Lesson #318: Whipping boys

There are a slew of terms in the English language that we, as a society, take for granted. They often have a historical point of reference, but we don’t usually know the point of reference because the historical aspect of it has been swallowed up over a few centuries. Today, I learned about the whipping boy.

The whipping boy was a tradition of the 15th and 16th century English monarchs (the Tudors and Stuarts, mostly). English monarchy held that the king  ruled under the divine right of kings* and, as a result, no one but the king had the right to punish the king’s son(s). And since the king was rarely around to reprimand the prince(s), enter the whipping boy. A whipping boy was a boy assigned to a prince whose duty it was to take punishments intended for said prince if he misbehaved or fell behind in his schooling.

Now, you’d think that this would be perfect for the prince because what’s it to him if someone else is taking his punishments, but the whipping boy was not a peasant. He was a boy of noble birth, close in age to the prince, and brought up and schooled with the prince. As a result, the prince and his whipping boy were usually close friends, which, as you can imagine, is a really effective tool in keeping your prince in line.

Point of interest: Charles I made his whipping boy an Earl.

P.S. Guess who never read The Prince and the Pauper?

More information here and here.

*which stipulates that the monarch rules by divine right and is answerable to no one but God.

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Lesson #309: The Dusty Heart of Richard the Lionhearted

One of my favourite things about Eastern Europe is their morbid penchant for mummifying body parts, often not even of important people, and putting them on display in churches.* I have a bit of a sick sense of humour, so I find it endlessly entertaining.

So, at some point after his somewhat ignoble death (he died of gangrene nearly two weeks after sustaining a wound from a crossbow in Chalus, France) in 1199, the body of Richard I** was disemboweled, and his heart was removed. His body was sent to Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon, but has been lost since at least the French Revolution, his entrails were buried in Chalus, and his heart was shipped off to Rouen.

And then everyone sort of forgot all about the fact that the heart was hanging out in Rouen until it was rediscovered in by a historian in 1838. By that point, it had (naturally, one feels since it was more than 600 years later, which is kind of mind-boggling on its own…”hey, Philippe, come here! I think I just found a 600-year-old heart!”) been reduced to dust. Scientific analysis done last year found heart proteins, linen — probably used to wrap the heart, lead and tin — probably leeched from the lead box the heart was in, mercury — likely an embalming agent, pollen from myrtle, daisy, mint, pine, oak, poplar, plantain, and bellflower — some of which were likely deposits from the air, but the myrtle, daisy, and mint would have been included as part of the embalming process, and frankincense.***

Interesting tidbit about Richard I, while he was King of, and born in, England, his mother was Eleanor of Aquitaine, so he spent very little actual time in England.

*Autobiographical note: I once spent an absurd amount of time wandering around a church with a friend of mine looking REALLY closely at each and every Holy display trying to find a mummified hand only to discover it was right inside the door. We felt stupid.

**whom you know better as the avuncular lion in Disney’s Robin Hood, and who is not to be confused with Richard III whose remains were found under a parking lot in England last year

***More can be read here, here (with pictures!), and here.

Lesson #242: The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Random side note totally unrelated to anything: I find spam comments particularly hilarious. They’re often completely unrelated to anything in the post or they’re freakishly overly congratulatory. But I got the very best spam comment of this short-lived blog today. The comment? “Bow-chica-w0w-wow.” The post? The Bixby Letter post. I had to laugh. After all, nothing says porn music like a letter of condolence.

There is a Burmese legend that holds that the 10th century king Theinhko was usurped when he was killed by a local farmer. This in itself is not really uncommon; kings were usurped all the time through the middle ages. What’s awesome is the how. According to the legend, Theinhko was on the run from a band of rebels and, hungry, ate a farmer’s cucumbers without permission. The farmer, Nyaung-u Sawrahan, then killed the king and took his place on the throne.

There’s not an awful lot of actual evidence to support this and Cambodia has a similar legend, but if you’re interested, you can read more (but not much) here and here.

Lesson #214: Jack Spratt

This is the second attempt at this post. Cyberspace ate the last one. Anyway, as I was saying…

Speaking of Charles I being an epic wanker,* my maternal grandmother handed me a copy of a book this evening** about the fascinating and sometimes sordid history of nursery rhymes. Because liking this sort of weird stuff runs in my family.

Jack Spratt is most widely accepted among people who know and study these things to be about Charles I. The earliest recorded version of the nursery rhyme dates back to 1639 and reads: “Jack will eat no fat and Jill doth love no lean, Yet betwixt them both they lick the dishes clean.”

After Parliament refused finance for the war Charles I so desperately wanted with Spain (thus inciting the storming of the House of Commons, the retreating to the north to sulk and raise an army and then the civil war), our buddy Chuck was a little bit overdrawn in the expense column, meaning “he could eat no fat because there wasn’t any.” His lovely wife, Henrietta Marie, however, was known for her opulent taste, which meant “she couldn’t abide lean, or poor, times.” Charles’ solution? Implement a war tax (to pay for, um, the war) and assess other random taxes (to pay for Henrietta’s extravagance) by which the two “licked England clean one way or another.”***

*We were. The other day.

**I’m in the New York capital region for the evening on my way down to the Mid-Atlantic city where I did my undergraduate work to see some friends. And attend a funeral.

***All quoted text is from Chris Roberts’ Heavy Words, Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme, pages 175-176.

Lesson #209: The Monarch in the House of Commons

Ever since Charles I’s issues with the perceived overabundance of power that parliament possessed (really, they just wouldn’t give him the money he wanted to fight the Spanish in the New World), leading him to storm the House of Commons with a few of his armed soldier buddies and try to arrest five people in 1642 and then launch a civil war in which he stormed off in a huff to the north and raised an army against parliament, which in turn led to his execution, the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has not been allowed into the House of Commons.

It’s a classic example of how one guy throws a temper tantrum and ruins it for everyone else.

More information on that here, here and here.

Lesson #155: Russian Royalty

Sometimes my lessons come out of conversations I have with friends. Today’s lesson comes out of the fact that a sportswriter friend of mine in the Texas capital watched The Queen today and started the conversation — as conversations between us are wont to do — practically in the middle of it. “The fact about Charles at the bottom blows my mind.”

He sent me the wiki link to the list of monarchs by age. Elizabeth is the oldest monarch in British history. Well, in modern British history, but the likelihood that she was outlived by some medieval king is pretty low.

Anyway, this got us on to the length of time for which a monarch has ruled.*And the next thing I know, we’re reading about who is in line for the throne. King Olav V of Norway is 63rd in line. We decided it would be kind of awesome (though probably a conflict of interest) to be King of both Norway and the UK. The King of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustav, is 195th in line. Queen Margarethe of Denmark is 224th.

Best of all was the discovery that Russia still has royalty. His comment, “I knew some of them had gotten out of that basement.”** The Russian royalty,  Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess of Russia and her son His Imperial and Royal Highness The Grand Duke of Russia (who is also, apparently the Prince of Prussia), are 112 and 113th in line to the throne. Apparently their claim to royalty is disputed (understandably, one feels), but for some reason it all strikes me as pretty awesome. But take that with a grain of salt…I have a weird fascination with Russia.

All told, Wiki lists 1500 people as heirs.

*Victoria wins that one for the next five years.

**That comment pretty much sums up why we’re friends.