Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Elizabeth Stuart: A Lost Girl

Elizabeth Stuart (born 28 December 1635)

The daughter of the ill-fated Charles I, king of England, and his queen, Henrietta Maria, Elizabeth Stuart didn't have much of a life. 

Van Dyck's 1637 painting of Elizabeth Stuart
and her younger sister, Anne,
who died in 1640, at the age of three
It might all have turned out quite differently for her--in 1636, while the Stuart princess was still an infant, her grandmother, the French regent Marie de' Medici was interested in arranging a match between the baby and William, the prince of Orange (the future William II of Orange). 

Although King Charles was not impressed with the prospects of such an alliance and rejected it for Elizabeth, he later accepted it for his eldest, Mary Henrietta, in 1641, after other marriage negotiations fell through and his economic situation grew dire.

After the outbreak of the English Civil Wars in 1642, Elizabeth Stuart and her younger brother, Henry, duke of Gloucester, were taken into the "care" of Parliament, placed into the hands of a series of "guardians" assigned to the task. 

In 1643, she was moved to Chelsea, where she was tutored by a woman we have met before, the scholar Bathsua Makin; with Makin, the princess  studied classical and modern languages and mathematics. In 1644, when Elizabeth was nine years old, Makin wrote about the princess's accomplishments, and although it is not absolutely clear, she may have remained as the girl's tutor until Elizabeth's death. 

Meanwhile, in 1647, Elizabeth and her brother were allowed to spend two days with their father, who had been captured and was being held by parliamentary forces. They had more occasion for visits when the king was moved to Hampton Court palace, but after his escape, there would be no more time spent with him.

In 1648, parliament acted to reduce Elizabeth's household, a decision she protested in a letter: "My Lords," she wrote, "I account myself very miserable that I must have my servants taken from me and strangers put to me. You promised me that you would have a care for me; and I hope you will show it in preventing so great a grief as this would be to me. I pray my lords consider of it, and give me cause to thank you, and to rest. Your loving friend, Elizabeth." 

An engraving of Elizabeth Stuart,
after 1645
The princess was moved to St. James's, where she was held in close captivity. After her father's trial and condemnation, she again wrote parliament, asking for permission to join her sister on the continent, in the Netherlands. Denied even that, the thirteen-year-old Elizabeth and her younger brother, were allowed to visit their father before his execution.

According to her account of this visit, she wrote that her father attempted to console his sobbing daughter. Further, 
He bid us tell my mother that his thoughts had never strayed from her, and that his love would be the same to the last. Withal, he commanded me and my brother to be obedient to her; and bid me send his blessing to the rest of my brothers and sisters, with communications to all his friends. Then, taking my brother Gloucester on his knee, he said, "Sweetheart, now they will cut off thy father's head." And Gloucester looking very intently upon him, he said again, "Heed, my child, what I say: they will cut off my head and perhaps make thee a king. But mark what I say. Thou must not be a king as long as thy brothers Charles and James do live; for they will cut off your brothers' heads when they can catch them, and cut off thy head too at the last, and therefore I charge you, do not be made a king by them." At which my brother sighed deeply, and made answer: "I will be torn in pieces first!" And these words, coming so unexpectedly from so young a child, rejoiced my father exceedingly. And his majesty spoke to him of the welfare of his soul, and to keep his religion, commanding him to fear God, and He would provide for him. Further, he commanded us all to forgive those people, but never to trust them; for they had been most false to him and those that gave them power, and he feared also to their own souls. And he desired me not to grieve for him, for he should die a martyr, and that he doubted not the Lord would settle his throne upon his son, and that we all should be happier than we could have expected to have been if he had lived; with many other things which at present I cannot remember.
The two children were regarded as even more of a burden after their father's execution--parliament refused the repeated offer of sanctuary in the Netherlands, and a succession of men appointed to act as their guardians rejected the duties the job entailed. 

Elizabeth found some respite under the care of Robert Sidney and his wife Dorothy Percy, who extended kindness to the girl. But even this didn't last--in 1650, when her elder brother, who would one day become Charles II, entered Scotland, the frightened English parliamentarians moved Elizabeth to the Isle of Wight, despite her pleas of ill health. 

She developed pneumonia and died on 8 September 1650, shortly after the move to Wight. She was fourteen years old.

When she was eleven years old, am ambassador from France had called her a "budding young beauty" who had "grace, dignity, intelligence and sensibility." But when her remains were examined in the nineteenth-century, it could be seen that she had suffered from rickets, resulting in shoulder and back deformities that would have made it difficult for her to walk--the result, surely, of the deprivations she suffered.

(Henry, duke of Gloucester, managed to survive his trials and tribulations, eventually reuniting with his older brothers, Charles and James, on the continent. He was with his brothers when Charles was restored to the throne, but he died shortly thereafter of smallpox. As he lay dying, his mother, Henrietta Maria, refused to see him because he had withstood her efforts to convert him to Catholicism. Family values. Sheesh.)

You may be interested in this BBC History Extra podcast, in which historian Linda Porter discusses the unhappy fate of Charles I's "left behind" children--click here.

For a post on Elizabeth Stuart's sister, Mary Henrietta, click here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christine of France, Regent of Savoy

Marie-Christine of Bourbon, duchess of Savoy (died 27 December 1663)

Marie-Christine of Bourbon, known more simply as Christine of France, was the daughter of Henry IV of France and his second queen, the much-maligned Marie de' Medici. She was born on 10 February 1606, the third of their six children.

A 1633 portrait of Marie-Christine,
duchess of Savoy
Christine's elder sister, Elisabeth, and her younger, Henrietta Maria, both became queens--Elisabeth became the queen of Spain, Henrietta Maria, the queen of England. 

Elisabeth would give birth to eleven children, only two of whom lived past childhood, however; she was regent of Spain for her husband, Philip IV, but she died young, only forty-one years old.

Henrietta Maria married Charles I of England, but she was forced to flee after the beginning of the English Civil Wars, and she would remain an exile in France from 1643 until her son's restoration in 1660. She returned briefly to England, but died in Paris in 1669 at the age of fifty-nine. (Christine's brother became the king of France as Louis XIII.)

While Marie-Christine did not become a queen, she married Louis Amadeus, the duke of Savoy, in 1619. Although she brought as much culture and splendor to the court of Savoy as she could--and although she maintained a close and intimate correspondence with her younger sister, the queen of England--the ambitious Marie-Christine encouraged her husband to claim the title of king of Cyprus and Jerusalem even after he succeeded as duke of Savoy in 1630. 

After her husband's death in 1637, Christine claimed the title of regent of Savoy. Her eldest son died the next year, but Christine retained her role, acting from 1638 as regent for her second son, Charles Emmanuel (b. 1634). Although she resisted French influence, her husband's younger brothers, not content with their positions after Louis Amadeus's death, began a civil war with Spanish support.

With French support, Christine was victorious, and to ensure the peace, she settled matters with her husband's brother, Maurice. Now here's another example of "traditional marriage" for you: Maurice, who had been a cardinal for thirty years (!!!), gave up his ecclesiastical title, got a dispensation from the pope, and married well. The fact that he was forty-nine and Louise-Christine was thirteen is the least of it . . . Maurice's new bride was his niece, the daughter of Louis Amadeus and Marie-Christine. (The younger of Louis Amadeus's brothers, Thomas Francis, also made peace with Christine, but there was no marriage to a niece for him--he was already married to Marie, another member of the Bourbon family. Once peace was made, he began fighting against the Spanish and for the French.)

Anyway, Christine had successfully settled matters and retained her position as regent of Savoy until 1648, when her son, at age ten, achieved his majority. Although her formal role ended, she continued to govern for him. His delayed marriage--he didn't marry until 1663--is frequently interpreted as a sign of his mother's desire to hold onto power. When he did marry, in April of 1663, Charles Emmanuel married his first cousin, Françoise Madeleine d'Orléans, the daughter of his mother's younger brother, a young woman reportedly chosen because of her docility.

A gilded bronze medallion, 1637,
Christine of France,
regent of Savoy
Marie-Christine of Bourbon, regent of Savoy, enjoyed an exuberant personal life--she took lovers and enjoyed life's luxuries and pleasures as well as wielding political power.  

Christine died on 27 December, just months after her son's marriage. She was fifty-seven years old. 

The best account of Christine of Savoy is in Robert Oresko's "Maria Giovanna Battista of Savoy-Nemours (1644-1724): Daughter, Consort, and Regent of Savoy," in Clarissa Campbell Orr's Queenship in Europe, 1660-1815: The Role of the Consort.

By the way, the subject of Oresko's essay, Marie Jeanne Baptiste, had been proposed as a bride for Charles Emmanuel in 1659, and after being "inspected" by her potential husband and his mother, she was rejected by Marie-Christine, perhaps because she did not seem so very malleable. Charles Emmanuel, however, wanted her as his wife, and after the death of his first wife, Françoise Madeleine, just a month after the death of his mother, Charles Emmanuel married Marie Jeanne, now known as Maria Giovanna. After his death in 1675, Maria Giovanna became regent of Savoy.

Maria Giovanna,
duchess and regent of Savoy,
a print from 1677
Update: To respond to the question posed below, in the comments, about the changing of Marie Jeanne Baptiste's name to Maria Giovanna--royal and noble women's names were frequently changed to reflect the language of the country of their marriage. In perhaps the most well known example, Catalina de Aragón became Catherine of Aragon when she arrived in England. Thus Marie Jeanne Baptiste's name was Italianised when she married into the House of Savoy. (Also, I originally wrote "Jeanne" as "Jean," and it's been corrected here.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Mary Somerville, the "Queen of Nineteenth-Century Science"

Mary Fairfax Somerville, Writer, Mathematician, and Astronmer (born 26 December 1790)

I have spent a great deal of time in many posts on this blog bitching about the Encyclopedia Britannica and its woeful lack of inclusion when it comes to women. So I do have to begin by saying that the Britannica in its new online form has an extended entry on Mary Somerville. 

Thomas Phillips's 1834 portait
of Mary Somerville
However (you knew there had to be a "however," didn't you?), the entry fails to mention the name of Somerville's mother, Margaret Charters. (To be fair, it also fails to mention her father's name.) 

The daughter of William George Fairfax and Margaret Charters, his second wife, Mary Fairfax failed to receive much in the way of an education during her earliest years. While her brothers were of course given the kind academic preparation deemed necessary for boys, the young Mary was taught to read, by her mother, but not to write. She also learned to say her prayers. As Mary would later write, she was "allowed to grow up a wild creature."

After her father, a vice admiral, returned from sea and decided his daughter was something of a "savage" (which seems fair, given her own description of herself), the ten-year-old Mary was sent to Miss Primrose's Academy for Girls in Musselburgh.

After a year at this expensive school, she returned home, able to read and write, though still not very well, capable of simple arithmetic, and knowing some French. She would describe her experience of leaving the school as feeling "like a wild animal escaped out of a cage."

But, once back home, she began her real education--at first on her own, reading every book she could lay her hands on in her family's library. Her maternal uncle, Thomas Somerville, also began instructing her in Latin, and she was able to learn mathematics, geography, and astronomy second-hand--like so many of the women I've written about, the young Mary Fairfax learned from her brothers and their tutors. (For only two examples of young women educated by their brothers' leftovers, click here and here.)  

Unfortunately her efforts at educating herself were not encouraged--such occupations were not ladylike. To direct her energies more appropriately, she was sent to a school in Burntisland where she she could improve her needlework. 

The family began spending winters in Edinburgh when Mary was thirteen, and she participated fully in the social life of the city; as she described this period of her life, she enjoyed the "parties, visits, balls, theatres, concerts, and innocent flirtations." But she also took instruction in writing and painting. And having encountered some mysterious-looking symbols in a woman's magazine, she began studying algebra--although, as she also noted, her father was afraid that "the strain of abstract thought would injure the tender female frame." 

In 1804, when she was twenty-four, Mary Fairfax married a cousin, Samuel Grieg. She quickly gave birth to two children. Her husband was not a supporter of his wife's less "natural" activities--as she described him, he "possessed in full the prejudice against learned women which was common at that time."

After Grieg's early death in 1807, Mary Fairfax Grieg returned to Scotland. With the financial inheritance she received as Grieg's widow, she was able to dedicate herself to her studies, this time with the support of several significant intellectuals, including John Playfair, a geologist and mathematician at the University of Edinburgh, and William Wallace (Playfair's former pupil), another noted mathematician. In their correspondence, they discussed the mathematical problems set in Thomas Leybourn's philosophical journal, Mathematical Repository. For her solution to one of these problems, she received a silver medal from the editors of the journal. 

During this period and with Wallace's encouragement, she read Isaac Newton's Principia and the Traité de mécanique céleste (Celestial Mechanics) by the French mathematician and astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace. In 1812, she married again, to another cousin, William Somerville, who proved to be much more supportive of his wife's intellectual career. 

The couple moved to London in 1816, where Mary Somerville attended lectures at the Royal Institute. There she met Caroline Herschel, Annabella Milbanke, lady Byron, and Lady Byron's daughter, Ada Lovelace.

In addition to giving birth to four children, she also began her remarkable scientific career. In 1825, she experimented with magnetism, presenting a paper on her experiments the next year, in 1826, to the Royal Society. Her work, "The Magnetic Properties of the Violet Rays of the Solar Spectrum," was then published in the Society's Philosophical Transactions

In 1827, she was encouraged to produce versions of Newton's Principia and Laplace's Mecanique for the general reading audience. The result, The Mechanism of the Heavens, published in 1831, proved to be very successful--and resulted in a portrait bust of her being commissioned for and displayed by the Royal Society. 

During the years 1832 and 1833, while traveling in Europe, she completed The Connection of the Physical Sciences, published in 1834. The next year, along with Caroline Herschel, she was elected to the Royal Astronomical Society, the first women to receive such an honor. 

She garnered many such recognitions: in 1834, she was elected to honorary membership in the Société de Physique et d'Histoire Naturelle de Genève and, in the same year, to the Royal Irish Academy. She was awarded a civil pension of £200 per annum, increased to £300 in 1837. 

In an effort to improve William Somerville's health, the family relocated to Italy in 1832, where Mary Somerville completed her two-volume Physical Geography, published in 1848. Its publication produced another round of honors: she was elected to the American Geographical and Statistical Society in 1857, the Italian Geographical Society in 1870, and, in the same year, she received the Victoria Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society.

After the death of her husband, Somerville remained in Italy, completing two more works, her last scientific book, Molecular and Microscopic Science (1869) and her autobiography, Personal Recollections, from Early Life to Old Age, edited and published after her death by her daughter in 1873.

Mary Somerville died in Naples at the age of ninety two, on 29 November 1872. Noting her death, The London Post proclaimed her the "queen of nineteenth-century science."

One of the most recognizable honors paid to Mary Somerville was in 1879, years after her death. In that year, and in recognition of Mary Somerville's support for women's education, Somerville College in Oxford was named after her. 

Brigade Piron's photograph of
Somerville College,
Today you can access all of Mary Somerville's work through the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg. You might also enjoy Robyn Arianrhod's Seduced by Logic: Émilie Du Châtelet, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution, which will also introduce you to another important female intellectual, Émilie Du Châtelet (1706-49).

Update, 3 December 2021: You may be interested in listening to the new episode on Mary Somerville that is part of the BBC's podcast series, The Forum--if so, click here and enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2016

"Artemisia Gentileschi and Her Time"

Artemisia Gentileschi Exhibition, Rome (30 November 2016-7 May 2017)

Driving home late this afternoon after a long lunch with my best friend, I heard a story on All Things Considered by my favorite NPR reporter (Sylvia Poggioli) about my favorite artist, Artemisia Gentileschi.

An AP photo of a visitor to the exhibition at
Rome's Palazzo Braschi museum snapping a photo
of one of Gentileschi's most well known works
I've posted about Artemisia Gentileschi and her work before (click here), recounting my experience of wandering around the Uffizi, turning a corner, and suddenly coming face to face with one of her paintings (as opposed to a color plate in an art book) for the first time. 

Years later, a trip back to Italy became, for me and my enthusiastic son, something of an Artemisia pilgrimage (or, more accurately, obsessive stalking), as I tracked down as many of her works as I could in the time I was traveling. 

So I was particularly excited to hear Poggioli's report announcing the opening of an exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi's work in Rome. How wonderful that such a gathering of her work is now on display in one place. And, hey, it isn't even some dutiful recognition of her life--she was born in 1593 and died in 1653, so it isn't a four-hundredth anniversary of her birth or death or anything . . . It's almost like she's an artist worth celebrating because of the power of her painting!

It's still not, strictly speaking, a solo show--a third of the 95 or so works on display are Artemisia's (the rest by contemporary artists she knew and younger painters on whom her work had an influence). In 2002, a father-daughter exhibition, "Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi," was hosted in Rome and in the U.S., at the Getty Museum (Los Angeles) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But, still, this new attention to Artemisia Gentileschi's work is welcome. However, that doesn't mean she's yet received the full recognition she's due. As Poggioli reports, 
A painting by Artemisia was sold at Sotheby's two years ago for more than $1 million.
But in a sign of a substantial gender gap also in the art market, a painting by her father, Orazio, was bought by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in January for more than $30 million. And yet, with her intense colors and heroines at the center of dramatic narratives, the daughter's paintings far outshine those of her father. (Emphasis mine.)
I know, I know . . . I'm never satisfied . . .

A self-portrait of Gentileschi

There are lots of pieces in the Italian press on the exhibit if you can manage in Italian. There is also a great piece by Lucy Gordon in La voce di New York (it's in English; click here).

I should also add that Gentileschi's Susannah and the Elders is included in the UK's National Gallery "Beyond Caravaggio" (12 October 2017 to 15 January 2017). You may be interested in Jonathan Jones's comments on Gentileschi, "More Savage than Caravaggio: The Woman Who Took Revenge in Oil" (The Guardian)--to access the piece, click here.