Wednesday, 31 August 2016

19 years ago

This weekend I suddenly realized that today it has been 19 years ago that Diana, Princess of Wales died in that carcrash in Paris, on August 31, 1997.

She was not a saint and made mistakes, but she was also a kind and generous woman, who did much to reach out to people. People with AIDS, the homeless, people who lost loved ones and others.
She also was very brave when she addressed the problem of landmines.
I think she changed the idea of the British monarchy and also how the monarchy operates, her influence here can still be seen today.

She was a truely beautiful and remarkable woman.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Katherine of Aragon, Alison Weir

I read my first historical novel when I was about eleven. It was Anne Boleyn by Evelyn Anthony, a book published in 1957. It was the first time I read about Henry VIII and his wifes and I think this book sparked my interest in English history.

I did not know much about the historical background, and the names were also quite difficult, but I did feel awful about poor Anne Boleyn. The injustice of her story really got to me. 

Only when I got older and when I read more about this case, I realized there is of course another woman who also had to deal with injustice, perhaps even more than Anne: Katherine the first queen of Henry VIII.

My sympathy is now firmly for Katherine of Aragon. She usually does not get a lot of attention, since most people want to skip her history to get to the interesting parts, but she was married to Henry for almost twenty-seven years and that is why I was very happy to learn there is now a whole novel dedicated to her side of the story: Katherine of Aragon. The true queen by Alison Weir.

The marriage
Katharine came in 1501 as a young princess form Spain to England to marry prince Arthur, the eldest son of Henry VII. Soon after their marriage Arthur, who had been poorly, died. Katherine stayed in England, possibly because Henry VII did not want to hand over the Spanish riches from the dowry again. Katherine testified the marriage between herself and Arthur was never consummated and after dispensation from the pope the way was free for her to marry Arthur’s brother Henry.

The first years of their marriage were happy. Henry was intelligent and handsome and they had a lot in common. It did become clear though that Henry was not really capable to deal with things not going his way or people contradicting him.

Unfortunately Katherine did not give Henry sons. There were miscarriages, a son who died after a couple of weeks and one daughter who survived: princess Mary. Henry desperately wanted a son and sought a way out of the marriage. His infatuation with Anne Boleyn helped him in this: he wanted to divorce Katherine and marry Anne, who promised him sons to secure the throne.

Katherine of Aragon
The divorce
There was however one problem: Henry had no grounds for a divorce. Cardinal Wolsey and later Thomas Cromwell found gounds for the king: they claimed the marriage between Katherine and Arthur was consummated and the pope had no right to give dispensation. Ergo, the marriage between Katherine and Henry was not valid.

Henry declared himself head of the Church of England and nullified the authority of the pope in England. The people had to swear an oath that they acknowledged Henry as head of the church and that Katherine and Henry were never married. Somebody like Thomas More refused this and was beheaded for it.

Henry became vindictive and ruthless. This could have been the influence of the jealous Anne Boleyn, but on the other hand Henry disliked people not agreeing with him, since he thought that this would diminish his authority as king.

To break Katherine he banished her from court, took away her jewels (and gave them to Anne), gave her almost nothing to live on and even forbade contact with her daughter Mary.

Despite these harsh measurements that undermined her health, Katherine never broke. Until the end she stuck to her truth: the marriage between Arthur and herself was never consummated, the marriage between Henry and herself was valid and she was the true queen of England.

Katherine would not see her husband or her daughter again and died in January 1536. Only a few months later Anne Boleyn lost her head on the block.

The true queen
The story is well known, also because so many films and series have been made about Henry and his marriages. I know the story fairly well, but I enjoyed Katherine of Aragaon. True queen very much.

Alison Weir is a historian who wrote many biographies about the Tudors, but also historical novels. She is now working on a series about the six wives of Henry VIII.

Effortlessly she creates the world of the 16th century and she writes very well, I read the almost 600 pages in less than two days. The personalities of both Henry and Katherine is portrayed well, in small but telling details.

I like how this book does Katherine justice, she was intelligent and pious and truly wanted to become a good queen. You have to admire how she managed to stir between the different factions at the English court when she was just a young girl and how she developed from a naïve girl into a queen who was indeed the true queen of England.

Her sadness over Henry’s infidelities and her sorrow about her miscarriages is heart-breaking and I must confess I cried during the last pages when Katherine died.

Katherine of Aragon is a very interesting and well written book, also for the people who think nothing new can be told about this story or think that Katherine of Aragon is not really that interesting.

I am looking forward to the next book in this series.
That old book that sparked my interest in English history
and the newest book in the collection
Pubished in 2016

Thursday, 25 August 2016

City life in Venice, a few impressions

When I am in a city, I do not only visit museums and churches, but part of the fun for me is sitting on a bench or the steps of a church, watching people. When you pay attention, you can see so many interesting things.
Venice is of course an unique city in the sense that everything goes by foot or by boat.

Here are a few impressions of city life in Venice.
The fruit and veg stall, only on a boat. 

This couple will have no trouble finding good spots for photographs.
This was on the Accademia bridge. 

Early in the morning the gondola's need to be prepared for the coming day. 

A typical little square in Venice (a 'campo'), with an old waterwell in the middle.
Nowadays a good spot for tourists to rest for a moment!

Collecting the garbage is also done over water. This is on Murano

I like to see nuns in the normal running of a city., they are part of the world after all, and do not stand apart from it.
This nun got the newspaper and some groceries early in the morning. 

The mailman.

Campo Margerita, we drank coffee here
while the shopkeepers opened their shops to get ready for the day. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

Two books about (the history of) Venice

If you are like me, you want to read a book or two about the places you plan to visit on your holiday.
I was lucky enough to go to Venice and I can recommend two books to get you into the mood and to give you an idea of the city you are visiting, the history, the people, the islands, the churches and the campo’s.

Venice, Jan Morris
This is a highly personal account of Venice, written by somebody who spend a lot of time in the city and actually lived there. 

The book is divided into three sections, the people, the city and the lagoon and in each section a little bit of history is mixed with personal observations and anecdotes and it gives a lot of information about the Venice you see today.
The book is funny and engaging and a joy to read.

Published in 1960, but revised in 1993

Venice, pure city, Peter Ackroyd
But even better (at least, for me) is this history of Venice. Peter Ackroyd wrote several biographies, including one about London, and I loved this one about Venice: Venice, pure city.

It tells the chronological story of this amazing city and how it differs from all other cities in the world. The city that grew to be the richest and one of the most powerful cities of Italy. Venice traded with the east and the west, always looking where the profit for Venice was.
A city that loved splendour and putting up a show, but also loved secrecy and formed a highly original state, until the decline set in after the 18th century.

Peter Ackroyd writes very well and I could not put this book down, I loved the broad sweeps of history mixed with anecdotes and little details. And it does explain why Venice is the purest city of them all!

Published in 2009

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Venice, photo 1

San Marco cathedral, Venice Summer 2016
Last week I spent a couple of days in the magical and beautiful city of Venice. The coming week I'll share some images of this trip, to give you some impressions of all the beauty I saw.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Inspirational art: Canal Grande in Venice

Venice is a beautiful city and much beautiful art is made here.
The American painter Walter Griffin studied art in Paris and spent most of his years in Europe. In 1913 he visited Venice and painted this beautiful painting of the Canal Grande.

I love how this painting immediately brought back the memories of my trip to Venice in 2011. I remembered the sun on the water, the warmth and the palazzo's along the Canal.
Canal grande, Venice, Walter Griffin 1913
See in the Singer museum in Laren
See the details and how the brushstrokes are visible. I wanted to touch it and feel the paint, but of course this was not possible.
I especially like this painting since I was in Venice again this week. If everything goes well, I will arrive home this afternoon. I will tell you more about my trip in the weeks to come!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Palace gardens

Whe I visited the royal palace 't Loo a couple of weeks ago, we also walked in the gardens. These are absolutely beautiful.

When the palace became a museum, the gardens were restored in their original French baroque style. It is a lovely place to walk around, to sit on a bench in the shade and enjoy the flowers and pretty sights.

Enjoy these impressions of this royal garden.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Royal Palace 't Loo

The main part of the palace
In the middle of the Netherlands, near Apeldoorn is the little palace of ‘t Loo. It is situated in the woods (Loo is an old Dutch word for forest). This used to be one of the palaces of the Dutch royal family, but it is a museum now.

In 1684 stadhouder of the Dutch republic (governor) William III of Orange (he was the one who was married to Mary Stuart) bought this estate. 

There was an old hunting lodge, but William wanted to build a new palace and when he became king of Engeland in 1688, the palace had to be a bit bigger to fit his new status. So new wings were added and the gardens were designed into a formal French style.

In later years the palace was used mainly as a summer residence by stadhouders (governors) of The Dutch Republic. 

In 1795, when the French invaded, the last stadhouder, William V, fled to England.
During the French invasion, king Louis Napoleon (brother of Napoleon) used the little palace, but he wanted to change a few things. He transformed the garden into an English landscape-garden, and plastered the whole palace white from the outside.
Cosy little room
When Napoleon was defeated and The Netherlands became a monarchy in 1813 (the son of stadhouder William V was to become king William I), Palace ‘t Loo was to be used as a summer residency again.

Queen Wilhelmina and queen Juliana both spend a great deal of their childhood in this palace and queen Wilhelmina lived here after her abdication in 1948 until her death in 1962.
The last royal inhabitants were princess Margriet (sister of Queen Beatrix) and her husband, who lived here until 1975.

The palace was to be converted into a museum and in the years that followed there were major reconstructions. The white plaster from the outside was removed, the gardens were restored into the original baroquestyle of William and Mary and the rooms were renovated and furbished as they had been in the old days.
Playroom of then princess Wilhelmina.
When she was 10 years old and became queen,
she was not allowed to play with her dolls anymore. 

The palace is not a big palace, and many rooms are actually quite cosy. They have tried to give you as much information about the royal family who used this palace and the different rooms they used. 
This chair was embroidered by queen Anna Pavlovna
There is the bedroom of William III, the sitting room of Anna Pavlovna (who was married to King William II), the sitting room of queen Emma (mother of queen Wilhelmina) and the workroom of queen Wilhelmina or the bathroom of queen Wilhelmina.
Sitting room of queen Emma 
It has been ages since I last visited the museum, but a couple of weeks ago, I went there again. I loved to see it and I liked how modern some rooms felt, or how homely. The workroom of queen Wilhelmina looks like a lovely room with a huge desk full of knickknacks and little things she must have loved. I would not mind working in a room like that!

Desk of queen Wilhelmina
The gardens were also amazing and we really enjoyed walking here, sitting on benches and enjoying the beautiful flowers, but I'l tell you more about that in a seperate post. 

If you want a little overview of the Dutch royal family: HERE is an article I wrote when queen Beatrix abdicated in 2013 which gives some background. 

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

SPQR, Mary Beard

We all known the story of Rome; the small village on the hills near the river Tiber that grew into a huge Empire. Sometimes we think that maybe we can see the ending of the Roman Empire in its beginning, but of course there was never a plan behind the forming of the empire.
We are constantly fascinated by Rome, and we know their culture, philosophy and politics influence us until today. Thousands of books have been written about Rome, but can a new book give us new information?

Yes, fortunately, it can. SPQR by Mary Beard does nog only tell us the well-known story of Rome, but does this with new insights. She does not only look at the events in Rome, but also how the Romans described these and what that says about the Romans. Just as the way we look at Rome tells something about how we see ourselves.

The myths the Romans told about their beginnings are looked at, but also questions are answered like why Caesar was murdered, why Cicero’s court cases still fascinate us and how the Romans thought about marriage, the state, religion and possessions.

What did the normal Romans notice when a new emperor took the reins? We have classified them in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emperors, but is this correct and did the Romans also see them like that?

Mary Beard uses not only her vast knowledge of Roman history, but also new archaeological finds and insights to tell a new part of the history of Rome. Not just the great men and their politics, but also of the common Roman (as far as possible).

I love how she can write so easily that it feels as if she is talking to you, explaining things and showing you a shard or a tombstone to underline an argument. 

The book is 536 pages long, but it never bores for a moment and does give you new insights. This makes SPQR a really remarkable and interesting book, I absolutely loved it.

Published in 2015
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