Quotulatiousness

July 31, 2014

Churchill on the news from the Battle of Mons, August 1914

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:47

History Today are nearly done digitizing their back-catalogue of articles, including this 1964 article by John Terraine on how the news got back to Britain after the Battle of Mons:

At seven o’clock in the morning of August 24th, 1914, Mr. Winston Churchill was sitting up in bed, working, at his room in the Admiralty. The door opened, and the Secretary of State for War, Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener, appeared.

    “These were the days before he took to uniform, and my recollection is that he had a bowler hat on his head, which he took off with a hand which also held a slip of paper. He paused in the doorway and I knew in a flash and before ever he spoke that the event had gone wrong. Though his manner was quite calm, his face was different.

    I had the sub-conscious feeling that it was distorted and discoloured as if it had been Punched with a fist. His eyes rolled more than ever. His voice, too, was hoarse. He looked gigantic. ‘Bad news,’ he said heavily and laid the slip of paper on my bed. I read the telegram.

    It was from Sir John French: …I forget much of what passed between us. But the apparition of Kitchener Agonistes in my doorway will dwell with me as long as I live. It was like seeing old John Bull on the rack!”

Sir John French’s telegram contained the first information to the British Government of the Battle of Mons, which had taken place on the preceding day:

    “My troops have been engaged all day with the enemy… we held our ground tenaciously. I have just received a message from G.O.C. 5th French Army that his troops have been driven back, that Namur has fallen… I have therefore ordered a retirement… which is being carried out now. It will prove a difficult operation, if the enemy remains in contact…”

The last sentence was electrifying:

    “I think that immediate attention should be directed to the defence of Havre.”

It was the reference to Namur that produced the first shock in Churchill’s mind.

    “We were evidently in the presence of new facts and of a new standard of values. If strong fortresses were to melt like wisps of vapour in a morning sun, many judgments would have to be revised. The foundations of thought were quaking…

    ‘Fortify Havre,’ said Sir John French. One day’s general battle and the sanguine advance and hoped-for counterstroke had been converted into ‘Fortify Havre’.”

The War was now precisely three weeks old. During those three weeks, governments, military leaders and populations had existed in a fog of ignorance and misconception. This was equally true of both sides; but the worst effects were felt by the Allies. Britain had committed her army to the direct support of the French; but almost no-one in Britain understood the nature of the operations to which the French had committed themselves.

July 29, 2014

Who is to blame for the outbreak of World War One? (Part two of a series)

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:25

Yesterday, I posted the first part of this series. Today, I’m dragging you a lot further back in time than you probably expected, because it’s difficult to understand why Europe went to war in 1914 without knowing how and why the alliances were created. It’s not immediately clear why the two alliance blocks formed, as the interests of the various nations had converged and diverged several times over the preceding hundred years.

Let me take you back…

Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars (map via amitm.com)

Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars (map via amitm.com)

To start sorting out why the great powers of Europe went to war in what looks remarkably like a joint-suicide pact at the distance of a century, you need to go back another century in time. At the end of the Napoleonic wars, the great powers of Europe were Russia, Prussia, Austria, Britain, and (despite the outcome of Waterloo) France. Britain had come out of the war in by far the best economic shape, as the overseas empire was relatively untroubled by conflict with the other European powers (with one exception), and the Royal Navy was the largest and most powerful in the world. France was an economic and demographic disaster area, having lost so many young men to Napoleon’s recruiting sergeants and the bureaucratic demands of the state to subordinate so much of the economy to the support of the armies over more than two decades of war, recovery from war, and preparation for yet more war. In spite of that, France recovered quickly and soon was able to reclaim its “rightful” position as a great power.

Dateline: Vienna, 1814

The closest thing to a supranational organization two hundred years ago was the Concert of Europe (also known as the Congress System), which generally referred to the allied anti-Napoleonic powers. They met in Vienna in 1814 to settle issues arising from the end of Napoleon’s reign (interrupted briefly but dramatically when Napoleon escaped from exile and reclaimed his throne in 1815). It worked well enough, at least from the point of view of the conservative monarchies:

The age of the Concert is sometimes known as the Age of Metternich, due to the influence of the Austrian chancellor’s conservatism and the dominance of Austria within the German Confederation, or as the European Restoration, because of the reactionary efforts of the Congress of Vienna to restore Europe to its state before the French Revolution. It is known in German as the Pentarchie (pentarchy) and in Russian as the Vienna System (Венская система, Venskaya sistema).

The Concert was not a formal body in the sense of the League of Nations or the United Nations with permanent offices and staff, but it provided a framework within which the former anti-Bonapartist allies could work together and eventually included the restored French Bourbon monarchy (itself soon to be replaced by a different monarch, then a brief republic and then by Napoleon III’s Second Empire). Britain after 1818 became a peripheral player in the Concert, only becoming active when issues that directly touched British interests were being considered.

The Concert was weakened significantly by the 1848-49 revolutionary movements across Europe, and its usefulness faded as the interests of the great powers became more focused on national issues and less concerned with maintaining the long-standing balance of power.

The European Revolutions of 1848, known in some countries as the Spring of Nations, Springtime of the Peoples or the Year of Revolution, were a series of political upheavals throughout Europe in 1848. It remains the most widespread revolutionary wave in European history, but within a year, reactionary forces had regained control, and the revolutions collapsed.

[...]

The uprisings were led by shaky ad hoc coalitions of reformers, the middle classes and workers, which did not hold together for long. Tens of thousands of people were killed, and many more forced into exile. The only significant lasting reforms were the abolition of serfdom in Austria and Hungary, the end of absolute monarchy in Denmark, and the definitive end of the Capetian monarchy in France. The revolutions were most important in France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Italy, and the Austrian Empire, but did not reach Russia, Sweden, Great Britain, and most of southern Europe (Spain, Serbia, Greece, Montenegro, Portugal, the Ottoman Empire).

The 1859 unification of Italy created new problems for Austria (not least the encouragement of agitation among ethnic and linguistic minorities within the empire), while the rise of Prussia usurped the traditional place of Austria as the pre-eminent Germanic power (the Austro-Prussian War). The 1870-1 Franco-Prussian War destroyed Napoleon III’s Second Empire and allowed the King of Prussia to become the Emperor (Kaiser) of a unified German state.

Russia’s search for a warm water port

Russia’s not-so-secret desire to capture or control Constantinople and the access from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean was one of the political and military constants of the nineteenth century. The Ottoman Empire was the “sick man of Europe”, and few expected it to last much longer (yet it took a world war to finally topple it). The other great powers, however, were not keen to see Russia expand beyond its already extensive borders, so the Ottomans were propped up where necessary. The unlikely pairing of British and French interests in this regard led to the 1853-6 Crimean War where the two former enemies allied with the Ottomans and the Kingdom of Sardinia to keep the Russians from expanding into Ottoman territory, and to de-militarize the Black Sea.

The Black Sea in 1856 with the territorial adjustments of the Congress of Paris marked (via Wikipedia)

The Black Sea in 1856 with the territorial adjustments of the Congress of Paris marked (via Wikipedia)

Otto von Bismarck talks with the captive Napoleon III after the Battle of Sedan in 1870.

Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck talks with the captive Napoleon III after the Battle of Sedan in 1870.

Russia managed to get revenge on the French for their part in the Crimean War, by striking an agreement with Prussia to stay neutral in any conflict between the Prussians and the French, in exchange for a free hand in the Balkans (or, at least, free from Prussian interference). Bismarck then took the next opportunity to goad the French into declaring war. At the Battle of Sedan, the French army was utterly defeated and Napoleon III himself was captured. When the news of his defeat got to Paris, the Imperial government fell and a new republic was proclaimed.

In the wake of Napoleon III’s fall, France declared that they were no longer willing to oppose the re-introduction of Russian forces on and around the Black Sea. Britain did not feel it could enforce the terms of the 1856 treaty unaided, so Russia happily embarked on building a new Black Sea fleet and reconstructing Sebastopol as a fortified fleet base.

Twenty years after the Crimean War, the Russians found more success against the Ottomans, driving them out of almost all of their remaining European holdings and establishing independent or quasi-independent states including Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania, with at least some affiliation with the Russians. A British naval squadron was dispatched to ensure the Russians did not capture Constantinople, and the Russians accepted an Ottoman truce offer, followed eventually by the Treaty of San Stefano to end the war. The terms of the treaty were later reworked at the Congress of Berlin.

The campaigns and major battles of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78 (via Wikipedia)

The campaigns and major battles of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78 (via Wikipedia)

Other territorial changes resulting from the war was the restoration of the regions of Thrace and Macedonia to Ottoman control, the acquisition by Russia of new territories in the Caucasus and on the Romanian border, the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Bosnia, Herzegovina and the Sanjak of Novi Pazar (but not yet annexed to the empire), and British possession of Cyprus. The new states and provinces addressed a few of the ethnic, religious, and linguistic issues, but left many more either no better or worse than before:

An ethnographic map of the Balkans published in Carte Ethnographique de la Turquie d'Europe par A. Synvet, Lith. E Olivier, Constantinople 1877. (via Wikipedia)

An ethnographic map of the Balkans published in Carte Ethnographique de la Turquie d’Europe par A. Synvet, Lith. E Olivier, Constantinople 1877. (via Wikipedia)

The end of the second post and we’re still in the 1870s … more to come over the next few days.

July 28, 2014

Who is to blame for the outbreak of World War One?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:47

It’s an easy question to ask, but a very hard one to answer. Traditionally, most people would answer “Germany”, with greater or lesser intensity as the years have passed (for example, here’s Boris Johnson making this particular case). More realistically, you might say Germany, Serbia, Austria, and Russia. Or just Serbia. Or just Russia. Or Britain (according to Niall Ferguson). Or France. Or the inflexible railway timetables for mobilization (Barbara Tuchman and others). Lots of candidates, none of whom can be clearly identified as the prime villain, because you can’t look at the situation in Europe in 1914 as anything other than complexity compounded.

Two recent works (both highly recommended) discuss the origins of the war in great detail and I’ve drawn on them for much of these posts:

The Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark and The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark and The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 by Margaret MacMillan

There have been so many books written about the origins of the First World War because the origins are many, diverse, interconnected, and hard to weigh against one another in any rational fashion. The assassinations in Sarajevo turned out to be the triggering event, but the war could easily have broken out at any of several other potential flash points in the preceding decade — and even then, war could still have been prevented from breaking out in the summer of 1914. In some ways, it’s surprising that the alternative history folks haven’t been more active in exploring that era: the possibilities are quite fascinating (on second thought, having put this post together, the degree of confusion may account for the novelists wisely avoiding the topic after all).

Europe, 1914 (base map by d-maps.com)

Europe, 1914 (base map by d-maps.com)

Although many authors refer to the various monarchs as active participants in the diplomatic and political spheres, this is not always an accurate way to consider their roles. The Tsar enjoyed the equivalent of a presidential veto and could start or stop government activity with a word … but most matters, even high-level military and diplomatic issues, would only come to his attention quite late in the process. This meant the Tsar might want to change his government’s course but because the situation was already well advanced, the costs to do so might well be insurmountable. Tsar Nicholas II was perhaps the worst-equipped of all the leaders of Europe for the task facing him, emotionally and intellectually (and he was aware of his weaknesses). Even Kaiser Wilhelm, who was well-known for his quixotic interference in military and diplomatic matters, was not the sole autocrat of German policy. The chancellor and the foreign secretary could (and did) overrule the Kaiser’s whims on many occasions. On the other hand, King George V was the least directly involved of all the rulers in the actions of his empire, but his public stance may have been somewhat at variance with his private communications with crown ministers (for example, this recent article in the Telegraph claims that the King pushed Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, to “find a reason” to declare war on Germany).

A common misconception of the state of Europe in early 1914 was that the preceding century had been a golden age, peaceful and calm (think of all the discussions of the idyllic Edwardian era when contrasted with the chaos and disorder of 1914-1945 and beyond). Europe was only peaceful between 1815 and 1914 by contrast with previous centuries … there were many wars and the map of Europe was redrawn several times in that century. As Christopher Clark wrote:

Though the debate on this subject is now nearly a century old, there is no reason to believe that it has run its course.

But if the debate is old, the subject is still fresh — in fact it is fresher and more relevant now than it was twenty or thirty years ago. The changes in our own world have altered our perspective on the events of 1914. In the 1960s-80s, a kind of period charm accumulated in popular awareness around the events of 1914. It was easy to imagine the disaster of Europe’s ‘last summer’ as an Edwardian costume drama. The effete rituals and gaudy uniforms, the ‘ornamentalism’ of a world still largely organized around hereditary monarchy had a distancing effect on present-day recollection. They seemed to signal that the protagonists were people from another, vanished world. The presumption stealthily asserted itself that if the actors’ hats had gaudy green ostrich feathers on them, then their thoughts and motivations probably did too.

Margaret MacMillan shows how easily the calculations could go so wrong, so easily:

As we try to make sense of the events of the summer of 1914, we must put ourselves in the shoes of those who lived a century ago before we rush to lay blame. We cannot now ask the decision-makers what they were thinking about as they took those steps along that path to destruction, but we can get a pretty good idea from the records of that time and the memoirs written later. One thing that becomes clear is that those who made the choices had very much in mind previous crises and earlier moments when decisions were made or avoided.

Russia’s leaders, for example, had never forgotten or forgiven Austria-Hungary’s annexations of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908. Moreover, Russia had failed to back its protégé Serbia when it confronted Austria-Hungary then and again in the Balkan wars in 1912-13. Now Austria-Hungary was threatening to destroy Serbia. What would it mean for Russia and its prestige if it stood by yet again and did nothing? Germany had not fully backed its ally Austria-Hungary in those earlier confrontations; if it did nothing this time, would it lose its only sure ally? The fact that earlier and quite serious crises among the powers, over colonies or in the Balkans, had been settled peacefully added another factor to the calculations of 1914. The threat of war had been used but in the end pressures had been brought to bear by third parties, concessions had been made, and conferences had been summoned, with success, to sort out dangerous issues. Brinksmanship had paid off.

Part one of a series of posts (I’m still digging deeper, so I’m not sure how many parts there will be…)

QotD: Absinthe

Filed under: Health, History, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

True absinthe (the name is from a Greek word meaning “undrinkable”) has been illegal in most places for a long time. It is, or was, flavoured with the herb wormwood, which, as the French authorities noticed after years of using absinthe in their army to combat fever, “acts powerfully on the nerve-centres, and causes delirium and hallucinations, followed in some cases by idiocy” (Encyclopaedia Britannica). The perfectly wholesome successors to absinthe are flavoured with anise, or aniseed. The result always reminds me, not unpleasantly, of those paregoric cough-sweets children ate before the war, and I see that paregoric does contain aniseed, but throws in opium, camphor and benzoic acid as well, so I am probably just being nostalgic. Anyway, when recipes call for absinthe, as they can still do if their compilers and revisers have been too ignorant or lazy to make the change, use Pernod or Ricard instead.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

July 26, 2014

QotD: French “ultra-liberalism”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The French press, media and intellectuals castigate ad nauseam what they call the ‘ultra-liberalism’ of the present-day western world: and their characterization, as intellectually lazy as it is inaccurate, now goes virtually by default. Very few are the commentators who see through its inaccuracy. That a country whose public sector accounts for more than half of economic activity, and which is as highly-administered as France (and, it must be said, often well-administered, for who would not rather go on the Paris Metro than the New York Subway?), cannot plausibly be described as ‘ultra-liberal,’ ought to be perfectly obvious even on the most casual reflection, but alas it is not. If France is ultra-anything it is ultra-corporatist, but even that would be an exaggeration. And so present discontents are laid at the door of ultra-liberalism, though in fact a considerable proportion of the resentments and discontents of the young who approve of M’Bala M’Bala are attributable to the rigidity of the French labor market, which is caused precisely by an illiberal nexus of protections and restrictions.

The problem, then, is not ultra-liberalism but insufficient liberalism. The difference between France and other western countries, incidentally, is one of degree and not of type, though even degree can be important: illiberalism in the French labor market has in a matter of a few years turned London into one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Illusions of Control in the Omnicompetent French State”, Library of Law and Liberty, 2014-01-07

July 22, 2014

What happened to the top universities outside the Anglosphere?

Filed under: Europe, History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:29

Steve Sailer has an interesting take on the rise of the top universities in the Anglosphere:

The reality is that the top U.S. (and British) universities have been winning the global competition for talent since the middle of the 20th Century. Look at Nobel Prizes. It wasn’t always like this. Go back to the summer of 1914 and the best research universities tended to be German, with other Continental countries in competition.

What happened to bring about Anglo-American dominance of universities?

I’m sure there are many reasons, but I want to fixate on just two. Namely, we won the Big Ones: WWI and WWII. In the postwar era, the losers, such as Germany and Austria (1918 and 1945), Italy (1943) and France (1940) smashed up their great colleges for being epitomizations of anti-democratic elitism.

The Continentals converted their famous universities to open admissions with virtually no tuition: giant lecture halls with a few thousand students taking notes or dozing.

The French government, not being stupid, kept some small, low profile, ultra-elitist Écoles to train the people who actually run France, while trashing grand old names like the Sorbonne. Piketty, for example, did his undergrad at the École normale supérieure, which is immensely prestigious in the right circles in France, but us big dumb Americans hardly know about it because it only has 600 undergrads. And few Tiger Moms in Seoul, Shanghai, or Mumbai care about it either.

For a French culture that believes itself normally superior, this is annoying.

In contrast, the winning Americans poured even more money into Harvard and Yale. When 1968 happened, only CCNY in the U.S. was dumb enough to fall for the reigning ideology rather than just give it lip service. Instead, Harvard devoted ample resources to modeling admissions and perfected a system of affirmative action for buying off complainers (see Robert Klitgaard’s 1985 book Choosing Elites) without damaging Harvard as the prime pipeline to Wall Street.

Similarly, Oxford and Cambridge survived the Socialist governments with elitist prestige largely intact, mostly because Britain, though almost ruined by the expense, was on the winning side in WW I/II. And winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

July 17, 2014

Geddy Lee, wine fan

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:12

I don’t recall a lot of wine references in Rush songs, but perhaps I’m not listening hard enough: Geddy Lee is a huge wine fan and has a recent interview in Terroni Magazine (transcribed by Power Windows).

How long have you been collecting wine?

I was trying to think about that this morning actually, because I knew you’d ask me. I started collecting wine probably in the mid ’80s but not in a serious way. It wasn’t until the late ’80S that I got more serious about it.

I read that you built a modest cellar in your home but your collection quickly outgrew that one so you had to construct a second. Has your collection outgrown your cellar space or is it still hovering at around 5,000 bottles?

I don’t like to talk about how much wine I have [laughing] but I have surpassed that. I also spend a lot of time out of the country so I have wine in those places, too.

Was it love at first sip or was a taste for wine something that you acquired over time?

Well, what happened with me was when I was touring in the late ’70s, we were starting to get a little successful in America and promoters would always ask our manager, “What can I buy the guys and leave in their dressing room?” So Alex, my guitar player/partner, he was always into wine before I was so he would always say, “Great wine. Great Bordeaux.” So we would get these great bottles left for us. He would drink his and I would take all mine home because I wasn’t really fanatical About wine yet and I had a little wine fridge and I kept them safe and sound. At first I acquired a taste for Bordeaux but after many years of trying different wines, I discovered Burgundy and it changed my life, my palate and I completely crossed over to the other side-the pinot side.

[...]

I’ve read that you’re an avid traveler. Is sampling locally produced wine, if the country you’re in indeed produces it, import ant to you?

Yes it is. I’ll give you an example: last year my wife and I spent a month in New Zealand. And I’m not a big New World wine fan but seeing as we were going to be there for a month 1 thought, well you know, I should try. So every night I made it a project to try a different pinot noir. I came away from the country with about four or five New Zealand pinots that I absolutely love. It was good for me, helping to lose that French wine snobbishness that I happen to have. New Zealand makes, in my view, the best pinot noir outside of France.

Now bear with me here, but Louis Pasteur once said, “A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world.” And Rush lyrics are famously philosophical. Any chance that you imbibe in wine to help fuel the writing process?

Absolutely not! [Laughing] I imbibe in wine to forget the writing process! I drink coffee to inspire the writing.

July 14, 2014

QotD: Revolutionary formula

Filed under: Europe, History, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:41

Bastille Day! A day to remind ourselves yet again of the age-old formula that Revolution equals Political Inexperience times Zeal times Stupid Theory times Testosterone. Or R = PIZST2, if you prefer.

The French Revolution — in which virtually all the revolutionary leaders were men under 40 — makes the point perfectly. But you can try the same game with revolutions of your own choice, and in the privacy of your home.

Jesse Norman, “Bastille Day! A time to remember the ‘magazine of wisdom’ that was Edmund Burke”, Telegraph, 2014-07-14.

July 6, 2014

Henry II – “from the Devil he came, and to the Devil he will surely go”

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

Nicholas Vincent looks at the reign of King Henry II, the founder of the Plantagenet dynasty who died on this day in 1189:

Although in December 1154, Henry was generally recognised as the legitimate claimant to the throne, most notably by the English Church, his accession was fraught with perils. Among the Anglo-Norman aristocracy there were many who saw Henry as an outsider: an Angevin princeling, descended via his father, Count Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou, from a dynasty that had long been regarded as the principal rival on Normandy’s southern frontier. King Stephen had left a legitimate son, William Earl Warenne, still living in 1154, and Henry himself had two younger brothers who might well have disputed his claims to succeed to all his family’s lands and titles. Asked some years before to judge Henry’s chances of success, St Bernard of Clairvaux is said to have predicted of Henry that ‘from the Devil he came, and to the Devil he will surely go’.

Yet, from what contemporaries termed ‘the shipwreck’, and modern historians have described as ‘the anarchy’ of Stephen’s reign, Henry II was to emerge as one of England’s, indeed as one of Europe’s, greatest kings. The Plantagenet dynasty that he founded was to occupy the throne of England through to 1399 and the eighth successive generation. Henry himself came to rule over the most extensive collection of lands that had ever been gathered together under an English king – an empire in all but name, that stretched from the Cheviots to the Pyrenees, and from Dublin in the west to the frontiers of Flanders and Burgundy in the east.

In part this empire was the product of dynastic accident. From his mother, Matilda, daughter and sole surviving legitimate child of the last Anglo-Norman King, Henry inherited his claim to rule as king in England and as duke in Normandy. From his father, Geoffrey, he succeeded to rule over Anjou, Maine and the Touraine: the counties of the Loire valley that had previously blocked Anglo-Norman ambitions in the South. Rather than share these inherited spoils with his brothers, Henry seized everything for himself. William, his younger brother, was granted a rich but by no means royal estate. Geoffrey, the third brother, threatened rebellion but was bought off with a shortlived grant of the county of Nantes.

Henry, however, was far more than just a fortunate or crafty elder son. Through his own exertions he greatly expanded his family’s territorial claims. In 1152, two years before obtaining the throne of England, he had married Eleanor, heiress to the duchy of Aquitaine and only a few weeks earlier divorced from her previous husband, the Capetian King Louis VII. As effective ruler of Eleanor’s lands, Henry found himself in possession of a vast estate in south-western France, stretching from the Loire southwards through Poitou and Gascony to the frontiers of Spain. Henry’s marriage to Eleanor was regarded as scandalous even by his own courtiers. She was eleven years older than him and was rumoured to have enjoyed extra-marital affairs not only with her own uncle but with Henry’s father, Geoffrey Plantagenet. By temperament she was as fiery as Henry, and as determined to stake her own claims to rule. As a result, Henry’s domestic life was far from tranquil. From 1173 onwards, Eleanor was to be held under house arrest in England, whilst Henry, to judge by the bastard children that he fathered, had long enjoyed the favours of a series of mistresses. Even so, by his marriage, Henry laid the basis of the later claims made by England’s kings to rule over southern France: claims that were to unite Gascony to the English crown as late as the fifteenth century and which were to play a vital role in the history of Anglo-French relations throughout the Middle Ages and beyond.

July 5, 2014

QotD: Collaborators and their accusers, France 1944

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The task of filtering the tens of thousands of Frenchmen and women arrested for collaboration in the summer of 1944 proved overwhelming for the nascent administration of de Gaulle’s provisional government. That autumn, there were over 300,000 dossiers still outstanding. In Normandy, prisoners were brought to the camp at Sully near Bayeux by the sécurité militaire, the gendarmerie and sometimes by US military police. There were also large numbers of displaced foreigners, Russians, Italians and Spaniards, who were trying to survive by looting from farms.

The range of charges against French citizens was wide and often vague. They included “supplying the enemy”, “relations with the Germans”, denunciation of members of the Resistance or Allied paratroopers, “an anti-national attitude during the Occupation”, “pro-German activity”, “providing civilian clothes to a German soldier”, “pillaging”, even just “suspicion from a national point of view”. Almost anybody who had encountered the Germans at any stage could be denounced and arrested.

Anthony Beevor, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, 2009.

June 18, 2014

Is the RCN “kicking the tires” of the Mistral?

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:59

The French navy is visiting Canada’s East coast this week, taking part in Exercise LION MISTRAL. David Pugliese reported on the operation a few days ago:

Approximately 200 Canadian Army soldiers from 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Valcartier, Quebec will take part in Exercise LION MISTRAL alongside members of the French Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force from June 16-23, 2014, in Gaspé, Quebec, according to a news release from the DND.

  • Canadian Army soldiers, primarily from the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment (1 R22eR), will board The Mistral, the French amphibious assault ship and helicopter carrier in Halifax on June 18; 

  • Canadian Army troops will conduct littoral operations, including running air-land operations and battle procedures, and establishing a helicopter landing site and a beachhead. Ex LION MISTRAL will also feature a humanitarian assistance air evacuation operation that will help train expeditionary forces to respond to humanitarian disasters;


  • Ex LION MISTRAL will culminate in two disembarkation operations on a Gaspé beach on June 20-21 marking the end of the amphibious exercise. In response to a request by the town of Gaspé, the members of the 1 R22eR will also be offering a static display of their vehicles and equipment on June 21;


  • More than 400 French Navy members of The Mistral and 175 of La Fayette will be participating alongside some 200 Canadian soldiers, including 20 engineers from 5 Combat Engineer Regiment from Valcartier;



On Flickr a couple of photos from yesterday, as equipment was being loaded onto Mistral in Halifax:

Members of the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment load light armored vehicles onboard the French Navy amphibious ship Mistral as part of Exercise LION MISTRAL 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 17, 2014. Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS2014-3030-06

Members of the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment load light armored vehicles onboard the French Navy amphibious ship Mistral as part of Exercise LION MISTRAL 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 17, 2014.
Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS2014-3030-06

Halifax, Nova Scotia.  FS Mistral (L-9013) is an Amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and Helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News

Halifax, Nova Scotia.
FS Mistral (L-9013) is an Amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and Helicopter facilities.
Photo: Halifax Shipping News

Additional photos by M/Cpl Blanchard were posted on the Ottawa Citizen website.

June 17, 2014

Not all wines should be cellared

Filed under: Wine — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

At the Wall Street Journal, Will Lyons has some suggestions for wines you can — and should — drink sooner rather than stashing them in your cellar for a far distant future date:

These are styles of wines that aren’t enormously serious, in that they don’t have a huge range of flavors. (A shorthand for this category, suggested by Charles Lea, owner of London fine wine merchant Lea & Sandeman, is “anything you can drink out of an ice bucket,” which includes a variety of reds as well as whites.) That isn’t to deride these wines in any way. It is as legitimate to appreciate an uncomplicated style of white wine, designed to refresh and be sipped without too much thought, as it is to purr enthusiastically over the grandeur of a classed growth Bordeaux. In that vein, let’s celebrate this expression of youth.

The obvious place to start is with white wine, as the vast majority are best drunk within a year of the harvest — although the later bottlings always tend to taste a little better. Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde, Moscato, Pinot Grigio and Picpoul de Pinet are the best candidates for “better when young.”

One wine that is absolutely made for this time of year is France’s Condrieu, made from the Viognier grape. Wine writer Hugh Johnson likened its smell to that of a “garden of unknown flowers.” You can find Viognier now planted all over the world, particularly in Australia and California, and I always find it is best drunk young. Chenin Blanc, dry Riesling and Argentina’s Torrontés can also bypass the cellar, as can almost any rosé.

With red wines, the choices aren’t as obvious. As a rule of thumb, anything heavy with lots of tannin, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo or a heavy Merlot, improves with time in the bottle. Italy’s soft, fruity Dolcetto; straight Beaujolais, by which I mean Nouveau and Beaujolais-Villages (not Cru Beaujolais); and anything made with the Gamay grape are good to go from the off.

June 12, 2014

QotD: Regulating cheese

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Health, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:00

France, for all its faults, has genuinely federalized food: a distinctive cheese every 20 miles down the road. In America, meanwhile, the food nannies are lobbying to pass something called the National Uniformity for Food Act. There’s way too much of that already.

The federalization of food may seem peripheral to national security issues, and the taste of American milk — compared with its French or English or even Québécois equivalents — may seem a small loss. But take almost any area of American life: what’s the more common approach nowadays? The excessive government regulation exemplified by American cheese or the spirit of self-reliance embodied in the Second Amendment? On a whole raft of issues from health care to education the United States is trending in an alarmingly fromage-like direction.

Mark Steyn, “Live Brie or Die!” SteynOnline.com, 2014-03-13

June 7, 2014

Historic WW2 aircraft fly over Juno Beach

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:53

Two Spitfires, a Dakota DC-3, and a Lancaster Bomber conduct a flypast over Juno Beach, France, during commemorative ceremonies of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2014. Photo by Sgt Bern LeBlanc Canadian Army Public Affairs AS2014-0027-002

Two Spitfires, a Dakota DC-3, and a Lancaster Bomber conduct a flypast over Juno Beach, France, during commemorative ceremonies of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2014. Photo by Sgt Bern LeBlanc Canadian Army Public Affairs AS2014-0027-002

“30, 40 or 50 years ago, a year the quality of 2013 Bordeaux would have been a complete disaster”

Filed under: Business, Europe, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Even in a good year, I don’t have the money to invest in Bordeaux futures, so I rarely bother to read much about them. Even so, I’d heard that the 2013 vintage was not going to be a good one given the weather that year in the region. The price for Bordeaux wines, however, didn’t do the rational thing and drop below previous (good) years: prices went up. The Wine Cellar Insider explains what happened next:

2013 Bordeaux is not the vintage of the century. The growing season, with its cold, damp character made sure of that. 30, 40 or 50 years ago, a year the quality of 2013 Bordeaux would have been a complete disaster.

But that is not what took place with 2013 Bordeaux. With the willingness to sacrifice quantity for quality, the best producers, with the financial ability to do what needed to be done made some fine wine. 2013 Bordeaux is not an exciting, sexy vintage. But having tasted close to 400 different 2013 Bordeaux wines, clearly, there are some nice wines worth drinking.

So, what’s the problem? When it comes to the wine, none. The average scores from the majority of wine writers and critics show the wines at an average of 89/90 Pts for perhaps the top 100 – 200 wines. Clearly, those are the not the scores for a bad vintage.

[...]

Had the wines been priced in proportion to consumer demand, while 2013 Bordeaux was never going to be an easy sell, it would not have been an impossible sale. I am all for the open, free market when it comes to pricing. Producers can and should price their wine for what they think the market will bear. But 2013 Bordeaux wines remain unsold. Selling the wines to a negociant is not selling the wine. Merchants need to buy and consumers need to purchase as well for it to be a true sale. For some odd reason, in the great vintages, Bordeaux has a knack for pricing the wines correctly. They might seem expensive to mature collectors that are used to paying lower prices, but for the next generation of wine lovers, the wines seem fairly priced.

I get it. On the one hand, due to the excessive unflattering and at times, unfair press, 2013 Bordeaux was never going to receive a warm reception in the marketplace. Perhaps the price the market was actually willing to pay was unappetizing to the chateau owners. But it would have been nice to see an effort. It is difficult for 2013 Bordeaux to sell through to consumers when other recent, and more successful vintages are available in the market for less money.

Bordeaux map

H/T to Brendan for the link.

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