Saturday, 25 October 2014

Carnivalesque 106

I have been on something of a historical voyage of discovery of late in preparation for my role as hostess of Carnivalesque 106.

Carnivalesque is, in its own words, “an interdisciplinary blog carnival dedicated to pre-modern history (to c. 1800 C.E.)” and although you will still find some wonderful tales of the long 18th century here, it has been a delight to dip into pre-modern history too and be treated to the best of the history web!

The Ridotto in Venice by Pietro Longhi, 1750s
The Ridotto in Venice by Pietro Longhi, 1750s

To start us off we have an ideal post given that Halloween is fast approaching as Willow C Winsham delves into her collection of tales on The Witch, the Weird and the Wonderful to investigate the case of Guillaume Edelin, a former monk who confessed to witchcraft. Notable in his confession is the first recorded mention of a witch riding a broomstick, a familiar image come 31st October!

As Dr Sarah Peverley tells us in her fascinating post on Medieval Maps of Scotland, Scottish independence is far from a modern issue. As something of a fan of old maps, this post was not just a feast of knowledge but a visual delight too and those wild, unknown highlands depicted by Hardyng remain wonderfully evocative, even today.

Considerably less wild but no less intriguing is Jonathan Jarett's Making Sense of Glastonbury. Delving into the secrets still hidden at Glastonbury Abbey, Jarett investigates the likelihood of sub-Roman occupation and Professor Roberta Gilchrist's efforts to interpret the Anglo-Saxon archaeology of the site.

I am blushing to admit that something a little more familiar to me is the subject of Sexual Curiosities? Aphrodisiacs in early modern England. In her post on the subject, Jennifer Evans examines the long and intriguing list of foodstuffs that were believed not only to give a little pep in the bedroom, but also to increase fertility.

Of course, all the aphrodisiacs in the world were of little use to the figures who feature in Katherine Harvey's, Death by Celibacy: Sex, Semen and Male Health in the Middle Ages. The tale of a bishop who needed to have sex for the sake of his health is certainly a cautionary one.

Whether Lady Chanworth's jumballs were an aphrodisiac, we can never know but we can be sure that they were tasty indeed. At Cooking in the Archives, Marissa Nicosia uncovers an original recipe for this spicy shortbread treat and updates it for the modern kitchen.

If those jumballs have given you an appetite than prepare to have it roundly quelled as Jo and Sarah at All Things Georgian take us on a search for Oliver Cromwell's missing head. The well-travelled cranium certainly got around prior to its arrival in Cambridge and even spent some time in exhibition on Bond Street, for just half a crown a look.

Over at Early Modern/Medieval Histories, Sjoerd Levelt tells the story of a 17th century commentator's margin note that became a Twitter phenomenon. Sjoerd takes a deeper look into an apparently throwaway comment and unravels a wealth of meaning behind John Seldon's prose commentary.

Prose commentaries may appear to have been far beyond the reach of The Rabble that Cannot Read yet, in his post on literacy in seventeenth century England, Mark Hailwood offers a different perspective. Through the study of signatures he reveals a far wider spectrum of literacy than we might expect and warns of the dangers of dismissing that illiterate rabble.

I have long been fascinated with the de Medici family and Lillian Marek's story of  Lorenzo's Galley Slaves told a tale that I was utterly unfamiliar with as Lorenzo de Medici's slaves were given a handful of money, a new suit of clothes and their freedom.

If slaves could be given their freedom, what then of the belief that all Medieval women were nothing but chattel? Not so, says Kim Renfeld, as she shares the stories of women from all walks of life and offers an insight into the diplomatic career of Bertrada, mother of Charlemagne.

From aphrodisiacs to jumballs, nothing could aid in the case of the Midwife of St. Giles Cripplegate as investigated by Sarah Fox at Perceptions of Pregnancy. Sarah delves into the archives of the Old Bailey in search of a sad tale of a midwife driven to subterfuge to conceal her own infertility.

We find ourselves back in the 18th century now with the beautifully illustrated story of Polesden Lacey by Rachel Knowles. Rachel's Regency History site is a regular haunt of mine and any post that mentions not only Richard Brinsley Sheridan but Joseph Bonsor too is a must-read for me!

Staying with the Georgian era, Antoine Vanner looks at one of my favourite subjects, a shipwreck. Antoine's evocative description of the loss of HMS Queen Charlotte. He brings his usual air of nautical authority to this dramatic and tragic tale in which nearly 700 men were killed.

Last but certainly not least, how can one resist Jonathan Healey's wonderfully-titled post, Dudes of the Dutch Republic? Opening with Michael Caine and taking a lighthearted yet revealing illustrated trip through 10 dudes who lived large, from Pipe Dude to Dance-off Dude and everything in between! 

Hosting Cesque has been a fascinating and educational experience, thank you for sharing this journey with me!

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Fungi that Felled an Emperor

Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor (Vienna, Austria, 1st October 1685 - Vienna, Austria, 20th October 1740)

Emperor Charles VI by Martin van Meytens
Emperor Charles VI by Martin van Meytens
Newly returned from Europe with a brace of tales of medicine, it it with no small sense of excitement that I welcome Dr Dillingham to the salon. Over a hearty meal that happily, does not feature mushrooms, he shared with me the story of the fungi that felled an emperor and it is my privilege to share that with you today, in the week of the anniversary of Charles IV's death.

On 10th October 1740, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV had really had his fill of problems. Beset by   political intrigue, territorial disputes and possible financial ruin, fate decided that what he really needed to top it all was a nasty cold. Out of sorts and with the worries of the world piling on his shoulders, Charles decided to take the advice of the old wives' tale of "feed a cold, starve a fever," and set out to assuage his hunger, hopefully, battle the illness.

Accordingly, he dined royally on a meal of mushrooms stewed in Catalan oil, one of his favourite dishes. Unfortunately, the seemingly innocent mushrooms were anything but and, quite by accident, the Holy Roman Emperor had filled his belly with deadly death cap mushrooms.

The Death Scene of the Emperor Charles VI from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 40, 1870
The Death Scene of the Emperor Charles VI from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Vol. 40, 1870

Within hours Charles fell into a terrible sickness and his doctors were summoned yet found themselves unable to diagnose or treat their patient. For ten long days the unfortunate man lingered on in digestive agony and, at a loss as to what else could be done, his advisers had him taken to rest in the Favourite Palace in Vienna. It was here that Charles IV died, leading to a succession crisis that would engulf his lands and House for almost a decade.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

An Extraordinary Gentleman's Shoe...

I have, of late, been perusing some books and papers dealing with the wonderful clothing of the long 18th century as I work on edits of Mistress of Blackstairs. Although Moineau is a most well-dressed lady and certainly enjoys the best of everything, the gentlemen of her acquaintance are slightly more prosaic. Certainly, I cannot see any of them wearing the most remarkable shoe shown below!

I discovered this shoe within the pages of a 1904 book entitled Royal and Historic Gloves and Shoes. Written and illustrated by William Beales Redfern, the book was published in 1904 by Methuen & Co and is a catalogue of photographs of royal shoes and gloves through the ages, each black and white photograph accompanied by a short paragraph of explanatory text, as seen below.

A gentleman's shoe. Eighteenth century. "An extraordinary shoe, for a gentleman, with a heel far higher than is commonly found on shoes of this period; it measures full 6 inches in height. ..."

This gentleman's leather shoe with its ornate silver buckle is, of course, notable for its six inch height height. Sadly we cannot know who it was intended for, nor whether it ever graced royal feet. A salon visitor has posited that perhaps the show was intended to correct or disguise a physical impairment or perhaps even a limping gait but I think a shoe of this height would be more likely to cause such an issue.

It is a shame we will never know the story behind this remarkable footwear but then, perhaps there is a tale just waiting to be told and this shoe is a part of it!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Joining the Georgian Club...

In the England of the long 18th century there was a wealth of gentlemen's clubs of varying reputation and quality where a man might escape from the rigours of the Georgian world. From Brooks's to the Stratford or even the Eccentric and beyond, whatever your political persuasion, tipple of choice or propensity for a wage or two, there was a club to suit you.

A ballot box

Of course, membership of some of these establishments was not given out lightly and in some cases a prospective might well find his membership put to the vote of his would-be fellows. Each member who would be voting was given access to a supply of black and white balls (or ballotta) and a ballot box like the one above. One by one and unseen by other voters, the members would insert either a black or white ball into the box using a cloth to cover their hand if necessary. A white ball indicated that the member was in favour of admitting the gentleman under discussion, black meant that he was not deemed a suitable member of the club.

Once all members had voted, a representative of the club opened the box and displayed the balls within. All white balls meant that the club could now welcome its new member; one black and the jig was up; the would-be member was sent on his way, perhaps to apply another day if the rules of the club allowed it.

To be blackballed was an embarrassment for a gentleman and one that he would surely not look kindly on; I wonder how many disputes and blackballs this particular box was witness to in its days of service!

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Whore's Last Shift

James Gillray is, as regular visitors to the salon well know, something of a hero of mine. In his work one is transported back into the Georgian era but not the fine world conjured by the great portraitists and landscape artists, rather a somewhat more bawdy, earthy version of the long 18th century. In Gillray's works one can hear the bustle of the streets, see the people who hid beneath the wigs and panniers and smell the odours of the great Georgian city of London.

The work that has caught my eye today is The Whore's Last Shift, a work completed in February 1779. It is, to my mind, one of Gillray's finest pieces and presents a starkly honest look at the life of one of those infamous Covent Garden ladies so associated with the pleasure houses of the long 18th century.

From the neck up the lady conjures up nothing but fashion. She wears her hair in an elaborate style, adorned with decoration and plumage that would no doubt make this particular lady most eye-catching as she promenades. The rest of the picture tells a somewhat different story, one that is borne out by the title and sad circumstances of the lady at the centre of the etching.

The whore's last shift James Gillray 1779

The woman is washing her last shift in a cracked chamber pot, itself balanced somewhat precariously on a broken chair. Naked save for her badly-holed stockings and garters she concentrates on her lonely task in a room that does not speak of success and extravagance, but of poverty and misery.

Her bright frock and hat are cast aside though in considerably better condition than the rumpled bed or peeling plaster on the walls. A furious cat howls on the window ledge, a far cry from Hogath's faithful pug, and she has decorated her room with a broadside ballad ironically titled, "The comforts of Single Life. An Old Song". 

Gillray does not seek to make a judgement about the woman's place in the world nor her circumstances, but instead presents the scene and invites the viewer to make their own conclusions. There is no moral conclusion here but instead a hundred different stories and scenes.

The one thing we can be sure of is that, once she is swathed in her gown, fashionable hair towering over her, this unfortunate lady would cut a far finer figure. Gillray has afforded us a glimpse beneath the petticoats of this particular lady, and it is a sorry story indeed,.

Monday, 20 October 2014

A Salon Guest... Masquerades and Meaning

It is my pleasure to welcome Alicia Rasley to the salon to discuss the fascinating matter of masquerades, one of my favourite topics...


Regency Masquerades Cover

Hello, everyone! And thanks to Madame Gilflurt for inviting us! I'm Alicia Rasley, and I have a book in a boxed set named Regency Masquerades. All the books have something to do with masquerade or disguise, see? 

Anyway, I did some research on the history of masquerades, and I'd like to share some of that with you all!

In Europe after the Middle Ages, masquerades of various sorts were popular events, often connected to religious or public occasions. A famous early masquerade was held in celebration of the wedding of the French queen's lady-in-waiting. Several men, costumed like "savages" in flax cloth and pitch, got into close contact with the torches and caught on fire. This masquerade was memorialized as the "Burning Men" festival, and a distant descendant of it is held still every summer in the Nevada desert.

Later, masquerades flourished less formally in urban areas, where anonymity was possible and the masqueraders had reason to hide their identities and activities. Masquerade is always connected to societal instability and interaction between people who shouldn't interact (like illicit lovers). 

Generally, the masquerade required certain ingredients:
  1. A party or ball. In London, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, these were often held in the open air, at public gardens like Ranelagh. 
  2. Partygoers. It was more glamorous, of course, if these were naughty aristocrats, but in truth, in the public gardens this could be anyone with a domino and mask.
  3. A mask. This hid the partier's identity, and increased the surreptitious atmosphere. The mask let the masked person commit indiscretions among others also being indiscreet. It was quite "what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas," but it was very close to that.
  4. Costumes were generally expected, but in England, especially into the 19th Century, they became less than obligatory. This signified the trend away from public playfulness towards private use of the masquerade to commit indiscretions (and sometimes crimes). A nefarious harasser needed only to wear a "domino" (an anonymous cloak) and a face-concealing mask to engage in his abuse.

In England, masquerades were sometimes held at village festivals (especially those based on pagan ceremonies), but the events came into societal importance in the early 18th century. That was when a Swiss count named Heidegger figured out a way to make some money on this entertainment. He sold subscriptions and tickets to public masked balls at the indoor venue of the Haymarket Opera House, and outdoors at Ranelagh and Vauxhall gardens. T'hese were, of necessity, rather public affairs, and became notorious as places where the high-born and the low-born could interact, often violently.

Over the centuries, the idea of the masquerade has inspired much literature, including of course the famous Capulet ball scene where Romeo meets Juliet. (Here is a clip from the Prokofiev ballet. Notice that Romeo and his friends are masked – they are in the enemy camp—but Juliet's innocence is signaled by her lack of disguise.) Edgar Allan Poe used the masked ball as a symbol of aristocratic corruption—but death comes in disguise. (Here's a link to the trailer of the Vincent Price film.) Prof. Terry Castle pointed out that fiction and masquerade were natural partners as masquerades allowed participants a way to engage in stories and take on the personas of other characters: "Just as the actual masquerade gave people… a way of acting out memories of the traditional world of magic and folk belief-- as witches, conjurers, devils, and the like—so the masquerade set piece (had a) … second life in realistic … fiction."

In the Regency Masquerades set of six novels, we're exploring different aspects of masquerade in our stories, focusing especially in how disguise allows lovers to "reveal what they conceal"—their true selves. The mask or disguise they wear is a clue to their real identities, and that paradox is a clue to why the masquerade remains one of the most enduring motifs in fiction.

To see how each type of masquerade plays out, buy Regency Masquerades, a digital boxed set containing six full-length novels by award-winning authors. For a short time, this set is just 99 cents!
Buy at AmazonBarnes & NobleiTunes and Kobo Books. 

Written content of this post copyright © Alicia Rasley, 2014.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Tale of Conjoined Twins

Helen and Judith (Szőny, Hungary, 19th October 1701 – Presburg, Hungary, 8th February 1723)

Helen and Judith, conjoined twins

My tale today is another of medicine, brought to my door by Doctor Dillingham, who has recently returned from a sojourn to the continent. It is, however, also a story of family and of lives that ended before their time. When I first encountered a mention of the twins known simply as Helen and Judith, the story struck me as one that I wanted to share and off I went to find out more. I am pleased to present the tale here on the anniversary of their birth.

On the face of it, there should have been little of note to remark on in the birth of Helen and Judith, twin girls born in Szőny, Hungary. Although their surname is lost to history, they became knows simply as the Hungarian Sisters, and that nickname lasts to this day. There was indeed something most remarkable  about the sisters though, as far from being just another set of twins, they were conjoined twins. 

Medical science was baffled by the birth and swiftly decided that their circumstances should be blamed on their mother's overactive and somewhat excitable imagination during the pregnancy. This is quite a diagnosis, of course, but there the matter rested without further debate.

Helen was the first child to be born and within three hours Judith also emerged, joined to her sister at the coccyx. Just as she had been born first, so too was Helen reportedly the physically stronger of the two, as well as the more attractive and intelligent. Luckily the sisters were able to adapt to their very particular circumstances and soon their unusual condition became their livelihood.

From infancy into childhood, Helen and Judith were exhibited to excited crowds across Europe where they submitted to medical tests, enjoyed an education and enjoyed the society of artists, poets and others who found them utterly fascinating. However, this life was not to last and Judith suffered a debilitating stroke at the age of six that left her partially paralysed for the rest of her days. 

For three more years the girls continued to tour Europe until, at the age of nine, Judith's physical state could no longer endure such rigours. The girls were taken into the Convent of St. Ursula in Presburg, Hungary and here they remained, focusing on their faith.

The unusual story of the Hungarian Sisters was to end in 1723 when first Judith and then Helen fell ill with a fever. Throughout their entire lives, despite being conjoined, the girls did not share a sensation; they would experience neither feast nor hunger at the same time and lived as separate lives as they could yet, when their final moments came, they were almost simultaneous. Judith died early on 8th February and was followed within moments by her sister. The girls were laid to rest in the churchyard of the convent, the unusual lives of the Hungarian Sisters finally at an end.