Does Art Imitate Life or Life More Often Imitate Art?

In recent years, several excellent historical drama series have emerged that depict the life and times of ancient peoples and cultures.  We sit back comfortably in our chairs, on our couches, or even lay back on our bed pillows and watch in high definition color on our flat screens as peoples’ thirsts drive them forward at any and all costs in their quests for political and social stature, and even designs of world dominance.  And, whether dramatic art or in the reality of our own world today, we see individuals and groups wrestling for social and political power and world sovereignty.  I’d like to know who was right;  Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher (384 BC – 322 BC), who viewed art as an imitation of life; or the author from Ireland, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), who believed that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.  These series like The Tudors, Reign, Marco Polo, Medici-Masters of Florence,  Hell on Wheels, The Hatfields and McCoys, West Wing, and House of Cards, in fact, have inspired my subsequent research into the real stories behind them and to root out the naked truths.

In Art – Let’s start with The Tudors:

The Tudors included 38 episodes over four seasons and followed the life of Henry VIII from the time of his crowning until his death. His personal and political struggles and victories.  It also detailed his paranoia, his scandalous life that included many marriages and extramarital affairs, and his changes to the Catholic Church to create the Church of England–all for his own personal benefit.

Next – there was Reign:

Reign ran for four seasons and 78 episodes. Reign followed Mary, the dainty but fierce 15-year-old from Scotland, as she re-entered French court after spending her adolescence at a convent. She was torn between her duty to Scotland and her Scottish family’s political aspirations for her to marry Prince Francis, future King of France; and her blossoming love for this man, Francis, who she was betrothed to as a child and had spent much of her childhood with him as playmates.  Yet, throughout her life, even Mary had to remain ever-vigilant due to social and political threats against her life and crown.

In Reality – Executions at Tower Hill Ordered by British Royalty

What I quickly learned from these historical dramas and my subsequent research is that everyone had to be ever vigilant.  Their harsh realities–there were few who could be trusted loyal friends and many unknown enemies who were more than willing to strike them down in whatever fashion in their attempts to get ahead–and this scenario was especially true among the royals and their “closest” associates!

I found a couple of interesting resources: 1) Capital Punishment UK and 2) British Royal Family History. I used both of them when generating this Google Sheet that covers the “Executions on Tower Hill by English Kings and Queens (1377-1820).” As you can see, it spans nearly 500 years; seven ruling families; and, 18 blue-bloods who decided who amidst them would advance within the royal ranks and who they would execute at their sole discretion because they had in some way become “inconvenient” to them rather than genuine traitors.

The majority of these beheadings were at the behest of royalty and took place at the Tower of London. It is a 900-year-old castle and fortress in central London that is notable for housing the crown jewels and for holding many famous and infamous prisoners.

It seems the history of these beheadings by British Royalty goes back to early medieval England’s Anglo-Saxon times (about  450 A.D. to 1066 A.D.) and that beheading was widely used in Europe and Asia until as recently as the 20th century.  Even today, as barbaric as it is, we still are witness to political-based and/or jihad-inspired beheadings by peoples primarily on the continents of Asia and Africa in places like Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia, and Boko-Haram.  But among the British Royalty, beheading with a sword or axe was considered a more honorable and less painful form of death than other execution methods used at the time. (And, like hanging, it was a cheap and practical method!)

Throughout its history, the tower was used to imprison a wide range of prisoners, from deposed monarchs to more common criminals. Prisoners included Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for about a week in the 16th century before she was deposed by Mary I.

Also imprisoned there were two princes, Edward and Richard, ages 12 and 9, who were the sons of Edward IV (died 1483). They appear never to have left the tower alive and some thought they were killed by Richard III, their uncle who took the throne for himself.

Another notable prisoner was Guy Fawkes, who in 1605 attempted to blow up the House of Lords and the monarch by detonating gunpowder in the cellars below. He was imprisoned in the tower and tortured.

And, of course, King Henry VIII, one of the more notorious members of the House of Tudor, who ruled for about 38 years.  He had all but 5 his 31 “treasonous” country-men/women beheaded on Tower Hill.  If fact, he imprisoned two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and later executed them. It also was Henry, who turned England into a Protestant country, and in doing so had a number of his dissenting clergymen committed to the tower and later killed, including his former counselor Sir Thomas More.

In all, just within the Tower of London or on an ancient scaffold on Tower Hill, 122 people were put to their deaths–many after also spending torturous times imprisoned within the walls of the Tower.

Of those executed:

  • 94 were beheaded
  • 12 were hanged
  • 11 were hanged and drawn and quartered
  •   3 were killed by firing squad
  •   2 were burned at the stake

You also can see on my google sheet that from the years 1649-1660, that 11-year-period between the reigns of King Charles I and King Charles II, that the British parliament and government ruled the Kingdom, and even then eight persons were beheaded for various “treasonous plots” against the Royals or their armies.  Included among them was British Monarch, Charles I–the only monarch ever to be executed by Parliament, but not in Tower Hill. He was beheaded on Tuesday the 30th of January 1649 on a raised scaffold in front of the Palace of Whitehall. He had been convicted of High Treason and “other crimes” for his activities during the civil war against the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell. An act of parliament had to be passed to set up a means to try him before a special court composed of Commissioners. The trial began on the 20th of January 1649 and the king refused to recognize the court or to enter a plea. In Charles’ case, the executioner was skilled and managed to sever his head with a single blow–unlike so many others put to their deaths by beheadings and orders of the blue-bloods.

So where does this leave us on the art imitating life or life imitating art question?  I’m not sure I am qualified to say.  If I’m to be honest (like TV personality Simon Cowell often says), we’ve each seen examples of art imitating life and life imitating art.  I guess it’s safe to say it’s like the chicken and the egg story–which came first?



Pipers Piping, Ladies Dancing, and Lords a Leaping

And we’re off to Scotland in our ‘Reflections of the past and mirrors to the future…’

It’s a wee country, full of contradictions and BIG surprises!  In Scotland, you can…

  • See tiny, stone cottages nestled at the foot of huge, rugged mountains
  • Watch ominous steel-grey clouds part suddenly to reveal vivid blue skies and bright sunshine
  • Look in awe at ancient castles that stand proudly in the middle of busy city centers, or rest on the edge of rocky shorelines
  • Compare the darky, bottomless waters of inland lochs, with the jeweled aquamarine coastlines of the tiny islands”

The Legend and History of the Scottish Thistle

Image:  Scottish Thistle

Scottish Thistle

The Thistle has been recognized as a Scottish symbol for centuries, and the legend surrounding it goes back about 800 years.

In the 13th Century, Norse invaders (under orders from King Haakon IV of Norway) attempted to spring a ‘surprise night-raid’ on a portion of King Alexander III’s army in Northern Scotland.
So that they wouldn’t wake the sleeping Scots, the Vikings crept stealthily (and barefoot) across the Scottish landscape.
Unfortunately for them, they weren’t aware of the abundant growth of Scottish Thistles, and when an unlucky Norseman happened to step on the vicious thorns of this native plantl, his cries gave away the raiding partys’ whereabouts!

The Scottish army sprang into action, and were victorious in battle. Naturally superstitious and big on symbolism, the Scots declared the Thistle to have been their savior, and this humble plant became a celebrity.

Five Stereotypes of Scotsmen

Most people, when you ask them what they know about Scotsmen, answer that they imagine a tall, strong man with fiery red hair, dressed in kilt, standing on a cliff on a misty morn, playing bagpipes, possibly with some sheep in the background. Here are some myths and stereotypes about Scottish people that are not entirely true Scotsmen (condensed and paraphrased from the Scotland blog):

Scotsmen are miserly and reserved because of the hardship their nation went through

What many consider greed is actually being practical. It is often said that expenses are being cut in various fields, but Scotland is developing at least as well as the rest of Great Britain, in some areas even better.   Immigrants praise the way they were welcomed by native Scotsmen.

Scottish dishes are inedible

This is probably a myth that origins from the famous haggis dish (a mixture of minced heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep or calf mixed with suet, onions, oatmeal, and seasonings), which, for many can be a bit overwhelming.  But many well-known, delicious dishes come from Scotland: Tattie scones, Dundee cake – which is known for its rich flavor – they all come from Scottish cuisine.

Scottish economy stands on sheep

Yes, Scotland is known for its sheep. But in recent years sheep breeding business is shrinking rapidly – it is seven hundred thousand pieces smaller than it was seven years ago. Scotland also has a good coal mining base, oil extraction on the North Sea shelf, well developed metallurgical, mechanical, chemical and electrical industries.

Men that wear kilts are always cold

It is actually really difficult to feel cold in a kilt. For one, it is almost 23 feet of thick wool covering the area from waist to knees – that in itself is plenty to keep one warm. Aside from that, there are the woolen socks covering the lower legs – if anything, it can only be too warm. And that actually ties with another stereotype – that

Scottish men don’t wear anything under their kilts.

It depends on the person, but sometimes adding another layer to the 23 feet of wool could really be a bit much.

“Yer a long time deid”…

is an old but familiar Scottish saying, ‘You’re a long time dead’.  Seems like an obvious enough statement.  But, wait, try this meaning:  ‘Enjoy life, because once you’re dead you’re going to be that way for a long time!’ Not a very uplifting thought, but true all the same.  And part of my enjoyment in life comes from learning my ancestral family’s origins and any possible connections to my past that may have influenced who I am today.  And equally important, sharing these facts and stories as a legacy to future generations.

So why Scotland?

Up to this point, posts have primarily focused on family roots in England, New England, and Virginia.  Yet, my genetic ethnicity reveals 85 percent of my family’s origins began hundreds and thousands of years ago in the British Isles.  As you can see in the map above,  the British Isles includes the United Kingdom (UK), Ireland, and Scotland in the uppermost northern section of the UK—and we haven’t yet begun to address my Scottish heritage that includes the Scottish wealth and royalty, stories of treason, exile, and executions.  So let’s begin.

My 10th Great Grandfather, William Ruthven, 4th Lord of Ruthven and 1st Earl of Gowrie (c. 1541 – 1584)

William Ruthven 1st Earl of Gowrie (1541 – 1584)
is my 10th great grandfather
William Gulielm Ruthven Ruffin (1617 – 1674)
son of William Ruthven 1st Earl of Gowrie
Robert Ruffin (1646 – 1694)
son of William Gulielm Ruthven Ruffin
Elizabeth RUFFIN (1685 – 1761)
daughter of Robert Ruffin
Patience KINCHEN (1715 – 1766)
daughter of Elizabeth RUFFIN
Mary Ann Molly TAYLOR (1760 – 1825)
daughter of Patience KINCHEN
Lavina ASBURY (1784 – 1858)
daughter of Mary Ann Molly TAYLOR
Thornton A BOWLING (1802 – 1863)
son of Lavina ASBURY
Lawrence T “Larl” BOLING (1838 – 1910)
son of Thornton A BOWLING
Edward Bud Vincent BOWLING Sr (1872 – 1946)
son of Lawrence T “Larl” BOLING
Jesse Burton BOLING (1902 – 1978)
son of Edward Bud Vincent BOWLING Sr
Frank Burton BOLING (1928 – )
son of Jesse Burton BOLING
Joanne Carol BOLING
You are the daughter of Frank Burton BOLING

William Ruthven was known as The Lord Ruthven between 1566 and 1581, was the second son of Patrick Ruthven, 3rd Lord Ruthven.  On 4 April 1562 the queen conceded to him and his wife, Lady Dorothea Stewart, lands in the barony of Ruthven (which his father resigned to him (Reg. Mag. Sig. Scot. 1546–80, No. 1413)). Like his father Patrick, William was prominent in the political intrigues of the period and joined his father in the conspiracy against David Rizzio (private secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots), on 9 March 1566.  And, on the queen’s escape to Dunbar William and his father fled to England. On the death of his father, Patrick, at Newcastle on 13 June 1566, he succeeded him as fourth lord.  William was, however, through an agreement with  the queen and the protestant lords, pardoned and permitted to return to Scotland, which he did about the end of December 1566 (Cal. State Papers, For. Ser. 1566–8, No. 872).

Image: Huntingtower Castle

Huntingtower Castle

One of the Scottish Castles built by the Clan Ruthven family was Huntingtower Castle.  It was built in stages from the 14th century and was known for several hundred years as the ‘House (or ‘Place’) of Ruthven’. In 1582 William devised the plot to seize James VI of Scotland, (son of Mary,Queen of Scots),  when the king visited William’s home  at  Huntingtower Castle.  William and his associates seized the young king and held him prisoner for 10 months. This kidnapping is known as the ‘Raid of Ruthven‘ and the Protestant conspirators behind it hoped to gain power through controlling the king.

James eventually escaped and actually forgave William, but after a second abortive attempt by William and others to overthrow James, William was finally executed and his property (including Huntingtower) was forfeited to the crown.

The Castle and lands were restored to the Ruthven family in 1586. However in 1600, the brothers John and Alexander Ruthven were implicated in another plot to kill King James VI and were executed. This time, the king was less merciful: as well as seizing the estates, he abolished the name of Ruthven and decreed that any successors would be ineligible to hold titles or lands. Thus the House of Ruthven ceased to exist and by royal proclamation the castle was renamed Huntingtower. The Castle remained in the possession of the crown until 1643 when it was given to the family of Murray of Tullibardine (from whom the Dukes of Atholl and Mansfield are descended).

John Murray, 1st Duke of Atholl lived in the Castle with his wife Lady Mary Ross. After Lady Mary died in 1767, the castle was abandoned, except for farm laborers. Today, the Castle is in the care of Historic Scotland and is open to the public and sometimes used as a venue for marriage ceremonies.

Legend of Lady Greensleeves

Huntingtower is said to be haunted by “Lady Greensleeves”, a young woman named Dorothea who was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Gowrie. The legend states that she was in love with a servant at the castle and that the two used to have clandestine meetings at night in the eastern tower, where the servants slept. One night the girl’s mother, the Countess, is supposed to have discovered what was going on and made her way across the bridge from the family’s quarters in the western tower to the eastern tower to catch the pair. Dorothea heard her mother’s footsteps on the bridge and, unable to return to the other tower by that route, made her way to the roof. Here she leapt from the tower to land safely on the battlements of the western tower and so return to bed where she was discovered by her mother. The distance between the towers was several meters and thus she accomplished quite a feat in leaping the distance. The following day the girl and her lover eloped and no records exist to tell us what happened to them.

A number of sightings of the figure of a tall young woman in a green silk dress have been seen in and around Huntingtower over the years, usually at dusk but sometimes in full daylight. Her appearance is said to be an ill omen and a forewarning of some disaster to come. A traveller staying at Huntingtower in the 1930s is reported to have seen Lady Greensleeves in a corridor of the castle. The following day he resumed his journey to Fife and was drowned when he fell from the ferry taking him across the River Tay.

The Ruthven/Ruffin Family in Virginia

According to passenger and immigration lists, the Ruthven/Ruffin family first appeared in Virginia with William Ruffin I, arriving in the Isle of Wight County in 1635.  The Ruffin family lived primarily in Surry County until the early 1700’s.  Wiliam’s great grandson, Colonial John Ruffin moved to Mecklenburg County where he died in 1774. The Ruffin children went on to marry notable Virginia families such as: Cocke of Surry; Nicholas of Dinwiddie who had a plantation in Southhampton called Unota on the north side of Meherrin River; and the Clack; Roane; Dandridge; Hoskins; Claiborne; Goode; Gildart; Bland; Harrison; and others; and, the Ruffin families migrated to other counties throughout Virginia and some, to North Carolina.


The Scottish Thistle – A National Symbol of Scotland

“Ruffin Family,” William and Mary Quarterly, 1st Series. Vol. 18, 1910,_William_(1541%3F-1584)_(DNB00),_1st_Earl_of_Gowrie