“If you have something in you, I want to encourage people to get that out, that’s part of who you are and yes it’s scary, it really scary to put yourself out there.”
From inauspicious beginnings to fame and fortune, Coco Chanel, one of the world’s most revered women of fashion, found empowerment in her own way.
While she lived most of her time on earth in the public eye, accounts of some facets of her history have been up for debate, as she, the master of her own destiny, often changed the facts of her own history to suit her needs. Here are a few mysteries surrounding Miss Chanel.
According to most accounts, Coco’s parents named her Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel. At birth, someone entered her name into the registry as Gabrielle Bonheur Chasnel. This was later reported to be a clerical error as her mother was too ill to attend the registry and her father was traveling. Most sources agree that the name Coco came from a time in her early twenties when she worked on stage as a singer in clubs in Vichy and Moulins. The two songs she sang between other stage acts were “Ko Ko Ri Ko” and “Qui qu’avuCoco.” She later stated that the name came from a shortened version of the French word “cocotte,” which translates to “kept woman.” In some accounts, she states it was a nickname given to her by her father.
Most sources agree Coco was born to an unmarried couple named Eugenie (Jeanne) Devolleand Albert Chanel. Jeanne worked as a laundress, and Albert a traveling peddler. The couple later married. When she was twelve years old, her mother died from tuberculosis, and her father sent Coco and her sisters to an orphanage in Aubazine run by Catholic nuns. Although her life at the orphanage demanded frugality and strict discipline, this is where she learned to sew. Other accounts claim she perfected her sewing on weekend visits to see two of her aunts. Coco later told another version of the story: her father set out for America to seek his fortune and she was sent to live with her two aunts. She also claimed she was much younger than twelve years old when her mother died.
Coco Chanel never married, but ever the modern woman, she had many notable lovers—who helped to advance her career and status in life.
At the age of twenty, she started an affair with the French socialite, horse breeder and polo player Etienne Balsan. Balsan saw her at the Moulin and became smitten. Through Balsan, Coco met many influential people, including the wealthy Arthur “Boy” Capel, with whom she also had an enduring affair. Balsan financed a millinery shop for Chanel, and later, Capel helped her to establish a high-end boutique where she launched her famous jersey suits and the “little black dress.”
Both men left her to marry more socially “eligible” women of title, but they remained friends. When Capel died in a car crash in 1919, Chanel reportedly said, “In losing Capel, I lost everything. What followed was not a life of happiness.
In 1923, she met the Duke of Westminster while attending a party on his yacht. The two began a decade-long affair. He lavished her with expensive gifts and set her up in a home in the Mayfair district of London. In 1927, he gifted her with land on the French Riviera where she built a villa she named La Prusa.It is uncertain why the Duke and Chanel did not marry, but Chanel said of their break up, “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster, but there is only one Chanel.
During her involvement with the Duke, she met and charmed Edward III, the Prince of Wales. Some accounts state she had a fling with the Prince who was known for his philandering ways, but others don’t mention him.
(Check back next week for Seven Mysteries of Coco Chanel – Part Two!)
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(Continued. For Part One, click here.)
Catherine of Aragon and Henry had one child, Mary Tudor, who had now reached teenager-hood. While her mother was cast out of Henry’s court, Mary, also stripped of her title of princess and declared a bastard, had been allowed to remain. Until the birth of her baby sister, Elizabeth. Desiring the baby to be raised away from the proclivities of the court, and in the fresh air of the countryside, Anne sent Elizabeth to Hatfield House with a full staff of servants—including the bastard Mary.In 1534, to Henry’s delight, Anne became pregnant again. But when she miscarried a few months later, Henry began discussions with his advisors Archbishop Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell, to start divorce proceedings. Learning that Anne was again pregnant in late 1535, the King relented.
Anne lived with extravagance. She continued to have wild parties long into the morning, and spent incredible amounts of money, which caused further resentment among Henry’s subjects. But, Anne gave the matter little thought. After all, she had every hope to believe she carried a son for the King. She further rejoiced when she learned that Catherine of Aragon had died. Now, nothing stood in her way. Except for the fact that the King had developed a passion for someone else. The young and beautiful Jane Seymour.
In January 1936, while taking part in a jousting tournament, the King was struck from his horse and knocked unconscious. More bad luck ensued when Anne, five days later—the same day Catherine of Aragon was buried—miscarried again. Once the King recovered, he moved Jane Seymour into the royal household. He claimed Anne had seduced or bewitched him, and because of that, the marriage was not valid. He wanted Anne gone.
By April of that year, several men of the court were accused of adultery with the queen, plotting with her to kill the King, and thus, treason. The first, Mark Smeaton, a Flemish musician and a favorite of Anne’s. At first, he denied the charges, but then later confessed—some say under torture. Next, a nobleman and friend of the King, Henry Norris, who’d enjoyed himself at Anne’s many parties. She had been overheard discouraging him from paying her too much attention. He denied the charges and swore to the Queen’s innocence. Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, and Sir Richard Page were also accused, as well as Sir Thomas Wyatt, a friend of the Boleyn family, and possible sweetheart of Anne in her youth.
The final blow to Anne was the accusation of her incestuous relationship with her brother George, on two different accounts.
Historians, authors, and movie-makers have had a field day with this historical information. Some believe and or portray the adultery as truth, and some do not. Either way, all the accused, accept Wyatt and Page, were executed, as was Anne in the summer of 1536. In her last speech before her death, she maintained her innocence and spoke nothing but praise of her “merciful prince.”
So, did she or didn’t she? Was Anne so empowered she felt she could have numerous affairs with all these men and not suffer the consequences? Was she so desperate to have a son that she slept with these men—including her brother—to give the King his desired heir? Or, did she suffer her fate because she fell out of favor with the King who had moved heaven and earth to wed her?
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Margaret Tobin Brown, a woman immortalized in numerous movies, documentaries, and the Broadway musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” never considered herself anything more than a good citizen. Made famous by her heroic efforts during the sinking of the RMS Titanic, Mrs. Brown used her fame and fortune to better the world. But, even as a young woman, Margaret Brown did what she could to serve humanity. Here are some less known facts about one of America’s most memorable heroines.
SHE WAS NEVER KNOWN AS “MOLLY” DURING HER LIFETIME
Born in 1867, Margaret Brown, known as “Maggie,” by friends and family, came into this world in 1867 to Irish Catholic immigrants John Tobin and Johanna Tobin. She became known as “Molly” with the success of the 1960 Broadway musical, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” decades after her death.
SHE CAME FROM MODEST ROOTS
Maggie spent her early years in a small cottage on Denkler Ally in Hannibal, Missouri. She never attended school but took lessons with her siblings in the home of her mother’s sister, Mary O’Leary. At 13, Maggie helped support her family by working at a tobacco factory for sometimes 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. At 19, she set out with her sister to Leadville, Colorado to visit their older brother Daniel, who had settled there. Maggie decided to stay and kept house for her brother. She also worked as a waitress and as a sales clerk in a dry-goods store.
THOUGH SET ON MARRYING A RICH MAN, SHE MARRIED FOR LOVE
Maggie is quoted to say, “I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown…I decided that I’d be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money attracted me.”
In church one Sunday, Maggie laid eyes on the tall and handsome mining engineer, James Joseph (also known as J.J.) Brown, and fell in love. At 19 years of age, she married the Irishman who was more than 10 years her senior, and the two set up house in a two-room cabin outside of Leadville.
SHE CAME INTO WEALTH OVER-NIGHT
Both Maggie and J.J. worked hard during their young married life. Intelligent and innovative, J.J. Brown rose to manager, then superintendent for the Ibex Mining company and made a decent living. His innovation proved instrumental in developing a technique which allowed for mines to be built deeper into the earth. One such mine, Little Jonny, hit gold in 1893, producing tons of gold ore, and making the Browns and many others at the Ibex Mining company, instant millionaires.
SHE ALWAYS SAW THE IMPORTANCE OF A CAUSE
Even before she lived a life of immense wealth, Maggie always did what she could to help others. As a young wife and mother, she organized soup kitchens and helped other mining families less fortunate than hers. She became involved in politics and spent her efforts in that arena working for better schools and health care for mining families. After her good fortune, she joined many political and charitable organizations and even made a run for Congress— though she had to drop out of the race. Women in Colorado did not even have the right to vote yet, and her chances of winning seemed impossible. Regardless, Maggie continued to work for causes concerning children, public health, food production, education and libraries, women’s suffrage, and animal rights.
She also worked to help establish a juvenile court system in Denver so that children and teens who committed crimes did not have to serve time in the adult population. She helped to establish the Denver Women’s Club, an organization devoted to providing art education in schools, and the development of school libraries.
Having lived a lifetime of helping others, Maggie continued to do so even when her own life was at stake with the sinking of the Titanic. Once aboard Life Boat Six, Maggie, having put on several layers of clothing to shield herself from the frigid temperatures, shared her coat and more with those who had to escape with little to wear. Once they were safely aboard the Carpathia, the ship sent out to retrieve survivors, Maggie worked tirelessly to help her fellow passengers. She paid for telegrams to be sent to survivors’ friends and family, and she organized a ‘survivors fund’ for medical expenses and temporary lodging for those in need. She raised $10,000 before they reached the shores of New York.
FAME DID NOT CHANGE HER
Now famous for her magnanimous spirit and courage, Maggie continued to help with causes close to her heart. In 1913 coal miners in Ludlow, CO went on strike, resulting in a deadly skirmish between the National Guard and the miners. Nineteen people, including eleven children were killed in what became known as the Ludlow Massacre. Maggie sent first aid supplies, food, and clothing to the surviving miners. She sent funds to help settle the strike and investigate the massacre.
During the first world war, Maggie traveled to France with an American relief committee. There, she also worked with the Red Cross. When she returned to New York, Maggie devoted time and resources to help soldiers who’d been injured in the war. Her efforts resulted in France bestowing her with their most esteemed award, the French Legion of Honor.
SHE NEVER ATTENDED SCHOOL, BUT WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED STUDENT
As a young mother, Maggie saw to the education of her children, and herself. After completing her daily chores, she studied literature, piano, and took voice lessons. Later, she hired tutors to help her improve her grammar and writing skills. She traveled to New York to study literature, drama and foreign languages at the Carnegie Institute. She became proficient in five different languages which proved instrumental in helping the International survivors of the Titanic. More of Maggie’s interests included acting, yodeling, classical guitar and the Ukelele.
SHE NEVER CONSIDERED HERSELF A HEROINE
After the Titanic disaster, stories filled newspapers at home and abroad about the heroic efforts of Margaret Brown, but she did not want to be known as a heroine. “I did only the natural thing and not the heroic.” And that is how this amazing, strong and empowered woman, who set an example for everyone, lived her entire life.
Bold Women in Colorado History by Phyllis J. Perry
What possessed a young girl in the mid-1800’s to leave her well-to-do, “good” family in the mid-west and move clear across the country to Denver, Colorado to take up a life of prostitution? Little is known about the early years of Perle de Vere—a woman who did just that–and later became Colorado’s most famous madam.
“Mrs. Martin,” as she was known in Denver, arrived there at the age of 14 or 15. There is no record of her being married at the time, so one has to wonder why she would leave a comfortable life in Illinois (or Indiana) to travel to the west and sell her body for survival. Perhaps she had family troubles. Maybe she took up with someone her family didn’t approve of, and hopped a train with him in the hopes of a life of wedded bliss. Or maybe she had a lust for adventure and wanted to pave her own way. The possibilities are endless and fun to think about.
Shortly after her arrival in Denver, “Miss Martin” became known as Perle de Vere, a beautiful woman with red-hair, a strong will, and good business sense. Her family believed she worked as a dress designer (or milliner), and catered to Denver’s wealthiest women. But, in fact, she catered to the wealthiest men, and began a life of business in prostitution. What could have happened to set off this chain of events? Did she intend to start her career as a dressmaker and then couldn’t find work? Did she anger her employer? Did she hate her job? Or did she see an opportunity to make some fast cash?
When business crashed in Denver due to the Silver Panic of 1893, Miss de Vere, then at 30 years of age, packed her bags and moved to a booming gold camp called Cripple Creek. She invested her savings and bought a house on Myers street. She hired several beautiful girls and started her own brothel. Her business proved to be an instant success, affording Perle fine clothing and an extravagant lifestyle. She also knew how to protect her investment and demanded her girls practice good hygiene, dress well, and have monthly medical examinations.
Perle, a discerning business woman and the most successful madam of the town, didn’t cater to just anyone. Patrons of her establishment had to apply for a visit. Once their application was approved and their wealth determined, Perle allowed them access to a viewing room where they could choose their girl. Evenings at Perle’s house often consisted of live entertainment, socializing, cards, and dancing before the girls and their clients retired upstairs. Perle often hosted lavish parties with imported foods and plenty of champagne and other spirits.
Ever popular with the men of Cripple Creek, Perle did not make many friends among the women. It didn’t help that she drove her beautiful black horses and carriage through the camp, dressed in expensive and showy clothing—flaunting her success. She and her girls shopped at the best shops on Bennett Avenue, further angering the “good” women of the town. To keep the peace, the town’s Marshal stipulated that the girls could only shop during off hours. They also paid a tax of $6 per month. Madams of the town paid $16 dollars per month, a fraction of what Perle brought in on a weekly basis.
In 1895 Perle married a wealthy mill owner named C.B. Flynn. Shortly after the nuptials, tragedy struck. A fire raged through Cripple Creek destroying many of the town’s businesses, including Flynn’s mill and Perle’s brothel. Unable to recover financially, Flynn had to leave in order to find work. He found a job in Monterrey, Mexico as a steel and iron smelter. Perle stayed behind to rebuild her business. Putting everything she had into her new venture, Perle paid for the construction a two-story brick building and decorated it with lavish, imported furnishings, electric chandeliers, and leather topped gaming tables. She named her new establishment “The Old Homestead.”
Just as the history of Perle’s early life is shrouded in mystery, so is her death. In the summer of 1897, Perle hosted an extravagant party sponsored by one of her wealthiest clients and ardent admirerers—a millionaire from either Poverty Gulch or Denver. Imported champagne, liquor, and caviar, as well as two orchestras from Denver graced The Old Homestead for the wildest party the town would ever see. Perle’s admirer even brought her a beaded and sequined gown imported from Paris to wear to the event.
During the evening, after much drinking and revelry, Perle and the gentleman got into an argument. He stormed out of the house and Perle retired to her bedroom. Later that night, one of the girls checked in on Perle. She found her lying on the bed, still in her gown, her breathing labored. Unable to rouse the madam, the girl called for a doctor, but it was too late. In the early hours of the morning, Perle de Vere, at age 37, died. The coroner stated her death was due to an accidental overdose of morphine, a drug she sometimes used for insomnia. Most of the newspapers reported the same, but one reported the death as suicide. Historians dispute this claim because Perle was at the height of her success.
But, could it have been murder? And if so, who would do such a thing? The gentleman who sponsored the party? A jealous wife? One of the girls? Perhaps her husband who potentially grew envious of his wife’s success and numerous lovers? It is known that the admirer who purchased the gown and paid for the party also sent a $1000 check for Perle’s funeral expenses, an amount that today is valued at $36,000. But, does that make him innocent?
Most likely, Perle died of an accidental overdose, as the coroner stated. But, with a story as rich as hers, and with a cast of the intriguing characters she possibly entertained, it’s interesting to speculate on what might have happened to Colorado’s most famous “soiled dove.”
Feature photo found on Google from Bonanza Boomers
Some people find empowerment through their passion. Other people find empowerment through what they do for mankind. Still others find empowerment through their search of self and belonging. Such is the case for Mabel Dodge Luhan, self-proclaimed Muse of the Arts.
As an only child, Mabel Dodge Luhan grew up with wealth and privilege; two things many people strive their whole lives to achieve. But what she never had, until later in her adulthood, were things that many people take for granted; love, attention, and feeling of belonging.
Mabel’s father, Charles Ganson, inherited his wealth from his powerful banking family. Charles went to school and trained to be a lawyer, but his nervous disposition and volatile temper impeded his success. During Mabel’s growing up years, Charles spent time with his dogs, or in his study not doing much of anything. According to an article at Enclyclopedia.com, Mabel states that, to her father she “…was something that made noise sometimes in the house, and had to be told to get out of the way.”
Sara, Mabel’s mother, often the victim of Charles’ temper, grew indifferent to him and had little interest in her only child. While Sara entertained herself with the society of New York, Mabel spent most of her time in the care of a nanny, and then later school mistresses at Saint Margaret’s Episcopal School for Girls, and Miss Graham’s School in New York City. At 16, Mabel toured Europe and then attended the affluent Chevy Chase Finishing School in the Washington, D.C./Maryland area.
Educated in the arts of an upper crust domestic wife, Mabel, at 21 years old, married Karl Evans, another silver spoon youth. Her father did not approve of the match, and her mother remained indifferent.
The young couple soon had a child, a boy they named John. Perhaps because of her own upbringing, Mabel struggled with the confines of marriage and child rearing. After only two years of matrimony, Karl died in a hunting accident, adding to Mabel’s emotion duress. A single mother, now facing life alone, Mabel suffered a nervous breakdown. When she recovered, she took her young son and moved to Europe. In Paris, she met Edwin Dodge, an architect from Boston. He pressed his suit, and eager for a father for John, and security for herself, Mabel agreed to marry Dodge in 1904.
The couple moved to Florence, Italy where they settled in a lovely villa they called Villa Curonia, a famous estate originally built for the powerful Italian Medici family. But, happiness still eluded Mabel. Trapped in a loveless marriage, and unable to escape the depression that would reoccur throughout her lifetime, Mabel needed a diversion. She embarked on her quest to become a muse of the arts, or as she states in her autobiography, Intimate Memories, “a mythological figure…in my own lifetime.”
For eight years, often dressed in Renaissance costume, Mabel entertained the famous and noteworthy of International society, including novelists, artists, photographers and art critics. Her Italian “salon” became a place of philosophical, political, and artistic enlightenment.
Still discontented with married life, Mabel left Dodge and moved back to New York where she established another salon for the artistic intelligentsia. From 1913 to 1916, she entertained those interested in unconventional attitudes of the era. Freudism, free-love, anarchy, and modern art were popular avant-guard topics discussed at Mabel’s house. Inspired by the conversation, Mabel embarked on a writing career and wrote for literary and art magazines, including Alfred Stieglitz’s publication, Camera Work. Stieglitz and his mistress at the time, Georgia O’Keeffe, frequented Mabel’s home along with mutual friends Leo and Gertrude Stein.
Between 1914 and 1916, she met and married artist Maurice Stern. Even though Mabel had created a world of her own, she still could not find happiness. In 1917 she and Stern traveled to New Mexico, a provincial and wild place she’d learned about from her friends the Steins. She arrived in Santa Fe, and was entertained by other wealthy, female east-coast transplants like Alice Corbin and Natalie Curtis Burlin, who had already established themselves in the town.
Eager to put her mark on a new and nearly undiscovered place, Mabel found Santa Fe too confining. In her book Ladies of the Canyons, Lesley Poling-Kempes asserts that “for Mabel, the real problem with Santa Fe was its population, however small, of erudite, creative, and audacious New Women who were already making their mark on the place. Mabel needed her own space to make her mark . . .”
Mabel moved to the nearby village of Taos to start her own literary society. There she met and befriended Tony Luhan, a Pueblo Indian. Mabel asserts that before arriving in Taos, she had a dream where she saw her husband Maurice’s face turn into that of an Indian. Mabel believed Tony to be that man. Tony encouraged Mabel to buy property, a 12-acre parcel of land, complete with a tiny dwelling. Tony helped the Stern’s remodel and rebuild the four-room adobe house. He set up a teepee on the Stern’s front lawn, and proceeded to woo Mabel. It worked. She sent Maurice packing and married Luhan in 1923.
The colorful landscape and rich culture of Taos gave Mabel the life and love she craved. Finally, happy and at peace, Mabel, with her fourth and final husband, Tony Luhan, entertained some of the most famous literary and artistic minds of their time, including Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, Aldous Huxley, and D.H. Lawrence. Georgia O’Keeffe, while visiting Mabel, decided that she, too, could find infinite inspiration from the enchanted landscape of New Mexico, and also settled there.
The Luhans eventually expanded their home to 17 rooms, and continued to provide literary and artistic inspiration for others, as well as forging Mabel’s own talents as a writer.
Never known for her warmth or sunny personality, Mabel, regardless, indeed made her mark on New Mexico and American history. She promoted Native American culture and art, as well as other important artists, writers, and abstract thinkers of her time. She found empowerment through her continual quest to get her life just right, and become the person she aspired to be.
Her vision, her promotion of others and herself, helped make Mabel Dodge Luhan an institution in Southwestern history.
What possessed, Joan of Arc, a normal, 15th century teenaged girl from a modest village, to travel for 11 days to tell the dauphin of France she needed to lead an an army to Orléans to save the country from English power?
What possessed the dauphin to grant her request, against the advice of his councilors and generals?
When I reacquainted myself with the story of Joan of Arc for this blog post, a thought kept popping into my mind: What would happen if a common girl today went to the leader of her country and claimed that God commanded only she could save her country from its enemies? The leader would probably laugh at her and then have her committed. She would not be taken seriously.
So what made the dauphin and military leaders of the time, follow the advice of this young, country peasant?
#1) Her piety.
Like other girls in the village of Domrémy, Joan helped her mother with spinning and sewing, and her father with watching the cattle and livestock. The daughter of a pious Catholic woman, Joan and her sister Catherine attended confession and mass regularly, helped to nurse the sick of her village, and often visited nearby oratories and chapels. But at age 12 or 13 Joan began to spend more time in church and in prayer. The other children took notice of this and sometimes ridiculed her for her pious ways. What they, nor her parents or sister didn’t know was that Joan had a secret. One she felt she couldn’t share with anyone else.
#2) Her visions and voices.
Joan’s village suffered raids and burnings from the English and the neighboring Burgundians many times. Once, it burned to the ground and had to be re-established. When things calmed down after one of these raids, Joan, while working in her father’s garden experienced something that would change her life forever. The Archangel Michael appeared to her in blinding white light. He told her she would be visited by him again, and to prepare for visitations from St. Catherine and St. Margaret, who had an important message to deliver to her. When they appeared on several other occasions, they told her she must drive the English out of France, and bring the crown prince, the dauphin, to power as king in the city of Reims. Joan did not tell others of these visions and voices until well into her mission.
#3) Her devotion to her country.
Joan dropped everything in her life in Domrémy to save her country. She defied her father, who’d arranged a marriage for her, telling him she had a greater mission in life. She traveled to nearby Vaucouleurs to implore the local magistrate, Robert de Baudricort, to assist her in her mission to reach the dauphin, Charles. After Baudricort laughed at her, he told her to be a good girl, go back to her mother, and find a husband. Joan would not be dissuaded and 6 months later, returned to Vaucouleurs where she convinced a band of men she was the prophesied virgin destined to save France. She cut her hair, donned men’s clothing, and traveled 11 miles with this band of men to Chinon to deliver her message to the dauphin.
#4) Her divine prophesies.
- When Joan traveled to Vauclouleurs she immediately recognized Baudricourt without having seen him. She later claimed her guides’ voices told her,”there he is.” She explained to him her prediction of the deliverance of Orléans, the rise of the Dauphin at Reims, and of the defeat of the French at the battle of Harengs, as it took place.
- Once she arrived at Chinon and entered into the chamber of the dauphin, she knew him in a moment, despite his concealment behind a group of 300 people. Amazed at her detection of him, he gave her a private audience where she promised he would be crowned at Reims if she could lead an army of soldiers to stop the siege at Orleans.
- Still skeptical, the prince told her of a sword buried in the church of St. Catherine de Fierbois, and requested she bring it to him. With the assistance of her divine guides, she found the sword behind the altar of the church. It became her most beloved sword – although she refused to carry a sword into battle, but instead carried a white flag.
- She predicted she would be wounded at Orléans, where she was pierced with an arrow between her neck and shoulder.
- After the dauphin had been crowned as King Charles VII at Reims, Joan stated to him she “would last a year, and but little longer.” She also explained she would be captured by mid-summer. Fourteen months later near Compiègne, Joan was pulled from her horse by a Burgundian supporter and taken prisoner. She remained imprisoned until her death.
# 5) She never relented.
Imprisoned at Beaurevoir Castle by the Burgundians, Joan made several escape attempts, including jumping from her 70-foot tower. Unable to escape detection, her captors moved her to the town of Arras. The English paid 10,000 livres to claim her from the Burgundians and then moved her to the city of Rouen where she stood trial.
The English wanted to try Joan for heresy, but no evidence could be found. Hersey was only a capital crime if it had been committed twice, which did not stand up in Joan’s case. They initiated the trial anyway, despite the fact that no one stood to represent Joan—a requirement of the law.
When interrogated, Joan confessed her visions and her voices, stating that she acted according to God’s will. When a clergyman mocked her and asked what language her voices spoke, she claimed they spoke French—far better than he did.
Under inquisitorial guidelines, Joan should have been confined in an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of nuns, not in a secular prison with only male guards. When captured, Joan wore her usual attire of men’s clothing. Unable to try her for heresy, the English changed the charge to “cross-dressing.” Joan then agreed to wear a dress, but after her a guard tried to rape her, she changed back to her masculine attire. After this abjuration, they claimed she relapsed into heresy by cross-dressing. The trial commenced and Joan was sentenced to death for the crime of heresy.
At the stake, she requested to wear a cross on her breast, and for someone to hold a cross before her. Her last words were, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
The Roman Catholic church recognized her as a saint in 1920.
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Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, is known as one of the most empowered, successful, and longest-ruling women in history. She came to the throne at 33 years of age, and by using her political and intellectual acumen, expanded her empire to become one of the great powers of Europe. But how did she get there?
Born Princess Sophie Friederike August von Anhalt-Zergst-Dornburg of Prussia, Sophie, as many noble children, proved useful as a pawn for political power. King Frederick of Prussia and Empress Elizabeth of Russia (daughter of Peter the Great) set out to strengthen relations between their two countries, and thereby weaken Austria, with an arranged marriage. The two young people who would accomplish this goal for them; none other than Sophie, and Elizabeth’s nephew and heir, Peter of Holstein-Gottorp.
Sophie came to the Russian court as 14-year-old girl. Strong-willed, savvy, and intelligent, she made plans then to prepare herself to someday rule her adopted country. She immersed herself in the culture, spent hours learning the language, and converted from Lutheranism to the Russian Orthodox Church, much to her father’s discontent and objection. She even changed her name to Ekaterina Alexeievna (Catherine), to better fit her new Russian identity. Catherine later wrote in her memoirs that she would do whatever necessary, and profess to believe whatever necessary, to become qualified to wear the crown.
Wed at 16, Catherine’s marriage proved to be unhappy, and her partner cruel. She disliked Peter the moment she met him for his ugly features, his childish behavior, and his penchant for alcohol. Historians note that on their wedding night, Peter set up his toy soldiers on the bed and demanded she “play war” with him. Peter would often have public tantrums, with Catherine bearing the brunt of his childish rants. Along with Catherine, history did not remember him well. From the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica:
“Nature made him mean, the smallpox had made him hideous, and his degraded habits made him loathsome…He had the conviction that his princeship entitled him to disregard decency and the feelings of others. He planned brutal practical jokes, in which blows had always a share…”
Needless to say, the couple did not conceive for 8 years, at which time the Empress Elizabeth took matters into her own hands. Historians claim she encouraged the couple to each have extramarital affairs in the hopes it would awaken them sexually to each other to produce the needed heir. Catherine found refuge in the arms of the first of her many lovers, Sergei Saltykov. In 1754, Catherine bore her first child, Paul. Speculation at court at who fathered the child still exists, but Empress Elizabeth, relieved that Catherine finally produced an heir, claimed the child legitimate.
The relationship between Catherine and Peter did not improve. In fact, Peter began plotting ways to be rid of Catherine, after finding a more suitable mate in his mistress Elizabeth Vorontova. By this time, Catherine had taken another lover, Grigory Orlov, a handsome military officer.
When Empress Elizabeth died in 1762, Peter became Russia’s new ruler and Catherine his consort. Unlike Catherine, Peter, also of German descent, never immersed himself in the Russian culture, and clung to his Germanic roots, something the Russian people abhorred. His favoritism and alliance with Frederick II of Prussia further alienated the new Emperor from his people.
Catherine, who now considered herself Russian in every way, saw the disenchantment of the people for Peter, and had an entirely different vision of how to rule.
Together with Grigory Orlov, Catherine plotted to remove Peter from power. Six months after becoming emperor, Peter traveled to the Russian royal residence of Oranienbaum to visit his German friends and relatives. While there, he learned of the conspiracy to have him removed, and arrested one of Catherine’s men. She knew she had to act fast. She gained the support of the Ismailovsky regiment, the Imperial Russian Guard, and had Peter arrested. With the aid of the Guard, she forced him to abdicate, and claimed the Russian crown. She had accomplished a coup without shedding a drop of Russian or German blood.
Peter requested permission to leave the country, but Catherine refused his request, stating she intended to hold him prisoner for life. However, less than two weeks later, Peter died at the hands of Alexi Orlov, Grigory Orlov’s brother. Historians have found no evidence of Catherine’s complicity in the murder, but one has to wonder.
Catherine II reigned for 34 years and became the most renown Tsar of Russia. She never married again, but took many lovers—something she is also known for—and made them her advisors without apology. Some of the best known are Orlov, who helped her win the crown, and Grigory Potemkin, a Russian military leader, statesman, nobleman, and her declared soul-mate.
Like other empowered women of history, Catherine’s enemies tried to paint her in an unfavorable light. They portrayed her as a woman who captivated and bewitched men with sex, and bent them to her will to help her gain the crown and run her empire. At her death, a rumor spread that her sexual appetites had grown so fierce that she could no longer be satisfied by a man, so sought to couple with a horse. In the attempt, she was crushed and died. In truth, she suffered a stroke, slipped into a coma and died a short time later.
Critics of empowered women rulers were, and still can be, cruel—unable to wrap their heads around the idea that a woman can be true to her nature, and still rule with intelligence, savvy, and confidence.
Although no evidence has been brought forward then, or now, as to Catherine’s role in her husband’s death, it gives one pause. Catherine had a dream to rule, even as a child. Her lust for life and lust for power seemed insatiable, and, like Mary Queen of Scots, (see my post here) the person who stood in the way of her ambition and her safety was her husband. It is interesting that historically, when a king’s wife stood in the way of his ambition or power, her life no longer had value, and killing her was a matter of due course. (We all know about King Henry IIX!) When a Queen’s husband stood in her way, and he died under mysterious circumstances, the scandal forever hung over her head.
Knowing this, it would only make sense that if a woman ruler like Catherine, who stated she would do whatever necessary to rule, wanted her husband out of the way, she had two choices – imprison him or have him killed. Or, perhaps there existed a third choice; to do both.
For over 400 years, historians have been trying to discern the mysterious death of Amy Robsart and whether her husband, Robert Dudley, had anything to do with it.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and Queen Elizabeth I played together as children, but their relationship may have deepened while both imprisoned in the Tower of London by Mary Tudor. While Mary executed Dudley’s father, the Duke of Northumberland, and his brother, Guilford Dudley, for the family’s plot to set Lady Jane Grey on the throne in early 1553, she pardoned Robert in October of 1554. Elizabeth, accused of plotting against Queen Mary, her half-sister, in February 1554 with the Wyatt Rebellion, also miraculously escaped Mary’s wrath. In May, Mary sent Elizabeth to Woodstock where she remained under house arrest for another year. Yet, for four months of their captivity in the Tower, Elizabeth and Dudley had plenty of time to enjoy each other’s company, despite periodic visits from Dudley’s wife of 4 years, Amy Robsart.
When Mary Tudor died in late 1558, Elizabeth acceded to the throne of England. The next morning, she appointed Dudley her Master of Horse. The position suited Dudley, an expert horseman and breeder of fine horses, and put him in close proximity to the new Queen. The position required daily, if not hourly, time in the Queen’s presence. This appointment resulted in Dudley spending months away from his wife, Amy, who lived with friends in different parts of the country, far from court. Elizabeth rarely let Dudley leave her side.
Rumors abounded of an affair between the Queen and Dudley, and Elizabeth often brazenly showed her affection for him. Meanwhile, England needed an heir and Elizabeth’s chief advisor William Cecil pressured her to marry. Several foreign suiters vied for her hand during this time, and while she considered some, she ended up refusing them all.
In mid-1559, Dudley went to Throcking, Hertfordshire for a short time to visit Amy who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Talk at court stated that Elizabeth and Dudley planned to wait until Amy died, and would then proceed with marriage, making Dudley King Consort. Amy, no doubt had heard the rumors, and knew of her husband’s ambition, which must have added to her stress.
Later that same year, Amy traveled to London to visit her husband for one month, but after that never went back to court, or saw her husband again. During her time at court, it is said she ate sparingly, and according to some accounts, “was careful of her food.” Could she have suspected Elizabeth, jealous of anyone’s time with Dudley, of trying to poison her? Or could Dudley be so in love with Elizabeth, or in love with the power he’d gain by marrying the Queen, that he would want Amy dead?
By December of 1559, Amy moved to Cumnor Palace, rented by a family member, Sir Anthony Forster. Amy occupied the upper story of the palace, and supported a large household with the proceeds from her family’s estate. She soothed her worries and loneliness by ordering dresses and finery.
In September of 1560, on the day of the fair at Abingdon, Amy encouraged her servants, Sir Anthony, and his wife to attend the fair. One friend, Mrs. Odingsells, refused to leave the ailing Amy, but later retired to her rooms. When the others returned from the fair, they found Amy at the foot of the stairs with a broken neck.
A messenger from Cumnor dispatched the news to Windsor Castle where Dudley was in residence with the Queen. Dudley called for an immediate inquest. The coroner and a jury of 15 local gentleman called the death an accident. Relieved, but wanting to be sure—or ensuring that no guilt would be placed on him, Dudley called for another investigation. The coroner again assured him, the fall down the stairs caused two head injuries and the breaking of Amy’s bones which had become brittle due to her illness. No evidence could be found of wrong-doing on Dudley’s part.
The mysterious circumstances of Amy’s death haunted Dudley for the rest of his life. Because of the scandal created by Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship, and his wife’s early demise, it didn’t prove wise for the two to marry. Robert continued to remain close to the Queen.During the next several years, princes and noblemen from all over Europe continued to vie for the hand of England’s Queen. She refused all marriage proposals. Dudley greatly disappointed and angered Elizabeth when he wed Lettice Knollys in 1578. Still, once the anger wore off, Dudley remained among Elizabeth’s closest circles until his death in 1588. At Dudley’s death, Elizabeth went into deep mourning and did not leave her rooms for three days.
History leads us to believe that Robert Dudley could well have been the love of Elizabeth I’s life. Her refusal to marry and share her crown with anyone else proved she had a staunch will, confidence in herself and her rule, and no desire to share the emotional intimacies of marriage.
Did Dudley, or even Elizabeth, impetuously plot to remove Amy from their lives without thinking of the consequences? Had Amy died of natural causes, would history be altered? Would Dudley have shared Elizabeth’s crown, her rule, and her life? Did Elizabeth use her crown and her power to alter the evidence or the outcome in the case? It’s hard to say. Speculation has endured for centuries, but one thing is clear, only she and Dudley knew what truly happened.
For more information on Queen Elizabeth go to Elizabethi.org – click here.