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You can learn a lot of history on your travels and the reverse is also true: knowing some history will much enhance your enjoyment and understanding when exploring new places. In Florence this year, the talk is all about the 700th anniversary of the death of the medieval poet, Dante, and knowing something about him and the Florence of his day, would give you a focus if you were lucky enough to visit the city. Florence, capital of the Italian region of Tuscany, is best-known as the cradle of the Renaissance, centring around the time of artists like Donatello (1386-1466) and Michelangelo (1475-1564), but in fact many of the city’s most famous buildings pre-date that and were familiar to Dante, whose dates are 1265-1321.
Dante’s reputation reaches far beyond Florence, for he is considered the greatest Italian poet of all time and the father of the Italian language, a man of immense culture, a poet, yes, but also an essayist, philosopher and politician. His ideas and his language are everywhere in Italian thought and speech today and the best comparison, albeit one from a later era, would be to say his influence on Italian culture is as great as Shakespeare’s on the English-speaking world.
If you are in Florence for only a few days it can be difficult to prioritise what you want to see, but an itinerary built around places connected with Dante, or Dante Alighieri to give him his full name, would entail a varied and fascinating visit. If you begin in the area around the Duomo, or cathedral, then you are in the heart of Dante’s Florence, a medieval area full of narrow streets, little squares and the road, now called Via Dante, where he lived. The cathedral was begun in 1296 and we know that Dante used to sit nearby and watch the workmen building the beautiful green-and white marble facades and the world-famous dome, a construction nearly everyone at the time said would be impossible to engineer, but which was in fact achieved. The terracotta dome, brooding over the city, is the number one picture found on postcards from Florence today.
Much of Dante’s biography is illustrated in this area. Next to the cathedral is the smaller, octagonal building built in a similar style as the cathedral, the Baptistery, where the babies of Florence – including Dante himself – were baptised from the 11th century onwards. It is famous today for its stunning gilded bronze doors, exquisitely sculpted with scenes from the Old Testament and so beautiful that Michelangelo later gave them the name which has stuck right up to today: the Gates of Paradise. To Dante, this building represented his home city and when he was later exiled for political reasons, it was for the baptistery most of all that he pined.
In the cathedral itself, hangs a painting of Dante, by the artist Domenico di Michelino which tells more of his story. It shows him as the main figure in the setting of his best-known work, The Divine Comedy. The story tells of a journey from hell, through purgatory and on to heaven and all three settings are depicted in the painting. Two things are particularly striking: a close look at the part representing heaven will reveal that this is represented by the city of Florence – on the right-hand side you will see the dome; secondly, Dante is portrayed wearing a laurel wreath as a crown, the honour traditionally bestowed on poets in ancient Greece. Dante, exiled long before his death, was never honoured in this way, although he wrote in the Divine Comedy that he dreamed of returning to his home city one day and receiving the laurel wreath. Commissioned some 140 years after Dante’s death, the painting is an example of Florence, having shunned Dante during his lifetime, trying to reclaim him.
The Casa di Dante – Dante’s house – is also in this medieval part of Florence, but all is not quite what it seems. Dante did indeed live in this street, in fact his family owned several properties here, but his house was destroyed by enemies in revenge for something he wrote in the Divine Comedy. Banned from his own city, and threated with death if he returned, Dante peopled the inferno, the hell of the first section of the work, with real life Florentine residents. They retaliated by wrecking his property. The rebuilt house, which does give a good idea of life in Dante’s day, is now a museum about his life and works. Nearby are buildings he would have known, such as the Torre della Castagna (Chestnut Tower), an 11th century defensive tower built to guard a nearby monastery and the tiny 10th century San Martino Church, just on the corner of the road where he lived.
Places you can visit in other parts of the city bear witness to Dante’s later life. Piazza della Signoria is Florence’s other major square, the political centre, rather than the religious one. It was in the Palazzo Vecchio there, that Dante the politician took part in city assemblies and sat on councils and it is here, that still today, you can see his death mask. The Bargello today is Florence’s major museum of sculpture, but it had much grimmer beginnings as a court, prison and place of torture and it was here that Dante was sentenced to exile. The faction he had supported who wanted the city to be independent of the pope had lost and its rival, now ruling, faction, banished him.
In later centuries, Dante’s reputation grew, in Italy and worldwide and Florence wanted to claim him back. He is buried in Ravenna, but there is a cenotaph for him in the Santa Croce church in Florence, which was installed in 1829. It depicts him in a pensive mood, captioned by words from his own writing: Onorate l’altissimo poeta’, or ‘In honour of the greatest poet.’ In 1885, a year after the unification of Italy, when national pride was a major theme, a statue of Dante was installed in the square outside Santa Croce. Again Florence, and Italy, were keen to have him to represent them.
There is much history to enjoy from seeking out Dante in Florence. Firstly, his own achievements were of national and international importance: masterpieces like the Divine Comedy became known worldwide and influenced the literature of many other nations. Also, because he wrote it in the Tuscan dialect, rather than Latin, and it went on to be so widely read, he is seen as the father of the Italian language. Many of his idioms are used routinely today in modern Italian, the most famous example being the words said when a situation looks desperate: Lasciate ogne speranza voi ch’intrate: ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’, the inscription written above the gates of hell in The Divine Comedy.
And secondly, the Florence of his day was one of Europe’s biggest cities, its wealth based on its great wool and textile industry, then on its merchants and bankers, the city where the first golden florin – named after the city – was minted and went on to become the most powerful currency in Europe. To visit Dante’s Florence is to understand medieval Europe better. And, happily for the traveller, much of the Florence he knew can still be seen today, in the city’s streets and churches, in its art, its architecture and its museums. You just have to know where to look!
City Breaks Florence Episode 04 - Dante’s Florence
Florence The Biography of a City by Christopher Hibbert
The Divine Comedy by Dante
Pocket Rough Guide to Florence
Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Florence and Tuscany
Eyewitness Travel Top Ten Guide to Florence and Tuscany
Written by Marian Jones
From Fact to Historical Fiction - ‘Tsarina’ and ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter'. BLOGPOST BY AUTHOR ELLEN ALPSTEN.
Historical Fiction is a tricky beast: no other genre is expected to offer the ‘triple E’ of education, entertainment, and escapism. Lovers of historical novels will never forget the epiphany of reading THAT novel, which made them fall in love with a pen that brings the past back to life. In my case, I devoured vintage classics such as ‘I, Claudius’ or ‘Sinuhe the Egyptian’. Some authors create entirely fictional characters – think Bernard Cornwall, Patrick O’Brian, Margaret Mitchell, or Robert Harris, introducing their characters into global events. Others, such as Conn Iggulden’s ‘Genghis Khan’ trilogy, the Philippa Gregory Tudor- and War of the Roses novels, or even ‘Desiree’, the world’s second bestselling #HistFic ever, feast on the larger-than-life characters. These can be daunting examples – how can an author avoid the cold, hard re-telling of historical dates and facts as much as an unreliable, if not soppy romanticised version of events?
‘So how much fact is in this?’ people ask, sounding slightly suspicious, when hearing about my ‘Tsarina’ series. Both ‘Tsarina’ and ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter’ are the first novels ever about either, early, Romanov Empress. Given the mediatic omnipresence of Catherine the Great and the morbid fascination with the last, doomed Tsar Nicholas II, this seems unimaginable.
How come, and how to set a stage rich enough for their stunning lives to act out?
If my ‘Tsarina’ rose from rags to riches, morphing from serf to the first ever reigning Empress Catherine I of Russia, ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter’ Elizabeth, the only surviving sibling of Peter the Great’s fifteen children, in my new novel suffers an opposite fate: She falls from riches to rags, before rising triumphantly from rags to Romanov in one rollercoaster of a wild, seductive ride. This made writing about her a particular challenge: she acts far ahead of her time, and also daring beyond her sex. Determined to do things her own way, Elizabeth was a modern woman, even if her path was stony. Not even aged twenty, following her parents’ death, ‘Europe’s most lovely Princess’ – Louis Caravaque paints her looking like a young Marilyn Monroe, dewy-eyed and rosy-cheeked – found herself impecunious and isolated. Given the choice between a third-rate match – when neither the marriage of her sister or her numerous cousins inspired much confidence in marital relations in her – or to retreat to a nunnery, with a maimed and babbling hunchback dwarf as her sole company, Elizabeth did neither.
I did research for a year before daring to write the opening sentence of ‘Tsarina’, the world’ ultimate double Cinderella story, describing the birth of a nation. A wide variety of reading bridged past and present, allowing to attempt an answer to the question: How were things REALLY like, especially for women living in a brutal, male dominated world, which offered little prospect beyond annual childbirth? I did my homework, reading everything from the classics such as Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy – to the point where a name without patronym looks bland to me! – to letters from foreign envoys at court and travel diaries of a 17th century merchant to fairy tales – invaluable for understanding a people’s imaginary – and, last but not least, tomes such as Prof. Lindsey Hughes’ ‘Russia in the Age of Peter the Great’. The details provide a non-negotiable framework: clothes, food, furniture, travel and the aspect of cities and town.
As for the historical background of ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter’, the years following Peter the Great’s death set the stage for a brutal battle for the reign in Russia, a struggle for Russia’s very survival. The throne was orphaned three times in five years - a revolving door in these most complex times in the Russian history, which is rarely straightforward. The setting of both novels was like a loom a thousand strands strong, apt to weave a tapestry grand enough to fill the walls of the Winter Palace. Yet this historic background ought never to weigh on the story, but make it float instead. The challenge equals doing a split. Like in the Olympic Games, the setting is the Rhythm Dance, the fleshing out of the character and the flow of a pacey, fresh story the Free Dance.
I take liberties with the language, though: my heroines are not stuck in some weird period-drama, but are women of flesh and blood, who speak modern English. ‘Sod the caviar!’ Why ever not? Careful, though – a medieval brain cannot be ‘computing away’, as I recently read it.
Take heart! During research you will find the angle to reel a reader into his world and story. In his TED talk, the literary agent Jonny Geller says: ‘Readers are looking for a journey, from a place where they have not been, to a place they know not where...’ It should be the same for an author. In the case of ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter’, this was discovering the terrible price my heroine had to pay for seizing power in Russia. Also, the rumours surrounding Elizabeth’s birthplace, Kolomenskoe Palace, were intriguing. It was said to be haunted by soothsaying, ill-willing spirits and rumoured to be a gate to time travel. How seductive to provide my heroine with a Delphic prophecy, which accompanies her life like a choker of dark pearls; guidance, and warning in one.
My leading ladies were like Tut-Ankh-Amun, hiding in plain view. Finding them might have been an unbelievable stroke of luck; I prefer to think that I was destined to do so. Germans and Russians share a millennial history (My father grew up in the GDR) and ‘my girls’ lived as raw and fearless as I would like my writing to be. Despite hooped skirts, candle-light and sled-rides, both ‘Tsarina’ and ‘The Tsarina’s Daughter’ are thoroughly modern novels. My heroines breathe with their hearts, surviving wars, vicious female jealousies, and callous court intrigues of the highest order, making for a marriage of dreams of fact and fiction, and a sweeping epic cloaked in ice and snow.
'Tsarina' & 'The Tsarina's Daughter' @Bloomsbury Books
If you could invite anyone to a historical dinner party, who would you invite? Well top of my list would be the powerful Emma of Normandy, one of the last Queens of England before the Norman Conquest.
Emma was born in around the 980s to Richard the Fearless, Duke of Normandy and his second wife Gunnar. She would have had a privileged upbringing as the daughter of a Duke, but she was still very much a woman in a man’s world. There were very few ways women could have autonomy in Europe’s patriarchal societies, and many were sidelined to the domestic sphere. The only way for women to wield power was through her connection with a man.
In 1002, to secure an alliance between Normandy and England, Emma became the wife of King Æthelred of England who was later given the unkind but accurate moniker ‘the unready’. Emma was his second wife, as Æthelred had previously been married to Ælfgifu of York with whom he had at least 10 children with. Emma’s position as second wife of a king with plenty of heirs was not exactly ideal, as Emma would want her own children to succeed Æthelred. However, a consolation prize was that unlike her predecessor Emma was actually crowned as Queen.
England at this time was suffering from Viking invasions and were without a strong leader (sorry Æthelred). In 1013 things came to a head and the Viking King of Denmark Sweyn Forkbeard conquered the country. Emma had to flee to her native Normandy with her three children Edward, Alfred and Godgifu.
The next few years were intense for Emma and involved a lot of changes to who sat on the English throne. In 1014 Sweyn Forkbeard died and Æthelred returned to the throne before dying himself in April 1016 leaving Emma widowed and a Dowager Queen. Her step-son Edmund Ironside inherited the throne, fighting and then reconciling with Cnut (Sweyn’s son) and they separated parts of the kingdom with Edmund taking Wessex and Cnut Mercia. However, Edmund died only a few months after his father in November 1016 leaving the whole of England in Cnut’s grasp.
During this time Emma’s position would have been unclear. According to the chronicler William of Malmesbury she didn’t have a close relationship with her husband, but ultimately his death did affect her political standing and weakened her position (temporarily as we’ll see). Her step-son was then king but that only served to emphasis the downsides of being a second wife, as her elder son Edward was not Æthelred’s heir. Her position changed radically though when she married Cnut.
Yes folks, Emma married the Viking king in 1017.
As reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle “before August 1st the king commanded brought to him the widow of the other king, Æthelred, Richard’s daughter, that he might have her as his Queen”. This doesn’t paint a picture that Emma had much choice in the matter, they don’t even name her, just talk about her through her first husband and father. However, marrying Cnut was a politically good move. Their marriage was much more successful than her first, and she had a much more significant role in the Anglo-Danish court. Not only was she Queen of England but also Queen of Cnut’s other domains of Norway and Denmark which made up the North Sea Empire.
Emma and Cnut agreed to favour children from their marriage over any they had from their previous marriages. Understandably Emma did not want to repeat history by being a second wife whose children weren’t considered heirs, but she effectively disinherited Edward and Alfred. Although this seems harsh, did she really have much choice? Cnut wasn’t going to let them inherit the throne, and they could be seen as future rivals to be destroyed. Although it doesn’t appear like it on the surface, Emma’s marriage did protect the lives of her two sons by Æthelred even if it undermined their political positions.
Emma and Cnut had two children: Harthacnut and Gunhilda. When Cnut died suddenly in 1035, Harthacnut was meant to inherit the throne but he was away in the North in their other domains. It was decided Emma would be Regent alongside Earl Godwin of Wessex and Harthacnut’s half-brother Harold Harefoot who was Cnut’s son by his first wife Elgiva. Was Harold happy with this arrangement? Of course not, he wanted the throne for himself, and as Harthacnut was taking his sweet time returning to England, Harold looked to seized his chance.
Emma must have known her position as regent although powerful was ultimately fragile, if she lost the support of Harold and Godwin there wouldn’t be a lot she could do to protect Harthacnut’s throne. In 1036 she invited her sons Edward and Alfred to join her in England (they were still in Normandy) which led to one of the most tragic moments of Emma’s life, when her younger son Alfred was taken by her supposed ally Earl Godwin and blinded, subsequently dying of his wounds. Edward escaped such a fate as he wasn’t able to land in England. After this betrayal unfolded Harold made his move and in 1037, as recounted in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “was chosen over all as king; Harthacnut was forsaken because he was too long in Denmark”. This was a bleak time for Emma, she travelled to Flanders where she was received by Earl Baldwin.
By 1040 Harthacnut planned to reclaim his throne from his erstwhile brother, but Harold (conveniently for him) died so Harthacnut could sail peacefully into England and take up his throne. As mother of the king, Emma’s position was restored. After seeing 5 kings on the English throne, finally it was her beloved son who took up the mantle although he was not a popular king. Edward, after many long years of exile, was recalled into England and named as Harthacnut’s co-ruler. Presumably this may have been the work of Emma who wanted extra support, and perhaps they already knew at this stage the childless Harthacnut didn’t have long left. Harthacnut died in 1042 with Edward becoming King of England, later known as Edward the Confessor.
Edward was, quite understandably, not Emma’s biggest fan. Even if it was to protect him, she ultimately disinherited him when she married Cnut, and he may have blamed her for the death of his brother Alfred. Edward took away a lot of her land and wealth, although this was later returned to her. This was the beginning of the end of her political career though, and she died in 1052 aged 68.
Emma led a remarkable life, and she left an even more remarkable legacy. In her lifetime she commissioned the Encomium Emmae Reginae, likely during Harthacnut’s reign. An incredibly biased account of contemporary events, the first copy omitted Æthelred completely. This was re-written though when Emma and Æthelred’s son Edward came to the throne. Emma’s more unintentional legacy though was the 1066 Norman Conquest. Her great-nephew William of Normandy through his familial connection with her and Edward the Confessor believed he had a legitimate claim to the throne and believed it was promised to him in around 1051. After Harold Godwinson’s accession in 1066, William launched the Norman Invasion of England which changed the face of England forever.
ODNB: Emma [Ælfgifu] by Simon Keynes
ODNB: Æthelred II by Simon Keynes
Kings & Queens: The Story of Britain’s Monarchs from Pre-Roman Times to Today by Richard Cavendish and Pip Leahy
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: The Authentic Voices of England From the Time of Julius Caesar to the Coronation of Henry II. Translated and Collated by Anne Savage.
The Normans in Europe by Elizabeth Van Houts
Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe, 900-1200 By Elizabeth Van Houts
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest by Sharon Bennett Connolly
Rex Factor Podcast S.3.14 Emma of Normandy
British Library: Emma of Normandy
British Library: Encomium Emmae reginae
Win a copy of The new SAS epic from bestselling military historian Damien Lewis! The author joined the Versus History Podcast on Episode #106 to answer a broad range of questions about his book. We would love to give away a copy to one of our lucky listeners!
To be in with a chance of winning Damien's brand new book, just answer the question below correctly! The competition closes on Thursday 10 December 2020.
So I got an Abraham Lincoln facemask. I got it for school. To get into the spirit of return to school life. An inspiring person. Provoke conversation with students, maybe staff too. And maybe while out in shops, getting a knowing nod from others in the history community.
No one batted an eyelid. No one in school mentioned it other than to say it freaked them out.
So yes, I am a fan of Old Abe. I’m drawn to those who defy odds and reach greatness with their drive and intelligence rather than money or privilege. And then once in high office, it is their skill that seems to save the day. (My Twitter name @tacicero78 may give a clue to another hero of mine.)
That Lincoln is so relevant is no surprise. The issues he wrestled with plague American society today. Although slavery was officially outlawed in the US, the worldwide inability to end racism are becoming more and more apparent, both historically and in modern life.
Still so many see Lincoln as an enigma. So many new books (and blogs, and my upcoming podcast for the HA) on the man still search for the real Lincoln.
But here’s the thing. Lincoln is one of the most straight forward political figures in history. Yes, he was a politician, so there are lots of times when Lincoln played politics rather than give a true opinion on a matter. Yes, a lot of the sources we have on Lincoln were written after his assassination so have an air of fallen hero worship. The overall reason people think Lincoln is an enigma is the baggage we bring to him in the 21st Century rather than what he presents.
To us today the subject of slavery is an easy one. It was evil. A pervasive evil that dehumanised those who were enslaved and rotted the society it was meant to serve. It is this baggage that we must be aware of when looking at this time period. For while there were some (too few) in the time of Lincoln who would agree with us, there were too many who saw slavery as a question attached to a political spectrum. Most of that spectrum would sicken us today.
In Lincoln’s time, slavery was a political question for most, a moral question for some. And the spectrum was wide-ranging. There were the moral abolitionists such as the moral terrorist John Brown whose actions spurred the south to form an army. William Lloyd Garrison who campaigned for abolition from his newspaper The Liberator. Some were against slavery’s spread to the newly conquered western lands. (Within this was often a racist element – as they did not want black people in the west, slave or free) There were those who wanted an end to slavery but could not constitutionally see a way forward (Here sits Lincoln). There were those with no opinion. Those who gained from it, be it in the north or the south. Like New York, who prospered from the trade in goods made by enslaved people. Those who saw it as a religious right to practice slavery and those who justified it based on bad science.
Within this spectrum sat Lincoln who was always, consistently against slavery. Never once is he recorded as saying that he supports it. I’ll let him sum it up in a letter he sent a Kentuckian Albert Hodges. He was very good with words.
I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not so think, and feel.
Despite this clear statement, which can be backed up with many other quotes and examples, Lincoln was not an abolitionist. He would sooner have seen slavery die a slow death or to be euthanized by the law of the land. How can this be? If he is against slavery then surely he has to be an abolitionist. Well, no. Remember we have to leave our views for a while, as right and noble as they are.
Lincoln thought of himself as a constitutionalist, even when acting outside of it. (If he were here today, his facemask would have been a copy of the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights) In the same letter, he set out his predicament. ‘And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgement and feeling.’
Even so, it was Lincoln that finally freed the enslaved on a massive scale.
Those who look for a ‘yeah but . . .’to my ‘Lincoln was the greatest president because . . .’ turn to a letter Lincoln wrote to newspaper editor Horace Greely in 1862. In that letter, they turn to one section which proves Lincoln’s ambivalence towards slavery.
My paramount objection in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do that.
Yes, I know. Hardly Gettysburg address is it?
A little context may help. Lincoln’s was responding to a letter Greely published in his newspaper admonishing Lincoln for not acting quickly enough on slavery. Lincoln answered this public letter with his own rather sniffy reply.
And yes to our modern ears it sounds at best flat, at worst abandoning. But perhaps on the same desk, he wrote this he had drafted the Emancipation Proclamation.
I know that it had a dubious legal basis. Borne out of military tactics no one was actually freed and it did not apply to slave states still loyal to the Union. The language was perfunctory rather than inspiring (although I quite like, ‘shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.)
From then on though (or should I say, then, thenceforward and forever) it changed the dynamics of the war. It gave hope to millions that would one day bear fruit.
The passage of the 13th Amendment was unusual for many reasons. It would finally place the word ‘slavery’ in the Constitution. It was debated and voted upon when those who it would affect the most did not consider themselves part of the same country anymore. It had the president’s hand all over it in a time when it was not a president’s role to be the chief legislator.
There were opportunities for Lincoln to reconcile with the South and set in motion steps that would end federal involvement in slavery, therefore protecting it for generations. There were times when Lincoln could have sided with the south to fight a foreign power, uniting the country against a foe that would stir nationalistic pride and divert attention away from slavery. He did none of those things. While pressing for the successful end to the civil war he pressed for the end of slavery in ways that even he thought stretched his powers. And he did it because he was as he had always been against slavery.
However, Lincoln was able to hold two separate views. One on slavery, which he saw as wrong and worked to abolish. Another on race.
This is more complicated.
I won’t hide behind, ‘he was a man of his times’. And I don’t need to quote him on the many times he sees the races as separate. He proved it in his actions. He advocated and worked for the emigration of black people out of the United States to Central America and to Africa. He set money aside for this and met with groups of black leaders hoping to persuade then to drum up support. They were less enthusiastic than he.
The colonisation plan was so poorly thought out that the only one undertaken during Lincoln’s presidency was a disaster. Yet Lincoln sees this as the only option. Once emancipated he does not see black people as able to remain in the US. What was he thinking? Once in another country, what would their nationality be? Would they be an American colony? Would they be US citizens? Able to return? Would they have paid taxes back to the USA? Could they have voted? Or were they simply to be abandoned and forgotten about.
The colonisation project never took off. Once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued Lincoln became less vocal about it. In that time he realised that black Americans loved the US and were willing to fight and die in huge numbers to save the Republic. They rightly wanted to remain and enjoy freedom and the benefits that citizenship entails. He was schooled by the best in his meetings with Frederick Douglass that black people were intelligent, passionate and able to hold him to account.
In this Lincoln did grow. His views changed. How much he would continue to change we will never know. In his last speech from a window on the White House, Lincoln said he was in favour of suffrage for those who had aided the Union. This was a huge step forward. For a sitting president to simply say this was progress. It shows progress for Lincoln as a person. But we can only take this so far.
So, what to do with that facemask. Lincoln was the person who freed slaves in huge numbers. (Let’s not forget self-emancipation and assistance of the Underground Railroads) For that Lincoln will always be the greatest president of the United States. In other views, he was less admirable. Sure a man of his times. And in the context of his times, lightyears ahead of others. He was getting better. He was learning. And I admire that skill in a leader. I can’t think of too many leaders who grow that much when in power. But I won’t wear the mask again. I’ll keep his picture up in my classroom with his quote underneath that all are created equal. I will keep learning about Lincoln. And maybe in learning about Lincoln I have learnt something about history – we search through time, looking for heroes.
Lincoln was a fan of Shakespeare. He would know this from Malvolio in Twelfth Night - Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Lincoln was not born great. He worked with the talents he had to achieve greatness, which he did, more than any other to occupy the same office. And in doing so generations have thrust greatness upon him where maybe it was never needed.
By Versus History Guest Blogger Terence Graham (@tacicero78)
The Fiery Trial and Free Soil, Free Labour, Free Men by Eric Foner
Lincoln Looks West edited by Richard Etulian
Biographies of Lincoln by Michael Burlingame and Doris Kearns Goodwin
How accurate is the TV Series ‘The Spanish Princess?’ by versus history resident blogger tanya price.
I am a massive fan of TV dramatisations based on the Tudor era, and most recently I have been watching ‘The Spanish Princess’ by Starzplay which is an adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s two books ‘The Constant Princess’ and ‘The King’s Curse.’ It is a sequel to the White Queen and White Princess which followed the War of the Roses and the Ascension of Henry VII to be King. The first series aired on Amazon Prime in 2019 and the second series will be released in October 2020.
I have been interested in Henry VIII and his six wives for over 17 years and wondered as I watched the TV series how accurate would it be and would I learn anything new about Catherine of Aragon and the future Henry VIII and his family? Let’s have a closer look at what the show says happened in History and how accurate this is!
In the White Princess the last episode depicts Catherine of Aragon’s mother Isabella of Castille and father Ferdinand of Aragon ordering two heirs to the Tudor throne to be deposed for the betrothal of Catherine to Arthur, the Prince of Wales. How true is this? Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York did execute the pretender to the throne Perkin Warbeck and Edward Plantagenet, the 17th Earl of Warwick. Both these men were possibly related to Elizabeth of York, with Edward being her cousin and Perkin ‘pretending’ to be her brother Richard, who was supposed to have disappeared from his imprisonment in the Tower of London under his uncle Richard III reign. Edward was beheaded in 1499 aged 24 alongside Perkin. What I find interesting is the lengths that Royal Families were willing to go to secure an alliance with another country and eliminate potential rivals to the throne. Catherine inadvertently was responsible for the death of 1 member of the Royal Family of not two to have her ill-fated marriage to Arthur.
In the first episode of the Spanish Princess, it depicts that the marriage between Arthur, the Prince of Wales and Catherine of Aragon had indeed been consummated. It portrays a night of passion between the young couple which is overheard by Catalina (Catherine’s royal bed maker and black Tudor) and Lady Margaret Pole, who was sister to Edward Plantagenet and was overseeing Arthur and Catherine’s stay at Ludlow Castle alongside her husband Richard Pole. Arthur reportedly claimed the day after their arrival at Ludlow to have ‘spent the night in Spain.’ Now I found this interesting as I have always taught that the couple did not have intimate relations as I believed Catherine’s side of the story when Henry VIII was trying to annul their marriage that she was a maid after Arthur died. According to historical sources this scene in the TV series could be true, as Arthur did proclaim being a husband was ‘thirsty work’ and he found his wife ‘pleasing.’ Historians debate whether Arthur was covering up the fact that he has not done the deed or if Catherine later told a white lie to marry Henry VIII and fulfil her destiny of becoming the Queen of England.
After Arthur’s death, the TV series showed that Henry VII wanted to marry his dead son’s wife. This is after the sad death of his wife Elizabeth of York who passed away after giving birth to a stillborn daughter Katherine at the age of 37 on her birthday. Again this was a fact I had not heard of before and found interesting that Henry VII would consider marrying Catherine of Aragon when he knew his son Henry Tudor wanted to. This may only have been for monetary and political gain, as Henry VII may have wanted Catherine’s dowry from her mother and also to secure the alliance with Spain. Or it could have been that he wished to create more heirs and sons. It is said his wife’s last dying wish was for him to marry Catherine of Aragon. As it happened Isabella of Castille blocked this union and Catherine continued her attempts to secure a papal dispensation from the Pope to marry Henry Tudor.
Catherine of Aragon’s sister Joanna of Castille was crowned Queen of Spain after Isabella passed away on the 26th November 1504. The TV series depicts Joanna as slightly insane but also hints at a possible liaison with Henry Tudor whilst she is visiting England after her ships get blown off course in 1505. How true is this? Joanna did have the nickname Juana the Mad and was married to Philip the Fair, the son of Maximillian I who was the Emperor of Austria. It is said that it was her husband’s adulterous ways that led her to have bouts of depression and periods of insanity. Philip also confined Joanna to her rooms as a way to exert control over his wife, and as a protest, she would refuse to eat or sleep. It is unclear from historical evidence if Henry and Joanna did have a liaison or not but I would like to believe that at this point Henry was devoted in his pursuit of getting married to Catherine and would not be so easily swayed! Joanna is a figure that I now want to research further.
Whilst Joanna is in England the Spanish Princess depicts that she arranges with Margaret Beaufort (The King’s Mother) and Henry VII for the betrothal of the youngest Tudor daughter Mary to be married to her son Charles, who would later become the Holy Roman Emperor. This is true however the marriage was called off in 1513 as Mary went on to marry the King of France. In addition, Henry VII agreed to marry Philip the Fair’s sister Margaret but did not see this through. It also claims that Joanna arranged for Henry, the Prince of Wales to marry her daughter Eleanor who was Catherine’s niece. This claim has been proven to be correct. Again this level of political intrigue I had been previously unaware of beforehand.
The depiction of Margaret Beaufort in the programme is that she vehemently dislikes Catherine of Aragon and will do anything in her power to make sure she does not marry the future Henry VIII but one could argue she had ulterior motives in the fact that Maximillan who was Philip’s father was supposed to be harbouring Edmund de la Pool/Pole, the grandson of Richard III and Yorkist opponent to her son Henry VII’s throne. The Tudors wanted Edmund found and all supporters of him to be handed over and put in the Tower of London! Margaret has always been a woman I respected for her sheer devotion to her son and her utmost belief in his destiny to be King. I now wonder what lines she was willing to cross to ensure his safety and continuation as a ruler? It seems that any threat to his rule in History she has had a hand in eliminating with efficiency.
Margaret Beaufort is also shown having contempt for Elizabeth of York’s cousin Lady Margaret Pole. The reason for this could be as when quizzed by the King’s mother Margaret Pole does not disclose whether Prince Arthur and Catherine were ‘really’ man and wife. As a punishment, she raises the rents on Lady Pole’s lands which resulted in her becoming destitute. How accurate is this? History says that after the death of Richard Pole in 1504 Margaret indeed did not have the fortune to support her family which consisted of five children. Her fourth child Reginald Pole had to go live with a church to ease her financial burden. He later became the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury under Mary I. So her destitution is correct, but is it due to keeping Catherine of Aragon’s night or nights in the bedroom with Arthur a secret? Margaret did become one of Catherine of Aragon’s ladies in waiting and is seen on the show to be taken in by Catherine when she is residing in Durham house.
Henry VII dies in the last episode of series one in the bathtub after 24 years of reigning at the age of 52. How accurate is this portrayal? Henry did die in April 1509 after falling ill in late 1508. The exact date is not clear, historians debate it could be the 21st or 22nd as it was not until the 23rd that the new King Henry VIII was informed. It appears he had tuberculosis which is the accepted conclusion by academics. After Henry VII's death, Henry VIII was free to take the bride of his choosing which was ultimately Catherine of Aragon. Margaret Beaufort who has already shown her shrewdness throughout and before her son’s reign was quick to execute Edmund Dudley immediately afterwards to hide her illegal raise of tenants taxes. This is not quite accurate as Edmund was only tried for treason in the July of 1509 and beheaded in 1510 and by this time Margaret had passed away herself. She died the day after Henry VIII’s 18th birthday on June 29th 1509.
Therefore having watched and reflected on the accuracy of the first series of the Spanish Princess it seems that although a drama made for entertainment, it does have a degree of historical correctness, and has thrown into light events and characters I had not considered before. I am much more interested in the life of Margaret Pole and Joanna of Castille then I was previously and for those who did not know Black Tudors existed, the show features three of them; Catalina the Royal Bed Maker, John Blanke and Oviedo the bow maker. This brings some illumination of the story of migration during the Tudor era and also the Spanish Inquisition that ‘moors’ in Spain who had not converted to Catholicism were subjected to by Isabella and Ferdinand. I am intrigued to see what questions and historical figures series two brings into my subject knowledge of the Tudors, Henry VIII and the issue of his six wives.
By Versus History Resident Blogger, Tanya Price (@littlemisshistory81)
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