Friday, August 11, 2006

Would would Della do?

Leaping with the speed and grace of a mountain lion over several centuries and a few thousand miles, we arrive back in Scotland during the reign of James VI, aka James, King of England, Scotland, France (yes, I know - that's another long story, lets just say nothing beats a monarchy for stubborness) and Ireland (see comment for France), Defender of the Faith (as long as it was the right one), etc. (this is an official royal etc., rather than me being lazy)

Son of Mary, Queen of Scots, James was actually raised Protestant and married Anne of Denmark to cement his religious position. In fact, he claimed to have been struck by love's dart after seeing her portrait for the first time and wrote her love sonnets, including the immortal lines:

The fever hath infected every part
My bones are dried, their marrow melts away,
My sinnews feebles through my smoking smart,
And all my blood as in a pan doth play.

(cue gross bit - as if that wasn't enough)

Touching stuff, I think you'll agree.* Anne evidently thought so since she bore him 9 children although apparently they later drifted apart. Anyhow all this helps to show that James was not a squeamish man who fainted at big piles of gore, blood and guts. He probably found them inspiring and full of meaning in some ineffably Elizabethan way. Dude, they were a morbid bunch.

The tendancies described above might help to explain why in October 1600 (a few years after he got over his obsession with witch-hunting) he ordered the attendance of John and Alexander Ruthven at Holyrood. They were to answer charges of treason for attempting to kill him, but it was their months-old pickled corpses that arrived at court. This couldn't have been a surprise to the monarch since it was James and/or his attendants that had killed the brothers back in August and ordered their bodies' preservation. (p.177)

Following their conviction for their part in the "Gowrie Conspiracy", the corpses were then dragged through the streets of Edinburgh, publically hanged, quartered and their heads put on display. This wasn't even the end of it, since nine years later, Robert Logan had been dead for three years when witnesses testified against his reassembled skeleton for his part in the same conspiracy. (pp.178-9) Nice.

This practice faded out in Britain (with a brief hiccup for regicides at the start of the Restoration), but across the Channel, even a century or so later the trial and execution of corpses, particularly suicides, wasn't unusual. Take the conviction for suicide of a 74-year-old man in 18th-century Picardy who had hanged himself because he was convinced that his bride (20) was magically making him incapable of the "dance as old as time". (p.171)

Magic. Absolutely. But the interesting feature of this case is that convicted suicides normally forfeited their land and wealth. Since the man's lovely young bride had remarried a bare 2 weeks after his death, it's not a stretch to imagine that he was actually counting on this outcome. However this time the court mitigated the forfeiture and awarded his widow 1500 livres. (ibid) One cunning, Agatha Christie-type revenge plan foiled, methinks.

*Luckily, the most famous work associated with his name (The King James Bible) only does so because he commissioned it. He mercifully left its composition to a committee of 50-odd translators.

Page references still to this book


Suisan said...

James really squicks me out.

Which makes it hard to read Scottish romances where the lead "laird" hero is working hard for Bonnie Prince Charlie's return from Skye.

Speed Bonnie Boat
Like a Bird on the Wing
Over the Sea to Skye...

First song I ever learned on my dulcimer--make my parents insane one summer as I practiced it endlessly.

EvilAuntiePeril said...

The dulcimer? That's so cool. I had to play "The Skye Boat Song" in a recorder chorus. At least it wasn't the ukelele.

PS. I think the contrast between the idealised depictions of some monarchs and their reality can be really hard to take.