May 2013 M T W T F S S « Mar 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
When Louis XVI died at the guillotine on January 21, 1793 it was said people dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood. I had always considered it more myth than legend- until I did some research.
I had to look up the word- calabash. It is a hollowed out gourd that is used to hold small keepsakes; a strange item to hold the blood of a king, but that is exactly what it contains. Writing on the gourd claims that a Parisian by the name of Maximilien Bourdaloue dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his execution at the guillotine.
After a three year study, a report posted in the Journal of Forensic Science International claims to have enough evidence to assert that the calabash indeed holds Louis XVI’s blood.
Scientists had found the DNA on the cloth three years ago, but the challenge was that there was no living family member of Louis XVI. His only surviving child from the French Revolution, Marie Thérèse, died childless in 1851. They could identify certain physical characteristics from the DNA- such as blue eyes.
Then a mummified head was found in a retired tax collector’s home in 2010. It was bought at an auction and further evidence supports that it was Henry IV, king of France from 1589-1610. Raised as a Protestant, he was assassinated by Francois Ravaillac, a fanatical Catholic who had visions of converting the king. When persuasion failed, Ravaillac turned to regicide. This murder seems to be show a stunning similarity to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand; a strange combination of traffic problems mixed with opportunity. For his crime Revaillac was drawn and quarted, and his family was exiled.
HenryIV was buried properly, but exhumed during the French Revolution. In 1793 all royal graves were desecrated at the Basilica of St Denis in the attempt to wipe out the memory of royalty. But someone, for whatever reason, kept his head.
This head was the key to authenticating the blood of Louis XVI. The historic men were of the same bloodline, and by looking at the DNA of these primary specimens, a connection might be made. Belief was authenticated by science. Both DNA authenticates that the men share the same paternal line.
It is ironic, that the events of the French Revolution ended Louis XVI’s life, but also supplied to possibility to authenticate his blood. What strange things people collect!
It is French for knitting woman, but the word tricoteuse has far greater significance than that. As the guillotine slices off another head of the French aristocracy during the Revolution, a tricoteuse sits in morbid calm watching the proceedings, returning to her knitting during a lull in the executions.
It is a strange juxtaposition for the same women who participated in the Women’s March on Versailles.
On a rainy morning on December 5, 1789 Parisian women who sold produce at a local market began to congregate. They were enraged over the price of food- mainly bread. The crowd’s numbers swelled to thousands. Having first ransacked Paris’ armory, the masses marched six hours to Versailles to see Louis XVI. After first occupying the Assembly, six women were chosen to see the king. They told him of their plight, and he agreed to do what he could to help them. Exhausted and appeased, the ladies returned to Paris.
Not all were satisfied. The royal bedchambers were breached the next day. Palace guards who attempted to defend the royal household were beheaded on the spot. Their head’s were put on pikes, and paraded around the palace. Marie Antoinette and her maid narrowly escaped attack, seeking safety in the king’s bedchamber.
The head of the National Guard regained control of the castle but the mob was still outside. He convinced the king to stand on his balcony and address them. Louis XVI announced he would return to Paris for his people. The crowd was overjoyed. They called for Marie Antoinette and the children. This request was granted. Then the mob then demanded that the children be taken inside.
It was well known that they disliked the queen: she was Austrian and believed to be responsible for the king’s sumptuous appetite. If there ever was a dramatic moment for a movie, it would be this one. Everyone must have believed that this was Marie Antoinette’s last moments- herself and the king included. Did he fight to return to the balcony? Did someone stop him? What could be going on in her mind? Certainly the mob was armed and angry and there she stood before them- each sizing up the other.
Possibly it was her bravery that saved her that day, but it would only be a few more years until she stood again before the same faces in Paris- a guillotine towering above her. October 14, 1793.
During her sham trial, Marie Antoinette was accused of abusing her young son- a charge that horrified the queen. It is said the same women who marched to Versailles years ago rallied to her support. She was executed the same day. Possibly the tricoteuses who bore witness to her execution averted their eyes at that final moment, or said a silent prayer.
It has been on my mind for days now. The details that I can obtain from the story are sketchy at best, a 23 year old woman in New Delhi India was raped by six men on a bus and died later in hospital. Why did we in Canada hear about it? Women and men are raped every day. Possibly because of the brutality of the rape; it might speak to a systemic problem in the protection and safety of women; how the law treats the attackers of this young woman and her companion is certainly an issue.
Looking today for more information about the case, I came across a comment (CBC News) that addressed the very core of the matter: why are we still hearing about this? Women are raped every day. Why do we still care?
I know we should, but before writing this I couldn’t clearly identify why this case resonated with me. The attack has been in the paper less than a month, and already people want to forget. Even talking with friends, there is the sense that it is a horrific topic and best left to fade away (6 men, a rod, organ damage, half of her intestines needed to be taken out- are almost too taboo to talk about). Such is the leisure of living in a relatively safe country.
I am reminded of Martin Niemoller’s famous poem:
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.
By doing nothing, saying nothing we consent to brutality. We shouldn’t forget and we need to act. To stand with our brothers and sisters in India to say something must be done. Already the protests and vigils are having some effect. I read on One Website (ABC News), that lawyers have refused to represent the 6 men (correction: five men and one 17 year old boy). I would argue the men deserve legal counsel- the verdict of the case is the most important part of the conclusion to this tragedy. Aljazeera claims that the men will be executed if they are found guilty. Legal change and stronger protection for all Indian citizens would be the best way to honour the victims.
I am a mother. Being a parent connects you more strongly with humanity. When a child is lost in the mall- it is your child; a child giggles or smiles one is flooded with fond memories of their own child at that age. When my little girl was three I decided to become a foster parent to a little girl in India of the same age. It was a small act, but I wanted to share the opportunity my little girl would have with a little girl that I believed could benefit from our help. She is family- extended and global. She lives in India, and she too will grow up into a beautiful young woman, and I care about the quality of her life.
Rape is a crime of control. It is a weapon in war: to control, to terrorise to humiliate. From my understanding it is one reason that the United States won’t allow their female soldiers to fight in ground combat. When a country is not in war, the intent is still the same; it is a form of control. If people are afraid of being attacked, they are less likely to leave the safety of their own environment. If women are afraid of being attacked and raped, they will stay at home. Choice and freedom are taken away. In Canada we have marches that are called ‘Take Back the Night,’ in which people hold vigil and march to fight this form of control. To talk about it, does keep it relevant and part of the discussion.
My heart goes out to the family, the young man that tried to defend her and all the other men and women that have suffered the same violence. Thank you to the media and the men and women of India that are standing up against this crime of control and saying- enough.
In a country where the main architectural symbol, the Taj Mahal, is a tribute to beloved spouse, it is important for the government and the courts to communicate that a woman’s life has as much worth living as dead.