The City of Love for the Romantically Hopeless

Paris. The city of soft candle light, smooth accents and ideal kissing spots. As you walk down the street, it is impossible not to meet couples draped over one another, clearly wishing they were back in the hotel room with the windows thrown open to the Paris skyline. It is a feeling that surrounds this city, especially when you are visiting with your significant other. Yet if you are anything like me, romantically hopeless, this feeling is easily brushed aside and replaced with the pure awe of being in Paris – the city of the revolution, medieval tyrants and – most importantly – cheese.

I will confess I was a little worried about going to Paris. I don’t think I have a romantic bone in my body – ask my partner, he will testify my idea of romance is leaving him the last spoonful of our shared dessert (how is that not romantic by the way?) And there is a lot of hype about visiting the city of love with your partner. “Oh you’re not even going to leave your hotel room”, “It is SUCH a romantic city”, “Oh the sunset over the river -sigh-”

Pass me the bucket. Is it bad that inside all I was thinking about was how cool it was going to be to stand in the square all those nobles had their heads unceremoniously separated from their body? No? Well here are my tips on how to navigate Paris for the romantically hopeless.

Day One

17799104_10155197230724111_6876423913333218213_nStart the first day off feeling incredibly cultured in the Louvre, which is the largest museum in the world. Last year I did five museums in one day in Berlin, but even that did not prepare me for the amount of history I would need to absorb in this museum. True, it is mostly full of art rather than teaming with information on this battle and that battle, but each corner you turn round holds another rare artefact from a long forgotten age. This museum not only showcases France’s turbulant history, but protects the delicate threads of histories across the world and throughout time. From ancient Egypt, right through to China during WW2. My favourite bit was discovering the Louvre was actually built on top of the old medieval foundations of a fortress, which the museum is positioned around in order to allow visitors to see what remains of this fascinating structure.

Once you’ve pulled yourself away from Mona Lisa’s lifeless eyes, stroll through the palace gardens with their delightful statues and perfectly sculpted bushes. As you promenade, it is easy to see why this was the place to hang out if you were a French aristocrat – until the nasty business with the guillotine. There are even deck chairs positioned neatly around the two large fountains in the garden. It was nice to see the gardens are still a popular Parisian hang out, with people playing football games amongst the statues of faeries, and dogs chasing bulls through hedges shaped like curious animals.

17795828_10155197236574111_4359745583135208230_nAt the end of the gardens you’ll hit the Paris Eye, which is worth a trip up in order to get some good skyline selfies, but if you don’t want to pay the 10 euroes, hold off until you get to the Arc de Triumph. As you stand with your back to the eye, you will think to yourself the Arc looks incredibly close. It is not close. It is not a ten minute walk, even at a good pace. That is a good half an hour hike, yes hike, because once you do first leg you start to go at a steady but definite incline. You will sweat. It will be nasty. You won’t look at your significant other who warned you that it was not a ten minute walk and is giving you that “I told you so” look. Once you stagger your way across the roundabout to the Arc, you will then find yourself faced with the chance to go up to the top, which will provide you with those lovely skyline selfies I mentioned earlier. The staircase is perhaps the worst thing I have ever been up, it is formed in the tightest spiral I have ever had the misfortune of climbing, and leaves you feeling disorientated when you get to the top. But it is worth it.  There’s even a perfect spot for pretending you can hold the Eiffel Tower in your hand.

17760068_10155197240574111_8127083220871157490_nAfter you’ve suffered the stairs on the way down, it’s time to head on over to the Eiffel Tower. This is probably the whole reason you’ve come to Paris (not really, I mean there’s still Shakespeare & Co to go yet), but it is definitely on that list of things you most probably should do whilst in Paris. There are two levels you can visit, the normal viewing platform and what they call the ‘Summit’. If you are scared of heights you will cry no matter which level you’re on so you might as well go to the top and appreciate the ground that little bit more when your feet meet again with it. If you’ve stuck to the plan I’ve outlined you’ll hit the top just as the sun is setting, which is absolutely breathtaking. I think it was the only time throughout the trip I felt even a little bit romantic. And if you don’t, there are some helpful kissing reminders around the place.

17795942_10155197243544111_2487283421091364311_nI recommend eating around here – there are some lovely little restaurants
just behind the tower – because after you finish your meal you can then see the whole thing lit up, which give the tower a whole new beauty (lets face it, it’s pretty ugly in the light).

 

Day Two

17757165_10155197219764111_3479506730868443621_nSpend your second day in the Ile de la City area with a visit to Palais de la Cité, residence of the French Kings. White built along the picturesque riverside, the palace doesn’t look like much from the outside – in fact I would have walked past it if I hadn’t seen a sign saying free entry for Europeans. It is definitely nothing like the magnificent castles of France that are scattered throughout the rest of the country. However, once you step inside you do feel as though you have fallen into one of those ludicrous fantasy history novels where helpless young women fall in love with the strapping young prince. The arches and spiral staircases are enough to make any architect or history lover squee with joy – which is exactly what I did when I found myself inside the main hall. There is a fantastic digital presentation on the history of the palace, including a series of images of how the palace transformed from a home of the royal bloodline into a prison, and eventually the centre of the revolutions trials.

That’s right, this medieval palace just got much cooler. Taken over by the bloodthirsty, barricade builders, the palace was at the centre of the famed Terror. Within these walls not only were France’s aristocracy dragged to be sentenced to death, but they also turned an entire wing into a series of prisons for their most important victims. One such prisoner was Marie Antoinette, who was actually held prisoner in her in-laws family chapel and sentenced to death in what used to be their dining room – creepy!

17425038_10155197223349111_3393796616478410635_nOnce you’ve had your fill of the bloody history of the revolution, pop next door to one of my favourite churches in the whole of Europe: Sainte-Chapelle. This is the church which made Henry III create Westminster Abbey, legend goes, because the stained glass was rumoured to be the most spectacular in Europe. It’s been on my bucket list for some time, and as it’s free for the under 25s, it is a must whilst you are in the area. We stayed here for quite some time just gazing at the way the sun changed the colours in the glass.

Stroll through the daily flower market on your way to Notre Dame, which you simply cannot ignore whilst you are in the area. It is perhaps Paris’s third most iconic landmark after the Eiffel Tower and the Arc De Triumph (second I guess depending on how highly you value the arc). This Gothic masterpiece steals your breath as you cross the river, or round the corner from the flower market, and if you look really closely you might even see Quasimodo swinging from the bells. The inside is just as breath taking as the exterior with its own collection of wonderful stained glass. However, what I fo17522982_10155197224649111_4185514928481975795_nund more interesting were the amount of famous people buried under the roof. Including a tribute to Louis Pasteur, who was originally buried here but was later moved. I would suggest spending at least an hour uncovering Paris’s dead heroes. I mean, what’s more romantic than poking around the crypts of a cathedral built in the late 14th century?

If you’re feeling peckish by this point, there is an amazing little cafe just across the road from Notre Dame, and if you’re super lucky you can get the window seat and enjoy your coffee with a view. It is pricey but the sights are so worth it – plus the food is amazing.

17523142_10155197224654111_7581171525981157556_nThis suggestion is more for the book worms amongst you, but if you walk through the park opposite the cathedral, you can visit the precious Shakespeare & Co book shop. Famous for homing many an author as they researched or completed their books, the shelves are crammed with novels across genres, from specific French literature right through to valuable rare books. You could spend hours lost amongst the shelves, or curled up upstairs in one of the many inviting chairs. Nothing upstairs is for sale by the way, but reading is encouraged.

Day 3 – 4

If you’re lucky enough to have bagged yourself more time in the city of love then I have a few more recommendations of places you should definitely check out.

17759955_10155197228279111_6363132051882596089_nFirst is the catacombs, which for anyone unfamiliar with the term is basically a large collection of skulls and bones packed on top of one another because they ran out of space in the graveyards (especially during the revolution). It is damn creepy but so much fun to creep along the narrow tunnels and see the way the builders tried to bring some amount of cheer to such a dreary place, with skulls creating patterns of hearts or large barrels. If you do it late at night then you come out when it’s dark, which just adds to the creepy feeling.

17796849_10155197228774111_3487787481079477393_nIf you’re looking to take a break from your busy schedule the Luxembourg Gardens are perfect for a place to relax in the sunshine. There’s a little model boating lake in the middle where you can get a boat with the flag of your country (or a pirate one) and let it float around the lake. When it reaches the banks you just push it off again with the handy little stick you get given. We lost quite a few hours here egging on the pirate ship which kept smashing into Britain.

17522576_10155197244484111_293691665446317967_nThe other place I would recommend visiting is the Montmarte area. This is a great stop on the day you are heading home as it is right by the station, and you can leave your bags at the station so you’re not laden down. Basilica du Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, and is also one of the oldest churches in the city. Someone is always praying in the church, even during both World Wars, one of the many locals or priests was at prayer to keep the record going. Aside from it being an absolutely beautiful area to just lounge around before spending a couple of hours on a train, it is also home to the Artist Square. This is where all of Paris’ aspiring artists come to sell their wares. You can get anything from traditional oil paintings to caricatures to take home. To top it all off there is even a little train that will take you for a tour of all the important spots in the area – including the famous Moulin Rouge.

~

So yes, Paris is the city of love, but it is also the city of art, revolution and cheese. Rest assured fellow romantically hopeless friends, you will fall in love here, it’ll just more likely be with that tiny little antique shop next to Shakespeare & Co than your hotel bed.

From Paris, with love xox

Chapter Three

“She’s so…. Puny,” Phitha scrunched up her nose in an air of disgust as she looked down at her cousin. Being a mighty six years of age she was of course superior in every way to the small and rather pale bundle that her mother insisted would one day be her Queen. Why, she looked far to sickly to even make it to childhood let alone adulthood. Phitha wouldn’t even start on her opinions about the strange taint of hair colour the poor child seemed to have been cursed with by the very gods who had brought her to life. Phitha pitied her aunt. Hippolyta must be dreadfully ashamed of the child the gods had delivered her.

“She’s a baby, silly,” Hippolyta’s laughter was pure, beautiful music. Music that had been lacking from their small queendom, and sorely missed, for a long time. Some of the older warriors who had known the Queen before the War had said that she had lulled men into death with her voice alone. Her songs simply willed them into a sleep that they simply did not wish to rise from. That her aunt had laughed at her observation, one because it was entirely true and two because it was such a rare sound, startled Phitha into looking up from her deep scrutiny of the future Queen of the Amazon’s.

Hippolyta certainly did not look as though she was disappointed with her gift. In fact Phitha had noticed a distinct change in her since Diana had come to them six months ago. Firstly it had had an obviously impact on her physical appearance. It was impossible to deny the rumours that she was descended from the fabled beauty Helen of Troy. Her skin simply glowed. It was as if the pure love she felt for her child pulsed through her blood, lighting her from within. Phitha would label it a weakness if it was not for the fact Hippolyta’s sharp mind had returned with her legendary beauty. The drilling and training of the warriors had been stepped up, the women pushed beyond their limits. New ideas flowed like a raging river from her mouth in regards to new battle strategies, new building techniques, new ventures and projects that would benefit the entire queendom. It was as if her mind had simply been away all these years. This truly was the woman who had challenged the gods themselves and won. A woman who had returned to them due to a tiny, vulnerable child.

Phitha still was not impressed.

“Well when will she be able to do things?” Phitha prided herself on the fact she had been walking and swinging a wooden battle sword by the age of one and a half.

“When she is good and ready,” Hippolyta bent down and plucked the gurgling child out of her crib to cradle her against her breasts. Frowning, Phitha was about to question such a cryptic response when her own mother placed a quelling hand on her shoulder. Antiope shook her head so slightly that the action would have been overlooked by anyone but her daughter.

“You will have someone to play with soon enough,” her mother’s soothing voice did nothing to ease her concerns. For she knew her mother, knew that she shared Phitha’s fear. Yes the queen was better off for the arrival of Diana and the city was flourishing and spreading at a rate that hadn’t occurred since the Amazon’s were first gifted their island, but she was also now the weakest she had ever been. For now the Queen had one mortal, easily exploitable weakness.

“Yes, mother,” for Phitha did not play, as did none of the other children here. Her mother’s words carried a request: that Phitha guard the queen’s weakness with her own life. And Phitha would do as her mother asked her to her last breath.

“Your majesties.”

There was no quicker way to put an end to a quiet family moment than those two words. All three women, for Phitha considered herself a woman at the wholesome age of six, looked up at the intruder on their private moment. Within the doorway stood Myrto, one of Hippolyta’s four personal guards. She wore the traditional armour of Grecian warriors made from the unique metal that the Amazonians had discovered on the island. The armour had been treated though, so it bore the colours of the royal guard: blue and gold. When the three women of the royal bloodline turned their attention to her she snapped her booted heels together and gave the formal salute, by closing a fist over her heart. Hippolyta’s gift was a smile so pure that Myrto thought her heart might burst with the love she felt for her Queen.

“What is it Myrto?” Diana had drifted peacefully into sleep so Hippolyta gently placed her back amongst the plush cushions and blankets.

“There has been a problem at the mines, Your Highness. It looks like one of the tunnels has collapsed.” Now this was a woman Phitha could admire and respect. She did her duty.

“Were there any casualties?” Antiope was already moving towards the doorway, eager to be doing something that her practical talents were more suited for. Emotions and family were always Hippolyta’s strength. Hipployta was also moving, though there was a slight hesitation before she left her babies side.

“A few minor injuries have been reported so far, but we have not assessed the full damage, nor accounted for everyone just yet.”

“Phitha stay with Diana,” Hippolyta and Phitha looked at Antiope with surprise. Hippolyta had clearly wished for her sister to have given an altogether different command, perhaps insist she stay with her daughter. Phitha on the other hand had very much wanted to go and survey the damage herself. Both women gave Antiope a look that remind her they were indeed all related. She allowed herself a small smile of amusement.

“Phitha is more than capable of looking after her cousin, Sister-Mine, until we return. We need to ensure our people are well and the job is done how it needs to be done.” Hippolyta’s shoulders slumped at the chastising, because she was right, her sister with her practical mind. For a moment she had nearly put her own selfish desires above the needs of her people. Phitha on the other hand straightened her back and planted her feet shoulder width apart. The stance of a warrior: of course she, the best fighter at the age of six, could look after a mere baby. With another small smile, Antiope left the room with her sister and Myrto.

The realisation her mother had tricked her into wanting to stay dawned on Phitha a few minutes later. In a way it was a lesson – Antiope always said that Phitha’s pride would be her undoing. Muttering a few words she had heard the older warriors say after a particularly hard hit during training, she stomped over to the crib and peered into it once again. Her second analysis was along the same lines as her first: what was all the fuss about?

“Princess Phitha.” Surprise made her voice higher, but Phitha would know her anywhere. Phitha had made it a point to know all of Hippolyta’s personal guards.

“Alkyone,” Phitha turned around, her hands clasped nearly behind her back. “You just missed my aunt, Myrto just told them about the cave in at the mine.” Alkyone’s eyes flickered between the six year old and the crib. The movement was very small, but Phitha was reaching for the blade she wore as a clip in her hair. Children weren’t technically allowed to wear armour and carry a weapon until they were 16 years of age, but Antiope had brought her daughter the hidden blade for her birthday just gone for her own protection should she need it.

“I came to guard the Princess Diana.”

“That’s ok, my mother had left me in charge of my cousin. You may go.”

A beat of silence.

“I would, and I am sure the queen would, feel more at ease if one of her guard were to be with the princess.”

“Then you may wait outside.”

Another beat. Another flicker of Alkyone’s eyes between Phitha and the crib. About to speak again, Phitha was interrupted as the guard sighed. It was one of those sighs adults often gave a child when they did not quite understand something. As if apologising but patronising the child at the same time.

“I am sorry for this. You were not meant to be here, an oversight on my part, I apologise. But alas you are here, and alas,” the figures of the two remaining members of Hippolyta’s guard – Charis and Philomela – appeared to flank their leader. “You are in the way.”

To give her credit, Phitha was in fact one of the best six year olds the Amazonians had ever had the blessing to have within their ranks. She would have given the more maternal warriors a run for their money most certainly, but it was not the maternal Amazonians she was facing. It was three of the most elite fighters within the population.

They moved with the fluidity of a group who knew one another’s every flaw and every strength. They worked as a unit in such perfect formation Phitha had to admire them for it. However, she had the element of surprise on her side: they only saw her as a six year old. She flicked open the blade she had concealed in her hand and swung low at the soldier to her left, using her lack of height to her own advantage. The woman – Charis – let out a yelp of surprise as Phitha drew the blade across the back of the woman’s right knee. It was the surprise more than the pain that hindered her for a minute, but it was only a minute that Phitha needed in order to take advantage of her. As her injured knee gave way, and Charis went into a kneeling position on the ground, Phitha drove her blade into the back of woman’s neck with all the strength of a six year old. The blade was not long enough to be lethal, but it was long enough to cause annoyance to a trained warrior.

However, now she had no weapon.

Diana began to cry as Phitha backed up against the crib. Charis was incapable of spouting anything but blood from her mouth, but she was recovering from the shock of the attack enough to shakily stand on one leg. It would take more than a comb blade to keep one of the royal guard done, but Phitha felt a rush of pride at seeing so much blood. Blood she had spilt. Blood that coated her hands and should have probably revolted her, but that she simply glorified in. Her surge of hubris was short lived as the two, armed and well trained warriors, rushed her. With no weapon she would have to resort to hand to hand combat, but the well-aimed kick towards Alkyone’s ankle was quickly avoided and she soon found herself simply hurled off her feet and held in the air like a child.

God she hated being reminded she was a child.

“You fought well, Princess. You will go to Hades and be welcomed into the Heroes Hall,” Alkyone’s words were meant to sooth the fear of death in what must have been a terrified child. But Phitha merely spat on her face in a gesture that reminded her of exactly who her mother was. She almost felt a little less guilty for killing her: no child of Antiope would fear death, she would embrace it like an old friend.

Diana’s crying had become a wail as Philomela carefully lifted her from her crib: the tenderness of the action completely at odds with the intentions they had had with coming here. Phitha felt something cold and hard in her heart as she watched the guard raise a blade to her defenceless cousin and realised she was feeling failure for the first time in her life. The absurdity of such a realisation was actually amusing. She had made her peace with death, but failure was so new she was not entirely sure how to deal with it other than laugh and shut her eyes as the blade of Alkyone kissed her neck.

Silence fell.

But it wasn’t the silence of death. It was the silence caused by the absence of a sound one expected to hear. Like the crying of an infant child in the throes of death. Phitha slowly opened her eyes, her curiosity of such a silence having won out – even if it meant seeing her failure in the very physical form of her cousins mutilated body. Her eyes widened in shock.

Sound thundered into the room at the same time as the powerful bolts of lightning. Alkyone behind her screamed as the volt of electricity hit her arm so close to Phitha’s head she could actually smell her own hair burning. Philomela dropped the child as her mouth opened in a wordless cry that would forever echo in Phitha’s ears for eons to come. Being so close to the origination of such a powerful force, her body held together for what must have been painful seconds, before her body gave out and turned to ash. But Diana didn’t fall. She seemed to be suspended at the centre of the light show. Her chubby little hands were balled into tight fights from which roared forth the power of a god. Her eyes were no longer blue but the type of white one would associate with the centre of a sun, and they rested on Phitha.

For a moment they simply regarded one another.

“Perhaps,” Phitha said cautiously as she surveyed the guards, or what remained of them, before returning her attention to the six month old with the powers of Zeus. “I underestimated you.”

Chapter Two

“What have you done?!” Hippolyta glanced over her shoulder to give her sister a look that would have made even the most senior of her soldiers cower. Antiope, on the other hand, simply squared her shoulders and put her hands on her hips. There was never any budging her sister, the woman who had stood through hell with her. Had been there when Hippolyta had stood in that room covered in blood, with the dagger still clutched in her hand. With a sigh she finished tucking Diana into the beautiful wooden crib, gave her one last loving look, before turning her full attention to the woman who was her only equal.

“When did it become illegal to bear a child?” Folding her arms over her chest, Hippolyta leaned protectively against her baby’s resting place. Antiope may have been her sister but, when she flew into a rage, she was unpredictable. “You yourself have taken men. You have Phitha.” Antiope ground her teeth.

“Yes and I bore that child from an Atlantian – not a God. Not the KING of the Gods!”

“Keep your voice dow-”

“No, Lyta. You’ve overstepped the mark. The flirting, the secret visits, I could just about tolerate. You have always played with fire when it comes to those who you invite to your bed, but I never believed for one MINUTE you could be so stupid!” Throwing her hands in the air with exasperation, it was now Hippolyta’s turn to roll her eyes at her sister’s dramatics.

“Tio, it’s not like that.”

“So you call her a mistake?” Antiope pointed an accusing finger at the slumbering child. Hippolyta’s spine went rigid. Never. She would never call her daughter a mistake. Her voice was dangerously calm when she responded.

“Diana was an answer to a prayer that I would not be alone, cursed to never bear a child again. She is a miracle, not a mistake, never a mistake. Don’t you ever use such words about her again Tio, or I’ll-”

“You’ll what, Lyta? She will bring this island’s destruction. How long do you think before Hera will discover her? How long do you think you can protect her from her own powers? Without the guidance of a God she will be consumed by the raw intensity of her gifts, just like the others. Do you remember Heracles? Do you remember how his power drove him to such insanity he murdered his own wife? His own children? That is the fate you have passed on to your own daughter.”

The room filled with a silent tension as the two women stared at one another. Antiope was the complete opposite too Hippolyta in nearly every sense: dark hair and darker eyes, a lack of mercy and tenderness in her heart even the birth of her daughter hadn’t fixed, ruthless to the point of psychopathic, and she always only saw the negative in every situation.

“Nobody else needs to know – she never needs to know. Will never know,” Hippolyta swore it to herself. It was safer if the secret ended with the sisters. As much as Antiope disagreed with her actions she would never betray her own flesh and blood. Would never allow Diana to come to true harm. “As far as history shall be concerned, I made Diana from clay and Zeus answered my prayers to bring her to life with a bolt of lightning. It will explain any interest he and the other Gods may seem to have in her, nobody here would question my reasons for not bedding a man again.” Screams. Blood. Death. The memories had stopped her from bedding many men – it had taken an immortal to sear those fears from her mind enough to allow her to once again feel the flesh of another. “It will explain her appearance too. Nobody need be any the wiser.”

Antiope’s shoulders slumped with a sigh: there would be no moving her. Once Hippolyta dug her heels in to a situation, when she had carefully planned out her path, then there was no turning her from her course. The only choice was to ensure that course ran true.

“Very well,” walking towards her sister she joined her in gazing down at the little princess. This girl would mean that Antiope herself never gained the mantle of Queen of the Amazon’s, but that was a fate Antiope had feared since her sister had been crowned. She was not a leader. Her mind had been broken during The War beyond repaid: her thoughts needed guidance and counselling, warped by the brutality of fighting to comprehend peace. So she would protect this girl with her soul, so that she would never have to take that title from her sister. And once she saw her safely on the throne, she would follow her sister into death.

For her sister was her monsters keeper.

***

A shadow slipped away from the slightly ajar royal bedroom door. On winged feet the shadow travelled through the intricate hallways and stairwells of the palace. Slipping through a wooden door that was growing weary with age, but was not yet of much concern to the people who lived within the palace, the shadow joined with three others who had gathered around a table.

“Well?” A voice from one of the seated shadows.

“It is as we feared. Her highness has lost her mind, she has borne the child of Zeus.” A hushed murmur of anger, concern and fear erupted around the circle.

“What do we do?”

“She’s our Queen. She has bled more for us than anyone.”

“But the child brings danger. Hera would not care who she killed in her path to the child.”

“The whole island is in danger.”

“Our Queen is in danger.”

“She probably didn’t even think -”

“- didn’t have a chance to think -”

“Has Zeus ever asked a woman?”

A chorus of crazed and bitter laughter.

“It wasn’t her fault, we must protect her. Like we have always protected her,” there was a sense of relief amongst the shadows that they were able to pin the blame on someone other than their Queen.

“But what can we do?” The sound of metal against metal as a blade was drawn in the darkness, before it thudded into the middle of the table with a force that was a testimony to the strength of the wielder.

“We must kill the child.”

The silence that followed was a silent agreement amongst the four: the child would die. Whilst it was one of the most heinous acts of their country, to harm an innocent, this child would bring nothing but destruction to their island and their Queen. As they dispersed into the night it was with the strongest of convictions that what they planned to do would be regarded as heroism by their people. Including the Queen.

Chapter One

A hushed silence hung over the insignificant stretch of white sand, on an island that time itself had forgotten. The waves lapped against the shore in a whispered kiss; the breeze – that wished to violently to be a part of this moment – dared to not so much as rustle the palm leaves along the shore, despite its excitement; and the moon had lowered itself so far so as to watch the unfolding scene, it had dipped almost half way into Poseidon’s waves. Yet despite the silence a tense and nervous energy vibrated the charged air. It was one of those moments when the earth itself knew that what was taking place would change the very fabric of its being.

“She’s beautiful.”

The woman pulled herself up to her full height with the dignity of a Queen, despite her exhaustion, and smiled in response to those cherished words spoken into the night that would forever be a secret. Forever be theirs. She carefully manoeuvred the bundle in her arms into a more comfortable position for her and the child, tucking the soft white blanket around the sleeping angel. Such an action was uncalled for given how well behaved the gods were being – not even a sliver of breeze dared to disturb their moment as a family. No, the action was borne of the terrifying need inside of her to touch, caress and love this child. The small touches were nowhere near enough to feed the hunger of love so strong inside her heart, but she would have a lifetime to feed that need. A lifetime with her daughter.

“She is going to look like you,” the Queen of the Amazon’s eyelashes lifted, her gaze focusing for a moment on her partners face before lowering once more to the sleeping child in her arms. Hippolyta was all creamy skin and blonde hair, more Celtic in her looks than Grecian. Her blue eyes had set her apart from her kin a lifetime ago when she had still lived among the now ancient civilisation. A rare and desired beauty, but forever an outcast. The girl in her arms would have similar problems, though through no fault of her own. No, her daughter would also not bear the typical dark hair and eyes the Amazonian women were known for. But that was because her daughter had not been born in the conventional way. No, her baby had been born in the brilliant burst of power, from a God who had answered her prayers.

A throaty laugh. Her partner’s fingers brushed the tight red curls, a tribute to the fire she had been born in, across her daughter’s forehead.

“Perhaps a little, but she will have your eyes.”

Silence enveloped them once again, both of them simply content to watch the sleeping princess. They were painfully aware this moment could not last forever. It was already a stolen memory that would be cherished but that would never happen again. That this could have happened as it was, was a testimony to the loyalty of the Gods to the couple.

“I have to go.”

Pain. Heightened more so because of the overwhelming joy they had both revelled in for the past hour. Hippolyta’s eyebrows drew together in a frown, tearing her eyes away from the precious child to look into the face of the man who had made it all possible. The only other person she would perhaps love as much as her daughter.

“Stay.” A command from a woman who was not used to having people say no to her. From a woman who had come to him drenched in blood and forged from horrors. “Hera won’t be able to touch us here. My warr-”

“Your warriors would die in agony, Lyta,” the hand he used to cup her face so much larger than her own that it covered half her face. “She is a goddess. Your warriors may be blessed with our gifts, but she would surpass them.” Hippolyta bristled, ready to challenge such words: her people had fought far worse that a jealous woman. But the stubborn man ploughed on. “And she won’t be aiming to hurt you, she will be directing her full fury onto her.” They both gazed down at the incredibly small bundle gathered in Hippolyta’s arms. The princess yawned, tiny chubby fists waving in the air, and opened her eyes. Both of them sucked in a breath. Yes, she had indeed got her mother’s shade of eye colour, but the rims of her irises were tiny circles of lightening.

A few more stolen seconds ticked by before she felt him pull away.

“I will visit,” and though it sounded like a promise, they both knew it was an empty one. It had taken the aid of seven Gods to have this moment let alone anything in the future. But she nodded nevertheless because it gave her heart hope and watched as he raised his hand to the sky to summon the lightning that would take him home.

“What are you going to call her?” He called over the roar of pure power that descended from the heavens. Hippolyta glanced down at the girl within her arms and smiled at the pure wonder those eyes beheld when gazing at her father.

“Diana.”

But when she looked up he had already gone.

Wonder Woman: The Birth of a Legend

Blurb

“There are many myths that surrounds Wonder Woman’s birth, her early life, and how she came to us at a time we so desperately needed her. But whenever I ask she simply smiles and asks which story I would like for her to tell. I don’t think us mortals will ever know the story that brought our Wonder Woman to us.” – Steve Trevor, 1974.

Discover the true origins of the woman behind the blade, Diana, and how she came to be the legend that is Wonder Woman.

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So I have been invited by a lovely group of wattpad writers to join their alternative batman universe by overseeing wonder woman. I’m currently writing her origin stories and I’m uploading them on wattpad for the people there following the alternative universe as a whole, but as I have so many followers here too I thought I would post them on WordPress also.

I hope you enjoy it!

Eleanor of Aquitaine: Why we shouldn’t forget the medieval era when searching for our most powerful queens.

On the 9th September, Queen Elizabeth II surpassed Queen Victoria as the longest reigning British monarch. Journalists marked the event with comparisons between the two queens [1], whilst some historians chose to look back to the Tudor queens of England; Mary and Elizabeth [2]. Both Victoria and Elizabeth I expanded Britain’s oversea territories, were patrons of the arts, and successfully ruled without a husband over shadowing them. It is understandable such large characters dominate our historical view when we search for the strong female leaders of our past. However, our focus on these women, mean that powerful medieval queens often get forgotten. I am not attempting to say that they had any equal power to that of the more modern Queens – medieval queens were undeniably second to the king.

 

Dispelling a myth

Medieval queens were also not the weak and submissive figures they sometimes come across as. Such an image is often more down to literature than fact. In Beowulf, for example, most of the women are written as barely anything more than a sexual subordinate or “peace-weaver”, withdrawn from the male world of governing [3]. Yet this was not the case for most medieval queens. Whilst it is true they were often married off by their fathers or brothers to create political alliances, the woman did also have a say in her future husband. Some queens were the driving force behind their marriage. Matilda of Scotland, who married Henry I of England, initiated the proposal by writing letters directly to Henry expressing her interest in him [4]. Providing an heir, or indeed multiple possible heirs, was of course one of the main expectations. But this does not mean queens were expected to stay in the bedroom, and in fact their sexual relationship with the king was seen as a political threat by many chroniclers. Not only did sharing a bed with the king mean a queen had special access to him, but a threat to her sexual purity was a threat to the security of an heir. Let us also not forget, a mother also had a special influence over her children, so even when her husband died she still influenced kings until her own death [5].

The medieval era is awash in examples of strong and driven queens. Matilda “The Empress” started a civil war in order to obtain the throne she believed rightfully belonged to her, and her son Henry II; Isabella of France, wife of Edward II helped plan his removal and murder; and Elizabeth Woodville, widow and wife of Edward IV, exercised vast amounts of power to get her family into favourable positions in court. However, there is one medieval queen who comes as close to the type of queenship Elizabeth I exercised during her reign as possible. Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right after the death of her brother in 1130, Queen of France from 1137 – 1152, Queen of England 1154 – 1189, and mother of both Richard and John under who she enjoyed the privileges reserved for a kings wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of Britain’s most powerful queens.

 

 

 

eleanorisbaeEleanor and her husbands

Eleanor was betrothed to Louis VII when she was 13 years of age, and at 15 the pair married. By most accounts her first husband was besotted with his new queen, yet Eleanor was by similar reports constantly unhappy. Her unhappiness could have been down to any numerous reasons; she was constantly failing in her task to give Louis and France an heir to the throne, and when she did finally fall pregnant it was with a girl, Marie. Another reason may have been the crusades her husband took her on between 1147 – 9, which opened her eyes to a larger world and more potentials. Whichever the reason, for we can only speculate, it was Eleanor who is said to have first brought up the idea of divorce whilst on the tour of the east. By 1152, after the birth of yet another girl, the pair finally divorced. During her time with Louis, Eleanor exhibited very few royal powers. It was actually with their separation we see Eleanor emerge as the strong, determined woman history remembers her as [6].

Demanding Aquitaine back, Eleanor set about asserting her authority as duchess by issuing a serious of traditional charters securing religious rights for the abbeys of Saint – Jean de Montierneuf, Fontevraud and Saint – Maixent. Not only did this endear her to the church and people as a pious ruler, but by issuing the writs her father, grandfather and great-grandfather, she reiterated to many her hereditary and undeniable right to the land. What her charters as duchess of Aquitaine also show is the powerful lords who supported her, including Briand Chabot and Hervey le Panetier [7].

assholeWhen Eleanor married Henry her it looked as though her power was diminished; the lords who witnessed her charters soon bent the knee and paid homage to their new lord. Elizabeth Brown argues of the couple’s marriage was founded on a mutual love of power, and that Eleanor somehow hoped to dominate the man who was 9 years her junior. Their relationship produced 8 children, 7 of whom survived to adulthood, rebellions and finally resulted in Eleanor’s imprisonment at the hands of her husband. Whether Brown is right for the reasons of their union, the couple clearly fought for power constantly. From 1154 – 1163, Eleanor ruled as regent of England whilst Henry was securing his French lands, and from 1163 – 1168, she went back to rule Aquitaine. Henry’s reasoning here is unknown, but the coincidence of sending his domineering wife away at the same time his similarly power hungry mother died, suggests he wanted to rid himself of troublesome women. Whilst there is evidence Eleanor as regent witnessed and signed charters, it was a very limited and concerned mostly religious privileges. Ironically, in trying to free himself from Eleanor, by sending her to Aquitaine he gave her the freedom to exercise more power. Not only did the frequency of charters increase, but only 1/3rd of our surviving records show she even recognised Henry as lord. Furthermore, she appears to have held her own separate court, receiving honoured guests such as King Alphonso II of Aragon and King Sancho VI of Navarre, with whom she discussed wars and borders. By 1172 her writs addressed the people as “her followers” and she was undisputedly the ruler of Aquitaine, even when Richard was made duke.

 

eleanorMother of Kings

Even before Richard and John became kings, Eleanor was manipulating her children for her political needs. The rebellions fought between all four of her then living sons (Young Henry, Geoffrey of Brittany, Richard and John), against Henry II were all fought for autonomy in ruling pieces of Henry’s French lands. Whilst it is unsure whether Eleanor was the driving force behind the rebellions, the alignment of their interests and her encouragement of the situation was a constant thorn in Henry’s side.

Under Richard’s kingship, Eleanor again became regent of England and this time with more power. She released prisoners, settled disputes between religious figures and Richards magnates, and was present as great councils – including the discussion of Richard’s crusade. Eleanor’s biggest achievement as regent was her reaction to the threat of John usurping Richard as king. Not only did Eleanor, now of 70 years old, face her youngest son and stop him securing a French alliance with King Phillip, but made battle preparations by fortifying the beaches encase of a French invasion. As Ralph Turner comments in his article, her actions were very masculine in her military dealings with her sons. Her military prowess did not end with her England regency, for when John rose to take the throne she had a crucial part in defending castles and negotiating political alliances [8].

 

Lord and Lady

G. Richardson and G. O. Sayle in their The Governance of Medieval England rightly declare Eleanor was “cursed by fate in being born a woman” [9]. Whilst she did not obtain the luxury of ruling alone as Elizabeth I and Victoria did, Eleanor ruled for most of her life autonomously in all but name. The legends that now surround Eleanor about her sexual appetite and her ‘devils blood’ stem from the fear she created in contemporaries at just how much power she could and did exercise over the Angevin kings [10]. Eleanor, Queen of France, England and Duchess of Aquitaine, who wrote charters like any other male monarch, thought with starling military finesse and negotiated politics with kings of Europe in her own court, should definitely not be forgotten when discussing our most powerful female monarchs.

Originally posted on The York Historian

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Bibliography:

Websites:

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34112486
  2. http://www.historytoday.com/helen-castor/elizabeth-i-exception-rule

Books/Articles:

  1. Beowulf, translated by Chauncey Brewster Tinker, (Newson: Newburgh), 1902.
  2. Louis Huneycutt, “Alianora regina anglocum: Eleanor of Aquitaine and her Anglo-Norman predecessors as Queens of England”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.
  3. Elizabeth Brown, “Eleanor of Aquitaine reconsidered”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.
  4. Marie Hivergneaux, “Queen Eleanor and Aquitaine 1137 – 1189”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.
  5. Ralph Turner, “Eleanor of Aquitaine in the governments of her sons Richard and John”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.
  6. G. Richardson and G. O. Sayle, The Governance of Medieval England, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), 1963.
  7. Peggy McCracken, “Scandalizing desire: Eleanor of Aquitaine and the chroniclers”, Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady, ed. Bonnie Wheeler and John Parsons, (Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke), 2002.

I Need a Hero: Why Medieval England Needed Robin Hood

A man in tights, a thief and a fox; Robin Hood has been presented in many different ways. To us, today, he is a legend who most will place within the reign of Richard the Lionheart and the evil King John, who fought the Sheriff of Nottingham and fell in love with the beautiful Maid Marian. However, the story has not always been the fairy tale we know it as today. The first mentions of the outlaw hero appear in the fourteenth century, when an outraged monk recorded several men repeatedly missing mass to listen to stories of Robin Hood and other outlaws such as William of Cloudesley, who was an English version of the famous Swedish archer William Tell. Whilst these stories were orally told and were told to a wide audience, from peasants to courtiers, work by Dobson has uncovered that the most popular audience for these stories was likely to be a middling class of townspeople. The main case for Dobson and other historians who support the claim rests on the word ‘yeoman’ which crops up repeatedly in the tales of outlaws. Yeomen were not only given important protection by outlaws and received help by them, but they themselves were a special type of yeoman; a forester. Why exactly did the middling rank of most societies suddenly find themselves in need of a hero who lived in the forest, robbed and murdered?

heroUnjust laws

By turning a criminal into a hero, what the audience does is condone their actions, even if they are questionable at times. For example, in the story of William of Cloudesley, the outlaws murder ‘thre hundred men and mo’ during their daring escape. Instead of the story being disapproving of their actions, the criminals are rewarded with not only a pardon from the king, but positions of power. What allows them to move from criminals to powerful men, is their outlaw status. People were most often punished with outlawry because of their failure to turn up to court. Failure to turn up to court was often a deliberate decision by the defendant because they believed the crime they were accused of was unjust or because they knew they would be unable to win their case. During the late fourteenth century, many had chosen the life of an outlaw over being imprisoned for breaking the Statute of Labourers which had tried to limit wages for the benefits of the elite. This feeling of dissatisfaction towards laws which were in place only for a privileged few comes across in Cloudesley’s story. Accused of killing a deer, instead of facing condemnation, he is lamented as a ‘false thefe’. Outlaws not only come across as victims because they are being hanged or imprisoned for a crime many saw as being unjust. Outlaws were seen as heroes because by denying the elite a chance to punish them for daring to step above their station, they undermined the unfair laws, and the elite’s control. By choosing the life of an outlaw they in the most powerful way showed their dissatisfaction with the law because they would rather live outside of society rather than live in an unjust society.

blog
Utopian Dreams

The new society the outlaws create for themselves is a wonderful fantasy that highlights their desires. Much like The Land of Cockaygne, and other utopian literature, the outlaws who live in th
e forest have an abundance of food ‘swannes and fessauntes they had full gode’. When this poem is recorded as becoming increasingly popular, the Black Death in England was at its peak. Food had been scarce before the plague had hit England, with a large boom in the human population and several bad harvest’s. Cities in particular were struggling to bring in enough food from the countryside to feed the population, and what little was brought in was being served to the rich for their extravagant banquets. The death of half the population did not ease the situation until a few years after the Black Death due to the fact that the disease also killed off farmers. Robin Hood’s land where food could be hunted, and shared with those who had nothing, was the wish of the hungry people. The forest itself was also a very familiar symbol in utopian literature of freedom and nostalgia. Other poems from the era which spoke of forests claimed they were peaceful and covered most of England. The forest was an escape for many of society – the wars, the plague, economic crisis. Having Robin Hood living in a forest society, the people are conjuring their dream society which is peaceful, full of food, but it is also just. The people Robin Hood judges at his table are all from the elite section of society; a knight, a sheriff and a monk. However, unlike the officials in the audience’s world who use the system to maintain the social hierarchy, Robin judges his guests on their crime and their crime alone; the Knight for example is actually helped by Robin. A fair justice system to these people was as important as food and peace.

picA corrupt elite

The portrayal of the officials in the outlaw hero stories shows a deep dissatisfaction with those who had the most contact with our middle class audience; clergy and sheriffs. In Robin Hood’s The Gest the corrupt Abbot of St Mary’s abbey is made a fool of by the Knight. Whilst the audience knew the Knight had the money to take back his lands, he begs for more time which the Abbot refuses. Turning then to the Sheriff for help, he finds him bribed by the Abbot. This story is a negative commentary on what was happening at the time. Sheriffs and other justice officials took many bribes during court proceedings that would guarantee whoever could pay more would get the outcome they desired. Just like in the story, the Knight who is meant to represent the poor at this stage, as that is what they believe him to be, the Justice does not care about a fair system so long as they profit from it. In Cloudesley’s story, the Sheriff is so concerned with punishing William for breaking an elite law that he sets fire to a house with innocent women and children in it. He appears barbaric and uncaring as long as he gets the outcome he wants, which in this case is William’s capture. Clearly the officials in these stories are the villains: corrupted, aggressive and selfish. This in itself is evidence that the stories were used to show the audience’s dissatisfaction with the elites they came in contact with. Furthermore, by casting them into the position of villains, they make the outlaws the heroes. As heroes their actions are all justified, even when Cloudesley and his companions kill all the officials of their town. Justified violence towards corrupt officials was seen during the Peasants Revolt when the Archbishop of Canterbury and Robert Hales were executed on Tower Hill, where traitors to the crown were sentenced. In a way, by having heroes celebrated in the outlaw stories for acts of violence against officials, the audience is also celebrating those who acted violently against similar figures during the Revolt. That violence was being celebrated even in the stories shows how deeply the people felt a dissatisfaction with the justice system.

We all love an underdog

Robin Hood was the first in a long tradition of people favouring the underdog, or criminal. Highwaymen, bandits and gangsters have joined the man in green tights as a stranger living outside of society in order to judge and correct it. Reflections of outlaw stories like this one provide us with a good insight into the problems in each outlaw hero’s society, and the desires of those reading their tales.

Originally posted on The York Historian

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Bibliography:

Primary Sources:

“Medieval Sourcebook: Anonimalle Chronicle: English Peasants revolt 1381”, Accessed 8/05/2015, http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/anon1381.asp.

Knight, Stephen Thomas, and Thomas H. Ohlgren, “A Gest of Robyn Hode.” In Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. (Kalamazoo, Mich: Medieval Institute Publications), 1997.

Knight, Stephen Thomas, and Thomas H. Ohlgren, “Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough and William Cloudesley.” In Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales. (Kalamazoo, Mich: Medieval Institute Publications), 1997.

The Land of Cockaygne – Wessex Parallel Web Texts, Accessed 8/05/2015, http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~wpwt/trans/cockaygn/cockaygn.htm

Secondary Sources:

Dobson, R. B, The Peasants Revolt of 1381, (London: Macmillan), 1983.

Dobson, R. B. and J. Taylor, Rymes of Robin Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, (Stroud: Sutton Publishing), 1925.

Musson, Anthony, Medieval Law in context: The growth of the legal consciousness from Magna Carta to the Peasants Revolt, (Manchester: Manchester University Press), 2001.

Pollard, A. J, “Idealising criminality: Robin Hood in the fifteenth century”, in Pragmatic utopias: ideals and communities, 1200-1630 ed. Rosemary Horrox, pp.156- 174, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2001.

Spraggs, Gillian, Outlaws and Highwaymen the cult of the robber in England from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, (London: Pimlico), 2001.