Friday, January 26, 2007

Sex and the Queen: An Irresistible Title

In my earlier post I revealed Miland’s tendency to watch historical programs on our television—exposing me to history in the process. Today, I am writing about books. Miland is always bringing books (usually science fiction or history) into our home. The books come from the local university library or from book clubs to which he belongs. The history books he buys usually have titles such as Pompeii: The Living City, Sailing Byzantium or Chronicle of the Roman Republic. I don’t usually pick them up unless I’m dusting. I have also ordered history books, but mine are titled The Singular Mark Twain and The Heart of the Nile respectively. However, I am guilty of not reading them yet.

Imagine Miland’s delight when he caught me with a history book that came through the mail recently. He said it was the first history book he ordered which I picked up before he did. Upon discovering me with the book, Miland asked if I would review it for the blog. I enjoyed the book immensely and will do my best to do it justice.

I’ll start with the title, because that is what caught my attention. Acutally, it was a single word in the title that made the book irresistible. The title? Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers and Passionate Politics by Eleanor Herman. You can probably guess what word stood out. Oh, the power of those three letters.

A friend of mine admitted that the title tempted (but just tempted) her to think about reading the book. She was disappointed, however, when I told her that the book was not all that raunchy. The book is more about politics and sex more than sex itself. I admit that I was a little disappointed the book wasn’t more titillating, but after thinking about it for awhile, I was not all that surprised. Royal marriages have long been arranged with the best possible political advantage in mind for the respective families.

The first question that comes to mind is: Does this book live up to its title? I’ll say yes it does, especially when considering the second part: 900 years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers and Passionate Politics. Although explicit descriptions of trysts are rare, Herman provides page-turning fodder with her depictions of vile kings (such as Czar Peter III), virile lovers (such as Gregory Potemkin) and passionate politics (the recurring theme throughout the book.)

One of the aspects I love most about this book is its excellent index. If one wants to skip around and read about Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette, or Elizabeth I, one can. I enjoyed all Herman’s discussions of all three queens. However, some of the content regarding Marie Antoinette is debatable. Herman claims that the queen had a longstanding affair with Count Axel Fersen of Sweden and that he fathered one of her children, Louis XVII. However, in Wikipedia, the author(s) who wrote the entry on Marie Antoinette say the affair between the two is debatable. Herman claims Fersen fathered one of the queen’s sons, Louis Charles. Wikipedia claims the child looked like other members of the Bourbon family to which Louis XVI belonged and that the biographer of Louis-Charles, Deborah Cadbury, dismisses the idea that Fersen fathered the child.

An inclusion of Princess Diana at the end of the book seems a little out of place. All other princesses and queens included in the book lived in a period without paparazzi. Instead, painted portraits provided the evidence of an individual’s appearance. Further, most people are familiar with Diana’s long string of rumored and confirmed lovers. Herman provides a list of names rather than new information.

Despite a few flaws, the author has a knack for keeping the attention of her readers. The biggest surprise for me was Herman’s discussions of teenage newlyweds (as young as fourteen or fifteen) who had no idea what was required of them on their wedding night. Some princes avoided consummating the marriage for years, another kept his bride up all night by playing with toy soldiers and another cried while being carried by a duke who presented the reluctant prince to his bride. One eighteen-year-old bride cried out in horror when someone explained what was expected of her.

Herman’s descriptions will keep future readers amused. One of her best descriptions pertained to one particularly mismatched couple. Herman wrote, “When the bride and groom met, they took one look at each other and gasped. She saw a long aristocratic nose emerging from a huge frizzy black wig, diamond earrings, cascading rows of lace and ruffles, dozens of clanking bracelets, beribboned pantaloons, and high-heeled shoes. The prince saw a flat broad face, freshly scrubbed from her journey, tiny blue pig eyes, and a broad German rear end” (p.18.) She was describing the newly married Princess Charlotte and Philippe, duc d’Orleans, the transvestite brother of Louis XIV of France. As one can see, what is within Herman’s 295 pages is definitely memorable.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mega-marsupials once roamed Australia

Mega-marsupials once roamed Australia. CNN has this interesting story on Australian pre-history. Up to fifty thousand years ago, Australia had megafauna. Of course, humans get the blame for their vanishing.

The article notes, "Marsupial lions, kangaroos as tall as trucks and wombats the size of a rhinoceros roamed Australia's outback before being killed off by fires lit by arriving humans, scientists said on Thursday. The giant animals lived in the arid Nullarbor desert around 400,000 years ago, but died out around 50,000 years ago, relatively shortly after the arrival of human settlers, according to new fossil skeletons found in caves."

Can you imagine a rhino sized wombat? I hope they were better spirited than the rhinos are known to be. Yikes...

Many of these giants died when they fell into the caves where their fossils were discovered. Expedition leader Gavin Prideaux in a new issue of Nature said, "Unwary animals bounding around in the case of kangaroos, or running around in the case of marsupial lions and wombats, fell down these holes, as presumably most were nocturnal. It's very difficult to see a small opening on a flat surface at night."

The Australian megafauna died out shortly after the arrival of humans. The humans used fire-stick farming where lands were deliberately cleared by fires to encourage re-growth. This wrecked havoc on the ecosystem and the big animals on the top died out.

Maybe there is a lost world out there in the Australian Outback. Perhaps a giant Wombat survives alongside the Yowie...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

History of Luxembourg

History of Luxembourg. This is a brief history of the European country of Luxembourg. It may be small but it has been a member of NATO since the beginning. It also survived two German occupations during the World Wars.

The Encyclopædia Britannica notes, "Officially Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , French Grand-Duché de Luxembourg , German Grossherzogtum Luxemburg country in northwestern Europe. It is one of the world's smallest countries. It is bordered by Belgium on the west and north, France on the south, and Germany on the northeast and east. Luxembourg has come under the control of many states and ruling houses in its long history, but it has been a separate, if not always autonomous, political unit since the 10th century. The ancient Saxon name of its capital city, Lucilinburhuc (Little Fortress), symbolized its strategic position as the Gibraltar of the north, astride a major military route linking Germanic and Frankish territories.

From the site:

The language of Luxembourg is Luxembourgish, a blend of Dutch, old German, and Frankish elements. The official language of the civil service, law, and parliament is French, although criminal and legal debates are conducted partly in Luxembourgish and police case files are recorded in German. German is the primary language of the press. French and German are taught in the schools, with German spoken mainly at the primary level and French at the secondary level.

The 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia wrote, "The first written account of this country and people is found in the fifth book of Cæsar's "Commentarii de Bello Gallico". On the Lower Moselle and its tributaries dwelt at that time (53 B.C.) the powerful race of the Treviri, who, in alliance with the people under their protection (for example the Eburones under Ambiorix), at first gave the Romans great trouble, but they were soon compelled to yield to superior numbers and gradually attained the highest civilization. Under Emperor Constantine (323-337) Trier (Augusta Trevirorum) became the capital of the province Belgica prima, and later the residence of the prefects of Gaul. The Christian Faith was introduced at a very early period. Since 316 the town was the see of a bishop. As more than half of the subsequent Duchy of Lorraine belonged for centuries to the Diocese of Trier, it is a logical conclusion that the Christianization of the Ardennes proceeded principally from there. During the Germanic migration the north-eastern provinces of the Roman Empire suffered greatly. Devastated and depopulated, they were occupied by the victorious Franks. In the division of Charlemagne's empire (843) the provinces in question fell to the share of the Emperor Lothair. In the middle of the tenth century (963?) the feudal lord, Siegfried, who held rich possessions in the Forest of Ardennes, acquired the Castellum Lucilini (supposed to have been built by the Romans) with the lands in its vicinity, and styled himself Graf von Lützelburg. From the marriage of this great and good man descended Empress Saint Cunigunde, wife of Henry II, the Saint."

"The last of Siegfried's male descendents, Conrad II, died about 1126. His dominions passed first to the counts of Namur and subsequently to Ermesinde, who reigned from 1196 to 1247. She was especially noted for the impulse she gave to religious life by the foundation of monasteries. Her son and successor, Henry V (1247-81), showed the influence of his noble mother. He took part in Saint Louis's crusade against Tunis. His successor, Henry VI, remained until nearly 1288 at war near Woringen. His wife, Beatrice, had borne him two sons, both of whom attained the highest honours and excellence: Baldwin, afterwards Archbishop of Trier, and Henry, who obtained the Roman imperial crown as Henry VII (1309). The advancement of the reigning family brought no advantage to the country, as the counts wandered farther and farther from home, and concerned themselves only with the affairs of the Empire or the Kingdom of Bohemia. They endeavoured to compensate for this in a measure by raising Luxemburg to a duchy, but could not prevent part of it from crumbling away and the whole (1444) falling to Burgundy by conquest. From the House of Valois, which became extinct on the death of Charles the Bold, in 1477, the country passed to Austria, and was subject to the Spanish Habsburgs (1556-1714); then to the German Habsburgs (1714-95), and finally to the French (until 1814)."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Kate Brown Makes a Debut on World History Blog

Where Kate Brown makes her first post at WHB by introducing herself:

It will be of no surprise to regular readers of this blog that Miland Brown’s wife endures exposure to history—particularly Roman history. The exposure occurs through various History Channel programs and one of Miland’s favorite shows, the HBO series Rome. As for me, I’d much prefer to read a Jane Austen novel or learn about the nineteenth-century. (By the way, to be fair, Miland endured listening to my viewings of Pride and Prejudice, the mini series and the 2005 film version).

Despite the differences in our preferences, Miland does his best to interest me in Rome by pointing out the racy bits and talking about Caesar Augustus—the man who inspired our second son’s middle name. I have to admit, I am intrigued by the man Miland calls the “most influential in history.” Augustus is a central figure in the series. However, I doubt I’ll ever be a fan of Rome. There is too much violence and political intrigue for me. Despite my indifference, I know more about Roman emperors than I would have had I not married this man. I can name quite a few emperors and even have a few favorites. I love the story of Claudius, the heir apparent everyone overlooked because of a disability that ultimately saved his life. My knowledge of Claudius expanded because Miland joyfully bought the I Claudius miniseries for $1 (in VHS format) at a used book sale. Anyway, thanks to Miland, I also like Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, and yes, Augustus.

I plan to make one more post again soon. However, after that, I'll probably disappear from this blog for awhile. Thank you, Miland, for the chance to blog here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Zeus Worshippers Demand Access to Temple

Zeus Worshippers Demand Access to Temple. Pagans have revived the worship of the Greek God Zeus. Several hundred followers have begun holding religious ceremonies honoring the head of the Greek pantheon in Greece.

I believe in religious freedom and I have no problem with people who want to honor ancient gods.

However, the following raises some concern for me:

"These are our temples and they should be used by followers of our religion," said Doreta Peppa, head of the Athens-based Ellinais, a group campaigning to revive the ancient religion. "Of course we will go ahead with the event ... we will enter the site legally," said Peppa, who calls herself a high priestess of the revived faith. "We will issue a call for peace, who can be opposed to that?"

The Greek government response is no. "Ancient sites are not available for this kind of event," ministry official Eliza Kyrtsoglou said.

This makes sense to me. People have the right to worship as they please as long as it does not involve human sacrifice, child abuse, etc. However, they do not have the right to gain access to any historical site they choose. Just because someone adopts Zeus worship today does not mean they have any special ownership of ancient temples built thousands of years ago.

Using this logic, I could adopt Mayan religion and then demand access to and perhaps ownership of Chichen Itza. Perhaps I could adopt Native American religion and insist on being allowed to practice my religion on the Great Snake Mound?

Not buying the above argument? I don't blame you. Adopting an ancient religion does not give one any right to ancient sites. I wish the Zeus worshippers happiness and religious freedom but I hope they never are allowed to do as they please with Greek historical treasures simply because they are associated with Zeus.