Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rome's talking statues - the Abbot, the waterseller, and the baboon

Rome, 1572

It's threes all the way:  In Part 3 of this three-part post on the Talking Statues of Rome, we will talk about three statues -- Abate Luigi, Il Facchino, and Il Babuino.  For the background to this post, see the first post here and the second post here, or if you're in a hurry, make do with

The Short Recap: 

In Renaissance Rome, poetry was a weapon.  Free speech was not exactly a commonly-held value in those days – at least not by the people in charge – but the Roman people had plenty on their minds, and it tended to come out in the form of scurrilous, anonymous verse  

Around the beginning of the 16th century, these entertaining but not-very-polite poems started appearing on a statue.  In time, this first “talking statue” was joined by five others in various parts of town.  Together, they became known as the “Congregation of Wits.”  The messages were posted in the dead of night, and next morning people would cluster around to read them. 

For all those hundreds of years, the people in charge have wished they could silence the talking statues, but at least some of the statues are still finding ways to “speak,” and their barbs have been felt by leaders as recent as Berlusconi and beyond.

Abate Luigi



He's a tall, imposing, handsome kind of guy, and he used to be no less than an emperor of Rome (though since he was wearing a different head at the time, nobody seems to know which emperor). 

Now he's known as Abate Luigi (Abbot Luigi), and he hangs out near the Basilica di Sant'Andrea delle Valle.  Centuries ago, he used to get involved occasionally in three-way conversations with Pasquino and Marforio (see previous two posts).  

His plinth bears a plaque that says:
I was a citizen of ancient Rome.  Now I am known as Abbot Luigi.  Together with Marforio and Pasquino, I achieved eternal fame for civil satire.  I have endured insults, disgrace and interment, but here my new life is finally secure.
This habit of losing his head, though, was not a one-time occurrence.  Some say that the one he's wearing now is a concrete cast of a previous version.  One writer observes that even though the head keeps disappearing, "it finds its way back."  It, or another that will do just as well.


Il Facchino



Il Facchino ("the porter") should perhaps have been known instead as L'Aquaiolo (the water-seller), as the latter is the profession he represents.  He stands patiently, dribbling water from his cask into the fountain he tops, on Via Lata.

Il Facchino is the only one of the six talking statues who was created in the Renaissance, rather than in classical times.  It must have been before Pope Sixtus V (there's that name I love again!) started putting the ancient aqueducts back into service, in the days when water sellers roamed the streets bringing water to people's homes. 


Il Babuino



I've saved my favorite for last.  Il Babuino ("the baboon") guards his fountain on the street named for him:  Via del Babuino.  In the statues' heyday, this area was relatively unpoliced; thus, people could affix their most outrageous comments to the Baboon, safe from the authorities.  

Il Babuino is probably a statue of a silenus, companion to Dionysus, usually represented as an old man with the legs and ears of a horse.  I've seen him described as a "superb representation of a lecherous drunkard on the prowl."   The Roman people, however, were apparently less impressed; they nicknamed him "The Baboon," and it stuck.  

His turf is what used to be the Strangers' Quarter.  A large community of foreigners lived there, and they used him to lampoon members of the Roman community - perhaps even the ones who were posting their own pasquinades on the other five statues.  

In one of the recent crackdowns on the statues (Gianni Alemanno, recent mayor of Rome, was not a fan, for example), the powers-that-be hit upon the idea of painting the Baboon's backdrop with graffiti-proof paint, as you see it above, and here at a greater distance:

Il Babuino in his pristine environment
But it was not always thus.  Look at him here, in all his former glory:



Talking statues today


They're not the daily entertainment they used to be, back in the day, but once in a while a political comment still turns up on one of the statues.  Most often it seems to be Pasquino.  And when Alemanno cracked down on posting things directly on Pasquino, most of the posts that appeared on the board over to the side were digs at Alemanno for that new policy.

But whatever the Gang of Six was or wasn't doing in recent years, the spirit behind them lives on.  One night during the period when Berlusconi's lurid private life was under legal investigation and public scrutiny, a group calling itself Nessun Dorma ("None shall sleep" - also the name of an aria from Puccini's Turandot) posted messages overnight on no fewer than 150 statues throughout Rome, with messages such as "Italy is not a brothel," and "The body of Italy is not for sale."  

And that concludes my brief series on Rome's talking statues.  I intend to visit them all next spring, take my own photos, and see for myself if any of them still have anything to say.


Images in this post are in the public domain, with the exception of the photo of Il Babuino with graffiti, which is licensed to Jerzystrzelecki via the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license, Wikimedia Commons.








Sunday, July 20, 2014

Talking Statues 2: Marforio and Madama Lucrezia

Marforio, in the Musei Capitolini

In Part 2 of this three-part post on the Talking Statues of Rome, we will talk about Marforio and Madama Lucrezia.  For the background to this post, see the previous post here, or if you're in a hurry, make do with

The Short Recap: 

In Renaissance Rome, poetry was a weapon.  Free speech was not exactly a commonly-held value in those days – at least not by the people in charge – but the Roman people had plenty on their minds, and it tended to come out in the form of scurrilous, anonymous verse  

Around the beginning of the 16th century, these entertaining but not-very-polite poems started appearing on a statue.  In time, this first “talking statue” was joined by five others in various parts of town.  Together, they became known as the “Congregation of Wits.”  The messages were posted in the dead of night, and next morning people would cluster around to read them. 

For all those hundreds of years, the people in charge have wished they could silence the talking statues, but at least some of the statues are still finding ways to “speak,” and their barbs have been felt by leaders as recent as Berlusconi and beyond.

Marforio

 


This elegant reclining statue, known to the Romans as Marforio, was the conversational partner of Pasquino, the first of the talking statues (discussed here in last week's post).  Somehow these two, although distant from one another, got into the habit of exchanging comments or asking each other questions.  In one famous exchange, Marforio plays straight man to Pasquino as they poke rhyming fun at Pope Clement XI (1700-21) and his obsession with revitalizing the city of Urbino:

Marforio:  Dimmi, che fai, Pasquino?

Pasquino:  Eh, guardo Roma, che non vada a Urbino.

(Tell me, Pasquino, what are you doing?  I'm watching Rome, so it doesn't get moved to Urbino.)

Marforio, a colossal statue of -- possibly -- a river god, has had quite a variety of homes in Rome.    Originally found near the Arch of Septimius Severus, he was already a landmark in Rome in the late 12th century, but once he started speaking his mind, he wasn't going to be allowed to stay there.  Too accessible, too public.

Marforio's original neighborhood
In 1588, Pope Sixtus V (I've always loved that name...) moved Marforio to Piazza San Marco.  Then in 1592, our loquacious hunk of marble moved on to decorate a fountain in the Piazza del Campidoglio, on a wall of the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, facing the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

But even then there was to be no rest for a talking statue.  Finally, in 1679, Marforio moved one last time, inside the Palazzo Nuovo di Campidoglio, where now he languishes, an inmate of the Musei Capitolini.  The excuse was preservation, but many believed it was to remove him from Rome's lively street conversation.

Marforio's name, by the way, may have derived from an inscription near where he was originally found, which said "mare in foro" (the sea in the forum).  It may also have derived from the Marioli (aka Marfuoli) family, who owned property in the area.  And at various times he's been thought to represent Oceanus, Jupiter, Neptune, and the Tiber. 


Madama Lucrezia



The only female member of this chatty Gang of Six is the redoubtable Madama Lucrezia,  the colossal bust of a statue of a priestess of Isis (or possibly of Isis herself, or, some say, of the Empress Faustina).  The lady is located in a corner near the Basilica di San Marco and the Palazzo Venezia.  

She emerged from the ground near a Temple of Isis, in the vicinity of the Chiesa di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (near the Pantheon).  Dating from about the 3rd century BC, she fell into the hands of King Alfonso V of Naples, who then presented her to his mistress, Lucrezia d'Alagno, and it was for this lady that the statue was named.

Alfonso
Lucrezia (if it isn't Vittoria Colonna)
 After Alfonso's death in 1458, Lucrezia found it prudent to relocate to Rome, where she lived in the neighborhood where her namesake now dwells.  

Pie di Marmo
Some say this rather large foot, the famed Pie di Marmo (foot of marble), may once have supported Madama Lucrezia when she was whole, but no one is sure.

In the 18th century, May Day celebrations involved decking Madama Lucezia with necklaces of onions, garlic, carrots, and ribbons -- a perfect mix of festive and edible.  The poor people of the neighborhood then danced the Ballo dei Poveretti (dance of the poor people) around her.

 Madama Lucrezia took an unfortunate tumble in 1799 (perhaps that's what happened to her nose), when unrest among the people over Napoleon's invasion of Rome toppled her from her plinth.  To add insult to injury, she was promptly given a sign that translates, colloquially, to "I just can't stand it any more."  

Pantheon
But her most famous comment was a dig at Pope Urban VIII, of the Barberini family (pope from 1623-1644).  He had used the bronze tiles of the Pantheon for the canopy of St. Peter's, apparently not a popular choice in Rome, and this was the result:

Quod non fecerunt Barbari fecerunt Barberini.
 (What the barbarians did not do, the Barberini did.)

This couplet is sometimes ascribed to Pasquino, as if a female statue was not capable of coming up with such wit.  That reminds me of a little verse by Dorothy Parker, which goes like this:

Oscar Wilde
If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.
***

Next time, we'll finish up with the final three talking statues:  Abate Luigi, Il Facchino, and Il Babuino.


Images in this blog are in the public domain, thanks to the generosity of their creators or to expired copyright, except for the Pie di Marmo photo, which is licensed to Lalupa via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, Wikimedia Commons.




Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Congregation of Wits

Pasquino

In Renaissance Rome, poetry was a weapon.  Free speech was not exactly a commonly-held value in those days – at least not by the people in charge – and it was not a very good idea to complain about politicians or popes in such a way that they knew you were the one saying those things about them.  But the Roman people had plenty on their minds, and it tended to come out in the form of scurrilous, anonymous verse.   In those days, a poetry “slam” really was a slam. 

Marforio
And right around the beginning of the 16th century, these entertaining but not-very-polite poems started appearing on a statue.  In time, this first “talking statue” was joined by five others in various parts of town.  Together, they became known as the “Congregation of Wits.”  The messages were posted in the dead of night, and next morning people would cluster around to read them (or listen to them read aloud, in the years when not all were literate). 

Madama Lucrezia
For all those hundreds of years, the people in charge have wished they could silence the talking statues, but they have never completely succeeded in doing so.  Despite such 21st-century innovations as anti-graffiti paint, at least some of the statues are still finding ways to “speak,” and their barbs have been felt by leaders as recent as Berlusconi and beyond.

Il Facchino
In this post I'm going to talk a little about the history of that first statue, the redoubtable Pasquino.  In subsequent posts, I'll tell you a little about the other five:  Marforio, who used to hold conversations with Pasquino; Madama Lucrezia, the only female statue in the bunch; Il Facchino, the only one of the statues originating in the Renaissance rather than in classical times; Abbot Luigi, who has a habit of losing his head; and finally Il Babuino – The Baboon.

Abate Luigi
Il Babuino













Pasquino



Pasquino doesn't look like much, but he's got a good excuse.  He's been around since the 3rd century BC, though he spent a fair bit of that time underground.  He emerged during a spate of road construction in 1501, while the Parione district was being paved.  It is thought that the statue depicts Menelaus with the body of Patroclus. 

In the year in which the statue emerged, Cardinal Oliviero Carafa placed it in a small square close to Piazza Navona, a much-trafficked area.  Every year on the Feast of San Marco (April 25) the cardinal chaired a Latin poetry competition in which people posted their poems on the statue, which was often painted and dressed in different guises.  These poems were not scurrilous affairs; many were written by scholars and high-ranking Roman citizens.  (This was true even after the tone became less lofty.  Many a political point was scored by someone close to the powerful by posting an anonymous gibe at a rival or a political foe.)


And why was he called Pasquino?  Accounts differ, but one that recurs is that the original Pasquino was a tailor (or possibly a barber) in the neighborhood whose work often took him to the Vatican, where he picked up a lot of gossip and then proceeded to spread it around, adding his own acerbic comments and observations.  It's said that after the flesh-and-blood Pasquino died, his neighbors named the garrulous statue after him, in fond memory.  In fact, the little square where he resides is now called Piazza di Pasquino. 

Pasquino even has a type of literature named after him:  the pasquinade (Italian pasquinata), which is defined, naturally enough, as a satire or lampoon, originally one displayed or delivered publicly in a public place.

Pasquino's first known political post – the first that we remember, anyway – had to do with Pope Alexander VI, the Borgia pope, and was posted in August of 1501.  Pasquino may well have been the first to “utter” the famous bon mot referring to Giulia Farnese, the pope's mistress, as “the Bride of Christ.”  He also sported a venomous dig at Giulia's brother, a cardinal, effectively calling him a pimp and brother to a slut.

Pope Alexander VI
Giulia Farnese












 It was Pope Hadrian VI (pope for only a year and a half, from 1522-1523) who inadvertently turned one talking statue into a whole congregation.  He fervently wanted to get rid of the troublesome statue, but something prevented him.  Some say it was his early death, others that he feared ridicule if he did as he threatened and tossed poor Pasquino into the Tiber.  Some said Hadrian was convinced when someone told him that like a frog, the statue would only croak louder from the river.  The pope – whoever it was at that precise moment – settled for creating draconian laws forbidding the posting of anonymous screeds, and enforced this by posting a guard at all times.  It kept Pasquino under control (for a while), but it's hard to keep a good idea down, and soon more statues, elsewhere in the city, began to find their voices. 

(Poor old Hadrian really did have to put up with a lot, though, considering he was only pope for a year and a half.  During the conclave where he was elected as successor to Pope Leo X, Pasquino managed to satirize Leo, Hadrian, and the cardinals doing the electing.)

Pope Hadrian VI
But Pasquino wasn't done talking yet.  Some of his best known remarks are from later centuries, including a famous pun during the papacy of Alexander VIII (1689-1691).  Pope Alexander's name had originally been Pietro Ottoboni, a Venetian.  Pasquino's comment was this:

“Allegrezza!  Per un papa cattivo abbiamo Otto Boni!”

Or, “Rejoice!  For one bad pope we have Eight Good Ones [Otto Boni]!”

Maybe you had to be there.

His comment on the twenty-year reign of Clement XI (1700-1721) was this:  “Dacci un papa miglior, Spirito Santo, che ci ami, tema Dio ne' campi tanto.” (“Give us a better pope, Holy Spirit, who will love us, fear God, and not live so long.”

Pietro Aretino
Pasquino associated with some famous people.  The 16th century poet, playwright, and satirist Pietro Aretino made use of Pasquino to broadcast his message, and the eminent 17th century sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini is said to have remarked that Pasquino was the finest sculpture he had ever seen – one suspects, given the statue's condition, that this judgment was made on other than aesthetic grounds.

But what of the others?  Ah, that's grist for another blog post.  Tune in again next time to learn about Marforio (the River God) and Madama Lucrezia (a priestess of Isis, but named after a king's mistress).


Images in this post are in the public domain (1) because of their age, in the case of reproductions of two-dimensional images; and (2) in the case of photos, thanks to the generosity of photographers who have removed restrictions from their work posted on Wikimedia Commons.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Potted History of Sudeley Castle and some thoughts on the people who lived there (guest post by Judith Arnopp)



Today I'd like to welcome Judith Arnopp, author of many wonderful historical novels, who is introducing her most recent book, Intractable Heart:  The Story of Katheryn Parr.  She has prepared a most interesting post about the history of Sudeley Castle, the last home of the queen who survived Henry VIII.

 Besides this tale about the woman who was the last of Henry VIII's six wives, Judith has written two other novels set in Tudor times,  The Kiss of the Concubine:  A Story of Anne Boleyn, and The Winchester Goose:  At the Court of Henry VIII.  She is also the author of other books set in the British Isles in earlier times:  Peaceweaver, The Forest Dwellers, and The Song of Heledd.  All are available on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble (see buy links below).

Judith Arnopp

Here's a little biographical information, in Judith's own words:

I live on a smallholding in West Wales with my husband, John.  We used to do the whole self sufficiency thing but ill health put a stop to that and now we just care for our daughters elderly pony and enjoy our naughty Jack Russell, Bryn.

My greatest loves have always been writing and history.  Since I was very small I have had a book in one hand and a pen in the other. These days I am able to write the sort of books that I love to read. Historical settings with a strong female lead. 


A Potted History of Sudeley Castle and some thoughts on the people who lived there.


      Near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire, a little north of Cheltenham, lies Sudeley Castle. A comparatively small place in the scheme of things, set against the backdrop of the Cotswolds. Sudeley is and has been many things; today it is a family home, a beautiful garden, a historic jewel, and the last resting place of an English queen.

      Sudeley Castle is steeped in history and was first mentioned in a 10th century charter. King Ethelred hunted deer in the park and later, when the castle passed to Goda, her distant relationship to William the Conqueror, saved it from Norman take over.

      Sudeley remained in the hands of Goda’s family until the reign of Henry V when the castle was gifted to Thomas Boteler in way of repayment for his action in the war with France. It was Boteler who began to transform Sudeley into an enviable home, enlarging and updating the existing fabric of the building to create a place fit for royalty.

Sudeley Castle

      When the Lancastrians were defeated and Edward IV took the throne the Boteler family were forced out and Sudeley’s new owner was no other than the king’s brother, Richard of Gloucester, later King Richard III of car park fame.

      When the tables turned again and Richard was defeated at Bosworth, Henry VII took it over, bestowing it on his loyal uncle Jasper Tudor. After Jasper’s death Sudeley once more became crown property.

      Henry VIII visited once with Anne Boleyn. They met with Thomas Cromwell there to discuss the reformation of the monasteries and took a keen interest in the Blood of Christ housed at nearby Winchcombe Abbey. At this time the castle was run down and unoccupied for much of the time.

Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley

Katheryn Parr

      On his accession to the throne Edward VI made his uncle, Thomas Seymour, Lord of Sudeley and after his marriage to Katheryn Parr, Seymour and his new wife made their home there.

       The Seymours implemented many improvements and Katheryn took great care in choosing the décor of the nursery for their expected child. Unfortunately, to Thomas Seymour’s sorrow, Katheryn died scarcely a year later, having given birth to a healthy daughter, whom they named Mary.

      With Thomas’ ward, Lady Jane Grey, acting chief mourner Katheryn was laid to rest in St Mary’s church adjacent to the castle. Today visitors to Sudeley can view a love letter and portrait gifted to the queen by her husband.

The church at Sudeley Castle

      Katheryn’s step daughter and friend, Elizabeth Tudor, later Queen Elizabeth I, visited Sudelely on three occasions during her reign. It is easy to imagine her walking in the garden, remembering her stepmother, recalling conversations, small personal details of their shared life that are now lost to history.

      Sudeley’s history doesn’t stop with the Tudors. During the civil war Prince Rupert made the castle his headquarters, and Charles I stayed there for a time during the campaign to take Gloucester.

      During the course of the war Sudelely passed back and forth between Royalist and Parliamentarian hands until Parliament ordered the ‘slighting’ of Sudeley making the house indefensible. The roof was removed, and the rest of the building fell swiftly into decay. The fine worked stone was quarried by locals until the grand castle became nothing more than an attractive romantic ruin. For the next two hundred years it was left to the mercy of the elements, a trysting place for lovers, or a hideaway for thieves.

      In 1782, Katheryn Parr’s grave was rediscovered. The lead casket was opened the body found within reported to be 'uncorrupted'. She was reinterred in 1817 by the Rector of Sudeley and a plaque copied from the original inscription on the lead coffin placed upon it. Today there is an effigy on the tomb but this was made in Victorian times.

Tomb of Katheryn Parr

      Sudeley remained in elegant decay until the nineteenth century when it was bought by two brothers, John and William Dent, who embarked upon a restoration project. They employed architect Sir Gilbert Scott to restore the chapel. The walls and large parts of the castle were restored. Finally Lady Emma Dent spent almost fifty years putting the finishing touches, filling Sudeley with fine art and historical artefacts.

      Yet, of all the people mentioned in this potted history; the Lords, the ladies, the kings, the politicians; it is Katheryn’s memory that lingers. Visitors flock there, not just to see a splendid house and a magnificent garden; they go there because of Henry VIII’s last queen, Katheryn Parr.

      The Tudor style parterre is only a reconstruction but, although Katheryn may have gone it is easy to imagine her there, inhaling the scent of the flowers, the kiss of summer rain on blush pink petals.

      While you move quietly between the roses, or pass through the old yew hedge, you can imagine a footstep on the gravel behind you, the sweeping red skirts of her kirtle as she joins you. And as she follows you around the flowerbeds, you may feel the brush of her hanging sleeves.

You can learn more about Katheryn and the sort of woman she may have been in my book Intractable Heart: The story of Katheryn Parr. Click here to buy (Amazon.co.uk) or here (Amazon.com, US).

***

Many thanks to Judith for that fascinating history!  To learn more about Judith and her work, visit her website, her blog, or see all her books on Amazon.


Images in this post:  Pictures of Sudeley Castle and of the church at the castle are both licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, the former to Gordon Robertson, the latter to Jason Ballard.  The picture of Katheryn Parr's tomb is licensed to TudorQueen6 via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  The portraits of Thomas Seymour and Katheryn Parr are in the public domain due to expiration of copyright.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Indentured servants - the backbone of the colonies (guest post by Anna Belfrage)


Revenge & Retribution is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage's time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.  The series began in Scotland, but by now has arrived in the New World, with new adventures ahead for Alex and Matthew.  Their life together thus far has been turbulent and eventful, but as the book blurb says, “nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.” 

It's my great pleasure to host Anna's guest blog today as part of her launch of Revenge & Retribution.  Anna has won legions of fans for the books in the Graham series, two of which have been awarded the B.R.A.G. (Book Readers Appreciation Group) Medallion.  Two have been nominated (and one is on the final short list) for the 2014 RONE Award (Reward of Novel Excellence), to be presented by the Romance Novel Convention.

She is also a blogger par excellence – my personal favorite blogger, in fact, both for her lively and witty historical posts, and for her wise and compassionate philosophical and personal posts, many of which have moved me deeply.  And to think that she can pull all of this off in several languages...  I'm in awe.  I think you'll enjoy her post, containing interesting background information, and the excerpt, which is from an earlier volume in the series (Like Chaff in the Wind).

Anna Belfrage
Here's Anna, in her own words: 

I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I'm multilingual and most of my reading is historical- both non-fiction and fiction. Possessed of a lively imagination, I have drawers full of potential stories, all of them set in the past. For years I combined a challenging career with four children and the odd snatched moment of writing. Luckily, children grow up, and now I spend most of my free time at my writing desk attempting to decipher the squiggled ideas I've jotted down over the years. Every now and then I succeed. I was always going to be a writer. Now I am - I have achieved my dream. Want to know more? Visit the author's website at: www.annabelfrage.com

Indentured servants – the backbone of the colonies 

 


Let’s face it; the first English attempts to set up a successful colony in the New World failed dismally. That first outpost of English culture, Roanoke, mysteriously disappeared. The proud little settlement of Jamestown suffered through starvation and indigenous attacks. In general, people who went to the colonies in search of a better life ended up dead, and for some odd reason this made it difficult to recruit new colonists.

Without people to work the land and expand the English dominion, the Colony of Virginia was pretty much doomed, so I suspect the directors of the Virginia Company perked up substantially when someone came up with the bright idea to use indentured servants to populate their land

The practise of indenture had been around for centuries. In essence it was a contract whereby one person voluntarily entered the service of another person for a stipulated period of time. In general, any payments for the service were paid out in arrears, which meant an indentured servant who absconded could not claim on his back pay.

The system set up in Virginia was somewhat different. Someone had to assume the cost of transporting the servant across the sea, and so rules were set in place whereby landowners in the colony could bring over servants at their own expense and receive up to 50 acres in compensation for their efforts. The indentured servant was compelled by contract to work off his debt for transportation and would at the end of his period of service receive some further compensation – plus some land. The problem with this little set up was that the need for indentured labour exceeded the demand – most people were reluctant to cross the sea to an unknown wilderness from which they might never return.


If people didn’t queue up for the fantastic opportunity of expanding their horizons at no cost but their hard toil, maybe some light coercion would help, and what better way to achieve this than by snatching people off the street and have them set their cross to a document they didn’t understand? Quite a number of people were carried overseas against their will, and once on the other side there was very little they could do but submit to the inevitable and work off their years.

To further swell the ranks of available labour, the powers that were quickly realised that deporting people was an excellent way of delivering able bodied men to the struggling colonies while ridding the kingdom of such undesirables as protesters in general and criminals. During the first eighty years of its existence, the Colony of Virginia received regular complements of deported people, very many of whom were Scots who clung to the Scottish Kirk, refusing to kowtow to the Anglican faith.
Whether forced or voluntary, the life of an indentured servant was no walk in the park. For a woman, there was the constant risk of being raped – these were societies with a chronic shortage of women – and should she become pregnant her term of service would be extended. The men ended up in the fields, disposable beasts of burden that were often worked until they dropped.

A disobedient (or “wilful”) servant was punished – in some cases so severely as to permanently maim the servant.  Trying to run away was a serious offence that could lead to beating so brutal the person in question died, and on top of this the reluctant immigrants had to cope with food shortages and unknown ailments. On average, four out of ten indentured servants died in Virginia during the seventeenth century. No wonder the colony had problems recruiting them!

Life in the colonies – both as an indentured servant and as a settler – play an important part in my series The Graham Saga. My male protagonist, Matthew Graham, is a devout Presbyterian, a veteran of the Commonwealth armies and a man who initially at least tends to see the world as black or white. Which is why I gifted him with Alex Lind, an opinionated modern woman who had the misfortune (or not)  of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thereby being dragged three centuries back in time to land concussed and badly singed at an astounded Matthew’s feet.

In the second installment of The Graham Saga, Like Chaff in the Wind, Matthew is one of the unfortunates who are sold as indentured servants to Virginia. The experience leaves him scarred for life, and some aspects of his life as a slave come back to haunt him in the recently released (and at times excessively exciting) sixth book of the saga, Revenge and Retribution. However; first things first, so below is an excerpt from Like Chaff in the Wind, giving some insight into Matthew’s experiences in Virginia. I hope you enjoy it!


    Five unbearable days, and on the afternoon of the sixth day he was so tired that he accidentally upended the sled, tipping the load of tobacco plants into the dirt. Jones flew at him. 

    “Fool! Look at what you’ve done!”

    Matthew got to his feet, an effort involving far too many protesting muscles. His shoulders were permanently on fire, the harness had left broad, bleeding sores on his skin, and no matter how he tried to use his worn shirt as padding, the sores deepened and widened, a constant, flaming pain.


    “I’ll just load them back.” He bent to pick up an armful. His arms were clumsy with weariness, and it took far too long to reload the sled, with Jones an irate, vociferous spectator. Matthew leaned forward into the straps, bunching his thighs. Dear Lord! He couldn’t budge the load, the leather cutting even deeper into his lacerated skin. He tried again, and still the sled wouldn’t move. Matthew looked back across his shoulder to find Jones sitting on the sled.


    “Go on,” Jones sneered, “get a move on.”


    “You’re too heavy,” Matthew said, “you can walk.”


    Jones raised a brow. “Of course I can. But now I want you to pull.”


    Matthew felt his pulse begin to thud. Wafting curtains of red clouded his vision.
“I’m a man, aye? I’ll work as you tell me to, but you can move of your own accord, fat though you may be. I won’t be your yoked beast, I’m a man.” There was absolute silence around him, his companions staring at him with a mixture of admiration and exasperation.


    Jones stood up and moved towards him. “That’s where you’re wrong, Graham. You’re no man, not here, not now. You’re a slave, a beast to be worked until you’re no use.” He looked at Matthew expectantly, his hand tightening on the handle of his crop.


    Matthew knew he should back down, grovel and mumble, but inside of him the fire grew, red hot rage at the man in front of him, at his traitorous brother, and the injustice of it all.


    “I told you. I’ve never done anything wrong. I’m a free man.”


    Jones laughed. “Free? Then why are you still here? Why aren’t you on a ship back home?”


    “You know why! I have no money.”


    “And we own you, until you can pay yourself free, we own you.”


    “Nay, no one owns me. I’m a free man.”


    “And I tell you you’re but a slave,” Jones hissed.


    Matthew punched him straight into the face, having the distinct pleasure of hearing the cartilage in Jones’ nose crack. That was really the last thing he observed clearly, then it was all hands and feet, and the sting of the leather crop. He heard Jones call men to him and Matthew had the shirt torn from his back, he was thrown face down onto the ground and then there was the snap of leather that came down time and time again on his bared skin. One of his arms was twisted up behind his back, and in his ear he heard Jones’ heavy breathing.


    “So, what are you?”


    “A free man,” Matthew gasped. The pressure on his arm was tearing at his tendons.


    “What are you?”


    Bend! Alex shrieked in his head, for God’s sake Matthew, bend. But he didn’t want to, he had to salvage some pride, and the pain in his shoulder increased to the point where he knew it would soon be dislocated.


    “What are you?” Jones hissed again, throwing his considerable weight against Matthew’s trapped arm. Matthew groaned. Please! Alex cried, please, Matthew, for me. Don’t let him maim you for life, my love, please! In his fuddled state Matthew wasn’t sure if she was here for real, or if it was a hallucination, but the despair in her voice rang through his head.


    “I’m a slave,” Matthew mumbled, closing his eyes so that he might still see Alex, not the red earth an inch from his nose.


    “What? I didn’t hear you.”


    “I’m a slave,” Matthew mumbled again.


    “Say it out loud.” Jones heaved Matthew to his feet. “Look at all the men before you and say it.” To his everlasting shame, Matthew did as he was told.


    “I am a slave,” he said, repeating it time and time again until Jones released him to tumble to the ground.


    He lay where he had fallen, and around him he heard the sound of people moving off, leaving him to lie unaided. No one dared to touch him, lest Jones should vent his anger on them as well, and Matthew found himself staring at his hand, so close to his face. He didn’t want to move. He no longer wanted to live.


    “Please let me die. Sweetest Lord, just let me die.” He closed his eyes, and in his mind he saw Hillview, he saw a wee lad running up the lane to meet him, and there she was, laughing and crying at the same time, her skirts bunched high as she flew towards him, and he knew that of course he couldn’t die. He owed it to Alex to stay alive; he owed it to himself.




***

Thank you, Anna!  I appreciate your including this blog as a part of your book launch festivities, and I wish you all the best with this new book!

All of Anna’s books are available on Amazon US and Amazon UK

For more information about Anna Belfrage and her books, visit her website!

For a somewhat more visual presentation of The Graham Saga, why not watch the book trailer?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Invoking the Muses


After making an exhaustive study of what's selling and what's not in historical fiction (by which I mean I looked at some Amazon reviews, read a few Facebook posts, and took a look at my own Author Central page), I have come to a conclusion.

To wit, there is Absolutely No Point in continuing to write what people don't want to read.  I am, therefore, embarking on a project to write the most salable historical novel that has ever been written, in which I propose to invoke pretty much every cliché I can think of.  And I intend to share the results with you, my faithful blog readers.

To begin, I did what all writers must do -- I invoked the Muses.  This was only a partial success.  Calliope said that in the current publishing climate she had to be very selective, but she wished me luck finding a muse who would be a better fit with my project; I got an autoreply from Clio; Euterpe's assistant said she was not taking unsolicited requests; Melpomene had to attend a funeral; Thalia just laughed off my request; and Erato sent regrets, though she did recommend the reasonably-priced services of her sister Errata, who's taking over the position of muse of Copy Editing from Apostrophe, who is on leave after multiple relocations. 

I did manage to reach Hyperbole, muse of Marketing, and Monotone, muse of Publishing, though, so all was not lost. 

Hyperbole, contemplating Twitter feed

Monotone, muse of Publishing

Both of them were overflowing with enthusiasm.  First they tried to convince me to write about Tudors, and I had to break it to them that I don't know anything about Tudors, and the closest I could come would be Florence in the13th century.  Monotone kept insisting I could just use Wikipedia, but eventually I prevailed.

Next, the question of a title came up. 

“It's got to be The Queen's something-or-other,” said Monotone, and Hyperbole nodded.

“Or if you can't do that, it's got to be The Something-or-other's Wife,” she added.

“This is Florence in the 13th century.  There weren't any queens,” I told them.

Monotone scoffed.  “It's the middle ages, isn't it?  Of course there were queens!”

“Queens that everyone's heard of,” Hyperbole chimed in.

“Name me a medieval Italian queen that you've heard of,” I challenged her.

Hyperbole looked blank.  Monotone examined her fingernails, humming to herself.

“See?  No queens.”

“Whyever not?  How can you hold a middle ages without queens?!?  What do they put on their covers, for chrissake?”

“Florence was an anarcho-syndicalist commune,” I explained.

Four eyebrows shot up.  “Oh, really?” they said in unison.

“Well, no.  Not exactly.  But it was a commune -- nary a queen in sight.  Except maybe an occasional Queen of the May.”

A moment of silence ensued. 

“Well, okay, then, how about somebody's wife?” said Hyperbole.

“I was thinking of writing about Dante's great love and inspiration, Beatrice,” I said, watching them for a reaction.

The Poet's Wife?  I dunno – truth be told, it doesn't pull me in.”

“She wasn't his wife, she was the woman he loved.  She married a banker.”

The Banker's Wife is right out,” Monotone said firmly.  “We just put out a memoir by that title.  Rushed it out the door to take advantage of the latest financial crisis.  But maybe we could go with The Poet's Mistress.  It's not great, but it's better than The Poet's Wife.”

“Well, she wasn't exactly his mistress, actually,” I said, not quite liking where this was going.

“But surely they did have a relationship,” protested Hyperbole.

“Well, yes – he swore to write about her as no one had ever written about a woman before, and he made her immortal, and she symbolized all sorts of stuff, and he made sure her name will never be forgotten.”

“But they did, um, Have A Relationship, didn't they?” Hyperbole persisted.

“She greeted him courteously on the street,” I began, but before I could go on, they both groaned.

“Are you sure you can't come up with an Italian queen?”  Monotone's voice had taken on a wheedling tone.

“Not before 1861.”

Hyperbole turned to Monotone.  “Is 1861 trending?” she asked.

“Not in Italy.” 

“Let's wait till later to figure out the title,” I suggested, and they both reluctantly agreed.  “So I can do Beatrice?”

“Sure you can,” said Monotone.  “Only, we'll have to come up with another name for her.”

“Another – but why??” 

“Nobody will pronounce it right.  They'll say BEE-a-triss, not Bay-ah-TREE-chay,” Hyperbole explained. 

“Her nickname was Bice –“ I began, but Monotone interrupted me.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no.  BEE-chay is not what people are going to say when they see that.  They're going to rhyme it with mice, and spice, and lice, and dice.  Not with eBay.”

“But everybody knows she's Beatrice!”

“No, they don't,” said Hyperbole patiently.  “Hardly anyone has a clue she even existed.  We need to give her a name that people can relate to.  How about Daenerys?”

I was going to have to put my foot down.  “I am not calling Beatrice 'Daenerys.'”

“Arya?  Arya would be nice.”

“No!  It has to at least be something Italian,” I wailed.

The two muses looked meaningfully at each other.  Then they turned back to me.

“There, there, dear,” said Hyperbole soothingly, and Monotone reached out and patted my hand.  “Let's call her something we can all agree on, then.  How about – Marianna?”

Marianna?  Well... I couldn't really think of any reason why not.  “I suppose so.  But how did you come up with that?”

Monotone grinned at me.  “There's an art to naming characters,” she said.  “Marianna is a lovely name, and it's a nice contraction of Maria Susanna.”

Oh. 

“So that's our main character,” Hyperbole said briskly.  “Now we need a female sidekick to be the narrative voice.  A Servant with a Secret, as it were.”

I was confused.  “What secret?”

“Doesn't matter.  She just needs to have one.  Keeps her interesting.  Let's call her something like Lisa.”

“Why Lisa?”

“It's pronounceable, and everybody knows about that girl whose first name was Mona and her middle name was Lisa, and it's a popular name even now, so lots of readers named Lisa will identify.  That's why I would have suggested Madison, or Alexis, or Paige, or Zoe, but I didn't think you'd go along with it.”

She was right.  I wouldn't have gone along with it.  All right, we had a main character named Marianna and her trusty sidekick Lisa, so it looked like we were about ready to get started.

But first I did have one request.  No, make that a demand.

“I want the history to be right,” I said.  They both looked at me like I had completely lost it.  “I want room for author's notes, and I don't want any anachronisms or wild inaccuracies.  Period.”

Both of my muses looked thoroughly alarmed at that.  But the ever-resourceful Hyperbole rallied quickly.

“I know,” she said.  “We'll personify your Author Notes.  We'll throw in a character who will act as a sort of history policewoman and keep everyone on the straight and narrow.  How will that be?”

“Um – okay, I guess.”  I had never heard of this, but maybe it would work.  “We can call her something like, say, Ystoria.” 

Monotone stroked her chin thoughtfully.  “Ystoria.  I think I could live with that.  It sounds exotic,” she said. 

With that settled, we went to work.  First task was to draw up a list of Essential Points – things that simply had to be there, though not in any particular order. 

Hours later, exhausted but satisfied, we had come up with the following list:
  1. Heroine must dress as a boy for extended periods and get away with it.
  2. Heroine must be nobly born. (See #6 for one possibility.)  Also nubile.  Noble and nubile.
  3. Heroine must be appalled to learn that a marriage has been arranged for her.
  4. Underlying history must be explained by the heroine's kindly tutor (alternatively, by her mother), in no more than two paragraphs.
  5. Heroine must have learned a traditionally masculine art/craft/skill from her indulgent father (or father-figure) when she was a child.
  6. At least one instance of someone's parentage not being what it seems.
  7. Heroine must do a self-inventory while looking into a mirror; must have either violet or green eyes.
  8. Heroine must find herself in a dangerous situation, grab a weapon, and discover that she's extremely gifted at using it.
  9. Must include lots of sex.  [Here we had a brief debate about whether the first sexual experience had to be Vesuvian and stellar, or could be brutal and unpleasant.  We all agreed that sex with the right partner would have to be measured on the Richter scale.]
  10. Villain(s) must be extremely non-PC.
  11. Need at least one horrific childbirth scene.
  12. Heroine must be headstrong.
At that last, Hyperbole, now wildly excited, shouted, “And willful!”

“And feisty!  And independent!  And enlightened and progressive!” Monotone added.

“And stubborn!  And empowered!  And self-actualized!  And tech-savvy!”

“Tech-savvy?” I asked, incredulous.

Hyperbole blushed.  “Sorry, I got carried away.  But everything else stands.”

***

Please note:  however it may sound, I really don't have it in for books about Tudors, or even anything called The Queen's Whatever, or any book that incorporates some of the clichés listed above.  (If it incorporates all of them, that's another matter.)   My own WIP contains at least one item on that list, and I am currently reading and enjoying a book about Tudors (The Queen's Exiles, by Barbara Kyle, which so far contains no clichés whatsoever).  

But.  The 1st 10 pages on an Amazon search under the category "Historical fiction" yield no fewer than 10 titles beginning "The Queen's" and another 23 books with "Queen" in the title, not counting names of specific queens.  So there is a trend here.  In a quirky, fun little book called Science Made Stupid, author Tom Weller hints that lots of places seem to get named "The Devil's [whatever]" - including such unlikely examples as "Devil's Hot Tub State Park," "Devil's Tax Shelter National Monument," "Devil's Torque Wrench Wilderness Area," "Devil's Three-Martini Lunch National Forest," "Devil's Grant Proposal National Wasteland," and "Devil's Running Gag Useless Area."  I'm beginning to think historical fiction titles are a bit like that.

Join me next time for The Story.  (Dante's Banker's WifeThe May Queen's Dilemma?)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Medieval Moms III: The Sinner


Francesca da Rimini, the third woman in my Medieval Moms series, was a sinner.  (Last week was the saint:  see here.)

How do we know she was a sinner?  We know because Dante assigned her to the Inferno, to the circle of the lustful, where she was to be eternally buffeted about (along with her lover) in a raging whirlwind as payback for her adultery with her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta.


Unusually, we only know about Francesca and her sin because of Dante.  There's no mention of them at all in anything written before Dante wrote his Commedia.  But she and Paolo were Dante's contemporaries, and their story captured his imagination, and then Dante commentators (including Dante's sons) filled in some of the details for us.  Still later, two chroniclers of the Romagna region picked up the story.  And finally, Giovanni Boccaccio took it on, adding some original elements that tended to provoke sympathy for the lovers, and from there the story went viral, in a pre-internet sort of way.


Especially throughout the 19th century, stories, plays, operas, tone poems, and numerous other treatments of the tale proliferated.  Wikipedia lists no fewer than 20 (!) operas based on Francesca and Paolo (don't worry, I won't include all the YouTube links).

Sergei Rachmaninov and his Paolo and Francesca

Rodin's famous sculpture The Kiss was originally entitled Francesca da Rimini:


So what, exactly, happened to cause such a (belated) fuss?

Francesca was the daughter of Guido Minore da Polenta, aka Guido il Vecchio, who was lord of Ravenna in 1275, the year he gave his teenaged daughter in marriage to Giovanni (called “Gianciotto,” or “John the Lame”) Malatesta, the second son of that Malatesta da Verucchio who was to become the first lord of Rimini (a position Gianciotto never achieved).  This amounted to a powerful political alliance between two prominent families of the Romagna. 

So far, so good.  Gianciotto was probably well into his thirties, maybe close to forty, and Francesca was sixteen, but that wasn't unusual.  He and Francesca in due course had a daughter, who they called – rather ironically – Concordia.  (They may also have had a son, Francesco, who died in infancy.) 

However, Gianciotto also had an exceedingly attractive younger brother called Paolo.  Paolo was himself married, to the unfortunately-named Orabile Beatrice, countess of Ghiaggiolo, and they were the parents of two children, one of whom was named Uberto.


An attraction grew between Paolo and Francesca, resulting in a clandestine adulterous affair.  The various dramatic treatments of their liaison differ on the details; some suggest that it was at the very moment of the couple's first kiss that Gianciotto burst into Francesca's chamber and skewered them both on his sword, whereas other accounts suggest that the affair trundled along uneventfully for almost a decade before Gianciotto committed his act of combined fratricide and uxoricide.


Later writers introduced new elements:  a telltale servant; Paolo's attempt to escape, until his clothing got hung up on something and he found himself stuck in the trap door; Francesca's attempt to protect her lover, which resulted in her death (which in this version her husband did not intend) as well as Paolo's; and the idea that Francesca believed she was marrying Paolo (perhaps a wedding by proxy?) and fell in love with him, only learning later that she was stuck with his much less appealing brother.

Dante, though, who in his telling is profoundly moved at the plight of the lovers he encounters in the Inferno, tells us, as only he can, how their love began, here in Francesca's words:
  We were reading one day, for pleasure, of
Lancelot, how Love beset him; we were alone and
without any suspicion.

  Many times that reading drove our eyes
together and turned our faces pale; but one point
alone was the one that overpowered us.

  When we read that the yearned-for smile was
kissed by so great a lover, he, who will never be
separated from me,

  kissed my mouth all trembling.  Galeotto was the
book and he who wrote it:  that day we read there no
further.”
Dante Alighieri, Inferno 5:127-138, trans. Robert M. Durling

Dante may have met Paolo when Dante was 17 and Paolo was in Florence serving as Capitano del Popolo (one of two leading governmental positions that the medieval Italian communes always gave to “foreigners,” or people from other cities, in an attempt to avoid local factionalism).

Dante scholar Teodolinda Barolini observes of Dante's version that “he took a story that was notorious enough for him to have heard it, but that eventually would have been lost, and made it a story that has never been forgotten.” 


But what happened to Concordia?  She was probably no more than nine years old when her mother died.  For that matter, what became of Paolo's children?  Here the story gets even murkier.

Gianciotto remarried, to Zambrosina, daughter of Tebaldello de' Zambrasi, of Faenza, and they had five children:  Tino, Guidoni, Ramberto, Margherita, and Rengarduccia.  Gianciotto's father Malatesta, Concordia's grandfather, wrote in his will in 1311 that Concordia and her half-siblings should amicably resolve any issues relating to the distribution of Francesca's dowry.

This raises some interesting questions.  A woman's dowry was her own to control, as a rule, but perhaps Francesca left no will.  Or, perhaps because of her adultery, her husband's family felt justified in claiming the dowry.  It did not revert to her family, though had she been guiltless and unjustly murdered by her spouse, her birth family might possibly have taken legal steps to reclaim it.  In any case it is hard to understand why the children of Gianciotto's second marriage should have had a share in it at all, but I've not been able to learn anything more about it.  It does appear that the murder did not destroy that all-important alliance between the two families – an alliance that was also cemented by the marriage of Francesca's brother Bernardino to Maddalena, younger sister of Gianciotto and Paolo.

Some say Concordia ended her days in a convent of Poor Clares, Sant'Arcangelo di Romagna, but others say there is nothing to support this.  We just don't know.  But Concordia was raised in the palace where her father killed her mother, raised not only with her half-siblings, but with her cousins, the sons of her uncle (who was also her mother's lover).  It can't have been easy – perhaps not for any of them. 

There is one more sad (and confusing) story pertaining to the next generation.  Unfortunately, we have two opposing versions.  In the first, Paolo's son Ramberto, many years later, avenged his father by murdering Gianciotto's son Uberto at a banquet. 

But wait – haven't we seen already that Ramberto was Gianciotto's son, not Paolo's?  And Uberto was Paolo's son, not Gianciotto's?

That brings us to the second version.  In this one, Ramberto is indeed Gianciotto's son, and history repeats itself when he slays his cousin Uberto, who was Paolo's son, at a banquet.

The first version comes from Wikipedia.  The second comes from Dr. Teodolinda Barolini, Lorenzo Da Ponte Professor of Italian at Columbia University, multiply-published and distinguished Dante scholar. 

Guess which one I'm going to believe? 


This picture is here because the instrument at Francesca's feet is a portative organ, or organetto.  I play one of those too, so I couldn't resist.  I will, however, resist the temptation to discuss which of the brothers has the longer, um, sword.

Francesca's organetto/my organetto
Before we leave Francesca, let me share with you a few more of her words to Dante, again in Robert Durling's translation:
  Love, which is swiftly kindled in the noble heart,
seized this one for the lovely person that was taken
from me; and the manner still injures me.

  Love, which pardons no one loved from loving in
return, seized me for his beauty so strongly that, as
you see, it still does not abandon us.

… There is no greater pain than to
remember the happy time in wretchedness.

All images in this post are in the public domain.