Friday 1 January 2016

Looking backwards and forwards by Mary Hoffman

Since I have the first-of-the-month position in which to write History Girls posts, I can take the opportunity to wish all our Followers a very happy and fulfilling 2016.

And I can, Janus-like, look back over 2015 and forwards to the coming year, in which the History Girls will turn five! Watch out for a special birthday party on 1st July.

Statue of Janus in the Vatican Museum
First, we have lost some of our regular History Girls and gained some new ones. We say goodbye to  Laurie Graham, Christina Koning, Eleanor Updale and Clare Mulley and au revoir to Louisa Young, who leaves us a monthly poster but will be back as a Reserve and also a guest in 2016. Eleanor and Louisa have been with us since the beginning and we wish them all well..

In their place we welcome Vanora Bennett, Katherine Clements, Katherine Webb, Miranda Miller and Julie Summers. You can read about the new HGs on the About Us page. People only ever leave us because of pressure of work and sometimes they come back; the door is always open.

Looking back over last year shows we had a slew of anniversaries, from VE Day (70 years) on 8th May

VE Day celebrations in London (Imperial War Museum)
to the sealing of Magna Carta (800 years) on 15th June.

Magna Carta 12 97 version

 And there was the Evacuation of Dunkirk (75 years) at the end of May/beginning of June;

The Little Ships, Chatham (Colin Smith Creative Commons)

the Battle of Waterloo (200 years) on 18th June

Artist: Thomas James Barker

 and the Battle of Agincourt (600 years) on 15th October.

15th century miniature

It's a bit heavily biased towards the military and the political, perhaps because History being "about chaps" tends to show up in commemorations. What do we take from the celebration of these dates in the calendar? The Battle of Britain Memorial Service (also 75 years autumn 2015) created more column inches over Jeremy Corbyn's non-singing of the National Anthem than anything about what was actually being remembered and honoured.

Photo credit: Beata May
But there's a world of difference between a battle victory for the British at Waterloo and that at Agincourt. In both cases the French were on the losing side (though Wellington said it was a close-run thing) but the more recent conflict led to eighty years of peace in Europe. Whereas Henry V's victory in France against a force far superior in numbers came bang in the middle of what we loosely call the Hundred Years War and marked the high point of English possessions in France.

After Henry died young his infant son, Henry Vl was crowned king of England and France but it was downhill all the way after Agincourt in terms of England claiming territory across the Channel. That was an ambition that seemed obvious and right to English kings for reasons the woman in the street now (and possibly then)would find incomprehensible.

Borders are artificial politically-imposed boundaries but they do at least make some sense when marked by a large geographical feature like a stretch of water. In our era, when Superpowers from countries thousands of miles away from a conflict feel they have a right (or to put it more charitably, a duty) to intervene with bombs and drones and soldiers, the whole notion of sovereign states is differently undermined.

"Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it"

says the Norwegian Captain to Hamlet in explanation of his massed forces marching on Poland.

Hamlet Why, then the Polack never will defend it.

Captain Yes, it is already garrison'd.

Which brings me to next year's major anniversary, at least for me. Not a battle or a treaty or a natural disaster but the 400th anniversary of  the death of Shakespeare on 23rd April. The History Girls really must do something special for that. My own personal celebration of the life of my favourite writer will include publishing on that date my YA novel Shakespeare's Ghost. The cover came yesterday and you will be seeing more about it here.

BBC 2 will continue its very successful The Hollow Crown series with the first tetralogy (to be written, though later historically) of the three Henry Vl plays and Richard lll. The previous cycle had a very memorable Ben Whishaw as Richard ll, Jeremy Irons as Henry lV and Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal/ Henry V. The ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch will play Richard lll and Geoffrey Streatfeild his older brother Edward lV. I can't wait!

By coincidence I have just finished reading Dan Jones' The Hollow Crown, the sequel to his The Plantagenets. it is very readable indeed and it's such a complicated period of battles, treachery, familial in-fighting and summary executions that one needs a clear guide.

But back to 2016. There are a host of anniversaries coming up from the Battle of Hastings (950 years) on 14th October

to the Great Fire of London (350 years) in September.

Artist Rita Greer 2008
And from January to December there are bound to be mentions of the 80th anniversary of the succession and abdication of Edward Vlll.

Here on The History Girls we have a stellar list of guests lined up, including Tracy Chevalier and Alison Weir.

It only remains for me to wish you all the very best that 2016 can bring and preferably no battles!


Sue Bursztynski said...

Sometimes I post an "on this day" meme on my blog for a particular date. I start off looking in Wikipedia, which has posts about dates. I try to find events and birthdays relating to writers, because it's a book blog. But in the end, there are always far more battles and disasters connected with whichever date I choose than positive events. That's the way of it, alas! I keep trying, though, and usually find something I can use, if not about writers then about something interesting and entertaining and not connected with people killing other people.

Linda said...

Very best wishes for 2016, History Girls!

Katherine Roberts said...

Happy New Year, History Girls! (From an ex-History Girl, still lurking around the edges from time to time and enjoying your posts.)

Caroline Lawrence said...

Happy New Year to all HIstory Girls past, present and future and not forgetting any History Boys!!

Marjorie said...

Happy New Year to all of you, too!
This is one of my favourite blogs, I really appreciate the work that all of you put into making it happen.

Leslie Wilson said...

Happy New Year to everyone! I shall soon be blogging about one of the longest battles ever, Verdun, whose centenary is spread over rather a lot of this year.