Friday, October 24, 2014

Katherine Parr's Only Baby, Another Tudor Mystery

Linda Porter wrote about Katherine Parr's baby girl, named Mary after Henry VIII's eldest daughter, for History Today in 2011. Mary's mother, died in childbed and then her father was beheaded " for treason on March 17th, 1549, leaving Lady Mary an orphan at the age of seven months." Sadly, Mary did not find a very loving guardian, even though the person selected shared her mother's religious views:

Thomas did not appoint any of his own or Katherine’s relatives as guardian to his daughter. He could scarcely have handed her to the brother who signed his death warrant and no one else among the extended Parr or Seymour families seems to have taken much interest in the child. Like most of his former ‘friends’, they were all trying to put as much distance between themselves and Thomas Seymour as possible. Instead, Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, a close friend of Katherine Parr and a lady of seemingly unimpeachable reforming religious ideas, was appointed as guardian. It was not a charge she accepted with enthusiasm.

Despite her strong religious views, the duchess’s bosom was not full of Christian charity. Lady Mary may have been a dispossessed orphan, but she was an expensive one. As a queen’s daughter, she came with a household of her own, consisting of a lady governess, rockers, laundresses and other servants. The government was supposed to provide for her upkeep and the payment of her staff but the duchess could not get Somerset to part with the money until she appealed to William Cecil, then a prominent member of the duke’s household, to intervene on her behalf. The letter she wrote makes it clear how much she resented ‘the queen’s child’, as she frostily referred to the little girl.

Katherine Brandon (pictured above), the widow of Charles Brandon, did get some money from the seized (attainted) estate of Thomas Seymour, but what happened to the little girl is still unclear, although there is a clue:

The answer to this compelling Tudor mystery seems to lie in a Latin book of poems and epitaphs written by John Parkhurst, Katherine Parr’s chaplain, who had previously served the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk. The discovery was made by the American academic, Janel Mueller, but has been overlooked by historians. I am grateful to Jean Bray, the archivist at Sudeley Castle, for drawing it to my attention. In Parkhurst’s Ludicra sive Epigrammata juvenilia, published in 1573, appears the following poem, which translated reads:

I whom at the cost
Of her own life
My queenly mother
Bore with the pangs of labour
Sleep under this marble
An unfit traveller.
If Death had given me to live longer
That virtue, that modesty, That obedience of my excellent Mother
That Heavenly courageous nature
Would have lived again in me.
Now, whoever
You are, fare thee well
Because I cannot speak any more, this stone
Is a memorial to my brief life

Though no name is given, this must surely be the epitaph that Parkhurst, who would have known Lady Mary Seymour, wrote on her death. It suggests, as has long been conjectured, that she died young, probably around the age of two. She may well be buried in Lincolnshire, near Grimsthorpe, the estate owned by the Duchess of Suffolk, where she had lived as an unwelcome burden for most of her short, sad life.

Perhaps the Princess Mary, for whom the little baby was named, would have been a better choice as guardian, if her Catholicism could have been overlooked. Reports are that she loved children, and might not have found little Mary "an unwelcome burden".

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Robert Hugh Benson, RIP

I missed posting a notice of the anniversary of Robert Hugh Benson's death last Sunday (October 19; he died in 1914), but want to make up for it by noting his poetry today. A book of his poems was published in the U.S. by P.J Kenedy & Sons of New York soon after his death with an introduction by Wilfred Meynell.

Meynell noted first the purpose for which Benson published his poetry: as a fundraising effort:

Yet one may be named apart, the Homes of Mr. Norman Potter, since it was for their benefit that he put into the market the autobiographical and heart-searching poems here printed. They are very intimate; and as such are proper to poetry even in the case of a writer who had not specially studied the mechanism of poetry as his medium. Under cover of poetical convention, he is able to bare himself, equally in the lines written before he became a Catholic in 1903, and in "The Priest's Lament" of a later date. In "Christian Evidences" he gets back to his intuitions; to that which made him, ardent investigator though he was, ever in closer touch with the simple than with the scientific -- back to that witness within himself which Christ promises and gives to all His own; while in "Visions of the Night" we are at close quarters with that apprehensiveness which, while it imposed suffering, also conferred insight -- the insight by which others learned to see. One passage in "Savonarola Moriturus" is especially self-revealing, and that for a reason it is now no breach of decorum to set forth. A year or two before his death he talked with a neophyte on the sacrifices one might have to make for the Faith. "And are you sure you would make them all?" he was asked. His reply was that he would like to say "Yes," but that he dare not answer for what he might be made to yield under bodily torture. The first four lines of the second stanza of the Savonarola poem are the more poignant for this modesty of the author's own estimate of his powers of endurance, powers which he thenceforth put to sharp apprenticeship and test, passing out, not vanquished, but victor.

He then passes over Benson's novels with some comments:

Of his novels I do not here attempt an appreciation. As a ruthless writer, where ruthlessness comes into the scheme of a man's salvation, as it had been in that of his own, let him be ranked. In the spiritual warfare he gave no quarter. Whether he was cruel, besides, in the burning of The Coward, who makes indeed cowards of us all; whether he views woman as no more than an adjunct of man, an accident for the hindering or the helping of his salvation; whether Dorothy is properly killed so that Roger Mallock may prove his vocation; these, and many more, are the problems that palpitate in his pages, and that men and women, according to their varied experiences, will variously adjudge. Of his historical novels in general he was inclined to say very much what he said of "Come Rack, Come Rope": "I fear it is the kind of book which anyone acquainted with the history, manners, and customs of the Elizabethan age should find no difficulty in writing." If in this class, the author proved conspicuously his industry and his facility -- uncommon but not rare faculties -- then in "Initiation" and other studies of current life he was nothing if not individual. In these he was of his age and no other; he was himself and no other. Nor were the sensitivenesses of these books without their effect on the whole of his productions. When in historical romance he described a martyrdom, we have also his own comment on it: "It seems to me, who have never been on the rack, that I have succeeded pretty well in writing down what the rack must have felt like, and the mental states it must have induced. When I had finished writing that scene, I was conscious or very distinct, even slightly painful, sensations in my own wrists and ankles." Obviously there was an apprehension, necessary for one class of book, which greatly benefited the other; and the experience of the hero in "Initiation" could not have been conveyed, had not the author himself gone under an anaesthetic in a nursing home; and again endured another ordeal without an opiate, "to learn what pain really was" -- a sharp lesson of sixty hours. Similarly the description of the headaches of the hero (how real a hero!) in "Initiation," the most vivid description of its class in all English literature, could only have been written by one who had himself suffered them, and suffered them with a sensibility that is fortunately the iron crown conferred upon only the very elect.

Read the rest of the introduction here. You may peruse the poetry here, but here are a couple of samples:

AT HIGH MASS

Who hast made this world so wondrous fair; --
  The pomp of clouds; the glory of the sea;
  Music of water; song-birds' melody;
The organ of Thy thunder in the air;
Breath of the rose; and beauty everywhere --
  Lord, take this stately service done to Thee,
  The grave enactment of Thy Calvary
In jewelled pomp and splendour pictured there!


Lord, take the sounds and sights; the silk and gold;
  The white and scarlet; take the reverent grace
  Of ordered step; window and glowing wall --
Prophet and Prelate, holy men of old;
  And teach us children of the Holy Place
Who love Thy Courts, to love Thee best of all.


O DEUS EGO AMO TE

O God, I love Thee mightily,
Not only for Thy saving me,
Nor yet because who love not Thee
Must burn throughout eternity.
Thou, Thou, my Jesu, once didst me
Embrace upon the bitter Tree.
For me the nails, the soldier's spear,
With injury and insult, bear --
In pain all pain exceeding,
In sweating and in bleeding,
Yea, very death, and that for me
    A sinner all unheeding!
O Jesu, should I not love Thee
Who thus hast dealt so lovingly --
Not hoping some reward to see,
Nor lest I my damnation be
But, as Thyself hast lovèd me,
So love I now and always Thee,
Because my King alone Thou art,
Because, O God, mine own Thou art!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tudor Romance: Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor


Nancy Bilyeau writes about the most romantic of all Tudor marriages, between Henry VIII's beautiful sister the Princess Mary and Charles Brandon, for the English Historical Fiction Authors blog:

Erasmus said of Mary Tudor, "nature never formed anything more beautiful." The pampered and adored younger sister of Henry VIII was married at 19 to Louis XII, king of France. After the princess arrived in Paris with her dowry of 400,000 crowns and hundreds of attendants, the French, disposed to find her a disappointment, admitted that she was, indeed, a "nymph from heaven."

King Louis, 52, crippled with gout, died less than three months after the wedding but not before showering his teenage wife with jewels, including "the Mirror of Naples," a diamond pendant with a pearl "the size of a pigeon's egg." Everyone expected the widow of the French king to make another spectacular royal marriage.

Instead, while still in France, she secretly took as her second husband a 31-year-old Englishman, Charles Brandon, the newly elevated Duke of Suffolk, celebrated for his good looks, military valor and jousting skill. Before she sailed for France, Mary had told her brother she would only agree to wed the old French king if she could choose her second husband herself. Desperate for the diplomatic alliance, Henry VIII had agreed. But Mary feared that if she returned to England, her brother would force her into another arranged marriage. She persuaded Brandon, whom she had known for years and had probably fallen in love with in England before her marriage, to marry her. They had no permission to do so and were in disgrace, with Brandon facing arrest, until Henry VIII forgave them. Charles Brandon was, after all, his best friend.

It was a highly romantic episode, inspiring a stream of novels over the centuries, most significantly
When Knighthood Was in Flower in 1898, which sold so many copies it inspired a burst of similar historical novels and no less than three films, including one in 1922 financed by William Randolph Hearst and starring Hearst's mistress, Marion Davies.

While this might be a most romantic story, Bilyeau focuses on how Charles Brandon used marriage to advance his career and build his wealth. In most Tudor histories I've read, it's clear that the Princess Mary was always opposed to Henry VIII's attempts to have his marriage to Queen Katherine of Aragon annulled and to his attacks on the Catholic Church hierarchy in England. Charles Brandon seems to have served and supported Henry VIII in these endeavors and decisions completely--so as Bilyeau concludes her post, the real question is:

Did Mary Tudor find happiness with the husband she chose for herself, who she risked her brother's wrath to marry? Was this a man who, despite his irresistible good looks and athletic prowess, could be a good husband, even in the 16th century? Perhaps. That is another question entirely, fit for another blog post.

Of course, Mary, the former Queen of France, died before the break, in 1533. She was buried first in the great abbey church of Bury St. Edmonds and then her remains were re-interred after the abbey was suppressed in 1539 in one of the abbey's parish churches, St. Mary's. And Charles Brandon married again after she died (Catherine Willoughby was his last wife).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"A distinct, Catholic approach to history"


Kevin Jones of the Catholic News Agency interviewed the authors of a new book about writing narrative history from a Catholic perspective:

.- The study of history is an opportunity to unite faith and reason and to recover a distinctly Catholic perspective that sees God acting in the past, present and future, the authors of a new book say.

“From its earliest centuries, the Church understood itself as possessing not simply a faith with a history, but a historical faith,” Christendom College history professor Christopher Shannon told CNA Oct. 13.

“That is, Church Fathers such as Eusebius and Augustine understood God as speaking to his people through history, and not simply Church history proper. The rise and fall of nations were to be understood in terms of God calling his people to himself.”

Shannon is the co-author of “The Past as Pilgrimage: Narrative, Tradition, and the Renewal of Catholic History,” from Christendom Press. Through the book, he and Christopher Blum – a history and philosophy professor at the Augustine Institute in Denver – aim to cultivate the awareness of “a distinct, Catholic approach to history” among both professional historians and the general reading public.

“Catholic historians, like non-Catholic historians, use reason to discern facts and establish relations of causality in history, but they also draw on their faith to discern the meaning and significance of events,” Shannon said.

Blum explained that “The Past as Pilgrimage” aims to aid “the recovery of Christian memory” that Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have called for.

The scholar said that Catholic approaches tend to avoid a “critical” history that debunks ideas or a “scientific” history that aims to be “encyclopedic or technical.”


Rather, Catholic forms of history should be “reverent” and seek to be “challenging and meditative.” Blum said the exemplars of this approach to history include Sts. Athanasius, Augustine and Gregory the Great, as well as Blessed John Henry Newman.

Read the rest of the interview there. About the book, from Christendom Press (AmP Publishers Group):

In The Past as Pilgrimage: Narrative, Tradition, and the Renewal of Catholic History, Catholic historians Shannon and Blum challenge the secular bias currently prevalent among professional historians, and argue for the compatibility of faith and reason in the study of the past. Inspired by the understanding of tradition developed in the work of philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, the authors first critically examine both the internal contradictions and the enduring faith commitments of secular objectivity, then proceed to explore various traditions of Catholic historical thinking capable of synthesizing the technical advances of modern history with distinctly Catholic historical narratives. Their argument seeks to foster a conversation about the ways in which Catholic historians can integrate their faith traditions into their professional work while still remaining open to and engaged with the best of contemporary, non-Catholic thinking and writing about history.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Newman the Prophet on the Doctrine of Religious Liberalism

At the culmination of my Newman series last week at the Spiritual Life Center in Wichita, I presented some passages of Blessed John Henry Newman's "Biglietto Speech", made when he received the letter from Pope Leo XIII announcing his appointment as Cardinal Deacon.

We noted that many people reading this today would say the situation Newman describes is just as it should be: religion should not be the bond of society; Christianity should not influence the "goodly framework of society", there is no one true religion; religion should be just a private luxury; a secular, government-controlled education is better for forming a well-ordered and respectable population, etc. We even agreed that many Catholics would say that what Newman describes is an acceptable situation:

And, I rejoice to say, to one great mischief I have from the first opposed myself. For thirty, forty, fifty years I have resisted to the best of my powers the spirit of liberalism in religion. Never did Holy Church need champions against it more sorely than now, when, alas! it is an error overspreading, as a snare, the whole earth; and on this great occasion, when it is natural for one who is in my place to look out upon the world, and upon Holy Church as it is, and upon her future, it will not, I hope, be considered out of place, if I renew the protest against it which I have made so often.

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy. Devotion is not necessarily founded on faith. Men may go to Protestant Churches and to Catholic, may get good from both and belong to neither. They may fraternise together in spiritual thoughts and feelings, without having any views at all of doctrine in common, or seeing the need of them. Since, then, religion is so personal a peculiarity and so private a possession, we must of necessity ignore it in the intercourse of man with man. If a man puts on a new religion every morning, what is that to you? It is as impertinent to think about a man's religion as about his sources of income or his management of his family. Religion is in no sense the bond of society.

Hitherto the civil Power has been Christian. Even in countries separated from the Church, as in my own, the dictum was in force, when I was young, that: "Christianity was the law of the land". Now, everywhere that goodly framework of society, which is the creation of Christianity, is throwing off Christianity. The dictum to which I have referred, with a hundred others which followed upon it, is gone, or is going everywhere; and, by the end of the century, unless the Almighty interferes, it will be forgotten. Hitherto, it has been considered that religion alone, with its supernatural sanctions, was strong enough to secure submission of the masses of our population to law and order; now the Philosophers and Politicians are bent on satisfying this problem without the aid of Christianity. Instead of the Church's authority and teaching, they would substitute first of all a universal and a thoroughly secular education, calculated to bring home to every individual that to be orderly, industrious, and sober, is his personal interest. Then, for great working principles to take the place of religion, for the use of the masses thus carefully educated, it provides — the broad fundamental ethical truths, of justice, benevolence, veracity, and the like; proved experience; and those natural laws which exist and act spontaneously in society, and in social matters, whether physical or psychological; for instance, in government, trade, finance, sanitary experiments, and the intercourse of nations. As to Religion, it is a private luxury, which a man may have if he will; but which of course he must pay for, and which he must not obtrude upon others, or indulge in to their annoyance.


Another challenge of these paragraphs is to read them as positive, not negative, statements--to find the truth, reverse the errors that Newman outlines:

There is one true religion; one creed is true and the others are not; God has revealed His truth and He has founded a Church to teach it; it is miraculous and real; those who follow it base their devotions, their worship and prayer, upon its doctrines and teachings, etc. One who follows the true religion will act in public matters based upon its doctrine (including morality). It does matter what religion a man follows. The true religion should be the bond of society; it should inform the common good and influence education, commerce, diplomacy, etc.

When we turned Newman's definition of the spirit of liberalism around, we recognized how even professing Catholics, influenced by our culture's emphasis on toleration and acceptance, can feel uncomfortable with these positive statements about the truth of Christianity and the fullness of that truth in the Catholic Church. As Newman says later in the speech, "There never was a device [the spirit of liberalism in religion] of the Enemy so cleverly framed and with such promise of success." For note, as Newman began the discussion, that "Liberalism in religion is the doctrine"--it is a teaching that establishes truths that make claims as clear as those in the paragraph immediately above. This religious liberalism has in some ways become the divisive bond of society and it attempts to influence not just the public, but the private practice of religion by individuals--note the attempt of the city of Houston to subpoena the sermons of ministers opposed to a city ordinance. Usually the claim of those urging a secular society is that religion, a private affair, should be practiced within the walls of one's church, but now it's reaching inside those walls--a definite chilling affect on free speech and exercise of religion, as obtrusive and annoying as it condemns religion for being.

The Married Martyr: St. Philip Howard

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops features St. Philip Howard on their website about marriage, citing his conversion and return to his wife as crucial:

In 1970, St. Philip Howard was named by Pope Paul VI one of the “Forty Martyrs of Wales and England.” Yet as with many martyrs, St. Philip’s early life was little indication of the supreme honor he would one day receive, dying for the sake of Christ.

Philip Howard was born in 1557 in an England that was still reeling from King Henry VIII’s establishment of the Church of England. During Philip’s childhood, “Bloody” Queen Mary was on the throne, a Catholic ruler who rejected the Church of England. Accordingly, Philip was baptized as a Catholic by the archbishop of York. He later pursued his education at Cambridge.

However, times were soon to change. Queen Elizabeth I succeeded Queen Mary, and the country once again became Protestant; more than that, Catholicism was strictly forbidden. As with so many Englishmen at the time, Philip’s father took the family with him back into the Church of England. Change was also happening in Philip’s home: his father remarried a woman with three daughters. At the young age of 14, St. Philip was given in marriage to one of these daughters, Anne; his other two brothers married the other two daughters.

St. Philip’s early years as a husband were none too pious. Climbing the career ladder was forefront in his mind, while family and faith fell by the wayside. His young wife, Anne, stayed admirably devoted to her inattentive and often moody husband, even as he spent more and more time at the Queen’s court, seeking to build his prestige and affluence. And yet it was here at Court that the seeds were sown for Philip’s later years of discipleship.

Read the rest there. The post includes this prayer:

St. Philip Howard, husband and martyr, pray for those who are persecuted because of their faith in Jesus and their love of His Church. Give strength especially to those husbands and wives who are separated from each other under difficult circumstances. Pray in a particular way for the faithful of England, that they may stay rooted in the love of Christ.

St. Philip Howard, pray for us!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Vestiges of Mary's Dowry: Reformation Iconoclasm

Once I Was A Clever Boy continues his series on English Reformation Iconoclasm, focused the destruction of Marian shrines and chapels:

Nothing so encapsulates English iconoclasm in the Reformation period and in subsequent centuries than the attack on the cult, on the veneration, on almost even the name, of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary's Dowry appeared more than anxious to expunge her from its collective life and worship.
I have already mentioned the 1538 burning of several famous statues of her as well as other devotional images, and in the first years of the Elizabethan settlement there were similar scenes - what I wonder did the good people of Sleaford in Lincolnshire think in 1560 when the Crucifix was taken out from their parish church of St Denys and burned in the market place outside?

Lady Chapels in churches attracted the attention of zealous reformers. At Ely cathedral the wondrous fourteenth century Lady Chapel lost all its glass and every statue in the canopy work around the arcades was meticulously decapitated. . . .

The English liturgy was purged of virtually all Marian devotions in 1548, and little survived beyond the feasts of her birth and, surprisingly perhaps, conception. In Oxford University the feast of the Assumption survived as a lesser commemoration, and as it still exists in the University Calendar.

In Oxford the University Church of St Mary the Virgin had a new porch built in 1636-37 by the mason Nicholas Stone at a cost of £230. This was adorned with a statue of the Virgin and Child, and in 1644 this was one of the capital charges brought against Archbishop Laud by the Parliamentarians, on the basis that Laud as Chancellor of the University had sanctioned this. The statue had attracted the respect and indeed devotion of some University students and was blasted by a Parliamentarian musket when the army left the city at the beginning of the Civil War. A modern replacement now occupies the niche.


Read the rest there.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Saint Richard Gwyn, Troublemaker and Martyr

In 2011, The Catholic Herald featured St. Richard Gwyn as the Saint of the Week on its website. He put up quite a fight against the Elizabethan authorities who tried to force him to worship as the state dictated:

Richard Gwyn (1537-1584) was a victim of Queen Elizabeth I’s persecution of Catholics, conducted with increasing intensity after 1581.

Born in Llanidloes in central Wales, Gwyn matriculated at Oxford before removing swiftly to Cambridge where, at St John’s, he lived by the charity of Dr Bullock, the college’s Catholic Master.

After the death of Queen Mary in 1558, however, Bullock refused to take the oath of supremacy administered by Elizabeth’s government and was ejected from the Mastership.

Gwyn fled to the continent, spending some time at Douai. Around 1562 he returned to Wales and for the next 16 years worked as a schoolmaster, mainly in Wrexham and Overton. He was much loved, not merely for his excellence and dedication as a teacher, but also for “other good partes known to be in him”. . . .

When his persecutors laid him in heavy shackles before the pulpit of a Protestant church in Wrexham Gwyn “so stirred his legs that with the noise of his irons the preacher’s voice could not be heard”.

Placed in the stocks as a punishment, he was taunted by an Anglican priest who claimed to possess the keys of the Church as surely as St Peter did. “There is this difference,” Gwyn riposted, “namely that, whereas Peter received the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, the keys you received were obviously those of the beer cellar.”

Indicted for high treason, Gwyn was eventually condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered at the Beast Market in Wrexham in October 1584. “I have been a jesting fellow,” he told the crowd from the scaffold, “and if I have offended any that way, or by my songs, I beseech them for God’s sake to forgive me.”

The execution was hideously bungled, so that Gwyn remained conscious throughout his disembowelment. His last words, in Welsh, were: “Iesu, have mercy on me.”

It is clear that he did nothing to oppose the reign of Elizabeth I but practice his Catholic faith. For that he was harassed, mistreated, tortured, and brutally executed. As a beloved teacher, his Catholicism made him liable for accusations of trying to bring pupils or families to the Catholic faith. Wikipedia has these details about his trial:


Richard Gwyn, John Hughes and Robert Morris were indicted for high treason in 1583 and were brought to trial before a panel headed by the Chief Justice of Chester, Sir George Bromley. Witnesses gave evidence that they retained their allegiance to the Catholic Church, including that Gwyn composed "certain rhymes of his own making against married priests and ministers" and "[T]hat he had heard him complain of this world; and secondly, that it would not last long, thirdly, that he hoped to see a better world [this was construed as plotting a revolution]; and, fourthly, that he confessed the Pope's supremacy." The three were also accused of trying to make converts.

Despite their defences and objections to the dubious practices of the court Gwyn and Hughes were found guilty. At the sentencing Hughes was reprieved and Gwyn condemned to death by hanging, drawning and quartering. 


His relics are venerated and he is remembered at Wrexham Cathedral in North Wales, dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows and elsewhere, with a high school named for him. Mary's Dowry has produced a documentary of his life and death. While he was executed on October 15, his memorial is observed in Wales today, since St. Teresa of Avila's memorial is on October 15.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

New Biography of Lafayette

Frederick Brown reviews a new biography of the Marquis de Lafayette in The Wall Street Journal:

In 1824, at President James Monroe’s invitation, Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, took a triumphal tour of America. In New York, 6,000 guests walked through a Roman arch at Manhattan’s Castle Garden to assemble in his honor under a canopy decorated with the flags of the world and surmounted by a bust of George Washington. More galas awaited him in other cities. Every town paraded for the general; artillery salutes punctuated his journey; musicians composed adulatory songs; eulogists wrote odes. The 67-year-old reveled in his enshrinement, as he had every reason to do.

Lafayette’s reputation at home had been subject to more vicissitudes. During the French Revolution, he had championed constitutional monarchy and in due course found himself obliged to flee the Terror. Despised as an aristocrat by regicides loyal to Robespierre and as a traitor to his class by aristocrats loyal to the Bourbon dynasty, he was more often caricatured in hostile journals than idealized in civic sculpture. Laura Auricchio deals admirably with this trans-Atlantic career in her well-written, well-furnished biography, “The Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered.” Her subject straddled not only two continents but two centuries. Born in 1757, at the end of Louis XV ’s reign, he died in 1834, four years after the July Revolution, which brought a constitutional monarch to power in France.


From the excerpt on line at Random House, it appears to be a very well written book:

If pleasure-loving Parisians enjoyed the novelty of these New World republicans, many military men saw the Americans’ cause as an opportunity for revenge. The army had been nursing its wounds since 1763, when the French and Indian War (known in France as the Seven Years’ War) had ended with France ceding its Canadian colonies to Great Britain. By helping to wrest thirteen valuable colonies from British control, a humiliated French officers’ corps hoped to redeem itself. So pervasive was enthusiasm for the American fight that the economist and author André Morellet—an astute social observer who often accompanied Franklin on his rounds—quipped in 1777 that “there is more support for American independence in Paris than in the entire province of New York.”

Yet there was something uncommon about Lafayette’s commitment to America. His devotion was deeper than his countrymen’s, his drive more intense. While other Frenchmen sailed for the New World seeking riches or retribution, Lafayette sought nothing short of a new life. Earnest, enthusiastic—as optimistic as Voltaire’s naïf Candide—Lafayette was out of place in the glittering Parisian world of wit and cynicism that the urbane Franklin so effortlessly mastered.

Lafayette had married into one of the best-connected families of the French court, but he hailed from the Auvergne region of south-central France, and the uncontrived manners of that rural area marked him as a stranger in the refined circles of his in-laws. At Versailles, even Lafayette’s rugged appearance counted against him. The young marquis was large for his time: five feet, nine inches tall and endowed with a broad frame that one contemporary described as “decidedly inclined to embonpoint.” In other words, he tended to be stout. As Lafayette grew older, his bold features would be called distinguished, but as a youth he was not widely perceived as handsome. He had a long, oval face with a prominent aquiline nose, gray-blue eyes that peered out from a pale complexion, and a shock of unfashionably red hair atop a high, sloping forehead. Friends and admirers saw Lafayette’s open and frank expression as a window to his soul, but this transparent credulity placed him at a disadvantage in the dissimulating games of intrigue that passed for sociability at Versailles. 

Having visited Lafayette's grave in Cimitiere Picpus, with the U.S. flag so proudly waving, I think that Auricchio is correct when she speaks of Lafayette as being naive about not only Mesmerism, but about the French Revolution. His wife's family suffered greatly, and when I toured Cimitiere Picpus to see the place where the remains of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne were dumped after their executions, I pondered the significance of the site of his grave--right outside the wall that divides the tombs from the mass graves. His mother-in-law and sister-in-law are buried behind the wall, while he and his wife, the great Adrienne de Noailles rest together--she certainly deserves her own updated biography, that brave, faithful Leonore!

Even in Fiction, the Queen Dies

From Modern Library Classics:

Paris, 1793, the onset of the Terror. Brave Republican Maurice rescues a mysterious and beautiful woman from an angry mob and is unknowingly drawn into a secret Royalist plot—a plot revolving around the imprisoned Queen of France, Marie Antoinette, and her enigmatic and fearless champion, the Knight of Maison-Rouge. Full of surprising twists, breakneck adventure, conspiracies, swordplay, romance, and heroism, The Knight of Maison-Rouge is an exhilarating tale of selflessness, love, and honor under the shadow of the guillotine. Dumas here is at the very height of his powers, and with this first and only modern translation, readers can once again ride with the Knight of Maison-Rouge.

On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette was beheaded by the guillotine at what is now Place de la Concorde in Paris. Elena Maria Vidal provides details of her death here.

Alexandre Dumas' The Knight of the Maison-Rouge (1845) tells the story of an attempt to save the queen by substituting an impostor in the Conciergerie. Dumas used the attempt of the Chevalier le Rougeville to communicate with Marie Antoinette with a message hidden in the petals of a carnation as a detail in the novel. Dumas does not contradict history by having the plot succeed, and the queen rides from the left bank to the right bank to die--with a most pathetic scene of her poor little dog Thisbe, following her cart.