Friday, June 30, 2023

The Deadly Hobby of Henry II of France

Henry II of France.

On June 30, 1559 King Henry II of France met an unfortunate accident while pursuing a popular hobby.  More on that in a bit.

If your French history is not up to snuff here is a thumbnail of Henry’s biographical highlights.

  • Was born in 1509 as a younger son of Francis I.
  • After his pop was captured by the Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor in a disastrous battle in 1524 young Henry and his older brother, the heir apparent, were shipped off as hostages to be held by the Hapsburg King of Spain in their fathers stead.
  • Catherine de Medici,  Henry's Queen and connection to Papal power and privilege.
  • After being sprung Henry was married to Catherine de Medici.  Both were 14 years old at the time.  But Catherine had important familial connections—she was the daughter of the late Lorenzo de Medici II, ruler of Florence and the ward of her kinsman Pope Clement VI who brokered the marriage deal.
  • Despite his comely young bride, Henry preferred 35 year old courtier Diane de Poitiers who remained his favorite mistress the rest of his life and who had enormous political influence over him.
  • Henry's favorite mistress, courtier Diane de Poitiers, has herself become a romantic legend.
  • In 1636 elder brother Francis died conveniently after a brisk game of tennis making Henry heir to the throne.
  • Nine years later his father died and Henry succeeded to the crown on his 28th birthday.
  • Henry busied himself with endless wars of conquest with the Hapsburgs in Italy and later Flanders and doing the Popes bidding by launching heavy persecution of the Protestant Huguenots.
  • Henry's son and heir Francis was matched with Mary Queen of Scots who had been fostered in the French royal house, a shrew dynastic child marriage.
  • Mary Queen of Scotts who inherited her throne in infancy, was raised in Henry’s household while Regents held sway in Scotland.  He took care to marry his son Francis to her so that his Valois dynasty would ultimately have claim to the Scottish throne—and potentially the English one as well.
  • Wrapped up his various wars with the Hapsburgs—now divided between Austrian and Spanish houses, in 1559 with The Peace of Cateau-Cambr√©sis with Elizabeth I of England, whose throne Mary had claim to, and Phillip II of Spain.  Various land claims were settled.  Henry won some but had to give up Savoy.  But he married his sister off to the Duke of Savoy, so he kept a finger in that pie.  And he sent his daughter √Člisabeth to be Phillips bride.
  • To celebrate the treaty, Henry threw a giant party which included an epic Tournament featuring the most celebrated nobility and knights of Europe. 


The fatal joust of Henry II.

Which brings us back to our story.  Henry fancied himself a great knight and entered the Tournament.  His opponent in the joust was the dashing captain of his Scottish Guard, Gabriel Montgomery.  Somehow Montgomery’s lance penetrated the visor of Henry’s helmet injuring him in the eyes.  The wound was gruesome, and would have blinded the king, but would not have been fatal today.  But without antibiotics blood poisoning set in and the King died ten days later in agony.

His wife Catherine kept his mistress Diane from his bed side, although Henry repeatedly called for her.  After the king died, Diane was sent packing in luxurious exile.  Catherine ruled as ruled as Regent for two of her young sons, Mary’s husband Francis II who lived only a year as king, and Charles IX who sat on the throne until 1570.  She was then a major advisor to her third son, Henry III, who ended up assassinated and was the end of the Valois dynasty.

By the way, Henry’s demise pretty much put an end to the sport of the Joust and has been called the last act of the Age of Chivalry.



Thursday, June 29, 2023

Birthday Sisters Emma and Helen Relevant to Women Today—Murfin Verse


A young Emma Goldman  in her mug shot after her arrest for conspiring with her lover Alexander Berkman  in an assassination attempt on steel baron Henry Clay Frick.

Note—I have posted this poem before, but the two women are particular favorites of mine and I immodestly think that the poem is one of my better efforts.  I also think that they would be astute commentators on the attempted re-subjugation of women by the Supreme Court and Red State governors and legislators.  Emma, of course, a champion of free love and sexual liberation, would never have had faith in the courts to protect women.  An advocate of militant direct action, she would be loudly calling for a real revolution.  Helen, the Wobbly and Socialist, might be supposed to be more moderate, but I wonder if she really would.  She might recommend the ballot box as a defensive action, but she also saw the need for a revolution that would literally “Build a new society in the shell of the old.”

Emma Goldman, whose grave I have visited on pilgrimages to the Haymarket Memorial in Forest Home Cemetery, and Helen Keller, who has fascinated me since seeing The Miracle Worker and reading a paperback biography I ordered from a Scholastic Book Club flyer shared a common birthday on June 27.

You know, if you have visited here before, that such calendar coincidences trigger an inexplicable urge to commit poetry.

Helen Keller as a student at Radcliffe was already world famous for her astounding achievements overcoming blindness and deafness.

Most people recognize Goldman’s name as Americas most famous anarchist.  They may be surprised to learn that she was also a celebrated lecturer whose talks on theater, religion, womens rights, and free love drew as much attention in their day as her calls to smash the state and end capitalism.

Goldman was such a compelling writer and public figure that even the capitalist press was eager to publish her fiery essays.

Keller’s profound advocacy of Socialism and the IWW has largely been whitewashed from her public image.  But that is changing as folks on the left slowly become aware that she was a comrade and fellow worker.

Helen Keller as a Joan of Arc type hero leading the working people of the world to triumph in an allegorical scene from her 1919 silent film Deliverance.  That was the height of the post World War I Red Scare which saw hundreds imprisoned,  the IWW and Socialist Party suppressed, and "alien" radicals like Emma Goldman deported.  Yet Helen persisted

In these dark times it is good to remember our Sheroes.  

Birthday Sisters Emma and Helen

Emma Goldman June 27,1869, Konvo, Imperial Russian Lithuania

Helen Keller, June 27, 1880, Tuscumbia, Alabama, USA


If I can't dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution—Emma Goldman


…there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.—Helen Keller.


You might not suspect that they were sisters.


Emma with her square jaw and carelessly attended hair,

            gray eyes peering through

            those old fashion pinze nez spectacles

            perched upon her nose,

            the urban smells of coal fire,

delivery horse dung and workman’s sweat

clinging to her frumpy clothes,

speech meticulously enunciated

barely betraying here and there

a Yiddish trace.


Helen, who would have been a delicate beauty

            in her youth

            were it not for those disconcerting,

            unfocused eyes,

            Confederate grace and slave cotton wealth

            a mantle on her delicate shoulders,

            the sweet lilt of a gentlewoman

            lost to grunts and moans.


But wait….    

            These two knew what it was like

            to be a stranger, an exile,

            an alien other

            and ultimately what it was like

            to be a celebrated curiosity.


They learned as a Jew

            and as a side show freak,

            as women, after all,

            what oppression was

            but also that they

            were not alone—


They swam in a sea of oppression

            and learned early

            of the solidarity of the school

            against the sharks

            that would consume them.


Maybe the world expected little else

            from the Jewess

            who threw her lot early

            with the filthy anarchists

            who made bombs

            and plotted  attentats

            like that job she pulled

            passing the pistol

            to her lover, for god sake,

            to plug Henry Clay Frick.


But the world was aghast

            when the delicate Radcliffe flower

            who had charmed Mark Twain,

            Alexander Graham Bell,

            and Teddy Roosevelt,

            raised the Red Flag

            and fell side by side

            with the laborers,

            the unemployed,        

            the despised—even the Negros!


The atheist anarchist

            and the Socialist Wobbly

            who dabbled in Swedenborgism

            and a mystic Red Jesus

            did not agree on details,

            they might have enjoyed

            a friendly debate

            each being a master

            of the platform.


But each in her own way

            was steadfast to the end

            of her long life

            for a revolution of liberation

            and the ultimate triumph

            of beauty.


I imagine sometimes

            that as they each

            traversed the country

            on lecture tour or

            vaudeville circuit

            if they ever crossed paths

            in say, a railway station

            in Omaha or a

            hotel lobby in Akron

            and fell into each other’s arms



“Sister, sister, I have found you!”


—Patrick Murfin