Thursday, February 28, 2013

Where Was I Last Sunday?

After a lovely few days visiting friends, we stopped by for an all too brief visit to a very British place...

Charming, but a litle dated, don't you think?
There's a clue here, beside the baggage...
You Brits may know 'why' the clock is famous,
but do you know where I was and what I encountered there? 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

One Hundred Years of Blood and Gore

I'd been looking forward to the BBC4 documentary series about the Hundred Years' War. Anyone who knows anything about that period of history knows that the times were very violent indeed. Our French house is in an area were all those hundreds of years ago  bands of marauders combed the countryside looking for trouble. One feels a  certain kinship with the American Wild West.

Not far away from us is the town of Martel. Aside from being a charming town of many towers, it is also famous for being where the eldest son of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry 'Shortcoat' met his death. (His more famous brothers were Richard the Lionheart and King John). The complex history of this time is some of the background to the Hundred Years' War and to the claims and counter claims of French and English royalty to the thrones of England and France. The castles of Castelnau Prudhomat and Castelnaud-de-Chapelle  on the Dordogne changed hands from one side to the other throughout the period and to this day are a testament to the many long years of conflict. The 'winds of war' and the 'winds of change' meld together very interestingly in this part of the world.

But to get back to the documentary series on BBC4. There seems to now be a concerted effort to vividly bring to us the 'cut' and 'thrust' of life past and present. Series like Silent Witness in the present day love to have us behold various bits and pieces of our anatomy by displaying various body parts to gag over in wonder. Historical documentaries, not to be out done by fiction, do not hesitate to bring before us the skeletal remains of some poor lost soul from the past. We thought nothing of viewing Richard III's remains where they were discovered -- to see the curvature of the spine and evidence that his hands were tied behind his back as one horrendous deed after another was perpetrated on him dead or alive. Each blow was eagerly and breathlessly described for our delectation. I, for one, took it all in my stride...

But the other night Janina Ramirez, our hostess with the mostess, our 'cultural archaeologist', managed to rather take me aback with the bit in the program about the Lord Chancellor of Richard II, Archbishop Simon Sudbury -- The poor man had been found cowering in The White Tower in the Tower of London by a mob, upset as they were by a new poll tax that had been levied. (Modern England can easily sympathise with the mob) He did not have a good end. However, before I knew where we were in the story, our friend Janina was in a room somewhere about to have a look in a little safe ... the little safe containing the remains of the poor man's head -- but the head wasn't a skeleton  it was mummified! We were carefully apprised of where we could still see vestiges of skin, and how we could easily imagine what the man really looked like...

Then Janina was allowed to remove it from its 'pedestal' and have a good look -- gloved hands, of course! She described how she could feel the remaining tissue beneath her hands -- charming... I was feeling decidedly uncomfortable watching this -- but I couldn't stop. Then she turned the head upside down so we could get a good look at the neck and learn the details that could be ascertained from what was left. "Look here ... here you can see the axe (or whatever it was) didn't cut all the way through  and you can see how it was necessary to finish him off with another blow ... or words to that effect. Really grisly, I thought. Especially with the added visual description inside the skull of how they put the head on a pike and displayed it for all the world to see on London Bridge -- as you would then...

And I thought, why haven't they buried the head with the body (Canterbury Cathedral) and laid the man to rest. We humans have been a grisly race for a long time... Can't wait for Part 3!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Conspiracy Theories to Reign Forever!

Ever since I read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, many years ago, now,  I have been fascinated by the story of Richard III. Was he one of history's most infamous villains, or was he a victim of Tudor malice and lies.

Tey's book was first published in 1951. It tells the story of Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, who is laid up with a broken leg and becomes convinced that Richard the III has been wrongly maligned. He launches an investigation, with the help of the British Museum and a young American student. It's all very intriguing  and very convincing, as well!

My mother was also very interested in the story of Richard Plantagenet and on one of my parents' visits to England we ventured deep into the Yorkshire Dales to visit the  remains of Middleham Castle, Richard III's childhood home.

[So at this point in writing this post, I went to find the photographs I have from that visit and that led to several days of hunting and searching through hundreds of photographs before I found what I was looking for -- and to think I thought I'd organized them all into albums ... The task turned out to be rather overwhelming! Memory Lane is a very long road and I can't believe how jumbled the pictures have become over the years.]

Dad, Mom and Man
Entering the childhood home of
the last Plantagenet King

Mom, in her historical element!

It seems the argument over where to bury the King's remains has been long decided. He is to be interred in Leicester Cathedral ... I can't help but think, much as it really doesn't matter ... that York Minster would be more fitting for this man of York ... but it seems to be a case of 'finders keepers' and of course what a coup for the treasury of Leicester Cathedral.

On thing is for certain, the mystery and the theories about this King of England will live forever in Controversy. Have fun, Historians -- I'm hooked!