Welcome, lords and ladies, to April's bimonthly "Early Modern" edition of Carnivalesque. The Early Modern period, as all good historians know, refers to that glorious span of three centuries (1500 - 1800 CE) during which the English learned to appreciate the many virtues of vegetables:
Before: "Beware of green sallets & rawe fruytes for they wyll make your soverayne seke." - Boke of Kervynge (1500)
After: "Then, says she, I believe there is a piece of cold buttock and carrot which will fit you - Nothing better, answered Jones, but I should be obliged if you would let it be fried. To which the landlady consented, and said smiling, she was glad to see him so well recovered: for the sweetness of our hero's temper was almost irresistible, besides, she was really no ill-humoured woman at the Bottom..." - Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749)
There is a profound difference, I am sure you will agree, and no doubt the English and Film majors among you caught Fielding's consummate metaphorical pairing of food and sex. Those were the days. The Swiss perfected martial arts for the masses and Henry VIII wore a codpiece. This is not dry, academic bunk, friends; this is hot and heavy history, with content good for a1,000 hits an hour, or at least another bodice-ripping season of The Tudors. Why everyone doesn't blog about this stuff is beyond me. It's all in the delivery. "Give me my long sword, ho!"
This was also a period of profound climate change, during which the "Little Ice Age" in Europe put an end to medieval wine production in southern Britain, with winter carnivals on the frozen Thames cold comfort in exchange for frequent crop failures and advancing glaciers that swallowed alpine towns. It was a time of adaptation and expansion, when new world tomatoes forever changed Italian cuisine and London had to burn to save it from devastating plague. Pop music, then as now, was hardly children's fare, as witness this charming bit of ribaldry by Orazio Vecchi (1550-1605), reintroduced to modern ears by the great (though alas, presently scorpion-stung) Richard Thompson in his 1,000 years of Popular Music:
So ben mi ch' à bon tempo
Al so ma basta mo'
So ben ch' è favorito
Ahimè, no' l posso dir
Saluti e baciamani
son tutti indarno a fè
Passeggia pur chi vuole
che 'l tempo perderà
Take my word for it [those of you who do not read archaic Italian]; for all the cheatin' going on, this could be a Country and Western standard.
Axis of Evil Knieval, chronicler of disasters and folly most foul, commemorates the death of Rene-Robert Cavalier De La Salle in 1687, slain by his own men in a murderous confrontation over bison meat.
Dear old Isaac Newton was a something of a bloodthirsty rogue, or so inquires The Inverse Square Blog, asking; "did Newton take pleasure in the deaths he triggered?"
Not to be outdone, Executed Today offers up Major Thomas Weir, who "had had a distinguished military career and an exactingly pious public life among Edinburgh’s strictest Presbyterians. So it came as something of a surprise when, after being struck by an illness, he up and copped to a lifelong sexual relationship with his sister Jean … and a lifetime of hitherto unknown black arts, powered by a Satanic walking-staff. He was so far from being suspect that town elders at first thought him daft." This prior pillar of society was ultimately strangled and burned at the stake in 1670. Elliot Spitzer, on the other hand, will probably get a book deal out of his double life as "Client 9", or at least his own talk show.
Speaking of witches, Intute: Arts and Humanities Blog calls our attention to the recent discovery of a cauldron, swan feathers, dead birds, human hair and fingernails from the 17th-18th centuries unearthed in a pit in Cornwall. According to The Times Online;
"Human occupation of the site dates to prehistoric times but some of the activity uncovered was more recent. A stone-lined spring that may have been a “holy well” was full of offerings from the 17th century, including 125 strips of cloth from dresses, cherry stones and nail clippings.
There was evidence that the well had been filled and the site destroyed to hide what went on there.
Each of the feather pits, which are“ about 40cm square by 17cm deep (15 by 6in), have been carefully lined with the intact pelt of one swan and contain other bird remains."
In other neo-pagan news, CLEWS: The Historic True Crime Blog reveals that modern descendants of accused Connecticut witch Mary Sanford (who may have been executed in 1662) are looking for a formal apology. And there is more at Women of History about the quest for absolution for Connecticut witches.
The Jungle Trader, a favorite source for the bizarre, the macabre, and the downright diabolical in man and nature, notes that only the second mass grave ever discovered from the 30 Years War has been unearthed in Bavaria.
Natalie Bennett of Philbilon delights in the harmonic convergence of three of her main interests - women, nature and history - in Sylvia Bowerbanks’ Speaking for Nature: Women and Ecologies of Early Modern England. Quoth she; "this is an impeccable well though-out, academic book, that examines its characters in the terms of their own time, while applying understanding and research of the following centuries." High praise indeed.
Serendipities finds another great read and exploration of Vision in Early Modern Culture in Stuart Clark’s Vanities of the Eye: Vision in Early Modern European Culture (Oxford University Press, 2007). "The book argues that contrary to what theories of the rationalization of sight and the invention of perspective suggests, vision came to be characterized by unreliability and uncertainty in the early modern period."
We are not required to limit our inquiry to such impeccably credentialled sources, of course. You can learn a great deal about the Wild Geese - the Irish Abroad from 1600 to the French Revolution from the war gamers at War and Game.
"The Portuguese were well aware of the precariousness of their situation. Their technology – fortifications, weaponry, and sailing ships armed with artillery – was of little advantage in African conditions. In confined coastal waters and on rivers, the sailing ships were vulnerable to concentrated attacks by large war canoes and often fell prey to determined African parties. Metal armour was a torment in a tropical climate. The late 15th and early 16th century firearms were often too clumsy to have more than a psychological effect against small or moving targets. While the Portuguese certainly could look after themselves militarily, African weaponry and tactics were still highly effective against them, and poisoned arrows caused horrible damage."
Cardinal Wolsey's Today in History tells us about Henry VIII's dockyards and shares a great source for information about the history of British ports.
Although the early modern period in Japan has a different chronology and influences all its own, this post by Pink Tentacle struck me as worthy of inclusion in an Early Modern Carnivalesque, and not just because I am also the progenitor of the Cabinet of Curiosities blog carnival, where anything that has to do with mythical 16th century disease critters would surely find a home.
J. L. Bell of Boston 1775 takes advantage of HBO's John Adams miniseries to ask; "What's missing in the John Adams household?" Hint: Some of the same stuff that was inexcusably whitewashed in The Patriot.
The Early Modern Whale poses the deliciously rhetorical question; How could a parrot NOT love the Baroness of Grosbeak? How indeed? And also shares with us the tale of a 12th night abomination.
Commercial break -
- Follow the Knox Trail - This web site contains a page for each of several dozen locations along his journey through NY and MA where bronze plaques were installed in the 1920's. Parochial plug: Knox and the boys slogged through the southern Berkshires on their way to Boston.
- This June is the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Carillon. 1,000 reenactors can't be wrong. See you at Fort Ti.
Investigations of a Dog delves into the historiography of the English Revolution as seen through the lens of the far Left. Read the whole thing, especially to get to the coda: "Seventeenth-century England was so far from consensus that even the weather was ideologically contested."
The next edition of will be of the ancient/ medieval sort at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe. Be sure to submit your finest for May's edition, and if you like you may use the handy submission form. Bon Appétit!