Category Archives: Historical Figures

First Day of Spring

I think spring is coming late to England this year. I’ll be there soon, and I’m thinking there might still be snow in the ground. Or flooded spring rivers. Still, I’m hoping for tulips. They were spectacular a couple of years ago.

These were in the gardens of Ann Hathaway’s thatched-roof cottage near Stratford-on-Avon.

The tulips and daffodils were in bloom at Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, where Richard III’s banqueting hall lies in picturesque ruins, sheltering a Tudor Knot Garden (planted much later, using Tudor designs).

Fruit trees blossomed overhead…

…and in St. Mary’s Church on the castle grounds, angels hovered over the Victorian tomb of Queen Catherine Parr, the last wife of King Henry VIII. (Her coffin was lost for a few centuries following the English Civil War, when the castle was “slighted” by Cromwell’s troops).

I was on the lookout for bluebells in all the woodsy places.

We should have been on the lookout for hidden springtime potholes too. This one caused not one but two flat tires on our rental car. Country roads are narrow, we’re driving on the “wrong side,” and sometimes we have to swerve.

Where I live in the mountains of Colorado, it’s still winter. The moose are finding tender branches to chomp, though.

In the dead of winter, I admired a painting by Fritz Syberg, from 1892. It’s called simply “Spring.”

Birds sing, rivers flow, and trees bud.

The young girl’s face is oddly melancholy. Or maybe she is just thoughtful.

Art should make us think. Travel makes us think too, about the past, about being present in the moment (even if the moment involves flat tires), and about the future. I’m anxious to be off again!

Topiaries and the Hound of Hades at Hever Castle

Apparently the art of topiary began under the Romans. Did Julius Caesar ever order up a topiary pig? This one lives on the grounds at Hever Castle, in Edenbridge. It’s about 30 miles south of London.

How about a reindeer?

Or a nice songbird.

I’m pretty sure this is a giant snail.

Hever Castle was the childhood home of the unfortunate Queen Anne Boleyn. The castle was the family seat of the Boleyns from 1462 to 1539.

Tour guides in period costume roam the creaky hallways and courtyard today. Photos are not allowed inside, much to my disappointment.

Visitors wait in the courtyard to be let in by timed ticket. There’s not much to see while waiting, but it’s interesting to get a glimpse of how the house was constructed centuries ago. I think the walls were made with a “wattle and daub” method.

No doubt there were fine Tudor gardens during the heyday of the Boleyns, but I doubt they would compare to the gardens planted by William Waldorf Astor when he bought the derelict castle in 1903.

He had become the richest man in America on the death of his father in 1890, but after failing at politics and having a falling-out with some of his relatives, he took his vast fortune to England and became a British subject in 1899.

Hever Castle was more or less abandoned and falling into ruin until Mr. Astor made it one of his family homes. He needed a country place to entertain his famous friends, like Sir Winston Churchill and his family.

Mr. Astor poured money into the house and grounds. He began planting yew and box hedges, which his small army of gardeners carved into topiary figures for the amusement of his guests. There are about 100 figures altogether. There’s a maze and water garden, too.

My favorite part of the estate is the Italian Garden, with statuary from Mr. Astor’s travels organized into little floral rooms.

There’s an Italian colonnade leading to a lake.

It’s a popular wedding venue.

Cherubs frolic in the colonnade on the lakeshore.

Mythical beasts keep watch. Just above, that’s Cerberus, the fierce three-headed Hound of Hades.

The nearby village church is a little melancholy. Several Astors are buried there.

It also holds the tomb of Thomas Boleyn, father of Anne. The Boleyns seized the main chance under King Henry VIII, but their line died out when Thomas died in 1538. If I understand it correctly, Thomas sat in judgment for at least part of the trial of his son George and daughter Anne when they were convicted on trumped-up charges of incest. George and Anne were both executed, but Thomas survived.

Here’s a right-side-up view of the image on Thomas’s tomb. Through the murderous reign of Henry VIII, Thomas had managed to hold on to his head and his castle at Hever, but he must have felt his family was pursued by the Hound of Hades. Did he regret the part he played in the fates of his son and daughter? I’m thinking his last days at Hever must have been sad and lonely.

After Thomas died, his castle passed to Henry VIII, who later gave it to Anne of Cleves as part of their dissolution-of-marriage settlement. Henry is known to have visited here. Inside the castle, not very much remains of the rooms these long-ago people walked in. But the stone walls and windows and doorways look about the same as they did during those turbulent Tudor times.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!

Chirk Castle

Catching-up time: I’m off to England soon, so I’m posting about places I will not see because I’ve seen them before. For a hopeless Anglophile like me, England has way too many stellar sights. Chirk Castle is one of my favorites.

Construction began in 1295, under Roger Mortimer. He was an English army captain who received the land from Edward I, with a mandate to show the recently-subdued Welsh who was in charge. A powerful ring of fortresses grew within a few years on the Marches, the brooding borderlands between England and Wales.

Most of these stone piles are now picturesque ruins, but Chirk has been continuously inhabited since it was finished in 1310.

I’d like to think this emblem, showing a hand above a crown, is from the days of the Mortimers. I’m a “Game of Thrones” fan. Was Roger Mortimer the “Hand of the King?” No, actually the hand emblem is from the late 1500s, when the Myddelton family owned the place and bought themselves a title.

When they added to King James I’s coffers by paying for the title of Baronet, they were entitled to add a red glove to their coat of arms.

The original Roger Mortimer and his namesake nephew both turned against the Crown. The first died in the Tower, and the second was executed as a traitor by Edward III. Three other owners of Chirk were also executed as traitors over the years. It’s easy to imagine the castle being haunted.

In Tudor times, in 1563, Elizabeth I gifted the castle to her favorite, Robert Dudley. Some rooms and parts of the gardens still have a distinctly Tudor look.

After Robert Dudley died, the castle was eventually sold to Sir Thomas Myddelton I. His son, Sir Thomas Myddelton II, found himself in the peculiar position of being ordered to break in and occupy his own castle in 1643. It had been taken by Royalists under Charles I in the English Civil War. Myddelton was ordered to retake it, which he could have done with artillery. But he didn’t feel like bashing his own home to smithereens. Eventually, the Royalists were bribed to leave peacefully, Charles I was executed, and Chirk went on as before. If these walls could talk!

Later, subsequent generations of Myddeltons were forced to rent out their castle to make ends meet, but the family managed to hold on until 1978. Even after giving the castle to the National Trust, family members lived there, and they still actively help manage the castle and grounds. That’s a Lady Mary Myddelton above, circa 1613.

One of her descendants sits, wineglass in hand, in the Bow Drawing Room.

The room is furnished as it was for posh parties in the twenties and thirties.

A gramophone plays dance music, and visitors are invited to make themselves at home.

Maybe we should take a turn in the Long Gallery?

Wait, I heard the dinner gong!

The dining room, last decorated in the 1930s, has entertained the likes of George Bernard Shaw, Rudyard Kipling, Augustus John, and any number of other people I would love to meet.

I’m not big on romantic castle ruins, but I’d go back to gloriously UN-ruined Chirk Castle anytime.

The exuberant Baroque Davies Gates, made by two local blacksmiths in 1712, will be waiting.

Copenhagen’s Romantic City Hall

My new favorite City Hall is in Copenhagen.

Why do I even have a favorite City Hall? In most cities, it’s about the last place I’d care to visit. I remember a long-ago trip to Winnipeg, Canada, when I spent several frustrating hours in the City Hall dealing with a fender-bender. (The only consolation was that I got to see an actual Canadian Mountie in his spiffy red jacket).

But Scandinavian countries like Denmark are proudly secular societies. City Hall is front and center in people’s lives, much as cathedrals are in other cities.

Martin Nyrop designed the building in National Romantic Style. To me, it looks distinctly Jugendstihl, Art Nouveau, or Arts and Crafts. This is not surprising for a building inaugurated in 1905, the heyday of these artistic movements. In Denmark, the movement was called “Skonvirke,” meaning “aesthetic work.”

A gilded statue of Absalon stands grandly above the main entrance. Absalon (also known, maybe to his buddies, as Axel) lived from 1128 to 1201. He was a warrior, politician, and archbishop–a Renaissance man before there was a Renaissance. He conquered pirates who plagued early Denmark, expanded its territories, built the first fortifications of what is now Copenhagen, and began untangling Denmark from the Holy Roman Empire. I don’t know whether he was also a kingmaker, but King Valdemar I leaned on him for counsel.

Just inside the main entrance, I think Absalon is dispensing good advice. (Or maybe this is the king–I couldn’t find any information and there was no tour going on).

In early December, the great central hall was being set up for an event. Another time I visited, there was a fascinating exhibit about immigrants to Denmark. (I wouldn’t mind emigrating to Denmark myself).

Inside on a weekday, city workers walk up and down beautiful staircases and go calmly about their business in hushed corridors.

Visitors are free to wander, taking in the beauty everywhere.

Some doorways are carved and fitted with elegant hardware.

All the other doorways have colorful painted decoration. No two are the same.

Even a janitor’s hallway slop sink is a thing of beauty.

The great and good are featured in murals, but so are working people. Tycho Brahe, above, lived from 1546 to 1601. He was a Danish nobleman and a great astronomer, but in this most egalitarian country, machinists and laborers are also honored.

Carved workmen trudge up a staircase. I especially like the man carrying a sheet of glass for a window.

Other spaces are more grand, with murals and ceilings celebrating Copenhagen’s history.

An owl stands at the doorway to the city archives. I have a feeling that important papers don’t get lost here in this most civilized City Hall. It’s no wonder that Denmark’s citizens line up at their beautiful City Hall every Saturday to celebrate their weddings. More on that on Valentine’s Day!

Child Portraits in Copenhagen

I love portraits of children. One of my favorites was in an exhibit in Frederiksborg Castle outside Copenhagen. A child with a chicken: “Noa,” 2012. She’s the daughter of the Danish artist Dennis Mogelgaard. The chicken looks a lot more confident and happy about posing than the child does. I’m thinking that as far as the child was concerned, the chicken was a non-negotiable part of the deal with her dad.

C. W. Eckersberg painted his daughter, Emilie, shortly after the death of her mother. She’s in black, but there are no other reminders of grief. Her rosy cheeks and brave smile are an affirmation of ongoing life, but I wouldn’t know that without the museum’s commentary. In this portrait, I can see echoes of my Scandinavian ancestors who made their way to Minnesota: face adversity with a smile, and don’t let anyone know what is really going on inside you. (This is both the good part and the bad part of a Midwestern Scandinavian upbringing).

In Rosenborg Castle, I liked a series of portraits of the young prince who grew up to be King Frederik VII.

I privately liked him much better as a child than as an imposing king.

His famous ancestor, King Christian IV, is featured in a delightfully sober childhood portrait in the castle. (Christian deserves at least one post all his own).

This portrait, in Frederiksborg Castle, shows three royal children in exile in Germany, in 1526. They were the children of King Christian II, exiled mainly because their parents were followers of the upstart Martin Luther. Their mother died in exile. The artist, Jan Mabuse Gossaert, was probably commissioned to paint the children to show that they were still promising marriage material for European royal houses elsewhere. Aside from being royal pawns, these were real children with real names: Christine, Dorothea, and Hans.

Jens Juhl painted “A Running Boy” in 1802. He looks wistful, not really intent on getting anywhere. He’s caught in action at the Danish National Gallery, frozen in time.

Paul Gaugin, “Two Children, 1889, in the Glyptotek. (All of the photos in this post are mine, taken of the paintings in close-up. They don’t really do the paintings justice, but at least they remind me of what I found compelling).

This is an early portrait by Claude Monet, “The Artist’s Son,” 1868, in the Glyptotek.

Christen Dalsgaard, 1870, “A Convalescent,” in the Glyptotek. I think the blossoms she is holding have a sad connotation, especially the one that’s fallen from her hand. Children very often died from common childhood illnesses–and still do, when they live in poverty anywhere in the world.

A happier image is this painting by Peter Hansen, “Playing Children, Enghave Square,” 1908, in the National Gallery.

The joyful faces remind me that as much as I love art, it’s time to get outside into the streets and squares of beautiful Copenhagen.

Children are playing out there! And because they’re fortunate enough to live in beautiful Copenhagen, they’re surrounded by art.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Prince Henrik: The Ungrateful (Royal) Dead of Denmark?

Now I’ve heard the ultimate First-World problem:  what if a man married a queen, naturally expecting that would make him  a king, and had to settle for being a Prince Consort? Not even a King Consort? That is what happened to Prince Henrik of Denmark. A few months before his death, the Prince made world news with his announcement that he would not be buried beside his wife, Queen Margrethe, in the royal tomb that is already prepared.  I wrote a snarky post, which I’m revising now to be slightly less snarky. Especially after reading that he suffered from dementia, I felt that my post was a little mean-spirited.  I do feel some sympathy for his plight, even though I don’t completely understand it. I find the whole concept of royalty in the modern age both fascinating and baffling.

Among other places, the Prince is prominently featured in the spectacular series of seventeen wall-sized tapestries created to celebrate the 50th birthday of Queen Margrethe II in 1990. They actually took ten years to make, so they were finally hung in the Great Hall on her 60th birthday, in 2000.

The Prince gets to wear any number of medals and attend elegant events in the Great Hall. The photo is from a poster in the hall. Snarky comment: Sadly, my invitation to the event must have been lost in the mail.

Another snarky comment: I wasn’t invited to eat in the adjoining dining room, either.

Among other royal perks, there’s a royal yacht. We happened to be in Stockholm last spring when the Crown Prince of Denmark, son of Prince Henrik and Queen Margrethe, sailed in for a visit.

We stood around for quite awhile so that my granddaughters could lay eyes on an actual Prince and Princess. They duly emerged and waved to the small crowd.

The Danish artist Bjørn Nørgaard painted the “cartoons”–the full-size color plans for the seventeen tapestries in the Grand Hall of Christiansborg Palace.

A gift from many Danish businesses plus the state of France, the homeland of the prince, the tapestries depict the entire history of Denmark. They throw in some guesses at the future to boot.

I spent a couple of hours studying and admiring the seventeen tapestries.  They’re by far the best reason to buy a ticket to Christiansborg Palace in Copenhagen.

All through 50 years of marriage, the Prince Consort groused about the slight he suffered. At age 83, a few months before his death, he made his shocking announcement.

As resting places go, Roskilde is pretty nice.

The medieval cathedral has been the resting place of Danish royalty for many generations.

There’s a King’s Door which can only be used by the King and/or Queen to enter. It’s not clear to me whether the Prince Consort was allowed enter through it. I believe anyone is allowed to LEAVE through this special door when it is used for a ceremony like a baptism, or possibly a funeral. Anyway, the bronze doors, polished and patinated to look like gold, replaced carved-oak ones from the late 1800s. They were newly designed and installed in 2010.

Royalty and nobles occupy beautiful chapels. I especially like the ceilings.

The memorial sculptures range from medieval times to the 1950s or so.

Bjorn Norgaard, designer of the magnificent Christiansborg tapestries, was commissioned some years ago to design a modern-yet-traditional monument for the future burial chapel of Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Instead of the typical stone effigies of the great and good, it features their images sandblasted into a large gleaming egg of glass.

But Queen Margrethe will apparently occupy this resting place alone. Before his death on February 14, 2018, I wondered whether the Prince might still get a promotion, and if so, whether it would change his mind. That did not happen. If I had been in charge, I might have found some way to give him the title he wanted, in the interest of peace in the family. But I gather there were constitutional reasons why it could not be done. On the other hand, my egalitarian, practical mind has to wonder why a lifetime of royal luxury wasn’t enough. Wherever Prince Henrik rests, I hope he rests in peace.

A couple of articles about the situation are at: › world › … › royal-snub…

Tivoli in Springtime

I’m not big on amusement parks. In fact, I’ve successfully avoided taking either children or grandchildren to Disney World ( bad grandma!)

Rides either terrify or bore me. But I loved Tivoli in Copenhagen. The park opened in 1843, just outside the west gate of the still-walled old city.

King Christian VIII was worried about social unrest at the time. Workers all over Europe were annoyingly demanding higher wages and shorter hours. The founder of the park, George Carstensen, convinced the king that if the people have a place to amuse themselves, “they do not think about politics.” As the city expanded, Tivoli became almost the center. That’s the tower of the City Hall in the background.

I visited at twilight because I wanted to see the fabled lights.

The daffodils were perfect.

So were the thousands of tulips. In fact, the flowerbeds were so perfect that I wondered if gardeners came in nightly and replaced them with fresh plants straight from a greenhouse.

A rock band was getting ready to set up at the Chinese theater. The theater dates from 1874.

The pagoda sparkled.

Families strolled and let cotton candy melt in their mouths.

A pair of peacocks wandered into a restaurant.

There are any number of restaurants, plain to fancy, plus food carts strategically placed.

Tivoli has many faces.

Raincoats for sale? Sure. It rains quite a bit in Copenhagen.

Hans Christian Andersen, 1805-1875, is pretty much the secular patron saint of Denmark. He loved Tivoli Gardens. In 1965, the city put up a bronze more-than-double life size statue of the writer of at least 125 fairy tales, just outside City Hall. He’s holding his place in a book while he gazes up at the bright lights of Tivoli across the street. His knee is brightly polished because everybody sits on his lap for a photo. The sculptor was Henry Lucknow-Nielsen.

Across town, the wistful sculpture of Andersen’s Little Mermaid draws rowdy crowds from the nearby cruise port. It may be all some people really see of Copenhagen.

Minus the crowds, the mermaid is lovely. She seems to ignore the busy harbor behind her. I’m sure she dreads the rowdy cruise-boat crowds, but maybe she’s off in her own world. Edvard Eriksen created her in 1913.

Tivoli in springtime did not disappoint. I loved Copenhagen so much that I’m going back in December (cheap off-season airfares helped).

Will it be cold? Afraid so. It was cold enough for mittens and wool hats in early May. But I expect Chrismastime in Scandinavia to be a fairy-tale experience. Plus there may be snow!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, literature and history of Europe!