Page 103. " impoverished French "

The Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France. They were inspired by the writings of John Calvin in the 1530s.  Huguenots were strongly critical of the doctrine and worship of the Catholic Church. They saw Christianity as simple faith in God, and relied upon God for salvation rather than the Church's sacraments or rituals.  Huguenot numbers grew rapidly between 1555 and 1561, chiefly amongst nobles and city dwellers. The Huguenots in France peaked in number at approximately two million, compared to approximately sixteen million Catholics during the same period.

As the Huguenots gained influence and displayed their faith more openly, Roman Catholic hostility towards them grew.  These tensions spurred eight civil wars between 1562 and 1598. The wars began with a massacre at Wassy on 1 March 1562, when dozens of Huguenots were killed. Following this initial massacre, the Huguenots rallied a considerable army and cavalry. The wars gradually took on a dynastic character, developing into an extended feud between the Houses of Bourbon, allied to the Huguenots, and Guise, allied to the Catholics.  Both staked a claim to the French throne.

In what became known as the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (24 August - 3 October 1572), Catholics killed as many as 25,000 Huguenots in Paris. Similar massacres took place in other towns over the following weeks. The number of dead throughout the country is not known. An amnesty in 1573 pardoned the perpetrators.

Episodic civil war continued over the next fifteen years until 1598, when King Henry IV recanted Protestantism in favour of Roman Catholicism and issued the Edict of Nantes.  The Edict established Catholicism as the state religion of France, but granted Protestants equality with Catholics and a degree of religious and political freedom within their domains.

However, enforcement of the Edict grew increasingly irregular over time.  When Louis XIV came to the throne persecution resumed, and many Huguenots fled France.  The Huguenot population of France had fallen to 856,000 by the mid-1660s.  Louis became increasingly aggressive in his efforts to force conversions among the Huguenots.  He imposed penalties, closed Huguenot schools and excluded Huguenots from certain professions. Soldiers were tasked to occupy and loot Huguenot houses. In 1685, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and declared Protestantism to be illegal under the Edict of Fontainebleau.  This resulted in the flight from the country of about 180,000 Protestants.  They emigrated to countries such as England, Switzerland, the Dutch Republic, the German Electorate of Prussia, the German Palatinate and elsewhere in Northern Europe, as well as South Africa and North America.  Many became leading professionals in their new host countries; their loss dealt a serious blow to the French economy.

Around 40,000-50,000 settled in England, mostly in London.

Page 107. " The great bell of Saint Paul's "

 

“Great Tom”, or “Big Tom” was originally the bell of Westminster and was sold to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1699. En route to the cathedral, the massive bell fell and was cracked. After various recast editions of “Big Tom”, “Great Paul” was hung in the bell tower in 1881. Great Paul was the largest bell in the country. 

 

Listen to the bells of St Paul's Cathedral here

Page 111. " a fantastic sect of Convulsionists "

The Convulsionists were a body of religious fanatics in France.  Diacre Paris, who had died “protesting with his last breath against the doctrines of the obnoxious Bull Unigenitus,” became a martyr to a particular sect of Catholics.  He was buried in 1727 in the small church-yard of St. Medard, in the twelfth arrondissement of Paris.  The Convulsionists of St. Médard were so named because they went into violent convulsive movements when they touched, or even approached, his tomb, in the years following his death.   

Les convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard
Public DomainLes convulsionnaires de Saint-Médard - Credit: Catherine-Laurence Maire

Page 117. " still knitted on with the steadfastness of Fate "
The Three Fates (c. 1525)
Public DomainThe Three Fates (c. 1525) - Credit: Sodoma

In Greek mythology, Fate was personified by three sisters: Clotho (who spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle), Lachesis (who measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod) and Atropos (who cut the thread of life). Collectively known as the Moirae, they have their counterparts in the Parcae of Roman mythology and the Norns of Norse legend.

 

A Golden Thread (1885)
Public DomainA Golden Thread (1885) - Credit: John Strudwick
Page 119. " attended by the Furies "
The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1862)
Public DomainThe Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1862) - Credit: William-Adolphe Bouguereau

The Furies were personifications of vengeance, sent from Tartarus to avenge wrongs and punish crime. They were known in Greek mythology as the Erinyes (the avengers) and in Roman legend as the Dirae (the terrible). In some accounts, they are identified as the three sisters, Tisiphone, Mehaera, and Alecto.

The comparison is prompted by the Marquis’ postilions, their whips lashing above their heads resembling the snakes that twined in the Furies’ hair.

Page 123. " As if the Gorgon's head had surveyed it "
Medusa by Caravaggio
Public DomainMedusa by Caravaggio - Credit: Caravaggio

In Greek mythology, the Gorgon is a terrifying female creature, with hair of writhing, poisonous snakes.  Her monstrous face turns those who gaze upon her to stone. 

Gorgons appear in the earliest written records of Ancient Greek religious belief.  They are generally depicted as having snake skin and fangs, although sometimes they are shown with golden wings, claws and boar tusks.  The best known Gorgon is Medusa.  Her two sisters, Stheno and Euryale, were also gorgons. 

According to Ovid, writing in 8 AD, of the three sisters only Medusa had serpents for hair, and this was the result of a curse by Athena.  The sea god Poseidon had been aroused by the Medusa’s golden hair, and the two had copulated in a temple of Athena.  Athena wasn’t at all pleased, and changed Medusa’s golden locks into writhing serpents.

Medusa was slain by the hero Perseus.  He was able to carry out this feat by cutting off her head, while looking only at her reflection in a mirror.  By avoiding her direct gaze he escaped being turned to stone. 

According to some accounts, either Perseus or Athena then used the head to turn Atlas into stone, transforming him into the Atlas Mountains.