Published on 4 Mar 2017
The optimism that marked Catherine the Great’s early years turned on its head. She oversaw the partition and final dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. She also alienated her son in the same way her own mother once did, leaving him ill-equipped to succeed her.
March 27, 2017
March 21, 2017
Published on 25 Feb 2017
Catherine had many lovers during her life, but perhaps none meant so much to her as Grigory Potemkin. Although their romance did not last a lifetime, it did form the basis of a working relationship that would change the face (and future) of Europe.
March 11, 2017
Published on Feb 11, 2017
When the conspiracy to seat Catherine on the throne of Russia was exposed, she had to move quickly. While Peter III blundered through a day of miscommunications, Catherine swiftly seized power, secured the loyalty of the army, and demanded his abdication.
March 8, 2017
Published on 7 Mar 2017
The Cossacks are surrounded my myths and legends. For some they were the “Tsar’s dogs” for others they were more comparable to the cowboys of the Wild West. In any case, their history and culture is unique and is deeply intertwined with the rise and end of the Romanov dynasty. And that’s why we are taking a look further back than usual to introduce to the Cossacks.
March 7, 2017
Published on 6 Mar 2017
Russia’s history in the decades leading up to World War 1 where a time of great turmoil and social changes. The Romanov tsars held a tight grip on the country which remained an autocracy even though the people requested change. And by 1917, three years into World War 1, the people demanded change again.
March 2, 2017
Published on 4 Feb 2017
Sophia’s excitement to meet her future husband deflated when she realized Peter III was a boor who cared nothing about Russia. By contrast, she threw herself into learning the culture with such vigor that she earned the love of the people. She was rechristened Catherine and married Peter… but when he became emperor, his mistakes and her popularity began to add up to a crisis situation.
February 26, 2017
Published on 10 Feb 2017
In the final episode, Lucy debunks the fibs that surround the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire – India. Travelling to Kolkata, she investigates how the Raj was created following a British government coup in 1858. After snatching control from the discredited East India Company, the new regime presented itself as a new kind of caring, sharing imperialism with Queen Victoria as its maternal Empress.
Tyranny, greed and exploitation were to be things of the past. From the ‘black hole of Calcutta’ to the Indian ‘mutiny’, from East India Company governance to crown rule, and from Queen Victoria to Empress of India, Lucy reveals how this chapter of British history is another carefully edited narrative that’s full of fibs.
February 23, 2017
Published on Jan 28, 2017
Before she became Catherine the Great, legendary empress of Russia, she was a smart but lonely girl named Sophia. Her mother ignored her until family connections proposed a marriage between Sophia and the presumptive heir to the Russian throne – and suddenly she was thrown from her quiet life in a backwoods mansion to the center of a cutthroat political world.
February 12, 2017
Published on 3 Feb 2017
In this episode, Lucy debunks another of the biggest fibs in British history – the ‘Glorious Revolution’.
In 1688, the British Isles were invaded by a huge army led by Dutch prince, William of Orange. With his English wife Mary he stole the throne from Mary’s father, the Catholic King James II. This was the death knell for absolute royal power and laid the foundations of our constitutional monarchy. It was spun as a ‘glorious and bloodless revolution’. But how ‘glorious’ was it really? It led to huge slaughter in Ireland and Scotland. Lucy reveals how the facts and fictions surrounding 1688 have shaped our national story ever since.
It’s remarkable that the English-speaking world remembers Magna Carta. The product of a struggle between King John and his barons, it was sealed on the bank of the Thames 800 years ago, on June 15, 1215. But in a sense, the most valuable thing about Magna Carta is precisely that it is remembered. Other charters were issued across medieval Europe, but they were rapidly forgotten.
Magna Carta alone endured because the kings of England never consolidated their power fully enough to be able to ignore their subjects. The charter was a useful political weapon in this struggle against arbitrary royal power, which is why it was so often reissued, appealed to, and celebrated, not least in the United States by the Founding Fathers: The Massachusetts state seal adopted in 1775 includes a patriot holding the Great Charter. To remember is, literally, to recall to mind, to renew in thought, which is why memory, as Orwell recognized in 1984, is a great defense of liberty.
This year, Magna Carta is being acclaimed as the contract that first established the idea that law was above government. As British politician and historian Daniel Hannan has put it, from Magna Carta flowed “all the rights and freedoms that we now take for granted: uncensored newspapers, security of property, equality before the law, habeas corpus, regular elections, sanctity of contract, jury trials.” And that’s fair: The barons wanted to limit King John’s arbitrary power, and without limits there is no liberty under law.
But it does not take very much bravery now to celebrate our rights. Today, the language of rights is universal, though often hypocritical. Worse, the danger to liberty in the U.S. and Britain today is not arbitrary power of the sort exercised by King John, who offered no real theory except that he needed the money he was stealing to fight his wars in France. The danger to liberty today, ironically, comes more from arbitrary power backed up by the rights-talk that can trace its origins back to Magna Carta. Against my right to free expression stands your supposed right not to be offended. My right to property must now pay for your right to free health care. My right not to be discriminated against must give way to your right to be discriminated in favor of.
Ted R. Bromund, “Magna Carta limited government”, National Review, 2015-06-15.
February 2, 2017
I was raised with noblesse oblige, which, as we all know is a kind of almond and mare’s milk pastry made in the mountains of outer Mongolia and eaten at wedding feasts to assure good luck.
Okay, I lie. Noblesse Oblige is literally – as all of you know! However, let me unpack it, because sometimes it’s good to reflect on things we know – the obligations of noblemen.
In a world in which station was dictated by birth (most of the world, most of the time) the way to keep society from becoming completely tyrannical and the burden of those on the lower rungs of society from becoming unbearable was “noblesse oblige” – that is a set of obligations that the noblemen/those in power accepted as a part of their duty to society. Most of these involved some form of moderation of force.
The amount of moderation depended on the culture itself. For instance, in those lands in which the nobleman got first night rights (or claimed them anyway) it might be noblesse oblige to return the bride after that. It might also be noblesse oblige to stand godfather to the oldest child, who, after all, might be more than a godchild. And in other cultures, though the first night thing wasn’t there, the godchild thing still applied. A small return for faithful service to closer servants and courtiers, etc.
In the same way, while you might treat your serfs or villains like dirt, you forebore to take their last crumb of bread and left them enough to live on. This might not be because you were smart or merciful or whatever, but because someone had dinged it into you.
Noblesse oblige, by that name or others, appears every time there is a gross imbalance of power in human society. Or that is, it appears if society is to survive.
Sarah Hoyt, “Noblesse Oblige and Mare’s Nests”, According to Hoyt, 2015-05-05.
January 15, 2017
Published on 14 Jan 2017
It’s time for the Chair of Wisdom again where Indy sits to answer all of your questions about World War 1. This week we talk about the 1916 presidential elections in the US, the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V and the relations between Germany and Austria-Hungary.
December 31, 2016
The polling firm Ipsos did a year-end survey for Global News to find out how Canadians feel about the monarchy. Colby Cosh looks at the weak attraction of the republican option:
If you’re a serious monarchist you are of two minds about this sort of thing. You recognize the necessity of occasionally taking the pulse of the institution, just as a human of great age will have their vital signs measured from time to time. You also know that to present the Canadian monarchy to the public as a free choice, a fashion we can discard when it suits us, has the effect of encouraging republican fantasies.
Republicanism is a pathology, a reflection of insecurity and ignorance. In the past it was fostered by newspapermen who had served for a spell in Washington (or Moscow or Tokyo), and who were used to being asked why the hell we have a “foreign” Queen on our money and whatnot. The educations of these men had often involved nothing more than early saturation in great quantities of ink and booze, and many were incapable of a half-decent answer grounded in global history.
So our press elite consisted of men who had suffered chronic humiliation by their big brothers, the Americans. The psychic dissolution of the Empire in the postwar period left us unable to regard Americans the way we once had as a matter of course — as errant, troubled children. Our journalistic teachers thus embraced, as a defence mechanism, the idea that Canada’s thousand-year-old inner constitution was “immature” or less than “adult.”
The pathological nature of Canadian republicanism is apparent from the Ipsos poll itself. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree with the statement “When Queen Elizabeth’s reign ends, Canada should end its formal ties to the British monarchy.” Fifty-three percent of the sample agreed; the figure was 73 per cent within Quebec, 46 per cent elsewhere.
But why would the death of the Queen be considered an appropriate moment for constitutional revision? Ipsos’s republican push-pollsters do not even have the guts to say out loud what they are talking about. Even as they contemplate a Canadian republic as something to be perpetrated like a theft, when the right distraction happens along, they instinctively avoid lèse-majesté. They know people like the Queen: their own poll finds that 81 per cent of Canadians think she has done a good job (leaving us to wonder what hallucinated grievances the other 19 per cent might have).
November 5, 2016
H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.
August 23, 2016
Published on 22 Aug 2016
Greece was officially neutral in World War 1. Surrounded by warring nations and under the influence of the great powers, Greek unity was tested during the war in a time of National Schism.