Monthly Archives: December 2013

Scandal in the House of Borgia

Today is December 29th.  Since the first day of the new year is upon us and I will be busy as a result, I thought I would post my next article a bit early, though New Years Day would be much more fitting to do so, because on 1 January 1431, one of Italy’s most controversial figures was born in Xatvia, Spain near Valencia; Pope Alexander VI, more commonly known by his true name – Rodrigo Borgia.

Most people know the Borgia family by the legends that the notorious family have left behind; rumors of murder, incest, poisoning, lust, and much more surround them relentlessly.  Rodrigo himself and two of his children in particular stand out; Cesare and Lucrezia.  Their supposed story has been told in novels, films, video games, and plays, but what is the truth behind them?

Jeremy Irons portrays Rodrigo in The Borgias (2011-2013)

Jeremy Irons portrays Rodrigo in The Borgias (2011-2013)

Borgia, or Borja for the correct Spanish spelling, is actually not Rodrigo’s true family name, but his mother’s maiden name;he adopted his mother’s name upon his elevation to the papacy during the rule of his uncle Alonso de Borja (Pope Callixtus III).  He studied law at Bologna and was ordained, created Cardinal-Deacon the the age of twenty-five, and in 1457, was named vice-chancellor of the Roman Catholic Church and later became Bishop of Albano and of Valencia.  He served under five Papal heads, and in doing so, acquired enormous influence, wealth, and power.

In 1470, Rodrigo began a passionate affair with a noblewoman named Vannozza dei Cattanei, whom would be mother to four of his children; Giovanni, called Juan; Cesare; Lucrezia; and Gioffre, or Geoffredo.  By the time of his elevation in the papacy, the passion died out, and Vannozza’s life became more relaxed, though Rodrigo dotted heavily on his children and spoiled them.  All four would eventually become pawns in Rodrigo’s political game of intrigue.

On 11 August 1492, Rodrigo was elected Pope of Rome, allegedly by bribing the Cardinals with silver in order to obtain votes.  Cesare studied at the University of Perugia and later the University of Pisa, gaining degrees in cannon and civil law, but he was always being groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps.  Rodrigo wanted Cesare to have a career in the Church, while Giovanni, Cesare’s older brother, was given title of Duke of Gandia in Spain and became head of the Papal Army, a position that Cesare was said to have coveted.  While Giovanni held titles such as Grand Constable of Naples, Governor of St. Peter’s, and Captain General of the Church, Cesare became Bishop of Pamplona at age fifteen and, at eighteen, a Cardinal. 

Lucrezia, on the other hand, had been betrothed twice, but both engagements were called off by her father.  Finally, on 12 June 1493 at the age of thirteen, she was married to Giovanni Sforza, a member of the powerful and wealthy Sforza family and a man nearly twice her age, though before long, Sforza’s importance began to dwindle and rumors spread that the Pope would soon order his death.  In fear, Sforza fled for his life.  Soon, Rodrigo decided to try and have Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, the groom’s cousin, convince him to agree to a divorce, but he refused.  On grounds that the marriage had not been consummated, the marriage was declared invalid, and Sforza, in a rage, accused Lucrezia of having committed incest with both her father and brother Cesare, with whom she was very close.  Nevertheless, he was convinced to sign the annulment papers before witnesses and, for a short time, Lucrezia was free to do as she pleased, though she would never quite rid herself of the scandalous stain her first husband had placed upon her.

Juan (Stanley Weber) and Cesare (Mark Ryder) in Borgia: Faith and Fear

Juan (Stanley Weber) and Cesare (Mark Ryder) in Borgia: Faith and Fear

Soon after, however, a crushing blow was delivered to the Borgia family.  On the evening of 14 June 1497, Giovanni and Cesare had dinner at their mother Vannozza’s house and the two went their separate ways late that night.  Two days later, Giovanni Borgia’s mutilated corpse was dredged from the Tiber River, dressed in his fine clothes and with his gold still in his pockets and nine knife holes in his arms, legs, neck, and face.  The Pope was devastated.  A search was carried out for the murderer, but nothing turned up.  The murder has long been a highly speculated mystery, but most believed it to be the work of Giovanni’s own brother Cesare, who was said to be jealous of not only Giovanni’s position in the military, but of the fact that the two shared a mistress.  The fire was fueled when Cesare became the first person in history to resign as Cardinal, exchanging his church robes for a suit of armor and was granted the Dukedom of Valentinois by King Louis XII of France the same day, from which his nickname “il Valentino” is derived.  Maria Enriquez de Luna, Giovanni’s widow and mother of two of his children, believed so strongly in these rumors that after Rodrigo’s death, she tried to have Cesare charged with her husband’s murder, even asking her aunt Isabella I of Castile for assistance, however, she was unsuccessful.  His true involvement in the crime is unknown and it is also suspected that Giovanni was the victim of a jealous husband or lover, as he was known for his amorous affairs, but again, nothing was proved and there were no arrests and within a year, the investigation was called off.  Thus the myth of the Borgias grew more sinister.

Lucrezia and Alfonso in Los Borgia

Lucrezia and Alfonso in the Spanish film Los Borgia

The same year, Lucrezia married again, this time to the Prince of Salerno and Duke of Bisceglie, seventeen-year-old Alfonso of Aragon.  The couple was said to have fallen in love almost instantly and the marriage, which took place in July 1498, would be a short one.  Alfonso was the son of the King of Naples, and Rodrigo wanted to ally himself with France.  The problem was that France was an enemy to the Kingdom of Naples.  The French alliance was cemented when Cesare married the sister to the King of Navarre and poor Alfonso, who was no longer needed, deserted Rome in 1499, leaving behind a distraught and pregnant Lucrezia, whom he wrote to constantly, begging her to join him.  Soon, the couple reunited in the town of Nepi and returned to the Vatican in September.  In late October or early November, Lucrezia gave birth to a son, whom she named Rodrigo after her father.  The couple’s happiness would be cut short when Alfonso was attacked by mercenaries at the entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica in July 1500.  Gravely injured, he was cared for by his wife, half-sister, and many doctors, and slowly began to recover from his stabbing wounds, but nothing could help him when he was strangled in his bed by an unknown assassin in the night.  Again, rumors began to circulate that Cesare had ordered the murder or had even killed the boy himself, but again, nothing could be proven.  Either way, Alfonso was out of the way and the Papacy allied with France.  Two years later, Lucrezia was married off again, this time to the Duke of Ferrara.   She would never see Little Rodrigo again and the sickly boy died at the age of twelve.

Cesare Borgia

Cesare Borgia

Before the scandal of Alfonso’s murder took place, Cesare, hoping to marry the beautiful Carlotta d’Aragona, struck a deal with the King of France; if he granted him a divorce from his wife, Louis would support him in his anticipated marriage.  Cesare went to France, spending his money wildly in an attempt to impress the court as well as his intended bride, who was Lady-in-Waiting to the French Queen.  However, Carlotta rejected him immediately, not caring for his arrogance.  Instead, the king proposed a new bride, Charlotte d’Albret, sister to the King of Navarre and a woman of reportedly great beauty.  Cesare was pleased and, after nearly two months of negotiations, the two were married on the 12th of May.  They spent their honeymoon in Blois and Cesare lavished her with gifts, but soon, he was called back to Italy, and in July, he left his wife behind, never to see her again, nor their only child, a daughter named Louise.

In 1503, both Cesare and Rodrigo dined together and both fell gravely ill.  Cesare, who was already suffering from syphilis, eventually recovered, though for some time he “lay in bed, his skin peeling and his face suffused to a violet color.”  Rodrigo, however, was no match for the disease and died on 6 August at the age of 72.  Some say the cause of death was poison, but it is thought to be malaria or a similar pestilence that was also plaguing Europe at the time.  Cesare, his handsome face heavily scarred from the disease, wore a mask for the rest of his life.

With his father’s death came Cesare’s downfall; it is remarked by historian Niccolò Machiavelli that his one weakness was that he depended too much on his father’s Papal rule for protection.  Now that Rodrigo was dead, his enemies sought him out and the greatest known of them, Giuliano della Rovere, who next became Pope Julius II, retook his lands and he was forced to flee from Rome.  He sought aid in Naples, but was imprisoned and later taken to Spain, managing to escape his confinement with assistance.  He went to Navarre and took on the position of commander of the troops of its king, John III, his wife’s brother.

On 12 March 1507, during a skirmish with soldiers of the Constable of Navarre, Cesare Borgia died fighting in Vienna at the age of 31.   Upon his death, unaware of who he was, the attacking soldiers had him stripped of his armor and clothes and left him naked in the weeds with twenty-five stab wounds and a simple rock to protect his modesty.  When they at last discovered his identity, the Constable erupted in a fit of rage, because the price on Cesare’s head was high, and he would have been a valuable prisoner had he been left alive, but the damage was done.  John had his brother-in-law’s body carried back to Vienna, where he was buried.  Charlotte would never remarry, and instead entered a convent with little Louise and became a nun.

The only confirmed portrait of Lucrezia Borgia in the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican

Portrait of Lucrezia Borgia in the Vatican

Finally, Lucrezia was the last Borgia left alive.  Her third marriage to Alfonso d’Este made her Duchess of Ferrara in 1502.  Together they had a total of six children and in addition, she was also caretaker to at least one of Cesare’s illegitimate children and possibly mother to another son named Giovanni of Rome (however the child’s parentage is uncertain.  It is not even known if Lucrezia was really his mother or if he was a product of one of her brothers’ many liaisons.)  On 14 June 1519, at the age of thirty-nine, Lucrezia gave birth to her final child, a stillborn daughter named Isabella Maria, and ten days later, she too died of complications following the birth.

The history which I have provided here is short, mostly because of the facts being shrouded in legend and scandal that cannot be proved, as stated earlier.  The myths surrounding the Borgia family are still quite fascinating and have been told and retold by writers such as Machiavelli, whom famously used Cesare as his model in his book, The Prince.

Particularly Cesare seems to be known for his extreme cruelty both inside and outside the field of battle.  He was a brilliant military leader, having in his term ruthlessly captured towns such as Forli and Rimini.  It was even recorded by Rodrigo’s papal master of ceremonies that Cesare once had a group of prisoners rounded up in St. Peter’s Square, where from a high balcony perch, he proceeded to shoot them down with rifles until all were dead, allthewhile the Pope and his sister looked on.  In the French court, he showed off by bullfighting on horseback, and in one day killed eight bulls.  Yet despite his brutal ways, he was still said to be handsome and charming, always armed and dressed in fine silk.  He was highly intelligent, but his temper was fierce to the point where even his own father was said to have feared him.  Even his original epitaph read “Here lies the man whom all the world feared, who held peace and war in his hand.”

Cesare as portrayed in the Assassin's Creed video game franchise

Cesare as portrayed in the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise.

Rodrigo is known best perhaps for his promiscuous love affairs and was one of the only Popes to acknowledge his illegitimate children.  His relations were subject to the gossips of the time, namely his mistress Giulia Farnese, sister to the man who would become Pope Paul III and with whom he had a daughter named Laura.  She was slandered with the epithet “the Pope’s Whore” before she was cast aside in 1500 due to her age.  Rodrigo loved women.  He was also said to have rid himself of rivals with use of poison, most notably one called Cantarella, which may in itself be mythical, as no recipe for such a poison has ever been found.

This toxic myth also concerns Lucrezia, who was famously said to have been in possession of a hollow ring that she used to poison drinks.  However, modern historians are beginning to look at her in a more positive light.   Her beauty is also remarked on, namely her heavy long blond hair, which fell past her hips, a lock of which is on display. What is known is that she too had several affairs in her lifetime, most notably with the poet Pietro Bembo, with whom she exchanged several love letters that still survive.  Lord Byron dubbed them “the most beautiful love letters in the world”.

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Posted by on December 29, 2013 in Italian Renaissance


The Bloodstained Bridal Gown – The Short Fiery Romance of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

portrait of Anne Boleyn based on Holbein sketches

The life of King Henry VIII, would not be complete without one important person in the king’s life; his second wife, the ill-fated Anne Boleyn.  Though her life and reign were short, she made a huge impact on England’s history, becoming one of the most well-known figures of her day.  Her name is synonymous with torture, death, and seduction, but what was her real story?

Anne Boleyn was born to Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and of Ormond and his wife Elizabeth Howard between 1501 and 1507.  She had one older sister, Mary Boleyn (later Carey and Stafford after her marriages), and a brother, George, Viscount Rochford.  Anne was said to have a sharp tongue and an even stronger wit, as well as a terrible temper, but she was well-mannered and graceful.  Her hair was dark brown and nearly black, her eyes also dark brown, with an olive complexion, and a slender build – all things considered, a very pretty and charming woman.  She spent her early years being educated in the same school as the Archduchess of Austria in the Netherlands, and later went to France, becoming maid of honor to Queen Claude, wife of Francis I.  While there, her sister gained a reputation when she became mistress to the French king, who nicknamed her “The English Mare.”  Anne, a devout Christian who idolized the Virgin Mary, was rather conservative by contrast.

Upon her return to England in 1522, Anne became Lady-in-Waiting to Catherine of Aragon, youngest daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile and first wife of Henry VIII of England, where she caught the eye of the king, then young, handsome and athletic.  Catherine was in her mid-thirties at the time, and her marriage to Henry was strained; she had had several pregnancies, but only one surviving child, a daughter named Mary, but Henry wanted a son to secure his succession, and Catherine had been unable to produce the desired heir.  To add insult to injury, Catherine had been previously wed to Henry’s older brother, Prince Arthur Tudor, whom died soon after the wedding, presumably without consummating the marriage so as to seal it.  Henry had his suspicions that the marriage had indeed been consummated despite Catherine’s word that it had not (Arthur was young and in poor health at the time, a victim of an unknown epidemic that swept through London that was dubbed “the sweating sickness”). By this time, Catherine was passed the age where it was considered possible for a woman to bear children, and Henry was desperate.  He had one bastard son, Henry FitzRoy, the young Duke of Richmond and Somerset, but now he needed a legitimate one to become his heir.  He could either legitimize FitzRoy, which would require the intervention of the Pope or he could somehow rid himself of Catherine and marry again.  Henry chose the latter option.

Henry (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Anne (Natalie Dormer) in The Tudors (2007-2010)

Henry began pursuing Anne in 1526, but she rejected his advances, not wanting to become just another of the king’s many mistresses.  Her sister had been a king’s mistress for a short time before being cast aside and Anne refused to be put in the same position.  As a result, Henry, completely smitten, sought an annulment of his marriage, which resulted in a break from the Catholic Church when the Pope refused to grant him one.  He created the Church of England with himself as the head, and soon after, his and Catherine’s marriage was declared null and void by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Henry and Anne were wed soon after on 25 January 1533, and on the first of June, she was crowned Queen of England.

Catherine continued to refer to herself as the rightful queen and Henry’s only lawful wife.  The king refused to offer her any title save one, Dowager Princess of Wales as widow to his brother.  She spent the last of her days at Kimbolton Castle, where she was confined and left only for Mass.  She was forbidden to see or communicate with her daughter Mary, whom was declared illegitimate and was from then on referred to as Lady Mary Tudor instead of Princess.  Henry offered to let them see each other if they both acknowledged Anne as the rightful queen, but both refused.  Catherine died on 7 January 1536 at the age of fifty, evidently of heart disease, and was buried in Peterborough Cathedral.  Henry forbade Mary to attend her funeral and did not go himself.

On 7 September, just three months after her coronation, Anne gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Elizabeth.  Elizabeth was a beautiful girl with brown eyes and curly red hair, but she was not the son her father wanted so desperately.  Three miscarriages would follow the princess’ birth, leaving Henry even more distraught.  By 1536, he had given up hope that Anne could conceive his desired boy and soon found a new flame, Jane Seymour.

Jane Seymour

By all accounts, Jane was a generous woman with a childlike face and fair blond hair, but she was not of noble birth.  She was the daughter of a courtier and the fifth of nine children.  When she met Henry, she was serving as Lady-in-Waiting to Anne, who was once again pregnant at the time.  Soon after, Henry suffered a traumatic injury during a jousting match where he was thrown from his horse and knocked unconscious for two hours.  The incident made Anne so distressed that she miscarried again, this time a baby boy.  When he recovered, Henry made it clear that Anne was out of chances, even going as far as to say she bewitched him into marrying her.  Jane officially became his new mistress and was quickly moved into the royal apartments.

There were many people who did not like Anne, believing her to have stolen the throne from Catherine.  One of these men was Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex and Henry’s chief minister of the Privy Council.  Many historians, including Alison Weir and Eric Ives, believe that Cromwell plotted and engineered her downfall because he was threatened by her influence over the king, which seemed to be wrecking his plans for foreign policy because Anne disagreed with them and told Henry so.  In addition to her position as queen consort, Anne was said to have had a sharp tongue that made her many enemies, including Cromwell himself.  What is certain is that both Henry and Cromwell both wanted Anne gone and needed a reason to dispose of her.

Cromwell got his wish.  On 2 May 1536, Anne was arrested and taken to the Tower of London by the command of her husband.  She was charged with adultery, high treason, and even committing incest with her brother George.  Seven others were arrested with them, all under the accusation that they were her lovers; Mark Smeaton, a Flemish musician who first denied having a sexual relationship with her but later confessed, perhaps under torture; Henry Norris, an aristocrat was accused of coming to the queen’s chambers at night, but was in fact courting Anne’s cousin, Madge Shelton; Sir Thomas Wyatt, a poet and friend, was charged and released; Sir Richard Page was accused and later acquitted; William Brereton and Sir Francis Weston were also arrested.  Four of these men were tried, though only Smeaton pled guilty under torture.  On May 15, Anne and George Boleyn were tried separately.  She was found guilty and her marriage to Henry was dissolved.

 The accused were found guilty and executed on the Seventeenth of May.  Anne herself was given a small mercy from the king; he called upon an expert swordsman from France to behead her so she would not suffer.  On the morning of May 19, Anne’s execution was carried out.  She wore a grey gown with a red cloak of ermine and was said to have been in good spirits.  It was remarked by the Tower Constable William Kingston that when he promised her that death would come quick, she said, “I heard the executioner was good, and besides, I have a little neck” and laughed heartily before saying Mass and swearing her innocence “on the eternal salvation of her soul”.  She seemed at peace and ready to die.  A single stroke of the executioner’s sword was all it took.  Her execution was witnessed by Cromwell, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and husband to the king’s sister, Henry FitzRoy, who died two months later at the age of seventeen, the Mayor of London and several others.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, did not attend, but was found weeping in his London gardens, saying that he was sure Anne “was Queen in life and was surely now a Queen in Heaven.” Henry married Jane Seymour less than two weeks after Anne’s death.

In his haste to rid himself of Anne, Henry neglected to make arrangements for her burial.  Not even a coffin had been provided for her, and as a result, her body was hurriedly placed in an arrow chest and put into an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, but is now marked upon the marble floor thanks to Queen Victoria, during whose reign her skeleton was found during renovations of the church.  After Anne’s death, her daughter Elizabeth would face the same treatment as her half-sister Mary; she would be declared a bastard and her title of Princess was revoked.  Both girls were barred from the line of succession.

The grave of Anne Boleyn

Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour would produce one child, a long-awaited baby boy named Edward, but Henry’s joy at being granted a son was overshadowed by grief when Jane died as a result of the birth on 24 October 1537.  She would be the only one of the king’s wives to receive a queen’s funeral and the one whom he would be buried beside upon his death in 1547.  Before that, he would go on to have three more marriages, first to the German Anne of Cleves, and this marriage was once again annulled, its organizer, Cromwell, soon executed for heresy.  Next would be the teenage Catherine Howard, Anne’s own cousin, who would be beheaded for adultery along with her lover, Thomas Culpepper.  Last would be Katheryn Parr, a two time widow who would outlive him only to elope with Jane’s brother Thomas Seymour.

The throne would be succeeded by Henry’s son, Edward VI, only nine years old at the time of his father’s death.  Edward’s reign would be short due to illness, and he died at the age of fifteen in 1553 of an infection of the lungs, reportedly tuberculosis, much like his half-brother Henry FitzRoy before him.  The next monarch would be Mary, the first Queen of England in her own right.  Mary I would restore Roman Catholicism to England and burn nearly 300 religious nonconformists at the stake, including Thomas Cranmer, and kill Lady Jane Grey, her cousin and Edward’s heir according to his will, for which she would come to be known as Bloody Mary.  She married Philip II, the acting King of Spain, who would enjoy the title of King of England, but would have no influence in the kingdoms politics, although coins were issued with both of their profiles and a crown between them to symbolize joint rule.  There would be no children for the couple, although Mary did have two false pregnancies throughout her five year reign.

With Mary’s death came the ascension of Anne’s daughter, Elizabeth I, whose forty-four year reign would be England’s Golden Age. Elizabeth never married, thus her death in 1603 would mark the end of the Tudor dynasty and the beginning of the rule of the Scottish Stuarts, starting with the great-grandson of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, James VI of Scotland, who would become James I of England.  The first English settlement in America would be named Jamestown in his honor, but the colony would be called Virginia as tribute of Elizabeth, who would go down in history as the Virgin Queen.  


Posted by on December 21, 2013 in British Royalty, The Tudors


Adventures in Virginia – Monticello

300px-Thomas_Jefferson_3x4Over the years, I have convinced myself that I am the absolute best and worst person to bring along on a museum trip.  Every place I go, all I can do is act like a tour guide, especially in the Egyptian department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I visit every year, much to the annoyance of my companions I’m sure.  I did not, however, have the time to be so when I visited Charlottesville, Virginia this year, as I was too much in awe that I was actually in Virginia in the first place.

I live in a small town of only one square mile across the bay from New York City.  You can literally see the city lights from my building at night.  As such I have rarely had the pleasure of traveling outside the state of New Jersey, (aside from a brief visitation to Philadelphia for the Tutankhamun exhibition in 2007, but that’s a story for another time).  So you can only imagine my excitement when my mother agreed to accompany me on a six hour road trip south to Virginia for a three day stay.

Virginia has a very homey feel to it, at least where I visited.  Growing up in a house that the woods practically ate, I loved the country feel of the mountains.  I was practically jumping up and down like a bunny on crack when we got to our hotel, which was quite close in proximity to our ultimate destination: Monticello.

I have always had a strong attachment to the American Revolution and Thomas Jefferson in particular is one of my idols.  For some time, I had wanted to visit this great man’s estate, and now I had my chance.  Our tickets were booked and our tour was awaiting.  I think I barely slept that night in anticipation of what I would see, so many thoughts swimming through my mind – I was going to the one place I had always dreamed of seeing, had looked at photographs of for so long, had read about in so many writings I had lost count.  Morning could not come fast enough.


Work on the property began in 1768.  Jefferson married his bride, Martha Wayles Skelton, on New Years Day 1772 and the couple moved in straight away, though it is not known exactly how much of the house was completed during this time.  The house was built and rebuilt for more than forty years by Jefferson himself, a mastermind in not just the written word, but in architecture as well as many other things.  He continued making constant changes until his death in 1826.  Upon his death, his only surviving child, a daughter named Martha Jefferson Randolph, would inherit the property, but because of her family’s immense debts, it was sold in 1831.  In 1923, the property was bought by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns the grounds today.  The house currently operates as a museum.  

Standing at the entrance to the house and seeing just how big it was literally took my breath away. I must confessed I spaced out a bit, simply gaping like a fish before my mother, with a roll of her eyes, gave me a small shove and we went inside, my face red.

I was impressed when we came to the library.  Every wall was lined with books!  It made sense, considering books were Jefferson’s greatest love (he famously said, “I cannot live without books.”) but I was surprised my the amount and variety.  Jefferson could read ancient Latin and Greek, often reading ancient works in their original text, and I caught a glimpse of a few of these, including what was rumored to be his favorite, Cicero.  The sad thing is that none of the books were original; nearly everything had been sold upon his death to cover the family’s debts, including these precious books.  The Foundation had replaced those it could find, but several rare copies are still missing, according to our tour guide.

The Dome Room, as I call it, was located at the top of the house after a short flight of a steep and skinny staircase.  The room itself is painted bright yellow, the floor simple unpolished wood that creaks when weight is added to it, the ceiling, similar to the ceiling of the Pantheon in Rome, had an open glass window at the top that showed off the clear blue sky that morning.  For early spring, the sunlight that came through made the room relatively warm compared to the outside temperature.  I had to take off my jacket.  I closed my eyes and imagined Jefferson’s children and grandchildren playing up here and for an instant, I swore I could hear the sound of children laughing, just for a minute.  It made me remember that throughout the years that the Jefferson family occupied the house, it was never empty or quiet.  Despite the fact that Thomas and Martha had several children throughout their short marriage, only two daughters survived to adulthood, only one of which passed the age of twenty-five.  The survivor, Martha, called Patsy, had a grand total of twelve children with her husband, and the large family were frequent visitors and guests, with Patsy being the hostess in place of her deceased mother.  Jefferson was a family man who doted on all of them, as is shown by his frequent letters to the children from his days in Europe.  All too soon, it was time to move on, my thoughts still on the many little Jeffersons.


When we came to the study, I felt my heart racing.  Everything seemed to be in its proper place, as though Jefferson might come in at any moment.  You could feel his presence in the room.  Jefferson was a man of science, similar to a modern Leonardo da Vinci, and there were several items in this room to prove it, including a device used to copy letters (which would have been useful, as Jefferson did a lot of writing) and a telescope, among other things.  There was even a bust of his friend and rival, John Adams, under whom he had served as Vice President.  I found it funny that that bust was there because both men had a great deal of tension between them for many years.  In fact, they had not spoken for many years following Adams’ presidency, and did not reconnect until Adams sent a letter in 1811 that became the first of many that they would share until their deaths, both on the same day in fact (4 July 1826, Adams passing only hours after Jefferson on the nation’s fiftieth Independence Day)

Jefferson’s bed, to my surprise, had been built into the wall, which I learned later was called an Alcove bed.  There were mirrors in several places that were used to maximize the natural lighting of the room, which came in handy, as the president was often up reading into the late hours of the night.

Once our tour had ended, we were lucky that we were brought by bus to the cemetery, which is surrounded by an iron gate and the golden seal-like TJ crest upon it.  The area is also the resting place of his wife, two daughters, mother, a few grandchildren and several other members of the family.  Jefferson’s grave itself is marked by a large obelisk that can be seen from the pathway.

The carved epitaph was written as per Jefferson’s own instructions.  It is simple and short, as he wanted to be remembered not as the Third President or any other title that nation bestowed upon him, but by what he felt were his greatest achievements.  I must admit I got a bit misty here, especially when I came upon the grave of poor Martha, Thomas’ beloved wife.


By all accounts, Thomas and Martha had a loving yet short marriage that lasted for ten years.  Together the couple would have seven children, though only one would go on to outlive her father.  The two shared an intense love of literature and music; she was said to be an talented musician, often playing on a harpsichord piano that is in the house today, while Thomas was said to be a skilled violinist.  Theirs seemed to be a deep love, but Martha was a sickly woman, possibly suffering from diabetes, which was aggravated by her frequent pregnancies, and died at the age of thirty-three in September 1782, four months after the birth of her final child.  Her husband upon hearing the news “was led from the room almost in a state of insensibility by his sister Mrs. Carr, who, with great difficulty, got him into his library where he fainted, and remained so long insensible that they feared he would never revive.”  He remained locked in his room for three weeks, only emerging occasionally to go horseback riding by himself.  He began to resume a semi-normal life around mid-October, writing  at the time of his emergence from “that stupor of mind which had rendered me as dead to the world as was she whose loss occasioned it.”  He goes on to say, “A single event wiped away all my plans and left me a blank which I had not the spirits to fill up.”  Thomas would never remarry, remaining a widower for the rest of his life.

As we continued our drive down the mountain and back, I felt sad to leave.  I had nearly broken down upon seeing the graves, but as we entered our car to return to the hotel, I had to wipe away a few tears thinking about the story of Thomas and Martha and all the souls whose lives were intertwined to that one house.  I decided that I would return to Monticello one day and, upon my return home in the next few days, took to my laptop to type up a short poem, Call Me Homeabout the experience.  When I am feeling an intense emotion, I write, and the emotion I felt that day was intense as anything I had ever felt.  Reading and seeing are two different things entirely, and I had learned this firsthand that day.  

Beside me, my mother asked if I had had fun.  Dumbly, all I could do was nod.  She looked at me strangely from her place behind the wheel, probably because my eyes were red from the tears I had to blink back.  I’m a sucker for sad stories, tragedies and romances alike, and she knew that I loved Jefferson from an early age, but regardless, I still must have looked silly.  When my voice caught up with me a second later, all I could say was, “I loved it.”  She smiled just a little, probably to make me feel a little better, I’m not sure.  I watched the house fade away in the rearview mirror and turned up the radio to HIM’s Funeral of Hearts, my thoughts in another time and place, reminding myself that I would definately return to Monticello one day.

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Posted by on December 14, 2013 in American Revolution, Travel Logs


Lost in Memory, A Study of Richard III in History and in Literature


“‘King Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason of the duc of Northefolk and many othre that turned ayenst hyme, with many othre lordes and nobilles of this north parties, was pitiously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie,”  So goes a recently unearthed manuscript, now on display at the Yorkshire Museum in England.  The king in question – Richard III.  

Most of what people know about the English monarch, last in the Plantagenet line killed in 1485 in the Battle of Bosworth, is mostly Tudor propaganda.  When Henry Tudor won the war for England’s crown and became Henry VII, his claim to the throne as a descendant of Edward III through his mother Margaret Beaufort was unstable at best.  Though his was right of conquest and there were indeed no more male Plantagenets living, he still needed an acceptable reason to be on the throne, thus came the birth of the first stories of the hunchbacked tyrant many believe Richard III to be to this day.  The facts, however, are anything but.

Aneurin Barnard portrays Richard of Gloucester in The White Queen alongside his Yorkist brothers (Max Irons and David Oakes)

Aneurin Barnard portrays Richard of Gloucester in The White Queen alongside his Yorkist brothers (Max Irons and David Oakes respectively)

Richard was born as the youngest son to Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, and his wife Cecily on the second of October in 1452.  He grew up in a time of civil war, when the Wars of the Roses kept England from having a stable ruler.  From 1455 until his death, the two halves of the Plantagenet family, the House of Lancaster and the House of York, would clash again and again for each other’s claims to power.  The king at the time of Richard’s birth was the unstable Henry VI of House Lancaster, who came to the throne as an infant and was husband to the fierce Margaret of Anjou, who acted as co-regent as well as queen.  The name of the wars refers to the sigils of the familys’ houses – York’s white rose and Lancaster’s red.


When Richard was only nine years old, he became Duke of Gloucester following the coronation of his elder brother as Edward IV, the first of the Yorkist kings.  Richard trained to become a knight and had an independent command as the sole Commissioner of Array for the Western Counties by the age of twelve.  Between then and 1471, his brother would be overthrown and restored to the crown following the decisive Battle of Tewkesbury.  A year later, Richard married Anne Neville, widow of the Lancastrian Prince of Wales, who was killed in the battle, and daughter of the Earl of Warwick, one of the most powerful men in England who earned himself the title of Kingmaker.  Their marriage caused conflicts between Richard and his brother George, Duke of Clarence, whom was already married to Anne’s sister Isabella, over the estate the two sisters were to inherit from their mother, Countess Warwick.  However, Isabella died in 1476, thus the lands were forfeited to Anne.  Clarence was convinced that his wife had been murdered, but today it is thought that her death was the result of pulmonary tuberculosis or childbed fever.  He was later arrested for treason against his brother the king and killed, traditionally by drowning in Malmsey wine.

 Stained glass window at Cardiff Castle depicting Richard III and his wife Anne Neville

Stained glass window at Cardiff Castle depicting Richard III and his wife Anne Neville

Though very little is written of it, Richard and Anne’s marriage seems to have been a happy one.  The two had one child together, a son named Edward, who predeceased both of his parents at the age of ten.  Anne, a weak and sickly woman, would follow one year later in March 1485.  Richard was said to have wept at her funeral.  She was buried in Westminster Abbey, though there was no memorial to her until 1960, when the Richard III Society placed a bronze plaque behind the High Alter to mark the spot of her burial.

As for Edward IV, he was pressed through the Earl of Warwick to enter an alliance through marriage, as he believed he could rule through the king.  Instead, Edward secretly married the widow of a Lancastrian sympathizer, Elizabeth Woodville, in 1464, forcing Warwick to turn on him.  Edward and Elizabeth would go on to have twelve children of their own; one would go one to become a queen and mother to the notorious Henry VIII.

With the death of Edward IV in 1483, the throne was to be passed to his eldest son, a twelve-year old prince also called Edward.  Richard was named as Protector of the Throne until the boy was old enough to rule on his own, but this never happened.  Edward and his brother instead were confined to the Tower of London, from which they would never leave, becoming known as the Princes in the Tower and thus beginning the downfall of Richard, who was rumored to have murdered them.  This is a prominent point in William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Richard III, though the truth of these rumors is still unknown as Shakespeare was writing under the Tudor monarchy at the time, who, as previously stated, had great reasons to tarnish Richard’s name.  What is certain is that the Princes would never be seen again after the summer of 1483.  There is no record of a funeral, but two bodies thought to be of the boys were found during the reign of Charles II nearly two centuries later, buried under a staircase in the Tower and later interred in Westminster Abbey.  No examinations of the bones have been conducted since 1933 by orders of the current royal family, thus we may never know for sure if these are indeed the bones of the boy king and his brother.

An 1878 painting of the Princes in the Tower by John Everett Millais

An 1878 painting of the Princes in the Tower by John Everett Millais

What is certain however is that Richard became the next King of England the same year after a proclamation called Titulus Regius, which declared that Edward and Elizabeth’s children were illegitimate because of the marriage being conducted in secret, thus it was never proven to be legal.  Richard was immediately crowned King of England and his wife Anne became Queen.  He would rule England for a short two year period.

On 22 August 1485 at the age of thirty-two, Richard III died fighting in the Battle of Bosworth.  He was the last English king to die in battle and the Plantagenet dynasty died with him.  Upon his victory, Henry Tudor was crowned as Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor Dynasty.  To cement his claim to power, he had Titulus Regius revoked and married Edward IV’s eldest surviving daughter, Elizabeth of York, now legitimized and heiress in her own right.  Their union put an end to the Wars of the Roses and united the Houses of Lancaster and York.  The two had four children that lived to adulthood – Margaret married James IV of Scotland and became grandmother to Mary, Queen of Scots, mother of England’s James I; Mary would briefly become Queen of France following her marriage to Louis XII and after becoming a widow, married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and was grandmother to the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey; Arthur, the eldest, became heir apparent, but died young, thus making his brother King Henry when their father died in 1509.

As for Richard’s body, which was unearthed and positively identified in 2013, was buried at the Greyfriars Church in Leicestershire, apparently simply by being dumped their and buried under the floor, and lost after the Church’s dissolution under orders of Henry VIII when he left the Catholic Church to marry his second wife, the ill-fated Anne Boleyn.  The bones were found to show a gruesome death, apparently with several blows to the head with bladed weapons.  He was also shown to have scoliosis, which caused his spine to have a sideways curve, which Shakespeare would later dramatize into the hunchback story many know today.

A reconstruction of the face of King Richard III

A reconstruction of the face of King Richard III based on his skeleton.

As for the man behind the story, of the tyrant derived from the play, historians today, particularly the Richard III Society, are beginning to restore his good reputation and shoot down the stereotype of the king.  Indeed, he had been praised in Northern England during his reign and the public genuinely mourned his death at the time.  He has been described by his subjects as a “good lord” who punished “oppressors of the commons”, adding that he had “a great heart”, in the words of historian John Rous.  He even introduced bail, banned restrictions on printing and selling books, and created a court that the poor could apply to in order to have their grievances heard (Court of Requests).

As time goes on and more evidence continues to be uncovered, I’m sure that Richard’s story will be unveiled one day, moreso than what it is today.  Maybe one day the general public will understand that he was not the monster that the generations have passed him down to be in fiction, but a man of the people who loved his country and died for that love.

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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in British Royalty, Wars of the Roses