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Showing posts from July, 2012

IF ROMEO AND JULIET GOT MARRIED

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THE WOMAN BEHIND LOVE'S GREATEST MONUMENT Colin Falconer Mumtaz Mahal In the west we think of Romeo and Juliet as the archetypal lovers, the ultimate romantic couple. Yet India has perhaps better claim to the accolade than Italy; if you want to find a monument to the world's greatest love story, you will find it in one of India’s most polluted and industrialized cities, not the cobbled medieval streets of Verona. India’s Juliet was born Arjumand Banu Begum, in Agra, northern India, the niece of the Empress Nur Jehan, wife of the Emperor Jehangir. She was fourteen years old when she was engaged to Prince Khurram - later to become the Shah Jahan. But she had to wait five years for the marriage, for a date chosen by court astrologers as propitious for a happy marriage. For once, the court astrologers got it exactly right. In the intervening years the Shah had already taken two other wives; but after he married Arjumand he was so taken with her that he sur

THE FACE THAT LAUNCHED A THOUSAND SHIPS

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HELEN OF TROY by  Colin Falconer The face that launched a thousand ships? Beauty, passion, jealousy, corruption, treachery, lust. It could be just another day in Washington or Hollywood; instead these are the key ingredients in a story that happened over three thousand years ago, in the Middle East. The tale was inspired by one of the most beautiful and enigmatic characters in all history; her name was Helen.  She was to become a symbol for all mens' erotic desires, her legend  intricately and intimately entwined with that of the Greek pantheon. Her father was Tyndareus, King of Sparta. Or was he? Others say she was sired by a god, one dedicated to the torment of all mankind - Zeus. It is said that he slept with her father’s queen, Leda, while disguised as a swan.  Another legend claims her mother was the goddess Nemesis, who turned into a goose to try and escape Zeus's attentions. So he transformed himself into a swan in order to ravish

Women Who Ruled: Razia Sultana of India

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By Lisa J. Yarde History often reads a lot like “his story” - a list of exploits from the men who came, saw and conquered. It has its fair share of powerful female rulers: Hatshepsut, Cleopatra VII and Elizabeth I. A consistent theme is that most of these women lived in the sway of male influences, until they met tragic, lonely ends. Women have exercised limitless influence in some of the most unexpected places. At a time when most Muslim women lived veiled and secluded in harems, many remarkable females made their bid for power. One among them was Razia, the eldest daughter of Sultan Iltutmish, who reigned in Delhi for 16 years until 1236. Educated and with a strong interest in politics, she became her father's regent during his campaigns.On his deathbed, Iltutmish expressed his wish that Razia would rule in his stead, but this command offended the Indian nobles. Iltutmish insisted. “My two sons have given themselves up to wine, women, gambling and the worship of flattery.

MY NAME IS HARI. MATA HARI.

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The life and times of one of the world’s most famous female spies by Colin Falconer   Just before dawn on October 15, 1917, a woman was woken by a deputation of religious and turnkeys in the Saint-Lazare prison, just outside Paris. She was driven to the Vincennes Barracks where a twelve man firing squad awaited her. A few moments later Mata Hari was dead. It was the end of the line for possibly one of the most famous female spies in history. Mata Hari was born Gertrud Margarete Zelle. In a society best known for blonde, blue-eyed women, little M'greet stood apart, with her thick black hair, black eyes, and olive complexion. She claimed distant Javanese blood. Her father was a successful businessman and M’greet enjoyed a lavish early childhood. But when she was 13 he went bankrupt. Her parents divorced and when her mother died soon afterwards she was left in dire straits. her husband, Rudolf and son, Norman At 18, she married a Dutch Colonia

Fatal Beauty

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Fatal Beauty by Lisa J. Yarde While the modern age may seem to be taking beauty rituals to the extreme with the use of Botox, implants and other cosmetic treatments, women have always resorted to dangerous methods of making themselves lovelier and more attractive. As an author of historical fiction, I've enjoyed researching the beautification steps women of the past undertook and finding historical  parallels  of  the  risks women take today. Jean-Leon Gerome's Femme Nue (public domain) During the Ottoman Empire, the female occupants of the Sultan's harem vied to hold their masters' hearts with a variety of rituals that increased beauty. Rusma is a depilatory, a mixture of caustic lime (a corrosive element) and orpiment, a by-product of arsenic. Turkish women applied rusma all over their bodies to remove all hair. After a quick rinse in the Turkic bathhouse, they used a bronze scraper to remove the mixture. It had the effect of whitening the skin, but if

L-O-L-A LOLA

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The Life and Times of the Inimitable Lola Montez by Colin Falconer She was one of the most notorious women of the Victorian era. She was undressed by kings and saw some things that a woman ain’t supposed to see.  She even inspired a popular nineteenth century catchphrase: ‘Everything Lola wants, Lola gets!’ She could shoot, she could dance and she took a horse whip to anyone she didn’t like. She even brought down a German monarch. And all before menopause. She was born Eliza Gilbert, in County Sligo, Ireland in 1821. She went to boarding school in Scotland where she soon made an impression on her teachers who described her as an elegant and graceful child, with eyes of ‘excessive beauty’ and an ‘orientally dark’ complexion.  They also noted a violent temper and a stubborn streak. At 16, Lola eloped with one Lieutenant Thomas James. They did not live happily ever after. Five years later Tom sued her for divorce, citing adultery. It was granted on the cond