Friday, August 30, 2013

Thoughts on Monarchy

I recently watched David Starkey's sixteen-episode Monarchy series. I have not seen the final episode, "The House of Windsor" which was released in 2007. It was not part of the complete series DVD set.

The episodes were

  • A Nation State 
  • Ængla Land
  • Conquest
  • Dynasty
  • A United Kingdom
  • Death of A Dynasty
  • The Crown Imperial
  • King and Emperor
  • The Shadow of the King
  • The Stuart Succession
  • Cromwell The King Killer
  • The Return of the King
  • The Glorious Revolution
  • Rule Brittania
  • Empire
  • Survival

The first episode begins in the Dark Ages, the highlight of this first episode is probably Alfred the Great and the invading Vikings. The last episode concludes with Queen Victoria's reign, not all the way to her death, however. Albert's death is mentioned.

Episodes are not equally fascinating. Some episodes I truly enjoyed. Other episodes I found a bit boring. The narration was fine, but, I did not always agree with David Starkey or find his opinions compelling or interesting. Sometimes the direction he took the episode disappointed me. I wasn't learning what I most wanted to learn, and instead it was full of detail that I just didn't care if I ever learned about. I found the earlier episodes more interesting than later episodes.

Some episodes at least are available to watch on YouTube.

A Nation State
King and Emperor
The Return of the King

© 2013 Becky Laney

Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Jean Plaidy Reading List

These are books I'm hoping to read in the next year or so.

The Captive Queen of Scots (1963)
The Wandering Prince (1956)
A Health Unto His Majesty (1957)
Here Lies Our Sovereign Lord (1957)
The Three Crowns (1965)
The Princess of Celle (1967)
Queen in Waiting (1967)
Caroline, The Queen (1968)
The Prince and the Quakeress (1975)
The Bastard King (1974) * review coming soon
The Lion of Justice (1975) * review coming soon
The Passionate Enemies (1976) *review coming soon
The Heart of the Lion (1977)
The Battle of the Queens (1978)
The Queen from Provence (1979)
The Hammer of the Scots (1979)
The Vow on the Heron (1980)
Victoria Victorious (1985)
The Courts of Love (1987)
The Queen's Secret (1989)
Pleasures of Love (1991) AKA The Merry Monarch's Wife
Madonna on the Seven Hills (1958)
Light on Lucrezia (1958)
The Revolt of The Eagles (1977)
To Hold The Crown (1982)
The Goldsmith's Wife (1950)
The Captive of Kensington Palace (1972)
The Third George (1969)
Passage to Pontefract (1981)
The Prince of Darkness (1978)

A full reading list can be found at Wikipedia.

© 2013 Becky Laney

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England

The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century. Ian Mortimer. 2008. Simon & Schuster. 345 pages.

It is the cathedral that you will see first.

Is this book as promising as it sounds? Is it dry and boring? OR is it actually FUN?

I found The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England a fun and delightful read. It was written in a way that I wish all history books could be written. If history textbooks read like this one, perhaps more people would like studying it!

The text was very engaging. The author is speaking directly to readers as if they were actually going to be visiting the past. The past feels very real, very much alive.

The premise is fun and unique. As the jacket flap says, "The past is a foreign country. This is your guidebook." And..."A time machine has just transported you back to the fourteenth century. What do you see? How do you dress? How do you earn a living and how much are you paid? What sort of food will you be offered by a peasant or a monk or a lord? And more important, where will you stay?"

It is divided essentially into eleven chapters:
  • The Landscape
  • The People
  • The Medieval Character
  • Basic Essentials
  • What to Wear
  • Traveling
  • Where To Stay
  • What to Eat and Drink
  • Health and Hygiene
  • The Law
  • What to Do
My favorite chapter was "Health and Hygiene." "What to Wear," "The People," and "Traveling" were also quite interesting. (My least favorite chapter was "The Law.")

Overall, I found the book fascinating. I did. I think it's a great companion read for those who love historical fiction. There are so many great books set during this time period, and reading this book can help you appreciate the time period even more, I think. 

Plague Song and Fairy Tale

© 2013 Becky Laney

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

You Wouldn't Want To Be A Shakespearean Actor

You Wouldn't Want To Be A Shakespearean Actor. Jacqueline Morley. Illustrated by David Antram. 2010. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library] 

I loved You Wouldn't Want To Be A Shakespearean Actor by Jacqueline Morley. I thought it was a great introduction to the Elizabethan theatre. Readers learn about James and Richard Burbage and William Shakespeare, of course. It was very reader-friendly. I thought it was informative and straight-forward.

From the introduction:
 "It's 1594 and you're a young boy growing up in Shoreditch, a neighborhood on the outskirts of London. Until about 20 years ago, it was a quiet spot. Then actors from the city arrived and put up a "playhouse" here--a building just for putting on plays! Before this, actors--who are called players--had always traveled the country, setting up makeshift stages wherever they could find an audience. Puritans, like your parents, don't approve of acting. They say that players don't do real work--they just play. They also say that plays are just longer versions of the foolish shows that wandering entertainers have been putting on since medieval times. But you think your parents are wrong to say that plays are displeasing to God; they've never been to one! Well, you have (unknown to them, of course), and you think plays are the best thing ever. You'd love to act in one."
I loved learning all the behind-the-scenes details. For example, from the spread "Stretching Your Memory,":
You're a star player now, the company's first choice for female leads. But there's a downside to success. You're up till midnight, studying lines until you feel your head will split. The trouble is, to keep the audiences coming, the company performs a different play each day. There are some 40 plays to choose from, and you must act in all of them. You have to remember every part you've ever learned! About 15 plays a year will be new; the rest are revivals of old plays. In some plays, you perform more than one role, so altogether you need to keep at least 50 parts in your head. Minor actors, who each play more than one part, may need to memorize 100 roles. (14)
I would definitely recommend this one!!!

Horrible Histories, William Shakespeare Song

© 2013 Becky Laney

Monday, August 26, 2013

You Wouldn't Want To Be A World War II Pilot

You Wouldn't Want To Be A World War II: Air Battles You Might Not Survive. Ian Graham. Illustrated by David Antram. 2009. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

This nonfiction picture book would be a good introduction of the subject for young readers. Older readers would probably want to know even more.

From the introduction: "You are 16. Home is San Antonio, Texas. The year is 1934. You're crazy about aircraft and flying. Your room is filled with models and posters of airplanes. You go to your local airfield, Stinson Field, to study pilots and their planes at every opportunity..."

The spreads include: "Learning to Fly," "Joining Up," "Fighter Training," "The Spitfire," "First Post," "Combat," "Passing Time," "Bailing Out," "Pearl Harbor," "Pacific Fighters," "Under U.S. Command," and "Peace at Last."

While this picture book may begin in the United States, it soon crosses the Atlantic. After the war begins, American pilots volunteer for Britain's RAF. This picture book, in a way, tells that story. After all, it takes several years for the U.S. to enter the war.

I liked this one. I didn't quite love it like some of the others in the series. But I thought it was good.

Horrible Histories, Woeful Second World War, RAF Song

© 2013 Becky Laney

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Understanding History

I really LOVED these quotes from Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England:
History is not really about the past; it is about understanding mankind over time. Within that simple, linear story of change and survival there are a thousand contrasts, and within each of those contrasts there is a range of experiences, and if we put our minds to it, we can relate to each one. Such a multidimensional picture of the human race is a far more profound one than an understanding based on a reading of today's newspapers: the image of mankind in the mirror of the moment is a relatively superficial one. Indeed, it is only through history that we can see ourselves as we really are. It is not enough to study the past for its own sake, to work out the facts; it is necessary to see the past in relation to ourselves. Otherwise studying the past is merely an academic exercise. Don't get me wrong: such exercises are important--without them we would be lost in a haze of uncertainty, vulnerable to the vagaries of well-meaning amateurs and prejudicial readings of historical evidence--but sorting out the facts is just a first step toward understanding humanity over time. If we wish to follow the old Delphic command, "Mankind, know thyself," then we need to look at ourselves over the course of history. (325)
The key to learning something about the past might be a ruin or an archive but the means whereby we may understand it is--and always will be--ourselves." (xix)
© 2013 Becky Laney

Friday, August 23, 2013

You Wouldn't Want To Be Joan of Arc

You Wouldn't Want To Be Joan of Arc! A Mission You Might Want To Miss. Fiona MacDonald. 2010. Illustrated by David Antram. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I really enjoyed reading Fiona MacDonald's You Wouldn't Want To Be Joan of Arc! I wish my library had every single book in this series. This one had me at hello.
The year? It's 1428. The place? Domremy, a village in northeast France. And you? You're Joan, the daughter of peasant farmers. Your family is neither very rich nor very poor. Like all the other local youngsters, you've grown up living in fear. For years, war has been raging throughout France. One of your cousins has been killed in battle, and the village church--next door to your family's house--has been burned down by the enemy. So far, you've managed to stay safe. But you face great dangers ahead. Why? Because you dream of a secret, sacred mission: to rescue France from its attackers! You're young--just 16. You're not a famous or powerful person. You can't read or write, and you haven't been trained to use weapons. You don't understand politics or know how to plan a battle. But you're utterly convinced that you must save your country. How can you fulfill your dream?
This picture book biography of Joan of Arc is simple and straight-forward. There is enough information for younger readers; obviously, older readers might want or need a more in-depth biography more appropriate for their age-group. But this picture book biography is fun and clearly presented. I love how the information is shared with readers.

The two page spreads include: "Dutiful Daughter," "In The War Zone," "Rival Rulers," "Hearing Voices," "An Urgent Mission," "Royal Meeting," "Saving a City," "The King is Crowned," "Sensing Doom," "A Terrifying Trial," "Life--or Death?," "Glorious Memory."

I think this series is good because it makes history exciting and entertaining. It's never too early to cultivate a love of history, perhaps, the earlier the better!

Horrible Histories, Joan of Arc

© 2013 Becky Laney

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Cleopatra Confesses

Cleopatra Confesses. Carolyn Meyer. 2011. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages.

From the prologue: My enemy stands at the gates of my city, Alexandria in Egypt. 

From chapter one: I gaze out at the sea and remember a summer day in the reign of my father, King Ptolemy XII. In this memory I am ten years old. It is the season of the Inundation, the time of year when the Nile overflows its banks, flooding the fields and renewing them for planting. 

While Cleopatra Confesses wouldn't be my absolute favorite Carolyn Meyer novel, I can easily say that it was a good book. I found it compelling. True, most readers will know the ultimate fate of Cleopatra. But still, this historical novel for teens focuses on Cleopatra's journey to that event. The novel is divided into sections. We see her as a young child who loves and adores her father. We see her as a young teen who distrusts her older sisters who proclaim themselves queens when their father enters exile. We see her fear for her life, but meet fear with determination, with strength not weakness. We see her happy reunion with her father, we see her share some of the glory with her father, with her brother, as she does become Queen. We see her as she becomes a mature woman who desires love and passion in addition to power. Julius Caesar gets a little attention--a chapter or two. But if you're expecting this to be a love story--though a tragic, slightly unusual love story--between Mark Antony and Cleopatra, you'll be disappointed. Just an epilogue brings readers up to date. I actually was pleased with this. Because the other story has been told again and again and again. But this story that focuses on her early years, on the rivalry between her and her sisters, on her unhappy marriages to her much, much younger brothers, on her early years as Queen, that is the story that is most worth telling. Especially for this audience.

© 2013 Becky Laney

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Georgian Reading List (Romance, Mostly)

These are the Georgian romances I've read:

The Black Moth. Georgette Heyer.
Powder and Patch. Georgette Heyer.
The Masqueraders. Georgette Heyer.
These Old Shades. Georgette Heyer
Devil's Cub. Georgette Heyer
The Convenient Marriage. Georgette Heyer.
Regency Buck. Georgette Heyer.
The Talisman Ring. Georgette Heyer.
The Corinthian. Georgette Heyer.
Faro's Daughter. Georgette Heyer
Friday's Child. Georgette Heyer.
The Reluctant Widow. Georgette Heyer.
The Foundling. Georgette Heyer.
Arabella. Georgette Heyer.
The Grand Sophy. Georgette Heyer
The Quiet Gentleman. Georgette Heyer.
Cotillion. Georgette Heyer.
Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs
Mine is the Night by Liz Curtis Higgs
The Blackstone Key by Rose Melikan
The Counterfeit Guest by Rose Melikan
First Comes Marriage. Mary Balogh. 2009. Random House. 416 pages
Then Comes Seduction. Mary Balogh. 2009. Random House. 448 pages.
At Last Comes Love. Mary Balogh. 2009. Random House. 416 pages.
Seducing an Angel by Mary Balogh. 2009. Random House. 416 pages.
She Stoops to Conquer. Oliver Goldsmith. 1773. 80 pages.
Camilla by Fanny Burney
Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer,
The Foundling by Georgette Heyer,
April Lady by Georgette Heyer,
Convenient Marriage, Audiobook by Georgette Heyer
Venetia by Georgette Heyer,
Bath Tangle by Georgette Heyer,
Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer,
Sylvester by Georgette Heyer,
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer,
The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer,
Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer,
Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer,
Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer,
The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer,
Charity Girl by Georgette Heyer,
Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer,
Frederica by Georgette Heyer,
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer,
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer,
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer,
Arabella by Georgette Heyer,
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer,
Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer,
The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer,
The Toll Gate by Georgette Heyer
Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Julia Quinn:
Jane Austen:
Carrie Bebris:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline

The Unruly Queen: The Life of Queen Caroline. Flora Fraser. 1996/2009. Anchor Books. 560 pages. [Source: Library]

George IV married Caroline because parliament agreed to pay off his debts if he got married. This marriage was a complete disaster. Not only was it a loveless marriage, it was extremely bitter! He HATED his wife. And I believe she hated him as well. Half the biography focuses on the bickering and the back-and-forth correspondence between her legal advisers, his legal advisers, and King George III. The situation was complex because George III and George IV (he was Prince of Wales, but it's easier for me to just call him George IV) did not get along at all. They fought continuously. Their relationship was extremely strained. There were times when George III sided with "the injured Princess" Caroline instead of with his son. His wife was at various times popular with the people as well. George IV, well, he wasn't very well-liked. He had a habit of spending lots of money and wanting parliament to pay all the bills. He also had more than a few mistresses. Some of these mistresses were in favor with society--were popular enough, I suppose--others were NOT. He was never faithful to Caroline; he never even pretended to like her or love her. He made it clear that he hated to be even in the same room with her. For better or worse, the two did have one child together. (Princess Charlotte was conceived within the first month of marriage.) Princess Charlotte was more popular than her mother and father.

The biography is very detailed. It details correspondence and records. It follows Caroline's movements from her marriage to George through her death--just three weeks after her husband's coronation. She was banned from attending. For Caroline was not always on good terms with her in-laws. Sometimes she enjoyed the favor of George III and his wife. Other times, her treatment was barely civil. There were definitely times she embarrassed the family and they disapproved of her.

The Unruly Queen was an interesting read.

© 2013 Becky Laney

Monday, August 19, 2013

Highway Robbery

Highway Robbery. Kate Thompson. 2008. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Library]

Highway Robbery is an interesting historical adventure. The narrator is a young boy intent on selling a horse to the reader. But not just any horse, mind you, this is a special horse. He's offering you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own the legendary Black Bess, THE horse ridden by Dick Turpin. The book relates how he happened to come into possession of the horse. How a mysterious rider--tired but kind--told him to hold the horse and wait for his return. Dick Turpin was captured and subsequently hanged, and so now the horse is his, or so he tells us.

Highway Robbery resonates as story because it borders so closely to legend. I enjoyed this one. It is a VERY quick read--at least if you're an adult. This little book is for a younger audience (7-9?). The text is large and there are so many illustrations. 

You may also enjoy this wonderful Horrible Histories song.

 © 2013 Becky Laney

Sunday, August 18, 2013

You Wouldn't Want To Be In Alexander the Great's Army

You Wouldn't Want To Be In Alexander The Great's Army. Jacqueline Morley. 2005. Scholastic. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I have only recently discovered the "You Wouldn't Want To Be" nonfiction picture book series published by Scholastic. You Wouldn't Want To Be in Alexander The Great's Army: Miles You'd Rather Not March was the first I read. I really enjoyed it. It's reader-friendly, conversational, and informative as well. When I say the book is conversational, I mean it. The book is addressed to the reader; the reader is the YOU of the text.
It is the 4th Century BC and you are a sheep farmer living in the hilly land just north of Greece known as Macedonia. You Macedonians are tough country people, used to a hard life. Though you might speak Greek and worship Greek gods, the Greeks of the south look down on you as rough and uncivilized foreigners. However, Macedonians have been teaching those soft-living southern Greeks a thing or two recently. Macedonia used to be weak and divided but your previous king, Philip II, made it united and strong and turned the Macedonians into a fighting force that now controls most of Greece. His son, Alexander III, who is only 20, is about to start on a great scheme that his father was planning when he died. He is going to invade the mighty Persian Empire. He needs soldiers, so why not leave those bleak hills, join him and see the world?
Alexander's story is told in two-page spreads: "Joining up," "334 BC Alexander Sets Off," "332 BC Siege of Tyre," "332-331 BC In Egypt," "331 BC The Battle of Gaugamela," "330 BC Sacking of Persepolis," "330 BC King Darius Dies," "329 BC Crossing the Hindu Kush," "327 BC Scaling the Sogdian Rock," "326 BC Into India," "325 BC The Gedrosian Desert," "323 BC: The Death of Alexander."

I really enjoyed the way the information was conveyed to the reader. The information was clearly presented and quite interesting. While the illustrations by David Antram aren't what I consider great, they began to grow on me as I read and reread this one.

Horrible Histories has several relevant Alexander the Great clips:

© 2013 Becky Laney

Friday, August 16, 2013

Journaling The Life of Cesare Borgia #4

A Life of Cesare Borgia. Rafael Sabatini. 1912. 326 pages. [Source: Bought]

This is my fourth and final post on Rafael Sabatini's biography. The first post focused on the preface and Sabatini's purpose in writing. The second post focused on Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), Cesare's father. The third post focused on Cesare Borgia. This post will focus on Sabatini's writing style and his snarky critiquing of his sources.

One of the things I love most about this biography is Rafael Sabatini's writing style. This biography provides a behind-the-scenes look at the crafting of a biography. Sabatini openly discusses his research. He lists his sources; he cites his sources and quotes from them as needed; he discusses the bias within each source; he states strengths and weaknesses as he sees them. He is opinionated, perhaps, but he shows his work if you will. He tries to present his case and argue it. He leaves ultimate judgment up to his readers. Sabatini spends time discussing each supposed crime, weighing the evidence and the sources. Notably, he focuses on the murder of the Duke of Gandia (Giovanni Borgia, his brother) and Alfonso of Aragon (his brother-in-law).
For many of the charges brought against the House of Borgia some testimony exists; for many others—and these are the more lurid, sensational, and appalling covering as they do rape and murder, adultery, incest—no single grain of real evidence is forthcoming. Indeed, at this time of day evidence is no longer called for where the sins of the Borgias are concerned. Oft-reiterated assertion has usurped the place of evidence—for a lie sufficiently repeated comes to be credited by its very utterer.
The world absorbs the stories; it devours them greedily so they be sensational, and writers well aware of this have been pandering to that morbid appetite for some centuries now with this subject of the Borgias.
Thus, considering how much more far-reaching is the novel than any other form of literature, the good results that must wait upon such endeavours are beyond question. The neglect of them—the distortion of character to suit the romancer's ends, the like distortion of historical facts, the gross anachronisms arising out of a lack of study, have done much to bring the historical romance into disrepute. Many writers frankly make no pretence—leastways none that can be discerned—of aiming at historical precision; others, however, invest their work with a spurious scholarliness, go the length of citing authorities to support the point of view which they have taken, and which they lay before you as the fruit of strenuous lucubrations.
These are the dangerous ones, and of this type is Victor Hugo's famous tragedy Lucrezia Borgia, a work to which perhaps more than to any other (not excepting Les Borgias in Crimes Célèbres of Alexandre Dumas) is due the popular conception that prevails to-day of Cesare Borgia's sister.
It is questionable whether anything has ever flowed from a distinguished pen in which so many licences have been taken with the history of individuals and of an epoch; in which there is so rich a crop of crude, transpontine absurdities and flagrant, impossible anachronisms. Victor Hugo was a writer of rare gifts, a fertile romancer and a great poet, and it may be unjust to censure him for having taken the fullest advantages of the licences conceded to both. But it would be difficult to censure him too harshly for having—in his Lucrezia Borgia—struck a pose of scholarliness, for having pretended and maintained that his work was honest work founded upon the study of historical evidences. With that piece of charlatanism he deceived the great mass of the unlettered of France and of all Europe into believing that in his tragedy he presented the true Lucrezia Borgia.
"If you do not believe me," he declared, "read Tommaso Tommasi, read the Diary of Burchard."
Read, then, that Diary, extending over a period of twenty-three years, from 1483 to 1506, of the Master of Ceremonies of the Vatican (which largely contributes the groundwork of the present history), and the one conclusion to which you will be forced is that Victor Hugo himself had never read it, else he would have hesitated to bid you refer to a work which does not support a single line that he has written.

Tommasi—oh, the danger of a little learning! Into what quagmires does it not lead those who flaunt it to impress you!
Before we admit facts, not only should we call for evidence and analyse it when it is forthcoming, but the very sources of such evidence should be examined, that, as far as possible, we may ascertain what degree of credit they deserve. In the study of the history of the Borgias, we repeat, there has been too much acceptance without question, too much taking for granted of matters whose incredibility frequently touches and occasionally oversteps the confines of the impossible.
Alas! Too much of the history of the Borgias has been written in this spirit, and the discrimination in the selection of authorities has ever been with a view to obtaining the more sensational rather than the more truthful narrative.
The offer—which, incidentally, had never reached the Pope—was instantly taken as proof of its acceptance—a singular case of making cause follow upon effect, a method all too prevalent with the Borgian chroniclers.
The striking talents of Gregorovius are occasionally marred by the egotism and pedantry sometimes characteristic of the scholars of his nation. He is too positive; he seldom opines; he asserts with finality the things that only God can know; occasionally his knowledge, transcending the possible, quits the realm of the historian for that of the romancer, as for instance—to cite one amid a thousand—when he actually tells us what passes in Cesare Borgia's mind at the coronation of the King of Naples. In the matter of authorities, he follows a dangerous and insidious eclecticism, preferring those who support the point of view which he has chosen, without a proper regard for their intrinsic values... He tells us definitely that, if Alexander had not positive knowledge, he had at least moral conviction that it was Cesare who had killed the Duke of Gandia. In that, again, you see the God-like knowledge which he usurps; you see him clairvoyant rather than historical. Starting out with the positive assertion that Cesare Borgia was the murderer, he sets himself to prove it by piling up a mass of worthless evidence, whose worthlessness it is unthinkable he should not have realized....Gregorovius to help him uphold that theory. Two motives were urged for the crime. One was Cesare's envy of his brother, whom he desired to supplant as a secular prince, fretting in the cassock imposed upon himself which restrained his unbounded ambition. The other—and no epoch but this one under consideration, in its reaction from the age of chivalry, could have dared to level it without a careful examination of its sources—was Cesare's jealousy, springing from the incestuous love for their sister Lucrezia, which he is alleged to have disputed with his brother. Thus, as l'Espinois has pointed out, to convict Cesare Borgia of a crime which cannot absolutely be proved against him, all that is necessary is that he should be charged with another crime still more horrible of which even less proof exists. In conclusion, Gandia's death no more advanced, than his life could have impeded, the career which Cesare afterwards made his own, and to say that Cesare murdered him to supplant him is to set up a theory which the subsequent facts of Cesare's life will nowise justify. There is much against Cesare Borgia, but it never has been proved, and never will be proved, that he was a fratricide.
When the young cardinal presented himself at the foot of the papal throne Alexander opened his arms to him, embraced, and kissed him, speaking no word. This rests upon the evidence of two eye-witnesses,  and the circumstance has been urged and propounded into the one conclusive piece of evidence that Cesare had murdered his brother, and that the Pope knew it. In this you have some more of what Gregorovius terms "inexorable logic." He kissed him, but he spake no word to him; therefore, they reason, Cesare murdered Gandia. Can absurdity be more absurd, fatuity more fatuous?
If only the historian would turn the medal about a little, and allow us a glimpse of the reverse as well as of the obverse, what a world of trouble and misconceptions should we not be spared!
When Gandia died and Cesare was accused of having murdered him, the motive advanced was that Cesare, a papal legate, resented a brother who was a duke. Now, Cesare, being a duke, resents a cousin's being a papal legate. You will observe that, if this method of discovering motives is pursued a little further, there is no man who died in Cesare's life-time whom Cesare could not be shown to have had motives for murdering.
for it is not easy to be intelligible when you don't quite know, yourself, what you mean, which must have been Giovio's case.
The Venetian ambassador, the ineffable, gossip­mongering Paolo Capello, whom we have seen possessed of the fullest details concerning the Duke of Gandia's death—although he did not come to Rome until two and a half years after the crime—is again as circumstantial in this instance.
You see in this Capello the forerunner of the modern journalist of the baser sort, the creature who prowls in quest of scraps of gossip and items of scandal, and who, having found them, does not concern himself greatly in the matter of their absolute truth so that they provide him with sensational "copy." It is this same Capello, bear in mind, who gives us the story of Cesare's murdering in the Pope's very arms that Pedro Caldes who is elsewhere shown to have fallen into Tiber and been drowned, down to the lurid details of the blood's spurting into the Pope's face.
A more mischievous document than Capello's Relazione can seldom have found its way into the pages of history; it is the prime source of several of the unsubstantiated accusations against Cesare Borgia upon which subsequent writers have drawn—accepting without criticism—and from which they have formed their conclusions as to the duke's character. Even in our own times we find the learned Gregorovius following Capello's relation step by step, and dealing out this matter of the murder of the Duke of Biselli in his own paraphrases, as so much substantiated, unquestionable fact. We find in his Lucrezia Borgia the following statement: "The affair was no longer a mystery. Cesare himself publicly declared that he had killed the duke because his life had been attempted by the latter." To say that Cesare "publicly declared that he had killed the duke" is to say a very daring thing, and is dangerously to improve upon Capello.
If it is true that Cesare made this public declaration how does it happen that no one but Capello heard him? for in all other documents there is no more than offered us a rumour of how Alfonso died. Surely it is to be supposed that, had Cesare made any such declaration, the letters from the ambassadors would have rung with it. Yet they will offer you nothing but statements of what is being rumoured!
It is again—and more flagrantly than ever—a case of proving Cesare guilty of a crime of which there is no conclusive evidence by charging him with another, which—in this instance—there is actually evidence that he did not commit. But this is by the way.
Guicciardini's aim is, of course, to shock you; he considers it necessary to maintain in Cesare the character of ravenous wolf which he had bestowed upon him. The marvel is not that Guicciardini should have penned that utterly ludicrous accusation, but that more or less serious subsequent writers—and writers of our own time even—instead of being moved to contemptuous laughter at the wild foolishness of the story, instead of seeking in the available records the germ of true fact from which it was sprung, should sedulously and unblushingly have carried forward its dissemination.
If the grotesque in history-building is of interest to you, you may turn the pages of the Storia Civile di Capua, by F. Granata, published in 1752.
You may read usque ad nauseam of the Pope and Cesare's constant practice of poisoning cardinals who had grown rich, for the purpose of seizing their possessions, and you are very naturally filled with horror at so much and such abominable turpitude. In this matter, assertion—coupled with whorling periods of vituperation—have ever been considered by the accusers all that was necessary to establish the accusations. It has never, for instance, been considered necessary to cite the names of the cardinals composing that regiment of victims. That, of course, would be to challenge easy refutation of the wholesale charge; and refutation is not desired by those who prefer the sensational manner.
You will remember, for instance, that the Venetian Paolo Capello (though not in Rome at the time) was one of those who was best informed in the matter of the murder of the Duke of Gandia. And it was Capello again who was possessed of the complete details of the scarcely less mysterious business of Alfonso of Aragon. Another who on the subject of the murder of Gandia "had no doubts"—as he himself expressed it—was Pietro Martire d'Anghiera, in Spain at the time, whence he wrote to inform Italy of the true circumstances of a case that had happened in Italy.
© 2013 Becky Laney

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Journaling The Life of Cesare Borgia #3

A Life of Cesare Borgia. Rafael Sabatini. 1912. 326 pages. [Source: Bought]
This is my third post on Rafael Sabatini's biography of Cesare Borgia. The first post focused on the preface and Sabatini's purpose in writing. The second post focused on Alexander VI (Rodrigo Borgia), Cesare's father. This post will focus on Cesare Borgia. The last post will focus on Sabatini's style and critique.

Descriptions of Cesare Borgia:
Although it is known that Cesare came to Rome in the early part of 1493—for his presence there is reported by Gianandrea Boccaccio in March of that year—there is no mention of him at this time in connection with his sister's wedding. Apparently, then, he was not present, although it is impossible to suggest where he might have been at the time.
Boccaccio draws a picture of him in that letter, which is worthy of attention, "On the day before yesterday I found Cesare at home in Trastevere. He was on the point of setting out to go hunting, and entirely in secular habit; that is to say, dressed in silk and armed. Riding together, we talked a while. I am among his most intimate acquaintances. He is man of great talent and of an excellent nature; his manners are those of the son of a great prince; above everything, he is joyous and light-hearted. He is very modest, much superior to, and of a much finer appearance than, his brother the Duke of Gandia, who also is not short of natural gifts. The archbishop never had any inclination for the priesthood. But his benefice yields him over 16,000 ducats."
It may not be amiss—though perhaps no longer very necessary, after what has been written—to say a word at this stage on the social position of bastards in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, to emphasize the fact that no stigma attached to Cesare Borgia or to any other member of his father's family on the score of the illegitimacy of their birth.
Cesare was twenty-two years of age at the time; tall, of an athletic slenderness, and exceedingly graceful in his movements, he was acknowledged to be the handsomest man of his age. His face was long and pale, his brow lofty, his nose delicately aquiline. He had long auburn hair, and his hazel eyes, large, quick in their movements, and singularly searching in their glance, were alive with the genius of the soul behind them. He inherited from his father the stupendous health and vigour for which Alexander had been remarkable in his youth, and was remarkable still in his old age. The chase had ever been Cesare's favourite pastime, and the wild boar his predilect quarry; and in the pursuit of it he had made good use of his exceptional physical endowments, cultivating them until—like his father before him—he was equal to the endurance of almost any degree of fatigue.
Cesare was mounted on a superb war-horse that was all empanoplied in a cuirass of gold leaves of exquisite workmanship, its head surmounted by a golden artichoke, its tail confined in a net of gold abundantly studded with pearls. The duke was in black velvet, through the slashings of which appeared the gold brocade of the undergarment. Suspended from a chain said by Brantôme's poet to be worth thirty thousand ducats, a medallion of diamonds blazed upon his breast, and in his black velvet cap glowed those same wonderful rubies that we saw on the occasion of his departure from Rome. His boots were of black velvet, laced with gold thread that was studded with gems.
Of his personal charm there is also no lack of commendation from those who had his acquaintance at this time. Added to this, his Italian splendour and flamboyance may well have dazzled a maid who had been reared amid the grey and something stern tones of the Court of Jeanne de Valois.
To all trades men serve apprenticeships, and to none is the apprenticeship more gradual and arduous than to the trade of arms. Yet Cesare Borgia served none. Like Minerva, springing full-grown and armed into existence, so Cesare sprang to generalship in the hour that saw him made a soldier. This was the first army in which he had ever marched, yet he marched at the head of it. In his twenty-four years of life he had never so much as witnessed a battle pitched; yet here was he riding to direct battles and to wrest victories. Boundless audacity and swiftest intelligence welded into an amazing whole!
When Gandia died and Cesare was accused of having murdered him, the motive advanced was that Cesare, a papal legate, resented a brother who was a duke. Now, Cesare, being a duke, resents a cousin's being a papal legate. You will observe that, if this method of discovering motives is pursued a little further, there is no man who died in Cesare's life-time whom Cesare could not be shown to have had motives for murdering.
Possibly this is to be assigned to the compelling quality of the man's personality, which was beginning to manifest and assert itself and to issue from the shadow into which it had been cast hitherto by that of his stupendous father. The enthusiasm mounted higher and higher whilst preparations were being made for his reception, and reached its climax on February 26, when, with overpowering pomp, he made an entrance into Rome that was a veritable triumph.
On another occasion we behold him very differently engaged—giving an exhibition of his superb physical gifts, his strength, his courage, and his matchless address.
On June 24, at a bull-fight held in Rome—Spanish tauromachia having been introduced from Naples, where it flourished under the Aragon dominion—he went down into the arena, and on horseback, armed only with a light lance, he killed five wild bulls. But the master-stroke he reserved for the end. Dismounting, and taking a double­handed sword to the sixth bull that was loosed against him, he beheaded the great beast at one single stroke, "a feat which all Rome considered great."
The same archives show us also that he found time for deeds of beneficence which endeared him to the people, who everywhere hailed him as their deliverer from thraldom. It would not be wise to join in the chorus of those who appear to have taken Cesare's altruism for granted. The rejection of the wild stories that picture him as a corrupt and murderous monster, utterly inhuman, and lay a dozen ghastly crimes to his account need not entail our viewing Cesare as an angel of deliverance, a divine agent almost, rescuing a suffering people from oppression out of sheer humanitarianism. He is the one as little as the other. He is just—as Collenuccio wrote to Ercole d'Este—"great of spirit and of ambition, athirst for eminence and fame." He was consumed by the desire for power and worldly greatness, a colossus of egotism to whom men and women were pieces to be handled by him on the chess-board of his ambition, to be sacrificed ruthlessly where necessary to his ends, but to be husbanded and guarded carefully where they could serve him. 
Women play no part whatever in his history. Not once shall you find a woman's influence swaying him; not once shall you see him permitting dalliance to retard his advancement or jeopardize his chances. With him, as with egotists of his type, governed by cold will and cold intellect, the sentimental side of the relation of the sexes has no place. With him one woman was as another woman; as he craved women, so he took women, but with an almost contemptuous undiscrimination. For all his needs concerning them the lupanaria sufficed.
The terms proposed were that the people of Faenza should have immunity for themselves and their property; that Astorre should have freedom to depart and to take with him his moveable possessions, his immoveables remaining at the mercy of the Pope. By all the laws of war Cesare was entitled to a heavy indemnity for the losses he had sustained through the resistance opposed to him. Considering those same laws and the application they were wont to receive in his day, no one could have censured him had he rejected all terms and given the city over to pillage. Yet not only does he grant the terms submitted to him, but in addition he actually lends an ear to the Council's prayer that out of consideration for the great suffering of the city in the siege he should refrain from exacting any indemnity. This was to be forbearing indeed; but he was to carry his forbearance even further. In answer to the Council's expressed fears of further harm at the hands of his troopers once these should be in Faenza, he actually consented to effect no entrance into the town. We are not for a moment to consider Cesare as actuated in all this by any lofty humanitarianism. He was simply pursuing that wise policy of his, in refraining from punishing conquered States which were to be subject henceforth to his rule, and which, therefore, must be conciliated that they might be loyal to him. But it is well that you should at least appreciate this policy and the fruit it bore when you read that Cesare Borgia was a blood-glutted monster of carnage who ravaged the Romagna, rending and devouring it like some beast of prey.
So impressed was Soderini by Cesare Borgia that on that same night he wrote to the Signory: "This lord is very magnificent and splendid, and so spirited in feats of arms that there is nothing so great but that it must seem small to him. In the pursuit of glory and in the acquisition of dominions he never rests, and he knows neither danger nor fatigue. He moves so swiftly that he arrives at a place before it is known that he has set out for it. He knows how to make himself beloved of his soldiers, and he has in his service the best men of Italy. These things render him victorious and formidable, and to these is yet to be added his perpetual good fortune. He argues," the Florentine envoy proceeds, "with such sound reason that to dispute with him would be a long affair, for his wit and eloquence never fail him" ("dello ingegno e della lingua si vale quanto vuole"). You are to remember that this homage is one of the few surviving impressions of one who came into personal contact with Cesare, and of one, moreover, representing a Government more or less inimical to him, who would therefore have no reason to draw a favourable portrait of him for that Government's benefit. One single page of such testimony is worth a dozen volumes of speculation and inference drawn afterwards by men who never knew him—in many cases by men who never began to know his epoch.
The men who praised Cesare, the historian tells us, were sycophantic courtiers. But where is the wonder of his being praised if his government was as good as Gregorovius admits it to have been? What was unnatural in that praise? What so untruthful as to deserve to be branded sycophantic? And by what right is an historian to reject as sycophants the writers who praise a man, whilst accepting every word of his detractors as the words of inspired evangelists, even when their falsehoods are so transparent as to provoke the derision of the thoughtful and analytic?
What else Gregorovius opines—that Cesare was no Messiah of United Italy—is true enough. Cesare was the Messiah of Cesare. The well-being of Italy for its own sake exercised his mind not so much as the well-being of the horse he rode. He wrought for his own aggrandisement—but he wrought wisely; and, whilst the end in view is no more to be censured than the ambition of any man, the means employed are in the highest degree to be commended, since the well-being of the Romagna, which was not an aim, was, nevertheless, an essential and praiseworthy incident.
When it can be shown that every other of those conquerors who cut heroic figures in history were purest altruists, it will be time to damn Cesare Borgia for his egotism.
Of tears for his father there is no record, just as at no time are we allowed to see that stern spirit giving way to any emotion, conceiving any affection, or working ever for the good of any but himself.

© 2013 Becky Laney

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The King's Arrow

The King's Arrow. Michael Cadnum. 2008. Penguin. 224 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

The stallion was afraid of shadows.

It's not often that you find children's historical fiction books set in the time shortly after William the Conqueror. Or maybe everyone else does, but I sure don't come across it that often. This is a time period that brings to mind Edward Rutherfurd for me. I've read London. I've read Sarum. I've read The Forest. This 'conquering' of England by the Normans was a BIG deal.

The novel focuses on the assassination of King William II by Walter Tirel. If you're going..."Hmm, never heard of him." Then you're with me. I hadn't heard of him (the him being Walter Tirel) either. So don't feel too badly. If you HAVE heard of Walter Tirel, then you can gloat.) The novel is narrated by a fictional character, Simon. A young man that is half-English and half-Norman. As destiny would have it, he through mere chance, is an eye-witness to a historical event. Invited to join the royal hunting party, Simon is both stunned and excited. An invitation is not just rare--it's practically unheard of. For an unknown--even from somewhat well respected heritage--to mix with the royals and the higher-ups. Simon knows it is either the start of something big, or the end of everything he knows. (Think the Queen from Alice going "Off with their heads.") He could potentially benefit his family and his social standing, or he could be walking into a big trap. He could be endangering his own life and the lives of his family.

Walter Tirel has taken a liking to Simon. Though hesitant at their first meeting, the invitation is soon genuine. But Walter himself is not well-liked in all the political/social circles. He is the rival of Roland, who is a Marshal, and the king's right-hand man. But Walter is very high-up in the hierarchy.

The book is full of adventure and history and political drama. The book examines the events as a true mystery. No one knows exactly what happened. But this is one man's envisioning of that event.

If you love mysteries, adventure, or history. This one may be for you.

© 2013 Becky Laney

Spotlight on Carolyn Meyer

Carolyn Meyer has written plenty of historical fiction. Her novels pair so well with Horrible Histories!

Patience, Princess Catherine [Henry VIII Wives Song]
Doomed Queen Anne [Interview with Henry VIII]
Mary, Bloody Mary [Mary Tudor Song; Philip and Mary Love Story]
Beware, Princess Elizabeth [Tudors Song; Oh Yea! Magazine; Elizabeth Online Dating]
The Wild Queen [Blue Blooded Blues]
Loving Will Shakespeare [Shakespeare & The Quills Song]
Victoria Rebels [Victoria and Albert Love Song]
The True Adventures of Charley Darwin [Charles Darwin Changes Song]
Cleopatra Confesses [Cleopatra Song]

Bad Queen [French Revolution Report; Historical Wife Swap]
In Mozart's Shadow

© 2013 Becky Laney

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Savage Songs, series 2, episode 13

I really love this episode of Horrible Histories. It is a collection of HH songs; these songs are mainly from the second series of the show, but there is an encore version of Born 2 Rule by the 4 Georges! The episode also features Rattus Rattus partying. Episodes of Horrible Histories are good--great even, but for those who LOVE the songs the best, this episode is a must! Some of the songs I LOVED from the start, others had to grow on me. (The first time I heard Boudicca, I wasn't impressed. But now it's really started to grow on me.) Do you have a favorite from this episode?
  • Spartan High School Musical
  • Boudicca 
  • Literally (Vikings Song)
  • Pachacuti
  • Charles II: King of Bling
  • Blackbeard's Song
  • George IV Goes Solo (I Couldn't Stand My Wife)
  • Cowboy Song
  • Victorian Inventions
  • World War II Girls
  • Born 2 Rule by the 4 Georges 
From Spartan High School Musical:
A Spartan kindergarten
I'm the boss that's understood
I smack them if they're naughty
And I thwack them if they're good
I'm feeling rather peckish
I'm gonna steal some food
Caught! I'll have to punish you
Ungrateful Spartan brood
We promise not to steal
We're not the thieving sort
Stealing is considered good
What's bad is getting caught
From Boudicca:
I built a massive army
Headed straight for the city
Beat 'em all with ease
And like me, it wasn't pretty
Chopped 'em and hacked but
What made their red blood curl
Bad enough being beaten
But beaten by a girl?
Wacked 'em, smacked 'em
Boy how we attacked 'em
Near and far, ha ha ha!
Flayed 'em, slayed 'em
Up and down parade 'em
Boudicca! Toughest by far!
Colchester, London, St. Albans
Everybody talk about dead Romans!
From Literally:
Let me in, won't you please
We're here to raid your monasteries
We're primed and ready to attack
And we love how monks just don't fight back
You'll die or become a slave to me
Though our slaves often get chucked up in the sea
If the boat's heavy! Yeah, yeah!
You're gonna lose your head, my friend
We're gonna getcha in the end
And I'll drink a toast from your skull
'Cause we're vikings and that's how we roll!
From Pachacuti:
When it comes to claiming nearby lands
I was the type to risk it
But it's how I treat dead enemies
That really took the biscuit
From King of Bling:
When Olly died, the people said
'Charlie, me hearty!
Get rid of his dull laws
Come back, we'd rather party! '
This action's what they called
The monarchy restoration
Which naturally was followed
By a huge celebration!
From George IV Solo:
Actresses and duchesses
The great loves of my life
I loved more girls than I ate pies
But I couldn't stand my wife
© 2013 Becky Laney

Monday, August 12, 2013

King of Bling

From The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
The new king was immensely popular. He possessed a zest for enjoyment--he was nicknamed the Merry Monarch--which mirrored his subjects' yearning for a return to normality after the stern Puritan experiment. He led the way in a riot of parties, dancing and dissipation, consorting with actresses who were mistresses and mistresses who became duchesses. Restoration comedy by writers like Vanbrugh express the spirit of the age: amoral and lascivious. Throughout England games, festivals, gaiety, maypoles and Christmas all returned, for Christmas under the Commonwealth had been a day of fasting to atone for past sins.
Charles II made yacht racing into a national sport, pitting his skills as a yachtsman against his brother the Duke of York. He also made horse racing at Newmarket into a fashionable activity, which is why it is often called the sport of kings. He loved the company of jockeys and was frequently observed chatting to them. Wherever he went he was followed by the little dogs with plumed ears and tails, which have ever since been known as King Charles spaniels. The sentimental English were entranced by the king's informality. Unlike his stately father, he was always accessible and friendly, generally being the first to wave when people recognized him walking in Windsor Great Park. (364-5)
© 2013 Becky Laney

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Need Cheering Up?

Horrible Histories is always great for cheering me up! Who could resist smiling at Mat's dancing?!

© 2013 Becky Laney

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Journaling Life of Cesare Borgia #2

A Life of Cesare Borgia. Rafael Sabatini. 1912. 326 pages. [Source: Bought]

Earlier this week, I tackled the preface of The Life of Cesare Borgia. Today, I thought I'd focus on the father, Rodrigo Borgia--Alexander VI. I'll have another post devoted to Cesare himself. And then perhaps another post devoted to Sabatini's writing style and his critiquing of other sources. 
From the pen-portraits left of him by Gasparino of Verona, and Girolamo Porzio, we know him for a tall, handsome man with black eyes and full lips, elegant, courtly, joyous, and choicely eloquent, of such health and vigour and endurance that he was insensible to any fatigue. Giasone Maino of Milan refers to his "elegant appearance, serene brow, royal glance, a countenance that at once expresses generosity and majesty, and the genial and heroic air with which his whole personality is invested." To a similar description of him Gasparino adds that "all women upon whom he so much as casts his eyes he moves to love him; attracting them as the lodestone attracts iron;" which is, it must be admitted, a most undesirable reputation in a churchman.
A modern historian who uses little restraint when writing of Roderigo Borgia says of him that "he was a man of neither much energy nor determined will," and further that "the firmness and energy wanting to his character were, however, often replaced by the constancy of his evil passions, by which he was almost blinded." How the constancy of evil passions can replace firmness and energy as factors of worldly success is not readily discernible, particularly if their possessor is blinded by them. The historical worth of the stricture may safely be left to be measured by its logical value. For the rest, to say that Roderigo Borgia was wanting in energy and in will is to say something to which his whole career gives the loud and derisive lie, as will—to some extent at least—be seen in the course of this work. His honours as Cardinal-Deacon and Vice-Chancellor of the Holy See he owed to his uncle; but that he maintained and constantly improved his position—and he a foreigner, be it remembered—under the reigns of the four succeeding Popes—Pius II, Paul II, Sixtus IV, and Innocent VIII—until finally, six-and-twenty years after the death of Calixtus III, he ascended, himself, the Papal Throne, can be due only to the unconquerable energy and stupendous talents which have placed him where he stands in history—one of the greatest forces, for good or ill, that ever occupied St. Peter's Chair.
Say of him that he was ambitious, worldly, greedy of power, and a prey to carnal lusts. All these he was. But for very sanity's sake do not let it be said that he was wanting either in energy or in will, for he was energy and will incarnate.
Sabatini urges readers to not rush to judgment, to think things through carefully.
In considering Roderigo's conduct, you are to consider—as has been urged already—the age in which he lived. You are to remember that it was an age in which the passions and the emotions wore no such masks as they wear to-day, but went naked and knew no shame of their nudity; an age in which personal modesty was as little studied as hypocrisy, and in which men, wore their vices as openly as their virtues.
Virtue is a comparative estate, when all is said; and before we can find that Roderigo was vile, that he deserves unqualified condemnation for his conduct, we must ascertain that he was more or less exceptional in his licence, that he was less scrupulous than his fellows. Do we find that?
What more is there to say? If we must be scandalized, let us be scandalized by the times rather than by the man. Upon what reasonable grounds can we demand that he should be different from his fellows; and if we find him no different, what right or reason have we for picking him out and rendering him the object of unparalleled obloquy?
Therefore, that he may be judged by the standard of his own time if he is to be judged at all, if we are even to attempt to understand him, have we given a sketch of the careers of those Popes who immediately preceded him, with whom as Vice-Chancellor he was intimately associated, and whose examples were the only papal examples that he possessed.
The mighty of this world shall never want for detractors. The mean and insignificant, writhing under the consciousness of his shortcomings, ministers to his self-love by vilifying the great that he may lessen the gap between himself and them. To achieve greatness is to achieve enemies. It is to excite envy; and as envy no seed can raise up such a crop of hatred.
Such to a great extent is the case of Alexander VI. He was too powerful for the stomachs of many of his contemporaries, and he and his son Cesare had a way of achieving their ends. Since that could not be denied, it remained to inveigh loudly against the means adopted; and with pious uplifting of hands and eyes, to cry, "Shame!" and "Horror!" and "The like has never been heard of!" in wilful blindness to what had been happening at the Vatican for generations.
Our aim has been to correct the adjustment of the focus and properly to trim the light in which Roderigo Borgia is to be viewed, to the end that you may see him as he was—neither better nor worse—the creature of his times, of his environment, and of the system in which he was reared and trained.
Alexander, however, was very far from being an infidel, very far from not being a Christian, very far from not believing in God, as he has left abundant evidence in the Bulls he issued during his pontificate.
A sinner unquestionably he was, and a great one; but a human sinner, and not an incarnate devil, else there could have been no such outcry from him in such an hour as this. [The hour such as this is the death of his son, Giovanni]
Alexander, it may be said again in this connection, was part of a corrupt system, not the corrupter of a pure one.
Sabatini writes about his election as pope:
The subject of this election is one with which we rarely find an author dealing temperately or with a proper and sane restraint. To vituperate in superlatives seems common to most who have taken in hand this and other episodes in the history of the Borgias. Every fresh writer who comes to the task appears to be mainly inspired by a desire to emulate his forerunners, allowing his pen to riot zestfully in the accumulation of scandalous matter, and seeking to increase if possible its lurid quality by a degree or two. As a rule there is not even an attempt made to put forward evidence in substantiation of anything that is alleged. Wild and sweeping statement takes the place that should be held by calm deduction and reasoned comment.
We are told that he gained his election by simony. It is very probable that he did. But the accusation has never been categorically established, and until that happens it would be well to moderate the vituperation hurled at him. Charges of that simony are common; conclusive proof there is none.
Sabitini writes about "poisoning" and the "murder" of Djem.
Rumours that he had been poisoned by the Pope arose almost at once; but, considering that twenty-­eight days had elapsed since his parting from Alexander, it was, with the best intentions in the world, rather difficult to make that poisoning credible, until the bright notion was conceived, and made public, that the poison used was a "white powder" of unknown components, which did its work slowly, and killed the victim some time after it had been administered. Thus, by a bold and brazen invention, an impossible falsehood was made to wear a possible aspect.
And in that you have most probably the origin of the famous secret poison of the Borgias. Having been invented to fit the alleged poisoning of Prince Djem, which it was desired to fasten upon the Pope by hook or by crook, it was found altogether too valuable an invention not to be used again. By means of it, it became possible to lay almost any death in the world at the door of Alexander.
We will turn from the fictions they have left us—which, alas! have but too often been preferred by subsequent writers to the true facts which lay just as ready to their hands, but of course were less sensational—and we will consider instead the evidence of those contemporaries who do, at least, know the time and place of Djem's decease.
Sabatini's biography of Cesare Borgia is fascinating and thorough. It is rich in detail and in some ways rich in snarkiness. He judges--for better or worse--every single source in front of him. He examines the motives and the biases of each writer. (In some cases, the writers were aiming for nonfiction; other writers were novelists.) I find Sabatini's approach interesting. I've never read a biography that was this much fun!

© 2013 Becky Laney

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thoughts on Series 1, Episode 1

Overall thoughts: You definitely get a different impression watching whole episodes as opposed to just watching clips here and there. In this episode, we visit six different time periods. Each time period gets more than one sketch. The subjects: Romans, World War I, Pirates, Stone Age, Vikings, Georgians. There were plenty of I-didn't-know that facts, but some of them you almost wish you didn't know! The first song of the series is Born 2 Rule by the 4 Georges. I ADORE this song!!!! As far as sketches go, I think I liked the Pirates and the Georgian bits best.

The Sketches:
  • Rotten Romans: Roman Funeral, Over 2000 Years Ago; slaves fighting to the death at funerals
  • Gladiator School 
  • Frightful First World War: Trenches, Fried Lice, Lice Cartoon
  • True/False 
  • Ready Steady Feast, German Soldier; English Milkman; 
  • Putrid Pirates: The Black Spot
  • Quiz Question
  • Black Bart Explains the Rules for His Ship
  • Savage Stone Age: Stone Age Tool Set Commercial; 
  • Quiz Question
  • Stone Age Burial
  • Vicious Vikings: Video Game: WARRIORS: Vikings vs. Monks
  • Viking Beauty Treatments (Historical Hairdressers)
  • Gorgeous Georgians: Fairy Tale Series (The Three Little Pigs/Georgian Version)
  • How To Vote In A Georgian Election
The Song(s):
  • Born 2 Rule by the 4 Georges
Link to episode

My favorite sketches from this episode:

© 2013 Becky Laney

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Journaling Life of Cesare Borgia #1

A Life of Cesare Borgia. Rafael Sabatini. 1912. 326 pages. [Source: Bought]

Today I'll be tackling the preface!
       This is no Chronicle of Saints. Nor yet is it a History of Devils. It is a record of certain very human, strenuous men in a very human, strenuous age; a lustful, flamboyant age; an age red with blood and pale with passion at white-heat; an age of steel and velvet, of vivid colour, dazzling light and impenetrable shadow; an age of swift movement, pitiless violence and high endeavour, of sharp antitheses and amazing contrasts.
To judge it from the standpoint of this calm, deliberate, and correct century—as we conceive our own to be—is for sedate middle-age to judge from its own standpoint the reckless, hot, passionate, lustful humours of youth, of youth that errs grievously and achieves greatly.
So to judge that epoch collectively is manifestly wrong, a hopeless procedure if it be our aim to understand it and to be in sympathy with it, as it becomes broad-minded age to be tolerantly in sympathy with the youth whose follies it perceives. Life is an ephemeral business, and we waste too much of it in judging where it would beseem us better to accept, that we ourselves may come to be accepted by such future ages as may pursue the study of us.
But if it be wrong to judge a past epoch collectively by the standards of our own time, how much more is it not wrong to single out individuals for judgement by those same standards, after detaching them for the purpose from the environment in which they had their being? How false must be the conception of them thus obtained! We view the individuals so selected through a microscope of modern focus. They appear monstrous and abnormal, and we straight-way assume them to be monsters and abnormalities, never considering that the fault is in the adjustment of the instrument through which we inspect them, and that until that is corrected others of that same past age, if similarly viewed, must appear similarly distorted.
Hence it follows that some study of an age must ever prelude and accompany the study of its individuals, if comprehension is to wait upon our labours. (5)
From the start, I knew this would be my kind of biography. I love Sabatini's honest and straight-forward approach to writing historical narrative. I love his thoroughness. Though he is writing specifically of Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI), Cesare Borgia, and Lucrezia Borgia, his principles can be applied more generally.
Mind being the seat of the soul, and literature being the expression of the mind, literature, it follows, is the soul of an age, the surviving and immortal part of it; (6)
I love, love, love that! This is such a FANTASTIC quote about literature in general. What do you think, is literature the soul of an age--the surviving and immortal part of it?!
To avoid the dangers that must wait upon that error, the history of that House shall here be taken up with the elevation of Calixtus III to the Papal Throne; and the reign of the four Popes immediately preceding Roderigo Borgia—who reigned as Alexander VI—shall briefly be surveyed that a standard may be set by which to judge the man and the family that form the real subject of this work.
The history of this amazing Pope Alexander is yet to be written. No attempt has been made to exhaust it here. Yet of necessity he bulks large in these pages; for the history of his dazzling, meteoric son is so closely interwoven with his own that it is impossible to present the one without dealing at considerable length with the other. (7)
I'm not sure all readers will appreciate Sabatini's thoroughness, his eagerness to share more than absolutely necessary, BUT I definitely did!!!
Never, perhaps, has anything more true been written of the Borgias and their history than the matter contained in the following lines of Rawdon Brown in his Ragguagli sulla Vita e sulle Opere di Marino Sanuto: "It seems to me that history has made use of the House of Borgia as of a canvas upon which to depict the turpitudes of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries." (8)     
Turpitude n. FORMAL depravity; wickedness: acts of moral turpitude. late 15th century. from French, or from Latin turpitudo, from turpis 'disgraceful, base'.
For many of the charges brought against the House of Borgia some testimony exists; for many others—and these are the more lurid, sensational, and appalling covering as they do rape and murder, adultery, incest, and the sin of the Cities of the Plain—no single grain of real evidence is forthcoming. Indeed, at this time of day evidence is no longer called for where the sins of the Borgias are concerned. Oft-reiterated assertion has usurped the place of evidence—for a lie sufficiently repeated comes to be credited by its very utterer. And meanwhile the calumny has sped from tongue to tongue, from pen to pen, gathering matter as it goes. The world absorbs the stories; it devours them greedily so they be sensational, and writers well aware of this have been pandering to that morbid appetite for some centuries now with this subject of the Borgias. A salted, piquant tale of vice, a ghastly story of moral turpitude and physical corruption, a hair-raising narrative of horrors and abominations—these are the stock-in-trade of the sensation-monger. (8)
Sabatini makes it clear from the very beginning that he is not among the 'sensational' biographers.
So far have matters gone in this connection that who undertakes to set down to-day the history of Cesare Borgia, with intent to do just and honest work, must find it impossible to tell a plain and straightforward tale—to present him not as a villain of melodrama, not a monster, ludicrous, grotesque, impossible, but as human being, a cold, relentless egotist, it is true, using men for his own ends, terrible and even treacherous in his reprisals, swift as a panther and as cruel where his anger was aroused, yet with certain elements of greatness: a splendid soldier, an unrivalled administrator, a man pre-eminently just, if merciless in that same justice.
To present Cesare Borgia thus in a plain straightforward tale at this time of day, would be to provoke the scorn and derision of those who have made his acquaintance in the pages of that eminent German scholar, Ferdinand Gregorovius, and of some other writers not quite so eminent yet eminent enough to serve serious consideration. Hence has it been necessary to examine at close quarters the findings of these great ones, and to present certain criticisms of those same findings. The author is overwhelmingly conscious of the invidious quality of that task; but he is no less conscious of its inevitability if this tale is to be told at all. (9)    
People are certainly opinionated about Cesare! Just read reviews of any Borgia-related book!
Without entering here into a dissertation upon the historical romance, it may be said that in proper hands it has been and should continue to be one of the most valued and valuable expressions of the literary art. To render and maintain it so, however, it is necessary that certain well-defined limits should be set upon the licence which its writers are to enjoy; it is necessary that the work should be honest work; that preparation for it should be made by a sound, painstaking study of the period to be represented, to the end that a true impression may first be formed and then conveyed. Thus, considering how much more far-reaching is the novel than any other form of literature, the good results that must wait upon such endeavours are beyond question. The neglect of them—the distortion of character to suit the romancer's ends, the like distortion of historical facts, the gross anachronisms arising out of a lack of study, have done much to bring the historical romance into disrepute. Many writers frankly make no pretence—leastways none that can be discerned—of aiming at historical precision; others, however, invest their work with a spurious scholarliness, go the length of citing authorities to support the point of view which they have taken, and which they lay before you as the fruit of strenuous lucubrations. (10)     
Loved hearing Sabatini's thoughts on historical fiction. This quote can be applied generally.
These are the dangerous ones, and of this type is Victor Hugo's famous tragedy Lucrezia Borgia, a work to which perhaps more than to any other (not excepting Les Borgias in Crimes Célèbres of Alexandre Dumas) is due the popular conception that prevails to-day of Cesare Borgia's sister.
It is questionable whether anything has ever flowed from a distinguished pen in which so many licences have been taken with the history of individuals and of an epoch; in which there is so rich a crop of crude, transpontine absurdities and flagrant, impossible anachronisms. Victor Hugo was a writer of rare gifts, a fertile romancer and a great poet, and it may be unjust to censure him for having taken the fullest advantages of the licences conceded to both. But it would be difficult to censure him too harshly for having—in his Lucrezia Borgia—struck a pose of scholarliness, for having pretended and maintained that his work was honest work founded upon the study of historical evidences. With that piece of charlatanism he deceived the great mass of the unlettered of France and of all Europe into believing that in his tragedy he presented the true Lucrezia Borgia. (10)
And now he gets to specifics!
Before we admit facts, not only should we call for evidence and analyse it when it is forthcoming, but the very sources of such evidence should be examined, that, as far as possible, we may ascertain what degree of credit they deserve. In the study of the history of the Borgias, we repeat, there has been too much acceptance without question, too much taking for granted of matters whose incredibility frequently touches and occasionally oversteps the confines of the impossible. (12)
If the author has a mercy to crave of his critics, it is that they will not impute it to him that he has set out with the express aim of "whitewashing"—as the term goes—the family of Borgia. To whitewash is to overlay, to mask the original fabric under a superadded surface. Too much superadding has there been here already. By your leave, all shall be stripped away. The grime shall be removed and the foulness of inference, of surmise, of deliberate and cold-blooded malice, with which centuries of scribblers, idle, fantastic, sensational, or venal, have coated the substance of known facts.

But the grime shall be preserved and analysed side by side with the actual substance, that you may judge if out of zeal to remove the former any of the latter shall have been included in the scraping. (13)
And now we come to his thesis, his one grand goal in writing the biography! It is refreshing and straight-forward. I love the behind-the-scenes feel of this biography. Sabatini addresses the reader directly, presents his opinion, presents the opinions of others, and then tries to make sense of it all.

© 2013 Becky Laney

One of my favorite tribute videos

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Robert Lacey on Historical Narrative

From the preface to Great Tales from English History, vol. 1
'History' and 'story' derive from the same linguistic root, and if history can never escape its authorship, it should at least try to make the authorship readable and bright. (xiv)
But personality -- human nature -- is surely the essence of history, and I have deliberately made personalities the essence of this book. Brief though each chapter is, Great Tales seeks to create a coherent, chronological picture of our island story, while following the guiding principle that all men and women have heroism inside them -- along with generous and fascinating measures of incompetence, apathy, evil and lust. (xv)
From the preface to Great Tales from English History, vol. 2
Our very first historians were storytellers--our best historians still are--and in many languages 'story' and 'history' remain the same word. Our brains are wired to make sense of the world through narrative--what came first and what came next--and once we know the sequence, we can start to work out the how and why. (xiii)
Great Tales From English written by an eternal optimist--albeit one who views the evidence with a skeptical eye. In these books I have endeavored to do more than just retell the old stories; I have tried to test the accuracy of each tale against the latest research and historical thinking, and to set them in a sequence from which meaning can emerge. (xiv)
The things we do not know about history far outnumber those that we do. But the fragments that survive are precious and bright. They offer us glimpses of drama, humour, frustration, humanity, the banal and the extraordinary--the stuff of life. (xvi)
From the preface to Great Tales from English History, vol. 3
The job of the historian is to deal objectively with the available facts. But history is in the eye of the beholder and also of the historian who, as a human being, has feelings and prejudices of his own... So let me try to be candid about some of my own prejudices. I believe passionately in the power of good storytelling, not only because it is fun, but because it breathes life into the past. It is also through accurate narrative--establishing what happened first and what happened next--that we start to perceive the cause of things, and what influences human beings to act in the noble and cruel ways that they do. I believe that nobility actually secures more effective outcomes than cruelty, though the story of the slave trade in the pages that follow might seem to challenge that. I also believe that ideas matter, that change is possible, that knowledge dispels fear, and that good history both explains and facilitates all those things. (3)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Horrible Histories Prom

My thoughts on the 2011 BBC Prom -- Horrible Histories

  • It was quite interesting to hear the theme song as performed by orchestra and choir...
  • I enjoyed parts of Bob Hale's Orchestra Report, especially the ancient horrible-sounding instruments
  • I loved, loved, loved the 4 Georges performing an updated (corrected) version of Born 2 Rule; Lots of screaming fans for a certain George! Every time I watch this one, I just love it that much more! Love the background singing is so very singable! 
  • George III and George IV have to share a dressing room :) Simon does such a great job with George III.
  • It was fun to see Richard III sing his lovely little song live! Jim is so fabulous!!!
  • Liked the Shakespeare popping up bits, like how he hid after Richard III and talked about Romeo and Juliet! Then later Shakespeare talking about Midsummer Night's Dream...and Antony and Cleopatra
  • Henry VIII is my favorite Tudor-period HH song. Charles II reacting to the Henry VIII song was even better though! I can't decide if I like Mat better as William Shakespeare or Charles II...
  • King of Bling is better in the video than the live version. 
  • Shouty Man & Bathroom Lines; more Charles II, Queen Victoria, George III, and George IV fun
  • Stupid Deaths; don't care for these sketches often
  • One of the best, best sketches of the prom is Mat as Mozart "can you imagine how cute" and Ben as Beethoven. Some great lines!!! "why are you whispering?" 
  • George IV's Solo--at last! The music video was fun, but it was great to see Simon in the role as George III for the live version. 
  • Cleopatra, Stone Age Medley, and Vikings...and the orchestra playing "music to invade by"
  • Live performance of Literally! Do you have a favorite Viking?! 

© 2013 Becky Laney