Who Killed Anne Boleyn?

Next month marks the anniversary of Anne Boleyn's death. The unfortunate Queen was condemned and executed on trumped-up charges of adultery and incest clearly meant to blacken her reputation forever. And yet few, then as now, believed she was guilty.

So what happened during that fateful May 1536? Who orchestrated the plot against her, and why? Due to the scarcity of primary sources that has survived to our day, it is impossible to say for certain, but theories, and suspects, abound. Let's examine them one by one, shall we?

Suspect 1: Henry VIII

The theory
Although the King, in public, acted as if all was well, there were signs that he had already begun to tire of Anne. When Anne complained about Henry's affairs, he simply told her to "shut her eyes and endure as more worthy persons had done" and that "she ought to know that he could at any time lower her as much as he had raised her."¹ Anne had also failed in her promise, and duty, to give him a son. She had miscarried of "her saviour" in either late January or early February 1536. It's around this time that Henry probably became convinced that this marriage too was cursed by God. But, having moved heaven and earth to marry Anne, Henry couldn't easily dismiss her without losing face. He also knew that, like Catherine of Aragon, Anne wouldn't go away quietly without a fight, and he didn't want to waste anymore years trying to get another annulment or divorce. Therefore, Anne had to die.

Supporting evidence

  • According to Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, Henry had told a courtier "that he had been seduced and forced into this second marriage by means of sortileges and charms, and that, owing to that, he held it as nul. God (he said) had well shown his displeasure at it by denying him male children. He, therefore, considered that he could take a third wife, which he said he wished much to do."²
  • Cromwell would never had dared to move against Anne without the King's consent and, in a letter to Bishop Stephen Gardiner, he referred to the affair as "The King's proceeding".³
  • Henry was happy that Anne had been arrested. During her imprisonment, he had "been going about banqueting with ladies, sometimes remaining after midnight, and returning by the river” and was in a joyous mood. A very different reaction to that he would have after learning of Catherine Howards' affairs. Then, he would be inconsolable.
  • There were many inconsistencies in the case against Anne. The dates on which Anne had supposedly committed adultery seem to have been picked at random as, on many of them, she was either pregnant, recovering from childbirth, or in a different place, away from her alleged lover. Henry also had had the marriage annulled, which should have absolved Anne from any crime she was supposed to have committed. After all, how can you cheat on a man you're not married to? But she was condemned and executed anyway.
  • Henry had told Jane Seymour not to meddle with his affairs, as that had caused the late Queen's downfall. He also warned Archibshop Cranmer, when his enemies were hatching a plot to bring him down, that false knaves could easily be procured to witness against him and condemn him. Had he procured them to testify against Anne?

Suspect 2: Thomas Cromwell

The theory
Cromwell and Anne disagreed on how the money resulting from the dissolution of the monasteries should be spent. Anne wanted it to go to the poor, while Cromwell to the crown and the King. Fearing that Anne would persuade Henry to bring him down, he chose to strike first. So, he went to Henry claiming he had found information that Anne had been unfaithful to him. A suggestible, paranoid, and malleable man, Henry asked him to investigate. Evidence was made up and Anne condemned to death.

Supporting evidence

  • Cromwell and Anne had disagreed on how to spend the wealth from the dissolution of the monasteries.
  • Chapuys mentioned in a letter that Cromwell had told him he "had planned and brought about the whole affair."²
  • Cromwell took advantage of this opportunity to bring down men who, like Sir William Brereton, were standing in the way of his policies.

Suspect 3: The anti-Boleyn faction

The theory
Jealous of the Boleyns' rise to power and their influence, especially in matters of religion, on the king, their enemies hatched a plot, which included supporting the cause of Jane Seymour, to bring the family down. The conspirators were the Seymours, the Marquis of Exeter, Sir Nicholas Carew, Baron Montagu and the Countess of Kildare. Cromwell was involved too. Therefore, as Eric Ives put it, "Anne’s fall was the consequence of a political coup and a classic example of Tudor faction in operation."*

Supporting evidence

  • Jane Seymour was groomed by her family on how to catch and keep Henry's interest.
  • All the plotters disliked the Boleyns, saw them as a threat to their influence and power at court, and had only to gain from their fall.

Suspect 4: Anne Boleyn

Anne was incapable of making the transition from feisty mistress to obedient wife. She had a temper, was nagging, and jealous of Henry, even going as far as to blame his affair with Jane Seymour as the reason for her miscarriage. She also indulged in courtly-love flirtations which, albeit innocent, could be construed as evidence for her alleged affairs. Worse, she had failed to give Henry a son and heir. So, Henry quickly tired of her. Her behaviour was then twisted to justify her trial and execution.

Supporting evidence

  • Anne's jealous personality.
  • Anne's failure to give birth to a son.
  • Anne's courtly love comments, such as "you look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the King but good, you would look to have me"** when talking to Norris, gave her enemies the ammunition they needed to construe a case against her.

My thoughts
Personally, I believe there is some truth in all these theories. Henry had tired of Anne and wanted to get rid of her fairly quickly; the Boleyn's enemies were willing and ready to exploit any problems between the royal couple for their own advantages; Cromwell had something to gain from Anne's fall; and Anne certainly didn't do herself any favours by not trying to curb her behaviour. But, ultimately, I believe that Henry is the real culprit. Whether he asked Cromwell to create false charges against Anne, decided to twist Anne's innocent courtly love comments when they started to circulate around court to frame her, or went along with a plot hatched by her enemies, pretending to believe Anne was really guilty of what she was accused of, doesn't matter much. What matter is that he was the one calling the shots, the only one who could stop a plot against Anne. And he didn't. Instead, he let her die.

What about you? Who do you think was responsible for Anne's death?

¹ LP vi.1069
² Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538,
³ LP x. 873
* Ives, Eric (1992) The Fall of Anne Boleyn Reconsidered
** LP x.793

Further reading:
The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir
The Life And Death Of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives

The King And Queen Of The Belgians Visit Niagara Falls

In 1919, the Belgian royal family toured the United States. One of their stops was Niagara Falls. Here's an account of their visit:

Since Louis Hennepin, the Belgian explorer, described Niagara Falls for the first time in 1663, much has been written about this wonder. Still, as Roosevelt said, one can only realize what these falls are really like when one has seen them with one's own eyes.

The King remained for a long while leaning over the railing of one of the rocks which dominated the falls. His wide open eyes and the delighted expression on his face showed his admiration for this great river which swept down in immense waves, hurling itself from a height of 167 feet. A column of mist and water-dust rose from the abyss across which a rainbow, like a jewel sparkling through golden hair, described its luminous arc. As one of the guides explained to our Sovereign, scientists calculated that it must have taken the river 35,000 to 75,000 years to gnaw through the coralline stone, which formerly made it change its course and precipitate itself at this spot. Fifteen million cubes of water fall there per minute.

From where he was standing, the King suddenly caught sight of little wooden bridges at the bottom of the roaring, boiling abyss which the daring Americans had built from rock to rock hardly more than a hundred yards from the foot of the cataract. The dauntlessness of our Sovereign is well known. He immediately expressed a desire to take the trip across the bridges. Wherever the King goes the Queen goes too. She also wanted to be part of the expedition. And naturally the "Suite" followed, among whom I knew more than one would have preferred not to step into the costumes which were given us.

Except for the helmet which was replaced by a rubber hood, it was really a diver's suit which they put on the royal pair and their companions. When the explorers came out of their cabins thus muffled up and met each other, everybody was frankly hilarious. Indeed, this coarse uniform was not flattering to our little Queen, who is always so graceful. We read on her face a real terror when she had to pass in front of the inevitable lenses of the herd of photographers and moving-picture men stationed, as they never failed to be, in every corner.

Huddled on the little bridges to which we descended, our little troop contemplated the gorgeous spectacle of the river, which crashed at our feet with a great noise like an immense cry of horror. Under the bridge ran the river, boiling and hissing with the speed of an express train, less than three feet away from us. A spray of rain lashed our rubber coats like hailstones and hit us in the face, while gusts of wind took our breath away. "You would think we were in the trenches," said General Jacques, twisting his long mustache from which water flowed fast.

The King and Queen were delighted with their little excursion to the bridges. "A walk like that is worth more than the cures in all our sanatoria,' said our Sovereign, smiling.

Further reading:
Across America With The King Of The Belgians by Pierre Goemaere

Historical Reads: The Marriage Of George And Jane Boleyn

Although there is no proof that the marriage of George and Jane Boleyn was unhappy, the myth persists. Clare Cherry, over at the Anne Boleyn Files, explains why. To quote:

So if there is no direct evidence to suggest how they felt about one another, then what is the assumption of an unhappy marriage based on? I think there are two premises that have created the assumption:-

George’s reputation as a womaniser.
The largely accepted view that Jane provided Cromwell with the evidence he needed to accuse Anne and George of incest.

Dealing with the first, the sole piece of evidence we have to suggest George was a womaniser comes from Cavendish’s ‘Metrical Visions’, and Cavendish is hardly an unbiased source. No other source mentions it, meaning there is no corroboration. That doesn’t mean I’m dismissing Cavendish. However much I admire George I’m not daft enough to think of him as a paragon of virtue. He was a typical sixteenth century man, when extra-marital affairs (on behalf of the man, of course) were an accepted part of marriage. Although ‘Metrical Visions’ was written twenty years after George’s death, Cavendish would have personally known George, and there’s no reason to suppose he was lying. I think it’s highly likely that George was unfaithful to Jane, just as many men were unfaithful to their wives, including Henry VIII. However, it doesn’t mean that they hated their wives, or that their wives hated them. It doesn’t mean their marriages were unhappy either. Jane, like Anne and many other wives, may not have been happy with any infidelity of her husband, but it certainly wouldn’t have surprised her.

The difference in George’s case is that, due to the extremity of the language, Cavendish’s verses have been used to argue he was a ‘notorious libertine’ to a greater degree than the average courtier. However, there was never any scandal surrounding George during his lifetime, and no rumours regarding his marriage. He was the Queen’s brother and one of the highest profile and influential of Henry’s courtiers. If his behaviour with other women had been ‘bestial’ then surely someone would have picked up on it other than Cavendish twenty years later? No one felt his behaviour was base enough to comment on, including the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who would have loved to demonise the young Boleyn brother had the opportunity arisen!

To read the entire article, click here.

Giovanna Of Italy

The last Tsaritsa of Bulgaria was an Italian Princess called Giovanna Elisabetta Antonia Romana Maria. Born in Rome on 13 November 1907, she was the fourth child of King Vittorio Emanuele III and Queen Elena of Montenegro. A bright, clever and kind little girl, Giovanna spent most her childhood at the Villa Savoia, under the close supervision of her strict governess. Being a girl, her duty in life was to marry a foreign prince to forge or maintain a political alliance. She therefore was given an excellent education that would make her fit for her future position. She studied English and French, history, literature, and music (she could play both the piano and the cello).

As Giovanna grew up, several potential suitors were considered, but, in the end, the choice fell on the Bulgarian Tsar Boris III. The two had first met in 1927 when the Tsar, together with his brother Kyril, was touring Europe. But on that occasion, the Tsar didn't pay much attention to the Italian princess. The couple then met again in 1930 at the wedding of Giovanna's brother, Crown Prince Umberto, to Belgian Princess Maria Jose. It was now that a marriage between Giovanna and Boris was proposed, but there was one obstacle: religion.

The Italian royal family was Catholic while Boris had had to become an Orthodox Christian to please his subjects. Pope Pius XI said that the Church would accept the marriage only on condition that any child resulting from their union was brought up as a Roman Catholic. Negation were difficult, although both the Tsar and Giovanna refused to marry anyone else. The princess vowed to join a convent if she couldn't marry Boris, while the Tsar threatened to remain a bachelor if he couldn't have Giovanna as his wife. Eventually, Boris agreed to the Pope's request (but refused to sign any agreement to that effect), and the couple tied the knot on 25 October 1930. A second, this time Orthodox, wedding ceremony took then place in Bulgaria. That day, Giovanna also took the Bulgarian version of her name, Ioanna.

In 1933, Ioanna gave birth to the couple's first child, Princess Marie-Louise. Much the Pope's chagrin, the baby was baptized into the Bulgaria Orthodox Church. And so too would be her brother and heir to throne Prince Simeon, born in 1937. Only Ioanna would always remain a devoted Roman Catholic, although she was very respectful towards the religion of her new country. The royal family lived a tranquil and happy life. According to the Tsarina, "the secret of domestic happiness is to be found in the kitchen," and she spent many hours there cooking meals for her family. She also did a lot of charity work.

But Europe was on the brink on war. And war broke out a couple of years later, when Hitler invaded Poland. The Bulgarian royal family hoped to stay out of the conflict. But when the Axis troops conquered and instituted pro-Nazi regimes in Easter-European countries such as Yugoslavia, Hungary and Romanian, the Tsar had no choice and reluctantly agreed to a limited alliance with Germany. According to the Tsar, his ministers were pro-German, while his people pro-Russian, his wife pro-Italian, and he himself neutral. Both Boris and Ioanna, though, were appalled and horrified by Hitler's actions, and refused to take part in any of his plans, particularly the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Germany, where they would have been murdered. The Tsariana personally intervened to procure visas for Bulgarian Jews so that they could escape to Argentina.

When the Tsar died after a brief visit from Hitler, in which the Nazi leader had berated him for being uncooperative, in 1943, there were rumours the Fuhrer had had him poisoned. His wife was distraight at her loss. She was also worried about her son. Simeon had become Tsar aged only 6 and there were now three regents ruling for him. Whether Hitler had really killed the Tsar is unclear, but he wouldn't harm Simeon. He couldn't anymore. Germany lost the war and, although Bulgaria hadn't taken part in the invasion of Russia, the Russians still invaded the country and forced it to become a Soviet satellite state. Then, the regents were murdered and the Communists staged a referendum to justify the abolition of the monarchy.

Ioanna was given only 48 hours to flee into exile with her children. They first sought refuge with her father, King Vittorio Emanuele III, in Egypt, and then to Spain, and finally to Portugal, where her brother King Umberto II lived after the fall of the Italian monarchy. Ioanna returned to Bulgaria in 1993, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to reinter the heart of her husband, which had been buried separately and thus had not  been destroyed with the rest of Boris' grave and remains in 1954 by the Communists. The people, remembering her kindness, welcomed her with open arms. Ioanna died on 26 February 2000 in Portugal, and was buried at the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, in Italy, where she had married her beloved Boris.

Further reading:
Boris III of Bulgaria 1894–1943 by Pashanko Dimitroff
Crown of Thorns: The Reign of King Boris III of Bulgaria, 1918-1943 by Stephane Groueff
The Mad Monarchist

The Battle Of The Pictures

William Hogarth originally engraved "The Battle of the Pictures" as a bidder's ticket for an auction of his paintings, which included sets such as A Harlot's Progress, A Rake's Progress and The Four Times of the Day. But the work also represents a scathing commentary on the action houses of his time, and the unethical ways in which they conducted their business.

Thomas Clerk, in his Works Of William Hogarth, explains the print thus:

On the right of the plate we observe an auction-room, on the top of which is a weather-cock, which has been thought to allude to Cock the auctioneer, with whom our artist was, at one time, not on very friendly terms. At the door is stationed a porter, with a huge stall“ in his hand; and, by way of a shewboard, a highly-finished head (after the Flemish school) is exhibited in a clumsy carved frame. Instead of the ordinary insignia of a sale (a catalogue and piece of carpet,) we here have at the end of a long pole an unfurled standard, blazoned with the auctioneer's arms, "the fate deciding hammer".

Beneath, an Apollo (whose godship is discernible only by the rays around his brow) is flaying Marsyas the satyr, who seems to undergo the operation with perfect indifference. Behind this stands a picture of St. Andrew on the cross, with a vast number of fac-similes arranged in goodly order; and by the saint's side is a host of Jupiters and Europas, disposed in a similar manner. These are all marshalled in battle array, as the unquestionable productions of the great Italian masters; although it is more than probable that some at least of these genuine originals were painted by their disciples.

On the left of the print, we behold a number of pictures in hostile array. We begin with the founder of the order of Franciscans. The corner of the holy saint's picture is driven through Hogarth's Morning; a weeping Madona is forcing her passage through the third scene of the Harlot's Progress; while the Aldobrandini marriage breaks into the splendid saloon of the disgusted couple in the second scene of Marriage-a-la-mode. Thus far the contest is favourable to the old masters. The aerial conflict, however, terminates differently. The riotous scene in the Rake's Progress (No 3) very unceremoniously perforates Titian's Feast of Olympus; and Midnight Modern Conversation penetrates a Bacchanaliau of Rubens.

David Bindman, in his Hogarth and his Times, further explains the unethical business practices of the time:

A witty reprise of the literary conflict between Ancients and Moderns, here shown as a battle of pictures rather than books. [...] The elaborate system of advanced bids was in itself a criticism of the doubtful practices of auctioning Old Master paintings, and an attempt to find a way of marketing modern paintings. Hogarth distances himself from the taste for old paintings, claiming his own paintings to be contemporary equivalents of earlier types. [...]The ranks of the Old Master paintings on the left suggest the mass production of dubious Old Masters for ignorant Connoisseurs and the essential speciousness of the market presided over by auctioneers such as Christopher Cock and dealers such as Robert Bragge.

Book Reviews: Queen Elizabeth's Daughter, Her Ladyship's Guide To Good Manners, & Demystifying Success

Hello everyone,

ready for today's book reviews? The first book is a Tudor romance, the second an etiquette manual, and the third a guide that will help young adults succeed in life. Let's get started:

Queen Elizabeth's Daughter by Anne Clinard Barnhill
Nope, the title doesn't refer to a fictional daughter of Elizabeth I. This is the story of Mary Sheldon, Elizabeth's favourite ward and cousin. Mary's parents died when she was very young, so Elizabeth took her in and brought her up like if she were her own child. And like all good mothers, Elizabeth wants what's best for her daughter. She believes that, for Mary, that's a marriage to a rich and powerful nobleman who can give her all the luxuries the young girl has grown accustomed to at her court. But Mary doesn't care about riches and, to Elizabeth's favourite candidate for her hand, Edward de La Vere, Earl of Oxford (who happens to be a nasty piece of work who treats Mary horribly when the Queen isn't around), she prefers John Skydemore, a widower with five children and a small fortune. Worse, he's a Catholic, at a time when Catholics plot to kill Elizabeth and put Mary of Scotland on the throne.
The mother-daughter relationship Elizabeth and Mary had, allows us to see the motherly side of the Tudor Queen. Elizabeth is very headstrong. Although she doesn't allow her "daughter" much freedom, she always has her best interests at heart, and believes that she's just doing what's best for her. Clinard Barnhill has done a great job at portrayed Elizabeth's interior struggles and contradictions. As a ruler she needs to show strength even when she'd like to be merciful, and her uncertain life has made her paranoid, weary of marriage and desirous to keep her loved one close to her. This has a huge impact both on her life and on those of the people she loves. As a result, Mary, a lovely and pure girl in the midst of a rapacious and lascivious court, is torn between her love and loyalty for the Queen and her determination to live her own life her own way.
Although this is a time of religious upheaval, political uncertainty, and all kinds of plot, the Queen's Daughter is mainly a romance novel. We get to see how the relationship between Mary and John blossoms and cheer the two lovers as they try to overcome all the obstacles put in their way. But as lovely as that is, there really isn't much action in the book, which, as a consequence, flows quite slowly at times.
The author has clearly done her research, and the book is full of small details that bring the Tudor court to life. At the same time, though, there are some passages, when she explains the political situation of the times, that read more like a textbook. I wish she had found a way to weave those into the narration seamlessly too.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book, and I highly recommend it to those who love a good Tudor romance or are curious to see how Elizabeth I fares as a mother.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Her Ladyship's Guide To Good Manners by Lucy Gray
Do you think that etiquette is dead or has become useless? Well, think again. Although social conventions aren't as strict as they used to be, it's still important to know what's the most appropriate conduct in a variety of occasions. By doing so, we shows our respect for other people in everyday situations, and feel more comfortable when we find ourselves attending important social events.
In this book, Lucy Grays gives tips about how to dress for different events, how to behave when eating out or travelling, how to write different types of letters and emails, how to act when you're staying at someone else's place, and a lot more. A whole section is dedicated to the etiquette that regulates the "rites of passage", such as christenings, marriages, funerals, and other religious ceremonies. This is particularly helpful for people who are invited to a religious ceremony of a different religion.
Because, as mentioned above, etiquette isn't as strict as it used to be, a lot of the tips here are given more as general indications of how you should behave, rather than as rigid laws to be followed at all costs. If you make a mistake, no one will think badly of you, but, when in doubt about something, it's always best to ask someone before the event how you are expected to dress or behave, or, once there, to look what other people are doing and follow their example.
Because the book was written by a British author for The National Trust, the target audience is obviously British. However, just because social conventions have loosened up everywhere in the Western World, the book still provide enough tips that could be useful to those living in other countries as well.
The book is written in a straightforward and engaging manner and flows easily. A quick read, I devoured it all in one afternoon. Overall, it's an informative and interesting guide that I recommend to anyone who would like to know the proper code of conduct in different social situations, are planning to visit Britain for more than a weekend, or are simply interested in etiquette manuals.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 3.5/5

Demystifying success: Success Tools and Secrets They Don't Teach You in High School by Larry M Jacobson
We all want to be successful, yet few of us are. So, we convince ourselves that, to succeed in life and make our dreams come true, we need to be rich, beautiful, young, or lucky. But that's not true. Everyone can be successful if they have the right tools. According to Jacobson, these are: self-esteem, money and time management, and planning and goal-setting. All important skills employed by successful people that, however, aren't taught at school and rarely at home. Most people just pick up their parents' habits, unaware that even them weren't taught how to manage their money, or their time, or how to reach their goals. Thus, they create a vicious circle that causes them to fail and to settle for less than they want and deserve.
No one told Jacobson what the tools of success were or how to use them. Therefore, for too many years he too played it safe, living a life he didn't like. He made many mistakes, until he figured out "how to strategically prioritize, plan, and most importantly, execute your goals for success" to attract the life he desired. And now he's teaching you how to do the same. It's not easy. It requires a lot of hard work, soul-searching, and sacrifices. But the rewards are worth it.
The book is full of anecdotes about the author's life and those of his mentors and friends, which allows the reader to relate to Jacobson and make him/her realise that, if he succeeded, so can they. Every chapter ends with a "call to action". These are exercises that will allow you to put in practice what you have learned in the book and will, if done regularly, allow you to pick up the right habits to succeed in life.
Although the book is targeted to teenagers and young adults, it provides tips that can benefit people of any age. The book really demystifies success, showing you what it really takes to reach your goals. And that's something you can do at any age. It's never too late, although, of course, the soon you start, the better. Highly recommended.
Available: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Are you planning to read these books?

Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

Joan Hassall’s Wood Engravings of Jane Austen's Works

Joan Hassall was an English book illustrator and wood engraver. Between 1957 and 1962, the Folio Society commissioned her to create wood engravings for new editions of Jane Austen's works. Here are a few; aren't they marvellous?






Madame Victoire's Religious Scruples

Like many Christians, Madame Victoire, daughter of King Louis XV of France, struggled with the privations of Lent, as Madame Campan, recorded in her memoirs:

Madame Victoire, good, sweet-tempered, and affable, lived with the most amiable simplicity in a society wherein she was much caressed; she was adored by her household. Without quitting Versailles, without sacrificing her easy chair, she fulfilled the duties of religion with punctuality, gave to the poor all she possessed, and strictly observed Lent and the fasts. The table of Mesdames acquired a reputation for dishes of abstinence, spread abroad by the assiduous parasites at that of their maitre d'hotel.

Madame Victoire was not indifferent to good living, but she had the most religious scruples respecting dishes of which it was allowable to partake at penitential times. I saw her one day exceedingly tormented by her doubts about a water-fowl, which was often served up to her during Lent. The question to be determined was, whether it was 'maigre' or 'gras'. She consulted a bishop, who happened to be of the party: the prelate immediately assumed the grave attitude of a judge who is about to pronounce sentence. He answered the Princess that, in a similar case of doubt, it had been resolved that after dressing the bird it should be pricked over a very cold silver dish; if the gravy of the animal congealed within a quarter of an hour, the creature was to be accounted flesh; but if the gravy remained in an oily state, it might be eaten without scruple.

Madame Victoire immediately made the experiment: the gravy did not congeal; and this was a source of great joy to the Princess, who was very partial to that sort of game. The abstinence which so much occupied the attention of Madame Victoire was so disagreeable to her, that she listened with impatience for the midnight hour of Holy Saturday; and then she was immediately supplied with a good dish of fowl and rice, and sundry other succulent viands. She confessed with such amiable candour her taste for good cheer and the comforts of life, that it would have been necessary to be as severe in principle as insensible to the excellent qualities of the Princess, to consider it a crime in her.

Further reading:
Memoirs Of The Court Of Marie Antoinette by Madame Campan

A Joyful Easter

Happy Easter everyone! I hope you have a wonderful day with your loved ones.

Historical Reads: Seven Fictional 'Marie Antoinette' Books for Younger Readers

Over at Reading Treasure, Anne Gibson recommends seven fictional "Marie Antoinette" books for younger readers. To quote:

Marie Antoinette, Princess of Versailles by Kathryn Lasky

'Princess of Versailles,' first published under Scholastic's Royal Diaries series, is probably the most popular fictional book about Marie Antoinette aimed at younger readers. 'Princess of Versailles' is a fictional diary from the point of view from a young Marie Antoinette which covers her life from a Archduchess of Austria through the early years of her marriage to the future Louis XVI of France. This is definitely "the" Marie Antoinette novel for younger readers and, for many people from my generation, was the 'gateway' into an interest in French history.

To read the entire article, click here.

Movie Review: Marie Antoinette (1938)

Marie Antoinette (1938) is often touted to be the best movie made about the unfortunate Queen of France. After finally watching it last week, I can see why. Based on the biography by Stefan Zweig, the movie covers the life of Marie Antoinette, from her teen years, when her mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, arranged her marriage to the Dauphin of France, to her death on the guillotine.

Norma Shearer gave one of her best performances, if not her best, as Marie Antoinette, perfectly capturing the Queen's charming and lively personality, and her evolution from a young and frivolous teenage girl into a dignified woman and devoted mother and wife. Her relationship with Louis changes over the years too. A painstakingly shy and reserved man, the Dauphin prefers to be alone than spend any time with his wife, who then turns to partying, gambling, and fashion to fill her lonely existence. But slowly, they learn to love and respect each other.

Shearer's face says it all when she watches her husband having dinner with her and their children for the last time before his execution. She's heartbroken, and so is the viewer, especially when their son asks Louis to fix his little tin soldier for him. The next scene, when just after Louis' death, their republican jailers come to take her son away from her, is even more harrowing. Marie Antoinette fought like a tiger to prevent it before finally being forced to give in. Shearer's performance is so moving in this scene and I defy anyone to watch it without shedding even a tiny tear.

Marie Antoinette's relationship with Fersen is, instead, still debated by historians. Here, the two are clearly in love and, when Louis XV decides to annul Marie Antoinette's marriage to Louis after the young girl insulted his mistress Madame Du Barry, it seems like there could be a chance for them after all. But their hopes are soon dashed when the King dies shortly afterwards. Marie Antoinette is now Queen, and she and Fersen say goodbye. But he never forgets her and, when the revolution breaks out, he comes back to help her and her family escape. The attempt fails, but the two manage to meet one last time just before her execution. That never happened, but it's a fitting end to their fictional relationship.

Usually, inaccuracies in movies irk me, but not here. Some events, like the Affair of the Necklace, were summed up in just a few scenes, while others, such as Marie Antoinette's first meeting with Fersen, re-imagined differently from how they happened. Dates and time-line are not always respected. Characters who played important parts in history are missing or appear only briefly. And yet, I didn't mind, and not just because a certain amount of artistic license is required in movies. No, it's because despite all its inaccuracies, the movie manages to be very historically accurate, perfectly capturing the personalities of the characters and the luxurious and decadent world they lived in. And that, being fair to historical figures, who were real people just like us, is the most important thing.

The costumes are amazing too. The designer, Adrian, studied Marie Antoinette's portraits very carefully to be able to accurately recreate her sumptuous and elaborate gowns. Unfortunately, because the movie ended up costing a lot of money to make, it was decided to shoot in black and white, which doesn't do the costumes justice. The settings are beautiful too. Part of the movie was filmed on the grounds of Versailles (apparently it was the first time a film crew was allowed that privilege), which only adds more poignancy to the story.

Marie Antoinette is a wonderful, albeit sometimes harrowing, movie that features talented actors (Tyrone Power played the charming Count Axel von Fersen; Robert Morley the shy Louis XVI, while John Barrymore makes the most of his few scenes as the ailing Louis XV), a poignant, mostly historically accurate plot, and marvelous scenery, costumes and music. I highly recommend to anyone interested in Marie Antoinette as well as lovers of epic historical films.

A Queen's Education

King Leopold I of the Belgians advised his niece, Queen Victoria, to study history:

Laeken, 18th October 1834

My dearest Love,—I am happy to learn that Tunbridge Wells has done you good. Health is the first and most important gift of Providence; without it we are poor, miserable creatures, though the whole earth were our property; therefore I trust that you will take great care of your own. I feel convinced that air and exercise are most useful for you. In your leisure moments I hope that you study a little; history is what I think the most important study for you. It will be difficult for you to learn human-kind's ways and manners otherwise than from that important source of knowledge.

Your position will more or less render practical knowledge extremely difficult for you, till you get old, and still if you do not prepare yourself for your position, you may become the victim of wicked and designing people, particularly at a period when party spirit runs so high. Our times resemble most those of the Protestant reformation; then people were moved by religious opinions, as they now undoubtedly are by political passions. Unfortunately history is rarely written by those who really were the chief movers of events, nor free from a party colouring; this is particularly the case in the works about English history.

In that respect France is much richer, because there we have authenticated memoirs of some of the most important men, and of others who really saw what passed and wrote it down at the time. Political feelings, besides, rarely created permanent parties like those in England, with the exception, perhaps, of the great distinctions of Catholics and Protestants. What I most should recommend is the period before the accession of Henry IV. of France to the throne, then the events after his death till the end of the minority of Louis XIV.; after that period, though interesting, matters have a character which is more personal, and therefore less applicable to the present times.

Still even that period may be studied with some profit to get knowledge of mankind. Intrigues and favouritism were the chief features of that period, and Madame de Maintenon's immense influence was very nearly the cause of the destruction of France. What I very particularly recommend to you is to study in the Memoirs of the great and good Sully* the last years of the reign of Henry IV. of France, and the events which followed his assassination. If you have not got the work, I will forward it to you from hence, or give you the edition which I must have at Claremont.

As my paper draws to a close, I shall finish also by giving you my best blessings, and remain ever, my dearest Love, your faithfully attached Friend and Uncle,

Leopold R

*Maximilien, Duc de Sully, was Henry's Minister of Finance. A curious feature of the Memoirs is the fact that they are written in the second person: the historian recounts the hero's adventures to him.

Further reading:
The Letters of Queen Victoria, Volume 1 (of 3)

Book Reviews: The Warrior Queen, Whistler, & 201 Killer Cover Letters

Hello everyone,

today I'm reviewing a romance based on the Arthurian legends, the biography of one of the most controversial artists of the 19th century, and a guide to help you find the job you've always wanted. Here we go:

The Warrior Queen by Lavinia Collins
The first book in the Guinevere trilogy, The Warrior Queen is an enthralling new take on the Arthurian legends. The story, told through Guinevere's eyes, begins with the defeat of her people in a war in which her mother, her brothers, and her fiancé were killed. The winner, the boy-king Arthur, now demands the hand of Guinevere in marriage. The young woman detests the boy who causes her people so much pain, but has no choice in the matter. But when she meets Arthur, something unexpected happens: she learns to like, even love, him. Quickly, she settles into a calm and serene existence as Arthur's Queen, which is disrupted by the arrival of Lancelot.
Collins skillfully intertwines legends and magic with historical realism. The world she creates is, obviously, fictional, and yet it feels very real and vivid. It's full of witches, intrigues, plots, knights, conquerors, love, and quite a bit of sex too! It's just got everything that a great story should have.
The characters are well-rounded and easy to relate too. Especially Guinevere. Here, she's not the passive woman portrayed in most versions of the Arthurian legends. On the contrary, she's strong, brave, passionate, and torn between duty to her husband and his kingdom and her love for Lancelot. It's a wonderful portrayal that really humanizes her and vividly brings her to life.
The book is beautifully written and very entertaining. It's truly a pleasure to read. I devoured it in just a couple of days cos I wasn't able to put it down. Now I can't wait to read the next two installments!
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

Whistler: A Life For Art's Sake by Dan Sutherland
A good biography is a lot more than a simple, albeit comprehensive, cradle to grave account. A good biography makes its complex subjects, with all their flaws, foibles, and merits, come to life. That's what Dan Sutherland does in Whistler: A Life For Art's Sake. The 19th century American painter, who spent most of his life in London and Paris, is both an undisputed genius and a very controversial figure in the art world.
If you approach this book thinking that Whistler was nothing more than a dandy and a selfish-egotist, think again. Sutherland doesn't gloss over Whistler's faults, but, putting him in the context of his time, and with the help of his extensive correspondence, tries to understand both the man and the artist. The result is one of the most intriguing and intelligent biographies that I read in a long time.
Whistler's art was revolutionary and highly influenced the painters of his, and the next, generation. But, when it came to his work, he was also very controlling, demanding to decide everything, from how to hang his works in exhibitions and their prices, to the contents of any books written about him and his art. He often engaged in legal battles with art critics, as well as fellow artists, who didn't understand his art and expressed poor opinions about it. His intransigence also cost him several friends, including Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde. Instead, he always had a profound admiration and affection for John Everett Millais and was great friends with Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The Pre-Raphaelite gang, as well as the Impressionists in France with whom Whistler was close to, and the strict and conventional art societies of the time, are also well-portrayed, bringing to life the artistic world the painter lived in.
The biography is very comprehensive and detailed. It's obvious the author has done his research, and consulted any scrap of information he could get his hands on. And yet, it's not a boring read at all. On the contrary, Sutherland writes in a very engaging and straightforward manner that makes the book flow easily.
The biography is also widely illustrated, featuring more than 100 images of Whistler's works. That way, whenever Sutherland describes a painting or an etching, the inspiration behind them, and the techniques with which they were created, you can take a look at the work in question and see the finished result. In my opinion, this makes the book even more of a pleasure to read.
Whether you are a fan of Whistler, or think he was just an untalented and unpleasant man, I highly recommend you pick up this book. It's, so far, the definitive biography of the American artist, and provides a fascinating insight into the man, his art, and his world.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 4/5

201 Killer Cover Letters by Sandra Podesta & Andrea Paxton
Are you looking for a job? Or hate yours and would like a new, better one? Or know someone who does? Then check out 201 Killer Cover Letters by Sandra Podesta and Andrea Paxton. True to its name, the book really features that many covers letters, suitable for any occasion and type of job, that have impressed recruiters. If you don't know what to write in yours, this is a great resource for templates and ideas to create a cover letter that will make you stand out, and get you an interview. And afterwards, use the tips in the book to write another letter to keep in touch with your recruiter. Most people don't bother, so, if you go the extra mile, you will get noticed. And, once you got the job, it's time to write again. This time to all the people who have helped you in your job search.
In addition to providing tips on how to write all these types of letters, the authors also stress out the importance of networking to find out about new job opportunities that aren't advertised in the papers, or be introduced to people that can give you advice to succeed in your desired industry, or even give you a job. You'll also learn how to use social media, especially Linkedin, to get the job of your dreams. Highly recommended.
Available at: amazon
Rating: 5/5

Would you like to read any of these books?

Disclaimer: I received these book in exchange for my honest opinion. In addition, this post contains affiliate links.

The disastrous marriage of George IV and Caroline of Brunswick

Royal marriages were arranged affairs, aligning families and dynasties for political and economic purposes. They were rarely happy, but few were so disastrous as that of Prinny, Prince of Wales and future King George IV, and his German bride Caroline of Brunswick. Unwilling to put up an united and serene front for the benefit of the country and its people, George and Caroline engaged in a scandalous public battle to win the sympathies of the public.

Caroline won. After all, she had left her own country and moved to England only to be rejected at first sight by her royal cousin and husband-to-be. Although Prinny wasn't the dashing boy he used to be in his youth anymore, he still had refined tastes and, most importantly, was fastidious about personal hygiene. Caroline, with her coarse language, vulgar manners, and aversion for baths, disgusted him. When he met her for the first time, he asked for a glass of brandy.

If Prinny went ahead with the marriage is only because he desperately needed the money to pay his ever-mounting debts. Parliament had, in fact, agreed to raise his allowance, and his father to offer him economic assistance, only on condition that he finally married. King George III hoped that a wife would curb his son's exuberant and lavish bachelor lifestyle. Not to mention that the country needed a heir. King George had many sons, but only one was married, and without children.

So on 8 April 1795, the couple tied the knot at the Chapel Royal of St James’ Palace. Prinny kept drinking throughout the day, becoming drunker and drunker, while his disgusted wife retaliated by talking louder and louder and behaving in an increasingly vulgar manner. Caroline said that, that night, her husband passed out on the floor of their bedchamber, but not before having done his duty. The couple had sex only three times, according to Prinny, on the first and second nights of their marriage. Luckily, it was enough for Caroline to become pregnant.

By the time their only daughter, Princess Charlotte, was born on 7 January 1796, George and Caroline lived separate lives. However, Caroline was still forced to tolerate his mistress, Lady Jersey, in her house. The royal mistress had, in fact, been made Lady of the Bedchamber. On top of that, her husband, who desperately wanted a divorce, never showed her any affection, not even in public. He just kept on enjoying his luxurious and lascivious lifestyle, indulging in every excess.

Caroline retaliated by appearing in public as often as possible and charming, with her affable manners and sense of humour, the hearts of the people. She became the darling of the press, which portrayed her as the wronged wife. The people quickly sided with her. The public supported her when, in 1806, Prinny tried to divorce her by accusing her of having given birth to an illegitimate child. But the "Delicate Investigation", as the affair become known, proved Caroline to be innocent of the charge.

Nor even when he became king did George manage to get a divorce. He put his wife on trial on charges of adultery but, once again, Caroline had the people on her side, and the divorce proceedings had to be abandoned. George, however, succeeded in banning his wife from his coronation. Caroline was Queen Consort only in name, and would never be treated as such, neither in Britain nor abroad. Only her death on 7 August 1821 ended their disastrous marriage.

Further reading:
George IV: The Rebel Who Would Be KingGeorge IV: The Rebel Who Would Be King by Christopher Hibbert
The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline by Flora Fraser

We Are A People Of Heroes

"We are a people of heroes", said an once popular fascist song. The most prominent members of the fascist regime certainly liked to think of themselves as heroes, and they had the medals to prove it. Or not? Well, they definitely had the medals, but they usually weren't honestly earned. Still, for some people, appearances were enough.

Mussolini was more than willing to award medals to his followers. His regime, he believed, needed heroes. But, at the same time, he asked the police to investigate each case. Here's what they found out:

Italo Balbo, Blackshirt leader, Governor-General of Libya, and "heir apparent" to Mussolini
Balbo was put on trial for deserting his post and running away from the Moncalieri barracks (where he was attending a course to become a pilot), after the retreat at the Battle of Caporetto. He was absolved when he "proved" that he had run away, not to defect, but to reach the frontline to help fight the enemy. But the police, when asked by Mussolini to investigate, discovered that he had spent a few days hiding at his home in Ferrara. It was his father that forced him to go back. In addition, his promotion to captain for war merits was simply due to him forcing an Austrian official, who had been taken prisoner, to take his boots off!

Arconovaldo Bonaccorsi, a fighter in the Spanish Civil War
Bonaccorsi asked Mussolini to award him a medal for his heroic behaviour in the Spanish Civil War. According to the OVRA (the secret police of the fascist regime), which had asked information about Bonaccorsi to the commander of the Spanish aviation, his behaviour was "horrible. All he does is killing prisoners. About 2000, it is rumoured." Yet, he got his medal.

Roberto Farinacci, Secretary of the Fascist Party
Farinacci lost an arm in Ethiopia. He claimed it happened while he was voluntarily teaching soldiers how to use hand grenades. One of those, apparently, exploded too soon. In reality, he was wounded while fishing with hand grenades. So, instead of the Military Order of Savoy, he was awarded a simple silver medal.

There were also those who refused some of the honours intended to be bestowed upon them:

Emilio De Bono, Governor of Libya
Everything in Tripoli, including streets, schools, and theaters was named after De Bono. Balbo believed that by erecting a monument to him, the names of the streets, etc, could be changed. Mussolini, though, warned him that erecting a monument for De Bono in Libya was ridiculous. Plus, he added, "De Bono doesn't want to be honoured with a monument. He says it brings bad luck."

Further reading:
Riservato Per Il Duce by Arrigo Petacco

Historical Reads: Mary Toft

Heather Carroll remembers Mary Toft, the woman who gave births to rabbits. To quote:

Not long afterward, the local surgeon and male mid-wife, John Howard, was summoned to the Toft home because Mary had gone into labour again. Having helped Mary with her miscarriage, Howard was quite surprised by the summons. He was more surprised when he delivered nine rabbits out of Mary. They weren't entire rabbits, mind you, but rabbit parts. Howard was shocked, nonetheless and immediately sent word to London physicians about the event. Two of these doctors were King George I's doctors, and when they told the king, he immediately sent them to Godalming to investigate. Lo and behold, Mary gave birth to more rabbits in their presence. After putting a rabbit lung in water and seeing it float the educated men of medicine decided that the rabbit had breathed air which doesn't happen inside the womb. She really was giving birth to live rabbits! They inferred that the miraculous births were due to maternal impressions, since Mary drempt and craved rabbits beforehand.

To read the entire article, click here.