August 2015 Vol 65 Issue 8
From One, Many
The Bronze Age roots of Indo-European languages
The strange cult of Richard III
To the Guillotine! Exploding the myths surrounding the fall of Robespierre
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Reaching out: a detail from The Stories of St Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1465, in the Church of St Augustine, San Gimignano.
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PUBLIC HISTORY appears to be a growth area within the academy, though a contested one. A pioneer of the genre has been the Centre for Public History, Heritage and Engagement with the Past at Royal Holloway, University of London, where Anna Whitelock, the director, and Edward Madigan are tireless promoters of the noble idea that people outside the academy should have a chance to engage with those within. We at History Today strongly support such initiatives. A seminar at the International Medieval Congress, held in Leeds in July, was devoted to public history and the feedback that resulted inspired me, if those are the right words, to come up with a general set of principles for its practitioners. First, do not underestimate your audience. I cannot count the number of times when a letter or email to History Today, or an interjection in a public debate has made me and no doubt others think again about our take on a particular subject. As Eleanor Parker says – and her blog, A Clerk of Oxford, is as fine an example of public history as exists today – ‘Be prepared for the public to teach you as much as you teach them.’ Second, try to steer away from forced parallels with the past; if you want countless examples of the dangers of doing so, just follow the coverage of the Greek crisis. Third, do not be afraid of engaging with the strangeness of the past (though be wary, too, of exoticising it). Fourth, show what a historian does: tell the public about source work, revel in discoveries and show the power of mastering languages ancient and modern. Just as importantly, learn how to write; the most revelatory work can be leadened by dull or tortuous prose, which appears to be a speciality among some academics; it is notable just how many of our best-selling serious historians – Jessie Childs, Tom Holland, Andrew Roberts, Dan Jones, Antony Beevor – are working beyond the reach of the traditional academy. Finally, do not worry too much about sensitivities. We live in a age when offence is worn as a badge of honour, but in a liberal democracy it is the price we pay for freedom, both academic and in the wider world. History is an argument – and sometimes a robust one – or it is nothing.
Child Killers • Waterloo Fiction • Civil War Protests • De Gaulle’s Big Day
A most ‘barbarous and revolting murder’ Infanticide is as shocking today as it was 200 years ago, but impressions of its perpetrators have evolved. Emma Butcher THE VILLAGE OF LAMMONBY in Cumberland was, The Times reported in late January 1845, a scene of great excitement aroused by the murder of a child by its drunken mother: On Tuesday evening, the 28th ult., she made up a large fire in the kitchen of her own house, with the determination of sacrificing her child in the flames prepared by her own hands. For reasons only known to this wretched woman herself, she stripped off all the child’s clothes and hid them in a hole behind the inner door in the ashmidden, and having done so took the child by its legs and arms and literally roasted it to death. Child murder was remarkably common in the Victorian period. The contemporary press regularly reported sensational stories of ‘unnatural’, villainous parents who strayed from the celebrated image of domestic bliss promoted by society’s moral doctrines. As in the extract above, the media did not hold back, presenting to the reading public the full, gruesome facts of these tragic tales. By the late 1850s and 1860s a supposed epidemic of infanticide had spread across the country. In 1866 the Reverend Henry Humble expressed the sense of anxiety, discord and panic occurring in the heart of Britain’s
Gruesome facts: cartoon published in Punch, 1849.
capital, noting that people would not pick up unfamiliar bundles in fear that a dead child (with a woman’s garter around its throat) would be found. Everywhere, from London’s streets to its canals, was deemed unsafe; Britain was becoming ‘defiled by the blood of her innocents’. Humble goes on to say that the doctor Edwin Lankester believed that 12,000 child-murdering women (one in every 30 female residents) lived in London. Newspapers,
such as the Pall Mall Gazette, reported that foreign countries viewed Britain as a ‘nation of infanticide’. Typically, murderous mothers fell into similar categories, committing violent acts because they were disgraced, desperate or drunk, or a mixture of the three. Unquestionably, all were diagnosed as insane. How could they not be, when, as the poet Robert Browning stated, ‘womanliness means only motherhood: all AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 3
love begins and ends there’? In many ways, imposing madness on mothers meant that the judicial system found it easier to justify the crime and could send the woman away to an asylum to be cured. Even a decade before the socalled infanticide epidemic, a report in the London Journal of Medicine noted that of the 1,091 curable female patients admitted to Bethlem over the previous six years, 131, or one eighth, were puerperal (childbirth) cases.
Newspapers reported that foreign countries viewed Britain as a ‘nation of infanticide’ Treatments consisted of confinement, purging, moral rehabilitation and, in some cases, surgical intervention. During the 1860s the public began to question this lenience, especially after the murders of three children by their mother, Esther Lack. Although Lack claimed that her motives stemmed from a fear of starvation, the courts diagnosed her instead with a ‘debility of constitution, caused by the delivery of three infancies at a birth some seven or eight years ago’. Local and national presses voiced the public’s uncertainty, The Times emphasising that this was one of many cases where madness has been ascribed but loosely justified. Despite this evident continuing sympathy for murderous mothers, it was not until 1922 that legislation was passed to protect mentally ill mothers from the death penalty. If murderous mothers were caught in a social bind that saw them both as unnatural monsters and figures that deserved sympathy, what about fathers? Although few articles appear ed in the national papers relating to paternal child-murder, those that did emphasised the tragedy of the case and the awfulness of the crime. The same sympathy was offered to men who had previously shown good conduct as a father. If they committed the crime out of desperation or a conflation of insanity and drunkenness, then they were more likely to be incarcerated in an asylum with intent to cure. There were some, showing no 4 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
remorse, who were sent to the gallows, but most men presented themselves in the courtroom as troubled, melancholic, broken and on the path to redemption. The media, despite extending some form of commiseration, did not hold back in presenting the facts. In the cases of Henry Seyman and William Kemp, both committed in the 1860s, it was widely reported how they had slit their child’s throats with razor blades through wild, temporary derangement. Despite the wish to sensationalise the crime through emotional dramatisation, there was also a prevailing need to sell a juicy, gruesome story. In the 21st century, with headlines such as ‘Evil Fire Death Dad’, ‘Evil mum jailed for beating her baby to death’, ‘Cruel mother and sadistic boyfriend’, our society still revels in these scandalous headlines while showing composure and understanding towards mothers who kill while suffering from postnatal depression: ‘Mum who killed five-week old baby needed more support.’ Although our society has come a long way in the treatment of mental illness from the casual glaze of insanity ascribed during the 19th century, child murder is still as shocking, as troubling and as sensational as it was nearly 200 years ago. Emma Butcher is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Hull and associate editor of The History Vault.
Alternative Histories by Rob Murray
Waterloo in Fiction: A Tale of Two Sharp(e)s Literary responses to the battle help us understand its place in cultural memory. Robert Eaglestone THIS SUMMER marked the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and in discussions of memory 200 years is an interesting amount of time. It falls outside the ‘saeculum’, the span of living memory. According to the historian Alan Forrest, the last British witness of Waterloo died in 1905: in 1815 she had been the five-year-old daughter of a camp follower. Beyond the saeculum lies ‘historical time’: archives and memorials to be explored by historians. This ‘historical time’ becomes, simultaneously, ‘fabulous time’, for novelists and film-makers to plunder for fables, stories and settings, from the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott to Shakespeare in Love. As the events recede further into the past, the ‘historical’ struggles against the ‘fabulous’. Waterloo is just at the cusp of this struggle, poised between the ‘historical’ and the ‘fabulous’, though the fictions it inspired tell us a great deal about the memory of the battle today. One fabulous – in both senses – occasion was the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, held before the battle and over the past 200 years numerous fictional characters have been added to the extensive guest list. Two of these are currently the most famous fictional characters from Waterloo. Both tell us about how the battle is remembered in 2015: oddly, both have the same-sounding surname. The first is the grim soldier Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Sharpe, from Bernard Cornwell’s hugely successful and meticulously researched novels. Played memorably on television by Sean Bean, Sharpe has dark hair (until Cornwell changed it to match Bean’s), a sharp eye for combat, a sharp tongue and, before a battle, his ungainly sword is ritually sharpened to a razor-like edge. In Sharpe’s Waterloo (1990) he attends the ball dressed in his talismanic combat-worn
green Rifleman’s jacket, carrying crucial information for the Duke. He also has business of honour with the cavalry officer who has seduced his wife. The other important fictional guest looks, at first sight, utterly the opposite of Richard Sharpe. Rebecca Sharp is the scheming force of nature at the centre of William Makepeace Thackeray’s ‘novel without a hero’, Vanity Fair, from 1847-48. Becky has a sharp sense of the injustices done to her: she has a sharp wit and sharper financial sense and she uses these to cut her way into society. When she attends the ball, with her black hair in ringlets, her face is ‘radiant’, ‘her dress perfection’. She charms (nearly) everyone in the ballroom and dishonourably dances with another’s husband. These two apparent opposites, one from a canonical novel, the other from genre fiction, share more than a name. Their stories and social trajectories are the same: both are social climbers. In Sharpe’s Regiment (1986), it is revealed that Sharpe’s mother is a ‘whore’ from the St Giles rookery, next to Covent Garden, where he grew up. Born (probably) in 1777, Richard has no idea who his father is. Becky Sharp’s mother is a far from respectable ‘opera girl’ and her father was a dissolute artist who lived in Soho, where Becky lived until she
was sent to school. Richard Sharpe’s ascension through the ranks, promoted for his heroism, parallels Becky Sharp’s promotion through the class structure: she is the victor – Thackeray uses explicit military metaphors for Becky’s campaigns – of different sorts of battles. Both make advances, retreats and captures: Richard’s sallies and feints are on the field, Becky’s in the drawing room. In this way, both oddly echo Napoleon’s meteoric social rise, too, and the wider concerns about status at the time. Indeed, the two Sharp(e)s show how the memory of Waterloo is inextricably entwined with issues of class, money and status, more, perhaps, than heroism and courage: and, of course, Napoleon as the prime example of the ‘self-made man’ looms large over this memory. Richard and Becky have similar personalities. Both are angry: Richard Sharpe is furious at the incompetence of the officer class with their bought commissions and at the endless slights done to him as a commoner. Becky, too, is angry at the way she is condescended to and shipped off to be ‘only’ a governess. Both fight: Richard, while undisciplined, is a superb tactician; Becky, too, has acute insights into the ambitions and desires (and so strengths and weaknesses) of those around her. This individu-
Looking Sharp(e): Sean Bean (left) as Richard Sharpe in Sharpe’s Rifles, 1993 and Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, 2004.
ality, too, is emblematic of the memory of Waterloo, which is remembered, for all its terrible slaughter, as a battle on the cusp of the industrial period, where individual or communal acts of heroism, or the insights of a commander, can be imagined to change the outcome. Could the two Sharp(e)s be related? Vanity Fair makes clear that Becky’s father ‘owed money for a mile round’ Soho, so might easily have known Sharpe’s mother in Covent Garden and, in 1776, might have become the father of little Richard (his mother died in the Gordon riots of 1780). As we have seen, the two Sharp(e)s share more than just dark hair. Perhaps at the ball their eyes met and they recognised in each other a similar rage, an ambition, a tactical mind of genius? Or perhaps he thought her a vain young woman and she thought him a scruffy rogue? There is much more to this than mere literary speculation. Their different spheres tell us something about how Waterloo itself is remembered. As Judith Hawley points out, Thackeray drew heavily on Frances Burney’s Waterloo diaries for his novel; Cornwell’s wellresearched work, too, draws on the accounts of witnesses. Both writers represent different aspects of the battle: the military and the domestic. For the First and Second World Wars, the ‘Home Front’ is as much part of what we remember as the military campaigns: but for Wellington’s time, the military and the domestic were, almost for the last time, separate. The impact of Britain’s overseas wars – in Europe or in the rest of the world – in the 18th and 19th century, so important to the nation and its global history, are poorly understood in their British context and often poorly remembered. (Salman Rushdie – another literary inheritor of Thackeray – has a character called ‘Whiskey’ Sisodia who says, stuttering: ‘The trouble with the English is that their hiss hiss history happened overseas so they dodo don’t’ know what it means’.) The division between the two Sharp(e)s – and our shared cultural memory of Waterloo – is an acute case in point.
Robert Eaglestone is Professor of Contemporary Literature and Thought at Royal Holloway, University of London. AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 5
A Women’s Revolt A protest against the Civil War ends in tragedy. Sara Read THE SUMMER OF 1643 saw the political unrest that had culminated in the beginning of the English Civil Wars the previous year spill into the streets of Westminster. Between August 7th and 9th there were a series of pro- and anti-war demonstrations in the capital. In a letter to his wife, Katherine, dated August 9th that year, the monarchist Thomas Knyvett reported how the House of Lords had sent a number of ‘very honourable’ proposals to reopen talks for a peace treaty with Charles I to the Commons. The proposals were thrown out by a small majority. Knyvett was dismayed at the Commons’ rejection, signing his letter ‘thy poor disconsolate husband T. K.’. A group of women had clearly taken the same view and on Tuesday August 8th had gathered outside the Houses of Parliament to protest for peace. The women, described by Knyvett as a ‘multitude’, several hundred strong, were apparently given some verbal reassurances and dispersed without incident. However, the next day the women returned to Westminster in much greater numbers with the intention of meeting with Parliamentary leaders, such as John Pym, to present them formally with ‘The Petition of Many Civilly Disposed Women’. The organised nature of the protest was clear, as all the women were supplied with white ribbons to wear in their hats as a symbol of the peace they sought. John Dillingham’s newspaper The Parliament Scout for the week beginning August 3rd claimed that 5-6,000 women were involved in this second day of action. He also wrote that a tenth of the women were prostitutes, but mostly they were poor women whose husbands were away in the army. Richard Colling’s newspaper, The Kingdom’s Weekly Intelligencer, went further and reported that the women were largely comprised of ‘whores, bawds, oyster-women, kitchen-stuff women, beggar women and the very 6 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Femme fatale: Wenceslaus Hollar’s Winter, 1643.
scum of the suburbs, besides a number of Irish women’. The idea that this was a random convergence of malcontented women goes against the organised nature of the protest and, in fact, some sources say that the ribbons were given out by a ‘Lady Brunchard’. Around lunchtime the women heatedly blockaded the entrance to Parliament for two hours. The protest turned violent as Sir William Waller’s horse regiment attempted to suppress it. Knyvett told his wife in his next letter of August 10th that ‘there was much mischief done by the horse and foot soldiers’. Two men were known to have been killed and numerous men and women injured. Listening to news of the day’s events as they unfolded was John Norman, who ran a spectacle shop. From the prime position of his shop door just outside Westminster Gate, Norman could take in all that was happening. He was on the side of Parliament and had been heard to say that he would ‘rather see the streets run with blood than that we should now have peace’. Amid the chaos, news spread that one of the women protestors had been shot dead in the nearby churchyard. Norman was unsympathetic, commenting that it did
not matter to him if ‘a hundred of them were so served’. Rushing out to see the commotion closer, Norman found that the woman who had been killed was his own daughter. The young woman, described by Knyvett as a ‘pretty young wench’, worked as seamstress in Westminster Hall and was believed to have been accidently shot when she crossed the Palace Yard while running an errand unconnected to the protest. The soldier who fired the shot was investigated, but apparently let off when his defence that his pistol went off accidentally was accepted. The Intelligencer suggested that women in general should use the young woman’s death as a warning not to get caught up in such uprisings. The Parliament Scout blamed the death on the women themselves for uprising, claiming that ‘Tumults are dangerous, swords in the hands of women do desperate things; this is begotten in the distractions of Civil War.’ There is a twist in the story of the seamstress, however, and it is alluded to in the Intelligencer. The paper’s account of the incident mentions almost in passing that ‘the malignants say, it was done by a trooper that rid up to her, and shot her purposely, others say it went off by mischance’, echoing the soldier’s own defence. The antiquarian and parliamentarian MP Sir Simonds D’Ewes noted in his journal that the horse soldier who shot the woman was a ‘profane fellow’ who bore an old grudge against the spectacle-seller and so used the opportunity to ‘shoot his daughter to death as she was peaceably going upon an errand’. We do not know if the seamstress was unwittingly caught in the riot, or if she had decided to join in the unrest; nor if she was a victim of a tragic accident or an opportunistic murder. For Thomas Knyvett, it was an opportunity to spread propaganda about the other side, as a man who had been heard to claim that he would rather see the streets running with blood than accept a compromise with the king had seen his own daughter’s blood shed in the street. Knyvett instructed his wife to be bold and tell this story widely because it was ‘certainly true’.
Sara Read is the author of Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women’s Lives, 1540-1740 (Pen & Sword, 2015).
De Gaulle’s Victory Over Waterloo Charles de Gaulle delivered his first speech from London on the anniversary of Waterloo. Jonathan Fenby MUCH HAS BEEN MADE, especially (and predictably) in the British press, of French reluctance to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. In France, however, the date – June 18th – is remembered for a very different event involving a very different and ultimately more successful military leader and politician. Charles de Gaulle had arrived in London on June 17th, 1940 with Edward Spears, Churchill’s personal liaison officer with the French. The general flew from Bordeaux, where Phillipe Pétain, hero of the First World War battle of Verdun, had just become head of a government that would surrender to the advancing Germans and preside over four years of collaboration. De Gaulle would have none of this. He was convinced that Hitler would eventually be defeated and that France must not give up. ‘Honour, common sense and the superior interests of the nation demanded that the combat should continue’, he said. He would be proved right at the Liberation four years later, but his flight to London was a huge gamble. He had become deputy defence minister at the beginning of June, at the age of 49, after leading his tank units in battle; but he had no legitimacy. Churchill, whom he had met at the Anglo-French conference earlier in the month, welcomed him and offered him the services of the BBC to broadcast his message of resistance. But the General wondered, as he put it to his son later, if he was doing something mad ‘throwing myself into the water without knowing where the other bank is … I put myself in God’s hands’. His revolt against the Pétain administration, which had been
approved by parliament, was all the more striking because de Gaulle came from a reactionary, royalist family and, as a professional soldier, placed a high premium on discipline. He had, however, shown his rebellious streak in the 1930s by championing offensive tank warfare against the defensive mindset of France’s high command championed by Pétain and epitomised by the Maginot Line, which the all-conquering Wehrmacht simply avoided. As a German prisoner in the First World War (he was captured at Verdun), de Gaulle had written in his notebook about what made great leaders, a theme he developed in lectures at the
‘In God’s hands’: Charles de Gaulle delivers a speech from London in 1940.
The British had initially hoped for a more prominent French politician to rally to their cause French military academy in the 1920s. He argued that they moved beyond set hierarchies and regulations, ready to take the risks involved. They were predestined for greatness, tough individuals who lacked ‘surface seduction’ and were rarely loved but who were ready to seize their opportunity when it arose. His words went down badly with the conservative military establishment, but there was little doubt as to de Gaulle joining their ranks when that time came and it did so in the middle of June 1940. Taking up Churchill’s offer, he arranged to broadcast on the BBC on June 18th, but the War Cabinet, meeting that morning in the absence of the prime minister, vetoed the idea since it still hoped to nurture a relationship with the Pétain government. Spears went to
Churchill to protest and was told that, if he could get a majority of the Cabinet to change their minds, he could go ahead. Spears lobbied successfully and de Gaulle spoke to France, declaring: ’Has the last word been said? Must hope disappear? Is defeat final? No!’ France could count on Britain’s backing and ‘the immense industry of the United States’, he added. He invited all French troops and civilians on British territory to join him. ‘Whatever happens, the flame of French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished,’ he concluded. (He did not utter the famous phrase about France having lost a battle, but not the war, which was reportedly conjured up by the British Information Minister, Duff Cooper, and which was subsequently slotted into the text of the call to resistance.) Initial reaction was halting. The British had initially hoped for a more prominent French politician to rally to their cause. The French ambassador, Charles Corbin, went to South America. Other leading French figures then in London, such as the future ‘Father of Europe’ Jean Monnet and the writer André Maurois, headed for the United States. Few of the French troops who had crossed the Channel signed up initially with the new movement, the Free French, who installed a cask of wine at their headquarters. Yet a dedicated core of early Gaullists kept the flame of resistance alive. Despite their recurrent and often violent rows, Churchill maintained his fundamental support and the Treasury offered finance (which was ultimately repaid). The ranks of the Free French grew bit by bit and the internal resistance movements in France came to recognise the general as their standard bearer. In August 1944, although French units were not included in the D-Day landings, de Gaulle marched down the ChampsÉlysées in triumph at the Liberation. The Man of June 18th, 1940 had seized his hour on the anniversary of Waterloo and proved himself to be, unlike Napoleon, his country’s saviour.
Jonathan Fenby is author of The General: Charles de Gaulle and the France He Saved (Simon & Schuster, 2010). His History of Modern France was published in July 2015. AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 7
By Richard Cavendish
AUGUST 21st 1940
Leon Trotsky assassinated in Mexico BORN IN THE UKRAINE in 1879 and later hailed by one admirer as the greatest Jew since Jesus Christ, Lev Bronstein became famous under another name. From 1902 he called himself Trotsky, adapted from the German word trotz, essentially meaning ‘defiance’, which would prove prophetic. He was a leading figure in the Bolshevik movement under Lenin, after whose death in 1924 he was the most important victim of Joseph Stalin’s insatiable lust for power. Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1927 and exiled to Turkey in 1929. He and his wife, Natalia Sedova, later moved to France and then to Norway. In December 1936 Trotsky, now 56, and Natalia were put on a freighter to cross the Atlantic to Mexico. There they were warmly welcomed by the Mexican president, the former revolutionary leader Lazaro Cardenas, and taken to live in the Coyoacan area of Mexico City at the home of two other admirers, the painters Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo, with whom Trotsky had an affair. In exile he had continued to work resolutely against Stalinism and his book The Revolution Betrayed was published in Paris in 1937. In it he said that under Stalin the Soviet Union had betrayed socialism and become a totalitarian state. Moscow was determined to destroy him. In May 1939, after breaking with Rivera, Trotsky and Natalia moved to a house nearby on the Avenida Viena. They had guards, but on May 24th, 1940 at four o’clock in the morning attackers opened fire on the house. Trotsky thought sleepily that the noise was just fireworks, but Natalia pulled him out of bed and they hid underneath it while splinters of glass from the shattered 8 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Revolutionary resting place: the tomb of Trotsky in Mexico City.
windows flew about the room. The Soviet agents in Mexico had succeeded in planting a woman called Sylvia Ageloff in the house as one of Trotsky’s secretaries. She had a lover, a Spanish communist called RamÓn Mercader, who turned up at the house pretending to be one of Trotsky’s admirers and began calling on him often with chocolates and flowers. Everybody liked him and Sylvia as well. Trotsky was ill, suffering from high blood pressure, and not expecting to live much longer. About 5pm on August 20th Mercader arrived at the house with his raincoat over his left arm tucked firmly against his body. He went upstairs to see Trotsky in his study. While they were talking Mercader went round behind him, pulled an ice-pick out of his raincoat and slammed it into Trotsky’s head. Mercader afterwards described Trotsky giving a long ‘aaaa’ cry. He grappled with Mercader and bit his hand and then staggered out
of the room. Natalia had heard Trotsky cry out and ran upstairs to find him with his face covered in blood. Guards rushed to the scene, seized Mercader and started beating him up, but Trotsky said: ‘No, he must not be killed, he must talk.’ Soon afterwards he collapsed and Mercader was turned over to the police. Trotsky was taken to hospital in a coma and died there at 7.25pm the next day, aged 60. After a funeral procession attended by huge crowds, he was buried in the garden at the house on the Avenida Viena. Natalia made sure there were always fresh flowers on his grave. She lived on until 1962. The house is now a museum, supported by the International Friends of the Leon Trotsky Museum. The grave is marked by a tall concrete pillar engraved with his name and a hammer and sickle. Mercader at first did not reveal his true identity to the police. He told them he had wanted to marry Sylvia, but that Trotsky had refused to permit it and that was what had driven him to commit the murder. It was all Trotsky’s fault. Sylvia was arrested as an accomplice, but soon released. Mercader was tried, convicted of murder and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Released in 1960, he was welcomed to Cuba by the Fidel Castro regime and declared a Hero of the Soviet Union the following year. He died in Havana in 1978. In a document known as his ‘Testament’, which he wrote a few months before his death, at the turn of February and March 1940, Trotsky described Natalia as ‘an inexhaustible source of love, magnanimity and happiness’. For himself he wrote: ‘For 43 years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for 42 of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism … I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist and consequently an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the Communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today than it was in the days of my youth.’
AUGUST 12th 1865
Lister pioneers antiseptic surgery in Glasgow AN 11-YEAR-OLD Glaswegian named James Greenlees unintentionally helped to make history that day in 1865. Run over by a cart in the street, he was taken to the male accident ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, where the house surgeon was Joseph Lister, a 38-year-old Englishman who was developing a new technique to deal with the appalling death rates that killed half the surgery patients. The boy had a compound fracture of the lower left leg. He was given chloroform and Lister washed the wound out and applied a dressing of carbolic acid (now called phenol). A splint and bandages were put in place and the carbolic acid dressing was renewed again several times as the days went by and the wound began to scab over
An electrifying end: a contemporary portrayal of Kemmler’s execution.
Cleansing spirit: Joseph Lister, 1896.
and heal. After six weeks Greenlees was discharged, fully recovered. It was Lister’s first success with this technique. From a Quaker family, his early interest in science had been fostered by his father, an amateur physicist who was a member of the Royal Society. The son began a brilliant career at University College, London, became a surgeon and after a period at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was appointed Regius Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University and in 1861 surgeon to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. He was influenced by the French scientist Louis Pasteur, who had suggested that patients under surgery might be fatally infected by the development of tiny organisms (or bacteria) in their blood. Pasteur was a hugely influential theorist, but Lister was a practical technician determined to put an end to unneces-
sary deaths. Believing he was directed by God, he succeeded and between 1865 and 1869 his ward’s death rate after surgery fell to only 15 per cent. It took time for Lister’s methods to gain acceptance, but the evidence was too strong to be ignored and in Britain and abroad other medical men were exploring similar techniques. In 1869 he was appointed Professor of Clinical Surgery at Edinburgh and in 1877 he returned to London, to King’s College Hospital. He retired from medical practice in 1893. Greatly honoured, he was Sir Joseph Lister from 1883, President of the Royal Society in 1895, Lord Lister from 1897 and one of the 12 original members of the Order of Merit in 1902. Lister was almost worshipped by those who worked with him, but he was shy and reserved and it seems that few people ever knew him well. He was blind and deaf by the time he died in 1912 at the age of 84, which his doctor considered ‘a merciful end’. He was given a magnificent funeral in Westminster Abbey.
AUGUST 6th 1890
Awakened at five o’clock in the morning in his cell, Kemmler dressed neatly in a suit, white shirt and tie. He ate breakfast and said prayers before his head was shaved. At 6.38am he entered the execution chamber and said calmly to the assembled witnesses: ‘Gentlemen, I wish you all good luck. I believe I am going to a good place and I am ready to go.’ He was fastened into the chair, which had been successfully tried out on a horse the previous day, and said to the executioner, Edwin Davis (whose official title was ‘state electrician’), ‘Take it easy and do it properly, I’m in no hurry.’ The generator was charged with 1,000 volts and the current was passed through Kemmler’s body for 17 seconds. He was unconscious, but still breathing. The current was turned on again at 2,000 volts. Kemmler’s skin began bleeding, part of his body was seen to be singed and a horrible smell spread through the death chamber. The New York Times reported that ‘the stench was unbearable’. The procedure had taken about eight minutes.
The first execution by electric chair THE ELECTRIC CHAIR was invented by employees at Thomas Alva Edison’s works at West Orange, New Jersey in the late 1880s. The inventor’s involvement has embarrassed many of his biographers and an entry for ‘electric chair’ in their indexes is a rarity. Edison wanted to see capital punishment abolished altogether in the US, but meantime he thought electrocution would be quicker and less painful than hanging. A commission organised by the governor of New York State agreed with him and it was the Edison chair that was used in 1890 to end the life of a street pedlar called William Kemmler, a German-American who had killed the woman he lived with in a drunken rage. The death sentence was carried out at Auburn Prison in New York State.
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 9
A Medieval Relic? By no stretch of the imagination was Richard III a saint, but the furore that sprung up around his discovery and reburial was strongly reminiscent of a medieval cult of sainthood, says Anne E. Bailey.
‘N Souvenirs from the King Richard III visitor centre in Leicester.
O CATHEDRAL HAS SEEN anything like this before.’ These were the words of Channel Four’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy, spoken at Leicester Cathedral on March 22nd, 2015, ahead of a week of celebrations marking the reburial of Richard III. The arrival of the last Plantagenet king of England at his ‘final resting place’ was the climax of an extraordinary journey, one which began for the general public in February 2013 when archaeologists from the University of Leicester confirmed the identity of the skeleton excavated from a city centre car park six months earlier. From this moment on the British public became intimately familiar with the posthumous affairs of a long-dead, short-lived monarch. They involved, among other things, a squabble between ecclesiastical institutions competing for the remains, the modification of a church chancel to accommodate a new tomb and prospective visitors, an ambitious public relations
campaign and a grand religious ceremony marking the relics’ reburial in a prominent place in a cathedral. We have indeed witnessed a unique episode in history, at least in the opportunity it has provided for ordinary people in the 21st century to observe the reburial of a medieval king. Nonetheless, the series of events leading up to the reburial is not as unusual as we might suppose and Leicester Cathedral is not the first English place of worship to have become the focus of public excitement centred on the discovery of ancient bones. In the 11th century, for example, a peasant ploughing a field belonging to Ramsey Abbey unearthed a strange object: a coffin containing ancient human remains. The monks of Ramsey were informed and the bones were washed and placed on the altar of a local church. News of the discovery quickly spread and parishioners hurried to the church, ‘their spirits raised’, praying that the identity of the man might be revealed. Divine revelation came to their aid when the dead man appeared in a vision to a local smith. The spirit claimed to be a seventh-century archbishop and demanded that his remains be treated with reverence. The relics were duly placed in a specially commissioned shrine and so many pilgrims flocked to Ramsey Abbey for the accompanying AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 11
It is difficult not to see more than a hint of saint veneration behind this determination to honour Richard III religious ceremony that the fields around the church ‘could scarcely hold the rush of people’. The monks of Ramsey had successfully transformed their surprise find into a pilgrim attraction and the cult of St Ivo was born. The account of St Ivo’s discovery and reburial was recorded by Goscelin Saint-Bertin, a Flemish hagiographer living in England, who specialised in recording – and promoting – the lives, deaths and miracles of saints. St Ivo’s posthumous story closely echoes those of other Christian saints of the 11th and 12th centuries, for the recovery of long-lost relics was not an uncommon occurrence in this period. The cult of saints was blossoming and religious tourism was proving to be a profitable source of income. Hoping to cash in on the booming pilgrimage trade, Ramsey Abbey was just one of many religious houses acquiring the ‘must-have’ religious accessory of the time: a holy relic. Hagiographers like Goscelin made much of two key episodes in a saint’s posthumous career: the ‘finding’ (inventio) and ‘translation’ (translatio) of their relics. As in the case of St Ivo, the inventio – the discovery of relics – was the event which launched a lost saint into stardom. However, it was the translatio – the ritual transference of a saint’s remains into a new shrine – which signalled the formal beginning 12 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
of a cult. Translation ceremonies were often grand affairs, conducted by the local bishop and, in the case of important saints, attended by leading churchmen and nobles. They also attracted ordinary pilgrims, keen to be present when the newly enshrined saint was revealed to the public.
Crowds watch the procession of Richard's coffin, Leicester, March 22nd, 2015.
OR MEDIEVALISTS, then, there is much about Richard III’s recent discovery and reburial that has a familiar ring. Particularly noteworthy is the service in Leicester Cathedral on March 26th, 2015, celebrating the ritual relocation of Richard to his new tomb. Leading churchmen, senior royals and celebrities played prominent roles and the less exalted were also present. Those unable to get into the church congregated in the cathedral gardens outside. Although the ceremony, which was based on a documented 15th-century reburial service, was not technically a translatio, it is difficult not to see more than a hint of saint veneration behind this determination to honour Richard III in an appropriate, ‘medieval’ way. It should be stressed that no-one is claiming that Richard III is a saint, nor suggesting that he should be honoured as one. The English Protestants rejected relic veneration at the Reformation and, although some monarchs attracted cultic attention in the Middle Ages, Richard was never one of them. Not only was the political climate against such a move in the late Middle Ages, but by the time of Richard’s death papal canonisation required candidates for sainthood to have led demonstrably pious lives and performed posthumous miracles. For a cult to take hold, devotees would also need to believe that their saint had a hotline to God and could help them in their daily tribulations.
Although these key criteria for sainthood are absent, Richard’s mortal remains have nonetheless undergone some intriguingly cult-like adventures in their journey from discovery to reburial. This can be illustrated by considering one of England’s best known saints, the ninth-century bishop of Winchester, St Swithun. His legendary request to be buried beneath the dripping eaves of his church went unheeded by later generations of Winchester monks and, after the demolition of the Anglo-Saxon minster in 1093, Swithun was – not for the first time – dug up and translated into a new church.
TRANSLATION PROMPTED by the rescue of relics from a demolished or ruined church was a fairly frequent event in the 1th and 12th centuries. The recovery of Richard III from the site of a Franciscan priory is, then, entirely in keeping with cultic tradition. However, it is the subsequent history of these original burial sites which provides one of the most unexpected parallels between Richard and many medieval relics. At Leicester, the archaeological trench which had once contained Richard’s skeleton now forms the main attraction in the new visitor centre. This kind of heritage tourism may seem very modern, but medieval cult promoters were also cognisant of the attraction of empty graves and there are numerous hagiographical references to the veneration of burial places formerly occupied by saints. St Ivo’s empty tomb in the fenland village of Slepe, for example, drew crowds of pilgrims looking for miraculous cures. In the case of St Swithun, his old grave outside the ‘Pilgrim’s Door’ of Winchester Cathedral was turned into a paved area known as ‘Memorial Court’, which became a popular stopping-off point for devotees visiting the shrine.
Top: statue of Richard III in Leicester Cathedral gardens. Right: St Swithun from St Swithun's Church, Wickham, Berkshire.
WHEREAS MODERN CURIOSITY in Richard’s former grave has not aroused much media interest, the same cannot be said for the legal row between the cities of Leicester and York over the site of Richard’s reburial. Disputes over the possession of 500-year-old bones may not be everyday occurrences in 21st-century England, but in the Middle Ages rival claims to newly discovered relics were not uncommon. Ecclesiastical institutions fighting for the custody of dead celebrities were usually motivated by the hope of fame and fortune. However, strategies to win possession of a favoured relic were rather less polite then than now, as a hagiographical motif known as furta sacra (‘sacred theft’) attests. The bones of London’s patron saint, St Erkenwald, were reportedly the subject of a foiled smash-and-grab raid when thieves broke into the crypt of St Paul’s in the dead of night. According to a 12th-century account, the crime had been engineered by one of several covetous monasteries. Having acquired an important relic – by fair means or foul – it was the responsibility of medieval custodians to provide their saint not only with a worthy resting place, but also one that balanced the needs of pilgrims with those of the working clergy. English churches in the late 11th and 12th centuries frequently underwent alterations to create new spaces for their saints in areas mutually convenient for clergy and visitors. The chancel at Winchester, for example, was remodelled so that pilgrims could view St Swithun’s shrine by moving around a purpose-built ambulatory without disrupting the monks’ daily office in the choir. In the 21st century exactly the same considerations AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 13
the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Reverend Tim Stevens, was quick to point out on March 27th, Richard is interred in a tomb below ground level and not – as is normally the case with saints – elevated above the church floor in a shrine. Notwithstanding this distinction there are, however, curious nods towards saint veneration in the material environment and iconography associated with Richard’s tomb within the cathedral.
A dictated the location of Richard III’s new tomb at Leicester, as is made clear by the cathedral’s ‘Brief for Architects’ for the grave. The tomb now sits in a ‘reordered’ chancel, away from the liturgical areas, and visitors are encouraged to circulate anti-clockwise around the church, filing past the tomb sited in a specially constructed space described as an ‘ambulatory’. Particularly striking is the decision to position Richard III’s tomb in the place usually reserved for important saints in the Middle Ages – directly behind the high altar – rather than to one side of the chancel where the bodies of lesser mortals were more usually buried. There is, nevertheless, one crucial difference between Richard’s resting place and those of medieval saints. As 14 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Top: visitors circulate around Richard's tomb in the chancel. Above: prayer ribbons on the railings outside Leicester Cathedral during Richard's reburial week.
S RICHARD IS NOT considered a saint he has no chapel or altar dedicated to him. However, hints of a cultic setting suggest themselves in the new chapel lying directly behind the tomb dedicated to ‘Christ the King’. Since the dedication derives from the chapel’s east window – a First World War memorial depicting Christ the King in Glory – we might assume that any implied association between the ‘kingship’ of Christ and Richard to be coincidental. After all, although medieval saints were presented as Christ-like, such comparisons would be unusual for secular individuals such as Richard. Nonetheless, a pair of stained-glass windows, commissioned for the Katherine Chapel to the north of Richard’s tomb, makes a more explicit link between Richard and Christ. Designed by stained-glass artist Tom Denny, and still under construction at the time of writing, the windows will (according to the cathedral’s brief) ‘reflect aspects of the life, death and subsequent treatment of Richard III’, while at the same time signifying ‘the death and resurrection of Jesus’. In addition to being reminiscent of the medieval ‘Becket windows’ of Canterbury Cathedral commemorat-
ing the 1220 translation of St Thomas’ relics, the ‘Richard’ windows at Leicester set the lives of Richard and Christ side-by-side. Leicester Cathedral is careful to frame the religious symbolism of its new windows in generic, rather than specific, terms. From this perspective, Richard does not stand apart from the crowd as an exemplary human being. Rather, he is to be viewed as a Christian ‘Everyman’: someone to whom we can all relate. Visitors to the cathedral are invited to identify with Richard. In his sermon at the re-internment service, Tim Stevens drew attention to Richard’s human side. Richard, he said, ‘bore his disability with courage and knew the pain of bereavement and loss’. Richard’s story, in other words, is also ours. Attachments to historical figures, forged through a sense of shared understanding, were likewise endorsed by the medieval church. Pilgrims were encouraged to empathise with the suffering of saints and martyrs and they brought their own hardships – often in the form of disability, bereavement and loss – to saints’ shrines in the
Left: the Right Reverend Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester, arrives at Leicester Cathedral, March 26th, 2015. Right: a crown rests on Richard's coffin in Leicester Cathedral, March 22nd, 2015.
reburial was presented as an occasion for reconciliation, for example bringing together Catholics and Anglicans and symbolically healing the strife of the 15th-century War of the Roses through a token gathering of 21st-century Yorkshire and Lancashire peers. It is interesting to note that medieval hagiography also made numerous references to the wide-ranging nature of a saint’s appeal. In an effort to draw attention to the popularity of a favoured saint, hagiographers repeatedly stressed – and possibly overstated – the social diversity of pilgrims and the long distances they travelled. As with visitors to Leicester today, those who had come from overseas received a special mention, such as the man said to have journeyed from Rome to Winchester to see St Swithun at the turn of the 11th century. Motifs of social unity and reconciliation also appear as part of the medieval discourse about saints. It was thought that sins were forgiven at a shrine and hagiography makes much of the fact that saints had the power to heal fractured communities, reconciling troubled souls not only with God but also with their neighbours.
Tim Stevens’ comment that Richard ‘belongs to all of us’ would have struck a chord with pilgrims listening to stories of their favourite saints hope of spiritual or practical help. Local saints, such as Swithun and Ivo, owed a great deal of their popularity to the fact that they were felt to be approachable because, fundamentally, they were ‘like us’. As the historian Peter Brown said, medieval saints were envisaged as ‘invisible friends’. It is easy to imagine that Tim Stevens’ comment that Richard ‘belongs to all of us’ would have struck a chord with pilgrims listening to stories of their favourite saints in the Middle Ages. ‘Reaching out to all, we witness to Christ holding all things in unity.’ This is the mission statement of Leicester Cathedral and extends, as we have seen, to Richard III who also ‘reaches out to all’ in religious symbolism. The principle was put into practice in Leicester during the reburial week services: representatives of multi-faith communities were invited and the heads of both Anglican and Catholic churches presided. The message of social and religious unity was echoed by the city’s tourist industry and enthusiastically taken up by the media. The universality of Richard’s appeal became a popular concept, frequently evoked to remind us that visitors came from all over the globe and from different faiths and cultures. In particular, Richard’s
Although some aspects of the so-called ‘Richard effect’ – such as unity, universality and reconciliation – may seem closer to wishful thinking than to reality, one frequently repeated theme does appear to correspond to the thoughts and feelings of the general public. This is the idea that people have ‘taken Richard to their hearts’ because he is someone to whom they feel emotionally connected.
PEAKING TO VISITORS waiting to see the newly revealed tomb on March 27th, I asked what had brought them to Leicester for Richard’s reburial. For most the primary reason was an interest in history. However, the way that this interest was expressed is revealing. Seven out of ten stated that they felt some sort of personal connection to Richard. One woman told me: ‘He has come alive as a person this week to me’ and another confided that she felt close to Richard because she had read that he had been ‘devastated when his son died’. A third passionately championed Richard because he was an ‘underdog’. These responses, delivered with feeling, suggest a human tendency to externalise our emotions by projecting them onto someone, or something, else. This possibility AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 15
RICHARD III was hinted at by Tim Stevens in his reburial sermon when he commented that people had come to Richard that week ‘bearing their own grief’. The idea that Richard provides a focus for our own emotions was brought out again when interviewees were asked whether it was important to them that Richard was reburied in a place of Christian worship. There was unanimous agreement that a Christian burial, and the religious services provided by Leicester, were entirely appropriate. Asked why this mattered, six out of ten replied, ‘it was what Richard would have wanted’. As is well known, Richard was given full Catholic obsequies at his first funeral, so a second burial service made palatable for a post-Reformation audience by expunging all references to the very thing that lay at the heart of Richard’s concerns about his afterlife – purgatory – was, in all probability, not what the 15th-century Richard would have wanted. Indeed, Richard’s one and only documented request in this area – that provision be made for 100 priests to say masses for his soul – has, as far as I am aware, not been granted. It is likely that popular notions about ‘what Richard would have wanted’ are a further example of unconscious emotions being attributed to another person, with the views expressed about Richard’s funeral wishes revealing more about our own hopes, fears and values than his. A second point of interest here is that making emotional connections with a historically distant figure such as Richard necessitates closing the five-century gap between his story and ours. One way to achieve this, it seems, is to conflate the 15th and 21st centuries and create a kind of fictional fusion between the two. It is this merging of historical periods which has been
Richard’s one and only documented request in this area has, as far as I am aware, not been granted
A portrait of Richard III in the choir of Leicester Cathedral.
16 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
one of the most striking features of the Richard III phenomenon. From the funeral cortege with its escort of police cars and armoured knights to the burial service with its curious mixture of medieval and modern elements (such as Judith Bingham’s anthem set to the words of the medieval mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg), much of the ceremony of Richard’s reburial week seems to have been orchestrated to blur the line between past and present. This gave the impression, as noted by the novelist Philippa Gregory, of ‘the veil of time ... almost disappearing’.
F COURSE, the desire to draw the past into the present is not new: in the Middle Ages historical figures, including Christ, were continually refashioned for the medieval present. Saints were similarly updated and made relevant for each new generation. The iconography of the ‘Richard windows’ in Leicester Cathedral will continue this tradition in its merging of Christ’s life with Richard’s and Richard’s with that of today’s viewers. In the words of Tim Stevens, ‘history meets the present … here, eternity breaks into time’. Why is the idea of reliving the past in our own times, and on our own terms, so attractive? ‘Myth and ritual’ theorists, such as the cultural anthropologist Claude LéviStrauss, have sought to explain this perennial yearning with reference to commemorative rituals which conceptually collapse the boundary between past and present. ‘Myth’, in this context, does not necessarily refer to a fictional past, but to a re-imagined one which ritual attempts to recreate in the present. In anthropological terms, the ritual expression of myth is generally seen as socially beneficial, as it binds communities together by fostering a sense of belonging and shared cultural values. For their part, participants are said to find emotional links with historical events and people comforting. The feeling of being closely connected to the past provides a
Above: designs by Tom Denny for the stained glass windows in the Katherine Chapel of Leicester Cathedral. Left: stained glass window in the Richard III visitor centre, Leicester.
reassuring sense of continuity and gives meaning and hope to the present. Myth and ritual theories make sense in the religious or folkloric context for which they were intended and may account for the popularity of saints’ cults in the Middle Ages. However, the idea that we have a tendency, in our postmodern era, to ‘mythologise’ national history is a less than comfortable one with implications for how, and why, we engage with history. One might argue that sentimentality engendered by the ‘Richard effect’ is an inappropriate reaction to the past. Yet, without an emotional need to connect ourselves with our history – stimulating us to discover, explore and constantly reappraise historical narratives – there might be no ‘history’ at all. This last point was brought home to me when I spoke to visitors queuing to see Richard’s tomb on March 27th. Many explained that their interest in history had been invigorated, or even triggered, by the events of Richard’s reburial
week and one American lady made a point of telling me that she had been inspired to enrol on a medieval history course. The mortal remains of Richard III may not be credited with miracles or the granting of prayers, but it seems that they nonetheless have the ability to affect those who are drawn to them in powerful, and perhaps even life-changing, ways. From his discovery in a lost grave to his reburial behind the high altar of an English cathedral, Richard III’s posthumous journey in many respects follows in the tracks of medieval saints. The cultural discourse he has accrued along the way would have been familiar to people in the Middle Ages and his relics – like those of saints – have generated strong emotions. Is the ‘Richard effect’ relic devotion in a secular guise? Perhaps not, but for a week in 2015 King Richard III was the closest thing the Anglican Church had to a saintly relic. The ‘veil of time’ may have remained intact, but we could be forgiven for imagining a faint echo of the Middle Ages. Anne E. Bailey is a member of the faculty of history at the University of Oxford.
FURTHER READING Charles Freeman, Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (Yale University Press, 2011). Robert Bartlett, Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things? Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation (Princeton University Press, 2013). John Crook, English Medieval Shrines (Boydell Press, 2011). Patrick J. Geary, Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages (Princeton University Press, revised 1990). AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 17
IN THE DOCKS A hatch foreman of an unloading gang at Liverpool Dock whistles a signal to a crane driver, 1938.
Britons like to think that they all pulled together during the Second World War, but as Clive Emsley shows, some of the work force, in particular those employed in the nation’s ports, were just as likely to be pulling a fast one.
Cops & Dockers U
NDER THE HEADLINE ‘Dock Thefts: “Substantial and Deplorable”’ the Manchester Guardian carried a short article on March 20th, 1944 quoting the annual report of the Liverpool Steamship Owners Association: Pilferage of essential supplies, whether those coming into this country or going overseas to our forces or those of our allies, is an offence no less serious than looting … and the small fines or short sentences that magistrates impose on its detection are no real deterrent to a profitable business. Participants in that business should be so dealt with as will ensure its discouragement. It will continue unchecked so long as its rewards are out of proportion to its risks. In the naval dockyards of Nelson’s day, vast quantities of wood, paint and nails were removed and sold, as well as being used outside the yards by the men themselves. Testimonies allege that men spent the last half hour of a working day sawing up pieces of good wood that they then took out of the dockyard gates as ‘chips’. While historians
have been keen to explore labour struggles on the docks, ‘fiddles’ and theft on the docks have been discussed largely with reference to the emergence of policing systems. There has been little attempt either to pursue the extent of dock theft or to assess the motivations and justifications of those involved in such appropriation. In his study of crime at the workplace, Cheats at Work, published some 30 years ago, the anthropologist Gerald Mars categorised the principal characteristics of different occupations and their workplace fiddling. He gave each of these groups an animal or bird name: donkeys, hawks, vultures and wolves. Fiddling dockers were included among the wolves. For Mars, as for others, dockers were a working-class group labouring in what was, in many respects, a closed institution. They were bound by close ties of kinship, with sons following fathers into the job. They lived in, or close to, their place of employment, so that work, home and leisure easily and invariably overlapped. At work they acted as a team: the holdsmen in a ship’s hold; hatchmen, winchmen and signallers ensuring the safe passage of cargo into or AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 19
IN THE DOCKS out of the hold; and the stowers working in the warehouses. When it came to fiddling they also worked together and the wolves became ‘wolf packs’ in the way that they worked, fiddled, stole and supported one another.
IDDLING AND TAKING CARGO from the docks goes back at least to the 18th century and was central to the creation of the Thames Police in 1799. In his Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, published in 1796, the magistrate Patrick Colquhoun, who was instrumental in founding the force – and never one to avoid deploying dubious statistics – declared: Above 5,000 individuals, employed in various stationary situations upon the River have, with a very few exceptions, been nursed from early life in acts of delinquency of this nature. In a group so extensive there are unquestionably many different shades of turpitude; but certain it is, that long habit, and general example, had banished from the minds of the mass of the culprits implicated in these offences, that sense of the criminality of the action, which attaches to every other species of theft. With the coming of the so-called ‘new police’ in the early 19th century many dock police, such as the ones in London, were incorporated with those employed by local government. The dock police were principally recruited to prevent cargo being appropriated and smuggled out of the docks. Occasionally they were successful, but it was a thankless task. Dockers were poorly paid and the opportunity to make a few pence by selling small quantities of fruit, vegetables or any other commodity with a market value was a useful way of adding to the family diet or boosting the family income. Arthur Harding, an East Ender born in 1886, who became well-known to the police, recalled that his Aunt Liza had ‘a pretty decent-sized shop with a great stock of things in it’: A policeman keeps watch over Surrey Docks, London.
The dockers used to come into the shop with what they knocked off – they’d come in with pocket loads of tea which they had pinched. She would weigh it and give them a price for it – then she used to make it up into bags, using a sheet of old newspaper.
Tyne Dock, Sunderland in the northeast of England, late 1930s. 20 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Shortly after the First World War, one company that used the London docks estimated that, while almost a shilling per ton of cargo handled was subject to a claim for loss or theft before the war, the average had now risen to nearly two shillings and three pence. A former constable who had served on the Liverpool docks during the 1930s recalled how dockers appropriated all kinds of cargo: ‘If they saw a case of apples or anything, they would break it open – didn’t regard it stealing. Sometimes a bale of cloth went and you wondered how it could get past the Dock gate.’ Nor was it unknown for the police on the docks to accept the occasional ‘gift’ from dockers, often in the form of appropriated brandy or whisky, or to take things themselves. The public could be sympathetic, as is evidenced by the widespread outrage in 1930 when PC Alexander Thom was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and dismissed
Dried beans are unloaded at Liverpool Dock, February 1942.
from the force for stealing four oranges from a shed on Liverpool Docks. This kind of petty pilferage indicates why low-paid dockers did not regard it as theft; indeed, it seems often to have been kept to a minimum so as not to attract too much attention. There were opportunities for largescale profiteering, though, which occasionally included men with some authority within the docks collaborating with others outside; men involved with some form of haulage concern were particularly useful. The Second World War provided ample opportunities for petty theft, which was made especially tempting by shortages and rationing. The enormous quantities of supplies – alcohol, bedding, cigarettes, clothing, foodstuffs, medicines and so forth – also provided opportunities for profiting from extensive theft. The resulting losses persuaded the authorities, both civilian and military, of the need to deploy special police units on docks to supervise the loading and unloading of ships and to ensure the safety of military supplies. Within weeks of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) landing in France in 1939, concerns arose among the high command about the amount of equipment and supplies
disappearing from French docks. Initially much of the blame was placed on French civilians, but when Chief Inspector George Hatherill, a Scotland Yard detective, was sent to investigate the scale of offending in December 1939, he concluded that much of the pilfering of NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) stores took place as the supplies were loaded in England, though the theft appears to have varied from place to place. The problem in France was compounded by the unreliability of the British Labour Corps, which worked alongside the French dockers. The majority of the British soldiers in the ports of St Nazaire and Le Baule were in labour companies ‘most of which have been drawn from the dock labour class of Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow’. It was much the same with the Labour Corps at Le Havre, where Hatherill considered that: These men, finding such an unaccustomed lack of control and with their experience, are taking full advantage of the situation. Where sentries exist, they are usually of a younger type than the dockers and are therefore unable to control them as AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 21
IN THE DOCKS they should do. Further, owing to the nature of these men, their own NCOs have to think of their personal safety when dealing with them. One NCO has already been found dead and three men have been found drowned at different times in strange circumstances, which illustrates the urgent need for rigid control. Hatherill may have been jumping to conclusions regarding these deaths. The war diaries of Military Police (MPs or ‘Redcaps’) units record several men falling into the sea at different docks later in the war. This was considered to be the result of dark nights, no lights on the docks, rain making the quays slippery, the difficulty in obtaining appropriate torches and MPs who were not always familiar with dockyard dangers and layouts. Yet there can be little quibbling over the scale of the losses in supplies that Hatherill presented. No statistics were available for the losses of drink and cigarettes, though in the first three weeks of November it was reckoned that at Nantes 400 tins of foodstuff had been stolen, together with around 40 bottles of spirits and beer and ‘some tens of thousands of cigarettes’. The immediate result of Hatherill’s investigation was the creation of a detective branch for the Corps of Military Dock workers pause for a cigarette among wartime damage in Wapping, East London, 1948.
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Police: 20 men, all volunteers from the Metropolitan Police CID under the command of Detective Superintendent Clarence Campion, were given military rank, two weeks’ army training and sent to France. Within weeks of their arrival the German blitzkrieg forced the British evacuation and Campion was killed in action; one colleague, Charles James, was seriously concussed by German bombing and had to be invalided out of first the Military and then the Metropolitan Police, while another, Harold Dibbens, was mentioned in despatches for his role in organising withdrawal from the Dunkirk beaches. The Metropolitan detectives had also impressed the army high command with their detective skills. The survivors were kept on as the cadre of the new Special Investigation Branch of the Military Police, the SIB.
OLDIERS COMMITTED the same crimes as civilians and the new army detectives had the whole range of offences to investigate, from theft to murder, from white-collar fraud to rape. Pilfering from the docks did not end when the British population supposedly pulled together to win the war. In a time of rationing and the shortages occasioned by the conflict it was understandable
and way bills, listing large quantities of whisky and beer, were placed on the outside of wagons. On Tyne Docks, Sunderland, the latter problem was compounded by the failure to seal the railway wagons. The presence of Military Police on the docks created a legal problem. Military Police were never sworn as constables and therefore, technically, could neither arrest nor police civilians. The volume of military equipment and supply moving across the docks created an exceptional situation but, unless the suspect was in the armed forces, the SIB men or the patrols of the provost companies had to report suspects to the civilian police for arrest and charge. Committees of senior military and civilian police officers, port authority administrators and customs officers were organised on the different docks to resolve these problems, though there remained the potential for friction with the dockers.
In a time of rationing and shortages it was understandable that food, clothing and other items might be purloined that food, clothing and various other items might be purloined from the military supplies passing through the docks. Yet there were other items whose acquisition cannot be explained by rationing and shortages. In September 1943, for example, it was noted that Sherman tanks and mobile guns unloaded in ports in South Wales were having clocks removed from dashboards before their delivery to the ordnance depots; the dashboards were often damaged during the removal. From elsewhere came complaints about the theft of Red Cross parcels and currency, as well as the usual food, alcohol, cigarettes and tobacco. As a result the Military Police organised Ports Provost companies early in 1940 and in September the following year these companies got their own detective unit. The presence of Military Police on the docks exposed lax behaviour by dock management and labelling practices, which revealed to would-be thieves the location of goods they might want. Early in 1943, the commander of the Provost Company in Liverpool noted the problems that arose from stacking goods in the middle of dimly lit sheds at night-time and leaving the shed doors open. It was noted elsewhere that boxes of razor blades were clearly labelled
Top: pepper is unloaded from the steamer Glenearn at the Royal Albert Docks, London. Above: unloading goods at Liverpool Docks, December 1938.
OCKERS OBJECTED when Military Police sought to enforce no-smoking regulations, even on ships carrying non-flammable cargo, but, above all, they took exception to the appearance of Military Police in ships’ holds. Work in a ship’s hold was hard but it offered the best opportunities for pilferage. The hold could be murky and space was confined and here the dockers had some of the best opportunities to tamper with crates. Winchmen and signallers were in on the fiddle; they were part of the community with all of its local ties and kinship. Military Policemen were not. On many docks the workforce marked their opposition to them with strikes. In March 1943 there was a strike at Middlesbrough when dockers protested about the presence of Redcaps as they were loading Red Cross ‘comforts’. Agreement was reached on this occasion with a promise that the Redcaps would stay on the deck with the right to search men as they left the ship. However there was no such agreement on Barry Docks in South Wales that October when, to ensure that a ship carrying NAAFI stores got away on time, the MPs were removed from the ship. Initially it was claimed that the ship sailed with its cargo, including beer and whisky, untouched; a few days later it was reported that 35 ‘minor articles’ had been pilfered. The provost martial was furious, especially when, some ten days after the initial incident, the dockers in Barry went on strike again over the presence of MPs in ships’ holds. The excuse subsequently offered to the authorities was that the men involved in this second strike were a shift from Port Talbot, who were unaware that Redcaps were usually present in the holds. Talks followed at the highest level and the headquarters of the Ports Provost Companies determined that there would be no more ‘climbing down’. There were more strikes over the issue, but the refusal of the Military Police ever to AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 23
IN THE DOCKS budge again meant that they were over in an hour or so. Indeed, according to the port director at Hull, the presence of the Redcaps began to be welcomed by the dockers on the grounds that they could not now be blamed for thefts which had occurred at the port from which a ship sailed. The arrest figures for the Military Police on the docks are not particularly striking and provide no help in assessing the motives for thefts nor the kinds and amount of goods taken. There is some qualitative information in newspapers, unit war diaries and the surviving Ports Provost Company Crime Books, which help to flesh out the figures. Sometimes the scale of the thefts was considerable and involved individuals from outside the docks. Towards the end of 1943, for example, 16 cases of whisky, one case of rum and 21,000 cigarettes disappeared between being offloaded from railway wagons on Bromborough Docks, Liverpool and being loaded on to a ship. Sometimes the thefts were petty, like those of the Welsh stevedore arrested in March 1943 for purloining some bacon and corned beef.
T A MEETING of the Pilferage Sub-Committee of the Hull Port Emergency Committee early in 1943 a superintendent of the city police reported that during the previous six months the stolen commodities that had resulted in trials were ‘mainly foodstuffs, boots and shoes – hosiery’ and the major in charge of the Hull Provost Company had a list of pilferage reports concerning ‘chiefly tobacco, wines and spirits, and foodstuffs’. At least two suspects insisted that they had been bullied into pilferage. William Morson and Thomas Moon were mobile dockers from West Hartlepool who, early in 1942, had been moved across the country to the north-west. At Salford magistrates’ court they claimed to have been ‘abused, insulted and threatened’ to join in the thieving on Liverpool docks. This was probably an excuse, since it seems most unlikely that a tight-knit, community-based ‘wolf pack’ of dockers wanted men who were outsiders and potentially unreliable. It is possible that the locals were pleased to see the two men removed because of the attention that they had attracted and because, with their removal, the locals could proceed with their customary fiddles. The court would have none of Morson and Moon’s story, perhaps because, when arrested, Morson was wearing a complete set of stolen underclothes and socks marked with the government stamp and the two men had £55 in their possession. Military units were involved in unloading some ships, as they had been in France with the BEF. In October 1944, for example, 15 NCOs and 31 sappers of 902 Company, Dock Operating, Royal Engineers, were arrested for ‘larceny, receiving and improper possession of army clothes, rations, etc …’. At the same time another three sappers from 907 Company were apprehended for the theft of 9,000 NAAFI
The Special Investigation Bureau of the Military Police, set up to oversee activities in the ports. Clarence Campion is first row, fourth from left.
At Hull, the presence of the Redcaps began to be welcomed by the dockers on the grounds that they could not now be blamed for thefts at the port
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Dockers at the port of Hull prepare to dump foreign imports, 1930s.
cigarettes from Alexandra Docks, Grimsby. A wolf pack came together as easily among soldiers of the same unit as it did among men from a long-established local community. Moreover, as with the civilian police, some Military Police members of the ports provost companies appear to have accepted bribes for turning a blind eye, or perhaps themselves yielded to the temptation of appropriating goods bound for the army or the NAAFIs. In August 1943, four Military Policemen were sentenced by a Salford magistrate to two months’ imprisonment for the theft of cigarettes
and tobacco; a fifth MP was sentenced to one month for receiving. All five had been arrested by the civilian police. In March 1945 a member of 174 Ports Provost Company was sentenced by court martial to 12 months’ detention for being in possession of a bottle of NAAFI whisky. Service personnel usually faced military discipline when charged with committing an offence involving military goods or other soldiers. In such circumstances they were dealt with by their commanding officer – roughly the equivalent of the summary jurisdiction of a magistrate’s court. Men could opt for a court martial if they so wished, or they could be slated for a court martial if the offence was regarded as sufficiently serious. However, where soldiers on British soil were involved with civilians or civilian property, or where civilians alone were charged, the accused went before a civilian court; either a magistrates’ court, local quarter sessions or assizes, depending on the severity of the offence.
ERGEANT ‘DICKIE’ HEARN of the SIB published two memoirs of his war experiences. He had served seven years in the Coldstream Guards followed by one year as a constable in the Surrey police before being recalled to the colours in December 1939. On recall, Hearn was quickly transferred to the Military Police and then to the SIB, even though he had no previous training in, and no experience of, detective policing. He arrived in North Africa in the early summer of 1943 and shortly thereafter shot and killed a man for the first time; a North African dock worker. At the time Hearn was tracking a gang including a French dockyard checker, two British privates and about ten locals who were stealing flour from the docks in Tunis. The unfortunate man refused to stop running when Hearn and a colleague caught the gang in flagrante. Subsequently Hearn and his section moved to Italy and established themselves in the southern port city of Bari. But the problems there were relatively minor compared with those faced by the SIB sections and Port Provost Companies in Sicily and Naples. The problems in Italy were aggravated by the appalling economic conditions of the mezzogiorno and by the presence of the Honoured Societies: the mafia in Sicily and the Camorra in Naples. Mussolini boasted that he had destroyed the mafia, after which the press declined to run stories on their activities and a combined Carabinieri and police report on the continuing seriousness of the problem, prepared in 1938, was shelved. It was forgotten until discovered by a historian in the Palermo state archive in 2007. Belgium had no mafia but vast amounts of supplies were illicitly appropriated from Antwerp docks when they were reopened towards the end of 1944. Its 37 miles of docks became the key port for unloading supplies for the advance into Germany during the closing months of the war. Military personnel, often gangs of deserters, were involved in the pilferage and theft, but Antwerp was also home to a traditional dock community whose city streets, homes and
A photograph of Sgt ‘Dickie’ Hearn attached to notifications of medals awarded to him by the Italian government, May 1945.
shops were only a few hundred metres from where goods were unloaded and transferred to other forms of transport. In the spring of 1945 one of the two SIB sections in the city had to send men to Bornem, about 10 miles to the southeast, where bargees were engaged in pilferage. The importance of Antwerp at the centre of supply delivery made it a prime target for German V weapons and the chaos of a raid’s aftermath provided opportunities for looters; in mid-January 1945 the SIB arrested 18 British civil defence workers for looting damaged barges after such a raid. Shortages and the appalling winter of 1944-5 encouraged Belgians of all kinds to engage with the dock fiddlers and thieves. In February 1945 one of the ports provost companies in the city raided the houses of some local Belgian police detectives and in 18 of them they found war department property. In June the SIB reported recovering, among other things, seven and a half tons of soap, 8,370 yards of hospital sheeting and 2,304 tins of salmon. WHAT MIGHT ALL OF THIS ADD UP TO? First, it suggests the longevity and ubiquity of particular forms of workplace offending which survives, and at times may be encouraged and fostered by, the economic environment. Dockyard fiddling and theft offer good examples of this. Such offences appear to have changed little from the days of Patrick Colquhoun, but the Second World War offered additional opportunities as seemingly limitless military supplies and foodstuffs moved across the docks in a time of shortages and rationing, which in themselves fostered a booming black market. During the war the docker wolf packs maintained their cohesion. They combined to resist external interference, such as the presence of Military Police in ships’ holds. At the same time they worked with service personnel, even Military Policemen, who were prepared to turn a blind eye; and at times the team expertise of dockworkers meant that they were employed in military dock labour companies where their fiddling continued even though, temporarily, the workers wore khaki. Ultimately it was not legislation, policing or prosecutions that ended fiddling by the docker wolf packs, but containerisation and the break-up of the traditional communities that for generations had lived, in extended families, close to those docks in which all of the menfolk had found work. That is another story. Clive Emsley is Professor Emeritus of History at the Open University.
FURTHER READING Gerald Mars, Cheats at Work: Anthropology of Workplace Crime (George Allen & Unwin, 1982). Gary Sheffield, Redcaps: A History of the Royal Military Police and its Antecedents (Brassey's, 1994). Clive Emsley, Soldier, Sailor, Beggarman: Crime and the British Armed Services Since 1915 (Oxford University Press, 2013).
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Farewell to Aden
EN OF THE Parachute Regiment conduct a house-to-house search in the last months before Britain’s final departure from Aden in November 1967. The local military and police forces have recently mutinied and there are regular attacks on the British, quite apart from a civil war between two rival factions looking to take the place over when independence arrives. Everyone knows of the intention of the British to leave within a year, so why the violence directed at them? Because their word is not trusted, because the Arab peoples have been humiliated in June’s Six-Day War by Israel, because a freedom fighter stands a better chance of a prominent position once independence comes. Aden had been a British Colony since 1839 and over time the emirate states surrounding it had been given protectorate status. In the early 1950s it was clear that independence was on its way, but equally that Aden and the emirates were too small to survive on their own and so must form a federation. After the arrival of Nasser and the Suez débâcle of 1956 there should have been a new urgency, but it was not until 1959 that the South Arabian Federation of Arab Emirates was established, which Aden only joined in 1963, held back by Colonial Office foot-dragging. By then there was a dangerous complication to the north, in Yemen, where the new Imam had been ousted and replaced by the Yemen Arab Republic (the YAR), backed by Nasser. The western assessment of the situation was naïve, unaware that most of
When the last troops left, the band played ‘Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be’ Yemen remained in royalist hands and that Egyptian troops were there for one reason only: to take over the rest of the Arabian peninsula and its oil. The US recognised the YAR and the Foreign Office wanted to, but a hawkish côterie within the Conservative Party was alerted to the true state of affairs. A secret operation began to send a limited number of ex-military to maintain radio communication with and among the loyal tribes, give medical aid and supervise the supply of stores and arms. Air drops were carried out by Israel and finance came from Saudi Arabia. The latter had no knowledge of the former’s involvement. The Israelis reaped their reward in June 1967, when there were still 50,000 Egyptian troops tied down in Yemen, who could have been used against them in the war. The operation, however, could not prevent Nasser stirring up trouble in Aden, spreading his propaganda via the new cheap transistor radios and backing the formation of trade unions there, who later formed a socialist party. There were riots and intimidation when Aden joined the federation and at the airport in December 1963 a grenade was thrown at the governor. He survived but one of his staff was killed. 26 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
A conference at Lancaster House in June 1964 finally agreed to independence by 1968 at the latest, but then the election in October was won by Labour and any interest in a post-colonial legacy was replaced by a preoccupation with technology and ambitions to join the EEC. In 1966, against the background of Britain’s balance-of-payments crisis, a Defence White Paper announced that the Aden base was to close and that there would be no more support for the federation. In Kenya, Malaya and Cyprus the military situation
was under control and a coherent successor authority in place before exit, but not here. The shootings and bombings went on through 1966 and 1967 and the number of British dead went past the 100 mark, but the army kept the initiative. When the last troops left for the 25 warships anchored offshore, the band played ‘Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be’. To the surprise of Nasser, the UN and the British government, it was not the group known by the initials FLOSY (Front for the
Liberation of Occupied South Yemen), whom they had been supporting, that took over, but their rivals the Marxist National Liberation Front. The federation soon vanished and in its place the communist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) emerged in 1970. It was a violent country, home to Palestinian and European extremists. In 1986 civil war broke out, ending, after 10,000 deaths, in the PDRY joining with the YAR to the north in 1990.
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The Perfumer’s Costume, a portrait of a street vendor selling perfumes and cosmetics, Nicolas Bonnart, early 18th century.
The Success of Sweet
We tend to think of the early modern city as one beset by foul, dangerous air and dank odours. Yet it also inspired a golden age of perfumery, explains William Tullett. 28 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
HAT DID AN EARLY modern perfumer’s shop smell like? Despite valiant attempts by those in charge of certain historical attractions, such as the scratch and sniff cards of Jorvik Viking Centre and Hampton Court Palace, we can never truly smell the scents of the past. However, Nicolas Bonnart’s engraving of the Habit de Parfumeur gives us a visual representation of the mingled concoction of odours that emanated from early modern perfumers’ shops. Bottles of essences and oils, perfumed lozenges for the breath, pomatums for the hair, fragrant fans and scented handkerchiefs comprise the perfumer’s costume. A perfume-burner rests upon his head and disperses fragrant smoke with its religious, luxurious and medicinal effects around him. The powerful scents of the perfumer’s trade meant that in early modern England overly odorous men and women were regularly accused of smelling ‘like a perfumer’s shop’. Abel Boyer’s 1702 English Theophrastus described the start of the fashionable fop’s day thus: When his Eyes are set to a languishing Air, his Motions all prepar’d according to Art, his Wig and his Coat abundantly Powder’d, his Handkerchief Perfum’d, and all the rest of his Beauetry rightly adjusted … ‘tis time to launch, and down he comes, scented like a Perfumer’s Shop, and looks like a Vessel with all her Rigging without Balast. Perfumers and their shops represented important physical and imaginative spaces in early modern England. Yet they have often been ignored by historians in favour of the stinking streets on which they lay. And so a picture is summoned of a pre-modern world of dirt and disgust, supplying the foul foil to modernity’s clean and pleasant land. Western
In early modern England overly odorous men and women were regularly accused of smelling like a ‘perfumer’s shop’ modernity, the French historian Alain Corbin has argued, is ‘founded on a vast deodorisation project’, which had its roots in the 18th century. The Victorian sanitarian Edwin Chadwick’s dictum – ‘all smell … is disease’ – has come to represent, for many historians, a distinctly modern fear of odours, both good and bad. This distinction between a stench-ridden past and a clean modernity is often further encouraged by programmes such as the BBC Television’s Filthy Cities. What histories often do is to take the upturned nose of the bourgeois sanitarian as indicative of society’s collective attitude to smell. THE STREETS OF EARLY modern England may perhaps have been dirtier, smellier and noisier than today. The sources used to demonstrate these facts, so often authored by medical writers and government officials who were charged with seeking out stench, naturally foster the conclusion that early modern towns would have stunk to modern noses. However the noses of Londoners in the period from the 16th to the 18th century were rather differently attuned. Modern neuroscience and neurobiology suggest that frequent exposure to the same smell renders the nose less able to perceive it: constant stench will eventually fall into the olfactory background. In diaries, correspondence and print culture, early modern individuals frequently foreground a whole range of other smells, particularly those associated with the proliferating world of luxury and exotic goods. Perfume therefore points to a different, more pleasant, way of examining odour in the past. We – that is to say the 21st-century western world – have inherited a view, born from the rise of synthetics and the atomiser in the late
A ‘Chelsea’ scent bottle depicting a mother and her children picking fruit, 18th century. AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 29
19th century, that perfumery is evanescent and immaterial. By contrast, medical understandings and processes of production gave early modern perfumery different material resonances. In early modern medical literature scents themselves were believed to be invisible but not immaterial. Odours were thought to be tiny parts of the object from which they came. These ‘corpuscles’, ‘atoms’ or ‘effluvia’ floated through the air and touched the organ of smelling. It was not until the 1690s that the nose was widely accepted as the olfactory organ. Instead it was understood to be the brain, the nose merely being ‘the pathe or walke of odoriferous things’. This medical interpretation of olfactory objects and organs lent smells great power: the act of smelling involved Above: Odor, from a series of etchings devoted to the senses by Francis Cleyn, published London, 1646. Right: The Civet, an engraving by Simon Charles Miger, France, 1808.
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Collected from the secretions of the civet cat’s perineal glands, raw civet was a popular ingredient in 16th- and 17th-century England
A pomander with four compartments used to hold perfumes, English, c.1580.
material substances, which quite literally ‘touched’ the brain. The category of early modern perfumery also encompassed a materially diverse range of compositions including powders, pomanders, pastilles and pomatums alongside perfumed gloves, scented waters and wash balls. The mortars, pestles and stills and the accompanying practices of grinding, mixing and distilling used in perfumery, were shared with the making of medicine and simple enough for many to practice at home. While, by the end of the 18th century, the market in ready-made perfumery had expanded significantly, printed recipe books still recommended themselves as guides for the weary consumer.
HE MAKING OF PERFUMERY also involved an engagement with raw natural materials, a fact that has been obscured in the modern perfume industry, with its chemical compounds and synthetic sprays. Hundreds of different ingredients were used in perfumery across the early modern period, ranging from the obvious ones, such as roses, to the downright dangerous, such as white lead. A multitude of herbs, flower petals, fruit rinds, animal excretions, aromatic gums, fragrant roots, exotic barks, oils and essences were all used in the manufacturing of odoriferous goods and determined the final scent, texture and colour of the product. Civet, for example, was an eminently popular ingredient in 16th- and 17th-century England. Some 17th-century English texts described raw civet, collected from the secretions of the civet cat’s perineal glands, as ‘sweet’. Although synthetic civet continues to be used in modern perfumery, many now identify its fecal qualities on first sniff. While some early modern writers reflected on civet’s sweet odours, others made great play of its brownish colour and pasty texture. In his 1698 London Spy, the Grub Street satirist Ned Ward told the story of a bathhouse owner who, while washing a gentleman, found a stool left by the previous visitor (a high class prostitute) among the water and herbs. The
owner successfully convinced his patron that this was in fact ‘nothing but an italian paste’ and, ‘incapable of distinguishing a fair lady’s sirreverence, from the excrement of a civet cat’, the gentleman rose ‘out of his Bath extremely pleas’d, and gave him that attended him Half a Crown for his extraordinary Care and Trouble, so march’d away with great Satisfaction’. The look and feel of civet was just as important as smell in appreciating the material qualities of perfumery. One of the most important uses of civet was in the perfuming of gloves, a process which appears in many 17th-century household recipe books. Perfumed gloves, in the ‘Spanish style’, became popular in 16th-century England due to the taste exhibited for them by Elizabeth I. They subsequently became desirable commodities, dispersing from the court outwards. A later recipe book, compiled by one ‘Madam Carrs’ between 1681-2, contains a simple recipe ‘To perfume gloves’: Take benjamin Civet Musk Ambergrease grind all these exceeding well on a painters stone with the oyle of sweet balsam and a little water, wash your gloves with sponges, putt them on litle sticks to dry … Printed recipe books give similar insights into the types of perfumery available and how they were composed. As in manuscript recipe books, these might be included alongside other medicinal, cosmetic or culinary receipts. One hugely popular book, which included guidance on producing perfume, was Delights for Ladies (1602), by the inventoragriculturalist Sir Hugh Plat. A recipe for pomander asks the reader to: Take two ounces of Labdanum, of Benjamin and Storax one ounce, muske sixe graines, civet sixe graines, Amber greece sixe graines, of Calamus Aromaticus and Lignum Aloes, of each the waight of a groat, beat all these in a hote mortar, and with an hote pestell till they come to paste, then wet your hand with rose water, & roll vp the paste soddenly. Pomanders were scented balls of paste that were to be worn, once dry, in spherical metal pomanders or, once pricked with a needle, on necklaces and bracelets. Elaborate 16th-century pomanders, made from gold and pearl, were hollow spheres in which such balls of perfume might be secured. By the 17th century, smaller pomanders developed, someAUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 31
PERFUME times in the shapes of skulls or female heads. These had between four and six compartments into which strongly scented materials, such as ambergris, cloves, lavender, roses, musk, mace and marjoram, might be inserted. Pomanders were not just luxury items, they were also used as odorous amulets to defend urbanites against the plague when out in the city. Leaky pomanders created an aromatic atmosphere around the individual, defending against foul air and disease. The creation of such atmospheres might also be managed in homes, gaols and hospitals through the use of fumigations. This was the earliest role in which perfumers could be found: Henry VII paid a ‘maker of fumycacions’ in 1498, while in 1564 Elizabeth I’s bed chamber was fumigated with orris powder burnt in a perfuming pan. By the 17th century, as perfumers themselves expanded into the production of a wider range of scented cosmetics, recipes for fumigations could be found in household manuscript collections. A late 17th-century manuscript recipe for ‘A perfume to burn’ went as follows: Take 2 ounces of the powder of juniper, benjamine, and storax each 1 ounce, 6 drops of oyle of cloves, 10 grains of musk, beat all these together to a past with a little gum dragon, steeped in rose or orange flower water, and roul them up like big pease and flat them and dry them in a dish in the oven or sun and keep them for use they must be put on a shovel of coals and they will give a pleasing smell.
of scented powders, pomatums and waters, including the ever-popular lavender water and Hungary water. By the mid-18th century perfumed gloves were increasingly advertised for their ability to soften and scent the hands, rather than to emit a heavy perfume into the space around the body. These were superseded in part by powders, pomatums and pastes but more particularly by a massive growth in the popularity and availability of scented essences and waters. These usually had French-sounding names, such as eau sans parille, eau de bouquet and eau de cologne, the last of which was becoming increasingly popular in Britain by the end of the 18th century. Scented waters and mixtures of perfumed essences and smelling salts, such as eau de luce, could be held in smelling bottles to be sniffed at when needed or dropped on to handkerchiefs. While pomanders leaked and created atmosphere, smelling bottles, in cheaper glass or more expensive porcelain varieties, emphasised a more inward-looking, contained, engagement with smell.
S LIQUID PERFUMERY became increasingly popular, the definition of perfume loosened from its material moorings. In dictionaries of the 16th and 17th centuries perfume was most often defined by its materiality: per fume in Latin literally being to scent by smoking. By the later 18th century this definition was increasingly replaced by a simpler, more emotionally inflected one: perfume was simply a scent that was ‘agreeable’ to the sense of smelling. This more affective and Fumigations, ranging from the use of perfumes to inward-looking engagement with scent was the sensory hot vinegar, were used well into the 19th century despite the increasing trend towards the use equivalent of the emergence of new ideas of selfhood and of ventilation. Even in the 20th and 21st interiority during the 18th century. centuries practices of ‘airing’ and ‘cleanliThe new importance of ‘agreeability’ in defining ness’ continue to smell. As anyone who has perfume did not, as some historians have suggested, experienced the distinct hospital odour of remove perfume from the pharmacy and relegate it to carbolic soap will know, methods of disinthe cosmetics counter. Into the 19th century perfume fection and ‘deodorisation’ often leave their was tightly intermeshed with the concepts and pracown unmistakable odours. tices of medicine. While the pomanders and fumigations of the 16th and 17th centuries might rectify the ET, WHILE SOME forms of fumigaatmosphere and prevent the inflow of foul air into the tion survived across the 16th, 17th, and body, the smelling bottles of the 18th century contained 18th centuries, other changes were scented waters, essences and salts to revive and energise afoot in the types of perfumery conthe spirits. sumed. Recipes for pomander and perfumed The significant overlaps of perfumery with medgloves become less common. A second promiicine meant that the selling and making of scented nent recipe book, Simon Barbe’s The French Perfummaterials was itself contested ground. The historian er, which went through three editions between Holly Dugan has described the competition between 1696 and 1700, illustrates this shift. Barbe’s text, the London College of Physicians, the apothecaries A scent bottle and stopper from deriving from his work as perfumer to Louis and the grocers’ guild in the 17th century over the Charles Gouyn’s factory, London, XIV, was popular among the perfumers of early right to sell and use the strongly scented ingredients c.1750-60. 18th-century London. While a small number of common to all. Attempts to stamp out abuses and recipes for pomanders and burnt perfumes make an appearance, more incriminate the opposition resulted in bonfires of ‘faulty’ aromatics of the text is taken up with powders, waters and essences. outside the doors of their purveyor’s shops. During the 16th century Charles Lillie, a perfumer on the Strand in the first half of the 18th perfumers began to emerge within London, first in the East End among century, bemoaned the popularity of Barbe’s text and referred to it as a the immigrants and women excluded from the guilds and, by the 17th ‘silly little book’, whose author was ‘so unfortunately ignorant, as not century, in the West End among the blooming collection of luxury to know even the names, much less the composition, of the articles he trades. This association of perfumery with the West End would continue undertook to write about’. Lillie himself, whose products were meninto the 18th century. John Gay reflected in his topographical poem tioned in the Tatler and the Spectator, had written a manuscript recipe Trivia, or the Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716): book intended for publication. The original is now missing but an edited O bear me to the Paths of fair Pell-mell, version found its way into print in 1822, long after Lillie’s death in 1746. Safe are thy Pavements, grateful is thy Smell! While containing only a single recipe for perfumed gloves, from which … the formerly popular civet was absent, Lillie’s text contained a panoply
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Left: a silver pomander in the form of a book, England, 17th century. The rat motif suggests it was used as protection from the plague. Below: the trade card of perfumer Charles Lillie, based in the Strand, London. Bottom: an extract from a perfume recipe book, English, c.17th century.
The overlaps of perfumery with medicine meant that the selling and making of scented materials was contested ground
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 33
A still life of flowers celebrating the month of May, hand-coloured engraving, England, 1730. 34 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Shops breathe Perfume, thro Sashes Ribbons glow, The mutual Arms of Ladies, and the Beau. While many more individuals calling themselves ‘perfumers’ had emerged during the late 16th and 17th centuries, apothecaries continued to deal in many items of ‘perfumery’. In turn, the trade cards of 18th-century perfumers listed large numbers of proprietary medicines, such as Daffy’s Elixir, Dr Hooper’s Pills and Fryar’s Balsam, the ostensibly wondrous effects of which often attracted charges of quackery. Many items of perfumery, especially the expanding and popular range of scented waters, could also be described as medicines. Under a 1785 Act of Parliament stamp duties had to be paid on licences to sell medicine and on many of the medicines themselves. A similar Act in 1786 extended stamp duties to ‘Sweet Scents, Odors, Perfumes, and Cosmetics’. However the blurred line between perfume and medicine encouraged dirty tricks by informers. In Cambridge in March 1788 one informer was busy buying small quantities of essence of lemon from apothecaries and then informing against them as perfumers without licenses. The enraged populace forced him to be escorted to the local tavern (ironically named The Rose), where he was held prisoner at the behest of the mob. Only after the Riot Act was read was the informer able to escape. The attempts of the state to tax perfumery showed just how blurred the line between luxury and medicine, pleasure and health, continued to be.
invaded the nose of the passerby. Although such critiques built on a belief that perfumery connoted effeminacy, the more pressing point at issue was the amount of perfume that fops and macaronis wore. It was not necessarily the wearing of perfume, but the sheer strength of scent that was problematic.
NOTHER CRITICISM directed at the most pungent perfumery of the early modern period was that it tended to signify to the nose of the observer the very thing it attempted to conceal. To wear perfume was to suggest you had something to hide. Such criticisms are significant because they question a historiographical commonplace. According to some historians, including Alain Corbin and Constance Classen, a shift in attitudes to smell occurred in the late 18th and 19th centuries. They suggest that changes in environmental science, public health and manners combined to produce a bourgeois quest for an odourless modernity. One of the things that supposedly exemplified this new departure was a critique of the masking potential of perfumery. In the 18th century, mockery was heaped on the wives of merchants who attempted to cover up the odour of filthy lucre – tobacco, train oil and tar – with the scent of lavender, amber or rose. However, earlier, in a theatrical allegory of the senses first performed between 1602-7, Thomas Tomkis has one character suggest to ‘Olfactus’ that:
The fop was criticised for his use of overbearing perfumery and inability to stand the more masculine odours of tobacco
N the later 18th century perfumers emerged who built a much wider brand name for themselves, often on the back of a particular commodity. Richard Warren, who in the 1770s had shops in Marylebone, Cheapside, Bath and Tunbridge Wells, was one such individual. Warren’s Milk of Roses, a mixture of almonds, rose water, spirits of wine, oil of lavender and soap, was highly popular. American shops advertised ‘London Milk of Roses’, while perfumers in Edinburgh assured their customers that their own milk of roses was just as good, if not better than, Warren’s much loved composition. The popularity of Warren’s brand signalled the rise of rose as a popular scent. This represented something of a back-to-the-future moment for British perfumery. Otto of roses had been popular during the early 16th century at the court of Henry VIII. Dispensed from casting bottles to infuse the spaces of the court, it became a key part of Henry’s performance of power. In the 18th century its connotation shifted from kingly magnificence to the exotic fragrance of the imperial east. Marketed as ‘Indian’ or ‘Persian’, the demand for otto of roses represented the growing influence of British imperial expansion on luxury goods. Tracking changing attitudes to perfume usage is more difficult. Among the problems that a historian of smells and smelling faces is that the unexpected, inappropriate, or out of place odours are the ones that tend to be recorded. In diaries, periodicals and satires it is the misuses of perfume that tend to be discussed. In the 18th century the overuse of smelling bottles might be criticised for their role in the affected display of nervous sensibility. Yet most criticisms of perfumery were aimed at the use of highly scented hair powder, handkerchiefs or pastes, all of which tended to infuse the atmosphere around the body with scent. By the late 17th century the fop – an effeminate figure of fun – was criticised for his use of overbearing perfumery and inability to stand the more masculine odours of tobacco. The macaronis of the 1770s, fashionable gentlemen who paraded London’s pleasure gardens to display their continental costume and cosmetics, were also criticised for their overpowering atmosphere of ‘ambrosial essences’ that
Of all the senses, your objects have the worst luck, they are always jarring with their contraries, for none can wear civet, but they are suspected of a proper bad scent.
More significant was the conclusion drawn from the observation: ‘He smelleth best, that doth of nothing smell.’ This early 17th-century observation paraphrased the Roman writers Plautus (‘A woman’s best smell is to smell of nothing’) and Martial (‘He smells not well, whose smell is all perfume’). The Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne had quoted the same authorities in his discussion of odours and their effects on his lively spirits. Criticisms of perfumed masking could therefore be found long before the supposed ‘perceptual revolution’ of the late 18th century. In his Treatise on the Diseases of Tradesmen, published in Latin in 1700 and translated into English in 1705, the Italian physician Bernadino Ramazzini noted that while ‘a great many things have been said of smells ... a particular and exact history of them is yet wanting’. While Ramazzini believed strongly that this ‘large Field of History’ would benefit from further plowing, he admitted he was not the man to do it: both the pleasantness and intricacy of the subject required more time and pain than he could afford. The history of perfume suggests the potential for historians to discover a more pleasant and intricate history of scent, more in keeping with that which Ramazzini had described. William Tullett is a PhD candidate at King’s College London working on smells, smelling and perfumery in 18th-century England.
FURTHER READING Holly Dugan, The Ephemeral History of Perfume (John Hopkin’s University Press, 2011). Alain Corbin, The Foul and the Fragrant (Harvard University Press, 1988). Jonathan Reinarz, Past Scents (University of Illinois Press, 2014).
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 35
From luxury liners to troopships: Roland Quinault examines the close relationship between the Cunard line and Winston Churchill.
Churchill and the Cunarders Above left: Shipbuilder and Marine Engine-Builder magazine, Queen Mary special issue. Right: Churchill arrives in New York with his family in the Queen Elizabeth, March 23rd, 1949.
THIS YEAR MARKS BOTH the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death and the 175th anniversary of the opening of the Cunard line’s passenger and mail service across the Atlantic. During his lifetime Churchill made 15 visits to the United States: the majority of them on board a Cunard liner. The Cunarders provided Churchill with a luxurious, speedy and safe form of travel across the Atlantic and also a valuable military resource in two world wars. Winston’s mother, Jennie Jerome, an American from a wealthy family largely domiciled in Europe, also made a number of transatlantic voyages. After the sinking of the
36 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
French transatlantic steamer, Ville du Havre, in 1873, with the loss of 226 lives, she told her future husband, Lord Randolph Churchill, that she would stick to Cunarders, which had never had a single accident. Winston first crossed the Atlantic, as a young man, in 1895, en route to Cuba, where he reported on the insurrection against Spanish rule. He travelled to New York in the 7,000-ton Cunard ship Etruria, which had been built in 1888, and described a comfortable cabin and good food onboard the ‘great moving hotel’. But he complained that only stupid people attended the concert and that even stupider
XXXXXXXXXXX persons applauded them. Despite a spell of rough weather, he was not seasick and never missed a meal in the saloon. He later recalled, however, that the choice had been between being cold and miserable on deck or seasick and miserable below. After eight days at sea, he looked forward to the end of a voyage made tedious by the lack of an interesting occupation, concluding that a sea voyage was a necessary evil rather than a pleasure. Yet the conditions that he experienced as a cabin class passenger were much better than those of the emigrants, who travelled steerage class. Troopships In 1902 the formation of the Morgan shipping combine, which brought together American finance and several British and European shipping lines, seemed to threaten Cunard’s dominance of the transatlantic passenger trade. But Balfour’s Conservative government continued its mail contract with Cunard and granted the company a loan, at a low rate of interest, to subsidise the building of two new fast and efficient liners. The government wanted steamers that could be armed in wartime and which were fast enough to catch the foreign ships currently operating on the Atlantic. Churchill had been elected as a Conservative MP in 1900 but his support for free trade in 1904 led him to leave the party and join the Liberals. He criticised the government’s aid to Cunard in 1905 as a protectionist measure and accused the president of the Board of Trade of having been panicked by the Morgan combination – already a failure – into granting Cunard an overly generous loan. He did, however, concede that the Admiralty needed fast steamers to aid the deployment of troops abroad. As First Lord of the Admiralty, during the early part of the First World War, Churchill deployed the large Cunard liners as troopships. They were an essential element in Britain’s ability to act, in Churchill’s phrase, as ‘the great amphibian’. He instructed the Aquitania and the Mauretania to carry 8,000 men apiece to the Dardanelles in May 1915 to assist the Gallipoli landings, despite the misgivings of an Admiralty that was fearful of the consequences, if the ships were sunk. In the event they returned unharmed but their sister ship, the Lusitania, was not so lucky. After crossing the Atlantic from New York on a regular commercial run, she was sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland with the loss of 1,200 lives. The ship had been carrying some military supplies but all those aboard had been civilians, many of them Americans. The sinking aroused widespread revulsion and Churchill realised that it provided a propaganda coup for the Allied cause against Germany. Churchill has been criticised for not providing more protection for the ship but he considered that the Admiralty had insufficient resources to do so. Between 1900 and 1929 the demands of Churchill’s political career – he held high government office for most of that time – prevented him from re-visiting North America; but in 1921 he had an investment of £1,200 in the Cunard Steamship Company’s stock and his 1929 resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer (after the defeat of the Conservative government at the general election) gave him an opportunity to
During the early part of the First World War, Churchill deployed the large Cunard liners as troopships
return. He originally intended to travel on the Cunard liner Berengaria but his initial destination was Canada and the Canadian Pacific Company offered him the use of a private car for his rail journey to the Pacific coast. Consequently he felt obliged to cross the Atlantic on that company’s liner, the Empress of Australia. When Churchill returned to America in the winter of 1931-2, he took the first available transatlantic crossing on the German ship Europa but he returned to Southampton on the Cunarder Majestic. That ship, like the Mauretania, was reaching the end of its life. To replace them Cunard ordered, with the aid of a government loan, a new liner of unprecedented size and weight: 81,000 tons. The ship was built at Clydebank and launched by Queen Mary after whom it was named. Churchill visited the new vessel and wrote an article on her, entitled ‘Queen of the Seas’, published in the May 1936 edition of the Strand Magazine. He began by observing that for nearly a century Cunard had operated as ‘the Atlantic ferry’. But he pointed out that the company’s large transatlantic liners such as the Mauretania were old and unable to compete, either in speed or in comfort, with the more recent ships built by the Germans, French and Italians. To win back the cream of the trade, Cunard required two new fast ships that could operate a regular weekly service between Southampton, Cherbourg and New York. He noted that the Queen Mary would cater, not for the modest needs of the now much diminished number of emigrants, but for the luxurious tastes of ‘the great army of tourists’ from Europe that had discovered America. In that respect he thought that the ship would help to cement Anglo-American friendship. Blue Ribbon liners Churchill also claimed that the Queen Mary was a boon to the workers, as well as to the rich, because its construction and outfitting provided much needed work at a time of high unemployment. Besides the 7,000 men employed in building the ship at John Brown’s yard at Clydebank, there were also a quarter of a million other workers scattered across the nation who made some contribution to the liner. They included china makers from the Potteries, cutlers from Sheffield and textile manufacturers from Lancashire, Yorkshire and Northern Ireland. Consequently he described the ship as ‘an epitome of Britain’ and a symbol of its renaissance, which would act as a ‘floating British industries fair’. It was also a manifestation of the British Empire, since it was fitted out with different woods from various colonies. In conclusion, Churchill hoped that the Queen Mary would win back for Britain the Blue Ribbon for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. Soon afterwards, the Queen Mary began its regular and profitable transatlantic service. Its sister ship, the Queen Elizabeth, was launched in 1938 but it was not delivered to Cunard until after the outbreak of the Second World War. Thereafter the two ‘Queens’ – as the only two 80,000-ton ships in the world – played a vital role as troopships. They were initially sent to the Indian Ocean to transport Indian and Australian troops to the Middle East. But Churchill complained, in March 1941, that only 3,500 troops were carried in each of the two ships – hardly more than they would have carried when engaged in luxury passenger service. He recalled that over 8,000 men had been sent on both the AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 37
| CUNARD Mary to sink after she had been torpedoed. He was told that it would probably take several hours because the ship was divided into watertight compartments. Churchill was afraid, not of dying, but of being captured and so he arranged for a machine gun to be kept in his lifeboat. During the war the two ‘Queens’ carried more than a million men – over 80 per cent of them from the US. Occasionally each ship transported a whole division or 15,000 men. Consequently Sir Percy Bates, the Cunard chairman, claimed that the ‘Queens’ shortened the war by a year. Churchill was invited to speak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1949 and he travelled with a family group to New York in the Queen Elizabeth as first class passengers. The Cunard general manager proposed that Churchill be the guest of the company as a mark of their appreciation of his great services to the nation. He presented signed copies of his newly published book, Their Finest Hour, to senior Cunard staff as a token of his thanks for their attention. He also informed them that it was 55 years since he had first crossed the Atlantic in the Etruria. The Cunard general manager replied that it was a matter of pride to them that Churchill was among their longstanding friends.
Aquitania and the Mauretania to the Dardanelles in 1915 When the USA joined the war, at the end of 1941, Churchill offered the two ‘Queens’ to transport US troops to the UK. Churchill went by battleship across the Atlantic for his first and second wartime meetings with President Roosevelt. He sailed from the Clyde to New York in the Queen Mary – his first passage on that ship – in May 1943. The prime minister and his delegation were housed on the main deck, which was sealed off and equipped with offices, a conference room and a map room. To avoid a German attack, the identity of the delegation was disguised and false rumours circulated about its personnel. Churchill insisted that 5,000 German prisoners should also sail with them. At the end of the voyage, he observed that it had been most agreeable and that the staff had done a vast amount of work. In September 1944, Churchill again embarked on the Queen Mary en route to the second Quebec conference. His private secretary, Jock Colville, described the meals on board as gargantuan in scale, epicurean in quality and a shaming contrast with the shortages at home. The weather was hot, so Churchill spent much of the time in his cabin reading the novels of Anthony Trollope or playing bezique. On his return home, again on the Queen Mary, his doctor, Lord Moran, recorded that he was in a sober mood. He gazed at the enemy submarines on a vast chart in the map room and asked the First Sea Lord how long it would take the Queen 38 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Travelling in style: the main lounge of the Queen Mary, 1937.
Crucial role Churchill’s 1954 voyage in the Queen Elizabeth was the last occasion on which he crossed the Atlantic by a Cunard liner. When he visited the US in 1959 he went by air in both directions. His final visit to New York was in 1961 as a guest of Aristotle Onassis on board his luxury yacht Christina. After the yacht had docked in the Hudson River, Churchill sat on deck, watching the Queen Mary leave the Cunard pier on her transatlantic voyage. It was a fitting end to his long association with the two ‘Queens’ and the other Cunarders. During Churchill’s lifetime there was a revolution in the size, power and equipment of the Cunard transatlantic liners. His first ship, the Etruria, was, at 7,000 tons, less than one tenth the size of the two ‘Queens’. Etruria was also the last Cunarder to be fitted with auxiliary sails. Most of her accommodation was for emigrants, travelling steerage class, whereas the ‘Queens’ catered almost exclusively for wealthy tourists, who were provided with an array of leisure areas, including swimming pools and beauty salons, for which there was no space or demand on earlier ships, such as the Etruria. Passengers had to wait to send or receive mail until they reached land or passed a ship travelling in the other direction. By contrast, the two ‘Queens’ kept in close radio touch with the outside world. But all the Cunard liners, from the Victorian to the new Elizabethan age, were designed to provide the best facilities available for their passengers. That endeared them to Churchill, whose taste for luxurious living was pronounced. Yet he also valued the Cunard liners for less indulgent reasons. They gave him the opportunity to carry out serious work, either on his own behalf or that of the nation. The two ‘Queens’, in particular, played a crucial role as troop transports in his strategic planning during two world wars. Thus for Churchill, both in war and peace, the Cunarders were a vital link between the old world and the new. Roland Quinault is the author of British Prime Ministers and Democracy (Bloomsbury, 2012).
9 THERMIDOR The decapitated head of Robespierre, wood engraving, 1794.
HE FACTS ABOUT the overthrow of Maximilien Robespierre, leading figure in the French Revolutionary Government’s Committee of Public Safety, on July 27th, 1794, or 9 Thermidor, Year II in the Revolutionary Calendar, are well established. On this journée (day of Revolutionary action), right-wing elements within the national assembly, or Convention, organised a coup d’état against Robespierre and his closest allies in the hall of the Convention, located within the Tuileries palace (adjacent to the Louvre). These men at once set out to end the Terror, which Robespierre had conducted over the previous year. They instituted the so-called ‘Thermidorian Reaction’, which moved government policies away from the social and political radicalism espoused by Robespierre’s
The sans-culottes had been instrumental in bringing Robespierre to power during the crisis months of 1793 Revolutionary Government towards constitutional legalism and classically liberal economic policies. In the hours following the Thermidorian coup, Robespierre’s supporters in the Paris Commune (the city’s municipal government, housed in the present-day Hôtel de Ville) had sought to organise armed resistance against the Convention among the city’s sans-culottes, the street radicals who had been instrumental in bringing Robespierre to power during the crisis months of 1793, when France had been wracked by civil and foreign war. But the Parisian popular movement proved to be marked by political indifference and apathy at this decisive moment. Shortly after 8pm, some 3,400
The Fall of Robespierre The momentous final days of the French revolutionary are well known and well documented. Yet, argues Colin Jones, many of the established ‘facts’ are myths that do not stand up to scrutiny.
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 39
9 THERMIDOR sans-culottes, mainly National Guardsmen from the citizen militias of each of the city’s 48 sections, along with over 30 of their cannon, had gathered on the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville after a call-up by the Commune. Though seemingly at that moment primed for action, by midnight the popular forces had scattered, speeded on their flight by a shower of rain, which dampened revolutionary ardour. The people of Paris preferred to go home to bed, it seemed, rather than stay up and fight for Robespierre’s cause. Shortly after midnight, the Convention’s National Guard, drawn from the bourgeois, western city neighbourhoods, attacked the Hôtel de Ville, in which Robespierre was holed up. In the mêlée accompanying his arrest, Robespierre sought to commit suicide, managing only to blow a hole in the lower part of his cheek. He was guillotined the following evening, July 28th. Robespierre was certainly overthrown on 9 Thermidor and he was certainly guillotined on July 28th. But most of the other established ‘facts’ in the above account are either completely false or else require substantial qualification. Indeed the above paragraph contains no fewer than six myths about the journée – and one continuing conundrum.
ET US START WITH the conundrum, namely, of whether Robespierre did attempt suicide. Witnesses to the act either did not live to tell the tale – his co-conspirators were executed alongside him and were never interrogated about the facts of the day – or else are unreliable. The man who led the assault on the Hôtel de Ville, Convention deputy Léonard Bourdon, claimed that National Guardsman Charles André Méda (or Merda, a name he understandably chose to change) had fired the shot that incapacitated Robespierre. Merda is depicted in the most famous engraving of the Hôtel de Ville episode and, long after the event, his memoirs recounted his role in the day. However, that account is so full of self-aggrandising exaggeration that his testimony seems fundamentally untrustworthy. In hundreds of accounts of the day, which I have located in, for example, the Archives parlementaires and the Archives nationales, Paris, as part of a wider project to write the history of the journée of 9 Thermidor, Merda’s
The jury is still out, but overall a botched suicide attempt seems the most likely conclusion name never occurs, save in occasional association with Bourdon. If he really was the day’s hero, as he claimed, one would have expected others to accredit at least part of his story, which seems in fact to be largely fantastical. Against his candidature must also be weighed the fact that the story on the streets of Paris merely hours after the event was that Robespierre had indeed sought to take his own life. A much more plausible representation of this decisive moment in the Hôtel de Ville is an engraving by the Parisian sans-culotte artist, Jean-Louis Prieur, which was until very recently believed to show the September prison massacres of 1792. On the shooting incident, the jury is still out and the conundrum remains in place, but overall a botched suicide attempt seems the most likely conclusion. 40 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Contemporsry portrait of Maximilien Robespierre by Louis Leopold Boilly.
If uncertainty still hovers over this part of the day, we can be pretty sure that most other ‘facts’ about the day in the above account of the day need substantial revision. The first myth has it that the deputies who toppled Robespierre were from the right wing of the Convention. In fact, the coup d’état was very largely concocted and conducted by the left-wing caucus of the assembly, the ‘Montagne’, as it was known. The ‘Montagnards’ within the assembly were the deputies ideologically closest to Robespierre and by 9 Thermidor, they were feeling threatened by the increasingly erratic behaviour of their colleague. On 8 Thermidor, Robespierre had come into the Convention and made a long and vehement speech. It had been six weeks or so since he had actually attended the assembly (and he had absented himself from the meetings of the Committee of Public Safety for much the same period). The speech was a wild, mildly unbalanced and swingeing attack on the way the revolution was going. Robespierre voiced his fears for the revolution’s future in such a way that it seemed clear that he wished to conduct a purge of the government and of the Convention itself. When asked to name the individuals that he had in his sights, however, Robespierre airily declined to do so. In this he was ill-advised, for it meant that no-one within the assembly, save a small cohort of his most dedicated supporters, could feel safe. Later that evening,
Robespierre repeated his speech in the Jacobin Club, very much his stronghold at this time, and in the ensuing debate named two Montagnard colleagues from the Committee of Public Safety as his principal targets, Collot d’Herbois and Billaud-Varenne. The two men were present in the club and sought vainly to answer back. Shouted down, they were driven out of the club with cries of ‘To the guillotine!’ ringing in their ears.
I Engraving by Jean-Louis Prieur of Robespierre inside the Hôtel de Ville, July 27th, 1794.
T WAS THUS little wonder that both Collot and Billaud should be at the heart of the action in the Convention the next day, as concerted efforts were made to silence Robespierre and to order his arrest. Those who appear to have been most closely involved in the plot alongside them were other radical Montagnards, including Tallien, Fréron and Fouché – men whom Robespierre disliked because of the violent ‘ultra-revolutionary’ repression of provincial dissent that they had conducted in 1793 and early 1794. Rightwing deputies in the Convention had been talking secretly for some time about wanting to get rid of Robespierre, but without much sign of purposive action. It was Robespierre’s wild accusations on 8 Thermidor that drove them pell-mell into the arms of Montagnard deputies, with whom they shared little ideological ground. In all, 33 of the 35 deputies who are known to have spoken on the two sessions of the assembly on 9 Thermidor were in fact Montagnards. Right-wing deputies ensured the success of the Montagnard coup only by allowing events to unfold without protest or intervention. When Robespierre seemed to gesture directly to them for their support, as the attack on him in the Convention hall shaped up, they simply sat on their hands. EVEN BEFORE ROBESPIERRE’S head had hit the guillotine basket at around 7pm on 10 Thermidor, a further falsehood was visibly taking form. This – our second myth – was that Robespierre had been principally responsible for the Terror through which the Committee of Public Safety had ruled the country. He certainly was a very powerful figure. His chilling rhetoric had been critical in imposing much of the programme of Terror on the Convention, notably the General Maximum on prices, the execution of political opponents including Danton, Camille Desmoulins and Hébert, the notorious ‘Law of 22 Priairial’, which had made it even easier for the Revolutionary Tribunal to convict and the Cult of the Supreme Being. Yet he was not the Terror’s sole artisan. For the previous year he had been only one among 12 members of the Committee of Public Safety, several of them imposing figures themselves, and all committee decisions were collective. Indeed Robespierre personally signed a relatively small number of the Committee’s decrees. As the number of executions ordered by the Revolutionary Tribunal increased in June and July 1794, moreover, Robespierre was actually absent from the Committee’s meetings. On 9 Thermidor he was attacked less as the sole director of Terror than as someone whose prestige and behaviour threatened to spin Revolutionary Government out of control, though in what directions seemed unclear, given his delphic speech on 8 Thermidor. From that moment onwards, however, it suited all sides among his assailants to magnify Robespierre’s responsibility, allowing him thus to carry the can for the excesses of the Terror. This helped to explain the creation of a ‘Robespierre-theAUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 41
‘The French People, or the Regime of Robespierre’, France, 1790s.
dictator’ myth, which has remained surprisingly tenacious. The fact that the 9 Thermidor coup was led from the Left rather than the Right determined what happened once Robespierre was out of the way. Myth three about the journée has it that the Convention immediately initiated the Thermidorian Reaction, shifting government policy to the Right. In fact, as the composition of the anti-Robespierre plotters suggests, many in government expected the Terror to continue and indeed to proceed more smoothly now that Robespierre’s influence had been removed. Collot d’Herbois and Billaud-Varenne, for example, stayed at the helm within 42 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
the Committee of Public Safety. It took time for right-wing reaction to gather speed – a process that was immeasurably helped by the return to the assembly in December 1794 of moderate deputies proscribed by the Montagnards in the course of 1793. The reintegration of these men – roughly 80 in total, all nursing a sense of grievance against the Revolutionary Government – altered the political complexion of the Convention in a way that opened the floodgates of reaction. The component parts of the programme and personnel of the Revolutionary Government had already started to be disassembled and the process accelerated. The extent of the
the way for an even more dogmatic assertion of economic liberalism. By then, deputies saw in Collot d’Herbois and Billaud-Varenne less the men who had toppled Robespierre than the guilty souls who had been his accomplices over the previous year of Terror. They were sentenced to deportation to French Guiana.
HE THERMIDORIAN REACTION was thus a slow-burning phenomenon which took time to establish itself. Further complicating the steady drift to the Right was the fact that some of the most vocal ‘Thermidorians’ attacking the legacy of Revolutionary Government in Year II were individuals who, on 8 Thermidor, Robespierre had in his sights for being too violently left-wing : individuals like Tallien, Fréron and Fouché. Viewed as extremist (if still Montagnard) radicals before 9 Thermidor, Fréron and Tallien, for example, switched track and led the drift to the Right, marshalling the city’s bourgeois youths into the gangs of jeunesse dorée who launched violent street attacks on former Jacobins and ex-sectional personnel. Renouncing the universal male suffrage that had been the crowning institution of the (in fact never-implemented) Constitution of 1793, the Thermidorians accepted for the new Constitution of Year III (1795) a property franchise which would take the vote from most erstwhile sans-culottes. Had those Parisian sans-culottes been quite such political push-overs on the journée of 9 Thermidor as they are usually accounted? Myth four regarding the day has it that a shower of rain played a key role at a critical juncture in encouraging
Had those Parisian sansculottes been quite such political push-overs on the journée of 9 Thermidor as they are usually accounted?
powers of the Committee of Public Safety were reduced and its members purged. The Paris Jacobin Club was closed down altogether and radical sans-culottes driven out of local committees within the city’s 48 administrative sections. The Revolutionary Tribunal was closed down. The General Maximum that had kept food prices low was removed, with the deregulated economy creating great hardship for the popular classes. When in March and April 1795 there was armed protest in Paris against the political and economic policies of the Convention – the journées of Germinal and Prairial – the deputies initiated a fierce repression, clearing
Top: Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois, French, 18th century. Above: Jacques Nicolas Billaud-Varenne, by Jean Baptiste Greuze, c.1790.
Robespierre’s sans-culottes supporters from staying in the streets late at night and staying loyal to his cause. This story, much repeated in accounts of the day, is simply false. None of the hundreds of micro-narratives of the day that I have consulted mention rain. The meteorological data recorded at the Paris Observatoire (at the southern end of what is now the Boulevard Saint-Michel) is crystal clear. There was a mild westerly wind and the day was rather overcast and warm: 180C at midday and almost 150 at 10.15pm. But with the exception of a light shower in the morning at 9.15am, well before even the overthrow of Robespierre, the day was bone dry. No rain fell to test the fidelity of the sans-culottes, save in the imaginations of many of the day’s historians. This convenient contributing factor to the story of Parisian sans-culottes apathy and indifference on the day can thus safely be discounted. So, indeed, can Parisian popular apathy and indifference, which constitute the fifth myth about the day. The picture of sans-culottes demobilisation, which appears in almost all accounts, turns out to be false. Doubtless, there were cases of individuals who went off to bars and taverns or back to their homes and beds. But the numerous – and largely neglected – accounts of the day that exist show that the vast majority of the men on the AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 43
9 THERMIDOR Place de l’Hôtel de Ville at 8pm seemingly in the Commune’s cause stayed on active duty and simply passed over to support the Convention against Robespierre. The city’s 48 sections acted, too, as mobilisation centres, drawing additional recruits into the ranks of the pro-Convention National Guard. Orders from the assembly to neighbourhood authorities late in the evening saw half of sectional forces patrolling their neighbourhoods to ensure that law and order were upheld, with the other half detailed to rally at the Place du Carrousel outside the Tuileries palace which housed the Convention. By then the assembly had also
Membership card of a sans-culottes club from southern France.
palace was such that they had been among the first that the Convention mobilised. But the forces that actually launched the attack on the Commune were a cross-city sampling of sections. One of the most prominent delegations, for example, came from the Gravilliers section, one of the poorest, which had always been among the most radical sections in the city. The idea that Robespierre was toppled by a bourgeois militia of prosperous Parisians while depoliticised sans-culottes slumbered in their beds is simply untrue. Robespierre fell to a socially hybrid army. It would not be wrong to say that it was the massed forces of Parisian sans-culotterie who toppled him.
T IS ODD THAT a big political event like the day of 9 Thermidor has attracted so much mythology and misrepresentation. It is all the odder in that the day is exceptionally well-documented. Barras ordered each of the 48 sections to produce multiple accounts of what had happened within them on the days of 8, 9 and 10 Thermidor and these voluminous accounts still exist. So too do numerous individual police dossiers of arrested individuals, plus the background documentation brought together by a Convention committee charged on 10 Thermidor, Year II to produce an official history of the day. Headed by the moderate deputy Edme-Bonaventure Courtois, this official history was presented to the Convention – almost as an anniversary gift – on 8 Thermidor, Year III (July 26th, 1795). Courtois’ account is detailed and thorough, but it has a decided ideological parti- pris which is curiously at odds with the documentation that his committee had amassed. One full year after the anti-Robespierre coup d’état, Courtois was evidently endeavouring to tell the Thermidorian reactionaries what he thought by then they wanted to hear. He thus vaunted the role of the Convention as a whole – and almost completely effaced the role of both the people of Paris and the Montagnard deputies in securing the day’s victory. This was quite a rhetorical achievement and, unfortunately, a highly influential one, for Courtois’ official history has guided the pens of generations of historians ever since. If we wish to demythologise the history of one of the most epochal days in the whole Revolutionary decade, we must return to the archives.
If we wish to demythologise the history of one of the most epochal days in the whole Revolutionary decade, we must return to the archives placed its forces under the orders of the deputy, Barras. As a result of this impromptu call-up, Barras commanded an active force far larger – certainly by several multiples – than the number of men who had been outside the Hôtel de Ville at 8pm. At some time after midnight, Barras determined to use his forces not only in a defensive stance around the Convention but also as an attacking army against the Commune. From 1am, or just after, two citizen’s armies under Barras’ command, each thousands strong, wended their way in a pincer movement from the Tuileries eastward towards the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. They arrived to find it with scarcely an individual to be seen. Not a shot needed to be fired before the advance guard stormed into the Commune itself to confront Robespierre and his allies in their lair. Myth six about the journée of 9 Thermidor has it that Barras’ troops, who seized Robespierre and his accomplices, were drawn essentially from the more prosperous sections of the west of the city. It is certainly true that the propinquity of many of these sections to the Tuileries 44 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Colin Jones is Professor of History at Queen Mary University of London and the author of The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris (Oxford University Press, 2014).
FURTHER READING Françoise Brunel, Thermidor: la chute de Robespierre (Editions Complexe, 1989) Philippe de Carbonnières, ‘Le sans-culotte Prieur’, Annales historiques de la Révolution française (2009) Colin Jones, ‘The Overthrow of Maximilien Robespierre and thre “Indifference” of the People’, American Historical Review (2014)
MakingHistory High-minded allegations of prurience should not stop historians from examining the intimate lives of people in the past, argues Suzannah Lipscomb.
Sex changes over time I RECENTLY introduced my undergraduates to Montaillou, the classic 1975 study by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, which provides insight into the lives of 14th-century peasants in the tiny Pyrenean village of that name. Studying depositions collected during inquisitorial investigations into the Cathar heresy by Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers (and future Pope Benedict XII, meaning the records were preserved in the Vatican Library), Ladurie was able to reconstruct the villagers’ beliefs about God, love, sex, death, time, space, marriage and magic. It is an outstanding example of microhistory, exposing the most intimate secrets and daily experiences of these remote medieval people. An academic review of Montaillou, responding to its appearance in English translation, critiqued its methodology and prurient focus. The reviewer, David Herlihy, censured it on the grounds of ‘sloppy and manipulative’ mistranslations (although, in turn, I find fault with some of Herlihy’s Latin) and for including what he thought were lengthy, explicit and atypical examples of sexual behaviour and treatment. Herlihy suggests that ‘one chief reason for the commercial success of the book was its frank, extended treatment of sex’ and asks: ‘Is it the historian’s chief duty to titillate?’ Clearly an ethical approach to the past is one that does not reduce people to their sexual activity or proclivities, any more than it is one that employs a sort of moral parochialism in judging its subjects. In both cases, E.P. Thompson’s injunction against the ‘enormous condescension of posterity’ is apt. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott thought that history was ‘obscene necromancy’: the raising of the dead. An historian who writes to titillate runs the risk of obscene necrophilia as well. The reasons why sex might sell
history books and why the consideration of sexual attitudes and behaviour might be thought mere titillation are one and the same: it is easy to assume that sex is a kind of activity outside history, a constant through time. We imagine that we experience and think about bodily pleasures in similar ways, no matter whether a 21st-century professional or a 14th-century peasant. Yet, since Keith Thomas’ article on ‘the double standard’ in 1959, sexual behaviour and attitudes to sexuality have been topics that scholars have
Historians should not assume that sex and the panoply of ideas surrounding it have always been the same historicised. How sexuality was manifested, how sexual desire has been understood and how sexual behaviour has been governed have been deemed fit subjects for historical inquiry. Such studies not only tell us much about changing social mores, but also about notions of identity, community and power relations. Michel Foucault, in his History of Sexuality (1976), coined the term ‘biopower’ to describe
Behind the curtain: an illustration from Barthelemy l'Anglais' Le livre des Proprietes des choses, c.1410.
the emergent nation state’s attempt to regulate its early modern subjects by subjugating their bodies. Faramerz Dabhoiwala’s book, The Origins of Sex (2012), examines the culture of sexual policing in 16th- and 17th-century Europe and America that predated what he describes as the ‘first sexual revolution’: the intellectual shift in attitudes to the regulation and prosecution of the body. In one chilling story, he relates the voluntary confession of Massachusetts settler James Britton in 1644 to having tried to have sexual intercourse with an 18-year-old bride, Mary Lathan, without success. The couple were convicted of adultery and hanged. Crucially, such severity towards sexual rebels was not just an imposition by church and state; people internalised ideals of chastity, believing that passion was dangerous and shameful and illicit sexuality criminal, policing themselves with vigour. In Nîmes in 1588, a group of women demanded to be let into Vidal Raymond’s house, crying out that they knew he kept a woman inside. When he would not open the door, they forced an entry and found a woman trying to hide herself under the straw; the women called her a whore and chased her out of town. Historians do not want to be the equivalent of those women: chasing down our subjects, demanding they give up their secrets and passing judgement on them. Nor should we write merely for prurient amusement. But neither should we assume that sex and the panoply of ideas surrounding it have always been the same. Even on this most familiar of territories, when we look into the past, we see through a glass darkly. Suzannah Lipscomb is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History and Head of the Faculty of History at the New College of the Humanities, London. AUGUST 2014 HISTORY TODAY 45
The Battle of
& the Indian Corps The contribution of Indian troops to one of the first major battles on the Western Front has been all but forgotten by historians. A century on, Andrew Sharpe makes amends. 46 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
HIS YEAR MARKS the centenary of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, fought over the ‘most dismal, swampy and disgusting region of the British Front’ between March 10th and 12th, 1915. The historian John Terraine wrote that Neuve Chapelle marked ‘Britain’s debut as a major land power’, but that statement is only partially accurate. Half of the infantry that assaulted the German lines on the first day were from the Indian Corps and three quarters of those men were recruited from the subcontinent itself. They fought exceptionally well and gained all of their objectives, winning two Victoria Crosses along the way. Yet, to a large degree, both they and their heroic exploits have been airbrushed from popular history, for,
as Terraine implied, if this was the end of the beginning for the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front, it also marked the demise of the Indian Corps. At the beginning of March 1915 the BEF comprised just 11 infantry divisions. Two of those were the Indian Corps, commanded by LieutenantGeneral Sir James Willcocks. The Corps began to arrive at the front during October 1914 and was immediately committed to the intense fighting at the First Battle of Ypres. As with the rest of the BEF, they had suffered a severe battering and were under strength. However, when on March 4th General Sir Douglas Haig, then commanding the 1st Corps, inquired whether the Indians would be ready to attack at
Second Rifle Brigade and Second Battalion (39th Garhwal Rifles) at Neuve Chapelle, contemporary illustration.
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 47
NEUVE CHAPELLE Right: Indian troops holding a trench near Neuve Chapelle. Below: cover of the Sphere, showing Bengal Lancers returning from Neuve Chapelle, April 10th, 1915.
Neuve Chapelle in six days’ time, Willcocks replied that the prospect of a ‘sharp fight, cheered all ranks and lifted their spirits’. That was no doubt true; the severe winter that the BEF had endured was, according to Sir John French, the Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, ‘trying and possibly enervating’. But Willcocks’ enthusiasm was apparently contradicted only four days later at a conference of his senior officers. He later wrote that it was ‘unanimously agreed that I should represent to the C-in-C that it would be wise to relieve the Indian battalions then in France as soon as this could conveniently be done’. The reason for this apparent contradiction was that making good the losses sustained by the battalions of the Indian Corps was difficult, not because of the distance from training depots but because of the recruitment practices of the Indian army. Recruitment to the Indian army was dictated by a pernicious racial theory, which held that men from the northern part of the subcontinent, principally the Punjab and Nepal – the so-called ‘Martial Races’ – were better suited to soldiering than men from Bengal or the south, in spite of plentiful and persuasive evidence to the contrary. The theory developed as a consequence of the Indian Mutiny of 1857; soldiers from the ‘Martial Races’ had generally remained loyal to the British. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the theory, in practice it caused considerable difficulties when the army was sustaining significant casualties. Indian battalions were either all recruited from one ‘class’, such as Sikhs or Gurkhas, or were constructed along ‘class-company’ lines: for example, the 57th (Wilde’s) Rifles comprised a company each of Sikhs, Dogras, Pathans and Punjabi Muslims. This made coherent reinforcement and replacement of losses absurdly complex. The problem was further exacerbated by the fact that British officers were expected to speak the language of their men in addition to Urdu, the lingua franca of the 48 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
army, as well as understanding their cultural and religious practices. Partly because British officers were much easier to discern in Indian than in British units, the casualty rate among junior officers on the Western Front was close to 100 per cent, compared with 20-25 per cent in equivalent British battalions. The narrowness of the recruiting base thus led to a critical shortage of men and British officers capable of leading them. As Willcocks and his generals acknowledged on March 8th, 1915, the logistical effort required to maintain the Indian Corps in France was in danger of overwhelming their army.
HE PLAN OF ATTACK for Neuve Chapelle set a template for many of the battles that were to follow on the Western Front. For the first time, aircraft conducted a thorough aerial survey of the battle area. Artillery was prepared and ammunition stockpiled for the preliminary bombardment, which, among other tasks, was designed to cut the German wire and destroy the frontline trenches. The Garhwal Brigade was designated to attack from the south towards Neuve Chapelle and then wheel to its right after securing the village. The British 23rd and 25th Brigades were to attack west to east directly facing the village. The 2nd Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles were to link with the right-hand British unit, the 2nd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade. The reserves were then to push through and on to the battle’s tactical objective, the Aubers Ridge, and if possible beyond. The concentrated bombardment that began at 7.30am on March 10th, 1915 was of unprecedented violence. At 8.05am the infantry advanced. In the centre of the attacking line, the first phase of the assault was successful, although some of the British battalions suffered casualties from their own ‘short’ artillery fire. The German wire had been cut and their trenches largely destroyed. The Garhwals and Rifle Brigade linked
The Indian Corps was partially decapitated and, owing to its recruitment practices, much less capable of making good its losses
the wood at dusk but in so doing had no support The Illustrated and exposed flanks. They were also receiving in- War News with a telligence from German prisoners that the wood spread showing Indian soldiers at had been reinforced. As night fell on March 10th Neuve Chapelle, the brigade therefore withdrew to a position 200 March 24th, 1915. yards to their rear and entrenched. They were still 400 yards to the front of the Rifle Brigade and on their left. This manoeuvre was to attract unjustified criticism from Haig after the battle, but it is difficult to see what other course of action was open to them. Further British and Indian attacks and a sizeable German counterattack were mounted on March 11th and 12th, with considerable losses and gallantry on both sides, but no further progress was made. Haig issued orders ceasing operations at 10.05pm on March 12th. British forces at Neuve Chapelle sustained 12,811 casualties. The Indian Corps suffered 4,233 of which 133 British and 60 Indian officers were killed, wounded or missing. The Indian Corps was partially decapitated and, due to its recruitment practices, much less capable of making good its losses than the British.
up as planned at 8.50am and Neuve Chapelle was entirely in British hands 40 minutes later. Along the way, Rifleman Gobar Sing Negi of the Garhwals had fought a trench-clearing action with his bayonet and was to be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross. The lead battalions pushed on to their objectives and began to entrench. Although the village had been taken with relative ease, there were difficulties on both flanks. On the left the 2nd Battalion, the Middlesex Regiment and the 2nd Battalion, the Scottish Rifles (The Cameronians) had encountered uncut wire and been held up. This exposed the flank of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Rifles to their right and although the Irish Rifles’ commanding officer recognised that there was an opportunity to encircle and cut off the German defenders, his request to do so was denied. Damage at The Germans rapidly reinforced their strongpoints facing Neuve Chapelle these units, in particular with machine guns on a bridge over following its the relatively narrow River des Layes towards the northern capture, 1915. end of the battlefield. Those guns were able to dominate the battlefield and would ultimately help prevent any further British progress. On the extreme right, the 1st Battalion, 39th Garhwal Rifles had also come unstuck. Their trenches were not perpendicular to the line of advance. As a result they attacked to the right of their intended target and assaulted German trenches that had not been touched by British artillery. This fighting involved both the Garhwals and the 2nd Battalion, the Leicestershire Regiment, among whose number Private William Buckingham won a Victoria Cross. This action had far less impact on the rest of the battle than the British problems to the left but still took the best part of the day to resolve. However, the Germans were kept occupied and did not significantly threaten the flank of the Indian attack. Despite these local difficulties, the supporting Dehra Dun Brigade did eventually receive orders to push on and make for their objective, a wood called the Bois du Biez en route to the Aubers Ridge. The 2nd Battalion, 2nd Gurkha Rifles reached
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 49
HE REGIMENTAL HISTORY of the Garhwal Rifles posited a theory as to why the 1st Battalion attacked the wrong German trenches on the right flank of the main attack. The battalion’s left-hand company was actually comprised of men from a different regiment, the 38th Dogras, who had joined as reinforcements in January 1915. [I]t can only be conjectured that the Dogras, being the younger in the war, and relying greatly on the more experienced Garhwalis alongside, kept touch with … them, instead of, as ordered, keeping their left flank on the line assigned.
Their company commanders, Captains Owen and Clarke, were killed leading their men. The Indians had fought with great credit since their arrival in France, in some cases pioneering innovative tactics for the nascent art of trench warfare, but their arrival and deployment was not without controversy. The historian David Olusoga has persuasively argued that the Germans were affronted by the allies’ use of troops from their colonies on the Western Front. In some cases those feelings were mirrored in their own armies. The British were apt to find fault, or to only damn with faint praise, the actions of the Indians. As Willcocks wrote at the time, the Indian Corps ‘did not always receive the credit in its own Army’ that it was due. The most enduringly controversial aspect of the Indian deployment concerned the issue of self-inflicted wounds. There is no doubt that the shock of arriving at an intense industrial war, for which the Indian army was not recruited, designed, trained nor equipped, led to a brief outbreak of self-wounding among Indian troops. This was dealt with promptly by the high command and had ceased by mid-November 1914. What has not ceased is the reporting of implausible statistics throughout the historiography with no attempt to place this brief phenomenon in any kind of context with the other combatant armies: there is considerable evidence that the self-inflicting of wounds was common to all Allied units.
BJECTIVELY THE INDIANS achieved more than any other participants on March 10th, 1915. That was not necessarily the fault of their British counterparts. The battle became bogged down for many of the reasons that would reappear in allied set-piece efforts over the next few years. Battlefield command was difficult in the fog of war, particularly when the makeshift telephone cables had been destroyed by artillery fire, and at this point in the war the British were suffering from a severe shortage of artillery shells, which meant that exploiting infantry successes on the battlefield was difficult, if not impossible. The shell shortage was a scandal that would eventually contribute to the toppling of the government. Nevertheless the Indian Corps deserved better than Haig’s heavily qualified and rather churlish praise: India Office wired for names of Indian units which had done well in the fighting … In sending this information I added that, to prevent misconception [in India] and false conclusions it should be stated that though Indians had done very well the task accomplished by them was not so difficult as that of the British. This was a nonsense that was subsequently amplified in the official history as the Indian Corps’ senior officers’ lack of connections became evident. Careers spent skirmishing on the fringes of Empire carried a social and political cost and Brigadier-General Edmonds, the official historian, was closer to some generals than others. The Times editorial of April 19th argued that at Neuve Chapelle ‘for the first time the British Army has broken the German line’ and that 50 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
the battle proved that the German Army was ‘not invincible’, therefore providing a much needed fillip to British morale. What has tended to be underestimated was the Indian contribution to that battle. The Battle of Neuve Chapelle was a limited success, Britain’s first in offensive operations. The opportunity for a breakthrough fleetingly existed during the morning of March 10th. A dangerous salient was blunted and over a mile of ground was captured. Tactics were pioneered that could, and would, work again, if managed with precision. It prompted a critical reappraisal of British offensive capabilities by friend and foe alike. However, a significant portion of the credit for all of that deserves to go to the Indian Corps. This battle was not quite their swan-
The Indians had fought with great credit, in some cases pioneering innovative tactics for the nascent art of trench warfare
Graves of Indian soldiers from the Garhwal Rifle Brigade at Neuve Chapelle.
song on the Western Front, but the casualties they sustained hastened their departure. They struggled on until December 1915, when what was left of the Corps sailed for the ill-fated campaign in Mesopotamia. Major-General Keary, commander of the Lahore Division, noted that the Corps was like a ‘squeezed orange sucked dry and chucked away … without a word of thanks or recognition’. He had good grounds for bitterness. His division would go on to lose 50 per cent of its strength a month later at the Second Battle of Ypres. The more diplomatic Willcocks agreed. He lamented that the Indians’ ‘raconteurs are few and far between’. That is a situation that deserves to be addressed 100 years on. Andrew Sharpe works in finance and is an occasional military historian specialising in the Indian Army.
FURTHER READING Geoff Bridger, The Battle of Neuve Chapelle (Pen & Sword, 1998). Gordon Corrigan, Sepoys in the Trenches. The Indian Corps on the Western Front 1914-1915 (Spellmount, 2006). Philip Mason, A Matter of Honour. An Account of the Indian Army, Its Officers and Men (Jonathan Cape, 1974).
XXXXXXXXX AGE | BRONZE
Spreading the Word
Many of the world’s languages derive from a single source. Harry Ritchie tells the story of Proto-Indo-European.
Linguistic overlord: Bronze Age cult wagon miniature, c.ninth-fifth century bc, discovered in Spain.
IN ENGLISH, the word for a male parent is father. In Dutch it is vader, in German vater and in the Scandinavian languages far. Father is also related to French père and padre in Spanish and Italian, which all derive from Latin’s pater, to Classical Greek’s pateras and even to peeta in Bengali or, indeed, pacer in Tocharian, an extinct language believed to have been last spoken about a thousand years ago on the north-western border of China. Almost all the languages spoken in Europe, northern India, Iran and Afghanistan are related to one another. But this language family tree is an inverted form of the typical family tree. Almost all the European and north Indian languages are twigs and branches that grow thicker and fewer as they recede into the past and, like a real tree, they turn out to have grown from one seed. One language, spoken by one group 5,000 years ago, is the ancestor of almost every
language now spoken from the Hebrides to the Himalayas, by nearly three billion people. This is not a new discovery: the uncanny similarities between India’s Sanskrit and Ancient Greek were first noticed a couple of centuries ago and the ancestor language was first painstakingly reconstructed by linguists in the 19th century. They traced the connections and ancestries of words and structures, beyond the invention of writing, far into the distant past. Yet most people remain unaware of the extraordinary legacy of that one Bronze Age language. And it is extraordinary. The linguistic evidence is vast and undeniable. Around 5,000 years ago, one tribe, known by the unwieldy name of Proto-Indo-Europeans, achieved the complete linguistic takeover of Europe and northern India, yet there is nothing in the actual, archaeological record to suggest AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 51
| BRONZE AGE anything like an ancient empire stretching from Portugal to Orkney to Nepal. In fact, there is nothing in the archaeological record to suggest that this tribe existed at all: no monuments, no settlements, no buildings, not even any distinctive ornaments or pots. The only traces they left behind were the words they used, which have survived in their various forms in our modern languages and which can be reconstructed following logical rules of language change. So what happened? Who were these linguistic overlords of an entire continent and half of another? Where did they come from and how did they do it? This tribe may remain invisible to archaeology but, because so much of their language has been successfully reconstructed, we know a lot about them from their vocabulary. We know, for example, their number system – we can count to ten: oynos, duwo, treyes, kwetwores, penkwe, sweks, septm, oktu, newn, dekm. We know that theirs was a patriarchal society based on clans and three social classes (priests, warriors and farmers/herdsmen). The tribe was led by one man, possibly a warrior/priest, called the regs (giving Latin’s rex). We know about the animals they reared and the food they ate (lots of meat and dairy, from their herds), washed down by mead (medhu). We know about the gods they worshipped, headed by a Sky Father (Dyeupihter); the feasts they used to hold; the taboo words they would never use while hunting. Language reconstruction offers the kind of insight conventional archaeology cannot. We even know that they distinguished two different sorts of fart. This is the reverse of conventional archaeology. With these language conquerors, we know their word for a soft fart (pezd, with disarming onomatopoeia), but we cannot tell who they were nor how they managed to impose their language on such an enormous area of the Earth’s inhabitable land mass. Scholars have been trying to find answers to these questions for nearly 200 years, puzzling over their vocabulary for clues. We know that they did not come from the Mediterranean, as no words for olive or cypress survive, for example. The absence of any terms for banana, monkey or elephant suggests that they were not from Africa. They did have words for things like wolf, beaver and oak, which points to a homeland with forests and rivers, and they had a word for bee (bhei), which means they lived west of the steppes (where there are no bees), and beech, which places them west of the ‘beechline’ that runs south from what is now the city of Kaliningrad to Crimea. One theory is that they were the people who introduced farming to Europe and India, but unfortunately the dates are wrong. Farming had spread west into Europe by 6500 bc but, according to linguists’ estimates, this language could only have been around by 4000 bc at the earliest. Recent research has, however, made significant progress and has, for the first time, pinpointed the tribe to a particular place and time, to a homeland just south of Volgograd in southern Russia and to a date of 3500 bc. It now seems that these Proto-Indo-Europeans spread out from their homeland on the border of the Russian
Their influence can be seen in many areas, from their decimal numbers to their gods
52 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
steppes in a series of separate migrations. The first of these is the most astonishing. In 3500 bc a small group of them trekked across the grass desert of the steppes to a lushly fertile and uninhabited area at the foot of the Altai mountains, on the north-western border of China. The next large migration was in 3000 bc, along the Danube. Thereafter, there were separate waves, west into Europe and south to Iran, Afghanistan and north India. Wherever they went, they left nothing behind – no towns, no forts or stockades, no temples, no signs of even a single house – apart from their language, which somehow replaced every local tongue. Although this new interpretation suggests they did not advance through military means, they did have two evolutionary technological innovations: the wheel and the horse. The Proto-Indo-Europeans certainly had a warrior caste and they seem to have set great store by manly prowess in battle. In his The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters (2014) the historian Adam Nicolson has argued persuasively that Homer’s Iliad evokes a previous era of Proto-Indo-European warriors descending from the north to ransack the palaces and cities of the Mediterranean. But, mighty though their warriors were, the Proto-Indo-Europeans could not have conquered by military power alone. There were too few of them and cavalry charges and chariots were both inventions far in the future. These people were nomads, who rode horses to control their vast herds and who put their wheels to use by making the wagons and carts that were their mobile homes. Hence their invisibility to the archeologists – they had neither permanent settlements nor buildings, but moved from one area to the next, through Europe and Iran and India in search of pasture for their herds. Theirs was a new form of nomadic farming and it was very successful at a time when settled farmers were struggling with the increasingly dry conditions of Bronze Age climate change. Wealthy, well-fed, with wheels, the Proto-IndoEuropeans were like postwar Americans and the language they spoke was like English now, the prestige language of a successful and powerful people, isolating and killing off local languages, just as the majority of the 7,000 languages currently spoken in the world are fated to extinction and to be replaced, possibly by Spanish or Mandarin, but usually by English. These Bronze Age people were inadvertent globalisers, transforming their known world, giving that world their voice and, in doing so, remaking that world in their own image. It was not just their language they bequeathed to the length and breadth of Europe and beyond but their culture and their mindset, too. Their influence can be seen in many areas, from their decimal numbers to their religious beliefs (those sky gods, ruled by Dyeu-pihter), to entertainment, the descendants of their epic poems including Homer, the Vedic epics of Sanskrit and even our films and novels. Britons, Swedes, Russians, Indians, Iranians, Afghanis, everyone from Reykjavik to Nepal: they are all children of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Harry Ritchie is the author of English for the Natives: Discover the Grammar You Don't Know You Know (John Murray, 2014).
By looking at terrorism in Japan during the 1970s, Tim Stanley reveals the cyclical nature of political violence and the means of its defeat. ISLAMISM HAS BROUGHT revolutionary violence to the city streets of the developed world. In January 2015 two brothers forced their way into the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris and killed 12 people. Two days later, another man murdered four and held several hostage at a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes. All the culprits were relatively young, all apparently Islamist ideologues. All were eventually killed. The cause of the Parisian violence is a controversial subject. Some note the material deprivation or racism experienced by the attackers; a few have charged Hebdo 54 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
with incitement; others point the finger at antisemitism, fundamentalist brainwashing or even Islam itself. What has been rarely discussed is the history of urban revolutionary violence and the way it conforms to patterns. For evidence of a formula, we can look four decades back and thousands of miles away, to the snowy mountains of Karuizawa, Japan, in February 1972. This was the site of the Asama-Sansō Incident and the moment when Japan’s revolutionary Left bloodily self-destructed live on national television. It began when the Japanese police launched a raid on the country’s United Red Army (URA), led by Tsuneo Mori and
Standoff: police officers outside the Asama Sansō lodge, February 1st, 1972.
Hiroko Nagata, hiding out in a compound near Karuizawa. It was not much of an ‘army’ – just a couple of dozen young members. Nor was it particularly ‘united’. Mori and Nagata decided that URA needed to purify itself against capitalism and so initiated a purge. Eight soldiers, and one hapless civilian who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, had the life beaten out of them. Six other members of the URA were tied to trees and left to freeze to death in the cold winter air. On February 16th the police arrived. Some of the gang were arrested but five grabbed their guns and ran into the mountains. The fugitives came across a cabin called Asama Sansō and decided to hole up there while they tried to figure out what to do. Inside they found Yasuko Muta, the 31-year-old wife of the lodge’s caretaker, and took her hostage. It looked like they had landed on their feet: the lodge was difficult to access, built into the side of the mountain, designed like a maze and easily defended. So when Muta’s husband came home and discovered that his wife was hidden behind a barricade of furniture and he called the police, the five revolutionaries settled down for a long siege. One of them later explained that they realised they had committed a ‘sin’ by initiating the brutal purges. By resisting the authorities, they hoped to obtain some sort of absolution. Shielded by futons The arrival of the police was followed by the arrival of the television cameras and the incident quickly became a ratings hit. For ten days, the whole of Japan was glued to its television sets as the police set up roadblocks and loudhailers and begged the students to come out quietly. They even bombarded the walls of the lodge with baseballs to keep the radicals awake all night. Finally, on February 28th, a wrecking ball smashed into the walls of the lodge. The police made their way in floor by floor, dodging bullets and homemade bombs. Two died, along with a member of the public. They finally found the five rebels buried behind a shield of futons. Muta was released and said she had been treated well. The father of one of the revolutionaries hanged himself in shame. The incident was not unique in the 1970s. Revolutionary movements across the developed world had discovered that there was little will among the working class for a general uprising, so they had to create the circumstances under which class tensions might be accentuated. They did this through acts of violence designed to provoke the state – to make it reveal its unjust, ugly reality. In West Germany the Baader-Meinhof Gang torched department stores, bombed US barracks and kidnapped an industrialist. In Italy the Red Brigades kidnapped and assassinated a former prime minister. The Japanese Left liked to hijack planes and felt a particular affinity with the Palestinian struggle. It had a spiritual dimension to its Marxism that suggested its members were far more attuned to Japanese traditionalism than they would like to admit. Japan’s militarist movements of the early 20th century had also been dominated by young men who believed that Japan was being betrayed by liberal capitalism and who thought that redemption could be achieved through violence. They also thought it important that the revolutionary fight a war against himself. They had
to confront their own decadence and doubts, squeeze them out … or die trying. Hence, Japanese militarists revived the samurai bushido code, which redefined death as a political and personal statement: often a means to saving or regaining face after an act of shame. The deaths by beating or exposure that occurred shortly before the incident should not then be dismissed as accidents or youthful dogmatism gone awry. The URA did not even accept that their comrades had been murdered. They said that they had undergone haiboku shi: death by defeatism. And, like a good samurai, Tsuneo Mori killed himself in prison on January 1st, 1973. Television access These young guns were all products of the television age. They understood the power of the cathode ray tube. In a similar incident in Japan in 1968, a man called Kim Hee Roh took hostages and demanded access to television cameras to vent his grievances. That criminals could make such a request, that it would be met and that Japanese viewers were prepared to watch, recast violence as political theatre – an act that transformed killers into actors and citizens into a bloodthirsty audience. The audience share for the Asama-Sansō Incident peaked at 89.7 per cent and blotted out coverage of Richard Nixon’s visit to China, which was arguably more important. In many ways, it invented Japanese rolling news. Revolutionary violence turned young nobodies into celebrities. Fast forward to the 2015 Paris killings and the parallels are striking. The differences are that the French killers were Muslims rather than Marxists, rather more proletarian and motivated by grievances towards French racism. But they, too, practiced a philosophy that blended politics and religion. They, too, used suicidal violence to make a political statement and achieve redemption (in their case, rebirth in a heaven full of willing virgins). They, too, understood the power of images in politics. The attack upon Hebdo for publishing cartoons was an assault upon the media that simultaneously invited the media to film and comment upon the violence. The repetition of terrorist violence down through the decades is depressing, but acknowledging its cyclical qualities can also be helpful in combating it. We can deduce that, while ideologies invite people to kill, it is not ideology alone that motivates them to do it. Equally appealing is risk, the desire to die for a cause, the thrill of spilling blood and the chance to appear on television. These instincts are evergreen but the people acting on them can be beaten. In Japan and Europe in the 1970s, urban terrorism was defeated by the state becoming cleverer and tougher. The violence also turned many people away from the movements that used it. They dwindled as the children in the ranks died off or were arrested. Most importantly, the great revolution came almost completely to an end with Marxism’s defeat in the Cold War. Defeat ideas decisively and the groups they sustain can be beaten, too.
In the 1970s, urban terrorism was defeated by the state becoming cleverer and tougher
Tim Stanley is the author of Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between LA and DC Revolutionized American Politics (Dunne Books, 2014). AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 55
Robert Carver revels in the Hellenistic life of Hannibal Anthony Fletcher on Queen Caroline • Sarah Dunant enjoys a convent scandal
Jacques-Louis David Leonidas at Thermopylae, 480 bc (1814), Louvre, Paris.
Ancient Sparta in Modern Fiction Paul Cartledge argues that all historiography can be seen as fictionalised and relishes the fact that novelists breathe new life into ancient worlds. PROBABLY MOST HISTORIANS fall into one of two camps on the sensitive issue of historical fiction (see Jerome de Groot’s Signposts, March 2015). There are those who hate it, precisely because it is fiction and so exempted from a fair number of articles of the historian’s binding code of practice, such as objectivity, avoidance of anachronism, fidelity to source materials and an overriding concern with explanation. On the opposite side are those who 56 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
welcome or even embrace it, for the sake of the insights that a novelist, unfettered by professional historiographical protocols, may bring in the way of empathetic understanding, ‘feel’ and contemporary colour. Then, of course, there are those historians who like to have a foot in both camps in their own historiography, passing off unwarranted speculations as dead certainties (no names, no pack drill). I belong unhesitatingly to
the second camp. This is partly because I recognise that all historiography is to some degree fictionalised: it is we historians who make history, after all, out of what we are prepared to count as certain facts of a significant past. But it is mainly because, lacking the necessary imagination myself, I relish the efforts of novelists, some of whom are also historians, who attempt to breathe new life into the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Romans:
Edward Bulwer Lytton, Robert Graves, Rosemary Sutcliff, Peter Green, William Golding, Harry Sidebottom – there is a long and noble tradition of such writing. Perhaps my favourite remains, after 50 years, Mary Renault: I first read her Last of the Wine (1956) as an early 1960s schoolboy and fairly recently re-read it as a professional ancient historian of 40 years’ standing. It still stacks up remarkably well as a sympathetic recreation of Greek and Athenian culture and society, not least in its homoeroticism. In this brief contribution, though, it is ancient Sparta that I want to take centre stage. The modernist, feminist pioneer was Naomi Mitchison: her Black Sparta novella (1928) anticipated her full-blown novel The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1933 and again republished 40 years later by Virago). Over the last decade or two there has flowed a further steady stream of Spartabased novels. This includes the graphic novel series of the 1990s by Frank Miller, which became the basis of the digitallyenhanced movie franchise 300 (not bad) and 300: Rise of an Empire (execrable). But, as literature, Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire (1998), a novel of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 bc), knocks that into a cocked hat. The list of US vets going back as far as the Korean War who have paid tribute to its authenticity – not necessarily the same as historicity – is staggering for its
warmth and length. Most Sparta-based novels are indeed set in wartime, hardly surprisingly. Two that focus, like Last of the Wine, on the Athens-Sparta Peloponnesian War (431-404 bc) are Jon Edward Martin’s Shades of Artemis (2004) and Nick Nicastro’s The Isle of Stone (2005). Martin’s is helpfully subtitled A Novel of Ancient Greece and the Spartan Brasidas. Brasidas died at Amphipolis in 422 and certainly deserves his fictional exhumation, given the tantalising hints dropped by Thucydides and Plutarch; but Martin’s style is a bit clunky and, though he credits help from a professional ancient historian with an expert knowledge of the subject, he makes too many factual errors, not least in the spelling of ancient names, to inspire total confidence.
Gorgo (her name means ‘gorgon’) had a mind of her own, had something to say, and was not afraid to say it – in public, to men Far more reliable and in conception more stimulating is Nicastro’s Novel of Ancient Sparta, which focuses on one of the most fascinating of all episodes in that prolonged and devastating conflict. The isle in question is Sphacteria, lying off the south-west coast of Messenia in the Peloponnese, where a small Spartan detachment got itself trapped in 425 and the survivors, in flagrant contravention of the strict Spartan code, or at any rate myth, decided to surrender to the Athenians rather than die to almost the last man, like their famous ‘300’ ancestors at Thermopylae. The scenario offers the author plenty of scope for exploring, in the manner of Mitchison before him, the educational, marital and male-bonding practices of this peculiar (as the ancients themselves saw it) society.
By contrast, Spartan by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (English translation 2003, Italian original 1988) is set, like Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, in the Persian Wars era of Thermopylae and other great anti-Persian battles (Salamis, Plataea …) at the beginning of the fifth century. The generic brother versus brother plottype is of course itself ancient (think Sophocles’ Antigone), but Manfredi thickens it by making one brother a noble Spartiate, the other brought up believing he was of Helot (servile underclass) birth and becoming by conviction a Helot liberationist. Never mind that the way the plot is spun is factually, historically impossible, not just implausible: this is gripping narrative fare. My final example, the novel that has most immediately prompted this survey, is set in the same era but makes no such basic historical error. Like Mitchison, Tariq Chaudhry has chosen to focus his A Queen of Sparta (2014) on the distaff side of ancient Spartan life and politics. The queen in question is Gorgo, daughter of King Cleomenes I, wife of his half-brother Leonidas and one of the undoubted stars of 300 (the film). Gorgo (her name means ‘gorgon’) had a mind of her own, had something to say and was not afraid to say it – in public, to men. That much is apparent from the couple of delicious mentions of her in the pioneering Histories of Herodotus (no stranger to fiction, he). The ancients themselves were very exercised by Spartan women. Most of the other Greeks, such as Aristotle – but unlike Herodotus – abhorred their allegedly undisciplined sexual license and materialistic, luxury-loving ways. The truth is, of course, unrecoverable, but Chaudhry has no need to fret about that and gives the fictional Gorgo his best shot, in an ambitious tale of murder and mayhem, which stretches from Greece to the Swat Valley (in the author’s native Pakistan) and from the early fifth century bc to the late fourth. Go, tell … Paul Cartledge
Introducing the Ancient Greeks
From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind Edith Hall The Bodley Head 287pp £20
EDITH HALL has written a flamboyant, readable and different account of the ancient Greeks, well tailored for the modern reader. She tells the old stories, but she presents them innovatively, in a package of ten chronological chapters structured around a cute (and contestable) ten characteristics or qualities, which she claims were shared by most Greeks most of the time. These are that they were seagoing, suspicious of authority, individualistic and inquiring (her four primary qualities) combined with six others: that they were open to new ideas, witty, competitive, admired excellence in talented people, were elaborately articulate and were addicted to pleasure. Whatever one thinks of these characteristics, Hall’s achievement here is to unfold a long and vivid narrative that sticks effectively to the remit of their framework. Many good things are offered: an excellent account of colonies and colonisation, a wonderful presentation of the Persian Wars through the prism of the playwright Aeschylus, a dynamic unfolding of a changing political and literary culture. Many things are absent from what one might imagine to be a balanced picture. The book is much stronger on literature and literary culture than on archae-
ology, art, philosophy or history – all areas of crucial Hellenic interventions and all areas where the rich evidence nuances our understanding. Hall spends too long on the Bronze Age (guided by the texts of Homer and Hesiod and less by archaeological evidence) and on the Classical moment, while the great extent of Roman Greece and of the turn to Christianity (where many of the finest intellectuals and writers were cultured Greek speakers) are given just a chapter each. She offers nothing about the great era of Byzantine Greece, when the Roman Empire’s capital moved to Constantinople, as if the ancient Greeks somehow ended with the rise of the Church, despite the fact that all the ancient Greek literature and learning on which her story depends was lovingly preserved, copied, edited and taught for over a 1,000 years in Byzantium. Hall’s story is thus beautifully packaged, but strangely conservative. It accepts the traditional break at the point of Christianity and, especially in her insistence on the individual, it returns us
A flamboyant, readable account of the ancient Greeks, well tailored for the modern reader to a historical model of great men (mainly) initiating action. Leaders come to stand for the groups and communities that they lead and their initiatives (as opposed to their responses to the pressures of those groups in historical circumstances) come to direct the thrust of history. It may be so. But as Hall admits, many scholars emphasise other factors than individual excellence in shaping history. Her account is of course personal. A story less secularist or hedonistic would have given more space to the ascetic strand of ancient polytheism from Pythagoras to Plotinus, to which the Christians owed so much. Jas’ Elsner AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 57
The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece Josiah Ober
Princeton University Press 464pp £24.95
THE GREEKS had their gods and the modern world has the Greeks. Something about them ensured that their political, artistic and philosophical ideas would be spoken about down the centuries in a way that other ancient peoples were not. They achieved immortality while their Greece spiralled out of recognition. No one who visited in the early 20th century could have tallied what they saw there with the world evoked in the accounts of Homer, Thucydides and Herodotus. Greece had gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, but living conditions were so terrible that the average life expectancy was under 36 years. A period of rapid population growth followed, which only contributed to its woes. Unemployment became its defining feature. In the run-up to the Second World War, Greece had become the poorest nation in Europe. What went wrong? The gulf between ancient and modern Greece is the impetus for Josiah Ober’s new book. Its title may lead one to expect a grand, sweeping narrative, but it is in fact a sharp and insightful economic history founded upon a quest to discover what made the ancient Greeks’ fall so precipitous. Unsurprisingly, wealth had a lot to do with it. Ober’s book is not a light read, but benefits from various graphs and charts, which help those without a background in economics to visualise the shape of Greece’s changing economy. Greece’s efflorescence, with 58 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
which this book is concerned, was dependent upon a fairly even distribution of wealth across a dense population. Whereas in the Mycenaean period (c.1400-1100 bc) the population of Greece was relatively small, with wealth concentrated among the elite, in the most illustrious years of the classical period (500-336 bc) Greece had a dense population with a thriving middle class, whose spending helped to drive the economy forward. Perhaps Theocritus and other poets of pastoral verse are to blame, but the modern assumption that the Greeks inhabited a predominantly rural environment is quite wrong. Greece was made up of numerous city-states, which became more urbanised throughout the period from 1000 to 300 bc, until about a third of the total population lived in urban dwellings. From these urban homes they chose to import their food rather than grow it themselves. For this to work, certain environmental conditions had to be met. Meteorologically, the collapse of the Early Iron Age coincided with a protracted arid period in Greece (lasting roughly 1450-850 bc), the end of which might have proved fertile ground for the improved living conditions and flourishing intellectual network of classical Greece. But Greece’s success was determined by more than good weather, a dense population and even wealth distribution. Its citystates might easily have become an empire on the model of the later Roman Empire – so why not?, Ober asks. Given that the city-states were often at war with one another, the system seems, to modern eyes, inherently fragile. But that is to forget how much the Hellenes thrived on competition. The various poleis tended to assimilate or imitate each other’s best ideas, which made them stronger. Over time they became so fortified, as Ober says, that the first Hellenistic kings had little choice but to allow them a degree of autonomy. The turning point in Greece’s fortunes coincided with its flowering and it was this, Ober argues, that helped to render it ‘immortal’ in the eyes of people like Byron.
By the mid-fourth century bc Macedon was the most powerful state in the Greek world. Ober does not suggest that the power of the Macedonian dynasts was an exaggerated façade, but he does point out that Greece’s city-states continued to enjoy independence from them. This argument would have proved more controversial among the ancient writers than it will among scholars today, but as part of Ober’s definition of the decline of Greece it works well. The conquests of Alexander the Great ensured that the Greek world continued to grow, but it did so ‘while converging on a common polis culture’. The art and literature of Hellenistic Greece became too embedded in the Roman world to suffer the same fall as Greece itself, as it was consolidated into Rome’s empire. It was, essentially, the fact that Greece ended on a high that ensured that it was insuperable. Daisy Dunn
The Cambridge History of Painting in the Classical World J.J. Pollitt (ed.)
Cambridge University Press 500pp £150
FACED WITH a man in overalls flecked with white, saying ‘I am a painter’, we know we are talking to a painter and decorator. Faced with a book entitled Victorian Painting, we expect it to be about the pre-Raphaelites, not about how Victorian industrialists got their houses painted. In the Greek and Roman worlds the same distinction was made: in the price edict of the emperor Diocletian from the
Greek and Roman writers, fascinated by the work of the pictor imaginarius ... found the possibilities of representation wondrous, as when Zeuxis painted grapes to fool birds early fourth century ad the pictor imaginarius gets 150 denarii a day, the pictor parietarius (wall-painter) just 75. What fascinated Greek and Roman writers about painting was the work of the pictor imaginarius: the relationship between a flat painting and the world that it represented. Whether they found the possibilities of representation wondrous, as when Zeuxis painted grapes to fool the birds, or, with Plato, dangerous, it was painting that put the very possibility of representation starkly on the line. The only point at which wall-painting roused intellectual interest was when a wholesale change from realistic representation of the world as it might be to representing the world in ways that defy the laws of science aroused the moral indignation of the Roman architect Vitruvius, who fulminates against the ‘monstrous things’ painters have taken to creating. Except for Egyptian mummy portraits, discussed in two pages here, effectively nothing survives of panel paintings from antiquity and the only history we can write is of what the pictor parietarius got up to. Here the evidence has increased significantly in the past 50 years as more careful excavation and preservation have recovered painted plaster from public and private buildings from the Bronze Age to late antiquity. Where once all that we had to go on were the walls of the palace at Knossos, the tombs or Etruria and Pompeii and Herculaneum,
REVIEWS supplemented by some material from Rome, this book displays Bronze Age material from Thera and the Greek mainland, archaic fragments from Greek temples, extraordinary Macedonian and Thracian tombs from the fourth and third centuries and a previously unknown tradition of tomb painting at Paestum, as well as material from all over the Roman Empire. The editor and authors of this book hanker, however, after this history that we cannot write – hence Pollitt’s own chapter on painting in Greek and Roman art criticism and StansburyO’Donnell’s chapter on what one can deduce about ‘monumental painting’ from what is painted on Greek pots. For the first half of the book any story is crushed by catalogues of examples as the reader juggles between the in-text halftones, the grouped sections of colour plates and additional images on a CD. How Greeks, Etruscans and Romans decorated the private and public spaces in which they lived is quite as interesting as the story of high art. That emerges above all from the discussion by Irene Bragantini, brilliantly translated by Pollitt himself, of Roman painting in the Republic and early Empire. In an impressive display of what high-quality archaeology enables, she shows that we can date very precisely the seachange in Roman decorative practice that so appalled Vitruvius, when trompe l’oeil recreation of the world beyond, denying the very existence of the wall on which it was painted, was replaced by decorative schemes which turned rooms back into boxes whose re-affirmed walls showed off pictures and fancy decoration alike. That change comes with the Battle of Actium and is part of the Augustan revolution in visual imagery. Here the history of decoration becomes part of the political history of Rome – a reminder of the totalitarian nature of Augustus’ control and how much it matters how people decorate their environment.
Publishers like multiauthored volumes, which tend to be faster to write, and it is hard to imagine that any single scholar could command the enormous range of data on display here. But writing a history demands following through a common set of questions and working within a common framework. The contributors here seem to have been left to define painting as they wish and even authors of adjoining chapters adopt very different manners of working. There is much that is eye-opening in this weighty and expensive book, but not even an attempt to give the reader a story to take away. Robin Osborne
A Hellenistic Life Eve MacDonald Yale University Press 332pp £25
JOHN RUSKIN anathematised the painter J.M.W.Turner as having ‘lived in imagination in ancient Carthage, lived practically in modern Margate … acknowledging it all the while to be ugly and wrong’. A long western tradition of historical and moral commentary generally agreed with both the Romans and Ruskin that the Carthaginians were a bad lot. As Prescott later stigmatised the Spanish Conquistadors, so the Romans developed their own leyenda negra of Punic iniquities. Hannibal may have been a great general, but - like Rommel long after him - he was batting for the Rotters’ First XI. Eve MacDonald tries to find a way around this
demonisation by rejecting Roman and Greek anti-Punic bias, while still relying on ‘victors’ history’, particularly those of Polybius and Livy. This study attempts to be even-handed and unprejudiced. For every act of bad faith, craftiness or cruelty by Hannibal, MacDonald can usually point to the same or worse committed by the Romans. In an attempt to normalise him, she proposes Hannibal as a typical ruler of the Hellenistic age, a man, say, like Agathocles, Tyrant of Syracuse. There is so much we do not know about Hannibal, MacDonald reminds us; what were his relations with the Senate in Carthage? What was the exact status of his family, the powerful Barcas, in Iberia, largely conquered by his father Hamilcar? Hannibal was not a prince defending a homeland, rather, MacDonald concludes, a Carthaginian warlord, constantly on the move in Iberia and Italy. Would he have ever returned to Carthage had he totally defeated Rome, or remained as a Carthaginian Caesar? Carthage had a habit of crucifying its returning generals when they had failed to please. Arguably, MacDonald bends over backwards too far in her attempt at fairness. Unless you knew the Carthaginians were of Semitic origin, speaking a Semitic language, worshipping a Semitic pantheon of gods, whose ancestors came from Mesopotamia and further East, you would be no wiser after reading the main text of this book. The words ‘Semite’, Asiatic’, ‘Oriental’ and ‘Eastern’ are all avoided so as not to appear prejudiced; multiculturalism and, arguably, multifaith multi-ethnicity, are instead stressed overmuch. Buried in a small-print footnote at the back, MacDonald repudiates the clash of cultures, arguing that the Romans were not western, nor the Carthaginians eastern or Semitic, ‘these values having been dismissed for their colonialist and anti-Semitic overtones’, she states. Perhaps this important authorial point of view might have been highlighted early on in the main text, so the vexed racial and ethnic dimension could be fully discussed? MacDonald is surely correct in thinking Hannibal saw himself as
a hero under the protection of the god Melqart-Herakles. She does not ask if his journey was really necessary. Hannibal’s nemesis, Scipio, built a fleet with which he captured Punic Cartagena in Iberia while Hannibal was away in Italy. Hannibal might have done the same in reverse and avoided losing half his army in the Alpine crossing had he invaded Italy by sea and gone straight for the jugular in besieging Rome directly. It was lack of manpower that always prevented him doing this, hence the endless and ultimately futile marching up and down Italy,
Hannibal may have been a great general, but – like Rommel long after him – he was batting for the Rotters’ First XI always defeating Roman legions but never able to actually assault Rome directly. Arthur Miller called Al Capone ‘The greatest Carthaginian of them all‘, MacDonald tells us. Also, that Muammar Gadaffi called a son Hannibal and that Ataturk put up statues of him in Asia Minor, where Hannibal finally killed himself to avoid capture by the Romans. Napoleon was an admirer, as was Sir Walter Ralegh. The afterglow of Hannibal sometimes makes him seem less a Punic imperial adventurer and proto-Caesar and more like the Che Guevara of antiquity. Ironically, Hannibal’s greatest legacy was to Rome. He taught the Romans military tactics and strategy, deception, ruse, deployment, the effective use of cavalry and auxiliaries. Caesar’s campaigns in Gaul and Britain read as if he had the great Carthaginian at his elbow advising him. Hannibal also has achieved modern sartorial apotheosis, MacDonald informs us, viz: ‘My Dad crossed the Alps with Hannibal - and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’. Robert Carver AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 59
EXHIBITION not made explicit, the display also offers the opDEFINING BEAUTY: the Body in Ancient Greek Art portunity for considering the way that we often explores depictions of the human body in Greek come to Greek sculpture through copies: three sculpture and, to a lesser extent, vase painting, out of the five pieces are copies of the Classical predominantly 500-300 bc. It is a story of the originals (two are Roman and one is from the gradual change in style from the stiff Archaic 19th century). through idealised Classical naturalism to the Next is the use of colour and gilding in Greek realism of the Hellenistic period. The exhibition statuary; although this practice has been known and accompanying literature emphasise how since the 18th century, it is still frequently overinnovative was this depiction of the naked body looked and the use of painted plaster casts in the and the distinctively Greek idea of the condisplay is highly effective. nection of physical and moral beauty. This is a The underlying Greek cultural ideology in the well-established interpretation; the exhibition is depiction of the body is also covered, a highlight not innovative, but carries off what it does with of which is the display of an Egyptian male sculppanache. The display is visually arresting but ture, a Cypriot youth, a not overpowering, spread Greek Archaic kouros and, over six rooms. It creates a little beyond, a copy of new combinations of a Classical athlete, which well-known sculptures and underlines the enormous this generates a fresh and changes in the depiction stimulating way of seeing of naked anatomy, posture pieces that are so familiar, and interior psychology, we are almost immune to. otherwise known as Greek Perhaps the most exciting naturalism. From there we element is to see five move to the body in key fragments of the Partherites of passage (childnon sculptures displayed hood, marriage, sex and next to other important death), followed by the pieces, including part of Greek view of the bodies the Telephos frieze from of hybrids and foreigners, the Pergamon altar now in together with the new Berlin and a Neo-Assyrian trends in realism and relief from northern Iraq portraiture that occurred in the British Museum. Defining Beauty in the Hellenistic period, In this way, the vexed The Body in Ancient Greek Art and finally the influence question of ownership of British Museum, ran until July 5th. of Greek art through space the Parthenon sculptures, and time – on Gandharan which frequently overThe catalogue is available, priced £25 art and on the western shadows them, is successtradition from the Renaissance onwards. fully sidestepped and instead the visitor can see The emphasis of the exhibition is exclusively them within the broader context of Greek and on the development of the depiction of the Near Eastern sculpture. body and the establishment of an ideal, while The tone is set in the first room, which introfunction and context of use of these objects duces female and male naked idealised Classiare largely ignored. For example, pottery is cal forms – the crouching Aphrodite from the displayed for its painted or moulded decoration British Museum (inset) and a stunning bronze of the human body and the context of use, which athlete from Croatia – and places together on a platform three naked male sculptures associated varied from the drunken symposium to the cold grave, is hardly referred to. Arguably this limits with the names of three top Classical sculpthe potential for understanding the meanings tors: Pheidias, Polykleitos and Myron. This is traditional art history focusing on big names and carried by these depicted bodies, although the placing on a pedestal what has been identified as richly illustrated catalogue does offer further details, including function. The final room offers the height of Classical art from the very outset of the discipline of its study in the writings of J.J. a stunning visual dialogue between Dionysos from the Parthenon pediment and the Belvedere Winckelmann in the 18th century. The physical torso from the Vatican, mediated by drawings presence of these pieces is overwhelming, of Michelangelo and Haydon. This is an inspired both to those first encountering ancient Greek and forward-looking closure to a traditional but art and to those who are familiar with these remarkable sculptures in isolation and usually in beautifully executed exhibition. a two-dimensional photograph. Although this is Alexia Petsalis-Diomidis 60 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style, 1290-1350 Paul Binski Yale University Press 448pp £40
AESTHETIC QUALITIES and ways of thinking about their power to persuade are at the heart of Paul Binski’s new book. The focus is the English Decorated style of the first half of the 14th century, a new style found across the visual arts, distinguished by dazzling decorative effects in multiple media, often in brilliant colour. It was highly versatile in its application to settings, both ecclesiastical and secular, in the reigns of the first three Edwards and has often been given a prominent place in narratives of European art and architecture. Objects of many kinds are considered here, from buildings and tombs, to monumental painting and illuminated manuscripts; fashions in clothing are also addressed. While there were contemporary responses to the latter, these are much harder to find for art and architecture, as Binski recognises. In its interest in rhetoric and ideas of beauty, the book develops themes explored previously by Mary Carruthers. The author challenges much 20th-century scholarship on the period, especially that deriving from modernist ideas about architecture, for example by Jean Bony in The English Decorated Style: Gothic Architecture Transformed, 1250-1350 (1979). In its inventiveness, Binski argues, English building should not be interpreted as some kind
REVIEWS of avant-garde, transforming French Rayonnant ideas and reinvigorating European architecture from the geographical margins. Rather, on a long view, he presents it in fertile dialogue with a tradition of English building, back to the Norman Conquest, that had its own authority. Abroad, he fruitfully explores ways in which English art was received, from Trondheim cathedral to the papal court at Avignon, in a series of discrete episodes facilitated by trade and diplomacy, but also by means of portable goods or designs and travelling craftsmen. Issue is also taken with the
The focus is the English Decorated style of the first half of the 14th century ... distinguished by dazzling decorative effects in multiple media, often in brilliant colour interpretation of other kinds of margins. The marginal images in manuscripts have been a favoured object of study from socio-political perspectives in recent decades, including in Michael Camille’s Image on the Edge (1992). The search for moral or social meanings in such locations, it is proposed, has obscured the pleasure and amusement in subjects that could be simply nonsensical. Rejecting the binaries of 20th-century scholarship, he argues: ‘I favour an impure or mixed centre, seldom or never severed from that which is both serious and delightful or on the edge.’ On Binski’s reading, such border imagery, self-conscious, amusing and memorable, is the result of a new professionalism and orderliness in book production and of new expectations in consumers. Among the earliest consumers of such images he identifies a new elite, trained in
the universities. Characteristic features of contemporary art and architecture are assessed for their rhetorical potential and cultural resonance, from curvilinearity and density of surface decoration, to playfulness in the application of designs on different scales and modes in the representation of nature. The effects elicit pleasure in artifice and skill, it is argued, but also responses that can be deployed to ethical or affective devotional ends. He makes particular case studies of the octagon and Lady Chapel at Ely, assessing their magnificence and variety, which he identifies as enduring aesthetic values. The internal height of the octagon rivals the Pantheon in Rome, for example, in a tradition of heroic emulation. A chapter on the economics of art and architecture surveys wages and material costs, new types of art (often on a small scale), the demand for intercessory prayer and new kinds of patrons. Lay patronage increased vastly, it is argued, for the field of manuscript production, at least. A relatively small group of influential patrons is also identified within the king’s household and administration. Common aspects of the style were often adopted within this network of ‘mandarin’ royal clerks and bishops. Throughout the book, courts are identified as key foyers for the development of artistic ideas, whether that be the English royal court or the papal court in Avignon. More broadly, Binski sets this upsurge of creativity within the context of an increasing commercialisation of society, proposed by economic historians. The final section reassesses the relationship between stylistic change and social and economic upheaval: was there a relationship between the end of the ‘Decorated’ and the Black Death? Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice, and the Decorated Style is beautifully produced and well illustrated, in colour. Tim Ayers
Ceremonial Entries in Early Modern Europe The Iconography of Power J.R. Mulryne with Maria Ines Aliverti and Anna Maria Testaverde (eds.) Ashgate Publishing 388pp £85
ONE OF THE FEW occasions on which an early modern ruler interacted with his subjects was during a ceremonial entry into one of the cities in his realm. In a ceremony that goes back to the Roman adventus ritual, in which an emperor entered Rome in triumph, the ruler appeared before the city gates and formally requested the citizens to be allowed to enter. The burghers of the city recognised the ruler’s authority by presenting him with the keys to the city gates, which the ruler returned, thereby confirming his relationship with them. The ruler then rode into the city, often under a baldachin, accompanied by his entourage. The procession wound its way along a ceremonial route marked out by triumphal arches and other ephemeral structures. The decoration of these arches was often the occasion for the citizens not only to praise their lord but also to declare what it was that they hoped for from him. Where the ruler himself had commissioned the decorations, he naturally dictated the iconographic programme and used it to put across an agenda of his own. Jacek Żukowski, in an acute analysis of hitherto unresearched source material relating to the entries of Vladislaus IV Vasa, King of Poland (r.1632-1648), into various Polish and Lithuanian cities, shows
how an independent city such as Gdańsk could use the complex decorations on their ephemeral architecture to convey their ‘fears, aims and expectations’. The first four essays in the book relating to France demonstrate the opposite, showing how French monarchs used the ceremonial entry to present themselves in a particular light and convey their message. Richard Cooper shows how 16th-century French kings used their entries to present themselves as army commanders, while Margaret M. McGowan explains how Henri IV’s entry into Rouen in 1596 depicted the king as restorer of the state after a time of war. Linda Briggs discusses the progress of the teenage Charles IX round his kingdom from 1565 to 1566, a progress masterminded by his mother, Catherine de’ Medici, while Marie-Claude Canova-Green analyses the way in which Louis XIII represented himself as the victor over Protestantism. The popes had their own version of the ceremonial entry called the possesso, in which a
The ruler rode into the city, often under a baldachin ... along a ceremonial route marked out by triumphal arches and other ephemeral structures newly crowned pope, in a ceremony modelled on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, rode from St Peter’s in Rome to the church of St John Lateran. In an excellent chapter Lucia Nuti shows how the popes remodelled the city of Rome to make a ceremonial route for their possessi. Her transcription of the manuscript ‘Register of Expenses’ for the coronation of Pope Leo X in 1513 by Leonardo di Zanobi Bartolini is usefully printed as an appendix. Entries, like all festivals, had to be organised by someone and Anna AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 61
EXHIBITION complex silhouette and the muscular mass of THE PRACTICE of drawing from classical the ‘Torso’ (inset). In two other works, the same sculptures or casts was standard in British art artist contrasts the qualities found in the Apollo schools until the mid-20th century. In other Belvedere and the Farnese Hercules, including the parts of Europe and in the USA drawing ‘from awed attention of the beholders in his repthe antique’ continued a little longer but has now all but disappeared. The struggles for artistic resentation. Many ancient sculptures became canonical, representative both of the society self-determination in the 19th century – in Realism, Pre-Raphaelitism, Impressionism, right that begat them and of the aspirational culture of the Renaissance and the artistic periods that up to Hydra-headed Modernism – hastened the followed. Thus, the Gladiator, the Crouching decline in popularity of a tradition of drawing Venus and the Spinario, among others, became well-established in Italy since the early 1500s. significant names to artists and tourists throughDrawn from the Antique explores the origins out Europe. Their presence was epic, their and development of this tradition through a cultural value immeasurable; sequence of prints, drawings they became the source of and paintings. They reveal visual quotations, their poses overlapping concerns with incorporated into subject a concept of the ‘Ideal’ and paintings and portraits where beauty that could be perceived they extended or elevated through the viewing of pictorial narratives. ancient sculpture. Displayed In many works displayed in the Vatican and other here, depictions of living more public places, they were figures contemplate the ideal admired by collectors and marble bodies. The onlookartists alike. A system of arers’ engagement is always tistic training was established significant. In Joseph Wright and subsequent treatises on of Derby’s An Academy (1772), taste and discernment folexhibited in a velvety mezlowed. In books on proportion zotint, a variety of responses the beauty of these sculptures to the Nymph with a Shell was extolled by mathemaare captured. The wondering ticians and philosophers. In stare of the youth on the the Academies established Drawn from the Antique extreme left is, however, the throughout Europe, where Artists and the Classical Ideal most completely engaged. drawing became the founSir John Soane’s Museum, His besotted gaze represents dation of artistic excellence, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2 a subtle change in European sufficient skill in translating art as a concern with such the forms of sculpture had Exhibition runs until September 26th, 2015 sculptural figures shifted from to be demonstrated before the official to the personal, from the anatomithe student could progress to drawing from cal to the amatory. In the final section the less the nude, from which stemmed the crowning achievement, istoria, the painted representation familiar of two drawings by Turner, depicting male figures wrestling, is a particularly striking of religious and historical subjects. example of the decline of the ideal. The artist’s In an etching by Odoardo Filaretti depictimagination has been stimulated by training in ing an artist’s studio (c. 1608), we see earnest drawing from classical sculpture but has altered it to something less Ideal, neither serene nor noble, and far removed from the intentions either of Vasari or Winckelmann, let alone Reynolds. An engrossing display, full of well-chosen delights. Works from the private collection of Katrin Bellinger are accompanied by loans from young students studying a modest selection the British Museum, the Courtauld, and the of sculptural fragments, probably casts. Here, Teylers Museum, Haarlem, among others. The as elsewhere, the sculptures have not been recatalogue is essential for university teachers, stored, authentically headless, and sometimes – students and general enthusiasts who seek to as in the celebrated Belvedere Torso – limbless too. understand the place of drawing in western A red chalk drawing (dated 1591), by the Dutch culture and the persistence of the Antique. engraver Hendrick Goltzius, delineates both the Colin Cruise
An engrossing display, full of well-chosen delights; where the ideas suggested are expansive
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Maria Testaverde’s discussion of the Book of Ceremonies of the Florentine master of ceremonies Francesco Tongiarini (1536-1612) allows us to look over the shoulder of one such organiser. A different sort of entry was that of the foreign bride, arriving for the first time in her husband’s kingdom and being presented to her new subjects as her coach drew into the capital. Lucinda Dean discusses the entry of Anne of Denmark as Queen of Scotland into Edinburgh in 1590 and the earlier 16th-century entries into Scottish cities that preceded it. Sara Trevisan analyses the use of the myth of the Golden Fleece by
The ceremonial entry is brought up to date by linking the procession on the Thames for Anne Boleyn ... with the rain-soaked water pageant for Elizabeth II in 2012 the Drapers Company in the Lord Mayor’s shows in 16th- and 17thcentury London and Margaret Shewring brings discussion of the entry up to the present by linking the processions on the Thames for Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Braganza with the rain-soaked water pageant for Elizabeth II in 2012. Sixteenth-century Habsburg festivals, music in the Italian Renaissance entry and Elizabeth of Valois’s entry into Spain in 1559 are the topics of other essays in this beautifully-produced book with its seven colour plates and 38 halftone illustrations. My only criticism is that the book lacks a final chapter that would have drawn out some general principles or trends, highlighting similarities and differences between so many disparate and dazzling events in so many different territories across two centuries. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly
Shakespeare in London
Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young Bloomsbury Arden 280pp £16.99
THE WORLD might be forgiven for rolling its eyes at the prospect of another book on Shakespeare. Does Shakespeare in London, the latest addition to the Bloomsbury Arden list, have anything new to say? The answer is a confident yes. Shakespeare in London is a short book with big ambitions. It weaves together various narratives – Shakespeare’s London career, a physical journey west to east across early-modern London – with vivid readings of eight plays, each of which is used to explore aspects of London life around the turn of the 17th century. So, for example, the book opens with an account of Titus Andronicus, relating it to the culture of punishment, bloodshed and retribution embodied in the site of Tyburn. The process is not without its difficulties. Where the Merchant of Venice, say, can be mapped closely onto an examination of the law, or King Lear onto early modern ideas of medicine and madness, the approach taken to Romeo & Juliet – marrying it to the domestic wealth and power evident in the great riverside mansions on the Strand – is more subtle, perhaps even metaphorical. But on balance the flexibility of that approach is one of the book’s greatest strengths. The fact that the book is a wholly collective effort and each chapter is co-authored by all
three authors seems commendably appropriate to the collaborative working practices of the theatre they describe. Shakespeare is one of the least literal of the early modern playwrights. Whereas the work of Jonson, say, or Middleton gains strength and purpose from its precise and detailed evocation of contemporary London, Shakespeare is characteristically more elusive – evasive, even. The authors both capture and, in some ways, mirror that trait: reflecting on Shakespeare’s writing at the Globe they self-consciously echo their own description of early-modern London as being always and never the same. The society revealed here, whether focusing on religion or scientific experimentation or economics, is one undergoing a seismic collision of values. Innovation is competing with tradition; modernity with the memorially fixed. This is, of course, as true of the material city, in which the great monastic houses had been repurposed into mansions – as well as the odd theatre or two – if not torn down all together, as it is of the multitude of ideas the city contains. The book is clearly aimed at a general audience and, as such, benefits greatly from the bold decision to dispense with the compulsive hat-tipping and knee-bending to the vast array of literary critics that so bedevils much contemporary academic writing. That is not to say that the text is unacademic – the ideas and insights of others are scrupulously noted where relevant and there is an excellent selection of further reading and works cited at the end. But the writers’ decision has freed them to create a more allusive, thought-provoking and approachable work that should be required reading for any undergraduate student of early-modern English literature. Shakespeare in London offers useful insights into Shakespeare’s work and his working practices. But it is also a
wonderful, wide-ranging introduction to the richness and complexity of late-Elizabethan and early-Jacobean society. It would be instructive reading for anyone, including young historians, although its play-by-play structure might sadly alienate those outside the silo of English studies who are less engaged by the literary culture. Mathew Lyons
Cultural Politics at the Early Eighteenth-Century Court Joanna Marschner Paul Mellon Centre for British Studies and Yale University Press 232pp £40
THIS VOLUME is a sumptuous art history performance, with as many images as there are pages of text. This shows Caroline, the wife of George II, in regal splendour, on the back, a remarkable cut-away drawing of Caroline’s creation, the Merlin’s Cave in the Royal Gardens at Richmond. The end papers show the works of art which adorned the Queen’s Closet at Kensington Palace. We know little in detail about Caroline, beyond her travels around England and the patronage she developed when her husband left her as regent during four absences in Hanover between 1729 and 1737. At least she was then entrusted with ‘all domestic matters’. The king’s long-term mistress, the Countess of Suffolk, was replaced in 1736 by a new one, Amalie Sophie Marianne von Wallmoden. Queen Caroline died the next year. The king behaved better to her in her death than he had in her life, ordering a new vault for the couple to be
constructed in Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey. The subtitle of the book – Cultural Politics at the Early Eighteenth-Century Court – raises expectations that are not fulfilled, since it is not clear that there were any very interesting cultural politics at the court of George II. This leaves a hole in the argument. Marshner does establish with determination and zeal how a lonely woman found a substitute for her husband’s failure to share her pleasure in art, by forming her own large circles of patrons. Through these she sought to attach herself to her adopted country’s most advanced aesthetic circles. The intention was to Anglicise the House of Hanover by collecting portraits of those who had come before her. Noting her interest in the Gothic, Marschner says that Merlin’s Cave was ‘imitated up and down the country for several decades’, yet she gives few examples. Caroline also ‘assembled and conserved the remnants of the Tudor and Stuart collections of paintings and drawings, of jewels, metalwork and medals’. In the Royal Collection, Yale found a lovely watercolour, circa 1815, of Queen Caroline’s library at St James’s Palace. Marschener confesses she has to make much of ‘a considerable and remarkable trail of material evidence’. The structure of the book is convincingly thematic. Queen Caroline comes alive, in so far as the scant material about her patronage activities allows, in chapters which deal with the patronage of garden designers, architects, sculptors, artists, books and natural philosophers. The Introduction posits Caroline as a queen who the people saw as a powerful figure behind the throne: ‘You may strut dapper George, but twill all be in vain, we know that ‘tis Queen Caroline not you that reign.’ George allowed his wife great influence, in ecclesiastical affairs, for instance, and in the arts, which were her real passion: he was apparently devastated by her death. Much she attempted was incomplete when she died. Marschner has made a good attempt to rehabilitate a rather sad figure. Anthony Fletcher AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 63
The Nuns of Sant’ Ambrogio
The True Story of a Convent Scandal By Hubert Wolf, translated by Ruth Martin Oxford University Press 496pp £20
ARCHIVE FEVER among scholars is a poetic if dangerous phenomenon: time spent hunched over disintegrating manuscripts breathing in the occasionally toxic ‘dust of the dead’, Eureka moments of discovery mixed with hours of boredom and the risk of headaches and sore throats. My first reaction
64 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
to church historian Herbert Wolf’s book was to wonder if his work in the Vatican archives might have caused a fever of the brain, such is the lurid story he tells. In 1857 the widowed German princess Katarina Von Hohenzollern enters the enclosed Franciscan convent of Sant’ Ambrogio in Rome. Within a year she is seriously ill, convinced she is poisoned and desperate to leave. Her status and connections free her and the subsequent investigation by the Roman Inquisition reveals a rogue convent ripe with heresy, sex, fraud, intimidation and murder. Based on masses of evidence, Wolf constructs his book as a thriller writer might, moving backwards from the princess’s trauma, through clouds of denials, obfuscation and half confessions, until the whole rotten edifice is explored. At the centre is Sant’ Ambrogio’s lovely novice mistress, Maria Luisa, a woman of such guile and charisma that she has everyone in her thrall. Fashioning herself as a living saint with direct communication to God (letters from the
virgin are delivered into a box to which only the male confessor holds the key), she sexually seduces novices and appropriates convent funds to buy the gold ring which ‘appears’ on her finger as proof of her divine marriage to God. When faced with dissent, she shames, expels or poisons those who might expose her. This astonishing story is told against the backdrop of mid-19th century Vatican politics and the tussle between reformers and reactionaries within the papal court. Sant’ Ambrogio was founded by a nun once recognised as holy until she fell foul of papal change. How effectively such shifts in orthodoxy penetrated the walls and the minds of enclosed nuns is a fertile field and relevant to this tale. The investigation throws light into some dark places. Not surprisingly there were nuns who both knew and chose not to know in order to survive, and the way they squirm on the hook is psychologically as well as morally fascinating. But darkest of all is the story of Maria Luisa, whose subver-
This astonishing story is told against a backdrop of Vatican politics and the tussle between reformers and reactionaries sive imagination is breathtaking. Her seduction method was to offer favoured novices one-to-one instruction during nights in her cell. This involved the two women examining, touching and lying on top of each other until there was a gushing of ‘heavenly liquor’, an experience that she dressed up as a special convent rite of sexual purification, which must – of course – remain secret. After a marathon tussle of denial, she finally tries to slip the noose by insisting that she was only doing what had once been done to her under the rule of the dead – and now heretical – founder. Is it possible that she too was abused or is this another smokescreen of lies?
REVIEWS Like all good thrillers, it would be invidious to give away the whole story and there will be historians who find the book too sensational for its own good. But it is worth remembering that, while court records have long offered scholars rich material, they only expose the crimes that get found out. Who knows how ‘rogue’ Sant’ Ambrogio really was? The strict segregation and isolation of convent life often imposed on women with little or no vocation could have been a breeding ground for all manner of subversive thought or behaviour. As Pope Francis surveys the Augean stables he has set out to reform, it is already clear that he will not address the status of women in the Church’s spiritual hierarchy. Meanwhile, ‘the dust of the dead’ will continue to throw up stories of bizarre, even criminal, worlds within the convent system. Sarah Dunant
The Month That Changed The World: July 1914 Gordon Martel
Oxford University Press 510pp £25
THERE WAS long a complaint among military historians, one best voiced by Brian Bond, that there was a major disjuncture between their work, notably on the learning curve of the British army during the First World War, and the understanding of the war in contemporary popular culture, which Bond referred to as still stuck on the first day of the Somme. Now we can add much of the recent work on the diplomatic background
to the war. Martel comes hot on the heels of Thomas Otte’s July Crisis: The World’s Descent into War, Summer 1914 (2014) and Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (2012). Each offers a highly instructive account of the diplomacy immediately leading up to the war; but, nota bene, not ‘that led to’. In each case, the highly impressive scholarship and the fluent mastery of multiple, international sources, does not provide the whole of the story. Indeed, in what is traditional diplomatic history (not itself a criticism), there is a tendency to find the answer in the material that is so profitably studied. This leads to a particular slant. In each book, this is a case of individual and collective faults in 1914, the latter set in motion by the former, which led to a degree of collective responsibility, doubtless a conclusion suitable for our ‘transnational times’. With Britain, there is blame for Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, not least for failing to send clear messages, which is presented as important in what was a collective malaise. In terms of the particular diplomatic processes, that may appear reasonable, but is it sufficient? Each author sidelines the military dimension and it is not surprising that military scholars have been sceptical about the first to start, Clark. Martel follows Clark’s approach: ‘Premeditation is not to be proven by the existence of war plans or by the warlike pronouncements of military men. Strategists are expected to plan for the next war: the politicians and diplomats decide when that war is most likely to occur.’ However, that is an unconvincing account of the role of military planning, procurement and preparations, of the military influences in the decision-making process and of cultural bellicosity. These factors were present for all powers – even the Swiss mobilised, although I have yet to find the historian to argue that this caused the war; but they were crucially different in character,
context and consequences. This difference is underplayed by diplomatic historians. At one level, the obvious contrast is between France and Britain on one side and Austria, Germany and Russia on the other. For example, the pre-war French government had decided not to pursue the military option of advancing via Belgium, while Germany made its military operational plan central to its war strategy. However, what mobilisation meant for Germany was very different to what it entailed for Russia, a point largely neglected in recent discussion. Such distinctions are important because they counter a widespread intellectual tendency to focus on the supposed faults of ‘the system’, rather than of particular actors and groups within it. In 1914 the British sought to rely on traditional means of addressing an international crisis, that of the Concert of Europe, which had succeeded in the case of the First Balkan War (1912-13). Austria and Germany were unwilling to do so. Arguably, their policies and attitudes caused the war, rather than the errors of the statesmen struggling with the developing crisis, the theme of the diplomatic historians. It is also necessary to locate this German preference in the political and cultural bellicosity that was so strong in Germany in the early 1910s. A fervent national patriotism was linked to a fear of falling behind. With respect to Grey, criticisms of him fail to take into account simple parliamentary arithmetic. Any attempts to issue a warning before the invasion of Belgium were likely to be hollow because of the make-up of Asquith’s Cabinet and because the Liberals were dependent on Labour and Irish support for a majority in the House of Commons. The debates will continue to echo. For the diplomatic account, Otte is possibly the most precise for July 1914, although Martel writes well and has interesting material on the historiography. Jeremy Black
CONTRIBUTORS Tim Ayers is a professor of History of Art at the University of York, specialising in English art of the later Middle Ages. Jeremy Black is author of many books, the latest of which is Other Pasts, Different Presents, Alternative Futures (Indiana University Press, 2015). Paul Cartledge is A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture emeritus at the University of Cambridge. Robert Carver’s Paradise with Serpents: Travels in the Lost World of Paraguay was shortlisted for the the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize. Colin Cruise is Reader in History of Art at Aberystwyth University. He is author of PreRaphaelite Drawing (Thames & Hudson, 2013). Sarah Dunant’s latest book is Blood & Beauty: A Novel of the Borgias (Virago Press, 2013). Daisy Dunn is a writer and Classicist. Her first book will be published by Harper Collins. Jas’ Elsner is Humfry Payne Senior Research Fellow in Classical Archaeology at Corpus Christi College Oxford and Visiting Professor of Art and Religion, University of Chicago. Anthony Fletcher is Emeritus Professor of English Social History, University of London. Mathew Lyons is a writer and historian. His most recent book, The Favourite: Ralegh and his Queen, is published in paperback by Constable. Robin Osborne is Professor of Ancient History at the University of Cambridge and author of Archaic and Classical Greek Art (Oxford, 1998). Alexia Petsalis-Diomides is a lecturer in Classical Art and Archaeology, King’s College London and Corpus Christi College Oxford. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly is Professor of German Literature, University of Oxford.
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 65
HAVE YOUR SAY
Letters Historians for Britain When the aim of an article is to stimulate debate, it is good to know that it has done so (‘Britain: apart from or a part of Europe?’, May 2015). Yet I cannot help feeling that there is an amount of hair-splitting in the response (‘Fog in the Channel: historians isolated’, July), which mixes quotations from the ‘Historians for Britain’ website with the wording of the article itself. In it, I referred to the ancient roots of several modern British institutions, without claiming that they have always contained a germ of democracy or that parliamentary sovereignty goes right back to (say) the Anglo-Saxon Witan. Ancient institutions evolve or die. Nor was I referring to medieval anti-Judaism or the negative portrayal of sometimes absent Jews in literature (hardly a ‘cornerstone of British culture’), but to the comparison between virulent antisemitism in Germany (and several of its neighbours) and Great Britain in more modern times. Above all, I laid emphasis on the close economic and political bonds between Britain and Europe that reach back to the Middle Ages and beyond. To say that these bonds have always existed is not to prove that there is little that is truly distinctive about the political culture of Great Britain. I lay heavy emphasis here on legal theory and practice because I do not believe that a comparable system of Common Law exists in Europe outside the British Isles, apart from the ex-colony of Cyprus. To assert that the legal systems of European states and of the European Court of Justice have found room for precedent and that English law has been influenced by civil codes is to ignore the different presuppositions about how law is made and how justice works. Nor, unusually, does Britain have a written constitution. 66 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
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It goes without saying that there is a historical perspective to all this. I agree that Britain’s global role and its rivalries with other Europe-based empires need to be taken into account; but these priorities sometimes distracted Britain from direct engagement with the Continent. Moreover, there have been significant breaks as well as continuities, including the rejection by the Crown of papal authority over the Church and the effects of early industrialisation. These are features that have made Britain in some respects distinctive. These questions can also be approached from a European perspective. What is this Europeanness that my critics trumpet? In what sense are countries that lay under Ottoman rule and later under the Soviet jackboot part of the same entity as Spain and Portugal, with their very different narratives of the past? Such diversity, which is even found within countries such as Spain, encourages the belief that Europe has vast potential as a common market, but that the dream of ‘ever-closer union’ and the myth of a European identity are distractions from the work that needs to be done. Historians for Britain believe that a reformed EU is needed and that the UK can play a major role within it. But Europe as it is at present constituted is founded upon historical myths about a common past, or, worse, on the assumption that a European identity must and will be forged without having to look back to the past. To rephrase d’Azeglio: ‘We have made Europe; now we must make the Europeans.’ Judging from the vicissitudes of the Euro, this Europe is under massive strain and may be on the verge of breaking. Politicians of both Right and Left acknowledge that a referendum on British membership
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needs to be held, following renegotiation. My belief is that voters would prefer to remain within a reformed EU, less centralised and more democratically accountable. I should be surprised if many of the signatories disagreed with that view. Surely it is time to accept that the real myth is not that of English exceptionalism, for all countries become exceptional in their way, but that of European identity? David Abulafia Gonville & Caius, Cambridge
Europe’s Past and Future ‘The history of Europe’, writes David Abulafia, ‘is to a large extent a history of division not a history of unity’. Yet for centuries Britain was among the most European of countries. The many forces connecting it with the rest of Europe have included Christianity; court culture and dynastic marriages, hence the accession in 1714 of the Elector of Hanover as George I; the widespread use of Latin and French in England; travel, trade, banking and migration. For centuries there were communities of Britons in European cities, from St Petersburg to Lisbon. London attracted Huguenots, bankers and, in the 20th century, the intellectuals from central Europe who transformed English culture and science. Developments in Britain cannot be understood outside a European context. Henry VII, for example, was a French protégé, with French soldiers fighting for him at Bosworth. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was a European as well as an English and Irish event. Its triumph was ensured by the invasion of a European army, containing English, Scottish, Dutch, German and Danish regiments, under a quintessential European, William III, Prince of Orange, Count of Nassau, Stadholder of Holland,
Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel. In the 19th century Britain cooperated with its European allies through regular, and effective, diplomatic congresses and conferences. Europe is in our past, as well as our present and our future. Philip Mansel Society of Court Studies
Birth of the Boffin I was pleased to read Lord Howell’s tribute to my late friend Hanbury Brown (Letters, June). Your readers might like to know that Hanbury wrote a short autobiography, Boffin: A Personal Story of the Early Days of Radar, Radio Astronomy and Quantum Optics, published by Adam Hilger in 1991. The word ‘Boffin’ is believed to have been coined by Air Vice-Marshal G. P. Chamberlain, with Hanbury Brown in mind. The book contains Hanbury’s own modest and often amusing account of the early days of radar and goes on to deal with his peacetime career in the then new field of radio astronomy, first at Jodrell Bank and later in Australia. His work in that field is as important scientifically as his work on radar, although harder to explain and not as directly related to the survival of Great Britain. Alan H Batten Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Where’s Richard? I was disappointed that History Today contained little or no coverage of (a) the discovery of the bones of Richard III at Leicester; and (b) his subsequent reburial. Whatever is thought of Richard, whether he was ‘good’ or ‘bad’, these were significant events, archaeologically and historically, and I would have thought there would be something included in History Today besides a couple of throwaway lines in the editorial. Sheila Gove King’s Lynn
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68 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
Reassuringly intelligent. Comfortingly rational.
Coming Next Month Outcasts and Miscreants Samuel Johnson subscribed to a commonly held view that Britain’s transatlantic colony was primarily a ‘dumping ground’ for its unsavoury citizens. Yet those who made the voyage west to the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries were pooled from various sections of society, says Rachel Christian, who traces the peopling of British America from Elizabeth I’s Poor Law of 1572 to the American Revolution.
Islam and the Nazis
As its military situation deteriorated, the Third Reich increasingly saw the Islamic world as a potentially significant ally. From 1942 onwards, its Islam Programme began to court Muslim communities in its occupied territories with propaganda promising liberation and protection. Yet, as David Motadel writes, the Nazi policy was far from straightforward, as the policies created by bureaucrats in Berlin often clashed with the realities being implemented on the ground.
The Strange Case of the Absent Scottish Levellers
Why were there no Levellers in 17th-century Scotland? The traditional narrative considers Scotland a backward society, whose citizens only acquired the wherewithal to challenge their ‘over-mighty magnates’ after gaining full union with England. Yet the Civil Wars were sparked by events in Scotland, says Laura Stewart, who suggests that Scotland does not lack England’s traditions of liberty, but, rather, has forged ‘its own interpretation of what the word meant’.
Plus Months Past, Making History, Signposts, Reviews, In Focus, From the Archive, Pastimes and much more.
June’s Prize Crossword
The September issue of History Today will be on sale throughout the UK on August 20th. Ask your newsagent to reserve you a copy.
PICTURE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EDITOR’S LETTER: 2 © De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images. HISTORY MATTERS: 3 © Punch Limited; 5 Left: Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe in Sharpe’s Rifles, 1993. Produced by Picture Palace and directed by Tom Clegg. Right: Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, 2004. Produced by Focus Features/Janette Day and directed by Mira Nair. Photographs © Alamy; 6 © Bridgeman Images; 7 © Hulton Archive/Getty Images. MONTHS PAST: 8 © Felix Lipov/Alamy; 9 top and bottom © Science Photo Library. A MEDIEVAL RELIC?: 11 © Leon Neal/ AFP/Getty Images; 12 © epa/Alamy; 13 top © Anne Bailey; bottom © Martin Beek; 14 top © Stuart Crump Visuals/ Alamy; bottom © Colin Underhill/Alamy; 15 Left © Getty Images; right © epa/Alamy; 16 © David Warren/Alamy; 17 top © Tom Denny; bottom © Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images. COPS AND DOCKERS: 19 © Rex Features; 20 top © Rex Features; bottom © Mirrorpix; 21 © Alamy; 22 © Press Association; 23 top © Rex Features; bottom © Mirrorpix/Alamy; 24 top courtesy The Royal Military Police Museum; bottom © Rex Features; 25 courtesy Clive Emsley. INFOCUS: 26-27 © Getty Images. THE SUCCESS OF SWEET SMELLS: 28 © Musée Carnavalet/Bridgeman Images; 29 © Bridgeman Images; 30 top © V&A Images; bottom © Bridgeman Images; 31 © Asprey & Co/Bridgeman Images; 32 © V&A Images; 33 Clockwise from top (left to right) © Science & Society Picture Library; © Trustees of the British Museum; © Wellcome Library; 34 © Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images. CHURCHILL AND THE CUNARDERS: 36 left © Mary Evans Picture Library; right © Getty Images; 38 © Mary Evans Picture Library. THE FALL OF ROBESPIERRE: 39 © Bibliothèque nationale de France; 40 © Musée des Beaux Arts/Bridgeman Images; 40-41 © AKG Images; 42 © Bibliothèque nationale de France; 43 top © Musée Carnavalet/Bridgeman Images; bottom © Dallas Museum of Art; 44 © Bibliothèque nationale de France. SEX CHANGES OVER TIME: 45 Ms 22531 © Bibliothèque Nationale/Bridgeman Images. THE BATTLE OF NEUVE CHAPELLE & THE INDIAN CORPS: 46-47 © De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images; 48 left © Mary Evans Picture Library; right © Topfoto; 49 top HT Archive; bottom © Imperial War Museum; 50 © Andrew Sharpe. SPREADING THE WORD: 51 © AKG Images. YOUNG GUNS: 54 © Sankei Archive/Getty Images. REVIEWS: 56 Louvre/Bridgeman Images; 60 © Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015; 62 © Teylers Museum, Netherlands. COMING NEXT MONTH: 69 © Bonhams, London/Bridgeman Images. PASTIMES: 70 images © The Library of Congress. SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION: © Glasshouse Images/Alamy. We have made every effort to contact all copyright holders but if in any case we have been unsuccessful, please get in touch with us directly.
The winner for June is Michael Betts, Norwich.
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 69
Pastimes Amusement & Enlightenment
The Quiz 1 Which town became the ‘Paris of Alaska’ in the 1890s during the Klondike Gold Rush?
4 Of whom did Henry VIII report: ‘I left her as good a maid as I found her’?
9 The name of which American product became a word defined in Webster’s dictionary as ‘a product that fails to gain public acceptance despite high expectations’?
15 Which Japanese musician won a Grammy for his electronic reworking of Claude Debussy compositions in the 1970s? 16 Which English king was said to be so overweight that when interred in his stone coffin his insides burst?
5 Who stated ‘I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong’ in 1967? 6 A market crash of which commodity afflicted the Dutch town of Haarlem in February 1637?
17 Who referred to his domain as ‘small country, small people’? 18 Artificial rivers of which toxic element are rumoured to run through the tomb of the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang?
7 Who, in the estimation of The Times, delivered a speech ‘in the language of a clown’ after being sworn in as US vice president in 1868? 10 Who did Melvin Purvis shoot and kill in July 1934? 11 Who was the ‘Nine Days Queen’? 12 With what weapon did Robert Pate attempt to assassinate Queen Victoria in June 1850? 13 Who, according to Voltaire, ‘On 17 August, at six in the evening was the King of France’ but ‘at two in the morning […] was nobody’? 70 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
14 Which Roman emperor gained notoriety for cross-dressing as a prostitute?
19 Which building, ‘Earth’s best gem’ according to Ralph Waldo Emerson, was bombed to near destruction in September 1687? 20 How many times was the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II excommunicated? 21 Who became known as the ‘Butcher of Lyon’ during the Reign of Terror? 22 Which French king believed that he was made of glass?
24 Which significant impairment afflicted John of Bohemia during the Battle of Crécy in 1346? 25 Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time (1951) is concerned with reappraising the reputation of which English monarch?
3 Who did Edward Gibbon describe as the ‘first sovereign who voluntarily resigned his power’?
8 What did Boris Yeltsin describe as ‘just pie in the sky’?
1. Circle, or Circle City 2. 1893 3. Diocletian (245-311) 4. Anne of Cleves (1515-1557) 5. Muhammad Ali (1942-) 6 Tulips 7. Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) 8. Communism 9. The Ford Edsel in 1957 10. John Dillinger (1903-1934) 11. Lady Jane Grey (1536-1554) 12. A steel-tipped cane 13. Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680) 14. Elagabalus (c.203-222) 15. Isao Tomita (1932-) 16. William the Conqueror (c.10281087) 17. King Leopold II of Belgium (1835-1909) 18. Mercury 19. The Parthenon 20. Four 21. Joseph Fouché (1759-1820) 22. Charles VI (1368-1422) 23. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) 24. Blindness 25. Richard III (1452-1485)
2 Planned in antiquity, in which year was the Corinth Canal opened?
23 Which two notable composers did ‘Ophthalmiater Royal’ John Taylor partially blind in the 18th century?
Prize Crossword ACROSS 9 Whig statesman and (briefly) Britain’s first foreign secretary (7,5,3) 10 1733 opera by G.F. Handel (7) 12 Figure emblematic of 19th-century French literature; a stroller or loafer (7) 13 Nevil ___ (1732-1811), Astronomer Royal from 1765 (9) 14 John ___ (1940-2002), New York mobster nicknamed ‘the Teflon Don’ (5) 15 In Greek myth, the son of king Aeacus of Aegina, who accompanied Jason on the Argo (7) 18/24 In ___, 1890 memoir by the explorer H.M. Stanley (7,6) 21 Town in County Clare, associated historically with the O’Brien family (5) 23 ‘Oh! The ___ of England’ – Henry Fielding, The Grub Street Opera (1731) (5,4) 25 The ___ Museum, social history museum in Ilkeston, Derbyshire (7) 26 Sir Henry ___ (1756-1823), Scottish portrait painter (7) 29 Nickname given to Sir Charles Cowper (1807-75), politician in Australia (8,7) DOWN 1 In Greek myth, an Oread who dwelt on Mount Kithairon (4) 2 See 7 3 ‘He is still fighting ___ all over again’ – Aneurin Bevan on Winston Churchill, 1951 (8)
Set by Richard Smyth 4 Ancient kingdom of south-east Ireland, also known as Osraige (6) 5 James A. ___ (1831-81), US president assassinated by Charles Guiteau (8) 6 Island of Malaysia visited by privateer James Lancaster in 1592 (6) 7/2 1964 play by Arthur Miller (5,3,4) 8 The ___, controversial William Friedkin film of 1973 (8) 11 Charles ___ (1814-84), novelist whose works include Put Yourself In His Place (1870) (5) 15 ‘Let him that hath understanding count the number of ___’ – Revelation 13:18 (3,5) 16 ‘Brevity is the soul of ___’ – Dorothy Parker, 1916 (8) 17 ___ Echo, newspaper founded in Darlington in 1870 (8) 19 Town on the Isle of Bute, home to a notable ruined castle (8) 20 Nancy ___ (1913-97), Liberal politician (5) 22 Richard ___, character created by the historical novelist Bernard Cornwell (6) 24 See 18 Across 27 ‘It is better to be good than to be ___’ – Oscar Wilde, The Picture Of Dorian Gray (1891) (4) 28 Baptist ___ (d.1682), third Viscount Campden, Royalist army officer (4)
The winner of this month’s prize crossword will receive a selection of recent history books Entries to: Crossword, History Today, 2nd Floor, 9 Staple Inn, London WC1V 7QH by August 31st or www.historytoday.com/crossword
Six degrees of Separation Lili’uokalani (1838-1917)
last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii, attended Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, as did …
inventor of slalom skiing, who has a double black diamond trail named after him in Taos, New Mexico, sometime home of …
Abdul Karim (1863-1909)
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)
Victoria’s Indian Secretary, who was made a Companion in the Order of the Indian Empire, as was …
who was contracted to paint pineapples for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, founded by …
Frederick Robert, 1st Earl Roberts (1832 - 1914) British field marshal, who donated a trophy for the Roberts of Kandahar Cup ski race at Crans, Montana, in 1911, an event organised by …
Sir Arnold Henry Moore Lunn (1888-1974)
James Dole (1877-1958)
By Stephanie Pollard and Justin Pollard
American pineapple baron, whose first cousin, once removed, was Sanford B. Dole, who became President of Hawaii after deposing …
AUGUST 2015 HISTORY TODAY 71
CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
FromtheArchive The glamorous success of Alcock and Brown’s first non-stop transatlantic flight in the wake of the Great War made the world smaller but no less nationalistic, argues Maurice Walsh.
Flight to the Future IN JULY 1979, History Today marked the 60th anniversary of two events in aviation history, one still celebrated, the other a technological museum piece. In separate articles entitled ‘Crossing the Atlantic in 1919’ D.L.B. Hartley and B.J. Haimes recalled the non-stop flight of Alcock and Brown in their Vickers Vimy from Newfoundland to Ireland in June that year and the journey the following month of a British airship, a copy of the Zeppelin, from East Fortune airfield near Edinburgh to New York carrying 31 men and a stowaway cat. Both authors were interested in these feats as glamorous adventures. But they acknowledged that neither would have been possible without the focus given to developing aircraft as weapons during the First World War. Well before 1914, as Haimes pointed out, Germany’s airships were more feared than its formidable navy. Zeppelins could obliterate cities and spearhead an invasion of Britain, replicating the plot of H.G. Well’s 1907 novel, The War In The Air, in which a fleet of German airships destroys US battleships and forces the surrender of New York. During the war the Zeppelins bombarded the east coast of England from Newcastle to Margate, killing more than 1,400 people and spreading fear and panic. The war also accelerated the investments European governments had made in military aeronautics; by 1918 Britain had 4,500 planes and the US was manufacturing 14,000. But when the peace conference convened in Paris, flight was no longer the terror from the skies, but had once more been converted into a subject of popular fascination. Alcock and Brown’s journey was the most obvious example of how the romance 72 HISTORY TODAY AUGUST 2015
of air travel seemed to have occluded the brutality of the bomber. Not long after they set down in a muddy field in Galway, to win the £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail for the first continuous flight across the Atlantic, news of their achievement sped around the world. Crowds lined the roads as a Daily Mail reporter drove Alcock and Brown to Galway city where their car was surrounded by people thrusting pieces of paper through the windows to be signed.
It did not occur to Wells that nationalism would flourish in an interconnected world Messages of congratulation poured in from the king, Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson. A Hollywood producer offered $50,000 if they would attempt a trans-Pacific flight. By the time they boarded a train for Dublin the next day to begin their journey to London they were already celebrities. Their faces were displayed on newsstands in London, New York and Paris, where Le Matin proclaimed that ‘an immense horizon has been opened to long distance flight’. Air travel epitomised the limitless possibilities of the postwar era. Wells was exhilarated by a trip in an aeroplane over Slovakia, marvelling at how flight opened up a view of ‘the sunlit clearness and brightness of the outspread world’. As more people took to the skies they would realise that they no longer needed to be constrained by ‘a patchwork of various sized internment camps called Independent Sovereign States’. On their journey across Ireland, well wishers appeared at every train
station to greet Alcock and Brown. But they were passing through a country in the throes of a revolt against the British Empire. The crowds who cheered them on waved the tricolour, the flag of the new government that had unilaterally declared Irish sovereignty. The assassination of policemen had begun and a war was developing in which military aeroplanes would be deployed to hunt down roving bands of IRA guerrillas. In my book, the arrival of Alcock and Brown in Galway is not incidental to the Irish independence struggle but a motif of the transforming world the new nation is trying to take its place in, a world in which jazz, Freud, celebrity culture and US power will shape Ireland as much as the national ideals of its revolutionary leaders. It did not occur to Wells that nationalism, far from being an unlikely holdover from a bygone era, would flourish in an interconnected world. One forgotten outcome of the postwar settlement was that airspace was designated as sovereign national property in 1919. Maurice Walsh’s Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World 1918-1923 was published by Faber & Faber in May 2015.
VOLUME XXIX ISSUE 7 JULY 1979 Read the original piece at historytoday.com/fta