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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Christmas!

Most people know of the song 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' in which one lucky (or unfortunate) person recieves a partridge in a pair tree, 5 gold rings, 7 swans, and 10 pipers piping, amongst other gifts. But seriously, who has 12 days of Christmas? Well, the Elizabethans sure did. Beginning on Christmas Day (December 25th) and ending on Janurary 6, known as the Feast of Epiphany, the Elizabethan would celebrate these 12 days, also known as Christmastide, with feasts and celebrations. Almost every days was an elaborate pageant or feast, and even some role-reversal as seen on Twelfth Night, which is the last day of celebration. Here is a breakdown of some days:

Christmas Eve (December24th)

Christmas Day (December 25th)

Boxing Day or St. Stephens Day (December 26th)

---from here until the Twelfth Night, there are no particular names for the days---

Twelfth Night (January 5th)

Feast of Epiphany (January 6th)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nicholas Hilliard

Nicholas Hilliard was an English goldsmith and limner best known for his portrait minaitures of members of the court of Elizabeth. He mostly painted small oval miniatures, but also some larger cabinet minaitures, up to about ten inches tall, and at least two famous half-length panel portraits of Elizabeth. He enjoyed continuing success as an artist, and continuing financial troubles, for forty-five years. His paintings still exemplify the visual image of Elizabethen England very different from that of most of Europe in the late sixteenth century. Technically he was very conservative by European standards, but his paintings are superbly executed and have a freshness and charm that has ensured his continuing reputation as "the central artistic figure of the Elizabethan age, the only English painter whose work reflects, in its delicate microcosm, the world of Shakespeare'searlier plays."

The two panel portraits of Elizabeth. Notice the intense detail of her gowns, a way to deflect attention from the aging queen (although she does not look old here, this was not a portrait from life) as well as a way to display the wealth of her position and of England. The one on the right is titled the "Pelican" Portrait, c. 1572, due to the jeweled pelican on Elizabeth's dress (right above her hand); the one on the left is titled the "Pheonix" Portrait, c. 1575, for the pheonix on her dress (again, right above her hand).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hatfield House

Hatfield House was the childhood home and favorite residence of Elizabeth I. The home was built in 1497 by one of Henry VIII's ministers, John Morton; the house was seized by Henry along with church properties during the destruction of the Abbeys. Elizabeth and her half-brother (by Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour) Edward, lived at Hatfield House during their youth. When Elizabeth was 15 years old, she was under suspicion of illegally planning to wed Thomas Seymour; the house and servants were seized by one of Edward VI's minister, and Elizabeth was further interrogated. She defended herself, retaining always the postion of innocence. It was supposedly at the "Queen Elizabeth Oak" on the grounds of Hatfield House where Elizabeth was told she was Queen after the death of Mary I.
These pictures actually show the Old Palace, as there is a "newer" part of Hatfield House that was built in 1607. The "newer" House was built by Robert Cecil, the son of William Cecil (the longtime chief of minister to Elizabeth). James I did not particularly like Hatfield House, and so exchanged it for the Cecil Family home Theobald House. On exhibit at Hatfield House are some of Elizabeth's belongings, such as a hat, gloves, and silk stockings. On display are the Rainbow Portrait, and Ermine Portrait, two of the most iconic portaits of Elzabeth. There are also documents written by Elizabeth and a scroll containing Elizabeth's family tree (which "dates" back to Adam and Eve!).

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Elizabeth had many nicknames during her time (The Virgin Queen, Good Queen Bess, Belpheobe, etc.) one of the most well known is "Gloriana". But where did this nickname come from, and what does it mean, (if it means anything)? The name comes from Edmund Spencer's 1590 and 1596 epic poem. The piece was largely an allegorical work to praise Elizabeth I, and her England. The poem follows several knights who undergo various tests and are always enroute to Faerieland. As it was published in 1596, the poem follows 6 virtues: Holiness; Temperance; Chastity; Friendship; Justice; and Courtesy. According to Spencer, the Faerie Queen represents Glory, hence the name Gloriana. Unfortunately for Spencer and bibliophiles, he was unable to finish his 7th book (representing the virtue of "constancy") before he died in 1599.
Photo: Prince Arthur and the Faerie Queen, by Johann Heinrich Fussli

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Anne Boleyn "Chequers" Ring

The ring below is a ring commissioned by Elizabeth (circa 1575) which shows a portrait of herself and a likeness of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's mother. It was very well known that Elizabeth did not speak of her mother to anyone, especially her father Henry VIII who had ordered the beheading of Anne when Elizabeth was just 2 years old.

The ring, which bears the initial 'E' in table-cut diamonds, contains miniature enameled busts of the Queen and her mother. It is believed that the ring was removed from Elizabeth's finger in 1603 and taken to James VI of Scotland in Edinburgh as evidence of her death. The ring has been known as the "Chequers" ring because it belongs to The Chequers Trust. Considering Elizabeth's astute and sometimes distant manner, it is very interesting that she harbored a much softer and sentimental side to her.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Tempest

Movie alert! The wonderful Helen Mirren (who has played both Queen Elizabeth II and our dear Queen Elizabeth I) is staring in a movie adaption of Shakespeare's The Tempest. For those not familiar with the plot-line of The Tempest, it is set on a remote island where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, plots to restore his daughter Miranda to her rightful place using illusion and skillful manipulation. He conjures up a storm, a tempest, to lure his usurping brother Antonio and the complicit King Alonso of Naples to the island. Helen Mirren will play (a female version of) Prospero. Also starring Djimon Hounsou and Russel Brand. The film opens of December 10th, and is PG-13. See the trailer below:

The Tempest (December 10th, 2011)