Queen Henrietta Maria

Charles I married Princess Henrietta Maria of France by proxy on 1 May, 1625, just weeks after he ascended to the throne of England. He was 25 years old, she just 15 and a Catholic. In staunchly Protestant England this posed a problem but it could have been worse, for she was not his first choice. He had originally intended to woo the Spanish Infanta but his somewhat ham-fisted attempts at courtship among which included dressing up in disguise, scaling walls in the dead of night, and trying to break into the Royal Apartments came to nothing when the Spanish demanded he convert to Catholicism before any betrothal could even be contemplated. This he would never do and so he would remain the frustrated bachelor for a little longer (though in hindsight it could perhaps be seen as politically wise not to have seduced a royal scion of his country’s arch-enemy). So, Henrietta Maria, whom he had met briefly before, was very much acquired on the rebound. Even so, their union would barely be less controversial or any more popular for that.

Young though she was Henrietta Maria was no wall flower who would allow herself to be bullied or coerced into remaining silent or concealing her Catholicism. Rather she would flaunt it, and not long after their formal marriage ceremony in July 1626, she and her entourage very publicly visited Tyburn to pray for the souls of the many Catholic martyrs who had been executed there. She also brought with her a 40 strong retinue of priests, ladies-in-waiting and sundry court officials all of whom were French and Catholic. None of this was lost on the largely Puritan populace of London who would regularly subject her processions through the city to jeers and cat-calls something she actually seemed to enjoy and would respond to accordingly. Charles was less amused, he did not like doubt being cast upon his own faith, he was a devout Anglican, or upon his role as Head of the Church of England. He was also aware that French influence was causing resentment at Court. Eventually, while the Queen would remain her retinue would be sent back to France.

Charles taking a firm hand with his wife did not make the newly-weds any more compatible, however. He was a reserved man, courteous and polite who kept his own council and chose his words carefully. Henrietta Maria by contrast was loud, outspoken, and flirtatious – it was not a match made in heaven.

She had after all been raised in the French Court, always less formal than it English counterpart, and a certain latitude in behaviour was often granted to those who had been exposed to it. Even so, the wife’s role, whether a Queen or not, was to be the devoted and compliant help-mate of her husband and to venture far beyond this was unacceptable. A woman was not expected to speak out of turn and certainly not on matters that did not concern her such as politics and the affairs of state. Henrietta Maria did both and often.

 

For much of the early years of their marriage Charles and Henrietta Maria were barely on speaking terms. Indeed, he spent more time in the company of his father’s former lover George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham than he did his wife prompting rumours that a similar relationship had developed between them; rumours that Henrietta Maria, who loathed Buckingham, was not shy of repeating. In his turn, Charles let it be known that he could not bear to be in his wife’s presence but all this was to change, when on 23 August, 1628, Buckingham was assassinated. He had long been a divisive figure, the cause of friction not only at the Royal Court but also between the King and his Parliament.  Now without Buckingham to advise him Charles took the momentous decision to dissolve Parliament and govern without it.

As a man who demanded loyalty from his subjects Charles now found that in troubled times there were few people he could rely upon. It resulted in a closeness developing between him and his Queen that had previously been absent. When it came to loyalty she would not disappoint.

On 29 May, 1630, she gave birth to a son and heir and their relationship began to blossom. Five further children would follow. In love with his Queen at last Charles would now seek to sell her to his people who were not.

Charles I, like his father before him was in no doubt that all earthly power emanated from a heavenly source and that he as the King was the recipient of it. It was important that his subjects were aware of this too and at a time when art was propaganda where the Church preached obedience it was intended to inspire awe; but whereas Catholic Europe used art to empathise the Greater Glory of God in Protestant England it raised up his Divinely Appointed Representative on Earth.

Similar to the future Queen Victoria who guided by her husband Prince Albert would use the new technology of photography to create the image of the Royal Family as respectable and bourgeois, Charles I would use art, or more specifically portraiture to enhance the awe of His Majesty and glamorise the person of his Queen.

The materials the artist had to work with were not promising, the King barely 5’4” tall was thin, drawn, had a softness of skin and a delicacy of appearance that it was difficult to hide. But if Charles was no Warrior King then his Queen was even less a Helen of Troy. Her niece Sophia of Hanover seeing her aunt for the first time described how: “the beautiful portraits of Van Dyck had given me such a fine idea of all the ladies of England I was surprised to see that the Queen, who I had seen as beautiful and lean, was a woman well past her prime. Her arms were long and thin, her shoulders uneven, and some of her teeth were coming out of her mouth like tusks. She did, however, have pretty eyes, nose, and a good complexion.”

Any difficulties however, would be overcome.

It appeared to any outside observer during the period of the King’s personal rule that all was set fair; the country was at peace, it was prosperous and the opposition had been silenced but rarely are old disputes so easily put to bed and when the King required money he needed Parliament to provide it and they in their turn would demand their outstanding concerns were addressed.

In the meantime, the glorification of the Stuart Dynasty continued apace but while the image of them as God’s representatives on earth so unwaveringly depicted in the work of Van Dyck, Rubens, and others may have remained untarnished the reality was very different. Charles was in a fight with his own Parliament over who governed and with the many among its ranks, who while believing he should reign demanded that he should not rule. His attempt to quash the opposition by arresting its leading members (a policy strongly advocated for by the Queen) ended in farce when they escaped the House of Commons by boat while he sat disconsolately in the Speaker’s Chair impotent and humiliated, and it was likely Henrietta Maria was responsible.

Her isolation from much of the Royal Court had seen her develop a close relationship with Lucy Hay, Countess of Carlisle, and that unaware of her sympathy for the Puritan cause or that she was a former lover of John Pym the primary target of the King’s arrest warrant had spoken openly of the King’s plan with her. It was she who revealed the intended assault upon Parliament to her cousin the Earl of Essex, future Commander of the Parliamentary Army. Forewarned, Pym and the others had fled by boat down the Thames. Now with London in tumult and his authority much diminished Charles chose to abandon the capital for the sake of his family – conflict seemed inevitable.

In August 1642, as the King raised his Standard in Nottingham thereby declaring war upon a Parliament he was ill-equipped to fight Henrietta Maria was already in the Netherlands using the Crown Jewels as collateral to raise money and purchase arms. She did so to great effect but the materiel she acquired was only job half done, the return journey would be fraught with danger.

Her first attempt was abandoned when caught in a fierce storm her ship was almost shipwrecked and all aboard drowned. Undeterred she would try again this with greater success although her tiny armada was pursued all the way to the port of Bridlington by enemy warships which then proceeded to bombard the harbour while her ships were being unloaded. Indeed, so severe was the bombardment they were forced to flee to nearby woods, though she would return briefly to retrieve her pet dog which they had left behind in their haste.

It was typical Henrietta Maria who appeared at all times to be more excited by than fearful of war, a war in which she would stand alongside her husband and not flinch. Indeed, she never ceased to display the loyalty the King demanded but so often didn’t receive. There were others of course, but it was a conflict where changing sides, often more than once, was commonplace and none more so than among the nobility.

Travelling in convoy across hostile territory the Queen safely delivered her cargo of arms, supplies, and a number of volunteer soldiers recruited in the Low Countries to the King’s capital at Oxford entering the city to much fanfare and celebratory cannon fire.  Here she would remain for most of the next two years making life in the over-crowded and disease ridden city more tolerable for the King by overseeing the resumption of Court life and ensuring that the niceties of Monarchy were maintained.

By the spring of 1644 the tide of the war had turned against the Royalists and it was decided that Henrietta Maria should leave Oxford with the younger children (the Princes would remain with the King) for her own and their safety. Charles accompanied her as far as Abingdon before a tearful farewell saw her depart under armed escort for the West Country and a ship to the Continent. It was the last time they would ever see each other.

Whether in France or the Netherlands Henrietta Maria continued to work assiduously on the King’s behalf using all her powers of persuasion, and making promises she could not hope to keep, to purchase weapons and supplies for a cause she must have known was doomed with most of the war materiel procured either captured at sea or intercepted and seized on the overland journey to Oxford. At the same time the volunteer troops promised by the many Princes and Dukes who fell at her feet and graced her presence with fine words and brave intentions never materialised.

On 14 June 1645, the main Royalist Field Army was to all-intents-and-purposes destroyed at the Battle of Naseby and in the ensuing rout the King’s Baggage Train overrun and his court papers and private correspondence captured. While the former revealed a duplicitous nature and attempts to persuade the Irish Catholic Confederation to send troops in his support the latter expressed a slavish devotion to his Queen, both sentimental and mawkish, that only confirmed a view widely held that she was a familiar of the devil who had cast her evil eye upon and bewitched him. The letters when published were to prove a great propaganda coup for the King’s enemies.

The Civil War was as good as lost to the King in the aftermath of Naseby but it would take time to seal the victory, there were still pockets of resistance and stoutly defended Royalist strongholds to overcome. One of these of course was the King’s capital at Oxford which had already been under siege for some time. Charles had intended to break the siege with the help of an army recruited in Ireland but his negotiations, with the Catholic Church in particular, had broken down – it left him bereft of options.

With all hope of relief gone in the early hours of the 27 April 1646 with nothing to guide them but a solitary lantern and the camp fires of the enemy King Charles I of England dressed in the clothes of a common servant and with his hair cut short, accompanied by his priest and a faithful retainer, fled the city. His hope was to find a ship that would take him to France but when this proved impossible rather than prostrate himself before his own Parliament he surrendered to the Scottish Covenanter Army.

If Charles had a notion he would find solace among those from the country of his birth he was soon disabused of it as after lengthy negotiations they handed him over to the English Parliament upon payment of £100,000 prompting the King to remark sardonically that he had been bartered rather cheaply.

Henrietta Maria did not take kindly to the endless barrage of bad news from England, she did not possess the quiet stoicism of her husband, and instead displayed an anger bordering on the hysterical denouncing all those who had ever opposed the King as traitors while being unsparing with those who put their own welfare before that of their Monarch. It made no difference of course it is what it is, but she had not given up hope.

Now a supplicant in the hands of a Parliament he had once sought to confront Charles discussed with its leading members, Oliver Cromwell prominent among them, the terms whereby he could be restored to the throne. This he did this with scant sincerity however, for he was already in secret negotiations with his former Scottish adversaries to resume the war in return for the establishment of Presbyterian Church governance the length and breadth of the British Isles. In this he was encouraged by Henrietta Maria who had by now established a Court-in-Exile just outside Paris where joined by the heir to the throne she remained a powerful figure.

With little enthusiasm for a renewal of hostilities in the country beyond the more fanatical elements any hope of success lay with the Scots Army and so when it fell to defeat at the Battle of Preston in August 1648 resistance elsewhere quickly crumbled. The King’s gamble had failed and no longer the reluctant guest of his Parliament but a prisoner of the New Model Army he was in the hands of powerful men who were quite literally willing to wield the axe.

King Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649, in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall that had earlier been decorated by the artist Rubens to the greater glory of his reign and that of the Stuart Monarchy he represented.  That he died well believing to the end in the Divine Providence of his rule while bequeathing the Crown to his son did little to alleviate Henrietta Maria’s grief as she succumbed to depression and a long period of deep mourning.

With the King’s demise Henrietta Maria’s influence began to wane and she was no longer able to control a fractious Court whose members increasingly sought to cast blame for their predicament upon each other; that responsibility now fell to her eldest son Charles who could unite them in his desire to reverse the decision of earlier wars and reclaim the throne that left vacant saw England without a Monarch and therefore naked before God.

 

Henrietta Maria supported her son’s attempts to regain the throne while fretting continuously over his safety particularly during the disastrous campaign of 1651 that saw him put to flight and reduced to hiding in the hollowed out trunk of the Boscobel Oak to evade capture before finding a ship that would take him to safety.

Marginalised and no longer listened to at the Court she had created Henrietta Maria turned her attention to raising her younger children paying particular attention to their religious education.

Everything changed when on 3 September 1658, Oliver Cromwell died. As Lord Protector he had been King in all but name, now with his passing England underwent a crisis of identity – did it wish to be a Republic or not?

Before his death Cromwell had nominated his son Richard to succeed him but with little support in the country ‘Tumbledown Dick’ as he was derisively known was forced to stand down after just 256 days at the helm. A power vacuum now existed at the heart of government but it was one that General George Monck for one, was willing to fill. A former Royalist who had changed sides during the Civil War and become one of Cromwell’s most loyal supporters Monck had no desire to seize power for himself but with Parliament having proven itself unfit to rule without instruction on more than one occasion he was not willing to see it plunge the country once more into chaos and bloodshed.  On behalf of Parliament, with or without their permission, his representatives opened negotiations with those of Charles II for the terms by which the Stuart’s could be restored to the throne. Concessions made by both parties saw Charles depart the Netherlands for England arriving in London on 29 May 1660, to a rapturous reception. After eleven years in exile he had been restored to the throne that had been so brutally torn from his father’s grasp.

Henrietta Maria was delighted by the Restoration but disappointed her son had signed the Declaration of Breda that had accompanied it. He had pledged in the Declaration not to seek vengeance upon those who had deposed his father and with the exception of the Regicides, those who had signed the King’s Death Warrant, he would be as good as his word; but with so many of them already dead or having fled the country she saw the persecution of the remaining Regicides alone as scant justice.

She nonetheless returned to England in October 1660, to very little fanfare with far fewer following her procession through the streets of London than would once have been the case. Indeed, so dismissive was the diarist Samuel Pepys of her return he remarked upon how few bonfires had been lit in her honour and described her as: “a very plain little old woman, and nothing more in her presence or in any respect or garb than any ordinary woman.”

She had intended to remain in England both to support her son and in honour of her husband but England was a country that had brought her only pain and one which she had long ago fallen out of love with; a truth there seemed no reason to doubt when her son Henry, Duke of Gloucester died of smallpox to be followed only a few months later by her youngest daughter, Mary.

In declining health and suffering a melancholia brought on by the isolation she felt at Court in 1665 Henrietta Maria returned to France where she could be comforted by friends and commit more time to her religious devotions. Her mental health improved and fleeting glimpses of her old ebullience remained but her physical condition continued to decline.

On 10 September 1669 suffering from a bronchial condition she simply couldn’t shake off she died, aged 59.

During her years as Queen she had never secured the affection of her people or even the respect of her peers but she had won the love of a King, a King who she served faithfully until the end and at great personal risk to herself. It was something for which she received little credit but over time some vindication, perhaps.

Her later years were consumed by the desire to see her eldest sons convert to the Catholic faith: James did so publicly just prior to her death, Charles as King was more circumspect and only converted on his deathbed. Yet even this victory for Henrietta Maria would prove a pyrrhic one for when James succeeded his brother as King it was his Catholicism that would prove his downfall and herald the end of the Stuart Dynasty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beau Brummell: Dandy

He was a fashion icon, the first of his kind, a man known for little more than the clothes he wore and the manner of his being – fragrant, polished, charming and stylish but with a rapier wit and a sharp tongue. He was Beau Brummell, man about town and dandy. Famous in his own lifetime he would become even more so after his death, though it would take time.

He was born George Bryan Brummell on 7 July, 1778, in Downing Street, London, where his father was employed as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister Lord North. His family then, were wealthy and respected but they were not of noble blood.  Even so, William Brummell was determined that his son’s would be raised as if they were – they would be gentlemen.

In the case of his younger son George he needn’t have worried for if he had anything at all it was a high self-regard and the air of superiority that comes from being raised within the corridors of power. He also had an overwhelming desire not to go unnoticed and both the poise and self-confidence to ensure that he wasn’t.  Aware that few can know you but all can see you image was important and his time at Eton Public School, which he attended as a fee paying student, was a great success. There were few who met him even as a child who forgot the experience but his was not merely the triumph of style over substance, he was also an intelligent young man who early on had perceived a clear path to success.

After Eton he briefly attended Oxford University where he likely met George, Prince of Wales for the first time. The future Prince Regent and King George IV was impressed by this young man with such style, wit and self-regard, enamoured even – the young George Brummell had hooked a big fish.

When his father died in June 1794, leaving him £20,000 in his Will he abandoned his studies at Oxford in favour of purchasing a commission in the Royal Hussars, the Prince’s Own Regiment, so he could remain close to the man who would provide his meal ticket to fame and fortune; but to do so wasn’t cheap and he could only afford the rank of Cornet not nearly exalted enough to gain him access to the Prince but at a time when such things were not earned but lay in the gift of family and friends Brummell was promoted first to Lieutenant and then to Captain. His access to the Prince was assured but when the Regiment was transferred to Manchester he resigned his commission so he could remain in London declaring that he could not bear to dwell among the destitute and unwashed in a place of, “undistinguished ambience with such a want of civility and culture.”

He also begged the Executors of his father’s Will (he had still not yet come of age) to buy for him a house in Mayfair which they did but at great cost- Brummell cared little, it was money well spent.

Prince George who cared more for his image than he did his crown and craved the admiration of his peers more than he did the love of his people was both vain and easily flattered.  His critics might paint him as a lazy, gluttonous dolt rightly lampooned in the press and jeered at on the streets but he saw himself very differently. He was the most handsome man in Europe, the best dressed man, and the epitome of good taste. He knew this because the by now ‘Beau’ Brummell told him so.

 

By the early 1800’s Brummell’s Mayfair home at 4 Chesterfield Street had become the point of contact for the wealthy and the fashionable. His immaculate but understated style of dress at a time when the gaudy and the garish was de rigueur caused quite a stir. One did not need to be vulgar to be noticed it seemed, and Brummell’s dark blue jackets, silk and linen shirts, spotless white breeches, elaborately knotted neck cloths and knee high leather boots it was said he had polished in champagne became a familiar sight at Rotten Row and in the salons and ballrooms of Old London Town.

Never less than immaculately dressed his personal regimen was no less exacting and he bathed daily at a time when such was rare, gargled and brushed his teeth regularly in champagne and perfumed his hair. It was rumoured it took him five hours to dress and that the Prince would often be present when he did so.

But being a Dandy and the most fashionable man in England was an expensive business made more so perhaps by his association with the Prince, as also was the need to be seen and  Brummell was a regular attendee of the racecourse and at the gaming tables while no elegant salon or grand ball was complete without his presence. Once when asked how much it cost to keep a gentleman in clothes he responded “Why with tolerable economy, I think it might b done with £800 more or less.” This was at a time when the average wage for a skilled craftsman was only around £50 a year.

Brummell was perhaps being flippant but then he was almost as famous for the sharpness of his wit as he was the elegance of his apparel. When a woman shouted down to him from a balcony he was passing beneath whether he would take tea with her he replied:

“Madam, you take medicine, you take a walk, you take a liberty, but you drink tea.”

Lady Hester Stanhope recalled in her memoirs how on another occasion he told her:

“My Lady Hester, it is my folly that is the making of me. If I did not impertinently stare Duchesses out of countenance, and nod over my shoulder to a Prince, I should be forgotten in a week.”

In this latter remark at least he was being prescient.

He also flirted outrageously with just about any attractive woman of substance who crossed his path. His most significant relationship was with Frederica, Duchess of York, and he kept a painted miniature of her left eye on his person indicating a high degree of intimacy and he once presented her with a pet dog he named Fidelity as a gift  but for the most part his courtships were short and inconsequential . He was known to frequent the bedchambers of prostitutes the most famous of whom was Miss Julia Storer, a high-class courtesan who did not sell herself cheaply.

With a fortune long spent and no discernible income to speak of Brummell nonetheless absented himself from few events on the social calendar aware that if one cannot be seen one may as well be naked. Heavily in debt and with an expensive lifestyle to maintain Brummell’s credit remained good as long as his friendship with the Prince continued but their relationship came under strain when in 1811 due to his father’s mental incapacity he was elevated to Prince Regent or King in all but name.

Both Brummell and the Prince mixed in fashionable Whig circles, the former because he believed in the free trade policies they advocated and the Republican sentiments they often expressed; the latter as a deliberate snub to his father. Now that George was Prince Regent his allegiance switched to the pro-Monarchy Tory Party, an unforgiveable betrayal as far as Brummell was concerned and he told him so.

The Prince who was used to the flattery and sycophancy of the Royal Court did not take kindly to home truths and so it proved with Beau Brummell and no longer would he seek his advice on where to be seen and how to dress. Their worsening relationship came to a head in July 1813, at the Masquerade Ball at Watiers Private Club (also known as the Dandy Club) in Mayfair organised by Brummell’s close friends Lord Alvanley and Sir Henry Mildmay. The Prince Regent was honoured guest but upon his arrival and after warmly greeting both Alvanley and Mildmay he deliberately ignored Brummell but in a manner that made it plain to all those present that he had done so. The affronted Brummell, never shy to turn to his friend and say in a loud voice, “So Alvanley, who is your fat friend?” The room fell silent and the Prince left soon after -the two men would never speak again.

At first it seemed that Brummell might be able to weather the storm of royal disfavour but without the Prince’s patronage the credit dried up and his friends began to abandon him. No longer welcome in the homes of the great and the good and pursued by his creditors one of whom, Richard Meyler, demanded satisfaction in the form of a duel, in May 1816 believing discretion to be the better part of valour he departed from Dover for the Continent.

Once in France those influential friends who had remained loyal secured for him a post at the British Consulate in Calais. It was rumoured that the Prince Regent had intervened on his behalf but as they never publicly reconciled this seems unlikely though it appears clear he did not stand in the way of his appointment.

It would be wrong to suggest that the once infamous Beau Brummell settled easily into a life of relative obscurity. He missed the limelight and was resentful towards those who had deprived him of it and had abandoned him in such haste. It was a resentment that would only increase as the years passed and he was already showing signs of the syphilis that would take a toll on both his body and his mind. With his behaviour becoming increasingly erratic visits from friends became less frequent. Indeed, so insufferable did he become he even managed to talk himself out of his job at the Consulate by arguing his post be abolished.

Despite his increasingly dire circumstances he refused repeated requests to return to England afraid more of the mockery and ridicule he might receive than he was his creditors. Neither would he write his memoirs as a means of relieving his financial difficulties.

By 1835, he was in Debtors Prison and reliant once more upon friends to liberate him, which they did paying for his release, renting for him a house and even providing him with a modest income of sorts; but by this time his health was in sharp decline and he was a shadow of the man he once was. Shabbily dressed and unkempt there was the merest glimmer of the old Beau Brummell in his air of grandeur and the cast of his eye but shuffling and bowed with his speech rambling and incoherent it was a glimmer only. Confined to an Insane Asylum in Caen he refused any further help and so there he remained his fast diminishing grip on reality subsumed in the bitter imaginings of better times and the mischaracterisation of other inmates as the Lords and Ladies he once knew.

Beau Brummell, once the most talked about man in England died on 30 March 1840, aged 61, his passing barely remarked upon in the society pages of a press he once dominated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beware the Ides of March

By 47 BC, Julius Caesar had defeated his opponents in Rome. Those who had posed a threat to him were dead, either killed in battle, executed, or made to commit suicide. He still had enemies he knew, but those to whom he had displayed leniency were both beaten and subjugated. He was the power now in Rome not the Senate and in February, 44 BC, he declared himself Dictator for Life.

There were many however, who had pledged their allegiance with scant sincerity. Two men in particular, Brutus and Cassius, believed it was their responsibility to act and the course of action they decided to take – assassination.

With as many as 60 Senators involved in the plot it was difficult to keep their plans secret but Caesar dismissed the rumours  and ignored the warning he received to ‘Beware the Ides of March.’

Nicolaus of Damascus, a close friend of King Herod, was not present in Rome at the time of Caesar’s murder but he knew many of those who were involved. This is his account of events as they were told him:

“The conspirators never met openly, but they assembled a few at a time in each others’ homes. There were many discussions and proposals, as might be expected, while they investigated how and where to execute their design. Some suggested that they should make the attempt as he was going along the Sacred Way, which was one of his favourite walks. Another idea was for it to be done at the elections during which he bad to cross a bridge to appoint the magistrates in the Campus Martius; they should draw lots for some to push him from the bridge and for others to run up and kill him. A third plan was to wait for a coming gladiatorial show. The advantage of that would be that, because of the show, no suspicion would be aroused if arms were seen prepared for the attempt. But the majority opinion favoured killing him while he sat in the Senate, where he would be by himself since non-Senators would not be admitted, and where the many conspirators could hide their daggers beneath their togas. This plan won the day.”

“His friends were alarmed at certain rumours and tried to stop him going to the Senate-house, as did his doctors, for he was suffering from one of his occasional dizzy spells. His wife, Calpurnia, especially, who was frightened by some visions in her dreams, clung to him and said that she would not let him go out that day. But Brutus, one of the conspirators who was then thought of as a firm friend, came up and said, ‘What is this, Caesar? Are you a man to pay attention to a woman’s dreams and the idle gossip of stupid men, and to insult the Senate by not going out, although it has honoured you and has been specially summoned by you? But listen to me, cast aside the forebodings of all these people, and come. The Senate has been in session waiting for you since early this morning.’ This swayed Caesar and he left.”

“Before he entered the chamber, the priests brought up the victims for him to make what was to be his last sacrifice. The omens were clearly unfavourable. After this unsuccessful sacrifice, the priests made repeated other ones, to see if anything more propitious might appear than what had already been revealed to them. In the end they said that they could not clearly see the divine intent, for there was some transparent, malignant spirit hidden in the victims. Caesar was annoyed and abandoned divination till sunset, though the priests continued all the more with their efforts.

Those of the murderers present were delighted at all this, though Caesar’s friends asked him to put off the meeting of the Senate for that day because of what the priests had said, and he agreed to do this. But some attendants came up, calling him and saying that the Senate was full. He glanced at his friends, but Brutus approached him again and said, ‘Come, good sir, pay no attention to the babblings of these men, and do not postpone what Caesar and his mighty power has seen fit to arrange. Make your own courage your favorable omen.’ He convinced Caesar with these words, took him by the right hand, and led him to the Senate which was quite near. Caesar followed in silence.”

“The Senate rose in respect for his position when they saw him entering. Those who were to have part in the plot stood near him. Right next to him went Tillius Cimber, whose brother had been exiled by Caesar. Under pretext of a humble request on behalf of this brother, Cimber approached and grasped the mantle of his toga, seeming to want to make a more positive move with his hands upon Caesar. Caesar wanted to get up and use his hands, but was prevented by Cimber and became exceedingly annoyed.

That was the moment for the men to set to work. All quickly unsheathed their daggers and rushed at him. First Servilius Casca struck him with the point of the blade on the left shoulder a little above the collar-bone. He had been aiming for that, but in the excitement he missed. Caesar rose to defend himself, and in the uproar Casca shouted out in Greek to his brother. The latter heard him and drove his sword into the ribs. After a moment, Cassius made a slash at his face, and Decimus Brutus pierced him in the side. While Cassius Longinus was trying to give him another blow he missed and struck Marcus Brutus on the hand. Minucius also hit out at Caesar and hit Rubrius in the thigh. They were just like men doing battle against him.

Under the mass of wounds, he fell at the foot of Pompey’s statue. Everyone wanted to seem to have had some part in the murder, and there was not one of them who failed to strike his body as it lay there, until, wounded thirty-five times, he breathed his last. ”

 

 

The Death of Lord Nelson

Lord Horatio Nelson was a British hero long before the moment of his greatest triumph. His victories at the Battle of the Nile and Copenhagen had seen to that. He had the affection of the people even if his very public affair with the married Emma Hamilton, a woman of dubious repute, had scandalised polite society and left his own wife abandoned and humiliated. It made him not entirely trusted as a man of doubtful character but when Napoleon Bonaparte threatened to add Britain (that Nation of Shopkeepers) to his list of conquests he was the one man his country could turn to.

On 21 October, 1805, at Cape Trafalgar off the Spanish coast his British Fleet engaged the combined Fleets of France and Spain. Outnumbered and outgunned he would compensate for the disparity with daring and audacity. Aware that the French Admiral Villeneuve was wary of him following their earlier encounter at the Nile when he captained one of the few French ships to avoid destruction or capture Nelson decided stretch his nerves to breaking point. He would forego the usual broadside bombardment to attack head-on in two parallel columns penetrate the French line, surround and destroy piecemeal in a close quarter engagement all guns blazing.

It was a plan unorthodox, unpredictable, daring, and brilliant – it had that Nelson Touch.

On the day of the battle Nelson, contrary to the advice of his Captain’s who claimed it made him too clear and obvious a target, chose to wear his Admiral’s uniform. He had earned the right he said, and it was good for morale.

The attack began with a signal to his ships, “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

For hours the two Fleets battered away at each other while Nelson coolly observed the bloody and confused melee from the quarter-deck of his Flagship HMS Victory alongside Captain Hardy. But it was a dangerous place to be especially since the Victory had become entangled with the French Redoubtable and the sharpshooters of both ships high in the rigging were fully engaged.

Dr William Beatty was a physician aboard the Victory who helped tend to the Admiral’s wounds and would not long after the battle provide a detailed account of the day’s events:  

“Lord Nelson and Captain Hardy walked the quarter-deck in conversation for some time after this, while the enemy kept up an incessant raking fire. A double-headed shot struck one of the parties of Marines drawn up on the poop, and killed eight of them; when his lordship, perceiving this, ordered Captain Adair, to disperse his men round the ship, that they might not suffer so much from being together. In a few minutes afterwards a shot struck the fore-brace-bits on the quarter-deck, and passed between Lord Nelson and Captain Hardy; a splinter from the bits bruising Captain Hardy’s foot, and tearing the buckle from his shoe. They both instantly stopped; and were observed by the Officers on deck to survey each other with inquiring looks, each supposing the other to be wounded. His lordship then smiled, and said: ‘This is too warm work, Hardy, to last long;’ and declared that ‘through all the battles he had been in, he had never witnessed more cool courage than was displayed by the Victory’s crew on this occasion.’

About fifteen minutes past one o’clock, which was in the heat of the engagement, he was walking the middle of the quarter-deck with Captain Hardy, and in the act of turning near the hatchway with his face towards the stern of the Victory, when the fatal ball was fired from the enemy’s mizzen-top. The ball struck the epaulette on his left shoulder, and penetrated his chest. He fell with his face on the deck. Captain Hardy, who was on his right (the side furthest from the enemy) and advanced some steps before his lordship, on turning round, saw the Sergeant Major of Marines with two seamen raising him from the deck; where he had fallen on the same spot on which, a little before, his secretary had breathed his last, with whose blood his lordship’s clothes were much soiled. Captain Hardy expressed a hope that he was not severely wounded; to which the gallant Chief replied: ‘They have done for me at last, Hardy.’ – ‘I hope not,’ answered Captain Hardy. ‘Yes,’ replied his lordship; ‘my backbone is shot through.’

Captain Hardy ordered the seamen to carry the Admiral to the cockpit. . .

His lordship was laid upon a bed, stripped of his clothes, and covered with a sheet. While this was effecting, he said to Doctor Scott, “Doctor, I told you so. Doctor, I am gone;” and after a short pause he added in a low voice, “I have to leave Lady Hamilton, and my adopted daughter Horatia, as a legacy to my country.” The surgeon then examined the wound, assuring his lordship that he would not put him to much pain in endeavouring to discover the course of the ball; which he soon found had penetrated deep into the chest, and had probably lodged in the spine. This being explained to his lordship, he replied, “he was confident his back was shot through.”

The back was then examined externally, but without any injury being perceived; on which his lordship was requested by the surgeon to make him acquainted with all his sensations. He replied, that “he felt a gush of blood every minute within his breast: that he had no feeling in the lower part of his body: and that his breathing was difficult, and attended with very severe pain about that part of the spine where he was confident that the ball had struck; for,” said he, “I felt it break my back.” These symptoms, but more particularly the gush of blood which his lordship complained of, together with the state of his pulse, indicated to the surgeon the hopeless situation of the case; but till after the victory was ascertained and announced to his lordship, the true nature of his wound was concealed by the surgeon from all on board except only Captain Hardy, Doctor Scott, Mr. Burke, and Messrs. Smith and Westemburg the assistant surgeons.

The Victory’s crew cheered whenever they observed an enemy’s ship surrender. On one of these occasions, Lord Nelson anxiously inquired what was the cause of it. When Lieutenant Pasco, who lay wounded at some distance from his lordship, raised himself up, and told him that another ship had struck, which appeared to give him much satisfaction. He now felt an ardent thirst; and frequently called for drink, and to be fanned with paper, making use of these words: fan, fan and drink, drink.

He evinced great solicitude for the event of the battle, and fears for the safety of his friend Captain Hardy. Doctor Scott and Mr. Burke used every argument they could suggest, to relieve his anxiety. Mr. Burke told him ‘the enemy were decisively defeated, and that he hoped His lordship would still live to be himself the bearer of the joyful tidings to his country.’ He replied, ‘It is nonsense, Mr. Burke, to suppose I can live: my sufferings are great, but they will all be soon over.’ Doctor Scott entreated his lordship ‘not to despair of living,’ and said ‘he trusted that Divine Providence would restore him once more to his dear country and friends.’ — ‘Ah, Doctor!’ replied lordship, ‘it is all over; it is all over.

An hour and ten minutes however elapsed, from the time of his lordship’s being wounded, before Captain Hardy’s first subsequent interview with him. . . They shook hands affectionately, and Lord Nelson said: ‘Well, Hardy, how goes the battle? How goes the day with us?’- ‘Very well, my Lord,’ replied Captain Hardy. . . ‘I am a dead man, Hardy. I am going fast: it will be all over with me soon. Come nearer to me. Pray let my dear Lady Hamilton have my hair, and all other things belonging to me.’ . . .Captain Hardy observed, that ‘he hoped Mr. Beatty could yet hold out some prospect of life.’ – ‘Oh! no,’ answered his lordship; ‘it is impossible. My back is shot through. Beatty will tell you so.’ Captain Hardy then returned on deck, and at parting shook hands again with his revered friend and commander.

His Lordship became speechless in about fifteen minutes after Captain Hardy left him. . . and when he had remained speechless about five minutes, his Lordship’s steward went to the surgeon, who had been a short time occupied with the wounded in another part of the cockpit, and stated his apprehensions that his Lordship was dying. The surgeon immediately repaired to him, and found him on the verge of dissolution. He knelt down by his side, and took up his hand; which was cold, and the pulse gone from the wrist. On the surgeon’s feeling his forehead, which was likewise cold, his Lordship opened his eyes, looked up, and shut them again. The surgeon again left him, and returned to the wounded who required his assistance; but was not absent five minutes before the Steward announced to him that ‘he believed his Lordship had expired.’ The surgeon returned, and found that the report was but too well founded: his Lordship had breathed his last, at thirty minutes past four o’clock; at which period Doctor Scott was in the act of rubbing his Lordship’s breast, and Mr. Burke supporting the bed under his shoulders.

 

 

 

 

A Mexican Remembers the Alamo

In 1835, Texas belonged to Mexico but there was a growing sense in the region that it needn’t be so. A recent influx of Americans with their clearly defined notions of liberty and Mexicans already resident disgruntled at the autocratic rule of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna saw tensions mount and following a series of skirmishes with the Mexican Army it was forced to abandon the region. Their absence saw an expression of anger become a fully-fledged movement for independence. But the Mexicans would be back.

Santa Anna had no intention of entering into negotiation with those he considered little better than pirates and by early 1836 he had returned with a fresh, fully-equipped and formidable army determined to crush the rebellion. The Texians, a rag-tag collection of regular soldiers, volunteers, and adventurers were nevertheless just as determined to be free.

By the last week of February, Santa Anna’s army stood before the Mission Station known as the Alamo, a broken down, ramshackle old Church and its surround that had been hastily fortified for defence. Inside were some 200 mostly volunteer fighters under the command of William Barret Travis.  Also at the Alamo were two legendary figures of the West, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. Their presence would make for an exhaustive mythology intended for the most part to praise but also to demean.

Santa Anna would offer no quarter and those defending the Alamo would die to a man, whether some did so less heroically than others is irrelevant in that they were all killed in the cause they were fighting for. There are then few descriptions of the fighting from the Texian side other than the memories of the women and non-combatants who survived.

This account is from a serving Officer in Santa Anna’s army:

“On this same evening, a little before nightfall, it is said that Barret Travis, commander of the enemy, had offered to the general-in-chief, by a woman messenger, to surrender his arms and the fort with all the materials upon the sole condition that his own life and the lives of his men be spared. But the answer was that they must surrender at discretion, without any guarantee, even of life, which traitors did not deserve. It is evident, that after such an answer, they all prepared to sell their lives as dearly as possible. Consequently, they exercised the greatest vigilance day and night to avoid surprise.

On the morning of March 6, the Mexican troops were stationed at 4 o’clock, A.M., in accord with Santa Anna’s instructions. The artillery, as appears from these same instructions, was to remain inactive, as it received no order; and furthermore, darkness and the disposition made of the troops which were to attack the four fronts at the same time, prevented its firing without mowing down our own ranks. Thus the enemy was not to suffer from our artillery during the attack. Their own artillery was in readiness. At the sound of the bugle they could no longer doubt that the time had come for them to conquer or to die. Had they still doubted, the imprudent shouts for Santa Anna given by our columns of attack must have opened their eyes.

As soon as our troops were in sight, a shower of grape and musket balls was poured upon them from the fort, the garrison of which at the sound of the bugle had rushed to arms and to their posts. The three columns that attacked the west, the north, and the east fronts, fell back, or rather, wavered at the first discharge from the enemy, but the example and the efforts of the officers soon caused them to return to the attack. The columns of the western and eastern attacks, meeting with some difficulties in reaching the tops of the small houses which formed the walls of the fort, did, by a simultaneous movement to the right and to left, swing northward till the three columns formed one dense mass, which under the guidance of their officers, endeavoured to climb the parapet on that side.

This obstacle was at length overcome, the gallant General Juan V Amador being among the foremost, meantime the column attacking the southern front under Colonels Jose Vicente Minon and Jose Morales, availing themselves of a shelter, formed by some stone houses near the western salient of that front, boldly took the guns defending it, and penetrated through the embrasures into the square formed by the barracks. There they assisted General Amador, who having captured the enemy’s pieces turned them against the doors of the interior houses where the rebels had sought shelter, and from which they fired upon our men in the act of jumping down onto the square or court of the fort. At last they were all destroyed by grape, musket shot and the bayonet.

Our loss was very heavy. Colonel Francisco Duque was mortally wounded at the very beginning, as he lay dying on the ground where he was being trampled by his own men, he still ordered them on to the slaughter. This attack was extremely injudicious and in opposition to military rules, for our own men were exposed not only to the fire of the enemy but also to that of our own columns attacking the other fronts; and our soldiers being formed in close columns, all shots that were aimed too low, struck the backs of our foremost men. The greatest number of our casualties took place in that manner; it may even be affirmed that not one fourth of our wounded were struck by the enemy’s fire, because their cannon, owing to their elevated position, could not be sufficiently lowered to injure our troops after they had reached the foot of the walls. Nor could the defenders use their muskets with accuracy, because the wall having no inner banquette, they had, in order to deliver their fire, to stand on top where they could not live one second.

The official list of casualties, made by General Juan de Andrade, shows: officers 8 killed, 18 wounded; enlisted men 52 killed, 233 wounded. Total 311 killed and wounded. A great many of the wounded died for want of medical attention, beds, shelter, and surgical instruments.

The whole garrison were killed except an old woman and a negro slave for whom the soldiers felt compassion, knowing that they had remained from compulsion alone. There were 150 volunteers, 32 citizens of Gonzales who had introduced themselves into the fort the night previous to the storming, and about 20 citizens or merchants of Bexar.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death of the Borgia Pope

Long before Rodrigo Borgia became Pope Alexander VI on 11 August, 1492, he already had a reputation for corruption both financial and otherwise. It was said that he had bribed his way to the Papacy and had sired as many as ten children by the many mistresses he had at his beck and call, though he recognised only four.  Indeed, there were few vices his many enemies were not willing to attribute to him among them fraud, murder, and incest. Political chicanery and the ruthless grab for power were the hallmark of his time in office and to be an enemy of the Borgia’s was to establish a case for retribution both against oneself and one’s family. It was rarely ignored.

No less notorious was the lavish lifestyle and the many parties (which some described as little better than orgies) that now became part and parcel of everyday life in the Vatican. It seemed to many that his sacred duty as a successor to St Peter and God’s Representative on Earth were but secondary to his pursuit of pleasure and relentless self-aggrandisement. Yet for all the hedonism he was one of the most effective men ever to sit upon the Petrine Throne. He successfully guided the Papacy through troubled times while both securing its position and enhancing its power. Mother Church would in the end owe him a great deal but this did not mean that his passing would be greatly mourned, and it wasn’t.

Johann Burchard worked within the Vatican overseeing official ceremonies and functions. Frequently in the presence of the Pope he witnessed his final illness and the moment of his death. This is his account of the Borgia Pope’s demise and its immediate aftermath:  

“On Saturday morning, August 12th, the pope felt unwell, and at about three o’clock in the afternoon he became feverish. Fourteen ounces of blood were taken from him three days later and tertiary fever set in. Early on August 17th, he was given some medicine, but he worsened and at about six o’clock on the following morning, he made his confession to Don Pietro Gamboa, the Bishop of Carinola, who then celebrated Mass in His Holiness’s presence. After he had made his own communion, he gave the pope the Host as he sat in his bed and then completed the Mass. The service was also attended by five cardinals – Serra, Francesco Borgia, Giovanni Castelar, Casanova and de Loris of Constantinople – to whom His Holiness stated that he felt ill. At the hour of Vespers he was given Extreme Unction by the Bishop of Carinola, and he expired in the presence of the datary, the bishop and the attendants standing by.

Don Cesare, (the Pope’s illegitimate son), who was also unwell at the time, sent Michelotto with a large number of retainers to close all the doors that gave access to the pope’s room. One of the men took out a dagger and threatened to cut Cardinal Casanova’s throat and to throw him out of the window unless he handed over the keys to all the pope’s treasure. Terrified, the cardinal surrendered the keys, whereupon the others entered the room next to the papal apartment and seized all the silver that they found, together with two coffers containing about a hundred thousand ducats.

At four o’clock in the afternoon, they opened the doors and proclaimed that the pope was dead. In the meantime, valets took what had been left behind in the wardrobe and the apartments, and nothing of value remained except the papal chairs, some cushions and the tapestries on the walls. Throughout the whole of the pope’s illness, Don Cesare never visited his father, nor again after his death, whilst His Holiness for his part never once made the slightest reference to Cesare or Lucrezia.”

Burchard helped dress the Pope’s leaving it in a courtyard before leaving to attend to other business:

“I returned to the city after eight o’clock in the evening, accompanied by eight of the palace guards, and in the vice-chancellor’s name I ordered Giovanni Caroli the messenger, on pain of losing his office, to go with his fellow messengers to inform all the clergy in Rome, secular priests and monks alike, that they must assemble early next morning at five o’clock in the papal palace for the funeral procession from the Sistine Chapel to the Basilica of St Peter’s. Two hundred tapers were prepared for those who would assemble for the pope’s funeral.

Next morning, I had the bier brought into the Sala del Pappagallo and there set down. Four confessors recited the Office of the Dead as they sat on the window-frame with their hands resting on the pope’s litter, which was supported by paupers who stood at hand gazing at the body. I placed a folded mattress on the bier and covered it with a fine new pall of bright purple brocade i With the help of three others, I took hold of the bier and moved it into a position between the high altar and the papal seat so that the pope’s head was close to the altar. There we shut the bier in behind the choir. The Bishop of Sessa, however, wondered if the ordinary people might not climb up to the body there, which would cause a great scandal and perhaps allow somebody who had been wronged by the pope to get his revenge. He therefore had the bier moved into the chapel entrance between the steps, with the pope’s feet so close to the iron door that they could be touched through the grill. There the body remained through the day, with the iron door firmly closed.

After dining, the cardinals appointed for the task and with the aid of the Chamber clergy made an inventory of the valuables and the more precious moveable goods that had belonged to Alexander. They found the crown and two precious tiaras, all the rings which the pope wore for Mass, the credence-vessels for his use in celebrating and enough indeed to fill eight coffers. Amongst all these things were the golden vessels from the recess of the apartment adjoining the pope’s bedroom about which Don Michelotto had known nothing, as well as a small cypress box, covered in strong cloth and containing precious stones and rings to the value of about twenty-five thousand ducats. There were also found many documents, the oaths of the cardinals, the bull for the investiture of the King of Naples, and a great number of other bulls.

In the meantime, the body of the pope had remained for a long time, as I have described, between the railings of the high altar. During that period, the four wax candles next to it burned right down, and the complexion of the dead man became increasingly foul and black.

Already by four o’clock on that afternoon when I saw the corpse, again, its face had changed to the color of mulberry or the blackest cloth and it was covered in blue-black spots. The nose was swollen, the mouth distended where the tongue was doubled over, and the lips seemed to fill everything. The appearance of the face then was far more horrifying than anything that had ever been seen or reported before.

Later after five o’clock, the body was carried to the Chapel of Santa Maria della Febbre and placed in its coffin next to the wall in a corner by the altar. Six labourers or porters, making blasphemous jokes about the pope or in contempt of his corpse, together with two master carpenters, performed this task.

The carpenters had made the coffin too narrow and short, and so they placed the pope’s mitre at his side, rolled his body up in an old carpet, and pummelled and pushed it into the coffin with their fists. No wax tapers or lights were used, and no priests or any other persons attended to his body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caesar Crosses the Rubicon

The River Rubicon which runs from the Apennines to the Adriatic Coast near Rimini may not be geographically significant. It hardly cuts a swathe through the landscape but it would nonetheless lend its name to one of the most significant events in history.

In his ten years as Governor of Gaul Julius Caesar had enhanced his military reputation to the point where it outshone even that of his former friend and now great rival Pompey who de facto ruled in Rome. In doing so he had amassed a vast fortune which he used to buy influence and support in the city.

With Gaul subdued and his return imminent the Senate in Rome acted to curb Caesar’s ambitions.  He was ordered to resign his command, disband his army, and return to civilian life. If he refused then he would be  declared an Enemy of the People and every Roman citizen would be obliged to do him harm. Moreover, Pompey was charged with enforcing the edict should it be ignored.

Caesar received news of the Senate’s decision while at Winter Quarters at Ravenna in Northern Italy. He now faced a stark choice either do as the Senate demanded thereby ending his political career or disobey them and plunge Rome into civil war. T

The law forbade him to lead an army across the River Rubicon and march it south but upon learning that his political allies in Rome had been forced to flee the city he felt he had no choice. With just one Legion at his back he crossed the Rubicon, the die had been cast, he had gone beyond the point of no return.

This is the Roman historian Suetonius’s account of that fateful decision:


“When the news came
 to Ravenna, where Caesar was staying, that the interposition of the tribunes in his favour had been utterly rejected, and that they themselves had fled Rome, he immediately sent forward some cohorts, yet secretly, to prevent any suspicion of his plan; and to keep up appearances, he attended the public games and examined the model of a fencing school which he proposed building, then – as usual – sat down to table with a large company of friends.

However, after sunset some mules from a near-by mill were put in his carriage, and he set forward on his journey as privately as possible, and with an exceedingly scanty retinue. The lights went out.. He lost his way and wandered about a long time – till at last, by help of a guide, whom he discovered towards daybreak, he proceeded on foot through some narrow paths, and again reached the road. Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and revolving in his mind the importance of the step he meditated, he turned to those he about him, saying: ‘still we can retreat! But once past this little bridge nothing is left but to fight it out with arms!’

As he hesitated an incident occurred – a man of strikingly noble mien and graceful aspect appeared close at hand, and played upon a pipe. To hear him not merely some shepherds, but soldiers too came flocking from their posts, and amongst them some trumpeters. He snatched a trumpet from one of them and ran to the river with it; then sounding the “Advance!” with a piercing blast he crossed to the other side. At this Caesar cried out, ‘Let us go where the omens of the Gods and the crimes of our enemies summon us! THE DIE IS NOW CAST!’

Accordingly he marched his army over the river; then he showed them the tribunes of the Plebs, who on being driven from Rome had come to meet him, and in the presence of that assembly, called on the troops to pledge him their fidelity; tears springing to his eyes [as he spoke] and his garments rent from his bosom.”

 

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Cleopatra seduces Marc Antony

Julius Caesar’s assassination in March, 44 BC, left his lover and the mother of his son, Cleopatra, vulnerable. She may have been the Queen of Egypt but in Rome she was despised as that barbarian and whore. Even so, in the city at the time of his murder she did not flee immediately but remained long enough to see Caesar’s friend Marc Antony emerge as the new power in Rome.

Cleopatra returned to Egypt to await events aware that having already seduced one great Roman she could seduce another but he would have to come to her.

Antony needed money (he always needed money) but ruling in Rome as part of a triumvirate alongside Caesar’s nephew Octavian and the leading General, Lepidus and with a Senate led by Cicero largely hostile to him his access to funds was extremely limited. Knowing that Cleopatra as Pharaoh of Egypt had wealth in great abundance he had himself made ruler in the East while Octavian ruled in the West and Lepidus governed in Africa.

In 41 BC he summoned Cleopatra to meet with him at Tarsus on the coast of Turkey. She would travel as commanded to do but in a display of grandeur without parallel it was Antony who would stand in awe of her majesty.

Plutarch, the Roman historian in his Parallel Lives written some 150 years after the events he describes provides us with perhaps our most vivid description of Cleopatra and given his Greek origins perhaps a more sympathetic account than would be found elsewhere:

She came, sailing up the river Cydnus in a barge with gilded stern and outspread sails of purple, while oars of silver beat time to the music of flutes and fifes and harps. She herself lay all along, under a canopy of cloth of gold, dressed as Venus in a picture, and beautiful young boys, like painted Cupids, stood on each side to fan her. Her maids were dressed like Sea Nymphs and Graces, some steering at the rudder, some working at the ropes. Perfumes diffused themselves from the vessel to the shore, which was covered with multitudes, part following the galley up the river on either bank, part running out of the city to see the sight. The market place was quite emptied, and Antony at last was left alone sitting upon the tribunal; while the word went .through all the multitude, that Venus was come to feast with Bacchus for the common good of Asia.

On her arrival, Antony sent to invite her to supper. She thought it fitter he should come to her; so, willing to show his good humour and courtesy, he complied, and went. He found the preparations to receive him magnificent beyond expression, but nothing so admirable as the great number of lights; for on a sudden there was let down altogether so great a number of branches with lights in them so ingeniously disposed, some in squares, and some in circles, that the whole thing was a spectacle that had seldom been equalled for beauty.

The next day, Antony invited her to supper, and was very desirous to outdo her as well in magnificence as contrivance; but he found he was altogether beaten in both, and was so well convinced of it, that he was himself the first to jest and mock at his poverty of wit, and his rustic awkwardness. She, perceiving that his raillery was broad and gross, and savoured more of the soldier than the courtier, rejoined in the same taste, and fell into it at once, without any sort of reluctance or reserve.

For her actual beauty, it is said, was not in itself so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence, if you lived with her, was irresistible; the attraction of her person, joining with the charm of her conversation, and the character that attended all she said or did, was something bewitching. It was a pleasure merely to hear the sound of her voice, with which, like an instrument of many strings, she could pass from one language to another; so that there were few of the barbarian nations that she answered by an interpreter.

Antony was so captivated by her, that while Fulvia his wife maintained his quarrels in Rome against Caesar by actual force of arms, and the Parthian troops…were assembled in Mesopotamia, and ready to enter Syria, he could yet suffer himself to be carried away by her to Alexandria, there to keep holiday, like a boy, in play and diversion, squandering and fooling away in enjoyment that most costly, as Antiphon says, of all valuables, time.

Were Antony serious or disposed to mirth, she had at any moment some new delight or charm to meet his wishes; at every turn she was upon him, and let him escape her neither by day nor by night. She played at dice with him, drank with him, hunted with him; and when he exercised in arms, she was there to see.

She played At night she would go rambling with him to disturb and torment people at their doors and windows, dressed like a servant woman for Antony also went in servant’s disguise, and from these expeditions he often came home very scathingly answered, and sometimes even beaten severely, though most people guessed who it was. However, the Alexandrians in general liked it all well enough, and joined good humouredly and kindly in his frolic and play, saying they were much obliged to Antony for acting his tragic parts at Rome, and keeping his comedy for them.”

 

 

 

 

Nero: Persecuting the Christians

On the night of 19 July 64 AD, a fire broke out near the Circus Maximus in the centre of Rome that was to rage for six full days unimpeded devastating the city and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without means, homeless and on the streets. It was the worst disaster to ever strike the city and few could believe it the result of an accident – someone must be to blame?

Despite having done his best to alleviate the suffering by opening up the Imperial Gardens and municipal buildings for use by the destitute, providing temporary shelters, and organising food shipments to the city the rumour soon began to spread that Emperor Nero had started the fire deliberately to clear away obstacles to the building of his opulent and colossal Golden House.

Given Nero’s reputation it was a rumour easily believed so he sought to deflect the blame and he knew a good scapegoat when he saw one – the Christians were a small but rapidly growing religious sect despised by many Roman’s for their arrogance and denial of the Gods.  They were to blame declared Nero and their leaders were arrested and tortured until they confessed to that effect.  Even so, many remained sceptical but Nero being the great impresario he was knew how to overcome such doubts. He would have the Christians killed in the most theatrical manner he could conjure up for the entertainment of the mob.

Many still doubted their guilt regarding the fire but few objected to them being punished.

The historian Tacitus was just a boy in Rome at the time but he remembered the events well and many decades later would write of them in his Annals, or History of Rome:

“Therefore, to stop the rumour, he falsely charged with guilt, and punished with the most fearful tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius, but the pernicious superstition – repressed for a time, broke out yet again, not only through Judea, – where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters, as to a common receptacle, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly first those were arrested who confessed they were Christians; next on their information a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of burning the city, as of “hating the human race.

In their very deaths they were made the subjects of sport: for they were covered with the hides of wild beasts, and worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when the day waned, burned to serve for the evening lights. Nero offered his own garden players for the spectacle, and exhibited a Circensian game, indiscriminately mingling with the common people in the dress of a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. For this cause a feeling of compassion arose towards the sufferers, though guilty and deserving of exemplary capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but were victims of the ferocity of one man.”

 

 

The Execution of Louis XVI

On 21 June 1791, while the National Assembly in Paris toiled long into the night over the articles of a new constitution, King Louis XVI along with his Queen Marie Antoinette and their children fled the city in plain clothes, the curtains of their carriage tightly drawn. Their destination was the royalist stronghold of Montmedy from where they would be safely delivered into the hands of Marie Antoinette’s brother Leopold, Emperor of Austria. But their escort never arrived and stopped in the town of Varennes by the local postmaster who recognised the King from his image on recently issued paper money they were arrested and ignominiously escorted back to Paris. It was clear to many that the King could now no longer be trusted – the Bourbon Monarchy had reached the end of the road.

In September King Louis XVI was deposed and a Republic declared, soon after he would stand trial for his life accused of treason.  Found guilty his fate now lay in the hands of the by now National Convention. Passions ran high and the extremists among them Robespierre and Saint Just demanded his immediate execution while moderates such as Danton argued for exile. When the vote finally came it was closer than anyone could have imagined. While 361 Deputies were in favour of execution, 360 had opposed it – Louis XVI, the former King of France, had been condemned to death by just 1 vote.

At his own request Louis was accompanied the journey to his place of execution by an English priest Henry Essex Edgeworth who had to all intents and purposes become the Royal Family’s confessor.  This is his account of that fateful carriage ride and Louis Capet’s final few hours:

“The King, finding himself seated in the carriage, where he could neither speak to me nor be spoken to without witness, kept a profound silence. I presented him with my breviary, the only book I had with me, and he seemed to accept it with pleasure: he appeared anxious that I should point out to him the psalms that were most suited to his situation, and he recited them attentively with me. The gendarmes, without speaking, seemed astonished and confounded at the tranquil piety of their monarch, to whom they doubtless never had before approached so near.

The procession lasted almost two hours; the streets were lined with citizens, all armed, some with pikes and some with guns, and the carriage was surrounded by a body of troops, formed of the most desperate people of Paris. As another precaution, they had placed before the horses a number of drums, intended to drown any noise or murmur in favour of the King; but how could they be heard? Nobody appeared either at the doors or windows, and in the street nothing was to be seen, but armed citizens – citizens, all rushing towards the commission of a crime, which perhaps they detested in their hearts.

The carriage proceeded thus in silence th the Place de Louis XV, and stopped in the middle of a large space that had been left around the scaffold: this space was surrounded by cannon, and beyond, an armed multitude extended as far as the eye could reach. As soon as the King perceived that the carriage had stopped, he turned and whispered to me, ‘We are arrived, if I mistake not.’ One of the guards came to open the carriage door, and the gendarmes would have jumped out but the King stopped them and leaning his arm on my knee, ‘Gentlemen,’ said he, with the tone of majesty, ‘ I recommend you this good man; take care that after my death no insult be offered to him – I charge you to prevent it.

As soon as the King had left the carriage, three guards surrounded him, and would have taken off his clothes, but he repulsed them with haughtiness- he undressed himself, untied his neck-cloth, opened his shirt, and arranged it himself. The guards, whom the determined countenance of the King had for a moment disconcerted, seemed to recover their audacity. They surrounded him again, and would have seized his hands. ‘What are you attempting?’ said the King, drawing back his hands. ‘To bind you,’ answered the wretches. ‘To bind me,’ said the King with an indignant air. ‘No, I shall never consent to that: do what you have been ordered, but you shall never bind me.’

 The path leading to the scaffold was extremely rough and difficult to pass; the King was obliged to lean on my arm, and from the slowness with which he proceeded, I feared for a moment that his courage might fail; but what was my astonishment, when arrived at the last step, I felt that he suddenly let go my arm, and I saw him cross with a firm foot the breadth of the whole scaffold; silence, by his look alone, fifteen or twenty drums that were placed opposite to me; and in a voice so loud, that it must have been heard it the Pont Tournant, I heard him pronounce distinctly these memorable words: ‘I die innocent of all the crimes laid to my charge; I Pardon those who have occasioned my death; and I pray to God that the blood you are going to shed may never be visited on France.’

 He was proceeding, when a man on horseback, in the national uniform, and with a ferocious cry, ordered the drums to beat. Many voices were at the same time heard encouraging the executioners. They seemed reanimated themselves, in seizing with violence the most virtuous of Kings, they dragged him under the axe of the guillotine, which with one stroke severed his head from his body. All this passed in a moment. The youngest of the guards, who seemed about eighteen, immediately seized the head, and showed it to the people as he walked round the scaffold; he accompanied this monstrous ceremony with the most atrocious and indecent gestures. At first an awful silence prevailed; at length some cries of ‘Vive la Republique!’ were heard. By degrees the voices multiplied and in less than ten minutes this cry, a thousand times repeated became the universal shout of the multitude, and every hat was in the air.”