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 Strumpets and Ninnycocks

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Temperance
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PostSubject: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Wed 27 Jul 2016, 10:18

Both the above are from a book of Elizabethan insults. However, it's not insults I am interested in at the moment, but rather the men and women - mistresses and favourites - who have been important in history, individuals whose influence - usually sexual, but often emotional, too - on those in power has changed history, or at least whose influence has had a significant effect on the course of history. Edward II's lover, Piers Gaveston (he's got a Society at Oxford named after him), comes to mind, as does Jane Shore, the mistress of Edward IV and Lord Hastings. Even Thomas More had a soft spot for Shore, for besides being a "merry" strumpet, she was also a "witty whore". Most favourites indeed - male or female - have been far from being "ninnies". They have been clever - "she hath a good wit" - the word "wit" here having the sense of "intelligence": Anne Boleyn, for example, was so described, even by her enemies. Cleopatra, of course, was a brilliant woman, but was contemptuously dismissed in Rome (in Shakespeare's words) as a "gypsy" while her lover, Antony, was despised for exposing himself as a "strumpet's fool".


My favourite of the likeable favourites from history has to be Nell Gwyn. She, like Jane Shore, was a "merry whore" - and was certainly no empty-headed bimbo. Got this from Wiki:


Though Nell Gwyn was often caricatured as an empty-headed woman, John Dryden said that her greatest attribute was her native wit, and she certainly became a hostess who was able to keep the friendship of Dryden, the playwright Aphra Behn, William Ley, 4th Earl of Marlborough (another lover), John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, and the king's other mistresses. She is especially remembered for one particularly apt witticism, which was recounted in the memoirs of the Comte de Gramont, remembering the events of 1681:


Nell Gwynn was one day passing through the streets of Oxford, in her coach, when the mob mistaking her for her rival, the Duchess of Portsmouth, commenced hooting and loading her with every opprobrious epithet. Putting her head out of the coach window, "Good people", she said, smiling, "you are mistaken; I am the Protestant whore."[58]


The Catholic whore was still the Frenchwoman Louise de Kérouaille, who had been created Duchess of Portsmouth in 1673.


The author of her 1752 biography relates a conversation (more than likely fabricated) between Nell and Charles II in which he, feeling at a loss, said, "O, Nell! What shall I do to please the People of England? I am torn to pieces by their clamours."


"If it please your Majesty," she replied, "there is but one way left, which expedient I am afraid it will be difficult to persuade you to embrace. Dismiss your ladies, may it please your Majesty, and mind your business; the People of England will soon be pleased."[59]



She is noted for another remark made to her coachman, who was fighting with another man who had called her a whore. She broke up the fight, saying, "I am a whore. Find something else to fight about."



Other favourites, however, have not been judged as being honest, likeable or amusing: their influence rather has been regarded as simply malign and their cleverness as mere cunning.


What notable examples of favourites - the good, the bad,  the ugly, male or female  - come to mind?


Last edited by Temperance on Fri 19 Aug 2016, 18:22; edited 2 times in total
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Meles meles
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Wed 27 Jul 2016, 13:34

James I (VI) was well known for his male favourites.

There was Esmé Stewart, Lord d’Aubigny who James met when he was in his mid teens although James probably saw the 37 year-old French-Scottish noble more as a surrogate father. Nevertheless the two became extremely close and it was said by an English observer that "from the time he was 14 years old and no more, that is, when the Lord Stuart came into Scotland... even then he began... to clasp some one in the embraces of his great love, above all others" and that James became "in such love with him as in the open sight of the people often he will clasp him about the neck with his arms and kiss him". D’Aubigney converted to Protestantism and James made him Duke of Lennox, but the Scottish Kirk remained suspicious of him warning that the duke sought to "draw the King to carnal lust".

Then there was Robert Carr. In 1607, at a royal jousting contest, the 17-year-old Carr, was knocked from his horse and broke his leg directly in front of James. Carr was noted for his handsome appearance ... as well as his limited intelligence, and according to Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk, James promptly fell in love with the good-looking, injured but rather dim, young man. As the years progressed he showered Carr with gifts, and he was made a gentleman of the bedchamber, then a knight of the Garter, a Privy Councellor, and finally, on his marriage, Earl of Somerset.

Then a public scandal erupted when it emerged that that Somerset's new wife had poisoned Sir Thomas Overbury, his best friend who had been opposed to the marriage. James, angered over Somerset's attachment to his wife rather than to himself, exploited the opportunity and insisted they stand trial. Somerset then blackmailed the King, threatening to reveal that they had slept together. At the trial, while testifying before the Lords in Westminster Hall, two men were posted beside him by order of the King, prepared to muffle him with cloaks should he begin to divulge delicate matters. They were not needed, and though he refused to admit any guilt, his wife confessed, and both were sentenced to death. The King however commuted the sentence but they were imprisoned in the Tower for seven years, after which they were pardoned and allowed to retire to a country estate.

And finally of course there was George Villiers. James had met him in 1614 around the time that the situation with Somerset was deteriorating. He was described as exceptionally handsome, intelligent and honest. In 1615 James knighted him and 8 years later he was made Duke of Buckingham (the first commoner in more than a century to have been elevated so high).

James compared his love with Buckingham to Jesus’ love of John:
"I, James, am neither a god nor an angel, but a man like any other. Therefore I act like a man and confess to loving those dear to me more than other men. You may be sure that I love the Earl of Buckingham more than anyone else, and more than you who are here assembled. I wish to speak in my own behalf and not to have it thought to be a defect, for Jesus Christ did the same, and therefore I cannot be blamed. Christ had John, and I have George."

But others saw it as something else, the French poet Théophile de Viau wrote plainly about the King's relationship in his poem, Au marquis du Boukinquan:
"Apollo with his songs / debauched young Hyacinthus ... And it is well known that the king of England/ f**ks the Duke of Buckingham."

... while Buckingham himself wrote to James:
"Sir, all the way hither I entertained myself, your unworthy servant, with this dispute, whether you loved me now... better than at the time which I shall never forget at Farnham, where the bed's head could not be found between the master and his dog". [implying that they had slept together]


Last edited by Meles meles on Wed 27 Jul 2016, 18:27; edited 1 time in total
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Wed 27 Jul 2016, 14:09

The last time I was in the National Portrait Gallery I stood for ages in front of this picture of George Villiers. It was painted around 1616. James' pet name for Villiers was "Sweet Steenie" - apparently after Saint Stephen who is described in the Bible as having "the face of an angel".

I don't like him: he looks vain and arrogant. He is obviously enormously proud of his legs (with reason, I suppose).That rosy shade of lip gloss looks good on him, though - I give you that.  

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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Wed 27 Jul 2016, 15:52

George Villiers' nephew, William Villiers, was the father of another notorious royal whore: Barbara Villiers, better known as Barbara Palmer, Countess of Castlemaine. She, like Nell Gwyn, was a mistress of Charles II. Castlemaine does not, however, seem to have been as happy and as good-natured a soul as Nelly.

Castlemaine was described as “a vulgar-mannered, arrogant slut”, but also as “the finest woman of her age”. The artist Sir Peter Lely, who painted her many times, claimed that her beauty was “beyond the power of art”. Charles II himself is credited with having said that Barbara “hath all the tricks of Ariten (a 17th century sex manual) that are to be practised to give pleasure”.  Shocked

Pepys mentioned her several times, and he seems to have been rather smitten with the lady. On Monday October 20th 1662 he noted:

Insomuch that after I had done with the Duke, and thence gone with Commissioner Pett to Mr. Lilly’s, the great painter, who came forth to us; but believing that I come to bespeak a picture, he prevented us by telling us, that he should not be at leisure these three weeks; which methinks is a rare thing. And then to see in what pomp his table was laid for himself to go to dinner; and here, among other pictures, saw the so much desired by me picture of my Lady Castlemaine, which is a most blessed picture; and that that I must have a copy of.

I wonder if Pepys got his picture of the lovely Barbara and, if he did, where did he hang it? Wonder what Elizabeth thought of his admiration for Charles' sexy mistress?

John Evelyn was not so impressed by this woman whom he called "the curse of the nation".

Barbara bore six children, five of whom were acknowledged by Charles II as his: how the barren Catherine of Braganza must have suffered because of this woman's fertility. One of her last lovers was John Churchill. Sarah Churchill's comments on the lady are not recorded.

EDIT: This portrait of Barbara by Sir Peter Lely shocked everyone: she is shown as the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus - actually little Charles Fitzroy, who was born in 1662.

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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 28 Jul 2016, 13:28

I've been reading this morning about Aspasia, the beautiful and intelligent partner of Pericles. According to Plutarch, she used to run a brothel and was herself a prostitute*. The truth is perhaps rather different: she was, according to this link, an educated and liberated woman in a society where to be a woman was not easy.

Apparently even Socrates listened to this woman's ideas!

http://classicalwisdom.com/political-woman/


*From the link

Once in Athens, it is believed that Aspasia became a hetaerae (ἑεταίρα) and probably ran a brothel. Hetairai (plural form of hetaerae) were not common prostitutes. Rather, they were highly educated, highly sophisticated courtesans who would have been skilled at dance, song, conversation, and would have likely been present in the inner circles of powerful, affluent men.

Hetairai were probably the closest thing to liberated women during this time. They were allowed to pursue education, engage in civic debate, they even paid taxes! Additionally, Aspasia had the advantage of being a foreigner. This meant she was forbidden to marry an Athenian citizen. A consequence of this was that Aspasia would not have been bogged down by the restrictions placed upon married women.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 28 Jul 2016, 14:31

One of the many portraits of Amy Lyon/Emma Hart/Lady Hamilton painted by George Romney in the 1780s;



Emma Hamilton is of course, best known for being the mistress of Horatio Nelson;



a less than flattering image by James Gillray in 1801:
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 28 Jul 2016, 19:20

I always supposed hetairai were closer to the common perception of a geisha than to a streewalking whore.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 28 Jul 2016, 21:36

@Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
I always supposed hetairai were closer to the common perception of a geisha than to a streewalking whore.



The link I gave makes that clear: such women had to be cultured, intelligent and educated. I found it interesting that they had more freedom and independence in Athenian society than did the "respectable" married women. Odd (?) then that Plutarch makes disparaging remarks about Aspasia.


I know very little about Alexander the Great, but I have read with interest of his love for Hephaestion. I believe scholars dispute as to whether this was a homoerotic relationship or not (does it matter?), but it was certainly a passionate and loving friendship. Hephaestion seems to have had huge influence - if the information in this link is to be trusted:

http://www.ancient.eu/Hephaestion/
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 31 Jul 2016, 10:26

I would be interested in tracing the historical link between classes such as the hetairai and what we have come to believe was a medieval tradition of retaining a "fool" within the royal court's inner sanctum. If you can divorce the job title from its colloquial definition and actually examine the (few) known historical examples then, as Shakespeare intimated in King Lear, the "fool" was often anything but. It is interesting however that in almost all societies where such companion classes developed through royal patronage or similar, whatever collective term was employed to describe them acquired to different degrees rather negative connotations (sometimes aggressively so).

To me this suggests an expression of the eternal struggle between the notion of ruling from the top versus ruling from beneath - one that is still yet to be resolved in terms of what discretionary authority whoever sits at the top of the heap at any given time should be deemed to have the liberty to exercise. Private confidantes, however they incur favour or however much they have become a class unto themselves within any society historically, will always incur the distrust of those who see it as their job to control the figure who nominally controls power.

It is ironic, though also totally understandable, that this was the very charge that was levelled against so many of them historically by contemporaries, so obviously in a political effort to retain that very function for themselves.

One example who I think fits Temp's inquiry is the women who Disraeli once contemptuously dismissed as "Gladstone's cats, without whose advice the old man cannot conclude anything". Catherine Gladstone, William's wife, was described by Lucy Masterman as "one of those informal geniuses who conduct life, and with complete success, on what the poverty of language compels me to call a method of their own." A woman who called a spade a spade and refused to suffer fools gladly, she was - as you can imagine - abhorred by the male ruling class of her husband's world, though this never deterred her from intruding into it and disrupting their cosy self-serving arrogance when motivated to extract public funds through their concession for the establishment of hospitals, orphanages, and even STD clinics for prostitutes. The other "cat" (the nickname originally applied to Catherine of course) was her daughter Mary who if anything was even more influential on her father than Catherine, namely through her appointment by him as his private political secretary and therefore becoming quite an effective barrier for those wishing to gain access to him.

Both women may of course be disqualified from the strict definition of Temp's inquiry through having been related to Gladstone, but there is no doubt that both - in a modern age - would have probably pursued political careers leading to achievement eclipsing even his own, whether related to him or not. However in the age in which they lived they were mere "confidantes" and as such earned mostly revulsion from the powers that be.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 31 Jul 2016, 15:32

"Gladstone's cats" were surely just outlying examples of the "political hostess" - like Margot Asquith etc? Perhaps the last such (in the sense that conditions had changed sufficiently for her to make the transition) would have been Nancy Astor.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 31 Jul 2016, 17:29

Nordmann - thank you for your reply: detailed, informative and original, as always.

Your remarks on a possible link between classes such as the hetairai and the later tradition of the "fool" within the medieval and 16th century courts is intriguing. What a fascinating study that would be - something  I would never have considered. Real, lasting influence rarely stems from the satisfaction of simple sexual need, important as that drive is: emotional neediness is, as most people I think would acknowledge, usually far more powerful. The "fool's" role was never sexual (as far as I know), but was perhaps that of a companion who had become - almost - a trusted and trustworthy family member. A pretty necessary individual to have around, especially in a world where it was only a fool who trusted anyone, and where one's own blood relatives - one's kith and kin - usually proved to be, in Hamlet's words, "less than kind". Blood is thicker than water we are told; it is certainly stickier.

I looked up the origin of "kith and kin" and found this:

Kith is obsolete except in the alliterative expression kith and kin, a phrase that dates from Middle English times and seems to have already become a cliché by the 1300s. The Middle English noun kith meant basically "familiar country, place that one knows" and also "kinsfolk, relations." It comes from the Old English noun cȳth, meaning "knowledge," "known, familiar country," and "acquaintances, friends." Cȳth in turn comes from the Germanic noun *kunthithō, a derivative of *kunthaz, "known." Germanic *kunthaz was the past participle of a verb *kunnan, "to know, know how," which became cunnan in Old English.

"A place that one knows" - I like that definition of a trusted friend.

I wonder if there is any such significance in the inclusion of two "fools" in this terribly important family study?




The man on the far right is Will Somers, and the female on the left is Jane the Fool, who was "adopted" by Catherine Parr, and later by her step-daughter, Mary Tudor. I have always been puzzled as to why these two unlikely individuals were included in such a solemn and important dynastic portrait. Will Somers certainly was extremely close to Henry, but I know little about Jane.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 31 Jul 2016, 17:54

Gil mentioned the geisha tradition in a post above: that comment has made me think of something I have read about Wallis Simpson, perhaps the most infamous of recent royal confidantes. I know the geishas were Japanese, but Chinese courtesans were also famous for their political and sexual skills. It was rumoured that there was a security file on Wallis Simpson that gave information about her activities when she and her first husband lived in Shanghai and Peking (Beijing) during the 1920s. The file - allegedly - gave details of visits to the brothels in both cities, and of the "training" Wallis had received there in the more unusual arts of love. Malicious, sensational tittle-tattle? Perhaps. But later when she became involved with the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, it seems she was considered - as was he - as a security risk - a clear and present danger to the nation. The King of England, egged on by a clever mistress, as a potential traitor to his own subjects seems a ludicrous idea, but it has been known for a king in these islands to have been removed because of such perceived "treason". The fears of the British government about this monarch have been well documented. Edward VIII was an exceptionally vulnerable man, one who had complex physical and emotional needs; while she, for her part, was an ambitious woman - not for a crown maybe, but for real political influence as a maîtresse en titre: she had the potential to prove powerful - and dangerous.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v10/n16/paul-foot/the-great-times-they-could-have-had


From the link to the London Review of Books article - the article is from 1988, so I do not know if the information is now disputed or out-of-date:


Mr Higham, who has certainly done his homework in the American state files, produces clear evidence that Wallis Spencer, as she then was, was hired as an agent for Naval Intelligence. The purpose of her visit to China in the mid-Twenties, where she accompanied her husband, who also worked for Intelligence, was to carry secret papers between the American Government and the warlords they supported against the Communists. In Peking her consort for a time was Alberto de Zara, Naval Attaché at the Italian Embassy, whose enthusiasm for Mussolini was often expressed in verse. When she moved to Shanghai, she made another close friend in another dashing young Fascist, Count Galeazzo Ciano, later Mussolini’s Foreign Secretary. Wallis’s enthusiasm for the Italian dictatorship was, by this time, the only thing she had in common with her husband, Winfield Spencer. In 1936, ten years after the couple were divorced, Spencer was awarded the Order of the Crown of Italy, one of the highest decorations of the Mussolini regime...

...In all the innumerable versions of the ‘Greatest Love Story of the Century’ it is assumed that the British Establishment, led by Stanley Baldwin and the Archbishop of Canterbury, could not stomach the idea of a monarch marrying a twice-divorced woman. The objections, it is said, were moral and religious. The truth is, however, that throughout the centuries archbishops and prime ministers have miraculously overcome their moral objections to royal idiosyncrasies in the bedchamber. The real objection to the liaison between the King and Mrs Simpson was that both were Nazi sympathisers at a time when the more far-sighted civil servants, politicians and businessmen were beginning, sometimes reluctantly, to realise that British interests and German interests were on a collision course. As the biographers of Baldwin, Keith Middlemas and John Barnes, observed, ‘the government had awakened to a danger that had nothing to do with any question of marriage.’...


...Charles Higham quotes an FBI file in Washington: ‘Certain would-be state secrets were passed on to Edward, and when it was found that Ribbentrop’ – the German Ambassador in London – ‘actually received the same information, immediately Baldwin was forced to accept that the leakage had been located.’ Higham then asserts (without quoting the relevant passage): ‘The same report categorically states that Wallis was responsible for this breach of security.’ Of Sir Robert Vansittart, Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office and head of British Intelligence, Higham writes (and here he does provide the evidence): he ‘was Wallis’s implacable enemy from the day he was convinced she was a Nazi collaborator’.


Wallis Simpson was, incidentally, great chums with Diana Mosley.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Tue 02 Aug 2016, 20:51

Good blog here about Henri of Anjou, later Henri III of France.

Henri's male favourites were called "mignons du coeur" - little darlings of the heart - and they and their master were notorious. Gareth Russell, however, here suggests that history has been crassly unfair - and homophobic - in its portrayal of this French king.

The issue of Henri III's tortured sexuality is still something of a hot-topic in the historiography of Renaissance France. Historians seeking to "defend" Henri from the charge of homosexuality often point-out how much he enjoyed the company of beautiful women, but he never took a mistress from any of these bevy of beauties and he was never romantically linked with a woman. Even his choice of his wife, Louise, seemed curious. In contrast, Henri was quite clearly smitten (and at times obviously in love with) some of his handsome gentlemen-in-waiting. At the time, the King's sexuality was a gold mine to his enemies. They portrayed him as the very worst kind of homosexual stereotype and one which unfortunately endures to this day. For centuries, Henri has been presented as a cross-dressing, idiotic, promiscuous, unnatural, mincing, effeminate fop. However, those portrayals tell us far more about our attitude to stereotypes than they do about the real Henri III of France.


http://garethrussellcidevant.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/2nd-august-1589-murder-of-king.html


The recent (1998) film, Elizabeth, sustains the stereotype in its presentation of the Duke of Anjou (as he then was). Eric Cantona (here not kicking a ball about, but looking aghast at the antics of the heir presumptive to the French throne) plays Paul de Foix, the ambassador charged with the thankless task of negotiating a marriage between Elizabeth of England and the Duke.


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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Wed 03 Aug 2016, 14:06

Addendum to my post about Wallis Simpson, above.

I've just now finished reading That Woman by historian Anne Sebba. In her final chapter, Sebba writes:

It is this tantalizing version of counterfactual history - what if Hitler had won the war? - that has led not only conspiracy theorists but serious historians as well as novelists to give Wallis Warfield of Baltimore a deeply significant role in world history. Merely by marrying the ineffectual King she did not only England, but the world, a favour. His removal from the throne ensured his own patriotism was never tested, nor was the nation ruled, in the midst of an existential struggle against Nazi Germany, by a man whose intimates at times questioned his very sanity. And one does not  have to believe the extreme versions of some conspiracy theorists to see the merit of such an argument. It leads to another thought about her significance. Every generation throws up an ordinary person who, through luck or circumstance or the infinitely variable nature of the human condition, diverts the course of history in unpredictable ways. In the 1930s Wallis was certainly That Woman.

And the King of England became known - as one of the coarser descriptions of him at the time of the Abdication put it - as "the third mate on an American tramp".

The woman who in 1937 married the second "mate" (Ernest Simpson), Mary Kirk Raffray, died of cancer in 1941. In one of her last diary entries before her death, Kirk Raffray wrote this about Wallis Simpson:

If I believed in that sort of thing, I might say my getting cancer again was a judgement on me because I once wished that when Wallis came to die she'd be fully conscious and know it, because she is the most arrant coward I ever knew and terrified of dying. I had hoped she knows it is to pay her back for all the wicked things she's done in her life - for I think of her as people think of Hitler: an evil force, for force she is in her way, not really intelligent or clever because there is no intellect, but full of animal cunning..."

Words not written for publication, but from the heart. A devastating judgement. The anguished pencilled words in Kirk Raffray's diary, written some forty years before the Duchess of Windsor's death, are surely one of the most tragic and chilling indictments possible - no less for the hate and pain embedded in them, than for the accurate prophecy they contain. Wallis Simpson was almost blind and paralysed but fully conscious when she finally died in Paris in 1986. She was quite alone in the world and her diet had consisted mainly of vodka for several years. As the Duchess of Marlborough observed after the funeral: "I went to look at the flowers...It was tragic. They were all from dressmakers, jewellers, hairdressers - Dior, Van Cleef, Alexandre. Those people were her life."
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 18 Aug 2016, 08:06

On Dish of the Day yesterday, MM gave us a frog-inspired recipe in honour of Elizabeth I's witty little grenouille, the Duc d'Alençon, son of Catherine de Medici and Henri II of France. Alençon was the brother of the Duc d'Anjou whom I mentioned above in an earlier post. It is likely however that, had it not been for the intervention of their father's favourite mistress, neither Alençon nor his brother would ever have been born - and French history during the 16th century might have been very different.

Catherine de Medici became the Dauphine when she married Henri, the French Dauphin, in 1533. Several years later there was absolutely no sign of an heir. A campaign to have the Italian girl repudiated was set in motion, but the unhappy Catherine found an unexpected ally in the stunningly beautiful Diane de Poitiers, Duchesse de Valentinois, the favourite mistress of the young Henri. Diane was nineteen years older than her royal lover but, although the Dauphin seemed utterly captivated by this mature and lovely woman, the Duchess realised that her own position could be easily destabilised by the arrival of a new, possibly very young, possibly also very lovely new bride for Henri. Especially worrying was the rumour that Louise de Guise - who was indeed very young, also stunningly beautiful and from a very powerful and ambitious family - was being seriously considered as a likely replacement for the unloved Dauphine. Poor Catherine was obviously no rival for any woman: the Medici princess was dumpy, dull and had absolutely no allure whatsoever. She was also - or so it seemed - without the ambition and the political cunning of her infamous house. She was also satisfyingly pliant. Diane decided Catherine must stay.

The Dauphine was therefore given some good advice from her husband's mistress: she was to throw herself (literally) at the feet of the King, Francis I, and put on, in true canny female fashion, a peerless show of womanly distress. Catherine did as she was told and, sobbing her heart out, told Francis that she accepted that she must stand aside for a more suitable bride who would give the Dauphin the children he needed: she begged only to be allowed to remain in France and to serve her fortunate replacement in whatever lowly capacity the King might permit. Catherine's sorrow and humility - and submission - were so touching that Francis I found himself her champion against his better judgement. Unable to stand the sight of any woman in tears, Francis declared:" My child, it is God's will that you should be my daughter and the wife of the Dauphin. So be it." It was a reprieve, but such a reprieve could only be temporary and Diane realised that the sooner Catherine produced a baby the better.

More advice - some very odd - was given: various philtres and potions (including one made from the urine of a female mule) were drunk and poultices, including a particularly revolting cow-dung preparation, were applied to what was euphemistically called Catherine's "source of life". Thanks to - or in spite of all this - Catherine soon found herself pregnant. Possibly more efficacious than the smelly poultices etc. had been Diane's insistence that the Dauphin should do his bit and actually have regular intercourse with his wife, something which he apparently had been avoiding for the previous ten years. In 1543 Catherine was safely delivered of a son, the future Francis II (who was the first husband of Mary Queen of Scots). Nine more Enfants de France followed. Catherine - and Diane - were quite safe.

Catherine who was, of course, cunning rather than pliant, had her revenge when her husband, then the King of France, died in 1559. Diane was (amazingly) sixty years old, but still much loved. With the death of Henry II, however, she was finished. Catherine was suddenly transformed into the all-powerful and terrifying Queen Mother  - Madame Serpent - and as such she immediately banished her hated rival from court, demanding first that all the jewels her husband had lavished on Diane should be returned - plus a detailed inventory. "Keep nothing back," the Queen Mother chillingly warned Diane, " for I have noted everything."

There was no arguing, and Diane was also ordered to hand over to Catherine her enchanting chateau at Chenonceau. As the Venetian diplomat, Giovanni Michiel, reported on 12th July 1559 a letter was sent - from Francis II, but really from his mother - wherein "the King has sent to inform Madame de Valentinois that, because of her evil influence with the King, his father, she has merited a severe punishment; but that in his royal clemency, he did not wish to disquiet her further."

Diane got the message and retired to her estates at Anet. She never came back to Court again.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Fri 19 Aug 2016, 17:09

Today's historically significant strumpet is a Scottish woman: Lady Margaret Erskine.

Through her liasion with James V of Scotland, Margaret became the mother of James Stewart (1531 – 1570), first Earl of Moray, the half-brother to Queen Mary Stuart, and regent for James VI (I of England). She was not the king’s only mistress, but Margaret was his acknowledged favourite. She was by all accounts an extremely beautiful and sensual woman: indeed she served as the model for ‘Lady Sensualitie’ in Sir David Lyndsay’s work, Ane Pleasant Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis After the birth of their son, King James had made enquiries concerning a papal dispensation which would enable him to marry Margaret, and make her his queen, thus legitimating their son and making him the heir (1536), but Lady Margaret having been a married woman at the time of her son’s birth rendered that solution impossible. Her son’s later legitimization (1551) was in regard only to inheritable property, and had nothing to do with rights to the succession. James VI of Scotland was to be another woman's son.

In the event, James V married Madeleine of Valois in 1537. She died a few months later, and James took as his second wife the valiant Mary of Guise - the mother of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Margaret Erskine cropped up again in Scottish history in 1567. She was the chatelaine of Lochleven Castle when her son's half-sister was imprisoned there. According to Antonia Fraser, Lady Margaret, "the old lady" as she was by then known, was said to bear a natural, if illogical, grudge against the young and beautiful queen for occupying the throne from which fate had debarred her own son. Ironically, it was another of Margaret Erskine's sons, George Douglas, known as "Pretty Georgie", who, with Willie Douglas, helped Mary escape from the island fortress. George Douglas was nine years younger than Mary and he had been appalled at her brutal treatment at the hands of the Scottish lords, including his own half-brother, James. He had, like many men, fallen for Mary and was determined, in true courtly love fashion, to rescue and so serve his distressed and cruelly imprisoned "princesse lointaine".

Moray became the virtual ruler of Scotland after Mary's forced abdication. This son of Margaret Erskine was not actually present when Mary signed the abdication papers, but he had, possibly/probably with Cecil's help, engineered Mary's downfall. Cecil could do business with James Stewart: Elizabeth, however, apparently detested the man. She knew a ruthless Tudor when she saw one and, it must be remembered, her grandfather, Henry VII, was James Stewart's great grandfather. The son of Lady Margaret Erskine was a cold and calculating man - clever, but without a heart. A brilliant politician in other words. He was more Tudor than Stuart, as his foolish and impulsive - but loveable - half-sister had learnt to her cost.
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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sat 20 Aug 2016, 00:44

That information about Margaret Erskine is really interesting, Temperance. In the early part of Mary Queen of Scots' downfall she spent some time at Tixall Hall - just a few miles down the road from me (though I wasn't around at the time). The hall is a posh hotel now but for many years there was just the shell of the gatehouse (there was a fire there many years ago) though as I say there is a hotel there now and twenty-something years ago some rather swish mews houses were built (well out of my price bracket).

Coincidentally I was reading a criticism (from about 3 years ago) of an American TV show "Reign" which is very, very, VERY loosely based on Mary Queen of Scots - so loosely that I think the character only shares the name with the historical personage.  To be honest I haven't watched it though I did see a trailer - the actress playing Mary is a fairly dark brunette - I think her name is Adelaide Kane and she's Australian though I think they play everybody with English accents.  The commentary was quite funny though it made it quite clear that the writer thought it was a silly show - some of the comments made me despair though "oh but it's entertainment - if I want history I'll watch the history channel"; "it's historical fiction" that sort of thing.  I did love the old Charles Lawton film "The Private Life of Henry VIII" though and that wasn't 100% true to history. Charles L did play Henry as corpulent though.

Trivial fact - Antonia Fraser's first husband was the MP for Stafford and Stone (they've changed the boundaries since) many years ago.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 21 Aug 2016, 14:37

As a total aside, I was rather surprised to encounter an actual ninnycock on my recent travels - in fact three of them, all deemed too immature to be saleable and promptly returned alive to their aquatic elements by the fisherman who had inadvertently trapped them in his lobster pots. When I asked about his use of the term he explained that this was simply the local pronunciation (South Galway/North Clare). In far flung areas such as Donegal and West Cork he had heard them called "nintycocks" and "nancycocks", though being Donegal and West Cork this departure from true English could only be expected, he insisted.

There is a strong case to be made for Elizabethan English to have survived most noticeably in the west of Ireland and this seems to further enhance the theory, something with which the fisherman agreed and indeed he could provide me with several more examples (a woman's "nothing" being one that had often tickled his fancy, in every sense). When I got back to what passes these days for civilisation I checked out his claim and found that at least one of these terms "nintycock" is also still alive and well in the Yorkshire Dales where it means both a foolish person and an immature lobster, just as in Ireland. The association is apparently from the lobster despite its immaturity possessing a fully developed claw, giving it a comical ungainliness in its gait and movement, akin to a stupidly drunk person.

Despite his exhaustive knowledge of Elizabethan English (ie. Ballyvaughanish) sexual slang my etymological lobster-catching pal could not remember "ninnycock" being used quite in that way. However he couldn't vouch for the Donegal and West Cork usage, where English has strayed in terms of pronunciation and use into all the new-fangled Jacobean stuff.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 21 Aug 2016, 17:57

This chap, Todd Gray, is speaking at the Appledore Book Festival next month. I shall ask him about lobsters. His book is called Strumpets and Ninnycocks and the blurb below made me think that a ninnycock was the male equivalent of a strumpet. I shall report back. Someone here agrees with you that "ninnycock" refers to a young lobster. I am mortified, and now feel a bit of a ninny myself.

This is from the Festival website:


Strumpets and Ninnycocks

Todd Gray

Elizabethan insults in Devon varied from those that are uttered today. An examination of some forty thousand uncatalogued papers reveals that men were insulted in different ways from women. The terms used reveal the social lives of our forebears (particularly of their intimate relations) in a manner which has never been discussed in public since. Dr Todd Gray has devoted his working career to the study of Devon history and has written more widely on Devon than any other Devon historian. His latest book Strumpets and Ninnycocks will teach you how to swear like an Elizabethan!
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 21 Aug 2016, 22:04

Thinking of Nordmann's mention of the lobsters, has anybody any idea whether the story that "Tidewater English" (in America) is the form of English which has changed least in the USA?  I have been told that but I don't know how true it is.

Also does the modern insult "ninny" come from "ninnycock" (with apologies if someone has mentioned that upthread.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 22 Aug 2016, 06:17

"Ninny" as a term in its own right meaning "fool" or "simpleton" is assumed to be from a misdivision of "an innocent" (a reverse of what happened with "a narenj" when the orange's Arabic name first entered English). The OED also suggests it may have been derived from "ninno", the Italian for "baby".
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 22 Aug 2016, 08:38

But we're digressing from the theme ...

I'll put things back on track by nominating Elizabeth the Marchioness of Conyngham (long time mistress of George IV) as a potential strumpet with clout (whatever about her ninnycock qualifications - though several of her female peers most definitely commented on her grasping claws, right enough).

Her influence on Georgie was mainly directed towards securing the family finances up in Slane (her husband the Marquis was all for the arrangement) and to this end she did succeed in having certain political and court appointments annulled or approved, much to the chagrin of competitors. Though in Ireland the most tangible and long-lasting effect of her influence is still the present day N2 between Dublin and Slane (now a mixture of motorway and dual-carriageway) which for many years was the longest run of straight road in the country, navigated, improved and constructed in record time to facilitate Georgie's one official shag visit to the castle (rumour was that there were many more unofficial ones).

After Georgie's demise the tables turned on Lizzie and the other ninnycocks came after her with a vengeance, claws at maximum deployment. However she'd already done enough to shore up the Conyngham assets and had safely placed a sufficient amount of spawn in high places to ensure that she could retreat a safe distance to Paris and let them all get on with it. Her son Francis, as Lord Chamberlain to George's successor William, became the first person to address young Victoria as "your majesty", being the lad detailed to convey the news of Willie's demise to the princess along with the Archbish of Cant. Her daughter Jane was Lady of the Bedchamber to Victoria, so could ensure that young Vicky's nightie was all proper and decent when the lads suddenly arrived in her bedroom with the message.

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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 22 Aug 2016, 08:53

At school we used the term a lot - following a first year intro to WS via 'A Midsummers...' Further smut was also wrung out from the wall scene leading to expectation of similar in all else that we were later force fed.

So if Temps has mistaken the term what should she have used? Not that we have had any examples yet of the male branch of this subject. Carry on, Temps. Or have we had the last strumpet?
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 22 Aug 2016, 10:05

@Priscilla wrote:
So if Temps has mistaken the term what should she have used?

That's a difficult question, the aim being to find a male equivalent for strumpet which can be shown to have existed in slang terms during the reign of Elizabeth.

The main obstacle to answering the question is of course - just as nowadays - preconceptions and prejudices regarding male and female sexual roles and activities resulted in a whole slew of slang terms for females who used sex to nefarious ends while their male counterparts got off lightly. Also, with so many positions of power occupied by males anyway, then there was a statistical bias in favour of homosexual men being the ones best positioned to pursue that course of action, and therefore slang terms for male homosexuals - already charged enough with derogatory innuendo and moral criticism - tended to be the ones used against such individuals. We know that heterosexual men employed the same technique against female figures of power (Elizabeth herself wasn't short of such attentions), but we lack any specific instance of a general slang term used to describe them at the time.

However I did find one that may suffice. It's an esoteric phrase, and from Stuart rather than Tudor times, but was at least levelled against one known target (John Churchill) on the grounds that he used his sexual "charms" to ingratiate himself with high-flying females. "Coistrel" is often defined simply as "knave" or "rascal" but - as when used by Charles II in the instance that we know of - meant more specifically a gigolo, and especially one whose ultimate aim was upward social mobility.

"Coistrel" was derived from an earlier "custrell", which itself came from French "coutelle" - a dagger or knife (from which we also get "cutlery"). By Middle English a "coistrel" - a man employing his "dagger" (tellingly in its feminine French construct) - was seemingly a euphemism for someone whose powder was never dry, and by Stuart times one who intended to keep it that way for social gain.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 22 Aug 2016, 11:49

And again getting back on tack ...

Not quite a "coistrel" but every bit a stalker, Prince Erik of Sweden - a total nutcase who later as king was deposed, locked away and ultimately poisoned by his half-brother after going totally potty in a homicidal way - had the hots for Elizabeth Tudor from when she was still young "Lady E." and disowned by her father. Her rehabilitation as royalty and her accession to the crown only upped his ardour even more, and at one point he was sending letters on almost a daily basis to her pleading with her to marry him. Elizabeth apparently thought these letters hilarious, and one famous "Dear John" from her was sent after Erik, now stuck in Sweden attending to succession matters of his own (and a few wars he'd started), had suggested that he send his brother to London to "marry" her for him by proxy (he mistakenly took her reticence to mean that she understandably didn't want to marry a man who wasn't actually there so sending little bro was a way of ensuring the physical presence of a bod at the ceremony).

It is difficult to read the letter without envisaging Lizzie and a few associates sniggering uncontrollably as they concocted this "polite" reply to what was (even by Erik's standards) a rather weird request indeed. Even those who dismiss accounts of Elizabeth's sense of humour have to admit that this is something of a masterpiece of wit, diplomacy and a brilliant example of how to proverbially kick someone in the teeth while wearing hobnail boots decked in kid gloves ...

Most Serene Prince Our Very Dear Cousin,

A letter truly yours both in the writing and sentiment was given us on 30 Dec by your very dear brother, the Duke of Finland. And while we perceive there from that the zeal and love of your mind towards us is not diminished, yet in part we are grieved that we cannot gratify your Serene Highness with the same kind of affection. And that indeed does not happen because we doubt in any way of your love and honour, but, as often we have testified both in words and writing, that we have never yet conceived a feeling of that kind of affection towards anyone.

We therefore beg your Serene Highness again and again that you be pleased to set a limit to your love, that it advance not beyond the laws of friendship for the present nor disregard them in the future. And we in our turn shall take care that whatever can be required for the holy preservation of friendship between Princes we will always perform towards your Serene Highness. It seems strange for your Serene Highness to write that you understand from your brother and your Ambassadors that we have entirely determined not to marry an absent husband; and that we shall give you no certain reply until we shall have seen your person.

We certainly think that if God ever direct our hearts to consideration of marriage we shall never accept or choose any absent husband how powerful and wealthy a Prince soever. But that we are not to give you an answer until we have seen your person is so far from the thing itself that we never even considered such a thing. But I have always given both to your brother, who is certainly a most excellent prince and deservedly very dear to us, and also to your Ambassador likewise the same answer with scarcely any variation of the words, that we do not conceive in our heart to take a husband, but highly commend this single life, and hope that your Serene Highness will no longer spend time in waiting for us.

God keep your Serene Highness for many years in good health and safety. From our Palace at Westminster, 25 Feb.


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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 22 Aug 2016, 12:15

Superbly diplomatic understatement.  Smile

But it needs to be read in Glenda Jackson's voice of course ... 

"We therefore beg your Serene Highness again and again that you be pleased to set a limit to your love, that it advance not beyond the laws of friendship for the present nor disregard them in the future .... "

[Elizabeth R laughs outloud, while Walsingham (Stephen Murray) and Lord Burghley (Ronald Hines) both quietly titter into their is ruffs]
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 28 Aug 2016, 12:06

Poor David Rizzio - perhaps a papal spy, perhaps not - was the political adviser and friend of Mary, Queen of Scots. A witty and lively "little" man (he was well below the average height) and a brilliant musician (he had a superb bass voice and was an expert player of the lute), Rizzio was brutally murdered on 9th March 1566. Mary, who was six months pregnant at the time, was forced, a pistol held to her stomach, to watch as her Italian confidant was stabbed to death by the Protestant Lords of the Congregation: between fifty-three and sixty wounds were counted on "Seigneur Davie's" corpse - a shocking and savage butchery on such a small body.

Decades later the joke went round that James I - the "British Solomon" (the "wisest fool in Christendom") - was indeed "Solomon, the son of David". Even at the time, however, Mary was aware of the vile rumours about her relationship with her Secretary. After the birth of Prince James, Mary felt it necessary to make  this rather strange and very  public declaration when she first presented the child to her husband:

"My Lord, God has given you and me a son, begotten by none but you. Here I protest to God as I shall answer to him at the great day of Judgement, that this is your son and no other man's son. I am desirous that all here...bear witness. For he is so much your own son that I fear it will be the worse for him hereafter."

It is unlikely that that Mary's dependence on Rizzio was ever more than a close - and probably genuine - friendship: the Italian Secretary was possibly homosexual and, if he had slept with anyone in the royal household, it was probably with Mary's husband, the bisexual Lord Darnley. It was noted at the time that the King and Darnley frequently shared a bed. Quite who was exploiting whom is not very clear. Darnley/Mary/Rizzio: it was one of those odd, triangular relationships of love and hate and need that can sometimes develop between men and women and men and men -  entanglements which usually end in jealousy and disaster for all concerned. It certainly did for these three ill-fated souls.

I have wondered recently whether the Scottish Lords' extreme hatred of Davy and of Darnley, although obviously the result of greed, intrigue, ambition and cut-throat politics, was also intensified by Protestant homophobia. A gay man - who was possibly a Vatican agent - really didn't stand a chance in Knox's Edinburgh, and a bisexual man who flaunted his unorthodox sexuality and who also demanded unlimited political power was even worse. Homosexuality, as long as it was discreet and did not interfere with the business of state, was I believe (or am I quite wrong?) tolerated before the Reformation. Once bible-reading and Luther's sola scriptura took hold, however, an openly gay/bisexual man in a Protestant world was asking for trouble, especially a man - or men - who had access to and who had the emotional power to manipulate a queen.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 28 Aug 2016, 20:13

Temperance read your interesting post of today. Enjoyed the story and even more your great use of the English language...with esteem.

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 29 Aug 2016, 18:53

Thank you, Paul - really.

Even a smidgen of esteem around here is welcome these days. I bet "smidgen" is a new word for you! Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 29 Aug 2016, 19:36

@Temperance wrote:
Thank you, Paul - really.

Even a smidgen of esteem around here is welcome these days. I bet "smidgen" is a new word for you! Smile

 Of course you are right Temp. But for my "absolving" to be honest I didn't find the word in my Collins Paperback, nor in my Oxford Advanced, nor in my American Heritage...thus up to the internet...
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/smidgen

Hmm, now I see...
"a small amount :  bit smidgen of salt> smidgen of common sense>"

A language is that rich: for "salt" we would use: "'n vleugje" (a little touch of, a bit of) for pepper we would use "'n snuifje ( a little sniff of) for common sense we would also use "'n vleugje". Also more in general we use "'n beetje" (a little bit)

Kind regards from Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 08 Sep 2016, 22:46

@LadyinRetirement wrote:
Thinking of Nordmann's mention of the lobsters, has anybody any idea whether the story that "Tidewater English" (in America) is the form of English which has changed least in the USA?  I have been told that but I don't know how true it is.

This idea was vaguely touched on in the BBC's landmark series The Story of English from 1986. The epic production was written by Robert McCrum and William Cran and was presented by Robert MacNeil. There was also an accompanying book. The second episode A Muse of Fire suggested that the dialect and accent to be found in England's West Country are probably closest to speech patterns which existed in Elizabethan times:



The same episode also suggests that the English spoken on Tangier Island in Virginia is relatively unchanged since the late 17th century:



(about 7:56 in)

Some of the claims made in the series are unsubstantiated or even unacademic and the scope was also very wide and maybe too ambitious. That said - overall it was certainly thought-provoking and caused a stir at the time being generally well-received. This month sees the 30th anniversary of its broadcast and there are hints that the Beeb might upload it onto their own website to mark the occasion. So far, however, they only put up a few teasers from episode 4 The Guid Scots Tongue.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 29 Sep 2016, 11:44

I'm off to the Ninnycock talk this afternoon: I shan't forget to ask about baby lobsters. Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 29 Sep 2016, 17:54

Really excellent talk by chap from Exeter University. I now own two of his books: How to Swear Like an Elizabethan in Devon and Strumpets and Ninnycocks.

I mentioned nordmann's lobster observations to Todd Gray after his lecture, and he confirmed that ninnycock does mean an immature lobster, but only in the north of England. Surprisingly he has never come across the word having that meaning in Devon: here it is simply a combination of fool and penis. An Exeter woman took a neighbour to court in 1637, complaining that she had been called "a whore, a base whore and a ninnycock whore" - Gray said he assumed this meant a fool had paid her for sex.

"Ninny", he added, had in the late 1500s and early 1600s its current meaning of simpleton or fool, but it could also mean a small child (hence the immature lobster?) It was so used by Tavistock's Richard Peek in his play Dick of Devonshire in about 1626. One of Peek's characters says: "The very name of Drake was a bugbear to fright little children. Nurses stilled their little Spanish ninnies when they cried, 'Hush, the Drake comes.' "

For the record, a ninnyhammer signified a man who was a fool and a sexual braggart. Three Cornish instances, dating to the 1620s, were found by Gray, cited in the church courts: Richard Gaine of Madron was called a cuckold and a ninnyhammer; Thomas Seymour of Launceston was named as a wittol (a cuckold, only worse) and a ninnyhammer; and Radolphus Payne of St. Gluvias was called not only a ninnyhammer, but a cuckold and a puppy! "Puppy" was not an affectionate word, as might be supposed: it meant an extremely conceited young man. I actually remember Mrs. Elton, in Jane Austen's Emma, using the word.


A very fine young man indeed, Mr. Weston. You know I candidly told you I should form my own opinion; and I am happy to say that I am extremely pleased with him. You may believe me. I never compliment. I think him a very handsome young man, and his manners are precisely what I like and approve — so truly the gentleman, without the least conceit or puppyism. You must know I have a vast dislike to puppies — quite a horror of them.

PS I had to laugh at the word "nippy" - as used by an irate Exeter councillor to describe his younger brother. It refers to the male member (body part, that is, not a member of the council). No record, however, of a ninnynippy.

http://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_544361_en.html


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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 29 Sep 2016, 18:26

Thanks for that Temp.

By the way, à propos of "ninny", in modern French slang "un nin" is a young child ... as used in all the commonly seen signs in the back of cars saying,"p'tit nins à bord", ie kiddies (on board) in the car .... (and note the current popular trend in French slang to abbreviate written words, with apostrophes, to approximate to how they sound when spoken, hence p'tit for petit).  In this useage I believe "nin" derives from "nain" meaning in French an elf, pixie, or one of the other little people ... and hence its current, rather nauseatingly twee usage, to mean small children.

But I do wonder if these ninny typr words are related.


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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 29 Sep 2016, 18:54

Would it not be more likely to have derived - in all uses stated above except for Devon - from "ninus" or "nina" (Latin for boy-child and girl-child)? El-Nino would be the best known modern usage as a meteorological phenomenon, borrowed directly from the Spanish which, with the definite article attached, has always meant Baby Jeeby, and which can be traced back to the Latin words above (which were affectionate terms for one's own children, especially the eldest, and should not be used for other people's apparently).

Why Devon took it to mean stupid penis is indeed an anthropological mystery - at least to me. They seem to have simply ditched the "diminutive" aspect that everyone else retained and drew an immediate parallel with "nincompoop" (which itself apparently only acquired its second "n" very late in life, having originated as a variant of "Nicodemus", used in French as a byword for fool and which seemed to come across with the Bastard in that form).

Perhaps in Devon they have no use for small penises and regard them as frivolous? I wouldn't know, of course, though I will admit to some shrinkage when it's "nippy" out.


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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 29 Sep 2016, 18:57

D'oh of course Nino/Nina ... a child Embarassed

(Oh dear ... how embarassing).
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Thu 29 Sep 2016, 19:13

Why embarrassing? I've just checked the etymology of the French "nain" and found it comes from Latin "nanus" which means yet another diminutive, and whereas ninus was a small boy and nina was a small girl, nanus was a small man. So I'd wager these all have a common root, buried somewhere in Etruscan or similar. It's just a question of how far back one cares to go.

I wonder could the Devon departure have something to do with how late Romanticised English made it into the county? Has anyone actually ever measured that, by the way? We all accept that French filtered into English after the conquest, but did it filter faster and slower in different areas? It must have, when one thinks about it.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 10:13

What I know about ancient Indo-whatsit language based words may be written on less than a hundredth of a small postage stamp, what I do know is the minefield  there of when to use  family words for small fry.... nanu and noni being common. Noni is all right  for a toddler but when used for a growing lad  just not done; family still  may but no one else dare. Yet their first name is so rarely used that one doesn't know it - or of such weight that it sounds  pompous. Anyway, that aside this nin, non, na sound is used for 'baby' names as likewise the mmm sound seems to be part of many languages words for mother. In my innocence of linguistic and many other skills am just saying. 
As for strumpet - where does that come from?..... crumpet comes to mind........
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 10:19

"Strumpet" is easier, and even then there is disagreement. I am inclined to go along with the association with "strømpe" (and variants thereof) in Germanic languages, meaning stockings. Here in Norway I have heard strømpe- still being used as a prefix in a derogatory way for females - one such being strømpehund (stockinged dog), but there are as many terms as words which can be stuck on the end.

I agree with you about the Indo-European root of n-n words indicating babies and other similar diminutives. It's way too common across so many languages not to have such a root, in my view. Which is why I was pleased with MM's "nain" - I hadn't heard that word before (my French is atrocious) but vaguely remember the Latin version for dwarf. It is almost inconceivable that these aren't part of the same progression.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 11:01

Just to clarify, the French "nain" usually means dwarf, and like the English dwarf or German kobold, when talking about legendary little folk, it tends to refer mostly to the masculine swarthy mining chappies, rather than the more flightey pixies (lutins) or fairies (farfadets). But exactly like the English dwarf it also can be used to refer to small versions of things, such as a dwarf variety of rose (un rosier nain), a dwarf ie toy dog (un chien nain), or a red dwarf star (une étoile naine rouge).
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Fri 30 Sep 2016, 15:50

@Priscilla wrote:
As for strumpet - where does that come from?.....


This is what the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us:



strumpet (n.) "harlot; bold, lascivious woman," early 14c., of uncertain origin. One theory connects it with Latin stuprata, fem. past participle of stuprare "have illicit sexual relations with," or Late Latin strupum "dishonor, violation." But evidence for this is wanting and others suggest Middle Dutch strompe "a stocking," or strompen "to stride, to stalk" (as a prostitute might a customer). The major sources don't seem to give much preference to any of these.

Weekley notes "Gregory's Chronicle (c. 1450) has streppett in same sense." In 18c.-early 19c., often abbreviated as strum and also used as a verb, which led to some odd dictionary entries:
TO STRUM: to have carnal knowledge of a woman, also to play badly on the harpsichord or any other stringed instrument. [Capt. Francis Grose, "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 1785]



Gray's book notes that "strumpet" had by 1500 been commonly used in England for several centuries and it was certainly deployed as an insult across Devon throughout the sixteenth century. It was synonymous with "whore" and "baggage". What I find interesting are the subtle changes in a word's impact. During the 16th and 17th centuries it was no joke to call a woman a strumpet, or a baggage, or a whore, whereas in our own times "strumpet" and "baggage" are/were used generally in a light-hearted, even affectionate, way. "Strumpet", of course, is how Captain Jack Sparrow refers to all women. Even perfectly respectably ones.

"Or is it that you've found a girl and are otherwise incapable of wooing said strumpet...you're not a eunuch are you?

Things seem to be changing again, however: the Urban Dictionary entries would suggest that "strumpet" is once more becoming a very unpleasant word.

"Whore", on the other hand, the most pervasive insult for women in the past, is and always has been thoroughly nasty: it most certainly remains just as common, powerful and offensive today as in previous eras. It is a word never used in an affectionate, teasing way. Less common today, however, is the 16th century habit of adding an insulting epithet to the word. Gray has noted at least two hundred such, including "stinking", "filthy", "pocky", "foggy" (?), "fat-arsed", "lardy-arsed", "squirt-arsed", "maggot-arsed"  Shocked, "copper-nosed", "cozening", "false", "haggled-toothed", "flat-footed" - just a random selection. The rather sweet-sounding epithet of "bobtailed"  - "bobtailed whore" - (as in Rag, Tag and Bobtail?) was obviously anything but sweet, but I can't find out quite what it signified. It was also common to add topographical references to "whore", presumably to indicate where illicit assignations took place: "hedge whore", "barley-field whore", "ditch whore", "mill whore" and "summerhouse whore" have all been noted, as well as specific geographical locations such as "Taunton whore", "Cadleigh Park (near Ivybridge) whore" and "Lapford whore". Stringing several such epithets together heightened the effect, of course. The use of "black whore" as an insult (around Exeter, Ottery St. Mary and Crediton) is interesting, but presumably means "dirty" or simply "evil", and was nothing to do with race.


@nordmann wrote:
Why Devon took it to mean stupid penis is indeed an anthropological mystery - at least to me. They seem to have simply ditched the "diminutive" aspect that everyone else retained and drew an immediate parallel with "nincompoop" (which itself apparently only acquired its second "n" very late in life, having originated as a variant of "Nicodemus", used in French as a byword for fool and which seemed to come across with the Bastard in that form).


That's interesting, but still very confusing. Gray does not mention Nicodemus, but he does note that a "ninnypoop" was different from a "ninnycock" or a"ninnyhammer": it could have been an earlier version of nincompoop, a foolish or silly person, but also seems to have had the sense of being sexually cheated or deceived - or of cheating and deceiving. In 1601 Richard Harris of Bodmin complained that it was said to him: "Thou art an arrant cuckold knave and a ninnypoop ten times worse than a cuckold, and thy wife, Jane Harries, is a whore and a pocky whore and hath been laid for the pox". Its meaning may be understood in its context: it was alleged that Harris' wife hid a man under her bed when her husband, the unfortunate ninnypoop Richard, came home unexpectedly. The earliest printed reference to the word "nincompoop", by the way, is in 1673, in Thomas Shadwell's Epsom-Wells - A Comedy.



@nordmann wrote:
I wonder could the Devon departure have something to do with how late Romanticised English made it into the county? Has anyone actually ever measured that, by the way? We all accept that French filtered into English after the conquest, but did it filter faster and slower in different areas? It must have, when one thinks about it.


Very good point. Things change very, very slowly in Devon: it is commonplace for newly-arrived "townies" to say, usually with a fair degree of exasperation, "They don't know the war is over down here". One presumes the reference is to WW2. And apparently when mention was made of "the Conquest" in Hartland around 1348, the bemused reply was, "Conquest? What Conquest?" Some rich, foreign grockle building a holiday home (big castle) on a hill in Launceston over the border in Cornwall was really of little relevance to anyone in the remoter areas of Devon.

Seriously, things do change slowly here: young girls are still referred to as "maids", and there are some very old folk in nearby villages who have never been out of the county, let alone the country: a trip to Exeter was a life-changing event when they were young. And living in the house you were born in is still not uncommon. Attitudes are entrenched - you have to be very careful what you say, and to whom, especially as everyone - certainly in the farming communities -  seems to be related. I'm always putting my foot in it, even after twenty-five years. Bideford is not Manchester. But the list of rectors in the rural churches - some of the names going back to the 13th century - always seem to be Norman - Simon or Hugh de somewhere or other.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 02 Oct 2016, 13:10

It's the fact that "nincompoop", with that second "n", makes such a late recorded entry into the vernacular which makes Gray's backward engineering of the local dialectic etymology of his "ninny" words suspect, or at least flawed in logic.

However etymology is rife with false leads based on phonetic coincidence, and this appears to be just such a case. Taking Devon, and Gray's assertion, out of the picture leaves one with a much more plausible progression in terms of pronunciation and meaning among the rest of the English speakers of the times in this particular case. When such a local aberration arises in terms of what is assumed etymologically to have occurred then it normally indicates one of two things - a misinterpretation of coincidental pronunciation of a dialectic term with its own completely separate etymological evolution behind it, or a mistaken guess due to over-reliance on the philological evidences which may not always tell the whole story regarding the spoken word. In Gray's case the former looks likely, though the latter cannot be discounted either.

If French impinged later on spoken English in Devon than in other areas then one especially should simply discount conjecture concerning an association with "nincompoop" completely for those early examples cited from Gray above (though kudos to Gray for having found such vivid instances). The word is well documented to have originated from French and even then took half a millennium to arrive at the form we still use today, so really should be discounted as having any association with earlier "ninny-" words except in that the word itself was amended later in pronunciation, probably so it would conform in fact to earlier English words with their own independent and unrelated etymology.

Which therefore fails to answer and even begs the question all the more how then Devonians ended up out on a semantic limb compared to their compatriots in their own particular use of "ninnycock". Gray is not advancing any credible theory through insisting upon what he assumes is an obvious association in this case. It is not obvious, and in fact cannot even be squared with the rest of the etymological evidence. Or to put it in plain language, Devon's ninnies had already diverted from fellow English ninnies long before nincompoops got involved, it would appear.

Does anyone know when English itself arrived in Devon? Its history suggests that it would have retained its Brytonic and then Roman Latinate vernacular -  likely a local mixture of the two - well into the onset of a Saxon hegemony, or at least for longer than its midlands or eastern contemporaries, and one would think therefore that there is a very good case to be made for certain local expressions having a very long and venerable semantic pedigree indeed, pre-dating English itself probably in some cases. Gray might actually be selling Devonians short in his assumptions, if such indeed was the case.
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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 02 Oct 2016, 16:06

This is slightly on a tangent but was inspired by Temperance's mention that some elderly people in Devon have not been out of the county.  A lady I know who was a librarian before she retired said that when she was a twentysomething in the early days of her marriage she sometimes had to go to London for exams and meetings.  Her husband was - and still is - a chess player and one of his (then - i.e. 1970s) older chess buddies said "What, you let your wife go to London on her own?"  I would have thought that attitude had passed by the 1970s - mind you one of the ladies in the same ward as myself when I was in hospital said she had been a woman in a (then) man's trade and some of the (then older) men were rather hostile when she started though they did change their attitude when they saw she could do the job well.  Of course our knowledge about health and safety has come on a lot since then - apparently some of the men as a joke would put asbestos powder on her hair and after handling some of the chemicals used in the process the people in that part of the plant had to clean their hands with benzene.  Asbestos and benzene are both known to carry health hazards now but I guess that aspect of them was not known back then.


Last edited by LadyinRetirement on Sun 02 Oct 2016, 16:09; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : Couple of small grammatical amendments.)
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Sun 02 Oct 2016, 17:47

That was a tangent from a tangent, actually, LiR. The etymology bit is fascinating (as is your reminder that as recently as the 1970s we were still accommodating mores from the 1870s), but is itself a divergence from the invitation to list off strumpets and ninnynippies who may have yielded power from behind (maybe literally).

So I'll submit Marcia, the favourite mistress of the emperor Commodus. We have Cassius Dio to thank for the story of Marcia, a freed slave who slept her way right to the top in late 2nd century Rome. While on top (maybe literally) Marcia, devout Christian that she was, having found out from her buddy Victor - who was pope at the time - about a group of leading local Jesusites who had been sent to work in the mines in Sardinia, persuaded Commodus to free them. For this she was regarded as a saint, at least by Victor. Whether this is before or after her first attempt to assassinate the big C or not isn't made clear. We do know that her co-conspirators were executed but she seemingly managed to sleep her way out of that one too - presumably in as saintly a manner as she could.

A drunken argument with Commodus when she tried to dissuade him from celebrating the new year by dressing up as a gladiator and going on a parade with the lads led to one huge imperial hissy fit in which he decided that this time Marcia really had to go. His written instructions to have her arrested along with a few others who'd tried to dissuade him from his gladiatorial "pageant" were intercepted by Marcia however and, when she learnt that her number was up, she did what all devout Christian saints of the day would presumably have done. The poison she administered turned out to be an emetic however and, afraid that he'd puke all the stuff out, she quick-thinkingly did a sly Christian wink and flashed a pious boob at one of the palace guards (Cassius Dio calls him Narcissus, a "fine athlete"), who then finished the job for her by strangling Commodus.

Probably much to Narcissus's chagrin, she immediately married Commodus's equally pious and murderous chamberlain Eclectus (whose name had also been on the intercepted hit-list), but this turned out to be a bad move. Commodus's successor, the short-lived emperor Didius Iulianus, reckoned the palace employees he inherited included a few too many homicidal Christians and had them both executed. We don't know if she tried to sleep her way out of this too - but by all accounts Diddy probably wouldn't have appreciated her advances, if you know what I mean.

The story has a sort of happy ending. The slave boy Philcommodus (love Commodus), who in fact was the lad who had delivered the hit list to Marcia earlier (showing he'd been rather badly named), allegedly slept his own way into some security and wealth with his new boss D.I., and even when Diddy himself got the chop (for debasing everything, including the currency), was granted his freedom and a large estate by the next emperor Severus.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 03 Oct 2016, 10:17

Your contribution above, nordmann, informative and entertaining as ever, arrested me as two words jumped out and took me back to another woman whose influence was muttered about about as being malign and self serving and based  (allegedly) on a bit of houghmagandie in the corridors of power. Those words were Marcia and list, the list being Harold Wilson's notorious Lavender list and the woman Marcia Williams, now Baroness Falkender, who I am a little surprised to see is still alive in her eighties

I suspect that most of us on this forum recall those days but if like me your memory has dimmed somewhat, here's a nice piece about the Lady written at the time of the BBC docudrama The Lavender List. Marcia got £75000 in damages from the BBC for the suggestion that Harold's Kitchen Cabinet had an annexe in the bedroom.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/baroness-falkender-the-lavender-lady-479040.html
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 03 Oct 2016, 12:09

I regret to inform fellow Res His contributors that Dr Gray's interesting research has made it into the Daily Mail Online today:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3819328/Long-nosed-gouty-legged-copper-nosed-Language-historian-reveals-long-lost-words-help-swear-like-Elizabethan.html

I should like to clarify one point. In his second book, the very useful and informative How to Swear Like an Elizabethan in Devon (which is helpfully set out like a mini-dictionary), this Exeter academic does include a bit of a weasly word in his definition of the disputed "ninnycock":

Ninnycock: presumably a combination of a fool and a man's organ, said of an Exeter woman that she was "a Ninnycock whore".

"Presumably" does rather leave things wide open which I am sure will delight nordmann.

PS The word "minion", which I thought was only used for male favourites, was actually used of both sexes: it meant a "hanger-on" or "someone kept for sexual favours ". The word was used of one Joan Beard "that she was Constable Bennett's minion".

PPS A cucumber is not - as might be supposed - a term synonymous with a nippy: it means "a cuckold", as when it was used of Thomas Fleshman of Tavistock of whom it was recorded: "He lieth like a cucumber."
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 03 Oct 2016, 13:24

Temp wrote:
"Presumably" does rather leave things wide open which I am sure will delight nordmann.

In etymology any proposed definition that needs to be prefaced with "presumably" may as well be replaced with "dunno". But then I'm not an academic.

As a sort of counterbalance to the Marcia story above we can thank Cassius Dio again for the tale of Claudia Acte, another freed slave who slept her way to the pinnacle, this time as mistress to Nero. Acte, as she would be known once manumitted from Claudian ownership, had - it could be argued - as profound an effect on the empire's, and indeed world, history as any agenda-driven Marcia could have hoped for. Though Acte hadn't a political bone in her (according to Seneca according to Cassius) lithe little body there is plenty of evidence to suggest she grew some rather quickly once in imperial situ.

Pushed into a relationship with Nero by Seneca (ostensibly to deter Nero from too many sexual exploits occasioned by his having married a frumpy and dumpy Octavia - Cassius's opinion, not mine), Acte and Nero actually fell deeply in love, and for once this is something said of Nero about which we actually can be pretty certain.

How Acte changed the world was in registering her disapproval of Nero's incestuous relationship with his mommy, Agrippina. Aggie hated Acte, and Nero did a stout job of keeping his mistress's innards poison-free for three whole years while he both weaned himself off his rather literal understanding of and dependency on motherly love, while simultaneously setting up estates and funds for Acte which would make her into one of the richest women in the empire.

The point was that Nero, once out from under Agrippina's control (thanks to Acte), then set about taking personal control of the whole shebang, something that none of those who had plotted his succession ever had envisaged him capable of, least of all mommy-dearest who had engineered most of it. When he belatedly realised just how dangerous these miffed characters were he had his mother done in just to show them who was boss. According to Cassius Dio this met with Acte's disapproval - too many burned bridges, she warned. An astute gal!

Much is made of Nero's reign and his lack of fitness for office, though it has to be remembered that the much that was made - and therefore our historical record of the guy - was written by the very people who firstly had plotted to have him installed and then came a cropper when, against their wildest expectations, he wrested all control from them for himself and actually became in his lifetime an extremely popular emperor indeed, though you'd never guess as much from the begrudgers' accounts. Nero might not have been so much more affable than he was laughable, but it is highly unlikely he was ever quite as bad as that which the people who did him in maintained, and of course which they made sure went into the official records for posterity. Graffiti, inscriptions and other surviving third party contemporary evidence however does not quite support either their vitriol or their wilder claims against him.

What we do know as a fact however is that it was Acte who, after his death made sure his body was treated with the deference and respect any dead emperor should expect, that he was buried in his family tomb, and that a considerable monument be erected over it at her own great expense (one which became an object of popular veneration in Rome for many years afterwards, also rather giving the lie to the traditional historical version of his standing with the public).

In recent years, as can be seen in the film Quo Vadis, there has been a tendency to assume that Acte, being such an all round good egg, must therefore have been a Christian. This is unlikely, though we know she had no problem employing clean and well-behaved Christians as servants (Acte's only criteria for what made a good servant, apparently - she wasn't bothered with religion or race, though we can assume incest bugged her a bit).

We don't know how or when she died. Of course, in Rome of the period that can only be a good sign - here's hoping for Acte's sake anyhow.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 03 Oct 2016, 13:46

@nordmann wrote:
 But then I'm not an academic.


Well, you could have fooled us.

I actually think that, like MM and his excellent and informative Dishes of the Day, you should put your historical stories and explanations into a book of some kind.

If Gray - who is not as funny as you are, and whose command of English (academic or not) is not so good as yours - can do it so very successfully, why should you not give it a go?

With all genuine respect I really do think (as I have said once before) your strength is as an essayist and a raconteur rather than as a novelist. (Definition of a raconteur - One who tells stories and anecdotes with skill and wit.)

I hope this is not a presumptuous comment, and I'm not trying to suck up either: I mean it.

Right, back to my soggy towel misery now.
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Mon 03 Oct 2016, 15:04

I better thank you for your kind words before they're deleted to appease an angry god or something (I actually mean the first bit sincerely).

And like you, I agree completely that MM's historical dishes make splendid reading and should of course be pursued as a potential book. There must be some publisher somewhere who'd be enthused about the idea of an illustrated cookbook giving a dish for every day of the year based on ancient stories and recipes (probably with efforts to recreate the older ones also documented with pics). I'd buy the thing myself!

My admiration for Acte has grown since I wrote the piece above. First I found out that Catholic church histories had a problem with the lassie - having demonised Nero they had to account for how come a Christian-friendly gal could share his lectus imperius. Their solution was to pretend that Nero had "banished" her to Velletri, where she died. There is absolutely no evidence for this of course (she owned Velletri) and in fact Acte's behaviour on his death was hardly that of a banished or scorned lover. But anyone who gets the church's knickers in a twist and brings out their porkies is probably doing something right, I'd say.

We do have something to be grateful for to the same mendacious outfit however. The church in Velletri, St Clement's, is built on the site of an old Roman temple and burial area which had been just outside the town limits in Acte's time. Probable evidence that this regard for Acte in Christian eyes goes back quite a bit is that her epitaph, carved on marble, was located in the church and is still viewable today (the majority of such stones were simply incorporated into the same building's fabric). As one would expect from a level-headed and modest person (and remember when she died she was one of the richest women in the land) her epitaph reads simply D.M. Claudiæ.Acte (To the spirits of the dead, I am Acte, once a Claudian). Classy girl.


They should rename this place,
what did Clement ever do that
was so bloody classy?
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PostSubject: Re: Strumpets and Ninnycocks   Tue 04 Oct 2016, 08:24

Ferval's mention of Marcia Williams reminded me of two other infamous women of our own times: Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. I was only a child when the Profumo Affair was in the news in 1963, and of course had no idea what it was all about. I was however aware that it was all very dreadful. A BBC article describes the Profumo affair as "a sinister cocktail of high-society vice, drugs, race and espionage. It spilled onto the floor of the Commons and mortally wounded a Prime Minister". I suppose it's all tame stuff by today's standards, but at the time it was plastered all over the papers. Stephen Ward committed suicide; Profumo's career - and life - was wrecked; and the Conservatives lost the next election. The two women involved, described in the press as "call-girls" (I remember asking at the time what a "call-girl" was and getting a very vague reply), went on to publish autobiographies and to have a film and a musical made about their exploits. Rice-Davies actually appeared in an episode of "Absolutely Fabulous", playing herself.

Rice-Davies' throwaway line from the witness box has ended up in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations: her casual, cynical words - when she contemptuously dismissed Lord Astor's denial of having had sex with her - put in a nutshell what the post-war generation thought of the "Establishment" and its attitude to truth:


When told he had denied the affair, she famously retorted: "Well he would, wouldn't he?"

This woman died recently (2014): Lord Lloyd Webber, the man who came up with a short-lived musical(!) about the whole affair, said he was "deeply sad" to hear of the news of her death.

"Mandy was enormously well-read and intelligent," he said. "I will always remember discussing with her over dinner subjects as varied as Thomas Cromwell's dissolution of the monasteries and the influence of the artist Stanley Spencer on Lucian Freud.

"With a different throw of the dice, Mandy might have been head of the Royal Academy or even running the country ( Shocked ). She became a dear friend and I will miss her."











This Guardian blog by Derek Brown gives an excellent overview of 1963: I've copied out the rather large chunk relating to the Profumo affair, including Brown's comment that the whole sordid business did indeed contribute to the fall of Harold Macmillan:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/apr/10/past.derekbrown

For months, rumours had circulated about the private life of John Dennis Profumo, secretary of state for war. Educated at Harrow and Oxford, he was a quintessential high Tory who had achieved cabinet rank after serving in a number of junior posts. He was married to the film star Valerie Hobson, and moved effortlessly in the highest of society.

In the deferential spirit of the 1950s, the rumours may have been restricted to salon gossip. Now, in the new age of iconoclasm, the whispers were amplified in the media. That Was The Week That Was scored a telling blow with a splendid parody of the old music hall number, She was Poor but she was Honest. The words of the new version went: "See him in the House of Commons / Making laws to put the blame / While the object of his passion / Walks the streets to hide her shame."

The "object of his passion" was a young woman whose name is now embedded in British political folklore: Christine Keeler.

Keeler, unlike Profumo, had had an extremely undistinguished life. Born in 1942, she left home at 16 after an unhappy childhood in the Thames Valley, and gravitated to London where she found work of a sort at Murray's cabaret club. There she met and befriended another showgirl, Marilyn "Mandy" Rice-Davies. Soon, both young women had drifted into the racy circle around Stephen Ward, a fashionable West End osteopath and socialite.

Keeler's relationship with Ward was both torrid and rocky. They broke up several times, but he seemed to exercise an almost centripetal force on her, and always she drifted back. Soon both young women were celebrated players, albeit with bit parts, in Ward's sexual circus.

Not all the action was centred on Ward's Wimpole Mews flat, equipped with two-way mirrors and other aids to lubricity. Soon, Keeler and Rice-Davies were circulating in more exalted milieux, including Lord Astor's country mansion of Cliveden. It was there that John Profumo first laid eyes on her. A brief but passionate affair ensued, and tongues began to wag.

Even then, it might have been brushed under the carpet in the time honoured English way, but Profumo made a fundamental error: he lied to the House of Commons. In March 1963 he told the chamber that there was "no impropriety whatever" in his relationship with Keeler. Ten weeks later he appeared before MPs again to say "with deep remorse" that he had misled the House, and would resign.

What brought Profumo down even more than his deceit of the Commons, was the startling revelation that Keeler had also slept with Eugene Ivanov, the naval attache at the Soviet embassy. It was that detail which captured world attention, notably in the United States, where the FBI compiled a detailed report called  Operation Bowtie.

In Britain, Profumo's downfall naturally caused a huge sensation, inflated by the establishment's crude and cruel attempts to find scapegoats for its own embarrassment. As usual, official wrath was turned on those least able to defend themselves. Stephen Ward was prosecuted for living on immoral earnings. On the last day of his trial, he killed himself with an overdose of sleeping tablets.

Keeler was also tried and imprisoned on related charges. Rice-Davies, who escaped prosecution, earned a dubious immortality when, during the Ward trial, she was told that Lord Astor disputed her version of events and replied: "He would, wouldn't he?"

Less than two months after Ward's tragic and mysterious death, an official report was produced by Lord Denning, master of the rolls. It was a hot number: hundreds queued to buy a copy when it was released at midnight. But there were few juicy bits in Denning's findings. He criticised the government for failing to deal with the affair more quickly, but concluded that national security had not been compromised. And, to the dismay of the reading public, he failed to identify the man who, naked except for a mask, had served at Ward's dinner parties. There had been rumours that the "man in a mask" was a cabinet minister but Denning, who interviewed him, denied it.

There it ended, though it never really went away. The 1989 movie, Scandal reignited some of the controversy, and Christine Keeler raked over the embers in  her autobiography, The Truth At Last, published early in 2001. In it, she revived some of the more startling claims made at the time - though alas she was unable to offer convincing new evidence to back them up. She claims for example, that the then MI5 chief, Sir Roger Hollis, was a Soviet spy; and that Stephen Ward ran a spy ring which included Hollis and Sir Anthony Blunt, who was surveyor of the Queen's pictures. Blunt was indeed revealed as a long-time Soviet agent in the 1980s, around the same time that Hollis, the object of numerous rumours, was officially cleared.

Now 58, Keeler has consistently said that successive governments have hushed up the truth of the sordid, sensational Profumo affair. Her only new (and unverifiable) claim, is that the cabinet minister made her pregnant.

And Profumo himself? Remarkably, he is still with us at 86, though friends say he is very frail now. It's nearly four decades since his humiliating fall from grace; years which he has devoted largely to charity work in London's East End. He has also remained true to his tribal code of honour, having never uttered a public word on the events which shook the nation in 1963.

The Profumo affair was no passing sensation. It all but brought down the Macmillan government and it almost certainly finished Macmillan himself as prime minister. In October 1963, less than a month after publication of the Denning report, the prime minister resigned citing ill health. There were no party elections in those days, and the mantle passed to the most improbable of candidates, the 14th Earl of Home.


Private Eye, incidentally, brought out a special Profumo Affair edition - I bet a copy of that is a collector's item now.
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