Apr 122017
 

In Western Christian tradition today goes by a number of names including  Holy Wednesday and Good Wednesday. It can also be called Spy Wednesday because of certain events mentioned in the gospels. Unfortunately the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel diverge considerably on the order and timing of the major events of Holy Week although they generally agree concerning the events themselves with some minor variations as to particulars.

According to Mark (12:3-10) on the Wednesday before his death Jesus was in Bethany in the evening:

3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. 11 They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

The chronology in John is very different.  There the event happens before the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, but in some Western liturgical traditions Mark’s chronology is accepted and gives us the name Spy Wednesday where “spy” means essentially “ambush” or “betrayal.” Two events are linked in Mark’s narrative – the anointing of Jesus and Judas’ decision to betray him – but in John the relationship is much clearer, and some added details have caused a lot of speculation.

In John it is Judas who complains about the waste of the perfume but he is accused of hypocrisy in that he didn’t want to help the poor but himself. Seeing the lost opportunity enrich himself he goes to the Sanhedrin seeking a bribe for betraying Jesus’ whereabouts. The general point is that Jesus preached openly in the daytime and generally infuriated the authorities with his message which was harshly critical of the status quo from which they all benefited. They wanted to get rid of him but were afraid to arrest him in broad daylight surrounded by a sympathetic mob.  In the evenings, however, he seemingly vanished into thin air and no one, with the exception of his closest friends, knew where he went. To seize him in the evening one of his friends would have to turn on him. Judas obliged.

The woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus is not given a name in Mark but is called Mary in John.  Luke places this whole event at a different time in Jesus life, and characterizes the woman as a sinner. Putting these diverse details together leads a few commentators to declare not only that the woman, named Mary, was a sinner, but that she was none other than Mary Magdalene. This identification is extremely problematic. Mary Magdalene comes to the fore during and after the crucifixion, it is true. She is highly prominent, especially because she is said to be the first witness to the resurrection, and the first evangelist. She is mentioned in the gospels more than most of the apostles by name. Medieval scholars conflated her with the Mary who anointed Jesus, and taking the theme from Luke, suggests she was a reformed prostitute. These are completely unwarranted conclusions. There is not a shred of evidence from the gospels that Mary Magdalene was a reformed prostitute, nor that she was the Mary who anointed Jesus. Mary (Miriam) was a very common name.

Scholars are also deeply divided as to why Judas betrayed Jesus. The darker side of all of this, that is rarely raised, is that the Romans executed him, not the Sanhedrin, but the gospels all go out of their way to blame the Sanhedrin for starting the whole process. Hence in history one of the crimes laid at the door of Jews by Christians, fueling anti-Semitism, is that they (not the Romans) killed Jesus, and so must pay for their sins.  That narrative works for the gospel writers because they, thus, avoid appearing anti-Roman at a time when being publicly anti-Roman got you killed. So, Judas betrays Jesus to the Sanhedrin, not to the Roman authorities. Judas was greedy and was looking for a bribe, so he sold out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. What really happened?

Nothing really adds up here. Why would a trusted member of Jesus’ inner circle betray him at all. We could start with the idea that there were 12 apostles.  Were there really? There were 12 tribes of Israel so there is some clear symbolism being promoted here. But “the twelve” are a bit of a shadowy lot. The gospels do not agree concerning the names of all of them for starters, and clearly some are more central than others. What do you remember about Thaddeus, for example, or Bartholomew? Judas Iscariot is identified as the treasurer of the group (or keeper of the purse). Otherwise there’s nothing to single him out prior to his betrayal.

One idea that springs off the top of my head is that there was a genuine inner circle – Peter, James, and John – and a lot of hangers on who came and went, some closer than others. Judas was one of these fringe elements who was intrigued by Jesus’ message but without a lot of conviction in it.  There must have been a lot of this type – especially men. What is clear from the gospels, as well as Paul’s letters, is that the backbone of Jesus’ following were women, not men. This makes the scene of Jesus’ anointing at dinner all the more poignant. The guys just, more or less, sit around and do nothing while a woman makes a profound sacrifice of love and devotion (and one of the supposedly faithful men sneaks off and sells him down the river).  This mirrors the general state of affairs in Judah (and the Roman empire) of the day, and is still the dominant posture of many Christian denominations. They lived in, and we live in, unabashedly patriarchal societies. Was one of the major problems that Jesus had with the powers that be – Jewish and Roman – that he had a very large female following in a culture dominated by men? Hard to say, but I suspect so.

Today’s putative events took place, as did so many of Jesus’ telling moments, at the meal table. I’ve talked quite a bit about the typical cuisine of ancient Judah, so you can pick from the many standard ingredients: lentils, olives, grapes, fish (of course), as well as eggs, flatbread and the like. Meat would not have been common, and, naturally, I’ll save lamb for Sunday. The ingredient that springs to mind for today is figs because of another minor (and inscrutable) event of Holy Week. On the way to the Temple one day Jesus is hungry but when he inspects a fig tree for fruit is has none (because it is not the right season). So he curses it, and on returning it has withered. What did the tree do wrong? Would you curse an apple tree in March because it bore no apples? About the best commentators can come up with is that Jesus was symbolically cursing people who are all talk (showy foliage) and no action (fruit). Maybe so, but figs are great – dried or fresh.

When they are in season I slice fresh figs and eat them on bread with sharp cheese. The combination is unbeatable. For a truly great sandwich place figs and cheese between slices of whole grain bread and grill the sandwich on both sides until the bread is nicely toasted and the cheese melted and gooey.

Aug 152016
 

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Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven in the Catholic Church, often shortened to the Assumption, or the Assumption of Mary. In the Orthodox Church it is called the Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both Western and Eastern rites assert that the Virgin Mary did not die (as such),  but was taken directly into Heaven at the end of her earthly life. For the most part, Protestant traditions do not accept this theology because it has no Biblical basis. In Italy, where I am now, this date is also Ferragosto, a major public holiday supposedly rooted in Roman Imperial times, although the historical links are a bit dodgy. August is a good time for an annual day off, so beaches and tourist spots are always mobbed. Because I live in a major tourist spot, I can expect the worst.

The Catholic Church now teaches as dogma that the Virgin Mary “having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This doctrine was dogmatically defined by Pope Pius XII on 1st November 1 (All Souls), 1950 in the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus by exercising papal infallibility. The Eastern Orthodox Church doctrine of the Dormition of the Theotokos (the falling asleep of Mary) is more or less the same as the Assumption, avoiding the idea of the physical death of Mary, but has not been dogmatically defined. In Munificentissimus Deus (item 39) Pope Pius XII pointed to the Book of Genesis (3:15) as scriptural support for the dogma of the Assumption in terms of Mary’s victory over sin and death as also reflected in 1 Corinthians 15:54: “then shall come to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

Although the Assumption (Latin: assumptio, “a taking”) was only relatively recently defined as infallible dogma by the Catholic Church, and in spite of a statement by Saint Epiphanius of Salamis in 377 that no one knew whether Mary had died or not, apocryphal accounts of the assumption of Mary into heaven have circulated since at least the 4th century. The Catholic Church itself interprets chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation as referring to it. The earliest known narrative is the so-called Liber Requiei Mariae (The Book of Mary’s Repose), which survives intact only in an Ethiopic translation. Probably composed by the 4th century, this narrative may be as early as the 3rd century. Also quite early are the very different traditions of the “Six Books” or Dormition narratives.

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Teaching of the Assumption of Mary became widespread across the Christian world, having been celebrated as early as the 5th century and having been established in the East by Emperor Maurice around 600. It was celebrated in the West under Pope Sergius I in the 8th century and Pope Leo IV then confirmed the feast as official. Theological debate about the Assumption continued, following the Reformation, peaking in 1950 when Pope Pius XII defined it as dogma for the Catholic Church.

If you’ve paid any attention to my previous posts on feast days and the like, you’ll know what I think about all of this already. The Church has an endless need to tie up loose ends logically. Jesus died and was resurrected. Then what? What became of the risen Lord? Obviously he did not just hang around. Luke clears this mystery up in Acts 1:9-11. Jesus ascended into heaven. As I have said many times before, Luke likes to clean up things – Why was Jesus from Nazareth when the Hebrew prophets indicated the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of the House of David?  Are followers of John the Baptist Christians? Etc. etc. Luke provides the “answers” by making stuff up – maybe out of whole cloth or from previous sources. Unfortunately for the early church, Luke is silent on Mary’s fate.

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Let me be crystal clear. As an ordained Christian pastor and (erstwhile) theologian, I take a certain amount of Christian dogma on faith, but I don’t accept Biblical narratives as history without serious reservations. If you want my thoughts on belief and Christianity this is a good place to start: https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Christian-Essays-Prod-Believer-ebook/dp/B01DGJ2OIM/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1471240630&sr=1-5  Luke, to my mind, is a horrible distraction. He was trained in the Greek philosophical tradition, and doesn’t like loose ends. For me, faith and logic do not have to be consistent. Logic and science are not always right. A certain amount of logical or scientific inconsistency is fine as far as I am concerned. Luke was more rigid. Unfortunately he had nothing to say about the end of Mary’s life, so the Church applied logic. Bad idea.

The veneration of Mary goes back a long way, and has led to some awfully dubious doctrines. The gospels tell us that Jesus had brothers. Did Mary have sex after Jesus was born? Horror !!! She must have been a perpetual virgin in order to be sinless. And . . . to be sinless, and give birth as a virgin to a sinless baby, she must have been born of a virgin (Immaculate Conception). Furthermore, she must have stayed a virgin to maintain her sinlessness, so these brothers must have been cousins (so twist the Greek a little to imply that when the gospels said “brother” this included biological cousins). That’s where logic gets you. Rather ironically, the Greek Orthodox church doesn’t like Aristotle much and the battles between East and West in the Middle Ages often pitted Catholics asserting theological points by using Aristotelian logic, and the Greeks laughing in their faces. The Greek answer to any question beginning, “How do you account for . . . ?” is “It’s a mystery.” End of story. I like it.

So . . . I think that the Assumption is one more case of the church tying up loose ends. But I’m all for holidays. Ferragosto in Italy falls on 15 August and is only by coincidence the same day as the Assumption of Mary. The Feriae Augusti (“Festivals of the Emperor Augustus”) were introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BCE. This was an addition to earlier ancient Roman festivals which fell in the same month, such as the Vinalia rustica or the Consualia, which celebrated the harvest and the end of a long period of intense agricultural labor. The Feriae Augusti, in addition to its propaganda function, linked the various August festivals to provide a longer period of rest, called Augustali, which was felt necessary after the hard labor of the previous weeks.

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During these celebrations, horse races were organized across the Empire, and beasts of burden (including oxen, donkeys and mules), were released from their work duties and decorated with flowers. Settling on 15th August as the main day is a modern tradition. During the Roman festival, workers formally greeted their masters who in return would give them a present. The custom became so strongly rooted that in the Renaissance it was made compulsory in the Papal States.

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The popular modern tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose under the Fascist regime. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime mounted hundreds of popular trips through the Fascist leisure and recreational organizations of various corporations, including the establishment of the “People’s Trains of Ferragosto”, which were available at heavily discounted prices. The initiative gave the opportunity for people with little money to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to 13, 14 and 15 August, and had two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50-100 km, and the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 km.

Obviously Italian festival food has to be the fare of the day. I haven’t been out yet, but when I do I expect to see people scarfing down local specialties such as tortelli di zucca, torta Sbrisolona, and the like along with gallons of gelato and granita. Last night I made a festive dinner that was sort of Italian – all cold dishes because of the heat.

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The dessert was my own creation taking off from tiramisu. I began by baking a stracciatella cake – a moist vanilla sponge cake with chocolate chips. Whilst it was cooling I made a tiramisu custard. Some people use raw eggs, but I prefer to cook mine.

Put 4 egg yolks and half a cup of sugar in the top of a double boiler. Bring the water in the bottom to a steady simmer, and make sure that the water does not touch the top part of the boiler. Whisk the sugar and egg yolk mixture vigorously for around 8 minutes. It will expand to a froth and cook. (Hint: you are not making scrambled eggs). Remove from the heat and fold in 1 pound (½ kg) of mascarpone. In a separate bowl whisk 1 cup of heavy cream to stiff peaks. Fold the mascarpone-egg mix into the cream. Then fold in about a ½ pound (¼ kg) of mixed frozen berries (you can use raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, or what ever you want).  Set aside.

Slice the stracciatella reasonably thin – less than ½ inch (1.25 cm). Line the base of a loaf pan with the cake slices. Spread in half of the custard. Add another layer of stracciatella slices. Top with the remaining custard, and chill in the refrigerator overnight.

Before serving top with a layer of berries, then whipped cream, then shaved dark chocolate.

 

Jan 072016
 

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On this date in 1558 the English relinquished their claim to the Pale of Calais, ending nearly 500 years of English claims to territory in France. The Siege of Calais was fought in early 1558 during the Italian War of 1551–1559. Calais fell after the Battle of Crécy in 1346 to Edward III of England following a desperate siege. Its seizure gave him a defensible outpost where his army could regroup, and the city’s position on the English Channel meant that, once it was taken, it could be resupplied easily by sea. Its retention was confirmed under the Treaty of Brétigny, signed on 8 May 1360, when Edward renounced the throne of France, in return for substantial lands in France, namely Aquitaine and the area around Calais. By 1453, at the end of the Hundred Years’ War, it was the only part of mainland France to remain in English hands.

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While it was possible to resupply and defend Calais easily by sea, in the absence of any natural defenses it depended on fortifications maintained and built up at some expense. However, its main defense had been that both the French and the Burgundians coveted the city, but each preferred to see it under the English rather than their rival. Changing political circumstances with the division of Burgundian interests in the Low Countries between France and Spain meant that, in 1550 when England surrendered the area around Boulogne, which Henry VIII had taken in 1544, the approaches to Calais were opened.

The victory of Louis XI of France over Charles the Bold in 1477 and the annexation of Picardy to the French Crown domain marked the end of a status quo over the possession of Calais. For nearly a century the House of Valois had preferred to turn their armies towards Italy, rich and technologically ahead of the rest of Europe, rather than take Calais. France had to fight the English on three occasions during the sixteenth century (1526, 1544, and 1547) when they attempted to extend the English possessions in Picardy. At the behest of Pope Paul IV, in 1557 France put an end to the Truce of Vaucelles which concluded the tenth Italian war, and resumed hostilities in the Kingdom of Naples. In response, the crown of Spain returned to its customary strategy since the Battle of Ceresole: it again attacked in Picardy, and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Constable of Montmorency at the Battle of St. Quentin (1557). Henry II of France had lost his best captains and the road to Paris was open to invasion. In these circumstances, Francis, Duke of Guise, who had raised an army and prepared to lead it in Italy, was recalled to Picardy and promoted to lieutenant-general of France. To avoid the intervention of an English expeditionary force, King Henry II of France arranged, in great secrecy, to attack Calais in the winter with 30,000 men assembled at Compiegne, Montreuil-sur-Mer, and Boulogne-sur-Mer.

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On 1 January 1558, the French vanguard attacked Sangatte and Fréthun Nielles, and the Army Corps reduced Fort Risban the next day. On 3 January, the artillery moved into Fort Nieulay at Risban. Thomas, Lord Wentworth, completely overwhelmed by a lightning attack, handed the keys of the city to the French on 7 January. The English defenses of Guînes and Hames soon also fell. Henry II of France arrived at Calais on 23 January 1558. France had reconquered the last territory it had lost in the Hundred Years’ War and put an end to two centuries of fighting between England and France. The new French administration made a particularly efficient demarcation of the border, created a new division of farmland, reorganized the 24 parishes, and reconstructed villages and churches.

In England there was shock and disbelief at the loss of this final Continental territory. The story goes that a few months later Queen Mary, on her death bed, told her family: “When I am dead and opened, you will find Calais lying in my heart.”

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Lord Wentworth, the governor of the city, and the English inhabitants of Calais and Guines returned to England. Calais was declared a “reclaimed land” to commemorate the restoration of French rule. François de Guise was able to strike back against the Spaniards: during the summer he attacked Thionville and Arlon, and was about to invade Luxembourg when the treaties of Le Cateau were signed. In April 1559 the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis between France and Spain (allied to England) included recognition of Calais as an English possession in temporary French custody pending a purchase price of half a million gold crowns to be paid by France in eight years’ time.

However, in 1562 upon the outbreak of the French Wars of Religion England’s new queen, Elizabeth I, revived her kingdom’s claims to Calais and occupied the French port of Le Havre in order to keep it until France should restore Calais. French forces ejected the English in 1563, and the Treaty of Troyes (1564) effectively recognized French ownership of Calais in exchange for payment to England of only 120,000 crowns. Although the treaty made no mention of Calais, the French paid the 120,000 crowns in return for all rights to Le Havre and freedom of commerce was agreed between the two countries. The French believed that the occupation of Le Havre meant the English had forfeited all rights to Calais, and Elizabeth was in no position to press the case any further.

The deeply entwined histories of France and England from the 11th to 16th centuries is never quite spelled out when you take history in school in England. I suspect this is a holdover from the intense British nationalism and imperialism of the 19th century that viewed 1066 as a watershed year when William unified England and “proper English history” could commence. We were taught what is now called “Whig history” – the myopic vision that all of England’s history was leading inevitably to a nation governed as a constitutional monarchy (i.e. the present), masterfully parodied in 1066 and All That. That the medieval nobility of England were quite often born in France, spoke French, and lived in France for long periods, does not really sink in. The loss of Calais was truly the end of an era, and England could no longer lay claim to any part of France. Henceforth, under Elizabeth, England began a new era of expansion into the New World and beyond.

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Calais and surrounds is something of a hybrid region because of the proximity of Flanders, and its cuisine reflects this fact. In Flemish fashion you are likely to get your dishes served with fried potatoes (pommes frites, French fries), for example. Coq à la bière is a well known Calais variant of the classic French coq au vin, with Flemish beer replacing French wine. You can find a precise recipe if you need it, but the dish is not complicated.

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Cut a chicken into 8 parts (4 breast pieces, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks), dredge them in seasoned flour, and sauté them in a skillet or heavy pot in lard or butter until browned on all sides. Add some chopped shallots (or onion) and sliced carrots and continue to sauté until soft. Then cover with a mix of dark Flemish beer and chicken stock, add a bouquet garni of thyme, sage and bay, bring to a simmer, and cook partly covered until the chicken is tender (45 minutes to an hour). Towards the end of the cooking time, uncover the pot, raise the heat, and let the sauce reduce. Serve with (ugh !!) pommes frites.

Nov 042015
 

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Today is the birthday (1650), and wedding anniversary, of William III sovereign Prince of Orange from birth and king of England, Scotland (as William II), and Ireland from 1689 until his death in 1702. His reign with his wife Mary as co-regent, was a transitional period from the absolute monarchies of the early Stuarts to the constitutional monarchies of the House of Hanover and beyond. He was not very prominent in the history books when I was in school and, in consequence, I never knew much about him. With the exception of Charles II, the Stuarts were not a popular lot. They also did not have many heirs, so the succession was constantly in jeopardy after Charles II, who was succeeded by his brother James, because Charles had no children. William was also deeply unpopular and was only made king because James II, his father-in-law and uncle, was even more so. The intrigues among the latter Stuarts revolved around the continuing struggles between Protestants and Catholics initiated by Henry VIII.

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William inherited the principality of Orange from his father, William II, who died of smallpox a week before William’s birth. His mother Mary, Princess Royal, was the daughter of King Charles I of England. In 1677, he married his mother’s niece and his first cousin, Mary, the daughter of his maternal uncle James, Duke of York. A Protestant, William participated in several wars against the powerful Catholic king of France, Louis XIV, in coalition with Protestant and Catholic powers in Europe. Many Protestants heralded him as a champion of their faith. In 1685, his Catholic father-in-law, James, became king of England, Ireland and Scotland. James’s reign was unpopular with the Protestant majority in Britain. William was invited to invade England by a group of influential political and religious leaders in what became known as the “Glorious Revolution.” On 5 November 1688, William landed at the southern English port of Brixham. James was deposed (although a number of battles between James and William ensued), and William and Mary became joint sovereigns in his place. They reigned together until her death on 28 December 1694 after which William ruled as sole monarch.

William was not healthy as a child, small and thin, with a slightly hunched back, he suffered very badly from asthma all his life. Tragically, William also lost his mother when he was nine years old. On a visit to England after the Restoration of her brother, Charles II, she had contracted smallpox and died there. Being left alone at this early age, he developed a strong sense of self reliance. William was brought up in Holland in the Protestant, Calvinist faith.

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His future wife and first cousin, Mary Stuart, was born at St. James Palace on 30th April, 1662, the eldest daughter of the future James II of England and his first wife Anne Hyde, daughter of Edward, Earl of Clarendon. Anne Hyde had been a maid of honour to William’s mother, Mary Stuart. Mary’s parents secret marriage had been occasioned by the fact that Anne was pregnant with his child. Although Charles II welcomed Anne into the family, the Queen-Mother, Henrietta Maria, felt James had married beneath him and opposed the marriage vehemently. The child, a son, died young.

The marriage of William and Mary was arranged for diplomatic motives by Charles II. It did not get off to a very auspicious start, on first sight of William, Mary wept inconsolably. At twenty-seven, he was not an attractive prospective partner, with his thin, hunched body, extremely large aquiline nose and piercing eyes. Mary’s sister Anne (also future queen and last of the Stuarts), unkindly referred to him as ‘Caliban’, after the mythical Greek ogre of monstrous appearance. Her father consented reluctantly to the match. The wedding took place on 4th November, 1677 and was a dismal affair, the bride cried throughout while her father looked on anxiously, William, as groom, was austere and uncomfortable, with only King Charles II smiling and joking in an attempt to lighten the dour atmosphere. After such an unpromising start, the marriage surprisingly proved to be a successful one, though it was never to produce any children.

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Mary was displaced in the Line of Succession on the birth of her half brother, James Francis Edward, in 1688. The English, weary of James’s pro-Catholic policies, and faced with the prospect that he now had a catholic heir to continue his work, invited William to England to redress the situation. William arrived in England on 5th November, 1688. James II, deserted by many of his followers and unnerved, it is reported, by recently reading of the fates of the deposed Kings Richard II and Henry VI, fled to France. A convention was set up to determine the government of the country in January, 1689, which came to the decision that James could be said to have abdicated.

The crown was accordingly offered to Mary, however William would not agree to rule only in his wife’s name, which he considered humiliating. The crown was consequently offered to William and Mary jointly. On her arrival in England, Mary was widely criticized for having no respect for the father whose throne she had come to take and she and Anne were compared to the unfilial daughters of King Lear. James himself wrote bitterly to Mary, disowning her and laying a curse upon her. A devout woman, Mary’s actions bore heavily on her conscience in the years to come.

William III and Mary II formally promised to rule according to law and to be guided by Parliament. The Declaration of Rights designated the succession was to go to Mary’s children, then Anne’s, failing those it was to pass to any children of William (who was strictly speaking only third in line to the throne) by another marriage. It declared that no Catholic could become either sovereign or consort and imposed a new Oath of Allegiance. Secondly, it decreed that no monarch could keep a standing army in time of peace except with the consent of Parliament.

William never inspired the loyalty of his English subjects and was always dismissed as an arrogant foreigner who was chillingly reserved. The smog ridden air of London badly affected the chronic asthma he had suffered from since childhood and gave him a constant deep cough. The court was accordingly moved to the Tudor palace of Hampton Court, outside London. He spent much of his time campaigning abroad, in Ireland opposing James’s attempt to win back the throne in 1690 and in the Netherlands from 1691-97.

During the King’s frequent absences, Mary ruled England. In 1689, Mary’s sister Anne, after many miscarriages and stillbirths, gave birth to a son who survived, an heir to the throne in the next generation, named William in honor of the king. William created the boy Duke of Gloucester. Anne was dominated by her friend Sarah Churchill. A petty quarrel which developed between the sisters was made far worse by the interference of Sarah. William disliked Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, which he made no attempt to conceal. Mary failed to visit Anne during her subsequent pregnancy, the two sisters were never to speak to each other again.

In December, 1694, Mary fell ill with smallpox, the disease that had killed both of William’s parents. The Queen’s condition steadily deteriorated. William was distraught but remained at her bedside until the end. Queen Mary died aged only thirty-two on 28th December. William was prostrate with grief at her death. It was to be several months before he managed to come to terms with the loss of his wife.

Purcell’s funeral music for Mary is palpably hanting:

The heir to the throne, Anne’s only surviving child, William, Duke of Gloucester, a delicate child who suffered from brain damage, died in July, 1700. Although there were many who possessed a superior claim, the next Protestant in the line of succession was Sophia, Electress of Hanover. She was the youngest child of James I’s daughter Elizabeth who had married Frederick, the Elector Palatine and was married to Ernest Augustus, Electoral Prince of Hanover. In 1701 the succession was fixed, after the death of Anne, on Sophia and her heirs, by Act of Parliament.

On 21st February, 1702, William’s horse stumbled on a molehill while he was out riding, causing him to fall badly and break his collar bone. He was unwell throughout the following month and did not recover from the accident. By the first week in March, his condition had deteriorated so badly that it became obvious that he was unlikely to survive. He died on 7th March 1702. He was later found to have kept a lock of Mary’s hair and her wedding ring next to his heart. His death was not greatly lamented in England, where he had never been liked.

Dutch cuisine these days is a bit on the plain side, but in William’s day it was remarkably elegant and complex. Because the Dutch controlled the spice trade from the East Indies, many contemporary recipes use rich spice combinations. I came across a recipe for roast pigeon in a 17th century cookbook which seems as if it would be worth a try. It was in an antiquated style of Dutch and was very brief. But the basics seem clear enough. This recipe can be made with squab if you can find it (one per person). I used to be able to find it frozen in Rockland Co., NY, or you can use game hen halved. Squab is stronger.

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Pigeon with Celeriac Puree and Grapes

Roast the pigeon or squab at high heat, 200°C, for about 15 to 20 minutes. You want the skin to be golden and the meat cooked but not dry. Also place in the oven a pan of black seedless grapes with a little olive oil.

Meanwhile, peel and dice I cup of celeriac per person and simmer until tender. Drain and mash with butter and freshly grated nutmeg to taste.

Spread the mashed celeriac on a plate, and top with a roast squab, drizzled with the roast juices and pulp of the grapes.