Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Highgate Cemetery by Miranda Miller

    At the very end of 2016, when the year itself seemed exhausted by its own historical weight, I visited Highgate cemetery with Britta, a friend who grew up in East Berlin. On a frosty sunny morning it was a beautiful hillside park as well as place to contemplate. Those great Victorian cemeteries were inspired by Pere La Chaise in Paris.The first part to open, in 1839, was the West Cemetery, which is on your right as you walk down Swain’s Lane from Highgate. You have to make an appointment to go there but it’s well worth visiting with its Egyptian Avenue, Lebanon Circle, Terrace Catacombs and remarkable plants and wild life. Volunteers cut back the vegetation so that it is romantic but still passable and they also study the foxes, hedgehogs butterflies and other rare insects.

    Further down Swain's Lane on the right you come to the East cemetery, which costs £4 to enter and still attracts people from all over the world. Since 1975 both cemeteries have been run by a charity, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery. John Betjeman described it as a ‘Victorian Valhalla’ .These grand Victorian necropoli were built with high walls and locked gates to keep out the Resurrection Men but they were always intended to be parks as well. Once it was beautifully manicured but now it is its wildness that makes it charming and romantic. Douglas Adams, George Eliot, several of Charles Dickens’ children and his wife Catherine, Paul Foot, Eric Hobsbawn, Anna Mahler, Sidney Nolan, Peter Porter, Ralph Richardson Alan Sillitoe, Herbert Spencer Leslie Stephen and Max Wall are all buried here. Many of the less famous graves are very touching; there is an area dedicated to London firemen and some of the epitaphs on the graves of forgotten people read like short stories. For instance: “Emma Wallace Gray Died in October 1854 in the 19th year of her age...From the effects of fire, her dress having accidentally ignited ten days previously. In bloom of youth, when others fondly cling to life, I prayed, mid agonies of death.”

    Karl Marx (1818-1883) upstages all his subterranean neighbours. The morning we were there a constant flow of international visitors surrounded his monument. He had been expelled from both Cologne and Paris because of his political activities before settling in London in 1849. "From this time on he was one of the leaders of the socialist party in Europe, and in 1865 he became its acknowledged chief" ( to quote from his obituary).  He was laid to rest in the same grave as his wife Jenny, who had died less than a year and a half before him. Eleven people attended his funeral, including his friend Engels. Other members of his family were later buried in the same grave, including his daughter Eleanor, known as Tussy. She was a courageous supporter of the early Trades Unions who poisoned herself in 1898 after discovering that her partner, Edward Aveling, had secretly married a young actress.

   As the years passed so many people came to visit Marx’s grave that it was moved to a more accessible spot, on the main path. The present grandiose marble monument was unveiled 73 years after his death, in 1956, in a ceremony attended by about 200 people, “ to honour the memory of a man whose spirit - if that is the right word - now dominates approximately half the world.” (as reported in The Guardian the following day). One of his most famous quotations is carved on it: ”The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways - the point however is to change it.” Laurence Bradshaw, the sculptor, said he aimed to express the "dynamic force of his intellect" and wanted the sculptured likeness to be at eye-level rather than "towering over the people."

    Everybody who lived through the mid -20th century has their own Marx. At 15 I was a Young Communist for a few months and attended earnest discussion groups about his writings in West Kensington. A few years later I was taught history by academics who saw the world in terms of a Marxist interpretation. For some he was a demon, for others an omniscient prophet. Britta, my companion the day I visited the cemetery, is nostalgic for the GDR she lived in until she was in her late thirties. After the wall came down in 1989 there was a long public debate in Germany about what to do with the monuments and place names of Communism. There’s a striking scene in the 2003 film 'Good Bye, Lenin!' where the huge Lenin statue is lifted up by helicopter and flies off over the city, pointing as it goes. Finally, Marx was accepted as a philosopher and the grand boulevard round the corner from her flat is still called Karl - Marx - Allee. She tells me sadly that her grandchildren are taught at school that he was worse than Hitler.
   At the moment, with socialism in crisis, you don’t hear much about Marx in England. Above the gigantic hairy bronze head hovers a large (if invisible) question mark. What does Marx mean to us now? He would not necessarily have recognised his own ideas in the uses that were made of them after he died. In 1882 he wrote in a letter of the form of 'Marxism' which arose in France: “If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist.” 

   Last year there was a three-part Open University /BBC co-production for BBC Four called Genius of the Modern World. Bettany Hughes explored the life and works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. “We might not realise it, but we all live with a 19th-century male philosopher in our lives. Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud are towering thinkers, men with the wit and the will to question the status quo.” Nobel laurate Paul Krugman wrote recently that when thinking about automation and the future of labor, he worries that "it has echoes of old-fashioned Marxism – which shouldn't be a reason to ignore facts, but too often is."

   At his best Marx was such a powerful writer that it seems likely that people will always be influenced by him. He wrote that “ Capital is dead labor, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks.” Another quotation that has great resonance for me at this time of crisis in our democracy is: “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Richard the Lionheart - what we think we know by Elizabeth Chadwick

Statue of Richard Coeur de Lion outside
the Houses of Parliament, Westminster|
Carlo Marochetti  1856. Modern audiences
are frequently critical of the work and
consider it does not deserve its position.
I belong to several historical forums where Richard the Lionheart often crops up as a subject of discussion. A question such as 'What do we know about Richard the Lionheart?' will elicit a slew of responses, frequently negative, and when asked for sources or elaboration the response is usually without provenance beyond 'I read it somewhere.' Further clarification is not usually forthcoming or turns out to be from text books or teaching of a certain era.  There is also a strong tendency to view Richard through the filter of modern mindset and not engage with him on the terms by which he lived his life in the late 12th century.
Generally the same comments keep repeating in a never ending circle, so I thought I'd set out to explore them in more detail.

1. He hated/ didn't care about England: (and I have had this said to me at Dover Castle by a costumed interpreter responsible for 'informing' the general public).

 a) Because he didn't even speak English.

My findings:  He probably had at least a smattering of words.  He was born in England, at Oxford, in September 1157 and although his family was peripatetic, he spent several years of his childhood in England.  His wet nurse was an English woman from St Albans called Hodierna and he remembered her with fondness and gave her lands on which to live in her retirement.  Her name, however, suggests she was Norman, so although he had an English-born wet nurse, she may well have spoken to him in French. The fact remains though, that with English servants around the nursery court, he would have picked up a certain amount of the language.
However he would not have used it in his dealings as an adult, but then neither would any of the nobility with whom he associated where  the language of the court was either Anglo-Norman or Latin.
Sometimes you will hear it said that his first language was Occitan - the language of the south of France and parts of Aquitaine, but the main language of the Dukes of Aquitaine was Poitevan French which was closer to the French of the north.  Richard's famous song Ja Nus On Pri is not written in Occitan but in French.
Other English kings surrounding the time of his rule did not speak English as a matter of course either. Henry I may have done so to a greater degree, having an English wife and the court poked fun at him for his Englishness, but his own father William the Conqueror had never learned the language and there is no indication that King Stephen, Empress Matilda or Henry II, Richard's father were fluent. Again, Henry II would likely have had a smattering.  King John the same and Henry III. But Richard is no different to any of his close ancestors and inheritors so it's rather odd to single him out.

Face of Richard the Lionheart.  A Victorian plaster cast
tomb effigy in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
b) Because he was never there and only spent 6 months of his reign in England.  

True.  But... and there's always a but.
He was born in England and spent several years of his childhood in the country.  When he became king he was preparing to go on crusade - something set in motion before the death of his father.  Henry II himself had pledged to go on crusade. In early 1185 he had been begged face to face by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem to leave his empire and take up the throne of Jerusalem.  Henry II's grandfather Fulke of Anjou had been King of Jerusalem and Henry and his sons were close kin to the current, dying king Baldwin IV.  So Richard's involvement with Jerusalem was political as well as religious and an ongoing family thing.
The 'Angevin Empire' spanned an area from the borders of Scotland as far as the Pyrenees and that meant any ruler had to delegate and spread himself thinly.  Henry II himself spent more time across the Channel than he did in England.  Before the death of his brother Henry the Young King, Richard's inheritance portion had been designated as Aquitaine and in his teen years he was groomed for this role and indeed spent a considerable amount of time in the region. However, once he was king, he was mostly dealing with problems further north on the French border, caused by Philip of France's expansionism following his own brother John's earlier inept and treacherous mischief making. While Richard had been in prison John had been trying to negotiate keep him there and had also made a treaty with Philip of France whereby he surrendered the whole of Normandy east of the Seine except for the city of Rouen, and that included surrendering all the major fortresses. Richard spent the rest of his life following his return from imprisonment trying to put that right.

England itself was ruled by Richard by delegation.  Even despite often being long distances away or behind bars so to speak, Richard still had a vision for England.  He left - as he deemed - suitable custodians during his absence.  When some of those custodians proved to be problematic, he changed them under advice.  Even when imprisoned in Germany, he was able to hold court and govern by messenger.  By and large England remained stable under the management of a capable civil service headed by the Richard-appointed wonder-man of his day Hubert Walter Archbishop of Canterbury who overhauled what was already a highly efficient civil service into something even more cutting edge.
Bottom line:  Richard was forced to be an absentee landlord, but that didn't mean he was a neglectful or disinterested one.

c) Because he bankrupted England. He used England as a cash cow and didn't care about it.

This is one that when you ask for sources, there are never any forthcoming.  It sort of gets pushed under the rug...

Money had to be raised for the crusade that had been agreed in his father's day and for which plans were afoot when Richard came to the throne. He did this by using the money in his father's treasury. Taxing the people who had already been forced to cough up a tax known as the Saladin tithe in his father's reign was a non starter, so he turned to the relatively small pool of the rich, both secular and clergy and sought means of wresting money from them. When the Bishop of Ely died intestate, Richard was able to seize  the Bishop's movable wealth which included 3000 marks in cash, gold, silver, precious gems, cloth, horses and grain.  At the start of his reign ambitious men were willing to pay large sums of money in order to gain positions of authority and Richard put these up for sale. However, not willy nilly. The men appointed for their cash, were also men of experience and reliability, and Richard was very careful in his selection, personally appointing all the sheriffs.

England was indeed a wealthy country and yes, he used it as a cash cow, but a good farmer looks after his livestock and doesn't neglect something as important as his cash cow in case it runs dry and Richard even during his absence was diligent.
He is sometimes accused of costing England a massive amount of money because of the ransom that had to be raised to free him from prison in Germany. But what else could he do? He had not expected to be taken prisoner but a series of unfortunate events including a shipwreck and then having to travel without a guide through difficult territory led to his capture and incarceration  by his enemy Leopold of Austria while probably trying to reach the lands of his brother-in-law Henry the Lion of Brunswick.  Leopold then handed him over to Emperor Heinrich of Germany.
The ransom demanded for Richard's release totalled 150,000 marks, a phenomenal sum. 100,000 was to be paid for Richard 's release and another 50,000 for which the German emperor would hold hostages until the sum was paid.
Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the justiciars and nobility of England and the other territories did their utmost to gather in the ransom. a 25% tax on income was raised, and on the value of moveable goods.  The entire wool clip of the Cistercian monasteries was taken and gold and silver from the Church.  England had a particularly strong civil service and this enabled the ransom to be gathered efficiently.  Indeed, Richard found English civil servants very useful throughout all of his dominions and utilised their expertise.
Returning to the business of the 'cash cow'  John Gillingham observes that a problem with this statement is that 'England is the only part of the Angevin Empire for which we can compile a series of figures for the king's annual revenue.'  We have the pipe rolls which detail England's balance sheets in essence from 1156 right through the reigns of Henry, Richard and John.  In contrast we don't have that full information for anywhere else although a few documents exist - for example the Norman exchequer rolls of 1180, 1195 and 1198. These three rolls show that by 1198, the Norman exchequer was bringing in £25,000 - compared with £6,750  in 1180 under Henry II. At that same time in 1180, England was bringing in £14,300.  Professor John Gillingham suggests that Normandy in the reign of Richard may have become even more of a cash cow than England, as its population was smaller. In 1198 in terms of payments to Richard, both Rouen and Caen had to find more than London.
On average English revenue brought in around £22,000 a year.  The preparation for the crusade upped the ante to £31,089. While Richard was away the revenue dropped to £11,000.  Once returned and excluding the ransom demand, the revenue climbed again to between £22,000 and £25,000, the latter sum toward the end of Richard's reign to fund his war in Normandy (cause by John's mischief making while Richard was on crusade).  John's revenue once he came to the throne fluctuated between £22,000 and £25,000 at the start of his reign, but in 1210 and 1212 came in  at £50,000 and in 1211 a staggering £83,291  as he went on the warpath to try and recover Normandy.  Once the non routine exchequer audit sums are added in, the amount rises to £145,000.
Bottom line.  There may have been a momentary cash flow shortage but the cow kept on producting and it was John, not Richard who milked it so much that it led him into a field named Runnymede and a document that came to be known as Magna Carta.

d) Because he said he would sell London if he could find a buyer.

This is often taken as evidence of disparagement. Fancy saying that about your country.  He mustn't have thought much of it.
 Richard was reknown for his dry sense of humour - even remarked upon by an Arab historian. Today we might say we'd sell our soul for a Gucci handbag (or whatever floats one's personal boat) but it doesn't mean one is going to pop along to the nearest black mass and do a deal with the devil!  Leeway has to be given for humour, rather than taking everything literally.

2. He was gay.


a) Because he shared a bed with King Philip of France.

King Arthur and his knights are nakedly asleep together when they
are attacked.  Guiron le Courtois mid 14thc British Library
Chronicler Roger of Howden tells us about the friendship between Richard and Philip of France in the summer of 1187.  Howden says that Philip honoured Richard so highly that every day they ate at the same table and shared the same dishes, and at night the bed did not separate them.  The King of France loved him as his own soul and their love was so great that the lord king of England was stupefied.
One has to enter the medieval mindset to understand this one.  Men shared beds all the time.  It was indeed a sign of honour and trust and there is plentiful pictorial evidence of this in medieval society. Henry II would only have been 'stupefied' because it was a demonstration that Richard had turned his back on him and was looking to Philip of France as liege lord and ally.  Henry II himself shared beds with other men - William Marshal for example on one occasion. It was an accepted norm, used to demonstrate trust and prestige.  The talk of loving as much as his own soul, is again a typical medieval literary conceit and implies nothing beyond loyalty.  It's a non starter in a cultural context of homosexuality.  Cross it off the list.
The three wise men sharing a bed. I hesitate to call it a
menage a trois!

b) Because he was accused of committing sodomy by the clergy and did penance for it.

Roger of Howden reported in 1195 that a hermit came to King Richard and rebuked him for his sins, telling him to remember the destruction of Sodom and abstain from ilicit acts.  Richard dismissed the warnings, but later, struck down by illness, did penance and took to staying in church until the service was over and distributing alms to the poor.  He was also to avoid illicit intercourse and keep his attentions solely on his wife who remained childless.

Again, it's a case of that pesky modern mindset.  Everyone today assumes that 'Sodom' is purely connected to homosexual behaviour and that tells us that most modern people don't read their Old Testament. Biblical references to Sodom are more about the terrible punishment meted out to sinners rather than being explicit about the sort of sin.  It was all about the fall of cities, not homosexuality and anyone hearing such sermons in the Middle Ages would not automatically think that Richard was homosexual because he had been accused of the sins of Sodom.  Rather it would be the notion of general debauchery, which accords with him having an illegitimate son called Philip of Cognac, and of being accused to meddling with the wives and daughters of his vassals in Aquitaine.  Roger of  Howden accuses him of  carrying off his vassals' 'wives, daughters and kinswomen by force and making them his concubines; when he had sated his own lust on them, he handed them down for his own men to enjoy.'  One chronicler accuses Richard of consorting with whores on his deathbed.

c) Because he and his wife Berengaria of Navarre didn't have any children
No one knows the reason for this - although if he was warned to keep to her bed, perhaps a political marriage was not one of personal attraction. It is no proof either way.

3. He was a war monger.


Because he was always fighting and went on crusade where he slaughtered 3,000 Muslim hostages.  He lived for war.

There is no denying that Richard excelled in the arena of war and that it was his particular skill.

 The slaughter of hostages is always terrible and reprehensible on the human scale, and that particular massacre at the siege of Acre has gone down as a red stain against Richard's reputation in history. Whatever the military circumstances, and even acknowledging medieval mindset, it is hard not to judge here.  The most neutral that can be said was that Richard needed to move on, Saladin was pretending to negotiate for the hostages while procrastinating, and Richard took a commander's decision to remove the obstacle from the field rather than let Saladin get the better of him.  It appears to have been an act of cold, political and military neutrality rather than done in hate. Today it would certainly be a war crime.  Back then, it was greeted by the Christian chroniclers with either approval or a shrugged neutrality. Saladin got the blame for being intractable. It was his fault for not doing a deal.  What else was Richard supposed to do?  The Muslims reacted to the slaughter of their people with anger and swore revenge and to do similar in retaliation.

Being a good warrior was an excellent defining trait for a medieval king.  A medieval monarch was  expected to be able to fight and to command successfully and this was Richard's particular skill.   A perceived lack of such skills might lead to one being called 'Softsword' as in the case of King John. As an aside,  Richard was given the Sobriquet 'Lionheart' when he was just 19 years old.

4. He was a traitor to his father


Henry II: A contemporary portrait
by Gerald of Wales

Because he was influenced by his mother and her jealousy (over Rosamund de Clifford)  and dissatisfaction and went to war against his father because of that, basically stabbing him in the back.

Henry II was a micro-manager who had his hands firmly gripping the reins of power, so firmly that he found it very difficult to delegate.  To ensure the succession was secure he had his eldest surviving son, also named Henry, anointed and crowned when he was 15 years old. Richard, the next son was to have his mother's lands of Aquitaine and Geoffrey the third son was to have Brittany.  John, happening along 9 years after Richard was born, was a problem when it came to finding him land unless he married a wealthy heiress or had estates carved out of his brothers' inheritances.  His father's first effort to do this and give John castles (belonging to Henry the Young King)  as part of a marriage negotiation with the father of little Alice de Maurienne, resulted in the first rebellion of Henry's sons against him - that and going over Eleanor's head by having the Count of Toulouse swear for Aquitaine to him, not to Eleanor and Richard. Since Henry did not have sovereignty over Aquitaine, this was an act of gross provocation to Eleanor its Duchess, and Richard her successor. There is no evidence whatsoever that Eleanor was in a jealous fluff over Henry's mistress Rosamund (who doesn't get mentioned in the chronicles until after Eleanor's imprisonment). An astute, political queen, Eleanor would not have been concerned over one of her husband's many affairs, and this one with a teenage girl from the Welsh Marches).
Later, during a second rebellion by Henry the Young King over his father's refusal to give him any sort of power, and more squabbles over castle tenures, the Young King died from dysentry in the field. Redistributing the inheritance, Henry II then tried to remove Aquitaine from  Richard and give it to his youngest son John.  Aquitaine, which Richard had been ruling and controlling for 10 years and in which Henry's only concern was as the husband of its Duchess. For Richard to hand it over to the teenage John (with Henry manipulating the puppet strings) was a step too far.  He was bound to rebel - and climb into bed with Philip of France - see point 2!

So there you have it. As always people will make up their own minds - hopefully taking into account medieval mindset,  but I hope I have given at least some food for thought in the above post.  All history is a form of archaeology and the more one digs, the more layers one discovers and the more one can evaluate the story. How much you know, will always influence your understanding.

Richard I by John Gillingham - Yale English Monarchs Series  Yale University Press

Richard Coeur de Lion in History and Myth edited by Janet L. Nelson - King's College London Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies
The Angevin Empire second edition by John Gillingham published by Arnold

The History of William Marshal - Holden, Gregory and Crouch published by the Anglo Norman Text Society

Online - British Library online catalogue of illuminated manuscripts

The Annals of Roger de Hovedon 

Elizabeth Chadwick is a bestselling historical novelist.  Her most recent novels are a trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine and she is currently writing about the great William Marshal's missing years in the Holy Land. 

Monday, 23 January 2017

A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree.. by Leslie Wilson

This advertisement appeared in 1903, and I hope that to all my readers it will seem as shocking as to myself. What is equally shocking is that in fact it contains the essence of the abuser's mind-set; the attempt to clear his (less often) her conscience (it won't stop the abuse recurring), and that Pat's equivalent is alive and well and maybe living just down the road from any of us, or even next door.
But here, it's a joke. It's even considered a good way to sell butter. What has often struck me, in reading the fiction of the quite recent past, is the extent to which domestic violence is normalised or trivialised. 'Your tantrums may do very well at home,' says the Earl of Worth to Judith Taverner in Georgette Heyer's 'Regency Buck,' 'but they arouse in me nothing more than a desire to beat you soundly. And that, Miss Taverner, if ever I do marry you, is precisely what I shall do.' And how can we believe that he won't? Since he starts his acquaintance with the heroine by forcing a kiss on her, it's quite clear that he hasn't much sense of her boundaries.
Of course, domestic violence wasn't frowned on in the Regency period, but Heyer wrote the novel in 1935, when one would like to think it was regarded with more loathing. But maybe not. And it's odd how the examples I'm thinking of all come in 'feel-good' novels, that one would read for amusement, possibly while eating chocolates.
Take 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day,' Winifred Watson's charming mille-feuille of a novel. Here Miss La Fosse's Michael appears on the scene and begins by shaking his adored soundly. Oh, yes, Miss Pettigrew persuades herself that Michael 'would never really hurt Miss La Fosse,' and that 'Miss La Fosse had done to the young man something meriting anger, for which she had no excuse..The punishment then was only just.' Miss Pettigrew then goes on to justify the assault by comparing it to smacking children. Clearly in those days attitudes to smacking children were very different, but: an adult woman is not a child. 'Do I look like a wife-beater?' Michael later demands of Miss Pettigrew, who, already infatuated, gasps: 'Certainly not.' And of course, she's right. Wife-beaters don't have it tattooed round their foreheads. It'd make it easier for the rest of us if they did.
Martin van Maele: Histoire comique de Francion

Just to drive the point home, Michael later says of his love: 'obviously she needs a little physical correction, but I'm the only right man to do it.' It makes me think of Max Frisch's fire-raisers, stacking up paraffin and kindling round the house while the householder refuses to believe there's anything dangerous going on.
Later, he wins her love by punching another lover down, which is what not a few Georgette Heyer heroines do, too. A violent man is good husband material, is the nasty message.
Then there's the attitude to rape. 'A nice rape,' is what Albert Campion once suggests would be therapeutic for a woman. At least his wife protests, but almost casually; one wonders if it's really rape he's talking about, but I do think of Freud's belief that 'penis normalis' was the cure for all ills.
In 'The Pursuit of Love,' when Fanny bids Linda farewell on her journey to the South of France, Linda says: 'I do feel so terrified - think of sleeping in the train, all alone.'
'Perhaps you won't be alone,' I said. 'Foreigners are greatly given, I believe, to rape.'
To which Linda replies: 'Yes, that would be nice.'
And thus rape, like Worth's desire to beat Judith, is presented to us as something exotic, something a woman really wants, and really enjoys.
This is not to say that all authors of the past trivialise abuse.In 'The Making of a Marchioness', Frances Hodgson Burnett has one of her characters say of Mrs Osborne: 'That little woman.. lives every day through twenty-four hours of hell. One can see it in her eyes even when she professes to smile at the brute for decency's sake. The awfulness of a woman's forced smile at the devil she is tied to, loathing him..'
And then, of course, there's Morel's beating of his wife in 'Sons and Lovers,' where Lawrence eloquently describes the mother's psychological processes. Or are they hers? In the end, the story is about the effect on Paul of his father's violence. Paul is later described as incapable of violence towards his own women, and yet he himself does a nice job of emotional abuse on his first love, Miriam. And oddly, Lawrence seems to feel that Morel and his wife had a vital, nourishing relationship in spite of the violence, and blames Mrs Morel for it. As the abuser always does.
It's estimated that one in four women will experience violence in a relationship in her life. That's not the same as saying that one in four men is violent, but it's a terrifying statistic. The police receive about two calls a minute about domestic violence. Most of these will never lead to prosecution, still less successful prosecution, because the crime is committed far away from witnesses, and even if there's injury, it's only one person's word against another's.
It's now thought that abusers are not men who themselves have been abused, but who have seen their mothers abused in childhood, have had it role-modelled for them, in fact (though some people will decide that abuse ends with them). But there is a direct line between the people who in 1903 thought two black eyes was a good way to sell butter, and the man who assaults his wife 114 years later. Like the anti-Semitism which also lurks in 'Miss Pettigrew', we need to be aware of these things, though. They are past a joke.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons: Hollywood's Killer Queens by Catherine Hokin

Christmas may be over but for movie buffs, fashion lovers and celebrity spotters, the tinsel is still well and truly sparkling. The Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the Oscars: awards season is upon us. Actresses badly in need of pies are praying their chosen designer doesn't suddenly decide to go 'edgy' (aka mad, see poor Sophie Turner at the Globes); everyone's 'of course I'm happy I lost' smile clashing beautifully with their crazed eyes and reporters stalking their victims for that one illicit look or drunken mishap which will write their mortgage off.

It may not be one of our more attractive traits but human beings love gossip. The word itself was first used in a tattling context by Chaucer when the Wife of Bath refers to a 'gossib dame' and the National Archives provide a rich source of libel cases such as Ellen Bowden's in 1574 when she took Ann Venables to court for calling her a "whore, arrant whore, wedded mans whore and William Colsolls whore" and won 8 shillings for her pains. We gossip and we write it down. Pity the poor Mesopotamian mayor only now remembered because his affair with a married woman in 1500 BC coincided with the time and place of the development of Cuneiform, one of the world's earliest writing systems.

 Scandal Sheets at Mrs Humphrey's Print Shop
Scandal sheets as a source of gossip came into their own in London in the eighteenth century. They were poured over in coffee houses and tea shops by men and women alike who thrilled to snippets about the fabulously named Madame Slendersense and her French dancing master, "Mrs. Manlove, who generally searches into the bottom of such an affair, solemnly protests she saw them go up one pair of stairs together. What they did there, she can't tell, but the lady has been ailing ever since" (The Female Tatler) and comments on fashion as bitchy as anything Joan Rivers used to litter the Oscars' red carpet with, "Mrs. Tawny alias Tawdry, is desired not to be so fantastically whimsical in her dress...nothing is more disagreeable and ridiculous than to see a woman of her years affect the gay, youthful airs of their daughters."

Once the floodgate was opened, there was no stopping it. The circulation battle in the USA between publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer was an excuse to see who could print the most scandalous news items. Penny papers in the nineteenth century thrived on lurid gossip and the author Roger Wilkes, in his book Scandal, credits the 1886 divorce case of Lady Colin Campbell with inflaming public demand for society scandals and giving birth to the first newspaper gossip column. Society tittle-tattle is one thing but it was the birth of the film industry that really saw the explosion in the demand for the 'celebrity' gossip machine and created some of its biggest monsters.

 Hedda Hopper & Louella Parsons, Vanity Fair
Wielding a cleverly catty pen is an art. Historian Gary Wills has identified some of our best known classical authors as also being the earliest gossip columnists, including Catullus for this snappy epigram on the subject of an invitation from Julius Caesar: “Join your party?/I might, mighty Czar,/Could I remember/quite who you are.” Step forward a couple of centuries and the pen was being wielded by two of the most dangerous star-makers and star-breakers Hollywood would ever see: Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons.

It was fan magazines that helped create the idea of "movie stars". Motion Picture Story Magazine was launched in 1911 during the era of silent films and the appetite was insatiable: this magazine was the first of what would become nearly 300 titles in the genre. At the height of their power in the 1940s, Hopper and Parsons' rival columns had a combined readership of 75 million people (half the population of the USA) and the industry was just as much in thrall to them, if not more so, than the public, as Bob Hope said: “Their columns were the first thing we looked at every morning to see what was going on.” Both women had a long association with Hollywood and powerful connections which they exploited ruthlessly, against the stars and each other. Hopper began as a bit-part actress. She appeared in around 120 films, hit hard times (probably because she refused to entertain LB Mayer on his casting coach) but retained enough industry friends to eventually be hired by MGM as a journalist to offset the power of Parsons, her one time friend. Parsons, by contrast, was a journalist from the start whose career went stellar after she forged a friendship with publisher William Randolph Hearst's film actress mistress Marion Davies.

 Time satirising Hopper's trademark hats
Both women were highly skilled at blurring both their own pasts (editing their marriages and their birth dates) and their colourful lives. When it came to their quarry, however, nothing was off limits. Louella’s columns were sprinkled with racist terms such as“swarthy Mexicans” and she once cited Mussolini as her favourite hero. Hedda was viciously vocal about racial intermixing, hated and hunted Communists (she led the attack that drove Chaplin out of the States and destroyed Donald Trumbo) and had no mercy for anyone who gave a story to Parsons rather than her. Louella had informants everywhere, from studios to hairdressers’ salons and doctors’ offices. When Louella received a tip that Clark Gable and his second wife, Ria, were going to divorce, she“kidnapped” Mrs. Gable and held her hostage at her home until she was sure the story was hers first. Hopper ruined Ingrid Bergman's career after she had an affair with Roberto Rossellini and became pregnant - not because of the affair but because she gave the story to Louella. Hopper's attacks on Marilyn Monroe were so vicious, fans wrote letters after Monroe's death blaming Hopper for the suicide - apparently she didn't give a damn about that or about the skunk Joan Bennett sent her as a Valentine's gift. When she was asked by actress Merle Oberon “What inspired all the vicious things you’ve been writing about me?”, her response was simple and really rather chilling: “Bitchery, dear. Sheer bitchery.”

The end of the studio system in the 1950s, the spread of television and the rise of tabloid magazines such as Confidential which was notorious for making up stories with no basis in fact at all (I'm resisting all references to Trump here) changed the relationships between Hollywood, its stars and the public. Parsons and Hopper faded away and, while gossip and some of its perpetrators seem to find continuously new lows in this 24/7 internet world, no other individual writers since have held such long-lasting and dangerous power over other people's lives. I can highly recommend the film Trumbo if anyone wants to know more, Helen Mirren's portrayal of Hopper captures her awfulness to perfection. The Golden Age of Hollywood, or so this period is so often called: proof that layers of gilt and polish and pretence can't hide the poison under the surface. Avoiding a Trump reference really was too much to hope for.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Goat Glands by Imogen Robertson

No idea why it would occur to me to recommend a documentary about an American charlatan to you fine people today. Just one of those things, I guess.

The documentary in question is 'Man of The People', an episode of the excellent podcast Reply All and is the very funny, shocking and rather disquieting story of John R. Brinkley (1885 - 1942) who claimed to be able to cure all sort of male maladies by a.... let us say 'intimate' operation, involving goat gonads.

His practice flourished, but he really hit the big time when he discovered a technology which allowed him to communicate, direct and unfiltered, with a huge number of people. Radio. I should also add that he achieved remarkable political success. He built a mansion with a two-story organ (as in the musical instrument) and apparently it's filled with special hiding places in which to stow your furs and jewels if the ravening hordes attack.

The episode is a great piece of storytelling, beginning as it does with an elderly lady in a decaying mansion and ending by returning there, the lady gone, the house restored and the man himself largely forgotten despite his desperate urge to write his name over everything in town.

A glance at Brinkley's wikipedia page shows that the programme makers aren't exaggerating when they say they didn't have the time to cover many of Brinkley's exploits, so I'll be watching the documentary and reading the book and pondering how easy it is to find oneself buying snakeoil.

You know, as one does.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Admiral Duncan: Forgotten Hero - by Ann Swinfen

Danloux' painting of Duncan on Venerable

Admiral Adam Duncan was once a celebrated hero for his great victory over the Dutch fleet under De Winter off Camperdown in October 1797 – a victory which has been compared, in its strategic importance, with the Battle of Britain in the early years of the Second World War, or the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. And yet over the years it has become a commonplace to claim that Duncan had been insufficiently recognised by government at the time, and unfairly forgotten since, even by his native city - Dundee - itself.
That Duncan was not forgotten in Dundee is illustrated by this stained glass window from the old Town House, a building since demolished.

Much more recently, writing in the volume of essays published to mark the bicentenary of the Battle of Camperdown, Councillor Andrew Lynch complained that the battle ‘has largely and unjustly sunk from public view, just as Adam Duncan, the hero of the hour, had been eclipsed by the memory of the heroically deceased Horatio Nelson’. And it is the case, of course, that there is no Camperdown Square in London, nor a Duncan’s Column.
All this is true, but fortunately only partly true. Duncan’s great victory was by no means overlooked by the government of the day, or the people of the nation. He was ennobled to a Viscountcy. His pension of £2000 a year was the largest pension ever awarded up to that time. Towns like Edinburgh and Dundee offered him the freedom of their city. A substantial range of souvenirs was produced for the people of Great Britain to commemorate their national hero. The fact is, of course, that there is a wealth of material, and especially images and artefacts, to inform the modern student of Duncan’s life, career and achievements.
Adam Duncan was born in the Seagate, Dundee, not far from where his statue now stands, the third son of Alexander Duncan, Provost of Dundee, the third member of his family to hold that office. Adam’s mother was Helen Haldane of Gleneagles, and he had two older brothers – John, who joined the East India Company, and died in their employ, and Alexander, a soldier, who served on the continent and in Canada, before himself dying in1796 – the year before Camperdown.
Adam was born in 1731, and in 1746 he joined the Navy as a midshipman – his first ship being a sloop called Tryal, under the command of his cousin, Robert Haldane, one of their first tasks being to try to capture Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden. The following year both Duncan and Haldane transferred to a frigate, the Shoreham, in action against the French in one of the many wars between Britain and France – this time the War of Austrian Succession which lasted from 1740-48. Indeed most of Duncan’s naval career seemed to have been directed by French wars. But war was also an opportunity. During the Seven Years War (again against France), Duncan gained promotion to 3rd Lieutenant in 1755, 2nd Lieutenant in 1756, and 1st Lieutenant in 1759. It was in that year that he was involved in an attack on the island of Goree off Senegal, and was wounded in the leg by a musket ball – the first and only wound he ever received in a career of more than 50 naval actions. In the same year he was promoted to Commander, and soon after that to Captain – appointed as Flag Captain on board Valiant – the flagship of Commodore Keppel.

Painting of Duncan by Reynolds

And that could have been the end of his naval career. If war provided opportunities for employment and advancement, the end of the war by the Peace of Paris in 1763 marked the end of both employment and advancement – at least until next time. For the next 13 years Captain Duncan twiddled his thumbs on half pay – the only compensation being that he met and married Henrietta Dundas, daughter of Robert Dundas, President of the Court of Session in Edinburgh.  Adam had not only gained a wife, but also had married into one of the most powerful families in Scotland.
In 1776 the American War of Independence again offered new opportunities. Appointed first to the Suffolk, with 74 guns, he was transferred to the Monarch, and in 1780 was involved in a fierce action against the Spanish fleet off Cadiz. He should then have gone with the Monarch to the West Indies, but was forced to withdraw for health reasons. In 1787 he finally achieved Flag rank as a Rear Admiral, but was then again on half pay until 1795.

Danloux' painting of Duncan as Rear Admiral

Battle of Camperdown
And so at last to the great battle that was to make his reputation and set the seal on his naval career – Camperdown. Once again Britain was at war with the French – the French Revolutionary Wars. At the end of 1794 the French armies invaded Holland, and in May of 1795 an alliance was concluded between France and the Batavian Republics, whereby Holland would support France with 12 ships of the line and 18 frigates, the plan being to use Holland as the spring board for the invasion of England. Duncan was appointed as Admiral of the Blue to command the North Sea Fleet – its purpose to prevent military expeditions from being dispatched from the Texel Island. The strategy was to blockade the Texel and if possible to destroy the Dutch fleet. This involved having the North Sea Fleet on constant patrol in the area.

To keep the Dutch penned in, Duncan deployed his ships in three ranks – the small cutters close to the coast, frigates next, and then two lines of battle ships further out – making it difficult for the Dutch to see just how many shops there were ranged against them.
            Then came the additional complication of the Mutiny, which gave rise to one of the great stories of Duncan’s career. There was growing unrest throughout the British Navy - mainly over rates of pay. The trouble started on Duncan’s flagship Venerable in April 1797, but he was able to deal with it and good order was re-established. He then visited every ship in the squadron, listening to their grievances, and demanding to know whether anyone dared to dispute his authority or that of their officers. On the 13th May, on the Adamant, one brave or foolhardy sailor did just that, giving rise to the famous incident when Duncan (he was a large man, 6 ft 4 inches in height) held the miscreant over the side with the words ‘ My lads, look at this fellow, he who dares to deprive me of the command of the fleet.’ This was of course by no means the end of unrest within the Navy – later that month the much more serious mutinies at Sheerness and the Nore broke out, and were not suppressed until well into June.
            The outbreak of mutinies in the British fleet was a distraction but not a fatal one. Duncan’s combination of personal courage combined with a willingness to listen had quieted unrest in his squadron. Duncan and the Venerable, with Vice Admiral Onslow in the Adamant, were able to sail to the Texel where they stationed themselves opposite to the main Dutch naval base. With an inspired deception, involving sending signals to an imaginary fleet out of sight of the Dutch, they succeeded in persuading the enemy to stay in port.
As it happened, when the Dutch did eventually attempt a breakout, most of Duncan’s ships were anchored off Great Yarmouth, taking on stores. Early in the morning of 9th October 1797, the lugger Speculator was sighted coming towards the fleet. It raised the signal ‘The Dutch Fleet is out’.
            By the morning of the 11th October, Duncan’s ships were off the Dutch coast, and they could see the Dutch making their way north-west back to their base, sailing near the village of Camperduin towards the shallower coastal waters. Duncan gave the order ‘to give battle’.

The two fleets immediately before the battle

Formed into two groups, the one under Duncan himself and the other under Onslow, the British ships concentrated on breaking the enemy’s line.

De Louthenbourg painting of the battle

In this they eventually succeeded. During the course of the battle the colours of the Venerable were shot away, giving rise to the famous incident when seaman John Crawford climbed up the mast and nailed the flag back up again. The battle was certainly no walk over, as the Dutch were experienced seamen and fought back with determination. After about three hours of intensive fighting, nine Dutch ships of the line had surrendered, and the rest had fled back to the Texel. Casualties on both sides were huge, but eventually the Dutch admiral, De Winter was forced to surrender.

Surrender by De Winter

It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this victory. Up until now, the war with France had gone badly for Britain and her allies. The battles of Valmy in 1792, and Tourcoing in 1794, had been notable French victories. The Netherlands and Spain turned from being Britain’s allies to being its enemies. Only the occasional naval victory, as at Cape St Vincent in February 1797, offered some hope.
            Camperdown was a turning point. This was a stunning victory. At the ‘Glorious First of June’ in 1794, Admiral Howe had captured six French ships and sunk one, out of a fleet of twenty-six. It was hailed as a triumph. At Cape St Vincent in February 1797 Admiral Jervis, with the aid of the young Horatio Nelson, had taken four Spanish ships out of twenty-seven, and the news caused great celebrations. Duncan had surpassed them both, capturing nine ships out of sixteen plus two frigates
            Camperdown undoubtedly had a significant impact on British strategy. Prime Minister William Pitt now adopted a more aggressive policy involving a return to the Mediterranean, leading to Nelson’s great victory at the Nile nine months later. Duncan’s ‘victory at Camperdown was as dramatic and complete as anything Nelson ever achieved, and it is difficult to see how he could have done anything better’.
            An editorial in the Times later in the month stated: ‘The consequences resulting from Admiral Duncan’s victory must be of the highest importance to the interests of this country….to destroy such a fleet at such a time, when an invasion is dreaded, is the more singularly fortunate, as besides ensuring our domestic tranquility we shall no longer be under the necessity of keeping up a large naval establishment to watch the motions of the enemy in the North Sea. But what we consider to be the most interesting consideration is the perfect establishment of our naval superiority for a long time to come, which must induce us to treat every attempt on the part of France to make a descent on our coast as a ridiculous chimera.’

The Public response to Camperdown.
Both government and the public at large were quick to appreciate the implications of Duncan’s great victory – the removal, at least for the time being, of the threat of French invasion, and the prospect of lower taxes if it was no longer necessary to support such a large naval establishment. In the eighteenth century there were well established rituals to signal the nation’s approval of the victor’s conduct – both in terms of ceremonies and in ritual gifts – many of the latter have survived to the present day.
            First there was the conferment of the Viscountcy. Then there was a brief visit to Venerable of the King on his way to the opening of Parliament, while Lord Spencer in the Lords and Henry Dundas in the Commons moved votes of thanks. When Duncan himself was introduced to the Lords in November, he was told that the House had ordered all the peers to attend – an unprecedented distinction – but one ‘called for by the general admiration your conduct has inspired, and strongly expressive of that peculiar satisfaction which the peers must feel upon your Lordship’s promotion to a distinguished seat in this House’.
            Then came a grand service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral on November 10th planned by the King himself to commemorate not only Duncan’s victory on the Texel, but also the defeat of the Spaniards by Earl St Vincent, and of the French by Lord Howe. It was a magnificent affair, the procession led by a division of Marines complete with music, followed by two hundred seamen. The captured colours of defeated French, Dutch and Spanish navies were carried in three great artillery wagons, followed by Duncan himself in his own carriage. It set off along Charing Cross and the Strand, with the streets lined with men of the Foot Guards and the Horse Guards. Arriving at St Paul’s, the flags were taken down from the wagons, and ‘under the loudest shout of applause and grand martial music’, were carried in procession into the Cathedral, where they were placed in a circle at the centre of the dome.
            There is plenty of evidence, then, to show that government at the time pulled out all the stops to honour the victor of Camperdown – the grant of a Viscountcy, a very substantial pension to be paid to himself and his two succeeding heirs, tax free and backdated to the date of the battle, the grandest public ceremonies. These were followed by all kinds of lesser honours, presentations, and gifts. Fourteen civic authorities presented him with the freedom of their cities.

Freedom casket from Edinburgh

The Common Council of London presented him with this ceremonial sword: The gold, enameled and diamond-set hilt has Camperdown motifs and the Duncan coat of arms on the pommel.

The County of Forfar gave him a silver-gilt soup tureen and commissioned his portrait by John Hoppner.

Silver-gilt tureen

Duncan was elected to honorary membership of numerous societies, from the Marine Society of Merchants to the Royal College of Surgeons. The Directors of the East India Company (the employers of older brother John) gave a dinner in his honour at the London Tavern, with between 90 and 100 guests, including Prime Minister William Pitt and members of his Cabinet.
            With his combination of bravery, professional skill, and personal modesty, Duncan was a popular hero, and not just in government circles. When he went to dine with the Lord Mayor of London, we are told that his ‘chariot was drawn by the mob down Fleet Street and all the way down to the Guildhall. The Ladies greeted him with huzzas and the waving of handkerchiefs.’ When he went out to dine with friends in Covent Garden, he was recognised, and the assembled company stood to drink his health. ‘The uproar was tremendous; the Admiral got up upon his legs and in a stentorian voice said: “Gentlemen, I thank you.” Not another word. They all cheered louder than ever. The people outside heard who they were, took their horses out of the coach, and drew it round Covent Garden, and it was with difficulty that they were allowed home.’
            As you might expect, Duncan’s achievement was nowhere more deeply appreciated than in Scotland. The Town Council of Dundee, at its first meeting after the battle, adopted the following resolution: ‘The Council unanimously Resolve to present Admiral Viscount Lord Duncan with a piece of Plate, value One Hundred Guineas, with a suitable inscription as a mark of their esteem for his Lordship, and of their high sense of the signal and splendid Victory obtained by his Lordship over the Dutch Fleet on the eleventh day of October last of so much consequence to the prosperity of Great Britain.’

Silver tea urn

Finally, as was the tradition, Duncan was presented with the spoils of war in the shape of the ship’s bell and figurehead from De Winter’s flagship, the Vryheid. The latter stood for many years in the grounds of the Camperdown estate.

Then as now the widespread esteem in which Duncan was held provided a golden opportunity for the purveyors of memorabilia and souvenirs. Camperdown muslins, Duncan caps, a Duncan plaid, Camperdown Clubs, prints, china figures, commemorative tokens, cameos, porcelain mugs, and many portraits all bore witness to the immense popularity of this famous admiral.

While it is certainly true that the name of Duncan as a great naval hero of the period has since been overshadowed by that of Horatio Nelson, we cannot fairly blame his contemporaries for that. Duncan’s victory was celebrated at every level of society. He was rewarded, feted, and even exploited by artists and makers of memorabilia. If his name is no longer commemorated alongside that of Nelson, it is a failure of the present day.

Ann Swinfen