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Archive for July, 2012

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The fiasco of the Fourth Crusade was partly due to the Venetians

Posted in Historical articles, History, Religion, War on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about the Fourth Crusade originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Fourth Crusade, picture, image, illustration

Crusaders looting Constantinople by Dan Escott

In the last days of 1199, Pope Innocent issued a summons to the princes and warriors of the West to undertake once again the deliverance of the Holy Land from Moslem domination. Perhaps because this was to be no less than the fourth Crusade, his appeal met with a tepid reception.

In France alone was any general excitement visible, and this was only due to the remarkable personal magnetism and preaching of Fulk of Neuilly, a priest obviously capable of stirring the emotions of the masses.

Nevertheless, a large army was eventually collected; but to avoid the disasters which had befallen previous expeditions who had travelled by land, its leaders resolved to proceed to Palestine by sea.

Ambassadors were despatched to Venice, then the most powerful of the maritime states, to negotiate the means of transport. Its doge, Enrico Dandolo, received them with cordiality and agreed to help them with their project. An agreement was concluded to the effect that for an agreed sum, Venice would furnish them with vessels for the transport of 4,500 horses and more than 30,000 men.

Venice also undertook to equip fifty galleys of her own, on the understanding that so long as the contract lasted, the spoils of the conquest were to be equally divided. As the Pope and his ecclesiastics had agreed to defray a large part of the expenses, everybody was happy with the arrangements.

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Fertile Natal was the cradle of the new Boer Republic

Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Politics, War on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about Pietermaritzburg originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Dingaan, picture, image, illustration

Chief Dingaan by James E McConnell

Pietermaritzburg, capital of the South African province of Natal, looks peaceful enough today. It nestles in a valley high above sea level, between the Umsindusi River and its tributary, with magnificent views of the surrounding hills. Streets set at right angles centre on the market square, so that it is difficult to miss the nearby museum that commemorates the Boer pioneers who founded the city in 1839. The museum is Pietermaritzburg’s most famous building, and rightly so, because it was originally a token of heartfelt gratitude, the Church of the Vow.

The vow dates back to 1838, when the Boer farmers who had found their way to Natal were in a bad way. They had left the British ruled area around the Cape in what was to become known as the Great Trek, a tremendous exodus of farmers who had loaded their families onto great ox wagons and headed out into the unknown in search of independence. As huge new areas of rich land were discovered many families settled down, but under the leadership of two remarkable men, Gert Maritz and Pieter Retief, the more adventurous pressed on across the Drakensberg Mountains and found themselves in the almost unbelievably fertile land of Natal.

To the trekkers it must have looked like the biblical promised land, capable of supporting unlimited numbers of cattle. True, there were a few British settlers in the area around the coast, and inland there were countless thousands of resentful Zulu warriors, but to Maritz and Retief these were small matters. There and then they decided that in Natal they would found a new Boer republic.

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Madame de Pompadour provoked the Seven Years War out of spite

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about Madame de Pompadour originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Louis XV, picture, image, illustration

Louis XV was shocked when he was mobbed by the Parisian poor, by C L Doughty

Inside the dimly-lit room, gruesomely furnished with human skulls and polished bones, the old soothsayer swayed in a trance.

Before her, clutching at her mother’s hand, stood a small child, gripped by both fear and fascination.

The old woman’s voice grew louder and more feverish as she cried to the child, “You shall one day be the love of a king. Yes; you shall one day become the uncrowned queen of France.”

Twenty years later the prophecy had come true. The child was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the daughter of a rich landowner but brought up by a bank clerk. She was to become, at the age of twenty-three, the favourite of King Louis XV, and the most powerful woman in France.

The girl who would become, as Madame de Pompadour, the most hated woman in France, was born in 1721. At the age of twenty, the beautiful Jeanne was married to an ugly, but extremely rich financier named Le Normant d’Etioles, her father’s nephew.

Her father, Le Normant de Tournehem, settled half his fortune on the couple and gave them as a wedding gift a country house at Choisey, an estate which adjoined the royal chateau where the king of France stayed on his hunting trips.

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British civil aviation wasted millions on two dinosaurs of the air

Posted in Aviation, Historical articles, History, Technology on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about civil aviation originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Dinosaurs of the air, picture, image, illustration

The Bristol Brabazon (top) and Saunders-Roe Princess flying boat by Wilf Hardy

For BOAC the 1950s began with bright hope and promise. New aircraft were in prospect which looked like transforming its financial record. (In the five years from April 1946 to March 1951 BOAC had shown losses totalling £32 million.) Now, the last war-associated aircraft types were retired and 1950 saw BOAC with an all post-war fleet.

In 1949 they introduced one of the most successful post-war designs, the Argonaut, a well-proved Douglas airframe built in Canada and powered by Rolls Royce Merlin piston engines. This reliable combination pointed the way to the future by establishing the first BOAC land-plane service to Tokyo. The days of the flying boat were numbered as the Argonaut cut two days off their schedule to the far east.

By the end of 1949 Boeing Stratocruisers, with two-deck comfort, were flying between London and New York. Although the scheduled westbound time at 19 and a half hours was the same as the Constellation’s it was a more agreeable journey. On a long trip passengers found it was very pleasant to be able to stretch their legs when flying across the Atlantic, and were glad to get out of their seats and walk down the spiral staircase to a very cosy lounge.

The 1950s saw the introduction of the giant commercial airliners, but mistakes in plane-making can be very costly, and the British aircraft industry built two unwanted giants after the war. The Bristol Brabazon, which was intended for the Atlantic service, was the largest plane in the world and had eight Bristol Centaurus engines coupled in pairs.

By the time it flew in 1949 it was obvious that it was going to be an uneconomic proposition. It had been built to give Britain an unassailable lead in the new era of post-war flying, but it was too big, too slow and too expensive to run. The Brabazon was scrapped after having cost over six million pounds, and ended its life in the metal-breaker’s yard.

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WW2 saw the largest internal evacuation in Britain’s history

Posted in Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about the Home Front originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Evacuees, picture, image, illustration

The evacuation of London children by Pat Nicolle

Beyond the barbed wire that turned wartime Britain into a virtual prison, stretched the sea. And beyond the sea was the enemy. If that enemy should cross the sea with his crack troops and assault craft and bombing planes to undermine the defenders, he would have a fight on his hands.

That was the spirit that fired Britain in the Second World War, for the beaches were to be the front line from which we would drive the enemy back into the sea.

All bathing was stopped and barbed wire strung out along the promenades. Ugly concrete “pillboxes” and machine-gun posts were thrown up at vantage points, making a disquieting contrast to the facades of paint-peeling Edwardian hotels. Tank traps – large blobs of concrete – were built on access ways, built so sturdily that after the war, together with the machine-gun posts, their removal caused local councils a constant headache.

The sand and the shingle, where once sun-tans had been carefully developed, were mined above the high tide line with land mines, turning the beaches into death traps.

For those towns with a pier, a special sadness waited. Royal Engineers sappers came down to the seafront, laid their dynamite and fuses and, minutes later, walked briskly away leaving a gaping hole in the pier. The hole, which effectively split the pier into two halves, was thought to provide a sufficient obstacle to halt German troops landing on the seaward end, presumably so that shore-based machine-gunners could mow them down.

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Spectacular fiords give Norway its unusual coastline

Posted in Geography, Geology on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about Norway originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Norwegian fiord, picture, image, illustration

A family looking down on a fiord by H Fox

On a map of the world, the western coastline of Norway looks much like that of any other country. But take a look at a larger-scale map, and you will see that, throughout its length, the coast is broken up by deep indentations, and lined with off-shore islands. It is hardly a coast “line” at all.

The longest of the coastal inlets are Norway’s famous fiords, arms of the sea which reach far inland. Unlike the estuaries familiar in many parts of the world, the fiords, in their most typical form, have steep sides of rock. These rise sheer above the water’s level and plunge just as steeply below it.

Longest of the Norwegian fiords is Sogne Fiord, north of Bergen. This stretches far inland. At one point its depth reaches 4,085 feet (1,245 m).

It is possible for ocean-going ships to penetrate many of the fiords. For passengers on deck, it is an awe-inspiring experience to allow the eye to travel up the towering walls of rock, their surface unrelieved except by the occasional small tree or shrub precariously rooted in a crevice. Even a large ship seems to be dwarfed by comparison.

Though the term “fiord” is Norwegian, geologists apply it to similar coastal inlets elsewhere. The sea-lochs of Western Scotland, though not on such a large scale, belong to the same “family”. Similar formations occur in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and British Columbia. In the Southern Hemisphere they are found on Chile’s southern coast.

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The mixed fortunes of the Spanish Bourbon kings

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about the Spanish Bourbons originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Spanish Bourbons, picture, image, illustration

The Spanish Siege of Gibraltar 1779-1783 (bottom left); Philip V and Charles III (top, l to r); Philip V makes a triumphant entry into Madrid (main picture). Pictures by Roger Payne

Through the dark vault of a church in Madrid a man stumbled, torch in hand, gazing at the coffins around him, each one containing a royal corpse. Suddenly he halted beside one of the sarcophagi and threw open the lid. There lay a beautiful woman, carefully preserved by the embalmer’s art. The man uttered a cry and fled from the tomb; pausing at the entrance, he looked back and murmured; “She is with God and I shall soon be with her.”

The date was 1700. The man was Charles II of Spain. The corpse was that of his wife. And his midnight visit to her coffin was the event which finally unhinged his weak mind. He was the last of a line of Spanish Kings, and his death that same year introduced a new dynasty in Spain, that of the Bourbons.

The Bourbons did not succeed to the Spanish throne easily. Spain was a great and powerful kingdom and there were several claimants to the crown, each representing different factions within Europe. One was backed by Austria; another by Britain and Holland; yet another by the ‘Sun King’ of France, Louis XIV. It was Louis’ candidate, his grandson Philip, who won.

In 1701 Philip, the fifth king of that name in Spain, made a triumphant entry into his capital, Madrid. He was to reign there for 45 years. For the first 15 he was completely dominated by the French king, on whom he depended for the security of his throne. The Austrians, the British and the Dutch had not taken long to band together in war against France, hoping to overthrow the French king and his satellite in Spain. But although the War of the Spanish Succession convulsed Europe for several years, Philip survived it, his crown intact.

No sooner did he escape the domination of his grandfather, however, than he succumbed to that of his wife, Elizabeth. Left to himself, he took a strong interest in Spain and his people, encouraging in particular the foundation of schools and academies. But his wife controlled his dealings with other nations and involved him in complex diplomacy from which Spain benefited little.

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Sir John Franklin and the tragic end of his Arctic expedition

Posted in Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Ships on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about exploration originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Franklin's ships, picture, image, illustration

Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated ships sighted by eskimos, by Severino Baraldi

From the days of Ferdinand Magellan, the great Portuguese explorer and mariner who was the first person to discover a route over which ships could sail in a complete circle round the world, seafarers were convinced that there existed a great southern continent which they named Terra Incognita (Unknown Land). For over two and a half centuries, the discovery of such places as New Guinea, New Hebrides and New Zealand kept alive this idea, the theory being in each case that these places were the temperate extremities of such a place.

In 1768, Captain Cook began destroying this persistent myth by circumnavigating New Zealand. On his second voyage, he crossed the Antarctic Circle, sailed right around Antarctica, and proved once and for all time that any land lying south of his route had no link with Asia, South America or Australasia.

But it was only as recently as the 1840s that the existence of the Antarctic Continent was finally confirmed. The man responsible was James Clark Ross, the nephew of Sir John Ross, of Ross and Parry fame. James Ross joined the Royal Navy at the tender age of twelve and later accompanied his uncle on two of his polar voyages. In 1831, he plotted the position of the North Magnetic Pole, and in 1839, now a captain, was put in charge of a British Arctic Expedition, sponsored by the Navy.

The ship given to him was H.M.S. Erebus, and she was accompanied by H.M.S. Terror. Both vessels were referred to as ‘Bombs’ – bombarding vessels, built with specially strengthened hulls, which were capable of ploughing their way through the pack ice.

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John Blashford-Snell – a dauntless explorer of Africa and Central America

Posted in Adventure, Africa, America, Exploration, Geography on Tuesday, 24 July 2012

This edited article about John Blashford-Snell originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 755 published on 3rd July 1976.

Blashford-Snell, picture, image, illustration

Colonel Blashford-Snell’s Congo expedition by Graham Coton

In the second half of the 20th century no one could be blamed for thinking that the age of exploration was over. But John Blashford-Snell readily proves how wrong such an assumption would be. In recent years he has led 15 exploring expeditions – and has plans for more.

One of the most hazardous expeditions he undertook came into being quite by accident in 1966, when he went to Ethiopia. Emperor Haile Selassie, who knew something of his reputation, suggested that he should venture into the then still-unexplored regions of the Blue Nile. It was a suggestion which Blashford-Snell eagerly accepted.

The Blue Nile, or Great Abbai, as it is called in Ethiopia, is a wild river which races for 800 kilometres from Lake Tana to the deserts of the Sudan and Egypt. Its most dangerous and challenging section, full of rapids, cataracts and whirlpools, is where the river is squeezed through a long and narrow gorge, with high cliffs looming up on either side of it.

This turbulent stretch of water had never been explored, although a number of expeditions had tried to navigate it. All these expeditions had failed, on each occasion, when their boats had been smashed to pieces in the rapids. Hostile natives caused a major disaster in 1962, when they attacked and killed two members of a Franco-Swiss expedition.

Undaunted, Blashford-Snell set to organizing an expedition, and two years later, in the August of 1968, he set off with his party.

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Rudyard Kipling ended his days in Sussex by the Sea

Posted in Country House, English Literature, Historical articles, History on Sunday, 22 July 2012

This edited article about Rudyard Kipling originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 754 published on 26 June 1976.

Recessional, picture, image, illustration

‘Recessional’ was the poem written by Kipling for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897

Sussex is a beautiful county and there are few more beautiful stretches of Sussex than the area surrounding Burwash.

A country house in East Sussex, known as Bateman’s, became, for twenty years the home of Rudyard Kipling. It was here that he wrote many of his collected volumes of short stories, including “Puck of Pook’s Hill” and “Rewards and Fairies.”

The gabled sandstone house with tall, brick chimneys, dates back to 1634. There appears to be no record of the builder, but he was, no doubt, one of the local iron masters.

This was when Burwash was a centre of the Sussex smelting industry, although the industry has been defunct since the 18th century.

Kipling had travelled all over the globe, South Africa, America, Canada and India, and seemed destined never to put down roots of any sort. But after years of travel, he settled at Bateman’s in the early years of this century.

He restored the house and created the charming garden and in the process, became greatly attached to this part of the country. As he said himself:
“God gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each, one spot should prove beloved over all.

Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground – in a fair ground,
Yes, Sussex by the sea.”