Friday, March 31, 2017

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

Anne 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. ;)

Image result for anne boleynAnne 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

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

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.

Fun fact, Catherine was a ginger. This is
probably a painting of her.
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

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.


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.

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

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.

Outback Travel Secrets
No Easy Solutions
Pest Smart

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-That Prick Henry

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

War of the Stray Dog

As we've already established with The War of the Oaken Bucket, humanity is willing to go to war over the smallest things if tensions are already running high. It's hilarious on the surface, but it makes sense the more you think about it. Two parties are already angry and frustrated with one another, and eventually the last insult, no matter how dumb, is just too much. Sometimes these insults are actually insulting, like mass genocide of minority groups or direct attacks on foreign soil. But sometimes wars are fought over buckets and dogs. Like the 'Incident at Petrich' or the War of the Stray Dog.

Image result for petrich
Modern Petrich
So it's post WWI, post Balkan War, and Bulgaria and Greece are both finally free of the Ottoman empire. Problem is, its been so long since either of those places were independent countries, everyone is a bit fuzzy on exactly where the border is. Specifically where Thrace and Macedonia fit into the mix. Both Bulgaria and Greece feel they have a claim to Thrace, and Bulgaria is supporting the Macedonian separatist movement, which Greece isn't too keen on. To add to the border tensions, citizens on both sides keep making informal and unauthorized raids into the rival country.

Everyone's a little pissed off and itching for a reason to fight when a Greek border guard's dog gets away from him. Like any responsible pet owner, the guard goes after the dog, and ends up accidentally stepping into Bulgarian territory. A trigger happy Bulgarian, obviously expecting an imminent invasion of Greeks chasing dogs, shoots the man.

As you might imagine, the Greeks weren't too happy about this. The Greeks and the Bulgarians exchange fire for a bit, until a Greek officer steps forward under a white flag to negotiate a peace. The Bulgarians were either colorblind or just didn't care, because they shot the officer as well. *

This sparked outrage in Greece, largely because of Greece's new political leadership. Theodoros Pangolos had just been installed as dictator, and he wanted to establish a reputation for being a hardass, Nothing says 'fear me' quite like winning a war against your neighbor, so Pangolos set out to make a mountain out of that molehill. He instructed the press to leave the dog out of the story, and instead claimed that the Bulgarians had attacked a Greek military outpost for funsies with no good reason. Outraged, Pangolos demanded that the Bulgarian government pay 600,000 drachmas, prosecute the soldiers involved, and make a formal apology within 48 hours. The Bulgarians, predictably, refused.

Image result for league of nations
First session of the League of Nations
The Greeks decided that if the Bulgarians weren't going to pay up, then they were going to invade. They appealed to Serbia for help, then started merrily shelling the city of Petrich, and capturing outlying villages.

The Bulgarians, for the most part, evacuated the area. The government then went to the League of Nations, the beta version of the UN, and asked for help. The League of Nations was more than happy to assist. The League told the Greeks to knock it off, and get out of Bulgaria. Additionally, Greece needed pay the Bulgarians recompense of 45,000 pounds. To encourage the grumbling Greeks, they sent out military forces from France, Italy, and Britain to make sure that everything went smoothly. Under the eyes of their more powerful neighbors, the Greeks couldn't help but comply.

When it came down to it, the war lasted ten days (October 19, 1925- October 29, 1925), and had a death toll of less than 100. The Bulgarians emerged the victors, and League of Nations got a chance to prove that they were necessary and relevant. The dog was never heard from again.

*The Bulgarians didn't care about the white flag. There's no such thing as white/anything colorblindness.

League of Nations
Military History Now
War History Online

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Oops, I Started A Civil War.

So I started watching the documentary series Roman Empire: Reign of Blood on Netflix, and in the very first episode we come across a character that very much intrigued me. Her name was Annia Galeria Faustina, also known as Faustina the younger. She was, by all accounts, a loving wife and devoted mother. She also started a civil war. But, in her defense, it was an accident.

Faustina Minor Louvre Ma1144.jpg
Faustina, lookin' fly.
See, the Roman Empire was a pretty dangerous place to be in any sort of political power, and Faustina was the wife of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Marcus spent most of his time fighting in Germany, leaving Faustina back at home. It wasn't at all unusual for Emperors and their families to be brutally killed in a power grab, so is it any surprise that when reports of Marcus' death reached Rome, Faustina took action?

Faustina was the daughter of an emperor, and she had known power all her life. Her son, Commodus, was set to be the next emperor, but he was only thirteen, and much too young to rule. She needed to keep the throne in the family, so she made a risky move; she visited a family friend.

Enter Avidius Cassius.  The year is 175 CE, and Avidius is an experienced political leader, having served as Prefect of Egypt under Hadrian. He was considered by Marcus to be the second most powerful man in the empire, and he was perfect for Faustina's purposes. She encouraged him to proclaim himself emperor, and start his own bid for the throne. Avidius was moderately successful too, taking Egypt, where the Romans got their grain.

Things seem like they're going well for Faustina. Her husband, whom she was reportedly very close to, may be dead, but it seems like she and her children aren't about to be brutally murdered by their political rivals, so all in all, everything's pretty okay. Then they receive news from the north. Marcus Aurelius dead? Bitch, you thought.

And since it seems that the real emperor is actually alive, Avidius was promptly murdered by a centurion, after being 'emperor' for only three months.

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And here's our girl on a coin
This leaves Faustina in the extremely perilous position of having accidentally started a civil war. Albeit, it was fairly minor as far as civil wars went, nothing like the Caesar-Pompey-Crassus debacle of the early '40s (BCE), but it still couldn't have been easy to explain to her husband. so is it really unsurprising that she died in the winter of that year?

A lot of historians like to paint Faustina as a femme fatale. There are numerous accounts of her taking many lovers, and ordering executions. But while that may have been the case, there are also many contemporary accounts of her closeness with Marcus, and their loving relationship. They did have thirteen children.

And like so many strong historical females, you can't take any account of Faustina without a grain of salt. Misogyny is still alive today, so it follows that it was around in Faustina's time as well. She was most likely vilified after her death. She was well loved by the Roman soldiers, who referred to her as 'Mother of the Camp', and Marcus deified her after her death, not exactly something you'd for someone who was unfaithful to you.


World War I Ended in 1919, but Andorra Fought On

If you define the end of a war as being when all parties have signed the peace treaty, then World War I didn't end until 1958 when the small European state of Andorra finally made their peace with Imperial Germany.

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There it is!
'Where is Andorra?' you ask. Well, Andorra is a teeny-tiny, blink and you'll miss it, doesn't even have its own airport, country in Europe nestled between France and Spain. The entire country is less than 500 square kilometers, and home to only 85,000 people. For reference, that's significantly less than the least populous US state, which is Wyoming with 585,501 people.

Now that we have that established, let's talk about WWI. So, early 1900s, everyone's declaring war on somebody. Germany has declared war on France, France has declared war on Germany, Austria has declared war on Russia, &c, &c. WWI was a mess. So, not wanting to feel left out, the tiny mountainous nation of Andorra decides that they want to hang out with the cool kids too, and declare war on Imperial Germany.

Unfortunately, no one really noticed, because Andorra didn't actually send any soldiers to fight the Germans. The declaration of war was more of symbolic moral stand than anything. Of course, that might also have been because Andorra did not, and still doesn't, have a standing army. 

Despite the lack of Andorran forces, Imperial Germany lost the war. But, when it came time for everyone to settle down and sign the Treaty of Versailles, Andorra wasn't there, because someone forgot to invite them. Which, honestly, rude.

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Modern Andorra
So Andorra continued in a state of belligerence against Germany. They didn't fight in WWII, maybe because they were still busy 'fighting' World War One, or perhaps because they realized they didn't have a standing army, so what was the point of alienating anyone? This last theory seems more plausible, as Andorra served as an important smuggling route through France and Spain during the war.
WWII ends, and everyone goes home, Russia's being a bit of a dick, but other than that Europe is pretty peaceful. Except for Andorra, who is still, technically, at war with Imperial Germany, a country which no longer exists. Where they didn't actually have an army, there wasn't any bloodshed going on, so I imagine this 'war' mostly consisted of the older generations grumpily complaining about the Germans, while everyone else forgot they were at war. 

Finally, in 1958 Andorra finally made its peace with Germany, and WWI was officially over for everyone.


The War of the Oaken Bucket

It's 1325, and Italy is having some difficulties getting along.

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Highlighted portions are the states
going to war for no good reason.
It's unsurprising really, I mean, the enormous Roman Empire broke apart, and the world has been squabbling over the crumbs ever since. Italy, in particular, was a small peninsula of turmoil. The upstart Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa had invaded just a bit earlier, the different states couldn't get along, and then there were those assholes in the Papal States claiming to have supreme power over the entire world, because God or something. Italy was a mess, and tensions were high.

After Barbarossa's invasion Italy was divided into two major factions, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. I know those names sound made up, but they're not. The Guelphs were the merchant class, city slickers, who supported the pope, and the Ghibellines were the simple country folk who thought the Holy Roman Empire was pretty nifty.* Needless to say, they hated each other.

So, two factions, both alike in dignity, on the fair Bologna-Modena border where we set our scene, are going at it pretty hard. It's Guelphs vs. Ghibellines, with Bologna for the Guelphs and Modena for the Ghibellines, and they've been skirmishing over this border for a long time, to the point where fighting is just a part of the landscape. So, one day, during a routine foray into Bologna, a few Modenese soldiers stole a loot filled bucket from a well, and hauled ass back to Modena.

Now, you would think that the Bolognese would have said something along the lines of, "Oh well, it's a bucket. Yeah, there was stuff in it, but we've got lots of other stuff, and it's not like we can't find another bucket." But no, the exchange went something more like this:

Bologna: Hey, bro, I know we don't get along, but can we have our bucket back?        
Modena: We stole that bucket fair and square. This is how this works, stupid.          
Bologna: Please?        
Modena: No?      
Bologna: Fine. Well then. You won't give us back our bucket? LET'S HAVE A WAR.

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the Bucket of contention
And so the War of the Bucket began.

Luckily, this particular war didn't drag on for too long. There was only one battle, the Battle of Zappolino, and it was pretty decisive.

So Bologna, with the help of Pope John XXII, raised an army of 32,000 men. The Modenese met them with a force of 7,000 men--and the Modenese won.

The Modenese victory has a lot to do with the fact that 30,000 of the Bolognese soldiers were poorly armed, and even more poorly trained. Additionally, the Modenese had the higher ground. The Modenese were coming down the slopes of hills to their Bolognese enemies who were hanging out on the plain below. It was a thorough rout, and the Modenese chased the Bolognese back to their city.

The Modenese didn't bother sacking the main city, they settled for destroying some castles, diverting the river away from Bologna, and kidnapping some 26 nobles. Oh, and most delicious, the Modenese returned to their city with another bucket stolen from the Bolognese.

That bucket, the second one, is still on display in Modena today. You can find a replica outside on the city's main well, and the original inside the museum. Hundreds of years later, and the Modenese aren't letting go of that one.

*I feel it is worth noting, that a big part of the faction alignments had to do with who was most likely to invade your state. If the pope was knocking at your door, the Holy Roman Emperor seemed like a pretty swell fellow.

War History Online
Battle of Zappolino
Military History Now
War of the Bucket

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sweden, the Gregorian Calendar, and the Double Leap Year of 1712

Not a lot happened in 1582. As far as world events go, it was pretty quiet. 1582 was, however the year of  the reform of the Julian calendar, which was a pretty big deal.

Pope Gregory XIII decided that some major changes were needed in the Catholic church. Germanic countries were leaving the faith left and right, and this upstart priest kept nailing things to church doors. Gregory implemented many of the changes decided upon in the Council of Trent, but he also decided to reform the calendar, because the Julian calendar was downright inaccurate.

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Pope Gregory XIII
Why was the Julian calendar inaccurate, you ask. Well, according to the Julian calendar every year has 365.25 days. In actuality, a day is eleven minutes short of that easy number, which I think we can all agree was a bit of a dick move on the part of Mother Nature. This meant that by our friend Greg's time the Julian calendar was a wee bit inaccurate. The Julian calendar had been in use for over 1,600 yeas. Eleven minutes over more than a millennia starts to add up after a while, and the Julian calendar was about two weeks ahead of time when Pope Gregory was kicking it in the Vatican. This wouldn't have been much of an issue, except it made scheduling Easter a little difficult, and that really would not do. So Pope Gregory decided to adopt a new calendar.

Gregory's calendar was a major success in Catholic countries like Poland, Italy, France and Spain, but Protestants viewed it with suspicion. Protestants were convinced that this new calendar was yet another way that the Catholic Church was trying to control the world. Obviously, the whole political point of Protestantism was to avoid that, so Protestant nations told the Pope to go to hell, and continued in their Julian ways for quite some time.

Slowly, however, most nations relented. It was a bit difficult to be out of sync with the rest of the world. Turkey was the last hold out, and put off adopting the calendar untilf 1927. To get in sync with the Gregorian calendar, most nations dropped days from their calendar. The Americans lost most of September in 1752, as did the English and Canadians. However, when Sweden adopted the calendar in 1712, the proposed to add two days to February.

Sweden at the time also encompassed the nation of Finland, and 1712 would normally have been a leap year, as under the Julian calendar all years divisible by four are leap years (including years that end in 100 that aren't divisible by 400). However, to get in sync with the shiny new(ish) Gregorian calendar, the Swedes added an extra day, bringing around the once-in-a-lifetime February 30th.

Unfortunately, nothing momentous seems to have happened in Sweden on that day. It was a bit of a slow news week. Nobody important was born, and nothing big happened, at least as far as I can find. It's a shame really. February 30th only came around (for Sweden anyways) once, you would think that someone would have made a big deal out of it. But no luck. Were it not for the oddity of the date, February 30, 1712 would have been just another boring day in history.


Gregorian Calendar
Time and Date
Julian vs. Gregorian (first two pages)
February 30
Pope Gregory