My favourite wonders of Historical Italy

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A warm welcome to: ‘My favourite wonders of Italy blog!’ During the summer of 2014 I was lucky enough to explore a land renowned for its history and beauty, Italy. This post will count down my favourite wonders of Historical Italy and feature the conventional familiarities of Italy and the added novelty!

The balcony of the Palazzo Venezia-

When I entered the city of Rome aside from wanting to visit the Trevi fountain, Spanish Steps and the famous coliseum I was also particularly interested in seeing the Palazzo Venezia. The Palazzo Venezia was originally a complex that housed the cardinals of the adjoined San Marco church and later became a papal residence to Pope Pius IV. However, as the title suggests I was interested in the balcony. The balcony was a very poignant moment of Italian history as it became synonymous with Mussolini’s most notable speeches. In particular, it was where he declared the formation of the Italian Empire in 1936 and Italy’s entering the Second War as allies to Nazi Germany. I found it was very striking to see a building in Rome, a city famous for the Romans and Michelangelo that gave a different perspective to the History of the city.

Here is the clip of Mussolini’s declaration of war speech on Great Britain and France with English subtitles included- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Vf_gUvPVUU

Siena Palio-

The Siena Palio is a festival that takes place in the city of Siena, Tuscany at the Piazza del Campo and consists of a horse race that mimics medieval chivalry. Both of the races honour the Madonna of Provenzano and the Assumption of Mary (Mary’s assent to heaven) respectively. The term Palio is meant to represent a banner that each horse rider wears when they race. Seventeen teams compete in order to win the trophy and the teams consist of the different districts of Siena and during the competition banners of the seventeen districts are distributed in the city. The Palio takes place twice a year on 2 July and 16 August. However, not all seventeen horses can take part at any one time, normally ten horses take part at each Palio. The seven that did not take part in the last Palio are instantly included to race for the next year. Similarly a ballot takes place in order to determine which horse would race for each district. Although the origins of the Palio are not exact it is often agreed that they have medieval origin. The Piazza hosted many public events for spectators to watch, some of which include; jousting and bull fighting. In 1590 however bullfighting was outlawed and very soon after races were established whilst still using the bulls to ride on. Eventually the bulls were replaced with horses. Even though I did not visit Siena at the time of the Palio it was a spectacle in itself to stand in the middle of the Piazza del Campo and imagining how lively the atmosphere of race day would be! So, who would you put your money on for 2015? Team Drago (Dragon) or are you more of a wise Team Civetta (Little owl).

Gelato (there was plenty of them)!-

Gelato. It is like the fish to chips or the mayonnaise to Belgian frites? Wherever you go in Italy, it is impossible to not find a Gelato parlour. Riva Del Garda? Gelato. Verona? Gelato. Venice? Gelato. Rome? Gelato. Florence? Gelato. Perugia? Yes the answer is without a doubt, Gelato. Though frozen desert making traces back to outside Italy, the history of the Gelato spans many years with its origins lying back towards Roman times. The Romans had established trade routes between the mountains and distributing the ice to settlements. The shaving of ice added to deserts occurred until Italy adopted a recipe from the Far East, whereby milk was added. During the 15th and 16th centuries the “Italian” Gelato was beginning to take shape, this was mainly due to a better understanding of refrigerating the ice cream. As the years went by and technology improved further through the use of machines making the Gelatos on a larger scale, it reached more and more Italians. This eventually resulted in street vendors selling Gelatos in the 1920s and 1930s, reaching a variety of people on the streets of Italy.

Renaissance Florence, the birthplace of perspective-

Florence is the capital of the Tuscany region and is considered to be where the Renaissance movement was established from the fourteenth century. The Renaissance was a period in history that I did not know much about before visiting Florence and the city ended up being the highlight of my trip. Of course I had heard of Michelangelo’s David and the famous Uffizi art museum, however intrigued as I was I had wished to know more about the origins of the Renaissance and was advised to visit a pair of doors by a local guide. The doors in question were at the north side of Florence Cathedral (originally east side). The guide soon elaborated the background story of how the doors came about and said that a competition was announced by the Wool Guild of Florence in order to design them. It was a twenty one year old by the name of Lorenzo Ghiberti that was chosen to design the doors, although initially another sculptor by the name of Fillipo Brunelleschi aided him. The doors were said to depict the “Gates of Paradise” and were considered to be influential for Renaissance Humanism. However Brunelleschi is remembered for the doors but did not finish the task with him as he left Florence to reside in Rome, but he became most famous for the usage of linear perspective in artwork. This was different to previous art works before this period as he used optical linear perspective for the design of one of the panels for the Florence Cathedral. This technique aided artists to paint three dimensionally. In spite of the panels being lost just looking at the detail on the doors at the north side showed how revolutionary perspective was.

The Eastern Front

When most people think of World War I, they think of the trenches in Western France and Belgium and the horrific war of attrition that occurred there. Today, I am going to discuss the Eastern Front and the major events and implications of the battles that took place in Central and Eastern Europe.

The German Schlieffen plan proposed a rapid attack through France and Belgium which would quickly capture Paris, and force a French surrender. Germany could then quickly re-mobilise its forces on its border with Russia and start attacking the Russians. However, with the entry of England into the war after the German attack on Belgium and the quick creation of trenches, the German advance into France and Belgium ground to a halt after initial success. Therefore, Germany was unable to achieve its aim of capturing Paris and forcing France out of the war, and also was unable to commit all of its troops to the Eastern Front.

Russia hoped to take advantage of its geographic position; it could easily invade East Prussia and also shared a large border with Austria-Hungary and Germany, meaning it could commit troops across its border and therefore stretch out the Austrian and German defences. The length of the front (about 990 miles) meant that the trench warfare which characterised the Western Front could not occur, and therefore the battle lines were much more mobile and changed hands quickly.

In August 1914, the Russians started their campaign with an invasion of East Prussia. The first battle of the Eastern Front, the Battle of Stallupönen ended with a small German victory, but it did not prevent the continuation of the Russian advance. A Russian victory at Gumbinnen further bolstered the Russian advance. However, the Battle of Tannenburg was a decisive German victory, which destroyed much of the Russian 2nd Army and also prevented any further Russian advance. The Battle of the Masurian Lakes spelled the end of the Russian invasion of East Prussia, as they suffered another defeat and were forced to withdraw from the region.

On the front with the Austrian-Hungarians, an invasion of Galicia (now part of Ukraine) was a complete success for the Russians, which caused a great deal of panic for the German command and they diverted a number of divisions to the region. The Battles of the Vistula River and Lodz reinforced Russia’s position in the region. Although the Battle of Lodz was a draw, the Austrians were unable to completely destroy the Russians and they held their position in Galicia.

In 1915, the Battle of the Masurian Lakes kicked off the year’s fighting with a German victory. This battle precipitated the expulsion of Russia from Polish Russia and left the Russians in a bad situation on the Northern front. In Galicia, Russia had much more success. The Brusilov Offensive was a complete success for the Russians as it effectively destroyed Austria-Hungary’s military capabilities. This was a disaster for the Central Powers and it was a massive scare for Germany and it endangered the entire Eastern Front. However, the offensive was stalled almost as soon as it had begun as many troops were diverted home to suppress civil unrest. The entry of Romania into the war in late 1916 was yet another difficulty for the Central Powers as they had to contend with a new influx of Allied forces.

However any initial success the Romanians had were quickly ended through a joint invasion of the country by Germany, Bulgaria and Austria Hungary. Bulgaria quickly advanced to a position very close to Bucharest (the Romanian capital) and in a desperate attempt to defend their nation, the Bulgarians suffered huge casualties. Overall, the Allies attempt to bring Romania into the war was a complete disasters, as it achieved no military success, forced Russia to divert troops to help prevent Romania from completely collapse and was a large propaganda boost for the Central Powers.

The Russian military disasters and other social factors led to the Russian Revolution in 1917. The complete chaos Russia was in allowed the Central Powers to advance deep into Russia (the Central Powers forces almost reached St Petersburg.) The combination of complete military disaster and the Revolution led to the Russian surrender and the treaty of Brest-Litovsk which was had very harsh terms; one of which was the surrender of all of Russia’s Eastern Europe holdings.

The Stigma of Illegitimacy in Medieval England and Wales

The stigma of illegitimacy is a mark that remained prevalent up until the late twentieth century, yet none more so then in the England of the 13th century. Due to the Catholic Church of the 1200’s condemnation of sex outside marriage, fornication with the result of an illegitimate child was a sin. However within the royal circles of England even with the potentially damning notion of being a bastard child of a king or courtier this did not prevent the possibility of reaching greatness, notoriety or under Welsh law, the throne.

Despite the Catholic Church preaching against sexual relations out of wedlock illegitimate children born to kings is nothing new. William the Conqueror himself was an illegitimate child of the Duke of Normandy, Robert I, and this did not prevent him from gaining the crown of England through conquest and good leadership. In the days before 1066 when general primogeniture came in, Anglo-Saxon rulers chose their successor by who they thought best could rule often meaning their own children could be over-looked in favour of their siblings regardless of social stature in legitimacy. Technically under English law, an illegitimate line could not claim the throne unless done so by conquest or they were the only line left by way of heirs. Only a will left by their predecessor could over-rule this law under special circumstances. But even then an illegitimate line would have an unstable hold to the crown unless they create a proven dynasty much like when Henry VII took the throne in 1485. His tenuous link as a great-grandchild of John of Gaunt, the royal uncle of Richard II, was only solidified by the victory at Stoke battle, and the siring of a male line by his wife Elizabeth of York.

Although illegitimate children are a subject that confuses a lot of general history and the notion of building a long dynasty, it is a particular problem when discussing those who reigned during the 13th century in England and Wales. King John of England and Llywellyn the Great of Wales (Llywellyn Fawr) are contemporaries of each other and are linked through their treatment of their illegitimate offspring. In this era marriages are made for political and economic reasons and for securing a male line to succeed the throne, they were hardly ever made for love. Therefore it is almost natural that most men would seek to find love matches outside of marriage in terms of a mistress or concubine. There is hypocrisy here as women, particularly queens or those of the aristocracy, were forbade from taking lovers as this would damage future dynastic ambitions if her child was not that of the kings, while a man could sow his wild oats as he wills to without repercussions.

Between John and Llywellyn the discussion on their children begins with whether he acknowledges a concubine’s child as his. There is a long history of illegitimate children being unrecognised as a royal bastard and the mother cast out of society as being unchaste and no longer a maid. Usually a mistress is a married woman so if a child is conceived it would be given out to be the cuckolded husbands but rarely are the people at court fooled. A prime example of this would be the two elder children of Mary Boleyn, Katherine and Henry Carey, who are reputed to be the fruits of Mary’s liaison with Henry VIII which is widely discussed and argued by historians today. All of John and Llywellyn’s children that they knew of were acknowledged and given places at court and societal honours. The main link between these two men would be John’s illegitimate daughter Joan (Joanna – born to a woman named Clemence), who was married to Llywellyn in 1203.

King John of England had continued the reputation of the Angevin kings in keeping mistresses and being open with favours of the sexual kind. Himself being the last child of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the third king in the House of Plantagenet, he had grown up surrounded by half-brothers born from his father’s mistresses after his marriage to Eleanor fell apart. Usually John is portrayed by historian as a harsh temperamental man, but many ignore the fact that his family including his children in and out of wedlock never wanted for anything. Looking at sources it can be confusing picking out those born before either of John’s wedding as he had a tendency to give his children the same name. His marriage to Isabelle of Angouleme gave him five children including his son Henry III but his brief trysts made him father to at last seventeen. Here though it can be seen that even if his illegitimate children were barred from the throne, they at least gained offices, baronies and in some case earldoms. Most of John’s children were boys, it is in fact known that Joan was his first daughter and he doted on her exceedingly. All children were well travelled, Joan is known to have spent some years in Fontevrault with Eleanor of Aquitaine in the years before she died in 1204.

John’s illegitimate boys, in particular Baron Richard of Chilham, were all involved politically and socially in the realm’s state business including some military careers. It could be said that even if they did not gain glittering marriages, they were married well to women of substance and of good dowries considering the black mark that would usually smear their names. After careful research, historians have discovered that John’s children ended up scattered across Europe holding positions in the papal legate, an abbess, clerks and knights. This causes to question whether it is because of John the stigma is held lightly or whether the church was not as unforgiving as previously thought. Under papal rule a country could only pass their crown to a legitimate heir

In Wales, however, the mark of illegitimacy was thought of in a different light. In the Snowdon Mountains the eldest male born to a prince is heir, regardless of the legitimacy. Llywellyn ap Iorwerth of the House of Aberffaw, and later the House of Gwynedd once he was invested Prince of Wales, had eight children but only two of whom are considered to be born from his wife Joan. Llywellyn is known to have had two or three of his children from a mistress called Tangwystl ferch Llywarch, who died in childbirth with another of Llywellyn’s children. The eldest Gruffydd ap Llywellyn (‘ap’ – son of) became infamous during the wars following Llywellyn Fawr’s death with Dafydd ap Llywellyn, his half-brother. He was born in 1196 and in being the eldest child of Llywellyn he was named heir despite being illegitimate. This came into dispute when Llywellyn married Joan of England as she was Norman French and John’s daughter. England followed the church’s teachings in not allowing illegitimate lines to rule, so when Joan had Dafydd ap Llywellyn in 1212 the English backed Dafydd’s right to rule Wales in the place of Gruffydd. This was deemed strange to the welsh considering that Llywellyn had twin sons by a concubine Cristyn, Angharad and Tegwarad, who were also older than Dafydd and technically came second and third in line under Welsh law.

Here you can see the issues when two countries on the same land who followed different laws in regards to continuing a dynastic line. Gruffydd was thought to be thoroughly displaced at the birth of Dafydd as under English law it diminishes his status, and his resentment of Joan has come down through history purely for being Norman-French and having a son who has papal following as well as the backing of two countries. Llywellyn Fawr foreseeing the problems of his two sons, particularly the flaws in Gruffydd, started to work towards declaring Dafydd as his sole heir. He followed Lord Rhys of Deheubarth’s lead by rewriting Welsh law favouring children born into a church sanctioned marriage to promote Anglo-Welsh negotiations for future descendants. The Welsh however have been known in the Middle Ages to prefer a Welsh leader signifying the beginning of a war that lasts until Gruffydd fell from a tower in the Tower of London trying to escape in 1244. The bricked up window can still be seen today. Dafydd then rules exclusively until his death in 1246 when Gruffydd’s second son Llywellyn ap Gruffydd became effectively the first ‘Prince of All Wales’. Welsh independence only lasted until Llywellyn ap Gruffydd’s death as then Wales was subsumed by the English crown, through the right of Dafydd ap Llywellyn’s heirs, and the conquest of Edward I of England, a somewhat cousin of Dafydd ap Llywellyn.

The last of the Welsh Prince’s line was a daughter, Gwenllian of Wales, who was kept in confinement for her entire life by Edward I to prevent her from marrying and producing more Welsh heirs. She died alone in Lincolnshire aged fifty-five in 1337, despite being the great-granddaughter of John of England as well as Llywellyn the Great, due to being of the legitimate line of Dafydd.

The Legacy of Edward I: Beyond Robert Bruce and the Scots

This is something I worked on sometime ago. Now I am a medievalist but Late Medieval England is certainly not my thing. I had to do some research about Edward I as an undergraduate and I found it quite tough, as I wasn’t all that interested…However, the approach I took helped me understand a monarch and period in English History which is sometimes too focused on the events up in Scotland, and the quarrels between the English crown and Scotland. So, in the following lines, I invite you to consider this subject with different eyes, under a different light.

What was the legacy this king left? Was it all about the war with Scotland? Or about the fantastic collection of castles he left behind? Admittedly, we can see some resonance of the events of 1295-1307 and the fight against Robert Bruce and his fellow Scots in recent events: the Scottish referendum for independence happened now a few weeks ago. Certainly, the castle Edward built are magnificent pieces of architecture and represent a great network design for the defense of the country. In addition, Edward was successful in his military campaigns in both Wales and Gascony, but all these wars and building work drove his finances mad. Yet he developed some interesting ideas to get some coin to carry on his expensive military campaigns. In fact he was the first king to enjoy direct taxes, and also had the idea to tax the clergy, perhaps copied by the French king . But he needed more money. Considering that only the conquest of Wales implied £ 273,000, plus £ 750,000 more that he used to finance the conflicts during 1294-8, by 1307 he had spent almost £ 1.3 million…Edward needed a banker. He made himself acquaintance of the Simonetti family, who controlled part of the Riccardi Bank of Lucca. However the Simonetti ended up banned from the public offices of the Italian city and, eventually, led Edward to bankruptcy, or close enough to decide to make a change in his financial adviser cabinet- just like in modern politics.  In 1299 he turned his allegiance to the Frecobaldi family, from Florence, who had opened a an office in London in the 1270s. With new monetary support, Edward was ready now to carry on his enterprises, however his debt was enormous and it took a long time to recover from this medieval money “crisis”.

So far, Edward had projected the prospect of war and money deficit. Could things get worse? Well, the historian Stirckland points out that, apparently, during the last years of his life Edward turned into a violent man, a legacy that his son and grandson adopted too. Perhaps related with his angst was the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. Other acts of violence were performed by the man, although it is difficult to asses if they were a necessary evil of his wars or just pure anger. As a consequence we have several executions: Prince Daffydd in 1283, Rhys ap Maredudd in 1292 and William Wallace in 1305. To the pile of corpses, we must add the earl of Atholl, who became the first earl to be executed since 1076. It seems that Robert Bruce rebellion only made things worse, and the treatment he gave to his supporters and subjects has been recorded as nasty and shocking. Nonetheless, Edward had a good heart and intentions, at least when the conversation topic wasn’t that of war. He is well-known for being an incredibly active lawmaker. This has been disputed by some historians who attributed this success to his ministers. However, the evidences show that the new policies were made and worked out when he was in England, and while he was away, they just provided an effective government. Some examples of his advanced law system are the Statute of Westminster I (1275), about the liberties, and the Statute of Gloucester (1278), which made a point about liberties exercised before the king’s judgement. Moreover, the Statute of Mortmain (1279) forbid the granting of property to the church “unless the lord licensed it”, while the Statute of Westminster II(1285) discussed the rights between tenants and landowners. And, finally, those of Quo Warranto and Quia Emptores (1290) about franchise and tenures.

 

Nevertheless, many of these things are not regarded as part of his achievements or part of the legacy he left. Someone else could have conquered Wales. Some other king could have developed such laws. And certainly, he was not the only one that became bankrupt and created a violent environment. But there is only one thing that wouldn’t have been the same without Edward I and that has an immediate impact in the history of England, and thus shall be considered as his ultimate legacy. And that would be his son: Edward II. Edward II supposed the decline of all the might that his father was. He didn’t have his father’s courage nor his determination. He didn’t achieve much in any way. His legacy was one of unnecessary violence and incompetence. And so, we have to conclude that, if Edward II wouldn’t have been such a neglectful heir, the Scottish war would have been ended differently, and perhaps England’s finances would reach a healthier status sooner…

 

I guess I have one last and skeptic question. I have had some time now to reflect on my research and considerations of Edward I and his legacy and, although my point still stands about his other work and the futility of his son’s reign, I wonder if this was necessary. Playing my favourite historical game- Counterfactual History- I come to the conclusion that perhaps this was fated. What if Edward II wasn’t? Would we have got an Edward III? Well I guess the straight forward answer is: NO. And of course, that would have meant that one of the most renown medieval kings of England would have to be erased from the history books too…

 

Life of John Wesley

The Life of John Wesley is extremely important in English history; the man was at the heart of the Methodist movement. He was born on 17 June 1703, so as I am writing this he was born 311 years ago!  He is one of three famous leaders of the movement, along with his brother Charles, and George Whitefield (whose importance has been recently noted and has been credited much more than before).  John Wesley however, has been argued as the key player, with a strict and tough attitude, he ensured that things were done correctly and smoothly.

His father and mother were also deeply religious, and there strict parenthood stayed with Wesley his entire life. His Father was a rector for the Church of England.  Mrs. Wesley’s first care was to teach her children obedience.  Allowing her to rule her very large household but also in her mind to secure the happiness of her children.  It allowed her to treat her children with illnesses easier, as they would take any medicine.  Whilst as a young child, he managed to survive two fires that happened in his family house.  His father cared little for the house but more for the lives of his children.  John never complained about his upbringing in his journals.

Although brought up in a religious family, Wesley was not converted until 1738. He went to Georgia to mission to the Native Americans; however he came away from the experience, down hearted and doubted his belief.  It was not until he unwilling went to a meeting and heard Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.  Wesley came out a changed man and a few weeks later, began to preach on doctrine of personal salvation by faith, followed by one, on God’s grace which was labelled “free in all, and free for all.

The Wesley that is most known to us, is Wesley the Methodist leader. It must be noted that he was never ever against the Church of England.  The Methodists were not vastly different from them, they were just more aware of the problem that the Church of England was facing and showed ‘enthusiasm’ which was not appreciated in the CoE.  His Brother Charles Wesley even stated that he believed that he had a ‘role as the champion of the Church of England’.  Methodism did not split from the CoE until after both John and Charles death, when the problems of the French revolution and individuals rose up, causing the big split.

Wesley did not have a simple or relaxing life; in fact it was a hard one, mostly filled with travelling and mobs who threatened his life. John Wesley usually travelled on horseback, in sun or in storms, preaching at least two or three times each day. It is claimed that he rode 250,000 miles, gave away 30,000 pounds, … and preached more than 40,000 sermons.  Wesley’s charity was only limited by his income. At Oxford he lived on twenty-eight pounds, and gave away the rest to the poor and the society.  As his income increased, his charities extended.  His care for the poor and the weak are advent in his sermons, in which in constructed specifically for them, ensuring it was used in language they could understand.  The mobs were usually stirred up by bishops, particularly in the south of England, where the CoE had the most security.  They were jealous of Charles and Johns popularity and were often attacked, either beaten up or the mob trying to stone them.

However he was not the only Methodist preacher around, he was ordained by the Church of England, like his brother, but John knew that more preachers were needed for the work, this resulted in the creation of lay-preachers, and these were not ordained, but men from all backgrounds whom were believed to have the skills required to preach. They were often living in poverty and in hardship, however eventually in 1752 it was arranged that the preachers should receive an income of twelve pounds a year, in order to provide themselves with clothes, and lodging was found by the Societies.  John Wesley had founded an organization that could look after itself and for each other.

Wesley has often been called loveless, this is entirely untrue, in fact he had loved many times. There are many times where Wesley was in love, however, his constant travelling and unfortunate mishaps, ensured he would not marry until he met Grace Murray, who was widowed when her husband had drowned at sea.  John told Charles that he wished to marry her, not for her birth, but for her own character and worth.  Her neatness, her carefulness, her strong sense, and her sterling piety had won his highest esteem.  Sadly it did not happen, as Charles convinced grace to marry Bennet.  He did not approve of the marriage.  John’s life was not easy or simple, his marriage to Mrs. Vazeille in 1751 was not an easy one, it was quite an unhappy marriage.

Wesley’s “Sermons” had an enormous circulation. They were prepared for the press rather than for the pulpit. The first series, consisting of fifty-three sermons, was published in four small volumes between 1746 and 1760. These four volumes, with Wesley’s ‘Notes on the New Testament’, form the doctrinal standard of Methodism.  His preaching was also something to behold, and was unique, he held the crowd’s attention who waited on every word spoken.

Wesley’s last words were, “Farewell, farewell.”, he cried out, “The best of all is, God is with us,” lifted his arms and raised his feeble voice again, repeating the words, “The best of all is, God is with us.” A deeply religious man, Wesley remained until his death, and his influence has remained within nonconformist circles, with him being noted for his faith and work he did in the 18th century.  His skills as a speaker, as a carer for the poor, as a man who did his upmost to help those in need; certainly make him stand out as a figure in history.  The Methodist movement was extremely important in 18th century history and this was mainly due to John Wesley.

 

Bibliography

Telford., John http://wesley.nnu.edu/ ‘The Life of John Wesley’

Tomkins, Stephen,. John Wesley: a biography. (Oxford: Lion Books : 2003)

A rise of an Empire-Sweden

Everyone knows of the great Vikings that lived in the Scandinavian lands in the first millennium AD. However, not much is known about the great Swedish Empire from the 17th century to the 18th century.  These men were as great as their ancestors, defeating army after army in the name of God.  Showing no fear, walking into the fire of the Holy Roman Empire/Spanish/Polish troops and emerging from the smoke and hitting the enemy lines.  This Lutheran Empire had arisen and had the greatest military and political system of the time.  The country brought fear into its enemies and saw itself as a liberator.  Liberator of what you may ask?  Well they saw Catholicism as a repressive force that put down their brothers and sisters in Europe, they were there to change this.  Of course some (or a lot) of their information was clear propaganda, but that didn’t stop King Gustav II, using it to spur his men on.

So where did Sweden come from? Well it formed as a country during the Medieval period, but rose as a separate country after it distanced itself and eventually removed itself from the Kalmar Union in the 16th century.  Now this deserves its own blog post, but to put it simply, the Union was meant to help control the Baltic sea but Sweden under Gustav the 1st got fed up with Denmark trying to dominate the Union, therefore it left, causing Denmark and Norway to sign a pact of union soon after.  Sweden was now on its own, but that would not stop it!

The Swedish Empire emerged from the ruins of a war torn Europe in the Thirty years war. The reason why the war itself was fought has often been debated as one of religious, political or economic means.  Whatever you think of the war (personally I see it as a political and economic war), the fact that Sweden emerged as the third largest country under the leadership of Gustavus Adolphus and his successors such as Christina, is a great achievement. So why did Sweden do so well in the war? Well the inspiring leadership and great tactics of Gustavus the Great (The only Swedish King to be given the label of Great) ensured that the Swedish army won victory after victory after victory.  They seemed to be unstoppable.  The men were well treated, unlike traditional armies; the cavalry were treated in the same way as the musketeers, pikeman and artillerymen.  They were all taught each other’s tactics and could do each other’s role, therefore the pikemen could fire muskets and the musketeers could ride a horse.  In the battle of Brientfield in 1631, the Swedish cavalry captured the guns of the Holy Roman Empire and allies, turned them on the enemy and caused a huge amount of damage.  Gustavus also used his men more effectively, shallower lines, so that the artillery damage would not be as great as to those in large formations as that used by the Spanish and Catholic troops.

The Swedish men also had great conviction, they had iron discipline and did not hesitate when been shot at by musket fire, they marched on towards the enemy, they drove fear in the hearts of those who faced them. This is due to many reasons, they had faith that they were doing the lords work, that they were bringing freedom to an area under Catholic tyranny.  They also had priests with them in battle who stirred up their hearts.  They had great loyalty to their king and to their nation.  Therefore the army under Gustavus was probably one of the best armies in Early Modern Europe, it could never be defeated.  Even when outnumbered, it seemed that it would still win.

Gustavus Adolphus died in battle in 1632 whilst leading his men in a cavalry charge, his men followed him, and he never hid away from danger, as he was shot a year before by a Polish musketeer and had lost the movement in two of his fingers, but yet continued to fight. With him leading them on for inspiration, the men felt they could not loose.  His death did not spark an end to the rise of the Empire however, in fact the Swedish army were full of great generals who followed his great example and led to more victories.

Politically Sweden was also more ‘advanced’ than its Catholic enemies; the King had to listen to a council. Whilst the king raged his wars, the council would look after the country domestically, and in this time period, the council was well run and efficient.   Gustvaus also ensured greater autonomy for peasants in the conquered lands, and was a reformer.

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 granted Sweden land that extended its Empire to great lengths. It gave it voting rights in some of the Holy Roman Empires land, it got the trade that it wanted and it showed itself as the leader of the protestant forces.  Sweden’s military dominance would last until the early 18th century where Carlos Rex, or Charles XII, was defeated by Peter the Great, which marked an end to one Empire, and rise to another, perhaps greater one.  The Battle, was Poltava, you may see a blog post about this coming up very shortly!

Therefore Sweden’s rise changed Europe; The Lion from the North had won the war for the Protestants and was well respected. Europe had changed, and it was Sweden that was leading this change, it was Sweden who had shaped Europe, and it was Sweden who was the greatest nation.  The men of Sweden have to be admired, the Caroleans were the greatest troop for this time, defeating the Spanish formations with ease, and destroying the Saxon and Polish armies with great swiftness.  In England, we know very little of this, it did not in fact us directly, so I guess the attitude is that we don’t need to learn about it.  I argue strongly against this, the Swedish domination is one that did affect us.  The European landscape had changed; it would have greatly affected British foreign policy.  Maybe after I have done my degree and hopefully my MA, I will head off to Sweden, study there and who knows stay there.  After all, Sweden’s modern history is amazing!

Methodism in the 18th century-an Introduction

Often Religion gets a bad name in history, and rightly so in some cases. Religion has caused wars and the like.  As a Christian, I have heard these arguments time and time again; would it surprise you that I agree with that?  People use it as an excuse to do evil and to rule others.  I think all who know some history have seen that.  However Protestantism can be quite confusing, it is split into many different denominations, which mainly get along pretty well, but have different views on certain aspects, which mean they decided to go to different churches!  However that being said, most Protestants see each other as brothers and sisters, who follow the same faith but in a different way, you hardly ever hear one call themselves religious!  Methodism is one of these denominations, in which broke from the Church of England as it felt it was not doing enough to those in rural areas, far away from a church.  It noticed that the CoE was not moving to the cities and John Wesley decided to act!  With that introduction into explaining what Methodism is, let us begin the journey into 18th century Britain!

Methodism is something that has been criticised by E.P. Thompson as holding the working classes back; that it was a middle class movement that oppressed the working class. It is ironic that E.P. Thompson attacks Methodist Sunday schools, when it was them that allowed him to read a variety of books, even socialist books, and allow him to form the opinion that he held.  However, it has been defended and shown that in fact the efforts of John and Charles Wesley, along with the efforts of George Whitfield had a positive impact upon the people of England.

The Church of England has often been criticised in the 18th century, historians have said it was ineffective, dull and fading away.  This view has changed in recent years.  The Church provided for the poor, the vicar acted as the local vet, it cared for its congregation.  However Methodism offered something more, something different.  People flocked from all over to hear the Wesley’s preach, granted there were a few occasions where their lives were in danger, and somehow survived from being killed by mobs, but in some sermons in the outdoors, around 10,000 people came to hear what he had to say.  This may not seem such a large amount in the present day, but this was in rural areas in 18th century Britain, where populations of villages and towns were small, so 10,000 is a huge figure.  At the speeches, very strange events were noticed, people shook, people screamed, people danced; it scared the upper classes, that these people were showing emotion.  Wesley and other Methodist leaders were seen as revolutionaries, trying to stir up trouble!

Methodism had many positives on English society; firstly, it allowed the challenging of the normal social concepts. It was the Methodists who decided to allow Women to preach to read and to have a higher standing than men in the church.  This was not allowed in the Church of England.  The question must be asked as to whether this help move forward woman’s ideals for equality with men.  This was not only a Methodist viewpoint, in fact, many of the non-conformist doctrine encouraged similar things.  I put forward the idea that non conformist’s movements on the whole were progressive and have been since the 17th century or even the Reformation.

Methodism also gave the poor a chance to be able to read and write, to meet up, to help each other financially. By being able to read and write, it allowed them to access a lot of literature and books, allowing them to become politicised.  The rich could finally connect with the poor and each there away their social standing whilst in a Methodism meeting.  This allowed the classes to mingle to understand each other.  In fact in a meeting, class meant nothing, the poor could preach to the rich and vice versa, it was a place was equality, and this stretched not from single meetings, but to those on the continent and of course America.

From the 18th century to the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution and agricultural revolution emerge, allowing Britain to take the lead as the main manufacturer in the world.  At the time it was seen as a glorious time, the golden age, but that view is now often debated, looking at it from a modern perspective, one gets the sense that it may have been a dark time for the British people.  I mean the poor were exploited; people lived in horrendous conditions whilst the rich and the middle class lived lives of luxury.  The Methodist industrial owners where known generally for being better to their workman, than others in general.  Of course this was not always the case, but it was generally thought that the Methodist middle class was generally better to its workforce.  They provided for them and did encourage them to read.  The Methodist middle class were the main drivers to abolish the slave trade in the British Isles.  They were influential of politics, they were extremely important in these centuries!  Therefore perhaps they were a light in an elite which often are seen as evil capitalists.

The question debating Methodism is huge, and one that I have tackled before, was it a revolutionary movement? I put it to you the reader that perhaps it was an evolutionary movement that brought around change without violence, that it improved people’s lives and ensured that people actually looked out for each other.  Their importance in the 18th century is also huge and can be looked at in a variety of ways.  It challenged ideas, got mingled with the French Revolution and produced some of the greatest speakers in English History.  They were loyal subjects to the crown and without them; many have asked if the Industrial Revolution would have ever had been possible.  This is only a short introduction to the topic; Methodism played a huge roll in many aspects of life in the 18th century, so much so that it would require many, many blog posts to cover it.  I hope this introduction will help and that you can see its positive impact.

Everyday life, everyday war. Taxis at the Marne.

So here you are: you are out in the rain; you are late; you call a taxi cab. Those traditional black cabs in London, the all-famous yellow cabs of New York…Business as usual. Now think again: you are out, albeit maybe not in the rain; you are running out of time and, oh yes, this is a war and the enemy is at the gates. You may not think that calling a taxi cab is a good idea right now. But then again you may be proved wrong. And now all taxis are gone.

Interestingly enough, when trying to reach the origins of the word, you will find, for instance, that almost each article of the Wikipedia, either in French or English shows a different version. So appealing for a WWI related article… There is the Romantic version of the Von Taxis family, charged by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian with the responsibility of establishing a courier line between Holland and France (this is also compelling from our point of view) and keeping a growing business which involved mail, people and parcels throughout Europe and along the centuries, Hence the name “taxi”. Then there is the boring, but plausible, version of taxi as a form of tax, or fee, applied to the transport and different variations on this team that put the accent on a local entrepreneur.

Anyway, taxis are means of transport which for us are always available (except when we really need one). But in 1914, near Paris, the situation was far worse than having to pick a cab under the rain at peak hour downtown with your shopping bags soaking and getting late to an important appointment. There was a war there. And the local team and allies were losing it. But everyday life was on the verge of coming to the rescue in the form of some hundreds of four-wheel vehicles. In fact the important point here is how everyday life came to fight amidst the armies of the world and played an important part during the war. Like the Paris taxis did in what is now sometimes known as the “Miracle of the Marne”.

In fact, the so-called miracle was more about human force of will than divine intervention, and the Paris taxis were just one factor among others in the Allies effort to stop the German offensive. General Gallieni, in command of the Paris forces, saw an opportunity for attack in a change of direction of Von Kluck’s army. Finding an exposed flank, Gallieni, who have been very active rallying the Parisians to defend their city and believed that Germans must be stopped at all costs, first asked for troops, then asked for using them (in a very forcible way, it seems) in an offensive way so precipitating a general counteroffensive that, until this point, was everything but certain.

In order to carry troops in time to the front, some rough 40 miles away from Paris, in the valley of the Ourcq, Gallieni had to resort to everything available. Given that at least a hundred taxicabs were already in active service for the Paris Military Authority, the next step was almost inevitable. Gallieni’s Chief of Staff, General Clergerie, made the calculations: six hundred cars, transporting five soldiers each, taking two trips to the Ourcq…that was six thousand more soldiers to throw at the German armies. Six thousand very much-needed troops available. It seems that the requisitioning was made on the spot, with policemen halting taxis in the streets, even those on duty, and drivers asking passengers to get out as they were “called to combat”.

The order was issued at one pm, with the depart set at six pm. Gallieni himself review the six hundred taxis, refueled and loaded with soldiers, before they left. Most of them were the Renault AG1 Landaulet model. According to Boucard, in the aftermath of the battle and following city regulations, taxi drivers ran their meters thus charging the National Treasury with 70.012 Francs. That is “sprit de coprs” one guess…

There is some controversy about the real impact of this action in the outcome of battle. What it is unquestionable is that, somewhat fortuitously, everyday life came into the war and with it, a renewed feeling of hope and unity for the French, a new strength that would be increasingly needed to endure the ongoing conflict.

This “invasion” of the realm of war by the forces of daily life, as in this scene of simple taxis, only back lights lit to avoid enemy reconnaissance, marching to the battlefield, was new to everyone. Everyday life had been usually interrupted and disturbed by war and not the other way around; not that in this case simple, homely things, were in position to disturb war. But probably for the first time in the history of warfare objects from civilian life were brought into battlefields with shocking effects. And taxis were just the beginning.

Probably the most successful civilian object in WWI was barbed wire. And its appearance was, somewhat, a consequence of the use of taxis (granting romantically that the miracle of the Marne was real and taxis had an actual impact in the development of war): having reached Paris the German Army, the war most likely would had finished and barbed wire fields wouldn’t have cost thousands of lives. It seems fitting, albeit horrible, that soldiers were to be led like cattle to their deaths between lines of barbed wire, which is, more or less, the purpose of barbed wire also on civilian life.

Phones would have been a success also, given that the mass use of high explosive shells wouldn’t have rendered the lines completely useless most of the time, and giving the likes of Adolf Hitler a job to do coming to and fro through the trenches with orders and information.

Anyway, as Charles Chaplin will show in Modern Times, mass production was definitely taking care of things, at home and in the field, and the home front was to be closer than ever to the action during the war as a result of the application of industrialization to life. And to war. Sometimes, as we have seen, what was happily used in regular life, was also to be used, in far grimmer circumstances, to help killing enemies. Taxis were now taking soldiers to the battlefield instead of taking merry couples to a ballroom; phones were dictating orders to shell-shocked men; last but not least, barbed wire, from the Marne to the Kaiserslacht was to be responsible for the trapping, wounding, slaughtering of thousands of farmers who, probably, died with perplexity in their faces thinking on how something they were so familiar to could had betrayed them in such a ghastly way.

Gunpowder

The invention of Gunpowder is truly one of the most remarkable throughout History. It was invented in China during the Tang Dynasty, circa 850 AD. It was a remarkable discovery as it was discovered by an unnamed Chinese alchemist who mixed seventy five parts of saltpetre with fifteen parts of charcoal and ten parts sulphur. When the concoction was close to a lit flame it exploded. The unnamed inventor was practising alchemy- a medieval precursor for chemistry, whereby they attempted to find the elixir of life.

The origins of the ingredients are as follows- Charcoal is an impure form of carbon that contains some left over ash and sulphur is an element, like Charcoal had been known for many years preceding the invention of gunpowder. Saltpetre has been known to China as it can be found in some of the regions soil. A Chinese Pharmacist described it as:

‘It is a ‘ground frost’, an efflorescence of the soil. It occurs among mountains and marshes, and in winter months it looks like frost on the ground. People sweep it up, collect it and dissolve it in water, after which they boil it to evaporate it. The crystals look like the pins of a hair-ornament. Good ones can be about half an inch (12.5mm) in length.’[1]

 

However when gunpowder was first developed it was not associated with weaponry as it could not be used as an effective explosive. It can however mimic an explosive when a large amount of saltpetre is added to the concoction. Through trial and error the Chinese were able to get enough information about the how gunpowder could be used as a weapon. A few hundred years after 900 AD gunpowder gradually became a part of weaponry. Firstly gunpowder was added to mixtures that were launched from trebuchets and catapults. What’s more the Chinese used them to light arrows in order to make the attack more effective in warfare. Secondly the Chinese advanced even further to use gunpowder as the main element to light up flamethrowers for battle in order to make the development of warfare safer as it avoided keeping the fluid under pressure as beforehand fire oil was used. The next stage of development saw the first attempt at utilising the explosive power of gunpowder, in other words a bomb was created using gunpowder. Eventually Chinese technicians were able to effectively create materials that would contain the explosion from gunpowder. This allowed the Chinese to make the hand held gun and the canon. In the years after 969 gunpowder weapons were successfully used against enemies like Nun Thang.

As we move into the next century in 1040 AD there are many accounts of the Chinese using gunpowder whip arrows and even used animals to carry gunpowder. To do this warriors would apply the gunpowder around the necks of birds, hoping that they will settle down on to enemy territory. By the time the eleventh century arrived the Chinese developed gunpowder even further for weaponry. They began to use Fire lances. The Fire lance was a sophisticated use of weaponry, whereby soldiers would have a small iron fire-box attached to their belt that was lit up through a tube, ready to be fired at the enemy. It was a very versatile weapon as fire power could be used from the gunpowder and when it ran out the weapon could be used as a regular spear.  The design was particularly simple yet innovative as the Chinese used sixteen layers of paper that were rolled up and tied to cords at the end of each spear, allowing the flames to shoot out at a range of 3.6 metres.

The use of Fire-lances were pivotal for the military use of gunpowder as it more often than not caused enemies to be frightened due to the loud bang that gunpowder produced. This therefore inadvertently created psychological warfare as many men and horses would have been startled by it unlike other weapons such as swords and spears which could only frighten at close range. Gunpowder was able to startle the enemy when at further range.

In naval warfare the Chinese developed from the Fire-lances, ‘thunderclap bombs’. Thunderclap bombs proved to be very useful as it was able to treat gunpowder as a true explosive. The bombs when fired met the water and the noise that erupted mimicked thunder, whilst the sulphur in the gunpowder turned into flames. An example of this happening occurred in 1161 at the battle of Tshai-shih. The Chinese fleet was led by Yu Yun-Wen against the Jurchens, who attempted to seize the south of China. Fortunately the thunder bomb aided in the Chinese victory as the smoke emitted from the bomb blinded the men on board as well as the initial bomb causing many causalities.

After the Mongols were overthrown from the mid fourteenth century by the Ming Dynasty bomb development in China continued. Light-casing bombs were then established during this era and like its predecessors the bomb contained a much needed addition in order to aid with warfare-a type of napalm. The ingredients to this concoction were unpleasant as when the bomb exploded iron spikes flew out with a poison contained in the gunpowder. This caused intense swelling and burns. Although it is unknown what the actual poison contained, however it can be assumed a poisonous plant might have been responsible.

When the Chinese used gunpowder with a high-saltpetre content the possibilities of gunpowder seemed more and more effective in warfare. Due to the high-saltpetre content the bomb needed metal casing as the explosions permitted more damage. Eventually from this large bombs could be made to defend territory. In 1250 mines were used by the Chinese. The first mine was not very effective as it detonated by a long fuse, thus making it highly unreliable. In 1300 however the Chinese managed to find a way to rectify the issue. They were able to create a hidden mechanism that allowed a weight to spin a wheel over flints that triggered the fuse when the enemy arrived. It was the fuse that the Chinese technicians figured out could connect to all the mines, allowing them to explode.

It was from these early Chinese designs that gunpowder was developed through circa 850 to the mid fourteenth century as affective weaponry for arrows, lances, bombs and mines. It was from these initial designs that the rocket and guns came about and can be argued that its origins can be traced back through to the days of alchemy- finding the elixir of life and quite ironically so it can be argued that gunpowder is the elixir of death? So before you mimic the famous words of the fifth of November rhyme please do also remember the origins of gunpowder and its use as a lethal weapon.

[1] Unknown author, ‘Gunpowder’ in Clive Ponting, ‘Gunpowder’ (London, 2005), 16.

Review: The Pillars of the Earth

pillarsposter

Image credit: Starz

Today I’ll be reviewing the mini-series The Pillars of the Earth, a Starz mini-series that premiered in 2010 which is based on the historical fiction novel of the same name by Ken Follet. First I will be starting with a brief (and with no spoilers) overview of the plot and a few of the main characters. Then I will reflect on some of the historical aspects of the mini-series and then my own thoughts.

Starting in 1120, spanning the period leading up to and over the Anarchy – England’s first civil war –it recounts how Stephen and Matilida fought over the English throne. The pivotal moment that begins the series is the sinking of the White Ship, which carried England’s heir William Adelin and his wife. He was Henry I’s only legitimate son, leaving his only legitimate child his daughter Matilida. After Henry’s death, his nephew Stephen seized the throne and was backed by the church, despite swearing loyalty to Matilida. The mini-series not only portrays the feud between the two, but the ramifications on the Church, the nobility and the people. The show features a large cast of characters who all interweave with each other. The desire to build a cathedral in Knightsbridge continues across the eight episodes, with many of the characters directly involved.

Philip (Matthew McFadden) – A monk at Knightsbridge Priory, he dreams of a cathedral for the priory to raise its profile.

Waleran Bigod (Ian McShane) – A money and power hungry cleric, who constantly manipulates events to his own ends, and those who support him.

Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell) – A builder who dreams of building a cathedral, accompanied by his family. He is drawn to Ellen.

Ellen (Natalie Wörner) – A former nun she was banished after an affair with a mysterious shipwreck survivor who was executed and as a result gave birth to Jack. She is considered a witch and is drawn to Tom.

Jack (Eddie Redmayne) – The son of Ellen, who has a keen artistic talent and is enamoured with Aliena.

Aliena (Hayley Atwell) – The daughter of Bartholmew, who vows to him to get back the title for her brother.

William Hamleigh (David Oakes)– the son of a minor lord, his parents have designs on the earldom of Shiring and he has an unhealthy obsession with Aliena.

 

Historical accuracy does occasionally let the show down. Elements of the actual history of the Anarchy are incorrect or not shown. William’s wife was not actually on board the White Ship when it sunk so her death is historically inaccurate. Maud/Matilida is never shown to flee London on her coronations, as her real counterpart did. The death of three of the characters is also incorrect, Henry I did not die immediately after the birth of his grandson, as shown within the series nor was Eustace killed by his cousin. Robert of Gloucester was also not killed in battle. Other inaccuracies are simpler and more to do with the realities of medieval life such as Aliena as a former noble would have not spoken the same language as those from the lower classes who she would later work with.

The mini-series takes advantage of the uncertainty of events due to a lack of historical record, or where contemporaries simply did not know. The sinking of the White Ship in 1120 which is the catalyst for the plot is somewhat of a mystery. A cause for the sinking was never exactly determined, which allows the show to fill in the gaps and present its own theory of the sinking for the means of making a story but of course within the realms of possibility. The vast majority of events in the series would have not been possible without this uncertainty.

The show portrays an awful lot of violence, be this on the battlefield or in the towns and villages. There has been debate on how violent the period that is considered the Middle Ages was. Marc Morris argued that especially under Norman rulers that England was a remarkably less violent place than it had been previously. However Morris only refers to the nobility, which would make some aspects of The Pillars of the Earth inaccurate but it does not mention the effects on the ordinary people. The lack of surviving literature from this period, and the overall low level of literacy from those who would interact with ordinary people can make it somewhat difficult to exactly establish the effects on them. One author of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle described the period: ‘I have neither the power or the ability to tell all the horrors nor all the torments they inflicted upon wretched people in this country; and that lasted the nineteen years while Stephen was king, and it was always going from bad to worse.’ While this is only one perspective it also worth remembering that with no monarch considered absolute and both Stephen and Matilda’s reliance on nobility for support that a blind eye was probably often used when violence was used against the people.

It is hard to explain how good this show is without spoiling major plot points as its strength is in its development of its characters and how the plot continues to develop, twisting and turning with each episode. The show is tight and I’d say there is no ‘filler’ in the series. It is constantly gripping. Many of the characters the viewer will inevitably find themselves rooting for, or rooting to come to a sticky end. However this does not mean that the characters verge into pantomime villainy, their motivations or how their heads tick is examined, while this may not make us any more sympathetic is does help us understand their characters better. The themes of the show are vast, creating something for everyone be this the romantic themes, themes on power and control, familial themes and truth. The mini-series’ interpretation of the Church is also incredibly interesting. It avoids the trap of the Church being a simplified evil or force for good. It shows the corrupt practices and members of the Church but it also shows those who strived to be holy. It examines their relationship with not just the crown and nobility but also the ordinary people. The almost business like aspect of the Church is also examined in several plot points relating to the likes of the importance of relics for the Church.

I would strongly recommend The Pillars of the Earth; I find it hard to believe most viewers would not find one aspect they enjoy, if not the majority of it. The acting is strong across the board, and visually it’s beautiful. Below I have included a trailer for the series. I hope if you do watch this you enjoy!

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