Friday, May 29, 2015

In Her Own Words: Queen Elizabeth I

I found an interesting site today while looking for, of all things, pictures of actor Erik King...! Somehow one of the search links I followed led me to Luminarium: An Anthology of English Literature - especially this page, which features the collected extant writings of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Here's just a snippet of a little poem she wrote that I think still has meaning today:

No crooked leg, no bleared eye, 
No part deformed out of kind,
Nor yet so ugly half can be
As the inward, suspicious mind. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Family Game Night: Formula D

So we started Family Game Night on Sundays. I'll try to include something about that each Monday, if I remember and if we keep up with it. Last night we played Formula D and had a great time.

I saw the game on this episode of Tabletop. We played the basic version of the game - there's a lot to it, ultimately, but you can play it on several levels of difficulty. Keeping it simple, we chose generic racers (instead of the ones with personalities and special stats) and did one lap on the Monte Carlo track.

The game is essentially pretty simple - start off in first gear, which lets you move d4 spaces, then shift up and up, increasing your die type as you go. The dice are special, though - you can't roll less than a 6 on the d12, for example. When you get to a corner, you have to "stop" (that is, end your turn - your car is supposedly still "moving") at least once in that corner (other corners might require you to stop 2 or 3 times), or you're going too fast and take damage to your car. The advanced game has damage to different parts of your car - in the basic game, it's just generic damage.

The game mechanics really illustrate the necessity not to take corners too fast. Rules for movement also enforce the idea of forward momentum - you can't just zig-zag around willy-nilly. The game also incorporates both formalized racing and illegal street races (the board is reversible). 

We had a great time. The game is reasonably priced, as far as these types of games go, and there's enough depth that it will keep me interested past the basic game, adding more complicated elements as we go along. When we stopped playing, at least a few of us were ready to go again, and I've already ordered the inevitable first expansion board so I can race in Chicago. That's the sign of a good game.

Another sign of a good game is when it inspires your creativity - by the third turn, we were already kicking around an ancient Roman "Circus Maximus" variant...

It's hard to find a large-format Eurostyle boardgame that's quick and easy to play. Formula D fits the bill. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Archives of Western Esoterica

Here's a fascinating treasury of information about historical esoteric research. I love this stuff because the lines between magic and science aren't at all clearly defined. For anyone who interested in history, in the occult, or, as I am, trying to invent systems of magic for gaming in Elizabethan England - this site is invaluable, and I'm sure it will be a great inspiration to my Swords Against Satan game. Take a look at the Twilit Grotto! However, be warned, you might have to break out Ye Olde Latin Textbook or use Google translate for some of it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Christian Blacks in Tudor England

In Tudor England, the theater was a popular form of entertainment, and black people were involved in that, too, as in so much else. Records indicate that the majority of blacks were engaged in construction and music. We don't have records of black actors. What we do see is that, almost without exception, blacks and Asians are usually depicted in a negative light. Shakespeare's Othello is a standout exception, but there's a big difference between Othello and other black characters - he's a Christian. Without that, he's not considered the equal of the other people in the play. This early drama about love and race is only possible because, as a Christian, Othello is elevated to the level that the love between he and a white lady is at all believable to the audience (not that this would have been widely accepted, but as we've seen, James IV of Scotland most likely had a black mistress).

In fact, being converted to Christianity was a sign that the black person in question was of especial value to his or her employer - a cut above the pagan Africans, a sign that he or she had special favor. Sir Walter Ralleigh baptized his black cabin boy. This was also, probably, an attempt to sort of "outflank" Islam, which had cut off trade routes to the Orient and unwittingly sparked the age of European exploration and colonialism.

Converting blacks and Asians to Christianity gave Europeans a sense that their exploitation of military weaker, technologically inferior people was a good thing. That's a cynical view, but history bears it out. Like so much, though, it's not black-or-white. A good many Christians felt that by converting blacks and Asians they were lifting them up and saving their souls. You can say that's condescending or wrong-headed but I don't know if you can say it's evil.

Most of the evidence we have of blacks in Tudor England comes from church records - and these deal only with Christians. These show that there were thousands of Christian blacks living in England under the Tudors, more so in Elizabeth's reign - so much so that she saw the need for the racist proclamation and policy of forced expulsion that started off this series of blog posts.

In a cemetery in London, there is a grave for "Antony, a Poor Old Negro." He died at age 105 and was laid to rest as a Christian. Who was Antony? What did he do for a living? How did he live to be 105 in an age when most poor people were lucky to make it past 50? We'll never know.

And after five consecutive posts about it, I think that's about all I have to say about black people in Tudor England.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

"John Blanke, the Blacke Trumpeter"

More about black folks in Tudor England...

One of the best types of evidence we have for black people at court is visual. Financial records are at least a little ambiguous - after all, "Peter Negro" doesn't have to be a black man based on the name alone, and if someone was born in New Guinea that's just evidence they're black, not proof.

But check out this fine fellow:

That's a picture from the Westminster Tournament in England, 1511, celebrating that a boy was born to Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife (the poor baby didn't make it). There's no ambiguity about this guy, who is clearly black. He's even wearing a turban. Records show this is "John Blanke, the Blacke Trumpeter" (his last name is probably either a mis-rendering of the word "black" or an ironic name based on the French blanc, or white). He earned eight pence a day for his efforts.

Most black people at court were, in fact, musicians. They had an important role as trumpeters and drummers in the military from Henry VIII all the way up through Waterloo, where there were some 400 black soldiers present among the English forces.

Some might opine that even today, it's something of a stereotype that black folks are naturally good at music or dancing. This relatively inoffensive cultural prejudice was probably shared by the Tudor English, and it clearly had an effect on the kinds of jobs black people did.