Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Yankee Doodle

I presume that when Donald Trump visits Britain he will be greeted with many renditions of “Yankee Doodle Dandy”: the alternative American national anthem. But does he know what the song is actually about?
 It is not generally realised that the word “doodle” is an 18th century slang term for a thickoe: a stupid person; and that the song is a satirical attack on the stupidity of Americans. In each verse, the Yankee Doodle does a succession of ridiculous things, but always believes himself to be marvellous. Even the lines when he “stuck a feather in his hat, and called it macaroni”, which sound like outright nonsense, are part of this: a “Macaroni” signified a young man-about-town who dressed in the latest Italian fashions. Yankee Doodle is so na├»ve that he thinks that merely sticking a feather in his hat elevates him to the height of fashion. All in all, the song looks highly appropriate for Mr Trump.

The case of alternative or substitute national anthems is always odd. In Britain nowadays the Scots sing “Flower of Scotland”, which is not a traditional song at all, but was composed by Roy Williamson of the folk group, the Corries, about 1969. And what do the English have as their alternative national anthem? “Jerusalem”!

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Popes at Avignon

The story begns with the bitter conflict between Boniface VIII, elected Pope in 1295, and Philip IV, the King of France (Philippe le Bel). Philip was concerned with centralising his power in France, whereas Boniface, an energetic and aggressive Pope, insisted that the Papacy was supreme over all earthly sovereigns. Afte Boniface excommuniated Philip, the King struck. His minister, William de Nogaret, arrested Boniface at his summer retreat at Anagni in September 1303, allegedly hitting him in the face. Boniface was soon rescued by his supporters, but he dieda month later.
    After the brief pontificate of Benedict XI (1303-4) the conclave was deadlocked for almost a year before electing the Archbishop of  Bordeaux, who took the name of Clement V. He never went to Rome, but moved around France before settling at Avignon; an insignificant town of just a few thousand inhabitants, but which had the benefit of being on the frontier between France and Provence. At that time the Count of Provence was a subject of the Holy Roman Emperor, not of the French King. The Popes were to remain there for 68 years; a period that came to be known as the "Babylonish Captivity".
   Clement V proved to be a weak character, who failed to stand up to King Philip when the latter staged his brautal campaign to destroy the Knights Templar. It was said that when Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Temple, was burnt at the stake in Paris as a lapsed heretic in 1314, he denounced both King and Pope, prophesying that they would both die within the year - which in fact did happen.
   There then followed a deadlocked conclave lasting two and a half years before the election of another Frenchman as Pope John XXII. He was already 68 years old, but proved to be full of energy. He bagan the building of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, and was also responsible for the famous vineyard of Chateauneuf du Pape. His reign was followed by five more Popes resident at Avignon: Benedict XII, Clement VI, Innocent VI, Urban V and Gregory XI.

 All were Frenchmen, and most were highly corrupt, practising rampant nepotism. The conclave was dominated by French cardinals. The Palace of the Popes grew to be the largest building of its kind in western Europe. Petrach visited Avignon, and was appalled and disgusted by the luxury he found there.

   Urban V (1362-70) accepted the need to return the Papacy to Rome, and did indeed travel there, but soon gave up and went back to Avignon. Then Gregory XI (1370-8), following the importunities of Catherine of Siena, returned to Rome,intending to stay there, but soon died, aged only 48. The Italians then seized the initiative and elected as Pope  Bartolomeo Prignano, a Neapolitan of humble birth, with a career as a bureaucrat in the Papal chancellery. He took the name of Urban VI.

But this was not the end of the story for Avignon. Pope Urban soon revealed paranoid, even psychopathic tendencies; torturing and executing cardinals whom he suspected of treachery. Within a few months a group of dissident cardinals fled back to Avignon and declared Pope Urban deposed. In his place they elected Robert of Geneva, a violent, aggressive aristocratic cardinal, as Clement VII. Now there were two rival Popes, one at Rome and one at Avignon, busy pronouncing anathema against each other and their supporters.  The monarchs of Europe chose sides according to political convenience. This disgraceful episode, known as the "Great Schism", lasted into the next century. For a while there were even three rival Popes! It is no great surprise that early Protestant ideas, exemplified by Wyclif in England and Jan Hus in Prague, began to florish. The problem was not solved until the Council of Constance (1414-17), when the three rival Popes resigned or were deposed, Jan Hus was burnt at the stake (despite having received a safe-conduct from the Emperor Sigismund), and a Roman aristocrat, Oddone Colonna, was elected as Pope Martin V. The Popes never returned to Avignon.

But Avignon remained Papal territory. In 1348 Clement VI had purchased it outright from Queen Joanna of Naples (who also ruled Provence) for the paltry sum of 80,000 florins. This favourable purchase was probably not unconnected with the fact that Queen Joanna had come before the Papal court accused of murdering her husband. She was acquitted, but later deposed and killed in her turn.
While the Popes were in residence, it was a tolerant city (Jews were left in peace in return for paying a special tax), but it was also a haven for criminals fleeing justice from France. The lawless warbands who terrorised France during the Hundred Years' War were paid to stay away.
   The Petit Palais, near the great palace, was remodelled in Renaissance style by Cardinal della Rovere, who later became Pope Julius II.

   Provence was incorporated into France in the 15th century; but only with the French Revolution did Avignon become part of France. The Palace of the Popes was occupied and plundered and used as a barracks. No furniture survives, and of the lavsh decorations, only a couple of chapels and a few of the Popes' private rooms. But the days of glory were long past.

Is this the sort of luxury which so disgusted Petrach?

Sunday, 24 June 2018

The Bridge at Avignon

Everyone has heard of the famous bridge which does not cross the river Rhone at Avignon, in the south of France. The well-known song, "Sur le pont d'Avignon" dates back at least to the 16th century, in a number of differenr versions. 
  The bridge itself was constructed in the 12th century by Saint Benezet (the Provencal version of the name "Benedict"), a humble shepherd boy who, according to legend, heard angelic voices calling him to go to Avignon and build a bridge. Questioned by the local bishop, he proved his divine inspiration by lifting, single-handed, an enormous block of stone to start the project. Wharever the truth behind this story, work on the bridge began in 1177 and it was completed eight years later.
   The picture below gives a misleading impression of the vast scale of the project. What appears to be the far bank is in fact a long, narrow island in the middle of the Rhone, which did not exist in the 12th century. In fact the bridge ran all the way to the white tower seen on the right: almost a thousand yards long, with 22 arches, running in an S-shaped curve so as to base the piers on avialable shoals of gravel in the river bed. 
But currents in the river meant the shoals kept shifting, and arches in the bridge collapsed several times over the centuries. This problem was intensified in the 14th century, as temperatures began to fall in what is known as "the Little Ice Age". After 1680 the bridge was abandoned.
   The tower is all that remains of a castle built by Philip IV of France (Philippe le Bel) in 1302, to control the river crossing. He was, incidentally, the King who destroyed the Templar knights, and was responsible for bringing the Popes to Avignon.

   Halfway along what is left of the bridge today is the little chapel of Saint Nicholas. A lower chapel used to contain the relics of Saint Benezet, but these were lost in the French Revolution.

The bridge today provides a fine view of the cathedral and the Palace of the Popes; provided there are not too many crowds of tourists!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Bodnant Gardens in May

Bodnant gardens in May are a riot of colour.

Bodnant gardens lie a few miles south of Conwy in north Wales. The gardens were originally created by Henry Pochin, a Victorian chemist and businessman, who bought the estate in 1874. It was inherited by his daughter Laura and her husband Charles McLaren, a barrister and Liberal M.P. who was created Lord Aberconway in 1911. Three generations of their family then extended the gardens, building the terraces and collecting exotic plants from around the world. The estate greatly benefited from the work of three generations of head gardeners, Frederick, Martin and Charles Puddle, who were in charge continuously from 1920 to 2005.
    The estate was given to the National Trust in 1948. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

C. S. Lewis Chronology, with some of his many books given in italics (F = fiction)

1898  Clive Staples Lewis, known to his friends as "Jack", is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the younger son of Albert Lewis, a police court solicitor. His brother Warren ("Warnie") is 3 years older.
1908 After the death of his mother Flora from cancer, CSL is sent to Wynyard school in England, leaving after 2 years when the school is closed.
1913 CSL joins Warnie at Malvern College, but hates it so much he is taken away next year. He spends the next 3 years being privately tutored by W.T. Kirkpatrick
1917 CSL wins a scholarship to Universiy College, Oxford, but is soon called up for service in the army. During training, meets Paddy Moore and his mother, Janie Moore ("Minto")
1918 Paddy Moore reported missing in action. CSL wounded at Battle of Arras and invalided back to England.
1919 CSL resumes studies at Oxford and begins a mysterious relationship with Minto Moore which lasts for the rest of her life.
1920-22 CSL gains a First Class degree in Classics ("Mods" and "Greats"). He stays on at Oxford to read English.
1923 Awarded a First Class degree in English
1925 Elected Fellow and Tutor in English at Magdalen College
1926 CSL meets J.R.R. Tolkien, the Professor of Anglo-Saxon
1929 Albert Lewis dies. Tolkien shows CSL some of his writings, which form part of the "Silmarillion" cycle. CSL responds enthusiastically  
1930 CSL, Warnie and Minto pool their resources to buy the Kilns, a house with extensive grounds on the outskirts of Oxford 
1931 CSL by his own account becomes a believing Christian. He begins to write books of popular theology.
1932 Around this time, CSL and Tolkien resolve to write heroic fantasy stories 
1933 "The Pilgrim's Regress" (F)
1936 "The Allegory of Love: A Study in Mediaeval Tradition"
1936 CSL meets Charles Williams, the author of several mystical novels
1937 Tolkien publishes "The Hobbit"
1938 Around this time, the Inklings group begins to meet regularly at CSL's rooms at Magdalen on Thursday evenings. and also at the "Eagle and Child" pub at lunchtimes.  Regular members include CSL, Warnie, Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, Humphrey Havard, Owen Barfield and others. Tolkien begins to write "The Lord of the Rings", reading extracts to the group
1938 "Out of the Silent Planet" (F)
1939 Charles Williams moves to Oxford and joins the Inklings. 
1940 "The Problem of Pain" 
1941 "The Screwtape Letters" (F); dedicated to Tolkien
1943 "Perelandra" (F); later retitled "Voyage to Venus"
1945 Charles Williams dies
1945 "That Hideous Strength" (F)
1946 "The Great Divorce" (F)
1947 "Miracles"
1949 Tolkien completes "The Lord of the Rings" and lends CSL the manuscript (Published in 3 volumes 1954-5). Around this time, the Inklings cease to meet regularly
1949-53 The seven Narnia stories written (F) They are: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", "Prince Caspian", "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader", "The Silver Chair", "The Horse and His Boy", "The Magician's Nephew" and "The Last Battle" (Published in this order 1950-6) 
1951 Minto Moore dies
1952 Joy Davidman visits Oxford and meets CSL
1952 "Mere Christianity"
1953 Warnie Lewis writes the first of a series of books on 17th century France 
1954 "English Literature in the 16th Century, Excluding Drama"
1954 CSL is appointed Professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance English at Cambridge University; but continues to live mostly at the Kilns. 
1955 "Surprised by Joy"; An Autobiography
1956 CSL marries Joy Davidman
1956 "Till We Have Faces" (F) 
1960 CSL and Joy visit Athens. In October, Joy dies of cancer
1961 "A Grief Observed" 
1961 "An Experiment in Criticism"
1962 "The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature" (Published posthumously, 1964)
1963 CSL retires from his Cambridge professorship. In November, CSL dies (the same day as President Kennedy is shot) Warnie Lewis devotes the rest of his life to organising the C.S. Lewis archive.

  Tolkien and C.S. Lewis drfited apart after the war. Tolkien thought that Charles Williams's mysticism had a bad influence on Lewis's writing, especially "That Hideous Strength"; and he never really liked the Narnia stories. Also, as a strict Roman Catholic, Tolkien could not reconcile himself to Lewis's marriage to Joy Davidman, a divorcee. But, as he wrote to one of his children after hearing of Lewis's death, "We owed each a great debt to the other, and that tie, with the deep affection that it begot, remained. He was a great man of whom that cold-blooded official obituaries have only scraped the surface".

Friday, 25 May 2018

Admiral Rodney's Pillar

We celebrated  the Royal wedding last week, not by watching television, but by climbing to Rodney's Pillar in its imposing site on the border between Shropshire and Wales.

The meadows below the summit were full of bluebells

When we reached the pillar we were rewarded with magnificent views.

Admiral Sir George Rodney was the only successful British commander in the War of American Independence. After France and Spain joined the war on the side of the American rebels, Rodney defeated a Spanish attempt to seize Gibraltar, but then had to return home because of illness. While he was away, a French army and fleet crossed the Atlantic and trapped General Cornwallis’s forces at Yorktown, forcing his surrender to Washington in 1781 and effectively ending the fighting in America. After this success, the French fleet headed for the West Indies, with the aim of seizing Jamaica and delivering a further blow to the British Empire. But Rodney now returned, and destroyed the French fleet at the Battle of the Saintes. After this setback, the French were happy to broker a peace treaty between Britain and the Americans. Rodney was rewarded with a peerage, and the column was erected in his honour by “the gentlemen of Montgomeryshire”.
  A good way of annoying Americans is to point out that, without the intervention of the French, they’d never have won their War of Independence!

Monday, 14 May 2018

Brexit and Football

An odd statistic from the Political Betting website: the final league table of the Premier League shows that all the top ten clubs, with the sole exception of Burnley, have their grounds in constituencies which voted Remain, whereas all the bottom five clubs are in constituencies which voted Brexit. A mere coincidence, perhaps; but the American writer P.J. O’Rourke in a recent book assessed both the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as “The revolt of the losers”. Perhaps this applies in football terms too?