Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The real Romeo and Juliet

Description: Description: Description: Description: C:\Users\Kathy Emerson\Documents\My Web Sites\Kateemersonhistoricals\httpdocs\touchet,maria.jpg
Maria Thynne, nee Touchet
Maria Touchet married Thomas Thynne in spring 1594 in a secret wedding ceremony at the Bell Inn in Beaconsfield, they were sixteen years old and had to keep their marriage a secret from everyone as their families - the Thynnes and Maria's maternal family of the Mervyns - had a long standing feud against each other. 

Maria Touchet (1578-1611) was the daughter of George Touchet, Earl of Castlehaven (1550-1617) and Lucy Mervyn (died 1611). Lucy Mervyn was the daughter and only heir of James Mervyn (1529-1611) and his wife Amy Clark. 
Thomas Thynne (1578-1639) was the son of Sir John Thynne (1555-1604) and Joan Hayward (1559-1612). 

John Thynne and Sir James Mervyn were enemies in a lifelong feud which came about due to their politics. The feud started in 1575 and continued for decades; taking place within the confines of the courts of government as well as street violence between groups of the opponents supporters at places such as Marlborough and Salisbury, in which several men suffered injuries. The actual root of the dispute may be traced to a betrothal of marriage between Lucy Mervyn and John Thynne (the mother of the future bride and father of the future groom) that had been cancelled in winter 1574 due to opposition from the Thynne family, in particular from Sir Thomas Gresham who was John Thynne's uncle, which greatly offended the Mervyns.
In terms of allies, the Mervyns had Sir John Danvers and his two sons Charles and Henry, while the Thynnes had John Thynne's brother-in-law Sir Walter Long and his brother Henry Long, as well as Sir Henry Knyvett although he acted as more of a mediator rather than stand strongly on one side. The feud was at its peak around 1590; in September 1589 there was a physical assault between supporters of the two families at Hindon, which Thynne was summoned before the Council for in November, at this time Mervyn also brought a legal charge against Thynne in the Star Chamber. The situation only worsened when Henry Long was publicly murdered - this took place after the marriage of the young couple but before they were discovered, and would only discourage them from revealing the situation to the families. 

Thomes Thynne was in his second year of studying at Corpus Christi College at Oxford, when on the Thursday of Whitsun week he went with two friends to a supper held by some members of the Mervyn family at the Bell Inn in Beaconsfield, which was on the road towards London. It was this evening that Thomas met Maria Touchet for the first time and it appears to have been love at first sight. Thomas had dark hair, a long face, full lips and strong features with a romantic nature, while Maria was dark haired and had a lively personality. The two teenagers spent the evening together eating, drinking, talking and presumably flirting, at one point it is thought that Maria's mother Lucy put it to them to marry that night if they liked each other so strongly, an idea which they jumped upon. Later that evening, the couple went upstairs to a room at the inn and was clandestinely married by a Father Welles, the only witness and only person who knew about the teenagers becoming a couple, was Maria's mother Lucy Touchet. Lucy Touchet had long been tired of the feud between the two families and wanted an end to it; therefore it could be argued that she planned for the two youngsters to meet, as it has been suggested that she provided the couple with fresh bedding for the wedding night as the reputation of the cleanliness of inns was not high. It could be argued that Lucy sought to intervene at this time with arranging for the couple to meet as her daughter Maria had a suitor at court, a high born Mr Manners - Maria, or her sons, would eventually become the heirs of the Mervyn estate at Fountell and so had a valuable bargaining chip when it came to dowries and securing a husband. After spending the night together, come the morning the couple were separated in order to keep their secret, although messages were passed between them frequently. 

When the marriage was discovered, it was the Thynne family who was the most outraged by it. Thomas was the family's heir and as such they had hoped for an advantageous marriage for him that would bring with it a large dowry, whereas with this clandestine marriage there was no dowry and above all, it was to the daughter of their enemy. This marriage would mean that the two families would now be closely connected and could bring a reconciliation between them; something that the Thynnes were not happy about as they had  spent more time and effort into prosecuting the Mervyns in the courts. 

The marriage was not discovered until April 1595, and from 1597 until 1601, John Thynne tried to get his son's marriage annulled, however the young couple and the Touchet family fought against him to keep it declared legal and valid. In 1601 the Court of Arches came to a conclusion on the matter and declared the marriage valid, after which time the young couple began living together. However, this whole affair did not succeed in reconciling the two families that had over time become political court factions. 
Maria and Thomas lived at Longleat together after Thomas inherited it in November 1605, and the couple had three children together; John (born 1604), Thomas (born 1611) and another son, until Maria died giving birth to Thomas in 1611. 

This situation, having two warring families which are then brought together through a secret marriage between the young heirs, sounds particularly similar to that of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and indeed it may have served as his inspiration. Romeo and Juliet was written in 1595 when the whole affair came to light, and  Shakespeare would have been aware of it not just through court gossip but also through his patron Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon, who was also closely involved with the Touchet/Mervyn/Thynne feud. Shakespeare's works at this time, such as Love's Labours Lost, often were based on or at least took inspiration from contemporary events, and therefore the similarities between his play Romeo and Juliet and this marital scandal cannot be ignored. 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The Virgin Mary teaching thieves a lesson

The church of St James the Greater (St Jacob's in latin) in Prague is home to a myth of it's own.

This church was home to a statue of the Virgin Mary and around her neck hung a necklace with a large jewel hanging from it. A thief had seen this necklace and had decided to steal it; one night he waited inside the church until late at night when it was finally empty and went to steal the necklace from the statue. As the thief reached around the statue to remove the necklace, the statue itself came to life and moved its hands from its previous position of prayer to having one hand wrapped around the thief's wrist and then once again fell lifeless. The thief immediately dropped the necklace and tried to pull his arm free but it was no use, the statue would not budge; he was stuck. He spent the entire night trying to free his arm, and during those hours prayed to God to free him, promising that he would never steal again and that he would become a good man. When the morning came and the priest of the church entered and found the thief attached to the statue, he was amazed at the sight before him. The priest tried for hours to help to free the thief, using any available materials such as candle wax and butter, before admitting defeat. Seeing no other option, the priest called for the executioner to come with his axe. The thief was relieved, believing that the priest intended to cut the statue in order to free the man's arm, however the priest declared that if this was her vengeance for a thief, imagine what she would do to someone who desecrated her statue. The priest intended to cut off the thief's arm. The executioner came to the church and cut off the theif's arm below the elbow and then sealed off the wound. The thief then ran from the church, and it was only then that the Virgin Mary statue released the arm it was holding, dropping it to the ground and once again resuming her praying position. The priest then took the severed arm and hung it up in the church as a warning to thieves in the future so that they would be discouraged from trying to steal from the church, and to show that thieves will be punished by God. Many years later the thief whose arm it was returned to the church and saw that his arm had been hung there like a relic, and met with the priest who thanked him and said that his arm being there had served its purpose and those who had stolen from the church before actually returned the goods they had stolen and asked for forgiveness.
The arm of the thief is still hanging in the church today, and still stands as a warning to those who dare steal from the church.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

They died, but they also lived too

All over the world there are memorials and lists upon lists of names of those who were victims of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime, however this is how they end up being remembered; as names on a list, as a statistic, as one of the dead, we forget to remember that they were once alive, living day to day lives like ourselves today.

Across central Europe, particularly Germany and the Czech Republic, on pavements outside buildings plaques like these are found all over the country.
These plaques read:
    born 1911, deported 1942 to Terezin, died 1943
    born 1938, deported 1942 to Terezin, died 1943
    born 1903, deported 1942 to Terezin, died 1944
    born 1881, deported 1942 to Terezin, died 1942

The plaques have been placed outside the residences of those who were deported to the concentration camps during the Holocaust as a reminder of those who were killed and that they aren't just names on a list somewhere but they were here, this is where this family lived and spent their lives together.
Particularly in Germany there seems to be a theme of making what happened in history into a constant presence to serve as reminders to it's people of what happened. In Berlin there are many memorials dedicated to the victims of the Nazi regime sitting on nearly every street so it is unavoidable for a person to go about their day without being constantly reminded of what happened. These plaques are also a part of this as they make sure that remembering the victims is a part of daily life, they are not to be forgotten.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

An idealist who lived his ideals

Tomas Garrigue Masaryk was the President of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935, during which time he was reelected three times and only resigned in 1935 due to his old age and poor health.

He was born as Tomas Masaryk in 1850, and when he married in 1878 to an American woman Charlotte Garrigue as well as she taking his last name as was customary, he also adopted her last name and became Tomas Garrigue Masaryk. This can be viewed in two ways; a romantic act of devotion to his new wife, but also as a symbol of a belief in gender equality. From learning about the history of Czechoslovakia, this act is not so surprising as there does not seem to be as strong a prejudice against women that is found in more Western countries; all women of Czechoslovakia got the right to vote in 1918 which was two years before American women and ten years before British women. Tomas had been raised as a Catholic believer, later in life converted to being a Protestant Unitarian; the same religion of his wife Charlotte. The couple had five children together; sons Jan and Herbert, and daughters Alice, Anna and Olga.

Tomas Masaryk is most prominently remembered for being the founder of Czechoslovakia who first came to public notice due to his championing for justice.  In 1899 Masaryk bravely denounced anti-Semitism in the famous murder case of Leopold Hilsner whose trial revived the myth of Jewish ritual sacrifice. Again in 1909, Tomas Masaryk defended a group of Croat nationalist leaders in a treason trial by proving that the Austrian Foreign Ministry had forged the evidence used against them. Masaryk made a name for himself as a man who stood by his principles and fought for justice even though popular opinion was strongly against him - his countrymen disliked him as Masaryk was showing the people how corruption was playing a large role in the law and government. Masaryk had Humanist ideals and held a strong belief in social reform; something which would lead to Czech independence.

In 1914 when the First World War broke out, as a prominent politician Tomas was sent into exile and started campaigning for his idea that it would be in the people's best interests if there were to be a separate country for Czechs and Slovaks away from the Austria-Hungary empire to help the oppressed people. In his travels across the globe, Tomas gathered the support of Czech and Slovak citizens living abroad, wrote numerous articles and gave speeches and also established a Czechoslovak army - Czech Legions - which served on the side of the Allies in WWI. In 1916 Tomas went to Paris to argue his case to the French government, then Russia and then in 1918 he went to America and managed to gain the support of President Woodrow Wilson. The Austria-Hungary empire fell in 1918 and on November 14th Tomas Masaryk was elected as the President of the Czechoslovak Republic, and then further reelected in 1920, 1927 and 1934.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The fountains of Aix en Provence

Aix en Provence has been given the nickname 'City of a thousand fountains', a name which it more than lives up to with its many beautiful and intricate marble sculpted fountains than can be found in nearly every square. The name 'Aix' comes from the Latin word 'aquae' meaning 'water' due to the town being built upon a thermal water source by its founder, Roman general Caius Sextius.

La fontaine Rotunde
The Rotunde fountain was built in 1860 and was the first in the town with a fonted basin. The three statues on top represent Justice, Agriculture and Fine Arts. This fountain has become the focal point of the town.

Fontaine de la Place des Precheurs
This fountain was built in 1758 by Chastel in the shape of an obelisk. On each of the four sides sits an effigy; Sextius Calvinus - the Roman founder of Aix, Charles III - last sovereign Count of Provence, Louis XV - reigning king at the time of construction, and Louis XVIII - last titular Count of Provence.

Fontaine des Augustines
Built in 1620, then reconstructed in 1820 by Aix architect Mr Beisson, as it has been used as a public lavatory since 1786. On the top of the granite column - material brought from the Gallo-Roman mausoleum in the palace of the counts of Provence - sits a copper, twelve pointed star. While three of its spouts pour non-drinkable water, one spout produces drinkable water.

La fontaine Saint Louis
This fountain was built in 1843 with a bust of Saint Louis atop it and the crest of the city of Aix on the base.

Fontaine de la Place des Tanneurs
In the 1800's this area of six streets became inhabited by tanneries which is why today this is called Tanners Street (Rue des Tanneurs). The fountain has stood since 1761 according to the plans of Georges Vallon, with the water coming from the town hall fountain. Due to aquatic plants and the pipes being too close to the ground and therefore being broken from being trampled by horse drawn carriages, the fountain was inactive for fifty years. In 1861 the city decided to restore the fountain. The vase on top of the fountain was sculpted by Jean Chastel.

La fontaine Marcello Drutel
This fountain was named after Marcello Drutel who was a Provencal poet.

La fontaine des neuf canons
Built by Laurent Vallon in 1691 the fountain was originally named 'La fontaine St Lazare' and was curved on all four sides but two of these were later cut to allow for vehicles. Its water was used by those at the religious house St Ursula and then later on, the Benedictines. In 1761 it was renovated and given the name 'Nine Cannons'. For forty years at the end of the 19th century, it had been in use as a drinking trough for cattle who were coming from the cattle market in Arles; this use explains why it has such a low basin.  

 La fontaine des Quatre Dauphins
Built in the Mazarin quarter of Aix in 1667 by the sculptor Jean-Claude Rambot. The statue atop the pyramid was originally a sculpture of Saint Michael, and has since been changed to a fleur de lys, a Maltese cross and finally, a pine cone that we see today.

La fontaine Place d'Albertas
Built in 1912 by engineers at the local Ecole des Arts et Metiers d'Aix en Provence, this fountain pays tribute to Marquis Jean-Baptiste d'Albertas who built the private residences on this square and also the gardens of the same name.

Fontaine de l'hotel de ville
Completed in 1757 by the sculptor Chastel, who was responsible in particular for the sculpting of a chapter of Corinthians from the Bible upon it, all in accordance with the designs of the architect Brun.

La fontaine Moussue
This iconic fountain on the Cours Mirabeau was constructed in 1667 by the architect Fosse. Originally it was adorned by a newt on the top, then this was changed three years later to four children holding a basin out of which poured the town's water, however this no longer stands and is simply a cube covered in moss. Ten years later this became a hot water fountain because the water from the fountain outside the boilermakers was diverted to this fountain. This water is not drinkable and it has long been forbidden for the housewives to wash their clothes in this fountain but they could draw water from it to wash the doorsteps and stairs of nearby buildings. Today, the water from this fountain is still running a hot 18 degrees, even in winter when the cold outdoor temperature caused steam to come from the fountain due to the collision of the two temperatures, giving it a mystical appearance.

La fontaine des Trois Ormeaux
Built in 1632, it is adorned with sculptures of fruits and flowers and shows the graceful architecture seen under Louis XVI.

La fontaine du Roi Rene
Standing at the very top of the Cours Mirabeau is this fountain which was built to commemorate the 600th anniversary of King Rene's birth in 2009. The actual statue which has been placed there was sculpted in 1822 by David d'Angers. The figure of King Rene is given books - to represent he was a man of great culture, spoke several languages and is the protector of the Arts, Sciences and Letters - as well as a bunch of Muscat grapes which he introduced to Aix en Provence.

Fontaine Gilly
Built in 1988 in honour of the sculpter Seraphin Gilly.

La fontaine Jouse d'Arbaud
This fountain was built to commemorate the Provencal poet Jouse d'Arbaud.

Friday, 3 May 2013

The streets are alive with memory

When I walked around my town of Aix en Provence, I often found that the most beautiful streets were those with features that had been there for decades, perhaps even hundreds, of years. Aix is famous for its picturesque fountains - being home to over forty of them - which add to the town's rustic provencal charm, most of which comes from the fact that most of the buildings and streets have not changed in a long time, everything still looks as it did a hundred years ago. A lot of Provence is still in the same shape as it has always been in with farmhouses and fields and uneven alleyways between buildings with faded blue painted window shutters. Walking along the back streets of the town, you can almost feel as if time had stopped years ago due to the absence of modernised buildings, advertisements which light up the entire street and mainstream chain shops which clutter up high streets. 
One of the simplest pleasures to be enjoyed is to simply pop into a bakery, buy a tasty baguette, and take a stroll around Aix and just enjoy the sights of the blue shuttered windows, gently flowing fountains, marble statues and other evidences of Aix's younger years.
For me, one of my favourite parts of Aix was the old product adverts that had been painted onto building walls decades ago but still survive today.