Tag: women in history (page 1 of 2)

JOAN OF ARC ‘S HAIRCUT – a quick quiz

Today is Joan of Arc’s birthday. Happy 605 Joan! You don’t look a day over 300.
She may have died six centuries ago, but she lives on in the spirit of an entire nation. Her name has been immortalized all over the country in street names, in village squares, on churches and on monuments. Even today, both sides of the political spectrum are locked in a battle to hijack her appeal for electoral gain.
Yet her life is shrouded in myth and mystery. How much do you know about her? Here’s a quick quiz.
I’ll start with an easy question first.

1. Which hairstyle did Joan of Arc inspire?

 a. the Donald Trump comb-over
b. the bob
c. the Sarah Palin pouf
d. the buzz cut
Photograph: Mila Zinkova
Actually it was (b). In 1909, a Paris hairdresser created the bob, citing Joan as his inspiration. These days it’s just another hairstyle; back then it was a revolution, ending centuries of taboo against women wearing their hair short. 
It became a symbol of rebellion among women in the nineteen twenties, and was adopted in the US and Britain by the ‘flappers.’ The haircut is still known in French as coupe à la Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc’s haircut)

2. Which of the following did she survive in the course of her military career?

a. a stone cannonball blow to the helmet
b. a crossbow bolt through the thigh
c. a glancing blow from a mace to her bob
d. An arrow wound to her shoulder
Her entirely military career only lasted a year but in that time she had a cannonball dropped on her head, and was shot with an arrow and a crossbolt. In each case she continued to fight on until the action was over. This was one very, very tough and courageous young woman.
She claimed to have been divinely inspired, having been visited on many occasions by the Archangel Gabriel, and Saints Catherine and Margaret. The Catholic Church now claim these two saints never existed; whether they did or they didn’t, they moved Joan to do the impossible.
Oh and in case you were wondering re (c) : As far as historians can tell, her bob was never damaged in combat.

3:  Where was she born?

a Arques
b. Orleans
c. Paris
d. Domremy
She was born in Domremy, the daughter of Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée in modern day Lorraine. Her father was a farmer, who supplemented his income by collecting taxes for the king. 
Her life, from the age of seventeen, is preposterous; ‘a peasant girl experiences divine visions telling her to lead the French armies against the hated English, in defiance of every limitation placed on a woman of the late Middle Ages.’ If that was your pitch for an historical fiction novel, you’d get thrown out of the publisher’s office.
Yet that’s what she did; lopped off her hair, put on armor and roused an exhausted and demoralised army into a string of victories that changed the course of the Hundreds Year War and of history. How she did it beggars belief.

4. Which of the following actresses never played Joan of Arc on the screen?

(a) Ingrid Bergman
(b) Jean Seberg
(c) Vanessa Redgrave
(d) Whoopi Goldberg
Ah-ha! You thought I was going to say Whoopi, didn’t you; in fact, Whoopi played Joan in a 2010 TV campaign for Poise adult underwear. Vanessa Redgrave was the red herring there.

5. Why was she put to death at the stake?

a. Because she was a witch
b. Because she was a heretic
c. Because she was a virgin
d. Because she voted for the Euro
Her trial was staged; the Duke of Bedford had claimed the French throne for his nephew Henry VI. Joan had given her imprimatur to his rival, Charles, so he wanted to burn her as a witch to undermine the reigning king’s legitimacy. It was a politically motivated smear campaign (How medieval. Thank God those days are behind us!)
Unfortunately, the Duchess of Bedford inconveniently confirmed that Joan was as a virgin and virgins cannot be witches (the Church’s position was that a real witch had real intercourse with the Devil). So they had to think of something else.
Her show trial dragged on for over a year. Uneducated as she was, Joan was too smart for the best the Church could bring against her. In the end they resorted to falsifying documents, convicted her of heresy and then burned her at the stake.
Their verdict was overturned thirty years later but vindication came a little late for Joan.  
No post about her would be complete without this: I think it is one of the most beautiful songs ever written, and was composed by Canada’s national treasure, Leonard Cohen.  It is sung here in duet with Jennifer Warnes.
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Not Joan of Arc! That looks like …




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Imagine you’re on a flight from Amsterdam to Jakarta.

East India, Jakarta, Batavia, shipwreck Dutch, If you took that same journey in 1628, instead of taking less than a day the journey would take eight months.

That’s how long it currently takes for an unmanned space ship to travel to Mars.

But if you were on of the 4,000 intrepid souls who undertook the trip on a Dutch East India ship every year, it would in fact be very much like traveling to a distant manned space station.

After a seemingly endless and extremely hazardous journey you would arrive at your company’s outpost – in Batavia, now Jakarta – to be greeted by a sour and hard-bitten community of singular individuals, in an alien and hostile environment.

That is if you arrive. First, you have to survive the journey, which is so tedious and so uncomfortable that you will wish cryogenics had been invented. Imagine over three hundred people living and sleeping for eight months in a space not much larger than an interstate bus and you have some idea.

As part of my research I went on board a replica of one of those seventeenth century spaceships, the retourschip Batavia.

I couldn’t even stand up straight below decks. And then there are the bathroom arrangements; the best you can say about them is that they were … novel.

The bathroom was a platform extending from the hull below the stern, the toilet paper a long piece of rope with a frayed end.

You pulled it up to use it; you dropped it back down into the ocean to activate the self-cleaning mode.

East India, Jakarta, Batavia, shipwreck Dutch, During that eight months between Amsterdam and the Spice Islands you would travel through a dangerous and uncharted world.

It would be actually more hazardous than going to Mars today: our navigational systems today far exceed Dutch capabilities in 1628.

For example, skippers back then could calculate latitude with the aid of an astrolabe but had no reliable way to calculate longitude – distance east or west – and relied on experience and dead reckoning.

Often, the skipper’s dead reckoning was out by some considerable distance; it was how one East India Company ship came to be shipwrecked on the Houtman Abrolhos, off the western coast of Australia, over 1400 nautical miles to the south of its intended destination.

Now I’ve visited the Houtman Abrolhos. It’s a great place if you’re a sea eagle or a reclusive seal.

But if you had come from the bustling port of Amsterdam in the seventeenth century and then found yourself abandoned there, it must have seemed like being stranded on – well, the moon.

And rescue?

East India, Jakarta, Batavia, shipwreck Dutch,

the Houtman Abrolhos

As unlikely as Matt Damon getting off the space station in The Martian.

But they did survive, somehow.

What was left of them.

You have to hand it to our ancestors, they were a tough bunch.

They had to be, because as they say – in space, no one can hear you scream.



East India, Batavia, shipwreck, historical romance, historical fiction, adventure, romance

A fine lady and a beautiful one, traveling alone on an eight month voyage to the other side of the world, on a tiny and overcrowded ship at a time when most navigation was done by “dead reckoning” – guesswork. What could go wrong?


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Colin Falconer, romance, adventure, bestseller, historical fiction

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She was raised as a royal French princess, trained to marry and to obey.

Yet she became the only woman ever to invade England – and take the crown by force.

Who was she? And why were you never taught more about her at school?

Isabella, Braveheart of France,  is now exclusive to Amazon.

AMAZON buy3._V192207739_



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History will say that Hernan Cortes conquered Mexico.

Yet he couldn’t have done it without a woman named … Malinali.

Aztec, Cortes, MalincheHernan Cortes  was probably one of the greatest of the conquistadores – which is in itself a back-handed compliment, like being the best of the Nazis or Suicide Bomber of the Year.

He was a man of ruthless genius, a Christian crusader possessed of unparalleled greed, even for those times – but his achievements were breath-taking.

He conquered what is now Mexico with an army of less than 500 Spaniards, not all of them soldiers and not all of them loyal, while ostensibly on a simple scouting mission from Cuba.

He did not defeat the Aztecs with Spanish force of arms – they were a nation of a million people – but with an astonishing bluff.


http://colinfalconer.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/el-promo-or-how-to-sell-your-book-in-latin-america-and-have-a-blonde-in-a-black-bikini-pin-you-to-a-psychiatrists-couch-on-national-television-2/Through astonishing good fortune, steely determination, and the help of a Mexican slave girl he achieved the impossible.

The story of the invasion is one of the great epics of history, a triumph of human endurance and determination.

It was also an unmitigated disaster for the indigenous population and resulted in unimaginable misery for hundreds of thousands of people.

The story of Hernan Cortes and Mexico is also the story of a woman named Malinali.

Guillermo Marín

source: Wolfgang Sauber

Her exact origins are unclear –she was thought to have been a Mayan princess by some – but her place in Mexican history is unparalleled.

Without her, Cortes would have got no further than a Yucatan beach.

Her name was corrupted by history to Malinche; and five hundred years later her name is still reviled. Even today the word malinchista is shouted across the floor of the Mexican parliament as a deadly insult – it means a traitor to the Mexican people.

Yet was she the monster that history make her out to be? 

Aztec, Malinche, CortesThere is only one person who ever knew the truth and that was Malinali Tenepal herself – La Malinche. She was Cortes’ concubine, but that was not why she is important.

She was also his translator, the only one who ever knew what was being said by both sides, the only one who spoke both Spanish and nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

Her motives, what she said, how she said it; these things will always be a matter of debate – it is what makes hers such a gripping and intriguing story.

What is certain is that in almost every contemporary drawing and painting of Cortes’ entrada, she is at his side, whispering in his ear.

Aztec, Malinche, Cortes

And every night she shared the conquistadore’s bed.

Did she love him? No one can say.

Did he use her for his own purposes and then cast her aside? Of course he did.

He was only ever interested in gold and glory. 

Aztec, Malinche, CortesFittingly perhaps, Cortes’ life after the conquest was one of frustration and humiliation. History has not been kind .

These days his ancient bones molder in a walled-up in a casket by the altar in the Church of Jesus Navareno close to the place where he first met the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma.

Aztec, Malinche, Colin Falconer

Romanian translation

And Malinali?

No one knows what became of her. It is believed she died an old woman in Spain. Cortes showed his gratitude by marrying her off to someone else.

Foreign authors who dare write her story still get assaulted with man bags (see previous post.)

But for all that, her tale, and that of the conquistadores, remains one of the most intriguing and tragic sagas in history.

The story of Malinali – it was worth getting attacked by a man bag …


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The most extraordinary love story never told.


Colin Falconer, romance, adventure, bestseller, historical fiction

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In 1938 Louis B Mayer called her the most beautiful woman in the world.

Hedy Lamar, secret, beautiful womanShe herself said there was nothing to being beautiful; all she had to do was stand there and look stupid.

But that wasn’t her secret.

Her secret wasn’t even that her name was Hedwig Kiesler and that her husband was one of the Nazi’s major arms suppliers.

So then – what was her secret?

Was it that five years before becoming a Hollywood star she had achieved a different kind of fame for her role in a low budget Czechoslovakian film where she appeared swimming in a lake, naked. Another scene featured a close-up of her face in the throes of orgasm.

The film – ‘Ecstasy’ – was banned everywhere, of course, which made copies of it extremely valuable.

Even the Italian dictator, Mussolini, used all his clout and his contacts to get a copy.

So who was she?

Hedy Lamar, secret, beautiful womanThe most beautiful woman in the world was the only child of a prominent Jewish banker from Vienna. At school she displayed a brilliant mathematical mind.

It wasn’t her intelligence but her beauty that caught the eye of the third richest man in Austria, Friedrich Mandl, an arms dealer. He soon became her first husband.

But once he married her, he was less than enthusiastic about his new wife’s past, and tried to buy up as many copies of ‘Ecstasy’ as he could.

Apparently she tried to placate him by insisting that her on-screen orgasm was simulated, achieved with the aid of the director stroking her butt with a drawing pin.

That must have put his mind at rest.

Or perhaps not, because Mandl was a man with many things on his mind. At the time he was developing a new technology for radio-controlled torpedoes for the Nazis.

His wife, cute bottom now drawing pin-free, sat at his dinner parties looking stupid and beautiful while her husband entertained leading Nazis, including Hitler himself, and explained his new invention.

But she wasn’t stupid. She understood everything.

Hedy Lamar, secret, beautiful womanAlso, Hedwig Kiesler was Jewish and, unsurprisingly, she hated the Nazis.

So in 1937 she decided it was time to stop being a trophy wife. She sold her jewelry, drugged her maid, put on her servant’s uniform as disguise, and escaped from Austria.

It was a good decision.

The following year the Nazis seized Mandl’s factory. Mandl, who was himself half Jewish, was forced to flee to Brazil.

Hedwig was now living in Paris and it was there that she met Louis B. Mayer, the Steven Spielberg of the age. Mayer was struck by her beauty and promised to make her a star.

The Most Beautiful Woman in the World signed a long-term contract with Hollywood’s Biggest Producer. She went to America and appeared in more than 20 films with stars like Clark Gable, James Stewart, Judy Garland, and even Bob Hope.

But Hedwig soon got bored with just standing there and looking stupid.

Hedy Lamar, secret, beautiful womanBecause she was still hiding something that many people, dazzled by her beauty, could not see.

Her secret was that she was smart. Very, very smart.

In 1942, at the height of her fame on the silver screen, she decided to do her bit to help the war effort; she developed a unique direction-finding device that could be used to help torpedoes find their targets.

At the time both the Nazis and the Allies were using single-frequency radio-controlled technology. The drawback was that the enemy could find this frequency and “jam” the signal.

Hedwig, remembering all the things she had learned at Mandl’s dinner parties, collaborated with her Hollywood neighbor, musician George Anthiel, on a system to solve the problem. Anthiel had just found a way to synchronize his melodies across twelve player pianos, producing stereophonic sounds no one had ever heard before.

Applying this same technology they found a way of encoding a radio message across a broad area of the wireless spectrum. If one part of the spectrum was jammed, the message would still get through on one of the other frequencies – in effect making it unjammable.

On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent No. 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and “Hedy Kiesler Markey,” Kiesler’s married name at the time.

But the U.S. Navy would not listen. The technology was not adopted until 1962, after the patent had expired, when it was finally used by U.S. military ships during the blockade of Cuba.

So what has this got to do with you?

Hedy Lamar, secret, beautiful womanWell, despite what the US Navy thought back then, it was one of the most important patents ever issued by the US Patents Office.

Today, Hedy’s invention is the foundation of ‘spread spectrum technology,’ YOU USE IT EVERY DAY when you log on to wi-fi or make calls with your Bluetooth-enabled phone. The next generation of cell phones would not be possible without it!

You couldn’t take selfies in Time Square, sext your boyfriend or post Facebook pictures of your cat without the woman still only remembered for being beautiful.

Not bad for a girl who only had to ‘stand there and look stupid.’

So what happened to her?

Hedy was married six times – the last time to her divorce lawyer – and claimed to have made and lost thirty million dollars during her life.

In 2014 she was finally inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

I wonder if you have even heard of her.

Her name was …

Hedy Lamar, secret, beautiful woman

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Colin Falconer, romance, adventure, bestseller, historical fiction

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