Acceptance, Book One of the Acceptance Series

For more than two thousand years, a small community of humans has lived in harmony with vampires, giving their blood and obedience in exchange for protection. And for all that time, it’s been a peaceful occupation.

When Kalyn Reid comes of age and pledges herself to the vampires, she has no reason to worry. She’s paired with Anselm for her training, and she couldn’t ask for a kinder, more patient mentor. She also couldn’t ask for anyone better-looking.

But before she has a chance to learn her new responsibilities–or get a date–her idyllic life goes up in flames. Without warning, the humans and vampires in her group are murdered by a strange new type of vampire and the few survivors are forced to flee.

Anselm and his brother, Micah, vow to hunt down the murderer, and they take Kalyn with them–thinking they can keep her safe. But when the killer finds them first, it’s they who must rely on her if any of them are to survive.

It reminded me of Game of Thrones, except with less incest and more vampires. Author Michelle Proulx

You can purchase this book on:

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Getting Serious about Languages

I was reading Scott H. Young’s blog post the other day about Ultralearning (which I just call my normal obsessive behavior) and I’ve decided to get serious about learning Spanish and Hebrew. That means daily practice of 15 minutes or more of each language. So far, I’ve been hitting one or both in the mornings for about half an hour. (I would have thought that my brain wouldn’t be awake enough to handle foreign languages first thing, but, surprisingly, I find myself looking forward to doing it and it actually feels good–like stretching gets the stiffness out and makes your body feel awake. Learning a little something first thing wakes my mind up.) And then, just because I’ve become rather addicted to it, I’ve been doing some at lunch and in the evenings as well.

I mentioned a few days ago that I’ve been using Duolingo for Spanish. And that’s been going just swimmingly. (Although, fair warning, conejos and cajones are not related words, even if they sound really similar. ChuckIt took me a minute to figure out why it looked like “my balls are eating carrots.” I mean, granted I don’t know much about the care and maintenance of testicles, but I was pretty sure they don’t eat carrots. Unless maybe they belong to Chuck Norris.)

Learning Hebrew has been a lot more of a struggle, though. I mean, about the only positive thing I can say about it is that it makes me feel like a Spanish genius by comparison. (Which is, admittedly, no small thing; I never cared much for Spanish in school because I felt that I wasn’t very good at it. It was right up there with math as something I could manage to do, but not without a lot of effort.)

Hebrew is traditionally (and modernly) written with almost no vowels (and the vowels that are shown could be consonants in disguise. You don’t know). And there are three basic scripts: traditional, modern, and handwriting. You can think of modern Hebrew script as printing and handwriting as cursive. Traditional script is more like calligraphy. The Torah is written in the traditional script without vowels, while prayer books and other things meant for non-native speakers are written in the traditional script with vowels. These are the letters I learned to read.

Duolingo, however, throws you right in with the modern script and no vowels. So I’m sitting there, looking at a word that consists of one silent letter and an M. How the hell are you supposed to pronounce __mm? Or is there a vowel associated with the silent letter? Maybe it’s really __mm.

Someone fluent in English is going to have little to no trouble reading a text message where most of the vowels are stripped out of it. (Dn’t blve me? Try ths sntnce out fr sze: th qck brwn fx jmpd ovr th lzy dg.) In fact, most people read some sort of bastardized English like that every day. But imagine that you’re Chinese and you are only vaguely familiar with Roman letters. Try learning English via those text messages.

My first attempt at Hebrew on Duolingo was agonizing; even when I completed a lesson, I felt like I really didn’t know anything. But somewhere along the way I heard about Memrise. Memrise also has language learning classes (among other things; they also have a lot of other classes), but whereas Duolingo is more like a language book which gives you whole sentences and makes you write what you hear, translate what you hear, and translate what’s written into and out of the language–i.e. you learn grammar and actually how to speak–Memrise is really just a fancy flashcard system that gives you words one at a time in either English or the target language and you pick the correct answer from multiple choices.

You may think that Memrise is inferior to Duolingo because words without context (i.e. grammar) or without learning to construct whole sentences (i.e. speaking) is a waste. But if you’re in a hurry to learn a language, you will probably prefer to learn as many new words as possible, rather than worrying about putting them in sentences with words you already are familiar with. (When I was in school, learning verb conjugation was of supreme importance, followed by using the gender-correct definite or indefinite article. But in reality you can generally make yourself known if you just know the words; being grammatically correct is nice, but not actually necessary to basic understanding. If a child or foreigner says, “Me wants water,” you know what they mean. Or “Yesterday I am going to movies.” Even though the tense is wrong and the definite article is missing, you still know what’s meant, especially in context–i.e. you asked the question “What did you do yesterday?”)

Memrise also allows you to make “mems” for your words to help you remember them better. (You can also uses mems created by others if you’re feeling short on creativity.) Adding a visual image to something you are trying to memorize is a classic memorization technique. (Look up memory or mind palaces.) tumblr_m4u7m5Fzpe1qjdni4o1_1280

Personally, I am still getting a lot of mileage out of Cartoon Hebrew which turns the letters into pictures that helps you remember what sound the letter makes; when you see that a particular letter looks like a tub, you don’t forget that it makes the “t” sound.

Capture

I’ve made a mem that associates the Hebrew word Chai with its meaning, alive.

Like Duolingo, Memrise uses spaced repetition to help you retain words. When you make no mistakes, words come up for review less often. The more mistakes you make, though, the more frequently you see the words in review.

The other benefit to Memrise is the one that applies to me: it’s simpler. Rather than trying to figure out several words at a time, I’m only presented with one at a time. And, even better that, Memrise has multiple courses–one of which specifically teaches Biblical Hebrew words in traditional script with vowels. That means I can actually read words without guessing what vowels they should have. And after a couple of days of working with just it, I feel that I’m walking away from it actually knowing some words–both knowing how to pronounce them and what they mean. The frustration level is down and the excitement level is back up.

And, oddly enough, after working with just Memrise for a few days, I went back to redo my Duolingo lessons and made it through them with the same rate of success that I expect from a Spanish course. Some of this may just be from practicing my letters so I’m more confident with what they sound like (even if I only get the see the consonants), but a lot of it is probably down to just practicing one word at a time and pairing the harder ones with mems so they stick in my mind better. This is easy to do because there is a Duolingo companion course at Memrise. I have found that I learn better if I start with the flashcards (and mems) on Memrise, then switch to Duolingo to tackle using them in sentences.

If you want personalized flashcards to help you learn, download Anki. Anki 1.0 was just a simple flashcard system that ran on spaced repetition. But it’s my understanding that the newest incarnation allows pictures and even sound, so you can make mems, attach pronunciation recordings, etc.

 

Internetz!

After 7 long months without any form of internet in our house whatsoever . . .

Desert

. . . and without any access to Facebook . . .

desert-island-ads

. . . the cable achievement has, at last, been unlocked! We have internet!

Rainbows

 

And now . . .

READ ALL THE FACEBOOK POSTS!

WATCH ALL THE YOUTUBE VIDEOS!

PLAY ALL THE GAMES!

x-all-the-things

The dog’s going to have to throw her own ball and the cats will have to scratch each others’ butts; tonight is internet night!

 

Duolingo

A few months ago, I found out about a wildly popular free language-learning website, Duolingo. It works on the principal of what you might call “natural” learning, which is to just start learning words without any emphasis on grammar or spelling, the way a baby starts picking up words and simple phrases (although it will correct those things for you). Duolingo is crowd-sourced, too, with the lessons written by a selected group of native-speaking volunteers and corrections or additions coming from suggestions submitted by the users. This keeps it from being very formal and getting out-of-date; instead, it better tracks how the language is actually spoken by native speakers today—complete with learning modules covering slang.

The recorded audio is also from native speakers, so you don’t have the problem that I had when I went into my second year of Spanish in high school and our very American teacher left and we got a Mexican teacher instead and none of us could understand her at all for the first few weeks until we adapted to her (proper) accent.

Duolingo also has a social-media aspect with forums where you can discuss the language(s) you’re learning or just chat about learning languages, foreign travel, etc. You can also tie it into your Facebook, where it can not only post updates about your progress, but it can allow you to compete with other friends who are also learning languages.

I did some research online and found that studies have actually been done to test Duolingo’s effectiveness and it’s found that people learn as much using it as they do when taking a college language class (and in less time). That’s in addition to the fact that 1) it’s free, and 2) you can move at your own pace. Someone who is committed to learning a language and/or is good at learning it can progress very quickly through the lessons, whereas a person in a regular class is stuck learning at the same speed as everyone else. That could be why more than a few schools are using Duolingo in their classrooms as an aid or supplement to their traditional teaching methods.

Duolingo is set up something like a game with short lessons that can be squeezed into otherwise wasted time, like while standing in line, commuting, waiting on your kids, during a lunch break, etc. (Needless to say, it has a mobile app.) When you complete a module, you get happy music to make you feel proud of your accomplishment. And you can do different things to earn “lingots” which are the site’s currency and allow you to “buy” things like extra modules (modules are chunks of related lessons) or a free pass to skip learning a day. (There are rewards for keeping up a “streak” of daily learning; if you buy a pass, you can skip a day without breaking your streak.)

Memory

My Spanish lessons are in here . . . somewhere. Also, the names and dates of all the presidents. And how to spell Massachusetts and Connecticut. Oh, wait, I got those both right on the first try! Yay memory balls!

I tried Duolingo out using the Spanish course and found that 1) with some light prompting, I was able to remember a surprising amount from my three years of high school courses (that should be a relief for other people who learned a language long ago and think it’s long gone; you probably only need a little refresher to get it fished up from the recesses of your long-term memory), and 2) I found it pretty easy to add new words and phrases. Of course, not every word I learned stuck the first time around. But that’s okay; modules that you have previously completed (they turn gold when they’re finished) will degrade if you don’t keep practicing or if you make mistakes on those words when you encounter them in subsequent lessons. So you will have to go back and repeat part of the module to get it back to gold status.

Capture

I have been a slacker. These are all the modules I’ve completed, but I haven’t kept them up.

 

Capture2

I got the Basics 1 module back up to gold. I can bebo leche with the best of them once again!

 

Capture3

Here you’re given a written and audible phrase in Spanish to translate into English.

Capture4

I got credit for my answer (which, orally, would have been understandable) even though I didn’t spell it correctly. The correction is shown at the bottom. Note the accented letters under the text box that you can use.

Duolingo has a combination of questions; in each lesson you will be asked to translate audio and written text from the subject language into English and also from English into the subject language. There’s also an option to respond verbally in the subject language, but obviously you have to have a microphone to do so, and since a lot of people don’t have access to one, you can turn that option off in your settings so that you never get that kind of question.

The current list of languages offered are:

Spanish
French
German
Italian
Portuguese
Dutch
Swedish
Irish
Russian
Turkish
Esperanto
Ukrainian
Welsh
Vietnamese
Hebrew
Hungarian

Languages that are in development:

Greek
Czech
Swahili
Romanian
Hindi
Indonesian
Klingon
Korean

Duolingo also has resources for people to learn to speak English, but I’m not sure how many languages their website comes in (since obviously I don’t see it from that direction).

I really just worked on the Spanish modules to learn how to use the program and to kill time until Hebrew became available, which is what I’m most interested in learning. Hebrew is now available, but it’s still in beta, so changes may still be forthcoming. One of the things I wish they would do is embed a Hebrew script keyboard on the site. In the Spanish course, you are provided with accented letters on the screen that you can click when you need to insert an é or an ñ  in your response text. The Hebrew course, however, has no on-screen keyboard that you can use for Hebrew characters. (And my keyboard at home and work are both fresh out of Hebrew letters.) I found on the discussion forum the suggestion to use a virtual keyboard. That works and I’m now able to progress through my lessons, but I hope that they will get one embedded right on the page so I don’t have to constantly switch back and forth between the two websites all the time.

Medieval Monday: The Rise of the English Empire

Henry VIII is a young man when he becomes King of England. His father had been a notorious miser and never felt secure on the throne due to his poor claim to it. He gave England peace, but nothing more. Vivacious, handsome, and well-educated, Henry VIII brought the light of the Renaissance to England.

Divorced, Beheaded, Died; Divorced, Beheaded, Survived

Catherine of Aragon – Henry marries his brother’s widow—despite the fact that she was 8 years his senior. Catherine had spent years caught in a power struggle between her father and Henry VII and had been neglected and impoverished. When Henry declares he will marry her as soon as he is king, he is seen as a romantic and valiant knight.

Catherine becomes pregnant numerous times, but miscarries often and her one live-born son dies shortly after his christening. Mary is the only child they have that survives infancy and Catherine gives her a new European education with the intention that she will rule in her own right, as her grandmother, Isabella of Spain, did.

Anne Boleyn – Henry and Catherine have a great marriage, although he takes the occasional mistress. When Henry falls for Anne and she refuses him, he loses his senses. When he can’t get Anne, he tries to get rid of Catherine, but she proves just as stubborn and refuses to retire to a nunnery so that he can marry Anne. Anne is a Protestant and she begins to influence Henry. Despite the fact that he once wrote a piece so eloquently in favor of papal supremacy that the Pope declared Henry a “Defender of the Faith,” Henry ultimately rejects the Pope’s authority and places himself at the head of the Church in England. And as such, he grants himself a divorce, marries Anne, and exiles Catherine to a cold, run-down castle.Anne Boleyn

The fiery Anne that so enthralled Henry when he couldn’t have her soon becomes tiresome when he actually has to live with her every day. Anne’s family rise fast with her, generating jealousy at court, and she was already thoroughly hated by the people. She gives Henry a daughter, Elizabeth, but she loses her second daughter and produces no sons. Soon, a combination of political factions and Anne’s own behavior begin to poison Henry against her. After a serious fall from a horse while jousting—which gives him a leg wound that never heals—Henry becomes more temperamental and tyrannical. Anne and her brother are set up and Henry allows them to be tried for incest and treason. Both are executed.

Jane Seymour – While Anne is falling out of favor, Jane’s star is rising. Quiet and unassuming, she is more like Catherine in temperament than Anne. As soon as Anne is out of the way, Henry marries Jane and in a short time she is pregnant. She gives him a son, Edward, and everything seems to be going well. But a short time later, she dies of a fever (probably from an infection contracted during childbirth).

Anne of CleavesAnne of Cleaves – Anne of Cleaves was an attempt by Henry’s advisors to make a political (rather than love) match for Henry. They, like him, wanted England to be a major European power. Anne, however, ended up coming with little in the way of political status. Furthermore, she inadvertently angered Henry when they first met and he took a set against her, nicknaming her the “Mare of Flanders” for her supposed ugly face and body odor. They were reluctantly married, but his anger with her only increased until he couldn’t stand her any longer. He offered her a divorce, which she (wisely) took. She was given a nice castle and a sufficient pension and was styled as “the king’s sister.” She appeared at court occasionally and kept up a friendly correspondence with both princesses.

Catherine Howard – Catherine Howard was a young teenager when she wed Henry, who was old enough to be her grandfather. Henry was as besotted with her as he had been with Anne (who was a cousin of Catherine’s) and he doted on the vivacious young woman. Unlike her predecessors, Catherine was too young (and perhaps too stupid) to be a decent queen. She certainly wasn’t smart enough to realize how perilous court could be. Like Anne before her, she was denounced as an adulteress by those who resented her family’s rise to power. Unlike Anne, though, the charges against her were probably true. She too was sent to the block.

Katherine Parr – Katherine, a widow, was selected to be Henry’s wife not out of love or a desire for male heirs or even political alliance; she was needed simply to care for the ailing king and perhaps act as a calming influence on a man who was now even more suspicious and distrustful than his father had been. That didn’t work too well, as Katherine found herself in serious trouble with Henry over some rather trivial disagreement. Some quick groveling spared her from what would have probably been her own trip to the block, but she lived in fear of upsetting him again. When he finally died, everyone at court breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Children of Henry VIII

Edward VI was still a child when he became king after his father. He was as intelligent and well-educated as his father, but lacked all of his father’s size and vigor. He expanded his father’s Protestant reforms (which really didn’t go farther than making the king the head of the church and robbing all the monasteries in England; in all other respects, the Church of England looked like the Catholic Church), but other than that, he did little in his few years as king. He died while still a teenager—most likely from tuberculosis.

Just before his death, Edward bastardized both of his sisters and named a cousin, Jane Grey, as his successor. This was done to prevent Mary, a staunch Catholic, from taking the throne. It didn’t work, however; Lady Jane Grey reigned for only nine days before Mary’s forces took the throne by force. Jane Grey was later executed when her parents tried to raise another rebellion against Mary.

BurnHenry’s firstborn daughter, Mary, was fast approaching middle age by the time she took the throne. She married a Spanish cousin—much to everyone’s dismay—and hurriedly tried to conceive an heir. But Philip apparently didn’t care for the much-older Mary and could hardly be enticed to do his husbandly duty. Mary thought that she was pregnant twice, but each “pregnancy” failed to produce a child—or even a miscarriage. Likely both occurrences were a sign that something was wrong with Mary’s reproductive organs. She dies just five years after gaining the throne, most probably from a uterine tumor. But, before she dies, she restores England to the Catholic Church and burns so many Protestants that she is forever dubbed “Bloody Mary.”

Elizabeth is a young woman when she takes the throne and ends up being the most like her father. She is extremely intelligent and well-educated, with all the charm and wit that her mother possessed. She returns England to the Protestant faith and takes it further away from Catholicism in appearance. English Catholics become a source of ongoing danger to her, but she refuses to take any action against most of them, thus ending her sister’s bloody religious purges.

She gets England a toe-hold in North America and with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, England begins to become a recognized naval power. Her reign is long and politically stable. Unlike her father’s reign, when backers of the latest queen held the most power, Elizabeth rather adroitly plays one faction against the others, never allowing any one family to have too much power. Her weakness was Robert Dudley (and, later, Robert’s stepson, the Earl of Essex), but even though she showed both men great favor, she refused to marry them, thus denying them the greatest prize of all. In the end, England had but one mistress and no master and she refused, until the very last, to even name an heir. It was only after her death that James VI of Scotland—her closest male relative—was named James I of England and finally united the two countries.

Mysteries of History

I find it interesting that the most popular post on my blog has been Wheelbarrows of Money. It has had just over 9,000 views since it was created. My next-most-popular post, Bathing in the Middle Ages, has nearly 3,500 views, so you can see how overwhelmingly popular Wheelbarrows of Money has been.

Most of my top-ranking posts are history-related, but oddly enough, 1920’s Germany isn’t my historical forte; medieval history is. And the entire reason why that post came into being was because I had mentioned the oft-repeated assertion that people used wheelbarrows full of cash to buy a loaf of bread during the Weimar Republic, and my husband challenged that; he asked me to prove that anyone had ever really used wheelbarrows of cash to buy anything.

3d human with a red question mark

Apparently a lot of other people have also wondered if that’s true, but a summary of search results also points to people being interested in understanding why and how inflation happens and what it’s like when it does happen.

So, I’m opening up the floor to any other historical question people may have–medieval, inflationary, or otherwise. And I’ll even go so far as to extend the invitation to questions–historical or theological–about Christianity/Christians or Judaism/Jews.

Medieval Monday: Heretics, Protestants, and Inquisitions. Oh My!

Michaelangelo The Renaissance

The Renaissance begins in Italy in the 14th century. Technically, “the Renaissance” only concerns art. Classical works were rediscovered and studied and a new era of realism in art began. Social and political changes come later and more slowly than the art revolution.

Useless Trivia: In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg invents the printing press. The first book printed on it: the “Gutenberg” Bible. The printing press has the biggest impact on European society since the Plague because it allows the common person to become literate and allows ideas to flow freely. No longer will the Church alone be the guardian of knowledge in Europe.

Age of Discovery

In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella financed explorer Christopher Columbus who wanted to sail due west over the Atlantic Ocean to get to the spices and exotic goods of the Far East. Columbus would ultimately make four trips, discovering Cuba, Haiti, and other Caribbean Islands. A master sailor, one of his voyages was the fastest to ever cross the Atlantic until the advent of steam power. His navigation skills left a little to be desired, however, because he never realized he wasn’t in Asia. It would be Amerigo Vespucci who would finally figure out that everyone was exploring a New World.

Columbus

Useless Trivia: No medieval person thought that the world was flat; like the Greeks and Romans and Egyptians before them, they were quite aware that the world was round. The myth that medieval people thought the world was flat appears to come from an 18th century biography of Columbus.

Inquisition

One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Spain

Spain quickly planted its flag in North, Central, and South America, sucking out prodigious amounts of gold that would make Spain fantastically wealthy and a major power in Europe. At home, Isabella and Ferdinand were waging war on the remaining Moors, finally driving the last of them out of Spain, and Spain was united for a time under their joint rule. In 1478, they asked the Pope to begin an Inquisition in Spain to root out lapsed Jewish converts. In 1492, they expelled all the Jews. Many Jews would flee to Portugal, only to be expelled from there a few years later. In 1502, all remaining Muslims were expelled. The Inquisition would later turn on heretics—specifically Protestant heretics—and would keep an iron grip on the Catholic country for centuries to come.

Methinks He Doth Protest Too Much

In 1517, Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses (which he sent to a superior by letter; his nailing them to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral is apocryphal). The letter condemned the Church and the Pope for excessive wealth, the selling of indulgences (“get out of hell free” cards), and general corruption. This was actually not the first time that someone made similar condemnations of the Church, and it was certainly not the first time that someone demanded reformation. However, a combination of the press and a favorable political situation in the German states allows Martin Luther’s demands to evolve into a movement. The protesters become known as “Protestants.”

Useless Trivia: Prior to the Reformation, the largest supporter of the sciences was . . . the Church. The study of genetic traits and even an early attempt at flight (hang-gliding, really) were done by clergymen. Science was seen as proof that the Universe had been made by a rational and orderly Creator. It was only when the Church came under attack and felt its power slipping that it circled the wagons and clamped down on anything that it perceived to be a threat to its authority—including any new sciences.

Medieval Monday: A Thorny War

History Repeats Itself, Folks

There is a pause in the Hundred Years’ War when England experiences a succession crisis. Edward III’s heir, the Black Prince, predeceases his father. When Edward III dies, his grandson, Richard II, is crowned. Edward II had been a king in the mold of Longshanks: strong, an able commander, successful, and fair to his subjects. Richard II, unfortunately, was in the mold of King John: weak, tyrannical, and sometimes mentally unstable.

In 1381, the peasants of England revolt against the boy-king and his counselors, who, among other things, have instituted a poll tax. Richard rides out to meet them and diffuses the situation by agreeing to their demands, but their leaders are later captured and killed instead and the remainder are forced to disband.

Peasant's Revolt

Eventually, Richard becomes more tyrannical and his nobles rise up against him. He had no children of his own, but he had no shortage of uncles and cousins, and it was one of his cousins, Henry Bolingbroke, who deposes him in 1399 when Richard takes away his inheritance. Richard dies in prison of starvation.

England’s Holding Manhoods Cheap!

Henry V succeeds his father and restarts the war in France, giving the French their worst beating yet at Agincourt in 1415. The French King, Charles VI, is forced to agree to peace terms: Henry will marry his daughter, Catherine, and he will delegitimize his own son and make Henry his heir.

Charles VIUnfortunately, Henry dies two months before his father-in-law. His infant son, Henry VI, inherits the thrones of both England and France.

Useless Trivia: King Charles VI was undoubtedly the source of Henry VI’s later madness. King Charles sometimes refused to allow anyone to touch him because he was convinced he was made of glass and might break.

The Maid

In 1429, Joan d’Arc appears with a divine message for the disinherited French prince: he is to reconquer France. Together, they begin to wrest control of France from England—to the point that the Dauphin is able to have himself crowned Charles VII.

But shortly after seeing her king crowned, Joan is captured by the English and turned over to the English church courts to be tried as a heretic. The French king did nothing to try and ransom her back, and the English burned her at the stake. She would not be canonized as a saint until 1920.

Weekend at Henry’s

Meanwhile, in England, the gentle and pious Henry VI was suffering from fits of madness where he would become catatonic for months at a time. His queen, Margret of Anjou, attempted to rule in his name, but his nobles disliked her immensely. Soon his royal cousins are fighting to have wardship over him—and control of the kingdom. This leads to civil war—known as the War of the Roses—and eventually, after being passed between the factions numerous times, Henry is murdered in the Tower while at prayer. His only son predeceased him, leaving his Lancastrian and York cousins to squabble over who was the rightful heir.

Henry Vi

Useless Trivia: The Lancaster badge was a white rose; the Yorks had a red rose. When Henry Tudor (a Lancastrian on his mother’s side) finally ended the war (namely because no one was left to make a rival claim) and married Elizabeth of York, he put the two roses together, making the Tudor rose, as a symbol of unity.