Catherine Hayes (not to be confused with the murderess of the same name) was born in Limerick, Ireland in 1818. Abandoned by her musician father at age 5, Catherine grew up in poverty with her mother and younger sister.
While singing in the garden one day, the purity of twenty-year-old Catherine’s voice was heard by Edmund Knox, the Church of Ireland’s bishop of Limerick. Impressed by the quality of her voice, he helped to arrange funding to send the girl for vocal training. She and her mother traveled to Dublin where she studied under Antonio Sapio.
In her first appearance, she performed a duet with Sapio at a charitable fundraiser singing O’er Shepherd Pipe from the opera Joan of Arc. That first performance started a whirlwind tour and Hayes traveled to Milan, Marseilles, Vienna, and Venice for the next several years. In June of 1849 she sang for Queen Victoria and 500 of her esteemed guests at Buckingham Palace. So taken by the young soprano, the queen requested an encore. Loyal to the Irish cause, Catherine opted to sing the beautiful Irish rebellion song Kathleen Mavoureen.
In 1851, Hayes toured America, performing in New York, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, several cities in the American South, and over 40 other locations. The famed showman P.T. Barnum sponsored Hayes’ tour of California, and billed her as “The Swan of Erin.”
With her popularity at its height, Hayes fees to perform averaged around £650 per month, which is equivalent to $84,000 today. When she visited the well-to-do, yet semi-civilized California gold miners in their camps they bid up to £1150 ($167,000) to hear her sing. California had fallen in love with the Swan of Erin. They not only paid top dollar to attend one of her performances, they named a street after her – Kate Hayes Street—in Grass Valley.
Popular and loved across the globe, some historians have dubbed Miss Hayes the “Madonna” of her time.
Selika Laszevski is in fact so little known, many historians question her existence at all.
The portrait here was taken by Felix Nadar in 1891, Paris, France. The photo is thought to be of Lasveski, but it is not certain. Some historians speculate that this photograph was taken of an unknown model and Nadar attached a story to her to promote his work.
Whether fictionalized or not, the story goes that Laszevski was a 19th-century equestrian, an écuyère of the Haute école, or equestrian of the high school of dressage. High school meaning of the highest level in classical dressage–the disciplined “equestrian ballet” that has its origins in the military, going as far back as Xenophon’s On Horsemanship, one of the two works of literature on horsemanship by the Greek soldier Xenophone who lived c. 430 – 354 BC.
Although little is know of this equestrian, a short film has made and produced about her by award-winning writer-director Sybil Mair Sybil Mair. The film titled The Adventures of Salika was released in September of 2017. It is a coming of age story about an African princess who must forge her own way in the world after being displaced by war. She ends up in France and makes her way to the Haute école.
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?
After Victorio’s attempts to obtain permission for his people to return to the Mescalero Reservation failed, he and Lozen took action. They encouraged their people to flee in different directions. Lozen took charge of a group of women and children and headed to Mexico. When they approached the Rio Grande, swollen with the season’s earlier rainfall, many of the women and children did not want to cross. Lozen took the lead. With her rifle raised above her head, she struck the shoulder of her horse with her foot and they plunged into the water, swimming upstream through the raging river. Impressed by her bravery, the group followed her to safety. Knowing they had reached safety, Lozen went back across the river to find her brother and their band of warriors.
They traveled to Chihuahua, Mexico. Hoping to gather more ammunition and Apache warriors, Lozen left Victorio and his band to travel back to the Mescalero Reservation with the U.S. and Mexican cavalries on her heels. She took with her a young pregnant woman who wanted to return to her family. On the way, the young woman went into labor. Fearing capture from the Mexican or U.S. Armies, Lozen hid the woman in the brush and delivered her baby. Because of their delay, they ran out of food. Lozen, using her knife, single-handedly killed a longhorn and butchered it. When the woman could travel a few days later, Lozen, stole two horses and other supplies they needed to return to Tularosa.
Once they’d arrived, Lozen learned that Mexican forces had ambushed her brother. It is believed among the Apaches that instead of being taken hostage and killed at his enemies’ hands, Victorio committed suicide.
After Victorio’s death, Lozen returned to the San Carlos Reservation with chief Nana, only to leave again in 1882 where they joined forces with Geronimo. Together they raided the San Carlos Reservation and freed over 600 people. Lozen and Geronimo again raided San Carlos in early 1885–the last campaign of the Apache wars. Later in 1885, Geronimo negotiated an Apache surrender with the U.S. Government. Unable to come to terms, the Apaches spent several more months running from U.S. and Mexican forces until they ran out of ammunition and supplies. Geronimo surrendered and he, Lozen, and approximately 40 others, including another renown Chiricahua woman warrior, Dahaste, became prisoners of war and were hauled off to a concentration camp in Florida. In 1887, Lozen was later transferred to Alabama where she died of tuberculosis at 50 years of age.
Dr. Nellie MacKnight (continued) For Part One click here.
The day after Olive’s funeral, Nellie was sent to live with her father’s brother and his wife in New York. While she got on well with her Uncle, his wife resented Nellie’s presence and made the fact well known to her. After two years of suffering verbal abuse from her Uncle’s wife, Nellie opted to go live with her mother’s sister, Mary until her father finally sent for her to live with him in the community of Bishop in Owens Valley, CA. He’d given up on his dreams of gold and returned to his career as a surveyor. Nellie was 14 years old and had not seen her father in nearly ten years.
Although her father still possessed the same sternness she remembered as a small child, Smith made an effort to reacquaint himself with his daughter. He enrolled her at the Inyo Academy, a boarding school, and when he wasn’t traveling for work, came to visit Nellie often. He took her on weekend fishing trips and taught her about the outdoors and how to survive in the wilderness. Finally, Nellie had the father she’d so longed for, and all to herself—until he broke the news that he was to remarry.
When Smith and his new wife returned from their honeymoon, they moved into a house near Nellie’s school and she moved in with them. With his new marriage, it seemed that Smith’s previous sternness turned to suspicion and possessiveness, and he never let Nellie attend dances or any kind of social event. Any fears Nellie might have had about her new stepmother were quickly squelched as Nellie found her to be a refuge from her father’s controlling ways. The two got along famously.
Nellie loved school and again excelled at her studies. At the age of 17 she graduated as valedictorian of her class. Exceedingly proud of his daughter, Smith insisted that Nellie go to college. Nellie was thrilled at the prospect of pursuing her dreams of an education in literature. But, that was not to be. Her father would not pay for an education in anything but law or medicine. Nellie knew not to contradict her father. And, after thinking about it—and remembering her grandmother and uncle’s death from typhoid—decided that medicine might be the right path for her.
Accompanied by her father, Nellie left for San Francisco to attend school at Toland Hall Medical College. He got her settled and returned home. While leaving her father and stepmother behind caused Nellie some distress, she quickly realized that she would soon be free from her father’s restrictive discipline. However, the reception she received at Toland Hall was less than warm and inviting. As one of only three women in the school, Nellie faced prejudice and resentment from the other students and professors. One of her professors, Dr. R. Beverley Cole, believed “that there are six to eight ounces less brain matter in the female. Which shows how handicapped she is.”
But, Nellie rose above the discrimination and chauvinism and graduated with honors. She had her name printed on her diploma as “Helen M. MacKnight,” at the suggestion of the school Dean, whose respect Nellie finally earned. He advised her that using the name “Helen” would give her more credibility in the world than Nellie.
Nellie went on to intern at the Pacific Dispensary for Women and Children, a hospital founded by three female doctors. In 1893, she joined the staff and specialized in working with children. She also assisted with obstetrics, disease research, and surgeries, including amputation. Two years later, her stepmother fell ill and Nellie had to return home. Her stepmother recovered under Nellie’s constant care, and instead of returning to the dispensary, Nellie decided to set up her own practice in the front room of her parents’ home.
Dr. Helen MacKnight soon became lovingly referred to as “Dr. Nellie” as she made her rounds about town and in the nearby mining camps in her small buggy pulled by two sturdy horses. As her reputation and financial situation improved, she eventually moved her practice out of her parents’ home.
In 1898 Nellie met her husband, Dr. Guy Doyle, another physician in the area. Unlike the other male doctors Nellie encountered in school, Doyle treated Nellie with admiration and respect. They fell in love and decided to go into practice together. They treated patients in Owens County until World War I when Dr. Doyle answered the call to service. After the war, Nellie and Guy moved to the Berkeley Hills where Nellie practiced anesthesiology at the University of California Hospital. In 1934, Nellie realized her childhood dreams of becoming an author and published her autobiography titled A Child Went Forth. The book was later retitled, Dr. Nellie.
Roses of the West, by Anne Seagrave
Enss, Chriss. “Wild Women Wednesday: Dr. Nellie Mattie MacKnight.” Cowgirl Magazine. October 19, 2016, https://cowgirlmagazine.com/wild-women-wednesday-dr-nellie-mattie-macknight/
“Subjects, bodies for dissection, were divided into five parts—the head, two uppers and two lowers. By some ironical twist of circumstance, the first dissection assigned to me was a lower. The dissection of the pelvic organs was to be done in company with the young man who was assigned to the other lower. It was a male subject.
… It came time for the quiz section in anatomy. The quizmaster was a dapper young graduate, much impressed with himself and his authority. He was of the group who hated the incursion of women into what he considered the distinctly masculine territory of medicine…The quizmaster walked over to our dissecting table.
“Why has nothing been done on your subject?” he questioned.
The young man hesitated, glancing at me.
The quizmaster turned on me. “Have you the other lower on this subject?” His words were like a steel file.
“Yes,” I replied, the blood rushing to my face.
“Do you expect to graduate in medicine, or are you just playing around with the idea?”
“I hope to graduate.” I tried to make my voice sound firm, but instead, I realized it sounded ridiculously weak and feminine…
“If you have any feelings of delicacy in this matter, young woman, you had better leave college and take them with your, or fold them away in your work basket and be here, on your stool, tomorrow morning. We don’t put up with any hysterical feminine nonsense in men’s medical schools.”
This, from the autobiography of Dr. Nellie MacKnight, is an account of one of her earliest assignments at San Francisco’s Toland Hall Medical School. One of only three women in her class, this naïve, but bold young girl would go on to graduate with flying colors and become one of the West’s most beloved and respected doctors.
But, medicine was not the profession Nellie MacKnight ever thought she’d choose. In fact, it wasn’t her choice at all. . .at first.
In Petrolia, Pennsylvania in 1873, Nellie came into the world as one of three children born to Smith and Olive MacKnight. Her two siblings died shortly after their birth, leaving Nellie to grow up an only child to a stern father, and an over-protective mother who lavished her with attention. An expert seamstress, Olive loved to dress Nellie in beautiful dresses made with her own hands. Though he loved his wife and daughter, Smith, found his profession as a surveyor dull, and his life in Pennsylvania uninspired. He desired to move out West in search of gold and riches, and in 1878, did just that, leaving his wife and daughter in the care of his parents in New York. He promised once he’d made his riches, he would send for the two of them. He never did.
Nellie found life at her grandparent’s farm happy and fulfilling. From her grandfather, she learned about horses and how to care for animals. From her grandmother, she learned more domestic chores, and also how to make remedies for certain illnesses. Her mother, Olive, did not fare as well. News from her husband that he’d purchased a mine with great potential raised Olive’s spirits momentarily until he stated that he would not send for her and Nellie until the mine “paid off.”
Despondent over the news, Olive fell into a depression. Life became harder when typhoid took Nellie’s grandmother and her favorite uncle. Fearing for Nellie’s health, Olive made the decision to move the two of them to her father’s home in Madrid, Pennsylvania. In order to keep herself and Nellie clothed, and Nellie in school, she took a job at the Warner Brother’s Corset Factory as a seamstress. Nellie excelled at her studies, and took a particular interest in literature and hoped to, one day, become an author.
Long hours and tedious work at the corset factory took its toll on Olive. Letters from her husband telling her that the mine had still not yielded any gold further distressed her. To relieve her pain and the stress caused from supporting herself and her young daughter—and the continued absence of her husband—she turned to laudanum, a tincture of opium. One night, in her drug-induced euphoria, Olive decided to end it all and overdosed. She left a note for ten-year-old Nellie encouraging her to “be a brave girl. Do not cry for Mamma.”
(To be continued next week)
Roses of the West, by Anne Seagrave
Enss, Chriss. “Wild Women Wednesday: Dr. Nellie Mattie MacKnight.” Cowgirl Magazine. October 19, 2016, https://cowgirlmagazine.com/wild-women-wednesday-dr-nellie-mattie-macknight/
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
While Isabella of Castile became one of the most powerful female monarchs the world would ever know, her daughter, Juana, could not seem to find empowerment at any time in her life, even when she became Queen of Castile. Suffering from bouts of ill temper, melancholia, jealous rages and utter despair, Juana was proclaimed “mad” early into her marriage and she never successfully alluded the title.
Both never intended for the throne, Isabella and her daughter Juana came to their prospective reigns through the untimely death of siblings, and also through powerful alliances in marriage. Both raised at court, they received the finest education a princess could receive, but their lives, and any hope at happiness in their younger years, came at the mercy of their male superiors and overbearing mothers. Isabella’s mother, known as Isabella the Mad, often flew into paranoid rants about ghosts or people wanting to kill her or her beloved.
Raised under the reign of her half-brother Henry IV, Isabella endured several betrothals and refused one or two before she married the man she had first been intended for, Ferdinand of Aragon. Knowing her half-brother wanted an alliance with Alfonso of Portugal, Isabela fled from her brother’s court to Valladolid, and married her second cousin, Ferdinand.
From that point on, Isabella and Ferdinand embarked on a quest to make Castile and Leon (now Spain) a pure nation. With Isabella at the helm, they reorganized the government and saved the kingdom from the overwhelming debt her brother Henry left behind. Isabella and Ferdinand became known as the “Catholic Kings,” after they ruthlessly resurrected the Reconquista by taking Grenada from the Muslims, and exiled Jewish subjects in the Spanish Inquisition. Isabella established Spain as a world power that lasted for more than a century with her support of Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage to the “new world.”
Although having given birth to five children, Isabella had little time to raise them. Juana, the third child, an extremely beautiful, intelligent and sensitive girl, started exhibiting strange behaviors when her mother became ill, or traveled away from court. The young princess often locked herself away and refuse to eat or sleep.
In 1496, Isabella sent Juana, aged 16, accompanied by a fleet of over 100 ships, to Flanders to marry Phillip the Fair, or Phillip the Handsome, the heir to the Austrian empire. The alliance would strengthen Spain’s presence against the power of France, and align it with Flanders, the top producer of Iberian wool. After the setback of a tremendous storm delayed the arrival of the princess, the two teenagers finally met, and fell in love at first sight. With the wedding set for the next day, the two decided they could not wait, and had a priest marry them immediately.
But the passionate luster soon wore off for Phillip, known to love his wine and his women. When Phillip misbehaved, Juana flew into long, drawn-out jealous rages, or took to her rooms, refusing food or drink for days.
Despite their marital troubles while living in Flanders, Juana became pregnant. She first gave birth to a daughter, Eleanor, in 1498, and then Charles in 1500. During this span of time, Juana’s elder brother John and her sister Isabella both died, leaving Juana heir to the throne of Spain. In order to keep an eye on Juana, who’s public displays of ill-temper had become renown in Flanders, and Phillip who’d become too lenient with France, Isabella and Ferdinand encouraged the couple to move to Spain. If they were to inherit the realm, they needed to be schooled for their eventual accession to power.
Finally, in 1502, Juana and Phillip arrived in Spain where Juana was recognized as Isabella’s successor and Phillip her consort. Feeling like a fish out of water, Phillip soon returned to Flanders, but Isabella would not allow Juana to leave with him.
Desperate without her husband, Juana resorted to her melancholic state and refused to eat or drink. Phillip wanted Juana back in Flanders as badly as Juana wanted to be there, but for different reasons. He wanted his wife out of Spain’s control. Isabella feared that Spain would revolt should Juana try to rule from Flanders, so the tug of war continued until 1504, when fearing for her daughter’s mental stability, Isabella let Juana return to Flanders.
But love and life did not improve for Juana. Phillip continued his affairs and Juana continued her embarrassing public outbursts. These public displays of outrage and then overt affection toward Phillip only made Phillip despise his wife more. He had her locked away in her rooms.
More sad news would reach Juana a few months later when she learned that her mother, Isabella, had died. Her father, Ferdinand, in order to keep control from Phillip, claimed Juana incompetent to rule, and he intended to rule as regent until his grandson Charles became of age.
To thwart her father’s plan, Juana and Phillip sailed for Castile in the hopes that powerful nobles who opposed Ferdinand would side with Juana. They did. Ferdinand then remarried hoping to beget another son to take the throne from Juana’s control.
In 1506, perhaps tired of working around Juana, Ferdinand and Phillip made an alliance. Without Juana’s knowledge, the two men met and declared Juana unfit to rule. Ferdinand turned Castile over to Phillip and Juana in a monetary exchange, knowing that Phillip would wrest control from Juana, but also that Spain would likely not accept a foreign ruler.
To everyone’s surprise, in late 1506, Phillip fell ill with fever (some say poison.) Juana nursed him around the clock for six days until he finally succumbed. Bereft, Juana, according to chroniclers of the time, had her husband’s coffin reopened on several occasions so she could caress his face and look upon him.
These claims were probably exaggerated by Ferdinand and then later, Juana’s son Charles, to discredit her and thwart any hope of her rising to power, again. To Ferdinand’s relief, Juana had no interest in ruling, and in 1507 she turned the government over to him. In return, he had her imprisoned in Tordesillas castle, where she continued her bouts of refusing to eat or sleep.
When Charles finally came into power after the death of Ferdinand, he did not treat his mother much better than Phillip or Ferdinand had. But, the people loved her, and often rallied to her cause, but Charles clamped down even harder on his mother because of her popularity. She finally enjoyed about 8 months of freedom before she died.
Was Juana actually mad, or did she possess a tender heart and have a sensitive nature? Did she suffer from bi-polar disease, or did she pose too much of a threat to the men in her life who wanted power above all else? We may never know. I wonder if Isabella had lived longer, would she have come to the defense of her daughter, or would she have treated her as ruthlessly as she did the others she deemed weak? I would hope the former, but then, I’m an eternal optimist.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.