Better than a novel…

Queen Elizabeth 1st wearing her red wig
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex

I’m intrigued by history, but hesitate to call myself a history buff. I am actually more of a ‘history gossip’. The happenings of the past — political marriages, love-affairs, intrigues, murders and other goings-on are fabulous and often better reading than a novel.

For instance, take Queen Elizabeth 1st of England, who wore globs of white makeup to cover her pock marks. (It contained lead and caused many a death as a result.) Handsome Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, a favourite of hers, who was rumoured to have warmed her bed and probably did, in the end had to pay with his life when he made her really, really angry. After all, Elizabeth had absolute power.

Frances Sidney, Countess of Clanricarde, Robert’s wife

Being a favourite of the Queen was a dangerous business. Robert served her well, but when he acted against her wishes and had the audacity to marry Frances Sidney, Countess of Clanricarde and widow of the English writer, Sir Philip Sidney, he should have known he was walking on thin ice. Whatever WAS he thinking?

Hugh O’Neill, Irish Leader

The Queen didn’t act immediately, but she seethed. Then when he made an unauthorized truce with the rebel Irish leader, Hugh O’Neill, the Monarch at first greeted him kindly, but saw an opportunity for revenge. The angry lady ordered the handsome guy’s head chopped off. Well, what did he expect, the queen was obviously not amused.

It is also interesting to note that Robert was beheaded in 1601. Frances, Robert’s wife, died that same year too. I wonder??? Do you?


Napoleon and (Josephine) Marie

Muriel's 80th-Me&Remy

Me with a special love, grandson Remy

For years I was captivated by Napoleon, (1769-1821) and read many books about him. On my bookshelf still sits a set of four volumes ‘The Private Life of Napoleon’ by Constant, his valet. Constant thought Napoleon brilliant and tells us, as an example,  that when Marie Louise of

Napoleon by Antoine-Jean Gros

A young Napoleon

Austria didn’t become pregnant immediately, she did so only after Napoleon instructed her not to bathe. I love old books. (The English translation was copyrighted by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1895.)

Study of Josephine

study of Josephine

My own impression is that Josephine (1763-1814) has been badly treated by historians — mostly male. As Napoleon’s first love, she opened doors for the young officer. She already had important contacts, and probably was the brains behind much of his success. Napoleon didn’t realize how much he owed to her.

You can’t deny things went rapidly downhill when he, as self-proclaimed emperor, became too big for his britches and wanting an heir to the throne, he divorced Josephine and banished her from the palace. Big mistake…..


Self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon


Marie Walewska, Napoleon’s mistress

Of course Napoleon had lovers along the way. Power and money are sexy. There are always women willing to give themselves to men like him. Yet, in all the reading I did, nowhere did I find a word about Marie Walewska, (1786-1817) a Polish noblewoman who became his long-time mistress. I read, sometimes wearily, of battle after battle and his prowess in the battlefield, but never much about his prowess in the bedroom with this beauty.

The young Marie, married off to an elderly Count by her family, (because of an inconvenient prior pregnancy) was not smitten by Napoleon when he marched into Poland. The Poles, however, adored him — they desperately needed his help. No sacrifice was too big to win his favor. Marie, a mere child of 18, was pushed into the affair by Polish nobles and, yes, even her elderly husband. After all, what was one woman’s honor compared to the freedom of your country? Marie obeyed. Well, she WAS patriotic. Wouldn’t you? If you were patriotic?

She already had one son, and was to be the only woman to give Napoleon a son of his own who lived to adulthood, Count Alexandre Florian de Walewski (1810-1868). Her husband, the patriot, continued to be cooperative and willingly gave the child his name. After all, the man loved his country and Napoleon had promised to make Poland a strong, free kingdom. (He never kept this promise.)

Obviously a generous guy as well, when Marie, who grew to love Napoleon, (the guy could be magnetic) divorced him in 1812, Walewski gave her and her oldest son half his estates, which made her wealthy in her own right. She had also moved to Paris in 1810, where Napoleon set her up in splendor. Not bad….

For awhile, the lovers did discontinue their affair for political reasons because Napoleon wanted to divorce Josephine and thought, under the circumstances, it wouldn’t look good. But their feelings for each other persisted.

His marriage to Marie Louise of Austria (1791-1847) produced a son too, who died in

marie_louise of Austria3-f

Marie Louise of Austria

childhood, but Marie Louise fled when things got rough and later became the mistress of a Count. Marie Walewska, on the other hand, remained true to her famous lover although she did marry again. She visited Napoleon while he was in exile and disgrace at Elba to (ahem) console him. This surely was a woman who cared. She later died in Paris while Napoleon was a prisoner at St. Helena. They say the very last word she ever uttered was: ‘Napoleon’.

If you like this kind of thing, you may enjoy ‘Famous Affinities of History’ by Lyndon Orr, published in 1909, which can be found on:

Sunrise in Santa Fe

Muriel from BlogAmong the old files my son found and brought to me are some notes I wrote while visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico. Dated January 23, 1988, they were written very early as the sun rose. My sister, whom I was traveling with, was still asleep. Always an early riser, I had crept out of our hotel room to walk on my own.
Here’s what I wrote then — in pencil.

“The air is almost frosty and very fresh. My ears and nose are cold. The wind rushes down from the mountains to caress my face while it teases my hair. The morning invigorates, stimulates — makes me glad to be alive. I love mornings!
The sun rubs its eyes and washes its face. I raise my arms to the heavens in welcome. It agrees to stay and join me on these quiet streets. How wonderful to greet the dawn. There is no one else to do so, so if I don’t, who will?

Chapel San Miguel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Chapel San Miguel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

This charming, creative town is mine — mine alone. The dawn, the sun, the deserted streets — they belong only to me. With a possessive eye I take in the old stucco buildings, the narrow, uneven, yet beautiful streets. Who would dare take them from me? I am filled with a feeling of power. The buildings, the colours, the streets, the mountains — mine, all mine!

The magical basillica, Santa Fe

The magical basillica, Santa Fe

I am woman, earth mother — strong and at one with the early morning which feeds me and gives me strength. I am busy — walking and communicating with this world of mine.

Sleep mortals. You cannot know the joy of this communion. From a hill, I look down on the sleepy, beautiful town below, my spirit soaring.

What’s this? A young man joins me on a sleepy street. He smiles. I know he knows. He knows and he understands. There is enough glory for us both. I smile back and we walk together, and even though we are strangers, we talk as if we were old friends.

Well, our souls are….. Besides, he knows where I can get an early cup of coffee.”

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico

“She Only Looks As Though She Knows”

Recently, there was a retropective on PBS TV about Wonder Woman. It covered the years since her introduction as a comic book character up until the present.

Wonder Woman in the comics

Wonder Woman in the comics

A weaker Wonder Woman

A weaker Wonder Woman


She had changed many times through the years — for instance, after WW2, when women were supposed to go back to their kitchens after doing “men’s” work in wartime factories, she was not depicted as all-powerful for a time.

The program also showed the lovely Lynda Carter in her role as Wonder Woman on television. Seeing her playing that part took me back…..

I was living in Los Angeles and working as a writer for a public relations firm. My boss was tall, blonde, and beautiful. With my black hair and short round body, I was very aware of my lack of glamour in comparison. Lovely Lynda Carter was one of our clients.

What can I tell you about Lynda? She was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, and certainly, her unusual eyes were so beyond beautiful, I can still picture them in my mind.

Lynda Carter's Gorgeous Eyes

Lynda Carter’s Gorgeous Eyes

What I liked most about Lynda, however, was that she was extremely polite, friendly and really nice. Even when she ran into me years later (after she had become more successful) she remembered and greeted me warmly. I liked her for that especially.

Lynda Carter as television's Wonder Woman

Lynda Carter as television’s Wonder Woman

Lynda Carter was just starting out. My boss was trying to get her a movie contract. Boss Linda surprised me when she asked me to go with her to an appointment she had set up with the president of a movie company.

“What in the world for?” I asked, “I don’t know anything about movies or movie contracts.”

“You don’t have to know, ” she responded, “You look like you know.”

I didn’t understand what she was talking about and with much trepidation, accompanied her to the meeting a few days later.

Now, my friends know me to be outgoing and talkative, so it may be difficult for them to believe I actually remained silent during the whole meeting. But I did. I felt out of place, uncomfortable, and certainly had nothing to add to the discussion. I was introduced by name, sat down, and let my boss do all the talking.

When the meeting ended, we rose to leave. The president of the movie company stood, shook my hand and said “You don’t say much, Mrs. Kauffmann, but I can tell you’re the brains of this operation.”

The brains of the operation?????

The brains of the operation?????

I hope he didn’t see the confusion on my face. It took all the control I could muster to behave like a normal person as we left his office. In the elevator, my boss laughed.

“You have to learn to use what you have Muriel.” she told me, “And you look smart.” I was fascinated by how that woman’s brain worked. One doesn’t forget an experience like that.

Since then, I have learned she was right. Perhaps I was never glamourous, or tall, or gorgeous, but there is something about me that makes people think I “know”. Whenever people ask my opinion about things I know nothing about I remember the day I attended that meeting with my boss to try to get Lynda Carter work in film.

Years later, I told my friend Hans about it. He laughed and wrote a very funny poem for me. Unfortunately, that was long ago and I seem to have lost it. I only remember the first two lines….

“From her head down to her toes

She only looks as though she knows…”

I remember these two lines because Hans would recite them when we were together and someone approached me for information I didn’t possess.

So, don’t be fooled by whatever it is in my appearance that lies. It is a sham!  And, let me assure you, appearances ARE deceiving.The truth is, I know very little!

Reflections on Reincarnation

I’ve made up my mind. If reincarnation exists and I have to come back as a woman, I’m coming back as a woman with absolute power — like Catherine the Great of Russia, or Empress Wu of China. These gals knew how to get what they wanted and were willing to go to great lengths to acquire it. What’s more important — they also knew how to have a really good time.

A Youthful Catherine the Great

A Youthful Catherine the Great

Catherine, born in l729, was married to Peter III, the future Tzar. It wasn’t exactly a match made in heaven. Nonetheless, Catherine was expected to produce an heir, and this she did, although no one knows for sure who the father of her son Paul actually was. Ahem!

After Empress Elizabeth’s demise in l761, Peter III, her designated heir, did become Tzar. Not one to waste time, within six months, Catherine, along with her lover at the time, Gregory Orlov, overthrew Peter in a coup. Peter did resign, but whoops, within a few days he was strangled. Now how did that happen? No matter. It was convenient — Peter was safely out of the picture and could never be a problem for Catherine again. (That’s what you get for not being nice to your wife.) For good measure, his mistress was done away with as well.

Tzar Peter III, quickly eliminated

Tzar Peter III, quickly eliminated

Later, some nut declared he was Peter III and managed to gather an army of rag-tag believers. (There are people who will believe anything.) He caused some disturbances, but was duly caught and publicly executed and that was that.

But never-mind the history lesson. What I really dig about Catherine is that she was able to have as many lovers as she pleased — and she pleased. As the most powerful woman in Russia, she could have any man in her realm. Whatever guy chosen to be her “favorite” obliged. Who would/could say no? Besides, she was generous. Her “favorites” and their families were all well rewarded for their services to their sovereign.

Once, as I was reading a biography of Catherine, I learned that, already in her sixties, she chose a handsome, well-built young man of 27 to be her lover. My daughter Susan came by. I expressed my surprise that Catherine, at such an age, would be interested in a relationship with a 27-year old — I couldn’t see it for myself.

“What would she have to talk to a kid like that about?” I asked.

“Mom, she didn’t need him to talk to. She corresponded with some of the greatest minds in Europe. Talk was not what she wanted him for.”

At times, Susan can be a real pragmatist…..

Would I want to be like Empress Wu???

Would I want to be like Empress Wu???

Well, if I can’t come back as Catherine, perhaps I could come back as someone like Empress Wu, who was born about 625, although I admit I have some problems with how many people she “eliminated” in order to get ahead and protect her territory.

Emperor Li Zhi who made Wu his Empress

Emperor Li Zhi who made Wu his Empress

This gal, who became one of the Emperor’s concubines when she was all of 13, probably ‘knew’ his son in a biblical way, for after the Emperor’s death, although she was expected to spend the rest of her life as a nun in a convent (as concubines of Emperors were supposed to), she ended up as one of the concubines of his son, Li Zhi, who became Emperor when his dad died. Now, how do you think she managed that? Especially since at that time and place Li Zhi was something like her step-son and her relationship with him was considered incestuous by Confucian principles.  Tsk, tsk.

The Empress Wang was childless. Wu gave birth to a daughter, and it is said she strangled her baby to get rid of the Empress by blaming her with the murder of what was, after all, the Emperor’s own child. It worked! The Empress was brutally murdered and Concubine became Empress. (Keep that in mind should you find yourself in similar circumstances).

Anyone considered a threat to her position of power was done for, and so were their sons. Wu wasn’t squeamish, she slaughtered real and/or imagined adversaries with abandon. Family members who made this Empress uneasy were not any safer. Nephews, uncles, close and distant relatives were ‘eliminated’; even her own oldest son was murdered in a power struggle with his mom. They were poisoned, strangled, ordered boiled in oil, or accused of treason and put to death in most horrendous ways.

Some believe she ultimately poisoned her husband, the Emperor. Doesn’t seem far-fetched to me. Such was the nature of Empress Wu. After his death, she ruled China. Then, in spite of it all, the lady died of natural causes in her own bed.

Would I really want to be like her? Well, now that I think of it, perhaps not. But, what I do get a kick out of is that Empress Wu, like Catherine, knew how to have a good time. Apparently, at the palace, she unabashedly maintained a ‘stable’ of amusing, naughty, and entertaining guys for her ‘pleasure’. Now, that wouldn’t have been so bad when I was younger and had more energy, and if, in that future life, I had a few less scruples than I’ve had in this one.

The young beauty, Alma Mahler

The young beauty, Alma Mahler

Oh, but both these powerful women were able to kill and/or order the death of others. I’m not sure I have that in me, and would I actually want to be like that in a future life? Well, I could, perhaps, settle for another option.

Husband #1, Gustav Mahler, famous in his own right

Husband #1, Gustav Mahler, famous in his own right

A man once told me that sex appeal in a woman doesn’t come in any look or shape or size, that ‘it’ is something that just oozes out of her pores. Alma Mahler, Gustav Mahler’s wife, obviously had ‘it’ and she was a beauty as well. By the time she married Mahler, 19 years her senior, he was the Director of the Vienna Opera and extremely successful. She was young and pregnant, and had already had several ‘flirtations’ with prominent, talented admirers. Her dad was a well-known painter, and the men surrounding her were well-to-do and gifted. Gustav Klimt was amongst her ‘friends’ prior to her marriage.

Walter Gropius, lover during Alma's first marriage and husband #2

Walter Gropius, lover during Alma’s first marriage and husband #2

Not one to take marriage vows too seriously, Alma met and had an affair with the young architect, Walter Gropius, who later became the founder of the famous Bauhaus School of Design. She did remain with Mahler, however, until his death in 1911.

Artist Oskar Kokoschka and Alma had a mad love affair between hubby #1 and #2

Artist Oskar Kokoschka and Alma had a mad love affair between hubby #1 and #2

From 1912-1914, Alma had a wild, passionate love affair with the painter Oskar Kokoschka, who depicted her in his well-known painting “Bride of the Wind”. Alma found this tumultuous relationship trying, so off she went to Germany to find Walter Gropius, who married her in 1915. They had a child or two, but the military was keeping Gropius away and Alma required attention.

She began an affair with the well-known author, Franz Werfel. Everyone in Vienna knew the child she was carrying was not fathered by Gropius, and when Gropius found out, he wasn’t as understanding as Mahler had been when Gropius had had an affair with Alma during her marriage to Mahler. Well, just what did he expect? Gropius and Alma divorced in 1920.

Author Franz Werfel, lover during marriage #2, and husband #3

Author Franz Werfel, lover during marriage #2, and husband #3

Not hindered by any of this, Alma continued to live with Werfel, marrying him in 1929. Werfel, who was Jewish, and Alma were helped to flee to America in 1940. Werfel was a great success in the U.S. as well. His book “The Song of Bernadette” was made into a Hollywood film in 1943.

Later in life, Oskar Kokoschka, who apparently never stopped loving Alma, wanted to visit her during a trip he was planning to the U.S. Alma refused, writing him she preferred him to remember her the way she had been when they were lovers. Still, age wasn’t a deterrent for this lady. Still married to Werfel, Alma was having yet another affair in the U.S., this time with a man of the Church. Her adult daughter, who resented her mom, (We can’t be everything, Alma wasn’t a great mother.) complained to Werfel, saying it was a disgrace. Werfel is said to have replied “Oh, leave her alone. She’s having her last fling.” Guess it didn’t bother him….

I read that Alma never wore panties. Was that part of her magic? Is that why she was so popular with men? And, is it what I did wrong? If I had only thought of that perhaps I’d have been more popular. Shucks! I could have had much more fun! My whole life could have been different!

I was taught to be a good girl by my mother and I listened to her. Perhaps in my next life, I should do it all differently……