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Versailles

Three series of this Canale Plus production, showing a charismatic Louis XIV (George Blagden) decreeing a new palace outside Paris, have now been shown in the UK and it seems that a fourth will not now be made. It has much in common with “The Tudors ” in that it has been enjoyable from a dramatic perspective, broadcast after the watershed, allowing for many scenes of “horizontal jogging” and there has been some adjustment to the historical record. Whilst “The Tudors” conflated Henry VIII’s sisters Margaret and Mary, marrying her to the King of Portugal and not those of Scotland and France, among other crimes against history, “Versailles” has just gone further.

Perhaps the producers have been reading the research of Kathryn Warner and Ian Mortimer but the Man in the Iron Mask, who was almost certainly a valet named Eustache Dauger, is the King’s father and predecessor by the same forename, Louis XIII, about forty years after his witnessed death. They have also shuffled historic events such that Louis XIV’s niece marries Carlos II, Spain’s last Habsburg King, in 1679 AFTER Louis’ first wife Maria Theresa died in 1683 – indeed Cardinals refer to her death in discussing Carlos’ marriage plans, however they made better work of “l’affaire des poisons”, culminating in the burning of “la Voisin” at the end of series two (1680). Blagden appears to have a similar build to Meyers, although the latter was surely too thin to portray Henry VIII, as he moves the court to a new location southwest of Paris.

Interestingly, the BBC followed the first two series with a five-minute “Inside Versailles” slot with Kate Williams and other historians.

 

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Yet another case

This year’s third series of “Versailles” reminded me of a further instance of secret marriage, even though some people maintain that nobody ever married in secret despite this case, that spawned two whole books, this one and this just decades ago, let alone Edward IV and Elizabeth Wydeville or her parents.
In 1683 or 1684, just months after the death of his first wife, Louis XIV is widely regarded as having married the similarly widowed Francoise d’ Aubigny, Madame Scarron, subsequently known as the Marquise de Maintenon. Just like Lady Eleanor, she was never crowned, but the similarities end in that she was married by an Archbishop not, perhaps a Canon, remained Louis XIV’s morganatic wife and outlived him.

Indeed, historians have no doubt at all that Louis XIV married Madame de Maintenon. Albeit they are not sure exactly when. Despite this, the marriage was never officially recognised – as will be seen, the King swore everyone to secrecy – and Madame de Maintenon was certainly never recognised as Queen of France.

From the memoirs of the Duc de St. Simon:

“But what is very certain and very true, is, that some time after the return of the King from Fontainebleau, and in the midst of the winter that followed the death of the Queen (posterity will with difficulty believe it, although perfectly true and proved), Père de la Chaise, confessor of the King, said mass at the dead of night in one of the King’s cabinets at Versailles. Bontems, governor of Versailles, chief valet on duty, and the most confidential of the four, was present at this mass, at which the monarch and La Maintenon were married in presence of Harlay, Archbishop of Paris, as diocesan, of Louvois (both of whom drew from the King a promise that he would never declare this marriage), and of Montchevreuil. …”

Another example of how easy it was to get married in secret, without ceremony or records, albeit in this case in 17th Century France.

Second Verdict

This is Stratford Johns, who featured heavily in Z-Cars and Softly, Softly. In spring 1976, with his co-star Frank Windsor, their characters appeared in Second Verdict, investigating six mysteries, of which the “Princes” were the second.

It should be possible to locate a recording of this programme.

The Prince and the Neutron Blaster

Michael K. Jones‘ latest investigation, into Edward the Black Prince, was featured on BBC1’s “Inside Out” South-East, a half-hour regional magazine programme consisting of three reports of which this was the last one.

As Jones explained, the neutron blaster is not a weapon used at the 1356 battle of  Poitiers but for present day scientific tests that Oxford’s Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory is conducting on the helm that formed part of his “achievements” at his tomb in Canterbury Cathedral, to discover whether this whether it was an ornament or actually associated with the Prince in his lifetime. Apart from Jones and some scientists, Tobias Capwell was also featured in the ten-minute segment. It also quoted Froissart to explain how the teenaged Prince had fought at Crecy ten years earlier, where King John of Bohemia was among the casualties.

 

Britain’s most historic towns

This excellent Channel Four series reached part four on 28th April as Dr. Alice Roberts came to Norwich, showing streets, civic buildings and even a pub that I have previously visited, describing it as Britain’s most “Tudor” town. She began by describing Henry VII as “violently seizing” the English throne (or at least watching whilst his uncle Jasper and the Earl of Oxford violently seized it for him).

As the “Tudor” century progressed, she changed into a red woollen dress and explained how the sumptuary laws would have prevented her from wearing other colours and fabrics. Henry VIII’s attempts to obtain an annulment were mentioned, as was Kett’s Rebellion on Mousehold Heath under Edward VI. The Marian Persecution was described in detail and some of her victims in Norwich were named, most of them being burned at the “Lollards’ Pit”, where a pub by that name now standsLollardsPit.jpg. As we mentioned earlier, Robert Kett’s nephew Francis suffered the same fate decades later.

Dr. Roberts then spoke about the “Strangers”, religious refugees from the Low Countries who boosted the weaving industry, bringing canaries with them. Her next subject was Morris dancing as the jester Will Kemp argued with Shakespeare and danced his way up from London to the Norwich Guildhall over nine days. She was then ducked three times in the Wensum as an example of the punishment of a scold from Elizabeth I’s time.

Other shows in this series have covered Chester, York and Winchester whilst Cheltenham and Belfast will be covered in future episodes, each covering a town that epitomises a particular era in our history.

The Antiques Roadshow goes to Floors

There are few television programmes so long-running that participation in an early show is of interest in itself but the Antiques Roadshow is one of them. On April 29, the experts came to the majestic Georgian structure of Floors Castle, home of the Duke of Roxburghe and from which the ruins of Roxburgh Castle are visible towards the Tweed, including the holly bush (ilex aquifolium) marking the spot at which James II fell during the 1460 siege, his leg blown off by his own cannon.

Sadly, the programme didn’t highlight Roxburgh or the Holly but viewers were shown the stunning backdrop of the Cheviot Hills, as well as some interesting “finds”.

Lucy Worsley’s Fireworks for a Tudor Queen ….

Lucy as Elizabeth I

Lucy Worsley can always been relied upon t)o be entertaining, and her latest documentary – BBC – Lucy Worsley’s Fireworks for a Tudor Queen (2018 – is well up to standard.

BBC – Lucy Worsley's Fireworks for a Tudor Queen - 2018

As the title suggests, she was going to reproduce the sort of amazing fireworks display that might have been created for Elizabeth I. In this particular case, a specific display produced at Kenilworth in 1575 by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester,  as his last-ditch attempt to win the queen’s hand in marriage.

Elizabethan fireworks

Lucy was in no doubt that the queen was sorely tempted, but in the end Robert received the thumbs-down. The display had cost him a huge fortune, and availed him of nothing. Well, such high stakes might have seemed like a good idea at the time, I suppose, but afterward. . .? Perhaps not.

I knew nothing about early fireworks (or modern ones, come to that) but viewers were guided through an enthralling demonstration of how gerbs, girandolas (which look  like wildly sparkling willow trees when spinning), rockets, a flying, illuminated dragon, and so on were produced. It was a hazardous process, with one spark being capable of combusting the whole darned lot!

The display was painstakingly recreated from a 16th century drawing, and looked quite uninspiring before it was lit. After all, we are accustomed to modern fireworks, which have quite spoiled us for the delights and novelties of their earlier counterparts. But the moment it was “set off”, the Tudor display was quite a sight to see, and the real Elizabeth must have been as enthralled as Lucy’s version.

Lucy's dragon

The illuminated dragon was splendid, floating across the scene as regally as the queen herself. Well, almost. Its landing wasn’t quite to royal standards.

Anyway, I loved the programme, and thoroughly recommend it to everyone.

modern fireworks

modern fireworks

 

The thoughts of a prospective purchaser of Dan Jones’ The Templars….

Templars - Dan Jones

I have been asked for an opinion about Dan Jones and the Templars, and so have delved around for an impression of Jones’ thoughts on the subject. I know nothing about him, and so started from scratch, so to speak. What follows is an assessment from someone who was considering acquiring the book.

A YouTube video shows Jones talking about the Templars to an audience in a book shop. He is very entertaining, of that there is no doubt, and personable too, but I soon found myself wishing he’d get on with it rather than waffle with so many asides. Amusing at first, but then tiresome.

At the outset he had my full attention, because he spoke of how, when he was young, his father would read him ghost stories at Christmas, particularly those of M.R. James. Well, James is one of my favourites too, as are almost all masters of the gothic ghost story, so I was keen to hear what connection there could be with the Templars. Jones’ favourite James story is Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, my Lad, which concerns a scholarly gentleman’s lonely holiday on the bleak East Anglian coast, and the discovery of a whistle in some Templar ruins. Unwisely, this man blows the whistle, and is then beset by a terrified/terrifying figure, animated bedsheets, monstrous noises and other awful manifestations. Spine-tingling stuff.

Jones’ question was, why did James make the Templar connection? Could the ruins not have been any ruins? But no, he introduced the Templars, who have always had a powerful attraction for us all. Who were they? Where did they come from? Why do they still exert such a draw? What happened to them? Were they good? Or wicked? Even supernatural? And fleeting mention was made of the other Dan, Brown, and the Da Vinci Code.

So far so good. When Jones was speaking, I was there with him, but soon after that something about his delivery began to dull my interest.

The Knights Templars were created to protect Christian pilgrims going to the Holy Land, and were the crack troops—the SAS—of their time. They started as a very poor order, but ended up astonishingly rich. Did they find the treasure of Solomon? Or another vast hoard? Whatever, they fell from grace, and the French king, Phillip IV, had them tortured, and burned their last Grand Master (Jacques de Molay) today in 1314, although Edward II reacted differently.

Dan Jones’ book about the Templars has done remarkably well, and there are a lot of reviews at Amazon. Alas, they are almost all one-liners, which do not really give a prospective buyer much of an idea about a book that is clearly to the liking of the general public. So too were his previous works, about The Plantagenets, the Magna Carta and so on. So I can see why this one is following suit.

On the other hand, I took a “Look Inside” at Amazon. It happened to be the Kindle edition. The font, while a reasonable size, was rather close-packed, and some of the paragraphs very long, which will not help concentration. I could not see where one page ended and the next began, but that might just be my ineptitude. The eye is inclined to wander when there are no breaks in paragraphs, and when font is awkward for one reason or another. When the eye wanders, so too does the attention. That is my opinion, anyway. Here is an (admittedly reduced) extract, but it does show what I mean about the text and the legibility of the longer paragraphs. This legibility is of concern to many readers, especially the senior ones – like me! This sort of thing would require reading in timely instalments, if you know what I mean. Youngsters might do it all in one sitting! Yes, you can enlarge in Kindle, but not in an actual book.

excerpt Templars

So I will not be acquiring the book, but have no real out-and-out reason for making this decision. Jones’ actual writing and work might be excellent, and indeed probably are, but there is just something that deters me. Well, we’re all different, and I am clearly in the tiny minority when it comes to Dan Jones. So it’s bon appetit to all those who will be adding it to their bookshelf.

 

A visual and literary appreciation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, by Simon Armitage….

lud's church, staffs

 Most people, even if they haven’t read/tried to read, the ancient British poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, will at least know the opening scene. It’s Christmas at Camelot, and King Arthur and his knights are enjoying themselves, feasting and celebrating, when into the hall rides a huge knight who carries a sprig of holly. He is normal enough in every aspect, except for his gigantic size and the fact that he and his horse are emerald-green from head to toe/hoof. He challenges anyone to decapitate him, and Gawain steps up to the challenge. Swinging his sword, he lops the giant’s head, which rolls across the floor. The knights, being rather sozzled, kick it around…until, to their horror, the Green Knight’s body rises and comes across the pick up its head, which it puts back in place on its neck. Then he utters a solemn challenge to Gawain that twelve months hence, he, Gawain, is to find the Green Knight, who will return the decapitating favour. Chivalry demands that Gawain accepts the challenge, and the gist of the long poem that follows covers his journey to find the Green Knight’s lair.

This 600+-years-old alliterative work, written around 1400, is one of the jewels in the crown of British poetry. Originally it had no title, but over the centuries acquired the one we all know now. Alliteration is one of the hallmarks of English poetry, and Simon Armitage, who has written his own updated version of the poem, not only recognises the importance of this “tool”, but incorporates it into his work. Thus his chosen words are in the narrative of the amazing BBC4 documentary which goes by the same title as the poem itself. I have just watched it on BBC iPlayer, and do not know if it is available elsewhere, but if you can watch it, I hope you do.

The film is beautifully filmed during a very soggy English winter, and endeavours to follow the route of Gawain’s quest for the Green Knight. It is full of nature and the scenery, introducing ancient British legends and creatures long gone from our shores. We are reminded, visually, of how very lovely and unique the land is in which modern man still lives. Gawain is a devout Christian in a world filled with the supernatural. He encounters wild men called wodwose, trolls, giants, bears…and the occasional boar. And a very sexy lady who leads him from the straight and narrow into a curtained bed, where she has her evil way with him.

There are some fine set pieces in the film, especially a sequence filmed at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. A wonderful array of authentic medieval food is laid out on a white-clothed trestle table in the hall, with greenery adorning windows, tables and furniture. A large fire flickers and crackles in the hearth, and it is so atmospheric that it captures and holds the attention , lingering long after Gawain has moved on.

The story reaches its climax (it is thought) at Lud’s Church in Staffordshire (see illustration above). The soggy English winter is relentless, and just before this there are scenes higher on the Peaks, where clouds clings to the summit, and figures and scenery are misty shapes.

Be warned that the film is a bit gory when it comes to killing, gutting and skinning a pig, but that was the only part where I had to look away. There is an excellent soundtrack of eerie, otherworldly songs and music. The whole adds up to a staggeringly beautiful documentary, showing how close to paganism medieval Christians actually were. I thoroughly recommend it, especially if you need to be reminded that Britain is unique and can offer far, far more than most of the world. Well, in my opinion. I adore my homeland in all its seasons, and am proud to be part of it.

I mentioned earlier that poet Simon Armitage has written his own version of this ancient poem, complete with updated language and the very necessary alliteration. I have ordered it, because I know, from this documentary, that it must be well worth reading. Thank you, Simon and the BBC for an hour of pure enjoyment and beauty.

Postscript:

I have now received and delved through Simon Armitage’s updated version of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and it has lived up to my hopes. Of course, there have been other such updates, but in my opinion they do not compare. As for the original in Middle English, well, it’s beyond me completely. The following describes the startling arrival of the Green Knight at the Christmas feast in Camelot.:-

An oþer noyse ful newe neȝed biliue,
Þat þe lude myȝt haf leue liflode to cach;
For vneþe watz þe noyce not a whyle sesed,
And þe fyrst cource in þe court kyndely serued,
Þer hales in at þe halle dor an aghlich mayster,
On þe most on þe molde on mesure hyghe;
Fro þe swyre to þe swange so sware and so þik,
And his lyndes and his lymes so longe and so grete, [folio 93r]
Half etayn in erde I hope þat he were,
Bot mon most I algate mynn hym to bene,
And þat þe myriest in his muckel þat myȝt ride;
For of bak and of brest al were his bodi sturne,
Both his wombe and his wast were worthily smale,
And alle his fetures folȝande, in forme þat he hade,
ful clene;
For wonder of his hwe men hade,
Set in his semblaunt sene;
He ferde as freke were fade,
And oueral enker-grene.

Hmm, yes. Totally beyond me. Whereas the same passage from Simon Armitage’s book brings it all wonderfully to life for my modern self:-

Because another sound, a new sound, suddenly drew near,
which might signal the king to sample his supper,
for barely had the horns finished blowing their breath
and with starters just spooned to the seated guests,
a fearful form appeared, framed in the door:
a mountain of a man, immeasurably high,
a hulk of a human from head to hips,
so long and thick in his loins and limbs
I should genuinely judge him to be a half-giant,
or a massive man, the mightiest of mortals.
But handsome too, like any horseman worth his horse,
for despite the bulk and brawn of his body
his stomach and waist were slender and sleek.
In fact in all features he was finely formed
                    it seemed.
          Amazement seized their minds,
         no soul had ever seen…
         a knight of such a kind –
         entirely emerald green….

So yes, I do recommend this book. Read and enjoy.

Armitage - Gawain

Available in hardback, paperback, kindle and audio.

 

Did the producers recognise him?

Here is a picture you may well have seen.

 

It shows, from Carry On Henry, Kenneth Williams as Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal to Henry VIII and briefly Earl of Essex.

In fact, Cromwell’s sister married one Thomas (or Morgan) Williams, although their descendants took the Cromwell surname.

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