How Bailing out the East India Company lead to the Boston Teaparty.

In London, Benjamin Franklin could see trouble coming:

“It was thought at the beginning of the session that the American Duty on tea would be taken off. But now the scheme is, to take off as much tax here as will make Tea Cheaper in America than foreigners can supply us; and continue the duty there to keep up the exercise of the right. They have no idea that any people can act from any principle but that of interest; and they believe that 3d. In a pound of tea, of which one does not drink perhaps 10lb in a year is sufficient to overcome the patriotism of America!”

The East India Company had so far in its history survived storms, the Mughal emperors and hostile foreign companies. Further it had as yet survived a scale of corruption and self interest in its officials unheard of in the more than usually self serving world of 18th century commerce. Yet such recklessness could not continue for ever. Clive had returned with such a pile of loot (£234,000) that it offended the good taste of the old and often debt ridden aristocracy. Rapine was the word used by the Whigs and the King longed, for whatever reason be it administrative or monastery, to be able to clamp down on the running of the EIC. Their charter was indeed up for renewal.
In 1770 a massive drought hit Bengal plummeting the region into a state of famine. The monsoon had failed & the resultant hardship reduced the population of the state by almost a quarter. People were apparently selling their children, eating leaves, livestock & indeed each other to survive. The East India Company was blamed for hoarding resources. And indeed even though there is no proof of a deliberate plan of extermination they exacerbated the crisis by doing virtually nothing to aid Bengal’s plight. They were too busy looking at their account books with a concerned eye…

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Josh.

Historyland’s Top Five History Books from 2016.

What a great year for history books! I was inundated with great titles from generous authors and publishers, and it was really hard to pick just five, but here they are, in no particular order a selection of my favourites from last year. Maybe they’ll be some of your favourites for 2017! Continue reading

Was the Duke of Wellington Multilingual?

Waterloo Dispatch, Wilkie, (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Waterloo Dispatch, Wilkie, (c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Duke of Wellington was famed for being able to assimilate and process large amounts of complex information in a relatively short space of time. His ability to communicate clear, concise orders based thereon were key to his effectiveness as a commander in chief. However a little investigated facet of his communication skills has been taken for granted.

It is a given that because the Duke was part of the Anglo-Irish Aristocracy; lived in Brussels for a few years and attended the military college at Angers, he could speak French. And indeed he could, though one critic commented that he spoke French like he fought them, Wellington could read, write, speak and understand the language of his enemy. He could do this because French was an international second language for most European nations. It was a language of refinement, art and breeding, and up to a point was practically a necessity for aristocrats to know.

Ironically, because most gentlemen could speak French, and at this point in history most officers were always gentlemen, his knowledge of the language would prove an effective conduit for Wellington to communicate with foreign allies. Essentially making the very language of the Napoleonic empire a weapon of its destruction. No one can doubt the Duke’s fluency in Europe’s most fashionable common language. What has been doubted by many respected biographers is his familiarity with the Spanish language.

Even the most accomplished biographies of the last century have paid scant attention to his language skills, dismissing it with the sure knowledge that he merely spoke a French to his Spanish allies. And it is true he preferred to use his second language to convey ideas and important decisions to allies and diplomats who spoke no English. At the battle of Salamanca he even spoke to his good friend General Miguel Alava in French before racing off to set the army in motion.

However recent evidence shows that Wellington had been applying himself since 1808, and at a stretch possibly beforehand, to learning Spanish. To begin with he had originally been slated for the command of an expeditionary force to South America and had therefore been in contact with the fiery expatriate, General Miranda, who was negotiating for military aid against Spain. With the prospect of becoming immersed in the Hispanic speaking hinterland of Venezuela, it would be entirely fitting if the young General had begun to acquire a base in Spanish.

Certainly by the time he was redirected towards Portugal in 1808, a parting gift from the Ladies of Llangollen had afforded him the means to achieve an understanding of the Spanish language. (Why he did not choose Portuguese is anyone’s guess.) The two spinsters presented Sir Arthur with a Spanish translation of the prayer book published in 1707. The inscription in the book, which survives in the family archive of Baron de Ross, reads:

“This book was given to Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Wellesley, before he went to command the Armies in the Peninsula in 1808, by Lady Elinor Butler and Miss Ponsonby, better known as the Ladies of Llangollen. He had it in his possession and with him during the whole of the war; and learnt from the perusal thereof what he knows of the Spanish language.”

The book itself was given as a gift to Lady Georgiana de Ross who recounted the story in her memoirs:

“One day, when we were at Stathfieldsaye, the Duke of Wellington was alluding to having learnt Spanish from a Spanish translation of the English Prayer-book, which was given to him when he was going to take command in Spain, by Lady Elinor Butler, the Duke, then Sir Arthur Wellesley, having visited her and Miss Ponsonby at their cottage at Llangollen, as he went through from Wales to Ireland. On my asking what had become of the Prayer-book, “Oh, it’s somewhere in the library here,” was the answer. Whereupon I searched until I found it, with no name, or anything to tell its history. He was very much pleased to see it again, and said he would give it to me as I had taken such pains to find it. I carried it off at once.”

The Duke remarked that it was such a faithful translation that he had been able to understand a speech made in his honour by a local official soon after arriving in Spain. Nevertheless hiw was a Yeoman’s Spanish and seemingly not at all reliable for important discussion. For when meeting General Cuesta in 1809 he had to rely on the English skills of Spanish General O’Donjou, who was a descendant of an Irish family, for Cuesta refused to speak the language of the French invaders on principle. Yet according to, Gonzalo Serrat, a relative of Geberal Alava, in other matters, such as correspondence with his friend, Alava, later in the war, Wellington was quite comfortable in his facility in Spanish to write at least 50 letters to him in that tongue.

All of which together gives a very different impression of how Wellington communicated to his allies. But then the Duke had a history of being able to pick up languages. He used Sea voyages to indulge in voracious reading, when he travelled to India as Colonel of the 33rd, he had taken witt him over 200 books, some of which were Persian Dictionaries and grammar books. Given this choice of reading it is impossible not to conclude that he did what other British officers did after arriving in India, hiring a Munshi to teach him the language; most likely Persian, which he could certainly converse in by the time of the Battle of Assaye, (if not before when he was commander at Seringapatam).

Havildar Syud Hussein of the 4th Native Cavalry had been right marker for his regiment during the first cavalry charge at Assaye, during the engagement he had observed an enemy standard escaping, accordingly he:

“dashed into the centre of a party of the enemies horse, and bore off their standard.”

After the battle his Colonel brought Hussein and the colour to the then Sir Arthur Wellesley. The weary commander heard the story, patted Hussein on the back and, so wrote Sir John Malcolm in 1818:

“eloquent and correct in the Native language for which you were celebrated, said ‘Acha havildar; Jemadar.”

Though it is hard to say if Sir John was being anything but overly flattering, there is little reason to think him completely wrong. To my mind it makes perfect sense that the Duke would have gained a working knowledge of at least one Indian language in the 8 years he spent in the country, where his French would get him nowhere.

Over the last few years, neglected evidence has been rediscovered that points to this hitherto overlooked facet of Wellington’s approach to command and communication. With three languages under his belt we can see that learning the tongue of the country he was going to fight in, was a top priority for Wellington and formed an important part of his preparation for a campaign.

Read more things you never knew about Wellington here.

The Duke. Phillip Guedella.
Wellington: The Years of the Sword. Elizabeth Longford.
Wellington: The Iron Duke. Richard Holmes.
Wellington: The Path to Victory. Rory Muir.
Wellington’s Dearest Georgy. Alice Marie Crossland.
Wellington in India. Jac Weller.
Talavera: Rene Chartrande.
Assaye 1803. Simon Millar.
http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/13th-december-1856/23/books https://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/news/2016/july/wellington-letter-discovered

Josh.

Book Review: Forgotten by Linda Harvieux

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Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Amberley (15 Nov 2016)
Language: English.
ISBN: 9781445663487
https://www.amberley-books.com/forgotten.html

The sceptics might have been right when they told Linda Harvieux that there wasn’t enough information available to tell the story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion at D-Day. But they were dead wrong if they thought there wasn’t a story to tell, and if I’m honest, although only the last few chapters concern themselves with Omaha Beach, there are testimonies in this book that have never seen the light of day, and thus add another element to the drama of the story. Continue reading

Book Review: Lost Voices of the Nile by Charlotte Booth.

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Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing (15 Aug. 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1445642859

Ancient history has its mysteries. Not your average ones either. Whereas in modern history your mysteries tend to be based around motive, with ancient history it’s a case of identity, time and place and sometimes indeed, what! Yet while many complain about what has been lost and what is missing, it’s also good to be grateful about what we can read about. With ancient Egypt, details of the lives of high officials from the New Kingdom onwards tend to be the most common, and everyone else is usually anonymous, but when you collect it all together and do a bit of sifting a general picture appears that isn’t too shabby at all.

Charlotte Booth has thrown her hat into the “How did ordinary people live” ring. It’s one of the most popular ways to write about history, and it also allows an author to create a polyglot of experiences to find commonality and so reveal glimpses of life in a distant time. A thorough and thoughtful look into a world; often as clear as the pyramids and yet at the same time full of phantoms. Well constructed and very useful it clarified a number of things I had wondered about in my haphazard Egyptological enquieries in 2016. Objective but with a firm opinion when it comes to a fork in the road, Lost Voices of the Nile looks back, hoping to find familiarity in the alien world of the distant past.

In the Forefront of Lost Voices is the concept that an ancient Egyptian would be able to understand allot of what we experience today, and especially that we, with the benefit of hindsight can identify common ground with these long ago people. And it’s true. If anything ,ancient history, from the Egyptians to the Romans has definitely taught us that allot about the human experience doesn’t really change. People still looked for ways to enjoy themselves, worked to make a good living, pondered many of the same big questions, and suffered some of the same setbacks.

Of course I’m talking generally, because many of the specific scenarios don’t really apply to modern life, but at their core can still speak to people. As for me I tend to enjoy seeing how different people where as much as what hasn’t changed. Some people take an obtuse pleasure in seeing what is and is not different about the world. Others marvel at how far we’ve come or regressed or whatever.

But what about those who are just curious about how people, who were not pharaoh’s or viziers etc got along in Ancient Egypt? Many repeat the quote about the past being a foreign country where things are done differently, how do you learn about a different country? Usually people start with books. (Or internet searches). You could in a way see this book as a huge postcard written by an experienced traveller. The author has been there (or has been as close as she can get) and now is allowing us the benefit of her experience.

The Book is separated into sections that try to cover as much of the ancient experience as possible, it is an objective narrative, in that quotes are used to support the text rather than it being a book of writings with a historical commentary/analysis. Through it we find many personal stories, and many collages that make up a bigger picture, which is fitting because that is reminiscent Grand Temple reliefs, that require many pictures to tell the whole story.

You’ll see the name Deir el-Medina, appear quite allot. This was a village that was built for the many generations of artisans and labourers toiling in the valley of the Kings. Its archeology is one of the greatest resources for ancient life in the near east, and it crops up so often because, in fragments and shards it tells the “small” stories that are central to the focus of this book. The people who didn’t make it to the valley of the Kings, but rather the people who built it.

Josh.

Shhhh, Ninja Secrets! By Adrian Burrows.

The Ninja really hoped no one noticed that he'd forgotten one of his swords...

The Ninja really hoped no one noticed that he’d forgotten one of his swords…

Everyone loves a Ninja! I know that I, Captain Max Virtus, and the rest of planet Earth certainly do. But what do we really know about those Shinobi?

Not a lot. And what we do know is usually wrong. And what we don’t know is mostly right. Continue reading

Book Review, Exclusive Excerpt and Discount Code. Historic Heston Blumenthal.

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Published: 10-10-2013
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 432
ISBN: 9781408804414
Imprint: Bloomsbury Publishing
Illustrations: Colour images throughout.

Please note the Giveaway portion of this promotion has  is ended.

Chances are you’ve not seen many cookery books like this. As a unique blend of art, history and practical cooking it covers many bases. The idea behind it is Chef Heston Blumenthal’s predication that the British have lost touch with their culinary heritage. He’s not just talking about meat pies and fish and chips, he’s talking about the stuff continental people might actually consider haute cuisine, while retaining the essence of what we islanders appreciate in food.

To be honest the British can no longer really use the excuse that we don’t eat what up until now would have been considered “Funny Food”. Just look at the crazy mix of restaurants and eateries that populate what used to be called food courts, just see what people are cooking on TV and what fills the isles of even our most budget supermarkets and it will dawn on you, we’ve become a nation of foodies.

To say that this folio, which drips extravagance from its elegant slip cover to every stitch of its binding, is a special edition is to try the limits of British understatement. It’s a gorgeous production, as lavish as a prime time period drama and in a way just as epic. From a historical point of view it’s sweeping as well, covering within its image laden pages a span from the 15th to the 19th century, cherry picking curious and probably unheard of recipies for iconic dishes that capture the flavour and spirit of the age in question for a modern audience. Thus we are treated to a rich blend of culinary as well as General history, which prefaces each dish.

As a work of bookbinding it already qualifies as art, which should please booklovers no end and will undoubtedly not only show off both shelf and coffee table to its best advantage but also truly show your love of fine cooking. Open the cover and you will find that the art doesn’t end at the spine, as a whole gallery of specially commissioned artwork by David McKean is spread across its luxuriant length. These are quirky, almost otherworldly illustrations, they are full of whimsy and sometimes seem a little unsettling. Colourful and eye catching, undeniable in their ability to hold attention, they could have come out of a fantasy story.

Alongside these pieces of artwork are numerous photographs of different food so crisp that they make your eyes ache. Still Life comes to mind, adding contrast to the often highly dynamic paintings, these shots of overflowing tables and ingredients could have come off the easel of a Dutch master, and the pictures of the finished product. The ones that dare you to try and recreate the recipe. Could have come from the menu of a restaurant without a sign over the door. It is art for arts sake, but also for the sake of food. Unapologetically lavish and a tome of ideas and inspiration.

What of the food itself? I hear you cry. The proof is in the pudding as they say. Not being a great cook myself I wouldn’t be able to tell you how well these recipes turn out. I can say though, that I would not turn down a bite of some of the deserts if one of my more culinarily gifted friends offered it. If I were you I’d not stick this on a stand and cook from the book, however. This is a book that will require you to write the recipe down if you want to keep it nice, (but that goes for all Cook books now I think of it). Though the contents are ideally suited to the tastiest room in the house, I can assure you this special edition won’t handle the heat, and as the old adage goes, that means it shouldn’t be in the kitchen.

I’m so grateful to the generous people at Bloomsbury, not only for sending me this book to review and share with you all, but they have also given buyers who are reading this a generous discount code which can be used on the publisher’s website. Historyland Readers can enjoy this generous offer until the 1st of February 2017 by using this code: Heston17 , In conjuction with this link http://bloomsbury.com/uk/historic-heston-9781408804414/

But wait! There’s more. If this review has whetted your appetite and you want to see more, please be my guest and have a perusal of this exclusive extract of the fabulous named and looking Taffety Tart, straight from the pages of Historic Heston Blumenthal, with the compliments of Bloomsbury and Historyland. taffety-tart-extract

For a sneak peek please watch and like my video.

Josh.