You know, this time span is really, really crowded with fascinating people, at the tail ends especially. When mentally composing the post, I went “but what about *insert v.v. interesting person* all the time. Ruthlessly cutting off anyone who lived a life long enough to have a few decades in the 15th and a few in the 16th century helped only a little. (That’s why Jakob Fugger and Albrecht Dürer didn’t make it, though. Oh, and of course no Luther or any of the humanist who had their glory days firmly in the 16th century and in my mind are Renaissance, not medieval people anyway.) Here’s one remaining selection:

De iu maere bringet daz bin ich )

The other days
I had to slightly change my answers for this one when I checked the dates, and found out some of my original candidates lived most of their lives past the closing one. (Anna Commena, Hildegard von Bingen.) However, these people do belong indeed into the early middle ages.

1.) Adelheid of Burgundy (931 – 999): the original badass grandmother (and mother, and wife). Adelheid as a young girl was married to King Lothar of Italy, who was poisoned (not by her) after three years of marriage. The guy likely responsible, Berengar of Ivrea, wanted her to marry his son in order to secure the crown for his family, and imprisoned her when she said no. Adelheid escaped with her daughter Emma and made an alliance with King Otto I. of the Germans, who’d raised her brother. Otto defeated Berengar in battle and married Adelheid. This marriage basically engineered the Holy Roman Empire. It wasn’t a love match (Otto later chose to be buried with his first wife, whom he’d been passionately in love with), but definitely one of mutual respect and shared power. (When Otto was crowned Emperor, Adelheid was crowned Empress right beside him.) Adelheid, who spoke four languages and was in correspondence with later pope Silvester II, was also very active in monastic reform and charity, but what she really excelled at was administration in tricky circumstances. After Otto I. died, their son Otto II didn’t live that long, which meant Otto III.was still a toddler when becoming Emperor. Adelheid shared the regency with her daughter-in-law Theophanu, about whom more in a second, as she’s fascinating person No.2 on my list. According to chronicler Odilo of Cluny (though no other chronicler), the two women didn’t get along personally, which of course any number of ambitious nobles thought they could use, none more so than cousin Heinrich der Zänker (Henry the Quarreller) who thought he could play them them out against each other and end up with the throne. Think again, Heinrich. No matter their personal relations, Adelheid and Theophanu teamed up and defeated him. Afterwards, Adelheid withdrew from the regency but remained governor of Italy until Theophanu’s death, which was when she became regent of the Empire again until Otto III. had grown up. (There was another attempted power grab by the cousins which Adelheid crushed as well.) Then she handed over governing business to her grown up grandson and took on the monastic reform of Cluny, pushing it through. As you can see from her birth- and death year, she lived to be nearly 70 years, which was very rare in her time, and was active till the end. She later became both the heroine of an opera by Rossini and a saint (her day is December 16th), which is a rare combination indeed.

2.) Theophanu (960 – 991). Niece of Byzantine Emperor Johannes I. Tzimikes, which was a let down to Otto I. and Adelheid when young Theophanu arrived in Italy, because they had wanted an Emperor’s daughter for their son and felt somewhat cheated by the Byzantines. However, the marriage proceeded, and luckily it did, too, given what followed. During Otto II.’s rule, Theophanu is already mentioned in most of the documents as co-ruler. When Otto II died, as mentioned above, Theophanu and Adelheid shared the regency for Otto III. (who was three years old at his father’s death), and dealt with Heinrich the Quarreller and other wannabe Emperors. During documents edited during her regency, Theophanu is refered to not as Empress but Emperor (“Theophanius gratia divina imperator augustus”); she also introduced Byzantine style manuscript illustrations, gold smithery and a number of medical advancements to her Northern subjects, and the custom of honoring St. Nikolaus. (That’s Santa Claus to you Americans.) Theophanu died at a young age (for us), but she accomplished much, and today the church of St. Panteleon in Cologne, where she was buried according to her wishes (he was her patron saint), celebrates on her death day a mass for the unity between Christians in East and West (the schism that broke the Greek Orthodox Church away from the not yet Roman Catholic Church happened after Theophanu’s life time).

3.) Samuel Ibn Nagrillah (aka Samuel HaNagid) (993 – 1065): Talmudic scholar, grammarian, philologist, soldier, politician, patron of the arts, major poet – and most powerful Jew ever to live in Muslim Spain. He hailed, of course, from Al Andalus (was born in Merida), and ended up as Vizier of Granada (the Emir he was vizier for, Badis, owed him his throne), a post he held for almost three decades until his (peaceful) death. (His son, who succeeded him, had a far more tragic story, but that’s another tale.) His title “Nagid” means prince; it also meant he was in command of a Muslim army, btw, without ever converting. (Successfully, too; he he defeated the allied armies of Seville, Malaga and the Berbers on Sept. 8, 1047 at Ronda. As a poet, Samuel invented a new style of Hebrew poetry by using the patterns of Arabic poetry in Hebrew. As a patron, he founded the Yeshiwa that produced, among others, the father of Maimonides. In conclusion, if there was ever an individual who symbolized the “golden Age” of Muslim Spain, coexistence and learning from each other, Samuel Ibn Nagrillah was it. Fascinating? You bet.

4.) Wallada bint al-Mustakfi (1001 – 1091). Another Andalusian poet. Wallada was the daughter of the Caliph of Cordova, one of the great poets of her age, and also a patron and teacher of other women of all classes in the art of poetry. (Her most successful protégé, Muhya bint al-Tayyani, was the daughter of a fig saleman and later wrote some affectionate teasing poetry about Wallada.) Wallada had a stormy and mutually poetry inspiring affair with the poet Ibn Zaydun, which ended badly, and another with his arch enemy Ibn Abdus. She died on the same day when the rival dynasty of the Almoravids took Cordova. However, she never married. In short, she was exactly the kind of woman cliché would have it couldn’t have existed in a Muslim medieval society.

5.) Hywel Dda (Hywell ap Cadell) (880 – 950): in effect ruler of most of Wales, and most importantly lawgiver and –codifier. His laws (which I first found out about via Sharon Penman novels, I admit, but she didn’t exaggerate) give far more rights to women than those of any other contemporary-to-him medieval society (including the right to leave their husbands), and don’t differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate children, either. As importantly for the Welsh principalities he ruled and his subjects, he managed to strike up a working relationship with Athelstan of England; this meant no ruinous war (which the Welsh no longer could have won), and practical independence for Wales. I’m not immune to stories of tragic last stands against conquerors, but I’m fascinated by someone who manages to avoid them, not by superior military prowess but by smarts, compromise and diplomacy.

The other days
Alexandria Leaving (8845 words) by Selena
Chapters: 5/5
Fandom: Hand of Isis - Jo Graham, Historical RPF, Ancient History RPF, Classical Greece and Rome History & Literature RPF, Roman History RPF
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa/Charmian (Hand of Isis), Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa/Julia the Elder, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa & Gaius Octavian
Characters: Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, Charmian (Hand of Isis), Julia the elder, Gaius Octavian, Octavia of the Julii, Livia Drusilla, Marcellus, Demetria (Hand of Isis)
Additional Tags: Aftermath, Survivor Guilt, Redemption
Summary:

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa will always choose Rome. But he returns to Alexandria to confront the past. And he doesn't come alone.




This was the treat I wrote, inspired both by affection for the Numinous World novels by Jo Graham and by a decades long fascination with that particular century in Ancient history. I hope it works both if you've read Hand of Isis and if you haven't, but are interested in history.

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa doesn't often get a starring role, in part, I think, because his life doesn't fit with the most popular tropes it could/should have fallen into and in fact downright defies them. He was the most talented military strategist of his generation, and yet neither tried to use that in order to make himself ruler of the Roman Empire, nor did he crash and burn trying. Nor was he someone who could only function in war: his "civilian" projects - aequaducts (including some that are still used, like the one getting water to the Trevi fountain in Rome), roads, temples, the change of the Campus Martius from a swampy health risk to to a park and buildings highlight of the cityscape, etc. - are impressive, and if Augustus by the end of his life could boast that he found Rome a city made of bricks and left it a city made of marble, it was Agrippa who had done much of the actual work. All this being said, Agrippa, while being as close to the Roman ideal as you could get in real life, can't have been without ambition: his three marriages were all proof of that (first he married money, then he married into the Julian family, and then he basically married the succession), and while he seems to have been content to be Octavian's/Augustus' right hand man, he definitely drew the line at the prospect of Augustus' nephew Marcellus being in command, leading to an estrangement betwen himself and Augustus that . Also, as I have him observe in less anachronistic terms than these, no one remains the second most powerful man of the world for such a long time in the most cut throat of surroundings if he doesn't know how to deal with power.

So Agrippa remains an enigma worth exploring to me. In Augustus-friendly fictions, he's usually the devoted sidekick without second thoughts; in Cleopatra-friendly fictions (by far the majority these days), he's either a brute ("Lily of the Nile"), the wrong age (the famous Elizabeth Taylor starring Cleopatra has him show up as a grizzled veteran with probably only two lines), or not present as a character at all. In the recent tv show Rome (definitely a Roman pov tale) he's basically Sam Gamgee who has wandered into entirely the wrong narrative for him. (Seriously, the actor looks a bit like Sean Astin as Sam.) And has an ill-fated brief romance with Octavia, which should make things awkward a few years later when he marries her daughter, but then said daughter doesn't exist in Rome.

Hand of Isis, which is narrated by Charmian, Cleopatra's handmaiden and in the world of the novel also her half sister, is an exception in that it's definitely on the Cleopatra side of things, but Agrippa, who has a supporting role in the narrative, is still presented as a tragic and sympathetic character. The one big change/addition the novel makes to history as far as Agrippa is concerned is to let a very young Agrippa be present among Caesar's staff in Egypt and to give him an affair with Charmian. (Spoiler: it doesn't end well.) However, he's actually not that often present in the novel (leaving dreams aside), and most important in the effect his siding with Octavian has. Because we're in Charmian's pov, Agrippa choosing to follow Octavian (whom Charmian despises, and who thus isn't given any positive qualities) is just barely comprehensible by Agrippa's Roman-ness.

This, then, provided an immediate fertile ground for me to grow my own story from. Agrippa from his own pov, which would explain why he does what he does, and would without refuting anything that happens in Hands of Isis also present a different take on both Rome and Octavian than Charmian has. Another important reason for me to choose this story to write, though, was that I've always been curious about Agrippa's later, post-Actium life, and about his third marriage, to Julia (Octavian's/Augustus' only daughter), whom I freely confess I have a huge soft spot for. Suetonius basically sees Julia as the occasion for massive slutshaming and no more than that, but I've always liked the take on her we find in Metrobius' "Saturnalia":

"She was in her thirty-eighth year, a time of life when if she had behaved reasonably she would have been almost elderly; but she abused the indulgence of fortune no less than that of her father. Of course her love of literature and considerable culture, a thing easy to come by in that household, and also her kindness and gentleness and utter freedom from vindictiveness had won her immense popularity, and people who knew about her faults were amazed that she combined them with qualities so much their opposite.
Her father had more than once, speaking in a manner indulgent but serious, advised her to moderate her luxurious mode of life and her choice of conspicuous associates. But when he considered the number of his grandchildren and their likeness to Agrippa, he was ashamed to entertain doubts about his daughter’s chastity. So Augustus persuaded himself that his daughter was light-hearted almost to the point of indiscretion, but above reproach, and was encouraged to believe that his ancestress Claudia had also been such a person. He used to tell his friends that he had two somewhat wayward daughters whom he had to put up with, the Roman republic and Julia.
One day she came into his presence in a somewhat risque costume, and though he said nothing, he was offended. The next day she changed her style and embraced her father, who was delighted by the respectability which she was affecting. Augustus, who the day before had concealed his distress, was now unable to conceal his pleasure. “How much more suitable”, he remarked, “for a daughter of Augustus is this costume!” Julia did not fail to stand up for herself. “Today”, she said, “I dressed to be looked at by my father, yesterday to be looked at by my husband.”
Here is another well-known story. At a gladiatorial show Livia and Julia drew the attention of the people by the dissimilarity of their companions; Livia was surrounded by respectable men, Julia by men who were not only youthful but extravagant. Her father wrote that she ought to notice the difference between the two princesses, but Julia wittily wrote back, “These men will be old when I am old.“


End of Metrobius quote. Julia and Agrippa had five children together, the last one born after his death, and their birth places were spread across the Roman Empire because she was travelling with him, which doesn't necessarily guarantee they had a good marriage, but makes it at least possible. Moreover, given what Julia's father and her third husband, Tiberius, ended up doing to her eventually, it was probably the happiest time in her life, and I enjoyed writing her in that phase, where she also made an excellent narrative foil for an older Agrippa trying to come to terms with his past.

I've always been a fan of stories about survivors of tragedies (with and without guilt to carry), who have to get on with their lives and have to decide what they do next, not by forgetting or ignoring the past, but by trying to reconcile it with the present. Agrippa, in my story, attempts to do this. Read on whether he succeeds...
selenak: (Young Elizabeth by Misbegotten)
( Dec. 26th, 2015 06:56 pm)
State of my own stories: assignment: recipient hasn't commented yet, but nearly everyone else vocal in the tiny online fandom has, so I'm pleased as punch. Treat: recipient loves it, but not many other people seem to have read it so far. We'll see. Consider the invitation to guess and get a drabble on the subject of your choice if guessing correctly my cunning plan to get more readers. :)

On to stories I loved as a reader:

Fairy Tales/History: The Last Dancing Queen of England: in which the story of the twelve dancing princesses is applied to the wives of Henry VIII, and somehow fits marvellously.

Being Human: return back to your grave: fantastic take on the tense relationship between Nina and Mitchell, and a great character exploration of both.

Better Call Saul: if you ever ever learn you never show it: Jimmy and Chuck, growing up. Superb take on a layered sibling relationship.

Crusade: Stone Walls Do Not A Prison Make: Dureena and Max, trapped together. Will they manage to figure out how to rescue themselves before irritating each other to death? No, seriously, this story is so much fun and depicts one of my favourite Crusade relationships.

Dragonlance: Our Journey Winds On, Still: talk about messed up siblingn relationships. Raistlin and Caramon Majore in their co-dependent glory, in a "what if?" that explores what would have happened if Caramon had followed Raistlin into darkness.

Elementary: The Case of the Anonymous Benefector: in which Kitty Winter solves a case familiar to ACD readers, and ensemble goodness is had to boot. I miss the season 3 set up of Elementary, and this story is a great bandage on that open wound.

Matthew Shardlake Novels Agnus Dei: Guy, Tamasin, Matthew and Jack strive to deal with the events from the end of Lamentation. Brief, elegant and to the point, and breaking my heart in the process (in a good way).

Rivers of London: Not a tame tiger: sparring, verbal (and otherwise?) between Varvara and Nightingale. Bring on the war generation magical interaction, I say!

Troubling the Water: whereas this is adorable silliness between Lesley and Peter, and I love it, too.


Penny Dreadful: Behind the Wallpaper: dozens of AUs and yet not. All that could have happened/did happen/who knows? when Evelyn Poole opened a door in the s2 finale.

A Place of Greater Safety: Tick Tock: in which the mysterious author actually pulls off an alternate way the French Revolution could have gone, based on my favourite Hilary Mantel novel's interpretation of its chief figures. I'll say no more - find out how yourself!


Many more to come, but this is my first installment
1. Your main fandom of the year?

I remain a multifandom woman. This year I said goodbye to some of my favourite shows, found several news ones , and maintained old attachments. Perhaps The Americans was one where I joined in the most discussions?


2. Your favourite film watched this year?

Der Staat gegen Fritz Bauer ("The People vs Fritz Bauer"), about an amazing rl person, Fritz Bauer, German-Jewish, Social Democrat, gay, tries to get justice done against Nazis in 1950s and 1960s Germany where everyone is still in denial mode, and being gay is still illegal. Burkhart Klaußner is amazing in the title role. (And the movie is gutsy enough to open with a tv clip showing the real Fritz Bauer before we get introduced to Klaußner in the role, and there's no suspension of disbelief necessary.


3. Your favourite book read this year?

I did a lot of rereading of old favourites this year, but leaving those aside, probably Wind Raker, the fourth volume in the "Order of the Air" series by Jo Graham and Melissa Scott. This time, our heroes tackle archaeology, mystical dark forces and real life politics in Hawaii.


4. Your favourite TV show of the year?

Difficult to choose. The one which most surprised me by how much I fell in love with it was Better Call Saul. Because I had started to watch it solely because of the earned trust in the creative team from Breaking Bad; I didn't exactly burn with curiosity about Saul Goodman's origin story, Saul Goodman having been an amusing comic relief character in BB about whom I had no strong feelings one way or the other. But lo and behold, did I ever develop strong feelings for Jimmy McGill. Who is still funny (they'd never waste Bob Odenkirk's comedic talents), but also absolutely heartbreaking and incredibly endearing. And I like the ensemble, and the various complex relationships - Jimmy and Chuck, Jimmy and Kim (LOVE Kim, especially), Jimmy and Howard Hamlin, and, as a work in progress, Jimmy and Mike.

Now both Agent Carter and Jessica Jones I had hoped and expected to love (both the shows and the title characters), and so I did, so there wasn't the same element of surprise involved. The Americans had a painfully good third season and continues to feed my rage and award juries which ignore it. Bates Motel: ditto. Elementary gave me a great third season and while I'm not yet feeling the same level in the fourth, it still provides me with enough so I continue to love it. Doctor Who, after a lull in my fannish investment during the Eleventh Doctor era, made me fall for the Twelth Doctor, Clara Oswald and friends (and foes) all over again.

But really, in terms of "When did fondness become love? I must convert more people to watch this show, let me write that manifesto!", there can be only one choice: Black Sails. Dammit, pirates, how could I fall for you so hard!


5. Your favourite online fandom community of the year?

[community profile] theamericans, which I've shamefully neglected in recent months due to various matters. Must become better again when the new season starts!


6. Your best new fandom discovery of the year?

Black Sails I started last year, and Agent Carter and Jessica Jones weren't exactly new discoveries because I knew some of the characters of the former already via the MCU, and was familiar with the source material of the later. Better Call Saul was a spin-off from a show I was familiar with. So I shall look to one of my oldest fandoms, historical novels, and nominate [profile] sonetka's wonderful website with its witty and thorough overview of novels starring Anne Boleyn, The head that launched a thousand books.

7. Your biggest fandom disappointment of the year?

Once upon a Time, season 4, rivals with The Good Wife, season 6, for the title; The Good Wife wins, barely. I drew the consequences and quit both shows.


8. Your TV boyfriend of the year?

There are about a million reasons why dating Saul Goodman would be a bad idea, but Jimmy McGill, post-Slippin Jimmy, pre-Saul days? In a heartbeat. He's a movie buff, he's funny, he's kind, and he'd even into providing free pedicure for the work stressed woman.

9. Your TV girlfriend of the year?

Peggy Carter. Me and a million other people. But: Peggy! She's ultra competent, she's loyal, she has the art of sarcasm down to a t, she can love deeply without becoming all about one person, instead valuing other relationships as well, and she's gorgeous.

10. Your biggest squee moment of the year?

Norma Bates invites family and friends for supper in 3.07, ominously titled The Last Supper. But in fact it's as fluffy as any scene on this show could get... considering that two characters at the table have deeply traumatic rape history (with each other), another character is a budding serial killer, another is a corrupt cop, one is a profession drug smuggler with gigantic mommy issues, one is Norma Bates who is, well, Norma, and the only nonviolent, non-traumatized, non-trauma causing, nice and normal person on the table, Emma, has an illness which condems her to die in her 20s. And yet this manages to be an absolutely heartwarming, squee worthy moment. This show, I tell you.


11. The most missed of your old fandoms?

The Babylon 5 community has started a series review, but I just don't have the time right now. The recent silly (nothing wrong with that, but it was) trailer for the next Star Trek Reboot movie also made me nostalgic for my Trek, and for ye olde days of discussing DS9 episodes and themes at [profile] ds9agogo.

12. The fandom you haven’t tried yet, but want to?

I'm currently eying How to get away with Murder. Maybe I'll also dare the Hamilton juggernaut.

13. Your biggest fan anticipations for the New Year?

Bryan Fuller's version of American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman's novel (which I love). Season 2 of Agent Carter, season 4 of The Americans, season 3 of Black Sails, season 4 of Bates Motel (definitely); season 2 of Better Call Saul (hopefully).
selenak: (BambergerReiter by Ningloreth)
( Nov. 10th, 2015 07:19 pm)
Helmut Schmidt has died, and [personal profile] jo_lasalle wrote a fantastic post saying very much what I feel, which you can read here. That sense of public duty, yes.

It wasn't unexpected at all, but it's the type of death that makes you feel a big part of your life has just become history.
selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
( Oct. 7th, 2015 06:28 pm)
One good thing about less than good movies (going by who directed them, I have admittedly no intention of watching this one): they inspire interesting essays. Stonewall being a case in point. There are three essays up already at the excellent website "A Historian goes to the movies", dealing both with the movie and the actual Stonewall Riots, from various angles:


A Butch Too Far: about the movie itself, compared to the historical events.

Saturday Night is all right for fighting: about the five other riot nights the movie skips over, and why they're important.

There's got to be a morning after: what followed the Stonewall Riots.


And some short fanfiction in various fandoms:

Black Sails:

Caution: in which Admiral Hennessey and Alfred Hamilton have a little chat. Great missing scene.

Star Wars

Reasonable Sacrifice: meta-story which offers both good Anakin characterisation and a good explanation for force ghost Anakin's switching appearances in the various editions of Return of the Jedi.

Agent Carter or Captain America or MCU in general:

Loneliness and his friends: in between missions conversation between Howard Stark and Steve Rogers, with Peggy the main subject, well written for what Howard doesn't say as much as for what he does in the light of Agent Carter's season 1 finale.
If you should happen to be in or near Los Angeles during the next week, if you're interested in a) German literature, b) exiles, c) Judaism, or d) all of the above, why not check out this conference? A great many of the presentations and debates will be in English. I'll be attending as well, which means I'll be in LA from Thursday till Sunday (then it's back to Europe).

Meanwhile, have some fanfic recs:


The Hobbit:


Three Adventures Belladonna Took Never Went On : great, endearing portrait of Bilbo's famous mother Belladonna. Her relationship with Gandalf reminds me a bit of Amy Pond and the Eleventh Doctor here. (You'll see what I mean when you read it.) And, something I haven't seen in fanfiction, there's a dead-on take on the narrator voice Tolkien employed in The Hobbit.


Richard III, Shakespeare version:

Under a Hog: darkly hilarious American politics AU of Shakespeare's play from the pov of Richard's campaign workers. Bonus point for not needing Henry Tudor at all and making Lizzie Woodville his rival instead, campaigning for her dead husband's seat.


York Tetralogy: and history:

The Daisy Queen: what formed Marguerite d'Anjou. The author superbly uses actual French history, most of all Marguerite's hardcore grandmother Queen Yolande.
selenak: (BambergerReiter by Ningloreth)
( Sep. 8th, 2015 02:47 pm)
Students writing to their parents for more money has a looooong tradition. Check out some hilarious medieval examples here!

There were over 20 000 refugees coming from Hungary to Munich over the weekend, though by now a part of the travels onwards to other German provinces; there were similar receptions at the Düsseldorf, Frankfurt and Dortmund train stations. Here's a short English language reporting:

Recently, I finished rereading the six historical novels by the sadly dead Judith Merkle Riley. I first read them back when they were published, in the late 80s and early 90s, and enjoyed them a lot, though not all in the same degree. Going back, I find at least half of them hold up well, and all have lots to offer. Mind you, there's the drawback, especially if you read them all in a row, that Judith Merkle Riley has a few character types and plot points she keeps repeating and reusing. Sometimes it grates. Sometimes she doesn't get (imo, as always) the balance right. But she also has wit, on display in all six, and manages to narrate with a sense of irony but without condescending to whichever period she describes. Also: all of the novels are female-centric and manage to avoid the "one special girl" trap, i.e. women other than our heroine are valued by the narrative and get to be competent, with their own emotional lives.

Here are the novels in question, their plusses and downsides in the opinion of your humble reviewer:

The Margaret of Ashbury trilogy:

1. A Vision of Light: introducing our heroine, Margaret, who dictates her memoirs to a monk and lives in the time of Edward III., but is totally not Margery Kempe, honest. Mostly not, I suspect, because Judith Merkle Riley wanted Margaret to enjoy sex more and be a bit more down to earth. But Margaret does have visions and chats with the Almighty, in between going through a vivid medieval life, including an encounter with the plague, becoming a midwife, marrying twice (spoiler: in this volume), and having the ability to befriend tremendously interesting people. Margaret is a delightful heroine, and like I said, not the novel's sole carefully drawn woman. You get a sense of how clichés are avoided/twisted around early on when he drunken father remarries, a not-attractive-anymore widow with two sons of her own who at first glance doesn't seem to care for Margaret. But no, we're not going the Cinderella/Evil Stepmother route; instead, Margaret due to an incident starts to see her stepmother as a human being and bonds with her (not to mention that Mother Anne teaches her the highly useful skill of brewing excellent beer). Later, when Margaret's mentor, the midwife Hilde, shows up, you think: mentor figure! Midwife in novel set in the late middle ages! She'll die! But no. Hilde is still happily alive and living with her trickster type companion at the end of the trilogy. And so forth.

If A Vision of Light has a downside, it's that the ending, the last 50 pages or so, are basically a set up for the next volume rather than a conclusion to this one. If there had been no more novels, I would gone "Hang on! Am I to believe this abrupt shift in their relationship will make either of them happy? But - but..." Knowing what will come, I'm fine with the twist.

2.) In Pursuit of the Green Lion: perhaps my favourite of the trilogy. Margaret and SPOILER have to deal with the fallout of that set up, and Judith Merkle Riley executes one trope I enjoy if well done - Spoilery trope named ) - in a convincing way. Also there's lots of sarcasm at the expense of the nobility, and two bickering ghosts. (In future books, Merkle Riley sometimes lets the supernatural elements go overboard, but here it's just in the right doses, plus one of the ghosts is someone Margaret loved and lost in the past, and the book makes the point that loving someone in the present doesn't mean all that came before wasn't as important, or, conversely, that having loved someone truly means you can no longer love anyone else. In short, it's the anti One True Love No One Else Counts trope I still wish was more common. Yay! This is also the first book set in France for a considerable part when Margaret & friends are undercover as pilgrims, giving us a wry and amused look at the Avignon era of the Church. Oh, and it features the first bunch of Merkle Rileys satanists; there's a Gilles de Rais type around...who has it in for Margaret's love interest because said love interest satirized the count's poems. Which is a very Merkle Riley twist.

3.) The Water Devil: a bit of a let down compared to the first two. Not that it's a bad book per se; by itself, it's a perfectly entertaining adventure novel, Margaret & friends are still a captivating lot. But the villainess is a paper thin cliché, and the story itself doesn't really add anything new to Margaret's development, as opposed to the first two. Ah well.

Standalone novels:

The Serpent Garden: set during the early reign of Henry VIII., and highly unusual already because it has nothing to do with his marriages. The most prominent Tudor in it is his sister Mary, since her brief marriage to the French king and subsequent one with Charles Brandon form part of the plot, but Mary is only a supporting character. Our heroine here is Susanna, soon widow of a morally no good painter and an accomplished painter of miniature portraits herself, who first becomes a part of Wolsey's entourage and then a part of Mary's. This novel has both a third act and a supernatural problem; for two thirds of it, Susanna is a fine plucky heroine using her talent in world that keeps underestimating her, plus the book offers a take on Wolsey during the height of his power. (No Cromwell in sight, though Cavendish shows up as a flatterer and Anne Boleyn as a teenage girl in France.) But Susanna's no good husband who dies at the beginning has been involved in supernatural treasure-hunting, and during the last third, the book gets dominated by an angel versus demon struggle with Susanna only playing a small part, and it's just not what I signed up for.

The Oracle Glass: My favourite of the standalones! Set in Paris during the Reign of Louis XIV, with the famous "Affair of the Poisons" playing a central role. Our heroine is Genevieve, clever, a book worm, but also handicapped, which is why her mother hates her. Genevieve gets thrown out after her father's death and gets picked up in the streets by Catherine La Voisin, the most (in)famous "witch" of Paris, soothsayer, abortionist, master poisoner, con woman and head of a whole network of women who have at least one of said skills as well. Genevieve gets a new identity as the 150 years old Madame de Morville and becomes a successful soothsayer, which works out well for her for a while, but if you know at least a bit of French history, you know La Voisin has a date with destiny. She, btw, is perhaps Merkle Riley's most successsful female villain/ambiguous character (sometimes one, sometimes the other), practical, ruthless, and basically a female Don Corleone, seeing herself as simply a very successful business woman with marketable skills. (Which she is, and has the business folders to prove it.) Genevieve's attitude towards her is a mixture of respect, (justified) distrust and some awe.

Meanwhile, Genevieve's blood family is dastardly rotten, except for her grandmother (whom she models her Madame de Morville persona after) and her sister, Marie-Angelique, who is another great cliché refuter, because she's the pretty blonde one to Genevieve's intellectual brunette, but she is also Genevieve's one good family member and consistently loving towards her, instead of being a mean girl (tm). Then there's Genevieve's maid Sylvie (who gets paid a lot to spy on her by various parties and cheerfully admits to it every time to Genevieve while keeping the cash), and the other ladies of La Voisin's network. This novel is just bursting with women who are interesting and have interesting relationships with each other. And I'm okay with the romance, too. Highly reccommended.

The Master of All Desires: alas. This one has the dullest heroine of the lost, Sibille, despite her being a writer (a poet). She gets completely overshadowed by two other ladies, Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, since this novel is set in France, 1556. The title refers to the novel's McGuffin, a mummified head who can fulfill wishes but specializes in fulfilling them in a way that ruins everything for the wishing person. Catherine and Diane both want it, Sibille by accident has it, and Nostradamus tries to deal with the head in a way that avoids bringing on the apocalypse. This is a novel with a good premise, but it can't quite decide who the main character is - Catherine, Nostradamus or Sibille -, and Sibille, alas, is the most colourless of Judith Merkle Riley's OCs. Also Nostradamus having issues with poetry in general gets repetitive. Worth reading for the way Merkle Riley twists events at the end of Henri II.'s reign and after to be the result of ill-considered wishes by Diane and Catherine (let's just say wishing crowns for all your children is a baaaaad idea if you don't clarify three of them aren't supposed to get the same one), and for a take on Catherine de Medici which is traditional but also avoids the monster cliché (this Catherine has the potential but doesn't go there yet). Also if you enjoy twists on the "evil wish fulfiller: how to outthink them?" trope. But as a novell, it belongs with the "Serpent Garden" to those I think could have used a complete redrafting and/or different focus.
Yesterday I was in Nuremberg. Passing not just Nuremberg's but Germany's oldest bookstore, I saw this poster featuring some of its back-in-the-day authors:

 photo 2015_0826Nuumlrnberg0011_zpsyy1xkxtg.jpg

Well, you just know why Henry Tudor's German book tour got cancelled. No, not just the royalties. :) He clearly demanded a guarantee he'd get a better audience than Luther did, and then Korn & Berg looked at the difference in sales and realistically replied they couldn't guarantee that, Martin L. being outsold only by Albrecht Dürer prints. They did offer Henry a public discussion with Luther and a joint signing session afterwards, though. Except then Luther said he doubted Henry (he said Childe Hal, not Henry - "Junker Heinz" being his nickname for The Guy In Question) could write anything, including his own name, without Thomas More holding his pen, and the moment Henry heard THAT, he decided to create a country and linguistic culture hostile to translations from the German. Clearly.
Tags:
selenak: (Bilbo Baggins)
( Aug. 18th, 2015 03:33 pm)
Lord of the Ring:

Sunshine and Rain: a lovely friendship and comfort vignette between Elrond and Bilbo, shortly after the Ring got destroyed.

History

If certain pop culture clichés about the Spanish Inquisition ever amused and/or annoyed you, here's an excellent post (triggered by a movie I haven't seen, The Headsman, but really only taking its use of an Inquisitor as a starting point, and thus perfectly understandable for everyone) dissecting and clarifying what the Spanish Inquisition actually was, versus what pop culture thinks it was:

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
A few months ago, when the History Exchange announced itself, I looked at the conditions, saw that the minimum word count was only 500, and thought, hey, I'm busy, but I can easily do that in between stuff. If I volunteer for people I already know about, I won't even have to do research.

Famous last words, etc. The end result was one of the longest things I've written outside Yuletide, and I don't regret a single thing. Eleanor of Aquitaine will do that to you. The prompt asked for an AU, which got me thinking not of one AU but several. Well, there's a certain format for this. I've repeatedly written "Five Things..." tales about fictional characters; there was no reason not to do it for a rl one. Especially since said format, at least in the way it works for me, also provides the opportunity to portray the main character "in canon", so to speak, via several angles.

So, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France, Queen of England, survivor extraordinaire who still travelled across the Pyrenees on political missions when in her 70s, something that would be remarkable even today, let alone in the Middle Ages. Her life was often so unlikely that fiction couldn't trump it. However, of course there were plenty of opportunities where with just one circumstance changed, her resulting existence would have been just as remarkable (imo), if in a different (or not?) way. After mulling it over (and reading one of the newer biographies, since the last time I did research on Eleanor was more then 20 years ago), I came up with five scenarios which each became its own story. You can read all five here:

Time and Chance (16069 words) by Selena
Chapters: 5/5
Fandom: 12th Century CE RPF, When Christ and His Saints Slept - Sharon Kay Penman, Devil's Brood - Sharon Kay Penman, Historical RPF, Henry II Trilogy - Sharon Kay Penman, The Lion in Winter (1968)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Eleanor of Aquitaine/Henry Plantagenet, Eleanor of Aquitaine/Louis VII of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine & Thomas Becket, Eleanor of Aquitaine & Matilda I of Boulogne, Eleanor of Aquitaine & Raymond of Antioch, Peter Abelard/Heloise (background)
Characters: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry II of England, Thomas Becket, Bernard of Clairveaux, Petronilla de Chemillé, Mahault of Anjou, Matilda I of Boulogne, Stephen of England, Eustace IV Count of Boulogne, Louis VII of France, Robert de Dreux, Raymond of Antioch, Melisande of Jerusalem - Character, Thierry Galeran, Henry the Young King, William X. of Aquitaine, Petronilla of Aquitaine
Additional Tags: Alternate Universe - Historical, POV Female Character, Female Friendship
Summary:

Five lives which Eleanor of Aquitaine never lived.




A few more remarks on those five roads not taken: Hidden under a cut. )
The History Exchange just went live!

Really late in my part of the world, but I've been waiting ever since posting my story, as one does, i.e. weeks, so what are a few hours more? I'm too tired to read much tonight - that's what I'm looking forward to tomorrow - but I had to (delightedly) read the one written for me, which is:

À chaque jour suffit sa peine (707 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Historical RPF, 17th Century CE RPF
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Charles II of England
Summary:

Charles has three kingdoms, and can't go back to any of them. So he does his best to keep himself amused in France instead.



Thank you so much, writer!


No prizes for guessing my story (i.e. the one I wrote) - I think it's fairly obvious, but then I always do. I had a blast writing it and will ramble about it post reveal.
selenak: (Peggy and Jarvis by Asthenie_VD)
( Jun. 26th, 2015 10:42 am)
RL business makes for haste:

Amusing especially if you know your Elizabethan history:

21 Things only kids who grew up in the 1590s will understand



Agent Carter:


hey good looking, what's cooking (12363 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Agent Carter (TV)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Peggy Carter & Angie Martinelli
Characters: Peggy Carter, Angie Martinelli, Edwin Jarvis, Anna Jarvis, Jack Thompson, Daniel Sousa
Additional Tags: Female-Centric, Feminist Themes, Period-Typical Sexism, Undercover, Bechdel Test Pass, Espionage, Domestic
Summary:

Dottie Underwood has been spotted again. Now they just have to find her.



Case fic! With Jarvis in it! And Anna! At last! (Not that I'm against case fics involving Peggy and the SRR team solely, but to really love it, I need my Jarvis(es) included.


The Hunger Games:

Vid: In the 99 (48 words) by cosmic_llin
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: The Hunger Games (Movies)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Katniss Everdeen & Effie Trinket
Characters: Effie Trinket, Katniss Everdeen
Additional Tags: Video, Fanvids, Social Justice, Inequality, Female Friendship, Epiphanies
Summary:

Effie, Katniss, the Districts and the Capitol.




Coulld also be called "The Education of Effie Trinket". The movies, both due to Elizabeth Banks' performance and the script giving her more to do and to react to than the novels, made Effie from comic relief/symbol of Capitol glamorization of the Games into someone I really care about. Here in this vid, the contrast between Effie doing the reading of names at the start of the story and Effie reading Katniss' one and a half movies later is especially startling.


Harry Potter
:


So there will be a prequel theatre play about James and Lily Potter? More about the Lily-Petunia relationship sounds promising, and otoh I just know this will restart dozens of fannish wars....
selenak: (Sternennacht - Lefaym)
( Jun. 24th, 2015 07:17 am)
Given that I'm currently doing the Star Trek mene, various soundtracks have been on my mind, and hearing composer James Horner died carried that sadness you feel when a stranger who gave you something through his art is suddenly taken away.
Here are ten of his most famous film scores.

I couldn't join Remix this year. (Though I did provide my stories to Remix Madness, if someone wants to have a go.)
But over the weekend, I finished my story for the History Exchange 2015, and the beta just came back, so I edited and posted it. Checking, I realised there are only 13 participants in the exchange, which makes it the anti Yuletide, I suppose! Ah well, hopefully the stories resulting will be read by a few people more. I'm very much looking forward to the other 12 stories! Incidentally, in order to brush up on my canon knowledge for my story, so to speak, I read one of the newer (i.e. published since the last time I did research) biographies on the subject. By Desmond Seward, and ended up being very annoyed indeed about him pulling out that old chestnut, "it's totally X's fault that her son Y was gay, because she was a strong personality and had a close relationship with him! Mothers with strong personalities who are close to their sons make men gay! And did I mention? She totally ruined hm for all other women and made him gay!" In a biography published in 2011, no less. That's it, Seward, I'll read no more biographies from you.


On a less backwards note, Sense8 icons! And very beautiful ones, too.
I signed up for [community profile] history_exchange; it has a minimum word count of 500, and I can do that despite rl business. You can sign up here, and the list of nominated historical characters one can write about is here. (I offered the Brontes, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth I., Charles II. and Byron.)


And a link:


A great conversation between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro about fantasy, genre, Samurai movies versus Errol Flynn swashbucklers, Stevens the Butler as a monster, and Doctor Who, among other subjects.


And another: Why it's time to let Edward Snowden come home. From my part of the world, Obama's quick embrace of the NSA and all the utter invasion of privacy the Patriot Act granted the government is one of the biggest dissappointments of his presidency, along with the non-closing of Guantanamo and the persecution of whistleblowers (not just Snowden) in general.
70 years after the war ended, and you still learn new details that choke you up. Last night I went to a fascinating presentation/panel by two authors, an actress and a moderator about a peculiar detail from the Nuremberg Trials from 1945 - 1948, the Zeugenhaus (literally "house of witnesses"). Seems the Allies, or more specifically the Americans, put witnesses for the trials, both witnesses who had been victims and witnesses who had been active perpetrators (but for some reason or the other weren't among the accused themselves) in the same house. Where they sat at the same table each morning and evening. So you had people who had endured the concentration camps, like Josef Ackermann (a journalist who survived Dachau, Buchenwald and Dora-Mittelbau), having to have dinner with not just Göring's private secretary, Gisela Sonnenfelder (there to testify about her bosses art looting mainly) but the founder and first director of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.

I mean.

It was a riveting presentation, and afterwards of course someone asked our main author, Christiane Kohl, who wrote about this (her book has already been made into a tv movie which I haven't seen yet), why the hell the first director of the Gestapo wasn't among the prisoners instead of being a wined and dined witness. ("Wined and dined" isn't an exaggaration; as opposed to the rest of the country, where the food situation was what you'd expect it to be in the wake of total destruction, both the witnesses and prisoners in Nuremberg had three to four full meals a day.) She said it was mainly because in 1945, many of the Third Reich documents hadn't been processed or even found - the protocol of the Wannsee Conference, for example, didn't turn up until 1947 -, so the prosecution had to rely on affidavits and living witnesses, and Diels was one of the few Nazi insiders willing to testify for the prosecution - he was referred to as an 1a witness - and swear to the fact that knowledge about the Holocaust hadn't been limited to a very few. Still: it's incredibly galling to imagine that this man due to his testimony not only got away scot free but was working in the Allied administration from 1948 onwards. Afterwards, he was thoroughly enjoying his life, getting a pension, living on an estate, and dying of all the things in a hunting incident. (He had an unsecured gun in the back of his car, the dog jumped on the gun, and that was that.) Actually, he was even enjoying his life during the Nuremberg trials; being good looking, he had many affairs, including with the landlady of the "Zeugenhaus", who was an Hungarian countess put in charge by the Americans because they thought "aristocrats have natural authority". God help us.

No wonder that Josef Ackermann wrote that "I chocked" when seeing this man on the other side of the table. Christiane Kohl says she was first alerted to this bizarre situation when coming across the guest book (yes, there was a guest book) of this house, where the victim witnesses, if they signed, signed solely their names, while the perpetrator witnesses signed with either long sentimental or long self pitying eloges on the note of "in a time when the whole world is against you, it's great that there is one place where you are treated with kindness and dignity". I suppose pragmatically speaking putting them in the same house was probably because with 98% of Nuremberg destroyed in 1945, there weren't that many houses where you could stash a bunch of people, but still. Surely there could have been a different solution that would have spared the victims having to house with Gestapo bosses? At any rate, you wouldn't dare to make something like this up. Reality beats fiction in sheer bizarreness every time.
selenak: (Elizabeth - shadows in shadows by Poison)
( May. 6th, 2015 04:23 pm)
Despite the fact that every time I visit London, more bookstores seem to have closed shop, I of course came back with several paperbacks in my luggage, including these two biographies. I had read excerpts of both previously, but never the entire book; now I have.

Tracy Borman: Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII.'s most faithful servant.: Well written biography, both if you're already well versed in Tudor lore and if you aren't. Definitely reccommended if Mantel's novels and/or the tv show have made you curious. Not least because while Borman is sympathetic to his subject, he doesn't edit out Cromwell's less savoury deeds the way Hilary Mantel does, nor does he suffer from an urge to vilify Cromwell's opponents as a way to make said deeds look better. His Cromwell comes across all around as more human - for example, definitely loyal to Wolsey after Wolsey's fall (and long after: Borman mentions Cromwell having an argument about Wolsey, defending him, in the last year of Cromwell's life), but also exasperated and irritated with Wolsey near the end of the Cardinal's life, when Wolsey was bombarding Cromwell with messages precisely because Cromwell was the only one who'd still listen, and being increasingly terse in his replies. (This doesn't lessen the rarity and admirability of said loyalty, I hasten to add.)

Unlike Mantel, Borman both has Richard Rich perjure himself in the More trial and presents the Anne Boleyn trials (i.e hers and those of her supposed lovers) as a public relations disaster for Henry & Cromwell. (As well he might; if someone as hostile to Anne Boleyn as the Imperial Ambassador thought the charges were unconvincing and that both Anne and George Boleyn came across as couragous and plausible by contrast, the propaganda value must have been zilch.) Interestingly, in the question as as to whether making Anne's death - as opposed to another annulment - the end game was Henry's or Cromwell's idea, once Anne's third miscarriage settled for Henry he wouldn't get any more living children from her, Borman goes with Cromwell, as opposed to a lot of other historians I've read. Borman thinks Cromwell went for broke in that regard as a matter of survival, because a living Anne might, just might have managed to win Henry around again, in which case Cromwell himself after their breakup would have been doomed. (Speaking of that, Borman goes with Ives about the argument re: the money distribution from the dissolution of the monasteries as a primary reason (though not the only one) for the Anne-Cromwell fallout. Said argument is another thing Mantel leaves out altogether, probably her Anne is so relentlessly self absorbed she'd never want the money to go to organized charity instead of the royal coffers, and her Cromwell far too reform minded and noble to want the money to fill the royal coffers instead of going to the poor.)


Cromwell's own downfall makes for harrowing reading. It also filled in something for me I hadn't known before. I mean, I had known that one reason, probably the main reason, why Gregory Cromwell survived his father's fate in a far better fashion than next of kin to condemmed traitors usually did had been because his wife was Jane Seymour's sister, but what I hadn't known was that said sister, Elizabeth, did all the paperwork distancing herself and her husband from her father-in-law (with whom she'd gotten on very well before) in terms of letters to people left in charge, denouncing TC. It was the pragmatic thing to do - and Elizabeth comes across as a far more capable survivor than her two famous brothers, Edward and Thomas -, but it still makes for somewhat chilling reading.


Julia Fox: Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford.: one of those biographies which can be considered as something of a game changer given it challenges accepted wisdom about a historical subject in a pretty radical way. Mind you, as a biography it suffers from the same problem biographies of other Tudor supporting players like, say, Mary Boleyn do, to wit, there isn't much first hand material about the primary subject, only one or two letters from her, and not much contemporary material about her, either; you get the impression that Julia Fox went over everything with the finest of combs and still mostly came up with statistics, so to speak; court masques Jane participated in, pageants she took part in, the terms of her jointure (= Tudor era pre nup, so to speak). Said statistics allow for some interesting conclusions - more about that later -, but they still are a vastly different basis for a biography than the one which Borman had for Cromwell, where there were a lot of conversations between Cromwell and other contemporaries reported, letters from Cromwell galore, etc. This means a lot of the book consists by necessity of events Jane witnessed, with Jane herself as a shadowy "Jane must have thought", and "Jane could see that..." type of presence.

However, while this is frustrating (and unavoidable, given the premise), it doesn't mean Fox' book doesn't contain both new and valuable information. What made the book so new and unusual when it was published (and still pretty unusual; Borman, in a book published only last year, for example, still mentions Jane "eagerly" supplying Cromwell with the incest accusation without even in his footnotes mentioning what Fox pointed out, that there is zero contemporary evidence for this) was that in its last third it demonstrated that accounts blaming Jane as the source of the incest accusation against Anne and George Boleyn don't start until Elizabeth's reign, when historians had the problem that on the one hand, the Queen's mother had to be innocent, but on the other, the Queen's father couldn't be blamed for her death, either, so clearly Henry had to have been misled by that stalward trope, evil advisors and false witness. Due to the way Jane died (executed for concealing and abetting the adultery of another queen), her reputation made her the ideal scapegoat, and the story took off from there: Fox shows how "Jane gave Cromwell the accusation" becomes Jane forging entire letters a few accounts later becomes Jane raging with jealousy and being a madwoman a century later and so forth. Whereas, and Fox was the first to point this out, all the accounts during and after Anne's trial and death do not mention her sister-in-law as the source of the incest accusation at all; instead, they name the (conveniently dead and supposedly having made a death bed confession) Lady Wingfield and the alive and owing money to Anne Countess Worcester as the sources.

(Btw, you can immediately see why even after Fox' book, novelists by and large stuck with Jane instead of going for Ladies Wingfield and Worcester. A jealous sister-in-law and/or neglectd/abused wife makes for a good story, especially considering she ends up executed herself a few years later. Two ladies-in-waiting, one of whom isn't even alive anymore, and neither of whom comes to a dramatic end, and who would have to be introduced to an already large cast without getting any type of narrative pay off? Not very satisfying dramatically. Ah, the messiness of real life.)

Fox, as well as pointing out there is no contemporary account reporting the Jane/George marriage to have been unhappy (it may have been, for all we know, but even a gossip hound like Chapuys who reported every bit of of news about Anne and her immediate relations he could find - for example, when Anne's sister Mary showed up pregnant and married against the will of the family to a commoner, it immediately went into the next dispatch to Spain - never mentions it), makes a good case for the Jane and Anne relationship to have been harmonious and even close. Not only for the pragmatic reason (Anne was the family star on which their fortune depended), but that's where the statistics come in useful: Jane had a far better and closer to her position during Anne's coronation than her sister Mary (this was before Mary's second marriage), she was constantly around Anne (who was notoriously short tempered during her queenship and not shy of banishing people from her presence she didn't like), when Henry was getting involved with someone else again for the first time in his marriage with Anne, Jane and Anne conspired together to get rid of the lady in question (according to Chapuys who again reported the whole thing, was gleeful about Henry turning on Jane for her trouble but certainly did not have the impression Lady Rochford and her sister-in-law were anything but allies). And then there's the old "cui bono?" question - who benefitted from Anne's fall and her and George's execution? Not Jane, who went from being sister-in-law to the Queen and one of the richest women in the country to being a traitor's widow whose property was, of course, confiscated by the crown and who had to fight for her jointure with her father-in-law. (Eventually, she had to ask Cromwell for help. Fox quotes from the letter which certainly doesn't read as "I did my bit, now cough up the cash!" but as standard "please help a poor widow!" groveling, and points out Cromwell got an almost identical letter from Bereton's widow - whom he also did help. Bereton, for non-experts, was one of the five men executed as Anne Boleyn's supposed lovers, and the outsider among them because he was over 50 and not even that often at court; most likely, he was on the hit list because he was feuding with Cromwell due to having judically executed one of Cromwell's men in Wales.)

The one statement which Jane did give Cromwell and which he used against the Boleyns, as testified by Chapuys and other contemporaries, ironically also points to both the closeness of the sisters-in-law and to Jane and George having at the very least the type of marriage where one shares confidences: it has nothing to do with incest and instead was about Anne having told her Henry had problems with impotence. (Which Jane in turn told George, who was asked "did your wife tell you your sister said...?" at his trial.) Which was damaging information, definitely, but whether it was provided voluntarily and at once or after Cromwell put on the pressure, nobody knows. What we do know, otoh, is that Jane was the only Boleyn family member to contact George when he was in the Tower. (We know because she gave the governor of the Tower, Kingston, a message for George who apparantly was glad to have it; at least, so Kingston promptly reported to Cromwell, which is how we know.) Neither of his parents did. Speaking of whom, another interesting statistics tidbit is that some years later, after Thomas Boleyn's death, and after Jane managed to get her jointure renegotiated again, with the net result of having her finances considerably improved, she got Henry's people to return her marriage bed with the Rochford insignia that had been confiscated along with the rest of George's property.

Of course, the main reason why Jane had the reputation she did for centuries isn't so much what she did or didn't do re: Anne Boleyn but because she died along with Katherine Howard. Here Julia Fox of course has to deal with the question anyone asks when coming across this part of history: why would Jane, who had better reason than most to know what even suspected adultery in a Queen could result in, aid and abet Katherine Howard's trysts with Thomas Culpepper? What was Jane thinking? She has to speculate along with the rest of us (the "why?" wasn't a question asked by the interrogators), and her idea is that once Jane made the mistake of obeying a command to carry a message to Culpepper and thus became co-culpable, she wasn't able to extricate herself anymore and thus went along with the rest of it. Fox argues that even had Jane reported the initial order, it would have been her word against that of Henry's much beloved new queen, and that she made the wrong survival call. Which is arguable; as Fox herself acknowledges, Jane was by that time wealthy enough again to retire to the country, which would have been one way to remove herself from a rapidly escalating situation without denouncing the queen. Here, Fox argues character: Jane had literally grown up at court (she'd been still a child when her father, Lord Morley, first brought her there), she'd lived there for most of her life, and she might have found it impossible to let go and live anywhere else. Whatever was the case, it led to her death.


In conclusion: not so much a biography in the classic sense as it is an historical argument - but a captivating one.
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