Aethelflaed has received a revival of interest with the popularity of the show The Last Kingdom and other media. She is a fascinating character, but, in this post, I wanted to answer two questions. Who was the actual Aethelflaed and why is she so important to English history? I believe she is an important female figure who is often overshadowed by others during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the year 911, Aethelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians, took over the command of the kingdom of Mercia after her husband’s death. She was not just a regent until the next male heir came of age but was viewed as the head of government by her own people. She is known as an effective military commander, diplomat, and a benevolent ruler. By the end of Aethelflaed’s reign, she contributed much to the eventual consolidation of Saxon England.Continue reading “Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia”
Christmas Eve, 1914
“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915
World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.
“I suppose it is better to have had such splendid friends as those three were rather than not to have had any particular friends at all, but yet, now that all are gone, it seems that whatever was of value in life has tumbled down like a house of cards.”
-Letter from Edward to Brittain in response to the death of their friend, Victor
I have spent August reading a memoir from World War I, which really kept me thinking for days after. I believe this is a very important memoir and one most people should take the time to read. It is one of the few accounts from the era that is from a female point of view. Many accounts of World War I are from the men in the trenches, but what about the women they left behind? In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes of her life during this era and a bit afterwards. Brittain was born in 1893 and had grown up in northern England. She had one brother named Edward and the siblings were very intelligent and talented. Brittain was very interested in furthering her education and in writing, while Edward was a musician. The two were part of a lost generation and much of the memoir focuses on how their generation was affected by a war of that scale. She discusses how the generations that came before or after could never really comprehend what they went through. They were on their own island.
Lord Horatio Nelson is still viewed as one of the greats in British history and, as a result, his portraits throughout time reflect an almost divine man. It is natural that he would be depicted as the hero that the public wanted to see. He is tall with perfect skin and is decked out in his prim and proper military uniform. Though many of the portraits do portray his missing arm, Nelson actually physical showed his battle experiences and was even blind in one eye. But why would this be portrayed in a portrait? It does not follow the narrative that is meant to be presented.
Yet, a new portrait has been uncovered which may show more of the real Nelson. It was painted by Leonardo Guzzardi in 1799 and throughout time the scars that were depicted originally were covered up by various owners. Continue reading “Portrait Analysis: Lord Horatio Nelson”
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a documentary of the Tower of London while watching television and, of course, it immediately peaked my interest. I have always been interested in the Tower’s history because so much has happened there in over 900 years of history. This includes some of the most dramatic events in English history as the Tower was used not only as royal residence, but as a prison and site of execution. Yet, the documentary went over a part of the Tower’s that I was unfamiliar with. One of the experts interviewed discussed how, during excavations of the now dried up moat, bones were found from a variety of exotic creatures. They had found leopards, many dogs, and even multiple lion skulls. These lion skulls were from Barbary Lions, whose species is now extinct! This proves that these lions were kept in the Tower during the medieval era. That just blew my mind and I proceeded to learn more…
The first lions came to the tower in February of 1235, when Henry III’s brother in law (Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire) gave him three lions. This began the royal menagerie where the privileged few could view the monarch’s glorious collection of exotic animals. These were usually the royal favorites and the employees of the Tower. In 1252, the collection expanded when King Haakon IV of Norway sent Henry III a polar bear (and a keeper to go along with it)! Though the menagerie was still restricted, the citizens of London could sometimes get a glimpse of this great beast as the polar bear fished for his own food in the Thames River! Continue reading “The Animals in the Tower: A Brief History of the Royal Menagerie”
While watching an episode of Victoria on Masterpiece PBS, we were introduced to a fascinating woman of science, Lady Ada Lovelace. Her character intrigued me so much because of how unique she was for the time that I went on to research her even more! I wanted to focus a blog post on her and it has been challenging. Much of the math/computer science that Ada works with is complicated and does go over my head. I got some helped and ended up learning more about computers than I had known before. I persevered with this blog post because I think she is one of the forgotten people of history who left an important legacy. Those interested in computer history may know her name, but I had never heard of her until that episode of Victoria.
Lady Ada Lovelace is known for writing the first modern computer program in the 1840s. I was shocked when I first heard this statement because I ignorantly thought that there was no technology like a computer in the Victorian Era! When I think of that technology, I think of what we know in the modern day. In the Victorian era, there was not a computer in the modern sense, but there was the Difference Engine. The Difference Engine was created by Charles Babbage (who will play a large role in Ada’s story). The Difference Engine was a remarkable new technology for the era and was essentially a calculator, but it was only able to compute one operation of mathematics. The Difference Engine was a very large machine that, instead of using circuits to solve the problems, it used actual physical pieces. Ada herself was fascinated by this machine. Continue reading “Lady Ada Lovelace: “Enchantress of Numbers””
As seen in my previous post, Boudica had surpassed all expectations. She shocked the ancient world by inspiring an army of thousands of Britons to finally take back what had been theirs originally. They were fighting against the abuses her people had faced for seventeen years at the hands of the Romans. Boudica and her warriors had burnt the great city of Camulodunum to the ground and decimated the ninth legion. Fear spread quickly across the the land, but Governor Paulinus was not about to be defeated…
Boudica’s next target was Londinium (modern day London), which (at the time) was a relatively new city. It was created to be a trading port with the continent and was mostly populated by traders, craftsmen, and wealthy citizens. Londinium was estimated to have a population of about 30,000. This wealthy city was ripe for looting and, unfortunately for the citizens, there was no military presence (especially with the ninth legion now inoperable). The second legion was called in to fight, yet they failed to arrive. The people of Londinium knew that they were ill prepared. Continue reading “Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 2”
This is a post (well now posts) I have been looking forward to creating for a while. It is the story of Boudica, the warrior queen, who led her army of Britons on to fight against their Roman oppressors in 60 AD. Not much is known about her personally, yet her legend lives on through books, shows, statues, art, etc. The name Boudica is easiest to understand as a Celtic version of Victoria, this meaning Victory. There is speculation whether this was truly her name, or a title given to her. Before I begin her tale, we must discuss some background knowledge of Romanized Britannia that will give context to the story. Also, note that most of the primary sources historians use are Roman writings of the events and archaeological evidence. There are no written sources from the Britons themselves. Continue reading “Boudica’s Quest for Vengeance Part 1”
To the North, South, East, and West she was proclaimed Queen and to each proclamation an approval was received from the congregation. The moment she had waited for had come. She made a solemn oath in front of God to defend the Church, uphold the laws, and use justice and mercy in judgements. She knelt and accepted the anointing from the bishop of Carlisle. Slowly she stood up, taking in the moment, and went to the nearby pew to put on the robe of purple velvet and a mantle of gold. Though extremely nervous, she had to show strength in front of her people.
Sitting upon the chair of state before the high altar she was able to view the majesty of Westminster Abbey. So much history surrounded her; how many of her predecessors were crowned here as well? Would she be hated or loved as they all went through?
The ring representing England and her people was placed on her right hand, as if she was getting married. First, St. Edwards crown was placed on her head then removed. Next, the imperial crown was placed in the same position. At a full seven pounds she could barely lift her head to see the crowd, but she would not show weakness. A lighter crown was then replaced for the rest of the ceremony (did her mother once wear this crown as well?) and one by one the lords and bishops came up to give homage to her; Lords who may have opposed her just a few months ago. She stifled a laugh from the irony of this day; the daughter of the “Great Whore” had now become the sole Queen of England…… Continue reading “Elizabeth’s Journey to Queenship”
This week in history marks the anniversary of Edward VIII’s abdication of the English throne in favor of marrying the woman he loved, Wallis Simpson, which took place in 1936. Edward had met Simpson in 1931 and they became an item by 1934. This relationship caused a great scandal because Simpson was already married to Ernest Aldrich Simpson…her second husband. She was an American, she had already been divorced once, and was now planning to divorce again to marry Prince Edward. This was unacceptable at the time for a future royal, let alone the future queen. Society was very different then and divorce was not approved by the Church of England of which the monarchy is still the head of (thanks to Henry VIII…who ironically gained a divorce!). Since Edward was the eldest son of George V; he was subject to the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.
In 1772, George III created this act as a reaction to his brothers both marrying “commoners” which was some kind of disgrace to the crown (though maybe it was just because George III was jealous that he could not have married for choice). This act states that any descendant of George II could not marry without the currently reigning sovereigns consent. This consent had to be documented and any marriages that did not have this consent were considered null and void. Continue reading “The Royal Marriage Act of 1772”