Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"The Lecturer personating the Virgin Mary..."

“About one a clock at night, the Lecturer personating the Virgin Mary … made another Visit to Jetzer…

We are in William Waller’s The tragical history of Jetzer. Or, A faithful narrative of the feigned visions, counterfeit revelations, and false miracles of the Dominican fathers of the covent of Berne in Switzerland, to propagate their superstitions, which seems to have been popular at its publication in 1679, with four early editions.

This old story to the discredit of Catholics had been dragged up by the obstreperous Sir William Waller, son of the parliamentary general. The Popish plot was the sensation of the day, and Waller seems to have published it because all this profligate son of a vehemently puritanical mother had left in the way of religious feeling was a rabid anti-Catholicism.

Ketzer’s story was also told in Gilbert Burnet’s Some letters containing an account of what seemed most remarkable in Switzerland, Italy, some parts of Germany, &c. in the years 1685 and 1686 written by G. Burnet, D.D.. The tale was excerpted from Burnet in 1689, and alluded to by the (rather good) poet Thomas Heyrick in his The new Atlantis a poem, in three books: with some reflections upon The hind and the panther, 1687. Heyrick is talking about the state of the Catholic church, then so recently embraced by Dryden:, personifying the church as a credulous old woman:

Tir’d with old Age, bewayl’d her luckless Fate.
She doth no blessing of old Age retain,
The Inconveniencies alone remain.
Dotage, the Vice of ancient years, delights
In trifling Follies and in childish sights;
In outside Pomp and empty Pageantry,
In Paint and Varnish that attract the Eye.
Credulity each open Cheat doth own,
And greedily Impostures doth drink down …

Of Images that speak, lament and weep:
Of Wounds by Angels given to Saints asleep.
Of Prophesies and Works of th’ holy Maid,
And all the Tricks were e’re on Jetzer plaid.
The wildest Ravings are by her receiv’d,
And she'd have all she doth invent believ’d.

The story of Jetzer’s maltreatment by his fellow Dominicans began in their campaign against the Franciscan order, who upheld the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the Virgin Mary. A small party of Dominicans in Basle decided on the (perhaps odd) tactic of having the Virgin herself appear to a suitably gullible member of their order, to explain indignantly that to ascribe this to her detracted from her Son, etc.

They chose John Jetzer, described in Waller’s telling as ‘thick skulled’, admitting him to the order solely to be imposed upon. First, he was led to believe that he had seen a ghost, that of a former prior, now in purgatory, who asked for penances to redeem him, and this spirit re-appeared eight nights later to say that he was now in heaven, and that Mary, the Blessed Virgin, was about to pop along with her own personal reward for this kindness.

The planning was very good as far as stage machinery was concerned:

"Whilst the Sub-prior and the Receiver were fitting their Tools, Properties, and Engines for the Show: All things being ready, their pulleys, Wheels, Screws, Wires, and Devices for the management of their Puppets orderly placed in the Receiver’s Chamber, to give life and motion to the Opera

Five other Candles miraculously lighted at a clap … Jetzer now lying with his eyes wide open, to make observations, saw to his astonishment the Virgin hanging in the Aire, between two Angels directly over the Hoste."

However, the basic difficulty the Dominican fraudsters were faced with was of their sex: one of them had to assume the role of the B.V.M., as they were unable to deploy a young woman. They were prepared to treat Jetzer cruelly: 'Mary' seizes his hand, and tells him he will receive as a favour the first wound done to her son, nailing him with a three-cornered dagger blade to the bedpost. Jetzer was clearly easily imposed upon, but wasn’t completely stupid: he is handled with male force, and keeps hearing a male timbre in the voice speaking to him, or recognizing protruding bits of a male arm, or sees a familiar male shoe beneath the robes.

The Dominicans did nevertheless string him along, making him play a part in his own deception: they put him up to spitting three times in Mary’s face, on the reasoning that a devil would not stand for such an affront. When they were caught out by Jetzer, the Dominicans explained that these impostures were mixed in by them and intended to make him more alert to the possibility of fraud.

The Sub-prior and his associates make a pact with the devil, signed in blood, to enable the deception to go ahead. Jetzer, who has already penetrated one appearance as fraudulent, was either persuaded of the truth of the whole matter (this is as Waller’s account tells it) or drugged into insensibility by the potion provided by the devil as a result of the blood pact the Dominicans have made (this in Waller’s version). Either way, Jetzer is made to acquire the full set of stigmata. They didn’t manage to get a hole all the way through his feet, while the first one through his hand had been as big as a pea. When he challenges the virgin about this, ‘she’ quick-wittedly replies that he is not fit to stand on the holy mark, so it will just have to be a wound on the top of his feet.

In the end, the cruelty of their actions undid the plot: they kept the wounds from healing up, as proper stigmata, and when Jetzer, amid a growing storm of debate, was finally taken out of the abbey, he noticed that his wounds then began to heal. It went to a trial, and Jetzer was tortured: partly, he still believed what he had seen, but he said enough to cause the friars to be brought to trial themselves. They held out through initial sessions on the rack, but began to crack when a second round of interrogation under duress was started.

Waller gives a hideous account of them being burned alive (Burnet says this was in front of the gratified Franciscans): the pyres were set up for a quick death, but a wind suddenly blew up, and the wretched men had their lower limbs slowly roasted, crying out in such agony that the executioner (later dismissed for the incompetence he had shown) was reduced to throwing billets of wood at their heads through the flames in an attempt to end it all. The sub-prior, always the sharpest witted of the accomplices, tried to breathe in the smoke and suffocate himself to end the torment.

Waller's book was part of a whole set of re-tellings of this story. It reminded me very much of Samuel Harsnett on the 'Egregious Popish Impostures', through its continuous use of theatrical references as part of the scorn for the tricks being played.

My image is adapted from the enthusiastically mariolatrous book by the Jesuit Henry Hawkins, Partheneia sacra. Or The mysterious and delicious garden of the sacred Parthenes symbolically set forth and enriched with pious deuises and emblemes for the entertainement of deuout soules; contriued al to the honour of the incomparable Virgin Marie mother of God; for the pleasure and deuotion especially of the Parthenian sodalitie of her Immaculate Conception. 1633

Thursday, July 16, 2009

March 31st, the festival day of Macbeth

Simon Sheppard is one of the few mid 17th century humourists who remain funny. Saturated in the media in which he worked (ephemeral print journals, prognostications and other pamphlets), Sheppard was an accurate parodist of others’ prose styles, inventive at producing his own absurdities, and adopted a winningly self-deprecating persona (he is usually poor and hung-over). His politics seem to be conservative, but he never seems to write with real animosity about contemporary issues or personalities.

In 1653, 54 and 55 he published (alongside his usual stream of newsletters) three parodic prognostications, Merlinus Anonymus.

My first image is of two of the absurd monthly charts from his prognostication for 1654. In place of the usual feasts and festival days, which would normally feature traditional names like Swithun, Valentine, ‘The 7 Sleepers’, Sheppard fills a column with wildly incongruous names, ‘martyrs quite forgotten by Fox’, as he puts it. Among them are the festivals of Macbeth, Othello (‘Moor of Venice’) and Venus and Adonis. He then, in the next column, gives a silly weather forecast, and finally a ‘micro chron[icle]’, which memorialises a sequence of completely trivial occurrences (‘Mr. E.R. wip’d of his nose with his handkerchief’) with the precise date of these striking non-events.

Sheppard was quite capable of writing well: in his mock prognostication for April 1653: “The JESUITS this month are like Apricoks, (formerly) here and there one succour’d in a great mans House, which cost him dear, now you may have them for nothing in every cottage…”

But Sheppard was probably filling paper at great speed, and his productions are full of unacknowledged quotations. The 1653 and 1654 mock prognostications are seamed throughout with large extracts from John Donne – satires, verse epistles, and the anniversaries, even the mock commendation in verse of Thomas Coryate. The lower part of my image is from his ‘General Prognostication for the year 1653’ in Merlinus Anonymus, where Donne’s 4th Satire, which he first quotes in verse, is turned into prose – Donne’s encounter with the libellous courtier is turned into a meeting with the astrologer Nicholas Culpepper.

It is hard to ascertain the status of these extracts. Sheppard acknowledges none of the lines as being by Donne. Whether readers were meant to recognise them as wittily chosen, or take them to be Sheppard’s own effusions is uncertain. By the 1654 prognostication, Sheppard is lifting quotations from other literary sources, and slotting them around his charts: bits of Thomas Lodge’s satires, Fanshawe’s translation of Il Pastor Fido: a set of verses about money ruling the world, and literary endeavour too, comes from Thomas Randolph’s play, Hey for Honesty!:

Did not Will Summers break his wind for thee,

And Shakespeare therfor writ his comedy:

All things acknowledge the vast power divine,

(Great God of money) whose most powerful shine

Gives motion life, day rises with thy sight

Thy setting though at noon, makes night.

Sole Catholick cause of what we feel, or see

All in this all, are but th’effects of thee.

Sheppard too was writing for money, and probably didn’t care what people thought.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

"The daie passed with dyvers accy dents" - knighted at Rouen

My main image is the brass of Sir Christopher Lytcot, one of a set of fine 16th century brasses in the church at West Hanney, in West Berkshire.

The inscription reads: ‘Under this stone lyeth entered the corps of Sir Christopher Lytcot Knight, twice High Sherief of the County of Berk (husband of two wives both in the sayd countye, the former Jane Essex widdowe of Thomas Essex of Beckett House Esq. the later Catherine Younge Widowe of William Younge of Bastledon Esq.) Knighted in the camp before Roane the XVI of November 1591 by the hands of the French Kinge, Henry the Fourth of that name, & King of Navarre. Who after his travailes in Germany, Italye, and Fraunce & the execution of Justice to the glory of God & the good of his country, ended this pilgrimage, at Bastledon on the XXVth of April 1599.”

This mention of the siege of Rouen reminded me of Sir Thomas Coningsby’s eye-witness account of the first part of the siege. Queen Elizabeth had allowed an English force of 2,000 under Essex’s leadership to go and assist the Huguenots, in return for some trading rights. A full text can be found here:

Coningsby was one of the many gentlemen knighted by the Earl of Essex during the inconclusive campaign. He does not mention Lytcot in his account, who must have been campaigning closer to the king. I did not know that knightings by a foreign monarch were simply accepted, but Essex himself had dubbed so many that any controversy settled on his actions. Coningsby had attached himself very closely to Essex: the gentlemen volunteers had agreed that, from their number, six would always accompany Essex wherever he went. Coningsby was one of the men so pledged, but as he represents it, Essex’s tremendous vigour and activity made this an unsustainable commitment:

Nov. 17. The 17. my lord wente early to the kinges quarter, being only accompanyed with 4 of us, for such a body hath he made of yron, supporting travaile and passioned in all extremyties, that the following of him did tyre our bodies, that are made of flesh and boane.

On the date of that Lytcot was dubbed a knight, November 16th, Coningsby indeed mentions King Henry, in a context which was indubitably manly, if not quite so honourable:

Nov. 16. The 16. there hath bene a spech (ever since the king came) of his going to Deape [Dieppe], which is to hasten all provisions and necessaries for his busynes here; but some of his domestiques, out of a French lyberty to speake every thynge, say that his jorney is to meete a saincte, (for he oweth devotyon to more than Gabryell only,) which he hath bene devote unto longe, whose bodie is trans-ported from Caen thither, because his devotion and vowes may be performed with more ease: but how, or whatsoever, you or I will speake the best of our betters.

The allusion is to King Henry, notorious for womanizing, going to meet another mistress than his most famous lady, Gabielle D’EstrĂ©es (the one with her sister in the bath!)

Later that same day, Coningsby witnessed skirmishing between the defenders and the besieging forces. This was typical of the siege: Villiers, leading the forces in Rouen, had plenty of fighting men in the town, and had resolved upon an active defence, to disrupt all approaches of the siege works. Coningsby regarded this particular skirmish with disdain:

“Upon this we from our quarter mighte behold the most of this that passed; we might see many of their horse drove downe, and th’ennemye withdrawe within the covert of the towne; and there we mighte behold many a horse well spurred, and many a sword jollyly glystering in the sunn on both sydes: but all put up without any effusion of blood, one blowe stryken, or one pystoll shott; which is not the manner of our quarter, for we never goe to it but eyther horse or man remaynes behind, and sometimes both.”

‘Jolly’ to watch, but no blood spilled: not the way the English did it, apparently. And when Coningsby himself speaks to King Henry, it is with the same bumptious patriotism. Onto the very brave and, when required, very pragmatic King, Coningsby projects his own attitude, that of wanting there to be some ‘sport’: “Yt seemed the king was verie desirous we mighte have had some sporte, and particularly asked me (unto whom heretofore he hath doan favor of lyke nature), whether they would sally or noe; whereunto I aunswered, that if they weare honest men they should, but if they were Englishmen they would; whereunto he replyed, "By my faith, I believe it" When he perceived they sallyed not, he sente to drawe them out to skyrmysh…”

Coningsby was no doubt brave, but his preoccupation with personal honour makes his account of the fighting self-centered, there is little sense of planning, tactics, or logistics in his journal. He rather tends to make so much of the quest for gallantry that the fighting seems gratuitous, or undertaken for that purpose alone.

As such, Coningsby writes exactly as Shakespeare’s Bertram might have written about his role in the confused fighting in the military part of All’s Well that Ends Well (the French king there sends off his other young gentleman to fight for either side in a vague Italian conflict). Coningsby is concerned with individual deeds – he almost becomes Parolles when he speaks of scarves being taken as something worth noting. Casualties occur, and the protocols of rescuing bodies, or of removing valued tokens from dead men or their horses concern him: “There were ii. of their captens slain by us, the bodie of one whereof we recovered, being verie well apparelled. The said lieuetenant toke his scarfe, who afterward was slaine.”

These gentlemen volunteers with Essex seem to have had a reasonable chance of survival – their armour, as modelled by Lytcot, seems to make them fairly casual about walking within range of the harquebus fire of the enemy, except that every so often, someone is shot by a defender using a ‘steel bullet’.

When no skirmishing is in prospect, Coningsby and his kind get bored easily: “The 22. daie we passed with playinge at tennys in the forenoone, and at playinge at ballon in th’afternoone with the lieuetenant-gouvernor of Deape, and the victorie fell on our side”.

Tennis and football, then – but what of women? Coningsby has no chance for arrangements like those enjoyed by King Henry. Being a Protestant abroad, and a man living a life, for months, solely among men, on one occasion Coningsby takes time out to visit a nunnery. I will end this post with this anecdote, with all its undercurrents, as a set of (for the moment) voluntarily chaste young men visit a set of permanently chaste women:

This afternoone, to drive awaie idlenes, I wente to a monasterie of nonnes, about a league and a halfe from our quarter, where we so behaved our selves that we receyved very kynd wellcomes, and a banckett of xx tie severall dyshes of preserved fruits. The abbesse was of the house of Baskeville, a verie goodly gentlewoman, and wore her habyt very neate and properlye: she is a woman exceeding well-spoken, and of good behavior, but of yeeres meeter for God then for the world. But there was 2 or 3 younger noons, and all gentlewomen of good house, whom I know, if you had sene, you would have pyttyed their loss of tyme; and so, having spente 2 or 3 howres there, retorned home to our strawe bed.

My other image is the Montague House portrait of Coningsby (1551-1625) at 21. The pigeon at the top left is meant to be his hawk, the fan-shaped device is the lure. But Coningsby has turned his back on the bird, and the tether of the lure is short and falling slack: he is giving up, I think, on the follies of his youth. But if he was 40 at the siege of Rouen, his journal hardly testifies to his maturity.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Ladder in the Pie

“The Duke [i.e., of Mayenne, leading the forces of the Catholic League against Henri of Navarre] … was also overtaken with new trouble, at the liberty of his Nephew Charles, Duke of Guise … That Prince, since the death of his Father [Henri, Duke of Guise], had always been kept prisoner; nor, though his freedom had been much treated of, had any attempt ever succeeded, and the King (Henri IV) had always stiffly denied to change him for any body, alleging, That he was not a prisoner of War, but of Justice: Nor … had the Duke of Mayenne ever cared much to get his liberty; foreseeing that his freedom would endanger the division of his party, by reason of the dependence that many would have upon him, in respect of the memory of his Father, … and that the common people would willingly concur to exalt him: so that if he [i.e., Charles] would not acknowledge his [Mayenne’s] superiority, but should attempt to put himself in the place long held by his Father and Grandfather, the League was without doubt like to be divided and disunited …

…But now, whether the King (as some believed) foreseeing the same, had underhand given way to his enlargement, or that the Sieur de la Chastre, an old servant and dependent of his [Charles’] father’s … had prosperously procured it; certain it is, that having plotted, and agreed that a Lackey and a Valet de Chambre with a very swift Horse, sent by la Chastre, should stay for him in the fields under the Castle of Tours, in which he was kept prisoner, he upon the fifteenth day of August, being risen from Table about noon, and having afterward shut himself up in his Chamber to take his rest, while the Guards that kept him, and his other servants, entertained themselves merrily eating and drinking, he having locked them all dexterously into the room where they were at dinner, went up to the top of a Tower that stood toward the field, and with a ladder of silk, which had been secretly sent him in a Pie, let himself down the wall, with exceeding great danger; and being come safe to the ground, ran along the Riverside of the Loire towards the fields, where he found the horse and those that expected him; and with infinite speed galloped to find the Baron de la Maison, son to the Sieur de la Chastre,

[A studiedly slow chase was mounted] “which confirmed the jealousie some had, that the King had secretly commanded he should be permitted to escape, since that all those dayes, Letters and Messages were without restraint suffered to come to him, and Presents to be sent, among which was the Pie with the Silk Ladder in it, without which his escape could not have been effected.”

My source is Arrigo Caterino Davila, The history of the civil wars of France written in Italian, by H.C. Davila; translated out of the original (1678, p.510). Subsequently, the dextrous King Henri IV, by then a sort of Catholic, paid Charles off very handsomely, to keep him sweet. A better escape attempt than Charles I's. If it was a put-up job, perhaps King Henry thought it was a win-win for him, if Charles (Duke of Guise) broke his neck, or survived to divide loyalties in the Catholic League.,_Duke_of_Guise,_Duke_of_Mayenne