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Historical Comebacks: The Crusades

The Crusades seem to never have effaced from the Western conscience. Centuries later the conflict between the West and the East resumes.

The reports are coming in that Saddam Hussein was executed at a secured location in Baghdad. You see, it seems like we’re constantly being compelled to contemplate the global issues at the turn of the year. In 2004, it was a tsunami, and in 2006 it is the well-understood fear of the escalation of violence not just in Iraq, but anywhere in the world.

As the comments on the BBC’s Have Your Say plainly manifest, most people, even when they agree that Saddam should have been executed, still cast doubts on the fairness of his trial and on the future of relations between the West and the East. Most importantly, as some visitors remark, the West has shown a total indifference to the Eastern way of life:


Out of all the days, why did the U.S. pick the day of Hajj to hang Saddam?
This comes as almost a historical comeback. In 1099, having finally entered Jerusalem, the brave Western knights had begun to kill almost every living person in the city, including children and women. They killed ‘Sarazens’ (Muslims) in the mosque, and burnt Jews in the synagogue. One should obviously be careful with such parallels, but the indifference to ‘alien’ religion seems to be persistent, despite today’s devotion to political correctness.


Some other comments were very much in line with Le Goff’s observation about the Arab’s feeling about the Western anti-Islamism back in the Middle Ages. So, is this the longue durée, or not? One thing to look at may be the consolidation of the East against the West. The Ottoman Empire wasn’t as powerful or integrated at the beginning of the Crusades, but things changed dramatically by the time of the ‘counter-Crusades’ of the 14th c. However, today the East may become more consolidate against the West, especially because what used to be called the Crusades in the Middle Ages, may now be hailed by some as drang-nach-Osten.

Communication and information at that time appear almost prehistoric in comparison to our use of the wireless technology. And if we speak in terms of military challenge and response, it would take many months in the 12-13th cc. not only to furnish a campaign, but also to get your army to the enemy’s land. Needless to say, it takes less time now, and, thanks to the advance of the media, we can follow both challenge and response in real time.

If this is the longue durée, it certainly comes with massive technological, as well as ideological (in the broadest sense of the word), differences. But underneath those differences one can see the *good old* opposition between the West and the East, the almost inexplicable necessity to put two civilizations (again in the broadest sense of the word) on the two opposite ends of an ontological axis, to make them two poles, one good, another evil. If anything seriously bothers me, as both historian and individual, it is this determinism, the conviction that one can actually say with confidence that something is good and something is not. Some link this to Christian dichotomy of good and evil, light and darkness, but long before Christianity Herodotus had spoken about the barbarians, who by no means were as good as the Greeks.

It has become a commonplace in popular historical studies to tell about the European knights who, having lived in cold Europe, which scents were not at all wholesome, came to the East, discovered the silks, the baths, the aromas, and so decided to stay. Those who didn’t want to stay began to trade with the East, and so gradually the West started amassing all sorts of Eastern delights, forgetting, by and by, that they were thus “furnishing” the “enemy”. The Great Geographical Discoveries and colonization, not to mention the progress in arts, added to the Western sense of uniqueness. But it is exactly this sense that drives empires and states to parochialism and subsequently – to their fall.

This is not to say that no justice can or should be served to those who deserve it. But I unanimously agree with those who believe that, if we’re speaking of crimes against humanity, then Saddam should’ve been tried by the Hague Tribunal. Humanity comprises the entire world, and not just the parties concerned. It remains to see what resonance today’s event will have. One thing is certain: with the UN’s vote against Iran and the execution of Hussein during the Islamic religious holiday, the East has got every reason to feel under assault. The complete opposition of the West and the East may only exist in ether, after all. Yet in fact, the two poles are much closer today than during the Crusades.

Preaching the Crusade

More posts in History

Jacques Le Goff on History

This is the translation of an extract from the interview with the French historian, Jacques Le Goff, published in Le Figaro on December 7, 2006. The interview was done to mark the reprint of the book by Regine Pernoud, La Libération d’Orléans, 8 May 1429 (first edition – Paris, Gallimard, 1969), to which Le Goff wrote the preface, called The End of the English France. In it, he argued that the siege of Orleans in 1429 had not only been a turning point in the course of the Hundred Years’ War, but has also occupied a special place in the French national memory. Much of the interview examines this view, but towards the end Le Goff spoke on historical comebacks and the place of history in the context of today. The French text is by Jacques de Saint-Victoire and is printed in full here.

Don’t we also have this obscure interest in the Evil, in the most somber passions?
The comeback of the passions is one big trait of history. One could, for example, research into the history of the Crusades to explain the events in the Middle East. Bush is like one of the Western Crusaders, and the Arabs regarded the Crusaders as the first signs of the Western anti-Islamism. This is how I approached it. I was criticized a lot for being the first medievalist who has had a negative view of the Crusades. But we refer to them these days to measure the negative impact.

This reminds us of the ‘longue durée’, of which Fernand Braudel was so fond. André Burguière has just published his Intellectual History of the Annales. In your opinion, whatever happened to this ‘new history’? Isn’t it in a rut?
I am not the best person to answer your question, since the meetings of the committee of the Annales often happen at my place. But I don’t see the decline of the Annales. Didn’t they exaggerate, or even invent, the crisis of history? Yet its vigour rests within its process. I don’t see it either going backwards or stagnating. Admittedly, it’s a bit banal to say so, but the new doesn’t last forever. For all that, history continues, as Georges Duby would say.

Does it still have the same place it has once occupied?
It’s true that it’s no longer in the newspapers’ editorials, as it once used to be. But do notice that its position in the media interest is different not because history has declined or that it has stopped being interesting for the readers. On the contrary, what for me manifests itself as a real regress in the position of history, is that it occupies a place more and more marginal in the making of male and female politicians and in their cultural level. How could one govern France without taking its past much into account? I take the opportunity to mention an excellent posthumously published book by Yves Renouard, on the character types of France. I also deplore the fact that this historical dimension is hardly present in the making of Europe. History is necessary to give a soul and a foundation to politics.
You can read more about Jacques Le Goff at Wikipedia.
Pernoud, Regine, La Libération d’Orléans (8 May 1429), preface by Jacques Le Goff, Paris, Gallimard, 2006 (Les journées qui ont fait la France).
Renouard, Yves, Leçons sur l’unité française et les caractères généraux de la civilisation française, édition François Renouard, Bordeaux, 2005.

Chidiock Tichborne (1558-1586). Elegy

I was once browsing the blogs that I read, and on ReadySteadyBook I came across a sad poem, written by one Chidiock Tichborne ‘on the eve of his execution’. I found his name remotely familiar, and later realised, why: he took part in the Babington conspiracy against Elizabeth I in 1586. As some of you may know (or guess by the dates), this conspiracy was also the one that had brought Mary Queen of Scots to her tragic end. However, I dare say, the end of the conspirators, including Tichborne, was far more tragic, since their execution was carried out in the *best traditions* of punishment for treason. They were hung, drawn and quartered. The execution was usually a gruesome one; it would include a criminal being cut open, and their insides being taken out and burnt in front of their eyes. Normally, they would die at this stage, but sometimes they were still alive by the time they had begun being cut into four parts. The sources say that such was the case of one of the Babington conspirators (not Tichborne, though). The rider in the verdict stated that the severity of punishment could be increased upon the authorities’ discretion. Nevertheless, having been reported about the popular dismay, the authorities allowed the next group of conspirators to hang until dead before being drawn and quartered.

Although Tichborne’s Elegy is not the only work that has reached us, this poem, written in such dramatic circumstances, has attracted much attention from the scholars. Indeed, the use of antithesis and paradox – the two popular Renaissance literary figures – suggests that Tichborne was definitely not new to the art of poetry. Some further information can be found over here, in The Leeds Review, where you can see the first imprint of Elegy, Tichborne’s letter to his wife Agnes, and a response to Tichborne’s poem, specially composed to diminish the creative effort of this young man.

Along with the English text, I also include my translation of it into Russian. I was immediately captivated by the text, and the chance to render all literary figures into my native language was impossible to miss. And when you consider the age of Tichborne and the severity of his execution, you probably begin to read the whole poem differently.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and found it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

Chidiock Tichborne, 1586

Мою весну мороз невзгод овеял;
На радости пиру вкусил я боль;
Растил зерно – собрал охапки плевел;
Тщета надежд – достаток скудный мой.
День пролетел, – не видел солнца я.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Слух обо мне разносят пустословы;
Листвою зелен, наземь плод упал;
Промчалась юность, – я остался молод;
Я видел мир, а он меня не знал.
Прервали нить, кудели не спрядя.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

К себе вернулся я, пойдя за смертью;
Я жизнь нашел в забвения тиши;
Могилу чувствовал, когда бродил по тверди;
И умираю, путь свой не свершив.
Иссякло время до исхода дня.
Живу, и жизнь окончена моя.

Julia Shuvalova © 2006

Harvard Open Collections/ Medieval Manuscripts

A new addition to the Harvard University Open Collections Program is this website dedicated to Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930. I must admit, I wasn’t very successful whilst trying to look at some documents, but maybe it’s just my browser. The documents presumably available for browsing include manuscripts, books, pamphlets, and photographs.

So as not to leave you completely without any images to look at, this is something I came across while browsing the fantastic online manuscript collection of the French National Library. The first one is an illustration to the story of Actaeon, a young hunter, who accidentally saw Artemis as she was bathing naked. For this, Artemis turned Actaeon into a stag, and set his own hounds on him. The legend says that the hounds were in deep sorrow afterwards, so the gods granted them a statue of Actaeon, which they had taken for their master. The illustrator, however, abridged the story, hence we only see a stag looking at a naked lady. The picture adorns the initial of the letter ‘C’.

[Ovid, Les Metamorphoses, BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 137, Belgique, Flandre, XVe s. Courtesy of BNF].

And this second one is a gem. It is from Lancelot du Lac, a 15th c. French book from Poitiers, and it shows Lancelot du Lac gone down with love. I wonder (as probably are the characters pictured around him) what may be the medicine against this sort of illness…

[Lancelot du Lac, BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 111, France, Poitiers, XVe s. Courtesy of BNF].

Browsing Pictures

[I hope Mick reads this post and remembers about something…]

Yes, in addition to a photo you’ve seen on Radio Manchester Blog, these are two other pics, first of the Star Chamber, second of the Great Hall (both taken by Mick Davies). On the second picture, the gentleman in brown coat, wearing headphones, is Richard Fair, BBC Studio 6 presenter. The photo was taken while he talked to a Cashmere musician and a representative of the Cashmere Centre in Manchester. So, again, it’s not me in that photo.

Now, look carefully at the walls and you’ll notice the orbs (the glowing circles). The Tudor Bloke from the photo on the Radio Manchester Blog was dressed casually when I spoke to him, and divulged to me that the ghost has once patted his colleague on her shoulder. Together with the orbs, this is further proof to the fact that life exists beyond the saucer.

Because I didn’t want to only upload two pics and leave you to it, I decided I’d put up a few other photos that bring certain memories to me. This, for instance, is one of the places in London that impressed me deeply. I discovered it during my first visit there in April 2004, and the energy of the place is like nowhere else. What you see are the remnants of the church of St Dunstan-in-the-East. Erected in the late 14th c., the church had been destroyed twice – first in 1666, during the Great Fire (and was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren), second in 1941, during a bomb raid. I will not write much more, as there is a website dedicated to it, where you can read about the church, its bells and – better still – listen to a few recordings. Go here.

As I was discovering the city on my way to the Tower, I went down a sinuous side street, which took me to the ruins of St Dunstan. The senses of tragedy, strength and quietude were palpable, which is the reason why the place is so *attractive* to me.

Below is the view of Bond Street from the Charing Cross Arcade. I discovered it on the same day in 2004, on my way back from the Tower. [I must be one the few who managed to return…] It was pretty chilly on the Embankment, and I was hungry, but instead of going directly into Bond St, I went up the Waterloo Bridge and found myself in the Arcade. From there I threw a glance down and noticed a lovely red-and-white stripy visor with the name Patisserie Pompidou. I went it, and it became my favourite cafe in London. I just love its atmosphere, its waiters, its shopwindow with a plenty of cakes… I’ve never been to Paris, but the place reminds me of it. So, this is my piece of France in London, believe it or not.

And this is the posture that many people, including journalists and writers, have in common. No wonder, this is what you see when you enter the British Library’s yard from Euston Road. I took it during the same visit to London, as the pictures above, but a few days later.

Yes, I know I’ve uploaded many London photos, and you’re probably thinking that I’m not being very hooray-Manchester-patriotic. No, simply there’re only so many photos I’ve got scanned, and the majority happened to be from my London trips. But – I have got this picture of Bolton Town Hall. In fact, I like Bolton’s town centre very much. And just a little bit off it there is one of the oldest English pubs, called Ye Olde Man and Scythe, whose vaulted cellar dates back to 1251. I didn’t stay for a drink there, but I went in, and it’s a marvellous historic place, so check it out, when you’re next in Bolton.

Tudors, Me, and an Elusive Ghost

To begin with, a piece of news: I am the first person to feature on the Blog Spot this Thursday on Richard Fair’s programme on BBC Radio Manchester. You can read more about the feature, about Richard (who is also a blogger), and, of course, about our beloved BBC Radio Manchester that has recently won the Station of the Year award. As Richard says in his post, you can listen to the programme online at 2pm, with a chance to listen again after the programme.

Not content apparently with making me his first game, Richard is talking to me at Ordsall Hall – Manchester’s very own haunted Tudor mansion. Strictly speaking, when I say ‘Tudor’ I rather mean its exterior. The Hall itself dates back to as early as the 12th c., and its first long-term owners, the Radclyffe family, had occupied the building and the land approx. between 1335 and 1662. The best-known owners of the Hall of that time include Sir John Radclyffe, the hero of the Hundred Years’ War, whose motto – ‘Caen, Crecy, Calais’ – denoted his taking part in several pivotal battles at the beginning of war, which the English had won. Sir Alexander Radclyffe was the High Sheriff of Lancashire on four occasions. Margaret Radclyffe (d. 1599) was Queen Elizabeth’s favourite Maid of Honour.

The Hall, however, is better known for two other things. In 1861 it was commemorated by the novelist William Harrison Ainsworth. The novel called Guy Fawkes, or The Gunpowder Treason used Ordsall Hall as the set, where political intrigue and romance entwined. In particular, it introduced the character of Viviana Radclyffe, daughter of Sir William Radclyffe. According to the plot, John Catesby and Guy Fawkes came to Ordsall Hall to hide from King James’s pursuivants. There, while Fawkes was detailing out his plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, John Catesby was wooing Viviana. To perfect the novel and to complete the legend, Ainsworth conjured the love triangle. He made the renowned Protestant scholar Humphrey Cheetham (whose statue you can see in the Manchester Cathedral) Viviana’s secret admirer. However, she was a Catholic, thus they could not marry. When the Hall was raided by the pursuivants, Cheetham had rescued Viviana, Catesby and Fawkes via an underpassage. He spent the rest of his life in solitude, ‘tinged by the blighting of his early affection’.

Secondly, the Hall is haunted. It is not exactly clear whose ghosts meet you at Ordsall, and what time these ghosts used to live when they were connected to their bodies. But the ghostcam has been working at the Hall for years, and, reportedly, the best time to try and see a ghost was on Saturday night. I must admit, I never tried to *catch* one. However, the photo below shows quite clearly that the Great Hall is indeed being well looked after (see a blueish shadow between the fireplace and a little table?)

[Courtesy of Ordsall Hall).

I shall try and take some pictures on Thursday when I go to Ordsall Hall. This will not be my first ever visit there. The first time I’ve been to the Hall was in July 2002, and, believe it or not, Ordsall Hall was my first ever Tudor mansion. Prior to that, I’ve only seen Tudor buildings in the books and on the photos on the web. My impression is that I was somewhat disturbed to go from a huge spacious Great Hall into a dim claustrophobic bedroom, whose ceiling was painted in dark-blue colour and decorated with gilded stars. The feeling of the sky coming down on you was almost palpable. As if that was not enough, the room was called ‘the Star Chamber’, because of the ceiling. Every Tudor historian would instantly remember that this was also the name of the Royal court that had existed between 1487 and 1641. Its meetings were held in secret, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses.

I chose to specialise in Tudor history because I loved England, the English language and culture, and because I adored Medieval and Early Modern History, but wanted to be closer to the modern times, thus I opted to research into the 16th c. It was an absolutely amazing period of time, as far as I’m concerned. The geographical and scientific discoveries, Renaissance and Baroque, the beginnings of cartography and research into the Solar system, on the one hand, – and Reformation, the Wars of Religion, the Inquisition, and slavery, on the other. The co-existence of the opposites has made the 16th c. irresistibly attractive. I don’t think I would want to study any other time, had I been given the choice once again.

And now to something spooky

As I wrote before, I initially wanted to upload two photographs of the ghost. But when I was uploading the photo below, it only opened halfway, so the blueish figure in the dress with the train wasn’t seen. Now you can see it well, which either means that the ghost decided to show herself to my readers, or that some forces from the bigger world have intervened.

Whatever is the reason for such metamorphosis, it still proves, in the words of Krzysztof Kieslowski, the Polish cinema genius, that ‘something exists beyond this saucer’. Indeed, it does.

80 Years of Quiet Flows the Don Autograph

As you know, Quiet Flows the Don was written by Mikhail Sholokhov between 1926 and 1940 (vols. 1-3 were written between 1926 and 1928, and the 4th volume was published in 1940). However, throughout his life Sholokhov was plagued by the accusations of plagiarism, mainly because he was very young at the time of composition, and because the narrative had suggested an in-depth awareness of the events and the life experience, which seemed impossible for a 21-year-old.

The first tide of rumours came in 1929, which led Stalin to order a special investigation. The investigation completed, Sholokhov’s authorship was proved and upheld. Since the 1960s, however, there had been many attempts to disprove his authorship, most of them dissatisfactory, since they mostly included the analysis of the printed texts.

Both critique and the defense of Sholokhov’s authorship were jeopardised by the disappearing of the author’s manuscript. His archive was destroyed in a bomb raid during the war, and only the 4th volume has survived. The authographs of the first two volumes, however, were entrusted by Sholokhov to his friend, Vassily Kudashov, who was killed in the war. Since his death, the autograph had been looked after by Kudashov’s widow, who for some reason never disclosed the fact of owning it.

The manuscript was only rescued in 1999, with the help of the Russian Government. The subsequent analysis of the novel has unambiguously proved Sholokhov’s authorship. The manuscript consists of 885 A-4 pages, the writing paper dates back to the 1920s. 605 pages are in the writer’s own hand, and 285 are transcribed by his wife, Maria, and his sisters. The main body of the manuscript is the draft text, which gives a unique opportunity to follow the author’s work on the novel.

What prompted me to write this post, however, is not only the chance to introduce the PDF. copies of the manuscript of this genuine novel. You can browse them here. There is something more symbolic. The date on the top of the first page reads ’15 November 1926′, which makes it (almost) exactly 80 years since Sholokhov had begun to work on Quiet Flows the Don. And whether or not you understand enough Russian to read the text, you can still observe the author’s ‘workshop’ below.

[This post uses the text of the address of Felix Kuznetsov at the 10th Congress of Russian Writers, 1999 (in Russian)].

[Courtesy of the Fundamental Electronic Library].

A bientot!

No, I’m not leaving anywhere, but I will be very very busy throughout the first half of November, whereby I might not have time or chance to write anything here. So, I decided I’d post some news and musings, as I may have to disappear until after the 13th.

It’s finally getting cold in Manchester. As I wrote previously, I’m not the most energy-efficient person in the world, thanks to my cold blood. At the moment I feel very very cold, despite the fact that I’m fairly well dressed. The problem, I should note, is that the room where I’m sitting is on the northern side of the building, hence there’s no sunlight. Does cold weather make me feel like I’m at home in winter? Positively so, especially because, as I’m told, it’s been snowing in Moscow already.

I’ll be working non-stop in the next two weeks, doing a lot of research and writing. I actually enjoy such hectic times, especially if a lot of information is coming my way, and I can learn new things. Then it’ll be the time for me to find a day to visit London. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to happen during the Atlantic Waves festival. It is definitely unlikely to happen on the 25th, when Thomas Koener, Victor Gama, Max Eastley, Asmus Tietchens, Z’Ev, David Maranha and Robert Rutman are performing at St Giles Cripplegate in Barbican. You can read more about this night of musical improvisation, on the festival’s website, or in November’s issue of The Wire (on sale now). I’m hoping, though, that either big channels, like the BBC, may feature it, OR it may appear on YouTube, providing the organisers and artists grant their permission. From what I know and read about the line-up for the night, it’s worth being recorded and transmitted.

However, whenever I go to London, I’ll have time to visit these two exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Both are dedicated to Renaissance Italy, one to the Italian household of the time, and another – to one the Titans of Renaissance, Leonardo il Magnifico, commonly known as Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibition features an aircraft model after his drawings.

The online features of At Home in Renaissance Italy include a section on music, where you may find some delightful pieces, played on the lyra di braccio, lute, harp, and harpsicord. I cannot help recommending two pieces from the mid-16th c. in which I am a specialist, Canone by Francesco da Milano (1548) and Divisions of Arcadelt’s O felici occhi miei by Diego Ortiz (1553). I had a post on The LOOK group about Renaissance music, which you may wish to check out, it contains some interesting links and an extract from a song called Dilla da l’aqua.

Another small disappointment is that the Russian TV series of Quiet Flows the Don is now complete and the first episode will be screened on November 7. They say, you can’t have it all. I cannot have Rupert Everett and the night of musical improvisation, but I can have Leonardo at home in Renaissance Italy. Quid pro quo, eh? 😉

And, of course, November 5th is coming up this weekend. I have to say, where I live, we had a very calm Halloween, with no trick-or-treaters knocking on the door. But there were fireworks, and I expect something window-breaking on the 5th. A story goes with that. Four years ago I was coming to Manchester, and across the isle on the plane sat three people who took the same flight with me from Moscow. Because the airport authorities were afraid that some rascals might try and target the planes with the fireworks, they ordered an abrupt landing. So instead of landing gradually, the aircraft literally dropped down. Immediately as the engines had stopped, one of my compatriots was on the phone to his family. Last thing I heard him saying before I left the salon, was:

‘Oh, yes, we’re OK. Yes, we’ve just fallen. No, of course, we landed, but it was like we’ve fallen down’.

Finally, one of my favourite photos by Brassai and one of my favourtie photos, in general. I adore his plan and perspective on this nocturnal shoot. Hopefully, you’ll like it, too.

Update: thanks to another Russian aficionado of Quiet Flows the Don, we’ve now got the date of release of the film on DVD. It’s 9 November, exactly one month before my birthday. The cover apparently looks like this:

And I can’t help it, I’ve got to put up this photo from the film, which has got two of the leading actors, Andrei Rudensky and Rupert Everett.

A Day in the Life Campaign Raises Awareness Of Personal History

Of course, you know this famous Beatles song. At least, I hope you do. And today you can add your own verse (or a passage in prose) to it by going here. History Matters is a campaign to raise awareness of history in Britain, supported by such organisations, as The National Trust, The English Heritage, The Council for British Archaeology, and by the leading British historians, politicians and men-of-arts (names include Dr David Starkey, Tony Benn and Boris Johnson MPs, and Stephen Fry).
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