You are either not logged in or not registered with our community. Click here to register.
 
December 08, 2016, 12:07:04 AM

Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length

Click here if you are having problems.
Default Wide Screen Beige Lilac Rainbow Black & Blue October Send us your theme!

Hark!  The Herald!
Holiday Issue 2016

Wiki Blogs Dicebot

Author Topic: The History Corner  (Read 2943 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline ValerianTopic starter

The History Corner
« on: November 01, 2009, 11:23:48 AM »
Because Val loves history, and so should you.  :)

In all seriousness, I know I'm far from the only history geek on E, and by popular demand -- well, okay, it was suggested in the shoutbox that a history thread might be a good idea, and no one objected, at least.

What I'm aiming for here is a place where other history buffs can post about their favourite time periods, fun and unusual history facts and events, suggest books, etc.  If a particular subject generates a lot of comment, please make another thread for it -- this is mainly for general discussion, essays, and the like, and in-depth analysis should really happen someplace else.

And given the time of year, I'd like to start off with one of the events I find especially intriguing -- the "Powder Treason" of 1605.  Onward!

Offline ValerianTopic starter

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2009, 11:26:04 AM »
"Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason, and plot.
We see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot."


Lots of people know the rhyme.  Every year, crowds turn out throughout England to shoot off fireworks and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes.  But how many of them know the real story?

The current mythos makes Fawkes an utter villain, the fanatic who was singlehandedly almost responsible for destroying an entire monarchy and throwing England into chaos and possibly civil war.  V for Vendetta does the opposite, making Fawkes a hero, a misunderstood crusader for the downtrodden.  Like most such myths, both sides are right, and wrong.

Guy Fawkes went most often by the name Guido.  Though born English, he had also been born a fervent Catholic, and since that wasn't such a comfortable thing to be in the England of the mid to late 1500's, he had hardly set foot in his home country for years before the Plot began.  Far from being the head of the conspiracy, Fawkes was a hired hand, a mercenary who made his living as a tough soldier of fortune working for whatever (Catholic) cause would pay his fee.

The leader of the plotters was actually the charismatic Sir Robert Catesby, called Robin.  Like most of the group, he was young and ambitious, and knew his ambitions would never be fulfilled as long as he remained Catholic.  To advance in the court or indeed in any occupation at that time, one had to swear an oath of fealty, one which no Catholic could swear to in good faith as it denied the authority of the Pope and the Catholic church.  Celebrating a Catholic mass was forbidden, and anyone caught harboring a Catholic priest could face death.  It had been hoped by many that the new king, James I, would relax or drop these restrictions -- though himself Protestant, his wife was a Catholic, and upon his accession to the throne, he had promised religious tolerance -- a tolerance that never came.  His refusal to follow through on his promised reforms helped give birth to the plot.

The core group of the plotters consisted of thirteen men -- which at the time provoked references to the thirteenth apostle, Judas, and his betrayal -- all related by blood or marriage, and several of their wives.  Catholics all, this group saw their lives and dreams slipping away from them, and decided to take action -- not through the law, as they had seen that fail too many times, but through a stunning application of force that might be called the first ever terrorist action.

The plan was simple enough -- on the day the House of Lords opened to conduct business, tradition had it that every member must attend, with only the most serious injuries or illnesses acceptable as an excuse; and also that the king and his heirs would be there, to officially begin the session.  This, the plotters realized, was their golden opportunity.

At that time, there was a cellar beneath the House that was available for rent as storage.  Using false names and a sort of 'dummy corporation', the plotters duly rented the space and began to pack it full of gunpowder.  (In V for Vendetta, V uses the alias Mr. Rookwood, a reference to one of the plotters who helped in obtaining the gunpowder.  Rookwood's friends in the film, Percy and Keyes, are also named after conspirators.)  Helping with the movement of the powder was one "John Johnson", servant to one of the plotters -- actually Guido Fawkes under an alias.

Fawkes was brought into the plot late -- technically as a hired hand, though he was also fervently in favour of more rights and freedoms for his fellow Catholics.  He was needed, the other plotters felt, because he had been so long absent from England, and an unfamiliar face might be invaluable.  Also, he had seen enough death on the various battlefields that he did not shrink from the task of lighting a fuse that would kill not only virtually all of the lords of the land, but also the king's eldest son, then eleven years old, and possibly also his younger son, just four.

One of the few members of the royal family who would not be at the House of Lords was James' oldest daughter, Elizabeth, then nine years old.  With her father and brothers dead, the plotters intended to ride to her and proclaim her queen, while raising her in the good Catholic faith.  Unknown to the plotters, even at that tender age, Elizabeth was a fervent Protestant, who would have been difficult indeed for them to convert.

But such was their plan, and they went ahead with their scheme, slowly bringing in the gunpowder and waiting anxiously for the House to open.  That opening day was postponed several times, using the recent outbreak of the Black Plague as an excuse, making the plotters even more uneasy, and as it turned out, the delay was fateful in several ways.

Foremost was the Monteagle letter – an anonymous message to Lord Monteagle, brother-in-law of one of the Plotters and a prominent Catholic peer, cautioning him to stay away from the House on that first day.  Whether this truly came from someone who knew of the scheme and wished to save an ally; some agent provocateur determined to stir things up; or even from Monteagle himself, no one knows.  Some say the Gunpowder Plot was, from beginning to end, the brainchild of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury and chief minister to the king, who wanted to draw the dangerous Catholics out.

Whatever its origins, the letter was the beginning of the end for the plot.  The authorities cannily waited until the last moment to spring the trap openly, catching poor Guido Fawkes in the storeroom, ready to set the powder alight.

Guido was put to the torture in the Tower (first the "gentler Tortures", which included being manacled and left to hang by the wrists, then progressing to such horrors as the rack).  When, after three days, Fawkes finally signed his first confession, his signature was almost unrecognizable as his.  He was a broken man afterwards, in more ways than one.

But the leading light, Robin Catesby himself, was not yet caught.  He and a few of the others had fled upon learning of Fawkes’ capture, running through the countryside with only their horses and the few possessions they’d been able to grab as they left.  Lost and friendless – even their fellow Catholics did not dare hide them now, with the entire army hunting for the plotters – they rode through the rain until, exhausted, they took shelter in an empty home, Holbeach House.

With their few belongings soaked through, their guns were also useless, the powder in them too wet to fire.  They were forced to spread the powder out before the fire to dry it, though they knew the danger better than anyone; and when the powder did in fact catch a spark, several of them, including Catesby, were wounded in the resulting explosion.

Another conspirator betrayed their hiding place, trying to win mercy for himself, and soon they were beseiged by two hundred soliders.  In the resulting battle -- more of a massacre -- several men were wounded and captured alive to be tortured and executed; others, as they lay dying, were brutally seized by the soldiers and stripped of all their possessions.  Catesby himself died at Holbeach, clutching a Catholic icon of the Virgin Mary, which was taken and displayed as a sample of the "superstitious and Popish idols" that had inspired the plot.

The final irony lay in the gunpowder they had so carefully stockpiled below the House.  In those days, powder could easily decay as it aged, becoming useless; and that was what had happened to their stock.  Even had Fawkes been allowed to light the fuse, it’s doubtful that there would have been more than a very small explosion – almost certainly not enough to do any real damage to the building or its inhabitants.

In the end, the final legacy of Robin Catesby's fervent dreams was in a tightening of the restrictions on and oppression of his fellow Catholics, which would last for generations.

Online Remiel

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2009, 11:40:43 AM »
Thank you, Val. I feel enlightened.


Offline Will

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2009, 12:16:53 PM »
That was wonderful!  I was actually not aware of most of the details.  Thanks, Valerian. :)

Offline MercyfulFate

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2009, 04:02:27 PM »
Big fan of history, but I tend to focus on military engagements as I find them the most interesting.

I go through phases where I obsessively focus on certain time periods, my biggest one was the Civil War but that was some time ago.

Offline Caeli

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2009, 04:10:47 PM »
History buffs unite. <3

* Caeli bookmarks this thread and makes a note to make a post in here someday.

Offline alxnjsh

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #6 on: November 05, 2009, 11:14:17 AM »
I'm a total history buff. I teach a course on the history of social welfare for MSW students. We start very briefly in ancient history, but quickly move up to the Elizabethan Poor Laws through contemporary social policy.


Offline Rhapsody

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #7 on: November 05, 2009, 11:34:53 AM »
One of the things that's always intrigued me from the Ancient World is the Catalogue of Ships from Book 2 of The Iliad.  We read through the entire work in class in my freshman year of university in a Classical History course I took. 

The Catalogue of Ships reads like a laundry list of troop numbers and areas of origin brought to the shores of Troy by Menelaus and Agamemnon, and it's rather dry and a bit boring to sit there and just read through.  I know my eyes certainly crossed a few times while I was trying to get through it.  I didn't learn until much later, after we'd managed to get through the verses in class, that it was a very rare (and accordingly controversial) summary of the geopolitical systems of ancient Greece around the time of the Trojan War.  While its validity is disputed -- whether it actually dates from the Trojan War era (13th century BC) or if it was backdated from Homer's own time five centuries later -- it remains as a valuable tool in understanding the ancient Grecian world.

My professor informed us that the Catalogue of Ships also followed a geographical pattern, leading modern-day classics scholars to be able to identify and perhaps unearth many places in the Aegean region that no longer exist, simply by looking at the Catalogue to determine the nearest known locations to the unknown name.  Sort of like if Maine ever went MIA, having some evidence that Quebec, New Brunswick, New Hampshire and Massachussets were close would help scholars and researchers identify it.

And the final thing that astonished me about this little bit of ancient history was that it would have been considered a challenging and entertaining recital, requiring speed and memorization that separated amateurs from the masters.  What comes across as dry and boring on the written page would have been the pinnacle of a bard's evening performance.  It's also the first and only time I've ever successfully seen the Animaniacs applied to history, as he used this video to give us a modern-day analogy to what a recital of the Catalogue of Ships would have been like, including engaging pacing, ever-increasing speed and perfection of pronunciation:

animaniacs - Countries of the world

Offline alxnjsh

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #8 on: November 05, 2009, 11:50:50 AM »
Hmm...Yacko didn't mention the Vatican as far as I could tell  :P

Offline ValerianTopic starter

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2009, 09:06:32 AM »
I've just finished reading Lost to the West, a book on the Byzantine Empire.  It's very much an overview -- it covers the entire history of the Empire, from the fourth century ACE all the way up to its official end in the 1400's -- so obviously it only hits the highlights, but the highlights are very interesting, and it's very well-written.

What interested me about it is that it sort of gave a different angle to some history I already knew.  I've studied parts of the time covered here, but generally more from the western side.  The early Crusades have always interested me, thanks to Eleanor of Acquitaine, and there's an excellent book called Warriors of God, a dual biography of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin that's one of my favourites.

But mainly, I was getting my history from the 'barbarian' side, and it was interesting to see some of those same events from the 'cultured' Byzantine perspective.  And in some ways, they were extremely cultured, generally well-educated and cosmopolitan -- but when it came to squabbling over the Byzantine throne, even as the empire was crumbling around them, there wasn't always a lot to choose between them and the uncouth western types.

Anyway, a very good read overall, though it's more something to get you interested in reading other, more in-depth studies of specific eras within the Empire's history.

Anyone else have any books they'd recommend?  I know I'm always looking for more to add to the stack awaiting my attention.  :)

Offline Oniya

  • StoreHouse of Useless Trivia
  • Oracle
  • Carnite
  • *
  • Join Date: Sep 2008
  • Location: Just bouncing through. Hi! City of Roses, Pennsylvania
  • Gender: Female
  • One bad Motokifuka. Also cute and FLUFFY!
  • My Role Play Preferences
  • View My Rolls
  • Referrals: 3
Re: The History Corner
« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2009, 09:13:07 AM »
Not a book, but if you ever get a chance to watch the Terry Jones (yes, that Terry Jones) documentary on the Crusades, it's a delight.  It shows the Crusades without the traditional Christian bias, with very creative cinematography and the expected dose of dry, British humor.

Offline ValerianTopic starter

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #11 on: November 12, 2009, 09:15:41 AM »
Oh, yes, I've seen that!  Not for ages, though.  *adds to list of things to watch*

Offline Avis habilis

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #12 on: November 12, 2009, 09:18:47 AM »
Not a book, but if you ever get a chance to watch the Terry Jones (yes, that Terry Jones) documentary on the Crusades, it's a delight.  It shows the Crusades without the traditional Christian bias, with very creative cinematography and the expected dose of dry, British humor.

Likewise his show(s?) about Rome. Draws some interesting parallels about societies with cavernous gaps between the top 1% of wealth owners & the bottom 99%.

Offline Lilias

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #13 on: November 12, 2009, 09:33:02 AM »
Speaking of the Eastern Roman Empire, ages ago I stumbled upon an article on the Greece Runestones (wiki), and later tripped over Tim Severin's 'Viking' trilogy, where the main character ends up in the Varangian Guard. Coincidence? ::)

Offline ValerianTopic starter

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #14 on: November 12, 2009, 10:34:25 AM »
Ah, interesting.  :)  That wiki article mentions that some of the Runestones mention members of the Guard returning as wealthy men, which reminded me of something from Lost to the West.  There was a tradition, with mysterious origins, that on the death of the emperor they served, each Varangian Guard could help himself to as much gold from the treasury as he could comfortably carry.  Given that many of these men were both very big and very strong, some of them probably did walk away with tidy fortunes, if they lived long enough.

Offline Avis habilis

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #15 on: November 12, 2009, 02:12:49 PM »
... on the death of the emperor they served, each Varangian Guard could help himself to as much gold from the treasury as he could comfortably carry.

Wait, so they only followed one emperor, & when he kicked they just got to down tools & go home? Interesting.

Offline ValerianTopic starter

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #16 on: November 12, 2009, 02:22:53 PM »
Oh, no -- that is, the implication was that they could go home after that, but it seemed as though most of them stayed.  They were loyal to the throne, not whoever happened to sit in it, which was the main difference between them and the (much less loyal, strangely) native Byzantine guards and soldiers.  The native guards tended to rebel against any emperor they didn't like; the Varangians were loyal to the emperor, whoever he might be.

I'll have to double-check the details, but there was something about an incident whereby the Varangian Guard arrived in the emperor's bedroom just after the emperor had been killed -- by his own nephew, I think -- and rather than avenge the emperor's death, they just swore fealty to the new emperor on the spot.

Offline GolGol

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #17 on: November 13, 2009, 07:02:07 PM »
Well, I'm a "history buff". I can't really say if I have a favourite era, but lately I have been reading a lot about early Babylonian history.

Offline Avi

  • I'll show you how to soar.
  • On Hiatus
  • Enchanter
  • *
  • Join Date: Apr 2007
  • Location: Memphis and Maury City, TN
  • Gender: Male
  • Flying by the seat of his pants...
  • My Role Play Preferences
  • View My Rolls
  • Referrals: 0
Re: The History Corner
« Reply #18 on: November 14, 2009, 09:30:14 PM »
I'm a history major, so I'm into just about anything to do with history.  My big passions, however, are recent military history as well as ancient history, especially to do with the Romans.  Being the lucky bastard that I am, I get to hit on both in my next (and last) semester of undergraduate work.  I'm taking a seminar research course on the place and role of gladiators within Roman society, and then I'm also taking a general lecture course on American military history since 1900, which is taught by a professor from West Point.

Oh yes.  Be jealous. :P

Offline Vandren

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #19 on: November 19, 2009, 08:47:41 PM »
I'll pop in as a history buff (minored as an undergrad and deal with a lot of historical literature as a Lit prof).  As for favorite eras/subjects, pretty much anything medieval or early modern (renaissance) is high on my list.  Vikings and Elizabethan history are among my most common reading, although I've acquired a very strong background in bestiaries, magic, witchcraft, and teratology (study of monsters) from the 11th century to the 17th.

Big fan of Chaucer, Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes, Geraldus Cambrensius, Arthurian romances, and Thomas Malory.

As far as recent reads, I highly recommend Maurizio Viroli's Niccolo's Smile, a biography of Machiavelli.  And Carlo Ginzburg's Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath, is interesting.  Ginzburg and I disagree on the validity/role of archetype analysis and some of his conclusions, but it's a good read nonetheless.

Offline Moonsword

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #20 on: November 21, 2009, 09:18:16 PM »
They were loyal to the throne, not whoever happened to sit in it, which was the main difference between them and the (much less loyal, strangely) native Byzantine guards and soldiers.  The native guards tended to rebel against any emperor they didn't like; the Varangians were loyal to the emperor, whoever he might be.

Not that strange, really.  The Varangians were outsiders, and they only had one main patron by and large.  The Byzantines were members of the culture there, and as such, much easier to co-opt and more sensitive to the local politics.

Quote
I'll have to double-check the details, but there was something about an incident whereby the Varangian Guard arrived in the emperor's bedroom just after the emperor had been killed -- by his own nephew, I think -- and rather than avenge the emperor's death, they just swore fealty to the new emperor on the spot.

...well, that's different.  Certainly an interesting story, even if it can't be verified.

I'm a history major on my undergrad, and retain a strong fondness for the subject.

@Vandren:
You would've enjoyed the History of Western Witchcraft class I took over the summer one year.  It was the department head teaching it, in fact.

Offline Vandren

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #21 on: November 21, 2009, 09:51:24 PM »
@Vandren:
You would've enjoyed the History of Western Witchcraft class I took over the summer one year.  It was the department head teaching it, in fact.

Much of my interest was/is somewhat tangential, but a necessary aspect of studying shape-shifters (focused on werewolves, somewhat) and monstrosity in general.  Still, it's rather interesting, and helpful for analyzing fantasy fiction and writing my own fiction.

Offline Moonsword

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #22 on: November 21, 2009, 10:19:43 PM »
We discussed the strix right at the beginning, actually.  It was more of a survey of the history and treatment - the documentary evidence - than over actual practices.  Of course, real hard information on witchcraft and other non-mainstream practices in the medieval era is a little hard to come by.  The Church's perspective on the matter is a bit... interesting, and I wouldn't call it non-biased.

Offline Vandren

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #23 on: November 22, 2009, 01:37:06 PM »
That's where I find the work of Ginzburg and those like him to be helpful.  He mixes two parts historian with one part folklorist and one part anthropologist.  My own professional work is somewhat similar, although I mix lit scholar, historian, and psychoanalyst to use (esp. in the medieval period) the "non-fic" primary sources (St. Augustine, Gerald of Wales, Gervase of Tilbury, etc.) with the fictive primary sources (Marie de France, the William of Palerne poet, etc.) to try to piece together what was actually happening/believed.

If you want to see something amusing regarding the Church's perspective, check out St. Augustine of Hippo's discussion of shape-shifting (The City of God, Book 18, 16-18), the sheer amount of convoluted finagling is simultaneously mind numbing and entertaining.
« Last Edit: November 22, 2009, 01:39:54 PM by Vandren »

Offline ValerianTopic starter

Re: The History Corner
« Reply #24 on: December 18, 2009, 10:42:10 AM »
Warning!  I'm reading a new history book -- well, new to me, at least -- about the Amber Room.  There's a decent overview here, with some pictures, that are nice but I'm sure totally fail to capture the full effect of what that room must have been/must be like.  I'm sure the reconstruction is good, but the allure of the original is still strong -- there are thousands of people worldwide still searching for the original panels of the room, lost since World War II.

I first heard about the room when I was very small, and it still fascinates me -- it's a mystery right up there with Jack the Ripper's identity.  As to whether this particular book (Amber Room: The Fate of the World's Greatest Lost Treasure, by Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy) is any good, that I can't say yet, as I'm just getting started; but so far it at least seems like the authors put a lot of effort into their research.