Ah well, that’s proof that keeping a blog going in the teeth of daily life is not always easy.  Five months worth of assorted difficulties plus the need to get to grips with a new job will do that to you.  As someone once wrote about history, ‘it’s just been one thing after another’.


On this day in 1914

British troops suffered an ignominious and unecessary defeat at Tanga in East Africa.  Their nemesis in this case went by the name of General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck.  Four four years, Lettow-Vorbeck held off at least 200,000 British, French and Portugese soldiers with a force that rarely exceeded 11,000 Askari Africans and 3,000 Germans.  His East African Campaign rates as one of the most successful guerilla campaigns of modern history – quite possibly of all time.

When you do a little bit of digging on the man he emerges as quite a character.  On the surface an old-school Prussian, he challenges that image by his style of command.  Innovative and thoughtful he was clearly a superb tactician and a man who knew how to inspire loyalty – not just from his German subordinates, but also from the Askari soldiers under his command.  Lettow-Vorbeck spoke their language fluently and treated them no differently to his German troops.  Interestingly, he also ensured that those with sufficient potential received commissions – often from the ranks.

After the war, he resigned from the army and played little or no part in the turbulent politics of Weimar Germany.  What really made me smile was his response to being courted by the Nazis.  Hitler reportedly offered him the post of ambassador to Britain – an approach based solely on his war record.  The old general’s response is not explicitly recorded, but there is a story (possibly not apocryphal) that he told Adolf to go fuck himself.  🙂

A salute then to the old general – a soldier of the old school and the closest thing to an honourable enemy one is likely to find in modern conflict.

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck

Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh come on America…

Come on America, you’re not going to fall for this are you? What Obama has failed to do is down to your bipartisan political system that puts block after block in the way of getting anything like serious change. And if you believe that Romney is going to do anything spectacular in getting the country back to work you are frankly deluded.
Oh, and you’re whinging about $3.90 for a gallon of gas. We have to pay out $10. Count yourselves lucky.

CNN Political Ticker

(CNN) – The New York Daily News and Long Island’s Newsday endorsed Republican nominee Mitt Romney for president, switching from their 2008 pick of then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

In an article published in the newspaper’s opinion section Sunday, the Daily News’ editorial board dissected the nation’s economic hardships down to the dollars and cents of an increasingly expensive subway ride to a $3.90 average for a gallon of gasoline.

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Remember, remember… 5/11

English: ITV "Gunpowder Plot - Exploding ...

English: ITV “Gunpowder Plot – Exploding the Legend” – the replica House of Lords is destroyed (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few events in early seventeenth century English history are quite as iconic as the Gunpowder Plot of November 1605.  On the face of it, we’ve got everything; ruthlessly dedicated conspirators, spies, agent-provacteurs, religious unrest, shoot-outs and a series of really unplesant executions.  The despicable plot, discovered just in the nick of time, would taint English Catholics for centuries to come.  In fact, they wouldn’t recover anything like a reasonable level of political and employment rights until 1829.

There’s still a great deal of debate over the Gunpowder Plot – possibly not as much as over the events of 9/11, but in both cases there are still a range of questions left unanswered.  If 9/11 was indeed the false-flag attack claimed by the conspiracy theory proponents then arguably the best place to hide such a staggeringly huge plot would be in plain sight.  No need to arrest those shouting about shadow government/NWO agendas when the power of the media can silence them just as effectively, if not more so.  After all, if the authorities arrest them then maybe there was something in the story.  Much better to allow the media to discredit them and it’s more effective in the long run.

The events of autumn 1605 still polarise people along religious and political lines.  What I’ll try to do in this post is set out the issues that are generally agreed upon, before listing those where questions still remain to be answered.  First off, it’s almost certainly true that if the gunpowder in the cellar had detonated, the destruction would have been complete.  A recent TV documentary produced and shown on ITV here in the UK built a replica of the 1605 Parliament chamber and detonated 36 barrels of gunpowder beneath it.  For the results see:


Secondly, a man answering to the name of ‘John Johnson’ (but later shown to be Guido Fawkes, Catholic mercenary), was discovered in the cellars of the House of Commons in charge of 36 barrels of gunpowder, a laid fuse and a lantern.  Thirdly, it is also true that King James I‘s initial tolerance for the English Catholics had almost completely evaporated since his accession to the throne in 1603.  On the face of it, James was having to juggle the pleas of the Catholic minority to worship as they pleased free from the hated recusancy fines (levied on those who refused to attend Protestant church services) with the demands of the Protestant clergy and nobility.  Fourthly, it is also true that by early 1605 the royal point of view had begun to swing against the Catholics.  Many of them swallowed their pride and prepared to live double lives again but it is likely that others began to wonder if the time had come for more direct action.

How the plot was allegedly formulated, funded and organised is way outside the scope of a blog post, so I’m going to restrict myself to the following observations.  Many of these can be challenged and if so I’ve tried to list the appropriate counter point.

1. How was it that known Catholics were able to rent a cellar under the Parliament Chamber without more frequent checks being made on what they were up to?  If the plot was an agent provacteur scheme set up by Sir Robert Cecil (James I’s Secret Service boss and rabid anti-Catholic) then this would explain things.

2. Thirty-six barrels of gunpowder?  Most if not all gunpowder was stored under close guard at the Tower of London, so how did the plotters get hold of so much unless they were allowed to?  Well, Fawkes was a mercenary and not without contacts abroad.  Smuggling the powder into London would not have been beyond a group of determined men.  Alright – but how did they get it down into the cellar without someone asking questions?  Difficult but not impossible.  One barrel per day?

3. The person who rented the cellar to the plotters was found dead the following morning.  Single pistol shot to the head.  Suspicious and a straight line for the conspiracy theorist.  On the face of it it does look like a loose end being tidied up.

4. Why was the decision made to search the cellars on that one night and just in time to catch Fawkes ready to light the blue touch paper and leg it?  Yes, it looks iffy but the letter to Lord Monteagle from his cousin the plotter Francis Tresham might well explain it.  Tresham sent the letter annonymously to warn Monteagle from attending Parliament on the 5th:

My lord out of the love I bear to some of youre frends I have a care of your preseruasion therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance at this parliament for god and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time and think not slightly of this advertisement but retire youre self into youre control where you may expect the event in saftey for though there be no appearance of any stir yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them this councel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm for the danger is passed as soon as you have burnt the letter and I hope god will give you the grace to make good use of it to whose holy protection I commend you.

Either Tresham was acting out of concern for his cousin or he was in fact a plant – put there by Cecil to give the game away at just the right time.

5. Most of the surviving plotters were tracked down at Holbeche House in Staffordshire and all were killed or wounded in the ensuing fight.  Chief plotters Thomas Percy and Robert Catesby were shot dead though – the soldier who did the deed receiving a pension of 10p a day for life.  More tying up of loose ends or simply a reward for a job well done?  There is an interesting but unsubstantiated comment from Cecil to the effect of ‘make sure those two don’t see the light of day eh?’

6.  Francis Tresham, the man who sent the letter to Lord Monteagle, died in the Tower of London in circunstances which are still unclear today.  Not for him the rack and the agony of being hung drawn and quartered.  Nevertheless, he may well have been dealt with more quietly but no less effectively.

In the end you pays your money and takes your choice.

It was ordinary Catholics, however, who suffered the longest as a result of the Gunpowder Plot. New laws were passed preventing them from practising law, serving as officers in the Army or Navy, or voting in local or Parliamentary elections. Furthermore, as a community they would be blackened for the rest of the century, blamed for the Great Fire of London and unfairly fingered in the Popish Plot of 1678. Thirteen plotters certainly proved an unlucky number for British Catholics: stigmatised for centuries, it was not until 1829 that they were again allowed to vote.

A (very) short history of swearing Part 1

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Giving a damn about not offending people is important in all walks of life and for some of us an expletive too far can have serious consequences.  My wife and I were having one of our great multi-subject wide ranging chats and this led us to the topic of so-called ‘lady-like’ behaviour which in turn led us on to swearing.  Now I could be (and have been) called many things, but prude is not one of them.  That said, there are times and places and the seemingly widespread nature of swearing seems to transcend both.

Of course words that shock, upset or otherwise discomode have changed massively over the centuries.  Medieval people (1066-1485) weren’t using the curses and perjoratives one might have expected.  For instance, f**k doesn’t seem to have been in much use in England before 1200, despite its Germanic/Anglo Saxon origin as a erm, metaphor for ploughing.  Chaucer‘s Canterbury Tales (the Miller’s, Reeve’s and Wife of Bath‘s Tales in particular) have some extremely lewd parts (coughs), but the f-word doesn’t get a look-in.  Instead, it seems that questioning one’s character and parentage was the sure-fire way of starting trouble.  ‘Churl’ or ‘dog’ was fighting talk, as was addressing anyone of means by an inferior social rank.

By the time we hit the sixteenth/seventeenth century we have Shakespeare’s works offering us numerous examples of late Tudor and Elizabethan profanity – in fact more examples than you could shake several big sticks at.  It’s worth remembering that before he made his pile, Shakespeare was a jobbing playwright.  He had to give the punters what they wanted, ‘cos that but bums on seats, which in turn made him money.  Hence, the language is pretty earthy and often downright coarse:

‘Nought to do with Mistress Shore? I tell thee fellow, he that hath nought to do with her were best to do it secretly, alone’. (Richard III)

Nought or nothing was a well known euphemism for sexual activity, so Shakespeare’s intentions with a play entitled ‘Much Ado About Nothing‘ probably don’t require deep thought.

In Part 2:  From the eighteenth century to the present day.

The will of God?

Those of you on the Eastern Seaboard counting the cost and cleaning up after Sandy might wonder exactly what motivates people like this guy:


It seems that Pastor McTernan is keen to draw links between Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina using a mixture of ancient numerology and personal prejudice.  The following is (for me anyway) the bigotted heart of his argument:

“Twenty-one years breaks down to 7 x 3, which is a significant number with God. Three is perfection as the Godhead is three in one while seven is perfection.

It appears that God gave America 21 years to repent of interfering with His prophetic plan for Israel; however, it has gotten worse under all the presidents and especially Obama. Obama is 100 percent behind the Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem. Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!”

As with most of these fundy End-Times apocalypse watchers, everything revolves around Israel, although that is a separate issue.  The real problem for me is the Old Testament style retributive spin he puts on our planet’s weather.  The idea that God, in His capacity as Universe CEO issued a memo along the lines of  ‘Those pervs down there don’t seem to be getting the message – time for another wake-up call’ is distasteful to say the least.

In my case it was the impossibility of squaring the existence of evil with the existence of God which lost me what little religious faith I had.  These days, a few years spent teaching Religious Studies has left me thinking differently.  Evil committed by humans against other humans (moral evil) is one thing.  We’ve all got this freewill thing and if God intervened to stop every bad action then we’d be little more than robots.  It’s the destruction wrought by the environment (natural evil) that’s the problem.  In fact, the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 sort of got people thinking about this whole thing far more harshly than they had been before.

When normal, faithful Christians are celebrating All-Saints Day (1 November) and their city falls apart around their ears then one can’t blame them for feeling just a bit miffed.  What the earthquake began the tsunami racing in from the Atlantic finished.  At least 8.5 on the Richter scale most seismologists reckon.  With thousands dead, the questions began.  Why would a supposedly loving God allow so much destruction to happen on a day when people were worshipping Him?  That question resonated massively with the philosophers of the Enlightenment and proved a major boost to the growth of European atheism.

The 2004 tsunami was Lisbon writ large – at least 230,000 dead across fourteen countries.  The same question asked again – and not just by Christians either.  Is there an answer?  Well, yes – but it’s not one most religious people want to hear.  If we can act according to our natures then why shouldn’t the planet?  Natural disasters are the price we pay for living on a geologically active planet and hence one that can support life at all.  No consolation to those who lose loved ones and property at the hands of flood, earthquake etc. but possibly the best answer we’re likely to get.

On this day in 1485

Cropped image of Henry VII

Cropped image of Henry VII (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HenryTudor , Earl of Richmond was officially crowned King Henry VII of England.  At the time, there were at least twenty other people with a better claim to the throne, one of them being his predecessor Richard III.  His claim to the throne was supported assisduously both before and after the coronation by his mother Margaret Beaufort (immortalised by David Starkey as the mother in law from Hell).  Oops.  Now I’ve gone and done it.  Might just as well get a white rose border for my blog page.  In all honesty though, my Ricardian credentials are modest – they certainly wouldn’t allow me to last long in the Richard III Society.  I certainly don’t keep Sharon Penman‘s ‘Sunne in Splendour‘ with the reverence accorded by some to the Bible, but neither d0 I think Richard was a hunch-backed monster who murdered his nephews to get the crown.  The truth, as with most things, lies somewhere in between.  But I digress.  Henry Tudor got round the minor issue of deposing an annointed king by the simple expedient of dating his reign from the day before the Battle of Bosworth.  Richard and all who followed him thus became traitors automatically, their lands forfeit to the crown.

Henry’s reign began with rebellion and political uncertainty.  He had been a refugee for most of his life before 1485, dependent on the kindness of strangers and ever aware that he could be murdered, imprisioned or used as a pawn in the power plays of others.  He saw Yorkist rebellion under just about every stone (with some justification) until 1499 at least.  The last ten years of his life were marked by increasing tyranny (well documented by Thomas Penn in his book ‘Winter King’) and the death of his eldest son Arthur, the bright new Renaissance prince whose role it had been to cement the fortunes of the new dynasty. That job would now fall to his second son, Prince Henry.

At his death in 1509 he left behind an economically strong and prosperous kingdom and a very full treasury.  The latter would be made full, if not profligate use of by his successor.  In comparison with his predecessors Henry often seems a cold, calculating and colourless man – his weapon of choice being the law rather than the sword.  In fairness though he was the first of the early modern kings and his preference for law, trade and political alliance over war and conquest clearly marks him out as such.