Tag Archives: ephemera

Fabled Friday the 13th

What’s wrong with Fridays that fall on the 13th day of the month? I thought I might try to uncover the foundations of this supposedly long-held western superstition but as is generally the case, all I found was a mishmash of “biblical”, “medieval”, and mostly-Victorian assertions. The biblical basis is the Last Supper, at which there were thirteen attendees including Jesus of Nazareth and his betrayer, Judas Iscariot, followed by the fateful/fatal Friday on which Jesus was crucified. Somehow, somewhere (the story goes) the gathering of 13 and the Friday execution are assimilated to create a dreadful day on which evil or (in Chaucer’s middle English verse) “mischance” can occur: And on a Friday fil al this mischaunce (The Nun’s Priest’ Tale).

Friday 13 Flinch Cards

There is an entire book about the number 13 and its associations are easily discerned, both negative (the antithesis of the perfect 12; 13 steps to the hangman’s noose; the 13th tarot card represents death; Apollo 13) and positive (a baker’s dozen; thirteen colonies, the thirteenth amendment), but the customary connection between the number and the day is a bit more elusive. One particular Friday the 13th that is often mentioned is Friday, October 13, 1307, the date on which the Order of the Knights Templar in France were formally indicted by King Philip IV “the Fair”, so that he might confiscate their vast wealth during the first years of the Avignon Papacy which rendered them defenseless. Certainly the Templars have resurfaced in the last decade or so with the publication of Dan Brown’s incredibly popular Da Vinci Code, but the Victorian era–a golden age of fraternalism–was also intensely interested in this suppressed and secretive order, and the fates of its members.

Royal 20 C.VII, f.44v

Tarot Cards XIII

British Library MS Royal 20 C VII, f. 4v: Templars being burnt at the stake; Tarot Cards no. XIII, representing Death, from the later 15th century (Victoria and Albert Museum Collection) and the later 19th century (see here for the full deck).

In the first decades of the twentieth century, this particular Black Friday (preceding our own commercial one) seems to have been become firmly established. There was the bestselling novel of Thomas William F. Lawson about a plot to bring down Wall Street on Friday the 13th (by sheer coincidence [?], the author’s namesake 7-masted schooner sunk on Friday the 13th) and then, in an obvious nod to the general acceptance of the day, Miss Rose Cade was crowned Queen of the Lemons on Friday, February 13, 1920.

Friday 13th.

Friday 13 Queen of the Lemons Rose Cade

Miss Rose Cade as Queen of the Lemons in California, February 13, 1920, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.


Curtmantle

Though my primary field is Tudor-Stuart history, occasionally I teach a more general English history survey which spans from Roman era to the seventeenth century. My biggest challenge in this course, which I am teaching this semester, is to refrain from settling into mere storytelling about the characters and exploits of a succession of colorful kings and queens. The students in this course are generally not history majors, and their knowledge and interest in history tends to be quite History Channel-ish, meaning that they are more interested in personalities than structures. I try to balance it all out, and for the most part I think I’m successful, but periodically I must slow down and simply consider the character and reign of a monarch in rather narrative fashion. Such is the case with King Henry II, nicknamed Curtmantle for the shorter French/Angevin mantle he supposedly wore, who was born on this day in 1133. It doesn’t matter how much I dwell on King Henry–they want more, and I’m wondering why? Of course the broad strokes and details of his life are dramatic–the rise to power in the wake of Civil War, his conquest and contests with Queen Eleanor, his family fights, his multi-front wars, the murder of Archbishop Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and the penitential consequences–I still think that it’s the popular characterization of Henry rather than the historical one that has captivated my students. Even though they’re far too young to remember Peter O’Toole in Becket (1964) and The Lion in Winter (1968), he is still their Henry.

Curtmantle O'Toole Becket

Curtmantle Lion in Winter

Peter O’ Toole in a publicity photograph for Becket (1964) and a still from The Lion in Winter (1968).

My students are so young they haven’t even seen or heard of O’Toole’s portrayal of Henry II, but when I ask them what they know about him, they describe O’Toole’s portrayal:  now that’s a powerful performance! Once again, we see that history is produced by film (sigh). But I think you have to go further back:  not (of course) to the actual era of Henry II, but to that which produced the characterization that inspired O’Toole’s performance. Henry became Henry because of his hand in martyring Becket, of course, but also because of his women: his wife Eleanor and his mistress Rosamund Clifford, the “fair Rosamund”. Henry’s struggles with the Church in general and Becket in particular appealed to 18th and 19th historians charting secular “liberation”, while their more romantic counterparts in the arts focused on the women: the Pre-Raphaelites in particular seem to have been obsessed with Eleanor and particularly Rosamund, featuring them both individually and together in mythical contest (based on an old fable alleging the Queen tried to poison the mistress). This is all very dramatic stuff, almost equaling the narrative of that dynasty of the (long) moment, the Tudors. I predict a Plantagenet comeback.

King Henry II

Henry II Thornycroft framed

Curtmantle chapbook

Queen_Eleanor__Fair_Rosamund1-619x744

Fair Rosamund 1916

Henry II as characterized by Alfred Crowquill’s Comic History of the Kings and Queens of England (Read & Co, c 1860) and Rosalind Thornycroft in Herbert and Eleanor Farjeon’s Kings and Queens (1932). A chapbook of folk ballads with Henry II and the Fair Rosamund on the title page, c. 1815-30, British Museum; Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund by Evelyn de Morgan, 1905, De Morgan Centre, London;The Fair Rosamund by John William Waterhouse, 1916, National Museum Wales.


Casabella Covers

For the most part, I think I’ve been pretty productive during this snowbound February, but I’ve also frittered away a fair amount of time: reading not very scholarly books and searching through some of my favorite databases for anything that might catch my attention: images, fonts, ideas. I love magazines about architecture and interior design, so I browsed through digital collections of twentieth-century publications and found several that intrigued me, not so much for their content (traditionalist that I am) but for their striking covers. Magazine covers are so boring now (with the exception of the New Yorker and a few other titles): there’s no abstraction or design, just a literal representation of what’s inside. This was not the case in the mid-twentieth century, when the images and letters of design magazines like Casabella seemed to (literally) leap off the page. La casa bella, a monthly magazine of “radical” modern architecture, commenced publication in 1928 in Milan and is still published today. Its first covers are pretty sedate, but in the 1930s (about the same time that the title was changed to Casabella) they get quite a bit more interesting, reflecting not just what’s inside but their time. Here’s a portfolio of images from 1929-73, all taken from the magazine’s current website.

la-casa-bella-2-cover

Casabella 1930

Casabella Covers 1932 collage

Casabella 1950s

Casabella 1960 collage

Casabella 1960s

Casabella Cover 1

Casabella Covers from 1929, 1930, 1933, the 1950s, 1963, 1969 & 1973.


Hip (-Hop) Hamilton

It seems to me that from time to time one of our Founding Fathers emerges from the pack, to glow just a little brighter in a blaze of adulation. Certainly John Adams had his time a few years back, singled out by David McCullough’s book and the HBO series; more recently “Sexy Sam Adams” emerged as the hero of the History Channel’s (or as most historians refer to it, the Hitler Channel) Sons of Liberty miniseries, sponsored, of course, by Sam Adams beer. Now it’s all about Alexander Hamilton, the star of a namesake, sold-out musical on off-Broadway. Hamilton, written, directed and starring Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, is based on Hamilton’s rag-to-riches life, as charted by Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography, set to a score that sounds far more lively than that of 1776.

Hamilton the Musical

Hamilton the Musical 2

Hamilton Poster

I don’t find the spotlight on Hamilton, or the success of Hamilton, even remotely surprising. After all, I live in Alexander Hamilton world: the first thing I see every morning when I wake up is Hamilton Hall, the c. 1805 assembly hall named after the Federalist hero/martyr, and the sign boldly attesting to that fact. And even if you’re just familiar with the outline of his life you can understand that it would make for a good story: illegitimate Caribbean orphan sent to New York, student, lawyer, lover, soldier, author, first Secretary of the Treasury, victim of a duel. Fill in the details and you’ve got a blockbuster!

Alexander Hamilton 1957 Rand McNally Ad

Hamilton Batman Bill

Hamilton Birthday Card

Hamilton Vodka

Hamilton updated: 1957 Rand McNally ad; defaced $10 Batman bill; Alexander Hamilton birthday print by A5/Day; Alexander Hamilton small-batch Vodka.


Valentines from the Great War

Oddly enough, love and war often do go together and we all know that absence often makes the heart grow fonder, so it’s only natural that the burgeoning greetings card industry would flourish during World War I. In the west, domestic producers had to replace that large part of the market that was previously produced by Germany, and “WWI silks”, embroidered greetings produced in France and Belgium, constituted one of the most important cottage industries of the war. It can be a little jarring to see military themes on cards that were supposed to foster sentiment, but it was a competitive market, and I’m sure that manufacturers wanted to seem current, and relevant. And you really can’t beat the sentiment when you see my ammunition, you’ll surrender your position, which was evidently quite popular as it was issued with a variety of images. So in celebration of St. Valentine’s Day and commemoration of the Great War, here is a selection of valentines from 1914-1919: from Great Britain, the United States, France, and (the most intimate of all, handmade on the Front) Australia.

Valentine Ambulance Bod Lib

Valentine Ambulance Interior Bod Lib

Valentine Nurse Bodleian Lib

Valentine LOC 1918 Over There

WWW Valentine LOC 1919

WWW Valentine LOC 1919 2

Valentine 1918 LOC

PicMonkey Collage

Cupid_Arrow_Heart

Valentine slogan WWI

Picture1

Valentine 1917 French Hearts

Love Letter Australian War Memorial 1918

Sources: Nancy Rosin Collection; Bodleian Library, Oxford University; Library of Congress; Ebay; Etsy; The Old Print Shop; Australian War Memorial.


White Feathers

Another snowstorm, another snow day for me, but I am tired of thinking and writing about that particular form of white. Yesterday I was sitting on the couch watching the 1939 film The Four Feathers (what a great movie!) while intermittently selecting images for a PowerPoint presentation on the Hundred Years’ War and quite suddenly there was a paradox about white feathers: in the film, of course, white feathers are a symbol of cowardice, while in the late medieval past, they became associated with heroism after the teenaged son of King Edward III, thereafter known as the Black Prince, led the English troops to a momentous victory against the French at the Battle of Crécy in 1346. His adoption of the three white feathers and the motto “Ich Dien” (“I serve”) established an emblem which is still attached to the Prince of Wales today. So we have a feather quandary! What’s the story?

Black Prince BM

23020 - The Four Feathers

The Black Prince with his feather-plumed helmet in a c. 1670 print published by Robert Walton; British Museum; Harry Faversham (John Clements) receives his three white feathers from his former mates and is about to pluck a fourth from the fan of his fiancée, Ethne Burroughts (June Duprez).

The story that I have pieced together has many gaps in it–and (as is often the case) there is no one big moment when somebody proclaims: white feathers stand for cowardice! Clearly by the turn of the twentieth century the association was generally known in Britain (not elsewhere), as evidenced by the publication of the 1902 A. E.W. Mason novel on which the Four Feathers films are based and P.G. Wodehouse’s boarding school tale The White Feather (1907), as well as Admiral Charles Fitzgerald’s Order of the White Feather, an organization which encouraged young women to present young men out of uniform with white feathers “encouraging” them to enlist during World War One (many of you might remember the Downton Abbey episode from season 2 which featured several feather girls). Apparently the association comes from cock-fighting (game birds with white feathers proving to be not as “brave” as those without) and dates back to the eighteenth century, although the first visual references that I could find date from the Napoleonic wars. Before that, nothing:  just a lot of (presumably heroic or at least virtuous) kings and princes wearing plumage.

Four Feathers 1902

Edward VI by Holbein MET

First edition of Mason’s Four Feathers (1902); a Holbein miniature of young Prince Edward (later King Edward VI) who, though never formally crowned Prince of Wales, is always depicted with the title’s emblem, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Whatever its origins, the white feather/cowardice connection is a strictly British one. Both across the Atlantic Ocean and across the English Channel, no such association developed. French kings and nobles are routinely pictured with white plumage in the early modern era, including the ever-popular, and always-courageous, Henri IV, who compelled his troops to ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc! (follow my white plume!). At the same time that Napoleon is comically portrayed by caricaturist William Elmes “with a white feather in his tail”, Henri IV is ideally depicted with a white feather in his helmet, leading the troops. A real contradiction–and I’m not sure I’m buying the “cowardly cock” theory either. Just look at one of British artist Hilton Lark Pratt’s white-tailed fighting cocks: that’s one tough bird!

Napoleon with White Feathers 1813

Henri IV NYPL

Fighting Cock Hilton Lark Pratt

William Elmes’, “Little Bony sneaking into Paris with a white feather in his tail”, 1813, Napoleonic Period Collection, University of Washington Digital Collections; Henri IV at the Battle of Ivry, 19th century, New York Public Library Digital Collections; Hilton Lark Pratt (1838-1875), “Fighting Cock”, National Trust for Scotland


Ralegh’s Cloak

By all accounts he was a charming and handsome man, but how has Sir Walter Ralegh (I’m using the preferred historical spelling), born today in 1552 or 1554, emerged as the most enduring of Queen Elizabeth’s many accomplished courtiers? He was a Renaissance man by our estimation (soldier, explorer, poet, historian, colonizer, seeker of gold) but not of his own time, when you had to do not only a lot of things and look good doing a lot of things, but also succeed at doing a lot of things. Sir Walter was an erratic explorer, he did not find gold, and his conspiratorial plotting led to his imprisonment and eventual beheading in 1618. His writings, most prominently the Historie of the World, and the Discoverie of Guiana, definitely crafted and sustained his historical reputation as the ultimate dashing Elizabethan adventurer, but I think Ralegh is also the recipient (and the product) of two cultural tendencies:  our love for what Tennyson called the many-sided man, and the attention that we pay to anecdotal history.

Raleigh Historie World

Ralegh Bookplate TM Brushfield

Ralegh Bookplates UNC

Ralegh’s Historie of the World (1614), and later examples of “Raleighana”: bookplates belonging to T.M Brushfield, St. John’s College, Oxford University–with the Tennyson line— and the University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library, which maintains collections relating to the man “who personified the national ambitions of England in the ‘Age of Discovery'”.

Ralegh’s “many sides”, his daring and his intellect, his actions and his words, his strengths and his weaknesses, captured the attention of his contemporaries and held, but I also think that it is the little things that made the man. Anyone who has ever taught history at any level knows the power of the anecdote, and Ralegh’s depicted life is rich with them. Seventeenth-century sources credit him with introducing two transformative commodities to England: the potato and tobacco. Knowledge of both probably preceded Raleigh, but he is ever-linked to them anyway, particularly the latter: it’s difficult to find an illustration of him from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries in which he is not in close proximity to smoke. But the characterization of Ralegh as the gallant, who dropped his “plush” cloak on the mud before Queen Elizabeth so that she would not sully her slippers, is even more pervasive/persuasive. Here is the first appearance of this anecdote, in Bishop Thomas Fuller’s gossipy Worthies of England (1662): this captain Raleigh coming out of Ireland to the English court in good habit (his clothes being then a considerable part of his estate) found the Queen walking, till, meeting with a plashy place, she seemed to scruple going thereon. Presently Raleigh cast and spread his new plush cloak on the ground; where the queen trod gently, rewarding him afterwards with many suits, for his so free and seasonable tender of so far a foot cloth. Thus an advantageous admission into the first notice of a prince is more than half a degree to preferment.”  Whether this little story is true or not, we will never know, but it hardly matters: the power of repetition and illustration has made it so. Ralegh did indeed receive many material favors from Queen Elizabeth, but the dramatic rise depicted here was followed but an equally-dramatic fall during the reign of her successor. And that’s another reason why Ralegh endures.

Raleigh Meets Queen

Ralegh Kenilworth NYPL

Raleigh's Cloak Victoria BM

Raleigh 1909 Selfridges Ad

Raleigh's cloak Marshall 1914

Ralegh Cigarette Cards

A portfolio of images of Ralegh, his cloak, and the Queen:  the iconic event in several editions of Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth, New York Public Library Digital Images’ A Victorian variation, 1886, British Museum; an Edwardian advertisement, Victoria & Albert Museum collections; the scene in Beatrice Marshall’s Sir Walter Raleigh, 1914; Churchman’s and Will’s cigarette cards from the 1930s; NYPL Digital Images. Just a sample of a wide assortment!


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