Friday, December 09, 2005

the weekend essay, apparently.

Warning: the following post is probably of no interest to anyone without a lively interest in medieval history. I accept that not everyone shares my deep and abiding love of the subject, and I do not judge you. If you were the sort of child who played with the other kids, rather than sitting indoors reading about Lucrezia Borgia, I'd skip this one.


Well, I promised you Anne Boleyn, and I am delivering Anne Boleyn. I recently watched the TV adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl, adapted from Philippa Gregory's best-selling novel. It was a little unsettling at first - the makers seemed to have decided that the impression of historical realism could best be created by shaky, Office-style camerawork, and lots of rustling.

The other Boleyn girl was Anne's older sister Mary - a beautiful, blonde, slightly drippy thing, who attracted the attention of Henry VIII and was soon persuaded to be his mistress. Natasha McElhone certainly fulfilled the beauty criteria - next to Jodhi May, who played Anne, there was no question who was the looker. Her Mary was a bit more pious than I remembered (admittedly, not from any serious historical study, but from, er, another historical novel).

It was quite a brave decision to base a plot on what most people would consider to be a minor character in the saga of the Boleyn family. Not that this kind of thing hasn't happened before, and very successfully too - look at Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, or the Flashman series - but what was unusual about this was that it didn't pretend that Anne wasn't the main attraction. Her very lack of beauty made her more fascinating - after all, it was pretty bloody obvious why Henry fancied her meek, gorgeous sister - but Anne seemed to win him over by being rude to him and playing chess in a provocative way (who knew that worked?)

Anyway, I'll be the first to admit it was a watchable hour or so of television, and one I would recommend. I bet you'd never guess that Anne Boleyn was one of my heroines as a child, what with getting to be Queen despite being a bit plain, brunette and intellectual, rather than dimpled, rosy-cheeked and unthreatening.

While we're on the subject, may I take the opportunity of recommending some historical fiction as light Christmas reading? It's trashy, the stories may well be familiar enough to let you skip through it, and there are some genuinely great mental people in history who should be better known to the public at large.

Take, for example, Queen Juanita of Spain, sister of Catherine of Aragon. She was proper mad, and after her beloved husband died, used to transport his dead body everywhere she went, and kiss it. Unhygienic? Just a bit. In fact, medieval royalty - due to rigorous in-breeding - did mad rather well. Another 'eccentric' was Charles VI of France, whose main hallucination was that he was made of glass. Needless to say, this was a bit of a drawback in everyday life.

(Another historo-loon: uber-historical novelist Jean Plaidy would have you believe that Catherine de Medici managed to send one of her sons, Charles, mad and gay by showing him hardcore gay porn woodcuts from an early age, so that her favourite son, Henry - who actually was gay - could inherit the throne. The youngest son of the family might also be familiar to you as the cross-dressing suitor in Elizabeth who asks if he can touch her 'chatte'. Throw in the fact that the family's only daughter was a nymphomaniac, and Catherine herself had a nasty habit of dishing out poisoned gloves, and imagine what family Christmases were like with the French royal family.)

And perhaps it is true that there are only three stories in life and literature. Certainly the "oh-bollocks-I-need-a-male-heir" gambit was very popular in medieval monarchy, to the extent you'd think someone would twig that maybe they should just let women inherit the throne and be done with it. Yes, she might well turn out to be terrible at reigning, but that was a risk you were always going to take by handing the throne to any milk-fed inbred - I'm sure it can't be coincidence that the best medieval monarchs - including Elizabeth I, and France's Henri 'Paris is worth a mass' Quatre - had some 'hybrid vigour' from non-royal parents. Marrying your cousin? Never going to end well.

Oh dear. I seem to have written a history essay. Perhaps I'm turning into Simon Schama. I await my own BBC2 'History is Fun' show, where I jump round saying "Yeah? Did Henry like THAT? NO!" with bated breath. I can't help getting animated on the subject; I'm sorry. I learned everything I know about Kings and Queens from historical fiction, so I owe it a great debt - history at school, cruelly, was always about the Industrial Revoltion and new methods of ploughing and Jethro Tull's horse-drawn seed drill. I did wonder if the powers that were thought there were too many people doing History at university, and deliberately devised the GCSE syllabus to put us off. And doing the subject at university would have involved looking at the causes of stuff, and documents, and all the stuff I can gleefully ignore as an amateur, in order to get to the smiting, shagging and longing looks from castle battlements.

In other news: A great story came out of Japan last night: a trader at financial firm Mizuho Securities made a typo which cost the company around £128 million. Its Christmas party was also cancelled due to the incident.

The trader (who may well be wishing hara-kiri was still an option) wanted to sell one share in a company for 600,000 yen. Alas, the order went through as a sale of 600,000 shares at 1 yen each. Oops. Cue instant chaos, rending of garments, gnashing of teeth etc (if you want the technical details, I suggest you read the original Times article here, since, I am deeply ashamed to confess, my knowledge of financial markets is a little rusty).

If it weren't for the fact that I am deeply opposed to traders and financial markets, despite knowing approximately bugger all about them, I would actually feel quite sad for the man. But the trouble is that it's very hard to feel sorry for someone who works in such a ridiculous job - the whole concept of trading, especially futures trading, just seems set up for this kind of thing to happen.

The best thing about the story is undoubtedly the fact that incidents like this happen enough to have a proper name: fat finger syndrome. What a cracking piece of terminology! When I saw it on the BBC news ticker, I was genuinely intrigued, imagining a new disease where your fingers instantly swelled like up to resemble artisan sausages, or something similarly grotesque.

You can't beat a catchy epithet, if you want to get a reasonable amount of press coverage for something. Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy was on a highway to nowhere until some genius came up with Mad Cow Disease - fame, fortune and being used as the title of a crap Kathy Lette novel awaited...


Blogger leflange said...

Fuck me, that was succinct.

12/09/2005 2:55 pm  
Blogger Artegall said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12/09/2005 3:18 pm  
Blogger Artegall said...

I heard a very amusing quote from Warren Buffet once: he said derivatives/futures are like chainsaws - 'very useful, but you must read the instructions first.' He's a very quotable man, is Warren Buffet.

12/09/2005 3:38 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

i am aghast that you two have actually had time to read my magnum opus and comment since i posted it.

i am similarly aghast i had time to write it, despite the exciting news that an escaped chimp had been shot by marksmen in Yorkshire.

12/09/2005 3:41 pm  
Anonymous random internet guy said...

So Anne Boleyn is your Heroine because she had the amazing good fortune to marry Henry V111. Why not Lady Lucan?

A much more kickass Renaissance Queen is Grace O'Malley, the pirate queen of Galway. She led trading and pirating expeditions as far away as France and Portugal until she was well into her 60s, divorced two husbands,and became Tudor public enemy number 1 because she regarded english ships as foreign, and therefore fair game. When she was defeated and arrested by the English governor of Connaught Sir Richard Bingham (Boo!!!Hiss!!!) , she escaped to England to petition the Queen in person. She walked in on Elizabeth's court and demanded, in Latin, that all her family be pardoned and spared and that she would be allowed to continue her raiding. Elizabeth was so impressed she acceded to Grace's demands and regranted her all her lands, including those of her ex-husbands.

She was a bit of a hound by all acccounts though, so 9 out of ten.

12/09/2005 7:45 pm  
Anonymous kevin_o_malley said...

Nice to see someone bigging up the O'Malleys.

I wonder if that Royal Pardon still stands for the O'Malley family. I'm at a loose end tonight and wouldn't mind a bit of risk free piracy.

12/10/2005 2:50 pm  
Anonymous zeno said...

I'll have Jodhi May over Natasha McElhone any day... much more my kind of consort.

12/12/2005 1:59 pm  

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