Tuesday 31 July 2018

July competition

To win a copy of L J MacWhirter's Black Snow Falling, just answer the question below in the Comments section. Then copy your answer to maryhoffman@maryhoffman.co.uk so that I can contact you for your land address if you win.

"Which book would you most miss if you had no access to it? "

Closing date: 7th August

We are sorry that our competitions are open to UK Followers only

Good luck!

Monday 30 July 2018

Cabinet of Curiosities by Charlotte Wightwick - feeling hot, hot, hot

Typical. I started writing this article a couple of days ago, at 5.30am after yet another sticky, close night. In the end I gave up trying to sleep and decided to do something useful instead. It is now Sunday morning and the weather is cool and grey and rainy, making this one of the most poorly timed blog posts ever.

But all is not lost. According to my phone, the heat is coming back. So, for those of you who love a heatwave - and those like me who just want it to be 20 degrees and cloudy LIKE NORMAL FOR JULY IN BRITAIN - here’s a quick overview of a few ways people have kept cool through history. At the end I’ll pick my favourite to go into this month’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

1. Caves. Ok, so they won’t fit into my cabinet, but many caves are Nice Cool Places. On holiday in Sicily this year, this was brought home to me in two different ways. The first was that my bedroom in our rented villa was one! It was by far the coolest (in both sense of the word) room in the house and despite the temperatures being well into in the 30s during the day, I slept well and long every night (and sometimes for afternoon naps too).
My bedroom in Modica, Sicily, 
always cool and comfortable! 
Photo: C Wightwick

We also visited the Cava d’Ispica, a series of caves which were inhabited from prehistoric times through to the middle ages. Obvious evidence of inhabitation ranged from soot markings, to stone-cut tombs, shelves and niches for lighting or possessions and the remnants of medieval frescos – a really stunning landscape detailing the different ways that people shape and use the natural world around them.

Cava d'Ispica, Sicily. 
Photo: C Wightwick

2. Air-con. Yup, it existed prior to electricity. Wealthy Romans, for example, pumped cold water through the walls of their houses in the summer months to keep things cool. And of course the Romans also had the Frigidarium at the Baths to plunge into…

3. Fans. So this is where the photos get really pretty. Used across different cultures for thousands of years (evidence dates from C4th BC in Greece and C2nd BC in China, for example), fans became a major fashion accessory in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Disappointingly though, the so-called ‘language of the fans’ is, apparently, just a myth (or rather a later marketing ploy). While I’m normally one for historical accuracy in my fiction, please don’t let that put you off, romance writers! 
C18th hand fan, showing Hector's 
farewell to Andromache, 
Victoria & Albert Museum London 

4. Back to Sicily. I seem inexplicably not to have taken any photos of the frankly vast quantity of gelato I consumed on holiday earlier this year (I can’t imagine why that would be) so you’ll have to imagine it. Ice cream. Mmm. Again existing in some form (at least for royalty) for thousands of years, it seems to have developed in Europe into what we would recognise as ice-cream in around about the C16th and was gradually popularised as ice houses and then refrigeration became more available.

So – my winner? Well, I can’t fit my bed-cave into even my imaginary Cabinet of Curiosities, so it will have to be a fan. Practical and pretty – it can act as a reminder of this summer’s heat wave long after we’re shivering in our beds and longing for summer again…

Sunday 29 July 2018

The Importance of Libraries by L. J. MacWhirter

Author photo by Kate Gren

L.J. MacWhirter was born just outside London, grew up in the North of England and today lives in Edinburgh with her husband and family. After studying English Literature, Liz went on to become an award-winning copywriter. Black Snow Falling is her début novel for young adults and up. It draws on her fascination with the inner workings of minds and mechanical machines, and how people can be controlled by cultural dynamics. Black Snow Falling launches on 1 August 2018 and is nominated for the First Book Award at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.


Facebook @LJMacWhirter

Twitter and Instagram @LizMacWhirter

Without libraries, I doubt I’d have written my début novel for young adults, Black Snow Falling. I doubt I’d even be a writer. I spent my childhood with my nose in books, many from our local library in Bramhall. When I had the idea for this novel, I burrowed into the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. Yellow request slips piled up as high as my thumb. Numerous notes became compost. I discovered that the 16th century was the perfect time to locate this story about hopes and dreams snatched away. The book research also revealed key facts that shaped the story.

 “The Rainbow Portrait” of Elizabeth I, which is featured in Black Snow Falling. Photo: Hatfield House

A number of books also feature strongly in the story of Black Snow Falling. Ruth smuggles a book to Silas, her secret love, when they meet in their hiding place in Crowbury woods. Silas is a stable hand who longs for more in life; his hunger is fed by her books. “The words show me other worlds, Ruth,” he says, and it’s driving him to leave Crowbury.

Ruth’s wealthy family possess a whole library, together with a Cabinet of Curiosities from the New World and an Armillary Sphere from Italy.

The Armillary Sphere in Black Snow Falling, representing the geocentric understanding of the heavens.

I decided to make Ruth one of the very few privileged educated young women because this unmasks the sexism of the age. Not only is she to be forced into marriage at the age of 15, but she is to be denied her books, too. My library research had revealed that, at the time, it was actually believed that reading made women infertile – as if using their minds would ruin their wombs. Talk about patriarchal control. A thinking woman was a threat. Dress all the young women in red and you’d be one step away from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Linking reading with fertility is, of course, as nonsensical as the geocentric belief that the earth was at the centre of the universe, which was upheld across the Western world until hundreds of years later.

The 1593 geocentric Armillary Sphere at the Museo Galileo, Florence, which helped to inspire Black Snow Falling

This brings me to another plot-changing fact I found. Everyone has heard of Copernicus and Galileo who proposed that the earth was turning around the sun – the heretical theory of heliocentricity. But I, for one, had never heard of Thomas Digges, who also quietly published a book in 1576 proposing the same. I found this modern copy of his book, The Prognostication Everlasting of Right Good Effect in the National Library of Scotland. I’d only ordered it up from the stacks because I liked the title.

The Prognostication Everlasting of Right Good Effect by Leonard Digges and Thomas Digges 1576, The National Library of Scotland

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Thomas Digges was the ward of John Dee, who owned the second biggest library in the country. Dee’s library numbered over 4,000 books when both Cambridge and Oxford Universities had fewer than 900 between them.

Connecting this to Black Snow Falling, Dee and Digges would have lived at the same time as Ruth and they could have known her adventurous father, the merchant-turned-noble, Earl of Crowbury. So I put Dee and Digges in Black Snow Falling, as one of Ruth’s flashbacks. It was a significant meeting for her because she knew that Copernicus and Digges were both so radical and heretical, her father had to keep their books secret. Their ideas – printed and disseminated – were seen as a threat to the establishment.

Mid the umpteenth draft of the novel, I went with some visiting friends to an Open Day at the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh, just a mile from where I live. Incredibly, there I saw Copernicus’s original book from 1543, De Revolutionibus (On the Revolution of the Heavenly Orbs) in a private library called the Crawford Collection. It is one of only 276 surviving copies. This book shook the world.

 On the Revolution of the Heavenly Orbs by Nicolas Copernicus, 1543, The Crawford Collection, Royal Observatory of Edinburgh

“Books did have a habit of turning things on their head,” as Ruth says in Black Snow Falling.

Copernicus’ heliocentric theory, placing the sun at the centre of the heavens. The Crawford Collection, Royal Observatory of Edinburgh.

Because she is educated through her love of books, my character Ruth is even more terrified by the prospect of her world snapping shut. The novel is about her struggle to somehow find agency.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the freedom to follow the question, to think, is vital for us individually and for the health of society as a whole. To do this, we all need broad access to books and content to help us see beyond our own horizons. At this time when libraries are closing all over the country, it’s more than doors that are being shut. It will almost certainly close minds, as well.

Black Snow Falling
will be published in hardback by Scotland Street Press on 1 August 2018.

Saturday 28 July 2018

The Massacre of Glencoe by Lynne Benton

This summer we travelled around Scotland with American friends, touring through the Highlands via the Pass of Glencoe, where our tour guide told us all about the famous massacre.  I’d known about it before, but somehow travelling through that bleak, beautiful countryside whilst hearing what had happened in 1692 brought home the stark horror of the event.
The Pass of Glencoe

A 19th century depiction of the site of the massacre.

As ever, it was religion that caused the problem.  In England William and Mary, staunch Protestants, were on the throne.

William and Mary
They had heard that many of the Highland clans were equally staunch Catholics who called themselves Jacobites because they were still hoping for the return of the Catholic King James VII who was still living in exile in France. 

James VII
Fear of a French invasion in support of the deposed king led the Government to make payments to the Highland clan chiefs in return for their allegiance to William and Mary.  In order to claim their payments the clan chiefs must sign a declaration of allegiance before 1 January 1692.  The Under Secretary of State for Scotland, Sir John Dalrymple, was in charge of the operation, though he was far from impartial in his fulfilment of his role, having already a long-standing feud with the Macdonald clan.

From a 19th century picture of Macdonald of Glencoe
On hearing of this ultimatum, Alexander Macdonald of Glencoe made it a point of honour to delay his signing of the document until the last moment.  Eventually, however, on 31 December, he made his way to Fort William to sign it.  When he arrived there he was informed that he couldn't sign it there at Fort William, but must go to Inverness - a distance of some 65 miles even today, on good roads with good transport, so even more in those days, especially in the dead of winter.  By the time he made it to Inverness he had missed the deadline by several days, but officials there told him it would be all right because he had done his best to sign on time.  He returned home to Glencoe satisfied that he would get his payment and all would be well.

It is now thought that he may have been deliberately misled, as Sir John Dalrymple then decided to make an example of Macdonald and his clan in order to deter others.  Accordingly troops under the leadership of Campbell of Glenlyon were sent to the village of Glencoe with orders to befriend the villagers.  The Highlanders were famous for their hospitality to strangers, so when the troops arrived they were greeted with friendship and offers of food and beds during their stay.  And there they stayed for almost two weeks, on good terms with the Macdonald clan.
                                                                                                                                                                  However, on 12 February Campbell received his orders from Sir John:

The order to kill the Macdonalds

That night the Campbells turned on their hosts and murdered 40 of them.  They then burnt down their houses and destroyed the village of Glencoe.  Several of the Macdonalds managed to escape, but due to the weather and the bleak terrain, and the fact that most of them were in their nightwear, many died of exposure.  

The atrocity aroused widespread condemnation, not least because the Campbells had enjoyed the hospitality of the Macdonalds before killing them, but an enquiry into the incident didn’t take place until 1695.  This resulted in Sir John Dalrymple’s dismissal, but William’s failure to deal swiftly with the matter intensified anti-English feeling in Scotland.  For many years afterwards the feud between the Macdonalds and the Campbells continued, and is reputed to still rankle in some areas.  In the episode “Time and Life” from the TV series Mad Men there is a reference to the massacre when headmaster Bruce MacDonald in the year 1970 still holds a grudge against Pete Campbell.                                                    

Glencoe was a popular topic with 19th century poets, the best known work being Sir Walter Scott’s "Massacre of Glencoe".   And in 1998, the so-called Henderson Stone was set up at Glencoe which purports to mark the location used by associates of the MacDonalds to warn of impending raids. 
The Henderson Stone at Glencoe
The inscription reads as follows:

See my website: www.lynnebenton.com

Friday 27 July 2018

History of the Naked Ape by Susan Price

Warning: This blog is much longer than usual, but it reviews a fascinating book.

          Why does the human race - supposedly intelligent - keep fighting wars, despite all that can be said against the habit?
          Why do empires, such as the Roman and the British, periodically rise and then fall or fade away?
           Why do leaders such as Alexander, Napoleon and Hitler periodically arise to lead their people into war -- and why do the people willingly, even eagerly, follow them?
          Why has Europe been, for centuries, a 'cockpit of war'? And revolution. 
          Can the EU prevent such 'Wars of Civilisation' in the future?
          Why are so many vicious, murderous political gangs -- I could say 'IRA' or  'Baader Meinhof' or 'Daesh' -- drawn from the nicely brought up and spoken boys and girls of the middle-classes? Who, on the face of it, have comfortable lives and little need to fight for 'freedom.'
          And why, in every part of the world and at all times, have the poor always had many more children than the rich, despite being less able to afford them? Why does contraception and education make little difference to this trend?

          All these many questions, and more, can be answered very simply, according to Paul Colinvaux in his 'The Fates of Nations.' The answer is: Niche-Space and Breeding Strategy.

          Colinvaux was an ecologist, and The Fates of Nations answers all these questions by applying the rules of ecology, not to salmon or brown bears or wildebeeste, but to that other animal, the Naked Ape.

          Colinvaux defines 'niche-space' as 'a specific set of capabilities for extracting resources, for surviving hazards and for competing; coupled with a corresponding set of needs.' It describes not only the amount of physical space an animal requires to live naturally and healthily, but also the animals' requirements in terms of climate, type and amount of food, type and size of home or lair and so on. Each species has evolved to dove-tail into its niche-space. For instance, camels live in places short of water, and have evolved an ability to store water in their bodies and live without access to water for longer than most other species.

         Some niche-spaces are larger than others. An acre of land can support many hundreds of deer, if there is enough water and vegetation. It gives them all they need.
          However, that same lush, well-watered acre would not support a single tiger. As a dedicated carnivore, a tiger needs access to many, many deer to feed itself. Deer run away from tigers and many are too fast to be caught. Also, all deer become skittish when there's a predator about. So a tiger needs to be able to shift ground frequently, to find more unsuspecting prey. Every single tiger needs a large territory, which it will defend from others.
          This is, as Colinvaux put in in the memorable title of another of his books, Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare. Long before humans became a plague on the earth, before tigers' habitat was remotely threatened, long before they could be efficiently slaughtered for the supposed medicinal value of their bones, even then, tigers were still rare compared to deer or mice or strawberry plants. They were rare because they had a comparatively wide niche-space. Making a living as a tiger demands a lot of resources in terms of space and prey animals.
          Colinvaux calculates that when humans were living their natural, Ice-Age life, as hunter-gatherers, they were about as common as bears. That is, more common than tigers, because bears and humans are omnivorous and will stoop to eating fruit, vegetables and grubs, but a lot rarer than deer or mice.

That's Niche-Space. Then there's Breeding Strategy.
          Every species that has ever lived has always had the same breeding strategy: to have as many off-spring as it's possible to raise to adulthood.
          For most animals, this is more or less fixed, so much so that naturalists can write of the 'typical' litter or clutch size for a particular species. This is because an animal's niche-space is usually fixed. As Colinvaux puts it, a squirrel, or any other kind of animal, is 'highly tuned to a very specialized profession.' A squirrel cannot decide that, hey, it would rather be a tiger -- any more than a tiger can decide that it would like to try out life as a dolphin.
          Evolution has therefore roughly fixed the optimum number of off-spring an animal can have. A very good year may result in birds producing a second clutch of eggs or other animals having a second litter, but that's an exception. In a bad year, when the land can't support the numbers, the animals starve and the population falls. The population of predators is linked to that of their prey. A good year for mice and deer means a good year for wolves and foxes -- and vice versa.

Evolution has also fixed the approach most species take to child-rearing: low-investment or high-investment. Low investment species, such as salmon, spawn and fertilise hundreds of eggs at a time. Almost all of them will be eaten, either as eggs or fry. One or two might survive and that's all that matters. The salmon might have made an almighty effort to reach its spawning place but once the eggs are laid, it troubles itself no further about its off-spring.
          High-investment species, such as bears, cats and naked apes have one or two off-spring at a time, and they invest a lot of time and effort in feeding and training them. It's a high-risk strategy because, in a bad year, the off-spring might die or be killed to ensure the survival of older off-spring or the parents. Some animals are known to kill and eat their young if faced with a threat to their own survival. Colinvaux argues that early humans almost certainly regulated their population not only by leaving granny on the ice-flow, but by leaving junior with her. Historically, we know that people frequently abandoned children they did not think they could afford to raise.

Changing Niche Space

Animals can't change their niche-space - not by themselves, anyway. Some have become domesticated, some have learned to live alongside humans, but that came about as a result of human actions
          The Naked Ape, however, learned to change its niche-space, and has done so repeatedly.

The Naked Ape, by Desmond Morris
          First, they were nomadic hunter-gatherers, as common as bears. But they learned to hunt and gather in almost every part of the world -- in the Europe of the Ice Ages, in the rain forest and deserts of Australia, in Africa, on Siberian tundra, in the far North of Alaska. In doing so, they increased the niche-space of their species. Probably no other species occupies as many different habitats as humans do.
          But this population was still limited by the resources available to hunter-gatherers. They followed the high-investment breeding strategy of having one or two children at a time, and spending much time rearing them. As with all other animal species, their population increased during good times, when more children were born and survived but crashed during bad times when fewer mothers were in condition to give birth and more children died. So the population remained relatively stable.

But then, astonishingly, these animals learned to stop hunting and to herd the animals they needed, whether reindeer, or goats or cattle. They maintained the population of their prey-animals by protecting them from other predators and helping them to find food. This meant that the naked apes themselves could confidently expect to raise more children to adulthood because there was a more certain food supply. Their population increased -- and increased, because it was much less effected by bad years.
          Moving from hunter-gatherers to herders meant an increase in niche-space: more resources were available. But, as ever, the increase in resources was soon absorbed by the increased population.

Not to worry, though, because herding led on to settled farming, another huge increase in niche-space. Now, not only were the prey animals kept in one place, protected and provided with food, but the neccessary plant foods were too. Food could be produced more efficiently, and also stored more efficiently when it didn't have to be carried with a nomadic group, or hidden in caches.
          These were huge changes in life-style for the naked ape but the breeding strategy remained the same. A great many more naked apes were created to take advantage of the increased niche-space, but not to worry. The creation of settled communities and city-states also created lots of little nooks and crannies in the niche-space.
          Greater food security meant more time to develop new technologies -- the smelting of metals, stone-masonry, ship-building. Mastery of these technologies meant status and a livelihood. They created a new 'niche-space' which absorbed many among the growing population who had not inherited land from which to produce food.
          New governing classes, priest and warrior castes were more niche-spaces, all provided livings.

City State - wiki

Niche Space Runs Out

But eventually, as the population grows, there comes pressure on resources. So long as there's enough space in the world to enable more land to be cleared or mined, this isn't a problem -- but if there's another city-state over there -- and another one over there -- then the solution is more difficult.
          One way of avoiding the problem of shrinking niche-space is to impose a very strict caste or class system. Most societies of Naked Ape have tried this, in some form, at many different times over the centuries. For instance, only males are allowed to do certain jobs, usually high-status jobs, while females have to find a male to support them.
          Or restrictions may be applied to certain ethnic or religious groups, or simply to 'a lower class' who are deemed 'serfs.' This tactic buys time, for a while, but the breeding strategy ensures that the population continues to grow -- and, ironically, it's usually among the higher classes where the squeeze of narrowing niche-space is felt first and most painfully, by those children born to affluence who suddenly realise that, for instance, the city already has far more priests and acolytes than it needs and is unwilling to find places for more -- or that the army is over-staffed with officers. The affluent youngsters are shocked to find there is no space left for them in the wider, freer niche-space their parents enjoyed and they will have to do plebeian work.

Another way out of the problem is to trade. You go to those states who are crowding your own, and you offer to exchange surplus goods with them. You can even build ships and cross the seas to trade with foreigners. This, for a while, solves the problem, creating livelihoods in the merchant class and in ship-building.
     But every increase in niche-space means an increase in population -- because the breeding strategy rolls on unaltered. Every single person in these growing cities produces as many off-spring as they think they can raise. Up and up goes the population, particuarly among the poorest.

Why do the poor have more children, even where their more prosperous countrymen crush them into a smaller and smaller niche-space?
'Slum Tourism' - wikipedia
       Because if you live, say, on a sheet of cloth spread on a pavement, and your biggest aspiration for your children is that they eat once a day, then children are cheap. They won't cost you much -- indeed, it will possibly cost you more to prevent their birth. They'll also start earning for you while still in infancy, so where is the incentive to limit their number?
       If, however, you are rather better off -- if your plans for your children include a nursery, a crib, a nanny, a bed, rooms of their own in a comfortable house, good clothes and shoes, three or more meals a day, a good education, toys, books, music-lessons, dance-classes, training in a trade, a car (or horse) on their 18th, a good marriage (with a dowry or big wedding) a house of their own, prosperity and children of their own -- well, then each child is going to cost you thousands. One way or another, you make sure you have fewer. It's the well-off who sit down with pencil and paper (or Excel) and work out if they can afford a child. The poor, in this as in almost every other life-situation, just get on with it.
     It's, again, about niche-space. The niche inhabited by the poor is narrow. They have few choices and, as a result, few aspirations. But this narrow niche is cheap. It requires few resources. The people crammed into it are satisfied with little. My aunt, who grew up in a slum during the 1930s, has often told me that, until she won a scholarship to grammar-school, where she met girls whose families, astonishingly, owned cars, fridges and telephones, she'd had no idea her family were poor. She'd had nothing to compare their way of life with.
      The niche-space occupied by the better-off is wider (that is, it holds far more opportunities and possibilities), and increases with wealth. Indeed, Colinvaux remarks that the richer a naked ape is, the more their life includes aspects of the ancient hunter-gatherer life: -- acres of beautiful countryside as their 'territory', hunting as a pastime, closeness to dogs and horses. But although this niche is broad, offering many choices and freedoms, it is very expensive in terms of resources. It can, therefore, be occupied by far fewer than the narrow niches of the poor. The poor are like deer -- hundreds to the acre. The rich become rarer and more tigerish as they grow richer.

Herein also lies the answer to the question: Why are revolutions always led, not by the oppressed, but by the middle-classes? and Why are so many vicious, murderous political gangs drawn from the nicely brought up and spoken boys and girls of the middle-classes?

Delacroix - wikipedia
      The aspiring and prosperous -- from the middle to the upper classes -- have always had fewer children than the poor and higher aspirations for the few they have. So when the pressure on resources mounts -- when there aren't enough houses or enough food or enough 'good' jobs to earn enough money to buy, say, a house -- who feels the pinch first and the most keenly? Answer: the better-off 'middle-classes.'
      The very wealthy, the oligarchs or aristocracy are insulated by their extreme wealth. The poor are used to hardship and never expected much anyway. They're grateful to 'have a roof over their head and a loaf on the table.'
      But those caught in the middle, those who grew up expecting that their life would include a comfortable house with a big garden, an interesting, rewarding job, the wherewithal to travel and follow interests, whether it be rock-climbing or pottery -- what happens when they find that they are going to have to settle for much less than their parents had? That they can't find a job, can't afford a house, or a car or a holiday -- or a child?
       It understandably comes as a humiliating, painful shock. And why shouldn't it? After all, nothing about the situation is their fault. They didn't choose the time they were born in, or the way they were raised. They'd never even heard of niche-space and breeding strategy and, even if they had, couldn't do anything about it.

When Trade Is Not Enough

 Colinvaux argues that niche-space can be created or increased by trade and technological advance -- because a new technology, whether it's ship-building, smelting metal, or programming computers, creates jobs.
          But, in some periods there comes a point when no new technology is coming to the rescue and trade is no longer supplying enough resources or enough profit to support the growing population. What then?
          Then it inevitably occurs to the naked ape that if, instead of trading with a particular country, if they just took over the country instead, that would be more profitable.
          At any given time, there are always several ambitious Apes seeking power. If one of these ambitious Apes happens to coincide with a squeeze on niche-space -- well, then you have an Alexander, an Augustus, a Clive of India, a Napolean, a Hitler, all of them whole-heartedly supported by their tightly-squeezed countrymen, longing for more niche-space -- which answers all those questions about war. Hitler even spoke about 'living-room.'
          These 'wars of civilisation,' Colinvaux points out, are always a stronger, more technologically advanced state grabbing a weaker (if not geographically smaller), less advanced, less organised country. Whatever high-flown reason is given, whatever excuse is put forward, it is always a straight-forward bullying snatch of land and resources by the stronger state. There has never been an example of, say, a small tribe of acquisitive Bushmen attacking France or Britain. Barbarians took down Rome, yes -- but they were, in fact, highly organised and well-equipped barbarians, quite wealthy in their own opinion -- just as Genghis Khan's 'barbarians' were at a later period. In each case the 'barbarians' faced large states exhausted by their efforts to find new niche-space for their cramped and fractious people; states that had run out of options.

War and colonisation creates niche-space not only by gaining access to resources such as food and materials at less cost -- it also creates interesting and generally well-rewarded jobs for the young of the better-off. They become viceroys and governors of the colonies, merchant-traders, spice-growers, tea-planters. The armies needed to enforce colonisation also provide niche-space for 'the sweepings of the gutter.'
          But breeding strategy continues to do its stuff and the new niche-space gained at the cost of war is filled up by the increasing population.
         Sometimes, it takes a while. The colonisation of Australia and the Americas (and the destruction of the native civilisation,) siphoned off surplus population and relieved pressure for several centuries. 'Go West, young man.' There will never, Colinvaux remarks, be access to such a pressure-release valve again.

Why was Europe the 'cockpit of war?' Colinvaux argues that there were too many nations crammed into one land mass, their populations increasing and aspiring. Every time the pressure of falling resources was felt, another revolution or war was triggered as the prosperous classes felt the pinch and grew angry.

          To win big, final victories and establish an Empire to last for hundreds of years, as the Romans did, you have to go against less well-armed and organised opponents with a tactic they cannot withstand. Alexander won his victories with the phalanx. The Romans had the legion and the tortoise.
Wikipedia: printing press
          But in Europe was developed a piece of technology than not only created a lot of niche-space, it meant that no war-like state was going to be able to win crushing, final victories ever again:-- the printing-press. Once the printing-press was invented, any new tactic you invented was, within a few years, available to everyone else. Hence the endless round of revolutions and wars in Europe, which had no direction, not north, west, south or east, to send its restless and disappointed young and no way of winning new niche-space by winning a lasting victory over another European state.
         This is still true and will probably ensure that Europe will be riven with war again.

Oh, but the European Common Market was created, in part, to prevent war in Europe ever happening again. But all over Europe are nations seething with people whose niche-space has just crashed in on them, thanks to machinations of the wealthy in the bankers' niche. These people, many of whom qualified as lecturers, lawyers or doctors are crushed into a place where they don't want to be. If Colinvaux is right, revolution and war will follow.

          In the last year, the IRA have started attacks again (albeit fitfully.) Daesh commit atrocities. Journalists confess themselves puzzled that the boys and girls who run away to join Daesh are not only 'middle-class' but often appear to know little about Islam. Nor, often, it seems, do the people who recruit them.
          Colinvaux argues that this is because it's not, at bottom, about religion or politics. It never was. It is, and always was, about niche-space. And breeding strategy.

          Left-wingers in the UK at the moment are puzzled and despairing at the political swing to the right -- by the fact that the 'Nasty Party' keeps being re-elected, despite their proving, again and again, just how nasty they are. Good-hearted people are dismayed by the increasing xenophobia, the increasing tendency to stigmatise, punish and isolate the poor. They are distressed by the push to turn schools into academies which can refuse admission to pupils who, to be blunt, they consider not good enough and by the push to privatise the NHS, which would take us back to my great-grandparents' age, when one of their children died because sending for a doctor would have cost twelve and a half pence, which they didn't have.
          If Colinvaux is right, this isn't puzzling at all. The shift to the right, the hardening of class-barriers, is shrinking niche-space in action. As niche-space shrinks people move to protect the space they have. They harden their attitude, become more callous, more prejudiced and xenophobic, less open to argument or new ideas. This is shown in the way they vote. Wealthier people, of course, have more ability to protect their niche-space: and they do so, aggressively. And as the niche-space of others contracts, that of the very wealthy becomes ever wider and more comfortable since the cost of labour falls, making them more profit.
          Our present Tories are eager to rid themselves of 'red tape' which protects workers' rights and the environment. They want back those good old Victorian Values so beloved of the Tories -- when servants were plentiful and cheap, the lower-classes knew their place and weren't there workhouses?

Humans, in common with all other life on earth, have never changed their breeding strategy. They have as many children as they think they can raise to adulthood within the niche-space they occupy at the time. It's natural, it's Nature -- and with all other species, it works pretty well.

But human beings, uniquely, learned to expand their niche-space beyond all other species. We long ago left behind the basics of food, water and a lair. Now we not only live in every region except the poles but we include a home of our own, fashionable clothing and electronic gadgets among our needs -- if not as necessities, then as aspirations.

We now not only have as many children as we think we can afford in our niche-space, massively increasing demand on resources year on year on year -- but we are now occupied in trying to escape death for longer and longer, in trying to ensure that infertile couples can have children too, and in preserving the lives of those who would have naturally died young. It is ruinous to our societies and the planet.

I first read Colinvaux's 'Fate of Nations' over 20 years ago. It lit up my head then, and it does now.
The book is fascinating. Not cheerful -- in fact, rather depressing -- but clarifying. Clarity often is depressing.

'Fate of Nations' is particuarly uncheering for a left-winger like me; but it's hard to deny the truth behind it. The theory doesn't aim to justify war, cruelty, infanticide and so forth. It isn't trying to make people who have children or want to live longer feel guilty -- after all, these perfectly natural desires are so much a part of us, how could we avoid them?

The book simply makes clear the pattern that underlies it all.

In short, a great book if you want to think. But not if you want to sleep easy.

And I'd be interested to know what other History Girls think of the theory. Do you find it convincing, over-ambitious, old hat -- or 'other'?

This is a post from one of our Reserve History Girls and we are very grateful to Susan Price for it. Janie Hampton will be back next month.

Susan Price won

Thursday 26 July 2018

The Panthéon welcomes a woman, Simone Veil, by Carol Drinkwater

Every now and again I feel fortunate to stand face to face with a remarkable piece of history. Last week, while I was in Paris, I swung off Boulevard Saint-Michel and strode to the Panthéon where hangs a huge photographed image of Simone and Antoine Veil. They are backdropped by the European flag. 
I stood alone. There were no tourists, no fellow citizens near me, aside from those passing by. I was able to steal that private moment to reflect upon the life of a truly remarkable women whose sorrows and battles seeded a vision and an energy that changed the fortunes of millions, most especially French women.

The week previous I had sat in front of the television for two hours on a Sunday morning, 1st July, with my husband watching the entire ceremony, the panthéonisation, of Simone and her "beloved Antoine". The coffins containing the remains of the pair were being brought for burial to the Panthéon. It was a very hot morning and I applauded the members of the French national guard who carried the two coffins for approximately an hour during which time there was music, readings and dance.

Camille Froidevaux-Metterie, a professor of political science at the University of Reims and author of a number of books on feminism and women in politics, commented that "It is Simone Veil's achievements that are being recognised and it is her husband who joins her in their final resting place, at the request of the family."
Many members of their family were present at the Sunday morning ceremony. Afterwards they, along with Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron, followed the coffins into the interior of the city's famous mausoleum.

Simone Veil, born Simone Annie Jacob in Nice on 13th July 1927 died 13th June 2017, is only the fifth woman to be laid to rest within the great domed building that dominates that corner of the Latin Quarter. The Panthéon, built originally as a church  to honour St Genevieve, later became a secular mausoleum to house the remains of the distinguished citizens of France. Men. The first to be buried there was in 1791, the comte of Mirabeau, who was later  disinterred and buried in an anonymous grave. 
All who rest within the mausoleum, including Voltaire (also 1791), Victor Hugo (1885)  were men. It took till 1907 for a woman to enter that sacred space, when a 'great man', scientist Marcellin Berthelot requested that his wife be buried with him. In 1907, Sophie Berthelot became the first woman to rest within these magnificent walls. In 1995, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, twice Nobel Prize Winner, was buried along with her husband Pierre Curie, also a Nobel Prize Winner. Thus Curie became the second woman entombed at the Panthéon, but the first to be placed there in recognition of her own professional merits. Although Marie Curie died in 1934, it took sixty years for her to be given the honour of the Panthéon. And, I have recently learnt, it was Simone Veil who helped persuade French President François Mitterrand to transfer Curie's ashes as an acknowledgement of her contribution to science and medicine.
The gender imbalance was, is, embarrassing.
In 2015, two more women were laid to rest. Ethnologist and member of the French Resistance, Germaine Tillion's was a symbolic internment with soil from her graveside because her family did not want her body to be moved from where it had originally been laid.  The same is true of Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthoniez (niece of Charles de Gaulle and member of the French Resistance), hers was also a symbolic internment for the same reason.

Simone and Antoine Veil had been buried alongside one another at Montparnasse Cemetery before President Macron's decision to move them to the Panthéon, exactly one year after Simone's death. This time, it is the woman who was being panthéonisée for her merit not because she is the wife of a remarkable man, even though Antoine has been  recognised for his contribution to society as a civil servant at the highest level.

Interior of the Panthéon.

On the Pediment of the Panthéon is written: "Aux grands hommes, la patrie reconnaissante.""To the great men, the grateful homeland."

Honour guards stand next to the coffins of Simone and Antoine at the Shoah Memorial in Paris on June 29th, 2018. Two days before their last journey. As one of more than 76,000 Jews deported from France during World War II, Veil appears on the Wall of Names at the Shoah Memorial in Paris, under the name Simone Jacob. Her father, mother, sister and brother are also listed. Only Simone and her sister, Madeleine, survived their torturous ordeal. Tragically, Madeleine was killed in a car crash seven years after the war ended, leaving Simone without family.

Simone Veil has been a heroine of mine for many years, one of the most remarkable of modern women. A survivor of the camps of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, she returned to France at the age of seventeen emaciated and traumatised. She threw herself into her studies, gained her masters in law and swiftly rose within the ranks of public life. She played an important part in raising awareness of the Holocaust and also of speaking out about France's role in the deportation of French Jews.  A subject that many in France have been reluctant to own up to. The collaborationists were not called out as vocally as perhaps they should have been. Veil played her part in making sure that France did not forget its past. This experience also fired within her a lifelong dedication to the ideal of Europe, European integration and Franco-German reconciliation.  She was elected the first President of the European Parliament, a role she held until 1982. She never lost that fire, that passion for Europe. She said, "When I look back on the last 60 years, it is still our greatest achievement."

She never called herself a feminist and yet as Minister for Health (1974 -1979), she fought for women's rights. She facilitated access to contraception, pushing through a bill that legalised the sale of contraception and contraceptive pills. Perhaps her greatest achievement for women was the determination with which she fought for the legalisation of abortion in France. This was no easy battle. France is, or was back then, a country rooted in Catholicism. It was a very hard fight and many raised their voices against her - Simone and her family were publicly reviled - but she did not give up and in January 1975, abortion was legalised n France.

Throughout her career she played an important role in human rights issues, the environment, public health, food and safety, Aids care. She worked with young mothers, single mothers, disabled children and HIV-positive patients.

She entered the Académie française in 2008, only the sixth woman to take a seat there. On her sword - every member of the Academy is given one - is engraved the motto of the French Republic (liberté, egalité, fraternité), the motto of the European Union, (Unis dans la diversité.) and her Auschwitz number: 78651.
Emmanuel Macron, in his speech on 1st July, spoke out this number, Simone's tag and it was followed by a minute's silence which was heartbreakingly moving.
I asked myself again about the girl who bore that series of figures.
That pretty adolescent, dark-haired girl in the camp stamped with the number 78651, can you imagine her heartache, and her strength? Losing her family, perhaps too scared, too depressed and alone to believe that the horrors would ever be over. Yet, in spite of all that she endured, suffered, the profound losses she faced, a seed was born. The seed of humanity, the courage to fight for all that is good and peaceful. I think this is why she was and remains a heroine, a role model, for me. She could have come home from those horrors angry and broken. Instead, she grew up to fight for the plights of those who were not in a position to fight for themselves. She pushed with enormous determination and vision for the vision of a United Europe, a Europe within which the member countries are working together, respecting their differences, but working towards an integrated and peaceful future. A dream I hope we can continue to fight for.

78651, Simone Jacob, Simone Veil, I pray you rest now in peace and in honour beyond a life richly and generously lived. You remain an inspiration.


Wednesday 25 July 2018

The Venetian Secret by Miranda Miller

   In the eighteenth century Italy was the centre of the art world. Young artists flocked to Rome, Venice and Florence and were dazzled by the achievements of past generations. It was widely believed that the great artists of the Renaissance knew a ‘secret’ that had been lost. How did Titian achieve his “divine” colours? Nobody knew but many artists became obsessed with the idea that if they could only discover this secret, which Titian supposedly got from the Greeks, they would outshine their rivals. Paintings by Giorgione and Titian like the one illustrated above, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne (1523), had a luminosity and richness of colour that eluded living artists who continued to search for the ‘secret’, rather like medieval alchemists pursuing the formula for gold.

   Joshua Reynolds used to buy up old masters (some of which were probably forgeries) in auctions and literally take them apart to see how they did it. Reynolds hid himself away from his pupils so that they would not discover his manner of working and his many experiments with colours and varnishes. He allegedly bought a painting by Titian in order to strip it slowly, layer by layer and analyse its makeup. But, later, Reynolds’ canvases famously faded and ‘the colours fled.’

   Benjamin West , seen here as a young man, was an American who claimed to have been instructed in the preparation of pigments by native Indians. After his Death of General Wolfe caused a sensation in 1770 he was appointed Historical Painter to King George 111 and later succeeded Reynolds as President of the Royal Academy. Ever since his trip to Venice when he was  young  West had longed to discover the ‘secret’ of Titian’s magnificent paintings. Thirty years later, this made him vulnerable to a hoax.

   Ann Jemima Provis was a young miniaturist whose work was exhibited at theRoyal Academy and her father, Thomas Provis, was a "sweeper of the court" at the Chapel Royal at St. James's Palace. The Provises approached West and told him they had found an ancient Italian manuscript which revealed the Venetian Secret. The original manuscript, they told West, had been destroyed in a fire but fortunately Provis had cannily made a copy. Initially the ‘secret’ was only to be divulged to seven artists and West and six other painters gladly paid 10 guineas each to be initiated. Provis then became even more greedy and suggested that all the artists who were interested in sharing his secret manuscript should form a syndicate of 53 artists. Each member would contribute 10 guineas, which would have earned Provis a total of more than 600 guineas, then a fabulous sum.

   In addition to allowing paid up members of the syndicate to read the manuscript, Ann Jemima offered to give the artists lessons demonstrating the Venetian technique which, she said, included the application of a dark red ground, or foundation layer, to the canvas. She also taught them to use thin linseed oil as a medium to bind the paint’s pigments. It was also essential, she said, to use the “Titian shade,” a mix of ivory black and Prussian blue that was used under glazes of bright colors. Prussian blue was actually invented more than 100 years after Titian’s death. In his own paintings, Titian used lapis lazuli .

   West experimented with these techniques and, with great excitement, used them in his history painting, Cicero Discovering the Tomb of Archimedes , exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1797. Critics were not impressed. The review in The Observer said that “ Instead of possessing Titian’s warmth divine" his new painting had  "nothing but the chalky and cold tints of Fresco, and that gaudy glare and flimsy nothingness of fan painting.’’

   When the scandal about the hoax broke West was the main victim because It was through his influential position as President of the Royal Academy that the Provises were able to meet so many other artists. A popular bawdy song, Paul Sandby’s Song for 1797, hinted that Ann Jemima's secret art lessons also had a sexual dimension. The brilliant satirist James Gillray enjoyed West’s embarrassment in this wonderful engraving:

   Titianus Redivivus; or the Seven Wise Men Consulting the Venetian Oracle – a Scene in the Academic Grove. Seated in a row are some of the artists in the syndicate, including Farington, Westall, Stothard, Smirke, Opie, and Hoppner. Other artists, whose names appear on the far left, had not been taken in by the scam. These include Bartolozzi, Fuseli, and the 22-year-old Turner, whose own later experiments with colour still astonish us. Ann Jemima Provis appears on a rainbow, painting a “portrait” of Titian, her train supported by the Graces. On the far right, in the foreground, Benjamin West sneaks away. The ghost of Sir Joshua Reynolds rises up from the stone floor. In the background, the brand new Somerset House façade of the Royal Academy is cracking, presumably as a result of the scandal.

   There is no record that the Provises were ever prosecuted. Seven years later West painted an almost identical version of Cicero Discovering the Tomb of Archimedes, using more traditional techniques. The colours in this painting have survived and it is now in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery. West’s career recovered from this embarrassing scandal and he produced many more distinguished paintings. When he died in 1820 he was buried in St Pauls Cathedral.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS: Some kingly effigies and burials by Elizabeth Chadwick

I've had a couple of food for thought moments this week that I thought I'd share with you.  Putting together historical facts is like doing a jigsaw puzzle with some pieces missing and some that have more than one piece for the same slot, and thus the ability to change the picture

Moment Number 1.
Checking my twitter feed a couple of days ago I came across a comment by Historian Marc Morris, quoting fellow historian John Gillingham concerning the effigies of King Henry II and King Richard the Lionheart at Fontevraud Abbey in France.  Gillingham said: "I do not know on what evidence if any (apart from later tradition) one effigy is identified as Henry II's and one as Richard's."

I have always believed - because it's what I've always read - that this effigy, clean shaven is identified as King Henry II

And this one, bearded, is Richard the Lionheart.

I have often pondered about the effigies of these two Angevin kings.  In an era when beards were a powerful symbol of masculinity and authority, how come Henry II's effigy doesn't have one?  The more so because we know he was bearded in life.  Chronicler Gerald of Wales drew an impression of him. Gerald was well acquainted with his appearance. Of course, that doesn't stop him from shaving off his beard on another occasion and whether bearded or not, it's no proof as to who the bearded effigy is representing.
Impression of Henry II by Gerald of Wales

It is highly likely that the effigies of Henry II and Richard were commissioned by Eleanor of Aquitaine, who spent her later years at Fontevraud in semi retirement.  I often wondered if she chose to emasculate Henry by depicting him without a beard, and giving Richard one in order to subtly (or not so subtly) hint at who was the greater man.  But now it seems that there are no solid markers beyond tradition to nail down who is actually who.

The effigies themselves have suffered from the vagaries of time and politics.  Originally they (including an effigy of Eleanor of Aquitaine by a different sculptor) stood in the choir. but the extent of the choir in the late 12th century and the effigies' exact location is not known. The effigies are made from tuffeau limestone that comes from the Loire valley.  Historian Kathleen Nolan in her article on the tombs 'The Queen's Choice'  in Eleanor of Aquitaine Lord and Lady edited by John Parsons and Bonnie Wheeler, (A tremendous book of essays on Eleanor of Aquitaine and well worth the read) suggests that Henry and Richard are dressed as kings lying in funereal state and in their coronation robes.  The bearded effigy, usually presumed to be Richard has dark hair, but we know that both he and his father were red-heads.  I am assuming that later restorations are responsible for that one.

Richard has a second tomb in Rouen Cathedral where his heart is buried, but that effigy too is a matter of more questions than answers.  The current effigy has a 19th century look about it, but is thought to be a representation of the earlier medieval one as drawn in 1730 by Bernard de Montfaucon, sometimes called the father of modern archaeology.
Here in black and white is the current clean-shaven depiction of Richard in Rouen Cathedral and below it, de Montfaucon's 1730 sketches. One is of the bearded effigy that Montfaucon identifies as  Richard at Fontevraud. He doesn't say why he identifies the bearded one as Richard, only that it is him. The effigy drawing to the right of the bearded Fontevraud Richard is clean shaven and made by Montfaucon at Rouen. This tells us that the identification of who was believed to be who (rightly or wrongly) dates back at least to 1730.  I do not know at this stage if anyone can date the tradition earlier than that.   Montfaucon's work is titled 'Les Monumens de la Monarchie Francoise qui Comprennent L'Histoire de France ave les Figures de Chaque Regns.'  It's Vol 2.
Richard I's current effigy at Rouen Cathedral. Possibly dating to the 19th century or else the original
with 19th century restorations.   When excavated in the 19th century it was discovered that the hands
and face had been damaged by cement, by time, and the effects of a hammer.  (see Albert Way
Observations on the Monumental effigy of Richard I king of England disinterred on the south side
of the choir in the Cathedral of Rouen July 30th 1838)
Bernard de Montfaucon's  illustrations of Fontevraud Richard (Left with the beard) and to the top right, the Rouen
 clean shaven version of Richard as observed in 1730.  Montfaucon  in 1730 believed  the bearded Fontevraud effigy
to be Richard and not Henry.   There is further confusion because the current Richard effigy in the black
and white photograph  above this drawing is actually posed as Montfaucon's sketch of the Young King, not Richard.

Above: Montfaucon's sketch of the effigy of King Henry II's eldest son Henry the Young King, which has actually been taken as the model for the current tomb sculpture of Richard the Lionheart, (black and white photo). It's the top right effigy on the sculpture sketch above this one with a different hand position that Montfaucon identifies as Richard in his book.  Labelled number 5.  To further muddy the water, Albert Way in his work on the excavation of the tomb of Richard 1, identfies Richard's effigy representation as the one now in situ as Richard.  (which all adds to the confusion!).  

It's also interesting to note that a manuscript illustration showing Richard being captured on his return from crusade shows him as clean shaven on his travels. Whether or not this is an indicator for the Fontevraud depiction is another matter.   If one switches one's notion of who is who on the Fontevraud effigies and ascribes Henry II the beard, then all the ducks line up in the known illustrations and Richard then appears clean shaven at Fontevraud, at Rouen and in the pilgrim manuscript.  However, from this point so far away in time we're never going to know.  You pay your money and you choose what you want to believe. 
A clean shaven Richard I  about to be captured on his way home from crusade.
Moment number 2 

Now onto my next food for thought item this week.
 Not so long ago, the search was on for the tomb of Henry I at Reading Abbey with archaeological explorations of the vicinity being much in the news. For example The Guardian on the Reading Abbey remains of Henry I
I was reading through a History Girls blog I'd written some time ago about the death of Henry I A Surfeit of Lampreys and reading down to the end of the comments came to one by Dunkit42 who remarked on a letter in The Times of London in December of 1785 commenting on the discovery and subsequent destruction of Henry I's tomb.  While we don't know it for certain, again because of the passage of time and lack of recording, it seems a decent possibility.  Strange that there's been no mention in the modern press, not a even a qualifier or disclaimer.   I looked up the article and here it is.

From The Times.  Thursday 8th of December 1785.

"It lately happened that the workmen employed in digging a foundation for the erection of a house of correction at Reading in Berkshire on the spot where the old abbey stood, that diverse bones were thrown up.  This being the burial place of Henry I, each bone was seized as a kind of treasure, contemplating it as one of the King's, till at length a vault was discovered, the only one there, and which was of curious workmanship.  In the vault was a lead coffin almost devoured by time.  A perfect skeleton was contained therein, and which undoubtedly was the King's, who died at the castle of Lyons in Rouen on the 2nd September 1133 (they have the wrong date, it was November, but that's newspapers for you!), was then embalmed, and sent from thence according to is own desire to be interred in the Abbey of Reading.  Antiquaries have frequently inquired where this monarch's remains might be found but time has effaced every possible mark, though it must be presumed heretofore, the spot had been royally and peculiarly distinguished.  After a series of 650 years, and upwards, it was hardly probable anything but dust could remain; but the distinguished appearance of the coffin and the vault in which it was interred, put it out of doubt.  The account given us in Rapin of the King's death, and embalming the body, further justifies the presumption that this coffin was the King's, especially  as he says, his body was cut in pieces, after the rude manner of those days, and embalmed. And Gervase of Canterbury, confirms this account by saying they cut great gashes in his body with knives, and then powdering it well with salt, they wrapped it up in tanned ox hides, to avoid the stench, which was so great and infectious that a man who was hired to open the head, died presently after.  The gentleman to whom I am obliged for this account adds, that fragments of rotten leather were found in the coffin.  His curiosity was great, and so was that of the persons assembled insomuch that the bones were divided among the spectators, but the coffin was sold to a plumber.  The under jaw bone has been sent to me, and a small piece of the leaden coffin.  The jaw contains sixteen teeth, perfect and sound; even the enamel of them is preserved."

Yes or no?  I remain on the fence, ruminating the information and thinking very possible, but again no absolute proof. 
 I do love a good delve into the past. We think we know things but we don't!

Elizabeth Chadwick is a best selling author of 24 historical novels.  Her latest book, Templar Silks, looks at what the great William Marshal might have done with his time in the Holy Land. She will be lecturing on that subject at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre  on the 18th of August from 2:45 pm - 3:15 pm