Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, October 20, 2017

When Women Were "Sacred"

When Were Women Sacred? And What the Hell Does That Mean?


In his sycophantic, deluded press conference yesterday, White House chief of staff John Kelly, formerly a respected Marine general, served up a heaping pile of bullshit:
You know when I was a kid growing up a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor.
What the hell?

This guy. Ugh
You know, I am almost the exact age of John Kelly, who was born in 1950, and I sure as hell don't remember a time when women were "sacred." 

And what does that even mean?

If you look up the word "sacred" in the Oxford English Dictionary, the most comprehensive and authoritative source for the study of the English language, here are the most common meanings of "sacred":
1. Of the Eucharistic elements: Consecrated.
2. (Followed by to.)
     a. Consecrated to; esteemed especially dear or acceptable to a deity.
     b. Dedicated, set apart, exclusively appropriated to some person or some special purpose. 
3. Of things, places, of persons and their offices, etc.: Set apart for or dedicated to some religious purpose, and hence entitled to veneration or religious respect; made holy by association with a god or other object of worship; consecrated, hallowed.
Well, I could go on, I love the OED, but you get the picture. Claiming women used to be "sacred" just doesn't make a lot of sense.

Of course, there's a lot more in the dictionary about "sacred" meaning venerable and holy and even something (or someone) sacrificed to the gods, but eventually you get to what, perhaps, Kelly had in mind--"Secured by religious sentiment, reverence, sense of justice, or the like, against violation, infringement, or encroachment." Or maybe "Of a person (hence of his office): Having a religiously secured immunity from violence or attachment; sacrosanct, inviolable," but notice the pronoun there--the illustrations refer to Roman tribunes and praetors. 

But, really, who knows what he meant? Even if I'm being generous, I sure don't long for a time when religion kept women safe. BECAUSE NO SUCH TIME EVER EXISTED.

And Kelly's sappy memories of when he was "a kid growing up" are worth nothing. Because when exactly have women been "looked upon with great honor"?

As soon as I type that, though, I see where I've misunderstood him--so maybe he's right after all. Women have been "looked upon with great honor," sure, but WHEN HAVE THEY BEEN TREATED WITH GREAT HONOR?????? 

Clearly there is some make-America-great-again mythology going on here. 

I've posted many times on this blog about the status of women in history. But let's not go back to the beginning of time. Maybe let's start with the nineteenth century. Could Kelly have been thinking of all those lovely women imprisoned by their corsets and crinolines? 

"Women were sacred."
Because here is the English writer Caroline Norton on the status of women in the nineteenth century. Does this sound like they were "sacred," treated "with honor":
A married woman . . . has no legal existence: her being is absorbed in that of her husband. . . . 
She has no possessions, unless by special settlement; her property is his property. . . . 
[She] cannot make a will. . . . 
[She] cannot legally claim her own earnings. . . . 
[She] may not leave her husband's house. . . . 
She cannot sign a lease or transact responsible business. . . . 
She cannot claim support, as a matter of personal right, from her husband. . . .
"Such . . . is 'the law,'" Norton concludes, demonstrating "the ridicule, confusion, and injustice of its provisions" for women.

Norton published her summary of the legal status of women in 1855. In the United States, women and men had begun the long, painful process of gaining equal legal, political, educational, financial, and social rights for women by organizing in Seneca Falls for two days in 1848. 

And it took only seventy-two years of effort for women to gain the right to vote. Wow! I guess it happened so quickly because women were so sacred and honored.

By the time good ol' John Kelly was growing up, it was more than thirty years since women had gotten the vote--but they still hadn't gotten many of those other pesky things they might have needed. They were still so "sacred" and "honored" that, among other things, they were barred from certain jobs if they were married (if they kept their jobs when they married, many were fired if they got pregnant), they couldn't get credit in their own names if they were married, birth control was either non-existent or not legally available, equal access to education wasn't even an issue, and the concept of marital rape didn't exist (marital rape didn't become a crime until 1979). 

It's now, in 2017, almost 100 years since women have gotten the vote. And how's this for progress:
  • Women occupy only 19.6 percent of the 535 seats in the U.S. Congress--there are 21 women in the Senate and 84 in the House of Representatives. In state legislatures, women hold 24.9 percent of the seats--1,840 of 7,383 members of state legislatures.
  • Only six of fifty state governors are women. In the 1,362 U.S. cities with populations of over 30,000, women are mayors in only 286 of them--21 percent.
  • There have been no female presidents of the United States in the 240 years since the country declared its independence in 1776.
  • Of the 112 justices who have served on the U.S. Supreme Court, only four have been women.
  • Women hold only 5.2 percent of the CEO position in Fortune 500 companies.
  • According to the most recent U.S. Census (2010), about one-third of U.S. physicians are women, 31.5 percent of lawyers are women, 17.5 percent of clergy are women, and 9.7 percent of civil engineers are women (United States Census Bureau, “Labor Force, Employment, and Earnings,” Table 616, “Employed Civilians by Occupation, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin,” Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012 [Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 2012]).
  • In the increasingly important world of technology and social media, here are some numbers: Just 20 of Apple's top 107 executives are women. Meanwhile, Microsoft reports that only 25.8 percent of its total workforce is female and that women represent only 17.9 percent of its leadership. While Google touts its commitment to women on its website, its latest diversity report shows that women account for only 31 percent of its workforce and only 25 percent of its leadership, at Facebook, 27 percent, and, while it may have hired a new VP of Inclusion and Diversity, at Twitter, only 3 of its 9 -person leadership team is female, and it continues to be involved in gender-related "abuse" problems.
  • The wage gap persists; although the Equal Pay Act was passed fifty years ago, in 1963, today women in the U.S. still earn about 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.
  • The entertainment field certainly doesn't seem to hold women "sacred," as the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Woody Allen, and many, many others make obvious. In commenting on the opportunities for women writers in theatrical productions, playwright Marsha Norman recently noted, "Women have lived half of the experience of the world, but only 20 percent of it is recorded in our theatres." In other words, "if life worked like the theatre, four out of five things you had ever heard would have been said by men." Onstage and back stage, there is also a colossal gender gap: significantly fewer roles for female actors than male, and noticeably fewer female directors, set designers, lighting designers, sound designers, and choreographers, among other crucial roles.
  • At the same time, on screens both large and small, women face similar inequities. Recent studies of the top 100 films released in 2015 reveal women accounted for only 11 percent of the writers, 7 percent of the directors, 22 percent of the producers, 20 percent of the editors, and 3 percent of the cinematographers. On screen, women played leading roles in only 34 percent of the top 100 films of 2016—and of those leads, only 8 were women over the age of forty-five. And none of these numbers address issues of pay equity.
  • While women are more fully represented on television screens than they are in film—in the 2016-17 prime-time season, 42 percent of the “major characters” on broadcast, cable, and Netflix programs were female—they still comprised only 28 percent of the writers, directors, producers, editors, and directors of photography, among other roles.
  • Meanwhile, women and girls constitute the majority of the 54.3 million Americans who live in poverty.
  • Two-thirds of the low-wage workers in the U.S. (earning $10.50 per hour or less) are women. Four out of five of these women have at least a high-school diploma--33 percent have some college, 10 percent a B.A.
  • More than twice as many women over the age of 65 (over 3 million) as men (over 1.5 million) lived in poverty in 2014; the poverty rate for women 65 and older was 12.1 percent, 4.7 percentage points higher than the poverty rate for men 65 and older (7.4 percent).
  • On a really cheery note, the most recent report by the Violence Policy Center shows that 93 percent of women who are murdered are killed by men they know.
  • And while exact numbers are impossible to know, the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that there are about 431.840 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year. While the percentage rate has remained "relatively stable" since 1993, it still means that a sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds. While men and boys are also the victims of rape and sexual assault, 9 of 10 victims are female. But note: as the CDC recently reported, the numbers of rape victims are significantly under-reported--as many as 88 percent may not be counted in national rape statistics.
And if all this isn't enough, you can be sure that if you talk too much about any of these statistics--or if you criticize the behavior of men like Donald Trump, for example--men like John Kelly will deny your humanity (Frederica Wilson, who criticized Trump, is an "empty barrel") and insult your intelligence and criticize you for your anger and disgust. 

And if you dare to step out of line, men like Trump and Kelly will criticize your ambition, your weight, your hair, your complexion, your smile, your breasts--well, okay, basically your entire body--your clothing, your voice, your laugh, your tone, your emotions, your driving . . . 

Because in their world, some imaginary past where women were "sacred," this is how they honor them.

God forbid you be a woman who speaks her mind.
(And who wears a hat. That's unforgivable.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Eleanor of England, "Noble and Much Loved"

Eleanor Plantagenet, queen of Castile (b. 13 October 1162)


The daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her second husband, Henry II of England, Eleanor Plantagenet was born in Normandy. She was the sixth child--and second daughter--of the English king and queen, though she had two elder half-siblings, the French princesses Marie and Alix, who had been born to Eleanor of Aquitaine when she was queen of France, the wife of Louis VII.* 

A thirteenth-century
miniature
depicting Eleanor,
queen of Castile
Eleanor Plantagenet's childhood was filled with movement, as the royal couple traveled through the extensive holdings of the Angevin empire, which included not only Henry's England and parts of Wales and Ireland, but also his continental holdings as well as Eleanor's vast inheritance--she controlled more of France than the French king.

In 1174, when the English princess was twelve years old, she was married to Alfonso VIII of Castile. By the terms of her marriage, Eleanor was granted political control over significant holdings throughout her husband's kingdom. Perhaps aware of how crucial this power was to her life as queen of Castile, Eleanor was to negotiate similar terms for the first marriage of her daughter Berengaria, who would eventually rule Castile as queen regnant.

But that was in the future. As for Eleanor, her husband recognized her abilities, and in his will of 1204, he indicated that, if he were to die while his son and heir was still a minor, his wife was to rule as regent of Castile alongside of their son, Ferdinand. 

Despite his careful provisions and Eleanor's evident ability, she was never to rule Castile--or, at least, never to rule Castile for long. She did become regent, but she died less than a month after Alfonso, on 31 October 1214. 

Since Ferdinand had predeceased his father, the new king of Castile was Henry I, just ten years old. His sister Berengaria, well prepared by her mother, assumed the role of regent of Castile. After her brother's death, she inherited the throne of Castile, ruling as its queen.

Eleanor, queen of Castile, is buried Abbey of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas, Burgos, Spain, her tomb right next to that of her husband, Alfonso VIII.

The tomb of Eleanor of England, queen of Castile
(just behind is Alfonso's tomb)

There is no biography of Eleanor Plantagenet, but a great deal of information about her can be found in biographies of her mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and of her daughter, Berengaria. There are several scholarly biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but I like Amy Kelly's Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings. There are fewer choices for Eleanor Plantagenet's daughter, but luckily there is Janna Bianchini's The Queen's Hand: Power and Authority in the Reign of Berenguela of Castile and Miriam Shaddis's Political Women in the High Middle Ages: Berenguela of Castile and Her Family.

Of these, Shaddis's work is a particularly good source for you if you're interested in her mother, Eleanor Plantagenet. Shaddis includes two useful chapters: "Mothering Queenship: Leonor of England, Queen of Castile, 1161-1124" and, focusing on the importance of marital arrangements for Berengaria's later success, "Documenting Authority: Marriage Agreements and the Making of a Queen." 

*The marriage between Eleanor and Louis had been annulled in 1152, after Alix's birth. Eleanor had sought the annulment, using the birth of her two daughters as the reason for ending her marriage to Louis: she had been married for fifteen years and had produced no male heir.  When the pope granted her request, finally, it was on the grounds of consanguinity--although the marriage was dissolved, the couple's two daughters were declared legitimate. Freed of her first marriage, Eleanor of Aquitaine immediately married Henry and promptly gave birth to a son, William, in August 1153.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Edith Cavell: "No Hatred Or Bitterness"

Edith Cavell, British Nurse (executed 12 October 1915)




Edith Cavell was British nurse arrested in Brussels and tried by a German military court during the First World War. She was charged with having aided Allied soldiers escape from Belgium, convicted, and executed by firing squad on 12 October 1915.

I first learned about the life of Edith Cavell when I was a girl. I read a lot of biographies, then as now, and I don't remember much about the book I read or when I read it (unlike my very distinct memory of having read about the sad end of Jane Grey, the "nine days" queen of England). 

I am wondering, now, if I might have stumbled on Iris Vinton's The Story of Edith Cavell, a biography of Cavell written for children and published in 1959. The timing is certainly right--but, then again, I read widely beyond the shelves of children's books, and so who knows what I read, other than it had to be a book published before 1962 or so. 

(By the time I was in fifth grade, I considered myself an expert on the marital misadventures of Henry VIII and his six wives, so I know I was reading "adult" biographies. Also, that's the kind of insufferable child I was.)

Born on 4 December 1865, Edith Cavell began her life much as the central figure of a novel by Jane Austen, or maybe one of the Brontës. She was the eldest daughter of a provincial vicar who had fallen in love with and then married his housekeeper's daughter.

In the Norfolk village of Swardeston, the Reverend Frederick Cavell first occupied a Georgian farmhouse and then a vicarage built next to the the Church of St Mary the Virgin in 1865, the year of Edith's birth. (Although he was a "poor parson," the reverend had the church built at his own expense, and it "nearly ruined him.")

His eldest daughter, Edith, was educated first at home, then briefly at the Norwich High School, and finally, between 1881 and 1884, at a series of boarding schools, Edith eventually trained as a "pupil teacher" at Laurel Court (Peterborough), the last of the establishments she attended.

She took a series of posts as a governess, but while she was at Laurel Court, she had learned French well enough to be recommended for a post in Brussels in 1890.

Cavell's watercolor of the chapel at
Château d'Hougoumont,
Waterloo, Belgium
For five years, from 1890 until 1895, she was a governess for the François family. In addition to improving her French and managing the lives of the family's four children, she also focused on developing her sketching, drawing, and painting.

In 1895, Cavell returned to England to nurse her father, who was suffering from a serious illness. Once he had recovered, she was determined to become a nurse. In April 1896, she began training at the London Hospital (now the Royal London Hospital).

She served as a nurse during an outbreak of typhoid fever in Maidstone the next year, and by 1898 was working as a private nurse. By 1899 she took up the post as a night superintendent at St. Pancras Hospital, a Poor Law institution. By 1903, she had transferred to the workhouse infirmary at  Shoreditch, where she became assistant matron in 1903.

She continued her career with a transfer to the Manchester and Salford Sick Poor and Private Nursing Institution, where she became a temporary matron. But by 1907 she was again in Brussels, where she had been offered a permanent position in the newly established L’Ecole Belge d’Infirmieres Diplomees, known more simply as the "Clinique," serving as head of the institution,  which was dedicated to the training of nurses. 

Edith Cavell with some of her
nurses-in-training,
Brussels, Belgium
Cavell was still working in Brussels in August 1914, though she was actually visiting her widowed mother in Norfolk when she heard the German declaration of war--she returned to the city immediately, arriving by 4 August, the day the Germans invaded neutral Belgium.

With soldiers of all nationalities in the city, the Brussels clinic was established as a Red Cross hospital, dedicated to treating all wounded, regardless of their national origins. After the fall of Brussels (21-22 August) the Germans took over the clinic for their own soldiers, sending home some sixty British nurses, though Cavell and her assistant, Elizabeth Wilkins, remained in the city.

By the fall, Brussels was completely isolated--and Cavell found herself faced by a moral dilemma. As a "protected" Red Cross nurse, she was supposed to remain neutral. But as a human being, she felt compelled to aid the British and Allied soldiers and civilians who found their way to her, seeking shelter and assistance.

And so she offered her assistance. She helped wounded British and French soldiers escape to The Netherlands; she sheltered Belgian and French civilians, especially those of military age, until they could be provided with false identification papers and guided to safety. 

Within a year, by August 1915, Cavell and the clinic had fallen under suspicion--and then she was betrayed by a French collaborator, George Gaston Quien. In exchange for his own safety, he had disguised himself as an Allied soldier, sought aid at the clinic, and received it.

Cavell and some thirty-five men and women associated with the clinic were arrested on 5 August 1915 and held in the St. Gilles prison. Over the next ten weeks, she was interrogated on three separate occasions--8, 18, and 22 August. Presented by signed depositions that, she was told, fully outlined the activities of those at the clinic (the documents were written in German and only described to her in French), she freely and fully admitted to her own role in protecting men and helping them escape.

According to Cavell's own deposition, she had helped some 60 British and French soldiers to safety and had sheltered a hundred Belgian and French citizens of military age escape. Her two-day trial before a military tribunal began on 7 October 191; along with those who had been arrested with her, she was charged with  "conducting soldiers to the enemy," helping them return to their home countries so that they could rejoin the fighting.

While she admitted helping men escape Brussels, Cavell was clear in her own testimony that her aid had been limited and that her goal had not been to help men return to battle. In response to the charge, she clarified her role: "My preoccupation has not been to aid the enemy but to help the men who applied to me to reach the frontier. Once across the frontier they were free."

An international effort was being made on her behalf, with appeals for clemency being made by Hugh S. Gibson, the first secretary of the U. S. legation in Brussels; by Rodrigo de Saavedra and Vinent, the marquis de Villalobar, the Spanish ambassador; and by Maurits Van Vollenhoven, the Dutch ambassador, Maurits Van Vollenhoven. 

The British government could do nothing to save her, or at least thought it could not help her. Sir Horace Rowland, the top official of the Foreign Office, wrote, ""I am afraid that it is likely to go hard with Miss Cavell," adding that in the matter the British were "powerless."

Another member of the Foreign office agreed: "I am afraid that Miss Cavell will get a heavy sentence. There seems nothing to do." The sentiment was shared by Lord Robert Cecil. The Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs believed that British help would hurt Cavell rather than help her: "Any representation by us, will do her more harm than good.: (For The Guardian's analysis of "How British Diplomats Failed Cavell," click here.)

Cavell and five others were sentenced on 11 October, and although appeals were made on their behalf, there was to be no reprieve. Cavell herself, when informed of her impending execution, was calm:
The Edith Cavell memorial,
Westminster, London
I have no fear or shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me. This time of rest has been a great mercy. Everyone here has been very kind. This I would say standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.
Cavell was executed by firing squad early on the morning on 12 October. She recorded her own death in her diary: "Died at 07h on 12th October 1915."

Although she herself wished to be remembered as a simple person who did her duty, Cavell and her "martyrdom" were quickly seized on by Allied propagandists, her death serving as a recruiting tool for the military. 

Buried hurriedly in a field next to the St. Gilles prison, Cavendish's body was exhumed after the war and returned to England. In 1919, following a memorial at Westminster abbey, she was interred in Norwich Cathedral. 

After the war, too, she was posthumously awarded the Cross of the Order of Leopold by Albert I, king of he Belgians, the government itself awarding her the Croix Civique. In France, she was recognized with the Légion d'Honneur.

A 2016 memorial service, dedicating the new grave of
Edith Cavell, begun in 2015 on the centenary
of her death

The best place to start your further reading is the website dedicated to her, which you can access by clicking here. In addition to a thorough biographical introduction, there you will find discussions of newly recovered documentary evidence as well as further links and reading. 

You might also enjoy the website of the Belgian Edith Cavell Commemoration Group, created for the occasion of the centenary of Cavell's death. You can also read about one of the more enduring monuments to Cavell, the Edith Cavell Clinic, which began operation in 1915.







































Sunday, October 8, 2017

Lady Margaret Douglas, Poet and "Progenitor of Princes"

Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox (christened 8 October 1515)


Margaret Douglas was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's older sister--the Tudor princess's first marriage had been to James IV of Scotland. After the king's death, the queen dowager had married Archibald Douglas, the earl of Angus. Margaret Douglas was the only child of Margaret Tudor's second marriage.

Margaret Douglas,
c. 1560-65
As a widowed queen, Margaret Tudor struggled to maintain her role as regent for her young son, who at seventeen months old succeeded his father as James V of Scotland in 1513, after the king's death at the battle of Flodden.

But when the queen dowager married her second husband secretly in 1514, she lost her regency and her guardianship of her two royal sons, the child-king, and his younger brother, Alexander, born in 1514, after his father's death.

In 1515, heavily pregnant with Angus's child and deeply embroiled in the violent political struggles of the Scottish lords, the former queen left the country, undertaking a desperate escape to England.

She took refuge in Harbottle Castle (Northumberland), where her daughter, Margaret Douglas, was born on 8 October 1515. The elder Margaret, too ill after childbirth to travel south to join her brother's court, remained in the castle with her daughter until she recovered enough to make the journey.

In late April of 1516, mother and daughter were finally able to move on to the safety of Henry's court, where they were greeted by Henry's queen, Katherine of Aragon, who had just given birth to a daughter of her own, Mary Tudor, in February. 

But after a year in England, with her husband Angus refusing to join his wife and daughter, Margaret Tudor returned to Scotland and her husband, taking Margaret Douglas with her. The turbulent marriage of Margaret and Angus, despite their brief reconciliation, was not to last.

Back in Scotland, Margaret was allowed to have some contact with her son, James V, but her difficult marriage disintegrated, and by the time the younger Margaret was three, the pair were engaged in a long and bitter struggle. 

Though the two would continue in their attempts at reconciliation, primarily at the urging of Henry VIII, by 1527 the marriage was irretrievably broken, and it was at last annulled by Clement VII--while declaring Margaret Tudor's second marriage invalid, the pope nevertheless declared Margaret Douglas legitimate. (Margaret Tudor would go on to marry a third time, to Henry Stewart, first lord Methven--but that's another story.)

At some point between 1525 and 1528, Angus removed his daughter from her mother's guardianship--although some historians have referred to this as a kidnapping or even an abduction, Angus had every legal right to take possession of his child. Now in her father's custody, Margaret, began to identify not as English but Scottish.

Angus continued to involve himself in the struggle to control the Scottish throne and the person of the young king. By 1528, Angus was not only back in Scotland but once again regent--though he quickly lost power. By the end of the year, the young king escaped from Angus's control and joined his mother. 

Attainted and finding his lands confiscated, Angus managed a truce and fled to England, taking his daughter with him, recognizing her value as a significant political pawn. While Margaret Tudor's son, James V, might be considered an heir to the English king, he was at least technically debarred by reason of his Scottish birth. Margaret's daughter, on the other hand, faced no such bar. She was English--born in Northumberland. 

But once in England, Margaret Douglas was removed from her father's custody and joined the household of her godfather, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, her residence established in Berwick Castle. She remained there until the spring of 1530; after Wolsey's death, she was summoned to her uncle's court.

Her proximity to the throne would shape her turbulent life. In 1530, she was made a lady-in-waiting to her cousin, Mary, whose residence was at the royal palace at Beaulieu  The two would remain lifelong confidantes. 

But in 1533, with the English king's marriage to Anne Boleyn, Margaret Douglas was transferred to the new queen's court, once again appointed as lady-in-waiting. After Elizabeth Tudor's birth, Margaret was a lady of honor to the princess. 

While at the court of Henry and Anne, she met and fell in love with Lord Thomas Howard, the queen's uncle. The two seem to have entered into a contract for marriage. When he discovered the relationship between the two, the king regarded it as a dangerous attempt by Howard to gain control of the throne. On 8 June 1534, Henry had the pair arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Howard was attainted for treason, his position becoming increasingly dire after Anne Boleyn's fall and execution in 1536, but he was not tried and executed--he eventually fell ill  as a result of the harsh conditions he suffered while imprisoned in the Tower.

For her part, Margaret also fell ill, but she was transferred from the Tower into the custody of the abbess of Syon Abbey.  She was finally released on 29 October 1537, but she would not be reunited with her lover--he died in the Tower just two days later.

The poems that Howard and Margaret Douglas exchanged during their calamitous affair are now part of the collection known as the Devonshire Manuscript--an anthology of courtly lyric poetry composed and compiled by members of the royal court, many of them women. In addition to its significance as a repository of sixteenth-century poetry, the manuscript collection "also provides a unique insight into the precarious position of Renaissance women in, or close to, power."

A leaf from the Devonshire Manuscript
As a result of his niece's actions, the king altered the Act of Succession to make any attempt to "espouse, marry or deflower being unmarried" a female claimant to the throne an act of treason.

Margaret Douglas was released from her confinement in Syon in order to attend the funeral of Jane Seymour, Henry's third queen. Fearing that his long-desired son's legitimacy might be questioned by the Catholic church, given his complicated marital history, Henry VIII had his niece Margaret declared illegitimate--on he grounds that her mother's marriage to Angus had been entered into clandestinely, 

Although legally debarred from the throne, Margaret was welcomed back to court. In 1539, she was appointed as a member of the household of Anne of Cleves, serving as one of the English women who would greet the future queen on her arrival in England. The Cleves married was annulled in 1540.

By that time, Margaret had involved herself in yet another disastrous romantic entanglement, this time with Sir Charles Howard, the brother of Henry's fifth queen, Catherine Howard. (Charles Howard was also the nephew of Margaret's earlier love, Thomas Howard.)

Margaret once again found herself in disgrace, though on this occasion she avoided the Tower and went immediately back to Syon. (For his part, Charles Howard escaped to the continent.) But she was quickly released after Catherine Howard's fall and execution, once more back at court and appointed to the household of Henry's last queen, Katherine Parr.

In 1544, Margaret Douglas at last found a marital prospect of whom the English king approved, and she married the Scottish exile Matthew Stewart, earl of Lennox. Although they remained in England, the couple had many interests (and intrigues) in Scotland. (Still fearful of Margaret's claims to the English throne, Henry VIII excluded her from the succession in his will.)

Now the countess of Lennox, Margaret Douglas quickly gave birth to eight children, but only two survived, two sons, Henry Stuart, lord Darnley, in 1545, and Charles Stuart, earl of Lennox, in 1555. Meanwhile, during the brief reign of Edward VI, the staunchly Catholic Margaret and her more religiously opportunistic husband largely stayed away from court.

By contrast, she remained at the English court throughout the reign of Queen Mary (1553-58). The first English queen reportedly told Simon Renard, Habsburg ambassador to the English court, that her cousin was "best suited" to succeed her on the English throne.

But after Mary's death, Margaret retired to Yorkshire. Her northern household was a center for Catholic intrigue and numerous political plots. 

Margaret involved herself in many of them--notably angling for the marriage of her son, Darnley, to the widowed Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland. In the midst of her scheming, she was again arrested and imprisoned--unlike her husband, who was sent to the Tower, Margaret was moved south but placed under house arrest at Sheen (the former Carthusian monastery, not far from the palace of Westminster).

The two were held for a year, but by 1563, Margaret Douglas was accepted back at court, perhaps because she could be kept under Elizabeth's watchful eye. But after Darnley's marriage to the Scottish queen, Margaret Douglas found herself once more in the Tower, where she remained until Darnley's murder in 1567.  

Released by Elizabeth, Margaret Douglas witnessed the fulfillment of many of her aspirations when she saw her grandson, Darnley's child, become James VI after his mother, Mary Stuart, was forced to abdicate on 24 June 1567. Margaret's husband, the earl of Lennox, was at last able to return to Scotland, serving as regent for his grandson--at least until his murder on 4 September 1571.

Still the indomitable countess was not to be stopped. With the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick, she conspired to marry her second son, Charles, to Bess's daughter, Elizabeth--this couple would give birth to the unfortunate Arbella Stuart. (As noted at the British Library website, "Douglas's disastrous love affair [with Thomas Howard] in turn foreshadowed her granddaughter Arbella Stuart’s experiences almost 75 years later." In 1574, after the marriage was accomplished, a furious Queen Elizabeth ordered Margaret to the Tower once more.

Having achieved this last marriage, Margaret Douglas "retired" from her political intrigues and matchmaking, dying just a few years later on 9 March 1578. Although she died in poverty, she was given an extravagant tomb in Westminster Abbey, funded by her cousin and adversary, Queen Elizabeth.

The tomb of Margaret Douglas, countess of Lennox,
Westminster Abbey
Margaret Douglas did not live to witness her ultimate dynastic triumph, when her grandson James VI of Scotland would ascend to the English throne in 1603, after the death of Elizabeth, becoming James ! of England. 

For an excellent essay, I recommend "King Henry's Niece," by Leanda De Lisle. (In her essay she calls Margaret the "progenitor of princes," which I have quoted in the title of this post.)




Friday, September 29, 2017

Mrs. Gaskell and Mothers of the Novel

Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell (b. 29 September 1810)


Among nineteenth-century women novelists (aside from the Brontë sisters, of course) Elizabeth Gaskell may be one of the best known to modern readers, if for no other reason than several of her works of fiction have been made into television series--in 1999, the BBC aired a four-part adaptation of Wives and Daughters; in 2004, the BBC produced a four-episode mini-series of North and South; and a 2007-2008 BBC adaptation of Cranford, starring Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins, earned BAFTA, Emmy, and Golden Globe awards. All three productions aired in the US on PBS.

Born on 20 September 1810 in Chelsea, Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was the daughter of William Stevenson, a Unitarian minister, treasury official, and journalist, and Elizabeth Holland, whose family also had strong Unitarian connections.

Elizabeth was the youngest of their eight children (only two of whom would survive infancy). Her mother died n 1811, just months after giving birth to Elizabeth, who at thirteen months old was sent to live with her mother's sister, Hannah Lumb, whom Elizabeth would later describe as "more than a mother."

The young Elizabeth Stevenson,
miniature portrait by
William John Thompson
William Stevenson remarried, raising a second family with his second wife, Catherine Thompson, while Elizabeth remained with her maternal family in Cheshire throughout most of her childhood. The Cheshire market town of Knutsford, where Elizabeth lived with her aunt, was transformed by fiction into the town of Cranford.

(Catherine Thompson Stevenson's brother, the miniaturist William John Thompson, would later paint the portrait of Elizabeth as a young woman I've included on this entry.)

In 1832, Elizabeth Stevenson married William Gaskell, a Unitarian minister associated with the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel in Manchester.

As the Gaskell Society describes it, Manchester in the early nineteenth century "was a great cultural and intellectual centre, boasting institutions like the Literary and Philosophical Society, the Mechanics Institute and the Athenaeum. It was at the forefront of the new industrial age, but this rapid growth, as well as generating much wealth, also led to uncontrolled urban development and appalling squalor."

In her new life in the city, Elizabeth Gaskell worked with her husband to offer aid and support for the poor and to teach reading and writing, in addition to Scripture, in the Unitarian Sunday school. She observed the radical politics and social tensions of the city--as she would write in the preface to her first novel, Mary Barton (1848), "I had always felt a deep sympathy with the care-worn men, who looked as if doomed to struggle through their lives in strange alternations between work and want."

During the first years of her marriage, Gaskell gave birth to three daughters (1834, 1837, 1842), and she began writing, publishing several stories. But after the death of her son, who died of scarlet fever in 1845, just nine months old, Gaskell began writing a novel, at her husband's suggestion, as a way of distracting herself from her profound grief. 

That novel, Mary Barton, depicted the dire circumstances of industrial workers in the city of Manchester, profoundly affecting the public conscience. It also brought Gaskell to the attention of Charles Dickens, who included her work in his publications and helped her to become one of the most popular authors of her day.

Gaskell did not avoid controversy. Her novel Ruth, published in 1855, tells the story of a young seamstress who works in a sweatshop; seduced and betrayed by her lover, she attempts suicide and gives birth to an illegitimate child. Although the "fallen" woman ultimately redeems herself, she is never allowed to be happy or fully reintegrated into society--though after her death she is praised by those who knew her.

North and South (1855) is an example of what is now called a "social novel," focusing on the tensions between employers and workers from the perspective of a young woman who moves from her home in the rural south of England to live in the industrial town of Milton, a fictionalized Manchester.

Sylvia's Lovers (1863) is set during the Napoleonic period, and unlike her more well-known work, is a story of obsessive love, enforced military service (the notorious press gangs), dutiful marriage, and the eventual realization that an unloved husband is loved after all.

Gaskell's last novelWives and Daughters, was published in serial installments from August 1864 to January 1865, but Gaskell died before she completed the coming-of-age story of Molly Gibson, whose father remarries, bringing into the young girl's life a pretty but dangerous stepsister, Cynthia Kirkpatrick.

Gaskell was also a friend of the novelist Charlotte Brontë, whom she met in 1850, and she wrote the first biography of Charlotte, who died in 1855, based on their shared correspondence. The biography was published in 1857, and it provoked controversy--in her work, Gaskell suppressed some aspects of her friend's passion for the married Constantin Heger, while emphasizing the dissolute nature of Charlotte's brother Branwell and overemphasizing the Brontë sisters' isolation. Gaskell faced the prospect of lawsuits for her depictions of many Brontë friends and acquaintances who objected to Gaskell's depiction of them in the biography. 

Elizabeth Gaskell,
a photograph from c. 1860
Gaskell died suddenly of a heart attack on 12 November 1865 in Hampshire, where she was buying a home that was to be for her retirement. She was just fifty-five years old. Her last novel, North and South, was unfinished.

For an excellent account of Gaskell's life and work, access Jenny Linglow's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography by clicking here. (If you have trouble, this British Library essay on Gaskell provides a direct link, at the end, to the DNB entry.) 

If you enjoy podcasts, you will want to listen to this episode of In Our Time, "Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South" (click here).

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Lift Us Up Where We Belong? Women and Public Monuments

Putting Women on Pedestals: Are Monuments for Women Needed?


In her 4 September 2017 New York Times op-ed, Julia Baird makes the case for "why we should put women on pedestals."

Of course she begins her column by acknowledging that it is "a perilous time to be a statue," adding, "not that it has every been a particularly secure occupation."

Perilous times indeed. Statues erected to commemorate famous men seem to be coming down quickly these days. In the last few months, Confederate statues have been removed from public display in California, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, while states in which cities are considering their removal include Alabama, Georgia, and Washington.

(It's also a perilous time to be a piece of stained glass--just one day after Baird's piece was published, the congregation of the Washington National Cathedral voted to remove two windows, installed in 1953, depicting "painful, distracting, and one-sided" stories of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and the removal was begun the very next day.)

With so many statues of men coming down, should monuments to women be going up? 
Queen Victoria,
sculpture by her daughter,
Princess Louise,
Kensington Palac

Is Baird right? Should we be putting women on pedestals? Assuming, of course, that we mean it literally--that is, if we mean raising bronze or stone public monuments in honor of notable women and their achievements.

(I think we can all agree we've had enough of the tired, old fantasies that metaphorically put women on pedestals, idealizing them as romantic objects of desire, to be admired and worshipped. How many really bad boyfriends have complained, after they are dumped, that their treatment is unjust because, after all, they put their girlfriends up on pedestals and idolized them?!!!) 

And more than just agreeing with Baird, should we do all we can to help create more public sculptures of women on pedestals? Baird believes that we should: "if women are on those pedestals," she argues, then we "will know women can matter and make history. Or simply that women are history."

As soon as I saw the title of Baird's essay, I thought immediately of a paper one of my students had written long ago, back in the 1980s. Our seminar had been on Arthurian romance--our reading started with the origins of the Arthurian myth in the "historical" works of Gildas and Nennius, and the Cambrian Annals, but we spent most of our semester with Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur.

Lancelot and Guinevere. Tristan and Isolde. Knights and, of course, "their" ladies, worshipped, desired, served, saved, placed on pedestals. (Or, sometimes, imprisoned in towers--but that's another story . . . )

Although it was years before G.R.R. Martin published the first volume of his Song of Ice and Fire, many of the students who had enrolled in that seminar had come to King Arthur through their reading of fantasy fiction. And most of them, regardless of their interests in medieval romance literature, had Disney-like fantasies of knights, dragons, chivalry, courtly love, and, of course, fair damsels and maidens who were adored and "idolized" by men who served them.

My student was having none of it, and although today I struggle to remember her name, I remember her paper--and its title--clearly. They are what Baird's op-ed brought most immediately to mind. The title of my student's paper, was "Pedestals Are Dangerous Places." In it, she analyzed the role of women in so many medieval (and more contemporary) romances.

Being placed on a pedestal isn't comfortable, my student argued. It isn't a place anyone should want to be. It's dangerous. It doesn't allow for any freedom of movement. And it's never a place that a woman chooses to be--she has no agency when it comes to pedestal-standing. A pedestal is where she is put, whether she likes it or not. Short of being imprisoned in a small dungeon (or tall tower), being placed on a pedestal is one of the most restrictive and perilous and lonely fates anyone can suffer.

Not that Baird ignores the dangers of pedestals in her piece--statues are, as she observes, "exposed" to "the elements, bird droppings and political winds."

Ahhhh. The shifting winds of politics can blow anyone down. And thus the fate of statues of Lenin, Cecil Rhodes, Saddam Hussein, Joe Paterno, all vainglorious men whose public monuments have been pulled down after their fall and disgrace.

And thus the fate of Confederate generals and politicians whose bronzed effigies (and stained glass windows) are now being pulled down as shameful commemorations of the institution of slavery, of white supremacy, and of treason rather than as reminders of a glorious and romantic "lost cause."

(As a note on the unpredictability of pedestals: USA Today reports that, just as the statues of men who fought to retain the institution of slavery are coming down in the U.S., statues honoring Josef Stalin are going up in a Russia now nostalgic for its own lost cause.)

So the answer to the question of whether we should put women on pedestals really isn't all that clear to me, the more I consider it. The truth is, I've never been fond of the public monuments in stone and bronze honoring "great" men and their achievements--to be honest, I don't think many of these statues are great works of art, and I can't recall any trip I've made where I've paid much attention to them, whether it's Nelson on his column in Trafalgar Square or Napoleon on his in the Place Vendôme. (Now that I come to think of it, however, I did visit the Lincoln Memorial once--it was on a group tour, and I had to get off the bus with everyone else and spend an obligatory five minutes.)

But whether or not you love Mt. Rushmore and think women need a giant carved mountain plunked down in the middle of nowhere too, what Baird's op-ed makes clear is that, when it comes to the vicissitudes of public sculpture, women haven't had the same opportunities to rise or fall as men.

Sure, we seem to be comfortable enough with some female statues. Allegorical figures are always safe. Who doesn't love Lady Liberty, out there in New York harbor, on her plinth? A robed female form, representing the Roman goddess of Libertas. Yeah, okay, safe enough. And just to make certain no human woman gets too uppity or inspired by this imposing female role model, let's make sure she's not only confined to her pedestal, but let's stick her on an island too (and restrict public access while we're at it).

Justice, Dublin Castle
And then there's Justice, famously figured at the Supreme Court Building. We often "remember" soaring, free-standing figures like the one to the right. But be careful! True, that is  a sculpture of Justice on a pedestal, but this representation of justice is found in Dublin, high above the Cork Hill entrance to Dublin Castle.

While the allegorical Justice is actually figured in three separate places at the United States Supreme Court, the most notable figure is alongside the steps of the main entrance to the court. But in this sculpture, The Contemplation of Justice, she's not on a pedestal (however risky a place that might be).

Instead, she's clutched in the hand of a seated female figure, who herself is firmly attached to a 50-ton marble block. Justice is certainly not going to fall. But neither will she soar and inspire: in fact, she's so tiny she is hard to see, while the stolid figure gripping her is not going to rouse anyone to great accomplishments. The seated figure's "action" is reduced to sitting. And looking. Although the title of James Earl Fraser's piece suggests the seated figure is thoughtfully considering Justice, she seems instead to be placidly staring off into space. 

James Earl Frasier,
Contemplation of Justice,
Supreme Court, Washington D. C.

Fraser himself described Contemplation as having a head and body "expressive" of "beauty" and "intelligence," while the companion figure in The Guardian of Law, seated on the other side of the steps--a male figure--is "powerful, erect, and vigilant. He waits with concentrated attention, holding in his left hand the tablet of laws, backed by the sheathed sword, symbolic of enforcement through law.” (The other two representations of justice are solidly captured and contained in a bas-relief on the base of lamppost and in a frieze inside the courtroom.)

Allegorical figures may be one thing, but real, actual, human women are quite another when it comes to commemoration and remembrance. I know, I know--there are lots of Virgin Marys and plenty of female saints out there too, but it seems to me it would be even harder to become a mother of god than to become the embodiment of justice or victory or liberty or the three graces . . . 

Aside from allegorical and religious female sculptures, the figures are pretty bleak. In 2011, Carl Shane reported these astonishing numbers: 
Of the 5,193 public outdoor sculptures of individuals in the United States, only 394, or less than 8 percent, are of women, compared with 4,799 of men, according to the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Art Inventories Catalog, considered the most up-to-date catalogue of such works. And none of the 44 national memorials managed by the National Park Service (such as the Lincoln Memorial) specifically focuses on women and their accomplishments.
A more recent study shows the situation has improved--of more than 6,900 recorded works, 9 percent of the outdoor sculptures are female. A whole one percent increase! Still, only a "grand total of nine national park sites are dedicated to women’s history--out of 411."

The figures for New York's Central Park are representative. Simply put, there are no statues honoring women in Central Park (unless you count Alice in Wonderland, Mother Goose, Shakespeare's Juliet--though she's with Romeo--and a scattering of angels, nymphs and allegorical figures.) But there are 23 sculptures of men, including a fourteenth-century Polish king, the Scottish poet Robert Burns, and the German composer Ludwig von Beethoven.

Across the country, in San Francisco, the situation is much the same. Of the 87 public statues in the city, only two women are represented: Florence Nightingale and Senator Diane Feinstein. (In her piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, Heather Knight describes the city's public artwork as "monuments to male supremacy.")

In the U.K., it's a similar disheartening story. As Caroline Criado-Perez reports, "I sorted the UK’s statues by gender--a mere 2.7 per cent are of historical, non-royal women." By her reckoning, based on the U.K. database of the Public Monuments & Sculpture Association, there are some 925 public statues, only 158 of them female. 

In her March 2016 piece in The New Statesman, she notes that your best bet for being placed on a pedestal, if you're female, is to be "a mythical or allegorical figure, a famous virgin, royal or nude." Of the 158 female sculptures, the overwhelming majority are of allegorical figures. If you're an actual human woman, you don't stand much of a chance: 
By far the least likely route to having a statue erected of you . . . is to have been a woman who actually existed and achieved something in the past. Only 71 statues . . . of historical women are listed in the database. Forty-six of those are of royalty--over 50 per cent. Twenty-nine alone are of Queen Victoria.
That leaves us with 25 statues of historical, non-royal women (one of whom is a ghost and only there because she’s looking for the spirit of her murdered husband).

Thomas Thornycraft's magnificent bronze sculpture
of the historical Queen Boudica and her daughters,
Westminster Bridge, London
The question isn't just one of numbers, though. As Baird observes, "Since statues tell us who society deems important, more female figures are in order." And she's undoubtedly right, or at least partly right.  

The comments responding to Baird's op-ed are filled with such ignorance that it makes me think we need statues of women on every corner, if for no other reason than to see these guys' heads explode. As one boob angrily observes, "The women who should be on pedestals are those that stay in their domestic spheres of influence. It's more important for them to rear and raise the next generation than go out and compete with men." 

Writing from Paris (where there are obviously no sculptures of male dumbasses, embarrassments, or mediocrities), another guy writes, "Yes, let's create bogus statues of third-rate 'historical' figures, just because they're women, that'll promote 'equality,' right?" Clearly he assumes no women are "first-rate" historical figures. Ever. 

Another considered, thoughtful comment, this time from Norway: "I cannot stop laughing at this new example of me, me, me, me, me, [sic] feminism. How about we put women on statues when they DO something like men."

And Spain is represented as well, the writer offering this analogy: erecting statues of women is "the equivalent of fighting a high school failure rate by giving everyone an A regardless of test results."

And if the writers' names are any indication, it's not just men, unfortunately. "Dottie" dismisses Baird's essay as "silliness" that is written only because of "the pay offered for this sort of filler."

In response to the overwhelming maleness of public sculpture (and in defiance of people who think like those who commented on Baird's suggestion), there are efforts to erect monuments to notable women. Three new sculptures are being planned in the U.K., all of them funded by private donation and honoring historical women not mythological female abstractions: the suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst, Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson, and comedian Victoria Wood.

In the U.S., the all-volunteer, nonprofit Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund is organizing their #MonumentalWomen campaign in order to "break the bronze ceiling," funding a monument dedicated to these two extraordinary American women to be placed in Central Park. 

I'm particularly intrigued by the work of The Whole Story Project, a crowd-sourced "augmented reality" app that "allows artists, coders, historians and everybody else to build, place and celebrate women who’ve changed the world." (Creating virtual monuments of notable women and "placing them" in the real world is surely as worthwhile as catching Pokémon isn't it? Isn't it???) The app is free from the Apple app store and Google Play. (To read more, click here.)

In the end, whatever my reservations about public sculptures commemorating famous people, I think I can support the effort to create monuments to women. As I've tried to show in the hundreds of essays in this blog, there are notable women who have been successful in many fields. 

Whether we celebrate them in words or stone, recognizing them is important.

And it is a matter of equality. Real women have done remarkable things. And real women--like real men--are an incredible, improbable mix of good and bad. Women should be placed on pedestals--if for no other reason than, at some point, we may choose to topple them, just as we are removing men like Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson from exalted heights and bringing them back down to earth.

Update, 19 September 2017: Turner-prize winning artist Gillian Wearing has just received conditional planning permission for the construction of her design for a sculpture of the suffrage leader Millicent Garrett Fawcett to be constructed in Parliament Square (London). Wearing will be the first female artist to have her work in the Square, and Fawcett will be the first female subject of a public sculpture to be erected there.

According to the report in The Guardian:
A detailed model of the monument shows Fawcett holding a sign that reads “Courage calls to courage everywhere,” taken from a speech she gave after the death of fellow campaigner Emily Wilding Davison at the 1913 Epsom Derby.
The aim is to have the sculpture completed by the time of the centenary passage of the Representation of the Peoples Act 1918 in February (the act granted some women over the age of thirty the right to vote for the first time in the U.K.).



Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sophia Brahe: "Animus invictus"

Sophia Brahe (b. 24 August 1559)


Although there is some difference of opinion about the date of Sophia Brahe's birth, I'm going with this one because I feel like writing about her today (her birthday is either 24 August 1559 or 22 September 1556.)*
Sophia Brahe, sister and assistant
of the renowned astronomer
Tycho Brah

Sophia's older brother, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, is one of the most well-known figures of the western European scientific revolution.

His astronomical observations and calculations proving essential to Johannes Kepler, who used them to formulate his laws of planetary motion.

Less well known is Sophia Brahe, whom Tycho trained in horticultural and chemistry. She also assisted her brother in his astronomical work.

The Brahe family was a noble one, and given the family's social status, they did not expect their son--much less their daughter--to engage in the study of astronomy; nevertheless, Tycho preferred astronomy to a career in law or politics, and Sophia began assisting her brother when she was in her teens. (Tycho and Sophia Brahe's mother, Beate Brille Brahe, was the Danish queen Sophie's chief lady in waiting from 1584-92.)

As the daughter of Danish nobility, Sophia had received an excellent education, while her brother helped to expand her studies by providing his younger sister with her horticultural and chemical education.

Sophia also studied, on her own, genealogy, medicine, and, more importantly, astronomy. Although Tycho seems not to have encouraged his sister's interest in this particular field, he did not discourage it when she pursued it herself--he appreciated her dedication, describing her and her animus invictus, or "determined mind."

During time spent with her brother at his observatory Uraniborg, on the Danish island of Hven, she assisted him in his observations of planetary motion, in his recording of these observations, and in his mathematical calculations on the orbits of eclipses and comets. She was with her brother on 11 November 1572, when he discovered what he called the stella nova, or "new star," in the constellation Cassiopeia. She also assisted him with observations that led to his calculation of a lunar eclipse on 8 December 1573.

As Gabriella Bernardi notes in The Unforgotten Sisters, Sophia "might have been much more than a simple collaborator, as it is possible that she contributed to the cosmological model known as Tychonic, after the name of the Danish astronomer."

Sophia Brahe married Otto Thott in 1576. The marriage produced one child, a son, and after Thott's death in 1588, Sophia managed the estate of Eriksholm in her son's interest, not only maintaining the property but enhancing it with the creation of a remarkable garden.

While maintaining her contact with her brother at Uraniborg, she met Erik Lange, a young nobleman who was studying astronomy with Brahe. Sophia and Lange were betrothed in 1590 despite the objections of her family--Lange was not only studying with Brahe, he was spending his fortune in the pursuit of alchemy. Lange abruptly left Denmark for Germany, probably to avoid creditors, and the couple did not marry until Sophia joined him there in 1602.

Throughout the brief years of their marriage, the pair lived their lives in increasing poverty--Lange died in Prague in 1613, leaving Sophia to return to Denmark in 1616, only after "disclaiming" his debts and agreeing not to make any claim on her deceased husband's inheritance.

The period of her separation from Lange, meanwhile, had resulted in Sophia Brahe's 1594 Latin verse epistle, Urania Titani (Urania to Titan), "a burning hymn to love," curiously attributed at times to her brother. (Because, of course, women don't write.)

A memorial to Sophie Brahe,
Church of Our Lady, Aalborg,
photographed byHideko Bondesen 
In addition to this verse epistle and her correspondence (including a lengthy letter to her sister, Margarethe, written in 1602 and long recognized as a supreme example of Danish personal letters), Sophia Brahe is also known for her 900-page genealogical work recording the history of sixty families belonging to the Danish nobility. Slegte bog (The Family History Book) was published in Denmark in 1626 and still an important source of Danish history.

Sophia Brahe continued writing until her death in 1643 at the age of eighty-nine.

For Lanae Hjorstvang Isaacson's excellent essay in An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers, click here.

I also recommend John Christianson's On Tycho's Island: Tycho Brahe and His Assistants, 1570-1601--it contains a fair amount of information on Sophia Brahe. 



*This is the date accepted by John Christianson. Either date fits with Tycho's horoscope prepared for his sister.