Friday, 27 March 2015

Mini History Blogs: Hell's Mouth

Yesterday, in Channel 4's coverage of the re interment of King Richard III, Dr Helen Castor was explaining how people of the middle ages were preoccupied with death, how they dealt with it and the preparations they made for it. One of places that the medieval man would worry about was heavens waiting room, that is Purgatory.

Of course, the richer you were, the easier your passage was to heaven. Henry VII paid for ten thousand masses to be said on his death, the Archbishop of Canterbury paid for fifteen thousand, the poor could light a candle or try very hard to behave themselves.
The image below is a good example of what they thought happened to the medieval soul if it didn't get a ticket.
This image, depicts an angel locking the door to what is known as a Hell Mouth. Often illustrated as a monster, in this case a giant sea creature, whose mouth never closes, we can see the agonies and the suffering of the poor tormented souls inside. It is a gateway to hell, the fiery depths of medieval damnation. It is a good example of how medieval people saw heaven and hell as separate places. If you look, the door with its lock lies exactly on the border which could be said to represent the area just outside hell, which of course is Purgatory. The angel stands in the margin representing heaven, locking the door to those who are damned for all time, that is hell, which takes up the centre space.
There are many manuscripts from the medieval period that show the hell mouth, this particular one comes from the Winchester Psalter, an English twelfth century illuminated manuscript which is also known as the Psalter of Henry of Blois, who was the brother of King Stephen.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Mini History Blogs: Eustace Chapuys

Eustace Chapuys is thought to have been born around 1490 in Savoy, the son of Louis Chapuys.

As Imperial ambassador he arrived in England 1529 to support Catherine of Aragon through her troubles, he admired Catherine greatly but on the other hand he hated Anne Boleyn. 
Chapuys seems to have been able to hold his own in the English court being able to stand up the English nobles.

It has been said of Chapuys.

"speaks whatsoever came, without respect of honesty or truth, so it might serve his turn....A great practicer, with which honest term we cover tale-telling, lying, dissimuling, and flattering."

Saying anything out of turn may have cost an English speaker his life, being a foreign ambassador Chapuys was certainly protected, being booted out of the country is as much as he might expect. Saying what he thought is one thing but thoughts do not pass down through history, Chapuys however, wrote down much of what he thought and how he felt, and many of his letters are still with us today.
Why is Eustace Chapuys so fascinating?

 I admire him for his support of Catherine and also for not being afraid to snap at the ankles of those in Henry's court. To historians, it is because his writings are extremely important, though him we can see into the Tudor world.
Eventually Chapuys health failed and he retired as ambassador and left England to live in Louvain. Once home, he founded a college and a grammar school.
Eustace Chapuys died in 1556.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Last Farewell of Wotan and Brunhilde

In Norse mythology the Valkyries are 'choosers of the slain,' and in Wagner's Die Walkure they are the daughters of Wotan or Odin.

Among the Valkyries it is Brunhilde who is Wotan's favourite, all but Brunhilde are gathered together at a top of a mountain collecting dead heroes to take to Valhalla. Eventually she does turns up, but instead of a fallen hero she is carrying a live woman which the other Valkyries realise is in defiance of her father’s orders. Brunhilde tells her sisters that she has been trying to protect Wotan’s illegitimate son Siegmund and that the women she holds in her arms is the pregnant Sieglinde, lover and also the twin of Siegmund.
An angry Wotan soon arrives and orders the rest of the Valkyries away, in his fury he orders that Brunhilde should become a mortal woman and left on the mountain at the mercy of any man who passes that way. She pleads with her father and reminds him of Siegmund's courage begging him try to understand. Seeing him less angry she takes the opportunity to ask for a last request she asks "if I am to be left on the mountain may I be surrounded by a fire that would keep away all but the bravest of heroes" Wotan agrees.
We can see below the final act of Wagner's opera depicted in Ferdinand Leeke's work entitled The Last Farewell of Wotan and Brunhilde, the love Wotan has for his favourtie daughter can be see so clearly here.
Nevertheless Wotan kisses Brunhilde's eyes closed and calls for the Norse god of fire to ignite the circle of flame.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Mini History Blogs: The Eye the Window to the Soul

The eye, as one of the oldest and most powerful symbols, has been called the "window to the soul" but it also represents watchfulness., for this reason the eye icon was used by the French police, as part of their uniform, on badges and buckles.

 Eye miniatures came into fashion during the reign of George III. The kings son, the Prince of Wales, later George IV, was infatuated with the widowed Maria Fitzherbert. He had commissioned an eye miniature as a token of love and was said to have worn it hidden from view. The prince had married Maria in 1785 but due to the fact that the king and his council had not been consulted the marriage was not valid. 
This event is said to have been the reason eye miniatures had become fashionable which is questionable since George is said to have kept it away from view due to the secrecy of their relationship.
Miniatures were certainly popular during the Georgian era and were often commissioned by the wealthy for sentimental reasons, just like keeping the hair of a loved one in a locket, a tradition that continues to the present day. The use of eye miniatures has become obsolete, probably due to the fact that most people, and I am one of them, find them some what disturbing.

Wolf Hall: Simply Brilliant!


Wolf Hall in my opinion the best historical drama that has been on our screens in years.

I found it difficult to find the right words to do justice to the BBC's adaptation of Hilary Mantel's books Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies so I won't even attempt it. Here is an article in the Guardian newspaper: 

Wolf Hall review 
"An ending so great we forgot we knew it was coming" 
writes Lucy Mangan, she continues.
"Six hours and a single sword swipe, and the king’s Great Matter is finally resolved. Last night saw the end of Anne Boleyn, and the TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s books Bring up the Bodies and Wolf Hall (BBC2). There wasn’t a moment of Peter Kosminsky’s direction or Peter Straughan’s deft, beautifully elliptical writing that left you wanting for anything throughout this six-week splendour. But the final 15 minutes – with Anne’s death interspersed with flashbacks to Thomas Cromwell’s typically reluctant, typically thorough, inspection of the scaffold – were exceptional.
How do you dramatise a world that is mostly interior calculation, silent power plays and noiseless traps? By assembling a cast in which there is not one weak link. Try Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Wolsey; Anton Lesser as the unflinching, infuriating Thomas More; and Damian Lewis as Henry (“Could you give us the kind of charismatic kingship that lasts down the ages with a side order of ego and caprice that could usher in a religious reformation? But we need to be able to love him, too, else this whole thing makes no sense?” “Coming right up”). And, as if that weren’t enough, Claire Foy moving flawlessly from bold, brave and brilliant bitch to sacrificial lamb as Anne Boleyn; and, of course, Mark Rylance as the indefatigable, implacable, terrifying, awe-inspiring Cromwell, delivering a performance that will probably require the invention of new awards.
Even the very smallest roles were played brilliantly, such as this final episode’s executioner, established by Philippe Spall, within the space of a few minutes and fewer lines, as a man with professional pride and no little compassion; the person you would want on your side if you ever had to mount the scaffold to clear the way for Jane Seymour. Kosminsky and Straughan did this with a script that made you weep with its shining rigour and boggle at the amount of weight it was seamlessly structured to bear, every line doing double duty, without it ever creaking under the strain. And by resisting the directorial temptation to yomp through the tale at speed, instead trusting in the talent at play and the viewers at home, to create something so compelling that – as with Mantel’s books – you forgot that you knew what must come next, and watched life unspool as if it had never been lived before."

Mini History Blogs: Kiss of Death

Memorial to Josep Llaudet.

At first, as most of us would, I found this statue quite frightening, its a potent reminder of death. The longer you look at the statue the less distressing it becomes. It is highly expressive, there is no anguish, distress or pain on the boys face only comfort and relief. The skeleton holds the body with tenderness, he kisses the face tenderly too. Maybe the sculptor tried to portray that death can be welcoming for those whose final illness has been painful and whose life has been hard.
The statue, as you can see here is a winged skeleton placing a kiss on the forehead of the young man, it is called the Kiss of Death and was created in 1930 and bears the words of Spanish poet, Jacint Verdaguer:

“And his young heart can not help;
in his veins the blood stops and freezes
and encouragement lost faith embraces
fall feeling the kiss of death”

The Llaudet family were involved with the manufacture of cotton yarns and in 1901 had founded Llaudet Yarns one of the main Catalan textile manufacturers owning several factories in Spain. They also were involved with sport, Eric Llaude, Josep's son chaired Barcelona football club between 1961 and 1968. Josep and his son are now both deceased, Eric died in 2003.

The date of Josep's death is not known but his tomb can be found in Poblenou Cemetery in Barcelona is magnificent piece of art work.