Friday, March 31, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-- Anne Boleyn, the Face that Launched a Reformation

Image result for anne boleynAnne Boleyn was ambitious and smart, could probably have run England all by herself, and she knew it (But more about that later). Is it really a surprise that she was the first of the egomaniac Henry's wives to be executed? Anne was beautiful, refined, and skilled at political maneuvering. She played a major part in ushering in the English Reformation. If anyone can say that they were 'born in the wrong time', Anne Boleyn certainly could. Had she been born in an era where women could hold office and run a country, she would have been the Hilary Clinton of her age, except sexier. She's a sexy Hilary Clinton. Keep that image in your mind as you read the rest of this. ;)

Anne was born sometime between 1501 and 1507 to Thomas and Elizabeth Boleyn. Thomas was a favored and talented diplomat, and because of that Anne received her formal education in the court of Margaret of Austria, and her not-so-formal education in the court of Queen Claude of France. She served as a maid of honor to both of those women, spending nearly eight years in Europe before returning to England.

Following her stay on the continent, Anne went through two engagements, which were later broken off. She was sent to the English court to be a maid of honor to Queen Catherine, and this is where she met Henry.

From there the story plays out just as how you remember. Boy meets girl. Boy falls madly in love with girl. Boy is already married, and embarks on a seven year journey to divorce his wife. Boy divorces his wife and marries girl. Girl had a baby. Boy becomes disillusioned. Boy comes up with reasons to behead girl. It's all terribly romantic, no?

No, it's really not romantic at all. Even if it didn't end with Anne being beheaded, there's several reasons why her and Henry's relationship was cringe worthy:
  • Henry was somewhere between nine and fifteen years older than Anne.
  • Henry had done the do with Anne's sister, Mary Carey nee Boleyn. Most historians agree that they even had a child together, Henry Carey, though King Henry never acknowledged his legitimacy.  
  • Both Anne and Henry's treatment of the respected Catherine of Aragon from the time they first became an item until Catherine's death was absolutely terrible. Catherine was slowly forced from her place of prominence, as Anne eclipsed her. Both Henry and Anne were cruel to Catherine, and Catherine was, once again, forced into poverty and cut off from her friends and family.
  • Anne used her position at court to secure political positions for her family and friends, to the point where the Boleyns were practically running the country. The Boleyns were not particularly magnanimous about this turn of events. 
Between her treatment of Catherine, quick temper, and open support for Evangelical ideas, Anne made a lot of enemies. And when Henry started to get irritated with Anne, those enemies pounced on the opportunity to discredit and replace her. Enter Jane Seymour, homewrecker. The Boleyn faction was slowly replaced by the Seymour faction, and Anne was put on trial and beheaded.

Anne's real legacy survives in not only the reign of her daughter, the famous Glorianna, but in the formation of the Anglican church. There's a big chance that Henry would have stayed a devout Catholic had he never met Anne Boleyn. Anne placed pressure on Henry to marry her, and, it is said, placed pamphlets in his hands that promoted reformation ideals. She and her family schemed and maneuvered until she was queen, and unintentionally brought in a reformation that would change England forever.  

Part One     Part Two     Part Three    Part Four  Part Five   Part Six   Part Seven   Part Eight

More on Similar Topics

A Tudor Treasury by Elizabeth Norton
Henry VIII by Kathy Elgin
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey
The Other Tudors by Philippa Jones

Friday, March 24, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII- Catherine 'The Badass' of Aragon

Fun fact, Catherine was a ginger. This is
probably a painting of her.
Catherine, or Katherine, Kathryn, Katerine, of Aragon was Henry's first wife, as well as the wife of his elder brother Arthur. She was also one helluva queen of England.

Catherine was born to the illustrious monarchs of Spain-Ferdinand and Isabella of Christopher Columbus and Moorish Genocide fame. At age three she was betrothed to Arthur, the crown prince of England, and at age sixteen she married him. Unfortunately, after only a year of marriage, he died.

An alternative title for this article was 'Catherine 'Deserved Better Than This' of Aragon', and here's why. If Catherine returned to Spain, her dowry, a substantial 200,000 ducats, which was only half paid, would have to be returned as well, and Henry VII, the King, just wasn't down for that. He wanted to keep the Spanish money, and by extension the Spanish princess, in the family, so finding a suitable second husband for Catherine was a must. Initially, Henry proposed that he marry Catherine, given that Elizabeth of York had died, but seeing as how that was a bit skeevy, he decided to bestow her on Junior, despite the fact that she was five years older than him, and had been married to his brother, which is only slightly less skeevy than marrying her father in law.

It took a while for Catherine to get married for the second time. Her father, King Ferdinand, was being difficult about paying the rest of her dowry, her mother died (meaning that half of her father's kingdom went to her debateably insane sister Juana), and she ended up virtually imprisoned in some English countryside hell hole (a recurring theme throughout poor Catherine's life.)

Eventually though, Papa Henry died, and Junior got to have his way. He married Catherine, and they had a double coronation shortly before Henry's eighteenth birthday. By all accounts, they were happy, and Henry loved his wife.

From here you might know the story. Time passed. Catherine couldn't have sons, only one daughter, Mary. Enter homewrecker Anne Boleyn. Divorce. Reformation. Banishment. Death by poison. (She actually died, most likely, from cancer. But cancer wasn't really a known quantity in renaissance England.)

Catherine in her later years.
It's a sad ending to a promising story. This is also my first piece of evidence in my arguments that Henry VIII was an asshole. Catherine wasn't just a victim and a martyr though. Like I mentioned, she was one helluva queen. The middle parts of her story, the parts we don't usually focus on, are pretty badass, leaving me with no doubt that she was quite the lady. Oliver Cromwell, a contemporary of hers, said "If not for her sex, she could have defied all the heroes of History", which is the exact sort of backhanded, misogynistic compliment that you would expect from a Renaissance dude. That being said, Cromwell wasn't wrong. Catherine accomplished quite a bit as Queen, far more than most of Henry's other wives. She did a lot for England and the English people in her own right. You could probably write a book about the 'middle years', but I don't have time, so here's a brief, in no particular order, list.

Badass things that Catherine did
  • Acted as Spanish ambassador to the English Court. She was the first female ambassador in Europe.
  • Rode to the front of her armies in the Battle of Flodden in full armor to deliver a rousing speech Tilbury style, while pregnant. (this raises a lot of questions about what sort of armor one wears while pregnant. Did she just borrow some really big armor? Did they make special pregnancy armor for her?)
  • Nominated for the title of 'Defender of the Faith' for tearing apart Luther's arguments (ironically, her husband later got the title.)
  • Was a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, and Queen. At the same time. She esteemed her faith more than power, and was motivated personally and politically by it.
    • But not like, in a expel and kill Jews and Muslims way like her mother. I feel that is important to mention.
  • Continued to insist upon the validity of her marriage, her virginity upon her marriage to Henry, and called herself queen until the day she died, despite significant pressures from Henry and other members of court. 
  • Openly defied the King and Ecclesiastical Court on several occasions.
  • Raised armies to suppress rebellion while acting as Queen Regent when Henry was out of the country.
  • Fought for and popularized education for women. She also helped fund universities.
  • Survived the physical horrors of six pregnancies.
  • Survived the emotional trauma of having five of her children predecease her.
  • Pleaded for the lives of rebels to spare their families.
  • Created welfare programs to benefit the poor. 
What a lady, right? The only problem with Catherine (as far as we can really tell), is that she couldn't have the son that Henry so desperately wanted. Also, she was stubborn, which may not be a problem depending on how you look at it.

Part One     Part Two     Part Three     Part Four    Part Five    Part Six    Part Seven   Part Eight

More on Similar Topics

True Stories From English History by Maria Elizabeth Budden
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Great Australian Emu War

In 1932, Australia decided to solve it's Emu problem for good.

Image result for cute emu
Who would want to solve this cute guy?
After WWI, Australia was left with a bunch of veterans with nowhere to go. The Australian government decided that farming would be a great profession for all these fine young men; and since the interior of Australia was pretty much just a barren wasteland, where better to go farm? So, the government sent a bunch of dudes who had no idea how to farm out to inhospitable land, and told them to grow wheat, because the Great Depression was happening, and grain prices were plummeting (the Australian tactics to combat the Great Depression still baffle me.).

So the intrepid ex-soldiers go out into the middle of Australia, contending with harsh weather, feral camels, and other Australian bullshit to grow grain. Things are going...well, not exactly okay, but they're certainly going, until the emu's attack.

The emu is a large, ugly, flightless bird that have no sense of personal space. These birds migrate inland every year after mating in coastal regions, and boy were they happy when they got back inland to find that their homes had been improved. The emus were drawn to the nice, cultivated land, and the grain that grew thereon. Emus went pretty hard on the crops, and farmers were able to hold them off for a while, but eventually Emu numbers grew too great, and the cavalry was called in.

It wasn't literally a cavalry, it was more like a sizable chunk of the army armed with machine guns. The machine guns were the important bit, that's what the farmers really wanted. The farmers had seen machine guns at work in WWI, and figured that they would be just the tool for getting rid of their feathery nemesis'. The Australian government wasn't so keen on giving a bunch of civilians machine guns though, so they sent the army with them. And so the seemingly unequal fight began.

Image result for emu attack
This is why they needed solving. Holy shit.
The soldiers were pretty confident they could take the birds. George Pearce, the Australian Minister of Defense, even described the war as 'target practice'. However, upon first contact with the birds, they discovered that the mighty emu does not take extinction lying down. The soldiers started shooting, and the birds went nuts, running away in a disorganized chaos that makes the end of the chandelier scene from Phantom of the Opera look tame.

There were two major conflicts in this war, the first and the second. I guess when you're fighting birds you don't really need to name your battles. The first conflict went well for the Australians. They managed to kill a few emus without any loss of dignity (besides the inherent loss of dignity when you wage war on avians), it was the second conflict that was noteworthy.

Minutes into the conflict, the prized machine guns jammed, and the birds scattered, then went back to eating crops. The army tried mounting their guns on trucks, but, quite frankly, they shot like Stormtroopers, and couldn't hit a single emu. Except with their car. One emu did get tangled into the wheels of a truck, and, in a moment of final defiance, the bird corpse sufficiently messed up the truck enough that it veered off the road, taking down an innocent by-standing fence. The first collateral damage in what was turning out to be a bloody conflict.

By now the Army has killed maybe 200 emus, tops, and used up a quarter of their ammunition. When they started there was a grand total of 20,000 emus, so, as you might imagine, they're not looking so good, especially not to the government back home. What's better, is that they took a camera crew along with them, so everyone could see in stunning black and white how they were thoroughly humiliated by a group of birds. Unsurprisingly, the Australian government recalled the army, and admitted defeat. Emus: 1, Australia: 0.

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Atlas Obscura
Scientific America
Emu War

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Capitol of Australia

Quick, without referencing a map or looking it up, tell me what the capitol of Australia is. Is it Sydney? Melbourne? Perth?

Image result for canberra
Canberra. Not too bad, eh?
Nope, it's Canberra. Which is somewhat surprising given that those cities are much larger and popular cities. Additionally, in 1820, when Canberra was picked for the Australian capitol, the area was already occupied by sheep farmer John Moore, who was basically squatting on the ancestral lands of the Ngunnawal people. Of course, the latter didn't matter, because, as anyone who has every studied history knows, white people just don't give a shit about native people and their rights. It's a terrible tradition that continues all around the world today.

Why was Canberra chosen then? Was it for it's spectacular views and room to grow? In a way, yes, but one of the main motivators in the selection of Canberra was that Canberra was equally far from both Melbourne and Sydney--the two largest Australian cities who just couldn't get along.

Sydney and Melbourne had been contending for the rights to be the young nation's capitol for quite some time. These cities were 443 miles (878 kilometers) apart, and both were booming metropolises, or at least as booming as it got in 1800s Australia. There was quite a distance between the two, which fostered a healthy rivalry, but not a lot of interaction. The two cities were in heavy competition, and it was giving the Australian government a headache.

Image result for canberra
Eventually, like a mother with two squabbling children, the government told both cities that neither of them could have the capitol, and sent them off to their rooms to sulk. However, to appease Sydney and Melbourne they added another criteria for the capitol-it had to be equidistant from the two cities.

So, instead of using a city with already existing infrastructure and population, the Australian government built an entirely new city. They went to the massive expense and inconvenience, all because Sydney and Melbourne couldn't get along.

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Local Histories
Canberra National Website
Australia, A Very Short Introduction by Kenneth Morgan

Book Review-Australia, A Very Short Introduction

So I've written a bit about Australia recently, and in the course of that realized that I know absolutely zero things about Australia. After reading this book I can say with some confidence that I now know at least three things about Australia.

Image result for australia a very short introductionAustralia, A Very Short Introduction by Kenneth Morgan, is a very small book, but you'll learn a lot from it. It provides a very good overview of the history, geography, economy, military (or more accurately, lack thereof), and foreign relations of Australia. Reading this is a bit like reading an expanded version of the CIA World Factbook. You get a little bit of information on everything about the country.

This book is, I think, a good place for starting your study of Australia. You get a little bit of information about everything, so not only will you be able to put anything else you learn in context, but you're able to find what you're interested in, and, using the sources and recommended further reading in the back, jump off from there.

The biggest downside to this book is that it's extremely difficult to get through. It's only 128 pages (Not including references, further reading, index, &c), but it took me a week to read, because it was incredibly dull. It's not easy to engage with intellectually, and I think a big part of this is because it goes from topic to topic so quickly. Every time I found something that interested me the information on it lasted for about a paragraph, then switched to something else. And I recognize that, to an extent, this is the point of the book, but I feel the author could have expanded just a little. Give me two paragraphs, or a few extra sentences. I wouldn't mind the extra length if the book was more interesting.

Overall though, I think it's a very useful book, especially for giving further context for anything else you read about Australia. I have a better idea now of what I want to study (and write about, stay tuned) in depth, and if anyone ever brings up Australia immigration policy at a family dinner, I'm set.* So, read this book to give yourself an idea of the continent, but don't expect to learn everything there is to know.

*This happens more often than you might think, meaning it happened once. It is important to note that my family and I are not Australian.

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Australia Has More Camels Than You

Australia is known for having an impressive array of deadly and improbable beasts, but my favorite (other than the cappaberra, who can resist those cute guys?) isn't a native to Australia, but an immigrant from the Middle East, the camel.

Related image
Real life Australian road sign.
Back at the time of first colonization Australia was no less large and terrifying then it is today, the difference being that Australians of yore didn't know exactly how much they had to be afraid of. There was this enormous interior part of the country that was inhospitable, and traveling there often resulted in death. However, camels are oft cited as the 'ships of the desert', and since the middle of Australia certainly isn't a temperate zone, in 1822 it was suggested that these marvelous beasts be brought to the continent.

It wasn't until about 1840 that this suggestion was acted upon, and Harry, the first camel in Australia, arrived from the Canary Islands. Harry was a fine, and weird looking fellow that charmed those he met, until he killed his handler. Then people weren't so keen on Harry.

With the first Australian camel being a bit of a disaster, Australians decided that in addition to the camels, they also needed to import people who knew how to handle them, so along with the next batch of camels came Arab Cameleers.

This is when camels started to really take off. Arab Cameleers made forays into the Outback to set up infrastructure, and trade with the Aboriginal people. They set up camel trains to cart product from one end of the continent to another, setting up lucrative businesses for themselves and the Aboriginal people they paid as guards and guides. For a while, a camel was the only way into the Australian Outback.

Image result for australian camel
Camel mob
But then cars, planes, and trains came on the scene and ruined everything. Because who wants to ride an uncomfortable, pungent camel for three weeks when you can take a comfortable train, and arrive at your destination within a week?

Consequentially, the camel business took a downward turn. Many Cameleers simply let their camels go, and settled down in a different trade. This lead to a large unsupervised camel population in the center of Australia. This wouldn't be a problem, except that camels are hell for the Australian environment. Camels will eat pretty much any plant, and go to any lengths to get water. They destroy fences, farm buildings, air conditioners in their search for water. They can drink up an entire water hole, leaving Aboriginal people with no water. One or two might be manageable, but there was a million of these beasts, and it was having a serious negative impact on both the environment and the inhabitants of the Australian Outback.

Image result for derpy camel
Behold the terrifying beast
The solution? Kill them. A culling initiative was put into action in 2013, cutting the population back to 600 thousand. This, unsurprisingly, outraged animal rights activists worldwide, and while it has certainly cut down on Australia's camel population, marauding bands of camels still roam the countryside robbing simple farmers of their water.

Given the camel population, is it surprising that Australia has a camel industry? The Aussies have made the best of their camel problems. Camels are exported to other countries, and used for food. Camel hair is used in Aboriginal art, and Australia even has a camel dairy. Despite their best efforts, however, Australia has far too many camels, and the population is projected to double every 8 to 10 years.

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Outback Travel Secrets
No Easy Solutions
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A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-That Prick Henry

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It updates every Thursday.

We can't really talk about Henry VIII's wives without talking about the man himself. It's unfortunate, but true. Henry VIII is one of my least favorite English monarchs, one of my least favorites figures in history really. If I had a time machine I would definitely use it to go back in time and fight him, maybe lecture him about basic human rights and how to be a good person -- before turning the time machine over to the people prepared to kill Hitler and Stalin of course.

That being said, I'm going to put aside my bias, and attempt to give you a good idea of what sort of man and king Henry was, because unless you understand Henry and the world he ruled, it's a bit difficult to sympathize with the women who married him.

Henry wasn't supposed to become king. Well, his parents hoped he wouldn't have to be king anyways. Not because Henry was in any way unworthy, but because he was the younger son. His older brother, Arthur, was supposed to be king, he was trained to be one, and his parents married him off to a Spanish princess to prove it. But unfortunately, as with so many young men and women of that era, Arthur was sickly and died. Which kinda sucked for Arthur, but was the making of Henry. With Arthur's death Henry became crown prince, and at age 17 his father, Henry VII died, and Junior became Henry VIII, King of England (and France?)

Henry had married Catherine of Aragon, his older brother's wife (pay attention to that bit, it's important), after his brother's death, so he had a pretty good start to the kingship business. His father had left the treasury full, he was already married, and England had enjoyed several years of peace, recuperating from the tumultuous War of Roses. And while Henry merrily waged war with France like every other English monarch before him, he is not known for his conquests, but what he did artistically and intellectually for England-- and, of course, having six wives.

Henry ushered in the English Renaissance. He entertained (and sometimes executed) Humanist thinkers at his court, such as Sir Thomas Moore, he patronized artists and musicians (Hans Hoblein anyone?), and generally turned the dull English backwater into a dazzling court.

Henry's biggest contribution, by far, is his zealous embracing of the Reformation, and his 'my way or the highway' methods of convincing all of England to deny Catholicism.

Don't think the English Reformation was really about religion though. It may have been for some, but for Henry the break with Rome had distinct financial, political, and personal advantages. It was a bit like dumping a bad boyfriend. By closing (and basically sacking, let's be real here) monasteries and other church orders Henry gained land, houses, and money. By denying the Pope's authority and proclaiming himself head of the English Church, Henry gained absolute control over the English people, and discarded the biggest check to his power. By denying the power of Rome, Henry could divorce his first wife, Catherine, and marry the captivating Anne Boleyn. And hopefully have a son. That was the real goal there.

The English Reformation, brutal though it was, was one of the great moments in history. I think it would be safe to say that had England remained a Catholic country, history would be completely different. The Elizabethan age would never have happened. England may have been taken over by the Spanish Armada. America may not have been settled by English explorers or religious refugees. The Bible may not have been widely printed in English. So much might be different. It's amazing really, how much the English Reformation has impacted modern life.

As a person, Henry was...difficult to get along with. He'd been raised expecting to get his own way, and was not used to hearing no. He had an over-exaggerated sense of his own grandeur, and he was mercurial to a fault. He was volatile, and quick to anger. Some historians suggest that this may have been caused by brain damage received during an accident in his youth. Of course, it could also be the power of an absolute monarch going to his head. Either way, displeasing him was a Bad Idea. Henry executed people who angered him (aren't you glad he isn't your boss?). He found it difficult to conceive sons, and he discarded the women who couldn't provide him with one, by whatever means necessary. He was a dangerous man to be married to, and you had to be clever to keep your head.

What do you think of Henry?

Part One   Part Two     Part Three    Part Four   Part Five   Part Six    Part Seven   Part Eight

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Henry VIII: The Charismatic King who Reforged a Nation by Kathy Elgin

Also this article, which has almost no biographical information on Henry, but is very interesting.

Book Review-Princesses Behaving Badly

It looks very nice on my bookshelf, no?
So today's book rec is a book that did not disappoint,  Princesses Behaving Badly, by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie.

I found this on one of the discount tables at Barnes and Noble, and I was a little leery at first, because I've bought books like this from Barnes and Nobel before, and they hadn't been that good. But I'm always down for cheap popular history books, and unconventional ladies are right up my alley, so it ended up coming home with me anyways. And, honestly, while I've made a lot of bad decisions in Barnes and Nobel, this was not one of them.

If you like true stories about badass ladies who ruled nations, stories about ladies who defied convention to do what they wanted, or basically if you like any Uppity Women book, you'll like this book. These ladies aren't your mother's well behaved Disney princesses. Honestly, the table of contents describes it best. The book is divided into seven sections- warriors, usurpers, schemers, survivors, partiers, floozies, and madwomen.

Not the most reputable of ladies.
"And isn't that why I bought the book in the first place,
to learn something new?"

And one of the best things is, you probably haven't heard of most of these ladies. At least I hadn't. When I bought it I was worried that it was going to be mainly about royal ladies like Marie Antoinette, Mary I (Bloody Mary), Elisabeth Bathory, Boudicca, all the really famous ladies. And while Marie, Elizabeth, and Boudicca all had a couple of paragraphs, they didn't have their own chapters. Instead, McRobbie devoted space to lessor known ladies like Lakshmibai, Wu Zetian, and Justa Grata Honoria. I discovered a whole host of new ladies to look up to and tell my future daughters about. And isn't that why I bought the book in the first place, to learn something new?

What I loved about this book is how unbiased it was. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie managed to talk about Countess Elisabeth Bathory without coming off as judgmental, and that is quite a feat. Ms. McRobbie gives the facts, and the rumors, about each lady, but only espouses the facts. Feminists everywhere will like this book because of that. McRobbie doesn't place blame or shame the women she writes about, something truly unique in historical discourse on women.

The only thing that bothered me was the introduction. I don't normally read introductions, because they're usually trash, but I read this one, and the author's attitude towards 'Princess Culture' really grated on me. She came off as really judgmental and superior, and I nearly closed the book right there. Thankfully, McRobbie left her bias in the introduction, where it belongs.

Of course, the other thing that bothered me was that it was too short. It's 285 pages, not including the bibliography, which is respectable for a popular history book. But it's one of those books that could have been 500+ pages, and I wouldn't complain, it's that good. It's written in a way that it's easy to just sit down and casually read, and you don't have to be a rocket scientist (or a historian-- to be more topical) to understand it. Overall, it's one of the better books I've read, and I highly advise picking it up next time you're in a bookstore.

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Documentary Review- The Truth Behind: Secrets of the Druids

So I was cleaning my apartment today, and decided I'd try to knock off another one of the documentaries in my Netflix queue at the same time. I was actually kinda looking forward to this one. I'm a huge anglophile, and I love most things having to do with Celtic culture, religion, music, etc. The Druids are one of the huge mysteries of history, and I was hoping to gain a little more illumination on them, given that I don't know very much. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

This documentary had an enormous bias. A bias the size of a small Canadian territory. The bias could probably be seen from space. A more apt title for this movie would be 'The Druids Definitely Performed Human Sacrifice and Cannibalism, And We've Cherry-Picked the Facts to Prove It!'

It's a well known theory that the Druid's practiced human sacrifice. It's been taught in books and schools for ages. The thing is, this theory needs to be taken with a water softner pellet size grain of salt. Why? Who do you think started that theory?

The Romans.

You know, those dicks that were trying to conquer the Celtic homeland?

The Romans, who had nothing to lose and everything to gain from making the Celts out to be hedonistic, blood thirsty savages.

Most of the cited authorities in the documentary were Roman authors. No Medieval scholars, no modern authorities in the 'Druids did not sacrifice humans, that's dumb' camp. The sources were exclusively Roman men who 'witnessed' the Celt's atrocities (it is worth mentioning that a large part of Celtic warfare relied on intimidating their opponents. This persists even into the modern day with the use of bagpipes in Scottish regiments) and archaeologists who gave no other explanation than the remains found were victims of human sacrifice.

There were some contradictory points in the documentary that I think bear mention. At one point they talked about how the Druids sacrificed war captives to appease their gods. At another point they talked about how the Druids would sacrifice precious and personal objects on their sacred island to their gods, and how the personal nature of the sacrifice made it worth more. It seems a bit contradictory to me that they would sacrifice strangers - men beaten in war, held in contempt - as opposed to people they held dear. It seems that the sacrifice would be worth more if family members or high ranking members of their society were sacrificed.

Look at our fine Celtic Warrior, with his lovely blue tattoos
Later in the film they did talk about how a young aristocrat had been sacrificed just as the Romans were about to overrun Anglesea. Now, here is where I contradict myself, because that just doesn't make very much sense. It makes sense from a religious standpoint, yes, but from a practical standpoint no. Because why would you sacrifice one of your warriors, when the Romans are on your doorstep? Wouldn't it make more sense to sacrifice his wife? Or one of the chief Druids? Someone who wasn't as integral to your safety? To me it seems like a harebrained idea, and the Druids were known for being wise. These were men who went through years of education, who memorized their history, had a working knowledge of medicine, knew about the local flora and fauna, and were well versed in their religion. You would think that the memorization of their history alone would have tipped them off to the fact that sacrificing their warriors was just a bad idea.

The cannibalism part of the documentary is thrown in as an afterthought almost. I feel like it's there to add shock element. The reasoning and facts behind it are flimsy at best.

Now, I'm a little biased too. That much is true, and I acknowledge that. We have concrete evidence of human sacrifice being performed in other cultures. I mean, if you think about it, the Celts believed that they came from the Milesian peoples, who left Egypt at about the same time as the Children of Israel (See Story of the Irish Race by Seamus MacManus). Egypt being a fairly important center of trade in the ancient world, the Milesians could have come into contact with any number of cultures who practiced human sacrifice. Heavens, the Ancient Egyptians practiced retainer sacrifice, which, while not exactly the same as sacrificing people to appease bloodthirsty gods, is kinda similar.

So, apparently Celts kept the skulls of the people they killed
and attached them to their homes and temples, both as a
warning and to appease their gods. 
What I'm saying is that the Celts could have practiced human sacrifice. Maybe. But I highly doubt it was in the manner that the Roman writers described. As I mentioned, the Romans had every reason to misrepresent the Celts.

There were good things about the film. It talked about multiple archaeological sites that I didn't know about before, and am excited to look up. When it talked about the archaeology it talked about the archaeology. The interpretation was a bit skeevy, but the explanation was good. It was a visually pretty movie. The reenacting scenes were entertaining. It was a short film, only 45 minutes. If I was a schoolteacher who liked to teach suspect history, this would be a good documentary to show in class. (although there is one bit where they reenact a sacrifice talking place, and that's a little gruesome.)

Overall, it was a disappointing movie. Instead of an actual, unbiased, exploration of the facts, they went for the shock factor, and, honestly, it made for pretty poor watching.

Should you want to watch it though, it can be found on Netflix, at least at present.

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Common Era vs. Annu Domini vs. Vulgar Era

If you think CE (Common Era) and BCE (Before Common Era) is just liberal revisionist history, I have some bad news for you. The first recorded instance of these numbering systems happened in 1708, and B/CE is just one of many epithets that humanity has used to wrap its collective head around the passage of time.

Pembroke Welsh Corgi Lying on the Sand Under White Cloud Blue Sky
I looked for a relevant picture for this post, I really did.
CE was used frequently in the 1800s, but not necessarily in the 'common era of Christ' sense. CE was used to internally date the years of a specific nation or epoch, such as the Roman Empire. And while CE has certainly been applied to Christianity, it isn't exclusive to that religion. CE is used today as an inclusive system of dating, because, now don't freak out, while Christianity has had an enormous impact on the world, it didn't quite get everywhere at the same time. If we were to measure time by the arrival of Christianity, the Roman world would be way ahead of everywhere, and barbaric outliers like Australia would still be in the 1100s.

Now, I was personally excited by the term 'Vulgar Era', thinking it was some sort of shade throwing, back handed, snarky system. Unfortunately, Common Era poorly translated into Latin means 'Era Vulgaris', which ends up as Vulgar Era (VE), because vulgar doesn't always mean bad. So the term 'Vulgar Era' wasn't intentionally meant as an insult. HOWEVER, in the 1800s Jews started using VE to denote years in the western calendar. And after all Christians have put the Jews through, I think that's pretty fair.

Now, as you might imagine, there's a bit of controversy surrounding this, because, as always, whenever historians try to draw attention away from the majority group (Christians), the majority freaks out, because what do you mean the world isn't all about them?

Free stock photo of animal, dog, pet, park
There's just no way of physically demonstrating this concept?
And all the 'How to Blog' sites say I should use pictures.
So have some corgis.
It's understandable though, why some people prefer to use B/CE. It makes history more accessible and inclusive to non-Christians. It's useful in scientific texts, which don't always acknowledge religion. The biggest non-religious reason for opposition to this system is that since BCE and CE are only one letter off, it could be confusing. Which is fair.

Personally, I grew up using BC/AD, and I didn't really come into contact with the concept of Common Era dating until high school, and I tend to use BC/AD out of habit (a habit I'm trying to break). However, I think the use of B/CE is a good step forward to making history more objective, and less Christian oriented. I think that by removing religion from our historical dating system we can more objectively look at the less savory parts of Christian history, which, for the sake of truth and knowledge, is something that is badly needed.

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Common Era

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Blood Countess

I write this sitting with a charcoal scrub on my face. I look a little deranged I'm sure. My hair is clipped up, and I've got this shiny, grainy, black stuff on my face. For all I know, this stuff could be giving me cancer. Or face charcoal poisoning. I don't know. There's a reason I'm not That Science Nerd. Even if charcoal sugar scrubs are proven to cause face tuberculosis, I probably wouldn't stop using it. Why? Because it works. My face is incredibly clean afterwards, and, hey, anything to be beautiful right?

This was likely painted long after her death, but
you can't deny, Elizabeth was a lovely woman.
Shame about the murder thing really.
If this sounds a tad bit insane, just know that I'm not the only one. If you're a lady, you're probably nodding along, and aren't judging, because you know how it is. If you're a dude, well, let me tell you, I'm fairly tame in the beauty routine department. Some women take it further, and that's perfectly fine. I 100% support doing most anything it takes to make them feel beautiful. That being said, when you start bathing in the blood of virgins to maintain your youthful skin, you've probably taken it a bit far.

I know that sounds just a tad over dramatic, but, I shit you not, it is actual, literal, disputed, historical fact that Countess Elizabeth Bathory bathed in the blood of virgins. It's claimed that she killed between 30 and 650 young females, mostly peasants, between 1585 and 1610. Guinness Book of World Records lists her as the most prolific female serial killer-- not exactly something you want to be known for.

Elizabeth is the sort of lady that would be considered a feminist icon had she not killed hundreds of people. She kept her own last name, was extremely educated, defended her husband's estates against the invading Ottomans, and intervened on behalf of women raped by the marauding Turks. She was, by all accounts, Quite the Lady, and that was even before she became a serial killer.

I'd kill for that necklace. Not like, literally though.
So, the nitty-gritty of things. Elizabeth would lure young peasant girls to her home, Csejte Castle, with promises of decent jobs as servants. Those girls would never return. Given that they were peasant girls, no one with power to do anything about it cared, until Elizabeth started picking off the daughters of local gentry, then people started to mind.

Seeing as how Elizabeth was a countess, punishing her was a tricky affair. Everyone decided that executing a member of the nobility was just a bad idea, so they placed her under permenant house arrest. They bricked her into her rooms, with only slots for ventilation and food to slide through. She died in those rooms.

Her accomplices were not so lucky. Hundreds of witnesses came forward, testifying to the gruesome tortures and murders committed by Elizabeth and her friends. Bodies were dug up, servants questioned (all but one of her servants testified against her), and eventually her accomplices were condemned to death.

The stories against Elizabeth are wild. There are claims that she would strip girls naked, then make them stand in the cold until they died of hypothermia. There are stories of her torturing girls, biting their faces off, and, of course, drinking and bathing in their blood. Elizabeth has become a part of the local Hungarian folklore, and she's closely associated with Vlad the Impaler, aka the inspiration for Dracula. Given that, there's just a small, wee chance that some of the stories may have been exaggerated. After all, bathing in blood sounds very poetic, but would probably be very messy in practice. Claims of how many people she killed varies wildly, from 30 to 650. Unfortunately, given the fact that she died over 400 years ago, we can't know for sure.

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A Dark History: The Kings and Queens of Europe by Brenda Ralph Lewis
Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Guinness Book of World Records

Documentary Review- Secrets of Richard III Revealed

Image result for secrets of richard iiiI know you're not supposed to watch television (or Netflix) while you eat, but I do it anyways. To avoid spending my day binge watching whatever, I usually watch documentaries, because there's only so much documentary-ing you can do before your brain starts to hurt.

Today's lunch time film was Secrets of Richard III Revealed. And, unlike last time's documentary, it didn't suck.

Image result for richard iii
Richard III
If you've been paying attention at all the past few years, you've heard of the incredible discovery of the remains of King Richard III in a Leicester car park. This documentary gives a 46 minute summary of the process of discovering and verifying that find. It featured the scientists involved in the discovery, as well as Philippa Langely, a representative of the Richard III Society, and Simon Farnaby, a random actor, and I'm still confused as to why he was in the documentary as well.

I must admit, until I watched this documentary I was a bit skeptical about the validity of this find. After all, how and what do you match DNA to from a man who's been dead for hundreds of years? 46 minutes later, my questions were answered. The DNA was matched to a living relative, and the skeleton went through several other means of verification as well. I don't want to spoil it for you, so I'll leave it at that. :)

The only flaw in this otherwise flawless documentary was the abelist attitudes displayed by Ms. Langely. Her devastation at proof of Richard being a 'hunchback' was both ridiculous, and a little offensive. You would honestly think that she'd be more worried about if the man ordered the murder of his nephews rather than his appearance. This is a prime example of one of my many issues with the Richard the Third Society.

Image result for richard iii deformity
Richard's skeleton
Overall, it was a very good documentary, and it explained the science behind the verification process very well, without being too dense. So if you're looking for a documentary that combines science and history, this might be the one for you.

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Book Review-Mistress of Rome

Book Review is a regular featuring talking about books dealing with history, culture, or geography both fictional and non.

Image result for mistress of romeSo, I've had this book literally forever. I bought it at a library sale back when I was in middle school or junior high, I just hadn't read it until now. Having read it, I can't imagine why I put it off for so long! This book more than exceeded my expectations. It's probably the best historical fiction novel I've read since Cleopatra's Daughter.

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn documents the lives of two slaves, Thea and Arius living in Rome (both the city and the empire) from about 81-96 CE. It begins and ends with the reign of Emperor Domitian, who features prominently in the book. Spoiler alert: he's a bit of a dick. I know that must come as a shock, given the fact that Roman Emperors were such fluffy, precious cinnamon rolls, but Domitian is the literal worst.

Thea is the slave to the wealthy, beautiful, and extremely bitchy Lepida, and Arius is one of the many slaves trained to fight to the death for sport. Fate brings them together, and for a while they're happy. But the machinations of a certain Patrician cow tears them apart. Years pass, and they've both come to the notice of Emperor Domitian, and they find that Caeser the man is nothing like the Lord and God he pretends to be to the Roman people.

Image result for emperor domitian
Domitian was kinda an ugly
dude, no?
This book expertly weaves together both love story and history, without one overbalancing the other. Even if you can't stand romance (or history, but if that's the case, why are you here?), I'd still recommend this book, because the romance isn't cloying. If anything, it's a completely natural part of the book, and the book would definitely suffer without it. What's more, is that the romance is completely natural. There's nothing contrived or forced like so many romance stories.

As for historical accuracy, this book comes pretty close. The author makes up most of quite a few characters, but they have backstories that tie into historical events, and the events surrounding Domitian are very accurate, or as accurate as you can be when writing about ancient history.

Mistress of Rome is a good read. It has an engaging story with interesting and complex characters. It's the sort of book that will have you in almost painful suspense until the last page (I silently screamed out of anxiety for these folks a few times). It's also the first of a series that I look forward to finishing.

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