Friday, April 8, 2016

Phantom Itching

Ever had your skin crawl after seeing a potato bug?
Ever twitched uncontrollably after seeing a spider?
How about scratched your head after contact with someone who looked as though head lice were a distinct possibility?

Having spent a great deal of time lately reading about persons from history whose heads rolled on a scaffold, and in particular Anne Boleyn, the idea of phantom itching pre-execution (right at the point where neck and spine meet) is one I'm currently exploring. 

When the trial was over and the axe of the Yeoman Warder who'd guarded the prisoner was pointed toward that prisoner,

 it meant:*600/Not-Guilty-Gavel.jpg 

JK!!!!! lol!!!

It actually meant:

The jury of one's peers had spoken.
Unanimous? Really? U-effing-nanimous?
In the time between that stomach-dropping moment and the instant the prisoner ate it on the scaffold, he or she had some amount of time to prepare for 'a good death.'
Generally the prisoner changed their undies

clutched their Rosary beads
"Remember oh most gracious Virgin Mary . . oh fuuuuuuuuccccckkkkkkkkkk."
and, once back in their apartment/cell, asked family members to settle accounts they owed.
Then wrote their will.
Also on their to-do list

was getting enough cash to tip the executioner.
The bigger the tip, the better his aim.
"They call me Wall-eyed Joe. What?"
Get it?

And once those pesky details were dealt with, there was time to sit and think and feel the itch right there . . . right at the base of the back of the neck . . . "Is that where the axe will hit me?" and, "How long will I feel it?" and most important of all, "Will he get it in one chop?"

As anyone in Tudor-era England would do, condemned prisoners got very, very right with Jesus before their Big Day.
Still - on those sleepless nights in the Tower of London, with only the sound of the wind and the occasional creak of oars along the Thames - the phantom itch must've been . . . just interminably creepy, and followed by a case of the shudders second to none.

Pity the insomniac-traitors upon whom the king or queen withdrew the mercy of the axe or sword or even just a straight-forward hanging; those who received the 'hung, drawn and quartered' sentence. 

Leonardo Di Caprio biting his fist
"Yeah, that's gonna leave a mark on my $5000.00 suit, for sure."


It's just as disgusting as it sounds.

Hung till near dead.
Drawn (have Big Jim and the Twins cut off and burned in front of you; same with your intestines.)
Quartered - divide by four and send each part to a separate corner of the kingdom (like who wants to look at THAT?)
"Come on. . .  I'll make popcorn! They're only displaying it 'til the week-end!"
It was after the 'drawn' but before the 'quartered' bit that Everard Digby, friend of Guy Fawkes, had his heart yanked partially out.
The executioner declared, "Behold the heart of a traitor!"
"THOU LIEST!" bellowed the supposed-to-be-dead-by-now Mr. Digby in a case of Extreme Last Word.

Now THAT is an unforgettable exit . . .

*"The Tower" by Nigel Jones; pg. 285 :-) Thanks, boss. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Moving House


Did Tudor-era English move house?
And did they whine about it?
Or did they just go loudly insane, like me?
HI! Yes, another venti coffee from Starbucks, please!!!
Normal posts and activity will return here in a day or two. 
As you were. . . 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Early April - In Which We All Begin To Feel Anxious on Behalf of Anne Boleyn

April is the month before everything went to shit for Anne Boleyn in 1536.
She'd miscarried a son in January;
"She hath miscarried of her Saviour."
Henry VIII was less than a loving husband in response to the news.
"You'll get no more sons from ME." Yes, Anne, that means things are very bad indeed.

He was scathing in his dismissal of her shortly afterwards.
Worse, his eye was wandering in a way Anne Boleyn surely recognized - that same wandering eye brought her to him.

"Henry, are you f*cking kidding me? Really? Jane f*cking Seymour?"
Rather than wearing her humble face
Mea culpa, mea culpa

and winning back the king's affection, she turned spiteful and played games with the men of the court's very innermost circle.
Fiddle-dee-dee! I swear, I don't know which of you courtiers is the handsomest! I was awake all night trying to decide. . .
Her world was imploding at its core.
It was only a matter of time before it collapsed under her black velvet slippers.

And while Anne Boleyn's guard should have been up, it seems she couldn't tell if she were simply jumping at shadows or if it was really as bad as she feared.
No. It's much, much worse.
Turns out it was worse.

The factions at court whom she'd left politically bruised began circling.

They were joined by those whom she'd squelched over religion.
I never forget a thing I've been told, nor an action I've seen.
The Lady Mary, prodded out of the line of succession by Anne Boleyn's daughter, Princess Elizabeth, had her own chance to stir the pot  - and she tacitly invited all courtiers who'd watched while Henry VIII disgraced her mother, a beloved queen, a gentle queen, a queen who'd ridden against freaking Scotland and brought back the head of the Scottish king to line up and take their best shots at Anne Boleyn.
That's Uncle Enemy to you, Anne.

And then there were all those spiteful frenemies who lined up to spew their 'dirt' on her, all the while maintaining a wide-eyed innocence as though their ladylike sensibilities were shocked by the queen's vulgar actions.
"I can hardly bear to repeat what I've seen . . . no, wait, I'll tell you a bunch of shit about her, and I'll make stuff up, too."

It was a month when the rumour mills worked overtime, when the king openly dandled a mistress/queen in waiting on his knee, when the queen made a fatal flirtatious quip to a courtier, telling him if something happened to the king, that same courtier would want to have her, when the king's man Cromwell vacuumed up every and any tidbit of gossip about the queen.

Such a pretty month, too; when the earth throws off winter's last frost and warmed under the sun, gives off the smell of newly-turned soil and delicate green shoots appear almost overnight with the promise of wildflowers and berries.

Anne Boleyn was still able to go through the motions at court in April, 1536 - but with an unsettled feeling that something was not quite right.
 TS Eliot was onto something when he wrote, "April is the cruelest month."

Friday, April 1, 2016

Charles V The Holy Roman Emperor Who Sacked Rome

Charles V – Nephew of Catherine of Aragon, Incredibly Busy Emperor

In the long-standing tradition of bureaucrats everywhere, Cardinal Wolsey once sat on an inconvenient memo from his boss, Henry VIII.
For the longest time, hoping the matter behind the memo would just please go away, the Cardinal did nothing about it.
"I have a bad feeling about this memo. . . "
Unfortunately for Wolsey, the memo was the one where Henry VIII asked him to look into a no-fault divorce so the king could ditch Catherine of Aragon (with her fertility and her figure past its ‘sell-by’ date) for Anne Boleyn (younger, sassier, sexier.)
"Hmmm. . . . Anne or Catherine? Catherine or Anne?"

Henry VIII, with his trophy-wife-in-waiting who got exponentially more strident about that ring NOT on her finger with every day that passed, asked Wolsey about progress on asking Rome to allow his divorce.

“It’s coming. It’s coming along,” answered Wolsey, for the second, third, eighteenth time.

Henry VIII and Wolsey had a come-to-Jesus meeting about the non-action on Henry VIII’s divorce - which was not at all forthcoming.
"You see, Wolsey, logrolling only works when we BOTH do our job. Buh-bye now."
By then, it was too late.

Once the cat was out of the bag and everybody knew Henry VIII was insanely stalking in love with Anne Boleyn, there was no hope of Wolsey slipping a quiet little ‘sign here, please, Holy Father’ to slip an okay on the divorce through the onerous process of a Roman Catholic divorce.
 For it was not just the Pope who was dismayed at Henry VIII’s cavalier attitude towards jettisoning his current queen, but also the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (and, oh, SNAP! He was the nephew of Catherine of Aragon.)
His position on Henry VIII’s divorce was ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Why, one might ask, would the Holy Roman Emperor wield such power?
Have a look at this:
The areas colored in were under the rule of Charles V.
Charles V - waaaayyyyy too much going on in his royal life.
Son of Catherine of Aragon’s sister, Juana, Charles V was a Royal Overachiever.
He managed to keep so many plates spinning in the air concurrently

 that from sheer exhaustion, he abdicated the throne at age 56 to spend the rest of his days in serious peace and quiet – in a monastery.

His name crops up often enough in Tudor history; most often during the time of Henry VIII’s “Great Matter.”
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, determined to break new ground by showing the world the meaning of the words ‘trophy wife,’ did a dance-around-Charles V, the-royal-heavyweight, reel from 1528 through 1533.
Their courtship, and Anne’s period as the affianced of Henry VIII, moved at a glacial pace

 due, in part, to placate the sensibilities and (rightly placed) suspicions of Catherine of Aragon and her nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor/King of the Known World.

The then-pope, Clement VII, had his own treacherous balancing act on his ecclesiastic hands.
Hmmm. . . Charles or Henry? Henry or Charles? I do wish this would all go away. . . .

On the one hand, there was Charles V – Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire – and nephew to his Auntie Catherine of Aragon, married to Henry VIII.
On the other hand, there was Henry VIII, behaving very badly indeed towards both his wife and the Roman Catholic Church.

While Henry VIII made a decent case for an annulment of his marriage by citing an Old Testament verse that, taken at face value, invalidated his union with his wife, Charles V (nephew of that same wife) had the heavy hammer of an enormous empire and enormous military resources.
Charles V, dealing with the rise of Protestantism across the European continent, a war with France, and skirmishes with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire, was a man described as “not greedy for territory, but most greedy for peace and quiet.”
"Yes, please."
To have his auntie cast off by the horny and heir-hungry Henry VIII was perhaps not something he was willing to make a fighting stand over, but he wasn’t not NOT willing, either – or at least, the threat was there.

In other words, he wasn’t above using the unrest among Catholics in the German and Italian territories to send a very special message to the Pope about his (Charles V’s) feelings on the subject.
"Where's my #2 pencil? I need to fill in that #1 circle."

In 1527, his forces sacked Rome
Okay, White BunnyEar Feathers, you grab the gold; I'm going after His Holiness.

and the pope felt the righteous fear of having an enemy army roiling around the outside walls of one’s palace.
Distracted, Clement VII didn’t focus on granting Henry VIII’s annulment – too busy scarpering hither and yon, evading enemy troops - and time ticked on.

Henry VIII, not getting any less horny with time, was impatient with a capital ‘I.’
Anne Boleyn developed a bad case of the Entitlements; she spoke ill of Catherine of Aragon and generally behaved like a new-to-money, crass and mouthy sidekick to the king.
Her waspish comments should have been a warning to Henry VIII of what was yet to come, once they’d married and she had that crown on her head.
"Where the f*ck is my crown, Henry?"

Henry VIII must not have been paying attention.

Perhaps without a Charles V, and with a quick annulment, the marriage between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII wouldn’t have imploded.
Instead, Catherine of Aragon, shuttled off to drafty, damp castles and no spring chicken any longer, died of poor treatment and also some kind of cancer, on January 7, 1536.

But then, the surprise ending to Anne Boleyn's amazing story began to unfold. 
After her death, there was no ‘villain’ for Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn to side up against, and the lack of a common enemy was a final nail in the coffin of their marriage.
We all know how that story ended, so back to poor exhausted Charles V - 
with his Auntie no longer the earthly prisoner of her impulsive, self-satisfying, politically lightweight husband, Charles V focused again on wars against France, who kept making the most annoying and repetitive land grabs in Italy.
Oh, Christ - not the French in Italy, again.

By 1556, he was exhausted.

He had gout.
He wanted a little peace and quiet.
He abdicated, gave the Spanish throne to his son, Philip II, who eventually married his cousin, Mary Tudor, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII and checked himself into a monastery.

Two years later, he passed the title of Holy Roman Empire to his brother, Ferdinand.
Shortly afterwards, he died of malaria.

He never lost his sense of humour, though: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”