Mata Hari - the name alone sounds like oriental mystery, seduction and espionage. The girl behind the name was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle in the Frisian town of Leeuwarden, and has turned into a legend.
She was born in 1876 as the first child of a hatter and oil-invester. She grew up in wealth, and being the first daughter she was shamelessly spoiled by her father. She would go around in fancy dresses, and be an outsider because of her flamboyant appearance. However, her father's company went bankrupt when Margaretha was 13, and soon after her parents separated. In 1891, Margaretha's mother died, and the family fell apart. Her father went to Amsterdam to live with his second wife and the children were sent to live with other family members.
She started studying to be a kindergarten teacher in Leiden, and it was there that she learned she was sexually attractive to men: the school's headmaster helplessly fell for her. When a scandal broke out, Margaretha was dismissed from the school and went to live with her uncle in The Hague. At the age of 18, she saw an advertisement in the newspaper that was placed by friends of Rudolf MacLeod, a captain stationed in the Dutch East Indies who was - according to his friends - in desperate need of a wife. Margaretha answered the ad and enclosed a photograph, expecting that her beauty would convince him to choose her. He was twenty years her senior, but she understood that the captain would secure her the financial status she had known as a child, but had missed after her father's bankruptcy. The two got married soon after. She now was a member of the upper class, but because she had to live in the tropics, she hardly had any benefit of that. They got two children, Jeanne and Norman. The latter got poisoned at the age of 2,5, supposedly by medicines against syphilis. Because of Rudolf's rude character and Margaretha's troubles to get used to the Indies, the marriage did not work out. In 1902 they moved back to The Hague and got separated soon after; Rudolf took Jeanne with him. Margaretha was left alone without family, money or a proper education.
Though not completely extinct (there are still lamplighters in London and Wroclaw), lamplighter is a typical profession of the past.
Since the beginning of the 19th century, city streets are illuminated. Before that, cities were completely dark – and only those who could afford a servant or a link boy could take a night walk safely. Although is not known for sure if the word's first public gas light got into operation in London or in Germany, the 1st of April, 1814, is generally regarded as the "birth date" of gas lighting. On that day, the old oil lamps around the St. Margaret's Chruch in London-Westminster were replaced by modern gas lamps. Following London, streets all over the world lit up very quickly.
Every single lamp had to be lit and put out by hand. As cities and villages got more laterns, more and more lamplighters were employed - each responsible for a certain area. The used a wooden ladder to climb up and open the glass doors of a latern. (Ever noticed a horizonal bar just below the lamp? That was for the ladder to lean against.) Then they used a long pole with a wick and a small hook attached to it to lit respectively to put out the flame.
Other duties of the lamplighters were to control and renew the candles and the oil when necessary, and as a result of their job, they often acted as watchmen.
During my research on this posts I found this curious bicycle you can see above, apparently used by lamplighters to ride from one latern to another. If they managed to balance 2 meter above the ground, that is.
By the way, I love that older job titles just described what the person did. No modality managers, environmental maintenance officers or whatsoever back in the days.
… they thought, and so Willem Barentsz and his 16-headed crew set off in order to find a Northeast Passage to the Indies in May 1596. They discovered Bear Island in June, but icebergs and floes in the Arctic Ocean made it impossible for them to continue their journey. The explorers were forced to spend almost a year on Nova Zembla, where they built a shelter with their ship’s lumber. One of the men kept a diary in which he wrote about dealing with extreme cold and their experiences, including hunting foxes and even fighting with polar bears for their survival.
After almost a year they could finally free their ships from the ice and began their return journey. Only twelve crewmen returned to Amsterdam – Willem Barentsz died at sea only seven days after starting out.
Though unsuccessful in finding a northern route, at least he has a sea named after him – and he still is a celebrated hero in Dutch history.
Since Julius Caesar's invasion of Brittania in 55 BC had failed, no Roman Emperor had set foot on the British island. But when Claudius became Emperor in 41 AD, he thought it would be worth the try, and invaded Britannia again. He had more success: the eastern part of the island was set under Roman control in 43 AD. Many Celtic tribes voluntarily allied with the Romans in trade of their safekeeping. So did the Iceni, of which Prasutagus was chieftain (or king, as the leaders of tribes used to call him themselves), and Boudica was queen. Claudius had fortresses built and troops installed in several places in eastern Brittania, and a Roman governor was appointed to keep an eye on the Celts.
The second Roman governor, Publius Ostorius Scapula, took all weapons from the tribes that he didn't trust completely, like the Iceni, even if they had surrendered. This was a smart move, since he initiated a couple of things that would highly upset the Celts. For example, in 49 AD, he set up a colonia around Camulodunum (now Colchester): a town that would serve as a homestead for Roman veterans. Because the colonia grew fast and the Britons were driven off their land to make way for the veteran homes. Several were enslaved by the retired legionaries, others were executed.
In 54 AD (Ostorius had died and had been succeeded by a less provoking administrator), Emperor Claudius was poisoned and Nero followed him on the throne. Nero ordered to build a temple to his predecessor at Camulodunum. Now the tribal people were obliged to pay for a place of worship for a man who had took their lands! And on top of that, Rome demanded a repayment of money that had been loaned to chieftains that weren't even alive anymore.
Being a pirate was not only men’s business. There were quite some ladies infesting the seas, more than we could probably guess. Two of them are very well known for their ruthlessness, however, and their names were Anne Bonny and Mary Read.
Anne Bonny (1700) was born an illegitimate child of an Irish lawyer and his house maid. Her father was too ashamed of misstep to show himself openly with his daughter, but had grown fond of the girl. Therefore, he dressed her as a boy and told people she was the son of a relative he was taking care of. When Anne grew older, the family moved to South Carolina. What was the reason for their move is not known, it may very well be that the little secret was unveiled and the family wanted to escape rumors.
When Anne was about 18, she fell in love with a poor sailor named James Bonny, whom she married. The couple moved to New Providence in the Bahamas, where they lived in a pirates' lair. Anne enjoyed her life in between of seamen and was said to have an affair with pirate captain John Rackham, also known as “Calico Jack”. In 1718, Bahamas governor Rogers offered the Kings pardon to any pirate, and James turned informant. Anne was disgusted by this cowardly move and sailed off with her lover, Jack Rackham.
Catherine de' Medici was one of the most influential woman at French court and declared the most powerful woman in sixteenth century Europe next to Elizabeth I of England. Many legends have risen after her death, and she is often being displayed as a black widow, a royal poisoner and a tyrant - the latter because people blame her for having initiated the St. Bartholomew Day Massacre. In Alexandre Dumas' novel 'La Reine Margot', Catherine plays the role of an intrigeous mother that skillfully gets rid of everyone that comes in her way.
As the wife of king Henry II, she was Queen of France for twelve years and Queen Mother and advisor to her three sons Francis II, Charles IX (who was only ten years old when he heired the crown, so Catherine ruled France as its regent during his minority) and Henry III. She was born a daughter of the rich and influential Medici clan from Florence. Her father, Lorenzo, was the prince to whom Machiavelli had written in his political treatise The Prince, and pope Clement VII was her uncle. At the age of 14, she was betrothed to marry Henry of Bourbon by an arrangement of Clement and Henry's father. During her husband's reign as king, Catherine lived a quiet life together with her maids that had moved to France with her. As queen mother and regent she gathered several Italian advisers around her. She obviously found an interest in her Italian roots, and rumors had it that she was interested in poisons, as the French believed that Italians were ruthless practicers of the black arts. It was believed until long after her death that she had kept poisons in the more than two hundred beautiful woodcut cabinets that stood in her room in Chateau de Blois.
Maybe you've heard of that mythical place called the Court of Miracles
Where the lame can walk and the blind can see...
So it is sung in the 1996 Disney classic ’The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, based on the brilliant 1831 novel by Parisian author Victor Hugo. In the book, the Court of Miracles is the home base for criminals, outcasts and gypsies, ruled by the King of Truands; Clopin Trouillefou. Although his character is fictional, the Court of Miracles did really exist. It was a lawless area of Paris located between the rue du Caire and the rue Réaumur (in the current second arrondissement), where beggars, migrants, prostitutes and criminals resided during the reigns of Louis XIII and Louis XIV.
The title ‘court of miracles’ may sound misplaced for a stinky, muddy area inhabited by thieves and beggars. Indeed, their tricks where the name giver for this district. Many Parisians had to beg for their survival, and those with a visible handicap gathered more alms than those without physical anomalies. Therefore, beggars became masters in faking handicaps, injuries and infections. Returning to the slum after a day of begging, they would throw their walking sticks in the corner and wash off their fake injuries. Miracles happened easy at that. The lame could walk and the blind could see...
As no one as can describe the miraculous beggar's nest better than master Hugo himself, I copy a citation from his book here:
“There was a sort of sham soldier, a "naquois," as the slang expression runs, who was whistling as he undid the bandages from his fictitious wound, and removing the numbness from his sound and vigorous knee, which had been swathed since morning in a thousand ligatures. On the other hand, there was a wretched fellow, preparing with celandine and beef's blood, his "leg of God," for the next day. Two tables further on, a palmer, with his pilgrim's costume complete, was practicing the lament of the Holy Queen, not forgetting the drone and the nasal drawl. Further on, a young scamp was taking a lesson in epilepsy from an old pretender, who was instructing him in the art of foaming at the mouth, by chewing a morsel of soap.”
From: Victor Hugo – Notre Dame de Paris
When the Parisian criminal situation got worse in the second half of the 17th century, the Paris authorities had to undertake something. Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie, Lieutenant General of the Police of Paris, was assigned with the task of ensuring the safety in Paris and of curbing the growth of the Court of Miracles area. Reynie's methods laid the basis for police forces as we know them today. He reorganized the existing police forces, which he supervised directly. The policemen were now responsible for ensuring the safety in Paris. With more police supervising the streets, it should be harder for criminals to conduct their crimes.
As social care and health conditions improved during the Enlightenment period, the number of beggars and criminals was reduced and the Court of Miracles was slowly abandoned. The remains of the area were removed during the Haussmannization, and except for Victor Hugo's story, nothing of the wondrous slum is left for us today.
On the 27th of October 2016, an exhibition of Jan Toorop's oeuvre with over 130 works opened in museum Villa Stuck in Munich. I didn't know Toorop's works, to be honest, but a quick look into the internet made me curious to go. And I was overwhelmed with the exhibition: how could one single person paint so excellently in so many different styles?
Johannes Theodorus ('Jan') Toorop was born in 1858 on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies, where he grew up. When he was eleven years old, Jan moved to the Netherlands in order to receive better education, leaving his parents and siblings behind in the Indies.
It was soon clear that Toorop wanted to do something in the arts. He followed courses by Herman Johannes van der Weele, a painter that is counted to the second generation of the Hague School. From 1880 to 1882, Toorop studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts (Rijksacademie) in Amsterdam, and moved to Brussels afterwards. In Belgium, he joined a group of artists around expressionist/surrealist painter James Ensor, 'Les XX', with whom he worked for four years.
Within these early years of his career, Toorop worked with various styles. His early works were Realistic, but he also worked within the areas of Impressionism and Pointillistism. Many of his early paintings show scenes of simple country life: a farmer's family in a dark kitchen, hard-working men on the field, dunes and coastlines.
‘I want to be a second Augustus … because Augustus … made Rome a city of marble.’ - Louis Napoleon (1842)
Have you ever wondered why central Paris lacks the dark and narrow passage ways you'd expect in a city old as she is? Or have you thought about how it comes there aren't any medieval houses left to see in the city center? You find it hard as me to imagine the uprising, the pursuits and the barricades as described in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables in the streets of Paris you know them today? Monsieur Haussmann is to thank - he completely changed the view of the city in less than twenty years.
The change of Paris's appearance started in the middle of the nineteenth century. Only being half as large as today, Paris already was a large capital, and it was heavily overcrowded. Life in the city was dangerous due to the small and dark passages - robbers could be lurking around every corner - and due to its unsanitary conditions. The Seine spread an awful stench because sewers were emptied into the river. There was no good-working water supply system, so that fresh drinking water was a rare good. The street plan had changed little since the Middle Ages, but the population had grown immensely. In the area that now roughly forms the first four arrondissements, the population density was one inhabitant on every three square meters. Diseases spread terribly fast in these conditions. In addition, traffic circulation was difficult because many streets were too narrow for carriages to move through them - an impossible state of being for the capital of one of the mightiest countries in Europe.
The French Revolution had brought lots of change to France. In July 1989, the state prison Bastille was assaulted and the feudal system was abolished. In 1792, King Louis XVI was deposed and France was turned into a Republic. The National Convention first met in September 1792. In January 1793, the former king was beheaded by means of the guillotine. After Louis XVI’s execution, a period of violence dawned: terror took reign over France.
In the spring of 1793, France found itself in an economic and political crisis. Poor laborers, called sans-culottes (for they did not wear the knee-breeches, culottes, that were common in the noble circles), blamed the Girondins for this crisis. The Girondins were a group of delegates in the National Convention that belonged to the upper middle class. Their name was derived from the department Gironde in the southwest of France, where many of the members came from. Their opponents in the Convention were the Montagnards, whose members were mostly Jacobins, a club of politically left-orientated anti-monarchists. People were frustrated that the social equality the revolutionaries had aimed for was not yet established. The Montagnards accused the Girondins of fighting for their own benefit only and not pursuing the goal of the revolution, and they even believed the Girondins would be willing to cooperate with royalists in order to remain their power.