Thursday, February 17, 2011

Anne of Cleves by Elizabeth Norton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Anne of Cleves was introduced to King Henry VIII (of England) for the first time it must have been an enormous shock and disappointment. Henry, once regarded as the most "handsomest prince in Christendom", was obese, balding and old, and nothing of what Anne, aged 25, would have been expecting. Sent to a strange country where she didn't understand the language or the culture, Anne's marriage to Henry was to create an alliance between England and the German states that at the time was deemed necessary in the event that either France or Spain decided to invade English soil.

As the middle daughter of the Duke of Cleves, Anne's education and upbringing focused on what was considered to be a woman's traditional role and duties. Whilst she was taught to read and write, Anne was not taught music, the arts or politics; however, she was taught to be polite, modest and patient.

This does not mean that Anne was lacking in smarts. In fact, Anne was far more intelligent than what she is often given credit, and in retrospect was probably the most intelligent of all of Henry's wives. When faced with the reality of her failing marriage, Anne was clearly devestated, not because she loved Henry, but instead for the fear and uncertaintly that came with it. Anne was faced with two options: To stand firm and refuse to accept that her marriage to Henry was null and void, or to conform to Henry's wishes, whether she agreed with him or not.

It's not surprising that Anne would have been apprehensive about suffering the same fate as Henry's earlier wives Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn if she refused to agree to an annulment. She was popular with the English people and enjoyed being their Queen, and was also fully aware that the alliance with the German states was important to Henry, who would be looking for a diplomatic way out of their marriage so as to not damage that alliance. Therefore, Henry went on to promise Anne a substantial divorce settlement, which included being adopted as the "King's beloved sister", and being given numerous palaces and properties where she could reside and derive income. Anne readily agreed: This decision, quite possibly, saved her life. Not only did she remain in Henry's high favour, she also suddenly became very independently wealthy. For many, this would have been seen as a far greater prize than the constant uncertainty of being Henry VIII's wife.
However, after Henry's death Anne's good fortune started to fade: The young King and his advisors did not see Anne in the same light as Henry had. Almost overnight she became an unwanted expense and a major nuisance, and as the new King slowly diminished her holdings, her wealth began to disappear and she struggled to meet her household expenses each year. When the young King died and Mary I took throne, Anne returned to court and favour, for a short time at least. However, Mary I was a paranoid Queen and due to Anne's fondness of her sister and rival, Elizabeth, felt that she could not be trusted and was not invited to court after the coronation, nor was she provided with any additional holdings to replace those she had lost during the reign of the young King.
Anne passed away at Chelsea in July 1557, aged 41, having outlived all of Henry's other wives. Although she lived the remaining few years of her life not having enough money to pay all her expenses and being unable to support the lifestyle she had become accustomed to, she kept a much-loved and trusted household, bequeathing most of her remaining possessions to those who served her since her arrival in England. She received a royal funeral and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Elizabeth Norton's biography Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride is a reminder of all these facts, yet it fails to produce any new information on Anne's life. A lot of what is written about her life before England and after Henry are facts already known, and there appears to be quite a bit of assumption about Anne's response to the events that were taking place around her.

At the same time, however, Norton's biography reiterates the fact that Anne was not the woman she is often portrayed to be in legend: She was a beautiful, dutiful princess, fully aware of what her position and status entitled her to, and if she expected certain treatment to be shown to her she was not afraid to ask for it. However, overall Anne was a down-to-earth woman who possessed a love of food and cooking, even going so far as to have a kitchen installed in her quarters so she could partake in this hobby at any time. Anne was born and lived her life a Catholic (not a Lutheran as has often been suggested), was thought of fondly by the English people, and received the utmost devotion and care from her servants, a fact that on its own exemplifies the amazing type of woman she was.

Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride is a short and sharp biography that covers all the major events in Anne's life, but skims over the areas where information may be lacking. Although failing to provide anything new, this is an easy-to-read historical biography for anyone interested in Tudor England.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mind the glare...

[The old fence] 

I have been itching to share with you the brand new fence that we got at our house late last week, but due to an issue at the exchange (I think it got wet with all the rain we've had the past two weekends) I didn't have any internet.

It may seem a rather insignificant thing, but I am so pleased with our new fence! I've even found myself of late wandering outside just to admire its shiny newness, as each time I look at it I smile. As is fairly evident from the above picture, the original fence was in a pretty bad state. The fence was old, the sheets of iron were coming loose, and the wooden posts and beams had termites. SJ and I had been talking about the possibility of replacing the fence for the past two years since purchasing the property, but due to the extensive length of our yard we knew that it was going to be an expensive exercise, and in combination with our home renovations it simply wasn't an expense we could justify straight away.

But then a miracle happened: You might recall a post I made in December about a nasty storm that moved through our little town and caused quite a bit of damage, including uprooting a gum tree in the backyard? That tree fell onto and crushed the fence: It was the only diving fence on the property that needed replacing. It was the only tree on our property that fell, and it was the only fence on our property that was damaged.

All of a sudden it went from being just an old fence that could do with replacing, to a storm damaged fence that had to be replaced and our insurance would cover it. Thankfully, the vacant block next door is owned by the local Council, who readily agreed that the fence needed replacing and agreed to half the cost. I had always expected that the need to come to agreement with a neighbour about replacing a dividing fence would be far more complicated and time-consuming than it was.

Last week, when the heatwave had finally subsided and the tradesperson was finally able to do the work, our brand new fence went up:

[The new fence: Driveway]

[The new fence: Alongside shed]

[The new fence: Rear yard]

So, there you have it: Our new fence. See what I mean about shiny newness? 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Servants of the Supernatural by Antonio Melechi.

Servants of the Supernatural: The Night Side of the Victorian MindServants of the Supernatural: The Night Side of the Victorian Mind by Antonio Melechi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"The sight of a spectral arm in an audience of three thousand persons will appeal to more hearts, make a deeper impression, and convert more people to the belief in the hereafter, in ten minutes, than a whole regiment of preachers, no matter how eloquent, could in five years." - P.B. Randall.

Servants of the Supernatural provides an indepth consideration of the development of the Victorian Spiritualist Movement, beginning with the Animal Magnetism and Mesmerism (the pre-cursor to Hypnotherapy), to the advent of spirit communication in the form of table-tapping and mediumship.

This is not a book that details the belief systems of Spiritualism. Instead it provides a detailed timeline of the events and phenomena that appeared during the Victorian era, the increase in its popularity, and the determination of those persons who set out to prove it all a massive fraud.

Although I enjoyed this book immensely for its significant historical detail, I felt it focused too heavily on Animal Magnetism and Mesmerism, and failed to establish the link between these phenomenon and the forms of spirit communication that appeared later.
Recommended for those interested in the Victorian Era moreso than those interested in Spiritualism.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Change in the Weather...

[The beginning: Storm clouds approaching late Friday, 4 Feb 2011]

[How our backyard looked when we woke this morning: The lawn will love this weather!]

[A very full underground water tank: To prevent flooding, we've had to block off the downpipe running into the tank. As there is so much rain, the overflow for the tank was under water!]

[Water, water everywhere!] 

[Our street early this morning]

[My view from the car of the flats just outside our town: Cannot see the hills in the distance for all the rain!]

[Road Closed: Boolcunda Creek a raging torrent, prevents traffic from reaching Hawker]

What a glorious sound we woke to this morning: Rain on our tin roof!

It began around 1am this morning and has not stopped at all since them. The rain is falling steady at the moment, but has bursts of downpours every now and again. I would not be surprised if we have received more rain than what the beureau was expecting, which at 3am this morning was "more than 50mm" (a rather vague prediction, if you ask me!).

The rain has been caused by troughs bringing tropical moisture south from ex-Cyclone Yasi. There has been no wind whatsoever, so we've been able to have the house completely open (all windows and doors) to let the cool air and the refreshing smell of rain waft through. It is the first time we've been able to open the house like this for at least a fortnight: After weeks of 40*C+ it feels great!

The rain is expected to continue for the rest of the day and into the evening; we may even receive a further 10mm or so tomorrow.

Yet another reminder of Mother Nature's wonder: How one person's disaster can be another's blessing. Thank you for the rain, Yasi Monster!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Yasi Monster.

[Cyclone Yasi - C5 - off the coast of Queensland]

Whilst Queensland braces itself for yet another rough ride tonight, the rest of the country will find themselves in front of the television, clutching the edges of their seats and praying for miracles as the horror that is Yasi rolls itself in off the ocean and swallows everything in its path.

Short story fun with Nicki J. Markus: Awaken to the Night

Awaken To The NightAwaken To The Night by Nicki J. Markus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

 "Jimmy looked up. The discordant jangling of the rusty bell over the door indicated a customer had arrived. He lifted his elbows off the counter and stood up straight, pushing his magazine out of sight behind the chocolate stand."

Awaken to the Night is a 4000 word short horror story set in the Australian outback, and is new author Nicki J. Markus' first published piece.


It tells the strange events that unfold for a young woman who awakens to find herself locked in a room in the middle of nowhere. Unable to recall how she got there, or even her own name, she escapes into the night.


This is a fun, well-written short story. It contains all the necessary detail to maintain interest, and being only 4000 words in length it is really easy to read. The only thing that prevents me from giving this story a 5 star rating is that I am unable to understand why or how the story ended up to be in the Australian bush? Perhaps this is something that the author will develop further at another time, but I couldn't help but feel the story would have been better suited to an urban scene.


It did, however, leave me wanting to know more about all the obvious pieces that short stories deliberately leave out; such as, who is the mysterious figure in the window? Where did he come from and how did he get there? I cannot help but feel this hidden villain has a story of his own to tell!

A lot of fun, and a highly recommended quick read.

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