Friday, July 20, 2012

The Renaissance Betrothal

Popular since the Middle Ages, betrothal ceremonies frequently involved some sort of ceremony or symbolic act. This is believed to date back to the time of ancient Rome. In Anglo-Saxon England the joining of hands to seal the betrothal was common as we know from the term ‘handfasting’ to signify a betrothal. In fourteenth and fifteenth century Italy, the betrothal was sealed by a handshake between the parents, or at best the father of the bride and the prospective groom.

In sixteenth century France this ritual was known as les accords. There would be the giving of a ring, often a gimmel ring which was in two parts, one to be worn by the prospective groom, the other by the bride, the two joined together to form the wedding ring. Records indicate the drinking of wine to toast the agreement, or taking part in a sumptuous feast ‘in the name of marriage’, or simply be sealed with a kiss.

The betrothal ceremony confirmed that these two people promised to marry one another, an agreement which could be considered more legally binding than the marriage ceremony itself. Once betrothed, if a couple had sexual intercourse, then they were considered married. And a betrothal contract could only be broken if both parties agreed.

Not that the young woman concerned had much say in the matter. Marriage was less about love and more about wealth, position and power, which meant, as we romantic novelists know, plenty of opportunity for extra-curricular activity in the way of affairs. Henry IV is reputed to have enjoyed at least 60 mistresses with whom he sired numerous illegitimate children, and three or four maîtresse-en-titre.

But with Henriette de’Entragues he perhaps took on more than he’d bargained for she had set her sights on nothing less than marriage, and with it a crown. She therefore insisted upon a promesse de matrimonio before agreeing to surrender her maidenhead, allegedly still intact, and becoming his mistress. In a weak moment of overwhelming desire, Henry agreed that if she could give him a son, then he would marry her. A decision which was to create untold problems in the years ahead, and leave Henriette fighting a battle for what she perceived to be her rights, at whatever the cost.

Next came the fiançailles when the bans were published. The parents, bride and bridegroom would visit the curé together to attend to this important matter. Then came the Epousailles which of course took place in church. The bridegroom was not allowed to enter without giving a considerable sum in alms, and guests were chosen to attend the wedding breakfast with an eye to the money they’d be likely to give. A bowl was handed round at dinner into which donations for a ‘nest-egg’ for the couple could be dropped.

Henry left such traditions to the bourgeoisie, but provided well for all his children, whatever their status, and was a loving father. Those he had with Henriette shared the royal nursery with the legitimate heirs he had with his queen, Marie de Medici, much to that lady’s displeasure. But Henry loved to play with them, and it was so much more practical to keep them all together in one place. The people of Paris were highly entertained by the fact that his mistress and queen were often enceinte at the same time.

The Queen and the Courtesan, published 29 June, can be found as a paperback or ebook here: 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Calendar of the French Revolution

Happy Bastille Day, all. Vive la France!

The French Revolution in 1789 was supposed to create a new order in France. Out with aristocratic tyranny, in with republican democracy! Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

Well, not quite. As part of the process of ousting monarchy, the French Revolution swept away many of the trappings of the Ancien Régime, or attempted to. One of the things they changed was the calendar.

Various versions of the revolutionary calendar existed from 1789 until 1792. But the dates were confusing. What was the start date, January 1, 1789, or July 14, 1789 (the storming of the Bastille)? Since financial transactions especially suffered from this confusion, the legislature made a final decision in 1792 when the French Republic was established. By naming 1792 Year One, the Calendar of the Revolution is in reality the Calendar of the Republic. In France, the same calendar is known as both calendrier républicain as well as the calendrier révolutionnaire.

The Calendar of the Revolution consisted of twelve months of thirty days each and started at the autumnal equinox. The months received new names derived from nature, the nature mainly the weather around Paris. The years are written in Roman numerals.

From Wikipedia:

Vendémiaire in French (from Latin vindemia, "grape harvest"), starting 22, 23 or 24 September
Brumaire (from French brume, "fog"), starting 22, 23 or 24 October
Frimaire (From French frimas, "frost"), starting 21, 22 or 23 November

Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, "snowy"), starting 21, 22 or 23 December
Pluviôse (from Latin pluvius, "rainy"), starting 20, 21 or 22 January
Ventôse (from Latin ventosus, "windy"), starting 19, 20 or 21 February

Germinal (from Latin germen, "germination"), starting 20 or 21 March
Floréal (from Latin flos, "flower"), starting 20 or 21 April
Prairial (from French prairie, "pasture"), starting 20 or 21 May

Messidor (from Latin messis, "harvest"), starting 19 or 20 June
Thermidor (or Fervidor) (from Greek thermon, "summer heat"), starting 19 or 20 July
Fructidor (from Latin fructus, "fruit"), starting 18 or 19 August

The calendar changes didn't end with the months. Within each month were three weeks of ten days apiece, called décades.

The year ended with five extra days to fill in the discrepancy between the order of the French calendar and the disorder of the physical year, which refused to use less than 365 days (or 366 days in leap years).

In the French Calendar of the Revolution, today, July 14, 2012 is 25 Messidor CCXX. A Gregorian-Revolutionary Calendar converter is here. (use Internet Explorer).

The adoption of the final form of the new calendar didn't end France's calendar woes. The French still had to communicate with the outside world which used the Gregorian calendar. The onus of translating between two calendars added another level of tedium and confusion to the dating of events.

The Calendar of the Revolution came to an end some thirteen years after its adoption, when Napoleon declared the day after 10 Nivôse An XIV as January 1, 1806.

Thank you all,
Linda Banche
Welcome to My World of Historical Hilarity!

Picture is the Calendrier républicain de 1794 from Wikipedia