Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Fake Beards of History

Remember King James's special favorite Buckingham, who "danced a number of high and very tiny capers" for the king - if you know what I mean? He and the king's son Charles decide to put on fake beards and go to Spain as "Tom and John Smith." Ha ha! (This is from that Peter Ackroyd book I've been reading.) It's all because Charles wants to woo Maria Anna, the infanta of Spain. But they start getting in trouble right away. "They gave a boatman at Gravesend a gold piece and rode away without asking for change." That's weird! But they're rich and royal and titled and don't know any better. And the boatman was like, "There's something screwy going on here!" (I paraphrase.) "As suspected assassins they were stopped at Canterbury. Buckingham had to take off his false beard in order to assure the mayor." I am wondering whether these were extremely high quality fake beards or if people were just less used to the idea of fake beards back then. (Are people used to the idea now?) Surely the king could supply you with the best fake beards available. They get to Spain and the infanta is even lovelier than Charles imagined! But he makes the mistake of saying something along those lines in the royal court. Far too informal for the Spanish! His lovestruck words cause a stink! Long story short, by the time they get back home, Charles and Buckingham are ready to go to war with Spain! Buckingham is especially mad because they were rude to him over there. This is where wars come from! I am going to tell you about one other thing I read in this book. My grandfather used to describe someone with an especially open smile as "grinning like a mule eating briars." I always wondered where that expression came from. Ackroyd quotes a 1607 pamphlet by Thomas Dekker, in which people are described as "looking scurvily (like mules chomping upon thistles)." So that's a clue, though Dekker and my grandfather seem to mean the phrase in opposite ways. I recall asking my dad what my grandfather meant by "grinning like a mule eating briars" and he said that a mule would roll back its lips while eating briars so as not to get pricked. So my grandfather just meant a big, happy smile showing all your teeth, with none of the pain that you (and Dekker) might associate with the phrase.