Pete’s History Picks, 20th – 26th February

It's that time again when I hand my blog over to Guildford's foremost historical scholar (and only time-travelling schoolboy), Pete Tollywash, to take you through some key events that happened this week in history...

Thanks, Barford. Almost the end of February, so that means it’s time for me to pick out some more historical highlights from this week in history. The British and the French appear not to have been that friendly this week and Queen Elizabeth the First got herself into a bit of bother with the Pope (no surprise there, then). There were also two big book milestones this week as well. All in all, another busy week in history.

21st February, 1431

Joan of Arc’s first day of interrogation during her trial for heresy

Some French dude called Paul Delaroche thinks it might have looked like this.

Image attribution: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve mentioned this before, but England had an empire long before ‘The British Empire’, and it was a lot closer to home. The first ‘English Empire’ was in France and, unsurprisingly, the French weren’t too keen on it. You might have heard of this Joan of Arc person before, well apparently she was particularly unimpressed with the English Empire. She claimed to have had divine visions telling her to rise up and free France from the English. She told the King of France this and (after a while) he believed her and gave her troops to fight the English. Did I mention she was 17 years old? I reckon the King of France was clutching at straws a bit there. Anyway, she did all right for a bit against the English and won a few battles, but after two years she was captured. The English then accused her of heresy because she claimed God had told her to free France from the English. On this day her interrogation began. It didn’t go to well for Joan and she was eventually burned at the stake for heresy and witchcraft three months later, aged 19.

22nd February, 1797

The Last Invasion of Britain by the French, begins near Fishguard, Wales

As I said earlier, the British and the French weren’t the best of pals this week in history. This one ends a bit more comically than the previous one (no teenage girls getting burned at the stake). France planned to attack Britain in support of the ‘Society of United Irishmen’, a group who wanted an independent Ireland. They hoped to land a small army in South-West Wales and march on Bristol. They didn’t get very far, though. A hastily assembled group of local volunteers joined the soldiers stationed at Fishguard to stop the French. It is said the French were confused by the presence of women in traditional Welsh outfits (red coats and black hats), which they mistook for British redcoat soldiers. Believing Fishguard to be better defended than it was, discipline broke down among the French. There is a story that a local woman, Jemima Nichols, finding twelve French soldiers in her field, marched the men at ‘pitchfork-point’ to the local church and locked them inside. When reinforcements arrived, the French were in no fit state to fight and surrendered.

23rd February, 1455

Johannes Gutenberg prints his first Bible

Awesome beard! They'd love him in East London nowadays.

Image attribution: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Until his guy came along, copies of books in Europe had to be written out by hand. I just wouldn’t have bothered - I’d have just played Dragon Dancer on my Xbox instead (they didn’t have Xboxes then, Pete - Barford). It took Johannes Gutenberg many years of research and experimentation to create the first printing press in Europe. The first thing he printed was a poem (what a waste of time!) in 1450. By 1455 he had created a printing press that could print a whole Bible (that’s a pretty long book). The few copies that survive are thought to be the most valuable books in the world.

25th February, 1570

Pope Pius V excommunicates Queen Elizabeth the First and absolves her subjects from allegiance

Following my recent trip to Tudor times (see here for more info), I’ve found out this sort of thing happened a lot. It was Liz’s dad, Henry, or King Fatso as I like to call him, who had started the trouble with the Pope by telling him he wasn’t in charge of the Church of England anymore because Henry was going to be. The Pope called Elizabeth a ‘servant of crime’ and accused her of heresy (they liked doing that back then). He then concluded by saying that Elizabeth’s subjects didn’t need to listen to her. This just made things worse for the poor Catholics living in England…

26th February, 1848

Karl Mark and Friedrich Engels publish their ‘Communist Manifesto’

Karl - you'd better go to Johannes Gutenberg for beard advice.

Image attribution: Author unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t really know what communism is, but apparently it was a very big deal in the twentieth-century, with people having revolutions to make their country communist and other countries fighting wars because they were afraid their country would become communist. It was a big geeky German guy with a huge beard called Karl and his wealthy factory-owning mate called Friedrich who started it all on this day 159 years ago...

I hope you enjoyed our little trip through this week in history. If you want to learn even more about the past, then sign up to Barford's mailing list. The generous old guy is giving away a free ebook all about one of my adventures in Roman Britain just for signing up!

See you next time.

Fantastic female role-models you’ve never heard of, No. 4 Hypatia of Alexandria

 Leading female philosopher whose death ushered in the end of the age of classical philosophy

You’ve heard of Plato? Socrates? Aristotle? Hypatia of Alexandria? Our modern image of a classical philosopher is of a bearded man in a toga. But not only was Hypatia of Alexandria a female philosopher. She was one of the most prominent of the late Roman Empire.

A 19th century imagining of Hypatia

Image credit: H. M. Paget, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


What? A female philosopher in Roman times?

As we hear so little about women in the classical world, it is assumed they always filled a subordinate role to men. This was not always the case and it was most certainly not the case for Hypatia. She was born in Alexandria, in the Roman province of Egypt, in around 350AD. She was taught philosophy, mathematics and astronomy, probably by her mathematician father Theon.

What was so great about her?

The fact she learnt these three disciplines was remarkable enough, but she was later sent away to the home of philosophy itself, Athens, to continue her education. Once she returned home, she became a teacher of philosophy, astronomy and mathematics herself. She was so well respected that in about 400AD she became the leader of the Neoplatonist school of Alexandria (these were the ‘modern’ followers of Plato’s school of thought).

So what happened?

As a well-known and highly educated woman in the classical world, Hypatia also faced a lot of prejudice and controversy. And this was to prove her undoing. In the year 415AD, a feud arose between the prefect of Alexandria, Orestes, and the its bishop, Cyril. The origin of the feud is unclear, but Hypatia somehow became involved. As a friend of Orestes and a highly intellectual woman, it is said that Hypatia was accused of witchcraft by some of the Christian followers of Cyril. When a riot broke out among followers of Cyril, their anger was turned on Hypatia and she was murdered by the mob. This is seen as a critical turning point in classical scholarship and the fortunes of Alexandria as it led to many scholars leaving the city. The city was still recovering from damaging attacks on its library in around 390AD. This new blow led to the decline of what had been one of the most, if not the most important seat of learning in the Roman Empire.

Want to find out more about Roman times? Sign up to my mailing list and you'll get a free ebook from my historical comedy series, 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants'.

The alternative half-term reading list – fantastic kids’ books from self-published authors

You may be aware of the growing movement of ‘independent authors’, taking advantage of changes in technology to self-publish their work. Famous examples include E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Andy Weir (The Martian), but there are also a number of children’s authors getting in on the act too. Here I share five of the best children’s books from my fellow independent authors.

Diary of a Sixth Grade Ninja - Marcus Emerson

Well, this one’s actually a series (10 of them so far). These adventures follow Chase Cooper, the uncool new kid in school, whose situation changes drastically when he is recruited into a ninja clan. Chase chronicles the crazy adventures that ensue in the hope of warning other kids against becoming a ninja themselves.

Shadow Jumper - J.M. Forster

This debut book won the Wishing Shelf Awards for independently published children’s books in 2014. The hero, Jack, has an allergy to sunshine which keeps him confined indoors by day. But at night, Jack takes to the roofs to ‘shadow jump’. As Jack’s condition worsens, his scientist father, the only person who can help, suddenly disappears. But can Jack find him?

Eeek! The Runaway Alien - Karen Inglis

Karen is a highly recommended author to get reluctant boys reading and Eeek! is a case in point. Charlie Spruit is surprised to find an alien on his doorstep one morning. He is even more surprised when he finds out the reason why - this football-mad alien has come to watch the World Cup. Though Charlie tries to keep ‘Eeek’s’ presence secret, his obnoxious neighbour soon finds out. And he has plans for Eeek. Highly accessible language and a fast pace will keep even the biggest book-phobes reading to the end.

The Monster That Ate My Socks - A.J. Cosmo

Do your socks seem to keep disappearing? Mine too. In this book for younger readers, A.J. Cosmo may just have the answer to where they go. When a little boy gets tired of his mum accusing him of losing his socks and finds a half-chewed sock in the laundry basket, he decides it’s time to find out what’s really happening. He tries to trap the monster and this is where things get interesting.

Nelson Beats the Odds - Ronnie Sidney II

Based on Ronnie’s own experiences as a child in special education in the US, this graphic novel stars a young boy who finds out he is to be removed from his mainstream class. Embarrassed by his move into special education, Nelson tries to keep it from people. But he soon realises this is not the way to deal with it and that he has far greater potential than he thought.

Have you read any of the above? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Want to find out more about my books? Then sign up to my mailing list to get your free ‘Pete’s Time-Travelling Underpants’ ebook.

Pete’s History Picks, 6th – 12th February

Guildford’s finest historical scholar (and only time-travelling schoolboy, I think) is back to throw some more light on key events from history. Take it away Master Tollywash.

I’m back again to bring you my highlights from the events that took place this week in history. And it was a pretty hectic one. Two wars involving Russia began, Wales got its first English prince (bet it was well chuffed) and Henry the Eighth became head of the Church of England. In different years, of course. So, here we go.

6th February, 1508 - Maximilian I proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor

Maximilian I - He looks a laugh-riot

Image attribution: Portrait by Albrecht Dürer

Yeah, you read that right. Holy Roman Emperor. I always thought the Roman Empire ended a long time before that (well that’s what I thought I learned when I went back to Roman times on my first time-travelling adventure). Well, Barford says I’m right and he also says some clever French guy called Voltaire agreed with me too. He said 'the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire’. This Maximilian guy, however, would have disagreed with me (well he would, wouldn’t he). He claimed he was the inheritor of the Roman Empire and that it had never ended (no idea how he worked that out). He ruled what is now Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, a little bit of Italy and a little bit of Poland - not really heartlands of the Roman Empire. Barford says they also elected their emperors. All sounds a bit nuts to me.

Oh, yeah, also on this day, Queen Elizabeth the Second became queen. Barford assures me it wasn’t the same day but was in 1952. I have my doubts - she seems pretty old.

February 7th, 1301 - Edward of Caernarfon becomes first English Prince of Wales

So, apparently Wales had princes before this, but they were Welsh and Wales was totally separate from England. That is until King Edward the First decided he liked the look of it and invaded. He blamed the Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (yeah, no idea how you say that one), for starting it by not paying homage to him as King of England. Once he had defeated Llywelyn and taken Wales as English territory, he put his son, also called Edward, up to be the new Prince of Wales. There is a story that Edward the First told his new Welsh subjects that he would give them a prince born in Wales and who didn’t speak a word of English. As his son was a baby who had just been born in Wales this was kind of true. I hope that story is true. Seems like the kind of thing Edward the First would do. Anyway, on this day his son, Edward, became Prince of Wales and this is why the monarch’s eldest son (like Prince Charles now) has been the Prince of Wales ever since.

February 8th, 1904 - Japan attacks Russian ships in Port Arthur (now in China), starting the Russo-Japanese War

So, apparently Japan basically ruled Korea (the place that annoying K-Pop comes from) from the late-19th century until the end of World War Two. By 1904, they were worried that Russia was going to try and nick it off them, so they pre-empted the Russians and attacked them in a port they were renting off the Chinese (all a bit confusing, I know). This led to a war which Russia eventually lost and meant Japan’s control of Korea was confirmed. Until this point, the European powers, including Britain, France and the now defeated Russians hadn’t thought much of Japan. This gave them all a nasty wake-up call.

Woah! This looks mental and pretty scary

Image attribution: Le Patriote Illustré, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

February 11th, 1531 - Henry the Eighth recognised as supreme head of the Church in England

As you may know, I met this guy on my most recent time-travelling adventure (yeah, Mum still doesn’t know and let’s keep it that way). Because the Pope, who was in charge of the Church in England until this point, wouldn’t let him divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, Henry decided he didn’t want to have to listen to him anymore. So he broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and said he was in charge now and could decide whether or not he divorced his wife. I’d love it if I could just tell Mum and Dad that I’m breaking away from the Tollywash family and that I will now decide whether or not I can have Haribo sweets and chocolate cake for dinner. My Auntie Cheryl (she’s a history teacher by the way), was telling me that this was one of the biggest and most important changes in British history. Even though she’s mad as a brush, she might be right.

The great fatso himself - I didn't call him that to his face.

February 12th, The Great Northern War begins between Denmark–Norway, Saxony and Russia and the Swedish Empire.

Before they got into flat-pack furniture and super-tasty meatballs, the Swedes were pretty scary guys. So scary in fact, that in 1700 the Russians were worried about them and decided they needed to gang up on them with help from two other states. So, on this day, over three hundred years ago, they all went to war. Now you’d think three against one would be a pretty easy fight, but those Swedes didn’t go down easily. It took 21 years for Denmark-Norway, Saxony and Russia to finally defeat them. This victory ended Sweden’s position as the most powerful state in the region and began the dominance of Russia.

I hope you enjoyed my latest look through history. If you want to find out more about my own historical adventures, Barford’s offering a free ebook (what a generous guy). Just sign up to his email list and he’ll send it over to you.