Bohemian Horror Story

“The Emperor’s son, Don Julius, was feared throughout Bohemia. He ruled the town of Krumlov with Bloody Hands and a Black Heart.”

From The Riddle of Prague, Chapter Seventeen

Winter by Giuseppe Acrimboldo, a painter at the Court of Rudolf II

Winter by Giuseppe Acrimboldo, a painter at the Court of Rudolf II

Once upon time there was an old stone castle on a hill overlooking a river. The demented son of the King of the Land lived inside the castle. His name was Don Julius and he was known for his sadistic cruelty. One day he demanded the town’s barber-surgeon to send his beautiful daughter to live with him in the castle.

grimm bros cover

 

What reads like the start of a Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale is the true story of Don Julius, the illegitimate son of Emperor Rudolf II.

 

Emperor Rudolf II The King of Bohemia, Croatia and Hungary

Emperor Rudolf II
The King of Bohemia, Croatia and Hungary

 

Don Julius suffered from delusions, abused his servants and tortured the menagerie of animals that lived at the royal compound in Prague. His father, the Emperor, sent Don Julius to live in a castle and rule over the picture-perfect village of Krumlov.

surgeon barbar

During this time, Don Julius became obsessed with a young woman named Marketa Pichlerova, the daughter of a barber-surgeon.

 (Thanks to their expertise with a knife, barbers in those days also performed medical procedures like blood-letting and surgery.)

Cesky Krumlov by Ferdinand Runk

Don Julius forced Marketa to live in Krumlov Castle where he subjected her to increasingly vicious attacks. One time Marketa escaped and returned home after a particularly heinous assault. In retaliation, Don Julius imprisoned her father and threatened to kill all of her family unless she returned to the castle. She went back to face her tormentor.

Vaclav Brezan, an archivist in the village, wrote this account of Marketa’s death at Don Julius’ hands.

“On the 18th of February, Julius, that awful tyrant and devil, bastard of the Emperor, did an unbelievably terrible thing to his mistress, the daughter of a barber, when he cut off her head and other parts of her body, and people had to place her into her coffin in pieces.”

After this brutal crime, the Emperor could not, and perhaps would not, protect his son.  Don Julius was locked in a tower under the watch of armed guards. They say he destroyed the linens in his room, refused to wash, and tried to attack the servants sent in to feed or care for him.  Historical reports vary as to whether Don Julius died of natural causes or was put to death by his father. Archivist Vaclav Brezan, reported the following:

„On the night 25th June, Julius the bastard son of Emperor Rudolf II and tyrant of Krumlov, while imprisoned near the chapel, collapsed. The devil strangled him and sent his soul to hell.”

2724b

In The Riddle of Prague’s fictionalized account of Don Julius and Marketa, both characters survive their grisly encounter. But that’s a different story, and one that’s completely made up. Sadly, for Marketa, in real life there was no happily every after.

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 Three Facts About Me: I’ve been making up stories since I was a little girl. I majored in Communications at the University of Florida and worked for the campus radio and television stations. I’ve lived much of my life outside of the U.S., including nearly seven years in Prague and two in Paris.

QuickSilver Legacy Series:The Riddle of Prague is the first book in the Quicksilver Legacy Series. The story begins when 18-year-old Hana Silna travels to Prague to reclaim her family’s ancestral home. On her first day, she meets Alex Williams, the son of a U.S. diplomat. Together, Hana and Alex set out to discover the location of a hidden flask.

Their adventures continue in The Temple of Paris (due out in the Fall of 2014). The third and final book in the trilogy, The Fountain of Ragusa, is anticipated in the Fall of 2015.

Riddle of Prague Front CoverTemple of Paris Front Cover

My Favorite Thing About Authors’ Cave: One of the unexpected joys from writing has been meeting other authors. The Book Review Depot/Authors’ Cave is a good place to trade experiences and share ideas. I’ve discovered a number of great new books in my favorite genres, especially YA and thrillers. Three highly recommended books are featured below.

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 Stay on the Authors’ Cave Blog Train and follow these authors next! See how they responded to the same questions!

The Eleventh Hour Trilogy by Kathryn Dionne http://www.kathryndionne.com/my-blog.html

Eleventh Hour Trilogy

Quest of the Hybrid by Christina Keats and Ginger Gelsheimer http://keatswrite.blogspot.com/

Quest of the Hybrid

 

 

 

 

 

 

Running by Barbara Spencer http://ablogpd.blogspot.co.uk/

Running

The Real Characters of The Riddle of Prague

1. Elizabeth Weston (“Westonia”)

westoniaElizabeth Weston, an acclaimed poet, was the stepdaughter of notorious alchemist Edward Kelley. Some of the male literati didn’t want a female in their rarefied circles, but Westonia’s writing won legions of fans.

 

 

 

2.  Edward Kelley 

Edward Kelley

Edward Kelley claimed that his flasks contained the elixir of immortality. Emperor Rudolf II threw him into prison twice — once at Krivoklat Castle.

Kelley claimed he could speak with angels. He convinced eminent philosopher John Dee that the angels commanded them to sleep with each other’s wife. And so they did.

Clearly, Kelley had a very persuasive way with words.

 

 

 

 

3. Sofia Brahe
sophie brahe 2

Sofia Brahe is best known as the sister of Tycho Brahe, the famous astronomer, although she was a scientist in her own right. She studied chemistry and astronomy and wrote histories of Danish nobility.

4.  SendovogiousMichal by the fire

Sendogovious was an alchemist who, for a time, was the Emperor’s favorite when he brought back a mysterious tincture that was supposed to have magical abilities.

Live Liuva LaridsdatterThere are other real life characters mentioned in The Riddle of Prague. One of these is Liuva Larsdatter who worked with Sofia and is said to have lived for over 120 years.

 

 

 

 

Westonia: It’s hard out here. . . for a wretch

westonia smaller

Move over Madonna and other one-name celebrities. Elizabeth Jane Weston, known as Westonia, rocked the male-dominated world of Neo-Latin poetry over four hundred years ago.

At a time when many women weren’t educated, much less able to write in Latin, she faced prejudice from the powers-that-be.

rubens and philosophers

Lipsius, one of The Philosophers in Rubens’ painting, dismissed her as “that English girl” and concluded that “the female sex is not to be trusted, they’re more surface than substance.”

Westonia probably wanted to respond like current rock star, Lily Allen: “You’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen.” Except she had to appeal to men’s sense of chivalry to succeed, and that meant playing up her qualities as a woman. She referred to herself as a “wretch” to invoke sympathy and from the men she needed to protect her.

Facing near financial ruin caused by her stepfather, the notorious alchemist Edward Kelley, Westonia used her gift of language to appeal to Emperor Rudolf II:

“What I beg is that you not let a wretched maiden…perish under the weight of an unfair evil.”

Eventually, the authorities recognized her as a great talent, but they made sure to emphasize her womanly virtues.

“Behold Jane…genius, piety, virtue, industry, the Muses and a virgin’s morals…”  wrote Nicholas Maius.

And they expressed astonishment that such talent came from a woman.

“You are an illustrious miracle of your sex,” gushed, Matthias Zuber, crowned Poet Laurete of the day. “What did Nature deny you, learned Westonia? Nothing. Aside from your being born a woman.”

And that from her greatest fans.

To her critics who accused her of plagiarism, Westonia asked, “Why do you hack a poor girl more sharply than any sword?”  Or, in other words, it’s hard out here…for a wretch.

Natural Magicke

 

“Emperor Rudolf II was obsessed with seeking the means to Immortality.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter Fifteen
From Elizabeth Weston’s letter to her daughter in The Riddle of Prague

Vertumnus for blogHe was the Holy Roman Emperor. He was the King of Hungary and Croatia and Bohemia. His moved his court to Prague and turned the Castle into the capitol of Art & Science & Learning. The esteemed astronomers, philosophers and physicians that flocked to his court believed in what they called “natural magicke”.

They believed in the possibility of Immortality.

Arcimbaldo, an Italian painter, depicted Rudolf II  as Vertumnus, the god of transformation.

If looking you do not admire the ugliness that makes me beautiful;
You know well how ugliness can surpass any beauty
Different am I from myself…
Harken your ear
So that I can confide there
a secret of a new art.

Gregorio Comanini wrote the poem to accompany the portrait.

What was the “new art” that transformed the Emperor into something different? Could Arcimboldo’s painting be a celebration of Rudolf II’s ultimate triumph over his own mortality?

 

Gypsies


“The word makes me think of dark-skinned women in long, beaded skirts and bangles playing tambourines around a fan. I know that’s a stereotype, but that’s all I know about Gypsies.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter Four, Hana Silna

gypsy campfire dance

When I first moved to Prague in 1991, that’s all I knew about Gypsies, too.

“The politically correct designation is Roma. But the Gypsy is no epithet. It’s a holdover from when the Romani first came to Europe and people thought they were Egyptians.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter Four, Michal

The Roma have faced discrimination for centuries in Europe. During the Communist occupation of parts of Central and Eastern Europe, the Roma were supposed to become more assimilated into their communities. When the Iron Curtain fell, there was a backlash of hate crimes perpetrated against the Gypsies.

“Let me tell you about the new freedoms in this country, Hana.” Michal hits his fist on the table. “Freedom to think means freedom to hate.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter Five

In the 1990s, one town wanted to build a wall to separate the Roma population from the majority population. This video produced by the Open Society Foundation illustrates the history of the Roma in Europe.

For more information on the Gypsies, you can visit their website at: http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/about/programs/roma-initiatives-office

Invasion


“My parents left in 1968…right after the Soviet invasion,” I add in case he doesn’t know Czech history. Most people don’t.

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter One, Hana Silna

Prague 68 1

bandaged girl pragueLate on the night of August 20,1968, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia with thousands of tanks and hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Across the country, citizens gathered to protest. More than one hundred people died and hundreds more were severely injured during this time, like the young  woman in front of the statue of King Wenceslas on the square that bears his name. 

 bike boysLocated near Wenceslas Square, Czechoslovak TV broadcast news of the occupation and urged citizens to resist. Young soldiers from the far reaches of the Soviet empire broke down the doors to the historic building and barreled inside. They lined up the television employees at gunpoint. A small group managed to escape and kept clandestine broadcasts going for a few more days until they were caught. (One of the young rebels, Vladimír Železný, would — many years later — be my boss as the General Director of TV Nova, the first nationwide private television station in the former Communist Bloc. He told me this story sitting in his office inside that same building.)

My mom and dad had to escape…in 1968.
“They were lucky to get out,” David replies. His eyes encourage me to keep talking.
“My dad wasn’t so lucky…He got shot.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter One, David and Hana on the flight from New York

Hundreds of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks left their native country to flee the totalitarian regime that followed the invasion. Some slipped through borders that weren’t yet secured. Others had permission to leave on a temporary basis and just never went back. Those who later wanted to return risked severe penalties. Many families were torn apart, like Hana Silna’s in The Riddle of Prague.

 

Photographs used by permission of Paul Goldsmith.  All other uses prohibited without express written authorization.Photographs copyright @ 1968 Paul F. Goldsmith.  http://www.paulgoldsmithphotography.com/index.html

Metamorphoses


“The American girl arrives in Prague today. Finally! Finally things will happen. Everything will change…soon terrible things will happen. At the end of it all, I will be free.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter 3, The Nomad

Prague in the early 1990s: This is when Hana Silna travels to Prague. This is also when I first moved to what was then Czechoslovakia.

prague 1990s 4

The Berlin Wall had fallen, the Iron Curtain lay in shambles, and we joined thousands of other 20-something Americans who went to Prague to transform the former Soviet-dominated state into a shining beacon of democracy.

In our jeans and sneakers, we stormed the Medieval gates of the city. We went to teach politics and economics at Charles University; to start The Prague Post and Prognosis; to open the first Tex-Mex restaurant; to launch TV Nova, the first nationwide private television station in the former Communist Bloc.

prague 1990s 6

We wandered past ancient doorways and over cobblestones feeling like we’d stumbled onto a movie set, or into a portal that threw us backward in time. We thought we were going to reinvent a world that had been isolated for decades. But we were unaware of Prague’s extensive history of transformation.

“Straw into gold, water into wine, blood into life! I have long witnessed Prague’s obsession with alchemy. Now it’s my turn! I shall become like quicksilver. I shall transform secrets into power and power into money.”

The Riddle of Prague, Chapter 3, The Nomad

We blazed a path to Prague wanting to make a mark on the city. Maybe some of us did. But mostly Prague got in our blood and changed the course of our own history.

There’s something unsettling about the place. Something stark and grey and haunting. The Czech word for Prague — Praha — means threshold, and the ancient city feels like a gateway to another dimension. Timeless. Immortal. A place where you could reinvent yourself over and over again…maybe for centuries.

Like the Nomad.

swein prague photo

The Charles Bridge is rarely empty. But once, as the clocks chimed midnight on a cold November night, we had it to ourselves. S.M. Tunli’s photograph of the Charles Bridge reminds me of those early days. Check out more of his work at his website: http://www.tunliweb.no/