You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > Freaked Out

Don't be put off by the title. The three Gonzales sisters, born covered in long, soft fur, are Merry Wiesner-Hank's route into an imaginative and enjoyable exploration of 16th-century Europe.

The father of these three marvels, also "not less hairy than a dog", was a native of the Canary Islands, who was brought as a child to the court of Henry II in Paris. He was kept for the amusement of the king, along with various other exotic humans and animals, and later married a French woman. They had several equally hairy children who were kept at various European courts.

As women born without money or status, the sisters should have left no trace on history. But the 16th-century fascination with the abnormal made them famous. Their portraits hung in the castles of Europe, they were discussed in letters between noblemen and studied by doctors and scientists. Despite this celebrity, no words from any of the sisters survive. Even the dates of their deaths are unknown. Wiesner-Hanks takes these blanks as an opportunity to imagine what they would have felt or done. She leads the reader through the events that touched their lives: the wars of religion, court life, the history of the Hapsburg and Medici families and the exploration of the New World. She imagines how life would have been for them by examining women's experience of marriage and childbirth, how they were expected to behave and to dress. One sister married the man who looked after the Duke of Parma's hunting dogs - perhaps this was a joke on the part of the duke? Marrying for love was unusual and the match would have been arranged and a dowry paid.

View Full Article

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.