“I’ll find friends to wear my bleeding roses,” cries Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, in Harey the vjth. Standing in a rose garden, he has plucked a red flower from a great bush that stands between him and his nemesis, Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. York has selected a white rose – “with this maiden blossom in my hand/I scorn thee,” he spits – and the noblemen standing by have followed suit, choosing the colour of their rose to advertise their allegiance.
In 1592, this image made perfect sense. This was how the Wars of the Roses were generally understood. Against the backdrop of weak kingship and disastrous military defeat in France, two rival branches of the Plantagenet dynasty – Lancaster and York – had gone to war for the throne, using red and white roses as emblems of their causes. The war had shattered the country, causing tens of thousands of deaths and incalculable misery.
Only after decades of chaos had the family rift been healed by the victory of a Lancastrian, Henry Tudor, over a Yorkist, Richard III, at Bosworth in 1485. Henry’s victory, and his subsequent marriage to Elizabeth of York, reconciled the warring factions. Thus had been created the red-and-white ‘Tudor rose’ that seemed to be painted everywhere, reminding the populace that the Tudors stood for unity, reconciliation, peace and the incontestable right to rule.
It was a powerful and easily grasped story that, by Shakespeare’s day, had already been in circulation for 100 years. And, in part thanks to the success of Shakespeare’s brilliant cycle of history plays, this vision of the Wars of the Roses remains in circulation – on television, in film and in popular historical fiction. Lancaster versus York, red versus white: it is a story as easy to grasp as a football match at the end of which everyone swaps shirts. Yet it is misleading, distorted, oversimplified and – in parts – deliberately false.
February 1, 2016
November 11, 2015
The Canada of 1914 was, by modern standards, intensely monarchist and very pro-military. I wouldn’t go so far as calling the Canadians of a century ago militaristic, in fact the term was used extensively to describe contemporary German government and society. It wasn’t a compliment. Genuinely militaristic societies organize their political, economic and educational systems around military development and warfare. That has never described Canadian society except for the very brief periods of the two world wars.
For most of Canadian history the military was out of sight and out mind. It existed, it was probably necessary and when war came a flood of money and enthusiasm would be thrown at it. When the war was over the medals were handed out, everyone went home and most people tried to forget. That’s why the phrase “lest we forget” has such poignancy. Because it is human nature to forget things, especially that which is hard and unpleasant. It’s why we call it Remembrance Day. A hope, at times seemingly vain, to drive into the minds of comfortable, peaceful and prosperous Canadians their astonishing good luck.
Richard Anderson, “Monarchy and Militarism”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-05-27.
September 30, 2015
Colby Cosh on the sudden interest among the chattering classes about the role of the Governor General during election campaigns:
What’s with malcontent nitwit constitutional experts popping up in the newspaper to warn of “political instability” because we’re having a three-sided election? You know, this isn’t really that hard. The United Kingdom, a nuclear-armed power across the Atlantic that may be vaguely familiar, had an election in 2010 that failed to produce a majority. Its 650-seat House of Commons ended up with 306 Conservatives, 258 Labour MPs, 62 Liberal Democrats and a ragbag of deputies from nationalist and leftist parties.
If there is no majority party, that will involve tough decisions, most likely falling upon whomever finds himself in third place. But it should not end up with the governor general making some kind of awkward choice in a vacuum. The party leaders should feel enormous pressure to arrive at a decision between them, as if there were a taboo protecting the governor general’s door. The Privy Council Office is probably already creating that pressure. A governor general should never be presented with anything but a fait accompli. He plays the role of the Queen locally, and should be thought of like the Queen, as being above political decision-making.
The proper thing for constitutional pundits to be doing right now is to strengthen that taboo. Musings about imaginary scenarios in which the viceroy might have to involve himself in the selection of a government are fun — exactly the kind of thing I myself enjoy. But if you are cooking up such an op-ed, or giving quotes of that nature to a journalist, you are signing a license for party leaders to prolong the negotiation period that might follow our election, and encouraging them to make illicit use of sly appeals to the public about what the governor general ought to be doing.
In a minority situation, the temptation will be there: some leader will want to suggest that an arrangement for government that leaves him out has been arrived at unfairly. Or a third-place finisher who should be deciding the identity of a prime minister other than himself, and who has the real power to decide, might lose his nerve and start thinking he can evade the choice.
September 26, 2015
A thumbnail sketch of the second Roman Emperor:
Upon the death of Augustus, Tiberius Claudius Nero stood as the last logical choice in a long and tumultuous line of potential heirs. In 14 AD, at the age of 56, Tiberius ascended to Imperial power as a somewhat uncertain figure. The continuation and success of the newly created Principate rested squarely on the shoulders of a man who seemingly had only a partial interest in his own personal participation.
For the first time the transfer of power from the greatness of Augustus was to be tested. The passing of this test would prove to be more a culmination of Augustus’ long reign and establishment of precedent than the ability of Tiberius to fill the enormous sandals of his step-father.
While Augustus was the perfect political tactician with powerful personality yet approachable demeanor, Tiberius was a direct contrast. He was a dark figure, keenly intelligent, sometimes terribly cunning and ruthless, yet pre-disposed to a more Republican ideal than any emperor that followed him. Tiberius’ failures, however seem to have been his inability to define his own role within the Principate and the roles of those around him, including the Senate. While he professed a desire for the Senate to play a more active role in Imperial government, he did little to illustrate what these roles should be. To an aristocratic body that had been cowed into general subservience through the sheer will and force of Augustus, defining a new role required more definitive action than the simple desire of Tiberius for change.
He was inconsistent in policy and behavior, sometimes dictating his own idea of order from the position of ultimate power, sometimes withdrawing completely in favor of any who might dictate the appearance of command. Mood swings and depression plagued him, perhaps resulting from a life spent as an uncertain member of the ‘Julio-Claudian’ family. Until his final ascension, and only after the deaths of several favored ‘heirs’, did Tiberius probably know for sure that the ultimate power would actually belong to him.
September 4, 2015
Published on 3 Sep 2015
The Western Front has been relatively quiet the whole summer while the Russians were on their Big Retreat. The French and British generals have been busy trying to find a new strategy to overcome the stalemate. The Germans weren’t sitting idle while awaiting the next big French offensive, they fortified their positions even using concrete. At the same time in the East, Tsar Nicholas II personally takes over military command and fires Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich for the catastrophic casualties the Russian Army faced this summer. But his timing could not be worse.
August 16, 2015
Sarah Hoyt on the time when the throne of the Kingdom of Portugal was occupied by the Kings of Spain:
When I was little, one of my favorite times in history class every year was when we studied the Spanish occupation.
From 1560 to 1640 and due to some truly gifted stupid actions of Portuguese kings, the throne of Portugal was occupied by the Philips. The first Philip was the famous Philip of the Armada.
Now the throne of Portugal was acquired as legitimately as any other succession at the time and more legitimately than most. Technically Philip was the late King Sebastian’s nephew. (And possibly first cousin, uncle and grandfather. There is no word on whether the royal lines of Portugal and Spain could play the banjo really well, but if they didn’t it was only because they didn’t have banjos.)
However by the time I studied the occupation or “usurpation” EVERY year of elementary school, great indignation was built towards the Philips. One of the reasons I really liked that lesson is that our prim and elderly school marm would instruct us to bring out our crayons and deface our pictures of Philip of Portugal and Spain. (And for those cringing about destruction of school property, in Portugal you buy your school books. You can sometimes buy them used or inherit them from a sibling — not me, my brother was much older than I and books had changed — but in general everyone from the richest to the poorest bought the school books. I rather suspect, now I think about it, that this keeps the Portuguese publishing system working.)
The reason they were hated, the reason we were instructed to deface the pictures was that while occupying the Portuguese throne, perhaps because they were sure it wouldn’t last, or perhaps because they wanted to reduce the proud and independent spirit of the Portuguese (from their perspective the last of the small kingdoms in the peninsula to be swallowed by the Spanish leviathan) the Philips seemed to go out of their way to destroy all Portuguese interests, possessions and wealth, as well as the Portuguese standing with their allies and the world.
It’s been a long time, and mostly I spent my time studying how to deface a picture, but I remember the Spaniards broke the Portuguese alliance with the English which had lasted almost since before there was England, and save for that interruption has lasted to present day. This meant Portuguese ships could fall prey to the British privateers. They also failed to adequately defend Portuguese colonies and gave some of them away as dowry to Spanish Princesses or perhaps party favors.
There were other things, and the rule must have been felt even at the time as disastrous because particularly in the North a cult of the “King who will return” (in this case King Sebastian, young and possibly nuts or at least a really good banjo player, since his mother was the upteenth Spanish princess the Portuguese kings had married in a row.) He died in a futile attack on the North of Africa (there’s taking the fight to the enemy and then there’s nuts) which left the kingdom without a king. Save the Spaniards.
For years, and then centuries, adding an element of fantasy, the legend grew that he had not died and would return “one foggy morning.”
I must have had a fantastical or romantic bend from early on, because one of my favorite songs was by a group called 1111 (Ah ah) which sang about King Sebastian and how they’d found his horse and pieces of his doublet, his sword and his heart, notwithstanding which he’d come back in a foggy morning to lead the half mad seers and witches of the foggy Northern lands. (Represent, I say, represent.)
However, no matter how bad the Spanish occupation was, in that morality tale it became the inflection point at which Portugal stopped being amazing and became beaten down and down and out. At that moment (even though colonies and empire remained) Portugal was broken in the eyes of the world and in its own eyes.
August 11, 2015
Published on 4 Jul 2015
A group of monks declared sanctuary for two hooligans from the demes (Constantinople’s fanatical chariot racing factions) who had miraculously survived a hanging. The public wanted them pardoned for their crimes, so when Justinian made his public appearance at the next chariot race, they begged him to have mercy. When Justinian refused, the crowd turned on him and became a rioting mob that tore through the streets of Constantinople. During the Nika Riots, they burned down neighborhoods and even the Hagia Sophia cathedral, rampaging until Justinian agreed to pardon the two men from the demes. Now, however, the mob would not accept that. They demanded that he fire his advisors. Then they decided to appoint their own emperor, a man named Hypatius who was related to the previous emperor Anastasius. Assaulted on all sides, Justinian made plans to flee, only to be confronted by Theodora. She gave a now famous speech asking whether he would rather live a failure or die an emperor, announcing that she would choose the latter. Justinian followed her lead and made new plans to retake his city. He called Belisarius and Mundus, his best generals, to marshal a force. He also sent the eunuch Narses to bribe one faction of the demes and begin dismantling their leadership. Then he ordered his forces to invade the Hippodrome, where they cut down some thirty thousand civilians and executed the false emperor Hypatius. Justinian’s reign was once again secure.
August 4, 2015
Published on 27 Jun 2015
Justinian wanted to restore the glory of Rome, but many obstacles stood in his way. He brought on talented advisors to help him reform the tax system, the law code, and the military might of the empire. With them he made great strides, but these advisors had very human flaws. His tax collector, John the Cappadocian, centralized tax collection and crushed corruption in his agents, greatly increasing the revenue to the empire – but he also skimmed money off the top to feed his private corruption. Meanwhile, a lawyer named Tribonian took centuries of confusing and even conflicting legal precedents and resolved them into a single code, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which remains the foundation of modern law today. He even made a textbook for students to learn from. But he was also a practicing pagan during an era when Justinian was trying to crack down on pagan rituals. And last, Justinian’s chief military commander Belisarius helped the Empire recover its military glory. He defeated the Sassanid Persians in the Battle of Dara, crushing a force of 50,000 men with only 25,000 of his own through clever strategy: he dug a trench to halt their infantry’s advance, then baited the Persian cavalry into overextending and sprang a surprise attack on them with Hun mercenaries. Although Belisarius seems to have been an upstanding person, his personal historian Procopius tainted even his clean record. Procopius wrote glowing official histories of the reign of Justinian, but his long lost secret history depicted Justinian as a literal headless demon and Theodora as a debauched monster.
July 29, 2015
Published on 20 Jun 2015
Justinian arose from humble roots, the nephew of an illiterate pig farmer named Justin. Justin joined the army and rose to become leader of the palace guard, then took his nephew under his wing and made sure that he was well educated. When Emperor Anastasius died, Justin used his position (and his standing army inside Constantinople) to claim the crown for himself. His nephew guided the early years of his reign, helping Justin secure support both in the capitol and abroad. When Justin died, rule of the Byzantine Empire passed to the young Justinian, who had grand ambitions to restore its waning glory. It also freed him to marry Theodora, a famous actress who was far beneath his social station, and who would also rise from her humble beginnings to become a revered empress.
July 25, 2015
Perhaps the most valuable asset that any man can have in this world is a naturally superior air, a talent for sniffishness and reserve. The generality of men are always greatly impressed by it, and accept it freely as a proof of genuine merit. One need but disdain them to gain their respect. Their congenital stupidity and timorousness make them turn to any leader who offers, and the sign of leadership that they recognize most readily is that which shows itself in external manner. This is the true explanation of the survival of monarchism, which invariably lives through its perennial deaths. It is the popular theory, at least in America, that monarchism is a curse fastened upon the common people from above — that the monarch saddles it upon them without their consent and against their will. The theory is without support in the facts. Kings are created, not by kings, but by the people. They visualize one of the ineradicable needs of all third-rate men, which means of nine men out of ten, and that is the need of something to venerate, to bow down to, to follow and obey.
The king business begins to grow precarious, not when kings reach out for greater powers, but when they begin to resign and renounce their powers. The czars of Russia were quite secure upon the throne so long as they ran Russia like a reformatory, but the moment they began to yield to liberal ideas, i. e., by emancipating the serfs and setting up constitutionalism, their doom was sounded. The people saw this yielding as a sign of weakness; they began to suspect that the czars, after all, were not actually superior to other men. And so they turned to other and antagonistic leaders, all as cock-sure as the czars had once been, and in the course of time they were stimulated to rebellion. These leaders, or, at all events, the two or three most resolute and daring of them, then undertook to run the country in the precise way that it had been run in the palmy days of the monarchy. That is to say, they seized and exerted irresistible power and laid claim to infallible wisdom. History will date their downfall from the day they began to ease their pretensions. Once they confessed, even by implication, that they were merely human, the common people began to turn against them.
H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 8: The King”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.
July 24, 2015
It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations. He was an extreme exemplar of that Edwardian social category, the club bore who is forever explaining some pet project to the man in the next chair. Small wonder that the prospect of being buttonholed by the Kaiser over lunch or dinner, when escape was impossible, struck fear into the hearts of so many European royals.
Wilhelm’s interventions greatly exercised the men of the German foreign ministry, but they did little to shape the course of German policy. Indeed it may in part have been a deepening sense of impotence and disconnection from the real levers of power that fired up Wilhelm’s recurring fantasies about future world wars between Japan and the USA, invasions of Puerto Rico, global jihad against the British Empire, a German protectorate over China and so on. These were the blue-sky scenarios of an inveterate geopolitical fantasist, not policies as such. And whenever a real conflict seemed imminent, Wilhelm pulled in his horns and quickly found reasons why Germany could not possibly go to war. […] Wilhelm could talk tough, but when trouble loomed he tended to turn and run for cover. He would do exactly that during the July Crisis of 1914. “It is a curious thing,” Jules Cambon, French ambassador in Berlin, observed in a letter to a senior official at the French foreign ministry in May 1912, “to see how this man, so sudden, so reckless and impulsive in words, is full of caution and patience in action.”
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
July 22, 2015
I was not aware that there were quite so many grades of tea: David Warren explains the rankings (and why you won’t find any in the Tea and Coffee aisle of your local Sobey’s or Metro):
There are six grades of Darjeeling, and the highest, Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (SFTGFOP), will never reach the Greater Parkdale Area. One will need not only money, but contacts to obtain it. Perhaps, fly there, and start networking among the estate managers. You can’t buy it at Harrod’s, because they don’t sell to Harrod’s: it would be beneath them. The Queen might obtain some, but then, she has a staff.
Each grade lower drops a letter off the front, so that my fine tea is of the fourth grade, just short of “tippy,” which refers to the abundance of flowering buds. “Golden” means that in the process of oxidation, these tips will turn a gold colour. “Flowery” is the term for high floral aroma. “Orange” has nothing to do with fruit, but refers to the Nassau family of Holland, whose most creditable accomplishment was pioneering the importation of tea into Europe, four centuries ago. The term insinuates, “good enough for Dutch royalty,” perhaps. “Pekoe,” or more correctly pak-ho, refers to the white down that gathers at the base of the bottom bud, an indication of the plant’s mood, its susceptibility to plucking. (Tea picking is an art; one does not strip the tree bare, but selects each leaf as it is ready.)
Now, survey your local supermarket shelf — let us suppose it is an “upmarket” emporium — and you will find in the tea section nothing but sludge. The teas will all be “blended” — which I esteem as blended whisky, or blended wine, delivered in tanker trucks. This will be especially true of the expensive boxes with whimsical names for the blends — that say nothing of date, terroir, or the specific variety. The tea inside the boxes will be packed in irritating little bags, probably with the absurd claim that they are “organic.” Once cut open, they reveal that the tea was ground by a Rotorvane, even before being stirred in a diesel-electric mixer. Various chain tea stores have sprung up, posing as effete, to separate fools from their money. Their pretensions are risible, and they annoy me very much.
I won’t comment on the “herbal teas” they also sell; except to recommend, to the women (including nominal males) who want herbal remedies for their malades imaginaires, that they take up smoking.
Rather, let us focus on the words, “Orange Pekoe.” They attach to most of the Subcontinent’s black tea supply, as to that of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (the former paradise of Ceylon). I have explained what the words mean in a series — not much — but standing alone, they mean less. They guarantee that the purchaser will receive, at an inflated price, tea of a low, coarse, common quality, processed by the method called “CTC” (crush, tear, curl), introduced in the 1930s by a ravening industrialist named McKercher (“Sir William …”), and now spread around the planet.
The machinery was designed for volume at the expense of quality. It makes no sense to put good tea in, and what comes out might as well be bagged. This is tea for the masses, who have no prejudice or taste, and do not aspire to the humane. Like so much else in our fallen world, the best argument would be that tea of this sort is “better than nothing.”
At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait sings the praises of “an infirm hand on the tiller” during the War of the Roses:
For my point is that this royal “hand on the tiller” that Wilson says the country so much needed can sometimes be rather too firm.
Wilson is right that medieval civil war, or medieval war of any kind, could be a disaster to the wider society in which it happened. A routine military method in those days was for a retreating army to wreck the countryside, burning crops and killing livestock, in order to deny these resources to an advancing enemy. That this was a death sentence to whoever lived in this devastated area may have troubled the people who inflicted such horrors, but not enough to stop them doing it whenever they were told to. Elsewhere in the book, Wilson mentions an episode of just this sort, in which the King of Scotland inflicted just this horrible fate upon great swathes of Scotland, when he was faced with an invading English army. Those medieval wars between England and Scotland were not quite the nationalist confrontations that Anglo-Scottish wars later became. They were battles between aristocratic dynasties, between “families”, in the Godfather movies sense. Civilian populations were more prizes to be contested, to be owned or failing that denied to an enemy, than the ideologically enthused participants in the contest, as they became later, for instance in the seventeenth century.
But, on the whole, England’s Wars of the Rose, as they later came to be called, were not like this. These “wars” tended to consist of relatively small armies having sometimes very bloody battles with one another, but not, on the whole, creating all that much havoc for nearby civilians, apart from the unlucky civilians whose crops or animals had been on the actual battlefield.
So, what of that mercantile class which, in Wilson’s word, “emerged” at the same time as all of this rather low level fighting? He makes it sound like an unrelated coincidence. But might there not be an element of cause and effect in operation here? Was not the very fact that all this commerce, all this development of the wool trade, was “beyond politics” perhaps one of the key things that enabled it to “emerge”?
For many people, the mere possibility that the dynastic fights of the fifteenth century might degenerate, even if only in their immediate vicinity, into something more like the English — or worse, the German — civil wars of later times, was probably enough to make them believe, as Wilson believes, that a firm hand on the tiller would be preferable to rival hands flailing at each other. But in the meantime, it surely must have helped farmers — often farmers way off the beaten tracks of the contending English armies in places like East Anglia, and merchants, and speculators, and seafarers, that the aristocrats who might have taken command of their “emerging” arrangements, who, had they been all on the same side, might have brought them into politics, and if not ruined them then at least slowed them down quite severely, instead had other things on their minds. Basically, each other. What I am suggesting is that, from the commercial point of view, the Wars of the Roses might have been quite good wars, complicated enough to divert the attentions of aristocrats away from their usual anti-commercial meddlings, yet not too widespread in their destructive effect. That the Wars of the Rose were, for some, very bad wars, I do not contest.
July 13, 2015
In The Diplomat, Stephen Joyce reviews Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, a recent book by Phyllis Birnbaum:
Divisive figures often make the most compelling biographical subjects; and Kawashima Yoshiko is no exception. During her life and in death opinions have varied markedly. Loathed by the Chinese as a traitor, extolled by the Japanese for her talents as a spy, more recently she has even become a heroine to the LGBT community.
In Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, Phyllis Birnbaum provides a measured assessment of the fascinating rise and fall of this erratic, narcissistic, cross-dressing, bisexual princess.
Born in 1907 as Aisin Gioro Xianyu, Kawashima Yoshiko was the 14th daughter of Prince Su of the Qing imperial family. Soon after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, she was unwillingly sent to Japan to be adopted by family friend Kawashima Naniwa.
Her formative teenage years were spent in Matsumoto being educated in Japanese language and culture. It was not the happiest of upbringings. An attempted suicide and sexual assault by her new father are noted as potentially life-defining events but are hard to verify. Whatever the root cause of her discontent, in 1925 she shaved her head and started wearing men’s clothes.
In 1927 she married a Mongolian prince in a politically convenient union that quickly failed and Yoshiko soon travelled to China to pursue her dream of a honorable return to power for the Qing dynasty, beginning with Manchuria and Outer Mongolia.
With Japan increasingly active in China she soon found herself a raison d’etre: a spy in the service of the Japanese. Several incidents define her status as a spy; all are shrouded in mystery.
Although it would be hard to argue that she had a major influence over the key events of her time, Kawashima Yoshiko is a superb subject for biography and should interest all lovers of Asian history. And despite living her life in the public and media glare her essential mysteriousness remains—even in death. Did the Chinese Nationalist government execute her (as Kim Bai Fai) in 1948 or, as some would have it, did she escape and live out her last days quiet obscurity? Birnbaum concludes that the latter outcome is questionable, to say the least. Assuming she was indeed executed, her memoirs reveal a wry acceptance of her ultimate fate, despite her life aims lying in tatters.
The sheer wealth of material — autobiographies, Yoshiko’s letters, interviews, press reports, sensationalist magazine articles and official documents — with which to write a biography to some extent serves to cloud rather than illuminate the life of Yoshiko Kawashima. Much like her futile efforts to restore the Qing dynasty in China, any attempt to firmly pin down her real life story and true character seems destined to fail.