What has always amazed me about that battle and the characters involved is that in Harold Godwinson we have on the one hand the known villain of subsequent (and of the contemporary) propaganda especially the amazingly effective Bayeux Tapestry (a quite incredible piece of public propaganda which is well worth visiting). Harold has come down by the victor of the Battle of Hastings word as an oath breaker.
Because of that twist of faith, we don’t remember Harold’s own victory at Stamford or the fact that he was seen by many Saxons as England’s bulwark against Norman influence. What’s more because of Hastings, we don’t hear the story of the brother’s Godwinson or indeed of Harald Hardrada who as the link above makes clear had a fascinating life himself.
All told, Stamford Bridge and the ignored heroism or at the very least success if you will of Harold reinforces for me the sense that very often history recalls not the reality of a persons life but only the most resonate aspect of it, that events which have relevance are often overshadowed by subsequent less important but better recorded happenings.
I studied the restoration of Charles II during my Masters research. My focus was on George Monck, by far the most interesting character in my mind, maybe because he seems something of a silent type who when he acts, acts decisively. I also believe that his actions were never as clear as history now suggests them to be, for instance I suspect that had the situation presented itself differently, he might well have made himself king or Lord Protector, rather than facilitating the return of the Stuarts.
In any case I write this for two reason. Wonders & Marvels has a Merry post about Charles II and his string of mistresses written by novelist Susan Holloway Scott and it got me to thinking and searching the web for material on Monck which resulted in discovering this site which is planning to Monck’s Observations upon Military & Political Affairs.
As per usual though little searching on Google Books and the disappointing result is that although copies have plainly been scanned and although the book is WELL out of copyright, it is not available for full view. A real shame. Eoin
1789: The 14th July, Bastille Day
Maybe it is the old style liberalism in me but, being deeply suspicious of it, I have never been a fan of radicalism of any description. This has pushed my sympathies in some strange directions. In the case of France that has been with the moderate forces during the French Revolution and to some extent the moderate Royalists who in the early days of the Estates General and The National Assembly and the National Constituent Assembly.
I studied the history of the moderate and reformist aristocracy (and there were certain parts of the second estate that passionately believed in change, I must dig out that essay wherever it is) during my third year in University and they proved to be among the most active reformers in the early days of the revolution, pushing for radical reform and the type of moderate limited monarchy that most liberals would happily settle for and indeed which their close neighbours in England had slowly but surely achieved in the course of the 17th & 18th Centuries (though that development was not without its own fair share of blood).
So the shift from moderate and sensible reform towards radicalism, blood and a spiral of terror that the events of 14th July (The Storming of the Bastille) indicate are a lost opportunity in my mind, not a cause of celebration. To be clear, I don’t blame the citizen of Paris, nor even the less moderate politicians of the third estate, there was sufficient evidence in their eyes that the King and his party had plans to launch a coup, the worrying and increasing presence of foreign born troops was a worrying indicator and the sacking of Necker an equally concern one. There was an atmosphere of distrust that was fostered by the King. But the results were pretty wasteful.
Ireland’s Republican Glory
Much like the storming of the Bastille & 14th July is in France, the 1798 Rebellion is remembered in Ireland as a rather exciting and noble event in Irish history, something I have long failed to understand. The event itself was planned by some high minded people (those behind the United Irishmen) but the net effect of their planning was a violent, bloody and utter failure. It came to a somewhat shambolic end this week in a series of engagements, most notably at Knightstown Bog.
Peasants with little training were thrown upon militia and regular soldiers of the British Crown with some initial success but ultimately savage retribution. The rebellion put paid to Ireland’s Parliament dooming the country to even less self government until the protracted revolution of 1914-1921 delivered a moderate home rule program (again at some cost).
I often wonder how an Irish parliament might have reacted to the Potato Blight in the 1840s or indeed how a parliament alert to the challenges that faced its landlord membership might have tried to reactivate the economy in the decades following the Napoleonic Wars when agricultural prices suffered so badly due to the increased land supply that had proved very profitable during the wars but now, with the emergence of new grain sources and rapid transport from the US and Russia, drove prices down and increased hardship amongst the poorest, and reduced capital available for investment among the landlords.
How too might a body, without the stains of massacres like Scullabogue or battles like Vinegar Hill or Ballinahinch. While some dismiss it, I don’t think you can validly explore history as it happened without thinking of the alternatives.
All told, I tend to see these periods of radicalism as swathes of history when our worst human tendencies have gained the upper hand and pushed back rational advances until good sense and order has reestablished itself, or more simply, a was eof time, effort, money and a huge waste of lives. Eoin
Robert Kaplan Strikes Again
Kaplan writes an elegant and persuasive article about how Geography affects the world! In many ways it is a plea for a realist view of the world:
Realism means recognizing that international relations are ruled by a sadder, more limited reality than the one governing domestic affairs. It means valuing order above freedom, for the latter becomes important only after the former has been established. It means focusing on what divides humanity rather than on what unites it, as the high priests of globalization would have it. In short, realism is about recognizing and embracing those forces beyond our control that constrain human action—culture, tradition, history, the bleaker tides of passion that lie just beneath the veneer of civilization. This poses what, for realists, is the central question in foreign affairs: Who can do what to whom? And of all the unsavory truths in which realism is rooted, the bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most deterministic of all is geography.
What I like about the piece is threefold
Firstly I enjoy his references to philosophers and historians. The philosophers are Isaiah Berlin and Thomas Hobbes, both with interesting and illuminating things to offer reader. And Google Books has plenty items in Full View for both though frustratingly in the case of Hobbes, not a Leviathan available for extract so instead you get a rather nice but non-downloadable Forgotten books edition! Which seems crazy when the base text is well out of copyright!
His historical references are numerous but Mahan and Braudel stand out! One eye opener was Nicholas Spykman (for more on his truly intriguing views here is a very nice overview) of whom I had never heard but of whom Kaplan say:
Similarly, the Dutch-American strategist Nicholas Spykman saw the seaboards of the Indian and Pacific oceans as the keys to dominance in Eurasia and the natural means to check the land power of Russia. Before he died in 1943, while the United States was fighting Japan, Spykman predicted the rise of China and the consequent need for the United States to defend Japan. And even as the United States was fighting to liberate Europe, Spykman warned that the postwar emergence of an integrated European power would eventually become inconvenient for the United States. Such is the foresight of geographical determinism.
For another thing
Secondly I like his concept of:
geography in the most old-fashioned sense. In the 18th and 19th centuries, before the arrival of political science as an academic specialty, geography was an honored, if not always formalized, discipline in which politics, culture, and economics were often conceived of in reference to the relief map. Thus, in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, mountains and the men who grow out of them were the first order of reality; ideas, however uplifting, were only the second.
And maybe I feel that way because I wish to justify my recent (and fabulously cheap) purchase of Keith Johnston’sA Sketch of Historical Geography which is a truly excellent text worth owning and you can read in the lovely Open Library edition here, but I think there is something to what Kaplan says. Something that informs the rest of the piece.
I like his closing exhorting for us all to:
learn to think like Victorians. That is what must guide and inform our newly rediscovered realism. Geographical determinists must be seated at the same honored table as liberal humanists, thereby merging the analogies of Vietnam and Munich. Embracing the dictates and limitations of geography will be especially hard for Americans, who like to think that no constraint, natural or otherwise, applies to them. But denying the facts of geography only invites disasters that, in turn, make us victims of geography.
I very much enjoy Kaplan but sometimes I’m left with as many questions as answers with him, not that that is a bad thing! Eoin