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The True History Of Covent Garden

Here is the true history of Covent Garden, which I hope will appeal in particular to the opera buffs among us. (When we think of opera buffs, should we visualise a Pavarotti and friends taking a shower?)

Now, everyone knows the standard history of Covent Garden, that it was originally the garden of a convent, although nobody explains how the "n" dropped out and "convent" became "covent." After painstaking research I can report to you that Covent Garden was originally not a convent, but a garden where six famous witches met together. As everyone knows, a gathering of witches is called a coven. "Coven Garden" easily became pronounced as "Convent Garden," especially by the English, who tried to cover up the connection to witches by hinting at an association with (n)uns.

It all started with Henry VIII who, after all, is responsible for a great deal of English history. (One can only be grateful that there never was a Henry the Ninth). By the way, do you know what Henry the Eighth, Paul the Apostle, and Winnie the Pooh have in common? (You are so right, they all have the same middle name: 'the." Well done!)

Anyway, back to Henry the Eighth. Poor Henry, as you know, was not very lucky in marriage, with wives who either were childless, ugly, unfaithful, or from the wrong family. He soon discovered that he was even less fortunate when it came to his mothers-in-law, all six of them. They turned out to be real witches who followed their daughters to court and made life miserable for Henry, mainly by feeding him such a bad diet that he gained 300 pounds.

So Henry decide to cloister these mothers-in-law, one at a time, in a secure estate near the city where their sole pleasure was singing in the garden. First there was the mother of Katherine of Aragon. Her name was Eva, soon to be known around the court as WITCH-EVA, but she answered to whicheva name she was called. The second to be added to the group was Anne Boleyn's mother who also had red hair and hazel eyes, and dabbled in folk medicine. She soon was nicknamed WITCH HAZEL. Jane Seymour's mother reluctantly checked in. She was a mean-spirited and reclusive woman who hardly ever left the green room she lived in. There she became obsessed with clocks and timepieces of every description which her 6'6" son Ben (also known as Big Ben) would bring her. Countess Seymour became known as the Green Room Witch or GREENWITCH, who of course set her clocks to Greenwitch Mean Time.

The fourth wife of Henry was Anne of Cleves, so ugly that when he met her he tried to call off the marriage. Actually she wasn't that bad looking, but it was her mother that was truly frightening. She was shaped like a pear, and when she wore a crinoline she looked like a frog sitting on a lily pad. The servants who came up from London used to call her (H)IPS-WITCH, and her nickname is preserved in the town Ipswich in Suffolk today. Catherine Howard's mother came to court and suffered the same fate, being held under house arrest with the rest of the coven. Her name was Anita, shortened to Ita. It is not very well known that a descendant emigrated to Kansas and named one of its chief towns after his illustrious ancestor - WITCHITA!

Finally there was Catherine Parr's mother Sandra, or Sandy, who was such a pain that even after Henry died, Catherine kept her locked up at Coven Garden with the other five women. Sandy became mentally ill and would only eat slices of pork and mustard placed between two pieces of bread, a meal that still today honours her name of SANDYWITCH. (Her son Earl popularised the term. Yes, THAT Earl of Sandwich).

Well as I mentioned, their only freedom was to sing in the garden. Neighbouring farmers would report the strange songs, shrieks, and unintelligible dialogue that could be heard from time to time over the garden wall. Long after the death of the last mother-in-law, it was said that the ghost of the obese HIPSWITCH, Anne's mother, haunted the garden and would sing at midnight. When in modern times the Royal Opera House was built there, her ghost, it was said, could still be heard on summer evenings. So now you know the true story of Covent Garden, and also the origin of the expression that the opera is not over until the fat lady sings.

[(c) 1997 by Wilbur Skeels. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or retransmitted without inclusion of this paragraph. May not be reproduced in any form or at any event for which a fee is charged, without written permission. Write to 1275 Hendrix Avenue, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360.]