Red Ned Tudor Mysteries

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Will the Real King Arthur Please Step Out of the Shadows?

Greetings Houselings I hoped you liked the tribute to our American cousins for their 4th July Celebration in the last issue of this blog. Since then we’ve had Bastille Day and another dramatic revolution in Society that some are linking to the Arab Spring. On the events in Britain I will put my thoughts in order and give you a considered opinion in the next few days. In the meantime I was given the chance to check out a piece of historical non fiction on a subject very dear to the hearts of most if not all fantasy and historical fiction readers King Arthur. Now I remember racing home from school to watch on a very fuzzy Black and white TV the series Arthur of the Britons starring Olivier Tobias and one of my favourite British larger than life actors Brian Blessed. It was after the gruelling privations of school a real highlight. One I suppose pushed me in the direction of historical research and reconstruction archaeology that I’ve have doggedly perused ever since.

Now I now it was a made for TV production but even then it did impress me with the efforts it took to remove the ‘knightly fantasy’ of Arthur. Apart from being a damned good piece of entertainment it was as close as any TV production could be to including cutting edge archaeological and historical interpretations. Since then as we’ve seen standards have dropped a bit though one or two productions still make an effort to shrug off Hollywood History.
However it is items in the realm of print that I want to talk about. There is a definite Arthurian industry, that regularly churns out all manner of learned works that claim to either make Arthur a space alien, a purely mythological figure and of course many in the Victorian vein of the fantasy knight that he wasn’t. Thus it is refreshing to come across a book that doesn’t make extravagant claims, instead going back to look at the text and name evidence as free as possible from modern contamination. To me August Hunt’s book fulfils all the requirements of fine and rigours scholarship and research, he has present his evidence and given exhaustive reasoning for his interpretation. Now as any student of history knows the Truth of the past changes with time as new information comes to light, I suspect that it will be so with August’s book. It is not the definitive work on Arthur, but it is a damned important stepping stone on our path to understand the cloudy period of Sub Roman Britain and I hope will lead to further real efforts in research and archaeology.

The only problem I found with this was one of frustration…I immediately wanted to see the next stage of his research!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How to categorize this book well that isn't so simple, there are almost books without number claiming all manner of attributes and origins to that most famous and mysterious of British heroes Arthur-Dux Bellorum or High King of Britain. He has been presented in so many different forms a Celtic King reasserting a lost independence, the last of the Romans in an isolated outpost of a crumbled Empire or even Mallory's and Geoffrey of Monmouth's great chivalric hero. Through all this fiction it is very difficult to tell.

As a historian and reconstruction archaeologist I know that you have to look hard for evidence to base your work on and I must say that August Hunt has certainly done that. His research cutting through mythology and ignoring pet theories is based on original place names, reasonable translations and interpretations of the earliest records is to be commended. He presents a very compelling argument to place Arthur and his great battles in the north where the remnant of the old Roman field army most probably still held sway. He examines each phrase of the account of battles and give I feel a very reasoned suggestion as to their validity and location based on the textual and where possible archaeological evidence. Having studied the Arthurian conundrum for decades and been weaned as a teen on Morris' The Age of Arthur, I appreciate fine scholarship and this is it. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to any serious student of Sub Roman Britain as a valuable addition to the Arthurian discussion. Now considering this book a few days after I went through it I found that August's studies opened up a lot more questions. I can only hope that he will find the time to explore them. 
Regards Greg

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

The American Revolution- What was it and Why?

Welcome my friends and fellow Houselings! Since it is has been such a along time since the doctor has given you any pearls of wisdom, I think that considering it is the 4th of July it merits a special post.

Since 1776 an awful lot of misconceptions and legends have grown up around both the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers of the United States. More than a few are demolished by Bill Bryson in his excellent light hearted work Made in America. A piece that should be required reading for anyone in High School and beyond if only to show that history and myths are damned amusing and their origins are quite bizarre.

Instead today I am going to shift the focus away from the suggested seat of Liberty America and look at a single event in the Bear pit of the House of Commons at British Parliament in 1765. Charles Townsend the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke in the House for the enabling of the Stamp Act to assign taxation of items in use by the American Colonies. While no one likes taxes at anytime the basis of this one was perfectly reasonable, the monies raised were to be used to defray the costs of protecting the American Colonies. Simple and straight forward, however after that bout of commonsense the rest of the process was a disaster. Which the eminent and highly readable historian Barbara Tuchman succinctly points out in her March of Folly. If human arrogance, misunderstanding, stupidity, misconception, ego and snobbishness could put an oar in to make a poor idea into a catastrophe it did.

But there were more than enough men of backbone and character who stood up against this piece of absolute stupidity. Pitt the Elder, the architect of victory over France, the great orator Edmund Burke, General Conway and the man who first encapsulated the American Colonials situation Colonel Isaac Barré (see painting to left). This respected soldier fought with Wolfe and was with him at the time of his death on the Plains of Abraham the culminating victory of the Seven Year War that ended French control of the Canadas.

What Colonel Barré said in answer to Townsends’ slur on the Colonies was this, accord to a transcription posted immediately to the colonies (quoted from A New Age Now Begins – Page Smith)

“They planted by you care? No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable country –where they exposed themselves to almost all their hardships of which human nature is liable, and among other to a cruel and savage foe…And yet actuated by principles of true English Liberty, they met all hardships with pleasure, compared with those suffered in their own country, from hands of those who should have been their friends.”

“They nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect of em: as soon as you began to care about em, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over em, in one department or another, who were perhaps the deputies of deputies to some member in this House- sent to spy out their liberty, to misrepresent their actions and to prey upon em: men whose behaviour on many occasions has caused the blood of those Sons of Liberty to recoil within them…

“They protected by your arm? They have nobly taken up arms in you defence, have exerted a valour amidst their constant and laborious industry for the defence of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood. Its interior parts have yielded all its little savings to your emolument. And believe me, remember I this day told you so, that same Spirit of Freedom which actuates that people at first will accompany them still- But prudence forbids me to explain myself further. God knows I do not at this time speak from motives of party heat; what I deliver are the genuine sentiments of my heart.

So folks, here we are all those noble sentiments and ringing word that moved the Thirteen Colonies first uttered here by an Englishman in Parliament endeavouring to protect your Rights and Liberties.

The Grand Union flag of the Thirteen Colonies
I think that at this time of division and the active promotion of hate and rancour within our legislative assemblies and without, perhaps we too should listen to the wisdom of Colonel Barré a man who spoke for commonsense, thought and temperance. A man who freely admitted that the current system had serious flaws and that if they were not solved it could lead to calamity. At this point I feel that it is also worthy while noting that all through the trauma of the American Revolution support for the colonies across all classes of Britain remained high. This also continued into the dreadful time of the Civil War when apart from a frothy sympathy for the South from the Upper classes the British Government was not going to go to war on behalf of States upholding the institution of Slavery. Sorry all you die hard Southern supporters, King Cotton was always a myth. So to our American Kin on this auspicious day I suggest you look hard at the realties of this occasion and think long and deeply about what those Founding Fathers and their English supporters would think of what you have done with their gift since then? Reinvigorated or squandered?

Regards from the good doctor and don’t forget keep taking them pills!

Happy 4th of July

Well, my friends and fellow Houselings the wheel of the year has turned and once more we find ourselves approaching a particualt time of signifigance for our American counsins.  Ye it is indeed almost the 4th of July Holiday.  Now apart from a wonderful mid summer break I am sure most people around the world and even here in the Antipodes have an inkling about its true origins.  Yes as the common film versions of history tell us it was all about those loathsome British and their redcoated soldiers oppressing and murdering honest hardworking colonials at the orders of a distant an uncaring king.  And as some would have it the right to bear arms.  But we won't get into that right now.  While films like the Patriot can partially convey an more modernist slanted impression, the reality was far more complex.  For one support in Britain for the Colonial cause was extremely strong and the King's war in the Americas actually faced far more opposition than the US involvement in Vietnam.  Officers refused to serve and resigned their commissions, gentlemen refused to pay taxes or subscriptions, papers like The Northern Briton by John Wilkes slammed the King's policies in Parliament.  While at Westminster Burke, Conway, Colonel Isaac Barre and the old lion of Parliament Pitt the Elder spoke eloquently and passionate day after day in  support of the rights of the colonists.  It is this later point of the of the divisions created in the British Commonwealth that made the Revolution and Declaration of Independence such a tragedy of the time, it was in every way a Civil War both in the Amercian Colonies and in Britain.  To make sense of all this and brign to life the multifaceted characters of the time none is better at telling the tale than Page Smith in-

A New Age Now Begins (A People's History 2)A New Age Now Begins by Page Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Page Smith’s multivolume history of the United States is a phenomenal work in several large books packed with details and eyewitness reports from all sides of the both the small and larger events that shaped the path of the modern United States. Now I am not an American and as a descendant of British colonists in Australia I admit to possessing a distinctly different view of American history to others. That being said I found Page Smith presentation of the Americas of the pre Revolution and the progress of the Revolution deeply absorbing, in fact fascinating. Page Smith is quite prepared to present both side’s opinions, attitudes and angst. In doing so I feel that he brings the out the real humanity of firstly the British officers like Howe trying to solve or suppress the Rebellion. A gentleman, who found to his distress that duty and loyalty had to go before personal sympathy. The incomprehension of a King who couldn’t understand the motivations of his citizens, or the endless confusion and misunderstanding created by the Atlantic time lag and his orders.

Then we have the colonials who had grievances both real and manufactured. Whom felt pushed into an action they didn’t want to take and then under the most amazing leadership, that spanned the arc from inept to magnificent struggled to gain their interpretation of liberty and government. In all of this Page Smith takes you through month by month and in the case of moments of destiny or defeat almost minute by minute. In all this, he unlike other’s does not descend into jingoism, or hero worship. All the characters of this historical pageant are alive, some hopelessly flawed but still brave, some perceptive and farsighted but hindered by chance or support.

In the end this is not a dry recitation of revisionist history, it is alive and Page Smith as any good historian takes you to the heart of the events. I have no hesitation in recommending these first two volumes to any student of history.

Most of all it lays open the massive support the American colonists always enjoyed in Britain from all levels of society from the commoners to Parliament a fact that needs to be emphasised.
In closing a little clip from Barry Lyndon the Redcoats marching to the tune of the British Grenadiers

From the Good Doctor have a great and safe 4th of July!

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