Black Representation in Marvel and DC Comics

Representation in the media has long been debated whether it be racial, female, LGBT, disabled or cultural. In this post I will look at black representation in comic books, more specifically at superhero characters and comics produced by the two major America companies Marvel and DC. Both companies were founded under different names in 1939 and 1934 respectively, and as can be seen below, both companies took until the 1960s and 1970s to introduce black superhero characters. In some respects this is not a surprise as these two decades are now historically intertwined with Black history in the West and especially America where these two companies are based. It is impossible to cover every black character in these comics in this blog as that would easily fill a book, so I have chosen a few of the most famous and influential characters to focus on. I have also looked at the issue of black representation in Marvel and DC’s comic book adaptations for television and film which has increasingly become the way that the majority of the population is exposed to such characters. Three comic book adaptions now sit in the top ten worldwide grossing films of all time. But then why have these movies often been almost exclusively white?

Black Panther first appeared in 1966 in issue #52 of The Fantastic Four, making him the first black superhero in mainstream comics. The character was created as T’Challa, the chief of Wakanda, a fictional African nation which was a technically advanced nation which can be seen as an ‘anti-colonialist critique’ and a ‘stark contrast to the historical and symbolic constructions of Africans as simple tribal people and Africa as primitive’. The character got his own run with Jungle Action #5 in 1973 which ran until 1976. The uniqueness of this title compared to black characters that followed is interesting; unlike other black characters T’Challa was not restricted in terms of storyline or setting of just American ghettos to symbolise racial inequality but was placed in more fantastical settings like some of his white counterparts. As Adilifu Nama summarises: ‘in spite of the cringe-inducing title, Jungle Action was progressive in the way it avoided many of the ghettocentric clichés of the ‘black experience’.’ After Jungle Action, Black Panther was re-launched with a self-titled series and even after that title’s cancellation, the character has continued to have his own comic in every decade since his conception. He has also played a major role in a number of other series including the Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men and Daredevil. In 2006 Black Panther married his fellow Black superhero Storm although this was later annulled.

First appearing in Captain America #117 in 1969, Sam Wilson known as the Falcon became the first African American superhero in mainstream comics. The significance of this was not lost on the writers. Wilson and other black characters were concerned about him being a sidekick to Captain America, a white man. Wilson’s black love interest, Leila criticised the character for being ‘a racial sellout’. Nama explains: ‘By having Sam and other black characters question the power dynamics of his relationship with his white superhero friend, the comic avoided creating a static black superhero… His concern and constant attention to the issue gave their personal relationship a social resonance with broader racial tensions, and symbolized a social debate about if aggressive or incremental steps were move effective in achieving racial equality.’ The writers understood the impact that having such a character would have, and the issues that would come from it. While with the creation of Black Panther there had been some element of removal from the social issues in America of the time, this was not possible with Falcon. Perhaps this is why, between 1971-78, the character was billed alongside Captain America in the comics as Captain America and the Falcon, elevating a black character to the title of a leading comic was significant and could be seen to symbolise a greater hope for integration. There was a brief 14 issue run of a new version of Captain America and the Falcon in 2004-2005 but this was cancelled. He had his own four part miniseries in 1983 and has been a member of the Defenders and the Avengers over the years. Falcon played a significant role in the Avengers volume 3 and has continued to play a supporting role in the Captain America comics. It was announced that Wilson would take over the mantle of Captain America after the original, Steve Rogers, lost his abilities. The comic will premiere in November.

First appearing in 1972, Luke Cage sometime known as Power Man premiered in his own comic Luke Cage, Hero for Hire becoming the first black superhero to have his own comic. The title ran for 6 years until falling sales made Marvel decide to team up the character with another superhero, Iron Fist, whose sales were also falling to save both characters from cancellation. This new series ran until 1986. Cage’s origin story is one of the most politically aware origin stories; he is sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit and in prison suffers racism at the hands of the prison guards. In an attempt to improve his chances at parole he volunteers for a cell regeneration experiment but the experiment is sabotaged by a sadistic prison guard with a grudge which leads to him gaining his superhuman strength and durability. The concept of Cage being unjustly imprisoned coincides with widening attention on the incarceration of black people. Such an origin story relates the ‘issues of unjust black incarceration, black political disenfranchisement, and institutional racism in America’. Cage’s decision to use his powers for profit is also interesting, as an escaped convict he had no opportunity to pursue legal work and unlike many of his superhero counterparts he was not independently wealthy to be able pursue such a career unlike white superheroes Tony Stark or Charles Xavier, who both had family wealth to fall back on.

DC’s first black superhero was John Stewart who first appeared in 1971 in Green Lantern volume 2 #87. Stewart was chosen to become a back-up for the then current Green Lantern, Hal Jordan, by those who had given the powers of the Green Lantern, the Guardians. When Jordan quit being the Green Lantern, Stewart replaced him headlining the comics between 1984-86, until Stewart himself, quit. Subsequently he played a major role in the 1988 comic Cosmic Odyssey. Then in 1992 he was the lead in Green Lantern: Mosaic but despite critical and commercial success DC cancelled the title because they felt it did not fit in with their editorial vision meaning the character became restricted to a supporting role until 2006 with Green Lantern Corps. Stewart found widespread popularity when he was portrayed in the Cartoon Network animated series, Justice League. The development of the character has changed over the years. In his first appearance ‘Hal views Stewart as too angry… the critique of Stewart easily played to the racial archetype of the “angry black man”’. In comparison Stewart is ‘a mainstream superhero’ who ‘articulates an integrationist, albeit culturally pluralistic, ethos’.

The first black female character in Marvel or DC to play a major or supporting role was Storm, also known as Ororo Munroe, in 1975. She first appeared in Giant-Sized X-Men #1 and has gone on to appear in the majority of the X-Men comics since her introduction. The character has led the X-Men on various occasions and is one of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel universe. Such development over the years is intriguing due to the fact that Storm ‘symbolizes many of the struggles that black women… face and resist’ and yet ‘Storm was a triumphant third-world version of a black female superhero’. She can be seen as an inspiration for black women to try to overcome the barriers that not only a racist but also a sexist society place upon them, and dispel the idea that black women are somehow less worthy or inferior. Storm had her own miniseries in 1996 which ran for 4 issues and finally received her own ongoing solo series in July 2014.

In 2000, Marvel released a new ‘universe’ of comics, known as the Ultimate Marvel which reimagined a number of Marvel characters in a new way. Spider Man was one of these. In 2011, Miles Morales took up the mantle of the recently killed Peter Parker in the role of Spider Man. The character of Morales was Black-Hispanic, and while some were disappointed at the killing of Parker (although Parker was alive and remained Spider Man in the main run of the comics), others claimed that it was publicity stunt and political correctness. Others, including an article in the New York Times and Spider Man’s creator Stan Lee, lauded the change citing it as a positive for non-white children to see a character that looked like them. Despite claims of a publicity stunt, Morales still continues to appear in the comics, and his own run ran for just over two years.

Another character changed in Ultimate Marvel was Nick Fury who had traditionally been portrayed as a white man in the main run of the comics. This Nick Fury’s appearance was based on that of actor Samuel L. Jackson. After the first comic in 2002 featuring Fury, Jackson contacted Marvel about appearing as Fury in any movies featuring the character. He made his first appearance as Fury in a post credits scene of Iron Man in 2008. While this version of Fury has yet to headline his own series, he has played a major part in many of the storylines in the Ultimate universe as the General of S.H.I.E.L.D and as the leader of a reimaging of the Avengers known as the Ultimates.

Of course the majority of the population’s exposure to comic books is via movies and television. The earliest representation was Eartha Kitt as Catwoman in 1967 in the third season of the Batman TV series. The role had earlier been played by a white actress who was unable to reappear. This was not just unique for black representation in comic book adaptions but also for black representation on TV, with Kitt being one of the first black women on mainstream TV. Beginning in 2001, Smallville ran for 10 seasons focusing on the life of Clark Kent before he became Superman. The only black regular character, Pete Ross played by Sam Jones III, left the show at the end of the show’s third season. Two members of the Justice League, Cyborg (Victor Stone) and Martian Manhunter (John Jones) were played by black actors along with Amanda Waller, a prominent character in a number of DC properties. Waller is also portrayed in the show Arrow, focusing on the character Oliver Queen as he becomes the Green Arrow, which is due to start its third season this autumn, in a recurring capacity. The show also introduced John Diggle, a character created purely for the show played by David Ramsey. Since his introduction, the character has been added to the comics. Like Ross in Smallville, Diggle plays the confidant role to the lead, although so far the character has fared better as Diggle has been given several storylines that are separate from the white lead. A spin off from Arrow, The Flash, which premieres this Autumn, has two of the characters Iris West and her father Detective Joe West cast with black actors, Candice Patton and Jesse L. Martin whereas their comic book counterparts were white. Another two DC television shows to premiere this year with characters not from their respective comic books, Gotham and Constantine have Jada Pinkett Smith and Harold Perrineau. On the Marvel front, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has no black characters in its regular cast but has 3 in its recurring cast. J. August Richards plays the superhero Deathlok along with Ruth Negga and B.J. Britt playing characters unique to the show (although in the case of Negga, her character could easily turn out to be a comic book character). Our first black lead should come with the Netflix series around Luke Cage, although the part has yet to be cast, and its future could possibly rely on the success of the Daredevil series that will precede it.

While not technically a superhero film, the Blade franchise was (and still is) the only comic book franchise led by a black actor. Starting in 1998, Blade a dhampir played by Wesley Snipes was the protagonist. The films were a financial success following with Blade II in 2002 and Blade Trinity in 2004. Two factors delayed Blade 4. First was a dispute between Snipes and the studio that his role was marginalised in favour of two white supporting characters and accusations of racism from the writer/producer/director David S. Goyer and crew. Snipes also claimed that in previous films that an effort had been made to employ a multi-racial crew but on Blade Trinity only white crew were intentionally hired. Then Snipes’ subsequent imprisonment for tax evasion meant the film was put into limbo and the rights to the character have now reverted to Marvel Studios (the rights to the character Blade and numerous others had been sold to other studios in the 1990s when Marvel Studios were facing financial issues), which further puts the film in limbo, although Snipes has said he would return to the character. Blade laid the foundations for many of the comic book movies that would start in the early 2000s, it was commercially successful and after the failure of Batman and Robin proved a comic book movie could become a franchise. The fact that Blade was led by a black actor should not be forgotten, despite many comic book movies ignoring their black characters. Without a black character, studios may have not taken a chance on the likes of X-Men and Spider-Man.

Catwoman is the only other comic book movie that has a black lead, with Halle Berry playing the titular character in 2004. However, unlike Blade, the film was a box office bomb and was critically panned. The film, along with Elektra (another bomb), is often used as an excuse for not producing a female led superhero or comic book film. The fact that a comic book movie hasn’t had a black lead (or a lead who wasn’t Caucasian) since Catwoman would suggest that Catwoman may be used as an excuse for that too. In reality, the writing of the film has been considered poor by reviewers especially considering that the film was only a Catwoman film in name, as the character’s alter ego Selina Kyle is not the lead (or present in the film) nor does it share the Batman universe that the character inhibits.

Since 2000 there have been over 40 movies based on comic books. Before 2000, with the exception of the Superman and Batman franchises, the majority of comic book adaptations were television series or movies released on TV or straight to video. With the exception of the two above, these have generally had white leads, with black characters often playing supporting or minor roles. As can be seen in the list below, I could only find 39 named characters that were played by black actors (the list might not be 100% accurate as I have not watched every film nor did IMDB have an image of every actor). As can be seen the vast majority of these films only had one named black character. Other racial groups fare generally worse, with East Asians the only group coming anywhere near the amount of black characters in these films, which shows a complete and utter lack of diversity. This has been noted by some of the actors who have played these roles. Djimon Hounsou who played Korath in Guardians of the Galaxy explained he took the role because: “I have a four-year old son who loves superheroes from Spider-Man to Iron Man to Batman. He’s got all the costumes. One day he looks at me and says ‘Dad, I want to be light-skinned so I could be Spider-Man. Spider-Man has light skin.’  That was sort of a shock. This is why I am excited to be a part of the Marvel Universe, so I could be hopefully provide that [sic] diversity in the role of the superhero.” Hounsou’s comments reflect the feeling that for the sake of children’s identity, and despite some people’s belief, diverse casting is important.

Even the more diverse franchises such as X-Men have been criticised. Halle Berry, who plays Storm in four of the films, had to petition to have a larger role in the X-Men: The Last Stand despite playing one of the most significant X-Men characters. X-Men: First Class was also fiercely criticised after killing Darwin halfway through the movie and having Angel, the only other black character switch sides (!SPOILER for Days of Future Past! – Angel was also then killed off-screen much to the fury of some fans).

The Avengers films have also been criticised, with no non-white leads for its first nine movies. In Guardians of the Galaxy, Zoe Saldana, a black actress was cast as the female lead (and the one named black female character in all 10 films) but her character was an alien and Saldana was covered in green paint. The films have been criticised for their lack of women, especially with no female fronted film; this is even more pointedly obvious when Saldana is the only non-white woman to appear in the 10 films produced.

Black characters in the Avengers films have been significant supporting roles, most prominently Nick Fury, James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, also known as War Machine, and Sam Wilson as mentioned above, the Falcon. These characters have been incredibly important to the plot and supported the white leads; they are all characters that could headline their own films. With the focus so far on the big four of the Marvel universe (at least out of the properties that Marvel Entertainment own the rights too), it is not surprising that there has been a lack of black characters in the films. At least in the case of Rhodes and Wilson, who both play significant roles in the comics, they weren’t ignored completely. However Marvel is rapidly running out of excuses for its poor show on diversity, not just racially.

The most popular way to increase diversity in such films has been to cast non-white actors as traditionally white characters, similar to several of the TV shows above. This is mostly due to the age of many of the popular comic book characters, with so many premiering before even the most minimal attempts were made at diversity often these comics have all-white casts of characters. Although even more recent comics are not necessarily much better in this respect. For example Michael Duncan Clarke played Kingpin in Daredevil and Jamie Foxx played Electro in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which allowed both actors to play major roles. While black superheroes sometimes struggle to be known by the public, black supervillains are even less well known. However this does not sometimes go without controversy. When Idris Elba was cast as Hemidall in Thor, known as “the whitest of the gods” and portrayed as white in both comics and mythology, there were a number of people who criticised the casting. In response, Elba pointed out the most glaringly obvious truth: “Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the colour of my skin is wrong?”

Black representation in comics has been slow and fairly limited, especially in main roles. This has also been similarly reflected in the film and television adaptations. While there have been attempts to increase diversity these have failed to make much change. While Miles Morales has had decent sales, he has been unable to compare to Peter Parker. Part of this problem is falling comic book sales, the most successful are generally the more established books such as Batman. It is difficult for less established characters or new characters to break through. Perhaps the best attempt to do this is to introduce more black representation into film and television adaptations and make more of an attempt to encourage such viewers to buy comics. As we attempt to move into a more integrated society the lack of black representation is problematic (as is racial representation in general) and perhaps in future at the centre of the origin stories, racism won’t be a major or core factor.

Film Year Character Actor Size of Role Existing Comic Book Character/For Film
Superman III 1983 Gus Gorman Richard Pryor Major For Film
Batman 1989 Billy Dee Williams Harvey Dent Existing but Caucasian in comics, subsequently replaced by Caucasian actor in sequel
Batman Forever 1995 Margaret Kimberly Scott Minor For Film
X-Men 2000 Storm Halle Berry Major Existing
Spider-Man 2002 Robbie Robertson Bill Nunn Supporting Existing
Daredevil 2003 Kingpin Michael Duncan Clarke Major Existing, but Caucasian in comics
X2: X-Men United 2003 Storm Halle Berry Major See Above
Spider-Man 2 2004 Robbie Robertson Bill Nunn Supporting See Above
Catwoman 2004 Catwoman Halle Berry Lead Existing, however is not the character’s alter ego
Elektra 2005 Stone Bob Sapp Supporting Existing but Caucasian in comics
Constantine 2005 Midnite Djimon Hounsou Supporting Existing
Dr. Leslie Archer April Grace Minor New
Batman Begins 2005 Lucius Fox Morgan Freeman Supporting Existing
Colin McFarlane Police Commissioner Loeb Supporting Existing but Caucasian in comics
Fantastic Four 2005 Alicia Masters Kerry Washington Supporting Existing but Caucasian in comics
X-Men: The Last Stand 2006 Storm Halle Berry Major See Above
Spider-Man 3 2007 Robbie Robertson Bill Nunn Supporting See Above
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 2007 Alicia Masters Kerry Washington Supporting See Above
General Hager Andre Braugher Supporting New
Iron Man 2008 Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes Terrence Howard Supporting Existing
The Incredible Hulk 2008 General Joe Greller Peter Mensah Minor New
The Dark Knight 2008 Lucius Fox Morgan Freeman Supporting See Above
Police Commissioner Loeb Colin McFarlane Supporting See Above
Gambol Michael Jai White Minor New
The Spirit 2008 Octopus Samuel L. Jackson Major Existing
Punisher: War Zone 2008 Paul Budiansky Colin Salmon Supporting Existing
Watchmen 2009 Office Kirkpatrick Colin Lawrence Minor New
X-Men Origins: Wolverine 2009 John Wraith Will.i.am Supporting Existing
Iron Man 2 2010 Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes Don Cheadle Supporting See Above
Nick Fury Samuel L. Jackson Supporting Existing
Thor 2011 Hemidall Idris Elba Supporting Existing, but Caucasian in Comics
Agent Garrett Dale Godboldo Minor New
X-Men First Class 2011 Angel Salvadore Zoe Kravitz Supporting Existing
Darwin Edi Gathegi Supporting Existing
Green Lantern 2011 Amanda Waller Angela Basset Supporting Existing
Captain America: The First Avenger 2011 Gabe Jones Derek Luke Supporting Existing
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance 2012 Moreau Idris Elba Supporting New
The Avengers 2012 Nick Fury Samuel L. Jackson Supporting Existing
The Amazing Spider-Man 2012 Miss Ritter Barbara Eve Harris Minor New
The Dark Knight Rises 2012 Lucius Fox Morgan Freeman Supporting See Above
Crispus Allen Rob Brown Minor Existing
Iron Man 3 2013 Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes Don Cheadle Supporting Existing
Man of Steel 2013 Perry White Laurence Fishburne Supporting Existing, but Caucasian in comics
Thor: The Dark World 2013 Hemidall Idris Elba Supporting See Above
Captain America: The Winter Solider 2014 Sam Wilson (Falcon) Anthony Mackie Supporting Existing
Nick Fury Samuel L. Jackson Supporting Existing
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 2014 Electro Jamie Foxx Major Existing but Caucasian in the comics
X-Men Days of Future Past 2014 Storm Halle Berry Supporting See Above
Bishop Omar Sy Supporting Existing
Guardians of the Galaxy 2014 Gamora Zoe Saldana Major Existing, both in comics and film character has green skintone
Korath Djimon Hounsou Supporting Existing but skintone is blue in comics

 

Bibliography

Nama, A., Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes (Texas, 2011)

Idris Elba defends Thor Film Role: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2010/apr/27/idris-elba-thor-race-debate

Comic Con 2013: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Cast Talk Rocket Raccoon and Playing Badasses: http://screencrave.com/2013-07-21/san-diego-comiccon-2013-guardians-galaxy-cast-surprise-appearance-talk-antiheroes-coming-providing-diversity-alligators/

Battle of Mons and the Great Retreat August 1914

One hundred years ago, on this day, the British forces defended against the German army at Mons. I will be discussing the army sizes, the plans, the heroic actions taken by two machine gunners of the British army, asking the question who won Mons?, as well as discussing the Great Retreat and the aftermath. I hope that what you read will be of great help and above all, will be interesting. So without further delay, let me introduce you to the first battle the British faced in WW1.

The Battle of Mons was the first major conflict that the British Expeditionary force faced in 1914 (The British army had encountered the German army in small skirmishes a few days before). Common knowledge of WWI, recognises that it was a war fought in trenches, in mud and fixed positions. However in early 1914 and late 1918, warfare was mobile, armies moved to outflank each other, hold bridges and fought in towns. Armies used bicycles to quickly manoeuvre around each other or cavalry to destroy a flank. Trench Warfare as we know it did not appear until after the counter attack of the British and French armies after the Great Retreat. Therefore when knowing that the British force was only 4 battalions strong, roughly equating to 70,000 men, very similar to what the modern British army is today, and that the German army was one four times the size of that alone at Mons, shows what the British had to face. The whole point of the BEF was to secure the French left flank. The French army was similar to the size of the German army, and therefore the small British force should have able to tip the balance of battle.

As you may know, Germany was initiating its Schlieffen Plan, where the push through Belgium would be a decisive blow to the French. All that stood in the way of the plan succeeding was the BEF, a small, but very well trained professional army, led by Sir John French. The first contact between the German army and British army is said to be on the 21 August 1914, when a reconnaissance team ran into a German unit near Obourg. Sadly or luckily Private John Parr became the first British soldier to be killed in action; at least he wouldn’t have to go through the horrors that were to face the British army in the months and years to come. The push at Mons was to ensure the French army would be encircled and Paris reached. This could have ensured a surrender of French forces. However Mons is a canal and the battle was fought with great resistance from the British defenders.

The Battle started at 0900 Hours on the 23rd August 1914, with German artillery hitting British lines, this was then followed by an infantry assault. The main place for the attack was at Nimy Bridge. There were four German battalions attacking, compared to the British’s one. This one regiment (Royal Fusiliers) managed to hold, meaning that the German army attacked on a wider scale, hitting most of the defensive line. The German army marched towards the British in column parade ground formation. This was an idiotic move, and one that seems to show that people do not learn from history (The Russians did something similar at Sebastopol in the Crimean war), the German army moved towards the British, being mowed down by machine gun fire and extraordinary British skill with a rifle. It is said that at Mons, the British fired from fifteen to twenty rounds a minute, cutting the enemy down. The Prussian Guard, the elite of the German army were searching for the machine gun emplacements, when there weren’t any.

It was at the Mons, where the first two Victoria Crosses were awarded. Both were Machine gunners, and kept firing at their positions under exceptional circumstances. Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sidney Godley. Dease fired his weapon when the rest of the machinegun crew had been killed or injured, and although hit four times, he held off the German attack at the Nimy bridge. Godley stayed behind, covering the retreat of his fellow men of the fusiliers, and fired his gun until it had run out of ammo, eventually surrendering to the Germans, after he had destroyed his gun.

It was here where, the Angel of the Mons appeared to the troops, or so the legend says. These angels were said to have helped the British army retreat. A host of phantoms with bows and arrows who were led by a heroic figure on a gleaming white horse encouraged the British fighting men, and drove the German army back, allowing more men to retreat. Now I am not going to say if this really happened or not, I wasn’t there, but this could have been a result of British propaganda, showing the populace that God was on their side. That God was helping them bring down the evil imperialistic German foe, who funnily enough also thought God was on their side. Nonetheless, maybe Angels of the Mons really did appear and brought the British army out from the claws of defeat. Whatever you make of the Angels on the Mons, it shows the importance of religion to the men serving and to those back at home. When you read the poems of the soldiers, you notice this faith, either anger at God or praise. The Angel of the Mons certainly improved morale, and has become a famous myth of WW1.

The reason the British army retreated wasn’t because they were overrun, but because the French had fallen back and left the British army isolated. The British flanks were left dangerously unsecure and therefore holding the line would have been pointless. This meant the British commanding officer, John French, had no option that to initiate a fighting retreat back to Parris. In this time a 5th Battalion had reached France to help with the BEF.

The Great Retreat lasted two whole weeks, the army had to march their way back to the Marne with the German army right on their heels. It meant that the army had to do a fighting retreat, falling back, fighting, and then falling back again. The British army suffered 8,000 casualties at the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August.

Who won Mons? Well both sides did, the British did their job, protect the French fifth armies flank. They had inflicted more casualties on the Germans and the battle increased morale, giving a vast superior enemy a bloody nose. However the German army got so close to Paris, they pushed the French and British armies back, and they caused heavy casualties on the British army. Nonetheless, the ground won by the German army was soon recaptured by the British and colonial forces, with the push at Marne proving to be fruitful. Therefore it could be easily said that no one had one Mons, it was just another action in the war that cost thousands of lives. Haig always said it was a war of attrition, if by the end of it there were more British alive than Germans then they had won. Land did not matter as much; it was just a matter of wearing the other side down.

The BEF had suffered heavy casualties, the modern professional army was heavily down on numbers, even with the arrival of the final 6th Battalion at Marne. The army would from this point rely more and more on a volunteer army. The Marne was a successful counter attack, but if it was not for the British resistance at Mons, the German army could have defeated France quickly. 70-80000 men went to France with the BEF, by the end of the war, most of those soldiers did not come back. Only a few survived the entire war, and only a few saw the battle of the Mons. It is hard to find a first-hand account of the battle because of this. It is easy to find statistics and battle strategies, but it is hard to find what the men felt. It is also the reason why it is hard to explain the Angel at the Mons. As we remember the war, the sacrifice of the men must not be forgotten. They weren’t stupid or idiotic to want to fight this war; it’s what the government’s propaganda had been throwing at them for their entire lives; the glory of war, the glory of fighting. Let us not criticise them for that. Let’s learn from our History and not repeat the same mistakes, let us not be numb to violence or death, but avoid it like the plague. The men at the Mons thought it would all be over by Christmas, the war lasted another 4 years. The Mons was just the start.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! Thanks for reading.

Local History: Seventeenth Century Winchester

Winchester in the Seventeenth Century was a turbulent city in which to live; subjected to multiple plagues and the damaging effects of the Civil War. In 1603, Elizabeth I died at the age of sixty-nine and James VI succeeded her, uniting the crowns of both England and Scotland. In the same year plague broke out in Winchester and would twice more before the end of the century. The final bout of plague hit between 1665 and 1666.

In 1642 the Civil War between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists began and before the end of the year its destructive force had reached Winchester. During the duration of the war the city changed hands several times. At first Winchester remained loyal to King Charles but then the Parliamentarians marched on the city and took it with relative ease. Despite the town councillors paying the invading soldiers £1000 not to plunder and loot the city they attacked with force. On the 14th of December they ripped down the gates of Winchester Cathedral and proceeded to sack and desecrate the building. The bones of the Anglo-Saxon kings were tipped from their mortuary chests by the Parliamentarians and used as missiles to smash the stained glass windows of the Cathedral. Afterwards these bones were placed without order into whatever boxes remained. A project is currently taking place within the Lady Chapel of the Cathedral which attempts to reunite these bones so that the correct skeletons can be reconstructed and hopefully identified. As well as taking the bones and breaking the windows the Parliamentarians carved into the stone work in some areas of the Cathedral. Recently a statue of King Charles I was removed for restoration work and a bullet from the Civil War was found inside which had not been discovered previously.

After these attacks the Parliamentarians moved on leaving Winchester undefended. By November of the following year the city was once again occupied, this time by the Royalists. Here they remained until March 1644 when they marched out to face the enemy in the Battle of Cheriton Down – approximately eight miles from Winchester. A precautionary garrison was left by the Royalists to man the castle. The battle was a resounding victory for the Parliamentarians, who promptly marched on the city, took it swiftly but then once more moved on without attempting to capture the castle. Finally, in September 1645, Oliver Cromwell himself came with the army occupied the city and within a few days captured the castle. Six years later the castle, except for the great hall, was destroyed by the Parliamentarians to ensure that it could never become a Royalist stronghold again.

Despite the Civil War and outbreaks of plague not every year of the Seventeenth Century spelled disaster for the people, buildings and communities of Winchester. After the Restoration Charles II took a particular interest in the city and began to construct a new palace there. This royal palace was never completed. The reestablishment of the monarchy led to the repair of Winchester Cathedral, the broken pieces of the west window were replaced as a mosaic. The second Bishops castle was also built to replace the original Wolvesey castle which had fallen into disrepair. The Seventeenth Century well and truly left its mark on Winchester. Street names, schools and buildings all demonstrate a link to Seventeenth Century Winchester that cannot be forgotten. Battery Hill and Oliver’s Battery are street names reminding the average passer-by of the turbulent past of the city. At the beginning of the century, in 1607, Peter Symonds founded the Christ’s Hospital in the street later named after him. The city now has a college named after him which provides sixth form education for up to 2,900 pupils. This once more demonstrates that the Seventeenth Century remains within the public eye.

World War 1- The Importance of Joffre and Von Moltke

 

As the country all turned their lights out on the 5th August, we all stood and remembered 100 years since the beginning of World War 1, the War which was famously quoted as ‘ending all wars’. As part of WUHstry’s remembrance, we are posting on the big events of the war and all the innocent lives that were lost.

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/external/worldwar1somme-tl.jpg

My post is about the importance of Marshal Joseph Joffre, one of France’s most senior officers in World War One, as well as Helmuth von Moltke the younger, who was the German Army Chief of Staff. Both were important in the early stages of the War.

 Marshall Joseph Joffre

http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/firstworldwar/fr-joffre-port.jpg

Joffre was a senior officer in the French army when World War 1 broke out, his role was Chief of the General Staff. As a senior figure in the army, Joffre had gained a reputation for being an offensive strategist who had replaced all the defensive minded strategists in the French Army.

Regiment of the French Bayonets

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The reason Joffre was held in such regard at the time for his actions in the Battle of Marne, which took place on the 6th-10th of September 1914. The Germans at the time were carrying out the Schlieffen Plan which aimed to circle the French army after marching through central Belgium to get the Lille, and if the plans work it would capture Paris.

A French offensive which prompted German counter-attacks, which then forced the French back onto a fortified barrier, leading to their defence being strengthened. With this move happening, it meant that  they could redistribute their forces to reinforce their left flank, which proved vital in the Battle of the Marne. The North Wing of the German forces was weakened further due to the movement of 11 divisions to fight in Belgium and East Prussia. The German 1st Army which was led under General Von Kluck swung north of Paris rather than the South West that was predicted. This required them to pass into the valley of the River Marne, leading them straight across the Paris defences exposing them to a flank attack and possible counter-envelopment.

 Soldiers on the River Marne

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This led to Joffre on the 3rd September to order a halt to the French retreat and then reinforced the French left flank to begin a general offensive. This lead to Kluck to halt the advance prematurely in order to support the German flank. This act led to the keeping the French in the war, saving Paris and pushing back the Germans 42 miles.

Although this was a great victory for Joffre and the French, however he is better known for becoming associated with trench warfare on the Western Front and not being able to come up with a strategy to end it. Not only this but he lost his credibility amongst the French public further by failing to breakthrough at the battle of the Somme. This push was touted as the final one but was a failure, and was made worse by endurance the French soldiers had to take in the Trenches through battles like the Verdun.

Therefore you could easily argue that Joffre was important to the French War effort, due to the fact that he kept the French in the war, and helped saved countless lives. Although the trenches meant that countless lives were lost, more could have been lost if Joffre had not been able to counter the German attack.

 French soldiers in one of the many Trenches

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Helmuth von Moltke:

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Helmuth von Moltke was nephew of the renowned Prussian General Moltke the Elder, who was famous for important victories against Austria in 1866 and the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. This meant that straight away, if the younger von Moltke was to pursue any military interests, he would have pretty big shoes to fill.

 Von Moltke the Elder

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In 1906 Von Moltke the younger took the position of Army Chief of Staff, taking over from Alfred von Schlieffen, who as mentioned earlier had an integral plan which would become a big part of the German war effort. This plan was to quickly defeat the French in the West through a rapid, overwhelming flank attack through Belgium and the Netherlands whilst keeping a small army at bay for Russian attacks.

 Basic Image of the Schlieffen Plan

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Moltke retained the plan of his predecessor but modified it to take account of the French military build up in the South prior to the war beginning. However Moltke’s adaptations did not work as well as he would have hoped, due to the fact he did not implement them effectively. Although Moltke managed to persuade Kaiser Wilhelm II that the plan would be unstoppable once the ball started rolling, Moltke’s own indecisiveness cost him and Germany massively during the invasion of France.

 Kaiser Wilhelm III

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Unlike Joffre, Moltke was easily distracted and was awfully indecisive. Fear of a Russian attack in the east as well as an opportunity to capture an unplanned victory against the French in Lorraine just make him indecisive and he couldn’t make up his mind over what action to take. His indecisiveness cost him in the Battle of the Marne, where his orders were unclear, resulting in field officers ordering a retreat, stalemate and then trench warfare. After all the actions or lack of them, Wilhelm replaced Moltke on the 14th September 1914, 4 days after the end of the Battle of the Marne with Erich Falkenhayn, and Moltke later died in 1916.

There is an obvious difference between both Joffre and Von Moltke. Joffre was a confident commander in that he knew he always wanted an offensive plan, and he illustrated this through getting rid of his defensive tacticians to stick to his offensive plans. However Von Moltke was indecisive and had big shoes to fill due to having such a famous uncle, as well as being in the shadow of his predecessor, it made it hard for him to be his own man. However what both have in common is they ended up shaping the events of the first World War and the trench warfare, through having stalemate and having both sides move around so much to conquer the other. The Schlieffen plan if anything just allowed for the Germans to be attacked from both sides rather than have just one area flattened at a time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Tannenberg, 1914

Continuing with the WWI themed posts, this is another focussed on one of the earlier battles of the Eastern front. The Battle of Tannenberg was an engagement between the Russian and the German Empires in the first days of the war. It was fought by the Russian Second Army against the German Eighth Army between 26 August and 30 August 1914. Perhaps the most spectacular and complete German victory of the First World War, the encirclement and destruction of the Russian Second Army in late August 1914 and the suicide of its commanding general, Alexander Samsonov virtually ended Russia’s invasion of East Prussia before it had really started. A series of follow-up battles destroyed the majority of the First Army as well, and kept the Russians off-balance until the spring of 1915.

The Allied battle plan prior to the war had been based on France and the United Kingdom halting the German armies in the West while the huge Russian armies could be organized and brought to the Eastern front. In perhaps as little as a month, the Russians could field around ten complete armies, more men than the Germans could muster on both fronts put together. At Tannenberg the actual ratio of Russian to German troops was 29 to 16. However, there were some issues that worked against this plan, such as the Russians’ lack of a good quality railroad network and Russian trains being operated on a different rail gauge to Germany, meaning that their armies could only be transported by rail as far as the German border. Additionally, the presence of the armies of Austria-Hungary to the south limited Russia’s involvement in the beginning of the war.

The Germans however, only considered the Russians to be a secondary threat. The entire Schlieffen Plan was based on the idea of defeating France as quickly as possible, and then transporting their armies by train to the eastern front. This allowed the Germans to garrison Prussia fairly lightly with a single army, the Eighth, while the German Ninth Army was stationed in central Germany to reinforce either front. There was little allowance for anything other than a delaying action while the outcome in the west was decided. This gave the Russians a great opportunity to attack if they were quick enough.

Russia’s incursion into German territory was two-pronged. Two armies planned to combine in assaulting General Prittwitz’s German Eighth Army, Rennenkampf in a frontal attack while Samsonov engulfed Prittwitz from the rear. General Rennenkampf advanced to north-east with the First Army while General Samsonov had begun to take his Second Army into the south-western corner of East Prussia to move westward around the Masurian Lakes and then swing north over a hilly area to cut off the Germans, who would by this point be forced into defending the area around Königsberg. If executed correctly, the Germans would be surrounded

Such was the Russians’ initial plan.  But Rennenkampf brought about a modification following a scrappy victory against The German Eighth Army at the Battle of Gumbinnen, after which he paused to reconsolidate his forces. Samsonov meanwhile, due to severe supply and communication problems, was entirely unaware that Rennenkampf had chosen to pause and lick his wounds at Gumbinnen, instead assuming that his forces were continuing their movement south-west.

Meanwhile, a trap was being set by the German leadership. They planned to deploy cavalry as a distraction to Rennenkampf’s forces, meaning that he could not continue forward or support Samsonov. German troops were simultaneously being transported by rail to the far southwest to meet the left wing of Samsonov’s Second Army.  Others were to await orders to move south by foot so as to confront Samsonov’s opposite right wing.  And a fourth corps was ordered to remain at Vistula to meet Samsonov as his army moved north. Samsonov was entirely unaware of the German plan or of its execution.  Assured that his Second Army was en route to pursue and destroy the supposedly retreating German Army

Just prior to the German attack, the Germans intercepted Russian communications that revealed the distance between the two Russian armies, and detailed The First Army’s imminent marching plans, which were not towards Samsonov’s Second Army. Another message told the Germans that Samsonov had assumed that there would be a general German withdrawal to Tannenberg and beyond. Consequently, his message provided detailed plans for his intended route of pursuit of the German forces. These messages reassured the Germans that their plan would work, and they would not need to fear intervention from the Russian First Army during their assault upon Samsonov’s forces.

Over the next few days, the resulting confrontation had Samsonov’s Army completely surrounded by German forces. There was no support from the Russian First Army, as Rennenkampf held a deep personal vendetta with Samsonov. Finally, Samsonov became aware of the peril he faced.  Critically short of supplies and with his communications system in tatters, his forces were dispersed, and many were defeated. He ordered a general withdrawal on the evening of 28 August. However, It was too late for the Russians. As they scattered, many throwing down their weapons and running, directly into the encircling German forces. Support from the Russian border in the form of counter-attacks were weak and insufficient.

95,000 Russians troops were captured in the battle, while an estimated 30,000 were killed or wounded, and of his original 150,000, only around 10,000 of Samsonov’s men escaped.  The Germans suffered fewer than 20,000 casualties and captured over 500 guns. Samsonov ended up lost in the surrounding forests with his aides, and shot himself, unable to face reporting the scale of the disaster to the Tsar.  His body was later found by German search parties and was given a military burial.

The scale of the Russian defeat shocked Russia’s allies, who wondered whether it signalled the defeat of the Russian army entirely.  This was not the case, as was demonstrated by the lesser German victories shortly after.  And as always, the sheer mass of the Russian army ensured its survival.  Even so, no Russian army set foot on German territory again until the end of the Second World War, in 1945.

Holiday special II: 400000 years of travel

Now that we are in France (at least on the paper) and we have accomplished the first stage of our holidays it is easier to keep on searching for History. Let’s head to the South East from Puy du Fou so we can reach a region where we can travel, in some hours and not that many miles, from the dawn of Mankind to the Hundred Years War via Roma.

Arriving on Perigueux, we have reached our first destination. We are now in Dordogne-Perigord, home of the Cro-Magnon. It has been a long trip from Puy du Fou and now we have to settle for the night. Tomorrow is going to be a very busy day: we will have to cross scores of years from dawn til dusk.We will begin early in the morning here, at Perigueux, visiting Vesunna, the Roman Village. Then we will head East trough Les-Eyzies-de Tayac where the National Archeology Center is awaiting, to Lascaux, where we will have the opportunity to visit the replica cave and admire the paintings. After lunch we will turn South to have a look to the Museum of War in Middle Ages at Castelnaud. And the, full-speed, we will have to hurry to arrive on time to Castillon and watch the Battle Show. What a day! But that will be tomorrow. For now, let’s have some rest.

Well, good morning. Let’s get on the move so we can fulfill our travel planning. First of all, Perigueux. If we did not have so closed a schedule, we could spare some time walking around its medieval quarter and its charming winding little streets, leading to a massive cathedral which was thoroughly renovated in the 19th. The architect was the same one who designed the Sacre Coeur at Paris, so the cathedral has a quite strange look seemingly called “neo-byzantine”. I’d put an “ish” somewhere there. anyway is a beautiful building, solid, hanging over the few stories constructions surrounding it. Very impressive. But we have walked enough for the morning and we are in a little hurry so keep on walking and in just five minutes from the old town we arrive to the oldest town, not that old at all. What a tongue twister!.

Vessuna site is placed on what once was the Roman village of Vésone. The Museum, designed by architectural star Jean Nouvel, consist of a building which in the middle of a park also containing some archaeological remains from the Roman town. This building is made of high crystal walls thus allowing the whole concept to be integrated and the Roman villa inside being well illuminated and even easy to see from the outside. In the inside there lie the remaining of a Roma villa, very well-preserved, three models os the old town and its main monuments like the amphitheater from the late 2nd century, and exhibitions about the old town, full of the foundlings of the archaeological site, and the archaeological work in general.

 

 

The main piece, of course, is what remains of a “domus”, found in 1959, richly decorated with paintings on the walls still showing its brilliant colours. Walking on footbridges, one can tour the “domus” with its garden, kitchens, rooms and baths, all heated by hypocaust. Some objects are on display which can connect the now silent floors and walls with the life of their ancient inhabitants. In the outside we can see the massive Vesunna tower, which is believed to have been part of the temple of Vesunna. Some screens show the visitor a representation of the original paintings and how the “domus” developed from 1st to 3rd centuries.

Fortunately for us, we have come early, the site opening at 10 in the morning during the summer season, and not being very big, we are still on time with the plan. Unfortunately we will miss the night shows unless we come on Wednesday or, if we are traveling with children, the workshops. But we are trying to beat time itself in this race so…maybe tomorrow. Now we are again into the car, heading East to Prehistory.

Some half an hour from Perigueux lies Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac, where the Cro-Magnon shelter is located, along with the Font de Paume and other caves and lots of troglodyte sites. A Prehistory paradise on Earth: here, in the Vézère valley, archaeological findings are the usual sight. Good reason to place here the National Prehistory Museum.

Going back from the Romans, we can go as far as 400.000 years in this Museum. The building is hanged on a high cliff over the Vézére, perfectly fit in the troglodyte housing surroundings. In what could be considered a nice attempt (but not completely a success) to integrate classic museum exhibiting with new, more interactive activities, we can contemplate a huge collection of objects from our remote past, from Paleolithic to the end of the Ice Age and up to the Bronze Age. Screens will run films explaining the ancient techniques to spark fire, create tools and weapons. Some diorama will show long gone species. The staircase connecting stages one and two will show us a perfect stratigraphic wall through samples taken from the surrounding area as well as Georgia covering from 1,8 million years to approximately 14000 BC. We could end the visit with a picture with The Primitive Man, a Paul Dardé statue of what could be one of our ancestors, fittingly placed on the complex terrace, close to the cliffs, where you can also have a look at the village below and the junction of the Vézère and Beune rivers.

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Hopefully for our tight timetable we won’t be delayed for long, area Museums being more of a Human size, not resembling those larger than life titans we are so used to. So we can follow to Lascaux and put and end to the morning, have a light lunch and get the tickets to Lascaux II, example of the greatness and at the same time shortcomings of Mankind.

After lunch we can drive a short distance to the cave or, to speak properly, the replica. Unfortunately, the actual cave is closed to the public for security reasons. Not that it could be dangerous for people: it is people who turned out to be dangerous for the paintings.

Lascaux shares (or not, it depends on individual opinions) the title of most famous painted cave in the world with the Spanish Altamira. Discovered in 1940, visited since by thousands of tourists with flashes, coughs and smoke, the risk and the actual damage to the awesome paintings became so great and accelerated that after some strong controversy, the cave was finally closed to the public in 1963, to try to preserve what is probably the best testimony of Human creativity and even, according to some experts, the most ancient temple in the world. Hence the existence of the replica at a mere 200 meters from the original site, where painting techniques and materials were faithfully reproduced to create a likeness (even temperature is fresh. Jackets or pullovers recommended even in summer).

The replica copies perfectly the original cave, with measures taken to the inch, every relief, every little spot, every shape in the rock, every tightness of space (seriously, take a light lunch, there is a very dire passage halfway through the cave) has been taken to the replica exactly as it was in the original grotto. Opened 18 July 1983, the installation is visited by some 250000 people every year, with high peaks on summer months. Visit is guided by experts, every half an hour, and so it is strongly recommended to have a reservation in advance.

Lascaux II covers a rough 90 % of the original paintings, those most meaningful (a replica of the other paintings, not so close to the original, could be seen at Le Thot which also encloses a little “prehistorical zoo” and it is not far away. For us, it will have to wait) and more artistic. The guide’s explanations are both entertaining and full of relevant information, in a very accessible way. You’ll get to know everything that can be known ( and something which still lies in the field of theory or speculation) in less than an hour. There you will meet the jumping cow, an astonishing painting of a 1,70 meters cow full of movement and resembling the act of jumping; the Bull’s chamber, with its star, the so-called unicorn and the massive bulls which give the chamber its name. The unicorn is a composite animal, maybe a mythological one or some form of picture rendering of some oral tradition. Or it could be that the would-be horn is in fact the lines of the tail of one of the 3 meter bulls down the wall: in most cave paintings, figures tend to be somewhat crammed in the walls, even mixed or superimposed. Stags, horses, one of them tumbling, bears and also and ibex, the Magdalenian wildlife is depicted there in all its might. The guides will explain to us some theories about why are they there. But you can also make your own.

With any luck, we will emerge from the deep a little wiser, maybe in awe. But there is no time for that, because now, in the early afternoon, we must follow our route to the south, passing near Sarlat-la-Caneda and Beynac to Castelnaud. In fact, there was a raging rivalry between the families owning both castles, Beynac and Castelnaud during the early decades of 20th century which needed the papal intervention to settle. In case you are having a family feud of your own on your holidays, we are afraid that Papacy mediation is not available.

Anyways, now that we are arriving at Castelnaud, the view is certainly imposing. Perched on a high cliff over a bend of the Dordogne river, Castelnaud castle shows the most recognizable features of a Medieval fortress: ramparts, towers, stone and timber hauled together…and looking North downriver, its old rival of Beynac. But let’s have a look at the inside.

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Here at Castelnaud, everyone could find something to enjoy. Castles are always fun for kids, walking around the ramparts, playing the knight or the Princess. Here you can find, depending on the time of the year, activities like puppets or workshops. They can play video games or watch some educational cartoons…about 20000 pupils visit the castle every year, gaoled by their teachers. There are exhibitions of weaponry and some films about siege warfare and the Hundred Years War to be seen at the Museum of War in the Middle Ages for the adult audience. A show is running now in the courtyard of the chatêlet with actors, and some volunteers, performing how to handle a sword, or a little cannon called veuglaire. Some steps beyond, a clanking noise catches the ear as the blacksmith opens his workshop and shows us how to make armour, arrow and sword…and if there is the proper day, we can even attend to a demonstration of still working trebuchets, up on the bastion. A hectic evening indeed.

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Curiously enough, what stands as the prototypical impregnable castle, was taken quite many times during the Hundred Years war. Just an example: in 1405, Archambaud d’abzac was appointed Captain of the castle after it been taken on behalf of the King of England. Then he sold the castle to the French for 6000 ecus of gold just to take it back for the English in a surprise attack in 1407. The fortress was also taken either by French or English troops or by changes in allegiance in 1415, 1417, 1419, 1420, 1437, 1440 and, finally, 1442. That siege was the last major action seen by the castle as the English leave the place and, eleven years later, after the battle of Castillon, the whole country.

And that was Castelnaud. Easy to do, having time or a looser schedule, is a visit to some of the other fortified or troglodyte villages around: the old rival castle at Beynac, La-Rocque-Gageac, Domme…if the visit to Castelnaud has left spare time in route we can stop at Le-Bouisson-de-Cadouin to see the cloister there as it is in our way, straight West for a couple of hours, leaving the Dordogne region and approaching Bordeaux. There is no need to make a stop for dinner as a whole fair with shows, demonstrations of weaponry, animals, shops and of course food will we available on arriving to the Battle of Castillon.

The show itself begins at 22.30, so there is time enough to enjoy the other attractions:workshops, sword combats, animal farm, all in what it is called “La village d’Alienor”, next to the main stage in a large clearing on the wooded hills surrounding the village of Castillon-la-Bataille, where there is also a big parking lot, so all you have to do is drive, park and enjoy the night. The show is an enormous affaire, with almost a thousand people involved in a space of roughly 20 acres up on the hill, with the old castle in the back. In the stage, during a couple of hours, the story of the last moments of English presence in French soil is revealed, mostly by non-professional actors and pupils from equestrian schools: the life of the commoners and how it was disturbed by the constant passing of the armies; the celebrations, the links with the religious community; weddings, brawls, gossip, everyday life.

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And of course, war. After regaining Bordeaux for the English in 1452, John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the most famous warriors of the age and his forces had to cope with a new French invasion in 1453. With the French army laying siege to the nearby town of Castillon (then “-sur-Dordogne”, subsequently “-la-Bataille”) Talbot was pressed by the town commanders and left to relieve Castillon instead of waiting for reinforcements. Dettached from the main army with the vanguard, he crushed a minor French force at a priory near Castillon. Then follow suit and try to attack the on-siege forces. Unfortunately for him, who believed that his main army was arriving and the French were retreating, he in fact confronted a huge artillery park, probably with more than 200 and perhaps as much as 300 guns, entrenched and behind high wooden walls, with the guns disposed to enfilade attackers. Thus, his troops were massacred by the French guns, in a somewhat modernised and reversed version of Crecy. And the reinforcements were also crushed as they were joining the fray, until the final route. With both Talbot and his son dead in battle, the will to resist of the army and the Bordeaux population went into decline, with the city surrendering three months later, and so putting and end to the Hundred Years War.

The show is very lively, full of pyrotechnics and a very well staged battle, with a marked contrast with the more light and humorous scenes depicting the villagers’ lives. The text, in French but easy to follow, is consistent with the Historical fact albeit taking some liberties for the sake of theatrical illusion and the need to include different actions and even places in a single, yet big, stage. The night ends with the French victory and the actors giving applause to the audience as the spectators go back to their cars to call it a night.

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And now, it is time to go back to Perigueux and have a long, nice rest after the most hectic day of your holidays. Remember to leave some days to recover prior to your journey back home. After all, you have completed a voyage of 400000 years, painting caves, building houses, then castles and having even survived a bloody battle. That is living History. Even when you are not researching for a paper.

 

 

An overview of the art and religion of the Aborigines in Australia

Hello readers, this week I was challenged to write a blog post on the art and religion of the Aborigines in Australia as part of the blog challenge here at wuhstry. Since I don’t really look at religious or art history, this was a completely different area of the past for me to look at. Nevertheless, the art and religion of the Aborigines in Australia proved to be an interesting area of history to explore and I hope you enjoy the following blog post.

Religion or belief system

Firstly I will discuss the religion or spiritual beliefs of the Aborigines of Australia. The Aborigines of Australia believe in a number of different gods or deities and depending on what part of Australia you’re researching, there are different deities that are linked to certain tribes and regions. Each deity is believed to have a different role in the world and its creation, though in some cases there is overlap in the different tribal beliefs. The deities are also believed to be ancestral beings, linking past and present generations to the Creation period and the deities that formed the world. These ancestral beings are part of the everyday beliefs and actions with which animals and people as descendents of the original creators of the world would interact to ensure spiritual and environmental harmony. Therefore, all life is sacred and important to the Aborigines and their religion is heavily tied to the environment and the world around them.

The Creation Period or Dreamtime refers to a time when the ancestral beings created the worlds landscape’s such as the rivers and mountains and the animals of the world. During this period the ancestors came to Earth in human form though many also took animal form and began moulding the earth for their descendants to live. One such deity in animal form is the Rainbow Serpent who created the landscapes, rivers and animals. The Rainbow Serpent is also believed to have created the sun, the fire and all the colours. The Rainbow Serpent was the protector of the land, its people and the source of all life as well as a destructive force that could cause flooding if it was not respected. The Aborigines also believe that their dreams are images of the Creation Period in their memory that have been passed down by their ancestors. The Dreamtime stories form many of the Aborigines laws and social rules in their respected societies as they served as moral tales that encouraged noble and good behaviour of both adults and children.

Art

Aborigine art was also an important part of life as it connected the past and present, the people and the land, and the supernatural and natural. Religion and spiritual ceremonies were major inspiration for much of the cave and rock art that appears across Australia and like their spiritual beliefs; there was a huge variety according to the region and time period. Painted and carved art fits into two categories; naturalistic and non-naturalistic though they can also be categorised into figurative and non-figurative types as well. For the most part naturalistic art can be recognised as images where a figure of a person or an animal can easily be seen. Kakadu art is an example of naturalistic art and can be seen in the Kakadu National Park in northern Australia. On the other hand, the non-naturalistic art form appears to be more abstract with various different styles and geometric patterns. As a result there are many interpretations of the art form by those observing the images. These images are sacred sites to all Aborigines who live in Australia and therefore reflect their spiritual and religious ideals as part of natural and supernatural world.

The Aborigines used mainly ochre to paint their rock and cave art which provided an earthly variety of colours to use. The Aborigines would break the ochre rocks down into powder and then would mix it with a liquid to create the paint. Fine clay and coal would also be used by the Aborigines to create their images and paintings. Modern artists have also added fine paintbrushes and acrylic paint to the list of artistic tools though traditional tools and paints are also still used. Anything from branches used as paint brushes and stenches to feathers could be used to create the desired art style as all the resources that they needed were in the landscape around them.

To conclude, the religion and art styles of the Aborigines of Australia are tied to both the spiritual and natural world in which the Aborigines live. The ancestors of the Aborigines also fulfil a major role in the religion as they linked multiple generations together and created a spiritual connection between the past and the present. The art forms were also inspired by their religious beliefs and help bring the spiritual and natural worlds to life right the way across Australia. This blog post has turned out to be a very interesting subject to research and the art work is amazing in both its design and character. Thanks for reading.

1066 Challenge: The Granada Massacre

Lord Byron once commented that “History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page.” This statement on the repetitive nature of history is particularly valid in the case of Jewish history. Throughout history, Jewish people have been persecuted and this post will discuss one of the lesser known instances of anti-Semitism; the Granada Massacre in 1066.

In the Medieval period, Christianity was the dominant European religion. Several factors contributed to Christian persecution of Jews, with one of the major justifications for anti-Semitism being the idea that the Jews had killed Jesus. The most famous persecutions of Jewish people in the Middle Ages are the pogroms which occurred during the Crusades and also the anti Jewish backlash which was a result of the Black Death. The persecution of the Jews after the Black Death was due to the idea that Europe had fallen into sin due to the existence of Judaism; because it was not the true faith its existence was seen as wrong by God and therefore in the eyes of the Christian leaders of Europe it had to be eradicated.

At the time, Granada was part of the Caliphate of Cordoba, a Muslim empire which controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula. The city was multicultural with a mixture of Jewish, Christian and Muslim people. The reason why a Muslim power controlled Spain was because of the request of a Christian prince called Julian who requested that Musa ibn Nusair (the governor of North Africa) come and help them overthrow Roderick. Roderick was the King of Spain, who ruled tyrannically. Nusair then responded by invading Spain with an army of seven thousand which promptly defeated Roderick and then continued to conquer the majority of the rest of Iberian Peninsula. This was a worry for the other Christian nations of Europe who feared that Islam would spread into the rest of Europe. The power vacuum left after Roderick’s defeat meant that the Muslim armies could easily consolidate their influence over Spain. It was not until 1492 that Christian control over the Peninsula was recovered with the seizure of Grenada from the Moors.

The cosmopolitan atmosphere in Granada was the cause of tension between the Jewish and the Muslim populations of the city. This led to the Muslim mob storming the palace in Granada and lynching Joseph ibn Naghrela. Naghrela was the vizier of the city and was particularly disliked by the Muslim population partially due to his religion and also probably due to the local influence he wielded which angered the local Muslim nobles. Naghrela was not the only victim of this anti Jewish attack, many of the Jewish citizens of the city were killed.

The massacre of Granada was in no way the worst case of Anti-Semitism in Medieval Europe, however it is still significant as it can teach us a lot about inter-religious relations and how our ancestors thought not only about themselves but also about how they viewed other religious groups. Luckily, in our modern world we are more tolerant of different faiths and cultures but unfortunately tensions still exist and are going on at this moment. The conflicts between Israel and Palestine, the rise of ISIS in Syria and close to home, tensions between Irish Protestants and Catholics are sadly reminiscent of earlier conflicts between religious groups such as the Crusades, and even the Thirty Years War. When Lord Byron stated that History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page” he had no idea how this statement would still be valid even today, and unfortunately even though we are commemorating the great loss of life which occurred during World War One, various groups continue to misunderstand each other and therefore see conflict as the only way to solve their problems.

References:

‘December 30: The Granada Massacre’, Jewish Currents, 10th August 2014, http://www.jewishcurrents.org

‘Muslim Spain (711-1492)’, BBC Religions, 10th August 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk

 

 

 

Winchester in the 19th Century

While Winchester’s population grew dramatically in size during the 19th century, it also marked the decline that had gripped the city for the past several centuries. While the likes of London had soared past Winchester during the 12th and 13th centuries, its closest neighbour Southampton had not exceeded Winchester’s size. In 1801, both Winchester and Southampton had similar size populations, however by the 1851 census Southampton had four times the population of Winchester. Even though Southampton now dwarfed Winchester, it was because of the expansion of Southampton that Winchester had a significant population increase. Winchester Railway Station was built as a result of the line between Southampton and London in 1839, like many other cities during the 19th century the railway is seen as a major factor in population expansion. The expansion of railways also increased tourism to the city especially during the latter end of the century which can be seen in trade directories and newspapers from the time.

Of course this was not the only factor as Winchester’s population had seen a 45% increase between the 1801 and 1831 censuses. Enclosure Acts in 1780 and 1830, pushed rural poor around the city into the city limits as many saw the complete disappearance of common land and even further reliance on wage labour than in previous centuries. However because of the progress of the Industrial Revolution, there was simply not the demand for labour that there had been previously. Many were forced to leave agricultural labour.

Overall the censuses of Winchester over the 19th century show a steady increase in population. The 1801 census recorded 6019 residents. Twenty years later on the eve of a Cholera outbreak in the city, there was 9212 residents. By 1851 it was 12402. The 1871 census which has had a great deal of research done examining it showed the population had reached 17301. Near the eve of the end of the century the 1891 census recorded 19670 inhabitants.

The census of 1871 gives us an interesting look into what Winchester’s demographics were like in the 19th century. The two largest occupations in Winchester were soldiers and servants. The 46th Foot South Devonshire Regiment (consisting of 800 men) and the Hampshire militiamen (170 men) were stationed in Winchester on census night. It was thanks to the use of the barracks that the gender split in the city was somewhat equal with 98 men to 100 women. It was because of the other large occupation in Winchester, domestic workers, which gave Winchester such a large female population. Without the barracks the ratio would change to 87 men to 100 women. Servants made up the majority of women in Winchester, with 55% of women working in this role. Fewer than 5% of men on the other hand worked as servants. After servants and soldiers, teaching was the next largest occupation with 147 employed in the profession, followed by 94 who worked in a religious occupation. These four occupations give us an idea of what Winchester was like during the period. It had a strong military presence, and was a religious and education centre with its institutions and residents supported by a large number of servants. Not everyone worked however at the time of the census, patients within the hospital reached 90 on census night, while there were 160 people within the workhouse, 347 prisoners and 326 pupils at Winchester College which highlight how well used these institutions were. The place of birth of Winchester’s residents is also interesting, giving an insight into migration into the area. 44 people claimed to not know their birthplace. 67% of Winchester’s population had been born in Hampshire, 37% of these had been born in Winchester. 10% of Winchester’s residents had been born in the counties bordering Hampshire and 4% from London. 250 residents were born abroad, 120 of who were from India and the ‘East Indies’. Thanks to the barracks, 3% of residents were from Ireland.

While the heart of Winchester may still be very medieval, moving further out of the core of the city, several of Winchester’s landmarks on or near the Romsey Road were built during this period. The Royal Hampshire County Hospital was built by William Butterfield. It admitted its first 16 in-patients in 1868. A new prison was also built in 1849, admitting its first prisoners in 1850 via transfer from the existing prison in Jewry Street at the top of the High Street (The Governor’s House, part of the prison is now the local Wetherspoons Pub) along with other prisoners around Hampshire. The Winchester Training College (now the University of Winchester) was granted a new building on what is now part of the University of Winchester’s King Alfred campus (which is located behind the Royal Hampshire County Hospital) on land given by the Cathedral and the building was funded by public donations. This building still exists today and is now known as the Main Building on campus, housing mostly non-teaching services to students. The College had been set up originally in 1840 as the Winchester Diocesan Training School to train male elementary teachers. Its first premises had been on St Swithuns Street before moving to Bishops Palace at Wolvesey in 1847. Other Victorian buildings which now belong to the University of Winchester include Medecroft on Sparkford Road which was built in 1868 and used to be a private property but now houses the university’s history department. Part of the West Downs’ campus was also built in 1880 originally for the Winchester Modern School, but by 1897 the school was gone and taken over by Lionel Herbert who opened the West Downs School, a private prep school for boys which over the 20th century would go onto educate a large number of the aristocracy and the notorious fascist Oswald Mosley, until it closed in 1988.

One of Winchester’s most famous connections, and certainly what it is often most noted for during the 19th century is its connection with Jane Austen. The writer lived in Hampshire most of her life, during much of her career she lived in the village of Chawton, not far from Winchester. Austen went to Winchester to receive medical treatment and stayed at a house in College Street near Winchester College but she died in this house on the 18th July 1817. She was buried in Winchester Cathedral. However Austen was not the only writer who visited Winchester, the romantic poet John Keats wrote several of his poems in 1819 while visiting the city.

Winchester during the 19th century was never going to reach the heights of significance it had enjoyed during the Middle Ages, in fact this century confirmed its fall as other cities such as Southampton overtook it in importance thanks to the Industrial Revolution. However that does not mean it was not an interesting time for the city. Much of what Winchester is today began in the 19th century. Institutions such as the hospital, the university and the prison are major parts of the city. The construction of the railway has led to Winchester becoming a home to commuters to London and elsewhere in the South, invigorating the suburbs that sprung up around Winchester during the 19th century. While Winchester may no longer be home to the significant military presence it once did, the Peninsula Barracks (while not built during the 19th century) now house 5 military museums. And of course Jane Austen’s connection to Winchester is still well remembered by local residents and visitors today.

 

 

Bibliography:

James ,T.B., Winchester: From Prehistory to the Present (Gloucestershire, 2007).

Rutter, A., Winchester: Heart of a City (Winchester, 2009).

‘Our History’, The University of Winchester, 4th August 2014, http://www.winchester.ac.uk/aboutus/Pages/Ourhistory.aspx

‘A Brief History of West Downs School, Winchester’, The Old West Downs Society, 18th October 2010, http://www.westdowns.com/owd_schl.htm

‘Winchester Prison’, Weeke Local History, 29th June 2011, http://www.weekehistory.co.uk/weeke/other/prison.htm

The Cartoon Museum, London

On our research day Alex, Michael and I decided to do a quick stop in the Cartoon Museum of London, a little hideout regarding cartoons, comic strips and British comics. This small gallery is not very well known to the public. It forms part of the London Museum Mile, and it is literally just around the corner from the British Museum. The tour around it barely takes 40 minutes, and there is a small entrance fee.

I must admit that the little historian and comic enthusiast inside me died a little to see the state of the gallery. The museum has two floors. The direction of the exhibition was not extremely clear so we kind of guessed, and hoped for the best. this was also the moment in which we got to know that, like many other small museums and galleries the Cartoon museum does not receive a great deal of funding, so they work with the few resources available to them and rely heavily on volunteers. I think this explains why there was such a reduced audience in the venue (5 counting us 3) and why the information is very crudely presented.

The bottom floor has two main rooms. The central room was destined to the temporary exhibition the were hosting at the time which was about Spitting Image. I must admit though, that the material gathered for this purpose was actually quite interesting and enjoyable. There were thousands of sketches, as well as a couple of the actual puppets used for the show, and some other photographs and promotional posters. Furthermore, there was a projector screen in the middle of the room with a dedicated sitting area where they were projecting some episodes from the show, so the visitors could have a little stop and have the chance to see the sketches turned into something real; moving pictures.

The other room serves as the introduction for the main collection concerning comic and cartoons. This room provides with an insight to the origin of cartoon and “funnies”, their creation and purpose from the 18th century to the 19th and early 20th centuries. The information is presented in the shape of framed pictures and long explanatory text-panels. Then the exhibition moves upstairs. The same format is used to introduce some of the British classics up to the 1970s and 80s. Frames of Beano, and other contemporary comics decorate the room, without much further explanation. However, to their credit, the museum has a classroom for children  in the upstairs section for educational purposes, as well as a sitting area with a table full of volumes of cartoon and comic strips for anyone to read. There is also a very interesting panel about Deniz the Menace, explaining  his evolution as a character and the inputs of the different authors and cartoonists into his design. Finally it must be noted that the Cartoon Museum has a little but interesting gift shop.

All in all, it is perhaps a bit upsetting that the museum is not able to bring forward the information it contains in a more attractive or interactive way. it is evident that they have plenty of materials, but the display and resources let them down. One can hope that perhaps in the future there will be improvements in how these kind of galleries and exhibitions are treated not only by bigger organisations but also by the public.  As consumers and visitors there are things we can do to improve the conditions these little heritage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For further information visit: http://www.cartoonmuseum.org/

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