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TRAGEDY OF SAINT-JUST

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Arguments for an English Revolution


January 2015
Vol 65 Issue 1

Alexander
and his

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A warrior queens conquest of the worlds mightiest ruler

Publisher Andy Patterson


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In a strange land: Mandaeans


perform a baptism ceremony in the
River Nepean, Sydney, Australia.

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Professor Jeremy Black University of Exeter
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Professor Martin Evans University of Sussex
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Gordon Marsden MP for Blackpool South
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University of London
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Ohio State University
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London School of Economics
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The Australian National University
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Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
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2 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

FROM THE EDITOR


HOLY MEN of the Yazidi, the religious minority suffering terrible persecution at the
hands of Islamic State, are forbidden to eat lettuce. That may sound like a nugget
from Monty Pythons Hackenthorpe Book of Lies, but it is actually just one of many
extraordinary facts garnered from Gerard Russells brilliant history-cum-travelogue,
Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East,
published last November by Simon & Schuster. Russell, an Anglo-American diplomatscholar fluent in Arabic and Farsi, became fascinated by the minority religions of the
Middle East when he was stationed in the Green Zone of occupied Baghdad. The rich
ecology of religion, nourished in the region for millennia and rooted in the beliefs of
ancient Mesopotamia, is now on the verge of extinction. Some communities have
already been all but wiped out: Mandaeans, who once prospered in the southern
marshes of Iraq, are now more likely to be found in Canada or Australia. Others, such
as the pagan Kalasha of the Pakistan-Afghan border or the Druze and Alawites of the
Levant, cling on precariously, their future barely more assured than that of the rhino.
Russell, over four and a half years, travelled through eight different countries,
all of which present considerable challenges, to preserve, in writing at least, the
beliefs of these peoples, whose absence from the Middle East will leave it much
diminished. His study is profound, moving and courageous. You can listen to Russell
in conversation with Tom Holland at www.historytoday.com/podcast.
Closer to home, but distant in time, is the work of another scholar deserving of
a wider audience. Eleanor Parkers blog, A Clerk of Oxford, is devoted to the study of
England in the 11th and 12th century, the society forged by the Danish Conquest
of 1016. Like the ancient Middle East it was a land of cross-cultural fertilisation
and conflict and Parker, skilled like Russell in the necessary languages, surveys it
brilliantly. This, too, is an esoteric, enchanted world of saints and warriors, evoked in
their unexpectedly gentle hymns, carols and poems, which Parker translates.
Parker takes as her inspiration Chaucers line And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly
teche. It is we that should be glad that the likes of Parker and Russell share with us
their work, born of a love for humanity across space and time.

Paul Lay

HistoryMatters

Islamic State Richard Strauss Jesse Tree Cool Fashions

Women on
the Frontline

The appalling treatment


of women and girls by the
soldiers of Islamic State and
other jihadist groups raises
troubling questions about
the historical relationship
between military conflict
and sexual violence.
Simon Barton
A NEWS report in the Independent of
September 11th, 2014 told of the case
of a 14-year-old Yazidi girl who had
been captured by Islamic State (ISIS)
militants in Iraq, given as a gift to one
of its commanders and threatened
with rape and forced marriage. A video
has also emerged, said to show ISIS
fighters haggling over the price of
captured Yazidi women during a slave
market day. In Nigeria, meanwhile,
hundreds of Christian women and
girls in the north-east of the country
have suffered a similar fate at the
hands of the radical Islamist group
Boko Haram.
Such reports resonate strongly
with powerful themes uncovered
while undertaking my current historical research, which investigates the
political and cultural significance of
marriages and other sexual encounters
between Christians and Muslims in
the Iberian peninsula from the Islamic
conquest in the early eighth century
to the end of Muslim rule in 1492.
Examining a wide range of sources,
including legal documents, historical
narratives, polemical and hagiographic
works, poetry, music and visual art,
it sheds light on the ways in which
inter-faith couplings were perceived,
tolerated or feared, depending upon
the political and social contexts in

which they occurred.


In early Islamic and even pre-Islamic culture it was considered honourable for a man to acquire a woman from
another kin group by war or alliance.
The institution of concubinage (that
is, sexual cohabitation outside of
marriage) was recognised by the Quran
and enjoyed popularity throughout
the Islamic world, with the acquisition
of slave concubines regarded as an
important status symbol. Islamic law
laid down that a concubine who bore a
child to her Muslim master could not
be sold, would have the right to permanent residence in her masters household and would be manumitted on his

Souls for sale:


the slave market
at Zabid, Yemen,
by Yahya ibn
Mahmud
al-Wasiti, 1237.

death, if not sooner. Their


child would be regarded as a
legitimate heir, whose legal
and social status was equal
to that of any siblings born
to their fathers free wives.
In Iberia large numbers
of Christian women and
children fell into slavery
in the aftermath of the
regular military expeditions that were launched
by Muslim armies against
the Christian states of the
north. In the poems that
Ibn Darraj al-Qastalli composed to celebrate a string
of Muslim military victories at the turn of the 11th
century, he laid frequent
emphasis on the capture of
Christian women, whom
he described as herds of fat
gazelles. Women of high
social status might be ransomed, but for the majority
there was the prospect of
a lifetime of servitude be
it in domestic service, agriculture or artisan workshops either in Iberia or in
other regions of the Islamic
world. A smaller number
were taken as concubines
on account of their beauty, or their
abilities as singers, dancers or reciters
of poetry. Among the best known of
these concubines was the Navarrese
Christian known as Subh (d. 998).
Recruited to the harem of al-Hakam II
(r. 961-76), Subh bore the caliph two
sons and it was through her influence
that one of them later succeeded his
father as Hisham II, for whom Subh
initially acted as regent on account of
her sons young age.
Although none of these women
would necessarily have been obliged
to renounce their faith, they were
required to abide by Islamic social
practices, such as those concerning
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 3

HISTORYMATTERS

ritual purity and dietary laws, and


their children would have been
brought up as Muslims. The social
pressures to convert to Islam may
have been considerable. The concubines who entered the harem of a
caliph or another Muslim lord might
live in some comfort, yet they could
also suffer victimisation or even
violence at the hands of their masters.
For many, clearly, the experience
must have been a deeply traumatic
one. We should also be aware that this
was by no means a one-way street:
Muslims, too, were regularly enslaved
in the course of Christian cross-border
raids and forced concubinage was
also commonplace in the northern
kingdoms of Iberia.
For the Muslim Umayyad rulers,
who dominated the peninsula
from the eighth until the early 11th
centuries, the taking of concubines
served an important political purpose.
Marrying a Muslim woman necessitated paying a dowry, divorce might
lead to a costly property settlement
and there was even the risk that,
through the dynastic link created, the
wifes family might eventually press
its own claims to power. Procreating
with concubines forestalled those
concerns. It is striking that all the
Umayyad rulers in Iberia between
the eighth and 10th centuries were
born to slave concubines rather than
to Muslim married mothers. Similar
patterns of reproductive politics
can be glimpsed elsewhere in the
Islamic world, for example among
the Abbasid caliphs and the Ottoman
sultans.
The mass enslavement of Christian
women and the recruitment of some
of them as concubines to the harems
of Muslim notables also constituted
a tool of psychological warfare. The
sexual use of female captives was
aimed at destroying solidarity among
Christian communities by inflicting
shame on the women and on their
male co-religionists who had failed to
protect them. Moreover, the forcible
uprooting of Christian women and
children and their probable conversion to Islam in most cases was
designed to encourage a process of
assimilation and ensure a shift in
cultural loyalties in the future.
4 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

Of course none of this was an


exclusively medieval Iberian phenomenon. Organised sexual violence
against women, with the intention
of reinforcing a sense of humiliation
among the vanquished, has been an
integral aspect of military conduct
throughout the ages. In a modern
context, one need only recall the forcible recruitment of many thousands
of comfort women to Japanese-run
brothels during the Second World War,
or the mass rapes carried out during
the Balkan and Rwandan conflicts of
the 1990s, to list only
some of the most
shocking examples. In
all such cases, sexual
violence acts not
only as a cruel outlet
of violence for the
aggressors, but also as
a political metaphor,
an emblem of military
hegemony. The radical
Islamist groups now active in Iraq,
Syria and Nigeria are motivated by
the same considerations, encouraged
by the pronouncements of a handful
of Islamic jurists for whom slavery
remains an integral part of jihad. Sadly,
as Ruth Seifert has observed: In war
zones women apparently always find
themselves on the frontline.

Organised sexual
violence against
women has been
an integral part of
military conduct
through the ages

Simon Bartons Conquerors, Brides and


Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social
Power in Medieval Iberia will be published by
University of Pennsylvania Press in January 2015.
Alternative Histories by Rob Murray

Music of
Resignation

Richard Strauss trod


carefully through a century
of turbulence, trauma and
transformation.
Mark Ronan
A TENOR rehearsing Richard Strausss
opera Salome once astonished me by
saying Glorious music, but what an old
Nazi!. Are such objections reasonable?
Born in Munich in 1864, his 150th
anniversary was celebrated in the 2014
BBC Proms. From tone poems written
in his twenties and early thirties to his
1945 Metamorphosen, they produced a
bounty of orchestral and instrumental
music. Tone poems, such as Don Juan
and Tod und Verklrung (Death and
Transfiguration) both written in
1888-9 were his first claim to fame
but the major achievements are his
operas. Salome (1905), set to his own
abridgement of Oscar Wildes play, first
propelled him to stardom, followed
by Elektra (1909) and Der Rosenkavalier
(1911), both collaborations with the
poet Hugo von Hofmannstahl. By the
outbreak of the First World War he
was a wealthy man, wisely lodging
part of his money in London, though
it was sequestered when war broke
out. If Strauss later exhibited a nervous
attention to his income, who can
blame him?
Unlike the impecunious Wagner,
a revolutionary who relied on the
largesse of others, Strauss achieved
financial independence relatively early,
yet like Wagner he was no milquetoast.
His tone poems made him the arch
fiend of modernism and cacophony
and Salome caused an international scandal. The Dresden premiere
elicited 38 curtain calls, though British
reticence led to a five-year delay and
even then its production was initially
banned. Finally Thomas Beecham got
it into the Covent Garden programme
a year after Elektra, but the Lord Chamberlain was having none of it and the
story of how Beecham succeeded in
circumventing this is fascinating.
He went to the prime minister

HISTORYMATTERS

Arch-fiend of
Modernism:
Richard Strauss
rehearsing
in Weimar,
Germany, 1890s.

Herbert Asquiths country home, persuading him to intervene so that Britain


could avoid looking foolish in the eyes
of the world. The intervention was successful and in due course Beecham was
called to the Lord Chamberlains office to
strike a compromise. Nothing was cut,
but the words were changed, bowdlerising the interactions between Salome
and John the Baptist and banning the
appearance of the latters severed head.
Its replacement was a platter simply
covered by a cloth. Salomes line, If you
had looked at me you would have loved
me, was replaced by blessed me.
Beecham managed to talk the
singers round to the new words, but
when the performance got underway
their restlessness got the better of
Finnish soprano Aino Akt and she made
a slip, lapsing into the eloquent viciousness of the original. The infection spread
and, before long, the cast was restoring
the original words. Beecham tried but
failed to drown out the singers, aware
that Covent Garden was under the
direct control of the Lord Chamberlains
office. When the curtain came down
he saw the Lord Chamberlains party
coming towards him from the wings.
Resisting an urge to flee, he decided to
stand his ground and was astonished to
find they had all come to congratulate
him. As he wrote later, he never knew
whether we owed this happy finishing
touch to the imperfect diction of the
singers, an ignorance of the language

or their diplomatic decision to put the


best possible face on a dnouement that
was beyond either their or my power to
foresee and control.
Salome and Elektra were brilliantly
realised at last years Proms, as was the
Mozartian charm of his next opera, Der
Rosenkavalier, fresh from its controversial new staging at Glyndebourne. Had
Strauss died after these, they would have
secured his reputation: when US troops
knocked on his door at the end of the
Second World War, he greeted them
with the words: I am Richard Strauss,
the composer of Rosenkavalier. Yet
Strauss achieved far more, including his

The Nazis proclaimed him


president of the Reichsmusikkammer without consultation
next two operas, Ariadne auf Naxos and
Die Frau ohne Schatten, great works both.
The second of these, premiered in
1919, marked the start of a five-year
stint as co-director of the Vienna State
Opera, after which, aged 60, Strauss
produced the delightful Intermezzo to his
own libretto. Meanwhile, the collaboration with Hofmannsthal led to a new
opera on the Greek myth about Helen
spending the Trojan War in Egypt, but
it failed and Strauss requested another
Rosenkavalier. The result was Arabella, but
Hofmannsthal died of a stroke during its
composition and by the time it came to

stage in 1933, Hitler had come to power.


This was a disaster for Strauss. His
new collaborator, the Austrian author
Stefan Zweig, was Jewish and Strauss
only got Zweigs name on the playbill
for the new opera in 1935 by threatening
to withdraw the whole thing. The Nazis,
who had proclaimed him president of
the new Reichsmusikkammer without
consultation, eventually gave way but
the opera was allowed only three performances and Strauss was instructed
to resign his position.
The loss of Hofmannsthal and Zweig
was a great blow. He never again found
a creative literary genius to work with
and never recovered his operatic cutting
edge. Yet fine works were still to come
and in the late 1930s a Hofmannstahl
scenario from 1920 was dusted off
and amended for Strausss last threeact opera, Die Liebe der Danae, about
Danaes love for a human and rejection
of Jupiter. Its premiere was originally
intended to honour the composers
80th birthday in 1944 but, following
the assassination attempt on Hitler, all
theatres were closed and only a single
dress rehearsal was allowed. It is now
rarely staged, but in a concert performance this year in Frankfurt, the Act III
orchestral interlude known as Jupiters
Resignation proved riveting. These
final works the posthumous Four Last
Songs among them give a representation of resignation and death arguably
unmatched in music, but death was
something Strauss understood early in
his career and, as he said as he lay dying
in 1949, it felt just as he had written it in
Tod und Verklrung.
As for Nazi sympathies, those who
know the facts have at worst accused
him of looking the other way; nearly 70
when Hitler came to power and, with a
Jewish daughter-in-law and granddaughter whom he protected throughout, he had to tread carefully. As for age
weakening his muse, the undeniably
great Four Last Songs were written when
he was 85. After the war, opera moved
on, with composers such as Benjamin
Britten, and though Strauss belongs to
an earlier genre, he remains in his way
utterly incomparable.

Mark Ronan is Honorary Professor of


Mathematics at University College London.
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 5

HISTORYMATTERS

Jaspers Jesse: the


Tree of Jesse at
St Marys Priory,
Abergavenny.

The Tree of Jesse


Who was responsible for
one of the great surviving
objects of the Middle Ages?
Muriel Adams
FOR the critic Andrew Graham-Dixon,
the one unarguably great wooden
figure to survive the iconoclasm of
the Reformation is the Jesse Tree at
St Marys Priory Church, Abergavenny.
The recumbent form, carved from an
oak trunk in the late 15th century, is
an arresting sight, but to imagine the
complete Tree spreading upwards 25 feet
or more from the shoot below Jesses
breast, all brilliantly coloured, takes the
breath away.
The Tree was an illustration of the
ancestry of Christ. We do not know who
created or commissioned it, for none of
St Marys records for this period have
survived. They were probably destroyed
when the town was fired in 1404 during
Owain Glyndwrs revolt. Fine alabaster
tombs of members of the Hastings,
de Braose and Herbert families tell of
powerful patronage at an earlier period.
That the latter connection extended
into the late 15th century is evident from
lions and wyverns, both associated with
the Herberts, carved on the south choir
stalls. Oak carvings of a similar date offer
clues to more of St Marys patrons. A
misericord carving shows a closed Tudor
crown, a Tudor rose and Prince of Wales
feathers. Tudor dragons appear on the
6 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

choir stalls, as does the pomegranate,


fertility symbol and emblem of Katherine
of Aragon. Her marriage to Prince Arthur
in 1501 or, after his death, the betrothal
of Katherine and Prince Henry in 1502,
may have prompted such decoration.
The victory of Henry VII at Bosworth
in 1485, widely celebrated in Wales, may
have been the stimulus for commissioning the Tree of Jesse, especially since
supporters of the Tudor dynasty in
North Wales were commissioning Jesse
windows at the churches of St Bridget,
Diserth, St Dyfnog, Llanrhaeadr and at All
Saints, Gresford, where Thomas Stanley,
Earl of Derby, stepfather to Henry VII,
underwrote the creation of a magnificent east window, in place by 1498, on
which the Tree of Jesse is represented.
The motive for so doing was twofold: it was to emphasise the donors
devotion and the importance of lineage.
Stanleys wife, Margaret Beaufort, was
great-great-granddaughter of Edward
III and granddaughter of John of Gaunt.
The commissioners of the Tree
of Jesse would have been wealthy
members of the regions nobility. Sir
Charles Somerset and his wife, Elizabeth
Herbert, whose marriage had been
arranged by Henry VII, appear to have
been well placed to finance the refurbishment and decoration of the choir
stalls, but as they were not married until
1492 it is unlikely they were also patrons
of the Jesse Tree, because of the length
of time needed to create such a work.
The half-trunk of oak would have been
hollowed out and carved when still

green and would not have been passed


to the painter until well seasoned. The
carving on the Jesse is between six and
eight inches thick and Carol Galvin,
who undertook its conservation in 1993,
suggests that it takes around one year
to season one inch of oak. For the Tree
to be installed at the end of the 15th
century, around 1495, it would have had
to be sculpted in 1487, two years after
Bosworth and a year after Jasper Tudor
was made Lord of Abergavenny.
Jasper was the son of Owain Tudor,
second husband of Henry Vs queen,
Catherine, and half-brother to Henry
VI, to whose Lancastrian cause he
was devoted. He and his elder brother
Edmund were created earls in 1453
and made senior to all others in the
kingdom. Edmund died of the plague in
Carmarthen Castle, leaving his young
widow, Margaret Beaufort, expecting a
child. Her son, the future Henry VII, was
born at Pembroke three months after
Edmunds death. During the Wars of the
Roses Jasper was steadfast in his commitment to Henry VI, Margaret Beaufort
and her son. He was an experienced military leader but, faced by greater Yorkist
forces during the wars, suffered many
defeats. After the battle of Mortimers
Cross in 1461, his father, Owain, was
executed in the market place at Hereford. It was not until 1485 that Henry
Tudor and his uncle Jasper sailed from
exile in Normandy to Milford Haven and,
gathering soldiers on their way, pressed
forward to meet the army of Richard III
at Bosworth on August 22nd.
By December 1485, Jasper was
entrusted with the task of establishing
Henrys rule in Wales. He died in 1495,
having been a benefactor of St Marys.
In 1493, as Jasper, brother and uncle of
kings, Duke of Bedford and Earl of Pembroke, he granted the priory the whole
of our forest of Moile to pasture and
water their cattle in, but no evidence
exists that he left a permanent memorial
of his bounty within the church. Nevertheless, such was his influence, and
such was the fondness of the Jesse Tree
image among other supporters of Henry
VII, it is difficult to think of anyone with
a better claim to be commissioner of the
great Jesse Tree at Abergavenny.

Muriel Adams was head of teacher education at


the University of Newport.

HISTORYMATTERS

Northern
Glam

The beginnings of fashion


are often traced to the
courts and cities of
medieval southern Europe.
Should we be looking
further north?
Michael Pye
KALI sailed from Norway to Grimsby,
as you did in the 12th century; the
Orkneyinga Saga says so. There he
met men from Scotland, the Hebrides
and Orkney and, back in Norway, went
round the inns to show off the fashions
he had adopted on his travels: He was
stylishly dressed now that he was just
back from England, the saga says.
His colleague Jon was a great one
for clothes, too. The pair indulged in
blood feuds and their status depended
on brawling and killing, but they were
something you might not expect: they
were dandies.
Since they came from the raw new
port of Bergen, far from the fashions
of the courts of southern Europe, and
because they lived more than two centuries before most textbooks say that
the idea of fashion began, their story is
worth exploring.
Kali lived in a town where new
fashions in dress made their appearance in the 12th century, according to
the Saga of Olaf the Gentle. It was not
just that men were choosing to wear
tight breeches, ankle rings, ribboned
gowns and high shoes with gold laces,
not practical dress on ships or docks;
a man could also be condemned for
dressing out of date. The drab politician
Erling wore old-fashioned clothing,
the saga says, disapprovingly, and even
worse: He had the king wear similar
clothes when he was young. Luckily
the king, when he became independent, chose to dress finely.
The sagas get the point of fashion:
choice, change, a bit of social pressure
and impractical style. They may also
suggest something else: how and why
fashion started.
The archaeological evidence from

Bergen, from the 11th century onwards,


includes shoes for women, children,
men, a startling number of which are
embroidered in silk. Silk was produced
in the Tuscan city of Lucca from the
12th century and Parisian clerics were
already denouncing worms excrement; silk on shoes was later a mark
of rank in illuminated manuscripts and
in the south it was a luxury. But in
the north it was democratic; it seems
everyone could have fashion.
Silk was a product of a world in
motion, of the trading routes that
ran from Bergen, through the Baltic,
down the great Russian rivers as far
as Constantinople. Such trade allowed
fantasies to flourish.
Choice mattered even in the frigid
colonies of Greenland, as the clothes
laid out in cemeteries suggest. Settlers
tailored clothes because they could
not waste material: they were farmers
with collars, with clothes that flared
out from the shoulders. They liked
materials such as the reddish diamond
twill from England and rough weave
from Ireland. Buttonholes came to
Greenland while they were still a
scandal further south. They had so little
and there was hardly anybody to see
them but they still made choices.
This was alarming. Clothes symbolised your status, even your income,
and such meanings were meant to last.

Glad hands: a
pair of late 15thcentury knitted
silk and goldthread gloves.

The sagas get the point of fashion:


choice, change, a bit of social
pressure and impractical style

The sumptuary laws of the England of


Henry VIII states that no man under
the degree of a Baron [may] use in his
Aparell of his body or of his horses any
clothe of gold of tyssue and better
cloth of gold was reserved for even
higher ranks. You were what you wore.
It was shocking that people could
choose how to dress. Faker, a character in the 13th-century Roman de la
Rose, claims he is so good at changing
clothes that he can be now a knight,
now a monk, a bishop, a chaplain, now
a clerk, now a priest ... a master or the
owner of a proper castle or just a man
who works in the forests. Long robes
once meant you were literate, a lawyer
perhaps only nobles let their buttocks show in the street but by 1467
Jacques de Clerc could complain that
there wasnt a journeyman, however
minor, who didnt have a long robe
down to the ankle.
The issue was not excess or finery;
it was class. In Scotland, brightly
coloured clothes for working people
were illegal after 1430. In England,
nobody with less than 100 a year
could wear fur. The law tried to ban
clothing that suggested social fluidity.
Jeanne of Navarre, 13th-century
queen of France, was furious at the
silks and jewels she saw in the Flemish
trading towns of Bruges and Ghent:
I thought I was the only queen, she
snapped. She saw such splendour in
towns where Venetian galleys called,
where spices came west and north, in
towns that traded overseas.
Fashion seemed to come from
somewhere else. Robert I of Naples
blamed the French for the bumfreezer
styles of the 1330s, even though he
was himself French. The first printed
books of fashion, of the 16th century,
are about what people wear in other
countries the enormous trousers of
Scotland, the straw hats of Antwerp.
Moralists worried about what these
changes in clothing meant. Fashion
was more than just the business of
beautiful women or sumptuous courts.
It begins with those, like Kali, who had
seen things done differently.

Michael Pye is the author of The Edge of the


World: How the North Sea Made Us What We
Are (Viking, 2014).
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 7

MonthsPast

JANUARY

By Richard Cavendish

JANUARY 15th 1815

Emma, Lady
Hamilton dies
in Calais
It was a wretched end to a vivid life.
Emma Lyon was born in 1765 in the
Wirral area south of Birkenhead. Her
father, a blacksmith, died when she was
a baby and she was brought up by her
mother at Hawarden in the county of
Flint (in North Wales). How much education she managed to get is uncertain
and her spelling was never up to much,
but she grew up to be ravishingly good
looking and it was this combined with
her vivacious personality and carefree
attitude to sex that saw her soar like a
rocket from the working-class earth into
the sky of celebrity.
In her teens Emma worked as a maid
for families in Hawarden and later in
London. There is no reliable evidence
that she was ever exactly a prostitute,
but what she called her giddy ways
attracted the attention of rich young
aristocrats. She was said to have showed
off by dancing naked on their diningroom tables and in 1782, when she was
going on 17, she bore a daughter to
one of them. She then moved in with
a friend of his, Charles Francis Greville, who installed her in his London
home and provided her with music and
drawing lessons. Through him she met
the artist George Romney, who was to
paint many enchanting portraits of her
(as would Joshua Reynolds and Thomas
Lawrence).
Greville unloaded Emma on his
elderly widower uncle, Sir William
Hamilton, in return for Hamilton making
Greville his heir. Hamilton was ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies
and in 1786 Emma arrived in Naples for
what she thought was a holiday with
him. When she discovered the truth she
was furious, but Hamilton adored her
and won her over. Some English women
sneered at her plebeian accent, but she
and Hamilton moved in the highest
8 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

Neapolitan society and she grew very


close to Queen Maria Carolina. Hamilton
was master of ceremonies for her
admired Attitudes, when she posed in
sometimes flimsy costumes as figures
from Graeco-Roman mythology. When
he married her in 1791 he was 60 and she
was 26.
It was in Naples two years later
that Emma first met Horatio Nelson,
who was then the captain of HMS
Agamemnon. He and the Hamiltons
became close friends and Nelson fell
utterly in love with her. When the three
of them returned to England together
a contemporary remarked that she led
Nelson about like a keeper with a bear.
He left his wife and he and the Hamiltons, describing themselves as three
joined in one, lived together in a house
in Piccadilly. She bore Nelson a daughter,
Horatia, in January 1801.
The three-in-one moved into Merton

Enchanting:
portrait of Emma,
Lady Hamilton by
George Romney,
c. 1782-84.

Place, a house near Wandsworth. They rebuilt it on a grand


scale and Emma turned it into
a temple of Nelson worship.
His fame and the admiration in
which he was held in the navy
and in the nation at large rose
to Mount Everest proportions.
Emma basked in it and his death
in action at Trafalgar in 1805 was
a catastrophe. When the news
was brought to her at Merton
Place, she wrote some days
later that she screamed and fell
back and could not speak for
about ten hours. She did not
know how she was to bear her
future existence. At the end of
November she wrote: Life to me
is not worth having. I lived for
him. His glory I gloried in ... But I
cannot go on. My heart and head
are gone.
The government, which
lavished money and honours on
Nelsons family, ignored Emma.
Hamilton had left her money
when he died in 1803, as did
Nelson, who also left her Merton
Place, but his brother William,
now an earl, avoided handing over all
the money and by now Emma, accustomed to a life of champagne-swilling
luxury, was addicted to alcohol. She had
to sell Merton Place and in 1813 she was
arrested for debt and sent to prison in
Southwark, though she was allowed to
live in rooms nearby with young Horatia.
Friends eventually raised money
that let Emma sneak away across the
Channel to Calais with Horatia in July
1814. They lived in cramped, dismal lodgings and, according to Horatia, Emma
spent her days lying in bed, drinking. It
was probably cirrhosis of the liver that
carried her off early the following year
at the age of 49. She was buried in the
graveyard of the church of St Pierre and
it is said that her funeral was attended
out of respect for Nelson by the captains
of every English ship in Calais harbour. In
1994 a memorial to her was unveiled in
what is now the Parc Richelieu in Calais.

JANUARY 10th 1840

The penny post is delivered


The British postal system was the
Royal Mail because it was originally used only for sending royal and
government communications. In 1635
Charles I made the service available to
the general public, but 200 years later
the system was an archaic, expensive mess, from which it was rescued
by Rowland Hill. A schoolmaster in
Birmingham originally, Hill was later
involved in the creation of the colony
of South Australia. In 1837 he wrote a
pamphlet on post office reform and
sent it to Thomas Spring Rice, the

Alpha mail: an
original Penny Red
and Penny Black.

JANUARY 14th 1615

John Biddle
baptised

Unitarianism is a variety of Protestantism that rejects the doctrine


of the Trinity and consequently
the divinity of Jesus, though
admiring his life and teachings. It
does not accept hell or original sin, rejects all authority in
matters religious and believes
that only the individual can, in
the end, determine what he or
she believes about God.
John Biddle, who has been
called the father of Unitarianism in England, was a Gloucestershire
tailors son, born at Wotton-underEdge. Outstandingly bright, he went to
the local grammar school and then to

Religious reason:
frontispiece of
Biddles A Twofold
Cathechism, 1654.

chancellor of the exchequer in Lord Melbournes


government, who was
impressed.
At that time letters
were paid for by the
recipient and the price
varied according to the
distance travelled and the
number of sheets of paper
involved. It was costly
and there is an engaging
story that Hills interest
in the postal system was
inspired by seeing a young
woman upset because she
was too poor to pay for a
letter from her fianc. He
suggested that each letter
should be paid for by the sender and
should cost the same to every town
with a delivery office, regardless of
how far it had travelled. Delivery to
rural addresses would cost extra (as
it would until 1897).
The post office bureaucrats
dug in against any change to
their system and Hills plans were
denounced as wild and visionary
schemes, but there was considerable general support for them, the
government insisted and Parliament agreed. Hill was put in charge

Magdalen Hall, Oxford (now


Hertford College), where
he took his degree. He was
a tutor at the college for a
time before being appointed
headmaster of a school in
Gloucester in 1641. He already
believed in applying reason
to religious questions, rather
than accepting authority, and
his unorthodox views on the
Trinity got him into trouble.
Biddles reservations about
the divinity of both Christ and
the Holy Spirit came to the
disapproving attention of Parliament and he spent much of
the rest of his life either in prison
for his heretical opinions or out
on bail awaiting interrogation and trial.
Fully confident of his intellectual powers,
he courted controversy by publishing

and the post office announced that


sheets of adhesive stamps costing
one penny each would be issued and
letters would cost a penny per half
ounce when posted or two pence if
paid for on delivery.
The first Penny Black stamps,
with a profile of the young Queen
Victorias head on them, were
issued at the beginning of May.
Later they were perforated to make
them easier to detach from the
sheet. Each sheet, containing 240
stamps, cost 1. Close to 70 million of
the Penny Black stamps were
produced before they were replaced
a year later in 1841 by Penny Reds.
They are now collectors items.
Hill was dismissed by a Tory
government in 1842 amid much
cantankerous wrangling, but
returned to the post office again
from 1846 to 1864. His reforms made
sending letters far cheaper. The poet
William Wordsworth complained
that he now had to cope with more
time-wasting letters from strangers
but, along with growing public literacy, Hills reforms caused a massive
increase in use of the post. He was
knighted in 1860 and when he died
in 1874 at the age of 83 was buried in
Westminster Abbey.

tracts and engaging in public discussions


while scathingly dismissing his opponents, who he said deluded themselves
and others with brainsick notions that
have neither sap nor sense in them.
Parliaments actions against Biddles
ideas actually drew attention to them.
He was gathering some support and
in 1655 Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell
personally saved him from execution by
banishing him to the Scilly Isles. Released
in 1658, he presided over a small group
of disciples who met regularly in London,
but under Charles IIs regime he was
sent to prison in Newgate in 1662 and
died there in September that year. He
was still only 47 years old, but his influence lived on long afterwards through
his disciples and reprints of his writings.
The first congregation in England to call
itself Unitarian was founded in London
in 1774.
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 9

10 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

THALESTRIS

When

Alexander
met

Thalestris
The romantic liaison between the great
Amazon warrior queen and the conqueror of
the known world has been much mythologised.
But did such a delicious pairing really happen?
Adrienne Mayor investigates.

LEXANDER OF MACEDON had conquered Persia. Now he


was determined to expand his empire all the way to India. In
330 bc Alexanders army of more than 30,000 began marching east from Ecbatana (Hamadan, Iran), through the high
desert toward Rhaga (Tehran). Threading through the Caspian Gates,
a narrow defile in the Elburz mountains, they reached Hyrcania on the
southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Here Alexander made camp at a
huge rock with a spring about 15 miles north-west of the ancient city
of Hecatompylus. From this base Alexander rode out to subdue several
Hyrcanian towns and skirmished with the Mardians, mounted nomads
who stole Alexanders horse Bucephalus and held him for ransom. Back
in Hecatompylus, Alexander met with envoys from tribes near and far,
who were curious to pledge allegiance to the young world conqueror.
While at this camp Alexander received an extraordinary visitor:
Thalestris, an imperious Amazon queen accompanied by 300
warrior women on horseback. Thalestris had a mission: to have

The Amazon Queen, Thalestris,


in the Camp of Alexander
the Great, by Johann Georg
Platzer, c.1750.

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 11

THALESTRIS
Alexanders baby. According to several ancient accounts, Alexander did
his best to fulfill her desire.
How believable is the tale of Alexander and Thalestris? In antiquity the story of Alexanders romance with the Amazon immediately
achieved legendary status. It sparked controversy: not surprising when
a larger-than-life hero, later worshipped as a god, makes love with a
woman identified as the queen of the Amazons. The historians of
Alexanders campaigns felt compelled to include this episode: it seemed
plausible enough to merit preservation and serious discussion. Strabo,
for example, was dubious, but he accepted that Amazons, identified
as barbarian fighting women living with or without men, had existed
in lands of the Black Sea-Caucasus-Caspian region. Yet
Strabo was not entirely convinced that renegade bands
of Amazons were still active in Alexanders time or in
Strabos own day 300 years later, even though he acknowledged that many writers asserted this.
According to Plutarch, in his even-handed biography
of Alexander, most writers reported that the queen of
the Amazons came to see him in Hyrcania. He listed 14
sources for the story. Some accepted it, some doubted,
others described different encounters with Amazons.
Plutarch kept an open mind but believed that the most
trustworthy authors were skeptical.
Plutarch also repeated a by then well-known anecdote
about a conversation that supposedly occurred between
two old veterans of Alexanders campaigns. Onesicritus
wrote a first-hand account, now known only by fragments, that contained many valuable details, but he
was sometimes accused of exaggeration. Plutarchs story
goes that Onesicritus was reading his narrative about the
Amazon queen aloud to Lysimachus, who smiled and
asked: And where was I, then? Lysimachus was one of
Alexanders officers; it is unknown whether he was at the
camp near Hecatompylus at the time or whether he had
remained with another part of Alexanders main army.
His comment is enigmatic. Was Lysimachus bantering
about having missed out on the action at the camp, or
was he humorously denying the whole story?
For such a sensational topic, the story of Thalestris
as we have it seems straightforward, consistent and unadorned. Moreover, the Thalestris episode is embedded
in a sequence of events whose historical authenticity is
generally accepted by ancient and modern scholars. We
can never prove or disprove the veracity of the meeting
of Thalestris and Alexander that reportedly took place
more than 2,300 years ago, but we can analyse the details
of the surviving ancient narratives for authenticity and
plausibility in terms of what was possible for that time
and place, taking into account literary, historical, ethnographical and archaeological evidence.

in his achievements, and she was superior to all women in strength and
courage presumably the offspring of such superlative parents would
surpass all other mortals in excellence. This belief was widespread in
antiquity.
Alexander, remarked Diodorus, was delighted by her summons and
eagerly granted her request. The couple spent 13 days and nights together. At the end of their affair, Alexander honoured her with generous
farewell gifts and Thalestris rode away with her entourage.
Justin gives a few more details about the great stir that the Amazons
arrival and their wondrous appearance caused in Alexanders camp. Thalestris was dressed strangely for a woman, noted Justin, and the purpose
of her visit aroused general surprise: she came
seeking sexual intercourse. Alexander decided
to linger for 13 days with his guest. When she
was sure she had conceived, commented Justin,
Thalestris departed.
Another early version of their encounter
offers more vivid details. Curtius, in the first
century ad, reported that Thalestris was fired
with a desire to visit the king and set out with
a large escort from her land. As the Amazon
queen approached his encampment, she sent
messengers ahead to give notice that the queen
was eager to meet and become acquainted with
him. Alexander gave his permission at once.
Thalestris then rode into the camp with her

In antiquity
the story of
Alexanders
romance with
the Amazon
immediately
achieved
legendary status

HALESTRIS WAS SAID TO BE renowned for


her courage and beauty among her own people.
With a specific mission in mind, she set out
from her land to meet the man who had defeated the great Persian king, Darius. According to the earliest surviving account, by Diodorus Siculus, Alexander
marvelled at the unexpected arrival and the dignified
spectacle of the women warriors in armour and asked
Thalestris the reason for her visit. She replied that word
of his conquests had reached her and she had decided to
have a child by him. Thalestris invited Alexander to have
sex. As Diodorus explains: He was the greatest of all men
12 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

Alexander the
Great portrayed
on an amphora
from Magna
Graecia, southern
Italy, c.330 bc.

bodyguard of 300 women, leaving the rest of her


forces behind.
Curtius gives a general description of typical
Amazon attire, like that known from Greek vase
paintings, and remarks that Thalestris wore a
garment knotted just above the knee (perhaps
a wide skirt hitched up for riding). If we assume
that Thalestris was a real horsewoman-archer of
a Saka-Scythian group, ancient artistic images of
Amazons and Scythians and modern archaeological discoveries of the grave goods of armed women can help to fill out
a picture of her appearance. The women wore pointed or soft hats and
long-sleeved tunics glittering with golden appliqus of animals, belts
with elaborate golden buckles, patterned leggings and/or riding skirts,
soft leather boots and leopard skin capes. Thalestris would carry a dagger
at her side, a pair of spears and a Scythian-style quiver and bow. Elaborately embroidered saddle blankets on a fine horse fitted with
dazzling golden trappings complete the image.
As soon as she spotted Alexander, continues
Curtius, Thalestris leaped down from her horse,
holding two spears in her right hand. Gazing
brazenly at the king, she gave his physique the
once over. Curtius tells us that Thalestris was
surprised at Alexanders slight stature and ordinary appearance; she had expected someone
capable of such glorious deeds to have superb
physical form and majestic charisma. Nevertheless, when Alexander asked if she had any
requests, Thalestris boldly explained that she
hoped to become pregnant with his child, pointing out that she was a superior woman worthy of
giving him an heir for his kingdom.
Then she made an interesting promise: if the baby
born of their union was a girl, Thalestris would raise
her, but a son would be returned to his father, Alex- A Baktrian
ander. This curious detail in Curtius is often passed medallion
showing a female
over, but it carries a note of authenticity. Her offer archer, second
reflects the traditional child-rearing practices of century bc.
the nomadic barbarian women and the men who
fathered their children, as reported by numerous ancient historians. The
sons were returned to the fathers tribes and were adopted as the mens
rightful heirs. Similar fosterage arrangements, sending sons (and sometimes daughters) to be raised by allied clans or tribes, were customary
until modern times among peoples of the Caucasus and other tribes
Above left: Darius
III in a detail from
the Alexander
Mosaic, first
century bc.
Above right:
Greeks and
Amazons on a
marble sarcophagus, second
century ad.

of Eurasia as a way of sealing alliances. Fosterage was also common in


medieval Ireland, Scotland, Wales and other European societies.
Curtius includes yet another significant detail. He states that Alexander invited Thalestris (and presumably her female entourage) to join
his cavalry. Thalestris declined, saying she needed to defend her own
country. She persisted in her wish to bear his child. Her enthusiasm was
greater than Alexanders, commented Curtius.

F WE ASSUME THAT Thalestris really existed, where was she from?


Diodorus stated that her home was between the rivers Thermodon
and Phasis, in the region of Pontus and Colchis. Strabo also placed
her somewhere in the Thermodon-Caucasus region. This territory
corresponds to Caucasian Iberia, the foothills above the River Phasis
valley and Caucasian Albania, between the eastern end of the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. These were the traditional strongholds of the
Amazons of Greek myth. According to Strabo, Amazons still were said
to live in the [Caucasus] mountains above Albania. Notably,
the Roman commander Pompey encountered enemy
females fighting alongside the men here during the
Third Mithradatic War of the first century bc. Justin
also reported that Thalestris Amazons were
neighbours of the Albani. He reminded readers
that, after their defeat in the mythic Battle for
Athens, the Amazons had lost their foothold
in Pontus and withdrew into the Caucasus
mountains and northern steppes. The next
great warrior-queen of Pontus was Penthesilea, Justin noted, but her Amazon band was
wiped out in the legendary Trojan War. Justin,
like many other ancient writers, maintained
that isolated populations of Amazons remained in
the mountains around the south-eastern Black Sea,
in Pontus, Colchis, Iberia and Albania (north-eastern
Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia). They managed
to survive down to the time of Alexander the Great, says Justin. One
of these was Queen Thalestris.
In antiquity, the Black Sea-Transcaucasus-Caspian Sea region was
inhabited by Saka-Scythian and related nomadic and semi-nomadic
groups of mounted archers, whose men and women rode horses, hunted,
made war, traded and raided, forming mixed and same-sex groups
according to circumstances. Thalestris could have belonged to a tribe
that marshalled bands of men, men and women, or women only, for
hunting, reconnaissance, negotiations, battle, plunder or adventure;
both sexes participated in these options in steppe nomad cultures.
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 13

THALESTRIS

Thalestris had distinguished herself in battle among her own people, noted
Diodorus, and now she sought a worthy mate for sex and offspring
All-women groups might form and disband on an ad hoc basis for various
reasons: for example, when particularly strong women leaders arose
or while most men were away or had been killed in battle. The Greek
historians may have simply assumed that an Amazon queen must have
originated in Thermodon, Pontus or in Colchis, where ancient Greek
mythographers had located them. Another possibility is that Thalestris
was a member of a nomadic tribe west of the Caspian Sea, north-west
of Hyrcania (southern Azerbaijan, northern Iran, Armenia).
An Azerbaijani tradition tells of a meeting between Alexander and
a Saka queen from Caucasian Albania named Nushaba. The epic poem
Iskandar-nameh (1194) by Nizami drew on this ancient legend. Scholars
believe that Nushaba was modelled on a Saka-Scythian female leader
from Sakasena (Saka-land), near Barda, central Azerbaijan. In the
legend, Nushaba developed a keen interest in Alexander during his
conquests. When he visits Barda, they converse as equals, surrounded
by her female soldiers. Impressed by her courage and wisdom, Alexander
decides not to attack her land. This legend, told from Nushabas point of
14 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

A woman, possibly
Thalestris, among a group
of male warriors, by Nicolo
dellAbate, 16th century.

view, appears to be a non-Greek tradition


about Alexander and a local warrior-queen
from Thalestris homeland.
Ancient and modern historians tend to
imagine Thalestris as the leader of an all-female society. But, if Thalestris
left the bulk of her army at the border of Hyrcania as both Diodorus and
Curtius reported, those soldiers might have been men. (Only Justin says
her entire force consisted of the 300 women warriors.) Thalestris may
have been one of the powerful female leaders who emerged from time
to time among Saka-Scythian groups, like the historical warrior-queens
Tomyris of the Massagetae, Tirgatao of the Maeotians, Zarina of the
Saka and Amage of the Roxolani, who led armies of men and women.
The news of Alexanders epic victory over the Persian Empire resounded throughout the Persian-influenced lands between the Black
and Caspian seas. Alexanders chroniclers describe numerous tribes
of Scythians and others dispatching emissaries with armed escorts to
meet and greet the leader of the next superpower. Such a party might

be led by one of the tribes best warriors of the day and that champion
could have been a woman.
Thalestris was described as a ruler in all the sources: princess and
queen were Greek and Latin labels. Could she have been the daughter
of a Scythian chieftain and later promoted to an Amazon queen in
popular lore? Some scholars raise this possibility, citing a letter from
Alexander to Antipater, his regent in Macedon, referring to an event in
328 bc. While in Sogdiana-Baktria, Alexander had received a message
from a Scythian king who offered his daughter in marriage as a pledge
of friendship; the king also hinted that he would send Alexanders companions Scythian wives, too. According to Curtius, Alexander had sent
a messenger to this king beyond the Bosporus, but Alexander declined
the kings offer, perhaps because Scythians
had just defeated one of his officers in that
region. Letters attributed to Alexander in
antiquity are highly suspect, but Plutarch
accepted its authenticity and thought it
significant that it did not mention Thalestris. This was formal correspondence,
however, conveying the political and military details of Alexanders campaign and
his justifications for pushing on to India,
so a private sexual dalliance might have
seemed irrelevant.
THE SOURCES AGREE that Thalestris was
an acclaimed warrior-leader in her own
right. Whether such a formidable visitor
came on her own or was dispatched as a representative of her people to propose a marriage alliance or to become pregnant by the
great world conqueror, she would certainly
arrive on horseback well armed, dressed in
Alexander and
distinctive nomad attire and accompanied
Thalestris, by
by an escort of warrior women. As the clasFrancesco Primaticcio,
sicist Elizabeth Baynham has suggested,
16th century.
the most likely historical explanation is
that Thalestris was a woman of Saka stock accustomed to ride and shoot,
who came with a mounted group of females also carrying weapons.
Thalestris had distinguished herself in battle among her own
people, noted Diodorus, and now she sought a worthy mate for sex
and offspring. Whether or not Thalestris really existed, this sequence
also carries a ring of authenticity. From Herodotus on, Greco-Roman
writers tell how Scythian women were expected to be worthy in battle
before they formed unions with men of their own choosing, often
males outside of their immediate tribe. The 300 women who accompanied Thalestris could have been proven warriors and they may well
have intended to consort with Alexanders soldiers. Might some of the
Amazon leaders companions have remained with the Macedonian
soldiers, or did they all depart after 13 days? The usual Amazon way was
to move on after mating, but some writers refer to lasting unions. For
example, Herodotus described a settled Scythian community on the
Sea of Azov that sought to revitalise their bloodlines by mating with
a band of marauding horsewomen perceived to have excellent warrior
characteristics. The result was said to be the Sarmatians. Even though
it took the Greeks by surprise, there was nothing extraordinary about
a party of Scythian women inviting a group of battle-hardened men
to frolic with them for a couple of weeks with the aim of going home
pregnant with robust offspring.
The name Thalestris poses a curious riddle. In a fragment of the
earliest known account by Cleitarchus (who was with Alexander and is
cited by Strabo), the Amazons name was Thalestria; Diodorus calls her
Thallestris. Justin mentioned another name from an unknown source,

Minythyia. We cannot know her true name, of course, since both names
are Greek. Thallestris means She Who Makes Bloom, while Minythyia
means the opposite, She Who Diminishes. It is not impossible that Thalestris was a translation or Hellenisation of a real barbarian name. But the
pairing of this name with its opposite is suggestive. Jocular names with
double meanings abounded in antiquity. The opposition of Minythyia
The Shrinker and Thalestris The Grower for an attractive but
dangerous Amazon lover hints that there may have been a popular joke
about Alexander and the Amazon queen, a double entendre playing on
the erotic ambivalence aroused by strong women. The sexual innuendo
could have alluded to Curtius claim that Thalestris was unimpressed by
Alexanders physique.
SUPPOSING THAT Alexander did entertain
a Saka-Scythian warrior woman at his camp,
what route did she take to intercept him at
Hecatompylus? The sources are unclear.
Strabo preserved a scrap of information
from Cleitarchus who was with Alexander
at the time but whose work is lost. He said
that Thalestris set out from Thermodon
and came by way of the Caspian Gates to
Hyrcania. Amazons of Thermodon was a
familiar trope from myth.
Compounding the uncertainty, three
different passes were known as the Caspian
Gates in antiquity. One was the narrow
passage between the eastern cliffs of the
Caucasus range and the Caspian Sea (Dagestan), also called the Marpesian Rock
after the Amazon queen, Marpesia. This
pass was sometimes confused with the socalled Scythian Gates over the mid-Caucasus because Greek historians were unclear about their precise locations.
Both were major migration routes for nomads. If we accept that Thalestris started out from the southern Black Sea region of ancient Colchis,
then she would not cross either of these Caucasus passes. But she may
well have travelled through the third pass by that name, the Caspian
Gates east of Ecbatana, the very same pass traversed by Alexander on
the way to make camp in Hyrcania.

F SHE SET OUT from the south-eastern Black Sea-southern Caucasus


area, Thalestris path would follow the Phasis and Cyrus river valleys
through Caucasian Iberia and Albania, eastward to the Caspian Sea
(the same route taken by Pompey after his battle with the male and
female warriors). She would turn south, traversing the luxuriant Nisaean
horse pastures west of the Caspian Sea. Migrating nomads from the
Black Sea, Caucasus and steppes routinely ranged over this territory west
of the Caspian. (Archaeologists have discovered some armed womens
graves in this region.) Justin indicated that Thalestris had to avoid hostile
tribes on her trek. Indeed, after Darius IIIs defeat by Alexander, nomad
raiders flocked to the Nisaean Plain to capture thousands of fine horses
from the celebrated royal Persian herds.
Because Thalestris knew only that Alexander was marching east
on the main caravan route but was unaware of his exact location, she
would not continue around the southern Caspian shore but would head
south across the Elburz mountain range, Mardian territory, perhaps
following the Mardos (Sefid Rud) river valley. At a point near Rhaga,
her party would join the main caravan route. From here she could easily
retrace the path of Alexanders immense Macedonian army as it travelled east through the Caspian Gates (about 50 miles east of Rhaga).
Now Thalestris would be passing through the lands recently subdued
by Alexander, meeting people who could inform her on his progress.
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 15

THALESTRIS

The paths of Thalestris and Alexander met in the Caspian region. Thalestris had ventured south from her base in the Caucasus.

Alexander
dreamed of
creating a vast
empire, a fusing
of cultures
through marriage
alliances and
offspring of
mixed parentages

Alexanders soldiers, camp followers and suppliers


were strung out along this trail. Following Alexanders route made sense; sooner or later she would
catch up with him. Learning the location of his headquarters at the spring north of Hecatompylus, she
would overtake Alexander after he returned from his
Mardian venture in late summer 330 bc.
Justin provides another crucial detail: Thalestris
travelled 35 days through hostile territories in order
to have a child by king Alexander. Strabo argued that
such a long journey, more than 6,000 stadia from
the Thermodon to Hyrcania, was impractical. The
distance of the trek outlined above would be about
600-700 miles (1 mile = 8.7 stadia). Depending on
the terrain, weather, water, pasture, weight of her
supplies, number of spare horses, detours and hostile
encounters, we can estimate that Thalestris and her
cohort could ride an average of 20 to 30 miles a day.
Mounted nomads could easily travel 700-1,000 miles in 35 days. This
means that Strabos geographical doubts, at least, can be laid to rest.

WOULD ALEXANDER HAVE agreed to procreate with a barbarian


warrior queen? Alexander (and his men) had known many Amazon-like
women of intelligence, ambition and power in the Macedonian court.
Alexanders grandfather Philip I had Scythian wives and his father Philip
II married Audata, daughter of the Dardanian king of Illyria, in 359 bc.
Illyrian women were raised to be riders, hunters and warriors. While
young Alexander was learning horsemanship, hunting and fighting,
Audata was training her daughter, Alexanders half-sister, Cynnane
(b. 358 bc), in the same skills. Like Alexander, Cynnane became a military commander. Sometime around 343 bc young Cynnane led an army
against an Illyrian force; she personally slew many Illyrians and killed
their queen, Caeria.
Alexander also met strong-willed women in the Persian court and
16 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

along his route to India. We know that Alexander


dreamed of creating a vast melting-pot empire, a
fusing of cultures through marriage alliances and
offspring of mixed parentage. In a speech recorded by Curtius, Alexander declared that he married
Darius Persian daughter Stateira and the Baktrian
princess Roxane expressly in order to beget children
and abolish all distinction between vanquished and
victor. We know from several sources that Alexander
encouraged tens of thousands of his men to marry
the barbarian women with whom they had children
on the long campaign. These mixed families travelled with his army. Alexander anticipated training
their Greek-barbarian sons as soldiers to be known
as The Descendants. Thalestris, a beauty and proven
warrior, could have been considered an ideal mother
of Alexanders heir.

OW WOULD THALESTRIS and Alexander have communicated? The sources agree that Thalestris made her intentions
clear. It is amusing to picture the haughty queen conveying
her desire with earthy gestures and Alexanders reaction. But
Diodorus emphasised the dignity of the women. We do not know
what language these Amazons spoke, but the queens request was likely
spelled out through interpreters. Once alone in the royal tent, of course,
there was no need for words. Alexander decided to pause here for 13 days
to fulfill Thalestris quest, writes Justin, so we can guess that these late
summer days in Hyrcania were spent in leisure and that the Macedonian soldiers were free to enjoy the company of the queens entourage.
Alexander liked to relax by riding horses and chasing rabbits with his
friends. Scythian women enjoyed the same pursuits, so Thalestris would
have made a superb hunting companion.
What happened after Thalestris departed the Macedonian camp?
Curtius and others claimed that Alexander embraced barbarian attire

(nomad raiders had reduced the herds to a third of that). Here, reported
the historian Arrian (second century ad):
THEY SAY that Atropates, satrap of Media, sent 100 horsewomen that he
called Amazons to Alexander. The women were armed with battle-axes
and small shields and dressed in the traditional Amazon fashion. IT IS
SAID that Alexander dismissed this female cavalry, fearing that their
presence might incite his Greek and barbarian soldiers to molest them.
THEY ALSO SAY that Alexander told the warrior women to inform their
queen that he would later pay a visit to beget children by her.
Curtius added that the horsewomens equipment led SOME TO
BELIEVE that they were survivors of the race of Amazons. The capitalised phrases signal the legendary nature of the incident and Alexanders
promise to impregnate their queen suggests an alternate version of the
Thalestris story. The location is not that far from Hyrcania. Was this
story conflated with the account of Thalestris and her 300 Amazons in
oral retellings? If a cavalry unit of armed females was in fact presented
to Alexander, however, they could have been authentic women warriors
from a nomadic tribe allied with the Median king.

Nushaba
recognises
Iskander by his
portrait. Afghan,
15th century.

and luxuries after consorting with Thalestris. Following the interlude


with his lover, Alexander outfitted his horses with barbarian ornaments
and began to wear costly robes with gold borders and fancy belts over
his short Greek chiton (although he drew the line at trousers). Some of
Alexanders luxurious trappings were spoils, others had been presented
by ambassadors. Perhaps a few items were gifts from Thalestris. Alexanders foreign style offended his Greek soldiers, but adapting some
native customs in public appears to have been a deliberate strategy
to win over Asian peoples. Other historians tell us that after meeting
Thalestris, Alexander began to travel with a harem of concubines from
native populations. He soon married Roxane, the 16-year-old Baktrian
princess who bore his son soon after Alexanders death in 323 bc.
And Thalestris? Did she give birth to Alexanders child, too? Of all the
ancient historians, only Justin felt the need to wrap up the incomplete
story of the Amazon queen Thalestris and he is terse: Thalestris was
granted her wish to sleep with Alexander in order to have a child by
him. She then returned to her kingdom and died soon afterwards, and
with her all trace of the Amazonian name. We do not hear of any child
born of her union with Alexander, as one might expect if their affair
was a purely fictional tale.
THALESTRIS WAS NOT THE ONLY Amazon linked with Alexander.
Three years after their liaison, in 327 bc, Alexander encountered another
warrior queen, Cleophis of the Ashvakas (Sanskrit for Horse People)
in the Swat and Buner valleys of the Hindu Kush. She commanded an
army of men and women (20,000 cavalry and 38,000 infantry) against
the Macedonians at Massaga. The women fought as valiantly as the men.
Alexander was wounded and Cleophis was captured. The ancient rumour
that Cleophis (who was twice his age) bore Alexanders son appears to
have arisen because she named a grandson Alexander in gratitude for
his compassion after the battle.
By the summer of 324 bc Alexander was back in Media after the
arduous Indian campaigns. Alexander made a special trip to see the
famous Nisaean Plain, where as many as 150,000 horses once grazed

N THE ARCHAIC GREEK MYTHS, whenever great Greek heroes met


Amazon queens, bloody combat ensued and the barbarian women
were invariably killed. A different scenario marks the historical and
legendary Greek accounts describing Alexanders relationships with
women identified as Amazons. Departing from the violent mythic
script, Alexander meets warrior queens as equals, they engage in
peaceable conversations, refrain from duelling to the death and part
on amiable terms. Alexander and Thalestris negotiated about sharing
a child and joining forces. Equality, harmony and mutual respect are
the prominent themes. These same egalitarian features are hallmarks
of the Persian-influenced legends about Alexander (Iskander) and a
warrior-queen who resembles Thalestris (Nushaba).
If the accounts of Alexander and Thalestris and other strong women
rulers were simply mythic parallels casting Alexander in the role of a
Greek hero who must overcome an Amazon queen, such an irenic course
of events would be unthinkable. The striking difference between the
Greek myths and the accounts of Alexanders friendly parleys with barbarian war leaders who happen to be female is evidence of authenticity.
Alexanders encounters with Amazons were debated in antiquity and
over time took on the aura of legend. The consistent realistic details in
those stories suggest that the Thalestris episode could have some basis
in fact. The continued lively discussions about the reality of Thalestris
over several centuries in antiquity show how deeply fascinating the
prickly, enticing idea of Amazon-like women was for the Greeks. That
a bold, adventurous man might hope to find a companion in an equally
strong woman of action was a thrilling prospect. And just maybe, for
Alexander and his men, it became a reality, at least for 13 days and nights.
Adrienne Mayor is Research Scholar in Classics and History and Philosophy of Science and
Technology at Stanford University.

FURTHER READING
Adrienne Mayor, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women
Across the Ancient World (Princeton, 2014).
Arrian, tr. Aubrey de Selincourt, The Campaigns of Alexander
(Penguin Classics, 1971).
Paul Cartledge, Alexander the Great: The Truth Behind the Myth
(Pan Macmillan, 2013).
Plutarch, tr Ian Scott-Kilvert, The Age of Alexander (Penguin
Classics, 20012).
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 17

HOOVER AND BELGIUM

URING THE FIRST WORLD WAR Herbert Hoover,


later to become the 31st president of the United
States, earned the title the Great Humanitarian
and created the greatest private philanthropic organisation in history, saving an entire nation. That memory
has now dimmed, yet it set remarkable precedents.
In 1914 Hoover, a young engineer born in Iowa and
raised partly in Oregon, a graduate of Stanford University
and one of the most successful mining engineers of his
generation, happened to be in London. He had gone there

Hoover goes
to Belgium
Herbert Hoover is best known as the 31st president
of the United States, a role in which he was much
criticised. Glen S. Jeansonne reveals an earlier, more
successful episode of extraordinary humanitarianism.

to solicit British participation in the planned PanamaPacific Exposition, designed to commemorate the opening
of the Panama Canal. Hoover was stymied in his efforts by
British politics and the outbreak of the First World War. The
coming of war also stranded many Americans in Europe.
They streamed into London and clogged the halls of the US
embassy. Hotels, restaurants, railroad and steamship lines
would not honour foreign credit. The US ambassador,
Walter Hines Page, asked Hoover to assist. He and his
friends created the American Relief Committee and used
their own money to repatriate 160,000 travellers.
When the Germans violated Belgian neutrality in
August 1914 to strike at France, the British entered the conflict. The Belgians attempted to resist but were no match for
the German war machine. The armies became bogged down,
massed on both sides of a largely static line. The battles involved trench warfare, suicidal charges into barbed wire and
machine guns, the ceaseless pounding of artillery, mutinies
and amputations minus anaesthesia. But those who died in
battle died more quickly than civilians, who starved.
Belgiums plight was desperate. Small but highly
industrialised, it was the most densely populated country
in Europe. Its 7.5 million people lived in a compact area.
They produced only one sixth of their food, trading exports
for sustenance. But the Royal Navy enforced a maritime
blockade on Europe that isolated Belgium. The Belgians
found themselves cut off from the outside world both by
the German occupation and the British blockade.

Herbert Hoover as head of the


Food Administration, 1918.

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 19

HOOVER AND BELGIUM

Hoovers trump card was that both sides


worried about the public opinion of
neutral nations and especially the most
powerful neutral, the United States

He decided to take no salary and to pay his own expenses.


Later, he was to refuse money for serving as the US food
administrator under Woodrow Wilson and donated much of
his salary to charity. Most of his assistants did likewise.
The problems they faced were daunting. We expected
a major crisis once a month; a minor crisis once a week,
explained Hoovers colleague, Vernon Kellogg. The effort
lasted four and a half years. In early 1915 the Commission
for Relief of Belgium (CRB) also took on the task of feeding
the people of German-occupied northern France, about
2.5 million residents. It helped sustain a total of 10 million
civilians speaking five languages. The CRB dealt in four
currencies and two systems of weights and measures. It had
more than 40,000 workers, all but 100 of them volunteers,
including 25 Rhodes Scholars.
Many of Hoovers best volunteers were fellow engineers.
Edward Eyre Hunt, a CRB delegate, wrote in 1917 that
there seems to be an unusual esprit de corps and a high
level of professional honor and sensibility which marks
mining engineers. Their respect for Hoover was such that
the Rocky Mountain Club, a group of mining engineers,
which had collected $500,000 to build a new club house,
instead donated the entire sum to the CRB.
Problems descended upon Hoover like biblical plagues.
He had to obtain food and transportation, organise distribution and recruit workers. But the most formidable obstacles
were diplomatic. He had to persuade both the Allies and the
Central Powers to permit his organisation to operate. Both
blamed the other for Belgiums plight and neither considered it their obligation to feed the Belgians. Each, concerned with winning the war, thought relief might aid their
opponents. The British believed their blockade would starve
the Germans into submission, even if it meant starving the
Belgians in the process. They feared the Germans might
seize the food for their army. The Germans feared the CRB
would spy for the Allies.

H
Belgium dispatched a committee to London to beg the
British government to pry open the vice that locked food
out and exports in. A committee of prominent Belgians
and US businessmen residing in Brussels, including
Millard Shaler, an American engineer, approached the US
ambassador there, who suggested Hoover might help.
Hoover agonised briefly. He controlled a mining empire,
potentially made more valuable because of the raw materials demanded by conflict. Friends believed that he might
have earned $30 million from managing his mining assets,
but To hell with the fortune!, he exclaimed.
Neither Hoover nor anyone else knew how long the war
would last or what toll it would take. Most thought it might
last a year or two. Accepting the challenge meant not only
abandoning his career, but also separation from his family.
20 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

Top: a Belgian
propaganda
poster of 1914
with King Albert
rallying his nation.
Above: German
soldiers search
Belgian farmers,
August 1914.

OOVER DEALT WITH KINGS, prime ministers,


foreign ministers, generals and admirals. He had
no diplomatic standing and represented no nation.
His trump card was that both sides worried about
the public opinion of neutral nations and especially the
most powerful neutral, the United States. Each knew that
alienating the US could drive it into the arms of the other.
Neither the Germans nor the British trusted each other,
but they both trusted Hoover. He was persistent and firm,
a blunt but effective diplomat. He plied the British with
humanitarian arguments: Britain had declared war when
Germany violated Belgian neutrality. It would be hypocrisy
to let Belgium starve.
In the long run, humanitarian arguments carried less
weight than American public opinion. The Germans knew
the US would not enter the war on their side, but hoped to
keep it neutral. The British realised the US might be enticed
to enter the war on the Allied side, if German submarine
warfare intensified.
The relief operation required organisational genius and
fund raising on an immense scale. The financial status of
the CRB was one of near desperation. Hoover told a journalist in 1917 that there had never been a single time when the
finances of the CRB were certain for even 60 days. He was
on a treadmill of raising money to keep the food coming.
Hoover patched together private donations and, more

importantly, subsidies from the British, French and Belgian


governments and even, after America entered the war in
1917, from the US. Donations came from around the world,
most generously from the British Empire. In the US, his
wife, Lou Henry Hoover, played a major role in fundraising.
Hoover also arranged contributions in kind. Governors
of agricultural states donated non-perishable food. Iowa
gave an entire shipload of corn, which the Belgians considered suitable only for cattle and chickens, though they
learned to eat it. Hoover obtained reduced rates for railroad
shipping, from stevedores who loaded the ships and from
steamship companies.

Below: a Belgian
priest serving
with the Red
Cross passes a
group of German
soldiers, 1915.
Bottom: the SS
Eburoon, a relief
ship bound for
Belgium, 1914.

CONTINUOUS FLOW of commodities was


delivered by rail to the East Coast, where they
were loaded onto specially chartered ships. The
CRB operated its own fleet of 75 ships, which
traversed the Atlantic. They bore gigantic red-and-white
banners with the initials CRB and flew the organisations
flag to deter submarines. Even so, during a single week in
1916 six of its ships were sunk in the English Channel.
The point of rendezvous was the Dutch port of Rotterdam. There the cargoes were transferred to barges and
navigated through Belgiums maze of canals to district
warehouses, smaller depots and finally to communal stores,
where Belgians could purchase food. The CRB sold it at a
small profit to make the supply go further, the wealthy subsidising the feeding of the poor. Hoover hired a reputable
British accounting firm to audit the books scrupulously,
pre-empting charges of corruption. Overheads amounted to
less than one tenth of one per cent.
Hoovers organisational strategy was to centralise decision-making and decentralise implementation. He attracted
highly motivated assistants and never micro-managed.
Although he might fire incompetents, he never publicly
criticised personnel and took responsibility for failures
without embarrassing anyone. He challenged his staff to
seek creative solutions, avoiding charts and diagrams. The
key ingredient of the CRB was its people. One man, given
the task of managing an entire port, asked what his job was.
Hoover told him to keep the food moving, no more.
The Belgian food supply was not fancy but it was
balanced and reliable. Rations for one person for one day
consisted of 7.5 ounces of lentils, canned or dried beans
and peas, condensed milk, cocoa or butter. Also included,
to provide fats, was one strip of bacon and one half ounce
of lard or butter. Belgians could supplement this with

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 21

HOOVER AND BELGIUM

vegetables from their gardens. Half a loaf of bread or its


equivalent in flour was added. Belgians thrived on bread; it
was more central to their diet than to that of Americans.
The CRB controlled prices and largely stamped out a
black market. As the war dragged on, increasing numbers of
Belgians ran out of money and were fed free. By 1917 about
70 per cent of the population was destitute. Men who performed manual labour received extra rations, as did children
and pregnant and nursing women.
One of the decisive factors in Hoovers decision to aid
Belgium was his lifelong love of children. Adults were
rationed, but children were fed generously. There were
extra meals for them, with special attention to babies. Milk
in any form was scarce, but he obtained it. Hoover believed
Europes future lay in its children. The high survival rate of
infants and children, higher than in normal times, was the
most gratifying aspect of his work. Hoover was a sensitive,
emotional man, yet he believed that public displays of
22 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

A vast warehouse
contains stocks
of wholeflour for
distribution in
Belgium.

emotion were a sign of weakness. A shy Quaker, he could be


moved to weep by inspecting breadlines and soup kitchens,
so he rarely did so. Only those close to him understood his
sensitive personality.

S THE WAR PERSISTED, the CRB increasingly


furnished people with clothes and medicine.
Most of the clothes were second-hand, donated
by Americans and other nationalities. Belgian
women altered the clothes to fit those who needed them.
The CRB also made relief payments to families of soldiers
as well as to school teachers and state employees, who by
the end of the war had not worked for more than four years.
By the spring of 1917 the CRB had become a state within a
state, without any legal authority.
Before the war, lace-making had been a major industry
in Belgium, employing 40,000 women. The craft had been
passed on from mother to daughter for generations. Hoover

Hoover realised
that the Americans
would be unable to
remain in Belgium
if the United States
entered the war

Clockwise from right: sacks of flour


resulting from a US and Canadian
newspaper campaign in 1915; US citizens
stranded in London seek help from the
American Relief Committee; Belgian
schoolchildren are fed by the CRB.

feared the skill might be lost, if he left the lace-makers idle


because they could not obtain material nor export their
product. The CRB imported thread, helped sell lace abroad
and advanced money for the surplus, which was stored.
Hoover realised that the Americans would be unable to
remain in Belgium, if the United States entered the war.
He made contingency plans for the CRB to be led by a staff
of neutrals he trained. He would make policy himself. In
fact, this is what happened. Hoovers style was unorthodox
and he was willing to take risks. Very soberly and sincerely
I believe no one else could have done what he has done
for Belgium, a journalist wrote in 1917: I believe no one
else could have dealt, as he has done, as a private citizen,
without title and without pretensions, with Kitchener,
Lloyd George, the Kaiser, Von Bethmann-Hollweg, Von
Bissing, Briand, Poincar and King Albert.
If a thing was really necessary we did it first and asked
permission afterwards, Hoover said. He told a British

Cabinet minister that he needed clearance papers promptly


to ship food. The minister told him it was impossible. There
is no time, in the first place, and if there were there are no
wagons to be spared by the railways, no dock hands, and no
steamers.
I have managed to get all these things, Hoover said
quietly.
The minister signed the papers, commenting: There
have been there are men now men in the Tower of
London for less than you have done.
One of his follow workers explained: You must love
Hoover as much for his humanness as you admire him
for his quickness of mind. He added that his adeptness
in dealing with men has been scarcely less a factor in the
success of our work than his genius for organisation.
Lloyd George, Britains Chancellor of the Exchequer,
initially found one of Hoovers requests impertinent. When
he announced that he was rejecting a crucial concession,
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 23

HOOVER AND BELGIUM


I know it never occurs to him to think of the seven million
Belgians as if they were a bottomless inhuman pit into
which tons of food must be dumped every day. Of his humility, he commented: There is neither crown nor sceptre
in his wardrobe.

ERHAPS THE HIGHEST tribute came from the US


ambassador in London, who said life was worth
more for knowing Hoover:

But for him Belgium would now be starved. Hes a simple,


modest, energetic little man who began his career in
California and will end it in Heaven; and he doesnt want
anybodys thanks.

Hoover interrupted. For 15 minutes he spoke without a


break, said Lloyd George, just about the clearest expository
utterance I have ever heard on any subject. He used not a
word too much nor yet a word too few.
By the time he had finished, I had come to realise not only the
importance of his contentions, but, what was more to the point,
the practicality of granting his request. So I did the only thing
possible under the circumstances. I told him that I had never
understood the question before, thanked him for helping me to
understand it, and saw to it that things were arranged as he
wanted them.
Hoover earned the respect, sometimes grudgingly, of those
he encountered. He is practically the only great figure
evolved by the war whom every one trusts and no one
fears, wrote Edward Eyre Hunt. He wields power without
force. He is a leader, not a driver. Also important to his
co-workers was Hoovers kindness. Although he could be
forceful, he was by nature a gentle man. I dont think it
ever occurs to him to appraise his helpers in the Belgian
relief work as cogs in a great machine, Hunt explained. And
24 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

Top: distributing
bread and milk to
Belgian mothers
and babies.
Above: Lou Henry
Hoover (fourth
from right) at the
Belgian fundraising fair, 1916.

Hoovers work in Belgium, followed by the relief of Europe


and the Soviet Union by his American Relief Administration
(ARA), earned him universal acclaim. For his work in saving
the Soviet Union, though he opposed Communism, Hoover
was honoured by the Bolshevik government in 1923. Later,
Hoover was written out of Soviet history books. Still later
he appeared again, this time as a spy.
Due to its scrupulous management of money, the CRB
was left with a $35 million surplus at the wars end. Hoover
decided that the money should be devoted to Belgian education, wrecked by the war. More than $18 million was
donated directly to the universities of Brussels, Ghent and
Liege and an additional $1,600,000 for the subsequent rebuilding of the University of Louvain. The remainder went
to a Belgian-American educational exchange programme.
Hoover was offered many decorations abroad but refused
all but one, the title Friend of Belgium, of which he was
to be forever the sole recipient. Still, avenues, schools, and
buildings in Europe and the US were named for him, including a school and a highway in his home town, West Branch,
Iowa. At one time he had received more honorary degrees
than any American. Hoover had become, in the words of an
associate, A Napoleon of mercy. He is credited with saving
more lives than any person in history.
The world has grown accustomed to American action
to save lives and restore the fractured economies of far-off
lands, according to the historian George H. Nash. Today,
such involvement is almost universally taken for granted.
One reason for this acceptance although few know it
today is the institution created by Herbert Hoover.
Glen S. Jeansonne is Professor of History at the University of WiconsinMilwaukee and author of The Life of Herbert Hoover: Fighting Quaker,
1928-1933 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

FURTHER READING
George H. Nash, The Life of Herbert Hoover, vol 2: The
Humanitarian, 1914-1917 (W.W. Norton, 1988).
Herbert Hoover, An American Epic: Relief of Belgium and
Northern France, 1914-1930 (Macmillan, 1959).
Norma Jane Langford, Merci Amerique, The Iowan, Fall
1969, pp. 12-12, 52.
Edward Eyre Hunt, Hoover of the C.R.B., Worlds Work,
June 1917, pp. 165-168.

| WARBURG INSTITUTE

Warburg Postwar
Having been moved to London from Nazi Germany, the esteemed library of
Renaissance culture played a key role in restoring links between international
scholars after the Second World War. By Tiziana Villani.

The Reading Room


at the Warburg
Institute, 1937.

AN ENTIRE VOLUME, published in 1947, of one of


the most prestigious reviews in Britain for humanistic studies, the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld
Institutes, was written completely by Italian scholars.
It was a small but significant symbol that intellectuals could rebuild cultural relations between Italy and
Britain following the trauma of the Second World War.
As the Italian philosopher, writer and politician Guido
Calogero wrote in its preface:
Good learning has never known any national boundaries
and many Italians will wish to join me in thanking the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes for so generously inviting the closest collaboration of their Italian colleagues. They
have thus strengthened the ancient ties between our two
countries and reaffirmed once again the consciousness we
share of the bond that unites all who study mans painful
history and of the hope it gives for the future of human
civilization.
Calogeros words open the ninth volume of the Journal
of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, dated 1946, but
actually published the following year. It sums up vividly
the history, motivations and results of a two-year
26 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

collaboration between Britain and Italy, which brought


about the publication of the volume containing eight
essays by leading Italian scholars.
There were three principal agents behind this extraordinary venture: the staff of the Warburg Institute and, in
particular, its then director Fritz Saxl; Edoardo Ruffini,
responsible for cultural relations at the Italian Embassy
in London; and Calogero. As is stated prominently in the
preface to the volume, English friends of the Warburg
Institute played the central role in this international
collaboration.
Exiled to England
The Warburg Institute is today a renowned research institute of the School of Advanced Studies of the University
of London, concerned mainly with the classical tradition
and its continuing influence and Renaissance cultural and
art history. It was originally a private library founded in
Hamburg by the German-Jewish scholar Aby Warburg.
The library moved to London in 1933 following the Nazis
seizure of power.
Saxl, who had become director of the library after Warburgs death in 1929, took care of the transfer and guided

the re-opening of the library in its new location in South


Kensington under the name of the Warburg Institute.
He promoted it through various means, including a series
of open lectures and itinerant exhibitions. From 1937
onwards, the Warburg began to publish its new journal, in
collaboration with the nearby Courtauld Institute of Art.
Saxls promotion of the Warburg and the opportunities
it provided for cultural cooperation did not cease even
during the war and its immediate aftermath. Convinced
that cultural cooperation could lead to a lasting peace and
that the Warburg should play its part, Saxl worked tirelessly to renew international cultural relations. To this end he
ensured that the scholars of the Warburg should spend
research periods abroad. He also decided to publish the
three special volumes of the journal VII (1944), VIII
(1945) and IX (1946) which were to carry essays written
by US, French and Italian intellectuals, respectively. This
ambition is all the more extraordinary when one
considers the difficulty of communications during
the war. It had been all but impossible to find
foreign scholars publications in wartime Britain.
Saxl and the staff of the Warburg were amply
rewarded for their efforts. The three volumes are
wonderful examples of cultural cooperation, which
attracted some of the worlds leading intellectuals, including offerings from the great scholar of
the ancient world, Arnaldo Momigliano, and the
pre-Columbian art expert, George Kubler.

of public libraries and archives. In addition, Italian


publishers were under pressure not to publish works by
Jewish authors who had lived beyond 1850: the nations
culture was effectively purged of the contribution of the
last four generations of Jewish intellectuals.
These laws caused the isolation of Italian intellectuals from the rest of the world. What happened between
Albert Einstein and the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome
was exemplary in this regard. The great physicist, having
become aware of the introduction of racial laws in Italy,
asked that his name be removed from the list of Italys
foreign partners, to which he had belonged since 1921.
It was natural that he no longer wanted to have any
ties with a country that was going through a process of
Aryanisation.
The creation of an Italian volume of the Warburgs
journal was crucially important to those Italian intellectuals who had reacted with horror to the
racial laws. Jewish scholars were now seeking
to collaborate with Italy and, in the process,
were taking Italian intellectuals out of their
cultural isolation. Participating in the 1946
journal gave Italian intellectuals a further opportunity: finally to consider the study of the
classical tradition and its influence over the
centuries without political compromise. For
two decades the study of the ancient world in
Italy had been sponsored almost exclusively
by the Fascist regime in order to spread a myth of Rome
as being continuous between ancient Rome and its
totalitarian present. On the orders of Mussolini, the city
of Rome, Roman history and even the language of the
Romans had been returned to their former splendour.
Mussolini was aware of how inspiring the idea would
be that Italians could be transformed into modern
Romans, able to recapture an empire and make Rome
the capital of the western world. In the creation of this
Fascist Roman myth, intellectuals had a privileged role.
Even those scholars who did not support Fascism were
deeply influenced by the myth of ancient Rome and by
the Fascist idea of the superiority of Roman culture over
Greek culture. Such ideas were completely absent in the
essays produced by the Italians who took their place in
the 1946 journal.
There is one last, but by no means least, important matter of interest about the journal. Reading the
correspondence between the Italian intellectuals who
participated in the volume and the scholars of the
Warburg Institute demonstrates that in many cases this
occasional co-operation turned into lasting and prolific
collaborations. This fostered the spread in Italy of Warburgian ideas and methodologies well before the 1960s,
the decade during which the first important Italian
translations of the works published by the Warburg
Institute were carried out and to which the beginning of
Aby Warburgs critical reassessment in Italy is commonly believed to be traced. Such Anglo-Italian collaborations continue to this day.

In many cases
this occasional
co-operation
turned into lasting
collaborations

Turbulent period
For a number of historical reasons, the Italian volume is
the most striking of the three. First, it was the only one to
be a collaboration between scholars from two belligerent
countries. The project phase of the volume (the idea of creating it, the choice of the editor, an invitation to attend and
the first acceptances) took place during the first months
of 1945. They were particularly turbulent months, during
which the fate of the world was decided. Above all, Italy
and Britain were still formally at war.
Calogero, given the role of collecting the essays for the
1946 journal, expertly summarised the uniqueness and
complexity of the situation:
At the beginning of 1945, when Italy was still divided in two,
and there was a co-belligerent Italy but also an enemy Italy
(and at least officially Fascist), the Warburg Institute invited
the Italian scholars to work together, reserving a volume of the
journal entirely to them. This was not political indifference: it
was indeed superior political sense, the sense of a higher and
deeper unity that binds everyone who bolsters the love for a
higher civilized world thanks to the study of the harsh history
of the humankind.
The invitation to collaborate came at a difficult enough
moment. Furthermore the staff of the Warburg Institute
were mostly Jewish and in many Italian regions racial laws
were still in force. This made any collaboration between
them and Italian scholars challenging, if not impossible.
Italys racial laws were especially restrictive in the cultural
sphere. Jews were excluded from Italys schools and universities, research institutes and even the reading rooms

Tiziana Villani is an Italian art historian based in Rome.


JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 27

SAINT-JUST
Saint-Just in
a portrait by
Pierre-Paul
Prudhon, 1793.

The embodiment of the


youthful revolutionary,
Louis-Antoine de SaintJust was devoured by the
Terror he helped unleash.
Marisa Linton looks
beyond the myths to the
reality of his remarkable,
short life.

Saint-Just
The French Revolutions
Angel of Death

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 29

Saint-Just dressed
as a deputy on
mission, 1790s.

One biographer, the American


Eugene Curtis, saw in Saint-Just a
French incarnation of the romantic
and radical poet Shelley. The English historian Norman
Hampson took a more jaundiced view and, perhaps with
Michelets metaphor of the fallen angel in mind, likened
Saint-Just to Lucifer.

Saint-Just had a lot


to offer and he knew
it: he was talented,
forceful and fiercely
clever, but he was
a social nobody,
without powerful
connections

MONG THE LEADERS of the French


Revolution none has a more mythical status
than Louis-Antoine de Saint-Just. His brief
political career encompassed the most radical
moment of the 18th century: the Jacobin Republic of the
Year Two (1793-4). The Jacobins tried to forge a better
world, one in which democracy, liberty and equality
would become a reality, but to achieve it they used
state-sponsored coercion and violence, in what became
known as the Terror. The experiment ended when SaintJust, along with Robespierre, succumbed to the guillotine in the bloodbath of Thermidor (July 1794). For many
people, Saint-Just, even more than Robespierre, embodies the revolution itself: young, full of feverish energy,
courage and idealism, but, like the revolutionary Terror,
capable of sacrificing human lives, including his own, to make the ideal a
reality. When Victor Hugo in his 1862 novel, Les Misrables, described the
young student Enjolras, who leads the climatic fight on the barricade, as
having too much of Saint-Just about him, his readers knew what that
meant. A few years earlier, Hugos contemporary and fellow countryman, the great republican historian Jules Michelet, described Saint-Just
as the archangel of death, a phrase that encapsulated the legend of the
unnaturally beautiful and cold-bloodedly terrible Saint-Just.
People take extreme views about Saint-Just. He is still a controversial
figure, even among Anglo-American historians who are usually more
dispassionate about the French Revolution than the French themselves.
30 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

CAN WE GET PAST THIS controversy to find out how far


the myth had a basis in reality? One way is to look at his
early life, before the world of revolutionary politics claimed
him. He was born on August 25th, 1767 in Decize, in Burgundy, the son of a retired cavalry officer and a notarys
daughter. When Saint-Just was nine his family moved to
Blrancourt, a small town in his fathers native Picardy. The
following year his father died, leaving the mother to bring
up her children alone. As a teenager, Saint-Just fell in love
with a local girl, Thrse Gell. They hoped to marry but
her father wanted a wealthier son-in-law. While Saint-Just
was away, she was married off in a wedding attended by all
the worthies of Blrancourt. When Saint-Just discovered
this he was furious, not least with his mother, who had
kept the news from him. Several weeks later, in September 1786, he absconded from his home, taking with him
some of the familys silver, which he sold in a Paris caf. At
his mothers insistence the adolescent was tracked down,
interrogated by the police and imprisoned in a house of
detention, where he spent six miserable months to reflect
upon his misdeeds. He must have felt deeply humiliated
by this experience: he never spoke about it and few people
ever knew. It may have influenced him in other ways, too,
for in later writings he attacked the oppression of women
and children in patriarchal families and defended womens
freedom to choose whom they loved.
The frustrations of his imprisonment inspired SaintJust to write Organt, an epic poem that recounted the misadventures of Antoine Organt, the 20-yearold illegitimate son of a bishop. Written in
the satirical style inspired by Voltaire, it was
the work of a young man, eager to make his
mark in the world; full of impudence, fantastical imaginings and some pornographic
passages that shocked several of his biographers, who were perhaps expecting something more spiritual from the future archangel of the Jacobins. In a spirit of mischief
Saint-Just dedicated his book to the Vatican.
Yet when he surveyed his achievement he
was dissatisfied with it and with himself.
He added a one-line preface: I am twenty;
I have done badly; I could do better.
Organt was published in 1789, the year
the Revolution came: the year that transformed his life. From that
moment on he gave himself body and soul to the Revolution. He had a
lot to offer and he knew it: he was talented, forceful and fiercely clever,
but he was a social nobody, without powerful connections, much wealth
or a regular profession. He was also handicapped by his own youth:
he was under 25, the age when he could legally participate in politics.
In June 1791 Saint-Just published a treatise, The Spirit of the Revolution, which stressed the importance of peace and stability. The constitutional monarchy was the best form of government; France was not
suited to be a republic. While the politics were relatively moderate,
some strikingly radical passages dealt with individual relationships and

SAINT-JUST

Clockwise from
right: A meeting
of the Jacobin
Club, engraving,
1792; Maximilien
Robespierre,
portrait attributed to Joseph
Boze, 1790s; a
caricature of Louis
XVI in captivity
after his arrest at
Varennes, 1791.

personal freedom. He also stated his absolute opposition to the death


penalty. But the political stability he praised was about to be shattered.
News broke that Louis XVI had attempted to flee France. Many revolutionaries saw the kings action as a betrayal of his people: they would
never trust him again. Later that year Saint-Just managed to secure
nomination to the new national representation, but his moment of
triumph was short-lived; he was immediately denounced by the father
of the girl he had once wanted to marry, who disclosed that Saint-Just
was under the legal age. He was obliged to vegetate in Blrancourt for
another year, restless, bored and frustrated.

ITHIN TEN MONTHS the political situation spiralled


into renewed crisis. The war with Austria and Prussia,
brought about by the group known as the Girondins,
was proceeding disastrously, with the French fighting a
defensive war within their borders. Many revolutionaries blamed Louis
and Marie-Antoinette, claiming that they were secretly in league with
the foreign powers. On August 10th, 1792 the monarchy fell. This second
revolution gave Saint-Just his chance. A few days past his 25th birthday
he became the youngest of the 749 deputies elected to the National
Convention, the new representative assembly. The Conventions first
act was to declare France a republic.
Saint-Just gravitated towards the most radical revolutionaries, the
Jacobins, a group that included Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins
and Maximilien Robespierre. Back in 1790 Saint-Just had written to
Robespierre, declaring: You whom I know only, as I know God, by his

miracles. Robespierre was flattered, as Saint-Just had intended, but


there is no reason to think that Saint-Just was being insincere. The two
men became close friends as well as like-minded colleagues and, until
the last weeks of their lives, Saint-Justs loyalty to the Incorruptible
did not waver.
Saint-Just made his maiden speech to the Convention on November
13th. It was on the fate of the king and whether he should be tried for
crimes against his people. Making oneself heard by an audience of well
over a thousand people (the deputies plus the many spectators in the
public galleries) and convincing them that you had something original
and important to say was not easy. Yet Saint-Just succeeded with that
first speech in establishing himself as one of the most effective revolutionary orators. While others tried to demonstrate that the king had
acted wrongly, Saint-Just argued that kingship itself was morally wrong.
No one can reign innocently, he said. The king was not a citizen and
not subject to the law. If he lived, he would continue to be a danger
to the republic. Therefore he should be put to death, without going
through the legal formalities of a trial. The deputies were struck by
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 31

SAINT-JUST
Georges Danton, a
rival of Saint-Just, is
led to his execution,
1794. Chalk sketch
by Pierre Wille.

the uncompromising logic of this argument; yet for most


it was unthinkable that the king should simply be put to
death. So Louis got his trial, though it ended, as Saint-Just
had predicted, in a death sentence.
SAINT-JUST WAS NEVER comfortable with the improvised
interventions and frequent exchange of insults that often
characterised debate in the Jacobin Club and occasionally
the Convention. His forte was the set-piece speech, with its
polished rhetoric, striking aphorisms and dramatic staging.
Whenever he spoke in the Convention spectators pushed
their way to the front of the galleries to hear him and said to
their neighbours in expectant tones: There he is!
What kind of man did they see? Not the androgynous
beauty of legend; that angelic face was the invention of
Michelet. Yet Saint-Just was undeniably good-looking.
Portraits painted in his lifetime show him with a pale oval
face, abundant chestnut hair, light eyes, high cheekbones
and a decidedly long nose. The Jacobin leaders worked long
hours and were often under considerable strain; over time,
the effects of this exhausting lifestyle began to show in his
face. Like Robespierre, Saint-Just was financially incorruptible and he managed on his modest pay as a deputy; yet he
always dressed with care. Unlike many Jacobins, he did not
adopt the rough clothes of the sans-culottes, the Parisian militants. He often wore a high cravat, conscious
that this gave him dignity. His fellow Jacobin,
Camille Desmoulins, mocked Saint-Just for
his haughty appearance and especially for
that cravat: One sees in his bearing and his
attitude that he considers his head the cornerstone of the republic. Despite Saint-Justs
egalitarian politics, his enemies (of whom he
would acquire a fair number, including Desmoulins) said of him that he had the pride and
hauteur of an aristocrat.

Driven by fear,
mutual suspicion
and revolutionary
fervour, leading
revolutionaries
turned on one
another in a kill-orbe-killed scenario

N JUNE 1793 the Jacobins overthrew the Girondins and seized power. That same month
Saint-Just helped draft a new Jacobin
constitution. It was the most liberal and
egalitarian document of the entire Revolution, but it was shelved following a speech made by Saint-Just himself,
arguing that the constitution could not be put in place while France was
still at war and under threat. On July 10th, 1793 he was elected to the
Committee of Public Safety. Made up of 12 members, it held extensive
executive powers and took over the coordination of the war effort,
becoming, in effect, a war cabinet, while the Committee of General
Security was given responsibility for police, arrests and the prisons.
Throughout the following year these two committees dominated the
revolutionary government.
The summer and autumn brought escalating crises. Britain, Spain
and Holland had joined the war against France. Many regions experienced revolts against Paris; while a full-scale civil war raged in western
France. A series of betrayals, including that of Frances leading general,
Dumouriez, hardened the revolutionaries attitude. At the same time
32 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

the sans-culottes staged demonstrations to intimidate


the deputies into passing more extreme measures.
It was against this backdrop that the revolutionaries
embarked on a policy that legalised the use of terror.
Saint-Just played his part in this policy, but the Committee of Public Safety took collective decisions and
shared responsibilities. The so-called Jacobin Terror
was not attributable to any one man, or even a group
of men. It was in fact a series of laws, voted for by
the deputies of the Convention. So why did SaintJust become so personally identified with the Terror?
Partly because he was prepared to speak publicly to
justify it: along with fellow Committee members,
Robespierre, Barre and Billaud-Varenne, he was one
of the Committees principal spokesmen. Above all,
it was to Saint-Just that both committees entrusted the task of drafting
and delivering several speeches used to destroy a series of revolutionary
factions. This factional in-fighting was part of the politicians terror.
According to revolutionary ideology anyone who was not totally committed to the public good might be a conspirator, bought by the royalists.
The power of terror that the revolutionary leaders wielded, threatened
them, too. Driven by fear, mutual suspicion and revolutionary fervour,
leading revolutionaries turned on one another, in a ruthless kill-or-bekilled scenario.
Saint-Just spent long periods away from the Committee, serving as a
deputy on mission, during which time he took no part in the Committees decisions. During much of September to December 1793 he was in
Alsace with the Army of the Rhine. Here his task was to ensure that the
army was well supplied, keep a watchful eye on the generals and curb any

From the Archive

More on
the French
Revolution

www.historytoday.com/
frenchrevolution

Left: Camille
Desmoulins with
his wife, Lucille,
and their son,
Horace-Camille,
c. 1792, by
Jacques-Louis
David. Below left:
The night of the
8-9 Thermidor,
Year Two, when
Robespierre went
to the Convention
to denounce
several Jacobins,
by Jean-Joseph
Weerts.

less scrupulous. There were relatively few arrests and


most of these were concerned with army discipline and
were dealt with by military courts. While Saint-Just
was protective of the well-being of ordinary soldiers,
some senior officers were arrested for incompetence,
corruption or suspect loyalties.

civil unrest against the Revolution. Like other deputies, he acted with a
colleague; in this case Philippe Le Bas, who seems to have been chosen
for his conciliatory skills in the hope that he would moderate Saint-Justs
autocratic manner. They made an effective team. Despite the fraught
circumstances in this frontier region, where many of the locals did not
speak French and much of the territory was occupied by Austrian armies,
Saint-Just and Le Bas used their powers with restraint. There were no
wholesale killings such as happened elsewhere, where deputies were

HE BUSINESS OF supplying an army was a


way for private contractors to amass immense
wealth through exclusive contracts, corruption and backhanders to state officials. SaintJust would have none of that. Ten thousand men are
barefoot in the army, ran one of his decrees to the
municipality of Strasbourg. You must take the shoes
of all the aristocrats of Strasbourg, and by tomorrow at
ten in the morning ten thousand pairs of shoes must
be on their way to headquarters. So effective was the
implied threat that 17,000 pairs of shoes and 21,000
shirts were hastily donated. Saint-Just went further,
demanding forced loans from the rich for the army and
local poor. But there were limits to how much social
equality the Jacobins could enforce. Their powers, their time and their
resources were limited. Saint-Justs greatest achievement in Alsace was
the key role he played in supporting the army as it drove the Austrian
invaders back across the Rhine. At critical moments in the battles, and
despite their civilian status, Saint-Just and Le Bas fought alongside the
soldiers. Baudot, a Jacobin deputy who was also in Alsace and clashed
with Saint-Just, remembered his courage under fire: I saw him with the
armies and I never saw anything like it!
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 33

SAINT-JUST

Like Robespierre,
Saint-Just feared
that ambitious
and corrupt
individuals
would pervert
the Revolution

Left: The arrest of Robespierre on


the night of 9-10 Thermidor, Year
Two by Jean-Joseph Tessaert.
Below: a contemporary sketch
of leading French revolutionaries
drawn on the same night, with
Saint-Just (10) and Robespierre (8).

ORE DIFFICULT THAN military battles,


where the enemy was clearly visible, were
the political battles taking place in Paris,
where the enemies were fellow revolutionaries. Here, too, Saint-Just played his part. Over
the winter of 1793-94 a political crisis was tearing the
Jacobins apart. Two factions challenged the Committees authority. The Hbertists, led by self-proclaimed
sans-culotte leader, Hbert, wanted to intensify the
Terror; the Dantonists, led by Danton and Desmoulins,
wanted to wind it down. The committees, fearing that
the victory of either would bring down the revolutionary government, decided to eliminate both. Saint-Just
broke this decision to the Convention. On March 13th,
1793 he delivered a speech against the Hbertists.
They were arrested, sent before the Revolutionary
Tribunal and executed. Their enemies, the Dantonists,
rejoiced, thinking themselves secure, but 18 days later
Saint-Just denounced them as conspirators. His speech
was based on vague and unsubstantiated allegations,
provided for him by Robespierre, who shrank from
delivering the actual speech. Saint-Just fashioned the
notes into a speech intended to kill and it did its job.
As he put it: Those who make revolutions by halves
do but dig their own graves.
WHILE SAINT-JUST was very guarded about what he said publicly,
the scattered papers that he left behind in his rooms when he left for
the last time and the notebook taken from him when he was arrested
reveal some of what he was really thinking. They suggest that he was
more shaken than he would admit about his part in the deaths of his
fellow Jacobins. He also referred several times to his own death, which
he felt to be imminent and which he pictured as a kind of sacrifice, an
34 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

atonement, perhaps, that would show that he had acted from pure
motives, not for his own benefit: I have attacked men whom no one
dared attack it is for the youngest to die and to prove his courage
and his virtue. Like Robespierre, Saint-Just feared that ambitious and
corrupt individuals would pervert the Revolution, using it as a means
to secure personal power. He feared that he would die before the republic could be secured. He tried to imagine a time beyond the Terror,
when the republic could be maintained by social institutions, rather
than by coercion and violence. But he could not see a way to get there

The execution of Robespierre,


July 28th, 1794, contemporary
French print.

and many of his plans were visionary rather than practical projects. In
the last weeks of his life he lost hope, unable to see a way out of the
nightmare that the Revolution had become. The Revolution is frozen,
he wrote in despair. All its principles are grown weak. There remain
only intriguers sporting the red cap of liberty.
During the first half of 1794 Saint-Just went on several missions to
the Army of the North, where he played a leading role preparing it for
imminent conflict. On his final mission he held a mandate over the
armies of the North and the East, from the sea to the Rhine. He was a
driving force behind the decisive battle of Fleurus on June 26th, 1794,
which finally forced the Austrians from northern France. Saint-Justs
achievements with the armies had increased his personal standing.
Month by month he was becoming a more important political figure
in his own right.

FTER FLEURUS the French were no longer fighting a defensive war and the policy of terror was no longer necessary. But
winding down the Terror would not be easy. The atmosphere
in Paris was toxic and Robespierre seemed to be having some
kind of breakdown. He had fallen out bitterly with several Jacobins
whom he saw as extremists; some of them were members of the committees. Robespierre ceased to attend meetings. For the first time SaintJust wavered in his loyalty to Robespierre. Along with Barre, Saint-Just
tried to broker a compromise between Robespierre and his opponents
on the committees, which immediately fell apart, with Robespierre
accusing his enemies of seeking his destruction.
On 8 Thermidor (July 26th) Robespierre went to the Convention to
denounce several Jacobins, yet refused to name them, thereby terrifying
everybody and precipitating a fight to the death between himself and
his opponents. Saint-Just had been charged by the committees with
making a report to the Convention on the compromise. He must have
heard Robespierres speech with a heavy heart. In the course of that
night he took a fateful decision: to ditch his position as spokesman for
the committees and give a personal speech in defence of Robespierre.
While his speech criticised several members of the committees, it did
not ask for their arrest but strove for reconciliation and he called for
social institutions to be established that could maintain the republic
and prevent power falling into the hands of any individual. It was an
enormous risk to take. It did not come off. Moments after he started
to speak he was interrupted by Jacobin deputies determined to bring

Robespierre down. Since Saint-Just was clearly


prepared to defend Robespierre, they turned
on him, too. There was turmoil as the plotters
denounced Robespierre and those who stood
with him. Paul Barras, who was party to the plot,
described Saint-Just at the tribune as a motionless, impassive, unconquerable, coolly defying
them all. The uproar climaxed with the arrest of
Robespierre, Saint-Just and three other deputies
(including Le Bas, who insisted on joining his
friends), all accused of conspiracy against the republic. They were briefly set at liberty by jailers
too frightened to receive them, before a final
showdown ensued in the town hall that same
night. Once news broke that the five had been
outlawed, few sans-culottes were prepared to risk
their lives for them. Forces of the Convention
that broke into the town hall were unopposed.
All around them terrified people tried to escape. Le Bas blew his brains
out. They found Saint-Just ministering to Robespierre, who had been
shot through the jaw. The next day, without trial, Robespierre and his
followers were taken to the guillotine. By all accounts Saint-Just bore
himself with quiet courage. He was not yet 27. His career as a revolutionary leader had lasted less than two years.
THERMIDOR MARKED the beginning of the end of the legalised terror,
but there would be plenty of violence still to come, not least on Napoleons battlefields, where many thousands would die, far more than in
the Jacobin Terror. What might have happened had Saint-Just turned
his back on Robespierre and survived Thermidor? Michelet lamented
Saint-Justs untimely end: France will never console herself for the loss
of such a hope. For Michelet, Saint-Just was the one man who might
have stood up to Napoleon and made the sword bow to the law. But
that was not to happen. Instead Saint-Just, like Robespierre, would
take the rap for the Terror, for it suited all parties to forget that the
choice to use terror had been a collective one. While surviving revolutionaries dwindled into old men, remembering the glory days of 1793,
Saint-Just would never grow old and cynical, or disillusioned with the
revolutionary cause. As his life ended, the myth began. He remains the
archetype of the young and idealistic revolutionary. Yet the revolution
to which he devoted his life ended by devouring him, as it did so many
of its own children.
Marisa Linton is Reader in History at Kingston University and the author of Choosing
Terror: Virtue, Friendship and Authenticity in the French Revolution (OUP, 2013).

FURTHER READING
Norman Hampson, Saint-Just (Blackwell, 1991).
Eugene Newton Curtis, Saint-Just, Colleague of Robespierre
(Columbia University Press, 1935).
Bernard Vinot, Saint-Just (Fayard, 1985).
Simon Schama, Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution
(Viking, 1989).
Ruth Scurr, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution
(Chatto & Windus, 2006).
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 35

InFocus

Ypres Cloth Hall


Bombarded

UDGING BY THE amount of damage, this scene is from


early 1915, between the first and second battles of Ypres.
The roof of the medieval Cloth Hall has gone, burnt out
after hits by incendiary shells, as has the Renaissance
addition called the Nieuwerck on the right, while the belfry
has been badly knocked about. The desperate defence of
Ypres by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in October
and November 1914 had been the culmination of the Race
to the Sea to stop the Germans from seizing the vital
Channel ports. There was some slightly higher ground to
the east of the town felt to be vital, so the frontline bulged
to form a salient. This made the British in it vulnerable to
shelling from front, left and right, but they were defending,
not attacking, which was nearly always a decisive advantage in the First World War and the accurate, rapid rifle
fire of the BEF regulars cut down the Germans in swathes.
Even so, by November 22nd, when the weather brought
the battle to a close, less than half the original 160,000
members of the BEF were left unscathed. The pattern for
the rest of the war had been set: trench warfare and unimaginable casualties.
Second Ypres began in April 1915, the only major German
attack that year on the Western Front. Rather than capture
the town the Germans decided to destroy it by artillery
bombardment. The civilian population of 17,000 was evacuated and the Cloth Hall together with St Martins Cathedral

Churchills suggestion, that the


rubble that was Ypres in 1919
should be left as it was as some sort
of memorial, was ignored
behind it were soon unrecognisable. The shelling served to
divert attention from preparation for the first gas attack of
the war, on April 22nd, on French troops to the south of the
town. The chlorine killed 5,000 within ten minutes. The
Germans were taken by surprise at their success, did not
exploit it and were halted by a British counter-attack. The
Canadians to the north of Ypres were attacked with gas on
April 24th, but the Germans suffered big losses, too. The
salient had to be shrunk in May and higher ground given up,
but the line held. By the end there had been 59,000 British
losses compared with 35,000 German.
Third Ypres, or Passchendaele, starting on July 31st, 1917,
came about because Field Marshal Haig wrongly thought
the German army was near collapse, because he rightly
feared Russian withdrawal from the war was imminent and
would release German divisions from the East to reinforce
the Western Front and because merchant shipping sinkings
by U-boats based in north Belgian ports threatened Britain
36 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

with starvation. Haigs enemy was as much the weather as the


Germans, the worst rains for 30 years flooding the landscape
and filling the craters left by the 4.5 million shells of the
preliminary bombardment, which had destroyed the drainage
system. It ended in November: 310,000 British casualties and
260,000 German for a few thousand yards.
Churchills suggestion, that the rubble that was Ypres in
1919 should be left as it was as some sort of memorial, was

ignored, though the Cloth Halls restoration took until


1967 to complete. Built between 1200 and 1304, it probably
owed its survival until 1914 to a rapid change in the pattern
of trade around 1320, when exports of cheaper woollen
cloths from Ghent and Ypres suddenly started to fall, as
Italian weavers grew in numbers. Soon a quarter of the
town had fallen into ruin and it never recovered its former
prosperity, so there was no call for expanding or replacing it.

What it did become was an inspiration for Victorian


architects when they wanted to erect secular buildings
in the Gothic style. Echoes of it can be detected in the
University Museum, Oxford, Waterhouses Assize Courts
in Manchester, Gilbert Scotts St Pancras Hotel, the High
Court in Calcutta, even the Delaware and Albany Railway
Building in Albany, New York.

ROGER HUDSON

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 37

| SHARIF HUSAYN
WHEN THE organisation known as Islamic State in Iraq
and Syria (ISIS) announced at the end of June 2014 that
it was seeking to restore the Islamic caliphate, with its
leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph, it set off a wave
of debate both among jihadists and western analysts. The
debate concerned the legitimacy of al-Baghdadis claim
and the likelihood of ISIS securing the support of the
Islamic world for its project. Some analysts declared it to
be the first time since Mustafa Kemal Atatrks abolition
of the Ottoman Empire in March 1924 that any group or
individual had been bold enough to make such a claim.
In fact, just days after Atatrks action, the Hashimite
Sharif Husayn of Mecca, King of the Hijaz, proclaimed
himself caliph, inititating a controversy similar to that
which al-Baghdadis declaration provoked. It was a controversy in which the officials charged with formulating
Britains postwar policy in the Near East were deeply
implicated.
Husayns claim was a decade in the making. Since the
late 19th century, Arab intellectuals in Syria and Egypt
had sought to reform the Ottoman Empire through
a top-down process of Arabisation, with the Sharif of
Mecca touted as a possible caliph. In the context of deteriorating Ottoman-British relations, these ideas were
encouraged by orientalists such as Wilfrid Blunt, author
of the anti-Ottoman tract, The Future of Islam, in which
he argued that the revival of the Arabs was a historical
inevitability in which Britain must play its part.
Encouraging revolt
It was the Consul General in Cairo, Lord Kitchener, who
first broached the subject with the Sharif in the aftermath of the Ottoman entrance into the First World War,
encouraging Husayn to revolt by speculating that: [It]
may be that an Arab of true race will assume Caliphate at
Mecca or Medina and so good may come by the help of
God out of all evil that is now occurring. The scheme was
formalised in 1915 in the early exchanges of correspondence between Husayn and Sir Henry McMahon, Britains
High Commissioner in Egypt, in which the Sharifs territorial demands, amounting to the entirety of the Arab
lands of West Asia with the exception of Britishoccupied Aden, were supplemented by a demand that
Britain approve the proclamation of an Arab Khalifate of
Islam. While McMahons initial response welcomed the
prospect of the resumption of the Khalifate by an Arab
of true race, his second letter omitted any mention of
the matter, a tacit acknowledgement that Cairos enthusiasm for a Hashimite caliphate had waned.
British scepticism towards Husayns ambitions
reflected the growing understanding that the Sharifs
vision of the Arab caliphate involved independent Arab
rule over the entire Arab Middle East, something that ran
contrary to British plans for the region. McMahon had
indicated that Britain was prepared to grant the Sharif his
demands only after taking into account French interests
and Britains existing treaties with the other chiefs in the
Arabian Peninsula, including Husayns rival Ibn Saud.
The British plan for Husayn, then, resembled something
close to an Islamic papacy the other Arab chiefs in the
38 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

An Arab of true race:


Sharif Husayn of
Mecca, 1922.

New Caliphate,
Old Caliphate
As the jihadists of ISIS continue their brutal campaign
to restore the Islamic caliphate, Conor Meleady draws
parallels with the ultimately futile efforts of another
would-be caliph a century ago.

now governed the newly formed mandate states of Iraq


and Transjordan respectively, seized the opportunity to
claim the title of caliph, with farcical results. Through
his sons, Husayn succeeded in having the khutba said in
his name in a few mosques across Iraq and Transjordan,
yet beyond there, opposition to the sharifian caliphate
was strong. Husayn resorted to desperate measures. In
mid-April he announced that a delegation of prominent
Malaysians had arrived in the Hijaz in order officially to
bestow the recognition of five million Malaysian Muslims
upon him, a claim which was ridiculed as absurd at
the British Agency in Jeddah when it became apparent
that the delegation consisted of 30 students of Arabic,
who had arrived in the Hijaz with the aim of receiving
religious instruction and improving their language skills.
A British report on an incident which occurred as Husayn
made his way from Jeddah to Mecca serves to highlight
the increasing disdain with which the Sharf was regarded
in the Islamic world:

region would acknowledge Husayns spiritual authority as


caliph, while retaining sovereignty in their own realms.
As Husayn knew and as the British were learning, such an
arrangement was alien to Islamic tradition. It was not long
before British authorities in India, concerned that its proOttoman Muslim population would view any encouragement of a Sharifian caliphate as a betrayal of wartime promises of non-interference in Islams holy lands, were scolding
Cairos Arab Bureau for encouraging Husayn in the belief
that he was owed an Arab kingdom. As a result, the caliphate
issue was dropped from British-Hashimite negotiations.
Custodian of the holy cities
Having lost British support, Husayn sought that of the wider
Islamic world, in particular Muslim India, believing that,
with the umma on his side, Britain would be forced to recognise his claim. As the custodian of the Islamic holy cities
of Mecca and Medina, Husayns administration of the hajj,
the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, facilitated contact with
Muslims from around the world. In addition, with his Qurayshi lineage and the prestige of his title, his credentials were
impeccable. On declaring his revolt against the Ottomans in
the summer of 1916, Husayn appealed to Islamic sensibilities
concerning just and legitimate governance.
Yet support from abroad was minimal. Husayn was seen
as a British lackey, who was undermining the unity of the
umma at a time when the future of the caliphate itself was
cast into doubt by the performance of the Ottomans in the
war. Opposition was strongest among the class of educated,
reformist Indian Muslims, which would go on to form the
nucleus of the Khilafat movement, agitating in favour of
Ottoman demands during postwar negotiations. Even before the Sharifs revolt, Indian
activists had used the Hijaz as a base from
which to organise an anti-British plot involving the Emir of Afghanistan, a conspiracy
uncovered when British authorities in India
intercepted a batch of silk scarves into which
were woven the details of the plan. Husayn
attempted to win the Indians over by inviting
Muslim soldiers returning home from the
European front to the Hijaz as his guests, with
a view to having them propagandise on his
behalf on their arrival in India. The task proved
beyond him.
With European troops occupying Istanbul, the British
tried to find out if the Ottoman sultan-caliph still commanded the recognition of the Muslim world. They sought
to ascertain if the khutba, the Friday prayer, was still being
recited in the name of Sultan Mehmed VI. British consulates
from Morocco to Indonesia reported back that, with few
exceptions, the umma still attended prayers in the caliphs
name. The process was repeated in 1922 when Atatrks
nationalist government abolished the sultanate and appointed a new caliph, Abdlmecid II, to a position shorn of any
temporal significance. Still, Muslims remained steadfast in
support of the Ottoman caliphate.
In March 1924 Atatrk abolished the caliphate, sending
Abdlmecid II into exile and leaving the umma without any
recognised head. Husayn, whose sons Faisal and Abdullah

Some distance from the town the King transferred from his
car to a carriage, whereupon the horse at once fell dead, and
the King, looking pale and anxious, had to have a riding horse
brought on which to make his entry. This incident has given
satisfaction to the Javanese Ulama, who had prophesied
that for his impiety in seizing the Caliphate the King would
drop dead on his return to Mecca; they, however, cannot help
wishing that the thunderbolt had been better aimed.

Having lost British


support, Husayn
sought that of the
wider Islamic world
and in particular
Muslim India

From the Archive


More on the
Middle East

www.historytoday.com/
middleeast

By the summer of 1924, Husayns bid for the recognition


of the Islamic world had failed. That August, Ibn Saud
launched a final offensive against the Hijaz and, following
the fall of Mecca in October, Husayn was forced
to abdicate in favour of his son, Ali, who, after
renouncing all Hashimite claims to the caliphate, held on in Jeddah until December 1925,
after which he joined his father in exile.
Like Husayn, al-Baghdadis claim to the
caliphate has been met with contempt by the
Islamic world, with one Palestinian TV channel
parodying fighters manning an Islamic State
checkpoint and a number of online memes
mocking the new caliphs announcement. In
contrast to the Sharif, however, al-Baghdadi
is untainted by foreign involvement, while he
enjoys the support of a fanatical online fan base
ready to propagandise on his behalf. Unlike Husayn he
has succeeded in capturing vast, resource-rich territories
in the heart of the Arab Middle East. More problematic
for the Islamic State is al-Baghdadis obscurity, lack of
proven religious credentials and, most importantly,
his organisations reputation for brutality, intolerance
and sectarianism. These qualities ensure that the new
caliphates constituency is limited to that element of
the jihadi community already inclined to accept Islamic
States agenda. It is this aspect of al-Baghdadis reign as
caliph which guarantees that he will be no more successful in winning the support of the Muslim world than his
predecessor, Sharif Husayn of Mecca.

Conor Meleady is a historian of the modern Middle East.


JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 39

MakingHistory
While we return again and again to the proto-historians of the classical world, we neglect those
pioneering figures closer to us in space and time. Why is this, wonders Mathew Lyons?

England Through Camden's Eyes


I HAVE RECENTLY been reading Tom
Hollands superb new translation of
Herodotus Histories. I am by no means
an authority on classical writers, but
I have always enjoyed Herodotus.
He is so irrepressibly inquisitive and,
in every sense, a pleasure to read.
Holland has always been a fine writer,
both in the clarity and subtlety of
his intellect and the spare, evocative
lucidity of his style. Reading the two
together, as it were, has made me
more aware than ever before of the
exquisite tension between writer and
translator.
I have also wondered why we still
read Herodotus, aside from the gifts of
the translators he attracts. It is partly
a question of style, I think, partly of
intellectual attitude and partly his
distinctive collation of data. We are
delighted when we believe him to be
accurate; but accuracy is not a standard we demand of him. If we want a
reliable account of the classical world,
we read a modern historian. Herodotus we read for a first-hand sense of
the world as it was understood and
experienced by its people.
We do not, though, apply the same
standards to our own antique historians. I am not wholly sure why.
Since I encountered him first at
university, I have always been an
admirer of William Camden, author
of the Britannia, first published in
1586 in Latin and revised a number
of times over his lifetime. He oversaw
an English translation in 1610. It is
a volume that lays claim to being
the first truly great work of English
history, but it is also so much more
than that. It is a work of historiography, linguistics, chorography and numismatics, too. Its primary organising
principle is the pre-Roman English
tribes the Belgae, Iceni, Trinobantes
and so on and, within those, the
40 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

county. Chapter by chapter, Camden


pieces together landscape and language,
history and archaeology, research and
observation, always as aware of the
deep and hidden history of the past
as he is the visible innovations of the
present.
Camden has not only taught himself
Anglo-Saxon and Welsh: he has studied
a dauntingly vast range of archival
In need of rescue:
William Camden
(1551-1623) in
an engraving of
c.1636.

Britannia lays claim to being

the first truly great work of


English history, but it is also
so much more than that
material; he has read every authority;
he has talked or corresponded with
every expert; and, importantly, he has
travelled to every part of the country.
We see England through his eyes as we
understand it through his learning; the
flux of both history and historiography
becomes startlingly present. He is
everywhere in his work, sifting, evaluating, commenting, observing, weaving

together what we would now regard


as wildly disparate disciplines. It is a
mighty testament to the historians
greatest asset: a restless curiosity. This
is not to say Camden is always right,
but, as with Herodotus, he is usually
wrong in thought-provoking, revealing
and entertaining ways.
In the age of the Internet and the
car, his industry is exhausting. For the
1570s and 80s it is almost unbelievable
and it is a sobering thought that he
did all this and saw the Britannia into
print by the age of 35.
It is even more so, perhaps, when
you consider that the study of Britains
antiquity was by no means highly
regarded as an intellectual pursuit.
Some there are, he admits, which
wholly condemn and avile this study
of antiquity as a back-looking curiosity. But part of Camdens achievement was simply to make the study
of history intellectually credible in
England and this rebuke to his critics
is magnificent: If any there be which
are desirous to be strangers in their
own soil and foreigners in their own
city, they may so continue and therein
flatter themselves.
I plan to memorise that and repeat
it next time someone questions me
about the value of history. We could do
with some of his scholarly defiance.
Yet who reads him today? We read
classical historians, flawed though
they are; but we disdain the great
historians of our own culture and tradition. This is a loss to us culturally as
a nation and a loss to us professionally
as historians.
The study of antiquity hath a
certain resemblance with eternity,
Camden wrote. It is time we rescued
him from it.
Mathew Lyons is author of The Favourite: Ralegh
and His Queen (Constable & Robinson, 2011).

BIRTH OF FICTION
Arthur confronts a
giant, from Waces
translation of the
History of the Kings of
Britain, 12th century.

ICTION WAS INVENTED in England in the 12th


century; we might pinpoint a few years around
the 1150s as the crucial moment. At the middle
of the century England had a multilingual
literary culture, three languages in constant, fruitful
contact and a hybrid national culture in the making.
It had just emerged from a long and bitter civil war;
the Conquerors son, Henry I, had died in 1135 leaving
a daughter, Matilda, as his only legitimate heir and her
cousin, Stephen of Blois, had seized the throne. When
in 1153 King Stephen finally made peace with Matildas son, Henry of Anjou, who came to the throne
as Henry II the following year, he was accompanied
by Eleanor of Aquitaine. She brought with her one
further addition: the culture of the troubadours, the
celebratory lyric poetry and music of courtly life
and love, which originated in southern France. This
was the world into which fiction would make its
entrance.
Anglo-Saxon literature had been uniquely precocious. While the rest of Western Europe wrote almost
exclusively in Latin, English authors developed and
sustained a flourishing vernacular literature alongside
Latin and in dialogue with it. They translated scripture,
the Church Fathers, classical and contemporary Latin
works into English. More than this, they composed with
freedom and originality: histories, including the unparalleled achievement of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles;
theology and philosophy; saints lives in great volume;
sermons and homilies; epic poetry of heroes and monsters; elegiac poetry of loss and transience; legal texts
and administrative documents; manuals of practical instruction on matters as diverse as medicine, appropriate
penances for sins, weather prediction and grammar and
language learning. But none of this is fiction. Fiction is
a particular mode of literature and, because it is now
ubiquitous, its absence is hard to imagine. Nevertheless,
for hundreds of years England had a thriving literary
culture which apparently felt no need for fiction. Understanding why that is (and why it then emerged in the
12th century and has been with us ever since) reveals
some of the ways in which literary culture can give
access to the inner structures of a society.
It will be apparent that I am using fiction in a
precise, technical sense. Fiction is a mode of writing in
which both author and reader are aware and know that
the other is aware that the events described cannot be
known to have happened. That is not to say that they
or something very like them might not have happened:
fiction may be set in the authors own world and obey all
the rules of that world. But fiction gives an account of
something unverifiable and which does not ask to be believed, only to be thought about; it is a contract between
author and reader. This qualification differentiates
fiction from the pre-existing forms of untrue literature,
epic and lyric poetry, both of which demand a very

1155 and the


beginnings of

fiction

The idea of writing about what we can never know


the interior lives of people other than ourselves was
born within the fertile hybrid culture of 12th-century
England, argues Laura Ashe.

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 41

BIRTH OF FICTION
On the eve of fiction. Left: bees fly down to
their hives, from the Aberdeen Bestiary.
Below: Eve is created from Adams rib,
Souvigny Bible. Both 12th century.

The lyric is potentially true; the author knows whether


he is describing a real experience and so it is not fiction.
Fiction is concerned with what is unknowable
Visions dreamt
by Henry I in
Normandy, 1130,
an illustration
from the
Worcester
Chronicle,
12th century.

42 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

imagine what cannot be known, or can only be known by


God was neither needed, nor missed.
What changed in England to bring about the emergence
of fiction? What conditions are necessary for this mode to
be written? The latter question may be broken down more
easily. Necessary, but not sufficient, is a level of economic
development consistent with the existence of a literary
culture, a group of people in society with a sufficient
supply of education and leisure to demand and to fund
literary production, or to produce it themselves. The development of such an audience leads to experimentation, as
authorial invention and high-status patronage encourage one another. The England of the 12th century saw
uniquely favourable conditions for this kind of literary
culture to develop, for besides participating in the
general increase in economic prosperity across Europe
(most relevant in the increasingly conspicuous consumption of wealthy aristocratic elites) England had
a French-speaking aristocracy, functioning in a bi- and
often tri-lingual world. These first, second and third
generation immigrants freely intermarried with the
English of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish descent and
enthusiastically adopted the English past and its literature. As literary patrons they followed the model of Old
English vernacular writing by requesting translations
into French. The earliest French literature was written
in England, drawing on English sources; writings were
composed in all languages and translated in every
direction, between French and Latin and English (this
last only sparsely in the 12th and 13th centuries, but then
explosively and overwhelmingly in the 14th century and
beyond). All of these were the languages of England and
they form the foundations of English literature.

different response from the reader. Epic poetry offers up a


mythical history for the present time, with an insistence
on the essential truths it contains about the nature of the
past and its legacy. Like Virgils Aeneid, Beowulf is invented, but neither work is fiction: each functions as history
and as ideology. Correspondingly, lyric poetry the Old
English elegies of love, loyalty, and loss is not fiction. The
lone, speaking voice of the poem demands acceptance of
the truth of its lament: the author may only be imagining
the emotions expressed, but, if the reader decides to disbelieve them, then there is nothing left in the poem of value.
The lyric is potentially true; the author knows whether or
not he is describing a real experience and so it is not fiction.
Fiction is concerned with what is unknowable.

NE THING ABOVE ALL is genuinely unknowable and it is the supreme matter of fiction.
That is, what is going on in anyone elses
mind? What is it like to see through anyone
elses eyes? It is this entirely imagined experience which
fiction offers us: access to the unknowable reality of other
peoples inner lives. In the present day, the notion that
this is a motivation for reading and, indeed, a moral justification of fiction is so well accepted that it is almost a
cliche. This being so, how is it that a culture such as that
of Anglo-Saxon England should feel no need of fiction?
The answer lies in that societys profoundly different
approach to the individual. The writing of fiction
depends upon the idea that individuals emotional,
inner lives, not just their actions, are important for
their own sake. This is not an idea which has currency
in all places and times; it is contingent on particular
social conditions. Anglo-Saxon literature reflects a
society in which the individual was subordinated to
more important ideals, in both practical and abstract
ways: the warrior in the shield-wall, who gives his
life in the service of his lord and the defence of his
people; the martyrs self-sacrifice for his faith, or the
saints self-denial for his; the heros selfless bravery
against the monstrous incursions which threaten
his lords hall. In Old English poetry, to be an individual,
cut off from these collective bonds, is to be lost. More
than this, there is no attention to an inner life that can be
meaningfully distinguished from exterior action. Will the
warrior make good on his boasts in the mead hall? Only in
action is a mans value known; intention is nothing.
I am not suggesting that people have undergone some
dramatic change in psychological make-up. We can only
assume that people have thought and felt in similar ways, in
all places and times. What literature reveals, in contrast, is
the difference between cultures in what is valued and what
is celebrated. Anglo-Saxon culture valorised active self-sacrifice in the service of a greater good: the people, the nation,
the Christian faith. As such, Anglo-Saxon literature did not
attend to the inner lives of individuals; in life and in history,
individuals were not valuable for their own sake and their
thoughts and emotions were significant only in as much as
they resulted in action. This omission, the silent absence of
any attempt to represent the inner life of others, is an entirely rational response to the impossibility of knowing the
truth of anyone elses mind. Ultimately, however, God sees
all and His judgements are perfect. Fiction an attempt to

An illuminated
knight from the
Hunterian Psalter,
c.1170.

OWEVER, if literary culture was flourishing, that would not alone be sufficient to
produce fiction. The alchemy involved is
intimately associated with contemporary cultural changes of a profound nature, which
embraced the whole of Europe and the western
Church. The crusading movement had originated as
a great demonstration of the Churchs power over
secular elites, but one of its most lasting cultural
effects was entirely unintended: the martial aristocracys new sense that a secular, glorious and violent life as
a knight could nevertheless be crowned with salvation.
This opened the way to the literary celebration of aristocratic lives for their own sake and the valorisation
not only of those heroes who sacrifice themselves
to an ideal, but also, in a dramatic transformation,
of those who succeed most gloriously in embodying
this new ideal of knighthood. Meanwhile, in the
schools of Paris, Peter Abelard and his followers were
elaborating new philosophies of interiorised morality.
For Abelard, sin lay in the mind of the sinner, enacted
in the moment at which the will gives way to temptation and reaches the determination to commit the sin.
The performance of the act itself was then irrelevant;
a man physically prevented from committing violence
was not thereby free of the sin of fully intending to do
so. Correspondingly, the experience of temptation is not
itself sinful, only the determination of the will to act on
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 43

BIRTH OF FICTION

temptation. The implications of this are profound. Action


is no longer paramount in the judgment of an individual:
what matters is their inner life, the motion of the will. This
encouraged a kind of self-examination, formalised in the
rising practice of regular confession, which elaborated a
new interiority of selfhood, the exploration of the inner
life. Simultaneously, contemporary spiritual practices of
prayer and meditation were turning their focus toward
Christ; the Crucifixion was no longer understood primarily
as the fathers gift of His only son, but rather Christs own
expression of infinite love in his self-sacrifice. With this
came deep, meditative and empathic attention to Christs
suffering, his human feeling, and to the pains and the joys
felt by his mother, Mary. A new emotional discourse was
developed, a vocabulary of empathy, which would feed
secular as much as religious writing.

HE CHURCH THEREBY ENCOURAGED a new


focus on interiority and selfhood, an engagement
with emotional experience that mediated the
souls relationship with God. However, selfhood
is not the same as individuality. To say that ones inner life
is important and worthy of exploration is not to say that
one person is importantly different from any other, or
that there is any need to try to examine the inner lives of
others. Individuality is not just unnecessary, but dangerous, theologically speaking: Lucifers sin was that of asserting his own unique specialness; to be an individual is to
rebel. For that reason, before fiction could take hold, with
its valorisation of the inner lives of multiple individuals,
one more step was required. The final piece of the puzzle
came as the answer to a profound question: what makes an
individual valuable in their own right, for their own sake?
If they are not in the service of a higher good, such as their
people, lord or faith, or subordinating their own immediate
44 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

desires to a greater goal, such as sanctity, or salvation, if


they are only in pursuit of their own self-fulfilment, how is
that to be justified? What endows it with meaning?
A Norman clerk called Wace presented a long poem
to Eleanor of Aquitaine, we are told, around 1155. This
poem was a French translation of Geoffrey of Monmouths
History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1136), a long work of
Latin prose that purports to recount the history of Britain,
from its foundation by the Trojan Brutus to the ultimate
victory of the Anglo-Saxon peoples over the British. Its

A new emotional discourse


was developed, a vocabulary
of empathy, which would
feed secular as much as
religious writing
greatest hero is King Arthur, whose court is the pinnacle of
sophistication. Arthur is the conqueror of most of Europe,
before treachery at home forces him to return to a bloody
civil war and the ultimate downfall of his people. When
Wace translated Geoffreys Latin into French verse, he took
the opportunity to elaborate on the description of Arthurs
glittering court, transforming its importance and effects.
In both works, the courts celebrations are brought to an
abrupt end by a declaration of war from the Roman empire.
In Geoffreys History a knight named Cador welcomes this
as an opportunity for the British to recover their reputation
for martial valour; peacetime has made them idle, he says,
and idleness breeds cowardice. This response captures the
underlying assumptions of earlier English literature: that

the highest goal for an individual is to fight (literally or


spiritually) in a greater cause and, if necessary, to sacrifice
oneself to that cause. But, when Wace translated this
episode, he put a reply in the mouth of another knight,
later the hero of many romances, Gawain, who tells
Cador that he is wrong: peacetime is good and the land is
the better for it. He goes on: Pleasant pastimes are good,
and so are love affairs. Its for love, and for lovers, that
knights do knightly deeds. This assertion embodies the
transformative moment in literature, when fiction is
made possible. The key is a new place and a new value
for the idea of love.

OVE AN EMOTIONAL and sexual attachment


to another individual has always had a place in
literature, as in life. However, for long periods and in
many cultures the representation of love is ambivalent at best. In classical tragedy love is an uncontrollable,
destructive force; in lyric poetry it is a sickness, a suffering. In the epic poem love is irrelevant as in Beowulf or
a distraction which must be overcome, as in the Aeneid,
where Dido must be abandoned so that Rome can be
founded. Love may be sublimated, or redirected to the love
of ones lord or loyalty to ones peers for, if it is not, it draws
the (invariably) male protagonist away from his duty to
the higher cause that is his purpose. In the abstract, love
can be a reward for proper heroic action, such as the lords
daughters hand in marriage. The love said to be felt for the
daughter is no more than a sign of the knights success and
of the bonds between men. Here, however, in Waces few
lines, everything has changed. He asserts that love is the
purpose of heroic action. What this means is that selffulfilment, self-realisation, is the purpose of heroic action:
for romantic love is a good only to those who are enjoying
it. It involves no sacrifice of the self to a higher cause; the

Left: Lancelot and


Guinevere in bed,
from the Book
of Lancelot of the
Lake, French, 1316.
Middle: The needy
raised up to the
throne of Christ,
Eadwine Psalter,
c.1150.
Right: Troubadours from the
Hunterian Psalter,
c.1170.

highest cause now is ones own happiness. Yet the reason


that love can perform this function is precisely because
of its association with suffering and with service of, or
submission to, the beloved. Love takes the place of the
higher cause which the hero serves and yet simultaneously
represents his own self-fulfilment as the ultimate goal of
the narrative.
Now and only now is fiction made possible, for now
the individual is justified for his own sake; his achievement of self-fulfilment is enough in itself to feed narrative representation. The love-plot is essentially fictional,
for it requires attention to the inner lives of at least two
distinguishable individuals and asserts that their emotional
experience, in the authors imagination, is valuable for
its own sake. This is the literary paradigm which gives us
the novel: access to the unknowable inner lives of others,
moving through a world in which their interior experience
is as significant as their exterior action.
It need hardly be said that the society which believes
such things, which accedes to and celebrates the notion
that the inner lives of others are a matter of significance,
is a profoundly different society from one that does not.
There is an immediately ethical dimension to these developments: once literature is engaged in the (necessarily
fictional) representation of interior, individuated selves,
who interact with other interior, individuated selves,
then moral agency appears in a new light. It is only in the
extension of narrative into the unknowable the minds of
others that a culture engages with the moral responsibility of one individual toward another, rather than with each
individuals separate (and identical) responsibilities to God,
or to a king. Fictions ethical reach is deep and nuanced;
it is the prime arena for thought experiments, for speculative empathy and the critical judgement of competing
subjectivities. Fiction declines objectivity, as it declines a
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 45

BIRTH OF FICTION
Below: Yseut plays the harp, from the
Thomas Tristan, 12th century.
Bottom: Lancelot and Guinevere kiss in
the presence of Galahad and the Lady of
Malohaut, Book of Lancelot, 1316.

truth-claim, and in both of these aspects it is closest to our


experience of reality.
What are the implications of the emergence of fiction
for medieval society? Fiction is not magic; it does not
transform the world. But fiction participates in the worlds
transformation, reflects it and influences it. If the 12th and
13th centuries saw a new valorisation of the individual, it
was taken up by fiction in a great array of new possibilities.
Tragedy began to be written again, for if an individuals
self-fulfilment is a high goal in itself, then an individuals
destruction has a new, considerably greater, value. So
emerges the narrative representation of desperate love and
tragic death, the figures of Tristan and Yseut (Wagners
Isolde). But tragedy is inherently a matter of this world; it
separates itself from the eternal justice of God, implicitly
or explicitly denying the force of that justice. In a society
where tragedy can be written, something has shifted in the
understanding of reality.

Fiction is not magic; it does


not transform the world;
but fiction participates in
the worlds transformation,
reflects and influences it
Similarly, it was in fiction that the aristocratic ideology
of chivalry could make its greatest claims for the secular
life: in the repeated spectacle of worldly knights being
rewarded with heavenly favour, the romance embodied the
new spiritual self-assertion of the elite. More than this, in
exploring individuality fiction was participating in one of
the greatest shifts in English society. A new value given to
the individual involves a different understanding of the
nation at large: not a rigidly structured whole, embodied
by the single figure of the king, but rather a gathering of
competing voices, each with their own value. This simple
idea is the foundation of the concept of a parliament and
a public sphere. Fiction provides the infinite imaginative
space in which reality can be thought of differently. It
does not transform the world; nevertheless, it is difficult
to imagine a world in the process of transformation which
could manage without fiction.
Laura Ashe is Associate Professor and Tutorial Fellow in English at Worcester
College, Oxford. Her book, Early Fiction in England: From Geoffrey of
Monmouth to Chaucer, will be published by Penguin in July 2015.

FURTHER READING
Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in
Western Literature (Princeton, 1953).
William Calin, The French Tradition and the Literature of
Medieval England (Toronto, 1994).
D.H. Green, The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact
and Fiction, 1150-1220 (Cambridge, 2002).
Wace, trans, Judith Weiss, Roman de Brut: A History of
the British, Text and Translation (Exeter, 2003).

46 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

| BOTTOMLEY
John Bull personified:
Horatio Bottomley,
c.1900.

John Bull
Spirit
The rise of UKIP has spread panic among
Britains political establishment. But
there is nothing new about populist
political movements, as David Nash
reveals in this profile of the newspaper
proprietor Horatio Bottomley.

The recent rise of UKIP, with its claim to break the


mould of British politics, is a reminder of those occasions when a self-proclaimed challenge to the traditional
political system has taken centre stage, usually in the
wake of the conventional arrangement suffering strain
and distortion. These challenges have only been able to
make an impact because they tap into populist feelings
and sentiments. Such interventions depend on instinctive values and enter political rhetoric because they
appeal to not entirely rational sentiments, which are
felt more readily than they are understood. The skill to
evoke these feelings relies upon the power of charismatic personalities, who serve to embody such feelings and
provoke intense public sympathy through their compelling media presence. In our own time Nigel Farage, the
UKIP leader, has captured the public mood by appealing
to the range of feelings we call popular. As Farage is
quoted as saying: If an idea is indeed sensible, it will
eventually become just part of the accepted wisdom.
Common sense
UKIP and Nigel Farage are hardly the first modern manifestations of unashamed populism, with its appeal above
traditional politics to ideas of common sense. A century
ago the public was enthralled by the remarkably similar
ideas and personality of Horatio Bottomley, celebrity,
newspaper proprietor, demagogue and politician. Bottomley realised the power of the popular and set about
shaping all elements of his personality and media profile
to publicise this end.
Bottomley was born in 1860 into a radical family and
had the secularist leader G.J. Holyoake as an uncle. He
would regularly claim that he was the illegitimate son
of Charles Bradlaugh, the secular movements greatest
leader and the first openly atheist MP. This parentage
was plausible since Bottomley bore an uncanny physical
resemblance to Bradlaugh, but this was equally indicative of how Bottomley used every opportunity he could
to inherit authority and gain peoples support and sympathy. In his written self-portraits (of which there were
many) Bottomley claimed to have read in detail the writings of every major thinker of the late 19th century. But,
with an eye to his audience, he declared them dry and of
little virtue compared to the wider public, with its more
straightforward common sense, a message which
went down well. With a further astute
eye on public distrust for authority, he
likewise declared himself to believe in
some of the basics of Christianity, while
having no time for organised religion
and the established Church.
Bottomley managed to construct
for himself a cross-class appeal, which
portrayed him as an ambitious individual
who had made good in the expansive
atmosphere of the naughty nineties,
Voice of the people? An
edition of John Bull from
November 1917.

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 47

where fortunes were to be made. He further appealed


to populist adulation through his patronage of the turf
and legendary taste for champagne. This made him an
aspirational fantasy figure for many of his (particularly
working-class) readers and he perhaps carried echoes of
the larger than life music hall turns Champagne Charlie
and Burgundy Benjamin. However, his business dealings
were frequently on the wrong side of the law and public
knowledge of this dogged him throughout his business
career.
Local Parliaments
Bottomleys interest in politics had been nurtured in a
number of London debating societies, known as Local
Parliaments. Not only did he take part in these, but he
also organised their own version of Hansard. At some
point in the early years of the 20th century Bottomley
hit upon the idea of launching a newspaper, which he
entitled John Bull. This tapped into a vast reservoir of
popular ideas about the personification of national
character, which readers flocked to identify with. The
pugnacious, well-fed and ample
figure of John Bull graced the cover
of every edition. He was frequently
to be seen in cartoons pointing out
the right course of action to hapless
politicians, civil servants and
military men, or pricking the consciences of those who had damaged
the country in some way. However,
in Bottomleys hands the John Bull
character moved on from being a
trustworthy caricature to become
a full-scale brand, exuding the kind
of hearty characteristics the person
in the street could trust. Thus the
newspaper began by staging catchphrase guessing, lotteries and football pool competitions and it even became
possible to purchase John Bull writing instruments, take
advantage of other special offers and buy sets of John Bull
encyclopedias.
A particular feature of John Bull was that its journalism regularly identified those who it claimed were
enemies of England, which the character of John Bull
disapproved of. Benevolent and beneficial national characteristics were lauded and celebrated often in self-conscious language that would borrow quotes and ideas
from the canon of great English poets, from Shakespeare
and from the Book of Common Prayer, all calculated
to have multiple resonances with the papers readership. This Englishness, by default, set these cultural
ideas above those of the other nations of Europe and
interestingly managed to blot out or overwrite Scottish,
Welsh and Irish identities in John Bulls hands English
quickly became British and stayed that way much in
the manner of the Suns recent delivery of a free version
of its paper to 22 million homes declaring on its cover
This is our England.
Bottomley, however, had loftier ambitions beyond
offering his opinions in his newspaper and set his sights
upon a political career. Although he stood as a candi-

Once in Parliament
Bottomley adopted
a range of causes,
which addressed
his twin concerns of
promoting common
sense and opposing
vested interests

48 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

date in the 1902 khaki election, he eventually served as


a Liberal MP after being elected in 1906. Again, like his
mentor Charles Bradlaugh, once in Parliament Bottomley adopted a range of causes, which addressed his twin
concerns of promoting common sense and helping the
man in the street oppose vested interests. Bottomleys
bankruptcy drove him out of Parliament and eventually
led to the formation of the John Bull League, which was
launched at a meeting from which thousands were turned
away. This organisation declared itself opposed to cant and
self-righteousness and set itself to enable the introduction
of common sense business methods into the government
of the country. This organisation even had its own song,
which encapsulated its populist message:
If you would to Parliament
businessmen of grit to be sent
join the John Bull League.
Men and women who despise
Party tactics, party lies,
foolish fake election cries
Join the League
The outbreak of the First World War gave Bottomley his
chance to become an important figure, one that he grasped.
Gushing excitedly to his private secretary he declared:
Houston, this war is my opportunity. Whatever I have been
in the past, and whatever my faults, I am going to draw a
line at August 4th, 1914 and start afresh. John Bull and its
cartoon persona rapidly responded to the call to arms with
a particularly abrasive approach towards the enemy that
resulted in them being referred to as Germhuns at every
conceivable opportunity. This was also evident in a wider
scepticism of all things European, extending to outright
disgust at the neutrality of a number of Continental countries, which the paper argued could not be trusted. Some
Scandinavian countries were targeted in articles but it was
the Netherlands that was singled out for particular vitriol.
The apparent cowardice of the Dutch in failing to confront
Germany inspired angry articles and scathing cartoons. John
Bull further protected its readers from Europe when Bottomley offered them free insurance against bomb damage,
provided they completed a coupon each week available
within the paper.
But John Bull (and Bottomley) did not simply target
enemies abroad. The former conceived of its mission as a
quest to unravel all the poor institutions, inept structures
and red tape that stood in the way of England fighting
an effective modern war. It railed angrily against party
government and its failures to organise munitions and
food supplies adequately. By the issue of January 1st, 1916
the paper had clearly had enough when it described the
previous years war effort as a ghastly record of Bungle and
Blunder. This same issue carried a cartoon that portrayed
party government as a tired and worn out old age pensioner
above the caption Nearing the End.
By this stage of the war Bottomley hit upon the bright
idea of carrying a column of soldiers anonymous complaints under the heading Tommie and Jack. This simultaneously carried the fight against red tape, corruption and
profiteering still further, while dramatically extending
Bottomleys populist appeal. The latter phenomenon was so

| BOTTOMLEY
actively assist any parliamentary candidates who
pledged their support for this stance. As with so many
John Bull schemes the paper craved committed membership and active subscription from its readership.

successful that he was widely regarded as the greatest advocate of serving troops and their grievances, so much so that
John Bull was nicknamed Trench Weekly. The grievances
tackled by John Bull ranged from the seemingly arbitrary
way some regiments were awarded leave while others were
not; popinjay officers demanding salutes from wounded
men who were unable to comply; and the maintenance of
clear distinctions in employment between those unfit for
war service and despised conscientious objectors.
Throughout, John Bull created an imagined community of a nation at war trying to use common sense to
muddle through and battle with both the enemy, slackers, conscientious objectors and shortsighted, dangerous
self-interest at home. However John Bull was also proactive,
setting agendas, again with an eye to the populist impulse.
In May 1915 the paper proclaimed an anti-German pledge
that tried to clamp down on any outlets that provided a
favourable opportunity for the trading of German goods and
patents. Instead it promoted companies that were willing to
produce substitutes for German goods and offered to

Independent
newspaper: an
advert for John
Bull, 1920s.

From the Archive


More on Politics

www.historytoday.
com/britishpolitics

Hard-won freedoms
Similarly, in the manner of Nigel Farages attack upon
the nanny states smoking ban in pubs, Bottomley
was aware of similar assaults upon the hard-won freedoms of people in 1914. He used John Bull to oppose
loudly what he saw as attempts to over-regulate
licensing laws and licenced premises in the name
of industrial production for the war effort. This was
portrayed as an assault upon the freedoms of Englishmen and the tyranny associated with a government
obviously out of touch with the will of the people.
Government became fully aware of Bottomleys
populist power and he was frequently called upon to
conduct recruitment meetings and, on one occasion,
talk Glasgow workers out of taking strike action
damaging to the war effort. This appreciation of his
talents led Bottomley to believe he was perpetually on
the verge of being drafted into the wartime Cabinet.
Nonetheless, the possibility of promotion did not stop
Bottomley from being critical of coalition government, every bit as much as he had criticised the earlier
failure of party government to deliver a significant and
credible war effort.
Dissatisfaction with the coalition allowed Bottomley to gain a seat at the 1918 election, when he became
an important member of the Independent Parliamentary group, which again displayed policies distrustful
of Europe and European politics. It took a strong line
on the payment of war indemnities and reparations,
treatment of undesirable aliens and the perils of an
unregulated open market in goods, demanding that
Britains place in the world be unfettered by Leagues
of Nations.
This last organisation was a particular bugbear of
Bottomleys. Nonetheless the Independent Parliamentary group never became remotely large enough to cause
the existing government significant discomfort. Although
Bottomley got to the stage of running his own parliamentary candidates, he soon disappeared from the political
scene as he was pulled under by financial impropriety and
eventually a successful prosecution for fraud leading to a
prison sentence.
The example of Horatio Bottomley and the remarkable appeal of his message indicates the power of populism
when conventional forms of politics are challenged by
crises. The comparison between Bottomley and Nigel
Farages UKIP shows how an appeal to national, local and
perhaps even imagined values can seem a comfortable
alternative to the uncertainties and contingencies of
mainstream politics. Whether it offers serious solutions
now, or offered them then, is another question.

David Nash is Professor of History at Oxford Brookes University and


the author of Christian Ideals in British Culture: Stories of Belief in the
Twentieth Century (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 49

PUTNEY

The arguments that took place in


the village of Putney among the
officers and soldiers of the New Model
Army revealed fundamental divisions
within the parliamentarian cause, as
Sarah Mortimer explains.

N THE AUTUMN of 1647 the small, Thames-side village of


Putney witnessed the most famous and dramatic debates
of the English Civil Wars. The headquarters of the parliamentarian New Model Army was situated there and for a
few days the officers and soldiers argued passionately over
the nature of a new constitutional settlement for postwar
England. Their ideas seem, in some cases, strikingly modern;
one officer, Colonel Thomas Rainborowe, went so far as to
call for universal manhood suffrage, to the outrage of more
senior commanders. Historians have long been dazzled by
Rainborowes rhetoric, seeing in his concern for the poorest
hee the first glimmerings of modern democracy. But there
was more at stake in these debates than simply the extent
of the franchise. The soldiers and officers were divided in
their visions of the kind of settlement they wanted for the
kingdom and their exchanges at Putney reveal, perhaps
more than any other contemporary source, the fundamental tensions at the heart of the parliamentarian cause.
The Putney Debates have been known to historians
ever since a transcript made by a military clerk was found
in Worcester College, Oxford in 1890. No one who reads
the debates can fail to be moved by the eloquence and force
with which Rainborowe defended manhood suffrage. Yet
historians have generally been quicker to sympathise with
him than to explain the rationale behind his position. His
chief adversary was Oliver Cromwells son-in-law Colonel
Henry Ireton, whose fierce resistance to Rainborowes
demands tends to be seen in equally narrow terms: as the
knee-jerk reaction of a propertied gentleman with much to
lose from any radical challenge to the established order.

Above: Thomas Rainborowe, or


Rainsborough, champion of the
poorest hee, in a contemporary
engraving.

Right: Henry Ireton, who sought to


control the language of natural rights.
Portrait attributed to Robert Walker,
c.1650.

What was at stake in


50 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

The debates are at the heart of


a contemporary argument over
the intellectual foundations of
the parliamentarian cause

Historians have often wondered why Ireton and Rainborowe made such an issue of the franchise, given that it
polarised debate so sharply. Rainborowe had the sympathy
of many of the soldiers, but few wanted to go as far as he
did and open up elections to all adult men. On the other
hand, Ireton made few friends for himself with his strident
denunciations of Rainborowes arguments. Rather than find
common ground with his fellow officer, he went out of his
way to show that Rainborowes ideas would
lead to anarchy, disorder and chaos. Iretons
position can seem wilfully self-defeating,
because he was open to extending the franchise, at least to some extent. In these tense
moments of 1647, when settlement was
still so elusive, we might expect him to be
striving for consensus. Yet we find the very
opposite. To understand the determination
with which both men held their ground, we
need to place the debates at the heart of a
contemporary argument over the intellectual foundations of the parliamentarian cause.

HEN PARLIAMENT-MEN
took up arms against the
king in 1642, they had to find
ways to justify their actions
that would be convincing to themselves
and the public. One of the most successful
propagandists, Henry Parker, had appealed
to the concept of natural law in many of his
writings, arguing that this law underpinned
all human laws and that it commanded
all people to defend themselves when in
danger. One of his favourite illustrations
was that of a general who turns his cannon
against his own soldiers. In this situation, he
argued, the soldiers have a duty to disobey
their commanding officer and protect themselves. For Parker the case of Parliament was
no different. Natural law demanded that
Parliament-men defend the kingdom and
people against a monarch seemingly determined to destroy them.
By 1647 the New Model Army thought
that the danger came not only from the
king, whom they had recently defeated,
but also from Parliament itself, or at least
from the corrupt members within it. When
Parliament sought to disband the army and
send the soldiers to Ireland, therefore, many
of the officers and soldiers united together
in resisting these commands. They defended
their action in a Representation, written by
Henry Ireton and published on June 14th,

the Putney Debates?


JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 51

PUTNEY
1647. In this highly influential manifesto, Ireton consciously echoed the language of Parker and the earlier parliamentarian cause in his appeal to the law of nature.
In the Representation Ireton insisted that the
New Model was not a mere mercenary army, but
called by Parliament to the defence of our own and
the peoples just rights and liberties. The soldiers
had a cause to fight for: it had been endorsed by
Parliament and Ireton insisted that they must not
abandon it. Moreover, even their current rejection
of parliamentary commands was, he thought, in
line with the true principles of the parliamentarian cause. For, Ireton explained, Parliament
hath declared it no resistance of magistracy to
side with the just principles of law, nature, and
nations and these principles allow for self-defence
when destruction is threatened. Here he included
the aforementioned example of a general whose
cannons face his own soldiers. For Ireton, then, the
Representation was a clear assertion that the army
could resist its own destruction and defend its own
legitimate rights and those of all Englishmen.
Ireton had not meant the Representation to be
an especially radical document and in 1647 he still
envisaged a settlement that would include the
king and would salvage as much of the traditional
constitution as possible. Indeed, in the summer
of 1647 he was involved in extensive negotiations
with Charles I, as the army officers and their parliamentarian allies tried to reach a deal with him. The
centrepiece of these negotiations was a document
known as the Heads of the Proposals, according to
which the king would be restored, but with his
powers circumscribed. The Heads also called for
social and economic reform and for some rationalisation of the electoral system, currently a patchwork of local rules and customs. It was a sensible,
potentially workable document, but Charles would
not accept it, even with extensive concessions from
Ireton and his allies.

New interpretations of the


parliamentarian cause began to
emerge, especially among a group
of civilian radicals in London

HILE THE ARMY leaders were negotiating with Charles, new interpretations of
the parliamentarian cause began to emerge,
especially among a group of civilian radicals
in London. In their publications they had begun to invest
the language of natural law with new political meaning and
had even linked it to a concept of inherent, individual rights
and liberties. One pamphleteer, Richard Overton, called for
a settlement based upon right reason, equity and the spirit
of God in his Appeal from the Degenerate Representative Body,
published in July 1647. Significantly, he specifically referred
to the armys Representation of June 14th, suggesting that
the army had committed itself in that document to upholding all rights and liberties based in reason and equality. In
Overtons hands the Representation had become a much
more extensive manifesto for change and reform, a call for
the remodelling of the English state in accordance with
right reason. He hoped that by invoking the Representation
he could gain the support of the soldiers for his position.
Overton was not an isolated figure in 1647. He was part
of a broader network of civilian radicals that would soon
52 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

A broadsheet of
1647 with images
of the tradesmen
who formed the
core of radical
support for the
parliamentarian
cause.

become known as the Levellers. Historians have spent


much time and effort establishing the dynamics of the Leveller movement, but it is clear that by the autumn of 1647
there was a group of civilians committed to a programme
of reform based upon concepts of equity and natural right.
Moreover, many of the soldiers were frustrated by the long
process of negotiation with the king and feared that their
own rights and interests would not be properly safeguarded
in any settlement with Charles. By the autumn, therefore,
the soldiers were receptive to this language of rights and liberties and they had even begun to see the parliamentarian
cause in these terms.
Nowhere is this fusion of army statements and Leveller
principles clearer than in a pamphlet entitled The Case of
the Army Truly Stated, printed in October 1647. Historians have debated whether this pamphlet was written by
soldiers or Levellers, but what is most interesting is the
way in which the authors, whoever they were, re-interpret
army documents along Leveller lines. In fact, much of the

Case is a gloss upon the Representation. The authors echo


that document when they insist that the army had taken
up arms for the peoples just rights and liberties, and not
as mercenary Souldiers and that they proceeded upon the
principles of right and freedom, and upon the law of nature
and Nations. On June 14th, claim the authors, the army had
engaged to protect the peoples rights as individual soldiers
and Englishmen, though now senior officers had apparently
abandoned this cause. Indeed, they lamented
that the law of nature and nations [is] now
refused by many to be the rule by which their
proceedings should be regulated. This was a
sharp attack on Ireton and Cromwell for forsaking the perceived commitments they had
made just four months earlier.
The Case was not only an exercise in
creative textual interpretation. In the context
of the autumn of 1647 it was far more serious
than this, for it contained a scathing critique
of the policy of settlement with the king. To
negotiate with Charles was, the authors suggested, to violate the principles to which the
army had engaged itself.
Ireton and Cromwell were troubled by the
appearance of the Case, especially as they were
encountering opposition from some radical
MPs with strong connections to the army.
One of these was Colonel Rainborowe, who
had recently been elected to Parliament for
Droitwich in Worcestershire, where he had
taken electoral advantage both of his position
as military governor and the towns highly
restricted franchise (no universal male suffrage
here!). Through the summer of 1647 he had
become increasingly hostile to any negotiations with the
king, preferring instead to start the process of settlement
afresh, a stance that played well with many of the soldiers.
Rainborowe had no known connections with Overton or
other future Levellers before the end of October, but they
were all united by their frustration with the army leaders
plans for settlement. Moreover, the possibility for fruitful

Putney, with St
Marys Church on
the left, by Joseph
Nichols, early 18th
century.

A page of the
Putney Debate
Record Book of
1647, discovered
at Worcester
College in 1890.

cooperation must have been obvious:


the civilian Levellers lacked a power
base, while Rainborowe seems to have
lacked a coherent intellectual agenda. The
civilians had been arguing for natural,
common rights and freedom that were
independent not only of the king but
also of Parliament; and these common
rights could provide the intellectual
justification for the kind of radical action
desired by Rainborowe, action which
circumvented traditional constitutional
arrangements and began the process of
settlement afresh. If the ideas within
the Case spread through the army, then
the call for immediate and disruptive
action could become unstoppable: the
treaty with the king would be abandoned
and the constitution would have to be
fashioned anew.

T WAS IN THIS EXPLOSIVE political and intellectual


context that the debates at Putney were called and the
issue of the franchise became the flashpoint. Cromwell
and Ireton needed to respond to the charges in the Case
and they hoped they could preserve the unity of the army,
despite the efforts of the Levellers and others to drive a
wedge between soldiers and officers. To achieve this, Ireton
was aware that he needed to wrest the intellectual initiative
from the radicals and reassert his own interpretation of the armys central documents.
He wanted to defend the Representation and
to show that the ongoing negotiations with
Charles were not a violation of its spirit.
Unfortunately for him, his task became a lot
tougher with the dramatic entry upon the
stage of the Levellers.
Not long after the debates had opened, a
new document, known as The Agreement of
the People, was read out to those present. It
was an inspired piece of political opportunism written by Levellers. It called for a new
settlement, based upon a written constitution, which would define the powers of a
new sovereign representative. Its novelty
was much commented upon at the time
and since but the authors of the Agreement
insisted that this proposal was the constitutional counterpart to the armys Representation. It was this notion that the Agreement
was compatible with even inseparable
from the armys own platform that Ireton
was so anxious to deny. He would seize upon
the issue of the franchise to demonstrate his
point in forceful fashion.
The connection between the Agreement and the Representation has rarely been acknowledged by historians,
although the authors of the Agreement went out of their
way to highlight it. They even claimed that it was drawn up
in order to the fulfilling of our Declaration of June the 14.
The Leveller John Wildman, who was probably involved
in writing at least parts of the Case, was particularly keen
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 53

PUTNEY
to draw these connections at Putney. He insisted that the
chief aim of the Agreement was the same as that of the
Representation: both were designed to secure the Rights
of the people in their Parliaments; both were undergirded
by principles of right and freedom, and the lawes of nature
and nations and the army ought therefore to accept the
programme outlined in the Agreement.
Ireton was livid at this hijacking of the Representation
to radical ends and he lost no time in countering such
an interpretation. In one of his sharpest speeches of the
entire period he denounced the venome and poyson in
Wildmans words. He was absolutely adamant that this was
not the meaning of the Representation. The army was not
committed to a programme based in natural law, but to the
maintenance of agreements and engagements. He accepted
that all humans had a natural right to protect their own
person and to stay alive, but for him natural right ended
there. In his view, the army had only resisted Parliament
when it was absolutely necessary, when the soldiers had
been faced with destruction and, even then, they had
done so on grounds already sanctioned by Parliament
itself: this was his view of the Representation. He agreed
with Wildman that no one could be obliged to suffer their

Ireton was livid at this


hijacking of the Representation
to radical ends and he lost no
time in countering such an
interpretation
own destruction; this had, after all, been the lynchpin of
the parliamentarian case since 1642. But Ireton did not
believe it was legitimate to appeal to the law of nature in all
circumstances, or to claim that Parliament went to war to
extend the rights of Englishmen or reform the constitution.
He thought that, if it were permissible to plead the law of
nature against constitutions and against Parliament whenever a person was discontented, then anarchy would soon
result. For him, it was only if our destruction were at hand
that the law of nature came into play. Ireton knew that the
law of nature was a dangerous weapon and he was desperate
to ensure that it was used sparingly.
All the points which Ireton made against Wildman
were repeated and expanded later in the debates, when the
franchise and the right to vote were discussed. These issues
came up after the first clause of the Agreement had been
read out, for here it was suggested that parliamentary seats
should be distributed according to the number of people
living in a particular district. At first glance this was hardly a
revolutionary statement and those at Putney, like subsequent historians, were taken aback by the bitter clashes
that followed. But Ireton and Rainborowe saw immediately
what was at stake and they were determined to seize the
moment for their own purposes.
Ireton began by questioning the meaning of the clause
and Rainborowe lost no time in insisting that it meant universal manhood suffrage. He even claimed that the right to
vote was a natural right, that it belonged to all men because
54 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

A petition of 1647 outlining the grievances of parliamentary


soldiers who had served in Ireland.

A royalist pamphlet of 1648 documenting atrocities alleged to


have been committed by the parliamentarian forces.

all should give their consent to the government that ruled


over them. Ireton had not, perhaps, expected Rainborowe
to adopt the language of natural right with such alacrity,
but Rainborowe had his reasons. He was eager to shift the
intellectual ground away from the old constitution, for he
was thinking instead of a new settlement, based on natural
rights and liberties. How sincere he was is impossible to
say after all, he had been elected to Parliament by fewer
than 30 voters but he could see the difficulties in Iretons
argument and he was determined to exploit them for
maximum political effect. Ireton had conjured the spectre
of natural law and natural right with the Representation and
Rainborowe was now taking advantage. If the soldiers could
be brought to adopt a platform of natural rights, with the
right to vote at its heart, then the army could be mobilised
against any settlement agreed by the
existing, unreformed Parliament.

John Wildman,
probably one of
the authors of The
Case of the Army
Truly Stated, in a
contemporary
miniature by
Thomas Flatman.

RETON RECOGNISED immediately


what Rainborowe was trying to do.
The authors of the Case had begun
to turn Parliaments ideals against it,
but now Rainborowe was threatening
to destroy the parliamentarian cause
itself (at least as Ireton understood it)
and with weapons which Ireton had
helped to sharpen. When Parliament
had challenged the king and then
when the army had challenged Parliament, both had appealed to natural
law and natural right. Ireton thought
these concepts were now being used
to undermine all existing authority
and even all property. For, as Ireton
never tired of insisting, if a person
could claim a natural right to vote and
to share in the government then he
might just as easily claim a natural
right to property and to anything else that took his fancy.
But Ireton was adamant that we have only a natural right to
preserve ourselves when our absolute and certain destruction is imminent. We have a natural right to life itself, but
not to the things which we think will make our life better.
This was not simply an abstract debate. By the end of
October 1647 a settlement between the army and the
king was looking increasingly unlikely and rumours were
circulating that the king might do a deal with the Scots.
If the army were to prevent that alliance and to impose a
settlement themselves, then they would need to justify and
explain their principles once more. Natural law and natural
right would be central to any claims for legitimacy and both
Ireton and Rainborowe wanted to take control of these
crucial concepts. At Putney, Rainborowe saw his chance to
win the soldiers over to his radical position of a new settlement without the king and without a powerful House of
Lords. Ireton was desperate to neutralise this possibility.
In the end, neither man won outright at Putney. Rainborowe clearly had substantial support within the army,
but most of the soldiers shied away from his more extreme
proposals. Many of the soldiers were more concerned with
their own rights as men who had risked their lives for the
parliamentarian cause, rather than with the abstract rights

of all Englishmen. Ireton eventually made clear that he


also sought an extension of the franchise, but that he
wanted to secure the rights that existed (or should exist)
under the constitution; it was the thought that such rights
might be natural that had raised his hackles. Compromise
was possible over the franchise, but on November 5th
the meeting voted to write to Parliament, criticising any
further negotiations with the king. That was a step too
far for Cromwell and Ireton and at that point the debates
were brought to a hasty conclusion. Meanwhile, Charles
was drawing closer to the Scots and the fruit of their secret
negotiations would be a second civil war in 1648.
At Putney, the logic of the parliamentarian cause was
tested almost to breaking point. The Agreement of the People
raised, in its sharpest form, the dilemma that had haunted
the kings adversaries since the early 1640s. From
the moment they decided to take up arms against
the king, they had accepted that it was legitimate
to invoke the laws and rights of nature when the
existing constitution had become insufferable. But to
appeal to the law of nature was to unleash a powerful
force with the potential to dissolve all constitutional
arrangements. The royalists had been saying this
from the start of the war, but at Putney the parliamentarians finally had to deal with the radical potential of their own ideas. It was over the issue of the
franchise that Ireton chose to confront this problem
head on, in a brave effort to bring the language of
natural rights back under his control.
What was at stake in the Putney Debates was not
only, or even primarily, the scope of the franchise.
Ireton and Rainborowe clashed over the very foundations of the parliamentarian cause, as they tried to
work out a settlement for England in which the centrality of the king was no longer taken for granted.
A new political order needed to be created and it
needed to have the soldiers backing. At Putney,
Rainborowe offered the soldiers a stark alternative to
Ireton and his powerful rhetoric clearly won him supporters. Ultimately, however, it was Iretons limited reading of
natural law that would prevail. When he came to justify
the armys actions against Parliament and the king in 1648
and 1649, his careful, cautious references to natural law are
proof of the profound impact of the Putney Debates on the
course of the English Revolution.
Sarah Mortimer is Student and Tutor in Modern History at Christ Church,
University of Oxford.

FURTHER READING
A.S.P. Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty, Being the Army
Debates, 1647-49 (Univesrity of Chicago, 1975).
M. Mendle, The Putney Debates: The Army, the Levellers
and the English State (Cambridge, 2001).

From the Archive

P. Baker and E. Vernon, What was the First Agreement


of the People?, Historical Journal (2010).

www.historytoday.com/
civilwars

P. Baker and E. Vernon (eds), The Agreements of the


People, the Levellers, and the Constitutional Crisis of the
English Revolution (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

More on
the Civil Wars

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 55

REVIEWS

Janet Ravenscroft assesses Elizabeth Is bedfellows Giles MacDonogh praises a


German view of a formidable foe Giulia Miller on Jewish peddlers
Man of the century:
Winston Churchill,
c.1900.

FIFTY YEARS AGO, on January


24th, 1965, Sir Winston Churchill died. Much of the nation
watched television six days later,
when his state funeral was held
in St Pauls Cathedral. Just over
112 years earlier, in November
1852, a state funeral had been
held there for another Conservative prime minister and
soldier, the Duke of Wellington.
Wellington was buried in a tomb
beside Lord Nelson in St Pauls,
but Churchill was buried beside
his parents and his brother at St
Martins Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire. His funeral seemed to mark
the end of an era, almost the last
wheeze of Empire.
Churchill was a soldier in the
late Victorian British Empire.
His experiences fighting on the
North-West Frontier of India
coloured his understanding of
India thereafter. He displayed
great bravery when fighting in
India, with Kitcheners forces at
Omdurman in 1898 and as a war
correspondent in South Africa
in 1899-1900. The importance
of his military career has been
discussed often, not least in the
official biography by Randolph
Churchill and Martin Gilbert.
This career is surveyed well by
Douglas S. Russell in Winston
Churchill Soldier: Life of a Gentleman at War (2008).
The important theme of
Empire has been reappraised by
Lawrence James in Churchill and
Empire: Portrait of an Imperialist (2013). James is notable for
reiterating Churchills dismay
that his rearguard defence of the
56 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

SIGNPOSTS

Of Words and Deeds

Fifty years on from Winston Churchills death,


Chris Wrigley surveys the literature available,
highlighting key works and lesser-known titles.
British Empire was undercut
by US hostility to it and by the
American desire for imperial
markets to be freely open to US
business. Recently, Churchills
imperial role has been indicted
for his failure to prioritise the
supply of grain to starving people

in Bengal in 1943. Madhusree


Mukerjees Churchills Secret
War: The British Empire and the
Ravaging of India During World
War II (2010) makes the case that
Churchill blocked supplies of
Australian wheat that could have
been moved to Bengal in 1943.

Her arguments have been contested, but, in my view, not convincingly on her central argument,
by several historians, including
James and Arthur Herman, author
of Gandhi and Churchill (2008).
While James and Mukerjee
rightly comment that Churchill
held many of the contemporary
views that saw African and Asian
people as in some way inferior to
the British (views not unknown
now), Churchill was often enlightened with regard to Muslims,
especially in the Middle East, and
Churchills often complex relations here are fruitfully explored
by Warren Dockter in Winston
Churchill and the Islamic World:
Orientalism, Empire and Diplomacy in the Middle East (2015).
Churchill also respected the
Jewish people, a theme explored
by Martin Gilbert in Churchill
and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship
(2007).
In later life, as the Empire
crumbled, Churchill drew solace
from his warm feelings for the
US, which derived in part from
his American mother, the former
Jennie Jerome. The influence of
the US politician Bourke Cochran
on Churchill has been explored
by Michael McMenamin and Curt
J. Zoller in Becoming Winston
Churchill (2007). Gilbert revisited
the Anglo-American theme in
Churchill and America (2005),
while David Dilks wrote The Great
Dominion: Winston Churchill in
Canada, 1900-1954 (2005).
For much of his career,
Churchill also made his mark
by writing for the press. He was

always well paid, including when


writing about the campaigns
he participated in as a young
man, and his early journalism
constitutes a form of contemporary history. He later wrote
multi-volume histories of the
First and Second World Wars.
Jonathan Rose focuses on the
significance of his writing and
the literary influences on his
career in The Literary Churchill:
Author, Reader, Actor (2014). Rose
proclaims that he has written
political history as literary
history and takes a fresh view
of Churchills career, often
providing new insights, but
occasionally pushing his arguments too far. He identifies such
influences on Churchills writing
as George Bernard Shaw and
H.G. Wells and argues that
Churchill was much influenced
by Victorian melodrama at the
theatre.

Winston
Churchills funeral
... seemed to mark
the end of an era,
almost the last
wheeze of Empire
Churchills early career as a
writer is also explored very ably
by Richard Toye in Churchills
Empire: The World that Made Him
and the World He Made (2010),
while in Mr Churchills Profession: Statesman, Orator, Writer
(2012) Peter Clarke reviews his
whole career as a writer and in so
doing makes a case for according
greater respect for Churchills A
History of the English-Speaking
Peoples, deeming it the seedbed
of much of his memorable
wartime oratory. The oratory and
its impact have been reassessed
by Toye in The Roar of the Lion:
The Untold Story of Churchills
World War II Speeches (2013).
Some of the best books on
Churchill have analysed the
links between his actions and his
historical writings. Robin Prior
shrewdly assessed Churchills
World Crisis as History (1983).
With Churchill, Strategy and

History (1992), Tuvia Ben-Moshe


provided a very good but notably
critical study of Churchills
strategic policies in both world
wars, with the focus heavily on
the Second. David Reynolds In
Command of History: Churchill
Fighting and Writing the Second
World War (2004) is an outstanding study of Churchills writing
and rewriting his account of the
Second World War, in which
he took care to present most of
his actions in the best light and
was careful not to offend those
still in power, such as President
Eisenhower.
Churchills domestic policy
has been superbly dealt with
by Paul Addisons Churchill on
the Home Front 1900-55 (1992).
Michael Shelden provides fresh
detail on Churchills early career
in Churchill: Young Titan (2013),
which depicts him again as a
giant among political pygmies.
Churchills anti-Bolshevik
crusade after the First World
War is ably examined in detail
in Martin Kettles Churchill and
the Archangel Fiasco (1992) and
further discussed by Douglas
Kinvig in Churchills Crusade: The
British Invasion of Russia 1918-20
(2007). Churchills concentration
on the Cold War in his postwar
government is dealt with authoritatively by John Youngs Winston
Churchills Last Campaign: Britain
and the Cold War 1951-55 (1996)
and added to by Uri Bar-Noi in
The Cold War and Soviet Distrust
of Churchills Pursuit of Dtente
1951-55 (2007), drawing on the
now available Soviet archives.
One of the more innovative
books on Churchill is Man of the
Century: Winston Churchill and
His Legend Since 1945 (2002)
by the late John Ramsden. This
study of the Churchill legend is
hard-headed, examining how the
Churchillian myth was carefully
constructed, not least by Churchill himself as he resurrected a
career which had faltered badly
in the 1930s. Ramsdens book
might well be read as a balance
to Boris Johnsons The Churchill
Factor: How One Man Made
History (2014), reviewed in this
section.
Chris Wrigley

Winston Churchill
Der spte Held
Thomas Kielinger
C.H. Beck 400pp 24.95

GOOD GERMANS should like


Churchill, because the British
prime minister was the most
dogged opponent of Hitler and
only a few, very bad, Germans
like Hitler these days. However,
there are one or two grey areas
where even the most penitential
German might have problems
explaining away the British
statesmans actions, particularly
where Germany was concerned.
The first of these occurs in
July 1914, when Churchill was the
biggest warmonger in Asquiths
Cabinet, but the others belong
between 1940 and 1945, when
Churchill was Hitlers nemesis.
It might be difficult to accept
that Churchill commanded the
bombers that destroyed German
cities and killed thousands of
civilians, using tactics Churchill
himself had elaborated in Iraq
in the 1920s. The morality of the
bombing is disputed in Britain,
too, as it resulted in the death of
55,000 RAF pilots and crew, well
in excess of the 40,000 or so
killed during the destruction of
British cities by the Germans.
Churchill had made it clear
that he did not approve of the
dreadful revenge that was
inflicted on the Germans after
May 1945 and yet he was quite
powerless to prevent it. Before
he was replaced by Clement
Attlee, at Potsdam he made a
brave but futile stab at rescuing
a bit of German territory across
the Oder, but there was no
chance that Stalin would back

down over that, or even the


colonisation of Britains casus
belli, Poland.
Yalta, suggests Kielinger,
was Churchills Munich. The
agreement with Stalin meant
handing over thousands of
Stalins enemies, who were
promptly shot. Churchill also
gave scant heed to the German
opposition before 1939 and
refused to listen to them after
1940. He encouraged advisers,
such as John Wheeler-Bennett,
who exulted in the massacre
of Hitlers opponents after the
failed Plot of July 20th, 1944.
But Kielinger is right to see
Churchill as the only feasible
successor to Chamberlain in
May 1940. Like Bismarck, he was
summoned to deal with a crisis,
in this case one that began with
Dunkirk and ended with the Fall
of France. Had Halifax taken the
job, he would have accepted
Hitlers peace overtures in July.
This is a fine, lively account
and mercifully concise. Kielinger
is aware of Churchills failings.
He won the war, but lost the
peace. Britain was bankrupt in
1945. The British Empire, which
Churchill put before all else,
was doomed and his American
and Soviet allies licked their
lips at its passing. There were
his many volte faces: the man
who said kill the Bolshie, kiss
the Hun fought Germany then
seriously considered attacking
the Soviet Union in 1945. The
man who weakened the British
armed forces as chancellor
called for rearmament at the
rise of Hitler. Churchill was at
first in favour of building a kind
of United States of Europe but
then stood aside from it. He
wanted to maintain the Empire
and the special relationship
with the US: Europe was fine,
but not for Britain.
Kielinger is Anglophile
enough to admire the eccentric
Churchill, his bons mots and his
ability to paint sunsets in Casablanca while the German Sixth
Army bled to death on the
battlefield of Stalingrad.
Misguided sometimes, dull
Churchill was not.
Giles MacDonogh
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 57

REVIEWS

The Churchill Factor

How One Man Made History


Boris Johnson
Hodder & Stoughton 408pp 25

BORIS JOHNSON states that his


intention in writing this book was
two-fold: to bring knowledge of
Churchill to a younger generation
that knows little about him and to
show that one person can change
the course of history. Cynics may
regard the book as an attempt by
Johnson to clothe himself in Churchills mantle and thus advance
his own chance of becoming
prime minister. Although Johnson
discounts any personal comparison
with Churchill, clearly he feels an

Although Johnson
discounts
any personal
comparison with
Churchill, clearly
he feels an affinity
affinity with that other maverick
Tory, but what may be termed the
Johnson factor is more evident in
the way the book is written than
in what it tells us about his political
ambitions. The Churchill Factor has a
lively, journalistic style, replete with
amusing, if puerile, analogies.
Boris claims that Churchill
was a uniquely gifted and largely
benevolent political leader. He
certainly had exceptional gifts and
an extraordinary career but he was
very much a product both of his
era and his upbringing. However,
that heritage receives little attention here. Johnson accepts that
Churchill made some serious mis58 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

takes and he briefly assesses them,


from Antwerp and Gallipoli in the
First World War to the Abdication
Crisis in 1936. But he also stresses
Winstons positive contributions
to the welfare of Britain and the
world before and after, as well as
during, the Second World War.
His account is based on a factual
matrix provided by his informed researcher, Warren Dockter. Johnson
adds little fresh insight to a wellknown story and rarely provides a
contemporary perspective, except
when writing about Churchills
views on Europe.
Johnson identifies two key
characteristics of Churchill: his
courage both personal and
political and his industry. In the
political sphere it was his self-confidence and resilience, rather than
his courage, which was most
evident. His industry was certainly
prodigious and Boris is particularly
struck by the fact that Churchill
wrote more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined. But
he lived much longer than either of
them and his journalism was often
repetitive. Much of his later writing,
moreover, was researched and
drafted by his many assistants.
Boris also accepts that Churchill
exhibited some negative qualities,
though he rightly questions the
extent to which Winston suffered
from black dog or depression.
He asserts that Winston was
magnificently and unrepentantly
disloyal to the political parties
that he served. But Churchills two
changes of party to the Liberals
in 1904 and back to the Tories in
1924 were largely occasioned by
important policy shifts in the Conservative party. Likewise the claim
that it was a fluke that Churchill
became prime minister in 1940
underestimates the key position
that he had already secured in the
running of the war.
The shortcomings of The Churchill Factor are transparent: hero
worship and a reliance on levity
and anecdotes at the expense of
serious analysis. In that respect, it
falls short of Churchills standard.
Nevertheless the book provides, at
best, a balanced and, at worst, an
entertaining assessment of a man
whose shadow still looms large.
Roland Quinault

A State of Play

British Politics on Screen,


Stage and Page, from Anthony
Trollope to The Thick of It
Steven Fielding
Bloomsbury 312 pp 18.99

LIKE SPORT, politics is a form of


theatre. It has elements of soap
opera, melodrama, comedy and
tragedy. It encompasses the
interplay of ideas and personalities. It foregrounds clashes
between heroes and villains. Revealingly, the only prime ministers to have had television series
devoted to their lives have been
our most theatrically flamboyant premiers: Benjamin Disraeli,
David Lloyd George and Winston
Churchill, incarnated respectively by Ian McShane, Philip Madoc
and Robert Hardy.
In this richly detailed and
rewarding book, Steven Fielding
analyses the dramatisation of
British politics on stage, screen
and printed page since the
novels of Anthony Trollope.
Although most people claim
that their opinions have been
principally informed by the news
media, Fielding plausibly argues
that fiction has also played
an important part in shaping
popular perceptions of politics
and politicians, framing, as he
puts it, issues and institutions
and priming audience response.
Fielding casts his net wide,
mining such diverse cultural
phenomena as Just William, P.G.
Wodehouse, Agatha Christie,
Quatermass, The Clangers and
Steptoe and Son for their political
content. He wisely opts for a
chronological approach because
political and cultural contexts

are vital for understanding


political fiction. So in the 19th
century, Trollope with his Palliser
novels sought to educate his
middle-class readership, enfranchised by the 1832 and 1867
Reform Acts, in the workings of
parliamentary democracy.
While novelists were
relatively free to write what
they liked, the stage and the
cinema were straitjacketed by
censorship. Films, the new mass
medium of the 20th century,
were forbidden to criticise
the Establishment and, on the
contrary, provided celluloid
support for the status quo. In
the 1930s Victoria the Great and
Sixty Glorious Years celebrated
the soundness of the monarchy
after it had been rocked by the
Abdication Crisis.
The populist spirit, encouraged during the Second World
War, prevailed for several
years after it, reflected in films

In this richly
detailed and
rewarding book,
Steven Fielding
analyses the
dramatisation of
British politics
on stage, screen
and printed page
since the novels of
Anthony Trollope
about communities or families
standing up to oppression by
Whitehall mandarins (Passport
to Pimlico, The Happy Family, The
Winslow Boy). But the 1950s saw
a revival of the parliamentary
novel, in which books by the
likes of Maurice Edelman and
C.P. Snow tended to glamorise
the system and to sympathise
with its denizens. This reflected
a situation in which a large majority of the population willingly
participated in the democratic
process. The cultural revolution
of the 1960s, however, saw the
end of deference and prompted

REVIEWS
the satire boom and the growth
of cynicism about politics.
It is salutary to be reminded how left wing mainstream
television drama was in the
troubled 1970s. There were no
fewer than three television
series involving Labour MPs on
ITV: The Challengers, The Nearly
Man and Bill Brand. The BBC
ran Jim Allens Days of Hope,
a dramatisation of Labour
politics between 1914 and 1926,
described by the Daily Telegraph
as an unashamed party political
broadcast for the Communist
Party and Shoulder to Shoulder,
an account of the struggle for
womens suffrage.
While the reaction to the
Labour 1970s was serious drama,
the cultural reaction to the
Thatcherite 1980s ranged from
biting satire to paranoid conspiracy thrillers. The highlights
of the new satirical mood were
Yes, Minister, which, Fielding
says, presents British democracy as a racket run by the political
class for its own benefit; Spitting
Image, depicting all politicians as
stupid, venal and mad; and The
New Statesman, with its archetypally corrupt Thatcherite
backbencher. The dark-toned
thrillers (Defence of the Realm,
Edge of Darkness, A Very British
Coup) focused on government
abuse of power and the excesses
of the secret state.
Fielding concludes his analysis with the disillusionment
about and rejection of politicians characterising the 1990s
and 2000s, a mood fed by the
brilliantly subversive House of
Cards trilogy, the plays of David
Hare, the various docudramas
depicting Tony Blair as scheming and smarmy and The Thick
of It, laying bare the operation
of spin.
The book ends with a
paradox in which the rejection
of elected politicians has been
accompanied by a celebration
of the hereditary monarchy as
the embodiment of duty, service
and selflessness in a series
of plays and films that have
seen George VI and Elizabeth II
winning Oscars.
Jeffrey Richards

EXHIBITION
the portrait of Giovanni Gerolamo Grumelli,
DESPITE ITS small size, the Royal Academys
the so-called Man in Pink (inset). Grumellis
exhibition on the Italian Renaissance artist Giosalmon pink, elaborately trimmed, costume
vanni Battista Moroni (c.1520/24-79) is a blockdominates the room in which his portrait hangs.
buster in the proper sense of the word. Moroni,
At the same time the cryptic motto of the sitter
who was born in Albino, near Bergamo, is an
in the bottom right corner of the painting is
artist who was tremendously popular in Victorinot written in his native Italian, but in Spanish:
an England, as the National Gallerys collection
Mas el aguero que el primero (Better the latter
of the largest number of his works outside Italy
than the former). It is the dramatic realism of
testifies. Since then Moroni has been largely
such portraits that struck
forgotten, but this stunningly
the Victorians and that still
presented show should go a
impresses us today, as does
long way to reviving both his
Moronis ability to depict
critical and popular appeal,
fabrics and textures. This
giving the viewer the full
becomes yet more evident
gamut of Moronis art.
with the famous Portrait of a
Moroni excelled above
Tailor. Here Moroni depicts
all as a portrait painter and
for perhaps the first time in
the psychologically acute
the history of art an ordinary
works on display at the Royal
craftsmen at work, who is
Academy should cement
shown with the same degree
his reputation, although,
of psychological acuteness
arguably, the few religious
as that normally reserved for
works shown here are quala member of the social elite.
itatively on a par with the
This change is probably tied
portraits. The exhibition takes
in to his decision around the
us chronologically through
mid-1560s to withdraw from
Moronis career and illustrates
the high society of Bergamo
clearly how his artistic traback to its hinterland, from
jectory developed. Particular
where he originated.
attention has been paid to the
Giovanni Battista
Another of the many
background and hang, which
Moroni
strengths of this exhibition is
superbly set off the paintings
Royal Academy, London
the loan of some rarely seen
displayed. The first room
paintings from the artists
demonstrates the influence
until January 11th, 2015
late period, a side to Moronis
of Moronis teacher, the little
practice that is less well known and often less
known Moretto da Brescia, but also how rapidly
well regarded. He was no longer working for an
he became an autonomous master. Then Mourban elite but was now producing altarpieces
ronis early work is showcased and reveals how
for a provincial clientele, paintings steeped in
much he was caught up in the contemporary
the new religious climate. This he had experclimate of the Counter-Reformation. But
ienced for himself when, as a young man, he
it is the third room that truly takes the breath
worked at Trent during the early sessions of the
away. Moronis native Bergamo was not the
Council there in the late 1540s and early 1550s.
For example, a striking Last Supper (c. 1566-69)
shows Moroni looking back to the example of his
master Moretto, but which includes a typically
Moronian portrait bust. The labels accompanying
the paintings are not ideal but the exhibition is
accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with
a comprehensive text and high-quality illustrations. This reviewers only quibble is that the
exhibition shows us no more than the highlights
Renaissance city as it is conventionally imof Moronis career. He produced a far greater
agined. A liminal territory on the boundaries
body of work than is on display here and he could
between Spanish-ruled Milan and the terrafirma
perhaps have deserved a more expansive venue.
of the Venetian Republic, the loyalties of the
The catalogue serves to show us how many other
native aristocracy were torn between these two
paintings could have been included and leaves
conflicting forces. Moronis large-scale portraits
the viewer hungry for more.
reflect not only the self assurance of this ruling
Piers Baker-Bates
elite but also its dual loyalties. For example, take

It is the dramatic realism of


Moronis portraits that still
impresses us today ... as does
his ability to depict textures
and fabrics

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 59

REVIEWS

Print and Public


Politics in the English
Revolution
Jason Peacey

Cambridge University Press 448pp 70

EARLY MODERN parliaments


used to be left to the constitutional historians, who would
debate for any given period
whether it was on the rise or
in seemingly terminal decline,
and to high political historians,
who scrutinised the day-to-day
intrigues of a handful of highly
educated political superstars.

60 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

But over the last decade or so, a


new breed of political-cultural
historians in particular, Mark
Knights, Chris Kyle and Jason
Peacey have drawn attention
to how parliaments, far from
being rarefied, serious and
closed-off debating clubs in
which Burkean senators talked
urgently and earnestly about the
burning issues of the day, were
chaotic, noisy spaces, in which
the strongly expressed views of
those outside were among the
most telling pressures brought
to bear on those who sat inside.
Jason Peaceys important
new book is the latest instance
of a movement that is redefining the role and significance
of parliaments in the 17th
century. Its overall purpose
is to show how in the 1640s
popular understanding of and
engagement with Parliament
and parliamentary proceedings
developed rapidly through the
greater availability of material in
print. Peacey, who has worked
extensively on 17th-century
print culture, suggests that it

made possible a new parliamentary culture. Printed political


pamphlets and newspapers
were sold cheaply and in enough
numbers to have been read by a
surprisingly large section of the
population. As a result people
became much better informed
about politics and politicians and
used that information to make
remarkably effective interventions in national political life. Individuals also used print short
printed flyers or broadsheets or
longer pamphlets for their own
campaigns, either personally
distributing them to members of
Parliament, or presenting their
grievances directly to the public.
Peacey makes his argument with a staggering array
of sources and helps to evolve
new ways of understanding the
complexities in the interaction
between what we used to call
high and low politics. With
a better appreciation of what
was going on at Westminster,
interventions by those outside
the political elite could be well
targeted and effective. Peacey

suggestively argues that the


ubiquity of printed commentary
on politics drove new approaches to the idea of representative
politics, encouraging electors
to hold the elected directly
to account in ways that Mark
Knights, too, has identified for
the later 17th century. Though
Peacey is keen to point out
that print was equally useful in
reducing public interventions
though lobbying individual
members of Parliament.
These changes in politics
were the result of much more
complex forces than simply
the printing revolution. Yet as
Peacey shows, once an information technology offering cheap
and rapid ways of mobilising and
influencing large numbers of
people became widely deployed
to foster (or to counter) revolution in the English spring of
1641, it would quickly spread to
radicalise and empower many of
them to challenge entrenched
elites and their cherished institutions.
Paul Seaward

REVIEWS

Elizabeth

Renaissance Prince
Lisa Hilton
Weidenfeld and Nicolson 370pp 25

ANOTHER year, another biography of Elizabeth I. Even the most


ardent admirer of Gloriana might
be forgiven for thinking that just a
little breathing space is required.
One wonders what more there is
to be said. Enter Lisa Hilton with
what she believes is a riposte to
such cynicism: a new approach
to writing Elizabeths life, one
which places her firmly in the
context of the European Renaissance and beyond.
This is an interesting idea, as
most biographies look at Elizabeths life and reign from an overwhelmingly English perspective, an
extension of our enduring obsession with the Tudors. It is unusual
to find much mention of Elizabeths
dealings with Ivan the Terrible and
the Ottoman Empire. Hilton is also
to be applauded for reminding us
that Philip II of Spain, Elizabeths
brother-in-law for four years, was
one of the most important men
in her life and not just because
of the jingoism surrounding the
defeat of his ill-fated Armada in
1588. Philip had been instrumental
in ensuring that Elizabeths status
as heir of her half-sister, Mary I, his
then wife, was safeguarded at a
time when Elizabeths entire future
seemed in jeopardy. Of course, he
also seriously, if unenthusiastically,
offered her his hand on Marys
demise, so crucial to him was
Englands support on the wider
European scene. Elizabeth rejected
his suit and while not publicly
acknowledging that she needed
Spain on her side, probably knew

better in reality. The later hostility


between England and Spain was
by no means inevitable during the
difficult early years of the reign.
However, the overall weakness
of this study is not the concept but
the execution. Hilton has written
on a variety of subjects, but this
appears to be her first foray into
the 16th century. Her interests are
very much in the literary and cultural aspects of the period (there
are some excellent quotations
throughout the text) but this is not
necessarily sufficient to sustain her
argument. It is fine to hold strong
opinions, but these need to be
firmly grounded in an appreciation
of the complex politics of the time.
Her view of Mary Tudor, as a nasty
half-sister who hated Elizabeth
from birth, is straight out of the
19th century, whereas the character assassination of Katherine
Parr, for what Hilton describes as
colluding in the sexual abuse of
the teenage Elizabeth, is entirely of
our time. While Thomas Seymours

It is unusual to
find mention of
Elizabeths dealings
with Ivan the
Terrible and the
Ottoman Empire
behaviour would no doubt be
characterised as abuse today, it
would not have been seen that
way in mid-16th century England.
Elizabeths support for the Parr
family and Seymours faithful servants during the rest of her lifetime
speaks for itself.
Hilton has read widely among
recent European journals on the
cultural aspects of her study but
she shows little familiarity with
recent work on Mary Queen of
Scots (whose upbringing at the
back-stabbing French court was by
no means the idyll she describes)
or on Francis Walsingham, a key
figure in Elizabethan politics.
These are curious omissions. What
the reader will make of Hiltons
portrayal of Elizabeth is hard to say.
I was left with a sense of a missed
opportunity.
Linda Porter

Elizabeths Bedfellows
An Intimate History of the
Queens Court
Anna Whitelock
Bloomsbury 480pp 9.99

ANNA WHITELOCKs lively and


engaging history begins when
Elizabeth is a 13-year-old princess and ends with a brief survey
of films and books that indicate
our perennial fascination with
the public and private body of
the queen.
An elite band of women was
responsible for the maintenance
of this body, making the toxic
cosmetics on which Elizabeth
increasingly relied, preparing
sweetmeats and tending the
monarch during periods of
illness. These women played an
essential role in Elizabeths presentation of herself as healthy
and fertile, even when her youth
was long gone, her hair was
wispy and grey and her teeth
black and rotten.
The period of Elizabeths
reign was characterised by
religious strife between Protestant England and Catholic
Europe and threats to the
queen were many. Alongside
their function as friends and
companions, the women also
acted as bodyguards, screening
food for poison and checking
for would-be assassins under
the bed. Barred from the
queens bedchamber, her male
counsellors were dependent
on the attendants for news of
Elizabeths attitudes towards a
stream of potential suitors. That
the queen was unmarried and
therefore unable to produce an
heir to guarantee a secure suc-

cession was a matter of huge


concern for the nation in general
and for Elizabeths ministers in
particular. Thus, there was a
political imperative in keeping
up a fiction of youth. Whitelock
makes it plain that the image of
the Virgin Queen grew out of
necessity when the post-menopausal queen was no longer
an attractive catch to foreign
princes. As the royal body aged
and weakened, the bejewelled
carapace constructed around it
became ever more elaborate, a
trend reflected by artists who
were forbidden from portraying
the less glamorous truth.
The author does an excellent job of evoking Elizabeths
quixotic nature: she could show
great kindness and generosity
to her ladies, from whom she
expected total dedication. They
were expected to serve her
throughout their pregnancies
and to return to court immediately after giving birth. Those
women who married in secret
and without the queens permission endured harsh words,
occasional beatings and exile
before Elizabeth relented and let
them rejoin her chambers.
Whitelock introduces us to
many of Elizabeths long-serving
and long-suffering companions,
chief among whom was Kat
Ashley, a former governess, and
Blanche Parry, the latter dying
after 57 years of service, which
began when the queen was an
infant.
The accounts of Elizabeths
rollercoaster relationships with
her favourites Robert Dudley
(the Earl of Leicester) and Robert
Devereux (2nd Earl of Essex) are
as gripping as any soap opera
and the descriptions of the
furnishings, scents and sounds
of the royal palaces bring the
households vividly to life.
The author handles the mass
of primary sources with skill,
giving the reader the impression of seeing the great events
of Elizabethan history from
the inside. In short, Whitelock
manages the tricky business
of writing a book that is both
scholarly and a cracking read.
Janet Ravenscroft
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 61

REVIEWS

Placing Faces

The Portrait and the English


Country House in the Long
Eighteenth Century
Edited by Gill Perry,
Kate Retford and Jordan Vibert,
with Hannah Lyons
Manchester University Press 320pp 70

THIS collaborative volume is


meant for the country house
tourist, who seeks armchair time to
deepen their knowledge of Georgian culture and its meanings.
The contributors are working
at a crossroads between the
study of portraiture, family history
and social relationships, taking
in houses well distributed across
England. The editors, in a fine
introduction, explain why contributors in their case studies are
encouraged to particularise. The
chapter structure helps the reader
to think about the uses and intentions of spaces, such as the saloon,
the library, the sculpture gallery
and the objectives of individuals,
such as George IV in the Waterloo
Chamber at Windsor Castle or the
Spencers in presenting Georgiana
at Althorp. Browsing the book, the
reader can turn to and fro between
the text, 19 colour plates and 53
figures placed through its pages.
Thus, the sumptuously presented
volume is best taken by forays
into thoughtful page turning.
There are so many themes which
jostle for attention: in the editors
summary the collection explores
the diverse ways in which ideas of
lineage, kinship, power and gender
relations were represented by the
content and positioning of portraits in the country house.
Who went on the walls, where
and why? The book is best seen as
62 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

a guide to questions tourists should


ask themselves and their stationary guides room by room, not the
answers they may find in particular
cases, which are often complicated.
The male command of the
country house is exemplified by
Gill Perry, in a brilliantly conceived
account of what she calls the performance of public intimacy. She
is writing about Giovanna Baccelli,
a dancer who was resident mistress of the 3rd Duke of Dorset and
effectively chatelaine of Knowle
from 1779 to 1789. In 1781 John
Baptiste Locatelli made a life-size
plaster image of Baccelli, which,
at the foot of the grand staircase,
was a kind of sexual trophy which
his male visitors could admire and
even touch. When Baccelli left
Knowle and Arabella Cope became
chatelaine in 1790, the Baccelli
figure was sent upstairs, listed
thereafter as naked Venus, whole
length. This perfectly exemplifies
the book as a study both of placing
faces and of moving them.
We discuss country house life
nowadays in the context of a huge
bibliography. For example, Amanda
Vickery has written entrancingly

Contributors
are working at a
crossroads between
the study of
portraiture, family
history and social
relationships
of how life was lived at home in
Georgian England; by contrast,
Karen Harvey has brought the
lens of masculinity to the study of
domestic authority.
Interestingly, about half of the
colour portraits in Placing Faces are
of women. The planning and collecting skills of elite women such as
Teresa Parker are well established.
In her case the commissioning
of portraits of herself and her
husband by Sir Joshua Reynolds
was at the heart of her scheme.
So while this volume makes much
of how portraits were acquired to
display lineage and dynasty very
male issues at the same time it

argues that women were often key


figures and active agents in creating displays of portraiture .
Ruth Kenny discusses pastel
portraits, which illustrate female
self-fashioning and the central
importance of the dressing room.
Here women pursued their
own self-conscious decorative
schemes, furnishing the room as
their venue both for craft work
and for receiving guests, with a
stress on portraits of children and
close relations. Pastel portraiture
was a fledgling medium, suited
to womens configuration of this
space as they intended it to look.
Kate Retford, who is writing a
full-length study of the 18thcentury conversation piece, here
offers a discussion of its topography, which takes us to the ballroom, the saloon and out into the
garden at Wanstead. Her account
of The Tylney Family by Joseph
Nollekens shows his engagement
with the material culture of the
time, producing, unusually, a
setting for his carefully observed
sitters of remarkable verisimilitude.
So the conversation piece here
records what tourists actually saw
at Wanstead. Discussing another
Wanstead portrait, Mr and Mrs Hill
by Arthur Devis, Retford notes how
codes of conduct and imminent
hospitality in this case are stressed
by a constructed but fictitious
setting.
Susie Wests close study of
the library created by Sir Andrew
Fountaine at Narford explores its
iconographical meanings. Of the
readings of Fountaines intentions
that are possible, she favours a
celebration of English national
identity through a crowd of over
30 historical notables. She sees a
very personal scheme here, which
relates strongly to adult male
friendships, creating an intricate
scheme on his library walls, which
she has disentangled with great
dexterity.
Overall the books achievement
is to pursue many trails that will
enhance country house tourism
by informatively putting some well
known and lesser homes on the
map. It displays throughout a high
level of scholarship and impeccable
editing.
Anthony Fletcher

The Crisis of Genocide


Volume I, Devastation:
The European Rimlands
1912-1938
Volume II, Annihilation:
The European Rimlands
1939-1953
Mark Levene

Oxford University Press 545pp and 535pp


85 each

AMONG THE many ways in


which the First World War
influenced the Second, genocide
has received comparatively little
mention. This vast, comprehensive two-volume work more
than makes up for any deficiency,
setting out in painstaking detail
an account of this aspect of
20th-century barbarism among
many others. For example, in 1915
the German Chief of Staff in East
Prussia, Erich Ludendorff, already
foresaw military occupation as
a prelude to a radical peacetime
reorganisation, which would rid
the region of unwanted elements
and make room for German
settlers. Who still talks nowadays of the extermination of the
Armenians?, Hitler was reported
to have asked in 1939, but these
books make sure that they and
their successors from 1912 to 1953
are not forgotten.
The author, Mark Levene, a
committed scholar who has also
written on subjects ranging from
Jewish history to the impact of
climate change, aims at more
than commemoration. Indeed, he
aims to show that the Holocaust
and other crimes were not an
aberration but conformed to
a pattern. Taking as a point of
departure the observation of
Sir Halford Mackinder that to
rule in Eastern Europe means

REVIEWS
to command the Heartland, the
Eurasian World-Island and ultimately the world itself, Levene
develops the idea of rimlands
emerging from the collapse of
the Romanov, Habsburg, Hohenzollern and Ottoman empires,
in which nation states, created
like Czechoslovakia, reborn
like Poland and reformed like
Hungary, failed to accommodate
minorities. Raphael Lemkin, a
young Jewish lawyer from the
rimlands working for the League
of Nations in the early 1930s,
was perhaps the first to argue
that all cultures should be given
the protection of international
law, whatever their circumstances and racial, religious
or ethnic form.
Pushed back from the rimlands as a consequence of war
and revolution, Soviet Russia
under Stalin sought to consolidate its power through draconian
policies in Ukraine in particular,
while attempting to eliminate
prosperous peasant kulaks in
general. Meanwhile, Hitler and
his henchmen were preparing
plans for the elimination of what
they saw as inferior races as an
integral part of Nazi revenge for
Imperial Germanys defeat.
The Second World War made
a mockery of international law,

Mark Levene ...


aims at showing
that the Holocaust
and other crimes
were not an
aberration but
conformed to a
pattern
as the struggle between Soviet
Russia and Nazi Germany for
mastery of the Heartland led
to the direst of consequences.
Levene indicates that the place
and time of the Holocaust, as
well as accompanying outrages
such as the extermination of
Roma, are a significant part of
the explanation. For example,
the Holocaust intensified as
Blitzkrieg turned into a war of

EXHIBITION
features in four canvases, Composing, Posing,
THEYRE WATCHING. Theyre waiting. Still,
Reposing (inset) and Decomposing, which hang
silent presences, standing in shop windows,
in a side room facing the surviving figure, posed
lurking in storerooms, in the studios of artists
in an installation mimicking Beetons painting,
and photographers.
Composing.
Mannequins have taken over the Fitzwilliam
Close cousin of the lay figure, the fashion
Museum. An exhibition has woken the artists
mannequin also features, from 18th-century exlay figure from shadowy repose, together with
amples (a male figure with a wardrobe of outfits
his kinswoman, the fashion mannequin. The
and a chic female) to a life-size female mannewhole museum is involved, with figures cropquin wearing the last word in fashion. The long
ping up on the staircase and other spaces. Jane
heyday of the display mannequin began with the
Munro, curator of this imaginative show, has
creation of the department store. The large plate
united surviving mannequins with paintings,
glass windows of the paradise for ladies providsculpture and photographs, all of which betray
ed space for the mise en scne of window dressing.
their use. Concentrating particularly on the
Victor-Napoleon Sigel and Pierre Imans brought
19th and 20th centuries, Munro demonstrates
the wax mannequin to a high pitch of expresthat the lay figure was an essential tool of the
sive quality in the 1920s, with fashion models
figurative painter.
of all shapes and sizes, from toddlers to portly
Visitors are greeted by a dramatically-lit
gentlemen of middle years. One might wish for
wooden figure displayed high on a plinth. He
a more thorough exploration
lacks only a head to seem
of Imans work, as some of his
more liable to move at any
creations were modelled on
moment, such is the vigour
famous Parisians of the day,
of his pose. Borrowed from
Antoine de Saint Exupry,
the cole des Beaux-Arts, this
Josephine Baker and Foujita
late 18th-century design is by
among them. Wax manneFranois-Pierre Guillois, the
quins fell into disfavour; they
only known survivor from his
were simultaneously imworkshop. So precisely did
mensely heavy and extremely
Guillois mimic the human
fragile and tended to melt in
musculo-skeletal structure
the glare of hot lights, with
that his figures were ruinously
disagreeable results.
costly. If Guillois figure is so
Another once-celebrated
flexible as to seem imbued
From Silent Partners
Frenchman gets the heat
with life, a dictionary definiArtist and Mannequin from
turned on him; Dr Jeantion of wooden is provided by
Function to Fetish
Martin Charcot, doyen of
a nearby manichino from the
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, psychiatric medicine, takes a
Accademia Carrara di Belli Arti
until January 25th, 2015
retrospective beating. Charcot
at Bergamo. Reclining on a
investigated hysteria, then a
chair, the full-size neoclassical
fashionable disorder. Two of his followers made
Italian figure strikes a camp note; a Grecian fillet
Charcot famous through the Iconographie de la
adorns his pretty brow. Nearby, as if fallen from
Salptrire, a copiously illustrated documentation
his hand, lies a copy of Jerome K. Jeromes Idle
of the methods of the great man. Certain similarThoughts of an Idle Fellow. Disconcertingly, his
left foot is missing, marring the perfection of his ities between the deportment of the hysterical
patients and mannequins drew comment at
classical form. A plaster cast of the Diadoumenous of Polycletus shows the distant inspiration
the time. Charcot and his followers employed
from ancient Greece.
medical hypnotism, treatment that quickly fell
The exhibition moves briskly through the
from favour.
early history of mannequins, pausing briefly at
The exhibition is accompanied by a wellRenaissance artists manuals featuring illustrareferenced and copiously illustrated catalogue
tions of composition or perspective, made with
from Yale University Press, with much material
posed lay figures. A preparatory drawing by Luca
not in the show. However, what the exhibition
Cambiaso shows his reliance on jointed wooden
provides that the book cannot is the shiver of
figures to work up a dramatic composition.
Freudian unheimliche; that is, the mannequins
Eventually, defrocked lay figures became the
unbekannt physical presence.
subject of painters such as Giorgio de Chirico and
After the Fitzwilliam, on April 1st the show
photographers such as Herbert List, Man Ray and opens at the Muse Bourdelle, Paris. Visit if you
Hans Bellmer. A major rediscovery of the exhican; otherwise the mannequins may visit you.
bition is the work of Alan Beeton. His lay figure
David Brady
JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 63

REVIEWS
attrition. On the other hand,
retreat meant that the plans for
Lebensraum foreshadowed in
1915 came to nothing by 1945.
The mass killing in the
European rimlands obliged the
newly-formed United Nations
to consider how to avoid any
repetition in the future. Again,
Raphael Lemkin was to the fore
in the framing of the resolution adopted by the General
Assembly in December 1946.
Beginning with the definition
Genocide is the denial of the
right of existence of entire
human groups, the resolution
went on to note that it had been
carried out deliberately and systematically on Jews, Poles and
Gypsies in a manner undreamt
of in history. Tragically, throughout the world, the
nightmare has continued down
to the present day, compounded
by the even more appalling prospect of omnicide opened up by
the dropping of atomic bombs
over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Some readers will disagree

64 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

with Levenes overall argument,


insisting on the unique nature
of the appalling events that he
describes. They might also note
that, while he provides a formidable list of Major Incidents
of Genocide and Sub-Genocidal Violence: Rimlands and
Near-Regions, 1912-53, he does
not include estimates of the
numbers of victims. Yet this
would have proved extremely
difficult while exciting more
controversy and nobody could
deny the scale of Levenes
achievement, a forceful thesis
argued in an engaging conversational style on the basis of an
incisive reading of a wide range
of published sources. Oxford
University Press deserves praise
for its publication of an epic
work that will provoke debate,
while catching the attention of
all those prepared to consider
in a serious manner the most
disturbing questions posed concerning European civilisation
during the 20th century.
Paul Dukes

Shtetl: The Golden Age


A New History of Jewish Life
in East Europe
Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern
Princeton University Press 448pp 19.95

THIS HIGHLY entertaining and


often surprising volume recasts
our understanding of the contexts
of Jewish life in Eastern Europe.
The author looks at three Russian
provinces created in territories
annexed from Poland-Lithuania in
the first partition of Poland (1772),
namely, Podolia, Volhynia and Kiev.
Why would this period represent

a golden age of life in the shtetl,


the quintessential space of eastern
European Jewry? Many years of
painstaking archival research
allow the author, a native from
former Soviet Ukraine, to present
his evidence. Jews in these three
provinces were able to take advantage of the rather slow process of
establishing Russian control over
local administrations, trade and
the population. This process took
longer in small towns than in the
provincial capitals, allowing Jewish
life to unfold here with less control
from the central government. Also,
the landlords, mostly Polish nobles,
were now targeted by Russian
administrators and thus could exert
less power. In consequence, for two
generations, Jewish life would thrive
as never before, argues the author.
The story is told in a bottom-up
perspective, each chapter starting
with a case study of an impressive
range of real-life Jews: smugglers,
inn-keepers, leaseholders, rabbis,
husbands and wives.
The author challenges wellestablished narratives. For

REVIEWS
example, he suggests that the
Jewish economy thrived because
local Jews and their non-Jewish
trading partners knew hidden paths
across borders much better than
the recently established Russian
customs and used their knowledge
to smuggle goods from Western
Europe. Thus, the core argument of
this beautiful book is that during this
almost anarchic transitional period,
Jews could realise their potential
and did not shy away from doing
so. The author does not glorify
this golden age, discussing how
Jews would be part and parcel of a
culture of violence in small town life:
Before the pogroms [at the end of
the 19th century] radically changed
the balance of power, shtetl violence
belonged to everybody and to
nobody ... The adaptation of Slavic
obscenities for Jewish usage testifies
to the Jewish share in East European
verbal violence. The Jews in this
volume are loud, sometimes violent,

This highly
entertaining
volume recasts our
understanding
of Jewish life in
Eastern Europe
successful, sometimes ruthless, they
enjoy life and are ardent believers.
Some readers may disagree with
this definition of a golden age.
However Petrovsky-Shterns
analysis of how deeply political
change can affect the existence of a
religious community and in many
urban centres Jews were not a
minority but a majority is compelling. And, yes, the current situation
in Ukraine resonates with what the
author describes for the early 19th
century. Today, Jews of Ukraine are
again confronted with a profound
change in the political ways of the
commonwealth they live in and,
as in the golden age shtetl, they
will try to make the best of it. The
volume comes with numerous
illustrations, including
photographs taken around a
century after the purported golden
age, bearing witness to the transient character of all golden ages.
Franois Guesnet

Roads Taken
The Great Jewish Migrations
to the New World and the
Peddlers Who Forged the Way
Hasia R. Diner
Yale University Press 280pp 22.50

THE MOST striking thing about


Hasia Diners most recent book
is that it is uplifting and upbeat,
a rare thing in accounts of
European Jewish history. Diner,
a scholar and prolific author,
whose works include Hungering
for America: Italian, Irish and Jewish
Foodways in the Age of Migration
(2002) and The Jews of the United
States, 1654-2000 (2007), has
mined thousands of archives and
documents to tell the story of
the eponymous Jewish peddler
and it is mostly a happy tale.
Roads Taken focuses on the
period between the late 18th and
early 20th century, when nearly
five million Jews left Eastern
Europe in search of a better life
elsewhere. Unlike many historians, who insist that Jews
migrated in order to flee persecution, Diner offers an alternative version: But the Jewish
migration cannot be explained
purely in terms of the horror of
harrowing scenes of slaughter
... rather the Jewish migrations
of the nineteenth century resembled those of other peoples.
Namely, it was mainly driven
by a lack of opportunities back
home and a desire to improve
ones situation. Also, wherever
the Jews went North and South
America, the Caribbean, Australia, Britain they enjoyed a
largely positive reception. Roads
Taken is bursting with

surprising stories, such as


how the peddlers non-Jewish
customers would let them stay
the night, or regularly prepare
a special pot of kosher food
for them, or even invite them
to discuss the Old Testament
with the family. These acts of
kindness took place everywhere.
There is also, Diner points out,
almost no mention of Christian
customers trying to convert
their Jewish guests.
Much of Roads Taken describes
the peddlers in terms of their
contribution to modernity. They
transformed their own lives and
also the lives of the people with
whom they came into contact.
When the peddlers first arrived
at a new destination, penniless
and scruffy, they endured years
of hardship on the road, lugging
their wares in all weathers.
Many were robbed or attacked
en route by bandits and some
even murdered. Eventually
they would save enough to buy
a horse and cart; finally, they
would have enough to settle
down and buy a little shop. Once
this happened, they could help
newly arrived peddlers, lend
them money, provide them with
items to sell and teach them the
ways of the host society. This
system led to an intricate and
solid Jewish economy, which
allowed businesses to flourish.
Indeed, stores such as Macys in
New York and brands like Levis
were started by Jewish peddlers.
Diner gives an absorbing
account of how Jewish peddling modernised the lives of
non-Jewish customers, such
as housewives with nominally
little power, who could choose
what to buy from the peddler:
a brooch to wear or new bed
linen for the home. They saw
that material goods changed the
way they felt about themselves.
This was true of all non-Jewish
female customers, including
African-Americans, who werent
allowed to shop in regular stores.
Ultimately, Jewish peddlers not
only encouraged consumption
(for better or worse), but they
actively subverted assumptions
about race and gender.
Giulia Miller

CONTRIBUTORS
Piers Baker-Bates is Visiting
Research Associate in Art
History at the Open University.
David Brady is working on a
book about William Gilpin and
his idea of the picturesque.
Paul Dukes is the author of
Minutes to Midnight: History and
the Anthropocene Era from 1763
(Anthem, 2011). His history of
the Urals will be published by
Bloomsbury in 2015.
Anthony Fletcher is a historian
and writer. His book, Life, Death,
and Growing Up on the Western
Front was published by Yale
University Press in 2013.
Franois Guesnet is Reader
in Modern Jewish History at
University College London.
Giles MacDonogh is a
freelance historian and author
of several books about German
history. He is currently finishing
a social history of the Third
Reich.
Giulia Miller is Affiliated
Lecturer in Modern Hebrew at
the University of Cambridge.
Linda Porters Crown of Thistles:
the Fatal Inheritance of Mary
Queen of Scots is published by
Macmillan.
Roland Quinault is the author
of British Prime Ministers and
Democracy (Bloomsbury, 2012).
Janet Ravenscroft is a Fellow
of Queen Mary College,
University of London.
Jeffrey Richards is Emeritus
Professor of Cultural History
at Lancaster University. His
latest book is The Golden Age of
Pantomime: Slapstick, Spectacle,
and Subversion in Victorian
England (I.B. Tauris, 2014).
Paul Seaward is Director of the
History of Parliament Trust.
Chris Wrigley is Emeritus
Professor of History at the
University of Nottingham.

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 65

HAVE YOUR SAY

Letters

Email p.lay@historytoday.com
Post to History Today, 2nd Floor,
9 Staple Inn, London WC1V 7QH

Measures and Methods


Duncan McLeans review of 600
years of the use of quarantine as
a measure to control infectious
disease was most interesting
(Gold, Fire and Gallows: Quarantine in History, December 2014).
However, the use of quarantine
in conjunction with other public
health measures can lead to
the eradication of an infectious
disease such as smallpox.
As McLean states, the turning
point in the application of
quarantine came in the late 19th
century. In 1877 the borough of
Leicester established a system
of notification of smallpox cases
(and other diseases), followed by
isolation of all cases of smallpox
in a hospital and the quarantine
of all contacts of the case in
separate wards in that hospital.
This arrangement, the Leicester
Method, worked well until the
epidemic of 1892-4, when some
further modifications were made
to the system.
The details and reasons for Dr
William Johnston devising this
method are not really understood as we know little of his
background and training. Had
he learnt of the movement to
enforce quarantine in the US to
control yellow fever in 1878?
At first Leicester was alone in
using the system and smallpox continued to be endemic
throughout the UK. Eventually
the method was adopted as the
way to control and limit the
spread of smallpox throughout
the UK and continued to be used
to control and limit the spread of
smallpox cases into the 1960s. It
became the basis for the system
used by the WHO to contain and
eradicate naturally occurring
smallpox from the world by 1977.
Quarantine and isolation
can be most effective and must
surely be the key to the Ebola
outbreak in West Africa.

Complex Narrative
I was disappointed that Gareth
Pritchard and Desislava Ganchevas article Collaborator: No
Longer a Dirty Word? (December) amounted to little more
than a lament for the old Soviet
view of the Second World War.
It is true that the nations of
Eastern and Central Europe have,
since 1989/91, been reassessing
their own wartime pasts and
have been seeking to forge a
usable national narrative of the
war. This process is a messy,
organic one in which wartime
complexities are thrown into
relief, conflicting sometimes
with the simplistic narrative that
still prevails in the West.
However, rather than addressing that complexity, acknowledging how Baltic suffering at
Soviet hands in 1939-41 spurred
the later collaboration of some of
their citizens with the Nazis, the
authors opted instead to sidestep
any serious engagement and
instead merely pointed the finger
and made vague insinuations of
resurgent fascism.
This is a fascinating subject,
worthy of objective assessment
in History Today. This article
failed to do it justice.

Stuart Fraser
Stoughton, Leicestershire

Richard L M Newell
Exeter

66 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

Roger Moorhouse
via email

Forbidden Colours
Is there a particular reason for
the choice of the illustration
which accompanies Richard
Cavendishs article on Vesalius
in Decembers Months Past?
Perhaps the most important and
best-known feature of the De
Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543)
is the technical magnificence
of the woodcuts, which, as Cavendish acknowledges, probably
originated in the workshop of
Titian. Why use an apparently
modern garish and carelessly
coloured version?

Connect with us on Twitter


twitter.com/historytoday

Outside View
Bill Shackletons very negative
portrayal of the Scottish referendum on independence (Letters,
December) is an example of how
some of the most committed
pro-Union campaigners have
become peculiarly defensive
and acerbic in the aftermath
of the vote, despite having
prevailed. Shackleton displays a
continuing anti-independence
refrain, which seeks to depict the
campaign as divisive, rancorous and even violent. This is
decidedly not the view of foreign
commentators, who have almost
universally written of a marvellously civilised episode and of the
exemplary democratic behaviour
of both sides, who raised the
participation level to one rarely
seen in the western world.
Dr David White
Galashiels, Selkirkshire

Rapt in an Enigma
The article by Charles Freeman
(The Origins of the Shroud of
Turin, November) was helpful
and cast fresh light on the
subject. He is right that a wide
variety of disciplines need to be
involved and have not always
been. However, Freeman focuses
too narrowly on the STURP
investigations of the 1970s, when
other tests and experts have been
involved since. This is particularly
pertinent to the weave of the
cloth, as examples are known
from the Middle East prior to
the Middle Ages and a particular
style of seam is evident on cloth
at Masada and on the Shroud. The
subject of a gesso coating also
needs further study and some
point out that such a coating
would have made the cloth hard
to fold and the image would then
have been damaged. The decay
of the surface fibres forming the
image still seems to be a mystery
and a matter of debate.
Looking at biblical interpretation of the Passion and images

contemporary with a medieval


Shroud is illuminating, but needs
to be cross-referenced to microscopic and photographic analysis
of the cloth, as well as the type
of wounds caused in Roman
punishment and torture (Jesus is
struck with reeds by the mocking
guards in the Gospel narrative,
for example). Then again, there
is the wealth of material postSTURP that shows Roman coin
images, the placing of flowers and
pollen that only derives from the
Middle East. Whatever we make
of the samples that were carbon
dated, there is still a great deal of
enigma.
Kevin ODonnell
Rottingdean, East Sussex

Exhilarating or Disastrous?
In his review of Michael Jagos
new biography of Clement Attlee
(November), Keith Laybourn
describes the years 1945 to 1951
as exhilarating. I conclude from
that that he is too young to have
real personal memories of that
period, which I would prefer
to describe as excruciatingly
miserable. The Attlee government was one which believed
in restriction, rationing, rent
control and punitive rates of
taxation. Of course, we all know
that it faced massive financial and
economic problems in governing
a country that was effectively
bankrupt after the war. However
their big failure was in not seeing
the need to create a climate in
which enterprise could flourish
and the economy have a chance
to recover. I still remember the
feeling that a great weight had
been lifted off the country when
the new government from 1951
onwards started to lift some of
the restrictions under which we
had suffered until then. But even
so it took a long while to recover
from those disastrous years under
Attlee.
Roy Colbran
Croydon

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Reassuringly intelligent.
Comfortingly rational.

Coming Next Month


Lady Bankes Defends
Corfe Castle

When, following the onset of the


Civil War, the Royalist Sir John
Bankes was commanded to join
Charles I at Oxford in January
1643, he left his estate at Corfe
Castle, Dorset in the safekeeping
of his wife, Mary. The castle
was subjected to a shambolic
and then serious Parliamentarian siege, romantic accounts
of which have stressed Lady
Bankes unyielding resolve; but
was Brave Dame Mary even in
Dorset during the final, successful
siege? Patrick Little investigates.

Monet in Algeria

Drawn by the allure of the crackling of gunpowder, the sabre thrusts,


the nights in the desert under the sun, Claude Monet refused his
fathers ultimatum to give up art and was drafted into the French army
and sent to Algiers in 1861. Though overlooked in many biographies,
the artists year in Algeria constitutes a major turning point in which
his artistic ambitions were confirmed, says Jeffrey Meyers.

Russias Smuta: Yesterday and Today

Subscribe

www.historytoday.com/subscribe
Novembers Prize Crossword

Translated as time of troubles and embodying disorder and doom, the


Russian word smuta dates from the early 17th century when civil wars,
uprisings and mass famine threatened the countrys existence. Yet,
says Greg Carleton, the turbulent early 1600s forged a distinct national
identity still intact today built on unity, faith and the threat of
western aggression, an understanding of which explains both the
imperialistic actions and domestic popularity of President Putin.

Plus Months Past, Making History, Signposts, Reviews, In Focus, From the
Archive, Pastimes and much more.

The February issue of History Today will be on sale throughout the


UK on January 22nd. Ask your newsagent to reserve you a copy.

PICTURE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The winner for November is Sophie Simpson, Grayrigg, Cumbria.

EDITORS LETTER: 2 Getty Images/Mark Kolbe HISTORY MATTERS: 3 Bridgeman Images; 5 Bettmann/Corbis;
6 Courtesy St Marys Priory, Abergavenny; 7 Warden and Scholars of New College, Oxford/Bridgeman Images.
MONTHS PAST: 8 Photo Philip Mould/Bridgeman Images; 9 top Archives Charmet/Bridgeman Images; 9
bottom The British Library Board. WHEN ALEXANDER MET THALESTRIS: 10-11 Oil on copper by Johann Georg
Platzer/Wikimedia Commons; 12 De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images; 13 top left Museo Archeologico
Nazionale, Naples/Bridgeman Images; 13 top right De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images; 13 bottom Photo
by Vladimir Terebenin, Leonard Kheifets and Yuri Molodkovets for The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg;
14 Muse du Louvre/RMN-Grand Palais/Marc Jeanneteau; 15 Muse du Louvre/RMN-Grand Palais/Michle
Bellot; 16 Tim Aspden, after original artwork by Michele Angel; 17 akg-images/Erich Lessing. HOOVER GOES TO
BELGIUM: 19 Everett Collection/Alamy; 20 top Popperfoto/Getty Images; 20 bottom Bridgeman Images; 21
top Getty Images; 21 bottom & 22-24 All photographs courtesy the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum,
Iowa. WARBURG: 26 The Warburg Institute. SAINT-JUST: 29 Muse des Beaux-Arts, Lyon/Bridgeman Images; 30
Leemage/Bridgeman Images; 31 top Bibliothque Nationale/Bridgeman Images; 31 left Bibliothque Nationale/
Bridgeman Images; 31 right Chteau de Versailles/Bridgeman Images; 32 Muse Carnavalet/Bridgeman Images; 33
top Chteau de Versailles/Bridgeman Images; 33 bottom Bridgeman Images; 34 top Muse Carnavalet/Bridgeman
Images; 34 bottom & 35 French Revolution Digital Archive. INFOCUS: 36-37 Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
CALIPHATE: 38 Alamy. MAKING HISTORY: 40 Bridgeman Images. 1155 AND THE BEGINNINGS OF FICTION: 41
Illustration from Waces Brut, BL Egerton Ms 3028; 42 top left Ms 24 f.63 Aberdeen University Library/Bridgeman
Images; 42 top right De Agostini Picture Library/Bridgeman Images; 42 bottom Corpus Christi College, Oxford/
Bridgeman Images; 43 Ms Hunter 229 f.54v Glasgow University Library/Bridgeman Images; 44 Add.10293, f.312v
The British Library Board; 44-45 Ms R.17.1 f.202 Trinity College Cambridge/Bridgeman Images; 45 Ms Hunter 229
f.21v Glasgow University Library/Bridgeman Images; 46 top Ms Fr d 16 Bodleian Library; 46 bottom Add.10293,f.78
British Library Board. JOHN BULL SPIRIT: 47 top Hulton-Deutsch/Corbis; 49 Mary Evans Picture Library.
WHAT WAS AT STAKE IN THE PUTNEY DEBATES: 50 left Alamy; 50 right Ashmolean Museum/Art Archive; 51
National Portrait Gallery, London; 52 Bridgeman Images; 53 top Rafael Valls/Bridgeman Images; 53 bottom Ms
65 fol.35r courtesy The Provost and Fellows of Worcester College, Oxford; 54 top Bridgeman Images; 54 bottom
Bridgeman Images; 55 Ashmolean Museum/Bridgeman Images. SIGNPOSTS: 56 Hilary Morgan/Alamy. REVIEWS: 59
Gian Gerolamo Grumelli, c.1560 by Giovanni Battista Moroni. Photo Fondazione Museo di Palazzo Moroni, Lucretia
Moroni Collection, Bergamo; 63 Reposing c.1929 by Alan Beeton Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. COMING NEXT
MONTH: 69 Lady Bankes by Henry Bone National Trust Images/Derrick E.Witty. PASTIMES: 70 top Varusschlacht
by Otto Albert Koch, 1909; 70 bottom Library of Congress. SIX DEGREES: 71 Portrait (detail) by F.G.Gainsford
National Portrait Gallery, London. 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.

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 69

Pastimes
Amusement & Enlightenment

The Quiz

10 Completed in 1681, which


canal links the Bay of Biscay to the
Mediterranean?

2 How much money was


exchanged between the US and
Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase of
Arizona and New Mexico in 1853?
3 Which battle of 1240 saw
Russian forces under Prince
Alexander of Novgorod defeat the
Swedish under the cover of fog?

4 The attempts of French priest


Jean-Baptiste Lamy to establish
a diocese in New Mexico inspired
which 20th-century novel?
5 Socialism with a human face
refers to the reform communism
identified with which political
figure in Czechoslovakia in 1968?
6 The pre-revolutionary Russian
peasant commune mir was also
known by which name?
7 Which Spanish Holocaust
survivor wrote a fictionalised
memoir published under the title
The Cattle Truck?
70 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

11 Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935)


was the founder of which major
20th-century abstract art
movement?
8 Where was the explorer and
journalist Sir Henry Morton Stanley
(1841-1904) born?

12 Which island in the western


Pacific Ocean did the US return to
Japan in 1972?

ANSWERS

9 J.F. Vonck (1743-92) gave his


name to which late 18th-century
Dutch progressive political faction?

1. Arminius (18/17 bc-ad 21).


2. $10 million.
3. Battle of the Neva.
4. Death Comes for the Archbishop by
Willa Cather, 1927.
5. Alexander Dubek (1921-92).
6. Obshchina.
7. Jorge Semprn (1923-2011).
8. Denbigh, Wales.
9. The Vonckists.
10. The Canal du Midi (originally Canal
royal en Languedoc).
11. Suprematism.
12. Okinawa.

1 Under which chieftain did the


Germanic Cherusci defeat the
Roman army at the Battle of the
Teutoberg Forest in ad 9?

Prize Crossword

Set by Richard Smyth

ACROSS
6 Mr ___, lawyer in Dickens Great
Expectations (1861) (7)
7 Peter ___ (1079-1142), French
philosopher and poet (7)
9 Cecil ___ (1859-1924), historian of
English folk song and dance (5)
10 1953 film about the early life of
Elizabeth I (5,4)
11 Ancient city of Campania,
destroyed in ad 79 (7)
13 Ned ___ (d.1776), actor, celebrated for his portrayals of Falstaff (6)
15 Nevada Air Force Base designated
in 1951, later re-named after General
Wilbur L. Creech (6,7)
19 Baron ___, title held by army
officer James Henry Fitzroy Somerset
(1788-1855) (6)
20 All men would be ___ if they
durst Wilmot, Earl of Rochester,
1679 (7)
23 Region of NW Australia, named
after a British Secretary of State for
the Colonies (9)
24 1732 tragedy by Voltaire (5)
26 Lucy ___, historian, broadcaster
and author of Elegance and Decadence:
The Age of the Regency (2011) (7)
27 A.P. ___ (1890-1971), English
humourist and independent MP (7)

Palmerston (1784-1865) (6)


3 People of the Middle East
supposedly descended from
Abrahams grandson Dedan (9)
4 Ancient Chinese architectural
philosophy (4,4)
5 Term used by Mao Zedong to
describe the threat of US imperialism
(5,5)
6 ___ of Arimathea, rich man of Jerusalem and secret disciple of Jesus (6)
7 Sir Ove Nyquist ___ (1895-1988),
Newcastle-born civil engineer (4)
8 Royal burgh and historic trading
port in Fife, Scotland (6)
12 US city, scene of a major civil
rights protest in 1955 (10)
14 Works excluded from the Biblical
canon, such as the books of Tobit and
Judith (9)
16 Queen of Spain and wife of
Ferdinand II (8)
17 City on the Vistula, capital of
Poland 1320-1611 (6)
18 ___ de Bayeux, 12th-century
archdeacon and suspected murderer
(6)
21 The Welsh ___, byname of David
Lloyd George (1863-1945) (6)
22 Welsh village, briefly home to the
UKs deepest coal mine (4)
25 One of the greatest pains to
human nature is the pain of a new
___ Walter Bagehot, 1872 (4)

DOWN
1 City and former Mughal capital in
Uttar Pradesh (4)
2 Henry John ___, 3rd Viscount

The winner of this


months prize
crossword will receive
a selection of recent
history books
Entries to: Crossword, History Today, 2nd Floor, 9 Staple Inn, London
WC1V 7QH by January 31st or www.historytoday.com/crossword

Six degrees of Separation


John William Polodori
(1795-1821)

John William Polidori

English writer and Byrons


personal physician was one of the
first pupils at Ampleforth College,
whose alumni include

mistress of Edward VII, whose


palatial villa in Florence had
previously belonged to

Charles Eliot Norton


(1827-1908)

David Stirling
(1915-90)

American author, social critic and


professor of art, whose wife was one
of the first reviewers of the debut
book of verse by the English poet .

founder of the SAS, who was


imprisoned in Colditz during
the Second World War with

Michael Micky Burn


(1912-2010)
English journalist and commando who
stayed in Italy in the 1930s with

Alice Keppel
(1868-1947)

Christina Rossetti
(1830-94)
By Stephanie Pollard and Justin Pollard

who was the niece of

JANUARY 2015 HISTORY TODAY 71

KING JOHN

FromtheArchive
Attempts to rehabilitate Bad King John, such as W.L. Warrens essay of 1957, always come up
against a major stumbling block: the verdicts of his contemporaries, as Sean McGlynn explains.

Damned by his Peers


THERE WILL be no getting away
from King John in 2015, the 800th
anniversary of Magna Carta. Huge
celebrations are planned, not only
in the UK but across the globe as the
Great Charter is lauded as the foundation document of liberties and rights.
While there are debates about Magna
Cartas importance, these are nothing
compared with the historical disputes
over the monarch himself: bad King
John or misunderstood, unfairly maligned King John?
A revisionist movement to rehabilitate John gained pace in
1949 with the publication in
the US of The Reign of King John
by Sidney Painter. On this side
of the Atlantic, W.L. Warren
spearheaded the revisionism, as
exemplified in his 1957 History
Today article What was wrong
with King John? This was no
crude attempt to create a stir: Warren
was far too consummate an historian
for that. Much as I disagree with many
of his arguments mitigating the worst
criticisms of John, I still urge my
students to read his biography of the
king as their starting point. The lucid
elegance of his prose remains a joy.
Warrens article was an attempt to
get to the truth behind the monarch
who has left a reputation for evil
second only to Richard IIIs. Warren
apportions much blame to Johns
contemporary monastic chroniclers
and their stories of his disgusting
duplicity, merciless inhumanity, paralysing extortion and licentious indulgence. He attributes Johns shocking
reputation to one source in particular:
All the really memorable stories of
Johns perfidy, ingratitude, bestial
cruelty and hysterical recklessness
can be traced back to the chronicle of
Roger Wendover, a 13th-century monk
of St Albans. Warren built on V.H.
Galbraiths earlier study of Wendover
to warn other historians against his
72 HISTORY TODAY JANUARY 2015

inherent unreliability. Warren cites examples of where Wendover gets things


horribly wrong, such as the completely
erroneous report of Geoffrey, Archdeacon of Norwichs death at the hands of
John in 1209. In fact, Geoffreys career
was resurrected and he became Bishop
of Ely in 1225. Warren tells us that
Wendover is the only chronicler to list
the frightful litany of Johns dark side
(in fact some French ones did, too,
unsurprisingly) and that we should
dismiss such stories as the forcible
extraction of Jews teeth, his threat to

Warren was no apologist


for John, roundly
condemning the man
more than the king
slit the noses of Papal servants, his interview with Arthur of Brittany before
the latters murder, his rejoicing at the
death of his Chancellor Hubert Walter,
and his fits of depression alternating
with periods of hysterical activity.
With the exception of the dental
procedure, these descriptions do not
seem that fanciful at all. But Warren
urges his readers to relegate such tales
to the realms of fiction. His judgment
has proven hugely influential in the
decades since.
Warren was no apologist for John,
roundly condemning the man more
than the king. However, in believing
that Wendover was an unreliable
witness but for the wrong reasons
he had the right idea, he is a little
unfair on the chronicler, who was
nowhere near as untrustworthy as
Warren makes out. Warren, like many
medievalists, omits Galbraiths crucial
comment that, if Wendovers chronicle is somewhat blighted by errata,
how could it be otherwise in so large
an undertaking? And what large

medieval chronicle is not? Furthermore, as I have discovered, between


his geographical situation and the
first-hand knowledge of his patron,
William dAlbini, Wendover was superbly positioned to be well informed
on Johns reign, especially its later
stages. Some of his precise details on
the Magna Carta war can be closely
corroborated with other sources, such
as the History of William Marshal.
Furthermore, Warren joins in with
the familiar chorus that, given Johns
treatment of the church, Wendover
was bound to contribute to monastic condemnation of the king.
But he and subsequent historians
who seek to offer a less damning
verdict of John tend to overlook
the comments of lay writers
whose masters fought on Johns
side: these clearly reinforce the
accurate monastic views of John.
One writes of Johns disgrace, arrogance and cruelty; another that he
was a very wicked man, he was cruel
to all men, he was much hated and,
quite simply, he had too many bad
qualities. Johns contemporaries were
better placed than modern historians
to pass judgment on him.
Sean McGlynn is author of Blood Cries Afar:
The Forgotten Invasion of England 1216 (History
Press, 2011)..

VOLUME 7 ISSUE 12 DEC 1957


Read the original piece
at historytoday.com/fta