The Lost Prince

  • Garrow's Law
  • The Young Victoria
  • The King's Speech
  • The Lost Prince

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Criminal ancestors

On Thursday in Australia a startling discovery was laid to rest which ended a 130 year mystery: where was Ned Kelly buried? For those of you who haven't heard of this infamous Australian outlaw, he was a symbol of Irish-Australian defiance against the British, and is still held up today as a national hero in Australia despite the fact that he is supposed to have murdered at least three police men (they were British, so that's all right!!). For these murders, he was captured in Victoria and executed at Old Melbourne Gaol in November 1880. He was the main opposition to a decadent and vicious British legal system, implemented on a country full of 'convicts', most of whom had only ended up there because they had stolen an apple (or clothes, money, horse etc etc) in a moment of desperation and/or madness. In such oppressive and resentful regimes, it is unsurprising when the criminal underclass are held up as heroes. There are many examples in the culture of Westerns, even in England Robin Hood and Dick Turpin are well-known heroes.

Now you are probably wondering how the title fits in to a blog post about Ned Kelly, well I am just getting to the point. You see this article I read in the paper about the discovery of Ned Kelly's head got me thinking about what it must have been like to have been sent to a strange and foreign land for stealing a horse. Although I am sure Australia is a lovely country now (having never been there I can not judge) I am sure back in the days before Western civilisation hit it, it was mostly just a barren waste land, and these people were piled on to inadequate ships and sailed to the other side of the world. We complain about long haul flights lasting many many hours, but the journeys these people endured would have lasted many many months, if indeed they survived to get there. A lot got there and found eventually that they could make a life out there, and thus a new country was born, from a mother country bursting at the seams because of their ridiculous criminal justice system.

Now I am going to confess that I have a criminal ancestor, whose story is so long and exciting it would be better placed in a novel or as a film (it would make an excellent Hollywood film as it is that unbelievable)! Alexander Loe Kaye, my great (several more greats) grandfather on my father's side, was born in the Bolton area, and appears on marriage records in Bolton where he claims to be of 'Bolton Hall'. A few years later, he appears in criminal records stating how he has stolen a horse and is being transported to Australia. My father discovered what happened to him later when he showed up in records in South Africa under a different name. What had happened was that Alexander had escaped from Australia, fleeing across the Pacific, ending up in South Africa (and this is not made up) where he pretends to be a lawyer under a new name. He striked up an enmity with the governor there because he took all these cases against him. Through his network of spies, the governor tracked down his true identity, and his criminal past. With Alexander discovered, he is about to be shipped back to Australia, when he is hidden by his wife (or the woman who he has been illegally married to, since he is still married to my great-something grandmother in England) and helped by his friend to escape the authorities. However, he is eventually caught, and ends up in Norfolk Island, where he commits suicide.

We do not know of the circumstances in which Alexander stole the horse, though we can probably assume it was not out of poverty and desperation that he did so. Nevetheless, I suppose every one has a criminal ancestor, I bet if you digged deep enough you would find one. My mother made lots of jokes on a recent trip to Scotland about my father's criminal heritage, but of course she must have one some where.
In my other brush with crime in recent weeks, last week we visited the estate of my uncle in Scotland. They own a house which they have never lived in, and which they wanted to develop but never had the time and money for sadly. The house is now derelict, covered in dry rot, it stands in beautiful surroundings, too dangerous for any one to go inside. Yet despite this, a group of 'artsy goths' as my mum called them, encouraged by their friends 'who were all doing it' had entered this house. There was a model dressed in gothic clothing having photographs of her hanging from the balustrades because it looked kind of spooky. 

The sequence of events goes like this - Mum, Dad and I wanted to go and see the house, dad and I decided to walk from the visitor centre, a distance of about a mile, while Mum took the car. When she got there she heard voices, in a foreign language she thought. She called out to my Dad, who replied from the woods where we were approaching the house. She thought the intruders must have left, so she called my uncle, who told her to sound the horn. When we arrived she thought the intruders must have left, so we searched the woods around the house for about half an hour. Eventually my cousin Andrew arrived, he and my Dad go in the house to confront the intruders. Andrew told them calmly that the house is dangerous, that they will be carrying dry rot on their feet into their homes which could have damaging effects, and that they were trespassing on their property. They thought that the was the end of the matter but they thought wrong....

For the moment they left the premises they were confronted by my Mum, 'HOW DARE YOU? HAVE YOU NO SHAME. YOU CAN'T JUST WALK INTO OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTIES WITHOUT ASKING AND IT IS BECAUSE OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU THAT THIS PLACE IS DERELICT. YOU SHOULD BE ABSOLUTELY ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES. YOU ARE VERY LUCKY THAT I AM AN AUNTIE WHO LIVES IN ENGLAND!!!!' And there Dad and I, understanding full well the seriousness of it, and very angry, but equally unable to control our laughter at Mum's incredible speech. Apparently these people were so scared off that they spent £20 at the farm shop! My cousin Andrew told his father how my mother had given 'those intruders a right old fashioned bollocking.' So they won't be intruding again any time soon I am sure.

And that it is for now. Does any one else know of any criminal ancestors in their family?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Mormons: A History

While the press is full at the moment of images and stories of the recent riots sweeping through London and across England, and the news is exhausted with the Euro crisis and how Obama is going to deal with the economic crisis, I would like to deal with something a little different. That is not to say that these issues are not important, because they are, but I have recently got back from a holiday on the East Coast of the United States, and was intrigued by their cultic worship of the Mormons.

On my trip, in which I was away with my best friend, Emily, we went to visit her cousin and aunt in Berthesda, Maryland, close to Washington DC. She told me horror stories about the Mormons, and all the atrocious acts being performed and encouraged by their leader, Warren Jeffs, known to them as the Prophet. On the way back from a day of activities in the capital she showed us the most enormous Mormon temple imaginable, in Kensington, Maryland.


This absolutely huge temple, which occupies 52 acres of land, and is 88 metres talls, looms above the Maryland landscape, a monstrous dedication to Christianity at its most fundamentalist and extreme. If Europe is under threat from Islamic fundamentalism, then America is under threat from Christian fundamentalism.

In the Times yesterday, it was reported how Warren Jeffs, aged 55, taught his 10,000 followers that polygamy was not only acceptable but would bring them exaltation in heaven. Having more than three wives, he argued, was the key to salvation. Jeffs took this extremes, hoarding 79 wives, 24 of whom were under age! No wonder that consequently he was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, under the accusation of sexual assault.

In his trial last Thursday, truths came out of his horrific leadership, in which he was accused of raping a 12 year old girl and of fathering a child with a 15 year old. When children caught his eye, he would tell their mother that their daughters now belonged to him. Few stood up to him, but those who did were banished from their communities.

Police raided a sprawling compound in Texas and found 468 boys and girls who had been systematically sexually assaulted and physically abused. The children were returned to their parents, but several of the girls were found to be pregnant, leading to Jeffs being charged with raping them.

With the news of these atrocities, you would think that the United States government, one of the most powerful in the world would close them down, but this is not the case. You would think, that after this, people would leave the cult, but this is not the case either. People have become so indoctinated into the teachings of the church, that they are still willing to believe pretty much anything that Jeffs says.

Not all Mormons accept polygamy, in fact most are monogamous, but there is still a strong sect of fundamentalist Mormons who are polygamous and think this is acceptable. Governments can do nothing to close down the Church, or prevent its spread or further indoctrination of people because this would be seen as decriminating against a certain religion. So the Church continues.

Warren Jeffs is expected to remain the leader from a distance, even though he will be in prison for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, the Church continues to extend and protect its assets. The temple I saw in Maryland had a massive wall all around it, and was protected by CCTV and a guard tower, behind some venomous gates. The fact that they needed to do this suggests this is a Church with money, and a Church that believes it is being outed by the other, less fundamental people of Maryland.

In fact, I saw evidence of a massive recruitment drive in America. In Times Square, in New York City, amongst the adverts and flashing lights to symbolise America's wealth and capitalism, was an advert of a smiling young man and a sign that said The idea being that Mormonism would lead to happiness. Since when did a Church need to advertise alongside other members? I don't see signs saying become an Anglican Christian today, become a Catholic today, become a Muslim today.

This is because Mormonism is not a religion but a Cult, it is not a Church but a company, which can advertise just like other companies and alongside other companies in the monument to Western commercialisation. It sends the message that the Church is not out to help people, like it so claims, but is out to make money, like it has done from the work of Stephanie Meyer, a well-known Mormon author, whose Twilight saga has become a literary and film sensation worth millions and almost as widely known as Harry Potter. The fact that Meyer's books have not been read by me, and neither have the films, is more due to my disbelief that they could be at all as good as they are made out to be. Now I feel that any involvement in the films or books would be unacceptable given the scandal that is unfolding around the church.

How did such a 'Church' come about? The church was started by Joseph Smith, who prayed to a tree because he was confused about which church to join because they all had such different doctrines. Joseph then claimed that Jesus came to him in a 'pillar of light' and instructed him not to join any of the churches. He was led to a hillside, where apparently idigenous American prophets buried a book written on gold plates. Smith claimed to have written the book, which he published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon, from the ancient prophet-historian, Mormon, who compiled the book.

Smith then went about setting up a new Jerusalem (or the city of Zion as he called it), in North America. This was first established in Kirtland, Ohio, and then Jackson County, Missouri. Unsurprisingly, they faced attacks from the locals, causing new churches to be established across North America. Even today, Jeffs claims he is facing decrimination because the law does not accept his behaviour.

So the Mormon church seems to have originally been set up so that there was a church with American foundations, rather than Eurasian ones. It constricts its followers to chastity before marriage, to no alcohol, smoking, coffee, or tea. The Christian religion in its most brutal form.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Niall Ferguson's 'Civilisation: Is the West History?'

 4OD Link:

Niall Ferguson, historian and presenter
One of our foremost contemporary historians, Niall Ferguson, has produced a superb TV series for channel 4, which recounts the rise of Western civilisation, examining why for so long it was able to reign supreme  above the rest of the world.

Niall Ferguson,  Professor of history at Harvard University, perhaps best known for his book Empire, presents his history with fresh vibrancy which is rarely seen in history documentary. Every word is said with so much emphasis and effort that it seems to take on a whole new meaning. The series transports us to locations as varied as London, Vienna, Berlin,  Istanbul, China, Peru, Africa and the United States. Visiting the places, and admiring the splendour of the buildings, and sharing the books used as sources brings the history to life. Seeing him in a library, engaging with the sources, gives us interaction with the past. So Ferguson's excellent presentation, and the brilliancy of the locations, combine to provide superb documentary, which is fascinating, and entertaining.

In the six-part series, Ferguson uses a model of 'killer apps' to structure each episode. These link the past, not just with the present, but also the future, showing how the West gained supremacy historically for a number of reasons, and how things seem to be swinging back to the East again. 

Episode 1

China for many years was at the centre of technology and advances in wisdom

The first episode looks at competition, and how this helps to make Western civilisation a dominant one for so many centuries. Starting off with China in the fifteenth century, he examines how China was once an expansive superpower, that invented many things that would not be discovered in Europe for centuries; the clock, football, chess, and gun powder, all came from China centuries before they were used by their European counterparts. 

China even set off on its own voyage of discovery, finding parts of the Pacific and Americas that would not be identified by Europeans for many years. It was the loss of a great ruler, and subsequently a great captain leading these voyages, that would cause the Chinese to look inwards, and abandon their discoveries, until they were eventually ravaged by disease, war and bankruptcy. The West, however, were interested in competition. Unlike the Chinese, who suddenly became isolationist, Europeans were keen for new trade oppurtunities, competing with each other to identify new routes to India, when the Silk Road was inaccessible. It was competition that spurred on the voyages of discovery, which led to the colonisation of the Americas, and opened up new opportunities for Europeans to trade, spread their ideas and religion, marking it out as a superior civilisation. 

Episode 2

Frederick the Great of Prussia

In the second episode, Ferguson looks at why the West was able to progress in science. He explains that for centuries before the seventeenth century, the Islamic world had been a leader in science and mathematics, discovering the theory of algebra. The Ottoman Empire, centred in Istanbul, was a force to be reckoned with. In 1683 they laid siege to Vienna, which was then the capital of a vast empire stretching across swathes of Europe. Mistakes at the siege caused the Ottomans to be defeated and lose confidence in their abilities. As a result of religious rulers, calligraphy was to be used in preference to books, hindering their access to education and discovery. Bureacrats became unable to deal with the systems of government, and the Ottomans came under threat from the Persians. 

Meanwhile, Frederick the Great (who I remember from my degree being referred to as an "Enlightened despot") took great care in the governance of Prussia, developed a superior military army through the development of artillery, and erected magnificent buildings (which had me in complete awe just looking at them - I now really want to go to Vienna and Berlin) in order to project the military greatness of Prussia. Unlike in Istanbul, where science was seen as contrary to religion (which reminded me of creationism in America, perhaps suggesting that America's decline is due to the beliefs of some Americans). European governments not only encouraged the advancement of science, but often endorsed it, as is seen with Charles II and the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.  

Without  the investment in science and the Enlightenment, the Ottoman Empire lagged behind. But in the twentieth century, Turkey underwent a revolution which changed Islamic attitudes to science, and sought to separate the two from the structures of the state. Now science has become a key component of the Islamic education system, and countries such as Iran have caught up with Europe, developing nuclear weapons, which could have us all quaking in our boots.

Episode 3

John Locke, philosopher of the late seventeenth century, whose ideas were adopted by some of the earliest American settlers in South Carolina

The third episode, entitled 'property', looks at how North America became dominant over the South. He suggests this was not because of the fertility of the soil, but because of John Locke's idea that equality meant an entitlement to property. This laid the foundations of new colonies in America, based on the democratic ideas of Britain, and allowed the colonies to flourish; through working hard and collectively,  everything was obtainable. This was something that would develop into the American Dream. The  aim of these settlers in South Carolina was to build a better life for themselves. In contrast, the Spanish bound for South America, believing it to be rich in gold, and were interested in conquering the colony. The Conquistadors ravaged the Inca population, in order to exploit the land and people. It caused division, resistance and disunity, that would eventually unhinge the country, and cause it to decline. Bolivar envisioned a South America free from the tyrannical constraints of the Spanish, but he was by no means a Latin American George Washington. He was interested in forming an independent Continent, not democracy based on European principles.

A poignant image of slavery

However, while Locke's ideas had created a dominant North America, slavery was to tear it down. It is a fundamental contradiction to America's founding ideals, since their ideas of equality seem to completely contradict slavery. But slavery in North America, convinced the Euro-Americans of their racial superiority,  and the belief that they alone were entitled to certain rights. This was something that was largely accepted across the States until about forty years ago. In the States, slavery caused divisions among racial lines, and eventually between North and South in the Civil War, whereas in Brazil racial difference became an accepted part of society. Ferguson concludes by saying that Brazil is quickly becoming an industrial superpower, while the United States seems to be abandoning their racial links, with white Americans coming to be superseded by a Latino migrant population, and a black president - the suggestion is that within forty years, the white population will be a minority in the States!

Episode 4


In the fourth episode, Ferguson travels to Africa, where he looks at the development of medicine, and how this was used to ensure Western supremacy. The French believed the Africans were more susceptible to disease, Africa had many diseases which did not exist in Europe. They were able to transport their medicine to the Dark Continent, while conducting experiments which would improve their own medicine, and increase their grip on the continent. Medicine was also used to confirm European dominance, by proving their racial supremacy. This technique was adopted by the Germans, who built camps to house Africans so they could do horrific experiments on them. These were the precedents for the Nazi concentration camps - in fact Hitler read the literature of the leading doctor in these experiments, using them in Mein Kampf to develop his ideas of the superior Aryan race. Let us also not forget that huge numbers of Africans went off to fight in the First World War, many with the expectation of French citizenship. While European medicine had advanced, allowing many soldiers to be saved at the end of the War from the discovery of penicillin, and typhoid vaccines; thousands of Africans died from pneumonia, not protected by the medicine they were exploited to develop! So I found this episode particularly poignant and fascinating, reminding us once again how cruel us Europeans were (although it seemed to focus on France and Germany, I am sure it was us too)!

I am looking forward to next week's episode, hoping it can give me further insight into why the West was best, and now it just isn't!

*All pictures have been taken from the internet and are there simply to make the blog a bit more vibrant.

Friday, 18 March 2011

The Outlaw

This term we have been studying heroes as part of the comparitive module of my history course. I saw this film on iPlayer, and since we are allowed to talk about films in our exam, thought it might be appropriate. It is a rather imagined account of Billy the Kid, the legendary outlaw hero, who is known for shooting well and escaping the law.

It features the debut of the actress Jane Russell, who became a Hollywood sex symbol and pin-up girl. Apparently, the film was made in 1943, featuring half a second when it showed Russell's breasts which was considered too raunchy for the typical Western audience. This caused a huge scandal, and the film was eventually allowed to be shown in San Francisco for one week, before being confined to film legend.

In this sense it was unconventional, in that the woman, Rio, is domineering and able to trick Billy on several occasions and even goes off with him to fight some Indians. Disappointingly, she still clings on to him like a puppy, and runs away with him at the end of the film, even though he trades her for a horse with Doc. 

Jack Beutel, who plays the Kid, is rather sour, and I don't think his acting is convincing. Although he has been given some funny lines, he delivers them with the same whimsical expression. No wonder then it supposedly hampered his career, causing him not to perform in another film for the next seven years. This is the only role in which he is well known

On the other hand, Jane Russell was made famous by this film. That is what I call irony, in that the hero is downcast by his leading actress. Ha ha!

The cast is very small, the film being a small scale in production. Other good performances come from Walter Huston, who plays Doc Holliday. He becomes Billy's friend, after Billy steals his horse. And also, Billy's nemesis, Pat Gattrell, who is played by Thomas Mitchell.

One thing that slightly annoyed me about the film, was the fact that it had no actual plot. I don't want to give too much away for those of you who have seen it, and actually want to see it but basically; Billy the Kid has stolen Doc's horse, Doc is friends with Pat, Doc is angry but then is won over by the Kid's humour and for some reason starts protecting him against Pat. He gives him a place to sleep, where he first meets Rio. Later, he has a confrontation with a man at a bar because he is stupid and follows him into a room at the back of the bar. The man tries to kill Billy through trickery, but Billy gets to his gun first and shoots him. Pat comes after Billy for the murder, when Doc tries to defend him, Billy gets shot in a cross fire (unheroic or what!). Then he is taken in by Doc, sleeps with his girlfriend, (who at first I  thought was his daughter because she is so much younger than he is, and he kissed her and talked to her like he was her father). Billy is in a daze (and apparently they also get married, but Billy does not know it - that is not really explained) and Doc gets angry when he finds out what Billy and Rio have done!

Billy offers Doc a choice between the horse, Red, and Rio. Billy then says he is disappointed when Doc goes for the horse, because he liked the horse. This makes Rio angry, and causes her to put sand in his pack, instead of water! The two go off into the mountains, for some reason, where Pat has set a trap for Billy, but Billy forms one of his own in the form of Rio. But it backfires because Billy refuses to accept he has feelings for Rio, and he gets arrested. On the way back, after an argument, Billy takes a beating from Doc because he considers him a friend. This causes Doc to forget all the things Billy has to done to him, and put down  his arms. Pat is jealous because he wants to be friends with Doc, they nearly duel, and are about to make up, when Pat shoots Doc accidentally. Doc dies a heroic death, 'not on the bed', and is buried in a grave marked as Billy's. Pat then tries to trick Billy into giving him his gun, in exchange for Doc's and a safe passage out of town. But Billy does not fall for it, and instead of killing Pat, ties him up, and leaves. As he is leaving, he has a change of heart about Rio, after checking to see that the water is not sand, and takes her with him, riding into the wilderness.

It has the traditional Western concepts of honour and friendship, the characters seem to follow the codes of conduct set by the West. But first of all, Doc is an invented character, as is Rio, I think. So the whole plot has been made up in order to fit in with the genre of a Western. It seems a rather tame Western, both in terms of killing Indians, and general shootings. It seems to be much more focused on ideas of friendship and betrayal, than typical concepts of Westerns.

Is Billy the Kid the hero, or is Doc? Because he dies fighting for a cause, in order to defend Billy (God knows why, because Billy treats him terribly). In my opinion, Billy is a rubbish friend, who has stolen his horse and his girl friend. I am not sure why Doc would want to die for that, but he does. Billy seems more interested in his horse, and he does not seem too upset when Doc dies, because he gets his horse, (and Rio)! So I think Billy the Kid is stupid, selfish and egotistical. Maybe a 1940s audience would have judged it differently, but I don't think this is a likeable representation.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Killing Fields

I know this is an old film, but I have decided to review it any way, since I found it fascinating. It is about the Cambodian Massacres in the 1970s, when the Khmer Rouge were taking over the country, with Pol Pot's communist and totalitarian regime. It shows the effects of Communism, how it takes away personality, deprives people of feeling, and led to the starvation and horrific killing of nearly 2 million civilians. But it does not take sides, it seems to laud equal criticism on the United States for their interference in the Vietnam War, and their decision to invade Cambodia, proliferating the already tragic conflict.
Though it was quite long and seemed to drag on in parts, the film is informative and shocking. On the synopsis I read, it said that a journalist was looking for his friend and Cambodian translator, but this does not happen for about an hour into the film, into which I can not remember much, it is the last hour and 20 minutes which really sticks in the mind. 

It would have been especially shocking when it was released, in 1984, which was less than a decade after the conflict was taking place, and when the characters were still alive and were well-known to the American public. It represents anti-imperialism, is anti-war, and celebrated friendship and struggle through adversity. It is a story still poignant today, with conflicts happened more recently, in Rwanda, Sri Lanka, the DRC, Sudan and Somalia. It could also be used as a counterweight to conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,  which have been seen as conflicts for oil and for Western supremacy. 

Parts of it will make you want to cry. But you will be reassured to know that it has a happy ending, so their friendship is put through the trial of imprisonment, running away and eventually getting in to freedom.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Robin Hood in Film

The legend of Robin Hood has developed for centuries. When we think of Robin Hood we normally think of this:
  • He carries a bow and arrow and is good at shooting
  • He shuns authority, and has an emnity with the Sheriff of Nottingham (and sometimes King John as well)
  • He has a love affair with Maid Marian who is a nobleman's daughter
  • He hangs out with his band of 'Merry Men' in Sherwood Forest and the area around Nottingham
  • He is alive at the very end of the twelfth century, during the Crusades.
  • He is friends with Little John and Friar Tuck
  • He steals from the rich to give to the poor
  • He is an outlaw, who might have once been a nobleman
This is our modern understanding of the Robin Hood myth. I will start by looking at the representation of him in 2 of the Robin Hood films (there are so many that it would take too long if I did all of them).

Disney's Robin Hood (1973)

This features humanoid animals, with some recognisable characters,. Robin Hood (obviously), who is a swashbuckling schmoosing fox (to represent his characteristic cunning) and Little John (who ironically is a very big bear), Maid Marian (a beautiful vixen), and Friar Tuck. A cockerall appears as a minstrel character, who occasionally jumps in to help Robin. The main enemy seems to be King John, who plays a lion, who is represented as a stupid, immature, mother-cuddling jealous and greedy king. He has a side kick snake, Sir Hiss, who he refuses to listen to, even though the snake is always right. The Sheriff of Nottingham is another enemy, who is also shown to be greedy, taking money from wherever in order to give to Prince John, or as little John "affectionately" calls him, PJ. The entire film is set in Nottingham mostly, though it does occasionally go into Sherwood Forest, and most of the money is taken through trickery, with quite a lot of help from Little John.

His relationship with Maid Marian is quite a big part of the story, (it is Disney!), Robin defeats the sheriff at an archery contest, where he attends in disguise, and wins Marian's hand. She is not just a noble woman, but seems to be a princess, the neice of Prince John and the daughter of King Richard the Lionheart, who is off fighting in the Crusades. She is charitable, and has had a previous fling with Robin Hood, causing him to be very much in love with her. There is no suggestion, that Robin Hood is just some kind of cover name, the assumption is that Robin Hood is actually his name. They get married, in a very romantic scene.

Robin Hood (2009)

Starring Russell Crowe, I had high expectations, from any film with this terrific actor. But I was slightly disappointed with the usual Hollywood tripe, hashing up our history. I think it is worth a viewing, and features plenty of action which might interest many people, but if you want a film that actually makes sense I would not recommend this to you. You would be sourly disappointed to find a film, promoting Robin Hood as an outlaw hero to the extent that they actually suggest he came up with the ideas for the Magna Carter - just a tad implausible. Efforts to show how he became a hero, made it possible to develop their own story of who Robin Hood was before he became Robin Hood.

The thing is though, that we know so little about Robin Hood that they can get away with it. They are just adding to the myth of Robin Hood which has been added and built upon by many generations, trying to recreate the story of a beloved hero who represented and embodied opposition to the authority of an unjust society.

From the earliest written source of the Geste of Robin Hood, which is dated around 1450, though probably was around orally for about 200 years before this, is the earliest proof of this myth's existence. There are some striking difference in this, from the Robin Hood we recognise.

  1. He is from Doncaster, and visits many places across Yorkshire, including York. There are no associations with Nottingham or the sheriff of Nottingham  It could be that this was added later, by people from the Midlands or the South, to move it away from the Northern locality, and make him more of a national hero by bringing him closer to the centre of the country.
  2. He is vicious and sometimes cruel, there is not so much a focus on him 'taking from the rich to give to the poor', more just 'taking from the rich'
  3. There is focus on social injustice - Placing him in the context of the Peasant's Rebellion, not the time of Richard the Lionheart and Prince John. There is mention of King Edward, but a lot of historians think this was just a cover for Richard II, Of course, it is also possible it was Edward III, who resembles the King Edward, and fits the time period, or Edward IV who may have been on the throne around the time it was written. But both of these, seem less likely.
  4. There is no Maid Marian. She is a nineteenth century addition to the myth, as a result of romanticism.
  5. There is no Friar Tuck - This a Tudor addition to the myth. The original story has a lot of anticlericalism, and this might have been an opposition to this, to suggest they were not all bad.
  6. He is very religious
  7. He relies on tricking people and functions within the social conventions of the time.
So, as time went on, the myth would develop, and the myth has continued to develop as we find new ways to reinvent Robin Hood.

Monday, 24 January 2011

The Normans: Dan Snow v. Robert Bartlett

This is a review of Dan Snow's Norman Walks: Yorkshire - The Northern Abbeys and The Normans: Normans of the South by Professor Robert Bartlett.

As a first point of comparison I might talk about the choice of presenter. Dan Snow is a high profile presenter, not as high profile as Peter Snow, but still fairly high profile. He normally seems to do military history programmes, like recreations of the Battle of Trafalgar, and is seen quite a lot on the One Show doing short history exerpts. He has also had a first class degree from Oxford or Cambridge, one of those, which clearly makes him very clever, and has been to the University of York, another bonus! Robert Bartlett is Professor of Medieval History at St Andrew's University, and as an academic historian focusing on Europe perhaps has researched more of the documentary himself. However, his warts and his unhealthy physique leave something to be desired in his presenting style. We could have a long discussion about which is more reliable, but since this is not a discussion about a book on a shelf at Waterstone's versus a book out of York University library, this sort of discussion is pointless. When it comes to history programming, there is little point of difference on this score. I do not doubt that Dan Snow has done most of the work himself, but the moment I saw the programme on iPlayer, I clicked on it, this must show that automatically when selecting which programme to watch, I select one that has a recognisable presenter, rather than the one that sounds the most interesting.

Both programmes are very interesting. Norman Walks is a shorter programme, being half an hour to Bartlett's hour, and is more focused on abbeys, and how the Normans built them in areas where they could exploit natural resources, rather than a more broad all-encompassing story, like the one that Bartlett is trying to portray. It starts at York, with some very familiar views around York Minister and St Mary's Abbey. Then we head off to Rievaulx Abbey, and Helmsley, following Snow as he walks along the path that Normans would have walked along, and the camera allows us to soak in the stunning views. He even talks to some experts, about how the abbeys were made, why they were made, and why they were placed in their particular areas, and how the monks would have lived. Rievaulx Abbey remains one of my favourite places to visit in the North Yorks Moors. I am Chair of the Outdoor Society, which takes groups of students out on walks around Yorkshire, and one of the places we go to each summer is Rievaulx Abbey. It is one of my favourite walks because it offers a range of history, stunning woodland, hill landscape, and Yorkshire fields. 

The main point of his programme was how abbeys became and remain to this day a key element of the landscape, even if they are no longer a part of our culture, as they would have been in Norman times, they still dominate the landscape and remain a spectacular part of our cultural heritage and identity. They defined a period of immense piety and religious intensity in English history, and this is why the Dissolution of the monasteries happened.

The Normans of the South focuses on the international appeal of the Normans as opposed to the very English Normans which Dan Snow presents. It shows the Normans to be an early conquering force, who were an exemplar for medieval colonialism, while also fashioning early multiculturalism. He takes the Normas away from where we normally see them, either as part of our distinctly English history, or from Normandy. Instead, Bartlett focuses on the Normans in Southern Italy, showing how the Normans conquered across Europe and the Middle East, but one that has largely been misunderstood. 

The Crusades have a deep resonance in our society, with religious fundamentalism causing fear for Western governments, the Crusades remain a soar point. But Bartlett pits this view of the Normans as ruthless tyrants, trying to impose Christianity on unsuspecting Muslims, against the more positive view of them which he seems to be advocating as people promoting multiculturalism and fairness. He explores quite deeply about how one Norman King, King Roger, establishes a society in Siciliy, where Muslims and Christians live together in almost perfect harmony. He goes on to explore how the Normans helped to establish a multicutlural unit in Antioch. This is all serving to present a positive view of the Normans, one in which they are spreading ideas, science and technology across Europe and parts of Asia in a way that should be praised rather than slighted.

In order to present his points, Bartlett has used a number of varying camera angles to demonstrate the level of intensity, or to add drama, to what he is trying to illustrate. It is largely focused on the mosaics, the pictures and the stunning architecture left behind from this period which show how multicultural it was. These all serve to add interest, and to entertain by giving something nice to look at. The fact that it is focused on Italy, and Turkey rather than the cold depths of Yorkshire, has an uplifting effect on my post-Christmas winter blues, and shows the high level of work that has gone into making this programme fascinating and enjoyable.