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Imperial Requiem: Four Royal Women and the Fall of the Age of Empires by Justin C. Vovk

Three who lost their throne and one who didn't. )
oxymoron67: (history)
Marie-Thérèse: The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter by Susan Nagle
The Daughter of France )
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The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem by Nancy Goldstone

I enjoy biographies and memoirs. If you look at what I read here, that should be obvious. In particular, I enjoy reading about the "second rank" of history: the people who were well-known in their lifetimes but whose fame/notoriety has since faded or the also-rans... the folks that could have been big, but weren't.

Joanna I is in the first category.

Her great-grandfather was Charles of Anjou, the younger brother of St Louis IX, King of France. Charles married the heiress of the county of Provence and bought the kingdom of Naples from the papacy.

Through her great-grandfather, Joanna was a descendant of the redoubtable Blanche of Castile and through her, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Both of those women were among the strongest people of their ages, and Joanna followed suit.

Joanna's grandfather, Robert the Wise, was actually the third son of Charles of Anjou. The first died young, leaving a small boy and the second went into the priesthood. Charles, scared that having a minor on the throne would lead to an invasion, put his grandson on the throne of Hungary, naming Robert his heir.

If I may compare royal families, the main problem with the Tudors is that they didn't have enough sons. Charles of Anjou had seven? eight? sons. Providing for all of them led to ugly family politics and constantly shifting alliances.

Before Joanna took the throne, the king of Hungary pressed his claim to the throne of Naples. This was solved by marrying his younger son, Andrew, to Joanna while they were both about twelve.

Several years (and after producing an heir) later,Andrew was strangled. Joanna was accused and was exiled to Provence for a short while. She appealed to the pope and was returned to her throne.

This is just the beginning of her story:of tremendous ups and downs, three more marriages, expansion and contraction of her domains and eventually her downfall. As the ruler of the strongest kingdom in Italy, Joanna wielded quite a bit of power. Yet, she was excommunicated before her death and, therefore, could not be interred in consecrated ground. She is buried in a dry well outside of a convent.

All of this happened in a much bigger European context, with the papacy in exile in Avignon, the Hundred Years' War, the Reconquista in Spain and the rise of Ottoman Turks.

It's an interesting read. Considering that anytime you discuss royalty, you're talking complex family and power relationships, it's as straightforward as it can be. The book is detailed enough, but not too bogged down in detail.
oxymoron67: (history)
The Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
The aftermath of Henry VIII )
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For those who thought that the "Is the DaVinci Code real?" documentaries were delightfully factual, the National Geographic Channel produced this documentary.

Lord, it was bad.

It starts off with this conspiracy theory that the Princess Elizabeth, when eleven, died of an illness and was secretly replaced by a boy. And no one noticed.


Ok, I can kind of see Henry VII not seeing this: he might not have been paying close attention and, for most of her childhood, Elizabeth was excluded from the succession and shunted off to the side. BUT his later queens, especially Katharine Parr, encouraged a reconciliation.

After Henry VII's death, Elizabeth lived with Katharine Parr and her new husband, Thomas Seymour. Since Seymour had (at least) a quasi-sexual relationship with Elizabeth, the whole "secretly a guy" thing would have been discovered.

Also, this conspiracy theory really gained traction because of misogyny. Lots of men cannot believe that a woman could have been a capable ruler, and since, unlike Catherine the Great of Russia who enjoyed sex or Maria Theresa of Austria who had seventeen children, Elizabeth remained unmarried and probably a virgin.

So, she had to be a man. Otherwise, she would have married and bred.

Never mind that she lived through her own mother's execution as well as the execution of her father's fifth wife (Katharine Howard) and the mess surrounding Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth learned that to stay alive, she needed to stay in control, so no marriage.

Anyway, then they discussed that she never married, and the whole romance with Dudley (who she may have married, had things turned out differently).

So... nothing new and some idiotic conspiracy theories.

oxymoron67: (Default)
I went back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art today... I wanted to see the recently-renovated Classical Near East Art, the Habsburg Silver Service, and the Tibetan Arms and Armor exhibit.

I started with the Near East galleries. Persia, the Hittites, Assyria, Babylon, the Levant: all represented here. It's a great exhibit and one I didn't finish, well... because..
Odd things happened here )
Still it was a great display, and I'll go back and finish it sometime.

After that, I went to find the Habsburg Silver Service, which was commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa for her daughter Maria Christina on her wedding day. To get there, I had to go through the European Decorative Arts galleries. I'm going to return and just spend a day there : it's all about furniture, dining ware, vases, personal items. It was neat just passing through.

The Silver Service was HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE. And it wasn't the entire set. The service had been auctioned off, and it had taken a while for it to be reassembled. It was also a beautiful service.

But that's not surprising: Viennese craftsmen and artisans of the time were amazing.

Near the silver service, the Museum was showing a special exhibition of some of its paintings from the Hudson River School of painting. I love the Hudson River School, so I went over, and they were beautiful. I found the one of the ship floundering in the icy waters to be especially stunning, because I don;t usually associate that type of painting with the Hudson River School.

Finally, I made my way over to the Tibetan Arms and Armor exhibit. I went through a few galleries, and thought that I; had been through it, until I turned a corner. There was a special room. I guess the other galleries were Far East arms and armor.

Then I hit the gift shop and left.

A great way to spend an afternoon.
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A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888-1889 by Frederic Morton

I really enjoyed this book
Details under the cut. )
oxymoron67: (Default)
1) Moon

If you like Science Fiction movies, go see this one. This movie is everything that Sunshine wanted to be.

Sam Rockwell did an amazing job.

First, a word about cinematography:
If you like Sam Rockwell's ass, you'll love this movie. While there is only one brief nude butt-shot, he spends a great deal of time in either a flight suit or long underwear. The cinematographer clearly enjoyed shooting Rockwell's rear end in these outfits.

The plot: Sam Rockwell plays a man who is nearing the end of his three year contract working alone on an automated mining colony on the moon. (Hey. maybe this is where clean coal comes from!) He has an accident, wakes up from it... and things happen.

Rockwell's performance as the person who slowly figures things out is wonderful. His is the primary performance. Kevin Spacey plays the voice of his computer/helper, which is an interesting character in itself.

It's a wonderful movie.

2) Book review
Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, From Cleopatra to Princess Di by Kris Waldherr

This book is an interesting overview of women who were sacrificed on the altar of power. Many of the stories presented here will be people you are likely familiar with: Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, for example. The author also includes some interesting also-rans in history (such as Berenice and Arsinoe, Cleopatra's sisters and rivals) and people no one talks about much, like Urraca of Leon and Castile, who was the first woman to rule a state in her own right in the West.

The entries are short, however, so you may find yourself wanting more information. Also, many of the entries deal with women who we know very little about, so that may be all the information there.

Still, an interesting overview.

It would be interesting to see the reverse of these women: you know, the women who ROCKED the throne: like Queen Elizabeth I of England or Isabella la Catolica or Eleanor of Aquitaine or Blanche of Castile. (I think that Urraca of Leon and Castile would also be included here.)
oxymoron67: (reading)
While I haven't finished reading it yet, I pretty much know what I think about Princess Michael of Kent's The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King.

It's an enjoyable read: the style is breezy and informal, even a little gossip-y, which suits me fine. We're talking about court intrigues, after all, the tone is appropriate. Honestly, I sometimes think that this type of tone suits history better. It reminds us that these people aren't icons, that they were all too human.

The main characters:

François I: King of France, father of Henri II.
Henry VII: King of England, sometime ally, sometime enemy of François I
Charles V: Holy Roman Emperor: Enemy of François I
Clement VII: Weak, waffling pope, sometime ally of François
Henri II: Son of François
Catherine de Medici: niece of Pope Clement VII, wife of Henri II
Diane de Poitiers: Wife of prominent advisor of François I, later mistress of Henri II
Anne de Montmorency (a man!): Adivosr under both François I and (especially) Henri II

The book goes through the reign of François I, focusing on his wars in Italy, especially the disastrous defeats that led the to Treaty of Madrid. The Treaty of Madrid forced François to surrender his two eldest sons, the dauphin, François, and Henri s hostages. They were kept isolated from court and mistreated for several years.

At age 14, Henri married Catherine de Medici in an attempt to cement an alliance between the Papacy and France, so that France could rule northern Italy.. She fell in love, he didn't. This marriage was opposed by many in France because the Medicis were seen as newcomers: they weren't really royalty: they were bankers. He was growing into a dashing, handsome young man. She was rather plain. By the time Henri was 19 or so, he started an affair with Diane de Poitiers, 18 years his senior and glamourous.

While the French were not happy about the Medici marraige, the dauphin was young, so no one thought that she'd be queen. Then, the dauphin François died, possibly of tuberculosis, at age eighteen.

This book then discusses the governance of Henri II, how he was influenced by Diane de Poitiers and Anne de Montmorency and how he ignored Catherine de Medici, allowing Diane de Poitiers to upstage her at every turn.

Here is the books problem: Princess Michael claims that she isn't taking sides in her preface, yet, at every turn, she defends everything that Henri II and Diane de Poitiers do, saying that Catherine de Medici had no real expectation to be treated better than she was. Princess Michael also highlights how beautiful and glamourous Diane de Poitiers was versus how dowdy Catherine de Medici was.

Clearly, the author prefers Diane de Poitiers. Fine, no book is totally without bias, but admit it.

I think this would be a good book for those who know very little about France at the time or those who want to read a book about history that isn't a super-dry history textbook. It's a decent, but not incredible, book
oxymoron67: (reading)
I finished After Elizabeth: The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle For the Throne of England by Leanda De Lisle today.

I always thought that James VI's road to the throne of England was secure, and in most ways it was. Had Elizabeth held on for a few more months, the Catholics powers might have been able to rally around an alternative candidate, probably Arbella Stuart.

Having said this, I understand why James was such a good choice:
1) He was Elizabeth's ranking relative.
2) He had three children who had survived infancy and a still-fertile wife (to help prevent succession issues)
3) He was Protestant.

But ... he had minuses
1) He was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who tried to overthrow Elizabeth.
2) His sexual proclivities. (He was, in our terms, bisexual, most likely.)
3) He was a Scot. The English viewed the Scots as barely civilized (don't they view everyone that way?), hyper-violent, poor country hicks.

Still, let's consider the other candidates:

James' first cousin, Arbella Stuart.

Now, Arbella was bred and raised to be queen. Her grandmothers, the Countess of Lennox and Bess of Hardwick arranged the marriage of Lennox's younger son (her older son was James VI's father) to one of Bess of Hardwick's children.
Her parents died young, and she was raised primarily by Bess of Hardwick.However, by the time of Elizabeth's death, Arbella hadn't been welcome at court for eleven years (she was briefly useful as marriage bait for the Spanish) and was trapped on her grandmother's estate, unknown and unable to take what she saw as her rightful place.

Her selling points?
1) She was English.
2) While she was 28, which was ld to be unmarried, there was still plenty of time to wed and produce heirs.
3) She was an unknown so many factions threw her name out there, not knowing if she would espouse what they wanted.

Down sides?
1) Even after Elizabeth... England's Gloriana... I doubt that they wanted another Queen regnant.
2) She was ... difficult. Mostly due to years in isolation.
3) She was an unknown. Just as everyone could use her as a symbol for their cause, they were also afraid of her.

Arbella didn't help herself any. When James VI offered her the prize position of Chief Mourner at Elizabeth's funeral, Arbella refused, saying that since she wasn't allowed in the Queen's company while she lived, she saw no reason to spend her time in said company now that Elizabeth was dead. Tis alienated her from the royal family.

The others, the Infanta of Spain (descended from Edward III), and the Seymours (descended from Lady Jane Grey's younger sister) really weren't taken all that seriously. Although Arbella proposed marrying the eldest of the Seymours, to unite her claim to the throne with that of the descendants of Henry VIII's younger sister, Mary.

Somebody who comes off as interesting in all of this is James' wife Anne of Denmark. Headstrong and secretly Catholic, she fought for her rights, refusing her husband's choices for her.

Important topics discussed? James' (and later, Anne's) progress to London; the plague and its effects on the whole thing; the Catholic question; the Bye and Main Plots; Arbella's attempts at freedom; the arrest and trial of Sir Walter Raleigh; Queen Anna's miscarriage (she brought the stillborn baby in a box to her husband in London in case he didn't believe she was really pregnant.) and other things.

The book itself gets bogged down in details sometimes, but, overall, is a fascinating read for those who are interested in Tudor England, the rise of the Stuarts, or monarchy in general
oxymoron67: (Default)
In 1936, King Edward VIII of Great Britain abdicated to marry his lover, Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee.

They lived a life as socialites, shunned by the royal family. They never had children. In fact, both were believed to be sterile: her from the after-effects of a back alley abortion; him, from a bout with the mumps when he was 11.

Well... imagine their surprise: they have a daughter.

Click and enjoy the crazy.

Notice, that the Pentagon was involved in all this, but its role was never defined.

Why? Royal bastards were nothing new. As an added bonus, not only is this woman the scion of a lost branch of the Windsor family tree, she's a Fundamentalist Christian as well:

It is Elizabeth's sincere hope that these important facts about her parents should finally be known, and that Great Britain, as well as the United States of America, and all of the other Christian nations, will regain their earthly sovereignty, to once again each be ruled only by God and His Son Jesus Christ.

Now, I'm not sure that she's claiming that she should be on the throne rather than the Elizabeth that currently is Queen. I can only explore this crazy for so long... because there's more!

British royals are tools of the anti-christ! In fact, Prince William is the Anti-Christ!

First, they mention the Middle East, they mention the Book of Daniel, the Illuminati, Mary Magdalene and the Merovingians*, the Freemasons, the Papacy, the Habsburgs and the Knights Templar. The only person alive that fits all the Anti-Christ criteria, according to these nutballs, is Prince William.

My favorite part:

However, the actual plan to bring about a Messiah from the Merovingian line did not begin with these nine men, it can be traced as far back to the ancient Celtic Druids, and far beyond them to a magickal priesthood some label only as Atlantean.

So, prior to the rise of Christianity and the concept of the Anti-Christ, druids were plotting to raise the Anti-Christ. Also... Atlantis!

I love the internet. It always makes me feel better about myself.
oxymoron67: (Default)
When James I's advisor and good friend the Duke of Buckingham was gravely ill, James I sent him gifts to lift his spirits, including deer testicles.

Now, I realize that I don't live in those times, but my thought was "I doubt that 'say it with deer testicles' will ever catch on, instead of flowers."

Book recs!

Jun. 2nd, 2008 02:32 pm
oxymoron67: (history)
Click for a special all-Stuart family edition! )


Apr. 7th, 2008 08:47 am
oxymoron67: (Default)
A book I just finished and two I've started re-reading. )
oxymoron67: (Default)
I enjoy winter, I really do. Cold doesn't really bother me and I think a snow-covered landscape is quite fetching. Of course, it bothers a lot of people, including those in my area who don't have heat in their apartments. My apartment is still NYC's own tropical rain forest. however.

Meantime, the insanity that is the first week of the new term continues. I'm training a new batch of student helpers and dealing with some vexing machine problems. A few of the student machines have just decided that they're no longer part of the network and when I boot up the main machine it says "alert! last shutdown due to thermal event", which I know isn't true, because I shut it down myself yesterday. Ahhh, technology.

I'm currently reading four books. (I never just read one book at a time. I don't know why. I'll blame my mother the librarian.) They are:

Alsion Weir's Queen Isabella and the Death of Edward II
Erik Larson's Thunderstruck
Amanda MacKenzie Stuart's Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt
Ralph McInherny's Murder Most Catholic

I find the story of the Vanderbilts especially interesting so far, mostly because I don't know a lot about the Gilded Age, and, so far, it's fascinating.


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