Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon
Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon by George Stuart.
Welcome to my site about dolls of English History. This blog is one of a group of journals about dolls depicting characters from history in different geographic regions. English dolls are particularly dear to me because my paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Maidstone, England, a small Kent borough that lies 30 miles southeast of London. Last year, my sister and I had the thrill of visiting England for the first time and visited the church where our grandparents were married. In addition to a tour of Maidstone, we, of course, made all the usual tourist rounds including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Leeds Castle, Warwick Castle, Windsor Castle, Stratford-on-Avon, York, Bath, St. Albans, Stonehenge, Oxford, Madame Tussaud's, the Tower of London, the British Museum, Picadilly Circus, the London Eye, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Ingtham Mote. If you wish to see pictures of our trip and read my impressions of this "incredible journey" check out my Incredible Journey blog.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Shallowpool doll of Henry VIII joins my collection

This weekend I won the bid on a Shallowpool Henry VIII doll. Shallowpool dolls were created by three ladies who started the cottage industry in the early 1950's in a workshop in the small village of Shallowpool, near Looe in Cornwall, England.

You can see other examples of Shallowpool dolls at: http://www.shallowpool.net/

I paid a premium for Henry - $100 - but he is in mint condition and relatively rare. I also have a particular affection for dolls of Henry VIII. I just finished reading Margaret George's "Autobiography of Henry VIII" and I found it gave me a lot of insight into the King's character. I have much more sympathy for him now than I did when all I had ever heard about him was that he had six wives and executed two of them.

As the second son of Henry VII, Henry was never groomed to be king. His older brother Arthur was the heir apparent so Henry grew up relatively ignored by his parents and other members of his father's court. Since he was not to be king, he was actually educated to be a churchman. Therefore his knowledge of scripture was quite extensive and he was a formidable scholar with a passion for astronomy, music, and poetry. I didn't realize until I read George's book that Henry VIII wrote the song I memorized as a young piano student - Greensleeves.

When the sickly Arthur died just months after his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, Henry was suddenly thrust into the role of heir although he realized he would never supplant his brother in his parents' affections. He tried diligently to learn the art of Kingship from his now ailing father and ascended the throne at the relatively tender age of seventeen. Soon after, he married his brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon.

According to George, the couple loved each other and it was not until they had endured the birth of seven dead offspring, the last being a malformed "monster" along with the unwillingness of the French monarch to betroth one of his offspring to Henry's only surviving child, Mary, did Henry begin proceedings to end the marriage. The French were the first to claim that Mary was cursed as a daughter born of an incestuous marriage, citing Leviticus' warning about a man marrying a brother's widow. As a learned churchman, Henry, faced with the mounting evidence of what he perceived as God's disfavor, sought the means to rectify what he probably truly perceived as a mistake on his part.

Of course, this action was complicated by the fact that Katherine, already quite a bit older than Henry, bore the physical deterioration of someone who has endured eight pregnancies in relatively short order. She suffered from arthritic hips and could not share in her young vibrant husband's passion for riding and dancing. As was common during the period, Henry had taken mistresses to expend his physical appetites. However, when Anne Boleyn caught his eye, he soon found himself in a relationship where she ( or actually, her father, the ambitious Earl Thomas Boleyn) dictated the terms rather than the King.

The Boleyns capitalized on the King's "Great Matter" and, through the relationship with Anne, pressured the King to do whatever it would take to make it possible to make her Queen. That would eventually include separating the church in England from the control of the Pope in Rome. This was ironic since, at one point, Henry had been named defender of the faith when he wrote a rebuttal to the charges against the Catholic church posed by Martin Luther. Even after Henry became head of the church in England, he viewed himself as Catholic and a member of the true faith, not an adherent to Protestantism. Despite this, however, his appointed ministers, Thomas Cromwell chief among them, moved to dissolve the remaining monasteries in England and eliminate any allegiance to the Pope.

"Cromwell was the most prominent of those who suggested to Henry VIII that the king make himself head of the English Church, and saw the Act of Supremacy of 1534 through Parliament. In 1535 Henry appointed Cromwell as his last Vicegerent in Spirituals. This gave him the power as supreme judge in ecclesiastical cases and the office provided a single unifying institution over the two provinces of the English Church (Canterbury and York). As Henry's vicar-general, he presided over the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which began with his visitation of the monasteries and abbeys, announced in 1535 and begun in the winter of 1536. As a reward, he was created Earl of Essex on 18 April, 1540. He is also the architect of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, which united England and Wales .Although the Dissolution of the Monasteries often has been portrayed as a cynical money-grabbing initiative, Cromwell and his supporters had genuine theological reservations about the idea of monastic life, specifically on the nature of intercessory prayers for the dead." - Wikipedia

George points out numerous indescretions by Anne Boleyn who loved to be doted upon by swarms of courtiers. Although the question of her incestuous relationship with her own brother George may have been a case of overzealous prosecutors, you are left with little doubt that she deserved her fate. There is even a suggestion that she was engaged in a poison plot against Katherine of Aragon. Apparently when Katherine died, an autopsy revealed nothing pointing to a cause of death except a black growth or section on her heart. The physicians told Henry it was evidence of poison although it could have been simply heart muscle damaged by a clot. Anyway, the end result, his ordering Anne's execution, was hardly capricious or due simply to the fact that the only son she bore him was stillborn.

His marriage to Jane Seymour was apparently a love match. Although she too had ambitious family members, her affection for Henry and his for her appeared to be genuine. He mourned her loss for the rest of his life.

Another interesting point George makes in her book is that Henry, although physically repulsed by Anne of Cleves, calling her the "Flemish Mare", actually learned to love her wit and intelligence. The scene of their wedding night is portrayed as both comical and tragic. Henry attempts to caress her but finds her body sagging and less than maiden-like. When he leaps up partially exposing himself, Anne points and roars with laughter at his apparent impotence.

Although Anne feared for her life, knowing the fate of Henry's other Ann, Henry, because of his affection for her, adopted her as his sister when their marriage was annulled because Henry was incapable of consumating it. This allowed her to retain court status and a comfortable stipend. It even gave her a certain degree of independence she would have never had if she had returned to the duchy of Cleves. She subsequently enjoyed visits to court as an honored guest and even participated in family gatherings during the holiday season.

Henry's next marriage to Catherine Howard was again, one engineered by ambitious relatives, with Henry blinded by his lifelong need to feel loved by someone. Catherine herself was far from innocent and apparently had a long history of licentious behavior. Her involvment in a plot to eliminate the aging king was certainly justification for her execution. I got the impression that although Henry realized that she had to be eliminated, he hesitated to order it, not unlike the Roman Emperor Claudius when faced with the treachery of his beloved Messalina. It was this execution that seemed to haunt him for the rest of his life. George portrays Henry tormented by visions of a headless Catherine running through the hallways of his palace and sitting at his dinner table.

His last Queen Catherine was portrayed as a kind and sensitive woman. I was saddened to read that as Henry's health deteriorated with symptoms that sound very much like kidney failure (severe bloating, headaches, etc.) he would have episodes of insanity where he would order the imprisonment of those closest to him. Catherine suffered one such imprisonment. However, when Henry's symptoms eased he would regain control of himself and release the unfortunate targets of his previous paranoid episodes.

Henry actually had a son by Katherine of Aragon that appeared healthy but died after just a few weeks of life. I sometimes wonder how much different history would have been if the boy had lived and the "Great Matter" had never arisen to split the faithful in England away from the Catholic Church and thereby reinforce the Protestant Reformation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Queen Elizabeth I by Russian Dolls of St. Petersburg, Russia

Queen Elizabeth I
Originally uploaded by mharrsch.
This version of Elizabeth came all the way from St. Petersburg, Russia. She is the typical Russian-style porcelain cone doll. I felt sorry for a vendor on Ebay when I read negative feedback from a buyer who was unfamiliar with the typical construction of Russian porcelain dolls. The buyer complained that the dolls have no feet. So, the buyer lambasted the vendor for not revealing that they are essentially half dolls. I don't mind at all since I am much more interested in the detailed costume than legs and feet that you will never see. The dolls stands approximately 9" high. Here, Elizabeth is presented in a typical black and white gown, her favorite colors.

Queen Elizabeth I by Nelli Cronin

Queen Elizabeth I
Originally uploaded by mharrsch.
This is a beautifully detailed OOAK doll by Nelli Cronin. Nelli is originally from St. Petersburg, Russia but she married a Brit and is now living in London. She faithfully recreated the white powdered face of Elizabeth who, like many ladies of the 16th century, used powdered lead to make themselves appear pale and delicate. Unfortunately, scholars speculate that this use of lead may have accounted for the severe deterioration in Elizabeth's beauty as she aged.

Queen Elizabeth I by Barbara Beccio

Queen Elizabeth I by Barbara Beccio

Queen Elizabeth I
Candy Spelling Fantasy Doll
by Barbara Beccio
Originally uploaded by mharrsch.

American doll artist Barbara Beccio designed this Candy Spelling series doll for Madame Alexander in 1995. Her beautifully detailed costume reflects Barbara's Masters of Fine Art in costume and lighting design from New York University where she garnered the Seidman Award for Excellence in Design.

She had previously been nominated In 1994 for the Dolls Award of Excellence for "Jacqueline" one of Effanbee's collection of Victorian dolls called "The Ladies of Elegance . (I have several of these as well in my collection and they are quite stunning!)

"Her costuming also garnered another nomination for a Dolls of Excellence Award for "Amethyst", produced by Kingstate. A recreation of a Dewees Cochran American Child doll outfit won a Dolls of Excellence Award for Effanbee Doll Company and was featured as one of the Dolls for the Classic American Dolls Commemorative Stamps. She also designs Doll clothes for Ashton-Drake Galleries, as well as re-creating gowns for their Princess Diana Series." - The Hospice Mask Project

Doll Artist Valerie Clausen's Elizabeth I

Doll artist Valerie Clausen of Rhiannon's Dolls created this lavishly adorned portrait of Elizabeth I with a Yield House head, arms, and legs. The ornate costume is her own design based on her research of Elizabeth's famous wardrobe.

"However remarkable for the rich display of jewels was the court of Henry VIII, that of ELIZABETH, who inherited her royal father's passion for these precious ornaments, was still more extravagant. In her youth she had entertained, or more probably affected, a distaste for jewellery. "The king, her father," says Dr. Aylmer, "left her rich clothes and jewels, and I know it to be true that in seven years after his death, she never, in all that time, looked upon that rich attire and precious jewels but once, and that against her will, and that there never came gold or stone in her head, till her sister forced her to lay off her former soberness, and bear her company in her glittering gayness, and then she so wore that all men might see that her body carried that which her heart misliked."

This abnegation of vanity and ostentation was, however, whether feigned or not, but of short duration, for she soon outshone every sovereign in Christendom by the profusion and rarity of the jewels with which she was literally covered. Bacon gives some reason for this at the risk of his gallantry, for the court adulations to the last were on her grace and "fair" countenance. "She imagined," says Bacon, "that the people who are much influenced by externals would be diverted by the glitter of her jewels from noticing the decay of her personal attractions." If such were the queen's thoughts as age wore upon her, they are but the same feminine notions that generally prevail throughout time, in most countries...No Queen of England has ever been represented with such a blaze of jewels as Elizabeth. Horace Walpole, speaking of her portraits, says:--"There is not one that can be called beautiful. The profusion of ornaments with which they are loaded are marks of her continual fondness for dress, while they entirely exclude all grace, and leave no more room for a painter's genius than if he had been employed to copy an Indian idol, totally composed of hands and necklaces. A pale Roman nose, a head of hair loaded with crowns and powdered with diamonds, a vast ruff, a vaster fardingale, and a bushel of pearls, are features by which everybody knows at once the picture of Elizabeth."

Elizabeth seems to have had a passion for pearls. The now faded waxwork effigy preserved in West-minster Abbey (and which lay on her coffin, arrayed in royal robes, at her funeral, and caused, as Stowe states, "such a general sighing, groaning, and weeping, as the like hath not been seen or known in the memory of man") exhibits large, round, Roman pearls in the stomacher; a carcanet of large round pearls, etc., about her throat; her neck ornamented with long strings of pearls; her high-heeled shoe-bows having in the centre large pearl medallions. Her earrings are circular pearl and ruby medallions, with large pear-shaped pearl pendants. This, of course, represents her as she dressed towards the close of her life. In the Tollemache collection at Ham House is a miniature of her, however, when about twenty, which shows the same taste as existing at that age. She is there depicted in a black dress, trimmed with a double row of pearls. Her point-lace ruffles are looped with pearls, etc. Her head-dress is decorated in front with a jewel set with pearls, from which three pear-shaped pearls depend. And, finally, she has large pearl-tassel earrings." - JJKent, Inc.