Paston Letters

Paston Letters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Margaret Paston died.  She married into the Paston family, an example of mid-level Norfolk gentry during the Wars of the Roses.  She is chiefly remembered for the detailed correspondence she left behind her.  Totalling around one hundred letters, it provides a superb insight into daily life during the Wars of the Roses.  Most 0f the letters are to her husband Sir William Paston, who was often absent from home on court business.  However, while the Paston Letters are a superb resource, they should not be taken as providing a typical picture of gentry life during this period.  The Pastons were quite closely involved in local and national politics and in that they were by no means typical of the time.  The Paston Letters can usefully be contrasted with the Stonor Papers in this respect.

On this day in 1484


A interesting post, and one that’s exposed some gaps in my knowledge. I’d always been under the impression that the early to mid-Victorians (at least here in Britain) had generally looked askance at the medieval period as one of violence, lawlessness and despotism. This sad state of affairs was ended by the arrival of the Tudors who proceeded to introduce a properly constituted legal system, trade and the beginnings of modern government. Havig read what you say about the Church I can’t help but agree – although it’s not an argument I’ve come across before.

The Time Travelling Victorian

As I’ve done my work in New Orleans and read about the 19th century, I keep running into the Medieval past.  This was surprising to me initially.  With all the emphasis on progress and industrialization going on in 19th century America, why would the Medieval world, with its connotations of darkness and backwardness, have resonance?

In my career prior to Goddard, I was a religious studies scholar, and I primarily worked on American Catholicism.  I was keenly interested in how religion gave immigrants and other minority groups a sense of identity and the psychological bulwark to resist forces of oppression and assimilation.  (These are admittedly still interests of mine, but I’ve come to realise that religion as boundary maintenance is a universal phenomenon, not one limited to the modern period.)  One of the things Catholicism had working for it as an immigrant faith was its emphasis on the continuity of…

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Richard III – and Leicester’s Joy

English: Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth...

English: Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, it seems as if a decision has finally been made on where the bones found at the carpark excavation will be laid to rest – if of course the DNA testing proves them to be those of Richard.  Richard ranks as one of the most famous/infamous kings in English history, depending on which version of the historical narrative you subscribe to.  The debate on where he should be laid to rest has raged just as fiercely as that on his character and achievements.

I have to declare my interest here – I am not on the anti-Ricardian spectrum, but neither do I perceive him as totally innocent.  In that respect, I think an interrment at Leicester cathedral is the closest thing we’re likely to get to a compromise.  Sure, the inevitable rush by Leicester council to cash in on this will seem a bit crass, but that is the world in which we live unfortunately.  I can’t see Richard getting the quiet and dignified burial he deserves – not when there’s so much financial and political capital to be made.

On this day in 1870

The army of Marshal McMahon bottled up in the French fortress city of Metz surrendered en mass to the beseiging Prussians.  Over 140,000 French soldiers marched into captivity, marking the effective end of the Franco-Prussian War.

The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 is often little known outside the field of military history and I sometimes feel it failed to capture the imagination of later generations (outside France and Germany) in the way that the Crimean and American Civil wars did.  However, the impact of the war in Europe was profound and long-lasting.  Not only did it mark the creation of a unified Germany, but it also (through the German annexation of Alsace and Lorraine) helped lay the groundwork for the far more destructive war that broke out in August 1914.

English: French Soldiers in the Franco-Prussia...

English: French Soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War 1870-71 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The beginning is a very delicate time.

At least, it is according to Princess Irulan in Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’.  Ordinarily I’d have no argument with that, except that in this case I feel the need to get to the point fast and if people don’t like what they’re reading – well the internet has no involuntary subliminal compulsion – yet.  Why blog?  For me it seems a great way to explore and discuss the ways in which the humanities subjects have both interacted with and influenced all areas of human culture since Oldupai Gorge.  The study and understanding of history, geography and religion involves concepts and ideas that can be seen as relevant in their particular context, together with ones that have changed and developed over time.

The way in which physical geography works has changed little if at all over the history of the Earth (no matter how long you believe that is).  Historical, religious and political concepts certainly have, a fact which has given us most of our triumphs and tragedies.  For example, historical concepts get viewed differently across the centuries and it’s not always because you’re the victor or the vanquished.  There’s a cultural element at work too.  Take the oft quoted response of  Chinese Premier Zhou-en-Lai to President Nixon’s question on the French Revolution’s impact on western civilisation.

‘It’s too early to tell’.

Now, whether apocryphal or not, it’s often been held up as an example of sage and patient oriental thinking in the face of the impatient occidental mind set.  However, recent comments by Charles Freeman (Nixon’s interpreter on the 1972 China visit), put a different spin on the comment.  Speaking in 2011 at a Washington seminar on Henry Kissenger’s book ‘On China’, Freeman indicated that the real meaning of Zhou’s reply had been lost in translation by those who’d heard what they wanted to hear.  In fact, claims Freeman, it wasn’t 1789 that Zhou was referring to but the Paris student riots of 1968.

Freeman wasn’t able to say how the misunderstanding arose;

“I cannot explain the confusion about Zhou’s comment except in terms of the extent to which it conveniently bolstered a stereotype (as usual with all stereotypes, partly perceptive) about Chinese statesmen as far-sighted individuals who think in longer terms than their Western counterparts,” Freeman said in a follow-up email. “It was what people wanted to hear and believe, so it took hold.”

One of many historical examples where the truth doesn’t read as well as the story…

It also shows that concepts such as revolution, freedom and democracy vary in their interpretation from culture to culture as well as across the centuries.  In a multi-cultural and multi-polar world we forget that at our peril.

That will probably do for now….

Sources:  Financial Times 10.06.2011