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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Saltpeter






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.

The Soldier in Later Medieval England by Adrian R. Bell, Anne Curry, Andy King, David Simpkin

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The Soldier in Later Medieval England






The Hundred Years War was a struggle for control over the French throne, fought as a series of conflicts between England, France, and their respective allies. The Soldier in Later Medieval England is the outcome of a project which collects the names of every soldier known to have served the English Crown from 1369 to the loss of Gascony in 1453, the event which is traditionally accepted as the end-date of the Hundred Years War. The data gathered throughout the project has allowed the authors of this volume to compare different forms of war, such as the chevauchées of the late fourteenth century and the occupation of French territories in the fifteenth century, and thus to identify longer-term trends. It also highlights the significance of the change of dynasty in England in the early 1400s.

The scope of the volume begins in 1369 because of the survival from that point of the 'muster roll', a type of documentary record in which soldiers names are systematically recorded. The muster roll is a rich resource for the historian, as it allows closer study to be made of the peerage, the knights, the men-at-arms (the esquires), and especially the lower ranks of the army, such as the archers, who contributed the largest proportion of troops to English royal service. The Soldier in Later Medieval England seeks to investigate the different types of soldier, their regional and national origins, and movement between ranks. This is a wide-ranging volume, which offers invaluable insights into a much-neglected subject, and presents many opportunities for future research.


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review:Best of Enemies by Gus Russo & Eric Dezenhall

The thrilling story of two Cold War spies, CIA case officer Jack Platt and KGB agent Gennady Vasilenko -- improbable friends at a time when they should have been anything but.

Two dedicated agents of opposing counter-intelligence agencies who become friends - a buddy story.  Who were these men.  On the one hand we have Gennady Vasilenko, a dedicated KGB and on the other, "Cowboy" Jack Platt of the CIA.  Both were given the task of trying to turn the other into a double agent - this was, we are told, was never going to happen as both were strongly patriotic and dedicated agents.

After a series of carefully structured meetings, it was found that both shared the same interests and so continued to meet on a regular basis (under the cover of work) until Vasilenko returned to Moscow three years later.  When Vasilenko is then posted to Guyana, Platt goes out of his way to make contact, even after Platt retires from the CIA.  All the while both agencies are wondering why these men are still in contact as it is blatantly obvious to one and all that neither had any intention of turning.  As as result, it is Vasilenko who comes under closer scrutiny by the KGB and is arrested then fired from the KGB.  Vasilenko suspects Platt has betrayed him, whilst outwardly Platt seeks revenge on those that did.

Despite knowing that both are under the ever watchful eye of the KGB who want him brought down a peg or two, Vasilenko continues to tempt fate by either reaching out to Platt or accepting Platt's overtures (which seem to come with some sort of request for assistance).  Against the back-drop of the mole hunting activities of the CIA and FBI (1990s), Vasilenko continues to reach out to Platt and takes risks, which only raises the KGB's suspicions that he was turned afterall.  

It was during this mole hunt that Platt reaches out to Vasilenko for assistance which would lead to the arrest of one of the US's more notorious spies - Robert Hassan.  For Vasilenko, this turns out to be a fateful decision, and when he discovers he inadvertantly played a role in this, he is quite naturally furious as despite his statements to the contrary, he comes across in this episode, as working for the CIA.  This will come to roost a few years later when - after a small paragraph in a 2002 book written by David Wise reaches Russian authorities -Vasilenko is arrested.

"... Gennady's relationship with Jack had been insanely reckless and had provoked the Russians into taking an understandable, if draconian, retalitory actions.."

Platt's frequent attempts at intercession through various channels made it look like Vasilenko was guilty of the charges brought against him. Vasilenko is finally released in a swap for the Russian illegals discovered in the US - but the kicker - he has to admit to being the one thing he strenuously denied being through those years of imprisonment and torture - a US spy. Vasilenko and family come to the US and the rest is history.

Former CIA agent Jack Platt (left) and former KGB officer Gennady Vasilenko met trying to work each other for intelligence. They became lifelong friends.
Jack Platt (left) and Gennady Vasilenko (right)

Whilst obviously written for the mass market, I found this to be a conflicting read for me. I was interested to know how the two men - Jack Platt and Gennady Vasilenko - managed to become close friends. Yet both men come off as arrogant, self-absorbed, renegades, who both thought themselves untouchable and assumed that everyone else saw them as they saw themselves, and whose respective agencies seemingly put up with despite going totally against the grain, that I felt no empathy with either of them.

For me, the striking thing to come out of all of this was how one-sided this friendship seemed to be. Valisenko seems to be taking all the risks and makes all the overtures (after Platt's initial contact), and appears to have come out of it all extremely worse for wear - used even by Platt.  In Michael Smith's "Anatomy of a Spy", he discuss the "unwitting agent" - and this to me sums up Vasilenko's position.

There's a lot of school boy hi-jinks and very little espionage - except for the revealing of two spies, but by this stage both men were actually no longer members of their respective agencies but still, somehow, managed to stay in the game.

The more I read this book, the more I wanted to slap Vasilenko across the head with it or throw it at Platt that is how much both men infuriated me. Either that, or it was the writing style of both authors (journalists, documentary producers) that just failed to convey any sense the personal to attract me to wanting to know more of their stories beyond what was written here.

If you are interested in this genre, you will no doubt pick it up and read at some stage.


see also 


It All Depends on 31 Syllables: A study of the power of Japan's medieval waka

Imagine if your social stature and your livelihood were dependent on your ability to write poetry and refer to the work of other poets. If there were poetry competitions among the elite that decided one’s worthiness. Or if the entire direction of a nation could be changed via 31 syllables.


Japanese waka, a 31-syllable precursor to haiku, held just this kind of sway for several centuries. Its role in a power play between two imperial factions is at the heart of Kendra Strand’s current book project, An Unfamiliar Place: Poetry, Landscape, and Power in Medieval Japanese Travel Writing. Strand (Asian & Slavic Languages & Literatures, CLAS) is an Obermann Fellow-in-Residence this fall who is focused on three men who were writing between 1350 and 1375 in the Nanbokuchō era: Sōkyū, Nijō Yoshimoto, and Ashikaga Yoshiakira. A Buddhist priest, a statesman, and a shōgun, respectively, these men knew each other and alluded to one another in their writing.

Writing Is the ‘Most Dangerous Profession’ in China

From The Atlantic
Jung Chang is one of the most celebrated chroniclers of modern China. Her life spotlights the threat that writing still holds for the country’s rulers.

If you grew up in China in the 1950s and ’60s, as Jung Chang did, the last thing you aspired to be was a writer. “Writing was the most dangerous profession,” she told me recently.

In fact, writing was taken so seriously that most of the violent purges engineered by the Chinese Communist Party’s demigod leader, Mao Zedong—including the Cultural Revolution—began with an attack on some article or play or piece of literary criticism on the grounds of its alleged bourgeois or anti-Mao characteristics. There would be an opening salvo written by a Maoist acolyte, after which everybody who was anybody in China would line up in an Orwellian exercise of ritual denunciation of the isolated and defenseless writer. From there, the campaign would expand to claim hundreds of thousands of victims. “No parents would tell their child, ‘Become a writer,’” Chang said.

A close-up photo of Jung Chang.

Of course, Chang did become a writer, leaving China to study in Britain in 1978, and over time a celebrated chronicler of the modern Chinese experience in the English language, one of the first from China itself to overturn some of the romantic-revolutionary conceptions of Mao and his era that had a remarkably long life in the West. 

Her first book, Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China—a memoir of her grandmother, her mother, and herself living through China’s tragically turbulent 20th century—sold 10 million copies and was probably the most widely read personal account ever to come directly out of the belly of the Chinese beast. She followed that up 12 years later with a contentious, blistering, 800-page treatment of Mao himself, co-written with her husband, the historian Jon Halliday; then came an eye-opening revisionist biography of the Empress Dowager Cixi, a sinister villain in the eyes of most previous historians, a progressive feminist hero to Chang.

read more here @ The Atlantic

Book Review: 'Allahu Akbar' Holds a Mirror to Today’s India

Manimugdha Sharma's innovative and charming narrative style is not something that the discipline of history is used to.

It is perhaps a curious paradox that in today’s India, when heaping abuse on medieval India’s Muslim rulers – and the Mughals in particular – on TV channels and social media is the sine qua non of fervent patriotism (“Akbar was like Hitler”, announced one such profound commentator), some adventurous young scholars are headed in the opposite direction and are digging deep into Mughal history with great empathy and understanding.

In Allahu Akbar: Understanding the Great Mughal in Today’s India by journalist, Manimugdha Sharma announces at the outset that his is not to be read as a linear biography of Akbar – though it is that too in spite of him – but how it holds a mirror to today’s India, in particular, and elsewhere. This he does in two ways, one by recounting the grandeur of Akbar’s vision for his subjects and his empire, and the other, by narrating any event and breaking off into massive distances of space and time and sometimes just about the other day around you, with a touch of affinity with the broken story.

The heart of this delightfully readable book is, of course, highlighting the vision of the great Mughal who could cut through the various dividing lines within the ruling class and reach out to the subjects. His greatest strength was the ability to think and decide for himself, which always implies a challenge to all modes of received wisdom. The ability to weave one’s own way through contentions.

read more here @ The Wire

Lee Child: ‘If it comes to it, I’ll kill Jack Reacher. No problem’

The writer on prizing plausibility, the casting of Tom Cruise as a giant, and migrating to Netflix

Image result for lee childReacher said, “This is a random universe. Once in a blue moon things turn out just right.” Scholars of Lee Child’s oeuvre may have detected a certain quality of cynicism in the titles of his Jack Reacher thrillers, from Killing Floor and Die Trying to Bad Luck and Trouble and Nothing to Lose.

So it comes as some surprise to learn that Child himself believes that the inherent optimism of Blue Moon, the title of his 24th Jack Reacher novel, is intrinsic to his appeal.

“It’s always my ambition to do what you could call a low-concept thriller,” says Child. “When you do a book per year for so many years, and keep on with the high concept, ramping it up and up, then you end up in a completely ludicrous situation, where in every book a terrorist has a nuclear bomb or something, and that just gets too big and too overblown and too fundamentally implausible. I’m always trying to make an exciting story out of something small, because I really feel that you can’t do it year after year if you’re saving the world every single time.”


read more here @ Irish Times
Website - Lee Child

Historical Huthwaite author pens tale of Nottinghamshire heroine during Magna Carta wars

Bringing to life the historic tale of one of Nottinghamshire’s forgotten heroines is the focus of a new book by a dedicated Huthwaite author.

Austin Hernon, aged 78, has a history of writing novels that explore Britain’s medieval heritage, having written books on Robert - son of Battle of Hastings legend William the Conqueror.

And now he has penned his focus on a local Nottinghamshire heroine - Matilda of Laxton, who was the Keeper of the King’s Forest, Sherwood, in the Wars of the Magna Carta.

It was when the self-confessed history-buff paid a visit to King John’s Palace in Kings Clipstone that his research really came to life - discovering her role in the wars from 1216AD.

Basing his investigation on historical chronicles and land ownership, he discovered the way she “fought off power and stayed strong to her duties”, and believes her story "should be told".

His book, Wars of the Magna Carta - The Battle for England; Women at war in Medieval England, explores the life and strength of Matilda, and her counterpart in Nicholaa of Lincoln.

read more here 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Review: God's Spies by Elizabeth Braw

God's Spies: The Stasi's Cold War Espionage Campaign inside the Church
Synopsis: East Germany only existed for a short forty years, but in that time, the country’s secret police, the Stasi, developed a highly successful “church department” that—using persuasion rather than threats—managed to recruit an extraordinary stable of clergy spies. Pastors, professors, seminary students, and even bishops spied on colleagues, other Christians, and anyone else they could report about to their handlers in the Stasi.


Thanks to its pastor spies, the Church Department (official name: Department XX/4) knew exactly what was happening and being planned in the country’s predominantly Lutheran churches. Yet ultimately it failed in its mission: despite knowing virtually everything about East German Christians, the Stasi couldn’t prevent the church-led protests that erupted in 1989 and brought down the Berlin Wall.


This presents a very different aspect of Cold War espionage. One simply does not expect this kind of spying when we think of agents and spies - but here they are, local religions figures within the community of not only East Germany, but other Eastern Bloc nations and Scandinavia.

Author Elizabeth Braw injects a personal, human element, through both family recollections and interviews with still living Stasi Officers, in particular, Joachim Wiegard, the Director of the Stasi Church division.

There is a hell of a lot of information to take in ... this is no quick read, despite the almost conversational style of writing. The reader must immerse themselves in the period, the politics, the religion, the mindset of those being the Iron Curtain. Braw writes that " Stasi Church espionage was exhilarating and mysterious and repulsive ...".

The Stasi was a formidable operation, with 1.7 million informants, and literally half the population being spied on in the German Democratic Republic. Christianity was Communism's greatest foe as it it represented a competing world view. The Pastor-spies were focused on social groups and associations who attracted many dissidents, in an effort to keep the Church powerless.

We are introduced to a number of Pastor-spies and their activities, whilst Braw takes us back to her conversations with Wiegard, who never quite reveals all that he knows. These agents, we are told, did not expect to get wealthy - they instead received material and consumers goods (a luxury in the East); travel permits; promotions; medications; cars, books; things we in the West took (and still take) for granted - "... the bonus being an agent in your own country was that your employer can make your life more comfortable..".

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of East Germany, the Stasis files were not completely destroyed - and the identities of the vast network of spies, not just the Pastor-spies, were revealed. Braw notes that whilst the Stasi were experts at collecting information, they were not so good when it came to what to do with it all! There was the presumptions that the GDR would last so there was no haste to destroy anything or put this information beyond reach. People's long hidden pasts was being raised up like a proverbial Lazarus.

A recommend read for all Cold War and espionage enthusiasts.


Review: The Nuclear Spies by Vince Houghton

The Nuclear Spies: America's Atomic Intelligence Operation against Hitler and Stalin
Synopsis:  Why did the US intelligence services fail so spectacularly to know about the Soviet Union's nuclear capabilities following World War II? As Vince Houghton, historian and curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC, shows us, that disastrous failure came just a few years after the Manhattan Project's intelligence team had penetrated the Third Reich and knew every detail of the Nazi 's plan for an atomic bomb. What changed and what went wrong?


If you are looking for a work on the more well known "nuclear" spies like Klaus Fuchs, the Rosenbergs or Harry Gold, then you will be a little disappointed for they are not really here.

This tome deals with "scientific intelligence" or more importantly, America's need to know where their rivals stood in the race for atomic weaponry. The main time frame is the 1930s and 1940s, and the period in which the US entered WWII to find the Germans working with nuclear fission and making all sorts of discoveries that would eventually lead to what we know as the Manhattan Project.

So, whilst the US undertook a merry chase across Europe for the fleeing German scientists in their pursuit for atomic knowledge and to put a stop to Hitler detonating an atomic bomb, they gravely underestimated the Soviets own capabilities in doing exactly the same.

Here we find out just why that came about - and one word could quite nicely cover this - assumptions. 

" ... for the first time in history a nation's scientific resources ... became a key consideration in assessing a potential national security threat ..."

The US dealt in assumption, speculation and prediction (or guesswork) rather than cold hard facts; and this assumption of the Soviets would continue for over a decade before the US abandoned its naive belief in stereotypes and brought the search for scientific intelligence under one cohesive banner.

For in this fledgling period of time, the USA's scientific research was being carried out in the academic sector, privately funded.  During World War II, it finally fell under the purview of Lieutenant General Leslie Groves and Houghton covers off Groves' input in painstaking detail.  However, analysis of scientific information was still being conducted on an ad hoc basis, with no single agency as a centralised depository - and even the analysis of the information was speculative at best and determined by stereotyping, and information to the contrary was considered disinformation.

The US believed that the race to stop Hilter from detonating an atomic bomb was a priority based upon their belief that - at the time - German scientists were pre-eminent in the field of science - no-one else could compare with their facilities, discoveries, personnel.  In the face of advancing armies, these scientists scattered, and the US focused their efforts on capturing both them and their research - the OSS was sent out in 1943 - to France, Germany, Italy - the Alsos Missions.  It was only when the US realised that German efforts to build an atomic bomb had actually stalled that the shift moved towards preventing the Soviets from getting this information - and the scientists! 

Post WWII, there was a decline in collection and collation of scientific intelligence as the researchers and scientists, being poorly treated by the US government, drifted back to academia, and hostility grew between the scientific community and US government.  In the years immediately after the war, ".. effective atomic intelligence was prevented by the inability to create a unified, coherent policy ..." and the US found itself relying on the experiences of others to predict the Soviet's completions of their atomic weaponry and were thus literally caught with their pants down!  Even after the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb, the US refused to believe it as they considered the Soviets to be a backward nation - an alarming attitude that would prevail over the next decade.

Very well researched with lots of history on the fledgling US intelligence network and the atomic weapons program.


Review: Traditions Of Death & Burial by Helen Frisby

Traditions of Death and Burial
Synopsis: An illustrated introduction to rites and traditions relating to death, funerary rites and commemoration, from Medieval times to the present day.


It was the author's intent to explore how, through the medium of custom and tradition, relationships between the living, the dying and the dead, have been shaped and re-shaped over the last millennium.

Covering the periods in English history and tradition from the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 up until our current times and beyond, we are taken through the changes in religion, social attitudes and the concept of remembrance.

A brief chapter summary as follows:

1066 - 1500: concept of purgatory and redemption; growth of burial and funeral processions; introduction of more elaborate funerary arrangements.

1500 - 1750: Reformation; the absence of indulgences; purgatory redundant with the ethos of predestination; increase in funerary accoutrements among the middle classes; introduction of more details lists of causes of deaths; changes in the treatment of corpse; rise of the resurrectionists; funerals becoming secular and life-focused.

1750 - 1900: new diseases brings a rise in mortality rates; change in funerary customs and introduction of the "garden cemetary"; death photography; proliferation of ready-made funerary goods and clothing; social etiquette and invitation only; cremation; rise of the spiritualist movement.

1900 - 2000: society more materialistic; lack of funerary customs; longer life span; death becoming medicalised; increased bureaucracy; viewings moved from home to chapels of rest; increased demand for cremation; subsidence of funerary hospitality.

Now & Future: rise of degenerative diseases; euthenasia; post mortem photography; bespoke deaths; rise of celebrants; industrial death and burial; cryogenics; wayside memorials; social media dedications.

An interesting tome.

Thursday, October 24, 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.

Maintenance In Medieval England by Jonathan Rose

Maintenance in Medieval EnglandThis is the first book covering those who abused and misused the legal system in medieval England and the initial attempts of the Anglo-American legal system to deal with these forms of legal corruption. Maintenance, in the sense of intermeddling in another person's litigation, was a source of repeated complaint in medieval England. 

This book reveals for the first time what actually transpired in the resultant litigation. Extensive study of the primary sources shows that the statutes prohibiting maintenance did not achieve their objectives because legal proceedings were rarely brought against those targeted by the statutes: the great and the powerful. Illegal maintenance was less extensive than frequently asserted because medieval judges recognized a number of valid justifications for intermeddling in litigation.  
Further, the book casts doubt on the effectiveness of the statutory regulation of livery. 

This is a treasure trove for legal historians, literature scholars, lawyers, and academic libraries.

Economic History Portugal 1143 - 2010

An Economic History of Portugal, 1143–2010This book offers a fascinating exploration of the evolution of the Portuguese economy over the course of eight centuries, from the foundation of the kingdom in 1143, when political boundaries began to take shape in the midst of the Christian Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula, and the formation of an empire, to the integration of the nation into the European Communities and the Economic and Monetary Union. 

Through six chapters, the authors -Leonor Freire Costa, Pedro Lains & Susana Munch Miranda - provide a vibrant history of Portugal's past with a focus ranging from the medieval economy and the age of globalization, to war and recovery, the Atlantic economy, the rise of liberalism and patterns of convergence. The book provides a unique long-term perspective of change in a southern European country and its empire, which responds to the fundamental broader questions about when, how and why economies expand, stagnate or contract.

An English Governess in the Great War by Sophie De Schaepdrijver & Tammy M. Proctor

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An English Governess in the Great War






An Englishwoman living in World War I Brussels started a secret diary in September 1916. The diary, which survived the war and whose author remained anonymous, ended up in a Belgian archive. This book brings to light both the diary and the story of the woman who wrote it: a middle-aged English governess working for a Belgian-Russian family in German-occupied Brussels. 

Mary Thorp (1864 -1945) grew up in London and in Bruges. Like many educated young women of impoverished middle-class backgrounds, she worked as a governess. Neither a servant nor a member of the upper classes that employed her, she harbored a sturdy middle-class outlook stressing self-reliance and responsibility for others — the very attitude that underlay societies' resilience in the face of war. Her diary expresses this attitude but also the strains on it as the war wore on.

Thorp did not only crossed classes; she crossed national borders as well. Her diary's perspective is transnational. She followed the wartime fate of her widely dispersed friends and family. She tracked military news from theaters both far-flung and nearby. And, because of her privileged access to diplomats from Spain, the Netherlands, the US, Persia, and Japan, she tallied wider war news - on peace overtures, the Russian Revolution, and discontent in Germany. At the same time, Thorp remained attuned to local dynamics in Brussels, the First World War's largest occupied city. Alert to both structural constraints and individual stories, she showed how the occupying army sought to exploit Belgium, but also how this rebutted some in the German military. Uniquely, her diary also documents the Armistice and its immediate aftermath, for she kept it up until January 1919. 

In this volume, Tammy M. Proctor and Sophie De Schaepdrijver provide a biographical introduction on Thorp, an overview of the war in occupied Belgium, and detailed annotations to the diary.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Linlithgow lives on in new book

From Linlithgow Journal and Gazette:
“It will be a great memento of Linlithgow’s history to keep. It has answers to a lot of questions people have about the town. And with Christmas coming up I think it will be a great present to get, or send to people from the town now living elsewhere in the world.

“The title of the book is very apt. It is both about the lives of those who have lived in the burgh through the ages – and it also reflects the town’s vibrant, living history.”

The front cover of Linlithgow Lives, a new book by Bruce Jamieson.

Bruce is thankful for the support he has had in publishing Linlithgow Lives.

He said: “Generous sponsorship from two local businessmen, Alan Steel and Calum Paterson, and the expertise of designer Chris Hamilton, has enabled the full colour volume to be produced at an excellent price.

Baader-Meinhof by Stefan Aust & Anthea Bell

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Baader-Meinhof






The Baader-Meinhof Group—later known as the Red Army Faction (RAF)—was a violent urban guerilla group which terrorized Germany in the 1970s and '80s, killing 47 people, wounding 93, taking 162 hostages, and robbing 35 banks—all in an attempt to bring revolution to the Federal Republic.

Stefan Aust's masterful history of the Group presents the definitive account, capturing a highly complex story both accurately and colorfully. Much new information has surfaced since the mass suicide of the Groups' leaders in the 1980s. Some RAF members have come forward to testify in new investigations and formerly classified Stasi documents have been made public since the fall of the Berlin Wall, all contributing to a fuller picture of the RAF and the events surrounding their demise. 

Aust presents the complete history of the RAF, from the creation in 1970 to the breakup in 1998, incorporating all of the new information. For instance, there is growing evidence that the German secret service eavesdropped on Baader, Meinhof, and the other RAF members imprisoned in Stammheim and that they knew that the terrorists planned a mass suicide, but did nothing to prevent it. Also, there is new information about the role of the RAF lawyers (among them Otto Schily who later was Minister of the Interior in Gerhard Schröder's cabinet), and the roles of the different RAF members and the rivalry between them. The volume will also contain numerous photos.

Terrorism today is never far from most people's thoughts. Baader-Meinhof offers a gripping account of one of the most violent terrorist groups of the late twentieth century, in a compelling look at what they did, why they did it, and how they were brought to justice.

British Women Surgeons and Their Patients 1860 - 1918 by Claire Brock

British Women Surgeons and their Patients, 1860–1918When women agitated to join the medical profession in Britain during the 1860s, the practice of surgery proved both a help (women were neat, patient and used to needlework) and a hindrance (surgery was brutal, bloody and distinctly unfeminine). In this major new study, Claire Brock examines the cultural, social and self-representation of the woman surgeon from the second half of the nineteenth century until the end of the Great War. 

Drawing on a rich archive of British hospital records, she investigates precisely what surgery women performed and how these procedures affected their personal and professional reputation, as well as the reactions of their patients to these new phenomena. 

Essential reading for those interested in the history of medicine, British Women Surgeons and their Patients, 1860–1918 provides wide-ranging new perspectives on patient narratives and women's participation in surgery between 1860 and 1918.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Felony, Guilt & Exile in Medieval England

Felony and the Guilty Mind in Medieval England by Elizabeth Papp Kamali
Felony and the Guilty Mind in Medieval EnglandThis book explores the role of mens rea, broadly defined as a factor in jury assessments of guilt and innocence from the early thirteenth through the fourteenth century - the first two centuries of the English criminal trial jury. Drawing upon evidence from the plea rolls, but also relying heavily upon non-legal textual sources such as popular literature and guides for confessors, Elizabeth Papp Kamali argues that issues of mind were central to jurors' determinations of whether a particular defendant should be convicted, pardoned, or acquitted outright. Demonstrating that the word 'felony' itself connoted a guilty state of mind, she explores the interplay between social conceptions of guilt and innocence and jury behavior. Furthermore, she reveals a medieval understanding of felony that involved, in its paradigmatic form, three essential elements: an act that was reasoned, was willed in a way not constrained by necessity, and was evil or wicked in its essence.


From England to France: Felony and Exile in the High Middle Ages by William Chester Jordan
At the height of the Middle Ages, a peculiar system of perpetual exile—or abjuration—flourished in western Europe. It was a judicial form of exile, not political or religious, and it was meted out to felons for crimes deserving of severe corporal punishment or death. From England to France explores the lives of these men and women who were condemned to abjure the English realm, and draws on their unique experiences to shed light on a medieval legal tradition until now very poorly understood.

William Chester Jordan weaves a breathtaking historical tapestry, examining the judicial and administrative processes that led to the abjuration of more than seventy-five thousand English subjects, and recounting the astonishing journeys of the exiles themselves. Some were innocents caught up in tragic circumstances, but many were hardened criminals. Almost every English exile departed from the port of Dover, many bound for the same French village, a place called Wissant. Jordan vividly describes what happened when the felons got there, and tells the stories of the few who managed to return to England, either illegally or through pardons.


An Account of an Elizabethan Family by Cassandra Willoughby

An Account of an Elizabethan FamilyCassandra Willoughby's Account of the Willoughbys of Wollaton is an invaluable portrait of family, kinship, regional and national dynamics in the Tudor and early Stuart period. 

Based on letters and papers that Cassandra found in the family library, her Account focuses, for the most part, on the women of the family. No other collection of letters and account books offers anything close to the depth of understanding of sixteenth-century family dynamics, gentry culture and court connections contained in this account. 

Of particular interest is Elizabeth Willoughby's public refusal to obey her husband, Francis Willoughby, and their ensuing ten-year separation that saw the death of a young son and resulted in appeals to Queen Elizabeth. We learn about the status of women, hospitality, relations with servants, the social hierarchy, interactions with the royal court, education, religious concerns, household management, marriage negotiations, love relations, literacy, inheritance struggles, interpersonal behaviour and much more.


Shakespeare ...... Further Reading

Shakespeare In Company by Bart van Es:
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Shakespeare in Company






This book is about two very different kinds of company. On the one hand it concerns Shakespeare's poet-playwright contemporaries, such as Marlowe, Jonson, and Fletcher. On the other, it examines the contribution of his fellow actors, including Burbage, Armin, and Kemp. Traditionally, criticism has treated these two influences in separation, so that Shakespeare is considered either in relation to educated Renaissance culture, or as a man of the theatre. Shakespeare in Company unites these perspectives. Bart van Es argues that Shakespeare's decision, in 1594, to become an investor (or 'sharer') in the newly formed Chamberlain's acting company had a transformative effect on his writing, moving him beyond the conventions of Renaissance dramaturgy. On the basis of the physical distinctiveness of his actors, Shakespeare developed 'relational drama', something no previous dramatist had explored. 

This book traces the evolution of that innovation, showing how Shakespeare responded to changes in the personnel of his acting fellowship and to competing drama, such as that produced for the children's companies after 1599. Covering over two decades of theatrical history, van Es explores the playwright's career through four distinct phases, ending on the conditions that shaped Shakespeare's late style. Paradoxically, Shakespeare emerges as a playwright unique 'in company'—special, in part, because of the unparalleled working conditions that he enjoyed.



Murder Most Foul: Hamlet Through The Ages by David Bevington
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Murder Most Foul






What is it about Hamlet that has made it such a compelling and vital work? Murder Most Foul: Hamlet Through the Ages is an account of Shakespeare's great play from its sources in Scandinavian epic lore to the way it was performed and understood in his own day, and then how the play has fared down to the present: performances on stage, television, and in film, critical evaluations, publishing history, spinoffs, spoofs, musical adaptations, the play's growing reputation, its influence on writers and thinkers, and the ways in which it has shaped the very language we speak. The staging, criticism, and editing of Hamlet , David Bevington argues, go hand in hand over the centuries, to such a remarkable extent that the history of Hamlet can be seen as a kind of paradigm for the cultural history of the English-speaking world.

Forensic Shakespeare by Quentin Skinner
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Forensic Shakespeare






Forensic Shakespeare illustrates Shakespeare's creative processes by revealing some of the intellectual materials out of which some of his most famous works were composed. Focusing on the narrative poem Lucrece, on four of his late Elizabethan plays — Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar and Hamlet — and on three early Jacobean dramas, Othello, Measure for Measure and All's Well That Ends Well, Quentin Skinner argues that there are major speeches, and sometimes sequences of scenes, that are crafted according to a set of rhetorical precepts about how to develop a persuasive judicial case, either in accusation or defence. Some of these works have traditionally been grouped together as 'problem plays', but here Skinner offers a different explanation for their frequent similarities of tone. 

There have been many studies of Shakespeare's rhetoric, but they have generally concentrated on his wordplay and use of figures and tropes. By contrast, this study concentrates on Shakespeare's use of judicial rhetoric as a method of argument. By approaching the plays from this perspective, Skinner is able to account for some distinctive features of Shakespeare's vocabulary, and also help to explain why certain scenes follow a recurrent pattern and arrangement.