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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!

30 comments:

  1. Ah, it seems to me that BBC is feeding their audience the same lust for lurid details that American television stations are pushing. I'm sick of all the crime and misdemeanors, all the law and order, all the courtroom drama, all the reality television we seem to be stuck with.
    No wonder we look forward to Downton Abbey with such alacrity!

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    1. I do love Downton Abbey -- despite historical inaccuracies, etc. Now in England I am enjoying 'Mr. Selfridge' all about the American who started up the famous and first department store in London!

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  2. The galloping lady goth does have such infectious enthusiasm though! We're right on the border of the lands held by Henry II; and not that far from Poitiers.

    Re: Rosaria's comment -- sadly Downton Abbey is awash with historical errors which does somewhat spoil it for us.

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    1. Yes she does -- and so does Lucy Worsley! I enjoy them both -- though a sign of my age is an recurring annoyance with Janina's hair hanging all over the place and Lucy's rather unconventional bob! But the enthusiasm of both is charming and infectious!

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  3. As a former history teacher I am sure I was guilty of giving my students a taste of the gory, if I thought it might fascinate them and lure them into being more interested into cause and effect of hsitorical events. I like to think that maybe some of these more lurid historical programmes are scientific enough, and well made enough to encourage genuine and concerned interest. I look forward to the 100 years War series too....lets hope it is really well done. J.

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    1. Yes, the lurid is disturbingly mesmerizing! This series is well done and well-travelled.

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  4. I've been looking through the history stuff available on iplayer and although in every case the period chosen interests me I have turned off...fed up to my back teeth with the omnipresent presenters.
    I don't want to see that simpering blonde who curates royal palaces, or the raven haired temptress...I want to know about the subject.

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    1. Myself, I'm just jealous they've found themselves such wonderful jobs -- imagine getting paid for what they do!!!

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  5. I hear it sometimes took two or three whacks for the ax to sever a head. This was the reason Dr, Guillotine invented his machine--as a far more humane way to execute people. I guess Dr. Guillotine was able to learn if his machine really was merciful because he was executed by guillotine during the French Revolution.

    I find your historic posts intriguing.

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    1. I read one account that in the case of Subury it was 8 whacks! Very interesting about Dr. Guillotine! Glad to here is invention was humane!!!

      Thank you, Stephen -- and I find your post about painting equally intriguing!

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  6. I am a history hog. How interesting you compare the Hundred Years' War to the American Wild West. I always did, too, except the characters wore armor instead of buckskin.

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    1. Yes, one discovers cowboys throughout history -- even today, I suspect!

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  7. DH and I are thoroughly enjoying this series too, though the scene you describe did make me gulp slightly. Despite this I have a lot more idea about the causes and progress of the Hundred Years War than i did before and am looking forward to part 3. We've been doing well for history programming on BBC 4, what with this series and the recent one on the earlier Queens of England.

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    1. I love BBC 4 -- Enjoyed learning about the 'she'wolves' of England, too! Great stuff! Don't you think they should reunite the head with the body, though?

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  8. I know very little about any period of history apart form the Romans when I studied Latin, and bits about the Greeks and Egyptians. A real lack of provision for students like me who focussed on Science and Maths.

    I'll look up the series on i-player. It looks interesting.

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    1. Hope you enjoy it, Gaynor... History and art were my thing in school. I rather trudged my way through maths and science with a grim face!

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  9. Hello Katherine:
    There are times when we feel that enough is enough. We live in an age where everything can be, and often is, described or shown in the most graphic detail leaving nothing, sadly, to the imagination. We rather regret this and wonder if we are any the better or wiser for it.

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    1. Jane and Lance, I agree with your thinking on this need to leave nothing to the imagination. There seems to have been lost along the way a lack of appreciation for a sense of propriety when in pursuit of the sensational. But I must confess an insatiable appetite for delving into the mysterious past as if somehow it might be possible to establish a link with where we came from. But sometimes I think it would behove us to show a bit more sensibility.

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  10. We were also looking forward to the series but because it is an hour later here in France we both fell asleep in the middle!! Diane

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    1. Yes, I know how that is! Whenever we are in France we have the same problem. By the time we come back to England, we've got used to the extra hour and miss things for being an hour early!

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  11. I haven't been much surprised by anything I've seen on TV or in films ever since that horrid traveling display of plasticized skin-stripped human bodies from China made the rounds. Remember that? Talk about something out of The Third Reich. I understand the need for corpses on which to study anatomy and get the techniques right before trying them on living beings, but taking human remains and making a traveling circus from them, under the guise of "education", was far too grisly for my taste.

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    1. All I can say is I'm really glad I missed that one!

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  12. Dear Broad, I read your posting, the comments, and your responses with great interest. Here in the United States we have so much violence and we still have the Wild West in some cities like Chicago and others with their drive-by shootings and all the handgun and assault rifles readily available. And still we hem and haw and do little with regard to gun safety.

    Janice's comment left me remembering years and years ago--maybe 1962 when I was teaching fifth graders at a Catholic grade school in Omaha, Nebraska. And I had just read a book about crucifixion and how the crucified died usually from suffocation. And about the nerves in the feet and hands. The book's descriptions were clinical and yet for anyone with any imagination, they were gruesome.

    And so, guess what I did*** I'm teaching religion to the fifth graders and I began to tell them about how Jesus died on the cross for them! (At that time, I believed that.) And so to make them fittingly sad and to arouse guilt about their "sins," I laid it on with a trowel. This is one class session I feel great regret about. The pictures I put in those young children's minds.

    And now I sign my comments and my e-mails and letters with "Peace." I had a lot to learn about peace in those days. And I still do. Peace.

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    1. My goodness, Dee! I think I might be shocked! 'Peace' indeed is a much better way to leave people... The movie made by Mel Gibson left nothing to the imagination -- While there are circumstances when it necessary to confront cruel acts with knowledge, there is a line between sensationalizing cruelty and using your knowledge to make the world a better place.

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  13. We are recording the series, being history buffs. After your warning I think I’ll have to look away at certain points.

    Humanity has never been humane and I doubt it (we) ever will be. Not en masse, anyway. We’ll always find a good reason for murder and mayhem.

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    1. Yes, murder and mayhem does seem to be natures of our beast...

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  14. I still think there's hope for humanity on the whole. There's intrinsic good in everyone, I firmly believe that. Good think piece here!

    If you can, check out my new adventure travel blog :)

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  15. Mummified! And how crazy the axe didn't go through the first time--what a terrible death.

    I think humanity is becoming less violent as time passes, and then I watch the news :(

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    1. Watching the news is definitely not always good for establishing a faith in mankind!

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Receiving comments is a joy and I thank you all for taking the trouble and showing your interest. Makes me feel all gooey and stuff!