

Monday 12 September 2011

Tatler's review of "Popular"

"Popular" has been named Book of the Month in the September 2011 edition of Northern Ireland's best-selling society magazine, Ulster Tatler! Given that the magazine features in "Popular" itself, I was really pleased and a huge thanks to Kellie Chambers for her amazing review (below). Kellie and her colleague, Nuala Meenehan, also came to see the industry preview night of Popular's first ever theatre adaptation in Belfast, last week - so another thank you to everyone at Tatler.

"With a tagline that reads, 'Have you got what it takes?', Gareth Russell's new novel focuses on Meredith Harper, a rich, manipulative, popular and unnaturally beautiful 16 year old who rules not only her school but Belfast's social scene with a designer clad fist. Her entourage is composed of best friend Imogen Dawson, a sex-bomb in the making; Kerry Davison, who has a passion for pink and a penchant for 'Fabulous Induced Breakdowns'; and Cameron Matthews, a six-foot tall, blue eyed hottie who is the most popular boy in school. Together they're unfathomably gorgeous and the envy of all their peers. However under the glamorous surface of parties and spa days is a wealth of comforting lies and convenient silences, bitching, break-ups and scandal.
As the first installment of a new series, Popular definitely packs a punch. What makes it such compulsive reading is without a doubt the creation of the fabulously fierce Meredith Harper. She is no way the heroine of the novel, instead she is pure villain. In much the same way Wicked tells the story of what it takes to make a witch wicked, Popular illustrates what it takes to make a 16 year old popular. As Meredith plays one friend against another, actively encourages immoral behaviour to suit her own needs, and openly insults anyone not in her clique, Russell creates a character you will simply love to hate. However I am ashamed to say, at points I was also in awe of her. The main reason for this is that Gareth Russell refused to make her a one dimensional, stereotypical character. Instead Meredith has many layers. As well as being beautiful and rich and manipulative, she is extremely clever and her barbed remarks are legendary. However Russell also allows the reader rare glimpses of Meredith at her most vulnerable and as a result he illustrates the humanity she desperately tries to hide.
Popular illustrates that the villain is often the most enthralling character. The novel has a moral compass in the form of Mark Kingston, a friend of Cameron's and the anthitheses of Meredith. However his life, which seems him hanging out with friends at the front of Belfast City Hall and having a marathon Lord of the Rings session, pales in comparison to the fascinating life Meredith leads attending the province's most fashionable events and appearing in social magazines, including yours truly, Ulster Tatler. In fact, even though Mark despises Meredith with a passion, even he can't help but be drawn to her.
 Packed with wicked humour, glamorous characters and razor sharp dialogue, Popular is likely to draw comparisons to the US hit Gossip Girl. Russell's expertly crafted novel is a hilariously refreshing read which is ingenious, entertaining and like nothing you have ever seen from Northern Ireland before." 

Sunday 4 September 2011

The Other Boleyn Boy?: Did Anne Boleyn have another brother?

Anne Boleyn is known to have been one of at least five siblings and whilst her elder brother and sister, George and Mary, grew into adulthood, it has always been assumed that her two other brothers, Thomas and Henry, died as children. Now, however, the historian Alison Weir is arguing in her new biography Mary Boleyn that, in fact, Thomas lived into early adulthood and died in 1520 - by which point his eldest sister, Mary, was already married, George was at court and Anne was completing her education in France. Weir's conclusions is based on the fact that the brass cross added to young Thomas's grave in Saint John the Baptist Church in Penshurst was not added until 1520, thus suggesting that Thomas in fact lived until either his late teens or early twenties before dying. 

However, Claire Ridgway at The Anne Boleyn Files has been hunting down the mystery of "the lost Boleyns" and isn't convinced. Instead, she argues that the traditional version of events which claims that only Mary, George and Anne lived to maturity is correct. You can click here to access Claire's full investigation into the mystery of the missing Boleyns, but her thought-provoking conclusion is that all the evidence which suggests young Thomas lived until 1520 is based on evidence that has either been misinterpreted or non-existent. Like a lot of Tudor history, unfortunately.
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