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April 2016

Vol 66 Issue 4

THE FIRST
EUROPEAN
UNION

One Thousand
Years of the Holy
Roman Empire

Goodbye to All That

How Britain lost its


American colonies

Londons Big Beasts

The Victorian mania for


prehistoric animals

Where Theres a Will

Shakespeares medieval
Mediterranean

Publisher Andy Patterson


Editor Paul Lay
Digital Manager Dean Nicholas
Picture Research Mel Haselden
Reviews Editor Philippa Joseph
Contributing Editor Kate Wiles
Editorial Assistant Rhys Griffiths
Art Director Gary Cook
Subscriptions Manager Cheryl Deflorimonte
Subscriptions Assistant Ava Bushell
Accounts Sharon Harris

Sights of Horrors,
which we can
never forget:
the Wittenberg
Platz Holocaust
Memorial, Berlin.

Board of Directors
Simon Biltcliffe (Chairman), Tim Preston
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EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD


Dr Simon Adams University of Strathclyde
Dr John Adamson Peterhouse, Cambridge
Professor Richard Bessel University of York
Professor Jeremy Black University of Exeter
Lord Briggs Formerly Chancellor

of the Open University
Professor Paul Dukes University of Aberdeen
Professor Martin Evans University of Sussex
Juliet Gardiner Historian and author
Tom Holland Historian and author
Gordon Marsden MP for Blackpool South
Dr Roger Mettam Queen Mary,

University of London
Professor Geoffrey Parker

Ohio State University
Professor Paul Preston

London School of Economics
Professor M.C. Ricklefs

The Australian National University
Professor Ulinka Rublack

St Johns College, Cambridge
Professor Nigel Saul Royal Holloway,

University of London
Dr David Starkey

Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
Professor T.P. Wiseman University of Exeter
Professor Chris Wrigley

University of Nottingham
All written material, unless otherwise stated,
is the copyright of History Today

Total Average Net Circulation


18,556 Jan-Dec 2014

2 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

FROM THE EDITOR


LIAM FOX, the former Conservative defence secretary, made an unusual
contribution to the ongoing debate about Britains membership of the European
Union, which will be decided by referendum on June 23rd. Dr Fox, a leading
Eurosceptic, claimed in March that The United Kingdom is one of the few
countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th century.
The implication seems to be that some European countries do need to bury their
modern history. There are some members of the European Union who could be
accused of doing just that Austria and Slovakia come to mind and the migrant
crisis, with which the Continent seems wholly unable to cope, has further
nourished selective, competing historical narratives. There is, however, one
European country that could never be accused of burying its past, especially the
12-year abyss which it entered in 1933.
Anyone who has visited Berlin and endured museums such as the Typography
of Terror will know that Germanys troubled 20th-century history is on open,
unflinching display and has been for decades. Even on Wittenberg Platz, in
the middle of the citys busiest shopping district, there is a stark memorial to
the Holocaust, which lists the National Socialist regimes concentration and
extermination camps in both Germany and its occupied territories. The critic
and historian Ian Buruma has even argued and I have some sympathy with
him that Germany self-flagellates too much about the Nazis to the neglect of its
extraordinary contribution to world culture in art, science and thought.
The UK, buoyed by being on the right side of history in the Second World War,
tends to be neglectful of its own 20th-century excesses, not that they compare
remotely with the horrors of totalitarianism. But its citizens should be aware
of the Amritsar Massacre, the appalling treatment of prisoners in the Mau Mau
conflict and, especially poignant in a year when we commemorate the Easter
Rising, Britains often brutal treatment of Ireland, not just in this century, but
over the last eight. In part, Irelands healing relationship with the UK has been
made possible by both sides being more frank about their shared past.
No history should be buried. The UK, among the most highly evolved, stable
and secure polities ever to have existed, should, like all mature democracies, have
no trouble casting an unblinking eye on its past, whether good, bad or ugly. After
all, few if any of us were around at the time and bear no responsibility for the
actions of our predecessors. We do have an obligation, however, not to repeat the
mistakes of those who have come before us. We will create enough of our own.

Paul Lay

HistoryMatters

A Russian Revolution Brown-Squard The Art of War Genghis Khan

collaborating in an ambitious project


of about 20 volumes on Russias Great
War and Revolution. In the first of
them, Vera Tolz writes of a shift from
2010 onwards, which makes the First
World War the determining moment
for modern Russia, not the Revolution. Tolz and her colleagues are likely
to reveal much that is new.
During the conflict, in 1916, the
Russian Society of Soldiers Who Fell
in the War announced a competition
to produce appropriate monuments,
but in 1918 Lenin signed a decree for
the destruction of statues raised in
honour of the tsars and their servants
in favour of new ones of great people

Remembering
Russias Great War
Long overshadowed by the Revolution and
the Second World War, there is renewed
interest in the earlier, imperialist conflict.
Paul Dukes
THE EASTERN FRONT in the First
World War commands far less attention than the Western, even though
it extended further, involved more
soldiers and probably resulted in more
losses. It saw four empires destroyed:
Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany
and Turkey. Russia lost at least as
many men as any other combatant,
yet its contribution has often been
neglected, no doubt because Russia
has often been considered apart from
Europe, especially after the Revolution of 1917. The Allies welcomed the

Russia restored:
Monument to
the Heroes of
the First World
War, Victory Park,
Moscow.

fall of the autocratic tsar Bloody


Nicholas as he was known and
greeted the arrival of democracy in
the shape of the Provisional Government under Alexander Kerensky. But
the seizure of power by Lenin and the
Bolsheviks caused widespread alarm,
as the Soviets withdrew from the
Great War and the country became
cut off from the rest of Europe in both
practice and in thought.
For Lenin and his comrades the
Great War had been an imperialist
venture and was, therefore, to be forgotten in the new communist dawn.
Lenin had urged Russian troops to
fraternise with their enemies before
he took power. With a new history
unfolding, the whole episode of imperialist conflict was to be denounced
and then confined to oblivion. There
would be no commemoration.
Yet, in recent years, the possibility
is opening up of a commemoration
more fitting to the military sacrifice.
Russian and western historians are

For Lenin and his


comrades the Great
War had been an
imperialist venture to
be forgotten in the new
communist dawn
in the sphere of revolutionary and
social activity.
In the Soviet Union itself, somewhat surprisingly, any memory of the
Eastern Front was kept alive largely
by one of the principal pillars of the
establishment, the Red Army, which,
during the 1930s, studied the strategy
and tactics of the conflict between the
Russian and German empires from
1914 to 1918. After the Nazi invasion
of 1941, this previous encounter,
however imperialist, became a key
element in the patriotic propaganda of
the armed forces.
Until the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991, though, memories of
Russias role in the conflict could be
found mostly abroad. Already during
the Great War, memorials of various
kinds, some modest, some more
elaborate, were erected in East
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 3

HISTORYMATTERS

Prussia and cared for by local people.


In Warsaw, Prague and Belgrade, even
in an Orthodox cemetery in Berlin,
the sacrifices of Russian soldiers were
recorded in stone. In France, where
detachments of the tsarist army
fought, Russian sections were set up
in the cemeteries at Soissons, Verdun
and elsewhere. In the US, after much
wrangling between the Veterans
Society and the Orthodox Church, a
monument was dedicated at Seattle in
1936 to the memory of 1,700,000

One of the aims of the museum


is to destroy what is seen as
the myth of Russian
backwardness
soldiers of the Czar who died during
the World War. Services were often
held on Armistice Day, with US
veterans in attendance. Such gestures
did not encourage the preservation of
memory back in the Soviet Union.
Following the demise of the
Soviet Union, the situation began to
change. After a considerable amount
of grassroots activity, including the
erection of crosses on the site of the
former Moscow City Cemetery by
supporters of tsarism among others, it
was reopened in 2004 as a Memorial
Park Complex for the Heroes of World
War One. The deputy mayor observed
that through this restoration we solve
historical, political and social problems. With a change in government
policy already apparent from 2010,
President Putin approved a law in
2012 that added August 1st, the day of
Russias entry into the conflict, to the
official list of military holidays. Then,
in 2013, he announced a competition
for the design of a memorial, as well
as other tributes to those who died for
the Fatherland in the Great War. Duly,
on August 1st, 2014, he inaugurated
a monument to heroes unjustly forgotten during what journalists called
the reign of the wise and great tsar
Nicholas II, asserting that he was the
last leader to come to power legally
before Putin.
Near St Petersburg, at the palace
of Tsarskoe Selo, Nicholas II intended to create a pantheon of patriotic
4 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

heroes. When hostilities began it


became necessary to open a hospital
there instead. Now, it is the site of a
museum that features some 2,000
items in an exhibition entitled Russia
in the Great War, including documents, weapons, medals and uniforms
as well as an old Ford car used by
members of the general staff. Video
displays follow the arrival and course
of the war, from telegrams exchanged
by Nicholas and Kaiser Wilhelm to
footage of the Eastern Front. One of
the aims of the museum is to destroy
what is seen as the myth of Russian
backwardness: Sergei Naryshkin,
chairman of the Russian Historical
Society, claims that, at the outbreak of
hostilities, Russian development was
faster than anywhere else on earth
and could have led to world leadership
by the mid-20th century.
This revival of interest in Russias
role in the Great War has arisen not
only because of the anniversary but
also from Putins desire to foster
Russian patriotism. Naryshkin dutifully observed: In 1914 Russia, true to
its alliance commitments, defended
Serbia; now fraternal Ukraine needs
our help. Having given their lives
in the Great War that followed, the
fallen were now being asked to make a
contribution to resolving the difficulties of more recent times.
Paul Dukes is Emeritus Professor of History at the
University of Aberdeen.

Alternative Histories by Rob Murray

Hormones,
Elixirs and
Eccentrics
The career of the brilliant
physiologist Brown-Squard
is a reminder of the perils of
scientific innovation.
Jacqueline DePasse
THE STORY of Charles-douard BrownSquard is one of intrigue, eccentricity
and a touch of the insane. It works
as a cautionary tale for those seeking
world-changing breakthroughs in
medicine at any cost. Brown-Squard,
after whom a rare condition caused by
damage to the spinal cord is named,
was a true innovator. Through his work
on damage to the spinal cord, he dramatically enhanced our understanding
of the elegant human nervous system.
Unfortunately, his innovative brilliance
not only shaped the frontier of medicine,
it also derailed it.
Brown-Squard was born to an
American father and a French mother
in the British colony of Mauritius in
1817, a year after the invention of the
stethoscope, and spent his professional
life moving between Paris, Richmond,
Virginia, Harvard and London, where he
became a fello of the Royal Society. He
grew up in an era of medicine before
the widespread adoption of antiseptics,
before anaesthesia and long before
antibiotics. Doctors were unlicensed and
based their work on the four humours.
Though blood-letting was on its way
out, it was still relatively common for a
physician to recommend leeches or the
surgeons knife for a variety of conditions, from the common cold to female
hysteria.
While a young medical student and
physician in Paris, he dedicated himself
to his work, at times to the detriment
of his own health and finances. And,
as he churned through mountains of
frogs, meticulously dissecting their
spinal cords, he was also churning
through his inheritance. He penned
over 100 articles, while digging himself

HISTORYMATTERS

deeper into bankruptcy.


Yet through this diligent practice,
Brown-Squard was able to overturn
the conventional wisdom that all
neurological connections were held in
the brain. He repeated his experiments
on sheep and horses and immortalised
himself in the scientific community
thanks to his work on the spinal cord.
Temperamental, and erratic with his
career, Brown-Squard was also known
to experiment impulsively with his own
body in the name of scientific inquiry.
During a cholera outbreak in Mauritius
in 1853, he swallowed the vomit of one
of his patients in an attempt to catch
the disease so that he could experiment
with a new treatment. In Virginia, he
attempted to study the function and
necessity (or lack thereof) of human skin
by covering himself with varnish. He
was found unconscious on the floor and
resuscitated by a student, who quickly
doused him with alcohol to dissolve the
toxic substance coating his body.
Yet in spite of all of his quirks, he was
an eccentric genius. His innovative ideas
were well known and revered. Students
swarmed to his classrooms to listen to
even his most indecipherable and bland
lectures. His colleagues waited for new
insights in his writing and teaching.
Thus, in 1889, when he zealously announced that he had discovered his next
big breakthrough thanks to his infamous
self-experimentation, people sat up and
took notice.
At 72 years old, he had been slowly
losing his strength and endurance and
could no longer work 18-hour days, as
he had when he was a young man. Yet
at the Socit de Biologie in Paris in
1889 he presented a paper describing
injections that had reversed the tides
of time:
I can, to the astonishment of my assistant,
remain standing for hours ... I can now
without difficulty, and even without thinking
about it, go up and down stairs almost
running.
He could lift weights 15lbs heavier than
before and even the average length
of his jet of urine had increased by
25 per cent.
His magical injections were composed of ground testicular extracts prepared from young dogs and guinea pigs,

His magical injections were


composed of ground testicular
extracts from young dogs and
guinea pigs mixed with blood
Doctor derailed: a
portrait of BrownSquard, c.1880.

mixed with blood. Though the low levels


of testosterone in his injections may
have had some effect, this treatment
was quickly discredited. Had it not
been for his reputation, the scientific
community would have quickly pounced
on his faulty scientific methods: his
sample size of one, his lack of a control
subject, the absence of laboratory
confirmation or validation. There was,
however, some scepticism among fellow
scientists as to the veracity of his claims.
Merchants, however, had no such
scruples. The elixir of Brown-Squard,
as it became known, was marketed as a
panacea and quickly became a remedy
for almost everything. It was used by
Jim Pud Galvin, a baseball player and
among the first men in sports history to
use a performance-enhancing drug.
This exploitation derailed the field
of endocrinology and, for decades,
hormones were associated by scientists

with quackery and dubious expansive


claims. It was not until 1920, when
Banting and Best isolated insulin and
provided the first effective treatment
for diabetes, that the field of endocrinology finally regained its rightful
reputation.
Brown-Squard would not be
the last innovative scientist to hastily
proclaim success for a treatment that
in hindsight would illicit disbelief.
Twenty-five years after his death, an
influenza pandemic swept through
the world, affecting nearly half a billion
people and killing five per cent of the
worlds population. The extraordinarily
high fatality rate was attributed in part
to salicylate toxicity, as the US surgeon
general at the time recommended
daily doses of between 8,00012,000mg of the newly generic aspirin
for those afflicted by the flu, a dose we
now know was probably toxic.
Even as late as the mid-20th
century, radical and, in retrospect,
quite devastating, treatments were
recommended by exalted physicians.
The Americans Walter Freeman, the
neuropsychiatrist, along with the
neurosurgeon James Watts, published and presented round the world
his claims for the benefits of frontal
lobotomies for a variety of psychiatric
conditions from depression to schizophrenia. Freeman even attempted
to remove part of the brain through
the eye socket, claiming the procedure could be done in a doctors office
without the use of anaesthesia.
Over the past decade, innovation
in medicine has become a buzzword.
Universities such as Harvard and
Stanford have created innovation
fellowships, spanning medicine and
biotechnology, and regular innovation
summits are held for the healthcare field. We seek those leaders of
thinking who can turn medicine on
its head and provide the next big
breakthrough.
But the story of Brown-Squard
reminds us that the task of the scientific community is to continuously
balance the embrace of original ideas
with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Jacqueline DePasse is an internist and a clinical


instructor at Brown University, Providence, RI.
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 5

HISTORYMATTERS

Beauty and
the Battleship
In the Great War British
artists developed a new
form of marine camouflage.
Margaret F.M. Walker
DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR,
patterns of disruptive colouration were
applied directly to guns, trucks and
tanks to disguise them from reconnaissance aircraft or spotters in enemy
trenches. Given the historic strength of
the Royal Navy, it followed logically that
Britain would be the most innovative in
developing the field of naval camouflage. For, while the human losses on
the Western Front were staggering, it
was the loss of merchant ships carrying
troops, supplies and munitions that
took the greatest economic toll. They
became easy targets for torpedoes as
soon as Germany announced its campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare
in January 1917.
Dazzle is a development curious
to the modern mind, which defines
camouflage as something that blends
an individual in with its surroundings.
These striped ships, highly visible, seem
more appropriate to the realm of art
than combat and occupy a unique place
in military history, as one of the few
instances where the widespread use of
professional artists was of considerable
tactical value.
Norman Wilkinson, who developed
the idea for dazzle camouflage and
oversaw the operation, was an accomplished marine painter before the war.
He submitted his camouflage idea to
the Admiralty in spring of 1917 and was
allowed a trial that August. Previous
proposals, which attempted to paint
or cover ships to blend them with the
water and atmosphere, were unsuccessful due to the vagaries of weather
at sea. However, the results of a trial
convinced the Admiralty in October 1917
to recommend that all merchant ships
receive Wilkinsons camouflage. Dazzle
designs both dismantled the outline of
the ship and created an optical illusion
that deceived enemy eyes in submarines
regarding the speed, size and direction
6 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

of the painted ships. By November


1918, over 2,300 vessels were painted
with unique schemes. The US navy
also adopted the dazzle approach in
1917, along with four other camouflage
methods.
All dazzle patterns were developed in
a London studio by Wilkinson, five male
designers and 11 female art students.
They observed painted models, judging
the effectiveness of deception using a
periscope and turntable before sending
them to the ports as templates. At
the ports, men such as Vorticist artist
Edward Wadsworth, who oversaw the
painting of ships at Bristol and Liverpool,
tailored the patterns to individual
vessels. Generally, the designs consisted
of angular, geometric shapes in no more
than four colours. Shapes never aligned
with a ships edge but carried through
to the other side or over the railing and
onto the smokestacks. Port and starboard patterns were always different,
too. Adopting a characteristic of modern
art, the design very intentionally did
not fit its canvas (the ship) but rather
seemed to take on a shape of its own.
After a year, a committee met to
determine the effectiveness of dazzle
camouflage. Though the data was only
marginally in its favour, the committee
recommended the continuation of the
project; it was inexpensive and efficient,
since ships already needed regular
painting, and contributed greatly to
morale, due to both its perceived safety
as well as its aesthetic appeal.
Dazzle ships became well known,
appearing in British and US ports in
the final two years of the war. These

The art of war:


a Royal Navy
Dreadnought
battleship in
Dazzle livery, 1917.

striking, modernist designs an aesthetic disliked by many before the war


became a pop culture phenomenon into
the early 1920s. Writing for The Art World
in January 1918, Lida Rose McCabe stated
that New York harbor, these days, is
... a veritable floating salon of Cubist,
Futurist and Vorticist color feats
significantly emphasizing the passage
of the one-time derided culturists from
theoretic into actual warfare.
Dazzle ships were, as the British
architect Frederick Etchells noted, a
bright spot of the war, easily adaptable
for mainstream life and commemorative purposes. This camouflage scheme
played a small role in the overall conflict
and was only marginally successful in its
intended use, but it was so visually arresting that it continues to capture the
imagination. In March 1919, the Chelsea
Arts Club hosted a Dazzle Ball at the
Royal Albert Hall and dazzle-striped
designs were quickly commodified into
curtain fabric and bathing costumes.
Angular, cubist-looking designs begin
to appear in the British decorative and
poster arts of the postwar period, too.
Dazzle is a development so aesthetic
that it seems out of place in wartime.
In the early 20th century, the ships gave
a wider group of people exposure to
and appreciation for modernist art and
design. Its wide use in centenary commemorations opens the eyes and minds
of more people in the early 21st century
to the history of this important conflict.

Margaret F.M. Walker is the assistant curator


at the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery in
Nashville, Tennessee.

HISTORYMATTERS

Emperor, Sage
and Unicorn
Genghis Khans encounter with a mystical
beast marked him as a great leader, but
says at least as much about his adviser.
Geoffrey Humble
Mongol forces were poised to enter the
territory of the Delhi Sultanate in northern India in 1224, after a long campaign
against the forces of the Shah of
Khwarazmshah in Transoxania and
eastern Iran. After destroying the shahs
forces in the Punjab, however, Genghis
Khan returned north, leaving the sultanate intact. The Persian historian Juzjani,
writing from exile in Delhi, reported
that a combination of climate, terrain
and divination caused Genghis return.
The latter may relate to an encounter,
described in Chinese histories, between
Genghis and a single-horned animal
and its interpretation by the Khans
adviser Yel Chucai (1189-1243).
The encounter is recorded in two
medieval biographies of Chucai, a
scholar and official in Mongol service,
which locate it near the Iron Gate Pass
in East India (the Buzgala Pass, in
modern Uzbekistan). Shaped like a deer
[with] the tail of a horse, green in colour
and with a single horn, the animal could
speak like a human and addressed the
imperial bodyguard, recommending:
Your lord should return early. Genghis
turned to Chucai for an explanation and,
on receiving it, followed the creatures
advice by withdrawing immediately.
Genghis had given Chucai the nickname Urtu Saqal (Longbeard) at their
first meeting. He had already spent six
years in the Khans retinue, interpreting
various portents deep summer snow,
a winter thunderstorm, a meteor as
omens of victory. Ordered to perform
divination before every campaign,
Chucai conducted scrying sessions at
which his calculations were compared
to Genghis own from scapulimancy
(charring sheeps shoulder blades and
reading the cracks).
Chucai was descended from the
Kitan Yel family, which had ruled
northern China and Inner Asia from 907

Strange sight:
Mirror stand
in the shape
of a unicorn.
Chinese, 11001350.

to 1125 as the Liao Dynasty. After its fall,


his father and grandfather served the
Jin Dynasty (1125-1234). Chucai received
an education based on the Confucian
canon, covering medicine, mathematics,
astrology and music and got top marks
in the civil service examination set by Jin
emperor Zhangzong. After surviving the
Mongol siege of Zhongdu (now Beijing)
in 1214-15, he spent several years at a
Buddhist retreat. He was among many
Kitan aristocrats recruited by Genghis
in the vital and fluid frontier between
the plains of China and the Inner Asian
steppe. Besides divination, Chucai
governed former Jin territories conquered under Genghis, the second Great

Khan gdei and gdeis widow,


Tregene, until his death in 1243.
Chucai drew on his education to
identify the single-horned animal
as a jueduan, a loan word related to
Sanskrit khadga and Persian kargadn,
rhinoceros. This fits modern scholars
conclusions that this is an embroidered
encounter with the Indian rhinoceros.
Chucais explanation is less mundane;
paraphrasing the Songshu, the history of
the southern Chinese Liu Song Dynasty
(420-79), he reported to Genghis:

Able to travel 18,000 li [6,000 miles] in a


day, it understands the languages of the
four yi [i.e., foreigners]; symbolizing the
abhorrence of taking life, it must have
been sent from Heaven Above to warn
Your Majesty.
Chucais identification is selective.
Chinese readers might know that the

Songshu goes on to state that the


jueduan appears at times of enlightened rule and would be expected to
present the monarch with a message.
Chucai interpreted the jueduan and
its message as meaning return early.
Both biographies quote him telling
Genghis that the animal brings him a
message expressing divine will. Choosing to accept this confirms Genghis
as a monarch worthy of receiving
such a message and links heavens
will to the protection of human life.
Sitting uneasily alongside what we
know of the Mongol conquest after
1224, Genghis obedient withdrawal
seems an insufficient reaction to such
a message. For readers
of the encounter in
the Yuanshi, the most
important source on
Mongol rule in China,
the episode both confirms and questions the
divine basis of Genghis
authority.
As importantly,
however, Chucais identification of the jueduan
makes him a sage in a
long Chinese intellectual tradition.
Beside the animals
nature as messengers
to rulers, accounts
of such encounters,
prominently with the Chinese unicorn
qilin (Japanese kirin, hence the beer),
similarly associated with royal status,
emphasise those who recognise and
name them. Chucai is thus linked to
Confucius himself, who reportedly
identified a qilin from eyewitness descriptions in 481 bc. It is also significant that, whether or not Genghis is
a monarch worthy of messages from
heaven, Chucai is clearly essential to
his understanding of those messages.
Chucais sagehood is, it seems, far
more secure than Genghis empire,
and the appearance of the jueduan
rhino or unicorn is no simple event,
but a tale making Yel Chucai more
than equal to his warlike rulers.

Geoffrey Humble is a PhD student at the


University of Birmingham, researching imperial
Mongol historiography.
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 7

HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE

The millennia-long
history of the Holy Roman
Empire has been wilfully
misunderstood since the
rise of the nation state.
But can its past shed light
on the Continents future,
asks Peter H. Wilson?

10 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

The First
EUROPEAN
UNION

Pope Leo III crowns


Charlemagne
emperor on
Christmas Day 800,
from the Chronicle
of France, c.1450.

OR MORE THAN A THOUSAND YEARS, following its foundation


on Christmas Day 800, the Holy Roman Empire embodied the
ideal that Europe was a single pacific Christian order upheld by
the emperor as pre-eminent monarch and guardian of the papacy.
More directly, it provided the political framework for what are now
Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Belgium, Luxembourg,
the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, as well as most of Italy and
parts of Denmark, France and Poland. Few of these countries were more
than geographical expressions for most of the Empires existence and
none occupied its present borders. Yet it is these countries and their
neighbours that now shape how Europes deeper past is remembered,
rather than the Empire, which has largely been written out of history or
simply reduced to Germanys middle ages. The Empires transnational
character already jarred with outside observers by the 18th century,
prompting the French philosopher Voltaire to quip that it was neither
holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Its demise in 1806, amid the Napoleonic Wars, reinforced the belief that it had outlived its purpose and had
long been rendered irrelevant by the rise of sovereign national states.

Europes fragmentation into more clearly demarcated polities was


matched by similar trends in map-making and historical writing, which
presented political development as a linear process of consolidation
around national capitals. Historical atlases marked the delineation of
national frontiers by depicting each country as a solid block of colour,
which expanded or contracted with the acquisition or loss of territory.
Historians chronicled their countrys past as (usually heroic) efforts of
supposedly far-sighted monarchs that forged unity, founded institutions
and generally gave coherence by passing laws, standardising weights and
measures and similar actions. The later broadening of historical writing
to include more social and economic themes did not fundamentally
change this story, but instead simply added ordinary folk to the ranks
of national state-builders.
The Empire was neglected because it did not conform to this historical trajectory. Charlemagne, the first emperor, at least fitted later ideals
of a powerful ruler. Already king of the Franks after 768, Charlemagne
rapidly expanded the Frankish realm from France and the Rhineland
to encompass north-west Europe, central Germany and all of Italy.
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 11

HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE

Charlemagne
as Holy Roman
Emperor with the
imperial orb and
sword, French,
15th century.

It was these successes that convinced Pope Leo III that the Frankish
king would be a more effective protector than the distant Byzantine
emperor in Constantinople. Leo used a temporary interregnum in Constantinople, between the reigns of Irene of Athens and Nicephorus,
as an excuse to translate, or transfer, what was still considered the
ancient Roman imperial title westwards and confer it on Charlemagne.
His death in 814 was followed within a few decades by a series of civil
wars among the Frankish elite and a succession of partitions between
843 and 870 that, superficially at least, split the realm into distinct
French, German and Italian kingdoms. The periodic refusal or inability
of various popes to crown one of these kings as emperor contributed to
the impression of imperial collapse.

OR LATER COMMENTATORS, the Empires history now became


a largely German story, as the Ottonian family ruling the German
kingdom since 919 persuaded Pope John XII to confer the imperial title on them in 962, after 36 years without a crowned
emperor. What followed was, for most German historians since the
early 19th century, a source of national shame. Rather than staying
north of the Alps to forge a centralised monarchy, German kings were
repeatedly distracted by the chimera of imperial glory, launching
12 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

seemingly quixotic expeditions to seek coronation in Rome, interfere


in papal affairs or go on crusades. Each time, it appeared, more royal
and imperial rights would be bartered away in return for the temporary
support of the German nobility. Thus, the Empire appeared to evolve
in entirely the opposite direction to the European norm, centrifugally
as powers and prerogatives were devolved to nobles and towns, rather
than centripetally through the concentration of authority in the hands
of a national royal government.
The non-German-speaking parts of the Empire, such as Bohemia
and Burgundy, naturally evolved as autonomous countries, while the
German lands fragmented into a mosaic of petty principalities. Even the
accumulation of unprecedented territories under the Habsburgs by the
mid-15th century failed to arrest this apparent decline, because they
were allegedly too Austrian and pursued their own dynastic interests.
Worse, according to the sharply Protestant-inflected historiography
after the 1840s, the Habsburgs refusal to abandon Catholicism led them
to squander the opportunity allegedly presented by the Reformation to
forge unity through founding a German national church. It was thus left
to Prussia to clean up the mess by ejecting Austria and unifying Germany
in a succession of short wars between 1864 and 1871.
The warlike character of this Second Reich (Empire), followed by

Pope Leo III, by


Giuseppe Franchi,
late 16th century.

Crown of the Holy


Roman Empire
made for Emperor
Otto I, c.962.

The Empires history is more


interesting and more relevant
to contemporary history than
established views would suggest
Hitlers genocidal Third, prompted German historians after the 1960s to
view the Holy Roman Empire more favourably. This positive reappraisal
has been largely confined to the Empires last three centuries and has remained within the broadly national lines established in the 19th century.
A major element in this is the fixation with the suffix of the German
nation, which was added to the formula Holy Roman Empire in 1474.
Despite recent claims to the contrary, this was not adopted formally
and most official documents simply referred to the Empire without
any mention of it being particularly German. However, the partial
exclusion of many non-German-speaking regions from the new institutions emerging around 1500 further encouraged later 20th-century
historians to reduce the Empire to Germany, with some even calling it
the first German nation state. These new institutions were intended to
integrate the various principalities and cities into a common framework
which appears, to many recent commentators, as federal and, in the
words of one, Peter-Claus Hartmann, even a possible blueprint for a
more federalised European Union.
The new, more positive interpretation has gained some traction
in the public consciousness in Germany, not least thanks to some
well-funded and genuinely popular exhibitions staged in 2006,
marking the bicentenary of the Empires demise. Nonetheless, the older

negative verdict of the Empire as a failed nation state still predominates,


especially beyond Germany: assuming anyone pays it attention at all.
This is unfortunate, because the Empires actual history is both far
more interesting and potentially much more relevant to contemporary
issues than either of the established views would suggest. The only way
to recover that past is to jettison the nationalist lens and to see the
Empire on its own terms.

HIS MEANS tackling the word empire head on. The experience
of European colonialism, together with imperial projects in
Europe itself, like those of Napoleon and Hitler, have all firmly
equated empire with hegemony. Empires, it is assumed,
expand from a core region to dominate more peripheral ones, whose
inhabitants must serve the interests of the imperial people. The Holy
Roman Empire only briefly and superficially corresponded to this model.
Charlemagnes initial expansion was certainly imperial in the conventional sense of conquering and absorbing new territories. Likewise, the
Empires eastward expansion through migration and colonisation during
the 12th century was often violent and partly imperialistic, though it
also involved assimilation and accommodation and it proceeded almost
entirely without involvement or encouragement from the emperor.
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 13

HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE


Throughout, the Empire lacked a stable core and never possessed a
single capital. During the era of Carolingian (Frankish) rule the imperial
title passed between different branches of Charlemagnes immediate
descendants, including those based in Italy. Rome remained the favoured place for imperial coronations until the mid-15th century, but
was never considered a political capital. Charlemagne already used numerous palaces, notably at Aachen, but also throughout the Rhineland,
along the River Main and across northern France. The Carolingian line
persisted in France until 987, around 40 years after the family died out
in Italy and over 80 years after its extinction in Germany. France was
already evolving as a distinct kingdom, though it took several centuries
for this to be articulated clearly. French kings were still serious candidates as potential emperors in the 13th, 14th, 16th and 17th centuries.
They, too, claimed Charlemagnes legacy, though in ways which came
to differ sharply from how he was remembered in the Empire.
The gradual separation of France significantly reduced the actual
extent of the Empire, though it still encompassed the German, Italian
and Burgundian kingdoms: the latter also under a Carolingian line of
kings until 1032. The exact relationship of these different parts was
never clearly established, not least because contemporaries used the
term kingdom in multiple ways. The modern conception of sovereignty lay far in the future, only emerging slowly in the 13th century, as
theorists argued that kings were emperors in their own kingdoms. At
that point, sovereignty was always singular, applied only to the writers
own monarch, whereas all others titled king were considered somehow

Holy
Roman
Empire
800-1806

under the emperors jurisdiction. Even those kings who were considered
sovereign still formally recognised the emperor as Europes premier
monarch.

HE PROCESS OF selecting kings was equally fluid. Across


Europe, later historians compiled lines of kings, implying a
form of hereditary succession that was entirely alien to those
actually involved. Royal genealogies were already constructed
during the Carolingian era, but were about demonstrating the status
of the current king and his relations, rather than recording hereditary
rights. Even the Habsburgs, the Empires ultimate dynasts, ruling continuously as emperors from 1452, included the Carolingians, Caesars and
Trojans among their ancestors. Kings might designate sons as successors,
but any transition of rule always required the approval of immediate
relations and other great lords. While the French monarchy eventually entrenched direct hereditary rule, things remained less clear in
the Empires three main kingdoms of Germany, Italy and Burgundy.
Otto Is victory over the Magyars in 955 and his subsequent invasion
of Italy established the pre-eminence of the German kingdom within
the Empire and ensured his coronation as emperor in 962. Henceforth,
whoever was German king was the leading candidate to be crowned
emperor. The Empires three kingdoms remained distinct, but related
in hierarchical order. German kings automatically assumed the Italian
royal title, even without a coronation. The same arrangement was extended to Burgundy after 1032.

Charlemagne,
from the studio
of Albrecht
Drer, 1514.

800

Charlemagne,
king of the Franks,
crowned emperor
by Pope Leo III

14 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE


The doubleheaded eagle,
symbol of the
Holy Roman
Empire, 1510.

ELL BEFORE this, though,


the Empire was already
considered as enduring
even when no king had
been crowned emperor. This sense of
transpersonal monarchy has been seriously underestimated by later historians,
who described the 306 years between
800 and 1452 when there was no crowned
emperor as interregna. There was, in fact,
an almost unbroken line of kings, while
the Empire itself was considered to transcend the lives of any monarch, regardless
of what title they possessed. German kings
effectively assumed imperial prerogatives
on their succession, but imperial coronations remained important as
symbols of unity with the papacy and for the prestige they brought.
The process of selecting each German king remained rooted within
Germany, but without clear rules before the 14th century. Participants
did not view hereditary and elective monarchy as clearly distinguished
constitutional categories, instead placing far more emphasis on the
personal qualities of the potential candidates. Actual practice was determined by a political culture based on personal presence rather than
formal rules fixed in writing. Participation was already restricted to a
small elite of leading families, several of which were closely related to the
most likely candidates. This culture of presence was intended to minimise violence by allowing discrete negotiations brokered by intermediaries, with female relations often playing a key role in mediating such
discussions. Decisions were then enacted in more formalised rituals,

1024

Accession of the
Salian line of German
kings (to 1125)

16 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

1077-1122

staged as if they were expressions of spontaneous agreement. Participation signalled consent. Absence could indicate disagreement, but in a
way which allowed opponents to accept a decision later without losing
face. The system was far from perfect and several kings faced rebellions,
including from their own sons. However, there were only 18 rival or antikings between 983 and 1410 and five of these were during Henry IVs
tumultuous reign (1056-1106). Most anti-kings appeared as opponents
of incumbent kings and only four emerged directly from the process
of selecting a successor. Of these four double elections, only those of
1198 and 1314 resulted in serious violence, while in the case of the other
two, one rival never actually arrived to take up his claim (Alfonso X of
Castile, 1257); the other (Jobst of Moravia, 1410) died before he could
pose a serious challenge.
The elective character did not prevent long lines of kings from the

Investiture Dispute between the


emperor and the papacy results in
both losing prestige and influence
outside their immediate realms

1138

Accession of the
Staufer line of
German kings
(to 1250). Trend
towards a more
complex and finely
graduated feudal
hierarchy of lords
and princes

1250

The Empire continued


to evolve as a complex
multi-layered hierarchy
under the so-called
little kings, chosen
from different princely
families

same family during most of the Empires existence: Carolingians (800911), Ottonians (919-1024), Salians (1024-1125), Staufers (1138-1254),
Luxembourgs (1347-1437) and Habsburgs (1438-1806). Even the age of
the little kings (1254-1347) saw greater continuity in terms of institutions and political culture than is often thought. The Empires record
for royal stability was no worse and often better than that in Europes
more conventional monarchies such as England, Scotland or Spain.
The elective character emerged more clearly during the 13th century,
before being formalised in the Golden Bull of 1356, which reduced the
number of princes involved to seven electors. Traditionally, this process
has been regarded as exemplifying the Empires supposedly centrifugal
political development. In fact, it was encouraged by the Staufers and
later Luxembourg monarchs, who used it as a way to both reduce the
number of lords involved in royal succession and to end papal meddling
in the Empires politics.

HE SAME CAN BE SAID more broadly for the evolution of the


Empire as a multi-layered political structure. The usual narrative is one of progressive fragmentation, with the Empire starting as a supposedly unitary state and gradually dissolving into
distinct principalities such as Bavaria or Saxony. This process has been
labelled territorialisation: a term that is in some respects apt because
legal, administrative and political jurisdictions did become more clearly
territorially bounded from the later 12th century. However, this process
was not the result of an antagonistic dualism between emperor and
princes, whereby the latter acquired or stole powers from the former.
Rather, the later Staufers and their successors deliberately encouraged
the expansion of the Empires lordly elite as a means of both managing
them more effectively and tapping the additional resources that accrued
from economic and demographic growth.
The Empire had never been a unitary state in the sense of possessing a single, uniform administrative or legal system. The Carolingians
already endowed assets to the church and to secular lords. The
Ottonians continued this practice, but the stabilisation of the
Empires outer frontiers by the early 11th century reduced
the opportunities for further grants from conquered land.
Endowments evolved as fiefs, held in return for providing
personal and material assistance to the emperor, notably on
military campaigns. Throughout, however, the core of this
system was a basic division of labour between the lords and the
monarch. The lords were responsible for supervision of local
affairs and daily life, freeing the emperor to concentrate on
the imperial mission. The latter entailed protecting the papacy
and upholding peace and justice largely through symbolic
acts, including setting a personal example as a pious, moral
ruler. Importantly, all parties subscribed to this ideal. The
numerous disputes between monarchs and individual lords
reflected personal, rather than constitutional disagreements.
Imperial government thus remained remarkably cheap, as
the costs of maintaining the peace and resolving inhabitants
problems were all borne directly by lords, towns and villages.
Emperors continually sanctioned and extended local autonomy by granting charters to enable lords and communities to
discharge their local responsibilities, as well as to reward specific instances of loyalty or service. The result was a complex
web of specific local rights and immunities, mediating the
The 1653-4 meeting of the imperial diet, which remained 'perpetual' after 1663.

1346

Accession of the
Luxembourg line of
German kings, who
shifted the basis of
imperial rule more
clearly to possessing
extensive lands under
their direct control

1356
Golden Bull
confirms the
Empire as
an elective
monarchy

Golden Bull of
1356, issued by the
Imperial Diet at
Nuremberg and
Metz.

1438

Accession of the Habsburgs,


who monopolised the
imperial title until 1806
(with one break, 1740-45).
The Habsburgs continued
the Luxembourg methods of
imperial rule by expanding
their territories around
Austria

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 17

HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE

Charlemagne and Leo III on the frontispiece of Victor Hugo's Legend of the Ages, 1886.

relationship of each lord or community to its neighbours, the rest of


the Empire and to the emperor. This relationship was always hierarchical, but grew rapidly more so across the 12th and 13th centuries as
the Staufers and their successors deliberately expanded the number of
senior lords, who now emerged more clearly as an elite known collectively as the princes. These enjoyed the privilege of imperial immediacy, placing themselves and their jurisdictions in a direct relationship
to the emperor. It was these jurisdictions that were increasingly territorialised, in the sense that they were fixed geographically and became
the patchwork of different principalities which feature on most modern
maps of the Empire. Lesser lords and communities within these principalities possessed only mediate status, in that their relationship to the

1480s

Establishment of new
common institutions,
like the Reichstag
and the imperial
supreme court, in a
process labelled
imperial reform,
which continued
into the 1570s

18 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

1618-48
Foreign intervention
exacerbated a
constitutional crisis
leading to the Thirty
Years War

emperor was mediated by one or more intervening levels of jurisdiction.


Around 80 towns emerged as imperial free cities, thanks to special
privileges exempting them from princely jurisdiction. Though united
by their common possession of immediacy, the princes were far from
equal, because successive emperors used their prerogatives to expand
the range of princely titles. Thus, they retained some hold over the elite
by manipulating competition for status among the princes.
This did not seal off the local level from the Empire, however, because
all lordly and communal privileges were still connected to the wider
web of legal immunities and jurisdictions. Moreover, institutional development at territorial and often even local level remained closely
bound to the wider imperial structure. For example, princes developed

Peace of
Westphalia, Josef
Mathias, 1862.

1648

Peace of Westphalia stabilised the Empire as a mixed


monarchy in which the emperor shared the exercise of
sovereign powers with a long hierarchy of princes, lords
and cities represented in common institutions

institutions quite similar to those in other European monarchies, such


as treasuries, chancelleries, law courts and the like. However, these
were established to enable them to discharge their part of the Empires
division of labour. This interaction between imperial, territorial and
local developments accelerated during the period known as imperial reform, stretching from the 1420s into the 1570s, with a peak of
activity between about 1480 and 1521. The emperor, princes and free
cities collectively created a new range of imperial institutions, including
the Reichstag (imperial diet), various other consultative assemblies, a
supreme court, plus mechanisms for upholding the public peace, tax and
military mobilisation structures. The process consolidated the Empire
as a mixed monarchy, where the emperor shared the exercise of most
powers with a long hierarchy of immediate princes and free cities.
The institutions counter-balanced the growth of the Habsburgs, who
amassed an unprecedented collection of hereditary possessions around
Austria, Bohemia and Burgundy. These gave them far more resources
than any previous ruling house and, for this reason, they retained a
monopoly on what was still an elective imperial title, since they were
now the only viable candidates as emperors.

EANWHILE, the new imperial structures promoted further


developments at territorial and local level. For example, the
obligation to pay taxes and raise troops for the Empires
collective security encouraged princely and civic authorities
to create new fiscal structures within their jurisdictions. The Empire
thus remained rooted in society in ways almost completely overlooked
by 19th- and 20th-century historians, who treated the individual principalities as if they were separate states. The Empires inhabitants identified with it precisely because the wider imperial structure guaranteed
their own local privileges and autonomy. Their sense of belonging was
multi-layered, from household, parish, community, territory, region to
Empire. Attachment to the imperial level was not necessarily weakest.
On the contrary, the emperors relative distance could make him appear
more benign than more immediate authorities, especially as the imperial supreme court and other institutions often intervened successfully
to preserve local rights against tyrannical princes or spendthrift city
councils.
It is important not to over-romanticise these relationships. The Empires political and legal structures certainly retained flexibility, even
in the late 18th century, but they were also deeply conservative and

tied to an equally conservative social order, characterised by corporate


rather than individual rights. Many of these rights were surprisingly
progressive, such as legal equality for the three Christian confessions
(Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism), officially recognised from 1648
following the horrors of the Thirty Years War, as well as relatively effective protection for the Empires substantial Jewish minority. Women
also enjoyed far more extensive rights than those generally found elsewhere in Europe. Nonetheless, these rights were always particular and
local, rather than equal or universal, in that they derived from each
persons place of residence and social status. Moreover, attempts to fix
them with ever greater precision in a growing corpus of written laws
significantly retarded the Empires ability to respond to the underlying
social and economic change that accelerated across the 18th century.
Many of these arrangements outlived the Empires dissolution
in 1806, contributing to the difficulties liberals and nationalists encountered during the 19th century, as they tried to construct a united
Germany inhabited by people who were supposed to feel uniformly
German. It is here that the Empires history is most instructive for the
current debates on identity and on Europes future. The Empire shows
that an effective polity and a cohesive society do not always require
people to surrender local identity and autonomy. The challenge for
today is to find ways of achieving this, while retaining the benefits of
the democratic, equal, uniform rights and opportunities secured across
the 19th and 20th centuries.
Peter H. Wilson is Chichele Professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford and
author of The Holy Roman Empire: A Thousand Years of Europes History (Allen Lane, 2016).

FURTHER READING
Len Scales, The Shaping of German Identity: Authority and Crisis 12451414 (Cambridge, 2015).
Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger, The Emperor's Old Clothes (Oxford
University Press, 2015).
Joachim Whaley, Germany and the Holy Roman Emperor (Oxford
University Press, 2012).
Peter H. Wilson, The Holy Roman Empire 1495-1806 (Palgrave
Macmillan 2011).

1681-2 1740 1792


Reform of the system
of collective defence
enabled the Empire
to repel French and
Turkish attacks

Start of open
Austro-Prussian
rivalry begins to
destabilise
imperial politics

Revolutionary
and Napoleonic
wars widen
tensions,
internally
especially,
as Prussia
withdrew into
a decade of
neutrality after
1795

Francis II,
by Joseph
Kreutzinger, early
19th century.

1806

Emperor Francis II dissolved the Empire


to prevent Napoleon usurping its legacy
as a means to reorganise Germany
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 19

LOST WORLDS
Amde Forestier's
vision of prehistoric
animals among the
landmarks of modern
London, Illustrated
London News, 1924.

The discovery in Victorian London


of the remains of ancient animals
and a fascination with their modern
descendants helped to transform
peoples ideas of the deep past,
as Chris Manias reveals.

LORENTIJN HOFMANS sculpture HippopoThames


was towed up the River Thames in 2014, past Tower
Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, to rest at
Nine Elms on the south bank for several weeks. It
was an event greeted with interest and surprise. Londons
Natural History Museum issued a press release at the time
headed Hippos make a splash return to the River Thames,
discussing how, 125,000 years ago, hippos wallowed in
the river, in the presence of mammoths, rhinos, aurochs,
lions and other prehistoric animals. This was not, however,
the first time that Londoners had been reminded of the
primeval fauna that once roamed the territory occupied by
the modern city. The first discoveries of these animals dated
back to the 19th century, when the immense popularity
of science, large-scale building works in the capital and
reflections on the natural world all combined to bring the
lost animals of prehistory to the public eye.
In Victorian Britain, scholarly and popular audiences
alike were gripped by natural science and, among the
most intriguing subjects, were geology and palaeontology.
Scholars made high-profile finds, such as the remains of
hyenas and mammoths, discovered by William Buckland
in caves across England, or Mary Annings discoveries of
fossil Ichthyosaurs, Plesiosaurs and other marine creatures
around Dorset. Palaeontological specimens were displayed
in museums and public shows to great popular interest.
Written works revealing the epic story of creation, such
as The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844) and
Gideon Mantells The Wonders Of Geology (1838), sold
thousands of copies and were the focus of public debate
long before the controversies aroused by the publication of
Charles Darwins On the Origin of Species (1859).
While palaeontological news stories today tend to focus
on dinosaurs, this was not the case in the Victorian period.
The term Dinosauria was, indeed, coined by the natural
historian Richard Owen in 1842 and the reconstructions of
the Iguanodon and Megalosaurus were focal points at the
Crystal Palace Geological Islands erected in the 1850s. Yet
there was also considerable interest in other periods of the
earths history. The Carboniferous a time before the age
of reptiles, when the world was covered in giant cycad

Hippos
of the

Thames
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 21

LOST WORLDS
jungles inhabited by huge insects and the first amphibians
was commonly depicted, as this was the period in which the
coal that was driving the Industrial Revolution, then in full
flow, was laid down. The more recent Pleistocene, the geological era just before the present, was also of interest. The
animals which inhabited Pleistocene Europe including
mammoths, reindeer, woolly rhinoceros, hyenas and lions
seemed to mix Arctic and African forms in a decidedly
strange climate, apparently warm for parts of the era, but in
others locked in the glacial cold.
It was not just prehistoric animals and landscapes that
stoked the imagination of Victorian audiences. Reports of

Below: HippopoThames, Florentijn


Hofman's
sculpture, 2014.
Bottom: Obaysch
at London Zoo,
1855.

regions beyond Europe filled books and media accounts and


often referred to wildlife. Following the trails of imperial
trade and colonisation, animal and plant specimens (both
alive and dead) were sent to Britain from across the globe,
where they filled the institutions of the capital. A cluster
of stuffed giraffes held prime position on the stairs at the
British Museum, while zoos and public exhibitions displayed animals from Asia, Africa and the Americas.

NE OF THE most dramatic instances of


Victorian interest in exotic creatures
was what was been called the Hippomania, sparked when a young male
hippopotamus was brought to the London Zoological Gardens in 1850. He was named Obaysch, after
the region of Egypt where he was captured. Two
thousand visitors a day (including Queen Victoria
and her family) came to the zoo to see what was
hailed as the first hippopotamus in Europe since
Roman times. Hippo memorabilia, including statuettes and musical scores for the hippopotamus
polka, could be bought around the capital in what
became a popular craze.
Descriptive accounts would often talk about
Obaysch in terms of antiquity, discussing hippopotamus gods from Ancient Egypt, how the name
Hippopotamus derived from the Greek and speculating that the Behemoth in the Book of Job was
in fact a hippo. The antiquity of the hippopotamus
was not limited to such references. The biologist
Richard Owen reported on the creatures massive
muzzle and grotesque and striking character and
concluded that at certain moments, the whole
aspect of the head suggests to one the idea of
what may have been the semblance of some of the

22 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

gigantic extinct Batrachians [reptiles], the relics of a former


world, whose fossil bones excite our wonder so powerfully
when we wander into the galleries of Palaeontology in the
British Museum. The hippo was a living creature just as
wondrous as those being unearthed by geology.
While Hippomania began to recede towards the end of
the 1850s (Punch featured a poem ostensibly by Obaysch
lamenting how the arrival of a South American anteater
had reduced him to second-billing), hippos retained a place
in the Victorian imagination. In the summer of 1854,
Obaysch was joined by a female, Adhela, and Mister and
Mrs Hippopotamus remained a regular fixture at the zoo.
Breeding, however, proved difficult. Two baby hippos died
shortly after birth, before a third, born in November 1872
(and named Guy Fawkes), survived into adulthood.
European travellers in Africa would report on the hippo.
In the accounts of his travels in the African interior, the
explorer Paul du Chaillu noted how it was pleasant to
watch a flock [of hippos] peacefully enjoying themselves
in the water, particularly the comically awkward infants,
while nevertheless noting the savage appearance of their
tusks, the fury of fights between males and that African
hunters were extremely wary of the animal, needing to
leave it undisputed master of the forest and river, if they
lacked guns. Hippos were regarded as exotic yet domestic,
amusing yet dangerous, comical yet majestic.
Among the more surprising discoveries in palaeontology
were fossil hippos in relatively recent Pleistocene layers
in Europe. Their bones and teeth, being large and durable,

Accounts would often talk about


Obaysch in terms of antiquity,
discussing hippopotamus gods
from Ancient Egypt

S WELL AS the works of these scholars, there


were other important sources of geological and
palaeontological discoveries in the Victorian
period. Mining, railway building and construction
projects dug a great deal more and to a greater depth than
geologists. London in particular was a rich site. While the
city did not undergo the same planned renovation as contemporary Paris under Baron Hausmann, it went through a
more long-term but no less extensive set of renovations, as
slum clearances, rebuilding and grand projects, such as the
network of sewers and the metropolitan railway, dug great
holes and unearthed remains of the citys past. Crowds
came to watch tunnels being sunk for major construction
efforts and scholars would pay workmen for their finds. In
this way, the antiquary Charles Roach Smith assembled
over the course of the 1850s, a sizeable Museum of London
Antiquities consisting mainly of artefacts from the Roman
period, which was eventually sold to the British Museum.
Deeper in the London earth were the bones of Pleistocene animals. The Illustrated London News reported in 1883:
It is not an uncommon occurrence for the workmen, when
digging deeply into the gravels and brick-earths which underlie
London to exhume fossil teeth and bones of animals now
extinct, or of the early ancestors of others which still survive
either in a wild or semi-wild state, in this country or on the
European and African continents.
The geologist Charles Lyell wrote that:
Many bones of the elephant, rhinoceros, and hippopotamus
have been found in the gravel on which London stands Fossil
remains of all these three genera have been dug up on the site of
Waterloo Place, St Jamess Square, Charing Cross, the London
Docks, Limehouse, Bethnal Green, and other places.

were in fact some of the first mammal fossils to be discovered; some had been interpreted by medieval observers as
the remains of saints or giants. These fossils began to be
presented as the remains of animals in the rooms of newly
formed learned societies in the 17th and 18th centuries and
were discussed more systematically in the 19th. In 1821, at
the Museum of Natural History in Paris, the comparative
anatomist Georges Cuvier described remains of le grand
hippopotame fossile from northern France. At the same time,
William Buckland noted that hippopotamus bones were
located alongside those of hyena and mammoth in Kirkdale
Cave in Yorkshire. By the 1850s, Richard Owen was recording the discovery of the teeth and bones of Hippopotamus
major from all over England and Wales. Ancient Britain was
shown to have been full of hippopotami.

Numerous London institutions, ranging from the Junior


United Service Club of Charles Street, Haymarket to the
banking house Drummond in Charing Cross displayed
bones and tusks of fossil animals unearthed in construction
projects. Londons deep past was revealed to be just as exciting as that of remote caverns and exotic colonial territories.
These discoveries meant that by the middle of the
century it was well-established in the popular mind that
Britain had once been home to elephants, rhino, hippo,
lion and various deer and bison. Attention began to turn
to understanding what this landscape had been like. The
Manchester geologist William Boyd Dawkins wrote a
piece entitled The British Lion in 1882, bringing to life an
ancient England:
A page from
Richard Owens
British Fossil
Mammalia, 1846.

Haunted by many extinct wild animals, and by living species


no longer found together in any part of the world. Stags and
roe-deer lived in the forest side by side with the gigantic and
extinct Irish elk, the woolly rhinoceros, and the straight-tusked
elephant These animals were kept in check by numerous
beasts of prey the stillness of night was from time to time
broken by the weird laughter of the spotted hyena and by the
roar that proclaimed the presence of the king of beasts the
titular British Lion.
Meanwhile, otters pursued their prey in the Thames
estuary at Grays Thurrock. At Ilford beavers were to be seen
disporting themselves round their wonderful habitations,
and vanishing beneath the surface, as if by magic at the
splash caused by the bulky form of the hippopotamus as
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 23

LOST WORLDS

he plunged into the water. Of these prehistoric animals,


elephants and woolly rhinoceros were spectacular; lions and
hyenas the ancestors of feared predators. Hippos, however,
embodied the strangeness of this ancient environment.
Accounts often contrasted the scale and opulence of the
modern metropolis with its primordial condition. Samuel
Carter Halls Book of the Thames (1859) encouraged its
readers to return imaginatively to a time when:
The bosom of that river which now bears upon it the wealth
of the old and the new continents, to add to the luxury of the
greatest city in the civilized world, once swept a mighty torrent
through forests of palms The hippopotamus laved in its
waters, the rhinoceros and the elephant dwelt upon its banks.
The country through which the Thames now rolls onward to
the sea, was, ages ere yet man had existence, similar in most
respects to the vast plains of Central Africa the watershed
of a wide swamp, rich in vegetation, excited by the influences
of a tropical sun.
Before human civilisation, the Thames had been an unspoilt and majestic wilderness.
The idea of hippos in the prehistoric Thames raised a
scientific problem. The difficulty in keeping the young
hippos alive in the Zoological Gardens illustrated that these
creatures were not especially suited to the modern British
climate. Samuel Carter Hall had assumed this meant that
the Thames had once been a lush tropical waterway, but
the records of palaeontology presented a more complicated
24 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

Elephants and rhinoceros of species


long since extinct roamed in herds all
round him [Piltdown Man]. These and the
hippopotamus no doubt he killed for food
Piltdown Man
among the ancient
fauna of Sussex.
Amde Forestier,
Illustrated London
News, 1912.

picture. The remains of many of the animals found close to


the hippos such as the mammoth, musk ox and reindeer
seemed to be adapted for cold climates. How, one reviewer
in the The Times asked, are we to account for the presence
of the hippopotamus, an animal which, according to our
present notions, would find himself exceedingly inconvenienced by the frost? Richard Owen's answer was that
the fossil hippo was a different species from the present
African one, it might also have been able to exist beneath
a less sultry sky than that of Africa. But what would an
ice-dwelling hippo have been like? An answer was difficult
for scientists to conceptualise, particularly as further comparisons of the great fossil hippopotamus with its modern
African counterpart seemed to show that the two species
were remarkably similar, if not identical.
Charles Lyell proposed one ingenious solution: migration. He cited recent reports from South Africa which noted
that, while hippos had been found throughout the region in
the 18th century, by the 1840s they had all but disappeared,

apparently having migrated northwards when disturbed


by Europeans. It followed, therefore, that hippos were potentially able to travel large distances, which meant it was
conceivable that the prehistoric hippos were only seasonal
visitors to Ice Age Europe. He mused on how this might be:
The geologist may freely speculate on the time when herds
of hippopotami issued from North African rivers, such as the
Nile, and swam northwards in summer along the coasts of the
Mediterranean, or even occasionally visited islands near the
shore. Here and there they may have landed to graze or browse,
tarrying awhile and afterwards continuing their course northwards. Others may have swum in a few summer days from
rivers in the south of Spain or France to the Somme, Thames,
or Severn, making timely retreat to the south before the snow
and ice set in.
To the wonders of geology was added the spectacle of vast
herds of migrating hippo, swimming across the Mediterranean to Europe for the warmer months, and then returning to Africa before the onset of the harsh Ice Age winter.
This idea was not accepted universally and many scholars
doubted the migratory abilities of the prehistoric (or
indeed, the modern) hippo. The Scottish geologist, Alfred
Geikie, felt that hippos were too large and bulky to migrate
such distances in a seasonal manner. Their presence close
to the reindeer indicated that the climate had switched
relatively quickly, between spells of warm weather, when
the rivers filled with hippo over several generations, and
then cold, when the musk ox and reindeer moved in. This
concept of cold, glacial periods of several centuries or
millennia followed by warmer interglacial periods became
the established orthodoxy from the late 19th century.
Reflections on the hippo did not, therefore, just supply
picturesque details, but were important drivers of scientific
debate on the nature of ancient climatic change.
What of the interaction of prehistoric hippos with
humans? While humans had been absent from geological

discoveries in the early-19th century, the late 1850s and


early 1860s saw the establishment of human antiquity,
as stone tools were found alongside the bones of extinct
prehistoric animals. This firmly established the concept
of prehistoric cave-men inhabiting ancient Europe deep
into the Pleistocene. Worthington George Smith, a London
architect who obtained many palaeontological and prehistoric finds from digs in East London and Essex, attempted to
understand how primeval savages would have interacted
with these animals:
The hippopotamus reached what is now the Thames by rivers
and the seashore from Africa; not being a flesh-eating animal, it
would not be much dreaded by its human companions; the old
bulls would, however, sometimes scatter human companies.
While potentially dangerous, the hippo was not as great a
threat as the savage troops of hyenas, or great bears and
lions, which would have preyed upon the first humans.

NE OF THE MOST high-profile (and later


notorious) finds in human antiquity, the
Piltdown skull was discovered in Sussex in
1912. While revealed in the 1950s to be a hoax,
it was at first regarded as the earliest human ancestor ever
discovered. An important proof of its antiquity were the
hippopotamus and elephant remains found alongside the
skull, showing the depth of its antiquity: from the very
beginning of the Pleistocene, possibly even the earlier
period of the Pliocene, more than 2.5 million years ago.
This was front-page news. The Illustrated London News
featured a reconstruction by Amde Forestier, which firmly
linked Piltdown Man with the ancient fauna, showing him
venturing into the tropical forests of prehistoric Sussex with
a herd of hippopotamus in the background. The commentary was also more confident of primeval human hunting
abilities than Worthington Smith, noting how elephants
and rhinoceros of species long since extinct roamed in herds
all round him. These and the hippopotamus no doubt he killed for food.
Ideas of interaction with prehistoric humans meant that reflections on
the ancient hippos of England became
tied to other concerns: loss, decline and
extinction. The hippo had vanished in
Britain at some point in the mid to late
Pleistocene (now reckoned at between
120,000-800,ooo years ago), under
ultimately mysterious circumstances, but
which were often put down to a combination of climate change, human predation
and a scarcity of food. The decline of the
hippos was symbolic of larger changes in
the environment. Though safer and more
suited to human habitation, it was also
less evocative and dramatic.
Late in the Victorian period, there was
a recognition that modern hippo populations were declining in Africa, a fact
often related to their earlier extinction in
Europe. In December 1908 the periodical
the Sphere reported on the fate of the hippopotamus in December 1908, captioning a photograph of a modern hippo
The Severn Valley in the Pleistocene Age, illustration commissioned by William Boyd Dawkins, 1882.
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 25

LOST WORLDS
with the line his ancestors wallowed in the Thames. The
article noted how it is not likely that man was in any great
measure instrumental in exterminating the hippopotamus
in Europe, with Stone Age people being too primitive to
have wiped out such a formidable creature. It continued that
civilised man will be the agent before whose advance this
animal will disappear in Africa, coming with guns that the
hippo could not resist. The development of human society
was directly opposed to these large animals. The real possibility began to dawn that in the future, the African hippos,
like their Pleistocene European equivalents, would disappear. When placed in this context, the lost hippos gained a
new poignancy. They were not just intriguing inhabitants
of the Pleistocene or curiosities in zoological gardens, but
reminders of environmental loss in the modern world.

HIS CHANGE IN PERSPECTIVE developed further


in the 1920s, when a new wave of prehistoric
excitement was picked up by the press. The construction of a new insurance building near Trafalgar
Square in 1924 led to the discovery of remains, including
part of a mammoth tusk, a hippo neck vertebra and the
bones of deer and aurochs. While these were fragmentary,
barely a dozen bones, they nevertheless generated excitement. They were presented to the museum of the Royal
College of Surgeons, analysed by the noted anatomist Sir
Arthur Keith and reported under such headlines as When
Regent Street was Under Thames and Mammoth Bones at
Trafalgar Square: Relics of the Ice Age. This led to another
reconstruction by Amde Forestier in the Illustrated
London News, which juxtaposed the ancient environment
of the Pleistocene and its animal inhabitants with ghostly
images of modern architecture, of Saint Martins Church
and Nelsons Column looming in silhouette over the grazing
animals, showing the human world that would eventually
overtake them. Implicitly, it also reflected another set of

Hippopotamus
amphibius, an
illustration from
William Jardines
The Naturalists
Library, 1833-43.

26 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

concerns, that human society and the modern metropolis was every bit as transient as the megafauna of earlier
geological eras.
Over the 19th century and into the 20th, reflections
on the animals that had once inhabited prehistoric Britain
became an important way of understanding changing
nature and humanitys place within it. On the one hand,
the presence of hippos and mammoths evoked the wonder
of the natural world and the strangeness of the geological
past. But they also offered an insight into the tremendous
change and transformation that had occurred, as climates
shifted (sometimes slowly, sometimes rapidly) and whole
fauna came and went. For a modern world, where humans
seemed to play an ever more transformative role, the prehistoric beasts were a reminder of the former wildness of
the territory and the focus of a melancholy sense of loss, of
a world in which both animals and peoples were understood
to be no more than temporary inhabitants.
Chris Manias is Lecturer in the History of Science and Technology at King's
College London. He is researching the history of mammal paleontology in the
19th century.

FURTHER READING
Andrew Flack, The Illustrious Stranger: Hippomania and
the Nature of the Exotic, Anthrozoos 26 (2013), 43-59.
Ralph OConnor, The Earth on Show: Fossils and the Poetics
of Popular Science, 1802-1856 (University of Chicago, 2007).
Nina Root, Victorian Englands Hippomania, Natural
History 102, 2 (1993), 34-39.
Martin J.S. Rudwick, Scenes from Deep Time: Early
Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World (University
of Chicago, 1992).

Total Average Net Circulation


18,556 Jan-Dec 2014

InFocus

Bomber in the City, 1943

T IS THE beginning of the Wings for Victory campaign


in March 1943 to raise money for warplanes. A Short
Stirling bomber has been brought in pieces and then
reassembled on a bomb site to the east of St Pauls
Cathedral and there is an Avro Lancaster in Trafalgar
Square, too. The high point of the City of Londons effort
is a parade and march past the Lord Mayor, the biggest
since 1939, with contingents from the three services
and men of the merchant marine. At the end there are
various-sized bombs on trolleys, including a blockbuster
with Hitlers Easter Egg chalked on its side. At Trafalgar
Square 1,300 carrier pigeons are released with messages
for savings committees throughout the country.
There had been a War Weapons Week in 1940 to
replace armaments lost at Dunkirk, a Warship Week in
1942, as well as a Spitfire and a Tanks for Attack Week
and, of course, there was always Dig for Victory. Now
most towns were to devote the first week of May to
Wings for Victory. Targets were set for counties and then
divided up between urban and rural district councils.
The Yorkshire town of Settles target was 150,000,
enough for three Sunderland flying boats, though its
final total was 223,000. For every target achieved, the
Air Ministry awarded a white plastic plaque featuring a
nude St Michael the Archangel brandishing his sword at a
three-headed Lucifer, while the planes were named after
the town or county which had raised the money. Plastic
was an exotic novelty in 1943.
The campaign came as a timely distraction as, early in
March, there had been a horrific incident when a mother
and child, part of a crowd going down some steps into
an air raid shelter in Bethnal Green, fell over near the
bottom and a mass of other people were then brought
down, resulting in 173 being crushed to death. On May
16th church bells had been rung across the country
to celebrate the final expulsion of the Germans from
North Africa, while the Dambusters Raid took place
the next day. This was part of the Battle of the Ruhr,
a turning point in the bomber offensive, with 34,000
tons of bombs dropped between March and July, badly
disrupting the German armaments minister Albert
Speers industrial war effort. Yet although the campaign
meant there was no increase in the output of German
planes between July and March 1944, their night-fighters became highly effective, shooting down most of the
1,047 British bombers that failed to return between
November and March. More than the equivalent of the
whole front line of Bomber Command had been destroyed in those five months. The funds raised by Wings
for Victory were an important morale booster, though it
could not compensate for lost aircrew.


ROGER HUDSON
28 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 29

IRELAND 1916

The Irish
Volunteer

The trial for treason and execution of Roger Casement


humanitarian, homosexual and Irish Nationalist which
took place, in the wake of the Easter Rising of 1916,
continues to resonate, as Andrew Lycett explains.

30 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

Above: John Laverys The


Court of Criminal Appeal,
London, 1916. Roger Casement
is seated in the dock.
Above left: Casement on one
of his many trips abroad, late
19th century.

S IRELAND WORKS to find fitting ways to commemorate the


centenary in April of the momentous Easter Rising, which
helped spark its move towards independence, the contentious
figure of Sir Roger Casement, the gay British diplomat turned
militant Irish nationalist, who was hanged for treason after the Rising,
refuses to go away.
Kathleen Clarke, the widow of Tom Clarke, one of the leaders of the
Rising, who was executed for his part in its planning, opened old wounds
when a 1968 interview with her emerged recently from the archives
in Armagh, Northern Ireland. In it she had claimed that Casements
efforts to raise an anti-British army from Irish prisoners of war held in
Germany were foolish.
She also highlighted the fault lines that existed between the

dogmatic Irish Republican Brotherhood and the more eclectic nationalist militia, the Irish Volunteers, which Casement had helped form and
fund. He had no mandate for such an initiative, Clarke claimed, telling
her questioner that Casement had started things that the revolutionary
group here didnt want.
Irish republicans have never been entirely clear how Casement fits
into their pantheon. An Anglo-Irish Protestant raised among the Ulster
landed gentry, he was far from the model peat-sodden revolutionary.
Kathleen Clarke raised the issue of class when she described Casement
as the aristocratic kind [who] assumed that when he went into any
movement, ipso facto, he was one of our leaders, if not the leader.
(Nevertheless, as Roy Foster demonstrated in his 2015 study Vivid Faces:
The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923, many people from
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 31

IRELAND 1916
Casements class and background, including members of his own family,
played critical roles in the Irish liberation movement.)
That confusion is compounded by the matter of Casements true
home and even his religion. Although born in Sandycove just outside
Dublin in September 1864, he lost his parents at an early age. His father
was Protestant, his mother a Catholic who had him secretly baptised
into her religion. After his parents death, Casement spent his childhood
with Protestant relations in County Antrim, part of Ulster, where he
attended school in Ballymena. He is now buried after a long-drawn
out campaign for the repatriation of his body from England to Ireland
ended successfully in March 1965 in the Irish national cemetery in
Glasnevin, outside Dublin. In the past year, however, there has been a
growing campaign for him to be reinterred in Ulster.

ENSITIVITIES ON SUCH ISSUES surfaced in September 2015


when Thomas Kent, an Irish Volunteer executed by the British
for shooting three policemen as he resisted arrest in the days
after the 1916 Rising, was reinterred from the prison and given
a state funeral, attended by thousands, at his family plot in County
Cork. Ulster politicians objected to the ceremony, which was attended
by both the Irish President and the Taoiseach, seeing it as a celebration
of terrorism, a charge that the Irish government has been at pains to
guard against during commemorations of the 1916 centenary.
Then there is the business of Casements homosexuality. As a young
man he joined the Liverpool-based Elder Dempster shipping line as
a steward. He later became British consul in the Congo. During this
period, when he mixed loyal service to the British Empire with a desire
Map of territories
visited by Roger
Casement and in
which he served
as British Consul.

to expose the atrocities associated with the brutal Belgian rule in the
Congo, he began to compile his personal diaries to which he committed
graphic details of his sexual exploits with young men.
When he was arrested in 1916, extracts from these diaries were
seized on by the British government and used unscrupulously to drum
up support for his conviction for treason. The content of those diaries
remains controversial even today, when Ireland has dramatically thrown
off vestiges of its Catholic past and legislated for gay marriage. One
historian, Angus Mitchell of Limerick University, continues to argue
that the diaries were self-serving forgeries by the British government.
Casements fate resulted from an extraordinary turnaround in his
life and career. His consular duties took him to Luanda and Loureno
Marques (now Maputo) in Portuguese East Africa and then back to
the Congo, where in 1903 he was called on to report on allegations of
widespread atrocities in what was then still the personal fiefdom of King
32 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

Leopold of the Belgians. His impassioned reports of forced labour and


other brutalities in the rubber industry in the upper Congo led to the
publication of a 60-page British government White Paper the following
year. Although Casement considered this a watered-down version of his
findings, it still caused a public outcry, leading to radical changes in the
Congo, which was formally annexed as a Belgian colony.
Owing largely to ill-health, Casement then spent time in Britain,
where, in the course of forging links with anti-slavery and anti-colonial
movements, he helped to set up the Congo Reform Association with his
friend, the future Labour MP, E.D. Morel.
In 1906 he returned to work as the British consul in Brazil, where
he became aware of further acts of barbarity, in this case perpetrated
on the local Amerindian populations. Also exercised by these atrocities
was Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes detective
stories, who befriended Casement on the latters return to London on
leave in 1910.
The previous year, mortified by any lapse from the highest standards
of civilised behaviour by Britain, Sherlock Holmes creator had written
The Crime of the Congo, in support of Morels campaign against continuing outrages in the Belgian Congo, despite its removal from the bloody
hands of King Leopold. He also pledged his support for Casements
campaigns against wrongdoings in South America, promising to write
a sort of wild boys book about the region. This became The Lost World
(1912), the first of Conan Doyles adventures featuring Professor Challenger, whose colleague, Lord John Roxton, was at least based partially
on Casement.
When Casement returned to South America, he produced two further
reports (one for the British Foreign Office), which documented
inhumane practices by the Peruvian Amazon Company, a British-registered rubber company working among the Indians of the
Putumayo, a remote tributary of the Amazon. Once again there
was a media furore. Awarded a knighthood he was embarrassed
by, Casement was now wholly disenchanted with his consular
role. He wished to retire and, in an era of cultural self-awareness,
explore his growing sense of Irishness.
Casement lent his backing to the Irish Volunteer Force, a body
committed to Home Rule. He had been influenced by the example
of its opponents, the Ulster Volunteer Force, set up to fight
(if necessary) against any union with Ireland. Casement took an
initiative in running guns into the port of Howth, near Dublin,
in July 1914. Becoming increasingly militant, he travelled to the
United States and to Germany, where he sought additional arms
and recruited among Irish prisoners of war for an Irish Brigade,
which he hoped would play a crucial role in an anti-British
insurrection.

T THIS POINT he crossed swords with Conan Doyle,


who had written an article called Great Britain and the
Next War for the Fortnightly Review in February 1913.
Of Irish descent, Conan Doyle had been convinced by
Casement of the necessity for Home Rule. The author, however, was
also an ardent imperialist; his article expressed fears about German
warmongering and made a plea to my fellow Irish countrymen of all
political persuasions. If they think they can stand politically or economically while Britain falls they are woefully mistaken. Casement
responded with an (originally pseudonymous) article Ireland, Germany,
and the Next World War, which argued that Ireland needed to seize the
initiative and take any opportunity to free itself from British control.
All Casements movements abroad were now being tracked by the
British secret services, particularly by the fledgling Secret Intelligence
Service and by Room 40 of the more established Naval Intelligence
Division, whose chief, Captain Reginald Blinker Hall, was an early
pioneer of signals interception and analysis. It was discovered that

Far left: Basil


Thomson, assistant
commissioner of
Scotland Yard.
Left: Lord Chief
Justice, Lord
Reading.

Casement's photograph of tribesmen from the Putumayo region of the Peruvian/Columbian border.

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 33

IRELAND 1916

Clockwise from top


left: Casement is
escorted to Pentonville Prison having
been convicted of
treason; the Irish
Press reports his
reinterment at
Glasnevin cemetery,
Dublin in 1965;
Casement in the dock
at the Old Bailey
during his trial.

34 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

when Casement went to Germany, via Norway, between autumn 1914


and April 1916, he had met with disappointing responses, among both
the German high command and Irish prisoners of war, of whom he only
managed to recruit 56 out of a potential 2,300. Casement became angry
at the meagre supply of arms (captured from the Russians) that the
Germans were prepared to give him. Convinced that a planned uprising
in Ireland now had no chance of success (and anxious to warn its leaders
against any such rash undertaking), he returned to his home country
in a German submarine, which broke down, leading to the fiasco of
his capture with two others on Banna Strand, on the Kerry coast near
Tralee on Good Friday, April 21st, 1916. It was one of a series of setbacks
that had a dampening effect on the planned anti-British rebellion that
Easter. At one point, Casement railed against the Germans for supplying
him with practically three men and a boat to invade a kingdom, which
was more or less exactly how his voyage to Ireland turned out.

FTER HIS ARREST Casement was brought to London for


trial in July 1916. The Crowns case against him was based
unconvincingly on a statute of 1351, which in translation
from Norman French defined treason as levying war against
the king, or being adherent to the kings enemies in his realm, giving
them aid and comfort in the realm or elsewhere.
An arcane legal dispute ensued about whether, as the Crown submitted, there was a (third) comma in that definition, coming between the
words realm and or elsewhere. With the comma, all three aspects of
the offence could be interpreted as taking place either inside or outside
the realm. Without it, Casements defence lawyer Serjeant A.M. Sullivan
argued, the statute referred to two main offences (the ones covered
in the text up to the second comma): the phrase giving them aid and
comfort in the realm or elsewhere simply qualified these two offences.
Casements defence was thus based on the premise that any offence
he might have committed took place outside the realm and, therefore,
outside British jurisdiction.
The mood of the trial was ugly from the start. When the Irishman
George Gavan Duffy was first approached to act as Casements solicitor,
his fellow partners in the leading London law firm where he worked
made it clear that he would have to resign if he did so. Similarly, no
London barrister could be found to defend Casement, so Gavan Duffy
had to look to Sullivan, who, typically of the intricate web of relationships in this complex case, was his brother-in-law. Both these lawyers

At no stage during Casements trial


was it clear that justice was seen
to be done. The prosecution and
defence teams appeared to collude
(and their families) had long histories of involvement in Irish nationalism, though they abhorred the violence of the 1916 revolutionaries.
Meanwhile the prosecution team was led by the brilliant but fiercely
pro-Unionist lawyer F.E. Smith (later Lord Birkenhead). One of his
juniors was George Branson, grandfather of the tycoon Richard Branson.
The case was heard before another ardent Unionist, the Lord Chief
Justice, Lord Reading. A friend of Edward Carson, leader of the Ulster
Volunteers, Reading had led an Anglo-French government mission to
negotiate American financial support for the First World War. He was
therefore sympathetic, it has been argued, to anything which might
promote Britains cause in the United States.
In this context, Casements diaries came into play. Six documents
were discovered in his luggage by officers from Britains Special Branch,
headed by Basil Thomson, assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard.

Roger Casement
I SAY that Roger Casement
Did what he had to do.
He died upon the gallows,
But that is nothing new.
Afraid they might be beaten
Before the bench of Time,
They turned a trick by forgery
And blackened his good name.
A perjurer stood ready
To prove their forgery true;
They gave it out to all the world,
And that is something new;
For Spring Rice had to whisper it,
Being their Ambassador,
And then the speakers got it
And writers by the score.
Come Tom and Dick, come all the troop
That cried it far and wide,
Come from the forger and his desk,
Desert the perjurers side;
Come speak your bit in public
That some amends be made
To this most gallant gentleman
That is in quicklime laid.
W.B. Yeats

One of these, known as the Amazon Diary, recorded Casements legitimate business as a British representative in Brazil in 1910, while five
more (later dubbed the Black Diaries and comprising three private
diaries, a notebook and a ledger) contained details of his homosexual
affairs in Africa and South America, often strangely mixed with regular
consular information.
Knowing how important it was to tarnish Casements name,
Thomson and Blinker Hall took the lead in circulating these Black
Diaries to prominent opinion-formers in Britain and the United States,
including, crucially, the US Ambassador in London, Dr William Hines
Page, who declared himself sickened and unable to read more than half
a page of them.
As a result there was only a muted response in the US when Casement was found guilty. After a hasty appeal, the original verdict was
upheld and Casement was hanged at Pentonville Prison in London on
August 3rd. (In the view of his supporters, he was hanged on a comma.)
At no stage was it clear that justice was seen to be done. Apart from the
suspect use of the diaries, the prosecution and defence teams appeared
to collude. The judge who heard the appeal, Sir Charles Darling, a former
Conservative MP, later commissioned a painting of this phase of the trial
from the celebrated Irish artist Sir John Lavery. On his death in 1936,
Darling bequeathed this work to the National Portrait Gallery, which
refused to take it. It was passed on to the Royal Courts of Justice, where
it was hung out of sight of the public, before being transferred to the
headquarters of the Irish bar, the Kings Inns, in Dublin.
At the end of the Great War, Basil Thomson became Britains first
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 35

IRELAND 1916
and only Director of Intelligence, heading a service designed, according
to MI5s official history, to combine military, naval, air and civil intelligence organisations at a crucial time when the German threat had given
way to fears of Bolshevism. This pulling together of British Intelligence
never worked. Thomsons directorate was regarded as unwieldy and
inefficient, particularly in Ireland, where its failures led to the assassination of a number of MI6 agents. Thomson himself was considered
too hardline at a time when the civil war in Ireland was drawing to a
close, culminating in the Anglo-Irish treaty, which created the Irish
Free State in December 1921. Consequently, at the end of that year

Casement's remains
receive a guard of
honour on their
return to Dublin
in 1965.

Thomson found himself out of a job. Though the exact cause has never
been established, he himself suggested that his dismissal resulted from
four Irishmen evading security and daubing the walls of Chequers, the
prime ministers residence, with pro-Sinn Fein slogans.
After Thomson was sacked, he took copies of Casements diaries
with him, hoping that they might help supplement his meagre pension.
(The actual diaries remained with the Metropolitan Police, which gave
them to the Home Office in 1925.) Thomson passed his copies to Peter
Singleton-Gates, a Fleet Street reporter best known for his writings on
the wartime Russian relief expedition. When Singleton-Gates tried to
publish extracts from these diaries in 1925, he was warned by the Home
Secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, that he would face prosecution
under the Official Secrets Act. Singleton-Gates had to wait over 30 years
before publishing them abroad in a limited edition under the Olympia
Press imprint in Paris in 1959. His fellow editor was Michel Girodias,
boss of Olympia, which specialised in pornography. Singleton-Gates
coined the phrase the Black Diaries (the title of his book), a name
which has stuck ever since.

LONG THE WAY, the story of the diaries has taken many unexpected twists and turns. After the Home Office informed
Casements first biographer, Denis Gwynn, that it could not
even confirm that the diaries existed, a US doctor, William
J. Maloney, became the first author to claim that the diaries had been
forged in his 1936 book, The Forged Casement Diaries. W.B. Yeats was
convinced enough by this argument to write a powerful ballad Roger
Casement, in which he pointed an accusatory finger at the English poet
Alfred Noyes. A former employee of the British governments Propaganda Bureau in the First World War, Noyes had described the diaries
as a foul record of the lowest depths that human degradation has ever
touched. On this point he had been harangued by Casements sister
36 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

while giving a public lecture in New York. He felt chastened and wrote
an apologetic letter to the Irish Press in which he admitted he might have
been misled. Yeats changed the poem, removing the reference to Noyes.
Two decades later, Noyes took this further, specifically criticising the
conduct of the case in his book The Accusing Ghost or Justice for Casement.
Following the repatriation of Casements body to Glasnevin in 1965,
his diaries were finally released into the British National Archives at
Kew in 1994. One hundred years after his death, few people, apart from
Angus Mitchell, now dispute their authenticity.
Instead the debate has moved on. The anthropologist Samas
Sochin, senior lecturer at the National University of Ireland at
Maynooth, who has written a biography of Casement, admits that
his subject played a peripheral role in the 1916 Rising: having been
isolated in Germany, he returned to a remote corner of Ireland,
where he was immediately arrested.
Like Mitchell, he sees Casement as a model humanitarian,
who, as a result of his experiences in Africa and South America,
raised issues that are as relevant now as in the early 20th century:
issues of corporate responsibility, environmental justice and
human rights.

ORE SPECIFICALLY, Casements pioneering approach to global justice is playing a belated role in
the debate on Irelands foreign policy. His pro-Germanism is now quoted in favour of a greater role for
Ireland in Europe, an argument that may gain strength in the
light of Britains impending referendum on its membership of
the European Union. As Casement wrote in his 1915 book, The
Crime Against Europe:

With the approaching disappearance of the Near Eastern question


(which England is hastening to the detriment of Turkey) a more
and more pent-in Central Europe may discover that there is a Near
Western question, and that Ireland a free Ireland restored to Europe is
the key to unlock the western ocean and open the seaways of the world.
Within Ireland the debate on Casements sexuality is all but won.
However, the British historian Ben Macintyre recently suggested in
The Times that, following the precedent of the codebreaker Alan Turing,
Casement deserved a formal royal pardon, in recognition of the way
that aspects of his sexual orientation were manipulated to secure his
conviction for treason in 1916.
Although Jeffrey Dudgeon, a gay Ulster Unionist who sits on Belfast
City Council, fears that Irish people will consciously try to ignore the
diaries during the general fervour about the Easter Rising, Casement
himself will not be forgotten. He is now widely acknowledged to stand
among Irelands greats.
Andrew Lycett is a biographer of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming.

FURTHER READING
Roger Sawyer, Roger Casement's Diaries 1910: The Black and White
(Pimlico, 1997).
Samas Sochin, Roger Casement: Imperialist, Rebel, Revolutionary
(Lilliput Press, 2008).
Roy Foster, Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation, 1890-1923
(Penguin, 2015).
Diarmaid Ferriter, A Nation, Not a Rabble: The Irish Revolution 19131923 (Profile, 2015).
Charles Townshend, Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion (Penguin, 2015).

Total Average Net Circulation


18,556 Jan-Dec 2014

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| AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE

How the
Brits lost
America

By the end of the Seven Years War in 1763


Britain had become a global power for the first
time. But the conflicts colossal expense and the
high-handed approach of British politicians led
to the loss of America, writes George Goodwin.

Taxing issue:
The Repeal, or
the Funeral of Miss
Ame-Stamp, 1766.
38 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

REPRESENTATIVES OF seven of the American colonies met


at the Congress of Albany in June 1754. The aim of the conference was to bring these starkly different and disunited
colonial entities into a joint defence pact against French
aggression, in what would become known in America as
the French and Indian War and in Britain as the Seven
Years War. One attendee, Benjamin Franklin, captured the
urgency in his Join, or Die cartoon, of a snake chopped
into sections, with each one given the initials of the various
colonies. Franklin, Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts
and Thomas Pownall, a well-connected Englishman visiting
from Britain, drafted a plan with the aim of creating a Grand
Council to coordinate policy on defence, trade and Indian
Affairs. The Council, meeting annually, would be served by
a general government and work with a President General:
an ironic title only in retrospect. There was no intention
to distance the colonies from Great Britain; the President
General would be appointed in London. The plan was at one
with Franklins view of the Colonies as so many Counties
gained to Great Britain that, forged by a commonality of
interest, would provide the foundation for a Great British
empire of North America. His vision was not widely shared
by those at Albany, who were more concerned with backroom double dealing for the benefit of their colonies alone.
The plan was nevertheless put to the colonial assemblies,
who rejected it; but then so did the government in London.
By 1763, the French were no longer a threat. Under the
premiership of the Duke of Newcastle and the direction
of William Pitt the Elder, Britain had defeated France in
both the East and West Indies and had not only protected
its American colonies but seized Canada. Great Britain was

XXXXXXXXXXX

for the American colonies; but it was accompanied by an informal assurance to the colonial representatives in London
that it was a right that would never be exercised. Franklin
was satisfied, declaring to the Commons that you claim the
same right with regard to Ireland, but you never exercise it.
He was to be proved wrong a little more than a year later.
The Declaratory Act was not enough to sustain Rockingham in office and, in the summer of 1766, the king persuaded Pitt to return. Pitt, it was believed, offered stability.
He was generally sympathetic to the Americans and had the
authority of a successful and respected war leader, leading
Franklins friend William Strahan to write at the time that:
Mr Pitt, it is agreed on all sides, is the only man that can at
present extricate us from our present and more immediate
difficulties. But Pitt, elevated to the Lords as the Earl of
Chatham, showed himself unable to act as prime minister
and, debilitated as he was by physical and mental illness,
incapable of functioning in any meaningful way at all.

now the worlds greatest power, but it had come at a cost,


political as well as financial.
The 22-year-old George III had succeeded his elderly
and all-too-Germanic grandfather, George II in 1760. He
deliberately highlighted the difference between him and
his father: Born and educated in this country, I glory in the
name of Britain. Young George, encouraged by his tutor,
John Stuart, Earl of Bute, took a keen interest in government and Bute himself soon became the cuckoo in the nest
of the Pitt-Newcastle administration. In their turn, the
other two members of the unhappy triumvirate resigned,
leaving Bute to end the Seven Years War and to negotiate
the peace. The 1763 Treaty of Paris was a fair one, but the
Scottish earl faced opponents both inside and outside
Parliament. Viewed as an interloper and denounced for
allegedly selling the country short, he was broken by the
verbal hostility of his peers and the assaults of an anti-Scottish mob, which bombarded his coach with rocks and excrement. Butes resignation, on April 9th, 1763, did not mark
the end of political instability; it intensified it. It would be
another seven years before Britain had a government that
enjoyed the support of both Crown and Parliament. During
that interval, the relations between the British government
and its more rebellious American colonists deteriorated.
These two developments were inextricably linked.
Stamp Act
Butes successor as prime minister,
George Grenville, won parliamentary
support for the introduction of a Stamp
Act in America as a means of repaying
at least some of the debt accumulated
during the Seven Years War. The resulting
tax on stamped paper was far reaching,
affecting much more than legal documents and commercial transactions, extending to newspapers and even playing
cards. It was a tax on everyday life, though
less burdensome than its equivalent in
England. It produced something remarkable: coordinated opposition from the
colonial assemblies, as well as violent reprisals against the
collectors. The opposition was not based on the amount of
the tax but on its nature: it was an internal tax, something
that the American assemblies regarded as a long-standing
part of their remit. It was resented more for its political
than its financial aspects, as was explained to the House
of Commons in February 1766 by Benjamin Franklin, who
had come to Britain as a representative of the Assembly of
Pennsylvania in 1757 and would stay in London, with one
short interlude, until March 1775.
In response, a bill to replace the Stamp Act was introduced, not by Grenville (who had alienated the king) but
by the Marquess of Rockingham, Newcastles successor as
leader of the Old Whigs and now prime minister. Rockinghams supporters knew that the repeal could only succeed
if it was accompanied by legislation asserting parliamentary
sovereignty over the colonies: the governments majority
depended upon it. The result was a fudge. Through the
Declaratory Act, Parliament asserted its supremacy over the
colonial assemblies and declared its right to pass legislation

Divide or rule:
Benjamin
Franklin's cartoon,
published in
the Pennsylvania
Gazette, 1754.

Townshend's duties
This lack of leadership offered an opportunity to Charles
Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer and a long-time
advocate of enforcing parliamentary supremacy over the
colonies. Ignoring the views of his Cabinet colleagues,
Townshend persuaded Parliament to pass the duties on the
American importation of glass, paint, paper and tea which
bear his name. Once again there was resistance in America,
all the more bitter because the powers of
the Declaratory Act had been exercised. The
opposition was particularly acute in Massachusetts and, the following year, the secretary
of state, Lord Hillsborough, ordered British
troops supposedly stationed in America for
frontier duty to garrison Boston. It was a
move supported by Parliament. Edmund Burke
summed up the position: The Americans have
made a discovery, or think they have made
one, that we mean to oppress them: we have
made a discovery, or think we have made one,
that they intend to rise in rebellion against us
we know not how to advance; they know not
how to retreat Some party must give way.
Townshend died suddenly in 1767, but his successor,
the Duke of Grafton, could only retain a parliamentary
majority by bringing a core of anti-American ministers into
his Cabinet. When Lord North replaced Grafton in 1770 he
retained the same balance of ministers and his position was
cemented by the support of the king. Political stability had
been achieved, but with a coercive policy towards America
locked in place. War between Britain and its American
colonies did not break out until 1775, but the breakdown
of trust between the two sides had begun a decade before.
The success of the Seven Years War, its exceptional cost
and a British political leadership in flux had unbalanced the
relationship between Britain and America. The formerly disunited colonies had come together in response to perceived
British aggression. Though it was the colonies that rebelled,
the first moves had been made in London.
George Goodwin is the author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life
of Americas Founding Father (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016).
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 39

SHAKESPEARE

40 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

THE
BARD
Beyond
Borders
Shakespeares approach to history and
geography is often regarded as something
of a joke. Wrong, argues Dominic Green.
He skillfully reconstructed the people
and places of the medieval Mediterranean
for audiences whose horizons were being
expanded by the Renaissance.

Othello and Desdemona, by Daniel Maclise, 1859.


APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 41

SHAKESPEARE

HE JOKES found in Shakespeares dramas often baffle modern


audiences: like doublet and hose, a sense of humour belongs
to its age. As does Shakespeares sense of geography. From his
early dramas to the Last Plays, he seems to be no good with a
map. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, his earliest surviving play, written
between 1589 and 1593, the Lombard lover Valentine sails from one
landlocked city, Verona, to another, Milan. In The Winters Tale, one of
his Last Plays, from 1611, Antigonus and his daughter Perdita land on
the non-existent seacoast of Bohemia.
Shakespeare scholars explain these inconsistencies in two ways.
One is that he neither knew nor cared, especially in the comedies. The
box office demanded Italian settings, the audience knew no better and
neither did Shakespeare. The plot of The Two Gentlemen of Verona came
from a Spanish story, Diana Enamorada, adapted into a lost English play
named Felix and Philomena, to which Shakespeare added a dash of Don
Quixote. The plot of The Winters Tale was lifted from Robert Greenes
prose romance Pandosto. When Shakespeare reversed the kingdoms of
Bohemia and Sicily, he transferred Sicilys seacoast to Bohemia, much
to Ben Jonsons irritation.
The alternative explanation is that Shakespeare knew exactly what
he was doing. This was the age of print and the New Learning, of translation and dissemination, of Magellan and Drake, of the beginnings of
modern history writing and the creation of a new past for the newly
Protestant kingdom of England. Never before had history and geography
been so accessible in the English language. In Twelfth Night the Balkan
boatmen of Illyria cry Westward ho! like Thames ferrymen. Antonio
advises Sebastian to lodge at the Elephant, a pub near the Globe Theatre.
The Illyrian beauty Olivia has a comic English uncle, Sir Toby Belch. The
premise of these jokes is the integration of England into a new history.
With the past transformed by Renaissance scholarship, a new future
emerged, a Europe of nation states and national histories.
The playwright who in Macbeth moved Burnham Wood to Dunsi-

nane as a plot twist was a Renaissance artist. He was, like Autolycus


in The Winters Tale, a picker-up of unconsidered trifles about history
and geography. But his use of those discoveries was far from trifling.
Their presence reveals the expanding horizons of their age. Elizabethan
maps of Italy show the network of canals and rivers through which
Valentine might have shippd from Verona to Milan. Jacobeans learned
about Bohemias Protestant martyrs in John Foxes Acts and Monuments.
Specialist reports described Bohemias geography and history, as well as
its reputation for religious tolerance. We cannot know if Shakespeare
derived the character of Prospero from the tolerant emperor Rudolf II
(1576-1612), but we do know that from 1260 to 1273, following Ottokar II
of Bohemias defeat of a Hungarian army at Kressenbrunn in lower
Austria, Bohemias southern border expanded to the eastern seacoast
of the Adriatic, the entire Istrian peninsula and a chunk of Dalmatia.
In 1408 the Hungarians ceded these seacoast territories to Venice.
THE DUKE OF ILLYRIA in Twelfth Night also dwells on the Adriatic
coast, but he is more elusive. Modern interpreters of the drama admit
the existence of ancient Illyria and they sometimes allow that the play
might be set in the independent port of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik), but
they invariably dismiss the Duke of Illyria as beyond the boundaries of
the plausible. This is wrong. Medieval Illyria, the Byzantine province
of Illyricum, did have a duke. In 1156 he was Roger, dux of Dalmatia
and Croatia, a rogue Norman in the service of the Byzantine emperor,

With the past transformed by


Renaissance scholarship, a new
future emerged, a Europe of nation
states and national histories

The Byzantine Empire and the Romania of the Peloponnese, c.1250.


42 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

Above: Crusader ships in Constantinople harbour during the Fourth


Crusade, 1204. French illumination, 1490.

Manuel I Comnenus (1118-80). Following the Fourth Crusades sack


of Constantinople in 1204, Enrico Dandolo, the elderly, blind Doge of
Venice, added Doge of Dalmatia and Croatia to his collection of titles.
Doge is the Venetian dialects variation on duca, source of the English
duke. So the Doge of Venice, the doge of Othello and Shylock, was also
duke of much of ancient Illyria, as well as the seacoast of Bohemia.
IN MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM, the German Romantic August
Wilhelm von Schlegel wrote, there flows a luxuriant vein of the boldest
and most fantastical invention. The marriage of Theseus, Duke of
Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, becomes a splendid
frame for a fairy world of sprites, mechanicals and lovers. In the final
act, when Theseus and Hippolyta come crashing through the woods
with their noisy hunting trains, their horses and dogs are like the
fresh breath of morning, dispelling the fantastical shapes of night.
None of the real dukes of Athens married an Amazon queen. But, like
the dukes of Illyria, they too existed.
The Duchy of Athens emerged in 1204, when, after the Fourth
Crusade, Venice and its allies divided the Byzantine Empire
into a patchwork of hypothetical fiefdoms. Venice claimed
three eighths of the Empire. The Crusaders of France and Italy
claimed another three eighths. The new Latin emperor of
Constantinople, Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders, took the remaining
quarter. Yet the victors were not strong enough to realise their dreams.

In Asia Minor, Byzantine noblemen took over the putative Latin


empires of Trebizond and Nicaea. Michael VIII Palaiologos, ruler of
Nicaea, recaptured Constantinople in 1261. The Latin Empire was gone
and the Byzantine Empire restored, though permanently weakened.

T FIRST, the Crusader presence in Greece seemed equally


doomed. Yet in some places, the Frankokratia rule of the
Franks endured for more than two centuries. Similarly, in
a few places, such as the Ionian Islands, the Venetokratia,
rule of the Venetians, survived until the end of the Venetian republic
in 1797.
The wily Enrico Dandolo took hold of the ports and islands that would
secure the seaways for Venice Corfu, Crete and Rhodes and, at the
south-eastern corner of the Peloponnese, a pair of fortified ports, Modon
(Methoni) and Koroni. From the ramparts of these eyes of Venice,
sentries watched for their own merchantmen, Greek and north African
pirates and, by the end of the 13th century, Ottoman raiders.
Dandolo left the rest of Greece, with its mountains and its large and
hostile Greek population, to his Crusader allies. The Latins carved the
western Byzantine territories into several large fiefs and two small ones.
Boniface of Montferrat, a Lombard from northern Italy, became king of
Thessalonica and, therefore, the feudal monarch of Latin Greece, ruling
the northern regions of Thrace, Macedonia and Thessaly. Several fiefdoms buffered Boniface against invasion and extended Latin power still
further. In the Aegean, to his east, three gentlemen of Verona divided
the large island of Negroponte (Euboea). Two small Latin fiefdoms protected Bonifaces southern flank. One, the Margraviate of Boudonitsa,
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 43

SHAKESPEARE
was given to his fellow Lombard, Guido Pallavincini, who built a
castle to defend the pass at Thermopylae. The other, the County of
Salona near ancient Delphi, went to Bonifaces ally from Picardy,
Thomas dAutremencourt. Beyond these statelets, Bonifaces
vassal Otto de la Roche, a minor Burgundian nobleman, became
Duke of Athens, ruling the Attic peninsula and southern Thessaly
from his seat at Thebes.
To Bonifaces south-west lay the Morea, as the Peloponnese
was then called. There, across the Isthmus of Corinth, another
large vassal territory arose. In 1205 a hundred knights invaded
the Morea on Bonifaces behalf, led by a pair of French opportunists, William of Champlitte and his friend Geoffrey of Villehardouin, the namesake and nephew of the chronicler of the
Fourth Crusade. Defeating a larger Byzantine force in an olive
grove north of Coroni, William and Geoffrey declared the Principiate of Achaea. In 1210 Geoffrey, now Prince of Achaea, allied
with Otto, Duke of Athens and their campaigns expanded the
Latin presence in the Morea.

ONIFACES WESTERN BOUNDARY was still undefined.


Worse, he shared it with the Despotate of Epirus, a Byzantine successor state that did not recognise his rights.
Nor were the Bulgarians on his northern frontier any
friendlier: they killed Boniface less than two years after his succession. His infant son Demetrius inherited his crown and his
Lombard knights fought over his kingdom. In 1210 the Epirotes
and the Bulgarians teamed up against the schismatic Kingdom
of Thessalonica, which in 1225 fell into the hands of Theodore
Komnenos, the Despot of Epirus.
The Epirote takeover freed the dukes of Athens and the princes
of Achaea from their feudal bonds to Thessalonica and loosened
their ties to Frankish Constantinople. Between the fall of Thessalonica in 1225 and the Byzantine restoration of the 1260s,
the Latin rulers of the Morea were free to construct their own
splendid kingdoms. Latins among Greeks and Catholics among
Orthodox Christians, they fortified their territories with castles,
marriages and alliances, creating the brief but brilliant hybrid
civilisation of Romania, Latin Greece.
Otto, Duke of Athens fortified the Acropolis. He built a square
Frankish tower from its fallen stones and the Greek Orthodox
church of Theotokos Atheniotissa became the Catholic church
of Sainte-Marie dAthnes. Otto excelled at the medieval art
of steering between two weak superiors: his temporal lord at
Constantinople and his spiritual lord in Rome. His feudal vows
were concessions and usually forced. As his authority spread,
the smaller Latin fiefdoms of Salona and Boudonitsa sought his
protection from the Epirotes and Bulgarians.
The Achaean state also prospered. The Latin feudal system was
imported and it adjusted to Greek conditions. Achaeas blend of
French and Byzantine law became a template for the Latin states
of the East. The Greek peasants had the feudal obligations of
French serfs, but they continued to own their land, as the French,
a foreign minority, could not risk a revolt. The vassals of Achaeas 12
fiefdoms served their prince for four months each year; Greek intermediaries translated the princes orders. The French did not import
their Salic Law, which excluded females from inheritance: the French
knights were intermarrying with the Greek elite and the right of female
inheritance often increased their dowries.
Achaea became dangerously successful, its treasury enriched by
exports of the mulberries that inspired the name Morea, its soldiers
vital to the Latin emperors endless wars in Asia Minor. By the 1240s,
the Duke of Athens was the vassal of the Prince of Achaea, William
II Villehardouin (1246-78), a dynamic, ambitious poet, soldier and
44 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

state-builder, who completed the Latin conquest of the Morea. In 1248,


with Venetian aid, he destroyed the coastal fortress at Monemvasia.
Consolidating his position in the south, William fortified Great Mani, on
the Mani peninsula and a remarkable hill that overlooked the Laconian
plain and the ruins of Sparta. According to the 14th-century Chronicle of
the Morea, William named the hill Myzithras because the locals shouted
it thus. The Chronicle does not explain if that was because the hill
resembles a conical Greek cheese named myzithras, or whether it was
named after a local cheesemonger.
After William IIs victories, Negroponte and the duchy of Athens
acknowledged his feudal supremacy. Yet his apogee was brief. In 1256,

Left: troops of Mehmet II lay seige to Constantinople in 1453.


Turkish miniature, 15th century.
Below: Byzantine church at Mystras in the Peloponnese.
Bottom: Byzantine fresco of Christ performing a miracle,
Mystras, 14th century.

The Greeks of Nicea, determined to regain Constantinople, invaded northern Greece in 1259. They
defeated and captured William at Pelagonia and conquered Achaea. Two years later, Michael VIII Palaeologos took Constantinople. The Latin Empire of the
East was over. Achaea became a Byzantine province
and William a servant of the new Greek emperor. For
his ransom, the Greeks took the trio of castles that
dominated the southern Morea: Monemvasia, Great
Mani and, third and more beautiful, Myzithras. Williams dynasty dissolved. His title became the subject
of minor wars between rival French houses and the
territory they described became the Despotate of the
Morea. His ally and enemy, the Duke of Athens, suffered a worse fate. After 1311, the ducal line descended
through a family of Catalan mercenaries.
The Frankish citadel of Myzithras became the
Greek city of Mystras, capital of the Despotate of the
Morea. A city grew on the slopes beneath the castles
wing, with a palace, several churches and monasteries and a kind of medieval class system: nobility in
the upper town, merchants in the middle, artisans
at the bottom. As the despots expanded, the Morea
became Byzantiums richest province and Mystras a
city second only to Constantinople. The era of Latin
Greece was over. The last stand of Byzantine Greece
was beginning.

William tried to take control of the northern third


of Negroponte; his ex-wife, Carintana dalle Carceri,
had married its baron. When she died, the baron
claimed her estate and its share of Negroponte
import trade. Her family and the Lombard barons of
Negroponte denied Williams claim of inheritance
and triggered a revolt among Williams Latin subordinates. Guy, Duke of Athens sided with the Lombards,
as did his vassal states, Boudonitsa and Salona. The
Venetians, who had supported Williams conquest
of the Morea, also turned against him in order to retain dominance of
Negropontes trade. Even Williams nephew, the chivalric Geoffroy of
Bruyres, married to the Duke of Athens daughter, abandoned him.
Only the Genoese supported William, mainly to spite the Venetians,
their ancient rivals.
Despite all odds, William won and in 1258 he drove Guy, Duke of
Athens and the Latins from Attica. Besieged at Thebes, Guy surrendered. William forgave his errant nephew Geoffroy and the Venetians
supervised a treaty that left Venice in control of Negropontes customs
revenue. But before the treaty could be signed, William became a prisoner of the Greeks.

HERE ARE TWO LEGENDS about Mystras.


One, disproved by Chateaubriand in 1806,
is that the settlement was on the site of
ancient Sparta. It is not, though its builders did recycle rubble from the ruins on the plain.
The other legend is true. Mystras, a final bloom of
the Byzantine Empire, was a taproot of the Renaissance, a thread linking worlds ancient, medieval and
modern. From this hilltop fortress, the lost works of
Plato reached the Florence of the Medici.
Like the Latin princes, the despots of the Morea
paid fealty and tribute to Constantinople, but ruled
unsupervised. As the Byzantine Empire tottered,
the despots became semi-independent, allying with
Turks, Franks and Venetians, while marrying Frankish princesses. Life
in the upper town of Mystras developed a cosmopolitan, western flavour.
The Chronicle of the Morea, which details all this chivalric to-ing and
fro-ing, is a Greek book, written in a Latinate metre. The wealth and
sophistication of Mystras funded frescoes which became rare survivals of late Byzantine art. As the Empire fell before the Turks, Mystras
hosted scholarly refugees: the most important of these, the philosopher
George Gemistos Plethon, introduced Plato, in the original Greek, to
the Italian Renaissance.
Cosimo de Medici hosted the Council of Florence in 1439, an attempt
to reconcile the Greek and Roman churches and unite the Christian
powers before the Turks could take Constantinople. John Palaiologos VIII
of Mystras attended, in the company of Plethon and a deputation of philosophers. The Council of Florence worked wonders for secular thought.
Inspired by Plethon, Cosimo founded a modern Platonic Academy. Under
the Florentine humanist Marsilio Ficino, it produced Latin translations
of Plato and many other Greek thinkers. But it could not inspire a political miracle. The Pope and the Emperor did not become reconciled and
the western princes did not come to the aid of Byzantium.
Ottoman troops raided the Morea in 1446, forcing the despots to
pay tribute to Sultan Murad II. By 1450 they controlled the Greek
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 45

SHAKESPEARE
and Asian land masses on either side of Constantinople. The Byzantine
Empire had shrunk to the capitals western hinterland: the tiny Aegean
islands of Skiathos, Skopelos and Skyros; and the Morea, minus the
Venetian ports of Modon, Coroni and Nafplion. Only a fragmented band
of buffer states, including the Duchy of Athens, lay between the Greek
Morea and the Turkish armies in Greece and the Balkans. In 1453, as
Constantinople fell to Mehmet II, the Morea became an Ottoman possession. Mystras succumbed in 1461.
Under Turkish rule the Morea entered an oppressive slumber,
enlivened by the occasional, sometimes violent, crisis. In 1464
Sigismondo Malatesta, the freebooting Wolf of Rimini, led a Venetian army to Mystras. He failed to take the castle, but returned to
Italy with the bones of Gemistus Plethon, so that the great teacher
may be among free men. Malatesta reinterred Plethon in the
Tempio Maletestina, his private church, among his wives and mistresses and a splendid assemblage of ancient statuary. Pope Pius II
denounced the Tempio as full of pagan gods and profane things.
Plethon, who had sought to revive the old gods along with the old
learning, would have approved.

HAKESPEARE WAS BORN in 1564, a century after Malatestas retrieval of Plethons bones. In the intervening years, the
Ottomans had continued to sweep westwards and by 1561 the
Moreas only Latin holdouts were the Venetian fortresses at
Modon and Koroni and the scattered clans of the Mani peninsula.
From a European perspective the medieval Morea went into rapid
eclipse. Politically, Latin civilisation no longer existed. It had become
suddenly foreign, obscured by Byzantine, Muslim and Turkish accretions. The Reformation had shattered
the unity of Christendom, a premise of
A detail from Gozzoli's
the Crusades, with a disunited Europe
Journey of the Magi cycle
has Plethon portrayed
of religious schisms and nation states.
with beard and gold cap,
Meanwhile, the westward growth of the
Palazzo Medici-Riccardi,
Ottoman Empire redrew the map of the
Florence, c.1460.
Mediterranean and the bounds of strategic
possibility. Foxes Acts and Monuments had also included a History of
the Turks, stocked with atrocities, fearing for the future of Europe
and Christianity. In 1571, when Londoners learnt that a Spanish and
Venetian fleet had defeated the Turks at Lepanto, celebratory bonfires
were lit. Yet just a decade later, Elizabeth I and Murad III discussed
collaboration against the Spanish in the Mediterranean.
Culturally, however, the indirect influence of Plethon and the scholars of late Byzantium endured. After the fall of Byzantium, refugees
from Constantinople and Mystras congregated in the cities of northern
Italy, especially in Venice, whose print shops disseminated the New
Learning over the Alps and across northern Europe. The New Learning
was consciously modern in its fascination with ancient sources. The
Renaissance imagination embraced its own time, however, and that of
the ancient Peloponnesus, but not the medieval Morea. Shakespeares
Duke of Athens has a medieval title, but the Greece of A Midsummer
Nights Dream is not medieval. It is both older and newer. The helots of
ancient Attica are the mechanicals of Elizabethan Stratford. The woods
of Arcadia are the early modern Forest of Arden. The ancient myth of
Hippolyta the Amazon elides with Englands own Amazon, Elizabeth I.
The eclipse of the Latin Morea by the Renaissance and the Ottoman
Empire also blurred the identity of the most famous Morean albeit
fictional of them all: Othello, the Moor of Venice. At Venice, a moro
was a Morean, not a Spanish or North African Moor. Venice had always
been the most Byzantine of Italian cities. Its Greek population grew
every time the Byzantine Empire faltered and the Turks advanced. In
the late 1400s and early 1500s, thousands of fugitives arrived from Constantinople and the Morea. Shakespeare backdated Othello to precisely
this period: sometime between the 1480s and the fall of Rhodes in 1523.
46 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

Sigismondo
Malatesta, by
Piero della
Francesca, mid15th century.

SHAKESPEARES SOURCE FOR Othello, believed to have been written


in 1603, was Un Capitano Moro, a tale in the Hecatommithi (1565) by
Giovanni Battista Giraldi, known to his contemporaries as Cinzio.
His collection also supplied the plot of Shakespeares problem play
Measure For Measure and the Jacobean drama, Custom of the Country,
by Beaumont and Fletcher. Giraldi studied and wrote in the courts of
northern Italy, at Ferrara, Mondovi and Pavia. His protagonist is a moro
without specific origins or a name. There can be no doubt, though, that
for Giraldi a moro was from the Morea.
The same cannot be said for Shakespeare. In the England of the early
1600s, a Moor was a Muslim of African, or possibly Spanish, extraction.
The Venetians still held some of their Greek territories, notably Crete,
the second-largest Greek island, and Shakespeare used a poetic account
of Lepanto for the report of a sea battle in Othello. But the Morea was a
defunct term, its abandonment reflecting the spread of the malignant
and turbaned Turk. Bounded by the splendid frame of Cinzios story,
the image of one moro elides plausibly with that of another and Cinzios
Greek becomes Shakespeares black ram. Like William II, the Prince
of Achaea who carted the debris of ancient Sparta up to the heights of
Mystras, Shakespeare reworked the broken materials of the Latin Morea
for contemporary concerns.
Dominic Green is the author of The Double Life of Doctor Lopez: Spies, Shakespeare and
the Plot to Poison Elizabeth I (Century, 2003) and Three Empires on the Nile: The Victorian
Jihad, 1869-1898 (Free Press, 2007).

FURTHER READING
Jean Longnon, The Frankish States in Greece, 1204-1311, in A History
of the Crusades, Vol.2: The Later Crusades, 1189-1311, eds. K.M. Setton,
R.L. Wolff and H.W. Hazard (University of Wisconsin Press, 1969).
William Miller, The Latins in the Levant: A History of Frankish Greece,
1204-1566 (Dutton, 1908; out of print).
Steven Runciman, Mistra (1980); reprinted as The Lost Capital of
Byzantium: The History of Mistra and the Peloponnese (Harvard, 2009).
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 47

MakingHistory
Was Henry VIII a good-natured buffoon or an egotistical tyrant? Your answer is likely to depend
on which cinematic portrayal you have seen most recently, suggests Suzannah Lipscomb.

A King Caught on Camera


GORE VIDAL suggested that books
have had their day: that we should
concede the inevitable, scrap the
existing educational system, and
introduce the young to the past
through film.
This is going too far, but it is true
that films are the main source of
historical knowledge for the majority
of people. Film is a powerful medium
which brings historical subjects to a
vast audience. It carries the tantalising
possibility of making us eyewitnesses
to history, the lens of the camera our
window onto past events. Film flattens out the strangeness of the past,
reanimates a lost world and makes us
care about the fates of the long dead.
Before our eyes, the past seems to
come back to life.
Films eyewitness dimension is
the mediums great strength and,
simultaneously, its great weakness. An
eyewitness can only see one side of
external events. Films tend to follow,
therefore, a single linear narrative,
locking history into a series of filmic
conventions with no space for ambiguity or multiple viewpoints. In addition,
the field of vision must be filled, which
may depend on a series of best guesses
about the appearance of the past. Historical interpretation lies not only in
the narrative and character depiction,
but in every frame: the visual language
of the film carries its own meaning. In
short, as films cannot carry a critical
apparatus, they create illusions about
the past that are not easily criticised
or refuted.
They also invite the audience to
assume that the way people in the
past approached life was just as we
do. As a result, our perspective on
the characters is dominated by the
preoccupations of our age and, in a
beautifully pernicious twist, the depiction of those characters then dictates
our view of the past.
48 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

Henry VIII is a case in point. Before


Jonathan Rhys Meyers or Damian
Lewis, several filmic portrayals forged
the notion of him held in the collective historical consciousness.
Alexander Kordas The Private
Life of Henry VIII (1933) was the first
English language film about the king,
for which the actor in the title role,
Charles Laughton, received an Oscar.
In this comedic film, full of coy innuendo, the focus is not on the religious

Films eyewitness dimension


is the mediums great strength
and, simultaneously, its great
weakness
and political changes of his reign,
but on his marital relations. Henry is
the victim of manipulative women, a
sympathetic and wronged man, who
just wants to be loved and happy like
anyone else. He turns to food in his
loneliness, devouring and flinging
a chicken leg over his shoulder. The
audience is encouraged by vicarious
identification into considering kingship to be an unenviable burden.
A generation later, Anne of the
Thousand Days (1969) starred Richard
Burton as Henry. In this melodrama,

Tudor chicken:
Charles Laughton
in The Private Life
of Henry VIII, 1933.

Henry is suave, good-looking and


ultra-masculine. One reviewer at the
time wrote: Henry VIII was certainly
the most vile of all English monarchs,
and Richard Burton unashamedly
plays Henry as the vain, gluttonous
rake that he was. Or as the reviewer
thought he was. But this Henry,
though arrogant and capricious
(when I pray, God answers, he says
in one line), is not wholly unsympathetic: this is a Henry for the Bond era,
anti-feminist but charismatic.
For a truly unsympathetic depiction, we must look to Ray Winstone
playing the monarch as a gangsterking in the 2003 Henry VIII. The critic
Mark Lawson claimed that it reflects
modern sexual politics in being soft on
the wives and hard on Henry, who is
both easily led and aggressive, prone
to tantrums, delighting in death and
raping Anne Boleyn in an entirely fictitious scene. As director Pete Travis saw
it: This is The Godfather in tights. In
Ray, we have a man who has a wonderful animal power, very like that which
Henry would have had. Its violent and
sexy and that is what the world was
like then. Or as Travis imagined it was:
a depiction influenced more by The
Sopranos or Raging Bull than history.
Our idea of Henry VIII has been
formed, in large part, by these filmic
depictions. Henry is, on the one hand,
a good-natured, gluttonous buffoon;
yet he is also a misogynistic, egotistical predator and a tormented tyrant.
Like it or not, the young are often
introduced to the past through film
and this cinematic version of the past
shapes the collective imagination.
Perhaps the most powerful place for a
historian to be is Hollywood.
Suzannah Lipscomb is Head of the history faculty
at the New College of the Humanities, London
and author of The King is Dead: The Last Will and
Testament of Henry VIII (Head of Zeus, 2015) .

PENAL COLONIES

When the European powers began exporting


convicts to other continents, they did so
to create a deterrent and to establish new
settlements across the world. Clare Anderson
traces the history of punitive passages.

All the
worlds a

PRISON
Francis Lagrange, A Row of Solitary
Confinement Cells, c.1940s.

TANDING ON THE rocks of Kourou, looking out


over the muddy red-brown waters that lap the
shores of Guyane, or French Guiana, it is just about
possible to make out the contours of three islands:
le Saint-Joseph, le Royale and le du Diable. The imperial
history of this small archipelago began when Guyane
became an outpost of the French empire in the 1760s and
sick colonists sought refuge in the more salubrious climes
of what they called the les du Salut: the Salvation Islands.
After 1852, Guyane grew famous and eventually notorious
as a place of convict transportation. As the penal colony
expanded, its offshore islands became part of a constellation of convict locations scattered along its coast and rivers,
facing outwards over the sea and across the borders with
Brazil and Suriname. Today, Guyane is best known as the
place in which the French military officer Alfred Dreyfus
was imprisoned and from which Henri Charrire (played
by Steve McQueen in the 1974 film Papillon) escaped. With
penal transportation to the colony lasting for just over a
century, Dreyfus and Charrire were just two among tens
of thousands of convicts. It was not until 1953, following
convict desertion on a massive scale and humanitarian
concern about the fate of ex-convicts who, under French
law, were not allowed to leave Guyane, that the last remaining convicts were liberated and the penal colony was closed.
France had first sent convicts to Guyane following the
coup dtat of 1797. However, coinciding with an epidemic
outbreak of what we now know was yellow fever, almost all
of them died. The few who survived were repatriated to
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 49

PENAL COLONIES

The number of convicts sent to key penal locations by European powers, 1415-1953.

Slavery had been


abolished in the French
Empire in 1848 and
convicts presented a
solution to the inevitable
labour crisis that followed

France. In the decades that followed, politicians and penal


reformers in the French metropole discussed at length the
desirability or otherwise of establishing penal colonies,
often through comparison with those of British Australia,
including in New South Wales. It was half a century later,
however, in 1848, that transportation was again used. The
June insurgents were transported to the French colony of
Algeria and, following Louis-Napolon Bonapartes coup
dtat of 1851, more political convicts joined. French Guiana
opened a year later. From then until 1953 around 53,000
convicts and, after 1887, approximately 17,000 relgus
(repeat offenders) were sent there. This was slightly fewer
than the number of convicts transported from Britain,
Ireland and the colonies to the Australian penal colony of
50 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

French convicts
depart for French
Guiana, early 20th
century.

New South Wales between 1787 and 1840, but about


the same number as those sent from British India to
the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal between
1858 and 1942. The Guyane convicts came not just
from France, but also from its imperial possessions:
Algeria, La Runion, the Antilles (Guadeloupe and
Martinique), Madagascar and French Indochina.
Most of the convicts were ordinary criminal offenders,
though political prisoners such as Dreyfus were also sent.
Included in their number were just a few hundred women,
some of whom were volunteers from metropolitan prisons.
The convict population was, though, overwhelmingly male.
Slavery had been abolished in the French empire in 1848
and, to a large extent, convicts presented a solution to the
inevitable labour crisis that followed. The first convicts to
arrive were put to work clearing the dense forests for cultivation and in building works. They gradually moved, by
1857, from the initial settlement on the les du Salut to the
mainland settlement of Maroni. A network of convict sites
across the colony expanded and shrank over time according
to their relative success and failure.

Convicts were employed in diverse forms of labour: not


just land clearance and infrastructural development, but at
various times in the tannery, lime kilns and workshops for
the manufacture of shoes, boots and clothes. They cultivated coffee, sugar cane, betel nut and cotton and worked in
logging wood in the timber camps. Mortality rates during
the first decades were appalling. In the 1880s the average
life expectancy of a convict was calculated at seven years,
six months and seven days. For European convicts it was
even worse: just five years, five months and three days.
With transportation criticised in Paris
as little more than a death sentence,
after 1867 all European convicts were
shipped to a new, apparently less
deadly penal colony in the Pacific:
New Caledonia. Until transportation
to the Pacific was suspended in 1896,
Guyane received only convicts from
the colonies. After that date, transportation from metropolitan France to
Latin America was resumed.

HE PENAL HISTORY of
French Guiana is part of
a global story. Around the
world, transportation was
underpinned by sometimes incompatible ambitions: to
create a deterrent; to employ convict labour in opening up
frontiers, colonies and borderlands; and to populate newly
colonised locations with what in Guyane were called transports-colons (transportation-colonists). Political repression
and forced labour combined to change the face of nations,
empires and colonies and to produce long-term impacts
on economy, society and identity. Convicts took various,
interconnected routes to penal sites across the world, which
were closely associated with other forms of punishment

Cellular Jail
National
Memorial, Port
Blair, Andaman
Islands.

(including imprisonment in jails and hulks), as well as


indentured labour, military impressment, enslavement and
the incarceration of indigenous people. Across a range of
sites around the world, convict transportation and penal
colonies left significant demographic, cultural and other
legacies that are still evident today.
Among European powers, it was Portugal that first used
convicts for the purpose of imperial expansion. It enrolled
felons into its army and navy to conquer the North African
presidio (fort) of Ceuta in 1415, in return for a pardon. It
later transported convicts from Portugal
to locations including Goa, So Tom,
Brazil, Mozambique and Angola, with
considerable circulations between the
colonies. During the great age of imperial
expansion that began around the year
1700, the Spanish, Dutch and British
also transported convicts overseas from
Europe, as well as between their imperial
possessions in the Atlantic, Indian and
Pacific oceans. The Spanish shipped convicts to and around forts in the Americas,
Cuba and the Philippines. Dutch flows
(from the 17th century) spanned the
Indian Ocean, with convicts transported
between Java (in modern Indonesia) and
the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa). Convicts were sent
from Britain and Ireland to the Americas, including Virginia,
Barbados and Jamaica. These destinations were not penal
colonies; rather convicts were sold into indentured servitude and shipped alongside other such workers. Following
the closing of the American colonies to convicts at the end
of the War of Independence, the British experimented
with convict transportation to West Africa (which proved
a disaster) and, ultimately (and successfully), to New South
Wales, Van Diemens Land (Tasmania), Norfolk Island

Arracan, 14th
February 1849,
Kyook Phoo. Ghat &
Prisoners carrying
water in Buckets,
Isle of Ramree,
by Clementina
Benthall.
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 51

PENAL COLONIES
and Western Australia. The 167,000 or so convicts shipped
to the Australian colonies included a significant minority of
courts martialled soldiers and imperial subjects convicted
in the West Indian and other colonies, including the Cape
Colony, Hong Kong and Mauritius.
Transportation was not exclusive to European empires.
Into the early 20th century, imperial Russia shipped
convicts to its far eastern territories, including Siberia
and Sakhalin Island. Meiji-era Japan sent convicts to the
northern island of Hokkaido between 1881 and 1907. Qing
China, which lasted from 1644 to 1912, used convict transportation overland to open up its westernmost frontiers,
including, after its conquest in the late 1750s, Xinjiang.
After gaining independence from the Iberian powers in the
early 19th century, the new nation states of Latin America
set up offshore penal colonies, too, including Ushuaia in
Argentinian Patagonia, Brazils Fernando de Noronha and
Mexicos Islas Maras.
The number of convicts transported by the European
powers was at least 680,000, an estimate likely to rise as
the complex research necessary to piece together often fragmented archival material progresses. It does not include the
600,000 or so prisoners and military offenders conscripted
into the convict forces of the French Empire between 1832
and 1972. Nor does it incorporate the 900,000 or so convicts
shipped by imperial Russia, the (at least) 10,000 convicts

52 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

transported to Hokkaido, the tens of thousands of Chinese


convicts or the as yet unknown numbers of Latin American
transportees. If we include the explicitly political transportations, deportations and resettlements of the 20th-century Soviet gulags and Chinas laogai, the scale of convict
transportation rises into the tens of millions: the full extent
will probably never be known. From whichever vantage
point we look, the geographical reach and numerical scale of
global penal transportation was vast.

O
View from the
Commissioner's
House across
the Royal Naval
Dockyard to
Casemates
Barracks, National
Museum of
Bermuda.

NE KEY PATTERN of the period is that during


the early modern age convicts were often
impressed into the army, indentured in labour
contracts or forced into voluntary banishment. They could work alongside soldiers and slaves at
near-identical labour and in near-identical conditions. In
the Spanish presidios, for example, they were shipped with
and employed alongside soldiers and slaves in the building
of military fortifications. Convicts also worked with slaves
and indentured labourers on Britains American plantations. From approximately the end of the 18th century,
coinciding with the development of new Enlightenment
ideas about ideal forms of punishment and confinement,
discrete, often isolated, penal colonies emerged, which
could be sites of radical experiments in the treatment and
rehabilitation of convicts. Though work remained important to convicts so-called moral reform, sometimes
these colonies were places of penal innovation, too.
In the Andaman Islands, for example, a radiating
cellular jail was constructed in 1906, in which
convicts would undergo an initially harsh incarceration before progressing to other penal stages served
outside its walls.
Political repression was always a feature of penal
transportation, with some convicts transported for
protest or rebellion. Many political convicts were
educated and literate and wrote memoirs of their
experiences. It is for that reason, perhaps, that they
are best known. Some of the machine breakers
and rural rebels convicted during Englands Swing
Riots, when agricultural workers vandalised new
machinery, were, for example, shipped as convicts
to the Australian colonies in the early 1830s. The
British transported dozens of Irish rebels to the
convict hulks of Bermuda in the 1840s and to
Western Australia following the rebellion of 1867.
The Andaman Islands penal colony in the Bay of
Bengal was initially established as a site for the
transportation of thousands of mutineers convicted

in the aftermath of the Great Uprising of 1857. Though the


larger majority of convicts subsequently sent to the islands
were ordinary criminal offenders, they continued to receive
political convicts. These included so-called fanatics, or
Wahabis, in the 1860s and 1870s, Mapilahs from Kerala
following the Malabar Rebellion in the 1920s and Indian
nationalists, such as V.D. Savarkar, who were incarcerated in
the cellular jail.
IF PENAL TRANSPORTATION was closely connected to
military impressment, enslavement and indenture, as well
as political repression of various kinds, it was also linked
to other kinds of punishment. It was the usual less severe
alternative to capital sentences, of death on the gallows or
guillotine, and its enhanced use during the period from the
late 1700s can in part be explained by a decline in execution
rates in many contexts. It was usually seen as more severe
than imprisonment and, in places such as France, where
prisoners could be sent to the penal colonies after repeat
offences, it was used as a particular deterrent against crime.
Beyond its penal ambitions, it was also related to the desire
to expand the frontiers of empires and nations. This was the
case for French Guiana, as well as New Caledonia. Across

the British Empire, convicts were used to colonise the Antipodes after 1787, to build Bermudas naval dockyard in the
Atlantic Ocean (1824-63) and to undertake military works
on the rock of Gibraltar (1842-75). Fearing Russian invasion
and wanting enhanced overland communication, at the
turn of the 20th-century, the Japanese government transferred convicts from Kushiro to Abashiri, where they built a
new road connecting the town to central Hokkaido.
The global dimensions of transportation are evident
across penal systems, too, including through the ongoing
mobility of convicts following their initial transportation
via onward shipment or relocation. Across empires, convicts
were not just sent outwards to the colonies, but between
and around imperial possessions. In early modern times,
this included extensive convict movement between the
Spanish presidios in the Americas and the Philippines.
Entirely separate regional circuits could develop in some
contexts. The English East India Company, for example,
shipped convicts from its Indian possessions to penal settlements in Mauritius and Aden, as well as Penang, Malacca,
Singapore and Burma. After Britains possessions in India
were transferred to Crown control following the Great Uprising of 1857, the government of India established a new

Left: Russian
convicts on a boat
to Sakhalin Island,
1890. Photo by
Anton Chekhov.
Below: Illustrated
handscroll
depicting convict
labour at Horonai
Coalmine, painted
by anonymous
convict at Sorachi
Central Prison,
Japan, c.1881-89.

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 53

PENAL COLONIES

Prisoners at work
at the Noumea
Penal Colony,
New Caledonia,
engraved by Gillot,
c.1900.

penal colony in the Andaman Islands. It remained open,


receiving convicts from all over the Indian subcontinent,
including Burma, until the Japanese invaded and occupied
the Andamans in 1942.

N MANY CASES, as in Guyane, the imperial powers


desired permanent settlement in their possessions,
following an initial period of land clearance and development. Across the various settlements, convicts were
put to work in cutting down trees, draining marshes and
building basic infrastructure: roads, railways, bridges and
bunds. They were otherwise employed in occupations that
could promote self-sufficiency and economic productivity:
growing food and raising livestock, timber extraction and
in some places experimental agricultural production or resource extraction. Examples of the latter included convict
work on tobacco and coffee plantations, in the breeding of
silkworms and manufacture of silk and in coal, sulphur and
tin mines. Often, convicts were either encouraged to stay
on after completing their sentence, perhaps through land
grants or the gifting of seeds or agricultural equipment.
In many places, convicts were denied the legal right of
return or, where they had it, the cost of repatriation was
not paid, so they could not go back to their place of birth or
pre-transportation settlement. In practice, then, in places
such as Australia, the Bay of Bengal, Japan and New Caledonia, convict transportation constituted a means of permanent colonisation. This was to the detriment of indigenous
peoples in sites as diverse as Van Diemens Land, Hokkaido
and the Andamans, which were utterly devastated by the
foreign occupation of their land.
The profound impact of transportation on indigenous
people, and ongoing controversies about their displacement, is one of its key legacies. Given its scale and reach, it
is not surprising that penal transportation has left others
demographic, social and cultural all over the world.
It has been argued that, in some locations, the association between convicts and outdoor labour left local and
migrant populations unwilling to take employment doing
manual work. This was the case in both 19th-century
Burma (the penal settlements closed in 1963) and in
54 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

post-Second World War Guyane. Today, there are many


thousands of genealogists in modern Britain, Ireland and
Australia, for example, researching and constructing
convict family trees. In the Andamans, the local born
descendants of convicts live quite differently from their
mainland ancestors and are differentiated in the population categories of the modern Indian state. There are
also descendants of convicts living in Guyane today,
including in Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni, where the huge
Camp de la Transportation is being developed as a
museum and archive. In heritage sites and museums
elsewhere visitors can learn about convict life in places
such as Hyde Park Barracks (Sydney), Port Arthur
(Tasmania), Abashiri and Tsukigata (Hokkaido) and the
Cellular Jail National Memorial (Andamans). They can
ride the train to the end of the world in Ushuaia,
Argentina. History, of course, is constantly subject to
a process of making and remaking. As with the case of
Guyane, what is remembered and forgotten about its
complex history of convict transportation as also its
relationship to imperial repression, indigenous people,
slavery and free migration has had profound implications for local identities today.
Clare Anderson is the principal investigator of a European Research Council
Seventh Framework Programme-funded research project on convict
transportation and penal colonies, based at the University of Leicester.
See more at www.convictvoyages.org

FURTHER READING
Frank Diktter and Ian Brown (eds), Cultures of
Confinement: A History of the Prison in Africa, Asia and
Latin America (Hurst & Co, 2007).
Clare Anderson, Subaltern Lives: Biographies of Colonialism in
the Indian Ocean World, 17901920 (Cambridge, 2012).
Clare Anderson, Madhumita Mazumdar and Vishvajit
Pandya, New Histories of the Andaman Islands: Landscape,
Place and Identity in the Bay of Bengal, 1790-2012
(Cambridge, 2016).

REVIEWS

Tessa Storey on the food and health regimens of early modern Europe
Emma Griffin praises E.P. Thompson Rohan McWilliam observes the masses

Whaling in the Arctic.


Engraving, c.1854.

THIS time around we travel from


Cambodia to Sunderland, from
the bleakness of the Arctic Circle
to the mud of the final days of the
First World War. The imaginative
possibilities open to historical
fiction writers are showcased
here in the range of setting,
narrative and concern. Linking
all these books is a sense of the
grimness of the human and the
effects of wider discourses
geopolitics, social deprivation,
economics on the individual
experience of a particular historical moment.
Pierre Lemaitres novel The
Great Swindle (MacLehose Press)
won the Prix Goncourt in 2013
and is now published in Frank
Wynnes zippy English translation. Beginning with a man
returning from the dead in the
last days of the First World War,
it investigates various cynical
ways that memory and the physical stuff of the end of war (that
is, the bodies) are manipulated
and made profitable. It reminded
me strongly of Wisawa Szymborskas The End and the Beginning, her masterful poem about
how After every war/ someone
has to clean up:
Someone has to push the rubble
to the side of the road,
so the corpse-filled wagons
can pass.
Like this poem, Lemaitres book
looks at what happens to the
war-wracked body when history
no longer looks at it directly,
when it becomes an index of
something that has happened,
56 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

SIGNPOSTS

A Round-up of Historical Fiction


Jerome de Groot grapples with some dark accounts of human grimness
and a novel which takes comedian Peter Cook to Phnom Penh in 1962.
when it loses its actuality and
becomes a symbol. There are
many accounts of the aftermath
of war from the third book of
Gnter Grasss The Tin Drum to
Prousts mournful account of
Paris in Time Regained. Lemaitre
adds to these a reminder that
profiteering and pettiness are as
common as nobility, melancholy

and kindness. He weaves a story


around the (real) scandal of Henri
dAulnay Pradelles misappropriation of funds for military burials
in the aftermath of the war. To
this, Lemaitre adds an invented
racket, with two traumatised
ex-soldiers conning towns and
villages the length and breadth of
France by selling fake memorials.

It is heady, cynical stuff, but I


would have rather it were much
more interrogative of the ways
that societies remember, particularly with the current reflection
upon the historiography of the
First World War. The book seems
to be neither national epic nor a
reflection upon commemoration
and memory. It offers some First

World War and trench tropes and


then skips to postwar France.
While the material is fabulous
and fun, it does not really have
the imaginative or the intellectual heft it might need. In the
end, it comes off as slightly
breathless and a little superficial,
despite the events it articulates.
I was reminded of Pat Barkers
Regeneration trilogy, but not to
Lemaitres advantage. Like those
novels, The Great Swindle attempts to think about the human
consequence of the trauma of the
trenches writ large on society, to
move between the personal and a
wider sense of a nation in shock.
My colleague Ian McGuires
gritty The North Water (Scribner,
2016) also considers the savagery
in the human heart. McGuires
unpleasant yarn involves a
whaling ship, multiple homicides, survival against the odds
and various dead polar bears.
Set during the waning of the

The North Water


suggests that,
when faced with
implacable nature,
man has a tendency
to be overcome
whaling industry, McGuires
concern is with the nature of
horror and evil. It is uncomfortable and thrilling by turns. Like
many novels contemplating the
sea (and hunting its inhabitants
in the frozen north), The North
Water suggests that, when faced
with implacable nature, man has
a tendency to be overcome. There
is (I think) an homage to Moby
Dicks obsession with lists and
facts in the novels immensely
precise description (the asynchronous splash of blades in the
water). It gives the book a slightly brittle quality, ensuring that
reading it is uncomfortable: quite
a feat to achieve and echoing the
frosty grimness of the frozen
wastes it inhabits.
Similarly concerned with
style echoing content is Mark
Blacklocks grim Im Jack (Granta,
2015). This is a description of

John Humble, known as Wearside Jack or the Ripper Hoaxer.


During 1978-79 Humble sent
the police, searching for the
killer of women in Yorkshire, a
series of messages that warped
their understanding of the case.
His formerly cold case picked up
after years, Blacklocks Humble
is a strange, unhappy figure,
incoherent and unable to face
the shame of what has defined
his life. Blacklock presents a
fragmented, jagged account using
Humbles confused thoughts,
letters and police interviews.
The ageing Humble is a figure
lost on the margins of society:
alcoholic, in and out of gaol and
lacking any real relationships.
Just as David Peace and Gordon
Burn in their works on the
Yorkshire Ripper (particularly
Peaces fiction 1980 (2009) and
Burns 1984 true-crime drama,
Somebodys Husband, Somebodys
Son) suggest that crime might
be understood by looking at
the particular social situations
that contribute to it, Blacklock
presents Humble as far from evil
but a melancholic echo of wider
deprivation.
Finally, bringing much-needed levity to this all-male roundup of horror and grimness, a brief
examination of the pressures
of comic genius. Ian Gregson
(another former colleague
of mine) presents us with a
whimsical alternative history of
the life of comedian Peter Cook.
Gregsons novel The Crocodile
Princess (Cinnamon Press, 2015)
explores what might happen if
certain paths had not been taken.
Gregson imagines Cook turned
off comedy just before his breakthrough, a personal crisis precipitated by adverse reactions to his
jokes about one-legged men. He
becomes a diplomat in the (then)
backwater country of Cambodia
and Gregson presents a complex
account of geopolitics expressed
in the various figures brought together randomly in Phnom Penh
in 1962. It is a gentle, unguarded,
strange book, which has some
good jokes (albeit most of them
funky echoes of Cooks own) and
arresting characters.
Jerome de Groot

Ugliness

A Cultural History
Gretchen E. Henderson
Reaktion Books 236pp 16.99

GRETCHEN E. Henderson
approaches her topic through
an impressive number of examples, spanning disciplines,
mediums, usages, geographies
and chronologies and including works of fine and popular
art, architecture, mythology,
cultural moments, historical
facts and human individuals
and groups. The book offers an
anecdotal survey of what people
have termed ugly in various
contexts. This method proves a
productive approach towards
a concept that is constantly
shifting: ugliness, we are told, is
a cultural construct.

Ugliness ... provides


an engaging and
accessible cultural
history that is
informative and
intrigues the reader
Ugliness is not a characteristic attached to any object, but
situated between the object
and the subject who qualifies it
as such. To call something ugly
says as much or more about
the subject than it does about
the object. What is regarded as
ugly is consolidated at cultural
crossroads, where new relationships are being formed. For
example, in the 18th century,
when discussing the Hellenistic Laocon statue, the German

philosopher Gotthold Ephraim


Lessing drew up aesthetic
standards that distinguished
between European subjects (the
colonial viewer) and African
objects (the colonised and ugly
other), which, from todays
perspective, display plain
racism. In other cases ugliness
is simply misogyny. The books
first image is a 17th-century
etching showing an old woman
with wrinkled skin and sagging
breasts enduring characteristics of ugliness, especially in
combination with the womans
own obliviousness towards the
fact, signified by her vain look in
the mirror. In this respect, more
could be said than the book does
on social power, on why certain
social groups have the authority
to degrade others that way and
which precisely are the fears
they are thereby expressing.
Henderson pays special
attention to the human body,
often the realm in which the
cultural practice judging what is
ugly operates. In many examples, human bodies are deemed
ugly, such as that of Julia
Pastrana, the ugliest woman
in the world, the Elephant
Man Joseph Merrick in the 19th
century, or the soldiers whose
faces were disfigured in the
First World War. What all these
real bodies have in common is
that their markers transgress
the boundaries of the normal:
female features mixed with male
ones, human with animal ones,
or extinguished to such a degree
that they are not classifiable.
The focus on the body also
means that Henderson includes
how ugliness manifests itself
in the body of the perceiving
subject: in all its senses of sight,
sound, smell, taste, touch and
the sixth sense of the mind
and interpretation. As a result
the author manages to take
the discussion of ugliness into
its own territory, beyond a
mere opposition to beauty. This
book provides an engaging and
accessible cultural history that
is informative and entices the
reader to see things in a different perspective.
Catherine Berger
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 57

REVIEWS

Food and Health in


Early Modern Europe

Diet, Medicine and Society,


1450-1800
David Gentilcore
Bloomsbury 288pp 19.99

IF NEWSPAPER columns, TV
listings and the self-help shelves of
bookshops are anything to go by,
the importance of diet to health
is an expanding area of contemporary concern. However, it may
be a surprise to learn that a great
volume of medical advice on diet

58 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

was also available to our early


modern forebears. This was found
largely in books known as regimen,
which offered guidelines on how
to live a long and healthy life by
means of regulating food and
drink, along with five other areas of
daily life considered crucial to good
health: air, sleep, exercise, bodily
hygiene and the passions.
These texts provide the starting
point for Gentilcores scholarly, yet
eminently readable, account of
European eating practices
between 1450 and 1800. The
opening chapters help the reader
understand the medical background to the complex and
extremely detailed advice on foods.
They also engage with some key
historical debates, such as the
question of who really read these
books; who could afford dietary
choice; and whether people ever
really follow their doctors advice
anyway. The book also seeks to
chart and explain the evolution of
the regimen and preventive medicine as a whole, through the lens
of advice on food and drink.

One of Gentilcores key arguments is that medical advice was


only one of a number of factors
influencing diet and his focus duly
widens to take in a panorama of
European contexts, marshalling
an impressive array of sources to
substantiate this view. Sumptuary
laws, data on per capita meat consumption, recipes, diaries and travel
accounts all enable him to demonstrate how wealth, social hierarchy,
geography, fashion and religion
intersected with, or prevailed over,
medical prescriptions on diet, thus
also shaping notions of what could
or should be eaten.
The dominance of food fashions
over medical opinion is perfectly
demonstrated in the chapter on
vegetables and fruit. This traces
how, despite the largely negative
opinions of galenic physicians, over
the late 16th and 17th centuries,
such foods became increasingly
fashionable among the elites, as
well as a sign of religious restraint
and moderation. Yet not until the
18th century were they finally approved of by physicians influenced

by the new schools of chemical and


mechanical medicine.
Particularly fascinating are
chapters that confront the impact
of new world foods such as maize,
potato, tomato and chocolate on
European dietary practices. They
trace the arrival, reception and
subsequent spread of these foods,
unravelling the multiple factors that
governed why it was that some
(such as chocolate and peppers)
were assimilated faster than others
(such as maize and potato) and
explaining the subsequent effects
these foods had on national diets.
Another strength of the book is the
detail and nuance achieved through
the extensive use of quotations
from contemporary sources, though
sometimes these have the effect of
actually undermining the broader
assertions made about the chronology of the regimen and the rise of
new medical perspectives.
This is a very well written book,
which carries its scholarship lightly
and will both inform and entertain
expert and lay readers alike.
Tessa Storey

REVIEWS
feudal rituals, marital diplomacy
and the dispensing of benefices.
But in 1489 her family forced her
to abdicate and Cyprus became
a Venetian colony. Retaining the
empty title Queen of Cyprus,
Corner was cast into internal
exile at Asolando, the terrafirma
hill town where Robert Browning would later live.
At Asolo, the symbolic activities that had failed to save
Corners throne became sources
of new influence. Not all of her
new life was under her control.
Daughter of Venice
Giorgione and Titian painted
Caterina Corner, Queen of
Corners portrait and Pietro
Cyprus and Woman of the
Bembo set his Neoplatonic
Renaissance
treatise on love, Gli Asolani (1505),
at Corners court. But Bembo,
Holly S. Hurlburt
Hurlburt concludes, does not
Yale University Press 360pp 40
seem personally to have attendHENRY JAMES found great
ed events there. Nor can the
pleasure in writing the word
presence of the great Venetian
Venice, but was not sure there
artists be confirmed, though it
is not a certain impudence in
may be significant that, while
pretending to add anything to
Titians Corner is an even greater
it. Holly S. Hurlburt adds much
triumph of tact over truth than
about one of Venices mythic
Holbeins portrait of Anne of
figures, Caterina Corner. Instead Cleves, Giorgiones is mercilessly
of the familiar territory of doges, plain.
canals and all-male patrician
Corner died in 1510. Her
politicking, Hurlburt explores a
menfolk cultivated the legend
womans biography, set mostly
of Caterina Veneta, the dutiful
in Venices territories on the
daughter who surrendered
Italian mainland and the stato da her throne for the good of the
mar, the Venetian empire.
republic. The operas of Donizetti
Corner was born in 1455 or
and Halvy and Brownings verse
1456 to a patrician family, whose exploited the legend, too.
genealogy sported four doges
Was Corner a willing martyr
and a rash of royal in-laws.
or a vulnerable pawn in the
Her mother was the daughter
game of Venetian diplomacy?
of John IV of Trebizond, the
James excused his impudence
Byzantine outpost on the Black
with a double negative; Hurlburt
Sea, and her father was creditor navigates the lagoon of early
and counsellor to the Lusignan
modern historiography, between
kings of Cyprus. In 1468 her
the legends of Corner as passive
father married her by proxy to
victim or tragic heroine. HurlJacques II of Cyprus, known to
burts Corner is often weak but
the genealogists as the Bastard. frequently brave, a better patron
Within months of her arrival in
than politician and more a
Famagusta in 1472, her husband
woman of the Renaissance than
was dead, probably poisoned
a Renaissance woman. Subtly
by her family, and she was
written and lushly illustrated,
pregnant. Her son died in equally Daughter of Venice is a fascinatsuspicious circumstances. The
ing journey into contest and
Venetian merchants, notably
conviviencia, an imperial game
her father and brother, now
of thrones. It is also a skilled and
controlled Cyprus.
judicious recovery, extricating
For 15 years Corner fended off Corner from myths that, preher scheming family, the King of serving her image, had obscured
Naples and the Mamluk sultan
her personality.
by processions, gift exchange,
Dominic Green

Diplomacy in
Renaissance Rome
The Rise of the
Resident Ambassador
Catherine Fletcher

Cambridge University Press 201pp 64.99

AN AMBASSADOR is an honest
man sent to lie abroad. The
delicious ambiguity at the heart of
the dictum of Sir Henry Wotton,
himself an ambassador for James I
of England, exemplifies the obfuscations that were essential to
diplomacy. As Catherine Fletcher
reminds us here, an ambassador
had to simulate and dissimulate,
to charm and to dissemble, to be
himself (always himself) and more
than himself: he must embody his
master. The world these diplomats
inhabited may sound familiar but it
was also distant because distance
mattered; communication was
not in real-time (Fletcher notes
that from London to Rome could
take a courier two weeks, but it
was usually more). That proved a
barrier and an opportunity for our
man to be his own man: but not
too much, for fear of overstepping
the elusive mark between honest
service and self-aggrandisement.
Sixty years lie between Garrett
Mattinglys classic Renaissance
Diplomacy and Fletchers volume.
Her pages bear witness to the
lively scholarship of the intervening generations. Her brief is not
to replace Mattingly but to focus,
in the decades either side of 1500,
on the city which was the premier
diplomatic locale of Christendom:
Rome. She comes to this having
already published her study of one
ambassador, Henry VIIIs agent,
Gregorio Casali. Her new volume
provides the broader context,

explicitly concerned with one type


of diplomat, the resident ambassador to the papal court, though
in the process she ranges more
widely. Nor was this ambassador
ever a lone trader: each presided over a household perpetually
spinning a web of associations that
embedded them within the city
of their residence and also helped
them reach beyond it.
Rome, in this period, was
becoming a capital. Fletcher is sensitive to changes within her timerange, but the backdrop deserves
more emphasis. With hindsight,
1443 appears to be the date when
the papacy returned permanently
to Rome, but even after that time
its position did not feel secure. In
compensation for this continuing
sense of fragility, there was both
celebration and ceremony: the
ostentatious promotion of the city
as the European epicentre of Christianity and the precise ordering of
its every act in order to assert its
apparently timeless stability.

An ambassador
is an honest man
sent to lie abroad
exemplifies the
obfuscations that
were essential to
diplomacy
It is to the development of
these ceremonial practices that
Fletcher especially attends, giving
a vivid taste of the theatricality of
ritual, in which the cityscape acted
as the stage. Successive papal servants recorded precedents in order
to claim there was an established
order, while tweaking that order
time and again to allow for particular circumstances. An apparently
static hierarchy was offset by a
practical need for flexibility. The
corridors of power, as it were, deceived with their straight sightlines;
they hid an architecture of nooks
and crannies. This is the paradox
at the heart of the emerging diplomatic culture Fletcher describes:
increasingly complex certainties
bred creative ambiguity.
David Rundle
APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 59

REVIEWS

Set Adrift upon


the World

The Sutherland Clearances


James Hunter
Birlinn 460pp 25

IT WOULD BE as well for them


to be killed as set adrift upon
the world. So goes the recorded
statement of soon-to-be evicted
residents in 1813, at the height
of some of the most extensive
and notorious of all the Highland
Clearances, namely those in
Sutherland in the early 19th
century. The Clearances took
place all over the Highlands and
Islands and were the result of
a systematic revolution in land
use and management in the
region, as it began to align to the
new industrialising, capitalist
society of the rest of Britain.
Commercial sheep farming was
introduced on a vast scale and,
to clear the interior glens for the
sheep walks, long established,
even ancient, communities were
forcibly uprooted and removed
to the coasts, where they could
either struggle on poor land, or
set off for a new life in North
America.
The Sutherland Clearances
were particularly notorious,
because they were carried
out on such a large scale (the
Sutherland estate was one of
the largest in western Europe)
by one of the richest aristocratic
families in Britain. They affected
tens of thousands of people and
their execution was so brutal
that one estate managercum-sheep farmer, Patrick
Sellar, was tried in 1816 for
culpable homicide. Unsurprisingly, they are regarded as one
60 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

of the great tragedies of modern


Scottish history and have been
deeply controversial among
historians.
In this impressively
researched and beautifully
written work, James Hunter has
set himself the difficult task of
capturing the voices of those
thousands of people who were
caught up in the Sutherland
Clearances and who found
their lives irrevocably changed,
most often for the worse, by
this extraordinary episode.
This extends a lifelong focus for
Hunter, who over the last 40
years has dominated the field
of Highland history, particularly
popular understandings of it,
as his finely and accessibly
written books have appealed to
readers across the world. Very
few historians write as well as
Hunter and his ability to tease
out lost and forgotten voices
mainly of the poorer classes
has been a hallmark of his work.

wide-ranging activities and


influence in the Highlands: as
well as a historian and academic, he has campaigned for land
reform, Highland development
and crofting rights for his whole
life and his history reflects those
interests.
This is a beautifully produced
volume, handsomely supplied
with maps, images and a cast
of characters, so the reader can
easily keep track of Hunters
complex and cross-continental
stories. Likewise, the reader
will find much extra detail and
extensive bibliographies here to
follow up the stories. This book
is recommended to all readers
those who have never heard of
the Clearances and those who
are steeped in their history. It
brings fresh, insider sources and
voices to the old story and quite
rightly extends it to the New
World and into the present day.
Annie Tindley

Communities
were uprooted and
removed ... one of
the great tragedies
of Scottish history
But what makes this volume
stand out in the history of the
Clearances is the way in which
Hunter follows the stories of
those affected by the unfolding
events in Sutherland beyond the
north of Scotland and across the
world, particularly to Canada,
where many of those evicted
moved. The stories of the
mind-boggling hardships faced
by those people from shipboard illnesses to winter treks
are researched and presented
here for the first time.
Hunter makes very clear
which side he is on in the
ongoing clearances debate. He
argues passionately that life for
people in pre-clearance Sutherland was viable, that the last 200
years of poverty and depopulation has been a historical blip
and one that could be corrected
with modern land reform.
This reflects Hunters other

London Lives

Poverty, Crime and the Making


of a Modern City, 1690-1800
Tim Hitchcock and
Robert Shoemaker
Cambridge University Press 461pp 21.99

VAGRANTS, PICKPOCKETS, prostitutes, pimps, thieves, beggars


and highwaymen are some of the
people whose lives make up the
stories of the many thousands of
London poor.
Tim Hitchcock and Robert
Shoemaker have contributed a
huge amount to early modern
history, cataloguing and digitising
thousands of cases for the Old
Bailey Online and London Lives

projects (www.oldbaileyonline.
org and www.londonlives.org).
This book supplements these
efforts and adds dimension to
their aim, to posit a new model of
paupers and criminal agency and
to emphasise its distinctive effect
in shaping the evolution of policy.
Their approach of highlighting the
complex relationship between
plebeian tactics and elite strategies
is highly successful.
From the masses of data
we find that servants were the
most likely occupational group to
commit crime (a massive 33 per
cent of the total) with labourers,
porters, soldiers, gentlemen and
squires accounting for between
three and four per cent each. Unsurprisingly, most criminals were in
low-status occupations.
Aggressive begging and vagrancy increased as more people
battled for fewer resources, thanks
to the influx of migrants, not just
from the countryside but from
all over western Europe. A grand
jury complained in July 1693 of the
neglect of the poor, & their being
suffered to beg in great numbers
up & down the streets of this City,
to be a dishonour to the City, & an
injury to the Inhabitants. By the
end of 1701 many of the systems
of dealing with crime, poverty and
belonging for the next century
were in place, as the poor increasingly identified as social problems.
Most noticeable was the
increasing number of young
unmarried people in London:
women who had come to work
in domestic service and men in
apprenticeships. There was a
dramatic increase in the number
of women involved in crime; they
made up over half of defendants at
the beginning of the 18th century.
Clipping or counterfeiting coins
was also on the increase.
In response to the growing
numbers of people in desperate
need, the London Workhouse
reopened in 1698 and the Vagrancy
Cost Act was introduced in
1699. Since the need to establish
belonging was regarded as an
imperative, paupers badges and
resettlement certificates were
given out in an attempt to ensure
rights to poor relief.
Vice was a particular focus

REVIEWS
of societies for the reformation
of manners, which sprang up to
target the problem. The overseers
of the poor of St Martin-in-theFields in the parish of Westminster
complained of a dayly increase of
poor in the said parish and that the
encouragers thereof are people
of evill fame who keep reputed
bawdy houses in severall by alleys
and placed in the said parish
whereby several great disorders
and misdeamenors [sic] are dayly
committed against the peace
Streetwalkers were also often
suspected of being house-breakers
or pickpockets and were convicted
on flimsy evidence. On September
22nd, 1693, for example, Eleanor
Rawlinson and Elizabeth Thorne
stood before Bridewell governors
accused of being idle Lewd persons
and Suspected to be common
pickpocket(s), with little further
evidence deemed necessary. By
1728 the main aim of the Middlesex
justices was to discover and
Supress all Such Persons who keep
night-Houses, Gaming Houses, or
other disorderly Houses, wherein
Robbers or other Felons are
harbourd or incouraged. By 1763
the magistrate John Fielding was
urging the closing of the low, and
common bawdy-houses, where
vice is rendered cheap, and consequently within the reach of the
common people.
Thief-takers or informers, such
as the notorious Jonathan Wild,
were among those policing crime,
either as volunteers or paid agents;
these figures increasingly attracted
public hostility. The public often
took matters into its own hands
when it considered the law too
harsh: when 500 alehouse keepers
and tradesmen were convicted
for breaking the Sabbath, the
numerous complaints led to the
expulsion of a Justice of the Peace,
Ralph Hartley.
Calling upon a new body of
evidence, Hitchcock and Shoemaker illuminate the lives of prison
escapees, manipulators of the poor
relief system, celebrity highwaymen, lone mothers and vagrants
to reveal how they each played the
system to the best of their ability
in order to survive in their various
circumstances of misfortune.
Julie Peakman

CLASSIC BOOK
had regarded as scraps from the archive and inE.P. THOMPSONs The Making of the English
terrogated them for what they told us about the
Working Class was one of the most successful
beliefs and aims of those who were not on the
history books of the 20th century. At the time
winning side. The Making rambled over aspects
of its writing, Thompson had one book to his
of human experience that had never before had
name a largely unnoticed biography of William
their historian. The timing of its appearance
Morris and held a less than glamorous position
could scarcely have been more fortunate, as
in the extra-mural department at Leeds Univerthe 1960s saw unprecedented expansion in the
sity. No one could have predicted that within
university sector, with the creation of new unimonths The Making would become a runaway
versities filled with lecturers and students whose
commercial and critical success. In 1968 Pelican
families had not traditionally had access to the
Books bought the rights and published a revised
privileged world of higher education. Little
version as its 1,000th title. Fifty years on, it is
wonder, then, that so many felt a natural affinity
still in print, widely revered as a canonical work
with Thompsons outsiders and underdogs.
of social history.
Yet, radical and innovative as it was, The
With its preface so memorably declaring the
Making, like all history books, was still very
books intention to rescue the poor stockinger,
much a book of its time. In the Marxist tradition,
the Luddite cropper, the obsolete hand-loom
Thompson rejected the notion
weaver, the Utopian artisan,
that capitalism was inherentand even the deluded follower
ly superior to the alternative
of Joanna Southcott, from
model of economic organisathe enormous condescension
tion it replaced. He refused
of posterity, The Making
to accept that the decline of
was part of the new wave of
the artisans was inevitable,
social history. Social history
or that their distress was a
sought to put those who had
necessary adjustment to the
traditionally lain outside the
market economy. It was an arprofessions mainstream congument that resonated widely
cerns of politics, diplomacy
at the time, when Marxist
and statecraft into the historintellectuals could still believe
ical frame. Workers, women
that a realistic alternative to
and people of colour were
capitalism existed and could
finding their historians. A
still argue that true Marxism
very different kind of history
had not been tried properly.
was starting to emerge.
The Making of the
The Making also shared the
In fact, pioneering social
English Working Class
sexual politics of the 1960s.
and economic historians had
E.P. Thompson
The new power-driven factobeen studying working people
Victor
Gollancz
1963, rev. ed. Penguin 1968 676pp
ries at the heart of Thompfor decades, but the focus
sons industrial revolution
had always been squarely
were operated largely by women and yet women
on the tangible, the measurable, the signifiwere curiously absent from his book. Of course,
cant: wages, living conditions, unions, strikes,
given Thompsons central concern with the new
Chartists. Thompson attempted something
working-class culture of the period their absence
different in The Making. He touched, of course,
is not entirely surprising: women were, after
upon the trade unions and the real wage, but
all, largely excluded from the political culture
spawned during industrialisation. But accepting
and reproducing the sexual inequalities and exclusions of industrialising Britain lies in tension
with the books radical ambitions.
Our historical understanding of the Industrial Revolution has inevitably changed many
times since The Making was first published.
Thompson did not provide the answers. Rather,
most of his book was devoted to what he referred to as experience. Through a patient and
his enduring gift was to create a space in which
extensive examination of local as well as
generations of teachers and students could seek
national archives, Thompson had uncovered
to understand the marginalised, the powerless
details about workshop customs and rituals,
and those who left little mark on the historical
failed conspiracies, threatening letters, popular
record.
songs and union club cards. He took what others
Emma Griffin

One of the most successful


history books of the 20th
century ... A canonical
work of social history

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 61

REVIEWS

Masculinity, Class
and Same-Sex Desire
in Industrial England,
1895-1957
Helen Smith

Palgrave Macmillan 244pp 63

AT THE START of this wellresearched and engaging book,


Helen Smith recounts the conversation with her grandparents
which inspired it. Asking them
how they had first met, she
was told that her grandfather,
on leave from national service
in the late 1940s, first saw his
future wife on the arm of his
best friend Alf at the local dance
hall in Rotherham. Didnt Alf
mind?, she asked. No, replied
her grandfather. Alf was a puff
and your grandmother was his
pretend girlfriend.
The story illustrates the
accepting, even protective,
attitude of communities in
industrial northern England
towards what we would now
call gay men in the period
between the Oscar Wilde trials
of 1895 and the publication of
the 1957 Wolfenden Report. The
dates are significant. As Smith
demonstrates, the commercial queer scene of fin de sicle
London was a world away from
the traditional male domains
of pub, club and workplace in
areas like Sheffield, Manchester and Leeds. Yet same-sex
relationships flourished in these
settings. Indeed, Wildes eventual conviction and punishment
was seen by commentators in
the north as excessive, even
unnecessary. But by the time
postwar affluence and the
debates about decriminalisation
62 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

(and consequent media coverage


of the homosexual) had reached
the north, such behaviour and
the men who indulged in it had
acquired a name and identity
at odds with perceived notions
of normality and masculinity.
In between these dates, Smith
presents a picture of northern
working-class men who were
freely able to love (or at least
have sex with) other men, with
little shame or fear of arrest.
The law seems to have had little
bearing on mens behaviour.
Police arrests, prosecutions and
convictions were well below
those in London.
The workplace, including in
the masculine heavy industries
of steel manufacturing and coal
mining, often fostered same-sex
relationships. Smith includes
many examples of ordinary men
who happily lived, worked and
loved alongside each other. Men

If such men were


good workers and
did not disrupt
community life,
their behaviour
was tacitly
accepted
like Clifford Clarke and William
Mitchell. Steel grinders from
Sheffield, they were arrested in
1941 after having sex while out
celebrating Clarkes birthday.
The judge sentenced them to a
token 15 days in prison because
they were both men of good
character on work of national
importance. As long as such
men were good workers and did
not disrupt community life, their
behaviour was tacitly accepted.
Smith draws on an impressive array of sources to back up
her conclusions, although there
is a bias towards Sheffield. Her
frequent references to other
historical analyses of the period
can also be distracting. But this
is a hugely enjoyable book that
sheds light on a neglected
regional aspect of gay history.
John-Pierre Joyce

The Landscape of Silence


Sexual Violence Against
Men in War
Amalendu Misra
C. Hurst & Co 256pp 25

THE SUBJECT OF this book is a


difficult one, which is all too often
ignored in discussions of sexual
violence in wartime. Misra sets out
to map the experiences of such
violence from the perspective of
victim and perpetrator, and the
silences around the subject. Using
a multidisciplinary social scientific
approach, drawing on anthropology, political theory, philosophy,
sociobiology, law and psychology, Misra addresses his subject
thematically, including, in relation
to the body, nationalism, the
psychology of the perpetrator, law,
memory and resilience. He covers
a huge range of theorists working
in the fields of gender, war and
violence, often at the expense of
analysis of his own semi-formal
interviews with victims and perpetrators of such violence. This,
combined with the wide definitions of conflict adopted, including
communal violence, the war on
drugs, civil resistance movements
and more formally recognised civil
and international warfare, means
that there is little space for systematic analysis of primary material,
which is deployed anecdotally and
sporadically.
Unfortunately, history is not
one of the disciplines that Misra
includes. Instead, the introductory survey of the historic record
of sexual violence against men
begins in the ancient period before
skipping to a very brief mention
of imperial histories and then to

examples of sexual violence against


men in the Second World War. The
violent conflicts which shaped the
medieval and early modern worlds
across the globe are barely acknowledged as part of the context
of the contemporary social and
academic landscape of silence.
The lack of historical context
would be less problematic were it
not for Misras critique of academic
literature as failing to examine the
specific question of sexual violence
against men in conflict. While there
is certainly less material on the
subject than on violence against
women, the claim is slightly
disingenuous in light of historical
works such as Branches and
Virgilis collection Rape in Wartime
(2012) and Bourkes Rape: A History
from 1860 to the Present (2007).
Discussions of violence against
women may dominate these
studies but to ignore this perspective almost completely, even
contextually, as Misra does, is also
problematic. Whether in terms of
the role of potential procreation in
the use of rape as a tool of domination or the bodily differences
between men and women in
shaping the methods of sexual
humiliation and torture, the subject
of sexual violence against women
has the potential to enlighten our
understanding of sexual violence
against men and cannot be
ignored.

Sexual violence
against men in war
is deeply difficult
... and is too often
ignored
Ultimately, this book does
achieve its stated goal of raising
awareness of a complex subject.
Unfortunately, it does so in ways
that are often incoherent and intellectually problematic, while for the
more general reader the academic
language and thematic structure
create barriers to full engagement
with the text. Misra is right to call
for further and broader discussion;
sadly his work here adds little to
the conversation.
Jessica Meyer

REVIEWS

EXHIBITION

Worktown

The Astonishing Story of


the Project that launched
Mass-Observation
David Hall
Weidenfeld and Nicolson 320pp 20

EVER practised people-spotting?


In the 1930s the organisation
Mass-Observation turned this
preoccupation into an anthropology of ourselves. It recruited
volunteers to record everyday
life, warts and all. At a time
when market research and
opinion polling were in their
infancy, the Mass-Observers
studied ordinary people at work
and at play.
The organisation sprang from
the vision of Tom Harrisson,
who had researched cannibalism
in the South Pacific. Harrisson
realised this kind of anthropology could also be done closer
to home in his native England.
Linking up with surrealist poet
Charles Madge, he advertised
for observers who would study
people, often without their
knowing, and record what
they did. A slice of life would be
turned into social science.
Mass-Observation established itself with a study of what
people did on Coronation Day in
1937. However, Harrissons sights
were set on Bolton, where he
established a headquarters. He
labelled it Worktown, because
it embodied industrialisation.
Here was a way of life that
seemed foreign to the left-wing,
middle-class figures attracted
to the movement. Among the
people who assisted were future
Labour leaders Michael Foot
and Harold Wilson, Humphrey

THE STORY begins with a pair of still life paintWalking through these galleries, we sense
ings from the 1860s: Monets Spring Flowers and
the artists pleasure in manipulating paint to
Renoirs Flowers in a Greenhouse (inset). A decade such vibrant effect. We share and delight in
before the first Impressionist exhibition of 1874,
their sensations of sunlight, colour and warmth.
the two artists were finding in this most traditAnd, indeed, with very few exceptions the sun is
ional of art genres scope for their experiments
shining. For the French Impressionists, gardens
with composition, tone and colour. The Royal
en plein air meant gardens in spring or summer,
Academy of Arts current exhibition follows
never on a rainy day. Not until the Symbolists
Monet, Renoir and fellow Impressionists as they
in a gallery labelled Gardens of Silence do we
moved outdoors to paint flowers en plein air.
encounter gardens under mist and snow.
The garden became a prime site for innovation,
A thematic show of this type sharpens our
as the Impressionists developed an approach to
awareness of the dramatic changes taking place
painting grounded in their own individual perin European art at the turn of the 19th and
ceptions of nature: what Zola
20th centuries. At one point
called a corner of creation
the sheer diversity of early
seen through a temperament.
modern art causes an otherWhere Caillebotte translated
wise tightly organised display
his interest in urban geometto lose coherence. The gallery
ries into the lines of a wall, a
labelled Avant-Gardens tries
path or a flower bed, Renoir
to encompass the different
preferred gardens that were
faces of European art at the
overgrown and unkempt, for
start of the 20th century,
artists can only work where
but the limited sampling of
nature is left some freedom.
Matisse, Klee and Munch is
Monet sought to create an
unsatisfactory and confusing.
idyll in a succession of suburbBetter to home in on just
an gardens in Ville dAvray,
one aspect of avant-garde art
Argenteuil and Vthueil
during this period and to give
while Pissarro found inspiraMatisse a stronger presence.
tion in the mundane: peasants
In fact, with only two works
at work in the market gardens
by Matisse on display, it is
Painting the Modern
of Pontoise and Eragny. One
hard to justify the exhibition
Garden
otherwise sympathetic critic
title: Monet to Monet would
Monet to Matisse
found the painters inclinathave been nearer the mark.
Royal Academy, until April 20th
ion for cabbages and peasants
Both Caillebotte and
deplorable.
Monet were keen gardeners,
Missing from this show are examples of
a point made here with displays of journals,
contemporary Salon art. A few examples from
flower catalogues and books on horticulture. A
painters like Toulmouche and Stevens might
painting by Edouard Manet of 1874, The Monet
have highlighted just how radical the ImpresFamily in their Garden at Argenteuil, shows the
sionists were. However, we do see contemporary artist tending plants, while his wife and son look
associates of the group, including James Tissot
out towards the viewer. In the 1870s Monet
and John Singer Sargent. Indeed one of the great
was already hard at work shaping one of his key
strengths of this exhibition is its international
sources of inspiration and over time his art and
his garden would grow to be interdependent.
In the last decades of his life Monet was drawn
within the paradise he had created at Giverny,
the garden he described as his most beautiful
work of art. The final gallery provides a suitable
climax, with all three paintings of the monumental Agapanthus Triptych presented together
for the first time in the UK. Following Monets
shifting gaze from depth to surface, shadow to
scope; it moves beyond the well-trodden field
light, water to sky, we share with him a glimpse
of French Impressionism to include artists from
of the infinite in a lily pond.
Spain, America, Belgium, Denmark and elseKathleen McLauchlan
where. The names Sorollo, Kryer, Le Sidaner
and Childe Hassam may be unfamiliar to a
Catalogue: Painting the Garden: Monet to Matisse,
British audience, but their work at the RA makes Monty Don, Ann Dumas, Helen Lemonedes, et al.
a powerful impact.
Royal Academy of Arts 328pp 48

Sorollo, Kryer, Le Sidaner,


and Childe Hassam may be
unfamiliar, but their work
makes a powerful impact

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 63

REVIEWS
Spender (whose photographs
created a visual record) and the
film-maker Humphrey Jennings.
Working-class locals were also
part of the team, grounding it in
everyday life. David Halls evocative book lovingly recreates this
early phase of the movement.
Mass-Observation had an
eye for the smallness of English
life. No detail was too insignificant. It recorded the drudgery
of work and the life-threatening
illnesses associated with factory
work. But it was fascinated by
the home and the way people
spent their leisure time. When
a comedy was playing at the
cinema, observers turned up
with stopwatches to time the
length of audience laughter and
note what they found funny.
Another volunteer took in a
meeting of the Bolton Budgerigar Society. At a dance hall, we
learn there were no men with
bald heads downstairs (presumably where dancing took place)
but a considerable number upstairs. Grafitti on lavatory walls

64 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

was recorded in detail. So were


conversations at a bus queue:
four were about sport, two were
about money, one was about
hobbies and three involved
telling dirty jokes. There was a
strongly masculine dimension to
Mass-Observation, including a
propensity to get off with working-class women, allegedly in
the name of scientific research.
The project was, however, determined to record the distinctiveness of womens experience and
there were female observers.
In the short term, relatively
little came out of the Bolton
project. However, it has provided a remarkable resource for the
modern social historian. In the
Mass-Observation archives we
uncover a true peoples history.
We might also, in retrospect,
claim Mass-Observation as the
ancestor of another project
that began 20 years later and
attempted to do the same thing
in fictional form. It was called
Coronation Street.
Rohan McWilliam

The Gates of Europe


A History of Ukraine
Serhii Plokhy
Allen Lane 432pp 25

UKRAINE has been the focus of


world attention in recent years. In
the wake of the Orange revolution
(2004-05) and the Euromaidan
protests (2013-14) during which
Kievans took to the streets to
demand closer integration with
western Europe it has suffered
widespread, violent unrest across
its eastern territories. Russias

subsequent prosecution of a
covert military campaign against
the Ukrainian government in the
Donbass region and its formal
annexation of the Crimean peninsula has caused consternation in
western capitals. In this opaque,
largely undeclared conflict, all
interested parties have sought to
instrumentalise history for political
ends. Memory politics and historical grievance fuel the conflict and,
in extremis, history its appropriation and misappropriation has
become a weapon of war.
It is in this context that Plokhy
locates his formidable account
of Ukrainian history. His remit is
vast: careering, often at breakneck speed, from an account of
the region given by Herodotus
to the present day. It is a story of
historical contingency and evershifting borders, as the lands at
the western edge of the Eurasian
steppe that now constitute
Ukraine are redrawn by regional
empires: Roman to Ottoman,
Habsburg to Romanov, Nazi to
Soviet. It is often a tragic history,

REVIEWS
which reaches its ghastly apogee
early in the 20th century. The
devastation visited upon Ukraine
by the state-orchestrated famine
of 1932-33 and later by the Nazis
is unspeakable every sixth
Jew killed in the Holocaust was
Ukrainian.
Plokhy sheds considerable light
on the current conflict by paying
special attention to the integrated
history of Russia and Ukraine. Both
states claim to be the legitimate
heirs of Kyivan Rus, the medieval
state centred on Kiev. The image
of Yaroslav the Wise appears on
the banknotes of both countries.
The founding myth of modern
Russia is of a state conceived and
born in Kiev. More pertinently, as
Plokhy highlights, despite Putins
claim that Russias annexation of
Crimea was an act of historical
justice to redress the transfer
of the peninsula to the Soviet
Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954, it
was Russian imperial expansion
of the late 18th century that led
to dominance by Russia of lands
once inhabited by the Crimean
and Noghay Tatars. Similarly, the
recently revived notion of Novorossiya (the territory connecting
Crimea with mainland Russia)
was also born of Russian imperialism under Catherine the Great,
centred on the former lands of the
Zaporozhian Cossacks. As Russian
claims persist that the Ukrainian
state is an artificial formation, it
propagates a narrative that, the
only genuine and thus historically
legitimate polity is the empire: first
the Russian Empire and then the
Soviet Union, Plokhy states.
This erudite account errs only
under the weight of its own ambition. Its relentlessly chronological
and sometimes clinical attempt to
provide a comprehensive as well
as granular account can seem a
little list-like and leaves a sense
that Plokhys narrative might have
been better curated. However, this
is an important, timely survey of
Ukraines history, providing a corrective to recent historical abuses.
Though it may sound like a grand
sentiment, if the misappropriation
of history is a weapon of war,
historical truth can sometimes be a
potent instrument of peace.
John Owen

The Yellow Peril

Dr Fu Manchu and the Rise of


Chinaphobia
Christopher Frayling
Thames and Hudson 352pp 24.95

THERE ARE certain fictional


characters who take on an existence independent of their creators. Their lives and adventures
are chronicled by a host of other
authors and translated into
other media: radio, television
and film, in particular. Sherlock
Holmes, Dracula and Tarzan are
classic cases of this phenomenon. Another prime example
is Dr Fu Manchu. This gallery
of immortals achieve their
individual independence because
they are supreme archetypes
and embodiments of particular
sets of values and world-views
that have resonance with the
mass audience. Fu Manchu owes
his longevity to the fact that he
was, in the words of his creator,
the yellow peril incarnate in
one man. He represents in
distilled form everything that
western audiences feared and
hated in China and the Chinese.
Personally, he is cruel, cunning,
condescending and apparently
indestructible. Politically, he
represents the deep-seated
fear in the western mind of the
unstoppable rise of the yellow
hordes to take over the world.
Frayling sets out to examine
the growth of Chinaphobia
through the prism of the careers
of Dr Fu Manchu and his creator.
The creator was originally called
Arthur Henry Ward (1883-1959)
but adopted the pen-name
Sax Rohmer, which he thought
meant freelance in Anglo-

Saxon. His most celebrated


creation was Dr Fu Manchu.
The 13 novels do not represent
a continuous narrative but they
came in cycles closely related to
events in China: the 1911 Revolution, the rise of the Kuomintang,
the Communist takeover.
Rohmer had never been to
China and knew little of the
Chinese at first hand. Frayling analyses with admirable
forensic skill the sources from
which Rohmer constructed
his archetype. There was his
extensive reading of thrillers
(Conan Doyles Sherlock Holmes
stories, the Dr Nikola novels of
the now forgotten Guy Boothby,
by MP Shiels lurid invasion
fantasies). There was his career
in popular journalism, penning
for magazines such as Tit-Bits
and Answers sensational exposs
of opium dens and criminality
in Londons East End. But most
surprising of all was the influence of the music hall, which
Rohmer always played down,
perhaps seeing them as infra dig
for a serious writer. However,
Rohmer had composed song
lyrics for many performers,
ghosted a book of reminiscences
called Pause for George Robey,
which was full of references to
the exotic and the occult, and
wrote Chinese monologues for
Bransby Williams, notably The
Pigtail of Li Fang Fu and Orange
Blossom, dripping with Oriental
atmosphere. Chinoiserie was
ubiquitous in the music hall and
on the musical comedy stage.
It is a singular fact today,
following the emergence of
China as a major world economic
power, that the original Rohmer
novels remain in print and the
iconic cinematic incarnations of
Fu Manchu by Boris Karloff and
the late Christopher Lee are regularly revived. The mere mention
of the name is still capable of
summoning up a mental image
of the Devil Doctor.
Exhaustively researched, lavishly illustrated and engagingly
written, Fraylings book is surely
the definitive account of the Fu
Manchu phenomenon and its
enduring influence.
Jeffrey Richards

CONTRIBUTORS
Catherine Berger teaches
History of Art at University
College London.
Dominic Green is author of
The Double Life of Doctor Lopez
(Century, 2003). He teaches at
Boston College, Mass.
Emma Griffin is Professor of
History at the University of
East Anglia. Her books include
A Short History of the British
Industrial Revolution (Palgrave,
2010).
Jerome de Groots books
include Remaking History
(Routledge, 2015).
John-Pierre Joyce is a writer,
journalist and teacher. He is
currently writing a gay history
of Britain, 1957-70.
Kathleen McLauchlan is a
lecturer in History of Art and a
course director at the Victoria &
Albert Museum.
Rohan McWilliam is Professor
of Modern British History
at Anglia Ruskin University,
Cambridge.
Jessica Meyer is University
Academic Fellow in Legacies of
War in the School of History at
the University of Leeds.
John Owen is a journalist and
producer, whose documentaries
include The Warroom and
Churchill: When Britain Said No,
both broadcast on BBC2.
Julie Peakmans books include
Peg Plunkett, Memoirs of a Whore
(Quercus, 2015).
Jeffrey Richards is Emeritus
Professor of History at the
University of Lancaster.
David Rundle is a lecturer in
the Department of History at
the University of Essex.
Tessa Storeys most recent
book (co-authored with Sandra
Cavallo) is Healthy Living in Late
Renaissance Italy (Oxford, 2013).
Annie Tindley is a senior
lecturer in History at the
University of Dundee. Her books
include The Sutherland Estate,
1850-1920 (Edinburgh University
Press, 2010).

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 65

HAVE YOUR SAY

Letters
The Argument Falls Down
My friend Alex von Tunzelmann
(Rhodes Must Fall? A Question
of When Not If, March 2016) is a
good historian. But she overstates her case.
She cites the demolition of
the statue of Saddam Hussein in
Baghdad in 2003, saying it was
hauled down by protesters. It
was not. It was pulled down by
American troops. Those of us
watching the event on live television feeds saw the efficiency
of US military communications
when the serviceman climbing
a ladder to attach the Stars and
Stripes to the plinth was ordered
to the ground and returned
to the top with an Iraqi flag:
commanders were well aware of
the symbolism of the event and
wanted to present the war as an
indigenous uprising. It was only
after US forces had dragged the
statue down that Baghdadis set
about bashing the effigy with
sledgehammers.
The destruction of Saddams
statue mattered because it was
a symbol of power. The same is
true of the toppling of effigies
of Stalin in Hungary in 1956 and
Lenin in Ukraine in 2013-14: the
individuals may have been dead,
yet they represented a living
system of repression.
Cecil Rhodes was a brute. But
his effigy is over a century old.
It does not tell us anything at all
about current attitudes and so
pulling it down achieves nothing.
You might as well pull down the
statue of Henry VIII over the
Great Court of Trinity College,
Cambridge on the grounds that
he was unsound on feminism.
Our universities take their
money where they can scrounge
it. The oligarch Leonid Blavatnik
has funded Oxfords School of
Government and Wafik Said the
business school. Rupert Murdoch
has endowed a professorship of
language and communication
there. They are all, of course,
66 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

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Post to History Today, 2nd Floor,
9 Staple Inn, London WC1V 7QH

honourable men.
Instead of focusing on a
clapped-out imperialist, there is
a far stronger case to be made for
tearing down the numerous effigies of Napoleon scattered about
France. The moment the country
stops revering the little Corsican
tyrant will be the point at which
he deserves to be left alone.
Jeremy Paxman
London

Liberating Languages
Stewart McCains article
(Should One Nation Mean One
Language, March) reminded
me of the linguistic skill of my
maternal grandfather. He was
born in Alexsandrw, in what was
then Russian-controlled Poland,
in 1867. Polish and Yiddish were
the languages at home, but they
were both forbidden in public
and education was allowed to be
conducted only in Russian.
The reason for this draconian
imposition was security; integration was not an issue. I venture
to believe that Prime Minister
David Cameron has integration
in mind and that using and understanding English will enable
immigrants to better integrate
with their English-speaking
neighbours. They will also be
able to weigh up the wider social
benefits available to them.
This does not in any way
preclude them from continuing
to use the language of their birth
within their homes and those of
their particular communities,
but they will be enabled to mix
and shop within the wider world,
towards which they will owe a
certain responsibility.
When my grandfather came
to Britain towards the end of the
19th century, he taught himself
English within six months. To
the best of my knowledge all
his family contemporaries did
likewise, though it was probably
not always the language they
used to communicate between

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themselves. Every one of them


became fully franchised British
subjects.
Jeffery L. Shaw
Vallerauge, France

Conspiracy or Not?
The credentials of Nicholas
Morton as a historian (The
Rise of the Teutonic Knights,
February) may extend so far as
that military order and the skill
of Herman von Salza in securing
donations for the spread of Christendom beyond the boundaries
of the Holy Roman Empire to
the North and the East. Yet to go
on from there to maintain the
broad similarity between the
Teutonic Knights and the other
international orders such as the
Templars and the Hospitallers is
surely going too far.
As for the Templars, their constitution had been composed by
no less a religious figure than St
Bernard and their military presence was required for the protection of Christian pilgrims to the
Holy Land against the incursion
of Muslims forces. They were
known as redoubtable warriors,
never giving an inch of ground in
battle. For this reason, without
the need of seeking donations for
their financial clout, they naturally became bankers in order
to raise and distribute money
crusaders. As for the Hospitallers,
their strength similarly arose not
from the donations they may
have sought, which Herman von
Salza got from wealthy benefactors, but from the circumstances
of the successive crusades to the
Holy Land and of the resulting
need of medical assistance.
As for their so-called possession of mighty religious relics
such as the Holy Grail or their
shadowy status as some form
of secret society, with their
possible appeal to conspiracy
theorists, the only such claim
that has come to my attention has been that of the Holy

Shroud, which had been kept as


a venerated relic in Constantinople till the sack of that city by the
crusaders in 1204, after which
it disappeared. What if it was
secretly secured by the Templars
and no less secretly preserved by
them in one of their commanderies in France? Is that idea to
be sneered at as a conspiracy
theory and rejected out of hand?
Or is it, to say the least, a feasible
historical possibility, explaining
the emergence of that relic in
14th-century France, now known
as the Holy Shroud of Turin?
Peter Milward
Sophia University, Tokyo, Japan

Hedy Achievements
I usually love Richard Cavendishs Months Past, but I was
disappointed by his contribution
about Hedy Lamarr and her sad
fate in the January 2016 issue,
especially about the fact that
the only information the reader
gets on the actress is that she
was known more for her looks
and sexy roles than for acting.
True or not, Lamarr deserved
better than such a disparaging
comment.
She was not just a pretty face.
During the Second World War,
Lamarr, working with her friend,
the composer George Antheil,
developed a radio guidance
system for Allied torpedoes,
which used spread spectrum and
frequency hopping technology to
defeat jamming by the Germans.
The US navy did not adopt the
technology during the war but
they did so in the 1960s. From
there the principles of the invention found their way into WiFi,
CDMA and Bluetooth technology. Thanks to this, Lamarr and
Antheil have been inducted into
the US National Inventors Hall of
Fame in 2014.
Such an achievement deserves some kind of mention.
Andr Pelchaty
LAvenir, Quebec, Canada

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APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 67

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Travel

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68 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

Societies

Coming Next Month


Flower of Scotland?

The white rose of Scotlands status


as a nationalist symbol was made
clear when, following the 2015 British
general election, 56 members of the
Scottish National Party were seen
sporting the flower at Westminster.
The roses symbolic origins began in
the 18th century when it was worn
by the Jacobite supporters of James
VII of Scotland. But were the
Jacobites Scottish nationalists and
was the Jacobite Rising a simple
case of Scotland versus England? Not
necessarily, says Jacqueline Riding.

Cyborgs and the First World War

As the conflict progressed, so, too, did public anxiety at the speed of its
scientific advances, which included chlorine gas in 1915, the tank in 1916
and submarine warfare in 1917. It was against this background that, in
1917, the first cybernetic organism, Soldier 241, appeared in the pages
of Strand Magazine. Its fictional creation posed questions: were cyborgs
servants or autonomous beings? And whose side would they be on?
Kate Macdonald explores metaphorical uses of human-machine hybrids.

Domitians Eunuch

Our brand new digital edition is out


now, and its free for print subscribers.

www.historytoday.com/app

It is not only history that favours the victors: poetry does, too. Those
marginalised in Roman society are also marginalised in verse, and no
group in the Greco-Roman world was more maligned than the eunuchs.
In a society that associated sexual potency with respectability, the
eunuch was beneath contempt. One of their number was the slave
Earinus, owned by the Emperor Domitian, whose shadowy existence in
contemporary writing is explored by Llewelyn Morgan.

Plus Months Past, Making History, Signposts, Reviews, InFocus, From the

Januarys Prize Crossword

Archive, Pastimes and much more.

The May issue of History Today will be on sale throughout the UK


on April 21st. Ask your newsagent to reserve you a copy.

PICTURE ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The winner for February is Tony Gwyther, Hassocks,


West Sussex.

EDITORS LETTER: 2 Alamy/David Anthony. HISTORY MATTERS: 3 Alamy/Peter Forsberg;


5 Bridgeman Images; 6 Getty Images; 7 Victoria and Albert Museum, London. MONTHS
PAST: 8 and 9 top Getty Images; 9 bottom Bridgeman Images/Vatican Museums. THE
FIRST EUROPEAN UNION: 10 and 11 akg-images; 12 akg-images; 13 left Wikimedia/
Creative Commons; 13 right akg-images; 14 akg-images; 15 top courtesy Cambridge
University Press; bottom akg-images; 16 akg-images; 17 top Bridgeman Images; bottom
Wikimedia/Creative Commons; 18 top and bottom akg-images; 19 akg-images. HIPPOS
OF THE THAMES: 21 Mary Evans Picture Library; 22 left HippopoThames (2014) by Florentijn
Hofman. Photograph Andy Thornley; right Getty Images; 23 Richard Owen: A History of
British Fossil Mammals, and Birds (1846), p.399. 24 Mary Evans Picture Library; 25 courtesy of
Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester; 26 Bridgeman Images. INFOCUS: 28-29
Getty Images. THE CASE OF CASEMENT: 30 courtesy The National Library of Ireland; 31
Bridgeman Images/Dublin City Gallery; 32 Map by Tim Aspden; 33 top left National Portrait
Gallery, London; top right Getty Images; bottom courtesy The National Library of Ireland; 34
top left Getty images; top right and bottom Topfoto; 36 Alamy. HOW THE BRITS LOST
AMERICA: 38 and 39 Bridgeman Images. THE BARD BEYOND BORDERS: 40 Bridgeman
Images/Christies Images; 41 Bridgeman Images/British Library; 42 Map by Tim Aspden; 43
akg-images; 44 Bridgeman Images; 45 top akg-images; bottom Bridgeman Images; 46
and 47 Bridgeman Images. A KING CAUGHT ON CAMERA: 48 Alamy. ALL THE WORLDS
A PRISON: 49 courtesy Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri (transferred
from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services, originally given by Bailey K.
Howard); 50 infographic by Dean Nicholas; photograph akg-images; 51 top Clare Anderson;
bottom Watercolour by Clementina Benthall. Benthall Papers, Centre of South Asian Studies,
University of Cambridge; 52 top Clare Anderson; 52 and 53 bottom (illustrated handscroll)
courtesy National Museum of Japanese History; 53 top akg-images; 54 Bridgeman Images.
REVIEWS: 56 Alamy; 63 Flowers in a Greenhouse by Auguste Renoir, 1864. Photo SHK/
Hamburger Kunsthalle/bpk. Photograph by Elke Walford. COMING NEXT MONTH: 69
Portrait of a Jacobite Lady, attributed to Alexander Cosmo, 18th century. Bridgeman Images/
The Drambuie Collection. GRAND TOUR: top Compass Rose Antiquarian Images/Mary Evans
Picture Library; bottom courtesy The National Archives. THE QUIZ: 71 Crazy Horse Memorial
Foundation. 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.

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 69

PASTIMES

GR A ND TOUR

H I S T OR IC A L ODDI T I E S F ROM A ROU N D T H E WOR L D

WHERE:
Bangkok, Thailand

WHEN:
Constructed in 1784

The Giant Swing (Sao Chingcha)


IN ONE OF THE worlds more curious religious
ceremonies, Thai men swing from the 21-metre
tall Giant Swing of Bangkok in 1919, attempting,
incredibly, to grab a suspended bag of coins with their
teeth. The ceremony, which followed the December
rice harvest, took place annually for 150 years in
celebration of an aspect of the Hindu creation story,
with the swings pillars symbolising mountains

70 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

and its circular base the earth. The swing was


commissioned by King Rama I (17371809), founder
of the Chakri dynasty, which still rules Thailand
today. His swing has faired less well; the ceremony
was discontinued in 1935 after a spate of deaths and
today a reconstruction stands on a roundabout in
front of the Buddhist temple, Wat Suthat.
Rhys Griffiths

Prize Crossword
DOWN
1 Ancient city in Saudi Arabia,
considered sacred in Islam (6)
2 The ___, 1866 ghost story by
Charles Dickens (6-3)
3 Moulin ___, dance-hall established
in Paris in 1889 (5)
4 Name for a late fourth century Latin
translation of the Bible (7)
6 French city conquered by Trebonius
in 49bc (9)
7 Franz ___ (1870-1948), Hungarian
composer of The Merry Widow (5)
8 ___ Oil, US trust controlled by John
D. Rockefeller (8)
11 Elisha ___ (1811-61), inventor of
the safety lift (4)
15 Irish island, home to the
prehistoric fort Dun Aengus (9)
17 Troopers in Oliver Cromwells
parliamentary cavalry (9)
18 Whaling ship aboard which
Herman Melville served (8)
20/16 The ___: A Tale Of Passion,
1915 novel by Ford Madox Ford (4,7)
21 Henrietta ___ (d.1813), poet and
satirist (7)
22 Paul ___, heroic lumberjack of US
legend (6)
24 Lenore ___ (1892-1970), star
of Hollywood films including Frozen
Justice (1929) (5)
25 ___ Rouge, Louisiana city
incorporated in 1817 (5)

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 April 30th or www.historytoday.com/crossword

The Quiz

14 Who was the only US president


to have had a patent?
15 The term gilded prostitution
describes 19th-century marriages
of the penniless British aristocracy
to whom?

2 Where was the worlds first cash


machine opened in 1967?
3 Travels in which former country
helped Milman Parry formulate a
theory which would revolutionise
Homeric studies?
4 What did Timothy Leary describe
as the LSD of the 1990s?

8 Who is celebrated in the


memorial pictured above?

11 Who was the famous son of


Pepin the Short?

5 Which sport did Oliver Cromwell


ban in Ireland in 1656?

9 Around which unlikely fruit did a


cult grow during Chinas Cultural
Revolution?

12 How many songs did the


American Civil War general
Ulysses S. Grant claim to know?

10 By what name is the


geographical region of the Morea
now better known?

13 The Ethiopian king Menelik II


treated his aliments by doing what
to the Bible?

6 On what charge was Witchfinder


General Matthew Hopkins
executed in 1647?
7 What did Apollo kill at Delphi?

ANSWERS

1 Who did Ronald Reagan describe


as Americas band in 1983?

1.The Beach Boys


2. Enfield
3. Yugoslavia
4. The PC
5. Cricket
6. Witchcraft
7. A python
8. Crazy Horse
9. The mango
10. The Peloponnese
11. Charlemagne
12. Two One is Yankee Doodle Dandy
and the other isnt
13. Eating it
14. Abraham Lincoln
15. Wealthy American heiresses

ACROSS
1 Sir James ___ (1826-1904),
Antrim-born industrialist (8)
5 Samuel ___ (1812-1904), author
of Self-Help (1859) (6)
9 Charles ___ (1890-1970), French
general and statesman (2,6)
10 In Hinduism, the four-faced
creator god (6)
12 Airey ___ (1916-79), army officer
and Conservative politician (5)
13 Seventh-century Mercian king,
son of Penda (9)
14 A great ___ and little minds go ill
together Edmund Burke, 1775 (6)
16 See 20 Down
19 George ___ (1770-1827), prime
minister for four months in 1827 (7)
21 Celtic language introduced to
north-western France in the fifth and
sixth centuries (6)
23 Joanna ___ (1750-1814), Devonborn prophet and cult leader (9)
25 Municipality in Schleswig-Holstein,
associated with the 12th-century
historian Helmold (5)
26 Charles Eliot ___ (1827-1908),
US scholar and editor of the North
American Review (6)
27 There could I marvel my ___
away Dylan Thomas, Poem In
October (1946) (8)
28 Sophie ___ (1884-1966),
Russian-born US singer (6)
29 Otto de ___ (d.1328), nobleman
and close ally of Edward I (8)

Set by Richard Smyth

APRIL 2016 HISTORY TODAY 71

UTOPIA

FromtheArchive
The 500th anniversary of the publication of Utopia is a chance to appreciate Thomas More in all his
complexity, argues Joanne Paul, as she reassesses a critical article from 1980 by John Guy.

The United Republic of Utopia


LAST YEAR the television adaptation
of Hilary Mantels Wolf Hall, with its
presentation of Thomas More as a
zealous heretic-hunter, coincided
with the release of a video of a Jordanian pilot burned to death by members
of ISIS. The connections between the
two were not missed, reviving the
long-standing question of whether to
see More as hero or a villain, including
an illuminating contribution from
Hilary Mantel herself in History Today.
Mantels More (or rather Mantels
More via Thomas Cromwell) is a reflection of the
historical scholarship of
the 1970s and 1980s, which
questioned Mores saintly
place in Tudor history. This
approach is clear in John
Guys article, Sir Thomas
More and the Heretics,
which details the case against More.
Heresy hunting is central to this
account and, as Guy suggests, no
historian could deny that More as
Lord Chancellor was involved in the
deaths of three Protestants between
1531 and 1532. Nor can one ignore the
many texts More wrote against the
threat of heresy and the vehement
language he used, although there
might be reason to consider it within
the context of 16th-century debates.
More was not the only writer at this
time with a bit of a potty mouth and a
penchant for hyperbole.
It may be time, however, to
reassess the place of Mores Utopia in
this litany of his shortcomings. This
year we have an opportunity to do so,
as it marks the quincentenary of the
publication of Utopia in Louvain in
December 1516.
Guy suggests that Mores imaginary country is totalitarian par excellence, citing its lack of pubs, brothels
and secret meeting place[s], as well
as the mandate against discussion of
72 HISTORY TODAY APRIL 2016

public policy outside of the popular


assembly. This totalitarianism, Guy
suggests, lies at the heart of Mores
later attitude towards heretics and
suggests that his repressive discipline
against them was similar to the totalitarianism of Utopia.
Describing Utopia as totalitarian (a
20th-century term) paves over what
More was attempting to do in his text,
which was to remind his readers of the
importance of community. For More,
the prioritisation of self-interest had

It may be time to reassess


the place of Mores
Utopia in this litany of
his shortcomings
the effect of tearing apart the bonds
that ought to unite people. To use examples from Utopia: land-owners who
enclosed common land for sheep-grazing, or greedy kings who overstretched
themselves in their conquest of new
lands both tore apart the unity of the
commonwealth. The island of Utopia
becomes the inverse of such tendencies. Homes are allocated to families
for only a decade at a time, there
are no locked doors and no personal
possessions.
Rather than totalitarian, Utopia
is fundamentally republican. Like
property, political power is shared,
reflecting Mores belief that authority resides in the body of the people.
Within Utopias cities, households
elect representatives who, in turn,
elect both the councillors and their
prince. Council and prince together
make decisions in regular consultation with the people. The country as
a whole is ruled by a general council,
the members of which are, once again,
elected directly by the people. Thus,

although discussing public matters


outside the public forum is punishable by death, for fear of the division
and distortion of public opinion, the
people are directly involved in every
political decision made on the island.
This is not to say that there isnt
a dark side to Utopia, just as there
remains a dark side to More himself.
Nevertheless, both in Utopia and in his
efforts against heretics, Mores interests went far beyond either political
discipline or religious doctrine alone.
Throughout his life More was terrified
of the effects of division. The common
property of Utopia, Mores persecution of heretics and, indeed, his resignation from the Chancellorship in
1532 and execution in 1535, can all be
connected to this concern. In a world
that values pluralism and diversity, it
is not a concern we share. In a world
of individualism and self-interest,
however, we need to be reminded of
the importance of community. Even
complex and controversial historical
figures can have something to teach
us. After all, are there any other kind?
Joanne Paul is Lecturer in the History of Political
Thought at the New College of the Humanities.

VOLUME 30 ISSUE 2 FEB 1980


Read the original piece
at historytoday.com/fta