Caligula – Tyrant or Victim?


Hello everyone! I have been set a challenge! I have to say, this one is a little out of my field, but I had a go, and I must say it was rather interesting. My challenge was to research Caligula. For those of you modern history people like myself I am ashamed to say that I had no idea what or who Caligula was – but I have emerged enlightened from my recent study.

Caligula, also known as Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus was the third Roman Emperor, and many historians and commentators believe the most tyrannical and brutal Emperor in Rome’s history.

A little bit of context. He was son of Germanicus, and the great-grandson of Augustus (the founder of what we know as the Roman Empire, and its first ever Emperor).   When he was a young boy, he joined his father on the Rhine, where he lived amongst the Roman army. According to history, he was dressed in a petite version of the traditional army uniform; earning him the affectionate nickname ‘Caligula’ meaning ‘little boots’ or ‘bootikins’ by the soldiers. After the death of his father, Caligula survived a rather traumatic childhood. His brothers were exiled and his mother and sisters thrown in prison after a fierce argument with Emperor Tiberius – leaving Caligula as the only male left from his family. Surprisingly, Emperor Tiberius adopted Caligula and sent for him to live alongside him on the island of Capri. Many historians have argued whether this was an act of pity on the young boy or whether it was a political move to keep his rival close and under his influence as Emperor.

This is where it gets a little bit nasty. At the death of Tiberius in 37AD, Caligula became the next heir, and subsequently Emperor of Rome. Whether this succession was entirely legitimate or not remains to be seen, as it has been suggested that Caligula may have hastened the death of his adoptive father by smothering him with a pillow. History never seems to be a pleasant subject does it?

At 24, Caligula was at first seen to be a very popular ruler – and made a welcome change from previous Emperors by having a lively and active personality that seeped into his policies. In complete contrast to his predecessors, he provided lavish games for the Romans to enjoy and abolished the sales tax. Unfortunately for history, he became ill seven months into his rule, and recovered from this as a megalomaniac. According to chronicles from the period, he began to demonstrate traits of insanity. Caligula insisted on being treated as a God-like creature, a condition now come to be known as ‘Imperial madness’.  Such madness included incorporating the sacred Temple of Castor and Pollux within his palace, whilst at the same time treating it like a brothel. He had three sisters, who it is rumored that he committed incestuous acts with on multiple occasions. He almost tried to make his horse consul, as well as leading an entire army on an expedition to the channel, only to instruct them to pick up seashells before marching them all back again! (Sounds a bit like The Grand Old Duke of York doesn’t it?) He also managed to offend the Jewish population, by wanting to place a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem. He wasn’t a very popular leader at this point, especially as Caligula saw executions as mere sport, and once ordered an entire seated section of an amphitheatre to be fed to the animals below as he was bored! Bit grisly isn’t it?

Understandably, it is perhaps clear to see why many of the contemporary writers of the day may have viewed Caligula’s actions to be beastly and tyrannical. However, there is rather a lot of doubt surrounding Caligula’s reputation as a monster. For starters, according to the historian Aloys Winterling author of Caligula: A Biography, there are some issues with some of the rumours about Caligula. He believes the claim against the Emperor that he had intercourse with his female siblings is too shallow.  He goes on to argue that two well-known contemporaries Seneca and Philo who wrote extensively on Caligula’s life, were well up to date within aristocratic circles to not have mentioned an accusation such as that. The same goes for Tactitus’ (perhaps one of the most famous historians of the Roman empire) history. He speaks of Agrippina, who was Caligula’s sister attempting to seduce her own son, the emperor Nero – surely he would have mentioned any such incest between Caligula and herself, but again no such story was known to him.

It could be argued that rumours such as this were invented after the death of Caligula perhaps to blacken his name even further. Almost all the sources based on this Emperor can be traced back to members of the Roman aristocracy, whom Caligula went out of his way to humiliate – think back to that infamous horse!! Senators and Knights who were in direct contact with the Emperor and who were also damaged by his actions could have perhaps made false statements towards him. However, although most historians do not doubt the exaggeration of some of the sources they may contain some historical truth. The Roman aristocracy must have experienced some awful things under Caligula’s rule that he was branded forever as a monster and madman.

Unfortunately for Caligula his story does not end well. In 41 AD, he became the first Emperor to be assassinated along with his wife and daughter at only twenty-nine years old. In his short life, if the accounts are to be believed he would go down in history as an incestuous, lavish tyrant. Although there are little sources to collaborate such an incredible reputation, one can only assume that in order for such colourful accounts to be committed to history, there must have been some element of truth within the tales. Or else perhaps he has fallen victim to the willingness of others, doomed to be forever remembered as a cruel leader of unsound mind.


‘Caligula’, BBC History,, 18th July 2014.

Winterling, A.,Caligula: A Biography, (California, 2011).





The Praetorian Guard and the Downfall of the Roman Empire.


The Praetorian Guard is one of the most famous bodyguards in history. Founded by Augustus in 31 BC to guard the holder of the office known as Princeps or ‘First Citizen’ that would later be known by the military title ‘Emperor’, it’s access to the emperor, and position as the only armed force in Rome made it the most powerful group in the Roman Empire.

It was during the reign of Augustus’ successor Tiberius (AD 14 – AD 37) that the Guard truly came into its own as a power to make and unmake emperors. With the benefit of hindsight, it is arguable that the career of Sejanus foreshadowed the future. The head of the Praetorian Guard (AD 14 – AD 31), Sejanus allegedly plotted to overthrow Tiberius, and certainly monopolised power in Rome while Tiberius was in Capri. According to Josephus, Antonia, Sejanus’ mother in law who informed the emperor of the conspiracy, who responded by summoning Sejanus to a Senate meeting, officially to give him the powers of Tribune of the People. In reality, Tiberius had sent the Senate a letter ordering Sejanus’ arrest and execution.

The first time the Praetorian Guard effectively became the king makers of the Roman Empires was after the assassination of Tiberius’ successor, Caligula. According to Robin Lane Fox, this was the best opportunity in Roman history for the restoration of the Republic. The Praetorians however, famously found Caligula’s Uncle Claudius hiding behind a curtain, and proclaimed him emperor, forcing the Senate to accept him. Claudius paid the guards who had supported him handsomely, and the necessity of any Roman emperor to have the Praetorians supporting him was now well established.

The next time the Praetorian Guard played a decisive role in the imperial succession was after it deserted the Emperor Nero, and the Year of the Four Emperors began, (69 AD) however, when Nero’s first successor, Galba, failed to pay them enough, they assassinated him, and supported Otho, who gave them the right to choose their own prefects, in order to guarantee their loyalty. Ultimately this did not help them very much, and he was deposed by Vitellius.
Vitellius attempted to found his own Praetorian Guard, to avoid being dependent on the old one. However his new guard was of little help in dealing with Vespasian’s invasion, partly because Vespasian enlisted the former Praetorians. Vespasian (69 AD – 79 AD) was pragmatic enough to reduce the cohorts to nine, and appointed his son, the future emperor Titus (79 – 81 AD), as one of its commanders. Titus’ younger brother Domitian (81 – 96) was declared Emperor, and the plot to assassinate him involved members of the guard.
The five emperors (Nerva, Hadrian, Trajan, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius) that followed Domitian are commonly known to history as the ‘Five Good Emperors’ and the palace intrigues and Praetorian partisanship that had characterised the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties were for a time absent.

When Marcus Aurelius died in 180 AD, and his son Commodus became emperor, historians generally agree that the decline of the Roman Empire began. Edward Gibbon in particular considered the Praetorians to have played a role in the Roman Empire’s decline. An arguable example of this, is how during the rule of Commodus, the soldiers were given the right to hit anyone they encountered, and waves axes at people. Following Commodus’ assassination in 192 AD, his successor the emperor Pertinax was assassinated after a reign of only eighty-seven days, partly due to prohibiting the soldiers from being allowed to act as they liked. This was followed by one of the most remarkable methods of successions in history.

Didus Julianus (192-193), one of the two Consuls with Pertinax, went to the Praetorians’ camp, and offered them money in return for making him emperor. Pertinax’s father-in-law, the city prefect Sulpicianus was also present, and the two attempted to outbid each other, eventually, Sulpicianus offered 20,000 sesterces to every soldier, and Didus responded by offering 25,000, which won. He only ruled for 66 days however, and was overthrown in 193 AD by Septimius Severus. The Praetorians had become so accustomed to not actually fighting, that they offered little resistance.

Septimius Severus (193-211) replaced the Praetorian Guard with his own men. His son an successor Caracalla, (211-217), who despite his love for the army, was killed and replaced by the head of the Praetorian Guard, Marcus Opelius Macrinus (217-218), who alienated the soldiers due to his love of dressing in gold jewellery, leading to them deserting him, and supporting Elagabalus (218 AD – 222 AD), Elagabalus was in turn assassinated by the Praetorian Guard after he attempted to murder his cousin Severus Alexander who was popular with the soldiers.

Severus Alexander (222 AD – 235 AD), succeeded him, and despite having presided over one of the more effective Roman governments in the third century, with Domitius Ulpianus, the Praetorian prefect serving as de facto prime minister, the Praetorians killed him in 228 AD, and nearly killed the famous historian and then Consul Dio Cassius in 229 AD on the grounds that he was too severe. Severus Alexander saved Cassius’ life, but he himself was later assassinated by the army and was replaced by one of his commanders Maximinus Thrax (235 AD – 238 AD), beginning half a century of almost constant anarchy.
This only ended when the emperor Diocletian, (284 AD -305 AD) established the Tetrarchy, ending the Principate established by Augustus. By an interesting coincidence, he also effectively destroyed the Praetorian Guard as a force to make or break emperors. Augustus had created the guard to protect the emperor, and the imperial system that replaced the republic, instead, it ultimately contributed to it, and the empire’s downfall.

Did the Brezhnev Doctrine Prolong the Cold War?

As part of our new challenges task set, here is my challenge, to do a blog post on Leonid Brezhnev as requested by fellow blogger ALi. Brezhnev was General Secretary of the Soviet Union 1964 till his death in 1982, and was the second longest serving Secretary after Stalin. Other than his famous eyebrows, Brezhnev was well known for introducing the Brezhnev doctrine into Soviet society in 1968 in reply to the Czechoslovakia uprising. What I am researching within this blog post will be to see how this act in fact prolonged the Cold War.

Firstly before explaining what the Doctrine itself included, I should explain the political climate at the time. The Soviet Union at the time was near to disarray, with some of the satellite states within it hoping to break away from the Soviet Union and liberalise themselves as an independent country. The time was 1968, the year of the Prague Spring, when Czechoslovakian Alexander Dubcek the reformist was First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. This was a big moment because in the April of that year, Dubcek put in place an action plan calling for a more independent state and a new model of socialism which would remove state control over industry and allowed freedom of speech.

It is also worth quickly mentioning that the relations between the Soviet Union and the USA had been steady, they would soon be entering a period of Détente in which both sides entered a period of strained relations. Since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 between Kennedy and Khrushchev, both sides had been relatively neutral towards each other, with no direct conflict of interests.

 Image of Alexander Dubcek.

Although Dubcek stayed loyal to Moscow, Brezhnev got worried over the changes he saw within the country, the fact that the villains who had been purged had since been pardoned, the fact that press censorship had been eased, and even things like some banned plays had come back to light and the dress sense of the Moscow people changed, with men growing their hair and woman wearing shorter skirts. To Brezhnev this was worrying, due to the fact that he felt that his reign was now under increasing threat of being over thrown. This in turn led to Brezhnev meeting with Dubcek in July 1968 to discuss re-imposing strict communist ideals, and to reign in his counter-revolutionary methods. However when Brezhnev noticed that nothing was changing after his chat and after Tito of Yugoslavia visited the country, he decided to act.

The meeting between Dubcek and Brezhnev.

After a meeting in Bratislava on 3rd August 1968, in which Brezhnev read out a letter from Czechoslovakian communists asking for help, he announced the Brezhnev Doctrine. This is a very important moment in the Cold War, because although there was no direct conflict between the East and the West due to it, it did send out a very clear and aggressive message. The Brezhnev Doctrine announced to the world that the USSR would not allow any Eastern European country to reject communism. Although you can argue that there had been the agreement between the big 3 near the end of the Second World War that the Soviets had their Eastern Sphere of influence to act as a buffer zone, it pretty much stated that for the long term there was going to be conflict if anybody tried to step out of the Iron Curtain.

 Tank heading into Prague

To really enforce his point, Brezhnev used force. On 20th August 1968, with the help of 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 2,000 tanks, Brezhnev’s forces moved into Prague taking control of vital communication points such as the airport before making their presence known on the streets of the capital. With the soldiers expecting a warm welcome from the Czechs as Moscow had promised them, they were soon disheartened to find strengthened yet unarmed resistance. Eleven Soviet Soldiers and 72 civilians wee killed, and the majority of the Czechoslovakian people did not fight, just stood in front of the tanks and put flowers in the soldiers hair.

Colour image from the Prague Spring

In the end Brezhnev put Gustav Husak, a supporter of the Soviets as the leader of the KSC. But in the long term, this show of force really did help to prolong the Cold War. With the Romanian’s at the time having broken free from Soviet Control and improving relations with the West in this détente period, it made it look to other countries like they could too. The Czechoslovakians were angry that the Soviets were controlling and running down their economy, making the country suffer from poverty.

 Image showing just how outnumbered the Czechs were

The Doctrine not only enforced further communist rule over the country, meaning that 47 anti-communists were arrested and half the leadership of the KSC was arrested, but it sent shockwaves right the way through the rest of the Iron Curtain. People in the West were horrified by the idea of the Doctrine, and countries within like Yugoslavia and Romania were worried what the future will hold for them. Therefore it is easy to see that in fact the Doctrine did prolong the Cold War, due to the fact that after giving out such a clear message to the people, it was easy to see that the countries within the Soviet Union were not going to get out.

Cartoon of Prague Spring

It’s not just in the East where I feel that the Doctrine was used, but also in their future actions, such as their war in Afghanistan 1979-1989 which was effected by this. The idea that no matter what, communist control was going to rule did prolong the Cold War, because it will without a doubt have been seen by America as an aggressive act. Although you can argue that the Eastern European countries were under state supervision already within the Soviet Sphere, it pointed to the fact that there was a possibility for future countries to not be able to escape. Therefore in conclusion to the question set at the beginning of this post, yes, the Brezhnev Doctrine did in fact prolong the Cold War due to the fact that at the time, the political climate in the East was that they had some hope of being able to make it out of the Communist rule. Yet as soon as this Doctrine was put in place, it completely shattered any hopes of this and meant that the countries would stay under the rule with little or no uprisings against it.

Another Cartoon of the Prague Spring




The Cuban Missile Crisis

Date Event
1st January 1959 Fidel Castro assumes power after the Cuban Revolution.
19th December 1960 Cuba openly aligns itself with the Soviet Union and their policies
3rd January 1961 The US terminates diplomatic relations.
17th April 1961 ‘The Bay of Pigs’ – A group of Cuban exiles, backed by the US, invades Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in a failed attempted to trigger an anti-Castro rebellion.
3rd-4th June 1961 Khrushchev and Kennedy hold summit talks in Vienna regarding the Cuban Missile Crisis.
31st August 1962 Senator Kenneth Keating tells the Senate that there is evidence of Soviet missile installations in Cuba.
11th September 1962 Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrei Gromyko, warns that an American attack on Cuba could mean war with the Soviets.
14th October 1962 A U-2 flying over western Cuba obtains photographs of missile sites.
14-17th October 1962 The Joint Chiefs of Staff strongly advise Kennedy to make an air strike (the discussions are referred to as the EX-COMM’s).
18th October 1962 Gromyko assures Kennedy that Soviet-Cuban aid has been only for the ‘defensive capabilities of Cuba.’
22nd October 1962 Congressional leaders are shown the photographic evidence of the Soviet missile Cuban installations and the President addresses the nation regarding the crisis.
22nd October 1962 U.S military forces go to DEFCON 3 (air force ready to mobilise in 15 minutes).
22nd October 1962 Kennedy announces a naval blockade of Cuba. Nuclear bombers deployed so that 1/8 are always airborne.
23rd October 1962 Kennedy receives a letter from Khrushchev in which he states that there is a ‘serious threat to peace and security of peoples’, and that the missiles are solely to defend Cuba against the attack of an aggressor. Robert Kennedy speaks with Ambassador Dobrynin.
24th October 1962 Twenty Soviet ships, en route to Cuba. Khrushchev tells the Captains to ignore the blockade and that Russia will have a fitting reply to the aggressor. US military forces go to DEFCON 2 (military ready to deploy in 6 hours).
25th October 1962 The first Russian ship reaches the blockade and as an oil ship, is allowed through. The other ships turn back. JFK sends a letter to Khrushchev placing the responsibility for the crisis on the Soviet Union, but the US government secretly floats the idea of removing the missiles in Turkey in exchange for those in Cuba.
26th October 1962 Russia is still building the missile bases. Kennedy considers a Cuban invasion. However, at 6pm Khrushchev sends a letter to Kennedy proposing to remove his missiles if Kennedy publicly announces to never invade Cuba, and lifts the blockade.
27th October 1962 At 11am, Khrushchev sends a second letter, demanding that Kennedy also dismantle American missile bases in Turkey.
27th October 1962 An hour after the second letter, an American U-2 is shot down over Cuba, killing the pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson.
27th October 1962 A U-2 strays into Soviet airspace, near Alaska, and is nearly intercepted by Soviet fighters.
27th October 1962 At 8:05pm, Kennedy sends Khrushchev a letter stating that he will make a statement that the US will not invade Cuba, if Khrushchev removes the missiles from Cuba, the blockade will be lifted and the missile removed from Turkey (although that was to be kept a secret).
28th October 1962 Khrushchev announces over Radio Moscow that he has agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba. In return the US agreed the removal of the blockade and a promise of peace against Cuba.
20th November 1962 The Soviet bombers leave Cuba, and Kennedy lifts the naval blockade.
5th August 1963

The signing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty by the Soviet Union, the US and the UK. No nuclear detonation was to ever take place in the atmosphere, in outer space or underwater.

The timeline above breaks down the major events, triggers and responses to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Beginning with the succession of Castro, and culminating in the aversion of a nuclear war.

One of the main documents detailing the reservations, cautions and trepidations of the US government, is a transcript of the Meeting with Senior Advisors on the 16th October 1962. This transcript is littered with pauses, ums and errs, and a general sense of an overwhelming situation, especially on behalf of President Kennedy. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, according to Sheldon Stern, prevented a nuclear war.[1] In meetings regarding the crisis including President Kennedy, Rusk’s diplomatic and cautious approach to the events that were unfolding in the Soviet Union and Cuba, were vital. Below are a few extracts from a transcript of a meeting with Senior Advisors on the 16th October 1962, regarding Rusk’s initial thoughts of how the US should respond.

‘Uhm, so I think we have to think very hard about two major, uh, courses of action as alternatives. One is the quick strike. The point where we [make or think?], that is the, uh, overwhelming, overriding necessity to take all the risks that are involved doing that…. The other would be, if we have a few days-from the military point of view, if we have the whole time-uh, then I would think that, uh, there would be another course of action, a combination of things that, uh, we might wish to consider.’ [2]

This passage presents us with two courses of action; to both strike fast and strike first, the risks would have to be overlooked, or the other would involve military action after a long period of reasoned discussion. Another extract puts forward the idea of the blockade.

‘I’ll assume that we can move on this line at the same time to interrupt all air traffic from free world countries going into Cuba, insist to the Mexicans, the Dutch, that they stop their planes from coming in. Tell the British, who, and anyone else who’s involved at this point, that, uh, if they’re interested in peace, that they’ve got to stop their ships from Cuban trade at this point. Uh, in other words, isolate Cuba completely without at this particular moment a, uh, a forceful blockade. . . .’ [3]

This was the eventual outcome of the meeting: a blockade around Cuba to prevent further Soviet influence.

In conclusion, like Rusk says, the US could not sit and wait to see what happened, they had to act against Cuba and against the Soviets. A thought in my mind remains however… If the US had not initially placed missiles in Turkey, did not stop providing aid and importing Cuban sugar – for the sake and haste retaliation to the revolutionary left-wing – the crisis could have been averted. Instead, Kennedy left Cuba with no choice but to seek aid from somewhere else, and this aid came from the Soviet Union. Khrushchev agreed to buy one million tonnes of Cuban sugar every year. Castro, who had not been a Communist before he gained power, was converted. This lead to the attempted invasion of Cuba by the US at the Bay of Pigs, and Castro consequently asking for, and guaranteed by Russia, weapons to defend itself against the USA. Rational moves and motives for protection, against a nation that did not know what to do.


[1] Sheldon Stern, Averting the Final Failure: John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings, 2003.

[2]  Thomas G. Paterson, Major Problems in American Foreign Relations, 1995

[3] Ibid.

Mother of the Angevins

As the most romanticized queen within the entwined English/French histories; none were as complex and unconventional as the Duchess of Aquitaine and queen to Henry II of England. Eleanor of Aquitaine lived from c.1122 to 1204 through a particularly turbulent dynastic era with both the well-established Capetian French, and newly born Plantagenet English monarchies, struggling to keep the peace even from within their respective royal families. Known as one of the she-wolves of British history her actions stand out as remarkable against world that declared women the weaker and lesser minded sex despite the adventures of Empress Matilda occurring mere decades before her.

Not unusual for the time not a lot is known about this particular she-wolf, and women in general, other than the fictionalised or exaggerated stories that circulate her and those that familiar with her during all three tenures of royal or ducal titles she held. From the age of fifteen she was the Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitiers in her own right due to her father William X having sired no sons to succeed him and in the same year married the King of Franks Louis the VII, thus, becoming the controversial French queen to a quiet and disaffecting king of France. Despite there being initial affection between the royal couple they began to drift apart after Louis taking part in Second Crusade to protect Jerusalem from the Turks due to the apparent unseemly behaviour on Eleanor’s part. After the birth of two daughters and nearly fifteen years of marriage their union was formally annulled in March 1152 and Eleanor’s extensive lands were returned under the provision that she paid homage to the Kings of France as her overlord.

The next stage of the Duchess’ life is the part that remains the most infamous in history from her second marriage and the exploits of her children that ensured her previous history was pushed into obscurity. Within a year, despite the theory that she had sexual relations with his father Geoffrey, Eleanor was married to Henry Plantagenet who two years later became Henry II of England. Once the marriage was confirmed the couple retained the rights to England, through Henry’s grandfather Henry I, and the ducal titles to Anjou, Normandy, Aquitaine and Poitiers making their lands larger than the King of France’s territories. Their eight subsequent children were married across Europe’s various kingdoms and were responsible for the major upheavals in English history over the next hundred years. Two of her children Richard and John became kings of England continuing the Plantagenet dynasty and adding to their shared lands due to Richard I wife bringing with her the dukedom of Brittany furthering the land holdings in France. Eleanor’s daughters married across Spain, Bavaria, Saxony and Sicily all continuing their own individual dynasties across Europe.

Many romantic stories haunt Eleanor during this time; the substantial fable that still stands is the Rosamund tale the ghost of whom is still meant to walk the maze of Woodstock House. What is not known about her is her appearance and personal information due to there being virtually no official documents that are linked to her and no visual representation either. It is assumed that she took an extensive role in ruling England and despite her husband attempting to take control she had absolute control over her inherited lands. What is known is that some of her actions essentially ended with her estranged from Henry and isolating herself due to her siding with her children in their revolt against their father in 1173. She spent her life travelling widely between England, France and Spain (in collecting her granddaughter from Castile to marry the French king’s son) and was an accomplished rider meaning when she was captured on the route to Paris they had a difficult time keeping her in submission to her captors. In giving her children military help Henry had enough of having a strong minded and competent of ruling wife and placed her in semi-house arrest for nearly eleven years that only ended on the death of Henry II in 1189. When her son Richard I came to the throne she took an even greater role in state by planning his coronation, acted as regent during his crusade to the Holy Land and raising the ransom for when Richard I was captured by the Duke of Austria.

Eleanor lived until the age of 82 and was able to see her youngest son King John ascend the English throne before retiring to Fontevrault Abbey in France. She died in this abbey and was buried there in 1204. Thankfully she did not survive long enough to see her son having to bow to the will of the English barons or see the loss of Normandy. However her territories stayed loyal to the English monarch for several years after her death due to how well she ran her territories. As the nuns of Fontevrault said in their obituaries:

“She was beautiful and just, imposing and modest, humble and elegant… who surpassed almost all the queens of the world.”



Davies, N., Europe: A History (London, 1997).

Earenfight, T., Queenship in Medieval Europe (New York, 2013).

Weir, A., Britains Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy (London, 2002).

Weir, A., The Captive Queen (London, 2010).

Weir, A., Eleanor of Aquitaine: By Wrath of God, Queen of England (London, 2000).

Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK (2nd May – 19th August 2014)

On the 15th of march (2014) I went out on a research trip to London. My first stop of the day was at the British Library, an I must say it was probably the most rewarding experience of my research quest!

The British Library was busy, as usual, although the exhibition was surprisingly quiet- I think as I came in (with W.U Hstry members Alex and Michael), we must have been about 7 people in the first room at most. It started picking up and the flow of people was fairly constant, which in a sense was probably better as we did not feel rushed and we could take as much time to read and look at the information that we were presented with. We were also supplied by a free exhibition guide, which had a little map and a considerable great deal of information about each key section of the exhibition. As we were greeted by a bunch of mannequins dressed with V for Vendetta masks, as following the Anonimous movement ideals, the general conception of the exhibition was clear. According to the leaflet itself: “Comics unmasked challenges preconception and prejudices by revealing the daring of British comics writers and artists, who are among the most successful and influential in the world”. With this in mind, we followed the path of the venue, which I shall recall in the following lines.

There were six main sections in which the exhibition was divided: Mischief and Mayhem and To See Ourselves, are the first two. They include a general overview of the origin of British comic books and how they have been developing through time up to the later decades of the 20th century. There were display cases with open comic books which had little explanatory panels underneath or nearby them. They were enough to give details of the piece and it’s context, but not terribly long pieces so you would not have the chance to get incredibly bored and dragged by the reading required. It was precise, and clear, and this carries on through the exhibition in general. The way the comics were displayed, also allowed the visitor to get an idea of comic context and similarities between those displayed within the same cases and who they related to the others. A detail I quite enjoyed and thought was delightful was the section in the center of the room (which also replicated elsewhere in the exhibition) with some seats and tablets that had access to some of the comics shown and mentioned in the exhibition. The machines had a directory of different volumes and some contextual text about the number you were reading as well. It was great to be able to interact with the artefacts explored in such a close and real way!

The following two sections talked about what I consider to be two main topics in not only British comic books, but comics in general, which are politics and sex. In Politics: Power and People, there was great emphasis directed towards the figure of Alan Moore, which is only logical considering how important and influential his work is. This showed the visitor how comics could be used as political propaganda but also to put through protest movements and ideas. Moving to Let’s Talk about Sex, this area reflected the serious changes that the rise of feminism had in Britain and its culture and how this reflected in comic books too. It goes further than just explaining the themes of nudity and sexual behaviour in the pages of illustrated magazines and sequential art, but it also conveyed ideas of gender roles and the agency of different members of society by the pictures and words flowing in the comics. Right after this fourth venue, there was a little transition area where the visitors were encouraged to sit down and draw some comics! There was a table with paper and materials to draw as well as a pin-board where to put the finished pieces- Even though I cannot draw myself, I thought it was a very good idea to include something like that, considering the highly inspirational value of the exhibition. I think it also helped the visitors to put things in context and realise that it all comes to someone sitting down with pen and paper and expressing their ideas, just like someone writing a book, or two people having a conversation together: it did not look alien at all, but rather inviting!

The fifth section, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, submerges the visitor in the idea of hero and superhero comic books. They also explore the literary topos of chivalry, heroism and epic-ism. But all this is done from a sociopolitical context, providing the individual with an understanding of how social tensions and fears transmuted into “Supermans” and “Batmans”. At this stage, the exhibition improved the visual aspect by including a television playing the movie Kick-Ass- adaptation of Scottish comic author Mark Millar’s work. This completed the picture of how the visual world of comic books is effectively everywhere, and how it has evolved and expanded particularly in the last decades.

The final section was a great wrap up exercise. Breakdowns: the Outer Limits of Comics just managed to put everything in perspective. It included one which is probably the most recent comic in the exhibition-dating from early 2014. It did not have any text (at least not in the page showing) and it was designed in black and white A3 format. It was full of symbolism and metaphors: words were simply unnecessary. This section furthered the ideas provoked earlier by these comics that breach their limits and jump into the screens. Moreover, one of the displays in this section explained the relationship between video games and comics with examples such as Arhkam Asylum and Arkham City: the virtual worlds of Batman and his adventures in Gotham. What’s more, there was a huge projector screen in the middle of the room showing videos of Gorillaz. Why Gorillaz you may ask yourselves? Well, because the author of Tank Girl, one of the most renown British comic books of the late 20th Century, happens to be- along side Damon Albarn- the creator of this band and audio-visual project- The name of the man, and genius,  is Jamie Hewlett, for your information.


Apart from that, all I can say is that I really enjoyed it. It was great content for the amount paid- and the gift shop was very well stocked! There are also certain days where events related to the exhibition are taking place in conjunction with the whole thing, so it is really really worth while…In my most humble opinion. If you have some spare time and think the subject would be interesting, do stop by!


For further information:

The Importance of Football during World War 1

  Video for All Together Now by The Farm.

 Image from the Christmas Day Truce Football Match 1914.

All football fans today know how important football is to their lives. It is what they eat, breathe, sleep and dream. But there was in fact a time when football in fact united the whole war effort on both sides. For one day, there was no fighting, the only arguments or challenges being put in place was on No Mans Land, but with a difference. For one day, the allies and the enemies both linked up to play the beautiful game. For one day, politics was forgotten, enemies became team mates, the beautiful game worked its magic.

But it wasn’t just on the Front Line where football was evidently important and useful to the war effort. Back on the Home Front, football united a nation, and acted not only as a method of conscription, but it helped to entertain the people, as well as boosting the role of women within the community.

Interview from the BBC on the St Helen’s Football Team and a picture of the team below:

Unknown to me but learnt whilst during this blog post, the First World War saw a greater interest in Women’s Football, with the munitions workers carrying out charity matches until the Football Association banned football for women in 1921. To the country, it provided the entertainment that was so badly missing during the War effort. The war completely shook the football world, which completely shook up teams through the fact that most of the good players were either being killed in action or too severely injured that they could never play again.

Interview from the BBC of the Blyth Spartans Ladies football club in Newcastle, Bella Reay, top scorer with 133 goals in one season, picture below,

With the men away, there was an opening for women to come into the game. It started to kick off really when women in the munitions factories during their breaks wanted to get out in the fresh air, and would start a kick around amongst themselves and boys too young to go to war. With this being a good way to not only take a break from the risks in the factories, it turned out to provide entertainment. This in turn led to a Munitions League, where the different sectors within the factories played themselves as well as other factories. Due to there being a gap in the footballing lives of those who didn’t go to war, these games were very well attended. For the Blyth Spartans, one game against their Middlesbrough rivals recorded a crowd of 22,000 illustrating just how important and popular Women’s Football was proving to be on the Home Front.

WW1 Munitions Factory Women in a WW1 munition factory.

To Britain’s war effort, football although may not have seen as important, did in fact help them to forget the current political climate of the world for 90 minutes, and all that would matter would be whether your team got the ball in the net more than the other team. It’s just amazing how a game like football can just take everyone’s minds off the common affairs. Sure there would have been the obvious difference that it hadn’t been men that was playing, but even so for the games to get people coming in their thousands just emphasises how important it was for morale on the Home Front.


Image that would be found on the Home Front, using the beautiful game to get soldiers.

After watching Jeremy Paxman’s documentary ‘Britain’s Great War’, it made me realise just how much football played an integral part in providing troops on the Front Line. During the War, not only could a stadium provide the home for entertainment, but it helped to provide a recruitment drive as well. Of the 5,000 professional players that were on the British Football Associations books, 2,000 of them joined the Armed Forces. Although to begin with these professionals were not originally called up and had they wages halved, but in the end they were helping to fight for their country. One of the most famous examples if Sir George McCrae’s Hearts Battalion, or the 16th Battalion of Royal Scots as they were also known. McCrae himself announced to the government that he would and could raise his own Battalion, and did so, starting with 16 Hearts players, as well as other teams such as Raith Rovers, Hibernian, Falkirk and Dunfermline allowing their own players to join the cause.

Picture of the Hearts team of 1914, in France in 1916.

But McCrae didn’t just stop here at the players. At one Hearts match in particular, the Football Battalion included 600 Hearts fan after McCrae had rallied to get his troops. It was a similar story although Great Britain and not just in Scotland, with all teams releasing their players off their one year contracts so that they could fight for their country. Hearts themselves in the 1914 season were at the top of the tree in the Scottish league, they were willing to give up everything just to fight for what was right. It illustrates just how important football was to the War effort, due to the fact that it wasn’t just the entertainment value on the pitch which kept the morale high: they help to recruit men to fight for their country.

Image of Sir George McCrae, the man who lead the 16th Battalion of Royal Scots.

Although to many people in the world, football may not be the sport of their choice: to them, its just 22 overpaid men running around falling over as soon as they get touched, making a meal out of everything. But nobody in their right mind can deny the risk that these men took. Sure, everyone across the whole country had to give their lives for it. But what you can’t deny is just how important football had been, not only through raising morale amongst the country, but helping to rally troops, through players and fans, and improving the status of women in doing so. Football was certainly effected through the war, but how it responded was so important. It stood up with Britain to the enemy threat, and gave all its resources to help try and halt them. The Hearts War Memorial.

With this year being the 100 year anniversary since the beginning of World War 1, we will never forget those brave people, the players, the fans, the ordinary people, who gave their lives for their country. The amount of families broken up: the children that grew up not knowing their fathers, the wives who had their hearts broken, the mothers who lost their sons. It was deemed as the Great War, the War that would end all Wars, but as we know this was not true. These men should have been allowed to come home in one piece, and not left those around them in pieces. But we will never ever forget them, take advantage over the fact that their fought for our futures. Although every November 11th we gather together to remember the men who did fight for us, we should be thanking them daily. Without them fighting for our freedom, our lives could have been awfully different or in fact non-existent. We will never forget them, lest we forget.

 Poppy Field.




Review: The First Nottinghamshire Local History and Archaeology Day

Pen and paper in hand my dad and I found ourselves at 11am this morning seated in the Djanogly Recital Hall awaiting the beginning of a series of short lectures that opened the very first Local History and Archaeology day. Considering this is the first of its kind in my hometown, I figured I’d share this day and to applaud what I believe its success. Organized by the University of Nottingham Museum, Lakeside Arts Centre prepared itself for the descent of several professional and amateur historians, archaeologists and societies all seeking a day of knowledge and information pertaining history in particular to regards with the Nottinghamshire county. Supported by Thoroton Society and the Society for the Promotion of Roman studies the day included talks, videos, exhibitions, pottery handling and coins all found in Nottingham excavations. The entirety was a free drop-in event apart from the lectures which was ticketed due to limited seating and popularity.

David Knight of the Trent and Peak Archaeology Association kicked off the lectures introducing excavations sites and finds dating as far back as the Palaeolithic era across the county from Trent near Thrumpton, Bingham and Staythorpe. Due to time limitations he included one slide for each supposed era including Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman and Medieval showing that Nottinghamshire as an area had been widely populated even from the earliest Hunter-Gatherer tribes. From here Knight passed the speech baton to five local societies to present their work the best of which were:

  • Bingham Heritage Trails – Peter Allen spoke of his amateur archaeologist society that focuses on the fields of Bingham Parish, namely within the Anglo-Saxon era.
  • Ice Age Journeys – Gwil Owen and the Farndon Archaeology Society are currently trying to prevent a new road being built across a field containing finds from the last Ice Age.
  • Nottinghamshire Local History Association – John Parker had been commissioned by the council to record all inscriptions on gravestones to preserve the information they contain on familial connections, historical preferences and religious connotations.

From here the day largely consisted of walking between rooms discovering the difficulties of bioarchaeological handling (bones and fauna), identification of medals and differences between different types of Roman and Medieval pottery. The best part of the day for me was the challenge to read inscriptions on Roman coins to dad and then define which emperor they would have circulated under, and this was difficult even with a Sherlockian magnifying glass, and getting them in the majority correct! For the very first time this event was held, it was not overly crowded; the spread of items included meant that there was easy access to all sections and a good chance to discuss pieces in detail without interruption. All the people involved were happy to talk and give historical background behind pieces, discuss how their society contributes to the Nottinghamshire historical and archaeological projects with many producing major publications on Roman and Medieval history within the East Midlands.

The busiest part that was full of slightly sunburnt historians was the displays and exhibitons set up by the societies in the Rehearsal Hall. The hall was invaded by 31 stands all attributed to different kinds of history such as a World War One hospital in an old manor house and archaeological groups dedicated to Mercia. The interactive exhibitions sold books, provided actual dirt from an archaeological dig and allowed you to design your own cave painting all while being provided with the ability to touch finds from digs, feel the edge of a Neolithic axe and cut out outfits to pin onto paper WW1 nurses and soldiers. Life Lines also brought the WW1 atmosphere to celebrate the centenary by allowing visitors to write on post-it notes sharing their family connections to the Nottingham Hussars Infantry which my own Dad was part of in the TA before leaving a career in the army.

All in all a good day and good first event for the Nottinghamshire locals who are interested in history. Apart from being stalked by a camera man which means Dad and I may end up on the cover of a paper this day would be worth a visit if interested in East Midland excavations or for just a day out if you are in the local area. I hope this event happens again so we can keep up with new finds each society creates and support the Ice Age team in preventing a road destroying a brilliant British archaeological field.

I include some of the societies who attended today for further information:

  • Roman Society
  • Council for British Archaeology
  • Nottingham Postcard Society
  • Southwell Burgage Earthworks Project
  • University Project in Southwell
  • Nottingham City Museum and Galleries
  • DH Lawrence Heritage
  • The Harley Gallery
  • Nottingham Local History Association
  • Friends of Toton Fields
  • Bramcote Old Church Tower Trust
  • Burton Joyce and Bulcote Local History Society
  • Life Lines
  • Mercian Archaeology

Recruitment to the British army during the First World War

As part of the First World War themed month here at WUHstry, I will be exploring recruitment to the British army during the First World War. The British army at the outbreak of the war numbered 700,000 whereas the German wartime army was over 3.7 million strong. To fight such a large scale modern war Britain needed more men to stand and fight on the frontline and it was through recruitment that this was achieved. This post will explore the different methods of recruitment and ask why it appealed to so many on the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

The first method of recruitment to the British army in the early months of the war was through voluntary recruitment. Many who volunteered saw it as their duty to enlist and defend the nation against the threat of invasion. This belief originated in the 19th century when the threat of invasion was present and volunteer forces were formed as home defence forces, ready to be mobilised at seconds notice. These home defence groups were primarily filled by middle-class men who were part of local groups and lived in the same counties. It was not just those in the volunteer forces that enlisted but also the general public. Between August 1914 and December 1915 over 2,400,000 men had voluntarily enlisted in the army. There were many reasons why so many men, both young and old joined the armed forces. Firstly, there was a degree of patriotic optimism that made many believe that the war would be over by Christmas and that they would be doing their duty for King and Country. Service in the army also brought new opportunities for those volunteering such regular pay, military standard living quarters and new travel experiences.

It was not just men aged between 19 and 65 that signed up to the army, indeed many under-aged boys also were recruited to the army. 250,000 young men volunteered for army service, all under the legal age of 19, this being the minimum age that a man could serve abroad. They joined for many of the same reasons that the rest of the volunteer forces did and in many cases they were allowed to do their patriotic duty. The boys would also lie about their age and recruitment officers did not always check for identification. Increasingly age checks were ignored as recruitment officers were paid based on how many men they recruited and many in British society were willing to allow the boys to fight and not stand in their way of doing their duty. The assumption was that the war would be over before any of them were to be sent into combat. It wasn’t until 1916 that the government allowed boys to come home if the parents proved that their son was under the age of 19.

However, by the beginning of 1915 the realities of war were setting in and the notion of total war was being applied to the conflict in Europe. As trench-based warfare turned the war into a conflict of attrition, the numbers of volunteers began to decline. Though the recruiting numbers were not what they were in 1914, just 100,000 recruits up till April 1915, conscription was still an idea that many, both politicians and the public did not want to see. Volunteering was still the main input into the army and continued through 1915 though with increasing calls for compulsive service as losses on the battlefield mounted up. Whilst the patriotic optimism present from the war’s outset was disappearing, peer pressure and patriotic posters and media continued to drive men to recruit. The various posters that were produced to get men to sign up both enforced there patriotic duty and made them question why they had not already volunteered.

As the war raged on, conscription increasingly began to be called for. The Derby Scheme in autumn 1915 was the last attempt to make recruitment to the armed forces voluntary. However, in July 1915 the wheels were already beginning to turn in conscriptions favour as the National Register revealed that 5,000,000 men aged between 15 and 65 were not in the forces, of which over 2,000,000 were single. By the end of the Derby Scheme the majority of single men had not signed up voluntarily to the armed forces making conscription inevitable. The Military Service Bill for compulsive service was passed through government on March 1916 allowing for conscription across the country. This first bill was aimed at single men aged between 18 and 41 though in May 1916 married men between the same ages were also conscripted to fight. Between March 1916 and March 1917 some 350,000 men were conscripted to the army and over 770,000 were granted exemption from conscription. Those exempted from service included those unfit for military service, the clergy, teachers and those working in heavy industry jobs. A man could also be exempt for moral reasons though they could be put in non-combat roles on the front line to deal with this. In total over 2,500,000 men had been conscripted to the army by the time of the end of the war, many never returning home.

Therefore, recruitment to the British Army for the frontline in Europe came in two stages, the voluntary period (1914-1916) and the conscription period (1916-1920). For many, military service was a new chapter in their lives though as most came to realise, war was not entirely about duty and patriotism but also death and destruction. Though conscription was brought in, both those who volunteered and those who were conscripted fought for our future and that is something that we should all be thankful for.

Road to nowhere…WW1


Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Time is ticking out. In a few days, young Gavrilo Princip will take a gun and murder Archduke Franz Ferdinand, thus lighting a spark which in turn will ignite the European political fuel that has built up in the last years. The world will never be the same again.

But in this road to nowhere, some other things are going on. Some of them will have some effect in the ensuing events. Some will have influence even in decades to come. Some will travel all along the 20th Century. But everything will be erased when the roar of guns begin.


January 1st. The first regular commercial airline starts services between St.Petesburg and Tampa in Florida, USA. In some months, airplanes and zeppelins will be the only moving pieces in the clockwork of war. While mud and lice command the trench warfare, a sort of new chivalry is going to take the skies by force; a tale of individual courage, of future technology, of aces and also of villains. Even a tale of (slightly disturbing) fans: the Red Baron’s machine was ransacked whilst he was still dying inside… On a darker note, the new ways of taking the fight to the civilians, far away from battlefields, will transform the impact of war had in the commoners.


January 5th: Ford Motor Company announces new work conditions: eight-hour workday and a minimum daily wage of five dollars. -just to put these figures into proper context, in present day Spain that will be more than a hundred euros over the actual minimum wage. But Mr. Ford, however, had his own dark side. In a tragically near future he will support, both through funding and public recognition, the Nazi regime, chiefly because of its anti-Semitic ideology. In just twenty five years, new horrors will afflict the world in the second round of what some historians would consider a European civil war, and Mr.Ford money is going to help it happen.


February 2nd: In a lighter tone, a young comedian named Charlie Chaplin makes his film debut. Soon thereafter he will take theaters by storm and, with an ever increasing popularity, his films will explore the great matters of his time: love, work, war, hate. The Great Dictator will show the world the real face of totalitarianism in a time when appeasement was the word of the day. Making a living was the premonitory name of the motion picture.


March 27th: Albert Hustin, a Belgian doctor, is going to perform the first non-direct blood transfusion, with a diluted solution which will we improved later that year by doctor Agote from Argentina. This new method was developed through the use of anticoagulant and refrigeration. Soon the carnage in Europe’s battlefields will push the limits of this life-saving technique: a British surgeon named G.Keynes will develop a portable machine that could store blood to enable transfusions to be carried out more easily, thus saving thousands of lives in the war to come. Next step will be taken with the establishment of the first blood bank by U.S army Officer Oswald H. Robertson.

Ironically, little Belgium, neutral Belgium, doctor Hustin’s native land, will be bled by the invading German armies and the never ending fight in Flanders during the oncoming years.


April 21st: 2300 U.S. Navy sailors and Marines occupy Veracruz, in Mexico as a way to enforce an arms embargo decreed to curtail the raging civil war which had been devastating the country for the last two years. Worried about their “backyard”, the Americans will cling to their isolationist policy for another three years. Nobody could tell what would have been the impact of an earlier American intervention. In 1916 Pancho Villa forces will enter American territory and George S. Patton, still a young officer, will gain first fame in the retaliation. War was all around.


May 25th: The United Kingdom House of Commons passes Irish Home Rule. This legislation, designed to ensure Irish Nationalist support to Liberal Government by devolving government for the first time in any part of the United Kingdom, was nonetheless short-lived. Well, in fact, it never took effect. First postponed because of the outbreak of war, subsequent developments of the Irish situation, mainly the Easter Rising which was broadly considered a stab in the back, led to ever further postponements.


…Tick.Tock.Tick. Tock…


June 28th: Good morning Gavrilo. Good morning, you Highness. You both haven’t met yet. In fact, your meeting is going to be brief, but momentous. Hello, there, Gavrilo, nice sandwich you have bought, but, wait a minute… Is not that Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s car? Hey, Gavrilo, what is that you are hiding in your jacket? Hey, wait…Bang, bang! War…

**(Jacinto Anton in an article published for El Pais Semanal, mention how apparently he (Gavrilo) actually came out from getting a sandwich when it all happened!)


June 29th: Bychory, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary. A son is born to Czech violinist Jan Kubelik and Hungarian Countess Anna Julie Marie Széll von Bessenyö. The world is still at peace, if uneasy. But yesterday’s events at Sarajevo will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Before leaving his childhood, young Rafael will be living in a new country, Czechoslovakia, old Austria-Hungary defeated and broken in a terrible war that she started and brought death to millions throughout the world.

In a couple of decades, still a young musician, he will have to suffer his country invaded and its annexation by Austria-Hungary’s old ally,-and Czechoslovakia bitter enemy-: Germany. Young but brilliant, he became music director of the Brno opera,and then the Czech Philarmonic principal conductor, until he decided it was wiser to get out of the way following some public incidents with Nazi authorities. After another bloody war and with the German defeat, he left his country in 1948, not willing to live under a new tyranny, and began a wandering life, conducting for some of the best orchestras in the world (between them, ironically, the Bavarian Radio Symphony orchestra for more than fifteen years), therefore becoming a reputed advocate for modern composers and one of the best conductors of the century.

In 1967 he became a Swiss citizen and lived to see his native country free of the communist tyranny, but not before its name was changed again in 1969 to Czech Socialist Republic. Finally, after a friendly beak up with Slovakia, the Czech Republic was born. Retired since 1985, in 1990, after the fall of Communism, Rafael Kubelik, son of the Century, returned to Prague to conduct once again the Czech Philarmonic Orchestra during the Prague Spring Festival he himself had founded in 1946.

All throughout his lifetime voyage from decaying Empires to newly formed democracies, through war, hate, terror, tyranny and peace, music, one of those great achievements of Human Spirit was with him. Fortunately, in 1914 almost everyone was running in the road to nowhere, but new borns like Rafael Kubelik where coming to Earth to find new roads, in his case a musical one, to lead us to a better future.







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