Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Visit History: Portsmouth, New Hampshire

The only past experience I had with New Hampshire was driving through it. I saw the Welcome Center on the side of I-95, maybe a gas station or two and some mountains. Since relocating to New England, the ease of driving through states rather quickly is an enigma to me that I am still getting used to. Anyways, I went to Portsmouth.

There were four stand out "historic" places that I saw in Portsmouth. And by 'saw' I mean I only saw the outside of them. And rather quickly. Hey, it's February in New England. Everything shuts down to hibernate and it's really cold. However, I was inclined to find out more after I got home, so that counts for something.

Governor John Langdon House
John Langdon was a merchant, shipbuilder, American Revolutionary War general, signer of the Constitution and a three term governor of New Hampshire. Built in 1784, his house once hosted George Washington in 1789. It is a Georgian mansion with the inside decorated in the Rococo style. Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974, it is now operated by Historic New England.

When it is open, visitors can learn about the history of Portsmouth through the life of Langdon, the early colony of New Hampshire, the glory days of the city's mercantile boom and the Colonial Revival movement of the early 20th century through a house tour and various exhibitions.

Strawbery Banke
Strawbery Banke is the oldest neighborhood in New Hampshire to be settled by Europeans and is now a large outdoor history museum. It consists of more than 40 restored buildings (10 being open to the public) built between the 17th and 19th centuries in Colonial, Georgian and Federal style architectures. It was named in the 1630's after the abundance of wild berries growing along the Piscataqua River.

When that is open, visitors can learn the history and lifestyles of families of the houses and how they reflect the social changes of its time period. There are exhibitions on archaeology, woodworking tools and skills and post-and-beam construction. Fireplace cooking demonstrations are offered as well.

North Church
Like many New England towns, a prominent white church steeple rises above all buildings. This congregational church's steeple can be seen from most of the city. The North Church went through many incarnations, the second one being constructed in 1835 while using the same clock, bell and furnishings as its predecessor.

Members had to purchase their own pews and additional pews for their slaves, whose view from the balcony was of the town's whipping post. This church was destroyed as well, to make room for an extensive Victorian style renovation. A new bell and organ followed suit, the bell being used to summon the community's 9 p.m. curfew. Further renovations took place in 1978 and again in 2006.

In 2005 the church was vandalized, resulting in nearly $26,000 worth of damage. Stained glass windows were smashed. Blood on the windows and the outline of a fist suggested that they had been punched through. The case remained unsolved for four years until blood was matched to a 32 year old man from Wiscasset, Maine. A message was allegedly written on the communion table in blood, although I am unable to find any contents of the message. I'm sure it went something like 'blah blah blah, blood of your first born, beast will come to bring damnation, Christ will come to bring salvation, blah blah blah.'

Fort Constitution/Battery Farnsworth
Although not technically in Portsmouth, New Castle Island overlooks both the Piscataqua River and Atlantic Ocean. Fort Constitution was built on the island, one of seven forts built to protect Portsmouth Harbor and the colonists. The forts were of higher importance during the Revolutionary War because of Portsmouth's shipbuilding industry and the establishment of the Naval Shipyard in 1800. Further conflict following the Spanish American War made the fort essential in manning the harbor entrance and led to the establishment of a gun battery (Battery Farnsworth).

Now defunct, the fort was returned to the state in 1961 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Horse Meat Scandal Anxiety

The horse meat scandal sweeping the UK has been racking my brain for the past few weeks. How did horse end up in the meat? Was someone knowingly putting horse in the meat? Were they killing horses to provide meat or utilizing readily available dead horses? Is there a secret horse killing factory? Are those responsible guilty of animal cruelty or fraud? What the hell does horse taste like? Can they send all the recalled meat to me so it isn't wasted? What about starving people across the world? Am I a bad person for not being phased if I eat horse or not?

Horse meat is now being traced in Ikea Swedish meatballs which has resulted in the halt of sales almost worldwide. Now, it's effecting my well being. Leave my furniture store meatballs out of this. You can take my freedom but just don't take my friggin meatballs. 

A new study suggests that a distaste for horse meat in the UK goes as far back as the Anglo-Saxon occupation of Britain in the 6th century. Horses appear to have been eaten at the time as their bones were discovered at settlement sites across England. Almost a third of the sites contained horse bones. Bones were found detached from the skull, suggesting that the meat was shared. 

The reintroduction of Christianity to Britain could have made this custom disappear, as Christianity was the major contribution in bringing the Anglo-Saxons out of their primitive ways. Pope Gregory III condemned consumption of horse meat as a "filthy and abominable practice." 

Horses were associated with various pagan gods in north-west Europe which led them to be eaten for religious reasons. This could have contributed to Britain's aversion to the idea.

The '2013 Meat Adulteration Scandal' started out as a mere hiccup but is slowly spreading and getting more bizarre.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Peter the Feral Boy

Feral Boy? What does that even mean? I have only heard of feral cats. Mangy, unfriendly, wild animals. That's exactly what Peter the 'Wild Boy' was. He was found in his early teens, abandoned in a forest near Hanover, Germany in 1724. Peter was naked, disheveled and walking on all fours. A real life Mowgli, Jungle Book style.

First off, kind of crazy that he was found outside the town that the Pied Piper legend is from. The piper was a man, dressed in multicolored clothes, who led children away from the town, never to return. Anyways...

Peter said few words, and would respond to the name 'Peter,' which was adopted as his name. Unable to speak, Peter peaked the interest of George I of Hanover. He took the boy to England, where he quickly became a novelty in court. He was amused by simple things and attempted pickpocketing on numerous occasions. All efforts to teach him to read, write and speak failed.

Recently, it was discovered that Peter had Pitt-Hopkins syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that was only recently identified in 1978. There is one portrait of Peter where his features are attributed to the disease. A Cupid's bow mouth, short stature, fused fingers and drooping eyelids are all key symptoms of the syndrome. The portrait is in a stairwell at Kensington Palace. Peter is depicted wearing a green coat, holding acorns and oak leaves, symbolic of him living in the forest.

His behavior became well known and his fame spread. He became the subject of satires by Jonathan Swift (The Most Wonderful Wonder that ever Appeared to the Wonder of the British Nation) and Daniel Defoe and a wax figure of him was exhibited.

His popularity eventually waned and he was sent to labor at a farm in Hertfordshire under the care of a guardian. He was forced to wear a collar after he escaped once.

Peter lived to the age of 72 and is buried at St. Mary's Church under a gravestone paid by the local people. The gravestone is in wonderful condition and was in the news a few days ago, as it was upped to a Grade II stature. What is a Grade II stature for those of you not in the UK?

There are three types of listed status for buildings in England and Wales:
Grade I: of exceptional interest
Grade II: particularly important of more than special interest
Grade III: of special interest, warranting every effort to preserve them

Congrats Pete. Movin' on up.

Heritage minister, Ed Vaizey says: "Peter the Wild Boy's story is both extremely interesting and at the same time poignant and unsettling. It also reminds of how far public attitudes to disability have changed." Tony Calladine, of English Heritage, said: "This is a fascinating story of a significant figure in the country's history of disability." The intrigue of Peter the Wild Boy arises public interest as much as it did in Georgian England.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Offa's Dyke

Offa's Dyke is a man made border line roughly between England and Wales. It was created in the later half of the 8th century as a separation of the English kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh peoples. It is the work of King of Mercia, Offa. Like Hadrian's Wall, it is believed that the dyke was constructed not only as a defensive barrier by the Anglo-Saxons, but as a political statement of power.

Many historians regard Offa as the most powerful Anglo-Saxon king before Alfred the Great, however there are mixed feelings. Offa was a protector of the church, which he encouraged as a source of stability and education by supporting it with grants of land and building abbeys. Some believe he was part of the process leading to a unified England, while others believe that he just had a lust for power. 

Offa was frequently in conflict with various Welsh kingdoms and he is recorded as campaigning against them in 778, 784 and 796.

The dyke stretches as wide as 65 feet and eight feet tall. The dyke constantly provides an open view from Mercia into Wales. It is not continuous and is built where natural barriers did not already exist, although the gaps in the dyke have been debated. 

Some historians believe the dyke at once went from "sea to sea" as Asser, 9th and 10th century writer, had recorded. This would have been over 150 miles. Others believe that there is only evidence of the trail extending 64 miles. Regardless of the length, the dyke is regarded as the largest and most recent great construction of the preliterate inhabitants of Britain.

The Offa's Dyke Association maintains the Offa's Dyke Path. The trail follows most of the route of the dyke, almost 176 miles, and is a designated British National Trail.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Smuttynose Island

I toured the Smuttynose Brewing Company in Portsmouth, New Hampshire this past weekend. Smuttynose's etymology isn't from something a drunk guy said at a party (heyyyyy yurr nose is dirty, smuttynose ahahaha gettit? 'Cause yurr nose is smutty?), it's a name of an island with a dark history.

Although the brewery is centrally located in Portsmouth, Smuttynose Island is in Maine. It is part of the Isles of Shoals, a small group of islands six miles off the coast between the border of Maine and New Hampshire. Referring to the way seaweed on the rocks looked like the "smutty nose" of a sea animal, a fisherman gave the island its name. The island is 25 acres with a whole lot of nothing going on. There are a few structures, but remains unpopulated.

Besides the beer, Smuttynose Island is known for a gruesome crime that occurred in March of 1873. John Hontvet and his wife, Maren, were the only residents on the island at the time. John was a prosperous fisherman with a growing business. He enlisted the help of 28 year old, Louis Wagner. Wagner was a drifter with a history of job hopping.

Wagner eventually moved on from assisting John on Smuttynose. Maren's brother, sister, and sister-in-law all relocated to the Isle of Shoals, as well as John's brother. The men partnered with John's lucrative fishing business, while Maren and the women, Karen and Athene, took care of the home.

While the men spent the night in Portsmouth awaiting a bait delivery, Wagner became aware of the women on the island alone. Destitute, he stole a boat and rowed to Smuttynose with the intent to rob their home. He brutally murdered Karen and Athene by strangling and striking them with a hatchet while Maren escaped by finding refuge by a rock, now called Maren's rock.

The next morning, Maren identified the murderer as Wagner. Wagner had already fled to Boston, with the measly $15 he stole from their house. He was tried, convicted and hung in Maine over two years later.

And some brewery pics just because:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Visit History: John F. Kennedy Museum

Sounds boring right? I was apprehensive about visiting this museum because a JFK/any presidential museum just sounds...'eh.' However, I am a fan of taking full advantage of my reciprocity with other museums and this was one yet explored. 

Upon entering, I was directed to a theatre that featured a 17 minute video (doable: not too long, not too short) which used vintage footage of JFK. He uses his own words to explain where he came from, what he stood for and gave an insight into his family, career and campaign trail.

Afterwards, I descended downstairs where the museum housed the artifacts. The layout was great. The museum was a series of rooms, all decorated accordingly to that period in JFK's life. The museum "offers visitors a "you are there" experience by using President Kennedy's own voice in self-guided exhibits. Visitors then follow the 1960 presidential election campaign and step back into the re-created world of the Kennedy Presidency and White House." Their website says it better than I can.

The campaign trail rooms were filled with propaganda posters, buttons, newspapers, etc. They were energetic and very red, white and bluish. As expected, I guess.

Various rooms were recreated throughout the museum, including many in the 'White House' section.

The 'White House' section included many of the Kennedy's personal items. Their numerous gifts received during the presidency, clothes, office supplies and JFK's personal collectibles are all displayed. He had an impressive collection of embellished whale teeth and historical artifacts. Give him anything related to history or the sea, and he was happy. We would have been buds, I'm sure.

A few of my favorite things in the museum, besides ALL OF IT, was a section of the Berlin Wall and a section from Jackie's old yearbook because it was hilarious.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Triumph of the Winter Queen

A special exhibition went on view Valentine's Day at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Emerging from renovation for the past 18 months, The Triumph of the Winter Queen, Allegory of the Just, is finally on display. Nearly 10 x 15 feet, the painting was completed in 1636 by Dutchman, Gerrit van Honthorst.

Now. I like art-art. Not art like a purple plastic apple nailed to a slab of balsa wood that is covered with spitballs that supposedly depicts the oppression of Holocaust victims during 1942 in the suburbs surrounding Paris. No. I'm talking about art-art. And if it tells a story, even better. The Triumph of the Winter Queen tells a story. This painting tucks you in, sings you a lullaby and then tells you a story. There is so much going on here.

The painting: before I deface it

Frederick V and Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of England's King James I, were married on Valentine's Day in 1613 and had 13 children together. Frederick V, ruler of parts of Germany, was selected as King of Bohemia (Czech Republic area). Due to the popularity of Roman Catholicism, Frederick (a Protestant) and his family were driven into exile. The Winter King and Queen get their nicknames from the shortness of their reign.

Honthorst (pronounced Hont-horst) was commissioned by Elizabeth to produce a painting of her family. King Frederick V and Frederick Henry were deceased at the time of the painting and are depicted as so. They both hold martyr's palm branches, wear crowns of laurel and are surrounded by heavenly light. Frederick Henry died as a result of drowning, so Neptune, Roman god of water and the sea, is being trampled under the chariot's spiked wheels as a big SCREW YOU.
Elizabeth's youngest son, Gustavus, is depicted as Cupid as he leads the lions that pull the chariot. Cupid is a figure sometimes used in processional images. The youngest daughter, Sophia, is seen hovering, about to place a crown on Elizabeth's head.

Elizabeth's three surviving sons are on horseback, trampling the figures of Death and Envy. Two of the sons are dressed as soldiers, while Charles is depicted wearing regal pelts. This imagery indicates the sons' determination to reclaim the family's lost territories.

The painting is a statement about love, war, exile, separation, and loss. Elizabeth intended to use the painting to affirm her family's right to rule and to convey her belief that they would one day regain their leadership. And they did. By the time Elizabeth died, her son, Charles Louis, reacquired some of their former land. Her daughter, Sophia, had a son who became King George I of England.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Around the World in 80 Seconds

1. Stonehenge. You all know the history of Stonehenge, so I'll make this quick. A small squadron of extra-terrestrials was sent to Earth from the Galaxy of Nezod to construct a fortress to accommodate them during their world domination. Their fortress, Stonehenge, was constructed anywhere from 3000-2000 B.C. The departure of the aliens remains unknown, although historians believe it was their disfavor of British weather that discouraged their continuation.

2. Liberty Leading the People by Eugène Delacroix. France, 1830. You can learn more about this painting from my previous post, Les Misérables Sadfest.

3. Australian aborigine. And an all around intimidating dude. Aboriginal Australians were indigenous to the Australian continent before British colonization began in 1788.

4. Marie Antoinette. The Queen of France  from 1774 to 1792. This particular print is from a theatre production of Marie Antoinette in Boston over the summer.

5. Hatshepsut. Female pharaoh of Egypt from 1479-1458 B.C. She was often depicted in art wearing a fake beard, possibly to be recognized as an equal in an otherwise male-dominant role.

6. Rosie the Riveter. J. Howard Miller's print created in 1942. It was created with the intent to keep factory production up by boosting women's morale during the World War II effort in the United States.

7. Sugar skull. This isn't really a sugar skull, but a 'calavera' associated with the Mexican celebration of The Day of the Dead. Sugar skulls are actually made of sugar. They can be used to adorn altars and be eaten. So, two-for-one deal on those bad boys.

8. Tower of London. Former fortress/prison in London. Now houses the Crown Jewels, ravens and Beefeaters.

9. Eye of Horus. An ancient Egyptian symbol used to protect oneself from evil. The marking was intended to protect the pharaoh in the afterlife and was later adopted by sailors to ensure a vessel has safe sea travel.

10. Pyramids of Giza. The Pyramid of Khufu is the oldest and largest of the three, finished in 2560 B.C. It is the only one remaining of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It has an extra layer of limestone on the top of the pyramid. The pyramids used to be fully covered in this layer, but were stripped of it by townspeople. The remaining limestone is what could not be reached.

11. Candy Land Saint Basil's Cathedral. A Russian Orthodox church in Red Square in Moscow. Built 1555-61 on Ivan the Terrible's orders. Often mistaken for the Kremlin. Modeled after a bonfire rising into the sky.

12. Cristo Redentor. Or, Christ the Redeemer statue. We have all seen this statue placed high above Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, it is only the 5th largest Jesus statue in the world. 99 feet tall, constructed 1926-31. Larger Jesus statues, in descending order, are Christ the King (Poland), Christo de la Concordia (Bolivia), Christ Blessing (Indonesia) and Cristo Resucitado (Mexico).

13. Ganesha. Hindu deity. The 'Remover of Obstacles,' or 'Lord of Beginnings.' Common attributes are an elephant head, potbelly, many arms, snake draped around neck, rat friends scurrying at his feet, holding his own broken tusk, lover of candy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Dark Ages of Europe & the History Channel

Don't you just love when the History Channel plays history? When you tune in, Swamp People, Big Rig Bounty Hunters, Pawn Stars, Ax Men and American Restoration graces the screen. Come to think of it, History Channel should rename their channel to Scripted Reality American Hustlin'. Apart from 'Vikings' debuting in March (very excited about this btw), history specials are few and far between.

I know, right? But for only $7.99 a month, you can stream many history specials on Netflix:)  Annnnd, in my kinda-chronological thing I got going on with this blog (slowly creeping my way through early British history), I found an hour and a half special on the Dark Ages that I watched while succumbing to insomnia this morning at 3 a.m. It fits in perfectly with the transition from Roman to Anglo-Saxon rule.

Dark Ages: The Fall of Civilization, the Rise of a New World Order, was released in 2007 and I must say, it was a compact, entertaining story of the Dark Ages. It details the centuries that were swept under the rug as a result of famine, plague and persecutions starting at the fall of the Roman Empire in 410 A.D.

Civilization regressed after the Roman Empire was disbanded by numerous barbarian tribes. Sewage systems stopped working, aqueducts broke down and the elaborate buildings constructed by the Romans were dismantled for stones to support newer, simpler structures. Technology, trade, education and medicine were erased. Civilians were uprooted to make way for these more primitive cultures.

Warfare, civil war, feuding, and vendettas were now the norm. Political problems quickly escalated into military problems. It was just total doom and gloom. Many people found solace in Christianity, as it offered peace within the chaos. In these Dark Ages, Jesus Christ was the new emperor.

Christianity brought destruction as well. The Holy Wars were happening which were battles fought in the name of faith. The Ordeal was established which was a series of tests that are reminiscent of how one would distinguish if a person was a witch or not. A guilty person would be thrown in water or would be burned. If they floated in water, or recovered quickly from the burns, it was believed that God was on their side. People believed that God's justice came down to earth and was readable through the results of these tests.

Under the reign of Emperor Justinian, what was left of the displaced Empire was put through further trial during the outbreak of the bubonic plague. It is said that up to 100 million people perished because of the plague. That's nearly half of the entire European population at the time.

This plague wasn't your typical flu. The symptoms started with fever, chills, vomiting, sensitivity to light, groin, ear and armpit pain and ended in tumors, violent muscle spasms and coma. Economic productivity further crippled and Europe was further susceptible to attack as defensive barriers weakened.

As Jesus was regarded as the new emperor, monasteries became a symbol of strength. They were a center of commerce and political authority. Civilization was also greatly restored by Charlemagne, the greatest king of the dark ages. He gave birth to education and reestablished the economy. He divided the land into 350 countries that he closely monitored. He further institutionalized Christianity by executing anyone caught cremating a body or practicing pagan rituals.

Things were beginning to turn around for Europe right? WRONG. The Vikings were on their way to throw salt in the wound. And then more salt. And then salt with a salty cherry on top. Vikings had set sail from Scandinavia and were on the hunt for new land and high adventure. Their ships were swift and maneuverable in both sea and rivers, allowing them to attack virtually anywhere on the coast.

They killed monks, took over monasteries, destroyed literature and stole treasure and money whenever they could. One of their favorite methods of execution was the Blood Eagle. A person's back would be opened, exposing their ribs. The ribs would be cut from the spine and then the lungs pulled out to resemble wings.

Alfred the Great was instrumental is expelling the Vikings. Realizing Vikings didn't have the siege warfare to attack fortresses, he constructed many and utilized them in fighting off the Vikings. After nearly 25 years of fighting, he achieved lasting peace for Britain.

The Dark Ages ended following the Crusades. The Crusades were a series of expeditionary wars aimed at restoring Christianity to the holy land (Jerusalem). It was believed that Jesus's home was being "defiled by the pagans." The Crusades brought a rebirth of trade and architecture. Goods flowed, roads were rebuilt and land became more cultivatable. A Medieval awakening was happening FINALLY as medical information, books and language were brought back to Europe.

Monday, February 11, 2013

St. Peter: Not a Docile Apostle (Allegedly)

How about a good ole Catholic ass-kickin story for today? Be careful what you say about Benedict's short, conservative reign, as apostles have a history of appearing in dreams and beating people.

A long, long time ago (in 616 A.D.) in a land far, far away (not really, only England) there was a strange occurrence that involved a bishop, a king and a fairy apostle-father. 

The Venerable Bede (none of the above, but the original narrator of this story) was a detective/monk/writer/father of English history/hard working/scientifically rigorous/inquisitive man who made it his business to document the origins of the English people. One of his accounts tells the tale of King Eadbald, who was King of Kent and leader of a large sect of Anglo-Saxons.

During the Anglo-Saxon occupation of England, after an era of Roman Christianity had ended, the pope was trying to reestablish England with the church. He dispatched missionaries to secure England. If King Eadbald wouldn't convert, what hope did the missionaries have for the rest of the country to follow suit? As anticipated, a nation of Thor-loving, tough Anglo-Saxons was hard to convert and efforts were on the brink of abandonment.

According to Bede, St. Peter, the Prince of Apostles, appeared in a vision to Bishop Laurentius, one of the missionaries who was sent to England. Bishop Laurentius was about to throw in the towel on reconverting England. In a rage, St. Peter appeared and ferociously beat the bishop while reminding him of the parable of the 'Good Shepherd' and insisting that he should not abandon his sheep to the infidel wolves. 

The next day the bishop showed his wounds (that apparently remained from the vision) to King Eadbald who quickly reformed to Christianity and encouraged his followers to do so accordingly. I would too to avoid Freddy Krueger St. Peter.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Two Princes Will Not Be Avenged (Yet)

You don't know where you're going unless you know where you've been. 

What insightful little words of wisdom these are regarding history. Except the Queen doesn't care. Nor do the ministers or Church of England when it comes to testing the ashes of the two princes that lie in Westminster Abbey.

The recent discovery of Richard III's skeleton has reopened the case of the two princes found in the Tower of London. Allegedly, according to his Tudor successors and Shakespeare, Richard killed his two nephews in the Tower of London during his bid for the throne.

Scientists are hoping to use carbon dating on the ashes of the two princes who were said to have been smuggled with a pillow. However, previous requests have been shut down as authorities say carbon dating will only establish the accuracy of the bones within plus or minus 50 years. It can not differentiate who the guilty party is, nor give the age of the children's deaths. It will only satisfy one area of curiosity without bringing the absolute truth.

The Queen, minister and home secretary are all in full agreement that the case should not be reopened. 

Reasons being:
  • It could lead to testing historical theories resulting in a number of royal disinterments.
  • What to do with the remains if the DNA tests were negative, potentially leaving the church with the dilemma of how to manage bogus bones.

The discovery of Richard III has not changed the abbey's position. They are content in believing what has held truth since the 17th century. "I do not believe we are in the business of satisfying curiosity, or of certifying that remains in the abbey tombs are what they are said to be," says the Dean of Westminster. Well. Fine. Then.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Fanny & Stella: Drag Sensations in the 1800's

A few days ago, the UK approved same-sex marriage in a vote, although must still go through several stages before it becomes legal. Coincidentally, Fanny and Stella was released a few days ago, a book chronicling the fierce and fabulous Ernest Boulton and Frederick Park and the pandemonium they created in Victorian England in the 1800's.

The two men, known as Fanny and Stella, were Victorian transvestites. After meeting as young men, their bond strengthened as they expressed themselves through drag. They would dress up for a multitude of photos and would often go out together to attend social events. It's 2013, and heads still turn when men dress as women so you can imagine what something like this would have caused in the 1870's.

Work it gurlfriendz. Fanny and Stella, then in their early 20's, refused to sashay away and eventually were arrested in Strand Theatre in London for suspicion of prostitution. Having discovered that they were not biological women, the police launched a campaign to persecute them. Authorities raided their secret dressing rooms on Wakefield Street and confiscated their entire drag wardrobe. 

They were put on trial in Westminster Hall in 1871, charged with "the abominable crime of buggery." Had they been found guilty, they could have been sentenced to servitude, but the prosecution was unable to prove that either had committed a "homosexual offense." Secondly, men wearing women's clothing was not a crime, so Fanny and Stella were acquitted. 

Ladies, condragulations. Chanté, you stay.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Roman Occupation of Britain, Part II

Jim Morrison on the Roman Occupation of Britain:
This is the end, beautiful friend, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end, of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end

Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain
Ride the King's highway, baby
To the lake, the ancient lake, baby
The west is the best
This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
It hurts to set you free, but you'll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies, the end of nights we tried to die
This is the end

Just kidding, he wrote it about his girlfriend. But the lyrics fit, no?

For 200 years Britain was ruled firmly from Rome. As the 3rd century progressed, leadership in Rome became complacent and allowed territories to slip out of their control. Local commanders of distant provinces were given too much independence and began to think of carving their own kingdoms out of the Empire.

Roman Reform
Emperor Diocletian created reforms to help bring stability back. Two emperors, 'Augusti,' and two junior emperors, 'Caesars,' were created to divide the eastern and western empires between them so they could keep a closer eye on them. Countries within the empire were called dioceses. Britain was a diocese, though it was part of a larger unit known as the Praetorian Prefecture of the Gauls.

Roman Decline
During the first half of the fifth century, most of Britain's protectors against the impending Pictish and Saxon threat had either been withdrawn or were in the process of being withdrawn to defend Rome against Germanic tribes. The Empire was not in control of its frontiers. It was weakened by the civil war between Constantine's sons, but the chief danger was the barbarian migrations of the German tribes. In 402 Rome decided to pull more soldiers out of Britain as they were needed in Italy to defend the city against the Visigoths.

Britain began to scramble. Pretenders were welcomed by the vulnerable British if they seemed likely to protect them from their own barbarian enemies. It was under the British imperial pretender Constantine III that Britain severed her links with Rome for good. In 410 the sack of Rome by the Goths made Rome wash her hands of the province.  

A letter was sent to the British cities telling them that they could no longer depend on the Romans for their defense and needed to  now rely on themselves. Citizens were now allowed to carry weapons and did not have to pay heavy Roman taxes. Local British rulers sprang into existence to fill the power void left by the collapse of the imperial administration.

Life Without Rome
You can take the Rome out of Britain, but you can't take the Roman out of the British? Pretty much.  The Roman style of life continued for a few decades after the withdrawal of the legions. Members of society still dressed fancy, remained educated and spoke Latin. 

However, its global economy, long-distance trade and coinage was disappearing. Roman laws died. Towns declined. Pottery factories, which created so much employment, vanished. The inhabitants of Britain were soon living in a far more primitive fashion than their grandparents had.

Rome was gone from Britain for good. The era of the Dark Ages began (a period where there were no contemporary written sources). During this period, the Jutes, Angles and Saxons were taking over. Their chief deities were Woden the God of War and Thor the God of Thunder. In other words, they were fierce warrior peoples for whom glory was to be won by fighting, not by building towns. The transition to Angle/Saxon rule was brutal, bloody and sudden.

Angle/Saxon Takeover
By the late sixth century, Saxon kingdoms were permanently established throughout most of England. Some of the British community still considered themselves Roman enough in the late 440's to send a plea for help to the ruler of what remained of the Roman Empire. Titled, 'The Groans of the Britons,' it contained cries of 'the barbarians drive us to the sea,' 'the sea throws us back on the barbarians: thus two modes of death await us; we are either slain or drowned.'  

Priests, women and children were murdered. So many were killed that there were not enough people left to bury them. Families were driven out of their homes. Some buried their silver underneath their cellars, thinking that one day when the invaders had been expelled they would be able to come back for it. Some of that silver may now be seen in the British Museum, having been found centuries later.

In the first years of the Saxon invasion the old population of England was nearly destroyed. A legendary King Arthur is said to have held the Saxons off for thirty years. Legend has it that King Arthur is not dead, but sleeping in a cave in Wales and will one day awaken to help Britain in her darkest hour.

Britain had become a safe haven for fleeing Christians during Diocletian's time, when he blamed the troubles of the empire were from neglect of the ancient gods like Jupiter and Minerva. Celtic deities continued to be worshipped alongside Christ because of this haven in Britain.

Emperor Constantine, after believing that God gave him victory at the battle of Milvian Bridge, which reunited the empire, shifted the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey). He made Christianity the state religion, believing it could be a unifying force in the empire.

After the expulsion of many Roman-Briton Christians by the Anglo-Saxons, those who remained kept to themselves and refused to have anything to do with converting their neighbors. It wasn't until Pope Gregory the Great saw two Angle children that his interests in converting England started. Saying the children looked like angels, not angles, he dispatched a mission to convert the King of Kent to Christianity. Thus began the reconversion of England to Christianity and the country's return to a higher form of civilization. 

Fun Fact:

  • Britannia, the name of the Roman province, disappeared and was replaced by England, as in Angle-land.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Roman Occupation of Britain, Part I

This is a nice, little, simplified version of the Roman occupation of Britain that I lately have been reading about. It's shorter than Roman Occupation of Britain for Dummies, available at a store near you (probably).

Up until the first century B.C., Britain seemed to hide under the radar of strong European powers. We know there was a reconnaissance trip to Britain in 300 B.C. by Pytheas of Greece, and we know of the 'Beaker People' who built Stonehenge. The Beaker People were challenged by the more powerful civilization, the Celts of Eastern Europe, as they brought the Iron Age with them to Britain. It is only in Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War that we read the first written description of Britain.

Britain started attracting attention from Caesar in the 1st Century, as it was being used as a sanctuary by the leaders of Gaul (the country roughly covering the territory of modern France). The Gauls were rebelling against Rome at the time and if Caesar made Britannia (Rome's name for the island) a province of the Roman Empire, he could break the Gaul's power.

Caesar sent two expeditions to Britain but they did not produce results. He failed to land enough soldiers to secure the country and in 54 B.C., he had to rush to Gaul to end a rebellion. He never believed he really conquered Britain, as he never ordered a Triumph, the traditional way of showing off new acquisitions by parading the natives around like slaves around Rome. The only trophy he is said to have had, was a corselet made of British freshwater pearls. Cute.

However, British lives were slowly changing as they increased contact with Rome in both diplomatic and trade levels. They were selling grain to the Empire, and buying olive oil and wine in exchange. They developed their own mints and began producing coins inscribed in Latin.

Because of Caesar putting Britain on the map for Rome and the stigma of Britain having resisted Caesar, Emperor Caligula wanted it for himself. But the high Dover cliffs he faced on the coast of Britannia scared him off. Nine years later in 43 A.D., Emperor Claudius wanted to secure his shaky throne with a military conquest of Britain. This time Rome was successful and would remain in control for four centuries. By the end of the 1st century, Britannia had completely integrated into the empire.

As a method of pacifying Britain, Rome began immigrating Italians to Britain to start a new life as a reward for their years of service to the Empire. This was a traditional Roman way of turning a country into a Roman province.  

Resentment soon began when Claudius took a step back and the first Roman governor of Britain, Ostorius Scapula, began treating the locals like slaves. As mentioned in previous posts, Caratacus and Queen Boudicca were some natives who refused to be treated as such.

Regardless, by 68 A.D., successful campaigns by appointed governors were establishing Britain as a Roman territory. Agricola created a sturdy system of roads and forts. He educated the sons of British chiefs in Roman curriculum.  

People began delighting in the new Roman way of life. Public baths, amphitheaters, and courts were established. Britain saw an increase in wealth because of their exportation of lead and tin. Latin became the official written and spoken language, magnificent towns were built, and water was brought to them by pipes and aqueducts. They became so skilled at warfare that at times their tribes made up ten percent of the empire's army. 

But the tribes of the north and west were a constant threat. Hadrian's wall was constructed to possibly subdue these northern tribes. Agricola was only in Britain for 10 years, and was beloved by many inhabitants of Britain, as he was improving the land and community. He was recalled by emperor Domitian who feared that the governor would make a bid for the throne.  

Religion plays a big part in how Britain developed as a country. It was the Romans' policy to allow the countries they conquered to worship their own deities, although they would not tolerate Britain's practice of human sacrifice. The Celt's religion was pantheistic - that is, they saw gods or spirits everywhere, in streams, trees, etc. Christianity will play a large role in the establishment of Britain and go through many incarnations.

Fun Fact:

Many of the English names of the months date from the Roman occupation of England.

  • January - derives from Janis, two-faced deity who looks both backwards and forwards to the past and coming year and who was adopted by the Romans from the Egyptians
  • March - Mars, God of War
  • July - Julius Caesar
  • August - Julius Caesar's nephew, Augustus