Friday, 23 October 2009

Princess Mary's Portrait Comes Home

Whilst immersed in research for my English Civil War novel, I came across an article that featured this portrait, and it struck me how history is always close, and weaves links into all aspects of modern life.

This painting of Princess Mary in a silver-laced gown and pearl headdress was painted by Anthony Van Dyck in 1637, when Mary was six, and once hung in Hampton Court. Mary, Princess Royal, Princess of Orange was born in 1631 to Charles I and Henrietta Maria, the daughter of King Henri IV of France. The queen wished to imitate the way the eldest daughter of the French king was styled as Madame Royale, so Charles I designated Mary 'Princess Royal' in 1642, and since then the eldest daughter of the British Sovereign bears this title.

While Charles I was under house arrest at Hampton Court Palace in August 1647, he was confined in relative comfort, occupying a suite of royal rooms overlooking the Privy Garden, and allowed his own servants. The palace furnishings were improved for him, and paintings were brought down from Whitehall for his pleasure.

On the evening of 11th November 1647, the King tricked his jailers and escaped to a boat waiting to ferry him to supposed asylum on the Isle of Wight. In fact he swapped a comfortable prison for a less salubrious one. He left behind a note to the palace’s commander, Colonel Edward Whalley, thanking him for his kindnesses and asking that this painting, "the Original of My Eldest Daughter [which] hangs in this chamber over the board next the Chimney which you must send to my Lady Aubigny."

Lady Aubigny, an active Royalist supporter, fled to The Hague after the King’s execution in 1649. The painting was sent to her there and is recorded in a Dutch inventory in 1654, remaining in various continental collections through the years. In 1967, it appeared on the London art market and was bought by Van Dyck expert Sir Oliver Millar, from whose estate it has now been accepted in lieu of tax.

Princes Mary died of smallpox in 1660 at the age of 29, but her portrait is now back at Hampton Court after 360 years.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Most Haunted's Pendle Witch Hunt: A Sceptic's Guide

Halloween, 2004

Living TV's Most Haunted investigated several farmhouses around Newchurch in Pendle in search of the ghosts of the Pendle Witches of 1612. Their team of ghost hunters not only claimed to have had a direct encounter with the Pendle Witch "coven" in an old house on Lower Well Head Farm, but that the spirit of Old Demdike attempted to strangle TV psychic Derek Acorah, who has since been outed as a fake.

While I realise that the people most likely to read this blog take TV psychics with a healthy dose of scepticism in the first place, Halloween seems to drag out all kinds of ghoulish speculation about historical witches and cunning folk in a way that is not only historically inaccurate but disrespectful. The Pendle Witches were not ghouls. They were real living people who were held for months in a lightless dungeon in Lancaster Castle, chained to a ring in the stone floor, before being tried without any barrister and then hanged.

It doesn't help matters that reference sites such as Wikipedia mention the Most Haunted series in the same paragraph as William Ainsworth's delightfully gothic novel, The Lancashire Witches, first published in 1849, that revived the Pendle Witch story after it had lain dormant for two centuries.

Derek Acorah's bad acting notwithstanding, Most Haunted's Pendle Witch programme was full of inaccuracies.

1. The programme, investigating paranormal activity at a number of sites around Newchurch, can't even get the name of the village right. They refer to it as "Newham," just as Derek Acorah claims to channel "Elizabeth Southworth"--Mother Demdike's real name was Elizabeth Southerns. The Lancaster Witch Trials of 1612, under the reign of James I, are referred to as a "Tudor witch trial." I could go on and on. Each viewing reveals more bloopers.

2. Yvette Fielding makes a big deal about the noise of barking dogs as an indicator of paranormal activity and lurking evil. The real reason for the dog noise is quite banal. Lower Well Head Farm is situated next door to Meadow Top Boarding Kennel where one may hear barking dogs at any hour of the day or night.

3. Derek Acorah claims to psychically sense Demdike and Chattox gathering at Lower Well Head Farm in 1610 to work magic with the rest of their "coven." There are two major errors here.

English cunning folk appeared to work alone or in small family groups but there is no evidence that they worked in covens, which appeared to be a Contintental European concept first popularised in Britain by King James I in his book, Daemonologie, a witch-hunter's handbook and required reading for local magistrates. Shakespeare's play Macbeth, originally performed for James I and his court in 1605, presents the first depiction of a witches coven in English literature.

The second major error is that all recorded confessions in the Pendle Witch trials seem to indicate that Demdike and Chattox were bitter enemies in 1610 and unlikely to meet up to collaborate on any kind of magical working.

During the live "investigation," Most Haunted's viewers were invited to text their answer to the either-or-question: Where the Pendle Witches innocent victims or were they real witches with real powers? The superficiality of this question is an insult to the historical realities of cunning folk who lived in an era when everyone, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, believed that magic was real.

Cunning craft was the family trade for both Demdike (Elizabeth Southerns) and Chattox (Anne Whittle). Of course, they believed they had powers. Their very livelihood depended on it. Of course, they owned up to Roger Nowell, the prosecuting magistrate, about their familiar spirits. Without their familiars, they would have no powers and they would be revealed to be bigger fakes than Derek Acorah! How could a cunning woman bless and heal without the aid of her spirit--her otherworldly ally?

Were they innocent victims? How does one define innocence in the complex world of Jacobean witch-hunts? Anne Whittle, aka Chattox, confessed to bewitching to death her landlord's son, her motive being that he attempted to rape her daughter, Anne Redfearn, and to drive her entire family out of their cottage. In a time and place where there was a different law for the rich than for the poor and where the wealthy knew they could get away with rape, a fierce reputation as a cunning woman may have been the only power an impoverished woman could hope to wield. Was Chattox an evil witch for wanting to protect her daughter? Family love seemed to guide her every action. In the 1612 trial, she broke down and confessed her crime, then tearfully pleaded her daughter's innocence and begged the gentlemen of the court to let Anne Redfearn go free. But Anne was hanged alongside her mother.

As for Elizabeth Southerns, aka Old Demdike, the trial transcripts reveal that local farmers called on her to heal their children and their cattle. She was a cunning woman of long standing before she finally died in Lancaster Prison, aged "foure-score yeares," ie eighty years old, according to Court Clerk Thomas Potts. What is amazing is not that the magistrate finally arrested her but that she practised her craft for decades and none in her community spoke against her until the very end.

It is my belief that the Elizabeth Southerns, Anne Whittle, and the other accused witches live on in Pendle as part of the undying spirit of the landscape. They are the strong cunning folk who will never be banished. But you won't find them channeled by bad TV psychics. Walk the land instead, listen to the language the land speaks, the wind and rain, the dance of the seasons. That is where the real magic begins.

For a more nuanced view on the Pendle Witches than what you will find in Most Haunted, I recommend the following books:

Primary Source:

The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster by Thomas Potts

Daemonologie by James I

Secondary Sources:

The Lancashire Witch-Craze by Jonathan Lumby

The Lancashire Witches: Histories and Stories, edited by Robert Poole

The Trials of the Lancashire Witches by Edgar Peel and Pat Southern

Monday, 12 October 2009

Jackie Hodson Guest Blogger

My name is Jackie Hodson and I’m writing, researching, stressing over a novel started mumble, mumble years ago.

It all began on a rainy day in Ireland. I never need an excuse to drop into a secondhand book shop but that day it was raining stair rods and the place was warm and dry and very welcoming. I don’t know how long I stayed. Time stops in a book shop. But I came out with a beautiful Victorian book called The 17th Century by Jacques Boulenger.

Later, I began reading. 17th century France was a new, fascinating subject for me. Then, on page 44 came the sentence - ‘Marie de Rohan had married the Duc de Luynes when she was seventeen: by the time her first husband died, her reputation was already so extremely bad that the Nuncio thought it his duty to advise the young Queen not to keep so compromising lady about her person...’

It begged a question. Then another. And over the years, a captivating life evolved into Weave a Garland of my Vows, a story about Marie de Rohan of the ‘extremely bad reputation.’

Marie-Aimée de Rohan-Montbazon

The de Rohan were an old and very noble race from Bretagne, blood linked to many major European families including the Visconti, Navarre and the Stuarts. A de Rohan would not be exiled by anyone, including the King of France 'Roi ne puis, prince ne daigne, Rohan je suis'

Marie had a plan.....

On April 1st 1622, she wrote a letter to Claude de Lorraine, Duc de Chevreuse asking for his help. He discussed this letter with friends; they advised him to stay away from the widow but Claude ignored them and walked into an unexpected proposal of marriage.

On the 20th April 1622, the couple wed, the ceremony short and secret and attended by several members of the powerful Guise -Lorraine family ( motto: All for one.) but not a single de Rohan. Marie had allied herself with a foreign power - prince étranger - a prince living in France but belonging to a foreign sovereign dynasty who operated outside the normal jurisdiction of the French King.

‘The happy lovers have gone to praise God for their prosperity in the Chapel at Lesigny, and take possession together of the house the dead man prepared for them without ever thinking of it. It is the joke of the whole court.’

Louis was furious but he could do nothing to upset the Guisards and, by September, Marie returned to Anne and the court. Madame - out of the affection I bear my cousin, the Duc de Chevreuse, I am very glad his wife should come back- Louis

Within weeks, two events happened that were to have long term repercussions for Marie de Rohan. Marie de Medici’s favourite, the Bishop of Luçon was finally awarded a cardinal’s hat. Then George Villiers and Charles, Prince of Wales embarked on their ‘fatal mistake,’ - a secret trip to Spain known as The Spanish Match. ‘We go to mount Spain.’

Luçon became His Eminence, Cardinal Richelieu; Villiers saw Anne of Austria for the first time and an immense battle began for control of the Spanish Queen of France. It involved the whole court. Marie sided with Anne and the English. Many years later, she told Madame de Motteville, Anne’s biographer, that George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham was the only man she had ever truly loved. It was a true meeting of spirit and Marie agreed to help Buckingham beguile the ill-used, unhappy Queen. ‘The fairest vision which had ever gladdened his sight.’

After the aborted Spanish Match, England started negotiations for a marriage between Louis XIII’s sister, Henrietta Maria, and Prince Charles. The Stuarts’ greatest allies in France were family - the Guise-Lorraine and the de Rohan - and Claude and Marie were chosen as hosts for their ambassador, Henry Rich, Viscount Holland.

At 24 years of age, Marie was a rarity. She had never taken a lover but Rich held her spellbound and, by the time of the royal wedding, she was carrying Henry’s child. Claude knew about the affair but he had the honour of being James Stuart’s choice as proxy bridegroom. Marie’s dalliance amused him.

On Saturday 24th May 1625, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham arrived in Paris. Anne was already half in love with him and Villiers made the most of the infatuation. But he and Marie misjudged their woman, as certain ‘goings on’ in a garden at Amiens proved. Anne would be admired but not touched.

With Claude and Marie escorting Princess Henrietta Maria, the new Queen of England, across the Channel, Louis took action against his apparently faithless wife. He banished all her closest servants and replaced them with Richelieu’s spies, published an edict barring access to Anne and barred the Duke of Buckingham from ever entering France again.

Meanwhile, Anne-Marie de Lorraine was born at Hampton Court in June 1625 and within a few weeks, her mother set the tongues of London wagging by swimming across the Thames.
'Twas calm, and yet the Thames touch'd heaven to day. The water did find out the Milky way, When Madam Chevereuze by swimming down, Did the faire Thames the Qu. of Rivers crown...’

But worse than that, Marie de Rohan ate meat in public on fast days, visited Buckingham and Henry Rich regularly, talked to Protestant churchmen and, according to the Bishop of Mende, she had ‘...come over here to establish brothels rather than serve religion.’

Repeated orders came from France recalling Marie before she caused any more trouble. She returned with a letter from Charles I to Louis XIII. ‘She returns to You worthy to be a shining star of any court and the precious proof of Our mutual friendship.’
Whilst in England, Marie had been in continual correspondence with Anne and other allies at court. She knew that the marriage of Louis’ brother, Gaston, was imminent. As she knew that if Gaston married and sired an heir, Anne of Austria’s humiliation would be complete.

So started the ‘Conspiration des Dames.’

The original aim of the conspiracy was to prevent this marriage, to remove both Louis and Richelieu and to marry Gaston to Anne of Austria. The removal of Richelieu was possible, if not easy, but the ousting of a monarch required planning and foreign aid.

‘She often suggested such brilliant expedients that they seemed like flashes of lightning, and were so wise that they would not be disowned by the greatest men of any age.’

Marie de Rohan as The Huntress Diana

Meanwhile, Eurpoe united behind Marie, and in France, the nobles and the Huguenots joined forces. England agreed to enter the country by sea from the west. The eastern borders were given to Savoy and Lorraine, the north to the Spanish Netherlands and the south went to Spain.

Then came betrayal... from the inside.

Gaston, unmasked also and forced to marry in a midnight ceremony officiated by Richelieu, was interrogated. He told them everything and when asked for the name of the instigator of the plot, he gave it willingly. Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreuse. If Marie’s guilt were proven then so would that of Anne of Austria. Marie went alone one evening to meet with Richelieu. She pleaded for the release of the prisoners, especially the young Comte de Chalais - even though he had betrayed her too.

‘I failed in judgement but I swear before God that, although I was aware of the faction, I never was its counsellor...It is very difficult not to be deceived by such devilish artifices, for who could escape a Princess (Marie de Rohan) so kindly looked on at the Courts of two of the greatest Queens in the world, whose manners are so easy and her rouge so well laid on...’

It was useless. De Chalais met his fate on 19th August 1626 after a trial for treason. Anne of Austria was brought before a royal council of Louis, Marie de Medici and Richelieu and questioned closely about her role in the affair. ‘She is too good a Spaniard.’ And the King held a warrant for the arrest and imprisonment of the Duchesse de Chevreuse.

Marie had a plan.

But that’s another story...

None of these roaring girls is ours: she flies
With wings more lofty.

My thanks go to Anita and Alison and all at Hoydens and Firebrands for letting me visit your wonderful blog.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Grace Sherwood--Witch of Pungo

Like many women charged with being witches during the seventeenth century, Grace Sherwood was a nonconformist. Said to have been strikingly attractive, she fully admitted to being a healer, herbalist, and a midwife. She owned prime waterfront property in Virginia and wore trousers when she planted crops.

Her troubles began in February 1698. A neighbor by the name of Richard Capps had apparently spread the word that Grace was a witch. With her husband's help, she sued Capps for slander. An agreement was believed to have been worked out as the suit was dismissed one month later.

Six months later, Grace again faced accusations of witchcraft. John Gisburne (a constable of Princess Anne county) and his wife Jane claimed that Grace had "...bewitched their piggs to death and bewitched their Cotton." At the same time, Elizabeth Barnes vowed that Grace had come to her during the night and rode her. She went on to say, "...[Grace] went out of the key hole or crack of the door like a black Catt."

Once again, Grace and her husband sued for defamation of character. The jury found for the defendants, and the Sherwoods were left to pay the court costs.

James Sherwood died in 1701, leaving Grace with a small estate. In 1706, she got into a fight with a neighbor by the name of Elizabeth Hill. Grace ended up suing Elizabeth and her husband Luke for assault and battery. The justices awarded her twenty shillings in damages.

The judgment was a small portion of what Grace had sued for, but the Hills brought accusations of witchcraft, saying that Grace had bewitched Elizabeth. In March, a jury of women searched Grace Sherwood with these findings, "two things like titts wth Severall other Spotts." The forewoman of the jury happened to be Elizabeth Barnes, the same woman who had been involved in a slander suit a few years earlier.

As a result, Grace's case went to the General Court and Attorney General. The charges were returned to the county level with the suggestion that a jury of women again search Grace as well as her house. The jury refused to appear.

In July, the county wished to settle the affair once and for all, and the justices ordered the sheriff to try her by ducking. Later in the month, Grace was lead from her cell where a crowd gathered, chanting, "Duck the witch!" She was stripped to her shift, then tied crossbound with the thumb of her left hand to the big toe of her right foot, and her left thumb to her right big toe. From a boat, she was lowered in a pond, where she floated and was found guilty. Brought to shore, she was searched by a jury of woman. Again, they discovered the two suspicious moles.

Grace was taken into custody. After her release in 1714, she paid the back taxes on her property. Apparently afterward, she lived a quiet life. A will was found dated 1733 and probated in 1740, where she died at the age of 80. On July 10, 2006, 300 years after Grace's ducking, she was pardoned by the 70th Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Timothy M. Kaine.

Kim Murphy