Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Death of Richard the Lionhearted

This enormous bronze statue, cast in 1860 by Carlo Marochetti (actually a copy of one made for the Great Exhibition in 1851) neatly sums up the Victorian attitude towards Richard the Lionhearted - noble, heroic, and as quintessentially English as King Arthur; not by accident was it given pride of place outside the House of Lords in London when the Palace of Westminster was rebuilt following a devastating fire in 1834.

PhotobucketHistory, though - since it is constantly in the process of revision - has vacillated wildly both before and since on the contributions made by this extremely French King of England (who spent just six months of his decade-long reign in his kingdom); currently he is either considered a merciful tyrant, a bipolar whoopsie, or whatever else his most recent biographer can make of him from the scant propaganda that serves us as his biography.

What we thought we knew is that sometime in 1199 a farmer living near the Château de Chalus-Chabrol had uncovered a cache of Roman gold, which Richard considered his by right under feudal law, but which the local viscount Aimar V of Limoges refused to surrender; this story appears now to have been a later fabrication, but which is such a great story it's no wonder it caught on. Aimar's feud with Richard was unrelated to anything so petty, and longstanding enough that on March 25th and with characteristic zeal, the King's army set about plundering the woefully undefended place, killing the unruly noble in the process.

During the siege - carrying a shield but cockily not wearing his armor - Richard came too close to the castle and was struck in the left shoulder by a crossbow bolt. Calmly returning to his tent (so as not to give the defenders a boost in morale at his expense) he received the very best medical attention the 12th Century had to offer; frankly, it's a miracle he managed to live the twelve days he did considering the butchery he must have suffered at the hands of his surgeon.

Figuring he was already a goner, and seeing as it was the Easter season, the King summoned Peter Basile - the boy responsible for this grievous injury - and forgave him, tossing in a purse of 100 shillings for good measure. And so, just after 7 PM on this day in 1199, as dusk was falling and with his sins expunged, Richard the Lionhearted died of gangrene in the arms of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine.

As soon as the King was dead the captain of the guard - the ruthless Mercadier - found the forgiven regicide and ordered him skinned alive and then hanged, no doubt pocketing the 100 shillings for himself as a reward. As agonizing as Richard's death had been, his burial was no less gory than the fate assigned his killer: as the King lay dead his entrails were buried in the castle's chapel, his brain sent to the Abbey at Charroux, his heart to Rouen Cathedral, and what remained to Fontevraud Abbey in Anjou, next to his father Henry II.

One of the more thrilling books I've ever read on the subject of Richard I is David Boyle's engaging history The Troubadour's Song; truly, as a medieval scholar he is the Lionhearted one, managing to fashion a memorable narrative out of an historical record which is not only in tatters but as shot through as the King's shoulder with legends, half-truths, and outright lies.
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Standup by Gina Yashere

The pride of London's Finsbury Park, Gina Yashere today turns one year funnier...

Here she is, making history in January 2008 as the first British comic to appear on HBO's Def Comedy Jam; and here's where you'll find her whenever you need her.
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Pop History Moment: The Olympics Are Reborn

On this day in 1896 the first modern-day Olympic Games - more properly known as the Games of the I Olympiad - opened at Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, Greece; they were the first Olympics organized by the International Olympic Committee, which was itself founded in Paris in 1894 by Pierre de Coubertin, who in turn had been inspired by Dr. William Penny Brookes, organizer of an Olympic Games at the Crystal Palace in London in 1866, who adopted many of the ideas of Evangelis Zappas, an early advocate for the re-creation of the ancient athletic spectacle, who sponsored an event called the Olympic Games in Athens as early as 1859. Got that? In fact, tracking the provenance of the modern Olympics could almost be an Olympic event in itself...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe Games were opened by Greece's King George I, who attended with Queen Olga and their sons, including the Crown Prince, the future Constantine I. Over the next nine days the King lobbied hard to get the games permanently set in Greece, but the decision was made to move them around, making them the traveling circus of international infrastructure investment they are today.

Although the number of participants was small by modern standards, it was the largest athletic event that had ever been held in the world to date; James Connolly, an American, won the first gold medal, although German gymnast Carl Schuhmann was the big winner (with 4), and Spiridon Louis became a hero in his native Greece for winning the first marathon.

Organization of the first Olympics was a bit slipshod, especially given their later zeal for accurate statistics; for one thing, the winners of individual events were given silver medals, and the second place finisher medals of copper; gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded retroactively. There is also some debate over how many countries participated. For instance Australia - not yet a Dominion within the British Empire - fielded its own team; Austria, still in possession of Hungary, sent a team from each country. A Swiss athlete named Charles Champaud living in Bulgaria may have competed in his heart for his adopted country, but is credited as having competed for the land of his birth. A Chilean athlete named Luis Subercaseaux seems to have competed, yet didn't manage to get himself included in the records that were kept. Sweden and Denmark both sent teams, but neither managed to win anything.

The Games were closed - again by the Greek King - on April 15th.
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POPnews - April 6th

[The text of it may be as dry as an overcooked haggis, but the meaning of it is concise and unequivocal; there was a Scotland long before there was an England, it calls out, and ye can like it or lump it! Although it later forced England's Edward III to sign the Treaty of Northampton in March 1328, successive English rulers paid the declaration no heed, and the endurance of the Scottish national identity even less - always at their peril.]

402 CE - Roman general Stilicho defeated the Visigoths under Alaric I at the Battle of Pollentia by surprising them during their celebration of Easter - making this battle the very first 'War on Easter', if you will.

1320 - The Scottish nobility reaffirmed their independence by signing the Declaration of Arbroath, which was then submitted to Pope John XXII at Avignon; believed to have been drafted by Bernard of Kilwinning at Arbroath Abbey, its rhetoric represents a watershed in the First War of Scottish Independence.

1327 - The poet Petrarch first saw his idealized love, Laura (possibly Laura de Noves), in the church of Saint Clare in Avignon; he then proceeded to write 366 poems about her which, even for a smitten poet, is a lot. During the Renaissance they were collected - and are still available as - Il Canzoniere.

1385 - João, Master of the Order of Aviz, was declared King João I by Portugal's council, which met at Coimbra to settle the disputed secession; although the half-brother of his predecessor Ferdinand I, he was technically illegitimate (his mother being Pedro I's mistress Teresa Lourenço and not his consort Constance of Peñafiel). João I's ascension nevertheless ended the civil war known as the 1383-1385 Crisis, brought an end to the Portuguese Interregnum, and established the royal House of Aviz; accordingly, he was remembered within his own lifetime as João the Good.

1652 - Dutch sailor Jan van Riebeeck established a resupply camp at the Cape of Good Hope, which eventually became Cape Town.

1782 - Rama I succeeded King Taksin of Thailand, who was overthrown in a coup d'état after having been declared insane for his delusions of divinity, a practice sorely in need of restoration in certain circles today...

1814 - Napoleon abdicated, whereupon he was exiled to Elba; not very well, as it turns out, but it was a nice first try.

1830 - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized by Joseph Smith, Jr. and others at Fayette, New York.

1895 - Oscar Wilde was arrested (at London's Cadogan Hotel) after losing a libel case against John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry.

1930 - Having left the Sabarmati Ashram in March, the Mahatma arrived at Dandi, where he raised a lump of mud and salt and declared: 'With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire.' Thus began the Salt Satyagraha, and the even longer trek towards independence for India set in motion by the declaration of the Purna Swaraj in December 1929.

1947 - The first Tony Awards - given for excellence in the theatre - were presented by the American Theatre Wing at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

1965 - Intelsat I (nicknamed Early Bird) - the first communications satellite to be placed in geosynchronous orbit - was launched for COMSAT; deactivated in August 1969, it was briefly reactivated for its 25th Anniversary, and remains inoperational but aloft.

1968 - Racial violence erupted in dozens of cities across the United States in reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.; however, a double explosion which killed 41 and injured 150 in Richmond, Indiana's downtown district was related to a faulty natural gas line, and not to the riots then setting major urban centres ablaze.

1970 - Four California Highway Patrol officers - Walt Frago, Roger Gore, George Alleyn, and James Pence - were killed in a shoot out with Jack Twinning and Bobby Davis in the parking lot of a restaurant in the California town of Newhall, in what came to be called the Newhall massacre. Despite the aid of a bystander, former US Marine Gary Kness, Twinning and Davis were able to make their getaway - albeit only briefly; Davis was arrested shortly after stealing a camper van belonging to Daniel Schwartz, and Twinning killed himself to avoid capture the next morning following a hostage situation involving Stephen Hoag. Davis was found dead of an apparent suicide in his cell at Kern Valley State Prison in August 2009.

1973 - NASA launched its Pioneer 11 spacecraft to explore the outer solar system.

1994 - The Rwandan Genocide began when an aircraft carrying that country's president, Juvénal Habyarimana, and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down near Kigali International Airport whereupon it crashed into the grounds of the Presidential Residence; many theories abound as to who is responsible, but the sad fact is that almost 1 million Rwandans paid the ultimate price - their own lives - for Hutu hatred of Tutsi. The conflict is eloquently described in Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire's memoir Shake Hands With the Devil, as well as in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda.

2004 - Rolandas Paksas became the first president of Lithuania to be peacefully removed from office by impeachment.

2005 - Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani became President of Iraq, while Shiite Arab Ibrahim al-Jaafari was named prime minister the next day; al-Jaafari has since been replaced by Nouri al-Maliki.

2009 - A 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck near the Italian city of L'Aquila, killing 307; adding insult to injury, during an inspection of the damage by Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian president couldn't understand why those in temporary shelters were complaining, likening their plight to a 'camping weekend'. He then went on to sexually harass a woman doctor who was aiding in the relief.

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