Tag Archives: Renaissance

Feeling crabby

Sidney Hall [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Urania’s Mirror, Sidney Hall [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy birth-month to me!

My birthday was last week, and, as per usual, I was out of sorts.

I’ve never really enjoyed my birthday, to be honest. It’s not that I mind getting older. Heck, I have Gratiano’s line from The Merchant of Venice–“with mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come”–etched onto a mirror in my bathroom. And it’s not because of past experiences. The last 40+ birthdays have been pleasant enough.

No, I think the reason I dislike my birthday so much is that it come in JULY, which is HOT, and MUGGY, and SLOOOOOOW. I vastly prefer the crisp busyness of October, or the sparkly excitement of December, or the stinging promise of April.

The other reason I dislike having a birthday in July is that it makes me a Cancer. As a child, I was always looking out for markers of my identity (most of us do that, right? I’m not alone, right? Gulp). The easiest and therefore most popular way to do that is to look up your zodiac sign, and I always hated the descriptions of “me” (the Cancer “me”).  I still do. This description is an excellent example of NOT me.  (I especially love this: ” Cancers often find that a robust workout session is just the tonic for their touchy feelings.” Snort.)

I’m a Cancer. And I thought that sucked.

I got that the crab symbol came from the constellation—unlike some of the other zodiac signs, it kind of fits (if you squint). But I still hated it. First: who wants their zodiac symbol to be a crab, a synonym for a grouchy malcontent? Second: the Crab was the mascot for our local minor-league baseball team, and I would see the cranky and dissatisfied look on his ugly little crustacean face everywhere. Third (luckily I only learned this as a teenager): “to have crabs” = (ahem) not exactly socially acceptable.

But the worst and most confusing part of “being a Cancer”: what did it have to do with the horrific disease people whispered about, the menace that terrified my parents enough that they almost stopped smoking, that prompted me and my friends to put on sunblock in the anemic Northern California sun?

For a while as a child, I even thought that being a Cancer meant I would, eventually, get cancer. In kid logic, that kind of makes sense, right?

A few weeks ago, I read an excellent article entitled “Wombs, Worms and Wolves: Constructing Cancer in Early Modern England” by Alanna Skuse that finally answered the question I’d forgotten I’d had: what is/was the connection between Cancer, the zodiac sign, and cancer, the terrible disease?

According to Skuse, a Wellcome Trust Scholar at the University of Essex, the tumors that came to be recognized as cancer were named after their appearance:

“Not only were they [tumors] peculiarly gruesome even by the standards of the age, but, crucially, they evoked the very name of the disease, a derivation of the Greek karkinos, or crab. Round and red, the tumour appeared like the body of that creature, whilst the blood vessels extending outward were ‘verie like unto the feete of crabbes, descending from the round compasse of their bodies’.”

The connection then—the resemblance of the constellation and the tumors of physiological mutation to a crabby little crustacean—is just coincidence.

I am very relieved.

Virgos: you are on your own.

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In the Image of Dog He Created Them…

We’ve all heard the theory that people look like their pets (or is it vice versa?), and we’ve all seen the uncanny photos, like these featured in the popular listicle website, Buzzfeed (oh dear, number 23…)

(As an aside: I joke that it’s because of this resemblance theory that I adopted a greyhound—it was a weight-loss strategy.  And no, it didn’t work.)

hound

Illustration from De humana physiognomonia libri IIII, Wikimedia Commons

This fascination with resemblances between people and animals is nothing new, as we can see in Giambattista della Porta’s De humana physiognomonia libri IIII (1586)

owl

Illustration from De humana physiognomonia libri IIII, Wikimedia Commons

Della Porta (also known as Giovanni Battista Della Porta and John Baptist Porta) (1535-1615) was a scholar and philosopher from Naples, most famous for his work in magic, mathematics, and natural philosophy (among many other things—he was quite the polymath).

Della Porta founded the Accademia dei Segretti (Academy of Secrets), one of the first of the early secret societies devoted to studying natural philosophy and discovering “the secrets of Nature.” These natural secrets were often thought to be perilously close to occult secrets, and della Porta was summoned to Rome by Pope Paul V to answer for rumors that the Academy had too keen an interest in magic. He was found to be innocent, but the Academy was shut down by the Inquisition.

Della Porta would later go on to co-found the Accademia dei Lincei, the Academy of the Lynxes (or Academy of the Lynx-Eyed: the lynx, thought to have extraordinary vision, symbolized the critical importance of observation in the “new science.”)  A similar institution in England, the Invisible College, would eventually morph into the Royal Academy of Sciences.

Della Porta’s text was influential in the ancient pseudoscience of physiognomy, the study of determining a person’s inner character by her or his outward appearance. For della Porta, this analogous thinking was a product of the doctrine of signatures, the theory that medicinal plants would look like the part of the body they could cure (hence roots like the phallic-looking mandrake were thought to help impotence and fertility). While it may seem strange to modern thinking, terms from physiognomy are common in our daily lexicon. It is from physiognomy, for example, that we get the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow.”

The impulse to judge a person’s inner qualities by their outward appearances is ancient, but the categorization and codification of these aesthetic judgments is relatively modern. In the 18th and 19th century, together with its cousin phrenology, physiognomy enabled pernicious forms of scientific racism.

Strangely enough, physiognomy is making a bit of a comeback, albeit in a modified form. Scientists have taken to studying people’s reaction to different kinds of faces, as profiled in this Economist article . Whether this kind of study is helpful or not is debatable: do these studies counter or reinforce stereotypes when they assert, for example, that men with angular faces are perceived as criminal? That attractive men have an evolutionary advantage because their faces cause women to orgasm more frequently?  When a generalized theory is applied to the individual, does it simply slip into stereotype?

***

Completely gratuitous additional note about the greyhound thing: if you were to judge my character (and not my body habitus), the greyhound would actually be an appropriate choice for analogy, as it comes in at #8 on this list of “Top 10 Dogs for Lazy Owners”!)

 

More information on Giambattista della Porta and/or physiognomy:

From the National Library of Medicine, “Historical Anatomies on the Web,” a full version of De humana physiognomonia libri IIII http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/historicalanatomies/porta_home.html

An article on Giambattista della Porta and “natural magic” from the Folger Shakespeare Library: http://www.folger.edu/html/folger_institute/experience/textures_grabner_porta.htm

More on della Porta (including text, articles, etc.) from Prof. Gary Zabel at the University of Massachusetts, Boston: http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/Phil%20281b/Philosophy%20of%20Magic/Natural_Magic/jportat3.html

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Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General and Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month

Lately, I’ve been a little obsessed with early modern witchcraft.

Perhaps it’s because of the poppet in my hedge. Or perhaps it’s because I took the BBC’s online quiz “Would You Have Been Accused of Witchcraft” (short answer: yes).

Probably it’s a combination of the two: a realization that, had I lived in 17th-century England, the presence of a doll’s head in my yard would have had me tied to the stake before I could say “NOT MY POPPET!” That’s why my nomination for Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month is Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled “Witchfinder General,” thought to be responsible for the deaths of over 300 women (and some men).

Matthew Hopkins, "Witchfinder General"

Matthew Hopkins, “Witchfinder General”

Hopkins was an innkeeper in the village of Manningtree, across the River Stour from Colchester. According to his own book The Discovery of Witches, composed in question-and-answer form, Hopkins came to witch-hunting after overhearing some women discuss meeting with the Devil in the woods outside of Manningtree:

The Discoverer [Hopkins writes about himself in the third person here] never travelled far for it [experience in witch finding], but in March 1644 he had some seven or eight of that horrible sect of Witches living in the Towne where he lived, a Towne in Essex called Maningtree, with divers other adjacent Witches of other towns, who every six weeks in the night (being alwayes on the Friday night) had their meeting close by his house and had their severall solemne sacrifices there offered to the Devill…

Hopkins claims they mentioned the name of another witch, so he told the authorities and had her apprehended. She was examined “by women who had for many yeares knowne the Devills marks.” She was found to possess the traditional mark of the witch: a third teat, a nipple from which she was thought to suckle her familiar, or “imp.”

As an aside: Supernumerary nipples, often called third nipples, are very common, occurring in about 1 in 18 people: Entry on supernumerary nipples from Medline.  They may not be interesting medically, but they sure are culturally:

(Video of Bradley Cooper pranking Ellen Degeneres by showing a third–and fourth, and fifth–nipple.)

After finding this damning evidence of the woman’s pact with the Devil, Hopkins and his associates forced her to stay awake for three nights altogether; on the fourth night, says Hopkins, she surrendered and called five of her imps:

1. Holt, who came in like a white kitling.
2. Jarmara, who came in like a fat Spaniel without any legs at all, she said she kept him fat, for she clapt her hand on her belly and said he suckt good blood from her body.
3. Vinegar Tom, who was like a long-legg’d Greyhound, with an head like an Oxe, with a long taile and broad eyes, who when this discoverer spoke to, and bade him goe to the place provided for him and his Angels, immediately transformed himselfe into the shape of a child of foure yeeres old without a head, and gave halfe a dozen turnes about the house, and vanished at the doore.
4. Sack and Sugar, like a black Rabbet.
5. Newes, like a Polcat.

After this parade of familiars, the woman “confessed severall other Witches” and told Hopkins where to find their “marks” (third teats) and the names of their imps “as Elemanzer, Pyewacket, Peckin the Crown, Grizzel, Greedigut, &c. which no mortall could invent.”

As a result of Hopkins’s investigation, 23 women were tried in Chelmsford; nineteen were hanged and four died in prison.

This success launched a new career for Hopkins. He hired an assistant, John Stearne, and a group of women who examined the accused witches looking for their “witch’s mark” (often, if they couldn’t find a likely third teat in the form of a mole or birthmark, they would prick the woman’s flesh attempting to find one—in effect creating the very mark they were looking for).

Hopkins and his methods were startlingly popular. Torture was illegal, but Hopkins had other ways of extracting “confessions,” the most famous of which was a swimming test. The theory was that since witches had renounced their baptism, water itself would reject them. The suspected witch was tied to a chair and thrown into a lake or river. If she floated, it was a sure sign of her witchiness. If she sunk, she was innocent. Either way, she would likely die.

Though Hopkins was generally successful in his career (Ipswich residents even levied a tax to pay for his services), he was not without enemies. The most effective of these was the vicar of Great Staughton, John Gaule, who, though he acknowledged the existence of witches, deplored the folkloric roots of Hopkins’s methods for gathering evidence. He was particularly opposed to the swimming test, and he successfully lobbied for tougher evidentiary standards in the publication Select Cases of Conscience touching Witches and Witchcrafts.

Hopkins published his work The Discovery of Witches in 1647, in response to Gaule, and its influence was great in the new American colonies. His own witch-finding career, however, was not to survive as long as his influence: he died shortly after the publication of his work in August 1647.

Though Hopkins probably died of natural causes, a tale of karmic justice has grown up around his death: popular local history held that he himself was tried as a witch and died as a result of his own creation, the swimming test.

***

More

Blog “Shakespeare’s England” on “Swimming a Witch”

Marks of an Absolute Witch: Evidentiary Dilemmas in Early Modern England by Orna Alyagon Darr (Ashgate, 2011)

 

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The Poppet in the Hedge

Last week, my neighbor cut back our shared hedge considerably—about three feet.  We didn’t think much about it until our family walk, when we were startled to discover this:

creepy doll head

Photo my own.

It’s a fuzzy picture, but if you enlarge it you can see it’s a baby doll head impaled on a stick–caked in mud, with one eye closed and one open, and lips and chin eaten away. Yup, the stuff of Stephen King’s own nightmares. We have since started referring to it as “Creepy Baby Head” (CBH for short).

We live on a relatively busy street with a lot of high school kids walking by, so it’s very likely that some bored teen found CBH and propped it there. (As an aside, my friends Kriston and Corin recommended hanging signs under CBH that read “Trespass on our lawn at your own peril!” and “Don’t tempt the haunted doll’s head!  Stay off our lawn!” I’m favoring “See this guy?  This guy left his Red Bull can and Taco Bell wrapper on our sidewalk…”)

Finding Creepy Baby Head so unexpectedly and so close to home was unnerving, especially because it dovetailed with research I’d been doing just a few days before about early modern witchcraft: I realized that this little baby head was creeping me out because it was so much like a poppet.

We now use the word “poppet” as a term of endearment, especially for young girls or women, but it’s actually a close relative of the word “puppet,” recorded as early as the 14th century in England.  In witchcraft, poppets were little dolls used to aid in acts of sympathetic magic.  The idea was to make a doll that looked like a person or animal and then to use the doll in charms–often for protection and health, but sometimes for less congenial purposes.  Whatever you did to the doll happened to the real person or animal through sympathy (or correspondence) with that thing.

Here’s a sample of a poppet from about.com (I know this is kind of a basic introduction, but I’m a little nervous about doing too much witchcraft research on the web—I’ve tried it, and that’s a whole level of intensity I’m not prepared for!)

http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/poppetmagic/p/Poppet_Intro.htm

Below is a video in case you’re curious about making one. (As an aside, this video is an excellent way to dispel any stereotypes you may have of modern-day practitioners of Wicca.  I’m going to crown this gal “World’s Peppiest Poppet Maker.”)

The comforting thing (okay, maybe not comforting as it still sends a cold little shiver down my spine) is that a poppet can be created and employed anywhere.  It doesn’t depend at all on proximity.  So if somebody out there had really made a poppet of me, they probably wouldn’t have put it right next to my house.  So I’m safe.

The rest of you, though………..

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Addendum, 5/30/13

Edited to add:  Dear lord, look what I just saw in a local boutique!  It’s called the Dammit Doll.  It comes with a little poem that reads:

“Whenever things don’t go so well,
And you want to hit the wall and yell,
Here’s a little Dammit Doll
That you can’t do without.
Just grasp it firmly by the legs
And find a place to slam it.
And as you whack the stuffing out
Yell ‘Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!'”

Isn’t this something?  I mean, it’s totally a poppet, right?  A twee, over-priced, over-marketed poppet.  I’m only mad I didn’t think of it first….

dammit doll

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What Would Newton Do? Rep. Paul Broun’s Scientific Asynchrony

The other day my 10-year-old daughter came home incensed: a friend had told her of a congressman’s assertion that evolution and the Big Bang Theory were lies sent by Satan to deceive Americans.  She and her friend were spittin’ mad and spent their lunch hour talking about his stupidity (yeah, my daughter has some cool friends).

Image

Rep. Paul Broun

I was plenty shocked, so I decided to look this up.  I was floored.  The congressman in question, Rep. Paul Broun, proclaimed to a group of sportsmen at a church in Hartwell, Georgia, “God’s Word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” (August Chronicle)

Pretty bad, but it gets worse: Rep. Broun is a medical doctor, somebody who, presumably, studied some science at some point.

Even worse?: Rep. Broun sits on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Shortly after this episode (and an extended discussion with my daughter about faith and science, God and creation—about what early modern natural philosophers would have called “the book of God” and “the book of Nature”), I saw this article about the BBC’s documentary, Isaac Newton: The Last Magician. The film details a perceived oddity of Newton’s career: an obsession with alchemy that lasted until his death. It may come as a surprise to some that a towering figure in the story of modern science was obsessed with a field we associate with magical thinking, pseudo-science, and occult study.

Image

Godfrey Kneller’s 1689 portrait of Isaac Newton (age 46)

The juxtaposition of these two events—my daughter asking me about Broun and reading about Newton’s research interests—made me think about the asynchrony of science. I mean, it doesn’t all happen in a straight line, does it?  We posit, hypothesize, doubt, prove, doubt again, and then prove again. But while we’re doubting and proving, we’re holding different sets of assumption in our head, provisionally balancing outcomes and worldviews.

Newton could write the magisterial Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica and analyze the refraction and diffraction of light in the Opticks, all while influenced by Rosicrucians in his search for the Philosopher’s Stone.

Broun is trained in biology and chemistry. He’s made his living based on science determined by modern scientific practices.  Yet he can still assert that evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang Theory are lies sent by the Devil.

But the more I thought about it, the less comfortable I became with lumping Newton and Broun together in this asynchrony.

First, of course, there is the possibility that Broun only made those statements in order to secure the evangelical Christian vote, that it was a calculated misrepresentation of his actual beliefs.

But there’s something deeper, too.  Newton’s alchemy relied on principles very similar to those that would eventually yield the modern field of chemistry.  Exciting new finds in the natural world seemed to buttress the kinds of ancient claims made by the alchemists.  As Natalie Angier notes in her excellent article on Newton in The New York Times:

There were plenty of theoretical and empirical reasons at the time to take the principles of alchemy seriously, to believe that compounds could be broken down into their basic constituents and those constituents then reconfigured into other, more desirable substances.

Miners were pulling up from the ground twisted bundles of copper and silver that were shaped like the stalks of a plant, suggesting that veins of metals and minerals were proliferating underground with almost florid zeal.

The principles of alchemy that Newton relied on were not so very different from modern scientists’ shared assumptions.  Again, Algier:

The conceptual underpinning to the era’s alchemical fixation was the idea of matter as hierarchical and particulate — that tiny, indivisible and semipermanent particles come together to form ever more complex and increasingly porous substances, a notion not so different from the reality revealed by 20th-century molecular biology and quantum physics.

With the right solvents and the perfect reactions, the researchers thought, it should be possible to reduce a substance to its core constituents — its corpuscles, as Newton called them — and then prompt the corpuscles to adopt new configurations and programs. Newton and his peers believed it was possible to prompt metals to grow, or “vegetate,” in a flask. After all, many chemical reactions were known to leave lovely dendritic residues in their wake. Dissolve a pinch of silver and mercury in a solution of nitric acid, drop in a lump of metal amalgam, and soon a spidery, glittering “Tree of Diana” will form on the glass. Or add iron to hydrochloric acid and boil the solution to dryness. Then prepare a powdery silicate mix of sand and potassium carbonate. Put the two together, and you will have a silica garden, in which the ruddy ferric chloride rises and bifurcates, rises and bifurcates, as though it were reaching toward sunlight and bursting into bloom. rises and bifurcates, rises and bifurcates, as though it were reaching toward sunlight and bursting into bloom.

The principles and assumptions underpinning Broun’s scientific background (his medical school education, for example), however, are markedly different from the evangelic Christian tenets he proclaims.  Whereas modern scientific assertions require prediction based on observation, Broun relies on literal interpretation of an ancient text.

I guess a lot of this is just me thinking out loud (which is what blogs are supposed to be, right?).  What do you all think?

 

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The Coolest Thing You’ll See All Day: The Renaissance Anatomy “Pop-Up Book”

My eldest daughter—burgeoning animal-rights activist and wannabe vegan (alas, she likes bacon and cheese too much to commit)—is supposed to do her first dissection soon in biology class.  She is not happy about it, and after some thought, I realized I wasn’t really either: with all of the virtual tools at our disposal, do we really need to kill animals and expose our kids to harsh chemicals for 7th-grade biology?

So I’m doing some prep to make a case to the school district for using a virtual program like Frogouts or McGraw Hill’s dissection tool.

This may be a moot point (as the school district may already have something in place as a substitution), but it got me to thinking again about the bizarre history of dissection practices and early instances of virtual dissection.  Unlike in current medical schools, where a cadaver is shared between three or four medical students, in the middle ages dissections occurred in a theater.  The actual cutting was performed by a surgeon—a relatively low-level practitioner who couldn’t claim the vaulted status of physician.  Guiding the surgeon was the professor of medicine, who sat on high and read from Galen, the undisputed ancient authority on medicine.  Actual physicians seldom (if ever) cut into a real body (there’s some discussion of this here), like this:

medieval dissection

Illustration of a dissection from the Fasciculo di Medicina, ed by Johannes Ketham, 1493

In the Renaissance, a physician named Andreas Vesalius challenged Galen’s primacy and encouraged physicians and medical students to cut into the bodies themselves.  Though the idea caught like wildfire, there was a hitch: it was not easy (and often not lawful) to obtain human bodies for dissection.  At different times and in different places, those wanting to dissect a human body had to obtain them from professional grave-robbers who kept the anatomists in fresh bodies.

It is perhaps due to the desire to have first-hand experience, and the difficulty of getting fresh bodies, that there was a boon in the publication of what are called “fugitive sheets,” or what a professor of mine in grad school called “Renaissance pop-up books.”  Basically, they are anatomy books with illustrations that can be lifted and folded back to provide a sort of early modern virtual dissection.  Here’s a great example of a fugitive sheet from the Wellcome Collection:

Anatomical fugitive sheets of a skeleton, male figure and a female figure.  Wittenberg, 1573

Anatomical fugitive sheet, male figure

Anatomical fugitive sheet, female figure

(Really, you have, have, have to click on these to see them—they’re cool.)

Anatomical flap books were not just a Renaissance phenomenon, however.  Here’s an amazing website from Duke University Library’s exhibit, Animated Anatomies.

And here it is in video form:

 

And if that is not the coolest thing you’ve seen all day, then . . . well, you have an amazing life.

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The Perils of Wisdom: Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month, March

A Renaissance poesy ring inscribed with "In love abide till Death devide," a sentiment Henry, Lord Neville, might have done well to remember.  (This ring from medieval-rings.com can be yours for a mere $6,500)

A Renaissance poesy ring inscribed with the verse, “In love abide till Death devide,” a sentiment Henry, Lord Neville, might have done well to remember. (This ring, from medieval-rings.com, can be yours for a mere $6,500)

Have you ever met one of those peckerheads who’s almost too pathetic for so robust an insult?  The kind of guy who doesn’t want to do bad things, but would be okay with it if bad things happened to people he didn’t like?*

Our Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead for March** is that guy. His name was Henry, Lord Neville, the earl of Westmorland, and he conspired to murder his wife and father.  Kind of.

I learned about Henry in this great book called The Sorcerer’s Tale by Alec Ryrie that I bought at the Wellcome Collection bookstore (not where you’d expect to find a book about a sorcerer). I bought it because I’m fascinated by the intersections of magic and science in 16th- and 17th-century England, and this book didn’t disappoint: Ryrie meticulously recreates the life of Gregory Wisdom (yes, that seems to have been his real name), who managed to craft a life as (in unequal parts) con-man, magician, and surgeon in 16th-century London.

Ryrie’s book is about Wisdom, but this blog post is about Henry, Lord Neville. As Ryrie describes it, Lord Henry was easy pickings for a charlatan like Wisdom.  He was rich, dumb, greedy, and unhappy in his marriage.

Wisdom was introduced to Lord Henry by one of Henry’s servants, the euphonically named Ninian Menville (who was also a massive peckerhead, but maybe we should leave that for another month).

Wisdom offered to make a magic ring for Lord Henry, a talisman that would help him win at cards and dice.  Not that Wisdom was in the habit of making such rings for just anybody, mind you . . . only his “dear friends.”  He assured Lord Henry that the ring would net £2000 or £3000 in only a few months, and for this amazing trinket he required only a pension of £20 for life (enough, says Ryrie, to comfortably retire on). Lord Henry took the bait.

The ring didn’t work. Wisdom blamed Lord Henry, accusing him of laying with a woman not his wife, an act that would void the ring of any magic it contained.  (This was a pretty astute guess on Wisdom’s part, as Lord Henry was known to have an unhappy marriage and to frequent the brothels as well as the gambling houses.)

You’d think Lord Henry would have nothing more to do with Wisdom, but ignorance and greed are powerful forces.  To distract Lord Henry from the ring debacle, Wisdom revealed that another magician of his acquaintance had told him of a vast buried treasure on the Nevilles’ own estate, a cache of gold worth well over £2000.  Of course, somebody would have to go retrieve it, and that somebody would need traveling expenses…

Lord Henry was out another £6.

Up till now, Lord Henry had proved to be an idiot, but he wasn’t yet a peckerhead.  That was about to change.

After allowing time for Menville to soothe Lord Henry’s ruffled feathers, Wisdom again showed up, this time tempting Lord Henry with a different kind of bait: “My lord, I know you love not your wife” said Wisdom (according to Lord Henry’s own account), “whereby you lead an abominable life in whoredom, which will be your destruction both of body and soul. If your wife were dead, then might you choose one, which you might find in your heart to love, and by that means lead an honest and a godly life. And here I have a book, wherewith I can dispatch her, and not known but that she died of God’s hand.”

Lord Henry wrote that he was shocked—gasp, just shocked!—by Wisdom’s proposal to use magic and spells to murder his wife, but somehow he overcame his revulsion in order to meet Wisdom and Menville again three weeks later. This time, though, they informed him that they had placed a spell on his father as well.  This double murder would make Lord Henry not just a bachelor, but a *rich* bachelor.

The spell on the father was a bit of a surprise, it seems, and seems to have caused Lord Henry some guilt–though not enough guilt to do anything about the situation for several weeks. However it came about, Lord Henry had Wisdom captured and claims to have gone, with Menville, to the duke of Suffolk’s house to confess his sins.  Unfortunately, claimed Lord Henry, the duke was too ill to see him (a clear fabrication, as the duke, who did get sick later in the year, was perfectly capable of receiving visitors during the time in question).

Oh well.  He tried. Shrug.

He let Wisdom go, perhaps finally realizing that he, too, would be implicated in any charge brought against the sorcerer.

Lord Henry’s wife, Anne, lived.  The earl lived.  Everything went on as normal until a year later, when the story finally broke.  Lord Henry was imprisoned, and there was the requisite scandal.

And then, here’s the crazy thing—after a little cooling-off period, Lord Henry was free to go.  He went back to his wife and father and resumed his gambling and whoring and all-around-jerkiness.  He outlived his wife and lived to assume the earldom from his father.

What gets me about Lord Henry is his bullshit passiveness in the proposed murder of his wife and father.  One can imagine him throwing up his hands, feigning helplessness:  “Oh well, what could I do?  I mean, the spell was already cast!  And, I mean, my wife was going to get to go to heaven, after all…”

So, for behavior befitting a peckerhead (albeit a weak, limp, flaccid peckerhead), I nominate Henry, Lord Neville, for March’s Vile-Hearted Renaissance Peckerhead of the Month.

***********************************************

*Kind of like George Costanza from Seinfeld, maybe? I still haven’t recovered from the episode in which George called up Marisa Tomei for a date mere hours after Susan died from licking too many of the wedding invitation envelopes . . . but that’s fodder for an altogether different kind of blog.

**I know, I know, I skipped February.  I was too busy celebrating Valentine’s Day and the birthday of my decidedly non-vile-hearted husband.

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March 7, 2013 · 11:22 am