Sunday 26 January 2020

Book Review: Richard J. Evans, The Pursuit of Power (London, 2016)

Rachael Caine
BA History
This book review was written by the author as part of the assessment for the first year module, Introduction to Modern History.
"The Pursuit of Power" is an ambitious book. Author, Richard J. Evans, former Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge, who was in 2012 knighted for his contribution to scholarship, prefaces his book with some admirable intentions: he wants this history of nineteenth century Europe to go beyond the European, and beyond the so-called "Great Men" of history. There will be Napoleon, certainly, but, alongside him, the story of his foot-soldier, who had no love for Napoleon and just wanted to go home. Like many before him, including Hobsbawm (to whom this book is dedicated) Evans endeavours to write a holistic history, placing the social and cultural side-by-side with the economic, political, and military. Furthermore, Evans rejects Eurocentric, individualistic histories of European states. Like his self-professed role model, the late Lord Acton of Cambridge Modern History, Evans’s mission statement appears to be that the history of Europe ought to be greater than its parts (the individual history of nations). He instead sets out to write a global, transnational history. Perhaps no work of history can claim to represent the past as it was, or indeed to include all of it in any given period, but ambitious works such as this one dare to try.
The book contains only 8 chapters, though at a colossal 848 pages the chapters are not lacking in content. Within this, Evans has attempted to categorise the period into distinct themes. It is refreshing that Evans does not go with the obvious choices, instead framing his chapters under fresh, interesting headlines, such as "The Age of Emotion"(exploring Romanticism across Europe in response to the ideas Enlightenment ), and "The Conquest of Nature" (which covers subjects as diverse as the invention of the steam train and growing-pains of the healthcare profession, all under the guise of man vs. nature).
The book’s unique selling-point, though, is the way in which a chapter begins with the story of one individual. From Jakob Walter, the unknown and unhappy foot-soldier of Napoleon I, to Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous Suffragette, these introductions are always an insightful read. Evans masterfully weaves these stories into the greater narrative of both the chapter, and the book in general, using them to illustrate the plight of the common man, and reminding us to think about the impact monumental events of the nineteenth century had on their contemporaries. This is a highly effective and powerful technique. For example, the story of Russian serf Savva Dmitrievich Purlevsky, retold from the rare and valuable primary source material of his memoirs highlights the universal plight of the serf, while exposing its nuances. Purlevsky was relatively well-off and literate, ergo, serfs were not a monolith. And yet, he too suffered greatly under the practice. Evans successfully makes the reader question pre-conceived notions of the past, gently encouraging the reader to think more deeply.
It is clear that the author seeks, in doing so, to right a perceived wrong in the historiography of the period, in that populations such as peasants, farmers, and women have been marginalised for too long. If only in a small way, Evans is helping to shine a light on those forgotten by posterity. He argues the compelling point that peasants and women were a huge percentage of the European population, and it does a great disservice to them, the literature of the period, and to ourselves, to brush them aside without comment or due attention.
That Evans leaves no stone unturned is hardly an exaggeration. In addition to the attention he gives to the major events of the era (in no small detail), wars and all, the book delves into topics a less-confident historian would leave to specialists: arts, literature, superstition, madness, and slavery to name a few. Evans is not afraid to venture outside Europe in his quest for a truly holistic history of Europe. Nor does he shy away from the dark consequences of Europe's ambition in the century. Evans is quick to point, for example, the horrific impacts of European Colonial ambition, such as the Belgian abuses in the Congo. In short, he is unflinching in discussing the history some may wish to forget. In the somewhat turbulent times we live in, it becomes increasingly important not to whitewash history, literally and otherwise. Evans does a sound job of keeping humanity in history above all else, without coming across as overly emotional or moralistic.
All this makes Evans’s book a valuable companion to the study of nineteenth century Europe, however, it may not be the students' go-to. The structure is perhaps too stylistic to be strictly academic. In fact, despite the author's historical credentials, this book makes no claim to be a textbook, and certainly not one which can be crammed before a test. The breadth and depth of Evans’s work is undeniable, but the unique structure and approach means it may not be appropriate as a core text on a university curriculum. It may be said of all books, but this one is not for everyone. At the aforementioned page count of 848 pages, it is a gargantuan piece of work, almost too comprehensive. Though the author intends it to be read chronologically, the scale and complexity of the book make this a mammoth undertaking, one which is not suitable for an introductory text. So, it is neither a textbook, nor a classic piece of popular history, but falls somewhere in-between. The danger here is that it leaves the potential for both audiences to be left unsatisfied. This is a concern, and it is of course down to personal taste, but Evans is compelling enough as both a writer and a historian to take the risk and be rewarded for it.
Despite its thoroughness, Evans offers no concluding chapter. Throughout the book, he makes no forceful arguments or unreasonably bold claims. He does not allow his personality or opinions to outshine the factual content, he simply encourages the reader to think more deeply and come to their own conclusions. After spanning almost 100 years, Evans’s book finishes on the ominous remark made by Sir Edward Grey, on the brink of the First World War: "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." With this, as Evans neatly frames the nineteenth century between world-shaking wars, the value of his work is clear. History should be colourful, emotional, and not-without its challenges; it would be a discredit to humanity to tell it otherwise, so says Richard J. Evans.

Friday 24 January 2020

The Four Great Classics of Chinese Literature

Tom Wilkinson-Gamble
BA Modern and Contemporary History
Journey to the West: Arguably the most famous of the four, Journey to the West was published in 16th century and written by the novelist and poet Wu Cheng’en. The novel chronicles the tale of   Tripitaka,  a   Buddhist  monk   tasked  by the Gautama   Buddha   with   collecting   a   series of sutras from ‘the West’ (India) and returning them to China. Tripitaka is joined by a colourful cast of characters; including the impulsive and easily excitable monkey god Sun Wukong, the half-man and half-pig monster Zhu Bajie (Piggy) who was kicked out of the heavens for harassing the lunar goddess Chang’e and the equally hideous Sha Wujing (Sandy), a heavenly general turned sand demon who was also fired from the heavens. Together, the group get caught up in a series of crazy scenarios during their adventure and are often forced to fight some form of demon or monster to progress with their journey. Thematically, the novel is pro-Buddhist and, at times, criticises the two other Chinese systems of belief; Taoism and Confucianism. For example, during the early chapters of the book, the failure of heavenly authorities to keep Sun Wukong in check can be viewed as a criticism of the neo-Confucian doctrine that inspired the imperial Chinese bureaucracy of the time. The novel ends with the group returning to China with the sutras and both Tripitaka and Sun gaining Buddhahood.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Despite being the only book in this group that might have some genuine historical grounding, Luo Guanzhong’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms gives a romanticised and dramatized account of the collapse of the Han dynasty at the end of the 2nd century. The novel begins with the death of Emperor Ling and how his son, Emperor Shao was manipulated by the eunuchs in the imperial court. This division then leads to the rise of the warlord Dong Zhuo and the subsequent coalition of Sun Jian, Liu Biao, Cao Cao and others against him. The novel ends with the war between the three remaining dynasties (Shu, Wei and Wu) and the rise of the new Jin dynasty. Though classed as historical fiction, the novel uses historical records as a basis; including Chen Shou's Records of the Three Kingdoms and Liu Yiqing's A New Account of the Tales of the World.
Water Margin: Like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin is a military novel and follows the lives of a group of outlaws during the Song dynasty. At first the outlaws are pitted against the emperor, but they are pardoned and sent a series of military campaigns to suppress rebel movements and foreign invaders. Though the authorship of the novel remains unclear, it is generally attributed to Shi Nai'an but other candidates include the playwright Shi Hui or even Luo Guanzhong.
Dream of the Red Chamber: Written by Cao Xueqin in the mid-18th century, Dream of the Red Chamber is the most recent of the classics and was published in 1791. Unlike the two previous books, Dream of the Red Chamber is a love story and focuses on the relationship between three protagonists; Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai. Jia is set to marry the woman chosen by his family; the beautiful and graceful Xue. But in reality, he is in love with his melancholic and clumsy childhood-friend. In the background of this, we also witness the decline of two aristocratic families. This has been viewed by scholars as an allegory for the gradual decline of the Qing dynasty.

Thursday 23 January 2020

History Through Fiction

How Useful are the Realist Novels of T. Rowland Hughes as a historical Source?
James Churchill
PhD History
Little known of today outside Welsh language literary circles, Thomas Rowland Hughes was one of the shortest lived but most fascinating British writers of the 1940s. Writing in Welsh, his works were translated into English by Colonel Richard Ruck in the years following his death, however, in both languages his works are now difficult to trace except in certain specialist libraries. Rowland Hughes was far from prolific, producing a limited amount of poetry and only five novels before his death from Multiple Sclerosis at the age of forty six.[1] Although, it should be noted his present obscurity cannot merely be pinned down to a limited output, as this has not been a problem for other un-prolific writers, for example Jane Austen.

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Book Review: Peter Watson, The German Genius, Europe’s Third Renaissance and the 20th Century (London, 2011)

Molly Southward
BA History
I first read this book while researching for my A-Level History course, focusing on the rise of youth groups in Germany between 1860 and 1972. As I skimmed through it for my coursework, I was intrigued and so bought a copy to read cover-to-cover later on. The fact this book stood out to me in the sea of German history books I was reading at the time clearly speaks for itself. In this book, Peter Watson aims to show that there is so much more to German history than the Holocaust, despite it obviously being a crucial topic that should not be dismissed. He clearly achieves this aim.
The length of the book, which stands at 850 pages, shows the amount of work and scholarship that has gone into the publication. Throughout the book, Watson raises many questions about the type of German history that has been perpetuated in the mainstream. This is so refreshing and makes the reader realise how little German history, other than the war period, is in circulation in the UK. It stands defiantly as the antidote to ignorance that Watson intended it to be. This is also addressed in the book’s introduction, which discusses the impact that this fragmented historical knowledge is having on the relationship between Britain and Germany, and what the future repercussions of this may be.
The book gives an overview of modern German history. It covers a wide range of topics from 1750 to 2010, though many are only skimmed briefly because of the scope of this ambition. This also means it’s not a quick read, but anyone interested in Germany, or culture, sciences and the arts specifically, will really appreciate this. It is astonishing how much one country has created and influenced the culture and world of today. Many references to books, poetry, plays and art are made throughout. Linked to this, some German is used in the book which, for people unfamiliar with the language, may take away from their enjoyment of it, especially since it can sometimes slow the pace of the book. However, it does also add to the narrative and certainly allows the reader to be more immersed in authentic classical European culture. There is a highly academic tone and a plethora of new ideas and concepts introduced throughout the book: for example, philosophical, psychological and classical studies which are often not addressed in such detail in more ‘traditional’ history monographs. This can, again, feel daunting at times.
It is understandable that the author does not completely ignore Hitler’s rise to power, the Nazi years and the Second World War. However, only three chapters are devoted to this, and most of the focus is placed on the impact the war had on the arts, scientific developments and scholarship in Germany, as opposed to limiting itself to a regurgitation of the infamous policies and atrocities that took place at the time. This is a highly effective way to deal with what could have a potentially problematic part of this book and, with this approach, Watson is able to add a new dimension to the reader’s understanding of the German past.
Ordered chronologically, each chapter is played out in such a way that it is almost broken down into individual stories or events. The author uses every opportunity to add as much information as possible. Alongside the main body of text is a list of 32 influential Germans that are not mentioned in the rest of the book. There is also a lot of narrative that lends itself to further investigation. This is helped by the 70 pages of notes and references at the end of the book, though they are mostly modern, and not so much primary material, which may be detrimental at times.
One thing to note, however, is the conservative religious and political views of the author which occasionally surface in the text. These are, arguably, unnecessary remarks towards certain people and their actions. This can sometimes detract from the objectivity of the author and will not be to everyone’s taste. They also make the book potentially difficult to read; however, the depth of knowledge shown, although not excusing these views, does still give the book merit and makes it a worthy read.
To conclude, I understand this book might not be to everyone’s taste, that it’s not the quickest or at times easiest to read and it may not be the best book to start your journey into German or cultural history. However, I would highly recommend the book if German culture and science are topics that interest you. Even if there’s only one small part of it that does entice you, the range of subjects covered will give it a wide appeal. It is an incredibly informative and well-written read on an understudied topic: you will certainly take something away from reading The German Genius.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

The Greatest Welsh Writer of the Twentieth Century...

(and the chances are you have never heard of him…)
Stuart Stanton
MPhil History
The Newport-published South Wales Argus, a daily newspaper whose catchment area is essentially the county of Monmouthshire, has claim to have been the most radical Welsh journal of its type. Founded in 1892 and initially edited by Sir Garrod Thomas - a Welsh- speaking native of Cardigan who achieved membership of the Royal College of Physicians before settling in the town - the Argus became fully established during the Great War, strongly supporting the war effort and speaking out against undemocratic actions by Newport Town Council. Born in the town in 1882, Fred Hando qualified as a schoolteacher and also saw service in the War. A chat with the Argus’ editor, W.J.T. Collins in 1922 led to the first of what was intended to be an occasional series of notes from various locations, entitled ‘Rambles in Gwent’. The series continued up to an astronomical total of 795, concluding on February 13, 1970, just a few days before Fred’s death.

Monday 20 January 2020

Charlemagne’s Little Brother

John Bailey
BA History and Archaeology
The 4th of December is the anniversary of the death of Carloman (751 – 771), the not so famous younger brother of Charlemagne. Carloman only lived until he was 20 and, before the new King of the Franks could do anything with the position he inherited, he died under ‘suspicious circumstances’ at a time when a war with his brother was growing more likely by the day. The cause of his death was unknown, but it was concluded he had died from a ‘severe nosebleed’. This is something that doesn’t seem lethal and probably was a symptom of something else. It is possible that the king had underlying health issues; this is something we would know little about due to the lack of recovered information from the period. Charlemagne could have had something to do with his death, or it could just have been another chance event in history: the medieval period was very prone to this, as popes and kings had a habit of dying at the worst possible times, thus thwarting their effort to accomplish developments and changes. However, it was extremely convenient for his older brother Charlemagne who could now take the lands inherited by his brother from their father Pepin the Short.
The two brothers kept contending for power and what little actions we know Carloman took during his short reign were mostly to undermine his brother. He attempted to provoke rebellions with King Desiderius of Italy at his side, who was the king of the Lombard kingdom of Italy in Northern Italy at the time. Carloman’s death was sudden and unexpected after the new-found support he gained from Desiderius to use against his brother. With an all-out war being so likely, it didn’t take long for Charlemagne to take advantage of his brother’s death. He seized his lands after being invited to by Carloman’s ‘faithful nobles’, therefore betraying Carloman’s wife and two sons by giving away the kingdom.
Fig. 1: Territories of Charlemagne (red)
and Carloman (blue)
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Their father certainly knew of their rivalry from a young age, splitting his kingdom in two after he had fallen ill and thus forcing them to cooperate in order to make both kingdoms prosper and be successful. This is demonstrated on the  adjacent map, where Carloman’s territories are denoted in blue and Charlemagne’s (Charles) in red. The latter gained kingship over the Austrasians (and possibly Neustria), while the younger Carloman was given the kingdoms of Burgundy, Provence, Septimania, Alsace and Alemannia. Aquitaine was divided between them. The theoretical power the two brothers had was enormous and relatively equal,  making  them  both unhappy with  their inheritance,  both  desiring  more than the  other brother. However, despite Carloman’s best efforts he didn’t live long enough to contend with his brother and, due to this, would always be Charlemagne’s number two. Allegedly, Charlemagne was also more physically imposing than his brother and had a stronger personality thus often overshadowing his brother. However, whilst this impression could stem from clergymen wanting to elevate Charlemagne, this enshrined the image of his superiority over his brother from childhood onwards. Carloman possibly even feared his brother and probably did plot against him due to the fact that he was so insecure in his own position, believing that Charlemagne would take military action against him soon. Carloman died too swiftly and prematurely to rival his brother’s legend of creating an empire, and thus is why little is said about the brother of Charlemagne.

Sunday 19 January 2020

The Unlawful Games Act 1541

Controlling Recreation and Maintaining the Class Divide
Richard J. Hayton
BA Medieval and Early Modern History
While the seventeenth-century puritanical laws against entertainments are infamous in English history, it is rather little-known that several Acts had already infringed on the recreational freedom of the working class in the centuries prior. The most complex and intrusive of these arrived during the reign of Henry VIII in 1541; this was the ‘Acte for the Mayntenance of Artyllarie, and debarringe of unlawful Games’, or the Unlawful Games Act. Essentially, it forbade the lower classes from playing most recreational games, such as cards and dice games, but also the likes of tennis and bowling, whilst reserving the privilege for the wealthy and highborn. The ‘middling sort’ – those beneath the gentry – could be met with hefty fines for hosting or playing games, except for at Christmas. The other part of the Act is more notorious, as it was the last in a series of medieval and early-modern laws which required Englishmen to regularly practice longbow archery. Mandatory archery practice and the prohibition of games might seem like an unusual pairing, but as the preamble of the Act explains, the popularity of newly-devised games was seen as the “reason where of archery is sore decayed and daily [was] like to be more and more minished.”[1] Yet, this explanation surely seems terribly inadequate, to believe that the competition of other games was as detrimental to archery as to necessitate a large-scale ban for the lower classes. What else might have inspired such an Act? Was the intention to protect the realm from civil disorder arising from games, or was the Crown inspired by an ever-growing moralism which condemned “noxious, inordinate and unhonest games”?[2] This article assesses potential rationales for the Unlawful Games Act 1541 and, considering it within a sequence of oppressive medieval and early modern laws, exposes a longstanding precedent of conditioning social order, controlling which activities and behaviours were appropriate for different classes. The Unlawful Games Act took advantage of a moralist society in order to reserve recreational games as privileges of the peerage, while maintaining the obligation of the ‘middling sort’ to work in accord with other legislation.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Gods of the Past

Jacob Charnley
BA Philosophy and Religion
Odin the All-father, patriarchal figurehead of the Norse pantheon of the pre-Christian Scandinavian and Germanic people.
Wägner, Wilhelm. 1882. Nordisch-germanische Götter und Helden. Otto Spamer, Leipzig & Berlin, p. 7.

Friday 17 January 2020

‘The Man Behind the Digital Curtain’

Investigating Social Support and Heteronormativity in an Online Lesbian Community
Charlotte Jones
PhD Sociology and Social Policy

Myfanwy Davies,
Senior Lecturer in Social Policy,


Computer-mediated communication (CMC), offers new spaces and opportunities for sexual minorities. This nethnographic (net-ethnographic) study explored forms of social support among self- identified lesbian women within a closed, online community and sought to trace what kinds of identifications it might afford.
While most interactions were positive, referrals to experts outside the group were rare. Advice given reflected conservative social attitudes to relationships and family commitments. We consider the content and reception of a series of memes - including those objectifying women, some consolidating ethnic and social hierarchies alongside representations of empowerment using symbols from the off- line world.
We argue that dominant cultural structures filter through to the online group, despite its having been formed to provide a space to foster alternative identities. The choice to participate in a closed, online group may enhance lesbian women’s identification - and provide support - but may also depoliticise lesbian identity.

Social support, lesbian identity, heteronormativity, CMC, ethnography, memes, female agency, Facebook.

Thursday 16 January 2020

The Story of the Swordfish

Of Bicycles, Bombs and Torpedoes
Philip Gregory
BA History
If someone told you that a biplane considered obsolete in 1936 would cripple the pride of the Kriegsmarine, help turn the tide of naval power in the Mediterranean and sink more Axis shipping than any other Allied plane you would consider them delusional. Incredibly, however, this is exactly what the Fairey Swordfish, an antiquated biplane known affectionately as the ‘stringbag’ by its crews, did during World War Two.

Wednesday 15 January 2020

Marwnad Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch i Lywelyn ap Gruffudd

Cai Davies
BA Cymraeg a Hanes
Dyma draethawd a baratowyd gan yr awdur ar gyfer modiwl CXC–1019 ‘Llenyddiaeth yr Oesoedd Canol’ yn Ysgol y Gymraeg.
This is a critical evaluation of Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch’s elegy to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (Llywelyn the Last). Llywelyn is considered to be the last ‘Welsh’ prince of Wales, and died in battle at Cilmeri in 1282, in the course of conquest of Wales by Edward I. This is an essay prepared by the author for a module in the School of Welsh on the Literature of the Middle Ages.

Tuesday 14 January 2020

China in the 1980s

A Changing Nation
Tom Wilkinson- Gamble
BA Modern and Contemporary History
The 1980s was a decade of astounding change for the People’s Republic of China. China watchers were treated to a huge economic boom sparked by government reforms, an emerging popular culture and two political events that would define both China’s past and future.

Monday 13 January 2020

Rebel Songs of The Troubles

Sean Collier
BA Modern and Contemporary History
‘Tiocfaidh ár lá, sing up the ‘Ra’ was a chant I often heard in a pub in Bangor, that will go unnamed in an attempt to not write an advert/smear for the pub, depending on your possible love or hate of the occasional rebel song. For the many who are not familiar with the opening phrase, ‘tiocfaidh ár lá’ translates to ‘our day will come’ (or so I’ve read, I am unsurprisingly not fluent in Irish) - a term very much associated with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), referring to a future united Ireland. This is taken from an Irish rebel song named The SAM Song, with the lyrics detailing a Provisional IRA (the ‘Ra’) member and his fight against the British. Ranging from the use of petrol bombs and SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) to the internment of 1971 and hunger strikes, the song is clearly propaganda glorifying the Provisional IRA. However, if songs like this are commonplace in even a small pub in north Wales, their use begs the question of what these songs actually mean. To most it may just be good craic to sing along, but the stories behind the songs are fascinating. As examples, I will talk about two other songs alongside The SAM Song: The Men Behind the Wire and Roll of Honour.

Sunday 12 January 2020

A eulogy to neoliberalism

Alasdair Dow
MA Sociology
The title screams heresy, and I may add it is meant to suggest that the dominant philosophy in our lives, the one the majority of academics either praise as a wonder, or curse as a monstrosity, is now dead and buried. It will not be a comforting thought to many who have devoted much time and energy to studying its effect on society. The screams of ‘It cannot be true’ may ring loud, resonating from a belief that neoliberalism has somehow faked its demise and merely undergone an identity change. However, I would like to very shyly and politely suggest that neoliberalism is dead, and it is time to write its eulogy. The eulogy provided here will not speak ill of the dead, but neither will it glorify the passing of the neoliberal world view. I aim to not focus on trivialities. The tone set is provocative and I hope will invite some dialogue, even passionate discussion. I will apologise for my unashamed dismissal of the academic consensus that neoliberalism is alive and well: it is dead and we should indulge in a respectful silence, even mourn it.

Saturday 11 January 2020

Humour throughout History

Finlay Tyson
BA Modern and Contemporary History
Fig. 1: The Wipers Times
(c. @National Army Museum,
‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ is an infamous quote by writer and historian L. P. Hartley. It is a quote championed by many in the field of history and displays the differences between the present and the past. However, there can sometimes be a blind allegiance to the view that the past is so different that the ways in which we have stayed the same get ignored.
People and their attitudes have, obviously and undeniably, changed over the thousands of years of human civilisation. But there are some characteristics that have been shown repeatably throughout history to have some sense of continuity, and one, more than any, which has withstood the test of time is humour. For a good modern historical example of this you need look no further than the gallows humour of the two world wars of the twentieth-century. In fact, the very term ‘gallows humour’ fits in with this idea of a humour continuum. Originating from the First World War there are a series of examples, but one of the best preserved and well-known is the Wipers Times. The Wipers Times was a satirical newspaper produced by soldiers to mock traditional newspapers and the war in general (Fig. 1). It was started when the 12th battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, stationed in Ypres, chanced upon a printing press that had been abandoned when its civilian owner had fled. A sergeant, who had been a printer in peacetime, salvaged the press and started printing.

Friday 10 January 2020

What did the Normans do for us?

Mark Hagger
Reader in Medieval History

For more of the author’s work,
see his most recent monograph
The following paper comprises the text of a talk given during the Four Nations History Festival, held at Bangor on Friday and Saturday, 25–26 October 2019. The text remains more or less as it was when the paper was delivered—as will be all too obvious to the reader. 
Before we get going on the question of what the Normans did for us, I need to say a few words about who the Normans were and whom I have taken the ‘us’ of the question to be.
The Normans were not a single people, but rather a recently concocted mix. The Normans were in part the Christianized descendants of the Vikings who had been settled at Rouen around 911 by King Charles the Simple, in part the Scandinavian settlers who had made their home in the north west of what would become Normandy during the tenth and eleventh centuries, and in part the indigenous Franks and Bretons who had come under the sway of the Norman dukes and their supporters. In other words, although we speak and write about ‘the Normans’ they did not all have a common origin. Instead, they simply all lived within the territory that recognized the rule of the Norman duke. Indeed, Normandy itself only appears from about 1020, and had yet to achieve its final form by the time the Normans conquered England. That would only occur round about 1120 under Henry I, third of the Norman kings and ruler of Normandy from 1106.[1]

Thursday 9 January 2020

A brief history of Veganism

George Higgins
MA History
Veganism, the lifestyle and diet choice that avoids all animal derived products, has seemingly sprouted out of nowhere in the last few years, and managed to become one of, if not the buzzword of 2019. It is making headlines almost daily, its proponents and critics appear routinely on talk shows and podcasts, and businesses are cashing in on the hype.

Wednesday 8 January 2020

Charles I: An Absolute Downfall

William Luke Flanagan
BA History
Charles I is seen by many as the ultimate example of England’s final absolutist monarch. His reign lasted from 1625 until 1649, however, in those 24 years the status of the monarchy’s legitimacy had radically shifted due to the growth of pro-republicanism. Despite the gradual increase in parliamentary influence during the Tudor Dynasty, the monarch was still seen as the sovereign ruler of England. Even King James I of England managed to stabilise a relatively uneasy relationship with Parliament despite opposition from Puritan and Arminian Members of Parliament. The question is how did Charles fall from grace? And how did the concept of absolutism die in England with him? This can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, Charles’s unenlightened thinking reinforced by his Catholic sympathies after marriage with Henrietta Maria. Secondly, his dictatorial means of raising money. Thirdly, his expensive foreign policy failings and, ultimately, the English Civil War resulted in his absolute downfall which had long term consequences on the role of Parliament in the future.
On religious policy, Charles was particularly out of touch with the House of Commons as he was a heavily influenced Catholic due to his marriage with Henrietta Maria and the birth of his sons Charles and James. This combined with the appointment of William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury, and the announcement of a new Anglican Book of Prayer to the Presbyterian Church in Scotland, made many in England suspect that Charles wanted to return England back to Catholicism gradually. Charles I’ s belief in divine right to rule was critiqued in the Commons which demonstrates the modernising ideals of English politics compared to the situation in Europe at the time. Parliament feared this mostly because of the threat of papal dominance, and also of the monarch exercising dictatorial powers on the country with justification of religion like in the medieval era, which would undermine Parliament’s authority. With these policies being enacted by Charles relatively early in his reign, it is arguably understandable why Parliament quickly turned on him and openly rebelled against him.
King Charles I (van Dyck, oil on canvas,
1635-1636, NPG 843,
Charles-I, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
Foreign policy failings like the wars against Spain and France along with Thomas Wentworth’s poor leadership against the Scottish Covenanters and Irish rebels proved that Charles was incompetent. His foreign policy however demonstrated his contra-dictory tendencies, as he supported the Swedish and German Protestant states against the Catholic Habsburgs with mercenaries despite himself being Catholic. It clearly demonstrated that he didn’t truly care about religion so long as he maintained power. His war with France, despite being married to a French Catholic, is more evidence to suggest that Charles prioritised prestige and wealth over religious principle.
His financial policies, however, were the most important factor in his demise, as he behaved like a ruthless tyrant in attempting to raise money. After dissolving Parliament in 1629, which began the ‘personal rule’ - or the ’11-year tyranny’ as coined by Whig historians like S. R Gardiner - Charles needed new methods to raise money. These included forced loans, the ‘Distraint of Knighthood’, which was the selling of knighthoods to wealthy nobles in return for payment, and Ship Money where coastal towns provided either warships or money to build said ships to the
Crown for national defence. All of these were enacted under obscure medieval laws ensuring that they weren’t classified as taxes, because, since Magna Carta, only Parliament had the authority to raise them. Failure to meet the quotas imposed by the King saw people prosecuted by his own Court of the Star Chamber with executions being common. This goes to show Charles’s authoritarian attitude and resulted in his popularity completely faltering by the time Parliament was recalled in 1640, ending his ‘personal rule’. This was more important than the other factors as it clearly demonstrated Charles’ ambition to avoid Parliament at all cost, in a similar fashion to the medieval kings of England, so that he could retain his power. After all, Charles recalled Parliament to get money and the ‘Grand Remonstrance’ passed due to John Pym, Oliver Cromwell and other radical Puritans in 1641 highlighting his dubious financing methods.
In conclusion, Charles’ fate was almost doomed from the start since his marriage to Henrietta Maria. His methods of raising money made him incredibly unpopular amongst the gentry, and his religious policies indirectly threatened civil war sooner rather than later. His foreign policy disasters proved his incompetence in war management as was demonstrated in the English Civil War where he squared off against Parliament. Defeats at Marston Moor, Newbury, Naseby and Preston (1644 – 48) guaranteed that Charles would be shown no mercy at the hands of Parliament after causing the deaths of thousands. Charles’ execution and the later brief Republic under the ‘Barebones Parliament’ and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell transformed the legacy of monarchical rule in England forever. Charles I’s reign is the greatest example of how clashes between tradition and modernity are at odds with each other, and can lead to change. After Charles, there was never another monarch who tried to challenge the role of Parliament in much the same manner. It is an example of how England, and later the British political system, was way ahead of other European nations like France in terms of its conceptualisation of a robust Parliament: this would only be realised elsewhere during the so called ‘long nineteenth century’, as coined by British historian Eric Hobsbawm. These 24-years of British history guaranteed Parliament’s place in politics for the foreseeable future. It also epitomised the fears of religious differences and dominance, along with how crucial constitutionality and limitations are to prevent human beings exploiting royal powers for personal use.