Monday 29 October 2018

Queer Anglo-German Achievement

[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]

For the last heraldic achievement this year I’ve chosen a woman who could have been entitled to an English and a German coat of arms. Her name is Sybille Bedford (1911-2006).

Her full maiden name was Baroness Sybille Aleid Elsa von Schoenebeck. In 1935 Sybille became a British citizen, and above is the armorial achievement she may have been entitled to use in her lifetime. There’s no indication that she petitioned the College of Arms for an official grant. It is my personal interpretation of her heraldic heritage.

First, the shield. Ignoring the little blue shield in the centre this design was used by the von Schoenebeck family since the mid-1600s, probably after the marriage of Gerhard von Schoenebeck to Sybilla von der Lippe. The von Lippe and von der Lippe families have been using a rose as their emblem since the 11th century. With this marriage came estates belonging to the von der Lippes and Gerhard may have adopted the rose to honour his wife’s family. This borrowing of emblems was common in medieval heraldry. Sybille Bedford was directly descended from Gerhard and Sybilla.

German heraldry has several different rules to English heraldry. The German states that were part of the Holy Roman Empire had no central heraldic authority like the English College of Arms. German families were free to adopt any design they wished. As a consequence there were an estimated 3 million German families who were using coats of arms by the time the Holy Roman Empire ended in 1806. There were a handful of unofficial authorities who registered coats of arms for a fee. Only around 4,000 of the 3 million German arms had been registered by 1806. I assume the von Schoenebeck arms were one of them as they appear in several German heraldry books in the 1820s. Since 1916 German arms and achievements have been registered with a number of specific authorities being licensed for the purpose.

Another difference between German and English heraldry is that German coats of arms can be used by all members of the family without alteration, whereas in England a coat of arms, specifically one displayed on a shield, must be individual and not like those of any other person (except when it appears in what is called a “quarter”, as in the arms of multiple heiresses). In England unmarried women display their coat of arms on a lozenge. In Germany Sybille Bedford she could have used the von Schoenebeck coat of arms on a shield like her father. She could also use the full achievement with helmet and crest, which she couldn’t in England. German coats of arms are also always shown with the crest. This is because there are so many coats of arms and some may be identical. A distinctive crest helps to distinguish one from the other. Before she became a British citizen her achievement would have been the one illustrated below.
In the 1920s Sybille Bedford moved to England to get away from the emerging fascist regimes in Germany and Italy. When the Nazi’s discovered her family’s Jewish ancestry all her bank accounts were frozen and she was refused a passport. Living penniless in England and unable to travel she had to find a way of obtaining a legal passport. It was suggested that she entered a marriage of convenience with a gay Englishman.

In 1936 Sybille married Walter Bedford. The marriage didn’t last long, obviously, and not a lot is known about her husband. However, there’s no record of him having a coat of arms which, at the time, would also mean that Sybille didn’t either – women were not entitled to use their father’s arms after they got married, unless they were an heiress. Fortunately, Sybille Bedford lived to see a change in English heraldry. If we assume that she applied to the College of Arms to have her German arms officially approved then her heraldic achievement would be the one at the top of this article.

In 1997 the College of Arms ruled that married women could still display their father’s coat of arms even if their husband hasn’t got one by placing them on a shield with the addition of a smaller shield. This smaller shield could be in any colour and in any position as long at it followed establish heraldic rules and can be seen clearly. That’s why I’ve chosen to put a blue shield in the centre. It would look wrong to put a yellow shield on one of the roses.

The blue bow and garland around the shield are customary for a woman, regardless of marital status (peeresses and dames can replace them with various other insignia). As far as I can tell Sybille Bedford did not divorce her husband and was still married to him when she died. This would make a difference, because on becoming a widow Sybille would have to take the shield away and show her arms on a lozenge. Until we know for sure, let’s assume her husband was still alive.

Sybille was awarded the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 1981. The gold badge of the order is shown below her shield with the ribbon tied into a bow, as it is worn by women.

Finally, I will just say that even though I finish my blog officially (full-time) at the end of the year I intend to produce another heraldic alphabet article for International Heraldry Day on 10th June 2019. By then I may also have produced a small book for sale with all the heraldry articles expanded and amended. It is one of several products I plan to produce to help finance displays and exhibitions for LGBT History Month, Pride, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, etc.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Around the World in Another 80 Gays : Part 30) Songs and Deadly Fires

Previously on “Another 80 Gays” : The royal pretender 60) Dmitri I (d.1606) gained his throne in one of the Russian succession conflicts that had previously seen the assassination of 61) St. Boris (590-1015) and 62) George the Hungarian (d.1015), with Boris having dragon legends built up around him, a popular Medieval folk motif which influenced an opera by Richard Wagner whose hero he named his son after – 63) Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930).

Following his father’s death 63) Siegfried Wagner became guardian of the Wagnerian legacy. The main foundation of this was the Bayreuth Festival. Siegfried, already an established composer and opera writer, was always living under his father’s shadow even though his compositions were also popular.

Even though he was named after one of the most famous heroes in German folklore Siegfried’s favourite opera of his father’s was “Tannhäuser”. Richard Wagner completed it in 1845 but was always tinkering with it because he wasn’t satisfied with the result. Siegfried was keen to produce “Tannhäuser” at the Bayreuth Festival for years but couldn’t afford to finance the extravagant production he envisaged. He finally got the chance in 1930, the year of his death.

Several of Siegfried’s gay friends were brought into the production. He chose two for the two lead male roles. Kurt Söhnlein, also gay, designed the sets. The choreographer was asked to include homoerotic elements into sections of set in the subterranean grottos of the goddess Venus. With Richard Wagner’s reputation of being right-wing, and the growing popularity of his operas in the emerging extreme right-wing politics in Germany, traditionalists objected to this aspect of the 1930 production.

Despite this Siegfried’s “Tannhäuser” was a resounding success, and it even had the great Arturo Toscanini as conductor. It was also probably the first musical production that was subsequently recorded as an “original cast” album (except for a replacement for Toscanini).

The character of Tannhäuser was a legendary knight and minstrel. During the 19th century he appeared in various collections of folk tales, with embellishments. One embellishment was his participation in a minstrel song contest, which may have been the final piece of inspiration for Richard Wagner to include that contest in his opera halfway through the second act. The contest was a very specific one. It was one that featured in folklore and is sometimes called the Sängerkreig. It is also sometimes called the Wartburgkrieg because it was held at Wartburg Castle in 1207.

Even though Tannhäuser was a man of folklore some of the songs attributed to him made it into print. The earliest of these is in a collection of medieval German minstrel songs called the Codex Manesse. This book is acclaimed as the most comprehensive source of German minstrel songs and was produced just over a hundred years after the Wartburgkrieg. The Codex contains songs composed by 140 minstrels, including kings, counts and commoners, most of them illustrated with portraits of the minstrels themselves.

Tannhäuser is illustrated with his songs (below left) as was another minstrel referred to as “Der Püller” (below right). He has been identified as Konrad Püller of Hohenburg Castle in present day French Alsace (where it is known as the Château du Hohenbourg). The castle is now in ruins but is still a very popular tourist attraction and a protected national monument.
Most of the castle has been rebuilt over the centuries. One of the last members of the family to live in Konrad’s castle was his grandson 64) Richard Püller von Hohenburg (d.1482).

Being located in the border country where France and medieval German states meet Hohenburg Castle often changed ownership during border disputes. Richard had more than territorial conflicts which threatened his possession of the castle. Several times he was accused of homosexuality. The first time was in 1463 when one of his servants was detained after being seen wearing clothes that were reserved for the aristocracy (there were laws on who could wear what in those days). Under torture the servant admitted that he bought the clothes with money he had blackmailed out of Richard Püller in return for his silence on Richard’s homosexual activity.

Richard was arrested, then released without trial after his family estates in Strasbourg were confiscated. But once accusations of homosexuality are made they are easy to be make again. In 1474 Richard was arrested again. He was stripped of Hohenburg Castle and held in custody for two years, managing to escape the death penalty because of his noble rank. He was released on condition that he signed a confession of sodomy and spent the rest of his life in a monastery. He did the former but not the latter. Instead he escaped to Switzerland where he tried to get support for his campaign to regain his Strasbourg and Hohenburg estates.

In Zurich Richard found some support. Negotiations were lengthy, mainly because Strasbourg was a Swiss ally. Then, suddenly, negotiations stopped and Richard found himself arrested yet again for homosexuality. This time the outcome was different. The Swiss didn’t recognise German titles and Richard was treated as a commoner. He was found guilty and sentenced to be burnt at the stake as a heretic.

Richard went to his death denouncing the Zurich authorities for betraying him, putting most of the blame on a man called Hans Walmann. As it happens, Hans Waldmann would meet the same fate seven years later. In between he was seen as a popular political figure. He was elected Mayor of Zurich the year after Richard Püller’s execution and was regarded as a great statesman, even beyond the borders of Switzerland.

Very soon Hans Walmann was accused of sodomy by other Zurich officials who resented his popularity and they succeeded in having him burnt at the stake just like Richard Püller von Hohenburg. Being a popular politician was no guarantee of a long career.

The present Mayor of Zurich, however, has enjoyed a long and popular career. In fact she has been nominated for the title of World Mayor 2018. Her name is 65) Corine Mauch (b.1960).

Next time : World Mayors and a return to the American Revolution.

Sunday 21 October 2018

The Xtremely Queer Club

This afternoon the second LGBTQ Outdoor Summit comes to an end. As its name suggests this was a meeting of members of the lgbt community who have some involvement with the great outdoors. This could be anything from camping and hiking to climbing Everest or rowing across the Pacific. The summit was also a meeting of minds to discuss and develop outdoor activities and involvement for openly lgbt adventurers and environmentalists.

The keynote speaker was Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, an openly lesbian mountaineer whose record-breaking feats are mentioned below. Silvia is one of several lgbt climbers who have completed the Seven Summit challenge (as completed by Cason Crane here). On a side note, Cason's youngest brother, Oliver, who isn't gay as far as I know, currently hold the Guinness World Record as the youngest ever solo ocean rower. In 2017 he rowed solo across the Atlantic at the age of 19. What a family!

In recent years the activities of openly lgbt adventurers and extreme athletes have been more widely reported. Some of these have entered the record books. Below is a selection of Xtreme lgbt record-breakers, firsts and notable achievers who are proud members of an Xtremely queer club (in alphabetical order).

David Alviar (b.1986) – first (and, therefore, the fastest) to row across the Atlantic in a crew of 3, 2016. David and crewmates Mike Matson and Brian Krauskopf took part in the 2016 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (see also Gavan Hennigan below). They took 49 days and 14 hours to row from Tenerife to Antigua. The first thing David did when he set foot on dry land was propose to his partner Stanley (who said “yes”).

Ann Bancroft (b.1955) – first woman to reach the North Pole on foot, 1985; first woman to reach the North and South Pole, 1993; leader of the first all-female east-to-west crossing of Greenland on foot, 1992; with Liv Arnesen the first women to ski across Antarctica, 2001. More information is here.

Mike Boisvert, Bruce Gallipeau, Rob Jagnow and Jonny Rosenfield – the first all-gay team to summit Aconcagua, the highest mountain in western hemisphere, and the first all-gay team to climb one of the Seven Summits, 2005. Bruce had climbed Aconcagua before but was not openly gay at the time.

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) – member of the first expedition to climb the world’s second highest mountain, Chogo Ri (or K2), 1902; leader of the first expedition to climb the world’s third highest mountain, Kangchenjunga, 1905. Both expeditions failed. This famous occultist was an enthusiastic mountaineer in his youth, and he developed the use of crampons. You can read more about his mountaineering here.

Keith Culver (b.1947) – the first man over 60, and first openly gay man, to complete the Seven Continents marathon challenge, 2007. The Seven Continents is the running equivalent of the Seven Summits, in which athletes run in at least one official marathon on each continent. Keith completed his last Seven Continents marathon just after his 60th birthday. He also competed in the marathon at the Gay Games in San Francisco 1986 and Sydney 2002.

Marty Filipowski (b.1963) – the 100th person to swim the Cook Strait separating the north and south islands of New Zealand, 2017. The 14-mile wide Cook Strait is one of the Oceans Seven, the long-distance swimming equivalent of the Seven Summits and Seven Continents. The swims include the English Channel which Marty swam on his 50th birthday. His most recent Oceans Seven swim was across the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland last month (in honour of his father who died the week before). Marty has also competed at the Gay Games. He has only one more Oceans Seven swim to complete before he joins the exclusive club of just 11 people to have done all seven to date.

Richard Halliburton (1900-1939?) – the first person to swim the Panama Canal through the locks, 1928. Although not the first person to swim the canal he was the first to go through all the locks taking him a total of 50 swimming hours over 10 days. Most of the time was taken up waiting for the locks to operate. Even though some have questioned whether he was gay his own great-niece has said that there’s no doubt in the family that he was. A renowned traveller and adventurer, Richard disappeared with his crew during a trans-Pacific voyage in a Chinese junk in 1939.

Greg Healey – first known openly gay man to summit Everest, 2012; 20,000 mile solo cycle around the world, 2013. When Cason Crane, the second openly gay man to summit Everest, was making his bid Greg was halfway through a 20,000 mile solo cycle ride. Greg was in Peru when Cason reached the top of Everest (exactly 51 weeks after Greg was there).

Gavan Hennigan (b.1982) – fastest solo row across the Atlantic (east to west), 2016. This was the second record broken by an lgbt rower during the 2016 Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge (see David Alviar above).

Stephen Junk (b.1960) – the first Australian to complete six of the Oceans Seven swims (see Marty Filipowski above). Stephen has only to swim the North Channel from Scotland to Ireland to be the first Australian to complete the Oceans Seven. Will he beat Marty Filipowski to the title of first lgbt swimmer to join the 11-member Ocean Seven club? Steven has competed in swimming in 2 Gay Games, winning 2 golds, 2 silvers and a bronze at the 2002 Sydney games.

George Mallory (1886-1924) – member of the first expedition who intended to reach the top of Everest, 1922; the first known lgbt mountaineer on Everest, 1922; the first lgbt Olympic medallist and first lgbt gold medallist, 1924. At the closing ceremony of the first ever Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924 Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern games, awarded gold medals to all members of the 1922 Everest expedition, which included George Mallory, in recognition of their (failed) attempt. At the time of the ceremony George was heading back to Everest on the expedition that would take his life later that year. He never got to see or touch his medal.

Angela Madsen (b.1960) – (take a deep breath!) – the first woman to complete three ocean rows (Atlantic 2008 and 2011, Indian Ocean 2009); the first woman (in a mixed team of 8), the oldest woman, and first open lesbian to row across the Indian Ocean (in a record time that still stands) 2009; the first woman with a disability to row across the Atlantic Ocean, 2007; member of the fastest unsupported team (and first all-female crew) to row non-stop around the British Isles, 2010. All of these are Guinness World records. On top of all that Angela is the oldest lgbt competitor at the Paralympic Games (Rio 2016), older than any lgbt Olympian, competing in rowing (obviously) and athletics.

Diane Nyad (b.1949) – first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark protection cage, 2013; world record for the longest non-stop swim without a wet suit, 1979; world record for longest open water swim without a shark cage (102 miles), 1979. A multiple long-distance swimmer.

Sarah Outen (b.1985) – the youngest woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean (at the time also the youngest person), 2009; the first and only person to row solo across the mid-Pacific Ocean from America to Asia. Also rowing across the Indian Ocean at the same time as Sarah was Angela Madsen (above), meaning that the youngest and oldest women to row the Indian Ocean were doing so at the same time. Angela, in a team of 8, finished 5 weeks sooner in a world record time. In 2011 Sarah began her London2London challenge, which I wrote about here.

Rainbow Skydivers – largest skydiving vertical (dead-down) freefall formation, 2012. Rainbow Skydivers is probably the world’s only lgbt skydiving group. In August 2012 fifteen members of Rainbow Skydivers joined 123 others, including many of the world’s top skydivers, over Ottawa, Canada, to perform the largest vertical skydiving formation. A video of the jump is here (don’t forget, it’s head-down, so the ground is at the TOP). The record has been surpassed several times since then.

Sally Ride (1951-2012) – first American female astronaut and, retrospectively, the first lgbt person to go into space, 1983. Going into space is the ultimate adventure. Sally was openly lesbian to her family, friends and colleagues, but her sexuality was not generally known until after her death. See here for her story.

Ben Smith (b.1972) – ran 401 marathons in 401 days. Ben ran marathons all around the UK to raise awareness of bullying, something which he suffered himself while at school not far from where I was living at the time in North Nottinghamshire. The first marathon started on 1st September 2015 and the last was on 5th October 2016. He ran a marathon in North Nottinghamshire in May 2016.

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado (b.1975) – the first Peruvian woman, and the first openly lesbian woman, to reach the summit of Everest, 2016; the first Peruvian citizen, and first openly lesbian woman to complete the Seven Summits, 2017. Silvia is founder of Courageous Girls, an adventure and outdoor organisation that supports female victims of sexual abuse.

There are many, many more lgbt adventurers and endurance athletes who could have been included. All of their achievements and records are worthy of being collected together in a book, one of the dozens of projects buzzing around in my mind at the moment. I hope, at least, I’ve given you a feel of the adventurous and fearless spirit that exists in the lgbt community.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Connections 40 : It's In The Can

On this day in 1978 the BBC broadcast the first programme in a series called “Connections”. This had a remarkable effect on me. It gave me a glimpse into the way that history, culture and technology are all linked. I still have the Radio Times tv listings cover promoting the series (above). I had just left full-time education that summer, and had never been really academically minded. “Connections” changed that.

Regular readers will know I’m well into the second half of my own version of “Connections” called “Around the World in Another 80 Gays”. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Connections” I’ve written this separate article as a self-contained chain of links which begins with a member of the lgbt community. It's adapted from research I did over 20 years ago – before Google, and before I had internet access – all researched using books.

There’s much in the news about plastic waste. Recycling waste has always been an issue in the modern world. When I was young the materials that we were most persuaded to recycle were paper, glass and aluminium drinks cans.

Even though aluminium is the most abundant metallic element on earth’s surface it doesn’t occur naturally. Most of it is locked up in clay-earth mineral ore. Today the biggest source of aluminium ore is bauxite, a mineral first identified by Pierre Berthier (1782-1861 (below).
Berthier (who died in Paris, as mentioned here), was a leading geologist and discovered that clay minerals near the French town of Les Baux were rich in this aluminium ore, which be named after it. With other aluminium-rich clay minerals bauxite was used in the manufacture of a highly popular imitation of a luxury earthenware called fiaence.

Italian fiaence became fashionable with the French aristocracy during the reign of King Louis XIV (1638-1715) because it replaced the luxury item that was rapidly disappearing – silver tableware. The reason for this was because silver was being melted down to help King Louis pay for the War of the Spanish Succession.

The war began after the king of Spain died. His successor and nephew was also a grandson of King Louis XIV. Europe was appalled at this turn of events because between them King Louis and the new King of Spain would own the majority of the American continent. It was the source of the European economy at the time, which was run by an early example of an international currency – silver pieces of eight made in Spanish America. Europe wanted to stop the kings of France and Spain from controlling this American silver trade.

South American silver-producing colonists wanted luxury goods from Europe in return for their silver. Since most luxury goods came from the east – silver, spices and porcelain – the colonists decided to get it direct (and cheaper) from Asia and established the trans-Pacific trade routes.

Fortunately, there was a market in Asia desperate for silver, and that was the Ming dynasty in China. China was rapidly running out of their own silver because they were using it to prop up their main currency which was being devalued through inflation. What was this other currency that caused the demand for American silver in China? It was paper money.

The Chinese had invented paper money and the woodblock printing that produced it. Through the Silk Road the Europeans were introduced to both, but rather than print money the Europeans began producing highly popular manuscripts and books with woodblock illustrations. In an effort to produce finer illustrations woodblocks were replaced with metal plates and engravings.

The Italians produced the best engraved illustrations, particularly one man called Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1480-c.1534). Unfortunately, he was imprisoned for producing pornography with his illustrated book on the sex lives of the gods. A toned down version of this book was produced by Rosso Florentino (1495-1540), who founded the Fontainbleau School. This school led a renaissance of French art and influenced a group of poets called La Péiade.

La Pléiade aimed to combine poetry with music, but one of their followers, Jacques Gohory (1520-1576), wanted to include philosophy and nature. To this end he created a garden in which poets could sit for inspiration. He also used the garden to experiment into the medicinal uses of plants.

This idea was taken up by King Louis XIII of France (1601-1643), who created his own garden for medical research, the Jardin des Plantes, still a popular tourist site in Paris today. The Jardin soon became a leader in medical research. One scientist working there was Christopher Glaser (c.1615-c.1672). He was the King’s Apothecary, but he was imprisoned for supplying arsenic to the serial killer Marie, the Marquise de Brinvilliers (c.1630-1676).

Arsenic was a popular poison because it was undetectable at that time. However, a later French serial killer, Marie, Madame Lafarge (1816-1851), was sent to the guillotine because proof of arsenic in human tissue was produced at her trial by chemist Matthieu Orfila (1787-1953).

Orfila is called the Father of Forensic Toxicology. Very soon many chemists were flocking to Paris to study this new science, including Sir Robert Christison (1797-1882). He published an article in the British Medical Journal in which he described experiments with a new plant from America called Erythroxylum which he said was invigorating if eaten.

An American pharmacist, John S. Pemberton (1831-1858), read Sir Robert’s article and began making a tonic drink from Erythroxylum syrup. He sold his tonic formula to Asa Griggs Candler (1851-1929) who marketed it so well that it’s still one of the biggest-selling products in the world today.

The tonic drink was named after the plant it was made from. The plant’s full botanical name is Erythroxylum coca. Pemberton’s drink was called Coca Cola.
I hope you recycle your aluminium drinks can. If it wasn’t for a gay French geologist discovering bauxite aluminium would still be a rare precious metal and not a common waste product.