Sunday, October 17, 2021

Scandal in the Papal chapel

Giovanni Antonio Merlo, a 16th century papal singer, left behind one of the very earliest of diaries. Though largely full of financial details, it also covers some historical events and a few insights into choir politics. One entry, for example, from 450 years ago, details the internal squabbling over the recruitment of a new singer, and how the pope himself (Pius v, pictured) became involved. Other entries record some (amusing) remedies for common health complaints.

There is very little biographical information about Merlo available online (not even a Wikipedia entry), and what is known comes from his diary - a paper manuscript of thirty-six folios bound in parchment - housed in the Vatican archives. He joined the papal chapel in September 1551 after having served in the Cappella Giulia, and remained until his death on 28 December 1588. At various times he seems to have been in the employ of Cardinal Sermoneta (in 1559) and Cardinal Farnese (in 1569), and in later life (1575-1580) receiving a pension from the pope.

Merlo’s manuscripts were the subject of a paper read by Richard Sherr before the New England Chapter of the American Musicological Society in Boston 1977. The following year, the paper was published in Current Musicology (issue 25) - available online here. It has since been reproduced in other publications, most recently Sherr’s own Music and Musicians in Renaissance Rome and Other Courts (Routledge, 2019), which can be previewed at Googlebooks.

According to Sherr, the manuscript contains notes and jottings made between 1559 and 1588, in approximately chronological order. Included are drafts of correspondence and memoranda, lists of assets and debits, and mention of historical events (there is even a fragment of music), all combining to give an idea of the daily concerns of a typical papal singer in the second half of the 16th century. 

The majority of entries in the diary concerns Merlo’s finances. As a member of the papal chapel, he received a monthly salary, gratuities by celebrants of masses and by newly created cardinals, as well as special payments made in the period between the death of one pope and the election of his successor. Apart from the financial records, important feast days are mentioned (the celebrant, the number of singers attending, and the tip given each singer). Historical events are occasionally recorded - such as this one: ‘On 6 March 1561, Cardinal Caraffa was strangled in the Castello, and his brother the Duke had his head cut off along with the Count di Alife his brother-in-law and Don Leonardo de Chardini. Requiescant in pace.’

Merlo also describes, from his own experience, an ‘event of much importance’ involving Pope Pius V, as follows.

‘In 1571 in the time of Msgr. Sacrista and our maestro di cappella named Giuseppe, there occurred an event of much importance, which was this. It being the occasion for us to receive singers into our chapel, our maestro proposed three, one called M. Ippolito, another M. Tomasso, and the third M. Francesco. We voted, and the first had twelve votes, the second seven, and the third nine, and there were eighteen of us voting, so that none of them had the number of votes required by our statutes, and they were all rejected. But nonetheless, the said maestro with the help of our protector Cardinal Morone [obtained] by telling him certain things against us, managed to get them admitted even though it was against our statutes, and one Saturday morning gave them the cotta all without our consent. We immediately sent a memorandum to His Holiness telling him what had happened and that he had been deceived, and that we, having sworn fealty to him were only doing our duty in letting him know, although His Holiness was the master and could do anything he wished. And also we went to Msgr. Carniglia as superintendant of the papal household and asked him if he would please have a word with His Holiness, and the said Msgr. talked about it to the pope who, hearing that they (the singers) had not been admitted according to the correct manner, ordered that they be sent on their way. And the three singers served with cotta for a whole month including a papal Mass, and at the beginning of the next month they were fired all three by the said maestro, something which had not occurred in many years. I say this honestly so that you who will come after us will maintain our constitution and do as we did for the good of those who will come later, as our predecessors have done for us. Furthermore, after fifteen days, we reconsidered the contralto of the three named M. Ippolito because Msgr. the maestro di cappella said that this Ippolito had complained to His Holiness saying that he had had two-thirds of the vote, and since only one [more vote] was needed, asking that His Holiness have the goodness to admit him into the chapel, even more so because one of our singers named Don Paulo Biancho was sick and therefore could not attend on the day of the voting, but was there when the said singers were auditioned and, having heard him and being satisfied, gave him his vote in writing. And this was given to the maestro so it appeared that he should be admitted because of this, although there was much debate concerning this vote sent in writing; whether it was valid or not. But the thing was not decided for lack of precedent and rested impending in the time of Pius V, 1571, the month of February.’

The diary ends with a number of miscellaneous notes, Sherr says: a homily to patience, information concerning indulgences, fragments of poetry, and some home remedies, two of which he quotes ‘for the benefit of those who may find themselves stranded and afflicted in Italy some day.’

‘Prescription for constipation. Take six ounces of fine steel which is not rusty and heat it (red hot] and then plunge it in water. And then polish it finely and soak it in strong white vinegar and remove the foam that appears. And continue to change the vinegar four times a day for three days in a row. Then let [the steel] dry on a clean and dry wooden cutting block, and then put it in a flask of mature, very clear white wine, and leave it for the space of three days. And then begin to take six ounces of that wine in the morning when the sun rises and take five ounces in the evening three hours before dinner, and get used to doing this in the morning and the evening continuing to take the said amount of wine and replacing in the morning and evening the amount taken until you judge that there is enough left in the flask to last until the end of a month.’

‘For the liver. Take three gold ducats [weighing] three cogni and take a white clay saucer with running water [in it], and make the sign of the Cross over the water. Turn to the East and take one of the ducats and touch your body or clothes and say, “Bile return to the cow and gold return to water, bile return to the ox and water return to gold.” And each time throw the ducat in the water, and do this nine times. And this should be done on Thursdays and on Sundays before the sun rises and before it sets.’

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Pepys of Paris?

‘The diaries of Pierre de l’Estoile ‘do for the Paris of Henry IV what Pepys does for the London of Charles II, and a great deal more . . .’ This is the opinion of Nancy Lyman Roelker, an American history professor who first translated into English and edited l’Estoile’s diaries. L’Estoile - who died 410 years ago today - was a royal secretary and very well placed to observe the religions and political shenanigans of the age. Most recently, his diaries have been used extensively by Durham University’s Tom Hamilton for a first biography of the man in English.

Pierre de l’Estoile was born in Paris in 1546 into a middle class family. His father and grandfather had both held prestigious positions in the royal bureaucracy. His father, though, died when Pierre was only twelve, and he was placed under the care of Mathieu Béroalde, a Hebraic scholar with Protestant inclinations. In l’Estoile’s earliest foray into writing, a miscellany on the early Wars of Religion, he adopted a neutral tone, presenting the attitudes and opinions of both Catholics and Protestants, while supporting the Crown’s efforts at mediation.

L’Estoile studied law at Bourges, trained as a notary, and like his forefathers became a royal secretary, though not achieving particularly high office. He married Anne de Baillon, but she died in 1580, shortly after the birth of a daughter. Two years later he married the 18 year-old daughter of Colombe de Marteau. During the latter years of his life, he maintained a close interest in religious and papal controversies, all the while amassing a huge library. He died on 8 October 1611. There are only very sketchy biographical details available online, at Wikipedia.

L’Estoile’s main claim to historical fame stems from the diaries he left behind - these are also the main source of information about his life. A century or so after his death, one of his descendants, the abbot of  Abbey of Saint-Acheul, deposited the diaries in the abbey’s library, and when the abbey was dissolved they passed through the hands of a bookseller before being acquired by the Royal Library. Although the diaries were not intended for publication they have been used as a prime first hand source for histories of the reigns of Henry III and IV of France. 

Extracts from the diaries were first published in English by Harvard University Press in 1958 in The Paris of Henry of Navarre as seen by Pierre de l’Estoile - Selections from his Mémoires-Journaux, as translated and edited by Nancy Lyman Roelker. Here’s a paragraph from the introduction in which the editor likens l’Estoile to Samuel Pepys.

‘The Mémoires-Journaux of Pierre de l’Estoile do for the Paris of Henry IV what Pepys does for the London of Charles II, and a great deal more, because l’Estoile was a serious student of politics and morals, and combined his acute observation with keen judgment of men and events. In his diary, which covers thirty-seven years, 1574-1611, the reader finds an eyewitness account of the wars of religion, the court of the Valois, and a full account of the reign of Henry IV, complete with an enormous cast of characters who take part in these events, their idosyncrasies, their clothes, their food, their jokes, diseases, and love affairs - so that the reader knows many of them more intimately than the family across the street. In effect, that family has ceased to be across the street, for the reader is living in the quarter of St. André-des-Arts on the left bank of the Seine opposite the Palais de Justice, and the Palais, seat of the Parlement de Paris, the highest court in France, has become the hub of the universe, as it was to the diarist, who earned his living as audiencier, or lerk-in-chief of the Parliament. Seated with Pierre de l’Estoile in his cabinet the reader has a window on Paris; he sees too the events of the great world as they are seen at the Palais, where men are hotly disputing the merits of Mary Stuart’s execution, or laughing at the sign which been informally posted, “Lost! The Great Invincible Naval Army . . . [Armada] if anyone can give news of it . . . let him come to St Peter’s Palace where the Holy Father will give him wine.” ’

More recently, the diaries have been used extensively for a biographical work by Tom Hamilton (Oxford University Press, 2017): Pierre de L’Estoile and his Word in the Wars of Religion. Some pages can be freely read at Googlebooks. Hamilton says the diaries ‘provides a fascinating portrait of his private life, his social world, his role as a collector of curiosities, and his own personal experiences of living through the era of the French religious wars.’ And there is an informative review available online at H-Net (Michigan State University Department of History).

Here are several extracts of the diaries from Roelker’s 1958 work. (However, it is worth bearing in mind that Hamilton argues, in his book, that the early diaries, at least, were composed after Henry III’s death, “relying on previous drafts that are now lost.” He bases this on an analysis of l’Estoile’s handwriting style, which is identical to the style of other writings that appear after 1589.)

30 May 1574
‘Sunday, May 30,1574, the day of Pentecost, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Charles IX, King of France, worn out by a long and violent illness and loss of blood, which had caused his death to be predicted for more than three months, died in the Château of Vincennes near Paris, at the age of twenty-three years, eleven months and four or five days, after reigning about thirteen and a half years full of continual war and strife. He left one daughter, about nineteen months old, named Isabella of France, by his wife Madame Isabella of Austria, and the kingdom of France troubled by civil wars (on the pretext of religion and the public welfare) in most of its provinces, especially Languedoc, Provence, Dauphiné, Poitou, Saintonge, Angoumois, and Normandy, where discontented Huguenots and the Catholics associated with them have seized various towns and strongholds which they hold with great force.’

31 May 1574
‘Monday, the last day of May, the Court of Parlement assembled in the morning, in spite of the holiday, and deputed certain presidents and conseillers to go to the Château of Vincennes to request Madame Catherine de Medici, mother of the late King, to accept the regency and undertake the government of the kingdom until the arrival of her son King Henry, who was in Poland. To this effect, the same afternoon . . . [she] willingly accepted the task, according to the intention of the late King, her son, who had decreed it a few hours before his death.

That same afternoon the body of the late King, who had lain in his bed . . . with his face uncovered for everyone to see . . . was opened and embalmed by the physicians and surgeons and placed in a metal casket.’

2 June 1754
‘Wednesday, 2nd, the Queen Regent had all the entrances to the Château of the Louvre locked, except the main gate . . . which had a large troop of archers stationed inside and one of Swiss outside. . . Rumor has it that she did this in fear of enterprises and secret conspiracies discovered at Easter, which had already resulted in the execution of Tourtet . . .  La Mole . . . and Coconas . . . in the Place de Grève in late April, and in the imprisonment of the Marshals Montmorency and Cossé.’

4 June 1754
‘Friday, June 4, three well-known gentlemen were sent by the Queen, in her own name and that of M. le Duc d’Alençon and the King of Navarre . . . to Poland to announce to the King the death of his late brother, congratulate him on his accession to the crown of France, and to urge him to hasten his return to his kingdom, to establish himself and to obviate the great evils and inconveniences which might be brought about by any further delay. . .’

8 July 1754
‘Thursday, July 8, the heart of the late King Charles was carried to the Célestins in Paris by M. le Duc, his brother, and there interred with all the solemnities and ceremonies usual in such cases.’

1 July 1754
‘On Sunday,  the first day of July, in the great church Notre Dame in Paris, a solemn vow was taken taken in the name of the whole city, to Notre Dame de Lorette that if the city were delivered from the siege, they would present a silver lamp, and other ornaments. . . There was such a crowd at this occasion that a poor pregnant woman was suffocated in the mob, with her child.’ 

5 July 1754
‘Thursday, July 5, La Chapelle-Marteau, Prévost des Marchands, assembled the city [officials], read to them letters which the Duke of Mayenne had written to the Parisians, in which he exhorted them to hold fast and to cheer up, promising aid at the end of the month at the latest, and if he should fail, he gave them his wife and children to do with what they would. These beautiful words served the people for bread . . . although Boucher . . . and others have assured them of deliverance in two weeks, they were content to settle for a month, so anxious are they to gain that wonderful paradise which the preachers assure them will be gained by dying of hunger.’

Animate the marble

‘Oh! how I wished I had the power to petrify the living, and animate the marble.’ So wrote Gideon Mantell, a 19th century doctor and obsessive fossil hunter, one hundred and seventy years ago today, following a visit to the Great Exhibition.

Both Mantell and The Great Exhibition have been the subject of past articles in The Diary Review - see Gideon Mantell - geologist and A terrible ordeal - but I can’t resist one diary entry that combines them both. By 1851, Mantell was living in London where he enjoyed being a very active member of the city’s scientific societies and forums. He was also very enthusiastic about The Great Exhibition and visited often, recording many and various thoughts in his diary.

One visit was on 8 October 1851, and these are his thoughts, as found in The Journal of Gideon Mantell, Surgeon and Geologist, published by Oxford University Press in 1940: ‘Went again to the Exhibition; the crowd tremendous; at the time I entered 97,000 persons were in the building; in the course of the day nearly 110,000 - one hundred and ten thousand! Vulgar, ignorant, country people; many dirty women with their infants were sitting on the seats giving suck with their breasts uncovered, beneath the lovely female figures of the sculptor. Oh! how I wished I had the power to petrify the living, and animate the marble: perhaps a time will come when this fantasy will be realised, and the human breed be succeeded by finer forms and lovelier features, than the world now dreams of.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 8 October July 2011.