Frau Perchta, Witch of Twelfth Night

 

And so. Another Yuletide ends. But not so fast! Before we take down the mistletoe and finish off the sugar plums, there is one more celebration which should be recognized. This is the legend of Frau Perchta, Witch of Twelfth Night.

Perhaps you have never heard of this obscure character. But if you happened to be living in Bavaria or Austria during the Middle Ages, you might have been quite troubled as the Christmas season came to an end. During this time Frau Perchta would be on the loose, doling out punishments and rewards for the naughty and nice, respectively.

The “official end” of Yuletide in many traditions is January 6th, also known as Twelfth Night or Feast of the Epiphany. It was on this night that Frau Perchta would drop in for a visit. If you had been good over the past year, you would be rewarded with a piece of silver. But if you had been bad – watch out! Frau Perchta was a stern distributor of justice. In fact, she was also called “the belly slitter” because punishment for bad behavior consisted of Frau Perchta cutting open the offender’s stomach, removing the inner organs, and replacing them with straw and pebbles. Ouch!

In Christian traditions, January 6th is  Feast of the Epiphany. It commemorates the visit of the Magi to the manger where Christ was born. According to the Bible, three mages from Persia, following a bright star, made their way to Bethlehem to greet and bestow gifts upon the baby Jesus. Webster defines “epiphany” as an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being.”

The Twelfth Night is a time of great wonder and revelation. So why all the terror and judgement associated with Perchta? I wondered how Frau Perchta got such a bad rap.

The True Goddess

I did some sleuthing and found out that Perchta has a very interesting story. She wasn’t always an evil witch. In fact, she was at one time a greatly loved Germanic goddess. She is also called Berchta or Bertha.  The name Bertha literally means “bright” or “shining one”.  In ancient, pre-Christian times, Berchta was a powerful figure, worshiped by both Celtic and Germanic tribes. It was her job to protect babies, women and children. She was associated with birch trees (in Old High German birch is birka which also means “bright”.) She was a protector of forests and wildlife. She was also a “psychopomp” – that is, a spirit who guides the dead into the Afterlife.

Pretty impressive stuff.

Berchta was associated with the cycle of life, death and rebirth. She was depicted as a beautiful woman with long hair. She wore a white gown and was often called the White Woman or the Lady in White.  She was considered a triple goddess (perhaps because of her association with life’s cycles) and was able to take on forms of the maiden, mother and crone.

As a guide into the Afterlife, Berchta was a tender and caring figure that helped souls in their transition. There is one tale in which a grieving mother sees an apparition of her recently deceased little son. He is with a group of children along a hillside. The children are following a woman in a white gown. The little boy breaks away to speak to his sorrowful mother. The boy tells his mother not to weep, for he is safe and under the watch of the White Lady.

Berchta also had shapeshifting abilities. She was described as sometimes having the feet of a goose, and she also took on the form of a swan. As the protector of animals, she was  called “Guardian of Beasts”.

A Tainted Image

In the later, scary tales of Perchta, she is represented exclusively as a crone – more specifically, a scary old hag. She wears a disheveled dress, has a face made of iron and a nose like a beak.

She carries a knife beneath her cloak (in case she needs to slice open someone’s belly!) And of course, she has those strange looking goose feet.

So how did Berchta become Perchta? How did this benevolent goddess get demonized and transformed into an evil witch? Three words: The Medieval Church.

Christianity became powerful in Bavaria in around the 6th century. The Pagan cults that had evolved around Berchta were pretty strong and set in their ways. Worshippers of Berchta refused to be absorbed into the new Christian traditions. And so, for conversion purposes, the Church resorted to fear.

Her name was changed, among other things.  The word “perchten” means scary monsters, so Berchta became “Perchta, leader of the Perchten.”  Berchta, the wise white lady, was thereafter known as Perchta, a crooked-nosed, belly-stabbing hag.

As centuries went on, the worshippers of Berchta proved a stubborn lot. They were not willing to give up their goddess. The Church took further action. According to a religious document known as the Thesaurus Pauperum, the cult of Berchta was outlawed in 1468.  This document specifically condemned the practice of leaving food and drink offerings for Berchta during the Christmas season.

You might be wondering, as I did, what the heck is a Thesaurus Paupernaum?

Well, it had nothing to do with a thesaurus as we know it. Rather, it was a collection of recipes and natural medicinal cures, presumably for the benefit of poor people (paupers/ paupernaum) who could not afford expensive doctors. Interestingly, this document is cited as containing such information as: medicinal values of precious stones, herbal medicines for childbirth, astrological charts and a table for the uses of precious metals.

Hmmm. Magical crystals, herbal medicines and astrology. Sounds kinda Pagany to me…

The Thesaurus Paupernaum was written by prominent church officials such as Pope John XXI and Saint Albertus Magnus, with contributions from mineralogist George Frederick Kunz. Its recordings span a period of about seven centuries, and it is included in the Library of Congress Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts Collection.

So, for Medieval folks it was a big deal. Something they had to pay attention to.

Yuletide was her special time and Frau Perchta became a figure akin to Krampus, the evil counterpart of Saint Nicholas.

Propaganda and the Burning Times

There were tales of Frau Perchta capturing children and eating them. There were tales of Frau Perchta as the Christmas hag, who would stuff the bad kids into her giant sack. She would visit on Twelfth Night expecting food as an offering, but If she was displeased with what you left, she would slit the person’s belly open and stuff him or her with garbage. She was also a stickler for clean homes, and the completion of spinning. So if women had neglected their housework or their flax, they could expect the belly slitting as well.

The repression of Berchta and subsequent scary tales of Perchta took place during an interesting period. In Europe, the years between 1450 and 1700 are known as The Burning Times. During these years, Protestant Reformations began, splitting the Christian Church into various factions. Instability caused even more paranoia. It is estimated that around 100,000 men and women were put to death for witchcraft, many of them burned at the stake.

Germany, a major proponent of the Reformations, was one of the worst offenders. Historians report that entire populations of women in towns and villages were sometimes eliminated.

Keeping Berchta Alive

Despite the church’s attempts to get rid of Berchta, she lives on. A Halloween like celebration in which children would dress as demons (Perchten) during Yuletide was observed in some parts of Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some families would prepare a porridge called Perchtenmilch. Part of the porridge would be consumed by the family, with a portion set aside as an offering for Perchta and her Perchten.

In the 19th century, even the Brothers Grimm had their say about Perchta. According to Jacob Grimm, who translated texts from Old High German, she was spoken of as Frau Berchta, a white-robed goddess who oversaw spinning and weaving and was sometimes the leader of the Wild Hunt.

By honoring her as a scary witch, we keep the name of Perchta alive. She, along with Krampus and other monsters have enjoyed a rejuvenation in recent years. Some folks prefer a bit of  horror in their Christmas.

The goddess Berchta will never be forgotten. Her bright beauty is evident in Yule’s return of the sun, in the new fallen snow, in white swans and in the magnificence of the Alpine Mountains she hails from.

This Twelfth Night, you may want to take some time out to honor Berchta/ Perchta. An altar could include white candles, birch branches, or white feathers. You can meditate on loved ones who have crossed over and ask Berchta for a safe passage.  You may want to leave her an offering of cake or porridge. And – it might be wise to keep the house clean – just in case!

 

 

 

Fearsome Females: A Tale of Two Pirates

 

They were two notorious cross-dressers who moved easily in the circles of men. Known as tough-talking, hard-drinking, immoral cutthroats, they were sexually promiscuous, hot tempered, sly and stealthy. They were often more ruthless than the men they sailed with.

Anne Bonny and Mary Read were swashbucklers who ventured boldly onto the high seas — a place where females were often banned. They helped usher in what was known as the “Golden Age of Piracy”.

On this day, November 28, 1720, Anne and Mary were both convicted of pirate crimes and sentenced to death. Both also managed to escape execution while the men of their crew swung from the gallows. They cleverly utilized both biology and feminine instinct. Together, they challenged the long standing sailors’ notion that women aboard ship are bad luck…

“Disguise, Thou Art a Wickedness.”

Anne Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of an Irish attorney named James Cormac, and his housemaid Mary Brennan. She was born in County Cork in 1698. Because her birth caused scandal and disgrace, her father left his family, taking baby Anne to live with him in London.

To avoid the further “scandal” of living with a little girl, Cormac reportedly began dressing his young daughter as a boy. (A scheme which probably taught Anne that girls had much to be ashamed of…)

Eventually Cormac took Anne and her mother to the Americas where they lived in the colony of North Carolina.

Mary Read was also taught cross-dressing as a young child. Mary was born in England in 1685. She, too, was an illegitimate child, the daughter of a sailor’s wife. The sailor had gone off to sea, abandoning the family. Mary had a half brother. He was the sailor’s legitimate child, and her mother, having been left penniless, was receiving money to raise the boy from his paternal grandmother. However, this boy died. Mary’s mother — not wanting to end her cash flow —  then began dressing Mary in boy’s clothes and passing her off as the brother. (A scheme which probably taught Mary that a boy was worth more than a girl…)

Rebel Rebel

Anne was described as “red-haired and pretty.” She was strong willed and became a rebellious teenager. Increasingly defiant, she eventually married John Bonny, a penniless sailor, against her father’s wishes. Cormac disowned her. The couple then moved to what is now Nassau, in the Bahamas, which was then considered a sanctuary for English pirates.

Anne quickly got bored with her unambitious husband. She took to hanging out in taverns and seducing the local pirates. There she met the edgy and flamboyant swashbuckler John Rackam, known as “Calico Jack” (so named for his loud clothing!)

The two became lovers and ran away together. Anne became a member of Calico Jack’s crew — still cross-dressing as a man. It is said that the other pirates never realized Anne was a woman until years later when she became pregnant with Jack’s child.

Meanwhile, back in England, Mary Read also continued her cross-dressing. She found out she could quickly get work as a boy and took several jobs. She soon began living as a full fledged man called “Mark”.  Mary/Mark was so convincing she was actually given a position in the British Navy!  She proved herself a worthy soldier, fighting in the Nine Years War.

But then, Mary fell in love with a Flemish soldier. They married, and for a while, Mary lived as a woman. She was a respectable wife. The couple bought and operated an inn in The Netherlands.

However, Mary’s husband died and the business went belly up. Desperate for work, Mary once again resumed her identity as a man and took to the high seas. But during peacetime, there was little chance for jobs in the military. It was then she decided to become a pirate, and (you guessed it!) took up with the boisterous and belligerent crew of Captain Calico Jack.

A Walk on the Wild Side

When Mary came aboard ship, it is said that the promiscuous Anne, thinking Mary was a man, almost immediately fell in love with “him.”

Anne then bared her own breasts, revealing herself as a woman. Mary must have thought the facade was fun — or perhaps she just had too much too lose in her true identity.  She kept up the ruse for a while, but when a jealous Calico Jack entered her bedchamber and threatened to slice her throat, Mary also revealed herself as a woman. This apparently subdued Jack’s envy.

What went on between the three of them after that is anyone’s guess, but by 1720, both women were pregnant.

The women had many adventures together. They were both feared and revered. In the book Black Barty; Bartholomew Roberts and His Pirate Crew 1718-1723, one victim  named Dorothy Thomas, left a description of Anne and Mary:

“They wore men’s jackets, and long trousers, and handkerchiefs tied about their heads: and … each of them had a machete and pistol in their hands and they cursed and swore at the men to murder her me. Yet I knew they were women, from the largeness of their breasts.”

On November 15, 1720,  Calico Jack’s ship was captured.

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum!

One night, having taken port in Negril Point, off the coast of Jamaica, Calico Jack and his scurvy knaves decided to have a celebration. They hosted a rum party with another crew of English pirates. Apparently, all of them were pretty drunk and had no clue of their fate when pirate hunter Captain Jonathon Barnett sneaked in the harbor. Barnett took the pirate ship by surprise, disabling it with a rampage of fire. Jack and his men ran to the hold and hid for the duration of the battle — too inebriated to fight back.

Anne and Mary. however, did not give up! They stayed on deck, battling to the end, firing their pistols and swinging their cutlasses.

According to one legend, Mary was so disgusted with the men that at one point she stopped fighting, peered over the entrance of the hold and yelled, “If there’s a man among ye, ye’ll come up and fight like the man ye are to be!” No one responded. Mary then fired a shot down into the hold, killing one of them.

Eventually Barnett’s forces took over. The women knew they had to surrender. The entire crew were imprisoned.

Calico Jack was scheduled to be executed by hanging on November 18. His final request was to see Anne. Upon her visit to his cell, she had only one thing to say to him:

“If you had fought like a man, you need not have been hang’d like a dog.”

Ten days later, on November 28, she and Mary stood trial at the Admiralty Court in St. Jago de la Vega, Jamaica. Both of them were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. BUT — remember I said they were both pregnant by this time? It turned out to be their saving grace — also known as “pleading the belly.” Executions for pregnant women were always postponed until the child was born.

Sadly, Mary died of a fever in prison. She was buried on April 28, 1721 at Saint Catherine’s Church in Jamaica.

As for Anne, there is no record of her release, execution, or death. It is suspected she may have escaped and returned to Nassau. In his 1724 book A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most notorious Pyrates, author Charles Johnson wrote:

“She was continued in Prison, to the Time of her lying in, and afterwards reprieved from Time to Time; but what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know, that she was not executed.”

Not bad for a gender bending bastard who managed to outlive Captain Jack, as well as leave a swashbuckling legacy behind her! 🙂

 

 

Halloween Horror! The Titillating, the Terrifying, the Campy and the Creepy

 

The spooky season is upon us, and you greatly deprive yourself if you do not take the time to watch some scary movies! I love horror, and here are some of my favorites — the fun, the freaky and the forgotten.  In no particular order.

Crow Haven Farm – When a distant relative dies and leaves a generous will, New Yorker Maggie (played by Hope Lange) inherits a farm in Massachusetts. She and her husband are delighted to leave the big city and move into their new digs. However, upon entering the new house, Maggie has the strangest feeling she has lived there before. Is reincarnation possible?

Of course it is! But matters get complicated when Maggie and her husband adopt a witchy ten year old girl. Through the child, Maggie discovers her previous life involved the betrayal of a 17th century coven. They now plan to exact their revenge…

The Howling II “Your sister is a werewolf.” – Ben’s sister is transformed into a werewolf and killed. Determined to find answers and justice, Ben and his girlfriend Jenny travel to Transylvania with werewolf hunter Stefan (played by Christopher Lee) to investigate. There they find themselves in the midst of the Wolf Festival. A strange tribe of werewolves are led by immortal Queen Stirba who, as it turns out, is Stefan’s sister.  There are plenty of chills and thrills (plus a great Goth wardrobe!) in this borderline erotic story.

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death – After suffering a nervous breakdown, Jessica has just been released from treatment in a mental institution.  What she needs most is fresh air and a fresh start. Jessica and her husband decide to purchase a country house in upstate New York where they can get some peace and quiet to help Jessica’s recovery.  Or so they think. When they discover a young hippy squatter on the premises, Jessica decides to invite the girl to move in rather than banish her.  Bad decision!  

This woman strangely resembles old photographs left in the house…  Is the young woman really an immortal vampire? Or is Jessica simply going insane?

An American Werewolf in London – American college students David and Jack are backpacking through northern England.

They stop at a pub for some hot food, but unfortunately, the locals are none too friendly.  In fact they are downright rude, except for their simple advice. “Stay to the road and beware the moon.” 

Realizing they are unwanted, the boys head out to the moors, amidst fog and cries of a howling wolf.  They are, of course, attacked.  Jack  is killed, but David is merely wounded — and therefore left to carry on the curse of the werewolf. This truly classic film  manages to be funny, likable and shocking all at the same time.

The Witches of Eastwick – Three dissatisfied women (played by Cher, Michelle Pheifer and Susan Sarandon) live in a sleepy New England town. There, they bide their time with hobbies and gossip, not really fitting in with the locals, and longing for excitement.  One night they fantasize their perfect man and invite him to the neighborhood.  When Darryl Van Horn (played by Jack Nicholson) arrives on the scene, he is intriguing, a bit repugnant, and weirdly irresistible. Van Horn trains the women for a witchy life — including teaching them to fly, all the while keeping them under his seductive power. Then one day, the ladies become more powerful than Darryl…

Practical Magic – The Owens women, witches by birth, suffer a curse. No man should ever fall in love with them or he is fated to die — young and way before his time.  When sisters Jill and Sally (played by Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock) both fall in love, fate takes its toll.  Can the curse be broken? While it is not really “scary” this movie is great fun and perfect for Halloween, when the Owens women fly off the roof!

The Witch: A New England Folk Tale – Journey back to 17th century New England for some spine tingling dealings with real witches and a goat named Black Phillip. A family of English settlers are banished from Plymouth Colony for being “too devout.” In other words, they out-Puritan the Puritans, and the community sends them away.

The family’s luck gets worse as crops spoil and their baby is kidnapped. To make matters worse, something strange is going on in the woods… This involves unction oils, naked witches, and signing of the book in blood. Plus Black Phillip is more than a mere goat…

Kudos to director Robert Eggers for keeping it Puritanical. Eggers went to great efforts to replicate the speech and costumes of the era. He also claimed he wanted to make his “childhood witch terrors” come to life.  I know people who are so scared of this movie, they will not watch it alone!

Interview With The Vampire – I have mentioned this gem before, but no Halloween would be complete without a visit to New Orleans with the infamous Lestat, and the innocent Louis, the vampire he created to keep him company. When Louis can no longer live with the existential crises of having to kill to stay undead, all hell breaks loose. Anne Rice’s masterpiece brought to the big screen.

The Salem Witch Trials – Originally filmed as a made for TV mini series, this six hour presentation is a must see. Most folks take Arthur Miller’s Crucible as fact – it was, however, heavily fabricated to meet Miller’s dramatic goals. This mini series offers a more historic (and scary!) view of the witch trials, with great performances by Kirstie Alley and Shirley Maclaine.

Doctor Faustus – Based on Christopher Marlowe’s play. Richard Burton stars as Faustus, the occult dabbling doctor who wonders if it would be possible to summon the Devil and strike a bargain with him – a soul in exchange for worldly goods. Yes. It is possible. The movie also stars Elizabeth Taylor (Burton’s then wife) as temptress Helen of Troy.

Although it is a bit campy and the acting is over the top, I still say,  Burton, Taylor and Marlowe — What’s not to love?

The Exorcist – Some folks think this is the scariest film ever made. Although it shows it’s age, there are still plenty terrors to be had in this story of Reagan, an innocent twelve year old who inexplicably finds herself possessed by the Devil. When all cures prove futile, an exorcist is called in. Not for the faint of heart, but if you have a strong stomach, it is a must see.

Hope that gives you some viewing ideas!

Have an Happy and Horrifying Halloween!

 

 

 

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

 

In all the bloody legacies of the Tudor family, perhaps there is none quite so tragic as the death of sixteen year old Lady Jane Grey. Also known as the “Nine Days Queen” the shy reluctant Jane ruled England for exactly nine days before she was jailed and eventually executed.

Jane Grey was born on this day, October 13, 1537 in Bradgate Park, England. It was her great misfortune to have been born into a faction of the Tudor dynasty. Jane was the great-granddaughter of Henry VII through his younger daughter Mary. This made her  first cousin once removed to King Edward VI, son of Henry VIII.

 

Sins of the Father

Those of you that know Tudor history might remember Henry VIII’s nearly impossible quest to bear a son. After blowing through two marriages, Henry finally wed queen’s maid Jane Seymour who bore him their son Edward. (Jane died in childbirth, and Henry blew through three more wives after her, but that is another story for another day.)

Little Prince Edward was a treasure to Henry, who treated him like a delicate doll, constantly in fear that his only son might fall ill and not continue the Tudor dynasty. Upon Henry’s death, the nine year old Edward took the throne. But alas. Henry’s darkest fear actually did come true. Edward only ruled a few years until he passed away at the tender age of  fifteen.

Before he died, young Edward made some rather unconventional arrangements about his own succession. He chose his cousin Lady Jane Grey as the next queen.

Edward had two half sisters, Henry VIII’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Henry VIII had actually written a will that eldest daughter Mary should succeed Edward in the event he had no sons (which, at age fifteen he did NOT.) However, Mary was a Roman Catholic, and this did not sit well with young Edward, a strict Protestant.

On his deathbed, Edward wrote a new will. This will removed his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, from the line of succession on account of their “illegitimacy”. It was probably pretty easy for Edward to declare his sisters illegitimate. They were the daughters of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, respectively. Henry VIII had managed to annul, disintegrate and destroy those marriages, banishing Catherine and beheading Anne, in his frantic attempt to marry someone who could give him a son.

 

Overburdened

Young Jane was somewhat of a little pawn in a big game. When she was called to become queen, Jane was a timid, bookish teenager. She, like the rest of England, had no idea about the new will.

She had been given an excellent education and had a reputation as one of the most learned young women of her day. She was also married. In May 1553, Jane had been married off to Lord Guildford Dudley. He was a younger son of Edward’s chief minister John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. The marriage had, no doubt, been arranged by John Dudley in his own hopes of advancement, knowing his new daughter in law had some chance of becoming queen.

Edward VI died on July 6, 1553. On July 9 Jane was informed that she was now queen. Still unsure of herself and her shaky claim to the throne, Jane accepted the crown with reluctance.  She was moved to residence in the Tower of London, and on 10 July, she was officially proclaimed Queen of England, France and Ireland.

 

Cliques and Coups

Meanwhile, Mary Tudor got busy. As soon as Mary was sure of King Edward’s demise, she traveled to East Anglia, where she began to rally her Catholic supporters. In turn, John Dudley got some troops together to capture Mary. He was unsuccessful.

Mary had a lot of support from the English people. There were still many Catholic strongholds in the country and even Protestants backed Mary because they believed she was the rightful heir to the throne. In addition, another nobleman, one Henry Fitz -Alan, 19th Earl of Arundel, engineered a coup d’etat in Mary’s favor.  Under pressure from the English people and other forces, the Privy Council  switched their allegiance and proclaimed Mary as queen on July 19, 1553.

And that was the end of Jane. On that same day, she was imprisoned in the Tower’s Gentleman Gaoler’s apartments.

Her husband went to Beauchamp Tower. John Dudley, for his part, was executed on August 22, 1553. Jane — henceforth referred to as “Jane Dudley, wife of Guildford”, was charged with high treason. Her husband and two of his brothers were also charged. Their trial took place on November 13, 1553.   All defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Jane’s guilt was evidenced by a number of documents she had signed as “Jane the Quene”.

Jane’s fate was to “be burned alive on Tower Hill or beheaded as the Queen pleases.” Burning was the traditional English punishment for treason committed by women.

 

To Burn or Not To Burn?

The decision seemed a bit harsh. Jane was so young. She was still beloved by many. She even seemed to have little to do with her own fate. The Imperial Ambassador began a petition in her favor, pleading to Charles V,  the Holy Roman Emperor, that Jane’s life be spared.  Even Queen Mary herself was reluctant to sign the death warrant. Some historians believe that if Jane would have agreed to accept Catholicism, she could have saved her own life and gained favor with Mary. However, during her imprisonment Jane remained a dedicated Protestant. She even wrote letters condemning the Catholic Mass, going so far as to call it a “Satanic and cannibalistic ritual.”

As she awaited her sentence, Jane’s family were busy scheming again.

In January, 1554, the “Wyatt Rebellion” began. This was a plan instigated by Thomas Wyatt the Younger to destroy Queen Mary’s reign. Jane’s father, Henry Grey, and two of her uncles joined the rebellion. Upon hearing this news, the government assumed they could never trust Jane. Mary then signed the death warrant for both Jane and her husband Guildford.

Her beheading was first scheduled for February 9 1554, but was then postponed for three days to give Jane another chance to convert to the Catholic faith. Mary sent her chaplain John Feckenham to Jane. Although Jane would not convert, she became friends with Feckenham and requested he accompany her to the scaffold.

 

Blindfolded and Bewildered

Jane’s execution, with Feckenham by her side, is depicted in this famous painting by Paul Delaroche, 1833. No one knows for sure what Jane looked like, as she was the only Tudor monarch who never had a portrait done.

On the morning of February 12, the authorities took Guildford from his rooms at the Tower of London to the Tower Hill. Instead of a simple beheading, Guildford suffered the sadistic punishment of being drawn and quartered — a process in which the victim was kept alive while his entrails were cut out. A horse and cart brought his remains past the rooms where Jane was staying. Seeing her husband’s corpse return, Jane cried out: “Oh, Guildford, Guildford!”

She was then taken out to Tower Green for her own beheading. Jane gave this speech from the scaffold:

“Good People, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the Queen’s highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day.”

Jane’s wording should be noted. “… touching the procurement and desire thereof by me… I do wash my hands thereof in innocency…” It is a fancy, 16th century way of saying she never wanted the crown in the first place.

The executioner asked her forgiveness, which she granted him, pleading: “I pray you dispatch me quickly.” Interestingly, Jane then pointed to her own head and asked, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” The axeman answered: “No, madam.” (Anne Boleyn’s executioner, a skilled swordsman, snuck up on Anne, behind her back, theoretically to soften the blow.  So maybe Jane was just checking.)

She then blindfolded herself.  But once blindfolded, Jane could not find the block with her hands, and cried, “What shall I do? Where is it?”  Sir Thomas Brydges, the Deputy Lieutenant, helped her. With her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words: “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!”

Jane and Guildford are buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula on the north side of Tower Green. No memorial stone was erected at their grave.

 

Lingering Legacy

Jane is gone but not forgotten. Her youth, the unfairness of her death and the sheer romanticism of her story have elevated her to an icon.  Known as the “traitor-heroine” of the Protestant Reformation, she became viewed as a martyr. Jane was featured in the Book of Martyrs (Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Dayes) by John Foxe.

Jane’s story grew to legendary proportions in popular culture. She has been the subject of many novels, plays, operas, paintings, and films. One of the most popular was Trevor Nunn’s 1986 film “Lady Jane”. Helena Bonham Carter played the lead role.

Happy Birthday Jane. We hardly knew you.

 

 

10/6 Mad Hatter Day!

 

The Mad Hatter has always been a beloved character, and a bit of a cultural icon. He occupies just a small amount of the Alice stories, but he is one of Lewis Carroll’s most popular inventions. In fact, he is so popular, we even have a day to celebrate him! Today,  October 6, is National Mad Hatter Day.

Why October 6th? Well, if you remember the original Alice illustrations by Sir John Tennial, you might know that there is a slip of paper on the Hatter’s hat that reads: “In this style, 10/6.”

This means the Hatter has an order to make a hat in exactly that style, and it will cost ten shillings and sixpence. (It has nothing to do with October. But then again, Pi has nothing to do with March 14th, and we celebrate Pi Day on 3/14 anyway.)  In U.S. date representation, the month comes first and then the day, so 10/6 means October 6th.

Mad Hatter Day was founded in 1986 by a group of computer programmers in Boulder, Colorado who noticed the “date” on the Hatter’s hat. They thought it would be a good idea to make this a national holiday, and petitioned for it. Although it is not official, Mad Hatter Day is recognized by hat enthusiasts, time travelers, March Hares, and Alice fans worldwide.

But where did the Hatter come from? Was he really mad? And what exactly was his big gripe with Time?

Madness and Mercury

Lewis Carroll did not invent the idea of an insane hat maker solely on his own. The phrase “mad as a hatter” was part of popular jargon as early as 1837, some thirty years before the Alice stories were published. Many real life hatters were known to exhibit erratic, flamboyant behavior, talk to themselves and have mood swings.

What made the Mad Hatters mad?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, hat makers typically used mercury nitrate as part of the process for curing felt.  Exposure to mercury resulted in some weird behavior. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include anxiety, muscle weakness, memory loss, hearing and vision problems, slurred speech, drooling, and diarrhea. Top hats, so popular during the Victorian era, used a great deal of cured felt, so maybe there was a “rise” in madness during the time Carroll wrote Alice. Hence “mad as a hatter” became a popular phrase.

Luckily, use of mercury was eventually banned from the hatting industry. In 1898, laws were passed in Europe that protected hat makers from the risk of exposure. By the 20th century, mercury poisoning among British hat makers had become a rarity. The United States, however, did not ban mercury until 1941, when the Public Health Service deemed it hazardous and finally prohibited its use.

Insane Inventions

Ironically, Carroll is said to have based his Hatter not on a real hat maker, but on a furniture dealer named Theophilus Carter, who was known locally as the Mad Hatter. Carter always wore a top hat. (But apparently not in this picture.)

Carter was an eccentric with some far out ideas, and he produced some wacky inventions. One such invention was  the “Alarm Clock Bed”. This contraption contained a mattress that would tip the sleeper out of bed and into a tub of cold water to wake them up. According to the Virtual Victorian website: “At the appointed hour of alarm, after the sound of ringing bells to wake the ‘modern’ sleeper, an automated mattress tipped and flung the poor wretch from his bed to a bath of cold water  – supposedly refreshed and restored for the brand new day ahead.”

I am not making this up! The bed was actually featured as an attraction in Prince Albert’s Crystal Palace Exhibition, which took place in Hyde Park in 1851. We don’t have a real picture of this notorious thing, but it was thought to look something like this:

The ladder on the bottom would slide the victim into the refreshing tub of “seaside” cold water below.  Yeah, I can see why this invention didn’t take off…

Time Waits For No One

Or does it?

Perhaps it is significant that Carter’s invention involved a clock. Both Lewis Carroll and his Hatter were obsessed with time. As you may recall, at the Mad Tea Party, it was always six o’clock, tea time.

The time never changed, and this was because the Hatter was being punished. It all started at a concert where the Hatter was appointed to sing for the Queen. Halfway through the song, the Queen yelled that the Hatter was “murdering the time!”

As a result, Time would not cooperate with the Hatter.  “And ever after that,” says the Hatter, “he won’t do a thing I ask. It’s always six o’clock now.” (Time, according to the Hatter, is actually a “he” not an “it”.)

At the Tea Party, time stands still. They must keep full table settings all around, as they move from place to place to get clean cups  — because time never changes.

Interestingly, Albert Einstein himself held a point of view similar to the Mad Hatter’s!

Einstein was obsessed with, and distressed by, the conundrum of the present moment, or the “Now”.  According to Einstein, “the experience of the Now means something special for man, something essentially different from the past and the future, but this difference does not, and cannot occur within physics.”

Think about it. It is always Now.  You are reading these words Now, but I am also writing these words Now.  It is always Now. You can’t do anything tomorrow, or yesterday. You can plan or recall, but you cannot act. And what you actually do, you DO RIGHT NOW.  But Einstein tells us the experience of the Now cannot be grasped by science nor explained mathematically! Perhaps the Hatter was right. It was always six o’clock. Because it is always now. 🙂

In his sequel Through the Looking Glass, Carroll puts the Hatter in another unique time experience. Hatta (aka Hatter, in the version also the King’s messenger) is in jail for a crime he has not yet committed. The Queen explains to Alice: “He’s in prison now, being punished, and the trial does not even begin until Wednesday, and of course, the crime comes last of all.”

Alice wonders what will happen if he never commits the crime.

Similarly, the Queen justifies not serving jam. “The rule is jam yesterday, and jam tomorrow, but never jam today.” So they just never have jam. Which is a shame. They should have it NOW.

Crazy, right? But in his book Relativity (1952) Einstein wrote: “Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.”

Einstein believed in an undivided solid reality, with no true division between past, present and future. When Einstein’s dearest friend Michele Besso died, Einstein wrote a letter of consolation to Besso’s family, summing up his thoughts:

“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. For us physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future only has the meaning of an illusion.”

Lewis Carroll was an Oxford mathematician. I have argued before that he was ahead of his time. Perhaps Carroll was toying with the concept of non-linear time years before Einstein was even born! But then again, it is all in the NOW, so, from that perspective, one CANNOT BE “ahead of one’s time.” 

This is clearly a holiday worth celebrating! To make the most of Mad Hatter Day, you might want to:

Drink tea!

Wear hats!

Re-read the Alice stories.

Watch some Alice movies.

Ponder Einstein and time. Do it NOW 🙂 No time like the present. Or wait a minute… (CAN  we wait a minute??) See what I did there?

Have a great Mad Hatter’s Day!