Tag Archives: empowered women in history

young catherine de medici

The Mystery of Catherine de Medici – Wicked or Empowered?

young catherine de medici
Young Catherine de Medici
(Themedicifamily.com)

Orphaned only weeks after her birth, and passed around to several relatives before her internment  in several convents, Catherine de Medici had a rough start in life.

Like most children of noble families, Catherine maintained little control over her destiny. Born into the powerful Italian Medici family, whose members included two Popes, Catherine, as an only child, bore the brunt of her family’s successes and failures. When Catherine’s family  lost control of power in Florence in 1527 by a rogue political faction, they took Catherine hostage. Parading her through the streets on a donkey, she served as a symbol of her family’s defeat. They then sent her to live in a convent until 1530 when Pope Clement, Catherine’s great uncle, took back Florence with the help of Charles V of Spain. Clement then set out to find Catherine a husband to help secure the family’s legacy.

At 14 years of age, Catherine married 15-year-old Henry, Duke of Orleans, heir to the French throne. Eager for a happy union, Catherine soon discovered something different. Her husband loved another–Diane de Pointers, his childhood governess. Henry and Diane did little to hide their affair from Catherine. Once crowned King, Henri needed an heir to secure the Valois dynasty. Perhaps Catherine thought this would put an end to her husband’s affair, but it did not. Having to share her husband, Catherine also had to provide an heir. A task that proved impossible for 10 years.

In her desperation, Catherine turned to methods that alarmed the French. Using the advice of known necromancer Cosimo Ruggeri, and the seer Nostradamus, Catherine went to great lengths to bear a child. It is said she drank the urine of pregnant mules, and wore a talisman made of goat’s blood, metals, and human blood. As a Catholic people, the French saw these strange practices as witchcraft, and Catherine as a practitioner of the Dark Arts.

Finally, a true diagnosis for the lack of pregnancy came to light, and it had little to do with the queen. Henri suffered from a penile deformity. After medical consult regarding sexual positions to accommodate the situation, the couple conceived 10 children, 7 who survived.

When Henri died from a brain infection caused by a lance wound to the eye, Catherine went into deep mourning. It is said her grief prevented her from attending the coronation of her eldest son, Francis II. But, it didn’t take long for Catherine to realize that she, as mother of the King, and several more heirs, finally had control of her court, her country, and her own destiny. As one of her first acts of power, Catherine had Diane de Pointers banished from court. She then turned her full attention to the management of her children’s lives and the Valois dynasty.

Charles IX
Charles IX
(Wikipedia)

Two years after his marriage to Mary Queen of Scots, and one year after his coronation, Francis II, aged 15, died from an ear infection. His younger brother Charles IX, aged 10, succeeded him, making Catherine Queen Regent of France. Catherine dominated her son and the French court. Never known for her love and affection toward her children, Catherine made it her life’s work to secure their power.

With the rise of Queen Elizabeth of England and the protestant reformation, Catholic popularity in France waned. French protestants, called Huguenots, fought to overtake France. Eager to create resolution, Catherine negotiated with protestant Jeanne d’Albret, Queen Regent of Navarre, to arrange a marriage between d’Albret’s son, Henri, to her  daughter Margaret. Jeanne d’Albret agreed, but only if her son could remain protestant. Margaret, in love with Henri de Guise, protested the marriage. Catherine and King Charles had Margaret dragged from her bedroom, and beaten into submission. The wedding would take place August of 1572.

In June, Catherine welcomed Jeanne d’Albret and her son to France. Catherine presented d’Albret with a pair of perfumed gloves. Known for her love of perfumes and potions, Catherine introduced France to the elegant, fragrant, and finely made gloves. When Jeanne d’Albret died soon after her arrival, the Huguenots claimed Catherine poisoned the gloves.

On August 18, 1572, Margaret and Henri of Navarre married, making Henri the King of Navarre and Margaret his queen. Thousands of Huguenots attended the wedding, including Admiral Coligny, their leader. Two days later, Coligny was attacked and killed. The Huguenots blamed Catherine and her Catholic followers, and the uprising resulted in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. Charles, some say influenced by his mother, demanded that his soldiers “kill them all.” Hundreds of Huguenots died in the long battle, and Catherine’s name would forever be associated with their deaths. When her new son-in-law, the King of Navarre, converted to Catholicism to avoid being killed, Catherine is said to have laughed at him. From then on Huguenots branded Catherine as a scheming and evil Italian Queen who stopped at nothing to have her way.

The outcome of the massacre took a toll on Charles’ already weakened mental and physical condition. He alternately blamed his mother and himself for the deaths of so many. Catherine referred to him as her lunatic son. When Charles died at age 24, some said Catherine poisoned him to make way for her favorite son, Henri who became King Henri III upon Charles’ death.

Unhappy in her marriage to the King of Navarre, Margaret continued her affair with Henri de Guise, and many others. Embarrassed at her daughter’s behavior, Catherine, through her son, the King, ordered Margaret’s kidnapping and imprisonment in the south of France, where she remained for 17 years. With his mother’s whisper always in his ear, Henri withdrew Margaret’s inheritance and had Margaret’s lover, Henri de Guise, and his family murdered  at the Chateau de Blois. More of Margaret’s story can be found here.

Henri III of France
Henri III of France
(Wikipedia)

Under the rule of Henri III, France fell into a spiral of decline because of the religious war that continued to rage between the Catholics and the protestants. Unable to make peace between the two religious factions, the Catholic League forced Henri to acquiesce to their demands, including paying for their troops. Unable to deal with the pressure, Henri went into hiding, leaving his mother to sign the Treaty of Nemours, giving the Catholics power once again.

After Catherine died, Henri continued his mother’s legacy of ruthless rule which eventually led to his assassination.

Catherine de Medici will live on in history as a woman of controversy. Some see her as wicked, an evil ruler who thirsted for power. Others see her as empowered, an intelligent female leader fiercely determined to protect her family and their legacy. How do you see this unforgettable woman who influenced the history of the Medici dynasty, the Valois dynasty, France, and Europe’s religious war?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empowered Mystic of Mystery and History

painting of Hildegard - history
Medievalists.net

Hildegard of Bingen, born in the 11th century, is one of the most important female figures in history. Her visions, writings, and direct communications with God makes her also one of the most mysterious and empowered women of all time.

Since the early 20th century, with feminism and women’s studies on the rise, Hildegard of Bingen has also seen a new popularity. Although considered a saint by many early popes of the Catholic Church, in October of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI gave her the title of Doctor of the Church, a title of the highest esteem for theologians. She is the fourth woman of 35 saints given the title by the Roman Catholic church. She is also recognized as a saint in several Anglican churches, such as the Church of England.

Five Reasons why this dynamic, prolific, and profoundly spiritual person is an empowered woman of mystery and history.

#1 Her Visions

In her writings, Hildegard claims she had her first vision at the age of 3. She referred to it as “The Shade of the Living Light.” By the age of 5, she claims she understood the visions to be a gift from God, one that could not be explained to others. At 42 years of age, Hildegard claimed she received a message from God telling her to write down the visions that continued to come to her. Thus, she embarked on her first theological book entitled “Scivias” or “Know the Ways.”

#2 Her Feminism

 Living at a time where the role of women pertained strictly to the household, or in the service of men, would prove difficult for an outspoken woman. Even for an outspoken man, when it came to the church. But Hildegard spoke her mind, and spoke it often. She built two monasteries, embarked on preaching tours, and authorized herself as a theologian through her writings. All things women rarely attempted in her day. She is quoted to say, “Woman may be made from man, but no man can be made without a woman.” This can be interpreted as a belief in equality—at the very least in the spiritual sense.

#3 Her medicine

In addition to her other exceptional qualities, Hildegard was also known as a healer. As a child, she lived enclosed in the Benedictine monastery with an older woman named Jutta, also a visionary. According to records, Hildegard learned many of her skills like reading, writing, gardening, and tending to the sick from Jutta. Later, when she ran her own monastery, she headed the monastery’s herbal garden and infirmary. She learned to diagnose and treat disease with both physical and holistic methods centered on “spiritual healing.”

Hildegard in blue
From the Catholic Catalogue

 #4 Her Secret Alphabet

Hildegard created her own alphabet for the language she devised called the Lingua Ignota. A modified form of Latin, the Lignua Ignota contained many made-up, fused, and abridged words. Hildegard also made up words for her lyrics. She wrote over 70 musical compositions, each with its own poetic text. Scholars believe she created the secret alphabet and language to increase solidarity with her nuns.

#5 Her Gift of Music

Hildegard regarded song as the highest form of prayer. She may have learned to play the ten-stringed psaltery, a box shaped instrument that is plucked with the fingers, as a child under the tutelage of Volmar, a Disibod monk, who frequented the monastery. Along with over 70 musical compositions, Hildegard also wrote and composed Ordo Virtutum, a liturgical drama set to music. Much of her lyrics reflect her reverence for the Virgin Mary and the Saints.

 

Scivias The Choirs of Angels - history
Scivias 1.6: The Choirs of Angels – Rupertsberg manuscript

A person born with Hildegard’s talents, skills, and spiritual communion with God and is rare. Some could even say, a mystery. To be noted for those talents, spiritual gifts, and high intellect as a woman was almost impossible in her day and age. The fact that the highest office of the Catholic church recognized this devoted mystic’s message and life’s work proves that she truly was a woman empowered–empowered by her beliefs, her truth, and her faith.

 

 

 

 

Empress Elisabeth of Austria – Her Own Woman

What did a woman in history do when she had no control over her life? If strong and empowered, she rebelled. Sometimes in a big way, and sometimes as a detriment to herself. One such woman was Elisabeth, Empress of Austria.

Elisabeth as Empress of Austria, empowered woman
Elisabeth 1837-1898
Empress of Franz Josef of Austria (i.dailymail.co.uk)One such woman was Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also known as “Sisi.”

Born, Her Royal Highness Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie, in Munich, Bavaria 1837, Elisabeth grew up in the Bavarian countryside far from court life, riding horses and pursuing country sports. Her parents, Duke Maximilian Joseph and Princess Ludovika of Bavaria, saw little merit in rules for their four children. This liberal upbringing set the stage for Elisabeth’s constant quest for individualism in her adulthood. One that proved more and more difficult as she grew older.

And it started with marriage. Indulgent with their children’s freedom in childhood, the Duke and Princess of Bavaria could no longer defy the rules of royal life when their children became young adults. The Duke and his wife made arrangements with the Duke’s sister, Princess Sophie of Austria, for their eldest daughter, Helene, and Princess Sophie’s son, Franz Joseph, to wed. Fifteen-year-old Elisabeth accompanied her older sister and their mother to Austria to meet their cousin and his mother. However, Helene did not catch the young Emperor’s fancy, but Elisabeth did. Franz defied his mother and insisted he marry Elisabeth. Their betrothal was announced five days later.

Within the year, Elisabeth gave birth to the couple’s first child, Sophie. The Archduchess immediately whisked the child away from Elisabeth and put her in the control of her own nannies. The same followed suit with the next child, Gisela. The Archduchess never missed an opportunity to chide Elisabeth for not producing a son.

Eager to get away from her mother-in-law, Elisabeth implored her husband to let her and the two girls accompany him on a trip to Hungary in 1857. During the visit, both of the girls became ill with diarrhea. Gisela recovered quickly, but two-year-old Sophie succumbed to the illness, later diagnosed as Typhus. The death of little Sophie sank Elisabeth into a depression which would reoccur and haunt her for the rest of her life.

The sixteen inch waist - a woman needing to control her destiny
(foros.vogue.es)

Heart-broken, Elisabeth began a cycle of fasting, sometimes for days on end. She shunned her responsibilities at court, spent much of her time outdoors riding her horses, and also developed some disturbing phobias and obsessions. Her marriage, not a panacea to her troubles, started to show signs of stress.

Known as a great beauty, Elisabeth took much pride in her looks. Her appearance, one of the few things she had control over, became her primary obsession. Known for her elegant height of 5’8”, and her tiny waist, measuring 19 inches in diameter, Elisabeth went to dangerous extremes to control her weight. She eventually whittled her waist down to 16 inches. She weighed herself daily, and if the scales tipped above 110 lbs., the next several days called for a strict fast.

In addition to extreme dieting, Elisabeth also developed a rigorous and disciplined exercise routine.  She had gymnasiums built in every castle where the royal family resided. She had mats and balance beams and mirrors installed in her bedchamber so she could practice on them each day. She rode her horses often, sometimes three to five hours at a time.  Despite the toll on her health, in 1858, Elisabeth finally bore a son and heir, much to everyone’s relief.

Liberal and forward thinking, Elisabeth’s interest in politics grew. Having fallen in love with the Hungarian people during her visit there in 1857, she firmly placed herself on the Hungarian side in Austro-Hungarian negotiations. At one point, she demanded that her husband name Gyula Andrassy, a liberal Hungarian statesman, (and rumored to be her lover) Premier of Hungary or she would leave him. The emperor complied and Elisabeth stayed in an increasingly unhappy marriage.

In 1867, The Austro-Hungarian Compromise resulted in Andrassy becoming Prime Minister of Hungary, and  Franz Joseph and Elisabeth, King and Queen of Hungary.  The couple was gifted with a palace in Godollo, and set up a country residence there where Elisabeth built a riding school.

Elisabeth much preferred Hungary to Austria and rarely went back to Vienna. In 1868, she gave birth to another daughter, Archduchess Marie Valerie.  Determined to raise this child herself, she openly rebelled against her mother-in-law. Soon after, Archduchess Sophie died, forever losing the power to control her son, his wife and their children. But, too much damage had been done, and Elisabeth had no desire to be a doting wife. She took up a life of traveling, leaving her husband and children at home.

More sadness befell the estranged couple years later when their only son and heir, Rudolf, was found dead with his 17-year-old mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera, in a supposed murder suicide pact. The death of Rudolf caused a lasting rift between Elisabeth and Franz, Hungary, and Austria. The line of succession  now passed to Franz Joseph’s brother, leaving Hungary out of the picture.

Elisabeth and her lady in waiting
Supposed last photo of Elisabeth one day before her death (foros.vogue.es)

In perpetual mourning, the Empress Elisabeth continued her travels. When her health prevented her from riding, she made her servants endure long hikes and walks with her. At fifty, she took up fencing with the same intensity as she had other sports. She also threw herself into writing, became an inspired poet, and wrote nearly five hundred pages of verse. She despised court life and would often travel in disguise, without her entourage, to avoid being recognized. Unfortunately, this decision ultimately led to her death.

In 1898, Elisabeth and her lady-in-waiting left a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva on foot to catch a steamship for Montreux. Wanting to avoid recognition, she ordered her servants to travel ahead by train. Luigi Lucheni, an Italian anarchist, happened to be in town to kill the Duc D’Orleans. Failing to find him, Lucheni learned that a woman traveling under the name “Countess of Hohenembs” had exited the hotel. Determined to kill a sovereign, Lucheni stabbed her under the breast with a hand-made needle file.

Defying the rules to the end, but beloved by her people, Empress Elisabeth of Austria became an historical icon. Her limited, though significant, influence on Austro-Hungarian politics temporarily soothed a troubled empire. Although unable to completely escape the binds of royal life, she will always be remembered as a liberal non-conformist who valued freedom and the rights of the individual above anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 5 Mysteries of Boudica – Warrior Queen

History.net

Much of the history of Boudica, the warrior Queen of the Iceni, is shrouded in mystery. The Iceni were an ancient Celtic tribe or kingdom that lay on the eastern shores of England. Sources agree that Boudica was born in AD 25 to a royal family. They also agree that she rose to power and she was named Queen after the death of her husband, Prasutagus. She was probably 18-25 years old at the time. She is most known for her military cunning and prowess as she felled Londinium (now called London) and Verulamium (now called St. Albans) in AD 60 or 61. It is estimated that 70,000 to 80,000 Romans and British were killed by her armies.

Two primary sources have recorded the events of her life. Tacitus, the most important Roman historian of the time, had access to Boudica’s uprising in Britain as his father-in-law, a military tribunal, served there for three years. Cassius Dio, another Roman historian and statesman, also wrote about the life and great battle of Queen Boudica. Cassius Dio published more than 70 volumes of history on Ancient Rome, however, he was born almost 100 years after Boudica’s crusade. The two stories of Boudica have some similarities, but also differ, giving mystery and some ambiguity about the life and times of this empowered woman.

Mystery #1 Her name.

The warrior Queen has been known by many versions of her name, including Boadicea, the Latin version, and Buddug the Welsh interpretation. Raphael Holinshed, an English Chronicler in the 1500’s, referred to her as Voadicia, and English Poet of the 1500’s, Edmund Spenser, calls her Bunduca from a Jacobean play called Bonduca.

Boudica’s history had been long forgotten until the Victorian era, when her story became popular again. It was then determined that her name comes from the Celtic word “victorious” and that the correct spelling is Boudica. It was said that Queen Victoria of the 19th and 20th  century was named after the warrior Queen, thus her rise in popular culture once again.

Mystery #2 Her appearance and dress.

Wikipedia

Cassius Dio described Boudica as a tall and imposing woman with tawny (reddish brown) hair that hung to her hips, a “piercing gaze and a harsh voice.” Other reports say her hair was fair, or blond, and hung to her knees. Cassius Dio records that she wore a multi-colored tunic and a heavy cloak fastened with a bronze brooch—typical dress of a wealthy Celtic woman. He also claims she wore a gold torque around her neck. The torque, a metal band of twisted gold strands, worn as a choker, was the symbol of an ancient Celtic warrior chieftain. The torque symbolized a warrior’s readiness to shed blood for the good of his people—and was never worn by women.  If this is true, it just goes to show how fierce and empowered this woman appeared to her people.

Mystery #3 Her reason for sacking London.

Tacitus claims that when Boudica’s husband Prasutagus, died, he left his kingdom to his daughters in order to retain Iceni independence from Rome. However, under Roman law when a chief or king died, the estate was left to the emperor. When the Roman procurator, Decianus Catus arrived at Prasutagus’ court to take inventory, Boudica strongly objected and the procurator had her flogged and her daughter’s raped. In revenge, she then set out to destroy the Romans in Britain.

Cassius Dio claims that at Prasutagus’ death resulted in the confiscation of monies and goods from the rich Britons. Also, any loans they had received—many were forced to take out loans from the Romans—were now due.

Mystery #4 Her religion.

Boudica may have been a druid. Before she set out to lead her troops into battle, it is said that the warrior Queen evoked the British goddess of victory, Andraste. She then released a hare from the folds of her cloak and determined by which direction the hare ran, either on the side of the Romans or the side of the Britons, which army would win. When the hare ran in the direction of the Britons, the people cheered. Boudica then raised her hand to heaven and praised Andraste. A demonstration like this gives historians reason to believe she may have had some druidic training.

Mystery #5 Her death.

Boudica, in a fearsome looking chariot with her daughters by her side, led her troops into battle. Tacitus claims she gave a short speech claiming she did not wish to fight as a rich aristocrat who lost everything to the Romans, but as an ordinary person avenging her lost freedom, her battered body, and her raped children. She, as a woman, was resolved to win or die.

She first sacked Camulodunum (Colchester), a Roman colony. When she reached Londinium, she killed everyone who crossed her path–men, women and children. Noble Roman women were stripped and strung up. Their breasts were cut off and sewn to their mouths. Then they were impaled on sharp skewers running lengthwise through their bodies. Boudica then went on to Verulamium, slaughtering more people. The Roman General, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, regrouped his forces and met Boudica head on somewhere in the West Midlands and eventually proved victorious.

According to Tacitus, Boudica poisoned herself to avoid capture, torture, and death at the hands of the Romans, but Cassius Dio claims she later fell ill and died, and was given a glorious funeral.

Given that Dio wrote Boudica’s history almost a century after the battle, it can be said that he read Tacitus and decided to change the story.

Either way, one thing is clear; Boudica was a ferocious leader who set out to avenge her family and her people from the burden of Roman occupation.

A Jersey Lilly – Part Two

Pinterest.com

With all of London’s elite flocking to share time with Mrs. Langtry, she made some famous and influential friends. One of the closest in her circle was the flamboyant and eccentric Irish poet and play-write Oscar Wilde, who deemed her the “New Helen.” He said of her, “Yes, it was for such ladies that Troy was destroyed, and well might Troy be destroyed for such a woman.” He also said, “I would have rather discovered Lillie Langtry than America.”

She was also close to the American artist James Whistler and the French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt.  Her popularity was so unprecedented that it became known as “The Langtry Phenomenon.”Lillie’s most enduring and influential relationship was one she shared with Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, (“Bertie”) the eldest son of Queen Victoria,  later known as King Edward VII.  Bertie, married to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and father of their six children, had taken several mistresses — all beauties of the London social set. When the Prince heard Mrs. Langtry would attend a dinner party given by his friend Sir Allen Young, he made sure to instruct the host to have Mrs. Langtry seated next to him. Her husband was to be seated at the other end of the table. From the moment he met her, the Prince made it clear that if he attended any event, Mrs. Langtry must be invited.

Wikipedia

The love affair began. The Prince was so enamored of Lillie that he flaunted their relationship in public and even presented her to his mother, Queen Victoria.  He soon went so far as to buy a plot of land at Bournemouth’s East Cliff and told her to design a home to serve as their private “love nest.” Lillie took on the project with great enthusiasm. She added many touches that advertised their fondness for one another. One of the most interesting was a statement prominently displayed over the fireplace mantel that read, “They say what they say? Let them say.”

The Prince and Mrs. Langtry entertained  friends at “The Red House” often, and upon the guest’s arrival they would be welcomed with the greeting, “and yours my friends,” meaning the home was theirs too. The house is still standing and has become The Langtry Manor Hotel. It is a favorite venue for weddings.

Princess Alexandra accepted her husband’s “friendship” with Lillie graciously. Such was Lillie’s charm and likability that the two women became friends. Later, after the Prince, then King Edward VII, passed away, Alexandra reportedly returned all the love letters Lillie had sent him.

As all things eventually come to an end, the relationship between Lillie and the Prince cooled when during a masquerade ball, Lillie came dressed in the same costume as the Prince. After the Prince chastised Lillie for showing a lack of decorum and respect, she poured ice down his back in front of all the guests. Needless to say, she not only fell out of favor with the Prince, but with all of London society.

Things at home were also in a state of disrepair. Edward Langtry, Lillie’s husband, had trouble keeping up with his socially demanding wife, and spent less and less time fishing and sailing and more and more time drinking. He was also falling into a financial hole with his spending on yachts and Lillie spending on her lifestyle. The relationship and their finances were in shambles.

On the verge of bankruptcy, Lillie realized she needed work and turned to a great love of hers, the theater. Her friends, including Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde, encouraged her to try her charms on the stage. Although not incredibly talented, Lillie’s outgoing attitude, intelligence and sparkling wit made people love her once again.  Her acting career blossomed, and she gained more popularity than ever. A great lover of theater himself, the Prince again became enchanted with Lillie and came to many of her performances. It was clear he had forgiven her. Until his death in 1910, they remained great friends.

In 1879 Lillie began an affair with Prince Louis of Battenburg, the nephew of the Prince of Wales. At the same time, she also embarked on a relationship with Arthur Clarence Jones, a childhood friend from Jersey. In 1880, she became pregnant. The only known fact of the paternity of the child was that it was not Langtry’s husband. She insisted the child was Prince Louis’. Many others believed the father was Arthur Jones. When Louis confessed to his family his relationship with Mrs. Langtry and the birth of their child, he was assigned to one of Her Majesty’s warships.  Bertie, still fond of Lillie, gave her some money, and she moved to Paris with Arthur Jones.  In 1881 she gave birth to a daughter, Jeanne Marie. Lillie’s mother raised the girl and she would be known in public as Lillie’s niece. Jeanne Marie did not learn the truth about her parentage until her wedding day in 1902. The news put a strain on Lillie and Jeanne Marie’s relationship that would last the rest of Lillie’s life.

Shmoop.com

In 1881 Lillie announced that her theater company was to tour the United States. When she arrived in New York, hundreds of soon-to-be fans who had heard of the English beauty greeted her. Her first performance was a total sellout, and she donated much of the proceeds to charity, further endearing her to the American audience. Disaster struck when the theater burned to the ground. The only thing that remained standing was a sign depicting Lillie’s name. Undaunted, Lillie viewed the mishap as a foretelling of better things to come. She moved her company to another theater and continued to play to full houses and drew attention wherever she went.  Having fallen in love with America, she repeated her tours to the U. S. several times.

Lillie always had many ardent suitors at home and abroad. One of her most prominent American suitors was Freddie Gephard, a wealthy New York industrialist who showered her with gifts, including a private railway car he named ”Lalee.” Lillie used the private railcar to travel across America on her theater tours. Gephard was also a horse breeder and well known on the racing circuit. Lillie’s early love of horses prompted her to breed thoroughbreds. She purchased a 6,500 acre ranch in Lake Country, California, next door to Freddie Gephard’s ranch.

Another American admirer, Judge Roy Bean of Texas, had fallen in love with one Lillie’s many pictures. In honor of her he renamed his bar/courthouse “The Jersey Lilly Saloon.” Bean never met Lillie, but had a town named for her, Langtry, Texas. By the time she could visit the town, Bean had passed away.

During her stay in America Lillie endorsed many American products and set up several companies, including a winery. Lillie had become a millionaire in her own right. But, disaster reared its ugly head again. While being transported across country, fourteen of Lillie’s race horses were killed after the train derailed.

 

Cafepress.com

After picking up the pieces again and having toured America for six years, Lillie longed to return to England. It was during this time she took up with George Alexander Baird, a millionaire, amateur jockey and pugilist. She also purchased more race horses and wanted them to compete, but the Jockey Club in London forbade women owners. Never one to be told “no”, Lillie registered as “Mr. Jersey.” Her horse Merman won the Cesarewitch and Ascot Gold Cup, the Goodwood Cup and the Jockey Club Cup. Her relationship with Baird ended when he died in 1893.

After many years of asking Edward for a divorce and his constant refusals, Lillie became an American citizen and could finally secure a divorce.  A few years later, Edward, destitute and a hopeless alcoholic, was committed to an insane asylum and died.

In 1899, Lillie finally settled down and married Hugo de Bathe, a wealthy race horse owner fifteen years her junior. Upon the death of his father, Hugo inherited a baronetcy and Lillie became Lady de Bathe. Now middle aged, Lillie’s fame had not diminished. She still dressed in the latest fashions and was still in demand for portraits and photographs. She was the lessee and manager of London’s Imperial Theater and acted in plays well into her seventies. She starred in one U.S. film called The Crossways.  She owned and raced horses and owned thousands of acres in property. In her golden years, Lilly lived in Monaco at her cliff top Villa named “Le Lys” where she became a prize winning gardener.

From the boisterous tomboy of Jersey, Lillie Langtry became a historical icon. Her beauty was only surpassed by her superior wit and intelligence, charm and graciousness. From the moment she entered London society both men and women, from royalty to commoners, admired and idolized Lillie for half a century. She was loved abroad just as much. The Jersey Lilly was a woman before her time and was unstoppable in her quest for a full, exciting and fulfilling life.

References: Http://www.lillielangtry.com

http://www.mr-oscar-wilde.de/about/l/langtry.htm

Beryl Markham – Horse Trainer, Aviatrix, Author

One of the best things about being in a book club, aside from the wine and good conversation, is reading books you may not have picked up yourself, or books you didn’t even known about. I am fortunate enough to be in a book club with some of the brightest women I know who are all very well read and have brought some outstanding reads to share. The last book we read was Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain, about Beryl Markham. I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t yet heard of the book, or of Beryl Markham, because she is exactly the type of empowered woman I like to read (and write) about.

Alchetron.com

Circling the Sun is historical fiction based on the life of Beryl Markham, a British woman who grew up in Africa in the early 1900’s, became the first woman race-horse trainer in Kenya, and also the first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. She also wrote a memoir about her aviation adventures called West with the Night. Pretty amazing, right? Surprisingly, this fascinating woman’s history lived in obscurity until her rediscovery in the early 1980’s.

In 1905, Beryl’s father Charles Clutterbuck, a prominent race horse trainer in England, moved four-year-old Beryl, her older brother Dickie, and her mother Agnes to colonial British East Africa. There he purchased a farm in Njoro, near Kenya, to breed and train race horses. Beryl’s mother had difficulty adjusting to their new life and shortly after arriving in Africa, took the couple’s son and returned to England, leaving Beryl with her father. As an adult, Beryl often made it clear that she’d never really forgiven her mother for the abandonment, but also spoke of taking immense pleasure in growing up in the freedom of the wild African landscape, with the children of the village of Njoro as playmates.

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Following in her father’s footsteps, Beryl had a knack for working with horses, and became the first licensed female racehorse trainer in Kenya at the age of 19. Her success at the track, as well as her determination, grit, and beauty led to Beryl’s renown among Africa’s bohemian and eccentric European social circle, known as the Happy Valley Set. Beryl married three times and had a son named Gervase with her second husband, Mansfield Markham, who moved Beryl to London before their son was born. When the couple’s marriage began to deteriorate, Beryl longed to return to Africa, but Markham would not let her take the young Gervase because of serious health issues.

In addition to two other marriages, Beryl had numerous affairs, including an openly public affair in 1929 with Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, son of George V.  She also became enmeshed  in a love triangle between her friend, the Danish writer Karen Blixen, and famous big game hunter and pilot Denys Finch Hatton. Blixen, who lived in Kenya to manage her family’s coffee farm outside of Nairobi, would later become famous for her novel Out of Africa, which she wrote under the penname Isak Dinesen.

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During her affair with Hatton, Beryl became infatuated with flying and began taking flying lessons with British pilot Tom Campbell Black. After Denys was killed piloting his own plane, Beryl sought solace in her flying lessons and also in her flight instructor, starting a long term affair with Campbell Black which ultimately led to her divorce from Mansfield Markham.

For a short period of time, Beryl worked as a bush pilot for safari companies, spotting game animals from the air and signaling their locations to the parties on the ground. Never satisfied with mediocrity, Beryl decided to set a flying record of traveling solo non-stop from Europe to New York. No one had ever succeeded the westward flight, and many died trying. She set off from Abingdon, England in September of 1936. Twenty hours into her flight, her plane’s fuel tanks froze causing her to make a crash landing in Nova Scotia, Canada. She had fallen short of her goal, but she became the first woman and first person to make it from England to North America non-stop from east to west.

 In 1942 Beryl publisher her memoir, West of the Night, an autobiographical account of her many adventures on the ground and in the air. The book did not sell well and quickly went out of print. In 1982, George Gutekunst, a restauranteur, stumbled upon a collection of Ernest Hemingway’s letters, one of which mentioned Beryl Markham’s memoir, and Beryl herself, in interesting terms. “But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.” This backhanded compliment so struck Gutekunst that he read the book. Enamored with it, he championed it to a California publishing house, North Point Press, and the book was re-issued in 1983. Beryl, at age 83, still resided in Africa, and quite impressively, still worked training race horses. The re-issue of West with the Night became an instant best-seller and allowed for Beryl, who lived in near-poverty conditions, to retire and enjoy a little fame. She died three years later.

If you haven’t yet picked up Circling the Sun, or West with the Night, I highly recommend them. Better yet, if you aren’t in a book club, these two books are a great way to start. Get some friends together, have some good wine, good food, and good conversation about a woman who lived life just as she wanted.

 

 

A Born Rebel – Belle “La Rebelle” Boyd – This Month in History

There is something very endearing about women in history who defied social norms and stepped outside of the boundaries the world imposed on them to fight for their causes, their faith, their family, or their beliefs.

Belle Boyd is one such woman. This month in history, on December 1, 1863 Belle Boyd, Confederate spy, was released from prison in Washington, D.C. She was only 19 years old.

Belle Boyd Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum - NWHM
Belle Boyd
Education & Resources – National Women’s History Museum – NWHM

I am always scouring the internet for interesting stories about empowered women in history. Belle’s story caught my eye because I also write about a confederate spy in my novel, Dead Eye Dame—the fictionalization of Annie Oakley as an amateur sleuth (now being marketed by my agent for publication.) My spy is not as crafty and endearing as Belle, nor is he female, but he shares the same rebellious and cause-driven nature.

Belle’s story begins in 1844 in Bunker Hill, VA (now West Virginia) where she was born to Benjamin Boyd, a tobacco farmer and shopkeeper, and his wife Mary Boyd. In 1855 the family moved to nearby Martinsburg. The oldest of 8 children, Belle seemed to come out of the womb a rebel. At the age of 10, Belle defied her social status—and the law—by teaching Eliza Corsey, one of her family’s slaves, to read and write. Belle and Eliza had become fast friends growing up together, and Belle wanted Eliza to enjoy some of the rights denied to her because of her color. She later states in her memoire Belle Boyd, in Camp and Prison, published 1865, “Slavery, like all other imperfect forms of society, will have its day, but the time for its final extinction in the Confederate States of America has not yet arrived.”

Always quick witted and bright beyond her years, at age 11, it is reputed that Belle, in rebellion to being denied attendance at one of her parent’s parties because of her age, rode her horse into the family’s living room during the party. She is said to have stated, “my horse is old enough, isn’t he?”

At 12 years old, Belle’s parents sent her to the esteemed Mount Washington Female College of Baltimore. After graduating at 16, Belle enjoyed a life of dancing and parties as a debutant in Washington, D.C. This must have been when she honed her skills as a flirt and expert communicator. After a season, she returned to her life and family in Martinsburg.

Martinsburg was a town supported by the Union cause, but Belle’s family were true southerners and devoted to the Confederacy. Her 45-year old father enlisted in the Virginia Infantry under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Belle and her mother supported the cause by sewing clothing and raising funds for the Confederate soldiers.

In July, 1861, Union soldiers captured Martinsburg, invading homes and businesses. When a group of drunken Union soldiers tried to hang a Union flag over the entrance to the Boyd’s family home, Mary, Belle’s mother, intervened. When one of the soldiers accosted Mary, Belle grabbed a Colt pocket pistol and shot him dead. Thus began her career as a “rebel spy” at the tender age of 17.

Realizing her feminine power, and having mastered the art of flirting, Belle knew that she could fly under the radar of suspicion and through family connections began gathering information from Union soldiers. With the help of Eliza, Belle would send the information to the Confederate side. When one of her letters was intercepted, Belle was arrested, but managed to get off with a warning for a crime that was usually punishable by death.

belleboydcivilwar.weebly.com
belleboydcivilwar.weebly.com

Undaunted, Belle ramped up her support for the South by becoming a messenger for Confederal generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Belle used her feminine wiles to steal weapons from Union camps and smuggle precious quinine, a medicine used for malaria, across the Potomac River to secessionist towns in Maryland. One of her most significant missions was to obtain crucial information that would allow Stonewall Jackson’s forces to recapture the town of Front Royal.

In society, Belle became known as the sort of girl a boy wouldn’t want to take home to mother. She worked at seducing both Confederate and Union officers and was considered the lowest form of “camp follower” around. Not a beautiful woman, Belle had a confidence that made her looks secondary to her charms. She also had no qualms about impersonating Confederate soldiers to further garner information from Union officers.

Whether dressed as a man or a woman, Belle never wavered from her devotion to the Southern cause and that transparency became a part of her persona. It was only a matter of time before Union officials saw Belle as a potential threat. Shortly after her contribution to the recapture of Front Royal, Belle was again arrested and sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. where she spent a month in prison, and then subsequently spent another five months in prison after yet another arrest. After several more arrests, Belle met and married one of her Union captors, an officer named Samuel Hardinge. The two were married and had a daughter. Although unable to completely convert Hardinge to the Southern cause, he did serve time in prison for giving aid to Belle.

Belle eventually made her way to England where she wrote her memoir and launched a career as an actress. Several years later, Belle returned to the United States and married twice more, had four more children, became estranged from her oldest daughter, and spent time in a mental institution. She died in 1900, during a performance on stage in Wisconsin.

Although Belle’s life did not end on a happy note, in her later years she learned that her efforts had not been in vain. Women all across the South had taken to impersonating her, claiming to be Belle Boyd, the “Siren of the Shenandoah” or the “Cleopatra of the Secession.” She had become a symbol of feminine empowerment and an inspiration to future generations.

Sources:

National Women’s History Museum https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/belleboyd/

Bio. http://www.biography.com/people/belle-boyd

“The ‘Siren of the Shenandoah'” by Karen Abbot, New York Times, May 23, 2012 http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/the-siren-of-the-shenendoah/?-r=0