Category: History

Emails with Friends: Political Boyfriends

“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst.”
– Aristotle 

This test is important, take it immediately.”
“Huh. George Washington, apparently. Let’s face it, could be much worse.
“Amazing and…accurate? I got JFK because I’m basic af.”
“God, we are both hilariously predictable sometimes because…yeah…totally accurate for me. I like them principled and relatively scandal free.”
“And all I want is the drama and the glamour and the tragedy and exceptional, inaccessible privilege.”
“You like the guy who dies dramatically after a couple of years in office, I like the guy who retires quietly to set a historic precedent…and then goes back to his/our ridiculous estate. Fine with this.”
“We did pick the two wealthiest presidents, so…”
“We may be predictable/basic af but we are not cheap.”
– Katarina and C.

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A Wives Pairing

“I’m Henry the eighth, I am
Henry the eighth, I am, I am
I got married to the widow next door
She’s been married seven times before.”
– Henry Champion

Thank goodness for Beyonce. In all things, really, but specifically when we need a break from the news, be it babies or the Grammys.

Funnily enough, a couple of weekends ago, a Very Important Discussion ensued between Katarina and myself about which Beyonce songs corresponded best with which wives of Henry VIII. We’re fairly intersectional here at SDS headquarters.

After some debate and reallocation, we feel like we nailed the perfect “Wives Pairing” to match women to power anthems/ballads and thought it was only appropriate that we put our selections out to be judged. Therefore, in the interest of making your Monday a bit more fun and ridiculous, find our picks below!

Katherine of Aragon – Hold Up, Don’t Hurt Yourself
The thesis of more than one of our many historical conversations has been that even though Anne Boleyn gets a lot of press time for the break up of the Tudor marriage/English church, the truth is that the story of the king’s Great Matter wouldn’t have been the drama it was if not for Katherine holding her ground in defense of her marriage and title as queen…for years. After turning a blind eye to Henry’s peccadilloes for most of her marriage, when she finally came at him for threatening her with an annulment or convent, she did so on a European wide scale that included trials, Emperors, and popes. Don’t hurt yourself, indeed!

Anne Boleyn – Diva, Ring the Alarm
Anne was nothing if not a hustler and so Beyonce’s definition thereof must stand! By far the most famous of Henry’s wives, even if we think a lot of the credit for her fame actually lies at her predecessor’s feet, she was unable to live with the dangerous precedent she herself had set at court: namely, making the leap from side piece to main squeeze. The caution in her story is that you lose them the way you get them.

Jane Seymour – Rather Die Young, If I Were a Boy
Jane doesn’t get her just dues sometimes…but we’re just as guilty of that as anyone. Sorry Jane. We went for on-the-nose picks for you.

Anne of Cleves – Me Myself and I, Best Thing I Never Had
Anne of Cleves should go down as one of history’s greatest survivors. Not only did she get out of a marriage to a–by that time–fat, diseased, and tyrannical man, she walked away with an amazing settlement and lived out the rest of her life independently wealthy and relatively secure. Atta girl, Annie!

Catherine Howard – Single Ladies, Check on It
I feel like these song choices are fairly self explanatory. She made him put a ring on it and she flaunted what he wanted. Catherine came to a tragic end, but as I tend to view her more as a victimized young woman, we’re focusing on her flirty nature in upbeat, positive picks rather than downer songs.

Katherine Parr – Run the World, Irreplaceable
The first queen to publish a book under her own name, she also served as regent, and oversaw the education of her stepchildren (to excellent effect). Not to mention that after Henry’s largely unlamented death, she had a replacement waiting in the wings.

This sort of important historical theorizing should be what keeps scholars up at night. Let me know what you think of our picks, and loudly disagree with us in the comments if you feel so inclined!

Barcelona: The History

“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
― Napoléon Bonaparte

If you like places that wear its history on its sleeve, you’ll adore Barcelona. It’s a perfect mix of Roman, medieval, and modern and you can find traces of era all over the city.

For example, in the main square, we stumbled upon some traditional fall festivals that included large “giant” figurines that are paraded in the streets on holy and fest days (and seem to have some Celtic or pagan origins, at least according to some historians) and acrobats which seem to a Catalan tradition.

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For those into conquest, trade, and epidemiology, the court where Isabella of Spain supposedly received Columbus in audience before his voyage is a nice check in.

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And the architecture everywhere is fantastical…until you start to learn how much of it is a lie!

What I loved best about visiting Barcelona and hearing about its history is that the people of this city seem to have been amazingly inventive and innovative with their town. No precious nonsense about accuracy here, what they want is good show. So for instance, when there was a grand exhibition being held in Spain, they thought their cathedral was a bit drab. Romanesque architecture is by definition bulky, angular, and squat. This simply would not do. The enterprising populace decided to commission a faux gothic facade to the entrance in stead. It looks like it’s from the late medieval period, but in fact dates from the 19th century.

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Glance down the side streets and you can see the original, rather less impressive and unadorned walls.

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This triumphal arch is a great might-have-been because it was the original site for an edifice deemed so ugly that the people refused to allow it to be built. And so the Eiffel Tower was erected in Paris instead. Oops.

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The sand was perhaps my favorite story. The Spanish coast on the Mediterranean is rocky and not particularly good for holiday postcards and so when the Olympics were held here and a great influx of tourists expected, our proactive natives again rose to the challenge. Tons of sand was imported from the Middle East and palm trees from Hawaii–none of the tropical foliage you see in the city is native to the area, according to our guides. Marine sand is also different from desert sand, with a different texture and feel due to the polishing of waves rather than wind–meaning the beaches are rather rough to walk on. Doesn’t deter people, though.

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And finally, the iconic Sagrada Familia is an absolute hodge podge because the original plans by Gaudi were lost in a fire. Rather than give up, dozens of architects and artists have been involved with the project and instead of trying to replicate the style of the master, they each have left a different and unique stamp on the area of the basilica they were assigned to. Far from Gaudi’s entrance opposite to this which commemorates the birth of Christ, this doorway memorializes his death in a darkly modernist style. My impious observation was that the statues of Roman guards looked like Cylons from Battlestar Gallatica…but I stand by this observation.

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A completely mad and constantly evolving city!

Services at the Tower

“I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love getting in when or where others can’t. It’s not a noble confession, but it’s an honest one. And if you want a fantastic private peek into what is normally a very public space, make some time in your weekend calendar to attend Sunday services at the Tower of London. The main doors don’t open until after the first of two services (one communion, the other a sung matins), though a side gate admits service attendees without a ticket, and it’s an amazing chance to see this world heritage site nearly free of people. Redcoats excepted.

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The Tower still functions as a military fortress, though the vast majority of its activities are understandably ceremonial. The Beefeaters may wear Tudor era uniforms but their assignment is a proper posting and a detachment of the Queen’s Guard stands sentry over the Crown Jewels.

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However like all military bases, there’s a cottage community thriving here. Beefeaters live at the Tower, often with families, and there is also a small but famous Royal Chapel still in operation under the pastoral care of a military chaplain. St Peter ad Vincula (St Peter in Chains) is a Tudor church famous as the resting place of Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Katherine Howard, Lady/Queen Jane Grey, St Thomas Moore, Margaret Pole, and others.

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Attending a service here has been on my list of things To Do since moving to London, but I just never really got around to it. Then I went through the death throes of a faith crisis and didn’t really want to do anything more church-y than Christmas–which I still love and always will–and it fell off the radar. And then a friend friend from the MoFem (Mormon feminist) community invited me to attend on September 11th and it seemed a fitting thing to do.

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One of the ravens stood by as a small group filed in for services, beak wide open and likely expecting one of the familiar uniforms to provide him breakfast.

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Katie and I attended both the communion service and the sung matins, which I particularly enjoyed. Between the sessions, we wolfed down croissants and chatted about faith, community, expat life, and the nerdy history of the Book of Common Prayer. Totally normal touristy stuff.

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The congregation was not large, but we weren’t the only Americans there and as a military brat, it was nice to hear a few words on the day from a chaplain whose career was focused in and around active service. The fact that he managed to tie in references to Poldark and Great British Bake Off, before circling around to familiar parables was just icing on the cake. In spite of the day, and the remembrances of the day, the whole experience felt friendly.

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It may not be your usual cup of tea, but it’s worth trying, even if just to sit in stillness in a lovely place for a while.

Emails With Friends: Marital Counseling

“I had an argument with a friend who claimed Henry “didn’t behead THAT many” of his wives (which…lol?) by claiming Cromwell was a proxy Anne of Cleves, and I stand by that assertion.”
“…How many wives does it have to be before it becomes problematic…?”
– Katarina and C.

Emails With Friends: Novel Writing and Great Men of History

“Let’s go back in time and literally just be Lafayette. What a complete lunatic-slash-badass.”
“I love the stories of how people just went NUTS over him for well into the Victorian era!”
“Seriously though, “Hey, I’m 17, let’s build a boat and go join another country’s revolution even though I don’t speak the language and know no one,” and then like a year later you’re a crucial strategist and George Washington is calling you his SON. I’ll take impossible YA premises for $1,000,000, Alex.”
-Katarina and C.

A Very Belated Thanksgiving Post (with dreadful photos)

“There is no Thanksgiving back in the old country where I come from. You know why? Because being thankful is a sin.”
― Craig Ferguson

It’s almost hilarious to write this up since we’re heading to the States in a week for our Christmas holiday, but ’tis what it is. Jeff is studying for his next round of exams (that guy is a champ…if you add in kindergarten, he’s been taking tests of some kind now for 24 years…) and my work gig has kept me busier than I’ve been in months. Which is saying something!

It’s an odd thing to dash from work to Thanksgiving dinner, but that’s what happened perforce. After my plans last year to eat at The Mayflower were scuppered by Jeff’s Christmas do, we finally made it this year. The Mayflower is a charming pub that crams in and absolutely revels in every stereotype you can imagine. Obviously it’s proud of its history and plays up the connection to the ship Mayflower (which was moored near the site of the pub in the 17th century before heading off to the New World, and whose captain lies buried in the vault of St Mary’s across the street), but it also indulges its connections to other maritime history in the area and general Britishness. The walls are covered in quotes about food and drink from literature, sailing paraphernalia covers the walls, and paintings and photos of Rotherhithe through the last centuries abound.

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(It’s a bit silly how funny I found their wifi password.)

It was a very British way to celebrate the only real, genuine American holiday but we loved it. The place was full of Brits and expats celebrating the day, a few of my country were made patriotic by wine and at one point we were serenaded with an off key but heartfelt rendition of America the Beautiful, and the food (though miles short of home cooking) was surprisingly good.

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