Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Crown TV Series

Clair Foy as Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix series.
Fair Use image from Netflix.
It is a lavish production and historians have generally given it high marks for historical accuracy.  It covers the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and is projected to go multiple seasons.  Season 1 is on Netflix now.  The producers plan on addressing the aging problem by switching out the lead actors every two seasons.

What I’ve seen so far -- few thoughts.

Monarchies have gone from one extreme (absolutism - not portrayed here but part of the backstory) to the other extreme that is depicted here. In one scene Churchill declares that the government controls every aspect of the royals’ life and Elizabeth knuckles under and accepts that. For example, she considers it a victory when the cabinet grants permission for Phillip to take flying lessons “though no loops or rolls”. The family and by extension the entire system looks ridiculous. Assuming that the Netflix’s story is accurate, I wish that Elizabeth had shown a little more spunk and insisted on control of her family’s private life. While this might have provoked a Charles-I-kind of a row, she would have been on solid ground and if the monarchy had fallen as a result of that, at least it would have been for something noble.

As it is, the series makes her look weak and ridiculous. It could be because that is what she was.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Boer War

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote more than just the Sherlock Holmes stories.  He also wrote a history of this war.  I added to the selected passage from his book by selections from a journalist’s eye-witness account of the Boer Government and an additional selection from a historian with a special perspective on the conflict.

On the causes of the conflict, Doyle writes:

In 1890 the inrush of outsiders alarmed the Boers, and the franchise was raised so as to be attainable only by those who had lived fourteen years in the country. The Uitlanders, who were increasing rapidly in numbers and were suffering from a formidable list of grievances, perceived that their wrongs were so numerous it was hopeless to have them set right seriatim, and that only by obtaining the leverage of the franchise could they hope to move the heavy burden that weighed them down. 

Read more:

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Man in the Arena

You folks probably know the TR quote that is today’s History Moments post but I’m putting it here because it is worth another read.

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

– Theodore Roosevelt
“Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Italy Finally United

The unification of Italy, for which Italian patriots had longed and labored through many generations, was one of the most signal events of the nineteenth century. The story of Italy includes two heroes: the dashing fighter Garibaldi and the calculating statesman Cavour.  The struggle lasted with intermissions from 1848 to 1871, over 20 years.

From Pietro Orsi’s history:

Thus, this valiant family, of which one had already fallen gloriously at Varese in the campaign of 1859, and another had died in Sicily of exhaustion during the toilsome march of “the Thousand,” now yielded a fresh contingent to the band of Italian martyrs in the cause of freedom. 

Read more:

Monday, April 24, 2017

Normans Conquer England

Battle of Hastings.  William the Conqueror Defeats Harold’s Saxons.  Normans came from Vikings.  Centuries of Viking Invasions end in English Defeat. 

Political/genealogical considerations being secondary to military ones, the invasion of England by Normandy, the Battle of Hastings, and the subsequent conquest of England by the William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy and then the King of England, is one of the celebrated stories of the Medieval Age.

Story told by the great Edward Creasy:

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Japan’s Constitutional Revolution

World War II established in the public mind a Japan that was militaristic and expansionist.  In the decades around 1900 Japan was moving towards democracy and constitutional monarchy.  It took a series of assassinations and coups for the military to take control.  Here’s a series of histories and memoirs from contemporary Japanese writers.

I was one of the first Japanese to visit foreign lands, and was able to do so only by stealth, escaping to Shanghai in 1863. The country was only just opened to foreign intercourse, and Japanese subjects were not yet allowed to leave the country. By Ito Hirobumi, Prime Minister.

Read more:

Friday, April 14, 2017

Texas Declares Independence

Mexican army crosses border.  Disaster at Alamo.  Massacre at Goliad.  Sam Houston writes (referring to himself in the third person):

San Antonio had been taken in 1835. Troops were to remain there. It was a post more than seventy miles from any colonies or settlements by the Americans. It was a Spanish town or city, with many thousand population, and very few Americans. The Alamo was nothing more than a church, and derived its cognomen from the fact of its being surrounded by poplars or cottonwood trees. The Alamo had been known as a fortress since the Mexican revolution in 1812. The troops remained at Bexar until about the last of December.

Read more:

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation

The inside story told by his closest aides. How the Cabinet helped Lincoln edit the draft proclamation.  This story as told in History Moments is 9,000 words long.

In his preliminary proclamation of September 22, President Lincoln had announced his intention to urge once more upon Congress the policy of compensated abolishment. Accordingly, his annual message of December 1, 1862, was in great part devoted to a discussion of this question. “Without slavery,” he premised, ”the rebellion could never have existed; without slavery it could not continue.” 

Read more:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

France Takes Back Louisiana

Territory includes entire Mississippi River.  Where is western boundary?  Spain gives it up.  What’s Napoleon thinking?  President Jefferson writes:

There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural enemy. It is New Orleans, through which the produce of three — eighths of our territory must pass to market, and from its fertility it will ere long yield more than half of our whole produce and contain more than half of our inhabitants.

Read more:

Monday, April 10, 2017

Conquest of the Air

First airplane.  Balloons at mercy of winds; airplanes go wherever pilot wants.  And don’t forget the importance of speed in air transportation.  This series tells the story of the pioneers of air travel up to the Wright Brothers’ break-through flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

First Practical Locomotive

Railroads annihilate distance and time.  Train clocked at 25 miles per hour.  Able to maintain speed for hours at a time.  Hundreds of miles in hours.  Big competition in Rainhill, England October 29, 1829.

This story by Samuel Smiles has the mood of the Space Race a century and a half later. Following closely upon the beginning of steam-navigation, the introduction of railways, with cars drawn by steam-locomotives, was the greatest triumph, up to that period, of mechanical invention.

Read more:

Saturday, April 8, 2017

USA Splits

Southern states secede from the Union.  Protests Republican Presidential election results.  New nation formed.  Abraham Lincoln’s response.  Civil War effectively began on this day.

On the 12th of October, 1860, he [the governor] issued his proclamation convening the Legislature of South Carolina in extra session, "to appoint electors of President and Vice-President ... and also that they may, if advisable, take action for the safety and protection of the State." There was no external peril menacing either the commonwealth or its humblest citizen; but the significance of the phrase was soon apparent.

Read more:

Friday, April 7, 2017

British Plants Outpost in India

Queen Elizabeth charters British East India Company.  Murky future for British East India Company. Portugal and The Netherlands already established in India and East Indies.  Hostile Turks block British out of Red Sea and Persian Gulf.

This selection is from Ledger and Sword: Or, The honourable company of merchants of England trading to the East Indies, 1599-1874 by Henry Beckles Willson published in 1903.

Read more:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Coup in Portugal

It’s 1910. Republic proclaimed.  Centuries of monarchial rule ended.  King flees.  Eyewitness report.

It was nearly one in the morning when my train from Badajoz drew into the Rocio station at Lisbon; yet I had no sooner passed the barrier than I heard . . . .

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Magellan’s Voyage Around the World

As told by the survivors.  Pictured is the southernmost point of the South American mainland.  After Magellan’s death in the Philippines Antonio Pigafetta took command.  As the expedition lay off the South African coast, he writes,

Some of our men, and among them the sick, would have liked to land at a place belonging to the Portuguese called Mozambique, both because the ship made much water and because of the great cold which we suffered; and much more because we had nothing but rice-water for food and drink, all the meat of which we had made provision having putrefied, for the want of salt had not permitted us to salt it. But the greater number of us, prizing honor more than life itself, decided on attempting at any risk to return to Spain.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Romans Invade Britain

First Julius Caesar, later the Emperors.  Queen Boudica rallies Britains.  London sacked. Desperate Battle at Watling.  Romans outnumbered 20 to 1.  Can Queen throw Romans off island?  Oliver Goldsmith writes:

Paulinus hastened to relieve London, which was already a flourishing colony; but found on his arrival that it would be requisite, for the general safety, to abandon that place to the merciless fury of the enemy. London was therefore soon reduced to ashes; such of the inhabitants as remained in it were massacred; and the Romans with all other strangers to the number of seventy thousand were cruelly put to the sword. 

Read more: