Mary, Queen of Scots: An Unfortunate Tragedy

Mary Memorial

In a windswept field, by a quiet canal, in rural Northamptonshire lies a chunk of ancient stone.  Surrounded by an iron railing, this is all that remains of Fotheringhay Castle (shown above).  Nearby is a mound where the castle once stood.  The mound is covered in bracken, heather and grass and, in the adjacent field, is a caravan park.  There is little left to remind the visitor of the violent and tragic events that unfolded here 424 years ago.  A small plaque, attached to the railing around the stone, tells us this is the birthplace of Richard III, and the scene of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, cousin to the Queen of England and once crown head of France and Scotland.  Beheaded for the threat she posed to Queen Elizabeth I, and her throne, Mary was used and intimidated by those around her.  Was she an unwitting pawn in the schemes of others?  Or was she culpable in the plots that inevitably led to her own demise? Read More →

Christiaan Huygens: Early Astronomer

Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) was a Dutch polymath who is well known in some circles to this day. While he spent some time in France and England, Huygens lived the latter portion of his life in his native Holland. Having commented on religion while living in many different countries, Huygens espoused a personal philosophy similar to many aspects of modern science.

The modern pendulum clock was among his more illustrious inventions. Horology is the study of measuring time, and it became something of an obsession for him. Nevertheless, he’s also well remembered among astronomers for discovering the moon Titan. His contributions to the field of optics made modern telescope construction possible as well.

While his calculations regarding stellar distances weren’t always accurate, they were always interesting. Huygens made a screen facing the sun and from measurements taken with this device, he figured out that the sun was approximately the same intensity as that of Sirius. By taking the angle and diameter of the hole, Huygens surmised that Sirius was 30,000 times further away from the Earth than the sun is. However, Sirius is actually around 500,000 times further away. Huygens didn’t realize that Sirius was several times brighter than the sun. Strangely enough, his calculations were accurate for the data he was working with.

The Real Dr. Frankenstein

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is considered to be one of the very first works of science fiction. The story is an extremely important cautionary tale that tells the story of a man who tried to be something far more than a mere man. His quest to create life ended tragically, and it bordered on the supernatural. The untold story might interest those with a taste for the macabre. There was an individual who had a real story to tell that is far darker than anything that came from Mary Shelly‘s pen.

In fact, a Newcastle University student once suggested that Dr. James Lind (1736-1812) might very well have been the inspiration for Victor Frankenstein.

Dr. James Lind

Lind was Percy Shelley’s scientific mentor at Eton between 1809-1810. The doctor was obsessed with finding ways to use electrical impulses to stimulate the motion of muscles in dead frog tissue. He was probably the first scientist to conduct those sorts of experiments in England.

Percy Shelly was particularly interested in science, as Mary Shelly’s unfinished biography reveals. Therefore, there is no reason to think that this wasn’t a major influence on his wife’s greatest work. It also leaves fans of literature with a few other uneasy questions. After all, there might very well have been many individuals to follow in Lind’s footsteps.