About crafty theatre

History, theatre, faith, art, food and family - asking questions - define me, or maybe me and my blog.

1. Historical Notes – Who the Governor left Behind

Lieutenant Governor David Collins (1756-1810) photo credit: public domainhttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_Collins.jpg

Notes to my Short Story WTFR6 – Who the Governor Left Behind

When the first Governor of Hobart died in 1810 he was buried in State in an evergreen Hobart park. Rumour had it that his papers were buried with him.

In 1925, one hundred and fifteen years later his coffin was exhumed, specifically to retrieve his papers.

Why? Was he hiding something? What secrets? Whose? Why would his descendants be so desperate to read the secrets he took to his grave?

His family back in England were left a cache of historical documents collected by his grandfather, the historian and writer of peerages, Arthur Collins.

His correspondence with his family and the wife he left behind were in their possession. His Account of the English Settlement in New South Wales, being a recount of the first decade of the first Australian colony at Port Jackson, had been published and translated into four foreign languages.

What more was there to say? What were they expecting to find?

After pottering about with history books and pondering over historical volumes, I was faced with three alternatives:

  1. An extramarital affair – or two
  2. The guarded family secret of a well-heeled aristocrat unearthed but unexploited by his grandfather
  3. A 17th Century smoking gun
The look of a ladies man, from SMH Relics throw Light on Early Settlement 23/03/1963

1. Extramarital Affairs

David Collins (1754-1810) was born in Exeter, the son of Major General, Arthur Tooker Collins (1718-1793) and grandson of the genaeologist-historian Arthur Collins (1682-1760). He entered the marines at the age of 14 and distinguished himself fighting for the British at the Battle for Bunker’s Hill during the American Revolution. In 1777 he married Maria Stuart (or it could have been Maria Proctor – she used both names- couldn’t make her mind up?) of Hallifax, Nova Scotia in Canada and by 1779 he had made Captain.

He and wife Maria settled in Devon and sometime in their marriage suffered the death of their only child in infancy. In 1786, having left the marines and taking his father’s advice, he became part of Arthur Phillips staff, accompanying the first Governor of New South Wales to establish a settlement in the land that would come to be called Australia. He left Maria in England.

Overcoming sea sickness, he arrived in New South Wales aboard the Sirius in 1788 and remained in the new colony for 9 years. Despite never having studied law, he performed the role of Judge Advocate – it seems they had problems getting qualified help to make the arduous journey.

Maria apparently wrote many novels showing her ‘considerable literary talent’ in his absence – something she neglected to write to him about. No grief, he neglected to tell her of his mistress in Sydney, Ann Yeats, and the son, George, she bore him. It seems the Judge Advocate – advocated for himself where marital laws were being enforced or not.

Returning to England in July 1797, he set to work on his only publication, An Account of the English Settlement in New South Wales. History admits that his wife helped him to edit and abridge the work – if that was all she did. His mistress, Ann, stayed in the colony – having been swept off her feet, it seems she was being swept under the carpet in remote Norfolk Island in the big tidy up before he went back home.

During the ensuing five years he tried to find employment that would be commensurate with his lately acquired experience in New South Wales. It was suggested to the Under-Secretary for War that he be appointed to the department as a Special Officer in Charge of NSW Affairs. That failed to come to fruition. He and his mother tried to enlist the aid of several aristocrats including the Duke of Portland and Lord Sydney to obtain for him some kind of compensation or new post. As a mollification the ancient and curious documents of his grandfather, mouldering away in the attic may have been brought out and sent off with their requests for introductions. This was the way his historian-grandfather would have doors opened for him.

In 1803 he returned to the antipodean colony as Lieutenant Governor of a new settlement to be established in Port Phillip (present day Melbourne). Finding the conditions there not to his liking he moved farther south to Van Dieman’s Land and instead founded a settlement on the Derwent, Hobart. Our ladies man also founded another family while he was at it. This time with Margaret Eddington with whom he had two or three children (Eliza, Mary and Samuel).

In 1808 after the Rum Rebellion the infamous Governor Bligh (of Mutiny on the Bounty fame) came to Hobart seeking Collins support, which he refused. When Governor Macquarie was sent out to replace Bligh, he heard only Bligh’s logic and arguments. Collins suffered a presumed heart attack and died in 1810 before punishment could be meted out.

Immediately after his death, the books and documents of the settlement of Hobart were burnt. One report states by a couple members of his staff, another names Edward Lord and a Dr Hood, two of Hobart Town’s leading citizens who protecting themselves against documents unfavourable to certain grants of theirs.

In 1925, a legal firm representing David Collins’ descendants – although it is unclear which ones – hired a lawyer to have his body exhumed. Not to decorate the living room with his embalmed cadaver – King Tut style – but to obtain valuable papers – or retrieve them.

Were gravediggers employed to prove family lineage? Could it be he had hidden wealth – having ordered the account books to be burnt? Or did they realise that missing papers from grandfather, Arthur Collins cache were priceless historic documents? What promise of what manner of wealth would justify the employment of a legal firm, on the other side of the planet – or the steamboat trip out from mother England and the arrangement and exhumation of a 115 year old corpse of a VIP from a public park? What papers were sought? What power did they hold?

Could legitimacy be the answer? And if it were, was it in relation to Collins family or could it have been something older, more historic? More along the line of Grandad Arthur’s work?

Coming Soon – possibility #2 The guarded family secret of a well-heeled aristocrat unearthed but unexploited by his grandfather


Australian Broadcasting Commission, Interview by Mr Jim Adnum with Mr John Reynolds, 1979.

Derwent Star, Tuesday April 3, 1810.

Herald, Byways of History: The Man Who Failed – An Australian Birthday Story, (26/01/1956)

The Mercury, Old Letters Shed New Light on Life of Hobart’s Founder, Phillip Kingsley,(18/06/1982)

The Mercury, David Collins: Fickle, Lonely, Deep in Debt, (01/04/1986)

Sydney Morning Herald, Relics Throw Light on Early Settlement, Alec H. Chisholm (23/03/1963)

Sydney Morning Herald, David Collins: Founder of Hobart, (28/03/1931)

Collins Family Papers, Mitchell Library, CY1450; CY2120; CY2119

Art Interview with Fine Artist Kris

Approaching artist Kris’ studio apartment from the street I had no idea the treat that was in store for me. The mundane exterior of her red-brick block along the apartment lined street of a not-so-trendy neck-of-the-woods in Sydney’s south, belied nothing of the wonder that greeted me when I walked through her threshold. I could have been Aladdin walking into the cave of treasures for the very first time. Painted images surrounded me, bombarding me with a haze of almost memories – Van Gogh, Klimt, Monet, De Kooning, Kokoschka, Margaret Preston, Matisse, and late Picasso… Creating in a broad spectrum of styles, Kris drew on a broader one of influences.

Forever Love, Mixed Media, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Canvas, by Kris 60 x 75 cm; $1350AUD
Forever Love, Mixed Media, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Canvas, by Kris 60 x 75 cm; $1350AUD contact me message on my facebook page or instagram or email – stella.samaras@gmail.com

Her artwork was displayed over all available walls – lounge room, dining, laundry, bedroom, hallway and bathroom. The private side of doors were painted as well as a strategically chosen kitchen cabinet – not to mention the works leaning up against the wall in her studio space.

A participant in several exhibitions, and artist groups over the years, she has taken on the Archibald prize with a portrait of Lady Florence Packer and enjoyed seeing her works in other galleries and exhibition spaces around Sydney as broad as Hazlehurst and the Addison Road Community complex.

Kris describes her works as both personal and decorative. Colour and passion project from each canvas, board, tile or paper she’s worked on. The world her figures inhabit are built with mixed media and experimental line work. They portray a world just beneath the reality of the physical plane in a style that moves between early to mid-twentieth century influences but carries its own unique voice.

Most of her works are figurative but all vary in their levels of abstraction. Many are portraits and life-paintings but she does still life, landscapes and more illustrative pieces. Where her approach is naturalistic the influence of the Impressionist is in her marks, and the Expressionist in her hues.

Surprise by Kris 60 x 75 cm acrylic on canvas with medium; $800 AUD
Surprise by Kris 60 x 75 cm acrylic on canvas with medium; $800 AUD, contact me (Stella) via message on my facebook page or instagram or email – stella.samaras@gmail.com

Kris can shake up her delivery with drama that is apparent as in the fish splashing out of the water – where the excitement of the viewer in catching that glimpse is conveyed by the explosive splash as much as the leap of the fish is. Or it can be obscured by the focus on a shimmering tree, leaving the intimacy of the lovers to meld into the landscape, leaving no doubt of the source of the euphoria the tree depicts.

By Kris
By Kris

No matter her style of delivery – abstract, semi-abstract, expressionist or realistic, her message is clear. She may use symbolic motifs but guides the viewer’s interpretation of her meaning. Of course, as with all abstract or semi-abstract works, there is so much there to wonder at that reception of her work remains very personal.

Has art always been a passion for you? When did you start painting?

I knew art was very important to me from a very young age. I remember pulling out the old encyclopaedia and trying to copy some of the Old Masters’ portraits. I loved gluing things on my art works, anything really, I would recycle on my art. Nothing much has changed these days.

How would you describe your work?

I would definitely say I’m a mixed media artist, my work varies in style, modern, semi abstract. I could paint abstract today, a contemporary piece tomorrow a realistic landscape or a modern sexy couple, it depends on my mood and what medium I want to work and mix with. Someone once described me as eclectic, I reckon that’s me.

I find beauty in anything and then I create.

Benedicta, by Kris, 27.3 x 23.3 inches, mixed media on paper, framed $1400 contact me (Stella) via message on my facebook page or instagram or email – stella.samaras@gmail.com

Detail of Benedicta, by Kris, 27.3 x 23.3 inches, mixed media on paper, framed $1400

Do you have a favourite style? When you approach a canvas what governs the style you choose to express yourself with? Can you say which artists or movements you particularly like who may have influenced your style? What do you like about them?

Well, I absolutely love Gustav Klimt. I love his intricate detail and the gold leaf he used has defiantly inspired me.

Modigliani: I love how he elongated his portraits and figures he took risks and confident. When I’m painting: life drawing with a model, I think, is where I’m most confident.

Chagall is another favourite – very dream like. I do bring some of my dreams on canvas. I’m inspired by many more but I have to say my art students inspire me and have been the greatest teachers :))

By Kris
By Kris

Do you have a favourite subject matter or theme you like to paint?

 I do tend to always go back and paint a lot of love and romance. I guess it’s what I miss and feel on a subconscious level, but also enjoy painting still life animals and landscapes.

You’ve been involved in several exhibitions around Sydney over the years. Do you see any changes in the art world – how work is exhibited and perceived?

I think now with COVID there is a transformation in art, online platforms are moving fast. I think this period will redesign the way the art world works.

I’ve been looking at the Black Lives Matter art movement, amazing art, very deep wounds are coming out of artists. People in general are digging deep. I remember once walking into an exhibition and it was by an artist from the lost generation. It was a powerful experience: I felt the weight and pain of this artist the minute I walked in.

Mixed media tiles: Forever Peace depicting a dove- acrylic on stone tile with wire $300 AUD; Olive Tree– acrylic on stone tile with Aluminum metal $300AUD ; Couple with wreaths My Love – SOLD

How much should art be swayed by the market or what galleries want?

There is a market for the very rich that’s for sure Sotheby’s marathon Virtual auction sold one of Francis Bacon triptychs $84. 5 million.

What do you think about art competitions? And open calls for submissions to planned exhibitions by galleries e.g., Hazelhurst?

Art competitions are a nice experience for artists, if that’s your thing but they aren’t for everybody. Let’s face it; have you seen the amount of artists out there!

Submissions can be tough and again it’s a personal preference – doesn’t mean the art will sell, but it can if you have a good art dealer.

Mixed Media on paper
Mixed Media on Paper

Do you have a favourite piece and why?

I don’t just have one favourite piece of work, there are many I’m attached to and I can’t part with. I see it as being loyal. 😉😄

Where can people see and buy your work?

I’m in the process of restructuring a new website. At the moment people find me on contact me via the craftytheatre facebook or instagram page or emailing stella.samaras@gmail.com or twitter O Ploutos Mou

Olivia de Havilland, star of Gone with the Wind, dies at 104 | Film | The Guardian — Rogues & Vagabonds

Love, love love this lady’s movies – especially those with Errol Flynn. That speech she gives after being put under arrest in Robin Hood – unforgettable delivery!

Rest in peace Olivia de Havilland xxx

Olivia de Havilland was so much more than ‘the fragrant queen of the Hollywood costume drama’, as described in The Guardian Olivia de Havilland, the fragrant queen of the Hollywood costume drama, has died at the age of 104. According to the Hollywood Reporter, her publicist said she had died from natural causes in Paris, […]

Olivia de Havilland, star of Gone with the Wind, dies at 104 | Film | The Guardian — Rogues & Vagabonds

6.WTFR- Who the Governor left Behind

“Mr Collins have you no felicitous regard for your wife? Have you no conscience?”

Maria’s eyes were primed and loaded with self-righteous rancour.

“I have waited for you beyond the bounds of personal comfort, propriety and the dictates of conjugal duty. You loved me, you said. You could not fathom being parted from me, you said. You could not conceive of a life without me, you said. So I came away with you from Nova Scotia, a naïve girl filled with romantic dreams of life with my valiant officer. I crossed the Atlantic for you, forsaking my family, my friends, all of my connections, for the future you promised me here in the motherland. And you abandoned me to sail to Port Jackson.”

David flinched and looked away. He was not one for scenes even if they didn’t have an audience. He was comfortable in the guise of likeable chap – no confrontations – no dramas – nothing that couldn’t be alleviated with his boyish smile and a pint with the old boys or the largesse of his embraces with the ladies. Nothing he tried in the past few days washed with Maria. He had to wait out her tirade. He picked up a frayed and fringed cushion from a discarded settee backed against a trunk along the attic wall.

“10 years David. Who was serving time? The transported came back with shorter sentences. Now you inform me that you have a calling you can’t refuse – a greater calling?”

Maria checked herself and waited for a response. David stopped fiddling with the cushion and hazarded a glance at her. She arched her brow.

“I am not entering the priesthood,“ he said lamely.

“Lieutenant-Governor of Port Phillip,“ she scoffed. “Such an illustrious title for a port that doesn’t exist. A port that will have to be hewn out or rock in a godforsaken wilderness with rudimentary implements by illiterate convicts whose only alternative was the hangman’s noose. Pity I haven’t been given the option.” Could she make him feel any worse? She continues, “There’s another Fleet full of convicts in London that you could have asked to govern. At least I would see you.”

“It’s not forever love.”

“Am I your love, your only love?”

“What sort of question is that? Were I not parted from you also?”

Maria closed her eyes. “What’s to become of us?”

“It’s for us that I am leaving. We can’t make do with the pittance of a pension I earn here.”

David Collins, first Judge Advocate of New South Wales, first Lieutenant-Governor of Port Phillip and Lieutenant-Governor of Hobart. Photo Credit: Public Domain

“You left the marines to take up a post in administration as Judge Advocate of the entire colony – all of New South Wales. Why can they not offer you a pension commensurate with the role you played there?”

“I’ve told you before, the marines are under no obligation to pay a pension for a role I performed after I left their service. I left the marines to take the promotion in another service.”

“Had you died a marine at Bunker’s Hill I’d be better endowed now.”

David’s head snapped up. “You would have me dead?”

“You were gone 10 years. I was a widow whose husband yet lived. Amongst stranger’s I was a curiosity, amongst friends, an object of pity. How I weathered the well-wishers I cannot begin to tell you. ‘How very difficult it must be for you dear.“ Maria affected an accent for each statement she remembered.

“Loneliness is best overcome by reading the Good book; pity you did not have a child to take comfort in.’ And of course, there was the many more who did not believe I was married at all – saw me as a fallen woman of sorts. Eventually, I just told people you died when your ship sailed too far and fell off the edge of the world. ‘Twas a pity the vicar would not perform a funeral without a cadaver!”

David paid cursory attention while surreptitiously looking about for the effects that he would have shipped with him. He wondered whether he would need another trunk. He didn’t have time to squabble with Maria. His decision was made for him by fate. He could not stay in England – his pension was meagre for the both of them and he could not find appropriate employment here. By leaving she could receive his pension from his time in the marines and could supplement it with her writing. The Lord knew that she was the one who pulled together the History of the Colony of New South Wales that bore his name.

Maria watched him silently picking his way through stores of unused or forgotten furnishings. He thwacked away dust from an old baroque armchair that had belonged to his grandfather. Standing back he contemplated it, something was missing.

“Have you seen the footstool?”

“And if I had why would you be needing it? There is a perfectly good ensemble in the drawing room.”

“To have a drawing room where I am going is a luxury.” He pulled a chipped porcelain plate painted in Limoges and lined in scratchy gold. “Where I am headed holding a small token of home is like to owning your own sanity- they are daily reminders of the civilization I came from and to which I will return.”

David smiled at Maria with flirtatious eyes.

“I am not a cold piece or porcelain to be kept on the mantelpiece awaiting your return. Am I to believe you have collected no ornaments by your colonial hearth?”

David’s tolerance was waning. He did not have the luxury of time. He crouched by an open trunk.

“David?” Maria implored him as she came to sit beside him on the dusty floor. “Stay. Please. We will make do as we did before. We could write another book. It will be grander than the first. We will sell it to more foreign markets – Germany, Spain, Italy and France – they will be the first of many others.”

“With what materials? Be practical, love.”

“With your grandfather’s papers. He published so many peerages but he still has papers mouldering in stacks up here. We could write the histories of the noble families as he did and promote it as a continuation of his work.”

David considered for a moment. His grandfather had collected archaic papers to do with the histories of many nobles – many more than agreed to grant him patronage to write their histories. Maria took encouragement from his pause and began feverishly searching the attic for Arthur Collins’ archives. Pulling backwards with all of her weight she opened a cupboard door with a loud scrape and a billow of dust.


“Leave off.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“I will not live my life pandering to the aristocracy, obsequiously drudging away at building monuments to self-aggrandising toffs.”

Maria’s jaw dropped. “I cannot understand you.”

“Besides, the cache is wanting. Down by gratuities that turned doorknobs.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Grandfather would approach a noble family with an interesting letter that would appeal to their sense of personal history and self-importance. They would take the letter from him and then he would wait to see if they would employ him to write their history. They didn’t always proceed but invariably they all kept that tempting letter. In any case, the cream of his documents has been skimmed off. The last of it was lapped up by Lord Sydney when my mother obtained this elevation for me.”

Early Map of Australia, where much of the coastline is surmised Photo Credit:
[J. Stockdale] / Public domain

“Elevation? This? You mistake it for the descent across the Styx into antipodean Hades where you have to shield your eyes to see, labour your breath to breathe and cover your skin from the eternal heat that will sear your hide! You are too cruel! Pity me who has been married 20 years but known you less than 10. Pity the child we did not raise. Can you see her, all flounces and pouts and, ’Good Evening, Father.’ Where is she?”

“We tried long enough. My seed fell in barren soil.”

“And you are certain that my part is at fault?” his arrow had struck her throat and slowly descended, dissipating through her chest.

David levelled his glace at her and nodded before looking away. He didn’t have the time or inclination for this inquisition. He wished she would go downstairs and leave him at peace to complete his task. If he offended her, he trusted that he would be able to make it up to her once this humour of hers had run its course.

Maria was not satisfied. “Because the seed has borne fruit in another farrow.”

“Being base is beneath you.” His patience dissolved, his temper flared.

“Is it?” She searched his face for some indication that the talk she’d heard was false. All the while since he’d returned she hadn’t dared broached the topic with him. At first she didn’t want to believe it. When she mulled it over, she had made excuses for him that rested on the distance between them and the five year duration of his absence and his helplessness to return. She even told herself that he needed comfort and that it was for the best. But now, subjected to his insensitivity, she knew she had been wronged.

“Have you never realised why your sister Anne refuses to write you? You have asked your mother and brother her motives but you have never asked me.”

His nostrils flared as he held his breath and his patience in the same intake or air.

“After news arrived of your safe arrival in the colony Anne received a caller. A woman. Neither Anne nor I could be certain of her age afterwards, her voice was young but her skin was wearied by care and a harsh sun. She wrapped on the door, enquiring if she was at the house of the sister of the Judge Advocate of New South Wales. As fate would have it, Anne was attending one of the little ones and I received her in the parlour. When I told her that I was your wife and could therefore be in a better position to aide her, her face contorted and she sucked in her bottom lip. She insisted she talk to Anne. I tried to draw her out but all she would say was that she would wait for ‘Mistress Anne’. When Anne joined us, the woman insisted that they spoke alone. Anne sent me up to check on the children. I made a pretence of leaving but returned to listen at the keyhole.

They spoke in low tones. I could not hear well. At the end of the interview. Anne gave her coin and said that there was nothing else for her – that you hadn’t returned and mayn’t ever and that you were there and she was here and should make her life with no further claims on your family. The woman said that she was not the only one who had turned your head, that you didn’t discriminate and didn’t hide your liaisons in the Colony. There were whisperings that you had a family with a native woman” Maria waited for David to react. To deny it. To lie to her. She needed a denial. She needed him to acknowledge that a confession would be an affirmation that she had wasted away her youth waiting for him. “Is it true? Have you taken another woman to wife?” she demanded.

David lost all colour.

“That would make me a bigamist and you married to one. Is that what you want?”

Maria was silenced

“You should listen to Anne’s advice. Make your life as best you see fit, for I will not promise when I shall return.”                                                                

Historical Notes to follow in a future post.

Ioannina, Belisarius and Fort Ioannina

Belisarius the beggar? What’s going on? Wasn’t he the last great Roman General- the first great Byzantine General? Didn’t he amass riches from the spoils of war and retire comfortably on his estate, Rufinianae, Chalcedon? What are these 18th Century Neoclassicist painters on about? What medieval rumour that Justinian blinded and beggared him before restoring him to his good graces?

Belisarius, a Byzantine general reduced to begging on the street, recognized by a Roman soldier,Francois-Andre Vincent, 1776
Belisarius, a Byzantine general reduced to begging on the street, recognized by a Roman soldier, Francois-Andre Vincent, 1776, Public Domain

When rumours persist for centuries I can’t help thinking that there is a kernel of truth that has sprouted into a tree camouflaging it. Apparently nothing concrete survives to prove the tale. Wikipedia tells us that in 562 CE – 3 years before his death – Belisarius was trialed by a man called Procopius in Constantinople for conspiring against Justinian. His judge could well have been his former legal secretary. Belisarius would be found guilty, imprisoned, pardoned and restored to Imperial favour. The details are missing from my source – Wikipedia – perhaps they are missing from history. The rise and fall of his fortunes in this incident echo the tempestuous nature of Justinian’s opinion of Belisarius.

Jean Francois Pierre Peyron's Belisarius receiving hospitality from a peasont who served under him, 1779
Jean Francois Pierre Peyron’s Belisarius receiving hospitality from a peasont who served under him, 1779, Public Domain

There is much that we know and much that we don’t about Belisarius. A period in his biography intrigues me, from 548-9CE until 559CE. Apparently he was retired from field duty. Early in this period he returned to service in Justinian’s personal guard – according to Wikipedia. What I can’t digest is that he could stand around immobile, a beefeater in court, while battles were being waged on the field. To hear and not participate? How?

Mattia Preti, Belisarius receiving Alms, 1660-1665
Mattia Preti, Belisarius receiving Alms, 1660-1665. Public Domain

Was he injured in his last campaign? Did the re-emergence of the plague catch up with him and weaken him? Did Justinian beggar him in reality? What happened to his buccellari – his personal cavalry?

In his scuttlebutt of a Secret History, Procopius recounts Belisarius’ failure to shield his only daughter, Ioannina, from the vagrancies of loss of reputation. Apparently, while Belisarius and Antonina were away in Italy fighting Justinian’s wars, Theodora took it upon herself to marry her grandson, Anastasius to Ioannina. She did this out of avarice – to ensure Belisarius’ fortune reverted in some way to the crown. Procopius intimates it was the only way she found of bringing Belisarius abundant spoils from Africa and Italy into her control.

A mash up of two different mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna – from left to right Belisarius, Emperor Justinian, Empress Theodora, Antonina and Ioannina using Public Domain images

Antonina saw through Theodora’s motives and railed against the marriage, pursuing a divorce/separation for her daughter. Splitting up the couple, who it seems had co-habited, would ruin Ioannina’s reputation and therefore her chances of remarrying and having children – and for Belisarius, grandchildren. When called upon to give his opinion on the matter, Belisarius sided against Theodora – his apparent benefactor- and his daughter’s future, to support Antonina.

Coupling this story with the building of a fort, known as Ioannina about 200km west of the Empire’s soon-to-be second city, Thessaloniki, sout-west of Belisarius’ birthplace, Germania, modern day Bulgaria, and far enough away from the jealousy/paranoia-stricken Justinian’s capital, casts a beam of light into my conjectures on how Belisarius could have calmly rested in his suburban estate in the eastern outreaches of Constantinople when there was so much activity in the field. He didn’t.

What if Belisarius retired to the country near the Bulgars’ playground during his retirement from field duty?

Maps made with Scribble Maps utilising data from Google maps.

Procopius doesn’t name the fortress Ioannina but describes the site of the present day ruins on Lake Pamvotis (Pamvotida) in his De Aedficius IV.1.39-42:

“There was a certain ancient city in this region, abundantly supplied with water and endowed with a name worthy of the place; for it was called Euroea from ancient times. Not far from this Euroea a lake spreads out with an island. In its midst upon which rises a hill. And a break is left in the lake just large enough so that a kind of approach to the island remains. The Emperor moved the inhabitants of Euroa to the island to this place, built a very strong city and put a wall about it.”


To date, the fortress of Ioannina on the bank of Lake Pamvotida in Epirus hasn’t verified with relics, nor have other textual references verified, a Byzantine habitation for Justinian’s time. Ancient Greek civilization, yes. A textual reference from Basil II in the 10th Century, yes. Norman occupation by Bohemond of Taranto in the 11th Century- yes. A strong Ottoman history, yes. Justinian’s time – No.

The island in Lake Pamvotida (Pamvotis) just across from Fortress Ioannina, Photo credit:https://pixabay.com/images/id-1040298/Image by Ελευθέριος Μπέτσης from pixabay.com

Rereading the above quote, I have to ask, could it be that archaeologists have misunderstood the location of Justinian’s fort? To me, it seems that they should be looking on the island in the lake, not the fort on the lakeside. The island may not have a land approach today, but it seems as if it did in the 6th Century CE. Strategically, the lake forms a natural moat. I could imagine Belisarius retiring there as easily as I could imagine Theodora naming the new fort for the girl she was enticing to marry her grandson.

In any case, I know where I would be unpacking my metal detector if I happened to visit Ioannina. After a short ferry ride, of course.

Hagia Sophia – Museum No More

Hagia Sophia is a magical place. Religion, history, art and politics have defined its existence since its foundations were first laid. If it was a smaller edifice – who knows, it could have been moved to the British Museum and put on display. But it’s not a small building. It’s an architectural icon of Byzantium, the crowning glory of the Eastern Roman Empire, that no longer has a Belisarius to defend it, as it did when it was first built.

The passageway to the gallery is not quite a stairwell.
The “Rampwell” – nothing brings home the age of the Hagia Sophia more than the ancient rampway up to the gallery. Why did I expect stairs?

Hagia Sophia was designed for Emperor Justinian by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus and built in under 6 years in the 530s CE. It’s an incredible building for its time. Its architects were faced with fitting a square peg in a round hole. The answer was to innovate and their solution was to fit a round peg snuggly into a square hole. They suspended its dome-on-a-drum onto a square floorplan and created an enclosed, extensive, uninterrupted space. A sprawling basilica for its time.

Under Hagia Sophia’s dome with the Seraphim slowly uncovering their faces on the triangular pendentives and the Islamic prayers in calligraphy in the summit.
Seraphim, dome and half domes with Islamic prayer discs

It was part of the Emperor Justinian’s rebuilding programme after the destruction caused in Constantinople by the Nika riots. It is the greatest cathedral built in the Byzantine Empire and served as a Christian Church until the fall of Constantinople to Mehmet II in 1453 – over 900 years.

Mehmet was determined to turn it into a mosque and to this purpose he set up the Grand Bazaar in Constantinople to raise funds to build the minarets that now mark its Muslim history. After the Ottoman Empire was thrown off, it was converted into a museum that displays both its Christian and Muslim heritage, in 1935.

In 2014, this then UNESCO World Heritage site was being restored. The mosaics that had been painted over during its time as a mosque were being restored. Islamic prayers that graced the dome and discs were added near to the pendentives supporting the dome. Mosaics had been uncovered showing Emperors and Empresses making offerings to Christ. In the rear of the building Mehmet’s family lie in state in the family mausoleum with its ornate calligraphy and gorgeous Iznik tiles.

As a museum, the building served a humanist purpose. It’s architecture and art could be admired. Unfinished in its restoration, its original glory could be guessed at. Grand as it is – traces of a grander resplendent past were left to be puzzled over.

By building it, Emperor Justinian aimed to be remembered. Ironically, no uncovered mosaic on its walls depicted Justinian. For that mosaic, we have to visit the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. San Vitale was completed decades after the Hagia Sophia and in its colourful opulence we can begin to imagine what the Hagia Sofia once presented.

The decision by the Turkish government to convert the building to a mosque is unnecessary. The Blue Mosque is a far bigger structure that sits in all of its splendour across the piazza from the Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque is situated bankside and majestically dominates the cityscape. When the call to prayer is made at the Blue Mosque, it can be heard at the Hagia Sophia.

For all of the restoration and archaeological work that could be done and won’t be – in the building and in the tunnels under it – it’s an injustice to the understanding of history. So many questions unanswered are posed by its silent masonry.

After friday’s decision, the Hagia Sophia will have to keep her mysteries hidden indefinitely.

Historical Notes – The General and the Showgirl

When I first imagined writing a monologue for Antonina, I wanted her to have her say – to answer the character assassination she suffers at the hand of contemporary historian, Procopius, her husband’s legal secretary. I believed she was being exploited, a scapegoat. I wanted to redeem her.

If a woman in the ancient world owned her sexuality and didn’t hide it away, enjoyed the effect her allure had on men and used it to gain her favours over the target male’s more rational denial of them, then she must be a witch. If a woman broke the stereotype that bound her sex to society’s strictures and demonstrated her intellect and cunning, then, of course she was a witch.

Procopius references Aristophanes several times in the telling of the portion of his Secret History that has been called The Tyranny of Women. He is known for his emulation of Homer. In his treatment of Antonina could it then follow that he owed much to Euripides and his Medea?

To fill out her character I consulted her Wikipedia page and hit a road block. Apparently Procopius wasn’t alone in his treatment of her memory. Two other historian’s related details of the death of Pope Silverius that implicate her.

 I had to rethink Procopius’ account.

Procopius knew her. He spent time with her as well as her husband. He may not have been privy to the private thoughts of Antonina and Belisarius but he was close enough to observe them and the officers and soldiers who reported to Belisarius.

Detail of Empress Theodora and her Court ladies from the mosaics in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna
Detail of Empress Theodora, Antonina and Court ladies from the mosaics in the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna. Public Domain

My new understanding of her was as a manipulator. A woman capable of great evil given her proximity to the Empress Theodora. As Theodora’s right hand she played the spy and facilitator of Theodora’s calculated manoeuvrings.

But that’s not all she was.

Pertinent facts about Antonina’s life can be debated that once clarified would shed light on her relationship with Belisarius, Theodora and Procopius.

We are led to believe that she married Belisarius after his bountiful but not exactly successful raids into Persarmenia in 527CE. About that time Belisarius was promoted to General – possibly less than 25 years of age. In light of her common origins with the Empress, did Antonina’s marriage to Belisarius expedite his promotion?

When that promotion came to the young soldier, from the Latin-speaking areas of the Western Balkans, was Procopius assigned to him because he couldn’t speak Greek? Why else would he need a secretary in the Greek speaking East? No other Byzantine General of the time had a Procopius. What if Antonina, whose son from a previous marriage, Photius, had a Greek name could speak Greek? Would Procopius’ services be needed so close to the General?

Belisarius respected his wife’s word. He took her on campaign with him where she performed tasks for him including assuring his ship had an uncontaminated water supply on the way to Africa. Alongside Procopius she was tasked with raising a fleet at Naples to ferry supplies to her husband and his soldiers locked down in a siege in Rome. Did the respect Belisarius showed her rile the misogynistic Procopius?

Procopius revels in his sordid retelling of Antonina and Theodosius’ affair, but how much of it is true?

 According to Procopius, out of spite towards the commander Constantine who warned Belisarius about his wife’s antics, she stoked Belisarius’ anger until he had Constantine killed. Procopius relates that the servant girl, Macedonia’s tongue was cut out for informing on Antonina and Theodosius and that the girl and two other servants were put to death over the incident – she had their bodies carved into little bits, bagged and thrown into the sea.


Procopius’ copious scuttlebutt

Wherever he can Procopius blackens her character. When he relates the baptism of Theodosius, he describes a youth that Belisarius lifted out of the water. Orthodox baptism happens when a child is still a baby in most cases today. The lifting out of the water invites the Orthodox faithful reading this scuttlebutt to imagine a very young boy. Apparently the boy was baptised on the eve of the voyage to Africa where the affair commenced. Was she supposed to be taken as a corrupter of innocents?

Knowing that Emperor Justinian was persecuting non-Orthodox Christians and pagans alike, and that to ensure their lives many converted, we can see that Theodosius was probably baptised at a much later age – where his size wouldn’t allow him to be lifted out of the water. Was the youth actually a young man in the thrall of an alpha female?

For Antonina to have been the reason that her husband was disrespected by his officers we have to inquire about her motives or at least about how she felt about him. Did she hate him? He loved her. Was she angry? I pose the question and delve into why.

She grew up in and around the Hippodrome as Empress Theodora did. When Belisarius quelled the Nika Riots with the massacre in the Hippodrome – did her family and friends perish – how many of them? Did Theodora arrange her marriage to Belisarius so that the palace had a well disguised spy next to their most talented general? When Theodora wanted the Pope to be assassinated was she really expecting Antonina to do the job? By doing the deed did she accomplish what Belisarius could not? Did Belisarius inhibit Antonina’s ambition by refusing to take the throne in Carthage, Italy or Constantinople when there were openings for him to do so? Was Belisarius’ religious piety too much for her more sensual nature?

Belisarius refusing the crown of Italy from the Goths – woodcut- public domain

I’ve set Antonina’s monologue at that point in time where Belisarius has returned from conquering Italy; the plague has not reached Asia Minor where Belisarius has been reassigned; and Antonina has foiled a plot to oust Justinian and place Belisarius on the imperial throne in Constantinople. Having heard about his wife’s affair, Belisarius sends his stepson, Photius to spirit away Theodosius and bring Antonina to the Persian front to account for herself. It’s interested to note that after placing her under arrest and returning to Constantinople, the Empress commands Belisarius to reconcile with his wife. He does so and then goes on to fight for Justinian once more in Italy before going into early retirement. Apparently, Antonina refused to go back to the Eastern front where Belisarius had treated her so shabbily, and he would not go off to war without her.

Antonina’s monologue, The General and the Showgirl can be read here.

5 or 6 Short Romances

Finally finished all 5 short historical romances I planned while writing the post History, Biography, Hagiography, Fiction so I thought I’d post a more visible index to them here.

St Kassiani, Belisarius refusing the crown of Italy, Mosaic from San Vitale in Ravenna of Empress Theodora, Antonina and Ioannina – the wife and daughter of Belisarius, Emperor Theophilus choosing his bride at the bride show, Christ blessing the union of Romanus Diogenes and Evdokia Makrembolitissa, Emperor Theophilus’ daughter secretly being given icons by the Dowager Emperess, The Earl of Oxford, a Tudor lady and James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps.

1. WTFR – The Emperor and the Bride Show – Emperor Theophilus and Kassiani (Cassia)

2. WTFR – The General and the Showgirl – monologue by Antonina, wife of Belisarius

3. WTFR – The Courtship of Sir Thomas-Phillipps daughter a Regency Era elopement

4. WTFR – The Empress and the Prison Rat Empress Evdokia proposes

5.WTFR – The Earl and the Bed Trick – The consummation of the Earl of Oxford’s marriage

Oops! Something’s missing…

6. WTFR – Who the Governor left Behind – The Separation and Reconciliation of the loves of an Australian Colonial Governor

Photo Credits

St Kassiani’s icon, Public Domain

Belisarius Refusing the Crown of Italy

Photo Credit: Unknown author / Public domain

Image of Theodora, Antonina and court women

Edisonblus / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Emperor Theophilus chooses his Bride

By Val Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904) – New York Public Library Digital Gallery, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13605745

Photo Credit: Val Cameron Prinsep (1838-1904) / Public domain

The obverse of the Nomisma coin of Christ blessing Eudocia Makrembolitissa and Romanus IV Diogenes

Photo credit: https://clevelandart.org/art/1964.425.a / CC0

The Daughters of Theophilus being instructed by their grandmother is from the Skylitzes mss; in the public domain

Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford is from the cover of Alan Nelson’s Monstrous Adversary

The Tudor lady is from the cover of Herbert Norris’ Tudor Costume and Fashion

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps is from the biography, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps: the Life and Times of a Shakespearean Scholar and Bookman by Marvin Spevack

5.WTFR- The Earl and the Bedtrick

Biographies and Writings of and about Edward de Vere aka Edward Oxenford aka EO, 17th Earl of Oxford

Anne spun in front of the looking glass and felt positively… excited, mischievous, nervous, apprehensive, aroused in crashing waves. Rolling them all together, her stomach became so queasy she was certain the result was sinful.

The anticipation for what she was about to do and how she was going about achieving it was liberating… whenever she convinced herself that she would succeed. When she doubted, she felt like a small malleable, weakling devoid of the sophistication of Elizabeth’s court. How ridiculous was that? Could anyone other than her Majesty be closer to the apex of English society in the year of our Lord fifteen seventy five? She was no less than those the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting. This would be her first court intrigue – executed at home, in her own bed.

Sinful! What a ridiculous feeling. She was a married woman. She had the ring to prove it. And the license. Letters of congratulations had arrived from royal courts in Europe sending solicitations to her father on the match he had arranged for her with the earl. No, there was nothing sinful about what she was about to do. But it could be… no, it couldn’t be…could it? Could it be slightly scandalous?

Well, it shouldn’t be. He was the one who was seeking solace in the bed of another. Yes, they did marry young. Sooner than her father had led her to believe she would be betrothed. Her courses hadn’t come yet, she scowled into the mirror. He‘d have no excuses if they had. She adjusted the seat of her bosom in her corset. She was a late bloomer. Her figure was finally blossoming over her bodice and disappearing into her farthingale. Her body was, after such a tedious wait, ready, but he hadn’t seemed to notice. He still saw her as a child.

His little sister? When Edward said he’d wait for her to mature she had expected him to abstain. She didn’t realise that he would find someone to occupy himself with until then. And she had put up with the interloper. The very beautiful, lissom interloper with ne’er a penny in her glory chest to fill Edward’s empty coffers.

Was Edward more attracted to her father’s coffers than he was to her? Anne swallowed the lump in her throat. Truth be told, they did grow up together. He was a ward of the state and her father raised him with her brother and Earl Roger. Earl Roger seemed to have noticed the change in her. The way he looked at her across the supper table a sennight past; the way his eyes had glazed over; the way the parting of his lips had animated his eyebrows, had coloured her cheeks. She had to turn her face to hide her giggles.

It was her time now.

Yes, she was an attractive girl – no, woman. Definitely woman. Married woman – to the premier earl in all of England – the seventeenth Earl of Oxford. But what good was it if she couldn’t take her place by his side confident that she was the premier woman in his life? What good was calling herself the Countess of Oxford when they hadn’t even consummated their marriage yet? There was more scandal in that, than in what she was about to do.

She’d been planning this over the last couple of months. She watched his Trollope – the way she moved, the way she dressed, the way she laughed, the way she did her hair. She had even swallowed her pride and watched him make love to her through the crack in the service door. She learnt the Trollope’s ways and sought out her scent, imprisoning it in a vial around her neck. She perfumed her breast with it and dabbed wine around her chin. She knew the Trollope’s ways her purr and call of pleasure. Tonight she would be an actress like a muse in one of the Queen’s masques. Tonight, she would be the Trollope but there would be no stage.

Tonight after he had finished entertaining his fellows from town, when he had ascended the staircase to the upper floor, while he waited in the hall for his Trollope to turn the key and push forward into his bedchamber, her manservant would be waiting for them and so would she. Her man would gag the Trollope’s mouth and hold her back while the rightful denizens of the chamber tripped onto the bed. He would be too drunk to notice the switch in the darkness.

She spun once more before the glass. She wore her kirtle over her shift, its folds skirted the floor, without her farthingale to suspend it. She had her stomacher tied tightly and low over her bodice – so her propped up bosom was a fitful diversion for his attention. She pulled her hair back off her forehead and circled it with a strand of pearls, allowing long tendrils to fall over each cheek. She was ready. Would he be so intoxicated that he wouldn’t realise the switch? Had she learnt enough in her clandestine peeping to switch his allegiance and keep his attention in the morning?

The morning…oops! She prayed for the inspiration for what to say. She may well need divine intervention.

Historical Note

This has been my fictional take on the Earl of Oxford and the Bed Trick, an episode in history lampooned in Elizabethan theatre.

To learn more about the Earl of Oxford, his first wife, Anne Cecil visit Hank Whittemore’s Shakespeare Blog.