Friday, 21 December 2018

twelfth night

Driving home for the holidays, we really enjoyed listening to this Royal Christmas Special from Rex Factor (previously) that examines the celebration, traditions and historical happenstance—births, coronations, etc.—from a courtly point of view. We think you’ll like this entertaining and informative episode as well, travelling or otherwise.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

house-arrest ou le chรขteau d’olรฉron

The settlement that has grown over the centuries around Le Chรขteau d’Olรฉron is arguably most famous as the place where Henry II held his troublesome but otherwise irreproachable wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine captive for sixteen years for conniving to replace him as sovereign of England and outremar with their eldest son.  

Surely not the worst of places to wile away one’s sentence, but it turned out to be all the more endearing to us with the hindsight of nine hundred years that we’d visited this place (at least the Vauban fortifications and harbour) a mere five years hence and had forgotten about it—like the Wizard Gandalf said, “I have no memory of this place,” but being as function follows form for citadels, certain patterns start to emerge that tend to blur together.
Happily we had not remembered as we got to discover more, including the rows of former oyster-mongers bright water-colour shacks that had been conserved and converted to boutiques and studios—which reminded me of the laboratories and dwellings of the court alchemists of Prague whose workshops around the castle were resigned to a similar fate but didn't cost an extra entry fee to see—strongholds of Protestantism where the Huguenots had refuge given the island’s remote location, the Jesuit abbey converted into the Mairie, the city hall and chamber of commerce, and the historic square with a fountain that marked in neo-Renaissance style the inclusion of รŽle d’Orรฉlon on the circuit of the Tour de France, acknowledged some ninety years after a jibe with competing publishers of a bicycle and a car magazines decided to put rubber to the road.  
Our bike trekking here, though no where near epic, took us through some really amazing landscapes of the island.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

carry on, constable

There’s something remarkably indulgent about having the campus of well looked after ruins to oneself, imagining how history marched on and then by an inaccessible accord, time stopped and there was a general agreement to stave off both progress and decay. On our trip across England, we experienced this many times over, and the Restormel Castle outside of Lostwithel in Cornwall really typified the romance. This circular fortress was built in the times just after the Norman Conquest and bastions like these transformed and solidified the occupation and displacement and civilised the art of warfare, turning unsheltered carnage and plunder into something more strategic and potentially less violent.
Exchanged several times between the high sheriff of Cornwall and Simon de Montfort (of Crusade fame and infamy), eventually it was ceded to the crown, under Henry III, the residence boasted plumbing (some innovation eight hundred years ago—reaching back to Roman times) and profited off of the local tin trade. Another sight was the Old Sherborne Castle in Dorset (an intact castle is just up the road).
Queen Elizabeth I relinquished this twelfth century estate to Sir Walter Raleigh after the courtier, poet, historian and explorer became enamoured with it, whilst returning from an expedition to the New World and landing at nearby Portsmouth. Raleigh, between searching for El Dorado and the Seven Cities of Gold, was instrumental in the English colonising of North America and popularised tobacco and potatoes in the Old World. An unsanctioned marriage and political intrigues, which may have beckoned the Spanish Armada (over incursions into lands claimed by that crown), led to Raleigh’s unfortunate beheading.
His faithful wife and accomplice, according to some, kept her husband’s head in a velvet bag for nearly thirty years before expiring herself, both unable to retire to the castle that had become a rather frustrated property.