Saturday, September 14, 2013

Nostradamus: The Renaissance man

History remembers Nostradamus mostly for his uncanny gift of prophecy. This famous talent never dominated his attention. Along with being a noted doctor, capable of curing entire cities of plague, Nostradamus was a consummate gourmet and creator of fruit preservatives. His recipe for quince jelly earned him the praise of the Papal legate of Avignon for its nearly heavenly sweetness.

Nostradamus was also a master astrologer. The wealthy and noble-born of Europe beat the path to his door for horoscopes. High-born women of his day rushed to his residence in Salon de Provence to seek his advice on cosmetics. The author of prophetic works was also a noted translator of classics into French. He wrote a comprehensive book on the doctors and pharmacists he met throughout his travels in Southern Europe called Trakté des Fardemens. Often he would stay as a guest of the few doctors and pharmacists he respected, collaborating with them to cure the sick by day, becoming their eager pupil by night in occult instruction. These men, like himself, belonged to families of ex-Jews participating in an underground network of alchemists and cabalists seeking answers to mysteries beyond the absolutes preached in the outer Christian world.

Portrait of Nostradamus Making Predictions

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

King Kenneth MacAlpin and the Alban kings

The centre of administration of the Pictish kingdom in the 9th century was Forteviot on the River Earn. Close by the Dunkeld, King Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín) set up a new religious centre about 850AD. This was an acknowledgement of the fact that Iona was now no longer tenable as a religious capital, although the monastery was eventually re-established and it remained the burial place of Pictish kings until the time of Donald Ban.
While the record is one of almost constant strife at this time there must have been periods and localities where normal life continued without interruption, and the Picts practised the arts that still survive in fine sculpture and perhaps others that have perished.

Pictish fort at Burghead
                                           Pictish fort at Burghead

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Jacob Tonson and the Kit-Cat Club

In the snowy spring of 1733, Samuel Croxall, a classical translator, travelled to Herefordshire to visit his retired publisher, Jacob Tonson. Tonson was now an emaciated, deaf old man, who spent his days drinking sack and reading by the fireside. According to Alexander Pope, however, Tonson’s mind remained “full of matter, secret history, and wit and spirit“. Croxall was hoping to extract some of this „secret history“ – an account of the most important London gentlemen’s club of the early 1700s, founded by Tonson: the Kit-Cat Club.When Croxall roared his request, the near 80-years-old publisher „came into it at once, said nobody could tell better what to say of them [the Kit-Cats] than himself, for, to tell me the truth, he had been drunk with every one of them.“
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Kit-Cats
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Kit-Cats

Given his humble birth, Tonson was proud to have caroused with so many aristocrats and famous authors. Son of a barber-surgeon and bookseller, he grew up during the Restoration, taunted for his lame left leg, red hair and freckled „bull face“. After apprenticeship to a stationer, Tonson set up his own firm, purchasing the works of major authors such as Dryden, and quickly establishing a reputation as the first professional London publisher.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Anne Boleyn’s marriage preparation

There had been persistent rumours throughout the summer of 1532 that Anne and Henry would marry during the interview at Calais. At first, Anne had gone out of her way to encourage the gossip. ‘Not later than a week ago’, Chapuys reported in late August, ‘she wrote a letter to her principal friend and favourite here, whom she holds as sister and companion, bidding her to get ready against this journey and interview, where, she says, that which she has been so long wishing for will be accomplished’. But, just before leaving England, she changed her tune. She ‘assured a great personage’, Chapuys discovered, ‘that even if the King wished to marry her now she would never consent to it, for she wants the ceremony to take place here, in England, at the usual place appointed for the marriage and coronation of Queens’!
Why the alteration?

Anne Boleyn, Marquess of Pembroke (c. 1501 – 19 May 1536)
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