Oct 122017
 

On this date in 1915 nurse Edith Louisa Cavell (1865 – 1915) was executed by a German firing squad. She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination and in helping about 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium during the First World War, for which she was arrested. She was accused of treason, found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage. She is well known for her statement that “patriotism is not enough, I must have no hate in my heart.” Her strong Anglican beliefs propelled her to help all those who needed help, both German and Allied soldiers. She was quoted as saying, “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.” The Church of England commemorates her in their Calendar of Saints on this date.

Cavell was born on 4 December 1865 in Swardeston, near Norwich, where her father was vicar for 45 years. She was educated at Norwich High School for Girls, then boarding schools in Clevedon, Somerset and Peterborough. After a period as a governess, including for a family in Brussels 1890–1895, she returned home to care for her father during a serious illness. The experience led her to become a nurse after her father’s recovery. In April 1896, at the age of 30, Cavell applied to become a nurse probationer at the London Hospital under Matron Eva Luckes. She worked in various hospitals in England, including Shoreditch Infirmary (now St Leonard’s Hospital). As a private traveling nurse treating patients in their homes.

In 1907, Cavell was recruited by Dr Antoine Depage to be matron of a newly established nursing school, L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplômées, (or The Berkendael Medical Institute) on the Rue de la Culture (now Rue Franz Merjay), in Ixelles, Brussels. In 1910 she launched the nursing journal, L’infirmière” and within a year she was a training nurse for three hospitals, 24 schools, and 13 kindergartens in Belgium.

When the First World War broke out, she was visiting her widowed mother in Norfolk. She returned to Brussels, where her clinic and nursing school were taken over by the Red Cross. Cavell had been offered a position as the matron (head nurse) in a Brussels clinic. In November 1914, after the German occupation of Brussels, Cavell began sheltering British soldiers and funneling them out of occupied Belgium to the neutral Netherlands. Wounded British and French soldiers as well as Belgian and French civilians of military age were hidden from the Germans and provided with false papers by Prince Réginald de Croÿ at his château of Bellignies near Mons. From there, they were conducted by various guides to the houses of Cavell, Louis Séverin and others in Brussels; where their hosts would furnish them with money to reach the Dutch frontier and provide them with guides obtained through Philippe Baucq. This placed Cavell in violation of German military law. German authorities became increasingly suspicious of her actions, further fueled by her outspokenness.

She was arrested on 3 August 1915 and charged with harboring Allied soldiers. She had been betrayed by Gaston Quien, who was later convicted by a French court as a collaborator. She was held in Saint-Gilles prison for ten weeks, the last two of which were spent in solitary confinement. She made three depositions to the German police (on 8, 18 and 22 August), admitting that she had been instrumental in conveying about 60 British and 15 French soldiers as well as about 100 French and Belgian civilians of military age to the frontier and had sheltered most of them in her house.

In her court-martial she was prosecuted for aiding British and French soldiers, in addition to young Belgian men, to cross the border and eventually enter Britain. She admitted her guilt when she signed a statement the day before the trial. Cavell declared that the soldiers she had helped escape thanked her in writing when they arrived safely in Britain. This admission confirmed that Cavell had helped the soldiers navigate the Dutch frontier, but it also established that she helped them escape to a country at war with Germany.

The penalty according to German military law was death. Paragraph 58 of the German Military Code said that guilty parties; “Will be sentenced to death for treason any person who, with the intention of helping the hostile Power, or of causing harm to the German or allied troops, is guilty of one of the crimes of paragraph 90 of the German Penal Code.” The case referred to in the above-mentioned paragraph 90 consists of “Conducting soldiers to the enemy”, although this was not traditionally punishable by death.  Additionally, the penalties according to paragraph 160 of the German Code, in case of war, applied to foreigners as well as Germans.

While the First Geneva Convention ordinarily guaranteed protection of medical personnel, that protection was forfeit if used as cover for any belligerent action. This forfeiture is expressed in article 7 of the 1906 version of the Convention, which was the version in force at the time. The German authorities instead justified prosecution merely on the basis of the German law and the interests of the German state.

The British government could do nothing to help her. Sir Horace Rowland of the Foreign Office said, “I am afraid that it is likely to go hard with Miss Cavell; I am afraid we are powerless.” Lord Robert Cecil, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, advised that, “Any representation by us, will do her more harm than good.” The United States, however, had not yet joined the war and was in a position to apply diplomatic pressure. Hugh S. Gibson, First Secretary of the U.S. legation at Brussels, made clear to the German government that executing Cavell would further harm Germany’s already damaged reputation. Later, he wrote:

We reminded [German civil governor Baron von der Lancken] of the burning of Louvain and the sinking of the Lusitania, and told him that this murder would rank with those two affairs and would stir all civilised countries with horror and disgust. Count Harrach broke in at this with the rather irrelevant remark that he would rather see Miss Cavell shot than have harm come to the humblest German soldier, and his only regret was that they had not “three or four old English women to shoot.”

Baron von der Lancken is known to have stated that Cavell should be pardoned because of her complete honesty and because she had helped save so many lives, German as well as Allied. However, General von Sauberzweig, the military governor of Brussels, ordered that “in the interests of the State” the implementation of the death penalty against Baucq and Cavell should be immediate, denying higher authorities an opportunity to consider clemency. Cavell was defended by lawyer Sadi Kirschen from Brussels. Of the 27 persons put on trial, five were condemned to death: Cavell, Baucq (an architect in his thirties), Louise Thuliez, Séverin and Countess Jeanne de Belleville. Of the five sentenced to death, only Cavell and Baucq were executed; the other three were granted reprieve.

When in custody, Cavell was questioned in French, but the session was minuted in German; which gave the interrogator the opportunity to misinterpret her answers. Although she may have been misrepresented, she made no attempt to defend herself. The night before her execution, she told the Reverend Stirling Gahan, the Anglican chaplain who had been allowed to see her and to give her Holy Communion, “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” These words are inscribed on her statue in St Martin’s Place, near Trafalgar Square in London. Her final words to the German Lutheran prison chaplain, Paul Le Seur, were recorded as, “Ask Father Gahan to tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country.”

From his sick bed Brand Whitlock, the U.S. minister to Belgium, wrote a personal note on Cavell’s behalf to Moritz von Bissing, the governor general of Belgium. Hugh Gibson; Maitre G. de Leval, the legal adviser to the United States legation; and Rodrigo Saavedra y Vinent, 2nd Marques de Villalobar, the Spanish minister, formed a midnight deputation of appeal for mercy or at least postponement of sentence. Despite these efforts, on 11 October, Baron von der Lancken allowed the execution to proceed. Sixteen men, forming two firing squads, carried out the sentence pronounced on her, and on four Belgian men at the Tir national shooting range in Schaerbeek, at 7:00 am on 12 October 1915.

In the months and years following Cavell’s death, countless newspaper articles, pamphlets, images, and books publicized her story. She became an iconic propaganda figure for military recruitment in Britain, and to help increase favourable sentiment towards the Allies in the United States. She was a popular icon because she was a woman, her nursing profession, and her apparently heroic approach to death. Her execution was represented as an act of German barbarism and moral depravity.

The Imperial German Government believed that it had acted fairly towards Cavell. In a letter, German undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Dr Alfred Zimmermann (not to be confused with Arthur Zimmermann, German Secretary for Foreign Affairs) made a statement to the press on behalf of the German government:

It was a pity that Miss Cavell had to be executed, but it was necessary. She was judged justly…It is undoubtedly a terrible thing that the woman has been executed; but consider what would happen to a State, particularly in war, if it left crimes aimed at the safety of its armies to go unpunished because committed by women.

German laws did not make distinctions between sexes, the only exception to this rule being that according to legal customs, women in a “delicate” condition (that is, pregnant), could not be executed. However, in January 1916 the Kaiser decreed that regarding women from then on, capital punishment should not be carried out without his explicit prior endorsement.

I’ve chosen a Norfolk recipe for today because of Cavell’s place of origin: Norfolk dumplings. They are sometimes known as “sinkers and swimmers” because of the habit of some of them to float and some to sink when cooked. You should really prefer the swimmers to the sinkers. Unlike other British dumplings, the Norfolk variety are traditionally made without suet or fat. Because of the lack of fat they are a bit more digestible for invalids I suspect. They can be served on their own as a side dish, but they are usually cooked in stews. This recipe is absolutely plain and basic, but you can add some flavorings such as parsley, if you prefer.

Norfolk Dumplings

Ingredients

½ lb plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
salt

Instructions

Sieve the flour, baking powder, and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Mix all the ingredients together with enough water to make a light dough.

Turn the dough on to a floured board, knead lightly. Then pinch off small pieces and form into round dumplings.

The dumplings can be cooked in gently boiling water for 20 minutes, or added to a stew 20 minutes before serving.

Nov 092016
 

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Today is the celebration in the Anglican community of Margery Kempe (c. 1373–after 1438), an English Christian mystic, known for The Book of Margery Kempe, which she dictated and which is generally  considered to be the first autobiography in the English language. Her Book chronicles her domestic tribulations, her extensive pilgrimages to holy sites in Europe and the Holy Land, as well as her mystical conversations with God. She is honored in the Anglican Communion, but she was never made a Roman Catholic saint even though she was a devout Catholic; her views were not considered orthodox at the time, nor now. My considered opinion is that she is not hailed as a saint within the Catholic church because she was a woman and has been written off as a “crazy lady,” whereas if she had been a man and done what she did, she’d be in the list of saints.

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She was born Margery Burnham or Brunham around 1373 in Bishop’s Lynn (now King’s Lynn) in Norfolk. Her father, John Brunham, was a merchant in Lynn, mayor of the town and Member of Parliament. His mercantile fortunes may have been negatively affected by downturns in the economy of the 1390s (especially in the wool trade), although he was clearly a successful politician. The first record of her Brunham family is a citation of her grandfather, Ralph de Brunham in 1320 in the Red Register of Lynn. By 1340 he had joined the Parliament of Lynn. Margery’s kinsman, possibly brother, Robert Brunham, became a Member of Parliament for Lynn in 1402 and 1417. That is, unsurprisingly, she was well connected and had considerable means at her disposal.

Margery was almost certainly illiterate, although scholars do seem to want to hash out this point now and again. No records exist of any formal education for Margery and, as an adult, a priest read to her “works of religious devotion” in English, which suggests that she was unable to read them herself.  She seems to have learned various texts by heart which would have been common for an illiterate, but intelligent, person. Margery appears to have been taught the Pater Noster (the Lord’s Prayer), Ave Maria, the Ten Commandments, and other “virtues, vices, and articles of faith.” At around 20, Margery married John Kempe, who became a town official in 1394. Margery and John had at least fourteen children, some of whom likely died during infancy. A letter survives from Gdańsk which identifies the name of her eldest son as John and gives a reason for his visit to Lynn in 1431.

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Margery was an orthodox Catholic and, like other medieval mystics, she believed that she was summoned to a “greater intimacy with Christ,” in her case as a result of multiple visions and experiences she had as an adult. After the birth of her first child, Margery went through a period of physical crisis for nearly eight months. During her illness, Margery reports that she envisioned numerous devils and demons attacking her and commanding her to “forsake her faith, her family, and her friends” and that they even encouraged her to commit suicide. Then, she reports that she had a vision of Christ in the form of a man who asked her “Daughter, why have you forsaken me, and I never forsook you?” Margery affirms that she had visitations and conversations with Jesus, Mary, God, and other religious figures and that she had visions of being an active participant during the birth and crucifixion of Christ. These visions physically affected her bodily senses, causing her to hear sounds and smell unknown, strange odors. She also reports hearing a heavenly melody that made her weep and want to live a chaste life. Margery was also known throughout her community for her constant weeping as she begged Christ for mercy and forgiveness. Margery did not join a religious order, but did carry out her life of devotion and crying quite publicly. Her visions provoked public displays of loud wailing, sobbing, and writhing which frightened and annoyed both clergy and laypeople. At one point in her life, she was imprisoned by the clergy and town officials and threatened with the possibility of rape. However, Margery does not record being sexually assaulted. Finally, during the 1420s Margery dictated her Book, known today as The Book of Margery Kempe which illustrates her visions, mystical and religious experiences, as well as her sexual temptations, her travels, and her trial for heresy.

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Nearly everything that is known of Margery’s life comes from her Book. In the early 1430s Margery decided to record her spiritual autobiography. In the preface she describes how she employed as a scribe an Englishman who had lived in Germany, but he died before the work was completed and what he had written was unintelligible to others. A 1431 letter discovered in Gdańsk suggests the likelihood that this first scribe was John Kempe, her eldest son. She then persuaded a local priest, who may have been her confessor Robert Springold, to begin rewriting on 23 July 1436, and on 28 April 1438 he started work on an additional section covering the years 1431–4. The complete text in Middle English can be found here: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/staley-the-book-of-margery-kempe There are “translations” available in modern English, but you should be able to read the original.

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The narrative of Margery’s Book begins just after her marriage, and relates the experience of her difficult first pregnancy. After describing the demonic torment and the apparition of Christ that followed, Margery undertook two domestic businesses: a brewery and a grain mill (both common home-based businesses for medieval women). Both failed after a short period of time. Although she tried to be more devout, she was tempted by sexual pleasures and social jealousy for some years. Eventually turning away from her vocational choices, she dedicated herself completely to the spiritual calling that she felt her earlier vision required. Striving to live a life of commitment to God, in the summer of 1413 Margery negotiated a chaste marriage with her husband. Although Chapter 15 of the Book describes her decision to lead a celibate life, Chapter 21 mentions that she is pregnant once again. She later relates that she brought a child with her when she returned to England. It is unclear whether the child was conceived before the Kempes began their celibacy, or in a momentary lapse after it.

Some time around 1413, Margery visited the female mystic and anchoress Julian of Norwich at her cell in Norwich – http://www.bookofdaystales.com/julian-norwich/  According to her own account, Margery visited Julian and stayed for several days. She was especially eager to obtain Julian’s approval for her visions of and conversations with God. The text reports that Julian approved of Margery’s revelations and gave Margery reassurance that her religiosity was genuine. However, Julian did instruct and caution Margery to “measure these experiences according to the worship they accrue to God and the profit to her fellow Christians.” Julian also confirmed that Margery’s tears were physical evidence of the Holy Spirit in her soul.

The manuscript of the Book was copied, probably slightly before 1450, by someone who signed himself Salthows on the bottom portion of the final page, and contains annotations by four hands. However, Margery’s Book was essentially lost for centuries, being known only from excerpts published by Wynkyn de Worde in around 1501, and by Henry Pepwell in 1521. In 1934 a manuscript (now British Library MS Additional 61823, the only surviving manuscript of Margery’s Book) was found by Hope Emily Allen in the private library of the Butler-Bowdon family. It has since been reprinted and translated in numerous editions.

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Margery and her Book are significant because they express the tension in late medieval England between institutional orthodoxy and increasingly public modes of religious dissent, especially those of the Lollards. Throughout her spiritual life, Margery was challenged by both church and civil authorities on her adherence to the teachings of the institutional Church. The Bishop of Lincoln and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Arundel, were involved in trials of her allegedly teaching and preaching on scripture and faith in public, and wearing white clothes (interpreted as hypocrisy on the part of a married woman). Margery defended her orthodoxy in each case. In his efforts to suppress heresy, Arundel had enacted laws that forbade women from preaching.

I am particularly interested in Margery’s travels and pilgrimages which would have been unusual for a Medieval woman, and which show her perseverance in the face of difficulties. She was initially motivated to make pilgrimages by hearing or reading the English translation of Bridget of Sweden’s Revelations. This work promotes the purchase of indulgences at holy sites (much railed against by Chaucer and, later, Luther). Margery went on many pilgrimages and purchased indulgences for friends, enemies, souls trapped in Purgatory, and herself.

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In 1413, soon after her father’s death, Margery left her husband to take a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. During the winter, she spent thirteen weeks in Venice but she talks little about her observations of Venice in her book. From Venice, Margery travelled to Jerusalem via Ramlah. It is thought that she passed through Jaffa, which was the usual port for people who were heading inland. One detail that she recalls was her riding on a donkey when she saw Jerusalem for the first time, probably from Nabi Samwil, and that she nearly fell off of the donkey because she was in such shock from the vision in front of her. During her pilgrimage Margery visited places that she deemed holy. She was in Jerusalem for three weeks and then went to Bethlehem, Mount Zion, the supposed tomb of Jesus, and the supposed cross itself. Finally, she went to the River Jordan and Mount Quarentyne  (supposedly where Jesus had fasted for forty days), and Bethany where Martha, Mary and Lazarus had lived, and where Jesus is reported to have stayed on visits to Jerusalem from Galilee:

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/lazarus-bethany/

http://www.bookofdaystales.com/martha-of-bethany/

After she visited the Holy Land, Margery returned to Italy and stayed in Assisi before going to Rome. Like many other medieval English pilgrims, Margery stayed at the Hospital of Saint Thomas of Canterbury in Rome. During her stay, she visited many churches including San Giovanni in Laterano, Santa Maria Maggiore, Santi Apostoli, San Marcello and St Birgitta’s Chapel. She did not leave Rome until Easter 1415.

When Margery returned to Norwich, she passed through Middelburg (in today’s Netherlands). In 1417, she set off again on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, travelling via Bristol, where she stayed at Henbury with Thomas Peverel, bishop of Worcester. On her return from Spain she visited the shrine of the holy blood at Hailes Abbey, in Gloucestershire, and then went on to Leicester. Margery recounts several public interrogations during her travels. One followed her arrest by the Mayor of Leicester who accused her, in Latin, of being a “cheap whore, a lying Lollard,” and threatened her with prison. After Margery was able to insist on the right of accusations to be made in English and to defend herself she was briefly cleared, but then brought to trial again by the Abbot, Dean, and Mayor, and imprisoned for three weeks. She returned to Lynn some time in 1418.

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She later visited important sites and religious figures in England, including Philip Repyngdon (the Bishop of Lincoln), Henry Chichele, and Thomas Arundel (both Archbishops of Canterbury). During the 1420s Margery lived apart from her husband. When he fell ill, however, she returned to Lynn to be his nurse. Their son, who lived in Germany, also returned to Lynn with his wife. However, both her son and husband died in 1431. The last section of her book deals with a journey, beginning in April 1433, aiming to travel to Danzig with her daughter-in-law. From Danzig, Margery visited the Holy Blood of Wilsnack relic. She then traveled to Aachen, and returned to Lynn via Calais, Canterbury and London (where she visited Syon Abbey). There is no record of her death.

Margery spent a good part of her life avoiding meat, so a Medieval vegetable dish is warranted to celebrate her life today. This recipe for spiced fennel comes from the Forme of Cury, a 14th century collection of recipes I have called on before. Here’s the original text:

FENKEL IN SOPPES.

Take blades of Fenkel. shrede hem not to smale, do hem to seeð in water and oile and oynouns mynced ðerwith. do ðerto safroun and salt and powdour douce, serue it forth, take brede ytosted and lay the sewe onoward.

Not complicated, although there’s some question as to spices. The recipe calls for “powdour douce” (sweet powder) which is about as useful as saying “mixed herbs” as you sometimes see in modern recipes. My recipe here is probably a decent approximation, but cooks would have made their own choices, and you can too. Ginger is known to have been the principal ingredient. Most likely the ingredients would have been grated or ground in a mortar.

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Sweet Powder

Ingredients

3 tbsp ginger
2 tbsp sugar
1 ½ tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp powdered cloves
1 tsp powdered nutmeg

Instructions

Mix thoroughly and store in an airtight container.

The braised fennel recipe is not difficult to recreate. You can add some white wine to the braising liquid, or use stock if you like instead of water.

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Fenkel in Soppes

Ingredients

1½ lb trimmed fresh fennel root, sliced
8 oz onions, minced
1 tbsp sweet powder (above)
1 tspn powdered saffron
salt
2 tspn olive oil
6 slices of wholemeal bread

Instructions

Put the fennel, onions, spices, oil and salt to taste in a lidded pot and barely cover with water. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered for about 20-30 minutes or until the fennel is cooked but not mushy. Stir occasionally during cooking process.

Toast the bread.

Place a slice of bread in a soup bowl and pour over it the fennel and cooking juice.