Monday, 25 June 2018

Mussolini’s Downfall by Miranda Miller

    Last month I spent a few days in a state of near bliss, drifting around Lake Como in boats and swimming in the clean waters, overlooked by the foothills of the alps, pretty ochre, pink and yellow villages, lovely gardens and the villas of billionaires. This lake, which Shelley wrote,  "exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty, with the exception of the Arbutus Islands in Killarney,” is also the place where the Second World War ended for Italians. As new right wing politicians come to power in Italy it feels urgent to consider this period. Whereas the last months of Hitler are a familiar story, the downfall of Mussolini is not so well known.

   In the evenings I read Iris Origo’s War in Val d’Orcia, a reminder that Italy wasn’t always so peaceful. She kept this diary while she and her husband opened their house in Tuscany to refugees and partisans fighting the fascists. It’s a fascinating book because, like the characters in historical novels - like all of us - she doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. Here are a few extracts from Origo’s remarkable wartime diary:
                                                                    Iris Origo

   July 26th 1943. The long-expected news has come at last: Mussolini (who had been in power since 1922) has fallen. The news was given by radio last night but we did not hear it until this morning. Mussolini has resigned, The King has appointed Marshal Badoglio in his place and has himself taken over the command of the Army.

   On July 28th, she writes that in Rome:” A great crowd of working people from all the outlying quarters surged into the city and made its way to the Quirinale (the Presidential Palace), …they broke into all the offices and club rooms of the Fascio, destroyed every bust and statue of Mussolini, set fire to (the offices of newspapers that had supported Mussolini)….Similar demonstrations took place in Milan, Turin, Bologna and Florence.”

   As the news spread down a train that an armistice had been signed, ”flags and carpets were hanging from the windows; at Florence the great bell of the Bargello had been rung; people were weeping for joy and embracing each other. But after half an hour the rumour was contradicted and the excited and disappointed crowd had to be dispersed by the police.”

   By December 23rd:” Of Mussolini no one now speaks and it is said that he himself, on being asked to make a speech on the wireless on October 28th, said: What can a dead man say to a nation of corpses?”

   Mussolini was imprisoned at an hotel in Italy's Gran Sasso massif, high in the Apennines . On 12 September 1943 he was daringly rescued by SS troopers, who landed a dozen gliders on the mountain and overwhelmed Mussolini's captors. The SS leader, Otto Skorzeny, greeted Mussolini with "Duce, the Führer has sent me to set you free.” Mussolini replied, "I knew that my friend would not forsake me!"

                                                           Mussolini leaving the Hotel

   Mussolini was then made leader of the Italian Social Republic  usually known as the Republic of Salò, a German puppet state which lasted for nineteen months. Although he declared that Rome  was its capital, the tiny state was in fact based in Salo,  a small town on Lake Garda where Mussolini and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had their headquarters. They had nominal sovereignty in Northern and Central Italy but depended on German troops to maintain control. Only Germany and Japan gave them diplomatic recognition and there was no constitution or organised economy - Salo’s finances depended entirely on funding from Berlin.

   On 25 April 1945 Mussolini's fascist republic collapsed.  In Italy this day is known as Liberation Day. A general partisan uprising, together with the efforts of Allied forces, ousted the Germans from Italy.
                                                    Clara Petacchi, known as Claretta.

   Mussolini had left both his wife, Rachele, and his mistress, Clara Petacci, behind in Milan. But Petacci could not live without her Duce and she joined him in Como. She was 33 and Mussolini was 63. As the allies got closer, she and Mussolini went into hiding in nearby Gardone Riviera at the Villa Fiordaliso (now a very expensive Relais & Chateaux hotel). Mussolini, La Petacci and other fleeing fascists were heading for the Swiss border at the northern end of Lake Como. Mussolini was wearing sunglasses and had disguised himself as a German corporal. In the village of Dongo Mussolini’s convoy ran into a roadblock manned by partisans, one of whom recognised Mussolini’s profile from the thousands of propaganda posters that had been plastered on walls all over Italy for the last twenty years.

   On 28 April, two days before Hitler committed suicide in Berlin, the partisans shot Mussolini and Petacci in Giulino di Mezzegra, a tiny village in the mountains above Lake Como. Their corpses were driven to Milan and dumped in Piazzale Loreto. A huge angry crowd gathered to defile their corpses, which were strung upside down from the metal girders of a petrol station, beaten, shot at and hit with hammers.

   This black cross marks the spot where Mussolini and Petacci were killed and in Dongo you can visit the End of WWII Museum. Mussolini was buried in an unmarked grave then, in 1946, his body was dug up and stolen by fascist supporters. Four months later it was recovered and hidden for the next eleven years. In 1957 his remains were allowed to be interred in the Mussolini family crypt in Predappio. His tomb has become a place of pilgrimage and every April the anniversary of his death is marked by neo-fascist rallies.

   Since the war this official version of Mussolini's death has been questioned in Italy, rather like Kennedy’s assassination. Amongst the many conspiracy theories is one about Churchill: that he was desperate to get hold of letters from him that Mussolini was carrying in which Churchill is said to have made all sorts of embarrassing offers to keep Mussolini out of the war.

   I was living in Italy in 1975 when Pasolini, the Marxist film director, poet and intellectual, made a film called Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. Set in Fascist Italy in 1944, Pasolini’s film is based on the Marquis de Sade’s novel, 120 Days Of Sodom. I’ve never had the stomach to watch this film, which is still controversial and is banned in several countries (not that there is any point in banning a film in the age of the internet). Pasolini explores political corruption: four wealthy fascist libertines kidnap eighteen teenage boys and girls and subject them to four months of extreme violence, sadism, sexual and mental torture before finally killing them. Before the film was released Pasolini himself was murdered and I vividly remember the sensation this caused.

   It has often been said that Berlusconi (one of several billionaires who now own magnificent villas on Lake Como) has modeled himself on Mussolini - with considerable success. It is impossible to spend much time in Italy without becoming aware that Mussolini is still an important figure. His granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, is a member of the Italian Senate. She was elected for a party called The People of Freedom, launched by Berlusconi in 2007, which later became part of  Forza Italia (this can be translated as ‘Let's Go, Italy’). Matteo Salvini, who is now Italy’s Interior Minister, was previously in coalition with Berlusconi. Salvini’s political allies include Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen in France and Victor Orban in Hungary. A few weeks ago Salvini forced the Aquarius, an NGO ship carrying 600 migrants,to divert from Italy to Spain. The President of Italy’s Union of Jewish Communities, Noemi di Segni, said this was reminiscent of Mussolini’s fascist race laws. Salvini has called for a new census of Roma and for all non-Italian Roma to be expelled from the country.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

LET THERE BE LIGHT by Elizabeth Chadwick

It's a couple of days past the Solstice as I'm writing this post.  Where I live in the UK, the sun will rise at 4.40am and set at 9.35pm tonight although it won't be fully dark until around 10.45pm.  That's gettting on for 18 hours of daylight.  But at the other end of the equation in December, the dawn arrives circa 8am and sunset is before 4pm, giving us only 8 hours of daylight, and if the weather is murky, that time is swiftly curtailed.
I was thinking about this the other day and it led me to ponder upon the kind of lighting medieval people had at their disposal.  Eight hundred years ago, how would I have lit my hours of darkness?

Since all cooking and heating relied on fires, ambient firelight would have provided a certain amount of light, but with dim parameters and not always useful. One of the reasons main meals were eaten early in the day in the Middle Ages was that trying to perform tasks in a kitchen without clear light was a hazard. Certainly in a castle kitchen there might be fires for heating water and cooking food, but the fire was at ground level and any preparation would have to be done on tables which would be cast into shadow, so in itself firelight, while providing warmth and cheer was only of background usefulness. Actually for kitchen work in dark circumstances, the most often used lighting appears to have been something called a cresset. This was a series of hollows in a stone block.

The hollows would be filled with oil or fat and a wick floated in them. The lamps would be placed on a flat surface or in a niche. There are frequent references to cresset lamps as items of kitchen equipment. Candles and candlesticks seem not to have been as popular in a kitchen environment  but to have been used elsewhere.
Bartholomew the Englishman was of the opinion that there should be plenty of light from candles, prickets and torches when people were eating 'for it is a shame to sup in darkness and perilous also for flies and other filth.' I am reminded of my father-in-law on active service in North Africa in 1942. He said he always waited until after dark to eat his rations because then he wouldn't see the weevils!
For the present household and the less well off, lighting was provided by tallow candles and by rush lights. These were frequently home-made in the summer months by carefully peeling the long cylindrical pith of the juncus rush, and dragging it through molten animal fat. These, however, burned down quickly and could not be used for any length of time. They were better than nothing, but not ideal. People make use of local resources, and some communities living near the sea would make lamps out of a fish called a thornback. The fish was stuffed full of linen waste, compressed until the wick was saturated, and then actually burned as a candle. Two or three tied together in an iron holder made a torch. The phosphorescent light cast by rotting fish was sometimes used to light the way up the garden path...
Candle stick fit for a queen.  12th century V&A
The aristocracy and the church opted for candles made from beeswax. These gave a clear burning light and a pleasant smell and were long-lasting. Although beeswax was locally available, there was never enough to satisfy demand in the big cities, and supplies were augmented from the forested less sparsely populated areas of Europe, such as Russia, Hungary and Bohemia. People in royal service were entitled to candles or remnants of them as one of the perks of their job. If John Marshal my hero of A Place Beyond Courage was eating outside the court he was entitled to a daily provision of one small wax candle and 24 candle ends. Royalty only burned fresh candles, and whatever stubs remained at the end of each day were cleared away and finished off in the departments of the household officials. If John was working in-house on a particular day he was entitled to an ample supply of candles all the time. John's ushers were entitled to 8 candle ends a day for their own use. Candles could be placed in candlesticks, wall mounted holders, ceiling suspended holders, or arranged on large multi-holder candle stands – whatever suited the purpose.
Candle holder that could be used either free standing
or on a wall bracket. Museum of London.
Ceramic lamps were another form of lighting. These look a bit like ice cream cones and are ubiquitous in medieval illustrations. They are frequently found in museum exhibits. Basically, they worked on the same principle as the cresset lamp and were often suspended by chains from the ceiling. There are references in the pipe rolls to the use of oil lamps. Queen Eleanor had 30 shillings and five pence worth of oil bought on the Surrey account to use in her lamps in 1176/1177. 'Et pro oleo ad lampadem regine xxxs, et v.d.' In 1159 that sum was greater but only by two pence. The second sum appears time and again throughout the reigns of Richard I and of John while she was still living. Were they for religious or personal use? The pipe rolls don't say. 
Hanging lamp mid 13th century.  Maciejowski Bible.
Norman ceramic oil lamp.  Museum of London. 
When one needed to carry a light about, lanterns proved useful, and there are many surviving examples in the archaeological and illustrative record. 
Ceramic lantern from the the Poitou region
Torches were also used. But we don't know a great deal about them as they have not survived well in the archaeological record and it's an area that still requires more study.
Lantern from the mid 13thc Maciejowski Bible.

During the broad spread of the middle ages and in various circumstances, there were rules about lighting. George Duke of Clarence's household ordinances for December 1468 gives the detail that wood and candles should only be issued between 1 November and Good Friday at the rate of two shides (unit of measure - I don't know its meaning)  and three white tallow candles to be shared between every two gentlemen of the household. At the monastery of Barnwell, the monks were forbidden to sit by a lamp in the dormitory to read, or to take candles to bed in order to do the same. We might think it was because of the fire hazard but no, it was because reading in bed was discouraged as at that time, reading aloud was the norm and would have kept everyone else awake, not to mention the disturbance of light.
The Wise and Foolish Virgins out and about with their full and empty lamps
15thc Carthusian Miscellany. British Library. 

So basically it wasn't a world without light, but it was certainly one more deeply shadowed, more golden, more smokily scented (among other smells!) than ours. It could not be had for the flick of a switch but provision of light had to thought about and toiled over. What you never have you never miss, but 1000 years ago, the return of daylight as the northern hemisphere turned toward spring must have been a truly keen pleasure of life.

Sources used in this article.

Cooking and dining in mediaeval England by Peter Frears prospect books, 2008

Food in England by Dorothy Hartley published by Little, Brown.

The senses in late Medieval England by C.M. Wooglar Yale University press.

Constitutio Domus Regis: The establishment of the Royal Household edited and translated by the late Charles Johnson. Oxford Medieval Texts.

Elizabeth Chadwick is a multi award-winning bestselling author of historical fiction and a member of the Royal Historical Society.  Her latest novel Templar Silks tells the story of what William Marshal did during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Longest Castle in Europe by Leslie Wilson

Burghausen, in Lower Bavaria, is officially, according to the Guinness Book of Records, Europe's longest, at  1,051.02 metres, ie, well over a kilometre, so walking the length of it would count as a reasonable constitutional, particularly after the steep climb up to the ramparts. As one of the largest intact medieval castles in the world, it dominates the eponymous (and very attractive) town. From 1255 onwards, it was the second seat of the Dukes of Lower Bavaria. We stayed in the town in July last year, in sizzling heat, in the old Post hotel, which backs onto the castle rock, and our room had a view of the castle.
This is not meant to be a discursive piece, rather (since it's getting into summer holiday time again) a stroll through the castle. If you want a panorama of the whole thing, look on wikipedia.
This very pretty garden is set on the exterior of the old gaol, part of which is called the 'Hexenturm' or 'witch tower.' I was hoping to get images to illustrate a piece about the great witch hunt, but in fact Burghausen was not one of the great witch-burning centres of Lower Bavaria. The 'witch tower' was simply the place where women were shut up. I believe the name was attached to it later, and you can make what you want of that connection, and why it was so named.
Next to the 'witch tower' is the 'torture tower' or 'Folterturm,' and that is definitely the right appellation. I'm not putting up photos of the instruments of torture, but there are still racks, scolds' bridles, Iron Maidens, and other horrible things on view in the museum here. It's a dreadful thought that torture is still very much a part of our modern world. However, here is the sign for the Folterturm museum. For the benefit of non-German speakers, the sign also tells you how to get to the snack bar and the entrance to the torture tower is through the souvenir shop. There is something slightly gruesome about this, I feel, torture as entertainment. Well, you get it at the Tower of London, too.

One of the corridors in the gaol.
Moving further along, you get to more cheerful parts of the castle; of course the Dukes wouldn't have wanted their dinner disturbed by screams, though no doubt they had no squeamishness about strolling along to visit an execution or even a bout of torture. Perhaps my scruples about torture as entertainment nowadays are over-sensitive, after all.

Here are the ducal quarters; unsurprisingly, the castle is in great demand for film locations.

What I liked best about the castle was this chapel, a little medieval gem. Interestingly, just as in England, medieval wall paintings were being rediscovered, which are just visible, I think, if you click on the picture. In England the disappearance of such frescos is usually blamed on the white-hot frenzy of religious reformers, and I commented on this to the room steward. Her response was: 'I believe they just went out of fashion.' Perhaps the fashion was less religiously motivated than the painting over of frescos in England, but it seems that might have happened even without the Reformation.

Walking down another steep path along the ramparts to go back to the town for lunch, we heard goats bleating, yet they were, frustratingly, never visible, . You could hear them from our bedroom, too. They are organic goats who are kept on the steep slopes because they eat tree and shrub seedlings, which, if they grew up, might destroy the structure of the castle mound. They move indoors for the winter.

The other thing I liked best about the castle was the old moat, part of which has become a swimming area. Particularly welcome when the temperature is over 30; it's so lovely to be able to swim among moorhens and ducks, to turn over on your back and enjoy the view of the longest castle high above you. As you can see from the photograph, the lido is among the outer ramparts, and you go through a curtain wall to get to them (there's a lovely garden, too).

There are some pictures that show the extent of the castle on this blog

For the goats:

Friday, 22 June 2018

Midsummer Nights and a Midsummer Pudding by Catherine Hokin

Oh the joys of Midsummer: that part of the year when retailers begin to count down the shopping days to Christmas and those of us who live in Scotland wonder whether we can risk turning the heating off. Although we give it one name, the celebration actually comes in two stages. It starts with Solstice or the longest day (June 21st), associated with pagan festivities and then moves to Midsummer's Day itself (24th), one of the four Quarter Days in the UK legal calendar and also traditionally the Christian festival of St John. That means we are currently in a summer limbo - a little like the period between Christmas and New Year except with charred raw sausages rather than Quality Street and hopefully a prettier name. That last may mean nothing outside Scotland, suffice to say it's a biological term starting with p and ending in m and I'm sure you can work it out. Anyway, to badly paraphrase Dave Allen, whichever god goes with you, there's a celebration to be had.

 Kupala Summer Solstice Festival, Russia
The summer solstice is the sun's most powerful day and has been celebrated for thousands of years with fires and and torch-lit processions. In ancient times, the fires, which included bonfires and flame deliberately set in motion such as burning wheels rolling down hillsides, were seen as a magical way of feeding the sun and strengthening its power. As Midsummer was perceived as one of those times in the calendar when the veil between mortal and spirit worlds lifted, fire was also important for warding off bad luck, stopping the evil spirits who might cross through, and encouraging prosperity in the year to come. Blazing gorse was carried round cattle to drive away disease and the most athletic revelers were encouraged to leap over high-burning fires. Supposedly, the highest jump predicted the height crops would reach in the new harvest season.

 Rowan Tree: no go for witches
For pagans, the solstice also saw the Wheel of the Year coming to one of its most significant points: the Goddess, who took over the earth from the horned God at the beginning of spring, is now at the height of her power and fertility. Midsummer was traditionally therefore a time for gathering flowers and herbs with 'magical' properties. Gathering is one of the traditions which survived the religious reformations of the fifteenth century aimed at putting the feast of St John the Baptist more to the fore than church-threatening superstitions and, in parts of Wales at least, Midsummer Day is still called Gathering Day because of this practise. Whatever they told the priests about new trends in decorating and design, people continued to pick their plants and protect themselves, their homes and their cattle with evil-spirit repelling garlands. In a nice fusion of old and new, it was especially important to pick the yellow-herb St John's Wort, known as 'chase-devil' which would be hung above doors as a protective measure. Rowan was also thought to be powerful against witches and was added to bonfires or specifically burned on Midsummer's Day in a number of places, including Cumbria. Other plants to look out for around this date include Orpine, which is also known as 'Midsummer's Men' but be careful: if a piece is picked on Midsummer's Eve and wilts overnight, disappointment is certain for the one who picked it, and possibly also death. Send someone else if you have a hankering.

 Mazey Day Cornwall
Like many old traditions, much of the rituals associated with Midsummer are no longer practised on a countrywide scale. Perhaps the best way to experience them nowadays is at Stonehenge or in Cornwall where the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies has revived some of the old celebrations. The annual festival of the Feast of St John the Baptist in Penzance lasts a week, beginning on the Friday closest to the 24th and concluding with a parade on Mazey Day and includes traditional bonfires set all along the coast. I also remember climbing Glastonbury Tor in a swirl of magical lights and music one Midsummer a few years ago and genuinely wish I could remember it more but that's another story.

Whatever you're celebrating this summer, be it Midsummer or Wimbledon or the World Cup or the ability to escape them all, you need something a bit more special than a washed-out barbecue. I have a wonderful old book called Catten Cakes and Lace which includes recipes for all the year's celebrations and for Midsummer they have a delightful creation called Queen Mab's Summer Pudding. If you really want to do the faery queen justice, bring out a different kind of Barbie, stick her in the finished creation and make the whipped cream into the ruffles on her skirt; just a thought...

6-8 slices stale white bread with crusts cut off
675g - blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries
2 tablespoons water
150g sugar

Line a 1 litre pudding bowl with slices of bread. Cut more if needed to completely cover the bottom and sides. Wash and prepare the fruit, add to a pan with the water and sugar. Boil gently until the sugar melts and juices run but don't let the fruit disintegrate. Spoon the fruit into the prepared dish, make a bread lid, put a small plate on top, weight it down and chill for 8 hours or more. Remove the weights, turn onto a plate, decorate with the cream and celebrate summer.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The Market for Historical Fiction by Imogen Robertson

So this is a question for all the writers, agents and publishers out there. What is the state of the market for Historical Fiction at the moment? 

A Scholar seated at a Table with Books - Rembrandt 1634

I do some reading for The Literary Consultancy when my own deadlines allow, and it’s a question I’m often asked. If I think the manuscript I’ve read is of publishable quality, I’ll say so, but that’s different to saying it will be published. And as to money? Might be two thousand, might be twenty, might be fifty, or one hundred thousand. Or one point five million.

Yes, that just happened. And that’s for a book about a book too (the writing and publishing of Dr Zhivago, We Were Never Here by Lara Prescott). I‘ve chatted to two publishers in the last year who said that writers writing about writing is a terrible idea. I have nodded sagely when they said it too. See, nobody know anything. That phrase by the way is the mantra repeated through William Goldman’s ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’, which is brilliant and painful in equal measure.

I can say with certainty that there is plenty of excellent, crime, adventure, and literary historical fiction being published. Big names such as Wilbur Smith (full disclosure - I’ve been co-writing with Mr Smith), Alison Weir and Robert Harris, literary luminaries like Julian Barnes and Alan Hollinghurst, master warmongers like Harry Sidebottom and Ben Kane, crime lords - S.D. Sykes, Rory Clements, stonking debuts - Stuart Turton, Imogen Hermes Gower and the consistently excellent Antonia Senior, Katherine Clements, Abir Mukherjee. And many, many more. So the talent is there and the publishers are making sure new books arrive on the shelves every week. An army of book bloggers support and promote the love of fiction and audio book sales are shooting up. So that’s all good.  

The Hangover - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

I’ve also spent time with various writers sobbing into our pints about advances cut to the bone, shrinking foreign markets and the drop off in the sales of hardbacks. We’re not so much a literary elite, I’m afraid, as Del Boys on the 21st century Grub Street, trying to find alternative ways of making a living, publishing our work and fiercely staking out time to write the stories we want to write, all in the hopes that the next project we spend our blood and treasure on will be the one that breaks through and earns big, big enough to give us a chance to sit back and do more writing rather than ducking and diving. ‘This time next year, Rodney…’ 

We would all like to be able to spot trends and know in advance if a particular book is going to be a massive bestseller. (Ideally, before we write it). But in the end sales are in the lap of the Gods. And yes, I know, marketing spend and being named a lead title can be a huge boost, but we all know a superb book can fail to find readers even when a publisher blows the budget on it. We also know another book, universally rejected, can suddenly find a champion and snowball into a huge success. An author whose last book broke sales records sees the next one limp out into the daylight and then retreat, unremarked. It’s the cover, the subject, Brexit, the TV deal, the lack of a TV deal. We can always find reasons for the success or failure of any book after the fact. And we know (now) the moment everyone is in the pub saying that historical fiction is an impossible sell right now, and for God sake, don’t write about writers, is the moment someone lands a 1.5 million deal for doing just that. Nobody knows anything.

Rules are made to be broken, even the ‘nobody knows anything’ rule. I do believe no writer or publisher ever found fresh markets without being bold about what they write and publish. That doesn’t mean you have to live on soup in a bothy until your masterwork is complete, or hire the Natural History Museum for a launch party and buy advertising space on the side of a bus. It means we need to keep finding stories, places and times which ignite our passions and encourage new writers to do the same. 

So this is what I'm saying to myself and anyone else who wants to listen at the moment: Be bloody minded. Don’t try and chase a market, write the story you can’t let go off even if it goes against the current shibboleths, and find a way to pay the mortgage round the edges if you have to. Be wise about your money on the occasions it does turn up. 

Like, I spend my PLR income on negronis, but I think that is wise. 

Triumph of Bacchus Diego Velazquez 1628

So I think the market for historical fiction is… there. That’s probably all we can ever say to anyone, and it might have to be good enough. 

The Good Book - Federico Zandomeneghi 1897

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

One fisherman, two saints, and three politicians… by Carolyn Hughes

I have really been enjoying finding out about the villages of Hampshire’s Meon Valley, in order to share something of their history, introduce a few of the people associated with them, and reveal some of the treasures held within their buildings. Even though I know the area very well, it has nonetheless been both an eye-opener and a delight to discover all the things I didn’t know.

Taken from a map of Hampshire by William J Blaeu, Amsterdam, 1645, 
showing the cluster of villages in the upper reaches of the River Meon
But, today, I’m going to look at Droxford, one of the cluster of villages in the upper reaches of the River Meon.

The name Droxford is probably derived from ford and an old word ‘drocen’ meaning dry place. The settlement of Drokeneford was first mentioned in writing in the 9th century, when it was granted by Ecgberht (Egbert), King of Wessex, to Herefrith, the bishop of Winchester, “for the sustenance of the monks of Winchester”.

 St Swithun of Winchester from the 10th century 
Benedictional of St. Æthelwold
illuminated manuscript in the British Library.
More than a hundred years later, St Swithun was adopted as patron of Winchester’s restored cathedral church. Swithun had been Bishop of Winchester from October 853 until he died sometime between 862 and 865. In 971, Swithun’s body was transferred from its original burial place to Bishop Æthelwold’s new church building and, according to contemporary writers, numerous miracles surrounded the move. We’ve seen images of these miracles before, in the church at Corhampton, where the painting at the top of the south wall is said to depict stories from his life. One of them is the miracle of the eggs, where Swithun is inspecting a bridge being built over the River Itchen and, in the crowd that has gathered, an old woman is jostled and her eggs fall from her basket. But the miracle-working Swithun simply puts the broken eggs back together.

In 939, the then king, Æthelstan, granted 17 hides of Droxford land to his half-sister Eadburh. (A hide, traditionally taken to be 120 acres or 49 hectares, was intended to represent the amount of land sufficient to support a household.) Eadburh may well have benefitted financially from her brother’s generosity but, of course, she might not have spent much, if any, time in Droxford. Nonetheless, her story is interesting.

It was said that Eadburh’s father, King Edward, the elder son of King Alfred, set his three-year-old daughter a test, to discover if she was destined to live in the world or in a house of religion. He asked his little girl to choose between a display of rings and bracelets, and another of a chalice and gospel book. Apparently, the toddler chose the religious items and, as a consequence, was given, at that tender age of three, to the Benedictine nunnery at St Mary’s Abbey, Winchester (called Nunnaminster), which had been founded by her grandmother, Ealhswith, Alfred’s wife. There Eadburh remained as a nun, dying probably before the age of forty. Quite why she became a saint I am not at all clear…

In the Domesday Book, Drocheneford was said to be “always in (the demesnes of) the Church”, and was still held by the bishop for the support of the Winchester monks. In 1284 the manor passed wholly to the bishop, the monks renouncing “all right and claim which they have or shall have in the said manor, for ever”.

Not an owner of Droxford, but one of its more famous (or, almost, infamous) sons, was John de Drokensford (1260s?-1329), said to have been the son of the local squire. An effigy of a lady in the south side of Droxford church has been supposed to be that of his mother. John was the Keeper of the Wardrobe to King Edward I, and accompanied the king on some of his Scottish campaigns.

Effigy of John de Drokensford in Wells Cathedral
John’s services to the king were rewarded with very many ecclesiastical preferments, including rector of Droxford. He appears to have had five residences in Surrey and Kent, as well as Hampshire. In 1309 John became bishop of Bath and Wells, at the instigation of King Edward II. And, as bishop, he made neither Bath nor Wells his headquarters, but moved about constantly, attended apparently by a large retinue, living at one or other of the sixteen or more episcopal manor houses. He was, like many of his fellow bishops, a worldly man, and not always as scrupulous as he might have been in his own dealings.

Droxford continued to be held by the bishop of Winchester until 1551, when the new bishop, John Poynet, surrendered the whole hundred of Waltham, including Droxford manor, to the crown, as part of an agreement to reduce the income of the Winchester see, to the benefit of the government. The demesne of Droxford passed to William Paulet, the 1st Marquess of Winchester (c. 1483/1485 – 1572). William started out as a Catholic, but was quickly “persuaded” to see things the way the king, Henry VIII, saw them. Following the dissolution of the monasteries, William found himself rewarded with former Church properties, such as those owned by the bishop of Winchester.

Paulet was a political manipulator who had a long and successful career, serving Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. He was involved in the audience with the Pope to discuss Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and he became a close associate of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and a friend of Thomas Cromwell.

William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester, holding the white 
staff as a symbol of the office of Lord High Treasurer. 
1560s? National Portrait Gallery (London).
In 1535/36, he served as one of the judges at the trials of John Fisher, Sir Thomas More, and the alleged accomplices of Anne Boleyn. In 1547, he was an executor of the will of King Henry VIII. He was a political schemer and, in 1549, he supported the Earl of Warwick against the Duke of Somerset in their struggle for power in England during the minority of the child king, Edward VI. When Warwick succeeded, and became the new Lord President of the Council, he appointed William Paulet as Lord Treasurer. And when Warwick was created Duke of Northumberland in 1551, Paulet became the Marquess of Winchester and received Droxford, presumably as part of his reward!

It was said that Paulet and Northumberland “ruled the court” of the young king, as the two most prominent members of the Regency Council. William was still Lord Treasurer even after the death of Mary I in 1558, and continued in the service of Elizabeth I, although he must have been over seventy years of age. He retained his high positions, and was Speaker of the House of Lords in 1559 and 1566. Apparently, Queen Elizabeth once joked, “for, by my troth, if my lord treasurer were but a young man, I could find it in my heart to have him for a husband before any man in England.”

As already mentioned, William found himself able to shift his religious affiliation in order to win the favour of his monarch. Under Henry, he had already renounced his Catholicism and embraced Protestantism and, under Edward VI, he went so far as to persecute Roman Catholics. But, on the accession of the Catholic Mary, he “reconverted” and proceeded to persecute his former Protestant allies, while, on Elizabeth’s succession, he changed tack once again. All in all, he changed religious tack five times. Once, when asked how he managed to survive so many storms, not only unhurt, but rising all the while, Paulet answered: “By being a willow, not an oak.”

As for Droxford, William lost it again in 1558, when Queen Mary restored it to the bishopric, and the bishops then retained it until the Civil War. Then, the Long Parliament found a purchaser for Droxford in a Mr. Francis Allen, who gave £7,675 13s. 7d. for it. But, at the Restoration in 1660, the bishops recovered their possessions, and Droxford remained attached to the lands of the Winchester see for the next two hundred years.

But what of other famous associations with Droxford? I will mention two.

 Izaak Walton portrait by Jacob Huysmans,
c. 1672, National Portrait Gallery (London)
In the 17th century, the well-known fisherman and writer of The Compleat Angler, Izaak Walton, came to Droxford to fish in the River Meon, declaring it the best river in England for trout. His daughter Anne married William Hawkins, prebendary of Winchester Cathedral, who was instituted rector of Droxford in 1664, and held the office till his death in 1691.

Walton passed the last years of his life with his daughter and her husband, and a passage in his will says: “I also give unto my daughter all my books at Winchester and Droxford, and whatever in these two places are, or I can call mine.”

And the other famous man who spent a little time in Droxford was Sir Winston Churchill

In 1903, a railway came to serve Droxford with the building of the Meon Valley Railway. In fact, although the station was called Droxford, it was actually sited almost in Soberton, at a little settlement called Brockbridge.

On the morning of 2nd June 1944, orders were telephoned along the length of the Meon Valley Railway that it was to be kept free of trains so that a special train could use the route without interruption. Troops surrounded Droxford railway station and its sidings, and the local post office was ordered to let no mail other than official business leave the village.

The special train stopped and parked up at Droxford station. In it were the prime minister of Britain, Sir Winston Churchill, and the South African prime minister, General Jan Smuts. The next day Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, and Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labour, arrived by car. On 4th June, Dwight Eisenhower, the president of the United States, arrived from his nearby base at Southwick House, and they were joined by the prime ministers of Canada, New Zealand, and Rhodesia. They were there to discuss the D-Day invasion of France.

But, when the invasion was only days away, Charles de Gaulle, the Free French leader, had not yet been told of the Allies’ plans. The British cabinet was wary of communicating with the French government while they were in exile in Algeria, but also of a diplomatic incident if the invasion went ahead without French knowledge, so they decided to invite de Gaulle to come to England, to disclose the plans to him in person. When de Gaulle landed at RAF Northolt, he received a telegram from Churchill:

My dear General de Gaulle,
Welcome to these shores! Very great military events are about to take place. I should be glad if you could come to see me down here in my train, which is close to General Eisenhower’s Headquarters, bringing with you one or two of your party. General Eisenhower is looking forward to seeing you again and will explain to you the military position which is momentous and imminent. If you could be here by 1.30 p.m., I should be glad to give you déjeuner and we will then repair to General Eisenhower’s Headquarters. Let me have a telephone message early to know whether this is agreeable to you or not.

Although officially kept secret from local Droxford residents, it seems that Churchill had chosen the station as a secure base, because it was near the coast and to the Allied command centre at Southwick House. But there was some speculation that the site was also thought safe because it was overshadowed by beech trees, which obscured the view of the train, and because there was a deep cutting into which the train could be shunted if it came under attack.

Mackenzie King (PM Canada), Winston Churchill, Peter Fraser (PM New Zealand), Dwight Eisenhower,
Godfrey Huggins (PM Rhodesia) and Jan Smuts. Although this well-known photograph 
is generally credited as having been taken at Droxford, in fact, it seems unlikely. 
Anyway, at 6.58 pm on 5th June, Churchill’s train pulled out of Droxford station and returned to London. At 16 minutes past midnight the following morning, Allied troops attacked Pegasus Bridge and shortly thereafter the American airborne landings in Normandy began.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

An Imperial Love Triangle? by L.J. Trafford

Imperial history is full of scandal. Nero murdering his mother, Caligula sleeping with his sisters, Tiberius getting up to all sorts of things on the island of Capri.  Even so called good emperors aren't immune to it:
"I know, of course, that he was devoted to boys and to wine, but if he had ever committed or endured any base or wicked deed as the result of this, he would have incurred censure; as it was, however, he drank all the wine he wanted, yet remained sober, and in his relation with boys he harmed no one." Dio Cassius on Trajan. 

I want to examine one such Imperial scandal. An Imperial love triangle consisting of the emperor Domitian, his wife Domitia and his niece Julia.

The Scandal
Emperor Domitian

Suetonius has this to say about it:

"When his niece took another husband he seduced her....She became pregnant by him and died as the result of the abortion he forced upon her" 

Juvenal says this:
 "The adulterer with a tragic incestuous twist, so busy reviving those stern decrees, a threat to everyone even to Mars and Venus! Meanwhile his too fertile niece gobbled pills, bought on an abortion and every embryo lump was the living spit of uncle." 

Not an appetising image. A niece seduced by her uncle, made pregnant and then forced into an abortion that killed her.
But how much of this is true? 

Julia photo attributed José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro
Julia was the daughter of Domitian's elder brother Titus. She was likely ten years younger than her uncle. It is quite possible, given that both Titus and Domitian's father Vespasian were away holding official positions in the provinces, that Domitian and Julia were raised together in Rome.
One thing we need to get out the way is this charge of incest. If Julia and Domitian were involved it wasn't technically incest. Emperor Claudius had legalised marriage between an uncle and a niece in 49AD, purely so he could marry his own niece Agrippina.
Julia had been feted as a wife for Domitian by his father, the emperor Vespasian.

"He had been offered the hand of his brother's daughter while she was still a young girl." 


A dynastic match indeed. It's interesting that Domitian is bashed in our sources for allegedly sleeping with Julia, but his father is not similarly bashed for essentially wanting Domitian to sleep with his niece. However, the dynastic marriage did not go ahead. Domitian dug his heels in and refused to marry Julia. Why?

Suetonius tells it to us straight;
 "He persistently refused to marry her on account of his infatuation with Domitia."

Domitia Longina was a very well connected young woman. She was the daughter of Nero's celebrated (and later executed) general Corbulo. On her mother's side she could trace her ancestry back to Rome's first emperor, Augustus.
Vespasian, though having been declared emperor at the end of 69AD, was still in the East. As was Domitian's brother Titus. This left Domitian in Rome alone in 70AD representing this new dynasty. He was only 18 years of age with absolutely no experience in government.
Sometime during this year he met Domitia and evidently fell deeply in love. She already had a husband but this was considered no impediment.
They were married by the end of the year.

Vespasian did not arrive in Rome to take his throne until late in 70AD. This holds out the possibility that Domitian gave into his infatuation with Domitia and married without his father's permission.
Suetonius mentions that Domitian was 'persistently' pressured to marry Julia.
Was the pressure placed on him to marry Julia, pre or post marriage to Domitia?
Whichever it was, Domitian held firm.

The Triangle
Emperor Domitian and Empress Domitia.
Image attributed Classical Numismatic Group

Shortly after Domitian succeeded his brother Titus as emperor in 81AD something went badly wrong in Domitian and Domitia's marriage.

"He planned to put his wife, Domitia, to death on the ground of adultery, but having been dissuaded by Ursus, he divorced her, after murdering Paris, the actor, in the middle of the street because of her."
Dio Cassius

Suetonius has the same story, Domitian divorced Domitia because of her adultery with an actor named Paris It was during Domita’s absence that Domitian is alleged to have moved Julia into the palace and lived with her openly as a couple.
This separation from Domitia did not last long.

Upon the demands of the people he became reconciled with Domitia, but continued his relations with Julia none the less.
Dio Cassius

Just how convincing is this alleged infatuation with his niece? It’s surely not surprising that she lived at the palace. She was a member of the Flavian dynasty. 
Suetonius says Domitian loved Julia ardently. If this was true why didn't he marry her after the divorce from Domitia?

Julia. Image by Twdk
Julia was said to have died of an abortion procured when she fell pregnant with Domitian's child.
Domitia and Domitian had no children, only a son that had died in infancy. Julia's child would have been one born of two Flavians, a much needed heir maybe?

There is one further piece of evidence that undermines the story that Julia died of an abortion. A poem by Martial that would have been presented to the emperor. It was written shortly after Julia's death in 91AD


Spring into light, O child promised to the Trojan Iulus,true scion of the gods; spring into light, illustrious child! May your father, after a long series of years, put into your hands the reins of empire, to hold for ever; and may you rule the world, yourself an old man, in concert with your still more aged sire, for you shall Julia herself  with her snow-white thumb, draw out the golden threads of life, and spin the whole fleece of Phrixus' ram.”

The poem speaks of how Domitia was still hoped to produce an heir and that the now deified Julia would watch over him. How suicidal was Martial to write a poem wishing fertility to the empress that mentioned her husband's late mistress who died after becoming pregnant with the emperor's child?  It seems highly unlikely Martial would dare to produce such a work if the Domitian/Julia abortion story were true.
I think it’s more likely that this was scurrilous gossip based on an affectionate yet innocent relationship between uncle and niece.

I believe the real passion, the real love affair, was with Domitia. The woman he defied his father to marry. The woman he refused to give over despite family pressure. The woman he recalled from exiled after she’d cheated on him because ‘the people demanded it’.
Was this passion reciprocated? There were rumours that she was involved in Domitian’s assassination in 96AD. Yet years after his death Domitia continued to call herself Domitian's widow. Surely a sign of deep affection.

The Morality Laws
Courtesy of Wellcome Images

So what is really behind this story of an affair between and emperor and his niece? Is there more to it than just a bit of tittle tattle that apparently only gained traction in the years after Domitian's death?
Domitian was a reforming emperor and one of his key reformations was in the sphere of public morality.

Suetonius mentions many of his acts including:

He struck the name of a Roman knight from the list of jurors, because he had taken back his wife after divorcing her and charging her with adultery.

This sounds familiar doesn't it? It's exactly what Domitian did with Domitia. 

Then there is this:
He expelled one ex-quaester from the Senate for being over fond of acting and dancing.

Recalling Domitia's over fondness of the actor Paris.

Forbade women of notoriously bad character the right to use litters.

So here we reach the crux: is the Domitian/Domitia/Julia story our sources attempt to portray Domitian as a hypocrite, enforcing morality laws he himself and his wife were breaking?

I think it is a distinct possibility.

L.J. Trafford is the author of a four book series detailing the Year of the Four Emperors
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