Death of a Queen

 

Queen Elizabeth I of England died on this day, March 24, 1603.  She had reigned for 44 years, one of the longest reigns in the history of English monarchs. She was the second female to ever take the throne in England, the first being her sister Mary who ruled for only five years.

Bess was born on September 7, 1533 — thus making her nearly 70 years old at the time of her death. This was REALLY OLD by Elizabethan standards, a time when plague and disease ran rampant, not to mention poor nutrition, excessive labor, wars and general hardships.  The  average person only lived to be about 38 years old.  Monarchs, of course, had access to the best lifestyles and health care.

Bess’ death was caused by a combination of things.

Having survived a bout with smallpox in 1562 which had left her skin very scarred, the Queen took to using a cosmetic covering which was made of eggshells and lead. (Yes LEAD!) This could not have been healthy! This concoction lent to the appearance of her  unnaturally white skin, considered fashionable at the time.

But what were the long term effects of these applications? Symptoms of lead poisoning include abdominal pain, headaches, irritability, memory problems and inability to have children. (Hardly worth the fashion statement!)

Also, Bess’ teeth, by all accounts, were rotten.  King Henry IV of France, after having audience with her, reported: “her teeth are very yellow and unequal … and on the left side less than on the right. Many of them are missing, so that one cannot understand her easily when she speaks quickly.”

While we now know that dental health greatly aids in preventing disease, this was not the case in Tudor England.  Bess, along with her father Henry, enjoyed excessive sweets. Bess, however, did not reach Henry’s status of obesity.

The French King also said of Elizabeth: “her figure is fair and tall and graceful in whatever she does; so far as may be she keeps her dignity, yet humbly and graciously withal.”

Nonetheless, no one can escape Father Time, and by 1602 the Grim Reaper was on his way.

In the winter of 1602 Bess had caught a chill after walking out in the cold air. She complained of a sore throat as well as aches and pains. She retired to rest in her private apartments, but would not go to bed, staying awake for days on end.  Elizabeth knew she was not well, yet she refused to see her doctors. When her chief adviser Robert Cecil told her that she must go to bed, she snapped “Must is not a word to use to princes, little man!”

Some of her contemporaries believed she could have recovered had she been willing to fight off her illness.  Elizabeth, however, seemed to have a death wish.

For a number of years the Queen had been suffering from some form of of mental instability and depression. This was apparently caused by the stresses of the monarchy and the many fickle decisions she had made, which toyed with people’s lives. (And perhaps it could have been the LEAD…)  In the course of her reign Bess had  been responsible for several deaths which left her guilt ridden and paranoid. The most noteworthy of these was the beheading of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, whom she had executed after the Scottish Queen was caught in a plot to overthrow Bess.

Another death that agonized her was that of Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, who had once been ELizabeth’s favorite courtier.

Robert Devereaux, 2nd Earl of Essex

In 1601 Essex lost his head after he tried to raise a London rebellion against the Queen. Although she had ordered the execution, it was reported that afterward Bess was known “to sit in the dark, and sometimes with shedding tears to bewail Essex.”

To make matters worse, as often happens in old age, Bess had lost, and greatly missed, a number of her dearest friends. She never overcame the untimely death of her one true love, Sir Robert Dudley (also stepfather of Essex) whom she had decided not to marry.

Her closest adviser and father-figure, William Cecil, Lord Burghley  (whom she had dismissed from office after the agonized decision of beheading Mary Queen of Scots) had now passed away as well.

Elizabeth was no fool. She knew her popularity could not last forever, and she had always depended upon the love of her people. An aged and feeble queen could not hold the hearts of England’s youth.  A new day was dawning with the discoveries in the New World, as well as expanding trade and commerce. The country was looking for young, fresh leadership.

As Elizabeth’s condition deteriorated, her favorite clergyman, the Archbishop Whitgift of Canterbury was called to her side.  Whitgift reported that the Queen was at this point unable to speak, but she held onto his hand. The Archbishop tried to encourage her with words of recovery, but she made no response.  However, when he spoke to her of the joys of Heaven, she squeezed his hand, as if in anticipation of the after life.  By this time it was clear to all of those around that Elizabeth was dying.

There was, of course, the question of Succession.  As the famous Virgin Queen, Bess had never married and bore no children. There were several descendants of the York and Lancaster bloodlines who had potential claim the the throne. The most likely of these was Elizabeth’s cousin, King James of Scotland who was favored by her Privy Council.  The question was once again put to the Queen on her deathbed. The Privy Council urged her to sign the succession document. She did not.

For the sake of the peaceful transition of power, it was later announced that Elizabeth had gestured in agreement for James to succeed her. Chief adviser Robert Cecil then took it upon himself to make arrangements for the transition.

During her reign, Queen Bess’ accomplishments were many.  She defeated the Spanish Armada, protected the realm against a number of foreign entities, brought peace to her previously divided country and restored the prosperity that her father Henry had depleted.  She also created an environment where the arts flourished, including drama which elevated Shakespeare to superstar status.

She was called Gloriana, The Faerie Queen, The Virgin Queen  and Good Queen Bess. To this day the time of her monarchy is considered a Golden Age of Great Britain.

She once said:  “To be a king and wear a crown, is a thing more glorious to them that see it, than it is pleasant to them that bear it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All About Leprechauns!

 

St. Patrick’s Day would not be complete without leprechauns! If you attend a parade or celebration today, you may see a few of them — those funny looking guys with tall green top hats and scraggly orange beards.

The image of the leprechaun has been used to advertise everything from lottery tickets to Lucky Charms. They are the mascot of the Boston Celtics and the face of Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish.

They have been portrayed as dishonest, aggressive and annoying little creatures. Yet I can’t help but think leprechauns have been unfairly stereotyped (much like their human Irish counterparts) as brawlers, drunkards and all-around trouble makers.

Real leprechauns have a much more sophisticated history.

In Irish mythology, leprechauns are part of a race called the Aos Sidhe (pronounced aes-shee). These are supernatural tribes of faeries that include (but are not limited to) Banshees, Changelings, Gancanagh, Pucas, Selkies, Mermaids and Sluagh. These entities live in various places — some underground in fairy mounds, some in oceans, and some in an invisible world, or parallel universe, that coexists with the world of humans.

Leprechauns are believed to be among the first inhabitants of Ireland, arriving long before the Celtic tribes.  Their life-span can last several hundreds of years. Some folklorists consider leprechauns to be the true natives of Ireland, descended from Irish kings and queens. To this day, Leprechauns can only ever be found in Ireland. They are usually sighted in rural areas away from the general population, or burrowed deep in underground caves, or within the hollow trunk of a Fairy Tree.

They are great musicians, known for their love of traditional Irish music and dance. They often hold cèilidh (pronounced kelli — a party of music, dance and story-telling) that last for days on end. Their favorite instruments are the fiddle, the tin whistle, the Bodhran (Irish drum) and the harp.  A generous leprechaun might even bestow musical abilities upon an unsuspecting human.

fairy violin

What do leprechauns look like? Although in modern times they are depicted wearing green, tradition holds that leprechauns usually dress in red coats. According to author David Russell McAnally, who wrote Irish Wonders, a collection of stories first published in 1888:

“He is about three feet high, and is dressed in a little red jacket or roundabout, with red breeches buckled at the knee, gray or black stockings, and a hat, cocked in the style of a century ago, over a little, old, wrinkled face. Round his neck is an Elizabethan ruff, and frills of lace are at his wrists. On the wild west coast, where the Atlantic winds bring almost constant rains, he dispenses with ruff and frills and wears a frieze overcoat over his pretty red suit, so that, unless on the lookout for the cocked hat, ye might pass a Leprechaun on the road and never know it’s himself that’s in it at all!”

Leprechauns are industrious. They work as shoemakers — one of the few species of the Fae world that have their own designated occupation.  Irish author William Butler Yeats, who wrote extensively about faeries, and may have even had a few encounters with them, is quoted as saying, “Because of their love of dancing they (the Fae) will constantly need shoes.”

Leprechauns are rich. Because they are so hard-working, they also accumulate a lot of gold, which they keep (of course!) in a pot that might be hidden somewhere at the end of a rainbow.

Leprechauns generally avoid humans, and with good reason. If a human is able to capture a leprechaun, the leprechaun must then reveal the hiding place of his gold in order to earn his escape.  However, if you do manage to catch one of these little sprites, beware! They have been known to promise a lot but deliver nothing. They are fast talkers, full of confusion and trickery.  As a matter of fact, no human has ever gotten rich from capturing a leprechaun!

The following story, an oral tradition called The Leprechaun’s Gold, illustrates this point perfectly:

“’TWAS a fine sunny day at harvest time when young Seamus O’Donnell, walking along the road, heard a tapping sound.  Peering over the hedge, he saw a tiny man in a little leather apron, mending a little shoe.

“Well, well, well!” said Seamus to himself.  “I truly never expected to meet a leprechaun.  Now that I have, I must not let this chance slip away.  For everyone knows that leprechauns keep a pot of gold hidden nearby.  All I have to do is to find it, and I am set for the rest of my life.”

Greeting the leprechaun politely, Seamus asked about his health.  However, after a few minutes of idle conversation, Seamus became impatient.  He grabbed the leprechaun and demanded to know where the gold was hidden.

“All right!  All right!” cried the little man.  “It is near here.  I’ll show you.”

Together they set off across the fields as Seamus was careful never to take his eyes off the little man who was guiding him.  At last they came to a field of golden ragwort.

The leprechaun pointed to a large plant.

“The gold is under here,” he said.  “All you have to do is to dig down and find it.”

Now Seamus didn’t have anything with him to use for digging, but he was not entirely stupid. He pulled of his red neckerchief and tied it to the plant so that he would recognize it again.

“Promise me,” he said to the leprechaun, “that you will not untie that scarf.”
The little man promised faithfully.

Seamus dropped the leprechaun and ran home as fast as he could to fetch a shovel.  Within five minutes, he was back at the field.  But what a sight met his eyes!  Every single ragwort plant in the whole field — and there were hundreds of them — had a red neckerchief tied around it.

Slowly, young Seamus walked home with his shovel.  He didn’t have his gold.  He didn’t have the leprechaun.

And now, he didn’t even have his neckerchief.”

Moral of the story? Perhaps humans should not meddle in the affairs of leprechauns!

And finally, here is a fun little documentary about faeries and leprechauns in Ireland.  Running time is about 23 minutes. Hope you like it!

Have a safe and magical Saint Patrick’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

The Ides of March

 

 

Shakespeare knew betrayal. He wrote about many. Perhaps one of the most chilling was the death of Julius Caesar, who apparently believed himself to be invincible.

On March 15, 44 BC Roman emperor Julius Caesar was stabbed to death near the Theater of Pompey, where his senate held a meeting.  His enemies, who had been conspiring for months, were unbeknownst to him. Total backstabbers! Caesar was loved by many and had apparently done little to provoke the attack.

The assassination, however, did not come without its warning. One month previous, Caesar had been approached by a soothsayer who told him: “Beware the Ides of March”. In ancient Rome, the “Ides” would have been understood to be the middle of the month, or March 15th.

Have a happy March 15th and watch your back!

Here is a re enactment from the 1970 film, Julius Caesar.  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

Witchy Wednesday: The Owens Sisters

 

The women of the Owens family are under a curse. A terrible, inescapable curse of the worst possible kind. It goes as follows: Any man who falls in love with one of them will, through some unexpected accident or unforeseen circumstance, end up dead.

The curse began some 300 years ago in colonial Massachusetts when ancestor Maria Owens was condemned to death for witchcraft. She was put to the hangman’s noose but escaped through magic. Maria was then banished to a small island off the coast. She was pregnant,  and although her lover had promised to come for her, he never showed up. Maria vowed to never again deal with the messy heartbreak of love. That vow, it its weird twisted way, turned into a curse against all men who dared love an Owens woman.

Now, sisters Sally and Gillian had better watch out!  Of course, as luck would have it, both of them are going to fall in love. More than once.

Practical Magic, adapted from Alice Hoffman’s 1995 novel of the same name, is one of my favorite witch movies!  It stars Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman as the two sisters, who are orphaned after their parents die of curses and broken hearts. The girls are sent to live with their Aunts in the sleepy Massachusetts town where prejudice against witches still runs rampant.

Stockard Channing and Diane Weist are their wild and wacky aunts who eat chocolate cake for breakfast, cast love spells for the neighbors and dance naked in the moonlight.

As Sally and Gillian come of age in their Aunts’ glorious seaside mansion, they start to realize the true nature of their powers. Neither girl cares to practice magic.

Subdued, bookish Sally (Sandra Bullock) is the more gifted of the two, though she rarely casts a spell.  Wild child Gillian (Nicole Kidman) cares more for boys than witchery, and even runs away from her Aunts’ home to increase her opportunities with men.

The sisters are separated for a time, but, connected by blood and a psychic bond, they are never far apart.  Gillian gets involved with an abusive man named Jimmy Angelov.

One night, Sally gets a premonition that Gillian is in real trouble and immediately flies across the country to rescue her. She finds Gillian held hostage, but the forceful  Jimmy kidnaps both sisters.  An accidental overdose of belladonna, administered by Sally, sends Jimmy Angelov to sleep with the angels. Or in his case, the demons…   The sisters then find themselves in a tight spot; they are inadvertent murderers.

What to do?

Rather than let Jimmy stay dead, they decide to try their hand at necromancy.  The Aunts warn against it, believing he may come back as something “dark and unnatural”.  Gillian assures them that he always WAS something  “dark and unnatural”.  What have they got to lose?  But will the spell work?

To make matters worse, when Jimmy is reported as a missing person, detective Gary Hallet (played by Aidan Quinn) comes investigating.

The detective may have a hard time arresting Sally when he realizes he is falling in love with her.

Practical Magic, released in 1998, is a fun, sometimes spooky, romantic comedy.  The movie recently made news headlines when co stars Bullock and Kidman showed up as presenters at this year’s Academy Awards. As the women reunited, Practical Magic fans conjured up the notion of them doing a sequel to the movie.

Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock Oscars 2018

Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen, but one thing is certain; there will never be a shortage of fans hoping for it.

Throughout the movie, we find a number of spells and occult references. Here are some fun witchy facts:

It Runs in the Family

Sally and Gillian are descendants of Maria Owens who cast spells, broke hearts, and escaped the noose through magic. In reality, very few modern day witches can claim this kind of bloodline. Most witches are self made, through their own discipline and study of the Craft. There are, however, several families in  the Salem area who claim blood relations to those who were arrested for witchcraft in the 1692 witch hunts.

Bella Donna, the Beautiful Lady

Atropo Belladonna is a poisonous plant. It has been used as a sedative and antispasmotic.  Large doses can be deadly.  In medieval Italy, young women put drops extracted from the plant into their eyes. This dilated their pupils, creating an effect that was considered to be beautiful – hence the name Belladonna, which in Italian means “beautiful woman”.

Yeah. Because nothing says sexy like the pie eyed opiate induced dummy stare 🙂

J.R.R. Tolkien fans might remember the character Belladonna Took Baggins. She was the wife of Bungo Baggins, lady of Bag End, and mother of the original ring bearing hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

Blood Drinking Optional

The character Jimmy Angelov, played by Goran Visnjic, was supposed to be from Transylvania. We are not sure if he was an actual vampire, but his Romanian roots certainly lent an air of darkness and danger to him. In real life, Goran Visnjic is from Croatia. Close enough.

In the 1998 movie, a ten year old Evan Rachel Wood played Sally’s daughter Kylie.  Kylie took after her Aunt Gillian in both looks and temperament. We might wonder how she’d grow up…

Since then, Wood took on a bunch of noteworthy roles, including a vampire in True Blood.

Herbal Medicine

When a frightened Gillian returns home with a bruised face after Jimmy has assaulted her, Aunt Frances, in typical witch fashion, suggests applying mugwort.  In Medieval Europe, mugwort was believed to be a magical herb that would protect against evil spirits, diseases and misfortunes.

Don’t Know Your Past You Won’t Know Your Future

While fans may be clamoring for a sequel after seeing Sandra and Nicole on the red carpet, author Alice Hoffman has actually written a prequel. This book, called The Rules of Magic, tells the story of the Aunts, Frances and Jet, when they lived as teenage witches in 1960’s New York City.  Read more here.

And finally, no review of Practical Magic would be complete without a visit to Midnight Margaritas! Watch as the Aunts stir up a powerful brew.  Grab some limes and enjoy the show 🙂

 

 

 

 

Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, 50th Anniversary

 

Today, March 4th, 2018, marks the 50th Anniversary of the premiere of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film”Romeo and Juliet” at London’s Odeon theater.

With a host of talented actors, rich period costumes and lush cinematography, this gorgeous movie is arguably the best ever adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.  Famous critic Roger Ebert included it in his list of ‘Top 100 Films’. Ebert wrote, “I believe Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet is the most exciting film of Shakespeare ever made.”

The movie won a Golden Globe Award for Best English Language Foreign Film.  It won Academy Awards for Best Cinematography (Pasqualino De Santis) and Best Costume Design (Danilo Donati).  It was also nominated for Best Director and Best Picture, making it the last Shakespearean film to be nominated for Best Picture to date. Coincidentally, the anniversary of its London premiere just happens to fall on the same day as this year’s Academy Awards presentation.

This movie is unique in may ways. Director Zeffirelli had the innovative idea of using  teenage actors for the roles of the star-crossed lovers.  This was the first time in the history of the play’s performances that actual teenagers were cast to play the teenage roles. Olivia Hussey played Juliet and Leonard Whiting played Romeo.

Hussey and Whiting both received Golden Globes for ‘Best New Stars of the Year’.

Zeffirelli also chose unique historical locations, adding to the rich authenticity of the movie, which was set in 14th century Renaissance Italy.  These locations included:

The Palazzo Borghese, which was used for the famous ‘balcony scene’. The Palazzo was built by Cardinal Scipione Borghese in the 16th century. It is located in Artena, 20 miles south of Rome.

“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!”

The interior church scenes (where Romeo and Juliet are wed) were filmed at a Romanesque church named St. Pietro Somaldi in Lucca, Tuscania, 50 miles northwest of Rome.

“For by your leaves you will not stay alone, till Holy Church incorporate two as one.”

The tomb scene (where both lovers commit suicide) was also filmed in Tuscania.

“O happy dagger, this is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.”

The Palazzo Piccolomini, built in 1460 by Pope Pius II, served as Capulet’s magnificent palace. It is located in Pienza, Siena province.

“His name is Romeo, a Montague, the only son of your great enemy.” 

The dueling scenes  were filmed  in the old Umbrian town of Gubbio.

“A plague on both your houses!”

Some fun facts:

  • Paul McCartney was being considered for the role of Romeo, before Zeffirelli plucked Lenoard Whiting from the London stage. Although I love the Beatles, Paul as Romeo would have been a terrible mistake!

Paul McCartney as Romeo

  • Anjelica Houston was considered for the role of Juliet, but her father, director John Houston, insisted she work on another film (one of his own) at the time.
  • Olivia Hussey was originally rejected because Zeffirelli thought she was overweight. Upon her second reading, she had apparently lost weight and was accepted.
  • During the Italian filming, Zeffirelli once again became concerned with Olivia’s weight and insisted she not be served any pasta on the set. (I know!  Rude, inconsiderate, and possibly damaging — both physically and psychologically — to a teenage girl.)

  • Because there were nude scenes in the film, Zeffirelli had to get special permission to film 16 year old Olivia topless. Len Whiting was already 17 and of legal age for nudity.

  • Sir Laurence Olivier, who happened to be in Italy at the time of filming, reportedly showed up on set asking if he could contribute.  He became the narrator, and also dubbed lines for the actor Antonio Pierfederici who played Lord Montague but had a thick Italian accent. Sir Laurence’s contributions are not listed in the credits and he would accept no pay for them, stating he did this out of his ‘great love for Shakespeare’.  What a guy! 🙂
  • In 1977, Olivia Hussey and Laurence Olivier reunited, along with co star Michael York (who played Tybalt) for the production of  Jesus of Nazareth. Hussey played Mary the Mother of Jesus, Olivier played Nicodemus and York played John the Baptist.

  • Produced with a budget of just $850,000, the movie went on to earn nearly $40 million at the box office and later earned another $18 million in re-releases and rentals.
  • Thom Yorke of Rodiohead reports being very moved by Zeffirelli’s film. He later went on to compose music for the 1996 version of Romeo + Juliet, directed by Baz Luhrmann. Yorke said, “I saw the Zeffirelli version when I was 13, and I cried my eyes out, because I couldn’t understand why the morning after they shagged, they didn’t just run away.”

Many readers of R & J have wondered the same thing. Young love can be messy.

If you have not yet seen this phenomenal movie, I suggest you rent or stream it at once!

And finally, in honor of the 1968 London Premiere, here is a youtube compilation where Queen Elizabeth herself greets the young stars. Hope you like it!