Tag Archives: Medieval History

Star-Crossed Lovers Week: Abelard and Heloise

Abelard and Heloise: The Twelfth Century’s Romeo and Juliet

Peter Abelard

Peter Abelard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abelard was one of the most respected, yet controversial philosophers and teachers of his time.  Though born of minor nobility, he gave up his rights as the eldest son to become a scholar, a career he was well-suited for.  While being taught at the cathedral school of Notre-Dame de Paris, Abelard defeated his teacher in argument, overhauling philosophical theory of the time.  By 1115, Abelard was no longer the student of philosophy and religion; he was the teacher, taking the chair at Notre Dame.  It is said that thousands from all over Europe came to hear him speak.

Abelard seemed to thrive on controversy and challenge.  Having quickly conquered the intellectual world, he became bored and upon meeting the seventeen year old Heloise, Abelard discovered a new conquest.

Heloise resided in Notre Dame under the care of her uncle, a secular cannon named Fulbert.  It was there that Abelard deliberately sought out and seduced Heloise.  Abelard grew careless and boasted of the affair, even allowing the songs he composed of her to be sung in public.  Fulbert acknowledged the affair and tried unsuccessfully to separate the lovers, but this only made them more desperate and clumsy.  The two were eventually caught in bed together.

Abaelardus and Heloïse in a manuscript of the ...

Abaelardus and Heloïse in a manuscript of the Roman de la Rose (14th century) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Soon Heloise became pregnant, and Abelard sent her away to Brittany to have their son.  Abelard offered to marry Heloise in secret in order to appease Fulbert, but Heloise declined the offer.  Heloise and Abelard held a negative view of marriage, seeing it as a permitting of fleshly sins, no better than prostitution.  They both viewed scholars, such as Abelard, as men who should be beyond earthly desires.  Abelard would have sacrificed his career to keep Heloise, but she insisted on being his mistress, preferring ‘love to wedlock and freedom to chains’.  Eventually Abelard sent Heloise to a nearby convent in order to avoid confrontation with Fulbert.  Abelard still visited Heloise, and the two often snuck off to the refectory for lovemaking.   Enraged at the treatment of his niece, Fulbert ordered servants to break into Abelard’s room by night and castrate him on the spot.  Abelard ran off to St. Denis Abbey and resumed teaching before his wound healed, and Heloise took her vows.

In the nine years following, Heloise raised herself to prioress.   Her love for Abelard never ceased, and her love for God never blossomed.  Abelard, lacking physical urges and finding value in his teachings, felt quite the opposite of his former lover.  Heloise heard nothing from Abelard for over a decade.  It was through a third-party that Heloise received a letter in which, Abelard shared fears for his safety while in St. Gildas.  Heloise’s first letter to Abelard shows worry for Abelard’s safety but also reveals her pain.   Abelard had not only ignored her for over ten years, he never fully recognizing the sacrifices she made for his success.  Heloise accused Abelard of never loving, but only lusting after her, a fact which he later acknowledged.

Article written by Andrea Cefalo, author of The Fairytale Keeper: a novel of corruption, devotion, and the origins of Grimm’s fairytales.  To follow Andrea Cefalo and hear more about The Fairytale Keeper series, please visit:

Source:  Héloïse, and Peter Abelard. The Letters of Abelard and Heloise. Trans. Betty Radice. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974. Print.

All This Month: Love in the Middle Ages

Eloisa e abelardo framed

Eloisa e abelardo framed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rolling with the romance that February brings, this month’s posts will fall under the theme of “Love in the Middle Ages”.  Each week, I’ll take on a different topic.  Not only will I be writing about love, I’ll be spreading some, too.  Each week, every person who goes to and likes my official Facebook fan page will be entered into a drawing to win a free copy of The Fairytale Keeper.

So what is the topic for week one you ask??  Drum roll, please…Star-Crossed Lover’s Week!

Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week: Vlad the Impaler

Many times history is more interesting than fiction if we just look in the right places.  Follow me as I venture into the lives of some of the most scandalous, most murderous, most insane monarchs of the Middle Ages.  Day four of Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week brings us to a man  Immortalized as the love-sick vampire of Bram Stroker’s Dracula, Vlad the Impaler is probably the most infamous of the Maddest Medieval Monarchs. We often expect the fiction of a villain to be more sensational than the history, but the details of Vlad III’s life are far more horrific than those in the literary classic that made him famous.
Article written by Andrea Cefalo

Vlad III “The Impaler” of Wallachia

Vlad Ţepeş, the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia (...

Vlad Ţepeş, the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia (1456-1462) (died 1477) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vlad III inherited his famous epithet, Dracula, from his father.  Vlad II Dracul was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order developed to protect Christian nations from the pressing Ottoman Empire.  The drac– in Dracul originates from the Latin draco, which means dragon.  Despite, Vlad III’s cruelty, parts of Bulgaria remember him and his father as protectors of the Christian faith in Europe.  However, most who know of him remember him as a murderous tyrant.
It seems that Vlad II’s oath to the Order of the Dragon was half-hearted since he sent Vlad III and his brother Radu as hostages to the Ottoman court.  Vlad III grew a strong hatred for and mistrust of his father, his brother (who converted to Islam), the Hungarians, and the Ottoman Turks whom he was forced to live with.  Vlad III was put on the throne of Wallachia by the Turks in the 1440’s after a Hungarian regent murdered Vlad’s father and elder brother.  The Hungarians invaded Wallachia and Vlad was forced to flee.  Vlad led an army back into Wallachia in 1456, retaking his throne after killing his opposer in hand-to-hand combat.   Wallachia was in ruins upon his return, and, in order to turn the country’s economics around, Vlad ruled with an iron fist and many long sharpened steaks.
Throughout his reign, it is estimated that Vlad slaughtered between 40,000 and 100,000 people.  In 1462, Vlad surrounded his capitol city with 20,000 impaled men, women, and children.  When Ottoman Turks approached the city for battle, they were horrified upon entering the nightmarish Forest of the Impaled.  Shocked and fear-stricken, the Turkish soldiers quickly fled for their lives.

1499 German woodcut showing Dracule waide dini...

1499 German woodcut showing Dracule waide dining among the impaled corpses of his victims. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vlad considered impalement an art form.  He arranged the impaled to form unique patters and would alternate his method of impalement so that some victims were impaled upright, others upside down, and some through the side.  In order to make the deaths slower and more excruciating, Vlad insisted that the stakes be smoothed and lubricated to keep from damaging internal organs.    Nobles were often invited to dine with the king in the Forest of the Impaled just before being impaled themselves.  While impalement was Vlad’s punishment of choice, he also resorted to other gruesome methods of torture, such as boiling, mutilating, skinning, as well as, cooking his victims while still alive.  Perhaps most appalling of all, he was known to force mothers to eat their own roasted children.
The Turks finally mounted a successful invasion and Vlad fled to Hungary where he was framed by a former ally and placed under house arrest for ten years.  While in captivity, Vlad captured and impaled the rodents and birds, arranging them in unique patters like he did with his human victims.  He was eventually released and reinstated as king of Wallachia where he ruled for another eight years.  He was assassinated in 1476, decapitated, and buried in an unknown grave.

To follow Andrea Cefalo and hear more about The Fairytale Keeper series, please visit:

Sources:

  • Mad Kings & Queens: History’s Most Famous Raving Royals  by Alison Rattle and Allison Vale
  •  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vlad_the_Impaler

Maddest Medieval Monarch Week: Charles the Mad

Many times history is more interesting than fiction if we just look in the right places.  Follow me as I venture into the lives of some of the most scandalous, most murderous, most insane monarchs of the Middle Ages.  Day three of Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week brings us to a monarch of two names: Charles the Well-Beloved, a name her earned in his younger years, and Charles the Mad.

Article Written by Andrea Cefalo

Charles VI of France

Charles’ inherited the throne from his father at the age of eleven.  Too young to rule,

Charles VI de France, Charles VI of France

Charles VI ofFrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

his unlces Philip of Burgundy, John of Berry, Louis of Anjou and Louis of Bourbon served as regents until Charles was twenty-one.  Feeling ill-advised and tired of watching his uncles squabble and squander the nation’s fortunes, Charles no longer sought the advice of his uncles.  Instead, he looked to his father’s former advisers to help him rule, a move which resulted in greater prosperity for France.  This earned Charles his first epithet, the well-beloved.

Français : Charles VI saisi de folie non loin ...

Painting of Charles attacking his own men in 1392 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1392, Charles experienced his first psychotic episode shortly after the attempted murder of his friend, Olivier de Clisson. Charles grew increasingly impatient as his troops traveled to Brittany in order to bring the attempted murderer to justice.  A leper grabbed the king’s horse and warned that he was being betrayed by his men.  When a page accidentally dropped his lance, creating a commotion, Charles went into a rage.  The king killed one of his knights and a few more of his men.  Once subdued, Charles slipped into a coma.

Charles suffered psychotic episodes off and on for the rest of his life.  In 1393, Charles could not remember his name, his wife, or that he was king.   He sometimes ran wildly through the hallways of his home, Hotel Saint-Pol, so that the entries had to be boarded to keep him from running like a madman through the streets of Paris.   During certain points in his life, Charles believed himself to be made of glass and went to great lengths to make sure that he would not shatter.  Though Charles had periods of lucidity, his illness kept him from being an effective ruler and his relatives fought fiercely for power leading to a civil war between the Burgundians and Armagnacs.

King Henry VI. Purchased by NPG in 1930. See s...

Charles VI’s grandson, King Henry VI of England, suffered from psychosis like his grandfather. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not surprisingly, Charles illness caused him to earn his second epithet, Charles the Mad.  Mental illness seemed to run strongly in the family.  Charles’ mother suffered a breakdown while he was young and Charles’ grandson, King Henry VI of England, suffered an episode very similar to Charles’ first bout.  While Henry VI was not violent, he did slip into a coma.  However, Henry’s coma lasted an unbelievable eighteen months.

Article written by Andrea Cefalo, author of The Fairytale Keeper: a novel of corruption, devotion, and the origins of Grimm’s fairytales

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Maddest Medieval Monarch Week: Isabella of France

Many times history is more interesting than fiction if we just look in the right places.  Follow me as I venture into the lives of some of the most scandalous, most murderous, most insane monarchs of the Middle Ages.  Day two of Maddest Medieval Monarchs Week brings us to a monarch made legendary by literature and cinema, Isabella of France.

Article Written by Andrea Cefalo

Isabella “She-Wolf” of France

English: Isabella of France, wife of Edward II...

English: Isabella of France, wife of Edward II of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us equate Isabella of France with the kind-hearted and lonely English princess from the movie Braveheart or the she-wolf of plays by Brecht and Marlowe.  Based on her life, it is easy to conclude that Isabella was lonely in her marriage to a bi-sexual English king. However, determining whether she was the she-wolf, as literature labeled her, or the sweetheart, as Hollywood made her, is not so easy.

Isabella was wedded at twelve to Edward II of England.  Edward, however, was in love with Piers Gaveston whom he openly showered with gifts. Isabella learned to tolerate Edward’s relationship, but some of the English barons never did. Four years into their marriage Gaveston was murdered.  Isabella consoled her grief-stricken husband and the two became closer.  They even had three children together, but in 1319, another man, Hugh Despenser the young, gained Edward’s affections. Despenser was ruthless, greedy, and insanely jealous.  For six years, Isabella’s power, influence, and income were reduced upon the advice of Despenser.

English: Illustration of the execution of Hugh...

English: Illustration of the execution of Hugh the Younger Despenser, from a manuscript of Froissart (Bibliotheque Nationale MS Fr. 2643, folio 197v) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Isabella visited her brother, King Charles IV of France in 1325, she met and fell in love with Roger Mortimer, a former English general who had since turned against the king and Despenser.  She and Mortimer raised an army, overthrew Edward, and tried Despenser for treason.  Despenser was hanged, drawn, and quartered.  Edward was imprisoned, tortured, and starved, but did not die until 1327.  It is rumored that he was killed under Isabella’s orders by a red-hot poker being inserted into his rectum.   Edward’s heart was placed in a silver coffin and given to Isabella.

Isabella served as regent for a short time until her son Edward III was old enough to take the throne.  Mortimer turned out to be every bit as greedy and ruthless as Despenser.  Edward III, with the support of English barons, arrested and executed Mortimer.  Isabella was imprisoned for two years in Windsor Castle, where she was rumored to have had a nervous breakdown after the loss of Mortimer.  Isabella was later cleared of any wrong-doing and lived a comfortable life.  Upon her death, she was entombed with Edward III’s heart, though buried next to Mortimer.

In literature and legend, Isabella is often remembered as a king-killer, but no one knows for sure who gave the orders for Edward II’s murder.  So was Isabella the she-wolf or simply a desperate woman trying to save England from a careless king?  No one really knows, but we can certainly speculate.

Article written by Andrea Cefalo, author of The Fairytale Keeper: a novel of corruption, devotion, and the origins of Grimm’s fairytales

To follow Andrea Cefalo and hear more about The Fairytale Keeper series, please visit:

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