Saturday, 30 July 2005

The assassination of Julius Caesar

On the 15th March 44 B.C (Ides of March), Julius Caesar was assassinated. Suetonius, not surprisingly, gives us a detailed account of those events.

"As soon as Caesar took his seat the conspirators crowded around him as if to pay their respects. Tillius Cimber, who had taken the lead, came up close, pretending to ask a question. Caesar made a gesture of postponment, but Cimber caught hold of his shoulders. 'This is violence!' Caesar cried, and at that moment, as he turned away, one of the Casca brothers with a sweep of his dagger stabbed him just below the throat. Caesar grasped Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus; he was leaping away when another dagger blow stopped him. Confronted by a ring of drawn daggers, he drew the top of his gown over his face and at the same time ungirded the lower part, letting it fall to his feet so that he would die with both legs decently covered. Twenty-three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there. Caesar did not utter a sound after Casca's blow had drawn a groan from him; though some say that when he saw Marcus Brutus about to deliver the second blow, he reproached him in Greek with: 'You too my child?'
The entire Senate then dispersed in confusion and Caesar was left lying dead for some time until three slave boys carried him home in a litter, with one arm hanging over the side."

Marcus Aurelius Observing

And some more from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations:

"Never allow yourself to be swept off your feet: when an impulse stirs, see first that it will meet the claims of justice; when an impression forms, assure yourself first of its certainty."

"Do not copy the opinions of the arrogant, or let them dictate your own, but look at things in their true light."

" Observe how all things are continually being born of change; teach yourself to see that Nature's highest happiness lies in changing the things that are, and forming new things after their kind. Whatever is, is in some sense the seed of what is to emerge from it. Nothing can become a philosopher less than to imagine that seed can only be something that is planted in the earth or the womb."

"Observe carefully what guides the actions of the wise and what they shun or seek."

Friday, 29 July 2005

Pliny's Love Letter

The following love letter was written in 108 AD by Pliny the Younger to his third wife Calpurnia, when he was 47.

"You cannot believe how much I miss you. I love you so much and we are not used to separations. So I stay awake most of the night thinking of you, and by day I find my feet carrying me (a true word, carrying) to your room at the times I usually visited you; then finding it empty I depart, as sick and sorrowful as a lover locked out."

Thursday, 28 July 2005

The History of Tuberculosis (TB)

Mycobacterium tuberculosis

We know that TB has been present since ancient times and has been one of the main causes of death throughout the ages. Examinations of parts of the spinal columm of Egyptian mummies from 2400 BC, show certain signs of the disease.

The official name for the cause of the disease is Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Throughout the centuries it has had many names. The Ancient Greeks called it phthisis (consumption). Around 460 BC Hippocrates identified the disease as the most widespread one of his time, noting that almost every case was fatal. He even advised his fellow doctors not to visit patients at the late stages of the disease as their death would be inevitable.
During the 17th century the first pathological and anatomical decriptions of the disease appeared. Sylvius in 1679, was the first to identify the tubercles as a characteristic change occuring in the lungs and other areas of the patients' body. The earliest references to the infectiousness of the disease appear in Italian medical writings of the time. The Republic of Lucca issued an edict in 1699 which stated that "henceforth, human health should no longer be endangered by objects remaining after the death of a consumptive. The names of the deceased should be reported to the authorities and measures undertaken for disinfection."

In 1720, the English doctor Benjamin Marten, was first to suspect that the disease might be caused by "wonderfully minute living creatures". He also warned against close contact with patients which would lead to spread of the disease.
By the mid 1800s the sanatorium treatment was being introduced (exposure of the patient to plenty of fresh air and sun). Dr. Hermann Brehmer was the pioneer of this treatment after he went on a holiday to the Himalayas and found that when he returned home he was cured of the disease.
In 1882 Robert Koch was the first to find a way to actually see the bacteria that cause tuberculosis. The enemy was now identified and the war could begin.
While sanatoria continued to spread like wildfire throughout Europe and the United States, significant progress was made. The invetion of X-ray in 1895 by Wilhelm Konrad von Rontgen meant that patients progress could now be monitored at a very detailed level. In the early part of the 20th century the BCG vaccine was discovered. This is still used today. The final and decisive breakthrough came during the middle of World War II, when streptomycin
was discovered and the bacterium which had plagued humanity for thousands of years could now be crushed...

Wednesday, 27 July 2005

Beethoven and his Immortal Beloved

Love letters always fascinate me. Here's one from Beethoven:

"Though still in bed, my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us - I can live only wholly with you or not at all - Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits - Yes, unhappily it must be so - You will be the more contained since you know my fidelity to you. No one else can ever possess my heart - never - never - Oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves. And yet my life in V is now a wretched life - Your love makes me at once the happiest and the unhappiest of men - At my age I need a steady, quiet life - can that be so in our connection? My angel, I have just been told that the mailcoach goes every day - therefore I must close at once so that you may receive the letter at once - Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purpose to live together - Be calm - love me - today - yesterday - what tearful longings for you - you - you - my life - my all - farewell. Oh continue to love me - never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved.

ever thine
ever mine
ever ours

Tuesday, 26 July 2005

Christine de Pisan

Christine de Pisan, was one of the most important figures in medieval literature. Most notably, she was the first woman to make a living from writing and is considered by many to be the first feminist in history as she was the first to denounce women’s inferior position in society.

Christine was born in Venice in 1364. Her father was an astrologer and when she was five years old he took her to live in France, where he became astrologer to King Charles V. Christine spent the rest of her life in France.
Due to her father’s privileged position at court, she was able to be socialise in court circles and was educated. At the age of fifteen she was married off to Estienne de Castel, a man who subsequently became the court secretary. Ten years later, at the age of 25 she was widowed and having no other means to support herself and her three children she turned to writing. It was a long shot but unlike any other woman of her time she became successful.

Christine wrote poetry and prose. She focused on love and the plight of women in society. Amongst her prose works the better known ones are ‘The Book of the City of Ladies’ and ‘The Book of Three Virtues’.

In 1415 she retired to a convent and in 1429 decided to write a biography of Joan of Arc, ‘Le Ditie de Jeanne d’ Arc’. Not long after that she died, but we do not know exactly when or how.

In a poem to her son, Christine offers her advice on life, love and the tribulations ahead:

"I have no great fortune, my son,To make you rich. In place of one Here are some lessons I have learned--the finest things I've ever earned.
Before the world has borne you far, Try to know people as they are. Knowing that will help you take The path that keeps you from mistake.
Pity anyone who is poor And stands in rags outside your door Help them when you hear them cry! Remember that you, too will die.
Love those who have love for you And keep your enemy in view: Of allies none can have too many, Small enemies there are not any. Never lose what the good Lord gave To this, our world too much enslaved: The foolish rush to end their lives. Only the steadfast soul survives."

Sunday, 24 July 2005

Books in Ancient Rome

A bucket of scrolls

Printing did not exist in the ancient world so books were all hadwritten. There was no such thing as paper made of wood pulp either, so papyrus was used, a sheet made of processed papyrus reeds which grew in the Nile region of Egypt. Papyrus was indeed one of Egypt's most important exports.
Papyrus was expensive and it came in several gradings according to quality. A encyclopaedia from around 70 A.D. lists these as:

Grade 1: the Emperor Augustus's own, the finest of all, favoured above all for letter-writing (these were 13-inch sheets)

Grade 2: His wife Livia's own (also 13 inches)

Grade 3: priestly, reserved for Egyptian sacred texts (10-inch sheets)

Grade 4: amphitheatre papyrus, amde at Rome in Fannius' workshop under the amphitheatre and extremely thin (9-inch sheets)

Grade 5: Saite, named after an Egyptian town with low quality papyrus beds (less than 9 inches)

Grade 6: Taeneotic, named after another Egyptian town, sold by weight, not quality

Grade 7: traders', no good for writing on, used for wrapping bundles of finer papyrus or other merchandise (less than 6-inch sheets)

As a nobleman, if you wished to borrow a particular literary work from someone, you would obtain the said scrolls and have your slaves copy them all.
The shape of the book we would recognise today was called a codex and was mainly used to bind documents and was not widely in use.
As for the scrolls, each individual one could not hold a large amount of text so a book would be conprised of a bucket of several scrolls, depending on the size of the work of course.

Saturday, 23 July 2005

Marcus Aurelius on Gossip

"Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbours, unless with a view to some mutual benefit. To wonder what so-and-so is doing and why, or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming...means a loss of opportunity for some other task."

Friday, 22 July 2005

Suetonius on Augustus's Looks and Phrase-coining

Augustus (aka Octavian)

Suetonius describes what Augustus looked like:

"Augustus was remarkably handsome and of very graceful gait even as an old man;but negligent of his personal appearance...body and limbs so beautifully proportioned..."

And he always had bad hair days?

"He cared so little about his hair that, to save time, he would have two or three barbers working hurriedly on it together and meanwhile read or write something..."

His countenance apparently had mysterious powers...

"He always wore so serene an expression, whether talking or in repose, that a Gallic chief once confessed to his compatriots: 'When granted an audience with the Emperor during his passage across the Alps I would have carried out my plan of hurling him over a cliff had not the sight of that tranquil face softened my heart; so I desisted.' "

And his eyes..

"Augustus's eyes were clear and bright and he liked to believe that they shone with a sort of divine radiance: it gave him profound pleasure if anyone at whom he glanced keenly dropped his head as though dazzled by looking into the sun."

And apparently he coined his own phrases...

"Augustus' everyday language must have contained many whimsical expressions of his own coinage, to judge from letters in his own handwriting. Thus he often wrote 'they will pay on the Greek Kalends' which meant 'never' - because the reckoning by Kalends is a purely Roman convention. Another of his favourite remarks: 'Let us be satisfied with this Cato!' - meaning that one should make the most of contemporary circumstances, however poorly they might compare with the past. He also had a favourite metaphor for swift and sudden actions: 'Quicker than boiled asparagus'."

Thursday, 21 July 2005

Career Women in 18th Century London

Jane Austen

It is probably surprising to hear that career women existed in 18th century London. In fact, they dominated the business of clothes (the rag trade, as we would call it), they ran schools, they were dentists and silversmiths, wrote novels (think of Jane Austen) and books on being a good housewife.

There were also some women who took to highway robbery.
An account from 1763 tells of how a gentleman and his wife were ambushed on Harrow Road. One of them "insisted the gentleman should do her a favour under a thick hedge". The highway-woman's partner apparently got jealous and took the gentleman's wife under the other hedge for similar purposes. While the highway-woman was being 'entertained' by her captive, she heard the ticking of his watch and demanded that he surrender that to her as well, which he did "with some reluctance".

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

Eating Beef in Restoration London

Beef was the preferred meat in Restoration London - at least if you could afford it.
The French Henri Misson, visiting England at the time, wrote:

"I always heard they were great fresh eaters and I found it true. I have known several people in England that never eat any bread and universally they eat very little: they nibble a few crumbs, while they chew the meat by whole mouthfuls. Generally speaking, the English tables are not delicately served...[they will have] a piece of roast beef; another time they will have a piece of boiled beef and then they salt it some days beforehand and besiege it with five or six heaps of cabbage, carrots, turnips, or some other herbs or roots, well peppered and salted and swimming in butter."

Sunday was of course the day when it was "...common practice to have a huge piece of roast beef of which they stuff till they can swallow no more and eat the rest cold, without any other victuals, the other six days of the week."

Of course buchers would not sell meat on a Sunday, the beef had to be purchased the day before. This meant that in hot summer weather the meat went smelly overnight. To delay the rotting of the meat, once brought home it would be dropped into a tub of brine (salt-water)

Below is a favourite recipe of the day:

"Beef Carbonadoed

Steep your beef in claret wine, salt, pepper and nutmeg, then broil it on the embers, over a temperate and unsmoky fire. In the meantime, boil up the liquour wherein it was steeped and serve it for sauce with beaten butter."


Monday, 18 July 2005

The Spit Boys

Henry VIII - excessive masticator

No, before you even think of it, this has nothing to do with spitting.
Meat was the main part of an aristocrat's diet in Tudor times. In Henry VIII's time, at Hampton Court Palace, there were about 1,000 servants or more, depending on the times of year (there were more in the winter). There was a strict hierarchy amongst the servants and so even kitchen staff were divided into ranks. Around two-hundred or so people worked in the palace kitchen. At the very bottom of the kitchen staff hierarchy were the so called 'Spit Boys'. Their job was to turn the enormous iron spits used to roast the large quantities of meat. Their job was arduous and painful as they had to do this for hours on end. The spits were over big open fires which emanated alot of heat. These guys were not boys though, as the sheer size and weight of the loaded spits meant that no mere 'boy' could do this. The term 'boy' was used in a derogatory way.
The spits were 2cm thick and almost 3 m long. There was a small alcove in which the 'Spit Boys' had to be in order to do their work, because the distance between them and the fire was the same as that of the meat and the fire. However, the high temperatures were almost unbearable and it is surprising that they were not called 'Cooked Boys'.
To make matters worse, they had to be fully clothed. They had to get up at 4am to prepare the fire and then work solidly for the next six hours. There were no toilet breaks and the 'boys' were strictly forbidden to urinate in the fire.
During Lent spit boys got to rest for a bit as nobody was allowed to eat meat during that time...

Sunday, 17 July 2005

Pornography in 1660s London

Samuel Pepys

There was no abundance of pornography in Samuel Pepys' London. If you wanted a porno book you had a long search to look forward to and when you eventually found it the likelihood would be that it was in French. Worse still, nine times out of ten it would not be illustrated. Only Aretino's Postures (the title says it all really) was equiped with explicit illustrations, although the British Library copy has had these omitted...
One of the most famous books of this kind was the L'Ecole des Filles which described all kinds of situations, whereas the Dialogue Betwwen Tullia and Octavia took the reader further, into the world of s&m, group sex and other such practices. Rare Verities even went so far as to describe acts of bestiality.

Samuel Pepys, not a man to shy away from the pleasures of the flesh, one day went into his bookseller's shop, where he saw a copy of L'Ecole des Filles:

"...I saw the French book which I did think to have had for my wife to was so bawdy and lewd..."

Apparently he was ashamed to be seen reading it in the shop but eventually, after 3 weeks he managed to get the courage to buy it, in plain cover of course. He read it on a Sunday and wrote:

"...a lewd book, but what doth me no wrong to read for information sake."

After having read it through and through he decided to burn it before his wife had a chance to read it.
Several years later, in 1688, a printer and bookseller were prosecuted and fined for this book.

Saturday, 16 July 2005

Abelard's Eloise on Marriage

Abelard and Heloise

Most have heard of the tragic love story of Heloise and Abelard - (if not then please see my post in the May archives, dated May 6th).

Heloise was unusually educated for a seventeen-year-old girl in the 12th century AD. Her favourite topic was philosophy. After she and Abelard had falled in love, she exchanged numerous letters with him on the nature of love, lost and the meaning of marriage (he wanted to marry her but she did not). Heloise was strongly opposed to the institution of marriage, arguing of "...the basic impossibility of combining marriage and scholarship...".

Heloise was greatly influenced by her Classical studies and she often expressed her disdain for the idea of a woman giving up her independence in order to enter into a profitable marriage. She wrote:

"God is my witness that if Augustus, Emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honour me with marriage and conferred all the earth on me to possess for ever, it would be dearer and more honourable to me to be called not his Empress but your whore.
A woman should realise that if she desires her husband more for his possessions than for himself, she is offering herself for sale. Certainly any woman who comes to marry through desires of this of this kind deserves wages, not gratitude, for clearly her mind is on the man's property and she would be ready to prostitute herself to a richer man, if she could."

No-matter what Heloise thought of marrigae, Abelard was determined to marry her and so convinced her to secretly marry him in St. Aignan's church...

Friday, 15 July 2005

Tiberius, Orgies and Debauchery


Suetonius has alot to tell us of Tiberius's sexual appetites. (The faint-hearted and sensitive should not read on).

"On retiring to Capri he devised a pleasance for his secret orgies: teams of wantons of both sexes, selected as experts in deviant intercourse and dubbed analists, copulated before him in triple unions to excite his flagging passions. Its bedrooms were furnished with the most salacious paintings and sculptures, as well as with an erotic library, in case a performer should need an illustration of what was required. Then in Capri's woods and groves he arranged a number of nooks of venery where boys and girls got up as Pans and nymphs solicited outside bowers and grottoes: people openly called this "the old goat's garden," punning on the island's name.
He acquired a reputation for still grosser depravities that one can hardly bear to tell or be told, let alone believe. For example, he trained little boys (whom he termed tiddlers) to crawl between his thighs when he went swimming and tease him with their licks and nibbles; and unweaned babies he would put to his organ as though to the breast, being by both nature and age rather fond of this form of satisfaction. Left a painting of Parrhasius's depicting Atalanta pleasuring Meleager with her lips on condition that if the theme displeased him he was to have a million sesterces instead, he chose to keep it and actually hung it in his bedroom. The story is also told that once at a sacrifice, attracted by the acolyte's beauty, he lost control of himself and, hardly waiting for the ceremony to end, rushed him off and debauched him and his brother, the flute-player, too; and subsequently, when they complained of the assault, he had their legs broken. "

Thursday, 14 July 2005

Ancient Roman Dress

I think the following website pretty much says it all on the subject. :-)

Wednesday, 13 July 2005

Tiberius Nero: The Father of Emperor Tiberius

Tiberius Claudius Nero was nothing like his suspicious, tyrannical son.

Born in 85 B.C. he was a member of the Claudian family. He was a supporter of Julius Caesar and after he had served as quaestor, Caesar sent him to command his fleet in the Alexandrian War. Tiberius did very well and the battle was won so when he came back home to Rome, Caesar made him a priest (do not think of Christian-style priests, this is more of a political position) and then sent him off to set up colonies in the Roman provinces, mainly Gaul.

After Julius Caesar was assassinated, Tiberius called an amnesty in order to stop senators quarelling with each other and was later made praetor.
As a supporter of Julius Caesar, he was on Mark Anthony's side and not Octavian's. His dislike for Octavian was about to get worse though. In either 43 or 42 B.C. Tiberius married Livia who was also his cousin (this may explain why Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero were all rather unhinged, so to speak, as they were all directly descended from his union with Livia).
Having Octavian as an enemy forced him and his young wife to live a life on the run for three years. When Livia got pregnant for the second time they decided to return to Rome with their 3-year-old son Tiberius (the future emperor). However, when Octavian met Livia all hell broke loose as he fell madly in love with her and wanted to possess her by any means possible. He made no point of hiding his passion for Livia and many scholars think she may indeed be the woman Suetonius says Octavian grabbed duing a banquet and dragged into a nearby room with great urgency. The account says the woman's husband was present at the banquet but obviously Octavian's passion was so great that he did not care about this at all. A while later, the woman is said to have emerged from the room in a dishevelled state and red with embarassement...

Poor Tiberius was now about to lose his wife. It is thought that Octavian applied pressure on him to divorce Livia because on the very same day the couple got divorced, Octavian married her. Shorlty afterwards, in January 38 B.C. Livia gave birth to her second son with Tiberius, Nero Claudius Drusus.

For 5 years until his death in 33 B.C Tiberius raised his sons on his own. When he died the boys were sent to live with their mother and stepfather.

Monday, 11 July 2005

The Duchess of Argyll and the Headless Men

1963 was a year of scandal for British politics. The Profumo case nearly brought the government down and as if that wasn't enough, Duncan Sandys, the son-in-law of Winston Churchill announced that he was going to resign because of some nasty rumours that had been spread about him. What where these rumours about?

Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, was the daughter of a Scottish millionaire. She was brought up in lavish surroundings and had all that she asked for. In the inter-war years she married a wealthy American stockbroker and several years later, during the war, she stepped into an empty lift shaft and suffered horrible injuries. Amazingly she recovered and was able to walk again. However, it was said that her personality had acquired a new trait; she had become utterly promiscuous. Her appetite was said to be insatiable. In 1947 she got a divorce. Shortly afterwars, she met Ian Campbell, the future Duke of Argyll. Margaret wanted a title and Ian needed her cash. The result was their marriage in 1951. Margaret embarked on numerous affairs, many of them simultaneously. The Duke became suspicious. In 1963 he went to her Mayfair flat, while she was away and serached her bedroom. There he found details of a multitude of affairs she had had and was having. She had written about them in her diaries apparently. As if that wasn't enough he also found a Polaroid camera and some photographs she had taken in her bathroom. They showed her wearing nothing but her pearl necklace while performing fellatio on a man. The photos showed him at different states of arousal and each one had a caption on it: "before" - "thinking of you" - "during" - "oh" - "finished", which are really self-explanatory. Upon searching even further, the Duke found more photographs of a man masturbating. The images were all headless.
The Duke of Argyll filed for divorce. In court, he stated the name sof 88 men whom he felt his wife had taken as lovers. The Polaroid photos were used as evidence of Margaret's promiscuous behaviour and Duncan Sandys was rumoured to be either one or both of the men in the pictures.

The Prime Minister persuaded Sandys not to resign and had him sent off to a Harley street doctor in order to have his pubic hair examined. The doctor concluded that Sandy's pubic hair was not the same as that of the man in the photographs. He was in the clear.

The 88 men were narrowed down to 5 and then requested to sign a visitors register. A graphologist was then deployed to establ;ish which one had written the notorious captions. The headless man proved to be teh American actor Douglas Fairbanks Junior, who was also married. Fairbanks never admitted he was the one but the Duke got his divorce. Margaret sank into poverty. Just before she died at teh age of 80, she told a friend: "Of course, sweetie, the only Polaroid camera in the country at this time had been lent to the Ministry of Defence." The said pictures had been taken in 1957 and at that time Duncan Sandys had been the Minister of Defence...

Sunday, 10 July 2005

Suetonius on the Death of Emperor Claudius


"Most people think that Claudius was poisoned; but when and by whom is disputed. Some say that the eunuch Halotus, his official taster, administered the drug while he was dining with the priests in the Citadel; others that Agrippina did so herself at a family banquet, poisoning a dish of mushrooms, his favourite food. An equal dicrepancy exists between teh accounts of what happened next. According to many, he lost his power of speech, suffered frightful pain all night long, and died shortly before dawn. A variant version is that he fell into a coma but vomited up the entire contents of his overloaded stomach and was then poisoned a second time, either by a gruel - the excuse being that he needed food to revive him - or by means of an enema, the excuse being that his bowels required relief and must be emptied too."

Suetonius on the Death of Emperor Claudius


"Most people think that Claudius was poisoned; but when and by whom is disputed. Some say that the eunuch Halotus, his official taster, administered the drug while he was dining with the priests in the Citadel; others that Agrippina did so herself at a family banquet, poisoning a dish of mushrooms, his favourite food. An equal dicrepancy exists between teh accounts of what happened next. According to many, he lost his power of speech, suffered frightful pain all night long, and died shortly before dawn. A variant version is that he fell into a coma but vomited up the entire contents of his overloaded stomach and was then poisoned a second time, either by a gruel - the excuse being that he needed food to revive him - or by means of an enema, the excuse being that his bowels required relief and must be emptied too."

Saturday, 9 July 2005

What Not to Wear, by Elizabeth I

A decree issued by Queen Elizabeth I in 1597 details what people should and should not wear. The decree is very elaborate.
For men:
"Her Majesty doth straightly charge and command that none shall wear in his apparel cloth of gold or silver tissued, silk of colour purple, under the decree of an Earl, except Knights of the Garter in their purple robes only.
None shall wear cloth of gold or silver, tinselled satin, silk or cloth mixed or embroidered with gold or silver, woollen cloth made out of the realm under the degree of a baron, except Knights of the Garter, Privy Counsellors to the Queen's Majesty."

As for women, Elizabeth felt that only countesses could wear cloth of gold or silver tissued, or purple silk, except viscountesses who were allowed to wear cloth of gold or silver tissued in their kirtles only.

Every rank had its own particular way of dressing, textiles that only they could wear.
The poor wore coarse woollen garments...

Thursday, 7 July 2005


To all London readers,

I hope you, your family, friends and colleagues are all ok on this terrible day.

Please take care!


Wednesday, 6 July 2005

The Mistresses of George IV

George IV was the son of the notorious King George III. Instead of developing a reputation for being well and truly mad like his father, George junior became known as a great ladies man and bon viveur. George loved to indulge and he did so often. Throughout his life he had a series of mistresses, the first of which was Mary Robinson when he was 18 years-old in 1780. She was an actress and said to be extremely witty with very long dark hair. He saw her in a performance at the Drury Lane Theatre and started sending her expensive gifts. As the affair progressed he decided to write her a bond for 20,000 guineas, which was a lot of money in those days. However, when the affair was over the Prince took the bond back and instead gave her an annuity of 500 pounds per annum.

Next on his list was Mrs Grace Dalrymple Eliot. She had married a man 20 years her senior, a doctor for the aristocracy. This gave her entry to London's high society circles where she met the Prince as well as other men she was simultaneously having affairs with. George introduced her to the Duc d'Orleans in 1784 and she promptly ran off with him to Paris.

Lady Melbourne was the daughet of a Yorkshire baronet. she was an educated woman and managed her dissolute husband's affairs. As was the practice with upper class women of the 18th century, Lady Melbourne only remained faithful to her husband until her son was born, after which she embarked on a series of affairs. From 1780 to 1784 she knew the Prince of Wales in the 'Biblical sense' so to speak and her fourth son, George Lamb was said to be the prince's son.

Mrs Maria Anne Fitzherbert was one of the most notable of his mistresses because he had to court her wildly until she said 'yes'. Their affais started in 1784 and ended in 1794, when the Prince had to marry Caroline of Brunswick. He did give her an annuity of 3,000 pounds though. In 1799 he tried to get her back as his marriage was a disaster and his current mistress (who had also influenced his choice of wife), Lady Jersey, was not satisfying him. As they had had a secret Catholic marriage in 1785 Maria only agreed to get back with George when the Pope told her that theirs was the only true marriage. However, in 1807 George left her agan for the Marchioness of Hertford. Nice man.

Lady Hertford lasted until 1819. She was influential in persuading George to turn to the Tories.

His last mistress was Elizabeth, Countess Conyngham, who was with him until his death in 1830. She was the daughter of an investment banker (they were called merchant bankers in those days). she was said to be shrewd, greedy and volutptuous. apparently she had an affair in the 1790 with Lord Ponsonby who was supposed to be so good looking that he escaped being executed in Paris during the Revolution because the women thought he was too handsome to kill and intervened.

Tuesday, 5 July 2005

Napoleon and Josephine


The story of Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine de Beauharnais has got to be one of the most passionate and stormy love affairs in history.

Josephine's husband had been executed at the guillotine during the Terror in Paris in 1794. As a widow however, she did not remain idle for long and became mistress to several prominent politicians of the time. In 1795 she started a relationship with Napoleon, who was 6 years younger than her and married him in March of the following year after an intense an all-consuming love affair. In 1810, after years of failing ot produce an heir for him they both agreed to divorce.

The intensity of their relationship comes across very strongly in Napoleon's letters to her, an example of which is the below:

"Dec. 29, 1795

I awake all filled with you. Your image and the intoxicating pleasures of last night, allow my senses no rest.
Sweet and matchless Josephine, how strangely you work upon my heart.
Are you angry with me? Are you unhappy? Are you upset?
My soul is broken with grief and my love for you forbids repose. But how can I rest any more, when I yield to the feeling that masters my inmost self, when I quaff from your lips and from your heart a scorching flame?
Yes! One night has taught me how far your portrait falls short of yourself!
You start at midday: in three hours I shall see you again.
Till then, a thousand kisses, mio dolce amor! but give me none back for they set my blood on fire. "

Monday, 4 July 2005

Hadrian: The Travelling Emperor

The Roman Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117 - 138) loved to travel. In fact he spent most of his reign travelling through his provinces and has the honour of being the only ruler to have ruled over most of the European mainland, North Africa until the end of the Sahara, the Middle East and Britain and to have actually been to these places.

Wherever Hadrian travelled to, as well as having a huge entourage to go with him (his wife, familly, friends, staff, slaves, etc.), he was followed by a large number of petitioners, hoping to present him with their issue. There is a tale of a woman who comfronted Hardian while he was on horseback and asked him to listen to her plight. When he told her he had no time, she replied that he might as well not be the emperor, at which point Hardian decided to listen to her and got off his horse.
In Cassius Dio's words:

'Once, when a woman made a request of him as he passed by on a journey, he at first said to her, "I haven't time," but afterwards, when she cried out, "Cease, then, being emperor," he turned about and granted her a hearing." (69.6.3)

Dio also tells us of Hadrian's travels and how he liked to live as a soldier and get personally involved with drilling his men.

"Hadrian travelled through one province after another, visiting the various regions and cities and inspecting all the garrisons and forts. Some of these he removed to more desirable places, some he abolished, and he also established some new ones. He personally viewed and investigated absolutely everything, not merely the usual appurtenances of camps, such as weapons, engines, trenches, ramparts and palisades, but also the private affairs of every one, both of the men serving in the ranks and of the officers themselves, - their lives, their quarters and their habits, - and he reformed and corrected in many cases practices and arrangements for living that had become too luxurious. He drilled the men for every kind of battle, honouring some and reproving others, and he taught them all what should be done. And in order that they should be benefited by observing him, he everywhere led a rigorous life and either walked or rode on horseback on all occasions, never once at this period setting foot in either a chariot or a four-wheeled vehicle. He covered his head neither in hot weather nor in cold, but alike amid German snows and under scorching Egyptian suns he went about with his head bare. In fine, both by his example and by his precepts he so trained and disciplined the whole military force throughout the entire empire that even to-day the methods then introduced by him are the soldiers' law of campaigning." (69.9.1-4; both passages in the translation of E. Cary in the Loeb edition)

Saturday, 2 July 2005

Elizabethan Food

Elizabethan food had little if any resemblance to contemporary English dishes. Recipes of the day added sugar, honey and fruit like oranges, prunes and dates to meat. A rabbit for example was stuffed with pepper and currants and then boiled in mutton broth. A recipe for capon (castrated rooster) included sugar, nutmeg and almonds and was served with prunes. One could also boil a capon in a broth of eight oranges, sugar, cloves, mace, cinnamon and nutmeg. The brains of capons were also utilised to make brain pies. Sheep’s head was a delicacy.
Instead of a baking tin, Elizabethan cooks used a tray made of hard pastry, which was unnervingly called a ‘coffin’. Coffins were not made to be eaten of course.
Fish was either poached or fried in butter, while the poor ate dried salted cod. Salmon, turbot and eel were all poached in ale.
Strawberries were soaked in red wine with sugar, cinnamon and ginger and cherries would be served with mustard.

A recipe for pie goes like this:

“To make a pie of humbles
[‘umbles were deer’s entrails, hence the phrase ‘humble pie’], take your humbles being parboiled, and chop them very small with a good quantity of mutton suet and half a handful of herbs following: thyme, marjoram, borage, parsley, and a little rosemary and season the same, being chopped with pepper, cloves and mace. And so close your pie and bake him.”

Friday, 1 July 2005

Lady Godiva, the Peeping Tom and Taxes in Coventry

Everyone has probably heard of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry 900 years ago. Godiva was married to Leofric, Earl of Mercer and Lord of Coventry. The notorious ride has been lost between myth and reality and we do not have any concrete evidence that it really too place at all.

Roger of Wendover in 1057 writes of Godiva begging her husband to lessen the tax burden he had imposed on the people of Coventry. After having been nagged for some time about this, Leofric told her he would do as she wanted but under one condition: She would have to ride through town completely naked. The story goes that she accepted this and after ordering the people to stay indoors and shut their windows and doors (windows in Anglo-Saxon England were not made of glass and were more similar to shutters), she loowened her extremely long hair, had it cover her as a cloak and mounted her horse. The people apparently obeyed her orders and did not peep as she rode through the streets, except for one man, who could not resist the temptation. From this man we get the characterization ‘Peeping Tom’.
After having completed her side of the deal, Godiva returned home and Leofric proceded to withdraw all taxes, except for those imposed on horses.

Each year a pageant is held in Coventry to reconstruct Lady Godiva’s famous ride…