On this day in 1568 Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, who was the third Duke of Alba, a general and a governor of the Spanish Netherlands, got all killy and oversaw the beheading of 22 noblemen. If you’re worried that maybe he had to sit around for ages as each noble got up to the executioner to have his head chopped off, don’t. The beheadings were done simultaneously, so it was all over and done with in a jiffy!
For some reason, the people of the Low Countries weren’t overly keen on Fernando. Maybe it was because he thought that they were all the spawn of the devil for their Protestantism, or maybe they envied him his fancy armour and his psychopathic eyes. Who can possibly say! Fernando had been a general in the army of Charles V and upon his abdication, Philip II of Spain. To say he was a bit vicious would be on a par with saying that David Cameron is a bit of a posh twat. Fernando was well scary. Philip II reined him in a bit, but then decided that he’d be a good bloke to send into the Netherlands to start getting a bit scary on many a protestant arse. Fernando was well up for it.
To be fair, Alba wasn’t just going to the Netherlands to kill people. He was also there as governor to make them pay really high taxes to the Spanish king. Lots of people, protestant and catholic, were a little miffed by the tax thing and got themselves a little organised and a little rebellious. A lot of the rebellion was in Brussels– and yes I know that Brussels isn’t in the Netherlands, which is why I’ve also mentioned the Low Countries, which included Belgium, Luxembourg and even a bit of France and a bit of Germany – so Alba and his troops set off there where he set up a council and declared loads of people guilty of treason and rebellion without going to the trouble of trying them. They weren’t all protestant either. By this stage he was basically pissed off with anyone who wasn’t singing off his hymn sheet (the song on his hymn sheet was “Do what I say or die MoFos. Amen”). Thus it was that on June 1st the first batch of noblemen were entered into a new sport of synchronised decapitation, funnily enough an event that has yet to be accepted into the Olympics. A few days later
some more were beheaded. Then it all get totally out of order, there were battles, there were whole towns sacked and every inhabitant murdered. It was not very nice at all.
By 1573, Alba was asking the king to let him come home to Spain, because he was getting a bit too old for all the murdering, so home he went and after a few hiccups got to be Viceroy of Portugal before dying at the very grand old age of 75. His death certificate notes that he died of boredom because he was too old for all of the killing. Shame.
Although the Dutch and Belgians really hated him, he wasn’t viewed in the same way throughout Europe. Strange to say he was very popular in Sweden where they secretly admired the cut of his jib. This fact remained pretty much hidden until 1975 when Abba released their single Fernando, which was all about how great Alba was. Ironically enough, it reached the number one spot in both Belgium and the Netherlands and despite being one of their shitter songs, is Abba’s best-selling single.
Today’s birthday was an easy choice for me, because on this day in 1926 Marilyn Monroe was born.
I am aware that I could talk about her all the live long day and not even be slightly tired of her, but I recognise that not everyone shares my enthusiasm, so I’ll go carefully with this and try not to be too long-winded (no laughing at the back!). Most of you know the famous facts of her life and death, so, er, I’ll try to come up with things you might not know. Let’s see. Her first husband, Jim Dougherty, had worked alongside Robert Mitchum at a defense plant, before joining the marines. He’d shown Mitchum photos of his wife, then known as Norma Jean, in a bikini. Mitchum thought she was lovely, but that it was a bit off of Jim to be showing rude photos of her to his mates. Monroe and Mitchum went on to work with each other in River of No Return. They got on well despite clashes with their director, Otto Preminger, Mitchum’s heavy drinking and Monroe’s difficulties.
Marilyn’s politics were very much to the left of centre and also very important to her. She hated cruelty, inequality and unfair treatment. When she got more power, she was sometimes able to do something to help. Most famously was the assistance she gave to Ella Fitzgerald. Monroe had got into her music while living briefly in New York – which is where she had the happiest time of her life – and hugely admired her talent. On returning to LA she discovered that her favourite nightclub, the Mocambo, would not allow
Fitzgerald to headline there, or perform there in any way, because she was black. Monroe had it out with the owner and ended up by saying that if he would hire Ella, she, Marilyn, would be in the front row every night. He did and she, late for everything, unreliable, Marilyn was there every night. Ella and Marilyn became friends and cared a lot about each other. Marilyn did many little things like this for those who were being treated badly, for workers, for orphans, for abandoned animals. She was a good person with a big and generous heart.
She was well-read, but didn’t consider herself an intellectual. She was funny and charming. She was never truly happy, but, as she said herself, she could be gay. She was constantly trying to escape from the darkness of her past, the abuse, the abandonment, the feeling of being unloved and worthless. She never really managed and prescription drugs and dodgy psychoanalysis eventually did for her. I first saw a poster of her when I was ten years old and fell in love immediately. I’ve been in love with her ever since. I’ll
leave the last words to her:
“I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night. There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me, dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I’m not going to worry about them. I’m dreaming the hardest.”