the cutting room floor

As I’ve discussed before, history isn’t tidy. I made some strategic cuts to the story at the outset, mostly for my sanity. Now I’m cutting even more as they don’t add to the story I’m trying to tell, which is a damn shame as Dee and Kelley generated So. Much. Weird. that begs exploration. Just not by me:

Dee and Kelley’s possible ties to Shakespeare – interesting if true, but not relevant to my story

Nuances of alchemical process and symbolism – you’ll get your furnaces and flasks but not painstaking detail because I’m not a chemist.

Dee and Kelley’s sojourn in Poland courting the patronage of Stephen Bathory (yes, cousin of that Bathory). It’s not the story I’m telling and someone already has anyway.*

A series of incidents in which Kelley apparently conjures demons and poltergeists outside of his actions with Dee – and this breaks my heart because I so, so want to play with what was going on here! I found this delicious story in the footnotes of part 9 of I.R.F. Calder’s thesis but it’s so divided from the rest of the spiritual actions that I can’t justify including it.**

The possibility that Jane Dee was from a recusant family. I could only find one reference (since removed), and there’s more narrative tension if Jane is solidly Protestant in Catholic Bohemia.

And there’s probably more. What are you cutting, and why?

animated gif of little girl and men in suits sawing/drilling away on a piano
Hacking away. Courtesy gfycat.

*Looking forward to reading this after I finish the WIP.
**Actually, I might do a short story based on this.

a fistful of linkage

Because I’m utterly stumped for a topic this week:

England’s new psychedelic renaissance: not a third Summer of Love (yes, there was a second [YouTube]), but less with the (pure) hedonism and more with the science.

Everyday Life and Fatal Hazard in Sixteenth-Century England is exactly what it sounds like: a painstaking examination of extant coroners’ reports reveal many, many dangers of everyday Elizabethan life. Maybe I’m morbid but I look forward to checking out their podcasts and bibliography.

The Racism Behind Alien Mummy Hoaxes: the whole “ancient aliens” thing doesn’t sit well for me and this article explains why better than I ever could. Insisting that aliens must have made [insert marvel of the world here] grossly discounts the tenacity and ingenuity of ancient and/or indigenous peoples. The possibility that hoaxers alter real mummies also runs into issues of desecration of indigenous burials and corruption of archaeological finds.

Photo of incredulous Agent Scully. Text: I'm not saying it was aliens...because it wasn't.
Courtesy Imgflip

biweekly links 6-7-2017

Witchcraft with a dash of art, and some things which may or may not be:

The hocus pocus of witchcraft: this post from the UK National Archives blog covers the basics but links over to their publication Accused: British Witches Throughout History, a nonfiction book about exactly what it says. Do check out their “We think you may also like” section if you’re into this sort of thing.

A radical new look at the greatest of Elizabethan artists: Two paintings have been newly confirmed as Elizabethan miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard‘s, based on the wood on which they were painted. They’re part of the Power and Portraiture: painting at the court of Elizabeth I exhibit that just opened at Waddesdon Manor. Looks like a good one to check out should you be in Buckinghamshire between now and October 29.

Portrait of Elizabethan man with beard and mustache, wearing a cap and ruff
Hilliard’s portrait of Elizabeth I’s alleged squeeze Robert Dudley, 1576. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The spy who hoodwinked the Nazis with sorcery: file under “interesting if true”. As opposed to “Operation” Cone of Power in which British witches actually tried to repel the Nazis, Operation Mistletoe was just propaganda. Allegedly orchestrated by spy and occultist Cecil Williams, this article suggests it’s uncertain whether this fake ritual happened at all. (Tangentially, a whip ’round Google for “Napoleonic magical ritual” nets nothing about the alleged witchcraft used to repel Napoleon mentioned in the article. Still, possible inspiration for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?)

Woodville witches in “The White Princess”

Like a lot of histfic fans I’ve been enjoying Starz’ “The White Princess”. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is. I’m not sure it matters.

The story plays with one of the gaps in our knowledge that is so ripe for fictionalization: how did Henry VII and his queen Elizabeth of York develop a happy marriage? Sources tell us Henry mourned Elizabeth deeply when she died, but not how a woman could be happy with a man who killed her uncle and deposed her family.  Two episodes in I think the miniseries (based on Philippa Gregory’s novel of the same name) plays with this question admirably.

It also plays with the usual wild rumors: that Richard III intended to marry his niece Elizabeth of York and that one of the Princes in the Tower survived as Perkin Warbeck. But of course the most appealing historical mystery to me is whether Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s widow, practiced witchcraft.

animated gif of a woman in medieval gown spinning a pendulum
Essie Davis witching it up as Elizabeth Woodville in “The White Princess.” Image found by Gramunion via Tumblr.

I don’t have the time to do the subject the research it deserves, so alas, I’m not including any footnotes. It does seem Elizabeth Woodville’s mother Jacquetta was accused of witchcraft twice, both times by political enemies who conveniently had her imprisoned before they charged her. Jacquetta denied her guilt and the accusations dried up when the Woodvilles came back into power anyway.

Even if the Woodvilles did try to lure Edward IV into marrying Elizabeth through supernatural means they may not have had to: she was reputed to be a great beauty and charming to boot.

Essie Davis in costume as Elizabeth Woodville from The White Princess
If the real Elizabeth Woodville looked like Essie Davis it certainly didn’t hurt. Via Tumblr.

Still, if those lead figures were Jaquetta’s she was using them for something, but that may not mean much. People at all levels of society dabbled in witchcraft during the early modern period. For that I do have a footnote: Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic.

Dee, Kelley, and the Gulf Breeze Six

Lest you think that soliciting and obeying dubious supernatural advice is a purely pre-Enlightenment thing, I give you the Gulf Breeze Six.

Google Map of Gulf Breeze, on the Florida panhandle near Pensacola. Beautiful beaches but beware springtime jellyfish.

The abbreviated version: in July 1990 six American soldiers working in intelligence in West Germany went AWOL on the orders an entity called “Safire” they contacted through a Ouija board. The authorities apprehended them in Gulf Breeze, Florida, interrupting their attempt to 1) inform the President about aliens, 2) kill the antichrist, and/or 3) await the Rapture (accounts vary). Incredibly they evaded punishment: after three weeks held incommunicado the military discharged them with full honors.

Of course there’s more to it than that–isn’t there always? Government experiments, UFOs, and prophecies all get tossed into the blender of weird. The blog post at the link provides a sober, comprehensive history. Check out the accompanying PDF for contemporary news clippings.

The story caught my eye because the story is so similar that of Dee and Kelley:

  • Both groups sought and followed supernatural advice, even when it put them in conflict with the authorities
  • Neither group were cults as such, being small (six soldiers plus a handful more; Dee, Kelley, and their wives) disorganized, short-lived, and lacking charismatic leaders
  • Despite wild detours from orthodoxy both groups’ beliefs were rooted solidly in Christian theology

What intrigues me most is how many modern beliefs the Gulf Breeze Six must have had to jettison to make their assumptions. Dee and Kelley obeying their “celestial teachers” makes sense in their historic context; in twentieth century America not so much*. The GB6 must have taken some serious intellectual leaps (IMHO) to obey “Safire”‘s instructions to desert.

Letting go of my modern assumptions has been one of the hardest parts of getting into my characters’ heads. Characters may question Kelley’s intentions or sanity but it wouldn’t occur to them to question the existence of supernatural entities.

Mind, I’m a hard-headed, secular-soaked atheistic sort. Believer’s mileage may vary.

What’s your take?

*I’m well aware that belief in God/gods, angels, demons, etc. persists but those beliefs compete with modern scientific method in a way they didn’t in the sixteenth century. Turns out some of the GB6 were fundamentalist Christians. Which raises the question: how did they come to play with a Ouija board? I thought those were a big no-no in those circles.

Biweekly links 2-8-2017

Here’s what Google Alerts netted for me over the past fortnight:

Queer occult vs. “alt-right” occult: a very different take on the current political turmoil in the U.S. Disclaimer: I am not a practitioner but I find the idea that memes are a kind of magic provocative, to say the least. Thoughts?

Magick as strategy in World War Two: that the Nazis embraced their own twisted form of occultism isn’t news, but the possibility of the English fighting fire with fire in the form of Aleister Crowley is a new one on me. Fantasy, of course, but the facts it’s based on are arguably weirder.

16th-century English Tudor rose pendant unearthed near Moscow Kremlin: before we go all “how did it get there?!” keep in mind that England had a presence in Russia from the time of Ivan the Terrible (a prospective employer of John Dee – but that’s another story). Interestingly I first learned of Englishmen in Ivan’s Russia through Ann Swinfen’s historical fiction as she set one of her Christoval Alvarez books in Muscovy.

Photos: Secret ‘Hole’ to Hide Priests Revealed in Tudor Mansion: Archaeology, hidden passages, and spycraft, my favorites! Researchers used a 3D laser scanner to plot the priest hole’s location in Coughton Court, a “false hole” concealing the real one. Historians believe Nicholas Owens, English Catholic spy and escape artist, created it. Later several of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators used Coughton Court as a hideout.

rectangular alcove in a stone wall
Another priest hole, at Oxborough Hall, UK. By Alasdair Massie on Flickr, some rights reserved.

guest post: the past isn’t even past

A few weeks back I sent out a tweet asking for post suggestions. The best was a request for “the larger context of sixteenth century Prague.” I loved the idea but found it beyond my expertise. Fortunately, I found an extremely qualified guest blogger to address this snarly topic.

Lucy Kemnitzer has been working on a vast interconnected tangle of low-fantasy historical-flavored stories and novels set in a secondary world informed by Central/Eastern Europe but not analogous to it. A few of her early stories can be found at Fictionpress. She became entangled with this region while visiting her first-born who lived in Prague for seven years while studying at Charles University. This came after realizing her family’s heritage was four ways not-quite-Polish and four ways not-quite-German (including the Jewish and Sinto parts).

You can find her two published science fiction novels at Less Than Three Press and a sprinkling of short stories, mostly fantasy.

Lucy’s personal blog on Livejournal

Lucy’s author blog is a bit behind the times for actual reasons but is expected to liven up this year.

_________

I set out to write about the deep history of ethnicity in the city of Prague, and I will, but let me frame it by talking a bit about some of the public spaces tourists often miss, because these are beautiful places where you can witness both the myth and the history. Also I promised Alison this would relate to Rudolfine Prague, and it will, but not till the end.

In Prague you take the city bus to the forest, you hike past farms and abandoned military installations to get to the mountains–and then you buy beer and sausages to listen to the national opera(1) while perching on a steep hillside peering around the narrow trunks of tenth-growth trees. Along the way are feral fruit trees descended, they say, from the ones planted on decree of a long-ago empress, so that soldiers would have nourishment as they traveled. Like most of the stories I’m going to tell here, this is not quite how it really went(2). This city park is called Divoká Šárka. Šárka was the lieutenant of Vlasta, women who according to legend waged war against the men after the death of Queen Libuše, who with her ploughman husband Přemysl founded Prague where they found a man making a threshold (“prah,” in Czech).

If you count back from historically documented Přemyslid rulers, this legend is clearly impossible. There was no such thing as a Czech at the time any of this could have happened: the undifferentiated Western Slavs didn’t arrive in the region until the seventh century. The first slavic ruler in Bohemia was in the ninth century. By that time there were already several different kinds of people living there.

In order to tell you who was living in the Czech lands before the Czechs, I’m first going to tell you about a modern park in Prague 13. It’s called Centrální park (yes, it is named after New York’s Central Park), and it’s endowed with all the things an extremely large park needs, including lawns, giant chaise longues for sunbathing, bicycle paths, children’s playgrounds, fishing ponds, a beer garden, an archaeological site, and a Celtic tree calendar with a big rock in it(3). This is homage to the Celts who are the first documented inhabitants of Prague. The earliest archaeological finds you can see displayed in replica with some reconstructions and interpretation at the Prague City Museum(4).

These were not just any Celts! In Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars, we learn that the Boii (who gave their name to Bohemia), picked up and left to throw in their stakes with the Helvetii who had a grand plan to relocate to Western Gaul and establish a hegemonic regime to rival the Romans. They lost, but while the Helvetii were sent back to their homeland which they unfortunately scorched, the Boii were absorbed into other Celtic tribes in Western Gaul and northern Italy, leaving behind no other record of themselves than a small handful of coins stamped with their name(5).

You’ll notice this leaves Bohemia rather depleted of people. Not for long! It fills up with several tribes of Swabians (Germans) who live quite nicely there. Naturally, Celts and Italians were coming and going through all this time as well. The central location of the Bohemian plateau and its navigable rivers meant that people were coming in from all over during the Roman and post-Roman times.

The Slavs arrived as a band of marauders in the sixth and seventh centuries, just ahead of the Magyars, behind many other waves of marauding tribes who came into Europe and settled in there. It’s kind of hard to characterize the early Slavs because there isn’t a cohesive and distinct archaeological record for them: the reconstructed language history doesn’t seem to match up with what we do know about the cultural history: and early records are scarce and confusing and often refer to places no longer known(6). None of this stopped Alfons Mucha, who you probably know from his Art Nouveau posters of voluptuous underclad women with nasturtiums and calla lilies and also Sarah Bernhardt in drag as Hamlet, from painting his immense Slav Epic (Slovanská epopej), in which he tells a story in 20 immense canvases which is by turns glorious and bitter and almost completely false(7).

The Slavs arrived to find the Germans already brewing the beer and wine for which Bohemia and Moravia respectively became famous. Agricultural methods that (barely) sustained the inhabitants of the plains through which the Vltava River flows were already in place. By the time Bohemia became a player in the Holy Roman Empire the place was still more German than Czech.

The Jews arrived in Prague in the ninth century, took up residence near Prague Castle and Vyšehrad (also a castle). We have a lot of records about Jewish history in Prague(8). Jews have been, in  Prague as elsewhere, far more important than mere numbers would indicate, for their contribution to culture, technology, and politics.

The beloved Charles IV (the Holy Roman Emperor whose 700th birthday is being celebrated this year), though descended from the Czech Přemyslids on his mother’s side, was Luxembourgian on his father’s side and given a French education and Italian war experience before becoming King of Bohemia and a lot of other places.By the time he was building CHarles University and the Hunger Wall and generally advancing his subjects, he felt it important to learn Czech along with the usual Latin, French, German, and Italian. As in the rest of the Holy Roman Empire, in Prague there was a cosmopolitan community filled with polyglots.

So a couple of centuries later when Rudolf II comes along, he’s ruling–among other things, remember he’s a Holy Roman Emperor(9) a Prague with a fully diverse population. This fully diverse population is actively restructuring itself (as it is in the rest of Europe), in at least three different dimensions: class, religion, and nationality. Rudolf’s Prague was a turmoil of landed aristocracy versus bourgeoisie versus the guilds, Protestant versus Catholic, Czech versus German versus Italian (still lots of Italians in those days, and Rudolf imported some new ones for their craftsmanship) and all versus Jews. Rudolf found some of this to be useful. He wasn’t a Protestant himself, but he didn’t consistently persecute them because they could be a wielded in struggles with the Pope.  Likewise with class and nationality: Rudolf found allies and enemies in every corner, and he was happy to trade one for another if it would advance his projects.

There is one book I recommend to everyone who would like to understand these aspects of Prague’s history better: Prague in Black and Gold, by Peter Demetz (You can currently get a copy from Powell’s). Peter Demetz’s perspective on the rich tapestry of life and the complicated forces of history is refreshing and enlightening.

_________

(1)On the first Saturday of September. (here’s a description of the most recent one)

(2)According to Structure and management of the urban forest in Prague Maria Theresa decreed that trees in general should be planted along all the roads to aid in orientation in bad weather, provide firewood, and improve the landscape. The fact remains that roads in Prague and elsewhere in the region do tend to have a lot of feral fruit trees on them.

(3)Here’s a picture of it taken by some Ingress player. I know, that’s odd, but the only descriptive links I can find are in Czech.

(4)Off-topic: this year would be a good time to hit up all the many historical museums in Prague because it’s the 700th anniversary of the birth of Charles IV, who was as good a king as a king can be, and I am not being sarcastic here.

(5)There has to be a better translation of this book than I can find online. Cicero thought Caesar was an excellent literary stylist. I remember it read quite nicely in second-year Latin. But this translation is all kludge and sludge and it’s all I can find right now.

(6)Seriously, read this Wikipedia article for a look at how baffling early Slavic history is.

(7)Here’s a kind of blurry panorama [YouTube] a visitor made of the exhibit at the National Gallery, which is worth visiting not just for the amazing and beautiful monster of propaganda which is the Slav Epic, but also for the other exhibitions, which cover a lot of territory, artistically and historically, in a pleasant building which was once a department store. It’s across the river from Staré Město (Old Town), and while you are over there you can check out the Agricultural Museum, the Technical Museum, and the Modern Art Museum, if you have strong enough feet. Also there is another huge park, the Letenské sady (Letna Park) nearby, which has great views of the Vltava River and Staré Město, and in spring is redolent of lilacs that grow on big! Old! Trees!

(8)For more Jewish history in Prague you could start at the The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe or the Jewish Virtual Library. Also, the Golem is a Prague story, so if you look up Golem stories you’ll get some Prague local color. Be aware that all of the surviving synagogues in the Jewish Quarter of Prague are also museums (as well as being working synagogues, so time your visits appropriately).

(9)Another cool thing about Charles IV is that he set up a method for succession that didn’t depend on the personalities of his children. Consequently the Holy Roman Empire that Rudolf inherited was almost the same size and shape as the one Charles IV left behind.

biweekly links 12-14-2016

Queen Elizabeth I’s Vast Spy Network Was The First Surveillance State: repeats old myths about John Dee as the inspiration for 007 but the rest of the article is rock solid factual. I used Alford’s “The Watchers” as background for the “Dee/Kelley as spies” angle and discovered enough about intelligencer Charles Sledd to make him a well-rounded antagonist for my book.

Oil painting of dour Elizabethan man in dark clothes and stiffly starched ruff
Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, attributed to John de Critz the Elder [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Pretty glum, no? He was probably only happy when fighting Spain and the Catholic Church.
Through foreign eyes: the forgotten ambassadors to the Tudor court: English espionage got organized under Liz but there was plenty of spy vs. spy at her dad’s court too. Diplomats spied on the king, courtiers, and each other, with varying degrees of success.

In the 16th Century, People Went Crazy for Portraits Made Up of Fruits and Veggies – delightful thumbnail sketch of Rudolf II fave Giuseppe Archimboldo and a nice selection of his proto-surrealist portraiture.

Why the Stone Age could be when Brits first brewed beer: hops only came in during the late medieval period but fermenting was going on long before that. Heather ale? Why not – evidently it has a long tradition in Scotland. Article links extensively to archaeologists’ CVs and publications, and even a few historically-inspired brews. Don’t you just love food archaeology?

biweekly links 11-30-2016

Busy week, so here’s a selection from the past two weeks of my Google Alerts:

Second Salem: The Real-Life Prosecution & Paranoia That Inspired J. K. Rowling’s ‘Fantastic Beasts’: the latest edition to the Harry Potter ‘verse is built around an alternate history in which the 17th century Salem witch trials left a long shadow tainting American muggle/”no maj” and wizard relations well into the 1920s. Opinions?

The Magick of Dion Fortune – With Paul Clark (re-broadcast): Fortune is another new-to-me name from the early years of the Golden Dawn, and writer of occult fiction. This seems to be fairly standard fare from the also new-to-me Hermetic Hour podcast.

Arrival – reviewed by a UFO expert: the expert in question is Nick Pope, former head of the UFO desk (yes, there was [is?] such a thing) in the UK’s Ministry of Defence. Some interesting observations about how the plot of the movie intersects with government (lack of) contingency plans for alien contact and the portrayal of the military. I saw this a few weeks ago and it’s a slow mover but riveting. The aliens are truly alien and the story stays with you long after the credits roll.

biweekly links 11-16-2016

Doctor Strange tapped into a fascination with the mystical that was front and center in America when he was created in the 60s – now he casts his spell again: puts the new Marvel universe movie in the context of the character’s origins in controversial 1960s spiritual explorations. I enjoyed it, wish they showed more of the Sanctum Sanctorum (now on Google Maps!). The mentino of the Key of Solomon amused.

Captain America's quote from The Avengers:
Via knowyourmeme.com

Have you seen it? What did you think?

Speaking of books: The Evolution of Clocks and Timekeeping Rare Books from the 15th century to the present at the Grolier Club: including tomes on timekeeping, mechanical clocks, sundials and astronomical tools by Tycho Brahe, Athanasius Kircher, Girolamo Cardano and more.

Renaissance painter Botticelli’s dark side revealed in new film – but did he have one?: known for the delicate beauty of “Birth of Venus” and “Primavera”, it’s often forgotten that Botticelli illustrated “Dante’s Inferno” as well. This new documentary explores the Florentine master’s “dark side” whilst arguing that he didn’t have one.  I’d say burning your paintings at the behest of a religious fanatic is pretty dark, or at least depressing.