I think it’s because I’m SO in love with Deborah Harkness’ second book in the All Souls Trilogy that I’m feeling another day trip to Salem, MA is in my near future. It’s eerie, magical, historical, wonderful, and whacky all at the same time. The House of Seven Gables, the Witch Museum, the Wiccans offering palm readings… just amazing. Growing up in Massachusetts, I’ve had the opportunity to study it’s history a bit and visit all the museums and memorials— I love discussing theories as to what was the cause of the hysteria and what Tituba was really up to. What really gets my goat though (heh) is that the real witches dungeon was discovered by telephone workers in the late 50’s. This prison had cells of all sizes- from spacious accommodations fit for a family to a standing-room-only-box. Since you had to pay for your prison space, it all depended on how much money you or your family had. Yikes. I don’t see my 3 brothers forking over money to keep me in jail… just sayin’.
This lovely lady married Duke Henry the Pious of Saxony in 1512 and had six children. I happen to admire their choice of names for the children: Sibylle (1515-1592), Emilie (1516- 1591), Sidonie (1518-1575), Maurice (1521-1553), Severinus (1522-1533), and Augustus (1526-1586.)
She outlived her husband by 20 years, and resided in Wolkenstein Castle until she died at the age of 74.
Aside from giving birth to 6 children (without an epidural) her most interesting accomplishment was writing and publishing a book of etiquette for young ladies.
During the mid to late 1800’s, this undeveloped shoreline became a hot getaway spot for wealthy New Yorkers and became a mecca for Victorian extravagance. These uber-rich-folk spent 50 years competing with each over over who had the biggest balls… ahem, ballrooms. John Jacob Astor IV was having “Beechwood” built when he decided to take a cruise. He was the wealthiest passenger on the Titanic and unfortunately, his wealth didn’t secure him a spot on the life boats.
Some of it’s more notable “vacationers” included Doris Duke, The Vanderbilts, The Astors, Edith Wharton, Eisenhower, JFK, and the notorious Von Bulows- of syringe- scandal fame.
Although all the mansions along the coast are jaw-dropping, I like to picture myself walking through the halls at Rosecliff. It was built by Theresa Fair Oelrichs, a silver heiress from Nevada who fancied a summer home suitable for entertaining on a grand scale. After the house was completed in 1902, at a reported cost of $2.5 million, Mrs. Oelrichs hosted some extremely lavish parties including a “fairy tale” dinner and a party featuring Harry Houdini.
Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821) was the vulgar, outspoken, perverted and foul-smelling wife of her cousin, George IV of England. She is described as having “no strong innate notions of the value or necessity of an acquired morality” as well has having a rather large head.
George was repulsed by her and brought his mistress on their honeymoon. Upon their return, Caroline began to drink and party in excess, had many sexual exploits, and exposed herself in public on numerous occasions. She was eventually forced to leave England due to her shocking behavior. She was humiliated in court and refused to return to England, until…
She found out her father-in-law had passed away and her estranged husband was to be crowned king. All of her attempts to attend the coronation were blocked, but she still showed up at Westminster Abbey, dressed in something awful- kicking and screaming to be let in.
Get yourself together woman!
She died a few weeks later, humiliated and defeated. Some records say she died from a blockage in her intestines, but some say she was poisoned.
Servant Girl at Csejte Castle in the 16th century.
Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed (1560-1614) was the most prolific female serial killer of all time… we think. Erzsébet liked to play with her food before she ate it- and what began with severe beatings to her servants led to a very dark road into the occult and human sacrifice. She would seek out torture devices in Venice that allowed her to extract the most blood possible from a body in her lust to drink and bathe in it. Savouring every drip. Torture methods included starvation, mutilation, star-kicking (look that one up- creative but creepy), the iron maiden, and skin peeling.
Stories passed on through the generations claimed that she tortured and killed exactly 650 female victims. This was all written down in a book- but that book was never found.
I think it’s safe to say, Bathory was a sociopath.
Poor Isabella of Angoulême (1188-1246.) Good ol’ John of England had his first marriage declared invalid due to consanguinity, meaning he found out that he and his wife were blood-related (this confuses me- inbreeding seems like a right of passage with these crazy royal families.) Anyway, he “claimed” his second wife by kidnapping her from her fiancé, Hugh X of Lusignan. FYI- King John is the “Evil King” depicted in the tales of Robin Hood.
At the age of 12, she was crowned Queen Consort of England in a very elaborate ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Her new husband was so enamored with his young wife that he neglected some of his royal duties to lay in bed all day with what the common folk called his “Siren.” They had 5 children together, in addition to his 12 illegitimate children.
After John’s death in 1220, Isabella arranged the coronation of her son Henry III and fled back to France to marry her first fiancé Hugh (and had 9 more children.) I think she expected a bigger reception than she got- like the old prom queen showing up at the 20 year reunion. She was snubbed and unpopular and found herself in a bit of controversy due to her vanity and violent temper. Isabella refused to pledge allegiance to King Luois of France, and in 1246, 2 royal cooks claimed she paid them to poison the King. She died before she could be brought to trial.
Poets, Kings, Queens, Mistresses, Artists, Scientists… there are many many many noteworthy folks buried at the Abbey (I would LOVE to be buried there… just a little personal FYI.) People like: Geoffrey Chaucer, Catherine of Valois, Anne of Cleves, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickes, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Isaac Newton, and loads of Mary’s, Edwards and Henry’s.
The most interesting arrangement in the Abbey is the fact that Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots are buried across the hall from each other– along with the Bloody Mary, who specifically requested NOT to be buried in the same tomb as her half-sister Elizabeth (request denied.) Yikes… talk about “rolling over in your grave” Poor Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart are most likely not resting in peace.
Nothing overly quirky or bizarre to report- at least none that I can find- well, she did marry the second son of Juana the Mad and Philip I the Handsome (no matter how many times I say that- it still makes me guffaw.)
Aside from the fact that Anne lived for over 40 years (quite an accomplishment in the 16th century) she gave birth to 15 children – only 2 of them died in childhood (an even BIGGER accomplishment for the time.)
Louis was having a very very very expensive necklace made for her before he died. This diamond masterpiece caused some controversy as it was never paid for and many tried to claim it.
She was an “official” mistress- which is fascinating-this was a normal title, it’s like being dubbed “Head Harlot” (ah… no pun there, I swear.) I personally, picture her life in the castle as the white trash girlfriend at an expensive restaurant.
Years after Louis’ death, Madame du Barry was accused of treason and sentenced to death. On the way to the guillotine, she collapsed in the tumbrel and cried “You are going to hurt me! Why?!” Terrified, she screamed for mercy. Her last words to the executioner were: “One moment more, Mr. Executioner,
I beg you!”
This is Princess Marie Louise of Savoy, also known as Princesse de Lamballe (1749 -1792.) In 1775, Marie Antoinette, whom adored the very wealthy Princess, appointed her “Superintendent of the Queen’s Household”, the highest rank possible for a lady-in-waiting. This appointment did not make Marie Louise very popular with the aristocrats.
She was known to be very uptight, so of course the day’s tabloids (anti-monarchist propaganda) portrayed Marie in pornographic pamphlets, showing her as the queen’s lover to undermine the public image of the monarchy. I’m sure a lot of today’s celebrities can relate to that horror show. Anyhoo…
In 1775 the Princesse de Lamballe was thrown to a violent crowd and brutally murdered in the streets. The lovely people of Paris then put her head on a stick and danced around Marie Antoinette’s windows (the windows of Temple- a medieval fortress/prison), forcing the Queen to look at her beautiful friend’s face. Her body was never found.