Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Hester Lynch Piozzi, More Than "Dr. Johnson's Mrs. Thrale"

Hester Salusbury Thrale Piozzi (married Gabriel Mario Piozzi on 25 July 1784)

"Mrs. Thrale" has long been known to history primarily for her recollections of her friend, the famous poet, essayist, and lexicographer Samuel Johnson, whom she met in 1765. More recently, however, she has been recognized as a writer in her own right.

Born on 16 January 1741,* Hester Salusbury was the daughter of the Welsh landowner John Salusbury and his wife, also named Hester. 

Hester Thrale and her eldest daughter, Hester Maria,
painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Her marriage to the London brewer Henry Thrale in 1763 was desirable from both her father and husband's perspectives; her father was bankrupt, and Thrale was wealthy, and Thrale, while rich, was seeking to improve his social status by marriage. 

Like many eighteenth-century marriages, the linked partners were not particularly compatible. She loved "conversation and adventure," and "thrived on attention." For his part, Henry Thrale, was "remote, socially insecure and periodically unfaithful."

Thrale wanted a woman who would not only improve his social standing but produce children, and Hester certainly fulfilled her role. She was pregnant at least thirteen times in the first fifteen years of their marriage. She gave birth to twelve children--though only four daughters survived into adulthood. Still, her eldest daughter, Hester Maria, married the wealthy Admiral Lord Keith, becoming, in the process, Viscountess Keith 

Through her marriage to Thrale, Hester certainly managed to enter fully into London society, hosting parties at the couple's house in Streatham. Her intimate acquaintances included writers like Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith, and Fanny Burney, politiians like Edmund Burke, actors and theatrical people like David Garrick, and painters, like Sir Joshua Reyolds.

Johnson and Hester Thrale became particularly intimate friends--Johnson came to be like a member of her family and spent much of his year living with the Thrales.

After Henry Thrale's death in 1781, many expected the wealthy widow to marry Dr. Johnson--instead, she married Gabriel Mario Piozzi, her eldest daughter's music teacher. Shock and horror ensued--Johnson himself said she had "ignominiously married" and condemned her "wickedness." 

Fanny Burney, whom Hester Thrale Piozzi had encouraged and supported, was also offended by the match (though, ironically, she too would enter into a shocking marriage, to an impoverished French artillery officer and immigrant who was, horrors, a Catholic!) 

Nevertheless, Hester Piozzi seems to have been happy in this second marriage, and she enjoyed a long and productive life. 

In 1786, she published Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., during the last Twenty Years of his Life and two years later, a two-volume edition of Letters to and from the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. While less well known than Boswell's Life of Johnson, even the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica, frequently unkind to women and their achievements, is notably kind to Piozzi's work: "Although less accurate in some details than Boswell’s, her accounts show other aspects of Johnson’s character, especially the more human and affectionate side of his nature."

Perhaps most notable of her achievements is her diary, Thraliana, which was not published until 1949.**It provides insight not only to Johnson's life but, more importantly, the life, thoughts, and observations of a distinct and engaging eighteenth-century woman.

Hester Salusbury Thrale Piozzi died on 2 May 1821, but she had celebrated her eightieth birthday when she was seventy-nine--at a lavish party in Bath attended by some 600 guests!

Ian McIntyre's 2008 Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr. Johnson's 'Dear Mistress', is not only an excellent read but a compelling reassessment of Thrale's life and accomplishment aside from (or in addition to) her friendship with Johnson. 

For an introduction, Henry Hitchings’s essay, a review of McIntyre's book, is a good place to start; to access it, click here.

Piozzi's works are available at sites like Project Gutenberg or the Internet Archive. And many, of course, are in print!

*After England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, adding eleven days in the process, she celebrated her birthday on 27 January.

**This link now takes you to an archived version of the Thraliana website. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Simone Veil Is in the Panthéon

Simone Jacob Veil (b. 13 July 1927)

The French politician Simone Veil died on 30 June 2017, just days before her ninetieth birthday. 

Simone Jacob Veil
Born in Nice, the young Simone Jacob and her family were arrested by the Nazis in 1944.

After her arrest, she was sent, first, to Auschwitz, then later transported to Bergen-Belsen. She survived her ordeal in the concentration camp.

Simone Jacob met and married Antoine Veil after the war, while studying law and political science. Throughout her subsequent career, she worked in the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, her work on behalf of women culminating in a 1975 landmark act legalizing abortion, a law now referred to as "Veil's Law.."

When faced by the opposition of male colleagues, many of whom compared abortion to Nazi concentration camps, she responded,
I will share a conviction of women, and I apologize for doing it in front of this assembly comprised almost exclusively of men: No woman resorts to abortion lightheartedly.
In 1979, Veil was elected to the European Parliament, where she served as its first president. She was also the president of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah, an organization devoted to Holocaust remembrance and research. 

After 1994, Veil returned to service in the French government--as Minister of State, Minister of Health, Minister of Social Affairs, and, then, in 1996, was appointed to the Constitutional Council of France.
President Emmanuel Macron paying homage
to Simone Veil at her funeral.

After Veil's death, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that she would be honored by interment in the Panthéon mausoleum.

Of the 80 French citizens recognized there for their distinguished service to the French Republic, she is only the fifth woman to be so honored. Other women buried in the Pantheon are Marie Curie, Nobel Prize winner; and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz and Germaine Tillion, both members of the French resistance. (Although she died in 1956, Marie Curie was not entombed in the Panthéon until 1995.)

The first woman buried in the Panthéon, however, was Sophie Berthelot, buried alongside of her husband, a noted chemist. He died on 18 March 1907--several hours later, she died. Because the couple had asked that they never be separated, not even in death, the two were buried side-by-side in the Pantheon. Sophie Berthelot was the only woman in the Panthéon for nearly a century.

Update, 30 November 2021: In a ceremony ceremony performed some forty-six years after her death, Josephine Baker, the American-born entertainer who fought in the French Resistance, became the first black woman memorialized in the Panthéon (along with seventy-five men and five women). Recognizing her "courage and audacity," as well as her deep love for the country where she found "refuge" from the racial hatred she experienced in the U.S., President Emmanuel Macron declared, "Josephine is France."

Monday, July 10, 2017

Caterina Cornaro, the Last Queen of Cyprus

Caterina Cornaro, queen of Cyprus (died 10 July 1510)

When Giovanni II, king of Cyprus, died in 1458, he was succeeded on the throne by his daughter Carlotta of Lusignan. Carlotta did not rule Cyprus for long, however.* 

By 1460 she had been deposed by her half-brother, Giacomo, who had himself crowned in her place. In an effort to gain support for his rule, the new king of Cyprus sought a political alliance through marriage and, turning to the republic of Venice, requested a bride. 

Titian's 1542 painting of
Caterina Cornaro
In response, the signory selected Caterina Cornaro, the daughter of Fiorenza Crispo and Marco Cornaro, who, interestingly, "happened to hold most of the island of Cyprus in mortgage." On 30 July 1468 the betrothal of the fourteen-year-old Caterina to Giacomo was celebrated by proxy in Venice. 

But Caterina did not travel immediately to Cyprus to meet her new husband; instead, she remained in Venice for four years more years. In the mean time, Giacomo seems to have considered carefully other possible marital alliances, most notably the suggestion of Ferdinand of Naples that the king of Cyprus marry his daughter instead, but Giacomo hesitated and was eventually persuaded to accept the marriage he had already negotiated. In 1472 Caterina finally left for Cyprus, where her marriage to Giacomo was formalized. Within the year he died, leaving his wife, then pregnant, to succeed him. 

Immediately after her husband's death, Caterina acted to preserve Cyprus for her unborn child. A regency council was established, and Caterina, recognizing that "her throne was on a volcano" (stava apicato a un chavelo), sent word of Giacomo's death to Venice, which responded by sending troops to Cyprus to protect the young queen. 

Meanwhile, on learning of the situation in Cyprus, Carlotta of Lusignan, who had taken refuge in Rome after Giacomo's usurpation, prepared to reassert her claim to the throne. Her supporters forced their way into the Lusignan palace, killing several members of Caterina's household, including her uncle and cousin, but the queen herself escaped. 

When Venetian troops arrived, the conspirators were hunted down and order was restored. On 28 August 1473, the queen of Cyprus gave birth to a son, who was baptized Giacomo III on 26 September 1473. 

But the son for whom Caterina struggled to preserve the crown of Cyprus died in 1474, just a year old, and once again Carlotta of Lusignan conspired to effect her rival's overthrow, this time with the aid of Ferdinand of Naples. 

In response, the republic of Venice sent Caterina's father and mother to Cyprus and ordered that Giacomo's mother, sister, and illegitimate son be sent to Venice. Denied motherhood, Caterina seems to have turned her energies to sovereignty, supported by her subjects: she "recalled to [them] those memories of independence which flattered their pride," a contemporary commented.

The counselors and commissioners sent from Venice inexorably assumed more and more power in Cyprus. Caterina protested to the doge, complaining, for example, that one of the Venetian envoys "without respect or reverence would enter her chamber when he would." 

Even her brother was won over by those who sought to relieve Caterina of her crown; pressure was exerted to convince her that the best course of action for her was to abdicate. Finally, in 1489, "the unhappy lady yielded . . . to persuasion and threats." Her decision to abdicate her throne was described by a Venetian ambassador as having been made as a result of "full and free determination." 

She returned to Venice and was "freed" from the rule of Cyprus in a formal ceremony; in return, she was awarded the castle and town of Asolo. She took possession of her new "kingdom" on 11 October 1489. 

"We cannot tell whether the exiled Queen of Cyprus was really satisfied with her mimic Court, her empty title," muses historian Marian Andrews, "or whether, like a wise woman, she made the best of that which was within her reach, and ceased to sigh for the unattainable." 

What we do know is that she governed Asolo efficiently for nearly twenty years. Though her "kingdom" was limited, Caterina Cornaro dispensed justice, founded charitable institutions, patronized artists, welcomed intellectuals, and was loved by her "subjects." At last, when the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire, France, and Spain invaded Italy and threatened Asolo, she was forced to return to Venice. 

She died there on 10 July 1510 and was buried the next day in the Cornaro chapel.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Marie de' Medici and Politics in the French Court

Marie de' Medici, queen and regent of France (died 3 July 1642)

When she became queen of France, Maria de' Medici was ridiculed as the descendant of rich merchants, but as with her Medici foremother, Catherine de' Medici, such was not entirely the case.*

Maria de' Medici
Maria's father, Francesco II de' Medici, was undoubtedly the descendant of wealthy merchants, but he was also related to powerful cardinals and popes and succeeded his brother as grand duke of Tuscany. 

Maria de' Medici's mother was Joanna of Austria, the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand and Anna Jagellion, queen of Hungary; through her mother, then, the young woman who would become queen of France was related to Habsburg royalty throughout Europe.

The young Maria was sixteen years old when she attended the burial of Catherine de' Medici in 1589, and legend has it that on this occasion her lifelong friend and companion Leonora Dori, later Leonora Galigai and later still Leonora Concini, said that there was no reason Marie should not occupy the French throne herself one day. As improbable as the prediction may have seemed, Marie did succeed her Medici cousin on the throne of France. 

The childless Henry III was assassinated soon after Catherine de' Medici's death, and Henry of Navarre became Henry IV of France. The new king already had a wife, Marguerite of Valois, from whom he was estranged, and a mistress, Gabrielle d'Estrées, to whom he was devoted. Nevertheless Maria's uncle Ferdinand, grand duke of Tuscany, offered the new king his political support against the Catholic League that opposed his accession--if Henry would accept his niece as a bride. 

Henry IV could not afford to reject the duke's offer, but neither did he accept it. He wanted to marry his mistress; his wife, however, refused to cooperate with the annulment of their marriage unless he accepted the offered Medici alliance. In 1594 Henry IV converted to Catholicism and entered Paris; by 1599, somewhat more secure on his throne, he announced his intention of marrying Gabrielle. Within a month, however, she died in childbirth, and Marguerite agreed to release him from their marriage; by the spring of 1600 the king was negotiating with Ferdinand of Tuscany for a match with Maria. They were married by proxy on 5 October. 

The forty-eight-year-old king had many illegitimate children, but Marguerite had "failed" to provide him a son, so Henry had no legitimate heir to follow him on the throne. His new bride arrived in France in November and quickly produced the requisite son. Louis, later King Louis XIII, was born on 27 September 1601. Five more children followed: Elizabeth, born in 1603; Christine, in 1606; Henry, in 1607; Gaston, in 1608; and Henrietta Maria, in 1609.
A portrait of Marie de' Medici
as queen of France

While fruitful, the marriage of Henry IV and Maria, now Marie, was not easy, but despite their frequent and public quarrels, it was not the disaster that so many historians claim. But successful or not, it did not last forever. On 14 May 1610 Henry IV was assassinated. 

Just the day before the king's death, Marie de' Medici had been crowned queen of France in a splendid ceremony. Despite his original "command" that his queen "not meddle in affairs of state," the coronation ceremony had taken place so that Marie's position as regent of France could be strengthened while the king undertook a military campaign in the Netherlands. 

Within two hours of her husband's assassination, Marie placed her children under guard to safeguard their security, secured the streets around the Louvre palace, and appeared before the Parlement of Paris to have her regency acknowledged.

In conducting herself as queen regent, Marie decided to model herself on her predecessor and cousin Catherine de' Medici; she aimed for conciliation and appeasement. "Her task," as A. Lloyd Moote defines it, was "avoiding internal turmoil and external danger." Her "success in achieving those twin aims must, in the immediate setting, be considered a major achievement." 

After the rivalries and tensions that had culminated in her husband's assassination, the queen's regency was at first welcomed by opposing factions and began peacefully. Marie herself approached her new role as regent with a measure of confidence and optimism; "I can call myself very fortunate and quite consoled because of the good order and great tranquility that begin to be seen in the affairs of this realm" she wrote to her sister three months after her husband's death. But her optimism proved to be ill-founded. 

Unlike her model, Marie was not a success as regent. Religious unrest continued to be a problem, and relationships with foreign powers were uneasy. To complicate matters further, her relationship with her son the king was tense. Resentful of the humiliations she had endured during her husband's life, she abandoned his counselors and friends, turning for support to her Italian courtiers, to Rome, and to her Habsburg relatives  

For her principal advisor she looked to her friend Leonora's husband Concino Concini, whom she arranged to have appointed maréchal of France, an appointment that "conferred [on him] the second-highest military honor in France."Unlike Henry IV, Louis XIII had been raised a Catholic, like Marie herself; to defuse religious tensions, Marie acted to "curb inflammatory rhetoric" on both sides of the relgious debate and "republished the agreement of Nantes in 1612, 1614, and twice in 1615." 

Marie as queen of France, 1606,
painting by Frans Pourbus the Younger
Among the most serious problems Marie faced was the external danger posed by Habsburg aggression. Accordingly, she "placed all her hopes" on the Franco-Spanish pact negotiated in 1612. To appease the increasingly rebellious nobility, Marie offered a number of concessions, but, as Louis' biographer Elizabeth Marvick notes, this "policy of appeasement" was "costly," and in spite of her efforts, "public tranquility continued to be disturbed by dissatisfied lords." 

In 1614 Louis XIII was fourteen years old, the age at which he could be proclaimed an adult, capable of ruling without a regent. Marie, under increasing pressure, was forced to summon a meeting of the Estates General. 

On 2 October Louis' majority was declared; during the ceremony marking the occasion, he announced his intention to assume his role as king: "Gentlemen, having arrived at the age of majority . . . I intend to govern my realm by good counsel, with piety and justice. I expect from all my subjects the obedience and respect that are due the sovereign power and royal authority which God has placed in my hands." 

But "he" did not intend to rule alone. He noted with gratitude the role his mother had played as regent in the preceding years and concluded with a request to her that she "continue" to "govern and command" as she had "heretofore." 

Gaining some recognition during the 1614-1615 meetings of the Estates was Armand de Richelieu, then bishop of Luçon. By the summer of 1615 Marie's pro-Spanish policy came to fruition with a double marriage: Her thirteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth was married to the ten-year-old Philip, son and heir of Philip III of Spain, while Louis XIII was married to the thirteen-year-old Anne of Austria, Philip's older sister. 

Although these alliances represented a personal success for the regent, they only increased the disaffection of the nobility, and despite a truce agreement reached in 1616, the resulting conflict culminated in the assassination of Concini on 24 April 1617. The next day, the fifteen-year-old Louis turned on his mother. He exiled her to the chateau of Blois: "Madame," he is quoted as saying to her, "I wish to relieve you now of the fatigue of state business." 

He continued: "It is time for me to take this burden from you for I do not intend to allow anyone else to do so. But I shall always treat you with the respect due to a mother. You will hear from me at Blois. Adieu, madame. Do not cease to love me and you will find me a good son." 

Marie responded: "Sire, I regret not having acted, as regent, in accordance with your wishes. But I did my best, and I beg you to consider me in future your humble and obedient mother and servant." 

Interestingly, Louis' harsh treatment of his mother and her friend Leonora Concini, who was tried for witchcraft and executed, encouraged support for the queen. After she was denied permission to attend the marriage of her daughter Christine to Victor Amadeus, heir to the duke of Savoy, in February 1619, her "rescue"--or escape--was arranged. 

With the aid of Richelieu, she traveled to Provence and raised a rebellion against her son. The king gathered an army to proceed against his mother, preparing for the first of the so-called Wars of the Mother and Son. Mother and son were reconciled, and by the terms of the treaty of Angoulême, signed on 30 April, he assigned her the governorship of Anjou. 

By 1620, mother and son were once more at odds, and the second "War of the Mother and Son" commenced. This time the king was determined not to surrender to his mother. Accordingly, he went to war against his mother's army, which he defeated. With a "face-saving acknowledgment" that "she had taken up arms only out of fear of being oppressed by the royal government," Marie signed the treaty of Angers in August. Within six weeks "the king's mother" had been restored to her son's good graces and rejoined his privy council.
Maarie de' Medici, 1616,
Frans Pourbus the Younger

In thanks to Richelieu, she arranged for his appointment as cardinal, and in 1624 Cardinal Richeliu also joined the king's council. Marie's restoration was so complete that in 1621 and 1622, while her son was engaged in a fight against the Huguenots, she often traveled with him. The king, for his part, turned increasingly to his mother for advice. "There was only one person who seemed cautious and sensible" to him, according to Tapié: 
The queen mother had lost none of her ambition of desire for power, but now she strove to avoid any upheaval. She confined herself to telling Louix XIII that his realm was badly governed, that his ministers were no longer achieving anything notable, that they were especially negligent in their conduct of foreign policy, and that in consequence French prestige was on the wane all over Europe.
But such "insight" was not her own, Tapié asserts; she was, in "reality," simply "obediently reciting something that she had been taught," in this case the advice of Richelieu.

Whatever the ultimate source of Marie's advice to her son, Louis nevertheless relied on her, appointing her as regent of France in 1627-28, when he joined his forces at the siege of La Rochelle, and again in 1629, when he was in Savoy. But when Richelieu advised the king to pursue a course of conciliation with the Huguenots and with Protestant Europe to balance Habsburg influence, 

Marie turned against her former adviser. On 10 November 1630, she demanded that her son dismiss Richelieu. She believed Louis would honor her demand, but she was wrong. Instead, her supporters were eliminated; by February 1631 she was exiled again, "escorted" to Compiègne. Louis seems to have considered sending her back to Florence; instead he allowed her to "escape" to Brussels. Her son "declared her a rebel against his authority, outlawed her person, and sequestrated her property."

Although her nephew Ferdinand II of Tuscany offered her asylum in Florence, Marie de' Medici refused. In June 1633 she was in Ghent and ill; Richelieu sent her a note of sympathy, which she rejected, but by February of 1634 she wrote him to ask him to ask for a reconciliation. When he answered, he advised her to go to Tuscany. 

Her younger son Gaston, whom she seems to have encouraged to think of gaining the throne of France for himself, had followed her to the Netherlands, but by 1635 he had reconciled to his brother and returned to France. Marie repeatedly asked Louis to allow her to return to Paris as well. 

When French troops threatened to invade the Netherlands in 1638, the exiled Marie de' Medici fled to England, where her daughter Henrietta Maria was queen, married to Charles I, and where the former queen consort and queen regent of France was decidedly unwelcome. Again Marie wrote to Richelieu: "I have forgotten the past. I only want to be friends with you. I should be so happy if you would deign to grant me the great favour of my return to France." Marie seems also to have been considering yet another regency, rumors of which reached Richelieu, but her efforts at reconciliation came to nothing. 

Meanwhile, England had been plunged into its own internal difficulties, and the increasingly unpopular king found that the presence of his Catholic mother-in-law only added to his problems. Attacked in parliament, she was finally forced to leave England in 1641, but where she would go was problematic. 

Her predicament is described by Cleugh: "England had rejected her. France declined to receive her. Even King Philip IV of Spain [her son-in-law] now refused to allow her to settle in . . . the Netherlands. Her pride would not allow her to return to Tuscany as a rejected Queen and mother." She was eventually allowed to travel to Cologne, where she died on 3 July 1642.