Sunday, 29 April 2012

The extraordinary Mrs. Vermeer

We don't know very much about Catharina Bolnes, the woman who married the now-famous artist Johannes Vermeer.

They married in 1653, when Johannes was only 20. Catharina's mother objected to the match, and it appears that the couple eloped.

Courtship in 17th century Holland was a bit different from that in other western countries. If a family approved of the couple, they were allowed a "window courtship" — the young man could slip in a window at night, and leave the next morning. Such nightly visiting was called kweesten, from the word "quest." When the young woman became pregnant, a wedding followed.

Apparently Catharina was the one to slip out the window, moving in with her lover at his family's inn, and then marrying him.

Eventually Catharina's mother came to accept the couple, for they eventually moved into her large house in Delft, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Vermeer painted in the front room on the second floor (producing only 34 paintings over the course of his life).

The novel and film Girl with a Pearl Earring portray Catharina as a jealous, selfish and superficial. It should be noted that there is no evidence of this! Not a shred. Novelists and movie-makers need to stir the pot to get a good story, so this is most likely fiction.

So why do I consider Catharina Bolnes extraordinary? Simply because she gave birth to fifteen children, eleven of them surviving. [Note: some say she gave birth to 14, 10 surviving, but I believe this historian's account.]

The extraordinary size of their family was unusual: in the Netherlands, most couples only had two or three children. Clearly, this was a romantic couple, and clearly, too, they wanted children (for there were — and have always been — means of birth control*).

Although it's not known for sure, it's likely that Catharina sat as a model for her husband. (At the very least, this would have saved money; the family was financially strapped.)

Here are three that some say might be of her:

 "Woman holding a balance" (Note: the woman in this painting looks pregnant.)

"Woman in blue reading a letter" (Note: this woman also looks pregnant.)

"Woman reading a letter by an open window" (Note: I think it's possible that the woman shown here might be in the early months of pregnancy.)

* A rhyme of the time: "If the apothecary would not provide certain herbs, a lot of children would be born."

For more, explore the wonderful posts and links on Johannes Vermeer and 17th century daily life by art historian Kees Kaldenbach.

I've recently posted to my research blog on the subject of pregnancy in the 17th century Europe:
Why the keen interest? For one thing, the characters of my novels are often pregnant. For another, my daughter is about to have a baby! 

Sandra Gulland


Sunday, 22 April 2012

Witch Trials of Connecticut

Part Three

Read Part One and Part Two

Continuing with the witch trials of Connecticut, I'll begin part three with Nicholas and Margaret Jennings. In 1661, charges of witchcraft were brought against them by George Wood. The exact details are unknown, but they allegedly "had done works above the course of nature" resulting in the loss of lives and other "sorceries." Some reports say the jury was "hung," rather than those accused of being witches. In this particular case, they were a "hung jury," divided as to whether the Jennings were guilty or "strongly suspect." As a result, the Jennings were found not guilty.

Nathaniel and Rebecca Greensmith started the chain of Hartford witch trials. Suspicion fell upon the two when Nathaniel married Rebecca, and a pastor said that she was a "a lewd, ignorant and considerably aged woman." Due to nocturnal gatherings of dancing and merry-making, gossip and rumor turned into formal complaints.

Accusations by a sick child in a delirium, who later died, set off the tragic events. Several people were examined by the magistrates. Goodwife Ayers had been directly accused of bewitching the sick child. Nathaniel Greensmith sued Ayers for the slander of his wife, and as a result he and Rebecca were indicted themselves. Ayers and her husband were found guilty of witchcraft by the water test. The idea behind ducking was that if a person sank, she was innocent, but if she floated, she was guilty. Both escaped prison and fled the colony. Several other residents under suspicion also took flight.

Another resident had strange "fits" and was examined by several ministers. Andrew Sandford was indicted and acquitted. His wife Mary wasn't so lucky. Found guilty, she either disappeared or was hanged. Meanwhile, Nathaniel Greensmith would have likely been acquitted, but Rebecca testified that she spoke "out of love to my husbands soule." She also named others who had met with her in the woods. The Greensmiths were executed in January 1663.

As a result of Rebecca's testimony, Elizabeth Seager and Mary Barnes were indicted. Mary was likely hanged in June, also making her the last to have been executed for witchcraft in Connecticut. Elizabeth was twice acquitted the same year, but was convicted in 1665. The governor reversed the verdict.

So ends the Hartford trials, and I'll conclude the Connecticut witch trials in my next blog.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Cliveden's Notorious History

Cliveden House

Cliveden House, is in the spotlight once more as the lease of this National Trust owned property has recently been sold to another hotel chain. Over the years this mansion has been both famous and infamous, but not necessarily the scene of very much human happiness.

Pronounced CLIV-d'n, the house is set on cliffs two hundred feet above the River Thames, originally an Italianate villa built by George Villiers 2nd Duke of Buckingham as a "hunting box" and to house his mistress, Anna, Countess of Shrewsbury.

George’s father, the favourite of both James I and Charles I, was stabbed by an assassin when George was four months old, and he was brought up by Charles I together with his older sister Mary, who became Duchess of Richmond, and younger brother Francis, with the King's own children.

In the Civil War he took part in the attack on Lichfield Close when he was only 15. Under the care of the Earl of Northumberland, George and his brother travelled abroad and lived in Florence and Rome. When the Second Civil War broke out they joined Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland in Surrey, in July 1648. Francis was killed near Kingston upon Thames but George escaped to the Netherlands.  In September, 1649, Charles II conferred on him the Order of the Garter (KG) and admitted him to his Privy Council in Exile in April 1650.

George Villiers 2nd DukeBuckingham
Reckless, extravagant and a arrogant, George took his father's dubiously earned fortune and threw it in every direction when restored to him by his boyhood friend, Charles II. Indulged by the king, George got himself into all sorts of political scrapes, but he appears to have been brave and as well as strong minded and wasn't afraid to go against convention.

A lifelong enemy of Edward Hyde, Earl Clarendon, Buckingham supported the alliance with the Scottish Presbyterians, fought with Charles II at Worcester, abandoned the king in exile and returned to England to marry Fairfax's daughter Mary, who had fallen in love with him although the banns of her intended marriage with the Earl of Chesterfield had been twice called in church. his negotiations with Oliver Cromwell's government, estranged him from the royal family.

He tried to court Charle's widowed sister Mary, Princess of Orange, and  Due to his participation in the rebellion, Buckingham’s lands were confiscated and had already been given to his father-in-law, Thomas, Lord Fairfax.
Anna, Duchess of Shrewsbury

Buckingham carried on plotting against the government, and he was placed under house arrest at York House in April 1658, escaped, and was rearrested, but freed after promising not to assist the enemies of the government, and on Fairfax's security of £20,000. He joined Fairfax in his march against General John Lambert in January 1660, and afterwards claimed to have ‘turned’ Fairfax to the cause of the Restoration.

Buckingham was waiting at Dover to receive Charles II on his restoration to the throne, and despite being greeted coldly, it wasn’t long before he was appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, made Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He also accompanied Princess Henrietta, the king’s youngest sister, to Paris to marry the Duke of Orleans, but made such shameless advances to her that he was recalled.

By 1662 he was on the Privy Council, his confiscated estates were restored - amounting to £26,000 a year making him the king's richest subject. He went to sea in the second Anglo-Dutch War in 1665, and took measures to resist the Dutch or French invasion in June 1666.

Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, had Buckingham debarred from office, and Buckingham came to blows with the Marquess of Dorchester and pulled off the marquis’s periwig, which earned him another stay in the Tower. Buckingham’s opposition to the government had finally lost him the king's favour, and he was dismissed from all his offices.

Charles II could rarely bear a grudge and George charmed his way back into the king's favour, and took an active part in the prosecution and fall of Clarendon, after which he became the chief minister, even though he had previously held no high office except Master of the Horse, a post he bought from the Duke of Albermarle in 1668.

George fought an infamous duel to protect the honour of his mistress, Anna, Countess of Shrewsbury with her husband, Lord Shrewsbury in which he was fatally wounded.

Legend says Anna held her lover’s horse while she coldly watched her husband being killed by Buckingham. There is a crossed swords detail on the lawn at Cliveden where Shrewsbury’s blood spilled on the grass. [Although some accounts say this duel was fought in barn Elms.] Accoring to Samuel Pepy's account, a man called Jenkins was also killed and Sir JohnTalbot badly injured. then provoked an outrage when he installed the "widow of his own creation" in his own and his wife's house.

In 1674, the Lords, on behalf of the trustees of the young Earl of Shrewsbury complained of Buckingham’s public affair with the Countess, and that a son of theirs had been buried in Westminster Abbey with the title of Earl of Coventry. Buckingham and the countess were required to apologize and give security for £10,000 not to cohabit together again.

Fnally removed from his court posts forever, Buckingham reformed his ways, attended church with his wife, paid his debts, became a "patriot", although he spent another short spell in the Tower for more intrigue. He abhorred the Popish Plot, but avoided aligning himself with the Whigs – possibly because of his dislike of the Duke of Monmouth and the Earl of Shaftesbury, and was restored to the king's favour in 1684. 

After James II's accession, Buckingham took no part in public life and retired to his manor of Helmsley in Yorkshire, most likely because of poor health and exhausted finances.Taken ill with a hernia whilst hunting, he died at Kirby Moorsideand was buried in June 1687 in Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey, with greater splendour than the late king. All his property, which had been deeply mortgaged, was sold, and did not realize sufficient to pay his debts. He had no heirs, so his nine titles became extinct.

His last recorded words, "O! what a prodigal have I been of that most valuable of all possessions—Time!" indicate George Villiers had at last become aware of the flaws in his own character.


Between 1737 and 1751 the estate was leased to Frederick Prince of Wales, eldest son of George II to escape the king's influence, and where he held musical parties with his friends, and saw the first performance of Arne's Rule Britannia in 1740, probably in a grass amphitheatre which still exists, hidden in woods at the north end. Frederick died before his father and it was Frederick's eldest son, who had spent most of his childhood at Cliveden, who became the next king as George III.

Two fires at Cliveden, in 1795 and 1849 destroyed the first two incarnations of the house. Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament, was chosen to supervise rebuilding work and in 1851, a new Italianate villa, close to the spirit of Villiers' original building was erected. It is this house which was purchased from the Duke of Westminster by William Waldorf Astor in 1893, an act which did not amuse Queen Victoria, a frequent guest.
Lady Nancy Astor 1879-1964

When Astor’s son, Waldorf, married Nancy Longhorn in 1906, Cliveden was given to the couple as a gift. Nancy, the first woman to sit in the House of Commons, turned Cliveden into a social and political centre and entertained, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt and George Bernard Shaw, who in particular loved it, and visited many times.

Harold Macmillan, another frequent guest, when told that the house was eventually to become a hotel, remarked “My dear boy, it always has been.”

Cliveden's final inquity occurred in the summer of 1961, when, at a pool party given by Lord Astor, John Profumo, the secretary of state for war, began a relationship with Christine Keeler, a showgirl staying at Spring Cottage in the grounds, who was also involved with a Soviet spy. The ensuing scandal resulted in Profumo's resignation and the suicide of one of the party guests.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Loved I Not Honour More

To Lucasta. Going to the Warres:
...I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Lov'd I not Honour more...

These words are so familiar and yet can you tell me who wrote them? 
The author belongs to a movement collectively known as the Cavalier Poets. Their number included Ben Johnson, Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, Sir John Suckling and the romantically named Richard Lovelace, who penned the above lines.
At a time when poets, such as John Donne, were taking poetry to a metaphysical level, the cavalier poets occupied the other end of the spectrum. Their poetry is characterised " the ideal of a man who is at once lover, soldier, wit, man of affairs, musician and poet..." (ref) but not, as the metaphysical poets would have it, a pattern of Christian chivalry. Their poetry has a certain colloquial earthiness about it and they shared one thing in common:  during the English Civil War, they fought for the King. They truly were “cavalier” poets.
As a teenager I sighed over Richard Lovelace...the name alone was enough to send my romantic, young soul into a tail spin. He epitomised the concept of "cavalier" - young, broodingly handsome, a gallant soldier and a poet and a man of honour who would leave his beloved to go off and fight for his beliefs. Sigh...
Richard as a young man
Richard’s life followed a pattern of an upper class young man of the time. Born in 1618, he was well educated at Charterhouse and at Oxford. By the age of nineteen he was already writing poetry and plays. He was described by a contemporary, Anthony Wood  as “... the most amiable and beautiful person that ever eye beheld; a person also of innate modesty, virtue and courtly deportment, which made him then, but especially after, when he retired to the great city, much admired and adored by the female sex..."  
At the age of thirteen Richard went into service at the court of Charles I, becoming a “Gentleman Wayter Extraodinary” and after completing his education at Oxford  returned to court “...After he had left the University, he retired in great splendour to the court, and being taken into the favour of George, Lord Goring, afterwards Earl of Norwich, was by him adopted a soldier, and sent in the quality of an ensign, in the Scotch expedition, an. 1639...”
He served with distinction under George Goring during the Bishop’s Wars of 1639 – 1640 (the conflict between England and Scotland over the adoption of the Episcopal doctrine).  He returned home to Kent in 1640 where he settled down to his life as a respectable gentleman.
The tumultuous politics of the time soon engulfed him and in April 1642 he presented the pro-royalist, anti-parliamentary Petition of Kent to the House of Commons. This resulted in his first term of imprisonment, during which he wrote probably his most famous work To Althea: from Prisonne”: 
...Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such Liberty....

Although released at the start of the war in 1642, the conditions of his parole,  placed on him by his captors, made it impossible for him to actively engage in the first civil war. Instead he committed his wealth and men to the lost cause. Frustrated beyond measure, he went over to the continent and once more served with Lord Goring in Holland and Germany (see my previous blogs on the Thirty Years War). He was wounded at the battle of Dunkirk and returned to England in 1647. It is not clear what part he played in the second civil war (1648), but whatever it was, it was sufficient to warrant a second term of imprisonment.
Richard the romantic soldier
On his release from prison, he published arguably his most famous poem, written in 1640, “To Lucasta: Going to the Warres” (quoted above). 
Financially ruined by his support of the royalist cause, Lovelace lived in poverty for the rest of his life and died in 1658 at the age of 40. 
Anthony Wood writes “...After the murther of king Charles I. Lovelace was set at liberty, and, having by that time consumed all his estate, grew very melancholy (which brought him at length into a consumption), became very poor in body and purse, was the object of charity, went in ragged cloaths (whereas when he was in his glory he wore cloth of gold and silver), and mostly lodged in obscure and dirty places, more befitting the worst of beggars and poorest of servants...
He was buried at St. Bede’s in London, one of the churches lost during the Great Fire of 1666.
During his lifetime, Lovelace wrote over 200 poems and some plays, both comedy and tragedy. He wrote "... to praise a friend or fellow poet, to give advice in grief or love, to define a relationship, to articulate the precise amount of attention a man owes a woman, to celebrate beauty, and to persuade to love..." 
His contemporary, William Winstanley (the Man Who Saved Christmas), thought highly of him and wrote; "...I can compare no Man so like this Colonel Lovelace as Sir Philip Sidney, of which it is in an Epitaph made of him;
Nor is it fit that more I should aquaint
Lest Men adore in one
A Scholar, Souldier, Lover, and a Saint

Post Script:  You may wonder about the beloved Lucasta? She is thought to have been Lucy Sachaverell to whom he was betrothed and who he nicknamed “Lux Casta”. Believing him killed at the Battle of Dunkirk, the faithless Lucy married another.
The group Fairport Convention put the words of To Althea from Prison to music. I am sure Richard would have approved (although I'm not sure about the Canadian geese!).