Saturday 31 May 2014

LIVING THE RENAISSANCE TODAY. Renaissance Festivals in America.

The first Renaissance Festival was organized in 1963 in the Hollywood Hills-- ground zero of make-believe.  There are now more than a 150 annual fairs in the US, with the two largest in Plantersville, Texas, and Shakopee, Minnesota.
Together, those fairs attract about six million visitors, slightly more females than males (53 vs. 46 percent), with a third in the under 35 years of age group coveted by merchants. They are generally well educated  (64 % college grads) and well-off (52% homeowners). They have to be well-off because it will cost them $ 300/day and up. What do they get for their money?

  • The illusion to escape the modern world and spend a day surrounded by fake architecture, in a lovely English village or the noble court of our beloved Queen Bess.
  • Becoming part of the fantasy and magic by dressing up. Popular costumes for rent are: Romeo and Juliet, the village wench, the tavern lady, sexy Gwenhyfar, the executioner, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. If you are tired of historical characters, there is always Guido Libido, the Hopeless romantic, friend to all women.
  • Fun, fun, fun in a place where pleasures reign and merrymaking is the rule. What kind of pleasures? Full contact jousting, falconry, jugglers, jesters, an exchange of comic insults, bear-baiting (the comic version), and leeching (the bloodless version, I assume).
  • Post-Renaissance payment methods. Sign at one festival booth: We honor Lady Visa and the Master of the Card.
(Source: Paul Grendler, The European Renaissance in American Life)

Wednesday 28 May 2014


Here is a lesson in strategy from a seasoned Renaissance politician. The quotes are from his letters, 1467- 89.
  • How to obtain consent. We would like to inspect your properties…If you do not reply, we will interpret your lack of an answer as a quick way of giving your consent. I think I’ll try that strategy on the IRS: “I would like to withhold my taxes…If you do not reply, I take that as a quick way of you giving your consent.”
  • How to get out of visiting your mother. My doctor does not think it would be good for my eczema to return to your place. PS: Send my purple tunic, as I have nothing to wear.
  • How to get out of giving a present. I was going to send you some trout, but the fishing wasn’t good because it rained so furiously.
  • How to avoid exile and death. I decided to go voluntarily to Naples.
  • Sucking up to the Pope. So sorry to hear that you are suffering from the gout. As Saint Francis felt the pain of the wounds suffered by Jesus Christ, thus do I feel every pain and ill suffered by Your Holiness in my own person and am much vexed thereby.
  • Don’t trust the French.What reliance is to be placed on France, seeing the French nature, I know not.
  • Don’t denounce the King. It is better to dissimulate and make secret preparations than to show anger before being ready to strike…but an agreement would, I think, be better than a good war.
  • First sign the contract, then complain. By the kindness of Your Holiness the contract of the alum works has been awarded to me…I entreat Your Holiness at last to act like a Pope…and not trust so much in posterity and good health.

(Source: Jon Thiem, Lorenzo de' Medici. Selected poems and Prose. Image: 

Sunday 25 May 2014


Leo X by Botero
What can you say to a sixteen-year old, who has just been appointed cardinal?
This is what Lorenzo de’ Medici had to say to his son Giovanni:

  • Lead a saintly, exemplary, and honest life. So far you are doing alright, son. I notice you’ve been to confession and to communion without anyone reminding you.
  • If all the cardinals were good, there would always be a good pope. Hint: why not aim for the top yourself?
  • Persevere in studies suitable to your profession.
  • Of course temptations will be great once you take up residence in Rome, that sink of all iniquities.
  • See what you can do for the family. Assist our House.
  • Use jewels and silken stuff sparingly.
  • Eat plain food and do much exercise.
  • Get up early and draw up the agenda for the day.
  • In the evening, reflect on what you have to do the next day, so that events may not come upon you unawares.Don’t bother the Pope. He is a busy man and grateful if people don’t break his ears. If you see him, talk about amusing things.
It worked! Giovanni became Pope (Leo X) in 1513.
(Source: Jon Thiem, Lorenzo de Medici: Selected Poems and Prose. Image:

Thursday 22 May 2014

KING JAMES I ON MARRIAGE. Good advice to his son.

  • Be careful whom you choose as your wife, because marriage is the greatest earthly felicity or misery that can come to a man.
  • Keep your body clean and unpolluted till ye give it to your wife.
  • And remember the triple purpose of marriage: for staying of lust, for procreation of children…and to get a helper.
  • Make sure she is not subject to hereditary sicknesses either of the soul or the body. After all, you are particular about breeding horses, how much more careful should you be for the breed of your own loins.
  • Love your wife, but rule her as your pupil and teach her not to be curious in things that belong her not.  For example,
  • Suffer her never to meddle with the politic government.
  • And finally: make sure she keeps good company, for women are the frailest sex.
(Source, James I, Basilikon Doron, 1599)

Sunday 18 May 2014

EARLY MODERN HACKING? King James’ advice leaked to the public.

You think it’s hard to keep anything private in the age of hacking and phone tapping? Well, if it’s any comfort to you, King James I (1566-1625) couldn’t keep his private notes private either. He thought it no ways convenient that the public should know about them.
Then why did he have them printed?  The printer was sworn to secrecy, he says. And only 7 copies were in circulation.
Well, that was 7 too many. Naturally the contents were leaked to the public.

So what did James say in this top secret document meant only for his son’s eyes?
First, he had some political advice, such as
  • [God] made you a little god to sit on his throne and rule over other men.
  • Of course even little gods can make mistakes: I grant we have all our faults. Just keep them betwixt you and God and don’t ever talk about them to anyone else.
  • Don’t be too merciful at the beginning of your reign or the offences would soon come in heaps and the contempt of you grow.
  • And absolutely never pardon witchcraft, willful murder, incest, sodomy, poisoning, and false coin.
Next blog: James' advice concerning marriage.
(Source, James I, Basilikon Doron, 1599)

Thursday 15 May 2014


Luigi “Rodomonte” Gonzaga (d.1532) was celebrated by the poet Girolamo Muzio as a man who could cast the great stone and raise the mighty bar, whose wrestling none could resist.
  • He had hands so strong he could break a horseshoe or tear a cord asunder. He was able to throw an iron ball others could not even lift and leap across the castle moat where it was 24 feet wide.
  • In a bout against a gigantic and terrible Moor, Luigi, that most Christian champion, won a triumph reminiscent of David’s fight against Goliath. With the most marvelous skill and courage our young champion seized his mighty foe and seven times, one after the other, cast him down on to the breast of his mother earth.
  • On a visit to England he engaged in a single-handed contest with a wild boar.
  • He served as a mercenary captain in a number of wars and yielded in battle only in the belief that this is more honour and glory than to sacrifice his people and himself.
  • His reward was the hand of Isabella Colonna who had been destined for another, but thought that this hero who saved our lives and lands had the greater claim on her. The marriage made Luigi Duke of Trajetto and Count of Fondi. He did not enjoy these titles for very long, however. A year later he died in the siege of Ancona. The poet Ludovico Ariosto called him the great glory of Italy, a terror to his foes… a man of strong heart and wise counsel who feared no danger and welcomed a noble death.
The funeral procession passed through the streets of Fondi and reached the Cathedral porch, with banners of conquered foes trailing in the dust… Isabella knelt during the last sad rites, clasping the orphan babe Vespasiano in her arms.

No, forget that last sentence. Christopher Hare, whom I’m quoting here, asks the indulgence of all the serious students of scientific history if I pass for a time into the realms of “Historical Romance” in my earnest endeavor to recreate the atmosphere.

Sunday 11 May 2014


From her autobiography describing her childhood and adolescence:

My governess taught me to behave very chastely…She would not let me sleep on my left side, so no harmful fluid would flow straight to the heart. And she would make me cross my arms over my chest in the form of a cross. Then, pulling my nightgown to my feet, she folded it between my knees. In the summer she stitched the bed sheets together on both sides, for my health and my modesty.

She did not allow me to take any book in hand that was not religious…or to remain where romances of chivalry, love stories, and vain fictions were read.

My cousin enjoyed playing with dolls, but I did not have the temperament for it…I preferred to play grown-up ladies and nuns, which was our usual game…and we would sing psalms.

My uncle had given me a whip made from white silk, very unusual and delicate, recommending that I flagellate myself.  Since I found it too soft, I added a silver thistle.
Because the whipping left me with open wounds, I placed a thin folded towel on my back so the blood would not stain my blouse...My back became abscessed...I had to seek help from a servant. She tried to remove the towel, but could not do it without taking large pieces of flesh with it...I gritted my teeth and tightened my fists.

I was vigilant in words and actions in matters of chastity. I never wore a low-cut bodice or short sleeves.
It was my custom to wear a hair shirt of bristles whenever my uncle ordered me to,…at other times I would do so on my own. During Lent, I wore it three days a week.

At the age of thirty-nine, Luisa left her native Spain for England to convert Anglicans to Catholicism. Her “insurrectional acts” were not tolerated in London. She was arrested and died in prison.

(Source: Anne J. Cruz, The Life and Writings of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza; image from

Wednesday 7 May 2014

NO, NOT THAT AUSTEN. Katherine Austen ponders the world.

From the notebook of Katherine Austen (1628-1683):
  • Angels: were made for the service and assistance of Man.
  • Widowhood: Let me consider whether it is not possible to be happy without a second marriage. Apparently it was possible.
  • What her son Thomas learned at Oxford: pride and unmannerliness. Sad to say, you now have to send your sons abroad to learn civility and sweetness of deportment.
  • Young men: are guided by irregular passions and desires and folly.
  • Ignorant men: are worse than beasts. It is the beast’s nature to be ignorant. It is man’s fault if he be so.
  • The problem with pleasure: it’s hard to keep it to the height.
  • The secret of her grandparents’ longevity:  They didn’t go to the gym. They exercised little, went at a subtle pace…and did no violence to nature by overstirring.

(Source: Pamela Hammons ed., Book M: A London Widow’s Life Writings)

Saturday 3 May 2014


Two popes have been canonized.  John XXIII was a saintly man, but John Paul II? If standing up to communism is a miracle, maybe Cardinal Cisneros, Inquisitor General and Regent of Spain, should have qualified as well. He stood up to the Moors after all. He personally led an army against Algeria, or whatever it was called then.
AND he worked 450 miracles. Here’s the short-list:
  • To begin with, Cisneros didn’t sail to North Africa on ordinary breezes. He had the wind in his sleeves.
  • When he addressed his troops and prayed fervently on their behalf, he didn’t just work up an ordinary sweat. A supernatural sweat appeared on his brow.
  • During the battle, he had a little help from heavenly crows pecking out the eyes of his Moorish enemies. The day wasn’t long enough to allow the Cardinal to win a decisive victory. Luckily he was able to stop the sun from setting. The sun stopped, the winds dropped, the clouds moved, birds descended – the Servant of God ruled them by divine dispensation.
  • When he finally conquered Oran, a cross appeared in the sky.
Not enough to be canonized? Okay, folks, here is more:
  • He produced bread from heaven and a sparkling stream of water in the desert.
  • He levitated from time to time.
Nope, not good enough. The application for his canonization was rejected.
Maybe the applicants should have quoted the historian Jacques Marsollier:
Cisneros was a politician of integrity, an incorruptible man who loved the people.
Now that’s what I call a miracle!
(Source: Pedro de Quintanilla, Archetypo de Virtudes, Espexo de Prelados…1653. Image