A True Songbird – Eva Cassidy

“You left in autumn, the leaves were turning
I walk down roads [of] orange and gold
I see your sweet smile, I hear your laughter
You’re still here beside me every day . . .
‘Cause I know you by heart . . . “

12314694_189017961440294_4830049958543415612_oIn November of 1996 the world said goodbye to the great talent that was Eva Cassidy. At the age of just 33, after a short battle with cancer, she passed away in her family home in Maryland US. Eva’s fame would only continue to grow after her death, as new generations discovered her beautiful, soulful voice, and effortless harmonies.

Born in Washington, on February 2nd 1963, Eva Marie Cassidy, was the 3rd child of Hugh and Barbara. Both her Father and her younger brother Danny shared her love of music, with Danny taking up the fiddle around the same time as Eva started singing and playing the guitar. The two were in a band together from a young age, although originally Eva struggled with her shyness, and felt uncomfortable performing in front of strangers. During high school she joined a local band named Stonehenge, and in 1986 she attended Black Pond Studios as a favour to fellow band member, and friend David Lourim, in order to record some vocals for his musical project, it was this which led to her introduction to Al Dale, who would go on to become her manager. Eva first found work as a session singer, singing back up vocals for various bands. However she soon formed The Eva Cassidy band, and began to perform around the Washington area.

The major breakthrough for Eva came in 1992, when she was asked to record a duet album with Chuck Brown, the album named The Other Side turned out to be the only studio album she would ever release during her lifetime. With it came the cover of a song which would go on to be one of Eva’s most famous Over the Rainbow. The Washington Area Music Association honoured her in 1993 with a WAMMIE award, in the Vocalist/Jazz Traditional music category. The following year she was presented with another 2 awards. A live album recorded at The Blue’s Alley in Washington was released in 1996, although Eva had originally been reluctant to release the recording, a technical glitch had meant that out of 2 nights worth of recordings, only 1 was useable, and Eva felt she hadn’t sounded her best due to suffering with a cold at the time. She need not have worried, the album was very well received by both critics and the public, and propelled her musical talent far beyond Washington.

Unfortunately Eva was unable to enjoy her success. She had been plagued with ill health, and various physical problems for some time. In 1993 she’d had a malignant mole removed from her back, and in the months running up to and during the recording of the live album she’d noticed a persistent aching in her hips, she had even taken to using a cane to aid her during gigs. Xrays revealed a hip fracture and surgery was scheduled for August 21st 1996. Pre op tests revealed cancer in a lung, and further investigations carried out at John Hopkins University confirmed that the cancer had spread throughout Eva’s bones. It was at this point she was told her cancer was terminal; she had just months to live. Eva started an intensive course of chemotherapy, determined to fight, and to ride her bike again, and take trips to the countryside with her beloved mom, with whom she’d shared a tradition of taking Sunday trips out surrounded by nature. However it simply wasn’t meant to be.

In the early autumn of 1996 Eva gave her last public appearance at a benefit concert at The Bayou, she closed her set with “What a Wonderful World”. A month before her death she finally recorded a song which she’d previously attempted to record in 1993, it was called “I know you by Heart”, and she sang it alongside her brother Danny playing his violin.
On November 2nd 1996 Eva passed away, her wish was to be cremated and for her ashes to be scattered by the lake in St Mary’s River Watershed Nature Reserve in Maryland.

Eva Cassidy has released 10 albums posthumously, and even bagged herself a number 1 in the UK with a duet of What a Wonderful World with Katie Melua, 11 years after her death. Her voice continues to enchant the hearts of those who listen to her singing.

Below is a link to the recording of “I know you by Heart”


Prostitution: the world’s oldest profession?

Many people have heard prostitution being referred to as the oldest profession in the world and it may well be one of them. It was first referred to as such by author Rudyard Kipling in back in 1888, however, the trade of money or goods in exchange for sex goes back way before then.

The earliest mention of prostitution occurs in records dating back to 2400 BCE. Karkid, the Sumerian word for female prostitute appears in lists of professions from that period. The ancient Mesopotamian religious practices seem to have effectively given birth to the sex trade. The Sumerians worshipped Ishtar, the goddess of love, fertility, and war, born anew as a virgin each morning, only to give way to desire each evening. It is probable that the women in service to this deity would accept gifts of money donated to the temple in exchange for the use of the “sacred powers” of their bodies. One of the earliest surviving codes of law, The Code of Hummarabi, dating from 1780 BCE specifically mentions the rights of prostitutes and their offspring, regarding inheritance, and financial support. (The link to the Code of Laws is posted below, see laws 178-80, 187, 192, 193)

By 1075 BCE under Assyrian law, prostitutes were required to distinguish themselves from other women by abiding by a dress code. “If the wives of a man, or the daughters of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled. The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants shall have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen [asphalt or tar like substance] poured on their heads.” It may seem unlikely after reading that last statement but it is to be noted that in ancient times being a sacred prostitute was no shameful thing; these women were highly respected, and thought of as being close to the particular god or goddess they served. The Aztecs had controlled buildings called the Cihuacalli, which means “The House of Women”, where the ladies could ply their trade, watched over and protected by a statue of the goddess Tlazolteotl placed in the central patio in view of all the separate rooms.

In ancient Greece there were both male and female prostitutes. Again the women were expected to dress in a distinctive way, but they could be quite independent and had to pay taxes. In the 6th century BCE the first brothels were built by Solon, an Athenian statesman. Male prostitutes were usually teenage boys, owing to the pederastic relationship custom practised by Greek men at the time. Most male prostitutes were slaves, as any free male caught selling himself would be risking his social and political standing as an adult. With the slow introduction of Christianity crept in the gradual change in opinion of those who sold their bodies. Accepting money or goods in exchange for sex started to be seen as a shameful occupation. In Rome, most prostitutes were either slaves or former slaves, a registered prostitute was called a Meretrix and an unregistered one a Prostibulae. Abandoned children and captured foreigners were sold into the sex trade, and enslavement into prostitution was even a legal punishment for a free woman who’d broken the law.

As the Catholic Church gained power, sex outside of marriage became sinful, although prostitution was tolerated, simply because the fear of so much unfulfilled lustful tension would spell trouble. Most medieval towns in Europe sanctioned specific places where the workers were allowed to ply their trade. Any prostitution outside of these brothels, streets or areas was forbidden. Some towns forbade the trade inside their walls at all. Ironically many of the major brothels in places such as Southwark in London, were owned by Bishops, and frequented by friars, and other church officials. In the 1490’s, a Syphilis epidemic began, and swept across Europe for almost a century, bringing with it the turning tide against prostitution. In 1560, France abolished brothels, four years earlier Henry VIII had issued a royal proclamation ending England’s tolerance of the “dissolute and miserable persons” known as prostitutes. In 1586, Pope Sixtus V declared the death penalty would be imposed for the “sins against nature” that was prostitution, and expected his wishes to be carried out all over the Catholic world. There were not many death sentences carried out, but public branding and mutilations were common place for any sex worker found openly selling themselves, as well as public humiliation in the stocks.

Prostitution continued of course, but from the 16th century onwards it became an “underground” trade. Today there are estimated to be around 42 million prostitutes in the world.
Oldest trade in the world? With over 4000 years under its belt, maybe….. but certainly one of the most enduring!


Medieval Guilds

Guildhall, Leicester. 14th century with later 16th/17th century additions.

In the 10th and 11th centuries Europe began to flourish, with towns being established and growing larger. This lead to an influx of merchants, who had, up until this time, mostly sold their wares by travelling from place to place personally carrying out all of their own trading transactions. With the increase in these peddlers roaming from town to town with their goods, came the opportunity for robbery, so many merchants banded together in order to protect themselves from bandits. The craftsmen mainly chose to form associations with those of the same trade, such as textile workers, carpenters, glass workers and masons, probably to ensure the protection of trade secrets and methods. Although there were several types, the two main categories were Craft and Merchant Guilds. The word Guild is from the Saxon “Gilden” meaning “To pay” and refers to the subscription paid to the Guilds by their members.

Gradually these groups of merchants and craftsmen began to settle in one place whilst delegating tasks such as the transportation of goods to others. Over time these groups became more organised and structured, becoming legally recognised by town governments. In order to regulate and protect their member’s trade certain rules and regulations were established. In most towns in order to ply your trade you had to be a member of a Guild. Foreign merchants and traders were made to pay a fee in order to participate in local trade, and some outsiders were prohibited from participating at all. Many guilds obtained a charter and founded their own towns.

The interior of St Mary’s Guildhall, Coventry

A guild would ensure that anything made by one of its members was up to standard and sold for a fair price. Any member found to be cheating the public would be fined, and made to re do the work at their own cost. The worst offenders would be expelled from their Guild. This would mean they could no longer trade within that particular town. Being a member of a guild was an honour, as it marked you as a skilled tradesman and respected member of society.

Each guild was required to perform public services such as policing the streets and aiding the construction of public buildings such as chapels, and they would contribute by donating windows to churches and cathedrals. The guilds also provided particular services for their poorer members, such as covering funeral expenses and giving aid to their families, and providing a dowry for their daughters. The members were also covered with a type of health insurance and assistance with care for the sick. The members of the guild were called, confraternities, brothers, helping one another.

There was a close connection between the guilds and the local authorities, and the city or town councils could intervene if there was trouble between guilds. The council could also establish the hours of work, prices and weights and measures used. Guilds usually voted as a unit, so guild officials were frequently appointed to serve in government. They also paid taxes as a group.

By the 13th century guilds were comprised of the most influential and wealthiest citizens. Guild members were divided into a hierarchy of masters, journeymen and apprentices. A boy could be apprenticed from the age of 12. He would usually board with a master, who would provide food, clothing and an education, in exchange for free labour, or more commonly a large payment from the boy’s parents. The apprentice would serve a fixed term ranging from 2 to 14 years, during this time he was forbidden to marry, and a visit to the local inn was usually banned as well! Once the apprenticeship was completed he would become a Journeyman, entitled to a wage, and expected to create a “Masterpiece”, a piece of his own design which he could only work on using his own tools and raw materials, in his own time. Once he had completed his Masterpiece he could present it to the guild in order for them to vote on whether he was competent enough to become a master.

The Medieval Merchant Adventurers Hall, York. Again a medieval timber framed structure.

This was no easy task, as the state of the economy guided the vote; it was undesirable to have too many masters in one guild if the economy was under strain. However, if he was successful he could go on to set up his own workshop and train apprentices himself.
Guilds flourished up until the 15th century, when their slow decline began. Working exclusively for their own interests the guilds had begun to erode their own usefulness, by setting ridiculously high standards for apprentices and journeymen, and selective entrance polices corrupted with nepotism. Attempting to monopolize trade within their own communities they were frequently hostile towards anything which may threaten their member’s interests, and they sought to remove any activities which they could not bring under their control.

By the 16th century many merchants had begun to form their own companies, rendering the merchant guilds less important. Advancing technology had damaged the craft guilds, and the Reformation had been hugely disruptive.

In the 19th century the guild system was disbanded and replaced by free trade laws, although modern guilds do still exist in different forms around the world. However, many fine examples of medieval guild halls still remain.


Zugarramurdi – The Town of Witches

The Zugarramurdi Museum of Witchcraft
The Zugarramurdi Museum of Witchcraft

In northern Spain lies the town of Zugarramurdi, home to just under 250 people. This small town, situated next to the border of France and Spain, and nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees, is famous for being a major part of the Basque Witch Trials of the 17th century, the biggest witch hunt ever undertaken by the Spanish Inquisition. It began in the year 1609 and by the end around 7000 suspected cases of witchcraft had been examined.
Basque witches, or priestesses also known as Sorginak, are the assistants of the Goddess Mari in Basque Mythology. Before the arrival of Christianity, the indigenous people of the area that is located around north-central Spain and south -west France had a belief system focussing around Mari and her consort Sugaar. Most of what we know about it today is based on the analysis of legends and the few historical references to Pagan rituals practised by the Basques.

Zugarramurdi was a Basque town. Isolated, and mainly inhabited by women, while the men worked away on whaling boats for months at a time. It had been given a pretty negative reputation from as early as 1140, when Aymeric Picaud wrote the Codex Calixtinus, a “tourist’s guide” to the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St James the Great. He described the Basque people as “fierce-faced men who terrorize people with their barbarian tongues, full of evil, dark of complexion, of aberrant appearance, wicked, treacherous, disloyal and false”… not exactly painting a pleasant picture was he? It was also common practise amongst the town folk, to make remedies, creams and brews from the wide variety of vegetation found on the mountains, added to the fact there was a very high percentage of stillborn babies amongst the population, the suggestion these people were cursed by God, as pagan worshipers was not entirely unbelievable to the Christian people of Spain. Modern day research has suggested the large number of stillborn babies may have been caused by the high percentage of Basque women with Rhesus Negative blood.

The Cave of the Witches
The Cave of the Witches

In 1608 a 20 year old girl named Maria de Ximildegui returned to Zugarramurdi after several years living in Cibourne in France. She claimed to have been a witch for 18 months, and during that time had taken part in Akelarres, or witches Sabbaths, in Zugarramurdi, and that another local woman; named Maria de Jureteguia had participated as well. Ximildegui claimed she had been saved by a priest through confession, after a struggle to break away from the Devil which had resulted in weeks of illness. She was extremely convincing. The townspeople began to believe her, and urged the terrified Maria de Jureteguia to confess. Overtaken with fear she fainted, after which she believed she could only save herself by confessing and asking for mercy. She stated that she had been led into witchcraft by her 52 year old aunt, Maria Chipia Barrenechea.

Hysteria gripped the town, a string of denunciations followed, the village comradery unravelled, as neighbour turned on neighbour, family member on family member. Searches were carried out to locate toads and other necessary companions of witches, which eventually led to Graciana, the 80 something year old sister of Barrenechea, who would go on to confess to being the queen witch of Zugarramurdi. Ten witches confessed in total, describing between them a crime spree which included murdering children to suckle their blood, using powders and spells to kill a total of 29 people, ruin crops, and kill livestock. The town somehow managed to resolve the entire event without bloodshed, using local Basque law, the confessed witches were pardoned. It would have ended there, if someone, who to this day remains anonymous, hadn’t reported the matter to the Inquisition.
In 1609 the Inquisition seized four of the confessed witches from the town, and further horrifying details were reported. Cannibalism, infanticide, defiling of tombs, incest, and vampirism were admitted to; an initiation ceremony involving sexual intercourse in a variety of ways including homosexual intercourse were described, all apparently supervised by Graciana Barrenechea. One witch even confessed to poisoning her own grandchild.


Celebrating the Summer Solstice Zugarramurdi style
Celebrating the Summer Solstice Zugarramurdi style

y the time the famous Logrono trials began in 1610, just 21 of the witches who had been imprisoned remained alive. 13 had died in prison, and 6 had already been burned. Only 9 of those left had confessed. Sentences were handed out by the Inquisition at an elaborate public ritual known as an Auto de fe, an Act of Faith. Those who had not confessed were sentenced to be burned alive, alongside 25 heretics. In March 1611 the population of Zugarramurdi was 390, the Inquistion had discovered that 158 were witches, and 124 were under suspicion. In all, 1590 witches were discovered in Navarra, and more than 30000 people had witnessed the trials.
Today, Zugarramurdi is not ashamed of it’s past. There is a museum dedicated to recreating the lives these victims of the largest witch trial in history lived. Every year the people celebrate the witches with a feast by the “Cave of the Witches” where the rituals were said to have taken place, on Midsummers eve, for the Summer Solstice, they light spectacular fires, and they remember…


Anne Askew

Portrait, claimed to be that of Anne Askew as a child. (Unknown)
Portrait, claimed to be that of Anne Askew as a child.

There are many protestant martyrs mentioned in John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, but none quite like Anne Askew.

Born in Lincolnshire in around 1521, to Sir William Askew, and his wife Elizabeth Wrottesley, Anne was one of five children, two brothers, and two sisters. After her mother died her father married Elizabeth Hutton Hansard, a widow from South Kelsey, and she produced two half-brothers for the Askew children. Sir William had been knighted by King Henry VIII in 1513 in Touraine, and had attended the King at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. He was High Sheriff of Lincolnshire and a Member of Parliament in 1521. Anne’s eldest brother Francis was knighted in 1544 at the siege of Boulogne, her brother Christopher was a gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber, and her brother Edward was a member of Archbishop Cranmer’s household as well as being cupbearer to the King.

Anne’s older sister Martha was betrothed to Thomas Kyme, however she died when Anne was just 15, and Anne herself was offered as a replacement. It would seem Anne was forced into this marriage against her will. A highly educated young lady, who was often seen in Church reading the Bible and discussing and debating the meanings of particular texts with the priests, she had already became a staunch protestant, and by her own account superior to them all in argument. Kyme on the other hand was a Catholic. Their marriage, although not a particularly happy one, did produce two children, however having offended the priests it seems Anne was effectively thrown out by her husband, it is stated that she later attempted to gain a divorce from him, something which is almost unheard of in Tudor England. Although unsuccessful in her attempt, she never referred to herself by her married name, and always signed herself Anne Askew.

By her own admission her behaviour was confrontational, something which society at the time could not abide in a woman. In March 1545 she was living in London, and it was here she was first accused of heresy. She left an account of her examinations. The first at Sadler’s Hall before a Christopher Dare, then before the Lord Mayor of London who committed her to The Counter, a prison within the jurisdiction of the City of London for 12 days, until her cousin Christopher Brittayn bailed her out. Anne was then interrogated by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London and his archdeacon, John Wymesley. The accusations surrounded the sacrament and the Act of the Six Articles which had been passed by the King some years previously. Anne was charged with subscribing to “specific Reformed beliefs” and Bonner attempted to pressure her into signing a confession and recantation, both of which she refused. After several influential friends interceded on her behalf, Anne was released.

Unfortunately within a year Anne was again under the suspicions of the council, and was questioned for a second time at Greenwich in June 1546.

Within this time her opinions had grown ever more heretical, and she was stronger in her beliefs. This time she was examined more closely, she was in front of the council for five hours on the first day, and was interrogated again the following day before being transferred to Newgate Prison. After being pressed to recant and confess by Dr Nicolas Shaxton, the late bishop of Salisbury, and Sir Richard Rich, Anne was sent to the Tower of London, still determined in her faith. Here a new set of inquiries were addressed to her. Some members of the King’s council suspected her of receiving secret encouragement from “People of high influence”, including Lady Hertford, Lady Suffolk, Lady Sussex, Lady Denny and Lady Fitzwilliams, all known to be close to Queen Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth, and would be final wife. Despite writing letters to Lord Chancellor Wriothsley and the King himself asking for justice, Anne was apparently condemned without trial. After refusing to recant, confess, or give evidence of any involvement with the Ladies in the Queen’s inner circle, Anne was sent to the rack. In her own words…

“Then they did put me on the racke, because I confessed no ladies or Gentle Women to be of my opinion, and theron they kept me a longe time. And because I lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and master Rich, toke paines to racke me with their owne hands , till I was night dead”

contemporary woodcut of the execution of Anne Askew and the others
contemporary woodcut of the execution of Anne Askew and the others

Anne simply could not have written this herself after enduring such torture, so it is likely it was written from her verbal account. Still she refused to deny her beliefs or name others of similar opinions. She was condemned to the death of a heretic. She would be burned at the stake along with John Lascelles, Nicholas Belenian and John Adam, other Protestants who had refused to recant.
On July 16th 1546, Anne was taken to Smithfield in London. She had to be carried on a chair, as she could not walk due to the injuries she’d received during her torture. Wearing a just a shift, and in severe pain, she remained steadfast, even correcting the preacher when he stated something during his readings which she didn’t agree with. She was tied to the stake, sitting astride a small seat. The Lord Chancellor Wriothsley issued a final chance to recant, promising a pardon from the King. All four condemned heretics refused, thus the fire was lit, and all four perished as martyrs to their faith. There are conflicting accounts of the executions, one mentions gunpowder being used in order to speed up the deaths of the condemned, and the other states that the burnings took an hour to complete, but that Anne was unconscious or dead after about 15 minutes. The latter account would suggest gunpowder was not used as it would have been much quicker.

Anne Askew was 26 when she died, she is the only woman recorded as being tortured at the Tower of London.