The Pazzi Conspiracy.

Last month, my family and I visited the city of Florence. I had been wanting to visit the city ever since I wrote an essay on one of the most important and dramatic events of Florentine history and having spent many months researching it, I was interested in visiting the places where it took place.


Of all the events during the political rule of Florence by the Medici family, probably the most famous, is the so-called Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478, when Lorenzo de Medici, the de facto ruler of the city of Florence, was attacked during the Mass on the Sunday after Easter, when the Archbishop of Pisa raised the Host as a signal to members of the rival Pazzi family, in a conspiracy involving many leading Italian powers, and the head of the Christian Church, Pope Sixtus IV himself. Lorenzo’s brother Guiliano de Medici was killed, but the people of Florence supported the Medici.

By end of the day, three members of the Pazzi family and the Archbishop of Pisa, were hung upside down from the Palace of the Signoria. Something like seventy more plotters were executed during the following period and Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci were commissioned to paint their bodies. Nevertheless, the Medicis’ position was still not secure, as Pope Sixtus, outraged at the murder of the Archbishop, excommunicated Lorenzo and every citizen of the Florentine Republic and with the assistance of King Ferrante of Naples went to war with Florence.

The taxes the citizens of Florence had to pay led to widespread discontent, and Lorenzo, fearing overthrow, took a tremendous risk and went to the notoriously unpredictable Ferrante, who eventually agreed to make peace, forcing Sixtus to do the same. As a result of this spectacular success, the Medici rule of Florence was left stronger than ever.

Visiting Florence gave me an opportunity to visit some of the places where the conspiracy occurred.


I visited the Palace of the Medici where Lorenzo de Medici and Guiliano de Medici are buried. The chamber itself was clearly designed to intimidate due to its sheer size, presumably to overwhelm guests and emphasise Medici power.

The Cathedral where the assassination attempt itself took place was another place we visited. It was a fascinating display of Renaissance architecture, and the experience of standing where the conspiracy I had spent months studying took place was indescribable.


I chose to study the Pazzi Conspiracy because it remains one of the emblematic events of the Renaissance, combining political intrigue, religion, corruption and fine arts. It has been the topic for media as disparate as eighteenth century plays and modern video games. As I argued in my essay, ‘the reasons that interpretations of the conspiracy have changed so dramatically is because the conspiracy can be seen as emblematic of some of the most important and quintessential values of human society, namely the desire for prosperity overcoming the importance of liberty, the interference of religion in secular matters, the disillusionment of idealists when the struggle for liberty turns out to have been for reasons far from noble, all of these can be seen in the Pazzi conspiracy, with many debates about the nature of the conspirators being more informative of the historians own views than anything else, and it is likely that this is the reason that the Pazzi Conspiracy, was and remains such a popular event in history.’

This is the main reason I wanted to go to Florence, to get a glimpse of the city where this fascinating event took place and I can safely say, standing in the places where the conspiracy was hatched, I could easily get a glimpse of this remarkable event, effectively reminding me why I became a historian.

Italy Enters The First World War

Italy’s reason for declaring war was to gain territory, so its armies went on the offensive from the start. The year 1915 was dominated for the Italians by their attempts to break through the Austro-Hungarian line on the Isonzo river, but there were also naval encounters and bombing raids across the Adriatic Sea. The Austro-Hungarians defended effectively throughout 1915 as whenever they lost territory they were ordered to immediately recapture it at all costs.

Italy entered The First World War on May 23, 1915, declaring war only on Austria-Hungary, from which it hoped to gain territory promised by the Treaty of London negotiated with the Allies on April 26 in return for giving up neutrality to join them. However, for geographical reasons this was a particularly ambitious goal. The 400 mile long border between Austria and Italy passed through high mountains, which naturally gave the defenders an advantage.  There were only two possible areas where the Austro-Hungarian defences could possibly be broken; through the passes to the Trentino to the north, or via the valley of the Isonzo River in the Julian Alps to the east. The Trentino route would have to be ruled out because the passes were already in Austrian hands and heavily fortified. The main Italian effort throughout the war was therefore launched across the Isonzo towards Slovenia, Trieste and Istria. This presented huge problems for troop concentration and mobility. Furthermore the Italian supply lines were always vulnerable to attack from the Trentino , so some forces always had to be diverted in that direction to cover the main force. It also required clearing the vast windswept Bainsizza Plateau to the east, a series of desolate, rocky ridges.

The Italian Front 1915 -1917

Italian Front 1915-1917.jpg


The Central powers were aware of Italy’s negotiations  and secret deal with their enemies, and by the time war was declared the Austrians were ready for them. With only seven divisions in all, they were heavily outnumbered, but were superior in artillery and machine-guns. In initial skirmishes in June, Italian Alpine troops climbed the 2,300 m Monte Nero overnight and swept the few defenders from the summit. This early success created unrealistic expectations. The main advance began on June 23 with an artillery barrage that destroyed the monastery of Sveta Gora, a Slovene national treasure, but not many of the Austro-Hungarian defence posts. Commander-in-chief Cadorna aimed to take Gorizia and the bleak Carso plataeu, gateway to the Trieste. Casualties in the first of the many battles of the Isonzo were heavy with over 30,000 Italians and 20,000 Austrians killed or wounded in action. A shortage of front-line doctors meant that many Italian wounded were left unattended, and transport problems caused severe shortages of food and water. Some Italian officers even forced their men forward at gunpoint, and both sides threw rocks when the ammunition ran out. On July 7, with Italian advances being minimal, Cadorna called a halt to the offensive. He dismissied 27 Generals and blamed the failure on everyone but himself.

Italian Alpini Troops

Una colonna di alpini in marcia sul Cadore. (1915)

The second battle of the Isonzo began on July 18, the main objective being Monte San Michele on the edge of the Carso. This time the artillery barrage was heavier and more effective.  Every shell bursting on the limestone terrain discharged a hail of rock fragments more deadly than bullets to soldiers without helmets. The Italians gained the summit, but were driven off next day in a counter attack spearheaded by knife-wielding Bosnians. The Italians retook it on July 25, and were again pushed off. The tactics of the Austrian commander Boroevic were simple: if a position was lost, recapture it immediately.

Fighting on Carso gradually died away with Trieste still over 20 miles distant. A fruitless assault on the Upper Isonzo continued, but heroism was unavailing against well entrenched machine-guns. Cadorna was still convinced he could break through, but he needed two months for recovery and reinforcements. The third battle of the Isonzo began on October 18 with a three-day artillery barrage. Gorizia was now Cadorna’s objective. The Italians reached its suburbs but could not take the town, and the offensive ended at the beginning of November. The Fourth Battle began a week later and lasted into December. Italian gains remained insignificant and one regiment mutinied. Battles at the Isonzo continued into late 1917 accounting for half of the entire Italian war casualty total.

Four Maya Rulers – Lost and Forgotten

Today I wanted to speak to you about some of the most prominent rulers of the Maya civilization. To my surprise, I thought I would be able to compile sufficient data about these 4 leaders, yet I was proven wrong. It is surprising how little we actually know about them. Even though the decipherment of Mayan glyphs advances, effectively all we have left over by this great culture -and many others in the area of Meso and South America- is their great monuments and archaeological remains. This is the reason why I have taken it as a task- you may have noticed that lately I have been posting quite a bit on this subject- to spread the word about these civilizations, and perhaps inspire others to become experts on the subject to enlighten us all!

Thus what follows is a brief description of these rulers based at Palanque and Tikal, and the few things we know about them. I would also like to advise that, while doing my research, I had to take advantage of my knowledge of Spanish to get details about these characters, because the widely information available in English was truly appalling or insufficient. So, you can consider this a work of history as much as a translation effort!


Pakal the Great / “El Grande”/ Ahau de Palenque (603-683 CE), also known as K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, was ruler of the Maya – and ahau or ajaw as referred to in their culture- with his seat of power located at Palenque. Pakal came to power after a conflicting and bellicose, so consolidating his influence and bringing some stability were key items in his agenda.He embarked himself in a vigorous military campaign that lead him to the acquisition of new land where to assert his position as ajaw.  At Palenque, Pakal begin the huge monumental complex that his own would later on expand. His first contribution to this was the temple El Olvidado, but he is better known for improving the palace. Moreover, he contributed to the improvement of Maya agricultural techniques and begun the series of glyphs from where we obtain most information about these dynasties and their people. After his death Pakal transcended into a divine figure and was worshiped as a god, who was believed to be able to communicate with the new rulers. He was buried at the Temple of Inscriptions, although his remains are still a disputed issue amongst the archaeologists regarding the true identity of these bones. It seems that the Maya manipulated the dates of his rulers and some other important members of society to make them coincide with prominent astronomical and astrological events, as a sign of good omen, or for mythological purposes. Nevertheless, recent research undertaken in 2003 by Vera Tiesler at the Universdad Autonoma de Yucatan re-examined his bones and concluded he was considerably old – estimates of 80 years although not all the researchers agreed on this figure, however they were certain he was at least 55 years old at the time of his death. Moreover, the results pointed out that he has suffered from osteoporosis and arthritis.  Pakal has also raised controversy regarding the iconography of his tomb, leading some -Charles Berlitz amongst them- to believe that he was connected with aliens, as they believed he was depicted piloting his grave as in the fashion of a spaceship. These theories have nowadays lost their popularity, but there are many who still contemplate this idea.

K’inich Kan B’alam II/ Chan Bahlum II (635-702 CE). He was the son of Pakal and was crowned some months after his father’s death in 684 CE. His name is usually translated as Gran Sol Serpiente Jaguar- Great Star Snake Jaguar-. As his father’s heir, he expanded the site of Palenque and commissioned the 3 temple complex. His most important addition is perhaps the Temple of the Cross, which is a crucial source for understanding the Mayan glyphs. He also campaigned primarily against the rulers of Tonina, located 115km south from Palenque, therefore its natural political rivals. However, nothing in particular seems to have triggered this animosity, so scholars have assumed in the past that the rulers of Tonina made a pack with a different Maya settlement, opposed to Palenque. One the other hand, he established alliances with the settlement of Moral-Reforma. In addition, K’inich Kan B’alam II commissioned not only the chronicle of dynasty of Palenque as well as their military epics, but he also introduced mythical narratives, such as the biographical account of Muwaan Mat and his ascendance to divine power.

Jasaw Chan K’awiil I (682-734 CE). Jasaw established his political capital at Tikal (Peten), which became one of the largest Maya cities of its period. Before the Maya glyphs were deciphered he was also known as “Gobernante A”. The period prior to his rule is associated with a time of recession for the people of Tikal which according to Maya experts lasted for 130 years. In addition, this change of circumstances and glorifying raise to greatness is mainly associated with his victory over another Maya ruler located at Calakmul. Jasaw is particularly associated with the site of Tikal Temple I, due to the location of his burial, although there does not seem to be consensus on the actual purpose for this building, aside of its funerary function. The site is a typical pyramid in Peten style.

Yik’in Chan K’awiil/K’awiil el Oscurecedor del Cielo (734-766 CE). He was the son of Jasaw and succeeded his father in the rulership of Tikal. Like his father, prior to decoding the glyphs he was identified as “Gobernante B” and was acknowledge as the 27th ruler in the Tikal line. Maya experts consider him one of the most successful leaders of the time, as he consolidated the realm his father amassed in his lifetime. Moreover, Yik’in managed to defeat two further Maya rulers towards the year 743CE. These were Jaguar Throne, ruler of El Peru, as well as the leader of the settlement in Naranjo. Interestingly though, the location of his tomb is currently unknown, however archaeologists seem to believe his tomb could be located southwards of Temple II.



Palaeontology History

The nineteenth century is usually an era I avoid like the plague, but a general interest in archaeology led me to writing this post. Away from industrialisation, work houses, Queen Victoria and Napoleon, small but significant discoveries were gaining momentum. Palaeontology, the study of fossils and essentially dinosaurs, picked up alongside vast medical studies in bones and centuries old debris. Many consider the Age of Enlightenment the source of an increase in archaeological digs and searches, yet the study of fossils and bones as a means of understanding the past is nothing new. Ancient Greeks such as Xenophanes in the sixth century BC, and Herodotus in the fifth century BC studied fossils from marine life in areas that used to be below water. Medieval naturalists across Europe and Asia looked at fossils in order to solve how they are formed, something the Persian Ibn Sina became famous for in his book The Book of Healing. During early modern era of Europe, fossil work became part of natural philosophy and was undertook by many as a primary interest. Pre-History was little understood, however links between the past and fossils was becoming clearer when moving into the eighteenth century. The study of science had grown tremendously since the seventeenth century with academies springing up across England and France.

Although Palaeontology as a word was not coined until 1822 by an editor of a French scientific journal, Georges Cuvier began to look at fossils as a form of cataloguing animals that seemed to have reached extinction. This naturally led to the earliest form of Geology to become a branch of science. Palaeontology as an occupation remained fledgling until the nineteenth century when the Academy of Science was noting several more professional geologists and fossil specialists becoming registered. From 1808 the concept of ‘dinosaurs’ was coming into light despite the first dinosaur bone being found in 1676 by Robert Plot, whose bone find is still unidentified. It is noted by archaeologists that marine fossils and bones are found in a denser supply then on land, this could be due to major shifts in the earth. The earth that the dinosaurs walked on was vastly different to the one we walk today. Many historians suppose that the increase in atheism and thoughts on evolution, instead of Creationist Theory, in the nineteenth century expanded the sudden boom in archaeological digs, specifically across Asia and the Americas. It took several decades of searching before the first full skeleton was found in New Jersey, North America of the Hadrosaurus by William Parker Foulke in 1858. This remains the only full skeleton found of this species, although archaeologists and palaeontologists agree that it is closely related to the Iguanodon found in England in 1822 by Gideon Mantell. Pre-History is not an era that is popular among normal academic historians since much of it was subjective until the recent changes in bio-archaeology which makes bones and fossils easier to date. Much of the historiography is led by archaeologists and palaeontologists, historians tend to focus of the chronology of the eras. It was during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that words such as ‘Jurassic’ and ‘Mesozoic’ were beginning to be used to identify periods of time, and to acknowledge when certain dinosaurs tended to exist.

Academically palaeontology has a long history, yet socially the concept is still very young. In a century that was still largely religious the debate between science and religion was heated. Even today there are scientists and religions attempting to reconcile the two fields, as such Robert Asher’s book on Evolution and Belief (Cambridge, 2012) show him trying to accept both his occupation in palaeontology and his faith in his religion. He has made it his life work in studying Darwinism while at the same time trying to create his own theory on how the world began and developed. Charles Darwin is famous for his contribution to Evolutionary theory, his 1859 book On the Origin of Species became the foundation of evolutionary biology, the basis of which was his 1830 expedition on HMS Beagle. By 1879, evolution in science became widely acknowledged as fact. The belief that apes evolved into humans, birds in the same species developed different beaks according to where they are from became a literal antagonist to people whose belief was in God and their respective religions. This was particularly prevalent in the nineteenth century, despite being a prominent scientist, Darwin’s theory was respected but distanced from the Church of England. His theory of natural selection also contradicted God’s will. Religion and Science still hotly debate, this is echoed even in popular culture shows such as The Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon, a theoretical physicist, holds disdain from his mother who is deeply religious and believes in the Creation theory. Also in popular culture, Ross Geller put the occupation on the map when David Schwimmer played the palaeontologist for the ten year run of Friends, where he encountered differences in beliefs with Phoebe.

While England debated, America was digging. Throughout the nineteenth century, several hundred types of dinosaurs, fossils and aquatic discoveries were being made. Biological advances increased in species being named, extinct animals studied and vast catalogues were being created. Many can been seen in Natural History museums all over the world, most particularly those in New York and London. Discoveries in fossils are everywhere, yet the more concentrated finds of dinosaurs are in Africa, Asia and America, with the most well know the Tyrannosaurus Rex being found in 1902 in Montana, America. All continents have yielded a dinosaur bone, the exception was Antarctica which did not unearth a bone until 1987 when an entire skeleton was found. Palaeontology has grown over the decades until the Palaeontology Association was founded in 1957 to become to world leading experts in the field. Although having a societal reputation of being ‘dull’ the palaeontology field is one of the most vibrant in discoveries since finds are still being found. Particularly when technological advances increased the likelihood of several more major discoveries to come. For more information please look at the websites below:

Judging and remembering the past

The way we remember our history has always fascinated me, whilst doing my research on Bomber Command and of course the 19th, 18th and 17th centuries, one can see that sometimes we remember what we want, judge the past as how we want, judge it with a 21st century outlook and leave out what we don’t want.  Some historians even do it, and do a thing I regard as confirmation bias, where they find evidence that they want to find and disregard all else.  So this blog is, I guess, about the representation of History, but at the same time, answers the question can we judge the past?  My focus will be on Bomber Command as it is firstly a controversial topic, but also is what I did for my third year dissertation, and well, I have information on it I guess!

Bomber Command will always continue to be a controversial and difficult subject, and one which will always be debated by historians.  In recent years, remembrance has finally been addressed with memorials being built not only in London, but also in Lincoln.  The memorial built in 2012 shows greater acceptance and remorse of the losses.  One quote I used in my dissertation was by a man named K. B. McFarlane, who stated in his book John Wycliffe and the Beginnings of English Nonconformity that ‘some Lollards ‘lacked the spirit of martyrdom’…comes ill from those who have never been called to die for an unpopular opinion, such hesitation should be easy to understand.’  Why did I use such a quote in my dissertation, this man is talking about 14th century England!  Well the point is how can be put our judgement on our time that we have little experience.  We as historians can only read what we see in books or diaries or maybe hold items dug up by archaeologists, but we were never there, we weren’t in the skies, getting shot at, we weren’t trying to survive the plague, or were in battle trying to basically not die.  History can be used so often as a political tool, it is what Bomber Command was and is, Soviet propaganda for example portrayed it negatively and used it as an anti-capitalist statement.  It can be used to glorify the past as the Reich did in Germany.  I do want to put this question to you the reader, are we in danger of glorifying the past not, do we look at it through 21st century view rose tinted lenses, and not through the eyes of those who lived as we ought and do we pretend to know what it was like to live then.

History is grim, it can be very dark, but at the same time it is interesting and there are points when you go that is so awesome!  But when you examine it properly, you realise that you are so grateful you live in todays life, where we don’t have to worry about survival as much!

Now what do we forget then, I’ve talked about briefly history being a political tool, I’ve mentioned how it can be misused, but how can it be forgotten.  Well basically anything we don’t like, or contradicts modern thought or our own thought is left out.  Bomber Command for example was never a nice part of our history so we leave it out.  The men who have died during the centuries are all but forgotten.  Hundreds of thousands have died in war, but they are only a mere statistic to us.  I also think that the stresses of warfare on the public life, which is clear social history is ignored more; I think examples of PTSD can be found going back to pre-medieval times!  We have to ensure that all of history is remembered and of course is accessible to the public, and not worded in a way that can only be understood by some!  I think this is why museums have such a great impact in the public, they get history across to people, in a way that is understandable, they attract young and old.  I never wanted to do history because I read books by such and such an author, but because I visited sites, read information, have a Dad who was keen on history and used to tell me all sorts.  Therefore don’t ignore museums, visit them, volunteer and help out if you can.  I honestly do think History is really important to learn, and I personally want to encourage young people to get into it!

Therefore to conclude, I think we have to be careful of how we use and view history.  Never read a view from a historian and think it is fact, check it, read other books, and get a good broad picture of it.  But at the same time, be careful when you judge the past, we weren’t there, so try and see it through the person’s eyes.  And finally, I encourage you to go to museums, and to really engage with what’s being shown, but I think most importantly enjoy history!

Basing House- Is it One of the Most Underrated Symbols of Early Modern British History?

As a man who has spent most of his life on Old Basing, the relevance of Basing House has been something often slipped by under my nose, even though I often saw memories of it on a daily basis. Yet on a recent trip to the ruins, unlike through previous visits during childhood, I was gripped by just how much history there was around the house. Of course as a child I knew that this was no ordinary ruins, but as I have grown older the significance blew me away. Basing House was perhaps one of the most underrated symbols of Early Modern British history, with every brick having its own unique history.

Basing House Gateway

For many of the residents of Old Basing, I’m sure they fail to realise on a day to day basis the significance of the land they step. For Basing House was a hub of activity, through the Tudor and the Stuart age. The house itself dates back to Medieval age, with the huge circular bank and defensive ditches of the castle still visible, following the famous Motte and Bailey castle layout. These were put in place by the de Port family, who came over with William the Conqueror in 1066, and in the 1100’s made Basing House their home. But it wasn’t until the Paulet family, with Sir William Paulet, the first Marquess of Winchester and Lord Treasurer of England, who decided to build what was the more recent picture of the Basing House that we all know in 1535.

Image of one of the many defensive ditches around the castle

It was this settlement in Basing which welcomed big names throughout British History, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I after her marriage in Winchester on her honeymoon and Elizabeth I on many occasions. It was such an important hub of activity in the Tudor era, with it being labelled as the biggest Private House at the time. The house played what we can imagine as such an important part within the village, having the canal run through with a link to Woking, allowing for good link ups to London, as well as providing trade to the area. It is weird to believe that the people of Old Basing will most probably be walking in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in English history.

The Tudor Family

Yet it was the when the English Civil War broke out in 1642, with a divide between the Royalist and catholic supporters of King Charles I, and the protestants who favoured a stronger parliament, when the greatness of Basing House played out in such a bloody battle. John Paulet, the fifth Marquess of Winchester was the resident of Basing House at the time, and very much kept to his family motto of: “Aymez Loyaulte” (Love Loyalty). As you can imagine, being close to the monarchy at a tender time like this did come at a cost, and led to Basing House being attacked by Parliamentary troops, something that happened on 3 occasions. However the house did not fall easily, and it took 3 years for the parliamentary forces to finally break the walls, with the final assault in August 1645 seeing 800 men take up positions on the walls. It wasn’t until Cromwell himself turned up with heavy artillery that the house had been breached in October 1645.

Image of Cromwell as the Storming if Basing House by Croft

In the last few days of Basing House as a real symbol of excellence saw a bloody battle break out in the Basing barn, and saw between 40 and a hundred people killed. Though this may not seem much now, back then it was a huge loss to the village, with the parliamentary troops taking pillage to the house, and soon a fire destroyed the building. Parliament called for the demolition of the building, with villagers allowed to take materials for their own building. Paulet was stripped of his estate, and sent to the Tower of London on a charge of high treason, yet this charge was later dropped and Basing House later returned to him by the restoration of Charles II. Later, Charles Paulet, son of John pulled down the house and moved his own family home to Hackwood, leading to the end of the importance of Basing House in this period.

Image of the Cannon at Basing House, with a range of hitting the AA building in the background of that photo

Unknown to many, the importance of Basing House has been something overlooked by people, and had been such an important symbol of the Civil war conflict in Britain. I myself had completely been naïve on just how much history Basing House had, and how it is still evident in modern day. For years I had walked on the Old Basing Common, not realising that these were the old hunting fields of the house, and the battlefield where Cromwell led his army to take the castle. History was quite literally on my door step and had such an important role in the Tudor and Stuart periods, and was an important battlefield in the Civil War, without me ever knowing. I hope you have enjoyed reading this, and if you can, go visit Basing House!

Artist Impression of the storming

Jane Austen as a Source for Eighteenth-Century and Regency Women


Jane Austen’s famous works have transcended the past two centuries and are as well-known now as they were when they were first published. Her novels on the lives of the Bennett sisters, the Dashwoods, and the famous Emma were popular in their own times and today, with film and TV adaptations especially popular since the mid-1990s. However, Austen’s novels are also a commentary of the time they were so set, and written in. The two novels I’ll be looking at in this post in particular will be Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. These novels take place during the Regency Period of 1811-1820, when the Prince Regent ruled the country. Although none of her novels strike as particularly feminist – an ideology, in fact, that wasn’t really established until nearly a century after the Regency Period – they are about women: their relationships with one another, the situations they face and their place in society. Pride and Prejudice, deemed to be one of the most famous love stories, is itself more about the Bennett sisters and their positions in society. Austen’s books are not just detailed in the lives of her characters, but also in the polite and leisure society of Georgian England. Her books are a commentary and highly-descriptive text on the ideals this polite society was supposed to have – how women were supposed to behave, how courtship occurred, and how a woman in society was seen through the way she acted.

Polite Society

Hugh Thomson's illustration of a scene from Sense and Sensibility

Hugh Thomson’s illustration of a scene from Sense and Sensibility

The late eighteenth century and early nineteenth brought with it the advent of polite society. A society where etiquette was of upmost importance, a sign of your class and standing. It’s no surprise the idea of polite society was on the rise just as a true class consciousness was building in Britain. During this period, who you knew, how you acted and what you could afford was a sign of your importance, driving huge wedges between those with wealth, and those without. Austen’s works were usually focused on middle classes of no great wealth, and their positions compared to the higher status aristocracy, who took part in the cycles of leisure society. However, although class consciousness was on the rise due to the advent of the middle classes; the furthering poverty of the labouring classes and the events of the French Revolution, Austen’s novels do not generally discuss labouring classes. Her work is mostly focused on middle class women. The rise of a ‘middle class’ in the eighteenth century was due to a booming commercial society, and a rise in real income of professionals who were not elite or landed gentry. Merchants, tradesmen and schoolmasters all became capable of affording luxury products and were therefore able to become a part of the polite and leisured society.

In her work Women in the Eighteenth Century: Constructions of Femininity Vivien Jones discusses why this focus on polite society was evident in literature of the time. She claims  women had a large influence on emphasising the private experience in novels, and more particularly, on the subject of ‘sensibility’. The idea of ‘sensibility’, which means appreciating and responding to surrounding influences, dominated fiction in the latter half of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth, as well as playing a role in the emergence of Romanticism: themes that are both evident in Austen’s work with sensibility playing a major role in the aptly titled Sense and Sensibility.

The Cult of Sensibility

Hugh Thomson depicts Marianne crying over Willoughby

Hugh Thomson depicts Marianne crying over Willoughby

Sense and Sensibility was written during a time where feelings were meant to be repressed. Originally, it was to be an epistolary novel, a novel comprised completely of letters, as letters were valuable tools to observe thoughts and feelings that would be frowned upon in public. Austen’s social commentary on public and private life is told through the two Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Marianne, the youngest, is a romantic, and the embodiment of ‘sensibility’. Elinor, therefore, takes the opposite role of ‘sense’. Sense was also a definitive term in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, alongside sensibility, meaning not only common sense, but restraint and social responsibility.  Austen was certainly writing about highly relevant and socially-charged subjects of the time, indicating that her work would have been a very topical and provoking read. The ideas of sense and sensibility were discussed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the eighteenth century, when he criticised how society corrupted men and women by distorting and holding back their emotions and urges. Writing and publishing for women in this period was not just part of a pastime or way to achieve status, but also an act that went against the moral and social boundaries contemporary women were constrained by. By discussing such a highly topical, philosophical and provoking subject as sense and sensibility, Austen was, as a woman, taking a bold stand on remarking upon the values of Regency society. Vivien Jones emphasises this by demonstrating that women’s writing was defined as a threat to the existing social order, and at its most extreme was seen as a loss of chastity and an act against femininity. For Jane Austen, her writings were often ways of commenting on the values of society.

Women and Marriage

Tinted Line Drawing by H.M. Brock: Lady Catherine de Burgh question Elizabeth about her relationship with Mr. Darcy

Tinted Line Drawing by H.M. Brock: Lady Catherine de Bourgh questions Elizabeth about her relationship with Mr. Darcy

Austen’s works can tell us a lot about women and marriage in this period. In his work on the eighteenth century, Jeremy Black highlights how it was social and economic pressures that drove women towards matrimony. In Austen’s works, Mrs. Bennett wants to marry at least one of her daughters off to someone rich; Charlotte Lucas marries Mr. Collins because, at twenty-seven she’s on the verge of forever being a spinster; Marianne Dashwood cannot marry Willoughby because he does not have enough money and wishes to marry Miss Grey, who has £50,000 a year; Elinor Dashwood is seen as a unsuitable match for Edward Ferrars because of her low funds and status; Jane Bennett is under the same situation with Charles Bingley. The underlying importance that is stressed in all these cases is that these women need to marry in order to achieve some sort of wealth, and the fact that they cannot inherit from their fathers once they die. The Dashwoods’ father dies at the beginning of the novel, and their estate and possessions are left entirely to their half-brother. The Bennett’s father is alive and well, but Mrs. Bennett is all too aware that once he dies their home and belongings will not pass to any of his five daughters, but to his male cousin, Mr. Collins. In this period, women could not inherit from their fathers, and her property, once married, was her husband’s. Through her depictions of marriage in these works, Austen underlines how achieving a marriage was about achieving stability, in wealth more so than for love and companionship. Of course, her major characters marry for love, but the way marriage is treated by many of the surrounding characters and by the narrative assumes that it is a device in which women can find a home and a husband to provide for her once her father can no longer, while also, for the upper classes, a way of creating and maintaining ties with important families. The Bingley sisters oppose of Charles Bingley’s affection for Jane Bennett, because she is of a much lower class and has little standing of her own; Lady Catherine de Bourgh refuses the idea of her nephew, Mr. Darcy, from marrying Elizabeth Bennett because of her family’s reputation; and the same narrative, although in a completely different setting, is apparent in Sense and Sensibility in the case of Elinor Dashwood and Edward Ferrars. It would appear that in society, marriage was a case of propelling one’s status or achieving some wealth, and for the upper classes especially, about maintaining high status in society. It should also be noted that, according to values of the eighteenth century, women who remained unmarried were social failures, as Austen highlights in the case of Charlotte Lucas and her marriage to Mr. Collins. By the end of  the century, with declining employment opportunities once available in business and commerce, it was implied the only means to exist was marriage.

Drawing by C.E. Brock, 1895 Macmillan edition of Pride and Prejudice: One of the Bennett sisters, Lydia, shows off her wedding ring

Drawing by C.E. Brock, 1895 Macmillan edition of Pride and Prejudice: One of the Bennett sisters, Lydia, shows off her wedding ring

Desertion and Divorce

Bridget Hill discussed how no divorce was possible unless the marriage was proved invalid, that is: adultery or bigamy had been committed. However, it was practically impossible for a woman to divorce her husband even if she did prove he had committed adultery. Deserting husbands was incredibly difficult because a woman had no claim to property and, worse still, could not claim custody of her children either. Austen discusses this painful reality in her story of Eliza Williams in Sense and Sensibility. Eliza, forced into an marriage with a man she could not stand, seems to be trapped. A plan to elope with her husband’s brother, whom she truly loves, is thwarted when a servant gives the plan up to her father-in-law. Driven by her unhappy marriage, she sleeps with another man and is divorced by her husband, left with nothing. In the story told, it is referenced that after her divorce ‘there was every reason to fear that she had removed from him [her first seducer] only to sink deeper in a life of sin.’ This is possibly an implication of her prostitution in order to survive. This is heavily implied by the fact that many poor women, with nothing else to turn to, turned to prostitution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the end, she lies dying in a sponging-house (a bath or spa) of tuberculosis, leaving an illegitimate child in the care of her ex-husband’s brother, who tracked her down in her dying days.

Therefore, although Austen’s work is heavily focused on the middle classes and polite society, it is also a heavily critical commentary of what this sort of society causes, and what marriage for women could mean. Although Austen’s main characters end up with their happy ending in love-matched marriages with wealthy men, the other side is underlined in many other of the women characters engagements – Eliza’s being one example. Less extreme examples are that of the Bennett sister’s parents, whom the sisters themselves comment as being a loveless marriage, if at least a content one; Charlotte’s marriage to Mr Collins is one that merely helps her circumstances, though she also claims to be content with the situation; Marianne marries Colonel Brandon and because she ‘could never love by halves’ she became ‘as much devoted to her husband, as [she] had once been to Willoughby.’

Hugh Thomson's Illustration of a scene in Sense and Sensibility

Hugh Thomson’s Illustration of a scene in Sense and Sensibility

What Austen Cannot Tell Us About Women

Essentially, however, Austen’s books focus on the middle and upper classes who played a larger role in polite society and the sort of social values she was making such a commentary on. In both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, servants are mentioned and given small speaking roles, but their lives are not looked into nor are their ideas, thoughts and emotions described. This is most probably due to the fact that Austen was a member of the lower orders of landed gentry, and the society she was commenting on was not that of the labouring classes. The lower classes rarely would have taken part in polite and leisure society. Although poverty is touched upon – the Dashwoods are considered to be poor but their strong connections keep them afloat – Austen’s novels remain concerned with the middle classes and the landed gentry. Labouring women of the eighteenth century, apart from appearances as servants, make up very little of  these two particular novels.

However, Austen’s works give us a very particular insight into the lives of women and their roles in polite society. In a society that was based on hierarchy and where subordination was everywhere, in manners and in speech, Austen’s work was driven by class, and were a social and economic commentary of the period and of the women in that period.

The English Civil War, an Introduction to the social and political impact

civil war monument

Welcome one and all to a blog post evaluating the Civil war during the 17th century.  Now I assume many of us have heard of Cromwell and Charles I.  One argued to be a tyrannical King and the other apparently the bringer of freedom.  Well both of these judges of character can be easily debated to be the other way round.  Cromwell has much to answer to, I sometimes think him of a genocidal maniac, but perhaps that is too extreme.  Whatever your opinion of him, he is all we talk about regarding the parliamentarians.  Charles however, decided to rule without parliament and tried to rule absolutely, which at the time was unpopular, above all, he appeared to be a Catholic.  Catholics were deemed to be oppressors and loyal only to the Pope, something that many thought would oppress their freedom and rights.  However, Charles is all we really hear about when discussing the Cavaliers (men who sided with the King).  Therefore this post will discuss the social and political impacts of the war, without spending my focus on either Cromwell or Charles!  So lets begin, welcome to the English revolution!

Socially, the Civil war saw 13% of the British population die, either in battle or by diseases that appeared due to the warfare that was happening throughout the nation.  This is a staggering amount of people, considering in relation the First World War saw 3%.  The impacts it would have on communities was devastating, people’s homes destroyed, men needed for farming, now gone, and of course the rise of disease, families were also torn apart, brother against brother, son against father.  The consequences of the war would also change people’s lives.  Military districts were established, and laws passed that closed theatres and of course as we well know, banning Christmas.  Perhaps one of the biggest changes was the establishment of the New Model Army, but this is a term we must be careful using, considering most of this army was still conscripted like the Royalists, they were just better trained and given a stable wage.  This army would allow the King in the future of parliament to control the nation, by force, by the threat of violence.  Perhaps also one may argue that the creation of this army allowed men of different counties to mix, to help solidify the image of being English.  But did much actually change?  Well not really, the war didn’t really affect people’s direct lives, once the war was won/lost, people returned home and carried on with their day to day lives, Catholics had to go into hiding, and the Protestants enjoyed a time of risen attendances, but generally people didn’t see much change.  After all, Cromwell would become basically a King in all by name, ruling through the army in which he controlled.  He fought wars with other Protestant states for economic reasons, the same as Charles II would.  After Cromwell’s death, the King was reinstated and life returned to as normal, with a monarch and his parliament.  The thousands of death that happened previously were all for nought.

Politically, we see the only time in British history, where there is no monarch, in a way we see a revolution.  Yes England has revolted many a time, just because it isn’t called one in name, doesn’t mean it is not one!  But the issue is, the civil war did not change much, Cromwell was basically a King, and Charles II returned and took revenge on all those who signed his father’s death warrant.  England had returned to what it what.  In fact, under the Cavalier’s, people who supported the King, it could be argued that they were more progressive than the parliamentarians.  Now I don’t like using the word progressive, it’s a word too often used today, but, what I mean here is that people like Cavendish, the 1st Duke of Newcastle was one of the greatest horse riders in Europe and updated the art of dressage, making it fairer on the horse and therefore was an advocate of animal protection.  Cavendish also allowed his wife to dabble in education, he allowed his daughters to write plays and poetry, which were performed to the King.  Even if some of their practices were questionable, the royalists and Charles II brought stability and continuity, something that the nation craved.

If you are looking for a more important and influential part of British history, may I point you no further than to 1689, and the Glorious revolution!  This saw the Dutch William of Orange and his English wide Mary become joint King and Queen of England, and certainly was a big turning point in English history!  It was really the last time England was ever properly invaded and conquered and saw a Catholic monarch deposed, replaced by Protestants.  The reign and decline of James II is one that could have its own blog post, but in brief, he wasn’t well liked by parliament!

The civil war shows the distaste of Catholics at the time, but also shows the desire of freedom of worship; the King should not impose his beliefs on the nation.  The war however, changed little, perhaps it added a larger resentment to Catholicism, which in turn created a them and us mentality, and further cemented the English identity, one that still is there today, but it wasn’t until the Bill of rights, the glorious revolution of 1689, where we would see change in politics in Britain.  It saw the end to the Anglo-Dutch wars, but it took power from the King, and gave more to parliament, in fact it was probably what the parliamentarians wanted all long.

I would like to end this post however, referring to the picture at the top of this blog post, this is a monument to those who died at the Battle of Naseby, it shows that there can be and has been remembrance of the deaths during the time period, however, there are no names of course!  However, the deaths of the civil war are largely ignored and seen as statistics, perhaps we should focus more on the lives of these men!

Why did Winchester Play Rugby rather than Football in the 19th Century?

As many of you know, Winchester is famously known for having an influential college in the 19th century, with the boys school playing an integral part to the community. For the boys, sport and recreational events allowed for competitions, not only amongst the other houses within the school but against other boys schools. But for Winchester College, rugby was the sport of choice compared to football? Why was this I hear you say? Well read on, and you will find out :) This blog post is in aid of my dissertation research question: ‘How Does Football Develop in Basingstoke: 1870-1890?’

Game of Winchester College Football

Winchester College was an important hub of the community, with the role of the college not one to be underestimated in modern day society. For the colleges and the civilians around it, sport allowed for rules and mannerisms to be taught and aid development in everyday life. For Winchester, rugby allowed for the rules to be taught to their men, who would in turn play a massive part in the spread of the Empire. At the time, the British Empire was spreading across the globe, and it was these boys who were taught in schools like Winchester, who played such a massive part in helping spread the rules and the mannerisms of the respectable English gentleman across the Empire. This in turn led to the spread of sport throughout the Empire, with many high figure profiles within it performing the sports.

Image of an Indian Polo Team

Yet, for Winchester football was not the game in question. Though the boys in the school did take part in Winchester football, it was not the sport of choice, mainly due to the fact that the game at the time was very lower-class based, and the breweries helped to fund the teams. Winchester unlike Basingstoke was not home to many breweries, so football was not a sport in demand. For Winchester and the schools, rugby was a respectable sport with respectable mannerisms, and football provided an ugly side of civilisation. With neighbours Basingstoke having so many problems with football, rugby seemed to be the ideal sport for the people of Winchester. Basingstoke had many pub and church football teams, all teaching different constitutions and mannerisms. The pub sides were a lot more working class, with the local drinkers all pitching together to play against the other pub sides. The church teams as you can imagine liked football in the respect that it could teach good manners and lessons of the bible, and often thought of the pub teams as being similar to hooligans. In a time where drinking was frowned upon, football proved to be the centre point for one of the most famous riots at the time.

Interesting book on the Basingstoke Riots

With the Salvation Army marching into Basingstoke demanding that lessons of Christ be taught in all football, and that the pub teams should not have such a strong hold on the teams. What followed was the Basingstoke Riots of 1881, where the Breweries and pub teams went against the Salvation Army, leading to parliamentary action to solve the crisis. Whilst tarnishing the image of football, it illustrated that perhaps Winchester were not wrong to be focusing all their attention on playing rugby. Rugby allowed for rules to be taught, for respectability to be earned, life lessons to be taught overseas. Rugby was Winchester’s sport, and certainly benefitted the area, living on in their history into present day.

I hope you have enjoyed my little insight into why rugby was more popular than football in Winchester, hopefully as I do more dissertation research I can share more with you all.

Gallipoli Part II

So we have left the Allies quite dumbfounded at the event of not being able to break the Turkish defences by sea. Churchill, First Lord, was keen on keeping the pressure. To no avail. Fisher was of the opinion that the field Commander (or Sea Admiral in the case) was best to assess the situation; the PM was not in the mood of arguing against the Navy; Kitchener said the Army would do the job nicely… Enter Anzac Day, then.

Almost everything went wrong from the outset: no joint command, no planning or intelligence gathering, scarce space for troop deployment, or barracks…Hamilton went to Egypt to see to it all that shambles was sorted out: And a month passed, thus giving Otto Liman von Sanders, the German Inspector General of the Turkish Army, and Commander of the Fifth Army, precious time to rearrange and reinforce his troops now that it was pretty clear were the blow would be taken.

Finally, everything was ready. And Hamilton could launch the assault. It was obvious the Gallipoli Peninsula, to the left of the Dardanelles was the place. What where exactly? Hamilton, with guile, decided to disperse the attack so the Turks would not know the exact place of the main attack. This meant that the ANZAC would go all alone to the Ari Burnu area, while the other forces would be scattered all around, including two diversion landings in Kum Kale, to the right, by the French; and in Bulair, almost in the mainland. So von Sanders would have to decide sharply when and where to move his troops to cover attacks in eight different beaches. Interestingly enough, given the amount of confusion and disorder associated to this campaign as a whole, the fleet assembled swiftly and in a very orderly way they crossed the sea to the landing spots. Landing itself would take place in 25 April; troops were given three days rations. Again, the feeling was of strength and superiority. If only they would had known better.

One can imagine those Australian and New Zealand soldiers, young and brave, all zeal and disdain for death. Thinking on those barbaric Turks, maybe dreaming to get into History with their exploits. And they surely went in to History…the hard way. ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) was a newly created unit, raw, unexperienced and eager to fight for the Empire. With their characteristic flexible hats and an attitude to authority not always welcomed by the top brass, those hardened farmers, workers, used to the hardships of the still to tamed Southern lands would be the stars of what was meant to be an adventure film, but soon turned into a horror movie.

To begin with, what was to be known since as Anzac Cove was the worst recognised landing area ever. Well, maybe not ever. But definitely in 1915. At dawn, April 25, the ANZAC landed with not that much opposition and soon the beach was cleared. After that, probably, the young Southerners did took a good look to the surroundings: the beach was small. Beyond, high cliffs and ravines. A nightmare of shrub and rock. With the light of day, the cruel reality: they were in the wrong place. Yes, the landings went almost unopposed, but that was only because they had missed the intended beach by a mile, and now their main enemy was terrain, not the Turks. But that also was to change soon, as a man was taking command of the Turkish army. His name would also go into History as Father of the Turks: Mustafa Kemal, to be known as Ataturk.

Meanwhile, the rest of the landings was well underway. It was easy in beach Y, North of Cape Helles. So easy that some men walk calmly to the heights of Achi Baba, a key position. But, again, all went wrong: no one was really sure of who was in command, so no one took it and the troops stay there, top of the cliff, waiting, while the ANZAC were climbing and the Lancashire Fusiliers were mowed down by machine guns and trapped in the wire, as in the Western Front, in beach W; or the River Clyde, in fact a coal ship, was under so heavy a fire in beach V that the men could not get out of the ship until dusk. Hamilton was on board the Queen Elizabeth, with no actual, to the minute, knowledge of what was going on in the beaches; Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston, commanding the Helles area, was no closer on board the Euryalus. Kemal, in the meantime, was crossing the heights of Sari Bair and Chunuk Bair.

So the landings were ill-planned and poorly executed; the troops were badly led, if at all; the equipment was not really appropriated, dependent on feet and bayonet. With no intelligence, there was no real understanding of the importance of some terrain features which passed almost unnoticed. And yet, the landings were somewhat succesful and the beach-heads stand by the end of a day which, unbeknownst to all the interested, was to be known in the future as ANZAC Day.

Surprisingly, they held every beach but Y, which had been the easiest prey. And was also the first gone, after a vicious night attack by the Turks that couldn’t be repelled, entrenchment not even given a thought through the day. A rough 30000 men were disembarked, amid growing pains and confusion. But the situation was far from ideal, particularly so with the ANZAC.

Kemal spent the day rallying dispersed troops and launching counter strikes, gaining the high terrain and pushing the forward-most ANZAC units back to the beach. A beach, one must remember, which instead of a mile long was a mere five hundred yards long and a scrawny thirty yards wide. Soon the ANZAC was bottled and its Commander, Sir William Birdwood, gathering intelligence from his Officers, was asking for evacuation. The whole beach-head was no more than three and a half thousands long and a little more than a thousand deep. Water, food and supplies were lacking, the landscape fiendish, exhaustion rife. The situation getting worse and the position clearly untenable. Yet, as precisely an Australian submarine, the AE2, finally forced The Narrows, Hamilton denied permission to evacuate (taking the forcing as a sign) and said to Birdwood that they had to cave, cave, cave and hold until an attack from the South would relief the pressure. So they did. Cave, cave, cave and hold against the enemy, the terrain, the lack of almost everything, earning everlasting respect as a combat force. But this was not close to an end.

Endless suffering will ensue in the next months as the operation designed to get out of the Western Front stall transformed into a clone with trenches and useless deaths.We will come back to see what was done of the ANZAC and the other Allied troops in the ongoing campaign. By now, we will just take some time to reflect on why so many had to die because of the lack of insight or sheer stubbornness of so few, so far from home.


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