Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Back to the Future, Part 6: Making America Even Greater for Women

Here's a Way to Fix Domestic Violence--Stop Reporting It

This year's Crime in the United States report, the first one to be produced under the auspices of the Trump administration's Department of Justice, claims to be new and improved--or, rather, it says that it has been "streamlined and updated."

Crime statistics no longer reported in the
Crime in the United States report
To that end, "UCR [Uniform Crime Reporting] staff have strategically trimmed the amount of tables and refined the presentation of data in this year’s publication."

Well, that's one way of framing what's happened in the newly released 2016 Crime in the United States report

Another way of framing what's happened: we just don't give a shit about some aspects of crime any more.

As senior political reporter Clare Malone and crime analyst Jeff Asher report in FiveThirtyEight, (27 October 2017) the most recent CUS "contains close to 70 percent fewer data tables than the 2015 version did, a removal that could affect analysts’ understanding of crime trends in the country. The removal comes after consecutive years in which violent crime rose nationally, and it limits access to high-quality crime data that could help inform solutions."

Among the missing data tables that "could" (ha!) affect understanding of crime in the United States are those that include "information on arrests" and "the circumstances of homicides (such as the relationships between victims and perpetrators)."

So why does this contribute to the ongoing effort to make America greater for women?

There were 15 tables of homicide data in the 2015 report, for example. The 2016 report, "streamlined and updated," or, more rhetorically calculated, "trimmed . . . and refined," has only 6 homicide data tables. Oh, excuse me--to be more accurate, "strategically trimmed."

What's missing?

Notably, Data Table 10 from the 2015 report: "Murder Circumstances by Relationship." Actually, this data, the relationship of victims to offenders, is included as Table 10 in every CIUS report from 2000 until 2015; before 2000, the information is a bit harder to find, but "Murder Circumstances by Relationship" is consistently provided as Table 2.12 in the reports from 1995 to 2000 (the 1995 Crime in the United States is the earliest available report online). 

Why is the loss of this table so important?

Because the table focused on who was murdered--and the relationship of the victim to the offender. Was the victim the perpetrator's husband, wife, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, "other family," acquaintance, friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend?

These categories included exes and step relationships. "Acquaintance" included same-sex relationships.

This means that, for the most extreme outcome of acts of domestic violence, it is no longer possible to say how many women were murdered by their spouses, partners, dates, or friends.

Similarly, Data Table 2 is also missing. For twenty years, from 1995 until 2015, you could see the age, the race, and the ethnicity of homicide victims. How many girls aged 9 to 12 were murdered in 2015, for example? There were 20 girls between the ages of 9 and 12 murdered in that year. How many women aged 25 to 29 were murdered? That number was 338.

But how many girls and women in those age groups were murdered in 2016? Who knows? Who cares? They've been "strategically trimmed" out of the data. The data is now more "refined."

It is important to note that, while the annual report has changed from one year to another in previous years, the proposed changes were reviewed. Before being made, changes went through the Criminal Justice Advisory Policy Process, overseen by an Advisory Policy Board. This year's changes did not go through that regular process

Meanwhile, in his "Message" prefacing the 2016 report, FBI Director Chris Wray writes, "Information that is accurate, accessible, and complete enhances and informs conversations about policing."

But information that is suppressed, elided, erased, disappeared--oh, excuse me, "streamlined," "trimmed"--even strategically trimmed--and "refined"--also diminishes and misleads. It obscures. It obfuscates. It denies.

Men killing women? Husbands killing wives (and children)? Boyfriends killing an ex? Problem solved. 

The 2016 Crime in the United States report was published 25 September 2017. 

Ironically (or not), October is Domestic Violence Prevention Month.

(For previous entries in the "Back to the Future" series, click here, here, here, here, and/or here!)

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

St. Margaret Clitherow, "the Pearl of York"

Margaret Middleton Clitherow (canonized 25 October 1970)

I just recently moved from a home I'd lived in for forty years. While I was packing up, I ran across a card I had received many years ago (many years ago) from a friend who was spending a sabbatical year in England--I'd tossed it into my bill basket, where it remained. Every once in a while, when I "cleaned" out the basket, I'd come across it, but there it remained.

My Margaret Clitherow
"Local History Card"
The card told the story of Margaret Clitherow, also known as St. Margaret of York. Since the card itself is quite small, postcard-sized, and since half of it is taken up with an illustration, there isn't much text on it.

I'd always assumed that this was a postcard, in fact, but when I looked at it carefully this last July, trying to decide what to keep and what to toss after living four decades in the same space, I realized it wasn't a postcard after all. It was something called a "Local History Card." And this was card No. 575.

I decided not only to keep the card but, finally, to do something with it. And thus today's post.

Margaret Middleton was born in 1555 or 1556, the daughter of John Middleton, sheriff of York (1564-65), and his wife, Jane.

When Margaret was fourteen years old, her father died; the next year, in 1571, she married John Clitherow. Like her father, who had been a successful businessman (a chandler, or candlemaker), Clitherow was also a successful tradesman, a butcher. 

Also like her father, John Clitherow had a civic role, in his case as a chamberlain for the city, a kind of treasurer responsible for receiving rents and revenues--and he also had the responsibility of reporting the activities of Catholics to the Church of England parish authorities. 

Margaret and her husband lived in the Shambles, a street where butchers had their homes and shops--today, the Shambles preserves its overhanging, medieval timber-frame structures, making it a popular tourist site in the city of York.

At some point in the 1570s, perhaps in 1574, according to some accounts, Margaret converted to Catholicism. The Middleton family, whatever their religious faith before Elizabeth Tudor came to the throne, seems to have accepted the Protestant faith--John Middleton had become sheriff of the city of York in 1564, six years after Elizabeth's accession.
The Shambles,

John Clitherow, too, was Protestant, and during the first years of their marriage, his wife had worshipped with him, but after her conversion and profession of her faith, he did not abandon her. (His brother, William, was also an ordained Catholic priest.)

Margaret was fined for not attending church. Her husband paid her fines. Margaret raised their children as Catholics. Her husband did not object. Margaret opened her home to a priest who said the mass for her. Her husband turned a blind eye.

Margaret was first imprisoned for failure to attend church services (Church of England) in 1577 (the parish register notes that she is "great with child," and this may be when she gave birth to her third child, a boy named William, who is said to have been born when she was incarcerated). 

She was then arrested twice more, in 1580 (she was released from prison in 1581 in order to give birth) and 1583. As a result of this third arrest, she spent some twenty months in prison. It may have been during this last, extended imprisonment that she learned to read and to write.

(Margaret's three children followed her in their faith--her two sons, Henry, born in 1572, and the boy, William, born while she was imprisoned, became priests. Her daughter, Anne, born around the year 1575, became a nun at St. Ursula's in Louvain.)

But when she was arrested on 10 March 1586, it was for more than failure to attend church services. John Clitherow had been called before the Council of the North to explain the absence of his son Henry--whom Margaret had sent to the continent to be educated at the English College in Rheims. 

John Clitherow refused to provide any information about his son's whereabouts, and so the authorities searched his home. There, one of the frightened Clitherow servants revealed to authorities the existence of a priest hole, a secret room where Margaret had hidden priests. Although there were no men hiding there when the house was searched, authorities found ample evidence to arrest Margaret--there were vestments and bread left from the Mass.

Margaret Clitherow,
from an eighteenth-century woodcut
Margaret was arraigned four days later, on 14 March 1586, by the Council of the North at the York Assizes, charged with the crime of having "harbored and maintained Jesuits and seminary priests, traitors to the Queen's majesty and her laws." 

In response to the charges read against her, Margaret reportedly said, "I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial."

Margaret refused to plead to the charges made against her, presumably because, if she had cooperated and then been brought to trial, her children would have been used as witnesses against her. 

Instead, she accepted the sentence of peine forte et dure, being pressed to death, the legal punishment meted out to a person who refused to make a plea and stand trial. On 15 March, Judge George Clinch read out her sentence:
You must return from whence you came, and there, in the lowest part of the prison, be stripped naked, laid down, your back on the ground, and as much weight laid upon you as you are able to bear, and so to continue for three days without meat or drink, and on the third day to be pressed to death, your hands and feet tied to posts, and a sharp stone under your back.
To this dreadful sentence, Margaret Clitherow reportedly replied, "God be thanked, I am not worthy of so good a death as this."

Perhaps in the hope that she would relent--she was believed to be pregnant again--ten days elapsed between the time she was sentenced and the day she was executed. 

Here is the account of her death--viewed as a martyrdom--printed in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Although she was probably with child, this horrible sentence was carried out on Lady Day, 1586 (Good Friday according to New Style). She had endured an agony of fear the previous night, but was now calm, joyous, and smiling. She walked barefooted to the tollbooth on Ousebridge, for she had sent her hose and shoes to her daughter Anne, in token that she should follow in her steps. She had been tormented by the ministers and even now was urged to confess her crimes. "No, no, Mr. Sheriff, I die for the love of my Lord Jesu," she answered. She was laid on the ground, a sharp stone beneath her back, her hands stretched out in the form of a cross and bound to two posts. Then a door was placed upon her, which was weighted down till she was crushed to death. Her last words during an agony of fifteen minutes, were "Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! have mercy on me!"
There is now a shrine for Margaret Clitherow, St. Margaret of York, in her former home, 35-36 Shambles. 

According to my Local History Card, "an altar service is held there every Saturday." 

The Margaret Clitherow Shrine,
the Shambles, York
For more details, you can access in full a fascinating account of Margaret Clitherow via Google Books, J. B. Milburn's 1900 A Martyr of Old York: Being a Narrative of the Life and Sufferings of the Venerable Margaret Clitheroe

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, while he was attempting to defend the indefensible Donald Trump, White House chief of staff John Kelly, formerly a respected Marine general, abandoned his hopeless mission and charged into strange new territory. No longer on solid ground, he wound up stepping into a steaming pile of ripe 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 (see what I did there?), I am almost the exact age of John Kelly, who was born in 1950. I sure as hell don't remember a time when women were "sacred." 

And what does that claim 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 the adjective "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 what "sacred" can mean, including "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, which I have put into boldface type--the illustrations of this possible usage all refer to Roman tribunes and praetors. 

But, really, who knows what Kelly 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 aside from all the "sacred" crap, Kelly's sappy memories of when he was "a kid growing up" are also worth nothing. They are not memories--they are fantasy. Because when exactly have women been "looked upon with great honor"?

As soon as I type that, though, I see where I might have 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 myth-making (or delusion) 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, delicate "little women" imprisoned by their corsets and crinolines, those devoted, meek, and submissive "angels in the house" whose piety absolved men from being pious themselves?

The devoted nineteenth-century "angel of the house"
Because here is the English writer Caroline Norton on the realities of life for 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. . . .
A woman had no legal right even to her children; children were the property of their fathers, who could deny their mothers the right even to see them. "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 England in 1855. While the status of women was much the same in the United States, women and men had begun the long, painful process of trying to establish 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 finally get the right to vote. Wow! I guess it happened so quickly because, in those days, women were so sacred and honored.

But by the time good ol' John Kelly was growing up, more than thirty years after women had gotten the vote, women still hadn't gotten many of those other pesky things they might have needed. They were still so "sacred" and so "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 crime of marital rape didn't exist (marital rape didn't become a crime until 1979).

The same age as John Kelly, I remember being so sacred that when I looked for a place to live, I had to search in the "For Rent--Women" column, and I when I searched for a job, I was so honored I could look at the low-skill, low-wage jobs offered "For Women."

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 24.4 percent of the seats--1,800 of 7,383 members of state legislatures.
  • Only six of fifty state governors are women. In the 1,391 U.S. cities with populations of over 30,000, women are mayors in only 263 of them--18.9 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 continue to experience extreme poverty at higher rates than men. 
  • 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.
Men have so honored their sacred mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters, that this is the world they have made for them. This is the world men control. This is the world they perpetuate. And if John Kelly thinks so much has been lost, he has only himself--and men--to blame.

As for you women--if the current state of affairs isn't good enough for you, if you're not feeling all that sacred, 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--then men like John Kelly will feel free to deny your basic humanity (in Kelly's words, Frederica Wilson, who criticized Trump, is just "this woman," an "empty barrel"). These men who so honor sacred womankind will insult your intelligence and criticize you for your anger and disgust. 

And if you dare to do more than criticize, if dare to step out of line, men like Trump and Kelly will attack 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, looking back to some imaginary past where women were "sacred," this is how they honor them today.

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

*For another view of how sacred and honored the "angel in the house" was, you might be interested in Florence Nightingale's perspective.

**This list--and its accompanying statistics--has been updated from a post I wrote in May 2016. If you check there, you can see how much progress women have made in that year and a half! It must be because we've so honored! (Please note: Many of these resources continue to be updated, so the links may connect you with information that has been revised since the time this piece was posted. As of January 2023, after Elon Musk bought Twitter and became its self-styled "chief twit," the link takes you to a blank page . . .  Update, 24 January 2024: I have had to remove links verifying all the statistics for social media and big tech companies—the sources I used in writing this post have been removed, and I have no longer been able to locate data even using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine …)

Update: On the very day that I was writing this post. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders opined that it was "highly inappropriate" to engage in any kind of debate with "a four-star Marine general" Hahahahahahaha!!! That's me, I guess. Highly inappropriate. (Of course, in my defense, I'm not debating him--I'm saying he's either a liar or delusional.)

Update, 23 October 2017: Aside from the ongoing epidemic of sexual assault in the military, Charles M. Blow ("Trump's Boogeymen? Women," New York Times) today alludes to the  abysmal the lack of female officers in the military. While Blow links to a 2011 PBS News Hour story in his column, it's easy to find the 4 October 2017 Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity in the Armed Services: Background and Issues report prepared for the U.S. Congress by the Congressional Research Service. (Note, January 2020: The report, in its 2017 form, has been updated, and its 2019 update seems to be the only version now available online.)

According to the report (see especially Table 8, p. 31), published just days before John Kelly, with quivering lip, lamented the past when women were sacred and honored, only 20.3% of the total number of officers in the U.S. Army are female, only 18.9% of the total number of officers in the Navy are female, only 20.8% of the total number of officers in the Air Force are female, and only 8.2% of the officers in the Marines are female. (In boldface because Kelly was a Marine.) But, while women account for roughly 20% of all the officers in three of the branches of the military, they represent less than 10% of the "highest leadership positions."


As for the whole good-old-days of female sacredness that Kelly mythologizes? Check out the history of women and military service in the report . . . (pp. 22-29). Nice to know that women could serve when they were really needed (like in World War I and II), but that after the Second World War, while women were finally accepted as a part of the permanent military, there was a gender quota (as there was a racial quota). Only 2% of the military could be female. These limits existed from the time of the 1948 Women's Armed Services Integration Act until 1967.

By the way, if you want to educate yourself about the horrors of sexual assault in the U.S. military, here's the most recent full report: Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military (fiscal year 2016, published in May 2017).

Update, 7 February 2018: In case we still didn't get it, John Kelly just can't help, once more, sharing the way he honors women!

Having been outed for his knowledge that Donald Trump's staff secretary, Rob Porter,  had beaten the crap out of not one but two wives (Kelly knew all about Porter's violence against women before the disgraced secretary resigned his post), Kelly issued a statement in defense of the wife-beater: “Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante, and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”

Yup, that's the same guy who was blubbering over his sacred fantasies about women just four months ago.

I guess giving a woman a black eye or two is what Kelly might have had in mind when he was crying about holding a woman "sacred"? I don't know about you, but when he was reminiscing about women being "looked upon with great honor," this wasn't exactly the rosy little dream I had in mind--but, you know, maybe it's just me . . .

Update, 5 May 2019: This asshole again! Of course the guy who babbles about when women were "sacred" is all-in when it comes to sitting on the board of directors of a for-profit prison company that runs detention camps for children.

And oh, by the way--the company runs a camp that is being investigated for the sexual abuse of the children being detained there . . . Of course.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Eleanor of England, "Noble and Much Loved"

Eleanor Plantagenet, queen of Castile (born 13 October 1162)

The daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her second husband, Henry II of England, Eleanor of England, or 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
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. (Her daughter Blanca, later Blanche, would come to serve as queen regent for her husband, Louis VIII of France.)

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 a 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.

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'École Belge d'Infirmières Diplômées, 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
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 autumn, 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, and 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; 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, her parents 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 King Henry discovered the relationship between the two, he 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 I 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.)