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Archive for January, 2012

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A Protestant martyr, Richard Hunne, hastened England’s Reformation

Posted in Famous crimes, Historical articles, History, London, Religion on Tuesday, 31 January 2012

This edited article about religion originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 620 published on 1 December 1973.

Richard Hunne's arrest, picture, image, illustration

The Bishop of London ordered a search of Richard Hunne’s house, where books advocating Proestantism were found which resulted in Hunne’s arrest and imprisonment in Lollards’ Tower. Picture by C L Doughty

As you dodge the London traffic that hurtles round the cathedral you are treading on part of St. Paul’s Churchyard. If you stand on one of the traffic islands in the middle of the road, you are standing on the site of the Lollards’ Tower.

This tower was built at the west end of the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral and was used by the bishop of London as a prison for those convicted of religious offences. Thirty feet above, on a Saturday in December, 1514, a man swung from a silken belt fixed to a staple in a beam. His name was Richard Hunne and his death helped to change the course of English history.

England in the early sixteenth century was still a Roman Catholic country. But scattered throughout the land were small groups of men and women who clung to the beliefs of the Lollards. The Lollards had appeared in the fourteenth century and they were the followers of John Wycliffe, whose ideas, in many ways, were like those of the Protestants.

When the movement was suppressed in the fifteenth century, its remaining adherents went underground, taking with them copies of their English Bible and other works which contained their ideas. These were handed around small circles of worshippers during the rest of the century, and in this way elements of Lollard belief were kept alive.

Early in the sixteenth century, they were joined by a more general feeling of hostility towards the church. It was a feeling which grew as people watched wealthy prelates and prosperous monasteries flourish, seemingly at their expense; and heard friars preaching a life of abstinence while they indulged themselves to excess.

Thus although the Reformation sprang from the teachings of Martin Luther and the continental theologians, much of the way had already been prepared in England and their views, therefore, found a sympathetic response in several parts of the country.

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The high-point of chivalric warfare before the advent of gunpowder

Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, War, Weapons on Tuesday, 31 January 2012

This edited article about armour originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 620 published on 1 December 1973.

Agincourt, picture, image, illustration

Agincourt – the impossible victory, by Ron Embleton

“Sacre Bleu! They’re advancing towards us!” gasped a knight standing in the front rank of the dismounted French army as it trudged wearily across the sodden muddy fields of Agincourt.

“And we are three times their number – these English have the courage of the Devil himself!” replied another knight. “They are mere archers and hardly one of them has armour. Some do not even wear helmets!”

“But the English men-at-arms and knights are close behind . . . Look out!” At that moment a hissing and wailing filled the air as 13,000 English arrows crashed into the tight-packed French. Only a few men fell, for these knights wore full plate armour even though they fought on foot – yet they retreated a little and lowered their heads as that terrifying rain of arrows rattled about their ears.

A picked band of 800 mounted knights under the command of Sir Clunet de Brabant were meant to crush these infernal English archers but three-quarters of them had their horses shot from under them before they could even charge.

Confusion and panic quickly spread through the French ranks as even the bravest men remembered that the English had won every battle for the past 70 years.

The rag-bag English infantry shot a final volley into the bewildered French then, with the scent of victory in their nostrils they threw down their bows, took up swords, axes, billhooks – even mallets and clubs – and hurled themselves at the swaying mass of heavily armoured Frenchmen. Mercilessly they slaughtered the cream of French chivalry, thrusting their blood-stained daggers through the visor slits of any man who fell on that traitorous muddy ground. The French in their heavy armour were at a severe disadvantage when fighting on foot. Nevertheless many stood their ground like iron-clad rocks and hacked down any English bowman who dared come too close.

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Giovanni de Medici ‘s Black Band was a disciplined killing machine

Posted in Historical articles, History, War, Weapons on Tuesday, 31 January 2012

This edited article about mercenaries originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 620 published on 1 December 1973.

The Landsnecht's cannon, picture, image, illustration

As the Black Bands advanced the Landsknechts’ cannon thundered forth, by Graham Coton

It was a foul February night. The only sounds to be heard were the relentless drumming of rain; the jingle of horses’ harnesses and the muttered curses of the men as they slipped in the mud. It was 1524 and the French army was retreating across the Alps. And it was afraid. Afraid of the man it called the Grand Devil. Afraid of Giovanni de Medici and his Black Bands.
Francis I, King of France, had sent his men into Italy against the armies of the Pope and of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. At first victorious, they had gradually lost the initiative and now Francis’s enemies, aided by Venice and other Italian city-states and by mercenary forces, were driving them back to France.

Foremost among the mercenaries was Giovanni de Medici. Young, debonair and audacious, his feats in the service of pope and emperor had quickly made him famous throughout Italy. His army owed its strange title to Giovanni’s grief at the death of his patron, Pope Leo X. He had ordered his men to wear black bands of mourning. His enemies, however, claimed that the hearts of his men were as black as the bands they wore.

As the French retreated, the Black Bands harried them tirelessly, giving them no respite. The Black Bands were well-equipped with firearms and used them to good effect. In one skirmish the French commander, Admiral Bonnivet was wounded by a gun and the retreat thrown into greater disorder as a result. But others were learning to use firearms with equal skill – as Giovanni was one day to discover to his cost.

As well as equipping his men with the most advanced weapons, Giovanni ruled them with iron discipline, not the least in matters of personal cleanliness. This was no mere fad. The French army had been ravaged by plague and Giovanni did not want his own force to be devastated in the same way.

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John L Sullivan – King of the bare-knuckle boxers

Posted in Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Tuesday, 31 January 2012

This edited article about boxing originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 620 published on 1 December 1973.

John L Sullivan, picture, image, illustration

John L Sullivan by Ralph Bruce

“I’ll take him on,” William Muldoon said. “I’ll get him fit somehow, and if he wins my charge will be 10,000 dollars. If he loses, nothing.”

Muldoon was a great boxing trainer but now, as he took a good look at his latest client, his heart sank. For a start, the walrus-moustached man who stood stripped to the waist in the cheerless gymnasium was monstrously fat. Only five feet ten inches tall, he weighed well over 17 stone. His face was puffy and pale, and if the medical reports were anything to go by, the man was as sick as he looked.

He was periodically wracked with fever, so shaky on his legs that the doctors spoke gloomily of impending paralysis and his digestion was so bad that it was impossible for him to eat so much as a mouthful of solid food.

Worst of all, the watery eyes that stared back at the trainer were dead and hopeless, the eyes of a man in the grip of almost suicidal depression.

This object, Muldoon told himself grimly, this blubber covered wreck of a man, was not just one more broken down fighter. He was the champion of champions, John L. Sullivan, the greatest boxer in the world.

And for better or worse he was due to defend his title with bare knuckles against the challenger, Jake Kilrain, in a little under three months time.

Even with the evidence before his eyes, it was hard for the trainer to believe that Sullivan could have reached such a state of total collapse, for his record seemed to prove him to be that creature of legend, the genuine iron man.

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Rome’s short-lived Patrician Restoration under dictatorial Sulla

Posted in Ancient History, Historical articles, History, Politics, War on Tuesday, 31 January 2012

This edited article about Ancient Rome originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 620 published on 1 December 1973.

Spartacus, picture, image, illustration

Spartacus, rebel leader of the Roman gladiators, would be crushed by Crassus. Picture by Angus McBride

After the death of the Russian dictator Josef Stalin, Soviet leaders were determined to abolish what they called “the cult of personality” – meaning the ability of one man, like Stalin, to get himself so much power that people thought he was indispensable.

There was nothing new about the cult of personality. It was a form of leadership which the ancient Romans were constantly on their guard against. They passed complicated laws restricting the powers of their leaders and cried, “Down with the dictator!” in the streets if any elected leader looked like even attempting to prolong his term of office.

For three centuries after the fall of their last king, the republican Romans kept at bay the problem of one man’s permanent ascendancy over the others. But, in the last hundred years before the birth of Christ, the policy began to collapse under the onslaught of a succession of great men.

And when the last of these proved himself to be the greatest ever Roman; indeed one of the greatest men the world has ever known, the policy had to be changed and a whole new system of government inaugurated. But we shall hear more of him later.

After the second of the two Gracchi brothers had been killed by the Roman mob in the party struggles between the poor plebians and the wealthy patricians, the Roman Senate was convinced that the exhausting class struggle was over. They even caused to be erected in the Forum the Temple of Concord as a sign of universal friendship. They could never have been more misguided in that judgement.

The first trouble began in the realm of Jugurtha, King of Numidia, which is roughly where eastern Algeria is today. This monarch was both shrewd and powerful and had, it is believed, murdered to get his throne. To keep it and to increase his territories, he was bribing all the influential Romans, including their generals, who came to oversee his kingdom.

In Rome, the plebians did not take kindly to Jugurtha’s aggrandisement, and they became bitter and angry when it was rumoured that the patricians were taking bribes. They demanded war, and they got it. But who could pursue this war for them, and not be persuaded to take a bribe from this cunning African king?

The man the plebians found was Caius Marius, the son of a poor farmer and the first of a brilliant array of generals which the last century of the Roman republic was to produce.

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Dinkelsbuhl’s children were victorious in the Thirty Years’ War

Posted in Bravery, Customs, Historical articles, History, Legend, War on Monday, 30 January 2012

This edited article about Bavaria originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 619 published on 24 November 1973.

Dinkelsbuhl, picture, image, illustration

Dinkelsbuhl by E H Compton

“Mercy! For your own child’s sake – mercy!”

The fair-haired girl in the long-skirted dress and crisp white apron falls on her knees, clasps her hands, and gazes beseechingly up at the bearded man, dressed all in white, mounted on a horse in the medieval town gateway. Behind him the phalanx of soldiers stir, and shift their arms uneasily.

The man in white stares grimly down at the group of children clustered around the girl. His glance wanders, then pauses on one of them, a tiny blond boy standing finger-to-mouth. The grim lines round his own mouth soften. He looks up again at the crowds of people pressing in behind the children.

“Listen, all you citizens of Dinkelsbuhl. Your children have saved your town. For their sakes my soldiers will leave it unharmed. Never forget the debt you owe to the children,” he cries.

A wild peel of bells rings out over steeply pitched gables, ancient turrets and walls, quiet gardens and tightly-packed streets; the music of a hymn blends in with the clamour, and everyone in the overflowing square joins in the words.

For more than three hundred years now the people of Dinkelsbuhl, one of a string of beautiful towns on the Romantic Road which runs through Germany’s southernmost province, Bavaria, have been repaying the ‘debt’ they owe to their children for saving their lovely city. Even in the 1970s it still looks very much as it did in medieval days.

Every July its citizens hold a Kinderzeche, a ‘Children’s Treat,’ to remind themselves of the children who saved their town from destruction in the 17th century, when Swedish troops besieged it during the Thirty Years’ War.

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Insect warfare is more relentless than man’s belligerence

Posted in Biology, Insects, Medicine, Nature on Monday, 30 January 2012

This edited article about insects originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 619 published on 24 November 1973.

Plague rat, picture, image, illustration

Fleas living on rats aboard ships newly docked from the East were responsible for carrying the deadly virus which is known as the plague

Visitors to a huge zoo in recent years have been very astonished when confronted by a notice there. “You are now staring at the most savage creature in the world,” it reads, from a position above a full-length mirror. For people who don’t immediately grasp the message, a keeper usually can be found nearby to explain that Man is the cruellest, deadliest species on this planet.

In the Second World War, he killed over 22 million of his own kind. Since peace came, he has whittled down this number to nearly two million. Somewhere in the region of 200,000 people a year are killed in acts of violence.

With such scant respect for his own species, it is not surprising that he has had very little for others. Many animals have been made almost extinct by his desire for food, pelts, ivory, territory or merely the pleasure of hunting and killing.

Most animals fear him – an instinct created by thousands of years of subjugation, it has been suggested – and few rise against him. It is those few that concern us in this series. Man is a proven man-killer. But which other creatures are? Which can he regularly fear?

If any one creature were to be indicted as the greatest mass slaughterer of Man it would be Anopheles – still breeding and killing prolifically, yet unknown to the vast majority of people by its proper name. It is the deadliest of over 2,000 mosquitoes and carries malaria, a disease that has affected Man disastrously.

Either it kills outright or so undermines the health of people that they have no desire to work and thus advance their standard of living, a fact noticeable in primitive parts of Africa.

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Irgun terrorists strike at the British by bombing Jerusalem’s King David Hotel

Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Politics, Religion on Monday, 30 January 2012

This edited article about Palestine originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 619 published on 24 November 1973.

It is the most important hotel in the city. It gleams in the sun, palatial, a fitting home for the most distinguished of visitors. Yet, part of it was once a bomb-blasted ruin in which desks were splintered, files were engulfed in flames and men and women lay dead.

It is the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and in 1946 it was the scene of one of the most notorious terrorist outrages in the Middle East.

When the Second World War had ended, nations had been horrified by the revelation of the mass slaughter of Jews in German gas chambers.

To the Jews who had settled in Palestine, members of the Zionist movement, this was, nevertheless, the moment for which they had waited.

Surely the world would now permit the scattered survivors of the German concentration camps to leave the countries which had become graveyards for so many of their race, and settle in peace in Palestine? Surely they deserved that much?

They were soon to find that other considerations weighed more than suffering with the nation to which they turned for help. That nation was Britain.

Since 1923, Britain had been entrusted with the government of Palestine. It was a difficult trust to discharge because, in 1917, a British statesman had promised the Jews a home of their own there, while other politicians had developed strong links with the Arabs.

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The armorial splendour of the golden Age of Chivalry

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Sport, War, Weapons on Monday, 30 January 2012

This edited article about armour originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 619 published on 24 November 1973.

Mediaeval tournament, picture, image, illustration

A mediaeval tournament during which knights wore armour more suited to the jousting contest than to war, by C L Doughty

Wars flourished in Europe in the 14th century, when knightly chivalry flowered into a brilliant, if brutal, way of life. This period also saw some rapid developments in arms and armour.

Sir Eustace d’Aubrecicourt was a young knight, eager for glory in the service of the King of France. He carried a shield of ermine two bars couped gules and was determined that these, his family’s proud coat of arms, should be in the very forefront of battle.

Already, the two armies were drawn up, the English invaders and their German allies on a hill some miles south of Poitiers, the French facing them from the valley below. Impatient for fame young Sir Eustace rode forward between the two forces. His challenge was at once accepted. Down from Count Johann von Nassau’s battalion charged a German knight named Ludwig von Recombes, his lance lowered as thousands of soldiers cheered.

The crash of their meeting was like a clap of doom. Both knights were hurled from their horses, though Sir Eustace was on his feet in a moment. The German rose slowly, clutching a wounded shoulder, his shield with arms argent five roses gules dangling useless at his side.

This was warfare in the highest tradition of chivalry – brave armoured knights tilting at each other with lowered lances. But Poitiers in the year 1356 was really a battle of nations, not a tournament of champions. Sir Eustace’s triumph was short lived, for five German men-at-arms, not even knights, rushed down to rescue Ludwig von Recombes. Sir Eustace was felled with a savage blow and dragged off as a prisoner to the Count of Nassau. He was tied to a cart and there remained until rescued during the course of battle.

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Italian City States and the mercenary-in-chief, Sir John Hawkwood

Posted in Historical articles, History, War, Weapons on Monday, 30 January 2012

This edited article about mercenaries originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 619 published on 24 November 1973.

Hawkwood's White Company, picture, image, illustration

The Veronese army was routed by Sir John Hawkwood’s White Company; inset: a knight, squire and page of the White Company. Pictures by Severino Baraldi

It was 30th April, 1363, and the city of Florence went to bed late. The next day, May Day, was traditionally one of merrymaking and preparations lasted into the small hours of the morning. From the wooded heights above the city a knot of soldiers looked thoughtfully as the lights went out one by one and the city grew quiet. “Did you notice the crossbows on the walls?” asked one. “And the barricades,” muttered a second. But the third shrugged. “We’ll be all right,” he said. “They won’t expect us.” Turning, he led the party back into the trees. He was Sir John Hawkwood. He was the commander of the White Company. And he did not dare let his captains smell defeat.

The White Company was one of the most successful mercenary bands in the Middle Ages. Like many others it was formed during the 14th century from soldiers who had been fighting in the Hundred Years’ War and who found themselves unemployed when the diplomats on either side managed to concoct treaties of peace.

Europe at that time was divided into many small states whose princes constantly fought each other. They were often unable to field armies of their own and, in consequence, were glad to hire trained men to fight for them. This was particularly true in Italy where the merchants of states which had grown wealthy by trade or commerce preferred to dig into their coffers rather than risk their own portly bodies in the city’s defence.

The White Company quickly became famous among the mercenary armies because of its efficiency and its distinctive appearance. Its men wore white surcoats and its standard bearers carried white banners. Under its founder, a German called Albert Sterz, it was well-organised and equipped. It contained 3,500 horsemen and 2,000 foot soldiers. Among the latter were skilled slingsmen, long-bowmen, engineers to lay mines and assemble scaling-ladders and towers, and incendiaries who could burn anything from a cottage to a castle.

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