Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Columbanus and the Peoples of Post-Roman Europe by Alexander O'Hara

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Columbanus and the Peoples of Post-Roman Europe

The period 550 to 750 was one in which monastic culture became more firmly entrenched in Western Europe. The role of monasteries and their relationship to the social world around them was transformed during this period as monastic institutions became more integrated in social and political power networks. This collected volume of essays focuses on one of the central figures in this process, the Irish ascetic exile and monastic founder, Columbanus (c. 550-615), his travels on the Continent, and the monastic network he and his Frankish disciples established in Merovingian Gaul and Lombard Italy.

The post-Roman kingdoms through which Columbanus travelled and established his monastic foundations were made up of many different communities of peoples. As an outsider and immigrant, how did Columbanus and his communities interact with these peoples? How did they negotiate differences and what emerged from these encounters? How societies interact with outsiders can reveal the inner workings and social norms of that culture. This volume aims to explore further the strands of this vibrant contact and to consider all of the geographical spheres in which Columbanus and his monastic communities operated (Ireland, Merovingian Gaul, Alamannia, Lombard Italy) and the varieties of communities he and his successors came in contact with - whether they be royal, ecclesiastic, aristocratic, or grass-roots.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

War, State, and Society in England and the Netherlands 1477-1559 by Steven Gunn, David Grummitt, Hans Cools

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War, State, and Society in England and the Netherlands 1477-1559

Exploring the effects of war on state power in early modern Europe, this book asks if military competition increased rulers' power over their subjects and forged more modern states, or if the strains of war broke down political and administrative systems. Comparing England and the Netherlands in the age of warrior princes such as Henry VIII and Charles V, it examines the development of new military and fiscal institutions, and asks how mobilization for war changed political relationships throughout society.

Towns in England, such as Norwich, York, Exeter, and Rye, are compared with towns in the Netherlands, such as Antwerp, Leiden, 's-Hertogenbosch and Valenciennes, to see how the magistrates' relations with central government and the urban populace were modified by war. Great noblemen from the Howard and Percy families are set alongside their equivalents from the houses of Cro and Egmond to examine the role of recruitment, army command, and heroic reputation in maintaining noble power. The wider interactions of subjects and rulers in wartime are reviewed to measure how effectively war extended princes' claims on their subjects' loyalty and service, their ambitions to control news and opinion and to promote national identity, and their ability to manage the economy and harness religious change to dynastic purposes. 

The result is a compelling but nuanced picture of societies and polities tested and shaped by the pressures of ever more demanding warfare.

The Rise and Fall of a Champenois Dynasty in the Age of the Crusades, c. 950–1356 by Guy Perry

The BriennesThe Briennes were a highly important aristocratic family who hailed from the Champagne region of north-eastern France, but whose reach and impact extended across Europe and into the Crusader States in the Middle East. It is a highly dramatic and wide-ranging story of medieval mobility, not only up and down the social ladder, but in geographical terms as well. Although the Briennes were one of the great dynasties of the central Middle Ages, this book represents the first comprehensive history of the family. Taking the form of parallel biographies and arranged broadly chronologically, it explores not only their rise, glory and fall, but also how they helped to shape the very nature of the emerging European state system. This book will appeal to students and scholars of medieval France, the Mediterranean world, the Crusades and the central Middle Ages.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Review: Scottish Series by Clio Gray

Down in the coalmine, underneath the ground
Where a gleam of sunshine never can be found
Digging up the dusky diamonds all the seasons round
Deep down in the coalmine, underneath the ground

I came to this series after reading Gray's "Legacy of the Lynx" so was looking forward to a change of scenery - 1860s Scotland - a time of pivotal change in the Scottish Highlands. Poverty had always been one of the main reason for Scottish emigration. Two-thirds of the land is harsh – rocky, ill-drained, swept by rain-bearing winds off the Atlantic, and far from the centre of Mediterranean and European trade and culture. The first Scottish communities away from home were founded by traders.

In the 1800s, Scotland's population was on the decrease - until about 1855, when a vast number of the local population of the Highlands were forced to leave the land because of enforced evictions. In the Lowlands, emigration was almost always the outcome of wanting to improve one’s living standards. 

Scottish MysteriesThe eviction of Highlanders from their homes peaked in the 1840s and early 1850s as the Highland economy had collapsed, while the population still rose. When the earnings from kelp production and black cattle dried up, the landlords saw sheep as a more profitable alternative. The introduction of sheep meant the removal of people, and this become known as ‘the Clearances’. Combined with the prospect of starvation faced by much of the crofting population when the potato crop failed in the late 1830s and again in the late 1840s, emigration seemed the only option. 

The Emigration Act of 1851, however, made emigration more accessible to the poorest, with the Highlands and Islands Emigration Society set up to manage the process of resettlement. The Duke of Sutherland was one of a number of landlords who financed emigration schemes. The main exodus occurred in the islands, particularly Skye, Mull, the Long Island and the mainland parishes of the Inner Sound. After 1855, mass evictions were unusual and emigration became more a matter of choice than compulsion. Between 1855 and 1895 the decline in the Highland population was actually less than in the rural Lowlands. 

So a little bit about each of the books in the series and the historical background before I get down to the review. 

Book One: The Broro Murders (aka: Deadly Prospects) 
Deadly Prospects: A gripping historical thriller with a brilliant twist (Scottish Mysteries Book 1) by [Gray, Clio]1869, Sutherland, Scotland, and the Kildonan Gold Rush is in full swing. And then one of the panners is murdered, and strange scratchings left on stones where he is found. Brogar Finn and Sholto McKay are on hand to investigate the extent of the Gold Rush, and it falls to them to solve this murder, and the others that soon follow. 

Historical Background: 
Sutherland: isolated, remote, with rugged mountains, steep cliffs and deep fjords, dates from viking times. This was the home of the powerful and warlike Clan Mackay, and was considered relatively poor compared to rest of Scotland, with the majority of its people eking out a living from fishing. 

Sutherland is perhaps best known for the Highland Clearances, the eviction of tenants from their homes and/or associated farmland in the 18th and 19th centuries century by the landowners. Typically, this was to make way for large sheep farms (see above). The Sutherland Estate (consisting of about two thirds of the county) had the largest scale clearances that occurred in the Highlands, much of this being carried out in 1812, 1814 and 1819-20. In this last period (the largest of the three listed), 1,068 families were evicted: representing an estimated 5,400 people. This population was provided with resettlement in coastal areas, with employment available in fishing or other industries. However, many instead moved to farms in Caithness or left Scotland to emigrate to Canada, the US or Australia.

The Brora Mine was indeed owned by the Dukes of Sutherland up to 1873. Although the area was already being mined, this particular colliery came into existence (c.1810) as a result of a partnership between William Hughes, a mining engineer and William Young, lawyer and a sub factor of the Sutherland Estate (who became infamous for his part in the Clearances under Elizabeth, Countess & Duchess of Sutherland d.1839). Work continued in 1814 and 1815 not only on the mine but on the surrounding infrastructure, including a distillery, the development of a harbour and a railway to take the coal down to the sea. It was, however, during this period, financial challenges, mismanagement and accidents beset the mine before a survey by mining engineer, William Bald, reported favourably about the coal. Despite some misgivings the Sutherland family continued to back Young financially even though expenditure was vastly exceeding estimates. It all soon fell apart. The salt tax was abolished in 1823; its production then became unremunerative, and as coal was not in much demand among a people who were accustomed to, and could easily get, plenty of peat, the Brora works, after languishing for nearly five years with the 2nd Duke unwilling to sanction further expenses, were closed in 1828.

However, in 1872, the 3rd Duke of Sutherland re-opened Brora Colliery, and for a number of years had it under estate management. Queen Victoria visited the mine just after its reopening, travelling on the newly completed railway pulled by a locomotive named “Florence”. The colliery was managed by M.Crowe in 1893 before being leased to a Mr John Melville (c.1896). From this point, coal was mined for manufacturing purposes - specifically salt - and was eventually abandoned in 1975. It was the only Jurassic coal mine in Scotland and was never taken into state ownership. 

The Kildonan Gold Rush was a gold rush that occurred in the Strath of Kildonan, Sutherland, in the Highlands of Scotland in 1869. Gold was first discovered in the area in 1818 when a solitary nugget of gold weighing about ten pennyweights was found in the River Helmsdale. It is claimed a ring was made out of this and is in the possession of the Sutherland family. But when public interest was sparked following a newspaper announcement in 1868, a gold rush started. 

The credit for the discovery goes to Robert Nelson Gilchrist, a native of Kildonan, who had spent 17 years in the goldfields of Australia. On his return home, he was given the permission by the Duke of Sutherland to pan the gravels of the Helmsdale River. Many of the prospectors were novices but a hard core of miners from Australia and America helped to provide some much-needed expertise in gold recovery. In April 1869, however, the Duke of Sutherland introduced a system of licenses which cost one pound per month for each claim measuring 40 square feet. In addition to this, the prospectors were expected to pay a royalty of 10% on all gold found; not surprisingly, much gold was never declared but was used in barter for food, tools and accommodation. Two small 'towns' had come into being. Baille an Or - a settlement of huts (shanty town) catering for over 600 prospectors - was established by the banks of the Kildonan Burn, and Carn na Buth (meaning Hill of the Tents) served the workers on the Suisgill Burn. Very soon a 'saloon' was added to the Town of Gold (Baille an Or) and provided meals and accommodation for the mining fraternity.

However, the falling price of gold coupled with diminishing levels of finds and better opportunities in the local herring fishery, meant numbers fell to around 50 by the autumn. The Duke was losing potential income from salmon fishermen and deer stalkers, so in December he announced that “all exploration for gold would cease with effect from 1 January 1870"; despite this, the lure of gold tempted several opportunists over the following years.

Book Two: Burning Secrets 
Burning Secrets: A gripping historical mystery (Scottish Mysteries Book 2) by [Gray, Clio]1869, Strontian, Scotland, a village on Ardnamurchan Peninsula, is inhabited by mining folk and crofters, eking out a living from the unforgiving land and turning a blind eye to the smugglers who plague the coast. But one man sets himself apart from the rest – Gustav Wengler, the owner of the mine and an eccentric mathematician, who isolates himself on Havengore Island with a collection of unexplained white monuments. His assistant Archie Louden acts as his only envoy to the outer world; however Archie never makes it home from an important mission to Copenhagen. 

Historical background: 
In 1830 sources write that "The village of Strontian is very pleasantly situated, directly at the head of Loch Sunart, the hills adjoining to which are crowned with beautiful and very thriving plantations. The Loch itself is here extremely picturesque ... In a neighbourhood civilized and populous it would speedily become a favourite retreat." 

In the 1830s, residents from Strontian and the surrounding area were among the first to use the "Bounty Scheme" to emigrate to Australia. The Brilliant, a Canadian-built ship, sailed from Tobermory to New South Wales in 1837 with 322 passengers, 105 of whom were from Ardnamurchan and Strontian. The Bounty Scheme, which ran from 1835 to 1841, was proposed by Edward Gibbon Wakefield as a way for Australian settlers to subsidise the emigration of skilled tradespeople from Britain. 

In the hills to the north of Strontian, lead was mined in the 18th century and in these mines the mineral strontianite was discovered, from which the element strontium was first isolated. The history of mining in the Strontian area dates to 1722. The first large-scale application of strontium was in the production of sugar from sugar beet. Although a crystallisation process using strontium hydroxide was patented by Augustin-Pierre Dubrunfaut in 1849, the large-scale introduction came with the improvement of the process in the early 1870s. The Strontian mine was abandoned by June 1889.

Book Three: Hidden Pasts 
Hidden Pasts: A gripping historical thriller (Scottish Mysteries Book 3) by [Gray, Clio]Hestan Island, marooned in the Solway Firth, is tethered to the mainland at low tide by a causeway called The Rack; Hestan was home to two men quietly living out their lives, until a boy is almost crushed to death in their tiny copper mine, when their shared past begins to unravel. Over at Balcary House, Brogar Finn and Sholto McKay arrive, and soon become involved in the affairs on Hestan, which in turn leads them back through the bloody wars of Crimea and the lands of the Tartars. 

Historical Background: 
The isle of Hestan lies at the mouth of Auchencairn Bay in the region of Dumfries and Galloway in the former county of Kirkcudbrightshire. A lighthouse was built on the eastern side of the island by Alan Stevenson in 1850, with a small cottage of the light-keeper. Other notable buildings in the are include Balcary Tower, built c. 1860, for the french mistress one one Colonel Johnstone when he was Laird of Auchencairn House, which itself was built around this time for Ivie Mackie, Lord Mayor of Manchester (1857 - 1860) - though I can find very little on any of these real-life characters! 

At certain conditions of low tide the island is accessible on foot as there is a natural causeway of shingle and mussels from Almorness Point to the northern tip of Hestan (known as The Rack). The island can also be reached on foot from Rockcliffe during the time of spring tides, but requires wading knee deep across the lowest parts of the river Urr out on the mudflats. 

At the southern tip of the island are the so-called “Daft Ann’s Steps”, a series of rocky outcrops that jut out into the sea and are permanently submerged. Apparently they take their name from a girl who lived in the nearby village of Auchencairn. She drowned while attempting to reach the mainland from the south end of the island via the “steps”, instead of using the longer but safer approach from the north. 

In the 18th century the island was used as a centre of smuggling activity, with goods being stored in the caves on the south west of the island where there was reputed to have been shelves cut into the rock. Balcary House, on the opposite shore, now Balcary Bay Hotel, was used by a firm of smugglers - the Mull of Galloway Smuggling Company (established by Messrs Thomas Clark, Hugh Crain and Matthew Quirk, and Englishman Richard Barton). These smugglers used its cellars to conceal their contraband (mainly salt) and was said to have been large enough to house 200 horses!. One of the more colourful local characters of this period was Johnnie Girr and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright was the birthplace of one John Paul Jones, whose friends and enemies alike would accuse him of piracy!.

As Walter Scott observed: “Smuggling was almost universal in Scotland for people unaccustomed to imposts and regarding them as an unjust aggression upon their ancient liberties; made no scruples to elude them where it was possible to do so.” Solway Firth and Galloway is said to have provided some of the most active smuggling routes in the country, with the proximity to the English Border making it the stop-off of choice for those shifting illegal goods. Much of the contraband was stored on the Isle of Man - which was independent during the 18th Century - and brought in fast moving smuggling fleets to the Scottish mainland. The poet Robert Burns was amongst those trying to halt the free traders in the area after being appointed an excise man at Dumfries in 1791.

Now the mining theme for this outing is copper. Hestan has had copper mines on the eastern side of the island since the 1840s, though this could hardly be considered as a large-scale operation as the island itself measures approximately 460 by 270 metres. The copper mined from Hestan was shipped to Swansea.

The stories in Clio Gray's "Scottish Mysteries" are spread across both the Scandinavian world and northern Scotland. For centuries there were political links across the North Sea. The first Viking raid on Iona is thought to have taken part in 794, and much of the Hebrides and Caithness would come under Norse rule. Orkney and Shetland continued to be earldoms under Norway until 1468. This settlement resulted in the Scandinavian-derived Norn language being spoken on Orkney and Shetland until the 18th Century, and influencing the Shetlandic and Orcadian dialects to this day.

As RM Ballantyne in Erling the Bold (1869) says: "Yes, there is perhaps more of Norse blood in your veins than you wot of, reader, whether you be English or Scotch; for those sturdy sea rovers invaded our lands from north, south, east, and west many a time in days gone by, and held it in possession for centuries at a time, leaving a lasting and beneficial impress on our customs and characters. We have good reason to regard their memory with respect and gratitude, despite their faults and sins, for much of what is good and true in our laws and social customs, much manly and vigorous in the British Constitution, of our intense love of freedom and fairplay, are pith, pluck, enterprise, and sense of justice that dwelt in the breasts of the rugged old Sea-kings of Norway!"

Each of the books feature a mining theme: coal and gold, strontium, copper; as well as links to events in the past. As we are taken on a journey over the northern parts of Scotland, what I appreciated in the all the books was the location map - for whilst I was familiar with a few of the place names, the maps help put things into perspective. 

The author makes use of the chapters to introduce characters that form part of the narrative - whether fleetingly or on a more permanent basis - so the setting of each scene is crafted before things begin to take off. I especially enjoyed the characters of Brogar Finn and Sholto McKay, trouble-shooters for the Pan-European Mining Company, who make a nice change from your standard fictional amateur investigator.

With each book, Gray tempts us - the reader - with a story peppered with well researched historical fact and a carefully woven plot, that like the dangerous quicksand of the Solway Firth mudflats, can suck the reader in unawares, escape being nigh on impossible.

further reading:
Scottish Mining website
Smugglers Britain
Scandinavian Scotland

The Sultan's Renegades by Tobias P. Graf

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The Sultans Renegades

The figure of the renegade - a European Christian or Jew who had converted to Islam and was now serving the Ottoman sultan - is omnipresent in all genres produced by those early modern Christian Europeans who wrote about the Ottoman Empire. As few contemporaries failed to remark, converts were disproportionately represented among those who governed, administered, and fought for the sultan. Unsurprisingly, therefore, renegades have attracted considerable attention from historians of Europe as well as students of European literature. Until very recently, however, Ottomanists have been surprisingly silent on the presence of Christian-European converts in the Ottoman military-administrative elite.

The Sultan's Renegades inserts these 'foreign' converts into the context of Ottoman elite life to reorient the discussion of these individuals away from the present focus on their exceptionality, towards a qualified appreciation of their place in the Ottoman imperial enterprise and the Empire's relations with its neighbours in Christian Europe. Drawing heavily on Central European sources, this study highlights the deep political, religious, and cultural entanglements between the Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe beyond the Mediterranean Basin as the 'shared world' par excellence. The existence of such trans-imperial subjects is not only symptomatic of the Empire's ability to attract and integrate people of a great diversity of backgrounds, it also illustrates the extent to which the Ottomans participated in processes of religious polarization usually considered typical of Christian Europe in this period. Nevertheless, Christian Europeans remained ambivalent about those they dismissed as apostates and traitors, frequently relying on them for support in the pursuit of familial and political interests.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Emotions in a Crusading Context, 1095-1291 by Stephen J. Spencer

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Emotions in a Crusading Context, 1095-1291

Emotions in a Crusading Context is the first book-length study of the emotional rhetoric of crusading. It investigates the ways in which a number of emotions and affective displays — primarily fear, anger, and weeping — were understood, represented, and utilized in twelfth- and thirteenth-century western narratives of the crusades, making use of a broad range of comparative material to gauge the distinctiveness of those texts: crusader letters, papal encyclicals, model sermons, chansons de geste, lyrics, and an array of theological and philosophical treatises. In addition to charting continuities and changes over time in the emotional landscape of crusading, this study identifies the underlying influences which shaped how medieval authors represented and used emotions; analyzes the passions crusade participants were expected to embrace and reject; and assesses whether the idea of crusading created a profoundly new set of attitudes towards emotions.

Emotions in a Crusading Context calls on scholars of the crusades to reject the traditional methodological approach of taking the emotional descriptions embedded within historical narratives as straightforward reflections of protagonists' lived feelings, and in so doing challenges the long historiographical tradition of reconstructing participants' beliefs and experiences from these texts. Within the history of emotions, Stephen J. Spencer demonstrates that, despite the ongoing drive to develop new methodologies for studying the emotional standards of the past, typified by experiments in 'neurohistory', the social constructionist (or cultural-historical) approach still has much to offer the historian of medieval emotions.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

An English Varangian by Gabriel Stein

An English Varangian by [Stein, Gabriel ]An English Revenge:
The greatest battle lies within…
England is at war.
Edmund has fought the Normans all his life.

But as the rebellions fail, Edmund leaves England and eventually travels to Constantinople, where he joins the Byzantine Emperor's elite Varangian Guard.  Yet Edmund is at war with himself too, torn between his new life and his dreams of revenge against the Normans - of leading an army of battle-hardened Englishmen back home to restore an English King.  But not all will go according to plan. War - and revenge - always exacts a price.

An English King:
Constantinopolis. 1096.
Sometimes the enemy comes from within.

Edmund’s dream is to lead an army of battle-hardened warriors back home and expel the Normans from England.  But there are rumours of a new threat. Large hosts of armed Latins – westerners – are marching towards the city, brandishing the sign of the Cross. One of the Crusader leaders is Bohemond of Taranto.  England will have to wait, while Edmund is tasked by his Emperor with a delicate and dangerous assignment: find out if Bohemond is friend or enemy. And if he is an enemy – stop him.

An English Succession:
Constantinopolis. 1101.

With his adopted city threatened from both East and West, Edmund, an English warrior in the elite Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Empire, faces plenty of combat. But he is getting old and he is feeling it.  When his Emperor tells Edmund that there is one last task for him, Edmund cannot refuse.  In the meantime, Edmund’s wife Irene is hiding something from him.   Once again, Edmund’s body and spirit will be tried to the utmost, with fate throwing up new challenges to the very end.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Review: Tomb for an Eagle by Lexie Conyngham

41883100. sy475 Sysnopsis: A man lies under the tawny earth, hands still clutching the knife that killed him. Thorfinn Sigurdarson, Earl of all Orkney and Caithness, has made a mistake, and he won’t let himself forget it. Now rumours have started in the Norse lands that he might be getting a second chance – but should he take it, when it means that dead men are walking?

Thorfinn Sigurdsson - Thorfinn the Mighty - was the youngest of the sons of Earl Sigurd "the Stout" Hlodvirsson, each of whom would also bear the title Earl of Orkney.  The inheritance was initially divided among the three older brothers as Thorfinn was said to have been only five years old at the time, then held the lands jointly with his nephew, Rögnvald Brusason.  Thorfinn had an exceptional pedigree being the grandson of Malcolm II of Scotland and the great-grandson of Thorfinn "Skull-Splitter".

The Heimskringla of Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson, and the anonymous compiler of the Orkneyinga Saga wrote that Thorfinn was the most powerful of all the earls of Orkney and that he ruled substantial territories beyond the Northern Isles. A sizeable part of the latter saga's account concerns his wars with a "King of Scots" named Karl Hundason whose identity is uncertain. In his later years he went on a pilgrimage to Rome and he was instrumental in making Orkney and Shetland part of mainstream Christendom. On his death in the latter half of the 11th century (the actual date still in dispute even today), his sons inherited.  Thorfinn was buried in the grounds of the Christchurch he built at Birsay, on Orkney, since replaced by St Magnus Church.

Our story is set after Thorfinn's pilgramage to Rome (1048) and at a time when Birsay was undergoing a bit of a construction boom. The Orkneyinga saga suggests that, as a result of Thorfinn's request, the first Bishop of Orkney - possibly Thorulf - was appointed at about this time (c.1035) - even these dates don't marry up!. The original seat of the bishops of Orkney was Thorfinn's new Christ Kirk at Birsay, (or perhaps the Brough of Birsay), near the Earl's palace where Thorfinn had his residence in his later years. Much about Thorfinn and his reign is rather ambiguous.

This period in history, of which I consider myself to be fairly widely and well read, should have provided the perfect backdrop for murder and skullduggery, with a plethora of characters to choose from for both perpetrator and victim.  However, the story was so slow to start that it really did fail to capture my full attention, and the characters themselves felt flat, almost but not quite, one dimensional.  I skipped through pages, hoping that - when the body is found - that things would pick up; sadly they did not.

For me, I would rather take on the real man; though I applaud the author for taking on a larger than life character and choosing a different period in time in which to set their story. There is a book two (see below for details), however, I won't be pursuing this series.

A Wolf at the Gate:
Ketil had not intended to return to Orkney, but when you work for Thorfinn Sigurdarson, you obey orders. Thorfinn wants him back to help with a visiting Abbot from Saxony, escorted by an old colleague of Ketil's. Then people who know the Abbot start dying, and Ketil must once again work with his friend Sigrid to find out why - and to face dark memories from his own past.This is the second in the Orkneyinga Murders series.

further reading
Orkneyinga Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, trans Pálsson, Hermann and Edwards, Paul Geoffrey
Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway by Snorri Sturluson, trans Lee M. Hollander 
Thorfinn the Mighty: The Ultimate Viking by George M. Brunsden

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Review: Russia's Women Snipers

I have lately read two compelling books on two very different, and yet very similar, women who voluntarily entered into military service for their country.

The first "Lady Death" is the story of Lyudmila Pavlichenko, one of over 2000 female snipers, yet one of the more well-known names with 309 recorded kills, including 29 enemy sniper kills, to her name. After being "retired" from active duty, she visited the USA and UK, before returning to train other snipers.

So, a little more about Lyudmila: born in today's Ukraine, Lyudmilia had an affinity with athletics and sports, and was a sharp shooter from an early age. She married at the tender age of 16, had one child, before divorcing her husband. Entering university, studying history and competing in athletics. Following the German invasion of Russia in 1941, Lyudmila signed on to join the infantry in Odessa, eventually being assigned to the 25th Chapayev Rifle Division due to her skill with the rifle. She fought in Odessa, Crimea, racking up the confirmed kills. Wounded after only a year in combat, she became the poster-girl of the Red Army's propaganda machine. Touring the USA, she famously responded to reporters by saying: "... In the Soviet Union I am looked upon as a citizen, as a fighter, as a soldier for my country.” and that "“our women were on a basis of complete equality long before the war ..."  Highly decorated and achieving the rank of major, she trained other snipers until the end of the war, returning to finish her education and work as an historian. Suffering what is now documented as post traumatic stress disorder, Pavlichenko also had to deal with the rumours the rumor that she was nothing more than a propaganda myth actually started within the Soviet armed forces. There is the possibility that Pavlichenko’s own account of her time at the front may have been doctored by Soviet military censors — a very common occurrence at the time — there is no doubting that the woman herself was “the real deal.”  She died aged 58yo.

Because of chronic problems in finding the manpower to fulfill military and industrial tasks, the Soviet government recruited some 7.75 million women, not just to support the soldiers but to join the fight. Around a million women fought in various branches of the Soviet military. Some nursed and supported, as in other countries, but others drove tanks, operated machine guns, and flew fighter planes. Between 1941–1945, it was estimated that a total of 2,484 Soviet female snipers were functioning in this role, between then, credited with more than 12,000 confirmed kills, and of whom about 500 survived the war.

Joining up as a sniper was a strange experience for many women. Though the Soviet army as an institution accepted them, some individuals did not. Families urged their daughters to stay safely at home rather than to fight. Some officers looked down upon the women under their command, not believing that they could be effective combatants. But others were supportive, especially after they saw these women in action.

At recruiting offices, women had theirs braids cut off and were put into men’s uniforms, as there were none tailored to fit women. Then they were sent off to train. Some were specially selected for sniping because they demonstrated a skill. In other cases, this was simply the most convenient place to send them. Training was intense but also hurried. The USSR needed to get troops to the front to counter the German invasion. The women trained as snipers soon found themselves on the front, often hunting their prey amid cities ruined by siege. It was believed that women made the perfect sniper because they could endure stress and cold better than men, and they had “more patience” to wait for the perfect shot.

Snipers usually worked in pairs. Together, they found a place to hide away from the main Soviet forces. There they lay concealed by scenery and camouflage, watching for an opportunity. When an enemy presented himself, they would try to take him down with a single shot to the head. Then they would wait patiently again for their next target, silent and still, or move on if they believed they were in danger. 

As mentioned, Lyudmilia was one of many. Anorther who survived, yet was not as famous as Lyudmilia, was Yulia Zhukova, whose memoirs come to us in "Girl with a Sniper Rifle".

Front CoverYulia's story is slightly different in that she was no sharp-shooter prior to enlisting, which she saw as her patriotic duty. A sickly child who worked in the local factory to support the war effort, she was determined to contribute more. She was dedicated member of the Komsomol (the Soviet communist youth organization) and her parents worked for the NKVD. Completing her training at the central Women's Sniper School, by the time Yulia saw active service in East Prussia and Poland in 1944, female snipers were not unusual. Wounded, she returned to combat until the war ended. Unlike Lyudmilia, she was not a poster-girl for the Russians, but returned to her village and life, struggling to deal with and accept her part in the war; acceptance did not come until much later in life.

Both memoirs are highly readable offering a different yet similar view of their experiences - we often comment that fact is sometimes more enthralling than fiction.  Pavlichenko, the historian, would take a more academic approach, supplementing her diary with historical research; whilst Zhukova relied on memory, letters (that escaped being destroyed as she tried to forget her past) and remembrances of her fellow cadets. Both women were dedicated in their commitment to both Russia and the Russian war effort - "... dying for the motherland was considered a worthwhile sacrifice ...".  It is hoped that readers will discover, through both works, the comradery, strength of spirit, unflinching loyalty that these two women - and the many others like them - displayed in the face of the terror of war.  How many readers are left wondering whether or not they could do the same.

further reading:
Avenging Angels: Soviet Women Snipers on the Eastern Front, 1941-1945 by Lyuba Vinogradova
Soviet Women Snipers: of the Second World War by Youri Obratztsov
The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana AlexievichHeroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45 by Henry Sakaida
Roza Shanina Russian Sniper by Robert Corrigan
Soviet Women in Combat: A History of Violence on the Eastern Front by Anna Krylova

Rise and Decline of an Iberian Bourgeoisie by Jeff Fynn-Paul

The Rise and Decline of an Iberian BourgeoisieThe Rise and Decline of an Iberian Bourgeoisie is one of the first long-term studies in English of an Iberian town during the late medieval crisis. 

Focusing on the Catalonian city of Manresa, Jeff Fynn-Paul expertly integrates Iberian historiography with European narratives to place the city's social, political and economic development within the broader context of late medieval urban decline. Drawing from extensive archival research, including legal and administrative records, royal letters, and a cadastral survey of more than 640 households entitled the 1408 Liber Manifesti, the author surveys the economic strategies of both elites and non-elites to a level previously unknown for any medieval town outside of Tuscany and Ghent. 

In a major contribution to the series, The Rise and Decline of an Iberian Bourgeoisie reveals how a combination of the Black Death, royal policy, and a new public debt system challenged, and finally undermined urban resilience in Catalonia.

Medieval Lucca by M. E. Bratchel

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Medieval Lucca

Although there are many books in English on the city and state of Lucca, this is the first scholarly study to cover the history of the entire region from classical antiquity to the end of the fifteenth century. At one level, it is an archive-based study of a highly distinctive political community; at another, it is designed as a contribution to current discussions on power-structures, the history of the state, and the differences between city-states and the new territorial states that were emerging in Italy by the fourteenth century.

There is a rare consensus among historians on the characteristic features of the Italian city-state: essentially the centralization of economic, political, and juridical power on a single city and in a single ruling class. Thus defined, Lucca retained the image of an old-fashioned, old-style city-republic right through until the loss of political independence in 1799. No consensus exists with regard to the defining qualities of the Renaissance state. Was it centralized or de-centralized; intrusive or non-interventionist? The new regional states were all these things. And the comparison with Lucca is complicated and nuanced as a result.

Lucca ruled over a relatively large city territory, in part a legacy from classical antiquity. Lucca was distinctive in the pervasive power exercised over its territory (largely a legacy of the region's political history in the early and central middle ages). In consequence, the Lucchese state showed a marked continuity in its political organization, and precociousness in its administrative structures. The qualifications relate to practicalities and resources. The coercive powers and bureaucratic aspirations of any medieval state were distinctly limited, whilst Lucca's capacity for independent action was increasingly circumscribed by the proximity (and territorial enclaves) of more powerful and predatory neighbours.

The Forgotten Women Who Shaped China in the 20th Century

In her new book, Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister: Three Women at the Heart of Twentieth-Century China, Jung Chang gets to the heart of China's best known modern day fairy tale - that of the Soong Sisters. It was sometimes said that 'One loved money, one loved power and one loved her country', but there was far more to the Soong sisters than these caricatures. As China battled through a hundred years of wars, revolutions and seismic transformations, each sister played an important, sometimes critical role, and left an indelible mark on history.

Red Sister, Ching-ling, married Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the Chinese republic, and later became Mao's vice-chair. Little Sister, May-ling, was Madame Chiang Kai-shek, first lady of the pre-Communist Nationalist China and a major political figure in her own right. Big Sister, Ei-ling, was Chiang's unofficial main adviser. She made herself one of China's richest women - and her husband Chiang's prime minister. All three sisters enjoyed tremendous privilege and glory, but also endured constant attacks and mortal danger. They showed great courage and experienced passionate love, as well as despair and heartbreak. The relationship between them was highly charged emotionally, especially once they had embraced opposing political camps and Ching-ling dedicated herself to destroying her two sisters' world.

Image result for Soong sistersBig Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister is a gripping story of love, war, exile, intrigue, glamour and betrayal, which takes us on a monumental journey, from Canton to Hawaii and New York, from exiles' quarters in Japan and Berlin to secret meeting rooms in Moscow, and from the compounds of the Communist elite in Beijing to the corridors of power in democratic Taiwan. In a group biography that is by turns intimate and epic, Jung Chang reveals the lives of three extraordinary women who helped shape the history of twentieth-century China.

read more here @ Time and The Soong Sisters Film

Atmospheric Pressure: The Big Sleep at Eighty

If an octogenarian Big Sleep is a shocking thought, consider that Chandler was already fifty-one when his vanguard mystery saw light of day. Chicago-born but taken young to Victorian London, he’d packed an English public school education along with an interest in poetics, and re-crossed the Atlantic before the First World War. He was in his mid-twenties then, in need of a future, and—taking the long view—the move back worked out for him. Chandler learned book-keeping, went to war himself, made and then unmade himself as a California oil executive (the unmaking just one consequence of testing seriously high on alcohol for most of a lifetime). Finally, down and out of a job in Depression-era LA, he turned to pulp writing. Not as a slumming poet, but as a man eyeing a craft he thought he could learn. Only get the hang of it and the pulp magazines were paying out a penny a word.

read more by Janet Roger @ CrimeReads

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Review: the Caribbean Irish by Miki Garcia

48541222Synopsis: The Caribbean Irish explores the little known fact that the Irish were amongst the earliest settlers in the Caribbean. They became colonisers, planters and merchants living in the British West Indies between 1620 and 1800 but the majority of them arrived as indentured servants. This book explores their lives and poses the question, were they really slaves? As African slaves started arriving en masse and taking over servants' tasks, the role of the Irish gradually diminished. But the legacy of the Caribbean Irish still lives on. 

This, for me, was a fascinating read as much of what I have read in the past relating to Irish history has been focused on the country itself. It was no news to me that a great many Irish left their homeland following war and the Famine, whether voluntarily or not - my own family arrived in Australia in less than auspicious circumstances. And it is only lately, in this last decade, that I have begun specifically exploring the full extent of the reach of Irish migration to Spain, South America, and now the Caribbean - places, except for Spain, that I was unfamiliar with. So, in addition to the recently read Paisanos: The Forgotten Irish Who Changed the Face of Latin America by Tim Fanning, I will add this tome by Miki Garcia, as a must read.

Garcia begins the story of the Irish in the Caribbean from the 17th Century, when Ireland like England was under the Cromwellian thrall following the Royalist defeat in the English Civil War. She refers to Ireland as " ... a prisoner of geography .." and for all intents and purposes, this is where it all began - with Irish prisoners, whether of war or circumstance. In an effort to clear out the prisons of the destitute, the political and criminal elements, the workhouses, transportation seemed the solution. Under the Act of Settlement of Ireland 1652, what could only be described as ethnic cleansing began in earnest. Transportation agents were employed to ensure that quotas were met and the means in which they succeeded was often overlooked - children were kidnapped, men were press-ganged, women were lied to, promises were made, people with no visible means of support, including widows and wives of serving soldiers, were swept up and shipped off. Some paid their way while others opted to work off the costs (a bit like today's human trafficking schemes). There are no actual numbers to quantify how many people ended up in the Caribbean - there were no official records kept by the less than scrupulous transportation agents; many people were misidentified (labelled English rather than Irish - or vice versa) - AND, to top it all off, this wasn't just an English thing - the Dutch, the French and the Spanish were all involved in the shipment of Irish to the Caribbean!

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So where does this leave us now - firstly with those that came voluntarily - soldiers, explorers, adventurers, government officials and their families, traders and merchants. All of these folk needed servants - and here is where the bulk of the Irish come into it - as "indentured servants" - refer above as to how they arrived, though many in government considered it "... a measure beneficial to Ireland ..."

For the most part, Garcia enlightens us about the system of the indentured servant. Upon arriving, many Irish were "sold" as servants for a specific period - usually seven years. They were treated not much better than actual slaves but more on this later. Families were often separated, they were still the victims of humiliation and discrimination, the subjects of anti-Irish laws which also restricted their travel; they were the subjects of vigorous scrutiny with the government always fearing some sort of rebellion. After their period of employment was over, these servants were freed and they were usually paid in goods (their lives equivalent to pounds of tobacco, sugar or cotton). There was no guarantee of employment afterwards (only if you were skilled labour), and often they were then farmed out again (as indentured servants) to other colonies.

Garcia talks about the main industries in the Caribbean - tobacco, sugar and cotton, and on which islands they were prevalent. And this is an important component of the Irish history in the Caribbean as the introduction of slaves from Africa changed things for them on a considerable scale.

The production of sugar coincided with an increase in the African slave trade but it was not the starting point as this was already in existence across the Caribbean (though not to the extent as is commonly thought). As a result of this increase, the need for Irish servants decreased; their treatment and punishments worsened as slaves were considered to be a more valuable commodity - retained for the duration of their life rather than for a set period of employment - so no effort was spared to make the lives of the Irish any easier - their standard of living decreased to the point where I guess many might have wondered whether the grass was actually greener.
So, across how many islands in the Caribbean were the Irish spread - Garcia gives us a summary so that we don't have to do the leg-work ourselves - and it turns out to be quite a lot!

But back to the main topic - how the Irish slave myth was made. And it all boils down to terminology. The Irish in the Caribbean were not there as slaves. They arrived under the heading of one of four groups: willing and volunteers; involuntary; child labour; enforced (ie: prisoners). The last three groups were "sold" on arrival, though could not freely specify the length of their contract, whilst the last group were considered servants for life - without indenture. Observance of their treatment could be construed by some as giving rise to the myth of slavery. Garcia explains the terminology for us: an indentured servant was contracted for a period of years and then were given their freedom. A slave was the personal property of another - for life - and by default, so too were their descendants. The slave codes of the late 1600s were set up to differentiate between the two.

As a side note, the slave trade in the Caribbean ended in 1834. Large scale migration ended c.1841, and though the Irish were still encouraged to migrate, numbers were much smaller.

For me, this was a valuable insight into the Irish diaspora as well as the history of the British West Indies. As this was not really my field of expertise, I had no idea that Europeans supplanted the native Amerindian populations; that the Irish were transported in their hundreds of thousands (willingly or not) before the introduction of African slaves; and that once there, there was frequent cross migration between the islands and the Amazon basin.

Garcia's narrative style makes it easy to follow this tangled web, At times it feels as if you are sitting across from her having a conversation. It is easy, after reading this, to understand how the Irish slave myth arose and it is a topic well worth exploring further. Garcia's book will start you on your journey.

so in the words of the Beach Boys' song, Kokomo
Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I want to take ya,
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama
Key Largo, Montego, baby why don't we go, Jamaica .....

further reading:
To Hell or Barbados: The ethnic cleansing of Ireland by Sean O'Callaghan
White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America by Don Jordan, Michael Walsh
If the Irish Ran the World: Montserrat, 1630-1730 by Donald H. Akenson
Ireland, Slavery and Anti-Slavery: 1612-1865 by N. Rodgers
How the Irish Became White by Noel Ignatiev
To Shed a Tear: A Story of Irish Slavery in the British West Indies by Lawrence R. Kelleher

Child Emperor Rule in the Late Roman West, AD 367-455 by Meaghan A. McEvoy

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Child Emperor Rule in the Late Roman West, AD 367-455

In this book, McEvoy explodes the myth that the remarkable phenomenon of the late Roman child-emperor reflected mere dynastic sentiment or historical accident. Tracing the course of the frequently tumultuous, but nevertheless lengthy, reigns of young western emperors in the years AD 367-455, she looks at the way in which the sophistication of the Roman system made their accessions and survival possible. 

The book highlights how these reigns allowed for individual generals to dominate the Roman state and in what manner the crucial role of Christianity, together with the vested interests of various factions within the imperial elite, contributed to a transformation of the imperial image - enabling and facilitating the adaptation of existing imperial ideology to portray boys as young as six as viable rulers. It also analyses the struggles which ensued upon a child-emperor reaching adulthood and seeking to take up functions which had long been delegated during his childhood.

Through the phenomenon of child-emperor rule, McEvoy demonstrates the major changes taking place in the nature of the imperial office in late antiquity, which had significant long-term impacts upon the way the Roman state came to be ruled and, in turn, the nature of rulership in the early medieval and Byzantine worlds to follow.

Marriage In Ireland 1660-1925 by Maria Luddy & Mary O;Dowd

Marriage in Ireland, 1660–1925What were the laws on marriage in Ireland, and did church and state differ in their interpretation? How did men and women meet and arrange to marry? How important was patriarchy and a husband's control over his wife? And what were the options available to Irish men and women who wished to leave an unhappy marriage? 

This first comprehensive history of marriage in Ireland across three centuries looks below the level of elite society for a multi-faceted exploration of how marriage was perceived, negotiated and controlled by the church and state, as well as by individual men and women within Irish society. 

Making extensive use of new and under-utilised primary sources, Maria Luddy and Mary O'Dowd explain the laws and customs around marriage in Ireland. Revising current understandings of marital law and relations, Marriage in Ireland, 1660–1925 represents a major new contribution to Irish historical studies.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Leopard and the Lily by Marjorie Bowen

The Leopard and the Lily by [Bowen, Marjorie]In the year 1444, Francois II reigned in Brittany.

Son of the great Duke, Jean V, he came to the throne in a time of peace. There was perfect friendship between him and his two brothers, and the wars that tore France did not disturb Brittany, which remained strong and respected.

That is, until Guy de Montauban came to the court.

A poor, penniless Breton noble, Guy befriended the Duke and, over the course of five years, his influence managed to spread. His power grew until the Duke was a mere puppet in his hands – with Brittany slipping fast into a state of internal disorder and weakness. And, with the country smote into factions, quarrels eventually spread into civil war.

It seemed that, by the mere chance infatuation of the Duke, Guy was in the powerful position of dictating to the reigning Prince and, if he willed, using the whole country for his own sport…

Saltpeter by David Cressy

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This is the story of saltpeter, the vital but mysterious substance craved by governments from the Tudors to the Victorians as an 'inestimable treasure.'

National security depended on control of this organic material - that had both mystical and mineral properties. Derived from soil enriched with dung and urine, it provided the heart or 'mother' of gunpowder, without which no musket or cannon could be fired. Its acquisition involved alchemical knowledge, exotic technology, intrusions into people's lives, and eventual dominance of the world's oceans.

The quest for saltpeter caused widespread 'vexation' in Tudor and Stuart England, as crown agents dug in homes and barns and even churches. Governments hungry for it purchased supplies from overseas merchants, transferred skills from foreign experts, and extended patronage to ingenious schemers, while the hated 'saltpetermen' intruded on private ground.

Eventually, huge saltpeter imports from India relieved this social pressure, and by the eighteenth century positioned Britain as a global imperial power; the governments of revolutionary America and ancien régime France, on the other hand, were forced to find alternative sources of this treasured substance. In the end, it was only with the development of chemical explosives in the late Victorian period that dependency on saltpeter finally declined.

Saltpeter, the Mother of Gunpowder tells this fascinating story for the first time. Lively and entertaining in its own right, it is also a tale with far-reaching implications. As David Cressy's engaging narrative makes clear, the story of saltpeter is vital not only in explaining the inter-connected military, scientific, and political 'revolutions' of the seventeenth century; it also played a key role in the formation of the centralized British nation state - and that state's subsequent dominance of the waves in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Review: Dark Queen Waiting by Paul Doherty

46404465Synopsis:  October, 1471. Edward IV sits on the English throne; the House of York reigns supreme. With her young son, Henry Tudor, in exile in France, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, shelters deep in the shadows, secretly plotting for the day when Henry can be crowned the rightful king.  But as her supporters are picked off one by one, it becomes clear that a traitor lurks within Margaret’s household. Margaret orders her sharp-witted clerk, Christopher Urswicke, to find out who has betrayed her. If he is to protect Margaret’s remaining supporters from suffering a similar fate, Urswicke must solve a baffling mystery where nothing is as it first appears.

Historical mystery fiction set in the time of the wars of the Roses. This time, from the POV of Margaret Beaufort, mother of the future Henry VII - which makes a nice change. Usually we read only from the Yorkist side wherein the Lancastrians are often portrayed as the villains (being a bit of a Yorkist myself - and so they should!). 

At this particular point of history, Margaret is married to the ailing Sir Henry Stafford (her third husband), the battle of Tewkesbury (May 1471) witnessed the death of Prince Edward, son of Henry VI and many leading Lancastrian nobles (including Henry VI himself as a consequence), and cemented the position of the House of York upon the throne of England. Margaret's son Henry Tudor has fled abroad in exile, and Margaret is still viewed with great suspicion by the Yorkists despite outwardly giving no signs of rebellion or treason. But all the while, she sits quietly plotting the the triumphant return of her son and the shining hope of the Lancastrian cause.

However, this story was slow going and again characters pop in who you are never too sure are there simply to fill the page or are actually relevant to the story. Another annoying thing is the repetition of story-telling, first by one character and then another all in the space of a few pages.

I lost interest to be quite honest, and skipped through to the end - where I finally found something of interest - the character of Christopher Urswicke - or as Doherty calls him - "the founder of the British Secret Service". Now had that been at the start ....... 

I gave this two stars on Goodreads - the second star is because of this last remark which has sent me off on the trail of Urswicke. Obviously, Doherty plans many more in this series and intends to flesh out the character of Urwiske, but as I have no intention of continuing with the series, here's a little about the man himself - Urswicke that is ...

Who Was Christopher Urswicke?
Image result for christopher urswickChristopher Urswicke (1448 – 1522) was a priest and confessor of Margaret Beaufort. He was Rector of Puttenham, Hertfordshire, and later Dean of Windsor. Urswicke is thought to have acted as a go-between in the plotting to place her son Henry VII of England on the throne (c.1483 - 1485). This in itself is suggestive of a protagonist in medieval mystery.

There is very little known of the early activities of Christopher Urswicke. He often said to have been the son of Sir Thomas, Recorder of London and Chief baron of the Exchequer, who during the various battles of the wars of the roses ".. made himself conspicuous by his tact and cunning in aiding the cause of the Yorkist faction.." (and this is the path Doherty takes). However, from the looks of things, he was actually the son of one John Urswicke, a lay brother of Furness Abbey. He was educated at Cambridge and ordained (1468). Sometime following this, or even before, he came to the attention of Margaret Beaufort and her son Henry Tudor, most probably through the Stanleys. Even this introduction is shrouded in mystery as Margaret will not take Thomas Stanley as her fourth husband until 1472!

These are the events that have preceded and have taken us up to our current storyline.

I will go out on a limb here and suggest Urswicke's appointment as confessor to Margaret did not occur until after this time. There are references to his being in Rome in 1480 / 1481 and then coming to the attention of Margaret who became his patron for the remainder of her life; she presented him in 1482 to his first living - Puttenham, Huntingdonshire - and made him her chaplain and confessor. It has been suggested that the family had a long association with the Stanleys and / or that Dr Lewis Caerleon, Margaret's physician may have been responsible for the introduction. Because she sought to overthrow Richard III in favor of her exiled son, Margaret needed able and discreet servants; accordingly, she took Urswicke into her household as her confessor and secretary.

Margaret apparently involved Urswicke in the negotiations between herself and John Morton, then bishop of Ely, designed to lead to the marriage of her son, the future Henry VII to Elizabeth of York (1484). After helping save Henry's life, Having helped save the earl’s life, Urswicke became his confessor, advisor, and confidential agent. Urswicke remained with Henry, and was with him in Wales when Henry was gathering troops against Richard III.

Urswicke flourished under Hnery VII and was rewarded with the prebend of St Stephen's and later to the influential position of king's clerk and almoner. He was subsequently granted other benefices, offices, and prebends. Urswicke was also involved with Roderigo de Puebla in the negotiating the Treaty of Medina del Campo that was signed on 27th March 1489. It established a common policy towards France, reduced tariffs between the two countries and agreed a marriage contract between Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon and also established a dowry for Catherine of 200,000 crowns.

Urswicke represented Henry VII in Rome in 1493 and met with Emperor Maximilian I in 1496. Later that year he was appointed Dean of Windsor. Urswicke was with Henry when he was poor health in the early months of 1509. 

Urswicke began to slowly retire from life at court by the early 1500s and dedicated most of his time to independent projects, such as the rebuilding of St. Augustine's, where he would ultimately die. Amongst Urswicke's friends were the well-known humanists Thomas More and Erasmus, and he supplied valuable information on Richard III to More and Polydore Virgil, both of whom wrote about the former king. 

Christopher Urswicke was all but erased from the text of Vergil's Anglica historia sometime after 1513. Evidence of his part in the dissemination of literature that Henry VIII's court (and court historian) could have considered subversive may account for Urswicke's disappearance as well as illustrate some clerical reactions to early Tudor anticlerical sentiment.

All in all, Urswicke remained a loyal servant to both Henry VII and his son and successor, Henry VIII, until the day he died (21.03.1522).

Who was Reginald Bray..?
Reginald Bray (1440 - 1503), Urswicke's contemporary in Margaret Beaufort's household, played a vital role in organizing Buckingham's rebellion against Richard III during the last phase of the civil wars (1483–1487) and later became one of the most active and trusted ministers of Henry VII.

Image result for reginald brayBray began his career as receiver-general for Sir Henry Stafford, second husband of Margaret Beaufort, mother of the future Henry VII. After Stafford’s death in 1471, Bray continued to serve Lady Margaret as steward. In 1483, Bray acted as go-between for Margaret and John Morton, bishop of Ely, who was then engaged in drawing his jailer, Henry Stafford, duke of Buckingham, into the conspiracy being formed to dethrone Richard III in favor of Margaret’s son, Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond. Bray also raised much-needed funds for Richmond and won several key gentlemen to the earl’s cause, including Giles Daubeney and Richard Guildford.

After the failure of Buckingham’s Rebellion in October 1483, Bray was pardoned by Richard III, but continued to support Henry Tudorand may have gone into exile with him in France. Knighted after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, Bray was quickly named chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and knight of the body. Appointed a member of the Council, Bray held various financial and administrative positions, sat in numerous Parliaments, and served on over 100 commissions. Bray’s record of loyal service to Margaret Beaufort made him a member of Henry VII’s inner circle of advisors, especially in matters of finance. Bray was responsible for the financial provisions that made possible construction of Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster and his renovations of St. George’s chapel at Windsor. He would be created a Knight of the Garter. Bray died in August 1503.

further reading: 
Urswicke also features in Robert Farrington's Henry Morane Series

Monday, October 28, 2019

Turncoats and Renegadoes by Andrew Hopper

Turncoats and Renegadoes is the first dedicated study of the practice of changing sides during the English Civil Wars. It examines the extent and significance of side-changing in England and Wales but also includes comparative material from Scotland and Ireland.

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Turncoats and Renegadoes

The first half identifies side-changers among peers, MPs, army officers, and common soldiers, before reconstructing the chronological and regional patterns to their defections. The second half delivers a cultural history of treachery, by adopting a thematic approach to explore the social and cultural implications of defections, and demonstrating how notions of what constituted a turncoat were culturally constructed. Side-changing came to dominate strategy on both sides at the highest levels. Both sides reviled, yet sought to take advantage of the practice, whilst allegations of treachery came to dominate the internal politics of royalists and parliamentarians alike. The language applied to 'turncoats and renegadoes' in contemporary print is discussed and contrasted with the self-justifications of the side-changers themselves as they sought to shape an honourable self-image for their families and posterity.

Andrew Hopper investigates the implementation of military justice, along with the theatre of retribution surrounding the trial and execution of turncoats. He concludes by arguing that, far from side-changing being the dubious practice of a handful of aberrant individuals, it became a necessary survival strategy for thousands as they navigated their way through such rapidly changing events. He reveals how side-changing shaped the course of the English Revolution, even contributing to the regicide itself, and remained an important political legacy to the English speaking peoples thereafter.

Power and Religion Merovingian Gaul by Yaniv Fox

Power and Religion in Merovingian GaulThis study is the first to attempt a thorough investigation of the activities of the Columbanian congregation, which played a significant role in the development of Western monasticism. This was a new form of rural monasticism, which suited the needs and aspirations of a Christian elite eager to express its power and prestige in religious terms. Contrary to earlier studies, which viewed Columbanus and his disciples primarily as religious innovators, this book focuses on the political, economic, and familial implications of monastic patronage and on the benefits elite patrons stood to reap. While founding families were in a privileged position to court royal favour, monastic patronage also exposed them to violent reprisals from competing factions. Columbanian monasteries were not serene havens of contemplation, but rather active foci of power and wealth, and quickly became integral elements of early medieval statecraft.