Sunday, July 7, 2013

Andy Murray, Wimbledon 2013: my Granny's view from Heaven

Andy Murray wins Wimbledon- pride of Scotland and my Granny Hall
My Granny Hall was a tennis player. Okay, it was back in the 1930’s, back in the day when women had to wear ankle length skirts to play, but play she did. She gave it all up when she married my Papa Hall, but she remained a rabid fan for the rest of her life. 

Every year around the last week in June, her household in Gorebridge, Scotland would literally close down for Wimbledon Fortnight; a whole 2 weeks of black and white BBC tennis from early morning to past tea-time. I loved visiting them at that time more than any other. We got to watch tennis, you see, and we got to watch it uninterrupted. 

If any of us- me, dad, mum, grandpa, uttered so much as a peep we’d get told to “Shut-up!” from the crouching figure of Granny Hall kneeling at the brown leather pouffe about six feet from the telly. She’d be down on her knees behind it, leaning, watching intently and smoking furiously. Papa’s tea was made during the news, and if it didn’t quite make it, she’d simply switch the whole cooker off (Papa was hopeless at cooking) and catch up with it later.

Carry-outs were a thing saved for rainy days, but Granny’s house got its fair share of fish ‘n’ chips during Wimbledon. If we talked too loud behind her, she’d snap; “Shut-up!” repeating the words as long as it took for us to get the message. I thought it was funny. I loved tennis too. Mum thought it was rude, but never  told anyone so. Granny would have bit her head off.

Granny Hall watched Wimbledon religiously each year and cheered every nationality. Although she was fiercely Scottish Nationalist (remind me to tell you one day the story of the shouting about the "bloody butcher Cumberland" at Culloden..scared the tourists right enough) there wasn’t a bone of racism in her body regarding tennis, she just loved the great proponents of the game, be they English or not.

Fast forward to this Sunday morning, the seventh of July, 2013; 77 years since a British man had won a Wimbledon title. Well, you probably know; Andy Murray won. Three hard grueling sets, beating the world number one.

I watched the final with tears in my eyes imagining Granny Hall, looking down from heaven, watching his progress from the best view in the world as Andy Murray won the title. As fair as she was about tennis I have to believe she got a wee bit more pleasure out of it all just because he was Scottish.

I imagine heaven was quiet for three hours- even if the angels told her to calm down I can just hear the “Shut-up!” they would receive...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Royal Tudor Politics: Henry, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth

Henry VIII and his modern day counterpart from HBO's The Tudors

Continuing a series of  posts inspired by background research for my Connecticut Vampire series, first volume scheduled for release early fall 2013...

It is easy to be overly simplistic when it comes to analyzing royal politics in the Tudor era. Yes, perhaps King Henry VIII had so many wives because he was a misogynist bastard.
Yes, perhaps King Henry had so many wives because he needed a male heir to reign after him.
Both statements have some historical merit but as with all politics, the truth lies far deeper.

King Henry had heard from his own father’s lips how the civil war (the "War of the Roses") had shattered the peace of England for decades. He realized, that to succeed himself, he needed a stable monarch; a male heir.  England had never had a lone queen, and when his first two children to survive infancy turned out to be female, he began to panic. With the benefit of hindsight we see that Henry had foundation in all his fears, yet in an effort to avert civil war, he’d inadvertently provided the necessary conditions for another to begin. In his quest for a male heir and the religious changes he’d been ‘forced’ into, Henry had split the country in two. Half of the English people hankered after the old comforts of Catholicism, half reveled in the new freedoms of Protestantism.

Even after his death, fate dealt Henry VIII a cruel twist.  His male heir Edward never survived to his eighteenth birthday and his full coronation. He only ruled for a sickly four years, used by the regent nobles as a piece on a chess board. On Edward’s dying bed, the boy was persuaded to declare a cousin, Protestant Lady Jane Grey, to be his heir. The ambitious move disinherited both Catholic Mary and 'illegitimate' Elizabeth, his elder sisters , but Jane and her backers couldn't muster the support to keep her dubious claim to the throne viable. Lady Jane is known as "the Nine Days Queen" due to the brevity of her reign in July of 1553 and she was executed less than a year later at the tender age of 17.
Lady Jane Grey was played by Helena Bonham Carter in the 1986 film Lady Jane

When Queen Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, ascended the throne she was supported by the biggest military faction, and the biggest proportion of nobles. She was already a Princess, cruelly treated by both Henry and his son Edward; the Catholic half of England embraced her, and she came to power bloodlessly. It was now time for "Bloody Mary" to prove as ruthless and stubborn as her father.

Mary wanted to turn England back to a Catholic nation, and required a Catholic heir, so she married King Phillip of Spain. Mary also wanted rid of pesky Protestant ministers, so she arrested them, and had them burnt at the stake; not the nicest way to go, trust me.

So the pendulum swings and popular opinion swung too. Queen Mary died without issue, and Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, was proclaimed Queen of England. She would turn the country Protestant again. Despite many plots and actions against her, Elizabeth reined for forty-five years.  It seems that in this daughter that he considered illegitimate, Henry had found the strong 'male' heir to bring stability to his country. If only he’d realized it earlier, so many lives would have been saved, and history could have been changed completely.

Cate Blanchett ~ a magnificent turn as Queen Elizabeth

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Inchkeith; Edinburgh's Own Island of Doctor Moreau?

An Island of Doctor Moreau in our own backyard? Or is it Inchkeith, Edinburgh?

Hello, people of Edinburgh, Leith, Granton, Portobello, and Musselburgh- I have a spooky tale to weave for you. It's a little known fact but  off your shores-in plain sight every day-lies an island steeped in the bloody stains of history. The green grassy scenic island of Inchkeith in the Firth of Forth just 5 miles north of Leith hides a dark and murky past.

In 1494, just a year after Columbus's return from the New World, a sickness broke out in Europe. Some say it came from the newly discovered territories of North America, I will that leave to historians more learned than me, but break out it did. Unnamed at first, it was simply called the Pox, or the Grand Pox; the term “syphilis” would later be coined by the Italian physician and poet Girolamo Fracastoro. Sufferers of the disease either showed a mass of boils, or out and out deformation, morphing in horrifying and drastic ways. The first written records of an outbreak of syphilis in Europe occurred in 1494 or 1495 in Naples, Italy, during a French invasion. Due to its being spread by returning French troops, it was initially known as the "French disease".

Whatever they called it, syphilis spread across Europe like the plague (hmm, probably where we get that term eh?). Within three years the disease ran so rampant in the streets of Edinburgh that the Town Council decided to quarantine all victims onto Inchkeith island. Edinburgh would rid the streets of their mutant horde.

The council banished thousands of the ‘unclean’ to the offshore island; “there to remain till God provide for their health”. There is no record of their healing, no record of their re-instatement into society; probably they all died on the island. But the history of the Island as Edinburgh’s quarantine area had only started. It would not be the last time the island would be used as the cesspool of Edinburgh's shame.

  • In 1589, Inchkeith was used to quarantine the passengers of a plague ridden ship from France. Again, no records are given of survivors.
  • In 1609, at the height of the Bubonic Plague that swept Europe, victims were shipped to the island. The plague wiped a huge proportion of Europeans from the map, so we cannot even estimate the numbers sent to the small grassy mound.
  • In 1799, Russian sailors on an infected ship were quarantined on Inchkeith, and then buried on the island. And if you think that’s gross enough, you’ve not heard it all.

King James IV used Inchkeith as an extraordinary experiment. He ordered that a ‘dumb’ woman and her two toddlers be taken to the island. Scholars left them alone and unsupported on the island for five years, then returned to record the language they spoke after their time in isolation. The experiment was cruel, detached, and more in accord with the Nazi regime than the civilization that would one day spawn the Scottish enlightenment...

"He caused tak ane dumb woman, and put hir in Inchkeith and gave hir two bairnes [children] with hir, and gart furnish hir with all necessares thingis perteaning to their nourischment, desiring heirby to know what language they had when they cam to the aige of perfyte speach. Some say they spak guid Hebrew; but I know not by authoris rehearse; Robert Lyndsay of Pitscottie."

So, the next time you look out on that calm serene island, think of its part in Edinburgh's history.
(End of the history of Inchkeith, Part 1. Yup, I’ve not told the whole story; not by half.)
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