In 1632, at the tender age of six, Christina of Sweden inherited the throne upon the death of her father, Gustav the Great. Alike to Queen Elizabeth I Christina refused to marry, stating that ‘It is impossible for me to marry. I am absolutely certain about it…’ At her birth Christina had been mistaken for a boy and when her sex was discovered her father ordered that celebrations were to be carried out as if a prince had been born. Past this the king ordered that Christina be raised as a prince and given all the training to rule that would have been used to educate a son. However, after twenty years of reign Christina abdicated due to her disagreement with the Protestant faith which was followed in Sweden and disallowed her from freely worshiping Catholicism.
Christina, as a female monarch of the early modern period who refused to marry, and then abdicated on religious terms has been much studied by scholars. She has been widely represented within modern literature and film which have immortalised her often with inaccuracies. In Rouben Mamoulian’s film of 1933, staring Greta Garbo, Christina is portrayed as having renounced her claim to the throne for the love of the Spanish Ambassador who the populace would not allow her to marry. The work entitled, Queen Christina, instantly denies her strong will and that of her father to have her rule as a king. Her female favourite Ebba Sparre is also portrayed within the film; some historians examine their relationship and claim that the pair were secretly lovers. Queen Christina, does not suggest this latter aspect but does show the monarch as jealous and disgusted about Ebba falling in love and planning to marry. This disgust presumably stems, in context of the film, from Christina’s own wish to remain independent and not to be viewed as fitting the gender expectations of a weak woman in need of a man’s protection. Elizabeth Ford and Deborah Mitchell suggest that Christina’s disregard for women grew from her relationship with her mentally unstable mother, Maria Eleonora of Brandenburg. Maria was devoted to her husband but had no love for Sweden, Ford and Mitchell suggest that ‘her mother’s hysterical wailing bred a lifelong contempt for her own sex…in Christina.’ Historian Veronica Buckley supports this theory stating that, ‘she took her model of all women from her mother, and declared that, of all human defects, to be a woman was the worst.’
Carolyn Meyer’s book, Kristina the Girl King, is designed for school education and portrays the ruler more similarly to those who have written her historical biographies. Within it Christina talks of her fear of marriage. For then she would become a queen to a king, and it was the king who held power whilst queen simply meant the wife of a king. Throughout the book Christina constantly reminds those around her that she was crowed as king of Sweden and intends to rule as one. The book only spans from 1638 to 1639, a short period to select for examination out of her twenty year reign. Within this time however, she first meet her future friend Ebba, who the books suggests Christina admired but saw as completely different from herself. The fictional Christina describes their first meeting; ‘Generally I dislike the society of women my age and especially beautiful ones who make me even more aware of my own faults. But Ebba has a sharp wit, and I truly enjoyed her company.’ This introduction suggests that they will form a close friendship but, perhaps due to the audience it is designed for, any mention of them as lovers is omitted.
Whatever the truth behind Christina’s sexuality it cannot be denied that she is a significant figure in early modern history and therefore one worthy of examination and portrayal in popular culture, however loosely based on the truth these representations are. Ford and Mitchell claim that Christina served her country well attending every session of Parliament, putting an end to the persecution of Catholics, fighting for peace and working for religious tolerance. This aspect of Christina’s character is reflected in Meyer’s novel and to some extent in Mamoulian’s film. The novel shows her as strong willed, independent, and portrays the instability of her mother which affected Christina’s views about her own sex. In contrast although the film shows Christina as masculine in her pursuits it also portrays her as beautiful with a natural grace which her biographers and Meyer agree was not the reality. In conclusion when examining the reign of Christina, it is important to separate fact from fiction. To take Mamoulian’s film as an accurate representation of the monarchs life would be dangerous indeed, whereas Meyer portrays a more faithful and reliable image of Christina. This difference may stem from their time of production, as the film released in 1933 came seventy years before the book. Over this time research undoubtedly shed new light on the life of the monarch. New works that have appeared concerning Christina of Sweden suggest a resurgence of interest in her reign with Meyer, Buckley, Ford and Mitchell all publishing their works within six years of each other.
Meyer, C, The Royal Dairies, Kristina, The Girl King, (New York, 2003).
Queen Christina, Rouben Mamoulian, Warner Brothers Studios, (1933).
Buckley, V, Christina, Queen of Sweden, (New York, 2004).
Ford, E.A., Mitchell, D.C., Royal Portraits In Hollywood, Filming the Lives of Queens, (Lexington, 2009).
Throughout his decade-long reign from AD 69 to 79, Vespasian actively refuted any claims of divinity and moves toward an imperial cult within the borders of Rome, but made little attempt to dispel divine worship of himself in the provinces in a bid to reinforce the central focus on Rome and the emperor as an individual to barbarian outsiders. Despite this lack of faith in his divine rule, Vespasian encouraged the existence of the imperial cult in the provinces, mirroring the moves of Augustus to solidify his reign following his controversial ascendency to imperial power through desperate civil war and affirmation by the army. Vespasian’s last words, rumoured to be ‘Vae, puto deus fio’ – ‘oh dear, I think I’m becoming a god’ – proved the emperor’s humility towards his assumed divine rule even at the brink of death, despite all outside endeavours to prove otherwise.
The first emperor to hail from the equestrian Flavian dynasty, Vespasian could not adhere himself to the well-reported divine rule of the preceding Julio-Claudian dynasty, as his family were significantly obscure and possessed little acclaim. Worse still, his family originated from Gaul and the emperor spoke with a peasant’s accent, undeniably a provincial emperor with even less claim to Romanitas than his predecessors in need of divine ancestry. In attempts to attest to Vespasian’s divinity through other means, Tacitus claimed the prosperous affairs and ‘chance happenings’ of his life were omens sent to prove his divine right to rule. Vespasian was said to have possessed numen, which can be received by animals and inanimate objects, through Suetonius’ account of an ox which broke free of its yoke to burst into Vespasian’s dining room and bow its head at his feet, implying the process of freeing Rome from tyranny and submitting to a new welcome ruler. This sign of change heralded by supernatural events emerged frequently during Vespasian’s rule, such as the miraculous regrowth of a cypress tree on his grandfather’s estate after being entirely uprooted by no evident storm. Furthermore, Suetonius, however unreliably, also spoke of a stray dog which burst into Vespasian’s dining quarters and placed a severed hand at his feet, a sign to Roman society of divinity and inherent power. Vespasian himself, as quoted by Suetonius, reported of a dream before his succession that his family would come into good fortune when Nero has a tooth extracted, which happened the very next day. Having kept the personal astrologer Seleucus despite banishing astrologers from Rome, Tacitus suggests Vespasian was gradually influenced by these strange happenings surrounding his life and reign.
Regardless of the emperor’s resistance to imperial worship in the capital, the provincials sought to competitively recreate the centre of the Roman Empire to display their deference to Rome and its solitary figure of power. In an attempt to maintain his auctoritas within the empire’s provinces, which Tacitus claimed he was lacking, Vespasian’s visit to Alexandria in AD 69 witnessed his public performance of miracles in apparent collaboration with the god Serapis to maintain provincial loyalty, healing two Alexandrians, one blind and one lame, despite his own doubt in his divine power. Further to this, Vespasian reportedly had visions of an ethereal Alexandrian man Basildes proffering symbols of royalty such as crowns and loaves, miraculously affirmed through a mirage. Less questionable sources include ancient pottery discovered by the locals of the Peloponnese bearing a striking likeness to Vespasian, cementing local belief in the divine interventions that led to his ascendency to imperial power. Further to this, a wax tablet discovered in Herculaneum described the tutelary deities of Vespasian’s offspring, cementing provincial belief in Vespasian’s dynastical divinity.
Vespasian’s curiosity in the rumours that the gods were on his side during his lifetime led to the action of his son and heir Titus to pursue immediate posthumous deification of Vespasian. Titus established a cult institution in the name of his father through the construction of the Temple of Vespasian near the Tabularium at Pompeii purely out of homage to his father and his efforts during his reign, a move devoid of political intentions but likely not devoid of political interpretation.
Despite a personal aversion to deification, appeals to godly ancestry and the apparent slew of omens following him throughout his lifetime, Vespasian utilised provincial interests in his divine right to rule to maintain loyalty to the imperial centre in his living years, and spent less than a year in mortal death before his successor placed his name among the deified Julio-Claudian emperors.
Henderson, Bernard William, Five Roman Emperors: Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, A.D. 69-117 (Cambridge, 1927).
Levick, Barbara, Vespasian (London, 1999).
Suetonius, Life of Vespasian.
Scott, K., The Imperial Cult Under the Flavians (New York, 1975).
Recently, primarily through examination of the Tudor Rebellions, it has become clear to me that modern historians may have a somewhat erroneous understanding of religion, politics and society in Early Modern England and he links between them. Typically, they are examined separately, as individual causes or factors that make up one particular event. For example, the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 is often argued to have been triggered by religious grievances, whereas other historians argue that actually, socio-economic complaints were the predominant cause. Generally, it must be argued that one carried greater weight than the other in order to dismiss other possible causes and reach a pinpointed conclusion. However, only when examining rebellions in their own context can we really achieve an understanding of not simply contributing factors but also the intrinsic entwinement of religion, politics and society – and how they were essentially exactly the same thing.
Court life can also reveal a lot about this idea; for example following the Reformation and the break with Rome the political factions divided themselves into groups to establish a sense of position: and these were religious labels such as ‘conservative’ or ‘reformist’, and later ‘evangelical’. Nonetheless, the people who divided themselves into these groups did not often have a church career or had clerical importance; their role was completely ‘political’ and the merging of religious labels and political court factions demonstrate the intrinsic link between religion and politics in Tudor England. The Act of Supremacy of 1534 had united both church and state, creating an even more ‘confusing’ theology where you could now be a political ‘traitor’ for denying Henry VIII as Supreme Head of the Church. The Reformation appears to have affirmed the entwining of religion and politics in early modern society.
The Banner of the Five Wounds of Christ used in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 is typically seen as a Catholic symbol, having previously being used in crusades illustrating Jesus’ crucifixion. Most historians claim that because these banners were carried in great numbers amongst the 30,000 rebels, it was chiefly religious in both character and nature. Although it took on this appearance, however, the symbols included could also be interpreted to represent socio-economic complaints. The inclusion of the plough, chalice and the horn may also represent the variety of English classes, as well as the new tax that threatened horned cattle. However, what no historian has concluded is that they may represent all of these ideas in an entirety, which is very possible in the post-Reformation context that the rising encompassed.
Furthermore, in 1549 Kett’s Rebellion rose simultaneously with the West, who were wholly conservative in opposition to the new Prayer Book that represented a more radical turn in the Reformation. Kett’s Rebellion, however, rose in hostility to enclosure Protector Somerset who did not keep his promises to abolish it. Nonetheless, they also praised the New Prayer book as the rebels were mostly Protestant and in support of the new doctrine. Therefore, despite its irrelevance as the Prayer Book was not a grievances, the rebels still felt inclined to make religion of prime importance despite its solely socio-economic complaints. This is a perfect demonstration of the close relationship between religion, politics and society in Tudor England.
Princess Mary’s accession in 1553, no longer referred to as a rebellion because of its success, meant that many in Norfolk rose to support Mary over Lady Jane Grey. Despite the incredible amount of Protestant supporters who knew of Mary’s staunch Catholic beliefs, the support for her demonstrates a widespread concern for popular politics and the succession; the future of the Tudor dynasty. The people chose Mary because of her political blood as the daughter of Henry VIII. This suggests that religion was perhaps not the heart of everything, and cannot be polarised or oversimplified because it neglects the complexities of Tudor society.
These blurry boundaries can also be seen in the Northern Rebellion of 1569 under Elizabeth I. The whirlwind of Catholic conspiracies that emerged later in her reign concerning Mary, Queen of Scots, were more threatening because of the political insecurities they raised in Elizabeth. The rising itself encompassed more of a conspiracy rather than a representation of widespread popular discontent. Although it was a Catholic rising, Elizabeth crushed it because she was concerned about the political consequences it could result in such as the future of the succession. The mixture of political and religious concerns demonstrate the multiplicity of complexities and concerns in Tudor England.
After the Northern Rising of 1569, the people learnt that rebellions didn’t work. The Tudor dynasty made an incredible example of these risings, and left a legacy that rebellions always failed. The emergence of conspiracies in the Northern Rising set the foundations for the future of discontent; a shift from rebellions to plots was now visible, affirmed by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Nonetheless, Tudor risings cannot be pulled apart for analysis into separate grievances when they were also so closely linked and were essentially the same thing. English church, state and society were all effectively one concept in the eyes of the people and therefore we should also attempt to view them in the same light. The visibility of popular politics and a conscious awareness for political affairs demonstrates a far greater understanding of people at the time during times of popular discontent.
As Britain longest reigning monarch, who would have thought that Queen Victoria’s life could have been ended so early in her reign in 1840? Only three years before had she been announced Queen on the turn of her eighteenth birthday, freeing herself from the control of her Controller of her household Sir John Conway. However one event in 1840 brought the prospect of an early death to Queen Victoria as this was the year that the first of eight assassination attempts was put on her life.
The assassination attempt that I am going to look at in this blog update is the attempt by Edward Oxford (later known as John Freeman) conducted on 10 June 1840. The main focus of this update is to look at the man at the centre of the event, Edward Oxford and understand why he did it and what happened next.
Edward came from a family where there were problems in the family dynamic. Born in 1822, Edward was born in Birmingham and was the third of seven children. His mother was Hannah Marklew, a daughter of a respectable family from the Midlands, whilst his father George Oxford was from less known roots. George Oxford was employed as a gold-chaser, one of the best according to the sources and in 1818 married Hannah. The issue was that he convinced Hannah to marry him by saying that he would shoot himself if she didn’t. They married in secret and had their first child soon after. However, like his father John, George was prone to fits of anger and spent the family’s money whenever he wanted including a four month trip to Dublin where he wasted his money in pubs. Edwards father died in 1829, leaving Edward in the care of his maternal grandfather, though he was back with his mother soon enough. He moved about a lot during his childhood, often changing schools in succession as teachers grew more frustrated with his behaviour. It was also at this point that he began displaying the same mood swings as his father and grandfather, particularly in regard to his attitude towards life. Some historians have commented that this attitude and his belief that people saw him as less than others contributed to him attempting to assassinate the Queen. One possible reason for the attempt is believed to be to so that he could gain attention for himself, which he certainly did, and to become a person whom society would remember.
The attempt on Victoria’s life ended as soon as it began. Edward fired two shots, both which missed the Queen and Prince Albert whilst they were travelling through Constitution Hill near Hyde Park and had been disarmed immediately, surrendering to the police to face the consequence of his actions. After multiple interviews, while also uncovering his place in a secret society called the ‘Young England’, Edward was to be tried under the Treason Act of 1351. His trial was set for 9 July 1840 with Edwards’s defence being lead by Mr Sydney Taylor with the aim of defeating the treason charge. After much deliberation and witness interviewing, the jury found Edward not guilty on the grounds of insanity. On 18 July Edward was moved from Newgate Gaol to Bethlem Hospital in Southwark and secured in the criminally insane wing, which at the time had around 400 inmates. Whilst the conditions were poor by today’s standards, Edward quickly understood his environment and set out to make the most of it. He took opportunities to learn new languages and skills that would serve him well in his later life. However, when the criminal wing in Bethlem was closed in 1864 Edward was moved to Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Berkshire.
The next stage of his life began three years later when Edward was released on the condition that he never return to England and live out the rest of his days in the colonies. Arriving in Melbourne, Australia in February 1868, Edward changed his name to John Freeman and quickly set about making a new life for himself. Using the skills learnt at Bethlem, Edward began as a housepainter though shortly rose within the ranks of society taking every new opportunity for better jobs and meeting in the process many important friends. Edward married a young woman in 1881, Miss Jane Bowen and together they lived in multiple classy homes in some of the best areas of Melbourne. During this time Edwards learning skills also improved and as a result of this, his wrote a book Lights and Shadows of Melbourne Life in 1888. John Freeman died in 1900 at the age of 78, with no one the wiser as to whom he really was and what he had almost done.
To summarise, Edward Oxfords attempt on Queen Victoria’s life was to first of many assassination attempt and like the rest failed to kill the monarch. Barrie Charles concludes that Edward was a genius in the way that he managed to cleverly do the things he did and survive to live a relatively good life in Australia. I think that though Edwards’s upbringing certainly played a part in the affair, it seems that Edward knew what he was doing and knew the consequences for himself had he succeeded.
Barrie Charles., Kill the Queen!, The Eight Assassination Attempts on Queen Victoria (2012)
Antonia Fraser., The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England (2000).
Mental illness has a turbulent and complicated history. For most of human history, mental illness was mysterious and misunderstood, leading to the isolation and mistreatment of sufferers. The idea that demonic possession or committing sins caused mental illness to be stigmatized. Unfortunately, despite the huge advances in psychiatry which led to creation of drugs and treatments to help control the diseases, there is no way to prevent or properly cure these afflictions. This means stigma still exists, and the fact that the brain is so complicated means that there are many things we don’t understand about the brain, including the causes of mental illness.
In the Classical period, the mentally ill were often considered to be prophets. Examples of this phenomenon include John the Baptist. With their limited medical knowledge, writers came to the conclusion that the behaviours displayed by the ‘insane’ were caused by psychological or emotional impacts on the individual. They also looked to the theory of the humours to explain the conditions, with too much of one humour causing the illness. Despite, the fact that Classical doctors did not properly understand brain function some of their treatments for the mentally ill would have been fairly effective. These include diets, baths, ointments, drugs and perhaps most importantly rest.
However, the mentally ill were persecuted, with laws being created to protect people from the insane. This resulted in the so called insane people being feared, ignored and isolated from the rest of the population. During the Middle Ages, the first institutions created for the care of the mentally ill were the Islamic mauristans which were located in cities such as Baghdad, Cairo, Fez and Damascus. Islam believed that the insane were inspired by God. This meant that they were considered holy and therefore they were treated appropriately. It has been said that mauristans were luxurious. However, in the rest of Europe people who exhibited strange behaviour were thought to have been possessed by demons. The treatment of those who were deemed to have been possessed included beating, whipping, expulsion and execution. Often the luckiest patients were the ones who were simply neglected as they were less likely to be executed. Another consequence of negative attitudes towards mental health was the burning of a huge number of women who were accused of witchcraft. Ironically, the perpetrators of these witch hunts seem to have been the victims of mass hysteria themselves.
Hospitals created to treat the mentally ill tended to evolve into horrific places. A wide range of people were placed in them, often including those who were not ‘insane’ but were instead seen as a risk to society. These people included criminals, beggars, the poor, the chronically ill, and also some mad people. The conditions are thought to have been awful in these hospitals and the care was no better. The treatments administrated in these hospitals were no different from early cruel treatments and included attempts to shock or humiliate the inmates into behaving in a socially acceptable manner.
By the early modern period, the ideas of what caused mental illness began to change. Doctors now thought they were disorders of the brain, and not of the soul. At the end of the 19th century, Emil Kraeplin (a German psychiatrist) defined the two main psychoses as manic depression (which is now called bipolar) and dementia praecox. Dementia praecox later became known as schizophrenia.
During the early 20th century, the psychosomatic approach emerged. This movement started to research the physical effects of strong emotions. One of the most famous proponents of this medical movement was Hans Selye (a Canadian doctor) studied the physical effects of prolonged stress on the human body. Another theory which emerged about the brain was the idea that some personality traits meant people were more predisposed to contract certain diseases. An example of this theory in practise is the fact that having a Type A personality may mean one would be more likely to get stomach ulcers and/or coronary heart disease. One treatment which emerged during the 20th century was the removal of the ovaries in order to prevent (or control) mental illness in women.
To conclude, attitudes and treatment of the mentally ill has only improved dramatically in the last two hundred years. Before then they were often considered to be demonically possessed and therefore were ignored or mistreated due to fear they would affect other people. This led to the stigma which exists around mental health, which unfortunately still exists to a lesser extent today.
Duffin, J., History of Medicine: A Scandalously Short Introduction (Toronto, 1999)
So this is my review, or more of an overview, of another TV series; The Almighty Johnsons. The Almighty Johnsons is a New Zealand based fantasy comedy/drama television series, which was created by James Griffin and Rachel Lang and aired from 7 February 2011 to 23 September 2013.
The story revolves around Axl Johnson, a typical university student who has just turned 21 years old—an event which triggers weird signs all over Auckland. Upon turning 21, his brothers tell him that he and his brothers are the living reincarnations of Old Norse gods, although their powers are not at full effect. It took a lightning bolt to make him realize the truth about his godhood, and he discovers that he is the physical incarnation of the Allfather Odin. After a rival goddess shoots an arrow which nearly pierces his heart, fulfilling the prophecy that proves he is Odin, his older brother Mike tells him about his quest: In order to get all their powers back, Axl (Odin) has to find his soulmate, Frigg, (who is Odin’s wife in mythology). If he doesn’t find her before he dies, his whole family dies with him. However, several goddesses have united to prevent him from finding Frigg, including the one who tried to kill him earlier.
The series shows representations of many Norse gods, both major and minor ones, and even shows a couple of giants and a dwarf! I’m going to go through some of the examples and look at what mythological stories are represented involving them in the series:
Axl Johnson – Odin: In the series, Axl is destined to take the form of Odin, The leader of all gods. It’s interesting that in this series it is the youngest and perhaps least wise of the brothers that is Odin, and results in most of the story of the whole series showing Axl’s progression into a man and eventually showing some Odin’s authority and power.
Mike Johnson – Ullr: The oldest of the Johnson brothers, and the one who raised the others after the absence of their parents, is the incarnation of the Norse god of the hunt and games. In the series this is shown by his ability to find anyone he wants, although it may take time, and he is unable to lose at any game he tries. His powers and his responsibility for his family causes him to become very stressed and disliked by people, even when he tries to do the right thing. the result of all this is him becoming more of a rebel towards the end of the series, where he tries to take Axl’s place as Odin by finding Frigg first. This plot point plays upon the historic similarities between the meanings of Odin and Ullr’s names, as well as the myth where Odin’s brothers Vili and Ve have an affair with Odin’s wife Frigg.
Anders Johnson – Bragi: Anders (who we immediatley recognized as the same actor who plays Fili in The Hobbit!) is the incarnation of the Norse god Bragi, the god of poetry. While he doesn’t seem to have any skill in poetry, he does have perhaps one of the more powerful powers in the show, with which he can persuade anyone to do or believe anything he tells them. While he uses his power somewhat practically in order to be a successful PR agent, he also uses it in order to get his way in most situations, mostly involving sleeping with any and all women he wants. This gets him in trouble more than a couple of times, however, he still manages to do it in such a cheeky way the he stays a likeable character to the audience, just not by his brothers, or most others for that matter.
Ty Johnson – Hodr: Ty is the gloomy one in the family, and perhaps rightfully so as he is the god of all things dark and cold. This results in his power as being something more of a curse most of the time as it means that he is extremely pale and cold to the touch, and can kill someone if he touches them for long enough, meaning for most of the series he is depressed over how he can’t be with the woman he loves. Despite this, his powers mean that his is an excellent ice sculptor, and quite amusingly, a fridge repairman. His powers are also used quite effectively in some cases to counter Loki’s power of fire.
Olaf Johnson – Baldr: Olaf is the Norse god of rebirth, light and beauty. His power of rebirth is not explicitly shown, but he is said to be the grandfather of the Johnson brothers despite appearing too young, which he explains by being reborn in his current form every morning. his powers related to light and beauty are not really shown, but may have something to do with the fact that he is the typical stoner/surfer dude stereotype, which may also explain his role as ‘the family oracle’, and not a very good one. Also, it may or may not be an excellently bad pun that his Baldr and the only bald character.
Some other important characters include other major gods, one being Loki, who appropriately spends the majority of his time in the series toying with and terrorizing the Johnsons and friends. Another is Thor, who is my favourite god in the series. He is in the form of a large, hairy Kiwi goat farmer named Derrick. He is the one who embraces his godliness the most by far, and shows the more violent and rage driven form of Thor. He always carries a hammer that he says is Mjolnir and is extremely skilled at throwing it. The series shows him doing many things appropriate to Thor such as wanting to kill the giants that show up in the series, and at one point is convinced to wear a wedding dress! Linking to the myth where Thor does the same thing as part of a plan to trick some giants. Another important god character is Heimdall, who is an interesting character in the series because, as the god of all seeing, all hearing and foreknowledge, he spends the majority of the story in the background, subtly directing Axl’s actions so that he finds Frigg (who happens to be Heimdall’s sister in the series) but only once he has proven himself and become worthy. He also, as the gatekeeper of the Bifrost, the way into and out of Asgard, he is able to walk through doors and turn up in any location he chooses, and inflict this on other people as well.
Other mythological references that appear in the series include Anders journeying to Norway and finding Yggdrasil, the tree of life, and bringing back one of its branches, which apparently can only be used by goddesses, such as Sjofn who uses it to gain healing abilities and even brings people back to life with it. Another reference is when giants and a dwarf make an appearance. one of the giants is Eggther, who in mythology is one of the largest and most powerful, however despite being called the most ferocious hunter of the Giants, Eggther is no more dangerous than a mortal when it comes to brutishness and wants to be himself rather than the killer everyone thinks he is. Axl’s best friend, Zeb, who is a mortal but in on the secret identities of the gods, is captured by him and uses ‘reverse stockholm syndrome’ to befriend him and gain freedom. Another reference comes from Zeb (who is the best character in my opinion) when, after doing his research on Norse mythology, takes on the nickname ‘Freki’ which is appropriate as the best friend of Axl, and Freki is one of Odin’s wolves.
I could write much more about this relatively short-lived series, but this post is too long already, so I’ll end by saying; overall, this series can feel like a slightly silly and cheesy comedy or soap opera at times. If you don’t know a thing about Norse Mythology, then it may just be that. But for nerds of all things Norse, it will certainly be hilarious at times, and you may even be impressed by the way each character shows characteristics of their god at all times and many of the myths play out, but in a modern setting, which makes it even funnier. Not to mention the Kiwi accents… which make everything better!
It appears as if most of us always think of women when thinking of the early modern witch-hunts. This hasn’t been helped by the depiction of witches in popular culture, films and TV, but it makes us forget the array of complexities encompassing early modern witchcraft and its crime. So how did the witch-hunts come into motion? Well, typically accusations stemmed from the act of maleficium, and in other areas across the globe, predominantly North America, there was a greater focus on diabolism; both of which had implications in terms of both the administration and scale of the hunts. This creates further difficulties when assessing the role of gender, particularly alongside the rise of gender history where ideas surrounding the witch-hunts have taken an interesting turn, allowing opportunity for psychoanalysis and the implementation of modern-day values and standards onto the past; an undoubtedly problematic development. Certainly, women were socially vulnerable to the profile of a witch, but examining the popular beliefs and ideologies of people living at the time, alongside the involvement of men in the early modern witch-trials, demonstrates a clear belief in the reality of the witch as opposed to the intention of a gendered attack on women.
Firstly, exploring what the witch-hunters were looking for in a suspect is the first way to discover how far gendered motives contributed to the accusations. Diabolism concerned the idea of an active pact with the Devil in fear of an antichristian conspiracy and was therefore commonly investigated by the secular courts rather than “from below”. In terms of maleficium, an individual practicing harmful magic, suspicions of witchcraft rooted from ordinary people in neighbourly communities before an official trial if reported. This indicates the genuine belief of people at the time in the crime of witchcraft as a reality; the fear of which was certainly exacerbated by the post-Reformation context in which it encompassed, where the presence of witches was both illuminated alongside their dangers to society. In addition, the belief fulfilled a social need to explain everyday human misfortune; one of many social needs which contributed to witchcraft accusations. Typically, as conveyed in Malleus Maleficarum (1484), the criteria of a witch encompassed the morally weak and essentially those who could easily submit themselves to the sphere of harmful magic or to the Devil through lust and lack of self-control. These qualities were readily attributed to women because of early modern gender ideologies, and as such were certainly more likely to fit the witch profile. These ideologies root from a patriarchal society in addition to religious influence… we all know how in Garden of Eden Eve gave in to the Devil’s temptation and caused the ruin of mankind which is not an easy thing for women to live down and as such were viewed in the popular imagination as the weaker and more “corrupted” sex. However, men could commit exactly the same crime as women in terms of witchcraft and were not explicitly excluded from the criteria; just like women, they could take part in the Sabbath for example.
Key statistical evidence on condemned witches in various countries across the globe challenge the popular assumption that because women totalled an overall of seventy to seventy-five per cent of the accused, they were always the majority of victims in every society. However, in places such as Iceland where males made up ninety-two per cent of the condemned, in addition to Normandy and Estonia where the statistics were also male-dominated, and Burgundy with an equal balance, it becomes clear that ‘women as victims’ was not a constant phenomenon.
As previously mentioned most witch accusations stemmed from the crime of maleficium and followed a very typical format. This helps to identify why women were so susceptible in cases that started “from below”. The accuser would experience some type of misfortune; illness, death or the loss of livestock after a hostile encounter with another neighbour who was generally of lower socio-economic status. A combination of rumours and class hostilities would contribute to a whirlwind of suspicion in genuine belief that they had been the victim of supernatural revenge. The fact that women were themselves as likely to be witnesses alongside men the idea of female persecution must be omitted. Even though see the label of a witch as giving political power to women, and to accuse other women was to reinforce the notion of competitive authority and violence in a society that had sex-specific legal restrictions, to implement modern psychoanalysis onto the past is a very dangerous business and risks overcomplicating genuine popular beliefs and deep-rooted ideologies. What the prosecutions actually reflect is a very real belief in witchcraft and its crime, a challenge for us to understand today, rather than sex-specific occurrences.
If an attack on women themselves, the number of witch accusations would then surely be equivalent to the number of witch-trials, and even more to the number of guilty verdicts; yet the comparisons represent a sense of unwilling co-operation from the male elite who operated in secular courts. The case of Tituba in 1692 also demonstrates other contributing factors in the accusations; her ethnicity, cultural background and slave status increased the level of threat to the Salem community because of her physical differences and “strange” customs and traditions which would not be easily accepted, and so made accusations against her easier to emerge.
The contemporary socio-economic society in which the crime was produced tell us most about the nature of witchcraft. Early modern woodcuts reflect the birth of the stereotypical witch as an old, unkempt woman usually with physical malformations. Although exaggerated, this does somewhat reflect the majority of women who were accused of witchcraft. Marginalized characters of society, particularly cunning folk, with a low socio-economic status, were likely to turn to charity following the end of the manorial system, which previously provided a great degree of labour work, and often resulted in dependence upon superiors. The denial of charity to a neighbour frequently led to feelings of guilt which could manifest into suspicion following misfortune; scapegoating is a common occurrence in human civilization, and enables us to understand why most women accused were older, widowed or marginal characters of society who had no male or financial support on which to depend. So surely, class, age, race, marital and socio-economic statuses all contributed to the witch-hunts and must not be neglected.
For various reasons it is easy to forget that men consisted of a reasonable proportion of the accused. An explanation for this is that the idea of the female witch carries greater symbolic weight than persecution of males. Some argue that men were effectively emasculated and subsequently feminised through witchcraft accusations, but this conflicts with the descriptions of accused males by their accusers, who describe their qualities with no reference to any weak or powerless traits. Although men were often accused alongside female relatives, individual cases of male convictions were not as rare as made out to be. Men could also be of low socio-economic status as well as a marginal character of society. The case of Nicholas Stockdale, accused by his male neighbours in early seventeenth-century England, also represents an alternate type of socio-economic hostility. In a competitive enviornment, accusations against men also had the perfect preconditions to initiate a genuine witch-panic. So not only was there focus on charity and the poor, but in the case of men feeling threatened or attacked by other men’s prosperity – certainly not a gender-based issue.
Although women appear to be the starring role of the early modern witch-trials, our focus should remain on witchcraft in light of popular belief and feelings at the time rather than the popular ideas we have now.
Postscript: In England, only one major witch-hunt broke out under the influence of Matthew Hopkins (Witch-Finder General, 1644-47) during the English Civil War. Approximately 300 women were said to have been executed and even more tortured. Despite its atrocity, it is important to remember that because of the Civil War, the legal system had effectively collapsed and paved the way for unfair trials.
1. Thomas, K., Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1991)
2. Levack, B. P., The Witch-Hunt in Early Modern Europe (Essex, 1995)
3. Karlsen, C., The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (London, 1987)
I would like to dedicate this particular blog post and my first review to my parents, who went out of their way to get me the subject of this review, despite its obscurity. I love you both.
The film I am reviewing is called The Young Mr. Pitt, a 1942 biopic of William Pitt the Younger, the youngest Prime Minister (when he became Prime Minister in 1783, he was only 24) in British history, with Robert Donat in the titular role. The film is primarily about Pitt’s time as Prime Minister with particular reference his leadership of Great Britain during the war with Revolutionary and later Napoleonic France. The film was made at the height of the Second World War, primarily as propaganda for the British by reminding them of war similar to the one they were waging then. With that in mind, it makes reviewing this film doubly interesting, not only for seeing how it holds up in terms of historical accuracy, but also for what it can tell us about propaganda during this period.
Since the production company was 20th Century Fox, it is likely it was intended to be released in Britain’s ally, the United States. Accordingly, in order to gain the sympathy of an American audience, the first scene of the film features William Pitt the Elder, the father of the protagonist passionately telling the House of Lords the military campaign that is about to be launched to reconquer the rebellious American colonies is not only immoral, but has little to no chance of success. Much of his speech about the similarities between the British and the Americans could have been lifted from Churchill’s own oratory about the ‘Anglo-Saxon peoples’.
It is rather clear when more modern values are depicted somewhat anachronistically in the film. These include references to Pitt the Elder’s title ‘the Great Commoner’, while the fact he later accepted a peerage from the King, despite his populist beginnings is brushed over on the grounds of financial necessity (which in fairness to Pitt senior, his family certainly required). Likewise, the circumstances under which Pitt became Prime Minister, are airbrushed to a certain degree. The fact that Pitt played a role in the constitutionally questionable downfall of the Fox-North Coalition, are unmentioned (though in fairness to the film-makers, the research that proved Pitt’s role were not published until the 1960s). Furthermore, while much is made of Pitt’s antebellum reforms and his close friendship with the great anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce, some of Pitt’s more controversial wartime measures, such as the temporary suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and the prosecutions of perceived radical sympathisers with the French revolutionaries on charges of treason are ignored, just as the circumstances involving Pitt’s downfall, namely following a French-backed rebellion against British rule in Ireland, Pitt decided to unite the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, (believing, perhaps with some justification, that the ‘Protestant Ascendancy’ that dominated the then semi-independent Irish Parliament were incapable of ruling Ireland) and to make said union more palatable to the majority of the Irish intended to grant Catholics the right to sit in the new Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. However King George III vetoed this on the grounds that it would violate his coronation oath, and Pitt resigned in protest. None of this is featured in the film, Pitt merely mentions that having failed to convince the King of a new policy, he has no choice but to resign. On a more personal note, Pitt’s failed courtship of Eleanor Eden is a major subplot of the film, and Pitt’s decision not to marry her, due to ‘irreconcilable obstacles’ is shown as a selfless act of self-sacrifice due to a desire to put his duty to England first. It is interesting to note that some modern historians have implied that there were different reasons for Pitt’s refusal to pursue his relationship with Eleanor, and that his feelings towards his friends such as George Canning and William Wilberforce were far more than simple friendship. Be that as it may, it is likely that the romantic subplot was mainly included due to the popularity of romantic films at this time.
It is also notable that one of the primary events during Pitt’s premiership, the ‘strange behaviour’ (currently believed to be either porphyria or manic depression) of King George is also omitted, though this is probably less due to differing values and more of an intention on the film-makers part to concentrate on the wars. It is however notable that the King throughout the film is portrayed by Raymond Lovell as being highly eccentric, meeting William Pitt over a bowl of turnips, and rather tactless, informing Lord Temple that as a potential Prime Minister the Duke of Portland is completely incompetent, considers Temple and then tells him to his face he is worse than Portland. The film does have several humorous moments, such as during the general election sequence in which eggs are sold cheap so voters can demonstrate their displeasure with any candidate, as well as politicians voting for themselves. As is often the case in historical films, historical in-jokes are made, with the Admiralty complaining about Pitt’s decision to give Horatio Nelson command of the fleet, arguing he has no chance of defeating the French fleet transporting Napoleon to Egypt.
Most of the early part of Pitt’s tenure as Prime Minister is mostly brushed over, likely because Pitt’s economic reforms were unlikely to have been of interest to the audience. The majority of the film is given over to Pitt’s role in the war against France. In this a number of parallels can be drawn between the ongoing struggle against Nazi Germany. Pitt is depicted as originally seeking peace with France, but later conceding that peace with Napoleon is impossible. His primary political opponent, Charles James Fox and his later successor, Henry Addison are portrayed as desiring to appease the French and negotiate a truce, regardless of the costs, much like the popular perception of Neville Chamberlain. Pitt however leads the country through war and spends every waking moment working out how to defeat the French, despite his own health and financial problems. The film portrays the French as the aggressors, with their invasion of the Low Countries and their declaration of war on Britain forcing Pitt’s hand. Naturally, the parallels with Nazi Germany are easier to spot, Talleyrand, the French diplomat is shown wearing dark clothing, speaking with an accent that is far more German than French, and offering Pitt the prospect of Britain dominating the world. Pitt nevertheless resists French attempts to dominate Europe, but finally resigns due to near exhaustion. His successor negotiates a brief truce, but when that collapses, and Napoleon threatens to invade England, Pitt’s policy is vindicated and he returns to power once more. The climactic Battle of Trafalgar which destroyed any chance of a French invasion is not seen on camera, probably for budgetary reasons, though it is perhaps fitting that since the film has been devoted to Pitt’s trials and tribulations (Lord Nelson had already been a subject of a biopic the previous year, That Hamilton Woman). In any case the film ends during a celebratory banquet at the Guildhall, where Pitt, upon being toasted by the Lord Mayor of London as ‘the saviour of Europe’ declares that while he appreciates the honour, Europe will not be saved by a single person and that ‘England has saved herself, and will as I trust save Europe by her example.’ This would be Pitt’s final public dinner, he would die soon after, having learned of Napoleon’s victory over the Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz, declaring, depending on the source either ‘my country, how I leave my country’, or ‘I think I could eat another of Bellamy’s veal pies’. In any case, Pitt’s death is avoided, though his doctor does tell Wilberforce that if he goes to the banquet ‘he’s a dead man’, presumably not to end on too depressing a note.
In summary, the film is an excellent example of how British propaganda films during the Second World War used history to find parallels with the ongoing conflict, and how it depicts the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century can tell us just as much about 1940s Britain as the Georgian era. The film itself is highly entertaining, with a somewhat irreverent attitude towards history (during one of Pitt’s speeches to Parliament, several of his listeners attempt unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn), but a good yarn none the less, though one assumes Charles de Gaulle was not invited to its premier.
For those that live in the midlands of England everyone will know the age old story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. He is the legend of the North, who counter-acts the Southern status of the legend of the Once and Future King, Arthur.* The notion of Arthur is prevalent across the lower parts of England and Wales and has a particularly strong presence in Winchester. Yet through the looking glass I have discovered a lack of knowledge pertaining to the legends and figure heads that exist nation-wide and a disregard in the existence of those who follow the myths of the North. I am not denying the fact that a figure such as Robin Hood could be an ideological theme to suit and satisfy the much put-upon peasant classes of the early middle-ages and therefore may not be truthful but the theory is that a legend or myth has some basis in fact. So here I wish to explain the beginnings and theories of the devious archer that dominates the history of Nottingham and the south of Yorkshire.
The stories of Robin Hood originate from around the 14th century, and are a follow-up of the antics of Arthur in ballad and poetical forms. While Arthur holds the title of king, Robin is the anti-king who as an outlaw reinforces the stereotypical divide in the north and south over who reigns over the land, something of which can be disputed. Despite being described as being one of the lower-class he follows the same chivalric order of honour and wisdom due to his familiar ‘steal from the rich to feed the poor’ statement. He offers the same charitable and kindness that a man ought to show to those less fortunate than them. Yet there is reason to believe that the legend of Robin first began as one of the nobility, he appears in official court records under the name of Robert Hod who was exiled from court for some misdeed. This could establish and explain the legend of his disregard for the wealthy and be the beginnings of stealthy skirmishes to regularly steal from the Sheriff of Nottingham and King John of England when he is known to be near Nottingham.
While Robin remains a fixture in popular culture, see Morecambe and Wise, Blackadder Back and Forth and several silver screen adaptations, the discussion of his existence is still a questionable thought. His romanticised relationship with Maid Marion was enough to convince Disney that he needed attention. In the film he was brought to life as a fox possibly outlining thoughts that he was not noble but a metaphorical urban issue that needs to be dealt with; as at the time of its release in 1973 fox hunting and culling was occurring at an almost increased amount across America. It established Robin as a myth in English folk law discouraging children from delving deeper into history to discover the fact behind the animalistic fiction.
He lives and breathes in Sherwood Forest where his songs and legend is still celebrated today. For those who do not believe me, take the Lime or Purple bus line from Nottingham City Centre to see the festivals in action and join the medieval merry-making in costume and drama. Hood is designed to be a sociable creature that interacts with people from all social levels and has a dedicated crew to help him with the initial plan of “steal from the rich” and make life a little less monotonous with living in a forest. The most famous of his ‘merry-men’ are Friar Tuck and Little John. Little John initially originates from Derbyshire with his name switched from John Little. Robin and John started their companionship as enemies and the ballads slowly follow the route in which they become compatriots. The irony is that ‘Little’ John is known to have been a man at around seven feet tall and he became the beginnings of a long tradition of a hero having a side-kick with the traits of John. He was thought to have been a straight-forward man that could be mistaken for dim-wittedness, an enduring trait that is often given to side-kicks even today. There is some doubt over whether John, just like Robin, existed. However, in 1789 in the parish churchyard in Hathersage, Derby a thighbone of a man thought to of the height John would have been that has been dated from the period in which Robin and John were supposed to live.
The merry man known as Friar Tuck comes from what was happening during the 14th centuries. Tuck once belonged to a monastery in York but it is thought he was expelled for reasons unclear. He is meant to underpin issues that was coursing through the Catholic Church in England during the 1300’s in that monks did not lead a celibate life, but enjoyed good food, wine and expensive tastes that came from the extensive lands that the church owned. Some adaptations of the Robin Hood ballads show Tuck as a kindly helpful monk but still show self-righteousness that the Church was thought to display because of the authority over people that they are given.
The main adversary for Robin Hood is the Sheriff of Nottingham, meant to keep law and order in his area but through the stories and ballads is known to be a bit a failure in both controlling Robin and keeping order in Nottingham. All three of the main characters appear from early on in the ballads suggesting the influence for the characterisation of them was already set into the English midlands culture of the 14th century. The fact that the Sheriff is shown to be greedy and corrupt is meant to represent the officials of shires who mean to sift money from the taxes that come in before being sent on to the king, a theory that still has grounding today.
The fact that the stories are still well-known today shows the strength of the oral culture that eventually will get written down by scholars or fans of the ballads sung at festivals or around camp fires. All the known Robin Hood stories can still be bought today in any book shop for anyone wishing to know the mischief in which Robin gets himself into.
*The years of Arthur from childhood to adulthood is documented in 5 chronological stories in the “Once and Future King” by T.H.White published in 1958 now available in all good book stores.